In just over a week, I need to have all of the stuff on the white board in my office at PHS done. It's a lot of stuff, but I'm feeling much better having gotten it from my brain and onto a board I face whenever I'm sitting in my chair at work. Which reminds me of this book I read a couple of years ago, Getting Things Done, by David Allen. One big takeaway is that we stress out unnecessarily when we keep remembering the stuff we haven't done yet. Our brains just keep coming back to it and churning on it. If we write down the tasks in a place that we are sure to refer to, our brains get freed up and we don't have to worry about forgetting what we need to accomplish. We only need pay attention to any given item again when we are ready to deal with it. I was a bit of a whack job this morning at home worrying about getting things done, and making this list right as I arrived at work helped a ton.
David Allen's suggestions are good as long as you don't make yourself crazy. Take the tips that serve you and dump the rest. Tickler file? Waste of time for me. I did tape "DO DEFER DELEGATE DISCARD" on my computer monitor at work after reading the book to help me get through e-mail more efficiently. With 663 messages in my work e-mail in-box alone, I clearly still have a ways to go on that one.
You may note that I have a whole unfilled column on my list with the title "fun stuff." Gotta work on that. But I find that as I progress through my tasks, some of it can be fun. Like discovering that someone does, in fact, make bifocal reader sunglasses. I think these will be awesome for my driving vacation with the family and in my soon-to-be new role as an auto commuter. It's weird in the car that I can't read the dashboard dials or radio without putting my reading glasses on, so these bifocal reader sunglasses will hopefully solve that. Plus, I'll be able to sit in the sun and read comfortably without squinting. I wish I'd invented them!
I also am replacing my lost Fitbit One charger. I'm sure my old one will turn up as soon as I have the new one out of the package, in which case, I'll keep the duplicate at work. Then I'll be sure to never miss a step. Har har.
Then there's the mindless and time-consuming tasks. I don't really mind mowing the lawn usually. Scanning pics for my niece is fun too. Finding time for both is the part that feels stressful. Maybe I can offer a cash reward to my kids for helping with those projects. Everybody wins!
The rest of the stuff... well, it's just stuff I need to do. It'll probably all get done. Or nearly all. Some of it absolutely HAS to get done. Other stuff... We'll see, anyway. Likely nothing too bad will happen if I miss a thing or two.
Happy Mother’s Day! Because May is Celiac Awareness Month, I have been working on a heavy, deep and real blog post for weeks. I have learned from experience that most of my pondering posts are politely ignored. So instead of “efforting”* my way through what I’m sure will someday be an awesome contribution to the great thinking of the day on celiac disease and the gluten-free diet, I am instead offering a Mother’s Day special for the “Happy, Healthy” part of my equation: A list of some of my favorite things. According to all the Hallmark cards, I’m supposed to have a relaxing and self-indulgent day. Since it never fails that talking about favorite things makes me happy, I thought this a fitting post. I hope my happiness oozes through your electronic devise and into you and you are prompted to think about your favorite things and then maybe tell me about them.
My favorite food in the whole world is my Spicy Red Lentils and Greens. You have to try this. I’m not lying. So good. Maybe I’ll make some today.
My favorite recipe invention is either Cauliflower Crust Pizza Tartlets or Vegan Maple Pulled Pork. Both of them had that “Eureka!” thing. Love that!
My favorite book is probably Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. It completely changed my outlook on running from being a drudge to being fun. In part, it led to my triumphant 2nd place medal in the women ages 50-59 Rick’s Run 5K last month. It started the whole barefoot running thing, which I actually think is not such a great idea, but it did empower me to not feel like I need to spend a lot of money on running shoes. I’ve noted a couple of influential books on my Happy, Regardless page.
My favorite movie is “Fried Green Tomatoes,” though I have to turn it off when Ruth gets cancer. Too sad. I also love “League of Their Own.” There’s no crying in baseball! Classic.
My favorite memory captured on Jumbotron is when my family came up with a Ryan Howard home run ball. So awesome! Watch it here: http://m.mlb.com/video/v3103416/howards-solo-shot-puts-the-phillies-back-on-top/?c_id=mlb
My favorite memory NOT captured on Jumbotron was my 1994 wedding to Jenn. Though we didn’t get legally hitched (sort of, anyway) until 2008 in California, our event in 1994 was the big coming together of friends and family to celebrate us and our intention to be a couple permanently.
My favorite singer is P!nk. She can do angry and loud. She can do vulnerable and open. She makes me laugh. She makes me change the CD when my kids get in the car because she has lots of rude lyrics. Can’t decide if I like Truth about Love or Funhouse better. Depends on my mood on any given day.
My favorite gluten-free trip was to Paris France. I’d welcome the chance to go back to Rome and put together a list of gluten-free finds there too! My travel list also includes New Zealand (my favorite TV show was Xena, which was shot there. I fell in love with the scenery while watching the warrior and her trusty sidekick and bard “friend” Gabrielle fight for the right and just in ancient Greece.)
My favorite app is called Cloud Spotter. It lets me take pics of clouds, make my best educated guess about what kind it is, and I win points and badges for correct identification. Total nerd fun. Plus, it gets me to look up and focus on nature when sometimes I might just stare at my phone on my public transportation commute like everyone else.
