Saturday, November 24, 2012

Happiness Research - Identifying Joy

Every so often, my path crosses with Oprah, specifically, her magazine, O. Last night my internet research on happiness came up with this article on her site. I read it because I am intensely curious about the questions relevant to navigating towards happiness. Is it a life purpose type of question? More dinners at the table with family?

There were two questions -
What brings you joy?
Does your life reflect what brings you happiness?

Let's get back to the basics. I haven't really considered there being a difference in Joy and Happiness, but a connotative nuance might be that happiness is a fleeting emotion. As in, you may or may not have control over it, but happiness could be induced with fun or rewarding activities. Joy, on the other hand, seems to be related to contentedness, which is sort of an emotional-spiritual-mental variable running in the background of life. In that sense, joy has more permanence than happiness, although both are worth increasing.

What I liked about this article was that it focused on things that you could be doing more or less of, which is somewhat controllable. I enjoy baking, so I could feasibly spend more time doing this than a time-wasting activity, like web-surfing.

Up until now, a lot of my happiness research has focused on way harder tasks, like practicing gratitude, increasing your self-esteem (can you just will this to happen?), and forgiving yourself (which seems worthy if I could figure out what this means). Don't get me wrong, I'm inspired to do all of those things, but I don't really understand how I would know my self-esteem is increased.

What brings me joy?

Feeling smart
Not fixating on anything, including joy
Making someone's day
Laughing with Jason about things that don't matter
My nice, comfortable house
A creative outlet

That's it, although I have a weakness for 'free kitten' signs. I want to adopt all of those kittens so they'll have a safe and warm home. I don't feel the same way about puppies or ducklings for some reason, even though they are equally cute.

Things that don't bring me joy (that traditionally bring others a sense of joy or happiness):
Cooking for my family, or keeping up a nice house (outsourcing is amazing!)
Feeling connected through social websites
My degrees
My skillset, although I'm trying to change this so that I can feel smart.
My inner voice. It's actually a mime doing hand puppets and Pictionary.
Organized religion

The article says that you should spend 80% of your time doing things that bring you joy. The biggest switch in the last year has been to unfocus on accomplishment. I have a bad habit of putting up a posture that I need to get everything done in the world, or stick to a formula that most people use (school-job-family-kids-retirement). My emotional kryptonite is thinking that I should spend more time doing things that fall outside of this JoyList.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

What I Learned from Going Pseudo-Vegetarian for a Month

At least once a year, I decide to revamp my life to be 'healthier.' I'm usually inspired by my own health, or seemingly, lack of control over it. If I take care of my body by feeding it the right foods, sleeping enough, and working out a few times a week, then I should be relatively free of pains and ills. But sometimes, this isn't enough, or I get wrapped around the axel about the "right" foods. Even unprocessed tomatoes have a cycle of being good or bad depending on the growing source, preparation, storage, etc.

So this past July, we purchased half a cow, which was raised on a farm somewhere in the county on grass and grain. For three months, I ate beef every other day. Who could deny that steaks and hamburger from a local cow taste 10 times better than what's at Walmart?

As it turns out, there is a health cost to eating that much meat. See, I wasn't just eating red meat 4-5 times a week, but all other sources of protein (and some veggies) in my diet were replaced with delicious sirloin or short ribs drizzled in a smoky BBQ sauce. My muscles after a workout had the most amazing rippling effect, which doesn't sound that attractive, but the novelty was cool. The problem was how I felt after eating red meat. Gradually my complete satisfaction with a porterhouse turned into being so zonked after a meal, I wanted a nap (or a good cry - low energy is my kryptonite).

I also noticed that my pee had a weird soap-foam look to it, which can mean too much protein being excreted.* I thought of all the health sites I read where too much protein can wreak havoc on your kidneys. I tend to panic in these situations, and I realized I wanted to do an immediate diet makeover.

So I'm giving myself until Thanksgiving to be a psuedo-vegetarian, getting protein from eggs, fish, and maybe chicken once a week.

