Sunday, February 27, 2011

Decide To Be Happy

Some days I think we just have to decide to be happy. I somehow view happy and less happy days as something that just happens to me, rather than something I control. I blame it on whatever is happening that day like a lousy meeting or an anticipated confrontation on an issue. Or on the fact that I did not eat right or exercise that day or the one prior. Or that I had one too many cocktails the day prior. Or that it is part of my physiological cycles. I see myself as dealing with it when it happens and not controlling it's existence.

But over the last few weeks I have tried a few well publicized but rather trite techniques for being happy. And they resulted, more often than not, in a complete change in the quality of my day, no matter what was happening to me or around me in my environment. I experienced what I call intentional happiness. What a cool concept. It implies the reverse is also true. That I create my less happy days as well. I am responsible for the quality of my days. I like that. On one hand that is positive actionable knowledge, and on the other hand it makes me immensely accountable for each days moods.

Even as I refer to the term 'moods' I realize that i have typically disowned my moods, whether they were positive or negative. This new knowledge implies that those moods do not just happen but that I have control over them....

So here is a list of the things that I have practised to increase my daily dose of happy:

1. When you wake up in the morning remind yourself that you are trying this new tactic for creating a happy day. Do this before you have started the tape in your brain that lists all the less desirable things you have to do that day. The one that moans about getting up in the first place, that curses the job that forces you to get up. You know that tape. Yours may say different things but we all have one.

2. Replace the terrible tape with a list of things that are right with your world. The kids are all okay. You have a job or if you don't then you can be grateful for a day to yourself. You are warm and there is food in the kitchen and maybe a really good cup of coffee. We are not looking for the big things here. A long list of small things is more powerful than a short list of good things. Sometimes before I open my eyes I think of all the good things in my life and then I get up and start my day.

3. While you think through this list and work to make it longer, smile. Tough one some days. But it is really hard to feel physically bad when you smile. Trust me and try it. I read somewhere that Steve Martin starts his day by laughing in the mirror for one full minute. Works for him!

4. Feel peaceful and grounded and let that feeling take over your physical self. Sometimes, in order to feel grounded, it helps to feel the physical feeling of having roots which connect into the ground, like a tree does. It is easier to do after you have done the first three steps. Just trust me and try it. Someone else told me about it and for a while it meant nothing and then it just took hold. And I got it.

5. Now go out and take on your day. Have your coffee and stay with the good thoughts and ping the bad ones. Gaze peacefully at those who may harsh your mellow (love that term) and move on with your day without engaging.

I like that I can decide to be happy and then I am. A little magic in my day.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


I like that term. It involves working at something you might enjoy but not working all the time. Working on your own schedule. Choosing the number of hours and the tasks you do. Most people to whom I have spoken on this will say that the day they retired was glorious and full of the promise of doing all the things they never had time to do when they were fully employed.

And then they started doing those things and realized that they did not want to do them after all. So they tried some other things. Each person wading through the choices and finding the ones that make them hum. I have a good friend who will retire in a couple of months and she is going to get in her car and drive off on the road trip that she has planned. How exciting to go with a general agenda but be open and flexible enough to change it as new experiences come in on the horizon.

That is what retirement should be. Having a plan but being open to new ideas and shedding the old ones that turn out not to be what you had thought they could be.

I am sure that exercising more tops any list of retirement priorities since as we age our bodies require more maintenance than they used to. But most people who actually have retired say that even though they are not working they still find it difficult to fit this in. Other things that make the list are spending time in the garden, learning to cook like a chef and travelling.

My parents said they were planning to travel and did but found that as time went on they just liked to be home in the garden and hanging with family.

So here is how I see it. Make plans. Create your wish list. Start trying each item on the list and if it fits wear it. If it doesn't leave it behind. Stay flexible and be willing to add and subtract from your list as you go.

This applies to employment too. Try out different jobs that might be fun. A barista, an usher at a major sports building, the main desk at a busy fitness centre, the zoo. Volunteer or get paid a little. The goal is to have fun and still have time to do all those things you didn't have time for when you were working. It keeps you engaged socially and let's you learn new things that engage and challenge your mind and build new webs of neurons in your brain. And that will keep you interested and interesting as you age!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Breaking the Paradigms that Define Us

I took some holidays without plans mostly because I had to take them or lose them. So I planned to work on the business and maybe get a feel for how it would feel without a 'real' job. My second son who still lives at home is away in Guatemala for the week so the whole image of what it is going to be like was very real.

Day 1 was delicious. I slept in and woke up and had my coffee and read anything and everything for about two hours. Then I did a few things for the business. Then I went to the gym and did a spin class which made me feel amazing. I went home and on the way, stopped leisurely in to pick up a few groceries at the Italian deli, to make this meal I had in my mind to make. I took my dog for a walk and just appreciated the cold and snow rather than cursing it. While I put the dinner together I had a glass of the most amazing red wine, a Shiraz, called A Bird in Hand. Nothing rushed. Just simply in the moment each moment of the day.

And I realized that staying in the moment instead of staying focused on the never ending list in your head is about doing less and running less. Trying to get less into your day rather than more. Is it always realistic that we could make that happen. Not sure.

So then Day 2 arrived and started similar to Day 1 but throughout the day I was haunted by this aimless feeling of wasting time rather than treasuring each moment. I have heard others speak of it too. Wondered why it is that we feel that it is wasting time when we don't go out to do a job that has dubious relevance in the whole scheme of things and yet when we do the things that feel good and spend time with those who light us on fire, we feel an aimlessness and a low grade anxiety for not having accomplished much in our day.

I guess 35 years of going to a job that society deems as credible, sits in my mind as a relevant way to spend my time. Busy-ness is valued. Busy-ness means you are important. The secret paradigm under which I and a lot of other people were schooled. I liked this video below. Simple but it is a great illustration of how a paradigm is formed.

Is it possible to remove this programming from my brain and set up a new paradigm that actually values valuable time spent enjoying each moment rather than just filling each moment. Not sure but I intend to explore that option over the next two weeks. Since I am going back to the job, it will not truly represent the goal but it is as close as I can get right now. Emhasis on the 'right now'.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Moonlight on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa

In the name of trying new things, I have a confession to make. I have not been trying new things in my personal realm. For the business every step I make is a new thing...some of them work and some of them do not. In my work life, the one that pays the bills, as opposed to the one that sucks up my money like a black hole, I am currently on a huge learning curve that is surprisingly most enjoyable. I am at my best when I am on my learning curve. That is something I know to be true about me.

But it would seem that I can only manage so much learning curve at one time. So my realm of personal new experiences, although innately connected to my other growth experiences, is quite sadly lacking.

That is part of the reason why, last weekend, we jumped in the car and drove to Ottawa Ontario Canada to visit some friends it comes....we skated on the canal. For those of you who do not know Ottawa, the Rideau Canal winds through the city for 5 miles as the world's longest ice skating rink, and when it freezes in the winter, they clear the snow and maintain the ice surface for skating. The midnight version of this experience is not to be missed. The whole distance is well lit, safe at night and we had the natural light of the moon adding atmosphere to an already magical experience. My two almost adult boys and their girlfriends with us totally.

We went at midnight on a record cold moonlit night and there were still dozens of skaters that we passed through the night. It was one of those experiences that has been on my list for some time and there I was skimming along the ice surface completely oblivious to the freezing temperature.

It does not get any better than that.
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