Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Sustainable Happiness; A Generous Approach

"Awakening our creative impulses is the beginning of making magic in our lives and in the world." - Jamie Ridler
Collage by Lani with textures from FlyPaper 

Got this generous idea from an article over at "Yes! Magazine," Sustainable Happiness? 6 Ways to Get There, by and Ian Murray.  Their idea is that our happiness is interconnected with others; other people, other species, and of course our environment.  Our daily actions contribute to—or detract from—our own well-being and happiness, and that of others.  While pursuing happiness, if we pay attention to the well being of our communities, various ecosystems to which we are connected, or to future generations, we are contributing to everyone's sustainable happiness and possible multiplying exponentially our overall well being and that of the planet.

This kind of thinking can lead us to create a more sustainable lifestyle and greater life satisfaction for all. O'Brien and Murray have six simple suggestions which I'll play with here. 

1. Cultivate Appreciation - O'Brien and Murray remind us that gratitude and appreciation are associated with happiness and life satisfaction.  Why would we not want these things in our lives?  They suggest that if we take a moment to experience our appreciation, especially for those small things we may take for granted, this helps balance the ever present media messages that tell us that we aren’t good enough and that if we only would get more stuff, then we could be happy (creating the carrot on the stick that we chase until we drop).  Appreciation brings us into the present, and in that way, helps us be mindful and happy. 

So here's my appreciation today.  I enjoyed the winter sun on my face (yes, I know it's spring but it sure felt like a winter sun this morning), I enjoyed watching Prospero throw himself into his morning scratch on the bushes while out for our walk, and I definitely enjoyed a lovely, ripe mango.  I could feel myself appreciating these little things in the moment, which of course activated my parasympathetic nervous system and alleviated any stress from monkey-mind activity.

2. Embrace your Natural Highs - Natural highs are those little, natural things that can be found right where you are, usually sensual things that trigger good brain chemistry, like the fragrance of roses (or since roses are not to be found here at this moment, the beautiful scent and texture of my morning mango). Paying attention to these triggers creates happy brain chemistry which could bring you unlimited experiences of delight and contentment. O'Brien and Murray remind us of the sounds of rain on a tin roof or of children’s laughter in the distance, and suggest we simply pay attention to the wonder of the world around us. Here are a few more natural highs that were shared during a course on sustainable happiness:

The smell of the earth thawing in the spring
Hearing an owl hooting at night
The cold side of a pillow
Smelling flowers
Gazing at Northern Lights
Hiking in the woods
Birds singing in early morning
Lying on the grass and enjoying a starry night
Watching a beautiful sunset

3. Chart Your Sustainable Happiness Footprint - In this one, we pay attention to our daily activities and how they influence our well being and the well being of others.  Using the "Sustainable Happiness Footprint Chart," document activities from waking up until bed. Filling in each column will illustrate how these activities affect us personally, and how they may affect other people and the environment.

O'Brien and Murray suggest we may want to chart our Sustainable Happiness Footprint for a week. After a week, we can look at our chart and ask ourself if there is one thing we might shift to enhance our well-being, or the well-being of other people, other species, or the natural environment. (Copies can be downloaded here.)

4. Create an Interdependence Map - The Interdependence Map is a way to understand how our life is intertwined with the world around us.  It looks a bit like a mind map (Paul Foreman has some great free Mind Map templates and inspiration here) where we can trace all of the factors that influence something's existence. Anything can be traced this way, from a piece of paper to ourselves.  If we choose paper, then our map would have paper at the center and various things all around it, like trees, the sun, wind, soil, and water; or machines that were created to harvest trees, transport logs, and convert the wood into paper; or various energy sources for the processes, like water and chemicals at the paper mill; etc. etc. 

Creating an Interdependence Map that puts ourselves at the center can lead to some amazing insights. We could include our ancestors, family, friends, home, transportation, food, energy sources needed for clothing, electricity, and heat.  Each of these can be a hub for other webs of interconnection.  

Once we complete our Interdependence Map, O'Brien and Murray suggest we ask ourselves if there one thing that we could change that would lead to a more sustainable happiness.   One small change can have a ripple effects in the world. Changing something that contributes to our own well-being might be a good place to start, like going for a walk after work or spending more time with family, less time on line and of course starting an art journal.

5. Make Your Own "Happy List" - Here's a sweet one!  We can take some time to list all the things that make us happy. Just put down everything that comes to mind. Once we have our list, we can look at each item and ask ourselves if we might not benefit from doing some of these items a bit more often.  O'Brien and Murray suggest we look at our list through the lens of sustainable happiness. Is there anything on our list that is detrimental to us, someone else, or the environment?  What can we do to make as many of these items as sustainable as possible?

6. Value Genuine WealthAccording to O'Brien and Murray (and it totally makes sense to me) genuine wealth is found in relationships, natural beauty, and an appreciation for life, love, and laughter.  I would add the arts and creativity into the mix!  Building genuine wealth can be pretty straight forward.

O'Brien and Murray suggest we try this:

  • Make a list of all our genuine wealth, including family, friends, education, the natural world around us, health, sensory experiences, political freedom, the ability to love and laugh, etc.
  • Ask ourselves if we take any of these for granted.
  • Is there anything on our list that we would like to increase or improve in order to enhance our genuine wealth? If so, what steps do we need to take to accomplish this?
  • How are we contributing to the genuine wealth of other people or our community? Is there anything more that we could or would like to do?  (Isn't that nice?  A very generous approach to happiness!)
Once we begin to draw on these sustainable happiness choices, we’ll likely discover that there are many new choices that we can make—and the best part is they are already within our reach.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Pocket Change ATC Exchange

ATC's from Pocket Change ATC exchange!

