Clearing the Happiness Fog

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In The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin accurately describes the way I’m feeling these days taking care of a defiant toddler and newborn baby – extremely happy, yet in a fog. It’s something she calls “fog happiness,” described as being the kind of happiness resulting from activities that, at the time, don’t seem enjoyable.  Instead, feelings of happiness are delayed and appear once the fog clears. For example, hosting a party may bring happiness, but it’s not usually until after the party that we realize it.

This is exactly the way I feel about parenting; enjoying every single moment, yet not realizing much of the happiness until about 11 p.m. each night when the house has settled down. After watching and listening to coffee shop patrons, I found I am not alone. My favorite example of this concept was the exchange between a father and son one morning.

The man rushed in the front door, wearing a flannel shirt and stained jeans. His hair was fluffy and uncombed. At his side was his son, a toddler with curly blonde hair. The boy was fidgety and impatient until his Dad brought him a scone to eat. As most toddlers do, he wanted to eat the treat at his own pace, his own way.

The Dad, noticeably impatient, began helping the young boy.

“It’s OK if it’s broken; you’re only going to eat one piece at a time,” he said softly.

The boy didn’t seem to care and wasn’t ready to take the advice and instead continued taking his time.

“Eat it, throw it away, or put it in a bag to take with you,” the Dad said before picking the boy up and carrying him out of the building as if resembling a human airplane.

While the Dad might not have thought so at the time, I found his words to be helpful and applicable to parenting experiences. Accept them, get rid of them, or take them with you to look at once the fog clears.

 

 

Finding faith in unexpected places

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Sometimes faith can be found in places we least expect. A church or place of spirituality seems to make sense, but what about a coffee shop? Before this past week, I might have sided with the thinking that witnessing faith in a coffee shop may seem a bit bizarre or unlikely, but after a few recent encounters, I’m finding the aroma-filled establishments to actually bring out a soft spot in all of us. It’s a person’s willingness to share the said soft spot that sheds the light on faith.

It was a cool morning in October and on this particular day; I was head down at a local coffee shop, eyes glued to the computer screen in front of me. Only peering up every once in a while to check the time, I hardly noticed others sitting around me. I was working to meet a deadline and having a rough morning, questioning my parenting skills after arguing with my toddler about wearing a jacket to daycare.

An elderly lady sat down at the table located next to mine and was quick to strike up a conversation. After complimenting me on my typing skills, she saw a little girl with her father at the counter and began sharing stories with me about her four children – three girls and one boy. There was one story in particular that nudged my faith.

Her youngest boy, 18-months-old at the time and wearing nothing but a diaper, was outside in their family backyard helping his mother in the garden. She ran inside the house for a brief minute to fetch something she had forgotten and just after stepping foot inside the door, heard a noise no mother wants to hear – a child screaming. After rushing back out the door, she found her son next to a beehive, covered in black and yellow bodies. She grabbed the little boy and brushed off the bees, removing the stingers as quickly as possible before taking him inside the house.

“I couldn’t get ahold of his father or any of our neighbors, so I did all that I knew to do and prayed harder than ever before,” she said. “That little boy was so special to us.”

The lady, now probably in her upper eighties, went on to tell me how, after an hour passed since the horrific bee sting incident, her young son did not have one single mark on his body. She also said, to her knowledge, he has never been stung again since that day.

Faith.

That same week, I was engaged in small talk with a young woman who seemed to be having a morning similar to mine a few days before. Her hair was in a pony-tail high on her head, complementing the white collared shirt half-tucked into a pair of wrinkly tan dress pants she was wearing.

After exchanging a friendly greeting, we were both signaled by the barista to step aside while they brewed a new batch of fresh coffee. I asked the woman, about my age, if she was at the coffee shop to work, too. Her posture became more relaxed, eyes looking down at the floor.

“I am going through a rough time right now,” she said. “I was my way to work this morning but decided after crying nearlyhalf of the trip that it would be better for me to take the day for me. I ended up here.”

Showing empathy, I told her we all have bad days and then our drinks were ready.

