Category Archives: The Happiness Project

Full stop

There are bumps in the road.

And then there are the brick walls. The ones that, quite literally, stop you in your tracks. Not slow life down. Not adjust the weekly schedule. But put everything else in your life on the shelf while you deal with what is in front of you, so impenetrable, that you must figure out an alternative route before you can go anywhere.

The brick wall that makes you fervently hope that you’ve earned enough of a solid reputation at work  that you can, emotionally and physically, check out in order to manage it (I have). That your bosses are kind enough and supportive enough to green light it (they are).

The brick wall that necessitates immediate care and trained professionals and mountains of paperwork with legal mumbo jumbo and very, expensive. fixer uppers.

The brick wall that steals sleep and erases appetite and brings day to day functioning to its barest essentials. When breathing feels like a victory.

The brick wall that makes you feel so incredibly alone because it is so scary, and stressful, and overwhelming, but you are the one in charge of taking it down, piece by piece, brick by brick. Only not really, because it is someone else’s wall. So you feel completely, 100% responsible, and wholly, utterly helpless, simultaneously.

That kind of full stop.

That’s what it is going on in my neck of the woods.

If this seems vague, it is. Because it is both my story, and not my story at all, to tell. I want to write it out, because writing is my therapy, and not write a word, not utter a syllable to anyone about any of this, because speaking of it makes it real.

I have all, and none, of the words about this.

I am hurting, on the most profound, basic, instinctual level, but also surviving. Taking care of business and doing what needs to be done. Because that is what I do.

I can say that my muses, for whatever rhyme or reason, this week have been my badass writer friends. I am an English teacher, and a writer, and a lover of words, so when I need strength, it is words, and mantras, that come to me.

This is my letter to the world that never wrote to me.

I don’t know why this is the Dickinson phrase that tolls inside my brain. The poem it draws from does not particularly apply to my current situation. Certainly “hope is a thing with feathers” would be far more appropriate – but there it is.

Grace always bats last, and the lightness always overcomes the darkness.

I am not a Christian but Anne Lamott has gotten me through more dark times in the past 7 years than I care to admit. She has a way of making the dark and twisty and messy human crap seem beautiful and noble and essential. We need more of her in this life.

I can also say that, with all due respect to Gretchen Rubin, who seems like a perfectly lovely human being, that her Happiness Project book appears to be my own personal doomsday. Remember the first time I tried to blog the Happiness Project? Round two is NOT GOING SO WELL PEOPLE.

I’m not overly superstitious but I’m also not blind to signs from the universe. Consider this my official resignation from that writing project, round two.

I have a triathlon on the docket in 13 days. Suffice to say I’m not in training (and have not been for several days). Full stop, and all. Right now, it is very. very. very. far down the totem pole of priorities. Maybe I will show up, if I can manage to run for more than a couple miles without feeling lightheaded and nauseated (I attempted an easy run the other day in the interest of self-care, and discovered that running after not eating or sleeping for several days, even at an “easy” pace, is not so “easy”.)

In the meantime, I know grace bats last. And I know lightness always overcomes darkness. But if that “last’ could come sooner rather than later, that would be fantastic.

Amen.

 

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The Happiness Project: April

For 2017, I am blogging my way through Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. Read here to see my intro post.

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Lighten Up – Parenthood

For April, Rubin focused on parenthood, specifically her effort to “lighten up” when it came to parenting her (at the time of writing) two young daughters.

I totally get this. Parenting babies, toddlers and preschoolers is hard, y’all. I’m a decade out from it, but trust me, I haven’t forgotten. Rubin writes of the research, “Marital satisfaction nose-dives after the first child is born and picks up again once the children leave home” (91).

Picks up again once the children leave home.

I know when the kids are young, and you haven’t slept in years months, and you’re cooking dinner with a baby on your hip and one wrapped around your knees, and you are, literally, assisting little human beings with their shit and snot, that the thought of those little people having the independence to wipe their own asses, never mind make their own snacks, seems so intoxicating and alluring that anytime in the future seems like a better alternative.

