Share Your World 2015 – Week 8

As I was having my coffee this morning, I was surprised to find myself listening to birds chirping. They weren’t singing the most beautiful song, but it was a sound I realized I had been missing. It’s hard to believe we are 8 weeks into the New Year already and spring is just around the corner. Anyway, here is week 8 of Share Your World. Thanks to Cee for doing this every week.

Your favorite blog post that you have written? (add link)

I’m going to have to go back and look at some old posts. I’ve been blogging for almost a year which isn’t that long compared to most, but long enough for me to forget what I’ve written. I’m going to go with this one from last year’s A to Z Challenge: L is for Love. It’s about how Hubby and I cope with with my mental health issues as a couple. The accomanying doodle is kind of blah though. My favourite doodle is probably this one. Hands are difficult for me and these actually came out looking like hands (probably because the dirt is covering them) but hey, I think it counts!

give seedling

What do you feel is the most enjoyable way to spend $500? Why?

If I were given some extra cash like that, I would spend it on experiences. I think I would divide it into two. The first part of it would go to a geek day with Hubby. We could go to one of his comic book or toy conventions. The money would cover admission, whatever autographs or toys he wanted and maybe a piece of steampunk jewelry for me (hehe). The second part would go to an art workshop with my aunt. There is an art store near by that does classes. We could take a mixed media class. I could learn something new for my art journal and she could learn something new for the cards she makes. We could spend any leftover cash on art supplies. That would be a valuable way to spend $500 for me.

If you could know the answer to any question, besides “What is the meaning of life?”, what would it be?

What should I do with my life in order to be happy? I don’t mean crazy happy, I mean content or at least apathetic. I’m tired of feeling unappreciated, stressed, overwhelmed, exhausted and inadequate (among other things). There are so many things I could do. It would take a lifetime to figure it out. I wanted to be an artist or a writer, but I figured I wasn’t good enough to earn a steady paycheck or a secure job. I went into sciences and tried a few different things, but never felt like I was contributing enough. For example, one job was identifying enzymes in fungal genomes. In the big picture, this would contribute to making the use of biofuels from organic waste more feasible but, it’s hard to see the big picture when you spend all your time on the computer staring at genome sequences. From there, I went into vision science because it meant something to me. I had my Strabismus experience and there was Gran with her Macular Degeneration. I thought working directly with people, I would be able to help more. I am helping more but I am burning out. Managing the lab, the research, the teaching, the patients, it’s a lot. My brain is on 24/7 and I don’t think I can go at this rate for the rest of my life. Maybe I should have just done the art thing in the first place. Argh!!

Where do you eat breakfast?

Most of the time breakfast is consumed standing in the kitchen. I know, that’s bad. Work mornings are usually kind of hurried though. On weekends, I usually sit at the coffee table to have breakfast with Hubby and Ewok. Ewok hangs around until I finish my yogurt. She likes to lick the left overs out of the container.

Bonus question:  What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up?

Last Week: I am thankful my presentation went well and that I got that travel award!

This Week: I was looking forward to some paper ephemera arriving in the mail, but it came while I was writing this post. Now I need another idea…..I am looking forward to using the goodies that came in the mail in my art journal!

Without Expectation

This post is going to be a bit of nonsense. Things are just really jumbled up in my head right now.

I’ve been thinking about that question, “what is important to me?” I think being happy is important to me. I know I can’t be happy all the time, but to feel happy and enjoy it every once in a while is something I really want. How can I be happy? I don’t know, but I do know I can’t be happy unless I am content with myself. How do I get to be content with myself? That takes a little more thought. The first things that come to mind are being successful and making other people happy. I have to knock off making other people happy because that is not dependent on only me. How do I measure success? That’s based on what other people think too. I’m miserable at this.

Expectation is a part of life. How do I learn to be ok with not surpassing everyone’s expectations? Easy, set my own expectations, right? If only it were that easy. I don’t know how to set my own expectations. I’ve been in school my whole life. I’ve constantly been evaluated by someone else. There has always been a level that I have worked to surpass. Now, I am an adult, I am on my own, I have finished my course work, I have passed my candidacy exams, the only evaluation left is my defense. My life is my own now.

