Morning Intentions For Happiness…Right?

There are a lot of things we are supposed to do in the morning.

We should write down our dreams, eat good breakfasts, and stretch. We should get hydrated, go for a jog, and meditate. Depending on who you ask, you’re a fool if you leave out one or more of these.

But what about morning intentions? Are they useful? Are we all supposed to do them so that we can be happy, shiny people bubbling with cheer and healthy bank accounts and perfect relationships in no time at all?

Here I’m going to re-explore the question of happiness and how to find it through morning intentions. There are no solid answers to be found here, only some things that have been helping me to feel less crazy lately.
Happiness: Hmmmm….

I’ve been reading a great book about happiness recently called “The Happiness Trap.” Undoubtedly, it will show up in more than a few posts from here on in. The main thing I’m gaining from it is the acknowledgement that there are various definitions of “happy.”

A lot of times, we take the word to mean “a pleasurable feeling,” and we seek it out to no end, beating ourselves up if we can’t achieve it.

The other definition has to do with living a meaningful life. Living a life that is in line with your values, and that is fulfilling. Such a life will not always meet the expectation of a “pleasurable feeling”.

Even the healthiest long-term relationship is bound to have some ups and downs, and a healthy life is not going to be bliss and cheer every step of the way. Acknowledging this is important. My morning intentions are not for bliss; they are for living a life that feels real and friendly to the person living it.

Which Things Always Create A Desirable Feeling?

There are certain things that I do sometimes that never fail to lead to me feeling good. Some of these include:

  • Running with the dog.
  • Reading a fictional book for at least a half an hour.
  • Looking at the sky or a natural surrounding for a few minutes without thinking too much about it.
  • Drawing, doodling, creating art with colors on paper.
  • Making up ditties on the guitar for characters in my short stories to understand them better.
  • Cooking a nice meal.

These things generally never make me feel worse, or more stressed, or more anxious, or like I wasted time.  They are things I love, things that nourish me and help me to improve a skill that I value. The problem is, on most days I don’t have time for each and every one of them.

So sometimes, in the morning or during the heat of my workday, I will commit to one of them; and do an intention that way. Instead of a complex list of things that are supposed to bring me some type of happiness, I’ll pick something that is likely to lead to inspiration and a feeling of working with a fulfilling life.

 

Respecting the Uniqueness of Each Day with Morning Intentions

Each day is a unique conglomeration of factors. Sometimes you feel like you are getting sick. Other times, you feel on fire with creativity. Your hand might hurt from yesterday’s writing episode, or your legs might hurt from yesterday’s workout. On certain days, you are booked with plans and on others, your schedule is blissfully open.  This is important too, I think.

No intention is going to work every single day of the week.

Listen to your body, to your mind, to the mood it is in. Listen to the weather and your schedule. Think of an intention based on those things; give yourself room to notice what the day is saying.

If you wake up and feel like you are coming down with a cold and you notice that it is rainy and chilly, perhaps the nature walk intention is not the ideal one to commit to. Perhaps today is a good day for the hot tea and bath intention.

Keeping It Simple

Sometimes it’s fun to make an elaborate plan. Today after work I shall finish 2,000 more words of my short story and I shall also run three miles whilst creating a slow-cooked turkey dinner with herbs from my garden! Yes, a perfect day in paradise! But all of that can lead to some rushing, some frantic energy, and a whole lot of lack in the slow enjoyment department.

Keep it simple. Maybe one intention a day is good. Maybe your intention is about your health.  “Today, I will smoke one less cigarette than normal.” or, “Today, I will get a vegetable that I have not tried in a long time.” Something small, easy, doable. Or, something vague. “Today I will notice how my body feels after each meal.”

Forgiveness, Acceptance, and Compassion

I am trying to learn more about compassion and how to use it in relation to my own destructive emotions. So far, I know that one thing that truly seems to work for me and troublesome or “negative” emotions is to welcome them. That’s easier said than done.

