The difficult pursuit of Happiness

How do inspirational quotes make you feel? Happy? Elated? Like you can take on the world?

Our modern world is consumed with the notion of happiness – obtaining it, being it, and revelling in it. Often the pursuit of it however, becomes a journey littered with insecurity, frustration, and disappointment.

That is because of this very real and true fact: a full, adventurous and passionate life, will also undoubtedly come with its fair share of trouble and difficulty, challenge and sadness. In many cases, equal to any experiences of ‘happiness.’

We spend so much of our time trying to be happy, that this can often make us more depressed. Suppressing our normal day-to-day feelings and ignoring the root of our dis-ease, can cause us more harm than good, delaying the emotions that will inevitably surface at a later point in time.

I am not saying that trying to be of an optimistic disposition is a quality you shouldn’t try to adhere to and live by. It is certainly a better headspace to be in, and learning to be happy in a very consumeristic world riddled with technological issues and social media problems, old-age tests of character and identity involving family and friends, petty fights, injustices of race and class and sexual orientation and gender… well, finding a simple thing to be grateful for, such as something beautiful your daughter said to you, it can be the one thing that saves you in an otherwise upsetting and disappointing day.

I keep an online gratitude blog. Not to promote my profile, send a false image of myself out into the world, or even to pretend all is right in my life. It is not.

And even though I practice gratitude every day, I am by no means exceptionally skilled or a master of my craft. In the words of Dicky Fox in one of my most favourite of movies, Jerry Maguire…

“I’ve failed as much as I’ve succeeded.”

On that note, back to inspiring quotes. I love to read them, see them, put them up on my walls… hell, I even have a daily calendar that gives me a new quote to ponder every day.

Sometimes they speak to me, and other times they don’t. Today’s one jumped out at me in a very real way:

IMAG3857

And then later on social media, I saw another that triggered some sad tags of my heart.

FB_IMG_1536540090773

Translated from Croatian, it reads

“Don’t give up if it’s hard. Give up if it’s not important.”

Both of these quotes, though uplifting, have a certain degree of realism and ‘life is scary’ knocked into them, enough to keep you humble, yet also lift your head towards the clouds and give you Hope.

Well then, how do those quotes compare to this more positive one?

365-book_72

How did you feel reading each? Did you feel better reading the cheerier, latter quote? Or did the ones with a real sense of everyday life grab you more? Is it purely based upon experiences and life circumstance, or do you think we are bound to feel better about ourselves when reading a more realistic quote, as opposed to a super-happy one that we feel forced to be like? Something that we are meant to aspire to, even if on that particular day, we may be better off just staring off into the sunset with sadness in our eyes?

Something to consider.

Oh, and because I can…

And that my friends, is a quote that makes me feel GREAT.

Advertisements

Lovely Lyrics #3

There’s been a song on the radio, that has been generously overplayed for the last several months.

It’s Bebe Rexha’s (featuring Florida Georgia Line) Meant To Be

There is nothing like a song you find irritating being played on every commercial radio station you turn to. It wakes you in the morning. You turn on your car and bang! there it is. It even starts to get featured on TV. There is just no escape.

But then, something happened a little while ago. Hubbie and I had unitedly been annoyed by the repetitive song, but then all of a sudden, he came home liking it.

Why, I never. I was appalled. We were joined in this common dislike together! He couldn’t do this to me! I was in the kitchen one day, making dinner, having to listen to this song he had put on, when suddenly, I heard a line. A line that really spoke to me:

“No need to go nowhere fast

Let’s enjoy right here where we at.”

Woah. You know how sometimes you hear something and it just speaks to your unspoken question, so succinctly? You hear these phrases all the time though. About being present. Not forcing things. Allowing the Universe to do what it has to do, in its own time.

But it’s not just the message. It’s also the delivery, and how it is expressed. Because remember, we all hear and respond to things differently.

Those words spoke to me particularly, and now, I even don’t mind the song. Why? Because those two lines present the happiness inherent in the present, the everyday… the whole reason I do my gratitude blog… finding reasons to appreciate the every day, no matter how small they are. It is about looking in on what is happening, rather than stewing on the past, or worrying about what will come.

Don’t worry about what is around the corner. Don’t rush. Take it slow, and enjoy NOW.

Breathe.

And then, the whole summary of the song is presented in the chorus lines.

You can’t force the future. Your best bet is to, in the words of one of baby girl’s favourite Disney movie lines “Let It Go.”

Let it go, focus on enjoying the beautiful present, and I can almost guarantee, in most cases when you DO do this, the thing you have been wanting and waiting for will come to you.

And if not, well then there is something even better lined up for you.

So, in that case…

“If it’s meant to be, it’ll be, it’ll be,

Baby just let it be…”

 

Barbie dolls and March 8th

I sat with baby girl today playing with her dolls. Not that it’s an unusual thing – she asks me to play with all her Barbies and Disney princesses on a regular basis.

