This is especially important right now because Luke and I are too busy paying down debt to account for anything grandiose - we've already scrapped our plan to upgrade the family car, for example. Anything we take on over the next year has to be free or non-commital (i.e., pay-per-use or of the "cancel at any time" variety). So, really, free. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
l adopted this habit over the summer, inspired by Gretchen Rubin's stab at a gratitude journal. Her original intent was to write daily, but after finding it to be more of a chore than a stress reliever, she switched to writing one sentence a day about those in-the-weeds moments that tug at your heart but are likely to fade over time. Learning from her experience, I started my own journal as a combination of these ideas - I focus on what I'm thankful for, but I don't write every day, and I don't limit myself to any kind of subject matter. Sometimes I've got pages of bullet points, and sometimes just a few lines. Sometimes they're big picture, like having enough money to pay our bills, and or they're as simple as the name of Kara's imaginary dog Bingo Benjamin (Bingo from Ladybug Girl, Benjamin from Liam's middle name; isn't that something you'd want to remember?). I don't want to lose these moments any more than Rubin does, and I can think of no better way to frame them than through a lense of gratitude. Plus, the fewer parameters I set for myself, the better my chances of keeping this up.
I do, however, have one restiction: I'm not allowed to pat myself on the back for house cleaning. It's important to me to keep up on things as best I can, especially now that Liam is frog-hopping everywhere and crams whatever he can into his pie hole, but I don't want to delude myself into thinking the ninety minutes I spend scrubbing down bathrooms is equal to an afternoon playing Memory with the kids. That's not what I want to reflect on when I go through these books five years or even one month from now. Not every "good" thing needs to be documented.
Quotationing, Information Collecting
Rubin had another reason for starting a notebook that I found really appealing. She talked about her love for the physical act of note taking and how journaling provided an outlet for this. She also talked about writing for its own sake and forgetting about results. As in, it's okay to collect information and not know what to do with it. It's okay to jot down ideas just because it's fun.
I, too, love note taking, and anyone who's known me longer than five minutes knows I have a pen in my hand almost all the time, just waiting to desecrate a blank piece of paper with my scribbles. (Remember my yada yada yada banner?) So I started a second notebook to serve as a random repository of all things Frema. I've written down books I want to read, movies I want to see, plot points for a TLF part three (when I thought about tackling National Novel Writing Month in November), and quotations. Pages and pages of them, mainly because I get Rubin's "Moment of Happiness" daily quotation delivered to my e-mail and ninety-five percent of them are ones I don't want to forget. Here's a gem from last week:
Also, no, I'm not being compensated for my repeated references to The Happiness Project, why do you ask? I've only cited it eighty million times in this entry.
One of my goals this year is to read more. Pretty lofty, right? And yet, there it is. Books have always been a huge part of my life, but with all the new demands on my time these last few years, I've been lazy in making them a priority. Part of the problem is that I think I need more time to keep up with reading than I actually do - i.e., I don't have to set aside an hour before bed to wind down with the Dalai Lama. I can grab twenty minutes at lunch or five on the john. (TMI?) All of those minutes will eventually lead to one finished book.
I'm not aiming to hit a specific number of books because that seems overwhelming, but I know that I need some measure of accountability to help me stay on task. Thus, my bookroll was born. Here's to tearing that bad boy UP come December.
I'm also trying to limit the amount of guilty-pleasure reading I do - less Soaps in Depth, fewer sensationalist blog posts that were clearly written to drive traffic or stir controversy. Half these sites aren't any different from the grocery store mags that recycle headlines every 18 months. This is much harder to do, because junk reading requires such little effort, but I'm trying to remind myself these things don't bring me happiness in the long run. I'm ready for something new.
In case you haven't noticed, I've been trying to return to a regular posting schedule - as in, posting at all, period. This is mainly because I've always enjoyed working through my thoughts and feelings online, and I've missed being an active member of this community. I won't lie, though; I'm also still trying to figure out if this space can pave the way for other freelancing opportunities. Whether it can or not remains to be seen, but even if it doesn't, I'm having a great time, and that's all that matters in the end.
After almost a year-long hiatus, Luke and I are back in the habit of attending church, and we are both so happy about it. When Kara was a baby, we were going to an Episcopal church we liked a whole lot, but then we bought our house and moved to a new part of town where the Anglican congregation was wonderfully kind and generous but essentially in preacher limbo, having gone without a full-time pastor for almost two years, and it showed. When a pastor did finally sign on, despite her being a lovely person, Luke and I weren't as happy with the sermons or the way Sunday worship was organized, so we decided to explore other options. Since Kara and Nathan were already attending preschool programs at the local Methodist church, which is known for being super active in our community, we went to a service late last fall and have kept going ever since.
This is the first time in my adult life I'm continually excited and inspired by going to church. As someone who grew up in a conservative Catholic family with extended relatives who weren't exactly tolerarant of other faiths, even Christian ones, it's been an eye-opening process to evolve from Guilt-Ridden Catholic to Nervous Catholic Light to Full-Blown Protestant. The nice thing is that all three traditions? PRAY TO THE SAME JESUS. It's true! Plus, I can let the most fulfilling parts of each experience inform my overall relationship with God and faith. I never could have predicted the spiritual journey in store for me back when I first started debating my religion, but I couldn't be more thankful for where it's led me and my family.
I constantly tell people it's a good thing tLuke is the at-home parent in our marriage because my level of patience fluctuates wildly when it comes to the kids. I'm making an active effort to find other ways to handle these situations, because when I do, the results are worth their weight in gold. I just need to do it more.
Actually, these are the only ones I'm NOT doing yet, but I want to be. I'm sold on the why when it comes to both; it's the how that holds me back. How can I go to bed when there are pages to read / journals to update / blog posts to write? On the flip side, how can I get up to Shred when I was up until two o'clock reading, journaling, and blogging? You see where this is going. In the end, I need to accept that I can't do eight things in a day, pick the two or three that need the most attention in that moment, and hop to it.
I am trying so hard to focus on improving the "little" parts of my day, because really, isn't that the bulk of our lives? It's not often we're keeled over by outlandish moments of grandeur; I need to enjoy each day for what it is and explore happiness in my current set of conditions, instead of hitting the pause button until all obstacles have been overcome. I've made significant progress in this area in the last year and a half, but I can always do better.
How are you doing on your 2012 goals and resolutions? What are you doing to keep happiness at the forefront of your life? I would love to hear from you.