Smelling the flowers

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I’m gloriously happy at the moment, happier than I can remember being for a long time. My cynical alter ego is squinting up at the sky waiting for it to start falling but the rest of me is enjoying lying back and smelling the flowers. In some ways it’s not a big surprise:

  • I qualified with honours in my dream career and, perhaps more importantly, got my evenings and weekends back;
  • I celebrated my first wedding anniversary with the love of my life HWSNBN;
  • I’ve recently returned from an awesome honeymoon trip to Cuba – full blog, when I can be arsed soon;
  • I’m working on a new novel;
  • Plus there are a couple of exciting and TOP SEKRIT projects on the horizon.

Any one of these events would be enough to account for my happiness. What makes this different and blog worthy is that a couple of my closest friends are struggling through some very difficult times and I am so desperately sad for them. But although that sadness is present and I am mourning for them I also feel a surge of deep joy for myself and neither feeling lessens the other.

I can see some of my well-adjusted readers shrugging as they read this: ‘doesn’t everybody emotionally multitask?’

But this is very new for me. Two years ago I would not even have been able to register the thought of being happy when people so close to me weren’t. Like a human sponge, I had so little boundaries I found it difficult to separate my feelings from the people I loved. Can you say enmeshed, fucked-up and unsustainable? Last year I would have been able to acknowledge my happiness but only momentarily before the guilt would set in. How could I be happy when others were suffering?

It has taken two years of counselling but I have finally learnt the difference between feeling empathy and responsibility. I can finally let go of feeling like I don’t ‘deserve’ to be happy because people around me are struggle. It is one of the horrible secrets of life that if you look hard enough, somebody around you will always be struggling. It seems like such a minor change but for me it has been fundamental. If I lived by my old rules, it was never OK for me to be happy.  So I am able to not only recognise but revel in how amazingly lucky and blessed I am at the moment. And I am fully conscious that this too shall pass and it will be my ‘turn’ soon enough. But until it does I am going to enjoy every moment. As my bestie Kurt says:

“I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point “If this isn’t nice I don’t know what is.”
– Kurt Vonnegut

And in case that quote gives you the mistaken impression that I am cultured innit. Look, cat fonts!

The-Heat-Cat-Font

What’s your happiness mantra?

Happiness is a form of courage

Via Print pattern

I’m fascinated by happiness. If I can define what makes me happy and unhappy and start doing more of the former and less of the latter, my life will be perfect. Right? I jest, but if our emotions are the prism through which we perceive the world then it makes sense that I try and do everything I can to make mine rose tinted.

I’ve blogged before about the specific things I try to do to increase my happiness: reorganising my wardrobe, scheduling some fun and drafting a life list. However today, I want to talk in more general terms about creating a happiness mantra inspired by this post on creating personal happiness commandments. For me the word commandments implies something strict and punitive, so I prefer happiness mantra. As I learned in yoga camp (no joke), a mantra is a word or group of words capable of inspiring a transformation.

My personal happiness mantras really sum up the principles by which I try (and fail) to live my life. Like lyrics or often quotes they get stuck in my head and like running my fingers over rosary beads repeating them in times of crisis gives me solace. So here are my personal happiness mantras:

Be Rowan

Via Advice to Sink in Slowly

To be me means knowing who I am and what I like and dislike.  I like reading young adult fiction not Russian literature. I am remarkedly ignorant on world affairs but I know everything about Sweet Valley High. I am have the hand and motor coordination of a slug but am agile at writing words. Sometimes I really want to change these things, write a great work of literature, become a crafting genuis, dance like without falling over my own feet but this is just the way I am.

