Nuns And Feta Cheese – Some More Reflections

Though I had vowed to publish a post every day during Christmas break, either something I love that you might also love following in the spirit of “sharing” or as one of Gretchen Rubin’s resolutions that I could also adopt on my own terms, I failed to fully deliver on this promise. It was Rubin’s resolutions that I neglected. Nevertheless, I still have some thoughts to share on these, so you’ll have the pleasure now.

Resolution #1: Have An Idol Ms Rubin’s answer to this challenge was an obsession with some French nun who pretended to be happy to make others happy. While I understand the central idea behind this, having the author write an entire chapter about this put me off Saint Therese (I think that was her name…). It did, however, remind me that I have a nun of my own that I admire. The first I heard of her was during an English lesson on Othello where our teacher tried to challenge our assumptions about time and opinions on women’s roles. I won’t disclose too much, but if you want to learn about her click here.  Still, while it is inspiring to read about her, I see now need to idolize or incorporate her into my daily resolutions. Next!

Resolution #2: Handle Money Wisely Most people have a difficult relationship with money. So do I. But the good thing about reading self-help (or pseudo-self-help books like Gretchen Rubin’s) is that you have obvious realizations about yourself and life in general. I realized that while I do like to have a bit of a safety buffer in my bank account, obsessive saving does not make me happy. I like to spend money on things that I use and that I love. So my new goal is not to save up or spend out, but to spend money on worthy things. So I’ll ask is it worth the money? A top that I’ll wear every week is worth  it. So was my massive winter’s coat that keeps me warm and dry every day or the daylight lamp I bought which considerably lifts my mood every time I use it (and I use it a lot). Other things that I’d definitely say are worth it are the real (and more expensive) feta  cheese made of sheep’s milk instead of the cheap discounter “balkan cheese” and the 6€ bus ticket that takes me to see my family.

Have a lovely day y’all!

B x

The Worst Time For Resolutions? – A Review

Oh dear. What is it about the new year that seems to stop us from keeping our resolutions? Unlike many others, who have drafted their resolutions on or shortly before New Year’s Eve and put them into effect the day after, I started my Happiness Project and the resolutions it entails before Christmas even. Now that it is actually the new year, I have a massive slump. There is a few things that I could blame (haven’t fully re-settled into my routine, bad weather, etc.), but ultimately it’s all just me.

Now as a supplement to my constant aspiration to be organised and gain an overview, I think it is at the time to have a pit-stop and face how it is really going with my Happiness Project. Like Gretchen Rubin, I have been keeping a Resolutions chart. Sadly, or luckily, though, I am not as obsessive as this lady (also, who doesn’t like listening to music? You weird people!), so I left the chart on days that were unusual, like Christmas or when I was staying at friends’ houses. As a consequence, only half of the chart is even filled in. After all, these resolutions are specific to improving my everyday life.

What is painful to admit is that I obviously struggle hard with some of my resolutions. One that has never been ticked so far is “Go to sleep before midnight”. Here, again, I have nothing but myself to blame: the resolution is clearly defined and concise, and I know how much a regular sleeping pattern would contribute to my happiness. Yet, somehow, it challenges me more than it should.

On the plus side, there are some that I have kept every single day, that have become natural to me. After I noticed the massive discrepancy between the time I spend on it and the joy it gives me, I vowed to stay off BuzzFeed. Turns out, it is a lot easier for me to stay off it completely than to use it moderately. My abstinence has now freed me from a lot of guilt and frustration, and it now seems almost funny now that I wasted my time determining “which Disney princess” I am and finding out whether BuzzFeed could “guess my account balance”.

My most significant success so far was achieved with the help of the “Make your bed”-resolution. As a student living in student halls, apart from my desk chair the only opportunity for sitting or lounging is my bed. In combination with my sleeping habits however, this often ended with me taking extended naps on a regular basis. This was a source of constant irritation and disrupted my routines and plans rather often. Making my bed was a quick and easy measure against the tendency. The results were astonishing. Even when I did sit or lie on my bed, it was much easier for me to resist the urge to slip under the covers. This made my days more productive and my nights more restful.

