Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Happiness Day 2

Report on yesterday's happiness initiatives: 2-for-3. I went for the walk (and even had a DEEP REALIZATION ABOUT LIFE like you'd hope for while dragging the dog around the block in a high wind & sub-zero temps) and I kept the perkiness meter dialed up to nine even when a mild case of "Wow, that wasn't the best sushi..." food poisoning hit in the late afternoon. That bathroom cabinet is still a jungle, but overall the day was a success.

Today's Happiness Focus: LOVE. Lest you click away in the fear of being overwhelmed by sweet sappiness, let me reassure you: Gretchen's take on love is decidedly practical. The bullet points at the chapter opening are things like "Quit Nagging," and "Don't Expect Praise or Appreciation." Nitty gritty stuff that you really have to work at.

She focuses mostly on her marriage, but today I'll be branching out to include my whole family. I'm heading north to meet my Mom & Dad (the ones who now have all kinds of energy because they exercise approximately five times more than I do) for lunch. Because they're my parents, there's a teeny chance their approval matters to me. Just a smidge. So "Don't Expect Praise or Appreciation" hits right at the top of my yikes list. My Mom is the Queen of Encouragement, but she's gotten a lot more candid over the years. And my Dad is at that amusing stage of life when he just says whatever he's thinking. As you can imagine, the results can be, um...interesting. They both have a fabulous sense of humor, so I love hanging out with them. But if I'm looking for someone to hand me my next Girl Scout Badge for life accomplishment, it's not going to happen here.

So I'll cull today's happiness goals right from Gretchen's playbook:

1. Enjoy my parents as people, not as gold-star distributors.
2. They celebrated 42 years of marriage yesterday--I should ask them for a piece of advice (and take it!)

How about you? How can you Live the Love?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Little Bit Happier, Day 1

It's Day 1 of my mini-Happiness Project!

It's good that the book starts out in the first chapter focusing on having more energy and vitality, because this is the time of year when I feel like a big slug. I get noticable surges of inspiration in the Spring and Fall, but January/February finds me relating a little too well with birds who fly south to drink fruity umbrella drinks in the sun, or bears who eat 10,000 calories and then curl up in a quiet place for a long, long nap.

Ah, a nap...

Confession: over Christmas, I learned that my 78 year old father (diabetic, cancer survivor) and my 69 year old mother (COPD, on 24hr/day oxygen) BOTH get more exercise on a daily basis than me. Um...embarrassing. And yet I wonder why I had to hop up and down to get my jeans on the morning after Christmas dinner?!

Chagrined, but determined to see the sunny side (look how EASY it will be for me to be more energetic, given how little I'm doing now!!!) here are the tips I'll apply for the next 12 days:

1. I will take a walk at least once a day. Around the block counts, and if THAT DOG is on her leash beside me, then I get double gold stars for multitasking greatness!

2. I will organize the cabinet in the bathroom to set myself free of the constant worry that my cough drops and/or hairbrush will land in the toilet below. Bonus points if I finally throw away the vitamins that expired in 2001.

3. I will act perky, energized, and two notches happier than whatever I feel inside. Why not?

Want to join me? What little things can you start today to be happier? In 12 days, maybe we can change the world!?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Happiness Quest: Goals, Resolutions

I just read the last chapter of Gretchen Rubin's THE HAPPINESS PROJECT, and it has me thinking about the choices we make in the last few days of the year about things we'd like to try, or do differently, or change that we hope will make the coming year even better. Before reading this, I'd never thought about the difference between goals and resolutions. But now I am, because as Gretchen so aptly points out, "You hit a goal; you keep a resolution."

We should have both going into 2010, don't you think? And they should be of different sizes, like Christmas presents. Because what if something tiny turns out to be the best gift/goal/resolution ever? What if flossing everyday really WILL change my life???

Over the next 12 or so days, my GOAL is to blog about each of the chapters in Gretchen's book and how her thoughts on the pursuit of happiness are helping mine. And my RESOLUTION is to use tips from her book to jolt myself back from the vague sort of winter malaise that can hit me when Christmas is over and the days seem sort of long, cold, and gray. I'm not sure I can resolve to be happier--that feels more like a ride I don't control. But I can resolve to do things that point me toward happiness and see where I end up at the end of a few days.

So tune in tomorrow...

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

In Lieu of Antidepressants

I have a longish drive ahead of me today, but I'm looking forward to it as a chance to indulge in one of my new favorite things. It's a bit of a guilty pleasure, truth be of those childish moments that serves no greater purpose than to make me smile a big goofy "I can't believe I'm having this much fun" sort of grin as I'm driving down the road.

