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.

Taking a bath

How did you go with your time for forgiveness? Did you experience any positives? It can take a while to work through the layers if you haven’t gone through that process before. It can also be confronting to acknowledge how many emotional conflicts and memories we’re carrying around one way or the other. It might seem like too much to ask to stay up to date each day with fresh forgiveness, but there are a lot of good reasons for trying. Among them is the ability to stay calm and graceful under pressure, so today we’ll all practise taking a bath.

woman taking a bathAlthough we don’t always have the time or resources to refresh ourselves with a physical bath, we can mentally take a bath whenever we need one. If you work with humans, that might be every 20 minutes or so. The little mental break it gives us helps to create a useful pause before responding to any situation. In that pause we can review our emotional and intellectual states, check in on our five circles and double-check that we’re not about to perpetuate something we’ve been working at forgiving. Sounds like a lot to cover but with practise you’ll be doing all that during one deep, slow inhalation.

While the quincunx gave us a model to put parts of our world into relationship and so help us deal with different challenges that come up in one realm or another. We’re taking that further now that we’ve begun to add the aspect of time, or rather deal with the fact that time is constantly happening to us, we get a chance make a distinction between things we can influence and things we need to simply let go.

One of the most draining things about contemporary culture is the combination of the ‘fear of missing out’ (FOMO) and the expectation that we’re all ‘always on’ (available via social and digital media at all times for all parts of our life. For many normal, everyday people downtime is a thing of the past. You can’t always burn your smartphone and day after day these pressures create a type of fatigue in us.

The fatigue is built up of layers of events, layers of reaction and super-quick responses that we’d like to think more deeply about but have to keep going as something else has already come in. We scroll through feeds, flicking past short headlines, maybe tapping ‘like’, often thinking how nice it would be to share more than a meme with each other. Then there are the layers of repetition that come from dealing with stupid rules, idiotic expectations, basic inequalities that are structural and so considered ‘nobody’s fault’. Each of those things is a toxin in our system and they slowly poison us into a constant knee-jerk position. Without detoxing, unwinding, we’re on the edge. You’ve got a hair trigger on the constant loop of reaction.

Run a bath

If you’re a bath person, you know you need at least an hour or so to put aside for this ritual. Let me step you through it. Firstly you check the tub, give it a bit of a wipe and just make sure it is ready to host you. Then you start to run the water, deliberating over adding salts and unguents or going with fancy soaps. Maybe at this point you light some candles or set the lighting how you like it. Now select some music that suits the mood you want. We’ll go for something calming and happy today. Check your favourite towel and or bathrobe is handy, turn off or unhook the phone, perhaps lock the door and get ready to enter the water.

You slip into the water, which is a perfect temperature for you. Perhaps you like it a little hotter today so it can seep into all of your muscles. You stretch out slowly, feeling comfortable, and feel the water swirl around you to accommodate your legs. You lean back and take a deep breath. You’re really here, it smells wonderful. The water is supporting you, the tub is warm, and the music starts to sound clearer.

Feel your legs, your toes stretch and wiggle, feeling free for the first time in ages. Your calves relax, your knees, and then slowly your thighs heat through and feel soft and heavy. You unclench your buttocks, why were they so clumped up?! Doesn’t matter, they hold so much of our daily stress, so just let them relax now. Continue moving up your body, letting each muscle group warm through and let go. You’re safe and supported. You’re in a beautiful place. Close your eyes and breathe deeply so that your abdomen rises. Your mind relaxes and is free to drift along the waves of the music. You feel wonderful. Your troubles can be dealt with soon enough, right now you’re doing something important for you.

The view from the bath

Now that we’re relaxed and floating, visualise the quincunx, and if you have a big bath, starfish out and float in the balanced place between all your worlds just like in the picture. The view from the bath is that most things that upset us aren’t really important enough to let ourselves get unbalanced by (and that is why we started with forgiveness, because if you feel frustrated with yourself that you do get thrown off balance by irritations, forgive yourself again and let that frustration wash away. Otherwise our own self-criticism continually sabotages us). From the bath, we don’t want to get out, pull on a robe, unlock the door, turn down the music and interrupt our pleasure in order simply to respond to some other person and their issue just for the sake of responding and staying up to date or efficient or whatever your bugbear is that gets you twitching when your phone rings. No. let’s stay put and enjoy right now.