It becomes harder when we move out of the realm of the practical into the emotional. Can I accept my anger, my perfectionism, my addiction to cheap cornershop sweets? (‘Aaah sugar, my old nemesiseseseses’. I’m on week two of no sugar and it’s sloooowly getting easier) Acceptating myself as I am: a flawed work in progress is terrifyingly hard. But do any of us really have a choice? Sing it Oscar…

Via Emily Mcdowell

Let be

I am limpet-like in my ability to cling to memories and concepts long beyond normal people would have relaxed their grip and let the waves take them. This is simultaneously a virtue and a curse. I perservere, I am a natural born tryer, but sometimes I need to give in otherwise I’ll break. This mantra has been stuck in my head for over ten years when midday through an English class in college I heard Hamlet’s last soliloquy. Yep, it’s quote time:

‘Not a whit, we defy augury. There is special providence in
the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it be not to
come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come—the
readiness is all. Since no man, of aught he leaves, knows what is’t
to leave betimes, let be.’

Hamlet, Shakespeare Act IV II

To paraphrase the Dane, we do not know and never can what shapes our fate so why worry. Sometimes we just have to let be. Oh but it is hard.

This too shall pass

I find this tragic and comforting all at the same time. When I linger in the depths of a black mood I tell myself ‘This too shall pass’ and eventually it always does. Consequently even when I am so happy my body cannot contain it I think ‘This too shall pass’ and that knowledge of the finiteness of the moment gives it bittersweet tinge that makes me appreciate it even more.

Enjoy the process

I love lists and goals and destinations. Which is why I have to constantly remind myself to enjoy the journey. To be present in the moment. To slow down and smell the flowers. Or the poo 🙂

Be kind for everybody you meet is fighting a great battle

I am not always kind. I can be sharp. I can be impatient. But I try and remember that I can never know the contents of another person’s heart. That person who’s just cut me up may have a sick child. Or they may be an arsehole. All I know is the smallest acts of kindness have made a major difference in my life.

First things first

Via designspiration.net

Or as take you shoes off before your tights, you eejit! Sometimes known as lessons I learnt from being hangry (not a typo hangry= anger caused from hunger, an affliction I suffer from mightily). If I don’t eat I turn into RowanHULK: ‘COMPUTER NO WORK, SMASH STUPID COMPUTER. COMPUTER DEADED. SAD NOW.’ So to mollify my inner Hulk I eat regularly, I make sure I get enough sleep. First things first means eat before an exam. Go to bed on time the night before a big meeting. By taking care of the little details such a sleep, food and drink I’m much better prepared to deal with whatever life throws at me.

And with that in mind, it’s time for an afternoon snack 🙂

Scheduling some fun: curry night, date night and me

Cake = joy

Over the last year, I’ve worked really hard to try to be happier. At the best of times, it’s easy to feel out of control of your own life. To place your locus of control, (the extent to which you believe your direct your destiny) externally; viewing yourself as a puppet of cruel fates. Or to blame other people for the emotions they incite within you.

Yes, sometimes life sucks. Tragedy falls out of the sky and there is nothing you can do to evade it. However, what we can control is how we react, how we process events and how we recover. From examining my life I know that focussing on simple things – like getting enough sleep, eating well and exercising, and spending time with those I love (for me the single most influential contribution towards my mood) – makes a big difference to my overall resilience. But what larger changes could I take to make my life happier?

Scheduling some fun

As part of my ongoing happiness project, I’ve been thinking this week about scheduling some fun.

The idea of scheduling fun seems paradoxical. By definition fun is a spontaneous pleasure, why do you need to build in time to have some fun?

So much of our lives are already scheduled.  I work 9-5. I have to sleep eight hours a night otherwise I become the grouch muppet from hell. I need to make time to see my family, He Who Shall Not Be Named (HWSNBN), friends and me time. With all these commitments, if I don’t schedule something it will not happen.

An example of how scheduling fun works in my life is my love of writing. I find it enriching to spend my time making up imaginary world’s populated by characters with whom I get to torture (all writers are sadists, I’m looking at you George R R Martin). But if I don’t commit to that from 19.00 every evening I will sit at my computer until I have written 1,000 words, no matter what (if I have a headache/it’s sunny outside/or all I really want to do is watch Jersey Shore, damn you Snooki and your addictive antics!) a month can lapse without me writing a word. Us fancy writer types like to call this the Butt in the Chair method.

