life, Uncategorized

Happiness – create it your damn self

Fall has always been one of my favorite seasons. Whether it is the mild weather, the fact that fall fashion really works for me, or that it is the season in which I was born, I just feel good in the Fall. It always feels like a fresh start to me, a second ‘New Years’ of sorts. I find that I start hibernating a little more, getting more contemplative, and setting goals for myself.

This year’s contemplations and goals are focused much more around my mental health and outlook than they have been in the past. Perhaps this is a normal part of maturing, or maybe it is a result of the current events we have been facing, but I find that I am much more focused on my ‘happiness’ now than I have been in previous years.

Of course, happiness has always been on my radar. Everyone wants to be ‘happy’. All you see on social media is people #livingtheirbestlife. But my focus lately has been finding and creating happiness in my life NOW, rather than promising myself I will be content when …

  • I finally get in shape
  • I start making more money
  • My book is complete
  • I get into my dream house
  • etc., etc., etc.

Now there is nothing wrong with having goals. In fact, they are crucial. The problem is that so many of us rate our satisfaction in life with how close we are to reaching our goals.

I think we all ‘know’ that happiness isn’t something that you can buy but we still seem to get trapped in that loop that says ‘As soon as I get/have/accomplish …., then I will be happy.”. In the meantime, we shuffle along, feeling ‘semi-content’ with our lives but with our sights laser-focused on an end goal (the house, the partner, the body, the promotion). An end goal that never really seems to come, because if/when we achieve it, it isn’t enough. There is always another goalpost.

We view happiness as a destination, one which we will arrive at when we have achieved enough, accumulated enough. And while accomplishments and milestones do bring a wave of happiness, they tend to be short lived, with genuine happiness being found in the connection and the small moments of day-to-day life.

Now, I do believe that money and the feeling of mastery (feeling as though we are good at or doing well at something) can contribute to mental wellbeing. Afterall, if our basic needs aren’t met, it becomes a lot more difficult to pursue or perceive happiness in our lives. As per Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (see below), food and shelter trump everything. But I do think that beyond that, it is relative.

I think we can all think of someone who seemingly ‘has it all’ yet is as crusty as they come – always griping about what they lack or striving for the next best thing. Similarly, I think we can all think of someone who may not have a lot, yet seems to relish in the small moments of life.

The bottom line is, we create our own happiness. Nothing outside of ourselves, good or bad, has the ability to have a long term effect on our happiness, unless we let it.

“Happiness is an inside job.” – William Arthur Ward

So, what gives? How do we balance having goals and striving towards them while not letting them dictate how satisfied we are day-to-day? How do we find the ever-elusive happiness that we seek?

Well, I am no happiness expert. In fact, I’m not sure I am an anything expert. But this is something that I have been working on, on and off, for years now and I do have a few tricks that I find really helpful when it comes to finding happiness. ***Hint: You don’t find it. You create it your damn self.***

Here goes …

#1 – Stop numbing everything. I know, I know, I am about to get super lame here and tell you to lay off the ol’ wobbly pops. Trust me, no one was more resistant to this idea then me. J’adore le vin! Buuuut, one cannot guzzle copious amounts of a depressant every Friday night and then wonder why they aren’t feeling 100% in the mental health department, you know? Although touted as a tonne of fun and the answer to all things, alcohol is not good for us mentally or physically and giving myself a little break from it has been a game changer in terms of my outlook and general happiness. I am not saying we should never indulge in a drink with friends, but I am saying that we should be aware of how often we do it, and why. When I really examined when and why I was drinking, I found that the answers were ‘anytime’ and ‘for any reason’. I was using alcohol to cope, grieve, celebrate, soothe, entertain, excite … let’s be honest, I used it for anything. Taking a step back from booze has allowed me to actually feel and process my feelings. My mind is more clear, I have more energy, and my mood and sleep are better. I am not numbing anymore. Am I still going to enjoy drinks with friends? Of course! But I am going to be more mindful about it. Besides, no one looks back on their fabulous life and says, “You know, my only regret is that I didn’t drink more.

#2 – Get Connected. For real. And not electronically. Connection is one of the most important factors when it comes to happiness. So much so that it ranks pretty highly on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Feeling supported, desired, loved, and cared for literally has the ability to support not only our mental health, but our physical health too. I’m not talking about being around a lot of people, or even conversing with them. A person can be in a room full of people and still be the loneliest person in the world. Connection is about vulnerability. It is about sharing all the little bits of yourself, even the shadowy parts, and feeling that someone still has your back. It is having someone to cry with or phone at 4am. Social media and electronics have been both a blessing and a curse in this department as they have made it easier to interact with people … but that doesn’t necessarily equal connection. Your funny meme or cute selfie might get a lot of ‘likes’ and make you feel good but it tends to be short lived and doesn’t fill your happiness cup in any sustainable way. So put down the phone and spend time with people who love you. Share the embarrassing childhood story. Talk about your worries and your fears. Laugh. It will light you up in a way that lasts way longer than how many followers you have on Insta. Promise.

