Letting Go of Expectations

From hectic life in the USA to island life as a stay-at-home-wife, this blog follows the musings of an anxious Type-A as she learns to slow down and tune in to the important things in life

 

Category: Seeking Happiness

Connect: One Idea on How to Make the World a Better Place

I had the most touching interaction with a stranger the other day. I was walking out of the post office carrying a box and my unnecessarily large purse. I got into my car and was arranging everything on the passenger seat when I heard a voice behind me.

An older man had walked up to my open car door and as soon as I turned around, he said, “I wish to be of assistance. Do not panic.” With that, he gently closed my car door and was on his way.

I was struck by the quiet kindness in the man’s eyes and the kindness of his gesture. As I drove home, I replayed the moment over and over again in my mind, and I began to tear up.

Most of the time, if a strange man followed me to my car and walked up to the open door, it would have made me nervous at the very least. This interaction was different, though. I immediately recognized his demeanor as kind, and his words were honest and comforting.

He wasn’t looking for the thanks that I uttered to my closed car door as he walked away. He just saw that I had my hands full and genuinely wanted to help me out.

Of course, I would have had no trouble closing the car door myself. But had that man walked past my car without taking a moment to interact with me, I would have missed out on a moment of feeling connected to another human being, and feeling that you don’t have to know someone to care about them and making their day a little easier.

Then another thought occurred to me. How is it that we live in a world where shootings and bombings are commonplace, but where a simple act of kindness by a stranger was enough to leave my teary-eyed?

In a world that is so vast, that is populated by so many people, how is it that we still feel such a large void when it comes to feeling a connection to the people around us?

I wish I could say that I had the answers to those questions. Or, better yet, I wish I had solutions. But I don’t.

I do know that we crave a feeling of closeness, connectedness, and honesty with other people. Look at the success of Humans of New York or Post Secret. While it can be much harder to seek a connection with strangers in real life than it is online, that makes those real life connections even more enriching.

The discourse that surrounds having meaningful interactions with strangers tends to focus on helping other people or performing random acts of kindness. While that can be a great place to start, I believe the sentiment could – and should – go much deeper.

In thinking about what we can do to help people, it is easy to think about it in terms of what we are willing to do for other people that will make us feel the best about ourselves. I might feel really good about myself for giving $20 to the homeless man as I walked by him on the street, but it may not have been the most effective way I could have helped him. Maybe a few honestly kind words would have made his day more than the $20. It is easier, though, to put money in his cup and keep walking.

I think that a more effective way to think about “helping people” would be to think about what you could do to show someone that you see them and that you care about them. And I mean really see them. Understand them. Respect them. Empathize with them.

The man who closed my car door the other day knew that I might feel nervous that he approached me. He understood that, respected that, and was able to put my mind at ease before I even had a chance to react negatively. And even though he knew I might react negatively, he put himself out there anyways.

These are the types of actions that can start to make the world a better place to live in. If we could all look at our neighbors or the people we pass as we walk down the street and put just a little bit of effort into seeing them as individuals, absent of any judgment, the world be changed for the better. If we then took that seeing and understanding and – even occasionally – showed those acquaintances and strangers compassion and caring, the world would be a much better place.

I’m not saying that it is going to be easy. I’m not saying that I am good at it. But it is something that I am going to work on. Instead of giving sympathy to strangers, I will work on giving empathy, and making their day a little better through honest interaction.

It is something that can be applied on a much larger scale as well. Think about groups of people who are different from you. Maybe they are different in their age, race, gender, religion, or any other way. Make an effort to see things from their point of view. It may not be comfortable. It will likely challenge a lot of the assumptions that you had about that group. It may be difficult, but it needs to be done.

In a world where we are connected on so many levels, we are divided just as often. We identify ourselves as being part of certain groups, ranging from gender and race to political affiliation and which sports teams we like. If we surround ourselves with only others who are like us, it then becomes easy to see people who don’t fall into the same groups as “others”, but we must resist that urge.

It will not be easy. It will not happen overnight. If you are doing it right, you will be uncomfortable at times and pushed outside of your comfort zone. But start small. Start somewhere.

Start, perhaps, by letting a stranger know that you see them, and show them that in some way – no matter how small – that you care about them.

Giving Thanks

With the holiday season rapidly approaching, I keep wondering what my first holiday season away from my family will be like. I feel incredibly fortunate that I made it to my mid-twenties before spending the holidays away from my family and their familiar traditions.

This afternoon will be the first time that I will not be with my parents, brother, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandma as they sit down to Thanksgiving dinner together. They will gather at my grandma’s house, whose counters will probably be covered in snacks and appetizers despite the approaching feast.

