Friday, December 15, 2017

How to Live a Life with No Regrets

A while back I listened to a TED Talk that mentioned 5 regrets of the dying, and I have been obsessing about whether or not I am living a life I will not regret later ever since.

The five regrets are:

1. I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself and not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard.
3. I wish I had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish I had let myself be happier.

The scary thing is the stuff they mention on that takes place in the tiny decisions we make every day.
  • The decision to not do the girls' weekend because life is too busy right now.  
  • The decision not to tell the frenemy/family member that they hurt my feelings with their passive aggressive back handed compliments because I don't want to make waves.
  • The decision to stay at a job that is sucking the life out of me because it seems easier than finding something else. 
  • The decision to miss my kid's performance because I have to work late again, or on the flip side of that (now that I am a SAHM), chaperone a field trip.  (I would rather keep a root canal appointment than go on another field trip.)  
In short, every time I've said 'yes' when I wanted to say 'no.'  Every time I put what's urgent ahead of what's important.

Most of the time these tiny decisions are made without even thinking about it. These decisions start to snowball until I am so far removed and can't remember what makes me happy, so I trudge on day in and day out waiting for "some day" to arrive, all the while I trying to keep up with everything and everyone else. Whew! I'm exhausted just writing about it.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm overall a pretty happy person, despite being naturally inclined to lean a little toward the pessimistic side (I prefer the term "realist," thank you.)  I am tremendously grateful to have my life.  However, I can't help but I as fulfilled and as happy as I could be? I'm talking real, enduring happiness.  Not the kind you get when you buy a new pair of shoes, but the kind of deep-in-your bone or soul happiness that supports you when the circumstances of your life are not so happy.

My kids, my husband, my friends make me happy, yet I often find myself half listening while I'm cooking dinner or scrolling through FB.  I turn down coffee dates with friends because I "have to" do something else.

Getting lost in a project makes me happy, yet I never seem to have time to, and even just the thought of starting seems like so much work.

So I think the honest answer to "am I as fulfilled and happy as I could be?" would be "no." Call me greedy, but I want more, and sometimes I feel like I am not living up to my potential.  I could be happier and more fulfilled.

How do I take the life I have and love now, and make it even better?  How do I get rid of the noise, stress and chaos, and strip it all away until my life is really about the people I love, working on goals that excite me, and using my strengths and abilities toward a worthy purpose all while minimizing all the other crap?

So that's the new focus of the blog.  To figure out what makes for real happiness, and how to get it.  Everyone's happy will look a little different, but there are some basics that are the same for everyone. Research, both anecdotal and real, have consistently pointed to Relationships, Meaning (what makes you want to get out of bed in the morning), and having goals (or a purpose).  Where we differ is what those things look like for each of us.

For example, as an introvert big social gatherings are a drain on me, but my extroverted husband thrives on them.  Relationships and socializing are the same, what it looks like for each of us is different.

You know what else consistently comes up in the formula?  Making space for yourself to figure it out. So, there will also be information on how to make some room to think and plan and just be.

I'm going to research and experiment, and share what I learn in the hopes that it inspires all of us to find ways to put more happy in our lives because we deserve it.

And, if you do have an Eureka moment or found something that has worked for you, or even just need some encouragement, share with us, please! The more ideas, the more support, the more conversation the better for us all.  We all benefit from a collective wisdom that leads to more happiness and peace in our lives (and no regrets on our death bed).  Plus email and comments make me feel good (See? I just had the courage to express my feelings.)

Friday, December 1, 2017

Night Owl to Morning Lark Success. The One Thing That Finally Worked!

Well, I finally did it.  I have been getting up at 6:15 pretty consistently, and I didn't even realize it.  Since I survived Thanksgiving break and kept my routine, I'm calling it a success.

There were a few gradual changes that I made based on what I learned from previous attempts (or fails: see Project Night Owl to Morning Lark What worked and What Didn't), but what worked the most for me was having something that I wanted to do more than sleep...journal.

I started each morning by stumbling to the kitchen, making my latte then heading to my office to write.  Some days I stare at the paper wondering if I have anything to say.  Sometimes I even start that way, "I'm not sure if I have anything to say today" Inevitably stuff comes out though.  Admittedly, sometimes it is stuff that pops into my head and I think, "Oh, I can't write that.  That's not nice.  I shouldn't think that, let alone say or write it," but that is exactly what I do write, and should write because it's in there and needs to come out in a safe place that no one sees (or hears).  Sometimes it's mundane stuff like what should I get so and so for their birthday or Christmas.  Sometimes it is a list of stuff that I need to do, want to do today or someday. Sometimes I practice a conversation I need or want to have with someone.

