Success And Failure And Everything In Between

Over the last month or so I have failed continouously, a little bit every day. No doubt, I have done so every day of my life from my early attempts at legible speech and coherent motion as a small child to what could be considered a ‘normal’ day in 2014. This seems to be one of my inherent faults. I will continue to fail, every single day of my life. This means I will have to be careful not to write every day off as a failure, simply because I failed.

Ultimately, the flaw is in the semantics. I was simply taught it wrong (or I learned it wrong…): The conjunction that joins the words “success” and “failure” is not an “either, or”, it is an “and”. They coexist. They might even live in some sort of symbiotic dependence. Although this might seem like a petty detail, it is not. Don’t we all strive to be successful? Depending on our understanding of “success”, we have two very different goals. One, where “success” implies the absence of failure, is virtually impossible to attain and tends to be temporary. The meaning that I’d prefer still needs some defining. Maybe “successful” could mean that our successes are more frequent or meaningful than our failures. I’d like that very much. It would make a much better life goal.

Now, despite my trailing off into my beloved semantics, there are of course other flaws in my strive for success than just the meaning of words. When joined a new school to complete the last two years of my education before university, my dad used to mock the ‘school spirit’ that senior members of the ‘Sixth Form Management Team’ tried to inflict upon us, desinterested and distracted sixteen-year olds, during endless assemblies. My dad (who received a weekly Sixth Form newsletter) and I who had grown accustomed to the German school system (where the school and its employees seemed similarly desinterested as the students themselves, and such attempts would have been both unthinkable and reidiculous), where baffled by these attempts, however ineffective they might have been.

The reason why we, my dear reader, have strayed yet again to the land of anecdotes is this: What my dad enjoyed mocking most was the schools motto (there was also a mission statement of several pages and what I believe to have been the school’s internal equivalent of the ten commandments). And, yes, I will finally return to my actual topic of success and failure now.

“Every Student The Best They Can Be”

That was it. Pretentious and belitteling at the same time, but in the context of my school the intended meaning becomes clear quite quickly. It was a large school in a rural setting that taught students from age 12 to 19, some of which would go on to read mathematics at Cambridge and others who would become hair dressers or traffic wardens or stay-at-home mums (or dads). I don’t mean to judge any of these life choices, I’m just trying to illustrate my schools broad academic spectrum.

But when you are sitting in an assembly that is boring you to death and you have the time to ponder over the multiple meanings of this motto, you have the time to realise that this is similarly impossible as being “successful” in the conservative way is. I will never be the best version of myself and if I continuously tried to I would fail over and over again. There will always be more things I could to and things I could do better and all of that. But in the end, cursing the things I am not or did not do will make me neither more successful (in all the possible ways) nor happier.

I can warmly recommend doing a happiness project just for the sake of having these tiny realisations, as you put your ticks and crosses on your resolutions chart night after night and celebrate the successes and, depending on your mood at the time, either shrug off or contemplate your failures.

B x

Birthday Wishes – The Key To Happiness?!

We’re back to me mirroring Gretchen Rubin’s resolutions during her first happiness project. Today’s resolution is surprisingly simple and straight-forward. Like Ms. Rubin, I’d like to remember birthdays. I’d like to send those I love and care about a card or a message to let them know that I care and also to stay in contact.

During the past few years I have done this sporadically, whenever I knew for some reason that it was someone’s birthday and when I had the time to write a card. Messages were’t really necessary because those people I’d write a birthday message, say on Facebook or WhatsApp, I usually saw on their birthday. School had that kind of convenience.

But, this time I have approached the topic systematically: I have printed a birthday calendar (very basic, but so useful, here), found out birthdays of friends and family –  Facebook and my dad’s phone proved invaluable for this task, I have some cards on my desk and all the addresses on a nice document, so that birthdays can now come. I might also set some kind of tracker on Outlook or something so that I actually remember them, but the groundwork is laid. Success!

I know it is a tiny tiny thing to do, but I also know it will make my friends and family, but especially me insanely happy. Such fun!

B x

Crisp Eyebrows Are The Best Kind Of Eyebrows

As you might remember, one of my resolutions as part of my happiness project was to get down with all that make-up business, that, until now, has largely remained a misery for me.

So, though I can still not say that I have mastered the art form and make-up tutorials bore me to death, I think I might have made some initial progress, and I’d like to share that with you. So, the beginning to solving a problem is often admitting that you have it and then working with that. Now, the whole make-up thing is not really a pressing problem, but it is one of life’s annoyances. Acceptance done. I also know that I will never enthusiastically spend hours in front of the mirror painting shadows on my face. So, that is already heaps to work with: My make-up should be quick and uncomplicated and preferably not require a lot of skills. Still, if I do make the effort I’d like to know that it is worth it.

