As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m working on being happier this year. Not that I wasn’t pretty happy last year. I just want it to be more…conscious this year, I guess. More intentional, since last year’s was in large part the result of non-repeatable actions. Moving 1/2 way across the country, downsizing to a new house… That accounts for a great deal of my excitement last year!
This year, however, we’re living here already. And have more or less ‘settled’ in. We’re (literally!) putting down roots: planting trees & shrubs & flowers and garden beds and swing sets. Well, if digging holes and filling them w/wet cement to ‘plant’ swing set legs counts…
It seems like I’m grownup enough (finally!) to work towards happiness, if necessary. And it appears that’s actually not a bad plan. Last week’s prompt asked me to consider what I do well. And how much of that comes naturally, compared to what I’ve worked to grow better at. And it turns out? There is very little I think I’m ‘naturally’ good at.
This week’s prompt asks me to list ‘what things do you do that take you out of your head?’ Good question! And many of them are the exact things I listed the week before, that required me to study them, practice 🙂them, learn them.
I wonder how many of us still believe the happily-ever-after stories of our childhood. That we would somehow just ‘become’ happy…? That it would descend upon us like a warm sunbeam, and wrap us in light.
Instead, it’s beginning to look as if happiness is more like the garden bed I put in last fall: I had to dig out the execrable red clay (down 10+ inches!), mix peat moss & manure & dirt together, and then put it back in the bed. My beloved had to put in edging to hold the newly raised bed surface in (N.B.: other folks aren’t responsible for our happiness, but they can help!). I had to plant seeds I bought into tiny peat pots, and put them under the lights on the light table, and water them until they were ready to transplant outside. And then I had to mulch the little plants, watering when it was dry weather. But by October? The bed was so lush & lovely no one could believe it! See above. And that was in autumn, when gardens are supposed to be winding down!
Another metaphor (you knooow how I love metaphors): aging is like autumn — full of brilliant light, even when the leaves are falling and the air is chilling. Even on the days when arthritis is a royal pain, and other attendant challenges rear unreasonable heads, I’m grateful to be here.
That too is a part of the whole happiness thing, I’m learning. Gratitude. Another thing I’ve been practicing, writing regularly in my gratitude journal. With entries that range fom the chickadee on the feeder outside, to my elder grandson telling me you’re the best, GiGi!
So here’s my prescription for you and your future happiness: practice it. Treat it like a skill that you can learn. Because it is, I promise. And the more you practice, the better you’ll get at it. Honest.
I made a commitment more than a year ago — 89 weeks, but who’s counting? — to keep a daily journal. Morning pages, as Julia Cameron calls them in several of her books, most recently It’s Never Too Late To Begin Again. Verrry quickly they became daily pages, and then more like weekly pages. Nothing like a move halfway across the country to upend your routines!
But I’ve kept up, in a too-desultory-but-still-trying way, the habit. Because it’s good for me. Not only as a writer (obviously), but as a person trying to make sense of an increasingly complicated world. This next year, however, I’m trading in my. beautiful pink leather-bound journal for a hardbound best-seller: 52 Lists for Happiness. There are several listing journals out, but this one drew my attention: who doesn’t want to be happier??
I know happiness requires practice. One of the perks of aging, and being a Buddhist is that you realise you can create happiness. A big part of it, research shows, is gratitude. Acknowledging the happiness we already have. As someone who spent a LOT of her life where water didn’t run hot (or sometimes at all!), where there wasn’t reliable heat or air, where mod cons, as the British call modern conveniences, were often completely missing, I never forget how nice it to have hot water, dishwashers, dryers.I’m grateful for holidays w/ family, for farmer’s markets, for cats & tea & chocolate & fresh flowers, too. I’m also enormously grateful for my 2nd generation: my 2 wonderful sons, my amazing daughter-in-law, my nieces & nephews. And of course what would my life be w/out the grandsons we moved to be closer to?? AND my funny, loving, slightly crazy, & enormously loving sisters! Not to mention my far better half — my best beloved.
So this seems a logical extension of writing I already do in small gratitude journals I’ve been filling for a few years now. This new year, however, I thought I’d use my found spare time (nothing like having almost no local friends to free up hours!!) to reflect in a structured fashion. Hence the happiness journal. Good way to augment Buddhist practice, too, right? Live in the now of my happiness?
There are other new projects I’ll be starting, sharing here as the year unfolds. Most of them involve a kind of journaling, coincidentally (or not, for a writer!). There’s some research to enable me to do a lengthy poetry project, some spiritual meditation focused on visual cues, some gardening. I’m teaching a class, and figuring out another one for next fall. Each will require exploring, brainstormiong, something I do best while writing. To paraphrase Forster, how do I know what I think until I see what I write?
What new projects are you planning for the new year? Nothing as elaborate as ‘resolutions’; just what you hope to explore! Want to share…?
Gratitude: at a time when my heart is often cracked yet again by the news, and when much of our country seems to be mad with hatred, it’s hard sometimes to remember how much there is to be grateful for.
Even though I keep a gratitude journal, noting down my many thanks has been less frequent than other times. And my ‘daily’ pages are … well, let’s say that weekly would be an improvement!
In other words? I’ve been grieving, not grateful-ing. But a long-time tradition I believe in is using each day of November to record something I’m grateful for. Making the month of Thanksgiving truly a month of gratitude. I’m a bit late off the mark this year, but here goes with a catch-up list:
Today, this very moment, what I’m grateful for is autumn — my favourite season. Just this week the trees in our town ignited. Seriously — there is incandescent scarlet, saffron, & chartreuse. A deep winey burgundy, and the sombre backdrop of greeny-black evergreens. It’s a lush tapestry of gorgeous.
Weaving in & out of this are birds, like red, blue, grey, black, even orange threads of bright movement. The four blue jay brothers are squawking at me to fill the sunflower feeder, and a nuthatch vies with a red-bellied woodpecker at the suet block. It’s a never-fail antidote to the tragedy of so many human interactions.
And after a night with my astonishingly wonderful elder grandson, I’m once again thanking the universe that my beloved & I took a leap of faith and moved half-way across the country to spend more time w/ our two grandsons. The elder a perpetual movement machine, running on peanut butter, jelly, apples, & tickle marathons. The younger one endless wide-eyed wonder, enthralled by even the fan above him (his own personal mobile!). You flat can’t have ‘quality’ time w/out plenty of quantity.
I’m still surprised at how many faces in this small town are becoming familiar to me. Just today, when I went to vote, I recognised 2 women exiting the polling station. Where I know them from eludes me, but they were faces I knew I SHOULD know! I’ve never lived in a small American town, so much of this new chapter is totally new to me.
The power of landscape to awe me is another gratitude. Maybe I just took the sprawling skies of Oklahoma for granted, no longer seeing them as beautiful, but the mountains here — the vistas that open up like a kaleidescope of 15 greens, 5 browns, and uncountable shards of orange, wine, russet & pumpking — send me into stunned, breathless silence. They’re that incredible.
How can I NOT be grateful?
If, like me, the evil we do to each other, the refusal to own our own responsibility to change things, and the powerlessness we feel as individuals is overwhelming you, I’m prescribing autumn. Get outside — even if it’s chilly. Maybe especially if it’s chilly! Blow the doldrums over the hazy horizon. Take a cup of tea (I’m drinking Harney’s new London Fog — how appropriate an autumn tea is THAT?!), and just watch the season unfurl in front of you. If you’re very lucky, maybe the birds will even talk to you. And for that, we’re always grateful.