Thursday, December 20, 2007

Saying "no more"

When I wrote here of knowing that I need to tell my non-rent-paying tenant to leave that this was the biggest step I could take toward my own vision of happiness. I knew that I had to stand up for my own needs and desires. I felt that until I took this step I couldn't keep on posting in this journal.

Over the past several weeks I have had visions of my house without any tenants or roommates, of having it all to myself. These visions remind me, of course, that I had gotten into "when X is taken care of I will be happy" mode. I have been here before. "When I lose weight I will be happy." "When I pay off my IRS debt I will be happy". I have learned that it isn't that simple, that happiness is not a state you attain and then stay there. Instead, I get a momentary rush and then the thrill fades.

Even so, some of these things are important and get in the way of finding peace. In my case, having a tenant who takes recyclables to a nearby center to pay for tobacco was a concern, but more than that having a tenant at all was weighing on me. I am by nature a loner. I get along with others but am not a social animal. It tires me. It drains me. The only reason I managed to accept a tenant for so long (other than my unwillingness to tell him to leave) was that he was not particularly social either! So we tend to go about our business separately and don't spend a lot of time together.

The upshot is that I knew I had to tell him goodby. I had to give him a date. Day after day passed and I resisted. I talked about it with friends. One understanding friend suggested that I make the date January 31, 2008, making it a full year that he has not paid rent, and telling him I am happy to be able to give him the gift of that rent. That sounded like a good plan and a generous one, yet I still held off saying anything.

Until yesterday. I put together a holiday card with some cash and a pizza gift card and told him I had good news and bad news. I handed him the card, said I thought it would be useful, an early Christmas present, and then I said I need my house back and I would like him to be out by January 31. He was taken aback and stumbled a bit but recovered gracefully. He said that was more than fair but that it might take him a little longer to be able to get out. I mumbled a bit about some flexibility (am I in for it here?) because I realize he has to 1) get a job, 2) get paid, and 3) have enough to pay first month's rent plus a security deposit, not a small amount in these parts even when just renting a room in a house.

I didn't feel a great sense of relief, frankly. I didn't feel a weight lift off me. Will that happen when he actually moves out? I doubt it. Right now I am feeling like I'm some kind of heel for doing this, even while I believe I did it in the gentlest way possible. I mean, I actually said "It's not you, it's me". I said that. And it's true, for the most part. It is hard for me to imagine being able to live with a tenant, any tenant, for long before I am not liking it. The exceptions are people I love. If one of those people moved in it would mostly be a pleasure for me.

I feel that I can now continue writing here! I have done what I needed to do. The followup will be tough, probably, but the bricks have been laid. I have done something I needed to do. By itself it won't make me happy. But it's one of those steps I had to take.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Stumbling on Happiness

I just discovered that I have Stumbling on Happiness (Daniel Gilbert) on my bookshelf. I know I bought it recently but do not remember from where or why. Nevertheless, it looks like a good one. I will read it and report on it here.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

We are in this together!

The creator of Joesgoals recently posted about how his cute little goal tracker is being used. The top ten goals:

Goal Users Checks
Exercise 3973 48112
Drink Water 529 17584
Eat Out 1201 14391 (negative goal)
Brush Teeth 357 11814
Meditate 661 11026
Take Vitamins 367 10204
Floss 514 9502
Read 489 8573
Workout 637 7935
Eat Breakfast 401 7373

I didn't keep the formatting but you can get the idea. So many of us are striving for the same goals! It just warms my little heart. I have a few of those on my list: exercise, drink water. I don't need any goal for "reading" because if anything I read too much. And I'm good on the teeth brushing and taking vitamins. I can celebrate the fact that I have actually made habits of some good things.

Exercise = Happiness

My current happiness project work is in the area of health and fitness. I know myself and I know that I am happiest when I am exercising on a regular basis. However, I have a hard time motivating myself to get to the gym or go out for a walk. So my number one goal for this month is to exercise regularly.

My plan is simple. I will exercise only for 30 minutes 3 days a week. It's a very achievable goal, but I know it will still take me some work.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Are we just being trendy?

