Goals

February Already? 2024 Goals: Check-in Number One

February 02, 2024

My decluttered office bookshelves

After a year in which I had little control over my time and even less over my emotions, I’m planning to make 2024 a year for restoring and building. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I’d like to see happen in 2024, personally and professionally. Today’s post is a check-in to see how things are going.

I thought it might be useful to talk about my goals on Catching Happiness throughout the year—it’ll keep me accountable, and maybe it will be helpful to you to see how I (try to) break larger goals down into smaller steps. I’ll share progress, missteps, and sources of inspiration. If there’s something you’d like to me to write more about, please feel free to comment below, or contact me directly at kathyjohn335 [at] gmail [dot] com. 

Goals and happiness

In January’s edition of the Happy Little Thoughts newsletter, I revealed three of my major goals for 2024 and wrote the following paragraph:

What do goals have to do with happiness? Having goals to work toward, something to look forward to, contributes to hope, optimism, and, yes, happiness. According to Action for Happiness, ‘Direction’ is one of the 10 Keys to Happier Living.  Goals which are good for happiness are those we choose for ourselves, rather than things we think we ‘should’ do; they’re things we want to move towards rather than things we want to stop doing; they’re personally meaningful for us and reflect our interests and values; and we have control over how we work towards them.” 

(If you don’t get the Happy Little Thoughts newsletter but would like to, click here. Happy Little Thoughts comes out on the last Wednesday of each month, and I don’t share or sell your email address.) 

While I have additional goals that I may discuss later, the three I shared in the newsletter are:

  • Write a draft of a book I’ve been thinking about for years.
  • Declutter (to some extent) my whole house.
  • Complete an online dog training course and train my dog, Luna (hopefully won’t take the entire year to do this one).

How did I do in January?

Welllll, results were mixed. January was a FULL month: we hosted guests from out of town twice (family last weekend, my friend Kerri for the first week of the month) and I dealt with a few miscellaneous life maintenance things like dental appointments and household repairs. Tank was seriously sick and between worry, hospital visits, and trips to the barn to shoot medicine down his throat (you can guess how happy that made him) I didn’t have much bandwidth for anything except getting through the day. Here’s how things went:

Goal 1: In January, I wanted to go over what I already had written and organize my materials, as well as start regular writing sessions three times each week. I knew it would be a busy month, so I wasn’t ambitious. I did collect my materials, briefly look them over, and I managed one writing session total. Not a great start, but considering my stress and busy-ness levels in January, I’m not too surprised or disappointed.  

Goal 2: For my whole-house declutter, I’m working on two rooms each month, pairing a simple one with a more challenging one. In January, I worked on my home office and our guest bathroom. I’m basically finished with both—though my office (the challenging room) still has a couple of minor things that need to be taken care of. It looks so much better and is now a place where I want to spend time working again.

Goal 3: I’ve purchased an online dog training course (SpiritDog, no affiliation) after trying out some of their free offerings, but all I managed to do in January was read a couple of emails and watch a couple of short videos. 

What’s next in February and beyond?

I don’t think February will be as busy a month, but it is a shorter month so I’m still being conservative with my expectations. I want to build consistency and momentum.

These are my plans for February:

Goal 1: I’m considering investing in a couple of online book writing courses, and I’ll decide whether or not either of them is appropriate. I’ve blocked out time for writing and research sessions. I’m planning to experiment with writing in different locations, both to reduce distractions (Laundry! Dishes! Luna wants attention!) and to make writing more fun.

Goal 2: I’ve got my next two rooms picked out: my kitchen and dining room. In January, my habit was to set a timer and declutter for at least 15 minutes a day. That worked well, so I’m going to repeat that process.

Goal 3: I’ll schedule time for reading/watching the dog training course, and short sessions of training with Luna several days a week.

I’m still kind of feeling my way. Each month, I want to review my progress and make any necessary adjustments, but I probably won’t do an update like this on the blog every month. Maybe quarterly? The idea of having to publicly report my progress or lack thereof is pretty motivating! (And a little scary!)

