The Happiness Project

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

I'd been curious about the book The Happiness Project whenever I saw it on bookstore shelves, and when my sister commented on it and posted about it, my interest was piqued enough that I picked up a copy on one of my recent trips.  I finally just turned the last page on a (yet another) flight this afternoon.  There was a lot there that I want to absorb, enough so that I think I'd like to re-read the book, and possibly underline or highlight a few passages.

I was inspired enough to begin drafting my own version of the "commandments" (overarching rules that you try to apply to your own life and believe in as core truths).  Here is the list that I've come up with so far:

Cynthia's Commandments:

  • Choose experiences, not things.
  • If something someone else does makes you uncomfortable, think about whether that is because they hit your weak/shame spots.
  • If you're tempted to criticize, think about what it is you want and question its legitimacy.
  • Don't be subversive or passive-aggressive. Be open and talk about what you need.
  • Embody grace.
  • Remember that fear is often the underlying emotion behind things you don't want to do. Give yourself permission to do badly.
  • Give yourself and others space and compassion.
  • Stick with it - everyone struggles in the beginning.
  • Experiment.
  • It's not about you.
  • Release the need to control and attachment to outcomes.
  • Don't let perfect be the enemy of good - or use being short of perfect as an excuse to quit.
I'm sure there will be more, but these felt like a good start.

  • Talk to strangers.
  • Never behave worse in a situation that creates a perception of anonymity (driving, on the internet, etc.) than you would in person. 


So, in 2011 I adopted the idea to have a "theme word" or key concept for each year.  I had a lot on my agenda, I wanted to do and be so much and so many things, and as I thought on it, the word that came to me was "Power*Full".  I achieved all I set out to do in 2011, sometimes in ways that were surprisingly challenging and allowed forced allowed me to grow.

I've been thinking a lot, an undercurrent running just below the surface, about my word for 2012.  A word that I have adopted about much of what I want to embody is "Grace." I considered making this my word for 2012.  But this word is much more than a theme for one year; it is a theme I want to carry through my life.  I don't want to confine it or falsely limit it to one year, and then think "OK, I've 'done' grace."  I think because...well, to me, 'grace' feels more like a constant state of becoming.

I'm still not 100% set.  There is no finish line, but I think I would like to make a selection by Valentine's Day (just an arbitrarily chosen date in the not-too-distant future).  Would you help?  I'll tell you the two words that are in top contention, and you can tell me what you think.

First - I wanted to choose a word that represents my desire to accept failure and keep trying, to continue to grow in ways that may be uncomfortable (the best and biggest growth often is, after all!). 
I thought about 'ADVENTURE' as the word.  I have so much fun with adventure, whether it be far afield (a recent trip to New York City rocked my world!) or close to home (my first adventure into the realm of belly dancing vis-a-vis a class at the Y last night was SO FUN).   I have just been traveling so much lately, and I'm a homebody at heart, and I'm also a little worried about the other possible things that can result from 'adventure' - usually from a place of complete unexpectedness... I'm not sure that I want to ask for a whole year of "ADVENTURE"!!

The second word I'm considering is 'RESILIENCE'.  As I think on it, it speaks to all kinds of flexibility, and a release of rigidity.  This theme is resonating with me (see my recent post on Control).  The thing that worries me a bit about resilience is that it seems to carry a connotation of strife.  I definitely don't want to invite strife into my life!

I guess all words are two sides to a coin.  What do you think?  Is there a word that more perfectly fits one, or both, of these ideas?  Do you love one or the other of my candidates?  I love feedback (I do, however, hate trolls, so check your negativity at the door when you're visiting with me, mmmkaay?).

Do you use the idea of a power word?  Does the idea interest you?

I'd like to thank one of my favorite 'virtual' friends, Joy Tanksley, for prompting me to think about this again today and write about it here.  There may even be a vision board in my future.  My gosh, that just sounds luscious, don't you think?

Gallup Strengthsfinder Observations

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

My company is a big advocate of the Gallup Strengthsfinder, and the more I have the opportunity to observe myself and others, the more I am a believer in the truth and value of the assessment also.  My top 5 strengths (in order) are:  Relator, Restorative, Achiever, Harmony, Intellection.

My next strengths (in order) are:

  • Analytical
  • Deliberative
  • Arranger
  • Input
  • Self-Assurance
  • Command
  • Discipline

What does this mean?   Well, the net effect of some of these strengths manifested itself recently in an interaction with my sister.

We'd made plans to go see a movie, one that I'd been wanting to see for a while.  It was in limited release, which meant that the options for times and places to see it were also limited. My sister went through her morning following her own agenda, including a variety of errands.  I was basically sitting around around all morning waiting for her to arrive.  She arrived and we discovered that we'd essentially have to jump up, run out the door and straight to the theater to (barely) make the show start time (it was a :15 drive and the show time was in :15, for example).  This didn't align to my expectations - it was not deliberative, it was not arranged, it lacked discipline...  I didn't want to do it.  It felt messy and rushed.

