10 November Gratitudes to Increase Happiness

Gratitudes during the month of November are difficult for those who live in Northern climes.  The skies are a wintry grey.  Dampness makes the cool air feel downright cold.  The trees have shed most of their autumn beauty. Day light is scarce.

For me, November means blah days and low energy levels. I’m challenged to keep positivity in my life.

I was fortunate to have  a brief respite in Florida where there was abundant sunshine every day.  However, coming home has meant re-adjustment to gusty winds, short days and long, dark nights. It’s left me with low spirits.

That Remembrance Day falls during this gloomy month is fitting.  The bleak weather adds to introspection as we commemorate the sacrifice of so many soldiers to protect freedom.

November Gratitudes

Many in the United States observe November as a month of gratitude. Bloggers post daily expressing gratitudes.  It’s a build-up to celebrations of American Thanksgiving later in the month.

Writings about love, family, friends, democracy, and religious freedom abound Certainly these important topics frame my daily gratitude list but, in this post, I’m focusing on mundane, less serious aspects of gratitude.

My November gratitude list consists of  the small things that make November tolerable and keep positivity in my life.

1.  The radiant heat from a fireplace.  Last night I came home from a book club meeting chilled from the cool meeting room and the brisk night air.  Warming my body near the fire felt heavenly.

2.  Seasonal foods. This is the season for rich soups and hearty stews cooked slowly in a crock pot.  It’s also the time for warm desserts made with Canadian apples.  Last night our menu included a  chicken curry that was warm from the heat of the spices as well as the heat of the stove.

3.  Cozy wool socks.  Last year I struggled to learn how to knit socks using four needles.  Now, these hand knit beauties feel lovely on cold feet.  Too bad that I knit slowly and have finished only one pair!

4. Duvets, electric blankets and a new high-efficiency furnace.  What more can I say about such comforts that are often taken for granted?

5. The first snowflakes of the season. Yesterday we awoke to a winter wonderland that meant cleaning wet snow off the car before leaving for bridge lessons. The snowfall is a reminder that winter is approaching quickly.

6.  Church bazaars and bake sales.  I missed the bazaar at my church this year but received samples of home baking from a friend. It’s always a treat to have baking from someone else’s kitchen.

7.  A warm fleece. On cool and windy mornings,  my rainproof jacket needs insulation. Without a fleece liner,  morning walks will be abandoned in favour of the treadmill at the gym.

8. Good books. I’ve re-read The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe for one of my November book clubs. My reading list for the next few weeks will include the Giller prize winner, Us Conductors, and all books selected as finalists.

9. Frivolous fun.  In the past two weeks, our grand daughter’s Montessori school had two professional development days. On those days, she spent the full day with us.  Taking her to play at the park allowed me to enjoy her pure delight as she played with the soggy leaves, climbed on the play equipment and just ran aimlessly.

10. Dark Chocolate flavoured with sea salt. This treat, introduced to me by travel companions during the Florida trip mentioned earlier, is worth a special mention.  If you haven’t tried flavoured dark chocolate, you are missing a worthwhile experience.

It’s the small things around us that we often forget.  Seemingly unimportant and insignificant events, possessions, and happenings  shape our lives.  Noticing these and expressing gratitude for their meaning in a busy life brings good feelings. November gratitudes are medicine for the soul!

Are you comfortable with who you are?

Are you comfortable with who you are?  Do you like yourself?  Are you happy with your retirement lifestyle?

Or, do you find yourself wishing that you had made different decisions about retirement? Do you put yourself down when you make a silly mistake?  Are you striving too hard to cross items off the bucket list? Do you blame yourself for things that happened in the past? Do you envy the life your friends or neighbours have?

Feeling comfortable with oneself -- photo courtesy of Paul Bouscarle
Feeling comfortable with oneself — photo courtesy of Paul Bouscarle

Comfort in your own skin is an essential ingredient of retirement happiness. People who are comfortable with themselves experience more happiness and optimism.

How to know you are comfortable with yourself

1.  You have a sense of comfortableness.  You don’t worry about keeping up with others. You aren’t preoccupied about how you look.  You don’t get stressed over how your decisions are perceived.

