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Don’t Pursue Happiness; Follow These Steps to Get Happy!

There is no point in pursuing happiness. That is, there’s no point in doing stuff that you think will one day lead to being happy. I can almost hear you thinking,  “wow, this one’s going to be a downer. No thanks!” Before you stop reading, stay with me for a minute or two. You’ll be, um, happy you did.

I am a huge fan of Shawn Achor, positivity psychologist and author of The Happiness Advantage. His Ted Talk is among the most watched of all time too. Here is a link to it.

Shawn Achor’s Ted Talk

In both his book and Ted Talk, Achor draws on research in his field (who knew, by the way, that studying happiness was a thing?) to teach us that there are things we can do daily to increase our levels of happiness. Increasing our happiness, in turn, improves our relationships with others, our productivity at work, and so on. In other words, happiness isn’t a thing one acquires after achieving certain goals or reaching certain milestones. e.g. “I’ll be happy once I make enough to buy a house” or “I’ll be happy once I get that promotion.” Nope. Achor says we’ve got it wrong. It’s the other way around. We don’t become happy once we are successful. We become successful when we are happy.

So, how do we create happiness?

According to Achor, there are five concrete, simple steps that we can do to increase our levels of happiness. When we do these steps, we increase the likelihood that we’ll achieve our goals, which we once thought would make us happy. Instead, being happy helps us achieve our goals. We had it backwards! Those five things are so easy to do that it almost seems too simple, but the research is tried and true.

The Five Steps to Happiness

For 21 days, which is roughly the amount of time it takes to form a habit, doing the following things each day produces the effects Achor discusses.

  1. Identify three things for which you’re grateful. Again, write these down or tell them to someone.
  2. Exercise–just move. You don’t have to become an ironman triathlete.
  3. Meditate for a couple of minutes. You don’t have to be Deepak Chopra. Just get still and let your mind be. Prayer is fine too.
  4. Perform a random or conscious act of kindness or send a positive email or text to a colleague or friend.
  5. Journal about something positive that happened during the day.

Partner Up to Create Happiness!

In the past, my significant other and I have “worked the steps” for periods of time. Not only has the time we spend talking been good bonding time,  but we both agreed that following the steps changed our outlooks on life quickly and in very noticeable ways. Both of us, in other words, felt happier.
Each evening we checked in with each other by going through the five steps. We didn’t write anything down unless we weren’t together and were texting. We just talked. We listed our “gratefuls,” as we called them, talked about something positive that happened that day, and accounted for the other things. It wasn’t long before we found ourselves noticing things to be grateful for throughout the day. Sometimes, I was grateful for little things, like the barista making my specialty coffee just right, or  having a good ride on my horse. Lots of times our “gratefuls” were about each other. What is more affirming than having someone tell you why he or she is grateful for you?
 

Join the Facebook 21 Day Don’t Worry. Be Happy Challenge!

I’ve started a Facebook 21 Day Don’t Worry. Be Happy Challenge group. Anyone is welcome to join, so please visit my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/lettersfromthecoffeeshop and join the event: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1932943440349972/?ref=bookmarks
It’s going to be a fun, no pressure, positive, 21 days. I hope you’ll check it out and join us!
Everyone is welcome. Let’s start a happiness revolution.
As always, thank you for reading. I appreciate you.
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Food is Not the Enemy

We’ve got to stop seeing food as the enemy. Let’s stop beating ourselves up and shaming others, consciously or unconsciously, about what and when and how much we eat. Let’s just do our best to put good fuel into our bodies so we can use them to do things we want to do.

We owe it to ourselves to find ways to be active.  We need to feed our bodies what and how much they need to do the things we ask them to do. Being active and eating well are ways of being nice to ourselves.

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Why I am a Recovering Pentecostal

When I say that I am a recovering Pentecostal people often laugh. However, I’m quite serious; I do identify as a recovering Pentecostal and for good reason.

I was raised in a Pentecostal church on the outskirts of my hometown, Port Elgin, Ontario, Canada. I don’t know if this is the case at all Pentecostal churches, but the sermons at ours were at least eight hours long.

To add insult to injury, only the adults got to have a snack during those marathon sermons.  As a child, I saw that as an injustice of the first order. Eventually, I found out that the little bits of cracker and teeny goblets of grape juice that were passed around to the adults were not snacks, but rather communion. Still, I would have been glad to partake. A kid needs a little somethin’ somethin’ during a ten-hour sermon.