Wired magazine publishes a cute graph each month that spells out what's "wired", "tired", or "expired". In the October 2007 issue we have this range:

Expired: Getting smarter
Tired: Becoming happier
Wired: Staying creative

I should have seen this coming.

Certainly there has been a trend. I have noticed an increase in the number of books, magazine articles, and...uh...blogs...that look into the elusive state, "happiness". What I have found intriguing is that much of the research falls in line with my gut feelings - that happiness really is a matter of adjusting your thinking more than anything else. More and more we see what we suspected: more choices do not make happiness; greater material wealth (beyond a middle-level) does not make happiness. In other words, getting there, wherever "there" is, will not bring us nirvana (one of Gretchen's recent posts discusses this matter of how the 'process' of getting there should be the focus rather than the goal itself).

So yeah, it's a trend and we jumped on it here. Does that mean we should jump off and get into "staying creative"? I think not. In fact, creativity for most of us is indeed related to happiness. So let's just stay where we are and make real progress.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Using the fifth commandment

I am presently in one of those situations. I have a "tenant", a person I let stay in my place "while he looked for his own place". Sound a wee bit like my last post? There are some similarities.

Right from the start we agreed on rent. So that much is different. And intially I said it would be just for a couple of months. But then Paul brought it up: he'd looked at other places and how about if we make it more permanent? He had turned out to be a decent tenant - keeping to himself, keeping his stuff in his own room, that sort of thing - and he was working so I had time to myself. I worked part time so had afternoons alone in my house. I didn't mind having the extra income.

Paul also shared. He bought flowers. He bought wine. He supplied the biscotti and we both bought coffee. He took care of my cats when I traveled. So it was not a one-way situation.

Now, though, it is getting closer to one-way. Paul lost his last job last February. Or maybe January, actually, or earlier. He had money from the sale of his house (that he had owned with his ex) so he didn't rush to find a job. He said he was going to take a breather of a few weeks, then find a job. He said he was no longer going to be foolish and blow his money on a fancy car or motorcycle, as he had done in his misspent youth.

But he never did get another job. After several months he actually registered at the employment office but he didn't follow up. I guess he thinks they'll call him. But they don't do that. In the meantime Paul cashed in some kind of stock he'd gotten through his last employment and that kept him in cigarettes and beer a while longer.
He brought in some biscotti sometimes too, and shared his increasingly less expensive food purchases - bags of potatoes, bags of rice, split peas. He stopped going to Trader Joe's and went to Food 4 Less.

At this point I suspect he's clean out of money. He hasn't paid me rent since last February, which is why I remember that date. He's still doing anything I ask - taking care of cats, moving things from storage to here, hauling anything, taking out trash. I suspect he is trying to pay his way in this way, although he has always done anything I have asked. And he still keeps mostly to his room. We do share television time as our tastes are similar. So there is companionship there.

I have been playing with the "no" option. I know that once we make a decision our guts will tell us if it is the right one. So I tried it on: give him 30 days. How does that feel? Part of it feels good, part of it not quite good.

I am becoming more irritable. I think because I am thinking about this more and noticing and letting things bother me more.

When I have no choice about where I am or what I am doing I can make it work for me somehow. I can find the little pluses in a sea of minuses. Right now I am starting to choose to have a choice. But I am not quite there yet. Should this be a goal? How should I write it?

Another commandment...

When I was in my twenties I had a group of three close friends. One of those friends told me once about a young woman she had just met, who had left her family home to escape having sex with her brother. My friend, Barbara, said this girl, Twyla (I remember the name because it's unusual and it's the same as the dancer's), had no place to stay.

At the time my three friends all lived at home. One by one they all eventually moved out but at this time I was the only one living by herself. I told Barbara that Twyla could stay at my place until she found a place of her own.

That's bad enough. Really. Bad enough that I opened my doors to someone I didn't know, based on information that very well may not even be true. But I compounded it. I let Twyla and her boyfriend sleep in the living room, really the only room available (I am surprised I didn't give them my bedroom now that I think back), where I had to tiptoe around them and listen to their music played loudly on my sound system, and I let them use my car! I reasoned that I could take the bus straight to school each day while they would have a harder time looking for work without a car.

