Books: The Happiness Project

Another good read
Because I’m Happy… Did you hear Pharrell as you read that?

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin has been my companion these last few days during a couple of flights around the Pacific Northwest. It’s an interesting book that I chose on impulse browsing at the airport in Portland a few weeks ago when returning from the World Domination Summit.

I’m not quite finished so can only speak up to November in Rubin’s year of finding more happy. The first part of her year was especially interesting to me because it revolved around my favorite topics of getting more sleep, more exercise, and becoming a better spouse/friend/family member. All lofty goals, and I’ve been failing constantly on the first two for a while now. Although I know I am happier when I exercise and am in better shape (thus able to fit into the 90% of my wardrobe that is currently a bit tight), I’ve been struggling to make exercise a priority. I did great when I had an expensive Equinox membership and a hot 30-year old personal trainer at $120 an hour. However, I currently prioritize savings over fitness so I need to find the will to use the multitude of fitness equipment currently at my disposal in my own house. Getting more sleep is an elusive life goal, and I’ve struggled getting the minimum required sleep lately. This means I need to manage my mind so I don’t lay in bed ruminating over life’s real or imagined dramas, stressing about work, feeling anxious about my performance, and generally letting that critical inner dialogue have it’s way with me rather than quieting it and falling into a restful sleep.

I was super inspired by Gretchen’s attempts to calm her temper and not nag, lash out or generally show irritation to those around her – particularly her husband. I am terribly guilty of this, and I am trying to be more mindful of how my own mood affects those around me. I was struck in the Think Better, Live Better session at World Domination Summit by a story of how a man was blowing up in anger while standing in line at a grocery store register. The lady in front of him had a baby that the cashier was gushing over rather than expeditiously ringing up the shopping. Instead of creating an ugly scene, the man managed to keep his temper and show some good graces towards the cashier when it was finally his turn. The cashier thanked him for his patience. It turned out that the customer was actually the cashier’s mother who was minding her baby and doing her grocery shopping to allow the cashier to be able to work and earn a living to support herself and her child. The cashier’s husband had been in the military and he was killed whilst deployed overseas. I am tearing up just re-telling that. The number of times I have fumed and scowled in disgust at the grocery store when I’ve had to wait that couple of extra minutes because another customer is HOLDING UP THE F***ING LINE!!!!! That reaction not only causes upset to me, but causes upset to everyone around me. Back to The Happiness Project, and Gretchen’s observation that “One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy; one of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.” She is spot on and I try to stay mindful every time I feel that irritation and anger rising over some silly triviality. Sometimes I do better than others, but even a 50% improvement results in a better frame of mind for me and those around me.

My one criticism of this book is directed inwards rather than towards the book itself. Every happiness activity undertaken is so worthy, I was left feeling dreadfully inadequate about my day to day life. What that underscores is how much I need to keep reading material like The Happiness Project. Not only read it though, take time out of my day for personal reflection and action towards my goals. It’s not enough to have a running list in my head. That’s not actually accomplishing anything. That’s the classic adage of the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I’m not saying I’m on the road to hell and I should probably tweak that into a more positive mantra! Perhaps “the road to success is paved with small actions”. That’s what I need to do. Today was a good day of actions as I got up and wrote two blog posts.

Books: New Slow City

I’ve read a couple of books in the last two months that have made a big difference to my life. The first was New Slow City: Living Simply in the World’s Fastest City by William Powers.

Slooooow
Slooooow

This particular friend accompanied me on my visit to Michigan back in June and it perfectly  matched the tone of my visit. William and his girlfriend Melissa spent a year in a micro apartment in New York, focusing on a shorter workweek and mindfully feeling the City. It felt like the Universe had deliberately put that book in my hands. Mindfulness, slowing everything down… Ideas we all seem to aspire to more and more these days. Despite the industry built up around these simple concepts, they seem further and further away from the average life.

I was particularly struck by William’s story of sampling succulent scallops at a neighborhood restaurant. He delayed gratification for a few weeks before finally allowing himself to savor every bite. Slowly. I have been known to regularly inhale plates of food but shortly after finishing this book I met a friend for dinner at a gorgeous restaurant in Santa Monica.

Dusky view from The Penthouse
Dusky view from The Penthouse

To pay homage to William’s wonderful book, I ordered scallops and did my best to appreciate every small bite. I admit the concept of slow food enhanced my whole enjoyment of the evening.

As with everything though, life overtakes if you’re not careful. My goal for this coming week is to slow everything down and see what happens.

