What Will You Do With the Gift of a Day?

February 29, 2016

Today is a gift. An extra day in the course of your year, a day that 2015 didn’t have, and 2017 won’t have. It sounds like a dream come true, doesn’t it? If you’re like me, you’d be thrilled to have someone hand you an extra 24 hours.

February 29, or Leap Day, is humanity’s way of fixing the discrepancy between the calendar year and the solar year (the time it takes Earth to complete its orbit of the Sun)—the solar year is nearly six hours longer than the 365 days of our calendar. (Click here if you want to know more about how Leap Day is calculated). 

But back to that extra day. When I think about what I’d do with an extra day, I almost always picture myself cocooning at home, reading, drinking tea or coffee (or both), hiding away from the world. I seldom picture myself getting out of my house, exploring someplace new, etc. Perhaps that is a reflection of my introversion since I’m recharged by time spent in solitude. But if my fantasies of what I’d do with an extra day all involve hiding at home, perhaps this is an indication that I’m not paying enough attention to my need for that solitude and recharging on a daily basis. Something to think about.

Since 2016’s Leap Day falls on a Monday, most of us will be doing our typical work/school activities. Even so, why not try to set aside a little time for doing something that makes you happy on this gift of an extra day?

In between going to exercise class and returning the library books and cleaning the bathrooms, I’ll sneak in a little time for myself today. (Inquiring minds want to know: will I leave my house or read on the lanai instead? What do you think?)

If money or logistical limitations were no object, what would you do with an extra day?

Everyday adventures

Streaming Happiness

February 26, 2016

You’ve probably heard the term “income streams,” referring to various ways to bring in money. Whether it’s salary, interest or dividends, selling items on eBay or Craigslist, the idea is the more income streams you have, the better. What if we apply the concept to happiness, too?

It’s just as important to have multiple “happiness streams” as it is to have multiple income streams (and a lot more possible, for many of us). The more sources of happiness we have, the happier we can be. And if one area of life isn’t going so well, having other sources of happiness to turn to can be comforting, and perhaps even keep us from becoming downright unhappy.

This blog is mostly about simple pleasures and everyday adventures and how they relate to happiness. I know, however, that there a number of common happiness streams, including:

Health/Vitality. Our health is one of our most precious gifts—to keep it a source of happiness, we need to care for our bodies lovingly, with nutritious food, adequate sleep, and movement that makes us feel good. At the very least. It’s hard to be happy if you just don’t feel well. I’ve noticed that when I feel ill or in pain, my mood often crashes.

Appreciation/Gratitude. When we take time to notice and appreciate the good things in our lives, our happiness levels rise and we tend to notice even more things to be happy about. (What we focus on expands.)

Relationships.  Even for introverts (like me), the people we love play a huge role in our happiness. Our family and friends, co-workers, even the friendly lady at the checkout in the grocery store, can cause happiness to flow.

Accomplishment/Learning.  Working on and completing projects, as well as learning new things, is a major happiness stream for many people. I notice a lift of my spirits when I do something as simple as check off an item on my list of things to do, especially if it’s something that’s been weighing on me.

Fun/Adventure. (Or should I say, simple pleasures and everyday adventures?) It’s essential to program fun and adventure into our lives along with all our work and chores. No doubt making time for the occasional movie, vacation, meal out, afternoon spent [insert your favorite hobby here] boosts happiness.

Spiritual Practice. Whether we belong to an organized religion or pursue spiritual growth independently, many of us find comfort and joy in a spiritual practice.

So you see, we can boost our happiness by opening ourselves to many different happiness streams. I’m generally happy with how my streams are flowing, but in 2016, I’m spending more time cultivating health and accomplishment.

How about you? What are your happiness streams? Are they flowing freely?

Jean L. Connor

More Than What They Seem

February 24, 2016

Photo courtesy Jeff Jones

Introduction by Ted Kooser: In this short poem by Vermont writer Jean L. Connor, an older speaker challenges the perception that people her age have lost their vitality and purpose. Connor compares the life of such a person to an egret fishing. Though the bird stands completely still, it has learned how to live in the world, how to sustain itself, and is capable of quick action when the moment is right. 

