A Key To Happiness

Anticipation is one of my personal keys to happiness. No matter what, it’s important to always have something to look forward to. Luckily, that something doesn’t have to be big.

Sure, it’s amazing having an exciting trip to anticipate. Yet, it’s just as effective to look forward to browsing at the library or settling in on the couch with some popcorn and a movie this weekend.

I suppose this is why I like to plan as much as I do. I looked forward to my trip to see the Franklin Park lights starting the minute we scheduled it. Today I’m looking forward to a much needed tune up at the chiropractor. I lead such a glamorous life!

It is much healthier to dwell on the good in life so I’m always looking for ways to be more satisfied with what I have and to be generally more happy.

I’m also anticipating the start of my No Spend Challenge. Officially, it begins on New Year’s Day but I’m thinking Friday would be a great kick off day.

I have enjoyed months of excess – holiday shopping, eating out, travel and fun have again defined this year. At least the good has tied with the bad – the thyroid issue – for top billing.

I crave the quiet of winter and the calm that comes from a No Spend Challenge. Consequently, I’m excited to get started.

When I do this, I focus more on self care and relaxation. I go to bed early and cook nourishing foods. I read more and cozy up with a soft blanket more often. I am kinder to myself during a No Spend Month than any other time of the year. That doesn’t mean I don’t do anything. Part of this month involves decluttering, getting organized, picking up old hobbies or even trying something new.

If I adventure out of the house, it will likely be a cold Saturday hike on the way to the grocery store or maybe a morning getting lost at the library. But don’t worry. Adventure season will be here in a few months and I’ll be back at it sooner than you think!

It is incredible how full and beautiful life can be when you focus on appreciating what’s before you at home rather than constantly running around seeking more.

Stay tuned. I’ll write another day about my own No Spend Challenge rules and my perspective on what it really means. I was kind of surprised that this will be my sixth year in a row and I’ll tell you about how it all has evolved since that first year.

It wasn’t always so easy and I have never before anticipated January so eagerly as I do now. Just a couple more days of commitments and vacation fun and I’ll get started!

Make A List

Lists are a great way to keep track of the things that are important to you. They help you know what to pick up at the store, which chores to do when, and what to pack for that trip.

Lists are also powerful tools for getting your life on the right track. If you’re struggling to declutter life, here’s one way lists can help you. It’s a three step process.

1. Make a list of the things that matter to you.

2. Make a list of the ways you spend your time.

3. Compare the two lists and adjust accordingly.

Keep repeating this process until the two match.

This sounds simple but can be a surprisingly difficult thing to navigate. I began working on this years ago when my volunteer activities began to feel like a full time job that cut into my mental peace.

You can use this strategy for helping to know what to keep when decluttering, how to spend your money, how to use your time, and what’s next in life.

Give it a whirl and see what you think. You may be surprised at how the values you live by stack up to the values you say you have.

It’s worth a shot, wouldn’t you agree?

Nature As Sanctuary

When I think of time spent outdoors, the words that come to mind involve peace and solitude. As I have aged, I have come to recognize the outdoors as a place to seek spirituality and a connection to my own self.

The human spirit and heart need places that have not been altered by human progress. We need places where the only expectation is that we breathe.

Go to the forest. Walk until you can hear no more car engines or people talking. Plant your feet upon the ground and stand tall and with confidence like a rooted tree.

Close your eyes and breathe in and out slowly. Feel your blood pressure lower. Now open your eyes and lift your face toward the heavens. Watch as the wind rustles through the leaves above. Listen for the mighty bullfrog, the delicate cricket and the rhythmic woodpecker in the distance.

Listen. Look. Breathe. Repeat.

Study your surroundings and the way the light hits a hillside, transforming one patch of vegetation into something lovely, bright and vibrant in contrast to the other side of the hill which remains dark and mysterious.

Look down and notice the pebbles and dirt beneath your feet. Study the stray leaves and bird feathers along your path.

Do this enough and you will understand that you are traveling a path that is designed just for you. Not the one the world tries to tell you is right or that you imagined for yourself.

