Alain de Botton

New Places, New Thoughts

September 20, 2019

Photo by Balazs Busznyak on Unsplash

“Journeys are the midwives of thought. Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than a moving plane, ship or train. There is an almost quaint correlation between what is in front of our eyes and the thoughts we are able to have in our heads: large thoughts at times requiring large views, new thoughts new places. Introspective reflections which are liable to stall are helped along by the flow of the landscape. The mind may be reluctant to think properly when thinking is all it is supposed to do.”
—Alain de Botton

Fallow time

Fallow Time

August 26, 2019

Photo courtesy Alfred Borchard via FreeImages

Our backyard has grown from oasis to jungle after months of rain and sun. My husband has had his hands full keeping the bird feeders and birdbath cleaned and filled, and collecting all the debris that falls into the yard from the trees (sticks, Spanish moss) and trimming out the most obvious dead stuff. He hasn’t had time for pruning or puttering around for pleasure, and it’s still too hot to plant. Right now, in many ways, we’re holding on, waiting for a change in the season, or at least a lessening of the heat and humidity enough to allow new things to sprout.

In gardening, as in life, there are times for planting, weeding, pruning, and harvesting. There are fallow times.

In the US, I don’t think we allow ourselves enough of this fallow time. Instead, we tend to fill every free minute with noise—whether it’s actual noise from the TV, radio, or a podcast, or “noise” from the written word. We don’t give ourselves time for our own thoughts to wander where they may. At least I know I don’t, because my own thoughts are often full of worry or fear.

I’ve been weeding and pruning and getting rid of the most obvious dead stuff, otherwise known as purging. Pulling books off shelves, throwing away or shredding file folders of outdated papers, sorting through my clothes, putting closets and shelves in order. Taking everything off my desk and cleaning it thoroughly. Getting ready for fall’s cooler temperatures and generally higher energy levels, when I’ll be capable of planting again.

But before that, during this last week of August, I need some fallow time. Maybe only an hour or two here and there, to lie on the couch and stare at the ceiling, or to rock in my glider rocker while acoustic guitar music plays and I stare out my office window. To sit propped up in bed with my journal and pen in hand.

The past 12 months have brought a lot of changes, new projects, new experiences, sad losses, and one spectacular trip to France. I feel like I haven’t processed half of it. It’s time to allow myself to slow down, even stop, and let all of that sink in. There will be time, soon, for planting, weeding, pruning…the cycle will continue. But first, fallow time.

Do you allow yourself the rest and restoration of fallow time? 


Four Things I’ve Been Thinking About Lately

December 10, 2018

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

I’ve been having trouble getting back into the habit of writing for Catching Happiness—maybe you’ve noticed? My life has been…full…lately, and I’m playing catch-up in more than one area. So to ease back into post writing, here are four things I’ve been pondering lately:

Life is too short to sweat the small stuff.
Being around people who have lost loved ones has reminded me that so many of the little things I fret and obsess over (which dog food to switch Luna to now that she’s a year old, for example) are just that: little things. They barely matter now, and won’t matter at all in 10 years. That’s becoming my new rule of thumb: will this matter in 10 years? I’m just worn out with all of the obsessing.

I have no idea how long it takes to do anything.
I just read Dan Charnas’ book Work Clean: The Life-changing Power of Mise en Place to Organize Your Life, Work, and Mind, and took away some helpful ideas. Charnas takes principles he’s learned from interviewing dozens of culinary professionals and executives and tweaks them to apply to work and life outside the kitchen. One thing I’ve discovered while doing one of the exercises from the book is that many of my projects take longer than I think they do. I also forget to factor in the time it takes to transition between activities, make and eat breakfast and lunch, take care of our pets, and shower and change clothes after a workout! All those little things add up to a big chunk of day that I’ve not accounted for, and so I wind up scheduling too many things in a day, leaving me feeling unproductive and defeated.

It’s OK to feel sad.
After my dad died, one of my close friends lost her mother, and a friend from my old boarding barn became dizzy and fell while getting out of a car, and passed away from her injuries. Even though my life is unutterably blessed, I feel sad—sad for my friends, sad that I won’t have these people in my life, sad that we have to say good-bye permanently before we’re ready to do so.

But it’s OK to feel happy, too.
Friday as I was pouring my cup of Barnie’s Creamy Buttery Caramel coffee (no affiliation) and getting ready to sit down and write this post, I felt a little lift of my spirits that I haven’t felt in probably at least a month. Do I dare to feel happy? Yes, I think so. Sad doesn’t last forever, 24/7, just the way happy doesn’t. And that’s OK, too.

These are just a few of the ideas that have been floating around in my head as I try to get back to “normal,” whatever that is going to look like. I’d like to thank all of you for your kind comments and for sticking with Catching Happiness when there wasn’t much happiness to be caught!

What have you been thinking about lately?


Happy Out, Happy In

September 07, 2018

Photo by Maria Shanina on Unsplash

“If we want a joyous life, we must think joyous thoughts. If we want a prosperous life, we must think prosperous thoughts. If we want a loving life, we must think loving thoughts. Whatever we send out mentally or verbally will come back to us in like form.”
—Louise L. Hay, You Can Heal Your Life


Sunny Skies Today

September 20, 2017

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

“Don’t let yesterday’s bad times or bad feelings influence today’s thoughts and mood. You shouldn’t choose to dress for yesterday’s rain if there are sunny skies today.”
—Karen Salmansohn, Instant Happy


Spring Cleaning for Your Mind

March 10, 2017

Photo courtesy Suchitra
We’re expecting some family visitors this weekend, so I’ve been sprucing up the house so it looks its best. It’s not quite a full spring clean, but it’s more than I usually do. (Wouldn’t want the family to see how we really live…) I had extra time to think while I cleaned out the fridge, so it occurred to me: while you’re spring cleaning your home, why not take a broom to your brain? Flip on the light, open the windows, sweep out all the dusty corners and grubby nooks. Drop all the thoughts and feelings you no longer wish to entertain into a metaphorical bag and take it to the curb. Out with the negative, in with the positive.