I want to be a person with a mannerly dog, in a decluttered house, who has written a book. These goals will all take time, consistency, and the building of habits. It’s only February, and I’m still filled with optimism. We shall see what the rest of the year has in store.

If you’d like to share your own goals in comments below, I’d love to hear them!

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

Happiness

We’re Not Behind

January 06, 2023

I've seen this several places and it cracks me up!
Welcome back! I hope you’ve enjoyed a peaceful and happy start to 2023. It’s been about as peaceful around here as it ever is (except for a couple of home appliances giving up the ghost).

Ready or not, it’s a new year

I wanted to do a lot of reflection on 2022 and some looking ahead to 2023 during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, but my husband was off work so we wound up doing some much-needed shopping (see: home appliance death, above) and hanging out together. I wouldn’t trade this, even though it briefly left me feeling behind. Here it is January 6th and I haven’t done any of the things I like to do before the start of a new year. I haven’t chosen a word of the year. I haven’t set any goals for the year, or even for the month. I haven’t made a vision board, or even added birthdays to my new planner.

And that’s OK. I’m not behind. And you’re not either, if you find yourself in the same position I’m in.

Even though the beginning of a new year is a natural starting point, it’s still just an arbitrary date. You can start (or stop) an activity, goal, or dream at any point, on any day.

I would rather be “behind” than rush the process.

I’m gong to continue working thoughtfully through my end-of-the year rituals until that process feels finished. (I’ve also been loving seeing and listening to the goals of some of my favorite bloggers and podcasters. Inspiration for my own.)

New year, new attitude

I spent a good portion of 2022 feeling overwhelmed and, often, depressed. I didn’t have the mental bandwidth to do much more than just what I needed to do to fulfill my commitments and responsibilities. But now I feel a small upwelling of energy and desire. There are things I want to accomplish, places I want to go, people I want to see. While I’m being cautious, it feels great to want to set goals and make changes.

The first week of January has started softly. I’m taking down everything pinned on my bulletin board and I’ve emptied out my Happiness Jar—and started refilling it. I’m listening to music while sitting in my office rocking chair and dreaming of what might be in 2023. I’m feeling happy. I hope you are, too.

How is your new year beginning?

A few fun resources for New Year dreaming and goal-setting:

Gretchen Rubin’s “23 for 23” printable

Best of Both Worlds podcast: 2023 Goals

Every January, Make Two Lists (a more practical alternative to resolutions)


 

Happiness

Five Ways to Make the World a Happier Place

November 11, 2022

Photo by Simon Ray on Unsplash

Don’t you get fed up with feeling helpless, that the world’s problems are too big to solve? This reminds me of productivity expert David Allen’s statement that you can’t “do” a project. You can only do steps of a project. 

So as individuals, we if we can’t solve [insert problem here], maybe we can take a small step towards a happier world, for ourselves and for others. Being kind, generous, and thoughtful is good for your own mental health as well as benefitting others. Every action counts. If we do nothing, nothing will ever change.

Here are five simple ways to make the world a happier place:

1. Help a teacher. If you have kids in school, start with their teachers. If you have friends who are teachers, ask them what they need. If you don’t know any teachers, check out Donorschoose.org. Teachers have borne a larger-than-their share of stress and turmoil over the past few years, and they could use our support.

2. Donate to a local food bank. Food banks across the U.S. are struggling with both greater need and the higher prices of food. Money is always appreciated, but another way I like to do this is to stock up on my grocery store BOGO deals—donating one or both of the items. 

3. Support small businesses, locally and online. Buying holiday gifts from small businesses (or makers on Etsy) is one way to do this. Watch for ways to participate in  Small Business Saturday (Nov. 26), a day set aside to celebrate and support small businesses and all they do for their communities. 

4. Support the authors, artists, and musician you love. When I think about how many hours of comfort and joy my favorites have given me, I realize that I could do more to say thank you. Monetary support through buying their offerings is only one way to support them. You’re already supporting them by reading their words, listening to their music, and gazing at their art (checking books or music out of the library counts)! But if you (I) want to do more, you can always share your favorites publicly on social media, or just in conversation with a friend.  Leave positive reviews or ratings. Send your favorite a message or fan letter. Follow them on social media and subscribe to their newsletters if they have them. This helps them to “build a platform,” which can lead to more sales.

