My Happiness List

My Happiness List

As I mentioned last time, the process of thinking about and writing down a list of things that makes me happy and keeping the list where I can read it regularly has been quite enlightening. I know I said it before, but who knew that thinking about what makes you happy would actually make you happier? It’s a sweet trick. I try to read my list every day, really taking a second to remember what each one means to me (it only takes a minute and it’s well worth it). Going through them gives me a little rush of joy every time.

Since the list I shared with you last week is just the summary I use to trigger my thoughts for each point, I felt inclined to share the full idea behind each one. It’s more of a note-to-self summary than a description, per se, but if you’re in the process of making a list for yourself maybe it’ll give you more ideas. I read quite a few lists from other people while making mine and it helped guide some of my own points.

In writing this all down, I particularly liked how they tend to cross-pollinate. For example, paying close attention to people helps me nurture my relationships, while being Noelle helps me have more fun. Ditching my ego makes it easier to not keep score, and being active helps me look my best. It’s lovely to see them build on each other like that.

So without further ado, here is my expanded happiness list! Continue reading

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What I Learned in February

Well, it wasn’t as successful as last month – by a long shot. I had a few lovely days off to hang out with visitors (reading under palm trees, gorging on delicious food, and wearing myself out with pool games) followed by a week of not as much fun when the builders came and tore out two of our bathrooms. I was locked in the living room with a meowing cat for five days, one of which was my birthday. Not terribly fun and definitely not very productive.

That being said, I did manage to get some stuff done in February and learned a few things along the way.

Keep a Happiness List and Read it Often

While I didn’t completely finish the Bliss Station I mentioned last month, I did make progress. One thing that was great to work on was my happiness list (based on Gretchen Rubin’s happiness commandments from her wonderful book The Happiness Project – how many times can you fit the word happiness into one sentence?). I wrote the majority of this list a few months ago, but I wanted to review it and hang it somewhere I could read it every day. I’ll put up another post with what each of these mean to me and why I chose it, but as that is too long for here I’ll give you the shortened version. Continue reading

Fade to Grey

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I am an only child, but I have siblings. I am a strong, capable, independent woman, but I am currently fully dependent on my male partner. I have a group of friends and family who I love so deeply I still see them around every corner, nearly seven years after I left them for a new destination. I cried so hard at the airport that day that I lost my breath and ran out of tears. But I still got on the plane. I call Utah home, but London is equally as comforting for different reasons, and although my physical home is currently in Oman, I spend most of my days looking forward to my next home, a place I have never lived and have only been to once.

My life is complicated. Life is complicated.

And yet I have developed a habit of seeing the world in black and white, good and bad, true or false. Fully accepting life’s inherent complexity and uncertainty takes a level of bravery and stamina I haven’t taken the time to thoroughly develop. Sitting calmly amidst paradoxes and dichotomies takes a level of academic confidence I lack. Kneading out the grains of truth from a sticky ball of life takes skill and dexterity, and for whatever reason I have been utterly unwilling to get my hands messy.

Instead, I often twist and turn a complicated reality, contorting it until it fits into a binary mold. Then I operate under those conditions and throw a small fit when this doesn’t lead to that but leads to the other instead. I want to know it all and I want to know that I know it all. Not so that I can boast of my intelligence or capability, but so that I don’t have to experience perplexity or confusion about what will happen in my future or the role my past played in getting me there. I want life to be packaged up neatly with a big fluffy bow and I want it to have a hand-calligraphed card on it saying:

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I want life to be simple. I want it to be easily understood through the stark contrasts of black and white, high and low, yes and no.

But do I, really? Would I truly enjoy living in a world so lacking in nuance and subtlety. Swimming around a fish bowl every day is binary. Swim or stay still. Eat or don’t eat. Live or die. Fine for a fish, perhaps, but it comes up lacking for this complicated human.

I revel in the depth and complexity of the people I love, slowly learning more about them over time, wrapping myself in more and more levels of their love in return. I delight in the scientific discoveries that constantly make our world a more fascinating place to be, all because of its seemingly endless complexity. I even seek out the discordant trill of uncertainty, the vibration that tells me I am at the edge of my comfort zone and things could get much more interesting from here on out.

You see, I do appreciate complexity and uncertainty, so long as they stay where they belong: in the realm of intellectual pursuits and high adventure. They are not regularly invited into the boring, mundane considerations of my day-to-day existence. There I am uninterested in accepting any messiness or confusion.

