Posts filed under ‘happiness’

Smiling More Often

Smile

Just before closing the book on 2013 I set a goal for the new year. I suppose I could call it a resolution, but I really prefer to think of it less as an end state and more as a new state of mind.  It’s a remarkably simple idea: my goal is to smile more often.

Whenever I greet a cashier, UPS driver, mailman, librarian, random strangers on the street, an old man at the grocery store, etc. I think happy thoughts and then flash a smile.

For the record I told myself I did not have to smile if I was not in the mood. My goal is not to pretend to be happy, but rather to feel genuinely happy in moments when I otherwise would have felt grumpy or agitated.

Some days are easy. On those days I probably went to bed at a reasonable hour. I squeezed in five minutes of meditation before getting out of bed. I had enough time to take a ten minute shower rather than a five minute one and I actually remembered to apply deodorant before stepping out the door. The sun is shining, my son is in a particularly happy mood and our breakfast was both nutritious and delicious.

Other days are much more difficult. I didn’t manage to eat before leaving the house, which means I am starving, my son is tired and cannot be bribed with cheese crackers and peanut butter sandwiches, as I bag pears from the produce section they break through the bottom of the thin plastic and roll all over the grocery store floor, the line at the checkout lane appears to be taking forever, the toddler in line in front of me is screaming as if someone is trying to kill him, the people behind me keep jamming their shopping cart into my legs and somehow my plan to stop in for a gallon of milk turned into $100 worth of groceries.

Normally I would stand in line and shift my weight from side-to-side. I would feel agitated and angry that a five minute trip to the grocery store turned into a forty-five minute ordeal. I would think about all of the places I’d rather be and all of the things I’d rather be doing, but with the new goal in mind I pause and smile.

Rather than feeling grumpy I reflect on all of the happiness and good in my life. I am thankful that my body is capable of squatting on hands and knees to dig pears out of every nook and cranny they have rolled into. I am thankful that my toddler is not the one screaming at the top of his lungs. I am thankful that my hunger pains will soon be healed and that the people behind me switched lanes when they noticed how slow my line was moving. Lastly I am thankful that I have the money to pay for the groceries I am about to buy.

This thought process takes mere seconds and when I look up from the conveyor belt I happily greet the cashier. And yes I smile.

Since I started smiling more often I have found the world to be a much kinder and gentler place. The people I meet when I am out and about seem to sigh in relief when I reach the counter. I’ve heard “it’s such a pleasure to wait on people that are happy,” “if only all of my customers were as understanding and patient” and my favorite “I can tell by looking at you that you have a good outlook on life.”

I will not pretend that I am happy all of the time, but thinking about the positive aspects of life have certainly made me feel more grateful and joyful.

Oddly enough I do find it more difficult to be happy at home. Often it is when I am completely alone that I find myself dwelling on the negative. Maybe I should look at my reflection in the mirror and smile. Perhaps it is the very nature of smiling that makes me happy, knowing that someone will see my toothy grin and reflexively return the favor.

 

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January 20, 2014 at 8:51 PM Leave a comment

A Very Lucky Year Indeed

clover

I started keeping track of the money I earned from online contests and giveaways in 2012. That year I won $149 in online contests and $750 from two writing contests. In 2013 my luck continued and I won a total of $1,775! Do you see the large turquoise section of the pie chart below. That’s the amount of money I earned from online giveaways in comparison to the money I earned from all other online endeavors. It is a good chunk of it.

Pie Chart for 2013

I don’t spend much time submitting entries to online contests, so it is rather remarkable how much money I raked in.

My husband thinks my passion for winning is quite funny. He pointed out how odd it is that I get more excited about winning money than I do about earning it. He believes it is an inherited trait or at the very least something I learned from my father. My dad talks a lot about being lucky in life. I actually think about feeling lucky in life quite a bit.

