The Six-Year Calendar of Happiness

January 25, 2010

I’m still in the process of reviewing 2009 and planning for 2010…and here it is the last full week of January! No, I don’t have a problem with procrastination, why do you ask?

Actually, what I have is a hard time staying focused on something long enough to finish it. Thanks to Barbara Sher’s book, Refuse to Choose!, I’ve learned I’m not the only one. Sher describes me when she describes “Scanners,” people who are “genetically wired to be interested in many things.” Some of the things Scanners say that could come out of my mouth include: “I keep changing my mind about what I want to do and end up doing nothing.” “I keep going off on another tangent.” “I pull away from what I’m doing because I’m afraid I’ll miss something better.”

In the past, I’d become interested in something—gardening, for example. I’d run out and invest in a flat or two of flowers or herbs and plant them in my yard. Then a few days or weeks later, I’d decide I wanted to learn about Florida history or a foreign language. But if I did that, then I’d be taking time away from learning how to draw and paint! (And don’t ask what happened to the flowers and herbs.)

You see my dilemma. Realistically, I don’t have that much time for all the interests I’d like to pursue. I have a part-time job, a family and household to care for, and commitments to a regular exercise program and to my horse.

While I loved Refuse to Choose! from start to finish, one of the exercises I found most helpful was to make a six-year wall calendar with room to write all the things I want to do. (I now call it my “Six-Year Calendar of Happiness.”) Instead of taping typing paper together and using colored markers for each activity, as the book suggests, after a brainstorming session in a notebook, I typed a separate page for each year into a Word document. The plan is, instead of dissipating my energy trying to do 15 things at once, I focus on the four or five items I’ve put on my current year, secure in the knowledge that the other things I want to do or learn are written down, waiting for me in future years. If I think, “Oh, I’d love to know more about birds,” instead of immediately checking a book out of the library or surfing the internet for bird info, I write it down on my six-year calendar.

2009 was my first year using this system, and I did pretty well sticking to what I put on my list. I started simply: learning new things with my horse (jumping, going on more trail rides), studying and writing poetry and essays, continuing with watercolor class, expanding freelance writing, and reading one or two “classic” books. In 2010, I’m going to study drawing and sketching with an emphasis on learning to create an illustrated journal, continue working with my horse (he appears on every calendar year!), learn about Florida (history, ecology, culture) and keep reading classics.

My six-year calendar of happiness isn’t carved in stone. I made some adjustments to it when I reviewed my progress in 2009. It helps me rest easy knowing I won’t forget something I want to do. And I love it because it gives me a place to store my dreams and goals for the future—and keeps me focused enough to achieve them.


Happiness is Contagious--Spread It Around!

January 21, 2010

Maybe it’s entered your mind, as it has mine, that pursuing and catching happiness might be just the tiniest bit selfish. Shouldn’t we be focusing on helping others and being responsible, upstanding members of society? Well, yes—but my guess is we are already doing those things. Even if we sometimes fall short in our own eyes, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t carve out a little happiness for ourselves. We are each individuals who deserve to be happy. Period. But on days when the feeling of being “selfish” overcomes you, remember this: there is actual scientific research that shows that happiness is “contagious.”

A study published in the British Medial Journal (click here for the entire report) found that “the relationship between people’s happiness extends up to three degrees of separation (for example, to the friends of one’s friends’ friends).” That means that if you’re happy, then it is more likely that your spouse or partner, your children, your friends, even your neighbors, will be happy, too. Some statistics from the study: living within a mile of a friend who becomes happy increases the probability that you will be happy by 25%. A live-in partner who becomes happy increases the likelihood of his or her partner’s happiness by 8%; a sibling who lives close by, by 14% and nearby neighbors got the biggest boost in likelihood of happiness—34%! Catching happiness for yourself is almost certain to make others happy, too.

What makes you happy? Is it something small, like having a half hour to read or do a crossword puzzle at the end of the day? Is it something larger, like volunteering for a cause you believe in, or working a job that you love that you feel makes a difference in the world? Take a look at your life. What’s working? What isn’t? What aren’t you doing that you would love to do? What can you stop doing that you hate? Figure out what makes you happy and go for it.

What are you waiting for? Go catch some happiness…then spread it around!

I'm happy


Just One Thing

January 16, 2010

The photos and stories coming out of Haiti are heartbreaking—how can one tiny country suffer so much? And Haiti is not the only place where suffering seems to be the baseline for living. I sometimes have to put a moratorium on newspaper reading because there are so many big, unsolvable problems, I become overwhelmed. Despite our economic woes, the U.S. is so much better off in so many ways than nearly the entire world.

