I hope everyone had a great Christmas and New Year and whilst going back to work after the holidays isn’t top of many people lists of fun things to do, I hope you find something to look forward to each day.
Happy New Year! We wish people a HAPPY new year as a routine greeting at this time of the year and receive the greeting back without thinking too much about what it really means or how our lives could be happier. We make New Year’s resolutions to be slimmer, fitter, healthier or more organised but have you ever made a resolution to be happier? You may think that happiness is a result of circumstances or fate and that you can’t become happier by willpower but there is a lot of evidence to show that, in fact, you can.
I received the book The Happiness Project written by Gretchen Rubin from a friend, Andrea, when we moved to Spain and I read and loved it immediately. I have long been a fan of the self help book and this book along with the follow up books Happier at Home and Better than Before have reinforced my belief that not only does the way you think and therefore act have a huge effect on your happiness but that by consciously thinking and acting in different ways your life can change and you can be happier. Gretchen Rubin’s writing spoke to me directly and I found myself agreeing with her on almost every page; she has a list of personal commandments, eight splendid truths about happiness and a selection of secrets of adulthood that made me laugh and attempt to think of some of my own e.g. “always have a spare”.
I am always surprised and pleased when people describe me a positive person. I am naturally rather more glass empty than glass full and have a tendency to see problems in situations rather than a positive overall outcome. There are times when this natural tendency has made me unhappy but I have learned that by changing my approach to life, I can feel happier. In The Happiness Project , Gretchen Rubin states that To be happier, you have to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth which makes perfect sense to me. Gretchen’s first personal commandment is to Be Gretchen; in other words, know yourself and build your happiness on a foundation of your own nature therefore one of the main things I have done recently after a period of feeling low is to rediscover and aim to build activities and actions that make me happy, into my life.
- Practice gratitude. Happiness, they say is not having what you want but wanting what you have. Taking a little time every now and then to appreciate what you have in your life can boost your happiness a great deal. I have a wonderful husband, loving family, good friends, a lovely home in a gorgeous setting, a fit and healthy body, interesting work and sufficient income.
- Contact with family and friends. In a busy life it is too easy to let time pass without being in contact and to my shame there have been times when I have realised that far too much time had passed since I had communicated with anyone. Over the last few months in particular I have aimed to use the time in the early mornings that I spend at the computer to write emails and to resurrect this blog which had become neglected and with it contact with many people who don’t use Facebook and with whom I was gradually losing contact. I cut down the number of blogs I receive in my inbox that were taking me too long to read each day and making me feel stressed that I couldn’t manage them all. I determined that I would spend half an hour writing an email/letter twice a week and aim to publish a blog each week. Of course there have been weeks when I haven’t achieved this but instead of giving up when I didn’t reach my goal as I have so often in the past, I focussed on the payback and started afresh. One of my favourite quotes is “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” therefore writing for half an hour means I don’t write long emails but I do make contact and the payback of course is that I get something back.
- Reading. I love reading, both new books and old favourites that I call comfort reading but when we bought our Kindle Fire which allowed me to easily access the internet in bed, I began surfing the internet last thing at night and not reading a book. After a couple of months I realised that I wasn’t reading any sort of fiction and this had impacted on my happiness level. Reading has always been such a big part of my life and although I enjoyed looking at different web sites and blogs, I didn’t find it as relaxing as reading, I found it harder to get to sleep at night and as I mentioned before, the more blogs I subscribed to, the more stressed I felt if I didn’t clock in at least daily. Once I realised what was happening I went back to books; re-read some old favourites, bought some new (freebie) Kindle books and tried some (and abandoned several) of the many books that we had bought from the charity shop. I don’t have a lot of time during the day to read but my bedtime reading is a rediscovered joy. What was I thinking when I stopped?
- Gardening. I learned to be a gardener in Frome, first in a shady, terraced garden and secondly at Lock’s Hill where the garden had lots of sun but also a shady corner where I grew ferns and other shade loving plants. After four years at Lock’s Hill the garden was establishing well and looked, to my eyes, gorgeous. When we moved here I anticipated and planned a Mediterranean garden filled with drought tolerant plants. What I didn’t anticipate was that gardening isn’t quite so popular here and many of the plants that I wanted to include in the garden simply weren’t available. The majority of Spanish people live in apartments in town where they grow shade plants on their balconies or pots of geraniums and petunias. In their country houses where they spend holidays and summers, the outside space is often quite barren with perhaps a few fruit or olive trees and a vegetable garden. Most towns have a garden centre but not as we know them; garden centres in this area have a reasonable range of plants but often they are plants that require a lot of looking after and my idea of gardening is to plant things that will get on with life without much fuss. Gardening here has been a steep learning curve and I have planted and lost many plants to the harsh conditions. This year I am planning to buy some of the plants I hope will fare better in the garden online from a nursery in France which deals specifically with drought tolerant plants and I am hoping for more success. Gardening makes me happy but also makes me feel bad.
- Learning. I love learning new things whether items of knowledge or practical skills. Learning to speak Spanish is a great source of happiness (and frustration). Before we moved here we bought a CD of basics designed for the holiday maker and learned how to ask for directions donde esta el museo?, drinks, dos cafes con leche por favor and more bread tiene mas pan? Our friends who live here in Spain recommended Coffee Break Spanish, a podcast that I downloaded and listened to in the car which gave me more useful phrases and vocabulary and of course, once here we started to learn how the language is actually spoken. I picked up quite a lot by talking to people in shops and I learned some more once I started work however, I reached a plateau and grew frustrated. I had stopped actively learning Spanish as I was busy working, preparing lessons and generally living life. Steve found an excellent on line course which is helping him learn and more importantly retain the language and I have also started to use this site which is filling in some of the gaps in my knowledge. I have also recommenced downloading Coffee Break Spanish and use my car journeys to listen and learn. The children I teach love to correct my Spanish and my use of the masculine and feminine forms of words is improving. I am on an upward curve again and although there are still times when I have no idea what is being said or how to reply I can have a conversation with my Spanish students . I love it.
Being happy doesn’t necessarily come naturally or easily to some of us but both by making an effort to include happiness boosting activities and in the same way that a healthy body needs nourishing food a happy and healthy mind needs mental nourishment which, for me, means reading uplifting, positive material on a regular basis. The Happiness Project is a thought provoking read if nothing else and if you feel that your happiness is in need of a boost, I urge you to read it. Thank you Andrea for sending the book to me – it has made a big difference to my life.