For me, 2016 was about settling down, staying put, and going deeper. Continue reading
Going to a restaurant alone is one of the bravest of social acts. As you sit there solitary, no companion to dine with, no one to share your paté, you answer silently the questions that no one is asking, but … Continue reading
In keeping with last year’s tradition, albeit a bit belated, here’s what I’ve been up to in the past 12 months: Greater Good Science Center Last year, I was writing my first article for the Greater Good Science Center as … Continue reading
Prego. I had heard that Italians were nice, but I didn’t know how nice until I lived for a month in Rome. I remember the lady at the market who weighed my carrots, imitating the way I said “okay” in … Continue reading
I’ve never done a year in review before – not because I’m not reflective (which I am, overly) but because I’m not one to pat myself on the back for all my accomplishments. But so much has happened this year … Continue reading
One of my most pivotal moments of 2014 was on June 2010, just before 1 pm. I was sprawled in the middle of the street in Toronto, scraped up, bike by my side, arm broken.
I did some life experiments in 2014 – in optimism and vulnerability – but this was an uninvited experiment in acceptance. Could I take my broken arm for granted and go from there? Or would I repeatedly replay the scene and curse the streetcar tracks that brought my bike to the ground?
Well, let’s just say my 2015 New Year’s resolution is “practice acceptance” for a reason.
The more I thought about acceptance during my month of invalidity, the more it seemed key to happiness. The more I think about it now, the more connections I see between non-acceptance and many of my challenges in life.
Accept the self – increase confidence
I am who I am.
I am what I am.
I am where I am.
I did what I did.
I can do what I can do.
I like what I like.
I feel what I feel.
One of the bits of self-insight I gained in 2014 was how much of a workaholic I am. Every minute must be productive; trips to the grocery store feel like a waste of time; sleeping to heal your broken arm is overrated (boy, was I wrong about that).
At the very root of it, if I dig down all the way and sift through things, I believe I feel this way because of a lack of self-confidence. Who I am today isn’t enough. I haven’t achieved what I see as my potential. I have to always be moving toward the person I want to be. In essence, I’m not accepting who I am today.
Accept circumstances – reduce worry and grumpiness
It is what it is.
It was what it was.
It will be what it will be.
It takes as long as it takes.
It certainly does take as long as it takes – almost 7 months later, my once-broken arm still needs stretching to recover full mobility. I’m okay with that, but the hassles of life still grate on my mood more than they should. Too-hot weather, long lines, slow Internet, and unfulfilled expectations bring me down. And worrying about the future – my career, my health, and whether my favorite Survivor contestant will win – is just another form of non-acceptance. Que sera sera.
Accept others – improve relationships
He is who he is.
She is who she is.
They are who they are.
I’ve always been someone with a strong sense of morality and justice, which is another way of saying I have lots of ideas about how things should be done. When people do things “wrong,” I itch to tell them (or someone else). But I want to learn to be more understanding and empathic, particularly for the people I care about. I want to love them as they are, because they are wonderful.
As I’ve said before, I don’t think this advice is for everyone. Some people need a bit more righteous indignation and dissatisfaction to get things going; for them, their acceptance may have reached the level of passivity. But not for me. My pendulum has swung in the other direction, and what I need is a hefty dose of acceptance to balance out my tendencies to resist, regret, and judge.
In some meditations, you learn to label your thoughts as “thinking” or “feeling,” which is supposed to create some distance from them. If you can be a third-party observer to what’s going on in your head, you don’t get so caught up in it. I’m hoping the same thing works for acceptance. My resolution is to be aware of the times when I’m not accepting, and soothe myself with the balm of the trivially-true-but-so-profound statements above. Is this awareness and reframing enough to make a difference to the way I feel? I’m not sure yet, but it will be a great experiment.
One of Europe’s coolest cities. Big. English-friendly. Historical.
These were my impressions of Berlin before I arrived. And they all turned out to be true. Berlin is cool, hipster and alternative and multicultural.
It’s definitely huge, with a winding metro map more confusing than Paris’s:
And it’s English-friendly (sort of). Everyone says they speak “a little English” and actually speaks a lot, but not necessarily with a smile.
But the vibe of Berlin is not what I expected. I thought all that would add up to something trendy and modern, but I felt stuck in the past there.
Many buildings are plain and square, reconstructed quickly after bombings during WWII. Grand, wide boulevards sport names like Karl-Marx Allee. Vendors in the streets sell communist hats and gas masks.
Maybe it was because I spent so much time in East Berlin. But it wasn’t until my last few nights that I started to glimpse Berlin’s lively, modern side. It was the Festival of Lights, and historic buildings – from the Brandenburg Gate to the Berlin Cathedral Church – were transformed into art canvases with projections of light. It was the new juxtaposed with the old, and tourists and locals alike poured onto the streets to see it. Vendors sold beer and pretzels, and the city felt more alive.
