It’s Complicated

Without going into the whole tabula rasa thing, I’m simply going to share something I heard on a podcast a few weeks ago. It wasn’t anything I didn’t already know because I did. But what arrested my attention and kept me listening were these words by the presenter: You know what you know because you’ve been told that by someone.

That someone might have been a parent or a teacher or a friend. Still, until you heard those words, you didn’t know that fact, i.e., the earth is round. As you matured and began to read, words from a book told you things you didn’t know before. Before long, you realized you were part of a culture, and although you knew there were different cultures and peoples and traditions and languages in the world, yours was the most awesome. Maybe you were a bit ethnocentric. I was. Probably still am.

As a child, I learned to speak English. In my baby book, my mother wrote, “Jane now says so many new words each day that I can’t write them all down.” I’m confident that the words were dog (not chien), brother (not frere), and house (not casa). My parents and extended family spoke only English, not French or Spanish, so that’s what I learned. A simple example, and yet you get the point. Language is a huge and unifying part of one’s culture. 

We went to a Baptist church where I was taught that “Jesus loves the little children, all the little children of the world.” My young friends and I sang those words with fervor, and yet none of us really knew any other children except the ones who were just like us. Until I went to college, I didn’t have classes with any Black or Asian Americans.

In grades 1-12, my friends and siblings learned quite a lot about the traditions and history of our country. George Washington was our first president and a brilliant military leader; Thomas Jefferson was a great statesman, the third president, and primary author of the constitution; Native Americans (called Indians back in the day) were savages who lay in wait to attack Europeans as they tried to “make it” in this land.

I’m not saying the above statements are bogus. I’m saying the truth is somewhere in the middle. 

Washington was indeed America’s first president, Commander-in-Chief of the colonial forces, and slave owner of about 300 slaves (give or take). Jefferson once called slavery an Assemblage of Horrors, yet he owned around 175 servants. And then there’s Sally Hemings. Native Americans lived here long before the Europeans arrived, but now ….

I bought it all—hook, line, and sinker and was an adult before I realized how complicated things were. My awakening was slow. First, it was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His “I Have a Dream” speech can still move me to tears. Then I read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. The world was changing, and while I saw that as a good thing, it was a little discomforting. I read Ramona and learned more about the treatment of Mexicans and Natives, visited Juneau and stumbled upon “The Empty Chair” Memorial, toured Mount Rushmore and began to understand why the Native Americans were a bit bothered by the faces of white men carved into what they (the Natives) viewed as a sacred mountain. During the last several years, we’ve been fortunate enough to travel to many Plains states, and some of things I saw and heard and read will disturb me for the rest of my life. 

One night I watched an interview with Susan Sarandon and Jimmy Fallon in which she said, quite calmly and assuredly, that America was founded on the “genocide of Native Americans and on the backs of slaves.” I gulped. In that moment, I knew she was right and that she had known this truth for a long, long time.

I just started reading Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. It’s funny and clever and smart (like he is). At the end of the introduction to apartheid, he says: “….but the general thrust of it should be easy enough for any American to understand. In America you had he forced removal of the native onto reservations coupled with slavery followed by segregation. Imagine all three of these things happening to the same group of people at the same time. That was apartheid.”

I’m not dissing my teachers, preachers, parents, friends, books, or television for the things I blithely accepted as fact. I’m saying that being open to learning the “also truths” has been eye opening. It’s complicated.

Good Enough or Perfect?

Aren’t words powerful? Come on, admit it. You know they are. Powerful enough to rouse the sleeping beast within, calm the troubled heart, or stimulate the deepest of thoughts, words are amazing creations.

Fortunately for me, I have friends who feel the same about the fun, power, derivation, and meaning of words. A few weeks ago, a group of logophiles met to share new words over lunch. That morning, I had listened to a podcast by Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, and was reminded of the difference between satisficers and maximizers.

After sharing our new words, I hesitated before adding these two words to the mix. Were they too frivolous? Was I partial to them only because of my interest in positive psychology and happiness? After about three seconds of hemming and hawing, I shared Rubin’s words, and we all decided we were (are?) satisficers in most areas. That word, by the way, is a combination of satisfy and suffice.

