Alexandra Stoddard

No One Can Be Happy For You

July 26, 2019


“Be idealistic. No one on earth deserves to be happier than you do. Because you are unique, if you are not happy, no one can be happy for you. Happiness is love in action. The more you love your life, the more you will love all of life. You can accomplish great things when your energy is loving. It is recognizing what we love inside and out that leads us to greater happiness.”
—Alexandra Stoddard, Choosing Happiness

Books

Summertime and the Reading Is Easy

July 22, 2019


Nearly every day I find myself drenched in sweat—we’re talking “wring out your t-shirt” sweat (too much information?). That’s because Florida has experienced record-breaking heat since May. Not only am I avoiding the outdoors as much as I can, on the days when I do have to go outside (the dog needs walking, the horse needs tending to), the heat drains my energy so much that after taking a swig of an electrolyte drink, I often plop myself down to read…and sometimes I drop off into a nap, but we won’t tell my husband that. Except he reads the blog, so I guess I just did. Oops.

Anyway, I digress. Blame it on the heat addling my brain.

I’ve been zipping through my summer reading list, and I’ve also been enjoying a couple of the books I found on this blog post by Modern Mrs. Darcy. Do not read her blog unless you want your TBR list to explode. From my own shelves, I finished Ride With Your Mind, and read Vanishing Point, by Patricia Wentworth, a very enjoyable mystery featuring Miss Maud Silver.

My library holds did all come in at once as I suspected they would, but I was able to read the ones that had to go back because other people were waiting for them, and hold on to others for a longer period, so it’s all worked out OK so far.

Here are some of my favorites:

The Island of Sea Women, by Lisa See (Scribner, 2019) was not at all what I expected and at times it was an intense read. Set on the Korean island of Jeju, it followed the lives and friendship of Young-sook and Mi-ja, and the forces that draw them together and tear them apart. I really loved the peek into a culture I know nothing about. Well worth reading.

Lessons From Lucy: The Simple Joys of an Old, Happy Dog, Dave Barry (Simon & Schuster 2019). One of the library holds. I’ve loved Dave Barry’s writing for 30 years—he’s made me laugh out loud hundreds of times. This book, while still funny, is more thoughtful than some of his previous work. He’s 70 now, and his college-age daughter experienced a life-changing illness that clearly shook him up. The dog doesn’t die in the book, so that’s always a plus!

Wolfpack, Abby Wambach (Celadon Books, 2019). This slim book was based on Wambach’s viral 2018 commencement speech to the graduating class of New York’s Barnard College. Her vision of leadership inspired me, and I copied out several quotes from the book, including:

“Imperfect men have been empowered and permitted to run the world since the beginning of time. It’s time for imperfect women to grant themselves permission to join them.

“Perfection is not a prerequisite of leadership. But we can forgive ourselves for believing it is.

“We have been living by the old rules that insist that a woman must be perfect before she’s worthy of showing up. Since no one is perfect, this rule is an effective way to keep women out of leadership preemptively.”

The Year of Pleasures, by Elizabeth Berg (Random House, 2005) was a Modern Mrs. Darcy suggestion. It follows a recent widow, 55-year-year old Betta, as she begins a new life without her beloved husband, John. An easy and pleasant read, if a little too “neat.” One of my favorite things was minor character Jovani’s mangling of the English language.

I’m two-thirds of the way through another Modern Mrs. Darcy suggestion, Celine, by Peter Heller (Vintage 2017). So far I’m loving it, especially the descriptions of nature. Heller often writes for Outside magazine and National Geographic Adventure and it shows. Celine is a private detective who specializes in reuniting families. She’s also a 68-year-old woman with emphysema—not your typical PI!

What’s next? I’ve just started to read Mansfield Park and the Autobiography of Mark Twain over the weekend. Mark Twain is intimidatingly large, but I’m going to do my best to finish in the next few months. I’m not as familiar with Mansfield Park as I am with other Jane Austen titles, so I plan to take my time getting the most out of it.

And a couple more library holds just came in. Thank goodness I have plenty to read, because it’s going to be summertime here for the foreseeable future.

What have you been reading lately?