It is easy from the bath to make the decision to wait a while and think about what is actually important enough to respond to, and how best to do so based on your larger goals, your higher purpose, or the values you’ve chosen to live by. From the bath, we can clearly understand the importance of balance in the now and the value of backing off from the hair-trigger.

The metaphor of taking a bath and the visualisation to go along with it is about refreshing ourselves and also making a space inside normal time for considered choice. If you regularly consciously have a bath (bravo!) or if you just relax and run yourself through that visualisation sometimes, thinking of it in this way becomes a tool for dealing with that tiring round of constant expectations and FOMO pressures. From your bath, you get to make a choice, you get to let some things wait, or even just to let them go. You don’t actually have to answer every message or email or have an opinion about every news event or celebrity scandal. Over time you can tap into that deep relaxation in a single deep breath if you want to. You don’t have to have any other excuse for checking out on issues that you aren’t committed to, and you’ll have more energy and focus for the ones that that matter most.

So slow down, run yourself a bath, and make some time for deep relaxation and your values. No need to get back to me on this one.

Image source

 

Consumption compulsion

Muddling forward into our shared future, let’s have a cuppa and talk about the elephant in the room. Lust.

Yes, you’ve felt it. Unbidden, from deep in you rises that heady, powerful urge to purchase. New things. Shiny things. Perfect, desirable, cool, promising things. We have an affair with that orgasmic moment of transaction. The Purchase. *sigh*

This is what gets us into trouble in the first place. It is easy to believe that we’re all immune to the lure of the marketing demons and advertising parasites, yet our houses, garages and storage units are bursting with gadgets and gear that we’ve barely used. We’re cheating on the side with stuff, and it’s an affair we swear off and crawl back to. I’m not pointing any fingers or throwing any stones here, I’m coming clean and asking for help.

It starts off, as every affair does, innocently. You see it in a picture alongside an article, or as a prop in a film or tv series. Maybe you notice it, maybe you don’t. Then you spot it in another feed or your favourite blog or pinterest board. Oh, here it comes, the momentum is building and it is already too late. You click through. You note the hashtag. You check the site and are appalled at the price, and then all over again at the shipping. You close the window. Swear off but you know you’ll be back.

Whatever that item is, you DO NOT NEED IT.

You don’t. You just want it.

A friend and I were talking this week about notebooks (We’re mad for stationery. Don’t judge.) and we’ve both been “looking at” (you know what this is code for) a particular name brand ‘notebook’ that is actually just a cover that you buy inserts for. The covers are expensive and hard to get. Perfect. They’re also not all that practical for how I live and work. Even better. Plus, they’re made of leather. Watch two committed vegetarians rationalise how this is ok because at least it will be long wearing. Oh dear.

Why? Why do we sometimes want these name-brand items, no matter what? How does it become, out of nowhere, such an urgent passion? We can drive ourselves almost crazy with the craving, even though we know it can cripple us financially (or send us into a spiral of unmanageable credit card debt).

I wish I knew how this happens, so I could unhook from it. I feel it *all the time* it is like a constant undercurrent in our culture. Watching a lot less TV does help – but now the internet is littered with visually driven content – and these ‘notebooks’ seem to be everywhere that aspirational images are and nowhere in my mundane, suburban reality. They exotically promise creativity, freedom, and a life unfettered by the necessity to carry anything other than this in your tiny, light bag. Probably you’re too cool for a bag because you’re such a free spirit. You travel so light you just live out of a pocket.

Let me tell you why I’m a tiny bit bitter. It is because I’ve been down this road before. Let me introduce you to The Filofax.

My 20 year old Filofax (almost exactly the same size and concept) is still in perfect condition but now just looks daggy and old-school. So 80s! Yet at the time, it was the same, I burned for a Filofax. Burned. Planned it for so long, shopped around (pre-Internet!). The fact that the card slots in it are US size and none of my cards ever, EVER fit was shaming but I pretended that I didn’t care. I still use it at home to keep all my friends’ addresses in (yes, by hand, on paper!) but I would never carry it around (like we all used to) because it is just too heavy and really it is a back-up for my phone (yes, before there were mobiles!). Even carrying my B5 journal feels bulky and I sometimes see people with kindles smirking at me. I have a little pad of A6ish post-its in the back of the journal and that works really well for any notes on the go, so I know I would never really use this notebook and even so, I STILL WANT ONE.

