Category Archives: Happiness

Lifting Winter Spirits

I’ve struggled with varying degrees of winter blues since I was little. In elementary school, I remember feeling sad and crying in the winter for now reason, and after I moved out of my parents’ house to be a grown-up, winter meant crazy depression, anxiety, and emotional eating. Lots and lots of emotional eating.

I’ve learned that there’s a space in between completely dropping into that dark place and wasting my energy fighting through it. Winter is my time to slow way down and rearrange my priorities.

snow 5

Last winter I fought it and denied it. I also whined about it. The winter before that, I let it completely steamroll me. So far this year, I’ve settled into that in-between space pretty nicely and I’ve learned a few things that seem to be working well so far.

My new favorite winter survival tips, in no particular order:

  • Eat lots of colors and citrus fruits. Something about an orange or some spicy red onion in my salad really perks up my mood. Also, eating salad is good. I tend to crave heavy, carby, fatty foods that don’t make me feel good if I eat them too much, but eating wintery salads keeps me in touch with my body’s signals for hunger, fullness, and what I need to eat. Or get back in touch with those signals.
  • Happy music-keeps my energy and mood up. Christmas music is great, but I also have a happy playlist on my iPod that keeps me going. I also love calming, uplifting music like Krishna Das. It also gets me in the mood to do yoga, which is always a good thing. On the flip side, watch out for depressing music.  Sometimes we tend to “mood match” with music, but that doesn’t help a gloomy mood.
  • Keep busy, but relax too. I’ve noticed there are two sides to winter blues: gloomy moods and low energy. Staying busy helps the gloomy part, but getting enough rest is the best way to handle the fatigue. If I’m gloomy and tired, then a hot bath and early bedtime might be the best thing I can do. If I just need a mood boost but have a little steam left, I put on fun music and scrub the floor. Nothing gets me off the couch like Gangnam Style. That song is my secret happy mood weapon. Yes, it is on my happy playlist.
  •  I practice positive affirmations and gratitude every day, usually on my walk to work.
  •  Take vitamin D, drink my raw milk. Gotta get those nutrients.
  • Don’t guilt trip myself for not eating or exercising perfectly, or for being “lazy” (i.e. needing to rest).
  • Enjoy the contrast and perks of winter: Layering, hearty soups, herbal tea, cozy blankets and good books, hot baths,  snow days. I’ll miss them when it’s 95 degrees outside and all I can stand to eat is watermelon.
  •  Pamper myself by taking a hot bath as soon as I get home from work. That warms me up and calms me down, without fail. Until I get the gas bill.
  • Take a walk in the middle of the day when the sun is highest, if I can. If not, I don’t feel bad. Do what you can.

Thought this is the darkest time of the year, I’m happy to report that I’m actually doing ok. Sure, my energy is lagging and I have some gloomy days, but overall I’m enjoying myself. Above all, I found that the most important thing is to make peace with the fact that I’m not as productive this time of year. I don’t create as much, my homemaking duties tend to get neglected, but that’s ok.

It’s about enjoying life, not fighting.

 

Trusting the Moments

A few weeks ago, I finished up an 8 week ballet course I took through the local college’s community education program. I’ve always wanted to dance and I hoped that this class could help me set some new groove in my brain and muscle memory that might help me to move in expressive ways. I had a great time, I learned some new things, and I loved closing my eyes at the barre and pretending I was a prima ballerina preparing for rehearsal, but I realized something startling: as much as I love watching dance, painting dancers, choreographing in my head, I didn’t love dance. At least not the nitty gritty details of it. It felt more like a workout class than a starting point for a new creative medium. Even more startling, I was ok with the fact that I wasn’t that into it. It wasn’t even because it was hard and I was giving up. I just realized that it wasn’t what I wanted. At least not right now.

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I have a habit of writing myself long to-do lists, making grand plans (because it’s good to dream big), and wanting to try and learn everything.  Lately, I limit my to-do list to just a few things and if I don’t get those done, it’s not a biggie. It’s ok that I don’t feel like taking voice lessons right now or brushing the dust off my piano books, or auditioning for theater. I’m only bringing a couple library books home at a time instead of a huge cloth grocery bag full of books on dozens of subjects.