That may be true, the bit about the car, but why me? Why should I be the one to fix their problem?

There are times when it's good to take care of others, to be the one who steps in and helps when others stand by. Seriously, this was not one of those times. Twyla wasn't a baby. She was a capable young woman, and she had a boyfriend. They could take care of themselves. I remember being so horrified at the thought of incest that I believed she was deeply scarred and needed a refuge. I couldn't contemplate her sleeping on the street, which is the only place I expected she could go.

This was perhaps the time I went furthest out in giving of myself. As I said, giving is good and it is important to give, but we can't let others take away our own lives. This example may be the worst example of my sacrificing my own needs for others but it is hardly the only one. I am not Mother Theresa. I can easily believe that, in spite of her doubts, she was fulfilled by her mission. I'm not fulfilled when I let others walk all over me. And I am sure that even she didn't let that happen.

And that's because it's so hard for me to say no. I have to be able to draw lines and stick to them. I'm not talking about "lines in the sand" because I hate that expression and it suggests a line that changes, anyway. I'm talking about the line where I give up myself. I don't think it should be hard to define where that is. And this leads to my fifth commandment:


Saturday, October 6, 2007

Even a child can do it...


My daughter Mary shows her son Joey how to use joesgoals. We all like how easy it is to set goals and we all like checking them off. I especially like that you can put two or more checkmarks in one box - I use this for drinking water. My goal is to drink at least eight cups a day, so I set a joesgoals of four cups a day. That way I get to check that box twice if I get up to eight and three times if I zoom up to twelve. I like it.
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Sunday, September 30, 2007

Bad or good?

I have long lived by my ability to separate an experience or a place from a judgment of it. That is, I don't determine that certain experiences are always bad or always good or that I can't stand this or that I always love that.

Hamlet says to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, about Denmark:

Why, then ‘tis none to you, for there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison.

Weather reporters tell us when the weather will be "good" and when it will be "bad", which irks me no end, for here is an excellent example of thinking making it so. As it happens, I can love any weather, even though I will admit I often prefer rain and gray skies. If I am in Las Vegas I can decide to go with the heat rather than against it. And when weather makes me physically uncomfortable that doesn't mean it breaks my spirit. One of the best memories of my life is of an Easter Sunday in 1978, when it rained so much it flooded a park in San Luis Obispo. I took my camera to that park and slogged around in the marsh-like grasses, loving the light and the look of the water where it sat. I was wet and cold and far from comfortable and loving every minute of it. I am a big believer in comfort and will go out of my way for it, but there are times when it takes a back seat.

There is a short story by Amy Hempel, two short pages, called Bogata. The narrator thinks about a man who was kidnapped in Bogata. A ransom was demanded. It took months to put together the million dollars demanded, and during this time the kidnappers had to keep their victim alive.

They learned that he had a heart condition. They changed his diet and made him exercise. When he was released he was in the best shape of his life. Amy's narrator ends the story with:

He wondered how we know that what happens to us isn't good.

We don't know. That's my point. It can go either way.

It is now my job to find a pithy way to make this thought into a commandment.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Having and Wanting

I just finished a book by Elizabeth George. It's a turn for George, a different perspective, yet fits with how she writes. She writes mysteries with great characters and many details. Many of the details do not go anywhere in terms of clearing up the puzzle in the story. But they are like real life. In this book, What Came Before He Shot Her, she explores what sent a 12-year-old on a mission that ended up with a woman dead.

Part of the story involves the aunt of the 12-year-old, who is struggling to act as single parent to these children, who were thrust upon her without her consent. As we get deep into the book she starts to see where she may have gone wrong and says, "I didn't see that what I had was more important than what I wanted."

Seems just the ticket. I'm writing it this way: "Remember that what I have is more important than what I want."