As a consequence, I spent my last few days keeping an eye out for make-up and tools that seems like it is made for people like me, people who don’t necessarily know the ways of the trade but want a piece of the cake (aka the benefits). This is what I came up with:

Eyebrow Gel – My friend, who is one of those make-up people, is manic about her eyebrows. And it pays off, they are bloody impressive and make a huge impact on how the whole face looks. However, she uses a multitude of powders and pens and brushes and combs and things that I could never handle. I already know that I’m hopeless with an eyebrow pen (I’ve tried, believe me). So, the other day, I stumbled upon this thing in a magazine – eyebrow gel. It was part of a feature about how to look like a model (whatever that my mean) in five minutes and they mentioned this gel by some kooky very expensive brand. But, when I went to my local drugstore, they did have a cheap version of it. Luckily, it was “one colour suits all”, meaning I couldn’t even make any wrong choices in terms of eyebrow tone.  And, I’m telling you, this stuff is magic. You just kind of put it on your eyebrows (it has a little mascara-like brush thingy), nothing much you can do wrong, and it shapes and colours you eyebrows. YAY! Such success. The only thing that is a bit odd is that the gel dries up and leaves your eyebrows a bit crisp, which, let me tell you is a very very strange sensation.

Lip Stain – Now, same article, same feature, also mentioned lip stain. Now I was instantly intrigued: I never managed to handle lipstick (it just looks odd) and lip gloss is so sticky and annoying. Enter: Lip Stain, which is like a felt-tip pen for your lips, which means it also eliminates any problems that might occur due to the handling of lip liner. Again, I found a cheap version at the drugstore and I now use it all the time. Usually I apply the stain in the morning and then I moisturize my lips throughout the day (they’re extremely chapped and I cultivate a habit of practically chewing on my lower lip…) and it’s all just mighty fine.

Please, I would love to know: What is your make-up secret, your favourite tool, your most-used item?

B x

Do Good, Be Good… ?

Christmas is over now for real. Generally, that means we stop giving presents and focus on our New Year’s resolutions. But sometimes a wee bit of ‘giving’ sneaks in to this list of goals that we abandon before February begins – we want to volunteer or be nicer to others to make ourselves feel better.

Instinctively, we frown upon this ‘selfish altruism’. But isn’t altruism always also selfish? Anyone who had biology at school learned that animals show altruistic because ultimately it benefits them (I’m thinking vampire bats and boobies). And even those who don’t believe in evolution and instead call upon God(s) for answers do good in order that they get away pleasantly after death.

So, as you might have guessed, especially if you have been following my Happiness Project, I have a personal reason for all this philosophy: It will be part of my resolution. ‘Doing good’ is a broad field, though. And we all have a different image of what it means. My definition, I must admit, is a bit cloudy. This will not be an obstacle, I have simply narrowed it down, following the example of Gretchen Rubin.

I want to be generous. This is something that, in some situations, comes natural to me. I love to give gifts, I love to share music I love with the people I love, and all that. In other respects, it is harder. Especially when I am in a bad mood, I find it hard to give other people their due and ideally a bit more than that. But, fake it till you make it has always been my strategy, which also coincides with on of Rubin’s truths: Act like it till you feel like it (or something like that). Now I am not aiming to just donate some money and make a tick on my resolutions chart, I want it to make me happier and improve my relationships. As a consequence, I will have to learn to let people in the supermarket go first, listen to my friend when all she talks about is her boyfriend (who is lovely and makes her really happy), stop resenting people for changing and moving on and try to think of what I can do to make the lives of the people around me more pleasant.

As you see, trying to be more generous sounds like an excellent exercise for me to be more empathetic, pleasant and kind. When I call it an exercise, it is really an experiment: Will my conscious effort to be more generous have an effect on my unconscious behaviour?

We shall see.

B x

I Love You The Most When We’re In Different Places

So, after a few days of posts of things I like, I’m now back to reflecting upon my happiness project. As it is still more or less Christmas, I have chosen today to ponder upon a topic that  we all seem to forget until this time of the year: kindness. Okay, I guess that is a stereotype (not sure ‘stereotype’ is the right word though). Generally people who are kind are kind throughout the year and those who are unkind tend to also be so around Christmas.

Anyway, to show greater kindness is a key aspect of interpersonal relations in Gretchen Rubin’s book and I’d really like to show greater kindness in my everyday life. Not only would it make me happier, but I’m sure seeing me less grumpy would also greatly benefit those around me.

