It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Happiness Resolutions Follow-up: My surprise

A while back I shared my Happiness Resolutions for my work.

I’ve been implementing them with a respectable degree of consistency ever since. And the results?

It works! I’m feeling much happier at work. Fulfilling my Happiness Resolutions, Work Version, make me feel productive and professional. Those boring, motivation-sucking lulls are less frequent. For example:

– Getting out routinely means more exposure to sunshine (at the very least, daylight). That lifts my spirits in an immediate and positively tangible way. Really. I walk out onto the front porch, I feel a lift to my spirits, immediately.

– When I am happier and laughing more, the kids are happier and laughing more. Happy children are more fun to be around, which makes me happier. This is a virtuous circle, and we have one going most days now.

– Keeping busy means less down-time, less time for the dreaded doldrums to creep in.

And you know? None of that was really a surprise. I could have predicted all that. I pretty much did. There was one surprise on that list, though.

Hugs. I said I would hug each and every child once per hour. Frankly, I was unsure about that one. I mean, I knew it would be good for the children. They have a never-ending need to be physical… to a degree I find claustrophobic, frankly. There are caregivers out there who revel in having children climbing all over them all the time.

I am not one of them. I hug them, sure, pat their little bottoms, ruffle their hair, drop kisses on pudgy little bodies. But a hug an hour… that’s 9 hours times 5 children… 45 hugs a day. I confess I cringed a bit. It would be good for the children. It would make me feel more professional, like I was doing my Nurturing Duty. But, in all honesty, I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy it much. I feared that for my own tolerances, it would be a bit over the top.

Guess what?

Of all the resolutions I made, this one, Hug Every Child Once An Hour, has been, without qualification, the MOST FUN of the entire list. The absolute highlight. Because of those hugs, my whole day sparkles with joy.

All sorts of things can be used as triggers/reminders for a hug. I change the children on the floor, as you know. So when Daniel or Poppy have had their diapers changed, I pull them upright and then give them a hearty hug before sending them on their way. Arrival and departure are obvious times for hello and goodbye hugs. (Freebie Bonus: The parents love it. Of course. And it’s not that it never happened before, just that now it ALWAYS happens.) When we tidy a room, we get hugs. When we sing a fun song, we get hugs.

We’ve developed variations. There’s the regular hug, a quick squeeze. There’s the Squooshy Hug, an extra-long, extra-tight hug. There’s the Sandwich Hug: me, a tot in the middle, another tot on the outside. (The middle is the prime spot. Everyone takes turns being in the middle.)

If I’m approaching the end of an hour and realize I’ve forgotten and have some quick catching up to do, I’ll kneel on the floor, fling my arms out wide and call out “GROUP HUG!” Small bodies will hurtle from every direction, and fling themselves onto me, onto the kid on top of me, onto the kid on top of the kid on top of me. And everyone giggles into everyone else’s face, a writhing, wriggling, squirming heap of glee.

It is WONDERFUL.

My Happiness Resolutions, all seven of them, have been really effective at increasing my enjoyment of my work day, and as a result, making me happier. But nothing sent the happiness skyrocketing past mere happiness and solidly into JOY the way all these hugs have done.

I didn’t expect it. It’s a gift, absolutely a gift. I’m loving it.

May 9, 2012 Posted by | books, health and safety | , , , | 5 Comments

Where have I been?

Hello! I’m still alive! Sorry about my vanishment, for those of you who have been so kind as to express concern. The rest of you who have wandered off, never to return, well, that’s my own fault, isn’t it?

What’s been going on with me? Well, nothing precisely, but it’s really good! You know my personal Happiness Project? You can blame it. Yup. Gretchen may have been able to blog through hers, but I’m finding that mine is so damned successful, it’s taking away my inclination to blog.

It’s going like this:

Week one: I was having trouble remembering my project. I’d get to the end of the day, and I’d be entering all these rotten exes, because I just plain old forgot I was supposed to be doing it. Boooo. I hate exes in my chart. All those exes were not contributing to my happiness! When it comes to charts and assignments, I am a keener. Always have been. My charts always have rows of checkmarks. My assignments always have gold stars. Even self-assigned assignments. Actually, as I get older and need external validation less and less especially self-assigned assignments. They mean more.