Last year was lucky in many ways. I was able to stay home with my son for another year. My marriage strengthened as my husband and I learned to talk through our problems and my health although not perfect has been manageable. I have fewer days with pain than without them! I am actually quite amazed at all that my body can accomplish. Before my son was born I wondered how I would hold a baby in my left arm. Now I lift and carry a twenty-eight pound baby and most days I am no worse for wear for doing it.

There are many reasons for feeling lucky. Those are just a few that pop off the top of my head. Keeping a gratitude journal also helps. The more I reflect on the good in life the happier and luckier I feel. Oh and winning a little cash never hurts either!

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January 15, 2014 at 5:51 PM 4 comments

Joy Based Ledger – Documenting How Much Joy You Feel Each Time You Spend Money

joy

Do you track your spending? Do you write down how much money you spend each day? Do you make note of how much that latte cost or how much you paid for your new shirt? Now what if you also paid attention to the level of joy you felt each time you pulled out your wallet?

Do you drink coffee every morning? Many financial advisers will tell you that cup of coffee is a complete waste of money, but what if you view the purchase differently? Perhaps that morning coffee fills your soul in an unexpected way. Maybe that first sip coincides with the first quiet moment in your morning after your kids have been dropped off to school but before you reach your office. Maybe you silently meditate while you enjoy that hot beverage, breathing in the warm aromas and clearing your mind before you start working. Maybe that cup of coffee makes you feel immensely happy.  If that’s the case then perhaps that morning cup is not such a waste after all.

What if we began to document our spending in terms of happiness? What if you kept a ledger with dollar amounts on one side and varying levels of joy on the other? Would this cause us to spend money differently? Would we begin to focus our spending on the items that bring us the greatest amount of joy? It’s an interesting question.

I came across a very small blurb on Oprah’s website that mentions the need for a joy based ledger. Here is the excerpt from that article:

We have tried ad nauseam…for the past decade to get people to readjust spending by focusing on the raw numbers,” says Manisha Thakor, founder and CEO of MoneyZen Wealth Management, a boutique financial-advisory firm serving women and families. She says simply looking at a budget in theory should fix the problem, but it hasn’t.

Her solution: “Challenge yourself to be more mindful and conscious of what kind of return on joy you’re getting from every dollar you spend.”

This requires not only writing down how much money they cost you, but how much joy they brought you. Highlight only those items in your notebook (or smartphone), and then take a look at what’s not highlighted. That’s where you start thinking about making conscious, mindful adjustments to your spending, Thakor says. In other words, that’s where you should start cutting back.

I believe the article makes a joy based ledger seem very simple. In essence, spend money and then write down your happiness level. Unfortunately spending is much more complicated than that. Before you can go down this path you have to focus on true joy and for some this may get complicated. You may seem quite excited, even elated about a purchase, but is that true joy? In order to truly define joy I believe each individual may need to wait a certain period of time and then reflect back on it. We all know the initial excitement of a purchase can wear off quickly. Perhaps we would each need to wait a week, a month or even half a year before defining our level of joy. If you still feel good 180 days after making a purchase than you can positively affirm that it made you happy.

Of course, you don’t have to take the joy ledger so literally. You don’t have to write down the level of joy each time you spend money. Instead you could simply ask yourself to think ahead. Imagine six months have passed since the time you pulled out your credit card to pay for this item, event or activity. Do you still feel good about whatever it is you purchased?

This tiny little blurb on Oprah’s website made me step back and reflect on my own recent purchases. I have been feeling very down about required gift exchanges lately. Someone sends me a list of the items they want and I’m supposed to pick something off of the list and buy it for them. The people in question have money in the bank and don’t really need us to buy them anything. Does it make sense for us to buy each other presents when we could just as easily buy the items ourselves. I find absolutely no joy in picking items off of the list, waiting for them to arrive and wrapping them before Christmas. What if we stopped exchanging presents and instead pulled our money to support a family in need. What if we spent a few hundred dollars each Christmas buying toys and clothes for those who could not otherwise afford them? I believe this act of kindness would bring us infinitely more joy.