But I feel a bit closer to acceptance after asking myself:

  • Where does this emotion affect my body?
  • How would I explain this feeling in my body?
  • How long has this feeling been happening?
  • How long will it happen, can I time it?
  • What is happening outside of this feeling?

These things are not directly accepting or welcoming a feeling, but they do encourage curiosity which lets me see the feeling in a way that is more useful than just fusing with it and letting it dominate my awareness.

Do you have feelings that can get in the way of your creativity, your writing, your music, your joy?

The Best Morning Intentions For Happiness

Having wide intentions, broad strokes of awareness, and many things to pick from can be a great way to have each day bring you to a more healthy relationship with yourself & your community. Or at least, they do that for me.

Don’t try to be too “happy” and don’t assume that others are feeling that way, either. Don’t try to make a million intentions that you’ll never keep up with, or stay too focused on getting excess money and a perfect relationship. Stay real, stay here, look at what is happening now. Find those things that always leave you in a better place and do one of them every so often with abandon.

The Science of Morning Intentions

This will be an upcoming topic for a post. I am going to do some research on various things, including priming, memory, and adrenaline.

 

Do you use morning intentions? Do you use them to try and attract more money, or a partner, or to get healthier? Or something else?

Do you find that having some type of intention can help you with your writing, such as a set goal for the amount of words to do in a day? (Especially now that NaNoWriMo is coming up…)

Or is the whole business of “intentions” some type of hippie crap that is best left to the vultures?

Life Lessons from ACL Music Festival

Clouds like music, too.

As any of my Instagram followers are all too aware of, I spent this weekend at Austin City Limits music festival. This post is about the life lessons that can be found at music festivals but can be applied to everyday life, insecurities, bad moods and anxieties.

Choose Your Stage

ACL has quite a few stages and they do a good job of balancing it out so that you can hear the group you are watching. Sometimes, like when Steve Earle went on, other bands like Bassnectar seemed to have more than their fair share of sound space, but that’s all right. When you walk around between stages, there are times that you can hear more than one band at once.

During some of those times, you are thinking, “Where should I go?” Maybe you don’t know any of the bands enough to make a choice based on the past, so you have to just go with what you feel.

That is an awful lot like feeling various moods starting to happen and realizing that you have to make a choice, isn’t it? If you’re like me, you can sometimes feel the little tingle of a bad mood or fit of grouchiness long before it gets a stronghold. You probably see some signs. The slight overreaction to stubbing your toe, the scowl on your face when you realize that it’s too humid for your liking. Whatever it is, you have a sign.

That’s sort of like hearing the strong bass of a song nearby, and wondering if perhaps you’d like to go join the people there. Maybe at the same time, there is a mellow bluegrass jam happening in the other direction. In terms of moods, that would be like noticing that even though you sense the bad mood, you also see the dog’s smiling face, the sunshine amidst the mugginess, the feeling of the ground, anything that is not the grouch-mood.

You can walk towards one song or the other based on what you feel  in the moment, which is little bits of both. If you acknowledge the existence of multiple stages, multiple moods and feelings, then you at least have a bit more of a choice, even if you can still hear little bits of Bassnectar when you are really focusing on Steve Earle.

The Things You Don’t See

At a music festival, there is plenty that you don’t see.  Our neighbor gave us wrist bands that got us into certain backstage areas, so we got to see things from different angles than most. During one of the smaller bands, I spotted a girl doing Yoga in the safe darkness under the stage.

Some wires going into the ground.

I’m sure nobody on the other side of the stage thought about her existence or even considered it. If you asked them, “Hey, do you think there’s a girl doing Yoga under the stage right now?” They probably wouldn’t doubt you too much, but it would just be something they never even considered.

I wonder how many things like that are happening at this very moment. There’s always something unseen, unthought of, undreampt. Does anyone else find that to be comforting?

What Does The Downpour Feel Like?

During a band called the Big Gigantic, there was a rain storm. Since I don’t have a good phone case, I don’t have pictures; but the crowd was wild and we were in the middle of it. It was surreal to see people getting extremely happy during the downpour. Maybe next time an intense mood or bout of anxiety happens, I can enjoy the intensity of it, the sheer power of it, rather than judging it as “bad” or “good”.

