A Pursuit of Happiness

February is six months that I have been working with a trainer. I had hoped that working out would decrease the pain and increase the ability of my muscles to handle exertion, but it has not done so. I have gained muscle, lost fat, and seen my body reshape itself into a somewhat leaner one. My health and diet seem to be improving.

Because the pain medications I take do not address the underlying cause of my problem and because vitamin deficiencies I have are associated with these medications, I am in a slow, long-term process of testing whether I can reduce and eventually eliminate my pain medications.

Despite all this, I have been feeling blah and apathetic. I have made few attempts at writing in the last few months. I have been wasting a lot of time reading online news that depresses me; I seem to be addicted to certain Internet sites.

I am struggling with my online habits. I need to stop the time wasting and get back to the activities that made me happy last year: writing every or most days. I have been happiest when I have pursued activities that interest me, and I need to get back to that. I want the kind of happiness that is acquired via the pursuit of fulfilling activities. That’s writing. Exercising. Eating well.

And training my brain to be more upbeat and positive. Not working towards goals only keeps me feeling ‘depressed’ where ‘depressed’ is code for ‘bored’ and ‘not doing anything fun or useful to oneself.’ A dear friend posted a link to Shawn Achor, Harvard positive psychology professor and author of several books, including The Happiness Advantage and Before Happiness. First, I watched a 12-minute TED talk called The Happy Secret to Better Work followed by an hour-long talk he gave at Google. The Google talk includes the same content and wording that is included in the longer Google talk. I also bookmarked a few other talks on the subject of positive psychology.

In Shawn’s TED talk, he put up a slide called Creating Lasting Positive Change. Achor suggests that, for a 21 day period, you do the following:

  • Write 3 things for which you are grateful every day. Each day, write about 3 new things (Emmons & McCullough, 2003);
  • Once a day, journal about one good thing that happened to you in the last 24 hours. Our brains get to relive a happy memory twice, enhancing its effect (Slatcher & Pennebaker, 2006);
  • Exercise so that you train your body to know what feeling good feels like (Babyak et al., 2000);
  • Meditate to help your mind dampen down the negative states (Dweck, 2007); and
  • Perform random acts of kindness to share your positivity and goodness with others (Lyubomirsky, 2005). Goodness knows that the world needs it – desperately!

The effect of doing this is that it helps rewire your brain to start looking for the positive. We know how much negative news is out there. In fact, it’s almost like the understanding is that it’s not really news if it isn’t awful. I feel it happening to me when I read my news sites, when I scroll through my Facebook feed. Rants about politics, stories about people performing acts of hatred, mutilation, and murder on one another.

And then what? I’ve just spent hours reading negative material that drains my energy and doesn’t do anything for me because I’m not doing anything. How does something like that enhance me, my relationships, and the rest of the world? The short answer is that it does not. Something must change.

And the only thing that I can really count on to change is myself. I am the one who has to take the next positive steps – to stop reading news for hours, to put my writing first, to defer time wasters to the evening in timed segments so avoid the endless negative news absorption, and to change my outlook.

And begin writing every day again.

I can do this.

You can, too (whether writing or otherwise).

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Follow Your Dreams Using The Gym Principles

I have learned and relearned a number of positive things since I began working out with a trainer in August. In my post “5 Truths I’ve Learned from Working Out” on October 23rd, lesson #5 was that I need to treat my writing like I treat the gym, but I didn’t give specific details on how to do that beyond committing to doing it.

In today’s morning writing, I thought about my trainer repeatedly telling me that he likes the way I work, that I’m motivated. He tells me that every time he tells me how many reps to do and I try for the higher number – every time. I think he’s saying that he likes that I’m always willing to give it a try before I decide that I can’t do it.

I began to wonder: What else about my attitude on going to the gym has been helpful?

Then I realized that I could take these principles and applied them to my creative life, too. I’ve long struggled with pursuing my heart’s desires, using logic to talk myself out of things I yearned or loved to do. Take it from me, people, that’s no way to live.

I am calling these lessons The Gym Principles, but you can apply them to any area of your life where you are feeling blockedThese principles are not in any particular order.

Approach your next step or task with an open, nonjudgmental, positive attitude

When Leo tells me I can do 15-20 reps, I shoot for 20 reps every time. Why decide ahead of time that I can’t do something? I won’t know what I can do until I try. If I stop short, then I only did what I told myself I could do. If I try for 20 and can only do 18, that means I challenged myself.

So often in life, we get derailed by others. Why do you want to be one of those people, too?

