Wednesday, December 30, 2009
So the book that inspired my happiness project for this year is out on bookshelves now! I already preordered a copy, but since I'm out of town, it's sitting in my neighbor's apartment, who kindly agreed to collect our mail each day. I'm tempted to go buy another one just so I can read it now! But I guess I'll be sensible and wait until I get home.
I already read the Happiness Project blog, but I'm really excited about reading this book, as well. There's something so personal and comfortable about reading a book. I can't wait to fold down the corners of pages I really like, or to see the book stacked among my favorite books on my shelf once I'm done.
I always feel like when people come into my home and see my book shelf with my most beloved books, they get a glimpse into what I am about. Along with my "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child," my "How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk," my "Collected works of Flannery O'Connor," my "Creative Counterpart," and my "Super Baby Food" books, I think that "The Happiness Project" will be one of those books I'll continually learn from and that I'll enjoy reading again and again. If any of you read it, let me know what you think, too!
What books do you keep on your shelf even when you've read them many times?
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Last year, I had the privilege of having a weekly "girls' night out" with some of my dear friends. It was one of most effective ways of boosting my happiness that I have ever experienced, and now that I have moved, I miss it so much! One of my dear friends that started these "girls' nights" with me is Lauren Earl Carter. Lauren is a consistently sweet and cheerful person who also happens to have the most adorable English accent you've ever heard. (I had a friend crush on her from the moment I met her and was so pleased to become her friend!) Anyway, she's been through some pretty yucky struggles since she moved back to America recently...from regular old homesickness to immigration issues to applying and getting funding for grad school (she's going to be a really exceptional social worker one day!), to figuring out how to juggle a job and school and life as a newlywed. The amazing thing about Lauren to me, though, is that throughout all her hectic schedule and being thousands of miles from her family, she maintains a positive and encouraging spirit. She is one of those people that leaves you feeling energized and happy!
I admit it--I'm jealous! And so I wanted to learn how she does it. So...
Here are a few of her answers to some of my happiness questions:
1. How do you cheer yourself up when you're feeling blue?
Baking cakes and pies - especially baking the things my mother used to make for me as a child - cheer's me up whenever I'm feeling bad! But for a quicker solution, a vanilla chia tea also does the job!
2. What have been the happiest experiences of your life so far?
a. Seeing how proud my dad was of me when I graduated from University.
b. Being married. It's been such a wonderful experience so far, and I love the ways my husband can continually surprise me, and realizing that we still have so much more to learn about each other.
c. Being in graduate school. As hard as it is, training to be in a career that you love is so rewarding and fulfilling each day!
3. What is something small that you do regularly that makes you happier?
When I was growing up, I was told that if I smiled as soon as I woke up in the morning, I would smile for the rest of the day. That's my preventative measure for waking up on the wrong side of the bed!
So now we know her secret...smiling and vanilla chai tea! I do think that just smiling can lift my spirits. What a good idea to smile first thing each day. I'm going to try it this week. Of course, I'm already on vacation with my family, so I'm not sure how much happier I can get, but it's worth a shot!
What's your favorite comfort food?
Saturday, December 26, 2009
Today I'm reflecting on the good stuff that happened in the past year. Here's my list so far:
1. My husband graduated with his Ph.D.!
2. My husband got a really cool post-doc position
3. I learned a lot of Spanish!
4. Our daughter turned 3!
5. Our daughter started a morning preschool program that we ALL really love.
6. I got to go to Disney and the beach with my family!
7. My niece officially got adopted, finally!
8. We somehow managed to move in next to the BEST neighbors in the world!
9. We got to spend extended time with our extended family at both Thanksgiving and Xmas.
10. Our dog Padme turned out not to have cancer, after a strange tumor scare.
What wonderful and amazing things happened in your life this past year?
