Resolve to embrace your now!

It’s New Year’s and the internet is awash with posts about New Year’s Resolutions. People are eager to change and improve their lives. They’re keen to eat better, sleep better, work better, and improve their relationships. This year, it’ll be different!

But…what if it won’t? What if this year is basically the same as the last, and we struggle with all the same defects and weaknesses as we did last year? What if we don’t change jobs, gain or lose weight or get more productive? Will it be a big waste?

What if by the end of the year, our kids still fight, the dishes still pile up, we lose our patience and get snappy? What if, Heaven forbid, we’re still human?! Should we abandon hope?

Instead…what if, instead of focusing exclusively on our failures, we choose to see things in their true light, both the good and the bad? What if we give thanks and celebrate every little success? What if we choose to find God in the mess and smile more? If the kingdom of Heaven is within us, then we better find God where we are.

Perhaps the best resolution would be to find joy right here where we are today–in our life as it is now–while still being open to dreams of making it even better.

Those dreams, however, should be our dreams; no one else can really know the key to our happiness. We must prayerfully reflect and find it ourselves. Happiness and holiness will be found in being the best version of ourselves, so don’t steal someone else’s list of New Year’s resolutions! Comparing ourselves to others is such a happiness thief, so resolving to stop doing that would be a good idea, at least for me, and possibly a few other million women.

Don’t be unfaithful to the dream God has of you in His heart…trust He knows how to make a masterpiece!

Don’t reject it by harshly rejecting yourself. Trusting and being gentle with ourselves as we try to grow and improve will help us extend that kindness to others as well.

And if anyone is looking for a fun way to make it a happier year, with the support and encouragement of others, I highly recommend Gretchen Rubin’s new online happiness project course!

The Happiness Project Experience

Build a happy life in 2019! Having spent so much time thinking about happiness, I really do believe that for most of us, there are many simple things we can do to boost our happiness. We just need to take the time to reflect on what those efforts would be, and figure out how to make them part of our lives. That’s what “The Happiness Project Experience” is designed to do! You can have the life you want; you can change your life without changing your life.

Little changes to our actions and attitude can make a big difference. May our hearts be happier in 2019!

Why obligers need a deep interior life…and why it’s so hard for them to take time for it. 

You may have read some of my past posts about happiness author Gretchen Rubin’s theories about the four tendencies people have with regard to habit formation and meeting inner and outer expectations. As a quick review, the four types are: 

  1. Upholders (meet inner and outer expectations)
  2. Questioners (meet inner but question outer expectations)
  3. Obligers (meet outer but resist inner expectations)
  4. Rebels (resist both inner and outer expectations)

I’m an obliger, so I’m writing from my personal experience. Obligers have a keen sense of others needs, and tend to focus primarily on them. It always feels more virtuous to be doing something for someone else rather than ourselves. We have a hard time doing stuff that’s “just for me.”  


Obligers need to reflect to make good decisions about their priorities and needs, but struggle to take that time. Often they push themselves to remain in busy activities for others instead…even when that inner voice is screaming, “No!” Instead of stalling for time so they can calmly quietly decide what to, they try to silence that inner voice of resistance and force a guilt-induced “Yes, of course!” This can lead to them getting burned out and resentful–punishing those they love most with grumpiness–a bad pattern!

So if you’re someoe who falls into this, resist the temptation to say “yes” right away…make some good easy lines to use:

“Let me just check my calendar and get back to you.”
“Sounds interesting. I’ll talk about it with my spouse and let you know.”
“Thank you for the invite. I’d love to come but I’ll just have to see what my week is looking like before I commit.”

And then pray about it. Consult your calendar. Consult your gut…and listen to it! That quiet time in which to make decisions is essential. Helping your inner life to flourish can bring such strength. Taking things to prayerful refection can help you discern which things are really the most important and necessary, and also which are actually your responsibility. This is key because obligers can struggle with boundaries and often feel responsible for the perceived needs of others, even other adults. 

My Dad told me the other day something very simple but which stuck me like lightning:

“Other people’s stuff is not your responsibility.”  Really!??! Wow!!

