The Happiness Project, The First Week in the Second Year of The New Abnormal

I subscribe to The New York Times.  As an online subscriber I often miss stories and articles that are of interest to me. However, I was fortunate enough to receive the Happiness Challenge of this last week.  It wasn’t an outsized commitment but small acts of recognition and gratitude.  

For too many years I lived with a deprivation mindset.  It meant that I felt lacking in so many ways.  Even when good things took place, it felt like it wasn’t enough to fill the void.  I could intellectually recognize a good thing, but emotionally I wasn’t able to internalize it.  When I learned to be grateful for acts of kindness, and when I learned to appreciate moments of joy, I was able to slowly move away from resentment and feelings of deprivation. 

Happiness, at least as I understand it, is more of a mindset.  It doesn’t mean denying the unpleasant.  It only means that there is an open-mindedness to take in pleasure, care, and joy.  Happiness and joy can be cultivated.  So often life’s difficulties wear us down challenging our ability to appreciate the good in our lives.  Nonetheless, with intention we can rebuild the natural joy hidden within.  

By building relationships, and creating a bridge to old positive influencers, we will experience a shared happiness.  By serving others with no intention of having them give you something in return, joy is a welcomed by-product.  Little acts can have big returns.  You may have to exert courage to shift from scarcity of joy to ample happiness, but that courage will pay off.  

It’s so nice to live in the abundance of goodness all around us.  We only need to look to find it.  

Self-Care Tips:

Marathon Weekend, Week Forty-Five in the New Abnormal

The streets are brimming with runners.  It’s the first November weekend, which means daylight-savings-time along with the New York City Marathon.  Friday, while walking through Central Park, I came across a rally.  It was a celebration of all the countries represented in the marathon.  There were flags and delegates from 140 nations.  

            While I was passing, hearing countries being called out on the loudspeaker from Ecuador to Japan, I saw the proud representatives take in the cheers from others who had come half-way around the globe.  It was peaceful.  It was celebratory.  It suggested to me the very real possibility of getting along, no matter where one resides, or how different others might live their lives.  These are runners, and supporters of runners.  Each person wants to do their best.  They have trained and are ready to traverse New York City’s five boroughs.  

            I will be on the sideline, cheering my friends, and those I know, and shouting encouragement to those I will only see for a few short seconds.  Viewing the marathon is awe inspiring.  For most marathoners, running 26.2 miles is not easy.  But they’re game and they do their best.  There’s a courage in being inclined to make such a commitment.  I call it the courage of Yes.  They entered the lottery from a position of willingness.  They trained for months because of that willingness.  And now they are implementing a new courage.  The courage of grit.  

            Grit means giving one’s all, whatever it takes.  No one is compromising someone else.  Everyone is running together in harmony towards a personal goal known to each runner.  That takes determination.  That takes grit.  Witnessing the runners giving their all step by step, mile by mile, is truly inspiring.  It inspires us to be more generous.  It inspires good will.  All in all, it inspires the best in all of us.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Choose a small task.  It can be cleaning the bathroom, doing homework, organizing the sock drawer ,or anything else.  See if you can purposely focus.  As you do the task add a little positive intention.  This is a modest sample of grit.  
  • Find something that you’d really like to do that is out of your comfort zone or is something new to you.  See if you can commit to doing it, or if you can take a first step towards doing it.  This is a small example of the courage of Yes.
  • If you’re in New York City, try to come out to see the runners, even for a very short time.  You will be inspired.  If you’re not here, watch a snippet on tv.  Or watch a sport in which the players give their all.  Take in their commitment to excellence for a dose of inspiration.  

So Long 2021, Week 35 in the Time of Transition

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2021 was so, so long.  In this last week I have little interest in reviewing this past year.  The fact that I, that we, got through it is good enough for me.  

The good news is that not looking back, at least for now, keeps me in the moment.  My quandary is whether I‘ve chosen mindfulness or denial. If I choose mindfulness, then there’s space for my denial. If I go with a state of denial, then who cares?  I will not decide.  I will opt for a “both/and” rather than an “either/or” scenario.  

The effort that goes into a binary dilemma is too great.  We spend so much attention making an argument for our point of view.  The more I defend a specific position I take, the less likely I am to learn something new.  