Friday, December 25, 2009
I'm on vacation hanging out with my family right now. So, I haven't been posting as much as usual. That's because I'm trying to appreciate the people in front of me. Not that I don't appreciate those I keep up with online or by phone, but there's something so special about getting to lean on my sister's shoulder or see how my niece cracks up at her granddad. So, I'm off to enjoy the people I'm with a bit, for the short time I'm with them! Enjoy your friends and family, as well!
Thursday, December 24, 2009
I was in a bad mood this morning. Tense, a little sick, irritated at my insurance company that won’t cover out of state doctor’s visits.
But after exploring in the woods with my niece and daughter for a little while, my mood lifted! Really, significantly, lifted!
It could be that the exercise was good for me. It could be that the fresh air perked me up. Or, it just could be that being in nature is pretty darn good for the soul.
We walked up trees growing sideways, balanced on fallen logs, hung from low limbs, built a hut, found an amazing centipede (or millipede?) under a log. We pointed out trees and holes that looked like good homes for animals. We generally observed nature and tried to enjoy it. It reminded me of one of my favorite quotes, “I will be the gladdest thing under the sun. I will touch a hundred flowers and not pick one. I will look at cliffs and clouds with quiet eyes, watch the wind blow down the grass, and the grass rise.”
There is something inspiring, rejuvenating about being in nature. Seeing tiny seedlings pushing up through decaying leaves, stretching up toward the towering mature trees overhead. Just looking up, sometimes, can give me a bit of an energy boost.
My clients are often surprised that we can work on speech goals in a speech session outside in the back yard, or on a walk, or even at the park. Some of my best speech sessions have been outside at children’s homes. When a child sees a grasshopper jump out of the grass, or a bird fly from a tree, or a squirrel digging for a nut, they innately want to comment about it. Especially for children who are not yet imitative, or who do not respond well to traditional therapy strategies like withholding toys until they verbally request them, being in nature is a strategy that can really work to facilitate spontaneous speech production.
During my vacation, I’m going to try my best to experience nature with my daughter and niece every day. Even if just by looking up while driving in the car on our way somewhere.
How do you experience nature in your day to day life?
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlisch (wonderful authors of How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk) give great advice about happiness--they say to be your child's storehouse of happy memories and accomplishments and to retell these stories to strengthen your child's view of themselves. As I've been hanging out with my niece and daughter this week for the holidays, I've really been trying to retell happy stories for them, and it really has made the girls happy, and me, too!
What stories do you love to tell about your family? Are you creating moments now that will one day be part of your family's storehouse of happy memories and accomplishments?
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
I am lucky enough to know quite a few people who have not just sat back and let life happen to them, but who have taken steps to make their lives what they want them to be. One of these people is Jessica, my sister’s best friend from college, who I have come to know and love, as well. Jessica is a chemist and a single mom by choice. She is a pretty amazing new mom who actually makes her own baby food AND works full time. (Did you know that’s actually possible?!?) Anyway, I think she’s pretty inspiring. Here are her answers to 3 of my happiness questions:
1. How do you cheer yourself up when you're feeling blue?
I do my best to remember that other people have “it” worse (whatever that may be). I had a group of friends that was VERY cynical and discovered that it really affected my day to day outlook and I stopped hanging around with them as much. Being positive and seeing the bright side is a conscious choice that keeps me from getting bogged down in self pity. Even music choices affect things. If I listen to hard tales about broken hearts, etc. it’s easy to start feeling like that’s my life. If I choose upbeat or fun or even well-done pensive songs, I feel better.
2. What have been the happiest experiences of your life so far?
I had a blast in grad school going out and partying with friends, but that wasn’t meant to carry over into “real” life. My son, for sure – dancing, playing on the floor, feeling him move while I was pregnant, you name it. Robby gave me a higher purpose in life. Reconnecting with distant friends and relatives through email/facebook/letters, whatever.
