Life

The Present Rearranges the Past

October 18, 2017

Photo by SID ZHAO on Unsplash

“Something wonderful happens to you and you instantly look back over your life and see it as a series of fortunate events stretching off into the distance like mountain peaks. Something terrible happens and your life has always been a litany of woe. The present rearranges the past. We never tell the story whole because a life isn’t a story; it’s a whole Milky Way of events and we are forever picking out constellations from it to fit who and where we are.”
—Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

Fall

A New Season

October 11, 2017

Photo by Lukasz Szmigiel on Unsplash

“A new season is blowing up the valley, drifting over the hills, rising up from a cooling earth, a new season with its challenges, its changes, its excitements, and its own particular rhythms and miracles.”
—Jean Hersey, The Shape of a Year

What simple pleasures and everyday adventures do you anticipate this fall?

Everyday adventures

Secret Destinations

October 04, 2017

Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”
—Martin Buber

I’m off to California to visit my parents this week. At least, that’s what my travel documents say. What secret destinations will I discover? I can’t wait to find out.

What secret destinations have you stumbled upon?

Blooming

What an Orchid Can Teach Us About Blooming

September 29, 2017

I’ve been thinking about growing conditions lately.

Orchids started this train of thought. Mine have always seemed to do fine on our covered lanai without much fuss. However, even though all the plants look healthy, only one or two of them ever actually bloomed. I’d love to have more flowers, so I decided to research each orchid variety I have to see what constituted that plant’s ideal growing conditions. Based on what I learned, I moved several to different positions, providing both more sun and more water than they’d been getting.



Lo and behold, two that hadn’t bloomed since I bought them produced flowers and two more sent up flower spikes that should bloom in the next couple of months.

Huh.

A simple tweak in growing conditions nudged them from just getting by to thriving.

Shortly thereafter I stumbled on this passage:

“When a tree is tender and young, first making its roots, a gardener knows to fence it from deer, fertilize it with nutrients, pay loving attention as it gets started. The gardener doesn’t grow the tree; she provides the conditions in which it can thrive. We need to do the same with our souls, hearts, spirits, bodies. We need to provide the conditions in which we can thrive, and those conditions involve other people. We need to put ourselves in circumstances in which we can be seen, heard, and loved for who we are and want to become.

“We are so used to battering ourselves around. To toughing it out. To taking care of everyone else and not looking after ourselves. We are used to throwing the seeds of our lives in soil and not paying them one more minute of attention. In fact, we do the opposite. We stamp on our hearts. We attack and punish ourselves. We don’t trust our fundamental desire to move toward the light….” (Geneen Roth in When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair.)

Roth is specifically writing about how we treat ourselves in relation to food and dieting, but her words apply to everything we do (or don’t do) to nurture ourselves.

Most of us are too used to toughing it out, and to seeing our needs as weaknesses. What would happen if instead of trying to get by on a minimum of sleep, nutrition, downtime, and enjoyment, we tried giving ourselves optimal amounts of the things we need to feel great? Things like healthful, delicious food; sleep; movement that feels good rather than punishing; time to do something just for fun? Are we too busy for that? Does that sound like weakness instead of strength?

How much more beautiful and profuse might our own blooming be if we gave ourselves optimal growing conditions? As I learned from moving orchids around, it might not take much to help us thrive.

Taking steps to nurture ourselves doesn’t mean becoming hothouse flowers that wither in every cold draft or scorching heat wave. When we learn our own ideal growing conditions and make efforts to provide them, we grow stronger and healthier. A strong plant can more easily withstand hardships when they come.

Do you want to do more than survive? To bloom abundantly rather than just put out a few leaves? What are your ideal growing conditions? In the comments below, share some things you can do to bloom more often!

Lois Parker Edstrom

One Person's Trash...

September 27, 2017

Photo courtesy congerdesign

Introduction by Ted Kooser: Lois Parker Edstrom, a retired nurse, lives on Whidbey Island, off the coast of Washington, and her 2016 book Night Beyond Black, from MoonPath Press, has many accessible and moving poems. Here's just one example.

Doing Dishes

She said she had always wanted to do it;
throw away dirty dishes rather than wash them

and she did, after breakfast, toss the blue, green,
orange, and yellow Fiestaware into the trash.

Transferring from New York to Germany
with her husband and children,

the movers coming that day, she chucked the dishes
in among the banana peels, egg shells, coffee grounds,

bits of bacon, paper towels and called it good.
What she could not know is that a young mother

in that very town received a much needed set
of tableware when her husband returned

home from work that evening. Bright dishes
that showed up chipped and grubby

like old friends with egg on their faces.

