It’s that time again. The holiday season is winding down, and we are bracing for the long winter that lurks outside our frosty windows. Unwrapped but unopened gifts clutter various corners of our homes. Boxes and plastic storage tubs sit restlessly in our basements, longing to be reunited with fraying stockings, fragile ornaments, and dusty wreaths. Our perfect plastic trees will soon be dismantled and neatly put away until next season, which I promise will be here in the blink of an eye.

As the holiday decor is coming down, lists are being posted. Resolutions, or as I think of them, decent ideas that most people don’t really expect to follow through with. Many of us resolve to exercise vigorously (“I’m joining my local gym, which is very close-by so it will be easy for me to get up and go at 5AM every day before work.”), eat clean (“I’m cutting sugar completely out of my diet.”), quit drinking (“Seriously, after New Year’s Eve I’m done.”), etc. These kinds of resolutions are all fine ideas, but for most of us they simply aren’t very realistic — or are at least not very sustainable. So what seem on the surface like positive goals, actually end up making us feel worse when the goals are not met. The only resolution I’ve made that has seemed to stick was a few years back when I swore off resolutions. I would encourage everyone to try this. What if I suggested that rather than coming up with daunting resolutions that we don’t want to do in the first place, we simply decide to live intentionally and do things we believe will make us happy?

There is a mountain of scientific evidence suggesting that happier people are healthier, more productive, and live longer than others. I think we can agree that happy people are generally more fun to be around, and as a former grump who has become mostly very happy, I can attest that it feels a hell of a lot better. Unfortunately many refuse to give it a try — or perhaps just honestly don’t know how.

“Happiness” is subjective, and we all define it a bit differently. But when we make a list (preferably an actual written list) of things that bring us a bit joy, we can more easily make an intentional effort to regularly increase our happiness level. Instead of coming up with lists of bad habits to break and agonizing things to attempt, we have “tasks” we enjoy and actually want to do. When we associate happiness with healthiness and longevity, we no longer need to feel guilty about making the time to cross these tasks off our to-do lists.

So here are some things on my list; maybe they can provide some inspiration:

1.  I will not worry as much about healthy eating. I’m not a health nut, but I definitely watch what I eat. I rarely have fast food, fried food, or even red meat. I’m certainly not going to start chowing down on everything in sight, but I’m not going to avoid the bacon this year. Or the ice cream. Or the gravy. And I might have seconds of each.

2.  I will ride my bicycle more. I rode my bike constantly as a child, and have periodically as an adult. After a trip to Colorado, where approximately 1 out of 1.1 people were cyclists, I was inspired to give it a go again. Cycling is obviously great exercise, but it also makes me feel like a kid again. Racing down a long, steep hill with the wind in my face, knowing that at any second a blowout could send me tumbling, is truly exhilarating. So exhilarating that I no longer care about looking goofy in a helmet. 

3.  I will take more hikes in the woods. This is another activity that is great physical exercise, but I find it to be much more beneficial mentally. I jog or walk most days for fitness, but it becomes a boring routine. However, when I’m hiking through wooded areas I lose track of time and the outside world as I become pleasantly lost in my surroundings. I completely forget about the fact that I’m exercising at all. Everyone should get lost in the woods from time to time — it’s amazing what you might find.

4.  I will read more books. Besides stimulating the brain, reading is said to strengthen memory, reduce stress, hone one’s focus, improve sleep, and much more. Mostly though, I enjoy it.

5.  I will continue to make an effort each day to be somehow kind and helpful. I’ve discovered that how people treat others is almost always directly related to how they feel about themselves. Similarly, being kind helps me like myself more. I often hear the term “random acts of kindness,” but I prefer regular acts of kindness. These acts don’t necessarily require any time, money, or even much thought. For me, it is simply an intentional attempt to do little things like smiling more, saying “hello” to strangers on the street, or returning my shopping cart. I have felt horrible after being negative or rude many times, but I have never once regretted being kind. 

Maybe this to-do list doesn’t fit you, but there is one that does. Another year is passing, which means we have one less to take advantage of. What are you waiting for? Forget the resolutions to do things you want to avoid; instead figure out a way to do things that make you happy. If nothing else, remember that happiness is good – not something to feel guilty about or put off for later. Go live intentionally, and savor the gravy.