It's the Indigo Girls song, Rock and Roll Heaven's Gate. I like to sing along with it, at the top of my tone-deaf lungs (can lungs be tone deaf? One wouldn't think so, until you met mine...) as I'm driving down the road. It's a fabulous song: great angry lyrics, background vocals by Pink, and even space for a drum solo on the steering wheel if I can time it right with a stop light. It makes me happy just thinking about it.

And best of's the secret (or a warning for those of you of more delicate sensibilities): my favorite part of the song is when one of the Indigo Girls (Emily? Amy?) belts out an f-bomb. It happens a few different's right there in the lyric. And while some folks might say that's unnecessary, I'd argue that this is one of those great uses of language George Carlin argued for when he said, "There are no bad words, only words used badly." This f-bomb is used perfectly, and it feels so cathartic and therapeutic when I sing along with it, it makes me wonder how many people could go off anti-depressants if they just had the opportunity to belt out this song once or twice a day?

If you're feeling brave (and you're not at work and/or around small children) here you go...try for yourself!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Happiness = Whistlin' Dixie

I'm not one for year-end lists (I love reading them but am pretty terrible at creating them), but as we round the final curve and hit the straightaway towards 2010, I thought I'd share a few random things that have been happy rays of sunshine in this rather dark year.

The gorgeous cover of Lisa Patton's Whistlin' Dixie in A Noreaster caught my attention in one of my favorite local bookstores a few months back, and wouldn't let go. I didn't buy it that first night because I was at the store doing research for another type of book (technically I shouldn't have been anywhere near the New Fiction Table, but my legs just sort of wandered over...) After that, the book was everywhere I looked, whispering, "Pick me up! Read me!"

Three weeks later, I gave in, and was so glad I did. Whistlin' Dixie is a story DETERMINED to get to a happy ending. It's about real, flawed, hilarious characters wrestling with life's twists and disappointments. It has one of the best "revenge on the cheating ex" scenes ever, playing out the fantasy of what most of us have wanted to do for vengeance (but would be arrested for in real life.) It's a great book to get lost in, and sometimes that's exactly what you need. So if you need a fun, happy read to help end your 2009 on a high note, Whistlin' Dixie is a great pick.

Now, your turn: What's one small thing that's helped YOU maintain the happy this year?

Monday, December 21, 2009

When you can't eat the whole frog

"The process of writing books is somewhat akin to a very long police interrogation in which the detective leans over the table littered with the butt ends of cigarettes and cold coffee in Styrofoam cups and says for the 87th time, 'Now let's go over this again.'" -Ann Patchett

Yep. That's exactly what it's like. I'm facing the prospect of two such long interrogations in the coming extravaganza that will be 2010, so the question becomes how to fit Patchett's spot-on assessment of this task (which I've tested & verified through two books already) alongside my determination to live a happy life via the successful clearance of daily low-bar goals?

A confession: for some things, I find that the eat that frog approach doesn't work. Some projects are just too big & daunting, and envisioning them as an amphibian to be consumed makes things worse instead of better. So I'm trying to remember back to my college days, where it seemed like a long paper on some esoteric subject was due every single week. How did I get it all done? What motivated me? Was it the reward system? A sense that life wouldn't work if I didn't keep chipping away? Fear of failure?

Do you remember what motivated you the last time you did something huge? What would YOU do on your first day of writing a book?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Starting my Scheme!

I'm delighted to report that THAT DOG survived my attempt not to kill her. Ladies and Gentlemen, we're 4/4 in the week of low goal achievement!

As I thought about today's goal, I wasn't sure what would capture the giant picture of accomplishment that has been this week. What would be the appropriate focal point to get us low-bar types across the finish line and into the weekend? I had some ideas...

I could do a load of laundry....Or I could write "Merry Christmas! Love Trish & Steve" on the single holiday card I plan to send....Or I could choreograph an interpretive dance to the tune of an Adam Lambert song to express my glee that that 2009 is almost over!

I may do all of these things. But scrolling through Facebook this morning, I found a better thing to be the BIG END OF THE WEEK GOAL. I owe this idea to Gretchen Rubin (author of my new favorite book THE HAPPINESS PROJECT) and this great link to Samuel Johnson's to-do list from the year 1760. Sam's plan?

*Rise as early as I can
*Send for books
*Put books in order
*Scheme life

That's the whole list. Is this not genius??? Think about it: every one of us has already checked off one item (I got out of bed when I woke up this morning, so I'm calling that "as early as I can.") I'll send for books! I'll put books in order! But most exciting of all...I'll SCHEME LIFE!