Your path, your peace, your soul.

People need natural spaces. People need the quiet of the forest. People need the bubbling rhythm of a stream to wash away their worries. People need clean air to cleanse their minds.

You need these things.

Trust me when I say that the stress, grief or other difficulties you face won’t magically go away just because you stand in the woods. However, your ability to cope and to face the challenges of your life will be infinitely improved when you spend time in nature.

Some people go into the woods to get lost. Personally, I go to find myself. I feel more like me when I spend time with nature.

It’s like a good workout, therapy and church service rolled into one. Don’t believe me? Go to the woods and find out for yourself.

People, Flowers And The Flaws We Share

Most of the spring flowers at Franklin Park are spent but there remain a few patches here and there. I scurried across the way to get a closer look at this cluster.

It looks nice enough from a distance. The colors remain vibrant and the flowers stand up straight.

But look a little closer. Most are starting to wilt and look a little rough around the edges. They will be gone in a matter of days.

It’s a natural process, the fading of spring bulbs. The petals will drop and the leaves will brown before dying back. These bulbs will lie dormant beneath the ground for the next three seasons before they begin to push through the earth into the sunshine where they will bloom, starting the process again.

Their lifecycle is ruled by the seasons. It’s an elegant, complex process that we take for granted.

I walked away a little disappointed but thinking about how much these flowers have in common with the average human.

The average person looks fine from a distance. They appear to move through their day, doing what they need to do and to be ok. It’s when you take a closer look and get to know them better that you notice the cracks in the veneer, the flaws.

Stick around very long and you’ll notice that almost every person has insecurities, quirks, anxieties and annoying habits they have developed through the seasons of their life.

We all are changed by what happens around us and by what happens to us. Sometimes we are made stronger, smarter, more resilient. Sometimes we are irreversibly damaged or broken.

These flaws are often harmless but can be destructive both internally and to other people around. We become tired, impatient, scared and vulnerable. We lash out, shut down or simply walk away.

While humans experience seasons of life the same as those spring flowers, we don’t have the luxury of receding into the ground to rest and recharge. We can recede into the darkness – both the literal of our homes and the figurative of our minds. Tragically, we tend to judge or worry when we see someone doing that.

If only we were more forgiving of ourselves and others as we cycle through difficult seasons or find ourselves stuck in a place that is unhealthy. I hate to say it but the flaws are often what make us interesting. Many have hard earned emotional scars, remnants of trauma that have helped shape us into who we are. As I grow older, I’m more conscious of my own and am more likely to own them now than ten years ago. I am proud of my resilience and that I have chosen this path.

If you are struggling for some reason, give yourself some grace. Don’t deny yourself something you want or a future you deserve because of your weaknesses. Weather this season, no matter how long it may be, allow your mind to rest, and trust that you’ll have the opportunity to grow again if you want to try.

Let’s face it. Life would be easier if we were flowers.

When You Get Tired

When you get tired, learn to rest, not quit. I read this statement somewhere once and it really resonated.

I’m in a place right now that I badly need the reminder. Balancing everything everywhere is starting to resemble a plate spinning act on the Ed Sullivan Show. Forgive me while I regroup, rest when necessary and try to get back into a consistent writing schedule.

Meanwhile, here’s a picture of Scout practicing what I preach. He very wisely never misses a nap!

Sunday

Franklin Park Conservatory.

Sunday is a day to recharge, to reset intentions, to ready for the week and to rest. There will be chores today, small things that I’ll do to prepare for the week ahead. That amounts to laundry, a little food prep and some tidying around the house.

However, my most important project will be resting my body and recharging my mind for another busy week ahead. I hope to read, to do some writing and to maybe hit the sack a little early.

This is part of my weekly routine which I value and guard because it’s essential to my well being for the next six days. It’s not quite a day of rest but it is a day of doing what’s good for me.

We all need that sometimes. We must seize the opportunity to protect our most valuable assets – our body, mind and soul. Have a peaceful Sunday and be kind to yourself.