For instance, out with:
  • Negative self-talk (Tell your inner critic to shut up.)
  • Angry thoughts
  • Excuses
  • Fears
  • Resentments
  • Grudges
  • Judgment
  • Criticism
And in with:
  • Affirmations
  • Forgiveness (As Karen Salmansohn wrote in Instant Happy: Happy = “Repeat after me: I forgive myself for not being perfect. And I recognize none of us are perfect, so I am open to forgiving others.”)
  • Gratitude
  • Acceptance
  • Courage
It’s a lot easier to spring clean a kitchen than a brain, but the results of our “brain cleaning” are more likely to bring us lasting happiness. What would you like to sweep out of your life this spring?


Choosing Happiness

June 02, 2014

I think and write a lot about the things that contribute to a happy life in general, as well as what makes me, specifically happy. Lately, I’ve been thinking about one particular factor: choosing happiness.

I know I have a good life. And as I become more mindful of that life, while doing the everyday, ordinary things that make it up—driving to the grocery store, browsing the library shelves, cooking dinner—more often I’m choosing to feel happy. Happy instead of rushed, instead of frustrated, resentful, worried, etc. Happy.

I’m not talking about pasting on a happy face when life is truly hard, or denying pain and negative feelings. I’m talking about recognizing how happy ordinary life can be. Instead of feeling neutral or hurried, instead of zoning out and not feeling anything, I choose to feel happy.

How about you?


Random Monday Musings

February 25, 2013

So how is everyone? I feel like I’m just getting back into my routines after last week’s jaunt to Texas to see my friends. My thoughts are still flying here and there until I can capture them and put them into some sort of organized pattern. I think I’ll use today’s blog post to clear out a few of those random thoughts…

I do not like reading a long book on a tablet. Apparently, I need a visual way to see that I’m making progress, and the backlighting on my tablet bothers my eyes after a while. I seem only to be able to read a few pages before my hands get tired of holding the tablet and my eyes feel dazzled, even though I’ve already turned the illumination down as low as possible. Perhaps I should wear my sunglasses?

It’s just wrong to be sunburned, hot and sweaty in February. That’s what happened to us this weekend at our son’s track meet.

That's my boy.
Few things make me feel more cheated than waking up six minutes before my alarm is due to go off in the morning.

Watching shows like Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives after dinner is not a good idea unless you need to gain 15 pounds. I’m just sayin’.

I do not recommend watching the movie Flight before, well, flying. If there’s any turbulence at all, you will be convinced a part of the plane is about to snap off. I speak from sad experience.

I do recommend getting together with old friends for a weekend of revelry and confession. Thank you Kerri, Brynda, Becky, LuAnne and Melodie for being my friends!

It’s good to go away, but it’s great to come home. I always appreciate the comfort of my home more when I’ve been away for a few days.

What’s new with you? What have you been thinking about lately?


Clean Sweep

January 03, 2011

I love watching cleaning/organizing shows on TV. There’s something cathartic about purging a home of what’s not needed anymore, cleaning it thoroughly, and putting back only what is useful and beautiful. I really wish someone would come to my house and do it for me, but since I don’t expect that to happen, I’ve gotten started on my own clean sweep.

I actually started a few weeks ago on our home office, which my husband and I share, because it had become what we only half-jokingly called “the pit of despair.” One wall is a built-in bookshelf with a flat surface halfway down, and more shelves and a cupboard where we keep our shredder below that. The flat surface had become stacked with piles of books, files, papers and miscellaneous stuff that I hate to admit belonged to me. So one weekend, I tackled the area. After going through everything, discarding and filing and moving things to different spots, I dusted and neatened up the whole space. Now, when I sit in my rocking chair first thing in the morning, to read, think or do morning pages, I love looking at the light shining onto many of our travel souvenirs and the spines of so many treasured books. I’m still in the process of purging my files and cleaning off my desk (the holidays forced me to take a break) but I’m almost done.

Part of the finished project

My office hasn’t been the only focus. I’ve also scrubbed out my tack trunk at the barn (it had at least an inch of dirt in the bottom of it) and all my grooming tools, and several other cleaning and organizing projects wait in the wings.

While I do all this cleaning and purging, I also have time to pull out my attitudes and beliefs, give them a shake and try them on for size. Do they still fit? Are they true and useful to me, or are they holding me back from my goals and dreams? It’s time to let go a few of them, too, I realize—especially the ones that begin with “I should” or “I can’t.”

Once I clean out the old, my next step will be to see if there are any little touches, such as fresh flowers or a pretty basket to hold art supplies, that will inexpensively warm and brighten my spaces. I also swap outdated or wrong beliefs and attitudes for new, more positive ones: “I will finish writing my book this year,” for example.

A brand new year seems like a good time to do a little purging, whether it’s of papers and clothes or of attitudes and ideas. I feel a sense of relief and lightness as I clear away the clutter of things I no longer need or want, and let go of outdated ideas and negative thoughts.

How about you? Are you cleaning out any old ideas and attitudes in this new year? What are you replacing them with?