For now, I recognise that my affair with compulsive consumption is destructive. The seductive allure of fresh pages; or the glamour of pristine, unscuffed bags; the excitement and promise of exactly the right shoes is the frisson that hooks me in and keeps me coming back. I’m getting better. I tell myself little white lies (“I can’t afford it”) or keep a 30 day list. But what really keeps me on the straight and narrow is the thought of that perfect, beautiful almost useless Filofax on my cluttered desk at home.

I’m going to get that Filofax out tonight and give her a glass of wine and gentle rub. Make it up to her. Let her know I still appreciate her patented system and secure papers and useless card slots. Most of all, I’m going to thank her for being a lesson well learned from days long past about how lust fulfilled fades so quickly and leaves a wake of bedraggled leftovers cast aside to make way for tomorrow’s rising favourites.

Let us settle for love and honesty in the face of these incessant temptations. You have enough. We are already enough.

Ripening New Year

Like many people around the world I sat down to write out what I wanted this new year to be like. Unsurprisingly it was very similar to how I had hoped that last year might be. At first I was despondent about my life having turned into a drab kind of  “rinse and repeat” cycle.

No. Honestly I was gutted.

Wheel of FortunePerhaps this would be all that I could hope for into the future – fresh chances to try and get just one year right. One year where my modest goals could be met; where I might weigh a little less instead of a lot more, where I might see my loved ones more than my work colleagues. Simple, humble goals that I have failed to achieve in the last year. And indeed the year before that too.

You might suggest that having a process fail regularly would be a good reason to let it go. New year’s resolutions are for chumps, everyone knows that. Yes, so just give up, roll over and let it happen how it will. After all, I am 42 now, a middle-aged lady. Nobody cares. All my rage and fury and desires are unbecoming on podgy hips and graying hair. Passions and hopes are for young people. I should just shut up and pay my taxes. After all, I had my chance, I made my moves. Time, as they say, moves on. Every new year just reminds me that I’m racing against the clock and I don’t get to start from scratch, I’ve got a handicap from all the time I spent learning the wrong things, following stupid advice and bumbling around life’s maze.

But time has moved on without so many of us I cannot be alone in hoping for a second chance.

Then I remembered an amazing phrase that had lodged like a burr in my mind since I had read it on the Archdruid’s Report sometime in the last month or two which I have remembered as “we ripen towards death”* and it took the sting out of my haunting sense of another ‘failed’ year. It hinted of slower, gentler rhythms and reminded me that life’s purpose is not to ‘arrive’ at our final destination. We will, most certainly, get there in due course. Our purpose is really a deliberate and mindful process of combining our own selection of influences and inspirations to constantly become our own selves in relationship to the world around us and its major events.

This then is why I keep my little lists in the front of each diary of my intentions and goals. They are my deliberate and mindful process of who I wish to be in face of what life will throw at me.

In the midst of the year’s wheel, I will have a compass to help me towards what will make sense of this world for me. We all want it to make sense, for there to be a reason behind the pain and the obligation and the duty and the frustration and the lost days.

So many lost days in the life that is ticking down to a long cold end but let us each at least be ripe in our own time. If you are thirsty, seek water. If you are fearful, leap. If you are on fire then burn as bright as all the fires in the heart of the sun.  Your path is towards your own end. Let each step on that path be your decision as much as possible. Seek your own flavour in this new year.
Say ‘yes’ to your time.
Be brave. Be incandescent.

* the quote is actually quite different – and a lot better!:
“These people aren’t looking for salvation, at least in the sense that word has been given in the religious sensibility of the last two millennia or so, and which was adopted from that sensibility by the theist and civil religions of the Western world during that time; they are not pounding on the doors of the human condition, trying to get out, or consoling themselves with the belief that sooner or later someone or something is going to rescue them from the supposedly horrible burden of having bodies that pass through the extraordinary journey of ripening toward death that we call life.”
http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com.au/2013/11/at-closing-of-age.html