Adjusting our Attitudes

Watch out for the joy-stealers: gossip, criticism, complaining, faultfinding, and a negative, judgmental attitude.”  Joyce Meyer

In last month’s blog post, we talked about enjoying our lives and appreciating moments of happiness. Sometimes our own attitudes keep us from being happy.

I have rather an ironic example. I’m in a book club in which we read and discuss books for self-improvement. We met a few months ago to discuss the first few chapters of The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. The book describes Ms. Rubin’s yearlong quest to become more happy.

Regrettably, I read the first couple of chapters with a chip on my shoulder. I thought, “This woman is a former lawyer, a published author, in a good marriage with a lawyer husband and two kids. She lives in Manhattan. Why is she not happy enough?”

That chip on my shoulder is especially ironic when you consider that her way of thinking is consistent with the Women Making Strides theme. “A woman who makes strides appreciates being alive and takes active steps to care for her body, mind, and spirit. She accepts challenges along her path and uses her God-given talents to better the world.” I encourage everyone to be the best they can be. That includes happiness.

At the book club meeting, it was obvious everyone had loved the book. We talked about deriving our own personal commandments; for example, Ms. Rubin’s “Act the way I want to feel.” We talked about decluttering as a way to happiness. And what about asking for help instead of being overworked?

I left that evening having resolved to reread those chapters without the chip on my shoulder. Would I enjoy the book more if I read it with a better attitude? I also decided to purchase a copy rather than read a copy from the library. This way I could highlight what I thought was important.

I’ve read through chapter six and attended a second book club meeting based on the book. And guess what? I’m amazed at the wisdom it contains. I find the concept exciting and life-enriching. Think about what makes you happy and what makes you feel bad. Use this information to create resolutions that will help you feel more happy. Keep track of how you do, and periodically check whether you are happier. Genius!

I no longer begrudge Ms. Rubin for seemingly having it all together. After all, who better to teach about happiness than someone who is happy? She comments, “I have such a good life, I want to appreciate it more—and live up to it better.” She also says, “Working on my happiness wouldn’t just make me happier, it would boost the happiness of the people around me.”

Recently I noticed another example of an attitude affecting happiness. My husband and I went to hear music at an outdoor venue. We loved the music and thought the band members were very talented. All four played one or two instruments, and they took turns being lead vocals. After awhile, we saw a couple we know, and the woman said, “This band doesn’t light our fire. We’re leaving.”

For a moment, I almost let that negative comment affect my mood. I thought, “I guess the band did play some songs I didn’t know. . . .” But I decided to ignore the comment and continue to enjoy the music. The couple looked tired that evening, and maybe that affected their enjoyment. I didn’t need to let it affect mine.

I will close by recommending you design your own happiness project. I am doing this also. And I know just the book to help us do that—The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.

What keeps you from being as happy as possible? If you’ve read The Happiness Project, please share your thoughts about the book.

Posted in Attitude, Happiness, positive-thinking | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Moments of Happiness

Perfect happiness is a beautiful sunset, the giggle of a grandchild, the first snowfall. It’s the little things that make happy moments, not the grand events. Joy comes in sips, not gulps.”  Sharon Draper

My mother is a big believer in being responsible for your own happiness. She always talked about finding joy in small moments and insisted that we stop and take in the beauty of an ordinary day.” – Jennifer Garner

I have a goal to declutter my life and that includes deleting 100 emails a day. The other day, I spent two hours deleting emails. I felt no satisfaction from doing this task. My husband Ken and I had decided to have a fire outside in our fire pit later that evening. As I sat deleting emails, I was looking forward to getting outside. I had a headache and knew I’d been on the computer too long, but still, I looked at every email before deleting it.

As soon as it got dark, Ken built a fire, and we sat by it with a glass of wine. We talked about the adjustments we’ve made this past year. He is newly retired, we became empty-nesters, and our dog died. But we have been making the best of things. He has been painting rooms in our house. We have been seeking out live music. We have planned some trips. Sitting by the fire and chatting was far more satisfying than deleting emails. I felt relaxed, and my headache disappeared. I felt happy.

