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The Enchanted Outlook

Enchantment in Light and Darkness

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I have been studying the concept of magic and its connection to the concept of happiness for about four years now.  It has been an incredible journey so far and has lead me down all sorts of paths I never thought I would travel. I would like to revisit one aspect of the subject today and clarify an opinion that has… not so much changed, but has lately been easier to put into words.

I have defined enchantment in relation to how the term is used in fantasy literature. In fantasy, an enchantment is a type of magic that alters the perception of the individual, rather than altering the world around them. When a person is enchanted, they see things differently. In this way, The Enchanted Outlook is a term I made up for the concept of learning how to alter our perspectives to see things in a more imaginative and positive way. In other words, it’s about cognitive re-framing.

However, because  I have spent my career working in settings where I see social injustice on a daily basis, one concept that I have personally grappled with is where cognitive re-framing fits in with inequality and injustice. Certainly, to suggest that any person suffering from an external cause would have their problems disappear by simply shifting their perspective is irresponsible and blames the wrong source. Trust me: I’ve been given this advice myself during times of grief and loss and it wasn’t comforting. Changing how we view the world does not make the world change, and it does not make the monsters go away.

I turn, instead, to one of my favorite passages, from G. K. Chesterson about the power of fairy tales for children:

Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon. Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him for a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors had a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear.

You may have seen this condensed as the quote, “Fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed.”

I don’t present the concept of an Enchanted Outlook because I don’t know the world can be ugly or because I want to blame those who suffer at its expense. Rather, I present this concept because I DO know that it can be an ugly place. I hope that the Enchanted Outlook serves as inspiration to defeat whatever monsters may be out there through offering hope.

And so, with this blog, I offer a shift in perspective that I hope will provide courage to face the world with a renewed spirit, regardless of your circumstances or your beliefs. For, whether you are trying to make small changes in your life, or you are going through a terrible darkness that feels completely out of your control, we all need a spark of hope and happiness in order to fight our own dragons.

 

Featured post

Practicing Gratitude for Growing Older

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No, you didn’t read that title wrong. Yesterday was my birthday and I’m very grateful to be another year older.

A friend of mine in her sixties was getting some dental work done recently. “Maintenance,” she said with a sigh. “It’s just part of growing older.”

I’ve spent a large part of my career with women around twice my age. They are always trying to warn me of the perils of aging. They warn me of how terrible it is and how I really need to appreciate being young. Perhaps these were lessons that never sank in when they were younger. I just smile and nod.

My mother died of cancer at age 49 and my aunt at age 55. They both had a genetic mutation that made them predisposed to the disease. I also had two cousins who died in a car crash when they were in college. For my family, death has never been too far away.

 

I spent about fifteen years not knowing if I had the same gene mutation that killed my mother and my aunt. This meant that I was very unclear on my risk for early mortality. On the one hand, this encouraged me to eat healthy, to get plenty of sleep, to live in the now, and to never take my time for granted. On the other hand, it cast a large question mark over my life.

For some reason, I was never able to find an OBGYN who was willing to do the genetic testing until about a year ago. When I finally got the tests done, I found out that I didn’t have the gene. I was the first woman in my extended family to test negative for it. Suddenly, the second half of my life opened up. I could stand to wait a few years to have children without raising my risk of cancer. I no longer felt silly putting money away for retirement. I could dream about what I might like to do in my golden years. I could count on with a bit more certainly all those milestones of life that others take for granted.

What a lot of women fear in growing older has become for me a blessing for which I am continually grateful. Bring on the achy muscles and creaky knees. Bring on the forgetfulness and the hot flashes and the wrinkles and saggy places. I am ready for all of it because I never knew if I would be able to have those years at all.

Believing from a young age that I could die young had another added benefit: every day counts. Life needs to be lived with no regrets, because we really don’t know when our time will come, and with gratitude, since every day we are alive is a gift. It is not some privilege that life is obligated to give us.

So I have a small request for the young and old. It is good and well to feel what we need to feel and complain when we need to complain. Bad days (and months, and years) happen and are a part of living. But if you can, remember from time to time that the days we have on this earth are a gift. Do it for all those young people who did not have the blessing to be alive today. But more importantly, do it for yourself, because nothing is more nurturing to our own happiness than taking a moment to appreciate the simple act of living and all the wonders it entails.

