Aim for progress, not perfection

strive for progress signIn my line of work, I make it a mission to cut out jargon. There is one buzzword I’ve adopted and even grown fond of lately–the word agile.

More and more, you hear about agile teams, projects and processes. Agile methodology is when you plan out your tasks or work in phases, then measure and tweak along the way.

The reason why I like this word so much is because the agile approach embodies an inherent philosophy that has a direct impact on happiness —the importance of aiming for progress, not perfection.

Two of the leading experts in the field of perfectionism are Canadians—Paul Hewitt, a professor at the University of British Columbia and Gordon Flett at the University of Toronto. In just one of their many studies of 10,000 professors, they found a statistical co-relation that those pursuing a perfect solution had a lower number of publications, lower amount of citations and a lower impact on their profession. They also had a higher rate of depression, anxiety, eating disorders and, shockingly, a higher rate of suicide.

I’ve never been a perfectionist. I can’t imagine the burden that weighs on people of trying to be perfect or achieving the perfect result all the time.

I’ve learned there are many ways to skin a cat. When my team works on a design concept or develops communication plans at work, there isn’t any single right or wrong answer or method. There are simply different options and approaches with different merits and risks. You choose a course, try it out, see what works, then adjust your plan.

You learn most when you fail. Unfortunately one of the biggest issues in business today is organizations say they are willing to let their employees fail, but when push comes to shove, the focus on the bottom line wins out. Companies are so lean they can’t afford the time, money or resources to fail.

Still, aiming for progress, not perfection is a philosophy that can benefit just about every aspect of our lives. Trying to lose weight? Aim for progress, not perfection. Studying for a big exam? Planning a large event? You know the answer.

This week’s #HappyAct is to aim for progress, not perfection. Perfection is an elusive dream. Instead set small, baby step goals, and celebrate when you hit milestones.

Top Ten Happy Acts of 2016

top 10 happy acts of 2016While you’re having a hooga holiday, why not curl up and revisit some of my top happy acts in 2016? Enjoy the read!

On the lighter side

  1. Toast your buns—readers warmed to this post on heated car seats.
  2. Life’s a beach
  3. Fall Fan Fair
  4. Forget the Super Bowl, Watch the Puppy Bowl. It’s official. After this year’s Grey Cup, there’s no contest. Three downs beat four downs hands down. The Super Bowl is usually a snoozefest so you might as well watch the puppy bowl.

On work and wellbeing

  1. How well do you bounce: seven things to help you be more resilient
  2. Write your own employment contract: ideas for maintaining work-life balance
  3. Be a thermostat, not a thermometer: how to deal with stress

On making the world a better place

  1. Reach out your hand in peace and friendship: I wrote this post before Trump, before Aleppo. If you are bewildered about what’s happening in the world, read this post.
  2. Sharing the happy and the bad
  3. Say what you mean

There you have it. My top ten #HappyActs of 2016. Watch next week for my top predictions for 2017.

Desperate times call for desperate measures

funny quote on houseworkWe are living in desperate times. No, I’m not talking about Trump, Syria or ISIL. I’m talking about the division of labour in our households.

Let’s just say I was not a happy camper last week. It started last Sunday. We got home from Clare’s hockey game. Dave went to lie down and do his exercises for his knee, Clare flaked out on the couch reading a book, Dave’s Dad sat in the sunroom reading the papers and Grace retreated into her lair to do homework and spend endless hours on her iPad.

Instead of curling up with the latest People Sexiest Man Alive issue, I did laundry, drained and scrubbed the hot tub, made supper and did the dishes. At one point I asked the kids through gritted teeth for help with sweeping the floors and folding some laundry.

Help. I hate that dastardly word. It implies the sole responsibility for keeping a household running is one person’s, with the others just “helping” out.

Then Tuesday came. After a 10-hour day, I came home to find supper not started, the wood not brought in and the dogs unfed even though my children get home 2-3 hours before me and my husband was at home all day (albeit still recuperating from his knee surgery, but well enough to make a salad I reckon).

