Dec 29 2011

Old-time Secrets to Graceful New Year Transitions

Jamie Lee

Once upon a rather long time ago, the deep dark of winter gave people the gift of time – time to look back, to savor the moment, and to ponder the future. Hundreds of years ago in this very town, settlers gathered around the hearth, enjoying not only warmth and light but also a pause in their labors. The wheel of the year slowed for these cold and snowy months, giving everyone a chance to ground themselves in the quiet dreams of the season.

Today, we are rarely afforded such luxuries. Our modern lifestyles and convenience technologies rob us of the enforced respite that used to arrive with the first snowflakes. Now, the ending of the year not only fails to slow us down, it actually drives us forward at ever increasing and urgent speeds. Beginning in October with Hallowe’en, the holidays stampede toward us, overlapping in their haste to celebrate – Christmas lights showing up on store shelves alongside plastic jack-o’-lanterns. December finds us rushing hither and thither trying desperately to accomplish the slew of seasonal tasks that has suddenly materialized on top of routine family and work responsibilities.

And then – when the explosion of holiday “magic” has passed us by, when all our good cheer has been spent, and our adrenaline-induced sprint seems run – the New Year descends upon us, full of good intentions, resolutions, and a fresh batch of obligations, deadlines, and demands. We have traded in the natural and nurturing cycle of seasons for a treadmill.

As we close the door on 2011 and prepare to step into 2012, maybe we can give ourselves permission to stop for a moment and sit with the story of where we’ve been and where we’re going. Perhaps instead of careening blindly back into the fray of things we “must” and “should” do, we can pull back for some perspective. 2011 was a tough year for many, but there are still things for which we can be grateful. And although the year ahead is full of unknowns, surely some of those mysteries hold good things for us.

With the sparkle and glitter of the holidays shining in the rearview mirror, now is the time to stop and take a breath … or even two. Remember that winter is the season of reflection and regeneration. These are the months when we should take a lesson from the wild creatures that hole up sensibly in their dens and burrows. Though the days already grow a little longer with each sunrise, there is still a chance for us to find pockets of time where we can curl up with our thoughts.

The really good things in life happen in the spaces in between. They creep up on quiet paws and settle in our laps when we least expect them. Epiphanies and understanding come to us when we make room with quiet. Here’s to a New Year full of hope, possibilities, and a healthy share of moments in which to slow down and enjoy the journey.


Image Credit: Jerrycharlotte Miller 

This piece was originally written for and published in The Ipswich Chronicle – the small town newspaper of my home town, Ipswich. 

Nov 3 2009

Start NOW

Jamie Lee

rosiehimageMy run at the Good Mood Gig may be drawing to a close, but I’m just getting started with this blog. Although I’m a little sorry that I won’t make the cut into round two (unless one of you has 5,000 friends who’d be willing to vote before Friday 😉 I feel like this really is the “start of something beautiful.”

You see, over the last year or so, I’ve been toying with the idea of launching my own blog. I have a notebook journal full of ideas, a domain name, a WordPress theme, and a lot of passion for my topic; but – until the Good Mood Gig Campaign gave me a much needed kick in the arse, I hadn’t done much about actually STARTING my blog. I hate to admit it, but if it hadn’t been for the jumpstart the contest gave me, my ideas would probably still be gathering dust amidst the pages of that journal and in the back of my mind.

Do you have an idea or a project you’ve been thinking of for a while? What’s stopping you from starting? They say the first step is the hardest, but it’s also one of the most exhilerating parts of any endeavor. With each first step, you embark on an adventure that could lead anywhere, you fill your world with new possibilities. Like most things, starting becomes easier with practice. Though at first you may struggle to take each first step, eventually, you’ll find that it becomes easier and easier. Soon, your starts will lead you to new experiences that you would have missed if you hadn’t taken those first steps. Starting also sometimes leads to finishing, but that’s a story for another day.

