Simple New Year’s traditions are habitual for me. I relish creating goals, lists and most recently, collages-visual representations of my hopes for the new year ahead. I drag my family into this activity, but secretly I think they love the creative, artistic escape of sitting around the big kitchen table with piles of magazines torn apart in the search for the perfect picture or word. This mellow time of sharing, hunting together and putting our hopes and dreams for the future out on the table, stuck to small boards with white glue, is one of the few rare times we all sit engaged in a common activity that doesn’t require electricity. I often yearn for a technology-free day of time spent sharing an activity that requires personal interaction and the time we spend creating our New Year’s collages is a close as I get.
Before I can create my collage I have to consider what I want to visualize for the new year and that can be inspired by magazine images or ideas I’ve had floating around for a while. Setting goals is organized ambition and my inspiration after reading my daughter’s blog is to think of three goals and bring them to life with visual images that will inspire me during the year. I usually put my collage in a prominent place where I see it first thing in the morning and remind myself to be cognizant of my actions. So here goes, this year’s goals are:
1. To Write-I want to write blogs, journals, poems, stories, comments, and articles. I want to improve and grow as a writer. I will read, a lot, to be inspired, to learn, to be entertained, to relax and to escape. I think that reading and writing go hand in hand and surrounding myself in the literary world will help me create a place for myself in that world. It also is much nicer than watching mindless TV, although at times, mindless TV comes in handy too.
2. To Walk-I want to keep my commitment to walk an hour each day both as a great health goal, and as training for the Avon Breast Cancer Walk I will be participating in next September. Walking provides time to think, to listen to music or motivating walking CDs, or to watch a little of that mindless TV if I am on the treadmill at the gym. Walking connects me to the world, my neighborhood or places of nature and I feel better after walking thanks to increased endorphins.
3. To Move Forward-I am ready, more than ready, to move forward and away from 2008-2009 and towards a decade of increased awareness, a plan leading to goals, a life that is more in line with what is important to me: family, friends, health, and personal creativity. I am ready to accept help in getting started on my yellow brick road from any good fairy willing to help, and I do know that I have the power within me to make the changes, and start the walk down that road leading to my own version of Oz.
“The masters at the art of living make little distinction between their work and their play, their labor and their leisure, their minds and their bodies, their information, their recreation,their love and their religion. They hardly know which is which. They simply pursue their vision of excellence at whatever they do – leaving others to decide whether they are working or playing.”
With that in mind, here’s to a year of playing! Happy 2010!
I have been thinking a lot about happiness lately and plan on doing my own Happiness Project starting on January 1st. I have come to a few realizations about happiness. H.A.L.T. is an acronym used by those fighting addiction to remind them to take care of their physical and emotional needs before seeking outside remedies. They are told to ask, “Am I hungry, angry, lonely or tired?” because these are causes for seeking a cure for the negative feeling which is often detrimental to recovery. I think this acronym is useful for those of us seeking a life with more happiness developed by the creation of habits and a life designed to support what we want and need to feel happiness. Happiness is a feeling individual and specific to each of us, and must be cultivated. Often in the retrospective age of 50+ we begin to reflect on life’s real importance, but I believe that bits of this insight can be achieved by those young adults willing to slow down and unplug long enough to allow themselves to get to know themselves and their feelings and desires. Doing so could possibly provide a more satisfying life and certainly could lead to more happiness.
Happiness is not dependent on food, although it is easier to be happy when you are not hungry. The amount, or category of food is not the key to happiness, though I have read research related to chocolate having certain qualities that release the “happiness” hormone serotonin. Eating with friends and family is the experience that creates the feeling of happiness through the sharing of conversation, appreciating the food and slowing down to enjoy quality time with those we love. Eating alone can also bring happiness allowing for a calm respite during a chaotic day, the appreciation of the qualities of the food (taste, texture, color) and time to rest from external conversation.
Happiness is not dependent on the external actions of others, it is the way we process and handle the actions, that allow us to maintain our feelings of happiness, and to avoid being sucked into feelings of anger. It is possible to be disappointed, sad and angry and then to transform the energy of those feelings, through determination, and use the energy to fuel happiness. We have to make choices in our lives and if we are harboring people in our lives that continually provide us with actions that disappoint, it is up to us to release these people from our lives, or to accept them with these qualities known. Ultimately though, it is our choice to be happy.
Happiness is not dependent on external forces, in other words, it’s not the “stuff” that creates happiness, although the process of acquiring “stuff” might be a fun and happy experience, i.e. shopping. It is more likely the combination of spending time surrounded by people, either friends, or those also spending some happy time at the mall. How often have I arrived at home with my purchases and had buyer’s remorse, second thoughts and then returned the items? Malls were created to provide the sense of community that has been lost in the expansion of our society and the isolation we often feel in our busy lives and the mall is the new town center complete with options for all of the senses. The experience of shopping, or even just going to the mall, is the instigator for happiness, not the actual purchase.
