How to be Happy: It Takes as Long as It Takes

Molly“If you’re rushed, you’re wrong.” – My dad

Ever have those days where you feel like you don’t even have time to pee? Sorry to be gross, but hey, some days are like that. Or at least they feel that way.  Bouncing from one thing to the next, plowing through. Getting distracted by all kinds of urgent-but-not-important types of things. Falling in a stupor on the couch at the end of the day, trying to decompress with something mindless…

Sounds appealing, no? Well, no. But still, some days are just like that.

I know I’ve talked before about mindfulness and slowing down to take in the experiences of life as they come, and how I strive to do that, and how I think it contributes to greater happiness.  Hmm, somehow the idea of “striving to be mindful” sounds odd – aspire, maybe.

Anyhow, two things happened recently that helped me remember another tenet of happiness: letting things happen in their own time. We’ve talked about it a little bit before in terms of trying to control other people or events, but let’s think specifically today about trying to control the timing of things.

The first brain-spark was a book I read called What Alice ForgotIt was a surprisingly fun read, even though the subject seemed like it could be really scary. Alice hits her head and wakes up thinking it’s 10 years ago. So she thinks she’s 29 and pregnant with her first child, when in reality she’s 39, has 3 kids, and is in the middle of a divorce. I’ll say no more, except that one of the things Older Alice was, was Busy. (Kindly notice the capital B.) She was always rushing around, and Younger Alice, who had a tendency to take things more slowly, was mystified. Why would she feel she had to do all these things, and so quickly?

Sometimes I feel like Younger Alice, too. I look at all my stinkin’ lists and piles of stuff to do and think, Hey, wait! Didn’t I used to take naps in college? Didn’t I used to watch the rain run down the window when I was a kid? I’m pretty sure I used to sit in the back yard doing ABSOLUTELY nothing, for at least some amount of time. Possibly looking at bugs and grass? Yeah, that seems familiar. I used to be….unproductive! And it was okay…

I like having a full, busy life. I would not trade a thing! But I also know that sometimes I can say “yes” to too much, pressure myself and get overwhelmed and feel all put-upon, as I know I’ve written about before.  Sound familiar? We must resist the urge to overcommit, to rush, to scamper.  Stop and breathe!

The second thing some of you know about already, so feel free to skim if you like. It happened during our recent family jaunt to Mackinac Island. If you’ve never been, it’s great. Small enough that you can pretty much do anything in a few days, no cars, water all around, usually does not get too hot. I call it a little slice of old-time paradise. Oh, and the fudge. Yeah!

We’ve made the island trip a summer tradition for the last 4 years, and every year we try something new. Last year it was the “Maze of Mirrors” (silly) and glo-golf (fun though I really stunk, compared to my usual daytime putt-putt splendor). This year, we rented our own horse-drawn buggy. We had done the group tours a few times and already knew all the highlights from that. This way, we could do our own thing, and see parts of the island that we hadn’t before. Cool, right?

And then there was Molly. The stable owners of course ask you if you have any horse experience, which Better Half did. I had ridden a horse exactly once, so we scratched the idea of me driving (though I may make a bid for next year).  The owners said, “Oh, he can handle Molly.” We thought maybe she would be “high spirited” or something. They told us there was a certain corner where something  had spooked her, and she wouldn’t turn a certain way. Anyhow, it sounded like no big deal. We planned on a 1-hour trail, but the nice people at the stable said we could do a longer loop (to avoid the troublesome corner) and it would take maybe an hour 45, but they wouldn’t charge us over the hour. DEAL MAGNET! I thought.

We waited about 20 min for Molly to “finish her break” and then we were off. They tell you that trotting the horses is fine but no galloping, and please only walk the horses up hills.

Turns out that was not going to be a problem.

Molly started off clip-clipping along, maybe a little slower than expected, but hey, we were just getting started. Then we notice that she isn’t getting any faster, no matter the number or volume of “giddy up, Molly”s. Better Half does not want to be abusive with the reins, so he’s sort of lightly flicking them. People are whizzing past on bikes (expected). Then we see an elderly gent completely leave us in the dust…in his motorized wheelchair.

We were learning, less than a mile into it, that Molly does the Island at her own pace.

We finally got to the halfway point (45 min later than expected) where a seasoned cowpoke (aptly named Buck) awaited. His job was to hold Molly while we had some refreshments and a bathroom break. Buck said little but seemed to have a knowing hint of a smile. We decided to take our snacks in the buggy. It’s not that we had any particular timetable, but we did want to get to dinner before the sun set, some 3 hours hence.  The kids joked that “Molly” must be short for “molasses”.

The second half, Molly picked up the pace. We referred to it as “really truckin’ “, by which I mean the preschooler and his mom who were strolling alongside us on the road occasionally fell behind. Molly stopped and snorted at every hill. She stopped and looked at every stable, and even at a large pile of manure (they have to store it somewhere). Other horses from the same stable walked (or even trotted) past us. We urged Molly to follow her friends, to no avail. Molly does the island at her own pace.

We made it back to Jack’s Livery, some 2 1/2 hours later. Buck had beat us back (he probably walked) and was smoking on a bench by the door.  The owners thanked us for “taking care of Molly”, which I think meant letting her walk at her Molly pace and not getting all cranky with her.

I think next year we will request Shorty or Bud.

The thing was, even though we were all getting a little irritated at the incredibly slow pace, we also realized that nothing was going to really move Molly along, at least nothing that we were willing to do. So we all pretty much relaxed and enjoyed the ride, pun intended.  I didn’t even realize that Molly had been such a highlight of the trip until after the fact. The picture above is Molly with Buck, if you haven’t guessed already.