With others’ expectations out of the equation, it’s easier to answer the question. I am most content with myself when I have the time to do the things I want to do…like eat healthy, exercise, draw, sleep, read, explore and visit with people. So I can answer the question, but this is unrealistic. You can’t just go about doing what you want, that’s not the way the world works. I have to balance my responsibilities with the things that make me feel content. I think, in order to do that, you need a set of values to live by and they need to come first, no matter your responsibilities or desires. Does that make sense?

Anyway, I thought maybe I’d have to get to know myself and what I want a bit better to figure this one out. So of course, I turn to doodling. Here is another page out of my Art, Doodle, Love book. I thought this page was appropriate. It’s called Affirmations. Affirmation comes from the latin word affirmate which means to steady, strengthen. The prompt on the page asks you what values can you live by the will make you a better person. You are asked to list and doodle them. Here are my pages. Some may be hard to read, so I’ll write them out.

  • Family – the most important – those you are given and those you choose
  • Love – all kinds
  • Friendship – everybody needs somebody
  • Science – the endless pursuit of knowledge
  • Goals – without direction we are lost
  • Karma – what you give is what you get returned
  • Tolerance – differences challenge us
  • Second chances – we all make mistakes
  • Laughter – life can’t be taken too seriously; you’ll never get out alive
  • Hope – it keeps us going
  • Hard work – it pays off
  • The small things – they make a difference
  • Attitude – it can make or break you
  • Cooperation – mutual benefit
  • Imperfection – it makes us unique, it makes us human
  • Gratitude – reinforcement of positive behaviour
  • Change – it’s how we evolve
  • Adventure – be the pioneer of your own life
  • Education – pass on what matters
  • Forgiveness – it’s needed to move forward
  • Choice – we make life what we want it to be
  • Integrity – the alignment of behaviour, words and thoughts

What would some of yours be?

artdoodlelove values artdoodlelove values 2

Easy Ways to Increase Happiness

I found an article circulating on Facebook that lists “easy” things to make you happier. Normally I’d skip it, thinking it’s a bunch of hooey, but it claimed this list was backed by science (plus I have no better post ideas). Being an uninspired scientist, I liked the sound of this. So here is a summary, if you want more details on the studies in the article, the original can be found here.

  1. Exercise. I know, I know, you’ve heard it before and hate having people tell you, I do too. What I didn’t know is that you could do it in 7 minutes. It’s a tough workout, but it’s over in only 7 minutes. Check it out here.
  2. Sleep. Apparently not sleeping enough makes you more prone to negative emotions and memories. Positive and negative memories are processed by different parts of the brain. The amygdala processes negative memories while the hippocampus processes the positive ones. Lack of sleep affects the hippocampus more than the amygdala making it more difficult for you to recall positive memories than negative ones.
  3. Live close to work. I don’t know about you but it can take me up to two hours to come home from work depending on the traffic. It’s pretty miserable, so I was glad to see someone actually did a study on it. Unlike other unpleasant tasks, one doesn’t acclimate to the commute. The commute is always different; volume of traffic, idiots on the road, accidents, etc.
  4. Stay in touch. Not staying in touch with friends or family is one of the top five regrets people have on their death bed. The longevity project found that those who have generous relationships live longer and happier.
  5. Go outside. Did you know happiness is maximized at 13.9 degrees centigrade? Really? I think I’d be happier at 20 degrees.
  6. Help others. Studies recommend spending 100 hours every year (or 2 hours per week) helping people. If you want more information, read my post on giving.
  7. Smile. Make yourself smile by remembering funny moments or thinking positive thoughts. Smiling can alleviate pain, improve attention and help us perform cognitive tasks. Don’t bother faking it. One study showed that those faking their smile through their work day had worse moods as the day progressed while those whose smiles were reinforced with positive thoughts had a better day.
  8. Plan a trip and don’t take it. Studies have show that people are happiest during the planning stage of a trip rather than during or after. I’m assuming the anticipation of vacation helps them feel happier. This actually works! I planned my 30th birthday trip to a snorkeling resort in Jamaica. I had a lot of fun and was generally in better mood while planning, despite knowing that we wont be able to do a 30th birthday trip. 😦
  9. Meditate. I had a feeling this would be on the list. I’m rubbish at it. Neuroimaging studies have shown that brain activity is actually calmed after meditation. Regular meditation can even alter brain structure.
  10. Practice gratitude. Being thankful, even for just three little things a day can improve happiness and life satisfaction.