The next day, I thought about my goal to delete 100 emails a day. Was I willing to trade another two hours of my life to clear out emails? I wasn’t. Instead I deleted a bunch of emails in a mass delete. In the future, I will be more particular when subscribing to email lists. Frittering away too much time on the computer is frittering away part of my life. I’d rather enjoy life while I can.

I learned that lesson years ago from a coworker, Don. He invited our softball team to his cottage on a lake in Wisconsin, where he owned wooded property. We went out on his boat, sunbathed, barbecued, and enjoyed being with friends. I asked Don if he went out on his boat often, and he said, “No. When I come up here, I’m usually fixing things up. I will enjoy it when I retire.” He was only about 40 at the time, but he knew how many years, months, and days until he would retire. Unfortunately, a couple of years later Don was diagnosed with cancer and subsequently passed away. He never did get to enjoy his retirement in Wisconsin.

Do you enjoy the things you have? If you have a porch, do you sit on it? If you have a fireplace, do you use it? I am guilty of that one. Our house has a fireplace, but we seldom use it.

When we think of the happy moments in our lives, we tend to remember big events—our wedding day, the birth of our children, a graduation. Or we look forward to future events. The day we retire. An upcoming vacation. A holiday.

But what about today? Surely we’ve had moments of happiness. Let’s enjoy the present moment and look for bright spots in our days. Our lives are a gift to enjoy. Yes, we face challenges and dramas and bad times. Life is not 100% joyful. But that is all the more reason to appreciate the happy moments.

I am usually happy when I’m in nature. That crackling fire. A river rushing over rocks. A visit to our arboretum. I am also happy when I’m with family and friends.

The other day, my husband Ken and I enjoyed a 4-mile hike at a forest preserve. We passed a small lake, a creek, and a marsh. Birds were calling and leaves were rustling. And today, Ken and I walked for two miles in a nearby subdivision. It was a beautiful day. We explored and looked at landscaping. These were moments of happiness.

The little moments can make us happy. . . or not. How are we spending our little moments? Are we staring at a computer, TV, or cell phone? Are we fretting over little things—like the fact that it’s raining or too hot? Do we seek out happiness? Let’s try to appreciate small moments rather than always thinking of our do lists.

When have you felt happy recently? What would make you happy this summer?

 

Posted in Happiness, Nature, Proactive | Tagged , , | 12 Comments

Making Better Choices

Your life is basically a sum of all the choices you make. The better your choices, the better opportunity to lead a happy life.”  Karen Salmansohn

Last fall, low rates were offered for the Naperville Women’s Half Marathon to be held on my father’s birthday, April 23. I signed up for the race on a whim and then forgot about it. But upon the New Year, I realized I’d better start training if I was doing the race. Winter is not a motivating time to run in the Chicago area, but I couldn’t wait until winter was over. Part of me said, “You only paid $30. You’re out of shape. If you don’t do it, it’s no big deal.”

naperville women's half-marathon start

But it was a big deal. Many friends from my running club would be running the race. If I wimped out, how would I feel watching everyone else run the race? And how would I feel if I participated, but wasn’t fit enough to do it properly, struggling to walk it and aching for days afterward? I decided I’d be happier if I trained properly. I could do the race if I worked to lose a little weight and get running-fit.

My first goal was to easily run a local four-mile fun run on February 4. I exercised, but I wasn’t consistent. February 4 was a cold day, and I wasn’t sure I could keep up with the other runners. Besides, I had an opportunity to go out for breakfast. I backed out of the fun run. I had missed my first goal for getting in running condition for the race.

I decided to process this fact without beating myself up. In the afternoon that same day, I ran on my own when it was a little warmer. I ran 3.5 miles, and part of the time I felt I was running smoothly and almost easily. So I wasn’t that far behind where I wanted to be. I decided to push myself to exercise, eat properly, and train seriously. This would be a healthier choice than giving up.

