Autumn

Welcome Autumn—My Favorite Season

September 23, 2022

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

“I like spring, but it is too young. I like summer, but it is too proud. So I like best of all autumn, because its leaves are a little yellow, its tone mellower, its colours richer, and it is tinged a little with sorrow and a premonition of death. Its golden richness speaks not of the innocence of spring, nor of the power of summer, but of the mellowness and kindly wisdom of approaching age. It knows the limitations of life and is content. From a knowledge of those limitations and its richness of experience emerges a symphony of colours, richer than all, its green speaking of life and strength, its orange speaking of golden content and its purple of resignation and death.”

—Lin Yutang

Summer

Was Summer 2022 Fun, or How Did I Do on My Summer Fun List?

September 16, 2022


Short answer: meh.

Longer answer: It depends on how you look at it. Out of eight things on my list (see original post here), I checked off four. With only one more week left of the summer season, I doubt I’ll check any more off the list.

When I made a simple Summer Fun List back in July, even that scaled down list was a stretch. I’m just in a season of my life (har) when “having fun” is not the primary focus. Which doesn’t mean that making a fun list is a mistake, or that fun isn’t possible. If you don’t plan fun things, you’ll be even less likely to have fun.

Why I bother to make a fun list

For me, the point of making a Summer Fun List is to have fun things to look forward to during my least favorite season: Reasons to get out of my house and have everyday adventures. Gifts for my remembering self instead of a blank stretch of dull, sweaty days. I also believe: 

  • Fun lists are a nice change of pace from our typical to-do lists.
  • Fun lists help us enjoy the unique simple pleasures of each season.
  • Fun lists help expand our interests and horizons, and sometimes even get us out of our comfort zones in a pleasant way.
To sum up:   

What I did

I went to an immersive Van Gogh experience, and it was lovely (see photo at the top of this post).

I worked two beautiful jigsaw puzzles. (This one and this one.)

I ate ALL the summer fruit, enjoying many servings of cherries, peaches, grapes, plums, and watermelon.

I read from my summer reading list. I only made a tiny amount of progress on Mark Twain (not the “dent” I hoped for), but I did read Paris to the Moon, The Swimmers, and The Lost Apothecary (and many other enjoyable books).

What didn’t happen

I didn’t go to the movies with my husband, but that’s something we haven’t given up on.

I didn’t get my Chik Fil A peach shake but not for lack of trying. The shake machine at the location near me has been broken for at least a month!

I didn’t go shopping for fun.

I didn’t restart my sketching/art journaling practice, but again, I’m not giving up on this one.

The good news is it’s September and fall is, if not just around the corner, at least within a few blocks. I’m dreaming of a Fall Fun List…

Did you make a Summer Fun List? How did you do?

 

Attention

This Way Up

August 12, 2022

Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash

“Our choice of where to direct our attention also affects our emotions and moods. If you habitually direct your attention toward things that upset you—alarmist news headlines, for example, or social media screeds—then you will experience the world as alarming and upsetting. If you choose instead to pay attention to things that uplift you, or that offer opportunities for playfulness, connection, and flow, you will experience the world in a completely different, more positive light.”

—Catherine Price, The Power of Fun: How to Feel Alive Again


Environment

Creating an environment in which to thrive

August 05, 2022


Every morning I tear off a page in my Positively Present page-a-day calendar. Recently, the message of the day was this: 

We all thrive when we’re in the right environment.

It’s a simple statement that got me thinking. It is so true that just like plants and animals, we need the right combination of elements in order to thrive, not just survive. Those elements will be different for each person. And while we all have limits on the way we take charge of our environment, we also have more control than we might realize.

For my purposes today, I’m defining “environment” as:

The literal physical space—your home, office, car, etc., in which you exist.

The circle of people closest to you—your family, friends, and co-workers.

What you see and hear—what you fill your mind with, what you read, watch and listen to, including books, websites, music, TV, podcasts, and so on.

Physical space

I’ve written about this concept before, in “Change Your Environment, Change Your Emotions—Three Simple Ways to Support Positive Moods,” and those principles still work for me. I continue to make strides in decluttering (tidiness), and I still love opening the blinds to let in the light and diffusing essential oils when possible. The cleanliness and beauty of my physical surroundings matter to me. I concentrate on the things I can change, rather than the things I can’t—like the fact that I live in Florida, where I find the humidity difficult (to put it mildly) to deal with.

What matters to you in your physical space? What colors, scents, objects, sounds, and so on, bring a lift to your spirit? Ingrid Fetel Lee’s website The Aesthetics of Joy is a fantastic resource for information on creating happier surroundings. 