I was so lucky to be a part of this wonderful exchange  with hundreds of artist trading cards from  the US, Canada, Italy, Australia, India, Mexico, and New Zealand!  It was a part of 6 Degrees of Creativity and you can read more about it here!

Thank you Gretchen Miller, Beth Rommel and Hannah Klaus Hunter for hosting this exchange, and Hannah Hunter, Daneil Made, Monica Finch, and Lauren Bonner for your lovely ATC's!  I am looking forward to the  e-zine where all the ATCs and acts of creative kindness will be shared, which of course will multiply the positive energy flow!!!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Stress-Proof your life with Michael Nobbs!

Here's an amazingly simple way to stress proof your life.  Tiny, two minute or so drawing prompts from one of my favorite artists, Michael Nobbs.  Here's my copy of Michael Nobbs' new, awesome, fun book, Drawing Your Life; Learn to See, Record and Appreciate Life's Small Joys, on drawing and appreciating your life.  It has lots of nice space to add your drawings next to his.

For those of you who are not familiar with Michael Nobbs, he's an artist/writer who is all about trying to keep things simple.  In the '90s he was diagnosed with ME/CFS and, over the last decade, has had to learn about sustaining a creative career with limited energy.  He feels very strongly about living a creative and sustainable life with limited energy, so much so that he  considers this to be his "Important Work".  Through his blog, pod casts, drawings, eBooks and now this new Perigee/Penguin book, he teaches us all that it is possible to live a creative life with what ever our limitations might be.  Very inspiring! 

I find if you use his style, sort of semi-blind contour drawing, it really does improve the whole "Be Here Now" experience of the brain on mindfulness.  There's something about really looking at your subject, really seeing it and following the contours with your eyes and hand, that allows for the parasympathetic nervous system to take over.  (If you doubt me, just try it.  See if you can do a contour drawing and stay in a state of anxiety.  I think it may just be impossible)  

Begin your lifelong journey.  Start now!  Go to his website, and pick up a signed copy of Michael Nobbs' book or a few eZines and watch the stress melt away as you play with him and celebrate the little things.  Celebrate enough little things (maybe 3 a day) and you will create magic in your life!

"Forget about seizing the day, enjoy it instead (a gentler translation of carpe diem)"

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Stress and self-care

Collage by Lani with textures from FlyPaper 

Is it me, or is there a certain amount of stress involved in travel?  Hanging out in airports waiting to know if your flight will be cancelled or hurtling through the atmosphere in a metal container with wings are not two of the easiest places to attempt to activate the parasympathetic nervous system or the vagus nerve.  These environments are not particularly comfortable or soothing.

But having a good book in your hands (not an eVersion that has to be put away each landing and take off) can be very helpful.  "NURTURING THE SOUL OF YOUR FAMILY: 10 Ways to Reconnect and Find Peace in Everyday Life is" was the perfect choice for me!  Renee Peterson Trudeau has such a soothing, friendly style, it's like having a best friend with you, who is all about self-care and nurture.  She can point out the difficulties of the journey and reassure you that all shall be well.

Hipstamatic photo by Lani (while hurtling through the atmosphere)
One of my favorite lines (or maybe most useful) from "NURTURING THE SOUL OF YOUR FAMILY" was "...For peace of mind, resign as general manager of the universe."  No kidding!  Stop trying to keep the plane flying with your will power, don't try to control the flight delays in Newark Airport.   

It does become very obvious, this hopeless desire to have control over the universe, at times when control is so clearly outside of one's field of influence.  And how clear it is that this causes us such discomfort and stress.  How much easier it all is when we release that particular bit of silliness.

Another great line is "When you allow your inner landscape to be as big as your outer landscape, your life will begin to change in radical, positive ways."  What a lovely thought, and the possibility of it was very soothing as I looked at the spaciousness and light out of the plane window.  Suddenly it wasn't a metal container with wings that I had to somehow keep up in the air, it was just a part of the outer and inner landscape of this corner of the universe, and it was spacious!

A really nice aspect of this book is that it's about nurturing a group, a tribe, a family.  It is a relief to remember that we aren't usually in this adventure alone, it's not just our personal adventure.  We are usually connected in a variety of ways to others in our group, tribe, or family.  This book is a great reminder of that fact all through its ten chapters.  Another nurturing aspect of this book is each chapter has its own little exercises or suggestions for journaling or discussion at the beginning and end.  Very helpful to quiet the mind before heading into a new chapter, and also a great way to anchor what you learned from the chapter you just read.

Want an example?  Imagine you are in an uncomfortable place and you are trying to make the universe around you bend to your authority.  (Ha!)  And of course you aren't getting very far with this but you are doing great at getting quite frustrated.  Along comes Renee with a "Pause for Peace".  

If I asked you how you were feeling right now, would you know?  Most of us are moving so fast, we have no idea how or what we're feeling -- what our emotional barometer is reading.  Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and place one hand over the center of your chest and your other hand on your belly.  Pause, enjoy the stillness, then check in wht the utmost compassion and some curiosity: What have you been feeling lately?  Calculate this on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being "I'm about to have a nervous breakdown" and 10 being "I'm feeling blissed out."  Does your response surprise you?  Often the act of checking in can be cathartic in itself. 

 Christine Carter (my favorite Habit Code Breaker and elephant training mentor) says this about Renee Peterson Trudeau.  "Renee delivers her instructions for a more balanced life with a huge dose of inspiration and compassion.  This book is a joy to read and a delight to put into practice.”   I say it's a lovely book to have on a stress-filled adventure.  You can find more about this wonderful, wise and nurturing book for groups, tribes, and families here

"You can..." collage by Lani with textures from FlyPaper