Tag Archives: Happiness

Are you a Jackhammer or a Hummingbird?

“If you can let go of passion and follow your curiosity, your curiosity just might lead you to your passion.” – Elizabeth Gilbert

I wasted some of my twenties feeling depressed about my lack of passion. Like most people my age, I’d been told I could do whatever I wanted with my life, but had no idea what I wanted. I had things I loved to do, but no idea how to turn them into a career. Somehow I found myself sitting in a cubicle typing away about topics I didn’t find so interesting after a few years.

Then, driven by my unhappiness, I let go of the idea that I had to be madly, deeply committed to my career and started to just follow my curiosity. I knew I was adequately entertained as a substitute teacher right after I graduated from college. I felt drawn to the elementary school I walked by each morning on my way to work. Even though I didn’t feel a moving passion to become a teacher, I was curious whether it would be a good fit. So, I applied to a teacher residency program, got accepted, and quit my job.

It was a good move. I pushed myself to become more outspoken. I let go of a lot of fear. I loved working with children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Maybe it wasn’t anything close to what I’d ever imagined for myself, but it was enough. I felt inspired, motivated, and dare I say it, happy.

But, as I’m beginning to understand is my nature, it wasn’t enough to hold me for more than a few years. After the birth of my daughter, I experienced a sort of renaissance where suddenly I had permission to explore all my curiosities without needing to be financially viable. In the past two years, I’ve written a middle grade novel, started an online business, and taken on two part-time jobs at a Waldorf school, one teaching games, the other special education.

Pulled multiple directions, one of my new year’s resolutions this year was to focus. Because I’ve been conditioned to attack goals one at a time, I felt a need to put more energy into fewer projects so I could actually “accomplish” something. Then my step-mom pulled me aside and had me watch this talk by Elizabeth Gilbert.

It finally clicked.

In Gilbert’s description of either being a hummingbird (someone who flutters from project to project) or a jackhammer (someone who focuses intensely on one “passion”), I realized I needed to let myself be a hummingbird for awhile. My whole life, I’ve tried to approach everything with a jackhammer resolve, when really I derive a great amount of joy from exploring my many curiosities. And, the best part, there’s still hope for one of these curiosities to become a full-fledged, all-in passion.

Whew.

Talk about a relief. It’s amazing how reframing your perspective can change everything. So, this year, instead of trying to focus on just one or two things, I’m letting myself be a hummingbird for a bit longer. In fact, I’m embracing the hummingbird and trusting it will lead me where I need to go.

What about you?

***

Here’s a teaser from Gilbert’s talk, (the full version is available in the link above):

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A Little Fourth Grade Cheer

After yesterday’s post, I wanted to share something that made me smile today. The same child who wept in my arms brought me a box of Nerds and a toy to keep on my desk. Apparently I’m not the only one who felt we bonded.
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Just as sweet, a little girl who would make the perfect character in a children’s book with her freckles and wild spirit, brought me a gigantic husky she found at Goodwill. Our class theme is University of Washington, so she was proud to present our mascot. You can guess where all the kids wanted to sit during silent reading. This noble beast was smushed between three children, countless others disappointed they did not get there first.

Husky

So, my camera phone might not do my lovely gifts justice, but hopefully my words did. We all bonded yesterday, and somehow these tokens of love are proof. Our missing student returned this morning and was able to go about his business with quiet support. We are becoming a classroom family, as strange as it is to let new kids into my heart.

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Sunday Song for Peace

I’m on a peace kick around here. The August Blogger’s for Peace challenge is to connect peace to music. Like Kozo, reggae instantly popped into my head. While it could be because I recently returned from Hawaii as well, I think there is something more to it. Reggae is comforting. In fact, I recently heard it is the best music to use while you rock your baby to sleep, (the beats per minute are close to the human heartbeat, as well as the walking cadence of the mother).