People, I survived the early years of three offspring delivered in a 4 year span. They eventually grew older, started sleeping and taking care of their own bowel movements, and I had several blissful intermediary years of post-early childhood but pre-adolescence. Those were the magical years.

I now have 3 teenagers living at home.  To follow up on Rubin’s notes about the impact of children in general on happiness at home, “Marital satisfaction, which typically declines over the course of marriage, reaches its all-time low when the oldest child reaches adolescence.” To put it simply, if having kids at home is stressful and exhausting and on a day to day basis lowers general levels of happiness, then having teenagers at home is the bottom of the barrel.

Let it be said, before I go any further, that I actually have really good kids. I mean, I hit the jackpot. Furthermore, after working with teenagers for nearly 20 years, I’m going to make the claim that I *get* teenagers more than the average parent. So I have a leg up.

But still.

I’m not sure how “light” my load is.

Here is the problem with me (and I totally own this as my own dysfunction). I just can’t not worry, nag remind, obsess, stress, and perseverate over any little box that is left unchecked. It’s not even so much that I want to control the outcome, rather once something is on my radar, on my to-do list (even if it’s not my list, but someone in my orbit), I can’t let go of it until it’s taken care of.

Let me give you an example.

My oldest child was recently invited to apply for the National Honor Society. He was given the invitation to apply on a Friday, with a Wednesday deadline to declare his intention. So the 5 days went something like this:

Friday: Me to him: “So what do you think? Do you want to go for it?” Him: “I don’t know. I’ll think about it.”

Sunday afternoon: Me to him: “Don’t forget you need to decide by Wednesday.”

Monday after school: Me to him: “Have you made a decision about National Honor Society? You need to decide by Wednesday.” Him: “Um. No. Still thinking about it.”

Tuesday morning before school: “Okay, so you’re going to your Dad’s tonight. Don’t forget that application is due on Wednesday if you want to apply.” Him, noncommittally, “Mmm”

Wednesday afternoon: Me to him: “So what did you do about National Honor Society?” Him: “Meh. I didn’t apply.”

First, slow clap to my oldest for his A+ game on dealing with a type A mother.  But more importantly, while I disagree with his choice not to apply, I really wasn’t ever pressuring him on what to do. The decision was all his. I just needed to get it off my list. Now imagine this times 3 very busy children with a myriad of activities. A husband, who loves to be helpful and take things “off my list” but doesn’t quite have my rapid-fire timeframe for checking things off.

And the kicker: 103 seniors who I shepherd through a multi-faceted senior program with multiple components, plus 30 kids in English class, plus 11 advisees.

“Light” I am not.

So, where does that leave me? Because, listen, while this project is about happiness, it’s not about fantasy. I have been like this my entire life. It’s part of the reason why I am excellent at my job, highly productive, and high achieving in multiple facets of my life. But I will also never be “laid back”. “Light”, if you will. I am okay with this. That doesn’t mean I can’t dial it back a notch.

So, I’m working on letting go. Only reminding my kids once or twice instead of daily (and yes, I know that better serves them. Again, this isn’t about me trying to helicopter parent them into a certain outcome, rather my own obsessive list-making). Trying to let Jesus take the wheel instead of feeling responsible for others’ choices (especially the 103 young adults that I am kicking, nagging, cajoling and pleading with to get across the finish line).

My goal, like Rubin, is to modify my natural proclivity for order and control so that I’m lighter. She wrote (after working on lightening up), “The difference was that, although my nature was unchanged, I had more happiness in my life each day; … through my actions I was successfully pushing myself to the high end of my inborn happiness range” (111).

Lighter.

 

 

 

 

The Happiness Project goes rogue

I’m doing a 2017 blogging series on Rubin’s The Happiness Project (for March’s “official” post, see here).

This is the unofficial March post. It’s March. And it’s about happiness. So I’m counting it as part of the series, even though I’m breaking format.

I’ve alluded recently to how difficult this academic year has been, both professionally for my husband and me, and personally for two of our three kids. The junior has been fairly miserable, swamped with AP classes and SATs and ACTs and the grind of the dreaded junior year. The 7th grader has been wrestling with some personal issues, some having to do with middle school (is there anyone who survived middle school unscathed?) and some her own #2010 demons.

