Alexandra Stoddard

Catching Happiness Inspiration--Alexandra Stoddard

August 19, 2019

Back in March, I wrote about one of the authors who inspired my mindset when I started Catching Happiness. Today I want to introduce you to another: Alexandra Stoddard.

Stoddard began her career as an interior designer, working with Eleanor McMillen Brown. She became a top design professional, and established her own design firm, Alexandra Stoddard Incorporated.  She also became an author, penning 28 books and giving lectures on not only design, but on personal happiness and living a more beautiful life. Her website lists her as “contemporary philosopher, author, interior designer, and speaker.” All this at the age of 77!

Her mantra is “Happiness is the first principle of life. Love & Live Happy.”

Once again, I can’t remember how I originally found her work, but over the years I’ve read probably half of her books. Over the past couple of months, I’ve been remaking her acquaintance by rereading some of my favorites.

As much as I enjoy her books, Stoddard has a more formal approach to living than I do. I’m a California/Florida girl and I’m ultra casual in almost everything. But I aspire to her tranquility and her cheery outlook. I love the idea of making our daily surroundings as pretty and uplifting as we can, as well as her belief that we have a role in creating our own happiness. (She also has no computer or smart phone, and hand writes manuscripts using a fountain pen. I start most of my writing with pen and paper, but couldn’t do my work without both a smart phone and a computer…much as I might like to sometimes.)

A few of my favorite Alexandra Stoddard quotes:

“In my work in interior design, I’ve noticed that many people have a tendency to save up 95 percent of their money and effort to spend on 5 percent of their lives—festive occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries and holidays, and the special, more public places in the home, such as the living or dining room. Instead, the way to live a beautiful life is to make the daily 95 percent of your life wonderful.”

“Whenever we want to learn to do something well, we have to go into training. Just because we’ve been given eyesight doesn’t mean we know how to use our eyes to look and really see.

“We have to train ourselves to look at all things and see things well. We must not be limited by the familiar but must instead look and look again. Seeing well is a process of opening our mind as well as our eyes. We will be intrigued and curious, but in the beginning we also need to discipline our mind and eyes and discern through practice.”

 “I love the idea that bees gather nectar from flowers and herbs and then go home and make honey. We are like bees in that way. We move about, going from here to there, having thousands of different experiences, and learning how to cultivate our own. We take everything in, then we make our honey, our own dreams come true, our own happiness.”

“When you greet life choice by choice, detail by detail, aware of how much more happiness you can experience, you will be living a good life.”

We live in a frightening, frustrating time—but what era has NOT been frightening and frustrating? There is, there has been, and probably always will be suffering as long as we are humans. Despite, that, we have a choice whether to live our lives in sadness, fear, and discouragement or to embrace what we have, make it better, share it with others. We can try to inspire and encourage rather than tear down, divide, or add to the fear and frustration around us. Even though that’s quite often the larger challenge.

I do it imperfectly, but I choose to seek after and share happiness.

What are some of the little things you do to make your life happier and more beautiful?

For a list of Alexandra Stoddard’s books, click here.


Take Off Your Gloves

August 16, 2019

Photo by Philippe Jausions on Unsplash

“We waste so much energy trying to cover up who we are when beneath every attitude is the want to be loved, and beneath every anger is a wound to be healed and beneath every sadness is the fear that there will not be enough time.

”When we hesitate in being direct, we unknowingly slip something on, some added layer of protection that keeps us from feeling the world, and often that thin covering is the beginning of a loneliness which, if not put down, diminishes our chances of joy.

”It’s like wearing gloves every time we touch something, and then, forgetting we chose to put them on, we complain that nothing feels quite real. Our challenge each day is not to get dressed to face the world but to unglove ourselves so that the doorknob feels cold and the car handle feels wet and the kiss goodbye feels like the lips of another being, soft and unrepeatable.”

Comfort zones

Summer Rerun--Three Habits That Trap Us in Our Comfort Zones

August 12, 2019

Now and then I dip into the Catching Happiness archives and share a post from the past. Lately I've been thinking a lot about the balance of comfort and discomfort in the pursuit of happiness. This post from 2016 touches on habits that can trap us in our comfort zones. 