Circle of people

I’m incredibly lucky to have a wonderful circle of very supportive friends, as well as a relatively peaceful and loving family. This is not to say that everything is always wine and roses here, and there are times when I have to set boundaries in order to help maintain that tranquility. This is hard for me, and I do it imperfectly, but such is life.

This is almost always the hardest category to deal with. If you have someone in your circle who stunts your growth for whatever reason, you don’t always have the ability (or even the desire) to completely cut off ties. But it helps to be aware of their effect on you, and perhaps take steps to offset it. Check out “13 Steps to Get Along with Difficult People” for some techniques for coping with people you might find challenging to be around. 

What you see and hear

Doesn’t it seem like an uphill battle to protect your mind from all the bad news we’re inundated with? Sometimes I have to disengage from media (social and otherwise) for a while. Too many shouty headlines, and so, so much harsh unkindness and ugliness. At the same time, I do not want to hide from the important issues of the day. This is definitely an individual choice, as what is just right for me might be too much for you, or not nearly enough. What I do is look for reputable, balanced sources of news that don’t specialize in click-bait-y headlines. I monitor my anxiety levels to see when I need to back off. (One way to counterbalance bad news I recommend is the bi-monthly Future Crunch newsletter, which highlights positive news from around the world.) 

Otherwise, I’ve been filling my mind with good books, music, podcasts that interest me, and TV that I enjoy. For more information, check out Positively Present’s thought-provoking “Considering Content Consumption.”

Creating an uplifting and supportive environment doesn’t mean you should never seek points of view or experiences that challenge you, of course. That’s a part of learning, which one key to happier living. But you’ll likely thrive (rather than just survive) when your overall environment is suitable for you. 

So think about the factors which make up your environment, and whether or not it’s one that supports and nourishes you.

What are some of your strategies for creating a positive environment? Please share in the comments!

Comfort

A Cup of Comfort Link Love

July 29, 2022

Photo by pure julia on Unsplash

As I gathered the links for this post, I found a definite theme emerging: comfort. Whether it’s looking at (or listening to) lovely things or pondering ways to protect our mental health, these links offer both an escape and ways to protect ourselves from an onslaught of terrible news. (Plus, I think they’re fun!) Hope you enjoy them, too.

There are some excellent suggestions in Happiful’s “10 Things to Do Instead of Doomscrolling.”   

Click here for The Guardian’s 50 Cheeriest Social Media Accounts.

And speaking of Doomscrolling, click here for a summary of “33 Problems with Media in One Chart.”

For those of you who want to do a jigsaw puzzle without the cat knocking the pieces onto the floor, give one of these a shot.

Look—baby tigers!

For anyone who has always wanted a card catalogue of their own: “It’s All in the Cards: How Organizing My Library Is Helping My Brain.” Not everyone would enjoy this, but I think it would be extremely satisfying.

These are exquisite.

I will always have a place in my heart for Paris, so I loved seeing Georgianna Lane’s “Early Summer Moments in Paris.” 

How to make the most of a mental health day.

Guilty as charged: “Why Women (and Men!) Love the Hallmark Channel.”

Just wow:


Have a happy weekend!

P.S. To round out today’s links, for anyone who hasn’t already heard, here’s a piece I wrote for the 2022 Tampa Bay Official Destination Guide.



 

Happiness jar

A Mid (-ish) Year Review

July 22, 2022

Photo by Maddi Bazzocco on Unsplash

When I wrote “I’m not even going to try to guess what 2022 holds, but I am going to stay optimistic and open” in my first post of the year, I couldn’t have guessed what the year would hold, and I’m actually grateful for that!

We can never “know” what’s coming (though sometimes we can guess). All we can do is savor the happy times, and build a foundation of resilience and a network of support for the hard ones. To stay “optimistic and open,” even when it’s hard. (And forgive ourselves when we fail at that.)

We can also cling to practices which help us feel grounded and give a shape and structure to our lives. Today I’d like to share my mid (-ish) year review of my efforts to shape 2022 so far.

Word of the Year (WOTY)

With the unavoidable complications of caregiving, “simpler” has been a great focus word. Here are a few ways I’m applying the concept of simpler:

I’ve continued to declutter my house. I’ve been watching YouTube videos by The Minimal Mom to maintain motivation, and one of the concepts she’s brought to my attention is that it’s all about “inventory management.” How much “stuff” do you want to manage?  I’m not a minimalist, but I do find a less cluttered environment contributes to a calmer mind. 

I’ve stripped my writing down to the bare minimum. This isn’t my favorite practice, but right now it’s the right choice. I simply don’t have the emotional and mental bandwidth to write much. (Though if the right project or idea comes along, I’ll make an exception!)