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 ©2016 by Lois Parker Edstrom, “Doing Dishes,” from Night Beyond Black, (MoonPath Press, 2016). Poem reprinted by permission of Lois Parker Edstrom and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2017 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.

Feelings

Sunny Skies Today

September 20, 2017

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

“Don’t let yesterday’s bad times or bad feelings influence today’s thoughts and mood. You shouldn’t choose to dress for yesterday’s rain if there are sunny skies today.”
—Karen Salmansohn, Instant Happy

Everyday adventures

This Post Brought to You By…Electricity! Or, Post-Irma Reflections

September 18, 2017

I’ve never before considered electricity a simple pleasure, but I certainly do now. Following Hurricane Irma, which roared through Florida Sept. 10-11, we went without power for almost four days. I’ve never been so happy in my life when I came back from the barn last Thursday to see a light on in my house! Since then, I’ve been grateful every time I flipped a light switch or woke up to find coffee ready in the coffee pot.

Really, how did people live before electricity? I’ll tell you how: they labored to produce meals and clean clothes, they lay sweating in their beds at night (or shivering, depending on where they lived), they never got a good look at themselves in a mirror (probably a good thing, judging by my own appearance last week), their thoughts and energy were consumed by mere survival.

The past two weeks have been mostly about getting ready for a major hurricane, riding it out, and putting things back together again once the storm was over. Because Hurricane Harvey was fresh in my mind, I took Irma’s threat seriously, bagging ice from our icemaker and freezing water in every available plastic container. I prepped the house for guests, since my (divorced) in-laws would be staying with us, possibly for an extended time depending on damage and/or power outages at their homes. I counted canned goods and gallons of drinking water, dug out our emergency lanterns and candles, and began a search for extra D batteries to power fans that might keep us cool enough to sleep.

We cleared our yard of things that could become flying missiles, my husband brought home all the computers from his office in case it was destroyed, and I brought all my tack and tools home from the barn in case the tack room blew away. Evacuating 20+ horses wasn’t practical for a number of reasons, so we marked them all with some form of ID in case fence lines were destroyed and they escaped their paddocks.

And more.

And then we waited.

By Sunday, we were huddled in front of the TV watching storm coverage and obsessively checking Irma’s projected track. We suffered hours of fear as the storm approached, especially after we lost power and we had a harder time tracking it. It was terrifying lying in bed that night while the trees groaned and the rain pattered, and we wondered whether a tornado spawned by the storm would wipe us out, and whether Tank would be OK.

What a relief and a joy it was to wake up Monday morning to find the house intact, and after a visit to the barn, my horse in one piece. I think relief must qualify as a simple pleasure.

Irma wasn’t a fun adventure, but it was an adventure. It challenged my planning skills, as well as my commitment to stay positive and not make a bad situation worse. I had to let go of worry and projecting what might happen. I had to believe that whatever happened we would be OK and we would get through it. When my mind skittered ahead to wondering how long we’d be without power, I wrestled it back to the present moment.

We were lucky. We had no damage to our home and we have our power back. We had major clean up to do (see photos below), and lost some food from our refrigerator and freezer. We found some holes in our hurricane preparations that must be addressed. 

This weekend while we collected debris in our yard, we also watched butterflies flit from plant to plant. As I wrote this I heard birds chirping and cicadas shrilling. Things look pretty much the same when I look out the windows. But they don’t feel the same. At least for now, I hold simple pleasures, like electricity, a bath, or light even more dear than I did before after seeing how quickly they can disappear.

Thank you all for your prayers and good thoughts—it means something to know that others are thinking of you when you’re facing a scary situation.

If you want to help the people of Florida who are faced with a much more difficult road to recovery, here are some places you can do that:


Charity Navigator's list of charities providing assistance following Hurricane Irma


41 bags, one trash can, and one tree


Still Here

September 13, 2017


We came through the storm just fine, including Tank. We still don't have electricity,  so I'm writing this from my husband's office. Lots of clean up ahead of us, but we're grateful it wasn't much, much worse. Thanks for all your thoughts and prayers!

Driveway

Front walkway

Tank says, "What's the big deal?"

Habits

Want to Be Happier? Become a Tracker

September 08, 2017

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling a little meh. I’ve fallen out of the habit of sketching (again), Tank’s issues have wreaked havoc with my schedule, and I’ve drifted away from my goals. I need a way to regain my enthusiasm and motivation. Just in time for September’s new beginning, last week I happened upon blog posts from two different people who in their own ways extolled the virtue of tracking. The first was Laurie Perry (of Crazy Aunt Purl—now Crazy Tourist—fame) whose cute little stickers and printable charts caught my fancy. The second was this thoughtful post from Raptitude, which is worth a read in its entirety. (Go ahead and read it, I’ll wait here.)

