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Posts Tagged ‘happiness’

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Today I sold a pair of earrings and I wept afterwards. It is a strange moment to explain, but there I was letting go of one of the last connections I had to my dead mother.

Dead by almost 15 years.

I had held on to these gold earrings for a subconscious last ditch effort to control the world around me. You see, life has not exactly turned out the way I anticipated. I never thought I would lose my childhood home in a wildfire. I never thought I’d move to and live in Las Vegas for 13 years. I never thought I’d watch my mother die when I was in my mid twenties and just finally starting my career, the same she encouraged me to pursue.

Life doesn’t turn out as you plan.

So I stood there, almost shaking, my words jumbled and mixed in my mouth for my mother’s ghost was in my hands in the form of her earrings. I watched closely as they passed from my hands into my buyer’s hands. The money placed in mine felt weightless, meaningless. We parted, and I sat in my car for a few minutes, shaking, a creature pressing into my chest so I couldn’t breathe, a sudden influx of anxiety consumed me.

And I realized why quite quickly. It was just that: flux. An unexpected upheaval of my life again and again. That isn’t to say something awful happened recently, but my mother’s ghost is still with me, and flux seems to follow me ever since. I never let her passing go for I was too busy trying to control my anguish and loss; letting go of her ghost today was the best lesson I didn’t know I needed.

If you defined your life in one word, what would it be? Most days I would like to answer happy or adventurous. But the truth is that underlying all that is flux. Loss is certainly a repeated theme of flux in my life: my house, mom, grandmothers, dog, friend, two students, gone and all in my twenties. Later, I moved from everything stable to a new state and a new life for a job I later lost.

“The art of losing isn’t hard to master,” the poem goes. Yet though I am good at losing, I am not good at accepting loss.

My jobs now don’t pay well- yet- but they are jobs that fill my soul and that I know will soon enough pay what I need: part time English teacher, part time ski instructor, part time freelance writer, part time coach and tour guide. Yet I worry constantly that I won’t be able to cover myself next month. Trying to control the uncontrollable feels defeating.

And so goes the rest of the story, trying to control my life and know where I’m headed. I feel powerless most days, not knowing what my romantic or friend relationships will be tomorrow, or if I will ever have the things I have dreamed about my whole life like a house and garden or family of my own. I worry that the children in my life will somehow vanish at the hands of their parents or disinterest. I wish I could put in Google Calendar the dates I would like all my dreams to happen and magically my stable dream life will appear. But today reminded me that the more I try to control the past or the future, the less power I have. I feel powerless because, ironically, I can’t let go of control.

I take consolation now in knowing I cannot control where my relationships or jobs or dreams will go, but instead that this moment and the next are all I need to care about. It really comes down to just one other word: fear. I fear putting my heart into a world that might take away again. I fear if I do not wrangle with the powers that be, that nothing I desire will come to me. But my lesson is just simply this: less control and being more present will allow me the one thing I want most: to live happily.

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“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”– Confucius

All through primary school, it feels as though teachers, parents, counselors, and relatives encourage children to believe that they can be whatever they can want to be. They organize dress up days where they learn about, explore, role play different careers: today be a nurse, tomorrow a firefighter. There is rarely a limitation on those dreams- kids can dream without being the smartest, the fastest, or whatever gender. Students open their arms and their minds to all the possibilities without concern for if they are qualified or how much the career makes. So what happens? How does this change when we get older? Why do we stop dreaming?

Blame it on high school testing, possibly, and what college one gets into, and what programs within that college at that. Everything seems dependent on ability as well as experiences.  The author of Outliers. Malcolm Gladwell, says “We cannot be separated from where we are from.” Are we limited or blessed based on parental influences, type of community, or even the school we get into? Or can we bypass all these societal limitations and just follow our hearts to happiness?

One of the keys to happiness is just that: following our hearts, filling our lives with the things that we love, that make our days feel more like play than work. This was true when we were children, but why cannot this be true for us now as adults? I am thinking now of my goddaughter, in her first years of college, and wondering what is limiting her, what messages are being sent to her that she doesn’t deserve to have her dream life or “be” the person she has always wanted to be. As a child, I was told I could be anything…as long as it made good money and didn’t embarrass the family. To an extent, I still agree with this, but what dreams I followed were limited because the deeper message was this- that which you love to do (write!) won’t earn you the money you need, so do something else.

