Lonely by Emily White (2010)

I have always loved reading memoirs. I find that one person’s deep journey into her or his personal experiences uniquely informative, all the more so if those experiences are vastly different from my own. Memoirs offer us an opportunity to think — sometimes for the first time —  about how different lives have been lived. Lonely is a perfect example of reading a memoir that brings into focus something that I never thought too deeply about before: loneliness. Lonely is raw, vulnerable memoir that brings the author’s battle with chronic loneliness into the light for intense examination.

“Given the choice, [loneliness] is not a journey I would have gone on. I would have preferred to have lived a life of connection, one in which loneliness did not assault me on a daily and yearly basis. But we don’t get to choose the main facts of our lives. Loneliness was something I was born into, something that claimed me as its own.  The only thing I could do in response was to try to follow and understand it, to chart it as fully and cleanly as I could. If it was clutching me, the last I could do was twist in its grip and really look at it. If I couldn’t ward it away, I could at least see it as clearly as it saw me.” 6

Like everyone, I have suffered from bouts of loneliness on and off through my life, but my experiences are what White terms “situational loneliness:” short-lived moments of loneliness that arise out of a huge life change, such as a move or a new career. White’s affliction of chronic, lifelong loneliness is vastly different; a state of living that is physically and emotionally dangerous and puts the sufferer at great risk for illness, depression, anxiety, and (paradoxically) even more intense bouts of social disconnectedness.  This work opened my eyes to a struggle that so many face, but that I was largely unaware was such a huge and lasting challenge.

White’s book is a honest description of her own battles with loneliness; first as a child of divorce, then as a college student battling depression, and finally as an adult lacking in deep and meaningful relationships. From the beginning, White disputes the common belief that loneliness is a “punishment” for social awkward or inept people, but rather a sense of social disconnection that causes the person to feel unhappy and isolated.  She paints a picture of herself — and a cast of fellow sufferers who populate the book through interviews conducted and reported on by White — as people with adequate social skills but who nonetheless find great difficulty in forging deep and lasting social bonds.

It is also further noted that solitude and loneliness are not the same thing.  Even though those who identify as lonely do admit to being comfortable with a certain amount of solitude, there is a line in which lonesomeness is no longer nourishing. White writes, “the relationship between loneliness and solitude can be hard to delineate: the former is often seen as canceling out the legitimacy of the latter, as though a lonely adult or child is simply not entitled to want or need time alone. But the feelings of isolation that accompany loneliness are entirely different from the more sated and creative feelings that accompany solitude.” (13)

“What lonely people find is that they are drowning in absence. They have to struggle with the unnerving sense of being too much on their own, and having to rely on themselves in an effort to meet their own needs. And once the self has been searched and patted down for a sense of companionship — which is something it can’t provide — the the lonely person is left with is a worn out sense of insufficiency.” 28

White’s book  draws not only on her personal experiences, and that of her interviewees, but from a vast trove of data from research studies and social-psychology experiments which back up her claims of the risks lonely people face. These risks include impaired physical health, mental and emotional strain, anxiety, stress, and fear.  She notes that the human need to connect with other people — to share, touch, talk– is a deeply rooted, biological need that has serious consequences for those who are lacking. The longer the state persists, the greater the risks and the harder the sufferer must work to overcome their fears to reach out to others. “Loneliness can start to feel rooted in your life, as central and definitive as your work or your marriage.” 81

Although she does not spend too much time on making distinctions between the types of loneliness — lonely for a romantic partner; lonely in a new city; lonely for someone to have deep conversations with; lonely for a person’s ‘quiet presence’ — they are mentioned through out the book as separate but equally important connections to restore. White highlights all of the ways we need to find like-minded people to share our lives with in order to remain healthy and happy

“What I needed was someone at home with me, some whose breath I would hear as I sat reading, whose footfalls would sound in the hallway, whose voice would reach me from an adjoining room. I needed the strong, steady companion that a friend, lover, or family member could offer and without it my loneliness persisted.” 73

A truly thought-provoking discussion of a problem so deeply stigmatized it is almost overlooked, but one that is clearly an enormous challenge for millions of people suffering without being able to voice their need for fear of social condemnation.