Since then, I’ve been pondering just how important one’s attitude towards “good enough” vs. perfection can affect happiness and overall well-being. I think Rubin is on to something. Further investigation by a lunch partner revealed that this idea was  espoused by Barry Swartz in The Paradox of Choice.

Here’s an edited version of what I posted on psychcentral.wordpress. com earlier this morning.

Writer Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, and creator of the book related blog and podcast, has tackled the concept of happiness with zeal. Although she isn’t a psychologist, Rubin incorporates the theories of philosophers and psychologists into her personal observations and experiences. A gifted writer, she makes learning about happiness interesting.

One of Rubin’s ideas is based on that of psychologist Barry Swartz, author of The Paradox of Choice. Swartz contends that choice overload can actually make us less happy as we set our expectations too high. Should I try the  vanilla latte or the sea salt caramel hot chocolate?? And what about paint color? Would Soothing Aloe look better on the dining room walls than Morning Zen? And then there are relationship issues. We’re told to “never settle,” and yet is there really a Mr. or Ms. Right waiting in the wings?

Instead of agonizing on and on about decisions, Swartz and Rubin advise readers to go with “good enough.” People who do so are called satisficers and are generally happier than the maximizers those who make perfection a quest.

Years ago, I was involved in a fender bender and had to go car shopping. Friends inundated me with information about price, makes, models, reviews, mileage estimates, and deals. I listened for a while but then began to get a little dizzy with so many facts and opinions.

After work one afternoon I drove the rental car into Sparks Toyota with some ideas about what I wanted. Small, good on gas, and affordable were the top criteria. I knew I couldn’t buy (wouldn’t buy) a new car, but I didn’t want to buy a clunker either. As soon as I walked on the lot, I saw it: a dark green Corolla that was two years old. The salesman was a little surprised at the quick decision, but he didn’t try to talk me out of it or sway me to a more expensive option.

A friend, incredulous that I had made such a snap decision, told me that most people didn’t buy cars that way. Instead, they did a little research first, even traveling across the state to see and test drive different models.  She admitted that it usually took several months for them to make a decision and that even then, she and her husband ended up second guessing themselves. They’re maximizers, and I’m a satisficer.

What about you? Do you have to have things “just right” to be happy, or is good enough okay? 

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?

Other Blogs

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Quick post to say that this blog appears to be my primary one, and I can’t change that (have dutifully followed instructions several times). I have three blogs, and this one is more about personal experiences and ponderings in the day-to-day life of a mother, grandmother, wife, teacher, sister, friend……..you get the picture. It’s a potpourri of many different topics, so if that’s what you’re looking for, then this is it. Since Mom’s Musings is the first blog I started, that’s probably why it’s still listed as my primary one regardless of my attempts to change its status.

My other two blogs might interest you too. Or rather, they might interest you MORE than the above mentioned one because they’re focused on specific topics. Gossip and Solitude (http://jaynebowers.wordpress.com/) is a weblog about my writing experiences and is an attempt to meld a website and blog together. Not only do I post about the fun, woes, rewards, hassles, disappointments, and triumphs of writing, but I also post book reviews.

The third blog, Beating a Path, is about teaching experiences. I’ve been teaching in the SC Technical Education system since 1975 (ouch…long time!), and this blogs includes ideas, suggestions, and stories. I’m still teaching part-time, mainly because I just can’t leave the magic of the classroom. Educational practices and trends continue to change, and for a number of years I’ve also taught online classes. The link to Beating a path is http://www.jpbowers.wordpress.com.

I hope you’ll check out the other two blogs, especially since I think a lot of people are directed to Mom’s Musings by accident…or rather because of a wordpress issue that I can’t figure out.

Happy Blogging!

Five Letter Word

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A week has passed since my last post, the one that announced that a word of the year would be forthcoming. I’ve considered several words over the past several weeks, and I was this close to stealing (sharing) Connie’s word, mindfulness. Heaven knows that would be a great one for me. With all of the busyness and coming and going and distractions of life, well, you get my drift.