I’m breaking tasks into smaller, simpler steps.  For example, we want to touch up the paint in our bedroom. My task for this week was “Find out if we have the paint we need or if we have to buy more.” (Note: This will take approximately three minutes…and yet, here it is Friday and I haven’t done it yet! Since it is such a small step, though, I will probably manage to do it. This is why I need to break things down into tiny steps.)

“22 in 22”

In January, I’d only put about 10 things on my “22 in 22” list; now I’m up to 19. My entries range in difficulty from “buy new pjs” to “West Coast visit with Mom, Shy, and Kerri.” I’ve accomplished nine of the 19 (including the two just mentioned), with another three in progress. Considering what 2022 has wrought, I’m pretty happy with this. And I still have almost half the year to go.

The Happiness Jar

Even though I forget some weeks, I’m still dropping slips of paper in the Happiness Jar on a regular basis. It looks like this now:


I’m adding a reminder to my informal weekly planning session so I don’t keep forgetting. This little project really does make me happy.

What else?

No surprise here, I’ve been reading a lot! Books old and new, from my TBR shelf and from the library. I’m still working through my personal reading project, “Agatha in Order” (reading Agatha Christie’s novels in the order they were published). I’ve also been listening to more audio books. (Is anyone interested in a reading round-up post?)

Tank is living his best life, roaming a 15-acre property with a “gang” of older geldings. I ride once a week on average, an easy hack around the property with the occasional trot thrown in (he’s in better shape than I am for this). The heat and humidity of the Florida summer preclude doing much more than that, even if we wanted to. 

Tank (in front) with best buddy Bubba

My sketching practice is still largely theoretical, though I did do two or three sketches while I was in California in June. One of the undone “22 in 22” entries.

Future plans

I’m keeping them simple(r). Continue to experiment with ways to make sketching a habit rather than an event. Continue to declutter. Continue to slow down and take it one day at a time. Work on those tiny steps.

Lessons learned

Or, rather, lessons I’m in the process of learning… Hard things get easier over time. Letting go of perfectionism is more important—and more complicated—than I thought. Don’t wait if there’s something you really want. You never know when something may happen that makes it impossible to go after your desires.

I hope the first half of 2022 has brought you both joy and challenge—and that you’re on your way to reaching your own most desired dreams for the year.

How has your year been so far? Do you have any plans for the last half of 2022?

Everyday adventures

Field Trip Friday—Whidbey Island, Washington

July 15, 2022

From Fort Casey State Park--Mt. Rainier in the distance

I’m still sorting through the notes, photos, and impressions of my recent trip to California and Washington. I’ve always embraced the simple pleasure of anticipation, but I’m still figuring out how to savor and extend the good memories of experiences like travel once I return home. I mostly just dive back into everyday life and all its attendant activities without taking time to savor my trip. It’s a work in progress!

Before everything becomes one confused blur, I thought I’d share just one day’s explorations while I was in Washington.

Whidbey Island

I went to the Seattle area to visit my wonderful friend Kerri. Kerri is the best tour guide, though you’d better wear comfortable shoes if you want to keep up with her. For example, on the day in question, we took a brief ferry ride to Whidbey Island where we visited:

The town of Langley 

Bayview Farm and Garden 

The Chocolate Flower Farm

Greenbank Farm 

Meerkerk Gardens 

Admiralty Head Lighthouse at Fort Casey State Park

I know, right? My pedometer only logged a bit over 11,000 steps that day.

It would take me thousands of words to record all that we saw and experienced just that one day, so I’m just going to hit a few highlights.

We started the morning in the charming little town of Langley. We checked out the whale bell (“Spy a whale, ring the bell”) and a few of the shops, where I saw a number of tempting purchases that I would have made, except I was saving room in my suitcase for our next destination. 

The whale bell at Langley
Steps to the beach

I’ve been dying to go to the Chocolate Flower Farm, where they specialize in dark maroon colored plants and those that smell like chocolate (their most popular plant is a chocolate cosmos). They also sell products like raspberry and chocolate jam, chocolate candles, and cocoa butter-based body products (that make you smell like chocolate). We were too early in the season for the chocolate plants, but it was still a beautiful place to visit, and I stocked up on the items I knew I wanted to bring home with me.




Chocolate Flower Farm residents

Kerri had never been to Meerkerk Gardens before, so we spent some time exploring the walking trails, and sitting beside a pond listening for birds. Once we were away from the entrance, we saw few people—just birds, salamanders, rabbits, and one very startled deer. Not surprising, as Meerkerk has 10 acres of display gardens and 43 acres of woodlands.