The podcast that brought Emily White’s memoir to my attention, Episode #110 of “Happier with Gretchen Rubin and Elizabeth Craft,” can be found here: http://gretchenrubin.com/happiness_project/2017/03/podcast-110-lonely/

A thought-provoking examination of the different strategies for battling loneliness, by author Gretchen Rubin, can be found here: http://gretchenrubin.com/happiness_project/2013/11/feeling-lonely-consider-trying-these-7-strategies/  and here http://gretchenrubin.com/happiness_project/2016/01/lonely-5-habits-to-combat-loneliness/

Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin (2015)

Spurred on by my enjoyment of re-reading Gretchen Rubin’s Happier at Home (here: http://wp.me/p6N6mT-1zq ), I picked up my copy of Better Than Before and re-read it as well. Better Than Before is Rubin’s outstanding book about changing habits — how to form good ones and break bad ones — in which she lays out a plan to help readers accomplish our goals by encouraging us to deeply examine ourselves for clues on how to make our changes stick. Self-knowledge, Rubin argues, allows us to harness the power of who we are to help us become who we want to be.

gr-better-than-before-cover

Originally posted October 1, 2015

In Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin offers us concrete ways to stop doing the things we we found out we want to stop (nagging, shouting when I’m in a hurry) and start cultivating the habits we want in our life (start a blog!)

Where her earlier two books focused on strategies Rubin tested in her own life, Better Than Before seeks to help readers find exact methods that will lead them to personal success in creating better, healthier habits. Identifying what we want to change is the easy part! What next? The book asks us to study our “Tendencies,” those idiosyncrasies and personal traits that guide our daily decisions (are you a morning person or night owl? do you like large groups or private activities? do you need to be accountable to others or are you good at self-monitoring?) to help us pick pathways to habit formation that suit us best. Know thyself! As the author wisely points out, a night owl who signs up for a 6am Spin class might find it hard to cultivate the habit of attending the class.

You can take Rubin’s quiz right now to find out your Tendency! http://gretchenrubin.com/happiness_project/2014/03/quiz-are-you-an-upholder-a-questioner-a-rebel-or-an-obliger/

Once we have sorted ourselves into our Hogwarts houses (or Four Tendencies, as it they are called in the book), Rubin peppers us with dozens of strategies we might employ to develop those good habits. We can find ways to schedule our good habits; monitor our progress; hold ourselves accountable; and identify the “loopholes,” or excuses, we are likely to use to block our path. The ideas outlined are practical and simple to start (regularly forget to take your vitamins? do it with the never-missed morning cup of coffee every day.) And the volume of ideas she presents means that we can discard any practice we feel certain will not work for us, and try the next!

As an unabashed Upholder who easily sticks to new habits and who is obsessed with keeping track of all of those habits on various calendars and apps, I love that the book confirms my instincts for staying on track. More importantly, I see the great wisdom of the book for people who are not Upholders and for whom how to create new routines can seem a mystery. A simple formula can be found! Set a goal + adjust for your tendency (the “variables” in your personality) + plan for ways around your weaknesses and excuses  = and a successful routine of good habits can be created.

We can know ourselves, identify our excuses, track our progress, and end up with habits that make us happier, right now, today, by following Rubin’s examples and advice. And who doesn’t want that?

Happier…On Vacation

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Photo my husband captured on our beach trip of the full moon over the Atlantic Ocean.

“We should be working to discover the laws of our own nature. I had to build my happiness on the foundation of my character; I had to acknowledge what really made me happy, not what I wished made me happy.”

I cannot think of a better way to spend a beautiful, relaxing family beach vacation than to relax, oceanside, and deeply contemplate happiness. Last week, I did just that by re-reading my three favorite non-fiction books of all time: The Happiness Project, Happier at Home, and Better than Before…all by Gretchen Rubin.

Even after multiple re-readings (my copies are dog-eared, heavily underlined, and battered from use) Rubin’s books still offer me deep insights into the nature of happiness. Throughout the week, read-aloud passages from her book sparked deep and heartfelt conversations with my family about ways many ways we can welcome more happiness into our lives and the lives of our loved ones. I cannot begin to explain how, well, happy it makes me to be reminded that I can have a profound affect on everyone around me simply by making small decisions every single day to be more kind, loving, enthusiastic, and fun.

