Feb 092011

Wow. I can’t believe it’s February already. Well, I have to be late with this because I can’t travel in time yet. So months later I’ll finally write about my “year of happiness”. To recall, last year I decided to attempt a “happiness project” inspired by Gretchen Rubin. Basically you try to become happier by sticking to some rules of your own devising. So doing a happiness project is a very personal thing, and the rules might be different for each of us.

So I set out to achieve happiness (or at least being happier) by changing small things in my life. Not a sweeping gesture, or major life changes, just small, simple changes. The plan was to add a new rule each month but in the end I only had these rules:

  1. Go to bed on time. I already knew that this is a big must for me. The instant I get enough sleep I feel like a different person. The minute I’m sleep-deprived I’m all crazy, befuddled, and I never stop eating. Still going to bed early enough isn’t easy because it doesn’t work well with my work-schedule. Again I find myself needing nine hours of uninterrupted sleep. I can go down to eight if I must but anything less than that has me only half-functional. I get up at six because I need a bit of time to myself before getting my son ready to school. That means I would have to turn out the lights at 9 pm. My son’s time for that is 8.30. I would have to put him to bed, get ready for bed and that’s that. There are quite a few days when I work until 7pm. Get off work, make dinner, eat, put son to bed, and then it’s time for me as well. As a compromise right now I’m aiming for 10 pm. Still gives me eight hours of sleep but I can watch something on TV, or read.
  2. Pick up after myself. Having a tidy, well almost tidy, home not only makes me happy but the rest of the family as well. As an added bonus it’s easier to find things. That bit of kicking myself to not leave my stuff strewn over the house really pays off.
  3. Write 500 words of fiction at least six times a week. Also, surprisingly happy-making. Even if I don’t like what I’ve written, or feel stuck. There’s a small part of me that thinks when I’ve already been somewhat creative just after breakfast it’s a good day. Regardless of how the rest of the day goes.
  4. Think about the things I love about my family, students, and friends. Really, really helpful but surprisingly hard. I still have a tendency to find fault and criticize. But when I manage to concentrate on the things I love about the people around me – I et instant happiness.
  5. Exercise three times a week or more. Also much more mood-boosting than I would have thought. These days when I feel like retreating in a corner with a bag of potato chips and a book under a blanket I try to – again – kick myself, get my running shoes on and run for a bit. Even if it’s only for a few minutes I always feel better afterwards.
  6. Play the piano every day. This I didn’t manage at all. I remember a time when I did, though, and even forcing myself to do scales made me happy over time. Not always while I was doing it. Today I did play the piano, and I really plan to do it on a regular basis again. (You have to understand that the playing I do while teaching doesn’t really count for this. It has to be fun piano playing, playing for me.)
  7. Wear clothes that make me feel good. Definitely important. And I definitely need to buy new clothes soon.
  8. Eat like a sane person who enjoys food. Still working on that one as well. But I can say from experience that eating real food sitting down at a table with loved ones makes way more happier than binge eating while sitting in your bed, hiding your chips under the covers. (Which, by the way, I haven’t done for year and years. I managed to gain all this weight without falling back into my binge eating ways.)

I can tell you that following these rules really made me happier. And even more so when I really did those things and a little less when I only wanted to do those things. I’ll get around to that tomorrow for sure, ahem. And I have to add “act the way you like to feel” to the list as well. Excellent advise, and works astonishingly well.

I already knew it but still, small things make a notable difference in happiness. Happiness is not a state of perfect bliss, one big moment like the kiss after saying yes on your wedding day. Which, by the way, is only a moment of true happiness in movies, at least for me there have been many kisses before and after where I felt happier. Many moments where I could focus on the kiss itself as well, not on the fact that two dozen people were watching me plus a video camera.

So the happiness project definitely works and I can only encourage others to try it as well.

The other thing this project brought home to me was that all my mental adjustments, and rules, and stickers, and behavior changes still didn’t cut to the root of my unhappiness. Throughout that year I found out that a big fat part of my unhappiness is – physical. And this time I don’t mean my weight, though I still think that I’m overweight because I’m unhappy. But I’m also unhappy because there are things wrong with my body. And as a wise online friend reminded me a few days ago, your brain is part of your body.