Cheers and Happy New Year

Don’t Forget Thanksgiving

November 17, 2016


My favorite holiday is on the horizon. If you immediately think of Christmas, you’re completely wrong. I love the simplicity and comfort of Thanksgiving. During a time of extreme division and animosity between so many different segments of our nation’s population, we need this day to come together — not for religious purposes, not to share gifts, but to eat, drink, be merry, and share our gratitude for each other and for all that we have.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Christmas, but I’m saddened that consumerism and greed are tarnishing the greatness of Thanksgiving, all under the guise of Christmas. Unfortunately, our new Thanksgiving tradition is to skip out on board games, movies, and other family activities, and instead opt to leave shortly after dinner in order to get a good spot in line outside of a department store. Once the doors are unlocked, we swarm inside like an unruly mob, sometimes screaming, trampling, and literally throwing punches, all in order to…shop.

I understand that times are tough for many of us and that there are good deals to be had, but there has to be more to it. I believe many people think they are happier when they are spending money or, more specifically, shopping. There’s a certain sportsmanship and one-upmanship that’s involved with shopping, especially on Thanksgiving. It’s a primal hunt for the best deal, followed by a desire to beat one’s chest and howl in triumph (or at least post on Facebook about how awesome it was). It’s a societal change that is the result of unbelievably successful marketing. Thanksgiving shoppers may be getting good deals, but it is actually corporate America that is really winning — just as they’ve strategically planned. There’s a reason that Christmas marketing starts the day after Halloween. Thanksgiving just doesn’t sell well. Corporate greed trickles down and unknowingly becomes the greed of the consumer. Meanwhile, retail workers — people making $8-$10 an hour — are being forced away from their families to deal with the madness as they simultaneously help line corporate pockets. But, hey, it’s all for Christmas…

My beef really isn’t with Christmas or capitalism, it’s with American consumers. In a time when we bitch and moan far too much, when our possessions define us, when our politics divide us, can’t we take one full day to be grateful for what we already have? Let’s reverse the trend of diminishing the importance of our country’s first holiday. Let’s stop shopping on Thanksgiving or even at the stroke of midnight on Friday. Let’s spend time with our family. The gifts you’re buying don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things (in fact, if you look in your children’s closets, you’ll probably find some unopened toys from last Christmas). However, our kids will quickly grow up and start their own families, and our elders will eventually leave this world. The best gift we have is time with our family. The appreciation of which is also one of the best gifts we can pass on to our youth.

I read a quote once — I’m not sure where it originated — that said something like: “It’s not happy people who are thankful, but rather thankful people who are happy.” We have plenty of time to shop before Christmas. Let’s put Thanksgiving back on the pedestal it deserves. Let’s carry on a tradition that began in 1621 when immigrant and native families shared food, stories, and gratitude. Let’s preserve the best holiday of all, Thanksgiving.

(By the way, this also means no Christmas decorations until Thanksgiving is over. Please and thank you.)

  
Today I turn 43. Despite the aches in my back, knees, and hands, I feel very young. Younger than I have in a long time, actually. I’m fitter, happier, and in an overall better mental state than I’ve ever been as an adult. Not that 43 is old, necessarily — age is really just a relative number. To a child, 43 seems like a lifetime away; almost certainly incomprehensible (and why should a child need to understand or think about it). To the very old it may seem like a lifetime ago. Although I doubt it. The one thing I notice most with aging — my biggest complaint — is that time seems to move faster and faster the older we get. I’m trying my damnedest to change this, however. And it’s working.

Obviously time is constant, but our perspective and perception of time seems to become completely screwed up as we age. Most of us rush around all day, meeting schedules and deadlines. We worry about what happened yesterday and lose sleep over what may (or may not) happen tomorrow. The free time that we do actually have is often wasted by us believing it isn’t enough time, so we discard it completely. This wasn’t the case when we were kids. The ancient philosopher Heraclitus wrote, “Time is a game played beautifully by children.” I think he’s right. Kids are better at making good use of time than almost all adults. Especially younger children. If there’s a spare minute in the day, they will find a toy to enjoy. Five extra minutes of playtime before bed is like a gift that is gratefully received. Kids don’t worry about it getting dark, but instead play hard until they can’t see. Unfortunately we regress as we age to the point that most adults are dreadful at this “game.” I know I used to be.