I resorted to the most shameless, childish trick of all time—the silent treatment. I admit it. I’m not proud of myself, but I was angry, tired, and frustrated. The worst part was I had this utopian hope that with Dave’s surgery, the girls would step up their game and help with the cooking and cleaning. I was so wrong.

One brisk walk and one quiet night helped restore my equanimity, but I wasn’t happy with how I reacted and worse, knew it wasn’t a long-term solution. So the next day I came up with the idea to introduce a new rewards system, “Two Things a Day”. I made a chart and explained that everyone in the house had to do two things a day to keep our house running. If at the end of the week, the chart was full, there would be a special reward.

What a change. Yesterday morning, the girls did chores around the house without being asked. We had fresh sheets on the bed, swept floors, wood in the wood box and sand for when the snow and ice comes.

It’s early days yet. But I’m hopeful my evil master plan will work, and my family will accept that we are all responsible for doing housework and keeping our busy household running and I will be a happy camper once again.

Ed. note: When Dave and I first got married, we had to take a marriage course. The minister asked, what is the biggest source of most arguments in a marriage? People answered finances, family issues. I answered housework and the class laughed. Guess what? It was housework.

Joy to the world

joy-to-the-worldThe word “joy” is rarely used until the Christmas season arrives when it permeates our language. That’s because many Christians equate joy with the religious love of God for all creatures on earth.

Even if you aren’t religious, the holiday season can be a time of great joy for people who experience deep contentment, gratitude or happiness.

What is the difference between joy and happiness?

Alan McPherson, a retired minister of Central Presbyterian Church in Hamilton, distinguishes between happiness and joy this way: “Happiness is an emotion. Joy is deeper, more long-lasting. It is based more on inner certainties, not external events.”

Healthpyschology.org has a similar, but slightly different definition, saying happiness is an emotional state of well-being defined by positive feelings ranging from contentment to intense joy.

There are many passages in the bible that use joy and happiness interchangeably and yet religious groups often equate joy with God’s love to mean a more deeper, long-lasting emotion.

For me, the moments of joy in my life are the times when I have felt supremely happy and at one with the world. These moments are rare, but so very special.

This week’s #HappyAct is to find joy this holiday season. Celebrate peace on earth and a time when joyful all ye nations rise. Listen to a choir echoing its joyous strains and repeat the sounding joy. The weary world rejoices for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Make an inspiration wall

inspiration-wall
Grace’s inspiration wall

What inspires you? That’s the question we’ve been asking our employees during this year’s United Way campaign. Once again, the employees at Empire Life have blown me away by their generosity and willingness to be inspired by the incredible work United Way agencies do in our community and to make a difference.

There is so much in the world that is uninspiring today. It is rare to find something that compels you to feel or do something to create change in our society or something unique or beautiful.

I get my inspiration from my children, my friends and co-workers, and the natural surroundings of where I live.

The other day, Clare told me she wanted to start a new project: to create an inspiration wall. She started looking up inspirational sayings online. Her plan was to print them out and post them around her room. (Her teacher said she couldn’t do this at school if you can believe it). Grace created a similar inspiration wall a few years ago.

We need to be inspired at work, at home and in our community.

This week’s #HappyAct is to create your own Inspiration Wall. Here are some of the sayings Clare planned to use on her wall. Leave a comment. What inspires you?

“Happiness is found when you stop comparing yourself to other people.”

“When we get to the end of our lives together; the house we had, the cars we drove, the things we possessed won’t matter. What will matter is that I had you by my side.”

“You can never cross the ocean unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.”

“When it rains, look for rainbows. When it’s dark, look for stars.”

“If plan A didn’t work, the alphabet has 25 more letters.”

uw-inspiration-wall
An inspiration wall created by Empire Life customer service teams who adopted the Kingston Youth Shelter for this year’s campaign–there were posters like this all over the floor to encourage people to bring in donations for what the shelter needs.

Does being a leader make you happy?