3. What is something small that you do regularly that makes you happier?
Take my time in the shower really letting the water run over my head (this is pretty therapeutic too – been known to sob in the shower when I needed to). Cook interesting, healthy meals for myself or others. Sing LOUDLY in the car. Focus on something I can control and try not to worry about the rest.
See, I told you she's inspiring!
OK, I know there’s a ton of research out there documenting how marriage satisfaction and overall satisfaction in life drop when you have children, but, seriously, those studies must be flawed! I totally agree with Jessica that having a child gives me a sense of a higher purpose in life, which just MUST be related to happiness. Maybe “satisfaction” is different than happiness? Just an idea.
Also, after I interviewed Jessica, I really paid attention to the way music affected my happiness level for a few days. It really did make me happier to listen to upbeat artists! And it was nice to give myself an extra reason to listen to cheesy songs on my way in between clients’ houses. (I normally listen to Spanish learning CDs in the car, but I’m taking a little break over the holidays. Sometimes it makes me happy to take a break from things that make me happy, like learning another language!)
What songs or artists make you happiest?
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Partner Up: My Happiness Commandment #9
“Partner Up” is a happiness commandment that I use to remind myself that I am not an island. I need help sometimes, and partnering up is my term for asking for help.
When I was at a loss as to how to potty train my daughter, I needed to partner up with a buddy and see what worked for her kids. When I am going crazy at work trying to meet a thousand deadlines, I need to partner up with my hubby to figure out how to juggle the household chores that are not gonna get done by me that week. When I’m having a hard time figuring out how to motivate a client, I need to partner up with their parents or a colleague to get someone else’s insight or just to help me think through the problem.
I find that short phrases work well to motivate me, and “Partner Up” sounds better than “ask for help”, which frankly makes me feel like a loser. Some people say that they tell themselves to “Power through,” or “Just do it,” or “Be strong.” I remember when I lived in the frigid arctic (a.k.a. Boston) and I was trying to lug in groceries up four flights of stairs with no elevator all the way from where I parked our car four blocks away in the snow, I would tell myself, “You will succeed at everything!,” a phrase that was in a fortune cookie I got one time. That phrase helped me muster the strength to do what needed to be done.
So maybe “Partner Up” will never be as famous as “Just do it,” and will never appear in a gazillion shoe and athletic drink commercials, but I think it’s a pretty good personal commandment.
At the very least, it deserves the chance to be in a fortune cookie. You know, in one of those non-fortune fortune cookies that really just state a proverb or tell you to smile.
On second thought, then someone would just say, “Partner up…in bed,” and the wisdom would be lost. Although, “Just do it…in bed,” is pretty funny, too, and that is actually a pretty wise phrase (the just do it part, I mean!). Although I guess keeping your romance alive is also wise. Okay, this post is spiraling out of control.
So Partner Up when you're feeling overwhelmed! And then order Chinese, and keep your eyes peeled for wisdom.
What short phrases stick with you when you need motivation?
Monday, December 14, 2009
I’m in love with these books called, “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk,” and “Liberated Parents, Liberated Children” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlisch.
Seriously, in love. I’ve given the first book as a baby shower gift to like a thousand women who probably think I’m crazy and wonder why I didn’t buy something from their registry.
But back to my point. Be authentic. (My happiness commandment #7)
Somewhere in the second book, the fantastic authors of these books about how to be a fantastic parent give us permission as parents to have yucky feelings and to let our kids know about them. Did you hear that? Seriously, the authors say that if we are feeling angry and try to act all happy with our children (or spouses, or whoever we are with), then we are doing a disservice to the child because they can read our emotions, and our actions/words will not match our feelings, which will confuse them. The authors say that, rather than put on a happy face when we are about to blow our top, we should say something like, “Mommy is very unhappy right now. I see ink pen all over my brand new tablecloth. I’m steamed!” Without assigning blame, without insulting, without hurting feelings, parents should be authentic in their emotions. Describe the situation, your feelings, and state what you need. This allows children to learn that sometimes they have to consider another person’s feelings, helps them see your point of view, and helps them develop empathy, as well.
