Tag Archives: gratitude

Happier at Home

I’ve become quite fond of Gretchen. Since reading The Happiness Project and attempting my own (and therein gaining a newfound respect for her diligence to such a project) I’ve been listening to her podcast Happier and I’ve read (and really enjoyed) Better Than Before.

I was wandering around my local library the other day (not quite deliberately enough to call it browsing) when I came across her book Happier At Home. I’ve never really had a great urge to read this one- for a while I thought it was the same as The Happiness Project but with a different cover or title, as some books seem to have for various international versions. But after seeing it there in front of me and reading the back to make sure it wasn’t the same as The Happiness Project, I thought “Let’s give it a whirl!” so I borrowed it. (I love libraries, they satisfy my penchant for zero waste, frugal, clutter-free living.)

Although I’d had my reservations about The Happiness Project, I enjoyed Happier At Home from page 1. Gretchen’s writing voice is different to her podcast voice. When I first tuned into her podcasts, I remember being quite surprised to hear the way she spoke. I’m not sure why…. Reading another of her books then reminded me of that slightly awkward, nerdy, slightly neurotic type A persona that I found difficult to fully warm to in The Happiness Project. But this time, instead of finding it disconcerting, I actually found it quite comforting to hear it again.

And so, I read about what is, essentially, her second happiness project, this one on a slightly smaller scale, set in and around her home. And, just as with The Happiness Project, I was inspired to take away from it some “Try this at home”s (find out what this is on her podcast- although it’s pretty self-explanatory!)

Specifically,

  • Go shelf by shelf (declutter- a constant mission of mine)
  • Kiss in the morning, kiss at night (Give proofs of love)
  • Give gold stars (Acknowledge others’ good deeds verbally not just mentally)
  • Go on adventures (Big and small, with both Mr L and the little Ls)
  • Give warm greetings and farewells (a kiss at least, hello and goodbye)
  • Dig Deep (My personal commandments need revisiting I think)
  • Suffer for fifteen minutes (Get a potentially tedious and large scale chore done little by little each day- mine, as Gretchen’s was, is collating some family photo albums.)
  • Follow a threshold ritual (Literally, cross the threshold of your house with gratitude)
  • Eat like a yogi (I added this one myself- more on this later, it’s a work in progress)

I wonder if I’d have been better off reading Happier At Home before The Happiness Project. Despite coming first, The Happiness Project is on a much bigger scale and was a bit full on for me. Mine kind of fizzled. This one’s much less rigid. It’s just going to aim to incorporate these habits into my day, rather than ticking off resolution charts or writing time lines.

We’ll see how we go!

 

 

April Happiness Project- Kikki K Happiness workshop*

Ok so I could pretend that I had always intended for this to be my scheduled activity for April when I outlined my happiness project in January. But that would be dishonest. I didn’t have the workshop scheduled until about a fortnight ago, although I received the voucher for Christmas so it was definitely well and truly on my list of things to do.

The truth is, the first two months haven’t gone exactly to plan and a combination of running out of steam (ie time, energy, motivation) and being disorganised had part of me thinking “screw this” but then another part of me saying “no hang on, why not just make the workshop your Happiness activity for this month?”.

So on Thursday last week, Mr L made sure he got home a bit early from work and I ventured into Auckland’s shopping district to attend my Kikki K Happiness workshop.

Kikki K run a series of workshops with various themes- including Organisation, Goals, Happiness and a new one, Mindfulness. They run for an hour and cost $50 (in NZ) and there’s the lure of a free (well, an included) gift and a discount on all items in store on the night. You know what the gift is ahead of time so if you wanted to, you could go into it with an idea of the content although I must admit, I didn’t bother doing any research and just went off the description of the workshop and also the fact that one of my themes/interests for this year is Happiness.

So at the start of the workshop were given our own Kikki K Happiness journal to take home and this formed the basis for most of the points of discussion. The session was led by Michelle, who leads all the workshops in Auckland and Hamilton and started doing so (I think) just this year. She was a graphic designer in a former life until deciding she was unhappy in her job and needed to do something different. I’m unsure if she has any formal training in Life Coaching or motivational speaking (or in fact, if you necessarily need any) but she certainly had the makings of a good facilitator for this kind of session. I felt she was a little nervous, although maybe if I hadn’t known she was new to the job I wouldn’t have picked up on this.

The other workshop participants were all female and all appeared to be twenty-somethings and early thirty-somethings, with the exception of two high school girls, (who were very sweet!)

