Just 10% of My Time

I’ve never been a fan of wasting time. My actions are generally purposeful. Don’t get me wrong, I love to zone out and binge watch Netflix like anyone else but it still serves a purpose. I may watch TV to zone out from life for a bit and enter the world of Stars Hallow or Hogwarts, I may watch TV because I am feeling down and I want to laugh alongside Mindy or Chandler. Other times I may watch because the house is quiet and I just want some background noise. Even sitting around “being lazy” serves a very distinct purpose in my life so when I say I don’t like wasting time I do not mean I don’t like “being lazy”. No, what I am referring to is partaking in those obligatory events, the long meetings where nothing is accomplished, the conference or class where you learnt absolutely nothing new.  The times where you continue to stare at the clock thinking “my goodness is this over yet?”

I believe that the sole purpose of life is to be happy. That means if I am reading a book and get to that boring middle part…I am no longer receiving happiness from the book so I stop reading. I can’t event begin to count how many books I have read half of. I also turn off movies. I leave events that I paid to be at. I don’t participate in obligatory events meetings etc. (with the obvious exception of work things….because overall my job makes me happy and if I were to not attend these events and lose my job that would make me sad).

I believe strongly that it is very important to have personal boundaries. I unfortunately learnt the hard way what happens when you suck at saying no to people. I’ve been abused, taken advantage of and left feeling worthless. I’ve endured things I never wanted to be a part of because “I felt I should be there” and I will never get that time back. Maybe some would say I am selfish, and maybe at face value it can seem selfish. “No I’m sorry, I do genuinely care for you but your birthday party plans do not appeal to me, I will not enjoy myself and I do not care to join you.”  “Oh? Your doing yet another charity run and want me donate…im sorry but no.”  “Thank you so much for the wedding invite…but I already rsvp’d to a wedding the week before and 2 weddings back to back…I dunno that sounds exhausting…my weekends are me time.” Do these sound selfish to you? Because they absolutely are not, no they are really a sign of setting healthy personal boundaries.

We see movies like “Yes Man”  which tells us that we will regret the choices we don’t make more than the choices we do make. It tells us that we need to say yes to life and explore all the possibilities. But I really disagree. Saying yes to things just because you feel you should or you feel it is “the right thing to do” can get you into a lot of trouble.

Don’t put others before yourself. Please put yourself first. Because by doing that you will find yourself in a position where you want to help others. Its the airplane example, you need to secure your own mask before assisting others with theirs. You need to put yourself first. When I see my husband has had a long stressful day at work I will give him a nice massage because I want to, not because I feel obligated to but because I know it makes him happy and that in turn makes me happy. Happiness can be contagious so focus on making yourself happy and go from there.

I am so sad to see others (and moms seem to be so prone to this) completely run down. For example,  they sacrifice time with their children to have a coffee with a girlfriend who is going through a crisis and needs to talk. These moms are thinking to themselves…what if I was in crisis? I would want her to be there for me so I need to be there for her. Maybe instead you need to think, I do not have the time for this but maybe we can have a telephone call, or maybe we can chat on Facebook. Maybe there is a way that I can still be there for her without sacrificing too much of my personal time.

Compassion fatigue is very real. and please don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy helping others. It is not uncommon for me to conduct suicide interventions, to be up at 2 am talking with my girlfriend who just left a relationship or to be meeting up with someone to lend them something. But I don’t do these things because I feel I need to…I do them when, and only when, I want to.

I see so many people just burnt out and I feel for them. I have been there. There was a time where I was working several jobs and was a full time student that volunteered over 12 hours a week at various organizations because I didn’t know how to say no. When someone needed a shift covered I was always there. It left me tired and worn out.

So when I say “I have better ways of spending my time” don’t judge me, don’t get upset with me because I’m not coming to your party recognize that I have personal boundaries and priorities. Please recognize that I spend the majority of my time at work or commuting to work and I only get 2 days with my family. That’s it. There are 168 hours in a week. I spend roughly 56 hours a week sleeping and another 51.25 hours at work or commuting to work. I only get MAYBE an hour with my son Monday-Friday between work and having to cook supper etc. and then I see him on the weekends but he is still young and takes naps. So of the 168 hours in a week I am LUCKY to spend 17 hours of it with my son (Or roughly 10% of my time). Can you believe that? The person that I love more than anyone else in the entire world. The person who I live and breath for only gets 10% of my time?? How would your boss feel if you only came into work 10% of the time? Its abysmal. How am I supposed to be there to help him learn to regulate his emotions, to help him learn new skills, to kiss his boo-boos and clap for his successes when I am never there? It is so disheartening. But unfortunately the government doesn’t just say oh you have a child now…well here, have a bunch of free money so you and your husband can stay home and just focus on raising your child. No we are grown ups who have to work to feed and clothe our child, and we are so blessed to have jobs we love.