Of Some Renown

For some time now, I have
lived anonymously. No one
appears to think it odd.
They think the old are,
well, what they seem. Yet
see that great egret

at the marsh’s edge, solitary,
still? Mere pretense
that stillness. His silence is
a lie. In his own pond he is
of some renown, a stalker,
a catcher of fish. Watch him.

Reprinted from “Passager,” 2001 by permission of the author. Copyright © 2001 by Jean L. Connor whose first book of poetry, A Cartography of Peace, is published by Passager Books, Baltimore. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. American Life in Poetry ©2005 The Poetry Foundation Contact: This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.


When You Fail

February 19, 2016

Photo courtesy Gerd Altmann

I did something stupid this week. There was no way I could blame anyone else, no way I could weasel out of responsibility for it, or avoid looking my failure straight in the eye. Boy, was it painful. My insides churned with embarrassment, I was disappointed in myself, and it set me back on one of my goals big time. (No, I’m not going to tell you what it was.)

But you know what? I survived. Plus, I realized that my worst-case scenario had just happened, and it wasn’t the end of the world. What a gift! I can (and I will) come back from it.

Into every happy life, some failure must fall. If you have goals, especially big, ambitious ones, sooner or later you will fail. That’s just being human. No one ever succeeds at what they set out to do 100% of the time. As J.K. Rowling said, “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.”

So what can you learn from failure? How can you learn from it? Here are three ways to bounce back from failure:

1. Be courageous enough to think about your failure. Don’t pretend it didn’t happen, or try to twist a failure into a success. Can you figure out what caused your failure? What might you have done differently? In reflecting on my failure, I came up with several small things that came together to contribute to it—one of which was I that ignored my intuition and kept pushing forward when I should have stopped.

2. Get feedback from others. I know this is hard. My ego stomps its feet and storms off when I try this, and I’m not very good at it, but it does help. After my failure this week, I talked things over with someone, and she started me thinking about what I should have done differently (see point number one).

3. Make a plan for what you’ll do next. This will depend on the type and extent of your failure. Will you continue on with your goal, change directions, or stop altogether? I will continue with my goal, but take a step back to bolster some areas that need attention before moving forward.

And, if failure is as painful to you as it is to me, here is one more, all-important tip:

Fail more often. Try new things and different approaches. “Practice” failing. (I know. I don’t want to do it either.) And remember, failure isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you. What would be worse would be not to try at all.

What have you learned from your failures?

Dover Saddlery

Field Trip Friday: Dover Saddlery=Horse Lover's Happy Place

February 12, 2016

If you love to read, libraries and bookstores give your soul a thrill. If you’re an artist, an art or office supply store sets all your senses tingling. And if you love horses and riding, a tack store is a little bit of heaven—a horse lover’s happy place.

Last Friday, my friend Marianne and I hit the road to visit one such horse lover’s happy place: the Dover Saddlery store in Winter Park.

Dover is an English rider’s dream. I bought my very first horse items from their catalog almost 12 years ago—and I’m still using them! Dover sends out a couple of fat, drool-inducing catalogs each year, as well as a couple of smaller sale catalogs. They opened the store in Winter Park in 2013 and I’ve been wanting to visit since then. When I got a flyer for a tent sale Feb. 5-7, it seemed like a good opportunity to go check it out. Plus I need a new helmet because mine is getting old…you know, any old excuse! Marianne was willing to tag along and navigate, and she was looking for a new halter for her mare, Glory.

When we arrived, sales girls handed us large, clear plastic bags to toss our loot into, and we entered the tent excited to see what bargains we could find. I was only slightly hampered by the fact that I don’t really need anything, other than the helmet and maybe another pair of riding socks. That didn’t stop me from walking up every aisle and examining tempting items like wicking riding shirts, horse blankets, small mesh hay feeders, and yes, patterned socks.

When we were done with the tent, we still had the store itself to explore. As soon as I walked in the door, I inhaled that leathery scent that makes my blood pressure fall and all my stress melt away. When I tell you that we covered nearly every inch of the store, I do not exaggerate. (Marianne has been there before, but she kindly allowed me all the exploring time I wanted.) Breeches, helmets, horse treats, more socks, grooming tools, leather goods and saddle pads…the store was packed with items to tempt us.

Riding socks are a thing.
Alas, they didn’t have a helmet that fit me properly in my price range, so I’m still in the market. (I did learn that my head shape is more round than oval—who knew?) However, I did find these lovely items:

Socks, gloves, and a purple pad--oh my!
It was a pleasure to spend time with Marianne, and we talked horses to our hearts’ content. The new horsey items were a bonus. I love my socks and Tank looks lovely in his new purple pad.

