walking my “why”

The truth is I lied in my last post. My trouble with blogging isn’t work. It’s time management.

Sure, sure — we all have this problem. Who ever does everything they’re supposed to exactly when they’re supposed to do it? Almost no one. That’s human nature — and life. But this flaw has perhaps been exaggerated in my case since moving to Knoxville. I work from home for a company on the west coast. I have class in the middle of the day. I’ve always been a night owl . . .

You see where I’m going with this.

It’s a fine thing to have flexibility and down time, but there comes a point where structure is good, too. Kids need routines and schedules, and so do adults. I like needing to be places and feeling productive. I like feeling like I’m a part of something in a meaningful way.

I’ve talked a lot about happiness on my blog — what it is compared to what we think it is. I’m come to see that happiness is multi-faceted. It’s not enough just to be thankful for what you have. Happiness is not about possessions or wealth. Happiness is much more than that, and part of it is “walking your why” and feeling like you’re a part of something bigger than yourself.

Take, for example, the families who have been displaced in places like Syria or Rohingya. Many of these people have nothing except the clothes on their backs. Surely these people are suffering, but something that keeps them going — something that keeps all of us going — is the idea that a better future is within their grasp, that somehow they can create a better life for their children.

But why do I bring up refugees? Why not talk about the Yale graduate who left a prestigious law firm to help save women from human trafficking? Or the CEO who left the big business to start a program to help the homeless? Or myself who moved across country to start school to become a teacher? Those are the kinds of stories you were expecting, right?

Why? Because happiness isn’t limited to “first world” nations, folks. Take a look at that smiling Syrian baby above. Is he not the cutest thing you’ve ever seen? Indeed, some of the happiest people I’ve ever met were in countries like Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos. Imagine how much simpler your own life would be if you didn’t have all of those “things” to worry about and bills to pay? How much easier would it be to live in the moment? We underestimate the toll some of our privileges take on our overall well-being.

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In her talk on emotional agility, which I mentioned previously, psychologist Susan David talks about the importance of living our lives according to our values when it comes to our happiness. And I feel like that’s what’s really missing here. I say I want to get to bed earlier. But do I? I wake up much more satisfied with myself the next morning when I do! We say we want to help others. But do we? We’re much happier when we volunteer at that food kitchen, or reach out to that silent coworker, or take a leap of faith and make that career change — in other words, when we listen to our gut and think outside of ourselves — yes, when we follow through!

My challenge to myself this Easter weekend is to challenge my habits and actions that are not in line with my true values. I desperately want to be a better person and to “walk my why” on a daily basis. Don’t you?

Just food for thought on this beautiful Easter weekend. And . . . Speaking of “whys” . . . Now that I’ve got this blog post done ;) . . . I’ve got a five-page paper to write, so I guess I’d better get going on that, too!

what is happiness?

I don’t know how others do it. I mean . . .  We’re all different, I get that. But some people can churn out blog post after blog post no matter what else is going on in their life. I’m not like that never have been. When I’m “down,” I shut down. I can’t write about something I’m not focused on.

This would be true even if I had a blog about cooking. Or knitting. Or cycling. I mean, who cares about power meters or crème brûlée when your personal life is falling apart?

In a recent TED Talk, psychologist Susan David of Harvard Medical School says society has trained us to either judge ourselves for having so-called ‘bad emotions’ things like sadness, anger, or grief or to actively try to push these feelings away. “Normal, natural emotions are now seen as ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ and being positive has become a new form of ‘moral correctness’ . . . People with cancer are told to ‘just stay positive.’ Women, to ‘stop being angry’ . . . But when we push aside normal emotions to embrace false positivity, we lose our capacity to develop skills to deal with the world as it is, not as we wish it to be.

A friend of David’s who recently died of cancer put the problem poignantly this way before she passed: “What it starts to do is implicate me in my own death, like somehow I’m culpable for not thinking my way out of ill health.”

 

. . . Well, okay. But you’re not dying of cancer, Jess. (Sheesh, Jess. Get a grip!) And outlook is everything, right? Like I stated in my last post, how you see yourself and what you put out into the universe is what you get back, right? There is always something to be thankful for.

Well, yes. And yes, and yes, and yes. But can you do all of these things and still remain true to yourself? Is it possible that sometimes your best self is the one that’s sad because something didn’t turn out the way you’d hoped? The one that’s disappointed because you didn’t get the position you applied for? The one that’s grieving because your relationship ended? Life isn’t all cupcakes and roses.

