Ann Lamott

Unplugging

December 22, 2023

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes…including you.”

—Anne Lamott

Thank you so much for taking the time to read Catching Happiness, and for your kind and thoughtful comments this year. Writing for us (because I write for myself almost as much as I write for you) has been a bright spot during some hard times. After sending out the Happy Little Thoughts newsletter (click here if you’re not already subscribed) next week, I’m taking a short break to celebrate Christmas, host an out-of-town friend, and start 2024 in a thoughtful manner. I wish you the happiest of holidays and look forward to connecting again in the new year! 

Fall fun list

Fall Fun List Recap, and What Will Be on the Winter Fun List?

December 15, 2023

My dog is on the nice list...usually

Fall Fun List update: I did nearly everything on my list!


  • Decorate the house for fall
  • Burn fall-scented candles and diffuse fall scents in my essential oil diffuser
  • Bake sourdough bread using my “mother”
  • Write a letter to someone (friend or relative)
  • Play cozy ambience music videos on YouTube (like this one
  • Enjoy a pumpkin spice latte and other fall foods and drinks
  • Eat pomegranates 
  • Watch Barbie with a friend 
  • Choose and order a 2024 planner
  • Celebrate Thanksgiving with the family
  • Take a trip to a local nursery and decide what, if anything, I want to plant for our fall/winter garden
  • Attend the first three musicals of my Broadway series at the Straz Center in Tampa (The Choir of ManBeetlejuice, and Funny Girl
  • Sit outside and enjoy cooler weather—if we get some by Dec. 21
  • Change out fall house decorations for winter (I usually do this around the beginning of December)

I probably won’t manage to make the bread or see Barbie before the 21st, but that’s OK. Both of those things can move on to a Winter Fun List, which I’m still in the process of making. (Fun Lists are slightly different from lists of goals, and are good reminders that life is about more than work and chores and various other responsibilities.) 

I realize “winter” in Florida is quite different from winter in most other locations, so my winter fun list will not look like the winter fun list of someone who lives in Ohio (Hi, Debbie!) That’s one of the beauties of fun lists—they reflect your unique situation and personality. As Gretchen Rubin has pointed out in one of her Secrets of Adulthood, “What’s fun for other people may not be fun for you, and vice versa.”  

Maybe take some time this weekend to think about what’s fun for you. Then make plans to work that fun into your life more often. I’d love it if you’d come back here to share some of what’s on your winter fun list in the comments. We can all use a little fun inspiration!

2023

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Cry

December 08, 2023

Image by Simon from Pixabay

I’m currently working my way through Susannah Conway’s free Unravel Your Year workbook (no affiliation), looking back over the events and experiences of 2023, and man, that post headline about sums up 2023 for me. Those of you who have been with me for the entire year already know that in 2023 my husband and I both lost our mothers rather suddenly. I was my mother-in-law’s caregiver, and while she was under Hospice care, her decline and death were unexpected and extremely quick. 

My own mom’s decline was even faster and more unexpected, and I spent good parts of the months of February through May flying back and forth to California, staying by her bedside as she transitioned, arranging for her funeral, and then closing up her home and preparing it for sale. I also contracted Covid while I was there in February and spent many of what would be our last precious days sick and in isolation (because the last place you want to go when you have Covid is a nursing home…).

How’s that for Bad?

And believe me, there was some ugly crying.

On the surface, the Good doesn’t leap out at me, yet I know there was good, and a lot of it. The support of my friends through this year has been more than “good”—it’s been priceless! My son and husband here at home kept everything going while I was otherwise occupied, including taking care of our pets and each other.

I read a lot of really great books (post to come) and saw several fantastic theater productions. I reconnected with a couple of friends from high school. Just as it’s impossible to keep bad things from happening, it’s also impossible to keep good things from happening!

This morning, I came across a phrase that describes something I believe to be happening to me: post traumatic growth. This year has been traumatic, and I don’t intend to waste the pain I’ve experienced. I feel different from the person who started 2023. While I’m a little shaky and unsure about how to move forward in my life after this transition, I also know that I found depths within myself and a safety net surrounding me that I did not realize existed. For that I’m profoundly grateful.

I encourage you to take the time to reflect on your experiences in 2023. What joys and what sorrows did you experience? What lessons will you take with you into the new year? (If you want some gentle prompts to help you reflect, I recommend the above-mentioned Unravel Your Year workbook.) 

