Mind Expanding Without Drugs

English: magazine vogue Español: logo de la re...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I want to lose some weight. Not a lot–but fifteen pounds would make me happy.I want to lose some stress (not all of it because there is good stress that motivates you—I do not want to lose this kind of stress).  I read some encouraging words from Gretchen Rubin today and I think her suggestion that we find comfort food for the mind is the answer to my problems.

First it does not involve eating fatty, sugary, salty food—and that is a good thing.

Second, by comforting our mind, we are finding ways to cope. My comfort food for my mind comes first and foremost from reading. Yesterday I bought the huge tome called Vogue magazine. The September issue is 902 pages. I could not resist. I have not purchased a fashion magazine for ages. And ages. In fact if truth be told, I have kind of given up on fashion.

The magazine is the perfect eye candy. Some people take fashion very seriously. I do not. At one time I may have taken it a bit more seriously than I do now, but that was many lives ago. My fashion sense went the way of the Edsel when I had kids. It just was not important anymore. And I didn’t have the time to don a scarf, find the right jewellery, or even match (or unmatch depending on the fashion season) my outfit to my shoes and to my purse.  I am not sure where we stand on the “match” issue anymore, but I am sure once I finish 902 pages of fashion I will be in the know.

Here is Gretchen’s advice about what works for her (and what doesn’t work for her but may for you):

“…. look for ways to pull your mind away from your worries onto positive topics. One great way is to watch a movie – preferably something funny! — or watch a favourite TV show.

My favourite activity is reading, and when I really need “comfort food” for my mind, I read children’s literature (the more stressed out I am, the younger I go; Oz books are a danger sign). I always re-read, too; when I’m upset, I want the comfort of knowing that I’ll love the book and that I won’t be upset by some unexpected plot twist.

I do find that some activities that are usually happiness-inducing don’t work very well when I’m preoccupied with bad thoughts. Listening to music, for example, is an extremely effective way to boost mood, but I find it too easy to start thinking about my worries when I’m listening – others might not have this problem. Similarly, although going for a walk usually cheers me up, it also gives me an excellent opportunity to brood if I’m inclined that way.”

Comfort Food

Comfort Food (Photo credit: tim ellis)

Reading is my number one go-to for comforting my mind. Unfortunately so is eating, but I am trying to deal with that.

What is your favourite comfort food for your mind?

Published in: on August 29, 2013 at 3:09 pm  Comments (30)  
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Happiness and Bliss

fraternal twins

fraternal twins (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“…happiness need not shout its presence…” ~ Mimi from Waiting for the Karma Truck (mimijk)

Happiness is the  twin sister of bliss, but not identical. Fraternal if you will. As I continue my bliss project in its many guises– happiness, that seemingly elusive state of bliss, is within our reach. William Morris said that: “The true secret of happiness lies in the taking (of) a genuine interest in all the details of daily life.” Gretchen Rubin, author of the “Happiness Project”, and more recently the book “Happier at Home” took a “genuine interest in all the details of daily life” in both of her books.

Her first book on happiness spent more than 60 weeks on The Globe and Mail bestseller list, so obviously the topic resonates with the general public. Five years later, while her happiness project did not really change her life, she says that it “did heighten my happiness”.  In the introduction to her latest book she said, “I was able to change my life without changing my life”. This meant not taking her circumstances for granted, or allowing herself to become vexed by petty annoyances or fleeting worries. She wanted “to appreciate… life more and live up to it better.”

Why did Gretchen want to expand her happiness project, or more accurately, focus it on home? In her own words, she says, “Behind our unremarkable front door waits the little world of our making, a place of safety, exploration, comfort, and love.”

The “Happier at Home” book is broken down into monthly chapters. January is the month she decides to “Cram My Day with What I Love.” The first month of the New Year gives her a “fresh burst of resolution-keeping zeal.” She decided her theme for the year would be: ‘Bigger’. Contrary to the ever popular “urge to simplify, keep things small and manageable”, ‘Bigger’ challenged her to “think big” and “tolerate complications and failure”.

I think this is a breakthrough. We are so often counselled to simplify our lives, to unclutter, declutter and sometimes almost live in a sterile environment that is then supposed to breed comfort, bliss, success, and simplicity.

Gretchen says that she violates the standard happiness advice in these ways: she and her husband got a bigger TV in their bedroom; she never has dates nights with her husband; whenever possible she reads when she eats; she refuses to try meditation; and she listens to all-news radio all night long. We are often told not to have a TV in our bedrooms and if we do, it should be small; we are chastised for not finding specific “couple time”; we are told to eat our meals deliberately with no outside influences; meditation is the be-all and end-all for relaxation; and news is supposed to steal our bliss.

I too like to read when I eat (when I am alone); watch the news; and I find meditation stressful. I like Gretchen’s honesty, and that she breaks the rules to create her own kind of happiness.

Do you break the standard happiness rules to find your bliss?

Gifts ~ Is It the Thought that Counts?

