You’ve got a friend

Author and her best friend

There are no words to describe the comfort of a friend. Friends console us when we’re down. They are a sympathetic ear when troubles weigh heavy on your heart and the first person to say I believe in you. You will overcome this.

They share in life’s joys, sorrows and celebrations. They are the person you turn to when you need a hug, or someone to listen without judgement, or just want to share a laugh or what’s on your mind. They love you unconditionally, warts and all. Without them, we’d be lost.  

It’s a scientific fact that having one good friend has a significant impact on happiness. It’s not surprising having a friend increases your happiness in good times, but it’s been proven that having a friend is critical during times of stress when you need help.

In his New York University course The Science of Happiness, Dr. Alan Schlechter lectures about the “tend and befriend” response. The cousin to the fight or flight response, the tend and befriend response is when the hormone oxytocin, induced by stress tells us to reach out for help. When we reach out to a friend, our cortisone level goes down and we feel better.

They say you’re lucky to have at least one true friend in your lifetime. I’ve been fortunate enough to have two, my best friend Leslie and my husband Dave. Thanks for being my rock, guys. I love you both.

This week’s #HappyAct is to tell your best friend how much they mean to you.

Author and her other best friend, her husband

Explore a new neighbourhood

Graffiti
Street art installation on the Waterfront Trail at the Cataraqui River in Kingston

About a month ago, I started a new job. One of the perks of changing jobs is I’ve been able to explore a new area of Kingston on my daily walks at lunch.

This isn’t the touristy part of the Kingston. You won’t find photos of the north side of Princess Street in the glossy travel brochures, but I‘ve found my new little neighbourhood has heart and soul in spades and is full of hidden gems.

My first stroll took me down the Waterfront Trail along the Cataraqui River near the old Woolen Mill. There were dozens of swans gracefully swimming in the river, and turtles basking in the sunshine on the shore. A group of school girls were having their photos taken on the big grassy area by the water and people were out jogging and walking their dogs.

Across the trail was a street art installation with the most amazing graffiti. The sign said people were free to paint over any of the sections, but you could tell the graffiti had been there for some time.

Graffiti
Graffiti

The next day I walked up some of the back streets, past brightly coloured orange, yellow and green houses like you’d find in Newfoundland or Nova Scotia, and homes with kiosks out front saying, “Take what you need, leave what you can”. I found a poetry garden with a poem by Lorna Crozier and sidewalks with chalk signs that offered up lemonade and free dog biscuits.

Green coloured house
Yellow coloured house

Another day, I was walking along Rideau Street and saw a young woman walking a dog with gorgeous black, brown and white markings. The dog promptly stopped and sat down at the corner. I was curious why the dog stopped so I stood and watched. The girl looked over and smiled and waited.

The door to a house across the street swung open and another young woman emerged and crossed the road with a plastic bag full of dog treats. It was clear this was a daily routine. It was a beautiful moment that I felt lucky to witness that showed how deep and caring the connections were in my new neck of the woods.  

This week’s #HappyAct is to explore a new area of your city. You never know what hidden gems and stories you may find.

Food lending library
Poetry garden
Sidewalk sign lemonade and free dog treats

Spend time with a different type of screen

Dog in screened porch

I’ve always loved a screen porch. There’s just something special about feeling like you’re outdoors, in nature but without the bugs, and spending quality time talking, playing cards, reading or doing puzzles.

The other night after dinner, I wandered into the front room and asked Dave where the girls were. He said he thought Clare was in the screened porch doing school work.

I went to join her and found Grace sitting on the futon, gently strumming her guitar while Clare sat in the lounger under a fluffy duvet writing out an assignment. I joined them and we just sat there for about an hour, listening to the chords float into the air, the birds chirping outside and watching the cotton candy sky swirl above the leafy treetops as the sun went down.

It was a special moment in a special place and I was so grateful to be able to spend time with my girls, with no phones, computers or devices to take away from the peace, serenity and tranquility of our beautiful surroundings.

This week’s #HappyAct is to spend some time with a different type of screen. Here’s a picture of Bentley after a swim in our screened porch.

Life lessons from happy cats with cattitude

Two cats staring at each other through a window
Photo caption: Yoyo and Ginsu in a standoff. We renamed Ginsu “Lil Putin” because he makes trouble everywhere he goes. 

Those of you who know me well or who have followed this blog, know I am a dog lover. In the interests of diversity, equity and inclusion, I welcome the diverse perspective of cat people. I hope you enjoy this week’s post on cats from guest blogger and cat lover, Jill Yokoyama!

When Laurie first started writing her weekly blog I remember commenting on the name “happy act” and joking that she would have to do a “happy cat” post sometime. That day has arrived! 

I have always been a “cat person” and growing up our family always had a cat or two as pets. For the last ten years, Gary & I have shared a home with our cat Yoyo. She is a run-of-the-mill brown tabby with lots of “cattitude” and one of Gary’s lines is “Careful, you can be replaced; there are 20,000 cats just like you in Hamilton…” Despite this joking threat, she has worked her way firmly into our hearts and we are endlessly amused by Yoyo. 