I had to make this thing less forgettable. I mounted the chart on a wall where it would be hard to miss.

Week two: I’m doing better, but I’m still forgetting! It’s getting better, but still, I’ll be halfway through a day and suddenly remember that the story-time, which is supposed to happen before naps, didn’t. Or I’ll be waving the last one out the door and remember I forgot to sing with them. Damnit, anyway. I want to do this stuff! I like doing this stuff! When it’s happening — which is more and more frequently — I’m really enjoying it. But I’m still forgetting too much. (Absent-mindedness. It’s a curse.) It’s also interfering with my rows of checkmarks.

Wait. Maybe that’s the problem. The chart, though in an obvious spot, is pretty low-key. Tidy little inked notations on a pale blue grid. It needs to call attention to itself. It needs to be gaudy.

Two sharpies later, my chart no longer sports neatly subdued checks and exes. Now it is resplendent in red and green boxes. THERE ARE TOO MANY RED BOXES ON MY CHART.

Week three: I’m hitting my stride. There’s only one red box under ‘outing’, but that’s because we had ice rain/hail that day. That day, there is a green box under ‘craft’, which we only do twice a week. Mwah-ha. I am winning at Chart!

I’m also winning in the daycare. The whole tenor of the place is improving, day by day. By doing all these things, I’m feeling more professional and competent, I’m feeling more nurturing, more organized, more loving. Am I happier?

Damned straight I am. By a mile.

It’s not that we were all wallowing in misery before. We did crafts (you’ve seen them!), we played games, we read stories. It’s just that now I’m being more focussed and intentional about it all. Less drifting. When you drift, it’s too easy to say “Ah, I’m tired today. I’ll just throw some crayons and paper down, instead of organizing something more labour-intensive.”

And that’s okay, some days. But in the winters, I do that sort of thing more often, and eventually, I find myself wandering around in a bit of a grey malaise. A child does something cute, I smile. Now? A child does something cute, I laugh. I’m laughing a lot these days.

‘Swonderful.

We’re into week five now, and red squares are few and far between. More importantly, I’m laughing a lot these days. And because I am the emotional centre of this place, they are laughing a lot more these days. And their happiness feeds mine. It’s a virtuous circle, people, and I’m loving it.

When I started, I didn’t foresee this level of satisfaction. I thought it would be satisfying, sure; I thought it would likely work, or I wouldn’t have bothered. I thought the process of improving, tidying up, tweaking my professional behaviour would make me feel better about myself.

But I had no idea how the joy would explode around me.

We are not running around in bliss 100% of the time. These are toddlers. They are still cranky, petulant and demanding at times. They still clobber each other once in a while. I get annoyed once in a while.

But, in general terms? It’s so good. Joy is not too strong a term for the spikes of happiness that occur, often several times a day. Certainly you could call it ‘glee’.

So why have I not been blogging about all this wonderfulness?

Well, because I’ve been busy living it.

However, sitting down this morning and pounding out this post has been fun, too, so I think you’ll be seeing more of me. Thanks for hanging in!

April 16, 2012 Posted by | daycare, health and safety | , , | 13 Comments

Happy Days, Crappy Days

A week and a bit ago, I resolved to take the children out every day. And I have! 100% success. Even on Monday when those “winds out of the north, with gusts to 60 km/hr” just about knocked poor Rory and Grace off their wee feet.

Really. We were walking north — right into the wind, ugh — and a gust came along that made them stagger back a pace or two. I think if they hadn’t been holding on to the stroller, they might have been blown right onto their little backsides. Of course, I’ll admit that had I realized the part about the “gusts to 60 km/h”, I would have skipped the walk.

But so far, 100%!!

And yes, it’s improving my mood. In part because fresh air and sunshine raises your spirits, as does exercise, but also the strictly pragmatic consideration that an outing makes the day go faster. There are all sorts of ways getting outside is a good idea.