So long, 2021.  I will not miss you.  I appreciate much from this past year.  Larry and I moved to a nicer home.  We didn’t know we could do it, yet here we are. I continue to enjoy a hybrid private practice, in-person and virtually.  365 sunrises and sunsets made for beautiful light.  Being in touch with friends and family, when possible, brought love and laughter.  Reading new essays, books, and articles enriched me.  Not finishing books, no matter how highly praised by critics, was pure relief.  And daily walks always expanded my vision.  For those and many other gifts I am grateful.  

However, having to reach to our depths to get through a full year of the pandemic unnerved most of us. Our tempers were shorter, our patience wanting. We are at the final stretch.  It’s less than a week until we ring in the new year.   For me it will be less of a new beginning than it will be a step forward.  Another step into the unknown.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Take the pressure off New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day.  If you have plans have fun and stay safe.  If you don’t have plans, enjoy the simplicity of staying in.  
  • Rather than making New Year’s resolutions, think of what you might like to let go of.  
  • Regift.  If what you received isn’t for you for any reason, find those around you who would appreciate it.  Or donate.  Either way, it’s a win-win.  

Hello Sunrise, Week 25 in the Time of Transition

When I was a young child and my bedtime was 7:30, the advent of a darker evening meant that I was awake longer while the night sky became opaque.  It felt as if I was staying up later, even though I understood in theory I was going to bed at the same time.  Since the pandemic my bedtime has gotten earlier.  I go out less, plus I got older these past 19 months.  I have yet to go to bed at 7:30, but it feels easy to get into bed when it’s been dark for a few hours.  

The advantage to this is that the sun rises later giving me a chance to wake up with time for coffee and a very short walk to the East River promenade to get a picture of the morning’s dawn.  I love how frequently the light changes from moment to moment and from day to day.  While our world has changed in so many ways, I appreciate the regularity of the sun.  Even on cloudy or rainy days, the sun may not make an appearance, but trusting it resides behind the clouds gives me great comfort.  

There is a simple joy in recognizing the beauty in nature.  While a city girl at heart, getting away, or finding the green patches among the concrete, is a balm for the soul.  The cool weather sunrises, and when possible, the sunsets provide a colorful array of grace.  Those moments have been invaluable in bringing ease during these tenuous times. 

Self-care Tips:

  • Enjoy sunrises and sunsets.  If you don’t have a view of them, there are amazing pictures online.  Thank you to those who post such gorgeous photographs. 
  • Ground yourself by standing on grass, rocks, or other solid earthbound foundations.  Feel your feet connecting to the earth.  Stand tall so that you feel as if the crown of your head is extended from an invisible cord skyward.  
  • If your schedule permits, allow the early dark evenings to ease you into a sense of restfulness.  

Nothing is Perfect, Week Eight in the Time of Transition

Happy Father’s Day.  For all who are fathers or have present and past relationships with your fathers, only you know how best to honor what you’re experiencing.  And, for those who do not have relationships with your dads, or who have complicated relationships, take care of yourselves.  That’s all I’ll say about that. 

I was preoccupied this past week with a few things that didn’t quite work out the way I would have liked. You know when you hear people say, “I don’t like to complain,” and then they’re off and running with their objections?  I am not that person.  I actually like to complain.  Truthfully it’s more that I feel compelled to complain, than that I like it, out and out.  I tend to be very particular and even when things are going really well, I’m apt to find the fly in the ointment. 

We returned from a vacation upstate.  Going up, the ride was beautiful once we got into Upper Westchester County.  We took backroads after we hit Sullivan County.  It’s refreshing to see open spaces, green meadows.  I am so fortunate to get away.  I know that, and I really appreciate it.  As a city girl, being in the country is literally a breath of fresh air.  I am grateful for a life in the city with these short breaks away from the metropolis. 