I believe in the power of tracking, and have used it at various times to make changes in my habits. I’ve tracked money in/money out, what I eat, my workouts, and for one week every quarter I keep a time log of what I do all day.  Tracking is great for maintaining habits or making changes. Remember the Jerry Seinfeld Method for establishing a habit? It relies on tracking. 

Why I like tracking
I like the practice of tracking because it gently helps me to become aware of what I’m doing. I often live in my head, distracted, daydreaming, decidedly not present. I’m forever thinking of what’s next rather than paying attention to what’s now. At the end of a busy day, I’m left wondering what I did—and why I didn’t do what I said was important to me.

If you want to give this a shot, too, some things you could track include:
  • What money you spend/make
  • What you eat
  • Your workouts/physical activity
  • Reading/study time
  • Time spent painting or drawing
  • Days you meditated

You can, of course, take tracking to an extreme, as I’ve done in the past. But if you keep it simple and don’t try to track too many things at once, you should be golden.

Methods of tracking
This is where you can make it as simple or as complicated as you like. Hint: simple is usually better. You could create a spreadsheet, make a chart you color in or fill with stickers, cross off the date on the calendar. If you want to track your time, this is my favorite time-tracking log.

William Butler Yeats wrote, “Happiness is neither this virtue nor pleasure, nor this thing or that, but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.” Tracking is one method of supporting ourselves in our efforts to grow.

So I’m dusting off my workout tracker, and I’m going to print out one of Laurie Perry’s charts to keep track of three areas that are important to me: sketching, exercise, and writing. I’ll get to other areas of importance soon, but right now this is all I feel I can handle, what with everything else going on*.

You can't get much simpler than this.


Have you tried tracking? How did it work for you? What would you like to track now? Please share in the comments!

*Speaking of tracking…we live in central Florida, which at the time of this writing is square in the path of Hurricane Irma. We’re highly likely to be affected by this storm no matter which way it goes, so I may be out of touch for a while after this weekend. 

Choice

Happiness Isn’t Pass/Fail

September 06, 2017

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

“Happiness isn’t something to lock down and keep in a cage. It isn’t a distant finish line either. But you can choose it more often than not and you can live in a way that isn’t pass/fail.”
—Danny Gregory, Shut Your Monkey


Essential Oils

Change Your Environment, Change Your Emotions—Three Simple Ways to Support Positive Moods

September 01, 2017



Acoustic guitar music plays low in the background. The ceiling fan spins, the coffee is hot, the paper and pen just right…on a good day, this is how I set the mood when I write. My office walls are painted a certain color, the window blinds are always open during the day, there are shelves filled with books, a glider rocker. I’ve done everything in my power to make this room a happy place.

To energize, calm, inspire, comfort—whatever the emotion we want to feel, there likely is a way to nudge ourselves in that direction by manipulating our surroundings. Whether it’s the music we listen to or the motivational quotes we tack up on our refrigerator, we create the atmosphere in which our moods grow. As Sam Gosling, author of Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You, wrote, “Much of the stuff we gather about us and the environments we create are there not to send messages about our identities but specifically to manage our emotions and thoughts.” 

Here are three simple environmental factors that can boost—or lower—your mood:

Tidiness

I don’t aspire to Marie Kondo levels of organization, but it does make me feel lighter and happier when I look around at tidy surroundings. I like knowing that if I open the hall closet door, nothing will fall on my head. I’m in an ongoing battle with paper in my office, and books everywhere else, but I make an effort to keep my kitchen cleaned up and I make the bed most days because it makes me happy to see it like that.

I’m also prone to taking on a cleaning or organizing project when I’m frustrated or blocked in my creative pursuits. Some would say I’m avoiding my work, but I choose to think of it as a way to distract the inner critic long enough to sneak some ideas by her. Making progress in one area (a cleaned out hall closet) often leads to progress in another (a completed blog post). 

(Just don’t look in my office right now—eesh!)

Light

The presence or lack of light, especially natural light, makes a huge difference to me. If we have a run of a few days with no sunshine, I feel my mood lowering just like the clouds. Light is essential to the human body, helping to regulate hormones that affect mood and sleep. You’ll almost always find “step outside” on lists of ways to feel happier, and getting some natural light is one of the reasons that’s so effective.  

Scent

Essential Oils are Having a Moment. Everywhere you turn, they’re touted as the cure for some malady. So far, my main use for them has been scent. I diffuse oils in the bedroom, kitchen, and my car. I like when things smell good! It’s a bonus when those scents have beneficial effects on my mood, which some research suggests that they do.