Today, I hope you’ll think about starting something. It doesn’t matter what it is; all that matters is taking that first step. Go for it. Free yourself of any weighty expectations. Don’t think about the finishing, just focus on the starting. There’s a pretty good chance that your journey may take you places you never expected; but you won’t go anywhere until you take that first step.

Photo Credit: Rosie Hardy

Nov 2 2009

Do something. Do anything.

Jamie Lee

whalesjawIn my small and very unscientific poll about the “root of a good mood,” nearly half of you said that a “sense of accomplishment” was a great source of happiness. Though popular culture often defines ultimate happiness as the absence of activity (think woman lying motionless on the beach, relaxing into a massage chair at a spa, or reclining on a chaise eating peeled grapes), I tend to agree with the popular vote. It’s not that I have anything against doing nothing. I don’t. In fact, I think doing nothing is an essential part of creating a sane and balanced life. However – big picture here – doing something is usually much more fulfilling.

This photo is a quick snapshot my beau took of me a couple weekends ago. On an impulse, I decided to scale the impressively high “Whale’s Jaw” boulder at the Gloucester park called Dogtown. You can’t really get the scale of the thing from the picture, but I was a good forty or so feet up in the air. That may not sound like much, but when you’re scaling a slippery, steeply angled, smooth rock face; it sure seems high enough.

There was no reason for me to climb this boulder. No one asked me to do it, and I’m actually slightly put off by heights. I had to ditch my socks and shoes to get enough traction to make the climb. I’m honestly not sure what came over me; but, I have to tell you, I felt pretty damn good when I got up to the top. It wasn’t about doing it entirely on my own. (I didn’t. My beau provided some great on-the-ground coaching and also spotted me on my somewhat less-than-graceful descent … going down is always harder than going up.) It was just about doing it. Why did the man climb the mountain? Because it was there. Sometimes, it’s great if you can stop thinking long enough to just do something. I didn’t ask myself why I wanted to climb the boulder or whether I should climb it. I just had an impulse, and I went with it. I DID something.

And the accomplishment – however small or irrelvant to my everyday life – was just as sweet as if I’d completed some task I’d been planning for months. It may have even been sweeter on some levels, because there was such a sense of play about the whole endeavor … the “just because” part of the equation.

Yesterday, on November 1st, I started another “just because” project. Alongside about 140,000 other wannabe writers, I started writing a 50,000-word novel for the 30-day National Novel Writing Month challenge. Though I am full of self doubts and second guesses, though I have only the glimmer of a storyline and a hazy sense of my overall theme, though I have an entire chorus of inner critics foaming at the mouth inside my weary head; I am just going to go ahead and do this. There’s no big prize at the end. Busting my ass all month to write what is sure to be the crappiest of crappy first drafts does not  have any moral, business, or financial benefit. I’m doing this just because I want to see if I can do it.

And, each time I push myself to do something – anything – just to see if I can do it, I’m amazed at what I can do & that makes me happy.

How about you? Have you ever done something “just because?” Have you ever surprised yourself by doing something you didn’t think you could do?

Oct 29 2009

Lower your expectations.

Jamie Lee

sadprincessYes, that’s what I said; but it isn’t as pessimistic as it sounds. It might be more accurate if I said, “ditch” your expectations. Let me explain …

Have you ever gotten yourself all worked up about an event (like a party, concert, dinner, etc) only to be really disappointed when the big day finally arrived? I’ll bet you’ve walked away from more than one Big Deal something-or-other thinking, “Wow. That was anti-climactic.”

It’s easy to make the mistake of setting yourself up for disappointment by placing huge expectations on something. The “something” might be a new job, a special event, a relationship, or even – gasp! – you. The trouble with expectations is that you expect them to become reality, and then – when they don’t materialize the way you’d expected – you are sorely disappointed, even angry. You feel gypped out of something that was rightfully yours. You feel betrayed. You might feel foolish.