“Three Little Birds” happens to be one of my favorites. Makes me smile, makes the whole world seem a little less scary, a little more peaceful:

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And Sometimes It’s Beyond Worth it.

Often, teaching is like any other job. Long hours, unsatisfied customers, little recognition. Some days I daydream about a world where I do not have to squish myself into a mold in order to succeed.

Then, days come around like today, where everything makes sense.

With no prep scheduled and only the second day of instruction, I knew I was in for a long haul. Add to that my body’s stubborn insistence on waking up 40 minutes before my alarm and, well, I had to force myself to think about gratitude for the human experience as I got ready this morning.

About ten minutes before school started, the door to my classroom swung open and in marched half a dozen of my most challenging boys from last year with huge smiles on their faces. The ring leader, also my most difficult, looked proud of himself for assembling such a reception.

Instead of “I hate this school,” or the alternative favorite, “I hate you,” they were excited to tell me about middle school, pleased about how handsome they looked in their sixth-grade button-down shirts. It turns out, kids really do love you, even when they kick and scream and do anything to push your buttons.

The most rewarding part of starting a new year has been seeing all those faces from my old class. I had to fight back tears as they appeared at the most unexpected moments both today and yesterday, smiling through my window, craning their necks to peer into my new world, their old classroom home. The hugs, the stories, the yells across the courtyard make it all worth it.

And, I’m happy to report, my new batch is pretty darn lovable too. I think I’m just one of those teachers who loves the heck out of my kids. I thought it would feel different with new names and stories, but instead it just feels like the beginning of another heart-stealing adventure.

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Bohemian Abundance & Peace at Home

We each have a formula of things that bring us happiness. For me, it is purpose in my work, expressing myself through writing, yoga, my dogs, travel, and most importantly, the people I love. This month has been a lesson in the reality that more money is not on that list. I can have all those things without ever being materially rich. Abundance exists in how we live, not what we have.

Sometimes the answers are so simple.

Sometimes the answers are so simple.

Everyone knows people who choose to live minimally but have incredibly rich life experiences. The vagabond, the bohemian yogi, the teacher who lives on little during the year to spend his summer backpacking. For most of us reading this blog, our dreams are achievable within the means of what we already have. I’m not saying poverty is not real, but rather our dreams are closer than we think.

Rick Steves says it well. He argues that driving an older car, living in a more modest home, eating out a bit less during the year can open up a world of travel we never thought possible. I have read incredible stories of people who live in tiny studios and then put their stuff in storage to allow themselves the freedom to travel. It all comes down to priorities. Maybe travel isn’t your thing, but something is, and whatever that thing may be, you have to find a way to give it space in your life, even if this means rearranging your priorities.

Likewise, we must give space to the people in our lives to do the same thing– our partners must create their own list of happiness ingredients and we must work together to honor how our priorities can coexist within the same home. After all, peace at home is not just about ourselves. It is a give and take, an acceptance of others for their true nature, not our selfishly-imposed vision of how the other should be.

Happiness is complicated. We expect this space of bliss to exist where all the hard parts melt away. This recent article on Offbeat Families says it well:

New love is beautiful, but it isn’t the point of life. Honoring it and allowing it to be, to flare and flourish and light up the sky and then to fade in its own time, like everything does… and staying with it, consuming it, taking it into ourselves, letting it become us, to become as vital to us as our lungs and heart and tongue, might be the point of life. Finding the deeper meaning and beauty beyond the flashier, temporary kind that comes with newness, might be the point.

-Amanda King

I am coming to realize that happiness is layered in challenge and perseverance. It is not easy and it is not constant, but when you are living a life aligned with that list of ingredients that rings true for you, it is there, just beneath the surface, helping you find peace in the chaos, giving your life meaning beyond any sort of obsession with needing more. We are already whole, we just need to figure out what this means and how to honor it.

Peace, too, is a state of mind. Some people are able to find peace in chaos, while others create chaos in peace. I am working to be the person who finds peace without hiding from the world or avoiding conflict. My work as a teacher helps me practice this every day, but it is still work and I am still learning.

