Cultivating Quiet

To increase happiness, I made a commitment in January to practice silence by minimizing noise and negativity of all sorts.

Since then, I’ve given myself permission to turn off the car radio when there isn’t a song that moves me. Music off, I get to sit with my thoughts for the duration of the drive—and struggle to quiet the voices in my head. So many imaginary conversations or arguments, complaints I will never speak, apologies I will never hear. Rehearsing what I might say, rehashing what I could have said, reimagining the route conversations should have gone…

Banishing imaginary conversation partners, I still have to contend with my own voice. Harmful self-talk, the comparison game, the voice Julia Cameron of The Artist’s Way calls the Censor, “a nasty internal and eternal critic” who “blurts…a steady stream of subversive remarks.”

I picked up a book from the library with the intriguing title 10% Happier. In the preface, ABC News anchor Dan Harris writes about his own inner voice:

I’m talking about the internal narrator, the most intimate part of our lives. The voice comes braying in as soon as we open our eyes in the morning, and then heckles us all day long with an air horn. It’s a fever swamp of urges, desires, and judgments. It’s fixated on the past and the future, to the detriment of the here and now. It’s what has us reaching into the fridge when we’re not hungry, losing our temper when we know it’s not really in our best interest, and pruning our inboxes when we’re ostensibly engaged in conversation with other human beings. Our inner chatter isn’t all bad, of course. Sometimes it’s creative, generous, or funny. But if we don’t pay close attention—which very few of us are taught how to do—it can be a malevolent puppeteer.

I anticipate this wrangling to achieve peace-filled silence will be a lifetime effort. With practice, it has gotten easier. Practice, prayer, writing, even exercise have all helped. With continued diligence, it should become even easier.

During different seasons, involving more or less stress, the noise will obviously ebb and flow. Sometimes I anticipate I will avoid the inner noise by turning up the volume on exterior noise. Or I may have to, for a time, engage the imaginary conversations as a means to keeping peace, maintaining my sanity, and excising my own demons.

I remain committed to cultivating, even enjoying, the silence, speaking kindly to myself, hushing the blurts. Still, be still.

 

Happiness Questions

Ready to think about your own happiness? Want to have more meaningful  conversations, whether you’re driving your teen home from school or having family dinner? Or (do what I did) gather a group of friends and have a chat about happiness.

Here you go!

1. Share a happy childhood memory.
2. Which of your possessions make you feel happy? Which don’t?
3. Describe your perfect happy day.
4. Do you think others perceive you as happy? Why or why not?
5. What changes have you made in life to increase your happiness? What changes could you make?
6. Name 5 things guaranteed to make you smile.
7. “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” –Dr. Seuss
What memory does this quote remind you of?
8. Name some things you do regularly that increase your happiness. What do you do occasionally that increases your happiness?
9. What obstacles get in the way of your happiness, and how do you handle them?
10. When have you felt happiest recently?
11. “Happiness is not something you postpone for the future; it is something you design for the present.” –Jim Rohn (American businessman)
How are you designing (or not) your present happiness?
12. What happiness do you add to others’ lives?
13. Who do you admire for their happiness and why?
14. What do you think is the key to your happiness?
15. How do you balance what makes you happy now with what will make you happier in the long term?
16. Why is it sometimes hard to do things you know will make you happier, and easier to do things you can expect to bring unhappiness?
17. “There is only one happiness in this life: to love and be loved.” –George Sand
Who loves you toward happiness?
18. Is happiness the same as joy? How would you define each?

Create Happiness

My One Word aspiration for January 2019 is to Create Happiness. A microcosm of life, this month presented both expected and unexpected happiness challenges. I know I’m living my best life when I am reading, writing, and cooking regularly; this month has been all out of whack on all fronts and the best I’ve been able to do is to ask myself whether I am present in the moment (sometimes yes, others no). Still, I’ve been conscious of happiness and what I might do to develop more.

To that end, I’ve read a few articles on happiness (this one from a minimalist perspective and this one on time). The best was this one in The New York Times. Culling together what I’ve learned, here are some things I’m committed to to increase my happiness.

MIND
Process my life through writing. Writing helps me become aware of myself and it’s a whole lot cheaper than therapy.

Talk to myself like a friend. I can get lost down the rabbit hole of my own ruminations, completely stuck in negative thinking. I’m going to try to stem that flow by imagining I am my own best friend.

Keep up my gratitude practice, which also helps me stay in the moment. I keep a gratitude journal to record at least three unique-to-today things for which I’m grateful, along with quotes from Scripture or other books.

Use the Pomodoro Technique. Set timers to focus for 25 minutes/5 minute breaks x4 for 2 hours of increased productivity.

BODY
Move for 30 minutes most days and some days more. Just do it.

