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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!

 

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School VS Education

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I recently went through my old college flash drive and found tons of old essays and stories that I’d forgotten about, so I might share some of them over the next few weeks. This is from my senior year, an essay assignment called “This I Believe.” 

I won’t pretend that I’m thrilled about this assignment. I have a lot on my plate right now with five classes, work kicking my butt, and a novel in progress. My kitchen is overflowing with dirty dishes, my laundry isn’t put away and my living room looks like my desk exploded. One more paper to write is like a fly buzzing around my face while my arms are full of books; annoying, stressful, and something that should be done away with. What’s the point?

Unfortunately, that’s been my mantra this semester. I’m dragging myself through my literature classes, trying to absorb these literary jewels but instead wishing I could be home writing or researching my genre instead. I take notes in lectures, chew pen caps in testing centers, and wade through pages of phonetic transcription and wish I were in a book somewhere, either my own or someone else’s. I graduate in May. I’ve taken dozens of classes, written dozens of papers, taken dozens of tests and what do I know? Not much. I even made a list of important things I’ve learned and I realize very few of them came from school.

I believe school is only a tiny part of education. A degree can get you a job, but the rest of your life is a mess if all your education occurred in a classroom.

I can read and write well. I partially credit my abilities to school, but I learned to write by reading and writing outside of school, reading and writing what I wanted to. I can make a soup or casserole with anything in my fridge. I can take care of kids, balance a checkbook, budget, and pull myself out of depression, but I didn’t learn that from a textbook. Learning happens through practice, trial and error, and help from other people.

Van Gogh said “I never let school get in the way of my education.” I’ve written that quote on top of pages of notes when I start to get overwhelmed by class work and feel my brain clog up like a drain full of hair. I remember to step back, get perspective, do my own thing for awhile and come back fresh so I can absorb what I need from school.

Bad attitude? Maybe. School is important to me. I’ve had some amazing teachers who helped me become better than I would have on my own. I’ve taken classes that have opened my mind wider than I could have alone. I’ve been introduced to some amazing books, ideas, and people I may have never discovered otherwise.

School is part of education, but only a part, not the whole . Education is learning from everything while retaining your identity and core values. Learn from school, people, experiences, trials, experiments, people, places, books, and your own thoughts. Life is a giant school really, but in the school of life, you are your own academic advisor. You choose your teachers, your classes, your curriculum. The world is your classroom.

A Year of Gratitude

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On Saturday morning, I went for an extra long walk. I didn’t take my hat or scarf, though I should have. It was the kind of weather that fools you into thinking it’s warm even though it’s freezing. Sunshine does something for my soul, it stirs up some deep happiness that I forget sometimes when it’s been cloudy for awhile.

I veered off my normal route and walked down the hill a little further so I could get a better view of Utah Lake. It was so beautiful for some reason. I stopped and looked at it for a minute, and then a feeling of gratitude came over me as I thought about where I was a year ago and where I am now.

Last February, I would have never imagined that my life would be like it is now in such a short time. A year ago, I was depressed, sick, my stress and anxiety were through the roof, and overweight because my compulsive eating was out of control. I lived in a tiny studio above my uncle’s garage and worked as a nanny, and I had no idea what to do about my future. I had no social life. I was so creatively stuck that I started to believe that I wasn’t meant to be an artist and writer after all, that I had nothing to say. I felt stuck, and I was miserable.

Now, standing on that hill looking over the lake, I have a clear vision of my future and a path to get there, but I also have the faith to let things unfold as they must. I have a great job that’s actually related to my degree, my body is maintaining a happy weight and though I’m still tweaking my self-care, I’m much healthier. I have an apartment I love, and I’m making art and writing all the time.  I’m actually selling my work, and I have plans for growing my career from this little seed I’ve planted.

I’m so thankful for this past year and how incredibly far I’ve come. I’m so blessed. I’m amazed how I’ve been led to everything I need whether it’s tools, signs, opportunities, friends, or ideas. I’m grateful for my new outlook on the world, that I understand that struggles are important opportunities to learn, and therefore blessings. I could have never learned how to be truly happy without being truly miserable first. I couldn’t learn how to grow if I couldn’t experience being stuck. I couldn’t have acquired the new tools and knowledge I have without the situations that prompted me to seek them.

I hope that you all are well and that you’re experiencing some wonderful growth right now. Have a wonderful week. 🙂

Wise Words: Living and Learning

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The past is to be learned from but not lived in. We look back to claim the embers from glowing experiences but not the ashes. And when we have learned what we need to learn and have brought with us the best that we have experienced, then we look ahead;  we remember that faith is always pointed toward the future.

