East or west…

One of the great joys of going away is — coming home again. Every time we come back home, I realize anew how much I love New York City, and also, being home.

Some of the lessons of happiness include: novelty brings happiness; deprivation of a pleasure sharpens it; and sharing happy memories is an important source of happiness. All served by going on, and returning from, a family vacation.

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Via Shifting Careers, I discovered Alltop, which is a fantastic new site that organizes blogs by category and displays large numbers of stories in dashboard format — makes taking in a lot of information very easy. It was created by the same folks who have the great site Truemors, about unusual news stories.

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New to the Happiness Project? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed: Subscribe to this blog’s feed. Or sign up to get email updates in the box at the top righthand corner.
If you’re starting your own happiness project, please join the Happiness Project Group on Facebook to swap ideas. It’s easy; it’s free.

This Wednesday: My ten very idiosyncratic tips for having fun on a family vacation.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: My ten very idiosyncratic tips for having fun on a family vacation.

Was it Jerry Seinfeld who said, “There’s no such thing as fun for the whole family?”

I disagree—but I’ve hit on certain tips that do help keep things fun. I’m not sure they’re universally helpful, but they’ve helped me.

As always, the first step is to follow the Eighth Commandment, “Identify the problem.” I didn’t understand why I was so crabby until I zeroed in on my gnawing hunger. If you’re feeling crabby instead of playful, push yourself to put your finger on what’s bugging you. Just because you’re on “vacation” doesn’t mean that everything is automatically fun. Pay attention to when you’re having fun, or not, and adjust accordingly.

Everyone will have more fun when everyone is having fun, so this isn’t selfish!

1. I posted Monday about my epiphany about making sure that I don’t allow myself to get too hungry. Never again will I travel without a bag of almonds, dried cherries, etc. I anticipate my next challenge will be: how do I stop myself from eating the entire bag the first day?

2. Although kids and grandparents beg, “Just this once,” “They don’t seem tired,” or “Everyone can sleep late in the morning,” I do everything humanly possible to make sure my kids get the usual amount of sleep. Also, myself. Along the same lines…

3. I recognize my kids’ limits. They are cheerful and cooperative – until we keep them at the table too long, mess with their schedules too much, let them skip putting on sunscreen, make them walk too far, let them get too hot or too cold, or make them anxious or uncomfortable. In the midst of fun, it can be hard to say, “Enough!” but it’s a key to keeping things pleasant.

4. Some people view vacation as an escape from daily burdens—in particular, exercising. No! Exercise is energizing, cheering, and promotes sleep and relaxation. Vacation is an opportunity to do more exercising, not cut it out. Recently, when I had jet lag, I noticed that exercise helped me adjust both coming and going.

5. Make time for something that’s fun for ME. The more people who are vacationing together, the more everyone needs to be accommodating. That’s as it should be—to a point. I make sure that I have time to do what I truly enjoy (i.e., lying around reading—right now, I’m reading Karen Armstrong’s Buddha.) All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, and all sandcastles and tales of Harry Potter adventures, as nice as they are, makes Gretchen a dull girl.

6. At home, we go for months without opening the medicine cabinet, but in four days of vacation, we’ve used Lanacane, Neosporin, Kank-A, Advil, and Band-Aids (both regular and Hello Kitty style). I used to have long debates with myself about what we’d actually use – now I throw a tube of everything into a plastic bag, just in case.

7. I allow myself to overpack. This wouldn’t work if we were hiking or doing lots of moving around, but I finally realized that, for a short trip to one place, it’s faster and easier to overpack than to try to plan out carefully what to take. It’s a luxury just to toss in a bunch of stuff, but when I can, I do.

8. I’ve come up with a speed rule: for every person beyond the first two people, add ten minutes to the time it takes to accomplish any action; for every child, add twenty. Even just with four adults and two children, it can take forever for us to get from Point A to Point B. But that’s okay, I remind myself, this is vacation, there’s no rush! This tip takes me back to Tip 1 – I realized that one reason I was often impatient and annoyed was that I was so hungry that any delay in getting to lunch or dinner made me frantic.

9. Make peace with technology. Fact is, I have much more fun when my email and internet service are working, otherwise, I brood about it. So I made getting service a priority. Other people want to disconnect. That’s fine, too. Just know what will make for the best vcation experience for YOU.

10. Be grateful! Because of the “negativity bias,” we’re all more sensitive to negative events and thoughts than to positive ones. By mindfully focusing on feelings of gratitude, pleasure, enjoyment, and all the rest, I make sure that I have fun.

Home tomorrow!

Why am I feeling crabby on my lovely vacation?

I’m away with my family and my in-laws on vacation. We do this every spring, and each time we do it, despite the fact that this place is lovely, I seem to end up feeling a bit crabby.

One year I blamed it on this, one year I blamed it on that. Whatever the reason, it’s a drag to have a nice vacation shadowed by a bad mood. I should be thrilled and thankful to have the chance to have such a nice holiday — and I AM thrilled and thankful — but also a bit crabby.

Well, this year, I think I figured it out. I think it’s the food situation.

Usually, at home. I eat something about every three hours. Whenever possible, I eat “breakfast” at 7:30, “lunch” at 11:30, a “snack” at 2:30, “dinner” at 6:00, and a “snack” around 8:00.

My idea of what lunch etc. consists of is probably slight unconventional – but this schedule and intake works for me.