But if day-to-day life isn’t complicated, I don’t know what is. And I don’t know what “life” consists of except the chain of ordinary days strung between intermittent moments of purposeful adventure. It is in this realm of the absolutely ordinary where I am working to accept that nothing can be broken down into two simple possibilities and that, instead of seeing reality as a stark contrast of black and white, I need to appreciate, and even relish, its beautiful and infinite shades of grey.

Starting Your Day With Intention

My grandma went for a walk nearly every morning until she was 92. She would leave when the sun came up and stroll around the neighbourhood for an hour or so every morning. She’d say hi to passersby and to neighbours working in their gardens. She’d stop to watch the leaves fall or the flowers blow in the breeze. She’d spend a whole hour enjoying the sounds around her, waking up with the world, watching it rub the sleep from it’s eyes. Then she would come home, hang her jacket on the coat rack, make herself a cup of coffee and sit down to read the paper.

I loved this about her. And I respected the fact that, no matter how much she loved me and enjoyed my company, I was not welcome then. That was her time, no questions asked.

When she was finished with her morning routine, she would go about her day in her characteristically sweet and unflappable fashion – working in the garden, making wool, patiently attending to her overly curious granddaughter. That was the case, at least, on the days when she went for walks. On the rare days she couldn’t, we we all felt the difference. She was easily irritated and cranky. Her sweet demeanor remained, but it was tinged with a hint of passive aggression, leading to snarky remarks and mutual frustration.

It wasn’t until recently that I realised the power of these morning routines in her life – the serenity and perspective they provided her – and the emotional consequences she suffered when she couldn’t start her day the way that suited her. I realised it because my own morning routine was completely obliterated by our move last year and it wasn’t until I lost this part of my day that I saw how essential it had been to my emotional well-being.

As my grandmother’s granddaughter, I too find morning walks the best way to start my day. In London, I would walk most mornings in the cemetery behind our house. I loved watching the fog roll in, I loved playing with my dog friends, and I loved watching the seasons change – seeing the old flowers die off and the new ones take their place. It was as nourishing to me as a full English breakfast, if not more so.

Muscat, however, is not a pedestrian friendly city. Sure, we live near a gorgeous park where I could walk in the morning, but to get there I have to cross some busy roads where I will inevitably be honked at by taxis trying to save me from the drudgery of experiencing the world on foot. That’s neither peaceful nor serene. I could go for a morning swim at the nearby beach, but that involves gear and sun cream and extra showers. It’s a lot of work, which offsets the relaxation element of the whole exercise.

Without the option of my ideal morning routine, I found myself growing grumpy and irritable, just like my dear old gram. I felt a profound difference in my ability to handle the day. Everyone annoyed me. Nothing went right. I felt like I was chasing my days instead of navigating my way through them. I rushed around being busy, trying to justify the loss of that time by being hyper “productive.” I lost my perspective and let little things get to me in a big way.

I realised I had to find a way to get that serenity back in my life. I needed to find a way to start my day in a slow, purposeful, nature-filled way because, without it, I was simply not myself.

It took some time develop a non-walking morning routine, but I have finally settled into something that mostly scratches that itch. Every morning now, I get up with the sun and sprinkle food on our windowsill for the wild parrots. Then I write, do some yoga and meditate while I listen to them eat breakfast and bicker over pecking order. I only spend an hour doing these things, but by the end I feel rejuvenated in mind, body and spirit. I begin the day feeling centred and intentional about what I want to do and why. I’m nicer to everyone, myself included.

Building this routine has made all the difference for me. Just like watching autumn leaves fall in the crisp morning breeze was essential to my grandma’s soul, watching parrots eat on my windowsill while I do yoga is essential to mine.

Happy February!

I love February. I might be slightly biased because it is my birthday month, but I think it’s a pretty great one. Sure, there is still snow on the ground (not if you live in Oman, though!), but the really dark days of winter start to evaporate, the sun comes out more and, depending on where you live, you might even start to see some signs of life returning to the garden. I hope that wherever you are, the veil of winter is lifting and you can see warm days ahead!

As one month is officially over, I thought it might be a good time to round up all the things I have done so far this year. I mentioned at the beginning of January that I didn’t make any resolutions for 2016 and, instead, I am working on doing what seems really relevant and valuable to my life at the moment. I’d like to share with you what I was able to accomplish with that approach because I am really pleased with myself and, I’ll admit, even a little bit proud.