So this birthday, and every birthday, I am taking a moment to practice gratitude that I was given another year of living. And, I’m thinking of how to squeeze the most magic out of the next year of my life, one day at a time.

In the Present Moment

Taking the ‘Hustle’ out of a Side-Hustle: Work Charms Series

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In the past several years, I have had to think about putting in extra time and doing extra projects outside of traditional work hours to get where I want to go with my career and my life. My husband has as well. This recently brought up the term “side-hustle.” We both agreed that we dislike the term. I mean, what does it mean to “hustle” anyway? I asked Marriam-Webster:

Hustle (V): a to crowd or push roughly

                     b to convey forcibly or hurriedly

                     c to urge forward precipitately

I mean, I get it. Money is tight, the middle class is shrinking, and small businesses are only getting more competitive.  If we have something we are passionate about that we want to develop into a career, we may find ourselves putting in some extra hours outside of our traditional work to make it happen. Or, we may find ourselves taking on something extra just to pay the bills. But- is “hustle” really how we want to describe a business prospect that we want to cultivate? Do we want our deepest career dreams and passions to be forced, hurried and pushed-through? Do we want our life to be a “hustle?”

When I am cultivating a career prospect outside of my primary job, I try to do so with a little TLC- tender loving care – both to myself and the project. I like to take my time. I like to plan it through. I want to think of how my side project will help with my primary career. This blog, for instance, helped me get a job working in literacy last summer and has helped me to improve my writing in the workplace. My husband edits a Youtube channel which helps him to improve his editing skills and also helps him to network in his field, in addition to bringing in a small revenue. Furthermore, we both greatly enjoy these projects. While it’s unrealistic for every second of every side project to be filled with joy and passion, shouldn’t it be something that fills us with greater meaning and helps us to grow as individuals and as professionals?

Simply put, we may have to put more energy into our careers at some points than others to get where we want to go, but at the end of our lives, do we really want to look back and see a “hustle?” Is that really what we think we owe ourselves?

So, let’s reclaim all those additional hours we have put in. Let’s have side passion-projects. Let’s have side growth-generators. Let’s have side money-makers and side career-boosters. Let’s dip our toes in the water, try new things, enjoy each step of the process in a mindful way, and be awake. Let’s remember when we have to put in more hours than we would like that we are rock stars. Let’s embrace those parts where the project gets sticky as a learning opportunity and celebrate every step of the way. Let’s treat every obstacle as an exciting challenge we can overcome. Let’s pat ourselves on the back for going above and beyond, for being innovators, for daring to dream.

But please, let’s not hustle.

The Very Foundations

5 Ways to be a Happier Traveler: A Weekend in Raleigh

Raleigh World

Last week, I shared how I had ditched my travel bucket list in favor of choosing to travel to one new place each year with intention. This year’s trip was to Raleigh, NC. In addition to sharing about my trip, I would like to show how I applied what I have learned about happiness over the years to this trip in order to make it a little more magical.

1. Money Does Not a Good Experience Make. This was a bit of a budget trip for my husband and I; we each spent an average of about $300 including food, hotel, and transportation. Because I knew going into the trip that we would be watching our dollars, and because I knew that I didn’t have to spend money to have a good time, I searched for free things to do in the city. Raleigh happens to have a fantastic -and huge– natural science museum. We spent hours checking out the dinosaur and whale bones, local gem stones, and creepy crawlies. There was even a butterfly room that also had an adorable sloth! While our time there was free, I did make a small donation as a token of thanks and also purchased a bar of fair trade chocolate from the gift shop.

Raleigh bones

2. But Novel Experiences are Worth the Splurge. I suppose an experience can be novel without being a splurge, but there was one novel experience that we wanted to splurge on while we were there: Brewery Bhavana. It’s a creative space that is part brewery, part book store, part florist, and part dim sum restaurant. Oh, and did I mention it’s gorgeous? The dim sum restaurant, which has been internationally ranked, was well worth the splurge and was one of the best meals we have ever had. We celebrated our anniversary there.

