When he was small, my youngest son had a habit of filling his pockets with treasures he encountered in his daily adventures. I didn't always understand the value he saw in his chosen objects -- really, how many rocks and sticks could one boy keep? In his eyes, though, each one was beautiful and important. Life is just like that on a larger scale, isn't it? We gather up the precious bits of our experiences and save them all to learn from and enjoy later. Perhaps you'll find a little something here that you'd like to keep in your own pockets. Thanks for visiting.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Keeping a happy heart

Ahh, February: a month of hearts and love and sweetness... and of thinking you're going to lose it if you see one more gray, minus a gazillion degree winter day outside! I sense that February is difficult for many people in our part of the country, where winter seems to have had a hold forever by this time in the season. It sometimes takes a little extra work on our part to feel energized and happy, and not to let the last months of winter suck the life out of us. I have a few secrets that I try to keep in mind to prevent me from falling into a winter funk; perhaps me sharing them will help you remember what it is that makes your heart happiest.

Get outside. I know, I know -- it's cold out there, and we're all sick of the rigamarole involved in repeatedly putting on and taking off winter coats and hats and scarves and gloves -- but making myself go outside always makes me glad I did. Take a winter walk, go snowshoeing or skiing on trails in your area, or make some exhilarating runs up and down a sledding hill with some kids you love. The fresh air and exercise can do wonders for your heart and your mood.

Laugh. I read somewhere recently that children laugh more than 300 times a day, while adults laugh fewer than 20 times. It's easy as adults to get caught up in the seriousness of life; we have busy schedules and weighty responsibilities. Remembering every so often to let ourselves go, to be silly and laugh at the lighter moments in our daily lives is sometimes just what it takes to turn a stressful day into a better one. I know, too, that the boys love when I do something ridiculous on purpose and we all have a great laugh -- happiness is contagious!

Call your mom (dad, brother, sister, grandparents, friends... ). Keeping in touch with the people I love always makes me feel happy. Though most of my family lives far away, sharing bits of daily life, struggles, successes, and smiles over phone calls or email makes me feel closely connected to them. Winter can feel isolating when everyone is huddled up in their homes; reaching out to those closest to our hearts makes us remember we're not alone.

Carry less baggage. I mean this in two senses: first, get rid of the objects you have lying around that you don't need, use, or want. You'll be amazed at how clearing physical disorganization can lead to a sense of mental well-being. Second, free your heart and mind of "clutter" by letting go of grudges, hurts, worries, and friendships that are not serving a positive purpose in your life. Sometimes it's difficult to let go of any of these things, physical or emotional, but "housekeeping" of all kinds can be extremely liberating. Unloading just a few things always makes my heart feel refreshingly lighter.

Help others. I think it's impossible not to feel a sense of warmth and joy in our hearts when we willingly give something of ourselves to others. There are always community organizations in need of volunteers, elderly or ill neighbours who could use help shovelling, families who are struggling in some way. By helping them, we help ourselves to feel good, too, and we remember the ways in which our lives are truly fortunate. Somehow our own troubles seem less significant in the shadow of those whose needs are greater.

Make a small but significant change in your dietary habits. Many of us eat or drink things regularly that we know we shouldn't or wish we wouldn't, for various reasons. Major, multiple dietary changes all at once can be overwhelming and frustrating and are often less likely to be enduring. If you can choose one area to work on (stop drinking pop, eat more fruits and vegetables, cook at home more often, or whatever you'd like to try) and give it your best attempt, being successful in that one area may encourage you, in time, to make another change for the better. Your heart (and your whole body) will thank you for your efforts.

Take time for yourself. I have a hard time with this one; if there's work to be done (and there always is!), I usually feel it needs to get accomplished first, before I can enjoy my free time. (We all know how that ends: free time never seems to come with this approach.) It's important to set aside significant periods of time for doing something you really love, even if it means leaving some responsibilities for later. I find if I am good to myself in this way, I feel calmer, happier, and more energetic, instead of feeling frazzled and that I've lost myself along the way. Being true to your heart makes life more enjoyable any time of the year.

Appreciate beauty. Sometimes we get so caught up in the mundane that we fail to notice the exquisite loveliness that exists in small things all around us. My favourite winter sight is that of a stunning red cardinal who comes to sit and sing in the tree outside my kitchen window every day around 11am. The striking contrast of his red feathers against the crystal white snow almost takes my breath away each morning, and my heart wants to sing along with him.

Photo courtesy of my mom

It's true that February can be a difficult month with its cold, often dreary weather. Maybe you'll find it helpful to notice now that the days are slowly getting brighter and longer. I think what's more important, though, is to realize that you have the ability to make your own sunshine, by remembering the good things in life that matter most to you. That's a feeling that will make your heart happy long past Valentine's Day.

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