Your daily dose of Christmas spirit. This is the conversation I've had via Facebook Messages with this girl, over the course of a few days. I have loved each dose of innocence and cuteness I get everyday as an emissary for Santa. Nothing like having a conversation with a kid who truly believes you're an elf.
What follows is a lovely question and answer from a series of questions Happiness Project author Gretchen Rubin recently asked Christian author Heather King. It made my day and I hope it makes yours, too. It's on happiness, of course. And what happens, as your life progresses, when you change your expectations.
Is there anything that you see people around you doing or saying that adds a lot to their happiness, or detracts a lot from their happiness?
My friend Fr. Terry Richey, 40-plus-years sober alcoholic, says, “If you’re really lucky, you’ll eventually give up all hope of being happy in the way you thought you were going to be.” I mean youhave to maintain a sense of humor about all of this. And I do think age is a help here. You almost have to spend decades thinking, This is going to make me happy, and going after those things, and either not getting them, which is one kind of blow; or getting them, and finding they don’t make you happy after all, or they make you happy only temporarily, or they bring a whole slew of problems that you’re not emotionally or spiritually equipped to deal with, and that’s another kind of blow.
What happens is that you spiritually mature and you stop having expectations. You stop having expectations and that doesn’t make for bland mediocrity, as you’d feared: it opens the window to a richer, fuller, more joy-filled life than you ever would have thought possible. Again, you’re in contact with reality. You’re better able to accept life the way it is, not the way you wish it would be. Instead of feeling that nothing is ever enough, you’re grateful for the tiniest thing: a leaf, a basket of figs, a handshake.
For writer Gretchen Rubin's happiness project, she started a blog as one of her work goals, to expand her identity as a writer and connect with a new community. On this blog, over the course of the project, she shared her own Twelve Commandments for Happiness, and many readers shared some of their own. A great list of them is in the book. I wanted to share. The ones in italics are my favorites.
- Forget the past.
- Do stuff.
- Talk to strangers.
- Stay in touch.
- Stop the venting and complaining.
- Go outside.
- Spread joy.
- Never bother with people you hate.
- Don't expect it to last forever. Everything ends and that's okay.
- Stop buying useless crap.
- Make mistakes.
- Give thanks: for the ordinary and the extraordinary.
- Create something that wasn't there before.
- Notice the color purple.
- Make footprints: "I was here."
- Be silly. Be light.
- Be the kind of woman I want my daughters to be.
- Shit happens--count on it.
- Friends are more important than sex.
- Choose not to take things personally.
- Be loving and love will find you.
- Soak it in.
- This too shall pass.
- "Be still, and know that I am God."
- Remember, everyone's doing their best all the time.
- Expect a miracle.
- I am already enough.
- Let it go, man.
- Light a candle or STFU.
- Recognize my ghosts.
- What do I really, really, really want?
- Help is everywhere.
- What would I do if I weren't scared?
- If you can't get out of it, get into it.
- Keep it simple.
- Give without limits, give without expectations.
- React to the situation.
- Feel the danger (many dangers--saturated fats, drunk driving, not making deadlines, law school--don't feel dangerous).
- Start where you are.
- People give what they have to give.
- Be specific about my needs.
- Let go, let God.
- If you're not now here, you're nowhere.
- Play the hand I'm dealt.
- Own less, love more.
- One is too many; a hundred aren't enough.
- Nothing too much.
- Only connect.
- Be a haven.
From Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project:
One reason that challenge brings happiness is that it allows you to expand your self-definition. You become larger. Suddenly you can do yoga or make homemade beer or speak a decent amount of Spanish. Research shows that the more elements make up your identity, the less threatening it is when any one element is threatened. Losing your job might be a blow to your self-esteem, but the fact that you lead your local alumni association gives you a comforting source of self-respect. Also, a new identity brings you into contact with new people and new experiences, which are also sources of happiness.
On enjoying your failures:
Pushing myself, I knew, would be a source of discomfort. It's a Secret of Adulthood: Happiness doesn't always make you feel happy. When I thought about why I was sometimes reluctant to push myself, I realized that it was because I was afraid of failure--but in order to have more success, I needed to be willing to accept more failure. I remembered the words of Robert Browning: "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?"
To counteract this fear, I told myself, "I enjoy the fun of failure." It's fun to fail, I kept repeating. It's part of being ambitious; it's part of being creative. If something is worth doing, it's worth doing badly.