Jeffrey R. Holland

Painting-A Fire Inside

Although this is one of my favorite paintings, I haven’t yet discussed it on the blog.

This piece was born of fear.

"A Fire Inside" 24X30 Acrylic on Canvas

We all know that feeling of being held back, whether by someone else’s expectations or rules, living or work situations, or someone telling us we can’t.  I was frustrated because I’d just started creating work to sell, and I knew I had a battle ahead of me. I had the “starving artist” myth to contend with, for starters. I had to start an art business from the ground up. I had to get people to notice me, let my work be judged, all while still maintaining my passion and creative flow so that I could produce the best work possible.

I was overwhelmed. It’s still overwhelming now, as I’m in the throws of that battle. I was frustrated that things are the way they are and that it’s so difficult to start doing what I love for a living. It felt like I had so much working against me, and that it was unfair that I had to fight so hard just to do what I love.

Then I realized what a useless attitude that was.

I could moan and whine about how hard things are, or I could let my passion lead me, find joy in the journey of connecting my work with others and cultivating my career. I could dance in that fire of fear and opposition.

The process of creating the painting reflected my thinking process, because they happened at the same time.

I began with a fiery, chaotic background of red, yellow, and orange smeared around with my husband’s old library card (I knew it would never get used) and I added the string, a motif I’ve used for years, because I felt bound at this point. As I worked things through in my mind, I stamped and painted the orbs, which are my representation of celestial bodies, hope, and joy. My trees are just as human as my figures, so I added one of those two. What would my work be without trees?

It took me a long time to decide on a figure, but eventually I settled on a dancer. It’s funny that I paint dancers so often, because I can’t really dance. The movement expresses my feelings  so perfectly though, how this girl just  leaps into the unknown.

There’s such beauty and discovery in letting go.

This piece is available for purchase here.

When Life is Rough

Some days are just rough. That’s how life is, because without the rough days, the great days wouldn’t be so wonderful.

Sometimes the darkness and cold of winter sinks into your bones and you forget that spring is just a few months away. You forget to let yourself settle into the slower time, to admire the landscape, and to appreciate the contrast from the hot, busy days of summer that seemed like only yesterday.

Sometimes it feels like your career will never get off the ground, that no one will ever want what you have to offer. You forget that the struggle to create your career is what makes you a stronger business person, and that the fact that your passion drives you forward anyway is a sign that you’re on the right track.

Sometimes it seems like you’ll never get out of debt or have enough money. Sometimes things get so tight that you don’t want to turn on the lights or drive to the library, but things won’t always be this way. It may be a sign that you need to be more conscious of the way you spend, or that you need to explore some unopened income channels.

Sometimes life isn’t fun, but things always change. As cheesy as it sounds, a positive attitude and a bit of patience makes all the difference. Appreciate the moment, be grateful for it, and learn what you can from the current situation, and let go of the outcome.

Everything will turn out all right.

What’s in Your Toolbox?

 

We all get stressed out sometimes. We all get angry, tired, anxious, or plain burnt out. So what do we do when we get there? How do we take care of ourselves? How do we learn from these emotions?

If you can’t  think of the answers to these questions, don’t worry. It’s ok if you don’t know how to handle these emotions yet, because most people don’t. Most of us see these emotions as bad things that should always be avoided, and that something is wrong with us if we experience them. This isn’t always the case.

Uncomfortable emotions aren’t there to get us, they’re often our greatest teachers and road signs. If we’re stressed, anxious, or  depressed all the time, we know that something in our life or attitude needs to change. If we get angry, we might have stumbled over an emotional block that we get to work through and release so we can live better.

But how do we do this?

We use a toolbox. Everyone has one. This toolbox contains the tools we use to handle emotions.

Sometimes these toolboxes are well-stocked so that we can handle any job life throws at us. Some of our toolboxes are rather sparse. Others are full of hammers when what we really need are screwdrivers.

Let’s take a look at our toolboxes. What kind of tool could we find in there? Let’s take a look at my toolbox first. It may not look like your ideal toolbox, but it sure works for me:

