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Objects and Happiness: Time-Turners

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A while back, I wrote a Creatures and Happiness Series, where I talked about magical creatures and what they can teach us about happiness. Now I would like to do the same with magical objects. This series will be a little different though; instead of simply talking about the metaphor behind the magic, I will be relating the magical object to a real-world equivalent. Hopefully, this can open our eyes to the wondrous things that are already all around us.

In the Harry Potter series, there is a device called a time turner. In the series, it is primarily used in such a way that the user gets some extra time in their day to accomplish things. Wouldn’t we all like a device like that? Alas, I have no magical time-giving necklace, but I do use a few apps and tools that, to me, are just as magical in terms of helping me use the time I do have more wisely. I’m not affiliated with any of these companies; I just wanted to share some nifty (free!) ways to give yourself a little more time.

1. Overdrive– Lately, I’ve had a hard time finding the time to sit down and read a book, but I do have plenty of time in the car or while exercising to listen to a book. The overdrive app allows you to get free audio-books on your phone through your local library. In addition to being fun, this is a great resource to learn something new. If your library is participating, all you need is a library card. Think of it like a free audible.com. Ebooks are also available. Sometimes, you have to place a book on hold until it becomes available, but, I figure that I technically do the same thing with audible, as my subscription only allows me to check out one book a month. So, make sure to leave a little shopping time a couple of weeks prior to when you want to read your book, especially if it is very popular.

2. Headspace– I know this is a pretty common one, but I wanted to talk specifically about how Headspace helps me to save time. In addition to allowing you the benefits of meditation- including feeling more clear-headed and focused and therefore more productive, Headspace allows you to set a daily time in which to meditate. I set mine to 12:30 (around lunchtime) and right now it’s set to just five minutes a day. Headspace will send you a reminder when your scheduled time approaches. You can also opt for daily messages of encouragement. Where I would normally drag my feet in finding time to meditate, having a daily reminder and a brief meditation time helps me to make it a habit.

3. Drops– This is a language app that teaches you a language in just five minutes a day. It’s in the form of a game, and you can play it while waiting in line, while on your lunchbreak, or even in the bathroom if you are so inclined. Five minutes might not seem like much, but over time, you can learn a lot! And did I mention it’s beautiful?

4. Stay Focused– These apps go by different names but this is the one I use. This limits website time on certain sites. I have mine set for 20 minutes. Currently, it’s just on Facebook for me, but you can select any websites where you feel you are spending more time than you would like. I only wish you could customize the time for the website (such as 1.5 hours for Netflix, 30 minutes for Pinterest, 15 for Facebook, etc.) If anyone knows of an app that can do that, please let me know!

5. The Skimm-  I don’t have this as an app although I believe they have one (I’m just on their email list). They send you news highlights that can be read in about five minutes, along with links to longer news sources if you want to read more in depth, or verify the info. They are geared more towards millennial women and the writing style is very colloquial, so it may not be everyone’s thing. For me, it’s an easy way to get some quick highlights for those days when I don’t have time to read all of my traditional news sources. And bonus: they emphasize quick and easy-to-follow updates on international news, something I struggle to find with many American newspapers.

You may be asking though, what does all this have to do with happiness? While time management may not directly lead to happiness, it certainly leaves us with less stress and more time to prioritize happiness. The trick is to be intentional about using that extra time in our day to invest in things that truly bring us joy. So, while we may not be able to turn back time, we can set aside more time for happiness.

What is your favorite time management tip?

Investing in Being a Good Citizen (Investment Charms Series)

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I’ll admit, this post comes after a number of failures on my part. Working in the social services field means I’m often seeing the direct, day-to-day impact of policy changes, which can feel frustrating. I’ve gotten lost in my share of ugly internet debates. I’ve burnt out trying to address everything I care about at once. I’ve found myself feeling bitter and even despondent. I don’t think any of these reactions was “wrong,” but, none of them helped me to be a better citizen, nor did they make me feel any better.  So, I went back to the drawing board. What does citizenship actually mean?

Citizenship

  • the fact or status of being a citizen of a particular place

  • the qualities that a person is expected to have as a responsible member of a community

This post is about the second definition. What kind of qualities make someone a responsible member of a community? I’ve spent a lot of time lately trying to figure out what it looks like to be a good citizen and how to have good citizenship in a way that was healthy, sustaining, and encouraging growth, while not shying away from taking responsibility for truths that need addressing. I came up with a combination of four areas of citizenship: ownership, goodwill, education, and action. Focusing on these four areas has helped me to be a happier and more effective citizen, so I wanted to share in case they were helpful to others as well.