I’m nearly ready to shut the door on the year and move into 2024. May we all find peace and closure with 2023. 

#Gratitude30

2023 Gratitude Challenge Wrap-Up

December 01, 2023

Courtesy Positively Present

I was pretty haphazard with my participation in the Gratitude Challenge this year. Some days it felt too hard to come up with something to post. Not that I’m not grateful for many things—it’s just that I couldn’t gather the mental energy to formulate a thoughtful post that anyone would be interested in seeing in their Instagram or Facebook feed. Sometimes feelings are too deep for words, and I’ve been feeling A LOT of feelings. Still, I’m always glad to take some time to ponder what I’m grateful for.

Here are a few of my favorite prompts from 2023 (click here to see all my posts on Instagram):

Time

Lately I've been trying to slow down my bad habit of rushing through everything I do to get to the NEXT thing. I feel so much better when I let things take the time they take. This sundial reminds me to be grateful for the time I have.

Beauty

Even during the hardest times, I'm grateful for beauty (especially the beauty of the natural world) to remind me that there's more to life than the mundane, the painful, the annoying. So the next time you (or I) need a lift, look for something beautiful.

Inspiration

To "inspire" also means to breathe in... I'm grateful for places like this that encourage me to do just that. And maybe, once I have taken that breath, the creative inspiration I long for will also find me.


Growth

On the last day of the 2023 Gratitude Challenge, I want to express my gratitude for how growth (today's prompt) can sneak up on you. While you're preoccupied with doing your best to survive whatever life throws at you, suddenly you wake up to find you have the capacity to do more than survive. Maybe you have a clearer idea of what's important, or you're not as scared to do something you've always wanted to do. Maybe you feel stronger, just for a moment. Those moments are worth noticing and holding on to. Why did I choose this photo to illustrate this post? Because this plant, which I bought last year, surprised me by growing several red bracts. I've never even been able to keep a poinsettia alive for a year, let alone have one turn red. (It's the little things... 😁)

Thanks to @positivelypresent for the prompts, and to all who have commented and shared their own thoughts on these concepts. On to December!


 

Link love

November Link Love—A Hodge Podge

November 10, 2023

Me, lately. Photo by Jackson Simmer on Unsplash

I’ve been feeling a bit scattered and all over the place lately, and this Link Love entry is going to reflect that. Funny flight attendant? Check. Thoughtful article about how money and happiness are connected? Also check. Here’s a hodge podge of some of the interesting things I’ve found online recently. (Also, “hodge podge” is a fun term to repeat to yourself…)

I’ve been enjoying this new-ish blog which focuses on looking for “Wow Moments.” (Wow Moments are definitely first cousins to my simple pleasures and everyday adventures.) This post details ways to improve your ability to notice Wow Moments when they happen. 

In “What if Money Does Buy Happiness After All?” Ingrid Fetell Lee reports on a recent study showing just that. She shares several specific areas that having more money definitely improves happiness levels, including safety and security, time, health and wellness, and the ability to live out your values. It’s a classic case of both/and (as I wrote about in a October’s Happy Little Thoughts Newsletter): of course there are some things that don’t require money, like our personal relationships, and many that do benefit from having more money. She concludes her post by talking about why it matters that we’re honest about the role money plays in our happiness. 

I happened to be listening to the radio in the car when, to my surprise, I heard a new Beatles’ song! I came home and looked online to learn more about it. According to this article, “The track was originally shelved due to the poor audio quality, but revived when AI helped better enhance Lennon’s performance.” You can listen to “Now and Then” here. 

I’m already thinking about next year, so I bookmarked this announcement from photographer Georgianna Lane. If you’re looking for a beautiful calendar for 2024, look no further than these (no affiliation). There’s even a FREE printable Paris-themed calendar if you subscribe to her mailing list. (I’m already a subscriber, and she does not bombard your inbox with emails.) 

While “3 Things to Do When You Wake Up in the Middle of the Night” was written for a younger audience than me, I have found the tips here helpful when I find my eyes popping open at 2 a.m. 

In “Somatic Therapy: 12 Easy Ways To Shift Your Mood With Your Body,” guest poster Rachel Shanken details ways to recognize where in our bodies we’re feeling stressed, and ways to break the stress cycle. 

I want to be on a flight with this guy. 

