Repeat and Recharge
I go back and forth on how to decide which exercise to repeat. Is it the one that I connected with the most easily, or should I choose the one I struggled with the most, on the grounds that there’s clearly lots of room for practice? I’ve been a little under the weather yesterday and today, so I think I’ll go with the first idea this week, and do another gratitude meditation. Today, looking out at the daffodils and apricot blossoms, I’ll focus on the earth and in particular my garden.
To recharge today, I have a goal: to plant some snap peas. I resisted this sort of goal for my recharge for quite a while. I had the idea that recharging ought to be decadently lazy, like getting a massage or reading a novel. And those sorts of things can be fun, but I realized that by limiting myself to those I was failing to pay attention to who I really am. I love getting my hands in the dirt; I love watching things grow; I love the sense of satisfaction that comes with accomplishing something; and with all the bustle around living with three kids, I often have trouble getting out to the garden. Basically, I should be following a simpler rule: If I’m excited to do it, it counts as recharging.
Take A Vacation
I seriously debated whether to keep this exercise, because I find it surprisingly difficult. But eventually I decided that is exactly why I should keep it. The fact that I have so much trouble creating that “I’m on vacation” mindset probably means that I should do it more often.
There was a golden age of summer vacation when I was young, between about the time I was eight until I became old enough to drive, which I remember as endless long sunny days alone. I would spend all day in the woods or on the beach, sometimes hardly seeing another human until my parents came back from work. I remember the calm of it, the way time was never measured, only enjoyed.
That’s the mental state I’m reaching for now. I find it much more difficult to achieve, surrounded by walls or the sound of traffic, and most especially by people. Historically I’ve just assumed that those factors make it impossible. But recently I took an evening walk with my two sons, and noticed that despite the traffic noise and people, it was pretty easy to relax into the moment. So today I’m going to try to find that kind of vacation.
Most Moments Are Positive
There’s a brief description of this exercise on the Exercises page.
Already this morning I’ve found this exercise timely. During my morning routine (news, exercise, meditation, etc) I was interrupted twice by unhappy children. Neither needed more than a few minutes of attention, and yet I noticed how automatically I focused on the interruption of what I jealously consider “my” time.
Instead I tried to shift my focus to the positive: the pleasure of exercise, the enjoyment of that first drink of water afterwards, how nice it is to give a hug to an unhappy child and feel that small body relax trustingly into me. Then there is just the background positivity of my life: that I have a safe home, that my body is strong and healthy, even that there’s supposed to be sunshine today.
And the world now looks better.
Pay It Forward
It’s all too easy to not get to things. One of the particular things that I’ve never worked out for myself is a really effective way to donate money. I feel I should; I do it sporadically; but I know that I’d donate more and feel better about my choices if I had a more defined process for it. I occasionally envision a process where I set aside a certain percentage of my income and, at a set time in the year, sit down to choose how to distribute it.. The fact that I like this idea probably says all too much about my methodical nature.
I won’t be tackling that project today, but I do intend to use some of my Pay It Forward days as a little extra nudge to donate money. Today my focus is on the famine gripping parts of Africa and the Middle East. I’m donating to the World Food Pragramme, and there are undoubtedly other applicable programs out there. I obviously can’t solve the problem, but I can help.
There’s a brief description of this exercise here.
Today I focused my meditation on my two-year-old. This was partly because we had a serious conflict today, and I think it can be helpful for me (when I have space for it) to remind myself of how grateful I am for her presence in my life. It certainly helped; I felt much closer to her afterwards.
Note: Today is the International Day Of Happiness!
CBT An Anxiety
I’m not sure what to call this exercise – it takes up all of chapter 5 in The Feeling Good Handbook. Perhaps I’ll just call it the Triple-Column Technique. It’s one of the core techniques to the book, and I won’t describe the entire thing here, because a) it’s long, and b) I don’t know if that would be a copyright violation. There’s a PDF that summarizes it on a counseling page.
In brief, I’m looking today for an upsetting event (and with three children, I can guarantee I’ll find one). Once I identify one and have a few minutes to sit down, I’ll figure out what emotions I felt, the negative thoughts I associated with the event, and the distortions in those thoughts. For example, when one of my children hits another, I’ve sometimes heard myself think “he’s such a bully,” which is a rather obvious example of “labeling,” one of the common cognitive distortions. I can then look for more realistic and positive thoughts.
This technique can feel a little awkward to apply at first, but when I’m not deep in depression, I’ve found it very helpful. If I am deep in depression, it’s a terrible idea for me; it’s just another name for rumination.
Today’s happiness quote comes from BrainyQuote:
“Happiness depends upon ourselves.”
Today’s TED talk is from Elizabeth Lesser: Say your truths and seek them in others.
Repeat and Recharge
I’ve been finding it surprisingly meaningful to reflect on social connections, so that’s the exercise that I chose to repeat today. Hmm… now that I think about it, I wonder why I find it surprising? I’ve considered myself an introvert for so long that, although I understand how important social connections are to me, that knowledge is still somewhat intellectual rather than instinctive.
To recharge this week, I was able to schedule time with a friend I haven’t seen for a while. The weather is beautiful, and we’ll meet up for a long talk and some dinner.
Today’s exercise comes from Rick Hanson’s book Hardwiring Happiness. It’s an excellent read, and one of the earliest books I found about positive psychology. The main exercise I took away from it is what I mean now by “hardwiring.” This is basically the act of pausing to notice a positive emotion; deliberately amplifying that emotion; and giving myself a short time to soak the emotion in. Usually the entire thing takes less than a minute. There’s certainly more to the book, and it’s worth reading if you haven’t.
Hanson also breaks positive emotions down into three categories – Safety, Satisfaction, and Connection – with seven emotions grouped under each. I actually keep this list on my wall to remind me of some of the things that I can choose to appreciate in any given moment.
I’ve tried to develop a general habit of hardwiring whichever positive emotions come up for me, which I sometimes remember to do, and sometimes don’t. For today’s exercise, I considered trying to focus in on a particular emotion, but then decided to just try to notice and hardwire whatever emotions I could. Perhaps next time I do this exercise, I’ll choose a specific emotion.
Last time I did this exercise I found it helpful to think of someone at the beginning of the day to whom I wanted to express gratitude. I tried to look for other opportunities as well, but since I can still be cautious of putting myself out there, it was useful to have a specific person in mind. That made it much harder for me to put it off.
Today I’ve decided to express gratitude to my children. I was reminded recently of how easy it is to overlook their contributions, and focus in only when they do something “wrong” (or, often, just something inconvenient for me). I don’t think I’m an excessively negative parent, but I am curious to pay greater attention to my positive responses to them.