The most significant development though, in my opinion, is how sensitive I have become to areas of improvement in my life and possible future resolutions. While I write them all down, just in case, I know that for now I should focus on keeping the current ones instead of thinking ahead. In one area, however, I have decided to make an exception: Education. I have my big important Danish exam in exactly a month and could definitely use some practice. Therefore, I shall compile an extra list of resolutions specific to this subject, but more on that another day.

B x

Overview, Or: My Secret To Happiness

To maintain an overview over all the little things going on at the same time in my life has always been one of my greatest struggles. So great, in fact, that it became a source of alarmingly scary panic attacks at some point.

But the more I think about it, the more the feeling of overview (others use the term ‘control’, but in my opinion ‘overview’ is a more fitting description) seems like an illusion. Now knowing that I crave this very comforting deception, I might have to learn to create it myself.

The reason all of this is currently on my mind is that I have returned to uni only yesterday and already feel like I have lost my grip. Writing helps, so here I go.

There are a few things going on at the same time. First, there is uni. Although I only have three seminars at the point, I am barely keeping up and I have trouble motivating myself to do the work that needs to be done (although it is actually enjoyable work). Then there is my happiness project. The point of it was to help me master everyday life and rid it of frustration and guilt. At this point though, my resolutions chart only seems to be yet another source of a bad conscience.

Here we go, writing is already helping. All I need to do is put on some music, have some tea and maybe a shower and voila, I have a new, more positive perspective and can focus on what I need to focus on.

So if you’d ask me know what I do to help me create the illusion of control I can honestly tell you that it is the little things: write a blog or a diary to help you get back on track, drink a cup of tea, clean yourself or your flat, make lists. Oh, and the easiest and quickest measure is good lightning. I’m telling you, I have a daylight lamp that is like pure magic (I might actually write a post in its honour soon): It’s like switching on energy and motivation, especially if you live in the north of Germany where there is very little sunlight during winter.

You must excuse me now, I need to go shower and make a list!

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

Blogosphere And Wills And Ways

As part of her happiness project Gretchen Rubin launched a blog. This was part of my inspiration to revitalize a blog I had started while without internet (who has an idea like that? Read it here) but not continued regularly – this blog. So now, as part of me mirroring that lady’s resolutions, it is time for me to use this as a pit stop and reflect upon how it is going.

Well, I guess, once you have you blog all set up, all you need to do is write, and, if you’re lucky, there’s people out there reading what you are writing. But, let me tell you, the first steps aren’t that easy when you’re new to the blogosphere (I hope people don’t actually use that as a word in real life), it is pretty confusing. What I have learned: The settings are your friends. Many problems get resolved if you just go through them once from beginning to end.

Apart from that, I am sort of having an odd start into daily blogging, because I started a week before I left uni for Christmas break and I knew I would not have time to write a blog post daily, yet I was not ready to fail my resolution to ‘blog daily’ every single day for over two weeks. So, what did I do? I though of some more or less things I could write about and then I wrote all of the posts in advance, scheduled them and left the blog to itself till I returned to Germany. Well, at least that was the plan. Turns out it’s not that easy to write fifteen blog posts in very little time especially when, like me, you have a tendency to write long elaborate sentences. So I am now halfway into Christmas break and I’ve managed to post daily, although I didn’t really have the time, and am now writing the last few posts so that I can finally lean back and fulfill my responsibilities towards my friends and family.

But, as they say in German ‘Wo ein Wille ist, ist auch ein Weg’ (where there’s a will, there is also a way), and I will manage to keep this one resolution. And I am also extremely blessed to have readers from four different continents (where are you, Africa?!), people who actually read what I write!!!! So, yes, going strong. And I intend to continue this streak.

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

Smoking, Porn and Resolutions

It feels a bit odd, all this constant self-improvement. A bit like taking spontaneous New Year’s resolutions to the next level.