Atomic Habits

Enter Here

July 19, 2019

Tank (right) experiencing perfect happiness

“Happiness is not about the achievement of pleasure (which is joy or satisfaction), but about the lack of desire It arrives when you have no urge to feel differently. Happiness is the state you enter when you no longer want to change your state.”
—James Clear, Atomic Habits

Interesting

That Was Interesting

July 15, 2019

Interesting perspective in this photo by sergio souza on Unsplash

I have a judgmental brain. Whenever something happens to me, I want to slot it away in either a “good” or “bad” mental filing cabinet. There are many problems with that, including that few things are entirely good or bad, and it’s often unclear what the long-term outcome of any one occurrence will be. Sometimes things that appear positive end up being negative, and vice versa. Good comes out of bad all the time…and yes, vice versa.

Much of that has to do with our own perspective, how we see things.

Instead of immediately jumping into judgment about the goodness or badness of something, I’m experimenting with the phrase, “That was interesting.” It’s a way to at least hit the pause button before judging—or most likely getting upset—to give myself time to think instead of simply react.

I’m not the only one with a judgmental brain. Our world is filled with hotheaded, all-or-nothing folks, who don’t allow for any sort of nuance. Who believe in “my way or the highway” and refuse to listen and learn from anyone else. If they (we) would respond with “That was interesting,” we might be able to understand others better, and even find common ground.

This is just something I’ve been thinking about lately. What do you think? Do you have any tools you use to avoid making snap judgments, or to stay calm in the face of the unexpected or unnerving? Please share!

Peg Duthie. Ease.

Making It Look Easy

July 12, 2019


Photo by Ana Tavares on Unsplash

Introduction by Ted Kooser: There’s nothing that can’t be a good subject for a poem. The hard part is to capture something in such a way that it becomes engaging and meaningful. Here's a poem from the Summer 2018 issue of Rattle, by Peg Duthie of Tennessee, in which two very different experiences are pushed up side by side. Her most recent book of poetry is Measured Extravagance, (Upper Rubber Boot, 2012).

Decorating a Cake While Listening to Tennis


The commentator’s rabbiting on and on
about how it’s so easy for Roger, resentment
thick as butter still in a box. Yet word
from those who've done their homework
is how the man loves to train—how much
he relishes putting in the hours
just as magicians shuffle card after card,
countless to mere humans
but carefully all accounted for.
At hearing “luck” again, I stop
until my hands relax their clutch
on the cone from which a dozen more
peonies are to materialize. I make it look easy
to grow a garden on top of a sheet
of fondant, and that’s how it should appear:
as natural and as meant-to-be
as the spin of a ball from the sweetest spot
of a racquet whisked through the air like a wand.

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. 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 ©2018 by Peg Duthie, “Decorating a Cake While Listening to Tennis,” from Rattle, (Vol. 24, No. 2, 2018). Poem reprinted by permission of Peg Duthie and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2019 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.

Beach

Summer Rerun--A Gift for the Remembering Self

July 08, 2019

On Saturday, I drove by the place where I took Tank riding on the beach a few years ago, so I dug up this post from June of 2015 to share as a summer rerun. It was a lot of fun to remember this experience. I hope you’re giving your remembering self something happy to think about this summer! 

A few months ago, Laura Vanderkam used a term in a blog post that intrigued me: the remembering self. Vanderkam described riding the train to New York (from her home in Pennsylvania) on a Saturday night to hear a Christmas concert, even though she was pregnant, the weather was bad, she’d endured a difficult week, and so on. She wrote, “The remembering self deserves consideration in decisions too, not just the present self.”

This term resonated with me so much that I commented: “I love the phrase ‘the remembering self.’ It reminds me that often it’s the things we don’t do that we regret later in life.”  She responded: “I think it’s as much that the remembering self and the experiencing self [or the present self] value different things. The experiencing self is never 100% happy, because it occupies a corporal body that experiences little annoyances like an itchy nose, needing a bathroom before the concert starts, etc. The remembering self looks back on the wash of the experience and doesn’t see all of these details. It’s easy to over-value the experiencing self because it’s what we’re currently occupying, but the remembering self deserves some consideration in all this too.” (Read the entire post here.)

Sometimes I let my experiencing self run the show too much. If it’s hard, scary, or uncomfortable, my experiencing self doesn’t want any part of it. (She’s kind of a wimp.) If I let her dictate what I do, my poor remembering self has nothing of interest to reflect on! Remembering self is not impressed by excuses.

All this is on my mind because last week I checked off an item on my summer bucket list: I took Tank to the beach.