I suppose I’m often silent because I feel I have to choose between writing something positive and not writing at all, and because the last thing I want is to either a) appear to be looking for sympathy (we’re all going through something), or b) to hear, “Cheer up!” or “Hope things look up for you soon,” or “Tomorrow is another day!” Because folks, no. The only thing that’s guaranteed is now, and like it or not, happiness is not a goal. Happiness is a byproduct of living according to our values and striving to be our personal best through the good and the bad. Happiness is showing up and working through life’s problems authentically, recognizing that life is rarely if ever ideal but that there is beauty in its fragility.

Ironically, then, happiness doesn’t always mean being happy, just as courage doesn’t mean being without fear. I liked the way David described courage in her talk. She said, “Courage is fear walking.” I would even take it a step farther and say that happiness is courage. Incidentally, then, it is also within our control.

I don’t know about you, but at the end of my life I want to be able to look back and know I did the best I could to leave the planet a better place. Lately I’ve worried about whether or not I’m achieving that goal, but in this world of false positivity, David’s words give me hope. “Tough emotions are part of our contract with life. You don’t get to have a meaningful career or raise a family or leave the world a better place without stress and discomfort. Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.”

With courage, I will find the light at the end of my tunnel. Happiness is my authenticity and the torch I’ll take with me to show the way.

The above is a preview of David’s TED Talk. The full TED Talk, which is less than 17 minutes, can be found here. She also has an interesting free Emotional Agility quiz, which you can access here. It takes less than five minutes to complete and aims to help readers make everyday choices and live their lives with more intention and insight.

the “in between”

Lights, camera, action. The theater darkens; actors appear on screen. And then, reality sweeps away. For the next few hours, we become a part of the film. We are encapsulated in the artwork of storytelling.

In those moments, we are the heroes; we are the everyday Joes; we are the young professionals trying to find our way. There’s a reason we choose the films that we do. In some form or fashion, we connect with them.

And later, when they’re all over, we long for them not to be done. We sit in the darkness, waiting—holding our breath—reliving vicariously the scenes we’ve just seen. I’ve never felt prettier than I have walking out of a movie theater . . .

That is until I get to the car and see that big zit on my nose. Ugh!

ladybI went to my first movie since moving to Knoxville last night. Ironically (or, not surprisingly?), I picked a movie about a girl who grew up in my hometown. She’s a high school senior who dreams of experiencing life outside her city. She hasn’t traveled much yet, but she wants to.

Throughout the film, I saw a few parallels to my own life. “Lady Bird” graduated in 2003 and went to a school in New York; I graduated in 2002 and went to a school in Tennessee. She and her mother both had strong personalities; I and my own mom are quite similar.

But what stood out to me most was a theme we often overlook in life: waiting. In the film, Lady Bird was eagerly anticipating the next phase of her life. She couldn’t wait for college; she couldn’t wait for the school year to be over.  But what the story was really about was what she was doing now. Often the “in-between-changes” parts of our lives are just as important as “what comes next.” I myself often worry about the future, but the movie reminded me that today—and every day—is an important opportunity to work on myself.

Shortly before seeing “Lady Bird,” I watched a video on facebook that talked about happiness. The video claimed that we often look outwards to find happiness and life’s purpose when it should be the other way around: “You are what you love, not what loves you.” This concept came to mind on my drive home last night, and I couldn’t shake it as I contemplated this newly-highlighted idea of waiting. Although I didn’t agree fully with the video’s message (my qualms are written below), I thought the narrator made some really good points. Please check it out (and read my comments, too)!

The narrator’s thoughts / My thoughts:

We’ve been conditioned to move to a place of “what loves us,” and almost every decision we make now is based on what other people think about us.
It depends on the person.
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If you’re under the impression that things outside of you complete you, you will always be a victim because everything has to change to make you happy . . . You’re moving from “out to in.”
True.
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When you were a kid, you weren’t working on managing customers or fake lists, etc., you were working on you. And that same mentality exists in people who are the greatest at what they do. They weren’t looking at their lists and how many people they got; they were working on themselves and excelling at that.
The narrator’s parallel to childhood is a bit simplistic. Kids play to learn skills they will need as adults. That’s part of life. At surface level, though, his analogy makes sense.
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There’s a level of effortlessness that shows up when you enjoy the process of working on yourself. That’s the goal of life, and when you do that, the results will show up when they’re supposed to.
The goal of life is more than just working on ourselves. I feel the goal is to look at what we can do to help others. In so doing, we become the best possible versions of ourselves. That said, I really like the idea of worrying less about what others think and knowing that things will happen when they’re supposed to.

poetry

canoe2

Poetry’s in the journey . . .