I've been organizing myself a bit this summer, sorting through my closet, putting order to the items stored in my basement, and filing all of the accumulating papers within my desk drawers. Within the old notebooks that I cannot throw away (it is a curse), I've come across some notes I've made, reflections and ideas I've had and jotted down, and have also found some of the people and quotes that inspired the notes initially. Food for thought:
"Since researchers started trying to measure such things in the years after World War II, the percentage of Americans who consider themselves 'very happy' with their lives has remained the steady, even though the material standard of living has tripled in the same period. More stuff is not making us happier-- but we can't break out of the cycle that offers more stuff as the only real goal."
Bill McKibben, an environmentalist and extraordinary writer from Vermont, reported that in his article "A Deeper Shade of Green," published in National Geographic in August 2006. After reading his pragmatic and applicable advice and the hard-hitting facts he reports about society and happiness, I decided to read his book Deep Economy, which was a thought-provoking and startling account of the things we are doing to ourselves and our planet, and several ways we can work on repairing the damage. His main thesis is that community is key. While is something of an anti-globalization flag-waver, he doesn't just ramble about how we are doomed, and how Walmart is ruining the world. Now, he does present the case against Walmart very well, but he also stresses other, smaller things within a community that could create a more reasonable balance between local and international communities.
I have since become more aware of the foods I am putting in my body. McKibben dedicates an entire section of his book to the idea of "eating locally," and not only presents his theory but attempts it himself, eating foods only produced in and around his state for an entire year. That means no grocery stores, making his own bread, canning his own vegetables and making his own preservatives for the winter season. It meant, for him, eating things that were currently growing in his region at that time, and not going to the local grocery metropolis for strawberries and oranges in February. Admirable as his case is, it would, granted, be quite difficult for us all to apply to the same system.
But on a smaller scale, farmer's markets and organic foods present healthier choices, and better conditions for everyone involved. Organic foods are made with no additives, which are bad for both you and any animals that were used. Eggs, for example, are much better organic (and also cage-free). Foods found in farmer's markets also give a huge margin of the profits to the actual farmers, making sure enough of them stay in their business and keep us fed, and also allowing for the eventual return to more localized farming (which is better for you AND the environment, what with less fossil fuel used to transport foods and items that simply taste better and come fresher). Most important for a healthy diet and life, organic and natural foods (i.e. sans the corn syrups, chemicals, and preservatives) simple ensure that you are putting better things into your body. Isn't that worth it?
I used to be reluctant to believe that organic was anything besides a more-expensive version of what I could buy at Walmart, that it was a trend for elitists. I would make fun of my roommate (in a kind way) for buying cage-free eggs, organic milk and baked beans, and sodas made with pure cane sugar. The fact is though, the eggs come from chickens that received no growth hormones (which are passed to you), your milk will be chemical-free, your beans will not have been sprayed with the heaviest pesticides, and your soda pop will be void of the competitors high-fructose corn syrup.
One thing that I used to use against the case for local and organic food was that it is more expensive, and not visibly worth the difference. But as I have illustrated the more long-term and less outwardly visible benefits, let me report something I learned in McKibben's book:
"The deepest problem that local-food efforts face, however, is that we've gotten used to paying so little for food. It may be expensive in terms of how much oil it requires, and how much greenhouse gas it pours into the atmosphere, and how much tax subsidy it receives, and how much damage it does to local communities, and how many migrant workers it maims, and how much sewage it piles up, and how many miles of highway it requires-- but boy, when you pull your cart up to the register, it's pretty cheap.
"In the 1930s a family might have spent a third of its income on food; middle-class Americans now spend more like a tenth. And food is cheap not just in terms of money, but time. Mostly we eat processed food; cooking is something that happens on the Food Network."
He goes on to quip about the quality of grocery store lettuce, asking how you might feel after making a trip across country: "A little tired and limp and warm... well, that's how the lettuce feels."
I cannot provide every point, example, and answer that McKibben does. All I can do is claim my own conversion to the case for locally grown foods and organic products. I have been cooking much more, using Harry's Farmer's Market, and buying all the fresh vegetables and ingredients to make the things I used to make from boxes or frozen items. I avoid processed foods, corn syrups, and chemically altered dairy items. What difference it makes is nearly immeasurable, but the impact in my own life feels great.
I highly recommend McKibben's book, if you want to learn a little more about some of the practical means of going local and going organic, and also if you want to learn more about some of his awesome proposals for sustainable and community living.