Anyway, one of the resolutions Rubin made in her book was to give up something. To be honest, I can’t actually remember what she gave up, it’s not really that memorable a book, but the general ideas tend to stick around.

So what could I give up. I love the idea of giving up things. Makes me feel grand, sacrificing, like a martyr. I tend to do it frequently. Sometimes I then revert these later because the fun of abstinence wears off quite quickly and I often lack the conviction to give them up for good. But I guess even giving something up for just a while is a good move. The worst thing that can come of it is that you take up the habit again, you’ll probably appreciate it more and/or will do it (whatever it may be) more decisively. And sometimes you don’t. Sometimes sacrificing something stops being a sacrifice. It becomes natural.

My current giving up concerns those little cylindrical white sticks we tend to call cigarettes. I truly love smoking; smoking itself, but I also love the communal sense it gives and I love pondering over life while standing outside in the cold. And I know I won’t give it up for good (yet), but I’d like to reduce frequency. I know we only ever thing of success as an all or nothing, but why not. Who cares. Improvement is improvement.

This might be a bit of an odd thing to share, and if you’re a bit prude, please stop reading now. A thing I’ve given up and not regretted is porn. I was not a frequent consumer, if that’s what you’d call it, but it was kind of there. When I was about thirteen porn was where I saw my first erect penis. I knew about the technicalities of blow jobs and double penetration before I had even kissed a boy. That is a thought that makes me shiver. I guess the age of the internet is everything but an age of innocence.

This is the video that inspired me to do so, and as the TED motto is “ideas worth sharing”, here it is:

If this post is a bit jointed, I apologise. I was simultaneously watching Love Actually (a Christmas ritual I plan to cultivate more) and writing this.

Mirroring Resolutions, Things I Like And Blogging Over Christmas

My Happiness Project is only about a week old, and yet somehow I have managed to fail every one of my resolutions at least once. I’ve completed the circle yesterday when I broke my promise to blog daily by – you’ve guessed it – not blogging. Oh well. This was pretty much predictable. It’s not like this hurts anyone. But if you’ve thought that I can be distracted from my ambitions this quickly, you’re wrong: I’ll make all of this work somehow.

A major helper is an aspect of wordpress.com that I only discovered today (I’m new, okay, cut me some slag!): Scheduling posts. This simple feature will go a long way for me trying to keep my promises to myself. I can simply write posts in advance. Especially at this time of year this is extremely useful: Now that I’m at home over Christmas, I don’t have the time to write daily and it will probably be that way until the 6th or 7th of January, when I return to university.

So what I have thought of was this: For this time, I will have two feature categories supplying you with posts. The first one is related to my Happiness Project.  As you might know from this post, I have come up with seven aims of my own. However, as I was reading Rubin’s book, I constantly felt that I should make a not, that I might be missing something essential, like the resolutions that could bring me happiness were just slipping through my fingers (like the ABBA song but in a different context). So I’ve gone back through her aims and resolutions (there are so many!) and I’ve chosen seven that also make sense for me to adapt. Of course, that means that I now have 14 resolutions to think about and keep track of, so I’ll have to make a new track sheet… Which I’ll do right after writing this post, I promise.

That’s that. But if you’re a careful reader you’ll recall that I was talking about two new categories, and indeed I was. The second one is remotely connected to the idea of Christmas. I am not religious, but I love Christmas. What I like most is the idea of sharing. You share your precious time with the other members of your family, no matter how annoying they might be. You share presents of course, and loads of food. This is also the time of year when many people that are otherwise absorbed in their own worries remember to share with those who aren’t as lucky as they are. I don’t have a lot of money to give to charities and I don’t cook very well, but giving presents is a passion of mine. I love to share things that I love. And this is going to be the second category: Me sharing things with you, whoever you might be.

There we are: Enjoy the posts, Merry Christmas, and I’ll return to live-blogging at the beginning of the next year!

B x