 Social Media posts can seem like someone else is living the good life.  Usually, the whole story is that some of it is very good, some not so much.  It is often the moral of romances, inspirational tales and toxic positivity that we should just be grateful.  We should only count our blessings.  Yet, denying what didn’t go well only leaves me stressed and resentful.  On this occasion, when I’m able to admit that it wasn’t the right rental for us, or that the rain put a damper on hiking, even if I did get the rest I needed, I find relief.  Things don’t have to be all good or all bad.  In fact, they rarely are.  Those are the exceptions.  In life good things have aspects that may not be pleasing.  So, yes, I will complain, just to name it.  Ultimately so I don’t hang onto it. Though admittedly, some displeasures stick with me long after the experience.  Not so for this short reprieve.  We went, we took advantage of the outdoors, and we appreciated the scenery.  Past that, I am relieved to be home.  Perhaps Airbnb’s aren’t for me.  Or perhaps this one wasn’t for me.  Either way, I complained and now I’m moving on. 

Self-Care Tips

  • Allow yourself to complain about the things that you don’t like.  It can be a great relief just to name them
  • Hydrate.  If water isn’t your thing, try adding fresh herbs to give the water a full flavor.  Or try something like True Lemon, Lime or Orange for a fruity finish. 
  • Give your tired feet a massage. 

Snow, Week 41 in the Time of Coronavirus

Initially there were grave warnings about the snowstorm that was going to plague the Northeast.  When it started to fall, the winds were strong, and walking home from work was a bit of an effort.  The following day there were hills with footsteps at the curbsides.  Crossing the street took balance and navigation.  Patience was needed, as only one person at a time could reach the next corner.  Each person had their own pace, based on age, winter fitness, and footwear.  Good snow boots were the best.  So happy that past winters required me to find the right boots. 

            By Friday I was ready for a walk in the park.  The park closest to me, Carl Shurz, had sledding children with their parents.  It was hard to tell who was having more fun.  The walkways were icy, so my time in the park was limited to dog walks.  Central Park was more of a mix.  The Park Drive was clear for walking and running.  The side paths were too slippery to walk safely.  So, I stuck to the Park Drive.  From the Upper Eastside I could see snowmen and women being constructed.  There was a couple cross-country skiing displaying easy smiles.  A snow ball exchange spontaneously occurred.  A great way to play while socially distanced.  

            Rather than the storm being a threat to the city, it provided a needed change to the atmosphere.  Families had a reason to come out and play in the cold.  Individuals were able to enjoy the scenery, as well as the dogs and people romping about.  It lifted our moods.  If anyone fell, strangers came to their rescue.  Passing connections were found in these acts of kindness.  

            The sun’s reflection on the snow adds a brightness to our days.  The light has melted some of the pain on these past months.  The snow has been a gift in this time of Coronavirus.

Self-care Tips:

I am Cautious

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I am cautious. I ride a low bike so that when I stop my feet reach the ground. This is reminiscent of my old banana seat bicycle in the 70’s with the purple handle bar streamers. It was comfortable because of its lack of height and its smooth, plastic seat. I was a proud rider on the streets of Haddontown, Kresson Heights, Brookfield and Woodcrest, riding my modern bike in my bright red keds.

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This past week I braved the New York Streets to take my bike out for the third time this summer. I was halfway to my destination, Central Park, when I realized the traffic was too thick. Cars and trucks were double parked. I am not that adventurous. I am cautious. So, at Third Avenue I turned around and headed for the promenade on the East River. When I get to the park I ride to the crosswalk because I can avoid riding up on the curb. I like a flat ride, no bumps. That’s not easy in New York, so I do what I can.

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It wasn’t very crowded. It was Tuesday, and some had just started back to work, while others were just getting back from their Labor Day getaways. I rode as if I were a child, gleeful to have the promenade virtually to myself. I ring my high-pitched bell when the few people walking are four wide and there’s no place for me to go. They part and I move on, happy I didn’t have to stop. I am in heaven. There’s something so sweet about moving in space, especially when I know at any given moment my feet can touch the ground.

 

The Voice

 

MPW-3067.jpegThe movie Funny Girl opened in 1968. I was eight years old and in Third Grade, struggling with Mrs. Mishaw, the dower educator who wore Irish wool suits and had no patience for fools. I was a dreamy fool finding solace in movies. Barbra Streisand as Fanny Brice became my hero. Fanny Brice for celebrating her kooky self, and Barbra for singing so magnificently. She was the balm for an otherwise abrasive year.