Photo courtesy Martin Wessley

So many times we’re tempted to procrastinate, to quit, or, worse, not to try at all, because something we want to do is complicated or doesn’t come easily. Just once, I’d like to try something new and find it immediately easy, but this has not been my experience with even my favorite activities: horseback riding, sketching, yoga, writing. These activities often push me well outside my comfort zone, but they have given me hours of happiness. I still don’t find them “easy,”—easier, yes, but not easy. Maybe easy is not the point?

Worthwhile pursuits—the ones that give us lasting happiness—often don’t come easy. We have to practice, to put in the time and effort to improve, or else we’ll be frustrated. And how many times do we opt for the easier choice: the TV program, the mindless internet surfing, and so on? What other factors keep us safe in our comfort zones instead of pursuing the very things we say we want to pursue? In my experience, there are three things that contribute to the inertia keeping us from enjoying challenging and happy-making pastimes: comparing ourselves to others; worrying about what others think; and not stopping to appreciate how far we’ve come.

Comparing ourselves with others. When we see someone perform effortlessly (or even just better than we do), we compare ourselves to them. Problem is, we compare our “inside” to their “outside.” We don’t know their lives and experience. We don’t know what’s going on in their heads and hearts, how easy or hard things are for them, how long it has taken for them to make it look effortless. It may feel just as hard to them as it does to us, only we can’t see that. “Comparison is the thief of joy,” according to Theodore Roosevelt. If we must compare, we should compare ourselves to ourselves. (See below.)

Worrying about what others think. If we’ve been comparing ourselves to others and feel we’re falling short, we probably also feel others are looking down on us. If we are new to a pastime or putting our work out there for everyone to see, it’s only natural that we feel worried about others’ responses. The truth? Most people don’t care what we do, or what we look like while doing it. They are too busy worrying about themselves. While they’re otherwise occupied, we can do what we want without fear of what others think.

Not appreciating how far we’ve come. The first time I took a horseback riding lesson, I was scared. Thrilled, but scared. My school horse was big and, to my mind, unpredictable. My body was confused about pretty much everything it was expected to do. Now, many years later, I’ve learned a great deal about horses and riding, and many of my actions on horseback are automatic. But since I’m still learning new things, I do have times when I perform awkwardly, or just plain badly. I could get frustrated by this, but because of my past experiences, I know not to give up if my first attempts are awkward or embarrassing. Compared with how I rode as beginner (sorry, Tank), I’ve come a long way.

Most things, if we keep at them, will become easier. We won’t always feel awkward and embarrassed, we won’t always have to think so hard about every action. Even if we’re trying something for the first time and we’re awful, by stepping outside our comfort zones, we’re miles ahead of all the people who haven’t been brave enough to try in the first place.

What challenging pursuit would you like to begin? What’s holding you back?


Discomfort Opens Windows of Opportunity

August 09, 2019

“…discomfort can open great windows of opportunity. When we were younger we ran from discomfort constantly. We were in search of an easy life, and of course we never found it. We found the opposite.

“Over the years we’ve learned that the best things in life are often the hardest to come by, at least initially. And when you shy away from difficulty and discomfort, you miss out on them entirely. For example, mastering a new skill is hard. Healing from grief is hard. Building a business is hard. Writing a book is hard. A marriage is hard. Parenting is hard. Staying healthy is hard. But all are amazing and worth every bit of effort you can muster.

“If you get good at handling discomfort, you can do almost anything you put your mind to in the long run.


August Monday Musings

August 05, 2019

The soupy view from my window

August in Florida features heat, humidity, frequent thunderstorms, and sometimes, hurricanes.

Though I try not to wish the days away, August is a month I mostly just try to get through. I ride Tank very little, if at all. Luna is happy to stop our walks early and come inside. I need a shower after picking up the mail at the mailbox.

But there are still simple pleasures to savor, even in August:

Big books and cold drinks. Salads for dinner. Naps on the couch. Chilled white sangria. So many different kinds of Outshine bars. Watching the light change and knowing we’re drawing closer to my favorite season, fall. Planning a trip with my husband. Tackling organizing/cleaning projects to prepare for my usual fall burst of energy. Lying in bed at night listening to a rainstorm, being grateful for my safety and comfort, in a world where those things are increasingly in question. After the events of this past weekend, I am not complaining about sweating a little lot or any of the other trifling irritations in my life.

What are you grateful for this month?

In other news, I’m very proud that my profile of Paula Francis and her horse “Zack” is the featured cover article in the August-September issue of America’s Horse. Click here to read their inspiring story.

Look for my travel writing here