So my four commandments are:

1. Be Judy
2. Act As If
3. Be open to loving and being loved
4. Remember that what I have is more important than what I want.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Back to the commandments

I decided to go back to working on my commandments, to think about what phrases and thoughts have stuck with me over the years. I came to this:

In my young adult years I wanted to be known. In particular I harbored visions of playing the piano on a stage. If not music, then writing. I would make my name with words.

One day I asked my stepmother Elizabeth what she wanted from life, for my dreams were huge.

"To love and be loved", she said. She had also, on other occasions, described herself as the one who applauds, the audience, saying it was her role.

I simply did not believe her. I thought she was glorifying an act I would describe as "settling". She had pushed down her own dreams and convinced herself that being an audience and loving and being loved were enough.

I now see that she didn't settle.

I honestly believe that to love and be loved is huge. I suspect that many who have found fame would want nothing more than, would trade it all, to love and be loved.

I have changed it a little to make it a commandment:

3. Be open to loving and being loved.

So far, then:

1. Be Judy

2. Act As If

3. Be open to loving and being loved.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Resistance is Futile

When I make lists and check off what I've done I like it. Yet I have a strange aversion to them nevertheless.

Years ago a fellow planner, who was in Toastmasters when I was, gave a speech that she named "listless". It was about a day when she lost her list. She always had lists. Without one she became disoriented, unable to function, wanting to sleep more. All the symptoms I feel just about every day.

This young woman is highly organized and lives in a spectacularly immaculate home. She also came from privilege so I managed to harbor a bit of resentment against her. I have always felt like the bumbling bull in the china shop and never was it so apparent as when I visited her. She was petite, attractive, well put-together, and lived in this perfect place, while I was big, sloppy, forgetful, unable to keep things together, and lived in a small overcrowded and undercleaned place. I lived with two understandably resentful acting-out daughters while she perfectly parented one lovely little girl, whose kindergarten and preschool artwork, perfectly framed, graced the walls.

Perhaps it was this envy or resentment that I let spread over into listland. More likely I just tend to see the overorganized as horrifying. So I resist.

I still resist, to this day, even as I use programs like EZ To-Do (a small listmaker that lives in my computer) to write up my lists. I fail to open the program most days, so miss the advantage of checking things off and feeling fulfilled.

Oddly, I don't have this problem with the goals program (joesgoals). It's just different enough. It tracks goals, not little irritating errands and cleaning jobs.

Therefore, I will add "use list" to my goals! And no longer will I have to resist.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Elaine's Commandments

In my quest for happiness I will choose a few commandments to strive to live by. These things are my mottos, my credos, my assumptions, my rules, my basis, my foundations, my affirmations, my guidelines... So, I'll get started!

1. Be Elaine - I will be myself. I will accept who I am and let me be me. I will be honest.
2. Look up - I will find the positive, the silver lining. I will look at 'the big picture' and try not to sweat the small stuff.
3. Be thankful - My life is filled with positive things. I have been very fortunate. I will be thankful for these things.
4. Practice makes perfect - New skills take time to learn. I will forgive myself for mistakes.

That's good to start. I'll come up with more in the future, but four is a good beginning!

My Hapiness Project Symbol: Oak Tree

The image I've chosen to represent me and my quest for happiness is an oak tree.

I chose the oak tree because oaks are large, powerful, beautiful trees that provide shade and habitat. Oak trees can live a very long time and are often a symbol of strength and endurance.

When I think of myself I try to think that I am someone who is strong and beautiful, just like an oak tree. In fact, I say that to myself as an affirmation sometimes: I am a strong and beautiful.

And I also like to think that I plant seeds of change, like acorns. This happiness project is a seed of change. Each blog post here is a seed for me and seed for you. Hopefully they will inspire us to find happiness.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Mary's Commandments

Okay, now to create my commandments like I am supposed to!!

1)Be Mary

I know, I know, I am a total copy cat! But it's so important to be yourself. You just have to be comfortable in your own skin.

2)Your body is your temple

This is so true, if you treat it right, it will be here a long time for you, and alow you to enjoy your life. The opposite as in abusing your body, no money in the world can fix you, it can get too late. I feel like I abuse my body too much, and I really need to take better care.