And that is why this year, 2011, I’m concentrating on getting well not by changing my attitude but by getting to the physical reason for feeling unwell. It might seem a bit mundane but still, those rules that you see above aren’t looking that spiritual either. And I already found out some things but I better make that into another post.

The great thing about all this is that one can indeed become a happier person by following quite mundane rules. You don’t need to find the man of your dreams and ride with him on your pink, sparkly pony into the sunset. You can be happy now, in the life you live right now. Don’t need a million dollars, nothing.

Oct 072010

That’s what being back to school does to you, all of a sudden you do things almost on time. I hope this goes on for a while, about a year would be nice, and then it could start all over again.

I find that these “happiness reports” depend very much on how a feel in the moment I’m writing them. Which is what everybody will tell you, that happiness is fleeting and can’t be fabricated. But I still think there can be a thing like lasting happiness, and no, I don’t mean contentment.

Yesterday I had one of those dreary teaching days where I felt that every student was slow, and clumsy, and a waste of time, and then I remembered one of Gretchen Rubin‘s mottos, “Act how you want to feel.”, and I was so successful in telling myself how much I enjoy teaching, and what nice and brilliant students I have that by the end of the day I was positively beaming.

Now you might say, “But those weren’t you’re true feelings!”. I have to confess that I’m not that sure about feelings being true at any given moment any more. With all those hormones racing around in my body, and with things like being hungry or tired making such a huge difference it might be hard to get to the bottom of a situation. Slowly I understand what buddhists mean when they say that feelings aren’t permanent, and ever changing. I have days when something tiny like taking a nap or reading something or deciding to act how I want to feel can turn my whole day around. So, since it’s possible to do that why not use it to my advantage. And in my case I had the additional advantage that my students are really lovely people, and so I know that it’s me when I feel like I can’t stand to hear another mangled version of a tune that’s not that great to start with. I don’t complain, I know that comes with the job. When you’re teaching people how to play an instrument you mainly sit there all day and listen to people play things they can’t play well yet. And every time they master something you go on to the next thing.

I only have to remind myself to sometimes listen to some music that’s played by a master to remind myself where we’re all going with this.

But back to my report. As you know by now I made yet another list of things that I want to change in order to become a happier person:

  1. Go to bed on time.
  2. Pick up after myself.
  3. Write 500 words of fiction at least six times a week.
  4. Think about the things I love about my family, students, and friends.
  5. Exercise three times a week or more.
  6. Play the piano every day.
  7. Wear clothes that make me feel good.

Usually I add something to this list every month. But this month I didn’t. I’m still thinking about the part where my mood is bad because of hormones. It’s now definite since my mood has been much more stable while I’m on chemical birth control. This is not a permanent solution since I have no desire to have a stroke in the near future but it helps isolating the problem.