Be careful what you wish for

Sunday school, which preceded the twelve-hour sermons, wasn’t all that great. On one occasion, the teacher brought a loaf of homemade bread to class. I don’t think she’d ever baked bread before because it looked more like a slightly burned blob that was crunchy on the outside and doughy on the inside. She set her lump on the table at the front of the classroom ever so proudly. (Bless her heart.) Then, she explained that the beige blob was really the body of Christ and invited us to taste it.  Um, no.

I should explain that I’m a little weird about food. I do not share food. Ask my friend Shannin. On one of our first lunch dates, she nearly lost her hand when she tried to take a fry off my plate. Also, as much as I love a good steak, I live in a fantasy world. As far as I am concerned, my meat had neither a face nor a mother and it originated at Wal-Mart. Yes, I am a hypocrite. I wasn’t much different as a child.

So, showing me a weird looking loaf of bread, calling it the body of Christ, and then inviting our whole class to tear chunks off it with bare, probably not well-washed hands, wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. Not that anyone offered tea. The thought, and then sight, of everyone’s germ-covered hands ripping hunks off the lump and scarfing them down made me want to puke. I saw nothing holy about make-believe cannibalism. Is it any wonder that I was famished by the time those fourteen-hour sermons ended each week? The only thing I was inclined to pray for on Sunday mornings was a decent meal that had not been manhandled by everyone and their sister.

If sixteen-hour sermons in the morning weren’t bad enough, Sunday evening services weren’t much better. In fact, they were worse. You see, that’s when they liked to scare the bejezzus out of folks so they’d get saved. One night when I was about 10, we were shown a film about the rapture. There are a bunch of films like it, and I don’t remember the exact title of the one we saw, but the plot resembled that of A Thief in the Night. According to my memory, the plot went something like this. In the opening scene, a whole bunch of cars start crashing on a freeway and bodies are floating into the air.

It turns out that the second coming has occurred and a bunch of pissed off people were left behind. Those left behind are mad as hornets because they had considered themselves outstanding Christians; they aren’t happy that Jesus did not see fit to take them home with Him. All is not lost, I guess, because those left behind get a second crack at making it to heaven. But there’s a bit of a catch. You see, to get to heaven, the left-behind-folks have to refuse to take the mark of the beast (666) on their forehead or wrist. The penalty for refusing to take the mark of the beast is death by guillotine. Nonetheless, sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do and the left-behind-folks decide to do. This is where the s*** gets real. 

According to my memory, in the last scene of the movie, people wearing pink hospital-type gowns are standing in line waiting their turn at the guillotine. A woman who we’ve come to root for throughout the film obediently places her head into the designated place, the blades drop, and her head rolls into a laundry basket.

At that point, the lights came up in the church sanctuary, an altar call was issued, and I ran as fast as my legs could carry me to the front of the church where I was greeted by my older brother who was waiting to broker my salvation. Now, before anyone starts praising the lord on my behalf, understand that I did not make a beeline for the altar because I wanted to accept the lord Jesus Christ into my heart. I just didn’t want my head cut off so it seemed logical to take care of business while I had the opportunity. Child abuse every Sunday.

The Aftermath

I’ve since met lots of Pentecostals whose church experiences bear no resemblance to mine. I’m happy for them. But I’m not joking when I tell you that it is not easy recovering from the kind of terrorizing that went on in our church. Reviewer Captain Cassidy describes the effect of A Thief in the Night and similar movies perfectly:

“What’s so astonishing about this entire movie is that, as terrible as it sounds right out of the gate, it is apparently not only the granddaddy of Rapture movies, it has traumatized what might well be millions of young Christians. This movie was shown in churches. It was shown in youth group meetings. It was shown at camps.

Millions of kids have seen this movie, and it scared the ever-lovin’ pants off of them. Adults today right now still carry the barely healed over wounds this movie inflicted on their minds and hearts. It terrified them and informed their nightmares and unnecessarily panicked them every goddamned time they couldn’t physically perceive their loved ones right then and there.”

Cassidy’s description of the impact of watching such horror flicks is an accurate description of my own post-film, post-Pentecostal experience. Frankly, I’m not a fan of churches that try to scare people into heaven. Based on my own experience, I can assure you that the effects of the messages of terror delivered in 18 hour sermons on Sunday mornings and again during evening services were not what the powers-that-be in my childhood church were hoping for. In fact, they were the exact opposite.