But today was a different day. Today was International Women’s Day.

This thought crossed my mind as I held the Anna Frozen doll, and she held the Elsa one. Sure, she was playing with Barbies. Barbies were typically portrayed as superficial dolls, dolls that until recent decades were typically associated with outdated and traditional personas, such as the trophy wife, not to mention their unrealistic and out-of-proportion body appearance and emphasis on the materialistic.

I wasn’t concerned, in the least. You know, the way a lot of ‘socially aware’ parents are nowadays. Baby girl played in the most well-rounded way. Sure she had her dolls. When she wasn’t playing with them, she was jumping on her trampoline. Kicking a ball. Playing catch with one of us. Drawing. Pasting and cutting. Looking through books. Watching Moana for about the millionth time (current phase). Loading her Shopkins into miniature bags for me to find later.

Basically, she wasn’t limited to one activity.

Still, I was aware. Aware of the youtube videos she watched of young girls playing with dolls, which she would then imitate. The dolls going out shopping. The dolls having tea. The dolls having an argument, and then making up. The dolls jumping in the pool. The dolls complimenting each other on their outfits.

So when baby girl stood one of her Barbie dolls on top of a plastic kitchen, and started yelling out “help me Ken, help!” being the day it was and all, I decided to change the rules.

The old rules. Of the weak girl. The strong male who swoops in to save the day.

Basically, the boy ‘hero’ image, versus the girl ‘weak’ image.

IMAG9357

“Save me, save me Ken!” she shrieked.

“No Barbie,” I held Ken and put on my most manliest of manly voices. “Barbie you’re a strong girl, you can do it yourself. Just jump Barbie.”

“No, no, it’s too high to jump!”

“Just jump to the middle Barbie,” I urged.

I watched humorously as baby girl took the Barbie to the middle shelf of the kitchen, before getting her to make one last jump to the carpet below.

“Yeah, you did it Barbie, well done,” ‘Ken’ told Barbie, as I smiled.

And then, a thought. Sure, baby girl watched these videos where the dolls did all girly things and needed occasional ‘saving.’

She was happily naïve – she did not know about the world we live in.

A world where there is discrimination against women.

A world where there is a pay gap.

A world where the general population pity the man and verbally slam the woman over the same activity.

A world where women cannot do certain things, because it is considered not acceptable for them to do so due to their gender, or even moreover, because they themselves don’t believe they can do it.

I was happy, because I knew in that moment, that this world didn’t exist for her. She was too young to know about it, or understand it at all.

And then, another thought. 

With the rise of the Time’s Up movement, a greater push and awareness of gender inequality and discrimination, and the increasing focus on women’s events, rights, and days such as International Women’s Day, my thought was…

She may never know.

She might never ever live to experience inequality.

She might never come across the excuse, “he’s just being a boy.”

She might never be told she can’t do something because it’s a man’s job.

She might be paid just as much, if not more, than her male friends when they enter the workforce.

She might just live her life with the same experience as every other being on this planet should experience: with fairness and an open heart.

She might live her life, without any focus on her female attributes.

Can you just imagine?  

The thought brought me so much joy at the Hope it promised. Now that’s something to strive towards…

Let’s make it happen for the next generation…

So when you are playing Barbies with the little people in your life, remember, it’s not what you play, it’s HOW you play…

And how you play, is Everyone saves themselves, because they are damn well strong, confident, positive and determined enough to.

Happy International Women’s Day ♥♥♥

Something else out there

I can’t remember the correct timeframe, or how old she was. Everything is such a blur when you’re a new Mum.

But I had just come back home from one of baby girl’s Maternal Child Health Nurse check-ups. They are so frequent at the beginning – they visit you at home a couple of times, then there are weekly visits, they go to 2 weeks and 4 weeks and 8 weeks… maybe it was even MORE frequent. I can’t remember.

I think some things you choose not to.

I had been trying to breastfeed her for so long. She was just so little, and still learning. She was soooo little. Born at just under 2.5 kilos, she truly was a doll.

I had been told at the previous visit, based on her good weight gain with the formula milk I had been giving her, that I could try to wean her onto the breast, and rely less on the formula.

Which is what I did. It was really hard, and that is a whole other story, but I did it.

So when I came for my next MCHN check-up, the nurse was surprised to find… she had actually dropped in weight.

A couple of hundred grams is a lot when your baby is only weeks old. The nurse was actually quite nice, not judgmental, and didn’t question my tactics… yet I saw the concern on her face.

She suggested perhaps my breast milk wasn’t strong enough. Try some cheese, a handful of almonds before you breastfeed, she said.

She looked at the previous record and this current one, repeatedly, comparing the two and wondering if there had been a weighing error the last time.

