Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Millions of tiny happinesses

My library ebook copy of Gretchen Rubin's "The Happiness Project" is finally mine (for a short time) and I've been very much enjoying reading it. Like, 'I would recommend this book to pretty much anyone' levels of enjoyment. Why? What makes reading about someone else's project to be just a bit happier so rewarding? Well, lots of things. For starters, it's a helpful place to think about your own happiness (and she repeatedly outlines why this is a worthy goal--such as the facts that happier people tend to make those around them happier, and they are more generous). Are you happy? If so, why or why not? What makes you happy and why don't you do more of it? Like Gretchen herself, I struggle with these sometimes. I push off the things which make me happy for the things which I should do instead. And there is happiness in having a clean house, but there is also happiness in taking a relaxing bath when I need it and I don't do that nearly enough.
Some of what she says are her weaknesses, her faults, resonate with me. Probably the biggest was when she described herself as a score-keeper, particularly with her spouse. I have to admit, I really hate this quality about myself, but I'm also a score keeper with Shane. He is with me as well, but of the two of us I'm probably far worse. I'm sure that on my end it has something to do with growing up as one of four siblings, learning to keep track and keep score so that I don't miss out on my fair share of good things (dessert!) or end up with a disproportionate amount of bad things like chores. However, this isn't an excuse for keeping score in my marriage. Really, it's a horrible way to look at things. "I did X chore, so it's not fair that I should also have to do Y chore as well." It's a "wah! poor me!" attitude and I really want to break myself of it, but of course a change such as that, a change in your entire attitude, is hard to do. Probably if I worked on it every day for the next year I would still find it hard at the end of that year.
Compounding this, I am pregnant. 33 weeks! The end is in sight (and yet, that makes for the beginning of another tough but rewarding chapter in life: motherhood). I have zero stamina, lots to do, insomnia because I'm the size of a hippo so I'm tired all the time, and dammit, I deserve a little extra special treatment! Everyone tells me so. I tell myself that.
But...doesn't Shane deserve a bit of coddling too? He's taking seventeen credits of classes this semester. All told, between class and homework, it's more than a full-time job, and he's working on top of it. (Still helping our elderly friends up the hill to clear their trees, and got a few hours a week in the computer lab--at least he's allowed to do homework during the lab time when someone doesn't need his help!) Not only is he putting so much effort into this semester, but it's not even the fun classes. Three of them are hard, and only tangentially related to the programming that he's interested in: physics, calc 3, and statistics. These classes suck. Physics sucks even more because of the way the class is structured (it's an evening class and homework is due by midnight the night of class...so 5 hours to get it all done, and that's true even for the Friday night class!) and because the professor...well, I'm not in the class so I don't know if he's got tenure and has just stopped caring, or if his teaching style just isn't for Shane, but it's hard. Even with a friend's help, the homework takes hours every week. My poor guy looks so frazzled. Just because things are a little harder on me doesn't mean I should add to his burden. So what if I had to do all of the hand washing, again, because he was too busy, you know, doing homework? What makes my contribution to the household more special or more worthy than his?
On top of everything else, we don't get to spend much time together right now, for obvious reasons. When I have time, he doesn't. When he's free, I'm working or doing homework. Between Monday and Friday of last week, I'd estimate that we only got to spend about 3 hours of quality time together, and most of that was while we ate dinner for a few quick minutes or did a little bit of cleaning up together. Wheeeee. On Friday night, we ended up snapping at each other a couple of times, not because we were mad at each other but because we were frustrated by the situation. Thankfully, we did each explain ourselves so what could easily have devolved into an argument turned into hugs and sympathy for how hard we've each been working.
So this leads to the biggest reason why I'm enjoying this book: it's making me think more about gratitude. Instead of being upset by these hardships, I'm going to do my best to undertake a more grateful way of thinking about them. Instead of mentally whinging because we only got to spend a few minutes together eating a dinner that I had to make, again, I would like to be grateful that I have a husband who will take a few minutes out of his busy day to eat dinner with me, even if it means staying up that much later to finish his homework, and who is grateful in return that I took time out of my busy, tiring day to make dinner and have it waiting for him when he got home.
As the saying goes, instead of being upset that I have to do the dishes, I should be thankful for what those dishes represent: food on the table and someone I love to share it with. Not everyone gets to say the same.
Along with gratitude needs to come that buzzword which I really dislike for some reason, but which really fits: mindfulness. Since we'd spent so much time apart last week, when Shane asked me what I wanted to do on Saturday night I told him that, honestly, I wanted to hang out at home with him. Instead of saying that he wanted to go out and see people, which he usually does after a hermit-like week of schoolwork, he said, "Sounds great! There are a few movies we haven't seen yet that I'd like to watch." So we sat in bed the entire evening and watched movies. We cuddled the dog, we made hot chocolate from scratch, and it was beautiful. I just didn't realize how great it was until this morning when I was wishing that I was back in bed, cuddled up with him and sipping cocoa, laughing about something together. At the time, I was so tired from the week that I didn't stop to fully appreciate how wonderful those moments were. Now that I can't get them back is when I'm realizing just how good I had it.
I must admit, it's easier at this time of year for me to be grateful. I know it just officially became autumn according to the calendar, but we've already had our first couple of light dustings of snow, which didn't stick but are a poignant reminder of how fleeting the seasons are. The trees are still in their golden glory, but not for much longer. The air is chilled and perfect. It's my favorite time of year, when I'm so happy to snuggle into sweaters once again, and to curl up with a good book and something hot to drink--warm milk and honey, hot cocoa, hot apple cider.... It's the time of year to make gingerbread cookies and to really savor all of the flavors of the season. So many good things are coming my way. And the holidays, while still distant, will be upon us before we know it, with all the attendant fun activities and family time. How could that not foster gratitude?

1 comment:

  1. This is such a wonderful post, and now I want to go check out that book. I'll be up there on the 6th for a week, and I can't wait to see you (I promise not to call you Hippo Lady :)! I love reading about your special moments in marriage as you prepare for Baby. I'm so happy for you both. I used to think that mindfulness and focusing on gratitude, etc. etc. was such bogus nonsense, but I'm beginning to find it much more valuable as I get older. Thanks for the post!