So when I say I don’t want to go for coffee, I don’t want to help you move, I don’t want to go for drinks and no I do not want to be your plus 1 at a wedding,  please realize that I am saying no because I need to put my happiness first….and my happiness comes from playing and laughing with my family.  My no doesn’t mean I don’t care for you because OH MAN DO I CARE FOR YOU!! (If I didn’t I wouldn’t have you in my life plain and simple) it just means I need every second I can get with my son.

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A New Book

Sometimes a new chapter starts so suddenly had the big heading stating it was new chapter not been there you would have kept on going without noticing. In life these seem to be most common. Its the transition from birthday to birthday or Christmas to Christmas. Usually a big holiday or tradition brings us to think “Remember this last year when…?” It is only then that we become abruptly aware of the changes that have taken place since “when” and we panic a bit about how quickly time is passing. Sometimes, however, the opposite occurs, we become abruptly aware that nothing has changed since “when” and we panic a bit about how quickly time is passing.

Occasionally in life, changes are so large there is no missing the chapter heading, you know you are into a new chapter of life. These chapters are usually exciting moments, new beginnings. Think of the young child off to kindergarten for the first time nervous of being away from Mommy and Daddy for so long. Think of the new high school graduate now faced with the unique challenges of the “real world.” Think of weddings, the birth of children, the purchase of new car, moving, leaving an abusive or “not-a-right-fit” relationship, starting a new relationship.

Right now however, a new chapter doesn’t seem enough. There are so many new chapters occurring so quickly it appears to be time for a new book. Its incredibly overwhelming, stressful, exciting, and about a million others things I cannot find words for. I’m happy, I’m sad, I’m scared, I’m ready.

Since 2012 I have ticked a lot off the ol life to do list.

 

Bought my First Car-Check!

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Married the love of my life-check

Graduated University-Check!

Attended weddings- Check

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Grow another human with the help of my favorite human-check

Deliver that little human-Check

Fall In love with that little human-Check

Go visit other little humans after their birth-check

Lose a best Friend

lose another Best Friend

Get the Dream Career

Capture

Buy a House

Lose Another Best Friend

And another one

Its crazy to me how hard even the good things were/are. We made the choice to rehome Bailey and Rusko (the last two) as with being two working parents of a child under the age of 1 we no longer had the time they deserved from us. My heart hurts so bad especially for Rusko. He’s been my best puppy friend for two years. He cuddled with me when I was sick or sad (he never left my side through the whole pregnancy regardless of whether I was puking or not). He played with me when I was bored. He walked with me when I needed fresh air. He watched TV with me when I needed a break. It was the hardest choice I have ever made.

I feel like I have made a post similar to this before. The point however is not to say oh look at me Im not even 25 and I have my shit together. The point is to say as the builders finish building our house, as my family shrinks from loss of fur babies, as time with my son dwindles as he sleeps most of the time I am home, change is never easy. I often lay awake at night and think about the gravity of the choices I have made in the last two years. I’ve pushed myself so hard to have these things I have left people and things I care about behind. In two weeks we move to the new house and while I am excited, I am nervous because this new book is about to start and its daunting. Its just daunting. Its like one day Im standing at high school graduation thinking wow I have no idea what to do with myself and now 7 years later Im thinking wow I muddled through this far lets keep muddling. Plans fall through. I should have graduated university a year before I did. We put an offer on a house a while back that fell through. We should have had a baby 6 months earlier.

Life is a ride that is for sure, and I’m hanging on by dear life. This many changes this quickly is overwhelming. Just as you get used to life it changes. and Im sure just as we get settled in the home and feel that we are settling into a life where the chapters seemlessly run into each other another big change will come. But thats what your twenties is all about right? Creating the path. Trudging ahead. Making the choices that will affect you for the rest of your life. Its not easy. But with my best friend and wonderful son by my side, I’m sure we will get through just fine.