She tapped her finger against her chin, thinking of what to do, wondering what was going on, and scheduled me to come in and see her again sooner than was necessary.

Through my haze of confusion and intense worry, I could see the answer, and yet it couldn’t come forth for me to speak up. It was too far away to catch, distant amidst all my sleep deprivation, anxiety, intense mood swings, and adjustment to life that I had not been prepared for at all.

I had only been somewhat prepared for the labour. That was it. None of the BEYOND. None of the important stuff.

I thought I had turned a corner in my breastfeeding, and that finally, I had succeeded at something. To have all of that questioned, to hear that my little baby girl was losing weight, NOT gaining weight as needed, especially as she was so petite, was the tipping point.

I don’t know how I drove. A friend was desperate for a group catch-up. I hastily wrote “it’s not a good time at the moment.” And I went home and bawled my eyes out.

jordan-whitt-142396

Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash

Baby girl was asleep. I remember sitting on the table near the kitchen, feeling so alone. Those first few days, weeks, months, ARE LONG. You are waiting for your husband to come home, to help you, relieve you, hug you, love you, and tell you it’s going to be ok.

They go to work every day. Oh how lucky they are to leave those walls. To walk out the door and go back to some sense of normalcy, to speak in proper conversations with actual adults, when all the while you are dying at home and wondering when it will all end.

I was sitting there, and actually begging. I was begging God to send me someone to save me. I sat there crying, feeling so alone, and yet unable to reach out and call anyone.

It’s awful that in our worst moments, we are unable to reach out. To ask for help. To seek advice, a shoulder to cry on, and a listening ear when it is most dire to our wellbeing.

I was an absolute mess for what felt like the longest time… but maybe, it was really about an hour. Watching the clock, crunching on almonds, hoping someone would call, or Hubbie would come home early.

Soon, the phone rang.

Help had been sent. It was my sister.

She listened to my tears. We worked out what I had tried to grasp earlier, but couldn’t amidst the shock of the news. The formula was heavier than the breastmilk. She naturally dropped in weight as I went to exclusively breastfeed her, and within time, it would go up again.

She would regain it all.

And she DID. Being at one of the lowest percentiles at birth, can you believe this petite angel of mine is now in about the 90-95th percentile in height and weight?

People constantly tell me how tall she is for a 4 year old.

I never would have imagined.

But this is not the moral of the story. It’s got nothing to do with the breastmilk, early Motherhood or even how much you should listen to nurses…

It’s all about the sign. The help. The call out.

I had called out, and I had received help.

I’ve always believed in something greater out there… and this to me was further proof.

maranatha-pizarras-342561

Photo by Maranatha Pizarras on Unsplash

I don’t know what has gotten into me lately. Something is not right. I can’t get excited. I don’t know what it is, or why or how this has come, because I didn’t think, other than the normal crap that life sometimes throws at us, that I had anything that was weighing me down.

All of a sudden, I was DOWN. Not in the gravitational pull sense.

I mean FLAT. Uninspired. Losing interest. NO focus.

I don’t like to use this term casually, but even… DEPRESSED.

I started to worry. Was this a hormonal cycle thing? Was I just having a bad day?

I woke up after my first bad day, my DOWN day, and… was still DOWN.

Day 2…

Day 3…

Day 4…

No interest. Lacking motivation. Feeling hopeless, for no apparent reason at all.

When I realised I wasn’t looking forward to anything, I started to worry.

Because this wasn’t like me. I always had something to look forward to. Even when I was sick I’d be looking forward to getting better. I would even look forward to work, believe it or not. I had many things to look forward to, and even amidst shit people and events and spanners thrown into the mix, I would find a way to look past all that and look forward to something bigger and brighter in the future.

I think of things now, and my mind goes blank.

I actually have no reason to feel this way… that concerns me too. Nothing notable or significant has happened to make me feel this way, and yet there is this niggly, annoying feeling at the back of my mind, there is something weighing me down, making me feel moody and lowly and telling me that all is not right.

It is a scary place to be.

I didn’t ask for ‘help’ while I was at work yesterday. But I was thinking a lot about the state I was in, and getting upset and emotional within myself. Because each time I spoke to someone, and they asked me how I was, I felt like I was trying to convince myself, more than I was trying to respond to them. 

“Yeah,” I replied nodding, thinking. “Good.”

No, I was not GOOD.

I went through these emotions, this thinking, ALL DAY, trying to get myself out of the funk, to no avail.

And then without any kind of request, other than me asking myself “WHY?” a series of small interactions occurred.

Because within a 5 minute period, as I packed up my belongings for the day, I came across three women. Not necessarily women I see or talk to often at work either. And all three of them expressed great interest in me, in how my life was going, and they had such big smiles as we spoke, that it was hard to not get affected.