5. Don’t forget yourself. That’s right, you heard me. Treat yourself kindly. Put having fun on your to-do list. If adding one more thing to the list makes your head explode, look at what’s already there and figure out how it might be made more enjoyable. If you’ve already scheduled some self-care, circle it in red and congratulate yourself for your good sense. (Click here for some simple ways to treat yo-self. For more great, mostly free self-care ideas, see “99 Free (Or Affordable) Self-Care Ideas for Your Wellness Routine.”)

Most of all, let your default be kindness. Take a beat when you’re tempted to snap at someone. No doubt this is an extra stressful time of year and I’m willing to bet that we’re all fighting hard battles of one form or another. So smile, be patient, listen.

(Want more ways to be kind? See “10 Ways to Spread Kindness.”)

We do not have to give in to the awfulness of the world. We can spread the ripples of kindness, even if we fear those efforts won’t make that much difference. I always ask myself, “What kind of person do I want to be?” Do I want to know in my heart that I did nothing, or made things worse, when I could have done some small thing to ease someone else’s burdens or give them an emotional lift? I remember how I feel when someone does something nice for me, and while I’m not always aware enough (or capable enough at the time) to do the kindness, it is my goal to be that person. Let’s keep trying to spread kindness and happiness in whatever ways we have available to us.

Please share in the comments below your ideas for small, simple kindnesses—I’d love to hear them!

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!

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).

Getting Back to Happy

Give Yourself the Opportunity to Be Happy

February 25, 2022

Photo by Denny Müller on Unsplash

“This minute decide to never again beg anyone for the love, respect, and attention you should be showing yourself. Today, look at yourself in the mirror and say, ‘I love you, and from now on I’m going to prove it!’ When you practice self-love and self-care, you give yourself the opportunity to be happy. And when you are happy, you become a better friend, a better lover, a better family member, and a better you.”

—Marc and Angel Chernoff, Getting Back to Happy

Depression

My Depression Ate My Blog Post

February 07, 2022

The inspiration for the title of this blog post

Well, kind of. I missed my normal post day last week because I experienced a depressive episode. I’d been working on a post about mindset, focus, and expectations, and I just wasn’t able to finish and post it as I planned on Friday.

I don’t tell you this to ask for sympathy or make excuses. While I don’t want to dwell on them, I feel it’s important for us to be open about mental health struggles. I want Catching Happiness to be a place of uplift, peace, and inspiration. I want to contribute to the “happy” in the world, to offer encouragement, a positive attitude, and support to you, my dear readers and friends. I know we’re all facing our own challenges and troubles, and I believe we need to be real about how happy or unhappy we are, rather than ignore or gloss over what feels hard. 

Today is a better day. I’m leaning on the habits that (mostly) hold me together

Today is not as hard as Friday was. Maybe tomorrow will be better. Maybe, I’ll even finish that blog post about focus, mindset, and expectations! 

Note: Jenny Lawson, “The Bloggess,” writes extremely well about the condition of depression, and I especially enjoyed “Is Today Hard?” (post contains adult language). 


 

Happiness

Holding on to Happiness: Creating a Happiness Jar

January 21, 2022



 

Quick, tell me three happy things that happened this week. They can be small or large, they just have to be something you noticed and took pleasure in.

Surprisingly hard, isn’t it? It’s so much easier to remember the trauma, the disasters and catastrophes, than it is to remember the quiet little moments that actually make up most of our day-to-day lives. I wanted to change that for 2022, and one of my solutions is the Happiness Jar.

Happy little things

I can’t take credit for the Happiness Jar. The original concept, which I’ve seen attributed to author Elizabeth Gilbert, is to jot down one thing you’re happy about or grateful for every day and store it in a jar. At the end of the year, read all the good things that happened to you over the past 12 months.

I’m tweaking it a little. Instead of one thing every day, which seems overwhelming to me (and not simpler), I’m going with a minimum of one per week, with the option to put in more if I so choose. At the very least, I’ll have 52 slips of paper, and that’s a lot of happy little things! Since Jan. 1, there was one (rough) week where I had just one good thing to put in. But last week, I already had two by Wednesday. 

