Archive | January 2015

On The Pursuit of Gratitude and Compassion

I am at my daughter’s home in Denver, Colorado. This is a significant trip, because it marks my second solo travel since my head injury: my second flight unaccompanied. Plus, I am here to help her sort, organize and pack in preparation for a move to a new house. This is significant because having a blow to the forehead meant a decrease in “executive functioning,” and these are among the very skills–sorting, organizing, packing–that to this day cause me some of the greatest fatigue. I have to take these tasks in small amounts of time, but I’m grateful to be able to do them once again, even though I am sadly not as quick or as efficient at any of them as I once was.  No more marathon cleaning sessions for me.  I actually miss that a lot, though.

The flight here was as ideal as air travel can be, save for the stale diet coke and the four-month-old who cried for one hour and forty-five minutes.  It was agitating to listen to, but I felt sorry for the baby’s mother, who seemed to be passing all her anxiety and neuroses onto her child.  I wanted to intervene, but instead of reaching and grabbing the baby to settle it, I just smiled and asked how old he was, while offering the kindness of approval.  She and the father were friendly, and seemed relieved.  They were clearly nervous, and trying everything they knew to quiet the infant–which involved a lot of jostling and shaking and shh shh shh-ing, with lighted toys and rattles and such that only seemed to agitate the baby further.  The baby seemed to want a good swaddle or holding, instead of all the stimulation they were giving him, which required more effort and concentration than he had on this crowded flight.

The gentleman seated next to me on the airplane started the flight by nodding beyond my aisle seat toward his center seat, saying, “I just ruined your day.” I could only guess he was referring to his size; he was a large man.  He was very nicely dressed, and obviously on a business trip.  He said he was Boston bound, but because of the snowstorm out east had had to reroute to business in Denver (which by the way, is enjoying temperatures in the 70s, mid-winter).

Toward the end of the flight, just before landing, and once the baby had finally settled, I spoke to the businessman in the next seat.  He noticed my reading, so I inadvertently started telling him how my reading skills had changed since sustaining a head injury.  He asked how it happened, and when I told him, he seemed stunned.  I went on to explain that I had temporarily lost the ability to read and speak, and that the end result for my reading skills, which had previously grown to be rather sophisticated, was that they had reverted to a junior high or high school level–but that I was grateful to be able to read again, and especially on an airplane while in flight.  As we chatted, I learned that he currently lives in Notting Hill, a swanky area that I coincidentally had just toured in London on my first solo trip just last November.  I asked him if he was familiar with this place, and of course he was:

It’s a small and wonderful world.

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My daughter is a terrific host.  She is also a consummate planner, and very thoughtful.  This morning I got to sleep in and woke up to a darling note with the day’s itinerary (hers and ours) and a full pot of freshly brewed coffee.  I am so grateful to have such a wonderful daughter, and to have this time with her, even though I feel like I am back on retreat!  Maybe especially because of that.  My proudest life’s achievement, she just warms my heart and makes it sing.

It must be serendipity that when I fired up my computer this morning, one of first things I saw was this video, called “A Very Happy Brain.”

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZZ0zpUQhBQ&app=desktop 

 

May all your days be blessed!

 

© Debra A. Valentino, all rights reserved

Finding Happy in the New Year

“Our inner artist responds to small acts of luxury.”  — Julia Cameron

We are well into the new year of 2015, and many of us are still processing 2014. How is your year going so far? Are you off to a running start, or feeling like you’ve already fallen behind? Have you already had your share of life’s surprises, and/or do you feel confident that you are braced for whatever comes your way? What changes have you made this year, or what changes are you hoping for? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section that follows this piece.


I am a happy planner, but 2013, my first full year of retirement from teaching, didn’t turn out any way that I planned or expected–and 2014 was every bit as shocking and exhausting. Just to give you an idea, 2014 began with a hard fall on the ice, and ended with a broken toe that is still healing. Much of my year was spent in physical pain and debilitating fatigue. And there were other nightmares I’ve yet to write about. Perhaps by writing about them I’m afraid I might jinx myself further?

This bad fortune clearly has to change. But this is not the first time I’ve felt this way. How about you? What do you do to rid the negative energy from your life? …Please tell me I am not the only one who has bad things happen to her. Often.  It’s a good thing we are high-spirited people, right?!

