Over the last few years, I worked on a book about creativity and nice times. It came out in April 2015. It’s called Craft For The Soul.
I was thinking about the things that have happened this year (as you do!) and I thought about my book (which is very special to me) and I thought, WHY NOT SHARE A CHAPTER HERE?! Maybe you would like to read some of it, if you haven’t already? I mean, how would you know what it was really about (and if my writing is sh*t or not) if you don’t get to read a bit?!
So I am doing that. Because you’re worth it. Merry Christmas! Perhaps this is the perfect book for YOU or someone you know?! Or perhaps it’s just perfect to read a chapter right now and then head off on your merry way. That’s okay too. Enjoy!
Nice times are my goal.
I like great times, ace times, rad times, but nice times are generally what I’m aiming for. They’re solid and they’re warm. Dependable and calm. They’re achieved in lots of different ways and aren’t quite as frantic as the much more popular, happy times.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally into happiness too. I just think it’s become a bit of a buzzword, a commodity, a red herring of sorts. Happiness has become a fairly lofty benchmark and a lot of us are more than a little anxious that we’re not measuring up. Gulp.
Happiness is something to celebrate. Yes. But don’t let it get in the way of you having a nice time. That’s so not the point. Happiness anxiety may well be an actual thing. As we’re pinning ‘Comparison is the thief of joy’ quotes to our ‘Inspired By’ Pinterest boards, we’re ‘like-ing’ photos of perfect apartments in Helsinki and wondering why that’s not our life! It’s all gone a bit awry.
In her book ‘The How of Happiness’ Sonja Lyubormirsky writes: Studies show that 50% of individual differences in happiness are determined by genes, 10% by life circumstances, and 40% by our intentional activities. She goes on to say that 54% of (US) adults “lack great enthusiasm for life and are not actively and productively engaged with the world.” Sonja again “People high in mindfulness – that is, those who are prone to be mindfully attentive to the here and now and keenly aware of their surroundings – are models of flourishing and positive mental health.”
Don’t you want to be a model of flourishing and positive health? I really do. I must have those lucky flourishy genes because I’ve learnt to focus and do well despite my circumstances, taking small steps towards goodness, creativity and happiness from an early age. I notice the good stuff that goes on around me. I’m build opportunities and progress into my day. I’m all about being productive, working on the kinds of projects that are meaningful to me and I’m into happy moments, as opposed to the high pressure ‘happy life’. I’m narrowing the broad happiness focus to more attainable bite-sized bits. Go me!
THIS book is a reminder of that. A manual on how to do rewarding bite-sized things, in case you want to shift or refresh your focus too.
Not to put a dampener on this positive plan, but we need to talk about the tricky bits too. Life’s really NOT always peachy, is it? Happy’s not the default. Crappy stuff indeed does happen and no amount of affirmations can right all wrongs. Illness strikes. Setbacks occur. Depression looms. Insecurity arises. These are the less coveted, very human things life is made of.
I try to balance these unavoidable annoying bits with plenty of nicer bits too. I have systems in place. Routines, prompts, guides, things. I’ve KIND OF worked out how to push right through the tricky. Maybe I can help you too? Come sit by me!
I’m not afraid of the bad bits. (Okay, that’s a lie.) Let’s just say I understand that tricky times are an important part of life. As fabulously sparkly and sought after as HAPPY TIMES are, it’s the tricky times that make us who we are. They challenge us and make us dig deep. They make us feel things we haven’t felt before and make decisions we didn’t know we could. They increase the likelihood of getting to know ourselves better and they provide contrast and perspective once we see the back of them.
I think it’s weird that there’s the idea some people have superpowers that attract all kinds of good stuff to them, via ‘asking’ for them or ‘positivity’. I know plenty of amazing people who’ve suffered tough times and setbacks and they certainly didn’t manifest them through a lack of positivity. Challenging things happen, even to good people. It’s annoying, but true.
In accepting the tough times, I’m not saying you to lower the happiness bar or expect less. I’m sort of suggesting lengthening the bar, taking a more wholistic approach to what matters in life. Expect different kinds of affirming stuff in your life. Happiness matters, but so do all kinds of other great feelings. Nice times are not as all or nothing thing, as happiness can be. I’ve never attracted anything with a super power, either. There are degrees of goodness we can encourage. Warmth, cosiness, belonging, progress, productivity. Smaller steps that come under the happiness banner and should be appreciated and valued too.
Yes I want to be happy, but I want to feel creative, useful, purposeful, appreciated, playful, challenged… all kinds of other things too. There’s a whole bunch of great gateway feelings to be had if we shift the spotlight from the intoxicating H (happiness!)
I like the idea of creating nice times and happy moments with a firm fortified backbone at the ready for managing trickier times too. That seems more realistic to me.
Finding small, practical, simple ways to create this firm foundation for nice times is what I’m going for.
This doesn’t mean that you instantly have a happy life, that the problems you have evaporate, that everything is okay. It does mean that happy moments are yours for the taking though. Take them when you can. Decide to. Fortify yourself with bite sized bits of feel-good. Notice the positives. Fell all of the OTHER good feelings (not just the happy!)
What is happiness anyway?