I’m happy to see the pouring out of support and help for Haiti, but I wonder what will happen to it once this crisis is “over”—or if it ever will, truly, be over. The country was still struggling to recover from the effects of the hurricanes in 2008 before the earthquake. Haiti needs more than donations of money. They need more than bottled water, or food or medicine. Even I can see this, and I am not remotely qualified to determine what they really need and/or how to give them lasting help. Sending a donation to a relief agency doesn’t feel like enough—it feels like a cop out. Does this mean I should do nothing? That’s not right, either.

I believe when any one of us reaches out to help another, no matter how small the act, it sends positive energy into the world. Imagine if every day every one of us helped someone else! The world would be a better place.

So today, instead of being frustrated because my efforts seem so puny in the face of the world’s troubles, I’ll do “just one thing.” Today, I’ll send a donation to a relief organization to help Haiti. Tomorrow, I’ll try to find someone else to help, and hope that that’s enough. For me, some days my one thing might be something as small as looking the supermarket cashier in the eye and smiling at her. Some days that will be all I am capable of. Other days, my one thing will be more substantial.

Like everyone, I have limited time and money to give. I don’t have answers for the world’s problems. But I can do just one thing.

Everyday adventures

Well, I Asked for Winter

January 12, 2010

I know those of you in more northern climes are laughing at us Floridians, but, hey, it’s COLD here! We’re not set up for temps in the 20s, 30s and 40s. Our newspaper noted that the temperatures have been up to 25 degrees colder than normal in the past week. My yard is decorated with the most uncoordinated collection of sheets you ever saw in a vain attempt to keep our landscape from dying.

The horses’ water buckets have ice on them:

The birdbath is frozen solid:

  and my tomatoes, well, the less said about them the better.

R.I.P., Better Boy

Is this what winter is like? I’ve lived in either California or Florida all my life, so I have no real experience with cold weather. I admit I’m a weather weenie. I have mostly enjoyed this cold spell, though, bundling up in sweatpants, socks and slippers and curling up under a blanket to watch TV. I can “endure” this cold spell because I know the temperatures will soon be back to normal. Winter in Florida is the reason many people move here, after all. So those of you who are buried in snow, you have my sympathies. Stay warm!

Simple pleasures


January 09, 2010

My husband just took our son and one of his friends to see Avatar at a theater about 30 minutes away from our home. Add an hour's round-trip travel time to the approximately two hour, 40-minute movie time and you (I) get: nearly four hours alone in my own home.


Sorry. I got excited there for a bit. This might not seem like a big deal to you, but my husband and I both work from home, so the times when I can be alone in my own home are few and far between. I cherish them. I love the quiet, or, alternately, the sound of the music “I” chose, or the TV show/movie I ALONE decided to watch.

Does this sound selfish? Too bad.

For an introvert like myself, alone time is not just a want—it’s a need. I need time to think, time to daydream, time to plan, or read or just do nothing with no one to distract me. That’s why I get up before everyone else on weekdays—so I have at least a few minutes wherein I am all on my own. Time alone recharges me and is utterly essential to my well-being.

Many times I have to leave my house to be alone. I visit the barn or go to the library, or sometimes just step outside to our lanai. It helps. But sometimes, I just like to wander through my domain and bask in the glory that is Solitude. Somehow, when someone else is in the house, his thoughts and desires and opinions get all tangled up with mine. I find I can think more clearly when no one is home.

I don’t think I’d enjoy living alone all the time, however. (I never have lived alone. I moved from my childhood home, to a dorm, to an apartment with a roommate, to an apartment with my husband.) I might enjoy it for a while—the sheer luxury of taking no one else’s needs or opinions into account. But eventually the weight of all the decision-making would get to me. And I would miss having someone to tell things to or consult with. I love my family and we mostly have a happy and peaceful home. I am profoundly grateful for this.

So what shall I do with this bonanza of alone time? What I’ve been trying to do all week: Get quiet with myself. Make some plans for the year; brainstorm some personal and professional goals. Maybe do a “vision board” as described by Christine Kane, or treat myself to a viewing of the new episode of What Not to Wear. But best of all, I can make those choices unencumbered by anyone else’s idea of what I “should” be doing, and unconcerned that I am neglecting anyone else’s needs. For the next four hours, my needs take center stage. So, if you’ll excuse me, I have some recharging to do.

Everyday adventures

Too Much Time On Our Hands?

