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?

Sari, Not Sorry

sari-foot

A couple months ago our church had a women’s retreat. I’m a little funny about gender exclusive events and wasn’t sure I’d go until I opened my mouth to invite others to join me. And then the organizer asked if I would model a sari in the fashion show.

Why a fashion show? would be a great question. I can’t say exactly, but it was fun!

I considered declining her invitation. I’m not a center-of-attention kinda gal and 170 pairs of eyes on me isn’t comfortable. But that wasn’t my first thought. My first thought had to do with my body, with my discomfort in my own skin, and then with others looking at me.

Would the sari fit? Which bulges of flesh might protrude? Saris often bare the midriff and with increasing age I am decreasingly a fan of my midriff.

I wrestled with myself and ultimately said yes. My ‘word’ for 2015 is put yourself in the way of beauty. What is more beautiful than a sari, and when would I ever have another opportunity to wear one?

I’m so glad I consented! A variety of women, of different ages and appearance, gathered with several Indian women who dressed us and decorated us with stacks of bracelets and jewelry in our hair and on our foreheads. The saris had all been laid out on tables and women gravitated to colors and beading styles. The Indian women estimated which saris would look best on which women, and they expertly pinned and spun us and wrapped and draped us in the nine yards of fabric that are a sari, worn over a petticoat and blouse.

We enjoyed the best possible costume party. It was intimate, women dressing women, and special, women making women feel beautiful. We ooh-ed and aah-ed over the gorgeous colors and hand-beaded finery, and over one another wearing the most incredible dresses. 170 women got to see the spectacular saris, but only a few of us got to wear them. And we felt beautiful.

sari 2 sari grp

The next day I talked with another of the models as we bonded over our shared experience. I told her about my initial hesitancy and her response has been rattling around my head since. She asked, “When have you ever seen a woman wearing a sari past the age of 40-something, who didn’t have a little tummy? Our bodies change with age. But you know, it doesn’t matter. Her husband loves her.” Indian culture respects age and the marriage relationship. They are comfortable in their skin in a way I haven’t been since puberty.

I participate in an online forum run by a friend from a previous version of my life. The group’s theme is Body Love and encourages women to love every inch of their body, no matter their size. Yesterday she posted a picture of an average-sized woman with a larger-than-model-thin body, overwritten with positive life experiences: ran 12K, walked through India, etc. She asked for feedback for her coaching, and in a total fit of honesty, I responded:

I hate the feeling of squeezing into pants/skirts – even if I can hide the squeeze, say, under a loose blouse – that I love and that previously made me feel fantastic. No one feels fantastic when their waistline or bra feels pinched. Ugh! I hate having tried on this and that and *everything* appropriate for the event and just not finding the right thing, even though I have a closet filled with clothes. I hate having to spend money to maintain more than one size of clothes in my closet. I hate the change of seasons as the clothes that just fit are now too hot or cold for the current temperatures. I love that my body supports me in so many important ways, and I hate feeling like I haven’t supported my body in likewise important ways.

This morning I felt some amount of shame at having bared my soul about my body, and even more so when I realized how many women I know personally also participate in the group. While drying my hair, I remembered a wise friend encouraging a group of young moms to start each day by saying into the mirror, “Well, hello, Beautiful!” God creates us perfectly, and who are we to say God’s work isn’t beautifully done? So I tried it. It felt funny, and right, uncomfortable because I have an uncomfortable relationship with my body.

I eat healthier than most people I know. I try to get regular exercise and I feel great when I do. My doctor says I am healthy. But I’m not athletic or physically energetic and my favorite pass times involve sitting (writing, for example). I don’t look the way I’d like to and with age it becomes more difficult. I don’t want to make excuses, and I need to make peace. And so I continue to wrestle.

Guy and I watched a TV show last night that included an attractive woman with an unattractive personality. He commented, “You know, she could really be pretty if she could just act nicely.” Huh. He doesn’t think she’s pretty. We’ve all experienced that to be true – attitude affects your appearance.

This morning a friend shared a quote from a business seminar she attended last weekend:

Dear friend, you have nothing to be embarrassed about, and now nothing to hide or fear or regret; for today we saw your smile and it was wide and beautiful and true and awakened; it was a moment when your soul burst through your worry and it shined for us as an unapologetic glimmer of joy and humanity, a stunning instance of genuine expression… It was a simple thing, those gorgeous corners of your mouth turned up, and perhaps it felt like a daring expression in a world drowning in a pool of pessimism, an unplanned revolt in a time of chaos where all those frowns and furled brows are symbols of disconnection from gratitude and presence and life. But your smile, dear friend, it stirred hope in us. And then you laughed and it seemed a thousand joyous songs leapt into the air and brought the world to its feet. So we ask that you gift us with your smile more often…Brendon Burchard, Live.Love.Matter.

She said she felt compelled to share it with us because of all she’s gleaned from participating in our church and in particular because of one Bible passage she heard recently:

Be joyful always. Pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

God gave me this particular body along with my particular set of gifts and talents and preferences. I can complain and grumble about the qualities I might wish different. Or I can make a decision to say “Thank you” to my Creator. I can wear a smile, laugh, focus outward, delight in the company of my family and friends, savor good food and wine, and be joyful in my life. Yes!