The point is that it is unedited, no grammar police allowed, and some days the handwriting is so bad no one could read it if they tried, and it doesn't go into a pretty journal I don't want to mess up.  It goes in a regular old spiral notebook that I pickup from Target during school supply shopping. One that I can scribble in, doodle in, draw stick figures then savagely scratch them out in.  It's a no judgment zone, and it's all the stuff that you keep in your head that you keep moving around and pushing to the side so you can get through your regular day.  That stuff doesn't go away though, and it tends to surface at night while you are trying to sleep or at 3 AM when you are trying to stay asleep (Read this to see how important uninterrupted sleep really is for your health: This One Thing Can Cause Sadness, Forgetfulness, Depression, and other Woes).  Getting it out is like losing weight you didn't realize you were carrying, and you didn't even have to exercise!

Now, I have to have the coffee. I light a candle and put on my favorite polar fleece jacket or wrap up in a quilt to get started. I had to make it a little enticing in the beginning, but I wouldn't trade that time for more sleep now.  I usually take the weekends off, and I have been contemplating learning to doodle, reading or listening to something inspiring that I don't typically make time for during the day on some of my mornings.

Here is the best part, if I fall off the wagon for a day or two or even a month or a year, I know what I need to do for me to get back on track, so no matter what happens in the future, it's a win. I have tools forever now, so there is no failure, only learning.

So my number one advice for turning yourself into a morning lark is find something that makes getting out of bed worth it and stick to it for a while.  What I found is that I don't stay up as late now because I know it will make getting up harder, and I am also more apt to put my phone away earlier for this same reason.  Those things alone didn't do it, but rather were the tools to make doing what I wanted to do easier.  As an added bonus of journaling...I sleep better and I worry less.  Or at least my worry is from 6:15 to 7:00 AM then I can put it away for the day and come back to it the next morning if I choose.  I would still like to get up earlier still, but baby steps, baby steps.  So try it this week.  Create a little cozy space in the morning this week and write away while it is still peaceful in the house, then burn it, tear it up, keep it to look at later, whatever makes you comfortable, but get that sh*t out. I promise you, you will sleep better.

Other Related Articles:
Why I started to begin with: Project Night Owl to Morning Lark

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Hygge Your Holiday Season

stress less Christmas

I just finished the Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living by Meik Wiking.  Meik is the CEO of The Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen. I figured with Denmark consistently topping the list for happiest people, and his job is to study happiness, who better to write a book on it?   

Nothing in this book was a real surprise to me.  However, it was well worth the two hours I invested.  It reminds me of what really makes up happiness.  As I'm reading it, and he is talking about warm woolen socks, curling up in a nook with a good book, a cup of tea, and some candles lit while eating cake, I couldn't help but slow down and feel happier myself (and I also felt a huge urge for cake).

Counter this with a sense of bubbling panic knowing the holidays are practically here, and there are gifts to buy and wrap, decorations to put up, gatherings to attend, more gifts to buy at the last minute for those you forgot to buy for, bank accounts to deplete, family disputes to mediate, and baking or faking cooking by swinging by the store to pick something up, all while still living your normal busy life.  Well, I need a little hygge in my life.

Here is what I got out of this book:
1.  Hygge is about making a little bit of happiness in your life everyday:
    • like warm socks, fuzzy blankets, the smell of cinnamon (or whatever smell gives you the warm fuzzies), and hot Irish Coffees while watching the candles twinkle. 
    • spending a stress free moment with loved ones  
2.  Happiness is a result of positive social networks, savoring and gratitude, meaning and purpose,  a feeling of love and security, and the pursuit of leisure activities.  

3.  Happiness is not an absence of bad things.  However, experiencing positive emotions matter more.  You want to keep the negative to a minimum of course, but a great way to counter balance is having these little feel good moments everyday throughout your day.

Positive Social Networks:
This is your friends and family, work associates, etc.  Here is the most important with them.  Clear your mind of where else you need or want to be, what else needs to be done, etc.  Hear what they are actually saying (seek to understand, not to respond).  Give the human across from you and yourself this tiny moment that you both deserve.  

Savoring and Gratitude
Stop.  Right now stop and really look around you.  What do you see that you can be grateful for or find beauty in? Look at the details of the orchid on the receptionist's desk.  Really look at your children's' faces when they are laughing.  Inhale the scent of that cup of coffee you just picked up. Listen to the sound of the wind in the tress or a Woodpecker finding dinner outside.  Put on the ugly fuzzy pajamas and curl up on the couch.  In other words, notice the life you are living right now without worrying about what happens next.  Not the next 5 minutes, 5 years or 5 days.  