This is so cool:




Happy Friday, and hope you have a beautiful weekend.

Artists

Inspiring Discoveries--Morgan Harper Nichols: “I believe art is a form of communication”

November 03, 2023


During this past hard year, another writer/artist whose work has helped me manage my emotions and stay (relatively) positive and calm is Morgan Harper NicholsI thought you might enjoy Nichols’ work, too, so I’m sharing a little about her in today’s post.

Several years ago, I started following Nichols on Instagram, where I frequently bookmarked what she shared because it resonated with me. I read her book Peace Is a Practice when it came out in 2022 and greatly enjoyed it.  Recently, I’ve been checking out her other books, including You Are Only Just Beginning (2023) and How Far You Have Come (2021). There is something very soothing about the combination of her art and words.

Nichols posts frequently to Instagram, and I’ve especially enjoyed her daily affirmations (see below for links). Sometimes just one sentence is all you need to quiet your thoughts.

Nichols is a mixed media artist from the Atlanta, GA area. In 2017, she began creating art and poetry in response to messages she received on social media. In part, her artistic endeavors have come out of struggling with neurodiversity—she was diagnosed with autism at age 30, and diagnosed with autism, ADHD, and SPD (sensory processing disorder) at age 31. As noted in her bio, “Her work features themes of creating room to breathe and how to recognize the ways you are learning and growing in daily life.”

I’m sure you can see why I enjoy her work!

Here are two quotes I copied from Peace Is a Practice:

“What I have learned in writing poetry and making art about peace over the past few years is that peace is a practice. The world practice means ‘to carry out,’ and peace is a way of living that we can carry out each day—maybe not everywhere all at once, but we can learn to find peace and live in its presence.”

“But to fill the page and to pour out, I must first open myself up to inhale it all. I openly witness everything around me, allowing my senses to experience the world fully, what I can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. And furthermore, I don’t try to make sense of it all right away.”

I’m so grateful for the artists and writers whose work has comforted, encouraged, and pushed me not just over this past year, but throughout my life. How dull and sad would it be without the people who share their artistic gifts.

Are there any other writers or artists whose work you especially enjoy? Please share in the comments.

Where to learn more about Morgan Harper Nichols:

Website 

Instagram 

Storyteller “daily encouragement” Instagram account (Click here to see October’s daily affirmations) 

November affirmations

And speaking of gratitude…it’s November, and you know what that means: the annual Gratitude Challenge, sponsored by Dani at Positively Present. I plan to post on Instagram and Facebook as often as I can. Join in, or just follow along by following me on Instagram or Facebook. I’ll also have a wrap-up post on Catching Happiness at the end of the month.

Growth

Pain Prompts Us to Grow

October 27, 2023

Photo by Suzanne D. Williams on Unsplash

“The scratchy truth of existence is that we learn more from pain than pleasure. It’s just how we’re wired. It’s the pain that makes us slow down and pay attention. It’s the pain that prompts us to grow. You might not get the outcome you initially envisioned, but you’ll have learned some really valuable lessons. If you are willing to sift through the whole experience without judgment, you will see that you have developed and changed, and you will take those lessons with you moving forward.”

—Tracy McCubbin, Make Space for Happiness

 

Breaks

Taking a Short Break

October 06, 2023

Photo by Nik on Unsplash

After a busier than expected summer, I’m taking a short break to rest and regroup. I’m still dealing with some issues related to my mom’s estate and with putting my own life in order. Be back in a couple of weeks!

Fall fun list

Bienvenue a là Rentrée and the Fall Fun List

September 29, 2023

Paris in 2018

Recently, I’ve bumped into the French term la rentrĂ©e three separate times. First in a book I was reading, and then in a couple of online articles. Many people in France take at least a two-week vacation in August, often fleeing the city for the countryside and a true break from their everyday lives. LĂ  rentrĂ©e refers to the return to school and office in September following the long vacances of August. It was described as a time of celebration, renewed energy, joie de vivre, enthusiasm. 

Even though I didn’t just have a glorious August vacation, I am embracing the coming of Fall and a more celebratory approach to life. September always feels like a new beginning (yes, I realize that it’s almost October...), so it’s time for a Fall Fun List.  