Brewery Bhavana

3. Spend on experiences, not things. Knowing that experiences bring more happiness than physical things, I spent most of my money on the experience. I did purchase one non-food souvenir, my weekly purchase for that week, at the Raleigh Flea Market. It’s a ring which I believe is made out of rhodochrosite. I thought that was perfect for me because it is supposed to represent the heart, both giving to others but also self-care. It’s also native to North Carolina. It was a nice little memento to remind me of the trip.

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4. Travel according to your values. I don’t know about you, but I always feel better when my actions align with my values. When my husband wanted to check out the local farmer’s market, I was all on board. Raleigh has a very nice market that is a lot bigger than the one near our home. We enjoyed looking at all the local vendors and had lunch at a seafood restaurant on-site afterwards.

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It was pouring down rain at the market and none of my photos turned out. I guess that just means I’ll have to go back! Fortunately, the whole market was covered so we stayed dry.

5. Leave time to recharge. Because we had our own transportation, we had a little leeway in terms of planning and decided not to plan every second of the trip. This left us with some time to wander, to relax with a cup of tea or coffee, and also some time to recharge in our hotel room. As an introvert myself, I always appreciate taking a little time to relax when away from home, and I always find that a hotel room is the perfect place for a little extra pampering and self-care.

raleigh coffee cup

Now, I’d like to clarify that I wan’t going around calculating the way to maximize my percentage of happiness on my trip minute-by-minute. That would be no fun at all! I simply naturally found myself applying these skills because I have been cultivating them for years at this point. So, if you are trying to go for a happier trip, maybe try to incorporate one or two of these skills, or maybe read over the list ahead of time, but ditch any “formulas” for the trip itself. After all, having an intentional, mindful experience is also key for a happy vacation!

What do you do when you travel that makes the experience more magical?

Why I Ditched my Travel Bucket List

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When I was younger, I had a dream of visiting all seven continents. Ambitious? Maybe. But truth be told, I was very fortunate to be off to a good start. I had already visited Africa and Europe and I live in North America. Since my husband is Korean American, there was a good chance that we would visit Asia at some point in our lifetimes as well. I’d had a good friend who had already accomplished this goal of visiting every continent in her early twenties, which made it seem even more achievable.

Despite the fact that I was farther along with this goal than many people my age, I realized it wasn’t making me happy. The reason was that I was focusing on this one big goal rather than traveling with intention. I have talked about before the impact that daily intentional activities have on our happiness. Trips that didn’t help me reach that goal felt insignificant, rather than the gifts that they were. Furthermore, I worried how disappointed I would feel if I never met my goal, rather than feeling gratitude that I had the ability to travel, a privilege denied to many.

As I have grown older, I have focused less on big life goals and more on living with daily intention. While going through this change, I came across this quote:

Once a year, go someplace you have never been before.

This quote is often falsely attributed to the Dalai Lama and I can’t find its originator, but nevertheless, it stuck with me. To me, this became a much more proactive, intentional way to vacation than focusing on one big bucket list. Moreover, it depended much less on how much time I had because the trip could be the next town over or a cross-country road trip. It depended less on how much money I had, because I could camp out in a tent or splurge on a five-star hotel. It also depended less on personal limitations, like who would watch my dog or if I had a physical condition later in life that limited travel.

The main reason I like this philosophy of travel better, though, is that I had four continents left, but *hopefully* I could have 60+ years. That is potentially 56 more opportunities to get excited, to plan, to daydream about my upcoming trips, than if I was focusing on reaching the remaining continents. It means every year I will go somewhere new! I think that’s pretty exciting! And hey, maybe I will still get to visit every continent, but if I do, my mindset for going will be, in my opinion, more healthy.

I even keep this philosophy in mind on a weekly or even daily basis. Since I have recently moved to a new city, I have ample opportunity to explore new places regularly, whether it be a new grocery store or a park down the road. When given the choice, nine times out of ten I will choose a novel choice over a familiar one because novelty has been shown to be correlated with happiness.