The article ended by saying that people get happier as they get older. Apparently, past middle age we grow happier naturally. I’m skeptical, but at least it takes the edge off getting older.

Since today was a bit of a fluffy post, here’s a fluffy drawing to go with 🙂

stardust girl

 

G is for Giving

And so continues the A to Z blogging challenge. I had trouble coming up with something for “G”. There are so many good G words that have to do with mental health; gratification, growth, grief, guilt, goals, generalized anxiety, global labeling. I am currently feeling gloomy (another G!), so I thought I’d go with something positive today, Giving.

Do good. Feel good.

give seedlingConsidering that society equates happiness with getting something, it seems strange that I’m telling you giving is going to bring you happiness. Research has shown that people who give time, money or support to others or their community are happier, more satisfied with life and less depressed. This is nothing new. It’s been shown since the 1930s that those who volunteered as teenagers were less likely to become depressed as adults. What is new, is the biochemical findings!

Participant’s brains were monitored by MRI while they were asked to make a decision about donating to charity. Those who chose to donate showed more activity in the mesolimbic system of the brain. This is the reward center for the brain. It is activated in response to rewards, sex and other positive stimuli. In response, oxytocin, aka the love or cuddle hormone is released. This promotes social bonding. Dopamine, an important neurotransmitter for cognition and enjoyment is also released.

In addition to the feel-good chemicals, there are cognitive benefits to giving. In depression and anxiety we tend to be focused on the self. Focusing on the needs of someone else helps to shift our thinking. When helping someone else, you experience compassion and kindness, these feelings push aside the negative thoughts going on in your head. It sounds like fluff, but I have experienced it. I used to look after my cousin’s kids every Friday afternoon to give her a break. She had three little boys at the time, all under 5 years old. Most of the time I felt too tired and miserable to go. The guilt of taking away my cousin’s afternoon off was stronger though, so I went. Once I started to focus on the needs of those little boys, I forgot how much I hated myself. I forgot I was miserable and exhausted. I was focused on their needs and making sure they were having fun. I left at the end of the day feeling better.

There is a time when giving isn’t good. That is when you are already overwhelmed by your duties. One of the social workers I was talking to for a while said that we all have a box inside us. We give from that box, but it can become empty, leaving nothing more to give. You have to refill the box before it gets empty. You do this by having you-time. You need to make time to take care of yourself and have a little fun. It’s hard to “have fun” when you are depressed. Usually you have lost interest in the things you once enjoyed. This was me last year. I was trying to be too many things to too many people and my box was empty. I had no way to refill it because I had lost interest in everything. I wasn’t doing well. Then I decided I was going to draw again. I had stopped drawing for several years at that point and I didn’t really feel like drawing, but I thought it was something I used to like, so it’s a place to start. I began with scribbles which usually resulted in crumpled up balls of paper. I wasn’t getting anywhere with the drawing, but I was having me-time. The me-time helped. Slowly, I started to feel less overwhelmed. I started to draw how I was feeling which resulted in drawings like the ones from yesterday’s post. So I’ve found a way to refill my box. It wasn’t something I wanted to do at first, but making myself do it, gave me time to recharge. Now I am able to give again.give a smile

When I talk about giving, I don’t mean you have to build house in Haiti or donate an afternoon to babysitting your cousin’s kids. If you have time to do those things, by all means, do them! Little things count too though. Plant a tree. Give a stranger a smile. Volunteer for a research study. It’s a one-time thing and Psychology is always looking for people to participate in questionnaires and such. You can offer to help family members. I look after my parents’ cats when they are away and sometimes I bake my dad biscotti because I know he loves them. If you aren’t close to your family you can donate. It doesn’t have to be a lot. Give a dollar next time they ask at the grocery store. Find your own little way to spread kindness. At the very least it will give your thoughts somewhere else to go.

Sources: Proceedings of the National Academy of Science

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