Sometimes, especially this time of year, I might feel sad or anxious without knowing why. These feelings used to scare me because they felt out of my control. Each winter, I’d tense up and panic because I just knew I’d be doomed to months of sadness until spring when nature would allow me to be happy again. I do feel sad or unmotivated sometimes, especially in these dark evenings, but I know that mood will change and that I can actually do something about it. Keep busy. Just sit with it and appreciate it the contrast. Look at the gray, snowless landscape and appreciate its beauty the same way I appreciate spring flowers and bright summer days.  I can accept that energy and perky moods don’t come as easily at this time of year, but I can still be joyful and productive.

My diet isn’t perfect. My body isn’t perfect, or even at my perfect weight right now. That’s ok. My relationships aren’t perfect. My art and writing projects don’t always turn out perfect. I just keep working on them until I like them and that’s that.

This may sound like a lot of giving up, or narrowing my mind because I’m not interesting in everything in the world at the moment, but it’s actually freeing to not want or expect myself to do everything. I bring home less library books, but I read more. I make shorter to-do lists, but I get more done.  My life is less chaotic, overwhelming, and I have so much less guilt.

It’s not giving up, it’s making peace with what is and what I am right now. It’s trusting the cycles and seasons of my life and that if something is meant for me, there will be a time for it. There are no lost opportunities. It’s realizing priorities and what really matters. Living in the moment instead of only living for some ambiguous “when” in the future.  Most of all, it’s accepting that I have everything I need to be happy here and now, even if I don’t have money to travel the world right now or if I’m not taking music lessons and blogging every day and working full time and square foot gardening and sprouting grains in my kitchen and working out. Right now my priorities are paying the bills, taking care of myself, spending time with my husband and family, having fun with my art and writing, and taking things day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment.

Wide Awake

I usually experience an opening or awakening in the springtime when my soul seems to wake up after a long troubled sleep. I see things clearly again. That didn’t happen this year. It started to. I felt a few moments of wide open clarity early on when I first saw the daffodils come up or on the first warm day, but I feel like I never really woke up. I’ve never had an awakening at this time of year, in the late fall or winter. This is usually when I feel my spirit darkening like tinted glass, when I close off and hunker down inside for a long period of deliberate unconsciousness where I try my best to ignore what’s going on around me.

Instead, I feel bright. Sure, I get tired and a little gloomy in the dark, early evenings sometimes, but most of the time I feel amazing. Something about these cold, clear days; the changing color palette; and watching the trees strip down to their essence is incredibly cleansing, as if the old ideas are becoming brittle and breaking away, leaving me sharp, clear, and wide open for the cold winds to whistle though. It’s like splash of cold water to the face to wake up in the morning.

I may feel differently in a few weeks, but right now I’m going to enjoy this. Maybe winter and I can be friends. Anything is possible.

Relearning Happiness

One of the things I’ve spent a lot of time pondering over the last few months is happiness, and how I acquired it and them seemed to lose it again. The summer of 2011 was one of the most joyful times of my life, and not because everything in my life was perfect or was working out the way I wanted it to. I’d learned how to be happy, and once that knowledge was securely in place, it was easy to maintain until some big changes knocked them loose again.

After that, I told myself I was happy. I’d learned how to be happy, hadn’t I? I only struggled with anxiety and gloominess again because it was winter, right? As soon as spring came, I’d feel that joy again. All I had to do was wait. It wasn’t my fault.

Spring came. Summer passed. I never really felt spring or summer though. I felt like it just got hot. That anxiety and gloomy mood stayed with me. As much as I lied to myself, I wasn’t happy. That joy from the previous summer didn’t return with the sun.

That’s part of the reason why I decided to put everything on hold for awhile so I could figure everything out.

After a particularly overwhelming week, I decided that I wouldn’t lie to myself anymore. I wasn’t happy, but I knew happiness was possible because I’d achieved it before. I knew it didn’t depend on what job I had, how much money we were making, or anything outside of myself because I’d been happy in far less “ideal” situations.

So how did I do it? I spend the day reading my journals from that time, rereading blog posts from the spring and summer of 2011, and reading the book that introduced me to the ideas that turned everything around. If I could learn happiness once, I could do it again.

I realized that I just had to relearn everything.

The ideas and practices that brought me happiness before, I’d taken them for granted. I thought I knew them all, so I stopped practicing what I knew. I just expected that mindset to maintain itself, and I unconsciously let it slip away.  I felt humbled, because I realized that no matter how much I think I know, I will always have to practice and relearn these things. Gratitude, positive thought patterns, trust, affirmations, love…those things are practices rather than a permanent mindset that never goes away once it’s in place.