I have until Dec. 21 to accomplish the following things:

  • Decorate the house for fall
  • Burn fall-scented candles and diffuse fall scents in my essential oil diffuser
  • Bake sourdough bread using my “mother”
  • Write a letter to someone (friend or relative)
  • Play cozy ambience music videos on YouTube (like this one
  • Enjoy a pumpkin spice latte and other fall foods and drinks
  • Eat pomegranates 
  • Watch Barbie with a friend 
  • Choose and order a 2024 planner
  • Celebrate Thanksgiving with the family
  • Take a trip to a local nursery and decide what, if anything, I want to plant for our fall/winter garden
  • Attend the first three musicals of my Broadway series at the Straz Center in Tampa (The Choir of Man, Beetlejuice, and Funny Girl
  • Sit outside and enjoy cooler weather—if we get some by Dec. 21
  • Change out fall house decorations for winter (I usually do this around the beginning of December)

I’ve already started decorating the house, burning a fall-themed candle (this one), and had my first pumpkin spice latte, so I’m off to a good start! 

Keeping in mind the spirit of là rentrée, what are your fall fun list plans?

summer fun list 2023

The Summer of Kathy, Revisited

September 08, 2023

Three of the the 36

Even though the weather hasn’t gotten the memo yet, summer is on its way out. Labor Day has come and gone, kids are back in school, and pumpkin spice rules the land. So it’s time to evaluate my Summer of Kathy and start thinking about plans for September through the rest of the year.

Summer fun list success

I did very well with summer fun list, checking off all but two items! I didn’t relax as much as I wanted to and had planned to. Instead, I filled my days with small tasks that, when added up, kept me from doing the deeper work I still need to do emotionally. I guess I wasn’t ready for it, though overall I feel like I’m healing. This is still a work in progress, but that’s to be expected.

Here's the rundown (completed items in red):

  • Paint my toenails a color other than pink. (With dubious results, but at least I did it. The jury is still out on whether or not I like teal toenails.)
  • Have a bubble tea.
  • Try a new obedience training program with Luna (started). Ongoing! 
  • Make key lime pie ice cream.
  • Plant a small, potted herb garden. And it survived the summer!
  • Read a lot. Total books read June through August: 36. Whoa.
  • Take a horseback riding lesson. Tank is semi-retired and off for the summer, but there’s a new horse at the barn available for lessons. I haven’t taken a lesson in more than five years, so I need a tune up. Also was able to ride Tank twice!
  • Work at least one jigsaw puzzle.
  • Have a massage. I’ve been trying to do this since the beginning of the year, but I’ve had to cancel two appointments because of my moms’ failing health.
  • Go to a movie with my husband. (Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One.) 
  • Bake something from my grandma’s baking book (inherited from my mom).
  • Get together with friends—I’ve been mostly unavailable in 2023, so we have some catching up to do.

Fall fun and beyond

With summer winding down, it’s time to think about fall fun, and get more serious about figuring out what comes next professionally. (Ramp up the freelance writing or try something new? If so, what?) As the weather cools and time continues to heal, I’m cautiously optimistic about the rest of the year. We have a couple of family and friend visits to look forward to, and will likely host at least one holiday at our house.  Now that our caregiving duties have ended, my husband and I can think about taking a trip together. 

There’s much to love about September and fall. In September, I always love to watch the light change. Somehow it’s softer, mellower. Even though it’s not cool yet, I have already had my first pumpkin spice latte. I’m going to try Wendy’s new Pumpkin Spice Frosty. I have a September-themed book on hold at the library (of course I do) and I’m dreaming of ways to enjoy the fall season’s simple pleasures and everyday adventures. Perhaps I’ll extend The Summer of Kathy (however, I’m not calling it “The Fall of Kathy”—that just sounds scary)…

How was your summer? What plans do you have for fall?


Rabbit rabbit

Rabbit Rabbit

September 01, 2023

Photo by ierc on Unsplash

And just like that, it’s September.

There’s an old tradition that saying the words “rabbit rabbit” before saying anything else on the first day of a new month will bring you 30 days of good luck. Though I’m not especially superstitious, when I woke up at 4 a.m. this morning, I whispered, “rabbit rabbit.” I could use a little good luck.

I’m looking forward to September and all it’s pleasures, though there will be one notable sad milestone to navigate—my mom’s birthday.

I’m grateful that Hurricane Idalia passed by without doing any damage to us personally, though many others can’t say the same thing. However, some of the most powerful hurricanes have blown through in September (Ian, Irma), and I won’t really relax until hurricane season is over in November.