That wonderful baby smell

Mindfulness. Research has shown that this is one of the best paths to happiness. I have a hard time with this for a lot of reasons. For one I’m very skeptical, I want to see hard research that has been peer reviewed and replicated.  I want to know how statistically significant the results are and I want to understand the methodology of the studies.  I have my psych degree to thank for that. Secondly I’m very skeptical. I have just never bought into this peace and love granola crunchy hippy yoga lifestyle. In fact if you’d like to send me off into a rant good key words are things like alternative,  natural, homeopathic, or holistic. Mindfulness, for me, immediately brings forward the idea of meditation. Which seems hocus to me. Yoga, to me for example, should be about developing flexibility and strength not meditation. 

However I see now this topic has been scientifically studied and it has been validated that mindfulness is in fact a major contributor to happiness and that this skill can be acquired through meditation.

Since learning this fact I have tried to set my judgements aside and trust science and develop the skill of being mindful.

What does that mean? It means I am trying to learn how to stay in the moment. To be present. This means I’m not focusing on what I’m doing for dinner or thinking about the weekend. It means I’m not dwelling about the past or day dreaming about the future.  Yes these things have their time and place but 9 times out of 10 it’s just better to stay in the moment.

I have been working on developing this skill for just over a year and since returning to work I feel like I’ve finally figured it out.

I absolutely love my job. 3 weeks on and I feel like I have been there forever. It’s just a great fit. It keeps me busy and I don’t have a lot of idle time. I spend hours a day interviewing clients and my job depends on me being present and paying attention to what they are saying so I can reciprocate with meaningful and intelligent questions and statements. When I am at work I am just at work.

Then I go home and I see this adorable face.

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And I think to myself my goodness I am so blessed. How on earth did I get so lucky as to have such an amazing happy son. My job allows me to leave my work at work.  When I’m home I can be present with my son and my husband. Whether we are playing games, eating, snuggling, napping or sleeping I am there. It’s an amazing feeling.

I’m not stressed about work or finances. I’m not worried about what we will eat. I’m not focusing on previous awful jobs or bad friendships.  I’m just here. Today. Soaking every minute of life up.

When you spend your days conversing with people who have known indescribable heartache and challenges, who have battled addiction, lived on the streets, are surrounded with abuse it makes it easy to be grateful for what you have.

My life is by no means perfect but you know what I just don’t care anymore. I am so blessed and today right now this exact second in time I am here. I’m paying attention to my dog chewing his rawhide, the TV babbling in the background. I’m aware of the slight chill I feel as I’m ready to climb into my pj’s at 842 on a Saturday night. I’m aware that my hands slightly hurt from holding the phone. I hear my husband laugh at the TV.  My ears are always up listening for my son to wake up. my mouth still tastes of delicious lindt chocolate and I am sinfully craving another piece. I’m here.  I’m present. I’ve never been happier.

I dare you to try it. Set an alarm for 5 minutes and just focus. What do you hear? What do you see? What do you taste? What do you smell? What do you feel? Just focus.  It’s hard at first. Your mind will wander. But it gets easier. I’ve been practicing this skill for a while now. And while it completely goes against all things science to say it works for me so it will work for you I will say this. The studies are out there.  The proof is there. Mindfulness is an effective strategy to become happier. And at least for me, it hasn’t been an easy skill to develop but I am so grateful I took the time and energy to learn. If you don’t know where to start watch some meditation videos on YouTube,  try yoga, try the activity I just suggested with the 5 minute alarm. Take deep breathes and just stay present. It’s truly magical. I don’t want to miss my son growing up simply because my mind was too busy to just focus on him and be here with him.

“Having Fun Isn’t Hard When You’ve Got a Library Card”-Arthur

Ok…I’m a nerd. You caught me. I love learning. This shouldn’t really be a surprise though if you have been following the blog. I remember one day as a child I was sitting in church and the lesson was on education. They told us that even if we planned on growing up, getting married, having children and being a stay-at-home-mom that it was of vital importance to get an education first. They said an education is something that no one can take away from you. Material things like your house, car, clothing etc. can all be taken away but an education can’t. It was never my plan to be a stay-at-home-mom, just not my thing, but the concept of an education being mine and no one being able to take it away from me really stuck with me. I realize as an adult that certain mental illnesses generally associated with old age that could in a way take your education away (like Alzheimers) but the fact remained.