Focusing on recording the happy little things has made me start to look for things to write down, and to schedule things to look forward to. I think this is going to be the gentle nudge I needed to start planning a few more simple pleasures and everyday adventures.

Another great thing about this practice is the happy little things can be really little…and they can (and should) be things that you find happy/uplifting/funny/awesome/fill-in-the-blank. This is a personal practice, intended for your eyes only.

As Liz Gilbert wrote, “In fact, my happiest moment each day is usually just a glance of something sweet and small, an unexpected flush of emotion, a bit of sun on my face, a pleasant encounter on the sidewalk, a cool glass of water at just the right instant, the cat-like contentment after a nap, a glimpse of a bird just out of the corner of my eye, a recognition of some tiny lovely thing.”

I thought you might enjoy seeing this little project come together, so here are a few photos. You'll see I had a lot of “help.” I was lucky enough to have a bunch of cute papercrafts given to me by a friend that I could use to decorate my jar.  And to jot down my happy little things, I’m using pages from a mini notebook someone else gave me. So much happiness and affection in this one small package!


Started with a plain canning jar and a small notebook



Took the ribbon out of the cat’s mouth

The finished product

Containing your happiness

Of course, you don’t need to buy or make anything special to record the happy little things that happen. You can keep a journal of happy, either handwritten or on your computer. You can take a photo of what brings you joy and create a folder to keep the pictures in. You can look at your happy little things every week, every month, once a year, or never. This is YOUR happiness, and YOUR happiness jar should you decide to actually use a jar! There aren’t any rules! (Type “Happiness Jar” into your search engine and you’ll find a multitude of photos and tutorials if you want some additional inspiration.)

The point of the Happiness Jar is to pay attention to and record good things. We all have them, even in the depths of crisis and despair. Maybe this will help us hold onto them a little tighter.

How do you record happy little things? Please share in the comments below. And do let me know if you decide to do a happiness jar of your own!


Emotions

Will Work for Joy

December 18, 2021

Photo by Kolby Milton on Unsplash

“I am willing to allow more joy into my life.”

—Monday yoga class affirmation.

It’s easy to feel joy when everything is going the way you want it to. But what about when life blows a big fat raspberry in your face? How can you seek joy when you’re going through tough times, and feeling grief, frustration, or anger?

While the holiday season does bring many simple pleasures (Holiday lights! Peppermint chip shakes!), it also ushers in longer to-do lists and the weight of a year-end reckoning. It can be a heavy time of year, especially if you’ve suffered losses or have troublesome issues on your mind (and who doesn’t?!). It can feel anything but joyful. And for many people, the cold, dark months of winter can be an added strain on their mental health.

It’s these rough times when we need to dig deeper to find practices that help us to feel joy.* Fortunately, psychologists and other professionals who study joy and happiness have some help for us. (While joy and happiness aren’t precisely the same thing, for the purposes of this blog post, I’m lumping them together.)

 Here are a few tips I’ve found useful lately:

It’s OK to feel joy, even when times are tough. Even when happy things are happening to and around me, sometimes I don’t let them register because so many people are suffering right now. I feel guilty, like I’m being insensitive. As Ingrid Fetell Lee, author of Joyful (see my post about the book here), points out “…feeling joy is different than pretending nothing’s wrong. And in [a] world where anxiety is a fixture, not an anomaly, joy is essential to our survival.” (Her entire post, “Can You Still Find Joy When It Feels Like the World Is Ending?” is worth a read.)

Let your environment help you feel more joyful. I also recently listened to a podcast interview with Ingrid Fetell Lee, and she reminded me how many ways we can bring joy into our surroundings. Two of her suggestions that I’ve embraced already include:

Having something green in my office (helps to reset concentration and attention). I have a lot of green in my home office, including green furniture and artificial plants (my cat eats real ones).

Keeping something silly or surprising in my car. Cars have a lot of little individual compartments that close up, and, according to Lee, that creates the potential for surprise, one of the factors that adds joy to our lives. I have a tiny origami dragon in one of the little compartments on my dash that makes me smile every time I see it. This could be a fun thing to do for someone else, too—hide a little fun surprise in their car.   