So now I do the things I used to do. I write things I’m thankful for in my journal every single day. I use affirmations and mantras to maintain positive thought patterns. I make an effort to appreciate others. I make a conscious effort to trust that things will work themselves out instead of fear that they won’t. I feel like a beginner again, but I actually feel happy and peaceful now even though there’s a foot of snow on the ground and the sun goes down earlier every night. I have less energy for sure and I get a little gloomy in the evenings, but overall, I can honestly say that I’m happy right now.

If I’ve learned anything from this, it’s that happiness is both a choice and a practice, not a result of circumstances or luck. As humbling as that knowledge is, it’s comforting to know that I can always choose happiness.

I wish you all the joy and happiness you deserve. Have a wonderful Tuesday!

 

Cure for a Bad Mood: A Change of Perspective

Something amazing happened on Memorial Day.

I woke up in the worst mood ever. I felt depressed and confused about pretty much everything and I almost cried through my morning walk. I got home and sat on the couch staring at the wall for a half hour or so because I couldn’t seem to bring myself to do anything else. I didn’t feel like writing, making art, reading a book, eating breakfast, or even taking a shower. The sunshine and birdsong outside didn’t even cheer me like it usually does.

It was a scary feeling because I was questioning pretty much everything. I had a good cry on the couch and then somehow fell asleep even though I’d just gotten up from a full night’s sleep less than two hours earlier.

When I woke up 45 minutes later, I felt amazing.

I didn’t notice at first, the but bad feeling was completely gone. All the confusion was gone even though nothing had gotten much clearer; it just didn’t seem as scary any more. I knew things would work out.

I made myself some breakfast, got dressed, wrote for awhile, spent some time with Sam, then walked down to the park to lay on the grass and read a book until it was time to leave for our hike.

We hiked up a canyon trail with our friends Kyle and Destinee, I don’t remember what it was called, but it was beautiful. I love hiking so much. It’s exhilarating without hammering my knees like running does, and nothing makes me feel alive like being out in nature. I climbed up to a little cliff to sit and look down the canyon at Utah Lake. Destinee didn’t climb up with us and the boys climbed a little higher, so I got to sit by myself for a few minutes before climbing up with them.

As I sat with my toes dangling over the drop-off, I wondered how I had felt to awful just a few hours ago when I felt so happy then on the cliff. Nothing else in my life had changed but me. I’ll never underestimate the power of a nap again. It’s just a shift in perspective.

I had a great memorial day. We had a great time on the hike and then we went to a cemetery to put flowers on the graves that didn’t have any.

The moral of the story: Indulgent nap+fun hike with friends+putting flowers on graves=cure for a crappy mood.

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California Part 2-I love the beach!

Read Part 1 here.

One of my favorite places in the world is the beach. No beach in particular, just a beach. Whenever I do guided meditations that instruct me to find a special places to watch my thoughts go by, I always think of a beach at sunset, and I sit on a rock and watch my thoughts pass over the horizon.

The Santa Monica Pier wasn’t exactly peaceful, but I had a lot of fun. I had a lot of fun taking random pictures of shapes and colors that interested me and I got some fun ideas for a series I’m hoping to paint this summer.

I had a good time watching the musicians, breakdancers, and portrait artists on the pier. There was even a girl with a few burmese pythons who was apparently raising money to buy roosters. I assume they were to feed the snakes. Anyway, I love snakes, so I definitely got in on this.

Here name was cleopatra. The last time I got to hold one of these, he tried to slither into my pocket, but Cleopatra was a little more polite.

I was hoping to see some dolphins or sea lions in the ocean, and I noticed a smooth shape surfacing now and then under the end of the pier. Once I got down there, the sea lion had swum closer to the beach on the side of the pier, and I almost fell down the stairs trying to get closer for a better look. She even poked her head out of the water and barked. I watched her for a long time. Yes, I randomly decided it was a she. I love sea lions. They seem like such happy animals.

I rode the roller coast with my little brother Chandler, that behemoth behind me with the stud glasses, because he’d never ridden a roller coaster on the beach before. The beach really does make it more fun, which is good, because this was actually a pretty lame roller coaster. I’ll have to take him to Magic Mountain someday and show him a real roller coaster.

I love this picture, because it shows how tall my 16 year old baby brother is.