After spending the last two years 24/7 observing Yoyo, here are some important life lessons from a cat:

  • Always take the opportunity for a long nap. Even if it seems like you just woke up from a nap, it’s never too early to consider another one. 
  • Wallow in the sunshine whenever possible–close your eyes, stretch out and relax.
  • Spend a few minutes every day with your people, showing your love & affection for them. 
  • Be curious about the world around you, whether it be the swirling flush of the toilet or what might be on the kitchen counter.
  • Take joy in small pleasures. Chase a piece of string around the house like it is your most precious treasure. 
  • Defend yourself loudly and unreservedly when a bully comes around. Even if you are small, puff up your tail and fur and believe in your ability to take on a larger foe.
  • Always say yes to treats!

We hope you enjoyed this week’s #HappyCat!

My unscientific poll on work and happiness

happy co-workers

Recently I emailed a dozen friends and asked them three questions about how happy they were at work. The results were very revealing. The people who responded work in all sectors, government, private sector and self-employed. Here are the results of my unscientific poll on work and happiness:

My first question was, “Are you happy at work?”

More than half were not happy at work. Some said they were ashamed to admit it, because “they have a pretty good gig”; one person said they weren’t happy but planned to slog it out until retirement. A quarter of respondents said they were happy, and one person said at different times in their career they’ve been happy, and unhappy at other times.

When I asked what was the cause of their happiness or unhappiness at work,

On the plus side, the common themes were working with great people, loving what they do, and the variety of work. One person said they work in a low-stress environment and have an eight-minute commute, so they can come home for lunch every day if they want.

For those unhappy at work, here were some of the reasons they cited for their unhappiness:

  • Lack of involvement and inclusion and team camaraderie.
  • Being tired of dealing with some teams who don’t appreciate the work they do.
  • The inactivity associated with being on a computer eight hours a day.
  • One person said working within an environment where there are too many people in authority who “literally don’t have a clue what they are doing” and a “poisonous” atmosphere as a result of so many people being off on leave, creating more work for those left behind who are still working diligently.
  • One person who is self-employed said, “I’m bored, but I like the flexibility of what I do, so I stay at it. Also, the administration associated with being self-employed is a tough slog. I’m always behind on that, so that creates guilt that I’m not keeping on top of things.”

My final question was “What would make you happy or happier at work?”

  • Being valued and respected and having their work acknowledged was a common theme, along with being able to do more of what they love to do and having challenging projects.  
  • Better work-life balance, and being compensated fairly and seeing more transparency in salary grids were cited as other key factors.
  • One person said they’d like to have a friend at work and work with a diverse team.
  • The one person who was unhappy at work in the “poisonous” environment said they cope by focusing on their family, volunteering and sports and outdoor activities to remind themselves of what’s important in life.
  • On a lighter note, one person wanted a Keurig machine, a fitness room with a treadmill or exercise bike and another an office cat (for me, it would be a dog!)

So what does this tell us and what can we do to be happier at work? Scientific studies show having at least one good friend at work is a key contributor to happiness. Making sure we choose a positive environment where we work with good people and where our work is respected is critical.

As we emerge from this pandemic, we have a unique opportunity to redefine our relationship with work. At the core of the discussion should be these three questions.

Special thanks to the people who participated in my unscientific poll.

More reading on work and happiness

Slow down, you move too fast

Song lyrics

For many of us, life is about to get really busy again after two years of discovering a slower pace of life. When things become crazy and out of control, remember to slow down and make the morning last.

You never know what you will see when you slow down. The other day, I was running late and hitting land speed records on my back roads over to Sydenham. I came up behind a farmer’s tractor and had to slow down and follow him around the curves. While I crawled behind the tractor, I looked to the left and saw a beautiful herd of deer in the field grazing on the green tufts shooting up through the last remains of snow. If I hadn’t slowed down to follow that tractor, I would have never seen such a beautiful sight. 

So remember,

Slow down, you move too fast
You got to make the morning last…

I got no deeds to do
No promises to keep
I’m dappled and drowsy and ready to sleep
Let the morning time drop all its petals on me
Life, I love you
All is groovy

Still one of my favourite Simon and Garfunkle songs of all time. Here they are performing The 59th Bridge Street Song live.

Ten love quotes for Valentine’s Day

poster of love quote

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, the day you’ll find panicked husbands staring blankly in the empty aisles of Shopper’s Drug Mart, scrambling to find the perfect last minute $10 card and box of heart-shaped chocolates.

For me, Valentine’s Day is simply a day to tell the people I love how much I care for them and how I can’t imagine living life without them. Here are my ten favourite love quotes for Valentine’s Day.