I think it’s important to note that ‘joy’ is not an all inclusive word. You will not feel joyful spending money to attend a funeral for a family member, but you will probably feel glad that you spent time with other grieving loved ones. Think of joy not as utter happiness, but rather as focusing on the people and places that are important to you. Also, it’s not fun to pay your utility bills. I think it goes without saying that the focus here is on discretionary money. As the original blurb pointed out the goal is to become conscious of your spending and the question is once you focus on the things that matter could you cut out the things that don’t?

What do you think? Would you consider creating a joy based ledger? Do you think reflecting on your happiness would change the way you spent money?

(FYI: That coffee example isn’t the case for me I don’t drink coffee.)

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December 20, 2013 at 11:55 PM 14 comments

All Good Things Must Come to an End

Beach

It’s true what they say… all good things must come to an end. After a glorious three and a half weeks at the beach it’s time to pack up and head back home. I think this is one of those vacations I’ll remember forever. I got to spend time with my immediate family, (husband and son), and an extra week and a half with just my mom and my son.

The weather was glorious. It ranged from low 70s to upper 80s and it only rained part of one day.

Every morning I wake up, (brush off any aches and pains), and count my blessings. I have a phenomenal life! I am thankful and grateful for every moment of it and the people I get to share it with.

September 19, 2013 at 9:20 AM 3 comments

Highlighting the Positive – Do You Focus on the Pros or the Cons?

For the most part I try to focus my energy and my life on the positive. To be perfectly honest it’s difficult to live in the negative. Life is full of ups and downs, but I don’t want to be one of those people who constantly lists all of the bad things that happen to me or the way my life disappoints me.

Whenever I write about luck and opportunity on this blog I inevitably receive comments and emails pointing out how perspective, (the desire to see things positively or negatively), impacts my outlook. While I definitely lead a blessed life I know in my heart that perspective plays a role in just how good it feels to live it.

Marriage is one of those tricky situations where husbands and wives can choose to focus on the positive or the negative. Sometimes I write and think about the negative aspects of my spouse, but that really isn’t fair to him.

Here is the truth about my husband.

I had a series of major medical problems shortly after we were married. During that time my husband never wavered in his devotion to me. Although we had known each other for seven years before we were married it was certainly scary and unexpected. I’m not sure what my husband thought deep in the back of his head, but he NEVER showed any desire to abandon me.

On the night that I was admitted to the hospital he came home, gathered up the blanket I slept with as a child and brought it back to my hospital room. Given the circumstances he wanted to make sure I was at least comfortable. He called me on his drive back home that night and cried at the thought of leaving me there without him.

My husband is the small gesture, big bang for your buck kind of guy. When we were dating, (it was early in college), he left love notes on my door and in my notebooks in the hopes that I would be happy and surprised when I found them.

When he left for Colorado one winter he stowed them in all sorts of places so I would find them as I went about my day. There was one inside the dishwasher, one inside the freezer, one next to the cat food and a bunch of them in my car and dresser. Just sweet little notes to show he thinks of me and knows my daily routine.

At night he often makes me an ice cream sundae. He scoops the ice cream, drizzles chocolate syrup on top, with sprinkles, mini chocolate chips and whipped cream. He knows exactly how I like it.

He checks in on me at night. While I’m writing in my blogs or reading a book he’ll come by from time to time to say hello. He touches my feet, shoulders and arms and makes sure I have a glass of cold ice water.

At night he often turns down the corner of my blanket so I can slip inside without displacing the covers. He’ll charge my laptop or iPad and leave it next to my pillow.

Whenever I’m sad or upset he immediately knows something is wrong even when I don’t tell him. He always manages to find just the right way to cheer me up. Whether it’s giving me a big hug or making me smile.