As I earned my undergraduate degree, I threw aside the scowls and went for a degree in English literature (with an emphasis on creative writing) and a minor in cultural anthropology. I love both immensely, so studying felt like exploring the world (and myself) and I know I became a better human at graduation than when I was an entering freshmen. And to add to this, I became more passionate about writing, reading, and human culture. I swore I wouldn’t be a teacher because my true passion was just writing. After a time I caved, I gave in to an ill mother’s request to do what the rest of the family did and I earned my masters of education degree. Overall the experience of teaching has been a blessing. Students, in general, are uplifting, a gift, funny, insightful, and inspire me with their hard work. I never had the chance to have children although I wanted them so badly: teaching is my way of having kids, in a sense. For that brief time I teach your child, I treat and love them as though they were my own. But there are times this career hasn’t been so wonderful.

At ten years of teaching, I knew I needed more, not only professionally but personally, too. I needed my passions to be reignited, my passions for writing, snowboarding, mountain biking, just being active and outdoors. I didn’t write much anymore since there was little time after coaching and grading and sleeping. Teaching creative writing classes helped, but the flame still sputtered and needed more air. Volunteering for ski patrol at the local hill helped ease my pain to snowboard all the time, but the desert isn’t the best place for a ski hill of great magnitude. Eventually, I moved schools and my life to Utah. Much to my dismay, I ended up at a school that as I say semi-jokingly “ate my soul.” I was miserable and tried to make it through three years of professional torture, all the while thinking about writing, obsessing over “someday.” Again, I was still tumbled in a world that didn’t really allow me to follow my passions, especially my passion for teaching. This flame was almost completely doused by weird expectations and commands that were devoid of educational purpose.

Someday finally came. I left the school (though not on good terms) and found a job as a part time teacher at a school that spoke my language (as the kids were all snow athletes), and started my own job as a part-time freelance writer. I teach April to November so my “summers” are actually “winters” off, which means my other great passion of snowboarding is really possible. Like, every day possible. I set my own schedule for writing so if I don’t feel like working, I don’t, or I might flip day hours for night hours if I want to mountain bike all day during the day.

Here is where my point is: my life as I wanted it to be finally came true, 25 years after I started dreaming about it. It would have happened sooner if I had just followed my heart. Though I have been reminded that all our experiences end up creating who we are at this exact moment, I know I would have enjoyed starting off with my dream life. All that said, I’m blessed to have it now. Though I do not make much money, I do enjoy and love the students I have, the ability to write for money, and the freedom to enjoy the life I have always wanted snowboarding, mountain biking, climbing, or napping almost whenever I desire. Living a life where I can follow and embrace my passions is what makes me happy.

Therefore, to have happiness, follow your heart, and dream big dreams. As the saying goes, “if your dreams don’t scare you, then they aren’t big enough.” Go forth and live passionately!

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Modern society has swallowed its own tail: in trying to make ourselves happier through modern advances, we have made ourselves instead the opposite. In a 2013 study of those adults who found themselves to be happy, only 55% of those interviewed of Gen X admitted to deep happiness, while other ages groups (like Baby Boomer and Millenials) scored quite similarly. In essence, only roughly half of the United States admits to happiness. Though in decades past happiness may have been measured differently, if measured at all, the greatest change is how happiness is defined. While statistics show that Americans are more glum, the questions remain: how do we define happiness, and how can we change our state of being?

PBS published happiness as “…the good life, freedom from suffering, flourishing, well-being, joy, prosperity, and pleasure.” But what does this mean? Perhaps the definition ultimately comes down to the individual and his or her situation, but one might venture a guess that true happiness begins with the most bottom tiers of Maslow’s hierarchy of need, so once we have safety, food, and comfort, we can begin our journey to happiness. If we feel successful in some manner (either professionally or personally), have self-esteem, laughter, and are able to participate in things we enjoy, we will find happiness. This still seems a superficial answer, and I intend to take the next few weeks to investigate what truly makes us joyful and happy.

This search began after several conversations with friends recently, both instigated by myself and the friends, regarding our state of well-being. One friend offered that he had lost the will to do any of the activities he once loved, which was a heavy load to hear since he was the man who taught me how to love the world around me. Another friend found herself several times either in a fury or in tears because she found herself in her mid-forties and childless. There are more still, those who have found sadness dwells in their souls instead of the burning excitement for life they once held.