I stopped going to church the moment my mom gave me a choice in the matter. Many years passed before I set foot in another church. Moving to the buckle of the bible belt has challenged me . Over the years I’ve been here, I’ve developed a more nuanced understanding of why people go to church–willingly–and what happens in churches where child abuse is not the order of the day. It’s been eye-opening, to be sure, amusing sometimes, and depressing at others. I’ll write more about those things another time.

Meanwhile, what are you recovering from and how have you made sense of it?

Thank you for reading. Please subscribe. I appreciate you.

How to Take a Mini-Vacation

Spring break is just a few days away and I am wilting. This week alone we’re conducting 5 Skype interviews for a new professor and we’ve had two candidates on campus. I’m behind in my grading and I am ready to
 collapse. My students look much the way I feel. We all need a mini-vacation!
 I’m guessing you’ve felt the same way at some point–maybe right now. Perhaps you’re thinking, “”vacations cost money and I’ve got so much to do and, and, and…..”  I understand where that comes from, but stop. Just stop. It’s that kind of thinking that gets us into a state of exhaustion and chaos to begin with. I don’t know about you, but when my brain starts to fire like that I’m pretty useless anyway. I’ve found that the best way to restore order to the chaos in my life is to take a mini-vacation.

What is a Mini-Vacation?

 A mini-vacation does what a “real” vacation does, but in a much shorter amount of time. That is, a mini-vacation is a short time during which you step away from all sources of stress. It can be as brief as 30 minutes or as long as a full day. The length of the mini-vacation is determined by how much time you can legitimately plan to set aside for self-care.
Often, by the time we need mini-vacations, it seems impossible to find time to set aside. That feeling is just another indicator that we need to step back. Everyone can find 30 minutes–even if it is at 3:00 in the morning–to nurture herself or himself. A mini-vacation is less about long you spend on it and more about what you do during it. My mini-vacations involve three steps: planning, preparing, and doing things that make me feel centered and focused.

 Preparation & Planning

When I plan a mini-vacation I prepare for it the night before. Not everyone would enjoy this part, but for me it works. I clean and tidy my kitchen and living area, which is where I usually spend my mini-vacations. I put items of clutter in my “tornado room” to deal with another time and I close the door to that nest of chaos. Not having to look at a nest of chaos, even temporarily, helps me decompress. I have to resist the urge to tidy that room because doing so is not part of the mini-vacation preparation plan.

 Before I go to bed, I set the coffee so it is ready to brew in the morning.The last thing I do before turning out my light is make a list of the things that I feel stressed about–big and small. That’s my way of “storing” my stressors instead of carrying them around as brain clutter. Then, I can spend my mini-vacation, usually a morning, doing things that rejuvenate me.

Let the Mini-Vacation Begin

 I wake up early as I always do. I enjoy mornings. I make the bed–one of the quickest ways to bring a sense of calmness to a space, oddly enough. Then I make a cup of tea in a pretty china cup with a saucer. Tea tastes better in something pretty, in case you didn’t know.
 I usually post on Facebook that I am taking some digital detox time so I don’t feel guilty ignoring texts. Sometimes I spend some time playing on Pinterest. I like Pinterest because it helps me plan and I find planning motivating and relaxing. Playing on Pinterest feels a lot like reading magazines for me–another activity that I find calming– but the content is always new and fresh and no trees die in its making.
 
Mid-morning I make a cup of coffee in my favorite mug. Then, I jot down some goals. I do that in a notebook that I enjoy writing in using a sharp pencil because it feels neat on the paper. I make lists of steps to meet those goals. If I feel like writing, I write. I usually end my mini-vacation around noon–it is important to decide in advance how long your mini-vacation will last .
I find that just a short break from my usual routine surrounded by my creature comforts helps me feel like a new person.–relaxed and ready to get back to work. Tasks like grading usually seem less daunting after a mini-vacation. It’s amazing what just a few hours of  self-care does to restore my sense of balance and control. I don’t spend a dime on a mini-vacation, but the payoff is huge.
If you’re feeling at the end of your rope you should seriously consider planning a mini-vacation. What you do in the time you set aside is up to you. The thing is, we all regain our balance in different ways; it is important to give ourselves the time we need to do that.  None of us can function at our best when our personal batteries are dead. Whether it’s for 30 minutes, a full morning, or an entire day, make time to take good care of you. I guarantee you won’t regret it.
As always, thank you for reading. I appreciate you.