#3 – Practice Gratitude. I remember when I was around 6 or 7 years old, I went through a stage where, every day, I would choose one thing that I was excited about. Every morning, I would sit my tiny butt down and consider what my ‘one thing’ would be for that day. I clearly remember looking down at my hand and seeing one of those chintzy little rings that you get from the dentist for being good and deciding that that was going to be my ‘one thing to be excited about’. Some days it was getting to go to a restaurant with my mom or staying up past my bedtime, and other days it was getting to have a playdate with a friend. It was always simple (after all, I was only 7), and it always made me feel good. At the time, I had no idea that I was actually practicing gratitude. I would reflect on my day and consciously focus on what I liked or what went well. I was, without knowing it, training my brain to seek out the positive and appreciate the little things.

Gratitude is still something I practice every day and in my opinion, one of the keys to creating happiness in our lives.

My advice – do it every night before bed and get specific. It becomes easy to rattle off “I am grateful for my house, food, air .…” and although it is important to be grateful for those things, the real magic is in the details. Take a few moments and really reflect upon your day. What happened that you are grateful for? Did someone let you into traffic? Did your co-worker buy you a coffee? Did your partner do the dishes? It doesn’t have to be grand. And I promise you that when you start listing things, more and more things will start popping to mind. I also do this whenever I am in a bad mood. I instantly start mentally creating a gratitude list and while it may start out feeling difficult, once I get going, it just flows. And my mood instantly lifts.

Also, pay attention to your perspective. Here is the deal, what comes out of our mouths can be an excellent indicator as to what is going on in our heads. If you find yourself bitching and complaining a lot, chances are your mind is not a very happy place. The good news is, you can change it. Just like gratitude, we can literally ‘practice’ looking at things through a positive lens, and eventually it will become a habit. We can train our brains for positivity. That is not to say we need to be ‘Positive Pollyanna’ all the time, it is okay to get ticked off from time to time. But if you notice that you are feeling ticked off more often than not, chances are the world isn’t crapping on you and … you are the problem. Whenever I notice myself bitching and complaining non-stop, I try to slow things down, give myself a breather, and consciously focus on changing my outlook.

The bottom line is, happiness is really quite simple and much more often than we realize, it is a choice. It isn’t a result of getting more money or finally getting the big promotion. It doesn’t come ‘when the kids get past this stage’ and it is not found at the bottom of a bottle. It is in the little moments that we often overlook. It is connection, appreciation, and sometimes, even chintzy little rings from the dentist.

Uncategorized

On gratitude, grief, and keeping it real during Covid-19

This weekend was hard. It wasn’t ‘worst weekend ever’ hard but it was ‘I am getting really tired of this‘ hard. I am fed up. I am sick of social isolation, Covid-19, and all of the anxiety it brings. I am frustrated. I miss my kids, I miss my friends, and I want nothing more than to do what I normally do when I feel sad, which is to go out for a nice dinner with my fiance. I want to hug my people. I want to go to work. And I never thought I would say this but I want to wear something other than sweatpants.

(I know what you’re thinking, “So dress up, Christine! Dress for the social life you want, not the one you have.” To which I will say, thanks but no thanks. I tried that. Turns out, my dress pants have gotten a little snug as a result of too many quarantine nachos and let’s face it, a good pair of joggers are just plain comfy which is pretty much all we have right now. So I will retract that last statement … I ALMOST want to wear something other than sweatpants.)

It took me a couple of days to recognize the feeling in my chest. I am no stranger to grief and that heaviness that it brings is unlike no other. My energy was low, I was irritable, and my focus was non-existent. Even walking up my short flight of stairs or completing simple tasks like unloading the dishwasher seemed daunting. There was no doubt about it, out of nowhere, my sunny covid-19 outlook that I had written about just last week was gone, and it had been replaced with melancholy.

In addition to feeling melancholy, I was pissed off with myself. I mean, come on. I am not a nurse working the front lines or a cashier dealing with anxious people all day. I am not a small business owner struggling to stay afloat or wondering if I will even have a business left when this is over. I still have a job. My family is safe. And I have ample resources available to me. And yet here I was sulking because I have to stay at home, eat quarantine nachos, and zoom call my friends. Are you freaking kidding me, Christine?!