Here we go. In January, I:
  • Got new eyeballs – It was scary, it was gross and it was the best thing I have done for myself in years. I can’t believe how instantly different my life was after the big surgery. If you are thinking about doing it, stop thinking and do it. It’s incredible.
  • Read three books – I used my new eyeballs to do some reading. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and two books by Haruki Murakami (Wild Sheep Chase and Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World). I enjoyed them all too, particularly Big Magic, which helped liberate my creativity in a wonderful way.
  •  Travelled – We spent a night camping on a cliff side (spectacular) and a weekend in Dubai (not quite as spectacular, but necessary). We’ve also booked our next holiday (Sri Lanka!) and are soon to book our summer excursion to Indonesia for a diving extravaganza!
  • Wrote – For years I have said I wanted to write one post a week on my blog and every week when I’ve sat down to write I’ve felt burdened and heavy. Without that one-a-week demand hanging over me, that “have to do” pressure of sitting down to write something every week, I have written 9 posts! That is crazy to me! I wasn’t stressed and frustrated. I didn’t feel I needed to do it. I just wrote because I had things I wanted to say. It’s been lovely.
  • Met new friends – Part of the reason I have written so much is because I have thrown myself into the blog community in a truer way than in the past. I’ve found people I love to follow –Happy Fish TarotSabiscut’s Catalog, Two Brown Feet, Violet’s Veg*n e-comics, Travel-Stained – and I love catching up with them online. It’s great to meet real people who have valuable things to add to the online world and to see life through their eyes. It is because of reading about their lives and their experiences that I have been to write so much more than I ever could before. Thanks, guys!
  • Created a Morning Routine That I Love – I started to write about all the things this means to me and how I went about it but it is starting to become a post all of it’s own. It looks like I will be writing about this shortly, but in the meantime, know that this is by far the thing I am most proud of accomplishing this month and the thing that has made the biggest impact on my life, although it is probably the most mundane. Weird how that works, isn’t it?

That’s about it for January!

What about you? How did your January go? What were you able to accomplish that you are proud of? Even the smallest things are fabulous to stop and appreciate. I hope it was a good month for you!

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Have Your Own Agenda

Ira Glass wrote something that stuck out to me. Have your own agenda.

We all want to work for ourselves. That’s the dream. But even when we are working for other people, we can still have our own agenda.

I used to do this all the time. I saw my jobs as tools that I leveraged to get the things I wanted. I got a nearly-free Bachelor’s degree from one, cheap hotels from another and all the chocolate I could eat from yet another. I always took jobs that  gave me more than a paycheck. Even my application decisions were calculated. I didn’t see any other way of doing it. If I was going to give them my time and my energy, I wanted to get things back that added to my life as a whole. Free books. Free public transport. Whatever it was, I always had an agenda. There was always an angle I was working. And why not?

Now that I am not working in a traditional way, however, I find that I am all over the map. I throw out energy hither and thither with no real reason or purpose. I have things I want to achieve, yes, but I seem to latch on to anything that promises a little bit of money in the short term and I no longer weigh big picture factors as heavily.

I haven’t had as much choice in my jobs lately, so much of it has been a matter of survival. I get that. But I realised today that even in the midst of this situation, even when I really need a job just to pay the bills and save up for the future, I still have a choice. I can still find ways to get more than a paycheck out of the jobs I am doing. And if a potential job doesn’t match my agenda, I can say no to it and use my energy more effectively, putting it into things that serve the bigger picture, not just the next paycheck.

Dear Last Tuesday Me

Dear past me,

You’re sitting there right now freaking out about what is to come later today. It’s  a frightening and ookey prospect and your fear totally makes sense. But I am going to talk to you about what it means to be on the other side of that. About how remarkable it is that you have the option for this in your life and what it will mean to you after you go through the gross part. You’re going to be amazed.

So sit back and listen.

A few hours from now, you will get in the car to go to the eye clinic. You will be nervous, anxious, excited and unsure of what to expect. That’s totally normal. When you arrive, there will be forms to fill out, ones that talk about lots of horrible things that can go catastrophically wrong. You’ll take a deep breath and sign them. You’ll have quick eye exams to sit through and a brief visit with your doctor who will answer all your last questions, see that nervous glimmer in your eye and tell you it’ll be okay. You’ll only sort of believe him.

You’ll be whisked to a sterile waiting room – booties placed on your feet, hair nets slid over your locks – and sat in a large, soft recliner in a small glass cubicle. You’ll wonder if they would notice if you stole this chair. It’s a really comfy chair.  Your nearly bare feet will touch the cold tile floor and it will calm you.

