One Happy Thing

September 30, 2019

“Why do they always teach us that it’s easy and evil to do what we want and that we need discipline to restrain ourselves? It’s the hardest thing in the world to do what we want, and it takes the greatest kind of courage.”
Ayn Rand

Do you agree or disagree with this quote?

For the most part, I agree, though I know different personality types may not have as much trouble embracing enjoyment as I do. I mostly feel like I have to “get everything else done” before I can have fun.

While we were on vacation, our pattern was to get up fairly early and explore all day, then find our lodging and have an early night. Every night, we had several hours to do what we liked. I noticed that in the evenings when we were tucked into our hotel rooms, I had a hard time settling down to relax. I’d write in my trip journal, plan the next day’s activities, then read or sketch. No kitchen to clean up, no laundry to fold, or writing project to take one more look at. It took me several days to feel comfortable with the added pleasure of a free evening after spending all day engaged in the happy activities of exploring new places. Maybe because I went from one extreme to another. The past few weeks at home have been long on work and short on happiness.

I don’t want to fall into that pattern again, so I’m instituting a new practice. Each week, I’m going to schedule “One Happy Thing”—something that I will do strictly for my own pleasure. This week it’s “ride Tank” (he’s so much better he can be ridden at the walk!). Next week, it might be “have a pumpkin spice latte,” or “watch a movie on Netflix you’ve been meaning to see.” I’m writing it into a specific space in my planner, alongside “pay bills, return library books, and work on writing projects.” Otherwise, it might not get done, because it’s just too easy to put off pleasure when things get busy (and when aren’t things busy?). 

While I enjoy at least 90 percent of my work, now I’ll have something to look forward to intended strictly for pleasure, no matter how busy my week. One happy thing. How hard can that be?

Do you find it hard to do what you enjoy? Do you put off pleasure until everything else is done? 


Spring Rerun--What's the Rush?

May 13, 2019

I’m still on my own personal spring break right now, doing my best to rest and slow down. Here is a post from 2014 that shows this is an ongoing issue for me. Maybe for you, too?

“Slowness is an option for everyone on the planet, not just a privilege reserved for the very wise or very young or very rich. All of us can decide (and the phrase is a potent one)
to take our time.”
—Christian McEwen, World Enough and Time

For the past few weeks, I’ve been experimenting with deliberately slowing down my actions. I’ve been surprised by how many times I catch myself rushing, as opposed to simply moving efficiently and deliberately. When I take the dog’s medications out of the cupboard, when I get out of the car to go inside, when I unload the dishwasher—I feel an internal push to hurry. (Gretchen Rubin describes this feeling perfectly in Happier at Home: “I always have the feeling that I should be working. I always feel pressed for time, as if someone were shoving a pistol in my back and muttering ‘Move, move, move!’”) I’m already aware that when I hurry I break things and hurt myself, and I really don’t need to hurry every minute of every day, so what gives?

It’s at least partly the familiar and eternal battle between doing and being. No matter how hard I try, it seems that I can’t shake the feeling that if I’m not doing something (or hurrying on to the next something) then I’m not worthy. No matter how much I streamline my do-do list, there’s always more to do than I’ll ever be able to accomplish. Hurry has become a habit. One I’m determined to break.

Even with my new focus on not hurrying, and even though I’ve written several blog posts about the concepts of doing less and slowing down (see “Do Less in More Time” and “One Less Thing,” for example), I still struggle to follow my own advice. Take last Thursday. First, while driving home from the grocery store, I stopped too quickly at a stop sign, spilling my coffee into the cup holder and down the center console. After I cleaned that up and got the groceries unloaded, instead of just chilling for a few minutes, I got caught up on the computer and was late leaving for yoga class. I barely had time to take off my shoes, drop my keys and roll out my mat before it started. I felt flustered, distracted and off balance for at least half the class and the quality of my poses suffered. After lunch, while on the way to run an errand with no timetable, I realized I had a death grip on the steering wheel as I tried to hit every traffic light just right.

Slow down there, girl.

After that, I started reminding myself of a principle Natural Horsemanship practitioner Pat Parelli often refers to: Go slower to go faster. Here’s an example in action: that five seconds I saved by hurrying to go in the house is more than eaten up by the time it takes me to retrieve the mail from beneath the car where I just dropped it. If I’d taken my time in the first place, I’d already be inside (in the air conditioning) rather than crawling on the floor of the garage.  

When I remember to slow down, time does seem to lengthen. I’m able to move more smoothly from one thing to another without feeling internal pressure goading me on. So I’ll continue to pay attention to the speed at which I move. Keep saying no to busy work and rushing. Value the time and space between activities as much as the activities themselves. Seek out activities with a slower pace. And I’ll keep working on taking my time.

What makes you feel rushed? How do you slow down?