I was embarrassed to be slipping into a pity-party when there are so many people out there who are actually struggling right now. Perspective is something that is so important to me, as is gratitude, and I felt like I was failing.

But then I had a realization (a perk of social isolation is that you have more time to think), … what if it doesn’t have to be one or the other? What if I can be grateful AND sad all at the same time? What if I can maintain a healthy perspective and still feel overwhelmed by all of the uncertainty right now? What if one does not negate the other?

Here is the deal, we are dealing with something right now that has quite literally rocked the entire world. There is a lot of anxiety and stress and uncertainty and it all hit very quickly – we are allowed to have an emotional reaction to that. Is it important to maintain perspective and stay focused on gratitude? YES! But are we allowed to miss our friends, worry about the future, and have a down day? Also, YES!

This is not an either or situation. We might have days where we feel on fire and our productivity is through the roof. And then we might have days where we get nothing done at all. We might have days when we engage with our kids, play board games, and eat nutritious meals as a family. And then we might have days where screen time is unlimited and quarantine nachos are where it’s at. There might be days where finding joy and gratitude comes easily, and others that are filled with frustration and tears.

It is all okay. And sometimes, it might change hour to hour.

It is important to use the tools we have so that we can make it through this with some semblance of normalcy, or at the very least, our sanity. And practicing gratitude and perspective is imperative (because dammit, we ARE so freaking blessed). But we are also allowed to grieve. We are allowed to be sad, miss our friends, and have days where all we accomplish is a netflix marathon.

We WILL get through this, friends. I promise. Use the tools you have, rock the sweatpants, practice gratitude, and allow yourself to grieve.

You are allowed to feel ALL the feelings right now.

-Christine

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Things I want to thank Covid-19 for

My anxiety has been a little heightened lately. Probably fairly typical when a pandemic crisis is sweeping the globe, I guess? I am tired, irritable, on edge. Quite frankly, I am having a hard time wrapping my head around it all. People are dying at alarming rates, our econcomy is in trouble, and everyone seems lost, confused, and scared.

I find I float in and out of angst. One moment I am filled with panic and finding it hard to breathe, and the next I am shrugging it off and saying “It will all be over soon. We just need to focus on …”

I bounce back and forth between reading grim news stories and statistics and then listening to podcasts and reading self-help books so that I can use this time to ‘be my best self’.

It’s exhausting really. I think we are all exhausted. I see people scurry around the grocery store, stocking up on items that they don’t truly need but because having those items makes them feel a little bit safer. I see people juggling children while trying to manage layoffs and financial stress. I see people struggling with loneliness, uncertainty and fear. Fear of loss. Fear of getting sick. Fear of what the future holds.

I’ve always been a ‘look on the bright side’ type. A glass half-full, rose-colored glasses kind of girl. And I have been trying even harder as of late to keep my focus positive and centered around gratitude.

I recognize that this might seem arrogant as it is easy for me to sit back and look for the blessings in the situation when I am lucky enough to still be working, I live in a relatively low-risk area, and thankfully, no one I love is in ICU fighting for their lives. I know that all of that can change at any time but as of right now, I am in an okay spot. I am safe. But I have been noticing something lately, pieces of gratitude and little lessons I might not have realized had it not been for Covid-19 and I want to write about them so that I have a reminder later. Because when this is all over, there are things I want to take forward with me. They say life will never be the same after this and to be honest, I think that could be a good thing. Don’t get me wrong, I look forward to the days when I can dine in restaurants, travel, and spend time (in the flesh) with people I care about but there are pieces of this pandemic that I don’t want to lose, pieces for which I am thankful.

The first thing I have noticed is improved relationships and a deeper level of connection. I know this isn’t true across the board. Tensions have been high and last night I had to refrain from snapping at my fiance for breathing ‘at me’ while we slept. But I am seeing people play board games with their kids, going for walks together as a family, and having giant zoom parties with friends. I have reconnected and reached out to friends that I had lost touch with. I have set up regular chats with people that always seemed difficult to arrange before as one of us was always ‘busy’. I have received more memes, jokes, and GIF’s from friends than I ever have before as we all work hard to keep each others spirits high. The bottom line is the busyness is gone, as are the excuses. We are scared and it is causing us to seek support and be a bit more vulnerable. One of the beautiful things about vulnerability is that it makes connections stronger. I don’t want to lose that. I don’t want to be ‘too busy’ to connect with friends or to spend time in nature. I feel as though many of us will exit this pandemic with stronger, more connected, more vulnerable and honest relationships. I want to make sure they stay that way.