Here are my three original posts about her books, enjoy!

https://ivejustfinishedreading.wordpress.com/2015/09/29/gretchen-rubin-part-1/

https://ivejustfinishedreading.wordpress.com/2015/09/30/gretchen-rubin-part-2/

https://ivejustfinishedreading.wordpress.com/2015/10/01/gretchen-rubin-3/

Wildflower by Drew Barrymore (2015)

“Happiness is a choice; a choice you have to make every single day.”

Drew Barrymore writes an adorable and light-hearted memoir about several pivotal but unconnected moments in her life; beginning with her preschool years and weaving back and forth through various parts of her adult life. Barrymore’s fans have always loved her for the kindness and love she injects into her film roles and the stories she tells in this memoir confirm that she just as kind and loving as we had hoped.

Despite a tumultuous childhood, much of it spent living on her own, and a rocky early film career, she holds no ill-will or hard feelings towards anyone, not even her supremely neglectful parents. She holds up everyone in her life as important even if their contribution was small or conflicted. With a wisdom that few people will ever posses — certainly few people will possess as children — Barrymore learned that that her safety and success depended in large part on being able to seek out safe mentors and humble herself enough to ask for their guidance. These mentors, she tells us, were like hand-picked family members who could take the place of the unstable biological family she was born into.

Barrymore appears to embody the quintessential California free-spirit life views including the idea that all experiences serve to teach her important life lessons, especially the hard ones. She also honestly believes that everyone should be forgiven for their flaws and celebrated for what they had added to her life, even if it is a challenge to define what that addition might be. She faces her life as a businesswoman, actress, and mother with optimism and a conviction that she has (and will continue to) learned from her mistakes — and the mistakes of her parents and peers — and she is determine to apply what she has learned along the way in order to make every day is better than the one before.

This is a book of unflinching positivity which makes it a nice departure from other overly self-important Hollywood memoirs. At the same time, it is much sweeter and less cynical than the the recent best selling memoirs of female comedians such as Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, and Mindy Kaling (although I loved all of those books, especially Kaling’s second Why Not Me? http://wp.me/p6N6mT-4f)

NOTE: I listened to Barrymore read her e-audio book and found her to be a very silly and dramatic performer. She laughs, cries, shouts, and uses funny voices to great effect and it made for a lively listen.

barrymore pic

Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach (org 1995)

In the mid-nineties, my mother was in the heart of her “Oprah worship” years. She devotedly watched The Oprah Winfrey Show every single day and if she could not (which was rare, as she curated her schedule to be home for her show) she taped it using our rickety VCR.

She was a member of from the very first of Oprah’s Book Club and read every single selection and tuned in to watch the book discussion on the show. When the book Simple Abundance was selected for the book club, my mother went out and bought a copy, something she never did because we had an amazing library in our town which had copies of every book we could hope to read.

The book begins on January 1 and offers readers one short reflection or mediation for each day of the year. My mother read Simple Abundance and was moved by its message: that there are lessons to be learned everyday simply by paying attention, and honoring, the things and people around us. I was a teenager who had just gone away to college when my mother discovered the book and was sent a copy to — presumably — read night and reflect on my life. Sadly, I sat it on a shelf where I did not open it for many years. As you know, eighteen-year-old’s know all there is to know about life and do not need instructions, advice, or reflection…not from their mothers, not even from Oprah.

Something profound happened when I finally did pick the book up, on January 1 many years later as a new wife and mother living in a town more than three thousand miles away from family and friends. To my shock, I fell in love with Simple Abundance. I loved how its daily meditations — never more than two pages — allowed me a chance to pause and think about the magical things that had happened that day, even when it seemed (before reading the passage) that nothing of import had occurred at all. The book represented a kind of self-reflection and meditation that fit right into my life as it was, no new age music or meditation instruction required. All the author asked was that I think about the special gifts each day, each season, had to offer and be thankful for them.

Last month, mid-December, amid the craziness of the holiday season I asked my husband if he could help me locate my copy of Simple Abundance. I had a sudden yearning to read one of its passages each night of 2016. How glad I am to have dusted that old treasure off!

