Monday, February 21, 2011

Happiness Project: Mindfulness and the Little Things

One thing that Gretchen Rubin emphasizes in The Happiness Project is to be mindful of the things you do in life. She talks about how time just whizzes by. I often feel like this. Sometimes I feel like I haven’t had a weekend because I’m so busy doing errands and meeting people and constantly running and checking items off of my to-do list. Some of it needs to be done, while others I want to do. But it can’t all be done all of the time, and I often get burnt out. I wish I could do it all, but it’s just not possible and sometimes we have to make hard choices about what to say yes to and what to say no to. I have started putting this idea into practice (saying no once a week is one of my commandments—a full list will be discussed in a future post). Now, rather than moving things around in my own schedule to accommodate others (as I tend to do), I simply say no to something I can’t (or don’t want) to fit in. It’s hard for me to do, but it’s necessary for my own sanity. It gives me a little more time for my own reflection and relaxation. That’s always a good thing.

Another idea discussed in the book is to enjoy the now. I often find myself looking forward to something in the future, rather than focusing on what’s right in front of me. Anticipation is a good thing, but not if you’re constantly engaging in it. If you’re not focused on what is right in front of you, you just may miss something good and not even realize it. How many times have you driven to work without knowing how you got there? Sadly, I’ve done this more times than I would like to admit. So now I’m trying to experience every little thing to the best that I can. One example is from the other day. It’s been a cold and snowy winter here—one storm after another. But one sunny day, as I walked into work, I reminded myself that it was a beautiful winter morning (cold though it may be) and that I should be happy it wasn’t snowing again, I should just enjoy the sunshine right at that moment. I looked up at the sky, told myself this is a lovely winter morning, so enjoy the next few breaths. And I did. And I’ve thought about that moment so often since then. Such a simple thing that brought even the littlest joy to my day.

Rubin talks about the little things in life that make her happy. Regarding small purchases for her office, she says, “I bought some pens. Normally, I used makeshift pens, the kind of unsatisfactory implements that somehow materialized in my bag or in a drawer. But one day, when I was standing in line to buy envelopes, I caught sight of a box of my favorite kind of pen… It’s such a joy to write with a good pen instead of making do with an underinked pharmaceutical promotional pen picked up from a doctor’s office. My new pens weren’t cheap, but when I think of all the time I spend using pens and how much I appreciate a good pen, I realize it was money well spent. Finely made tools help make work a pleasure.” I think most of us can identify with the buying of pens as a simple pleasure. All of us here have our favorites, and it seems that no matter what the cost, we’re willing to purchase them. How could you not when using it to write in your favorite planner? But it’s not really about the pens but the joy the pens bring us. (And don’t even get me started on the amount of joy a planner can bring.)

Rubin gives another example of a small joy. “One day when we were out doing errands, I overheard [my husband] say to [our daughter], ‘When we get to the Container Store, you’re going to see something very interesting. Mommy is going to buy something for $5 that’s going to make her extremely happy. Very little things can make a person happy, it doesn’t matter how expensive something is.’ The item in question? A sponge holder that fastens to the side of the sink with suction cups… And Jamie was right, I was made extremely happy by that purchase.” I, too, love the Container Store, so I have to say that know where Rubin is coming from here. But, from the Container Store or not, some little thing can make me so happy. And it doesn’t even have to cost anything.

Our local grocery store has a mobile scanner so that you can scan your own items as you take them off the shelf and put them in your cart. My husband and I love this feature. One day, right before Christmas, it was super busy in the store. As we came up to the scanner kiosk, I noticed that they were all gone—all except for one. I was so happy that we got the last one, I did a little dance right there in the store and then texted my sister to share my joy. It was such a small (and ridiculous) thing, but it really is the little things that can make us the happiest, for whatever reason, and because of that, we need to focus more on those little things. One of my commandments is to notice more of the little things and to fully enjoy them when I come across them. It can be anything really, so long as I experience the joy they bring to me. And I hope to find at least one a day.

As for my to-do list: I can’t stop using them completely. One of the little things in life that brings me joy is any kind of list. My to-do list not only makes me happy, but it also makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something when I cross items off of that list. And that only adds to my happiness.

I recently read a book called This Is Not the Life I Ordered. It’s a book geared towards women and how they can make their lives happier. I don’t generally read “for women” books but this one had a lot of good quotes in it (also a future post), as well as some good tips. One of the things discussed is that never-ending to-do list. “We need to rid our to-do lists of things that don’t matter, don’t create value, don’t make a difference. We need to restructure our lives and take more time to do things that bring us joy. [We] need to carve out time for the activities that will create meaningful lives and discard the things that won’t.” I don’t believe that I can rid myself of all mundane tasks; after all, those things still need to be done. But maybe I don’t have to do so many of those tasks, especially in any given day. I need time to play and relax too (another commandment). And even if I have to schedule it in my planner in the beginning, I am determined to do more of that.

Just maybe, with a little more play time and a little less “do” time, my time will be mine again and things will slow down just the tiniest bit. And with a little more time, maybe I can be more mindful of those little things that bring me joy.

5 comments:

  1. Oh Kanalt another wonderful post. I am trying to do exactly what you said about appreciating the now. Sometimes in my head I can already exist 3 or more years in the future. It is important to know where you are going ahead but there are so many things in my 'present' that are wonderful! I should appreciate more.
    Today although I was busy at work I took the time to go out to lunch with 2 colleagues (I am not often in the primary care trust as more academic now). We had so much fun talking and chatting and helping one with her interview to get into the public health residency so she could join us. We enjoyed some fresh air. Overall it was brilliant and I was in a good mood for the rest of the day!
    I look forward to your book review. Hope you had a nice day.

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  2. Thanks CP. I'm glad you enjoyed your day, and especially your lunch! =)

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  3. I second CP- another great post. I agree with enjoying the little moments, especially when life can be so agenda focused.

    My favorite recent moment was a few days ago when my bf and I bought brand new bedding for our master bedroom. There are few things more joyous than curling up in fresh sheets and a new comforter. Except maybe new socks :)

    Here's to enjoying life's smallest pleasures!

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  4. Mindfulness is a great practice, and is the bedrock on which the Buddhist philosophy is founded and based on. The whole basis for meditation is mindfulness of each breath, and by mastering that, you soon are able to be mindful of other things which you were unaware of, but were there all the time. The key to being mindful is to s l o w y o u r m i n d d o w n . Only then will you truly appreciate all life has to offer.

    Another great post!

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  5. Thanks to both of you.

    J - new bedding is always a treat. Sometimes, my favorite part of the weekend is fresh sheets on the bed. (Is that sad?)

    Crofter - this is exactly what I'm trying to do, slow my mind down. Yoga helps me to get there, but I still have a long way to go. It's an ongoing process, at least for me.

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