I have been especially attentive to this resolution during the last few days, which I spent almost exclusively around my parents. Now, I love my parents, I really do, but we have the kind of relationship that flourishes when we are apart (see picture below). When we spend a lot of time together we tend to irritate each other a lot. Like a lot. This is partly because my parents are very different in their needs and ways of expressing whatever they want to convey, but also because we are all a bit eccentric and egocentric. The whole “being considerate” business isn’t really our thing. And usually, this is fine, because we all have our own routines and friends and everything, but when we are all in the same house for too long these traits clash.

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But I do recognize that our situation would be a lot less tense and more relaxed if we, or even just I, would try to be less grumpy and snappish, but instead show more patience, consideration and kindness.

It might sound odd, but I think sometimes it is harder to be kind to those we love than to strangers. Yesterday, I kept my resolution perfectly in the morning. I countered my dad’s grumpiness by putting on music, making breakfast, laughing at anything potentially funny and generally being so so positive. And it worked. He got less fed up with all the little things and everything was a lot better. Now I am more like my dad, so I can usually empathize with his behaviour even though it might be inappropriate or unkind. But my mum is a whole other story. She seems to run on a wholly different operating system. As a consequence, I find it harder to be patient when she is irritated and I find it harder to ‘forgive’ her less friendly actions.

My strongest enemy on this mission, however, proved to be my mood. In the morning after my shower and my first cup of coffee I was on a little high and being kind and friendly and patient and generous seemed to come natural. But just before we ate in the evening I felt so belligerent that I found it virtually impossible to even look at my parents, let alone smile and be all jolly. And even though I realised this I could not do anything about it. Note to self: Make sure to never be too hungry when around people. Maybe hunger that is the catalyst for these destructive feelings.

I am aware that this is only a tiny fraction of all the different applications that kindness has and I’ll make sure to keep you up to date on my continuing struggle.

B x

Happiness in Progress

As you might know from my blog post a few days ago, I have started my own happiness project. It’s only been a little while, but I guess this thing needs a bit more clarification.

Prime objective is, of course, to stop myself from wasting my days being miserable and not doing things and then feeling more miserable because I haven’t done anything. So, as a result, doing anything pretty much is progress. But I do admit that I am a wee bit ambitious, so there is a more grand goal here, too. It’s hard to put into words, but I am essentially looking to achieve a feeling of purpose, satisfaction and, of course, happiness (hence the title of the project).

But, of course, it’s not like you do on specific thing and then feel purposeful, happy and satisfied forever. It kind of fluctuates. One day you feel energetic and motivated, the next day you fail to overcome the major hurdle of getting out of bed. Also, these things are not entirely self-administered. Of course, there are internal factors that lead to happiness, but there are also external factors that you have no control over whatsoever, and there is, last but not least, that thing called luck. So for my project I focus on what I myself can do to feel better, and on nothing else.

Gretchen Rubin, whose book inspired me to start my own happiness project, recommends that you set concrete goals and keep track of them:

Make resolutions that are concrete and manageable. “Play with my dog each morning” is more effective than “Get more fun out of life.” Track your resolutions by finding a way to hold yourself accountable.

So I followed her example and filled in a chart (you can find the blank chart on page 13 of this document – page 1 to 12 might serve as examples to you) with seven individual and manageable resolutions (below).

  1. Develop a regular sleeping pattern – This is a big problem of mine. I am really not a morning person, so I prefer doing work at night. Plus, I am a child mentally when it comes to sleep: I don’t want to go to bed in the evening and also really don’t want to get up in the morning. Problem is that I live alone and have no one who nags me about it.
  2. Do daily Duolingo in Spanish and Danish – You probably know this online language learning platform (if not, please do check it out!). For me as a language student regular practice is essential. Especially in Spanish, this aspect is missing from my university course where we have a seminar titled “Grammar” and another one titled “Vocabulary”, that focus only on that one thing. So Duolingo comes as a refreshing new opportunity for me. I also love how it is like a game and you can save “lingots” and all that.
  3. Read a lot – Self-explanatory, I hope. Maybe this goal needs to be a bit more measurable (like “read 50 pages a day”) but I think that would be too forced.
  4. Master the art of make-up – Make-up has always been a mystery to me. I see how powerful it can be and it really fascinates me but I just can’t get the hang of it. Maybe if I practice a bit and watch some tutorials on YouTube, this won’t bother me as much.
  5. Be more active – We all know that there are all these studies on how regular exercise makes us happier and endorphin and all that, but I frankly hate working out (detailed description here). So for me “be more active” means walking to university, taking the bike to ride into town and maybe swimming from time to time. Nothing grand.
  6. Blog every day – And here I am…
  7. Do what has to be done – This one is the most important one, I think. Could also be paraphrased as “stop procrastinating”. This is everything from doing the homework for my Danish course to doing laundry and buying groceries and getting out of bed every day.