I’m far from an expert now, but I’ve found that I’m getting much better by reminding myself to be mindful, grateful, and frugal. These are really all related, and once you start to understand and practice them, worry and stress naturally fall by the wayside. I find myself appreciating life more, desiring less, and not caring much about keeping up with the demands put on us by American society and consumerism. By this I basically mean not worrying as much about money and material possessions. When you are truly aware, thankful, and consciously spending less on unnecessary items, life becomes simpler, more fulfilling, and time is much less of a constraint. It is a very liberating experience.

Many people think I’m crazy. I traded a very lucrative career to be a stay-at-home dad, and am now pursuing a career in teaching. My life is much fuller and my time is much better spent — and appreciated. I’m not suggesting anyone give up a career, but I would also caution against knocking it if you haven’t tried it. The older you get the more you understand the old “life is too short” saying. It is certainly possible to juggle a busy, stressful job and have a productive, happy personal life. But the key is to be sure you are happy — a question we can only answer if we are truly honest with ourselves. Time — or the lack thereof — has a unique knack for showing us what really matters in life. Sometimes it’s too late. My sincere birthday wish is that everyone eventually finds happiness…and has the time to enjoy it.

Cheers.

 

 

 

 

Photo Credit: A Photographer

The best thing about being a substitute teacher is working with kids. Admittedly, there are times when this is also the worst part of my job, but it’s rare.

Many days I find I’m inspired by seeing students — often from different races and nationalities — being genuinely kind to one another. This supports my belief that people are inherently good. Other days I feel excited and happy when a child finally “gets it,” and I see their eyes light up and a gap-toothed smile stretch across their face. It’s proof that kids learn differently, but they all actually want to learn. Each and every day I am lucky enough to hear or see something that makes me laugh out loud — a reminder that we take life a little too seriously.

Yesterday was no different. I was subbing for a teacher who takes students out of their normal classrooms to be part of smaller group instruction. So I would go to various classrooms, retrieve the students, then walk them to the room where the smaller groups meet. I’ve subbed for this teacher several times, so the students know who I am, but I still try to help put them at ease by making a little small talk as we walk. 

It was mid-morning when I went to a first grade class and pulled out a girl I had previously worked with a few times. Walking down the hall, we were having a typical casual conversation when things turned serious.

“So how’s your day going so far?” I inquired.

“Well, not very good,” the girl replied very solemnly. 

“Oh no, what’s the matter?”

“Well, I think I got dog poop on my shoe,” she said as she lifted her foot and hopped along for a second.

Sure enough… I couldn’t help laughing, and then she started laughing, too.

Regardless of our age, we all have days when we step in poop. Life’s just like that. Rather than getting upset, I hope I will think of this story and take it in stride (yes, pun intended) the next time it happens to me. We all could be better at this.

  
It’s a very cold and rainy spring break morning in my neck of the woods. Regardless, I’m still feeling very fortunate to be able to be home with my kids (well, mostly), and the weather provides a perfect day to make some popcorn, cuddle up under blankets, and watch movies. We have cable and Netflix, and movies are just a couple clicks of the remote control away, yet I would love to be able to take my son and daughter to the local video store to pick out some old classics. Something they have never had the pleasure of doing.

While technology certainly has its upside, our kids are missing out on some things that my generation took for granted. Long gone is the excitement of perusing the new releases at the pre-Blockbuster corner video store (don’t forget to check the recently returned cart — and try to sneak a peek into the Adult section), the joy of getting dropped off by our parents at the mall (my mom can take if yours can pick up?) and slowly flipping through records at Musicland (either before or after slurping an Orange Julius), or even just playing board (bored) games like Life, Monopoly, and Clue.