According to Christopher Alexander in The Timeless Way of Building: “There is a myth, sometimes widespread, that a person need only do inner work…that a man is entirely responsible for his own problems; and that to cure himself, he need only change himself…The fact it, a person is so formed by his surroundings, that his state of harmony depends entirely on his harmony with his surroundings.” To be truly happy, we still need to do the inner work, but we can support that work with simple pleasures that make our surroundings more to our taste. So if you find yourself battling sadness, fear, anxiety, stress or other negatively-charged emotions (and who doesn’t?), take a look at your surroundings. Maybe there’s something you can change that will help you feel better.

What is your favorite way to influence your mood by manipulating your environment? Please share in the comments!

Birds

The Beat of Ordinary Hours

August 30, 2017

Photo by Gary Bendig on Unsplash

Introduction by Ted Kooser: In our busy times, the briefest pause to express a little interest in the natural world is praiseworthy. Most of us spend our time thinking about other people, and scarcely any time thinking about other creatures. I recently co-edited an anthology of poems about birds, and we looked through lots of books and magazines, but here is a fine poem we missed, by Tara Bray, who lives in Richmond, Virginia.

Once

I climbed the roll of hay to watch the heron
in the pond. He waded a few steps out,
then back, thrusting his beak under water,
pulling it up empty, but only once.
Later I walked the roads for miles, certain
he’d be there when I returned. How is it for him,
day after day, his brittle legs rising
from warm green scum, his graceful neck curled,
damp in the bright heat? It’s a dull world.
Every day, the same roads, the sky,
the dust, the barn caving into itself,
the tin roof twisted and scattered in the yard.
Again, the bank covered with oxeye daisy
that turns to spiderwort, to chicory,
and at last to goldenrod. Each year, the birds—
thick in the air and darting in wild numbers—
grow quiet, the grasses thin, the light leaves
earlier each day. The heron stood
stone-still on my spot when I returned.
And then, his wings burst open, lifting the steel-
blue rhythm of his body into flight.
I touched the warm hay. Hoping for a trace
of his wild smell, I cupped my hands over
my face: nothing but the heat of fields
and skin. It wasn’t long before the world
began to breathe the beat of ordinary hours,
stretching out again beneath the sky.

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 ©2006 by Tara Bray, and reprinted from her most recent book of poems, “Mistaken for Song,” Persea Books, Inc., 2009, by permission of the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2010 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.

Adversity

Feeling the Heat

August 25, 2017

Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

August has been nothing but “feels like” temperatures over 100 degrees, twice-a-day trips to the barn to doctor a horse who is getting a little fed up with the routine*, buckets of sweat, changing my clothes two and three times a day, and trying to muster enough energy to keep up with the rest of my life. When I think about the past few weeks, I think of the word “heat”—both physical heat, and the “heat” of adversity.

Caring for an injured horse in August in Florida qualifies as adversity in that it’s physically grueling, expensive, worrisome, and the time and energy I’m expending taking care of him is being drawn from other areas of my life. It’s not a devastating situation, but it is challenging.

Life has turned up the heat—and while I may complain about it, heat is not all bad. We cook with it and create beautiful and useful things with it. Heat both softens and hardens. It strengthens and refines.

Heat—adversity—in our lives does the same for us. It distills and purifies our best qualities. It both softens our hearts and hardens our resolve. Sometimes it brings to light our worst qualities so we can acknowledge and work on them. If we never face even the smallest amount of adversity, we’ll be ill-equipped to cope when one of life’s inevitable traumas occurs.

Richelle E. Goodrich wrote in Making Wishes, “If you couldn’t sense heat, you’d not be alive. And if that heat never grew uncomfortable, you would never move. And if you were stagnant—unchallenged by unpredictable flares—you would never grow capable of shielding yourself from harsher flames. So yes, life was meant to drag you straight through the fire.”  

Coping with Tank’s minor injury has forced me to overcome laziness, become more creative, and plan more carefully so I can keep up with other responsibilities. I’ve had to pare away some inessentials because I simply do not have time or energy for them. I’ve had to push myself when I wanted to quit, and I’ve had to lie down and take a nap because I was too tired to do one more thing.

I like adversity about as much as I like August (not much, in case I’ve been unclear). I don’t wish for it, but I also try not to wish it away because I know there’s value in it. I learn, I grow, I become a more refined version of me. One better able to handle whatever adversity life chooses to throw at me next.

What has adversity taught you?

*Turns out, Tank has an abscessed tooth. The facial wound he presented three weeks ago was probably made by rubbing his face to relieve the pressure. The vet lanced the abscess, put him on antibiotics, and I continue to flush the wound twice a day. It’s just as much fun as it sounds.