But, you say, you don’t want to go through life low expectations. Of course you don’t, and I don’t want you to either. I want you to go through life without any expectations. Ditch those expectations and replace them with aspirations. It’s a subtle but powerful difference. Put simply, an expectation is something you expect while an aspiration is a goal or objective. Often, expectations spring from a sense of entitlement, but aspirations usually spring from a desire to attain something through your own actions. An expectation is passive, but an aspiration is active. If you expect to have a great time at a party, you’re waiting for someone or something to create that good time for you. If you aspire to have a great time, you’ll find a way to have a great time – regardless of outside circumstances.

You should fill your life with goals and objectives, but put expectations out of your mind. Instead, work towards your goals while enjoying the journey. Expectations can be very limiting – closing us off to undiscovered possibilities. Ultimately, nothing we do is as much about the end result as it is about the journey … but that’s a post for another day.

Do you have expectations or aspirations about things? If you have expectations, how do you think your outlook would change if you shifted to aspirations?

Image Credit: Gabriela Camerotti

Oct 27 2009

Good Moods 'n' Gratitudes

Jamie Lee

gratefulIt’s after 9PM and I’m feeling like I ought to just give in, take a shot of NyQuil, and call it a day. So far, this week has been plagued with technical difficulties, insane work schedules, a nasty cold, and – to top it all off – continued falling in the Good Mood Gig voting polls. Rough week, and it’s only Tuesday.

So, what does all this have to do with being in a good mood? I’m so glad you asked.

Whenever I’m having a particularly rotten day – you know the kind I mean – I take a moment to make a mental note of the things I’m grateful for. From the huge items that we often take for granted (like our overall health) to the small details that we often overlook (like sun shining through the window, warming the back of your neck while you work), each day holds many large and small pleasures for which to be thankful. The act of expressing gratitude automatically puts you in a positive frame of mind. How can you be cranky when you’re in full appreciation mode for the wonderful gifts in your life?

Think I’m crazy? You may want to try the gratitude journal experiment: For one month, take a few minutes at the end of each day to jot down five things you’re thankful for. I did this for one year and was amazed at the power of this tiny committment to consciously appreciate the good things in my life.

Today, I’m thankful for:

  1. Being able to take time to chaperone my daughter’s Kindergarten class on a visit to a local farm
  2. A great first meeting between two business associates that I referred
  3. Having the money available to buy my mom a couple nice birthday gifts (she deserves them!)
  4. The patience of my wonderful beau who always looks out for me – even when I’m the one driving me crazy
  5. An easy-breezey bedtime with my daughter tonight – bath, books, & bedtime

How about you? What are you thankful for?

Image Credit: Sno Shuu

Oct 26 2009

How to easily turn on your good mood

Jamie Lee

ericHDo you have a personal soundtrack? I highly recommend getting one.

Whether you capture it on your iPod or 8-tracks, a collection of songs that put a little extra spring in your step is a valuable asset and a gift that keeps on giving. The right music can calm your nerves, bolster your courage, and brighten your mood. The right music mix can be a highly effective health tonic with no side effects (unless you count involuntary toe-tapping ).

Here are 10 grooves that always do the trick for me with a random pick for the embedded video:

  1. Amazing – Josh Kelley
  2. New Shoes – Paolo Nutini
  3. Stitched Up – John Mayer with Herbie Hancock
  4. Sounds Like This – Eric Hutchinson
  5. Rock & Roll – Eric Hutchinson
  6. Ok It’s All Right With Me – um … Eric Hutchinson again :) … see below
  7. Agua del Pozo – Alex Cuba
  8. Don’t Tell Me – Soulive
  9. Legendary – Hamilton Loomis
  10. Fibre De Verve – Paris Combo

So … what tunes get your mood into an upswing?

Oct 22 2009

Are happy people stupid?

Jamie Lee

spreadjoyI have a theory that people curb their expressions of joy in order to avoid looking stupid. Think about it. If you see someone letting loose with full-blown enthusiasm and happiness, isn’t your first thought that they must be a little crazy? Sadly, happy people are often regarded as slightly off balance, “touched,” or maybe not quite as “sharp” as the rest of us. After all, if they really knew anything about anything, they wouldn’t be so damn happy, right?

