It’s Not Just the End of the Year—It’s the End of the Decade!

December 30, 2019

A few of the decade's journals!
Honestly, until I started seeing it everywhere, I hadn’t given one minute’s thought to the end of 2019 being the end of a decade! Now I feel like not only do I have to review the year, I have to examine the decade. What have I learned? How have I changed? How am I different now than I was in 2009? You know, simple little stuff like that.

So I pulled out the many, many journals I’ve kept over the past 10 years and skimmed some highlights. As I’m sure everyone has already noticed in their own lives, a lot happens in a decade!

To name just a few of the things that changed:

Ten years ago, we had a teenager at home. I was barely working as a freelance writer and editor, and I didn’t yet have a blog or a writer’s website. We had an entirely different set of pets than we have now, except for Tank. All of my parents and stepparents were living, and two of my grandmothers. I had yet to pick up a watercolor brush.

Over the past 10 years, I’ve read hundreds of books, seen multiple movies and touring Broadway musicals, traveled many wonderful places, experienced a couple of depressive episodes, endured home renovations, and exchanged my old car for a new one.

My experiences over the past 10 years have likely been similar to yours. Though the details might differ, we are more alike than we are different when it comes to the things we value most. I wish more people would remember this.

The past 10 years have been full to bursting with life in all its “good” and “bad” manifestations. I’m so grateful that I started Catching Happiness at the end of 2009, because it helped me better focus on what was happening in my life, at least partly because I would later mine my experiences for post material. And the topic I chose—simple pleasures and everyday adventures—was calculated to help me find and savor more of the good in life, as well as, I hoped, add to the sum total of the positive in the world. I wanted the blog to be a bright spot for anyone who needed one.

Over the next few days, I’ll continue thinking over not only what has happened during the past year, but also what has happened over the past 10 years. And since a new decade seems like a hopeful thing, I might even start looking forward to the next 10 years (if I’m lucky) of simple pleasures and everyday adventures life has in store.

When you look back the past 10 years of your life, what strikes you? What milestones have you passed, what joys and sorrows have enriched your life? And what are your expectations for the next 10 years?

I hope 2020 brings you many simple pleasures and everyday adventures, and, of course, much happiness. See you in the New Year!

Everyday adventures

Streaming Happiness

February 26, 2016

You’ve probably heard the term “income streams,” referring to various ways to bring in money. Whether it’s salary, interest or dividends, selling items on eBay or Craigslist, the idea is the more income streams you have, the better. What if we apply the concept to happiness, too?

It’s just as important to have multiple “happiness streams” as it is to have multiple income streams (and a lot more possible, for many of us). The more sources of happiness we have, the happier we can be. And if one area of life isn’t going so well, having other sources of happiness to turn to can be comforting, and perhaps even keep us from becoming downright unhappy.

This blog is mostly about simple pleasures and everyday adventures and how they relate to happiness. I know, however, that there a number of common happiness streams, including:

Health/Vitality. Our health is one of our most precious gifts—to keep it a source of happiness, we need to care for our bodies lovingly, with nutritious food, adequate sleep, and movement that makes us feel good. At the very least. It’s hard to be happy if you just don’t feel well. I’ve noticed that when I feel ill or in pain, my mood often crashes.

Appreciation/Gratitude. When we take time to notice and appreciate the good things in our lives, our happiness levels rise and we tend to notice even more things to be happy about. (What we focus on expands.)

Relationships.  Even for introverts (like me), the people we love play a huge role in our happiness. Our family and friends, co-workers, even the friendly lady at the checkout in the grocery store, can cause happiness to flow.

Accomplishment/Learning.  Working on and completing projects, as well as learning new things, is a major happiness stream for many people. I notice a lift of my spirits when I do something as simple as check off an item on my list of things to do, especially if it’s something that’s been weighing on me.

Fun/Adventure. (Or should I say, simple pleasures and everyday adventures?) It’s essential to program fun and adventure into our lives along with all our work and chores. No doubt making time for the occasional movie, vacation, meal out, afternoon spent [insert your favorite hobby here] boosts happiness.

Spiritual Practice. Whether we belong to an organized religion or pursue spiritual growth independently, many of us find comfort and joy in a spiritual practice.