The quote above is from my very wise father.  When I was a teenager and learning to drive, he must have said that a million times. I used to sigh and say, “Yeah, Dad.” but you know, I was a teenager. I didn’t really get it. I now understand how much he must have been biting his tongue and using deep breathing while enduring driving practice with me. And how right he was! Resist the rush!

So now, I’m trying to remember Molly plodding along, just sauntering on her trek, when I feel rushed and stressed and all that.   She knew the value of letting it take as long as it takes, and enjoying the view and the company along the way. Molly must have had a dad like mine.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to sit around and do Nothing for a few minutes…

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It’s Okay to be Cranky!

“What fresh hell is this?” – Dorothy Parker

Yes, the overwhelming topic in this little old blog is…well…happiness.  But sometimes, as I’ve said, even the most optimistic people get a little glass-half-empty, too.  And although we might think at first that this is a bad thing, I hope by now you know it isn’t. Because it’s real. It’s how we feel at that moment in time.  And acknowledging our emotions is always better than denying or stifling them.  Sometimes we can’t SHOW how we feel, because it’s not the time or place, but at least we KNOW how we feel.  Even though I don’t want to let my negative thoughts and annoyances and dire predictions take over my entire emotional landscape (at least not for too long), there’s nothing at all wrong with them being there.  Nothing!

A good vent can be very liberating!  You might be surprised what words sometimes escape my mouth, behind closed doors, anyway. I see no problem with admitting that something is upsetting, and getting it out of my system if it’s okay to do that then.  Just so long as it’s not a habit. Sometimes I make myself come up with a positive or two after I’ve gone on and on about something annoying me,  just for a little perspective. Other times, I just rant away, and then take a deep breath and get on with it.

I was talking to Girl Child (who’s really a ‘tween now) about this the other day.  I stole Russ Harris’s idea about negative emotions being like clouds in the sky.  They come and go, and we really can’t do anything about them being there. We might not want a cloudy day; we might prefer the sun, but do we really have to stay indoors just because it’s gray and gloomy? Nope. Negative thoughts are like that – they’ll be around every day, sometimes more than others.  We can try to minimize them, but remember when we directly try to squash them…white elephant!

The presence of negative emotion does not have to stop us from doing what we want to do.  It would be ludicrous to say, “I’m not going to apply for that new job until there’s not a cloud in the sky!”  But don’t we all say, “I’ll be happy when..” or “I can’t do X until I feel more confident/better/happier…blah blah blah”…  Sure, it would be BETTER to feel confident and happy all the time, we’d enjoy what we’re doing more if that were the case. But being cranky or worried or whatever else we feel doesn’t have to stop us from getting done what needs to be done.  Often, the sooner we get into it, the faster those negative emotions reduce, at least somewhat.

Have you been putting off doing something you want to do, or avoiding pushing out of your comfort zone a little bit – waiting until it “feels right”?  Here’s a thought: maybe it will never feel right enough if you don’t push yourself. Something to think about, anyhow.  And now, let’s laugh at the turtle.

Shoot for “Good Enough”?

“A perfectionist is a person who takes great pains, & gives them to other people.”  – Chuck Swindoll

Today’s topic:  parenting.  One of the things that contributes to my smidges of happiness is when my kids are happy.  Last night there was an amazing amount of belly laughing coming from the other room – and it put a smile on our faces. But a lot of times, we wonder, like probably all or most parents:  Are we doing it right? And if we’re not, how badly are we screwing them up??

An interesting article – I’m curious what you think of it – about Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success – a new book by psychologist Madeline Levine.  She’s worked with lots of overstressed, high-achieving kids and says that a lot of what (some of) today’s parents think they’re doing right…is dead wrong. All the pushing, perfecting, do-it-all-ing…

I may have to get this book, though I’m guessing it already lines up pretty well with my parenting style, such as it is at the moment.  I don’t feel pressured to have the Offspring constantly involved in some kind of enrichment, though we push for outdoor time and creative time and all that good stuff. And the Boy Child is involved in sports, but only one at a time.  Frankly, sometimes they get too much screen time, which is not ideal, but… Not perfect, but maybe good enough.

When I was first learning about research on parenting and child outcomes in grad school, I learned something I found shocking: there was such a thing as “good enough” parenting – and in general, kids did just fine with it.  Of course everyone is different; we all have our own lovely sacks of crap we carry around with us, and our kids are no exceptions. But if you are “good enough” at parenting, maybe their bags will be a bit less full.

I’m a big fan of Charles Sykes and his 50 Rules Kids Won’t Learn in School. Not because I feel like slamming educators (I have lots of friends who are amazing teachers) but because sometimes I think what seems like a good idea becomes doctrine and spreads rather wantonly through systems, without analysis or criticism. Sort of an “emperor’s not wearing any clothes” thing.  Example:  red pen corrections. Really, I can’t mark my student’s papers with a red pen because they will develop a fear of red ink?  Come ON. Whatever color I point out their mistakes in will become associated with what I wrote. Shall I just not correct the mistakes, then?  Oh, I won’t go down that road…maybe in another post.   I was gratified to find “red pens for correcting” on the school supplies list for the 3rd grader.

Another favorite is The Blessings of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel.  More about that in another post, too. I need to re-read it first.

Sometimes I’m referred to as “the meanest mom ever”, though admittedly those times have dramatically decreased as the Offspring have aged.  I told them that was fine with me, because of course I was not actually mean, just telling them how it was going to be. Which was not how they wanted it.  Nowadays, I remind them that if we don’t teach them about how the world works, we’re not doing our jobs. This, they seem to get, though they’re not pleased about it.

Okay, we can all take the Push/Excel posters off the nursery room walls now. 😉