That’s sad.

Take this video for example. There was a part of me that expected a piano to drop out of nowhere and squash this guy in the middle of his infernally happy song. I kept waiting for it. I figured, “No one can be this genuinely passionate about spreading joy.” There has to be a catch, a punch line, something. But, no, there’s no catch. According to the creator’s site, a guy named Mike Strickland got tired of watching all the violence on TV and wrote this little ditty about spreading joy. Seriously. How simple is that?

As corny as it is, this song made me smile. I can relate to the guy who wants to go out and teach people to see the joy instead of the horror. That’s a big part of what I find so appealing about the Good Mood Gig – the chance to do just that, help people realize how easy happiness can be. It just takes a change in perspective and the courage to look a little stupid sometimes. Personally, I’d rather be happy and stupid than miserable and brilliant. How about you?

Oct 21 2009

Mother Nature’s medicine

Jamie Lee

bradleypathMother really does know best – Mother Nature, that is. No matter what ails me – sadness, apathy, lethargy, angst, confusion, worry – a walk through woods and fields always helps me to rebalance my emotions and regain my perspective.

There is something about the great outdoors that gives your mind the space it needs to function more productively. John Burroughs, American naturalist and essayist, put it best, “I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.”

Although I enjoy the unique bounty of each season, fall has always been my favorite. It is the season of deepening contemplation. A walk through autumn woods invites reflection and aimless meandering thoughts. The crisp air is ripe with the scent of decaying leaves, alive with the sound of creatures preparing for winter’s long sleep.

No matter the season, the natural landscape is rich with enlightening metaphors. I cannot count the number of times I have gone into the woods with a question weighing heavy in my mind, and come out an hour later with the answer. Though she cannot speak in our language, Mother Nature finds other, more poetic ways to make her point.

Though I may outgrow many teachers in my lifetime, I know I will always learn from and be healed by the wild world. As another famous naturalist, John Muir, put it, “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” So very true.

Oct 19 2009

Are you realizing your misery to its full potential?

Jamie Lee

miseryAre you searching for the secret to happiness? Do you mull endlessly over what might make your life more complete, balanced, centered, and fulfilling?

I recently asked for opinions on what lies at the root of a good mood. While writing that post, I started thinking about what most typically gets in the way of a good mood. After all, sometimes the best way to define something is to define what it’s not. Once you identify the things that make you snap, you learn to anticipate and avoid them – meaning you get to maintain your good mood.For me, the things that send me into a funk include running late, miscommunications, people with a sense of entitlement, wasted time, traffic, and so on.

While “researching” (read: cruising YouTube) this topic, I came across the enlightening video above. It does a great job of helping you put your head around some of the things that commonly derail a good mood – sending you spiraling into pits of doom and despair. Not pretty.

Do you fall prey to any of these all-too-human vices? Shhhh – you don’t have to say it out loud. But, if you can, just acknowledge it quietly to yourself and see if you can’t start to break the habit. In the meantime, enjoy the video and share it with your friends – I’m sure they are guilty of a few transgressions, right?  😉

Oct 15 2009

Give me 24 minutes and I’ll make you smile

Jamie Lee

muppetsMy friend Mimi commented on yesterday’s piano stairs post  saying that she smiled because the video brought out the “kid” in her. That got me thinking.

And then, last night, I curled up on the sofa with my daughter and my beau, our Boboli pizzas (chicken and broccoli for her, pepperoni for him, and Hawaiian for me), and a DVD of the Muppets, Season Three.

You remember the Muppet Show, right? Please say,”yes.” Don’t make me feel older than I am.

Jim Henson’s masterpiece of a puppet-run variety show was a family favorite when I was a  kid. As I sat down to watch the episode featuring Kris Kristofferson and his lovely wife Rita Coolidge singing sappy duets with each other and Muppet friends, I was transported back to my much more carefree youth. Watching Kermit, Miss Piggy, Continue reading