We had our shitzu, Maya with us, and dogs weren’t allowed on the actual beach, so Mom and I walked on the beach for a few minutes while everyone took Maya back to the car. I wasn’t leaving until I actually got to touch the ocean. Californians are funny. They bundle up if the temperature drops below 70, but they’ll throw on their bikinis and jump into the freezing ocean in April, no problem. It was definitely cold. I rolled up my jeans and let the water run over my feet, but that was it. It felt good to feel the ocean though, and to walk on a beach. Every time I visit the ocean, it’s like something inside me that’s been holding its breath finally lets go. Maybe I’ll live by the ocean someday.

Sigh. I love the beach.

Keeping Childlike Wonder-California Pt. 1

The week before last, I took a much-needed trip to California with my family. Sam couldn’t leave school, so it was just me, my parents, and three teenage siblings.

#3 doesn't like to smile.

We spent a day at Disneyland and I think I had more fun than anyone. I’m really just a big kid. That’s probably why I get along with kids so well. Fraggle Rock is still my favorite show and I still love the Alice in Wonderland ride at Disneyland (which we didn’t get to go on. Sad).

 

I realized how important it is to keep the wonder and sense of magic that we have as children, because that lives in the same part of our spirits as our imagination, and life without imagination is a pretty sad mess. Most of us catch a glimpse of that magic when we see Christmas lights or when we hear Disney music, but the magic tends to get lost in the stress of everyday life.

A few tips for keeping the magic:

  • Remember how you would have reacted to something when you were a child. When riding Pirates of the Caribbean or any other ride at Disneyland, I would have totally thrown myself into that world. I would actually be on a boat in the Caribbean. I’d actually be on a runaway train in a rocky mountain. I’d be a mermaid in that swimming pool. I’d be Pocahontas on that hike.

I'd actually be a princess in that castle.

  • Stop caring what other people think. I have a hard time with this one actually. This is why I don’t dance in public, even if everyone around me is (like at Holi). Don’t be afraid to cry, or laugh really hard, or even dance if a good beat gets you going.

How’s your sense of childlike magic doing?

What do you want to do today?

Sometimes when I feel like I’m moving too fast or running on autopilot, I like to stop and get back on track. One of my favorite ways to reawaken myself to my own life and purpose is to get out my journal and write about what I would do that day if I didn’t have to do anything. I might also write about my ideal day, or maybe just list 20 or so things that I love to do and remind myself to build my life around those.

A lot of people think they’d lay around and watch TV all day if they didn’t have to do anything, and that may be true, but everyone is passionate about something. People need to actually do things to be happy. If you don’t know what you like to do, you might want to start there.

My day usually involves reading, writing, making art, taking walks, and spending time with my husband. Pretty simple. Some days I feel like going on an adventure and some days I’d rather curl up with a blanket and a Tracy Chevalier novel. Still, playing this little game helps me reassess what I’m doing and whether it’s getting me where I need to go. We should enjoy our lives. It’s not all fun and games; we all have things that need to get done that we’d rather not do, but the bulk of our lives should be enjoyable.

Find out what you love most and build your life around that. Use your “ideal day” writing as a compass.

Today, if I didn’t have to go to work, I’d go for a walk, work on some new paintings, prepare two of my paintings for an upcoming juried show, read a little, write in my journal, and go for a walk in the evening. Maybe a picnic with my husband. That’s actually what I’m planning to do today, more or less, just with my regular workday in the middle.

What would you do today, or on your ideal day? What do you love to do more than anything?

Spiritual Spring Cleaning

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I made it through another one.

Winter and I have never been on very good terms, but it feels like the last several years have been much worse. Even though I see this as a valuable challenge in my life that will ultimately help me grow stronger, I still hate winter. I hate feeling like crap in the winter. When I think of winter, I also think of lots of swear words, but I won’t write them here.

Each spring feels like a lungful of fresh air after I feel like I’ve been half-smothered for the past few months. I can’t tell you how amazing I feel when I first smell that special springy smell for the first time each year. It feels like hope, a fresh start. I feel like laughing and crying and rolling around in the grass like a maniac though the grass is still brown and there’s usually still some snow on the ground at this point.

I’m not naive enough to think that it will be all sunshine from here on out. I live in Utah, which is known for schizo weather. We might get snow, rainstorms, a tornado, who knows. It’s spring though, and that’s good enough for me.

I tend to go numb in the winter, so when spring rolls around I find it helpful to take a fresh look at my life and take stock, sort of like surveying the damage after a flood.