The basic concepts discussed were not new to me, which didn’t actually matter, it was good to have them reinforced. Interestingly, Kikki K sell Gretchen Rubin’s books The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, and a large part of the workshop (and in fact the diary) seemed to be inspired by her own Happiness Project. I found this a little distracting, partly because I’d already made my own impression of her book, partly because I wondered if she was receiving any commission and also because I would have liked to add a couple more references and resources to my happiness bibliography. But it didn’t take over the workshop and given that much of my own Happiness inspiration has been derived from her writing, I didn’t really feel I could complain too much.

The main themes/messages were:

  1.  Being happy is an active choice we make on a day-to-day basis
  2. Taking pleasure in the (often simple) things already present in your life is far more effective than dreaming of how future big goals are going to make you happy
  3. Reflecting on what makes you happy, what has made you happy in the past and being grateful for those things is vital for Happiness
  4. Accepting yourself and your own likes & dislikes in also crucial, rather than trying to conform to others’ ideas of what should make you happy

The diary is essentially in two sections- the first covers general reflective exercises covering mainly what I’ve mentioned above, the second is a more specific tool for analysing what would make your life happier and coming up with some steps to achieve those things, with a month-by-month plan. In other words, your own happiness project.

I left the workshop feeling relaxed and, happily, happy. It was hard to say if the workshop and the reminders it provided me re my own happiness project were the main reason for that, or if I just felt like I’d had a mental break after a particularly taxing few days with the kids. Probably a bit of both.

So my April happiness project has become to complete the diary exercises and take another look at my own happiness project and see if I can do a bit of a better job than I managed in February and March!

*Much as I would love to be endorsed by a company like Kikki K, I attended this workshop as a paying customer

On Death and Dying

 I seem to be constantly reminded, especially lately, of the transience of our existence and how quickly it can all be taken away from us, and life turned upside-down for us and our loved ones.

Recently, I have experienced, in varying degrees of proximity, the death of a school friend from a rare form of cancer, the deterioration of one of my closest friends from uni from treatment complications of leukaemia and the death of the daughter of one of Mr L’s friends, a little younger than Master L, also from leukaemia (or its treatment, anyway).

Without wanting to be particularly morbid, all these situations can’t help but make me think about my own mortality and that of those around me. It’s a complex range of emotions- from feeling incredibly lucky to be healthy and alive and to have so much, to profound sadness when it’s someone I know, especially when I’ve witnessed the whole drawn-out diagnostic, treatment, relapse and deterioration process, (or their “fight” as the lay press likes to refer to it- a term I find interesting but more on that later if I remember). There’s sometimes an element of guilt associated with that luck and at times, a feeling of panic, impending doom and pessimism: sort of a “who’s next?” feeling and dread of something striking me or one of my family.

Media “personalities”, naturally, are not immune and I was touched recently by the experiences of two people, both writers, affected in different ways by death and dying.

The first is the author Hannah Richell. I have only read one of her books (Secrets of the Tides) and I was struck not so much by the story line (although it is quite original and entertaining), but by the complexity of emotion she manages to recreate so vividly. In summary, a toddler goes missing at the beach, presumed drowned, while he is being minded by his two teenage sisters. One sister tells the other to make herself scarce while she meets up with her love-interest, each assumes the other is looking after their little brother. To complicate matters, the reason the toddler is being minded by his sisters in the first place, is that the mother is having an affair of her own and lumps her son on her older daughters for the first time ever, not something she would normally do. The end result is that there are 3 people who directly blame themselves for his disappearance. As I read it, I really felt the author may have experienced first hand some sort of loss or grief, the complexity of reactions and emotions just seemed so real. So I Googled her out of interest, and was saddened to find that she had indeed experienced her own loss, not before writing the book however, but since, when her husband was killed in a surfing accident last July, leaving her widowed with their 2 young children.

Hannah continues to write, sporadically, on her blog, and her posts since her husband’s death have, understandably, been about the grieving and coping process. It’s not easy reading- it’s confronting and sad and you feel strangely voyeuristic, not to mention self-indulgent, getting a small taste of the anguish she’s feeling without actually having to experience her loss.

One particularly poignant passage she writes (actually as part of her husband’s eulogy) is reflecting back to the day of her husband’s death. She recalls:

 “…on his very last morning, at his suggestion, he and I enjoyed a rare early morning coffee at our favourite cafe… Then as we left, we kissed goodbye in the sunshine. He turned and threw a last joke and a smile at me and we went our separate ways. For a goodbye you never want to come, it was pretty perfect.”