Now don’t get me wrong, a simple chat wasn’t enough to take me out my funk. I was still a bit helpless. But I had gained a bit of something that I talk about often here.

HOPE.

I don’t know why, but that series of small chats made me feel like there was something, or someone, trying to get through to me and lift me up. Those three women were thrown at me, so unusually, and with such force, that it was difficult to deny that there was something other than divinity at work here.

Someone or something, had responded to my unanswered question.

Life can be hard. No, Life IS hard. We are fortunate when we call out and receive a response to our cry for help.

Other times we may not ask, but we get assistance in unspoken form.

And then there are times, when we need to seek it out ourselves.

There is no shame in asking for help, or telling people we feel like shit. It actually takes all the courage in the world.

And whether you believe in a higher power, a greater good, or NOT, that is also ok… as long as you seek what you need when your soul is crying out for it, because every now and then, we all need a lending hand.

And maybe, just maybe, you have somehow been led to this post, and I am lending my words of advice, my experiences, and my Hopes for something greater, to YOU.

If you or someone you care for needs help, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14, or click here.

paola-chaaya-151131

Photo by Paola Chaaya on Unsplash

 

 

 

My own worst enemy

There is someone close to me. This person, I love very dearly.

And yet this person, frustrates me with their immaturity. Because when life doesn’t go to plan, they sulk.

It’s a tad annoying. I mean, Life… ups and downs, right?

This person, as wonderful as they are, gets really down and out about themselves and everything when things aren’t happening to them. Other people may be moving house, buying a car, going on a holiday, or even just going out to brunch every weekend, and this person, just can’t take the joy of it, because something positive isn’t also consequently happening to them.

This person, who I shall name X (to reduce the incidence of constantly repeating ‘this person,’ and also avoid accidentally giving away the gender) was in a fairly stagnant and stationary period for a while. They had gone through a wonderful time before that, where ALL the attention was on them. But then came upon that ‘desert phase,’ you know the one –  where the wind blows the tumbleweeds around them, and they watch idly while others are on horses playing cowboys and Indians and going to bars to drink or shoot people, or meet Clint Eastwood or even John Wayne. Yep, even John Wayne.

And they are standing there idly. It’s a stage that happens to us ALL.

It was a bit difficult to watch. I really wanted to put my two cents in and offer some words of comfort. We had been in that very same phase before moving house. We were standing there at parties, all the while people were all excited and super-interesting in their life plans and goals, and meanwhile –

  • we had bought a new car which had just been hit
  • we wanted to Sea change and had no idea if we could do it (or afford it)
  • toddler stages were FUN! (super-sarcastic here)
  • and I was still, for the 4th year in a row, top-secret on my writing projects. So when people asked me/us “what’s new?”

We were all tight-lipped with that face-planted smile of “nothing much.”

Life goes up, Life goes down. Sometimes, things don’t go to plan. Sometimes, you are embarrassed with events that have occurred. Other times, it is boring as batshit.

A lot of the time, in any of the above circumstances, you don’t want to say a thing, because you are frustrated.

But we are adults here. We don’t sulk.

So on one night, when I offered up this piece of enlightening advice to X “I know, I’ve been there, everything is happening to everyone except you,” I got the most sullen of stares.

I felt like gently saying “Grow up.”

We don’t always have things happening to us.

We don’t always have the attention on us.

We aren’t always the star of the show.

Up and down, up and down.

And now to Me. The last few months I’ve been stressed for a manner of things. I’ve come to grow accepting of many of these annoying issues, or find ways around my stress, but it has been trying. When many facets of your life bring you down at once, it is hard to practice at positivity…

I was trying really hard to get into a regular exercise routine. I was seeing all these perfect bodies on facebook, these Mums who have gone from pregnancy flab to post baby FABULOUS, and looking all trim and taut with their sculpted tummies, while I just felt like a pile of shit. Lack of time to exercise properly, with a girl that constantly demands attention of me, made me feel worse about the situation. I can only manage what I can, and even that isn’t too much.

I was falling very behind in my writings. I started to question how beneficial my blogs were, when the main reason for starting these, creating an online Writing presence… well it didn’t mean squat when I had completely stalled on my creative endeavour to get published with my young adult book which I hadn’t added to in months and months! I was taking on and writing more than I could keep up with, and I started to wonder whether any of these writing tasks, I just had to give up on.

You know it’s a bleak day when you consider giving up a passion of yours. When you ask yourself “what is the point?”

And then there were the comparisons. Here I was, all this time, quietly plugging away at my passion, and then boom! This person has their work published! boom! And this person gets recognised with a new blog (and I didn’t even know they were inclined to write)… boom! more literary success from yet another person!

And then there I was, grinning… in stupefied shock.

What about me?