I reflected on the fact that the race was to be held on my father’s birthday. Dad passed away eight years ago from complications due to diabetes and obesity. What would I be saying by running a half-marathon on his birthday? Dad did not want us to follow in his footsteps as far as health. He was very proud of his grandchildren, including their fitness and athletic abilities.

And my parents did things differently from their parents. They both had relatives who drank heavily, and they chose not to do that. They moved out to the suburbs, even though their families lived in the city. They were the first on both sides to send their kids to college. I decided to do the race in honor of Dad’s example of choosing a better way for himself and his family.

I joined a training group and began to train in earnest. I gave up sweets for Lent and made healthier food choices. Our first long run was six miles in early March, and by the end of the training I had done two ten-mile runs. The training presented many challenges. My legs knotted up badly and often ached, and I had plantar fasciitis (pain in my heel). Often, I was the last person back from the runs. At times, I thought I couldn’t do it, but I addressed each challenge as it came along. I used a foam roller, did yoga, and arranged for a deep-tissue massage. I followed suggestions for fueling my runs and told myself it didn’t matter if I was sometimes last. Many of the runners were younger than me, more fit, and had done half-marathons before. I was working as hard as anybody.

My friend Rachell said she would run the race with me. I decided to take her up on her offer. She is a very supportive friend, and it would give us an opportunity to spend time together.

The day before the race, I was extremely nervous, and my legs were aching. I rolled my legs and stretched, then wrote myself a pep talk to get mentally prepared. I knew I had trained hard. I thought of supportive comments made by friends, such as “You’ve got this!” My husband Ken reminded me that I’d done sprint triathlons many years ago. Those required that I learn how to swim. Running a half-marathon just meant I had to put one foot in front of the other and keep going. I said affirmations and visualized myself crossing the finish line, knowing my husband and my sister Mary would be at the race to support me.

And as far as I’m concerned, I did succeed. No, I didn’t have the fastest time, but I ran the race steadily and felt strong throughout. Surprisingly, it was fun. It was a beautiful, sunny day with many spectators and pretty scenery. Rachell and I ran with intervals of 4 minutes running, 1.5 minutes walking. Around the five-mile mark, I saw my oldest daughter, Katie, cheering me on along with Ken and Mary. As I ran, I remembered my Dad and thought, “I’m choosing a better way like Dad did” and, one of his favorite sayings, “Don’t be a chicken all your life!” Rachell and I had a great time and stayed together during the entire race, crossing the finish line together.

rachell and I during the race

Rachell (left) and I during the race

standing on the finisher's podium

On the finisher’s podium

I mentioned in my last blog post that this is a milestone year for me. I will turn 60 in July. Running a half-marathon was my way to mark turning 60. This is my statement of how I plan to be in my sixties—doing my part to be fit and healthy.

Are you making the best decisions for you, regardless of what others have chosen? What are you doing to stay fit and healthy?

Posted in Affirmations, Challenges, Goals, Inspiration, Integrity, Motivation, Running | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Coaching Ourselves In Our Journals

Self-coaching is what I teach coaches and clients to do. . . . We each have the ability to learn wisdom, and as we learn wisdom, we become our own counselor.”  Martha Beck, as quoted here.

We’ve talked in this blog about getting support from a counselor, friend, or a life coach. But often the best person to advise us is ourselves. I use my journal as a tool to coach myself.

I journal almost every day. Journals are a place to vent, but last year I became aware of how often I beat myself up in my journal. Complaining about my mistakes or my lack of motivation only reinforces negative thoughts about myself. I have been working to change that. I ask, “Would I talk to a friend this way?” If not, then maybe I shouldn’t write or talk to myself that way either. I still sometimes say I will do something differently next time, but it is more of a note than a criticism.

I try to write something constructive in my journal or to answer journaling prompts. This has made my journaling more relevant and empowering. Here are some prompts that I consider important:

  • If I were confident, how would I talk and act about my goals?”
  • What am I grateful for?”
  • What are my intentions for today?”