My uncle will most likely follow my late grandpa’s tradition of brining and grilling the turkey. After everyone stuffs their faces with mashed potatoes, turkey, and Grandma’s sticky buns, someone will help Grandma carry her Christmas tree up from the basement and set it up to the left of the fireplace in her living room.

By the end of the day, everyone will have forgotten which wine glass is theirs, and Grandma will make sure that at least one whole pie goes to every household, along with the rest of the Thanksgiving leftovers.

While I am already missing that time with my family, I still have much to be grateful for.

I am grateful for my loving, dedicated, supportive husband. I am grateful for the friends we have made in Grenada, some of whom we are lucky enough to be spending Thanksgiving with. I am grateful for my dog and his growing appreciation of cuddling.

I am grateful to have such a great relationship with my family and for all the memories and traditions that we share. I am grateful for my friends back home and that it is easy to stay in touch with them thanks to technology. I am grateful for my able body, the place we currently call home, the chance to live on abroad, free Wi-Fi, and the existence of ice cream.

That’s all well and good. While I really truly am grateful for all those things – and too many more to count – two things stand out to me about that list.

The first is that I’m surprised more food items didn’t make it onto the short list of things that I am grateful for. I mean, I plan my day around my meals. I am also truly sad for Husband, who does not seem to have the capacity to experience the pure joy that I do from eating delicious food. The short list may have to be revised to include Chipotle – of course I know the guacamole is extra – and pizza, at the very least.

All kidding aside, the other thing that stands out to me about the list is that most of the things that I am grateful for are the people in my life and the time that we are able to spend together.

The holidays can get so busy with gift buying and social engagements that it is easy to forget about what the person that you are buying the gift for means to you, or that you should be enjoying the time with the company that you are in.

As we gather with friends and family today and through the rest of the holidays, take a moment to really notice and appreciate the people you are with. Step back and notice the little conversations everyone is having, how the turkey smells, what the kids are doing. Take a snapshot of that moment in your mind so that you can remember it later.

If things get hectic during the coming weeks, return to that moment or think about the people in your life who you are grateful for and connect that to what you are doing. Connect it to why you are cooking, shopping, or traveling.

After all, it’s not just the decorations or the weather or the food or the gifts that make the holiday season special. It is the time that we take during the holiday season to spend time with loved ones and show them how much we care about them and to feel how much they care about us, that makes it such a great time of year.

I think that if we can keep sight of that, it will make the holidays even more enjoyable.

3 Habits to Boost Happiness

One of the goals that I have during my extended stay on a Caribbean island is to learn how to live a happier, more meaningful, stress-free life. Though life on an island has its perks and lessons, sunny skies and sandy beaches are not a cure-all. They certainly help, but daily household tasks, financial worries, anxiety, and a history of living a busy, stressful life don’t just disappear.

With that in mind, I decided to look up some techniques that I can incorporate into my daily routine to increase happiness. Since my other goal is to share this journey with you, here are the results of my search!


1. Be More Mindful

The Oxford Dictionary defines mindfulness as “A mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations…”. While mindfulness can be a type of meditation where you focus on the sensations around you and bring your mind back to those sensations whenever it starts to wander, I like to think about it more as a way to go through your day.

Instead of getting caught up in the thoughts in your head, try to take a little more notice of the world around you. Maybe being mindful is something you try to do throughout your day. Pull yourself out of your thoughts occasionally and really observe where you are and what is happening around you. Observe how you feel or what you are thinking, and accept those thoughts without trying to change them.

Or, maybe, you set aside a little time for being more mindful. My favorite way to do this is to go on a walk and really take in the color of the sky and the sights of the plants or people or terrain around you. Listen to the noises in the distance and feel how warm or cold the air is. Coexist there with your thoughts.

However you decide to incorporate mindfulness into your day, it can help you to feel happier, reduce stress, and live life more meaningfully outside of your own head.


2. Meditate

We’ve all heard of the many benefits of meditation, such as reduced stress and better focus. People who regularly practice meditation have also reported physical improvements, such as lower blood pressure and a stronger immune system. Meditation has become so well-known in recent years for improving both physical and mental health that a number of highly successful companies have even incorporated it into the work days of their employees.

A lot of research is being done into the why’s and how’s of meditation and its effects. One scientific study showed that changes in the brains of study participants could be detected after practicing meditation for just 8 weeks. Another study has shown that meditation can decrease rumination, which is a common feature of both anxiety and depression.