Don’t get me wrong, I am all about abundance. I am ABUNDANCE-CITY. I know there is enough love, and success, and happiness and all that wonderful jazz, for everyone in this entire world. I truly believe that. And yet, when I heard all these people, both who I had known wrote, and others who I had no idea were even interested in the task, were experiencing success both on small and large scales, a little part of me went

“When will it be my turn?”

It was really hard to swallow.

And now, the clincher… where I expose more than I ever planned to. Because I’m super secretive about some things, where with others I blab for the world to see.

Because I’m a contradiction that way. But I feel like I need to write this down, for some unknown, possibly therapeutic reason, and then I may never repeat it again…

Because I just found out that Wills and Kate are expecting their third child… and I was downright devastated.

And I don’t think I need to clarify why.

And in all of these cases, I have found it really hard. Really hard to just move on. Really hard to just be accepting of the hardships that life throws at us. Really hard to stay positive.

Really hard to NOT SULK. Because I have. On a zillion occasions. Including right now in fact.

I may not do it outwardly, but boy oh boy have I sulked. And pouted my lips. Asked “why?” a million times. And now I just might cry again, and I think, that’s ok.

Because I realised that I am my own worst enemy. Here I was, judging X for being all sulky and cranky-pants over life not going to plan, and once I started to get the same, I reverted to the same old behaviours.

X and I might as well be the same person. Maybe we are all the same people.

I have no answers, I have no solutions. Sure I should stay positive, or keep on moving on, as I always say. I should toughen up, yet also I think unless you are in something, you don’t really know how crap or annoying it feels to be in it.

And as for X? Xs ‘down time’ has since passed, and they are currently in the midst of a great, great high…

I guess X is proof of things going up and down. I should hold out, and Hope my luck turns soon too.

 

A Year of Happiness

the_happiness_project_hero2

GRETCHEN RUBIN – The Happiness Project

“A happiness project was no magic charm.”

The above eye-opener comes in July from Gretchen Rubin, over half-way into the author’s year-long project into happiness – how to get it, how to be it, and everything else associated with making your face turn into an upward curve.

It’s actually taken me way too long to write this review. I kept reading other books, and failed to update my notes on all my read books, making me fall way behind on my reviewing. I can’t give an explanation other than to say I was lazy/uninspired, and in relation to this particular book felt it much too hard due to the vast and confusing landscape of ‘happiness project.’

I purchased this book at the end of 2013, a limited edition one that was sold through the beautiful stationary store kikki.K. It came at a time in my life when there had been a huge amount of upheaval. I was in the store shopping for Christmas presents with an almost 4 month-old baby girl, following a year that had involved a major and distressing death in the immediate family, with then the subsequent birth of our daughter. With all the ups and downs, it was hard to imagine us ever being normal again. I was hopeful, as a glass-half-full gal always is – but it was so hard to envisage us living life to the full the way we used to. A book on happiness sparked my curiosity, and besides, I was always drawn to self-help type books. We can all improve ourselves.

I was soon to discover that Rubin had divided the various paths to happiness (as she felt them to be), into 12 areas, and would allow herself to focus on one major aspect, with its various subdividing offshoots, each month. I thought, being so close to January, that I would go along on the project with her as she had done, and decided to read the chapters month by month, in so doing my own kind of year-long project analysis of my life. I wanted to take my time and think these concepts through.

This is the book I read during the span of 2014.

This was a project into happiness, but what I loved was that it gave an insight into human nature, the way we are as society, and gave me a good sense of who I really was via the questions it posed. The book was set up in 12 areas of happiness building – for example March was “Aim Higher!” with the ‘Work’ tag associated with it, and some of the goals she had outlined for that month were “enjoy the fun of failure,” “enjoy now” and “launch a blog.”  (We’ll come back to that one later).

At first it seemed a little confusing, and as a novice into this field also somewhat bewildering. In her initial research into happiness, she discovered the personal principles that would help her to stay on track during her project, which also coincidentally turned out to be 12, which she called her ‘commandments.’ Then there were the ‘secrets of adulthood,’ the goofy things she had learnt over the years, and her ‘resolutions chart’ would help to keep her on track as she checked herself and her goals against it, month by month. All of this made me feel like the whole thing was awfully complicated and too-thought-out. I mean, if you want to be happy, identify the problem, figure out the solution, do the research, and go. I guess there wouldn’t have been much of a book if she had taken a simplistic approach, and also, I do empathise with the need for lists and ticking off items, as all avid-organisers and OCDers can attest to. But this was going to be one of many baffling (and awfully irritating) things about Rubin that bugged me.

Rubin’s sentiment for starting the project rang true for me. She didn’t think she was necessarily unhappy, but she did feel as if she should be happier and more appreciative of the life she led, following her lightbulb moment one day with the profound question “Is this really it?” singing out in the background.