There is another example of schedule some fun in action. Dearest reader, let me induct you into the archaic rituals of Curry Night.

Curry night

Yeah it is!

I was not there at the beginning but the principal of Curry Night has remained broadly the same. Every Thursday a group of friends meet at each others houses to celebrate the (almost) end to the week with a takeaway and copious cans of beer.

When I started dating HWSNBN I became initiated into the ranks of the Curry Night faithful. The first Curry Night I attended: there were cocktails, chinese food, party games and more girls than boys. What fun, thought I! It wasn’t until I attended the next Curry Night that I realised I had been tricked. There was only curry (my least favourite food), beer (bleurgh), no party games instead an episode of a strange TV show called Space Ghost (which was sort of amusing (until we watched it again, and again, and again…), I was the only girl and I knew nothing about Windows operating systems.

Despite this less than auspicious start, for the last seven years I’ve become a semi regular attendee of Curry Night. Ruling out brainwashing, (maybe the enervating discussions of Windows operating systems had a sinister undertone?) there can only be one answer. Curry Night is the brilliant example of scheduling some fun in action.  It’s changed slightly over the years. There’s less Space Ghost and more talk of the Budget. In honour of the Dude sometimes beer is replaced with white Russians. Cheapskates like myself eat beforehand or bring their own grub while the faithful stick to their weekly diet of madras. Cats, dogs, and babies have entered the equation. Sometimes Curry Night is so packed people eat on the floor, sometimes it’s just a couple of hardcore members. But at its core Curry Night hasn’t changed from its abiding principle: a weekly commitment to meet up with friends.

Date night: the return

When HWSNBN and I started dating, he was studying at University in Brighton and I was working back near my parents home in Surrey. Even though we saw each other every weekend, in the first flush of love that wasn’t enough. So every Wednesday we would take the hour and half journey to visit each other. I’d take the train down, or he would drive up. Our Wednesday date night became the highlight of my week.

We didn’t do anything elaborate (he was a student and I had a crippling book addiction so we were always strapped for cash :)). But I really valued the time we spent together doing silly little things like cooking for each other, going for walks or watching crappy films. After we moved in together two years later we still kept our date night tradition, moving it to Tuesday nights.

However, in recent months date night has begun to lapse. I injured my foot and our date night default activity, walking on the downs and the beach (free, outdoorsy and good for you) was off the menu. Although me and HWSNBN saw each other every day, and drove to and from work together something was missing. We didn’t have each others attention, there was no (ugh, how I hate this word) quality time.

Then we started the weekly pilgrimages to Pevensey to visit the one ring of power. After our visits to the jewellers, and to avoid the rush hour traffic, we’ve do something else afterwards. Whether it was skim stones on the beach, or guard our chips from the feral seagulls, or clambering all over the ruins of Pevensey castle,  it was great to spend time together.

So, we’re bringing back date night.

Coordinating diaries

I’ve also been thinking about how to extend the schedule some fun resolution into other areas of my life. I see my Mum regularly. It’s partly because HWSNBN parent’s and my parent’s handily live in the same town now. But I think it’s mainly because before we say goodbye my Mum always asks when am I going to see her next. Before I leave we always put at least one date, sometimes many dates in the diary. Even with my abysmal habit of double-booking people, (sorry mum), having a date in the diary means that I get to see my family regularly. I have the best friends in the world. But as time goes on and people get busier sometimes months can sometimes pass before I see really good friends who live in the same city as me.  So what I’m going to try to do when I meet up with people, is coordinate diaries and schedule a date for next time. Because, for me, spending time with the people I love, better than any book – and I do not say that lightly!

So any tips about how you schedule some fun, or do you prefer to be more spontaneous?