For now, I’m happy to watch the light change, to check my weather app for any change in dew point and humidity (a vain hope in September, usually, but I can dream), and to enjoy the fact that fall is coming. Even if it’s not a “traditional” fall, it should usher in some change, even if it’s just in dĂ©cor. I love decorating my house and front porch for fall and will be getting the decorations out of the attic soon. A simple pleasure I look forward to all summer.

What are you looking forward to in September?

This Farmer’s Almanac article explains a bit of the tradition surrounding “rabbit rabbit.”

 

Baby steps

Small Is Big

August 25, 2023

A small, cute thing

Over the past 14 years of writing posts for Catching Happiness, I’ve returned to one topic quite a few times.

Baby steps. Tiny habits. Happy little things.

Small is big.

This week I was thinking about writing another post on this topic, but decided not to. I stand by what I wrote in the past! Instead, I’m compiling a Link Love from my own archives. Here are a few Catching Happiness posts about the glory of the small (click the title to read the entire post):

In “Thinking Small,” I talk about breaking through resistance by taking the smallest “next step” possible. I concluded, “Big dreams and new, improved habits are made up of many tiny steps. A happy life is made up of small, simple pleasures and everyday adventures—the cup of tea, the walk with the dog, the movie night with your spouse or best friend, the work project done well and turned in on time. Thinking small can make a big, big difference.”

I invented a new word in “The Power of Little Things.” 

One of my first posts about the power of small was “Just Call Me a Tortoise.” In it, I praise the practice of taking baby steps: “The beauty of baby steps is that if each small step is solid, you’ll find yourself making steady progress. You’ll be less likely to stagger forward then backward in fits and starts. In this way, you will go slower to go faster.” 

I listed a few small things I love, with pictures, in “The Beauty of Small Things.” 

“Painless Progress” describes the Japanese concept of kaizen. “Kaizen is the process of continual improvement through small and incremental steps. It started as a Japanese management concept and continues to be used in business, as well as in areas such as psychology and life coaching. It reinforces my belief that as long as you keep moving forward, even if by baby steps, you will eventually get where you’re going.”

Finally, in August of 2021, I was feeling especially overwhelmed. (Kind of like now.) “Something Small or Nothing at All” was my attempt to find inspiration and motivation to do something, anything. 

Rereading these posts reminded me of what I firmly believe: baby steps, tiny habits, small changes—and yes, happy little things—make a real and lasting difference. Starting now, I’m reviewing what small habits and changes I can commit to so that I can finish this year of loss in a stronger, happier place.

What are a few of your favorite small habits?


Jenny Lawson

A Monument to the Lost

August 18, 2023

Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

“Sometimes the people you love leave you even when they don’t want to and you shatter into pieces. You may not be able to find all of those pieces again because when they left they took a few with them. It hurts, but the pain eventually becomes bearable and even sacred because it’s how you carry the people you’ve lost with you. And if you’re lucky you can one day see that the hollow spots you carry are in the shape of their face or their hands or the love they gave you. Those holes ache, but they are a monument to the lost, a traveling sacred place to honor them and remind you of how to love enough to leave your own marks on others.”

—Jenny Lawson, Broken (in the Best Possible Way)

Ordinary

This Week in Pictures

August 11, 2023

Horses not minding the heat. Tank is second from right.

This week has been…hot. Luna and I usually walk our neighborhood’s trail twice a week, but with temperatures above 80F by 7:30 a.m., 100 percent humidity, and a dew point of 79, I decided not to. This is a picture of our house “crying” this morning:

Condensation on windows

I haven’t done much, just what’s required to keep life from imploding. I’ve been snapping pictures of random things for Susannah Conway’s August Break Instagram challenge, including this nut:

Ready to play?!

I made a fresh tomato and feta pasta for lunch one day, using basil from my herb garden:

Yum!

My energy and motivation come in fits and starts. I Do Things during the morning and crash on the couch in the afternoon. When I think too much or catch sight of something in my home that belonged to my mom, I get teary. Like this key holder she used to have in her kitchen that is now in mine:

Excuse my scuffed up walls

Even in an ordinary week, with a little bit of grieving, and a lot of sweating, there are still bright spots. I’ve got the simple pleasures in hand, but haven’t had many everyday adventures lately. Working on it!