Set gentle goals, both large and small

My large, long-term goal for the gym is to get moving and stay healthy. Going to the gym and training are two ways in which I move myself towards the long-term goal. It’s a goal with a line that doesn’t exist because I will never be done. I am OK with that, and you should be, too.

Any day in which I’m exercising for 30-60 minutes is a better day than one where I didn’t. I want to get to the gym at least 4 days a week and train at least 2. On the other days, I do what I feel I can do (fibromyalgia pain can limit that) or take a class. Today’s a high pain day, so I’m going to walk slowly on a treadmill for 45 minutes.

Celebrate each day’s accomplishments and challenges

When I’m done at the gym, I feel better. The endorphins are pumping to whatever degree, and I can feel it. Since my goal was to get to the gym and do something, I am able to meet my goals on a regular basis. But I’m not detailing it to the most minute degree where any deviation is unacceptable.

Life is hard enough. Don’t join that team.

Instead, feel good about feeling good. You’re endorphins are running? Good. Did you challenge yourself? Great! So maybe you’re making slower progress than you like, but so what? Who says we’re entitled to anything going any way that we’ve already decided it should go?

Let it go. It’s OK to be proud of yourself.

Enjoy yourself

Yes, you. I’m talking to you. ENJOY YOURSELF. Are you working as a civil rights lawyer? Fantastic! But you should also be enjoying where it is you’re spending your time. Enjoying what you’re doing doesn’t mean that it can’t be serious or have a positive impact.

What more positive impact on the world can you have than being healthy? The world needs YOU and all the enthusiasm you can muster. You can be a force of positive change in the world simply by being positive. You can’t help but feel positive when you’re enjoying yourself.

So what are you waiting for?

One Positive Thing Leads to Another

This morning I did something different: I played music while stretching, and I took the time to notice tension release after some poses, which are a combination of yoga and physical therapy stretches. After a few days back into my stretching routine, I am feeling better.

The stretching and the physical therapy exercises I do in pools helped me feel really good before my recent descent into despair. Like I person who thinks she can stop taking the medication that are making her sane, I stopped the stretching and the gym earlier this month. I get lazy. I think I can get away with it. I get proven wrong.

The gradual release of tension in my body of the fibromyalgia pain lightens my body and my mood. I start to float through a lot of things I want to do: writing, being creative, finding inspiration, moving forward. I considered getting up earlier and how doing so would allow me to get to writing earlier in my day. I considered this body-mind-mood connection.

But my brain felt as empty as stage with only a spotlight on it. Usually, this worries me. Today I thought. Is that so bad? If my brain was an empty stage, what characters might come out? What stories could I write?

I sent my short story to three friends. Two read them and gave me comments. Whee! I have never willingly asked anyone for feedback on something I wrote. That’s a new one for me. All of this is new. I reminded myself that I do not produce widgets. I build worlds in stories.

How fucking awesome is that?

Then it hit me: I am incredibly blessed! I have so much privilege of which I am not even aware most of the time. My life is amazing, just the way it is. I have love, a home, companion animals, awesome friends, loyal family, access to healthcare for mind, body, and soul, and all the food and Starbucks coffee that I could possible want.

I have books, a bed, and a safe environment that I can make my own and create in. I have the power to move my life forward in any direction I want. My life is the way it is because I allowed all of it in. My relationship with my mother has improved immeasurably, one sister wants to be closer to me, and the others are in good standing. So much Love exists in my life. So much PeacePower, and Privilege.

Yes, I have been through health and surgery hell. I survived J– R–. I survived years of head-banging therapy. I survived jobs I despised and toxic friends.

Every time I listened to my desires in recent years, I came face to face with the answer I needed. My desire to grow brought me to a book to EMDR to M– P– who helped you with IFS, ACT, and EMDR to missing my family to moving home for my father to a vastly improved relationship with my mother to diving into a writing career to being self-directed, and to speaking your truth to your family and finding that you can live through it all even when doing so is scary.

All told, I wrote a full 8.5″ by 11″ page of things I can be grateful for. That must be some kind of record! All that writing gave me a renewed sense of Hope and Faith in myself. I can do it. I will do it. I am doing it.

Hope is my word that Buzzfeed says best describes me. Hope is a cat in the Garden City Petco that I want to adopt. Sweet, soft, and loving, Hope was found impaled on a fence. She let me pet her through the window.

I am humbled by the ability of abused souls, human and animal, to continue loving even after torture and pain, accidentally or not.

I think we need new Internet shorthand. Instead of SMH, we should start thinking talking and sharing SML – So Much Love.

Go spread some love.