The woman sat at a table to the left of mine and we each went on to finish what it was we came there to do. I was finishing up a writing piece, she was reading a Bible.

About a half hour later, a middle-aged woman passed by but then began backpedaling, stopping in front of the young woman’s table. I was close enough to hear their exchange.

“I don’t know you or what you are going through, but here is a card I just found that I got at a Bible study. Hopefully it will help and you will get through this,” the older woman said before leaving with her coffee in hand.

As the young woman opened the large piece of paper, I peeked over to read as if trying to cheat during an intense game of Poker.

I’ve never been good at Poker – or cheating for that matter – and this was no different. During my five-second peek show, I was only able to make out the first line on the index card. It read:

He will not allow your foot to slip; your…

Regardless of what the remaining text said, this message was coming at a perfect time and seemed to cause some relief for the young woman. Although we never said another word to each other, her willingness to share a moment of vulnerability with me was important in helping confirm something I know is true, but often forget.

Faith, in various forms, appears when we are willing to look for it – in ourselves and also in each other.

10 Awesome Things – Coffee Shop Edition

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You might have heard the old cliché “stop and smell the roses”.

No?

How about “appreciate the small things in life”? Or, “enjoy every day as if it’s your last”?

They’re all sharing the same message: live a fulfilled life – every day, appreciating every moment.

I recently learned of 1000 Awesome Things, a daily blog pointing out the common joys in life we all share. Among them: getting grass stains, fat baseball players, illegal naps, sleeping in new bed sheets, snow days, high fiving babies.
After reading, smiling and relating to the list I began to wonder: what makes these moments so awesome? How is it we can all be in different stages of life, work in various professions, live in different parts of the world, and yet still have these common threads of enjoyment?

This led me to research and find out more about the 1000 Awesome Things project – how it got started, who was behind it and the impact it’s had. As it turns out, Neil Pasricha started the personal blog in 2008 after experiencing a number of unfortunate life events in a short period of time, amid an economic downturn. The blog was created in an effort to help him consciously recognize and appreciate the small joys in life rather than focusing on the negative.

Fast forward to 2012 and the blog now has over 43 million views, inspired a TED Talk presentation and resulted in the publication of three bestselling books.

As I learned more about this project and its origin, I began to think about how coffee shops follow a similar theme, gathering individuals from all walks of life and various backgrounds to enjoy a simple, yet satisfying treat – coffee. So, I decided to make my own list and share what makes this meeting place so awesome.

1. Abnormally loud laughs – this happens when the coffee grinder stops suddenly and the rest of the customers are greeted with a chuckle from the back corner of the building
2. A barista who knows your name and, sometimes, even your drink order
3. Coffee shop friends – others who frequent the same places at the same time you do, creating a friendship by default
4. A decaffeinated customer – usually found slouched in a leather chair, head back, mouth wide open and enjoying a few minutes of shut eye
5. Stocky men ordering skinny lattes
6. The only seat left near an outlet
7. Coffee served in mugs
8. Chalkboard menus
9. Display cases
10. Free Wi-fi

Awesome.

Don’t worry; we all lose our glasses

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Have you ever had a day (or year) like this? Does it sound all too familiar?

A middle-aged woman frantically ran into the coffee shop, her clutch purse hanging on her wrist and swaying with each step she took. She stood behind two other customers in line, tapping her foot and checking the time on her phone. Once she reached the counter, the barista politely asked her how she could assist her in ordering her morning dose of caffeine. The woman, not trying to be rude, cut her off.

“I was just in here an hour ago and think I left my glasses. Has anyone turned in a pair of brown-framed glasses?”

The barista looked below the woman’s chin, smiled and leaned in before softly saying, “Are those your glasses, ma’am?”.

The now relaxed customer laughed and shrugged her shoulders before turning around to leave. Then, her purse caught the corner of the table behind her, knocking down a tower of water bottles on display. She scrambled to pick them up best she could before heading out the door to start her day.