World Domination Summit 2016

Morning FlightLast Thursday I did a crazy thing. Crazy for me at least. I got up at 3:15AM and took a day trip to Portland, OR to attend two academy sessions at World Domination Summit 2016. I never do stuff like that. I read about it and think it would be cool, but it’s very rare that I actually follow through.

It started a couple of months ago when I got a Money Boss email promoting the academy session that would be hosted by my two heroes: J.D. Roth and Mr. Money Mustache. In true Risky Business “WTF”-style, I immediately bought a ticket. I then figured if I was going to go all the way to Portland for an afternoon, I might as well make a day of it so I also bought a ticket for a morning academy: Think Better, Live Better.

WDS 2016
#wds2016

As August drew near, I all but talked myself out of it. I decided it was only $118 spent on tickets and while it was terribly wasteful, at least I’d “save” on additional costs for such a silly whim. Nonsense. Thankfully I saw sense and planned a day trip.

Upon arrival in Portland, I was straight into a cab and only just got to the Winningstad Theater in time. The speakers – Marc and Angel Chernoff – were already on stage as I made it to my seat. I was overcome with glee and excitement that I was actually there. The messages of positivity emanating from the stage were the icing on top of my already baked happy cake. I was proud that I’d made the effort to just show up and embrace a new experience.

The next two speakers – Mike Vardy and Charlie Gilkey – were all about productivity and getting shit done. I was a sponge soaking everything in. Kendra Wright then moved me to tears during her #YearofFear project speech. Here was a fearless, vibrant, beautiful woman (in leather pants no less), suddenly projecting pictures of herself as a tiny baby given only a 5% chance of survival. A Cerebral Palsy diagnosis still didn’t stop her from facing life head-on and making the most of every second. Kendra asked us all to write a letter to ourselves about one thing we want to achieve, and then hand it to a person nearby who should mail it back to us in two weeks. In my letter to myself I wrote about wanting to do more with this site. Embrace the outlet, and write.

Mr. Money Mustache #wds2016

I broke for lunch and carried that inspired elation until I was in a front row seat for the Money Boss session that originally prompted my Portland adventure. I was easily as excited as a teenage Belieber catching a glimpse of her idol as I first saw J.D. and Pete on stage. Casually dressed and humble, they were still like Gods to me. I was too shy to say a singe word to either of them, and instead just nodded and smiled goofily along through the whole session. I was proud to sit in that audience having come so far from the person who first scrambled around the internet looking for any kind of advice that might help me become better with money. I was grateful for their advice and council over the years. I was blessed to be there in that moment.

Throughout the day, my mind kept wandering to that piece of land in rural Michigan. Could we buy it? Could we actually build a house? Could I one day quit my high-paying job and leave LA? My heart kept answering that yes I could and I left my long day in Portland with renewed determination to execute on our plan.

Best $118 spent in a long time.

 

Minding my mind

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Just Stop!

It has been a stressful few days and I’m disappointed in the way that I have (or
have not) handled it. This is First World Stress of course. I am ridiculously blessed with a loving family, comfortable home, well paying work etc.

It started on Friday morning with an annoying email from colleagues across the pond that I read before arriving at the office. This is a lesson apparently not learned many times over: do not spoil non-work hours by checking work email at home. It was nothing but stupid politics and coworkers trying to cling to their own imaginery turf. I was only peripherally involved, yet I still took it as a personal attack. When I did get to work, I was too incensed to even make it to my own office to respond on my laptop. I perched on the nearest desk and fired off a response from my iPhone.

The anger I felt in the heat of that moment has lingered all weekend.

We had a wonderful Saturday evening with a good friend staying over at our house. With a full belly, a peaceful labrador at my feet, a fire burning, surrounded by people I love, I drifted into a restful sleep in my comfy chair. My husband woke me up an hour later to go to bed and I couldn’t wait for my soft pillow and the continuation of that delicious snooze. What happened though? I got in bed, snuggled my labrador, said goodnight to my husband, and started thinking about work.

Very quickly, all feelings of peace and gratitude evaporated. I became agitated. I tossed and turned. I composed brilliant responses to petty situations in my head. My husband woke up and felt the tense ball of anxiety laying beside him. When he asked if I needed a Valium to calm down, I realized how far away from mindful I had become. I had unconsciously allowed my mind to spiral out of control.

Those are the moments where mindfulness is most crucial. Putting up that mental image of a giant red STOP sign and reminding myself that all is perfectly well. I’m safe, I’m warm, I’m fed, I’m loved.