One Less Thing

November 30, 2012

Earlier this week, I made lunch plans with a friend while we were both out doing errands. We had tentatively set a time to meet, but in the course of her errands, my friend let me know she would be about 30 minutes later than we planned. I found myself with a decision: what to do with 30 minutes of unscheduled time?

I could have done one more errand before meeting her, but that would have added to my overall stress level and possibly made me late for our lunch date. I had books with me after a trip to the library and a small travel sketch kit in my purse. Dare I—gasp!—simply take that 30 minutes for myself?

You bet.

I snagged a table and a cup of coffee at Panera and lost myself in a new book. I made a conscious choice to slow down instead of speed up, to do something relaxing and fun instead of packing my day fuller.

Too often, I don’t make that choice. Instead, I overschedule, or let guilt feelings keep me from taking all but the tiniest scraps of time for myself. I seem to believe if I’m not doing something productive (for pay, for someone else, etc.) I’m wasting time. Possibly because I feel I’m being lazy if I’m not constantly doing.

However, I’m learning, slowly, that when it comes to getting things done, more is not necessarily better. Not if it comes at the cost of health or well-being. And no matter how hard I go at that to-do list, it’s always going to keep getting longer—I will never, never, have everything checked off, so what’s the point of killing myself to accomplish more, more, more?

I found my little reading break, not to mention a delightful lunch with my friend, to be so refreshing that the rest of my day seemed easier—and certainly happier.

Particularly during this time of year, we can find ourselves stretched too thin, adding item after item to our growing to-do lists. I encourage you to do one thing less today than you had planned. Take that time to something you find relaxing, inspiring or energizing.

What will you not do today? What will you do instead?


Finding the Scarf

November 28, 2012

A Kansas poet, Wyatt Townley has written a number of fine poems about the swift and relentless passage of time, one of the great themes of the world’s poetry, and I especially like this one. [Introduction by Ted Kooser.]

Finding the Scarf

The woods are the book
we read over and over as children.
Now trees lie at angles, felled
by lightning, torn by tornados,
silvered trunks turning back

to earth. Late November light
slants through the oaks
as our small parade, father, mother, child,
shushes along, the wind searching treetops
for the last leaf. Childhood lies

on the forest floor, not evergreen
but oaken, its branches latched
to a graying sky. Here is the scarf
we left years ago like a bookmark,

meaning to return the next day,
having just turned our heads
toward a noise in the bushes,
toward the dinnerbell in the distance,

toward what we knew and did not know
we knew, in the spreading twilight
that returns changed to a changed place.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2007 by Wyatt Townley from her most recent book of poems, The Afterlives of Trees, Woodley Press, 2011. Poem reprinted by permission of Wyatt Townley and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2012 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.


Well, That Was Nice

November 26, 2012

 I hope last week was as lovely for you as it was for me. I took last week “off” as much as I could, just keeping up the bare minimum of household activity to keep the family functioning. I indulged in an orgy of reading every chance I got and reveled in the cool weather we’ve been having. Fires in the fireplace and open windows and no sweating!

We celebrated a quiet Thanksgiving with my father-in-law Thursday. And though we usually wait till the first week of December to decorate for the holidays, we decided to take advantage of an extra set of hands (two sets, actually, as my mother-in-law joined us Saturday) to put the Christmas tree up. We broke out the eggnog, put the Florida/Florida State college football game on TV and went to town.

I’d say that was a pretty good start to the holiday season.

How was your week?

Erma Bombeck

The Real Reason We Call It Thanksgiving

November 19, 2012

Photo courtesy S. Brown

“What we're really talking about is a wonderful day set aside on the fourth Thursday of November when no one diets.  I mean, why else would they call it Thanksgiving?”
—Erma Bombeck

May your Thanksgiving be filled with happiness and all the treats that spell “holiday” for you.


And the Winner Is...

November 16, 2012

Cheryl! Your name was chosen at random from the entries for the anniversary giveaway. As soon as I have your mailing address, I’ll send your goodies to you.

Thanks again to you and to everyone who has visited and/or commented on the blog in the past three years!


The Spider and the Bike

November 14, 2012

Photo courtesy Mapelc

Here’s a delightful poem by Douglas S. Jones about a bicycle rider sharing his bike with a spider. Jones lives in Michigan and spiders live just about everywhere. [Introduction by Ted Kooser.]


The spider living in the bike seat has finally spun
its own spokes through the wheels.
I have seen it crawl upside down, armored
black and jigging back to the hollow frame,
have felt the stickiness break
as the tire pulls free the stitches of last night’s sewing.
We’ve ridden this bike together for a week now,
two legs in gyre by daylight, and at night,
the eight converting gears into looms, handle bars
into sails. This is how it is to be part of a cycle—
to be always in motion, and to be always
woven to something else.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2011 by Douglas S. Jones, whose most recent book of poems is the chapbook No Turning East, Pudding House Press, 2011. Poem reprinted from The Pinch, Vol. 31, no. 2, 2011, by permission of Douglas S. Jones and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2012 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.

Remember--you have until 5 p.m. Eastern Time today to enter a comment for the anniversary giveaway here! 


Now We Are Three--Anniversary Giveaway!

November 11, 2012

Three years ago today I pressed the publish button for my very first post on this blog. Some of you have been along for the ride from the beginning, particularly my friend and partner in adventure, Laure Ferlita, who originally encouraged me to plunge into blogging. I can’t say how grateful I am that you’ve taken the time to read my meanderings and thoughtfully comment. You’ve been with me through hard times and happy times alike.  I feel like I’ve made real friends through this blog, even though I haven’t met most of you, and I want to say thank you.