Every-day life seems to be constantly getting in the way of this,in the end, when happiness is the objective Christmas parties aren’t exactly counter-productive… So far my track sheet contains an encouraging number of ticks and also some crosses, but I guess that’s about right. After all, this is a work in progress.

B x

The Happiness Project

So I’ve had a bit of a low recently. Don’t exactly know why, but I guess I’m in a bit of a weird point in my life right now and I couldn’t really handle it.

Still can’t, to be honest. Right now I should be sitting in a seminar that I enjoy and that I learn a lot from yet I am here, at home in my room typing this. Everything seems to require so much energy. The reason I didn’t go to the seminar is that I didn’t do the homework and the preparation it required, but the reason I didn’t do those? I don’t know, I just couldn’t get myself to do it. This seems to be the case with everything lately. The horrible thing is that I know exactly what I need to do to feel better, but even if it’s just something like boiling the kettle and putting on some music I just can’t get myself to do it. And that is ridiculously annoying. Also because I find myself guilt-ridden for not doing anything all the time.

To be fair, I have been doing some things. They range from actions as small (but essential) as doing laundry and cleaning the bathroom to more grand (okay, that’s probably a bit of an exaggeration) activities like writing (and sending off) Christmas cards to all my friends and family and signing up for driving lessons. And I am writing this.

So, the reason I am writing this is probably something you have all experienced, being human: I want to be happy. Or at least satisfied, inspired, driven and/or encouraged. Who doesn’t. Spending my days wallowing over the things I don’t while I simultaneously neglect the things I should be doing is an awful waste of my time. And it’s not only that these are things I should do, these are things I really want to do. Ugh, it’s annoying.

Anyways, that’s that, I will take action now. It also coincides with yet another important statement: I’d like to out my self as a major fan of self-help books. At the same time I despise them. It is amazing how self-help books only ever tell you thing you already know. Yet, they manage to present these universal truths or lies in such a way that they suddenly seem more clear, more innovative, more inspiring and easier to achieve. Amazing. Become who you want to be in ten easy steps. Easy. 250 pages and voila, there you are. I must admit, I totally fall for that. My latest discovery in this field is a book called “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin. It’s been around quite a while now, there have been sequels and accompanying merchandise and all that. It is one of those autobiographies re-purposed as a self-help inspiration. Of course, how much you enjoy reading these and to what extend the do or don’t inspire you is entirely up to what kind of person the writer is and what kind of person you are. Well, the writer is an Upper East side wife, writer and mother of two in her thirties and I am not even in my twenties, have some considerable commitment issues and live in a student dorm in Germany. Couldn’t be more different. Especially because she is the kind of person to have every minute of her day planned out with reading groups, gym classes, dinner parties and of course the hobby-dobby-do, an array of leisure activities. Yet, I like that her book comes undisguised and some of what she says and does makes sense to me too.

One thing she does is list and refer to things she learned as an adult. I can do that too:

It is okay to just like parts of a book and not the whole thing. The eating part of “Eat, Pray, Love”, for example, was really entertaining, while I found the rest to be sentimental bullshit. And that’s completely fine.

Clearly, I don’t give any shits about the months she spent working on her marriage and her parenting skills. I couldn’t be less thrilled about those. And I intensely dislike the her tone and general world view, but that lady struck a nerve with me when she mentioned a realization about how we will only ever be us. I will only ever like the things I like. I will only ever take the path that I take. With every decision we kill lots and lots of possibilities (and give birth to lots and lots of new ones, but that’s irrelevant in this context). I’ve been aware of this for quite a while (what did I tell you, self-help books never tell you anything new) and it has been a considerable source of my Weltschmerz (isn’t the German language resourceful).

Apart from this one realization the other thing I like is how this woman does things. Her way of trying to find happiness is not to meditate or find herself or whatever, but she just does things. Little things. And God knows, it is time for me to also do things.

So yeah, I’m going to become an expert on second-language acquisition, I’ll do all the small things that need to be done (eating, sleeping, showering, …) without making a fuss, I’ll finally get a grip on this whole blogging thing and whatever else springs to mind. Get ready to hear from me soon.

B x

P.S. Today I found that I can see cruise ships going up and down the fjord from my window! I was just sitting here and noticed a massive building moving behind the other buildings until I realized it was a cruise ship! How awesome is that!!

Here you can find out everything about Gretchen Rubin, her Happiness Project and the sequels and prequels. Also has some downloads that might or might not be helpful to you.