When I graduated High School I planned on going right into the Bachelor of Arts program at the University of Alberta and transferring into Education. Life had another plan for me and took me down a completely different path.  I ended up taking a year off of school and working (which I don’t regret at all I learnt A LOT that year about how to be an adult). I then, as you know, ended up with a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in Psychology and minor in Sociology from Grant MacEwan University.

Switching paths last minute made my university experience very difficult. I went into the program wanting to be a police psychologist. My dream was (and in many ways still is) to obtain my doctorate in Clinical Forensic Psychology and get hired with the RCMP doing research based on Policing. Things like the measures used to recruit officers, effectiveness of training, methods of debriefing post critical incident, excessive use of force etc. In this dream of mine I would also occasionally be utilized to do clinical work with officers after major events.  I had NO idea what it would take to make this dream a reality until I was already two and a half years into my degree. I didn’t set myself up for an honours degree not understanding what it was or why it was necessary, I didn’t give a crap about all my “extra” classes like anthropology, music and linguistics. Consequently, when I realized what an honours degree was and why I needed it my GPA was in the crapper.  I worked my butt off and took and extra year to try and raise my GPA. I beat the required psychology GPA out of the water however I missed acceptance into the program by 0.03 on my everything else GPA. This crushed me and I reluctantly finished out my degree with a bitter taste in my mouth for education. I’m not going to lie, standing at my graduation seeing a lot of my friends walk the stage ahead of me with their honours was really difficult. Pregnancy hormones aside, I definitely fought back tears of jealousy.

The jealously didn’t detract me for long, after all I did it to myself. I should have done more research on the program instead of trying to wing it. I received my piece of paper in June and by July was ready to start learning again. With a baby only a couple months away, the idea of applying for any formal education was out of the question and I missed the deadline for graduate study applications anyways. Afraid of being another Google educated idiot I went out and got a library card (which is still free to Edmontonians for the rest of the year BTW). I have spent much time this summer reading books about things I just never had the time to as a student. It became so quickly apparent to me that when learning was intrinsic, on topics I was actually interested in, that it was fun and brought me a lot of happiness. I’ve now devoured several books on cooking, buying a home, personal finance, Tax Free Savings Accounts and other similar topics…that’s not even mentioning the countless pregnancy and parenting books I have read.

What I’ve learned since graduating is that, as a delightful aardvark once pointed out, “Having Fun Isn’t Hard When You’ve Got a Library Card.” This world is full of so much information. Its like the saying goes “The more you know the more you realize you don’t know” or as Socrates put it “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” When you can take the opportunity to learn about things that you are interested in, things that matter to you…there is no greater joy. Whether its video games, computers, knitting, sports, the history of Disney or the ancient Romans, learning about things that actually interest you on a personal level is sooo worth it. Reading and observing the world around me gives me inspiration to write this blog (and thank you so much to those who read it religiously! It means more than I can say).

I truly believe that learning needs to be part of life long process. Never stop. If you hated school growing up I highly encourage you to give it another chance as an adult. You don’t need to go to a fancy institute with fancy classes that gives you fancy pieces of paper. You can take it upon yourself to read books, Google scholar or even the amazing website described in this ted talk if you want a little fancy in your life. Watch TED Talks. I love them! Probably watch 3 or 4 a week. Whatever you choose, choose something today. Read slowly. Do it on the side. Take your time. Embrace life. Die knowing that you learnt all you could and never gave up.

Also in case I accidentally brought back the 90s and got the sung stuck in your head….here’s Arthur.

Get Involved Today!

This is kind of a double post because I want to talk about the importance of volunteer work on a resume for career purposes, but volunteerism is also so integral to happiness.  It breaks my heart a little bit when I find people that don’t volunteer their time at all ever.  Its such a win-win!! A good deed will make you feel good, it will increase your appeal to potential employers and it helps other people.

I’m really addicted to Friends so here’s the clip about no selfless good deed if you’d like to watch it.

From a Social/ Happiness Perspective

Social Psychologists have coined the term egoism for this underlying motive to increase ones own welfare (vs alturism which aims to increase another welfare). The problem with looking at helping others as purely egotistic is that you create circular reasoning, why do you volunteer–>for the good feelings and boost in my well being–>how did you know there would be good feelings–>Why else would I have volunteered? In my opinion and experience you can and should be simultaneously egotisic and altruistic about helping others.