How freeing this is! It is such a beautiful thing to just focus on the task at hand–to totally concentrate on what you’re doing, whether it’s grating carrots, writing or folding the laundry. For there is something really beautiful about just doing one thing and not thinking about anything else. Airplane mode! Just cruising without all the beeps and bells intruding from the internet. 

Alternatively, can you imagine if God was the way we are, getting so distracted by every possible thing going on all around the world? He would be completely insane because he knows everything. And yet somehow, living in the eternal present, aware of past, present and future, He is still able to simply exist. He is able to live fully and totally present in each moment. 

What a gift it is when we have a little taste of this! But to find it we have to be intentional, and block out all the noise and distractions around us,  to focus on what really matters. We need to have the humility to acknowledge that all we really need to do is take care of our tiny corner of the world. If we don’t, no one else will. And actually no one should. 

To need to be rescued is ultimately disempowering. 

Remember this. Give people the fishing rod, not the fish. Otherwise you imply they couldn’t have done it themselves, which is actually depressing. We all want to be able to take care of ourselves. And with the grace of God, and perhaps a little help (but not rescuing!) from friends, we can. 

So, Obligers, it’s so awesome that you are sensitive to the needs of others, but pack up your super-hero capes and martyr badges and stop being so afraid to say no. The world will not fall apart if you set a few much needed boundaries and focus on taking care of your own needs and duties, your own personal mission, before deciding how much you can help others with theirs. Perhaps in what the women from the podcast Project Love call  this “brave act of self-love” you will give others the freedom to do the same, and more people can find the peace that comes from simply doing what they need to do, without getting tangled in guilty knots when they can’t do everything else! 😉

PS This rare sighting of the ‘creatura materna’ without countless offspring was captured by my friend Rachel Lalonde on an awesome 4 hour moms only coffee date and walk! Also… I highly recommend the podcast on boundaries mentioned above! So awesome…especially for women who tend to feel the need to always put others first, even to the point of neglecting themselves:

 The art of saying No and setting healthy boundaries

Happiness Haiku

A listener of happiness author Gretchen Rubin’s  podcast recommended the practice of writing a daily haiku to promote mindfulness…noting the little beauties of each day. What a great idea, in a simple form: 3 lines of verse with 5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables. It’s quite fun, actually, and worth a try! Here are a few I wrote this morning:

Haiku 1

Morning light floods in

kitchen aflame with brightness

blue sky day begins

Haiku 2

Ring of Queen Anne’s Lace

bursting in my picture frame–

silent fireworks dance

Haiku 3

Sun warms my bare toes…

toddler drags me down the stairs 

delighted to play!

Homeschool Highlights #1: Getting in the habit.

I am always meaning to write more about homeschooling, and yet I never do. Perhaps this is because I am so busy homeschooling, but still, as homeschooling is one of my passions, I’d like this to change. I’ve been reading Gretchen Rubin’s book “Better than Before” about habit formation, and thinking  a lot about habits…why they are so hard for me to form and how I can change for the better. Rubin says that the first important step to improving our habits is growing in self-knowledge…knowing how we like to work, what we find fun, what we find hard, whether we are morning people or night owls, whether we like to work a little at a time or only under a deadline, etc. She explains that understanding how we respond to expectations (internal or external) helps us know how to tailor our efforts at forming new habits.

As I mentioned in a previous post, she divides people into 4 main categories: Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, and Rebel. After taking her quiz, it seems I’m an Obliger…although one with a streak of Rebel as well…anyway, according to Rubin, Obligers need external accountability to help them follow through with obligations and meet expectations. They are relational and do well with feedback and response to their actions or work. So while the Rebel part of me hates restrictions like deadlines and detailed rules, the Obliger part of me thrives on interaction and encouragement, which help me follow through with plans, even ones I make for myself, like writing more about a particular topic.

