Happiness

Mid-January Check In

Hello lovelies! It feels good to be back and writing, especially since I’ve basically given up on all forms of it for the past week, being sick and excruciatingly stressed about work (the latter may have caused the former actually) so actually having time to write a blog post on this Monday morning is just glorious.

Speaking of work stress, it was extremely wise of past-me to decide that I would set no new resolutions in January as I would have inevitably failed at them by this point. Starting a new position at work right in the department’s busiest season has been insane, and naturally I have certain standards (ie perfection) that I like to live up to… standards that led to me crying in my boss’s office for almost an hour on Thursday through no one’s fault but my own. Literally no one expects perfection of me except me! Fortunately all that crying made me sick and then I basically gave up on life. Also known as: I reset my standards and now feel a lot happier and less stressed.

But that doesn’t mean it’s been easy to avoid resolutions. It’s been really hard and painful (see perfection again. I like starting new things so that I can be really, really good at them). I’ve thought of a number of resolutions I’d like to start or experiments I’d like to try, but I’ve managed to hold strong and start nothing new. I tried for awhile to keep up the things I started in December: daily Duolingo, a pushup every morning, and daily writing, but even those things have fallen off in the last week between work and illness. Fortunately before they stopped, a friend of mine warned me that work might get the better of me this month and that I should just accept it and set a restart date for those habits. I scoffed at the time, but then it happened just like she said, so I’ll try to pick them up again starting next Monday after my major work event is over.

(Buy Girl Scout cookies everyone).

Despite being sick and feeling like all of my internal organs are made up of snot right now, I managed to run  my first half marathon yesterday, which felt pretty great. Running is one area where I have no ego and therefore no perfectionism or expectations, which is a huge relief. I ran very slowly because I didn’t want to make myself sicker and I could feel my cold moving into my chestanne-running as I ran (which is so weird), but I ran the whole time except through a few aid stations where I walked while I drank water and sports drink.  So I was happy with that. Happy enough that I’m thinking about doing another half marathon soon… I started looking at race options after waking up from my post-half-marathon nap.

So what effect has no-resolutions had on my budget?

Not much to be honest. I’ve spent more than I’ve earned so far this month, but I paid rent yesterday and I’m still due for another paycheck so I should come out ahead for the month if I don’t go crazy and nothing bad happens. It won’t be a wildly impressive month either though. I won’t have saved anything for travel, and I’ll only barely save my monthly allotment towards retirement and a house. But it could be worse. I was expecting a bit of a bender. I’ve allowed myself to go out to eat with friends when I’ve felt like it, and even went out to eat with my cat last weekend after she decided to eat something bad and then needed a trip to the emergency vet. It was stressful and we weren’t finished until after 3 p.m. so I was hangry and since she was already in the car, we just went to the vegan drive through, because I’m lucky enough to live in a town with a vegan drive through.

And what do I hope for the rest of January? To survive it, to be honest. To avoid another crying jag in my boss’s office (at least I have a boss who can handle that kind of thing). To do some yoga today and get back out and run more this week even though it’s going to be hell at work. To enjoy the last few days of my man’s company and make plans to see him again. To take it easier on myself in the second half of the month than I did in the first half.

Days 19 & 20

$109.68: Groceries. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

What this will become: sweet potato and pecan tamales (done and delicious), more tamales (flavor tbd), pumpkin pie, root vegetable salad, banana smoothies, beans for days, and to be honest, that’s about as much as I have planned. I picked up a few things that I was running low on (baking soda, baking powder, corn starch), a few things I’d never used before (tapioca flour…actually I think that’s it).

I’ve been really excited about Thanksgiving all week. Visions of pumpkin pie and stuffing have danced in my head. But that’s not really what I’m thinking about now.

Today after work, a friend brought me coffee. It’s been rainy all day and the treat–the expression of their affection–meant a lot to me. It reminded me that there is sweetness in people, that our humanity and our kindness is not lost. That’s a lot to get from a Starbucks cup.

But I also know that this person’s family struggles financially. And that makes me wonder, is spending the $5 to tell me I matter to them the right call? Their words tell me I matter. Their smiles tell me I am important. Why can’t that be enough?

Of course afterwards, I went to hang out with a friend who is going through a rough time. I brought her a card already purchased) and thought about stopping by the grocery store for some nice, ethically sourced dark chocolate. Something that would comfort her. Something that would show her I care.

These events–the gift I was given and the gift I wanted to give–occurred probably within twenty minutes of each other, and it was enough to remind me that my presence, my kindness is enough. What I carry in my heart is what matters, not what I carry in my hands. So I brought the card and not the chocolate, and we ate leftovers and played games.

And yet there is a part of me, even now, that says “you could have brought the chocolate. You could have done all that–the card, the leftovers, the games–and brought the chocolate too and it would have been better.” And I wonder if that’s true. I wonder if what I did was enough to show my friend I cared.