Everyone has a passion and it is up to you to find somewhere you can give some time that you are passionate about. If you hate animals (is that even possible?!) the humane society is probably not the best place for you to volunteer however if you love animals its probably a great place to spend some time. The wonderful thing about volunteering? You can pick a place that works with your schedule and you can choose how much time to give and when to call it quits.

i remember as a child participating in the trick-or-treat for UNICEF campaign where we would wear the little boxes to collect money for UNICEF and I always thought it was a really great cause. The program has changed now for safety reasons but it does still exist.  A few years ago, I volunteered with UNICEF for just the month of October. I specifically went into different schools and got to stand in front of everyone at an assembly and give a presentation about who UNICEF is and help the kids get really passionate about the program by showing them how they can make a difference in the lives of children all over the world. This volunteer position was really rewarding for me, it brought me back to my childhood and helped me to get other kids passionate about this program. I specifically have a passion for UNICEF because I believe that with it being associated with the United Nations and a government led program rather than a religious based program gives it advantages that other similar programs don’t have.  But that’s just me. All these organizations do amazing work, volunteer with red cross or the Salvation Army. If you are passionate about children then this is a great way to go!  (P.S. If you are interested in volunteering with UNICEF click here for more information)

There are literally thousands of organizations out there that could use your help. Are you a trades person? Go to habitat for humanity. Want to connect with victims of sexual abuse? Talk to the sexual assault center or Zebra in Edmonton if you want to work with children, or the police victim services unit if you want to work with victims in general. If you have a passion for eating or cooking go volunteer at the food bank or a shelter. There are SO many options, big brothers big sisters, cross cancer or stollery hospitals, the zoo, Starbucks even (they have big community events where they plant trees and stuff!) etc. And if you don’t want to or can’t devote a lot of time to volunteering all of these organizations will have events a couple times a year where they could use volunteers. This could include one big fundraising day where they may just need someone to volunteer for the day to hand out balloons with their logo on it. It doesn’t matter where you volunteer or how much time you give to them the fact that you are there will benefit you and them. (Did you know that some of Edmonton’s biggest events need volunteers and reward their volunteers well. The taste of Edmonton for example will give you coupons so that you can go and try all the food if you volunteer for a few days…and quite a lot of coupons too! Some music festivals will let you watch the entire show if for free if you help clean up or stamp wrists!)

I can personally attest to the benefits of donating your time in a capacity like this, life is just better. Its like doing your homework, the worst part is opening your book. Then you remember that you chose this class for a reason, the subject matter is actually really interesting and you find yourself enjoying the study time. The hardest part of volunteering is walking out the door.

I mentioned in a previous post that I was amazed at the sense of community that you can find in a large city and said that if you don’t believe me you have never seen a crisis. The sad thing is that a lot of people wait until there is a crisis to help. People don’t care until there is massive amounts of  suffering. The girl with cancer doesn’t get noticed until she is directly related to you or on TV. I do believe the world is a good place. When times get desperate people help. However, together we can be proactive and help people without needing a catastrophe to kick us in the butt.  Husband and I have discussed our desire to get our son involved in the community at a young age. Whether that means making thank you cards for the local police or fire department, dropping off cookies to a senior center, or giving toys away to kids who need them more, we feel it is important to teach him at a young age the importance of community and altruism.  I hope that you feel the same about your family (future, potential or current) and that you understand the difference a couple of hours a week can make both in your life and the life of someone else.

From A Career Standpoint

I love the movie, “He’s Just Not That Into You” because I love the basic premise…we hear stories all the time about things working out in weird and wonderful ways and then we make erroneous conclusions based on that one incident forgetting that that situation was “the exception not the rule”

Some people graduate high school, go right to university (and possibly grad school) and land their dream career bam. bam. bam. They are the exception not the rule.  Repeat after me, they are the exception, not the rule.

What usually happens? People graduate high school and maybe go to post-secondary then squander around for a while bitching about the crappy job market, bad economy, and cry because they can’t get their dream job. I’ve heard this sometimes also associated with the so-called “education inflation” that is-more people have higher levels of education now than they did several years ago. Thus a job that used to need a GED now needs a college certificate, the one that needed a certificate needs a degree, the one that needed a degree needs a masters and so on. So from the way I look at it, you can stick your head in the sand and get a degree while spending a lot of time, money and energy partying with your friends and studying, graduate and then cry when you realize you have $50,000 of student loans to repay and can’t get a job or you could take initiative.