Now, by ownership, I mean recognizing the ways in which we benefit (if indeed we do) from being a citizen of a particular governance or organization and then feeling a responsibility for our part in that governance or organization. Maybe we have the opportunity to attend a school. Maybe we can use emergency services. Maybe our area has public museums or parks.  When we do benefit from our citizenship, perhaps this can bring about a sense of both gratitude and responsibility. I like to think that we as citizens of our nations and our communities can take a certain pride and ownership in helping maintain services that are for the benefit of all people. It also means realizing the impact that our decisions can have in the community as a whole and taking ownership of the results of our decisions.

By goodwill, I mean having a general attitude of cooperation and good intent towards others.  This means humanizing individuals from all walks of life. I don’t take this to mean always being agreeable with everyone; in some circumstances, it may mean standing one’s ground or setting boundaries without resorting to disrespect or ridicule. I think that setting boundaries and standing our ground can sometimes be an act of kindness and compassion, if this is done with an attitude of goodwill. And personally, I think it is much easier to have goodwill towards others if we first practice self-love and self-acceptance. I find it is much more difficult to empathize from a place of hurt, shame, or fear.

By education, I mean immersing oneself in the diverse needs and challenges of the community. To me, this means not only consuming a variety of media sources with strong codes of ethics, but also making efforts to reach out to community members from all walks of life. This means going out of our comfort zone and questioning our preconceived notions. If this feels time-consuming, it doesn’t have to be. It can mean making small changes over time, such as as liking social media pages about various social or environmental interests or subscribing to brief email updates, and in turn sharing that information with others. To dig deeper, volunteering can be a great way to learn more about community needs, and can be fun at the same time! Which leads me to…

Action. I find it most helpful to focus on action-oriented solutions. While it’s great to have a general knowledge of community needs, I would recommend picking one or two causes to become actively involved in so you don’t burn out. This means finding effective ways of giving back to the community and also sharing those ways with others. I would also personally encourage statistically significant, data-driven ways of giving back. Look into annual reports and results of studies, if they are available. Action has an added benefit because I find that negative people tend to have a harder time arguing with concrete actions rather than words. Action can be anything from volunteer work to donations, to engaging in community events to, of course, giving feedback and voting on issues. And finally, action might sometimes mean accepting that the way in which we have previously engaged as citizens might be harmful, and making meaningful changes to better the way we interact with our communities.

Now, when I find myself in a political or social conundrum or a disagreement, I move down that list. Am I taking good ownership on the issue as a member of my community? Am I responding in a way that exhibits goodwill to others? Do I have enough education on the subject at hand, and if so, have I taken the time to help educate others? And finally, have I taken action towards effective change rather than just talking about the issue?

You may be wondering what any of this has to do with investments and why I’ve included it in the investment series. Well, as Dr. Martin Luther King once said,

“Whatever effects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”

Never forget that when we invest in our community as a whole, we also invest in ourselves. To me, citizenship is a verb, not a noun. There are so many different ways of being engaged citizens of our communities. When we take the responsibility to learn more about our communities’ needs and act accordingly, we are able to pay forward the benefits that being members of that community has afforded us.

Do you like these tenants of ownership, goodwill, education and action? Is there something else related to good citizenship that I’ve overlooked? Or, is there a tactic you use in order to be a happier, more engaged citizen of your community?

Investing in Rest (Investment Charms Series)

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Lately, I’ve been feeling guilty. I’ve had my first summer break in about eight years and it’s delightful. Naturally, I’ve been wanting to make the most of it. Instead, I find myself sleeping more than I mean to and spending much of my time prepping for school, making annual appointments and check-ups, or up-keeping things that have been neglected during my busy school year. If not doing that, I’ve mostly been laying around reading, watching TV, and browsing things in Pinterest.

After a few weeks of feeling guilty, I ordered a new planner and made a few lists. I made a list of things I needed to accomplish, things I wanted to do for fun, and things I was needing to purchase prior to starting school in the fall. I filled in my planner so that I would have an approximate timeline to accomplish things. However, I also left time to rest.

Rest is essential to our well-being. It allows our bodies and minds to recharge. It helps us to be more resilient and ward off illness. It can even make us more creative and productive. Currently, I’m resting in three different ways: I’m sleeping more, I’m laying around doing “nothing” more, and I’m organizing my affairs in preparation for the fall. I hope to start school feeling very well-rested and having a clear mind.

So, the next time you find yourself feeling guilty for resting, remember that you are investing in your own health, your mental wellness, and your future creativity and productivity. Resting isn’t an escape from productivity; it’s an essential part of productivity.

What is your favorite way to rest?

Investing in Helpful Thoughts (Investment Charms Series)

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Last week, I talked about investing in decisions that will lead to less stress and better outcomes in the future. This week, I would like to talk about a different kind of investment: our thoughts.

