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.

 

2017 – Dallas Hot Chocolate 15k Race Recap and Life in General

On Feb 4th I ran the Dallas Hot Chocolate 15k , and I’ve been meaning since then to post my race recap. I’m not sure how two and a half weeks have passed, except to say that my 2017 so far can best be described as the following:

There continues to be a lot, a lot, going on in my neck of the woods, and most days I feel like I’m drowning. So much so that I considered, seriously considered, bailing on the race. I’ve never bailed on a race since I began running in fall 2013 (if you don’t count the 2016 Houston half marathon, which I don’t, since I made the decision roughly a month in advance of the event not to participate after I pulled a muscle in my back. That wasn’t “bailing” so much as changing plans due to injury).

When I say I almost bailed on this race, I mean that starting 72-48 hours in advance of the Saturday race, I waffled on whether I was going to follow through. The week leading up to the race was particularly exhausting and overwhelming and difficult for my family, and I was averaging 2-3 hours of sleep each night, and going through the motions.

The day before the race, when I had to drive downtown to get my race packet (taking time out of work and traveling 30-40 min from school), I gave myself the mother of all pep talks, told myself I wasn’t a quitter, that I would and I could and I should do this, and set off.

And got rear-ended on the highway. I can’t make this up. The universe hates me.

That night, with a stiff neck and sore shoulders to add to my litany of physical and emotional ailments, I was so ambivalent about the race that I didn’t even take my traditional night before gear-laid-out picture. I decided to set my alarm, but gave myself permission to not attend if I felt worse in the morning.

Ultimately I decided that whatever physical discomfort I endured during the 9.3 miles would pale in comparison to the emotional pissiness I would feel at not following through with my race entry. I hate not finishing what I start.

I don’t have an in-depth race recap to share (partly because I waited so long to write this that I don’t remember most details) but I can say this: until this race, I never really understood how people don’t finish races due to cramps. I mean, I’ve heard of people not finishing races due to cramps, I’ve even seen it happen in televised races. Someone is clipping right along, and suddenly grimaces, limps. sometimes dramatically dropping to the pavement, writhing in pain.

I always thought that was a little … much. I mean, how bad can a cramp be?

And then I ran 9.3 miles after forgetting, in my zombie state, to drink many fluids the 24 hours prior. Hello dehydration. And agonizing searing quad pain.

I was doing pretty well for the first 7 miles or so. So well that I knew I was on track to bust last year’s 15k time out of the water. I’m not going to lie, I was feeling pretty badass – there I was, almost not even showing up to the race hours before, and now I’m flying along at a faster pace?

And then my legs starting twinging. Not badly, at first, but enough to let me know they weren’t happy. I wasn’t overly concerned – with less than 2 miles to go, I figured I was home free.

Around mile 8.5, with just under a mile to go, the pain got so bad that I actually had to do this weird Jedi mind trick where I pretended I was floating and my feet weren’t really striking the ground each time, but just skipping across clouds. I know it sounds weird and doesn’t make sense as I type it out, but it worked, in the sense that I hobbled-limped-floated to the finish line when all I really wanted to do was collapse on the ground and start crying. Like those people I had seen on television who I secretly called wusses in my head. #karma

Still, I finished. With a 4+ minute drop from last year’s time to boot.

In other news, yesterday my oldest turned 17. 17. I can’t really wrap my brain around the fact that I have a 17 year old. In one year, I will be the mom to a legal adult. How did that happen?

Wasn’t I just giving him kisses in the park on my 26th birthday?

In my mind, he’s still this age.

But actually, he’s about to be a senior in high school and next year, in addition to delivering cookies to his advisory down the hall, I’ll be ordering his graduation tuxedo.

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”.

 

Marathon by decree

As I wrote earlier this month, training for my only first marathon is on my agenda for 2017.

Let me elaborate.

Back in 2014, when I ran my very first half marathon, the crazy notion that maybe, just maybe, I could complete a marathon first occurred to me. The significance of even entertaining this endeavor is a post of its own (which I will write at some point), but suffice to say, I have been mulling it over for, literally, almost 3 years. For someone who tends to rush into graduate programs, mortgages and babies, this amount of reflection is indicative of just how intimidated I am by 26.2 miles.

Nevertheless,  I slowly began socking away money, because I knew, even then, that 1. I may very well be a “one and done” marathoner and 2. if I was going to do one marathon, it was going to be at Disney.

If you’re reading this, the odds are high that you’ve run at least one marathon (at least, when compared to the generally acknowledged statistic of 1% of the population that has run 26.2 miles). I have a lot of readers who found this blog through the running and triathlon communities, so maybe you’re thinking “oh, just you wait. Marathons are addictive. You’ll definitely do more than one.”

Maybe. But maybe not.

But there’s no uncertainty or hesitation in my desire to do my (potentially) singular marathon at Disney. I love Disney. Love. It. Beyond that, RunDisney is supposed to do a fantastic job at putting on the race, and it’s rookie-friendly. So, nearly 3 years ago, I began saving a bit of money each month. When I say “bit of money”, we’re talking less than a Starbucks coffee a day amount. Our budget is tight. We have 3 kids in private school, and “we” are teachers. But I committed to working on it. I threw some tutoring money in there. I saved my PTA Christmas bonus, every year. I taught an extra class in the summer, and split the extra between my Disney fund, and family vacations.

I knew, in 2014, that I wanted to go in 2018. It is the last year my oldest is living at home before leaving for college, and it is really important for me, as a mother, to have my kids see me complete this goal. That is also an entirely separate blog post, that I will also write.

But for now, please understand that my kids seeing my first marathon? Even if I go on to run 20 more and they see nary a one? Non-negotiable for me.

In 2014, when I began saving, Disney marathon weekend was the 2nd weekend of the month. As it was 2015. As it was 2016. So you can understand why it never crossed my  mind, as I saved for and fretted over this Herculean goal, that the Disney marathon in 2018 might be the 1st weekend of the month.

Also known as their Dad’s weekend.

You see where I’m going with this.

I wish I could say that asking my ex-husband to trade a weekend was a possible scenario, but it’s not. If you know me, you know why. If you don’t know me, just trust me.

So. Isn’t that just a kick in the teeth?

As someone who has a lot of practice reframing and turning lemons into lemonade, I decided that I would just find another marathon that is worthy of my  investment. I mean, there are some other awesome marathons out there – even if they’re lottery-entry, I’m sure I could find one that is kickass, and on my weekend, right?

Chicago marathon? His weekend.

NYC marathon? His weekend.

Marine Corps weekend? His weekend.

I literally spent about 45min the other night, thinking of marathons I could get excited about, googling them, checking my calendar, and then dejectedly returning to square one. I commented to my husband that race directors must all be divorced men who are looking to make the most of their 1st, 3rd and 5th weekends.

I kid. They’re probably divorced moms who need to work on the weekends that their exes have the children.

I’m sad, y’all. But truly, personal growth, because I’m not angry, or resentful, or shaking my fist at the powers that be that godDAMMIT divorce is just the gift that never stops giving. I don’t feel upset.

I just feel sad. Dejected. But resigned. It is what it is. This is part and parcel for my life. It’s a marathon, it’s not life or death.

But it matters to me.

So, where does that leave me? Right now, I’m leaning towards the Houston marathon in January 2018. It’s my weekend, and a 3 day weekend, so the kids won’t even miss school. I hear it’s flat, with good crowd support, and I’m sure it will still be meaningful and amazing and heck, I’ve got the money more than saved for the entry fee and hotel.

It’s just not what I’ve envisioned for the past 3 years.

 

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.