A psychological bit about 'vegetarianism.' When I was growing up, all the vegetarians I knew were fat, probably because they ate french fries and cake every day (lots of it). Not pointing any fingers, mind you… When you're a kid, the only food you really can eat is whatever your parents buy. I'm sure they ate healthier foods at the dinner table. I certainly have found that eating unprocessed foods gives me a mental edge (and it helps the abs), so my plan was to substitute animal protein sources with vegetables, soups, nuts, yogurt (ugh), and non-tropical fruits like apples and avocados.

Vegan is extreme. It deviates too much from what I grew up with (and what my ancestors typically ate, which involved a lot of gravy and potatoes). Red meat was a staple in our house, so I don't know if I could ever go whole-hog into vegetarianism for more than a month. Also, soy just doesn't taste good, although I've eaten it off and on for at least a decade. I know people who go vegan for a bit, but it's a temporary switch. Eventually, their bodies need some vitamin or mineral that only can be obtained from eggs or something. Also, vegan, like any other strict diet, can be isolating. I'm still not aware of too many restaurants that cater to vegans.

In the last few weeks, I've learned quite a bit that is worth mentioning:
  • My ripply muscles have become even more vascular (move over Madonna), and I enjoy the way I look just the same as when I was on my SuperProtein diet. I know vanity shouldn't be the first thing on the list, but I work hard to fight office-ass.
  • My energy level was immensely higher, which I attribute to the extra vitamins and fewer calories. More food = sluggish in most cases. 
  • Despite avoiding beans because I hate them, my insides have been rather musical.
  • Supplementation becomes super important if you cut out meat. I freaked out about the bubble bath I saw in the toilet, so I went cold turkey on my vitamins. Three weeks in, I started waking up in the middle of the night because I had jerked myself awake. My hand would cramp for a second, I'd wake up for twenty minutes, only to wake up again to my leg twitchme out of my doze. After four or five episodes of this, I Googled "insomnia caused by twitching" and came up with magnesium deficiency being a possible cause.** After resuming a daily dose, the twitching subsided.
  • I hate yogurt too. It's basically a novelty food with sucky commercials.
  • Finally, I don't crave sweets as badly as I did a few months ago. This could be a placebo effect, or the fact that I changed jobs, not necessarily something I can attribute to less red meat. But it's an interesting observation, nonetheless.

Maybe this psuedo-vegetarian theme can continue for the next six months. I can't tell if my experience is temporary relief or if there are more diet changes I can make to feel amazing.
We'll see after the holiday season!

*I was diagnosed with acute interstitial cystitis about this time, which has no known cause.
**I'm not a doctor, and I don't necessarily recommend looking health issues up on Google. However, my mind is hungry, and if I don't figure out some potential leads for fixing an issue, I'll incessantly worry myself into a state. The power of observation has served me way better than any Google site, and sometimes, even doctor's advice.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

How to Make this Work For You!

Recently, I was inspired to restart the blog. Since November is "Write a Novel Month," I wanted to do that (maybe I could make a gazillion dollars on Amazon!), but this wasn't meant to be this November. After 15,000 words, I lost steam. Honestly, I don't have the skills right now to write fiction for 40,000-50,000 words. I'm still learning the character development formula, and how to fit the story into a 3-month timeframe. Currently, my sweet spot for a 'write session' is more or less 750 words, which is more appropriate for a blog post. 

Do you care? Probably not about my novel. However, I am taking suggestions for things to write about on this blog. I've come up with some posts that I'd be interested to write about, such as:

  1. Navigating Your Life
  2. Top Performers
  3. Happiness Research (and my addiction to being depressed)
  4. Skin Research
  5. Troubleshooting Insomnia
  6. Falling from the Fail Tree
  7. Expiration Date of Friends
  8. Cutting out the Fat (i.e. useless things)
  9. What I Learned from Not Completing a Novel
  10. Things I'd Like To Do
  11. The Void (of choosing to not have kids)
  12. Learning How to Trust Yourself
  13. Surprising Truths
  14. How Paying Attention Can Be Your Most Important Asset
  15. Ridiculous Desserts
I plan to go through them (and more), but I'm open to suggestions.