You know your sense of style, your values, your political choices and your religious beliefs.  You know your likes and dislikes.  Basically, you know yourself and know how to be yourself.

2.  You are content with living as you do. Over 60 plus years,  I’ve developed a level of confidence about who I am, where I am and what I know.  Along the way I’ve learned to trust myself to problem solve life issues and to make good life decisions.

I know that I’m not perfect and I accept myself — warts and all. I am content.

I’ve mostly come to terms with my past and have forgiven myself for mistakes and short-comings. It’s taken most of my lifetime to understand and accept my limitations.  I no longer expect to run a marathon nor keep a perfect house, nor write an international bestseller.

3. You have a positive sense of well-being. As I’ve grown comfortable with who I am, I have an overall sense of well-being. I like myself. I am careful with my diet. I exercise regularly.  I drink lots of water.

I pay attention to my overall health, accepting that I have some health issues associated with aging and doing what I can to preserve my general good health.

Keep growing and striving

Having attained a level of comfort with oneself doesn’t mean that there aren’t things to keep striving for or reasons to keep learning. It’s important — for retirement happiness — to keep your mind open to new ideas and to keep a forward-looking attitude to life.

Learning new skills means taking risks and pushing yourself.  The learning process involves discomfort and awkwardness.

Think about how difficult it is to adapt to a new piece of technology, perhaps a new phone.  When you first start using the device it feels clumsy and difficult.  The directions don’t make sense.  But you persist and eventually master at least a few of the functions. While this may seem antithetical to being comfortable, the end result is greater self-confidence and the good feelings of self-mastery.

Growth might also mean challenging yourself to become a better person. Although I feel comfortable with who I am,  I struggle every day to overcome bad habits, insecurities and self-doubts.  I say and do foolish things that hurt others and cause me to regret my words and actions. I procrastinate and then get mad at myself for wasting precious time.

By loving myself despite short-comings, I continue to grow and learn.  Rather than allowing failings to overwhelm or discourage me, I try to focus on the purpose of my life, on making a contribution in my community, and on caring about others.  Using this simple technique help me to refocus and accept my limitations.

Having a happy retirement involves knowing who we are, making peace with the past, and taking risks to keep learning and growing.  Our lives blossom. Contentment grows.  Life is full of abundance and comfort with who we are.

Self Help Strategies for Increased Retirement Happiness

Are you using self help strategies to increase retirement happiness?

Most retirees want a life that is happy, full, and satisfying. Yet there may be a nagging inner voice that wonders whether a different approach to retirement might be more fulfilling.  Is there another path that will increase happiness?

As we look to learn and grow, self help methods often aid the search.

Self help refers to the process of helping oneself — with or without the assistance of others who may have similar goals.  It is often linked to self-improvement and increased confidence.

Blogs and websites provide self help information about every aspect of retirement.  Advice ranging from financial planning to sex after sixty abounds.  Some sites offer helpful advice; some should be ignored.

It possible  to achieve greater retirement happiness by self help strategies.  The process takes effort and focus.  It also happens gradually as a change of attitude and mindset is required.

Types of Self Help

The most commonly used self help comes from the internet. Whether it is advice to cope with a calamity or advice on wealth, power, or fame — a self help method is easy to find.

We search for online for answers to all types of everyday questions.  The stroke of a finger brings driving directions, news feeds, entertainment, recipes, travel options,  and addresses.  Dr. Google is consulted for all questions about health or lifestyle. Reminders, ‘to do’ lists and various ‘apps’ govern many daily decisions.

Self help also comes in the form of groups.  Most self help groups have evolved from the 12 Step program for addictions including alcohol, substance abuse, gambling, eating.  Such groups provide emotional support, experiential knowledge, friendship and practical strategies to make important life changes.

Many  people prefer self help books over the internet.  Such books abound and have high readership.  People seeking information about overcoming personal challenges often start with a self-help book, then follow-up with a group or, perhaps a counsellor.

 Self help can increase retirement happiness

It is possible to become happier by using self help strategies.