We were almost through with our day by the time we got to Fort Casey State Park and Admiralty Head Lighthouse. We were just in time to get photos of a ferry approaching, with Mt. Rainier in the background (see photo at the top of this post). 


We followed this trail...
To this view

Exploring new places, especially those as beautiful as Whidbey Island, is one of my favorite simple pleasures. And while the climate in Washington is much more comfortable than the climate here in Florida, I can’t help wondering what beautiful places I’m missing here because the humidity and heat keep me indoors. It’ll be a few months before I’m ready to spend any time outside that I don’t have to spend—but I’d like to make time to do more exploring. Between Covid and caregiving (and maybe the teensiest bit of laziness), I’ve spent more time in my home over the past two and a half years than anyplace else. And while I love being at home, I’m ready for some outside stimulation.

Have you had any summer adventures lately? Do share in the comments below!


Gretchen Rubin

Happy Then, Happy Now

July 08, 2022


One of the best ways to make ourselves happy in the present is to recall happy times from the past. Photos are a great memory-prompt, and because we tend to take photos of happy occasions, they weight our memories to the good. 

—Gretchen Rubin

I’m sifting through happy memories for a soon-to-come Field Trip Friday post. Have a great weekend!

Simple pleasures

Better Late Than Never: The 2022 Summer Fun List

July 01, 2022

Photo by Cody Chan on Unsplash

As you might have guessed, fun has been in short supply around here. The good news is my mother-in-law’s condition has improved a lot, and we are cautiously optimistic that we can all have some summer fun this year. In fact, I already kicked off my summer by traveling to California and Washington for two and half weeks to see my mom, stepmom, and my friend Kerri (more about that in a future post). I’d already planned and paid for this trip before the health crisis, and looking forward to it kept me going when things were hard.

Since I still really need things to look forward to (don’t we all?!), I want to compile a summer fun list. Summer is definitely my lower energy season, so I won’t push myself too hard, but there is something to be said for what Laura Vanderkam calls “effortful fun.” And, since summer in Florida usually lasts well into November, I still have plenty of time!

Summer fun, 2022 style

So far, here are the things I’ve planned:

  • Go to a movie with my husband. Pre-Covid, this was one of our favorite things to do. Hoping to get back to the theater together in the next few months.
  • Try a Chik Fil A peach shake. I didn’t know about these until a friend told me about them. I love all things ice cream, and this sounds delicious.
  • Go to an immersive Van Gogh experience. Maybe this one
  • Go shopping for fun, not necessarily to buy anything. I have a few favorite stores I like to browse through. Window shopping also took a hit during COVID times, and I find myself wanting to return to “looking.”
  • Work a jigsaw puzzle (I have this one). 
  • Restart my sketching/art journaling practice. I really mean it this time 😊.
  • Eat ALL the summer fruit. So many of my favorites are available in summer, including watermelon, cherries, and peaches.
  • Read from a summer reading list. I’m going to work on Mark Twain’s Autobiography, Vol. 1 in earnest. I’ve started it, but it’s such a chunk of a book to carry around, I haven’t been able to maintain any momentum. My plan is to plunk it down next the couch and read a few pages in the afternoon after I eat lunch. It’ll take me the rest of the year doing it that way, but at least I should be able to make a dent in it over the summer. 

Also on my list to read this summer:

Paris to the Moon, Adam Gopnik. I have an enduring love of Paris-related literature. 

The Creative Journal, Lucia Capacchione. I’ve had this on my TBR shelf for a l-o-n-g time. I’m either going to read it or let it go. 

Two new-ish novels I hope to get from the library:

The Swimmers, Julie Otsuka. 

The Lost Apothecary, Sarah Penner. 

I’ll likely read a lot more than this, but I’m leaving plenty of space and time for reading at whim—one of my favorite simple pleasures.

What’s on your summer fun list?

Most of us seem to have a more laid-back attitude to life during the summer months. We tend to relax, go on more vacations, and just generally lighten up. It’s a perfect time to indulge in your favorite simple pleasures and everyday adventures. Or, if you’re like me, to allow yourself to slow down and rest a bit more. Whatever form your summer fun takes, I hope you do take the time to schedule some things to look forward to.

What’s on your summer fun list? Share in the comments below!

Check out more summer fun lists:

A Very Low-Key Summer Checklist

The Summer Fun List

Summer Fun 2021


Breath

How Thin the Line

May 27, 2022

Photo by Anika Huizinga on Unsplash

While I hope to start posting regularly to Catching Happiness again soon, I’m not quite there yet. To give you an idea of what’s happening, here is an excerpt from May’s Happy Little Thoughts newsletter:

It’s been nearly a month since I stepped away from Catching Happiness to handle a family health emergency, and I’m sorry to say that emergency has only become more serious. My mother-in-law, Carol, who has lived with us since early last year, has been seriously ill with multiple health issues, including two stints in the hospital and one round of major surgery. She’s home now, stable, and we’re being supported by Hospice care. 

