Experiencing happiness

Experiencing happiness seems to be helped along by not being distracted from thinking about the past or planning for the future. It seems to help to slow down to notice what’s happening now, rather than looking ahead to the next set of tasks that need to be done.

I’ve noticed that when on vacation, or when intentionally in relaxation mode, small enjoyable things are magnified. When away from home, away from distraction into tasks of fixing this and that, I can be more present in each moment. In relaxation mode, it is easier to pay attention to things like sunsets and pretty flowers, or the guessing game of watching people and trying to imagine their story. I can enjoy good meals that are eaten without rushing, and can get immersed in great conversations that have no time limit.

On weekends, I can often be in a similar mood. It may seem odd to plan for unstructured time, yet that seems to be the trick to letting go of other planning topics. If I have half a dozen things that might be fun to do, and none of them are necessary things, then the meander from one to the other is an easy flow, and I can drop one or all of them in favor of a meal, a good book, or a chance meeting with friends.  Getting away from the clock, and into the flow of experiencing the moment, seems to attract unexpected delight.

I recall an evening on our last trip to Hawaii, where we sat on a stone wall at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, and looked at the stars for a while after dinner. Soon enough, a parade of people on various bicycles came past, more than a hundred of them, dressed in celebratory garb, sporting lights and streamers on their conveyances, all of which was exhilarating, and it made us laugh out loud. They smiled and waved, and we waved right back. If we hadn’t been relaxing and taking each moment as it came, we wouldn’t have been sitting on the wall, and likely would have missed the bicycle parade altogether. It may have been as though that moment of surprise, leading to enjoyment and happiness, had never been there. The experience led to us exchanging stories with my mum about other spontaneous bits of fun. Before long, we were singing pieces of silly song lyrics on the meander back to our hotel rooms.

Copyright 2012 R Loader all rights reserved

Nothing but blue skies


It can be tricky to remember, in Seattle, that blue skies will return. Even in the middle of June and summer, we can have more grey days and rain than most places. We have even coined a weather term “sun breaks” to capture the moments when the sun comes out to play. We rush outside, take a break, and relax in the sunshine. This all got me to thinking about how much joy there is in the simple pleasure of enjoying the summer sunshine. Perhaps we can extend memories of summer further into the year, with the notion that somewhere in the world, there are blue skies and sunshine, right now. The metaphor of happiness and the image of sunshine are linked symbols in large parts of modern culture. Add an image of a child playing, banners or kites flying, and we have the visual representations that blend the concepts of pleasure, summer and happiness.

So where am I going with this? I guess this particular musing is about celebrating the possible, enjoying the blue skies when we have them, and reaching for images of summer and blue skies, or whatever metaphor coincides with happiness for you, when they are not immediately present in the moment. It’s also a bit about the connectedness of things, about life being a spectrum of experiences.

Most of the time, I am aware of the opposite side of the planet, and that they enjoy an opposite season; that’s part of growing up in Australia, falling in love, and coming to live in Seattle. When it is summer in Seattle, winter coats are the order of business in Sydney, and vice versa. It isn’t hard to think of this as a real world example of the doctrine of opposites, or as an example of polarity. It is almost like there’s a big yin/yang symbol swirling its way through the center of the earth, connecting us to the opposite side of the globe. Neither side of the balance is entirely one thing or the other; one side of the pivot is not better than the other; the poles are just the far ends of a spectrum. I think happiness can be thought of that way as well. The spectrum of happiness could be said to move all the way from the pleasure of a good yawn, through to the quiet hum of breathing, and at the far end is the dazzling glow of our favorite things.

As I’m looking out at blue skies now, am taking myself out with a blanket to enjoy it.

Copyright 2012 R Loader all rights reserved

Movies that make me happy

I get my love of movies from my parents. When I was a sprat, I’d try all kinds of strategies to stay up later and watch movies with my parents. They liked musicals and westerns, dramas and comedies, love stories and tales of swashbuckling pirates. It often surprises me how much we talked about the stories, and about the books that inspired them. Years later, what I remember most is the movies that were just about feeling good. Some were diversions created to boost morale during the Second World War; others were pure entertainment created in the era of the Hollywood studio machine. As a family, we loved the classics best.

