A bagpiper walks into a blog

Man in kiltSpecial guest blog by David Swinton.

Ok, I’ll admit it. When my wife started this blog, I rolled my eyes and said ‘God Help Us’. Why would any person feel she is in a position to tell others how to be happier?

For a while, I even nicknamed it the ‘Crappy Act’. But personally deep down, I knew that there was no one better qualified to accomplish this mission. I have known my wife for almost 35 years. To this day, she continues to amaze me with her positive, energetic look at life. You might not always agree with her take on happiness (what the heck is an Easter Chicken anyway) but you loyal readers still come week after week to expand your happiness quotient.

When she asked me to fill in for her this week, I knew exactly what I wanted to say. After my Mom died over a year ago, I spent a lot of nights asking myself why should someone so giving of herself be taken in such a cruel manner. As with all tragic events, I started to question my own existence and where I fit into this continually evolving saga we call life. As my thoughts drifted more and more, I realized how complicated my own life had become. Between work, hockey practices, 4-H, bagpipes and the general pace of the world these days, I felt myself struggling to stay engaged. What kind of life is that? You only get one shot at it, folks.

So, in response to this, I have decided to focus at least a half hour each day to the appreciation of the simplest things in my life. One day, it might be the cardinal that has mysteriously appeared after my mother (an avid birder) died. The next day it might be the sound of wind whistling through the large pines around the house. One night I might watch a flying squirrel drift into the feeder from the darkness of the forest. The next, read a good book in a quiet corner boiling maple syrup. Laugh with your child as she pranks you for April Fools or savour a cold Corona at 10 in the morning on a hot day. Kneel down while your 9 year old shows you how intricate insect galleries under pieces of bark from a dead tree can be. Explain to her that the simplest of organisms created something this beautiful.

Your assignment this week? Put the world away for a half hour, slow down and take the time to glean a moment of pure joy from your world. And next week, enjoy while someone with actual writing talent takes back this blog.

Christmas sweaters, me stuff and Father Time

Clock with time for me
Important stuff

Hi there. I should probably introduce myself, I’m Craig from Todays Chapter. Don’t worry, Laurie will be back next Sunday, but she has kindly offered to hand over the reins for a guest post. I’m a huge fan of Happy Act and Laurie’s thoughtful weekly advice to achieve happiness, so I’m fully aware just how big these shoes are to fill. Here goes nothing…

There is phrase often used when talking about personal finances, “Pay yourself first”. The basic concept is before you try to pay down debts or buy new things, you should carve out a little something for the ‘you’ of the future. It’s generally agreed that for this to be effective it should be done automatically, not something you consciously have to decide to do each payday. Money is finite but the list of things to buy with it is seemingly endless, so you should carve out a chunk to put aside before you blow it on that hand-knitted Christmas sweater that suddenly seems like an essential purchase.

Xmas sweater
Not important stuff

While I am terrible at paying myself first financially, I am a strong believer in applying this concept to my time. Just like money, time is a finite resource that needs to be carefully managed to achieve your goals. Unlike money you can’t earn more of it. This means we all try to cram more and more into a day.

As a new parent I particularly felt this strain. Overnight my time became someone else’s. In my initial panic to keep our darling daughter alive and happy, I stopped going to the gym; there simply wasn’t time. Then I stopped reading, then writing, then sleeping and showering. I did all of this for good reason, but the net result was a happy baby and a tired, stinky and grumpy Daddy. I’d forgotten to pay myself first. When I finally figured this out it seemed so obvious, but at the time it didn’t seem that way at all.

The solution was simple. I carve out 30 minutes a day just for me. Each day I figure out what to ‘spend’ it on, sometimes it’s a nap, others a blog post. I even manage to occasionally sneak in some video games. The other 23.5 hours a day are to spend on ‘stuff’, but that 0.5 is all mine. The difference that simple change makes is staggering, I feel like a new person. I have transformed into a tired, stinky but happy Daddy!

My advice to achieve happiness is simple, pay yourself first. Carve out a tiny slice of your day and make it all yours, then fill it with whatever makes you happy. Make this a habit, not something you do every now and again, because if you don’t you will always find other ‘stuff’ to spend that time on.

Ok, that’s it, I’m handing the controls back to our resident happiness guru. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to buy a new Christmas sweater…

Clear some columns on the spreadsheet of life

cartoon character wants freedom from spreadsheetsI don’t know about you, but I’ve been a bit too busy lately. It all came to a head this week between work, school commitments, travelling and neglecting my family. It’s time to clear some columns on the spreadsheet of life.

I think most people carry around a virtual spreadsheet in their head. Mine has columns for work, Boards I sit on, school council to dos, social events, family commitments, planning the kids summer camp schedule, stuff to do around the house…some days it feels like the columns keep multiplying.

And then the May long weekend and summer comes along. Glorious, wonderful summer. Time to slow down, kick back and relax, and grab a beer.

Being busy is good. Being busy to the point where you miss spending time with your family or are constantly thinking about work or calculating your next move isn’t good. It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking it’s the sum on the spreadsheet that counts. It’s not. It’s the joy and enrichment you get out of life from the items on the rows and columns.

So welcome summer. It’s about time you got here. This week’s Happy Act is to clear some columns on your spreadsheet of life. Live in the moment and clear your mind of everything except wondering if the beer is cold and the lake is warm enough for that first dip.

Gotta go and make a to do list—let’s see, make potato salad, buy garden plants, buy beer…

This week’s reads

If you didn’t get a chance to read last week’s blog, Take the 90/110 challenge, read it now and take the challenge. Stay safe on the roads this weekend friends.

Tired of summer taking its sweet time? Read this great Toronto Start editorial, “Star demands action: Spring, you’re late.

Get in touch with your senses

senses--beautiful winterHave you ever closed your eyes and felt the warm sun on your face? Or listened to the wind rustling in the trees? Years ago when I lived in Toronto, a friend took me to a sensory deprivation tank. That’s where you sit in a tank of salt water for 45 minutes completely in the dark and silence. The idea is to awaken every sense in your body. I remember walking out of the building onto Jarvis Street. My footsteps on the pavement pounded in my head, the lights blinded me and the noise on the street was deafening.

Our senses are five of the greatest gifts we have. And yet, every day, we go about our business, oblivious to the smells, noises, and sights that make our world so rich.

This week’s Happy Act is to get in touch with your senses. Sit and listen to the rain, or the wind whistling through the trees. Salivate over your next steak. Touch your partner.  Choose a different sense each day, (or just pick one) and for two minutes, stop what you’re doing, and focus on one of your senses. I guarantee not just your senses will be awakened, you will be too.

We live in such a beautiful part of the country, especially at this time of year. I’m continually awestruck by the beauty around me. Here is a picture just up the road from our house–a winter wonderland. What sense of yours was awakened this week? Leave a comment.