This experience has been shocking for all of us, and an example of just how quickly life can change. Until a month ago, Carol was completely independent and seemingly healthy. We’re still finding our way, figuring out what is comforting and helpful, what she can and can’t do for herself. I’m still figuring out how to be her caregiver while also taking care of myself. It’s a steep learning curve. How much I took for granted!

Breathing, for example.

One of Carol’s most troubling symptoms was the inability to breathe easily. With the help of oxygen and medication, she’s doing much better, but she felt like she was suffocating, and it terrified her (understandably). Until recently, I hadn’t spent much time contemplating the gift of being able to breathe! The simple act of drawing air into my lungs. Talk about a simple pleasure!

Of course, we’d become paralyzed if we constantly thought about how thin the line is between breath and suffocation, health and sickness, freedom and dependence, life and death. But it doesn’t hurt to stop now and then, as I’ve been forced to, to think on those things. To evaluate how we’re living our lives, whether or not we’re doing the things we want to do, being the people we want to be.

My advice is: If there’s something you want to do, don't wait. Find a way to make it happen. You never know when life will change abruptly and youll find it impossible to pursue those dreams.


Taking a Break

April 26, 2022

Due to a family health emergency, I’m taking a break from Catching Happiness. Thank you for your understanding.

Adrienne Su

The Drinking of Tea

April 15, 2022

Photo by Sixteen Miles Out on Unsplash

In honor of National Poetry Month, today’s post is a poem courtesy of American Life in Poetry.

Introduction by Kwame Dawes: Sometimes a poem achieves its beauty by a certain fixation on a small detail that is not burdened with the need to be ​“important”. Here, in ​“Oolong”, Adrienne Su creates her own tea ritual, a meditative moment to reflect on the ordinary, the quotidian. Tea and the drinking of tea, treated to such careful study, become a way to think of life as it moves from strong to weak and back again.

Oolong

From strong to weak, a single cup
can carry me from waking up
to the mild hush of the bedtime snack.
Fresh hot water brings it back
from depletion, or threat of such.

What ancient genius gained so much
from roasting pieces of a shrub?
I watch it change, as daylight flags,
from strong to weak,

ending with the faded touch
of flavor that was once robust.
faintness helps the mind relax,
but part of me remains perplexed
that every day unfurls as it must,
from strong to weak.

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 ©2021 by Adrienne Su, “Oolong” from Peach State, (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2021) Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2021 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Kwame Dawes, is George W. Holmes Professor of English and Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner at the University of Nebraska.

Barn

12 Minutes in Heaven, or an Unexpected Simple Pleasure

April 08, 2022


New property--Tank is on the left

The barn where I board recently moved to a larger property a few miles away from the original location. It’s a couple of minutes farther from my house, but the main road leading there is a straight highway with light enough traffic that I can use cruise control most days. 

This is my version of a commute.

An unexpected simple pleasure

I’ve spent 18 years driving back and forth to barns, and to my surprise, these drives have become simple pleasures in and of themselves. I generally don’t enjoy driving, but this road is so well known to me that it’s not stressful to drive it. There’s not a lot of traffic, I won’t get lost, or have no place to park when I arrive at my destination. I’m going somewhere I love.

I listen to music or an audio book, and watch the sky, admiring the clouds (or wondering if it’ll rain), and looking for rainbows.

My mind sometimes gets busy when I slide behind the steering wheel, but it becomes especially active when I drive to the barn. It’s like all the thoughts I’ve been holding at bay while otherwise occupied flood my mind when my guard is down. This can be both good and bad.

I often think over problems I’d like to solve, or ponder a tricky passage of writing. Sometimes it’s more like asking my subconscious mind to get to work while I’m at the barn and completely absorbed—“Here’s the problem, get back to me with the answer!” Sometimes the break produces solutions, sometimes not.

Somehow, driving amplifies my emotions. During hard times I’ve pulled to the side of the road to cry. During happier ones, I’ve joyfully belted out show tunes and other favorites, singing along to the radio or to some of my collected music. I often feel gratitude while driving—for the privilege of having my horse, and lately for having a reliable vehicle and money for gas.

“What’s Next Syndrome”
In the rest of my life, I’m often in a hurry, and want to Be There Already. I suffer from “What’s Next Syndrome,” always impatient to go on to what’s next instead of embracing now. In the car, I’m in my own private world—no one can ask me questions or make demands. There’s nothing for me to do except what I’m already doing: driving. (See my essay “Driving I-5 in the USA” for similar reflections.) That 12-minute drive to and from the barn allows me to transition from work to play and back again, and I’m letting myself enjoy it!