It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed.

-Abigail Adams

As I sat over a greasy spoon breakfast of eggs and country potatoes with my dad early yesterday morning, I was reminded that we do not face this journey alone. We are part of a network of people who can hold us up closer to our dreams, if only we figure out what they are and let go of our stubborn desire to do everything on our own. We are more powerful together, both at home with our partners and in our larger communities of families, friends, and neighbors. A bohemian sort of abundance already surrounds us, we just have to figure out how to embrace it.

Join me in the Bloggers for Peace June challenge, what brings you peace at home and in your relationships? 

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Women: We Could Learn from Our Men

I am sure you have already seen these clips before. The first is the real thing, the second is a parody. Women are asked to describe themselves and focus on their weaknesses. Men are asked to do the same thing and overplay their strengths. While both offer an unbalanced self-image, I think we women have something to learn from our beloved male counterparts. A little self-love could do us some good.

A friend sent me both these clips a couple weeks ago, I watched and laughed (and cried) and then moved on. However, the messages stuck with me. Out at dinner with friends, a girlfriend and I noticed how our husbands like to talk themselves up, “I’m great at… One of my strengths is…” We laughed because we never go around giving lists of our positive qualities to each other.

Maybe we should start.

 

 

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My Triumphant(ish) Return to Writing

The last couple months I hid from writing. Sure, I blogged and wrote a few paragraphs here and there for various projects. I even wrote an outline for a new book and submitted some articles to blogs and online newspapers. I read about the craft. In short, I did enough to feel like I was still a writer even if I was not making much progress.

In reality, indecision and self-doubt paralyzed me. I could not decide where to focus my attention, on something new or old or in between. Forty-three queries left me uncertain of Expecting Happiness, the occasional agent nibble more confusing than inspiring. I considered shelving it and starting something new, but nothing flowed.

I felt stuck. Family members encouraged me not to leave Expecting Happiness behind, a fellow blogger did the same. So, this week, I opened up the document and did what I should have done before. I am polishing and reshaping again for the good of the book. People always warn me I could write the same book forever, but these changes need to happen. We know deep down where we’re cutting corners.

I will finish Expecting Happiness and be proud of it, even if the idea of being proud is counterintuitive to my intrinsic humility. I want to be confident in my writing. There is a lot more buried in these last couple sentences, but I’ll save it for another post. I just know it is time to stop hiding.

I blogged before about how I find myself wanting children but fear having children will keep me from writingAs I revisit the beginning of Expecting Happiness, I see so many opportunities to explore these feelings more deeply, even if they are distorted into fictional characters who do not write but still have other passions lurking beneath the surface. I know starting a family is such an incredible gift, but for me it also seems like a space to hide when I lose faith in my writing. A child would give me the perfect excuse to stop pushing myself.

This morning I woke up and read a post on Offbeat Families by a writer who has decided to have one child. I applaud her for her honesty about what is important in her life. While I will make no similar decrees, I appreciate her reminder of how crucial it is to stay true to ourselves. I see many women wear motherhood as their identities. I understand this biologically-driven desire but I also see that it would be hiding to use motherhood as a reason not to pursue my other dreams as well.

The past few months have felt frustratingly stagnant in various ways, but I am beginning to see there is a reason behind it all. Now is my time to write, untethered, to carve out the space I will someday covet as time stolen from other parts of my life. I’m laying the groundwork for a life spent writing, regardless of the outcome. I write because it helps me make sense of life. When I distance myself, I feel lost. I must keep going and Expecting Happiness must be finished.

My new goal: Try even if I might fail.

Yes, this probably means self-publishing.

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Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Programing

Good news, I’m done blogging about dogs. I realized I was a little obsessed there for a moment. Just imagine what I’ll be like when I have children. Save yourselves.