The problem? This isn’t how the world works. Some days I can stick to this schedule, but often, of course, I have to eat at different times, and it always throws me off. One thing that puzzles me is that most adults don’t seem to get hungry the way I do. They never seem to care about what time food is served.

Being on this vacation means I’m often starving before we eat. I can’t eat as often as I’d like. The food is richer than the food I usually eat, but somehow it doesn’t seem as filling. I have to gobble down my food, because at lunch the Little Girl is spiraling down toward her nap, and at dinner, toward her bedtime, so I have to be prepared to spirit her back to bed as soon as she’s eaten.

So my current prescription for my crabbiness is to start paying more attention to eating. I’m going to try to eat more protein at meals, to try to be fuller, longer. I’m going to make sure I have some filling snacks on hand (what, I’m not sure). I’m going to make sure I eat something every three hours or so, even if it’s not quite convenient.

When we get home, maybe I’ll even go to a nutritionist to see if there’s a better way for me to approach my eating, so that I’m not as susceptible to hunger and crankiness.

But other than that, we’re having a great time.

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If you’re starting your own happiness project, please join the Happiness Project Group on Facebook to swap ideas. It’s easy; it’s free.

This Saturday: a happiness quotation from Miyamoto Musashi.

“Whatever the Way, the master of strategy does not appear fast….Of course, slowness is bad. Really skillful people never get out of time, and are always deliberate, and never appear busy.” –Miyamoto Musashi

I have really found this to be true. The people who SHOULD be the most busy always seem to have plenty of time to be deliberate and polite, instead of constantly checking their cell phones or rushing around.

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Katy over at the “It’s All About the Chatter” Constant Chatter site was nice enough to do an interview with me.

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New to the Happiness Project? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed: Subscribe to this blog’s feed. Or sign up to get email updates in the box at the top righthand corner.
If you’re starting your own happiness project, please join the Happiness Project Group on Facebook to swap ideas. It’s easy; it’s free.

It’s Friday: time to think about YOUR Happiness Project. This week: Keep your cool.

I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you should have one, too! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in — no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.

I have trouble keeping my cool. I get rattled, agitated, wring my hands, lose my temper, and generally add to the stress of a stressful situation with my actions.

I’ve always been like this. In fact, whenever I’m heading into a difficult situation, my mother admonishes me, “Now, just stay calm.” I know that getting worked up doesn’t help, but it’s hard for me to keep cool.

Last night, the Big Man got home before I did. I walked in the front door to see the Big Girl crying. “Oh, what’s wrong, honey?” I said, peeling off my backpack.

She started choking out something about the Little Girl.

“Is she okay? Is she okay?” I asked, frantic.

“She’s okay,” she said, “but she’s locked in the bathroom! A locksmith is here.”

I raced to the bathroom. A locksmith was trying to break the lock, the Big Man was speaking comfortingly to the Little Girl, and the Little Girl was sobbing piteously, “I want Mommy! I want Mommy!”

I didn’t want to say anything to her, because I knew it would make her much more upset to hear me talking when I wasn’t opening the door.

We seemed to be in that hallway forever. The Big Man had a deliberately composed air, and he said to me, “Stay calm.” I started to pace around and wring my hands. When the door wasn’t opening, I said to the locksmith in a sharp voice, “Can’t we just drill a hole in the door?”

The Big Man gave me a look, and I realized – my behavior wasn’t helping. Acting agitated would just make me feel more agitated, and that would make everyone else feel more agitated, and that would only make matters worse.

I couldn’t just stand there quietly, so I decided to try to be productive. I poured the Little Girl a glass of water, located a box of Kleenex, and found a blanket. I put a DVD of the The Muppet Show in the DVD player (the Little Girl only gets to watch TV when she’s sick or as a very great treat.)

Finally, the door banged open. I’d been afraid the Little Girl might be standing close to the door, but fortunately she was cowering in the far corner of the bathroom. I rushed in, scooped her up, cuddled her in a blanket, and plopped down in a chair to rock her—also the Big Girl, who needed a lot of reassurance.

Before long the Little Girl was happily introducing her Baby Peapod to the locksmith. Of everyone, the Big Man seemed the most traumatized by the episode.

One of the most useful things I’ve learned from the Happiness Project is my Third Commandment: I should act the way I want to feel. We think that we act because of the way we feel, but in fact, we often feel because of the way we act. If I want to feel calm, I need to act calm. This sounds like magical thinking, but hard science show that the “Fake it ‘till you feel it” strategy really works.

Staying cool helped me feel calm. Also, it helped the Big Man and the Big Girl stay cool — as well as the locksmith, who was clearly distressed at listening to those desperate cries as he struggled with the door. By staying cool, we were better able to respond clearly, better able to attend to each other, and less frazzled by the whole experience.

Once again, I remind myself to “Act the way I want to feel.” Also, to figure out a way to disable the locks in our bathrooms.

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The terrific site Gimundo had a great story about people with crazy abilities – one is super-flexible, one is able to control his body temperature through meditation, etc. Just the kind of thing that I love to read on a Friday afternoon!

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New to the Happiness Project? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed: Subscribe to this blog’s feed. Or sign up to get email updates in the box at the top righthand corner.
If you’re starting your own happiness project, please join the Happiness Project Group on Facebook to swap ideas. It’s easy; it’s free.