Hope your week was full of simple pleasures and everyday adventures!

Agatha Christie

Agatha in Order: My Summer (and Beyond!) Reading Project*

August 04, 2023

Part of my collection

It’s been a couple of years since I compiled an official summer reading list (see 2021’s here), but of course that doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading…a lot. This summer, even though I haven’t created a summer reading list, I have spent quite a few of my reading hours continuing what I call my “Agatha in Order” reading project. I own most of her books in inexpensive paperback editions because I started collecting them many years ago.

Murder as a comfort read?

It started back in October of 2020, when I wrote about celebrating 100 years of Agatha Christie. I reread The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the first novel Christie published and the first appearance of Christie’s famous sleuth, Hercule Poirot. I decided I’d reread the entire Christie cannon in the order the books were published. Since there 66 crime novels and I am doing this simply for pleasure, I put no deadline on the project. I’ve been doing it slowly, in between and alongside other reads. Often I read a few pages of my latest Christie just before going to sleep. Despite the murders, the books are comfort reads for me—and they’re not gory or suspenseful in a too-stimulating way. 

I’m not doing this for any other reason than I think it’s fun. I’m not comparing and analyzing her early and later work, or doing anything more than escaping to England (or ancient Egypt, via Death Comes as the End). The novel I’m reading now is set in fall and I’m envious of the brisk temperatures and changing leaves described in Murder After Hours (also known as The Hollow). 

This project also helps me feel closer to my mom, as she was a great Christie fan and introduced me to the books when I was a teenager. (I also plan to reread the books Christie wrote under the name of Mary Westmacott. I wrote about rereading Absent in the Spring here.) 

The pleasure of becoming a completist

There is such a thing in the reading world as becoming a “completist”—one who reads an author’s complete works. There’s satisfaction in doing so—I’ve managed it for a couple of authors in addition to Christie. I’ve also completed reading a particular series by an author, such as the Harry Potter books, or Patricia Wentworth’s Miss Silver mysteries. I still want to read more Wilkie Collins, and I only have Jane Austen’s juvenilia to read to finish her entire body of work. Maybe I’ll start a list of other authors whose complete works I’d like to finish.

But before I do that, I’ll continue to wend my leisurely way through the world of Agatha Christie. 

One whodunit at a time.

Are there any authors you’d like to complete? Is there another summer project you’re making progress on? Please share in the comments!

*It may seem late in summer to write about a “summer” reading project, but keep in mind that in central Florida, summer lasts until at least the end of October.

July

Joyful July Link Love

July 28, 2023

Photo by Ann on Unsplash

Even when we feel sorrow, we can still feel joy—sometimes in the same moment! And thank goodness for that. So while it’s boiling hot outside (at least in most of the Northern Hemisphere), let’s relax in the cool indoors and check out these links related to aspects of joy and happiness.

First up, “You Don’t Have to Be Happy to Feel Joy,” according to author Ingrid Fetell Lee. She writes, “Little moments of joy happen to us all the time, whether or not we consider ourselves happy people or not. They happen in good times and also right in the middle of stressful or miserable ones. And we all have the capacity to notice them, savor them, and make more of them.” 

Sometimes joy results from letting go of something, as Courtney Carver says in “7 Things to Let Go of for a Happier Life.” Choose the one that makes you feel the worst to let go of first. For me, that’s probably number 4. 

What Gretchen Rubin calls everyday luxuries in “Why Everyday Luxuries Help Make Us Happier,” I call simple pleasures. Potato, potahto. Some of my everyday luxuries/simple pleasures include drinking bottled iced tea rather than making it myself, fresh flowers on the kitchen table, and flavored coffee. What are some of yours? 

Your joy matters. Love what you love. 

I love the suggestions from “7 Things You Need to Do If You Want to Enjoy Life More.” Numbers 4 and 5 are on the agenda this summer.

I love ice cream—and good ice cream is definitely an everyday luxury. Check out Thrillist’s list of the best ice cream shops in the U.S. I haven’t been to a single one of these, but I’m keeping this article for reference. Is there one near you? Check it out and let me know if it lives up to its reputation. 