“Practice” positive emotions. According to psychologist and neuroscience researcher Lisa Feldman Barrett, our brains use our past experiences to make sense of and create the present. “By practicing particular emotions, you can ‘rewire,’ your brain…. So when you start to feel a negative emotion, such as sadness or frustration, you can more easily swap that negative feeling for a positive one, such as awe or gratitude.” For example, maybe the next time you’re stuck in traffic, instead of feeling frustrated, pause and feel grateful for the fact that you have a vehicle that runs and can take you where you need to go.

This may seem a bit “Pollyanna-ish,” I know, and I’m not saying we should ignore or stifle negative emotions completely. I do think we as a society have allowed ourselves to forget how good we have it and we’d be happier if we turned our focus more often to all that is good in our lives.

Actively seek experiences which bring about positive emotions. What actions or experiences bring you joy? How often do you deliberately perform those actions or have those experiences? Especially when times are hard, we can’t wait around for happiness and joy to “just happen.” We have to pursue them. As Natalie Dattilo, PhD, of Harvard Medical School, reminds us in “5 Happiness-Boosting Things to Do Before the End of the Year, According to a Positive Psychologist,” “Happiness doesn’t just happen… Routine and planned activation of the pleasure and reward centers of the brain is required to feel good and to preserve our ability to feel good in the future.”

These experiences don’t have to be complicated or expensive, either. The example I liked the best from this article, was the “awe walk”—a walk where you deliberately look for the unexpected and delightful—allowing yourself to experience the beauty and intricacy around you. (Read Dattilo’s five end-of-the-year happiness tips here. And for more ways to seek delight, visit NPR’s Joy Generator.) 

If you’re feeling little joy right now, I understand. And when you’re suffering, it seems impossible to do the things that might make you feel better. I hope one or more of these small things will help.

What little things can you do to welcome joy into your life?

*Please note: these suggestions are meant to help with run-of-the mill negative moods and emotions. They are not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please seek the help of a mental health professional or other qualified provider if you have a mood disorder or depression.

Feeding the wolf

The Wolf You Feed

November 12, 2021

Photo by Vincent van Zalinge on Unsplash

Does it feel like the world has become a darker, scarier place? It does to me.

In a recent conversation with a friend, we discussed, jokingly (wishfully?), going back to a time when we were not as intimately aware of the many problems facing mankind, whether it was because we were younger and more innocent, absorbed in our own lives, or simply because we did not have 24/7 news from the farthest flung reaches of the earth thrust into our faces at every turn. We know that’s not possible, or even desirable, but…

It’s hard to be happy when there is so much misery all around.

Of course, it’s anyone’s guess if the world truly is more miserable right now, compared to historical times that include the Dark Ages, the Black Death, and the Holocaust, just to name three examples. Perhaps we are just more aware of the misery because of that 24/7 news cycle. 

It’s a question I ponder over and over: how to be happy while still having compassion for others. How to be aware but not feel overwhelmed. How to remain kind and open, instead of judgmental and angry.

The story of the two wolves

You’ve probably heard the story of the two wolves (or dogs, in some versions), sometimes attributed to the Cherokee or Lenape people. Briefly, it goes like this: 

An elderly Cherokee brave explained to his grandson that a battle is taking place inside of people—a battle between two wolves. One wolf is evil, representing things like anger, jealousy, envy, greed, arrogance, self-pity, resentment, lies, false pride, and a feeling of superiority. The other represents good: such things as peace, joy, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, generosity, compassion, and truth. The grandson asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?”

The grandfather replied, “The wolf you feed.”

So I’m making a choice to feed the good wolf.

Feeding the good wolf will look different for each person. For me, it means choosing to hope and to look for good, rather than focusing on the negative, incompetent, frustrating, and evil. In my own situation, in order to feed the good wolf, I have to limit:

  • Stories (fictional or real) of mean people doing ugly things to each other.
  • Books/movies/TV shows where one bad thing after another happens to the characters, so that I’m constantly dreading what fresh hell these people will have to deal with.
  • Social media accounts of people with strong political opinions, even ones I tend to agree with overall. Too often complicated situations are reduced to memes, and the comments sections suck me in and stir up my emotions.
  • “Doomscrolling”—immersing myself in the negative news of the day.