2017 solar eclipse

Light Returns to the World

August 23, 2017

Photo by laura skinner on Unsplash

Unfortunately, I had to confine my solar eclipse viewing on Monday to NASA live-streaming since I procrastinated on getting eclipse glasses until it was too late. Even so, what an amazing event! I got goosebumps watching the sun reappear after being hidden by the moon.

In honor of Monday’s eclipse, here is a passage from Virginia Woolf’s The Waves that beautifully describes the reappearance of light:

“How then does light return to the world after the eclipse of the sun? Miraculously. Frailly. In thin stripes. It hangs like a glass cage. It is a hoop to be fractured by a tiny jar. There is a spark there. Next moment a flush of dun. Then a vapour as if earth were breathing in and out, once, twice, for the first time. Then under the dullness someone walks with a green light. Then off twists a white wraith. The woods throb blue and green, and gradually the fields drink in red, gold, brown. Suddenly a river snatches a blue light. The earth absorbs colour like a sponge slowly drinking water. It puts on weight; rounds itself; hangs pendent; settles and swings beneath our feet.”

We can choose to use an event like an eclipse as a marker between one time and another if we’d like to make a new start or shake things up. Or it can simply be an awe-inspiring natural event that adds a little excitement to our ordinary days. One more everyday adventure for the remembering self.

Did you watch the eclipse?

One more thing—at the post office yesterday, I bought these cool stamps. They use heat-sensitive ink to mimic an eclipse:





Isn’t that cool?

Announcement

The Happy Little Thoughts Newsletter is Coming Soon!

August 18, 2017

Photo by Neven Krcmarek on Unsplash

Did you know that the redesigned Catching Happiness includes a new feature: the monthly Happy Little Thoughts newsletter?

The first edition is just about ready, so if you want to receive it, please sign up here. I promise I will not share your email address with anyone else.

Note: If you are already signed up for blog updates (see sidebar at right), you do not need to sign up for the newsletter. You’ll receive it automatically.

Don’t miss out on this Catching Happiness bonus—sign up today!

Alain de Botton

No Matter Where You Go, There You Are

August 16, 2017

Photo courtesy Public Co

“We are sad at home and blame the weather and the ugliness of the buildings, but on the tropical island we learn (after an argument in a raffia bungalow under an azure sky) that the state of the skies and the appearance of our dwellings can never on their own either underwrite our joy or condemn us to misery.”
—Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel


Life

While I Was Making Other Plans

August 11, 2017

Life happened last week.

Tank hurt himself, doing we know not what, and I’ve been going to the barn twice a day to check on him, and clean and medicate his wounds. (He somehow injured his neck and put a puncture wound in his face—I’ll spare you the photos.)

I had intended to write some extra blog posts for Catching Happiness last week so I could take a little summer vacation.

That didn’t happen.

Life happened.

Tank is fine—it’s not a life-threatening injury, but it does require watching and extra care, and a little babying. Since the “feels like” temperatures are more than 100 degrees right now, these barn trips leave me dripping with sweat and exhausted by the end of the day.

I apologize for not having something new for you, but in the meantime, I’m resurrecting summer reruns. The following post first appeared in December of 2010 (hence the reference to the holiday season), but the message is good any time of year. 

With any luck, next week will be better!

The Gift of Permission

Most of us are thinking of what we and our loved ones would like as gifts this holiday season. Along with the wish lists we generally have, what about a gift we can give ourselves: the gift of permission? Here are three things we should give ourselves permission to do:

Permission to have the life you want
Do you, deep down, believe you deserve the life you want? If you don’t, your dream life will never become real. Women in particular often put others’ needs first, and sacrifice their own goals and dreams in favor of helping others achieve theirs. This is not all bad, of course. Many of us find deep satisfaction in helping others. It becomes a problem when you always sacrifice your own dreams and wishes in favor of others’ and never or rarely have a chance to pursue your own passions and pleasures.

Joy Chudacoff writes in “Smart Women Give Themselves Permission,” “There comes a time when you will begin to feel a calling to create more of what you prefer in your own life. It does not mean that you do not love and care for all of those people who mean so much to you. It’s a signal that the time has come for you to embrace more of who you uniquely are.”

This is definitely an issue for me: why do I “deserve” to have my dreams come true—owning my own horse, working as a freelancer (i.e., often getting paid more in satisfaction than in money), simply having what I have in my life? I feel guilty because I have the time and resources to pursue the life of my dreams, and then I begin to dissipate my energy to such an extent that I no longer do have the time and resources to do what I want. I realize I’ve been waiting for someone to tell me it’s OK to have the life I want. The truth is, I deserve the life I want just as much as—not more than, not less than—any other human being does. And so do you.