Meditation can seem daunting, and it can be really hard to clear your thoughts and focus just on your breath or your surroundings. There are tons of resources out there to help get you started, though! Meditating can be as easy as getting an app on your phone or finding a guided meditation video.

Remember, meditating is a skill that will take practice, but the time you put into it will be well worth the rewards in both physical health and happiness.


3. Start a Gratitude Journal

Expressing gratitude is something we do every day, at least in small amounts. We thank the person who holds a door open for us. The person who rings up our purchase thanks us for shopping and tells us to have a nice day. With a little extra effort, you can let gratitude improve your life in a number of ways.

In one study, it was found that people who wrote about things that they were grateful for exhibited more positivity about their lives than people who wrote about either neutral or negative life events. Other studies have contributed to the long list of benefits that gratitude can provide, ranging from better mental and physical wellbeing to stronger relationships.

One easy way to experience more gratitude in your life is to start a gratitude journal. The idea is simple. Just write down the things you are grateful for, and make the commitment to write in your journal consistently, whether that is every day, once a week, or anywhere in between. You can also check out these tips, and find gratitude journal apps on android or apple!

If taking just a few minutes a day to write down five things that you are grateful for can increase your overall happiness in life, why not start today?


The biggest thing to remember is that happiness is a journey, not a destination. And most of the time, journeys are hard work. It takes commitment to develop a new habit and planning to fit it into your busy schedule. If that new habit can help you reduce stress and improve your quality of life, though, I think you’ll be glad you did it!

Which one (or two, or three) of these techniques do you want to try? Leave your answer in the comments below!

Learning to Live on Island Time

When we were preparing to come to Grenada, many people warned us about “island time”. They said that everything was going to take longer, from receiving a call back to getting food at your table in a restaurant. We prepared ourselves as much as we could for things to take more time than they did in the hustle-and-bustle of the US.

We even experienced island time before we got to Grenada when we were looking for apartments. Some rental companies seemed aware of the culture of instant customer service that most students coming to the island were used to and replied to our inquiries right away. Others, however, took days to hear back from, if we got a response at all.

It turned out that we were apartment hunting at the same time as a lot of other people, and places were filling up quickly. This, combined with slow response times from many of the people that we contacted, led to my anxiety-fueled fear that we would never find a decent apartment.

As is the case with many thoughts that are a product of anxiety, this fear of not finding a good apartment in time did not turn into reality. We did, in fact, find an apartment that we like very much. However, this first encounter with island time left me a little apprehensive about living with it once we got to Grenada.

Now that we have been here for a few months, we have had plenty of encounters with island time. One of the first things that another student told us was to multiply any amount of time that someone gives you by three. For example, if someone says that they will meet you in 15 minutes, expect them to be there in 45. I was skeptical of this at first, but it has proven accurate so far!

Another aspect of island time is that places might not be open when you want them to be. Coming from a college town in the US where you can get any type of food you want at 3am, I was surprised when people here boasted about the restaurant (yes, singular) that offers 24-hour takeout.

After I finished grieving the loss of easily accessible fast food and considered the relative size of the college town here compared to the one I was used to, it made sense that there were fewer places to get a quick bite to eat any hour of the day or night. At least places would be open during the day at their regularly scheduled hours, right?

Wrong.

One of the first restaurants that we went to was closed on a random week day with no indication as to why. There was a holiday earlier in the week, and my guess is that they decided to take a couple extra days off. Oh well, if you can’t go to a restaurant, at least you can always rely on the grocery store, right?

Wrong again.

The grocery store’s recent floor re-surfacing project, which already involved limited hours compared to their regular schedule, ended up being extended about an extra week. Their hours became more limited, and they even opened later than their already delayed start time on at least one occasion.

Any one of those things happening when I lived in the US would have driven me crazy. Now, though, I just have to laugh about it.

You see, the key to living with island time is living on island time. This might seem obvious, but as a person who always kept busy and had a rigid schedule, I wasn’t sure that I would be able to make the transition. No doubt living the stay-at-home-wife life made it easier, but I don’t feel like I had to make an effort to live on island time. Island time found me, and it has been incredibly rewarding.

When I bought a vehicle from a local, what started out as his gracious offer to help me get car insurance turned into an all-day affair where I got to try authentic oil-down and see beautiful parts of the island that I wouldn’t have otherwise. That was only possible because I allowed myself to be on island time.

Not being able to get groceries when you set out to could easily make your day worse. But when you’re not rushing to get things done based on some pre-determined timeline, you have the opportunity to think about the things that are truly important – the things that really need to get done – and you are able to prioritize those. Maybe you can even prioritize something that you want to do.