My favorite gadget is Fitbit. It’s a high tech pedometer that (quietly) cheers me on, tracks my steps, tracks flights of stairs, and more. It sends me badges for my accomplishments too. Who knew I’d be so motivated by electronic badges?
I’d love to know what some of your favorite things are.
*Shoot me a note if you get this reference!
If you follow any of my tips for happy on this blog, there might be some reruns here, but repetition is the mother of skill-building, right? Or something like that. The short version is that steps we can take for a pleasant, meaningful and engaged life will help our overall happiness levels. These ideas will probably not make you giddy, but they don't take long and will hopefully take you up a notch. I've also thrown in some don'ts, things I sometimes do which I think seem like a good idea but bring me down in the end.
1. DO Write down some things you appreciate. I differentiate appreciations from gratitudes, with the latter having a more tenuous connotation. I give you full permission to NOT get a special notebook and a special corner or nook in the house to do this in. Scrap paper and a crayon while sitting in the van in the school's car line will be fine. Some people say you should come up with new stuff to be thankful for every day. Noble endeavor, but I'm okay with reruns. Can you really run out of a significant level of appreciation for your health or your loved ones or even a delightful breeze that plays across your face through the car window while you stare at the back of another family's minivan? I've made a deal with a faraway friend -- it's the Appreciation Game. When in the need of a boost, on of us will declare a round of the Appreciation Game and we'll text each other back and forth. This game works the same way as journaling your appreciations -- it helps get your brain in a place to see the good things going on around you. And it's nice to connect with a friend who gets it.
2. DO Listen to the Bangles. Or James Taylor. I use Pandora on my phone and computer. If you don't know about Pandora, it's a free app (or you can pay a couple of bucks a month to listen advertisement-free) and you can create a radio station by putting in the name of just about any artist and Pandora will pick music for you that fits that selection. Hence, Bangles. It's hard to NOT feel happier when you Walk Like an Egyptian. James Taylor is also a good pick but in a more mellow sort of way. I love Pink! and she's in my playlist too, but her radio station tends to be a little angrier, so when I need to find happy I listen to vapid 80's music.
3. DO Go for a walk or dance around to the Bangles on Pandora. I love that my dog encourages me to go outside and get moving several times a day. Even in the midst of the snowiest and coldest winter of my entire life, I still go for a couple of walks a day. The fresh air is awesome. It's also pretty great to NOT put on all of those clothes and instead dance around to the Bangles on Pandora and if you can get away with it, sing along. Walking, dancing and singing serve to put you in the middle of your movie and keep you from being a spectator. If you go for a walk, look for things to take pictures of that make you happy. My phone is full of interesting pics from walks: Birds nests, clouds, sunrises and sunsets, naked Barbie and Ken, footprints in snow, or most rrecently, snow cone heads. Or Sno-cone heads. See below.
4. DON'T Start playing Dots (or Candy Crush or any other incredibly addictive game) on your portable electronic device. Nobody feels happier or more settled after an hour of that. Really. Put it down and put on the Bangles and dance around. Or read a book or magazine. Generate some new ideas or just do something that's a little more fun and engages your brain a bit.
5. DO Make soup or some crockpot thing. It's pretty fast to put together a good soup or stew NOW (easy gluten-free!) when you are motivated in order to eat it LATER when you might not be. Comfort food, good health benefits. Check out some of my soups and stews for ideas. There are a jillion ideas on line, or better yet, ask your Facebook friends for their favorites. You'll get a slew of responses and you'll connect with people.
6. DON'T Spend hours on Facebook though. Or other social media. Or email. After a quick check to see what people are up to and to offer your own observations, sign off for awhile so that people will actually have a chance to post some new stuff for you to look at.
7. DO Schedule a quick (or not so quick) chat with your favorite upbeat friend or relative. I have to admit I feel incredibly awkward on the phone and this is one that I don't go often enough. Instead of calling someone out of the blue, which often as not ends up in leaving a message, I have the most success when a faraway friend and I schedule a phone call. Then I don't have to feel like I'm interrupting anything. I've also had a really good time scheduling a Skype call when my friend and I were both in the kitchen baking. Then we mailed each other some of the baked goods.
8. DON'T Start trolling the interwebs for cute cat videos (unless you are using it as an enticement for your kids to spend time with you, which I've been known to do.) Like playing never-ending games on your phone, time gets away from you and you feel a little less happy in the end.
9. DO Be the hero. Let the harried person in the grocery line go before you. Help the shorter person reach the thing on the top shelf. Shovel your neighbor's snow-covered walk. Look for little ways to help others and have no expectations about how they will behave in return. Chances are they'll feel good. Guaranteed you'll feel good.
10. DO Clean or straighten up a thing or place. Put 5 minutes into organizing something that's been bugging you but that you haven't gotten around to doing. For me, it's putting clothes away. I stack stuff on my dresser and vanity and don't get around to putting it away. It weighs me down. It doesn't take too long to make a dent in the stacks, but I really have to make myself do it. I always feel better after I do. Cleaning out the car is the same way. For more depth on decluttering and restoring order in your home, checkout the FlyLady website.