After briefly witnessing this woman’s frustration and embarrassment, it helped me feel more at ease. Maybe I’m not the only one. While I may not always lose my glasses (or marbles for that matter), it’s comforting to know this woman’s morning was somehow just as chaotic as mine usually is. And, with a bit of humor and a cup of coffee, the end result is a good laugh and a funny story to tell.

In my family, we have a name for these moments — they are called “foozles”. Sometimes used in the game of golf, a “foozle” means to manage clumsily or the act of bungling. We often share these humorous encounters with each other to lighten the mood and usually share in a mutual feeling of public humiliation.

I’ve had many – almost too many to share – situations of which could be classified as a “foozle”. But, one of my husband’s encounters still has me laughing. (Don’t worry, he gave me permission to share).

While enrolled at Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine, my husband and his fellow classmates learned Osteopathic Manipulation – a fancy term meaning the skill of adjusting spines. To hone the skills they were being taught, they often would practice on each other; one person laying on a soft table, the other leaning over to adjust.

One particular day, my husband was the one on the table. As his classmate leaned over, properly moving him into position, he pushed down to relieve tension in his back and my husband unintentionally and loudly passed gas. With those around him roaring with laughter, he looked up and said, “well, I guess you did it right.”

So, the next time you encounter a “foozle”, find comfort in knowing you’re not the only one. Oh, and don’t forget to share.

Stop acting like a fish and sit where you want

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Stereotypes. You’ve heard of them, and probably taken part in using them. Usually a popular belief about one specific group of individuals,it’s no surprise using stereotypes to define others can be somewhat misleading. What is even more interesting, however, is the same principle seems to hold true when identifying ourselves and where we ‘belong’ – in social settings, at school, work – and in coffee shops.

It only takes a few minutes after walking through the door of an aroma-filled building to scan the customers and recognize the “rules” of a specific coffee shop — who sits where and how one should act in the given environment. Nearly all coffee shops are the same, collecting patrons from all walks of life while overlaying invisible seating charts to designate where a person should sit.

Most visitors can be grouped in one of the following categories: 

1. Businessman/Businesswoman: Professionally dressed, confident posture and an uncanny fixation on the computer screen in front of them. Usually order the largest coffee and consume in one sitting, only pausing to take a quick (and noticably important) phone call. Watching sometimes gives me the urge to instate a “don’t drink coffee and type” rule, as I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen unnoticed coffee dribbling down the chins of these folks and onto their shirts. Without saying a word, it’s evident others in the establishment understand their message: “I came here to work, so please don’t bother me.”
Location: Sits around the perimeter of the room, hoping for less noise in case needed for an important phone call.  

2. College Student: It’s common for these individuals to sport sweatpants, glasses and half-brushed hair. Books with titles I cannot yet pronounce cover every inch of their table, except for the small space being occupied by a silver laptop and flashy iPhone.   A calm and relatable air to them, the college student nonchalantly orders the largest drink on the menu. He/she has open more than five web browser tabs at one time, alternating between social media sites and email to try to forget about the blank Word document lingering in the background; a reminder of an unfinished assignment.
Location: Near an electrical oulet, close to the front counter in preparation for a quick coffee refill.

3. Parent: Usually a mother, the parent enters the place with children attached, as if desperately looking for a break from reality (not to mention a fix of caffeine!). Food and drinks are ordered for the kids and the stay isn’t long thanks to the screaming toddler leaving a trail of crumbs, even on their way out.
Location: Far away from anyone in the place without kids, hoping for less interuption and feelings of guilt.

4. The Others: A ‘catchall’ for those not fitting nice and neat into the categories above, among them: couples, girlfriends of varying ages and ranging from teenager to adulthood, middle-aged women reading alone with a cup of tea and the weird woman in the middle of it all, writing in a small pink notebook (that’s me!).
Location: Varies

I find it interesting that no matter the location of a coffee shop, they all have a similar theme – a common place, collecting people who enjoy coffee and others who don’t. Either way, there’s no dress code, no prerequisites, no judgement. And yet, stereotypes and unsaid cliques still exist.