Happiness can be considered a habit and a way of thinking about life. To develop the happiness habit, breaking old patterns of negative thinking and negative behaviour are required.

We know that habits are hard to change.  Anyone who has broken habits like smoking or nail biting knows that constant vigilance is needed.  Adopting positive habits like exercising regularly is an equally difficult challenge. Determination, regular practice and strong commitment are needed.

Attaining happiness also takes effort.  Some of the basics include adopting a positive attitude, forgiving wrongs that others have done to us, letting go of past failures or disappointments, and forgetting unpleasant events. Mental attitudes and approaches need examination and reassessment.

Other strategies for improving happiness include gratitude, journalling, meditation, prayer, taking action, and practising acts of kindness and nurturing relationships.

No technique will work every time.  Each of us has to experiment and take personal responsibility for happiness.

 

 

Retirement Happiness — A New Smartphone

Does having a new smartphone increase retirement happiness? Do we need a cell phone that does more than just make voice calls? Is learning how to use a smartphone essential for survival in the digital age? And how does this relate to retirement happiness?

Last week my husband bought me a new iphone — not the new iphone 6, but an iphone 5 which is smaller and more easily fits into the pocket of my jeans which, since retirement, are my go-to wardrobe staple.

Until then, I was happy with the hand-me-down iphone  that I received from our son a couple of years ago. When he gave it to me, I resisted using the iphone as I hardly use a cell phone. I get a few texts every week and occasionally check email or google maps when away from home.

Mostly the phone is in my pocket, or in my purse or, forgotten on the bathroom vanity where it gets charged. Basic functionality serves my needs.

Secretly though, I am happy with this lovely new, sleek, lime green phone. I have great aspirations for what I will do with it. No doubt my new phone is a complex device with more capacity than I will ever use.

It has power that is greater than the heavy PCs or early laptops I used through most of my career.  Unlike the luggable brick that was my first cell phone, this one is comfortable to hold.  The screen is big enough for easy reading.

I already own a Macbook Pro and an ipad.  All are easy to use — although, I confess to limited mastery  of these wonderful machines.

I struggle with technology but I push myself to use it.  Encumbered with insufficient understanding of the basics, I bravely explore new technology as I consider it essential to stay abreast of changes.  This is about survival in the digital age.

Many Seniors Resist Smart Phones

Although older people state that they are interested in exploring the digital world and many are active on Facebook, smart phones are often resisted.

Cost is perhaps the most common reason for hesitation. Most smart phones come with data plans that range from $80 to $150 Canadian dollars per month. This is too expensive for seniors living on fixed pension incomes.  By using free wifi, it’s possible to get by without a data plan for the smartphone but use of the internet is limited without reliable access.

Seniors also reject smart phones because they find them complicated to use.  The small screens are annoying.  They prefer the larger text on older phone models.

It’s true that decreased manual dexterity makes a touch screen difficult for many older people. I sometimes struggle to get just the right tap on the screen. That’s when a reminder, that small children have similar manual dexterity but  learn quickly to manage a touch screen, is encouragement enough to keep me trying.

Finally, some older people regard smart phones and new technology as time wasters.  They prefer to use precious days in face to face contact with friends and family. I can’t argue with such reasoning except to say that television or idle gossip are also time wasters.

Don’t Be Left Behind

These drawbacks produce a worry that many seniors will be ‘left behind’.  As I write this, I think of a woman at a recent book club meeting, who proudly showed off her old flip phone and told everyone that talking or texting is all she needs. That may be so, but the world changes quickly. How will she cope when her doctor begins seeing patients with e-visits? Doesn’t she want the ease of voice dialling or voice commands or emergency dial buttons?

In January 2014, CBC reported on a poll of over 700 people conducted in 2013. That poll found that a majority of seniors in Canada owned a cell phone but only 13 percent owned a smart phone.  Of smart phone owners,  only 7 percent used their device to connect to the internet.

In the United States, Pew research estimated that in 2014, 25 percent of seniors would own a smart phone.  Their research showed that smart phone usage was on the rise and estimated that, by 2017,  50 percent of seniors will have a smart phone.