  • Journaling
  • Yoga, walking and hiking outside
  • Uplifting reading like my religious texts, blogs, and books like Healing from the Heart by Dr. Judith Moore (this book was key in my recovery)
  • Talking to my husband, Mom, or friend.
  • Cleaning my apartment, artmaking, and cooking. Great activities for when my hands need something to do while I think.
  • iPod: good music, inspiring podcasts and my SoulArt courses.
For me, this is a well-stocked toolbox, and these things work  for a lot of people. This is what I do when I encounter difficult emotions that I need to work through, think about, talk about, or ride out.
My toolbox used to contain a lot of other things that didn’t get the job done, like eating to cope with anxiety. Actually, I think that was the only tool in there for awhile. Here are some other unhelpful tools we might use to distract, numb or release feelings:
  • Dangerous behaviors like using drugs, smoking, self-inflicted injury, having unprotected sex or drinking.
  • Zoning out in front of the TV or computer
  • Blowing up at someone to express anger
  • Shopping
  • Wearing ourselves out by overworking or overexercising
  • Bingeing or restricting food
  • Bottling up emotions until they make us sick.
If you constantly feel stressed, irritable, or worn out, you may want to examine your toolbox to make sure you have the right stuff. Otherwise, you’ll waste your time try to pull out nails with a wrench.
So what’s in your toolbox? Here are some ideas of tools you could use instead of the harmful ones listed above.
  • Supporting rituals like “you-time”
  • Supportive friends, family or a counselor you can talk to
  • Journaling and creative expression
  • Exercise
  • Service to others
  • Good books and other resources to help you work through emotions
  • Activities that help you unwind without tuning out. Yoga, reading, and that old self-care cliche, the hot bubble bath.
  • Anxiety-soothing activities that keep your hand or body busy while your mind is free to think like cleaning, knitting, wire-jewelry making, kneading bread dough, whatever.
What’s in your toolbox? Did I miss anything? Let me know!

Learning and Letting Go {Self-Discovery, Word-by-Word}

Life is a series of changes, but I’ve always had a hard time accepting that and it tends to get me into trouble. I don’t like taking risks and whenever I have something good, I’m terrified of losing it, but I think most people are like that. The seasons of life come and go, bringing new lessons and opportunities with them, but they pass just as quickly to make way for the new lessons. This is how we learn and grow.

I think an inability to gracefully deal with change is the root of the depression and anxiety I’ve experienced. It all started when my life did a 180 in a single year and left my head spinning for years after. In one year, I left a toxic relationship of two years, changed my major, changed jobs, got engaged to my friend of four years, went on birth control, moved out of my parent’s house, got married, changed jobs again, moved, and changed jobs again, and started my upper-division coursework. Whew! That’s a lot for anyone to experience it, but should I still be reeling from it years later? Shouldn’t I have gotten used to it by now?

Another change I’ve had a hard time letting go of is my experience with theater in high school. I had a tight-knit group of friends whom I worked with in a creative environment, and I thrived in that situation. I was so happy in high school even though I had my fair share of boy problems and homework related stress. I haven’t been in a show since and I barely see my old friends. I graduated five years ago, I should definitely be over that, right?

How about graduating college, changing homes and jobs twice in the last year, and experiencing health problems for the first time in my life? Ok, that one I’m still dealing with, the loss of my student-status and of being around like-minded people all day, having that cushion of school to protect me from having to be a grownup. This one takes everyone awhile, but no reason to be upset, right?

The thing is, all of these changes brought with them lessons that I needed to learn, so if I’m still struggling with them, I obviously haven’t learned the lessons, have I? Instead of staying stuck in the past, why not examine each situation for what it had to teach me and move on? Learn to be a grownup. Seek out that tight-knit, creative environment I had in high school because it was obviously good for me. Learn what I really want to do with life so I’m not stuck in the throws of graduate depression forever.

Change never stops; the lessons never stop. Live each season as it passes; grow from each one. That’s the beauty of life; it’s never stagnant, even when it feels like you’re not progressing. Something will change either on it’s own or because of a choice you make. Life, like people, is always dynamic and evolving. Learn, let go, and enjoy the ride.

This post was written as part of the Self-Discovery, Word by Word series. This month’s series is hosted by Mara Glatzel at Medicinal Marzipan, who has chosen the word CHANGE. Please go check out the details and take part!

Have you experienced any difficult change lately? 

Lessons I’ve learned

I knew from the moment I graduated that the next year of my life would be different. I felt odd not starting school again in the fall and not to be freaking out over finals around Thanksgiving and Easter. I also feel odd not having the buoy of  next semester to excuse me from having to be a grown up. While you’re a student, you’re not expected to have a career or be powerful, you’re expected to live on rice and beans while spending every spare moment buried in the Norton Anthology, and that’s what I did.

Fast-forward tens months. I don’t have a career. I live in a room above my uncle’s garage and I nanny my six cousins for up to 13 hours a day. My novel is at a standstill, I’m constantly fighting off graduate depression and my compulsive eating, which has gotten gradually worse, has caused me to blossom up to a size 12, which is fine by itself but I know it’s too heavy for me and overeating makes me feel like a banana slug. I’ve been under a tremendous amount of stress and I’ve been getting through it with lots of prayers and a steady musical diet of Dave Matthews and Krishna Daas.