But that is her story. As her mom, it’s been heartbreaking, and stressful. We want to fix everything for them, and there’s nothing I can do but sit beside her, hold her hand, and tell her that she, too, must find her own peace with it all.

So it was with this emotional baggage that we all eagerly packed our suitcases and took off for spring break. We take a family vacation every other year (the years we have them for spring break), and the 24 months between each are spent budgeting, planning, squirreling away funds, saving Christmas checks from Grandma, parceling out some of the summer second job income, and anticipating family adventures.

Our next spring break, the currently cranky and overworked junior will be a (knock on wood, fingers crossed) college freshman, and off on his own spring break adventure, so this was likely one of our last trips all together.

Where better than Jamaica to escape reality?

They called me over, with a “Mom, come see what we made for you. Thank you SO MUCH for this trip.”

This picture might be my favorite from the entire trip. To see her so joyful in her soul, after the past few months, was worth every penny.

This girl.

They didn’t have a good time at all.

It was the first time out of the country for my kids, and our first time at an all inclusive. If you have teenagers, I highly recommend paying for the all-inclusive option. Sure, the food isn’t as high-quality as other resorts, but unlimited food and virgin daiquiris for 3 teenagers more than compensates. The kids were in heaven. As were Mom and stepdude, who never had to stress out about feeding the bottomless pits.

finally had a chance to decompress, and get quiet, and do some beach reading. I whipped through Glennon Doyle Melton’s Love Warrior and Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes.If you have read Love Warrior and if you know my story, you are probably waiting to hear what I have to say about that. It was … an experience, reading that book. I have an entire blog post about that. I have an entire book to write about that.

Perhaps, for another day. Because I am no longer on the beach, watching the surf, processing and reflecting and composing. Actually, if you want to know the truth, I’m typing this in a doctor’s office waiting room, where I come every Monday night.

Back to reality.

So, I know this isn’t a post about Rubin’s book. Or a race report. Or PTSD recovery.

But it is about happiness. Even if I had to run away to Jamaica to find it.

The Happiness Project – March

For 2017, I am blogging my way through Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. Read here to see my intro post.

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“Happiness is a critical factor for work, and work is a critical factor for happiness” (69).

For March, Rubin focuses on work. Oh dear. This is a quagmire.

Have I mentioned before that I work at the same school where my husband is an administrator? Oh, and where all 3 of my children attend? So, with this topic, I tread lightly. Coincidentally, or not, work has also probably – no definitely – been the single biggest challenge to my overall happiness and wellbeing this year.

Again. Tiptoe through the minefield.

Here’s the thing: I am incredibly #blessed with my work situation. I know this. I work with fantastic people (love my colleagues), and am so dang proud and grateful to not only provide my kids with a topnotch independent school education, but know (really know) that they are being taught by amazing people who genuinely know their stuff, and care about my kids. I have worked alongside these people for 8 years now (and for my husband, 10); the tuition is worth every dollar.

But I have also worked my way into an overwhelming, stressful situation with a relentless pace, where I never feel like I’m getting my job either done, or done well. Without spending too much time or energy (that I don’t have. Ha!) on the details, I voluntarily agreed to take on several extra duties this year.

Now, it’s important for me to stress that none of this was forced on me by my employers. They did not demand that I teach an extra section, or create and teach an online class. I didn’t do it for the money, or for the glory or accolades. (is there either of those in education? Discuss amongst yourselves). I took on the extra responsibility and challenges because I knew it would benefit my students, and I always want to be the best educator I can be.

“March’s focus on work and happiness highlighted a tricky issue: the relationship between ambition and happiness. There’s a common belief that happiness and ambition are incompatible … Studies show that many creative, influential people in the arts and public life score above average in ‘neuroticism’ (i.e., they have a greater propensity to experience negative emotions); this discontent arguable urges them to higher achievement” (88).

am ambitious, only not in the way that is typically admired or celebrated in our society. I don’t dislike money, of course, but no one goes into education to get wealthy. Nor do I have a desire for a title, or authority over others. I really just want to help others, serve my students well, and perform to the absolute best of my ability. Unfortunately, in my quest to do all of that in bigger, better and more creative ways, I created a situation for myself that feels just the opposite – I can’t possibly do it all, and am strung out trying to make it all work.