Occasionally now I have this awful thought after waving Mr L goodbye on his bike, or if he is late home from work, or slow to answer a text “What if that was the goodbye I never want to come??” But of course, thankfully, so far it hasn’t been, and I return to the relatively safe assumption that he will be home tonight and everything will continue as normal. There’s that old saying about living every day as though it’s your last, but as well as the fact that you’d never get anything constructive done, you’d be an emotional wreck if you thought that every time you said goodbye might be the last.

The other author I came across recently facing his own issues with death and dying, is Oliver Sacks, a Neurologist who has written extensively on neurological disorders and neuroscience is his various books, which are aimed not just at a medical audience but also at a lay population. He has recently been diagnosed with liver recurrence of an eye tumour which he had treated some years ago and was believed to have been cured of. His recurrence is incurable. He, however, is 81, obviously has time to “prepare” and contemplate how he will spend the rest of his days and make sure he spends time with the people who matter the most to him. He doesn’t mention if being 81 somehow makes it easier to bear, but you can’t help feeling that dying at 81 is somehow less unfair than dying at 38….

Timely to my own comparison of such different end of life experiences was an article I stumbled across via the BMJ (ok, and facebook) by a man called Richard Smith, who I hadn’t heard of before, about what kind of death he wanted- the slow type you can prepare for, vs the unexpected type you can’t really. After seeing my grandma’s very gradual decline and ultimate demise at the age of 95 last June, I said several times I thought it was better to go suddenly while you were still fit and healthy. The caveat to that, of course, is “but not while you’re still too young”… however young “too young” is. Harder, undoubtedly, for those around you but probably less unpleasant for the person who dies.

Anyway, enough of this, it all seems a bit morbid. At the end of the day, few of us get to choose how we go or how those around us go and so, while I don’t necessarily embrace living every day as though it may be our last, perhaps taking time to appreciate the small things, the big things, the everythings, is a more constructive approach to making the most of our remaining days.

Going Solo

“I hope the kids are good for you” said Mr L. 

“I’m more worried about whether I’m going to be good for them” I replied.

Today he left for Germany for a week. As in, a full proper week: 7 nights (actually 7 days, 7 nights and about 8 hours, but who’s counting?) This is the longest he’s been away since Miss L was born. He did a 12 day stint when Master L was about 6 months old and I thought that was hard (now I think- pfft! What could ever be hard about only ONE baby?!?!)

I need to remind myself from time to time that I am the adult. Master L is 2 years old (nearly two and a half). He is impulsive, impatient and self-centred. This is normal for a child his age. It’s developmentally how he should be. He is psychologically & physiologically unable to be anything else until his frontal lobe is sufficiently mature. When I am impulsive, impatient and self-centred, I’m choosing to be. I’m choosing not to be a responsible mother and a good role-model. I’m choosing to shout and scream because I think it’ll make me feel better. And it never does. It makes me feel like a failure. “Childish” is an imprecise term, we use it to describe an adult who is acting like a child but a child is actually doing just what he’s meant to do, the adult’s meant to be…. well, adult-ish.

And so (partly because Mr L is off again for another 6 nights a week after he returns and I think I need to remind myself how to do it) here is my “Solo survival guide”.

Day 1

Do things you wouldn’t ordinarily do– Ok, so for today it was a trip to Bunnings before dinner. Hardly up there in the excitement ratings, but Master L loves the place (and we did actually need an obscure replacement lightbulb for Miss L’s room). It filled an hour between Mr L leaving for the airport and bedtime, as well as conveniently pushing dinner back a bit so the dinner-bedtime gap was shorter. And Bunnings is big! Little legs running up and down a big warehouse = tired little boy at bedtime.

Day 2

Divide the day into chunks- Going to the extremes of 15-minute blocks (a la Will Freeman in About a Boy) is hopefully not necessary but I find 3 sections usually works ok (sometimes these get sub-divided depending how things are going and how much clock-watching is going on). Today divided nicely into “Early” (up until about 10am when my parents arrived to watch Miss L while I took Master L swimming) “Middle” (up until afternoon nap time) and “End” from end of nap until bedtime. I think it helps to schedule some kind of activity for each section- you don’t have to go out, but make some kind of loose plan. For example, our morning “activity” is often staying at home tidying up, feeding the chickens, doing the washing etc but at least something you can tell your toddler (and yourself) you are doing so that you don’t feel like you’re sitting around just waiting for the day to pass.