The six daily reflections that I have read so far have been calming and uplifting all at once.  The goal she sets out for us this January is not to create resolutions but rather “embrace the gentle yearnings of your heart…gradually become the curator of your own contentment.”

I love how accessible her language is and how she weaves her everyday life into the reflections — one passage on the magic of watching snow fall, another on the special quality of conversations by a fireside, later come reflections on hearing the first spring birds return or harvesting food from your garden.

While the language can be a bit new-agey and there are some references to guardian angels and a”Higher Power,” that does not diminish the sentiment of the book, which is to highlight that power of pausing each day to find the unique gift it has brought to your life.

That sounds like a wonderful way to start –and end — the year.

 

Happy New Year 2016!

new year pic 2

In honor of the start of the New Year, and in recognition of the fact that millions of people around the world will embark today on their New Year’s Resolutions, I am re-blogging my review of Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin. This book remains the gold standard for advice on how to cultivate habits for healthier, happier you!

(The other two of her books are reviewed on this blog as well https://ivejustfinishedreading.wordpress.com/2015/09/29/gretchen-rubin-part-1/ and https://ivejustfinishedreading.wordpress.com/2015/09/30/gretchen-rubin-part-2/)

One of my start-of-year traditions for the past several years has been to re-read one of Gretchen Rubin’s books on happiness during the first week of the year. These books never fail to offer profound insight into life and to re-energize my commitment to living better.

Please forgive my apparent laziness in re-posting: not only is it New Year’s Day, but it is also my birthday today. I have a stack of thirteen library books next to my bed, so I promise more books reviews starting next week. Happy New Year!

Originally posted October 1 2015…

In her most recent book, Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin offers us concrete ways to stop doing the things we we found out we want to stop (nagging, shouting when I’m in a hurry) and start cultivating the habits we want in our life (start a blog!)

Where her earlier two books focused on strategies Rubin tested in her own life, Better Than Before seeks to help readers find exact methods that will lead them to personal success in creating better, healthier habits. Identifying what we want to change is the easy part! What next? The book asks us to study our “Tendencies,” those idiosyncrasies and personal traits that guide our daily decisions (are you a morning person or night owl? do you like large groups or private activities? do you need to be accountable to others or are you good at self-monitoring?) to help us pick pathways to habit formation that suit us best. Know thyself! As the author wisely points out, a night owl who signs up for a 6am Spin class might find it hard to cultivate the habit of attending the class.

You can take Rubin’s quiz right now to find out your Tendency! http://gretchenrubin.com/happiness_project/2014/03/quiz-are-you-an-upholder-a-questioner-a-rebel-or-an-obliger/

Once we have sorted ourselves into our Hogwarts houses (or Four Tendencies, as it they are called in the book), Rubin peppers us with dozens of strategies we might employ to develop those good habits. We can find ways to schedule our good habits; monitor our progress; hold ourselves accountable; and identify the “loopholes,” or excuses, we are likely to use to block our path. The ideas outlined are practical and simple to start (regularly forget to take your vitamins? do it with the never-missed morning cup of coffee every day.) And the volume of ideas she presents means that we can discard any practice we feel certain will not work for us, and try the next!

As an unabashed Upholder who easily sticks to new habits and who is obsessed with keeping track of all of those habits on various calendars and apps, I love that the book confirms my instincts for staying on track. More importantly, I see the great wisdom of the book for people who are not Upholders and for whom how to create new routines can seem a mystery. A simple formula can be found! Set a goal + adjust for your tendency (the “variables” in your personality) + plan for ways around your weaknesses and excuses  = and a successful routine of good habits can be created.

We can know ourselves, identify our excuses, track our progress, and end up with habits that make us happier, right now, today, by following Rubin’s examples and advice. And who doesn’t want that?

Energy Management for Work-Life Balance – Part 2

Making the Most of Your Time — For Yourself, Work, Parenting, and Partnerships

This is part two in a series of posts in which I will attempt to synthesize the ideas from two articles I recently read (Washington Post, Harvard Business Review), followed by a Real Simple podcast I heard while (multi-tasking!) on a jog last week, including some of my own thoughts on the topic of Energy Management.

