Loving Life

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This morning before joining my team on the beach for our playoff game (we lost *sniff*), I went on a walk down the pier and just simply looked at the ocean.  It was a cloudy day, and the stratocumulous and stratus streaks in the sky created a beautifully dappled water view that was complimented by the occasional peak of golden sun dancing across the lazy waves.

Headphones in, I simply sat and admired the view for a long moment before walking back down the pier with slow steps and a small, just-for-me smile.  It was such a simple, small, insignificant-in-the-scheme-of-things moment, yet it was perfect.

Lately, I’ve been having quite a bit of those moments.  I’ve felt a lot happier and more carefree for the past week or so than I have felt for a long time.  While I am not at the point of complete Hakuna Matata, upon reflection, there are several things that I feel have contributed to this carefree newfound happiness.

Settling in.  I have now been at my new work site for 12 weeks.  At the beginning, it was a super rough start because of teaching three different grade levels, not knowing anyone, and putting my foot in my mouth seemingly every time I tried to make a move at the school.  Now, however, I have a pretty good handle on what I’m teaching, I have made several friends, and I’ve become more accustomed to the odd politics that swirl around the staff.  In short, I’m not longer wearing sunglasses in a dark alleyway.

Entering a new situation, whether it be a move, a job, a relationship, or what have you, is always stressful in the beginning.  If you are an A type personality like me, it can be excruciatingly painful to flounder around in the shallows when you are used to swiftly beelining in the deep end.  However, I am a firm believer in putting myself in uncomfortable situations for the purpose of growth.  There is no way to improve your game past a certain point if the playing field and the players never changes.  Therefore, discomfort is a necessity.

Acceptance.  I have been in a constant struggle with my body for years.  Not that I am overweight by any stretch of the imagination, but like any female who lives in a state with 365 days of beach season, I have a very specific image of what I want to look like when I slip on my itsy bitsy bikini, and 99.9% of the time, I fall short of this picture.  There have been several times when I have reached a point where I am aaaaalmost there, but inevitably something will happen that causes a huge wave of stress in my life, which causes the tremulous hope of achieving said specific look to come crashing down.

Obviously, this sucks.  However, lately I have been giving myself more of break.  In comparison to a fitness model, I am not 1/10th as impressive or in shape.  However, compared to anybody else, I am doing pretty well.  Obviously, I don’t want to set the bar super low just to make myself feel better, but for the past couple of weeks I have stopped beating myself up for every little slip up.  Usually, if eat more than I should or have a drink when I should just pass it up, I mentally pummel myself about it and feel like a giant failure.  Now, I simply acknowledge that that probably wasn’t the best choice, and then simply… let it go.  Oddly enough, I think it has helped me start to get closer to my ideal shape.

When we beat ourselves up for every little failure, we can hardly even enjoy the victories we do have because we are focusing on how far we still have to go rather than how far we’ve come.  I am in no way saying that we should settle into a life of contentment with average and pat ourselves on the back for every mundane “accomplishment”.  However, there is sometimes something to be said for making the journey towards your goal the focus rather than the shining, ever-so-far-away end target.

Release from self-imposed obligation.  I have a lot of goals that I want to accomplish, but if I am honest with myself, some of them are goals that I FEEL I should strive for and not my actual personal ambitions.  This leads to me put certain things on my to do list because I feel obligated to do them, not out of actual enjoyment or because of some true deeper desire to fully hit that target.  Usually, I end up not doing these things and then I get down on myself for not hustling hard enough, or not putting in enough effort, or for doing other things with my time rather than shoving my nose to the grindstone.

Lately, though, I’ve let myself fully enjoy the things that I like doing and not really care when I don’t get everything in that I planned out.  I’ve noticed that ever since I’ve let myself off the hook with a lot of things, I am gravitating more towards actually doing them.  In other words, when it’s not a big scary duty, it’s actually something I want to do.  Who woulda thought?

Overall, if you are striving to become better every day, allowing yourself to indulge in what truly makes you happy, keeping your mind and body healthy, and taking the time to wash yourself in the small, beautiful moments that pop up in your life, there is no way that you can’t be truly happy.  Our life is so, so short, yet we tend to live like we have endless amounts of time to squander on beating ourselves down and wallowing in misery.

I say, take steps towards your ideal but leave the shackles of useless obligations and constant regret behind.  Life is a journey, and in order to smell the roses you are going to have to deal with the thorns.  You could try to eliminate all spikes before diving in, but that is both impossible and impractical.  Deal with the pricks but put your main focus on indulging in the deep, rich, floral scent and feeling the smooth velvet against your skin.  In the end, everyone’s last petal will fall, and only you will know if you spent the time basking in your moments of being a prince or wallowing in the few beast-like junctures you may have come across.

From now on, I chose to focus on royalty.

 

 

Quilting Happiness

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Recently I had a conversation with someone where they helplessly said “I don’t know…I don’t know what’s wrong with me, I’m just not happy with anything in my life.”  Hearing that broke my heart; living unhappily is such a terrible existence.  And yet, so many people live the majority of their lives in a permanent state of misery.

Sometimes, this misery becomes so ingrained that it doesn’t even feel like misery.  I had no idea that I was living such a wretched existence until I separated from my ex-husband and felt little inklings of happiness stretch like tentative rays of sunshine after a storm.  While I certainly knew I wasn’t ecstatic, I had no idea how bad that life really was while I was in it.