I have an extreme bias against feeling rushed, and I think that it is rooted in these "strengths" - my personality quirks.  In particular, my deliberative strength makes me nervous if I feel that I am rushing in without due diligence.  My input strength makes me want to be sure I get all the information.  My intellection strength means I like to think about things.  There are definite benefits (or "pros") to all of the strengths, but obviously for every "pro" there can also be a few "cons".  

Just a note of interest.  My recent post about control is an observation on myself as much as of others.  If you're interested to read the descriptions of the strengths listed above, Google the phrase "Gallup (Strength)" and the description will pop up (e.g. "Gallup Intellection").

So THIS explains why I am slow, stubborn, and bossy.  Or, from the flip side, why I am thoughtful, well-organized, thorough, and confident...

Bucket list

Thursday, January 12, 2012

See the Northern Lights
Ride in a Hot Air Balloon
Participate in Octoberfest in Munich
See Yo-Yo Ma in concert
Visit Monument Valley in Utah
See the pyramids
Visit Australia or New Zealand

This is just the stuff off the top of my head.  In looking at other people's ideas for their bucket list, I realized I've done a bunch of cool stuff already and count myself pretty darn lucky.

What's on your bucket list?

On Negative Emotions, and "Control"

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

I found this quote today, and it speaks so much to thoughts that have been on my mind lately.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”  – C.S. Lewis

I've been thinking about the nature of negative emotions - fear, anger, you name it.

Here is my assertion:  the genesis for all of our negative emotions and behaviors is our need to feel that we are in CONTROL.

To say it another way - negative emotions are a result of being confronted with the fact that reality refuses to conform to our expectations.

Man is a creature of habit.  We adore our routines.  We look for the expected.  We plan our lives.  We spend all our moments thinking about the past or planning the future.  We are either dwelling on the known or envisioning what is coming so that it can be known.  We abhor the unexpected.

We try to put everything into neatly defined boxes (safe, dark, motionless, airless)... And in the end, we try to preserve what we know (even, occasionally, at the expense of other information - perceptual set).  We try to exert CONTROL on all aspects of our lives, including each other.  The side effect is that we are constantly uncomfortable when things don't match our expectations, and we limit our experience of possibility by putting blinders on whenever possible to that which doesn't match our paradigms.  We are constantly suffocating and repressing the real, unpredictable, anarchistic reality.  And when we can't CONTROL it, we do our damnedest to define acceptable "boundaries" for it (as if that will change the reality!).

Isn't this ironic, given the impermanent nature of our existence and our never-ending state of change?  I am never as young as I was a second ago...  Things are in a constant state of flux.  There are always the two sides to the coin - a beginning and an ending, an ebb and a flow, a future constantly transitioning to become past.  Beyond this, there is the fractal-like fragmentation of "reality" - every person is "living their own dream" in the words of don Miguel Ruiz.  Most of the time we have no clue what someone else's dream (ideal CONTROLLED state) is.

Pema Chodron told a story in her Smile at Fear retreat (yet another Pema audio I've been enjoying).  She said that Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche was at a wedding, and he lightly rapped the bride and groom on the head with a fan, saying** "Pain is not Punishment", then "Pleasure is not Reward".  This was his wedding gift to the couple.  
(**NOTE/Disclaimer, I may not be remembering these precisely, but I believe this reflects the underlying meaning of the story)

So much of our pain is tied to our need to "understand" - to be able to categorize, analyze, contextualize, and define the things that happen - but Pain is not always Punishment!    Pain is caused by our own need to be able to apply clarity and boundaries to things (CONTROL).  We suffer when we are unable to do this.  But why do we need to do this?  What is the relevance of doing this?  There is no "static" state to be seen/documented/categorized.  All things are constantly shifting - as soon as we understand something it only limits and hinders us from being able to truly see and participate in an unknown future.  We create additional pain by bringing those contexts and assumptions we've derived to the next situation.  

Finally, we must know that, at best, it is only ever possible to have an ILLUSION of control (understanding/context).

Similarly - Pleasure is not Reward.  It is not happening "because" of us (Reward).  Just because something fits our mental model (you've at least convinced yourself that it does - see perceptual set reference above), does not make it "Right / Good".  The situation lived up to our illusion... This time.  That does not mean that our illusion is a "rule" that we can apply.

I have been practicing for the past couple of years to try to release my need to control.  To let go of my paradigms and expectations, and to look into my experiences with a state of curiosity - "I wonder what will happen now?".  I have been only moderately successful.  I don't know if I've fully realized WHY I need to let these chains go, but I am beginning to.

I'm not sure how to wrap this up into a neat little conclusion.  And, you know what?  Given the nature of this post, that's probably just fine.  Does that make you uncomfortable?

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