To make amends, I offer you my favorite song of the week. Here’s the challenge. Go about your business with the song playing in the background but stop every time you hear the words Barbra Streisand and have a mini dance party. If that doesn’t make your Monday happier, I’m not really sure what will. And, chances are, you won’t be able to control yourself and will have to keep dancing.

You’re welcome.

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Thankfulness Thursday: Girl on Fire.

I am part of a generation often accused of being too self-entitled. While I agree hard work and gratitude should be part of the equation, I also stand firm in my opinion that each and every one of us deserves greatness. The definition of greatness may vary from one to another, but whatever that greatness is, we deserve it.

Lessons always seem to converge at once. This weekend, while I was in a particularly grumpy mood, the women in my family reminded me we deserve the moon. Then another woman I deeply admire posted an article about an adoptive mother who decided to teach her timid toddler to physically fight back against her brothers. This article permeated my being, (read it!).

I always thought I believed in myself. Then I realized this belief is contradicted by the guilt I feel in whatever I have, achieve, desire. Since I was a little girl, I have confused guilt, humility, and gratitude. I finally get it, if only for a moment. Guilt should not accompany success won through hard work and thankfulness. You can lovingly serve others without losing sight of your own worth.

For the first time in years, I allowed myself to seethe in all the parts of my life I want to change, and, to my shock, the seething felt amazing. I let anger I never knew existed escape my soul. I realized my worth and felt no guilt in my desire for greatness. What a concept, self-worth and desire without guilt. I was a girl on fire, ferocious and proud. So much gratitude. I hope it lasts.

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Happy.

I love when “happy” (or some variation) shows up as a search term that leads someone to my blog. Happy is my third most common search term, (surpassed only by my brother’s name and “Bubba’s Hawaii Robert Downey Jr”… Okay, that’s pretty odd…). Not claiming this makes me the happiest person on earth, but at least it means my blog must exist in some positive stratosphere if the word happy brings me visitors, (especially since the clicks are always to posts which have nothing to do with my book title).

Of course, I also get some weird ones, like “dunk tank my teacher” and “can you create water springs by swallowing a mountain.” I’m such a data nerd. This stuff fascinates me.

Any equally amusing search terms to report? What is your most common? Most disturbing? I think mine is “feed slave my toenails…”

Okay, I’m done reading these. Yuck.

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Welcome Home Otis/Odin (aka Odi)

Our newest family member.

Our newest family member on the left.

About a month ago, yoga cat disappeared. We were sad. Our dog was sadder. He destroyed long-time favorite toys, sniffed every inch of ground on our walks, and just looked generally depressed whenever he was left home alone. He and yoga cat used to play chase to pass the time and we almost always found them in the same room, together, when we got home.

Lacking the chase exercise, he began to put on weight. Suddenly, the dog door he had used for years was a little too small. I finally drew the line when he got stuck. Yes, stuck. His harness was the straw that broke the camel’s back, or got the pomeranian stuck in the dog door, depending on how you look at it.

My husband had been trying to convince me he needed a friend for weeks. I was reluctant. What if Luna came back? Did we really want the added expense and work of another creature in our house? Did we feel like potty training a puppy? I was staunchly on the no side, but my husband persisted and I gave in. It would be his dog. He had to pick it out, do the work.

He found a pure-bred border collie puppy down in Modesto. My gut said no. I didn’t want a puppy and I was nervous about having such a smart, possibly high-energy dog. So, I did what any good wife would do and got back on Petfinder to look for a decoy. Success. A wire-haired terrier with grey polka dots on her ears. She looked a lot like Simon’s favorite girlfriend down the street. The dog was supposed to be Simon’s new friend, after all.

My husband, the good sport he is, approved of a quick trip to Elk Grove to check her out at a sanctuary for homeless pets. Poor creature, she was a mess, and Simon had zero interest. He is breed-ist and prefers dogs with poofs similar to his own. Fortunately, in the back of one of the dog runs, Alex spotted our new dog, a border collie mix who patiently wagged his tail while all the other mutts howled in pandemonium.