What’s an unexpected thing in your life that makes you happy? 


National Poetry Month

The Solace of Poetry

April 01, 2022

Photo by Ksenia Makagonova on Unsplash

April is National Poetry Month in the U.S., and almost every year I write a blog post to promote it. Why? Because since my teens, reading poetry has brought both happiness and solace—a simple pleasure I like to share here on Catching Happiness. 

And also I need the reminder to include more poetry in my reading life. I usually read one or two books of poetry each year, and I still subscribe to a weekly email from American Life in Poetry (see link below), but National Poetry Month reminds me to read more.

For the poetry curious

If you’re curious about poetry, or would like to get back to reading it, here are a few easy ways to get started:

Sign up for Poem-a-Day here

If a poem a day is too much, subscribe to American Life in Poetry’s once-a-week poem newsletter. 

Listen to the Poetry Foundation’s Poetry Off the Shelf podcast.

Enjoy some Spring Poems—classic and contemporary poems to celebrate the advent of spring. 

Author and blogger Modern Mrs. Darcy (Anne Bogel) has written several posts on poetry, including this one. You might also enjoy hearing her discussion of poetry with her friend and poet Dave Harrity on Episode 75 of What Should I Read Next?

Check my post “It’s National Poetry Month—No Foolin’” for links to apps and other poetry resources.

And for anyone whose interest in the art and culture of Ukraine has been piqued, here are two poets whose work I’ve recently come across: Ilya Kaminsky (That Map of Bone and Opened Valves) and Serhiy Zhadan (read two of his poems here).

If you’re a poetry lover, what are your favorite ways to experience poetry?

Check in

First Quarter Check-In

March 25, 2022

Photo by Sixteen Miles Out on Unsplash

I hate to break it to you, but 2022 is one quarter of the way done…or it will be next week.

Time seems to have picked up its pace, racing forward with no regard to my readiness for it to be the end of March and Almost Summer (in Florida we have two seasons: Summer and Almost Summer). While I’m a little surprised to find myself teetering on the verge of April, the first three months of the year haven’t been all bad, despite bouts of depression and continued horror around the world. This year, I’m going to try something new: reviewing both my word of the year and my goals every quarter. Previously, I’ve been much more haphazard about the review process.

The year so far

I’ve taken to heart what I mentioned in “First Thoughts for 2022”: “I want a year of ease and serendipity and settling into the spaces of my life in a way that feels organic instead of molded to fit arbitrary goals I set for myself.” I’ve continued to concentrate on my word of the year, simpler. Since I didn’t set a big bunch of goals at the beginning of the year, I don’t feel bad about not having a long list of shiny accomplishments checked off.

The thing I’ve noticed most is that so far this year, I have been operating more slowly and mindfully. I catch myself rushing, and slow down. I single task more often. I’m becoming more realistic about what I can accomplish in a day. This is a valuable mindset shift that’s starting to feel more natural. 

A few noteworthy accomplishments:

  • Continued to add slips of paper to my Happiness Jar.
  • Read two books related to my exploration of simpler (The Power of Less, by Leo Babauta and Do Less, by Kate Northrup). Next up, Digital Minimalism, by Cal Newport.
  • Moved Tank to new accommodations. My entire boarding barn relocated to a new, larger property this week. A huge undertaking for the owner, and a bit of upheaval in my settled routine, but the property is great and it will be a positive move. (Tank is happy, so I’m happy.)
  • Continued taking a couple of online courses, one personal and one related to blogging.

Coming attractions

During the next three months, I plan to continue to take small steps toward reenergizing my writing. I’m going to start planning a trip to California to see family. And I’ll continue some cleaning and organizing projects around my house.

I’m also preparing to take an internet break in April (inspired by David from Raptitude, who wrote about taking an internet break here, and about how it went hereI’ll write more about this when I’m just about to do it).

I’m far too tied to my devices—laptop, tablet, phone. A couple of weeks ago, my (newish) laptop’s internal fan died, and I had to use my old (slow and glitchy) laptop to complete some work until we could fix the new one. I couldn’t go even one day without a computer. It’s true that most of my work uses a computer, whether for research, connection, or actual writing, but I also read quite a few blogs and listen to a couple of podcasts on a semi-regular basis. I’ve been scrolling Instagram nightly after dinner while we’re watching something mindless on TV. I try to maintain one day a week where I don’t go to the computer, but I don’t always manage that. I find that when I have a few minutes, I jump online to “catch up” on blog reading or emails. There are other better ways to spend time.