Why a Smart Phone?

The digital age will soon bring wearable devices, phablets and e-visits.  The CBC poll information tells us that most seniors still use cell phones to contact someone or to be contacted as in the case for my book club friend.

A big market for smart phones looms within the senior population.  I think of another recently retired friend who gave up her land line but will never give up her smart phone with data, camera availability, messaging, pictures, contacts and apps that she became accustomed to using while still in her career.  She’s a hero and an early adapter among the seniors who will benefit as new advances hit the market.

If we reject participation in the digital age, we risk losing easy contact with children and grand children. Yes, they will still visit and talk with us on the phone but we will be left out of many essential communications from and with them.
How often will a quick text with an attached photo of a grand child be missed? This week I opened a text with an attached photo of my grand daughter climbing the steps for her first day at Montessori school. I know that I would never get a shiny print showing such a milestone or accomplishment but it took only a minute for the photo to be sent to my phone. It brought a smile and a sense of connection to an event that I would have missed.

The social life of the next generation is online — and not just on Facebook but on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and Vine.  By rejecting new technology, grand parents will  miss the UTube video of a piano recital, or a goal scored during a soccer game, or the status update from a grand child.  These are the ways that our children and grand children keep their relationships alive.  We need to communicate on their terms, not ours.

To my chagrin, some of this is too much for me.  I’m not planning to use my new phone to play games or to watch movies.  But, it could be used for a quick e-visit with someone who has similar technology.

I don’t want the new world to pass me by as I wait for a smoke signal. That era is gone.  The future world is galloping toward me.

 

Canadian Thanksgiving Celebrations

Canadian Thanksgiving is a time of celebration.   Observed on the 2nd Monday of October and affectionately known as ‘Turkey Day’, Thanksgiving in Canada is closely linked with European harvest festivals.

People gather for excursions, family events, and relaxation.

In the Kitchener-Waterloo area of Ontario, Thanksgiving weekend means Oktoberfest celebrated with Germanic traditions of beer, food, dancing and singing.

The large Hindu community in Ontario celebrates Diwali at this time of year.  Diwali, a celebration of light involving spiritual and cultural practices, happens on Thanksgiving weekend this year.

This is also the last long weekend before winter begins. Most people take advantage of the extra time to plan something special.

Celebrating Thanksgiving

Whatever traditions a family observes, there are some typical ways people spend this holiday weekend.

Outdoor excursions

Regardless of weather, most people try to spend some time outdoors enjoying the beauty of autumn.

Thanksgiving Beauty -- photo courtesy of Matthew Ingram
Thanksgiving Beauty — photo courtesy of Matthew Ingram

Trips to the countryside include activities such as picking apples, buying pumpkins, and admiring the changing colours of nature.

Many families plan specific activities to enjoy nature.  It might be a walk through a nearby park or a daylong hike. It might be an afternoon of raking leaves or putting garden furniture away before bad weather arrives.

Other families spend the weekend relaxing at their cottages.  Weather permitting, there is time to enjoy the night sky without mosquitos.   A campfire keeps fingers warm and provides hot coals for roasting marshmallows.

Some people use the long weekend to ‘close’ the cottage for the winter.  This involves hard work including draining water pipes, storing boats, and clearing the cupboards of leftover summer foods.

Travel

The Thanksgiving holiday weekend is a busy travel time. On both Thursday and Friday afternoons before the long weekend, cars jam all roads.  People rush to away from the city to see family, to get to a cottage, or to attend a festival. Planes, trains and buses run at capacity.

Young families can often be found travelling to athletic tournaments as this is the time of year for soccer, hockey  and track tournaments.

Many travel to celebrate this holiday with family members.  Generations usually celebrate with a traditional feast.  This provides an opportunity for reunions and for giving thanks for another year of bounty.