Standing in the rain and not being afraid of it or running away from it was incredibly fulfilling. Feeling it on my face, my hair, soaking my clothes, getting all over my stuff; there was simply nothing that could be done. The rain simply felt wonderful in that moment because it was clean, new, wet, alive. There were people, there was music, there was a sky and a ground and things were just lovely because they were there.

Comparisons Don’t Work; Leave Room For Being Surprised

This may just be my brain, but when I’m in a group of people and feeling some anxiety, sometimes the comparison-function starts to kick in.

This was the first big festival I’ve been to in many years, and I’m almost 30. Since most of the crowd seemed to be made of attractive young people, my brain started beating me up rather quickly.

For awhile, my self-esteem sank to the very ground that everyone was trampling. I’ll never be as in shape as these people, I’ll never have awesome shiny hair like these people, I’ll never get to be young again, yada yada yada. It took awhile for me to seriously put a halt to all that nonsense.

A new friend brought us up to a platform on the side of the stage. It gave me a perspective that was hard to come by in such a literal sense in that crowd, but easy to come by metaphorically during other times, like right now. I think it’s called “taking a step back.”

Enjoying a beer and waiting for the Chili Peppers

I looked at those people and started to realize that maybe things weren’t so bad for me and my aging self. Maybe there were benefits to getting older, to having experience, to not being 15 and hormonally insane.

The crowd stretched farther than a picture could capture. There were people excited to be in the front, happy to be in the back, and happy to be behind the stage, watching the show on a TV screen around a circular open bar. I watched through the sides of the stage, watching the crowd going mad over the music. I was happy to be where I was, and everything somehow worked. Like a giant puzzle. Everyone brought their own little piece, and no two bodies were occupying the same spot at the same time. It all worked and everyone was different, with their own beauty and their own grace. It felt so clear; we were all in this together.

 

My Intentions
I would like to always leave a little room for my mind to be surprised by what is happening. I’d like to have fewer expectations and comparisons and gracefully step up into the older years of my life without fighting them, because they are coming for me anyway. And I would like to never forget that. I may not get to be a teenager again, but I can watch the youth of today having fun just like I can watch the Chili Peppers crowd dancing and jumping while I enjoy the whole thing from a different vantage point.

I can look at the same mood or mindset differently, experiencing the intensity like a rainfall during a wild song, feeling it as exciting instead of scary or uncomfortable. Life is happening always; might as well experience as many stages as possible and from many angles while I still can.

How About You?

How about you guys, have you gone to many music festivals lately? Do you feel like you can pick between moods like different stages, or is it more like you are in one crowd and the band keeps changing on you?

Do you feel like your brain compares you to others too much, not enough, or just enough?

When’s the last time you felt a real raindrop falling on your face?

 

Finding Nourishment in the Roots of a Facebook Status

Sometimes there’s pressure to put on a certain face for the public world. But how do we really feel?

Lately I’ve been thinking a bit about Facebook statuses.

Maybe it’s because a lot of my friends seem to be sharing things that otherwise would never be known. Secret drunken laundry dance parties, for example.

Maybe it’s because the person doing secret drunken laundry dance parties is my sister. Who knows. The point is, a lot of my friends are doing well and having fun; this I know from their statuses. All of my friends that I talk to, however, are having hard times here and there.

Why do we share what we share, especially on these quick statuses?
Sticking with the theme of this blog, which is learning to see things in new ways and not be too automatic (sometimes for the sake of writing better material), I am going to write here about how we may gain psychological nourishment and extra story material by looking at why we choose to make certain Facebook statuses.

The Example of the White Gecko

Here is something I’ve been thinking about writing on Facebook as a status:

“For the first time ever, there was a pink gecko in the bedroom!”