Today? We will not be going out today. Currently, it’s -1C out there. It is raining. Quite heavily. The rain is COLD. In fact, it’s not exactly rain. It’s not exactly ice-rain, either. Something in between. Maybe icy slush? Falling from the sky? Yes, that’s it. Largish plops of icy slush, smacking into your face ten times a minute. Like being smacked with icy-cold, soggy wet elastic bands, all around your face (and hands, if you were so foolish as to not be wearing mittens). Absolutely standard March weather, of course, but, ugh.

I know all this because I’ve just been out in it, from 6:30 – 7:15, walking my dogs. Because I am a conscientious and self-sacrificing dog owner. And maybe a bit besotted with the hairy stinkers. They loved it. They love anything. Because, for a dog, every day is a good day!!!! (You want a laugh? Follow that link.)

Thus, I know from personal experience, it is sufficiently rotten out there that I can declare today an indoor day without any worries about being a slacker, or weaselling out of a commitment.

So today? Today, in keeping with a different resolution on that same list, we will do crafts. I’m thinking some of these would be just the thing for this craptastic weather day! Aren’t they cute and bright and pretty?

I hauled out my primary paints and mixed up the requisite colours. Isn’t that cute? (Okay, so there’s no indigo in there. CLOSE ENOUGH.)

Of course, there’s no way that Daniel or Poppy can paint in straight lines, and it’s dubious whether any of the others can paint between the lines… Still. It’ll be bright and pretty and fun in here!

Pretty much the exact opposite of what it is outside.

March 27, 2012 Posted by | crafts, outings | , , | 4 Comments

Why Wouldn’t I?

I consider myself a happy person. I’m an optimist. My glass is half-full, I’m more likely to laugh when something startles me than scowl. I’m a quiet person, mind you. You’re not going to hear me roaring exuberantly around, tossing belly laughs hither and yon. I’m not jolly. But I am, quietly, happy.

Happiness is an interesting subject. Moreover, happiness does ebb and flow. Mine ebbs in the winter. I’m quite sure that, like many of us in the sun-starved northern latitudes, I suffer mildly from the fading of the light. Do I have full-blown SAD? No. But I do use a therapy light every morning, and it does help.

February and March are my lowest-energy months. Everything’s a little harder in March. I don’t feel sad. My life is absolutely worth living. I take pleasure in things each day. But I’m weary. Weary and very impatient for spring, for the end of snow, slush, grit, snow boots, snow pants, snow suits, hats, scarves, mittens, neckwarmers, and scarves, longing for the beginning of warmth, for the return of sunshine and long daylight hours.

Weary and impatient people do not make good caregivers. Now, I don’t take my weariness out on the children, I’m not snapping at them six times an hour, I’m not … but that takes restraint these days, restraint which takes effort, and only adds to my weariness.

I’m not getting a whole lot of fun out of my job these days. That’s not the kids’ fault. It’s all me. I know that.

One of the things that lifts my spirits is to read self-help books. They’re just so full of cheery potential! Even if I never adopt a single one of a book’s suggestions, I just love the potential in each of these books. Recently I bought myself a copy of “The Happiness Project“, the recounting of the author, Gretchen Rubin’s year-long account of her quest to increase her own level of happiness. There I found the idea of coming up with Happiness Resolutions.

Oh, now this resonated with me. I am a total list-and-chart girl. I’ve made charts to organize my thoughts, make decisions, plan projects, and pack for holidays all my life. A chart for resolutions is TOTALLY my thing. I make lists these days because I have no memory. None. Lists for memory, charts for organization. Love it. I can do this! I am excited to do this!!!

Rubin asks four questions to help you determine what your happiness objectives could be. It was her thirds question, “Is there any way in which you don’t feel right about your life? Do you wish you could change jobs, cities, family situation, or other circumstances? Are you living up to your expectations for yourself? Does your life reflect your values?” that really hit home for me.

The middle question about changing things, that didn’t resonate. I like my home, I like my job, I like my family situation. But… “Am I living up to my expectations? Does my life reflect my values?” The best I could say was, “Well. Kinda-sorta.”

Not at home. I’m doing fine with husband and children. I’m doing fine with friends. I am treating myself well, too.

But at work?

There, I was undoubtedly falling short of the mark. Short of my own standards. You all know me well enough to know that I don’t encourage people to have unrealistic standards and goals. I think it’s good mothering to be a bit of a slacker, to indulge in a little benign neglect. I don’t hold myself (or anyone else) to an impossible parenting standard.