I’m a fan of The Minimal Mom’s approach to decluttering, and whenever I need a boost in motivation for decluttering my house I head over to YouTube to watch one of her videos. There’s something about her cheerful, matter-of-fact manner that boosts my mood. Here’s one of my recent favorites:

 



Amber Rae

Some Books That Saved My Sanity

July 14, 2023


If you’ve read Catching Happiness for any length of time, you know I love to read. I do it to learn, to be inspired, to be entertained, and to be comforted. Over the past few months, I’ve sought out books that would help me deal with the emotional upheaval and grief I’ve been coping with. I thought I’d share three of the books I turned to for comfort and strength to keep going when my heart is hurting and I feel unequal to the task of living.

1. Letting Go of the Person You Used to Be: Lessons on Change, Loss, and Spiritual Transformation, Lama Surya Das. Talk about the right book at the right time! I bought this on a whim at my library’s used book sale, and I’m so glad I did. I read a few pages every day during the sad time leading up to my mom’s death. Surya Das is the highest trained American lama in the Tibetan tradition of Buddhism, and practically every page held food for thought.

Takeaway quotes:

“When we lose people we love—and we will all lose people we love—seekers are immediately confronted by a spiritual conundrum: Even though our hearts are breaking, how can we search inward and continue to know and feel the love we all carry at our core? Being separated from those we love invites us to take a fresh and deeper look at the meaning of love itself. This is the major challenge of love.”

“Mourning is a necessary process as well as a deep and significant spiritual experience. It brings us closer to the ground of our being and our felt sense of authenticity. We need to intelligently process our most difficult experiences in order to regain balance, harmony, and inner peace. But there comes a time when it is helpful to seek and find ways to release the pain. Yes, certain losses remain with us; they are part of our history and our karma. But that doesn’t mean that it is appropriate for us to spend our lives grieving. We need to find ways to peacefully coexist with our sadness. We can embrace our pain and our losses and be greater and more authentically real for doing so.”

2. Choose Wonder Over Worry: Moving Beyond Fear and Doubt to Unlock Your Full Potential, Amber Rae. I frequently do battle with fear and worry, so when I heard of this book on The Lazy Genius podcast I almost immediately ordered a copy. According to Rae, Worry says things like, “Am I good enough?” “Does my voice matter?” and “What if I fail?” Wonder says, “How can I get better?” “What do I have to say?” and “Failure=Learning.” A slight alteration in viewpoint, but a powerful one. She discusses the myths of worry and how to combat them, and how wonder and worry can work together when wisdom “runs the show.”

Takeaway quote:

“When Wisdom runs the show, Worry and Wonder respect each other, move as allies, and walk hand in hand in the direction of what is most aligned and true. It’s called The Union.

“The Union is when we welcome fear, sadness, grief, shame, joy, heartbreak, vulnerability, and unworthiness to all have a seat at the table of our heart. It’s when we invite every part of us that we’ve denied, repressed, or abandoned to come forth and join us. Not so that we can ‘fix it’ or ‘make it better’ or ‘overcome it,’ but so we can acknowledge it and embrace it lovingly for what it is: an aspect of who we are. When we do this, we tap in to a wellspring of creativity, connection, vitality, and flow. This is the place from which our greatest contributions, deepest connections, and most profound experiences emerge. This is the place from which we return home to who we are.”


3. Microjoys: Finding Hope (Especially) When Life Is Not Okay, Cyndie Spiegel.  The last two weeks of my mom’s life, when I was staying at her house and visiting her daily in a nursing home, I tried to do one nice thing just for me every day. One day I walked in a botanical garden before seeing my mom. One day all I could manage was a glass of wine and comfort food on the couch. And one day, I had a copy of this book mailed to me at my mom’s address so I could read it while MY life was not okay. Reading these short essays gave me pleasure and helped me become aware of microjoys around me, because as Spiegel wrote, “Amidst everything, these moments of contentment teach us how to hold heartbreak in one hand and stillness in the other.”

Takeaway quotes:

“Microjoys aren’t small. Instead, they are easily accessible, and they don’t require that we reach too far from where we are (in any moment) to discern them. They’re called microjoys because seeking any semblance of great joy in the midst of sorrow simply wasn’t accessible to me when going through the most difficult things.”

From the essay titled “Busy Being Busy”: 

 “Right after my mom died and only months after the death of my nephew, I took to painting walls, making and doing anything that I possible could to avoid sitting with the hardest things. I knew the moment I sat still I would fall apart. And I also knew that I wasn’t yet ready to fall apart.”