And sometimes I use my journal to coach myself about specific goals—most recently for training for a race. I write down when I’ve done well and when something needs changing. One evening early in my training, I realized I hadn’t exercised that day. I wrote, “Oh no, I’m already failing.” But instead of staying in that negative mood, I asked myself if there was anything I could do about it. I decided to go for a walk in the dark and invited my husband to join me. Surprisingly (since it was only 2 degrees outside), he said yes.

Here is additional coaching I’ve given myself about my running:

  • When I’m wondering what to do next, go for a walk. Stretch or use the foam roller. Go for a run.
  • I did not meet an interim goal I had set towards my bigger race goal. Rather than be despondent, I am using that fact to push myself into exercising, eating properly, and training seriously.
  • I am giving up sugar. I’m not going to be ultra strict, but when I want sweets, I will try to choose fruit, yogurt, or a hot chocolate. Food is a fuel. I want to give myself the opportunity to lose a little weight and build muscle.
  • It is difficult for me when there’s a buffet or “free food.” As a kid, I was taught to eat a lot in such situations. As an adult, I need to change that way of thinking. Eat the healthy food and get away from the table. Go socialize instead.
  • It is taking me too long to get ready for 7:00 AM long runs. I will create a checklist of items needed and get ready the night before.
  • When I recieve conflicting advice about my training, I will consider the advice and then do what I think is best.

We can use our journals to coach ourselves about anything. We just need to remember that a coach is supportive. A coach asks questions and pokes about next steps. A coach helps us overcome challenges and improve our lives.

Journaling prompts: Do you speak to yourself like you would to a friend? How have you coached yourself?

This post was written in response to an invitation from Dawn Herring at www.dawnherring.net. Thank you, Dawn. It is part of a #JournalChat Open House on the topic “Your Journaling: The Greatest Relevance.”

 

Posted in Goals, journaling, Leading Ourselves | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Still Unwritten

“Today is where your book begins, the rest is still unwritten.” – Natasha Bedingfield

Some years ago, I faced a milestone birthday. I thought, “If I’m ever going to get my teeth straightened, now is the time. It is less likely that I will do it when I get older. How many older people do I see with braces on their teeth?”

That milestone year also motivated me to start exercising. Exercise had never been a big part of my life, except for physical education classes. That year I said, “It’s now or never. If I don’t establish an exercise habit now, it will be harder as I age.” I didn’t know how to swim except for dog paddling from one side of the pool to the other, so I went to the pool and practiced putting my face in the water. I also took a beginner’s triathlon class in which the other participants ran around the track, while I walked. That is the year I started doing triathlons, and I did them for the next three years.

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Women’s Triathlon – Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games _ Flickr

This year, I face another milestone birthday. I told my counselor I feel it is now or never once again for my goals: losing that ten pounds; running that race; really making headway on that book. She responded, “Yes, you need to make the most of the here-and-now. But there are no real deadlines. It’s never too late to reach for your goals.”

I said, “But it’s less likely to happen the older I get—especially writing a book.”

She said, “Not necessarily. Everything happens at the right time. When it is the right time for you, your book will flow. Keep working the Artist Way program, and your book will unfold in its own way.”

Shortly after that discussion, I went for a run and listened to music, including the song “Unwritten” by Natasha Bedingfield:

“I am unwritten
Can’t read my mind
I’m undefined
I’m just beginning
The pen’s in my hand
Ending unplanned”

This song gave me hope and inspiration. I wrote in my journal, “If I had to pick a theme song for this phase of my life, I’d pick ‘Unwritten’. It appeals to me as a writer, and it reminds me I do have time.”

Coincidentally, a couple of days later, a friend sang on Facebook, “Feel the rain on your skin / No one else can do it for you / Only you can let it in /.” These lyrics are from that same song. They speak to me of paying attention and enjoying life.

The song also reinforces a theme I’ve learned in the Artist Way class, which is that we need to stop demanding perfection of ourselves:

“Sometimes my tries are outside the lines
We’ve been conditioned to not make mistakes
But I can’t live that way”

My counselor had said something similar–that I will develop more will-power once I have more self-empathy. I’m too hard on myself.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’ve been in counseling for over a year. The reason I mention it openly is that I hope to inspire you, my readers, to get help if you need it. Life is short. We should not be ashamed to get support whether it be in a group, by talking to a friend, or via counseling. I went to counseling because of anxiety and sleepless nights. I am doing much better now and am happy to report that my next counseling session will be my last.