Food

Typically, the Canadian Thanksgiving meal involves turkey with stuffing and gravy along with ham and various sauces. Side dishes include mashed potatoes, candied sweet potatoes, turnip, squash, carrots, corn and various salads. Desserts include pumpkin pie with whipped cream and apple pie with cheese and ice cream.
With immigration, food traditions at a Canadian Thanksgiving meal are changing.  It’s not uncommon for the meal to include foods such as cabbage rolls, perogies, rotis, curries, halwas and dates as new ethnic groups add their favourite dishes.
Items that use the colours of harvest as themes adorn tables. Gourds, acorns, coloured leaves, chrysanthemums, decorative grasses, and pumpkins decorate both indoor and outdoor areas with brilliant golds, reds, oranges, and browns.

How our family will celebrate

This year, our son and daughter-in-law are hosting Thanksgiving at their home. It promises to be a HUGE family event as our daughter-in-law’s family includes several siblings, their partners and other extended family.  There will be lots of noise and lots of levity.

The meeting of two family cultures gives opportunity to adopt new traditions. I look forward to a meal that will blend the best dishes from both families. My contribution will include pumpkin and apple pies plus home-made cranberry sauce.

We will give thanks for the blessings of the year — for living in safety in Canada; for good relationships; for health; and for the abundant food.

I wish all of my readers in Canada a Happy Thanksgiving.  May you enjoy the love of family, the warmth of friends, and the blessings offered to all of us.

How NOT to Celebrate Your Husband’s Birthday

What should you not do to celebrate your husband’s birthday?  What should you avoid?

I’m exploring this topic today because my husband has another birthday coming tomorrow.  After 48 years of marriage,  we have celebrated many birthdays.

Most of the birthdays have been happy celebrations with good feelings associated with wishes for many years of health and happiness.

Birthday Celebrations
Birthday Celebrations

Sometimes the celebrations have been less than successful.

Today I’m writing about a couple of unsuccessful celebrations, in earlier years of our marriage, that taught me lessons. I’m writing about these birthdays so others might avoid these mistakes or,  get a chuckle from reading about my blunders.

The Most Embarrassing Birthday

The most embarrassing birthday happened just one month after our marriage. Even though this happened long ago, I remember it every year.

I got the wrong date for his birthday.

We were just back from our honeymoon and were settling into our first apartment. I had it in my head that he was born on October 10 rather than October 3.  On the 10th, I baked a cake and cooked a special dinner.  I decorated the apartment.

When he arrived home from work, he looked around and then asked who was having a birthday.

Crestfallen, after all the work and preparation, I reminded him that it was his birthday.  He burst out laughing and told me that his birthday had taken place a week before. I burst into tears.

I was mortified.  How could I make such a mistake? Despite my shame, he hugged me and tactfully reminded me that the correct date was on  our marriage certificate.

Regardless of the confusion about the date, we enjoyed the dinner and the evening despite the confusion over the date.

A Sad Surprise Party

A few years later, I decided to hold a surprise dinner party to celebrate my husband’s 40th birthday.

By this time I had the correct date cemented in my head.

As he was teaching a course at a university out-of-town,  he usually arrived home between 7 and 7:30 pm.  I invited a few close friends who were in the dining room waiting when he arrived.  He was blown away when everyone shouted “Happy Birthday”.

We had dinner, did the celebratory candles on the cake, and drank toasts to good health and many more birthdays.  But he did not seem to enjoy the party. I could tell that he was doing  his best at ‘fake’ social behaviour.

After our guests left, we talked as we cleaned up.  During the conversation I realized that he was tired after teaching and a long commute.  Moreover, turning 40 signalled reaching middle age. He dreaded this as, for him, it signalled a type of ending.

When he arrived home, he was in no mood for entertaining friends.  What he expected was a quiet dinner with an opportunity to unwind afterward.

Lessons Learned

These  birthdays taught valuable lessons about how to avoid disappointing birthday celebrations. I try to remember them every year as his birthday approaches.

 Get the date right.  There’s nothing else to say about this unless you forget the date entirely which means a big mea culpa.

 Surprise celebrations aren’t always well-received. My husband is a low-key kind of guy who puts emphasis on being with the people he loves. He likes celebrations but enjoys them most when he has time to prepare. Being the centre of attention in a large group makes him uncomfortable.