What I (try to) do instead:

  • Notice and savor stories about kind things people do for each other, amazing scientific discoveries, beautiful art, hilarious videos. Among other sources, I follow Upworthy and subscribe to the Smile newsletter from inspiremore.com to help balance out negative news. 
  • Practice yoga. Very calming to my nervous system.
  • Listen to music—different types depending on my mood.
  • Learn more about topics that interest me.
  • Do “real” things like planting seeds, spending time with my animals, cooking and baking, even small home projects and repairs. I haven’t made it back to art journaling, but I still want to.
  • Tell my people important things: how much I love them, or how a certain thing they did was special to me.
  • Read a LOT—but carefully curate the selections (see above).
  • Keep track of happy little things. Watching birds and squirrels at the feeders, inhaling the scent of my horse, rubbing Luna’s soft ears, a hug from my husband. For more inspiration, see Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights, which is itself (you knew this was coming) a delight. 
  • Don’t make snap judgments or have opinions about everything. Try to see both sides of an argument or issue. If it’s something I need to understand, I will do research. If it’s not that important, I’ll let it go. There’s no shame in saying, “I don’t know enough about that to have an opinion.” I can’t care passionately about everything. I just can. not.

Finding what works for you

I’m not saying we should ignore the wrongs and suffering in the world in favor of “always looking on the bright side.”  I’m saying we should know ourselves, and what we can handle. What balance we as individuals can stand before tipping into overwhelm. What stories can energize us to make a difference, and which ones will make us crawl in a hole and pull the hole in after us.

I’m saying that if we feed the good wolf in ourselves, then maybe we can feed the good wolf in society in general. If we can seek and be the positive, maybe we can be the people who make a situation better rather than worse.

Wouldn’t that be a nice change?

In what ways do you “feed the good wolf”?


Happiness

Open the Door

October 29, 2021

Photo by Jan Tinneberg on Unsplash

“Happiness occurs when you forget who you’re expected to be. And what you’re expected to do. Happiness is an accident of self-acceptance. It’s the warm breeze you feel when you open the door to who you are.”

—Matt Haig, The Comfort Book

Happiness

We Can Build Happiness

September 10, 2021


“We have the capacity to build happiness into our lives with humor, concern for others, and gratitude. Of course, we can’t do it all of the time. That self-expectation would drive us crazy. However, we can develop habits that make it more likely that we will respond in an upbeat manner.

“It’s critical to distinguish between choosing to live lovingly and cheerfully and living a life of denial. One leads to joy, the other to emotional death.”

—Mary Pipher, Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age

Happiness

Mrs. Miniver and the Times in Which We Live

August 06, 2021


Recently I read the 1939 classic novel Mrs. Miniver (Amazon, Bookshop). And while the society we live in has changed a lot since then, I was struck by how spot on some of the passages were to the times in which we live. For instance:

“…Mrs. Miniver was beginning to feel more than a little weary of exchanging ideas (especially political ones) and of hearing other people exchange theirs. It’s all very well, she reflected, when the ideas have had time to flower, or at least to bud, so that we can pick them judiciously, present them with a bow, and watch them unfold in the warmth of each other’s understanding: but there is far too much nowadays of pulling up the wretched little things just to see how they are growing. Half the verbal sprigs we hand each other are nothing but up-ended rootlets, earthy and immature: left longer in the ground they might have some to something, but once they are exposed we seldom manage to replant them. It is largely the fault, no doubt, of the times we life in. Things happen too quickly, crisis follows crisis, the soil of our minds is perpetually disturbed. Each of us, to relieve his feelings, broadcasts his own running commentary on the preposterous and bewildering events of the hour: and this, nowadays, is what passes for conversation.”

Substitute pandemic for war in this section:

“And it oughtn’t to need a war to make us talk to each other in buses, and invent our own amusements in the evenings, and live simply, and eat sparingly, and recover the use of our legs, and get up early enough to see the sun rise. However, it has needed one: which is about the severest criticism our civilization could have.