Feeling Loved and Secure
Right after physical needs like food, water, shelter, comes this. You have to give to get, and the first place to start is you.  Love yourself.  We hear this all the time, but what does it actually mean? I look at it this way, how do you expect people to treat your child? How do you treat your best friend? We get all ready to put the battle gear on and lay waste to anyone who hurts those we cherish.  Do that for you.  Lovingly parent you.  Don't give that job to anyone else.  Be kind, and set boundaries.  Find people who love you for you and love them back.  

One of the best ways to get out of a funk yourself is to do something for someone else.  It does't have to be big.  Bake cookies for your elderly neighbor.  Ride scooters with a kid.  Ask your roommate what's going on with her and really listen (without giving advice).  

Meaning and Purpose
Honestly, these two words used to make me roll my eyes into the back of my head.  Mostly becaue I felt like I was lacking in both.  I didn't have this big "meaning" or "purpose", and what the hell must be wrong with me that I didn't even particularly want to have that?  Here is what I finally realized.  Meaning and purpose can be a small thing. It doesn't have to be Martin Luther King or Mother Theresa sized although it could end up being that way.  

Mother Theresa started out wanting to be kind to those no one else was kind to.  I can do this.  I can say, my purpose is to make a someone's day brighter today.  Maybe I'll let them out in traffic, maybe I'll notice and give a sincere compliment to the checkout clerk.  

My purpose (my main, but not my only) right now is raising my children so that they have the skills they need to thrive in this world.  Soft skills like communications, building quality relationships, developing resiliency and practical skills like doing laundry and cooking. If things go well, I will need a new purpose very soon.  

Still stuck? Listen to this TED talk

The Holidays
The holidays can be stressful, so make sure that you take care of you EVERYDAY.  Slow down, do something fun, stop doing stuff that you don't like if you don't have to.  

Let's talk about "Have to" for a minute.  Do you really have to go to every Christmas party you are invited to?  Ask yourself:
1. Do I cringe inside at the thought of going?
2. Is it for or being given by someone who means a lot to me?
3. If it's business, will this hurt my business if I don't go?  People say no to these things all the time and this is the perfect time of year to get away with it because everyone is so busy that no one questions when you say, "I'm sorry, I have other plans." It's almost to be expected.  No one has to know your "other plans" are with your polar fleece pj's and a cup of hot chocolate.
4. "Have to" often means "I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings with 'no'".  See "Feeling Loved and Secure"

Here are some of our favorite things that we do that are simple, low cost, low stress traditions.  Here are some things we do:
  • Decorate Gingerbread men or bake cookies, then deliver cookie packages to your neighbors (make sure you list if there are nuts).
  • Put some hot chocolate in a travel mug and walk around your neighborhood or drive to a neighborhood to look at the lights.  We do this every Friday evening. My kids ask to do this every year.
  • Pop some popcorn and make it special with butter, caramel, M&M's and watch your favorite Christmas movies.  Make it a once a week date night.  
  • Wrap presents together.  Let your kids wrap gifts too and be okay with it not looking perfect.  It will look instead like a joyous, excited, loving child wrapped it and I promise you it will bring a smile to the receiver's face.  
  • Make time to meet a friend for coffee once a week.
  • Host a few friends for game night, s'more making, Minecraft playing or movie watching.
My New Year's Resolution for 2018 is to keep on hyyge-ing throughout the year.  

Find Some Breathing Room

Friday, November 17, 2017

Find Some Breathing Room in Your Life. How to Start in 3 Easy Steps

Look at this woman in the photo.  Doesn't she look relaxed, serene, content? Don't you just want to push her off that cliff?  (That's jealous me talking.)

But I digress....So last week I declared ENOUGH with the Fitbit and other things, and this was the first step in an easier, less stressful life.  But what’s next? 

I've been reading all I can on the subject, and based on that research, here is what I suggest in getting started.