Here is the link to “Unwritten”. Enjoy, and please let me know how the song affects you.

Are there issues in your life that need addressing? Is there a song that gives you inspiration?

 

Posted in exercise, Goals, Leading Ourselves, Proactive, Self-compassion, Support | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

Our Sisterhood Connections

“We don’t need to share the same opinions as others, but we need to be respectful.”
– Taylor Swift

I recently contributed a small piece to the book #Sisterhood Connection: A Year of Empowerment. It is ironic that my copy of the book arrived this past week. Why do I say ironic? The phrase “Sisterhood Connection” is certainly in line with my Women Making Strides theme. However, there is currently a great deal of discord between women in the United States and in other parts of the world.

We are not discussing political issues here. What we are doing is looking at our own behaviors and thinking about our connections with other women.

cropped-my-friend-rachell-and-i-both-contributed-to-this-book

My friend Rachell Kitchen (right) and I both contributed to this book.

I hesitate to list the comments between women that I’ve seen and heard recently. This blog is meant to be encouraging and gentle and the words I’ve heard lately have been anything but gentle. There has been much inflammatory language including name calling, insults, and swearing. There has been demonizing of entire groups of people. We forget these are our friends, neighbors, mothers, and daughters.

I used to think maybe someday Women Making Strides could form groups of women walking and talking about topics like gratitude and facing challenges. I once belonged to such a group. It was a small group, and it included gay women, straight women, liberals, and conservatives. We got along just fine. I also thought perhaps I could change the Women Making Strides Facebook page to be more interactive, so we could have discussions online.

Given the recent turmoil, I wonder if such ideas were foolish. Facebook, for example, is no longer necessarily a pleasant place. Many of us are in reactive mode. We are stressed: we don’t understand how others can feel so differently than we do. We worry about what might happen, and we react to the latest news immediately. We speak out, perhaps too hastily.

The political unrest and the discord between women disturbs me so much I can’t sleep many nights. It isn’t healthy to be so upset and I try to stay off of social media in the evening. We need to take good care of ourselves during what is a traumatic time for many of us. Regretfully, self-care may include staying away from people who are consistently confrontational. We need some relief.

Some women, including me, need to express our opinions, especially when we see things we think are wrong. I have the right to speak out, as do you. However, we need to do this without inflammatory language, and we need to pick the right venue for expressing ourselves. Some women exercise their right to assemble peacefully. We can also speak out by calling or emailing government officials. Or we can join groups or make donations to support the causes we feel most strongly about. We can keep positive and pray. These are more empowering and productive than getting caught up in dramas, which I admit I’ve done.woman-writing-email

There are signs of hope. I belong to a running club that is largely women, and most of the time we stay off the subject of politics. We talk instead about our families, how our running is going, fitness, etc. However, I have had discussions about politics while running one-on-one with women in the group whose political views differ from mine. I feel we listened to each other with mutual respect. We didn’t change each other’s opinions, but we understood each other better.

I also belong to a women’s meetup group where we socialize and get together to discuss self-improvement books. We met first as strangers, and now we meet as friends. We have common interests that draw us together despite our differences, and we often laugh together.

All of us come from different backgrounds. Can we respect our differences and try to understand each other? Can we stay connected with our “sisters”?

How do you take care of yourself during stressful times? How do you deal with people whose opinions differ from yours?

Posted in Challenges, Friendship, Making a Difference, Proactive, self-care, Stress, Women | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Happiness and Hygge

“Life can pass us by so quickly, and before we know it, it’s gone. All those small moments in between the big moments are just as important and precious. Feelings of connection, presence, simplicity, and joy are what enriches our lives at a deeper level.” – Pia Edberg

Have you heard about hygge? I just discovered this concept recently, but found it intriguing and have been reading up on it. Hygge is a Danish word, pronounced HOO-gah that roughly translates as “cozy”. Hygge can include eating cake, sitting by a fire with a cozy blanket, reading, and drinking hot chocolate. Candles should be lit.