“I wonder whether it’s too much to hope that afterwards, when all the horrors are over, we shall be able to conjure up again the feelings of these first few weeks, and somehow rebuild our peace-time world so as to preserve everything of war which is worth preserving. What we need is a kind of non-material warm museum, where, instead of gaping at an obsolete uniform in a glass case, we can press a magic button and see a vision of ourselves as we were while this revealing mood was freshly upon us.”

When the pandemic first began, I felt a sense of camaraderie, a spirit of “We’re all in this together.” While there were incidents of stunningly selfish behavior, there were also incidents of kindness, encouragement, and a desire to protect others. Now…not so much. We are all weary from the constant barrage of opinion, science that changes and evolves as health experts learn more about this novel virus, and fear that we or someone we love will become seriously sick or even die.

I wish I had the answers to the problems we’re facing. What I’m trying to do is be the person who makes the situation better (not the person who makes the situation worse), by posting positive and uplifting content, and by trying to be personally responsible in my daily actions. I’m seeking comfort in the words of those who’ve come before, whether in a novel written in the 1930s, or in the words of mental health experts who share ways to cope with our new normal. I’m hoping to offer comfort and encouragement in the words I speak and the words I share here on Catching Happiness.

If you’re feeling discouraged, sad, or worried, my heart goes out to you. If there’s anything you’d like to see on Catching Happiness that would lift your spirits, please share in the comments below or message me privately at kathyjohn335 [at] gmail [dot] com. And go find yourself a copy of Mrs. Miniver—it’s a mood lifter!

Happiness

It’s Almost August Link Love

July 30, 2021


And you know what that means. Cue the complaints about the weather. Though actually, even though it is currently disgusting outside, I can’t complain much. We had such a nice fall, winter, and spring that I’m just going to put up with summer and keep my mouth shut. (Mostly.)

However, I am spending as much time in the air conditioning as I can—as you will see from the links I’ve collected below:

Have you been practicing your happiness lately? According to “Happiness Requires Practice,” “…achieving happiness is not an actual place or trait—it’s a daily practice that leads you to experience positive feelings about yourself and the world around you. Emerging data suggest that ‘being happy’ is actually much harder than it sounds.” It goes on to say that it’s better to strive to be fulfilled and satisfied with your life than to try to feel “happy,” and that there are skills you can practice daily to help you see your life in a more positive way. Click here to read the whole article, and see what those skills are.

When Joyful author Ingrid Fetell Lee recently asked in her Instagram stories how people were feeling, a full 64 percent of them said “Blah,” despite the loosening of pandemic restrictions and the beginnings of a return to “normal” life. In “What to Do When Everyone Seems Happy Except for You,” Lee describes some things we can do to support our emotional well being without slapping a smile on our faces when we don’t feel happy.

And speaking of normal, the Experience Life article “Another New Normal” addresses ways we can remain adaptable as we continue to figure out how to navigate life during a pandemic.

How’s your summer reading going? If you’re looking for something fun and quick, check out Modern Mrs. Darcy’s “12 Feel-good Fiction Books You Can Read in an Afternoon.” I can personally vouch for What Alice Forgot and The Garden of Small Beginnings.

There may only be two more days left in July, but we can still try the ideas found in “How Are We Already Halfway Through the Year?! Here are 23 Ways to Make the Most of July” during August and beyond. 

Incredibly smart dog, and what a bond she and her person have!

I thought this was amazing:


I hope you go out there and practice some happiness this weekend—and stay healthy! 

Alison Bechdel

No Pain, No Joy

June 25, 2021


“You can’t be happy unless you can also be sad. If you’re defended against feeling pain, those same defenses shut down your access to joy. You have to let everything in.”

Alison Bechdel, “Alison Bechdel: ‘I've Always Know Physical Exertion and Movement Are Vital Somehow for My Creative Process.’”


For the next couple of weeks I’ll be taking a break from posting on Catching Happiness. I’m finally traveling to California to see my moms  and will have limited computer access. I’m planning to indulge in some of my favorite simple pleasures and everyday adventures!