Practicing What I Preach: How to Be Happier in 30 days or Less.

I set the following daily commitments for the month of April:

  • 5 minutes of meditation (presence)
  • No alcohol (my own individual way of taking a vacation from presence – especially when the present is uncomfortable or stressful)
  • Write a gratitude list (gratitude)
  • Connect with strangers (connection)
  • Be in nature at least 1x per week (nature)
  • Bikram yoga 6x a week (exercise)

I developed the list with the intention of finding more presence and more joy. I’m at a stage where I don’t want more fun and excitement; I want more peace and more joy. These are the things I hear time and again that bring happiness:

Presence, connection, gratitude, nature and exercise.

As the month comes to a close, I want to share some of my findings. I won’t spend a lot of time on the easy / successful parts. Because let’s be honest with each other – failure and struggle are way more interesting and illuminating about our own thoughts and behaviors.

Week 1

This is awesome. I’m so blissed out.

The first weekend, I noticed I seemed less frazzled than other Saturdays, when we have the baby all day with no nanny and no structure. It’s hard work having kids full time. It felt a little easier in week one.

I also was able to call out when I needed alone time from the baby – without resentment or entitlement. Or (self) judgment about what kind of mom I am. There was no charged energy behind my communication.

On one of the days, at beginning of my yoga class, I had the feeling and memory of being in High School, on Martha’s Vineyard. Fall was cooling off the beaches, and the air smelled salty; Back then, I had all the opportunity of a young adult but none of the responsibility of an actual adult. I felt this tangible and accessible feeling of freedom & ease. I felt positively euphoric. If I commit to presence and gratitude, can it feel like this all of the time?

1 hour later during the class…

I had the thought: “I cannot keep this up for 30 days. I might as well just quit now.” Then I remembered I only have to do it one day at a time, and it isn’t every day. I get a day off.

I notice human connection is easy for me – I truly enjoy engaging with people… even strangers. As an extrovert, I love the charge and the challenge of not knowing what might happen next. And I love smiling and making others smile.

This week I’m feeling sillier, lighter, more hopeful, more present.

I’m more able to communicate my wants and needs without a laser focus on outcome. I‘m actually less attached to outcome.

One of the days this week, I got up at 5:15a to do yoga and it was awesome.

But by 4pm, I was totally depleted. By 7pm, I was at my wit’s end. And right at that very moment, the baby stood up on my beautiful bed and peed all over the comforter – like a boy!! She’s a girl! Almost like she was taunting me. Even with gratitude and presence, my patience was real thin.

Serenity now.

Wednesday morning – I had to do an extra 5 minutes of meditation because during the first 5 minutes, my head was spinning about an upcoming job.

I allowed myself to cry with a client, and it felt so good. To be with their pain & hope in a deeply connected way.

I notice I’m being more patient, not so quick to be frustrated or annoyed. I’m willing to let things go more quickly. That feels great!

Admittedly, I saw how quickly my brain sought out short cuts. The very first day I asked myself – what qualifies as nature? a park? my backyard? haha.

Week 2

Ok, so maybe there is no a silver bullet.

Joy does level out.

The first week felt like I’d taken a magic pill. Everything was ok, even if it wasn’t. Even if it’s doing the dishes, or changing dirty diapers. It’s all ok.

But yep, joy levels out. It’s like the study about the lottery winner vs. the paraplegic. At some point, they cite similar levels of happiness. But one thing is different: I’m way more present and more at ease. I might not be more joyful, but I have less anxiety. And THAT makes me joyful.

I took on new / challenging work and if I hadn’t been so grounded in gratitude and meditation I would have been way more high stung and stressed about the gig. (I even let go of 2 things that weren’t perfect about my collateral materials… the “old Maggie” would have obsessed about it, or fixed it. And btw, we’re talking about line spacing on a document! I just decided it was good enough. And I even had time to fix it, but would have made me more harried, more rushed. So I let it go. )

I planned to take a yoga class on Fri, but it didn’t make sense for what was going on for our family. The “old Maggie” would have resisted or tried to coax and cajole and get her way. Instead, I was less resistant to changing original expectations. I skipped yoga and had an amazing dinner out with the fam.