Here are some more things to expect when you make the trip to Berlin:
In addition to beer and pretzels, you’ll find many vendors selling hot dogs and currywurst throughout the city.
Restaurants usually won’t serve you tap water – apparently locals don’t really drink it because the German word means “plumbing water” and you’re supposed to be able to afford bottled. However, restaurants are nice enough to give you a blanket when you’re sitting outside and some menus even note which items have alcohol, caffeine, preservatives, gluten, and more in them.
Groceries are cheap; a half-gallon of milk might cost $1, while a bag of oatmeal costs 50 cents.
You have lots of transportation options in Berlin. If you take the metro, make sure to stamp your ticket and watch out for plain-clothes police if you don’t. You can hop on trams, or even grab a pedi-cab. If you have a bike, you’ll get to benefit from Berlin’s extensive bike lanes – just don’t imitate the Germans and skip the helmet. Or, get some exercise and explore Berlin on foot with some sturdy sneakers, while hopscotching around the broken glass on the sidewalks.
We arrived in Germany during Oktoberfest and headed to Munich, where we discovered that some German stereotypes are true – everyone (at least in Munich) does wear those colorful costumes. And Germans are the third highest beer consumers in the world. If you go to a traditional brewery with a live band, you’ll be interrupted every 20 minutes or so with a drinking song, where you’re obliged to raise your glass, sway back and forth, and clink glasses at the end.
We sat at communal tables in two different breweries with locals, said “cheers” to them (in Bavarian, of course), and got advice on what to order. And it was here, of all stereotypical places, where we felt most welcome in Germany.
I’ve known for awhile that I’m a perfectionist, but this summer was the time when my perfectionism and I finally had a standoff.
Perfectionism: I think it’s a great idea to feel stressed, pressured, and overwhelmed all the time. K?
Me: Uh, wait, no, but…
Perfectionism: Also, seriously, you’ve been on this planet for 25 years and you’ve yet to achieve anything extraordinary. Aren’t you paying attention to what I’m saying?
And so on. We wrestled for awhile. We’re still wrestling. And as the summer draws to a close, I decided to sit down and hash out all the things we’ve been arguing over. So here they are – the rules that the mean voice in my head keeps trying to enforce, and the thoughts I want to cultivate.
Perfectionism: Don’t waste time.
Me: Life takes time. Time is only wasted if I’m waiting for it to be over.
Perfectionism: I wish things were different.
Me: Life is a game of “Yes, and…”
Perfectionism: I need to plan in order to control the future.
Me: I’m curious what will happen today and I know I can handle it.
Perfectionism: Must. Be. Serious.
Me: What would kitty do?
Perfectionism: This is such a big deal.
Me: Will this matter in a year?
Perfectionism: I have to be careful.
Me: Life’s great dare is: Am I all in?
Perfectionism: What will the future look like?
Me: What does the present feel like?
Perfectionism: I have to be maximally productive.
Me: I want to explore my whole self.
Perfectionism: I must get everything done.
Me: I can only do my best.
Perfectionism: I have to accomplish something extraordinary.
Me: I want to be happy and serene.
My hope is that articulating these in words will become a useful tool in my day-to-day life. I was doing a chore the other day, wishing for it to be over, when I thought, “Life takes time. Time is only wasted if I’m waiting for it to be over.” Perfectionism will still try to do battle with me, but at least I have some weapons in my arsenal now.
 The organizer of the Toronto Happy Healthy Women meetup, Natalie Colalillo, came up with this idea at an improv comedy workshop. Improv comedy requires a “yes, and” approach – you take whatever the other performers give you and run with it, rather than trying to contradict them or go in a different direction. Life is like this, too – you have to accept what happens to you before you can move on and have positive experiences.
 In other words, be silly! Cats and cat videos are a reminder for me to keep things fun, silly, and lighthearted.
 This is from Brené Brown, and the full quote is: “Vulnerability is life’s great dare. It is life asking, ‘are you all in?’” Living wholeheartedly means not holding back.
Photo by Flickr user Digitalnative
Some of it has to do with how we execute a habit – getting support from friends, giving ourselves breaks when we need them, and building on momentum. But some of it happens way before that: when we feel compelled to form a habit in the first place.
In The How of Happiness, psychology researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky offers a test to help determine which happiness habits are best for you. For optimum fit, a habit should have these characteristics:
- Natural: It feels normal, and easy to stick to. Maybe it’s a habit we’re already doing most days, like going for an after-dinner walk or brushing our teeth in the morning.