Feeling wiped out by the trials of 2013, and before the year even ended, I decided that it was time to force a positive focus for the upcoming New Year. Desperate to shift the winds of fortune last year, at the beginning of 2014, I resorted to a sort of pagan ritual–creating one of those “Happiness Jars,” where each day you record the best thing that happened to you–something that made you feel happy–and place it in a jar. What could it hurt, right? After all, at the time they were all the rage. I’m not exactly sure where happiness jars originated, but Elizabeth Gilbert takes credit for them here, and you can find them growing like a social movement here.

Anyway, the immediate shift in energy amazed me so much that I started making Happiness Jars for friends and family, even the receptionist at the doctor’s office who was having a hard year herself. And of course, my generally exuberant daughter, who maybe still has it displayed on some shelf somewhere.

What can I say; happiness is contagious, right?

I am certainly okay with anyone who has an abundance of positivity going on, and therefore no immediate need for such measures. That’s just not me, or wasn’t me the past two (to eight) years (ha!). Based on their reactions, my recipients clearly did not infuse as much hope or honor into their Happiness Jar as I did into my own–and that, too, is okay by me.  After all, such an abundance of positivity is the aim of all Happiness Jars, Gratitude JournalsBucket Lists, you name it. I realize that some people have better luck and less time for such frivolity. I once had less time and better luck, too. These tools are meant as guides and game changers for those of us who find ourselves somehow stuck, mired, or otherwise buried—all in the metaphorical sense, of course.

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Fortunately, however, I was able to see this reticence toward the promise of joy as delivered through my self-crafted mason and pickle jars eclipsed by one notable exception.

I made a jar and gave it to a favorite physical therapist, who was having some trouble that winter with her young daughter. And yes, since 2013 and 2014 seemed to be the years of physical therapy for me, all of this is somehow circular, if not labyrinthine, right?

Well, to my *surprise* (the good mojo was obviously already appearing), my physical therapist told me that her daughter was so delighted to discover this Happiness Jar that she immediately took ownership, locating then placing it in her own special spot, and that the minute she arrived home from school the daughter would not only look forward to recording her own daily joys on the included pre-cut papers, but also encouraged her mother to do the same right along with her.

The mother said her daughter’s enthusiasm led to increased communication and a magical connection between herself and the daughter, who notably brightened by the practice. It seems the Happiness Jar gave this child some hope, too, and these success stories generously shared by the mother in several physical therapy sessions also doubled both her joy and my own.  One time the daughter even reportedly took the mother, who was herself out of sorts from a bad day, to the jar to select one of the recorded papers, instantly brightening her day.  And when the mother generously prepared the daughter’s favorite entree, the daughter declared it was the Happiness Jar that brought her such fortune.  Happy anecdotes like these warmed my heart, and set the tone for many a cheerful afternoon.

You know how it is, though; things come up; we get distracted; the idea gets set. Eventually I myself abandoned the practice and simply allowed this newfound energy to lead me. Perhaps that is the point of the Happiness Jar—although it is said that the point is to read the slips at the end of the year to reflect on all the awesome that has accumulated. A crucial step, I suppose, that I have yet to get around to doing. Something to look forward to!

So now it is 2015—the year preceded by the popular Happiness Jar technique.

Starting the year off with a forced shift appears to have been successful overall.

After all, I ventured across the Atlantic Ocean all on my own to attend a retreat for creative types like myself. Though I have attended retreats in the past, and even added the activity to my lists of things to do in upcoming years, this retreat was an unanticipated excursion. What made this a landmark experience was that it was the first retreat I traveled to alone since my head injury–something that had become dangerous and ill-advised. And yet this year, albeit after many years of recovery, I was not only willing, but apparently ready. It wasn’t easy because I was rather anxious about it, as I still have some residual deficits that I knew would throw some curve balls, and did. But I survived and that makes it a victory in my book, despite and maybe in spite of the debilitating fatigue that plagued the trip, both leading up to and following it.

Above all, the accomplishment left me desiring further internal shifts into 2015.  So far—perhaps magically and in part thanks to the initial practice of the Happiness Jar–these have been delivered.

In my next posts, I’d like to reflect on the best thing that happened to me in 2014, and reveal to you my “Word of the Year” for 2015.

Happy New Year, and I hope you are off to an exhilarating start!

If not, send me an email or tell me in a message, and I will send you two modifications I wrote that you can use to create your own Happiness Jars.

 

 

 

© Debra A. Valentino, all rights reserved