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Monthly Archives: June 2008

The Same Small Perfect Grape

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Tonight I am trying too hard, trying to force the words into submission, as though I have strengthened this writing muscle enough to control them.

I am rather more like a child learning to form letters, white knuckles gripping the unfamiliar pencil, (smooth in comparison to the crayon wrappers), slivers of graphite flaking off as the point quickly becomes nub and permanently engraves the wood table beneath. And finally, SNAP! too much pressure, the instrument breaks and the train of thought takes a break for the pencil sharpener.

A writer friend reminded me that this endeavor is as much discipline as talent, and that some days feel like this. So I leave you today with only a haiku:

on the one ton temple bell
a moon-moth, folded into sleep,
sits still.
-Taniguchi Buson

which is the inspiration for one of my favorite poems, Japan; which is the inspiration for the title of this post. Enjoy, as I resharpen my pencil.

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My Hiatus from Stuff

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I have too much stuff.

Even aware of the fact and consciously making an effort to reduce, I still come home with shopping bags. (Target is my weakness… I go in for toothpaste, and leave with 3 bags of ???). And I’m probably not any happier for it; study after study shows that it’s the experiences, not the accumulation, that lead to a happy life. So unless that purchase is absolutely necessary for the experience of a lifetime, I need to step away from the cash register.

Exhibit A: I’m considering getting a roommate, and the biggest impediment to putting the ad on Craigslist is that I would have to find a home for everything that lives in my guest room. I’m making decisions based on my stuff. I’m fairly sure that changing your life to fit your addiction is a red flag in most 12-step programs.

So, inspired by these musings and this short movie, I’ve decided I’m not buying any more stuff for at least a month. That’s 30 days of paying only for consumables and experiences – food and gas and the like. Because, whatever it is, I probably don’t really need one. I’m hoping this is a fairly easy habit to break, and that it goes long beyond 30 days. I’ll keep you posted. It the meantime, check out www.storyofstuff.com. I’m not saying she gets it all right, but it’s funny, and worth a listen.

Move Your Body!

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Standing Bow poseI decided today that I need to add another precept to my Happiness Manifesto: Move Your Body. I made a last-minute decision to run a 5K this morning and am so glad I did. I got all sweaty, made some friends, supported a great cause, kicked off the weekend.

After every yoga class or jog through my neighborhood, I feel like I could do anything – I’m confident and happy, energized and excited – even if before the workout I was a little run-down or stressed. It all dissipates. And yet I still have to talk myself into exercising. Why is it so hard to remember how good I feel after working out? (Is it the same failure of memory that allows me to forget what that third glass of wine will do to my head the next morning?) Maybe it’s because I think if I’m already tired, doing more “work” won’t help me feel better. But if I re-frame the exercise not as “work”, but as a wake-up call for all the good energy (and neurochemicals) that my body is keeping hidden, then exercise becomes a treasure hunt, where the loot is a great day.

As a side bonus, I’ve found that I meet some really great people every time I work out: people who exercise regularly are some of my happiest and most balanced friends. Not that every problem is solved with sweat, but it seems they’re armed with some extra weapons in the daily assault of negativity all around us. I know science is proving this all the time, but it still comes as a welcome surprise to find the evidence all around me.

It is exercise alone that supports the spirits, and keeps the mind in vigor.
-Marcus Tullius Cicero

Never Stop Learning:: Wisdom from Goethe

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Every Friday honors Precept #5 of my Happiness Manifesto: Never Stop Learning. The words of others are my favorite teacher.

Today, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe:

What you can do, or dream you can do, begin it;
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.

Really, what are you waiting for?

I Like Licorice Jellybeans

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jellybeansItem #1 in my Happiness Manifesto is Choose Happiness, and I was reminded of one of the best methods yesterday. There was a post at The Happiness Project that mentioned re-framing a situation – simply deciding to change your mind about something you dislike. Like choosing to see your traffic-filled commute as a chance to catch up on your audiobook, or enjoying vacuuming because you can sing along shamelessly with your iPod as you go. And it reminded me of my love for licorice jellybeans.