“We are most alive when we are in love.”
John Updike

“The only thing we never get enough of is love; and the only thing we never give enough of is love.”
Henry Miller

“Love and work, work and love… that’s all there is.”
Sigmund Freud (defining happiness and reflecting on the importance of relationships and having a sense of purpose)

“When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”
Nora Ephron

“It is a curious thought, but it is only when you see people looking ridiculous that you realize just how much you love them.”
Agatha Christie

“Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.”
Oprah Winfrey

“True love stories never have endings.”
Richard Bach

“Never love anyone who treats you like you’re ordinary.”
Oscar Wilde

“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”
Charles M. Schulz

And an important one for the times we live in,

“I have decided to stick to love; hate is too great a burden to bear.”
Martin Luther King Jr.

And if I were to add my own:

“The greatest teacher of love is a dog.”
Laurie Swinton

This week’s #HappyAct is to look beyond the consumer trappings of Valentine’s Day and tell the ones you love how much they mean to you. But hey, like Snoopy’s Dad said, a little chocolate isn’t going to hurt anyone.

Making soup is good for the soul

Special guest blog by Jill Yokoyama

Every year when the end of autumn rolls around and the weather gets chilly, I start making soup. There is nothing like a warm bowl of homemade soup to lift one’s spirits. Growing up my mom used to make soup occasionally and I guess it rubbed off on me.

My first attempt at making soup was in the early 1990’s when I was about 25 years old and knew next to nothing about cooking. I made a pot of leek and potato soup which resembled wallpaper paste and I ended up throwing most of it out.

I didn’t attempt soup again until I taught at Alloa Public School in Brampton in the late 1990s. The teachers had a weekly soup club and this is where my soup-making skills really got started. I had to bring a big pot of soup and the pressure was on for it to be delicious. We would share recipes and it was a bright spot every week throughout the winter. Gradually I collected a lot of great soup recipes. Some of them are quick and easy and some of them require a bit more time and preparation, but they all are made with healthy ingredients and are a quick “picker-upper” if you are not feeling well.

For the last 10 years at least I make soup every week. Gary and I have it for dinner at least once a week and I would take it to school for lunch as well. If anyone I know is sick or needs a little TLC, I bring them some soup. I make a different soup each week and by the time I get through all my favourite recipes, winter is mostly in the rear-view mirror.

During these frigid, snowy days why not try your hand at making soup? Here is one of my favourite recipes, thanks to Libby Dawson for sharing it with me.

For the little ones in your life: check out this YouTube video of the children’s folk tale, Stone Soup, proof that soup brings out the best in people.

Sweet Potato Bean Soup – serves 6

1 tbsp. each butter & vegetable oil

½ onion, coarsely chopped

1 rounded tsp. curry powder

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled & diced

5 c. stock (boiling hot)

19 oz. (540 mL) can white beans (kidney or navy), rinsed & drained

1 tbsp. each balsamic vinegar & maple syrup (both are optional)

Salt & ground pepper

Plain yogurt; chopped fresh coriander or parsley

Heat butter & oil in a large saucepan over med heat. 

Add onion and cook about 5 minutes until soft but not brown. 

Add curry powder; cook while stirring for 1 minute 

Add sweet potatoes; cook for a few minutes

Add hot stock and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer covered for 20 minutes or until sweet potato is soft

Add half of the beans. Puree until smooth, and then add the rest of the beans. 

Add vinegar and maple syrup, stir, and serve with yogurt and parsley/coriander on top.

See past your thoughts

Dog walking in the woods

Have you ever gone for a walk or a drive, and arrived not remembering anything you’ve seen along the way because you were so lost in your thoughts?

It happens to me more than I would like to admit.

I’m conscious of it now, so when it happens, I stop in mid-stride if I’m walking, scold my brain, and start looking at the world around me. I make a conscious effort to be in the moment, listen to the wind in the trees, the birds, see the snow glistening on the pines and just take it all in.

It’s easy to become prisoners of our thoughts. It’s hard work to see past them.

1,000 days

People wearing masks in 1918 in California

Very early on in the pandemic, an older caretaker of a church told Dave, “It will be a 1,000 days, every pandemic takes a 1,000 days.”

The Spanish flu lasted from February 1918 to April 1920. The World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 pandemic on March 11, 2020. By my count, we are at 675 days which means we have about 10 months left of living with COVID.

For the first time in almost two years, I am quietly optimistic we are beginning to see the light at the end of the COVID tunnel.

Early on, the other catchphrase was herd immunity. The pandemic will subside when a large proportion of the population has either contracted the disease or developed enough antibodies through vaccines to protect themselves from contracting the disease. With the highly contagious Omicron variant, we are now seeing herd immunity in action.

This week’s #HappyAct is to allow yourself to hope. Stay strong during these last few critical weeks and months and let’s all continue doing what we need to do to support our beleaguered healthcare workers who have been the real heroes on the front lines.

I choose to hope the end is near, and I for one, can’t wait to see what’s on the other side.

Ed. Note: This post is not based on any scientific evidence. Please take it as it’s intended, hopeful musings that brighter days lay ahead.