All photos taken by Gayle Bryan

I confess that though I wanted (in theory) to take my horse to the beach, I was anxious about actually doing it. I knew it would be very, very hot, I knew I’d be riding with a bareback pad and halter instead of a saddle and bridle, and I knew that my horse can get excited and strong (i.e., hard to control) when he goes to a new place. I knew the trip would take most of a day, and that I’d be good for almost nothing after spending so much time in the sun, thereby throwing off my weekly schedule. I knew I’d have to wake up earlier than normal and to come up with the money to pay for the trip. My “experiencing self” was full of worries and complaints. But I managed to shut her up for a little while so I could give my remembering self this gift.

And while my experiencing self did endure some uncomfortable moments, they’re becoming hazier by the day. My remembering self is already delighted to look back on the adventure and proud of herself for stepping out of her comfort zone. I know Tank enjoyed the change of scenery, but he was less than enamored with actually going in the water, even though all three of the other horses marched right in, and a couple of them went in deep enough to swim. Some of his expressed thoughts:

“This stuff moves. Is it really safe to walk in it?”

“There’s too much slimy green stuff along the edge, it looks like it might grab me.”

 “WHAT IS THAT BLACK THING ON THE SAND?!” (It was a discarded t-shirt.)

Despite his skepticism, he eventually relaxed and splashed through the water with everyone else, and when we were on the beach itself, I gave him his head so he could explore, which he loved. And he especially loved snacking on the patches of grass we found. Instead of merely walking on the beach, we trotted and cantered on the sand and it was totally awesome. Even experiencing self had to agree.

When you feel overwhelmed at the thought of something you really want to do, how can you help the experiencing self to relax so you can give your remembering self this gift? It helps me to learn all I can about the upcoming event/experience, to look for support from friends or family, and to ease into what I want to do in a way that feels comfortable to me. And even if it’s still scary, I know my memory of it will likely smooth over the fear and remember the joy. Some things will just be more fun to have done than to do.

What are some memories your remembering self especially enjoys?




Alexandra Stoddard

Reach for the Light

July 05, 2019


“To achieve high levels of happiness, reach for brightness in your daily life. Light and dark are integral to the natural cycle of life. We can accept darkness as we point toward the light. Become conscious of all your varied options for increasing cheerfulness of your immediate surroundings. We know firsthand that the sun does not perpetually shine down on us. Not only do we face darkness every evening but there are also many overcast, dark, and stormy days. It is up to us to bring light into our lives.”
—Alexandra Stoddard, Choosing Happiness

Mindfulness

Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat, It’s July!

July 01, 2019


January through June of 2019 have to have been the quickest six months of my life. And experience tells me that the next six months of the year won’t be any more leisurely if left to their own devices. How can I slow down time—or at least make it feel slower?

Summertime is the perfect time to do that, because generally the pace of life tends to slow down on its own. Many people schedule vacations, kids are out of school, and most of us make an effort to chill a little more during the hot months.

What it boils down to for me is becoming more mindful of the quality, pace, and texture of my days.

Again.

(Sigh.)

Here are a three simple ways to slow down and become more mindful that I swear I’m going to try. Want to join me?

Build in breaks. Use a timer if necessary. After a work session, schedule at least a 15-minute break, to stretch, drink a glass of water, walk around the house or office, look outside at blooming nature, and so on. I'm TERRIBLE at this. I tend to rush from one project to the next without taking a few minutes to reset and suddenly it’s 5 p.m. (And it has to be a break. No sorting the mail (or reading emails), tidying up the kitchen, or pretending that chores are a break. They are NOT.)

Create rituals throughout the day. First thing in the morning, take your coffee outside to see what’s going on in the yard, sit in meditation for 10 minutes and do a few yoga poses, or climb back in bed to write in a journal and read something inspirational. At lunchtime, pause to appreciate the smell and appearance of your food before eating, take a short walk afterwards. At bedtime, jot down three good things that happened to you today, read a poem, or practice relaxation exercises in bed. Rituals can help slow us down, as long as we don’t let them become mindless ruts

Revise the to-do list. Take at least one thing off it, and when you’re done with your list, you're done. Go put your feet up and read a book. Or whatever your favorite thing happens to be.

I’ve written about these things before, and tried them all with varying degrees of success, and it’s time to get back into practice. Do I control my life, or does it control me? Do I want to look back in December and wonder where the last six months went? No, I do not.

What are your tips and tricks for slowing down and being more mindful? Please share in the comments—I’m convinced we could all use some help in this area.

More posts about mindfulness and slowing down:

Also, check out the Action for Happiness July calendar. Today’s prompt: Make a list of things you’re looking forward to. I love it!




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