When I first heard about hygge, I felt excited. Ah, what a concept after all I’ve learned about getting out of my comfort zone! I figured if the Danes say hygge is good, it’s worth investigating. Denmark has been listed as the happiest nation in the world according to the World Happiness Report. (The U.S. ranked 13th.) If the happiest people in the world think comfort is good, who am I to argue?

To an extent, hygge is how I strive to lead my life. I enjoy travel and getting out, but I’m also a homebody—I love to wear fleece, drink tea, and read mysteries. I especially enjoy watching mystery shows with my husband and sitting by a fire with a glass of wine. Learning about hygge affirms that my fleece-loving lifestyle is a good one.

But I could do better at hygge. In one of my favorite blogs, Life on the Cutoff, Penny writes, “I read Roots to the Earth this afternoon, in the company of a few tasty gingerbread men and a steamy cup of coffee. Attendees to the Naperville Garden Club’s annual Christmas house walk, tea, and market, A Cup of Cheer, receive a cup and saucer to take home.” A picture shows coffee in her lovely new china cup with cookies on the saucer. I go to that same Christmas house walk every year, but my pretty souvenir cups sit in my china cabinet. Penny’s post reminded me to use those pretty cups. That is more hygge.

You may have noticed I tend to analyze things. Hygge sounds nice, but as a lifestyle, couldn’t it lead to lethargy and weight gain? Carried to an extreme, couldn’t it lead to agoraphobia? Is coziness really the main ingredient for happiness?

So I read more about hygge and the Denmark lifestyle. Hygge is not usually a solitary pastime. It is a state of warmth and companionship. Cell phones are turned off. Drama is not allowed. People are relaxed.

This made me think about my friend Debbie. On short notice last month, she invited my husband, me, and another couple to come over for pizza before we drove to watch her husband perform in a musical show. She didn’t fuss; she served chips with a homemade salsa before the pizza, and she heated homemade peach pie for dessert. There was a deep blanket of snow outside, but we were cozy inside, enjoying our simple meal and laughing with longtime friends. That’s hygge.

Deb inspires me to try to be ready for company on short notice. I tend to put a big effort into every meal served to company – and as a consequence, I don’t entertain much. Deb pulled that homemade pie and some ice cream out of the freezer. I could pull out cookies and ice cream. This year, I baked several kinds of cookies for Christmas and froze some. Why not always have homemade goodies in the freezer, ready for guests—or even just ourselves—to enjoy?

I suspect hygge is especially nice during the dark, cold days of winter, but the Danes enjoy it all year. They light candles year-round to create a cozy atmosphere.

We can set up our own homes for comfort and warmth, especially in winter. If we are inside due to bad weather, we can be cozy with friends and family, a warm drink, and a fire or candlelight. I’m currently inside with a cold, so I’ve been drinking lots of tea, reading mysteries, and watching recordings of Downton Abbey. I’ve also been eating chicken noodle soup and wrapping myself in fleece while I rest. Feels hygge to me!

However, hygge is only part of the Danish lifestyle. Danes are very active and are outdoors a lot. “Even the slightest hint of spring sun will make Danes head outdoors for strolling, jogging and café life.”  (See here.) Danes also swim and ride bikes—many ride their bikes to work year-round. I suspect this balance of activity and comfort contributes to their happiness.

So maybe the lesson taught by hygge is not so much staying cozy as making the best of life and enjoying simple pleasures, much like the French with their joie de vivre. We can enjoy comfort in addition to getting fresh air and exercise.

What hygge also says is to notice and appreciate the good moments. Look forward to good times, enjoy them, and then remember. Elevate the moments by using that Cup of Cheer china cup.

I hope you make the best of the remaining winter months, and have a happy and hygge New Year in 2017.

What can you do to enjoy some hygge this winter? What can you do to increase happiness in your life?

 

Posted in Happiness, Hygge | Tagged , | 12 Comments