Nelson Mandela quoteThis is the question I’ve been pondering this past week after spending six days with leaders from across the country at the Queen’s Leadership Course.

It was an amazing but exhausting week, where we learned about team building, transformational leadership and how to be a good coach.

Transformational leadership is elevating others by inspiring people to see the importance of what they do so they want to do it better. It often results in change through a shared vision. Think of leaders like Nelson Mandela, the great basketball coach Phil Jackson and Mikhail Gorbachev.

With this definition in mind, you would think the obvious answer would be yes. That helping people develop and elevating them to new heights would result in immense personal satisfaction and happiness.

But Mandela and Gorbachev also had to endure incredible hardships, stress and conflict in their lives.

It made me think of two of my most recent leadership experiences, both non-work related. I would probably rate my performance in both these cases as a 4. Sure, I shared my vision, I worked hard, I led a team to the best of my ability, but in the end, after my leadership stint was over, there was very little change. When I ask myself the tough question, did I elevate others, the answer is no. I failed as a leader.

I also didn’t enjoy the one experience at all. Instead of being energized, I felt drained most of the time, frustrated and unhappy.

So, back to my original question. Does being a leader make you happy? I’m not sure I can answer that question, but I do know that some of the things they reinforced this past week does make me happy and more important, makes the world a happier place. Things like caring for others, taking the time to say hello and ask people how they are doing, what’s important in their lives. It’s the little things that are the hallmark of a great leader and the good news is, we all have the ability to be great leaders.

This week’s #HappyAct is to think of one small act you can do this week to help elevate others. Tell me what you think. Does being a leader make you happy? Leave a comment. Here are some inspirational quotes from the week to inspire you.

“Leadership is not about taking control; it’s about helping others make better decisions.”

“People respond remarkably to what you say and how you treat them.”

“You don’t need to be inspiring all the time. Be inspiring at the right time.”

“Great leaders elevate their followers; terrible leaders demean their followers and make them feel smaller.”

 

Age is just a letter

This week is my birthday, and let’s just say it has a zero in it. I’m OK with that, because to quote my favourite line from Dumb and Dumber To, “Age is just a letter, Harry”.

I remember once my father-in-law telling me that despite being in his 80’s now and feeling all that the number 80 entails, in his mind he was still 17, looking for the next adventure and ripping it up with his buddies in Harriston.

We may age in our bones, but not in our hearts and minds.

This week’s #HappyAct is to repeat after me, “Age is just a letter, Harry.” You are never too old or too young to try something new, do something silly, learn, grow, love, fail or set out on your next adventure.

Here are some of my other favourite lines from Dumb and Dumber To—watch it on video when it comes out. While I know some critics panned it, I thought it was hilarious and even funnier than the first one!

“Water under the fridge”

Hook, line and sphincter”

“I’ve always wanted to go to India and volunteer at one of those leprechaun colonies,” “I think you mean Ireland.”

The most important blog post you’ll ever read: the secret to happiness

Sign secret to happinessWhen I first started this blog, I said there was no secret to happiness. Rather, happiness was a state of being and to be happy, you had to do happy acts and seek joy in every day moments.

Well, after a year of #HappyActs, I’ll let you in on a little secret. I lied.

I believe there is a secret to happiness, and I was lucky enough to stumble upon this pearl of wisdom a few years ago while reading a bathroom book in a bookstore in Chatham, Massachussetts.

The premise of the book was simple: in order to be happy, you need to have low expectations. I remember laughing when I first read that because it goes against everything we are taught, which is to be ambitious, set goals, and have high expectations. But the stark truth and simplicity of this philosophy slowly started to sink in and I have tried to live by this adage ever since.

Have you ever wondered why on sites like TripAdvisor, you read a review of someone who stayed at the same hotel or bed and breakfast as you did, and you thought the place was just fine, but they panned it? It all comes down to expectations.

If you have low expectations, you will always be happy with your lot in life. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set goals and work towards them. On the contrary, anyone will tell you having goals and dreams is critical to having a purpose and feeling fulfilled in life.