I have to believe it is, but that doubt, that fear that it is not, makes me wonder. It makes me want to buy the chocolate just to be sure.

How much of what we buy is meant to be an expression of love? Love for others? Love for ourselves?  And this week in particular, of high gratitude and higher spending, I think these are good questions to ask.

What We Really Need

Last week I learned about a contemplative studies conference happening in San Diego, one that seems certain to open my consciousness, make me more aware of my spirituality as well as become better versed in various world religions, and really just unlock my inner self on a whole new level. Plus yoga, obviously. $575 is a small amount to pay for what I am sure would be a life changing four days.

Then this weekend I heard about another conference through a writers collective where I’ve taken classes before. Two days of workshops would surely jump start my creative juices and give me the energy for a big writing kick. And at only $145, it’s a steal compared to the contemplative conference. But no yoga.

Then, just yesterday, a friend came over in a new pair of workout shoes that I’ve had my eye on for close to six months. They’re a little intense, but she said she never wants to buy another kind of shoe again in her life and had just ordered a second pair of the same kind. They are everything I’ve been wanting in a shoe but haven’t been able to admit, and with them, I’d be more in touch with nature and by default, obviously myself. Plus they are on sale and are cheaper than both workshops and will last longer than a weekend.

And then today came. And I went for a run in my regular shoes and now I’m writing a regular blog post without the benefit of two straight days of expert wisdom, and yet, even with my as-of-yet-unenlightened mind, I’ve come up with a rather obvious insight, but one I needed to remember.

What is it that I want? I want to be happy. I think it’s fair to say we all do, hence the title of this post.

I don’t need more things or more commitments to be happy. In fact, as I’ve recently griped about, I need fewer commitments and things are just another form of commitment. A commitment to a job. A commitment to a place.

What I need, now especially, is more time and fewer commitments. Not a four day conference to contemplate the brain-spirit-consciousness connection, though I’m sure it would be meaningful, but time to remember to take a deep breath a few times throughout my day. Not a two day writing intensive, but ten minutes to write a sentence, just one, to keep the habit going. Two days is too much. Two days is intense. And I don’t need intense right now. I need gentle consistency. What I need is not a new pair of shoes to connect me to the earth, but a barefoot Saturday morning on the patio with my cat, feeling the warm concrete on my soles, and maybe stepping into the soft dirt of my landlord’s garden for a few moments.

There is nothing wrong with these things, and nothing wrong with anyone who wants them or has them. They’re just not for me right now.

I don’t need more busy weekends. I don’t need another swipe of the debit card. I need moments to be here. Where I am. With what I already have.

When it’s hard

Yesterday I worked twelve hours. Got up at 5, picked up a coworker at quarter of 6, work at 6:30 a.m., dropped my coworker back at her apartment at 6:30 p.m. By 1:30, I was crabby and brain-dead, and by 6:30, all I wanted was to drive to the Thai place I love, order some pad se ewe and a cocktail and call it a night.

Instead, I drove home. Ate some toast and soup and went to bed before 8. #Success.

There is a part of me that is learning that even when things are hard, I have to just keep doing what I know is good for me, even when it doesn’t feel like what I want at the time. Eat, exercise, sleep. Read if I can. Write if I can. Get angry that it isn’t easier, and then keep going anyway.

I will work everyday this week (probably, still trying to figure out a day off). I’m trying to remember to be kind to myself, even though I’m tired, and trying to remember that being kind to myself doesn’t look like indulging in a meal out or a beer.

Being kind to myself means going back to basics. What will make me feel good over the long term, not just for the moment? What will make me stronger and what will make this easier over time? I’m looking for real solutions, not bandaids to feel better. It means going in and talking to my boss about what’s tenable and what would really help.

I sound like a broken record, but it means getting enough sleep, eating well, being in the sunshine, letting myself be slow and quiet with myself. Why is it that these are the first things to fall by the wayside when work and life piles up?

What I’m Grateful For

In high school and college, I struggled with depression and anxiety. While the depression has mostly resolved itself, the anxiety is still something I’m working on. One of my friends once described anxiety as a little monster always following her, and that’s how I picture my anxiety now: like a cross between a dog and a sea anemone tethered to me. And most days, it seems like I’m holding the leash, and some days it seems like my anxiety monster-puppy is holding it.

I look back on how I felt sometimes in high school and I am so grateful that I have a different perspective now. I remember walking around the lake by my childhood home one day between junior and senior year, and realizing very suddenly that I was happy. It was a revelation, just to be able to enjoy the walk, the lake; to need nothing special to feel at peace. It was such a relief to leave the monster-puppy at home.

I have a lot in my life for which to be grateful: the amazing musical Hamilton, great friends and family, a good job, the privilege to travel, but above all else, I am grateful to be happy. With that, everything else becomes easier, richer and better.

