Saturday, January 28, 2017

MAGIC WORDS: How to Be Happy

Dear Olive,

I had mentioned the Monday Recalibration Experiences we had been organizing at work... Well, my first session transpired last week and it was invigorating.  My topic was, "The Science of Happy."

  I had been mulling through all of these positive psychology books that I'm reading and felt so satisfied to organize all of the take-aways into a cohesive list.  Here's what I learned:

1.  The Boring Stuff is the Most Impactful

I know that sleep, eating healthfully, meditation, and exercise dramatically impact mood and propensity towards pleasure.  Yet somehow, I often feel that I am above these things.  I'm not some baby weak-knees who needs things like rest or meals.  I'm busy, people.  But then, I get irritable and ashamed of my irritability.  And my energy is depleted so that simple things feel impossible.  Maybe if I used that energy for intentional rest instead of rally, I'd improve my outcome.

2.  Happiness is NOT Feeling Good All the Time

If happiness was just pleasure, then cocaine addicts would have the market on happiness.  Which of course, is not the case.  Happiness is a braided experience of satisfaction with dabs of pleasure.  In my pursuit of happiness, I never accounted that sustained pleasure just isn't possible.  Throughout my day, I find myself analyzing each experience to put into categories of positive or negative and then trying to modify the experience to the former.  By chasing happiness in such a controlling way, it eluded me.  Instead, I realize that the goal is not to reach a sustained plateau of pleasure, but rather to use my strengths in a satisfying way and to catch the fleeting moments of happiness by recognizing them as they occur.

3.  Happiness Habituates

So, if sustained pleasure is impossible, this is likely because it habituates quickly.  Martin Seilgman, the "Father of Positive Psychology" describes happiness to be the first bite of mint chocolate chip ice cream.  The first bite is the best and by the second, your experience is already lesser.  Studies find that  the happiness of lottery winners re-calibrates back to former levels six months to a year following their win.  Therefore; our goal should not be to hustle for achievement, but rather to savor splinters of happiness

4.  You Can Use Practice to Improve Your Happiness

Although half of happiness is predisposed, one can use habits to improve outcome.  So... journal, practice gratitude, and if you want to promote it...act joyfully even when you don't feel it (synthesized happiness has the same impact on your brain and eventually you actually become happier).  It is possible that surrounding yourself with positive energy may even change your molecular structure.  I remember watching this documentary more than a decade ago.  I still think about it's implications.

5.  Seek Flow

When we do things that we genuinely love, we lose time.  So, if you are making that cake, or writing, or painting, and you look up to find the windows dark and hours gone, this is your flow.  Flow begets our greatest happiness.  If, instead of pretending to love things we do not, we center on spending our energies in our strengths, the outcome is improved emotional satisfaction.

6.  Philanthropy Wins

If lottery winners and celebrities can't find happiness at dazzling heights, then who will?  Research says that it is those who share their wealth (be it physical or experiential) with others.  So, those who volunteer, give generously, and seek to impact others with their gifts are the happiest of us all.

So, basically, happiness is a combination of how happy you are in your life (satisfied in work, relationships, etc.) and how good you feel on a day to day basis.  The goal is not constant happiness, because this is not possible.  And flow, philanthropy, gratitude, and practice impact these things.

What do you think?  What are you doing to cultivate happiness these days? Are you trying to lean into it like Brene says?

Monday, January 23, 2017

PARTY TIME: Ponies and Tacos

Dear Olive, 

This week Ella went to a birthday party in which she was invited to ride ponies in a snowy woods and eat homemade tacos.  I am now dreaming of this as a theme of my own adult birthday party.  Cause pretty much nothing is better than ponies and tacos.

Saturday, January 21, 2017


Dear Olive,

Our street is one of the last brick roads in our town.  At the end of our road is a culdesac of two houses that look straight out of a Thomas Kinkade painting.  These homes, deemed "the cottages" by our family, are accessible down a narrow cobble stone drive and are nestled in a ravine flanked by trees.  There is a narrow brook circling the left-hand cottage, which my kids call, "the Snow White Cottage."  I've always coveted these homes.  I amble down the path often when walking alone after the kid's bedtime.