Before you think “Yuck, what a whiner”, there’s a silver lining to this, I promise. It’s always the hard times that teach us the most, and this year has been a massive learning experience for me, and even though I feel completely burned out, discouraged and all but defeated, I know I’ll pick myself up eventually and go on living as a better person because of what I’ve discovered, so I’d like to share some of those lessons with you today:

  • Depression is a sign that something needs to change. Staying in bed all day and throwing yourself a pity party sure sounds nice when you’re miserable, but it won’t change a thing. If your life sucks, do something to change it. I’m currently looking for a different job that can help me progress in my writing career and a new place to live. I’m still struggling with the compulsive eating thing, but I know that eating intuitively is a whole lot easier when I don’t hate my life.
  • Speak up and protect your boundaries: Don’t let anyone take advantage of you, in any situation. You don’t deserve it and if you feel that caving in to someone is necessary to protect the relationship, the relationship needs either work or the boot. Remember, people who love you want the best for you.
  • Your body is smarter than you give it credit for: I always though I had a massive sweet tooth and that I craved sugar every single day. Once I tuned into my body, I realized those urges weren’t coming from it, but from my mind. Bad habits, the desire to escape the situation by eating, competition eating, etc. is the cause of my “cravings”. Even though I feel that I overeat regularly, I haven’t actually had a true craving in a long time. I rarely feel hungry. Most of the time I feel either no hunger or all-out fullness and the lovely sluggishness that comes with it. I’m still working on obeying my body’s signals, but I can certainly hear them. Once I develop the strength to follow them, my physical problems will probably take care of themselves.
  • Things are never as bad as they seem: Whenever I fly in a plane, it always surprises me that the sun is still shining above the clouds, even if from the ground, it looks completely overcast. Even on the worst days, remember the sun is always shining. Something good is happening somewhere. Happiness is a choice, though a very difficult one. I haven’t been a great example of this lately, but remembering and acknowledging the bright spots in your day helps everything.
  • Don’t try to be superwoman: The day is only 24 hours long, and I’d rather spend it doing things that are very important and/or that I enjoy. If I feel like I’m doing something to impress someone else or because I “should” think it’s a big deal, forget it. Learn to say no sometimes. Don’t take on more than you can handle. Your schedules should have gaps, or you’re heading for burnout.
  • If you have to, steal time for the things that feed you. I have to have time to do something creative every day, or I feel like a shriveled-up raisin by the end of the day. If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to take care of anything else. Tell someone no, let the floor go unmopped and do some yoga. Read a book. Actually eat your meal sitting down. It’s not self-indulgent, it’s an act of self-preservation.

I’m sure I have other lessons swimming around in the stew I call a brain, but I can’t think of any more and this post is starting to get long, and we all know I like to keep things short and sweet. These things are important, and I’m having to learn them the hard way. I think everyone does. It’s always the rough times that teach us the most, and that in itself may be the most important lesson of all, to appreciate trials because they’re the fire that shapes us.

Unschooling myself

College graduation wasn’t as delightful as I’d hoped. I didn’t expect much and looking back I probably should have just had them mail my diploma, but I think I wanted some sort of recognition for the four years and thousands of dollars I sunk into this degree that left me with little in the way of actual life skills. Earlier that semester, I got bored in an art history class so I made a list of useful things I knew. I then highlighted the ones I’d learned in school.

Not many.

Feeling “Ripped off” doesn’t cover it.

Soon after graduation, I discovered the concept of unschooling. It’s hard to define, but basically unschooling is letting our natural learning instincts drive our education. Instead of forcing ourselves through school, we can let interests naturally develop and we will learn what we need in order to accomplish our goals. The heavens open and a ray of sunlight fell across my computer screen and I knew I’d struck gold.

I decided to give this unschooling thing a try and let my intuitive drive to learn lead the way. What did I do?

I read a ton of blogs.

Went for a lot of walks.

Read books.

Watched a season of Supernatural.

Freaked out because I was supposed to be a learning machine now, but I was just wasting time!

Or was I?

My unschooling resources mentioned “deschooling”, which is basically a recovery period. My brain was taking a much-needed rest, but even though I didn’t seem to be doing much, I later realized that I was learning!

Learning doesn’t always look like it does in a classroom. It doesn’t require textbooks or three-ring binders or hard metal desks. I learned all kinds of things from blogs and I researched topics that interested me. My brain sucked up info from everything around me whether it was books, tv, things I observed on my walks, and things I noticed happening in my mind and body now that I allowed them to run free.

So I urge you to take some time and let your mind loose. See the value in everything you do, even if it feels like you’re wasting time.