Instead of writing that status, I analyzed it. Why, I said to myself, why do you feel the need to tell all the people that there was a gecko in your bedroom? You certainly wouldn’t call them and tell them. Except for maybe your sister. So…

Here’s what I came to while trying to deconstruct my impulse for posting about the pink gecko:

1. It shows that I am living in a place that is unique for me, because Geckos don’t live in CT or MA, where I came from.

2. It shows that craaazy things happen in my life, therefore, I am interesting.

3. Geckos are cute and perhaps people will smile just thinking of one.

4. I just want people to acknowledge my existence in this strange and fleeting life.

5. Was it really pink? Maybe someone will explain the process of color-changing to me.

Now, none of this was really conscious at the time of thinking “Gosh darn golly gee, I should write about that gecko!” Instead, it was just an impulse. Just like my impulse to quote certain lines of songs by Tom Waits and Bob Dylan quite often, which I also refrain from doing.

It seemed that what I really wanted was to tell a story. I really wanted to share something, to be seen, to be acknowledged, and to project a certain image through that. Like my sister and her drunken laundry party. She might have been hanging out alone, but at least everyone she ever met knew that she was having a good time.

I’m finding that that the impulse to post a photo (or just to get a photo) of a sunset, or the rainbow, or a cool view of the city skyline, is much the same. It usually breaks down to some combination of:

-My life is fun, believe me, here’s proof!

-I am interesting; please, god, friends of past, present, and future, agree with me that I’m interesting!

-I’m doing well, don’t worry, I’m happy in some moments, like this one, which you get to see in full color in all of its instagrammed glory!

-Smile, darnit! You are my friends, you should be smiling! Maybe this will make you smile!

A picture that my Facebook friends never got to see..

And others. I am never quite disappointed with the resulting feelings of asking myself  “Why do I feel I should post that particular status or picture to Facebook?”

Memories of External Validation

I think we’ve all had the  “If that person thinks I’m awesome/pretty/smart/interesting, then I will finally feel like it myself” feeling. For me, it happened a lot when I was younger.
Now when it happens, it seems to be related to work-stuff a lot. A boss, an organization, a magazine. “If they take my manuscript/essay/short story, I will truly feel like a good writer!” and it goes on.

Now, why is this? It is clearly repetitive and illogical. A sunset is gorgeous whether or not all of my friends see it too, a gecko on my wall makes me smile even if nobody else sees it, believes it, or can even empathize with it. The same story that one magazine rejects may be perfectly acceptable to another.

External validation has never worked, nor will it. So why keep trying, and is there any harm being done?

Do We See The Extent of It?

I remember reading a study about people feeling worse about themselves after seeing the very best pieces of all of their friends’ lives on Facebook. This is a big deal to me. It’s a lot like those studies of magazines many years ago where the psychologists basically watched girls’ self-esteem go down the more pages they looked at of mainstream magazines.

The reason it matters is that it affects people I love, and it also might be a factor in helping to be aware of the causes of depression or bad moods in myself.

So, when we try to extract the happiest and most validating moments of our lives, our friends see that. Then, they get an unrealistic idea of our lives, and judge their own based on that lens that everyone contributes to. They choose to then show their happiest moments, and we feel that we need to also be that perfect. This keeps compounding itself.

The more we show our best sides, the more one-dimensional the whole situation seems to become. That’s why I’m rooting for honesty and examining my intentions before leaving any type of status to see if it really will meet the need I expect it to.

Usually what I come up with is that I need to validate my own joy and interesting-ness, so I end up doing things like making faces with materials that fall from the trees at the coffee shop to make myself smile. But I’m not going to show you those.

Turning The Mirror Around
I think that in terms of writing fiction, thinking about this kind of stuff matters. The world seems to be moving me in a direction of more automatic behavior. Instead of reading street signs, I can just watch the arrow on my GPS. Instead of dialing each number of someone’s phone number, I can scroll to find their name. These are little things. But they add up, as I’ve mentioned before.

So before I start making automatic status updates to try and reach for some sense of validation or present some image that I’m not, I may as well think about where those are coming from. It helps me to see inside some of my characters for the various fictional pieces I’m working on. Because what are our characters besides pieces of ourselves, and how are we going to know their true and genuine responses to things and motivations when we are not exploring our own?