Why Being Organized Counts As Self-Care

I have always found being organized and decluttering forms of self-care. This is not true for everyone. I remember vividly the day I discovered that some people do not fold their underwear before putting them away. I was in the second grade. I was enjoying a play date at Colleen’s house. We were happily engaged in some activity or other in her bedroom, when I noticed the open dresser drawer.

To my horror, it was overflowing with what seemed like hundreds of pairs of “panties.” (At my house we just called them underwear.) Colleen’s “panties” were thrown pell-mell into the abyss. There was nary a crease line in sight and no order whatsoever to their arrangement. “My gosh,” I thought, “Who are these people? Should I call my mom to come and get me?” I hardly knew what to think.

Prior to my discovery of the state of her panty drawer, Colleen had seemed like a perfectly normal girl. I loved going to her house because her parents were very kind and she had many pets. I tried hard to put the sight of that open drawer full of panties on the loose out of my head and to go on with our play. Truthfully, though, I saw Colleen, and her mother for that matter, differently after discovering that they had no idea how to organize their things. To me, that was a very serious character flaw.

At my house, in contrast, underwear was kept in the top drawer of a dresser. Socks were kept in the second, t-shirts in the third, and pajamas in the fourth. When my mother put away laundry, she folder underwear into uniform shapes and stacked them neatly. I took things a step further by subdividing the stacks into light colors, dark colors, and patterns. I don’t know why I didn’t think to subdivide the patterned panties into light and dark too. I was not to adopt that practice until much later in life.

Today, you will not see a navy pair of striped panties next to a pastel pair with flowers in my drawer. No way. Socks enjoy similar treatment: white sport socks, ankle high, black anklets, black trouser socks, white crew socks, and fuzzy socks that I use as slippers are all folded Mari Kondo style and filed in their respective categories. Thankfully, despite the company I kept as a child, my underwear and sock sorting skills were not seriously impaired. For that I am thankful.

I have always disliked clutter and disorder. I suspect it stems from being raised in a family that, unlike our underwear and sock drawers, was very chaotic and disorderly. My father was an alcoholic. That means that one could never count on life following any kind of discernible pattern from day-to-day. My mother used to say that the only thing predictable about my dad was his unpredictability. It stands to reason, then, that I would try to create the order that our household lacked in the spaces over which I had some control.

It isn’t surprising that I took, and still take, great pleasure in “nesting.” I never had to be told to clean my room because I loved keeping it tidy. Everything had a place. I took great pleasure in carefully arranging my precious collection of dog ornaments–Mitchell, Rex, Prince, and Danny Boy were among them–at particular angles on my shelf so they could see each other and not feel lonely when I was at school. My desk in elementary school and my lockers in junior high and high school were similarly tidy. Even now, colleagues, students, and custodians alike comment on how homey my office feels, which makes

me very happy. I want people to feel at home in the spaces where we spend time together.

Anyone who wants to know what kind of mood I am in or what kind of day I am having has only to look at the condition of my office to find their answer. If I have a messy desk, it means I am really stressed and probably overwhelmed. I have a dirty little secret though.  I have been known to throw caution to the wind, to pack my bag quickly at the end of my last class of the day or week, and make a beeline for home leaving in my wake a nest of chaos and disorder on my desk.

Between you and me, it feels deliciously liberating to leave all that crap behind to deal with on another day. It feels good knowing that I have broken the rules–MY rules–by leaving the evidence of my shortcomings as a human being in plain sight for the custodians to see when they empty the trash or for my colleague Shannin to mock when she scams the key to my office from our administrative assistant to loot chocolate from my Drawer of Sin. (Okay, she only did this once…14 years ago.) “Take that!” I think saucily as I lock my office door behind me on those sorts of days, “Let them think ill of me! I do not care a lick!” Of course, no one else does care a lick–whatever a lick is–because everyone is dealing with his or her own stress in his or her own way on any given day. Whether or not my office or home is cluttered is probably not on the top of anyone else’s list of concerns.

For me, keeping clutter at bay and purging it when it accumulates are some of the ways in which I keep up and/or regain a sense of balance when life is stressful. Discarding material clutter, whether at the end of a day, or in a seasonal purge, makes me feel in control of my work or living space even when other aspects of life feel like they are out of control.  Although I recognize that others find decluttering a chore they’d rather not do, so they don’t, for me, the act of decluttering is a form of self-care. It restoreth my soul, much like an afternoon spent writing or reading in a coffee shop.

