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Maybe Later

Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow. That has pretty much been my mantra most of my life. When I was little, my Dad said I was lazy. But I think a lot of kids are told that. When you’re a child you’re caught up in whatever is fascinating you at the moment. Cleaning your room is not very fascinating.

Here I am, many, many years later, sitting down to write a blog because I don’t feel like cleaning my house. Some things never change.

We procrastinate for many reasons. Or excuses. Sometimes it’s because we just don’t want to face something. Like doing your taxes. Who wants to do that? And cleaning the toilet. Blech.

Procrastination can also be a sign of anxiety or depression, according to the experts. In that case, I imagine a lot of us are procrastinating right now, in spite of having more time on our hands. Being locked in your house with not much to look forward to, can do that to you. And there goes the excuse that things aren’t getting done because you don’t have enough time.

Not only that, procrastination can actually CAUSE anxiety and depression. Putting off the inevitable for any length of time allows it to hang over us and make us more miserable. And that, in turn, makes us even less likely to do what we need to. It’s a vicious cycle.

But under “normal” circumstances, what causes us to procrastinate? I’ll leave it up to the experts to go into more detail, but to make a long story short, it’s because we’re wired for instant gratification. I can either eat that donut now, or wait and reward myself after I lose 10 pounds. Hmmm.

I married someone who’s a “let’s get ‘er done” kind of guy, so we’ve had some obvious conflicts from time to time over the years. He told me a story about a fellow he worked with early on in his career who would always take the bull by the horns and get things done immediately. My husband respected that determination, so he tried to emulate it, and of course, attempted to get his wife and children to do the same.

And over time, wouldn’t you know? I have become more and more like that too. But not always.

For instance, I’m still sitting here rather than doing the housework. So I’m looking at the clock and giving myself 10 more minutes. I have ten more minutes to do what I enjoy before I have to go and do what I don’t.

Okay 20. Maybe 20 minutes.

As it turns out, we procrastinators are in good company. Leonardo Da Vinci was apparently someone who had trouble staying “focused”. You wouldn’t know it from the body of work he produced. But the story goes that it took him 16 years to finish the Mona Lisa.

I’ve seen the Mona Lisa painting in person and it’s not very big. 16 years?

And Margaret Atwood, whom we all know for her many novels, short stories and poetry, actually has trouble sitting down to write too. It usually takes her until 3 o’clock in the afternoon to get to it. She does that on purpose, apparently. So far, I’d say it’s working.

Which is why I’ve decided I’m waiting until 3pm this afternoon to get my house cleaning done.

Oh, shoot. It’s already after 4. Guess it won’t be today. Now, where’s that donut?

Happiness Is Over-rated

A smiley by Pumbaa, drawn using a text editor.Image via Wikipedia

A good friend of mine writes a weekly column in our local newspaper and over the last couple of weeks he has been focusing on the topic of happiness. We are, many of us, often consumed with the desire to be happy, and look for it in the wrong places (or in the wrong things, whichever the case may be). He includes a number of lists written by others, including psychologists, of things you can do to improve your happiness quotient.

While I agree with most of the points in those lists, like fostering a positive attitude and stopping to smell the roses, so to speak, I think there’s another underlying factor at work. 

Sometimes we try to pop a “happiness pill” when we are clearly not. And when we try to sweep our misery under the carpet instead of addressing it and then letting it go…all of the happy pills we take won’t work.

In other words, trying to be happy can sometimes be more about going into denial and can only make things worse. I’m not saying that we should wear our misery on our sleeve and making everyone else around us miserable too. But when there are underlying problems, pushing them aside won’t help.

I say this because I have dealt with depression myself and have family members who have experienced clinical depression and even worse, bi-polar disorder. In the latter case, it can only be treated with medication, which truly is like popping a “happiness pill”. But depression can’t be overcome simply by happy thoughts alone.

Outside of a serious or clinical case of depression, I think people are often contributing to their own unhappiness because of their expectations and the feelings of entitlement. Happy is what we “should” be and when we aren’t, then something is terribly wrong.

The fact is that even in the course of a day, you can easily bound from sadness to happiness and back again…and this is completely natural. If you expect to be deliriously happy all of the time, you are truly kidding yourself, and you will ultimately be disappointed. Buddhists say that the real problem is not the state of happiness or unhappiness, but clinging to one or the other.

Trying to cling to a happy state seems obvious, but why would we want to be miserable?

Actually, we often LOVE being miserable even though that seems an oxymoron. We love going over and over unhappy events in our minds, perhaps mentally punishing someone for some past hurt. Self-pity can itself be rather addictive.

I think the word “happiness” itself has probably been used to death and sort of comes with its own baggage now; perhaps “contented” or “at ease” are closer to what we can achieve.

Have you ever felt contentment about something? It is not a “high”, but rather a quietening of the mind and completely relaxing. If the whole world could simultaneously experience even five minutes of contentment in the true sense of the word, I’d bet you that after the five minutes was up, much of the hate, anger, violence, desire and greed would be alleviated for the following five hours. Can you imagine? Just five hours of world peace.

So here is my list for ways to achieve contentment:

  1. Feel and experience an emotion completely, then let it go. If you pay attention to the natural process of any type of emotion, it ebbs and flows. So let it.
  2. Just sit and breathe, and think of nothing but breathing
  3. Be in the moment, and if you’re having trouble doing that where you are, go for a walk and pay rapt attention to every thing you see, hear and physically feel. Do everything with rapt attention.
  4. Take a nap…naps are very refreshing
  5. Follow the serenity prayer; change the things you can, don’t try to change something you cannot, and learn the difference

These are just five points, I’m sure I could think of more over time. Each of them has given me a sense of peace and contentment in past, but it does take effort to remember and apply them. Even if only one of them stands out or works for you, keep using it and I know it’ll help you to relieve some of the misery and stress of your daily life.

Most of all, stop expecting to be happy, and ironically, you’ll probably start to!


IJ

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