He says the sweetest things. The kind of things that make my eyes swell with tears because I immediately know how much he loves me. It took us a few months to conceive our son and he once told me it was perfectly okay, that it was in fact a good thing, because it meant we had more time to share together. I can’t tell you how much I needed to hear those words at that moment in time and how much they meant to me.

He supports our family by trudging off to work five days a week and coming home to run his business until two o’clock in the morning. It’s important to him that I stay home with our son, (rather than placing him in daycare), and he never waivers on this fact even when I do. He tells me often that I’m a good mother, especially on the days that are the most trying.

He’s always looking for ways to improve our lives. Although I usually squawk about spending the money, he’s often right about the impending changes. They do make our lives both better and easier.

He’s a handy guy, which I would definitely recommend as a trait in a husband. He can fix just about anything and usually does. If he can’t he never complains when I ask him to call the electricians or plumbers. It’s a job I don’t like to do and I’m happy when he’s in charge of communicating our needs with those guys.

There are so many positive things to list that as I type this I’m surprised by how much I harp on the negative. In life we often take the people around us for granted. I hope he reads this list and realizes just how much I love him!

July 2, 2013 at 11:28 PM 2 comments

Would You Throw a “Mortgage Free” Party?

House Cake

If you were about to pay off your mortgage would you throw a party to celebrate? It’s an interesting question for me. Although my last post may have been viewed as bragging, (at least I received one email letting me know it was perceived that way), I am not usually one to toot my own horn in real life.

When I purchased my beach house I didn’t tell my close friends or family. While my husband and I have worked hard to secure our finances I also know that we have been quite fortunate in life. I certainly didn’t want my success to make anyone else feel bad, so I kept my home a secret for nearly a year.

When I finally leaked the news to my close friends they were thrilled for me. If they were envious of my success they certainly didn’t show it, nothing in their body language gave any sign of animosity or jealousy.

When I make new friends and meet new people I almost never tell them my husband and I own a home in North Carolina. I feel like people would view me differently and not in a good way.  When it does come up in conversation I always downplay the details. I tell them our house is only one story and a bit farther back from the beach than most. I try to be modest and fear that a mere mention of my beach home will be perceived as bragging.

While I would absolutely love to throw a party to celebrate the end of a mortgage I’m not sure that other’s would be so quick to celebrate alongside me. If you were invited to a mortgage free party would you be happy to celebrate with the homeowners or bitter that you weren’t in a similar predicament? Given my current situation I would be happy for my friends and family, but if my finances were in a not-so-fortunate state I’m not sure how I would feel about it.

I am extremely open about my finances on this blog, but only a few of my close friends know about it. I hate the idea that people would perceive me differently if they knew how much I owed and how much I was worth. In fact that’s the primary reason I blog anonymously.

What about you? As you write the last check to your mortgage company would you consider throwing a party to celebrate?

April 12, 2013 at 1:45 PM 12 comments

The ‘One Day’ Fund – Saving for Long Term Goals

Every so often my husband and I sit down to discuss our finances. Among our favorite topics is what to do with the money we saved.

Sometimes we save with a specific goal in mind. We may want to remodel our bathroom, save for a larger car or take a much needed vacation. Other times we save with absolutely no purpose other than to set money aside.

A year and a half ago we decided to forgo the bathroom upgrades and new-to-us car so I could stay home with my son. With money in the bank we thought that the transition to a one income household would be slightly less scary. It was nice to know we had money in the bank if we needed it to fall back on.

As time passes our priorities shift, but no matter how our day-to-day decisions change over the years we still keep ‘one day’ goals in the back of our mind. ‘One day’ goals are those aspirations that are too distant to focus on day in and day out. They are dreams that won’t come to fruition for at least ten or twenty years. You hope that they will happen one day, but there is no telling when that day will come.

Our one day goals sound so simple, yet seem so hard to achieve. They are as follows:

  • Pay off the mortgages of our two homes in less than 10 years
  • Build a waterfront property. (This will probably involve selling the vacation property we currently own and using the money to build a new one.)
  • Work fewer hours each week at a rewarding and interesting job. (This involves my husband working less, but also includes the understanding that I will return to work at some point in the next five years.)