[Same! Even though I say I want to rest and recover, I still find myself busy.]

These aren’t the only books I’ve found comfort in over the past few months, but they’re ones I’ve returned to when I’m in need of inspiration and encouragement. Writing this blog post, I’ve felt more like myself than I have in a long, long time. I hope, if you’re in need of some encouraging reading, that you’ll check out one or more of these books.

If you have any favorite comforting and encouraging reads, please share in the comments!



Fun

Remember Fun?

July 07, 2023

Photo by Manda Hansen on Unsplash

This week, the U.S. celebrated the 4th of July with barbecues, fireworks (or drone shows), pool parties, etc.

How did my husband and I celebrate?

We ordered a new washer and dryer because ours is dying a noisy death.

Whee.

(At least I didn’t clean the bathrooms, which is something I usually do on a Tuesday.)

Starved for fun

Despite “Fun” being one of my words of the year, I’ve been seriously starved for fun. Sheer, unadulterated, non-productive fun. For the past several years, between COVID restrictions, caregiving, loss, and grieving, I’m not sure I remember what I think fun is. 

I know I’m not the only one. Many of us are out of the habit of having fun. Part of it is stress and busyness, part of it is coping with the constant onslaught of terrible news and social media outrage. We’re tired and overwhelmed and sad. (Or is that just me?!) It feels like too much effort to do anything more demanding than sit on my couch and scroll Instagram while binge watching whatever show we’re currently into.

Isn’t it time I—we—had a bit more fun?

What IS fun, anyway?

I’m glad you asked. Different things are fun for different people, and the ways you have fun are totally OK. What’s fun for me might not be fun for you, and vice versa. I’m going to use a definition from Catherine Price’s book, The Power of Fun: “True Fun is the confluence of playfulness, connection, and flow.”  She goes on to say that the signs of true fun include: “laughter, a sense of release/freedom/letting go, feeling like you’re having a special, shared experience, losing track of time, feeling free from self-judgment and self-consciousness, feeling like you’ve temporarily ‘stepped out’ of normal life, being fully absorbed and present, not caring too much about the outcome, and a feeling of childlike excitement and joy, a positive boost in energy, feeling totally yourself.”

Wow, does that sound great.

Looking back, here are a few things I can point to as genuine fun:

Visiting The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Attending the touring Broadway production of Six at my local performing arts center. 

Sitting with artsy friends at a table laden with art supplies, working on our travel sketchbooks.

Playing in the pool with my husband and our dog.

I didn’t list every possible fun experience, but I did have to work a little to find moments that fell into the definition of fun. While I’ve experienced many moments of pleasure, contentment, even quiet joy, I see that I haven’t been having a lot of fun. Even my summer fun list could be more FUN. Even though I want to do those things, they actually aren’t all specifically fun as defined above. 

But how do I have more fun?

How do I change this? I don’t want to turn fun into work, but I may need to push myself a little to get off my couch to investigate what might be fun for me. I’d like to expand beyond some of the activities I do all the time.

For one thing, I have been trying to add in weekly adventures, as described in Laura Vanderkam’s book Tranquility by Tuesday. Vanderkam encourages us to do at least two things that will be worth remembering each week—one little adventure (an hour or less) and one big adventure (one that takes a few hours). 

I’m going to follow my curiosity, and allow myself to look for opportunities to connect and play. I’m saying yes more often.

Fun is an antidote to the seriousness of life. Fun is a powerful contributor to happiness, as Price writes:

“That’s yet another power of fun: it produces happiness. More specifically, the pursuit of fun provides a blueprint for happiness by shifting our focus from an amorphous emotional state (I want to be happy) to an active experience (I want to have more fun). Given that we are invariably happy while having fun, the more fun we have, the happier we’re likely to be; the ingredients for fun are in many ways the ingredients for happiness, but with better instructions. Fun also helps us sneak up on happiness without scaring it away. In fact, one of the reasons that orienting our lives around fun may make us happier is that happiness isn’t the direct goal.”

That’s a good enough reason for me. Let’s go have some fun.

What do you find fun? Please share some of your fun favorites in the comments!


For more information on the importance of fun and joy:

The Power of Fun, Catherine Price 

Tranquility by Tuesday, Laura Vanderkam 

This Is Not a Book About Benedict Cumberbatch, Tabitha Carvan