Say thank you. It’s too easy to be critical. I want to increase my appreciation for the gift of being a living, breathing, healthy human.

Get outside with my pets and my humans. Four things working together here: exercise, beautiful NorCal fresh air, the joy of furry loves, and shared time with people who matter.

Cook and eat real food. Bulk cook so that there is (almost) always something healthy in the fridge. Choose fresh over processed food.

Hydrate. More water, more tea.

Smile more. Find reasons to laugh. Be silly. Don’t take myself too seriously.

ENVIRONMENT
Declutter at the speed of my own life. Don’t wait for time to do the massive decluttering projects, just spend 1-15 minutes right now (not on social media but) eliminating, organizing, or cleaning to make the environment more satisfying. I already make my bed (research shows that happy people make their beds!), but I want to turn my bedroom into an oasis, which means no clutter.

Light candles and turn on the diffuser. Pretty light and intoxicating scent are relaxing.

Practice silence. Minimize noise and negativity of all sorts and choose quiet, deep breathing.

RELATIONSHIPS
Invest in positive relationships. Minimize negative ones. I have my go-to people, but I can more consistently invest in them: both in time and in letting them know how important they are to me.

Spend money and time on shared experiences. Create memories rather than collect stuff.

Be kind and generous. Let people know I’m thinking of them. Become more thoughtful towards those I don’t see regularly, especially in recognizing important events (birthdays, etc). Give away time and stuff to bless others.

Enjoy alone time. Relish time alone to indulge in my favorite pursuits, especially reading.

Rituals

Of course you have routines, but do you have rituals?

Maria Popova, of Brain Pickings, explains them this way:

While routine aims to make the chaos of everyday life more containable and controllable, ritual aims to imbue the mundane with an element of the magical. The structure of routine comforts us, and the specialness of ritual vitalizes us.

My morning routine looks something like this:

Hit snooze on the alarm for eight minutes of dozing, rolling, stretching before I yank myself up.
Refresh my eyes with drops and my teeth with toothbrush.
Inhale a cup of coffee while checking email and media.
Make the bed and pull on yoga clothes.
Take the kid to school and put in some gym time. Or walk the dogs, whichever seems most urgent.
Shower and breeze in to the rest of the day, whatever it might hold.

Mundane and purposeful, but magical? Not so much.

A few years ago, in an attempt to achieve a deeper sleep on a regular basis, I developed a bedtime ritual:

Make a cup of sleepy tea.
Put on pj’s by 9:30-10 pm.
Brush teeth and wash face.
Turn the lights low and get into bed with a good book.
Read for 30-60 minutes.
Lights out, ear plugs in and sleep mask on.
Massage hands and feet with body butter.
Night night!

Some nights, I pull on my pj’s, brush my teeth and wash my face, and fall into bed. But when I add the tea, reading, and massage, routine becomes ritual and, yes, magical.

The ritual gives me time to unwind my brain from the day’s anxious thoughts and to tangibly thank my body for its service. It adds magic to the mundane. Those simple actions form a ritual that, when I practice it, actually does help me sleep better.

As the new year is still young, I am thinking about my routines, which are helpful and which need strengthening. Which don’t yet exist and should. And, as I can use a little more magic in my life, I’m going to pay special attention to how I might sprinkle small rituals into the daily mix.

Photo by Carolyn V on Unsplash

C’mon, Get Happy

Since we wish one another “Happy New Year!” thinking about happiness seemed like a good place to start 2018. I compiled a list of questions to guide my reflections, and even invited a few friends over to discuss them together.

Pick your favorite question and respond in the comments. I’d love to connect with you!

  1. Share a happy childhood memory.
  2. Which of your possessions make you feel happy? Which don’t?
  3. Describe your perfect happy day.
  4. Do you think others perceive you as happy? Why or why not?
  5. What changes have you made in life to increase your happiness? What changes could you make?
  6. Name 5 things guaranteed to make you smile.
  7. “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” –Dr. Seuss
    What memory does this quote remind you of?
  8. Name some things you do regularly that increase your happiness. What do you do occasionally that increases your happiness?
  9. What obstacles get in the way of your happiness, and how do you handle them?
  10. When have you felt happiest recently?
  11. “Happiness is not something you postpone for the future; it is something you design for the present.” –Jim Rohn (American businessman)
    How are you designing (or not) your present happiness?
  12. What happiness do you add to others’ lives?
  13. Who do you admire for their happiness and why?
  14. What do you think is the key to your happiness?
  15. How do you balance what makes you happy now with what will make you happier in the long term?
  16. Why is it sometimes hard to do things you know will make you happier, and easier to do things you can expect to bring unhappiness?
  17. “There is only one happiness in this life: to love and be loved.” –George Sand
    Who loves you toward happiness?
  18. Is happiness the same as joy? How would you define each?

