living mindfully (or THP: Chapter Ten)

(This is part ten in a series about The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin.  To start at the beginning, click here. )

In the month of October, Gretchen attempted to be more mindful on a daily basis.  We could all benefit from paying more attention, I suspect, whether it’s while driving, eating or simply listening to another person.

After justifying NOT attempting traditional meditation (“It holds no appeal for me.”  BE GRETCHEN!), she started by ‘meditating’ (of sorts) on koans (questions/statements that are illogical).

(How many phrases in parentheses can I insert into one sentence??)

Phrases like ‘If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?’ come to mind.  Gretchen realized that she’d been accumulating a list of her own ‘koans’ over time through her reading and note-taking.  I loved that she took the Spanish proverb found in Samuel Johnson’s ‘Life of Johnson,’  “He, who would bring home the wealth of the Indies, must carry the wealth of the Indies with him,” and applied it to her happiness project such that in order to be happy, she must CARRY HAPPINESS WITH HER.

She also examined her ‘true rules.’  First, I love that she has ‘rules.’  I feel like I’d love to make up a list of my own ‘true rules’ someday.  I’m sure it would include things like ‘tidy the couch before going up to bed,’ or ‘always go to bed with a clean sink,’ and other order-related tasks.  But, it would also include things like ‘always be authentic’ and ‘do hard things.’  Perhaps I WILL make a list of my true rules.

Anyway, in taking a look at hers, Gretchen realized that some were good (“things that go wrong often make the best memories”) and some weren’t as good (“I’m in a hurry”).  She changed that one to “I have plenty of time for the things that are important to me.”  Ain’t that the truth–priorities, man.

Gretchen said that ‘stimulating the mind in new ways’ might enhance her experience of the present moment.  I think there is a lot of wisdom there.  She tried hypnosis (results varied, but overall improved her mindfulness), laughter yoga (an exercise in self-consciousness–as it would be for me as well),  learning to draw (perhaps the most successful in that it boosted her happiness by doing something new and challenging, and that it boosted her mindfulness by allowing her to appreciate a different part of the city and daily schedule) and dancing to music (bless her heart, I don’t know if I would have done that even if I was alone!).  I do love that she realized it wasn’t music she didn’t like, simply that she didn’t ‘approve of her own taste’ in music.

Lastly, she kept a food diary.  As a dietitian, this task made me smile.  Using a food diary (paper or via an app) is a great idea whether you want to lose weight or not; being more aware of what, how much and how often you’re eating can be beneficial in so many ways!  Admittedly, Gretchen found it hard to REMEMBER to keep up with her food diary (a common problem), but she still saw benefits in the attempt.  First, she noticed the ‘extraneous’ food she was eating (a few bites here, a few bites there) and second, her ‘fake-food’ habit.  I love her name for the ‘low-calorie, low-nutrition’ items she indulged in, such as pretzels or packaged, lowfat baked items. She realized her fake-food habit had been causing her to feel guilty, and by giving it up completely (she’s a cold-turkey kinda gal), she alleviated those bad feelings.  Win-win!

Gretchen ends the chapter with an interesting side note.  She realized that her mindfulness had put her at risk of becoming a ‘happiness bully.’  Ha!  I won’t do her diatribe justice with a quick synopsis, but suffice it to say, she was indeed starting to push happiness on others…sometimes forcefully so.  (In her defense, I think I too might have started to meddle and advise and perhaps–maybe–even ‘force clutter clearing’ onto anyone who would listen.)

I’d say I struggle with being mindful much of the time.  I’m one of those people who is constantly thinking ten steps ahead, trying to be uber-efficient with my time, and interrupting others (or at the very least not listening and instead thinking of my reply).  In a effort to achieve, I live and die by the to-do list and rarely find time to be mindful about anything I’m doing!  Thankfully, pregnancy has helped a little, in that I’ve had to adjust my expectations and at times I’ve been forced to slow down, sit down or even stop what I was doing.  By having to ‘listen to my body’ in a way I’ve never had to before, I think I have become a bit more mindful of late.  I think Gretchen’s choice of ‘tasks’ to help her become more mindful are interesting and intriguing.  It makes me wonder, what could I do to be more mindful in everyday life?  Clearly, it’s not about sitting more, or meditating or ommm-ing my way to a more peaceful existence.


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