We can start with what motivates us to make a status, if we want. I’m starting there, and my stories have been pumping out like crazy since the cancelled gecko status. It may be cause and effect, it may not be.

How about you?

Have you ever explored the feelings behind why you make certain statuses? Do you feel like you are completely honest in them, or that you are showing your best or most upset sides?

Do you feel different after looking at Facebook for ten minutes than before? Does it help you feel more connected to people, or less?

And also, I lied about not showing you the face made from fallen objects at the coffee shop.

Sometimes, you just gotta sit alone and make an acorn face.

What Makes Your Voice Valuable?

If you want to make a living doing something you love, it needs to be valuable. When that something is writing, it comes down to your voice.

As a new writer, I think an awful lot about my voice. Where is it coming from, what does it offer, and why is it useful to anybody?

What all this leads up to is, will anybody want to pay for it?

When I think about what to write, what to do, or where to draw inspiration from, sometimes I find myself with an incessant thought.

I am limited by the choices I made in my life.

It may seem obvious, and perhaps it doesn’t bother you like it does me. But I wonder how it would be if I spent more time learning about writing when I was younger. How would it be if I had never gone to school and just traveled instead? Will I ever get to see Amsterdam? How can I find my true voice if I cannot live out every possible option and learn from them all?

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Vices, Intentions, Numbness and Joy

There are things we all do to tune out. You know your vices. You know what they are made of, where to get them, how to use them, where to keep them when you aren’t using them, and who else in your family or friends also has a relationship with them.

The funny thing about vices is that some people will tell you that you are numbing yourself out, and some will say that you are making yourself more creative or awake. Usually those are the ones who share in those vices with you, but not always.

The thing is, your experience probably tells you that both sides can be true at different points. Sometimes having a drink makes you incredibly alive and alert; other times it seems that with each passing sip, you are spiraling down into some thick hole that there is no way out of, except drinking, but it’s only pushing you down further. Why is there this discrepancy?

My momentary theory is that most of the difference between when a substance is numbing you and when it is enlivening you is all within your intention at the time of using it.

If I hold a shot glass of whiskey in my hand calmly, pour it into some hot water with honey and lemon juice, and take a small sip, this is one thing. If I take the whole bottle, drink a huge slug while feeling pissed off, and then chase it with lukewarm water with honey and lemon, this is another. The same is true for the way I might watch television, talk to a friend, or eat a bowl of soup. These things sometimes make one feel better after a little while, and sometimes they just make things worse.

I know that personally, substances do different things based on the intention I am holding. If I am truly open to letting a sip of whiskey make me more creative because I am in a good enough mood to purely welcome that creativity, then that is far more likely to happen than it making me increasingly upset. However, if I am incredibly upset and expect a substance to make me creative, this is not a very likely to occur.

The next thing to think about here is that numbness has a lot of qualities to it. When you are feeling pain, it may be natural for you to reach for that vice to get some numbing action. However, as you run from this pain, you are also running from true joy. There is no way you can numb one part of life in general, and not the other, right? You may feel the lack of pain; but this is not the same as joy. It is not the same as letting life in.

Why do we reach for these numbing things, and when? Do we reach for them only at night, when the day is over? Or do we reach for them all day, as soon as we wake up? Once you have layers upon layers of vices that you have not lived a week without in some years, then you may not realize how long this state of numbness has been going on.

When was the last time you felt real joy?

I propose that by changing your intentions, or at least, being aware of them while using your vices, you can gain some control over how they are going to make you feel. This is not because of magic; it is because you are personally touching in with how you feel before you expect some substance to magically change you. You are also using your intentions, which we all know can go a long way in changing the world around us. Most importantly, you are acknowledging when you are truly open to life; open to the vulnerable state that is welcoming creativity, welcoming love and joy, into your experience.Any object or substance can be a tool for transformation; but none of them can give you a willingness to transform that you do not already have.

If you do not have that vulnerability, I would argue that no substance in the world would help you feel anything other than numb to pain as well as the joy.

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