  • I’ve slipped back into some habits that don’t serve me like stressing out over trifles, some emotional eating, and not eating enough veggies.
  • I’ve put on about 10 pounds this winter due to aforementioned emotional eating. I’m not upset or anything, but I don’t think my body likes it much. I know that it will fall right off when I get my head back in a good place. It always does. At least my pants aren’t too big anymore.
  • My creativity lagged a little for awhile, mostly around the time I went back to work full time, but I feel like things are flowing again.
  • I’ve had time to think long and hard about my goals and priorities and I feel like I’m on the right path. I’m learning to balance goals with living in the moment, which is a rough lesson for me. I’m better at living in the past or future rather than the present, but here is all we have. It’s a beautiful skill.
  • I’m experiencing some food sensitivities and blood sugar issues again, which is a reminder to let food fade into the background rather than relying on it as a prime source of excitement or strength in my life.
  • I get to start all over on what little tan I managed to get last year. A tan for me, by the way, means that I don’t blend into the white walls in my apartment. Time to get my pasty bod back out in the sun!

Though my tone is quite snarky and slightly dry today, I actually feel extremely hopeful right now. I’m noticing that people around me seem to be perking up too. People seem to smile more, they have more energy. Spring is good for us.

Spring cleaning is always something I’ve enjoyed because I love to clear out the old stuff and feel fresh. I haven’t really made plans for spring cleaning yet, but I’ll be sure to do that soon.

What I have been thinking about is a Spiritual Spring Cleaning, in which I clear out some old ideas, habits, and mindsets that don’t suit me anymore. I’ve been noticing a lot of those things cropping up lately, and now I feel ready to shed them so I can grown. I’ve already started spontaneously, before I even knew what to call it. I’ve been instinctively writing a ton in my journal, reading through passages in my books that never meant anything to me before, listening to things that inspire me, etc. It’s like I heard a little voice in my ear that said “McKella, it’s time for you to grow.”

Now I’m doing what I need to do to find those stale mindsets that keep me stuck, question them, and then let them go.

I think I should make this my new yearly ritual.

How about you? Do you do spring cleaning? Do you have any old junk to clear out for your Spiritual Spring Cleaning?

What Feeds You?

If you’ve been reading Handprint Soul for awhile, you know that I’ve had problems with compulsive eating in the past. I’m not one of those people who wastes away when I’m upset; quite the opposite in fact. While I’ve spent lots of time researching the various genetic, nutritional, hormonal, emotional, and cognitive reasons for this and have taken steps to balance them, this tendency still pops up from time to time.

For most of the past year, I’ve had a good handle on eating intuitively. I lost 30 pounds last summer and felt free from any kind of food obsession. I felt fabulous.

I’ve been pretty munchy for the past couple months, especially the last few weeks, and I have a little bit of a “winter coat,” though I’m pretty confident it will go away in the spring. In the meantime, the couple extra pounds don’t really bother me, but the thoughts do. I don’t like thinking about food all the time. I’d rather think about art, writing, Sam, my friends, or just have a clear head sometimes. I don’t like it when food seems like the most comforting, exciting thing in my life. In the week before a party or planned dinner out, the thoughts of food keep popping in my head and don’t go away. I know this isn’t entirely under my control and that certain parts of my brain tend to be overactive, which is why I get “stuck” on certain thoughts (I’ve put lots of research into this.)

To a certain extent though, I can observe this happening and even talk back to these thoughts. One tactic I’ve been using lately is to think “What is feeding me today?”

If the only enjoyable parts of my day revolved around food, I know one of two things. Either I’m experiencing fear and avoiding thinking about something, or I’m not caring for my spirit.

This is tricky, because it changes every day. I love walks most days, but some days I’d rather paint, or read a book. Sometimes I just need to snuggle with my cat and write in my journal. Once in awhile I want to go out with friends, or be spontaneous. Sometimes, I’m just sad and need some comfort from something other than cookies. The other day, a snap of beautiful weather filled me like nothing I’ve felt in months.

If you struggle with food or any other compulsion, ask yourself what you get out of it and what you’re really missing. Can you give yourself what you really need? Is something off with your mood? Do you need more excitement or challenges in your life? Have you taken time to pursue your own interests? Do you take time for rest?

I’m still getting the hang of this, and I’m learning to eat intuitively during the winter and deal with low moods authentically rather than numbing them. This is a useful tool that I’m learning to use. I feed my body when it needs it, but I also try to feed my spirit just as often, with spiritual “meals” of walking outside, connecting with others, creating, and a little dash of adventure now and again.

Has anyone else had experience with this?

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