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This past week I got to revisit the magnificence of Ms. Streisand singing “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” She brought down the Brooklyn house with her clear, luminous voice. I was enthralled then, as I am now. And, if that weren’t enough, she sang at least three Sondheim songs, my favorite composer.

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I was late to the game. I first heard about Sondheim from Paul Puccio a co-worker at Strawbridge & Clothier when I was in college. I went to see Angela Lansbury in Sweeny Todd in 1980, and have subsequently seen most productions of the shows and revivals in New York or London. So, having Barbra Streisand’s splendid voice, and Steven Sondheim’s magical lyrics and composition, was simply perfect.

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We all have moments like this, when we experience art and emotion, and feel transported. There is hope for the future, and deep satisfaction in the moment. The concert, thanks to Barbra Streisand, gave me, as well as thousands of others, that transformative moment. Life isn’t always easy. In fact, we have witnessed so much heartache and struggle in the media recently, and, for some, in our private lives. So bearing witness to art, music, theater, dance, literature, or other artistic mediums, gives us an opportunity to replenish our faith in ourselves and the world around us. It can move us deeply, and replenish our soul.

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I am still a dreamy fool late into my 50s. And, Barbra Streisand’s voice remains a balm through thick and thin.

(all images are taken from the internet)

Back to the Basics

 

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I learned to iron from my mom, but not before I scorched a shirt or two. Cotton and Polyester were the fabrics of my childhood. And, although I liked my Danskin striped shirts and ribbed pleated pants, cotton was the classier choice for anything other than playing in our Haddontown neighborhood. When inside I had chores, one of which was the ironing.

 

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I would set up the creaky ironing board in the kitchen close to the counter with the electrical outlet. And then I’d carefully plug in the Sunbeam, aqua iron until it was hot enough to smooth away the folds. I would iron my father’s shirts for work, my sister’s and my blouses, leaving the trickier ironing of dresses to my mother.

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In my twenties I volunteered at a new age retreat. One of my jobs was to iron the leader’s white oxford shirts. Perhaps I was chosen because Virgos are known for our attention to detail. They never told me. What they did say was, “Janet, it’s imperative that you bring integrity to your work. There must be no lines in his shirt. Anything that takes his attention away from leading the group compromises the quality of the retreat.” I took them seriously, and performed my ironing with fear and seriousness. At the end of the week I was commended for my work, but at great cost to my happiness.

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Today I ironed my dresses, two green, two blue, one orange and one black. It’s been a while since I’ve ironed. I tend put on no-iron clothes or slightly creased shirts. I take out a steamer from time to time, but sometimes it just doesn’t do the job of old fashion ironing.

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There is something meditative about ironing. I can tell immediately if I’m doing it right. And I know this because the wrinkles disappear. I find this ever so satisfying. It’s clear what task is at hand, and it’s clear when it’s complete. Few jobs are that straightforward in life. Unlike my fear of failure at the retreat, I’m happy to do my ironing with music on in a state of ease. My dresses are done and I’m grateful to my mom for introducing me to the finer points of ironing.

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Blog Break

 

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I wasn’t planning on taking a break from my blog, but that’s what happened. I’m glad I took this break. I’ve needed a breather in general for a while, and the blog was just a part of what I needed to put aside. I enjoy writing, but I noticed something as the weeks went by without penning a word. I noticed that I felt relieved at times, and frustrated at other times. Same circumstances, different responses.

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As the weeks went by I started criticizing myself. I was hard on myself for not writing even as other obligations loomed large. I’d think,  “If I don’t write on a regular basis it’s predictive of not publishing later.” I questioned myself. “Could my attention on family and professional training simply be an excuse?” Of course it can. Or, more likely, it’s the choice I’m making at this time.

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We all make choices. And each choice excludes another. To spend more time with family I give up writing. To choose a concert this summer I give up going out this weekend. To work more I give up a cleaner home. To write this I give up some sleep. We make choices large and small every day.   Tonight I chose to write this short piece. And tomorrow? We’ll I guess I’ll see what choices I make and how they translate.

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One imperative option is to take a break from self-criticism. Whether I have a blog post or I skip it, I am doing the best I can, as we all are.