In my dream scenario we would meet at all of these goals in the next ten years. By the ripe old age of 45 I would be mortgage free, living in a cozy house by the shore, working less and enjoying my job.

In reality I’m not sure what will happen, but regardless of how things play out it sure feels nice to dream about those ‘one day’ goals.

How about you? Do you set long term goals? If so, what are they?

March 8, 2013 at 7:15 AM 5 comments

Why Are You Blogging?

If you’ve been married for awhile you probably notice that you and your spouse talk about the same things over and over. My husband and I rarely fight, but when we do it’s always about the very same things. You would think after knowing one another for over 15 years and being married for more than 8 that we’d know which triggers to avoid, but alas our fights are very repetitive.

We also tend to ask each other the same questions and bring up the same topics time and time again. Among the questions my husband asks is often “why are you blogging?” This is usually followed by something like, “is that really how you want to spend your free time?”

It’s not that my husband isn’t supportive. In fact, he is extremely supportive. It’s just that he doesn’t see the point in sitting down to blog about our finances when A) I make very little money from this blog and B) our finances appear to be in perfect order.

Every few months I consider giving this blog the boot. I’ve thought about changing it into a blog that talks more about my life as a whole and less about money. I’ve thought about giving up blogging all together in pursuit of something more meaningful and long term like writing a book or taking up a better paid hobby.

Yet every time I consider walking away from the keyboard I find myself right back where I started. I began this blog in 2006 at a time when my life seemed downright awful. I was physically sick and emotionally broken. I blogged to keep my mind off of my medical problems. In the beginning that was my only goal.

I wrote about money because it’s something that’s always held my interest. When I think back on my childhood I find that money is involved in many of my first memories. Over time those moments have come to define my character and personality.

Whether we like it or not money is a vital part of our lives. I used to think the goal was to save up as much as I could to buy the things I wanted, but one day I realized I wanted to save as much as I could to spend time with the ones I love. Money enables you to take time off work so you can care for an aging parent or stay at home with your children. Money allows you to worry less and live more. It provides peace of mind and freedom.

Blogging isn’t going to make me famous and doesn’t earn me much money, but it’s a habit I can’t seem to quit. I continue to write this blog because looking back over posts that span seven years makes me happy. I like to click back through prior years and read old entries. If I find the right combination of stories my financial history unfolds like a book before me. I consider this blog a diary of sorts and by reading about my former mistakes I find myself less likely to relive them. It doesn’t hurt to look back at the wise decisions either, after all, even a frugal girl needs to pat herself on the back every once in awhile.

Best of all I like to look back at all the posts that focus on the importance of wealth beyond money. There are many posts about gratitude, thankfulness, kindness and compassion. It’s a strong reminder that money is not the goal. I can unequivocally say that money does not equal happiness for me, but having money has made my life less stressful and as a result I am much happier.

March 7, 2013 at 12:00 AM 5 comments

Saying Goodbye To My Past

Last week I wrote about my struggle to rid my home of sentimental clutter. Thankfully I received a bunch of great suggestions on how to pare down the mess. Among my favorites were picking out the very best items, removing duplicates and limiting the amount of stuff so that it all has to fit inside one small tote. I followed a similar set of rules when figuring out which of my son’s clothes to donate.

It’s funny what I hold on to in life. After my son was born I had no problem boxing up all of my old clothes and dropping them off at the donation center. I didn’t want to look in the closet and think about the size I had been or the size I wanted to be. That decision seemed like an easy one to make. Keep some of the pregnancy related items in case another little one makes his or her way into the world, but discard just about everything else. I kept my pants, sweaters and sweatshirts, but most of my shirts, blouses and skirts went off in search of a better home.