Our gentle boy.

Our gentle boy.

Alex asked if he could be brought out. It was love, for Alex at least. For Simon, well, he still didn’t show much interest, but as the dog checked him out, they showed no aggression to each other, which is unusual for Simon with boy dogs. This dog was one of the gentlest we had ever met. Even the roaming cats were of no interest to him. As Simon barked like a mad man each time a cat crossed our path, Otis did nothing but wag his tail. All good signs, we decided.

Turns out our pal Otis was the spoiled beast of his previous rescue family, but he kept taking the toys of the three year-old child and it was just too much for the family to handle. He had gone to obedience training, received every medical service imaginable, even had a DNA test to determine his breed combination, (apparently schnauzer, border collie, and cocker, but I’m not convinced). In his year and a half of life, he somehow ended up on death row at a pound and then was rescued by this animal group, adopted, then returned.

The two week trial sold me. Here was this dog with all these pluses, if it didn’t work, we could bring him back. We felt like he picked us. He was so happy to see us through that chain-linked fence, so patient as he watched Simon and wagged his tail. On the car ride home, he snuggled his new friend the entire way. Last night he slept without objection or a single noise in his crate. Today he and Simon stomped around the backyard for hours while I did some spring yard work.

Fast pals.

And I thought I was Simon’s best friend…

I wasn’t sure if it would be hard to love another dog like I love Simon, but I think Otis will at least come close. He’s eager to please, kind, and affectionate. He loves Simon like he’s known him forever. Somehow he makes our home more complete, happier even, I guess my husband was right.

The only part we don’t agree on is his name. Alex wants to call him Odin after a pagan Norse god. I immediately took to calling him Oats and Odi for short, which for me goes more with Otis. I guess this dog will have two names, depending on which family member you ask. Although, really, we have both been calling him Odi, so I guess that’s his name. And, it does have a pretty great song to go with it, Odi, Odi, Odi, Oh! Smart boy that he is, his ears already perk up when it plays.

Alright, he does have one bad habit for us to break-- he seems to think the planter box is a play box... Although looking at the horrible post-winter state of this box, I don't think I can complain.

Alright, he does have one bad habit for us to break– he seems to think the planter box is for play… And, yes, there is a reason I did all that yard work, winter left our backyard a mess.

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The Secret to Forgiveness is Love.

The March Bloggers for Peace challenge is to write about forgiveness. Instead of writing about any one instance of forgiveness, I offer a simple idea. The secret to forgiveness is love, and love is a choice. If you decide to love, then you can also decide to forgive.

The beauty of this secret is that it does not apply to just lovers, or family, or friends. It applies to anyone. Strangers even. Have you ever imagined love for a person who is pissing you off? I swear, it changes the mood. Suddenly you start to see the person a little differently, to imagine what brought him or her to this moment where your paths have crossed so tumultuously. If there is an opportunity to hold a grudge or judge another person, there is also an opportunity to love.

I kid you not. In the most basic expression of this, I forgive my students all the time. In the middle of a really good tantrum, they often say terrible things. I am hated, threatened, you name it. Children or not, it is often tempting to feel angry. When I force myself to focus on my love for them, any inkling of anger is diffused, (in fact, these thoughts usually make me smile, which in turn just confuses the hell out of them and sometimes results in smiles on their faces too). Love conquers all.

Of course, some things in life may feel too terrible to forgive, but I still believe this is a choice. You choose whether to hold on or let go. It’s funny. As I sit here and type now, I realize that the hardest person to forgive very well may be yourself. So, for tonight at least, I’ll forgive myself for my own imperfections. Thanks Bloggers for Peace for helping to spread the love (and forgiveness).

For more great Peace Cats, check out:

And, thanks for sharing your peace cats, Rarasaur! (Check out other hilarious/inspiring/poignant ones here…)

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