happiness

What's Making You Happy?

Happiness is contagious.

I listen to quite a few podcasts, though some more regularly than others. The Pop Culture Happy Hour Podcast has a regular feature called "What's Making You Happy" where the panelists talk about what in pop culture (typically, sometimes it's personal) is making them happy during a given week. I was thinking about that today when a link to a blog post I wrote on happiness last year popped up in my TimeHop App. (Timehop is an app that reminds what you said on Facebook, Twitter, your blog, and can also comb your past photos for photos you posted on social media sites.) Here's an excerpt of what I said then: WE OFTEN THINK ABOUT HAPPINESS AS A KIND OF GOAL, SOMETHING TO ATTAIN IF WE DO ENOUGH X OR Y OR Z AND THAT ONCE WE ACHIEVE IT, THAT’S SOMEHOW ENOUGH. BUT HAPPINESS IS A STATE OF BEING, A FEELING, AN ENERGY, ONE YOU CAN PROJECT OUT INTO THE WORLD. I OFTEN WEAR A BRACELET THAT HAS “HAPPINESS IS CONTAGIOUS” STAMPED ON IT AS A REMINDER THAT IT MATTERS HOW I BEGIN MY DAY. IT MATTERS THAT I WANT TO BE KIND, THAT I TREAT PEOPLE I MEET WITH POSITIVE ENERGY.

These weeks have been challenging as I readjust to the hectic pace of a new semester, as I try to get to know my students and let them know me. Today was humid. I was sticky with sweat from walking across campus. I gulped water like I was desperate for it. And even with that discomfort, I loved being in the classroom, loved offering students a piece of what I know, loved asking them to challenge their notions of what it means to compose. Not for the first time, I felt so incredibly lucky for the work I do.

Here are some other things making me happy lately:

Zumba. I am awkward. I sweat profusely, embarrassingly so. I have no rhythm to speak of and yet I'm drawn to the energy of Zumba classes. I  try to take a class at least 3 times a week if I can. It doesn't bother me that I don't always get the steps right, or that things move quickly and sometimes it takes me a few beats to catch on. I still love it.

My August Playlist. I keep wondering if I'm going to get tired of the same songs but instead they've become this great soundtrack to my days.

Trail Mix. I'm a little crazy over Salted Caramel Craze Trail Mix from Kroger right now. It's the perfect amount of sweetness when I'm craving it. Also, more than a handful or two and I feel a bit overwhelmed so it helps me from overindulging.

It's September!  I love Fall as a season, the crispness of the air, the way the leaves change around here. I have some awesome plans this month to hang out with friends. Also, it's football season! Finally. (Poor M, she doesn't enjoy football or the fact that I play fantasy so she has to watch more than one game). But I also love September because my shows come back on in a few weeks. I'm mostly excited for Elementary, despite the way last season's finale broke my heart. I want to know what's going to happen. I want to meet Sherlock's dad. I need things to get better.

My students asked me about my favorite books and then took notes as I talked about them. I hope some of them end up reading some of the work I mentioned.

Tejava. I just discovered this micro-brewed tea and it's incredible. I may have to go get a few more bottles while they are on sale.

What's making YOU happy this week?

embracing the pie chart

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This month I've been participating in 30 Days of Lists, this fun project where you respond to a prompt each day and use whatever format, journal, craft, scrapbooking supplies to display your response. A recent prompt was about defining what balance means to you. I appreciated the way many of my fellow listers handled the prompt, acknowledging in subtle ways that they achieve what "feels" balanced. I also appreciate that the prompt asks each of us to define for ourselves what blance looks like.

I don't believe in balance. Perhaps I should say, I don't believe in the pursuit of balance. Life is messy, chaotic, busy, full of rich experiences, fantastic conversations, opportunities, people, places to see. I want to use my time in ways that fuel, excite, and recharge me. This means that there are times when my focus and my energy is going to be devoted to one aspect of my life more than others. Whenever we juggle a lot of things, various roles, and projects, the advice we get from one another, and from society is: balance. “You have to find a balance,” people say whether they’re talking about motherhood, professional life, dating, family, hobbies, teaching, research etc. I completely understand that if all of your energy and time is going into work that other areas of your life suffer, and that sometimes we tend to define ourselves by our career, that we feel pressure to succeed in one area more than others. I see the danger in that, certainly.

My brother is one of the most ambitious people I know. He isn't happy if he isn't working on a project and he pushes himself and those who work with him to an incredibly high standard. But he told me last year that he doesn't want to wake up one day and wonder where his life with, or regret not spending enough time with his daughter and wife and family. He has to make a conscious choice to relax, to schedule time off, to resist the pull of work, and doing. I can see this as a recognition for the need to balance out his work life with other pursuits. And in this way, I get the importance of balance as a concept, a reminder that there isn't just one thing for us to pay attention to, or one place to find joy.

What I resist about balance is the idea that I SHOULD find balance, that to be happy, or successful I have to achieve a kind of equilibrium among all of the various things and people that require my attention.

The pursuit of balance is dangerous, because it implies that balance is in some way inherently positive and therefore, not having balance is somehow bad. I think this is particularly troublesome for women who have been told that you can have it all: career AND family. It isn't that I don't think this is achievable to raise a family and work outside the home, but the pressure to be successful in more than one arena can be overwhelming; it can feel constricting to people who perhaps want to choose not to have children or choose not to work, or do non-profit or volunteer work, or anything that runs counter to traditional concepts of career success look like. I also think this is changing a bit, slowly, as entrepreneurial efforts by women are being recognized. But like anything, sometimes it takes the larger culture a while to catch up. Until then, it seems, we have to constantly battle expectations, our own included.

In my world, my life, balance is unrealistic. I embrace the pie chart, a way to divide my time. I don't want to feel guilty or unsuccessful if laundry isn't done or my kitchen floor hasn't been mopped. There are times when I feel like I am getting things done just in time, that I'm barely hanging on, and that way too much is up in the air. I think it's important to be aware of what you're taking on, which parts of your life are going to require a smaller sliver when a new project or opportunity comes along. The metaphor or perhaps even literal pie chart can show you what takes up most of your time,and which areas in your life are being ignored or regulated to smaller pieces.

You could also think of it like the usage limits on your phone or electronic device. There's only so much space in your mind, in your heart, in your day. Be honest about the time you can devote to the things you do, and realize prioritizing is about making choices, but it's not about balance.

Screw balance. Embrace the pie chart.