So in honor of Catching Happiness’ three-year anniversary, I’m having my first “Happy Little Things” giveaway. I’ve collected a few things that make me happy to share with you. The giveaway consists of:

A small notebook (a duplicate of the one shown here). 

My favorite pen (when words are flowing, you don’t want your pen to slow you down—this one glides over paper beautifully).

A fancy bookmark (not a forgotten treasure, but one I picked just for you).

Chocolate (requires no explanation).

And last but not least, a $25 gift card to Amazon.com, where I’ve spent many happy hours (and countless dollars) pursuing happiness.

Two of the prizes
If you’d like to be registered for the giveaway, please leave a comment (only one entry per person, but you can comment as many times as you like!) in the comments section below by 5 p.m. Eastern Time Weds., Nov. 14. The winner, chosen at random, will be announced Friday, Nov. 16. You must be at least 18 and a legal resident of the United States to enter. No purchase necessary. Winner will be notified by email. If a potential winner cannot be contacted or the giveaway is returned as undeliverable, the potential winner forfeits his or her prize and another name will be chosen at random.

Thanks again for three years of simple pleasures and everyday adventures!



November 07, 2012

“Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.”
—Helen Keller


Helping After Sandy

November 05, 2012

day of giving vs 2 wblog ABCs Day of Giving to Help Hurricane Sandy Victims: Live Blog

I was going to post something today about personal space, and how much my husband and I are enjoying having our offices separated—but it just seemed too frivolous in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. We’ve weathered a few hurricanes since we moved to Florida, but nothing like what the people in the northeast are experiencing with Sandy. More than 100 people have died, and more than one million homes are still without power, with a nor’easter bringing cold, snow and wind predicted for later this week. (Click here for a state-by-state summary of Sandy’s aftermath. Jason Good, who lives in New Jersey and still has no power, blogged about Sandy here.) 

I’ve been thinking about the people affected by Superstorm Sandy—wondering how I could help. I can’t volunteer up there, so I’m looking for ways to help right here. Cash donations may seem less personal, but they are highly useful to relief agencies. Cash doesn’t have to be sorted, packaged or transported, and agencies have more flexibility to provide for the true needs of survivors. Here are a few organizations that are taking donations for those affected by Sandy.

The Red Cross. Visit www.redcross.org, call 800-Red-Cross or text the word “Redcross” to 90999 to make a $10 donation. You can also give blood, since many blood drives had to be canceled because of Sandy.

In conjunction with the Red Cross, ABC is sponsoring a “Day of Giving” today.  All day long, ABC’s shows will offer viewers a chance to donate to those affected by the storm.

The Salvation Army provides food, clean-up kits, shelter and “emotional and spiritual care” to storm victims.

Feeding America operates food banks all over the US, and is distributing emergency food, water and supplies to the storm’s victims.

AmeriCares provides medicine, medical supplies and humanitarian aid.

Save the Children focuses on relief and support for children affected by Sandy

The Humane Society is working to help pets affected by the storm, especially those were not able to be evacuated with their families. 

In addition to the above organizations, you can visit the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster website for a list of volunteer organizations in your state.

I’ll get back to the personal space issue in a future post (and include some pictures of my husband’s new office). Today, I’m just grateful to have a roof over my head and electricity to power my household.


When Is Negative Thinking Positive?

November 02, 2012

Photo courtesy John Nyberg

Do you get tired of being told to look on the bright side when you express a negative thought? Do you find yourself stifling your concerns out of a desire not to sound “negative”?

Turns out, there’s a place for negative, especially if it’s in the form of defensive pessimism.

I just finished reading The Positive Power of Negative Thinking, by Julie K. Norem, Ph.D.  In this book, Norem introduced me to the concepts of defensive pessimism and strategic optimism. People who use strategic optimism seek to avoid stirring up anxious feelings, often by setting high expectations, then not thinking about what could go wrong.  Those who use defensive pessimism set low expectations and mentally rehearse how things could go wrong.

On the surface, defensive pessimism sounds pretty dismal. However, Norem explains, “Defensive pessimism involves learning to tolerate negative emotions in order to get things done. [Defensive pessimists’] tolerance isn’t passive wallowing in negative feelings; it embodies confronting those feelings and rejecting the premise that feeling good should always be our most immediate aim.” 

These two strategies are used by people who have differing psychic make-ups: those who typically feel anxious and those who do not. Those who feel anxious need to find a way to handle their anxiety so that they can act, and those who don’t feel anxious need to find ways to stay anxiety-free. As Norem demonstrates, the strategies that work for one don’t work for the other, and if you try to change someone’s strategy, their performance suffers. Norem writes, “Defensive pessimism and strategic optimism develop in response to different experiences, and their strengths lie in the ways they address different problems. Defensive pessimism works to manage anxiety and help people feel more in control, whereas strategic optimism works to keep anxiety away and to protect self-esteem. In both cases, these strategies motivate effective action and often lead to good outcomes for those who use them.” (Norem notes that these concepts are different from dispositional optimism or pessimism.)

As in most things, if taken to extremes, both of these strategies can be dysfunctional. Defensive pessimists can spend too much time preparing for disaster and become such perfectionists that they never complete anything. Strategic optimists may become overconfident, ignore real dangers, or keep working at impossible tasks they should abandon

Norem doesn’t believe you should give up your natural tendencies. Whatever your strategy, be it defensive pessimism or strategic optimism, embrace it while making sure not to carry it too far. In addition, accept the strategies of others without trying to change them.

I think I fall more towards the defensive pessimist end of the spectrum, and this book clarified for me strategies to help get me through the anxious period and into the active period. (Truthfully, I often use “self-handicapper” strategies, discussed in chapter five—a tendency I need to overcome.)

Which do you use most often—defensive pessimism or strategic optimism?