Want to join me? (If so, here's a link to my book and Gretchen's, to help with the sending for books.) Drop a line in the comments and let me know your scheming tips! What are you scheming? How do you scheme? Is there a special location involved, or can I just stare out any window and get started?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Didn't is the New Did

The good news is, I came way closer than expected to saving the cat yesterday. I shimmied up the metaphorical tree with a can of tuna in hand...all that's left is to say, "Here kitty, kitty, kitty..." and the cat (as well as my writing career) will live on.

The bad news is that by becoming so engrossed in the cat, I almost poisoned THAT DOG. Noting my distraction, she made a power move on the trash which included some chocolate cookies I'd thrown away in an attempt to save my jeans. Chocolate = Dog Poison. Fortunately, she was flummoxed by the seal on the top of the cookie container, which she attempted to open by rolling it around the kitchen and into the appliances with her snout. It got a rather loud, which I think was her way of suggesting that my priorities were badly misdirected with this whole cat thing. Point taken (even if I had to struggle a bit not to laugh at her protest.)

Today's goal: DON'T kill the dog! It's my first goal based on going an entire day NOT doing something, so we've raised the bar! A NOTE to those for whom this seems overwhelming: I'd never attempt this if I didn't have almost 5200 days of not killing the dog to look back on in search of tips & pointers. You can start with a plant, or even your toothbrush if that feels more doable in terms of not killing something today. We're all about success! 3-3, going for 4-4!

What can YOU not do?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Surfing to Save The Cat

I got the happiest email from a friend yesterday. She's new to writing, working on some web content for her job, and just discovering what a wild ride the highs and lows of the creative life can be. She said:

Writing is so intense! I keep thinking of you. It's like this huge creative process (okay, obvious!). I've already put in a zillion hours and things are just starting to flow which is awesome. And then things flow and it's satisfying but then you get to this point and you're exhausted but you have to keep going because the juices are flowing.'s quite a process. Okay, now i'm going back in...

My response was deep and profound: I said, "Yep. That's exactly what it's like." Writing is like surfing. It might be a long wait for the wave, but once it comes it's a fun ride.

Which brings me to Today's Goal: I've conquered flossing and lip gloss. I'm feeling confident. It's time for a bigger challenge! Today, I ONE chapter in book! I can do it! I have what it takes to succeed!

The book is called SAVE THE CAT. Every writer friend I know says it will rock my world. Today I'm stepping up to the plate, ready to be rocked. Just to be clear: I won't read the whole book. At the end of today, the cat will remain unsaved. But I will read the first chapter, and consider today a success.

Low bar goal setters of the world, unite!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Project Lip Gloss!

I flossed yesterday (Goal!!!)...and the momentum from that one act sent me flying into an entirely new stratosphere of accomplishment, in which I wrote the entire first draft of the proposal for my next book. Seventy-seven pages, to be exact.

As you can guess, I'll be flossing again this morning.

So today I need a new goal, something small and manageable I can slip in between all my other plans. What have I come up with, you ask? Okay, here it is...TODAY'S GOAL: Project Lip Gloss! (The exclamation point is key.) I'll consider today a huge success if I better manage my lip gloss application throughout the day. (Surely I can't be the first person to think that this will make a huge difference in my overall quality of life...?) I'll report back tomorrow from this important endeavor!

Want to join me down here with my low-bar goals? NOW is the time! What will YOU take credit for today that everyone else in the world is doing already???

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Goals & High Fives

I'm laying out the blueprint tonight so tomorrow will feel like an accomplished day. It doesn't take much for me to feel like I deserve a high five for my great exploits, so you'd think it would happen with some regularity. But over the past few weeks, high fives have been few and far between.

So for tomorrow, I'm making GOALS. Not intimidating goals, but rather the little ones that are easy to accomplish and (the theory goes) will set me up for a lifetime of success.

So far, I have one goal: To FLOSS.

But I need more to choose from. That's where you come in! Should I sign up for polka lessons? Learn five new words from the dictionary? Translate an article from the Sunday paper into the French/Spanish hybrid my friend Cathy and I developed in law school?

Suggestions, please!

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Happiness Project

A book saved my #$%* the other night. I'm being a touch melodramatic, but not entirely. I was hip deep in a funk I've been fighting for about two weeks now, ready to abandon hope and go down with the ship. But as anyone who's seen Titanic knows, sinking ships take awhile. So in an effort to keep myself occupied (and lacking the energy to rearrange the deck chairs) I picked up the advanced copy I'd received of Gretchen Rubin's new book THE HAPPINESS PROJECT. Forty five minutes and three chapters later, I felt like maybe--just maybe--it would be worth the effort to right the ship.