However, in the spirit of Rubin’s Happiness Project March goal, I am proactively trying to change my work situation for next year. In a move that is very unlike me and outside my comfort zone, I appealed to my superiors for a change in job description for next year. I am not one to ever complain or make waves in my professional life, so it was really hard for me to advocate for myself. I’m not sure how it will all play out, but they were receptive and open to the discussion, and I’m hopeful that next year will result in a happier, healthier work environment for me.

 

The Happiness Project – February

For 2017, I am blogging my way through Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. Read here to see my intro post.

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About a week ago, last weekend to be exact, I began preparing this post. I went through the February chapter of The Happiness Project and picked out what quotes I wanted to use, and marked down the techniques that Rubin identified to improve her marriage, and then I actually interviewed my own husband to see if he felt that our marriage could also be improved. If you’re not reading the book, she chose:

  • Quit nagging
  • Don’t expect praise or appreciation
  • Fight right
  • No dumping
  • Give proofs of love

I went through each one and explained what she meant and asked him, no getting-in-trouble, no-penalty-assigned, if he felt that I was weak in those areas. As I went through each item, he reflected and thought and then said that, no, I really did a good job with all of them.

Keep in mind that we’ve only been married (nearly) 5 years, and also, I did extensive therapy prior to marrying him.

In the spirit of the project, I asked him if there was anything other than what Rubin chose that could make our marriage better. He was silent for a bit, mulling it over, and then said slowly, “You know, really? The only thing that makes me … not upset, but frustrated, with you? You take on everyone else’s problems. You’re so busy worrying about the kids and school and me and making sure everyone is safe and happy and taken care of, that you get really overwhelmed and strung out. I wish you could just relax and not care so much.”

Wait for it.

So, as I mentioned in my first post, my first attempt at this blog series ended abruptly in February, 2010, when my life completely imploded without warning. There I was, working my way through February, ready to make my marriage my focus of the month, and my (then) husband decided to relieve me of the project. Here I am again, February, and on the heels of that conversation last weekend, things went completely off the rails on several different fronts this week.

February is not so much my favorite.

I can’t elaborate on details. For one, some of this week’s circumstances are not my story to tell, and out of respect for my children, I won’t say anything other than sometimes life knocks the wind out of you. For another, some of this week’s developments are my burden to (directly) bear, but it is not in my best interest to share in a public forum.

I will just say that if my husband’s wish for our marriage is for me to relax, kick my heels up, and bring a little levity to the union, I will have to write him a big fat IOU on that one, because we’re in for a bumpy several months.

But lest you think February’s Happiness Project is a complete bust, I will say this about this month’s focus. If, as Rubin says, “The atmosphere of my marriage set the weather for my whole life” (39), then I will be okay. I will. Because, and I don’t say this with an ounce of exaggeration or melodrama, one of the very few areas of my life that is truly, madly, deeply right and healthy and safe right now, is my marriage. If, as they say, God does not give you more than you can handle, then I offer thanks to the universe for recognizing that, while I’m sure I would survive the current clusterfuck that is my life, I wouldn’t do so with nearly the fortitude or grace that I am.

If you can call deeming my life a current clusterfuck, “grace”.

 

The Happiness Project – January

For 2017, I am blogging my way through Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. Read here to see my intro post.

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Boost Energy

Rubin begins her Happiness Project in January with “Boost Energy”. She notes, “research shows, being happy energizes you, and at the same time, having more energy makes it easier for you to engage in activities – like socializing and exercise – that boost happiness” (17-18). She decides on 5 key action items that will boost her energy.