I realize not everyone will have the opportunity to experience a slow, purposeful life lived on island time. It is hard to slow down when commuting and work and exercising and running errands and social engagements can take up so much of your time. I know that after two years on island time, I will return to that life, and it will be hard to hold onto the lessons that I’ve learned here while slowing down.

However, the three things that I have learned on island time and hope to keep with me throughout my life are: 1) Make it a priority to leave a little time for yourself each day. Do something that you want to do, not something that you have to do. 2) Don’t feel like time spent relaxing is time wasted. Those moments spent in slowness, either by yourself or with others, are likely to be the things you remember most – and most fondly – later on. 3) Live deliberately and with purpose, instead of just reacting to what life throws at you. This will make even the mundane moments more worthwhile and vibrant.

I can’t take island time with me, and while I’m inclined to be sad about that, that would go against the true meaning of living on island time. Island time is, at its essence, about being more mindful and present in the current moment.

And that’s something I can always take with me.

On Having Bad Days

I feel like I’ve been having more bad days than usual lately. They haven’t been terrible days. They have just been the kinds of days where you wake up late, continuously trip on invisible objects, miss the bus, and inevitable drop something all over the floor and make a huge mess.

If you are having a bad day, I feel like there are two ways that you can handle it:

  1. Decide that today is not your day and wait until tomorrow comes for things to go your way, or
  2. Change your perspective. Take the opportunity to get to know a different part of town if you take a wrong turn somewhere. Instead of getting mad at your roommate for drinking all the milk, be grateful that you have someone to share rent with who is actually pretty cool most of the time.

If number 1 jives with you – and let’s be honest, we’ve all been there – maybe go to bed early so that you feel refreshed when tomorrow finally arrives. If you want to make today a little better, maybe treat yourself to one of your favorite things or try some techniques for improving a bad day.

Maybe you don’t want to wait until tomorrow to feel happier so you give the second one a go. I also usually take this opportunity to blast Shake it Off and Let it Go. Even if you can’t control what is happening in your life at the moment, you can always control how you think about it, and that is sure to make you feel better!

Oh wait, there is also a third way to deal with having a bad day:

  1. Have a bad day, change your perspective and look at the positives of the situation, still feel upset/mad/frustrated, and then get frustrated with yourself for not being able to feel better.

This third option creates a wonderful downward spiral of feeling bad, trying to make yourself feel better without success, feeling worse, repeat.

For example, I bought a beautiful pot roast from the local butcher and was super excited to try out a delicious new recipe with it. I even went out and bought a Dutch oven to make this thing happen. As I’m letting the pot roast cook away in the oven, I joked to Husband about how I hoped that there would be liquid left in the Dutch oven when I took it out of the oven (Fun fact: Ovens in Grenada don’t have temperature gauges. My choices are 1 – 5!)

A minute later I smelled something burning. My guesstimate of the oven temperature had been way off and I had in fact cooked all of the liquid out of the Dutch oven and my greatly-anticipated pot roast. I was crushed, and Husband rushed to the store to get a few items to salvage dinner and my spirits. I tried to think of the positives of the situation: the pot roast was edible, I’m lucky to have a husband who was willing to drop what he was doing to make me feel better, and I had just learned how not to cook a pot roast. None of it helped though, and I felt ridiculous that one over-cooked piece of meat could make me feel so lousy. In my defense, I LOVE food. But still. Cue downward spiral.

The best way that I have found to break out of the downward spiral is to consciously acknowledge what you are feeling at the moment, and sit with it. Don’t try to change it. A friend recently told me that she would think to herself how she was feeling, and follow it up with, “and that’s ok.” For instance, you might think to yourself, “I’m angry right now, and that’s ok.” I have found this to be so helpful in breaking the cycle of trying to change how you feel and ultimately making yourself feel worse.

Don’t get me wrong, sitting with negative emotions is not the most pleasant experience. I feel like it is natural to try to do something to get frustration and anger and sadness to go away so that we can replace them with better emotions, but when trying to fix it makes you even more unhappy, someone has to step in and change the pattern. And that someone is probably you. It is ok to feel frustrated, mad, sad, or upset when things don’t go your way. It is natural to feel those things, and the only person saying that you can’t or shouldn’t feel those things is you. So give yourself a break, take a moment to feel how you’re feeling, then go about your day. Chances are, letting go of any thoughts about what emotions you should be feeling at any given moment will have you feeling better, or – at the very least – not feeling worse.

Then you can get back to jamming out to Taylor Swift.