This week has been a convergence of ah-ha moments, all loosely tied to my committment to blog my way through The Happiness Project (hereafter referred to as THP). A breakdown for readers:
First, I attended an event at my parish that featured a student preacher – my 20-year-old daughter. At one point she said something about people doing what they were born to do and how we should pay attention when God “moves things around” inside our hearts/souls. She was much more eloquent than I’m relating here and had more pearls of wisdom, but the epiphany I had when listening is this: I worry a lot – too much – about what everyone else thinks of my life choices, particularly when it comes to work.
As Gretchen Rubin writes in the March (or third) chapter of THP: “I have an idea of who I wish I were, and that obscures my understanding of who I actually am.” Can I get an amen from the choir on that? How great the world would be – or at least my little part of the world – if we could all just figure out who were were meant to be and accept that instead of trying to be someone else. So, that’s ah-ha moment #1: Do what you want, work where you want, regardless of the pay, prestige, or pressure from others.
Next, my husband and I went on a long hike on Ventana Canyon Trail. When he asked me to go I couldn’t figure out why I was so excited, and then I remembered what I discovered last month when I was reading the first part of THP – that I really like doing physical things outside with friends or family. If that is the case, I thought, why the heck has it been a month since I made time to do that??? Ah-ha moment #2: Schedule these physical-with-family/friends events twice a month instead of allowing time to go by.
Then, taking a social risk, I attended a women’s Faith Sharing group at my parish. It is co-led by a Dominican sister, new to both Tucson and the parish, and a student from the University of Arizona, and the age range is college sophomore through mid-life women. The last time I had the chance to participate in a group like this was when we lived in Alabama 17 years ago, and until I was sitting there on the couch listening to the insights these women shared, I didn’t realize just how much I’d missed it. More importantly, I didn’t realize how absolutely necessary that kind of connection is for my internal stability and external happiness. It was like finding a lost key to my heart. Ah-ha moment #3: Pay attention to what feeds your soul and make sure you get it.
Then finally, a writer on the Catholic Writers’ listserv mentioned that she was also reading THP and that Rubin’s list of books that “most influenced” her year-long Happiness Project included one written by a Catholic saint: the Story of a Soul, by St. Thérèse of Lisieux. The others were Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography and everything written by Samuel Johnson. That observation reminded me that I was supposed to be reading the book a little bit each day to blog about it and that I was a slug for abandoning that original commitment. So, ah-ha moment #4: Stop trying to do a million things at once and just settle on a handful and actually do them. (So much to do… so little time to get it right!)
OK, so for those of you still reading here’s the low down on what I’ve read in THP lately: The February chapter is about “remembering love.” Rubin’s HP required that she quit nagging, fight right, not “dump” on her husband, stop expecting praise or appreciation, and “give proofs of love.” She offers plenty of lots of information on what research says about making happy marriages and relationships (here’s a video of her breaking some of it down – scroll down to “proofs of love” video), and is self-effacing when discussing her own struggles in the area. What stood out for me most was Rubin’s experience of a week of “Extreme Nice.” She spent one week with no criticism, no nagging and no snapping at her husband.
I’ve decided I’m going to try this Extreme Nice challenge myself next week – and believe me, it will be a
challenge, since I’m probably one of the most negatively tuned, critical people on earth. (Nothing like 25 years as a journalist to set your positivity meter to the minus side.) I’m not alone in this “think negative” trait, though: Polls show that lots of us – at home, in the work world, at stores and on the road – are thinking more negatively than ever. It is as though we’ve trained ourselves to focus on the negative and negate the positive. (Of course, the news probably doesn’t help, which is why you should read this Web site every day after you read your daily paper or scan the headlines on the Web.)
But there’s a good reason to flip our negative Nellie attitudes around: Personal and relational happiness. Marriages and relationships with more negative comments said daily than positive ones (even if those comments are framed as “jokes”) are 10 times more likely to be unhealthy, unhappy and end in a breakup. So, to go for healthy and happy, try to aim for a 3-to-1 ratio: For every one negative thought/emotion/comment you have, you need to have three positive ones. (Sure, the tire is flat, but at least it isn’t raining, you have a jack and the sun is still out so you don’t have to use a flashlight when changing the tire. Sure your husband leaves his socks on the floor, but he also reads to the kids each night, coaches your son’s T-ball team and remembers to put the toilet seat down.)
I am going to give it the old college try … starting in about 10 minutes. I’m still steaming about the woman who rear-ended me two weeks ago while talking on her cell phone. My car’s been in the shop since then and I just got a call saying that they might have to total it, which SUCKS because we’d finally saved up enough money to pay it off and if they total it, we’ll have to pay it off and buy another one … getting stuck with a car payment again. GRRRR!!! I did nothing wrong and I’m having to suffer for it, argh! So, all you talker-drivers out there? Please, do me a favor: Hang up and drive.