When I began my research, one very common theme arose multiple times: do not compare yourself to others or to an unrealistic expectation. We will begin here. Happiness is your own journey, as is life. Our paths may be different, but one is never more important or successful than another. High school reunions too often spark such feelings: that perfect kid in high school is now president of the world? Worse yet, we become consumed with images on Facebook of these perfect lives of our virtual friends, and instantly we see ourselves as failures because we haven’t had the apparently required two kids, gotten engaged, gotten married, bought a new car, went on a trip around the world…twice. Whether or not social media virtual friends are honestly showing their true lives in irrelevant; what is relevant is your true life.

If you find yourself a bit glum these days, here is your step one homework for happiness: count how many times you honestly check social media sites each day. Do this for a matter of days, take the average, and now cut that number in half. So, if you pop online 20 times during the day (mostly at work when you don’t want to do that report, I suspect), half of that is obviously 10. For the next two days, go online no more than 10 times. Then, cut it in half again. Two days you may only check 5 times a day. Then…you got it…cut it out completely. Go for a week without checking, if you can, and then limit yourself to one time a day at most after that.

Here’s why: staying off social media first will make you more productive in general. You will be more focused at work, and more mindful at home. Mindfulness is an incredibly important part of our happiness. Without comparing ourselves to other people, we can focus on each moment of our day, which is essentially what the makeup of our lives really is. Spend time noticing the world around you: the colors of the room, the temperature of the air outside, the shapes of the clouds, the way your lunch really tastes, the way your favorite lotion smells. Be present in each experience, without judgement of good or bad, just observing life. Observe your own life and ask what makes you happy, what makes you feel good. Honor your sadness or whatever emotions you may feel, embrace it, speak to it, and start to let it go. Most importantly, remember that you cannot compare yourself to anyone else because you are unlike anyone else. This is your homework. Step 2 will come shortly.

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In the tradition of the 12 Days of Christmas, I am beginning a movement toward happiness for all called the 12 Days of Happy. For the 12 days following Christmas, we will celebrate how beautiful and amazing life is by suggesting ways to make life richer and more beautiful.

Day One: Sleep Well and Wake Happy

WebMD reports that 20% of Americans sleep less than 6 hours on average, which falls way below the recommended 7-8 hours for adults. Work, financial woes, stress, a virtual 24/7 society of social media and gaming prevents us from scheduling an appropriate amount of sleep. Caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, poor diets, worse workout habits all contribute to a lack of sleep. While we sense the obvious ill-effects of this–exhaustion, moodiness– we need to consider the other consequences: “poor work performance, driving accidents, relationship problems, and mood problems like anger and depression. Heart disease, diabetes, and obesity” (WebMD).

Just like healthy eating, healthy sleeping is important, too, but so often set aside because we prioritize other things (an unfinished list, family care, work, house duties, etc). Starting today, focus on less alcohol and caffeine, especially close to bedtime (starting in the late afternoon). In the hour or two prior to bedtime, focus on quiet and calming activities that don’t involve eating, exercising, or even watching television. Fitness Magazine suggests an 8-Minute Yoga Workout before bed to relax us, and to deepen our sleep. If these suggestions still do not help deepen your sleep, consider if it is a self-fulfilling prophecy (“I can never sleep so therefore I won’t be able to sleep tonight”) or if there is a greater issue that should be addressed by a professional.

The self-fulfilling prophecy is also applicable to how we wake up, too. The Greatness Zone suggests going to bed (and/or waking up) grateful. What three to five things are you appreciative of? What good things do you anticipate throughout the day to happen? One of those things should be something you love to do: dancing, singing, cooking, running, calling your best friend, whatever suits your fancy. Interacting with close friends and family, those who share your same values and who respect you are vital in the process of being happy. Finding yourself frustrated throughout the day, take a moment to meditate and quiet the internal conflicts and external pressures, essentially a quick “restart” button. Find a few moments for yourself and follow the advice of Dr. Weil and Thich Nhat Hanh for simple meditations.

Of course, the most important element is doing that which makes you happy as far as career. This is not a minor adjustment, but consider if you are in the position to do so, change to a career or job that reflects your passion. If this isn’t possible, following the above suggestions may help you come to peace with your job or daily expectations. Having peace in your daily life might then make going to sleep each night easier and better, and thus begins a healthy and happy cycle.