Since I have found it hard  (at the end of each busy day) to establish the habit of writing down what the kids do each day in my homeschool journal, I thought it might be more fun to write a weekly homeschool update on my blog instead. This won’t be a perfect “How to Homeschool Fabulously” post, but simply some fun highlights so you can share in our learning journey and maybe get an idea or two to try for yourself. Also you are most welcome to share your ideas or suggestions with me! 🙂 As my favourite Australian blogger puts it, “Comments are like Christmas!” So hopefully now that I’ve told you this (external accountability) and made a weekly plan (scheduling is key says Rubin) I will be more likely to do it than if left in the fuzzy world of “I’d like to sometime…”

Here is one highlight:

Last month we worked on goal setting and planning. We all made a concrete daily goal (like do x amount of math, practice reading a new picture book aloud to Mum, do Language Arts program online, etc) and got to put a sticker on our daily spot when we finished. This really worked for my daughter in grade one, who got so motivated she would read more than one book aloud and get extra stickers. She loved the autonomy of choosing her own book and putting her own sticker on her chart. For her, the more independence the better.

She used the sticker chart system to make a calendar to count down the days until the dentist, because she knew she had a great prize waiting after her appointment. Usually the kids can choose a small gift at the bookstore after dental appointments, but as she had to go back for a filling only two weeks after her checkup, I offered her one bigger prize instead of the two little ones, if she could wait. She agreed choose a magnetic drawing board and waited with eager patience for the dentist appointment. She had her major filling done calmly, eyes fixed firmly on the prize. Being called his favourite and best patient of the day by the dentist was a great added bonus!

$10 Mood Magic

What if for $10 a month you could change your mood…at any point in time…to be more upbeat, nostalgic, joyful, comtemplative…or whatever strikes your fancy? Well, as what happiness expert Gretchen Rubin calls an “underbuyer”–someone who hates to spend money–this is pretty appealing. There’s no way I’d spend $10 a day to boost my mood, but 33c a day…I can handle that..even with my Scottish stinginess.

So what’s this magic I’m referring to? Music! Recently my husband told me that iTunes has a special feature where you can listen to any albums, any time, for any number of times, for $10 a month. You just sign up for an apple music membership, go to the iTunes store music section, and click browse. Then voilá, whatever music appeals to you that moment is yours…and I don’t mean just the 30 second soundbites, but the whole album, uninterrupted.

So I’ve been having fun indulging in highschool nostalgia like the Ally McBeal soundtrack (yup, despire my current memory-lacking mommy brain I still know all the words), college day X-files tunes, and a university favourite, the uplifting Christian singer Chris Rice, as well as classics like the greatest hits of Fleetwood Mac and eclectic things like medieval music for a feast. It’s really fun to see how the kids respond to all this new-to-them music. The way they dance, make up adventures stories and act them out to the music, and generally get down and groovy. When it’s my 15 month old bopping his head, its hilarious!

Wanna check it out? The first three months are free. And while this might seem like an ad, I’m not being paid for this endorsement…I just love it, and honestly, I could only “sell”–in the sense of promote– what I love. My husband loves this gift, which he got for the kids on his birthday (this highly impressed them), because it takes up no room. No piles of CD’s falling over and getting chewed on by the baby!

Apple Music Membership

One other cool feature…it’s so handy for homeschool music appreciation because we can listen to anything, anytime, without having to sift through tons of YouTube videos with ads. Whether it’s music for a First Nations unit study or fun bible songs to sing along with, or that “real castle music” from the middle ages, iTunes has you covered! Let the dancing begin…

3 Steps to Keeping Your New Year’s Resolutions

It’s almost mid-January, and as we struggle to get back into the routine of the New Year after the Christmas holidays, it can be easy to get discouraged about our New Year’s resolutions. Perhaps, like many households, you’re been hit with the flu (yup, us, too) and have been living in your pajamas for a week. This is not the time to be harsh with yourself! It’s been a “put your money where your mouth is” challenge to my desire to be more aware of my mood and conscious of being happy, but just cause I got a little grumpy around 5 pm a few times doesn’t mean it is time to give up. The only real failure is giving up forever!