Permission to be imperfect
I’m not saying you consciously think you have to be “perfect,” but I’ll bet you think you should be better. We could all be “better” than we are—it’s part of the human condition to be imperfect. If you’re like me, you can probably name 25 things you wish were different about you and your life. Stop worrying over that and feeling guilty about it and give yourself permission to be imperfect. Admit your flaws, then realize that’s just how it is right now. If it’s truly something that must be changed, then commit to changing, but refuse to wallow in the feeling that somehow you should have already overcome this problem and you’re a bad person for not having done so. (Channel Popeye by saying, “I yam what I yam.”)

Permission to try and succeed…or to try and fail
This is one of my biggest issues. When I have a big, hairy goal or project in mind, I often become paralyzed, equally worried about succeeding or failing! If I fail, I’ll be embarrassed and disappointed in myself. If I succeed, people might expect more of me and then I could fail their expectations—or my own. Safer and more comfortable just to do nothing.

And what if trying for your big, hairy goal causes someone in your life discomfort or inconvenience? That may be true. How often does someone else’s important goal cause you discomfort or inconvenience? How do you feel about that? Probably you feel that’s OK, within reason, if the other person’s activity or achievement is important enough to them. (I also refer you back to my first point.)

Regardless of success or failure, you should give yourself permission to try. Either outcome is better than not making the attempt.

So this is what we’re going to do. I give you permission to follow your dreams, to learn something new, to succeed, to do something badly, to be imperfect. And you do the same for me. But truthfully, we don’t really need each other’s permission, do we?

What would you do if you had “permission”?

Seen on a store window in New Orleans

“If it’s a good idea, go ahead and do it. It’s much easier to apologize than it is to get permission.”
--Grace Murray Hopper

Laura Ingalls Wilder

Laura Ingalls Wilder on Simple Pleasures

August 09, 2017

Photo by Rachael Gorjestani on Unsplash

“As the years pass, I am coming more and more to understand that it is the common, everyday blessings of our common everyday lives for which we should be particularly grateful. They are the things that fill our lives with comfort and our hearts with gladness—just the pure air to breathe and the strength to breath it; just warmth and shelter and home folks; just plain food that gives us strength; the bright sunshine on a cold day; and a cool breeze
when the day is warm.”
—Laura Ingalls Wilder,
Writings to Young Women From Laura Ingalls Wilder: On Wisdom and Virtues

Heat

Hot Links to Love

August 04, 2017

Photo by Ethan Robertson on Unsplash

It’s August. It’s just too hot to do anything except stay inside and surf the ’net, don’t you think? To get you started, I’ve got some hot links for you to love today, so grab a cold drink and let’s get to it!

First up, Marc and Angel’s “50 Ways to Nurture Your Happiness.” We’ve heard most of these suggestions before, but how many of us actually do them consistently?

Check out the YOU-app: “Micro actions” for happier, healthier living, sent right to your phone or email. Perfect for those of us who make progress via baby steps.

I don’t believe adventures have to feel scary—and neither does the author of “Rethinking the Skydiving Mindset.”

Subscribe to the Goodnewspaper. There’s still good news in the world, and this quarterly print publication aims to find and share it. There’s also a free e-newsletter you can sign up for here

Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed? So do I. This post examines the role we play in our own feelings of overwhelm, and how we can “own” our overwhelm. 

Twenty-six strategies for happiness, backed by research, in a handy infographic. The article itself is long, but packed with information.

This video made me laugh out loud. Kids are kids, whatever the species:



Have a happy (and cool) Friday!

Carew Papritz

Summer

August 02, 2017

Photo by Joshua Newton on Unsplash

“Summer, dropping so easily a delicious everything upon your skin and lips. Like a never-ending kiss—taunting, deep, and luscious. The sun. The heat. The thousand echoes of a timelessness before time, when every day seems longer than the next and no day seems likely to ever truly end. Summer.”
—Carew Papritz, The Legacy Letters

Happiness

Rewrite Your Story—Don’t Let Limiting Beliefs Rob You of Happiness

July 28, 2017


Most of us tell ourselves stories. Stories about what kind of people we are, our capabilities, about what other people are like or what they think about us, even about how the world works. Some of these stories are harmless, but many of them keep us stuck in places we don’t want to be, or keep us from doing things we want to do. Sometimes our stories get in the way of our happiness.

These stories are often called limiting beliefs because they limit our lives and our potential.

What does a limiting belief look like?


