Saturday, August 13, 2011

Happiness Project: Resolution Area #1

On Thursday, I shared my plans to begin a Happiness Project after reading Gretchen Rubin’s account of her own project.

When Gretchen began her project, she decided to focus first on how to boost her energy and vitality in order to be able to sustain all of the resolutions that would follow.  I was tempted to follow suit, but I have some more immediate concerns that inspired resolutions I got underway prior to “officially” deciding to conduct a Happiness Project.  I decided to focus on “mindfulness” for my first set of Happiness Project Resolutions. 
Resolution Area #1:  Mindfulness
Breathe deeply and mindfully.
In response to some of the outbursts of irritation and anger that I’ve been feeling for many, many months now, I was advised to try some deep breathing.  Like you, I have read about deep breathing in a zillion articles in various magazines over the years, and nothing, you would think, should come more naturally than breathing.  But I can’t tell you the number of times that I am driving down the road or sitting on the sofa and realize that it has been a LONG time since I’ve drawn a breath.  And when I do breathe, it is pretty shallow stuff. 
When I take a really deep breath, I feel immediately different.  I almost feel light-headed at first, and then I immediately feel more settled and energized.
I was absolutely astounded to see how often a fit of irritation, frustration, or anger was immediately—and I mean IMMEDIATELY—nipped in the bud with three or four deep breaths.  Something so simple is really pretty life-changing. 
In the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh, he explains that it takes one conscious breath to be back in contact with yourself and everything around you, and three conscious breaths to maintain the contact.  I had noticed even prior to reading this that I easily calm right down with three or four deep, conscious breaths. 
I’m not proud to say that I sometimes yell at my 2- and 3- year olds.  Even as I do it, I feel ridiculous, because they are so little and young.  The deep, mindful breathing gives me a moment to realize how inappropriate a yelling response is, and I can compose myself to respond in a much more even-tempered way.  Does it work all the time?  Certainly not.  There’s more work to do.  But it is making such a big difference.
Thich Nhat Hanh has a suggested technique:  He advises to keep a pebble in your pocket.  Periodically you should feel the pebble, touch it, hold it gently, practice mindful breathing, and smile.  The pebble allows you to pause and return to your breathing.  I thought I might give it a try as part of my Happiness Project.  I collected some rocks on the beach at Cape May on our recent vacation, and I have chosen a smooth, black pebble for my pocket (when my clothing has pockets, at least!).  Then, on top of remembering to practice mindful breathing, I’ll be able to call to mind happy, contented memories from the beach.
Eat less, eat better, eat mindfully.
Through my reading, the idea of breathing deeply and mindfully led me to discover the idea of mindful eating.  I like cooking, and I REALLY like eating, but I have a tendency to eat quickly and rush through the experience.  I notice that I like the taste of the food, and I even take notice of interesting textures.  But “noticing” and really “enjoying” are two different things.  I would like to spend some time considering how eating mindfully can both increase my enjoyment of eating, lead me to eat more healthfully, and eat less. 
In the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh, I found the idea that we really only need half the amount of food we actually eat every day.  I think we are so busy shoveling food into our mouths that we don’t pause to determine when we have had ENOUGH.  (That reminds me of a quotation I love from Susan Susanka:  “…what would happen if we stopped to consider the possibilities inherent in the word ‘enough.’”)
Thich Nhat Hanh suggests that we should chew our food 50 times before swallowing.  He advises us to chew mindfully, being aware of every bit of food, and eating/chewing with joy.  Be aware of each movement of your mouth.  Based on his writings, I created the resolution: “Eat less, eat better, eat mindfully.” 
On a related note, I just read an article by Dr. Mehmet Oz in the August edition of O magazine that says we should chew 20 times before swallowing and follow the Japanese practice of hara hachi bu, meaning “eating until you feel 80% full,” since you are probably 100% full, and your stomach just doesn’t know it yet.  Does anyone really count how many times they chew each bite before he swallows?  I think it might turn me neurotic, and it would most certainly stand in the way of meaningful dinnertime conversation.  But I appreciate the spirit of the suggestion to chew more times than I might be naturally inclined to chew.  And in the meantime, I want to be mindful of good tastes, interesting textures, and even the movements of my own mouth to better appreciate what my body is capable of doing for me. 
All that chewing and paying attention hopefully will lead me to eating better.  I’ve noticed that it’s a lot more fun to pay attention to foods that are crunchy and interesting (like dishes with fresh ingredients, things that are chopped into different sized pieces, and have different textures, like beans and vegetables) rather than things that are processed to the same basic texture.  As part of this resolution, I will be investigating some new recipes and some new places to shop for groceries.
Begin the day with a morning prayer.
I say a morning prayer with my girls every day before we eat our breakfast.  When they were going through a kind of “negative phase” with lots of whining and crying, I started incorporating something along the lines of, “Lord, help us to find joy and happiness in this day.”  The energy of the house really started to shift when we put the focus on joy and happiness each morning.
The Associate Pastor of our church has told us that if nothing else, she begins each day with the simple prayer, “Lord, direct my thoughts today.”  I’ve thought a lot about the simplicity and power of that request.
In Thich Nhat Hanh’s writing, he talks about offering a stick of incense to the Buddha each morning, and promising himself that will enjoy every minute of the day that has been given to him to live. 
All of this taken together leads me to resolve to say a personal prayer each morning before I even get out of bed.  I want to take just that first moment upon waking to greet God, thanking Him for the day He has given me, and to ask Him to help me live it according to His will.
In about a month, I’ll check in and let you know how my resolutions are going.  Then, while continuing to employ my resolutions related to mindfulness, I’ll describe the next area of resolutions. 
If you were going to begin a personal Happiness Project, where do you think YOU would begin?
P.S. I just noticed that this is my 100th blog post!  Thank you for sharing part of this journey with me.


laurie said...

i so love what you are doing and that you are sharing it with us. your thoughts are such important reminders of the simple ways we can make our lives better. i have been trying this summer to be more aware - aware of what i am eating, aware of how i feel, aware of all the blessings in my life.

Anne said...

This may be one of the most important blogs you've written. Given my situation I intend to take it to heart -- pray, breathe, eat, and live mindfully and gratefully.
I hope you realize how "mindful" you
already are, that enables you to even have these resolutions.

Ann in the UP said...

Your first resolutions are a good example of the fact that most of us will benefit by living more deliberately. I have begun by doing things that are important to me daily, rather than occasionally.

I don't know if I'm happier, but I'm surely more productive.

Joyfulploys said...

Hi Andria...Great post!...happiness can be a learned thing...we sometimes have to work at it...deep breathing is good. I'm in my 60's now and I still have to work on myself...ha! If my mind starts to go off in self-pity or worry...I have to jerk my mind around and remember who "I am." I love what you said about saying a prayer with your daughters every morning to put forth positive energy instead of negative. The eating points were important as well. Thank YOU for sharing!!!

aimee said...

I could use some of these tips because we are going through a huge whining and crying phase (and my kids are a lot older!) congrats on your 100th post!

Naomi said...

This is really wonderful, as are all your posts. I especially like the reminder to breathe deeply to get centered again. I may need to do a Happiness Project too... Hmmm. I'm inspired!

Karenann Young said...

I just started reading your blog and I'm very interested in your new resolutions. I may end up buying the book! My DH is always telling me to breathe!!! Thanks for sharing!