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’ve recently returned from an awesome honeymoon trip to Cuba – full blog, when I can bearsed 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!
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:
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…
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.
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 🙂
This week I’ve been busy creating a bucket list, a list of 30 life ambitions I want to achieve before I go. If I only had a year left, what would I want to do, see or feel before I leave this earth. It sounds morbid but I’ve found creating my Mighty life list a very joyous process. First there was satisfaction when I realised I could tick some items of my list (night swimming in the pitch black Brighton sea in February, watching the sun rise over Uluru). Secondly it also reminded me of how much my bucket list had changed over the years (and I am sure will change radically in the future).
When I was five I wanted Majesty, the unicorn My Little Pony with every fibre of my being. But that never happened *sad face*. (Strangely enough none of the items on my bucket list are to do with possessions. Spoiler!)
When I was thirteen, I wanted to get sick (nothing serious but something good and contagious) so I never had to go to school ever, ever again. But that never happened, which was kind of a good thing.
When I was 17 I wanted was to get great A level results so I could get the hell out of my tiny hometown and go to Brighton. That happened and living in Brighton was as awesome as I thought it would be. But I’ve found it harder to leave my tiny hometown behind than I expected.
When I was 21 I wanted to go to Australia. That happened and I got to tick off many things from my bucket list. I’ve swam in a waterfall in the middle of the rainforest, I rode an elephant bareback, holding hands HWSNBN and I slept outside in the outback under a carpet of unfamiliar stars so bright they blinded us.
Now I’m in my late (*ahem* almost terminal) twenties I’m started thinking about what makes me happy and what makes me unhappy. Don’t get me wrong, life is really good for me at the moment. But lately I’ve felt like I’m in limbo. I’m not a student but come autumn I will be back at University (for the first time in eight years, eeek). After seven looooong years technically I’m no longer not a girlfriend but I’m not yet a *gulp* wife (don’t even get me started on the word ‘fiance’ . It just sounds weird. I like it not.) And I don’t have long to adjust because next year I’ll be a married (double eeek). In a year and two months I’ll be thirty, with all that entails . If I’m lucky in the not too distant future, I’ll graduate, possibly change career, buy a house and eventually have babies (triple eeek).
All good, all exciting but at the moment I feel like I’m stuck in this in between place. I’m somebody who is all about the destination and not the journey. I want to be there, yesterday and anything longer makes me grind my teeth. But there is an opposing voice that is telling me to appreciate what I have because soon everything will change. This push and pull between the future and the present enough to make anybody want to retreat to a fainting lounge with a battered copy of the sweet valley high books. But a more *ahem* adult reaction might be to take stock of what I want out of my life. So I made a list.
Yes, I’m a list-a-holic I need help! But seriously, lists are so helpful for me in boiling things down to the essentials. Inspired by Mighty Girl‘s Mighty Life List where she lists the 100 things she wants to do before she goes, I’ve created a list. Bear in mind this list is a work in progress. I’ve only listed 30 things to start, which I will add to as I come up with new ideas.
What this list isn’t is a list of things I should do (exercise, eat my greens, do my homework). It’s all the things I want to do some big (go to Cuba) some small (learn front crawl). I’ve tried to make this list as joyous as possible and fill it with ideas that make my heart sing. So here it is, forever preserved in the amber of the internets, my bucket list by Rowan aged 28 and three-quarters.
My Mighty Life List or 30 things to do before I go.
In 2004, after less than a year together HWSNBN and I travelled the world together. Our favourite place was Franz Josef in New Zealand, a tiny town on the south island famous for one thing: its glacier. To get to the ice so clear it’s blue it takes almost a whole day of hiking and then you have to turn and come right back down. Unless you’re lazy like we are and take a helicopter to the snow line and climb the glacier from there. Unfortunately when we were in Franz Josef the weather was bad, as in dinosaurs emerging from the fog bad. We spent days in Franz Josef with a friend where we gorged ourself on pizza and chocolate cake, venison rissotto (mine was with mushrooms) while we waited for the fog to clear. We waited and we waited and we waited but we never did climb that damn glacier. But one day I’m going back and I’m going to climb that glacier.
3. Do two lengths back to back in front crawl.
I love to swim, but really I’ve mastered variations on two strokes: breaststroke and backstroke. Which I rock by the way. However my front crawl is horrific and my butterfly stroke, shameful. My dad’s been teaching front crawl which I can do, I just haven’t mastered the breathing thing yet. My aim to swim two lengths of an Olympic sized swimming pool without stopping.
Have you ever seen the Cherry Orchard? If you haven’t it’s about three sisters living a dull provincial existence whose permanent refrain is ‘Next year we will go to Moscow.’ Well Cuba is HWSNBN and my equivalent of Moscow. But not next year but next, next year we will go to Cuba. Fact.
ETA: In June 2013 we went to Cuba on our honeymoon. And it was every bit as wonderful as we imagined.
6. Host a party when the cherry trees bloom.
The cherry blossoms blooming always brings me such joy. Partly because they are pretty. Partly because of what is symbolises, the end of winter and the bringing of spring. In Japan when the cherry blossoms bloom they hold parties where they drink lots of saké. I want to host a celebration party too.
7. Set foot on all 7 continents.
Just because. Four down, three to go (Africa,South America (yay Cuba two in one deal), and Antarctica, simple right?). ETA: only one now Antarctica as we visited Egypt in August 2012 for our minimoon and Cuba in June 2013 for our honeymoon.
8. Do two pull ups.
Don’t laugh, my arms are as strong as wet spaghetti.
9. Meditate every day for one week.
Once I’ve meditated I always feel better. It’s the actually doing it part I fall down at.