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A beautiful perk to living in or visiting a metropolis is a euphony of various languages, a din of voices uttering gorgeous vowels or harsh consanents, but nonetheless transmitting the most precious of all human inventions–culture.  But why learn these conduits of varying societies?

Pickthebrain.com articles “5 Great Reasons to Learn a Foreign Language”, and starts with the idea that it will improve your English…or whatever language is most familiar. Granted, not all ideas are parallel between societies, but to understand the uniqueness of a language and its reflection of culture ultimately makes one a more authentic and careful speaker. This continues the idea that knowing a language deepens cultural learning, teaching more than just vocal sounds, but instead a very human experience.

But strengthening one’s familiar language is only the beginning. Any avid traveler will note that knowing the local lingo can not only enhance the experience, but keeps a traveler safe as well.  Without knowing the behind-the-counter conversations, one can feel excluded from the local culture, relegated instead to buying over-price cheaply-made souveniers and eating at the local McDonald’s. Opening with at least an attempted language exchange increases the chances of a receptive and positive interaction, thus increasing the memories and deepening the experiences. When last I visited Paris, I attempted my worst pronunciation of French. Though I was ribbed for my terrible French, the Parisians were still quite happy to help me with whatever I needed. And possibly flirted with me a little bit, too.

Actually learning the language, though, can be the challenge. Two of the most used on-line language courses are livemocha and Rosetta Stone. However, which one to use is an even more of a challenge. LiveMocha allows learners to interact with fluent speakers and other learners. This community makes learning not feel so isolating, and gives almost immediate feedback as to the quality of responses. LiveMocha also has many free courses, though the most common languages (like German and Spanish) do cost. The downside is that LiveMocha has many translation errors, and behaves more as a review of a language than an initial learning tool. Rosetta Stone, however, has proven strategies that work, though at a high financial price at roughly $300.

Whatever language learning software you choose, just experiencing a new culture enhances the human experience. Challenging yourself, stepping out from your comfort zone, makes life more meaningful. Larga vida y prosperidad!

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Journaling conjures an image in many minds of long-winded emotional rants that end up being more melo-dramatic and angsty than expressive. Those who journal, or worse yet write in a diary, are subject to ridicule either because of their hobby, or the contents if ever seen. It’s a dangerous business, this journaling, but one that is healthy for the mind and soul.

In recently months I’ve taken up the act of journaling again. Though the intention has been for daily use, the reality is “as often as possible.” I know the benefits of expressing those issues that gnaw at me daily. The act allows me to “explore the past to better understand [my] future”, as per Charissa Arsaoui on addingbliss.typepad.com. She also states that ” journaling helps to clarify your relationships” and can benefit your physical health as a form of meditation.

Unclear how to start your journaling? Begin with essortment.com’s article on journaling, and the four basic questions (as follows):

1. What do you want to do (stated goal)?

2. What did you do today about it?

3. What stopped you from accomplishing your goal?

4. What are you going to do about it now?

To continue with more research regarding journaling is the website stevepavlina.com where he discusses the idea that human thought is linear and sequential. In order to digest and organize an issue or problem, one must think beyond this “box.” Therefore, “[j]ournaling allows you to break free of sequential thinking and examine your thoughts from a bird’s-eye view.” (stevepavlina.com 11/6/11)

Though I have found in my creative life many tools for examining the self, journaling is the classic that is not only timeless, but universal. I intend to continue journaling, especially on my quest for a full and beautiful life. There is much for me to teach, but even more for me to learn and discover. Journaling is merely my roadmap to keep me company along the way!