Another wise woman once told me to choose happiness. When she first told me that, I didn’t get it. I didn’t know how I could possibly choose happiness. Happiness was something that happened. It took a few years of working on it to figure out that sometimes choosing happiness means working to be happy.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Vacation

The Boy and I returned last night from a trip to Scotland, which I would like to use as my excuse for not blogging, but it was only a week and really I’m just out of habit. But the trip was perfect in every way: full of castles and beautiful scenery, delicious food, fun people and new places; and now I’m back in boiling San Diego, dreaming of Glasgow’s cooler temperatures.

My goals for the trip were fairly simple: eat good food (Glasgow is the vegan capital of the U.K.), get some exercise and that’s it. The food was stupendous the entire time (minus one disappointing meal in Edinburgh), though I did not remain strictly vegan. We went to  a History of Porridge breakfast lecture, and the porridge they served was made with heavy cream and was completely divine. I also ate some canapes at the conference party that were probably made with butter, but other than that, it was easy and satisfying to follow my regular eating habits.  We stayed in an Air Bnb the whole time so except for the porridge lecture, we ate breakfast at home. I took a couple of tours and packed sandwiches on those days since I wasn’t sure what my options would be when we stopped for lunch. Otherwise, I indulged in great Glasgow restaurants: the 78 and Saramago were probably my favorites.

We walked everywhere in Glasgow and Edinburgh. I had thought to go running while the Boy and our other companions were at their conference, but I never did. When I felt like I needed some extra exercise, I used the Nike training app to supplement my walking. I also biked along the river Clyde in Glasgow on our last day in the city, which was lovely. I think I could have biked all the way to Loch Lomond, but I stopped seeing signs for it so I turned around and got lunch instead.

I didn’t have high expectations for myself on this trip–no big plans to get up early and write or work out, no crazy schedule to try to see everything in Scotland in eight days. It was peaceful and easy. I had time to read (Outlander mostly, which is a very silly series. I also read Born to Run on the plane ride home). I got lots of sleep. I fell in love with Glasgow and Scotland. It was wonderful.

And it got me thinking about how I could live more like I’m on vacation all the time. Eat well, get some exercise, don’t do too much. It’s the last one that is trickiest. So without committing to any course of action, I’m thinking about what I do that takes up my time, and asking is it making me happier? Is there a way I can get that happiness through less structure, more free time? Work is what it is, but the rest of my life is up to me (and honestly, work kind of is too, thanks GS). I think it was the peace of vacation, more than the glorious weather, beautiful scenery and spectacular town that I want to keep. Though I’d keep a little of Glasgow’s rain too.

Procrastination Muffins

It’s almost July, almost a new start. I love new starts: new days, new weeks, new months, new years, new school years, birthdays. Each one seems like a precipice beyond which I cannot see, holding magical possibilities.

This afternoon I’d rather dream about that than get to the work at hand–working on a poem I started in my Not Dead Yet Poets Society class last Wednesday. I’m going again this week and I get more out of it when I have work prepared, but it’s always hard to start the work.

It’s been a good day–the ideal kind of Sunday. I got up in the morning, sore from last night’s derby bout, wrote a little, then went for a bike ride and donuts with one of my friends. Pedaling stretched out my sore leg, though squatting for anything is a bit Herculean right now. Then I swung by the grocery store, made a smoothie, took the cat outside to hang out while I read short stories. Now she’s playing in a box that used to hold a griddle and I just made some wonderful vegan banana nut muffins and listened to Marc Maron’s interview with President Barack Obama. Great interview, great muffins. So good I had to freeze them or I wouldn’t have any left for this week. They should make a perfect mid-morning snack. I’ve been insatiable lately.

I’m still asking why, so I’m not setting any new big goals for July. Instead, without getting to specific, I’m going to try to focus on the basics: getting enough sleep, eating right, creating order, exercising, and then maybe the intermediates: my three questions and writing.

For Family: My family (Mom, Dad, Grandma–hi guys!) come to visit on July 5th. It’s wonderful to be with my family, and it also pushes all my cranky-anal-retentive-judgmental-neatnik-my-way-or-the-highway buttons. The last time I was with some of them, I recalled a sentence from Pride and Prejudice that helped me to overcome this tendency.

Bingley was ready, Georgiana was eager, and Darcy determined, to be pleased.

Now when the urge to judge or criticize, even internally, arises, I ask myself, what would Mr. Darcy do? and I am determined to be pleased. Actually, more often than not, I give in to the urge to judge and criticize, but when it comes to my family, I’m trying to stop. So that is my resolution on family.

For work: I have that poem I mentioned before, and I’d like to see it more or less improved by month’s end, but I refuse to make any concrete promises to beat myself with later.