Pile of gorgeous gifts

Pile of gifts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Care to appear happy…..” ~ Saint Therese

Do you ever buy yourself Christmas presents? I do. One of my presents to myself this year is Gretchen Rubin’s book “Happier at Home”. I loved her first book, “The Happiness Project” so thought I would get this sequel of sorts.

In the December chapter of her book, she gives two particularly good pieces of advice. The first is taken from her favourite “obsession”, Saint Therese of Lisieux, whose philosophy entailed taking “care to appear happy and especially to be so.” (p. 116) This  quote from the Saint who died young of tuberculosis, tells me that being happy is something we can conjure up, something that is within our control, no matter how we feel. We can be happy (or at least appear so) if we set our mind to it for the sake of others.

The other piece of advice Gretchen provides in this chapter is extremely timely.  She says that Saint Therese emphasizes “the importance of accepting gifts in the spirit in which they are offered, instead of responding to the gift itself,” which is just another way to “care to appear happy.”

This takes us out of the equation and puts the emphasis on the person who chose the gift for us and the thought and trouble that went into the choice. I love this! I have been guilty in the past of just looking at how I will use a gift, or what I will wear it with, or whether I can keep it alive, or any number of other things, rather than the fact that the gift is an offering of love, thoughtfulness, kind-heartedness and consideration.

So, this holiday season, I am determined to take the time to respond to the spirit in which the gift is given rather than the gift itself.

Gretchen does draw the line at passive-aggressive gifts though. She says that sometimes the spirit in which a gift is given is not all that kind—for example, when someone is gifted running clothes, a certificate to a spinning class and an electronic calorie counter—a none too subtle message is being sent.

I myself would be very unhappy to receive gifts that emphasize “organizing your life”—I am afraid I would have trouble accepting them in the spirit they are given—since that spirit would be a little annoying. I do not need a “teaching moment” gift. (Pearls would be nice though–a single black pearl on a silver chain in particular if anyone is wondering–this is useless as my husband does not read my blog. It is something that he is going to get around to some day. That day has not yet come.)

Have you ever received a gift that you had to remember the spirit in which it was given, because otherwise you would wonder what the heck the person was thinking?



Cover of "The Happiness Project: Or, Why ...

Cover via Amazon

 In part, this explains how I turn out a weekly column–it is a simple process–I type “On the Homefront”  (which coincidentally is the name of my newspaper column) at the top of  the page and nine times out of ten it works–I am off and running the weekly race to fill the column set aside on page 5 of the newspaper for me. That tenth time, well–sometime I will write about it……

Whenever I write a column I always type in the title “On The Homefront” first.  I don’t know exactly why, except that it seems to give me focus, so I can centre myself on the task at hand. I know that once I have committed to writing the column then that is what my agenda clears itself for. I wonder if this would work with the rest of my life.  I have a book that is titled, “Write It Down, Make It Happen”, (which I cannot find right now—must have lent it out) that prescribes this simple theory: if you write something down, you have in essence written it down in your psyche, and therefore you will (almost unwittingly) work towards that goal.

I know this works on a certain level, after all, when I write down the title of this column, then I usually make it happen. But having a deadline also works—specifically for a world-class procrastinator like me. I have reached a certain comfort level with my procrastination—having studied it ad nauseam I realize that I suffer from “perfection syndrome”, or “if I don’t understand it, how can I do it.” (Okay, I just hit something on my keyboard and now I am composing in italics—I don’t  know why and I cannot seem to get rid of it—pardon me for a few moments while I work on this.)

  Okay, the italics went away. Now back to my “perfection syndrome”—it is annoying, and I am trying to cure myself of the malady, which you think would be easy since there are so many facets of my life where imperfection is a fact.  I generally get over perfection syndrome when faced with a deadline that will not be moved, or when I realize there are just some things in which I will never reach perfection.  But the goal of perfection is kind of what you make it.  Defined as excellence, it is a good thing; defined as flawlessness, it is not.

When Gretchen Rubin embarked on her “happiness project”, she soon realized that her critics were being a bit mean and miserable when they called her book, “The Happiness Project” the result of a newly popular genre called “stunt journalism”.  I don’t think Gretchen’s main goal was perfection in trying to find the elements of happiness, but she was looking for a form of “excellence”.  She felt she was wasting her life and she wanted to do something about it. Her stunt was to go about her goal over a period of twelve months. Each month had several goals. Apparently this plays into the definition of “stunt journalism” which is defined as “doing something for a year” (and then writing about it.)

I am all for stunt journalism or anything that gives inspiration some get up and go. Inspiration is great, but it needs motivation. Gretchen stretched her project out over a year to give it a chance, and she broke it down thus: January-boost energy by going to sleep earlier and exercising better. This was also her toss, restore, and organize month. In February she wanted to quit nagging and give proofs of love (àpropos to the month of love). In March her overall goal was to “aim higher” and enjoy “now” (à la Eckhart Tolle).