Gretchen is also a lawyer-turned-writer (although her lawyering was of a much more impressive variety than mine: she clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, I made coffee one summer for a judge newly elected to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas...) and I think our minds run along some of the same channels, both for good (creative drive! motivation! an ability to express ourselves clearly and persuasively!) and bad (want affirmation and gold stars! quite convinced we're right! not always discrete about conveying this information!) What I love about this book is Gretchen's combination of honest self-exploration with real attempts to live a happier life. This isn't a self-help book, but rather a memoir that happens to have some ideas that you yourself could try (I've been sleeping better since I followed two of her suggestions, and that makes everything a little better...)

I'll be blogging more about this book in the future...Gretchen tackles twelve areas of life in her book and I'm thinking it might make a really fun post-Christmas series if I try to do the same. But if you're looking for a book to make the waiting part of life a little easier, pre-order this book now so you'll have a fun surprise on December 29th when it arrives.

Question: If you could feel happier in one area of life, which would it be?

Monday, December 07, 2009

What I want/what I'm afraid I'll get

Going to the eye doctor today. The super-eye doctor, an opthamologist, rather than an optometrist. (And yes, I know I spelled that first one incorrectly. But the only alternative Blogger's spell check offers is "Epidemiologist," and as lovely as folks in that line of work might be, they can't help me renew my contact lens prescription.)

Really, that's all I'm after: new contacts. The law requires a new exam every year, which is absurd; my prescription hasn't changed since law school (where my eyes were so bugged out from all that reading that they started to shut down in protest). So I hope the doctor won't be too obsessive about delving into every nook & cranny of my eyes, because medical procedures freak me out.

Help me here: on a scale of 1-5, how rude is it to say, "No thank you, I'd rather not see the 3D depiction of my eyeball on the computer...and too much discussion of how much air makes it through the contact lens makes me feel like I might hyperventilate..."?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Need bumpers for my bowling alley

I've fallen into a rut. Not sure how it happened. Most likely some innocent combination of so much to think/do/say/be over a short period of time that I lost the plot of my life. Regardless, today, I'm climbing back out.

Two things prompted this realization:

First, my friend Brian has a blog about Advent. I've never been particularly "Adventian" in my faith (I'm not all that liturgical, so unless someone reminds me or hands me a calender filled with chocolates, I can spend most of the pre-Christmas season unaware of the bigger spiritual picture) but this year, I'm trying to pay better attention. In the first three blogs, the focus hasn't been on what I expected--Jesus, Mary, the angel with the weird news--but rather the signs we get that indicate that God is up to something big and exciting, something we're invited to be part of. I like that idea.

Then I read a post over at Writer Unboxed by literary agent Donald Maass. He was talking about what makes a novel a "big" story: things like symbolism, having many windows into the story, parallels and reversals. As I read it, I realized how for me, "big" stories have a sense of playing out over time: they evolve, unfold, progress, stall. Things aren't rushed and time feels expansive. I can trust that things will happen when they should, because it's not up to me to get to the end of the story...that's the author's job.

I'm almost embarrassed to admit that this was a "Wow" moment for me: realizing that perhaps I can get out of my rut if I trust that it's not up to me to get my story to any certain point by any certain time. That I can try trusting and see how it works out.

Don't worry: I won't burden you with the awkward image of God as my author that you fear might be coming, nor will I saddle you with the pedestrian things that getting out of the gutter and back on life's bowling lane entail for me today. Instead, I'll leave you with this inspiration from writer/encourager Steven Pressfield about pushing through self doubt.

Happy bowling :)

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Faking it 'til I make it: Holiday edition

I'm feeling a bit bah-humbuggy about Christmas. I'm mourning the loss of the Christmases of my childhood, when my family gave gifts large and small that said all sorts of things about us (not the least of which was "you need new socks & underwear") but where the primary message was, "I know you enough to know how much you'll enjoy this..."

I'm not sure I know anybody that well anymore, which seems like a huge loss.

Certainly, ideas for gifts have crossed my mind. But I've lost my confidence. Perhaps it's because Steve and I moved twice in the span of four months this year, which made me aware of every item I own and what it feels like to haul them up and down several flights of stairs. Or maybe it's the ongoing refrain that's so prevelent now, where we all lament the accumulation of stuff in our lives and how hard it is to control, manage, or organize. Whatever the source, I'm left with this awful fear: if I buy you a gift, and it's not something you really, really like, haven't I just burdened you with more stuff?

I'm pretty sure that's not the spirit of the season, no matter where you fall on the Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanza continuum. So I'm fighting back. Today, I will listen to Christmas carols. I will contemplate where our decorations might fit in this new apartment and not worry that my efforts won't be worthy of the Good Housekeeping seal of approval. And most importantly (and this is the promise I'm most determined to keep) I will buy someone a present and take the risk of "burdening" them with more stuff, trusting that the idea that I was thinking of them today as I wandered around out in the world will mean something.

How are you feeling about the holidays this year?