Be happier

Why do we put off having a good time? Sure, technically, celebrating is normally reserved for a ‘significant event’ but that shouldn’t put the dampeners on enjoying our day-to-day living more.

That’s what we all want, right, to be happier?

shared mealDon’t wait to celebrate. It is a long way between birthdays and promotions through the year, those special events often slip by us anyway. Birthdays are particularly fraught with baggage in our culture where youth is venerated. What can we do to be happier in our lives? Time is ticking people, this is our life we’re talking about!

What stops us being happier?

We worry – but by definition worry is about things that haven’t happened yet. So we’re making ourselves less happy now to think about things that may not happen in the future.

We turn worry into anxiety. While worry is tiring, anxiety is crippling. It isolates us from support and undermines our confidence.

The world is noisy. There is an avalanche of data every day, we’re suffocating under information and opinions.

Lots of people are mean and selfish. Let’s not go into this one too deeply, but I bet you thought of an example immediately didn’t you? Probably from the last day or so. We live in a crowded and pushy world, where a lot of people are out to get what they can.

Never enough money to go around. Do you get to the end of your pay and still have some week left? Do you wonder where the last pay went to?

We don’t have time. So very busy all the time with doing things and buying things and planning things and worrying. Oh my. So much to do! Where does the time go!? Another month and still you haven’t gotten around to that important thing you wanted to start? Drive faster, work harder, try harder to squeeze it all in. ARGHHH!

We just don’t think of it. It is a bit of a rut, day to day, doing all the things you have to do. Plodding through work and chores and bills and buying groceries and getting that thing fixed and all the other details. Being happy just kindof slips out of the picture.

Seven things you can do this week to be happier

Live in the now. Take life a bit more ‘as it comes’, or as a wise friend used to say “one meal at a time”. Of course you have big-picture plans and a few things you really want to achieve, but let go of obsessing over the illusion of control. Roll a little as the waves of life come at you.

Count your blessings. Make a list of all the things you’re grateful for. It is the best ever antidote for other people being nasty. Why? Because it brings you back into a core space that is ok, a space from which you can worry less about other people being grabby, because you realise you probably already have enough. Want a challenge, send a postcard or a letter to someone and thank them for being in your life or for something particularly that they did.

Buy less stuff. Being happy is an experience, evaluate how you spend your money in terms of what you value.

Turn off the worry switch. Anxiety is a horrible outcome from a quirk of our clever brains. The capacity to think through events that had not yet happened gave early humanoids a survival advantage. These days it keeps the wheels of our minds spinning when we need to be sleeping. Not so helpful. Learn about sleep hygiene and mindfulness practices that suit your variety of worry. If you can’t act on your concern, mentally count numbers. Or do maths. Really.

Be in a bubble. Cut out some (or all media) and detach from the ‘stay informed’ imperative. You need some of that intellectual energy to deal with your own life, to solve problems (see ‘worry’, above) or to create and heal. You won’t miss much. If you feel like a challenge, learn how to meditate and give that a go. You’ll get the secret bonus that meditators know all about (true quiet).

Time travel. Pretend you already lived today and then time travel back to the morning and tell yourself what the one important thing to do is. Just do that. No matter what other random, confusing, urgent and distracting things happen, hold onto the knowledge that future you needs current you to just do the one thing. You’ll change the nature of your time. Trust me, I’m a Doctor.

Share a meal. No need for a special occasion or fancy food. Just enjoy an ordinary meal in company. Chat about your hopes. Listen. Relax and enjoy the taste of the food, feel grateful for the earth that grew it and the people who worked to bring it to your plate. Tell jokes, daggy ones you remember from when you were a kid.

There you go.

None of this is too complex to grasp and you don’t need to hire a professional to do the paperwork to get started. Don’t like this list? No problem, here are 10 scientifically proven paths to be happier and Dr G will point you to any number of similar lists.

The real trick? Just make one of them happen. Now’s your moment, act on a whim so you don’t over-think it.

This week, don’t wait to celebrate. Make the call and put an idea into action. You’ll be happier for it.

A gentle day

Rabbit smoking pipe - illustration by Erik Blegvad

Let’s take a breath together today. Just have some quiet time. We need a gentle day. There’s been a lot going on in the world.

For example, we’ve had some big storms lately. One last week that was a shocker and then one this week that belted us all over again. For once I’m not exaggerating, the government labelled it the worst in a decade. Trees and roofs were torn from their moorings, the public transport system was hammered, streets flooded as more than a month’s rain fell in 30 minutes. Just last night, the storm caused more than $2b AUD of damage. Twelve people were injured, none seriously, although there were wind gusts of up to 140klm/hr that tipped planes and trucks. Like thousands of others, I was inconvenienced in getting home. That’s all. I had to catch a bus that got me as close as possible to home and wait for my Knight in a white charger to come and collect me.

It was scary, tiring, confusing, frustrating and today, like many other people I’m shell shocked. It feels selfish to say that, after all I’m ok. We weren’t hurt. It is just that our safe lives feel like they’re changing. Things we depend up (the weather, public transport etc) are changing and in unexpected ways.

Everything’s ok. Everyone’s ok. All our stuff is ok. The dog is fine. There’s been other stuff happening in other cities, and shootings and riots and blah blah blah you don’t need a list of those horrible things to know exactly what’s weighing on your chest, keeping your heart heavy.

I hope you’re ok.

Whatever you’ve been going through (and there’s always something), you’re probably reeling from it too. Be gentle with yourself. Please. There’s always a push on to pick yourself up and ‘soldier on’. Maybe you’ve got kids to raise, and deadlines that are flashing red, or people expecting you to work far away from where you need to be, maybe there are people depending on you, and of course you have expectations of yourself. So of course you keep going, that’s what we do.