It occurs to me that it is probably as, and likely more, important to have strategies for clearing our mental and emotional clutter too. That kind of clutter influences our well-being in ways that we’re only just beginning to understand. As I’ve thought about the pleasure I take in decluttering the spaces that I inhabit, I’ve wondered if I have similarly effective strategies for decluttering my mental and emotional spaces. If so, what are those strategies and am I using them often and effectively enough? How do you “declutter” the areas of your life that can weigh you down and get in the way of your ability to live your best life? What has worked or not worked and how have those strategies changed as you have changed? Please share!

As always, thank you for reading. I appreciate you.

 

Can’t Move On After a Trauma? Then Step to the Side!

Several years ago a very traumatic event dropped me to my knees. didn’t think I’d ever be able to move forward. “I just don’t know how to go forward,” I said to my good friend Erica. (Yes, the same Erica from my last blog post about not settling for a life you don’t love!) “I just don’t know how to move on” I explained. “So don’t” she replied. “Just step to the side.”

Step to the side? Really? That wasn’t an option I’d even considered. No one “steps to the side” in a crisis. Isn’t that against the rules? You can’t just step to the side when your life falls to pieces. Nope. You’ve got to move forward. You have to suck it up. Pick yourself up. Dust yourself off. Move forward. Forget about it. “Just get back to your normal routine” proclaimed well-meaning friends and associates who barely knew me, let alone what I needed to do. No matter that I was writhing in pain, paralyzed, barely able to breathe. Forget that I could barely get out of bed let alone dust off the residue of the trauma that had occurred so quickly. “Just move forward,” the world said, “Keep going forward.”

Granted, there are people for whom “moving on” is exactly what they need to do in the aftermath of a crisis or traumatic event. I was not one of those people. I wasn’t sure about a lot in those first weeks and months. I was sure, however, that “moving on” wasn’t happening any time soon. Call it a lack of resilience, call it weakness, call it whatever you want, but forward motion was not something I was capable of at that time. I knew it even if no one else did.

Stepping to the side, however, was something I could do. In fact, it was exactly what I needed to do. So, it was exactly what I did.

What Happened When I Stepped Aside

I have the luxury of a job from which I was able to take a leave of absence, which I did. Although I wasn’t sure about a whole of things at that time, I was sure about what I needed to do in the way of self-care. At first, there were days when I just retreated and gave myself permission to feel nothing…or everything. I just let myself “be” whatever I needed to be in any given moment.

At one point, I took my dog Reese and the two of us embarked on a road trip. We visited a friend who lives in Iowa. We stopped at parks in towns that were off the beaten track as often as we wanted. We detoured to places I’d never heard of just because we could. Somewhere along the way, I remembered how to laugh.

Reese #1 Missouri

There was something restorative about watching the obese, 11-year-old, labrador retriever who had adopted me right around the time of my crisis as she romped like a puppy in the autumn leaves in parks across several states. Through her antics, beautiful Reese invited me to remember what joy looks like. She made me believe that one day I would know that feeling again.

Gradually, the idea of moving forward seemed like a possibility. When I was ready, I stepped away from the side and back into my life.

Had I not taken Erica’s advice and given myself permission to “step aside” I am not sure I would have survived that terrible ordeal. I’m not trying to be melodramatic. It was awful and I wasn’t feeling particularly tough. For me, stepping aside was a life saver. I have no regrets.

Going Forward

Thankfully, not everyone has huge life crises that cause them to step aside from their lives for weeks or months at a time. But we all have moments when we are at our wits’ ends and feel like we cannot “go forward” for one more minute. Parents have moments when their children have driven them to the edge. Employees have moments when the workload is too much or a boss or colleagues have driven them to the point of feeling crazy. How much better might our days be if we would just allow ourselves to “step aside” in such moments, if only for five minutes?

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How much more focused and calm would we be if, instead of pushing through the craziness to our own and others’ detriment, we allowed ourselves to pause, if only briefly? How much happier and more grounded would we be if we allowed ourselves space to, say, sit quietly and meditate over a cup of coffee before moving forward? How much better equipped might we be to tackle the tough stuff if we gave ourselves and others permission to “step aside” from time to time?

This is hardly an original idea and many practice it regularly in different ways. However, the merit of “stepping aside” may not be in the forefront of our minds often enough, given the pace at which we live our lives today. Think about it. To what extent are you aware of your own need to step aside from time to time and do you honor that need? If so, how do you do that? If not, why not? What form does your self-care take? Please share.

As always, thank you for reading. I appreciate you.