Go t0 sleep earlier

Clearly, getting more sleep will (or at least should) give you more energy. This is a tough one for me, because I actually don’t miss out on sleep (that often) by staying up late surfing the web or watching television or otherwise wasting time. I’m pretty disciplined about going to bed at an octogenarian, embarrassing-to-admit, lights-out time of 9:30-10pm. 9:15pm if it’s been a long day.

I know.

But, in my defense, that’s because my alarm is usually set to a 4:35-5:05am rise and shine time (my Friday rest-day setting is a luxurious 5:30am) so I can get up and train before school. This schedule not only limits my hours of sleep because of the early wake-up time, but then I have a long busy day beginning with exercise, then a full day of work, then usually kid activities and events before heading home to make dinner and preparing to do it all over again.

I need those 7 hours of sleep, y’all.

I don’t think going to sleep earlier is an option for me, until I’m ready for the nursing home. But, I would like to tighten up my  wind-down routine. I’ve previously toyed with, and successfully engaged in for short spurts, the idea of plugging in my iPhone by 9pm to charge somewhere other than my nightstand, an arm’s reach away. Since my phone is also my alarm, I still want it in my  bedroom, but I think even moving it over to my bureau would help resist that temptation to surf Twitter, IG and Facebook (lather, rinse, repeat) right before bed.

Exercise better

Okay, unlike a significant portion of America, I don’t need the general “get more exercise” resolution to boost my energy. I get plenty of exercise thankyouverymuch. I’m already registered for a 15k and triathlon (would like to do 1-2 more, just haven’t decided yet), and am saving up (fingers crossed) for my first marathon.

I’m guessing I work out more than the average 42 year old mom of 3.

With that said, while I often approach the recommended 10,000 steps a day before my second cup of coffee, I spend the bulk of my day fairly sedentary. Yes, I do move (I work on the 4th floor and take the stairs every day after chapel, teach 2 classes every other day, and that back parking lot is a hike #facultyproblems), but it’s also not at all unusual for 60-90 minutes to pass several times a day, and I haven’t budged from my office chair while I grade essays, lesson plan, conference with students, answer emails, etc.

It’s bothered me, for awhile, but I haven’t been motivated to really focus on it.

In an effort to get my butt up on a more regular basis, I’m activating the “move!” alarm on my Garmin. I can definitely be more active at work, and it might help me feel more energetic and alert from 7:30-4:30pm.

Toss – Restore – Organize

Rubin devotes the most space in the January chapter to her “toss-restore-organize” goal. She writes how her apartment was over-run with clutter, how she felt limited and overwhelmed and psychically drained by the rarely-worn clothes and stacks of papers. She spends several pages describing her weekends devoted to cleaning out closets and cabinets, and implementing an “evening tidy-up” (33). She enthusiastically writes how she felt “uplifted and restored by her clutter clearing” (34).

She also describes her husband as a willing and enthusiastic participant. *side eye* *throat clear*

So… I am what my husband calls a minimalist. I’m not sure I entirely agree with this summation, which is okay, since he heartily disagrees with my labeling him a hoarder.

We can agree that I embrace “cleanliness is next to Godliness”, while he trends towards “he who dies with the most crap wins”.  We are not compatible in this area. At all.

Just for example, let’s compare our work areas/home offices. I use the dining room.

**I took these pictures exactly as they appeared tonight, Sun Jan 15th. There was no cleaning up or preparation for either room.**

You can see my school bag over on the hutch. That is where I deposit it, after emptying out my water bottle, lunch box, and coffee thermos, every single day. This is representative of how the dining room looks most of the time. When I pay the bills or work on my computer, I put everything on the table. Then put it all away.

Here is my husband’s library. Yes, he has his own dedicated library.

That about sums it up.

To my husband’s credit, he has improved a lot since we moved in together, and works regularly at purging. Our house might be fully purged and organized for our golden anniversary.

Tackle a nagging task

Rubin writes, “An important aspect of happiness is managing your moods, and studies show that one of the best ways to lift your mood is to engineer an easy success, such as tackling a long-delayed chore” (35).  Much like the “toss-restore-organize” action plan, I don’t need much improvement in this category. I’m not by nature a procrastinator, and I can actually be too dogged in crossing off my  to-do list. For example, the notion of blowing off my every-weekend chore list to relax and have a “Sunday Funday” (I hear people do that) is completely foreign to me. I am in a perpetual cycle of list-making and crossing-off.