In The Book of Awakening, Mark Nepo shares an experience a friend of his had while cleaning a fish tank and found it resembled something we often see in our society among humans.

“[He] put the fish in the tub, so he could clean their tank. After he’d scrubbed the film from the small walls of their make-believe deep, he went to retrieve them. He was astonished to find that, though they had the entire tub to swim in, they were huddled in a small area the size of their tank. There was nothing containing them, nothing holding them back….I began to see just how much we were taught as children to fear life outside the tank.”

I recently overheard someone say “find yourself in everyone you meet.” I am, and have been, in every one of the categories above. Yet, I too continue to stay in  the same corner of the coffee shop based on my identity on a given day, sipping coffee among the others in my school of fish.

The next time you walk into a public place, look around. Have the fish gathered? If so, find your fins and join a new school of fish. Because whether in life or as a fish, it’s better to swim than to float.

Twitter Thursday – A Virtual Coffee Shop

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While I enjoy sharing my  experiences, it’s also interesting to hear coffee shop stories from others.  I recently took a peek into the lives of complete strangers with one simple Twitter search and found multiple intriguing (and sometimes funny!) tweets.

So sit back, relax and enjoy the tweets. Oh, and don’t forget to let me know if you have coffee shop “talk” of your own!

The Child of Tomorrow

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While most days at coffee shops tend to be a bit noisy, this one was different. It was quiet, except for the occasional sound of typing on a keyboard. That was until a group of teenagers quickly ran into the place, breaking the silence. 

They didn’t order anything, but weren’t being disruptive or obnoxious either.

“Look, look” one of the girls said as she shoved her cell phone in front of her girlfriend’s face.

“Why does the light keep turning off?”

“Ugh. I hate this phone.”

Feeling impatient and obviously frustrated, the girl grabbed the phone back from her friend and tapped a few buttons before returning it.

There were a few moments of silence while the friend was reading what seemed to be a text from a boy. The two girls sat close, both nodding their heads as they read.

“And then I said this……and this…

“He’s so sweet,” her friend said.

They both giggled, while I sat there frozen.

That’s when it hit me. My daughter will soon be that age! And, by soon, I mean… well, 14 years from now. OK, so I admit to being a little overboard with my concerns. But, either way, I was intrigued (and shocked!) by the way technology has completely consumed these soon-to-be adults.

child

My "child of tomorrow"

The girls joined the others who had come with them, making a group of five – three girls and two boys. All of them were glued to the screens of their cell phones, waiting for the next text, Facebook post, tweet or annoying phone call from their parents.

“I haven’t told my Mom about tomorrow yet,” one of the boys said with a smirk.

The girl with the juicy conversation on her cell phone reached into her pocket and held it up for the boy to see.

“Hey, did you hear me and Jacob* made out?” she asked, brushing her hands through her hair.

I sat at a table a few feet away, cringing.

“Yeah, I heard. How did it go?” he said.

She handed him the phone, pointing to show him the text. He nodded his head and smiled before they all decided to leave; heads high and the now “experienced” kisser proud as could be.

While I know I shouldn’t be surprised by anything I saw or heard, I was. I am relatively young, but it still amazes me how much teenage “love” has changed since I was in high school. There was no Facebook, Twitter or smartphones then. I had a cell phone and was able to text, but passed notes (yes, handwritten!) in class, read the newspaper and took notes using a yellow tablet.

A recent article published in The New York Times examines the new age of technology, proposing “the child of tomorrow” will crave less information and instead require more quiet time.  Companies like Intel have experimented with the idea of requiring four uninterrupted hours of work per week to clear the minds of their employees. New software is also being introduced to users, allowing buyers to disable Internet connections for those who can’t seem to stay away.

I’m not sure what this will mean for my daughter or the other “children of tomorrow”, but it seems to be moving in the right direction.

And, in all of this conversation about young “puppy love”, the tie between new technology and the increasing need for quiet, there is one tiny detail I forgot to include – my husband and I started dating when I was 15 years old and  we used AOL Instant Messenger to keep in touch.

*All names have been changed to protect privacy.

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