#1 Know  What You Want to Gain  (If you find it difficult to answer these questions, jump to #4, then come back)

You don't have to know exactly, and it's okay to change your mind about things as you go through the journey, but you have a destination that inspires you to action. Take 15 minutes and answer:
  • What does a great day look like to you?
  • What are you doing?
  • Who are you hanging with?
  • How do you feel throughout and at the end of the day? Serene, productive, yet not stressed.  Exhilarated by new adventures you now have time for. Dare I say...happy? 
  • What do you value?
  • Imagine you only had 5 years left to live. What do you want to achieve, learn, accomplish or experience?
Not that I am trying to influence you or anything because this is your journey, but a little food for thought while you are thinking about the answers to the questions below.  Several studies and interviews with hospice patients have all pointed to these three things for bringing lasting joy to a person's life:
  1. Relationships
  2. Meaning
  3. Goals
(If you want to read more on the subject read, "Man's Search for Meaning" by Viktor Frankl.  Very short read, yet one of the most powerful books I have ever read.)

#2 Where are you now? What takes up your time today?

1) Where does your time go on a typical day.  How much time do you spend in the following areas:
  • Personal
  • Family
  • Realtionship
  • Friends
  • Work (This could be actual paid work or housekeeping/ unpaid work.  However you define work.)
  • Community/Volunteer 
2) Write down an approximation of your typical day - all of it.  How long does it take you to get ready, get the kids out the door, social media time, sleep time, etc., in a typical day.  No one is seeing this, so be honest.

3) Graph the pie.  Put the approximate time percentages for each of the categories.  

#3 Compare where you are to where you want to be

Do your daily tasks and pie line up with your stated values and goals from #1? No? So how do you get to where you want to be?

First, realize this is a journey.  This isn't just about getting rid of some clutter, although it could be if that's all you want it to be.

For me, this is about permanently making the time for what I say is important to me.  Things like: 
  • Having the time to really listen to what my children are saying and getting to know and appreciate the person that they are becoming.
  • Enjoying time with the signifiant other instead of waiting until retirement for more time.  There will never be enough time unless I make it happen.  
  • Getting rid of obligations that I don't really want to go to that steal my time from what I do want to do. 
  • Finding a way to volunteer that doesn't make me want to stick a fork in my eye.  A gig that uses my talents and skills.  Not sure what that is yet, but I look forward to finding out. 
  • Learning how to make a quilt. (I don't know why, I just want to.) 

#4 What if you don't know what you want to do?

Lucky you.  Lucky you because you get to discover and that's always fun. Start with what brings you joy, contentment, relaxation, or excitement? 

As you go through your day ask yourself, how do I feel about what I am doing right now? Meeting someone for lunch and sort of dreading it? That's a clue. Working on a project and you just do't want to do it, but you said yes, so now your committed? That's a clue.

Also, notice what you are doing that relaxes you or brings you joy. For me some things are:

  • Organizing my books (or anyone's) brings me joy.
  • Had a great conversation with my 10 year old regarding Hitler and WWII.  Heavy conversation, but how awesome to see how his brain works.
  • Playing Minecraft.  Creating a blank world and bringing order to it. Plus my kids love it so double bonus. 
  • Taking 5 minutes to put on makeup.  It relaxes me.  I often come up with solutions to problems I'm having out of the blue. Don't discount the little things. 
How about thinking about what you liked to do as a kid. Finger paint, draw, read, swim, run, sit outside and stare at the clouds?  Now go back to #1.

That's more than enough for this week.  Remember, no judgments about how you feel about some of the things, people, and obligations in your day.  As I tell my kids (and myself), you can feel however you feel. It's your actions that have consequences, and we are not talking about actions.....yet.

Next week, we begin to identify some items that need to change for us to have the life we say we want.  Don't worry, we are easing into this, and we will start with low hanging fruit/easy wins for now. 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

I've Had Enough and the Fitbit is the First Thing to Go.

I've had enough.......

Enough talk about finding "purpose," "meaning," or even myself. Enough aimless searching for what I should be doing and more just being.

Enough wasting time in the pursuit of stuff.  Enough working for that stuff.  More having that stuff work for me.

Enough searching for articles, helpful hints, boxes and bins to organize my stuff.  Less stuff and more gratitude for the stuff I truly treasure.

Enough with my Fitbit telling me what I "should" be doing or how I'm doing.  More enjoying whatever form of exercise I choose to do.

Enough worrying about whether I am parenting the "right" way. More really listening to what my children think of the world and learning from them. 

Enough worrying about how my kids appear to others and let's be real - whether or not people think I am a "good" parent, and more accepting that my children will make make mistakes and bad choices, and helping them learn from those mistakes while the consequences are still relatively small.

Enough schlepping kids to too many activities. More unstructured time and more time being bored.

Enough of just me taking on the endless cycle of laundry, dishes and house care alone. More sharing that with the people who live here too.