3)Make your child your point of interest

I have an 8 year old perfect child named Joey. I really feel like I need to take a true interest in his life, because it is true what they say "They grow up before your eyes!" I am going to make it a point to volunteer for his field trips and do other things he asks me too. There is nothing better than a child's eyes lighting up because they are so happy you are there. Just being there is better than anything.

Authentic Happiness

Senia, of, suggested in a comment on my last post that I look at Authentic Happiness, a website by Martin Seligman, of positive psychology fame. There are many self-tests on there.

I'm as much a nut for these tests as anyone else, so I took four of them. The first one is a test for authentic happiness. I scored somewhere in the middle of my age group on that one, which I assume means I am neither happier nor sadder than the average in my group.

I did not like all of the questions, frankly. Even though I realize they come from studies of those who can be termed inordinately happy, still I had difficulty seeing happiness through the lens of so-called "success" or, for that matter, "spirituality" and "purpose in life". For many those may seem like key areas of happiness but for me they are not.

Although I guess I could niggle a little on that "purpose in life". I have a purpose I have defined for myself. I do not see it as something given to me from on high or expected from me by others. And it is true that whether or not I fulfill that purpose does relate to how happy I feel.

The test on my strengths shows me as having many strengths and not many "weaknesses". None were a surprise to me but it was nice to see them laid out like that. It was affirming, you might say.

I expect I will return to that site again, because of its clear focus on being happy. I am sure Gretchen has already been there and back again, and I might look up in her blog to see if she mentions it specifically. It looks like a good place to sort some things out and it may help with my commandments development.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

In Nature

I went to the Leaning Pine Arboretum at Cal Poly yesterday. My primary aim was to get in my 30 minutes of exercise, and I worried that it might prove difficult in such a small garden (about 5 acres, about 1/2 mile around).

Fortunately I brought my camera. This way I could cut across trails and go onto side paths to add more to the length of the trek, and I could stop to smell the roses. To take pictures.

I am not a fan of roses. And there were none there that I could see. But I do love a lot of other plants. and this one, the one above, really got to me. Not only is it a most interesting looking bloom, but those leaves! Geometrically designed, yet curling in that most happy way. This could almost be a happiness symbol.

Being outside near natural beauty always energizes and cheers me. I feel lifted and fulfilled. If this isn't happiness I don't know what is.
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Friday, September 21, 2007

Symbol of Trust

Squirrel - Symbol of Trust, Preparedness
The Squirrel is the sentinel of the home. He will watch each member of the family and warn them if there is a problem within the family.
The squirrel is energetic in its work and play, and always ensures the future is well prepared for. The squirrel is a symbol of trust and is one of the few animals that will eat out of a person's hand. Learn from the squirrel to establish trust where you find it lacking.
Totem Lesson: energy in work and play!

That was taken directly from the website in the link. I think trusting in yourself has a lot to do with being happy. We seem to ignore our intuitions, as well as talk ourselves out of our own fablulous ideas.
I am really going to work on that with myself, and trust what my gut is telling me, because I belive that little voice in our heads is certainly there for a reason.

Happiness Commandments

Gretchen suggests that we develop our own happiness commandments. She posts tips about developing them here:

They need to be personal, commandments that are ours alone. I don't expect to develop a list quickly. But I will start now. I do like Gretchen's first one: Be Gretchen. I suspect that we all want to be ourselves, and some of us try too hard to be someone else or to seem like someone else. In my life I have done this particularly with men. I slip into "accommodate" mode very quickly, before I even realize it, and end up projecting a me that isn't. So I'll suggest as my first commandment:

1. Be Judy, especially in personal relationships

My second commandment may seem contradictory:

2. Act As If

I have followed this commandment for much of my adult life and it has gotten me through tough times. What it means, of course, is "whistle a happy tune" when I am afraid, act as if I know what I am doing, act as if I deserve respect, act as if I already am what I want to be. Over time I believe that when I act as if long enough I am no longer acting, and therefore I am following commandment no. 1.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Today I hike

One of the goals that I added to my list is "30-minutes exercise". My arthritis program calls for this rather small commitment just three days a week. Three other days I do my specific arthritis exercises, which I do at home in only about 15 minutes.

