An excerpt from Happy Healthy You: Breaking the Rules for a Well-Balanced Life
Have I ever told you about my love for the domestic lives of colonial Americans? Around this time of year, when the pilgrim salt and pepper shakers come out and take their place on the dining room table once again, my mind drifts to what life may have been like for the people who arrived on the cold and stormy shores of New England.
The political energy around colonialism aside, I am intrigued by those people. I love to read the diaries of women during that time and learn about the mundane minutiae of how they lived: the contents of their kitchens, the neighborhood drama, and the work that was involved in maintaining a homestead in the middle of the wilderness.
And, I think about how it must have felt to step onto the shore of an unknown land, with no real knowledge of what lay ahead. We know now that the first Thanksgiving meal likely did not happen in quite the idyllic fashion that we envisioned as children, but the stories are a source of curiosity to me because of the courage demonstrated by all people venturing into the unknown. I admire courage.
In a somewhat related note (trust me, this all comes together at the end), I once heard a radio interview with Walter Isaacson, author of the book, Leonardo da Vinci, a biography of the man who is esteemed as one of the most prolific creative geniuses of all time. While I listened, I thought about the intelligence of a mind like DaVinci’s and wondered if I would ever experience thinking as nimble and creative as his. Then Isaacson made a point that gave me hope that I could: DaVinci wasn’t just brilliant, he was curious. Yes, he possessed the capacity to craft ideas from observations, but without the intense curiosity that made him constantly peel back layer after layer of everyday situations, his true brilliance could have remained just an admirable level of intelligence. I am not brilliant, but I am definitely curious. And while I admire intelligence, the courage to be curious is a trait I admire more.
Courage and curiosity are two traits that come in very handy when in the pursuit of healthy living, especially during the holidays. Sometimes it is not until we are willing to challenge the status quo, or what we think are circumstances out of our control, that we experience a breakthrough in our thinking about ourselves. During the holidays more than any other time, I hear about the traditions that have to be carried out, the food that has to be eaten, the cookies that have to be baked, and I wonder...what if? What would happen if things didn’t happen that way, and if this was the year when things were different?
I’m not saying it needs to be, necessarily. I’m just asking whether we are curious enough to explore what would happen if it was different this year, even just on paper. And maybe I am asking if we have the courage to poke at it a little more and try a little bit of something different, like DaVinci would.
Let’s start with the first part: what would happen if your holiday habits were different this year? Get out a piece of paper and brainstorm what would happen if you didn’t make as much food or didn’t eat so-and-so’s cheese dip or didn’t open the next bottle of wine. What would happen if you didn’t let the morning workouts go on hiatus until January? What could be good about that? What could be annoying? You could even sort your brainstorm into lists of pros and cons of having a holiday season that was a little different. Allow yourself to be curious about those things. You don’t have to take action on any of it, sometimes it is just interesting to know.
Then, maybe something that you wrote down seems significant, like something you might be curious enough to try. Something you might have the courage to try. Something you might even have the courage to try and be bad at. At least you tried. Leonardo DaVinci would have tried. Now you have something in common with Leonardo DaVinci; not many people can say that.
Having the courage to be bad at something new embodies the spirit of what made DaVinci such a creative genius and what made it possible for pilgrims to step onto new ground. The courage to be curious enough to try something different is arguably the trait that leads to breakthroughs.
The holidays lie ahead of us, and we know what that means: many opportunities to maintain the status quo and copy/paste the way things always are, or to challenge them through curiosity and courage. I hope that this week, you allow yourself the time to slow down, examine your holiday surroundings, and ask, “what it?”
Well, here we are again. When I turned on my radio last week and heard Christmas music playing, I knew that ready or not, it was the holidays.
So, I started asking my clients about how they want to spend the last six weeks of the year. Their answers were pretty standard: cooking, traveling, spending time with family, shopping, etc. It was clear they had not understood my question, so I needed to clarify what I meant.
I didn’t want to know how they expected to spend the holidays. I was curious about how they wanted to spend the holidays. What are their ingredients for a happy holiday season? How will they know that the time was well-spent? What experience do they want to have, and what do they need to do to create it?
It’s been said that the best way to predict the future is to create it, and that’s something you can do any time of year. We don’t get to choose every circumstance of our lives, but we have more control over circumstances than we may think. So today I ask you: how do you know if you are having a happy holiday?
There are a few rules for this exercise. First, you must be specific about what brings you joy during this time of year. The more detail you can put into imagining the scents, flavors, and images of the holidays, the easier it will be to find them.
Second, you must be somewhat realistic. If your dream is of a snowy winter wonderland but you live in Florida, you better have the budget and vacation time for travel. You can’t bring people back from the dead, and you have to exist in this dimension. But, other than the laws of physics and constraints of your resources, have at it.
And third, it must be self-generated. That is, nothing in your perfect holiday scene can be dependent on someone else doing something. Waiting for other people to do things in order for you to be happy is just a recipe for heartache and resentment.
OK, are you ready? Here we go.
Let’s flip the calendar a couple of pages to Jan. 1. Imagine sitting on that day in your favorite place, with a wonderful feeling of contentment wrapped around you like a blanket. Life is just peachy. Gosh, that was a wonderful holiday. Now imagine someone comes to sit next to you and they ask, “how was your holiday?” And you say, “it was just wonderful,” and then begin to paint the scene. What, specifically, made it so wonderful?
When I think about this question, my mind reminisces about hearing jingle bells on the doorknobs of the house, making treasured family recipes to share with others, decorating my home like we live in the Biltmore, and smelling cinnamon, orange, and clove simmering on the stove. I like to have clinked glasses with friends and family, witnessed the magic of the season through childrens’ eyes, and indulged enough to feel fancy while still fitting into my jeans in January.
If those things have happened by Dec. 31, I feel good.
Now, there are other things that make the holidays nice, too. Children being polite and gracious to their elders, no one getting sick, family members not discussing politics, no car trouble on the way to Grandma’s, good weather, my husband buying the correct gift for me, my kids eating the fancy food I have made, the music at church being exactly the kind I like, the lines at the stores not being too long, and seeing the correct reactions to all of the gifts that I have purchased for others, to name a few. But we’ve already discussed that.
Now let’s zoom back in the calendar to the present day. You’ve just painted that picture of the events of the coming weeks that led to that feeling of contentment. Now it is time to make it happen. What do you need to do to ensure that the elements that made you feel so happy can actually take place? You’ve identified your priorities, so now schedule them.
For me, staying active is key, because I like to indulge a little without gaining weight. That means I need to stick to my exercise routine and maybe even bump it up a little to account for extra nibbles. I may even take a day off during the week when I can bake, listen to carols, make my simmer pot, and decorate my house.
When visiting my family, I enjoy sliding to the background to observe everyone as they interact together, watching the kids play with snow globes when they think the grown-ups aren’t watching.
Then, when we get the flat tire, or my kids dash off without saying thank you, and no one eats the meal I have made, it’s OK, because that’s not what I needed for a happy holiday.
What future will you create this year? You can craft it yourself, set the stage, and enjoy the show. Keep it specific, realistic, and intrinsic, and maybe even Santa will ask for your secret.