From the get go, I immediately started to learn things and discover ways that would make my life easier, in turn making me happier. Organisation was key to happiness, with the obvious revelation that outer order does bring inner peace. This helped me to understand why I do always need to clean or sort before I start a project, because I feel scattered by things that are around and distracting me. I took on board two of her suggestions: the ‘one-minute rule’ and the ‘evening tidy up.’ The first one refers to tasks that should not be delayed if they can be done in less than one minute, and the latter is as it says, helping to give you a more relaxed and serene start to the following day, when all your crap is organised. This especially helps with kids I think, and it really made me realise that a lot of the jobs we often put off can be done quickly, when we can identify how long it will take to do it and then just do it. Take my current example of changing flat batteries in baby girl’s toys. All I really need to do is get her toys, turn them over, find out what kinds of batteries are required, go to the battery drawer and change them. That’s it. It won’t even take 5 minutes. Yet the act of putting it off will make this job seem like the hardest one yet, just by the fact of constantly delaying it.

Realistically though, we have to understand that some things will never be ticked off, and they will either be ongoing jobs or things that will create more jobs for us to do. This reminded me of an entry I read many, many years ago in Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff by Richard Carlson, where he said (and at the time it blew my world) that our ‘Inbox’ will never be empty. We’re constantly trying to get everything done, but it’s just not possible. Understanding and accepting this is one of the key things to calming down and stressing less.

I got many other ideas from Rubin, such as the ‘6 second hug,’ a hug that for that minimum time is enough to produce mood-boosting chemicals to promote bonding; having a simple thing like a candle in your office can give you a sense of peace and help you to work smarter; and when she wrote about creating traditions in the family to foster love, I couldn’t help but think of all the singing and dancing that we do with one another, as well as our special family ‘eskimo kisses’ where Hubbie, baby girl and I rub noses with one another.

In particular, one of her goals actually set me on my own journey, as just as she started her own blog in March, so too did I follow a couple of months later – bringing me to where I am today! For that I am utterly grateful for her ideas. She had come across to writing from originally clerking, and so I felt it was encouraging to me, since where she is, writing full-time, is where I want to go.

Writing related, she mentioned a self-publishing website where she was able to create a book out of the journal she kept of her daughters first 18 months. This definitely spiked my interest as I too have kept lengthy journals of the exact same thing, and also I would love to have a hard copy of my first blog which is still being (un)read out there in cyber space, as memory of my life and writings when I first started out in the blog forum.

There were so many nuggets of life and happiness wisdom that it was hard to keep up. Things like:

“Experts says that denying bad feelings intensifies them; acknowledging bad feelings allows good feelings to return.”

“Happy people don’t need to have fun… the absence of feeling bad isn’t enough to make you happy; you must strive to find sources of feeling good.”

You can gain happiness from tasks that actually don’t make you happy in the process: my recurring ones are writing and throwing parties. That was a puzzling, yet true, revelation. Also, there was the ‘arrival fallacy’ which is the assumption that when you arrive at a certain destination you’ll feel happy. What makes you happier though, is the anticipation of it (something I think often about and have touched on here). Usually reaching significant goals gives you more challenges and work (i.e. the ‘Inbox’ is never empty!) which is why it’s so important to take pleasure in the atmosphere of growth. That is the fun part.

The most challenging tasks, give you the most sense of reward and accomplishment. Harder, therefore = happier. Last year when I made up all the invitations for baby girl’s christening from scratch, little did I realise how much running around, work and preparation would be required. But when I finished the lot, boy was I proud of myself.

One of my ‘woah’ moments came when I read about the fear of failure. She said that to succeed more, we had to acknowledge that we would fail more. She calls it the ‘fun of failure’ to help counteract the dread she feels. But my favourite quote was when she referred to a friend of hers, who always says whenever crisis strikes

“this is the fun part!”

Kind of like yelling “plot twist!” when something in your life doesn’t go to plan. I LOVE IT.

However, I also discovered questions that I really didn’t find an answer to. For example, she spoke about a controversial topic – does money create happiness? Can more of it, really make you happier? This was very dependent on your experiences, and also how much you had in relation to people around you. I realised in reading that chapter that I love buying coffee out, and eating out (Food Reviews anyone?) and yet I didn’t get an answer as to why that might be. Did it make me feel good, knowing that I could buy food and drink? Was it the fact I didn’t have to make it myself? I’m still pondering that one.

And just as I couldn’t discover why I love to eat and drink out so much, so too did I struggle to work out the character behind Rubin. At first it was slightly unnerving to read her accounts of ALL the books she read on a regular basis. Early into the book she recounted at list 20 titles just on one page. Being an aspiring author, this made me totally jelly. Then with all the ongoing references to an endless amount of books and quotes, I couldn’t help but think that she planned the book really well, or just retained a stupid amount of information that I never could. For her sake, and being the organised being she is, I hope it is the former.

My love/hate with Gretchen had begun.