No rushing allowed


December So Far

December 04, 2015

If the year were a car, someone just stepped on the gas. We’re accelerating—streaking down the road toward the end of the race that is 2015.

How did that happen? Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was exploring in Georgia?  Or a couple of weeks ago that I was interrupting winter?  Even though we’re only a few days into December, I've already enjoyed many simple pleasures and everyday adventures. For instance:

We’re expecting out of town relatives this weekend, so we decorated the house for the holidays. We haven’t done this since Prudy joined the household for this reason:

You might think that she’d stay out of the tree now that she’s a big ol’ cat rather than a tiny little kitten. You would be wrong. I remove her from the tree several times every day. Her general attitude seems to be, “How kind of you to place this giant cat toy in the family room!” My husband and son have a bet going on how many ornaments she’ll break (only one so far but it’s early days yet). Our most special or sentimental ornaments are safely displayed where she can’t get to them, but I imagine the tree will be somewhat ragged by the end of the month if she continues to be fascinated by it.

I’ve been sulking about the weather, which remains stubbornly and unseasonably warm and humid. I predict simultaneous use of the central air and the fireplace on Christmas.

I saw Kinky Boots at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts. 

I’ve had to start my horse on a fat supplement because he needs to gain some weight in preparation for the cold weather that will, eventually, I hope, come. That’s just all kinds of unfair.

I’ve been reading a lot. I just finished the delightful Cold Comfort Farm, I’m reading (or rereading) Elizabeth Peters’ Vicky Bliss novels, and I’ve started reading graphic memoirs (is that a thing?)—An Age of License (Lucy Knisley), and Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (Roz Chast). My reading challenges languish while I read at whim. 

Despite the full schedule (notice I didn’t say busy), I’m doing my best to think about what I’m doing and enjoy it, instead of rushing through it. No need to make that car go any faster!

What have you been up to lately? What plans do you have for the end of the year?


Banishing the B Word

October 19, 2015

Would you describe yourself as busy? Most of us do—and most of us are. Most of us have considerably more to do than we have time for, at work, at home, and even in our leisure hours. That’s the way our culture has been set up, and it’s become a common way for us to think about ourselves. And even though we sometimes complain about being too busy, secretly we’re often just a little proud of how in demand we are. Busyness is often something we’ve chosen.

Why do we like being busy? Busy feels important. Being busy excuses us from things outside our comfort zones, or things we don’t want to do (“Oh, I’m so busy, I just don’t have time for…”). Busy keeps us from thinking too deeply about our lives and whether or not we’re happy.

I’ve decided I don’t like being busy. Busy makes me feel rushed and out of control, two feelings I hate. Busy makes me feel stressed and inadequate. When I tell myself I have a busy day ahead, I rush through it, trying to get everything on my to-do list done, when really what I should do is take a careful look at everything on the list, and winnow it down into something manageable. This might mean organizing errands into an efficient order, putting something off to another day, or even skipping it altogether (newsflash: nobody came to arrest me when I didn’t put up the fall decorations this year).

My upcoming week is a good example. In addition to all the things I already do, I have a hair cut, an appointment with a saddle fitter, and an evening out with a friend scheduled. I’ve also got several errands to do that I’ve already put off at least once, including buying office supplies, making a deposit, and going to the library to pick up and drop off books.

The reality is I can handle all this in a state of harassment, feeling overwhelmed and “busy,” or I can change my attitude, plan my days carefully, and stay in the moment instead of looking too far ahead. I can simplify in other areas by planning less complicated meals or skipping certain household chores, and I can build in buffer time to recover. Most important of all, I can simply refuse to rush. If it turns out that everything on my list simply can’t get done, I’m going to jettison the least important thing(s) and not worry about it. (But that haircut is definitely happening!)

In addition to changing my attitude towards what I do, I’m also experimenting with the following ways to banish the feeling of busy:
  • Making time for idleness. That means doing nothing. Not reading, not watching TV or web surfing. Even just for a few minutes a day. Tim Kreider writes in “The Busy Trap”: “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets.”
  • Not allowing work to bleed into leisure time. I find this especially hard since I work and play at home. What I’m trying is setting certain hours where I will only do leisure activities, whether it be reading, sketching, watching something on TV, etc. I won’t try to fold laundry, read emails, brainstorm article ideas, or clean the kitchen at the same time.
  • Choosing my top three most important tasks and making sure they get done. Then the rest of the day is cake. (And if I finish early, instead of adding more work to my list, why not add more play? I should reward myself for my efficiency!)
  • Becoming more mindful of what makes it on to my to-do list in the first place.

So what am I going to replace busy with? Some terms I’ve heard others use to describe their lives include diverse, focused, rich, multi-layered, and full. These words have a much different feel than busy. I think I like full the best. A full life makes me feel happy.