Thoughts may be a bit more difficult to change than decisions. While we can see the external result of the decisions we make, we may not be as aware of our thought processes. Still, I think there is a lot of value in taking the time to invest in our way of thinking. So often, we work to exercise our bodies, but we neglect to exercise our minds.

What I have done in the past and have found to be helpful is to start with one thought process to work on first. Maybe you would like to change a certain language usage or pay closer attention to the way you treat yourself internally.  It helps to take some time to first be mindful and present with your current thought process. That way, you know where your starting point is and what you would like to change. Consider journaling, meditating, or talking things over with a friend to get started. Pay attention to the way you talk to yourself or to what you think about when you try to make plans or set goals.

Consider also having an external reminder of the change you would like to make, whether that be a written goal, a quote that speaks to your desired change, or even something symbolic, like a piece of art or jewelry. Strange as it may seem, I have used rings before to represent certain goals because I tend to look at my hands frequently as I type or write. I have one ring that I use to represent mindfulness and another that I use to represent self-care. Regardless, it helps for it be be something you notice regularly. Consider setting a reminder on your phone if you would like, or choosing a particular time of day with which to reflect on your goal.

The idea behind this is that changing our way of thinking takes practice and repetition, but it can have huge benefits in the long-run. With some time and effort, you may find yourself feeling better, having a more positive outlook, or finding it easier to meet your goals. Finally, if you are struggling to identify your thought patterns or make the changes you would like to make, consider seeing a licensed counselor, who can help identify any thought patterns that may be maladaptive and offer alternatives.

Is there something you have invested in that you found to be particularly helpful? If so, feel free to share!

Investing in Decisions (Investment Charm Series)

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Welcome to my new series on investment! In this series, I want to expand the meaning of the term investment beyond just finances and look into the power of making life choices that encourage growth. Looking at my life choices in the framework of this word for the past year-and-a-half has really changed my perspective and helped me to grow as a person.

I have lately been suffering from some major decision fatigue. I think it has been a combination of a lot of life changes in a short time and a job that requires minute-by-minute decision changes. One thing I have learned from working in the mental health field is that when we are very stressed, we tend to make the choices that seem the easiest in the moment. Our brains struggle to put in the extra effort and energy to find the best overall long-term solution. And it can feel like a relief to have made the decision, even if that decision is an unhealthy or maladaptive one.

So, one thing I have been doing lately is investing a little more time on the upfront on many of my decisions in order to consider what will be easiest and/or best for me long-term. For instance, I put in some extra research when considering buying new make-up because I couldn’t find a make-up company that really worked for me and that I was passionate about. I have now found Elate Cosmetics* and am super excited to be building an eco-friendly capsule make-up collection that I hope to use as my go-to for years to come.

I’ve also invested in many reusable products lately. While the cost is sometimes bigger upfront, it has saved me time and money to only purchase a product once, rather than purchasing the same things repeatedly. This gives me more mental energy to prioritize my other life purchases.

Another example would be going back to school. This was a big choice, and one that I had been considering, but putting off, for years. In part, my hesitancy was due to the expense and not wanting to have debt. Last June, I buckled down and really did my research. Little did I know that, for the program I had interest in, the city where I lived had the cheapest in the country and was also well-ranked nationally.

Obviously, if we took this kind of consideration with every single decision our lives, our brains would be exhausted. But maybe pick an area to start. I started with purchasing products because I was exploring using less waste, but you may wish to start with relationships or big life decisions. Ask yourself:

1. Does this decision align with my values? Will I feel good about the decision in the long-term? Does it make me happy to make this decision? Does it feel right? Is it healthy?

2. Does this decision help to curb future decision-making? Is it a re-usable or long-lasting choice? Does it have an aspect of versatility to it? Will I continue to love this decision long-term? Am I only making the decision “for now” only to confront it later or is it a choice that is “settled” and clears my mind to focus on other things?

3. Is this decision an investment? Did I make the choice that will help me to grow as a person? Will it make my life easier long-term? Will this decision bring more wealth into my life, whether that be a wealth of good relationships, morals, materials, or happiness? Will this decision blossom?

You might find other questions to be helpful in your life as well, but these three were a good place for me to start. I would also add to not be afraid to think outside the box. You may find the decision that best fits you and your life is an unconventional one- I certainly have from time to time. So, I wish you a happy decision-making process, and may your choices bring you joy and help you to thrive!

*This post was not sponsored by Elate Cosmetics; I’m just excited to share a new product I am passionate about!

My current buzzword is investment. Is there a word or phrase that you like to use that has brought a bit of “charm” into your life? If so, I would love to hear it!

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.

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.

rhodochrosite

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?

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