One day last week, as I prepared to go out for my daily walk, I couldn’t find a pair of ear buds. It was almost more than I could handle. How was I supposed to stay in motion for an hour without my music or NPR? Then my husband suggested that I just listen to the birds or cars or something. And what a novel idea! I was forced to go back to listening to the world around me and letting my mind wander. It was a splendid hour of mindfulness. Actually, I’ve tried to do that quite a bit this past year. I seldom get annoyed at the sounds of crying babies, coughing, or throat clearing in church anymore. Those are the sounds of life itself.

But back to my word. I thought of peace, both inner and outer, but that’s something I pretty much always work on. Then my husband suggested that I recycle focus, my word for 2012. But no, I discarded that idea right away, knowing that focus is something that I’m going to have to work on for the rest of my life, but with a new year, I needed a new word. After several more options, I chose my word. It’s not fancy or deep or especially inspiring. And actually, it’s a word that conveys one of my overall attitudes toward life. It’s just that this year, I’m going to use it to direct my behavior in a more focused way.

Learn. Learn is my word. I’m fascinated by all there is to learn about in this grand world and daunted by the fact that I know so little. Over the holidays, we saw Lincoln and Les Miserables, and those movies inspired me to learn more about American history, Lincoln, Mrs. Lincoln, the French Revolution, and the French language. About the latter, I took French in college, but now I’m thinking of refreshing some key terms. It’s not enough to know oui, oui.

The other evening as I was pondering about half a dozen words, a scripture from the Doctrine and Covenants, one of the four standard works of the LDS church, kept coming to mind. Here it is, a verse about things that we need to understand: “Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms.” D & C 88:79

My friend Judy and I discussed “things both in heaven and in the earth” a little last week. How little I know about either realm! In 2013, however, I plan to gain some more knowledge about both. With LEARN as my word, the sky’s the limit!

Explore and Focus

IMG_2010 This post is a repeat from last year about this time. Rather than go through a lot of rigmarole about coming up with a word-of-the-year, I decided to repost this one. 

About five years ago, my friend Connie and I began coming up with a “Word of the Year,” something that would direct our thinking and acting throughout the upcoming year. Weary of making resolutions that bit the dust after a few weeks, we thought that a word that could encapsulate several goals would work better. Turns out we were right. Not only did we make most of our decisions based on our individual words, but we also found ourselves permanently changing our behavior. Well, semi-permanently. There are still times when I have to remind myself to have COURAGE, to BELIEVE, and to say YES more often.

After much thought and deliberation, Connie came up with her word last week. It’ s EXPLORATION. Curious, I asked her whether she meant exploration of other places, interests, and ideas or whether she meant inner exploration. Was she planning to take more trips, hike on the Appalachian Trail, take up painting, or discover inner talents? “All of it. Everything,” she answered. And guess what? She’s already started. If the fates are with us, we’re going on a road trip to Washington, DC with a couple of friends later this month.

Enough about Connie. What about Jayne? My word for 2012 is FOCUS. That doesn’t sound as exciting as EXPLORATION, but it’s something I definitely need to work on. Besides, I’m pretty good about the exploring part. I could stand some improvement in that area, but I need a huge amount of improvement in the focusing department. My husband often says, “You just need to concentrate on one thing at a time,” or “If you’d just pay attention and do one thing at a time, you’d get more accomplished…and maybe you wouldn’t misplace so many things.”

Then too, there are several projects I’m working on, and I know that I need to focus on one at a time. Should I correct the galleys for a book I’m self-publishing? Should I write a few paragraphs for a eBook that I’m writing about what every technical/community college student needs to know? Should I clean out the refrigerator? Should I mail the packages to Olivia and Carrie? Or maybe it’s time to clean out some closets. Or no, that can wait. What’s really important is playing Words with Friends with my brother. Then again, classes begin next week, and we’re using a new text for an intro class so I better get busy on that. But not until I start reading this new book I ordered for my Kindle.