There were other moments that made me feel inefficient. She talked about reading a lot, as any author would, and one of her goals one month was to ‘read at whim,’ where she noted about a zillion different writers and topics. I remember thinking ‘she has two girls, right? And one of them is a year old? And she does this how?’

She wanted to read, so much more than she usually did, even though her main work centred around it… and yet she wanted more time to pursue her passions, she wanted to read more for enjoyment.

I found one explanation as to how she finds all that time to read when she said:

“We had plenty of money to do what we wanted.”

But I wanted to reach through the book and slap her when I read this, when she was taking on the challenge of writing an entire novel in the month of September:

“Writing the novel was a lot of work, but I had less trouble squeezing the writing into my day than I’d expected. Of course I had it easier than most people, since I was already a full-time writer, but even so, I had to scrimp on time otherwise spent reading newspaper and magazines, meeting people for coffee, reading for fun, or generally putting around. My blog posts became noticeably shorter.”

Did she want writers around the world to unite against her? Don’t rub salt into time-poor writers’ wounds, Gretchen.

However, my frustration with her reached boiling point when I discovered from page 255 onwards, that not only does Rubin have qualities very like a person in my life who infuriates me, but she was actually her. This was a rude shock and made me question how I could continue reading a book from someone who I didn’t have any time for in my life, let alone let them teach me about being happy. Pffft.

In this section she spoke of her realisation of interrupting others, pushing her opinions onto friends in the example of forcing clutter clearing onto them (gosh she sounds like a delight), as well as a party of other very unfavourable qualities: she was a topper – “You think you had a crazy morning, let me tell you about my morning;” she was a deflator – “You liked that movie? I thought it was kind of boring;” and she was belligerent, looking for ways to contradict what people said.

When she went on to say that her first instinct was to argue with people when a statement was made, I made the following colourful note:

‘Yes! That’s her! Why argue? Go and argue with yourself over how you’re a fucking moron. (Did she write this in secret?)’

I started to, through my new-found anger towards Rubin and resurgence of hatred towards that person in my life, discover snippets of happiness-inducing tasks in the book that could help me on my own path, and help me in dealing with my frustration at infuriating people such as this. The following two quotes made me feel better about myself, as I pondered and focused instead on my own private insecurities, and why people like Rubin and others made me angry the way that it did. Insight can be a wonderful thing.

“Enthusiasm is a form of social courage.”

“It is easy to be heavy; hard to be light. We nonjoyous types suck energy and cheer from the joyous ones: we rely on them to buoy us with their good spirit and to cushion our agitation and anxiety. At the same time, because of a dark element in human nature, we’re sometimes provoked to try to shake the enthusiastic, cheery folk out of their fog of illusion – to make them see that the play was stupid, the money was wasted, the meeting was pointless. Instead of shielding their joy, we blast it. Why is this? I have no idea. But that impulse is there.”

Critical people appear smarter, and gain superiority from their know-it-all attitudes – but there is nothing superior about putting another person down, no matter what form it comes in.

And then, Rubin was giving me advice. Rubin, so similar in character to that person in my life, was giving me advice on how to deal with a person, like her! She spoke of rumination, which was dwelling on slights, unpleasant encounters and sad events, which led to bad feelings and often depression for women particularly as they were more likely to ruminate. This discovery rang true for me, as often following a troubling encounter with someone (that person), a solo drive in to work, alone with my head, can be absolute hell. But the idea of an ‘area of refuge’ which she invented to avoid her tendency to brood, sounded like a brilliant idea. She decides to think of one of Churchill’s speeches, or something funny her husband has done. Although I haven’t had a proper think about how to implement this, it’s certainly a life-task I will be coming back to. It’s like I was meant to read it.

In accepting Rubin’s help, I actually came to realise there were things about her that I liked. For example, she admitted to her faults (and wrote about them for all to critique), something not many people could easily do. She was human, getting upset at her husband and children for everyday things, and had to accept defeat the way many people did, giving up on one of her goals, a gratitude notebook, because it started to feel forced.

Finally, one final thing tied us together and made me much more sympathetic towards her. Her crap handwriting. I too suffer from shithandwritingisis, and it was refreshing to learn she couldn’t write lyrical prose for 45 minutes in a beautiful journal every day, because she wouldn’t be able to read it afterwards! Ahh, kindred spirit.

And, after all that, there was this:

“I love writing, reading, research, note taking, analysis, and criticism….”

This only confirmed to me that I was doing, what I was meant to be doing. In my free time, it’s all about books, notes, reviews, writing… This is where I am meant to be. This is where I am happy.

Although some of the above were tasks I could implement into my everyday life, there were other passages I read, those kind of insane life-changing lightbulb ‘Aha!’ moments that left me with goosebumps I would never forget the feel of.