I tried the whole being “authentic” thing a few weeks ago. I woke up with a migraine and was feeling very nauseated on that Monday, and to top it all off, my husband was out of town and I had just gotten back from being out of town and had absolutely no groceries in the house. I had to scrounge up some frozen bagels for breakfast and packed my daughter a lunch of canned soup in her thermos with a few raisins I found in the bottom of the pantry. Not my best moment as a parent.
Then, as I was sitting on the floor of the bathroom trying my best not to let myself throw up, my daughter decided that the Dora video and frozen bagel I had given her were not as interesting as I had passed them off to be and ventured into the bathroom asking me to play playdough with her. Normally, I would’ve slapped a smile on my face and done my best to redirect her to some fun activity she could do on her own. But I was feeling hid-e-ous-ly! Plus, I had just read about being authentic, so I said, “Honey, mommy is feeling very sick right now. I have a headache and loud sounds make me want to throw up. I need to be by myself for a few minutes until I feel better.” This was hard for me to say, and I worried that it was going to upset her. (Up until now, I had always been the “smile and make everything okay” mother.) But amazingly, rather than crumple to the floor in despair because I couldn’t open her playdough for her (as I had anticipated would happen), my toddler actually came over, rubbed my back, leaned her head on my head, and said, “Mommy, what can I do to make you feel better?” If I hadn’t already been on the floor, I would’ve fallen down. Then she went back to her frozen bagel and Dora movie until my ibuprofin and bengay substitute for Head-On kicked in. Authentic works, apparently.
I’m also trying to be more authentic in other situations, like, telling my supervisor if I’m feeling overwhelmed, or trying to be more straightforward and less overly-reassuring with clients when they ask about prognosis. It’s a work in progress, because I’m a people-pleaser, but it’s getting easier!
Do you ever feel like you’re being “fake” around certain people? If not, please, tell me your secret to authenticity!!
Saturday, December 12, 2009
When you look at this photo, you probably see the cute little girl licking the birthday candle, right?
Not me! I see the lopsided cake that I decorated for my daughter's recent birthday. Which brings me to my Happiness Commandment # 6:
Do your best and be done with it.
I’m pretty good at the first part of this commandment. It’s the second part I have a hard time with. I usually do my best, and then …….I go over the thousands of things I could have done differently that would’ve made the project/cake/meeting/(insert important task here) just that much better, then feel guilty that I didn’t think of that before, then end up feeling like maybe I really hadn’t done my best, then feel guilty that I actually didn’t do my best, then wonder why I can’t fall asleep even though the project I’m thinking about is done and out of my hands now.
My mom used to tell me when I was growing up, “Do your best, and that’s all you can do.” At the time, I thought that meant I needed to do my best at everything I tried to do. But now I see the other part of it, as well. There’s a release involved when you know you’ve done your best. If you know you’ve done your best, you don’t have to rethink and mull over a project when it’s done. You gave it your best. Now be done with it.
I think this idea is especially hard when you have a child with a disability. Say, for instance, your child has autism, and you are trying to do your best to figure out which type of therapy is right for your child. The stakes are high. The pressure is on. You do your research, get (often unsolicited!) advice from everybody and their mother, then make an educated decision and choose a program you think will work for you. You've done your best! Now let it go for a while. You obviously want to reassess the program in 3-6 months to be sure your child is progressing well with it, but don't second guess yourself every day.
I've also had parents tell me that they feel guilty about things like: a) starting early intervention too late, b) not being able to give their child with a disability enough attention because of other responsibilities, c) wondering whether something they did or didn't do during the pregnancy could've caused the disability, etc. Here's the truth of the matter: ALL parents feel guilty that they didn't do things perfectly every second of their child's life. And the important thing is, that all of the parents I have ever worked with have done the very best they could do given the situation.