Where is your happy place? How long has it been since you visited?

Loved this store display.


Silence Amplified

February 10, 2016

Photo courtesy Mirko Delcaldo

Introduction by Ted Kooser: The first two lines of this poem pose a question many of us may have thought about: how does snow make silence even more silent? And notice Robert Haight’s deft use of color, only those few flecks of red, and the rest of the poem pure white. And silent, so silent. Haight lives in Michigan, where people know about snow.

How Is It That the Snow

How is it that the snow
amplifies the silence,
slathers the black bark on limbs,
heaps along the brush rows?

Some deer have stood on their hind legs
to pull the berries down.
Now they are ghosts along the path,
snow flecked with red wine stains.

This silence in the timbers.
A woodpecker on one of the trees
taps out its story,
stopping now and then in the lapse
of one white moment into another.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2002 by Robert Haight from his most recent book of poetry, “Emergences and Spinner Falls,” New Issues Poetry and Prose, 2002. Reprinted by permission of Robert Haight. Introduction copyright © 2008 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. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

Better Than Before

Can Your Habits Make You Happier?

February 08, 2016

Right about now, many people are giving up on their New Year’s resolutions and falling back into their old ways. Their energy and enthusiasm is waning as January turns into February, and maintaining change is just too hard. Permanently establishing or changing a habit has proven difficult for many of us. Are there any strategies for making habit formation easier?

I’m glad you asked. Habits are the subject of Gretchen Rubin’s (The Happiness Project) newest book, Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, which came out in paperback in December. In it, she explores 21 proven strategies that help people change their habits.

Why are habits so important? And what is the connection between habits and happiness? One of the keys to happiness, according to Rubin, is an atmosphere of growth, and creating good habits helps us to grow. She notes that 40 percent of our behavior is repeated almost daily, and that “Habits are the invisible architecture of daily life.” Once established, habits free us from decision making, which preserves our self-control. Once a habit is in place, “We can effortlessly do the things we want to do,” she writes.

Think about it. You probably get up at the same time every day, eat a limited range of foods, and choose from a handful of leisure activities. Cementing the habits you want would improve the quality of your life and make you happier.

Rubin discusses a number of strategies to help you master your habits—strategies including monitoring (“find a way to count it”), foundation (first tackle the most obvious habits you want to change, such as exercise, sleep, eating healthy or decluttering), scheduling (write it down and be specific about when you’ll do it), and accountability (face consequences for what you do and don’t do). But one of the most helpful things in her book was a discussion of the Four Tendencies—the four general ways most people respond to expectations. Different strategies work better for different tendencies. (You can take Rubin’s quiz to find which tendency you are here.)  I’m an Obliger: I respond well to outer expectations, but don’t always meet inner expectations—in other words, if I tell you I’ll do something, I’ll do it. If I tell myself I’ll do something, I might not.

Rubin also discusses different ways to get started, whether you begin with baby steps, with a clean slate (as at the New Year), or make a sudden and major change to your habits (the “lightning bolt”), and many other strategies to help you shape your habits. These include learning how to spot loopholes, using distraction, and pairing something you like to do (read a magazine) with the habit you want to establish (working out on a cardio machine). She concludes the book by noting how “considering ourselves in comparison to others” can help you understand yourself better and in so doing, discover which techniques work best for you.

I found Better Than Before easy to read and filled with practical advice on mastering habits. There’s just something I like about Rubin’s down-to-earth style. I’ve used some of the strategies from Better Than Before to establish a few happy habits of my own. I track my workouts in my planner and hate to see more than one day go by without some type of exercise noted (monitoring). I leave a glass near the coffee pot so I’ll drink water when I get up every morning (convenience); and I hide the chips and cookies so I don’t see them every time I open the pantry (inconvenience—I know I could just not buy them, but I live with two people who would bring them in if I didn’t). I also exchange lists of goals with a friend each week (accountability). Armed with Rubin’s suggestions, I believe 2016 will be better than before.

What are your happy habits? What strategies did you use to establish them?


Love Many Things

February 03, 2016

Photo courtesy krrass
“It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.”
—Vincent Van Gogh