We adopted a dog in December, a little rescue poodle from DPS Rescue in Palo Alto, that we named Jasper. In her early explorations of our home, Jasper found Angry Bird stuffed animals, discarded and forgotten under the boys' beds. She carried the toys one by one to the family room, delighted by her discovery.
As Jasper made our home her own, she found balls, more stuffed animals (some determined to be off limits by their human owners), a rope dog toy that I had bought for a previous foster dog, and a cat toy discarded by Traviesa the tabby cat.
Jasper likes to collect her toys in one place. If I'm working in my office, she'll bring an Angry Bird stuffed animal upstairs with her. On her next trip up the stairs, she'll bring the cat toy. Then, the ball. One by one, all of her toys end up where she is, whether it's upstairs in my office, in the family room, or on the rug in the hallway.
Watching Jasper surrounded by her toys, joyfully launching an Angry Bird stuffy into the air, a long-time massage therapy client asked me if I had anything in my life that brought me as much joy as Jasper's toys bring her.
I had to stop and think. In my coaching work with moms, I teach them a self-coaching tool called the Five Delights to help them figure out what brings them happiness and joy. It's been a while since I've done the exercise myself, though, so here's my Five Delights list for today:
My Five Delights:
1. My bed at the end of the day with my two perfect pillows and warm comforter
2. Bergamot essential oil (its citrusy scent eases stress)
3. Rubbermaid stainless steel travel mug (it keeps my chai tea hot for hours!)
4. OverDrive app connected to the Peninsula Library System on my phone so I always have something good to read, for free!
5. My box of vintage buttons
Now it's your turn. What delights you? Take a moment and write down five things (or people, furry critters, or activities) that bring happiness into your life.
The Five Delights self-coaching tool is a gratitude practice, of sorts, allowing you to focus on the happy things that are already present in your life. Research shows that gratitude is a powerful shortcut to happiness. A gratitude practice can increase your happiness set point; make you more resilient to psychological, mental, and physical stress; and even improve your sleep.
A gratitude practice like the Five Delights is simple: take a few minutes a few days a week to discover what's already good in your life. Just like Jasper the dog uncovered joy in the stuffed animals hidden under the bed, your happiness, too, is waiting to be found, waiting to be brought into the light, to surround you with so much joy.
Interested in learning more self-coaching tools to help you to build the life you love? Schedule a life coaching session with Kathleen Harper, certified life coach and author of The Well-Crafted Mom and Signs of a Happy Baby. Use coupon code NEW30 for 30 percent off your first session!
“Are you sure the wisteria is still alive?” I asked my husband, Bill, as I peered through the screen door, looking out to the backyard.
"I think so. It’s the plant next to it that’s dead, but the wisteria is okay,” he replied from the kitchen.
I let the dog out into the backyard and followed her to the back corner of the yard where the wisteria grows. The branches of the wisteria were dark and spindly, twisted around the pergola and tangled across the top. Cracked, empty seed pods hung down over the flagstone patio. I was accustomed to the wisteria looking barren during the winter, but this year, the plant looked like it wasn’t coming back.
Over the next two weeks, I started a little ritual of checking on the wisteria. Whenever I let the dog out in the backyard, I walked to the back corner to see if there were any changes to the plant, watching and waiting for signs of spring when the vine explodes in purple flowers and dark green leaves, an incredible, beautiful sign of the season.
Bill was right: the bush alongside the pergola didn’t survive the winter and it’s definitely dead; the gardener will have to take it out. Last week, however, tiny buds appeared on the wisteria vine, dotting the topmost branches that get the most sun.
Spring is coming, not just for the wisteria, but for all of us.
It’s been a long winter. Just like the wisteria vine, you may be feeling dark after unexpected (and perhaps expected) disappointments, hardships, or grief. You may be a bit twisted and hung up, knowing that it’s your destiny to flower but not feeling strong enough to blossom right now. Perhaps you’re not getting enough care – or giving yourself enough self-care – to grow into whatever comes next.
Here are three steps to give you a little more spring in your step and help you to blossom:
• Dream. Give yourself permission to daydream about what you want. Believe outside the tiny box of parenthood that your dreams are valid and important. Grab a notepad and keep a list of ideas that give you shivers of excitement, cupfuls of curiosity, and handfuls of joy.
As best as you can, turn off the part of your brain that wants to draw fat black lines through the items on your list that don’t seem practical, aren’t financially feasible, or will take up oodles and oodles of time that you just don't have.
Dreaming big and outrageously is necessary to create happiness right here, right now.
I’ve been dreaming about the Master of Applied Positive Psychology degree at the University of Pennsylvania. Is this dream practical? Nope. Is it affordable? Not one bit. But unwrapping my big dream gives me ideas on small ways I can be happier now. I’ve realized that I’ve missed learning in a structured environment, like a school or ongoing class. I’ve always felt happiest when I’m learning, whether it’s life coaching school, massage therapy school, art classes, or university. My dreams are telling me to look for more learning opportunities besides tap dancing and Tai Chi.
• Set boundaries. It’s hard to grow a happy life when you’re busy taking care of everyone else. Taking care of everyone else’s needs before paying attention to your own is like siphoning off your water supply to feed all the plants around you (that already have their own sprinkler system).
“Feed my soul, feed my family?” is the question I ask myself when I receive a request for a speaking engagement, when the kids’ school asks for volunteers, when a commitment falls outside of my regular working hours. There’s only so much of me, and only so little time and energy to share. The answer to feed my soul, feed my family? shifts my response from ambivalent to unequivocal. “Each time you set a healthy boundary, you say ‘yes’ to more freedom,” writes Nancy Levin, author of Jump ... and Your Life Will Appear.
There’s no doubt that it’s hard to say no. Research shows that women have a harder time saying no than men do, a difference that is present even when personality factors like agreeableness and conscientiousness are taken into consideration. But if you do that hard work of saying no to what doesn’t serve you, you’re left with more time and energy for what unequivocally feels like yes. Determine what is necessary for you to grow into the life you want to live and figure out ways to say no to what doesn’t nurture you.
• Find pleasure. What can you do every day that brings you happiness, joy, delight, or pleasure? People often believe happiness needs to come in big chunks of time or that joy costs as much as a summer vacation. Delight can be as quick as a text to your dearest friend or as fulfilling as an interesting article from the New York Times.
Mother Theresa said “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Start a practice of doing small things with great love for yourself every day. You’ll most likely find it will then be easier to do the bigger things for your family.
Just as the wisteria needs water and sunshine, you, too, need basic essentials. Dreaming, setting boundaries, and finding pleasure in your day-to-day routines will nourish you. Pluck the weeds of what creates unhappiness and nurture what generates joy. In the process, you’ll grow. You’ll bloom where you’re planted.