So, yes, maybe you were busy processing the reality of your child's disability and a few months went past without early intervention. It happens, and it's not the end of the world. And maybe if you quit your job and hired a full time nanny for all your other children and a personal assistant for all of your errands, you could totally attend to your child at all times. (and be in debt up to your eyeballs!) And maybe you did take Nyquil (like me!) for a few days before you knew you were pregnant. (Whew, turns out the umbilical cord wasn't formed yet!)
But, hey, you did the best you could at the time. And that's all you can do.
I’ve retyped this post more times than I’ve retyped any of the other ones. How’s that for irony? Like I said, I’m working on the second part of the commandment.
What saying do you remember your parent(s) saying over and over when you were growing up? Was it helpful then? Is it helpful now?
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Have fun. My happiness commandment #4.
It seems crazy to have to will myself to have fun, but, alas, this is what my life has come to.
It’s so easy for me to bark orders at my daughter when we’re rushing around from home to school to work to the bank to the grocery store, while trying to squeeze in potty breaks and figure out how she has blue paint on her stomach under her shirt. But when I consciously make a choice to lighten up, be silly, and have fun regardless of the situation, it makes for a big happiness boost for me (and for the rest of the family!).
I used to think of this more along the lines of “have fun experiences,” when my daughter was tiny. I’d try to dream up fun outings we could do or places we could go (the park, the zoo, a museum, etc.), and if we did said outing, I’d think, “Check, we had fun today!”
But lately I’ve realized that it’s not the activity that creates the fun…it’s me! Shopping at Target can be a really fun time for us if I just relax and let myself be silly while we’re shopping. Likewise, even if we’re at a circus with clowns hand-feeding us eating cotton candy (Is that super-fun or a little creepy? I was aiming for super-fun.), I can zap the joy right out of the moment with one harsh word or moment of impatience.
Today while doing speech therapy with some really amazing kiddos, I tried to help an older sister learn to have fun with her little sister by singing the speckled frog song. Just fun, no teaching. Sometimes kids with disabilities get taught at so much that we forget they can actually learn by just having fun, too! This was one of our best sessions, and we got some 2 word sentences from this typically one word at a time kiddo. Yay, fun and productive sessions make me happy.
Have fun! This one should be so easy! But I guess I’m getting old and crotchety, since I have to work at it.
How do you inject fun into your everyday life? On the flip-side, are there times when you’ve accidentally made fun activities into drudgery (and how did you recover from it?)?
I've started thinking about my personal "Happiness Commandments", and one of the first ones I have adopted is, "Do what needs to be done."
This happiness commandment is brilliant.
I can say that, because I didn’t think of it, happiness guru Gretchen Rubin did.
It seems so simple, but it’s probably the commandment I have said to myself more than any of the others in the past week. It works for all those things I don’t like to do but feel much better after having done. Laundry is the main one that comes to mind for me, but this also includes doing dishes, filing paperwork, writing reports, mopping, checking voice/e-mail—I’m sure you get the idea! In the moment, these things do not bring me happiness (and actually often bring me stress!), but after the fact, it is such a weight off of my shoulders that I (almost) forget the drudgery it took to get the task over and done with.
Speaking of which, I just finished an evaluation report that took me 3 hours to write...ugh! I hated every second of writing the report, but now, I can feel relaxed rather than tense as I blog. I DO feel a little happier after doing what needed to be done.
And tired. So now, off to bed.
What tasks that you hate bring you the most relief (and even happiness!) once completed?
Monday, December 7, 2009
"sometimes our love is like a mountain,
solid and steep, grounded in heat and
sometimes we rage like a river
cold and fast then quiet and deep
we ride the storm
'cause when it's through
we have changed
and love is new
i want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees
i want to do with you what spring does
i want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees
i want to do with you what spring does"
These are some lyrics from one of my favorite bands of all time, the Weepies. Their music puts me in a happy place no matter how hard my day has been. They actually sing a song called the Gladdest Thing, which inspired the name of this blog. Anyway, I love the song above, Cherry Trees, because it describes something I think is so important to finding happiness in relationships: Change.