NOURISH YOURSELF “It is scarcely news that inadequate nutrition, exercise, sleep, and rest diminish people’s basic energy levels, as well as their ability to manage their emotions and focus their attention. Nonetheless, many people don’t find ways to practice consistently healthy behaviors, given all the other demands in their lives.”(Harvard Business Review, see notes)

Schedule in non-negotiable time every day for at least two things you love. My two things are always exercise and reading. Some days in order to fit it in, I have to get up at 5:30am to work out in the basement; other days I have to say no to a tenth round of Candyland with my preschooler (or another episode of The Walking Dead with the hubby) in order to read a chapter of a good book. Either way, skipping my “two things” is not allowed.

Say no much more often. Some of us really struggle to remember that we do not have to give any reason at all for saying “no” to something we do not want to do. You may have time to bake cookies for the PTA, but you will feel much more nourished if you take a bubble bath instead. Traveling for work might be thrilling and give you a chance to network, but sometimes the stress, cost, and inconvenience to your family might be too much to ask. While you’re at it, try saying no to: kids birthday parties where you have to stay the whole three hours; selling girl scout cookies; watching reruns on TV; dinner parties with people who are boring…use the time to go out with just your husband instead. This is not to say we should spend time only on what we want to do, but when the extra tasks start to intrude and cause stress, then we have the right to turn a few of them down.

Get enough sleep everyday, even if it inconveniences someone, means skipping an evening event, or means some tasks must be postponed. Almost nothing is more important to me then getting enough sleep. Every single part of our lives is affected by a lack of quality sleep, so it is critical to come up with a routine that allows you to get enough sleep every single night.

Stop wasting time on “low value” activities. Author and podcast contributor Laura Vanderkaam makes a critical distinction between Low and High Value activities, a dynamic that is worth considering when scrutinizing the activities that make up your day. Everyone swears they have no time in the day, but each of us dedicates hours to Low Value actions such as checking FB, watching TV, or answering emails. We can reclaim every one of those minutes for High Value activities such as reading, talking to our spouses, taking a walk around the neighborhood, or fitting in a 15 minute Pilates workout. (Check out my favorite short Pilates videos here https://www.youtube.com/user/blogilates/featured )

Work out everyday, outside if possible. This is related to item number one, of course, but even if you don’t think you can possibly find time to do a workout you can and should. Exercise is essential for managing stress, improving sleep, maintaining health, and staying sane. It does not need to be complicated or lengthy! I have personally fit in exercise by pushing the stroller while walking the kids to school, taking a hike after school with the kids, running laps around the field during soccer practice, and doing free You Tube workout videos while the lasagna cooks. No excuses! (Bonus: your kids will see you making your health a priority.)

NOURISH YOUR CHILDREN

Remember the Difference between Direct and Indirect Parenting “Transactional Parenting” was the term used by Jennifer Meer in the podcast, which I interpret to mean the millions of time-sucking moments or “transactions” that are required when raising children (attending PTA meetings, shopping for soccer cleats, scheduling flu shots, coordinating carpools). These moments are NOT parenting! Your children may benefit from these actions but only very indirectly (in their minds, maybe not at all). It helps to think of this as “Indirect Parenting.” These things matter but not as nearly as much as one-on-one time. “Direct Parenting” is the time that your children recognize as spent together: reading a book at bed time, laughing at dinner over silly things that happened at school, or walking to school looking forward to the day ahead. Be cautious of how much time and energy you allow the “indirect” actions to take…it can be easy to push aside the “direct” or real parenting moments because we are exhausted from the first.

(NOTE: I plan to steal an idea mentioned by Jennifer Meer and start a book club with just me and my nine-year old son. Every night we pledge to read one chapter of Little House on the Prairie and talk about it at breakfast.)

Less is more, especially in the winter. This is often repeated by parenting experts, but children need time to recharge and we must build breaks and free time into the calendar for them (this includes not dragging little ones to big kids’ activities.) Especially in the dark, cold months of winter, kids need a chance to hibernate at home with just the family. Give their schedules a break during these slow months so they can read more books, get to bed a bit earlier, and play spontaneous rounds of Monopoly with their siblings. (BONUS: During the holidays, kids with open schedules mean they can better take part in those spontaneous moments – ice skating in the park, mid-week holiday movie night – that make the best memories.)