My grandmother kept a house stocked with all sorts of sweets. Cakes under glass, piles of brownies, crystal jars glistening with rainbow sugar drops. My little brother even referred to Mama as the “Candy Mom.” And I remember realizing one day as we dumped the jellybean jar and split them all evenly, there was always a pile of black ones left over. And none of the others minded if I added those to my pile. No demand for black licorice = plenty of supply.

Here’s the catch: I didn’t like black jellybeans. But I decided that it was such a good deal that I would learn to like them. And now, oddly enough, they’re my favorite. Somehow I went from not liking them to actually getting the most pleasure from them. So whenever I find myself grousing about things that aren’t really that bad (misery is quite relative), I try to imagine the circumstances that would make this – waiting in line or pumping gas or another meeting – one of my favorite moments. And even if that seems far-fetched, I usually find I’m not quite as grumpy about it as I was. Try it sometime. You’ll be amazed at how easily you can fool yourself.

Nothing is easier than self-deceit. For what each man wishes, that he also believes to be true. –Demosthenes

Use this to your advantage.

If Today is Your Birthday…

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If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences. – W.I. Thomas

Last week I celebrated a birthday, another year on the right side of the dirt. I also indulged in a silly tradition of long standing: I looked up my If Today is Your Birthday horoscope for the year. I love great fortune cookie wisdom and finding heads-up pennies. I’m always promising my rational left brain that it’s only idealism rather than superstition, but it’s still fun.

And it brings up the intriguing question of self-fulfilling prophecy; to what extent does a prediction, whether from a horoscope, a fortune cookie, or your own mind, come true because you believe/wish/hope it will?

I love to think that I’m “creative, and any artistic or musical talent is more prominent this year.” And who’s to say that I won’t be more artistic simply because this thought was put in my head? (Note the new blog). And when I’m planning vacation days next spring, will the words “adventuresome travel may be in the offing” lure me to Bali instead of Baltimore?

In the end, I believe we are more self-created than we admit; the lovely uniqueness between each of us is more the result of all the things we believe to be true about ourselves than the circumstances life delivers. So the question becomes: what would you like to be that you are not? If you could write your own horoscope and have it come true, what would it say?

My favorite prediction: “A positive and optimistic outlook serves you well this year.”

Do you have a lucky number, or a fortune taped to your bathroom mirror? What does it say?

The Inspired Copycat

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Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.
-T. S. Eliot

Appropriately, the inaugural post of InsideOutHappy begins with a quote; better yet, the words are a nod to my life-long habit of borrowing and surrounding myself with words of others who said it better. And in that spirit, this endeavor also must begin with a debt of gratitude to a stranger whose own words I’ve surrounded myself with for a awhile, and whose simple efforts towards choosing happiness so echoed my own passions, that I had to join the fray. Gretchen Rubin created The Happiness Project in March 2006 with these words:

“One afternoon a few years ago, I realized with a jolt that I was allowing my life to flash by without facing a critical question: was I happy? From that moment, I couldn’t stop thinking about happiness. Was it mostly a product of temperament? Could I take steps to be happier? What did it even mean to be ‘happy’?”

My own light bulb came on a few years ago as well, though I must say my personal philosophy of intentional happiness has taken longer to percolate. The concept evolved from a vague realization that I had been gifted with some natural lens calibrated for seeing the silver lining, and that most people could see it too, if it was pointed out. And that over time, those around me started occasionally pointing it out to me first. So this skill can be learned, and the result of this education isn’t a foreign language or an MBA, but true, deep, intentional happiness. So here, presumptuously, is my very best effort to try to turn a vague realization into a method, or at least share the things that inspire me. Because lasting happiness comes from the InsideOut…

Gretchen, if you ever read this, my sincere thanks.

What do you think? Can happiness be a learned trait? Do you have a quote or mantra that helps bring you back to center?