Let’s take the example of an Olympic athlete to illustrate this point. Olympic athletes set lofty goals: to be the best in their sport, medal and to be standing on that podium. They work extremely hard to get there, making huge sacrifices to see this dream come true. But when you hear them interviewed, their expectations can be very different—they may expect to finish in the top 10, or beat their best time. And when they don’t get the gold, they are happy with their achievement.

This week’s #HappyAct is to dream big, work hard towards your dreams, but make a conscious effort to have low expectations for yourself. Note I said yourself, not others. Continue to have high expectations of others and they will rise to the occasion. What do you think is the key to happiness (other than doing one happy act a week!)? Leave a comment.

Interested in hearing more? Watch this TedTalk with Barry Schwartz, “The Paradox of Choice”.

Write an old fashioned thank you note

Donna Swinton
My thank you note to Donna Swinton

This is Thanksgiving weekend, a time when most of us will spend time with family, eat way too much turkey and give thanks.

My mother-in-law still writes old fashioned thank you notes. I wanted to send Donna a special thank you note this Thanksgiving, so I bought a pretty card and sent it to her. I thought I would share it with you too. This is what the card said:

Thank you for not making me name my daughters Gladys

Thank you for the gift of music, our beautiful old piano

Thank you for putting up with John for the last 59 years

Thank you for welcoming me into your family and always treating me like a daughter

Thank you for fixing the zipper on my favourite dress

Thank you for proving that you can have a successful career and be a good mother at the same time

Thank you for somehow being at the same time both the best and worst Cheat card player I’ve ever seen

Thank you for teaching your son how to cook

Thank you for making sandies at Christmas time

Thank you for your youthful giggle and smile that was probably one of the many reasons John fell in love with you all those years ago and still loves you so dearly today

Thank you for your unconditional love and support

Thank you for being the strength and soul of the Swinton clan

This week’s #HappyAct is to write an old fashioned thank you note. Send it to someone who holds a special place in your heart or share it at the table this weekend when you’re giving thanks. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

 

Spend time with someone older and wiser

Our family and Audrey
Celebrating with Audrey

Yesterday we celebrated the 85th birthday of someone who holds a special place in many hearts, Audrey Tarasick.

I first met Audrey in 1979 when her daughter Leslie and I became inseparable as teenagers. Audrey lived on a farm north of Kingston where she had moved on her own to set up an alternative school. Fiercely independent, with a zest for adventure and life, yet soft-spoken, patient and loving, Audrey quickly became a unique role model in my life.

She was one of the only women I knew who was an expert woodworker and who converted the entire front section of her house into a workshop to make dollhouses. She was the first to say, “go for it” on hot summer days when she would take us to Eagle Lake for a swim even though we didn’t have our bathing suits.

She has taught us the precise time to sugar off, when the syrup drips deliciously from the ladle to form a silver dollar at maple syrup time. She has steadfastly refused over the years to “babysit” her grandchildren, opting to spend time with them instead, and as a result has close relationships with the 15 grandchildren who love her dearly today. She has taught me about parenting, and has been there for Dave and me during some of the most difficult times in our life.

I have learned so much from this incredible woman. But the thing I appreciate most about Audrey is her different viewpoint on life. Whether it’s global warming, parenting, politics or rural living, Audrey always has a unique and insightful perspective. There’s been many a time in the family kitchen during a heated discussion, I find myself wondering, “I wonder what Audrey is going to say.”

This week’s #HappyAct is to spend time with someone older and wiser than you. Listen to what pearls of wisdom they may share. Here was my favourite from yesterday. Audrey was shooting hoops in the basketball competition, and I teased her that she was grunting like the tennis pros. She said to me, “As you get older, everything is easier if you grunt”. Happy birthday, Audrey. Thanks for being such a wonderful friend and role model.

Audrey shooting a bow and arrow
Audrey trying her hand in the archery competition

 

Women having tea in a team room
Special girls outing to Spindletree gardens earlier this summer, three generations of two families celebrating together