Ask an Expert

If this post seems underdeveloped or unpolished, blame it on Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project. I read that book about a year ago, and today I discovered her podcast, Happier, that she and her sister Elizabeth have started.

When describing the one coin loophole, the sisters said that if a person does something rarely, then she feels like it has to be top quality. If, on the other hand, she does it often, that takes the pressure off and she can live with “pretty good” when something is a little lame.

That’s so true of me, I thought. I have dozens of things I want to write about, but being involved in several projects has decreased my blogging time. When I finally do have thirty minutes to an hour to put something together, I feel the pressure to make it (the post) good. Tonight, however, I’m remembering Gretchen’s (first name basis here) mention of Voltaire’s aphorism: “The perfect is the enemy of the good.”

Tonight I’m taking the advice of the Happier podcast.

While in the beauty shop the other day, I recognized a woman who works for a local optometrist. Making small talk, I told her that I had always been impressed with her ability to put contacts in my eyes without my even knowing she had done it. She’s that good!

“Make sure the tip of your finger is dry,” she said, “and put a small drop of solution on the contact itself. Just a drop.”

Later that same day I met with a young woman who knows all about chalk painting. She’s done (painted, waxed, distressed) dozens of pieces and is now teaching classes in which she demonstrates techniques using Annie Sloan products.

 “I’m doing a side table,” I told her. “And it seems somehow ‘not right’ to use wax on the top.”

“Will it get a lot of use? I mean, are people going to put drinks or food on it?” she asked

“Maybe. I can just visualize kids putting all kinds of things on it. Stresses me out to think about!”

“Okay, here’s what you do. Put a coat of clear poly on the top.”

“That’s it?”

“Yep. That’ll protect it and give it some sheen.”

Today I went to Lowe’s to buy some tile. I must have looked lost and confused because an employee walked over to see if she could help. When I told her my plans, she told me exactly what I’d need and explained why I needed this and not that with several products. After learning that I’d be putting this backsplash up all by my lonesome, she explained the process twice and then suggested that I get a trowel.

Everybody knows something. Everybody is likely an expert on something. BUT no one knows everything. Let’s respect the knowledge of the experts.

All this is leading up to a recent discussion about the Mormon church—or as we prefer to say, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” People often inform me of some pretty outrageous things, including:

  • Mormons aren’t Christians.
  • Mormons practice polygamy.
  • Mormons don’t believe in the Bible.
  • Mormons wear magic underwear.
  • Mormons think they can work their way into heaven.
  • Mormons worship Joseph Smith.

None of those things are true. My purpose here isn’t to go into a long diatribe about what we do or don’t believe. My purpose is to say that unless you’re a member, you don’t really know what we do or don’t believe.

If I want to know something about putting in contacts, chalk painting furniture, or installing a backsplash, I’ll ask someone with knowledge in those areas. The same is true for religion. If I want to know something about the Catholic religion, I’ll ask a Catholic. If I want to know about Islam, I’ll ask a Muslim.

If you want to know something about the LDS religion, ask me. In the meantime, when I hear you saying something untrue, unfounded, or derogatory about the church, I’ll be thinking, “I love you, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.” That’s a line from Moonrise Kingdom, something an orphan told his sweet little girlfriend after she told him that sometimes she wanted to be an orphan.

While this isn’t my best post ever, I’m glad I took the advice from the Happier podcast. Saving up thoughts and refusing to share them until I could do so perfectly and eloquently might prevent their ever being shared. And really, I’m feeling happier now, just like the experts on happiness said I would be.

 

Be You

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Great photo, huh? I snapped it along the route of the OBX half-marathon in 2012 because of the unique appearance of the person cheering us on. I loved her (his) joie de vivre and think it fits perfectly with this post.

As I mentioned in an earlier post about The Happiness Project, I already knew most of the concepts Ms. Rubin writes about. However, she gives them an interesting and unique twist that makes me say, “Ah, yes. She nailed that one.” Today I’m concentrating on the first of her 12 Commandments, “Be Gretchen.”

Although I didn’t think much about being an individual true to her own values, strengths, and interests in my earlier years, it has become increasingly important, not only in how I live my own life but also in how I encourage others to live theirs.  We’re all children of the universe, in a manner of speaking, and just like snowflakes, we’re all unique. Wouldn’t it be a dull, boring world if we looked, thought, and acted alike?

Accepting and BEING who and what and how we are has applications for many areas of life. Take occupation, for example. There are people who love being accountants, and they’re darned good at it. I, on the other hand, can’t even keep my checking account in order! The fact that it’s online now and can be checked 24/7 has made it easier.

My husband faithfully records his debits and credits in an Excel document and has even set one up for me.  When I recently almost ran into a problem with my account, he reminded me of the value of recording the data in Excel.

“If you’d just do it my way, you’d know exactly what was due and when,” he chided.

“That’s you, Hon. It’s not me,” I replied.

“I’m just trying to help you, that’s all.”

“I know, I know. And hey, I’m going walking in a few minutes. Want to go?” I asked.

He answered me with an exasperated scowl, and I couldn’t resist saying, “I’m just trying to help you, that’s all.”

“But walking isn’t something I enjoy,” he said.

“Exactly. Just like I don’t enjoy poring over numbers in boxes.”