Happiness. Golly. It’s a biggie right? A huge, amazing, helpful industry has sprung up around the happiness ideal. I wasn’t sure if this was a recent thing, so I did a bit of digging. Apparently, we started only starting aiming for happy around the 18th century but things have gained momentum since then.
I’ve been through hard times, as I’m sure you have. Health scares, favourite people dying, pets lost, curve balls thrown. Crappy things have happened with alarming frequency. Perhaps you can relate?
In these times, I did the sensible thing and turned to… self-help books! I read a LOT of books about happiness, optimism, how we think and what we feel. Lucky for you, this makes me a happiness expert*. I’ve done both practical and theoretical study. I know my way around the happy thing.
Happiness depends on setting goals
Happiness depends on what you need, where you are now, where you REALLY want to be and whether you are taking steps to get there (or at least have a view of the destination.)
Difficult stuff, sadness, frustration,anger and ambivalence can be rooted in this kind of square-pegging it in a round hole. Doing things you don’t want to do with no clear view of where you really want to be will not make you happy. Uh-uh.
If you are living something true to you, on the other hand, you’ll feel happier, more creative, more fulfilled. If the decisions you make are based on your own life mission, you’ll feel purposeful. If the things that are happening get you closer to the things you hold dear and true to you… you’ll feel satisfied. If you’re doing things that have meaning to you, you’ll feel fulfilled.
If it doesn’t feel right, on the other hand, then it probably isn’t. Your interior barometer tells you when something’s not the best fit for you. Towing the line, putting up with stuff, enduring. They can all be a means to an end goal. OR they can be a sure sign of a poor fit. Only you will know what your truth is. Assess the ill-fitting bits often. Think about whether you need to stick it out or run for the hills.
We can benefit from relaxing into things and going with the flow sometimes. But overall goal setting is really important. Your goals might be big and loose: ‘Be Happy’ or they might be smaller ‘Remember to eat breakfast’. Perhaps they are precise ‘Become a brain surgeon’. Nice. Goals are good.
Creating some clear goals for yourself sets you on a purposeful path. When in doubt you can refer to your Trusty List ‘O’ Goals and think about whether the things you are up to are getting you any closer to these ‘hopes and dreams’ and if not, whether it matters. It’s good to have a map.
Happiness depends on perspective
Sometimes we don’t seem to be living the dream. The things we are working on seem menial or boring or not true to us. It’s easy to get demoralised when things are moving slowly or not moving at all. The goals we’ve set might be so far away they seem like a mirage wobbling on the horizon.
We need to rethink what we’re doing. Maybe the stuff we’re doing intersects with the seemingly far away goal we’ve set, somewhere along the line. Maybe objects are closer than they seem.
We need to reframe what we’re pushing through and focus on where we’re ultimately headed. Creativity, happiness, success. They are not always easy. Sometimes you just have to knuckle down and keep going, trusting the process and assuming the right stuff will happen. That the right things will find you at the right time. They really will. While you are pushing through, you can build in some nice moments and make the most of them. That really helps. Start small.
Taking repeated small steps toward our bigger goals is vital. Anne Lamott’s book on writing, ‘Bird by Bird’, favours this get started, keep going, step by step approach. And writing is a great analogy for life. When you’re writing a book you KNOW you want to write, you have some ideas about how it will go, but in the end you just have to sit down and commit, start typing and see what happens. Often the result is as much a surprise to the author as it is to the reader. Life can be like that too.
Silver linings, blah, blah, gem!
A job I worked on 7 days a week super successfully ended suddenly due to budget cuts and I was left a bit adrift. I quickly got other work to replace the 7 day a week passion project, but I was a bit heartbroken and confused by the whole thing. Something I’d put my heart and soul into, something that had done really well and was well-loved and read just had the pin pulled. A year of committed work seemingly went down the drain. I felt sick for 2 weeks, not putting it down to project grief, but rather thinking I’d been eating too much bread or something. (Why do I blame everything on BREAD? I love bread!)
Anyway, after two weeks, I came out of my fug and felt a whole lot better. I realised it was not the bread after all. I moved on, still confused, but back on my feet and feeling okay. Then it dawned on me. Yes, it was really sad to lose something I loved working on, but working most days on that project in many different ways had been an amazing learning curve. I became MUCH better at my work, simply by practicing and working hard. And even though I’d left behind the REASON for the hard work, I still had the ethic and skills. All the other work I did, following the lost project seemed like a breeze. I was used to working solo on a thing that I loved, so I had taught myself to put in 120% and to do it pretty quickly and snazzily too.
My lost project was a gift, really. It made me a much better writer, publisher and creative. Once I realised this, the weight of loss gave way to the lightness of achievement. It was all about perspective really.
Of course, not all difficult times are as easy to recover from as mine. Losing people, pets, houses or health are all MUCH MUCH worse than my above mentioned trial. It’s hard to find the good in those things, because there is often none. BUT. There might be other benefits to those kinds of challenges. A health overhaul. A rekindled relationship. An enforced slow down. A reality check. Or maybe tinier things. A kind word from someone. A beautiful gift. A bunch of special memories. A fresh new day.
Perspective is vital if you want to stay on track. You can wallow under a blanket and explain how wronged you’ve been. Or you can work hard at excavating the difficult times and try to find the gems that are hidden within. I vote gems.
If you’d like to do some activities related to this chapter (or read what older people think about happiness) go here.