She told the story of a man who would take his sons out because they would wake early every morning and his wife wanted to sleep in. They gave up trying to convince them to go back to sleep, so the man let his wife sleep and took them out, he got coffee and then watched them play in the park before returning home for breakfast. Rubin said these days, the couple slept late, but the man’s memories of those days with his young boys are the clearest and happiest of that period.

Excuse me while I cry.

Following that story came the highly appropriate quote, and also one of her ‘splendid truths:’

“The days are long, but the years are short.”

This quote quite literally gives me chills. It has become one of my favourite sayings, and a bittersweet reminder of parenthood. It puts everything into perspective, at a time of my life when there are difficult days, when things feel so hard, when I just wish certain stages were over. It reminds me that nothing lasts forever, and only to look back on the last two and a half years to realise that. It’s a scary thought, and a hopeful one too. It puts me where I’m meant to be most importantly, which is in the present.

A second profound insight interestingly came from a reader on her blog, who wrote:

“One day – I was about 34 years old – it dawned on me: I can DO ANYTHING I want, but I can’t DO EVERYTHING I want. Life-changing.”

Hell yeah. We can’t do it all, though in the name of positive thinking, we should be able to. Just another thing to think about, and to remember to do things that make you happy, rather than trying to do everything, just because we can. Focus on those things that make you smile. I’m sitting her typing at my laptop while baby girl naps, but when I re-read this, I’ll feel good about my writing efforts (remember, greater challenge, greater reward).

There was I poem I also came across that struck a particular cord with me, and thank God I googled it before re-posting it on facebook. It was an 18th century epitaph, those things you find on gravestones:

“Remember, friends, as you pass by,

As you are now so once was I.

As I am now, so you must be.

Prepare yourself to follow me.”

It is actually quite eerie, and yet when I first read it I found it to mean something else entirely. In line with my negative take on the saying ‘every dog has its day,’ I felt like it was a promise to those, that their day will come, that they will have hardships, and especially my friends without kids: ‘You will see how hard it is one day too.’ I don’t know why I am compelled to think like this, and why for a glass hall-full gal I am thinking on the negative side when it comes to this dog saying. I know that parenthood is hard, and I know that there are many out there, who like I was before kids, just don’t get it. I think, as weird as it sounds, I feel it’s comforting that I won’t be the only one in life with troubles and dramas. Sounds ridiculous, I know, as if no one has issues. We all do. But knowing you’re not alone, and other people will follow in your steps and have your problems, just as you will follow in other people’s steps and have their problems, makes me feel like we’re in this thing together.

“As you are now so once was I.”

I think whether you’re brimming with happiness and bouncing off of rainbows, or whether you’re staring at that second bottle of vodka with deep desire, we can ALL use this book. Sure, one can argue ‘Why the need to read about being happy, just BE happy!’ And I agree. There were many parts of the book when I just found the whole project a tad complicated, and her second ‘splendid truth:’

“One of the best ways to make myself happy is to make other people happy.

One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy myself.”

was a bit of a chicken/egg scenario and rattled my brain as I tried to logically work out which should come first and how they affect one another. But at the end of the day, as long as you can eat both the chicken and the egg, we don’t need to work anything out. Just as we don’t need to think too much about happiness – just be it. And if all that fails, fake it ‘til you make it and as Rubin says and does

“Act the way I want to feel.”

It doesn’t have to be so technical, but then again, whatever works for YOU. Rubin had her splendid truths, her commandments, and that helped her in her happiness project. At the end of the book she supplies additional info and tips on how to better your life and even start your own happiness project, just as she started her own book club too (something I seriously pondered, and still ponder today).

Rubin gave me a lot of inspiration, confirmed for me I was on the right path, and gave me lots of nifty tips and tricks, as well as self-learning, and that is a lot more than other books can say. She vowed to stop reading books she didn’t enjoy, and I too realised that I shouldn’t feel the need to read short stories or stories of sadness/loneliness/woe, no matter how acclaimed they are or how well they’re written. I thought in depth about my ‘True Rules,’ a term she coined for a collection of principles developed over time that help you to make decisions and set priorities. Where one of hers was “When making a choice about what to do, choose work,” I soon discovered one of mine were “There’s a reason for everything.”* And when a reader on her blog listed all the groups and clubs they had joined that year and all the amazing experiences that had come out of that choice, I couldn’t help but think with awe ‘Imagine all the friends and experiences you’ll miss out on by not doing anything?’

The Happiness Project is a must-read for all. Even if you don’t like Gretchen (as I can surely relate to, at times), you will love the ideas and insight into YOU that come out of this book. It’s a helpful guide to come back to time and time again.

As my sauce-splattered kikki.K wash cloth says:

2015-12-21 16.35.01

Too right.

Please let me know your thoughts on The Happiness Project in the comments below, I would love to discuss with you.

(*True Rules coming up in a later post).