Harvey – about a six foot tall white invisible phouka called Harvey, and his gently alcoholic and pleasant human companion, Elwood P Dowd, or is that vice versa? I loved this tale at the time, and it continues to be one of my favorite movies of all time.

Mary Poppins – I loved the books, the stage play is terrific, and the Disney movie is a lot of fun too. The wind changes, and blows in a new nanny for the children of this family. Mary Poppins is part fairy, part witch, and all about improbable circumstances. Whimsical and serious by turns, it features Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins, and Dick Van Dyke in a range of roles.

Auntie Mame – Who wouldn’t want an Aunt like Mame? Eccentric, bohemian, extravagant and devoted to her nephew. Another wonderful musical.

Singing in the Rain– One of many great Gene Kelly dance movies.One of my first leading men, I fell for his charm, his smile, and the way he was comfortable in his body, a wonderful choreographer and dancer. Another favorite with him as leading man was For Me and My Gal.

The Unsinkable Molly Brown – A wonderful tale of an indominatable woman who was rescued from a river as a child, grew into a tomboy determined to marry a rich man, and who was brassy, bold and determined to live the good life. Through various trials and tribulations, adulation and rejection, she found her way into people’s hearts as a hero who saved people from a sinking ship, the Titanic. The critics didn’t always love this movie, but we did. It’s outrageous, over the top, and delightful.

Copyright 2012 R Loader all rights reserved

Being passionate

I just found this terrific quote about love and passion, and about how passion ignites our imagination, from Joss Whedon, and it inspired me to think about what passion means to me. It is red. Passion is sex and creativity, energy and vitality. It is about being alive, about all the brain cells firing…feelings running wild like lightning, inspiring us to move, move move. To me it is that voice in the back of my brain saying “do something, do something”, anything. Make stuff. Make love. Make art. Make connections.

Passion, it lies in all of us, sleeping… waiting… and though unwanted… unbidden… it will stir… open its jaws and howl. It speaks to us… guides us… passion rules us all, and we obey. What other choice do we have? Passion is the source of our finest moments. The joy of love… the clarity of hatred… and the ecstasy of grief. It hurts sometimes more than we can bear. If we could live without passion maybe we’d know some kind of peace… but we would be hollow… Empty rooms shuttered and dank… – Joss Whedon

I cannot imagine life without connection, without passionate, committed opinions about things. I am a definite kind of person; guess I have been for as long as I can remember, even as a little girl. Almost especially as a little girl. I love storytellers and tales about heroes, and I love the story about the young person making their way in the world, growing into it, becoming someone unexpected. All of these tales have, as part of them, people who are willing to put their feelings on the line, to tell it like it is, to stand up for what they believe in. For me, that is one of the core things about happiness and love. For me, you are as defined by those things you stand against, as by those things you stand for. Standing against injustice, standing for honor and honesty and the struggle to be real. Those are the beginning of the things I care about.

And I care about the little stuff, because there is, in a sense, no little stuff. Being mean is not an option. One of my favorite movies is “Harvey”, and the character of Elwood P. Dowd. He says at one point that his mother had given him advice about there being two kinds of people in the world, ones who were oh so pleasant, and ones who were oh so clever. And he said he’d tried both, and preferred the former. I have a terrific friend who reminds me very much of this character. While she is wicked smart, she prefers to be pleasant. And that makes her great to be around. At the same time, she is very passionate about life, people and books. And that makes her even more fun.

Any time you can share praise, give honest appreciation, be kind to someone, you’re making another connection in the world, becoming a more passionate and connected person. I believe that to love deeply, it is important to be passionate, enthusiastic, and caring about the people you interact with in the world. Be passionate. Anything else lacks conviction.