Limiting beliefs are usually blanket generalizations, and they often start with the words “I can’t,” “I am,” or “I am not.” Here are some common ones:

I am not smart.
I am not athletic.
I am not enough.
I am broken and need fixing.
I can’t do that.
I am not worthy of _____.
I can’t afford that.
I am not lucky.
I am not creative/an artist/a writer.
I am too old to _____.
I am too young to ______.

Where do limiting beliefs come from?

Many limiting beliefs have crept into our subconscious minds and set up camp without our even being aware of them. Sometimes we’ve picked them up in childhood from a careless remark we overheard, experiences that we barely remember, or from what society has drummed into our heads. We’ve all received messages about what makes a good woman or a good man, for example. We’ve probably also had more personal stories woven around us by our families of origin—maybe we were labeled the “klutzy one” or the “goofy one,” and that story has influenced and limited how we think about ourselves even now.

Our stories may have a small element of truth, or they may have been true at one time. Remember, however, that they are almost always generalizations, and make the assumption that things and people are the way they are, and there’s no such thing as change and growth.

How do we rid ourselves of limiting beliefs and rewrite our stories?


First we must become conscious of them. When an opportunity comes into your life, what does your mental chatter sound like? When you really want to go for it, does a voice in your head tell you, you can’t, it won’t happen, so why even bother?

Or maybe that voice is critical, telling you you’ll look ridiculous, or questioning whether or not you deserve this opportunity. Limiting beliefs come in many different guises.

Once we become aware of our limiting beliefs, we can challenge them. Are they really true? Every time? Think about times when they were not true. Push the boundary of that belief. What have you learned or experienced that you can now use to disprove it? (Byron Katie has done some really amazing work challenging thought patterns like this. Click here for an introduction to her teaching.) 

Discard the beliefs that are not true, and replace them with new stories. Start small, or take a giant leap—whatever works for you. “Act as if” your new belief is true. Taking action will help make your new belief real.

I write this article for myself more than for anyone else. I wrestle with many limiting beliefs—“I am not brave,” for example. I feel unsure of myself often, get tongue tied when I should speak up, and cringe while contemplating any number of activities other people don’t think twice about. The desire to live a full life and pursue my dreams has helped me to challenge those limiting beliefs. I am not brave, yet I own and ride a 1,000-pound horse, something that most people can’t say. I am not brave, and yet I wake up every day and do things that scare me (because many, many thing scare me)!

And that’s what it really boils down to. Very often, the underlying emotion behind a limiting belief is fear. Fear of criticism, of looking ridiculous, of failing. I’m sorry to say, these fears are likely to come true. If you’re out there daring to learn something new or live in a way that is out of the ordinary, you will experience failure, looking awkward, and probably someone will criticize you.

I have two little words for you: So What?

We have the choice of allowing our stories to mark out the boundaries of our achievements and our world. We can stay comfortable and hidden and afraid—or we can rewrite our stories and live.

Do your stories (limiting beliefs) keep you from pursuing the things that make you happy? What limiting belief are you willing to challenge?

Kay Ryan

A Pin Hole of Light

July 26, 2017

Photo courtesy Ezgi Platin

Introduction by Ted Kooser: Kay Ryan was our nation’s Poet Laureate at The Library of Congress for the 2008-2010 terms. Her poetry is celebrated for its compression; she can get a great deal into a few words. Here’s an example of a poem swift and accurate as a dart.

Pinhole

We say
pinhole.
A pin hole
of light. We
can’t imagine
how bright
more of it
could be,
the way
this much
defeats night.
It almost
isn’t fair,
whoever
poked this,
with such
a small act
to vanquish
blackness.

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 Kay Ryan, whose most recent book of poems is Odd Blocks, Selected and New Poems, Carcanet Press, 2011. Poem reprinted from Poetry, October 2011, by permission of Kay Ryan 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. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

Florida

Looking for the Simple Pleasures of Summer

July 21, 2017


I hate summer in Florida. It’s hurricane season, mosquito season, sweat-through-your-T-shirt season, I-wish-I-lived-in-Maine season. All the cheerful articles and blog posts about having summer fun leave me grumpy, since many of their suggestions aren’t practical for our extremely hot and humid climate. My idea of summer fun in Florida is to stay inside as much as possible. Unfortunately, errands still need to be run, horses still need grooming, and household maintenance still requires setting foot outdoors. Now more than ever I need a stock of simple pleasures to look forward to until cooler temperatures arrive (probably sometime in January, if the past couple years have been any indication). I want to savor the summer, and I want to share summer pleasures with you…but I confess my stock of simple pleasure ideas is running low.