After discovering what I wanted to for a career as an adult (I think I previously mentioned I originally wanted to be a juniour high drama teacher, worked with kids and went nope can’t do this for the rest of my life and then decided a new career path)  I did what I needed to do to put my resume ahead of the rest. Everyone is going to have a resume saying they have post-secondary that’s a job requirement, but what have you been doing that sets you apart from everyone else? VOLUNTEERING!!!!!!! Once you have your piece of paper no one cares about your grades (unless you are going to grad school….that’s the exception). So think about what you want to do and do it. Any organization that you would want to be hired at will most likely take you as a volunteer. It might not be glamorous, you might be making coffee and doing photocopying BUT you are doing two important things. 1) Networking. If the people at this company come to see you as reliable, interested in the position, knowledgeable, personable etc. when a competition is posted you now know the people who you would be working with/the people interviewing and hiring you! If that isn’t an advantage I don’t know what is. Never ever underestimate the power of networking. Along those lines please watch yourself. Don’t post shit about other people on Facebook or talk about people behind their back unless it’s someone you really trust like your significant other or best-est best friend in the whole world. We all need to vent, and we have people that just drive us mental but people talk and your casual comment to an acquaintance 4 years ago could be the reason you don’t get a job. Been there. Done that. 2) Experience. Now when your name comes up for an interview you will be able to say “I have experience doing this job. Not a similar job, not a textbook understanding of how the job should work but an actual working understanding of this exact job. How the heck are other people supposed to compete with you when you have that?

Whether your dream career is a teacher, doctor, lawyer, police officer, garbage man, paralegal, zoo keeper, computer tech, etc. it is RARE to find a business that won’t take a volunteer if you truly want to be there and want to learn more about the position. In fact. One of the top reasons for receiving a deferral from a police service (a deferral is a length of time in which they basically say we don’t think you are ready you can apply again in ____ months/years etc.) is because the candidate doesn’t have volunteer experience. Why do you want to be a police officer–>I want to help people–>if you want to help people why haven’t you been doing just that?? Liar….differed! That easy.

Of course my advice is merely my opinion. An opinion that has been gained from research and careful observation of friends and family. But hey if you want to ignore me totally your call and if you want to just keep your fingers crossed that that piece of paper hanging on your wall is enough and that you will be the exception not the rule that’s cool but I’m going to keep sucking in every morsel of experience and knowledge I can find. Because after I have this baby and am ready to go back to work I don’t just want a job. I want a career.

You Don’t Have to Live in Small Town Alberta to Have a Sense of Community

At one time,  the only measure we had as Canadians regarding our wellbeing was our Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  For those unfamiliar with the GDP, it is essentially a quarterly report from the Government which states how the Canadian economy is doing. Thankfully, the wonderful people at Waterloo University decided this was not a good enough measure of how Canadians are really doing and took it upon themselves to create “Canadian Index of Wellbeing.” Now, rather than measuring our successes and failures in solely monetary values, we can measure it in areas that count. Such as community (the basis of this post), democratic engagement, education, health etc.

This index of wellbeing is now in its second edition, allowing us to see not only how we are doing right now, but how we are doing in relation to how we were doing in 1994 when the original index was created. Some disturbing facts come from this.  As stated on the website (https://uwaterloo.ca/canadian-index-wellbeing/) ,

“The second Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW) composite report shows in the seventeen year period from 1994 to 2010, Canada’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew by a robust 28.9% while our quality of life only improved by a very modest 5.7%. Further, it reveals Canadian wellbeing dropped by 24% between 2008 and 2010 and the decline in our wellbeing continues despite subsequent economic recovery.

The findings uncover some troubling truths about the connection between our economy and our wellbeing. When Canada’s economy was thriving, Canadians saw only modest improvements in their overall quality of life, but when the economy faltered our wellbeing took a disproportionate step backward.”

While it is arguable that the government should be doing more to help us attain a higher quality of life, there is so much that we can and should be doing at an individual level.

