Why don’t we smile like babies?

traffic jam

We have no definitive idea why we are on Earth, yet we waste so much of our time and energy doing jobs we hate so that we can buy junk food that we know isn’t good for us, watch movies that are too violent, shop is bland, generic soul-less malls and sit alone in traffic while our cars throw soot into the air.

How did we get to that point?

When I watch my child, I’m amazed by how much he smiles.  He is happy to sit and look at me for 10 hours a day, doing nothing more than smiling, coo-ing and laughing.  How did so many of us go from that to a normal, well-adjusted adult life?  Growing up is strange.

Improve Your Life By Changing Your Habits

Green Bowls
We’re starting to think about baby-proofing our home, so we moved all of our plates and cups from low, open shelves in the dining room to our kitchen cabinets. But now, every time I want a cup of tea or to eat dinner, I walk to the wrong place to get my plate. I can’t believe how ingrained the ritual of getting my coffee cup is.

“Where I keep my plates” isn’t the only habit in my life. I also brush my teeth the same way, drive to work the same way and walk through the grocery store in the same order each week. It got me thinking that if you want to change your life, you need to change your habits. One by one, each habit you change will bring you closer to the life you’ve always wanted.

What habits are you holding on to? What are some destructive paths you want to leave behind you?

It sure is a pain the first few days to go to a different place for your silverware, but before you know it the new place feels right.

Find your path by leaving the path

Mississippi

I spent a lot of my life afraid to leave the concrete sidewalk that had been paved for me. I loved to walk on the sidewalk along the Mississippi, but I never strayed onto the gravel paths that occasionally ducked into the trees… until 2006.

I vividly remember leaving the sidewalk for the time. I looked to both sides of me to make sure there were no cops around. (I’m still not sure what crime I would have been committing — particularly now that I know the parks department managed those paths.) I also had my hand on my cell phone, in case I ran into crooks along the way. My heart was pounding. I was alive. I had a fabulous evening by the river and stayed there until the sunset.

Now I can’t imagine staying on the path. Leaving the path brought me my wife, family, career, freedom, many friends and a lot of joy. What paths are you stuck on?

Make the World Friendlier – Dress in Costume

Jester Hat

Like many others, I wore a costume to work on Halloween and I didn’t take it off to walk to my car or during lunch.  While in costume, I noticed that everyone said hi to me, asked me about my costume.

People I had walked by and ignored in the past, asked me about my day.  If I were to suggest one thing to help build community in America, it would be “wearing costumes.”  I think it takes people by surprise and puts you out of your norm.

Even if costumes can’t solve the world’s big problems, at least you won’t have to suffer small talk about the weather anymore.

How do you overcome adversity?

Moving Box
My wife and I live a drama-free life with stable friends because we both thrive off of peaceful environments.  But this summer we had a horrible month where everything went wrong.  Basically we had to move twice and lost a lot of money in the process.

I know this is a zero on the human tragedy scale, but I’m fortunate to consider it a bad event in my life.  I’ve struggled to move on because a part of me still wants to sue everyone possible. I know that isn’t the answer, so here are some ideas that helped me move on and find closure.

Do you want happiness or justice?  I’m upset because I still feel wronged, but justice isn’t happiness.  I could challenge a lot of this in court and potentially get some money back — but would that money bring me happiness? Probably not. The money feels important now but it’s just small change compared to a lifetime of working. Plus, a court case would draw everything out and rob me of time with my family (which is far more valuable).

How does the adversity affect you now?  All of this was hard at the time and made for a stressful month, but it doesn’t affect me now.  I can choose to be happy now.  I still have a lovely family, friends, job, roof over my head, etc. 

What do you love to do?  What dreams do you have?  What excites you?  What makes your life feel fulfilled?  When I think about these questions, each of them becomes a concrete path to long-term happiness.  Whenever I feel myself dwelling on last month, I try to focus on my dreams instead.

What “unhappiness triggers” are around you?  I had letters, bills, documents, notes pertaining to that month and every time I walked passed them they reminded me of the whole ordeal and my mind jumped into an endless loop of despair…  so I buried them deep in a box.  I don’t want to be constantly reminded of that month. I replaced that stack of papers with a picture my wife had drawn for me.

I hope these ideas can help because they were useful to me. But mostly, I hope the adversity in your life is as painless and fleeting as mine was.

I rediscovered Baby Steps while dancing

Ruler
This week while dancing, I started at one end of the room with tiny (like an inch or two!) consistent steps.  At first I didn’t think much about them… I had finished a whirlwind of chaotically quick songs and was ready to catch my breath.

I was surprised when the song ended because I was almost at the other side of the room.  How did that happen?  I had been staring at the floor and barely moving my feet!  That’s when the power of “baby steps” really sunk in.  Unclimbable mountains are conquerable as long as you focus on the tiny step at hand… instead of the great distance to the other side of the  room.

For me, this will change how I approach writing.  I sometimes get overwhelmed by the thought of creating a whole new book from scratch, so I drag my feet (and get a lot of household chores done!).  However, now I am energized to keep giving it my best every day.  I don’t need to write a whole book today… just an inch of it… and before I know it the other side of the room will be within reach.

What we can learn from peek-a-boo

Peek a boo
My son has just started to sort of play peek-a-boo.  As an adult, it’s hard to believe he actually thinks I vanish when I pull the blanket over my face.  (And what a scary world it must be if everything disappears forever when you turn your head!)

But peek-a-boo got me thinking about a hard time in my life after college.  I had moved to a new city.  I was unhappy.  I was lonely.  In many ways, it felt like all of my friends — my whole world in fact — had disappeared.  The only time it would reappear was the weekend when I would drive a few hours to see old friends.

I may have learned that objects exist when I closed my eyes, but emotionally I hadn’t mastered the game of peek-a-boo.  I felt happiest on the weekends when I was back with familiar friends and places.  It was hard for me to keep that joy and positivity the rest of the week when the blanket was pulled over my head.

Peek-a-boo has made me realize that friends and family are always there to help… and that you’re rarely alone when communication is so easily accessible.  You just have to remember to have meaningful, real conversations — not status updates about the toast you had for breakfast (which happened to be a bit dry, by the way).

What to do when loosing hope about writing

Cash Register
Sometimes I look at my writing career compared to JK Rowling or Tolkien and wonder, “What’s the point?”.  When we started indie-publishing, I figured books just flew off the shelf — you just had to finish them.  I’ve been surprised by how much work it takes to get the word out about new books (but I’m glad I didn’t know how much effort it took or I may have never started).

In the pit of marketing despair I always realize that I’m am upset because I was excited about writing for the wrong reasons.  I love writing because I love to write…. I think of all the happy memories writing in the Wellington Library, my black lazy-boy chair and now with my son sleeping on my lap.  That’s why I write… and that’s also why you should do anything.

If you tie your happiness to goals you don’t have much control over (like getting everyone to like you), then you’re bound to be miserable.  But if you tie your happiness to things you can work towards (like deciding to write every night), life becomes a lot more enjoyable…. and it’s much easier to get through the harder times!