  1. Now for the part where I tell you how I did. There’s no surprise there, I’m doing mildly blah again. Still I feel better for trying:
  2. Going to bed on time hasn’t happened much but as long as we were still in summer break I managed to get almost adequate sleep. It’s still the same, every day I have slept enough is much better than the ones I have after only six or seven hours. For the past few days I managed to go to bed almost on time, a step into the right direction. I’m also giving myself stickers for that again. (So far: 2 stickers in 8 days. There still is room for improvement.)
  3. I have been getting much better at picking up after myself, and my husband just told me yesterday that he has the feeling that housework is currently divided equally between us. That is great news, Finally some improvement. Of course, right now I’m sitting here typing while he is cooking…
  4. The writing of the fiction hasn’t happened. But again I managed to write today and on Tuesday. I’m hoping to get into the groove again.
  5. The exercise has happened. Not exactly three times a week but at least two times. I also have been going to the pool twice already so that my son can work on his swimming skills. The first time I even managed to swim a few laps in the kid’s pool. There have been an astonishing number of times when I did my walk/run-routine for an hour or more. And I can proudly tell you that I can now not only climb stairs again without getting out of breath instantly, I can even run them up if I want to catch a train, then jog about 50 meters, and all of that without keeling over or thinking I’ll die the next minute. That thing alone makes me very, very happy.
  6. There was no piano playing whatsoever apart from what happened while teaching, I’m sorry to say. But my husband and I played a couple of songs in front of an audience, and learning how to sing a new song and performing it with my husband made me very happy. I’d like to do a little more music with him in the near future. Without going back to trying to emulate a cover band if possible.
  7. Buying new pants has made dressing much easier. The funny thing is that I bought both pairs a size too big. They don’t really look all that great but the comfort of un-pinching waistbands is almost worth it. One of these days I’ll even make myself a new denim skirt. I love wearing my corduroy one. The only thing I haven’t solved yet is how to wear a skirt with leggings and woolen socks while teaching without looking ridiculous. I don’t wear shoes indoors and I have yet to find a stylish slipper-boot. Maybe I’ll compromise, buy a nice pair of Birkenstocks and wear tights. We’ll see.

The other thing I have been doing is to think about the way I eat again. I have been starting to re-read “Outsmarting the Midlife Fat Cell. Of course I did remember most of what Debra Waterhouse wrote about in that book but seeing it again was very good for me. I found that some of my new habits that I started in order to lose weight were quite counter-productive. Also that I don’t exercise enough. And that my portions are way too big. The thing is, I have been going to eating frequent small meals, and drinking like a camel that reaches an oasis after weeks in the desert, and all of a sudden my weight seems to creep downwards again. We’ll see how that goes in the long run, especially since I still tend to counter exhaustion with too much food, but I’m optimistic.

So eating like a sane person who enjoys food is my new goal for October.

The other thing that I started, and you surely have noticed by now is my knitting podcast. It’s in German because there is dire need for a German knitting podcast out there. Doing it makes me ridiculously happy. Especially since people seem to like it. I have plans of doing a sort of “best of”-edition in English at some point, we’ll see when that might happen.

Phew, that was a long one, wasn’t it? Anybody else out there striving for more happiness by making rules?

Feb 102010

So, yes, I am definitely happier than I was last year, I’m doing something right here. Of course, I’m writing this now after a night of completely uninterrupted eight hours of sleep. If I had written it yesterday it might have turned out a bit different since I had 4 1/2 hours of sleep that were interrupted four times.

As I told you last month I made a bunch of resolutions. Those were:

  1. Go to bed on time.
  2. Pick up after myself.
  3. Write 500 words of fiction at least six times a week.
  4. Think about the things I love about my family, students, and friends.
  1. And again, I didn’t manage to go to bed on time very often but still I have slept more than the months, or years, before. I find that I have to cancel watching DVDs most evenings. In order to get enough sleep it’s a very good idea for me to go to bed very, very early, and just read a bit. That’s seriously cutting into my knitting time but still, every single day I manage to sleep enough or nearly enough I feel happier the next day.
  2. I’ve been doing very well on the “picking up after myself front, and that makes me happier as well. There are still heaps and piles in some areas but I’m getting there. And I manage to do a bit more housework which my husband appreciates very much.
  3. I did write 500 words of fiction (or sometimes more) about five times a week. It seems that there’s always something coming up, and that six times a week is very hard to accomplish. But still I have several thousands of words more of my story than I had before January. It’s great.
  4. I didn’t do that well on the “thinking about the things I love about my family, students, and friends”-front. Especially with my son I got decidedly cranky. But I can say that his sleeping is getting better. It did take a bit of a threat, though, I have told him that he is not to come to me at all until morning. Since he wants me to leave both his and my bedroom door open all night so I can hear him I told him if he so much as calls me throughout the night I will not only close the door but lock it. Apparently that was just the thing it took. You might want to wish me luck, we’re currently working on the “debate everything your mother says”-issue.