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I think the person who takes a job in order to live – that is to say, for the money – has turned himself into a slave.
Joseph Campbell

Confucius taught that to love one’s job means to never work a day of one’s life. This adage has inspired many, but motivated few. How many people can honestly say they love their jobs passionately, enough so that they would continue doing what they are doing regardless of pay? Though all Westernized humans must name a price in order to survive, at what point does the average person move from “pleasure” into becoming a slave?
Good pay is pleasurable. It is pleasurable to transition from eating Top Ramon because you have to, to having the option to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables. It is pleasurable to go from an untrustworthy car to a shiny new ride. It is pleasurable to finally financially breathe easy, versus the fear of overdrawing or something being repo’d. Yet this pleasure has a price. Money to pay the bills and live for material needs and gains rarely comes from the job well-loved. Often, the grumbles from those in such a predicament reflects feelings of boredom or uselessness or feeling dehumanized. Is the “stuff” or the house or the car worth the pains of said occupation?
It has been my goal, since a child, to find a career I was passionate about, one that positively impacted the environment or my community, one that paid enough to live decently and made me content. For the last ten years, that has been teaching.
Teaching wasn’t the career I dreamed of. I had hoped to be out fighting big corporations in order to save the environment, or something of that nature. I’d hoped of editing for publication firms in New York or London or Paris. There was even a glimmer, for a while, of writing for a living.
I was talked out of the last by my mother, citing that no one ever is successful as a writer. To this day I don’t know if she was making a generalization or was implying my writing skills weren’t up to par. So, when graduating college to find editing jobs scarce and in the armpit of LA, I opted to become a teacher. At first I balked at the notion, being talked into the licensure program by the same woman who talked me out of writing. I was too impatient, too selfish, too immature. Yet I persevered, for one odd reason or another, and fell into a job at one of the nicest high schools in Las Vegas.
After 8 years, I realized I needed a change.
It wasn’t that teaching was less than thrilling–despite almost quitting early into my career, when I stuck it out (thanks to the guidance of a very wise teacher friend) I came to see teaching for what it is. For 9 months (8 months if you count in vacations) I immediately impact the lives of 120-200 children. Though these are the “dreaded” teenagers, I firmly believe that spending enough time with a group of them, showing humility and patience, anyone will find them captivating, funny, and even intelligent (sometimes…). I learned more about myself as a human standing in front of these hormonal landmines than ever interacting with adults.
But it wasn’t until students started graduating…and coming back to visit that I finally saw my impact. Every year the numbers grow of students who visit me, thank me, invite me into their now adult lives, just for a moment. On Facebook now I’m connected with these graduates, and hear from them occasionally with tidbits about their lives: one is finally published, another feels confident in her poetry class in college, another just appreciated being able to express himself in class. You’ll never understand what impacting a community feels like until you get the thank yous!
So, teaching is, 90% of the time, the ultimate career for me. Most times, I wake up in the morning not dreading the day ahead but already bursting (okay, stumbling) into my plan for the day. I get excited to see student projects or to hear their accomplishments. I love seeing kids glow when they earn an A on an essay in my class. It goes without saying I’m not a pushover teacher. I’m tough, sometimes mean, occasionally imperfect, but always passionate. I make them work for their grades, and tell them they “earn” their grades, I don’t “give” them grades.
And so I do make them earn them.
After 8 years, though, that passion was becoming draining. I needed something else, something in my personal life to up the passion. It took a couple years but at the completion of my 10th teaching year is when it happened.
For me, that passion in personal life is snowboarding. So what better plan than to move to the city with the snow I covet (Park City) and work at the gorgeous high school I covet (Park City High School). Almost without a hitch I applied, interviewed, interviewed again, and…got it! The feeling of accomplishment that coupled this hiring was amazing–for the rest of last school year I was the best, most energetic, most kind teacher on the planet! I felt I could accomplish anything, teach anyone! PCHS selected me…ME!…over the 300 candidates who applied. This alone made me stand proud. And then the clamor from my students in Las Vegas, not wanting me to leave? I felt uplifted!
Then reality hit. I moved to Utah officially in August, and started coaching soccer the next day. Then started teaching, two subjects that I’d never taught before, and a third with heavy work load. And coaching debate. And going to all the specified trainings. And…imploding.
Here it is just barely November and I’m already shutting down. As I consider how I felt about teaching when I was hired, I wonder where that rush, that feeling of passionate accomplishment went. I think it might have all been crushed under the weight of a stack of papers I still need to grade.  Using the Internet, I’m hoping to find my dream job writing…and getting paid a great deal to tell the world what I think of it.
But that isn’t the path for me, at least not just yet. Though writing as a career is certainly my dream job, for now I’ll focus on the new job I’ve earned, the position I have to work for, just like how I make my student work for their grades. I know that sense of accomplishment doesn’t come cheap, but it certainly tastes better than being enslaved to a job I hate.

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