The first domain the CIW addresses is Community Vitality. When this came up in my positive psych class, many were confused. Why is community such a pertinent issue? My answer. Once you have found a place in your community you will understand.  Here is a quick overview in the changes to community vitality between 1994 and 2012.

https://uwaterloo.ca/canadian-index-wellbeing/resources/infographics/community-vitality

I grew up in small town Alberta. The population is less than 1500 people. I always watched Gilmore Girls thinking how cool it would be to live in Stars Hallow, my town was not, in any way Stars Hallow (whew, I think I’ve already made two references to Gilmore Girls on this blog…). I equated the town nothing but small and boring. I could bike from one side to the other in under 15 minutes. I went to a farm school which meant most of my friends lived on farms or in other small towns. Either way, being young and unable to drive, my friends were often inaccessible. I spent my summers watching movies in the basement alone and occasionally going off to camp with one of my BFFs. I volunteered with the sturgeon youth council, but again with everything being so far away I volunteered pretty half-assed and didn’t get a ton from the experience. While many found this living ideal and had a strong sense of community I often felt isolated and alone.

Eager to leave, I moved into the big city when I was 17 (almost 18) and hadn’t even officially graduated high school yet. Within two years I found the true meaning of community. I got a summer job working with community services in the recreation department. I worked a free drop in program for kids and it really changed my life. Even on the coldest, windiest, miserablest (yes I know that’s not actually a word) days I would sit at the park I was assigned to and watch the children flock from all sides to come and join me and their friends. Even if we were just sitting under the park equipment chatting trying to stay out of the rain, these children made the choice to come and join when they could be sitting at home. I worked in a very affluent neighbourhood my first year too, these kids all had every gaming device made, swimming pools, big screen tvs etc. One day, while I was still working these programs, I was loading groceries into my car and heard my name. I looked up and saw two brothers that I had worked with several years previously with their heads out the car door as their Mom stopped the car so we could chat. After three years, not only did these boys remember me but they remember specific things that we did together, games that we played, conversations that we had. It hit me that I had actually made an impact on these kids and my life really hasn’t been the same since. Through this drop in program I have watched children meet their neighbours and become best friends,I’ve watched kids grow up, I talked with young women about things that really matter to them like self-image and drugs. And I saw a City of over 800,000 come together in a way I never would have thought possible.

photo (3)

That’s me 3 years ago rocking the juvenile duck face goofing off while working recreation.

Next, I joined the Police Service as a volunteer in the Victim Services Unit. I began calling victims of crime to follow-up with them, give them local references to free counselling, funeral services, sexual assault relief etc. Next I began going out on calls. I have held the hands of mothers as they find out their child is not ever coming home again, I have sat with young women who were sexual abused and children who found their only parent hanging from a ledge in the house dead. If you do not believe there is a sense of community in this city of 800,000 you have never seen trauma or extreme distress.

photo (4)It’s really poor quality but that is me and the deputy cheif of police a few years ago at an appreciation lunch

Just recently a friend of mine was told by the Cancer Institute that there were no further treatments for her. Having to look elsewhere to treatment became expensive quickly and her friends and family all got together to host an event for her which they called, “Angels for Crystal.” Through donations of complete strangers, this city of over 800,000 raised over $50,000 for her.

1016175_314368122031478_1376921620_nThe strongest, most inspiring person I know and me (with my little baby bump)

My heart is humbled but the actions of strangers. Through social media I have found other communities as well. Through www.babycenter.com I have gained a support network of almost 16,000 women across the world who are also pregnant and due in September 2013. We have seen several babies go to heaven from the group, while several more rest in the NICU. We have been there for each other to ask questions and lean on for support. I have found people within the city who also love animals through the humane society. While I have never met or even directly communicated with them I feel close to people who post on their page knowing that we all share a common bond and love of animals. Through my various jobs I have gained friends that span the whole width of the city.

I know now what I was missing when I lived in Small Town Alberta….I missed a sense of community.

What do you do to feel close to your community?

Track Your Happiness

As I mentioned in the last happiness post, this one would be following up with the TED talk “What to be happier stay in the moment” by Matt Killingsworth. Here is the link if you are interested in watching the video for yourself.

In my last semester of University I took a 400 level positive psychology class. For those unfamiliar with positive psychology it is a branch of psychology aimed at studying, “positive emotions, positive character traits and enabling institutions” (1)  Unlike other fields of psychology, positive psychology is not aimed at relieving suffering but rather to increase happiness (1).