The first year I started this new plan was the year of our honeymoon; we went on a cruise, so I got to visit three new places: Haiti, Jamaica, and Grand Cayman. Last year, we didn’t go on any big trips (though we attended two out-of-town weddings at locations we had been before), but we did go to Cherokee Casino, and I had never been to Cherokee, NC before. And this year we are going to… Raleigh, NC!

I’ve stopped in a mall in Raleigh, once, and spent some time in Durham, but I haven’t spent time in Raleigh Proper, so I’m pretty excited. Pictures and details to come!

Have you ever had a time when you re-evaluated a life goal because it wasn’t making you happy?

Money Won’t Create Success

Money Won't Create Success

A controversial quote here, but a new favorite of mine. I love Mandela’s perspective on the prospect of making money as a freedom denied to many due to lack of societal upward economic mobility. We talk about a lot of freedoms in this world, but having the freedom to earn a living or achieve success through working hard is one that, in my opinion, we could champion a lot more. I am thinking of my fellow humans who have been denied that freedom today.

Seven Reasons I Only Buy One Product a Week (Little Life Charms Series)

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It’s time for more Little Life Charms! After taking a bit of a hiatus, I recently went back to my method of purchasing only one item a week. This includes everything from soap to car parts to clothing and makeup, but not food or medication (I see those two as absolute needs and don’t find value in restricting them, personally.) It also does not include gifts. While I am glad that I took time to try other means of budgeting and loosening the reins a bit, re-starting this method really reminded me how much I love- and truly enjoy, only purchasing one item a week.

  1. It saves me money.  I had no idea how many small, thoughtless items I purchased on a regular basis before changing to this method. If you haven’t ever counted or made a list of your day-to-day purchases, I’d encourage you to do so at least once. It’s enlightening! I generally find that, barring some kind of last-minute unexpected emergency, purchasing one item a week still gives me all my needs and then some. In purchasing only one item a week, I can put additional income from items I would have purchased, but didn’t need, into savings. It also allows me to invest more in experiences, which research has shown leads to greater happiness.
  2. I enjoy what I purchase to the same extent. Happiness research shows that part of the reason we enjoy making purchases is because we get a burst of dopamine when we make a purchase. I don’t like buying a bunch of things at once because I have realized that I have the same “zing” in my brain whether I purchase one thing or one hundred. Better to space them out, I feel. I also feel more gratitude towards being able to purchase some of my needs, and have realized that some things I had considered “needs” are actually “wants.”
  3. It keeps my space tidier. Not only do I bring less items into my life, but I am more likely to use up things that I already have. I recently was running low on foundation. I decided to use up one I wasn’t too keen on, but that worked just fine, before purchasing the new one.
  4. It helps me to be more eco-friendly. Purchasing one item a week allows me to really prioritize what I need and not buy things in excess. If I only want a new tshirt but I need a new shampoo, I will only purchase the shampoo that week and save the tshirt for later. And you know what- I find that I really look forward to using the shampoo in a way that I maybe wouldn’t have before. It also helps me to think about how long the product I am purchasing will really last, and I find that I lean more towards reusable products and towards quality products that will last a long time.
  5. It is easier to make better, more ethical purchases. Because I purchase less, I tend to think through every purchase more. I will think about where the pants I purchased were made, or if it might be better to try to find them secondhand. Slowing down my purchases allows me to really think about quality and to use that mental energy I might have been focusing on multiple items I wanted to buy and hone it towards that one item.
  6. It saves me time. Despite spending a little more time considering each item up-front, I still don’t spend as much time shopping as I used to. I turn that part of my brain off after deciding what my purchase will be for the week and I focus on other things. And again, an emphasis on re-usable, more durable, or bulk products means that I have less decision fatigue.
  7. It allows me to be creative. I was recently going to purchase some re-usable cleaning cloths, but then I realized that I could make some instead out of some used fabric. I’ve also made my own cleaning products and found new uses for old pieces of furniture. In short, I find a lot more joy and gratitude in what I already have, rather than focusing on what I don’t have.

What about you? Do you have little spending “charms” or rules that help you to feel happier or to better meet your goals? Or, do you find those types of things restrictive? Are you a hard-liner when it comes to the rules, or do you allow yourself a little wiggle room?

experience of being alive Campbell

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