Here’s the hard truth: My standards are reasonable, and I am not meeting them.

Oof. It’s hard to look at yourself that clearly.

The children are being lovingly cared for. They are not at risk, they are not being neglected. But I know I am doing the bare minimum these days. I know I am not doing my best. I know it.

So I made for myself a list of seven Work Resolutions. Do I believe these will increase my personal happiness? Yes. If I am performing to my own standard of professionalism, I will be happier. Moreover, if I’m happier myself, I will be better with the children. It’s a virtuous circle.

My professional resolutions are:

1. Get outdoors every day. If someone needs a morning nap, the rest of us can play in the back yard. If it’s raining, my stroller has a rain shield. It’s just not that cold any more. There is no excuse but inertia, and I know that if I get out, I feel happier. Pretty much instantaneously. So. Go outside? Why wouldn’t I? (See? I can do something that is really totally about me, and it’s also good for the children! Again: why wouldn’t I? I think “why wouldn’t I?” will be my mantra for overcoming winter-induced inertia. Why wouldn’t I?)

2. Fifteen minutes of story-time before naps every day. They like hearing them, I like reading. It segues them neatly to naptime. It’s good for their language development. Why wouldn’t I?

3. Crafts, twice a week. I like doing crafts. Most of the children enjoy them, and all the parents do. It’s a way to engage with the children, foster fine motor control, make something pretty. Why wouldn’t I?

4. Sing for 15 minutes after nap/before snow suits every day. I love singing. They love singing. WHY WOULDN’T I???

5. Avoid ‘no’. I am not afraid to give the children a clear and unapologetic ‘no’ as required. But too often, caregivers (and parents!) fall into the knee-jerk no trap. There is no good reason to say no … but we do, anyway. Why? I picked up a terrific quote by Samuel Johnson (via Gretchen Rubin): “All severity that does not tend to increase good, or prevent evil, is idle.” There is a time and place for firmness, even for severity. But it should never be unthinking or habitual.

6. Keep a smile on my face, and in my voice. I’ve said it before, and Ms. Rubin cites the studies too: We often feel the way we act. We tend to think it’s the reverse, that we act the way we feel, but in fact, if we act a certain way, the feelings will follow. So. Smile. And keep that smile not just on my face, but in my voice. I can say the same thing in forbidding or stern tones, or I can say it with a smile. Why wouldn’t I smile?

7. Hug each of the children once an hour. I’ve heard it said we need four hugs a day for survival. I work with little people who would, if I let them, hug me four times a minute. Why wouldn’t I? (Well, because I’d never get anything else done, and could quite feasibly end up peeing on the living room floor. But once an hour, each, seems entirely doable. Which could give me, over the course of my workday, an average of 42 hugs per day. I think I’d be meeting the quota for survival…) :-D In truth, it sounds entirely delightful! Why wouldn’t I?

I’ve made myself a chart. Because I’m starting mid-month, it goes through the end of April. Each day I’ll evaluate how I did on each of the seven items, and will award myself with either a check (yes! did it!) or an ‘x’, (missed the mark today). Since lists and charts are motivating for me, I know that I’ll be striving for a column of check marks in every category. I know it.

Inertia is a killer. It sucks a lot of the joy from living. As I composed this list and thought about it, my response of “why wouldn’t I?” got more and more insistent, until it now seems to me that to not do any of these things is sheerest perversity.

So yes, winter robs me of energy … but each of these things is so easy, and will bring me happiness, while at the same time improve my work environment, give me job satisfaction and make the kids happier (and thus easier to be around).

Why wouldn’t I?
Why wouldn’t I?

How about you? Anyone care to join me? What would your list be? I’ve had a week or two to think about my list. You want to prepare a list to start April first, and join me? My list is about my job. Your list may be about something different.

If the whole idea of increasing your level of happiness intrigues you, check out Gretchen’s website, look into her Happiness Toolbox, and maybe you’ll want to make yourself an account there.

Who doesn’t want to be happier? Why wouldn’t you?

:-D

March 15, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 6 Comments

   

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