Think happy. Be happy.

A few days ago, I was reading an article on “365 projects” – which are basically themes for doing something daily for a year, like keeping a gratitude journal or posting a photo to social media. In fact, most of the article was about different ideas for a “photo of the day” project. As I read through the list, I thought how fun it would be to do something like this. Then I remembered…I tried this in 2014 and quit after only 6 weeks!

You see, back then, my friend Kerry thought it would be fun to do something called the 100 Happy Days Challenge. She had stumbled upon this challenge on Facebook and it seemed pretty easy. All you had to do was take a photo every day for 100 days of something happy. Participating was supposed to make you more optimistic, content with your life, and open to new experiences. I made it through 50 days of the challenge.

My foray into “photo of the day” challenges was not a loss though. I might have failed at posting photos but I didn’t fail to grasp the concept behind the challenge – happiness is directly connected to mindfulness. The more you pay attention to what makes you happy, the happier you actually become.

Thinking about happiness trains your brain to focus on the elements in your life that create happiness. It forces you to stop doing things out of unconscious habit and do them by choice instead. And when we realize we do indeed have a choice in what we focus our attention on, we tend to choose more of the things that make us happy. Think of it as one big circle of happiness…

Think happy. Choose happy. Be happy. Repeat 🙂

When our lives are crazy busy, our thoughts tend to go right along that same path. Have you ever been reading a book only to realize that your mind has wondered off to something on your to-do list? Being mindful helps eliminate the mental clutter and makes us more aware of what surrounds us; what is happening in the here and now.

Studies of mindfulness have shown that it leads to healthier, less stressful, more creative and wait for it…yes, happier and more satisfied lives. I know firsthand that there’s some truth to this. Once upon a time I used to plan vacations while I was on vacation. I’d say to myself, “this place is great but wouldn’t a trip to ___ be so much better.” I had a great time, or so I thought, but now, I wonder how much more fun I would’ve had if I’d just enjoyed the trip I was on.

All these years later, I am still working on mindfulness. The more I learn, the more I have come to realize that being mindful is very much like learning to see the world through the eyes you had as a child – back when everything was new and full of wonder. When I read now, I try to let myself get lost in the book, just like I did when I was a child. When I sit on the patio looking at the birds in the backyard, I try to see only the nature that surrounds me. When I am out on the water in my kayak, I try to be one with my environment. And in those moments where I make the choice to be present, I am at my happiest.

How do you practice mindfulness in your daily life? Have you ever attempted a 365 project? Which one, and how did it go?

To read my takeaways from the 100 Happy Days Challenge, check out this post: 5 Things I Learned from 50 Days of Happiness.

Love Thy Neighbor (if not their lunch)

You just got to love friends! They are the only people in the world who can give you crap about something one minute, only to turn around and bring you a steaming hot mug of your favorite tea the next. We disagree, we debate, yet in the end, we still love each other. Ah, yes, friends!

Like me, many of my friends are LGBT. I write grants for a LGBT organization (sometimes two, actually) and have come to know a lot of great folks through that work. When it comes to equality, acceptance, and living free from hate and harm, we all agree with each other 100%. Those things should be a given for all people. When it comes to other things though, like lunch, we tend to disagree a bit.

Angie and I ate lunch at Chick-Fil-A. I will be the first to stand at the front of the room and confess – when it comes to Chick-Fil-A, I am an addict. I loved them before we adopted a plant-based diet. Back then it was their Original Chicken Sandwich that I couldn’t get enough of. Now, it’s that darn Superfood Salad. Sure, I can make it at home, but occasionally we do enjoy eating a bite outside our house, and this is just one of those bites I crave. Along with the Ice-Dream. It’s the only ice cream cone in town that does not make my stomach hurt. Even the dairy-free options at Baskin-Robbins are out. And the Ice-Dream is cheap! I just got a cone for 59 cents!

Some of our friends always have a heart-attack when we post anything about Chick-Fil-A. They don’t like gay people. They are all conservative Christians. They donate money to anti-gay causes so buying from them means you support them too! I’ve heard it all and the message doesn’t fall on deaf ears. The problem I have is this – why must everything in life be a battle of us versus them?? If we ourselves want to be included, why do we feel the need to exclude other people? Doesn’t equality cover everyone?

This dilemma of mine goes beyond the doors of Chick-Fil-A though. I’ve come to the point where I’m seriously considering asking Mark Zuckerberg why, with all the other innovations Facebook has come up with, can we not have a better set of filters for our news feed? The stuff I want to see – Linda’s local adventures, Bev’s baseball games, Sue’s outings with her granddaughter, and the fun Melissa and her husband are having running a campground in the Ozarks – gets buried by stuff I could care less about.

Facebook is a platform for social interaction and I get it, some of my friends and family are super passionate about their politics. That’s all well and good, but maybe come at it from a different angle. If you want the rest of us to see your side, introduce us to your candidate. We can’t see the good he or she is doing in the world if all we see instead are the negative campaigns bashing the competition. If I had to go to the polls today, I wouldn’t. When Republicans are calling Democrats “liberal hate-mongers” and Democrats are calling Republicans “gun-toting Nationalists”, I don’t want to stand on either side. I care about this country, I really do, but I care about my own sanity even more.

I’m tired of the meanness. I just can’t do hate. Trust me, I’ve tried, and it doesn’t work. And it especially doesn’t work in a minimalist paradigm. We’re supposed to rid our lives of anything that creates clutter – mental, physical, or otherwise – and hate is clutter. It takes up so much room in your heart and mind that there’s no space for anything else.

The world is not going to change on its own but screaming about the way things “should be” isn’t going to create that change either. For me, I simply want to model the behaviors I would like to see in others – love, kindness, and acceptance (or tolerance, if acceptance is too hard). More importantly though, I want to protect myself from negativity, since prolonged exposure can seriously undermine even the best attempts at being positive.

So, what does this mean exactly? It means that I’m going to love my friends, even though they will never know the absolute deliciousness of a waffle-cut fry. I’m going to love them whether they identify as a donkey, an elephant, a lone wolf, or a unicorn. I’m going to love them regardless of who they love, what church they go to, what they eat for breakfast, how many cats or dogs they have, what teams they support (Go Texans!) and I’m going to continue to hope for positive change in the world (and a better filter on Facebook).