Happiness is not dependent on relaxation and pampering ourselves because it is an internal feeling. I think a day at the spa is wonderful and one of my favorite experiences of relaxation and pampering, but it does not equate with long-term happiness. It is a temporary, “feel good” happiness. Short-term happiness derived from haircuts, manicures and massages are valuable and there is a lot of research about the value of touch therapy. I have utilized it myself during particularly trying times and still indulge occasionally, but happiness is not dependent on it. Happiness is dependent on the body’s physical state to a certain extent and that is why it is important to be physically rested. When we operate on sleep-depravation, it is challenging to be upbeat and happy. We are most likely craving the ability to just lie down and go to sleep.
The acronym H.A.L.T., though originated for those fighting addiction, can be useful for those of us seeking happiness as well, for while we can fairly easily point out what happiness is not dependent on, and how to avoid the pitfalls of false happiness, in doing so, the mystery to happiness is revealed. Happiness is self-dependent and within and the key to it is held by each of us, the choice to use it is ours. Unlocking our own happiness is a life choice that can lead to the creation of more happiness and the realization of what we want in our lives.
Simple pleasures are always encouraged and we are told to focus on the things that really matter in life, not “stuff,” but people and time well spent. There is, however, one “thing” I truly love and it represents some of the best time I spend. It is my green couch. I know it is not new and is tattered as a result of my dog sneaking up there to sleep in comfort when no one is home, and lately, even when we are home, the rascal!
The couch represents relaxation, time to myself and my favorite thing to do is to curl up under the plaid blanket with a good book and time. I can get up early, before the family awakes, and sneak on the green couch, get settled under the blanket and luxuriate in the escape of a story, someone else’s adventure, problems or revelations.
As I gaze up occasionally, looking out at the trees swaying softly, the prayer flags we made last New Year’s blowing our wishes into the breeze, I sigh and sink further into the soft couch pillows, pull the blanket up to my chin and return to reading. These are the times I treasure, when I can regenerate and rest my mind, the thinking turned in another direction and my life on temporary hold while I explore other possibilities.
The complicated relationship of sisters is one that is both frustrating and compelling for sisters share more than just genes, they share history and experiences that no one else knows about or relates to. Sisters have periods of extreme distance and extreme closeness that don’t always coincide, but the fact remains that the sister connection cannot be severed.
I am so grateful for my relationship with my sister for we share more now that we are older and have more in common than we have differences. We both love to: read, write, create art, talk, research, walk, explore, learn, share family experiences, and most importunately share and relive our memories of each other, our parents and our years of growing up together. We are lucky to live relatively close to each other and fortunate that we get some special “sister time” to spend together.
I have always told my three daughters that their sisters are their best friends and though I am sure they don’t always believe me, I hope they find it to be true, as I have, as they grow older.
I finally feel inspired to write today, though it isn’t that I haven’t felt the desire; it is just that I seem to be on a continual racetrack, not just a normal race for speed or distance, but an actual hurdle race with continual hurdles popping up at unexpected times just when I think I can settle into a nice, steady walking pace. I am counting my steps each day but my pedometer has no setting for the endless hurdles that cause me to miss steps as I leap to avoid knocking down a hurdle or end up splayed on the ground. I have long legs and a stubborn will, so it would seem that I could leap effortlessly, but the spacing of the hurdles thwarts my stamina.
The latest hurdles seem to involve bureaucracies and the many workers in them who have no idea of either how to help or the correct answer to any question not included in the prepared script they are given to read from. What ever happened to personal attention, workers who really understood their job, and those good-hearted souls who really had a desire to help people? When did automatic, prepared answers take the place of people willing to help, investigate, ask someone else or take it upon themselves to take a task to completion? Now the person on the other end of the phone will only provide a first name and employee identification, the same person never answers the phone twice and no one is really held accountable.
My job as a teacher operates in another universe it seems, for I am given the responsibility of caring for and educating twenty-four 5-year-olds for a ten-month school year, six hours everyday, teaching them all that is required by and spelled out in the State and District Standards. If these students do not learn, I am held accountable. Did I teach them? Yes, but it is also my responsibility to make sure they actually learn and retain the information, get extra help if needed,communicate with parents to strengthen the connection between home and school, consider their self-esteem, and enjoy the learning process so much that they become “life-long learners.” I am accountable for all of this and everyone knows where to find me. They know my first and last name and where I spend each day and I have a principal who directly supervises me and assures the clients/customers (the parent and students) that I will do my job and they can count on results and the most important thing is, I really care about my job and I want to do the best job I can. I want to expect the same from others.
If I focus on the road ahead and watch for the hurdles, it is easier to see them coming, but there are other things in life besides staring down at the long road in front of you and if I take pause to look around and notice what others are facing, forgetting about my own hurdles for a while, when they pop up, I am surprised again. That is the challenge: handling the surprises and it is also the exhaustion. I was told yesterday to look at life a different way and to say “yes and” instead of “if only.” The “yes and” is a way to stay in the moment and move forward, accepting the present but preparing for upcoming hurdles.
I have long legs and a stubborn will.