See what I mean? I need to focus focus focus focus.

I knew my decision was a good one when I went to church today. During Relief Society, Michelle shared her enthusiasm for a blog she’d read about using a word to guide one’s thinking instead of making resolutions. She encouraged us to use verbs and then shared examples of some words that we might like. Several class members, including yours truly, participated by sharing their words.

Here’s what I found especially interesting. While talking to us about THE WORD, Michelle used some variation of focus at least a half a dozen times. Then Kitty spoke up and said that she needed a word that would help her focus. Another person said that she was trying to focus on gratitude, and yet another said that she was focusing more on being fully present.

So FOCUS is my word for 2012. I’ve already cleaned out the refrigerator tonight. I have my to-do list ready for tomorrow, and I’m going to focus on doing one thing at a time…and on being mindful of the tremendous opportunities and blessings that I enjoy.

As 2012 comes to a close, I’m wondering how Connie succeeded with “exploration.” As for me, I’m thinking of using “focus” again, but I can’t decide whether it’s because I really need to have that lesson reinforced or because I’m too lazy to choose another word. And by the way, the above picture was taken in early 2012 in the bell tower of the Old Post Office Museum in Washington, a sure sign that Connie began “exploring” early in the year.

What’s your word?

Focus, Connie. Focus.

About five years ago, my friend Connie and I began coming up with a “Word of the Year,” something that would direct our thinking and acting throughout the upcoming year. Weary of making resolutions that bit the dust after a few weeks, we thought that a word that could encapsulate several goals would work better. Turns out we were right. Not only did we make most of our decisions based on our individual words, but we also found ourselves permanently changing our behavior. Well, semi-permanently. There are still times when I have to remind myself to have COURAGE, to BELIEVE, and to say YES more often.

After much thought and deliberation, Connie came up with her word last week. It’ s EXPLORATION. Curious, I asked her whether she meant exploration of other places, interests, and ideas or whether she meant inner exploration. Was she planning to take more trips, hike on the Appalachian Trail, take up painting, or discover inner talents? “All of it. Everything,” she answered. And guess what? She’s already started. If the fates are with us, we’re going on a road trip to Washington, DC with a couple of friends later this month.

Enough about Connie. What about Jayne? My word for 2012 is FOCUS. That doesn’t sound as exciting as EXPLORATION, but it’s something I definitely need to work on. Besides, I’m pretty good about the exploring part. I could stand some improvement in that area, but I need a huge amount of improvement in the focusing department. My husband often says, “You just need to concentrate on one thing at a time,” or “If you’d just pay attention and do one thing at a time, you’d get more accomplished…and maybe you wouldn’t misplace so many things.”

Then too, there are several projects I’m working on, and I know that I need to focus on one at a time. Should I correct the galleys for a book I’m self-publishing? Should I write a few paragraphs for a ebook that I’m writing about what every technical/community college student needs to know? Should I clean out the refrigerator? Should I mail the packages to Olivia and Carrie? Or maybe it’s time to clean out some closets. Or no, that can wait. What’s really important is playing Words with Friends with my brother. Then again, classes begin next week, and we’re using a new text for an intro class so I better get busy on that. But not until I start reading this new book I ordered for my Kindle.

See what I mean? I need to focus focus focus focus.

I knew my decision was a good one when I went to church today. During Relief Society, Michelle shared her enthusiasm for a blog she’d read about using a word to guide one’s thinking instead of making resolutions. She encouraged us to use verbs and then shared examples of some words that we might like. Several class members, including yours truly, participated by sharing their words.

Here’s what I found especially interesting. While talking to us about THE WORD, Michelle used some variation of focus at least a half a dozen times. Then Kitty spoke up and said that she needed a word that would help her focus. Another person said that she was trying to focus on gratitude, and yet another said that she was focusing more on being fully present.

So FOCUS is my word for 2012. I’ve already cleaned out the refrigerator tonight. I have my to-do list ready for tomorrow, and I’m going to focus on doing one thing at a time…and on being mindful of the tremendous opportunities and blessings that I enjoy.

What’s your word?