So if that’s so easy to decide why is it so difficult to get rid of other things. I’ve been holding on to an old pair of snowboard boots for the past seven years. Why? Because I didn’t want to face the fact that my health problems prevented me from returning to the slopes. Did keeping those boots in my closet help me snowboard again? No, in fact I felt worse about myself every time I saw them. So why did I hold on to them? The answer, (when I forced myself to think about it), was an easy one. I held on to them because I simply wasn’t ready to admit that my health and life had unexpectedly and unpleasantly changed.

Sometimes we hold onto things because they represent a happier, or in my case healthier, time in our lives. It’s tough to let go of a past when the present and future look a less rosy.

Interestingly enough I wasn’t even good at snow boarding. In fact I was downright terrible at it. I learned when I was in my early twenties and being 6 feet tall and not the least bit athletically inclined I spent more time sitting in the snow then gliding on top of it.

So this weekend I dragged my old snow boots and a few pairs of snow pants out of the closet, threw them into the back of my car and sold them at a local sports store that buys and sells used equipment. I decided that though my body may never glide down the slope it has been very, very good to me. After all, it helped me conceive and carry my son, something that I didn’t think would be possible when I first got sick so many years ago. I am grateful for my current health and although not perfect I am thankful for my body.

I hope those boots see the slopes again even if they won’t be strapped to my feet.

November 26, 2012 at 7:30 PM Leave a comment

Do You Downplay Your Joy?

Over the course of my lifetime I’ve often downplayed my happiness and success. When I bought my second home I was hesitant to tell my friends and family about it. When I was promoted at work I decided to keep the news to myself. When I found out I was pregnant with my son I kept it a secret from all but two people for nearly four months.

My life is absolutely amazing. I am happily married to a man who is the yin to my yang. I have an amazingly easy and happy baby who I stay home with every day. Minus some lingering issues I am in fairly good health. My parents are both alive and still happily married. I am close to my ninety year old grandmother who is still functional and thriving.

I’m not saying my life is perfect, far from it, but in a world full of so many problems why does my life seem so easy? I often feel guilty about it. I tell my friends that I feel bad that my brother’s life isn’t as easy as mine. That I was born with a happy-go-lucky spirit while he was born with a down-in-the-dumps demeanor.

I tell people I’m lucky to have this-that-and-the-other-thing rather than acknowledging the fact that my husband and I have worked hard to achieve our success. I always downplay the work we’ve put into our lives. There are people in much more difficult, physically grueling lines of work then my husband and I. It seems strange to say we’ve worked hard when I’ve witnessed people truly working hard high on roofs, in heat or trudging heavy supplies and equipment.

I’ve never verbalized this before, but I suppose I feel unworthy of such happiness. Do I deserve to feel such joy?  When others are struggling why am I so happy and fulfilled?

I am very grateful for all that I have, but I guess I’m always worried that something will happen to make it all go away. As crazy as it sounds I’m nervous typing this into my computer right now. If I tell people just how wonderful I feel, will it all go away?

I have friends and family who are perpetual worriers. They believe that every time something good happens something bad is sure to follow. I suppose some of that belief has rubbed off on me.

The joy in my world is so great that sometimes it makes my heart hurt. It’s those little moments. You know the ones. Like when my son plays hide-and-seek and runs out from behind the furniture when he hears me coming to get him. When my husband scoops ice cream, drizzles chocolate over the top along with brightly colored sprinkles and brings it to me while I sit in the living room. Or how about the sound of my son giggling for absolutely no reason from the back of the car. It’s a sound that immediately makes me smile and melts my heart.

I try my best to allow these moments to absorb into me. To pause and let the light shine into my heart and soul. To take a mental snapshot so I won’t forget how wonderful all of these tiny, every day moments feel.

I am grateful for all that I have and I thank my lucky stars every night for all that I have been blessed with, but as I count my blessings I sometimes wonder how long this joy can last. Am I the only one who worries that happiness can be short lived?

November 19, 2012 at 8:04 PM 6 comments

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