He went back to the computer, and I went for a walk, content with my newfound confidence to “Be Jayne.”

Another area is dress and appearance. One of my daughters and I were chatting on the phone yesterday, and I mentioned that when I was in high school and the first couple of years of college, all females had to wear skirts or dresses. At some point, we were allowed to wear pants to class, and shortly thereafter jeans were permitted. I soon got into a denim craze and have never grown out of it. While some people might think it’s weird for a senior citizen to wear jeans, that doesn’t bother me. I’m living the commandment to “Be Jayne.”

Speaking of attire, last week I had the opportunity to meet with an old friend for lunch and a walk along a river’s edge. It was awesome. But here’s what I wanted to share. She was wearing a beautiful vintage necklace, and when I complimented her on it, she said she had given it to her daughter for Christmas but that her daughter had returned it with the comment, “It’s you, not me.” I knew exactly what my friend was talking about. Even in jewelry, we have our preferences, our looks.

What about you? Do you ever struggle with being you? Do you sometimes feel that you need to be or do or act the way others think you should be? Please share.

Quest for Happiness

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At last week’s book club meeting, we discussed our monthly selection, Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder. Everyone there was amazed by Deo, the young man who escaped genocide in Burundi and Rwanda and came to America.

Surviving homelessness and hunger, Deo is befriended by a number of people who have faith in him, and he becomes a doctor. Yes, a doctor, a medical one. He doesn’t do it for fame or fortune, however, and Deo uses his education, experience, and expertise to return to Burundi to set up clinics.

As we discussed this outstanding person and his many attributes, we began talking about one of my favorite topics of late, happiness. I jumped on Gretchen Rubin’s bandwagon a couple of weeks ago when I first began reading The Happiness Project. While I agree with Rubin and all of the psychologists and philosophers she quotes about the importance of happiness, my book club and I wondered if people who are in survival mode also ponder its importance.

While Deo and his countrymen were literally running for their lives, did they wish for happiness, or did they simply want to survive the day, the week, or the month? When Mormon pioneers were crossing the Rocky Mountains in freezing weather, often having to bury their dead children along the way, were they thinking of how to be happy or how to make it to Salt Lake (a destination they weren’t really sure of yet)? Did the prisoners of concentration camps in Germany and Poland dream about “oh happy day,” or were they wishing for an extra crust of bread?

I don’t know the answers to the above questions. It does, however, make sense to me that when a person’s physical and material needs are supplied, then she begins to think more about wants, personal fulfillment, and yes, happiness.  What do you think? Is happiness something everyone thinks about and desires, or is it something that people are more likely to consider after their survival needs are satisfied?

Let’s Get Happy!

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It’s been a sad season in our household for the past couple of months, but I’m coming around. Part of the reason for my resurrection is my innate temperament, and another part is a book I’ve been reading, Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. About temperament, Rubin’s book reminded me that genetics accounts for about 50 percent of one’s emotional set point.

Since I’ve been teaching psychology since, well, let’s just say a long, long time, I already knew most of the things in Ms. Rubin’s book, but I haven’t thought of the host of interesting and doable applications that she suggests in The Project. While many people think that lots of money, parenthood, or age are major factors in happiness, they really aren’t.

I’ve already put some of Rubin’s suggestions to use and can tell a difference, not just in my elevated mood but also in that of others that I’m around. That’s not surprising. After all, one of the concepts of psychology is emotional contagion, a phenomenon in which people “catch” emotions from other people. I’d rather infect my friends and family with good cheer instead of gloominess, hadn’t you?

While we were discussing my quest for more sustained happiness, my brother asked, “Why not joy?” I replied that I’m not sure that joy is as attainable and sustainable as happiness. Rubin quotes one of her blog readers who said, “But happiness is more accessible. We can be miserable and then find ourselves laughing, even if it’s just for a few seconds. It reaffirms the will to live and from there we can branch out.”

During a Celebration of Life following the funeral of a loved one last week, I saw and heard several people laughing—people who deeply loved the dearly departed. Although their hearts were broken, they could still find something funny or uplifting enough to laugh about. A quick example is of a cousin who whispered the name of her unborn child to her grandmother who was in a comatose state. No one else knows the name of this soon-to-be-born baby boy except for Nana, and as my cousin was relating the story, she smiled and laughingly told of how she had to make sure that her own mother wasn’t eavesdropping.

“Oh, your mom would never do that. If she told you that she wouldn’t listen, then she wouldn’t,” I said.

“I don’t know,” she said with a lilt in her voice. “Mom’s the one who always shakes the Christmas presents in our house.”

The conversation was mood elevating to me. The room was filled with people who lived and breathed because of Nana, and although she had “passed through the veil,” she took the secret of her new great grandson’s name with her. I love it. And so did the people who were listening, people who loved Nana’s daughter and granddaughter.

Happiness is my word for 2014. Like Rubin, I’m a happy person. BUT as she said, “I wasn’t as happy as I could be, and my life wasn’t going to change unless I made it change. In that single moment, with that realization, I decided to dedicate a year to trying to be happier.”

Me too. I’m going to continue reading and rereading The Happiness Project and apply many (most?) of the recommendations to my life. I’ll be writing about my successes and failures here and hoping that you’ll be inspired to jump on the happiness bandwagon. What have you got to lose except a sour attitude?