Day 3

Catch up on “me” things- So far this week, I’ve caught up on TV shows I don’t usually get to watch (thank you internet, watch out download-limit) and last night I managed to go to bed early enough that I was asleep by 10 (and unfortunately therefore oblivious to Mr L calling from Germany). I also plan to make a serious dent in the reading material I downloaded to take on holiday with us (although to be fair catching up on reading requires me to shut my computer rather than have L absent) and also de-forest my legs (using my time-consuming, uncomfortable and not particularly effective home depilating machine which is, at least, cheaper than having them waxed and can be done on the noisy discomfort of my lounge room floor). This again, is not something that Mr L’s presence precludes me from doing but I need to do something in order to prevent him from returning to a crurally hirsute wife and I can’t exactly leave the kids here while I go and get them waxed, can I?

Day 4

Make some extra coffee/play dates- Sharing the kids (usually) shares the pain. Plus I always find it’s nice to gain a bit of perspective by seeing what’s going on in the rest of the world, as managing at home alone seems to somehow magnify your own little microcosm. Also, you generally earn  lots of sympathy/admiration points which you often miss out on with non-mummy friends.

Day 5

Lower your expectations- I always blame every little glitch on a change in routine. I never expect the kids to sleep as well or things to go as smoothly. I was proven correct last night with Master L awake at 9, 1.30 and then 5.15, and Miss L (who never wakes up!) awake at 2.30. Of course their worst night of sleep is always the night before I have to go to work. I used to get really worked up about this and be fretting “they HAVE to sleep! I have to work!” Now I just take them sleeping through as a bonus when Mr L is away, I assume they know things are a bit different and are unsettled too, just as I am. I don’t exactly expect the worst, but I certainly don’t expect the best. So I just go with it now. If I’m tired at work, I’m tired. If disaster strikes, I’ll call in sick. The place won’t fall apart without me and besides, there’s not much else I can do.

Day 6

Think happy thoughts- It’s taken me over two years to really learn to deal with Mr L going away. A  part of that has been learning to shift my mindset and attitude towards him being absent. Although his trips away are always business trips, it took me a long time to get over the feeling of missing out. I mean, I know it’s not as if he’s out partying every night when he’s away, but for a loooong time I felt envious and a little resentful of the fact that he got to go away, sleep, eat and shower uninterrupted and, when he wasn’t working, essentially do what he wanted. I even envied the fact that he got to sit on a plane to Melbourne and watch the Channel 9 special edition Qantas news  if he wanted to (the fact that he actually works on his laptop on the computer was little consolation). Because this current trip is to Europe, he got to fly business class! Particularly so soon after our trip to Canada, I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t felt the teeniest bit wistful about the thought of 24 hours in business class watching whatever I wanted on the TV, uninterrupted save for the meals and drinks. But really, I wasn’t that bothered. And when I heard he was upgraded to First for one of the legs, I was actually really excited for him. To be honest, I doubt I will ever fly First Class but I couldn’t care less. What I’m getting at, is that instead of thinking “Lucky him he gets to go away and have a week without the kids” I’m much more conscious of the fact that he’s not sleeping in his own bed, he’s missing us, he’s having a pretty full-on work week, he can’t get a decent cup of tea, and I’m fairly confident he’d rather having Pizza and Pinot on the couch for dinner tonight that oysters and Dom Perignon in First Class. It’s made it much easier to deal with him being away, knowing that this is a week that’s hard for both of us, not just me.

Day 7

And always, not just on Day 7, but every day, I spare a thought (many thoughts, in fact) for mums and dads who don’t just do this by themselves for 7 days, 7 nights and 8 hours, they do it indefinitely. Not everyone is as lucky as I am to have a Mr L who makes it home 9 times out of 10 for bath & bedtime. I know people who have lost a spouse, or whose husbands are in the army, or even just people whose other halves have jobs where they don’t ever make it home for the kids’ bedtimes during the week. How they do it, I don’t know, but they do amaze me and make me feel slightly pathetic for complaining at all.

Things that matter

For some reason over the last week or so I’ve been drifting back towards the organisational blogs (reading them, not writing them). I’m not sure why, but I’ve been avidly reading about how people set out their diaries, organise their pantries, fold their laundry… it may be because there’s a preponderance of these types of posts with it being a new year. Or perhaps I’ve been seeking this kind of thing out, after all, we have some big changes coming up and what better way to ease the stress than be organised?

This afternoon while Master and Miss L (both) slept (at the same time, yes, I know!) I found myself reading a post about a lovely-sounding Californian blogger’s fridge. How she cleaned it, organised it and, finally, photographed it in all its tidy glory. I read all about how she “hates” packaging and so she unwraps her fruit & veggies, throws away the shop’s plastic bags and packets, washes the fruit & veg, then places it into her own plastic bags (or disposable tubs, which I bloody well hope she re-uses). As I scrolled down the page there were photos of her fruit bowl (empty and full), a plastic container full of (washed) baby carrots and then, finally (before I closed the page) her kitchen sink, half full of water, with apples, blueberries and strawberries bobbing around in it (allegedly these are the fruits that “really” need cleaning…. Do they? Maybe in North America but not here they don’t).