As I continue to learn what simpler means to me, I feel that it’s about “less, but better.” About going deeper into things that matter rather than trying to do or be All the Things. About slowing down enough to feel content. So far, I’m pleased with my word of the year choice, and after some rough days, I’m feeling slightly more positive overall. Baby steps, one day at a time. Learning to live with hard things and still function. I’m looking forward to the second quarter of 2022. 

How is your year progressing so far? Any surprises? 

Austin Kleon

The Only Way to Keep Going

March 18, 2022

But Men Must Work and Women Must Weep, 1883 by Walter Langley, 
Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust on Unsplash

“‘Art is the highest form of hope,’ said painter Gerhard Richter. But hope is not about knowing how things will turn out—it is moving forward in the face of uncertainty. It’s a way of dealing with uncertainty. ‘Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable,’ writes Rebecca Solnit. To have hope, you must acknowledge that you don’t know everything and you don’t know what’s going to happen. That’s the only way to keep going and the only way to keep making art: to be open to possibility and allow yourself to be changed.” 

—Austin Kleon, Keep Going

Happiness

Six Simple Pleasures for a Spring Happiness Refresh

March 11, 2022

Photo by Justin Ha on Unsplash

Even though I love winter in Florida (so much less sweating!), right about now I need a refresh. My routines have become ruts. I’m caught up in reading bad news and forgetting how fortunate I am. I don’t want to fail to enjoy or appreciate what I have, and I want to gently encourage myself to move forward on my personal and professional goals. If you feel the same way, maybe you need a spring refresh, too! 

Since my word of the year is simpler, I’m starting small and not adding a lot of unnecessary complexity. I’ve chosen these six simple pleasures to embrace spring: 

  • Growing a mini herb garden

Despite (ahem) mixed success with gardening, hope springs eternal. I love having fresh herbs available when I cook, and they are less work to grow than vegetables. M-a-y-b-e I can keep them alive through our brutal summer? Right now, I have basil, rosemary, oregano, and thyme. Unfortunately, my lavender plant recently died a quick and puzzling death. I may call this good, or I may add one or two additional herbs, depending on how these fare.

  • Keeping fresh flowers on the kitchen table

This is a continuation of something I’ve been doing for a while, but it brings me so much joy every day that it’s worth mentioning. (The only downside is keeping my cat from pulling on the flowers and knocking over the whole shebang, sending a waterfall onto the floor!)

  • Investing in new pots and pans

My current set was given to us as a wedding present more than 30 years ago. I cook dinner most nights, so my pans get used a lot. I won’t tell you how long it took me to decide on a set, but I finally did! I haven’t actually used them yet—they’re sitting on the kitchen table until I clear out the old ones—but I’m looking forward to trying them out.

  • Lighting a candle (rather than cursing the darkness)

Even though the days are getting longer, I still get up while it’s dark because my husband goes to work so early. I don’t like it. So I try to make the early mornings as pleasant as possible. I enjoyed the calm I felt while reading by the Christmas tree in December, so I’ve tried to recreate that feeling by lighting a scented candle and keeping the lamplight low while I do my morning reading and journaling. It feels like being held in a little circle of peace.

  • Following a schedule

Over the past couple of pandemic years, my already loose schedule went completely to pieces. I felt like I was either always working, or always wasting time. I’m experimenting with putting myself on a schedule with set work hours, an actual lunch break, and weekends off. I need a way to work with reduced distraction while at the same time keep work from bleeding into all waking hours. My goal is to reduce the number of decisions I make about my time, while still retaining some flexibility. Right now, a schedule feels like a safe place, and a way focus on what I can do instead of on all the things I can’t.

  • Wearing perfume

My friend and walking buddy, Barb, inspired me to stop saving my perfume for “someday.” During our walks, we often share our efforts to declutter and organize our spaces, and one thing that comes up is things that we’ve been saving for special occasions. Perhaps you’ve noticed we’ve had very few special occasions in the past two and a half years? We both have multiple perfumes and scented lotions cluttering up our bathrooms. I’ve started putting on perfume almost every day, even if I’m not leaving the house. Just because it gives me pleasure.

Are you ready for your own spring refresh?

Refreshing your life doesn’t have to cost a lot of money or require huge changes. If you’re not sure where to start, think about what would be pleasing to your senses. What sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches will refresh your spirit and boost your mood? Perhaps you could start listening to music while you cook or do other household chores (also on my list to try!), eat at a new-to-you restaurant (or buy takeout), experiment with diffusing essential oils, set up a reading nook with an extra fluffy throw, or refresh your home or office by buying some spring-ish decor (or even just rearranging what you already have). Remember, you don’t have to make major changes to see real benefits…unless you want to!