Being with your children does not mean micromanaging their every move –presence and proximity can be enough. We can take a break from what author Jennifer Meer calls, “parenting as a verb, that 24/7 job we can never take a break from.” There are times when you have things to do that do not include sitting on the floor playing Legos. That is perfectly fine! There is no requirement that you have to spend every single moment of the day deeply engaged with your kids. Sometimes, sitting and reading a book while they play at the park is a way to meet everyone’s needs.

Being at every event, every time is not nearly as important as you think. Your kids will be just fine if you do not go on every single field trip or attend every soccer practice and game. It matters much more to my children that I come to the occasional soccer game but give it my full attention, rather than come to them all – grouchy, rushed, and resentful – and stare at my phone the whole time. Quality over quantity really applies here. Drop them off and go do something for yourself or with your other kids! In support of leaving the kids on their own, I once heard a Child Development expert give a talk in which she argued that kids cannot really develop their own sense of self unless they are allowed to do things completely alone. Always being present can crowd them in moments in which they need grow into themselves.

NOURISH YOUR PARTNERSHIP

Use the time you do have together to talk about life, not just chores, work, and kids. My husband and I try to have a quick “home life” catch up session as soon as he gets home from work, and then we talk about ourselves, our interests, world events, or good books. (Yes, we are constantly interrupted.) Just trying to talk about the larger world helps retain a sense of our grown-up selves even while we make tater-tots and check homework. We get the chores done, but we have deep conversations while we do it.

Have “stay at home date nights” at least once a week. This was a suggested to us by our midwife when our oldest son was an infant and has been a staple in our marriage ever since. Once a week we put the little kids to bed, tuck the older ones in with a book or a movie, and have a “date”: grill a steak, open a good bottle of wine, maybe even watch a movie…all without going out, spending a ton of money, often even while wearing sweats! We reconnect, feel pampered, and we are on deck (when inevitably) someone throws up or has a nightmare. We have a modified version that involves putting everyone to bed early on Wednesdays so we can drink wine while we fold laundry, watch Modern Family and chat.

Have at least one thing that you both love and regularly share together. It is easier than you might think to let being parents become the only thing you have in common. But it is so important that you have something that you both love to do (and are passionate about!) so you have a reason to connect during the week on a more personal level. My husband and I both love reading, and we often cannot wait to get together to discuss a book, blog, article, or radio story we have been thinking about. We send each other emails or texts with links to interesting stories throughout the day, and we often have a two person book club by reading the same book and chatting about it while we fall asleep. (Also, whenever we can make it happen we take a run together and chat about books or world events while we break a sweat.)

Chores and errands can be dates, too. More than once we have found ourselves with free time – without kids – during the school day but also with a list of errands or chores that also need completing. By doing them together, we get to spend time chatting (without interruption!) and get the work done faster because we are working together. Sipping coffee while we stroll through Trader Joe’s can be as romantic as a dinner out if we keep an open mind about what a “date” is. Splitting up the “to-do” list means less time together.

Don’t squander the post-kids to bed hours. Laura Vanderkaam points out that no one is coming to inspect your house to make sure is clean at 11pm. Skip the dishes, leave the toys on the floor, and share a glass of wine instead. Jennifer Meer also points out that frantic feeling while trying to get everyone to fall asleep so we can finally rest….only to fill that “rest” time with chores is totally unfulfilling. Leave the clean up and snuggle up instead.

SOURCES

Labor of Love Podcast (Real Simple Magazine on Panoply)

“Making Time for Us” October 21 2015

http://www.realsimple.com/work-life/life-strategies/time-management/labor-of-love-time-management-parenting

“Clock Management and Parenthood,” Jennifer Meer,The Washington Post, October 13 2015

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2015/10/13/clock-management-and-parenthood-finding-the-time-to-shower-and-to-think/

I Know How She Does it, Laura Vanderkaam, 2015

http://www.amazon.com/Know-How-She-Does-Successful/dp/159184732X/ref=as_at?tag=REASIM03-20&linkCode=as2&

“Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time” Harvard Business Review October 2007

Tony Swartz and Catherine McCarthy

https://hbr.org/2007/10/manage-your-energy-not-your-time#