Sometimes getting out on the street for 30 minutes can be really painful. But I've been doing rather well that way lately. So I am going to take a smallish easy hike, in Atascadero. I like varying the hikes I take and I hope to be able to build enough endurance and pain-free times to do more challenging hikes again. In the meantime I am happy to find the easy ones and just want to finish without limping, when possible.

Although I have done fairly well in following this program I find that having a box to check that accumulates points (!), as in Joesgoals, really stimulates me to get it done. And that makes me feel good.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


One of my goals is to write something non-bloggy. I chose this goal because it always makes me feel good when I have done some "real" writing. Something that takes a little more effort than just throwing it out there.

To be fair, blog posts sometimes do the job. When I think them through and write and edit and then post, I feel I have done something. Nevertheless, I am going to write just about anything, outside of my many blogs, just to get the juices flowing.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Other people's goals

Joe's Goals has a section called "Get inspired". Among other things, it shows a "cloud" of the most popular goals of the last seven days. Below are just the top "negative" goals in that cloud (you can assign negative points to goals like these):

bed after midnight
drink soda
eat out
fast food
late to work

Some of the top positive goals in this cloud:

eat breakfast (never a problem for me!)
bring lunch
brush teeth
eat fruit
eat healthy
get up early
make bed
take vitamins

I for one take some comfort in knowing my vices are shared by many others, and my efforts at improvement are also shared. Many of us struggle to do the same things. I am going to add "blog in happiness journal" one of my goals for every day.

Monday, September 17, 2007


Gretchen writes about her goals. You can write to her (through her blog - look on the left pane for the link) to ask for her list. The list will include a blank template you can use to set goals for yourself.

Among the many comments on her "goals" post were several that referred to This is where you can set goals and refine them, even assign weights to them, and later see how well you are doing meeting them. All online, no downloading of anything. And free. For me it seems perfect. I love doing things like this on my computer, where I can tabulate and calculate and see it all there in a nice chart. So I have started using joesgoals. It's fun!

Life Symbol

Gretchen suggests that we begin by choosing a symbol for ourselves and our happiness project. She chose a bluebird - bluebird of happiness, ya know.

I like birds, too. In fact, whenever I listen to the birds trilling outside I feel a sense of joy welling up inside me. I can't help but believe that they sing because they like it, it makes them feel good. So a singing bird, even a cawing bird, would make for me a good symbol as well.

I have long been intrigued by birds that sing in the middle of the night. That is really symbolic, I think. I don't care if it's mating season and they want a leg up. I love it. So my bird, my symbol, is the mockingbird.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

On A Quest For Happiness

I'm excited to get started on this project, too. I just recently took this quiz from the Happy Planet Index and confirmed my suspicions that my life could use cheering up. Take the quiz yourself, it's really interesting: Click here >>

So, I'm on a quest to improve my happiness level.

I can tell you for certain that wealth does not buy happiness. I have experienced life on $6000 per year and I have experienced life over $200,000 a year and the money did not make me happy. Happiness simply cannot be bought. Money can make some things in life easier, but happiness comes from somewhere else...

I know, however, from personal experience that regular physical exercise is one of the things that helps make me happy. When I do not exercise, I am a cranky, moody, mean person. I am not happy and people around me are not happy either.

This project sounds like fun and I'm excited to get started!

Brand new blogger

I am excited to start my happiness project. I have never done anything like this before, and I haven't even blogged before! This is going to change my life, I can feel it!

What we are doing

"Happiness" is the current buzzword. Articles and studies on happiness abound. It has gotten beyond the self-help books and workshops and into the boardroom. And beyond.

We are taking a leaf from Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project. We won't follow her model slavishly but will use her tips when we like them. We recognize that wealth, fame, possessions do not make people happy. We recognize that happiness lies within us all. And we're gonna get us some.