Just writing about these things is boosting my mood! This weekend I’m going to see what other spring refresh-ments I can think of.

How about you? What are your favorite ways to refresh your life in spring? Do share in the comments!

For more ideas for bringing spring joy into your life, check out these resources (no affiliation):

Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness, Ingrid Fetell Lee (Amazon, Bookshop). I wrote a blog post about this book here.

Aesthetics of Joy website (by the author of Joyful)

Hill House Living, Paula Sutton (Amazon, Bookshop).

Alexandra Stoddard’s writings, particularly Living a Beautiful Life (Amazon, Bookshop) and Creating a Beautiful Home (Amazon, Bookshop).

Anxiety

Overcoming Overthinking

March 04, 2022

Photo by Sensei Minimal on Unsplash

Lately I’ve noticed a worrying trend in myself—my tendency to overthink things has gone into overdrive. Around 2 a.m., my eyes pop open and my mind takes off. My thoughts run in circles, replay the time I was brusque with my mother-in-law, or dash ahead looking for things to fret about.

Query: why do I never wake up at 2 a.m. to replay something delightful that happened? Or to think about something I’m looking forward to?

Hello, my name is Kathy and I’m an overthinker

Before I continue, I want to clarify that there are several types of overthinking—some more serious than others. What I’m speaking about here is a generalized pattern of negative or repetitive thoughts as well as a tendency to spend an inordinate amount of time obsessing over making a decision. For me, it looks like falling into a spiral of replaying mistakes and of worry about the future, especially when I’m tired. Small decisions loom large and little challenges feel overwhelming. Sometimes I can’t go to sleep, or I wake in the middle of the night as described above.  From what I hear from my friends, I’m not alone.

It's certainly not bad to think. But as our world continues to offer us tragedy and suffering on an unimaginable scale, our (my) thinking can become overthinking. And overthinking isn’t good for us. Jenny Maenpaa wrote, “Overthinking is an anxious tendency that I encounter in my psychotherapy practice. There are many ways we tend to overthink, such as rehashing the past—replaying the same scenario over and over in our head. Worrying is another form, in which we obsess over what the future might bring…. Research has shown that overthinking can decrease energy, limit creativity and cause sleeping problems.”

(Click on the first link below for three excellent exercises she uses to reduce overthinking.)

Thinking too much can cause overwhelm, keep us from making decisions, and drain the joy from life.

 Practices for coping with overthinking

Here are four practices that have helped me. Maybe they’ll help you, too:

Letting go of perfectionism (or trying to). As Anne Bogel notes in Don’t Overthink It, right doesn’t equal perfect. When I start to get wound up about the possibility that I didn’t make the absolute perfect choice of new cookware to replace my decrepit pots and pans at the absolute best price, I remember that I did my research, thought about the purchase, and made a reasoned choice. That’s good enough. I don’t need to obsess about it.

Postponing the thoughts. I don’t know why my brain thinks 2 a.m. is the ideal time to trot out every concern, little or large, that has been on my mind—but it does. I’ve started simply saying, “I’ll think about this in the morning. Right now, I need to rest.”

Distracting myself. In the middle of the night, I make mental lists: alphabetical book or movie titles, foods, and so on. During the day, I play a game, read, watch a video or TV show, or play with Luna. Anything that will give my busy brain something else to ponder.

Repeating affirmations. Before bed lately I’ve been turning to Morgan Harper Nichols’ “Phrases to repeat to yourself late at night,” which I found on Instagram:

I am loosening my shoulders.
I am relaxing my jaw.
I am taking a moment to stretch.
I am taking deep breaths.
I am looking forward to rest.
I am releasing worry.
I am letting go.
I am trusting in the process.
I am ready to dream a beautiful dream.
I am practicing peace.

During daylight hours, if I need to reach for encouraging words, I read through a few of the 3 x 5 cards with inspirational quotes I’ve gathered over the years.

Overthinking divorces us from simple pleasures. It doesn’t help us make better decisions or be kinder to others. All it does is exhaust and overwhelm us. The world itself is exhausting enough without our own thoughts becoming a source of anxiety. I hope these practices will help you as they’ve been helping me. 

Do you have any practices you use to calm your thoughts? Please share in the comments!

For more information:

“A psychotherapist shares the 3 exercises she uses every day ‘to stop overthinking’”

Dropping the Rope: The Power of Letting Go

Life Lessons From the Barn—Relax Your Mind

Don’t Overthink It, Anne Bogel (Amazon, Bookshop)

Overcoming Unwanted Intrusive Thoughts, Martin N. Seif, Sally M. Winston (Amazon, Bookshop)