16. Take passport go to Gatwick go on the next flight I see.
Everytime my train passes through Gatwick I’ve wanted to do this. However it goes against all of my control freak instincts (and budgetary constraints)
17. Hike the Inca trail.
One of my friends trekked the Inca trail on her honeymoon and it looks incredible. I want to go.
18. View the northern lights.
19. Start a group.
I am undecided between whether I want to start a young adult reading book group or a happiness project group. But I know I want to start a group.
20. Go on a night dive with the Manta Rays in Hawaii.
I love the way they swoop and swirl in the water.
21. Grow a vegetable patch.
I have a black thumb, everything I try and grow dies. But over the last two years I’m slowly turning it around. Last year I grew from scratch a herb garden. This year I’m branching out to strawberries too, next year the world mwhahahaha
22. Attend a silent retreat.
I’ve attended many retreats (daughter of a yoga teacher), but never as an adult and never a silent one
23. Fly a kite.
HSWNB and I attended a kite festival and it was beautiful.
24. Go vegan for a month.
I don’t talk about it much on the blog, because I don’t want to preach to anybody, but I’m a lifelong vegetarian. I’ve never eaten meat and I gave up eating fish when I was ten. But although I’ve always toyed with the idea I’ve never tried veganism. As a vegetarian I’m finding it increasing hard to justify consuming milk and other animal products given the intensive and often cruel farming practises involved. I know this will be really difficult, particularly as HWSNBN is a coeliac (meat all the way), but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do.
ETA: done January 2014 for Veganuary. It was hard, I missed cheese.
25. Go star watching.
Just so I can talk like Patrick Moore from the Sky at Night.
ETA: Done, we went starwatching last autumn at the University and it was amazing.
26. Edit a video.
I am working on top secret project for a special event. All will be revealed soon.
27. Throw a surprise birthday party.
This may be difficult given I am very bad at keeping secrets but it sounds like fun
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?
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, 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.
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 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. I hate the term quality time but I can’t think of anything else to describe it.
So, we’re bringing back date night. Because I have the working memory of a gnat and I’m a bit of a list addict (sometimes I even add items to the list just for the thrill of ticking them off!) I’ve created a list of date night activities of things to do in Brighton when you’re a) broke b) outside of the flat:
Dinner out (even if it’s just fish and chips)
Ice cream and a walk, possible paddle by the sea
Swim in the sea (haha, as I write this there is torrential rain pouring down outside)
Fun rides on the Pier
Play on the swings in the park (but with small children we don’t know because that would be odd)
Geocaching (if only I can get over my disappointment at not finding a ring every time)
I’m going to edit this post to add other ideas and tick them off. By making this public commitment here’s hoping I stick to it.
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 a million cupcakes and less likely to make me look like the side of a bus!
So any tips about how you schedule some fun, or do you prefer to be more spontaneous?
I can tell I’m getting stressed by how messy and disorganised our flat is. For me, outer order greatly contributes to my inner calm. Part of my personal happiness project, is trying keep clutter and the background noise of everyday objects to a minimum.
This week I finally tackled something that had nagged at me for ages: my wardrobe.
When we moved into our flat, which I adore, one of few compromises was the bedroom layout. With the inbuilt wardrobe and floor to ceiling windows running down two walls, once we put in our bed there was almost no space for other furniture.
So both of our chest of drawers went into our bedroom wardrobe leaving us with almost no hanging space.
All of my party frocks, suits, winter coats and handbags were relegated a wardrobe in the office down the hall. My going-out tops I kept in a drawer beneath the bed. My jewellery boxes I kept magpie-like in the bottom drawer of my bedside cabinet. And between the bedroom door and the en-suite was what was ‘affectionately’ labelled my crap chair. I mainly used the chair and mat as a dumping ground: for my bag, laundry, to-read pile (always teetering), mail, and stuff to file. Which in times of stress, would start growing past the edges of the mat. The only useful thing behind the crap chair was a calendar and to do lists I had pinned with magnets to the radiator.
This set-up nagged at me for years. All of my clothes and accessories in different rooms and there was no central focus. I grew very envious of other people’s space. I wanted a dressing table to get ready at.
I wanted a walk-through wardrobe, where I could hang my clothes, just like Carrie’s.
Finally I gave into that frustration and I did something about it. First, I got rid of the crap chair. It was just encouraging my chaos. I needed to start putting things away in their rightful places. I moved my chest of drawers out of the wardrobe and in front of the radiator where my crap chair had been. I was really worried that it would be too wide and block the access to the en-suite. But actually it fits really well.
I took all of my jewellery boxes out of the drawer and put them in the light. I’m already wearing a lot more jewellery because it’s on view. I added a treacle tin for my hair brush and deadorant, which makes my heart sing everytime I look at it. (I love re-purposed tins and jars.)
It still needs refining, I’m not sure about whether the bowl is a mini crap chair or a useful place to keep sunglasses, invites etc. And I still need to find a good place to hang the calendar (the kitchen maybe?). But on the whole it’s a big improvement.
Moving the chest of drawers gave me the space to hang all my clothes together in my wardrobe. I moved the handbag boxes containing all my beautiful babies into the bedroom. And voilà my revamped wardrobe, look at all the hanging space (ignore how messy the top is, baby steps people, baby steps).
I hesitate about publishing this post as it seems really trivial. But for me that minor annoyance about no hanging space was daily drain on my mental energy. By paying attention and keeping my environment organised, I notice a big difference in my mental well-being.
Next on the decluttering list: whether to dump or display (and if so how?) the memory boxes I have kept since University. Any ideas, dear readers?