So you see, we can boost our happiness by opening ourselves to many different happiness streams. I’m generally happy with how my streams are flowing, but in 2016, I’m spending more time cultivating health and accomplishment.

How about you? What are your happiness streams? Are they flowing freely?


When You Fail

February 19, 2016

Photo courtesy Gerd Altmann

I did something stupid this week. There was no way I could blame anyone else, no way I could weasel out of responsibility for it, or avoid looking my failure straight in the eye. Boy, was it painful. My insides churned with embarrassment, I was disappointed in myself, and it set me back on one of my goals big time. (No, I’m not going to tell you what it was.)

But you know what? I survived. Plus, I realized that my worst-case scenario had just happened, and it wasn’t the end of the world. What a gift! I can (and I will) come back from it.

Into every happy life, some failure must fall. If you have goals, especially big, ambitious ones, sooner or later you will fail. That’s just being human. No one ever succeeds at what they set out to do 100% of the time. As J.K. Rowling said, “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.”

So what can you learn from failure? How can you learn from it? Here are three ways to bounce back from failure:

1. Be courageous enough to think about your failure. Don’t pretend it didn’t happen, or try to twist a failure into a success. Can you figure out what caused your failure? What might you have done differently? In reflecting on my failure, I came up with several small things that came together to contribute to it—one of which was I that ignored my intuition and kept pushing forward when I should have stopped.

2. Get feedback from others. I know this is hard. My ego stomps its feet and storms off when I try this, and I’m not very good at it, but it does help. After my failure this week, I talked things over with someone, and she started me thinking about what I should have done differently (see point number one).

3. Make a plan for what you’ll do next. This will depend on the type and extent of your failure. Will you continue on with your goal, change directions, or stop altogether? I will continue with my goal, but take a step back to bolster some areas that need attention before moving forward.

And, if failure is as painful to you as it is to me, here is one more, all-important tip:

Fail more often. Try new things and different approaches. “Practice” failing. (I know. I don’t want to do it either.) And remember, failure isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you. What would be worse would be not to try at all.

What have you learned from your failures?


Are We Having Fun Yet?

March 07, 2014

When you were a kid, didn’t you think being an adult was going to be awesome? You’d be free—no one would tell you what to do, you could play all day if you wanted to, eat what you wanted, go to bed (and get up) when you wanted to. You’d fill your days with fun!

Scout and Nick: these two knew how to have fun.

I don’t know about you, but except for dimly-remembered college breaks, adulthood hasn’t followed that pattern for me! I’ve gone from college to working full time, to raising a child while working part time, all the while taking charge of an apartment or house, etc. Even now, with my child in college and with no job to report to, I spend most of my time doing things to keep my life running: shopping, cooking, cleaning, oil changes, doctor’s appointments, vet appointments, doing research and writing, exercising (because I want to be healthy, not because I love it), paying bills… When, exactly, is all that adult fun going to start?

I enjoy (to some extent) and value almost everything I do, but I do few things “just for fun.” I also manage to turn things that should be just for fun into learning opportunities instead of just play. Take reading, for example. I can’t just read for fun. I have to take part in reading challenges. Though I am careful to choose only challenges that appeal to me and don’t seem too difficult to complete, somehow labeling it a “challenge” adds an element of pressure to reading.

What about spending time with my horse? When I ride, I’m not just having fun. I’m working to become a better rider or teaching him something, even when I’m not taking a lesson.

I’m not saying learning opportunities, challenging myself, and so on is bad. On the contrary, I think using things I like doing to learn and grow is a great idea. I also think that I take it to extremes.

I really want to have more plain, old fun and to live more lightheartedly, so here are a few things I’m doing right now to make that happen:

Adjusting my attitude. I’m stepping back from the “challenge” aspect of my reading challenges and simply choosing the book I most want to read right now.  With Tank, I’m lightening up my expectations of our time together, and at least once a week just hanging out with him with no agenda.

Increasing the fun factor in areas that aren’t primarily fun—like cleaning the house. I listen to music on my iPod or I turn on a favorite TV show and clean while watching, or during commercials. (I’ve whipped my kitchen into shape in the past two weeks watching HGTV.) I open Pandora while working in my office (I’m typing to Bruno Mars’ “When I Was Your Man” right now.) I set a timer for 15 minutes and promise to quit work when it goes off and do something just for fun, like play with Prudy or read (for fun!).

