Wednesday, Apr 26th

Reflect On Social Connections

There’s a brief description of this exercise here.

Some days are just more social than others, and this was one of them. That made this exercise easier and more satisfying than it sometimes is, when I need to fall back on a conversation I had with a two-year-old.

My three social connections for today:

  • A conversation with my best friend, whose business partnership is breaking up, about what he’ll be doing next.
  • Some quiet minutes before bedtime with my two sons, treading the line between snuggling and playing.
  • A discussion with a colleague about a video project, and the interplay of an interview and the images he’d chosen to go with it.

Happy Wednesday!

Monday, Apr 24th

Gratitude Journal

There’s a brief description of this exercise here.

In an excellent mood today, I found it difficult to narrow in on a single thing I wanted to journal about. This is typical of me when I’m in a very good mood — my brain likes to jump around from one thing to another. For a few minutes I debated between one or another topic, trying to get my mind to settle down, and then I remembered a useful life rule: Choose your battles.

So today, instead of selecting a single thing I’m grateful for and trying to dig deep into it, I let myself write a long, rambling list of things, in exactly as much detail as I liked. The structure of these exercises is after all not the point; the point is the focus on positivity, and whatever gets me there is just fine.

Happy Monday!

Wednesday, Apr 19th

Three Good Things

There’s a brief description of this exercise here.

Most of my family (including me) has been fighting through a long, dragging cold for the past few days, so when I woke up and remembered my exercise for today, it served as an excellent reminder: look for the good. Even when I’m tired and cranky.

Today’s three good things:

  • At a council meeting for a non-profit I’m part of, I got to see the finished product of a video project I’ve been collaborating on, which was very exciting.
  • I shared a special lunch and errand with my two-year-old.
  • I found the first little seedlings of the year in my garden!

Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, Apr 4th

Reflect On Social Connections

There’s a brief description of this exercise here.

Sometimes I think that my lack of a normal nine-to-five job really cuts down on my social connections during the day. Or maybe it’s just the effect of being an introvert. For whatever reason, I sometimes cast my mind back over my day and am surprised by how little I interacted with people. (Other than my children, of course. They routinely top my list of social interactions, but I try to find at least some other interactions to include in this exercise.)

For most of my life I considered that rather as a good thing. One of the calmest and most creative periods of my life, in fact, was the term in college when my roommate was abroad and I had no particularly close friends. But knowing what I do now about how social interactions impact happiness, I’m less certain that so much alone time is good for me, at least long-term.

The three interactions I focused on today:

  • Talking to another parent at the boys’ school.
  • A brief, light conversation with a friend in the evening.
  • My oldest son showing me something he’s building Minecraft.

Happy Tuesday!

Friday, Mar 31st

Gratitude Journal

There’s a brief description of this exercise here.

Today I focused my gratitude on my father. Nothing has increased my appreciation of my parents more than having children of my own, but I rarely pause to really acknowledge all their wonderful qualities.

I think that this exercise’s best use, for me, is in focusing on the people in my life. Each time I take the time to think through my gratitude for a specific person, my life is better for it.

Happy Friday!

Tuesday, Mar 28th

Three Good Things

There’s a brief description of this exercise here.

Just knowing that this exercise is coming up has an interesting effect on me – I start to notice good things more. I’m noting them for future reference, so that I’ll have an easy three to hand when it comes time to actually write in my journal. This is quite possibly the entire point.

However, when in the past I’ve tried to do this exercise every day, I didn’t develop that awareness as a habit. Instead I seemed to acclimate fairly quickly, stopped thinking about good things during the day, and then struggled to come up with three when I sat down with my journal. So I need a slightly different way to hack my brain. I’m still working on it.

Today’s three good things:

  • A good talk with someone who may be a new friend.
  • Being “adopted” for a few minutes of play by a small child not my own.
  • An unexpected bonus of quiet time last night, courtesy of tired children.

Happy Tuesday!

Monday, Mar 13th

Reflect On Social Connections

There’s a description of this exercise on the Exercise page.

I think I need to rotate when these exercises occur, since which people I see tends to be somewhat day-dependent. For today, one of my longest social connections was with a two-year-old, and I have to wonder whether that even counts. But I decided to include it anyway. The contrast between my interaction with my daughter and my viola instructor was interesting and amusing.

Happy Monday!

Friday, Mar 10th

Gratitude Journal

Today for my gratitude journal I decided to focus on a friend, which gave me the double boost of thinking about gratitude and thinking about social connection. I wrote down five specific things that I’m grateful for in that friendship – some ongoing characteristics, and some past instances of kindness or understanding. This was a wonderful exercise for me; I carried the warmth of it for hours.

Happy Friday!

Friday, Mar 3rd

Take A Daily Vacation

Today’s exercise is a marvelous idea that I saw online somewhere and now can’t find again. The idea is to take a daily “vacation” – a short bit of time devoted to doing something relaxing, where you consciously choose to indulge in that “I have no responsibilities because I’m on vacation” mindset. It could be a cup of tea, your favorite music, sitting in your favorite spot in the garden, a warm bath, a walk in the sunshine… anything that is available to you and that feels like relaxation.

Quite honestly, I don’t know that I could do this every day. (I always wonder, when I read ideas like this, whether the writer can possibly have small children.) But I’m trying it out today. Since it’s gray and cold here, my plan is to take ten minutes around lunch and sit down with a cup of hot chocolate and a view of some trees, telling myself that I’m on vacation. Vacation, after all, is mostly in my mind. Afterward I’ll write a few lines in my journal about it – what I did and how it felt – and decide whether it’s a useful happiness exercise.

Happy Friday!

Monday, Feb 27th

CBT An Anxiety

My sense of happiness boosts is that they comes in different flavors. Some work directly on my mood, without getting my intellect involved. Going outside is a great example of that; so is spending time with friends. Others take just a touch of thinking, like the Three Good Things exercise. It isn’t all cerebral, but there is an element of analysis and deliberate focus.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is definitely at the intellectual end of the scale for me. If you haven’t tried it before, CBT focuses on retraining your thought patterns. Since thoughts can lead to and/or reinforce emotions, by changing your thought patterns you can change your emotional state.

My experience is that this is partly true. At this point in my life there is a distinct physical state that I associate with depression, and trying to think my way out of that state has been unsuccessful (or even counter-productive). When I’m in that state, I’m much better off staying out of my brain. But at other times, CBT can be a useful way to confront some of the ongoing anxieties that can sit, leech-like, in my brain, draining away little streams of happiness.

CBT is a collection of techniques, but for today’s exercise I chose to use the “Vertical Arrow Technique” described on page 122 of The Feeling Good Handbook. I’ve also seen this technique, or a similar one, described as the “five why’s.” In essence, I started with something that is a nagging source of anxiety to me: the fact that my kids seem to want to be glued to their screens all the time. I wrote this at the top of a page, then put an arrow under it, pointing down. The arrow represented the question “If this thought were true, why would it be upsetting to me?” I then wrote down the next layer down of my anxiety, drew another arrow, and repeated as long as I still had deeper negative thoughts.

I don’t always find this technique to provide instant solutions, but it certainly can help clarify my anxieties, and sometimes show where my fears are a little excessive.

Happy Monday!