Throughout the semester, we discussed mindfulness a lot and I plan on looking into mindfulness a bit further in future posts so I won’t delve into it now except to simply say that mindfulness at a core level is exactly as it sounds. Staying in the moment, being mindful of the experiences that are occurring around you right now. For example, if I am mindful of this moment I notice the clip-clop sounds of my dogs claws on the lino floor, the sound of the CN train in the distance, the slight pain in my lower back, my baby moving, the texture of the keyboard under my fingers. This is extreme mindfulness though but serves as an example of what I mean by the word.

Whether we like it or not we live in a fast paced technological world and unless we are willing to relocate to another slower paced country this is a reality we must face. I received my first cell phone when I was 16 or 17. I purchased the original iPhone several years ago and have upgraded my phone as Apple has come out with new products. In my house of just 2 people we have 2 tvs, 2 tablets, 2 iPhones, 2 Desktop computers and 2 laptops (granted one of the laptops has a cracked screen and doesn’t work so well….) the point remains I do not know how to live without technology, a sentiment I know many would agree with.

So back to the point. In the TED talk, Dr. Killingsworth introduces us to http://www.trackyourhappiness.org This website works by sending you random notifications throughout the day (to your phone) and asks you questions such as how happy are you right now? What are you doing right now? Are you thinking about something other than what you are doing? etc. The goal of this site is to get real-life, real-time data on what you are doing and the degree of happiness that accompanies it. This site is free and a wonderful tool. It allows you to track you actual levels of happiness while building up more data for Matt and his colleagues to work with and discover more about happiness.

I have this set up to ask me questions every 6 months to continue to monitor what is making me happy. I think this is important because rarely do I ever say hmmmm I’m at the dog park I must be really happy rather I think, “OMG it’s so hot…I’m exhausted…why didn’t I bring a water bottle? etc.” But ironically enough, the dog park is the number one location in which I report being happy, followed secondly by volunteering at a probation office (hence part of my decision to become a probation officer). But yet here are some of my results.

LOCATION & HAPPINESS

Chart?chs=310x310&cht=bhg&chco=0088cc&chxt=y%2cx&chxl=0%3a%7cin+a+car%7cvolunteer+vsu%7cvolunteer+vsu%7cin+a+mall%7cat+work%7cschool%7cwedding%7cat+home%7cvolunteer+probation%7cdog+park&chxr=1%2c0%2c100&chxs=0%2c666666%2c10%7c1%2c666666%2c10&chd=s%3a8tmmkfcuig&chbh=20

What am I doing & Happiness

Chart?chs=310x562&cht=bhg&chco=0088cc&chxt=y%2cx&chxl=0%3a%7cbuilding+furniture%7cwalking%2c+taking+a+walk%7cgrooming%2c+self+care%7ccommuting%2c+traveling%7crelaxing%2c+nothing+special%7cdoing+housework%7ceating%7crest%2fsleep%7cpreparing+food%7cwatching+television%7cshopping%2c+errands%7creading%7chome+computer%7cworking%7cplaying%7ctalking%2c+conversation%7cwaiting+for+the+dr%7cgetting+ready+to+go%7cmaking+love&chxr=1%2c0%2c100&chxs=0%2c666666%2c10%7c1%2c666666%2c10&chd=s%3a98yvuutttrrrommgccc&chbh=20

While this may look straight forward, of course I would be happiest during sex (No I did not stop half way through to answer the questions…) and least happy building furniture (seriously ikea?) but getting ready to go? Waiting for the Dr? These are not things one usually associates with happiness.  There is also a lot of data out there saying we are least happy when we are commuting (which is shown by my data as well).

I admit I am rushing to finish this post as I need to go to bed and I am leaving for camping tomorrow so I won’t be able to write for a couple of days but hey. That gives you 2 days to watch the TED Talk and create an account on trackmyhappiness.org and get started. Find out what is making you the happiest in your day-to-day life. You’ll notice my happiest levels are around 95-100% that’s some serious happy! And I put a lot of work into that. Figure out your happiness and your areas of unhappiness. I can give you some pointers and tips to leading a truly happy life when you have this data (and no I don’t need you to share…the data is pretty damn personal!)

(1) Seligman, M. E. P., Steen T.A., Park N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410-421