In this moment, if you were to ask me if I was happy with my life, I would unequivocally answer “yes.”  This may seem strange if you know my present circumstances: recently laid off, freshly single, one million minor crisis’ happening at work on a daily basis.  And yet, overall, I am joyful.

This got me thinking: WHY am I so happy?  What is it that I, or anyone with a constantly positive state of mind, do or don’t do that contributes to this feeling of joyful contentment?  After some contemplation, I settled on several key factors:

Have a reliable, positive, and multi-leveled network.  This is such a big component because we as humans are wired to interact with others.  However, you cannot have all surface acquaintances or all deep bosom buddies; our connections need to be varied.  I have a couple of extremely close friends, several good friends, and lots and lots of positive shallower connections.  Going through my recent breakup, I lost one of the major keystone connections in my life, and had he been all that I had, I would have been completely at a loss.  However, with the help of my close and good friends as well as my continued positive interactions with everyone else, I have been able to stay afloat and keep my spirits up.

Putting in the time and effort to create and maintain these relationships may seem like a burden, but I firmly believe that if you do not have quality relationships in your life, it is impossible to be truly happy.  However, these relationships must be reciprocal; you cannot simply mooch off of someone else, and you should never allow someone to mooch off of you.  When both parties put in the same level of effort, that is when this piece of happiness falls into place.

Exercise.  As much as we like to deny the hard science of how our minds work, putting in some sweat equity on a daily basis is a serious piece of the happiness puzzle.  Although starting a workout is pretty much the worst thing ever, finishing it is one of the best feelings in the world.  Your endorphin’s are kicking, and anything that negatively effected you throughout the day simply fades away into a haze of “ahhhhhh that was awesome”.

And lets face it, it’s hard to be happy when you don’t like what you see in the mirror.  Presenting the best version of ourselves physically primes us to be the best version of ourselves mentally.  It’s difficult to be miserable when you reach for something and notice a little baby bicep flexing as you bring it back.  Hard work is hard freakin’ work, but it seriously boosts your mood to see results.

Work towards something specific.  Throughout my entire life, I have always had something to work towards.  First, it was my degree.  Then it was finding a job.  Then it was my Masters.  Now, I am working on getting my real estate license and have plans for an admin credential and possibly a life coach certification within the next ten years.  The point is, I am never resting on my laurels.

If you are working towards a specific goal, it is obvious if you have achieved it or not.  And working to get that accomplishment tucked under your belt gives you a sense of purpose, which contributes to happiness.  If you know you are on the road to achievement, you feel excited about getting up each day and have the gumption to persevere through the rocky patches.

Actively seek improvement.  I am constantly looking for ways to make myself a better person and teacher.  If I hear of an awesome teaching strategy, I try to implement it in my classroom.  Outside the confines of my work, I am constantly reading all different types of books and online articles as well as listening to podcasts on various topics.  I love getting into deep conversations about the world.  All in all, I am always trying to be better than I was before.

Truly desiring to make yourself better requires a humble acceptance of yourself as you are right now.  However, acceptance does not mean stagnation.  Just because you have accepted that you have slid into the ditch does not mean that you stay in the ditch.  Seeing yourself grow and looking back to see how much you’ve changed for the better is a big piece of long-term happiness.

Love the majority of your day.  There are very few parts of my day that I dislike.  I love breakfast.  I love jamming to my tunes as I drive to work.  I love getting organized for the day.  I love interacting with my students.  I (usually) love the gym.  I love writing blog posts.   I’m ok with learning new real estate things (although I’m not going to lie, I’ll be pumped when it’s over).  The only things that I truly hate about my day are when I have some students act like a-holes, or when something goes awry that I did not forsee (usually traffic-traffic puts me in a TERRIBLE mood).

If you genuinely LIKE/LOVE 80% or more of your day, it is highly unlikely that you will be unhappy.  So many people tie themselves to jobs, people, or circumstances that they hate, and then wonder why they are miserable.  If you find yourself unhappy with something, make moves to change it.  Money, “security”, and comfort are NOT worth a constant state of misery.

Be ok with YOU.  You have to be ok with who you are as a person before you can truly settle into a state of contentment with your life.  I recently went through a period of time where I thought that my career goals and life aspirations were not good enough because I saw other people passionately pursuing other things that seemed ‘better’ or that might bring in more money.  My happiness severely diminished during that time.  When I mentally slapped myself and replanted my foot firmly on the soil of MY dreams, my joy returned.

You are a unique person.  It is impossible to accomplish the exact same thing that someone else has accomplished, so it is silly to even try.  You know what gives you joy, you know how you want to live your life, and you know what gives you a sense of purpose.  When you fully embrace what YOU want, not what the yoga masters, hardcore businessmen, or spiritual gurus tell you to want, THEN you can embrace your personal happiness.

Overall, your happiness is like an old, hand-pieced multicolored quilt that has been in your family for generations.  It blankets everything.  It is handmade.  No one else has one just like it.  Sometimes, a square or two might come loose, but if it’s a quality quilt, those squares aren’t completely lost and there are still enough squares to cover up with until the damage gets repaired.

If you find that you are unhappy with your life, take stock of all of the pieces.  Magnify those squares that give you joy.  Mend the squares that let in the draft.  Sometimes, an entire square might have to be replaced, and that’s ok.  Happiness IS something that you have complete control over, no matter how much we lie to ourselves and argue that we do not.  Take charge now; in the end, our money will be spent or given away and our possessions will break or change hands.  It is only the intangible-our relationships, our integrity, and our happiness-that we will get to keep for all time.