Even when you want nothing more than curling up under something cosy and doing whatever it is that makes you feel ‘taken care of’. Today, if you can, do just that. Or tonight, or in the morning. Take some care of yourself. Give yourself permission to take a little time to digest what’s been going on and reflect on how it played out. It probably didn’t go quite to plan, or maybe you were blindsided. This isn’t even about learning from it and all that grown-up stuff – that’s for later.

Right now is just for accepting what is going on for you. You deserve some space, some quiet.

Taking a bit of time, taking a bit of space, taking a big breath – this is not weakness, this is how we stay connected to our souls inside turmoil. If we are too busy connecting with news and updates and tweets and social media, we struggle to find the place where we connect to our inner self. Without that, we can’t begin to heal.

Image credit

Sometimes a stumble

Our brave face outward.
Fierce, focussed on horizons and plans of epic proportions,
ready to stride forward, forging success.

Oh but even you are human,
perhaps you stumble. Can you forgive
the foot, the stone, the day?

Pause in the eternal moment here,
between the trip and the echo,
where you explode and reform.
Are you ego, emotion or empathy?

Sometimes a stumble is the biggest challenge of all.

Desire’s dark side

Lustful affairs bring consequences. The lovechild of the compulsion to consume is the unwanted bastard offspring Debt.

Oh Debt. We are not shy about conceiving you.

Australians lead the world with an average household debt (which includes mortgages) footprint of 1.8 – this means that people are spending nearly twice what they earn. All of their income and 80% of a whole ‘nother wage. Staggering. (ref ABS Data May 2014 )  No really.

‘Yeah’ you say ‘but that’s including houses and everybody knows that the Australian housing market is overvalued. That’s why I rent!’ Ok fine.
Australians owe billions on credit cards, about $4 400 per person.

Just for fun, this clock (ASIC Moneysmart ) shows how much Australians currently owe on the plastic. Your factoid for today is that 49% of those who carry $5,000 or more in credit card debt have a degree or a diploma. Oh wait, last one! Two in five people have no idea what interest rate they are paying on their card (and that was in March 2013! ).

Charles Dickens quote from David Copperfield

Much as those figures stimulate the curiosity and sound all newsy they actually distract from the human story that sits behind them. It is all too easy to evaluate yourself immediately against those figures so you can dismiss them. Relief – ‘mine’s lower!’ Or to judge – ‘how could they let it get to that?!’ I chose to include them because they’re real. Most Australians of age have one or more credit cards. They owe money on them that potentially they will never ever actually pay out. Or like dieters who know better, they yo-yo in and out of debt on the cards in tides of recrimination and stoic, forced budgets.

None of us is alone with our debt baby. We live in culture where it is normal to carry debt. That’s what we call it, not ‘tortured by’ or ‘enslaved by’ an endless burden. No, we just casually ‘carry’ it. We consider it part of the ‘cost of living’. Everyone does it. Those who do not have a credit card have an uneasy aura of either a do-gooder or a bankrupt (depending a bit on the tone of voice used to convey the information) but are a bit creepy either way. Not someone you’re going to listen to anyway.

Would you listen to yourself though? If your future self could tunnel through the time vortex and whisper in your ear, what would they say to you about how you left them holding the crying, hungry baby? Can the future you remember the emergency purchase or convenience of takeaway dinner or the money you saved by buying on sale with credit? Did you ever fall in love with a book that you simply must have only to get it home and put it on top of the pile of other books you haven’t yet read? I did. Many times.

When ANZ handed my debt over to a hard-nosed collection agency and I had to own up to my past indiscretions there was no way I could remember a single thing that had been so important it had to be bought with that card. My past self had blithely given me a big stinking problem to deal with and I hated her for it. If that’s not a perfect example of provisional living going bad, I don’t know what is. I don’t know that I would have listened to future me though, if I had tried to deny those lustful urges. In the end, it was an affair that took me years to recover from.

Why do we assume that our future selves will somehow have more resources, more ability to deal with the consequences of our actions? Because we’ve inadvertently subscribed to the doctrine of progress. We do it in our personal lives, we do it in our communities when we build houses on every next block of land, leaving no space for anything else. We do it as a nation when we use every bit of energy we can grab because ‘they will figure out a new technology soon and we’ll all have limitless lives and won’t have to work’ or something that sounds like winning the ‘infinite planet lotto’. Not going to happen. Addictive and easy, sure, but not real.

The reality is that it is impossible to be free when we are in the thrall of endless compound interest on debt. In the next quiet moment you have to yourself, ask your future self what it is that you both want most out of life.

It is not going to be more debt.

Kiss your loved ones and plan a different way forward. We’ve got a lot ahead of us.

An embarrassment of riches

In this time-poor age what gift is greater than attention?

A queen-sized, handmade crochet blanket
Make something with your hands.

I see people who struggle sometimes to pay attention to their own needs because they’re locked into an identity of serving others. And then there are so many who are in a cage of the cult of the self.

We all juggle a multiplicity of responsibilities, deadlines and practicalities and time for dreaming, for watching trees or clouds or listening to birds is a rarity.
What is it we yearn for? To matter to someone.

Today, if you can, carve out some time to let someone know that they matter to you. A friend will be delighted to receive the gift of some attention. Are you of a methodical bent or looking for a bigger win in spreading some joy? Today is a great day to start an eternal calendar for your friends’ birthdays. There is a special pleasure in confidently preparing a parcel for a friend and posting it or delivering it in time for their private special day. It is not about the money. It is about the attention.
You matter. If you’re not sure, let someone else know that they matter to you.