Doing something just for the fun of it. No other reason. Just because I want to. Not because I’ll learn something or help someone, just for fun. Something that just occurs to me—like going to a food truck rally or spending the entire day in my pajamas.

Managing “false fun.” Who am I kidding? I have plenty of free time to do fun things—it’s just that I spend more of it than I’d like to in front of a screen, whether surfing the internet or watching TV. I enjoy both of those activities, and I don’t want to cut them out completely. So I have to manage them so I don’t play on the computer or watch TV when I have the mental and physical energy to do more worthwhile things, and so that they don’t eat up more time than they deserve.

It seems a bit ridiculous to have to put this much thought into fun—but I don’t think I’m alone in being hyper responsible sometimes, in feeling guilty if I’m not doing something “productive” all the time. I’m productive enough. And so are you. So let’s have some fun!

What do you do just for fun? When was the last time you did something just for the fun of it?

Wanna hang out?


Seize the Day

January 25, 2012

“Life is not about enduring, it's about rejoicing; it's not about tolerating, it's about embracing. There is always something beautiful to be found in the mundane, something powerful to be learned in the trials, something joyous to experience in the interruptions to routine. Savor these moments! Seize the day!”
—Kerri Miles Dowd (Washington State high school teacher and good friend!)


Seven Things I Learned From My Emails

August 06, 2010

I just spent an hour sifting through my “junk” email account—the email address I use when ordering online or subscribing to newsletters, etc. I haven’t browsed through there for a week or two, and found some pretty cool stuff. Along with the reminder that my books are due at the library next week, and that I should expect The Ghost Writer in the mail from Netflix on Saturday (and a stray generic Viagra offer), here are seven things I learned from my emails today:

1. “Conscious Donation.” Sponsored by Goodwill Industries, “The Goodwill Donate Movement” encourages people to take as much care when deciding where to donate their belongings as they do when making a financial donation. You can read more about this here and here.

2. At the upcoming (Sept.) Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Lexington, 800 horses representing 62 countries are scheduled to participate. (A side note: Unfortunately, I will not be participating, as I was not chosen to be a Purina correspondent… But I’ll be watching on TV!)

3. Cheap Joe’s art supply catalog is offering $1 shipping until Monday, August 9. This is a great deal, because with art supplies, sometimes the shipping can be as expensive as the actual purchase, say a tube of watercolor paint. (Promotion code 1GRB, if you’re interested.)

4. Poetry can make you smile as well as make you think (Poem courtesy American Life in Poetry. Introduction written by Ted Kooser):

Rhyming has a way of brightening a poem, and a depressing subject can become quite a bit lighter with well-chosen rhymes. Here’s a sonnet by Mary Meriam, who lives in Missouri. Are there readers among you who have felt like this?

The Romance of Middle Age

Now that I’m fifty, let me take my showers
at night, no light, eyes closed. And let me swim
in cover-ups. My skin’s tattooed with hours
and days and decades, head to foot, and slim
is just a faded photograph. It’s strange
how people look away who once would look.
I didn’t know I’d undergo this change
and be the unseen cover of a book
whose plot, though swift, just keeps on getting thicker.
One reaches for the pleasures of the mind
and heart to counteract the loss of quicker
knowledge. One feels old urgencies unwind,
although I still pluck chin hairs with a tweezer,
in case I might attract another geezer.

(Poem copyright ©2009 by Mary Meriam)

5. “The five things [my] anti-wrinkle products must contain” (antioxidants, skin-identical ingredients, cell-communicating ingredients, sunscreen, and a formula that suits my skin type.), courtesy of Paula Begoun, the “Cosmetics Cop.” Paula is the author of Don’t Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me, and I’ve found her cosmetic and skin care recommendations work well for me.

6. The importance of blogging in my true voice, and some suggestions for doing so.

7. Five common “happiness boosters” that do more harm than good, including comforting myself with a “treat.” (Sigh.) Read the full list at The Happiness Project.

What did you learn today—and where/how did you learn it?