At this time of year especially, we seem to gear up and become whirling dervishes of action, filling our days with activity and busyness in the face of the oncoming holidays. Instead of taking on more and more, why not take at least one thing off the to-do list today? How does that feel?

Anne Morrow Lindbergh

An Excess of Shells

August 19, 2015

Photo courtesy Unsplash

“One cannot collect all the beautiful shells on the beach. One can collect only a few, and they are more beautiful if they are few. One moon shell is more impressive than three. There is only one moon in the sky….

“There are so few empty pages in my engagement pad, or empty hours in the day, or empty rooms in my life in which to stand alone and find myself. Too many activities, and people, and things. Too many worthy activities, valuable things, and interesting people. For it is not merely the trivial which clutters our lives but the important as well. We can have a surfeit of treasures—an excess of shells, where one or two would be significant.”
—Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift From the Sea



"Busy" Is the Enemy

March 12, 2014

“If your goal is to build a remarkable life, then busyness and exhaustion should be your enemy. If you’re chronically stressed and up late working, you’re doing something wrong….You’ve built a life around hard to do work, not hard work.

“The solution suggested by [research] is as simple as it is startling: Do less. But do what you do with complete and hard focus. Then when you’re done be done, and go enjoy the rest of the day.
—Cal Newport

A Field Guide to Now

As Time Unfolds

October 02, 2013

“The heart is not a machine. It does not have the capacity to love at any greater speed, or to feel anything more deeply, when the pace is doubled. While fast is better for machines, we’re fools to live by such a rule set every day. Rushing every second, we forget that we’re capable of a certain quality of joy that can be arrived at only slowly, as time unfolds.”
—Christina Rosalie, A Field Guide to Now


Summer Rerun: Do Less in More Time

July 01, 2013

Note: I'm taking a more relaxed approach to blogging this summer, so occasionally I'm going to rerun a previous post. I hope you enjoy this one, from 2010. 

It's not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about?--Henry David Thoreau

Some time ago, I was reading one of those magazines that try to help you simplify your life, and I came across an article touting the benefits of exercising during “downtimes.” I don’t know about you, but when I’m waiting for the spaghetti water to boil, I’m emptying the dishwasher or putting the Goldfish crackers back in the pantry. I’m already multitasking, and when I pick up a magazine that touts The Simple Life, I want that life to be simpler than the one I already lead, thank you. I think multitasking and efficiency have gone too far when I can’t make dinner or ride an elevator without being expected to tone my thighs.

Our culture seems to be obsessed with doing more, more, more. Anyone who doesn’t hold down a job and fill their leisure hours with “worthwhile activity” is a slacker. Among my friends and acquaintances, our most common complaint is how busy we are, or how behind we feel. In order to achieve all our goals (make dinner, get in shape…), we’re forced to multitask.

And where is all this multitasking getting us anyway? Are we finding great chunks of time to do things we really love? Or are we just making it possible to do two or 10 more unfulfilling, maybe even unnecessary tasks? I ask myself, do I really need to alphabetize my herbs and spices? Wash the laundry room shelves? Shave the dog?

Please don't shave me...

When you think about it, is multitasking really so great? Who hasn’t been irritated—if not endangered—by the classic multitasker: the driver talking on his/her cell phone?

But here’s the clincher. A study published in 2009 by Stanford researchers found that multitaskers are more distractible and have more trouble focusing than non-multitaskers. (And this is a surprise?) In short, according to those researchers, multitaskers are incompetent.

So why do we do this to ourselves? Perhaps our busyness and multitasking are defense mechanisms, meant to keep us from seeing the empty places in our lives. If we fill every minute with activity—sometimes with more than one—we won’t feel the loneliness, anger or anxiety we’re so afraid of.

Or maybe we’re afraid that others will think less of us if we don’t have a long list of activities and achievements to rattle off when we’re asked what’s new. What would happen, I wonder, if we told a co-worker we spent the previous evening playing board games with our kids? Would we lose his or her respect because we didn’t work late, shuttle the kids to gymnastics practice and pick up the dry cleaning? We’ve seen a certain smugness some of those busy people exude—and we don’t want to lose face in front of them. If we’re not as busy as they are, maybe we’re not as important?

Philosophical questions aside, we’re still faced with ever-increasing demands on our time and the same old 24 hours to meet those demands. Now we find out that one of our techniques for managing our lives is actually making them more difficult. Maybe what we need instead of a magazine article that encourages us to exercise during downtimes is a series of articles that give us permission simply to be in the moment, to appreciate the ambiance of a restaurant without doing ankle rotations while waiting for our salads to arrive. The first article could be “Do Less in More Time—a Guide to the Slow Life.” Other articles could include:

--“The Joy of Daydreaming”
--“Put Those Bills Away!” (How to watch TV without doing something else at the same time.)
--“Ten Ways to Say No to Unwanted Activities”

Come to think of it, we don’t really need permission from anyone. We have the right—the need even—to slow our lives down to a livable pace. Let’s give our poor overworked brains and bodies a chance to focus on one thing at a time. And occasionally, let’s make that one thing stopping to smell the roses.