Thankful Thursday – Growing Happy

Where did I read it? Magazine, blog, online news article…?

Anyway, last weekend I read, somewhere, that those who study these things have shown three significant factors that affect brain chemistry to increase the feelings of happiness:

Gratitude
Laughter
Good people

Gratitude: find three unique things for which you can be grateful each day.

I unearthed my misplaced gratitude journal beneath a stack of mislaid papers on my too-messy desk. What an inconsistent adventure this year of gratitude has been… I started out strong, but I easily let life get out of control and let other things get in the way. I miss a few days, write for a few days; miss a week, write for three, miss a month, and so on. Well, I’m back at it, and I will say I look forward to recording my three thanksgivings each day and I do feel happier for having done it. It helps me remember life’s little moments, the funny things my kiddo says, the flower I noticed on my walk, the simple evening ritual of tea and book and a solid bedtime.

Laughter: always the best medicine

Way back when toward the beginning of our relationship, the Indigo Girls sang a line that rang true of one of the gifts Guy has given me: “And the best thing you’ve ever done for me is to help me take my life less seriously…”

I tend to be a wee bit dramatic. I lead from my heart. I can be impulsive and feel easily overwhelmed. And early on we recognized that my inclination to take life too seriously could be balanced by Guy’s easy-going, life-embracing stability. Like his bouncy hero, Tigger, he makes me laugh. 

I need to intentionally seek out cheerful people and opportunities to laugh. Silly sitcoms and light-and-fluffy books scattered in-and-between educational and moving programming.

Yesterday, just before I was to lead a meeting, I caught the giggles and it spread to my co-workers on either side. I’d gain control, and one or the other of them would burst out laughing again. It took a while for us to calm down. I am grateful for those minutes of gut-clenching hilarity.

Good people: “Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.” (Helen Keller)

In this season of life, I notice that I am just not in a party mood. I don’t want to make small talk (I never want to make small talk, but on occasion I am grudgingly willing). But I still need my friends, connection, good people.

Before this school year began, I decided to clear space once a week to share intentional conversation with someone. And, for the last two months, I have had coffee or tea or a walk or lunch with someone who would not have appeared across the table or shoulder-to-shoulder if I hadn’t scheduled it. In practicality, it’s been an easier decision than I’d anticipated. And it has deepened friendships and added so much joy to my life, and hopefully to theirs as well.

Today over lunch with a friend with whom I haven’t talked in far too long, I took it one step further. I decided to share these happiness points, and to ask what she would include on her gratitude list. Not surprisingly, it took the conversation in even deeper, more vulnerable and lovely directions.

Gratitude + Laughter + Good people = Happiness. Easy enough.

Thankful Thursday – A New Year

NYE15

I haven’t posted a Thankful Thursday in a while. I also cannot believe we are three weeks into 2016. And yet, I’m already planning for spring, and summer, and fall, and I’m not even sure what happened to Christmas except that it was, in surprising ways, quiet, lovely and crazy, relaxing and somehow just what we needed.

I’m thankful.

I am always thankful for our small NorCal town, and the beauties of small-town living.

I am thankful for a Dear One who invited us to our small town Awesome College basketball game on New Year’s Eve – for fun, friends and family cheering together as we encouraged the team and welcomed a new year. And then the goofiness of allowing Tween to stay up until midnight, drinking too much apple cider while snuggling pooch and watching Ryan Seacrest’s (lacking) NYE show.NYEQI
I am thankful for my beloved Guy, and his birthday, and a family excursion to Marin to walk a beautiful wintry beach with my loves.marin dog marin shell marin
I am thankful for opportunities to buy and cook beautiful California in-season produce in enticing ways, to savor flavors and feed my family healthy food.broccoli
I am thankful for new creative projects that challenge, excite, and sometimes scare me just enough.

I am thankful for new books that fulfill my craving to learn through story.Jan16 bks
I am thankful for our moms’ group at church, for the leadership team who pray and lead with love; for the larger group who share their struggles and joys in prayer so we can hope and be encouraged together; and especially for my table group of women with whom we cry and laugh and share in life as we grow in faith and friendship.

I am thankful for snuggly pets.phoebe
I am thankful for my gals who take me as I am, even when I arrive with wet hair because I showered last-minute because I just wasn’t sure I was up to a night out. And yet our friendships light up my life and I need them more than they know.jan gals
I am thankful Finals Week = Almost Over for Teen. I am thankful Teen allowed Guy and me to participate in a coloring project with him (coloring = one of the “school tasks” I’m always willing to do, since no one should truly be graded on coloring), reminiscent of my own mom working on high school projects late into the night with me, cherished memories I hope my son will also have of his mom.C color

Being thankful makes me happy. What are you thankful for so far in 2016?