I notice that I still am not immune to self-loathing. That ugly shadow stopped by more than once… even with all the meditation and gratitude; I couldn’t sleep fall asleep on Friday night. I was totally spun out about the upcoming job – I wouldn’t be good enough, smart enough, compelling enough, creative enough, etc. You name it. I wasn’t THAT enough. The very old “not enough” story was still lurking around.

Also I didn’t start this week’s particular Saturday with meditation & gratitude; that was a big mistake. I was grouchy and resentful all day. Even with my sweet baby girl. Yoga reset me, thankfully.

I also wanted a glass of wine for the first time; two weeks in. Coincidence?

Week 3

This fucking sucks.

2 weeks in and I had to quit the Bikram yoga/6x a week nonsense.

As the saying goes – even heaven is hell if it’s ALL THE TIME.

I started hating it.

I’d be in a class, and I’d hate the heat, I’d hate the length of the class, I’d hate the person teaching, I’d hate the person next to me. Hell, I hated myself.

This fucking sucks, I’d think. I was exhausted and pissed off.

Hmmmm… it sounds like I’m getting less joy out of the deal, right? Maybe moderation is something to consider. Maybe looking forward to something actually adds to the happiness. Instead, I was dreading going!

So the second I shifted my attitude / intention from (old Maggie!) “tight fisted, stiff upper lip, suck it up, you made this commitment and you have to stick with it regardless of how miserably you are” – to “go because you enjoy it. Go when you want to”

Week 4

You’ve got to do the work, but it actually works. 

Well, damned if I didn’t start enjoying Bikram Yoga again. I went 4x these last two weeks and that was perfect. It stretched me a little because it’s hard to carve out time for exercise 4 times a week when you work and have a kid. And I was SOOOOO glad when I went. I loved being there. Even when it was hard. It felt like “my time” again. Something to look forward to when I had a day off, AND I got to also enjoy the day off!

I have no problem getting into nature. Portland makes nature very accessible and it is a no brainer for me. I feel more open-hearted and connected being in nature. I either went to parks, gardens or hiked each week.

I had no problem doing my gratitude list either. It was easy, quick and felt great.

Most of the time, I had no problem meditating. Sometimes I’d get impatient with it at the 4 minute mark, and sometimes I doubled the time.

I won’t lie… every once in awhile I missed wine. We had several fun nights out with friends, and everyone else was drinking. I wanted to be able to join in the merriment. And so I did, but without the booze. And it was fun. But I did have the desire to drink. And then it passed. And I was grateful the next day when I felt 100%.  This desire came up several times throughout the month. Maybe – like yoga – wine is ok in moderation?!

The Pay Off:

More ease. More joy. More peace. Check. Check. Check.

This doesn’t mean I was perfect. Not even close.  In fact, on April 28th while I was driving, I flipped a woman off who had angrily held her horn down at me (like for 15 seconds, you know the way!). I made a calculated decision in the moment, and was 100% present with her. I made eye contact, held her gaze, and then slowly extended my middle finger and kept it up for as long as she had held her horn down at me. I felt no remorse about it. We can’t be the Buddha all of the time. And who honks their horn in Portland? This ain’t Boston.

And lastly – I got an unexpected bonus: the universe rewarded me for my efforts this month…

I had made an agreement with myself that if I reached my April commitment, I’d buy myself a new yoga outfit. Well, as you now know – I didn’t make my original commitment. I accomplished all I set out to accomplish except going to Bikram yoga 6x per week. And I was absolutely okay with not getting that new yoga outfit. I made an agreement and I didn’t meet it. So no yoga outfit.

And then a funny thing happened – I walked into my yoga studio yesterday and the owner pulled me aside and said, “I’ve got some yoga clothes that I never wear because they don’t fit me, would you like them?”

I got 4 shorts and 1 pair of pants out of the deal. All of which look AWESOME, and are new to me. That beats a $100 outfit from Lulu Lemon any day of the week!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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