- Enjoyable: We find it interesting and challenging, like learning a new language.
- Valuable: We believe it’s important and identify with it. We’ll do it even if it’s not enjoyable. Exercise might fall into this category for some people.
Ideally, a habit shouldn’t have these characteristics:
- Guilt: We force ourselves to do it because we feel guilty, anxious, or ashamed if we don’t. For example, some people might do volunteer work because they feel guilty about their privilege or new money.
- Situational: We’re forced to do it by someone else or by our situation. Maybe our spouse is making us attend counseling or pressuring us to do a weight-loss program.
In the end, Lyubomirsky explains, these five aspects are largely measuring something called “self-determined motivation,” a drive to achieve goals based on our genuine interests and values.
“Research suggests that if you have this kind of motivation . . . you will continue to put effort into the endeavor and be ultimately more likely to succeed. In other words, where there is a good fit, you will try harder and feel right about what you’re doing,” she writes.
Not all goals will have all these characteristics, and that’s okay. In fact, we can reframe goals so they check more of the right boxes. I might be driven by guilt to avoid sugar and carbs, but I should strive to focus on being creative and challenging myself to come up with tasty treats (enjoyability). Your boss may force you to take a training course in marketing, but you can focus on how the new skills will be valuable for your career.
How do your goals stack up?
Photo by Flickr user .melanie
This is day 31 of #30DaysofVulnerability, answering the questions “What does it mean to be courageous and “show up”?,” “What does it mean to be authentic?” and “How can you play, laugh, sing, and dance more?” More info here.
I never thought I’d be the one writing about “fluffy,” “sentimental” stuff like vulnerability, acceptance, authenticity, and worthiness. But here I am, on day 31 of (whoops) #30daysofvulnerability, and that’s all that’s on my mind.
If you look back at my writing from college, I’m talking about productivity and rationality and success. I even had a blog once called Joie d’Achieve (that should have been a clue).
Turns out that everything works until it doesn’t work. Being over-focused on achievement worked for me (sort of) for 25 years. But it’s not working anymore.
It makes a lot of sense to me now why self-improvement content is so personal. Gretchen Rubin discovered this when she asked readers what their personal commandments were, and got a ton of contradictory answers: Do more. Do less. Say yes. Say no. Let go. Hold on.
It’s like a pendulum – I’ve been swinging so far to the side of productivity and achievement that I’ve swung all the way to the top and the pendulum is upside down, and I have all the stability of an upside-down pendulum. What I need now isn’t what I needed then – or at least, not what I thought I needed. Maybe if I had encountered these ideas earlier, I wouldn’t be so unbalanced now. But I doubt I would have listened.
What I learned is the value of being open-minded. Today, I’ve read books that I wouldn’t have touched four years ago. I’ve entertained ideas and concepts and exercises that I would have seen as silly, irrational, or weak. But guess what? It works now. It’ll work until it doesn’t work.
So I’m here on day 31 to tell you about my new three goals. I wrote about how productivity is not a useful happiness proxy, at least not for me. Maybe I’ll fare better with these:
Courage, not success. Focusing on success often means I’m hesitant to try new things and get discouraged in the face of discomfort and stress. Courage means attempting and persisting even when things are hard. Even if I don’t get every single thing on my to-do list done with the patience and peace of a Buddhist, I can still decide to persevere and stay engaged and not give up. I love how Brené Brown says that vulnerability is life’s great dare, asking if you’re all in. I so want to be all in, living with my whole heart, not holding back.
Authenticity, not perfection. Who knew? Turns out I’m not perfect. Or the smartest. Or the best. I want to find out who I am besides an intelligent, productive person. I want to learn about and value my other traits, like being kind and good and curious. I want to listen to my feelings (God, I never thought I’d write this) and not be constantly telling myself how I “should” feel.
Play, not productivity. For a long time, I had this feeling that people who acted silly were dumb, unintelligent. Turns out silly people are very, very smart. I want to smile enough that no one on the street can joke that I dropped my smile (not funny, people!). I want to laugh enough so I get wrinkles and don’t care. I want to play and do nothing and take breaks and cut myself some slack.
So there you have it. None of this is going to be easy, because I still haven’t kicked out the little gremlin inside of me that’s constantly jumping up and down shouting, “Work! Work! Work!” He’s such a jerk, I should totally evict him, but we’re good friends and I’m not quite sure where I’d be without him. I’m not even sure I’m ready to get friendly with a flowery, emotional, Zen fairy, but I know she’s a lot nicer and she won’t call me names. And if she makes me happier, that’s all I’m asking for.
Photo by Flickr user Sarah Ross photography