January 08, 2010

When life becomes stressful or too busy or you're faced with an unpleasant task, sometimes it's fun to do something completely silly to break the tension.  Fortunately, at our barn, we are well supplied with people willing to be silly.  For instance:

In September, our horses begin to grow their winter coats.  That's at least two months, maybe three, before the temperatures and humidity will drop enough for them to need a winter coat.  Riding them in this condition leaves them a sweaty mess, and makes life harder for us and them, so we clip them--a messy and unpleasant task.  (Imagine horse hair in your bra.) This year, two of my friends (Marianne and Mary Ann--I know, it's confusing) helped me clip Tank, and seeking to make the task more enjoyable, Marianne carved a sort of reverse brand onto Tank's rump.  Here it is, somewhat grown out:

Another view:

This started a barn trend, and Jazz received a music note, Moonshadow a crescent moon, and Mary Ann's horse, Frenchy, got this:

Peace out, everyone

Somehow, figuring out how to carve designs on our horses' rumps, and giggling over the process, took clipping out of the realm of chore and into the realm of fun. 

On another occasion, we put aside our Serious and Important Work to throw a horse birthday party.  Tank and Frenchy actually share a birthday, so last year to celebrate, Mary Ann made them both party hats and I made them a horsey birthday cookie. (Oats and carrots and molasses--yum!)

Frenchy eats the cookie

Tank's turn!

Does this hat make me look funny?

So the next time you feel overwhelmed, find something silly to do. (And write and tell me about it!) I guarantee you'll feel better--even if you do have horse hair in your bra.

Everyday adventures

What's the Word?

January 06, 2010

I’ve recently been reading a lot about the “word of the year” concept, and decided I’d like to try it. As I understand it, you pick a word that will function as a sort of guide for the year—an inspiration in all areas of your life. I read about Laure’s word, cultivate, and Merideth’s, focus. I visited Christine Kane’s blog and read some of the posts about words people chose for 2009 and how they were affected by them. Then I assembled a little group of words to choose from:


Which one did I choose? None of them. The word I chose dropped into my mind this morning as I was sectioning my grapefruit: Open. As the knife sliced into the tender fruit, I thought about something my husband would like me to help him with, and I realized that I had been resisting doing what he asked mainly because I didn’t want to take the time away from freelancing. And I’m freelancing why? Not because I’m passionately in love with it, but to earn some money to contribute to the family budget as well as support my expensive horse hobby (if you put the word “equine” in front of any object, add $50 to the price). I had a certain image of myself and what I do. I was closed to the possibility of trying something that didn’t fit my image of myself as a freelance writer and editor, even though to earn even a paltry amount of money I must spend many hours working on aspects of freelancing I don’t enjoy.

I let my mind wander to other areas of my life, like my health (would changing my exercise routine or tweaking my diet result in the weight loss I want?) and my leisure time (what if I quit watching TV at night and read instead?). I realized that I have certain set ways of doing things that I rarely deviate from, regardless of whether or not those ways are working for me.

I hope taking “open” as my word of the year will help me do less all-or-nothing thinking. I hope “open” will, well, open some doors that have been firmly closed, as I explore the nuances of the word. In 2010, I want to be open to suggestion, open to change—not just big, life-changing change, but little changes of routines, ways of thinking, etc. I don't want to focus just on change (or that would be my word of the year), but to being more open to how truly wonderful my life is. To be open to the world and what it offers, to new ideas and to what’s around me every day. To embrace life! My life has sometimes been like those firmly closed doors—nothing allowed in that wasn’t my idea of how things should be. Time to open those doors.

Page One, Chapter One

January 01, 2010

“We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.”
Edith Lovejoy Pierce

For the last week or so, I’ve been pondering 2009 and looking forward to 2010. I’ve read about others’ resolutions, goals and words for the year. I’ve thought about what I did and didn’t do in 2009, and wondered how I could make 2010 better.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions or set yearly goals all at once in January, but the end of one year and the beginning of another does seem like an appropriate time to reevaluate where I’ve been and where I’m going. If opportunity is a book and today is the first chapter, what will 2010’s story be? A romance? An adventure? Hopefully not a tale of horror!

Whatever the story turns out to be, I must remember that I’m the author of my pages. Even if things don’t go my way, or something unexpected happens—and it’s bound to—how I react to what happens determines the words written on the page. And as the author, if nothing at all happens for long stretches, whose fault is that?

As my words trickle or pour onto the page, I’ll arrange and rearrange them, always looking for meanings and patterns in my experiences. At the end of 2010, I hope to have a masterpiece.

Welcome to the first chapter of the book of the new year. What stories will you write on its blank pages?