For fun: I also refuse to make any concrete plans here. My most successful happiness resolution to date was the resolution to have a daily present and that’s how I see this resolution this month. It might mean finally going to the bookstore that I never seem to get around to, or maybe a trip to the beach or a long bike ride to somewhere new or a trip to the art museum on it’s free day (still trying to be frugal after all, though it seldom looks like it anymore) or a long walk.

Currently reading: All of the Stories of Muriel Spark in preparation for Scotland, though it might be better in preparation for Africa given how many stories are set in the British colonies.

You Do Not Have to Be Good

You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

It was good to read Mary Oliver‘s lines this evening (thanks, Mom). Even though they are wedged in a picture frame on my freezer door, sometimes I miss the words. They blend in to the white of the refrigerator and instead of reading them, I just glance at the bit of paper as I’m grabbing my lunch in the morning, walking away before I can remember “you do not have to be good.”

If I don’t even have to be good, that means I certainly don’t have to be perfect. It means that when I don’t have to treat every mistake I make (and I do make some) like it is a cardinal sin. A lost package, no matter how urgent, probably does not require the cat-o-nine-tails (I may have slightly overreacted to some work problems last week).

I don’t have to be good. I don’t have to be good in the strict, Puritanical, follow-the-rules way that comes so naturally to me, and I don’t have to be good at things, which also mostly comes naturally (and is devastating when it doesn’t). I don’t have to run a marathon or play on the A team. I don’t have to finish my reps. I don’t have to cut out carbs or eat cauliflower. I don’t have to go vegan. I don’t have to be good at sales or pretend that I want to get better at it because it is “good” for me. I don’t have to pretend to like every aspect of my job.

I just have to let the soft animal of my body love what it loves.

What I love right now:

  • my cat
  • getting up early to work out with November Project
  • the Dragon Noodles I made for dinner tonight (skipped the potatoes)
  • the thought of going to bed in a few minutes

Savings Started

Mischief Managed

For whatever reason, this title reminds me of the Harry Potter phrase “Mischief Managed” courtesy of Mssrs. Mooney, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs, but it is much truer to say my mischief has only just begun. As of this week, I have opened an IRA and I have back-funded it for all of 2014. As of now, I officially have $5,500 dedicated to my retirement. Every time I remember that fact, I get a little shiver of joy, so I should try to remember it much more often.

Having a retirement account, a real one, has been a goal of mine for several years, but it has always been pushed off until later dates. This year, I netted a significant tax reduction by starting and funding my IRA, which is what finally motivated me to do it. Keep more of my money and take care of a much needed responsibility at the same time? Yes, please IRS. My new goal, now that the IRA is in place, is to max it out again for 2015. And then… well, it is easy for me to get ahead of myself. It is enough for now, to just drop $500 in the account each month and watch it grow.

Other news: my reading reports have fallen off the wagon, as have my happiness goals. I am going to choose to blame The Happiness Myth by Jennifer Hecht, which has turned my notions about happiness on its head.  In a nutshell, the message of the book is that there are a lot of ways to be happy, and the ways that our culture currently subscribes to aren’t necessarily based on great evidence. it’s made me wonder if my constant measuring and striving is really making me happier, or if it is just a manifestation of America’s puritanical work ethic underpinnings. It was interesting to see how ideas about what makes us happy and what is “good” for us have changed over time, and of course, it follows then that what we believe now about happiness and what is “good” for us is probably not the pinnacle of human thought on the subject.

The most helpful idea in the book (for me right now) was the idea that not only is there more than one way to be happy, but there is more than one kind of happiness. Hecht talked about happiness as “good day happiness,” “euphoria,” and “good life happiness” and basically, she said all three were necessary to our overall sense of happiness. Good day happiness might be something like sleeping in and doing something enjoyable during the day (I think of the weekend), and maybe even getting a little something done. Euphoria are the big moment–the concert you were looking forward to, the party, the day you started your IRA (just me? are you surprised?). Good life happiness is longer term, and it doesn’t always feel happy (Gretchen Rubin also talks about this), but it brings a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction by working to overcome a challenge.

I liked Hecht’s style, and it was refreshing to read something that questioned most of the other books I’ve read (even though it still looked like your stereotypical happiness book with a big lollipop on the cover). I’m interested to read some of Hecht’s other books (nonfiction and poetry–a writer after my own heart!). I think I’ll look for Doubt: A History next.

In the meantime, I picked up Wishcraft and The Joys of Much Too Much from the library, both probably work/what do I want to do with my life? books. I’m laying off the “how do you have a good family books?” for awhile because they got repetitive. For fun this month, I read The Fellowship of the Ring and most of The Wizard of Oz, but I didn’t finish it because it turns out to be a kind of dumb book (Wicked is much better). I’m also poking around with In the Sanctuary of Women, but I haven’t gotten too deep into it yet.