The second thing – perspective. Man, how things have changed! And one thing Covid has shown us is just how quickly that change can happen. The things that were stressing me out 6 weeks ago aren’t even on my radar now. Now I worry about losing my job, not being able to pay my mortgage, or getting sick. And not only am I worrying about these things for myself, but also for every single person that I care about. Covid has shown me what is important, how fragile life is, and how much I have to be grateful for. It has also shown me the difference between need and want. All of those things I so badly ‘needed’ a few months ago have suddenly lost their meaning and value. It has shown me how much money I spend on crap, how much time I waste, and how damn distracted I was. It has shown me that it doesn’t matter how important you think your job is, turns out the world can make it without you just fine … unless you are a cashier, grocer, or someone in the medical field – we need you guys. So much so. And thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Social isolation is hard but I think we all needed to be sent to our rooms. The bottom line is, we are blessed. If you are lucky enough to have a home to isolate in – blessed. A government offering help when you lose your job – blessed. A hospital nearby to go to if you get sick – blessed. A bank deferring payments to ease your financial stress – blessed. You are reading this blog so you have internet and electricity – blessed.

These things have become so much more apparent to me now. I needed this. I needed to be shaken, to be humbled, because I was doing it wrong.

We will get through this, there is no doubt about that. And if we get through it a little bit kinder and a little bit more patient (because Lord knows being stuck in the house with your family for weeks will teach you patience), then that is a win. If we spend less money on things, and spend more time with the people we love. If we spend less time on screens, and spend more time outdoors. If we treat the cashier with the same kindness that we do the high-powered executive. Then those are all wins.

We are in this together. That has never been more clear.

Stay safe, friends. Stay connected. Stay vulnerable.

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I’ll be your Monica if you be my Rachel …

I was visiting with a friend the other day and as we sipped our americanos and caught up on each others lives, my friend shared that she was feeling exasperated with one of her colleagues. This woman is apparently very sweet with a kind heart but tends to be overly exhausting and my dear friend was struggling. “She just has no clue! It’s like she is oblivious to her behaviour!” As I nodded sympathetically and offered helpful suggestions as to how my friend might handle her colleagues’ antics, I couldn’t help but wonder … how do people perceive me?

Am I someone who people enjoy for a short time but then breathe a sigh of relief when I leave the room? Or am I (as I like to think) easy-going and effortless to be around? Am I completely oblivious to how my behaviour and energy impacts others? Or am I self-aware and conscious of social cues?

Well, if you know me, you are already rolling your eyes at this blog post … and if you don’t know me, the answers to the above questions are (in order) OCCASIONALLY, RARELY, SOMETIMES, and A LITTLE BIT.

And let me tell you, thank goodness for that little bit of social awareness because if not for that, I might be a real nightmare!

The bottom line is, I am fully aware that I am sometimes high-maintenance or ‘work’ to be friends with. Like on a scale of 1-10 of friendship (1 being someone who is easy peasy and 10 being a Monica Gellar vibe) … I feel like I’m a solid 7. Maybe a 6 and a half.

Now I have nothing against Monica Gellar and I’m not writing this to get a bunch of praise or arguments … “Christine, don’t be silly! You are a great friend!”

Trust me, I am equally aware that I am a good friend too. I am energetic, trustworthy, and entertaining. I am always up for fun and your mom will love me. You can tell me almost anything without me even blinking an eye and I am loyal AF.

But I would be lying if I said that being my friend is a breeze. I can be loud, overly exuberant, hyperactive, moody, and anxious. I can be demanding, inappropriate, and I need constant reassurance. I will relentlessly ask your advice even though I have already fully made up my mind about what I am going to do (otherwise known as an ‘askhole’) and I always seem to be generating chaos around me. I’m not so much breezy as I am tropical stormy.

Oh yea, I am also dramatic and ‘overly expressive’. Now I’ve never really considered my expressive nature to be a negative thing. In fact, I have always prided myself on having exceptional non-verbal communication skills (you will ALWAYS know how I am feeling), but the other day one of my co-workers said to me “It’s amazing, you can whine without actually saying anything. It is like your whole body is whining.” so I’ve since realized that perhaps it is possible to exude a little too much in the emotion department.

Points for being fairly self-aware?!

Anyway, the whole situation really got me thinking … it is a weird balance between loving and accepting who you are but also trying not to be a complete oblivious asshole.

I am always going to be excitable, anxious, and need reassurance. I am always going to ask your advice and then do whatever the hell I want anyway. But it’s also not going to hurt if I try to be a little more mindful of my surroundings … and keep my non-verbal whining to a minimum.

Friends wouldn’t have been Friends without Monica. In all reality, she’s pretty cool. And thankfully she had all of the other characters to keep her balanced and in check. So to my crew, thanks for keeping me in check and loving all of me, even when things get stormy.