Poetry I cannot force,
it comes and then it goes.
Like a river at its source,
it ebbs and then it flows.

Words, you see, are only that,
and rhyme and rhythm, too.
Poetry’s not pit-a-pat,
but here in me and you.

–in the sun and in the rain,
the things that quiet tears;
in the love and in the pain–
experience of years.

Then the poet, what is she?
She’s nothing like a muse.
Rather, she’s a puppet, see,
and words her only use.

So poetry, my fickle friend,
I wonder what’s in store?
Will you stay until the end,
or show me to the door?
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For an audio recording of this poem, click here:

“Poetry is what happens when nothing else can.”
Charles Bukowski

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Note: The first stanza of this poem came to me in a moment of frustration when I was trying very, very hard to write another poem on a very different subject–and getting nowhere. Since that time, it has taken me FOREVER to finish this. Fickle is right!

Image: Pinterest

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success, or something like it

I used to feel guilty for being who I am.

motherteresahelpingI am a U.S. citizen. I was born to two loving parents who worked hard to provide for their children. I have never had to worry about food or shelter. I have never been abused, raped, or neglected. I have a college education and have been privileged to travel to many different parts of the world.

Why?

Why me? Why did I laugh as a child while other children cried? Continue reading

making the holidays bright

It’s that time of year again. Time to deck the halls, sing Fa-la-la-la-la, and rush to the stores for those oh-so-amazing deals on Black Friday.

I don’t go shopping on Black Friday, but, if I did, it would remind me of shopping in Hong Kong. Hong Kong malls are crashing-into-strangers crowded all the time. In fact, almost everywhere in Hong Kong is crowded all the time. When I moved home, and the streets emptied out by 9 p.m., I felt like I was living in a ghost town. Where were all the people?

I still feel that way.

People talk about reverse culture shock. It’s real, they say. But, unless you’ve experienced it, no one really believes it. This is your home! they think. How can ‘home’ be something you have to get used to?

Trust me, it can.

This is especially true if, since you’ve been gone, everything at home has changed. I don’t usually talk about personal things on this blog, but, two months after I arrived in Taiwan, I found out my parents were getting divorced. Over the course of the next few months, everything I’d ever known was turned upside down. My parents sold the house I grew up in, my stuff was boxed up and placed in my dad’s small apartment, and our family dynamics were changed for forever. Nothing would ever be the same.

For an idealist raised on the idea that divorce is (almost) never okay, this was a tough pill to swallow. I recognized many of the reasons behind the divorce, but I still fought back tears every time I thought about my family. And now, with new people coming into my parents’ lives, there’s a whole new prospect of becoming a stepdaughter and stepsister. It’s enough to inspire an identity crisis.

But, oh yes, I got off track. It’s “that time of year” again, and suddenly I can relate to articles about holiday depression I wrote for work a few years ago. Here in the States, we build up Thanksgiving and Christmas to be such a joyous time of year. But what if your holidays don’t live up to their name?

Sometimes the holidays are something to survive, not enjoy. But, no matter what, they are always a time to be looking outside of yourself. I may be having a rough holiday season, but who isn’t? Maybe money is tight for you this year. Maybe Grandpa just died. Whatever it is that is holding you down, I’d encourage you to look for ways to make the holiday season bright by doing something for someone else. Maybe it’s a shoebox filled with toys or a donation to the Salvation Army. Maybe it’s a letter to Grandma or a surprise dinner for Dad. Whatever it is, if it is heartfelt and has nothing to do with you, I guarantee it will leave with more joy than any gift Santa is going to bring you this year.

This is my challenge to myself, too. ;)

(For another post about happiness, click here.)

Image credit: coconnections.wonecks.net.

the way to happy

What I really want is to go back to bed. To crawl back under the covers and hide there. Or else wake up and find it’s no longer humid and that there aren’t gnats all over my floor. And that that bright red spot on my face has faded away.

That’s what I want.

But life isn’t about getting what you want. Some people think it’s about what makes you happy, but I’m not sure it’s about that, either. Sure, it’s good to be happy, but at what cost? The long, warm shower I took this morning might well have emptied the reservoirs of malnourished children living in Africa. Maybe it would have been better to have just splashed my face with water and run out the door?

And what is happiness? Is happiness living in comfort and having everything you need? Or is it helping others get what they need? Is it getting or giving? Is it from within, or from without?

Honestly, I think it’s both. The best Christmas present I ever received was the feeling I got from giving gifts away. This life can’t be all about me, or all about happiness. This life is about so much more: it’s about loving others, and learning to love yourself.