Stop making plans…

Uncertainty is where things happen. It is where the opportunities — for success, for happiness, for really living — are waiting.

So many inspirational quotes here, you have to check out the whole article: Stop Making Plans: How Goal-Setting Limits Rather Than Begets Our Happiness and Success | Brain Pickings.

On happiness, character and living a robust life…

I stumbled across this terrific essay that questions a lot of societal norms, including the pursuit of happiness, the idealized life, and the “dysfunction” of the creative mind. Here’s a tidbit:

Many of the people who have made the biggest contributions to our collective history—intellectuals, researchers, composers, writers, artists, and so on—have lived lives that, from the outside, seem fairly pathological. They have often been deeply solitary, have had trouble forming enduring relationships, have been consumed by their projects to the point of obsession, have plunged into the depths of despair, have doubted and disparaged themselves, and have had to endure the coldness and sharpness of the world\’s judgment. Yet who is to say that these lives are somehow less poignant than those that seem more wholesome?

The whole essay is worth a read and some thoughtful consideration:  Happiness and Its Discontents – The Chronicle Review – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Priorities…

I have suffered from insomnia for the last year, and I mean suffered. When I can’t sleep, I literally feel like a zombie. I’m just shuffling through the day, hoping to make it through, but not having a positive impact on anyone around me, not really enjoying being alive. From sleep flows everything.

I’ve had to rethink my daily priorities as a result, because above all, I want to be enjoying my life. I want to be truly engaging with it and with everyone I meet. I don’t think just getting by day to day is cutting it anymore.

So here are my personal priorities in order of importance:

  1. Sleep
  2. Healthy eating
  3. Exercise
  4. Creativity — reading and writing
  5. Messing around on the Internet

Well, I’m sure there are some items between numbers 4 and 5. 

I did leave family off this list, even though they are often my number-one priority. That’s because this list reflects me taking care of myself, which I have to do in order to be able to take care of my family. It’s now become a cliche, but it’s true that you have to put the oxygen mask yourself before you can put it on your loved one.

I’ve been reading a book called The Happiness Project for my book club, and while at first I was skeptical, I have been inspired by some of the ideas in the book. Striving for personal happiness is a laudable goal. The author of the book set a goal to write a novel in a month, not for possible publication, but just for herself, just to do it. I think I’m going to emulate her. I know next month is National Novel Writing Month, but I’m not sure how I’m going to take care of a toddler and write a novel at the same time, especially a toddler who no longer naps. I may have to put this project on hold until the new year, when he goes to preschool. But I do want to see if I can do it.

Over the years, I’ve lost the ability to be creative just for the joy of it, to write just for fun. When we’re kids, we’re all kinds of creative all day long, and not because we expect to get paid or get famous. We just love to do it. I want to recapture that feeling.

Just be happy already

Sean smiling.

Sean smiling.

Life is change. And life with a baby is extreme change.

People tell you it will be different. There is no way to communicate just how different it is. It has to be experienced.

Like learning how to do everything with one hand because you’re always holding the baby. Or realizing that your curfew is now the baby’s bedtime. And that you are never going to get to sleep in again. And that as the baby’s source of food, you cannot be apart for more than a few hours. And then there’s the overwhelming realization that you are completely responsible for the physical and mental well being of another human being.

I intend to start practicing happiness because it is all too easy in this kind of situation to succumb to stress and irritability. I have read about this method of tricking yourself into being happy before, but this article from The Huffington Post pretty much sums it up.

It’s all too easy to have a mantra like: “I’ll be happier when…” Such as, “I’ll be happier when the baby weans,” or “Things will be better when the baby can walk.” Substitute your own wishes and desires. “I’ll be happier when I get that promotion or that new job or get married or get my degree or have a child.”

The thing is, you’re living your life right now. So why not be happy right now?* What are you waiting for?

Every day will bring something new to be upset about. The baby won’t nap. A diaper will end up in the dryer. Nothing will come off the to-do list. Something will blow up at work. The spouse will have to go away on an unexpected business trip.

This is life. Life is happening. So instead of waiting for that magical thing to happen that’s going to fix everything, just be happy now.

*I realize this advice does not apply to those living with clinical depression.

Top 5 ways to find what makes you happy…

The blogosphere — the wisdom of our fellow travelers — offers a lot of good life advice. So much good life advice that it’s sometimes hard to process it all. Here are four great pieces of advice originating from blogs I read and one piece of advice from me that, taken together, provide a more-or-less complete instruction manual for how to find out what makes you happy — in work, in life, in all things.

Not that this advice is necessarily easy to follow. Much like meditation, you have to practice doing these things every day. Some days will be harder than others. You don’t just arrive at happiness, like the peak of a mountain after an arduous climb or the destination of a long train ride. Happiness has to be part of the trip itself. As with anything else, you get better with practice.

I’m submitting this article to ProBlogger’s Top 5 Group Writing Project, by the way. Cruise on over there to see a whole lot of variations on the “top 5″ theme.

  1. Recognize lies that you are told. This was inspired by a post on Pick the Brain, “Why are we afraid of the Truth?” While that post focused on scaring kids into not doing drugs, the fact that we all get lied to starting when we are children is unavoidable. The trick is to figure out what the lies are and question all so-called “truths” rigorously. Do you really need all that stuff or that gigantic house or that expensive Lexus to prove you’re successful? Does doing a good job really require you to sacrifice 60, 80 or more hours of your time a week, or to compromise your ethics? What other “truths” are standing in the way of your happiness?
  2. Tell your own story. The post, “Changing Our Story,” on growing changing learning creating started me thinking about how each of our lives is a story that we’re telling ourselves. Sometimes we get stuck living someone else’s story — our parents’ story of us, or our partner’s story – being who they think we should be. Sometimes we get caught in a story where we have no power, a victim story, a story where we are at the mercy of fate. Each of us needs to take control of our own story and make it a good one. By telling our story ourselves, we define who we are for ourselves.
  3. Practice conscious incompetence. This idea comes from a post by the same name at Slow Leadership. To find what makes us happy, we have to try a lot of new things and take a lot of risks. But no one ever starts out being perfect — or usually even good — at a new thing. Still, we all work so hard to avoid failure and making mistakes that it limits us. By consciously giving ourselves permission to be bad at something, we allow ourselves to stretch, improvise, learn something new without the residual fears of messing up or looking like an idiot. We free ourselves to find what makes us happy.
  4. Focus on the journey, not the result. This idea comes from the Bamboo Project Blog article, “Is Your Focus on the Shortcuts or the Journey?” While the article looks at this from the angle of nonprofit work, the question applies to everything we do. Life is the journey, after all. If you’re always focusing on the outcome you’re trying to achieve and looking for the shortest way to get there — the “get rich quick” scheme, the fastest way up the corporate ladder — you won’t enjoy the time you spend getting to that goal, which is really the point of it all. But if you do focus on enjoying your journey, then you’ll probably find that the results you want will come to you naturally and in the right time.
  5. Go with your flow. This idea is nothing new, but it is really the secret to happiness. We are most happy when we are in flow. Flow is that magical space when you become unaware of time passing, when you are completely in the moment and when you are producing something wonderful. For me, flow happens when I’m writing, when I’m cooking, when I’m in my garden, when I’m coming up with a project plan, when I’m designing a system, when I’m in a good meeting collaborating with smart people. Be conscious when flow is happening, remember what you are doing at those times, and try to re-create that experience as much as possible by making conscious decisions about what you’re going to do. The more flow you have in your life, the happier you’ll be.