...or watch the sunset


One Less Thing

November 30, 2012

Earlier this week, I made lunch plans with a friend while we were both out doing errands. We had tentatively set a time to meet, but in the course of her errands, my friend let me know she would be about 30 minutes later than we planned. I found myself with a decision: what to do with 30 minutes of unscheduled time?

I could have done one more errand before meeting her, but that would have added to my overall stress level and possibly made me late for our lunch date. I had books with me after a trip to the library and a small travel sketch kit in my purse. Dare I—gasp!—simply take that 30 minutes for myself?

You bet.

I snagged a table and a cup of coffee at Panera and lost myself in a new book. I made a conscious choice to slow down instead of speed up, to do something relaxing and fun instead of packing my day fuller.

Too often, I don’t make that choice. Instead, I overschedule, or let guilt feelings keep me from taking all but the tiniest scraps of time for myself. I seem to believe if I’m not doing something productive (for pay, for someone else, etc.) I’m wasting time. Possibly because I feel I’m being lazy if I’m not constantly doing.

However, I’m learning, slowly, that when it comes to getting things done, more is not necessarily better. Not if it comes at the cost of health or well-being. And no matter how hard I go at that to-do list, it’s always going to keep getting longer—I will never, never, have everything checked off, so what’s the point of killing myself to accomplish more, more, more?

I found my little reading break, not to mention a delightful lunch with my friend, to be so refreshing that the rest of my day seemed easier—and certainly happier.

Particularly during this time of year, we can find ourselves stretched too thin, adding item after item to our growing to-do lists. I encourage you to do one thing less today than you had planned. Take that time to something you find relaxing, inspiring or energizing.

What will you not do today? What will you do instead?


Checking In

October 09, 2012

The craziness continues, but it’s good craziness.

After “sharing” home office space with my husband for three years (translation: I had a desk in there but I was rarely at it because our working styles were not compatible), he moved to his new office in our unused formal living room last week. I’ve spent much of the past few days cleaning and organizing my space and collecting my things from where they were scattered throughout the house. I’ve still got some organizing to do, but at least I know everything is here (somewhere) and I again have a door I can close when I need to.

I took the day yesterday to relieve my horse of his winter coat. (Click here to see what that entails.) Yes, even though it’s still near 90 degrees and humid, Tank was sporting his usual premature wooliness. I’m not quite finished—I have three legs left and some tidying—but he’s much more comfortable. Since he’s now shorn, that means it’s likely a cold front will come through and drop the temps. (Bring it on! I have a horse blanket.)

I expect to have a more “normal” schedule in the next week or so and will get back to more regular posting soon.

So what’s new with you?


Dog Paddling in the Ocean...

September 28, 2012

That’s what I feel like I’m doing. Anyone else? Is it just me, or does life seem unaccountably, almost unbearably busy lately? I feel frantic! I have no down time between activities. I’m distracted—more so than normal. I shudder to think what the holidays will be like when I feel like this in September.

Since reading World Enough and Time, I’ve become more aware of time and my use of it, even going so far as to keep a time log a couple of weeks ago. Maybe it’s because I’m more aware that it seems like life has sped up?

From keeping the time log, I learned that I multi-task A LOT, and I do a lot of small tasks that add up to big chunks of time. I had to use a pen with an extra fine tip in order to fit all I did into the half hour boxes of the time log! Even if I was working out on the elliptical machine, I was also reading a magazine. If we had the TV on, I was cooking or cleaning the kitchen, balancing the checkbook or folding laundry. The only time I had large stretches of time doing one thing was when I went to the barn, and that’s because I didn’t record each individual thing I did while I was there.

No wonder I’m so tired by the end of the day. I really do cram a lot of little tasks into my days, often doing them one right after another. Since I can’t really point to any major accomplishment, except maybe keeping our lives running, I never get a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment from what I do. So many things I do “disappear”—they must be done again, and again (and again). They’re not even noticed by anyone unless I stop doing them.

Is this a problem? Maybe. If I’m running around filling my days with the little details, I never have to face my fears—the fear that I won’t have anything to say when I sit in front of a blank page, or the fear that if I stopped “doing,” my worth as a human being would plummet. I want to be a contributor in life, not just a taker, but the way in which I’m going about it now is not sustainable.

I don’t want to live like this anymore. I’m stepping back and calling a halt, starting with a day off tomorrow. I’m going to look at my current schedule and activities and ask:

*Does this need doing?
*Do I need to do it?
*Can it be done less frequently?
*Can someone help me with this so it will go quicker?

It’s a start. Maybe then I’ll be able to get my head above water.

Do you have any tips on controlling your schedule and commitments you can share?