Perhaps I’m suffering from a worsening case of silly nostalgia as I get older, but it seems like it was just a simpler, better time when we were kids — despite being more difficult to do some things. I’m aware of course that every older generation thinks such things about the current “troubled” youth of society, but maybe the old geezers are on to something. I mean think about it…we rode our bikes everywhere (my kids literally dislike bicycles), we played outside from sun up to sun down in the summer (my kids would rather lie in bed doing “stuff” on their electronic devices), we got severe, tissue damaging sunburns (my kids wear sunscreen if they happen to enter sunlight), we played actual sports (my kids excel at virtual bowling). This is messed up, man.

Who am I kidding, my kids would probably freak out if they had to go to an actual video store. Part of how they act is on me for not being a better parent, and I suppose part of it is just the way things are today. That being said, my children do great in school, are generally very kind to others, are not complete spoiled brats (despite how I describe them), and my wife and I love the hell out of them (and that love is definitely reciprocated). They also recycle sometimes. The world may be going to hell in a hand-basket, but things could be much worse. As the old saying goes, the kids are alright (they just aren’t as good as when we were young).

Here’s to a happy spring break for all and some true quality time with your damn children (oh, and better weather than we have). Cheers. 

 

 

 

Hating Isn’t Helping

March 22, 2016


More sickening, heartbreaking news. This time it’s a terrorist attack in Nice, France. Tomorrow it could be in Rome, London, the Middle East, or even the middle of America. Mother Teresa said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” She of course was referring to ripples of kindness, love, and compassion, but right now it seems the only ripples most of us see and feel are those of hate, fear, and chaos. These ripples are becoming waves, dividing both our nation and the world.

Let me remind some of you — I worry a growing number of you — that the creation of hate, fear, chaos, and division is exactly what terrorists lust after. I’m in no way suggesting that we turn a blind eye, but we must not allow hate to breed upon itself. We can’t allow ourselves to wrongly assume that all Muslims hate Christians, and we must let it be known that the majority of Christians (and the rest of our diverse population) do not hate Muslims. Remember who the enemy is. It is a relatively small group of extremists, cast out by friends and family who once loved them. These people who have turned their backs to terrorists are now being judged as inherently evil by too many Americans. Let us not get caught up in the hatred. If we decide all Muslims — or any other group of people as a whole — are bad, we are only playing into the hands of terrorism. We are literally making new enemies out of innocent people, many of whom are living peaceful, productive lives in the United States.

The division of our country is as dangerous to us as terrorism; possibly even more so. Obviously there is media sensationalism, but the rift between our political parties, races, religions, and nationalities is truly a widening fissure. It is a gap that will soon become difficult to bridge. Anyone reading this has heard the phrase Make America Great Again. If we sincerely want America to be great again, we must stand together. We can (and will) disagree, but we cannot disrespect. We must believe that most people — at home and abroad — are inherently good, then fight against evil, terrorism, and oppression as a united front. Only then will we be great again. Only then will we have a chance to succeed.

Some will say I’m naive and dreaming of some unrealistic utopia, but that is not the case at all. In fact, I’m a realist. Hate is a strong force that will never completely cease to exist, but adding more hate — even under good intentions — only strengthens its power. Please join me in casting stones of kindness and compassion. I alone can only make small ripples, but together we can make a mighty tide. Hating just simply isn’t helping.

This Isn’t Goodbye

February 29, 2016

“This isn’t goodbye,” she said with a reassuring laugh while packing up her few belongings in an old milk crate I stored albums in as a kid. Oddly, I found myself trying to remember the records.

“This isn’t goodbye, but I can’t talk today,” she said when I called her again. She just needed some space, no doubt. I reminded myself to text next time.

“This isn’t goodbye, it’s just not a good night,” she said when I stopped by her place with some flowers and wine. Wine was never her thing, but it always seems cool in movies.

“We should consider seeing other people. I’m not saying this is goodbye — just a break that will be good for us both,” she said when I invited her to a mutual friend’s party. Of course, she’s right. She’s always right.

It was very late and I was about to leave the bar when I saw her sitting in a dark corner booth holding hands with the guy. Unsure what to do, I stumbled up to the table in a daze.

“This is goodbye,” I said very coherently. “But I’m sure you already knew.”

I opened the door and turned my back to the smoke-drenched air, feeling suddenly alive as the black cold engulfed me. My heart beat faster.