Sunday Poems 64: Worry and happiness

Like most people - but maybe a little bit more than most - I spend a lot of time thinking about how to be happy. So often this pattern of thinking falls into wondering what I'm missing. What I don't do. What keeps me from being happy. It's pattern of worry, a source of stress. Anxiety is such a frightening creature that it can turn a mind's wandering over unfelt happiness into a tiger toying with the brain of a mouse. What can be done about it? Thankfully, I'm not the first person to ask.

A passage from Edward Hallowell's 'The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness'

A passage from Edward Hallowell's 'The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness'

The psychiatrist Dr. Edward Hallowell describes a three step program for dealing with anxiety:

1. Never worry alone
2. Get the facts
3. Make a plan

If we're working on my worrying about being happy, I'll claim writing this as addressing step one.

For step two, the dozens of psychology books on my shelf remind me that I probably don't need to do any new research. A quick brainstorm reminds me of some sources of happiness:

-being well rested
-being well fed
-moving the body
-spending time in a flow state
-asking for help

Now, on to step three. It's worth remembering that Hallowell's three steps are in fact a plan, so making it to step three is a sign that you've already completed it. But let's move a little further. I find externalizing my thoughts helpful, so I wrote down Hallowell's three steps and pinned them to the cork board above my desk. Next, I wrote down the eight items I brainstormed which lead to happiness and pinned that note card beside the first one. Now when I find myself worrying, I know where to look.

I mention flow in the second list. Flow -  defined as a psychological state of engaging fully in a compelling, and difficult task - was identified by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi as a result of his decades of research on the subject of happiness. When an person is in flow, the passage of time is forgotten, the mind doesn't wander, and generally the result is happiness. If a task is too challenging, despair makes it hard to focus, and if a task is too basic, boredom follows. Flow happens when challenge meets skill. It so happens that writing this week's Sunday Poems, after taking last week off, was a challenge. One I could meet. Now that I've done it, I do feel happier.

If you are worried about something too, maybe give the three steps a try. It's always good to have a plan.

Sunday is a good day to organize the pantry. You find there are a few cans of tomatoes which have gotten buried under a stack of chick peas. You are reminded of the can of young green jackfruit. Where did it come from? Will you ever use it?

Below is a poem. Consider passing it on to someone who might enjoy it. As always, I’m here if you need to chat. Sunday Poems continues to be supported by a few generous backers over on Patreon. If you have an extra dollar or two a month and you appreciate reading these, please consider becoming a Patreon backer, so that I can dedicate more time to writing on this blog. Have a good week, everybody. You can do it.

keys jangle on your hip.

what colour are your lips tonight?

once, you pressed
your house key to my lips
until i let you put it in
my mouth and i kissed it
and looked at your face,
noticed that i loved you,
tore off all of my leaves.

a few minutes of silence
can be enough
to remember
a taste.

Theodore Fox is a poet living on Treaty Six land in Canada.
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