Maybe an energy boost for me would involve being lazy? Ignoring my nagging tasks? In contemplating that, I feel a jolt of anxiety just considering it, which is certainly … energizing. I’ll have to mull that one over.

Act more energetic

Also known as, “fake it till you make it”. I am extremely familiar with this strategy; I’ve employed it effectively in parenting, in the workplace, as an athlete, and in a myriad of awkward social situations (my fellow introverts hear me). I have found that, in almost any situation, pretending that you feel a certain way, while not a magic elixir for the emotions, does help with effective implementation of the required actions. Rubin agrees; “Although a ‘fake it till you feel it’ strategy sounded hokey, I found it extremely effective” (36). .

So, by this logic, if I *act* more enthusiastic about heading off to a run or grading a stack of essays, I’ll not only have a larger reservoir of energy, but feel happier.

I’m skeptical, but for the sake of blog research, I’ll give it a shot.

So, January:

  • plug in my phone on my bureau (not nightstand) by 9pm. Ish.
  • use my move alert on my Garmin to be more active at work (and home on weekends).
  • act more energetic. Whatever that might look like.

Doing the Happiness Project with me? Feel free to post in comments what your action items are for January.

The Happiness Project

In January 2010, when I was still driving a minivan, I stumbled upon Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. At the time, I was in a life writing rut, and decided that I would blog my own journey following Rubin’s year-long project. For those of you unfamiliar with the book, in each chapter (divided into months) she concentrates on a different theme, or facet, of her life to improve.  I figured it would both give me some material to blog about, and perhaps inspire an evolution in my habits, relationships and routine. Imagine a cross between a virtual book club and online self-improvement project.

I stuck with it for about 6 weeks. Then February 14, 2010 happened. Literally overnight, “happiness” was no longer the goal. Survival was the name of the game.

my copy from 2010, only highlighted through February. In English class we call this “foreshadowing”.

Ironically, Rubin writes in the initial “Getting Started” chapter that, “One of my goals for the happiness project was to prepare for adversity – to develop the self-discipline and the mental habits to deal with a bad thing when it happened…I didn’t want to wait for a crisis to remake my life” (15).

Too little, too late, Rubin. Thanks for nothing. Perhaps if my ex-husband had decided to wait until Labor Day, or even July 4th, instead of Valentine’s Day, to end our marriage, I would have had better coping skills and handled the events of 2010 more gracefully.

Alas.

Seven years later, one of my goals for 2017 is to write more.  I remember my abandoned happiness project, the book unfinished (barely started), and think about the pervasive malaise of my friends and family coming out of 2016. The wary skepticism for 2017. The general dissatisfaction and frustration of so many, after the national, international and (for some) personal life events of the past year.

What about a happiness project redux?

Don’t get me wrong – I’m actually pretty happy. Truth be told, I relate far more to Rubin in her introduction now than I did in 2010. She shares the skeptical, surprised and bemused reactions of her husband, sister and colleagues as she explains that she wants to increase her happiness level. She writes,”just because I wasn’t depressed didn’t mean that I couldn’t benefit from trying to be happier” (7).

If I had to create a bar graph of my general happiness level over the past 42 years, I would rank my day-to-day emotional barometer over the past couple years towards the top. I’ve had dysthymia more often than not throughout my life (in layman’s terms, that means I trend towards an Eeyore outlook), so my sense of wellbeing most days still disconcerts me.

But still. There’s some life hurdles coming down the pike. Why not work on strengthening my emotional resiliency and wellbeing along with the physical? I ran my first half marathon 4 years ago but I’m still getting faster and stronger; why not work on the same with my psychological health?

Want to join me? Grab a copy of the book (now that it’s 7 years post-publication, I bet you can find it at Half Price Books or a similarly discounted price), and create your own version. I will be blogging about it at least once a month (shooting for two), in addition to my running and triathlon updates.

May we all find even more happiness in 2017.