I’m tucked under a blanket with my feet propped up in our recliner. Smokey is curled into my elbow. I’ve been reading about the situation in Ukraine today – prompting me to renew my New York Times subscription (at a great special rate of 50 cents a week for a year). My heart is bruised from the topsy turviness of the last few weeks in Ottawa. The Freedom Convoy and all the tensions and polarized opinions around me had my brain in fifth gear – and too much of my day tuned into news channels on tv. While browsing the headlines at the NYT my eye was captured by a photo of Laurie Santos. She is a cognitive science professor at Yale University. In 2018 I saw an online course offered by Yale for free – for anyone. It was part of a system called MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses). I decided to sign up.
I don’t remember how the course was titled at that time … I think it was something like ‘The Keys to Happiness’. I had read about the growing field of ‘Positive Psychology’. It was of great use when I was teaching intermediates. Positive Psychology focuses on encouraging people to focus on and nurture their personal strengths. I had previously taken training through the Stephen Covey Institute on the ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’. A big take-away from that course was the benefit of identifying the ‘big rocks’ in your life – and making room in time and place to nurture and enjoy them.
The ‘big rocks’ analogy comes from a story of a person trying to fill a jar with sand and some big rocks. If you try to put the sand in first … there is not enough room for the big rocks. By putting the big rocks in first you can let the sand sift down around them and you find you have room for both. ‘Big Rocks’ = the things that are important to you. Sand are the many things that are not as important … but still necessary in your life. That’s the gist of it.
When I feel stress building up I find it useful to stop and remind myself what my BIG ROCKS are. I know … no big revelation here. We ALL need to know what our priorities are. But a useful analogy that stuck in my head enough to niggle in the background when I need to ‘reboot’ my brain. 😉
For me – currently – I’d say my big rocks are:
1. Loving and caring for our family (human and flerd), friends and neighbours;
2. Sleeping well – for me that means looooonnnnngggg sleeps;
3. Eating well – not too much … not too little … and remembering to eat mindfully;
4. Making space for creating – art, music, writing, animal habitats, gardens and beauty in our home.
I notice when I write them down like that I do not see ‘Obsessively watch national news’ or even ‘Keep up to date with current events’ as a priority. I have a wonderful friend who does not read, watch or listen to ANY news. I also have many wonderful friends who do all three – daily – happily. But back to my first mentioned friend. I was fascinated when she told me that. I asked her about it – had she recently adopted that as a practice? Was there a reason she chose not to keep up with the news? Really it boiled down to her being happier putting her time and focus elsewhere. She was (and is) living with cancer and was being as deliberate as she could be about how she used her remaining time. That conversation was a few years ago … and it has stayed with me ever since.
When I saw the MOOC course offered on ‘Happiness’ I thought that would be something I’d enjoy learning more about. Sorry – another aside – but have you read anything about Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness index? That is also a fascinating story … but again I digress. So – I TOOK THE COURSE – and faithfully followed along with the lecture videos, completed the assignments, and took part in online discussions. And like the Covey Course a few keys things stuck with me.
One thing that had a big impact on the class on-screen was that more money did not increase happiness. (Other than if one was living below the poverty line and then, yes, having enough money to put food on the table and a roof overhead made a big change.) The class was a group of about fifteen Yale students. It is very competitive to get into Yale … and often students are there with a clear goal of ‘getting ahead’ in the world. There was more interaction over this principle than most others. There was evidence shared that showed increasing a salary from $100,000 to $600,000 increased happiness ratings by only one point. It went up from a score of 64 to 65. That surprised me too. There were also some interesting studies shared that examined lottery winners – and their reporting of happiness scores. Also – not much different from you and me.
The practice that made the MOST difference in people’s experience of happiness? KEEPING A GRATITUDE JOURNAL. Making $500,000 more dollars had less impact than that. Wow. February is a good month to reboot my gratitude practice. We got walloped in January. February is feeling a little teeny bit warmer … and the sun feels a lot brighter. The finches are singing for spring as much as I am. 😉 I will make time to go over my blessings before I fall asleep tonight. Seems if I keep on that I will feel like a million bucks in just a few days.
Hugs from the Meadow Mice to you!