My fancy for these structures is so widely known that last week I received a call from a friend who is a relator alerting me that one of the cottages was going up for auction.

I swiftly did an acquaintanceship scan and plotted who I could solicit to be my neighbor with the secret agenda of designing the home's interior.  A mere day later, my lovely friend Amanda and I set out for a showing of the home.

"You'll be Miss Honey in Matilda," I cooed!  "You'll live in a fairy tale!"

We entered the house through crumbling stone stairs and a cracked hobbit door to an estate full of structural and aesthetic problems.  But all I could see was the potential.  Cupboards and nooks, and crannies, and character, I was falling hard.

A few days later, Amanda brought her mom to see the property.   Jason, the kids and I met her there.  The kids created chaos by hiding in all of the cupboards and trying to eat all of the lead paint.  Jason held my hand and listened to me gush.

Lying in bed that night, Jason listened to me wax poetic about the potential of the cottage.  By that time, Amanda's mother had  wisely talked her out of buying it, which any good mother would do.

"You want to buy it, don't you?"  He asked.

"Well, no"... I stammered.  "That wouldn't be very wise.  I mean, it would be amazing,"  I continued.  "We could rent it out while we fixed up the upstairs.  When my parents get older, they could move in so I could take care of them.  That would make me so happy."

"You know, we could probably swing it," He reasoned.

"Hmmm," I mumbled to sleep.  "Wouldn't that be lovely."

That night I had a dream that I found a fortune of war bonds in a purse that had been passed down to me by my grandmother.

Before I awoke, we promptly bought the house.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017


Dear Olive,

At work this year I've been planning a series of talks and experiences for staff members to keep them thriving in the wake of supporting kids in trauma.  The rigor of dealing with aggressive and depressed kids can get the best of us all.  Empathizing and trying to problem-solve for situations that sometimes seem impossible can feel so depleting.  And at the conclusion of last year, I felt pretty much spent.

I had remembered reading an article about the women who entered the workplace to substitute for men fighting during World War II.  With mothers and home economists out of the home, society had to restructure itself to accommodate for daily tasks that would not get accomplished in the usual way.  So, when women would check into work, they would bring their babies with them.  Not only would they have daycare on site, but they would also bring their laundry and grocery lists.  At the conclusion of their work day, women would collect their babies, clean clothing, dinner, and laundry.  Their errands had been accomplished for them by community volunteers because they were supporting the community with their work.  In this narrative I was struck; not only by the team- mindedness, but also by the awareness that no one person can do it all.

Wrapped in the dichotomy of isolationism and social media, we live in a fast-paced age promoting independence and hustle.  Working and getting everything done to the height of perfection has become a badge and an expectation.  What if, instead of secretly competing against each other's Facebook feed of dinner and decor, we banded together to divide and conquer?

So, this year every Monday, we are giving our staff an opportunity to do or receive something that reduces the rigor and promotes community.  We're teaching skills like life lists, the power of play, how to deal with difficult people, and how painting increases cognitive efficiency.  We're giving away meditation routines, bento boxes, infused water bottles, family dinners, capsule wardrobes, and chair massages.

In such a small way, I hope that this resurrects the mentality that we are better together.  And that we can win the war.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

PARTY TIME: Happy New Year!

Dear Olive,

In a momentous victory, no one was sick for New Years!  Much like a swaddled child post-labor, the lack of pain made the event very sweet.

 We started by inventorying each family member about what they would like to eat for dinner.  They could pick anything.  We landed on wings, shrimp, perogies, and sundaes.

Then, we wrote out the nights activities and put one in each balloon labeled with an hour.  We moved up the clock after each activity was done.

We made party hats, opened the time capsule, filled out our New Years resolutions, and ate our picnic dinner by the fire.  At the end of the night, as the clock neared "12" we read this book and watched last year's ball drop on YouTube.

 Everyone was in bed by nine, including my husband, but I wouldn't have changed anything for the world!  Hoping next year is just the same!