The nurse will put drops in your eyes, numb them for the operation, and then wash them in a complicated way that will leave you perplexed but which she clearly does every day a million times. You’ll decide to trust her.  She’ll rinse your eyes with a stream of slightly cool water. You won’t feel the water on your your eyeballs, only on the thin lines of your eyelids and down your face where it flows cool and wet. You’ll look up into the stream of water, right up the middle of it – the drops bubbling over and around each other, the stream sparkling in a steady flow down onto your eye – and think you’ve never seen anything so beautiful.

You’ll be wrong.

Tomorrow you’ll see.

You’ll be escorted into the operating room and situated on a table where the nurse will adjust your head in such small movements that you’ll worry a slight shift will be the ruin of you and your eyeballs. It won’t. Your doctor will walk you through all the steps, letting you know where to look, letting you know what you’ll see, talking through numbers you don’t understand with his assistants all the while.

He’ll do a lot of different things and you’ll feel a little weird about the fact he is touching your eyeballs, touching them a lot, and your eyes don’t seem to care. You’ll start to care about them not caring, start to care immensely, and you’ll worry that you should care and then instantly worry that you shouldn’t care and in the end you’ll decide to breathe deeply and let it be.

It’ll last longer than you expect and be done faster than you expect. Time is weird.

You’ll be accompanied once more to the small glass cubicle with the big soft chair and the nurse will wash your eyes one last time. She’ll give you a pair of ridiculous but kind of awesome new goggles that’ll make your now delicate eyes feel a whole lot safer.

When you walk out of the sterile room, you’ll see Chris and, realising you are safe and it’s all over, all the adrenaline you kept at bay during the surgery will come back in a wave of general ookey-ness. You’ll feel shaky, a little weak and not opposed to the idea of vomiting. It’s okay. You’ll be home soon.

You’ll sit at home for a few hours in a dark room, listening to some podcasts. Chris’ idea. Genius. It’ll take your mind off the surgery. Your eyes won’t hurt, but you’ll be aware of them, all the while trying not to be. When a few hours have passed, you’ll try to test out your new eyes, see if they are fixed, but realise it is too soon to expect any results.

At some point, you’ll turn your head and look down the hall where the only light is coming from and see photos on the wall. They’re photos you see every day, photos you took, photos that look exactly like they always do. You’ll do a double take. They’ll look exactly like they always do….with your glasses on. But you’re in your bed with funky goggles on. You’ll start to feel a weird feeling of excitement mixed with confusion mixed with a little remaining nausea. Why can you see those??

Chris will call you for dinner – fajitas – and you’ll eat by candle light. You’ll start looking around and see that you can actually see things, but you’ll wonder if you are just seeing what you always do and filling in the gaps, making up the details because you know them so well. You’ll tell yourself you are exaggerating, that you can’t possibly notice results when your eyes are still fresh out of surgery.

Then you’ll see the package of tortillas across the table and realise you can read some of it. Chris will put it up to the candle, a low, soft, yellow light and you’ll tease out the white text from the red background, reading it clearly from across the table. You’ll freak out a little both inside and out. How is this possible?? How can that be?

The next day, you’ll wake up and see the world differently.

After a quick trip to your doctor you’ll take the long way home and find yourself by the sea. A new sea. A different sea. A sea full of so much detail you don’t know how to process it. You’ll sit on a rock overlooking the waves and find yourself completely humbled, totally in awe of the change that has just taken place. You will see the bubbles on the waves. You will see the feathers on the birds. You will see the perfect reflection of a sandpiper walking along the surf. And you’ll cry and cry at the thought of it. The beauty of it. The magic of it. How is this possible? How can you not see one day and see so perfectly the next? How can humans be capable of such incredible precision? How can we do something so miraculous?

You will want to thank the person who made this possible, the people who gave you this gift. Thank them from the bottom of your heart, from the most grateful part of your soul. But who are they and how would you do that? Who would you even thank?

You’ll start thinking of all the people who are involved in something like this. You’ll realise that at your clinic alone you met people from Venezuela, Columbia, India, Oman and more – that even your small part of this story links in with so many other places and people. Then you’ll start thinking about the scientists, the doctors, the lawyers (because they’re always somewhere in these things), the tinkerers, the engineers, the manufacturers, the transporters, the testers, the repairmen, all the people who are involved in this one piece of machinery and you’ll feel like a whole town dedicated itself to this pursuit so that you could sit by the sea and appreciate tiny bubbles popping on the sand.

You’ll cry more. And you’ll worry that all the tears will do something horrible to your new eyes (oh the irony!), but you can’t stop crying because the joy is welling up and out of you and it always finds its way out through your eyeballs. Those new eyeballs that can now see it all so clearly.