I think that rather than seeing January as the beginning of a race to a ‘new me’, it should be seen as a month of reflection and planning for a great year. December is way too packed already to plan then. Furthermore, as Maria, a young woman I know put it, “Making New Year’s resolutions while you’re stuffing yourself with Christmas cookies just feels stupid.” So I propose we see January as the time to dig deep and see where we could make our lives better, happier, and more joyful by improving our habits and character. If happiness is a project, it surely requires some planning!

Here are three steps to help you make good resolutions and keep striving to achieve them:

  1. Reflect: What makes you happy? What drains you of joy? What would you like to change? How can you become a better version of yourself, more truly you? Author Gretchen Rubin says that “to be happy, you need to consider feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.” Being reflective helps us open up to positive change.
  2. Plan: Break down your goals into concrete, doable steps. Be specific so you can easily measure how you’re doing with them. It’s better to be faithful to a small resolution than to periodically do something huge when you feel like it. So “I will eat a salad every two days,” rather than the vague “I will eat more healthy food.” Or “I will turn off my iPhone at 10 pm,” rather than indeterminate “I will get more sleep.”
  3. Be accountable: To a friend, a group or yourself. I have a few close friends I check in with to every few days to discuss how it’s going.  But especially if you’re going it alone, make sure you have a tangible way to keep yourself on track, like a resolution chart, with some fancy gold star stickers you hope to put on most days. Have something or someone outside yourself so there is a kind of consequence if you stop trying, and also an encouragement to continue. It’s easy to give up on goals because we simply forget…make to harder to do so.

Rubin wrote a book called: Better Than Before about making and breaking habits, and in researching it she discovered 4 basic ways people form habits. You can take her quick and easy quiz to see what kind of habit former you are, and get her tips on how to help yourself succeed in building the habits you desire: Four Tendencies Quiz. If it peaks your curiosity to know them, the options are Upholder, Questioner, Rebel and Obliger. I found it really helpful to know that there are different ways people respond to internal and external pressure to change…maybe I am not a terrible new habit former after all, I just haven’t been approaching it the right way! Hope!

The Power of Positive Speech

Do you remember the childhood rhyme, “I’m rubber and you’re glue; whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you”? Well, apparently there is some truth to this. Happiness author Gretchen Rubin describes this phenomenon, called “spontaneous trait transference.”

Studies show that because of this psychological phenomenon, people unintentionally transfer to me the traits I ascribe to other people. So if I tell Jean that Pat is arrogant, unconsciously Jean associates that quality with me. On the other hand, if I say that Pat is brilliant or hilarious, I’m linked to those qualities. What I say about other people sticks to me–even when I talk to someone who already knows me. So I do well to say only good things.” (The Happiness Project, pg 156)

No wonder we don’t like spending time with people who complain about others a lot! To solidify this image in your mind, think of it this way: every adjective that comes out of your mouth sticks to your face like ketchup (so hard to get off!). So saying: “My boss is so annoying, demanding, and thoughtless etc”…means all those characteristics are stuck on your face. Yuck. Really gonna need some baby wipes.

I started thinking about all this recently after noticing my older kids picking at the younger ones at the table. Like little parent parrots they repeated things like, “Chew with your mouth closed! Are you finishing that pickle? Eat your food and stop being fussy!”

Hmmm, if that’s the kind of parenting talk they hear a lot, that’s what they’ll imitate. Since it takes three positive comments to combat one negative one, I better up my ratios of positive comments dramatically! So as they griped at each other about fussy eating habits, I started talking about all sorts of things I liked. “This is good. I love pickles. It’s nice we’re having lunch together. I am so glad you got the groceries delivered; now we’re all set for the weekend. It will be fun to read stories after lunch,” etc. It felt a little silly but you’ve got to start somewhere!

I want my kids to be people who speak well of others, so I need to be a good example, even at home. Actually especially there, even though the long 24/7 shift makes it the hardest place to do so consistently.  Possibly my mother-in-law is now running to the store to buy me a year’s worth of duct tape…oh, well, perhaps there’s a back to school sale? 😉

 

 

The four stages of happiness

“The Happiness Project” author Gretchen Rubin identifies four stages of happiness. According to her research, “the key to happiness is squeezing out as much happiness as possible from a happy event.” “To eke out the most happiness from an experience,” she explains, ” we must anticipate it, savor it as it unfolds, express happiness, and recall a happy memory.”