There you have it. You can do all of this stuff. You'll feel better. Try it.
My brother became a parent 10 years before I did. My sister-in-law and he have raised two awesome daughters. It was he who first told me that toddlers and kids don't hear the negative part of commands. If we say, "Don't climb on the table," they hear, "Climb on the table." So it was my brother really who planted the notion in my head that we should tell our children what we do want, rather than what we don't want.
And who are we really, as grown-ups? We have the same brain we had when we were kids, but we've managed to throw a whole bunch of impulse control and will power and the like on top of it. Which is why, in times of stress, that our impulse control and will power can go right out the window. Which is why it's hard to stick with New Year's resolutions that require copious will power and self-control.
New Year's resolutions are designed to make us happier in some way, right? The solution then is to create resolutions for positives. Things we like to do but of which we deprive ourselves. It doesn't mean that you shouldn't stick to your diet and exercise regimen, but it does mean losing the regimen part, which totally connotes pain and suffering. Kids run and jump and play and never kvetch about having to exercise. How can you make healthy living more fun? Could it be that you seek out and create a new healthful recipe to try each week? Could it be that you take walks in picturesque places that make you want to return again and again? Maybe it's as easy as doing a Leslie Sansone walking DVD -- it's hard not to feel good after you've done a couple of miles with Leslie's perpetually upbeat coaching on the tube.
Or maybe you can add a declaration to increase your happiness in very doable ways. Here's More Magazine's list of 20 films that can boost your mood. And here's a list of feel-good novels, included in a national British mental health promotional strategy. Watching more movies or doing some recreational reading as a New Year's Resolution? Cool! Or maybe your resolution can include helping others, either by formal, organized volunteering, or by keeping an eye out for ways to help others in little ways on a regular basis. Cultivate a hobby, take a class that interests you... It doesn't have to be expensive or stressful. Check out Coursera for free, quality on-line educational opportunities on all kinds of stuff and you don't even have to leave your house. It is good for your mental health to regularly get together with friends though, so maybe pick a class and do it with one of your family or friends.
However you approach the New Year, I hope it is one full of promise, optimism and warmth for you and your loved ones. As for me? I think I'm going to pick something from all of the categories above -- maybe a monthly or quarterly approach to various happiness-promoting activities to keep things fresh and interesting, with something new and cool always just on the horizon.
On a recent trip to Boston for a conference, I didn't take any recreational reading with me. I did my presentation on Saturday, woke up way too early on Sunday, and decided to watch Ted Talks on my iphone to learn something and keep myself entertained until a suitable hour to get up. I happened across this Ted Talk by Michael Norton, "How to Buy Happiness." The gist is that people are happier spending money on others than they are spending money on themselves. When you spell it out that way, it sounds like kind of a no-brainer. I just didn't realize how much more happy the act of buying something for some else would be, regardless of the amount of money being spent.
While at the conference, I think we facilitated the happiness of Jenn's old college friend one day and her old high school friend the next day by letting them treat us to meals and such... the usual stuff, but the end result was that I still had a lot of my travel cash in my wallet when I got home. So I decided to buy some happiness in the form of four $5 gift cards to our local most excellent chain of Wawa convenience stores. Wawa is more than a convenience store though -- a person can get all means of prepared foods, coffee, basic groceries, or whatever.
I took a walk that afternoon with the four cards in my pocket. It was interesting to think about the criteria about how I would bestow the cards. In the end, I just decided I'd know when the time was right. My first one went to a subway busker that had a sign propped up in his guitar case that said, "Anything will help today, even a smile." I smiled at him and he smiled at me, so I asked him if he liked Wawa. He said yes, so I put the card in his case and said, "$5." And he said, "It'll buy my dinner!" More smiles all around.
The next morning I was monologuing at my 7th grade son Corley as I took him to school early for orchestra practice. I told him about my little Wawa card game, and he said, "Give me one." I said, "Okay. You can either spend it on yourself or you can give it to someone else, but you have to tell me the story of what happens to it." With card number three, I invited my coworker TL to play. I'm still waiting on her story, but just by my giving it to her, I got happier. Corley reported having given his away already. It turns out that he had forgotten his lunch that day and asked his classmates if anyone had anything to share. One kid volunteered some Cheetos -- apparently the only one who offered anything. Cheetos boy got the gift card, which I thought was excellent. Corley asked for card #4, which he said he planned to hide in a library book to see if anyone would find it. He's still got it with him a day later though, so perhaps he's revising his plan. Can't wait for that story, if for no other reason it can turn my usual monologue with him into an actual conversation.
Now I'm carrying around two Dunkin Donuts gift cards and one Trader Joe's gift card and keeping an eye out for the right people to surprise them with. Jenn and I are also going to spot both boys $25 to go to www.donorschoose.org over the Thanksgiving weekend to pick a school project to donate some money to that resonates with them.
While you are out shopping for the holidays, pick up a spare gift card or two to give away just for the fun of it. You'll most certainly get your money's worth in warm feelings and the story that comes with it.