I couldn’t believe I was wasting my precious “me” time looking at this stuff. I mean really, the only time I EVER wash fruit or veg is if you can actually see SOIL on it. I fed Mr L a caterpillar last week because I didn’t bother washing the herbs from our garden (or, more accurately, the garden from our herbs). What a completely unnecessary exercise. Not to mention a waste of time, water and, in this lady’s case, plastic!! So I got up from reading this blog to do something useful. My laundry cupboard has had a strange smell coming from it for the last few weeks, it’s gross. So I took everything out of it and wiped it down, waited till it dried and then put everything back again (Actually, no, I rehoused 2 cans of dog food and 3 unused nappies). The offending odour-emitter remains a mystery. I also made a batch of MYO (make your own) washing powder. Hopefully it’s better than the liquid version I made, as I have a whole box of soap flakes and sodium carbonate to use up…. I then tidied a shelf, updated my to do list, and sat back down at my computer, feeling slightly virtuous that I had got up and “done something”.

So the afternoon ticked along pretty much to plan, the only glitch being Master L’s tantrum at the shops when the ride-on car he considers “his” was occupied by another child and I decided I would not indulge him by hanging around waiting for the other kid to get off, I would teach him that life’s not fair, sometimes you miss out on car rides and the like but life goes on and you come back tomorrow. You assume.

So I was feeding the kids dinner and my phone pinged with a text message. I wondered who it could possibly be as Mr L was home already, finishing some work upstairs. I actually thought maybe it was him texting to ask me to put the kettle on. I wish it had been.

Instead, it was a close friend of mine sending a group text announcing that her leukaemia, first diagnosed 10 years ago, had relapsed again and was now involving her brain. She apologised for the text but said the last 72 hours had been so emotionally exhausting, being diagnosed and then telling her and her husband’s families, that she didn’t feel she could speak to anyone else. I’m not a haematologist, but her prognosis must be pretty bleak. My first thought when she rang me after she was initially diagnosed in 2004 was “She’s going to die”. Ditto in 2011 with news of her first relapse. Just the other day I was wondering how it must feel for her to live with the shadow of the possibility of yet another relapse over her head and was she really “cured”?

I have felt irrationally guilty both times I have told her I was pregnant, each time she came to see me each time in hospital after giving birth and every time she has asked to hold my babies, because she can’t have her own. Medically it was not always out of the question and after her first treatment and supposed “cure” she was trying to get pregnant, but very early on she admitted to me “I don’t want to have motherless children” and I knew that, despite her positive outlook and brave face, she recognised that my (pessimistic) view of her long-term prognosis was not an unreasonable one. Countless times I have felt bad complaining to her about grizzly kids and not enough sleep and early mornings and never have I genuinely envied her nice dinners out, her business class flights, the things you just don’t do with children. The price she has paid for those luxuries is just too high.

She’s not the only person who’s made me think about what matters, about how very lucky I am, about how, in a moment, it’s all gone…. Not even 6 degrees of separation, but just one degree away, awful, awful things happen to people… a university acquaintance of mine took his own life, one of my work colleagues died of a heart attack at 36, leaving his wife 6 months pregnant with their 4th child, a school friend of mine is currently struggling along with a rare incurable lung cancer. Stillbirths, miscarriages, kids with cancer (actually, anyone with cancer), people’s husbands dying in freak accidents…

I think about how fragile we are when in a moment- the moment the lab technician looks down the microscope at a field full of blast cells, the moment the atheromatous plaque ruptures in the left main coronary- it can all be whipped out from under us. They’re everywhere, examples of the transience of life and how precious our time here is.

And so I say to myself, on days like this… who cares if someone chooses to wash their already-clean fruit (and write about and photograph it?) Who cares if my laundry cupboard smells? Who cares if Master L wakes me up again tonight for milk he really doesn’t need and I get 15 minutes less sleep? Because these are not the things that matter. The things that matter are cherishing the time you have, the people you love and the world around you. Because one day, you will be gone.

I know we can’t go round all the time being grateful and not sweating the small stuff and all that crap. I’ve already talked about the “living in the moment” philosophy. I know I will go back to reorganising the wine glasses in the cupboard by category, to straightening the hand towel in the bathroom (yes, I’ve seen Sleeping With The Enemy) and to complaining about things that really don’t matter. But someone I once worked with told me “It’s a wonderful world and you’re in it”… and today I’m reminded how very true that is.