So since I’m such a summer grump, I put out a call to my friends on Facebook to see what simple pleasures they enjoy during the summertime. Here, in their own words, are some sweet summer pleasures they savor:

“Sitting in matching tree swings with my husband, talking and watching the fireflies. Tubing, also with my husband.”—Maria

“I just love Target in August. It reminds me of my young co-ed days going to college. We had one right next to campus at NAU, and it would be full of all my classmates, dorm mates, sorority sisters, and cute boys. Picking out sheets, towels, and even garbage cans made me feel so adult! Every August at Target still takes me back and this summer I get to do that with my boy!”—Moki

“Camping in the many places by or around Banff. We use a tent.”—Anita

“Really cold watermelon, corn on the cob, Rainier cherries…shared with family and friends; crepe myrtle trees bloom and when the blooms start to drop, they look like colored rain or snowflakes on the breeze; that glorious (peculiar) golden green color we see just before dusk. It’s especially noticeable after a rainstorm. It almost glows.”—Laure

“Tomato sandwich!”—Debbie

“I love grooming and bathing horses and then hand grazing them until they dry. Just spending quiet time with my favorite horses without asking anything from them. Another simple pleasure would have to be picking fresh veggies at work and being allowed to take them home to enjoy with my family.”—Chris

“With school out for the summer, I savor sleeping in!”—Kathy

“Sitting on my front porch between 7:00 and 8:00 a.m. reading…when there is still a bit of coolness, but [it’s] not cold. It is refreshing, and so pleasant. T-shirt, shorts, maybe a hoodie. Birds singing, calm, quiet, pleasant.”—Lynn [Lynn lives in Canada—can you tell?]

“Blueberries!”—Kerri

“I love working in my yard. It’s a great way to sweat/get rid of some toxins and it’s good for my health, plus I get some good ole Vitamin D. Then I like sitting in the evening looking at my yard listening to the birds and hopefully catching a glimpse of some birds with something refreshing to drink”—Robin

“My favorite summer pleasure is taking a trip as far north as I can…to get away from the Texas heat.”—Becky [Clearly a woman after my own heart.]

After some additional thought, I came up with a few simple pleasures I plan to savor between now and the end of summer—pleasures like floating in our pool (now that our son is grown, we rarely use it), making homemade ice cream, sharing a margarita with my friend down the street, taking a few days off for a mini staycation, listening to music by candlelight, hosting a game night for visiting friends, and putting together the jigsaw puzzle my friend Mary gave me. Of course, there will still be plenty of reading and hanging out with Tank while he grazes. And perhaps the best thing of all, taking the pressure off myself to “enjoy” summer—or, at least, not worry about enjoying it in ways that other people say I should enjoy it!

What are your favorite summer pleasures to savor? Please share in the comments section!

Tank's favorite summer pleasure

Seize the Pleasure: Nine Happiness Quotes From Jane Austen

July 18, 2017


Today is the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen, at age 41. Her novels have had a lasting impact on the world of literature and have inspired countless fans as well as quite a few books about them and her. Since I wrote this piece, we’ve seen even more Austen-inspired books, essays, celebrations, and so on, come into being. (See below for a link to Signature’s “Essential Guide to Jane Austen,” as well as two fun and free printables.)

In remembrance of Miss Austen, here are nine quotes from her books related to happiness:

From Mansfield Park:

“There will be little rubs and disappointments everywhere, and we are all apt to expect too much; but then, if one scheme of happiness fails, human nature turns to another; if the first calculation is wrong, we make a second better: we find comfort somewhere.”

“A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of.”

“There is nothing like employment, active indispensable employment, for relieving sorrow. Employment, even melancholy, may dispel melancholy.” 

From Sense and Sensibility:

 “I wish, as well as everybody else, to be perfectly happy; but, like everybody else, it must be in my own way.”

“What have wealth or grandeur to do with happiness?” “Grandeur has but little,” said Elinor, “but wealth has much to do with it.”
“Elinor, for shame!” Said Marianne. “Money can only give happiness where there is nothing else to give it...” 

From Northanger Abbey:

“[I]t is well to have as many holds upon happiness as possible.”

From Emma:

“Why not seize the pleasure at once?—How often is happiness destroyed by preparation, foolish preparation!”

 “Perfect happiness, even in memory, is not common.” 

From Pride and Prejudice:

 “I never could be so happy as you. Till I have your disposition, your goodness, I never can have your happiness.” 

Reading Jane Austen makes me happy—it’s a simple pleasure I haven’t indulged in for quite some time. I might choose Mansfield Park or Northanger Abbey to read next, because I’m not as familiar with them as I am with Pride and Prejudice or Emma (my two favorites).

Do you have a favorite Jane Austen novel?

Signature's free, downloadable “Essential Guide to Jane Austen”
Jane Austen quote printables
Jane Austen-themed printable bookmarks


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