I have been reading more about happiness lately. This is because I think happiness is important and because this year, like many years, I often feel pretty unhappy as Christmas rolls around.
Christmas should be something to look forward to but instead I find myself getting angry about the commercialization and greed surrounding the holiday. I also think about the year's end approaching and all the things I meant to accomplish but didn't. Finally, my birthday squeezes right in between those two just to add another number to my age.
This is why I have been reading up on happiness. I started reading Happier At Home by Gretchen Rubin and also started reading her blog at https://gretchenrubin.com/blog/. Two things I have learned I need to focus on are to enjoy those small but important moments as they are happening and to think more about the positives.
Instead of getting upset about the things I HAVEN'T accomplished this year I'm trying to list the things I DID accomplish.
Instead of thinking about the commercialization of Christmas and the end of the year, I think about how fortunate I am to have all the things I need while being surrounded by friends and family. I also remind myself that we are in the middle of Advent in the Church, which is actually the beginning of the liturgical year, not the end.
Finally, I'm looking forward to our fourth child on the way very soon. I feel way too old for this but it will be fun. I'm always up for a challenge. I hope that I can continue to learn more about happiness and enjoy every small moment that I probably was too busy or stressed out to even think about with my other kids.
This morning I am hanging out at O'Hare airport in Chicago on a four hour layover to visit my family. I had only a few hours of sleep and am missing out on some activities with my wife and kids. But, I enjoyed an amazing sunrise (photo above) and get to spend some quiet time alone. It's nice to occasionally not be responsible for anyone but yourself. I am enjoying the moment.
I guess I can stop saying bah humbug for a little while.
Do musical instruments count as clutter? I’m asking for a friend.
One of my sisters can’t seem to stop bringing home animals while we can’t seem to stop turning our house into a musical instrument sanctuary. Some of them get used regularly and some rarely get touched. I’m just as guilty as anyone for bringing them in.
I have an electric guitar and amplifier that I haven’t touched in months. It turns out the guitar is much harder to learn than I ever imagined.
I’m also the one who spotted the 1950’s Hammond Organ on the curb and suggested we bring it home. That turned out to be much heavier than I ever imagined.
After some oil it worked beautifully for our kids to practice their piano lessons. Eventually though, their teacher suggested they get a real piano to practice on so now we have a full size upright piano as well. I’m not allowed to get rid of the organ because my son insists that he plays it. I think he just moves the bench occasionally to make it look like someone has used it.
Did I mention that he also plays the viola? We have two of those. He plays percussion in the high school band so we have the standard percussion kit of bells and drum pad. We even broke down and bought a full drum set since I did all that work to clear out the family room.
Now that my daughter is in middle school, she started playing saxophone in the school band. Occasionally, she even breaks out her old recorder from 4th grade too.
Honestly, I don’t mind all of these instruments, as long as they get used. Similar to wasted talent, a musical instrument is a terrible thing to waste by having it sit around collecting dust. All musical instruments require at least some maintenance, even if it’s just dusting. The organ requires occasional oiling, the piano requires tuning a couple times a year, the drum set needs to be cleaned and tuned, the saxophone needs reeds, and the viola needs rosin and strings.
But are they clutter? I guess I would say NO - as long as they are being enjoyed and properly cared for. In my case, I would like to get rid of the organ because it takes a lot of space and collects dust. I also should just get rid of my guitar because I never play it. It’s left-handed so no one else in the family is going to either.
I love hearing my kids play the piano, viola, saxophone, and even the drum set. I hope that my kids continue to play for the rest of their lives but at the same time I know that we should reduce the number of musical instruments we have sitting around. I know it will save us space and money but they’re proving as difficult to part with as books. That guitar I’ve been meaning to learn how to play is a lot like those books I’m going to read someday.
I found a good quote about someday by author Jacqueline Woodson:
Somewhere there is another person who would like to read that book or play that old Hammond organ. So whether it’s a musical instrument, a book, or whatever it is you’ve been meaning to do SOMEDAY, I think NOW is the time to either start taking it seriously and do it, or just pass it along to someone else.
As I just wrote that, another quote came to mind that I think sums it up nicely. It’s one of my favorites that I heard many times growing up:
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. The name says it all. It’s a day to remind us to be thankful for everything we have. It’s a relatively unoffensive holiday, although I know a few who are still offended by it, but they are offended by nearly everything. Most of us join together with friends and/or family to eat and drink way more than we should. But it’s OK, because it’s Thanksgiving.
In honor of Thanksgiving, let’s talk about giving thanks and being happy with what we have. Being thankful and showing gratitude will bring far more happiness than any stuff you can buy. There’s plenty of research to documenting the benefits to our health and mental state just from an intentional practice of gratitude. Like this one from Psychology Today, this one from the International Journal of Public Health Science, and this one from Harvard Medical School.
It’s important to be thankful for the right things though. When you’re not gorging on turkey and mashed potatoes this Thursday, be sure to spend some time thinking about how thankful you are for those around you. At the very least be thankful that they’re putting up with you for the day.
In all seriousness though, it’s the relationships we have in life that we need to be most thankful for. Those are the real gifts.
I haven’t had a chance to read any of her books yet, but Gretchen Rubin has dedicated herself to studying what really makes us happy. I first heard about The Happiness Project on my favorite podcast The Portfolio Life by Jefff Goins when he interviewed Gretchen. Her website has loads of resources on happiness. She has written multiple books written on the subject and has a popular podcast called Happier.
One way to help you practice gratitude is something called a gratitude journal. These come in all forms but some of the more popular versions are available as apps for your phone or tablet. I’ve tried one called Bliss and can attest that if you stick with it for a little while, the act of recording the things that you’re thankful for is a great way to start thinking more about it. You’ll find yourself more frequently appreciating the small moments in life or the people around you that make you happy.
The standard gratitude exercise in Bliss gives you a simple box to type in and says “What are you grateful for?”. It also reminds you to include why you are grateful. Other exercises deal with thinking about the future, honoring people, finding meaning in your work, and others.
I used Bliss pretty consistently for about 3 or 4 months as a test. I stopped for several months I guess because I got busy and kind of forgot about the app. About 6 months later, I saw it on my phone and opened it up. I started reading all the entries of things I was grateful for and it felt great. That day I wrote this:
“I have ignored this app for months but I am thankful for it because I just read through my entries for the past year and it lifted up my mood. It reminded me of how much I have to be thankful for.”
I often forget to stop and be thankful for what I have in life and that’s why I like Thanksgiving so much. Let’s all practice a little more gratitude every day and become happier and healthier people. I’ll start by saying thank you for taking the time to read this and I hope you have a great Thanksgiving. You’re turn.
Copyright Dave Lubke and www.davelubke.com, 2017