Anticipate how the person will react.  Although I had great fun planning a surprise party, I should have put more thought into how my husband might feel when, exhausted from teaching and travel, he walked into a room full of people to celebrate something that caused him apprehension.

Understand that some ‘decade’ birthdays cause anxiety.  As I look back to the time when my husband turned 40, I realize that other events in his life at that time compounded the angst over reaching middle age. Decade birthdays aren’t always ‘special’ birthdays as suggested by our culture.
Finally, when choosing the celebration, think about your husband’s likes and dislikes.  As years have passed and many celebrations have occurred, I’ve learned more about the man I married. I realize that my husband likes to have his birthday recognized by his family.  He likes a small family dinner at home or at a favourite restaurant so I avoid a big celebration. He likes deli cheesecake better than cake I make for him.  And he’s not much for candles — especially as the birthday numbers grow larger.
So this year, once again, I’m arranging a family dinner at a seafood restaurant with food he likes.  The event will happen on the correct date, October 3. I’ve told him about the celebration and the venue so that he can prepare.
Surprises don’t always make for happiness!
Thanks for reading this post. If you have comments about birthday celebration ideas to avoid, please send them to me.  Also, if you had some great celebrations, please let me know about these.
I encourage you to subscribe to my blog so you never miss a postworksavvy post.
Photo of champagne corks courtesy of Werner Bayer.

Why Some Reunions Make You Happy

Some reunions make you happy.  Contact with people who have influenced your life validates and energizes you.

In terms of retirement happiness, some  reunions are worthwhile — others, not so much. The big ‘home-coming’ reunions at universities I’ve attended never attract me. It’s not worth the time or expense to attend these events to re-kindle relationships that were never important.

The  type of reunion that I try not to miss is one where I know that  I’ll be replenished by the people who attend.

Last weekend I hosted such a reunion.  It’s an annual gathering at our cottage where a group of women who worked closely together during the 70s meet to reconnect.
Our relationships  began as coworkers.  Over time, these relationships evolved to become friendships.

Our careers and our lives took us on divergent paths since the work connections of several decades past.  Among the group many made life changes including new jobs, new homes, new locales, and new partners.  We’ve shared stories of joy when adult children have married and made us grand parents.  We’ve also shared grief when beloved siblings and/or parents died.

Most of us see each other only at this reunion.  This is the time when we share information on key life events during the past year  — special birthdays, retirements, travel and achievements. We are shameless in bragging about accomplishments of children and grand children including weddings, baptisms, and baby pictures. This year we heard stories of falling in love again. We saw the joy in the eyes of friends who found soul mates later in life.

At the gathering, conversation comes as easy as breathing.  The openness and generosity of  long friendship provides compassion, understanding and respect. We relax and share our deepest secrets and fears. When requested, practical and timely advice is given.

To maximize the time we spend together, we meet early on a Saturday.  Coolers full of food and wine arrive along with guests hungry for a years worth of news.

We drink wine. We indulge our appetites with snacks and appetizers.  Eating together is a simple and ordinary act that strengthens the already strong bonds among us. The pleasure of sharing our food extends to a fun-filled potluck dinner.

Since retiring I’ve attended a MSW class reunion of 40 people at McGill http://Why you Shouldn’t Miss a Reunion. I’ve also attended a reunion of former colleagues http://Why Attend Reunions.  I enjoyed each of these events knowing that they won’t likely be repeated.

These formal, institutional reunions differed from the annual reunion I’ve just described.  They provided opportunities to go back in time and to recall pleasant associations of more youthful days.

Interestingly, our small group of former colleagues used the common ground of shared experience to build something bigger by meeting annually.  From each other, we’ve learned lessons of compassion and respect.  We’ve laughed and cried together.

Bonds have been strengthened by the pleasurable act of sharing food in an informal setting.  As we’ve fed our bodies, we’ve also nourished our souls.

By re-connecting every year we’ve established emotional attachments that make our reunion rewarding. Such reunions give abundant retirement happiness.

 

 

 

Inspiration for a Happier Retirement

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