Enough looking for more time and complaining there isn't enough time. Enough lists that are a mile long and never ending. More of just letting some stuff go. 

Enough saying "yes" to things without thinking or to be nice then regretting it afterwards. Enough worrying about what other people think of me instead of worrying what I think of me. More "Thanks, but no thanks"

Enough comparing myself to others in any way on any venue whether it be a glossy magazine, Instagram or Facebook.

Enough social media.

Enough watching, reading, listening to bad news that makes me feel helpless, angry, frustrated. Just enough of worrying about things I can't control.  More acting on the things I can control.

Enough waiting for someday to read, write, learn to draw, paint, travel. More just doing it now. 

Enough of letting the "should's" dictate how I spend my day and more listening to the "wants" and not feeling guilty about it.

I imagined I only had 5 years left to live.  That's how I cam up with this list, and it's only a start.  Imagine you only had 5 years left to live, what would you change? 

Do you think you would protect your precious time a little more fiercely?

Who would you want to spend as much time as possible with? Would you listen to your loved ones a little more closely trying to learn everything you could about them, genuinely curious about their day, their thoughts, their dreams?

Would you prepare your children now with skills that they will need to live in a world without you?

What would you want to see or learn or do?  What would you want to share with others? What legacy would you want to leave?

Maybe you can't quit your job or start a new dream job (yet) because you still have responsibilities, bills, etc., but what changes could you make if you only had 5 years left to live?

It's depressing and unpleasant to think of dying, and we push uncomfortable things away to deal with another time.  Yet, another time never arrives until it's too late.  If you're over 40, your life is half over.  Half over.  That's depressing.  That's uncomfortable, but its a reality.  Another reality is you may have less time.  Do you know what's even more depressing and uncomfortable?  Regret.

So, I am saying "enough" to a whole lot so I can say "Yes" to the 4 or 5 things that truly are the most important to me. 

I started with the Fitbit. As I was looking at another failed day of not reaching my goal, I just decided that I didn't need one more thing telling me what I should do or grading me on how I am doing.  It's a small step, but after a weekend without it, I already feel better. 

How many other things do I do without noticing?  This one small change lightened a load I didn't know I was carrying.  I can't wait to see what happens as I continue to pare down the crazy in my life.   

To My Fellow Moms: This is Why You Rock

How to Slay a Dragon; A Very, Very Short Real Life Love Story

The Road to Self Care Starts Here

5 Things You Can Do to Start Living Intentionally Today

Is Comparing Yourself to Others Always a Bad Thing

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Allowance, To Give or Not to Give (And When, How and Why According to the "Experts")

I give my kids allowance, but I don't think I do it well.  Off and on, we have tried several different ways, since they were 4.  I want them to learn the value of money, how to save for what you want, and how not to spend my money on some plastic toy you picked up in the checkout line in Target that you will lose or break or forget about in a week.  Okay, I admit it, this was my only motivation in the beginning.

This year, I have a ten year old so I figured I need to get serious about doing this allowance thing.  I figure I have about 7 years to get him in shape before he will be making his own major financial decisions about school loans, cars, jobs, etc., and I definitely don't want my kid living in my spare room because he or she didn't understand how to manage money. So, I've been studying up, and here is what I found.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

This One Thing Can Cause Sadness, Headaches, Forgetfulness and other Woes

As you may remember, I am on a quest to become more of a morning person, and less of a night owl.  I have been doing pretty good for the most part.  I am still experimenting with some things to see what works best for me (as in this is something that I can maintain over the long term).

My research led me to this study on interrupted sleep, and that led me to do even more research on the subject.

The study took two groups of people and over three nights.  The first group stayed up an hour later, and the second group's sleep was interrupted. They found that cutting their sleep by only one hour (from 7.5 hours to 6.5 hours) resulted in inflammation, immune excitability, diabetes, cancer risk, and stress for both groups. However, the Interrupted Sleepers had shorter periods of slow wave, or deep wave sleep than the delayed.

What's so important about the slow wave or deep sleep?  This is the stage that important body repairs and maintenance tasks get done.

Both groups reported declining positive feelings.  While the delayed sleepers bounced back with a full night's sleep, the interrupted sleepers continued to report declining positive feelings including a decline in friendliness and feelings of sympathy.  In other words, even after you get back to having a good restful night of sleep, if you had a couple of nights of interrupted sleep you may continue to have a crappy attitude or remain in a funk, and it may even worsen.  So, interrupted sleep is worse than staying up late to watch Jimmy Fallon.