In April, she decided to “lighten up” so she began to sing in the morning. May was her “play” month, where she resolved to find more fun, take time to be silly, and “go off the path” and be more adventurous.  She made time for her friends in June and “bought her happiness” in July by indulging in a modest splurge. She got ethereal in August by “contemplating the heavens”. No one can say the girl did not set some pretty lofty goals.

Her September goal was to write a novel and she did. Not an edited, ready to publish novel, but a novel nevertheless. October was her “pay attention” month, where she meditated and “stimulated her mind in new ways”. She did this by leaving post-it notes around her home. In her bathroom she posted this note: “Tender and light-hearted.” Ten months into the project and her husband, who needed a sense of humour to get through his wife’s “happiness project”, crossed off the words “tender and light-hearted”, and changed them to “light and flaky.”

Her goal in November was quite poetic: “keep a contented heart”. She did this by focusing on her attitude to “cultivate a light-hearted loving, and kind spirit.” Month twelve, December, was boot camp, where she tried to practice all her resolutions, all the time. She had created a Resolution Chart and she wanted all gold stars for that month. (We are all kids at heart).

Her stunt was to get happier. She wrote it down and made it happen. Good stunt.

The Temperate Zone

Line art representation of the Temperate zone

Line art representation of the Temperate zone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is from my column of the same name “On The Homefront” which appears weekly in the Kingsville Reporter:

Fair play. Turnabout. All is fair in love and war. Okay, this column has nothing to do with the third phrase, just thought I would throw it in, in case the first two did not catch your attention. I have written ad nauseum about happiness: what it is, how to attain it, and various experiments –“The Happiness Project” conducted by Gretchen Rubin springs immediately to mind, to convince you that happiness should be not our goal, but our place of rest.

On the other hand there are people who believe “this quest for happiness at the expense of sadness, this obsession with joy without tumult, is dangerous, a deeply troubling loss of the real, of that interplay, rich and terrific, between antagonisms.” This view is held by Professor Eric G. Wilson, creator of the book “Against Happiness”.  Author David Gates joins Wilson in defying the worship of happiness, saying that Wilson has written “A lucid, literate defence of feeling like hell—and, in fact, of feeling itself.” I don’t believe that the pursuit of happiness necessarily erases feelings, particularly the melancholy ones, but instead provides a respite.

Though Wilson quotes Ralph Waldo Emersonto prove his point, I think that by taking Emerson’s words as a way to conduct your life, he hit a middle ground, rather than an extension of his argument. Emerson said, “I compared notes with one of my friends who expects everything of the universe and is disappointed when anything is less than the best, and I found that I begin at the other extreme, expecting nothing, and am always full of thanks for moderate goods…The middle region of our being is the temperate zone.”

Ralph Walso Emerson

Ralph Walso Emerson (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But who writes about the temperate zone—that in between place, where, let’s face, most of us are to be found? I agree that the eternal focus on happiness makes it even more difficult to attain. But to give in, and believe as James Hillman claims, that “Depression opens the door to beauty of some kind” is not really the way I want to go either.

I suppose to make his argument, Wilson must make some outrageous claims. He theorizes that to foster a society of total happiness is to concoct a culture of fear; that mirth gives away our courage; that we relinquish our hearts for contentment; and our “blissed out culture”  ignores sadness and feelings. I am not sure what world Wilson lives in, but I believe his book is only telling one side of the story. He tells the story intelligently, in hovering ivory tower language understood (maybe) by academes, but he doth protest too much as my favourite bard has said.

Before I was romanced by all this “send only positive statements out to the universe” and “law of attraction stuff” (being romanced does not necessarily mean being convinced), I heartily endorsed and practiced Emerson’s “moderate” stance. Neither a “glass half empty nor glass half full” kind of person, I have always believed in not checking my scepticism at the door, but neither do I invite it in. I agree that as (Samuel Taylor) Coleridge once said and Wilson quoted, “The thirsty man knows water more keenly than the sated one.” But once having known thirst, one has to admit that being sated is a much happier state.

In her attempt at corralling happiness, Gretchen Rubin found that being unhappy limited her. She did not find any great truths in her malaise, in fact she was suffering from a “recurrent sense of discontent”.

Wilson believes that “our recent culture has made it startlingly easy to live only in a world of personal dreams, a realm from which hard reality has largely been vanquished.” Again, I ask, ‘what world is he living in?’ The world of Lewis Black, I guess. Black says that he has never been Mr. Happy, and after reading Wilson’s book, he feels a “lot better about myself. It almost made me happy,” And therein lies the rub. If being unhappy makes you happy, then quite possibly you are not “deep or soulful” enough to be part of Wilson’s hypothesis. Attaining happiness is not just for soulless rubes, as Wilson seems to believe.

At one time I would have embraced Wilson and his theory that serious things are no longer serious if happiness enters the equation. But there is that place, that temperate zone where we are neither grinning idiots nor doleful intellectuals—that place that Emerson described, where we “can expect nothing”, then be “fully thankful” when we receive something.

Published in: on April 16, 2012 at 5:18 pm  Comments (6)  
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