Relationships change. Constantly.
I was lucky enough to marry my high school sweetheart. You can bet that our relationship has changed over the years! We are two very different people now than we were when we met, or even when we married. But somehow we've been lucky enough to change and grow together rather than apart. What makes us different than all those couples who grow apart over time? I'm not really sure.
One theory I have, though, is that I have never expected for our relationship to stay the same for any length of time. Before we got married, I remember that my mom gave me some advice. It was something like, "There will be times when you're totally passionately in love, and there will be times when you are kind of more like roommates, and there will be times when you are completely annoyed by one another, but don't worry, because it will cycle back through." This cyclical view of relationship development made sense to me, so I never freaked out when one of us was suddenly different, because I knew that we'd figure it out again.
Another theory I have is that I am the luckiest woman on earth and have a totally amazing husband who is patient with my craziness.
Either way, I do love to watch those cherry trees change each spring.
What do you think about the cyclical development of relationships? Have you experienced this phenomenon in other relationships...with friends, colleagues, children, parents?
Sunday, December 6, 2009
I’m all too often preoccupied with thoughts about the millions of things I need to do later while I’m actually doing something, that I forget to take in the “now." I miss subtle and beautiful moments this way.
Just the other day, I was writing my session note at the end of a speech visit, speaking with a mom, and looking at my calendar for the upcoming week all at the same time, when a little client leaned in to hug me, and I didn’t notice!
Yikes! ! !
Yes, this planning and writing and chatting needed to happen, but I still need to be aware of the people right in front of me!
So, I've made a personal commandment to Be in the Moment more in the next year. When I can make it happen, it has definitely made me happy! For instance, over the holiday, my sister, husband, and I took my daughter and niece and some friends to a little zoo, and we had the coolest experience. After looking at a marmoset exhibit, and on the way to see some horses, the girls all found dandelions growing along the path, and 4 adorable girls simultaneously blew tons of those little puffy wisps everywhere while making wishes.
That was some moment. Happiness all around.
And we could've missed it if we hadn't paused for a moment along our way.
What distracts you the most from being in the moment?
I read a book once (OK, so I’ve read it 3 times now, but anyway) called The Creative Counterpart. It was the first book that I ever read that actually made me want to change my life. It’s about how to be the wife, mother, and person that you want to be. Anyway, one of the most important things I learned from that book was to translate my priorities into actions. This was a radical way of thinking for me. Up until I read that book, priorities were ideals that I of course held, but that I didn’t expect myself to do much about. Linda Dillow, the author of the book, though, did something eye-opening to me---she actually wrote in her calendar each week which of her priorities she was going to focus on for that day and then DID it. For example, Monday she might focus on her children and have a special game night with the kids. Tuesday, she might focus on the home and be sure that she got some laundry done. Wednesday, she might focus on her husband and write a special note to him thanking him for what he had done that week. Thursday she might focus on her spirituality and have a special quiet time in the morning for prayer. This might not sound all that amazing to you, but it reshaped how I thought about priorities. They weren’t just ideals anymore…they were how I should allot my time each week. Here is an ordered list of my priorities right now (it changes sometimes, so I won’t say it’s always going to stay this way).
There are times when work falls down below home and extended family, and that’s how I’d love my life to be ideally, but right now I’m a co-breadwinner, and so work has to remain a high priority for me.
If someone tried to determine your priorities in life based solely on your actions, do you think they would be fairly accurate? If not, what are some barriers to living your priorities right now?
One of my happiness resolutions for myself is to "Share and Create Family Traditions." I find that when I look back on the past year, some of my happiest times have been when sharing in family traditions. So, I'm trying to be sure I take advantage of each holiday and each special time that comes along during the year, to boost my (and my family's) happiness.