Copyright 2012 R Loader all rights reserved

Attitudes of gratitude

There’s a fabulous book about gratitude by M J Ryan, Attitudes of Gratitude. I like it so much, I give copies to friends, recommend it, and keep a lending copy on hand as well. Go buy it. One of her first quotes is from Milton Erickson. He was an amazing M.D. who worked out useful things about how people think, and applied that knowledge to helping people make changes in their lives.

  • Life will bring you pain all by itself.
  • Your responsibility is to create joy.

She goes through the book giving examples of how to give and receive joy every day of your life. She talks about ways that gratitude erases worry, increases health, and enhances relationships, and it in this relationship area I want to focus today.

For years, my sweetie has put out vitamins for me in the morning, knowing that I stumble around for the first half hour, and likely would not open all the bottles to make decisions about what to take. This act of service, of thoughtfulness, tells me every day how much I am appreciated. It makes me grateful for the care, and the love in the gesture, especially as it is not something I take for granted. Every day, I walk to the same place in the kitchen and put on some tea, and right there is a dish (usually a pretty glass one) with my vitamins in it. it feels like am embrace; every day it makes me smile. Once I’ve taken the vitamins, I can go to my desk, and drink the tea while it is still hot.

During the day, we send notes in email, sometimes a picture or a link to a fun article. These are all ways of showing our appreciation for each other’s time. That way, when we see each other, we can be in the moment, and present.

Copyright 2012 R Loader all rights reserved

Setting the stage for happiness

For me, happiness is a transitory state, much like optimism. Yet there are things I do to set the stage for it, to prepare for good fortune to enter in, and to celebrate it when it arrives. Some of that is gratitude for the good things that have gone before, and some of it is awareness that good things happen if you set your mind and will to it. One of my favorite artists, Austin Osman Spare, had a formula for setting his will in motion.

He would start with “This my will that…(specifiy exactly) …” and would end with “so mote it be!”, a formula that I’ve found very successful. It took me a while to get the specifics as, well, specific as they needed to be.

This my will that I will

  • get enough sleep to feel rested and refreshed for the next 3 nights
  • just for today, be free from worry
  • smile at co-workers when I see them
  • express appreciation to at least one person

It varies from day to day, however, the pattern is a repeated one. Over time, if I focus on the statements, and write them down, they manifest in the world.

When I set the stage for happiness by planning to manifest it in the world, it tends to arrive with satisfying repetition.

Copyright 2012 R Loader all rights reserved

Happiness grows on you

In the beginning, those lovely endorphins and brain chemicals say “wheee” and other non-verbal things to the brain that let me know I’m having a good time. The more I notice how much I’m enjoying myself, the more feedback I get, and the better it all feels. This must be what positive reinforcement is all about.

At some point I noticed that repetition of happy-making things made for more of the good feeling, and I started turning my attention deliberately towards those things. Someone said protein would wake up my brain faster than coffee, and, for me, it works. Replacing morning coffee with a protein shake with iced tea, protein powder, soy milk (no added sweetener), and some juice kicks off the day to a great start. And if it starts that way, it trends on staying that way through my commute.

I was reading a bunch of things about keeping blood sugar neutral, or at least within normal ranges recently. It seemed most experts agreed on regular meals of a smaller amount, rather than the three solid meals plan that I’d grown up with. Not everyone agreed on what should be in those smaller meals, so I started experimenting. It seemed a combination of carbs and proteins hit the spot. It might be a handful of rice crackers, and some cheese; or some dried fruit with cashews; or mixed grain cereal with coconut or almond milk; even goat cheese and corn chips, just so long as there’s a mix of things, not much bigger than my hand. Some days, depending on the length of the day, that means a bunch of snacks. A friend swears by cut up apples with peanut butter as her favorite snack, and some prefer celery with the peanut butter, though it sticks in my teeth, and I like it on toast.

Am loving the idea of growing happiness by feeding it good nutrients, some attention, and deliberate repetition of the good stuff.

Copyright 2012 R Loader all rights reserved