The other thing that makes me happy is that I’m starting to lose weight. Well, to be honest I’m down by 100 grams over the last month but still that’s something because over the last two years my weight has been climbing up every single month. Losing weight is something I hope to achieve through becoming a happier person but I’d say the goal of happiness is much better than the one of getting slim.

The thing that makes me even happier than losing a hundred grams is that I might be starting to exercise again. I did some yoga on Sunday (very slow, very easy yoga that made me realize how much out of shape I am), and yesterday I did my very first ever “Couch to 5k”-workout. See, I’m decidedly not a runner. I’m not built for it, not even when I’m a normal weight and fit, and I have never been able to run for any length of time. But when I was thinking about what kind of person I want to be I found that I’m really envious of people like my husband who just put on their running shoes and then go off jogging through the fields for an hour or so. And then I thought about what Mel had started some time ago, and then I read Kris’ post about how she managed to run a marathon, and that got me motivated.

I didn’t know whether I should talk about it here because all I’ve done so far is alternately walk and jog for a total of thirty minutes once, and I did it at home just staying in one spot (and I know that’s not quite the same as moving forward while doing it, but trust me I did work out and I can feel every single muscle in my lower body right now). I’m not about to go out on the street with this anytime soon, and I’ll never run a marathon for sure, ever. But still. I feel pretty amazing having tried out something new. I plan to do the next session of walking and running tomorrow in the morning.

So this will be the fifth resolution in my “happiness project”, exercise three times a week or more.

Jan 132010

You could say I have started my very own “happiness project“. I was not feeling happy in 2009 and the same in 2008 which I only recalled when I looked up my word of the year for 2009 and found out that a) the word wasn’t “healing” as I had thought, and b) in 2009 I was seriously disappointed with 2008.

I don’t want to go on adding one unhappy year to another. The question of course is “why so unhappy?” and there isn’t really an answer. My life isn’t particularly hard, all my loved ones are healthy and safe but you can see that I’m unhappy, you see it when you look at me and there are about 16 kilos of unhappiness on my frame that weren’t there before. Of course my first impulse was to focus on “do better, use more willpower, never eat sugar again”-plan but then that one never works. A case in point being that the two words I chose for 2009 were “discipline” and “abundance”, and by august I had already forgotten about them. Though I have to say, the “abundance”-part did happen. So that was nice. And I did find out what was wrong with me which helps with the healing (word of the year of 2008).

So, while I’m obviously doing something wrong with the whole word of the year concept I still want to chose one, like a motto for 2010 and I’m focusing on happiness. I have this feeling if I concentrate on being happy the rest of my life will fall into place as well. Now, first thing I did was order a book – well, okay, several. I bought “The happiness project“, of course. I have been a longtime fan of Gretchen’s blog and with that theme I had planned for this year, how could I not? I also bought “Refuse to Choose. A Revolutionary Program for Doing Everything That You Love”, and for good measure “Unclutter Your Life in One Week“.

I also made a couple of resolutions because only thinking yourself happy is not enough, I know from experience that there will be some doing in the process, and that the road to feeling happier is also plastered with tiny little baby steps that might make me feel worse in the short run. So my resolutions so far are:

  1. Go to bed on time: (Yes, I know, what else is new.) I know that this has been on my list forever. But I actually managed to sleep enough during winter break. Since school started, though, I had one night with adequate sleep. Out of seven or so. But I’ll do better, I promise.
  2. Pick up after myself: Already my own room (maybe I should start calling this my studio, sounds so much better) looks almost civilized and my husband likes this new/old habit of mine very much already.
  3. Write 500 words of fiction at least six times a week: This is working great. That’s because there is a group, or at least a banner, so every night when I think that all I want is to sit and watch “Torchwood” for the fourth time I push myself to write my 500 words or more. And – surprise – having written them makes me really happy.500words-250w
  4. Think about the things I love about my family, students, and friends: I tend to focus on negative things, like most people, I feel much better when I happen to remember how much I love my husband and son, for example. Generally I try to focus on the positive rather than the negative. And it is working already.

So, I wish you a very happy year 2010. Have you made any resolutions? Broken them already?