Anticipate, savour, express and recall. It is worth asking ourselves how much we do these things. Do we really enjoy our blessings, or do we allow happy moments or pleasant events to slip by without acknowledging them? Rubin feels that the awareness of being happy contributes greatly to our overall level of happiness. This is a good reminder to practice gratitude and to express it. It’s a good way to be happy and to share our joy.

The other night the younger kids fell asleep a little bit early (hallelujah!), so I got to snuggle my 8-year-old while my eldest read us Harry Potter. It was a cosy, relaxing moment and I made sure to really savour it. And then to tell people about it, and write about it…and so to make that simple happiness stretch from moments to days.

One of the beautiful things about childhood is making happy memories, and storing them up in our souls the way a dragon hoards gold…to bring us warmth and glimmer on rainy days. What is your favourite childhood memory? Have you told anyone about it recently? What is your favourite new memory? Recall and express it, and watch your happiness grow.

Happy New Year and hurrah for “The Happiness Project”!

Lovely readers! How I have missed you all! One New Year’s resolution….to write more often!! To not hesitate to post…to follow inspirations and forget perfectionism. Who knows what good can come from words conceived in joy or sorrow…they are better shared.

There was a gorgeous black and white card I saw when shopping for stocking-stuffers. It was of a little girl wearing fairy wings, standing at the edge of a small precipice. The card read: “But, Mother, what if I fall?” and on the inside, “Oh, my darling, what if you fly?” It almost moved me to tears.  The idea of this daring vulnerability, this willingness to take a creative leap and reach for one’s dreams, despite fear, is to me both brave and beautiful.

I am so excited for the new year–a fresh start and new projects. I have a new poetry book in the works, thanks to the warm encouragement of my mother and sister-in-law who asked me, “So, what’s next?” I realize it gives me great joy to have a project…something to ponder dream about while I am doing the dishes and housework–something to reflect on in quiet moments when I hear the Holy Spirit whispering.So I want to encourage you all to dream big and take lots of little steps each say this year to achieve your dreams…and may this process bring you much happiness!

I am thinking lots about habits and happiness because of a wonderful book my awesome husband got me for Christmas called “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin. She is a hilarious and warm-hearted New York writer, fiery red-head and mom, so of course I love her! She realized one day that while she was basically content, she could still be snappy, irritable and impatient at times, and didn’t always savour the beautiful moments as they came. How, she wondered, could she be more happy, not by making any dramatic life changes, because she already loved her family and career, but by reflecting on what brought her happiness, what brought her stress and grief, and then trying to build habits that were more conducive to joy. She does this by seeking to change her own habits and attitudes, rather than blaming or resenting others for things she finds hard.

She describes her journey of researching happiness, consulting everyone from psychologists to saints to friends in a café, and then testing out their theories by working on important areas of her life each month, like her home, marriage, parenting and career. This might sound intimidating, but it is quite the opposite. Her frank and funny descriptions of trying out her different monthly resolutions are as fun to read as a novel, and really helpful, too. For example, in February, the month she focussed on her marriage, she tried for a week of “Extreme Nice.” No snapping, dumping, nagging, etc. After describing how positively it affected things at home, she jokes about her relief when the week was up, as her tongue was sore from biting it so often!

She found that personal stories and examples do more for inspiring growth that vague stats and studies. Personally, even reading about her happiness project has made me more aware of savouring my own happiness, and seeking to make it grow. As Rubin reminds us, happier people make those around them happier, so being happy is really the best gift we can give to those around us, because joy is infectious. I so recommend this book to help inspire you to seek happiness this year by building habits of happiness and changing your heart so you can find it more easily. Her blog has tonnes of helpful resources, too. Here is the link: Gretchen Rubin

Happy reading! And have fun with your resolutions…I will write more about that another day!