Monthly Archives: September 2012

25Sep/12

Other People Can’t Make You Happy…..and Vice Versa

I am reading Gretchen Rubin’s new book, Happier at Home, in which she embarks on her second happiness project focussing on creating a happier home.

She talks about how important her family is to her happiness, but that it’s also important not to rely on other people for your own happiness.  She says:

My family’s happiness matters so much to me; realistically, if they weren’t happy, it was very hard for me to be happy – but the truth was, I couldn’t make them happy, no matter how fervently I desired to, and they couldn’t make me happy, either.  We all have to find happiness for ourselves.”

Family life is very emotional.  Dramas of one kind or another seem to happen very regularly in our house.  As an emotional, expressive, heart on my sleeve kind of person these ups and downs of family life really affect my equilibrium and therefore my happiness. As a perfectionist, I have struggled to let go the desperate need I seem to have for every single moment of my family’s life to run smoothly.  I often rest my entire happiness on how other people are feeling, and how they behave.  Our family is very good at ‘catching’ emotions from each other like a nasty disease.

But it needn’t be that way. Recently, mainly as a result of my mindfulness study and meditation practice, I’ve come to realise that emotions are transcient (yes, I know that may be obvious to most of you, but it wasn’t to me) and that if I felt angry this moment, it didn’t mean that I would still feel angry in 5 minutes. Also, I’ve learnt that uncomfortable emotions are not necessarily bad and don’t constitute some kind of failure on my part.  Feeling bad, I’ve come to accept, does not mean that my whole life is wrong.

Being aware of this has enabled me to ride the family’s daily dramas much better.  When my children are upset, angry or frustrated, I can see it as a normal part of life rather than a huge problem that I need to fix, right now, perfectly, otherwise they will be doomed to misery for the rest of their lives.

Taking responsibility for our own emotional equilibrium and happiness is something that we are not taught how to do in school (if we were, the world would be a much calmer, happier place). Some of us might have been lucky enough to have parents who were able to model and teach this, but most of us need to learn as we go along, developing our own personal techniques over our lifetime.

13Sep/12

At Forty: I am who I am.

So it finally happened: I was 40 last week.

I have spent the last 18 months or so counting down to this moment, treating it as some kind of deadline to get my life in order.

I trusted that when I was 40, I would finally be fit, organised, well dressed, calm, and at peace with myself. Because, let’s face it, 40 is quite old, and with age comes wisdom and maturity, surely.

Obviously, it didn’t quite happen like that. I didn’t change overnight into this perfect version of myself just because I was approaching 40. On my birthday I didn’t suddenly develop amazing self-control and determination to avoid wine, exercise more, or to stop shouting at my kids when I was irritated.

What happened was that I realised that I am me. I know it sounds obvious, but I think I have always believed that the me that exercised 3 times a week, had 8 hours sleep a night, was permanently serene and calm and was in control of her household was the real me, and I just had to find a way to let her out.  In reality, she is just an ideal that I beat myself up with by constantly comparing myself to her.  I’m never going to be her. If I’m honest, for the most part I’m not going to change a huge amount over the next 10 years.  I’ll probably always drink a little bit more than my doctor would be happy with, my tummy is always going to be a little bit bigger than I would like. I am probably always going to have too many ideas and not enough time.  I’ll probably always put my family life-balance before my personal business ambitions and I’ll probably always have a To Do list as long as the road I live on.  But because I’m a very ‘everything in moderation’ kind of person my flaws and bad habits are not too extreme (I hope) so I can live with them.  They make me me.

So being 40 has made me finally realise that it is ok to be me – as I am.  I know myself enough to accept that I’m not always going to feel like this, I will have moments, days, even weeks where I will sink into a hole of wishing I was ‘Perfect Me’, but I also know that I’ll come out of that hole with a renewed sense of acceptance and understanding that life is all about being vulnerable, accepting our flaws and carrying on regardless.

06Sep/12

Help! I Need to get Organised!

I have to admit that I love being in control. Of everything. I need to know what is going on, what is happening, how everyone is feeling, what we are going to eat next, what I am going to do next and where everything is.

The trouble is, I’m not very good at reaching this state of affairs. In a nutshell I am not very well organised. I have my moments of organisational creativity and clarity. I also have small areas of my house and life which are incredibly organised (when I’ve just that week sorted them out) but it doesn’t seem to last very long. Part of me is hoping that many women live like this, perhaps somehow keeping their organisation systems in their heads, and just about managing to have enough control most of the time not to slide into complete chaos. Obviously chaos is always one of the ingredients of family life, but it seems that a lot of my physical and mental energy goes into trying not to let it get the upper hand.

The summer holidays is a critical time for the chaos / control balance. When the kids are around the whole time, there is less time to ‘get on top of things’, to keep yourself organised and to keep even a semblace of control. After six weeks, I feel desperate to wrestle back some control of my life and home. Ideally I would like to train myself not to be upset and so affected by the chaos and mess, but that’s probably even more difficult than getting myself organised.

As the children go back to school this week, I am focussing on creating small daily habits that will help me. I am getting back into the habit of waking up early, a habit which has slipped during the holidays. This makes me feel better and more in control when the kids get up, and start demanding things of me. Also, every Sunday I will decide what my priorities are for the next week, and take ten minutes first thing in the morning to keep focussed on them and plan the day.

One of the things I find most difficult is keeping track of all the things that I need to do in order to decide which are important and/or urgent and which are not. After years of trying different techniques, diaries, filofaxes, homemade printouts, online charts, which haven’t seemed to work, I recently read David Allen’s best seller Getting Things Done. He recommends organising all your paper and piles into folders and labelling them all lovingly with a proper labeller and to create your own personal library of ‘stuff’. As a lover of stationary of any kind I approached this task with gusto just before the school holidays and it has had a huge impact on my organisation. It is totally amazing because I now know where everything is. When I need a takeaway menu, or the login for the school dinners website, or ideas for a day out, or a particular happiness article, I go to my personal library of folders and find it within 10 seconds. No more rummaging around through the many piles and drawers around my kitchen or office. I am so pleased with myself.

But I still can’t manage my To Do list. To deal with this, during September, I am going to experiment with an iphone app designed in the Getting Things Done process. It costs £5.99 which is more than I’ve ever paid for an app – but I feel I need some help. With the app, I can create projects and next actions and categorise things according to the type of task they are (i.e. tasks involving the internet, errands out and about, phone calls etc.) so that you can bunch them together and save time and energy. To be honest, I’m a little sceptical about it’s prospects because I tend to forget about non-physical things like apps. Again, though, it’s all about creating a habit that I will remember to do everyday, so I need to give it enough time and effort to work.
I’ll keep you posted.