Guess What the Key to Happiness Is?

[Cross-posted at the Sabbath blog.]

On-a-slow-day,-you-are-too-busy-doing-nothing!

From the Pacific Standard. According to a new study:

Who among us are the most happy? Newly published research suggests it is those fortunate folks who have little or no excess time, and yet seldom feel rushed.

This busy but blissful group comprises 8 to 12 percent of Americans, making it “a small and unusual minority within the general population,” writes University of Maryland sociologist John P. Robinson.

According to his analysis, the happiness level of this group is 12 to 25 percent higher than that of those of most Americans. What’s more, while the general population’s happiness level is going down, theirs is increasing…

So the question is, how does one cultivate this busyness + lack of hurry? Is it a person’s temperament? Or is it a matter of circumstance?

And what might Sabbath—an intentional time to stop, look, and listen—have to do with it?

Friday Link Love: Nude Dancers, Suburban Living, and the Empathic Rat

First, a link to my article at catapult magazine for their 10 Things edition: 10 Ways to Savor Your Time in 2013.

Annnnnd…. away we go:

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Time-Lapse Images of Nude Dancers Created with 10,000 Individual Photographs — Colossal

Obligatory Colossal Post. Lots more at the link:

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Five Easy Things to a Happier Year — National Catholic Review

I’m keeping it light on the New Year’s resolutions/intentions this year. I’m already running a half marathon, promoting a book and planning the next one—that’s plenty to keep me busy. Plus I’m all about the improv and less about the major planning. But I can get behind these:

Be a Little Kinder.  I think that 90% of the spiritual life is being a kind person.   No need to have any advanced degrees in theology or moral reasoning, and no need to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the world’s religious traditions, to get this: Be gentler and more compassionate towards other people.

I like the one about enjoying nature more. Reminds me of one of my father-in-law’s practices. When he comes home from work, he takes a moment between car and house to look up. Just to see what the sky looks like. I love that.

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Why Do Americans Have Less Vacation Time Than Anyone Else? — Big Think

This one gets in my craw. It’s not the most pressing issue we face, but it is a justice issue and a spiritual issue:

Like many of you, I am on vacation this week. For most Americans, Christmas week represents about half of the time off we will enjoy all year long. Compared with Australians (at least 4 weeks off, plus 10 public holidays), Brazilians (22 days of paid leave with a 33 percent salary vacation bonus) and the French (at least 5 weeks off and as many as 9 for many public employees), we are seriously bereft.

Look at how the United States stacks up against the rest of the developed world in number of mandatory days off each year:

Screen_Shot_2012-12-23_at_10.02.37_AM

What is that all about, do you think?

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How People Live in the Suburbs: A Vintage Illustrated Gem — Brain Pickings

How People Live In The Suburbs was published as part of a Basic Understanding series of primary school supplements, also including How People Earn and Use MoneyHow Farms Help Us, and How Our Government Helps Us — all, sadly, out of print but delightful if you’re able to secure a copy.

Click the link above for more images. These are just cute and bizarre:

B0006CK9FS

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The Five Types of Work That Fill Your Day — 99U

I’m still using Toggl to keep track of how much time I spend on creative work, connecting with people, and doing logistics. Read more about that process here.

But based on this article it would be interesting to do an audit of my time to see how much of my day is spent on Reactionary, Planning, Procedural, Insecurity, and Problem-solving tasks. Good tips here for how to bring things into a frutful balance for your situation.

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The Power and the Allegory: A Book of Interviews with Madeleine L’Engle — BookForum

The book itself is called Listening for Madeleine. From the BookForum article:

L’Engle’s faith was deeply untraditional. A mathematics professor who advised her on A Wrinkle in Time says the three beings who guide Meg on her interplanetary journey—Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, and Mrs Which—were meant to be angels, but they could just as easily be mistaken for witches. And the novel’s dominant image of evil is an undefined blackness that casts its shadow across a wide band of the universe, including Earth. Camazotz, a planet controlled by the blackness, is not a hotbed of violence and depravity but a vision of perfect order. All the houses are identical, the children bounce their balls in perfect unison, and anyone who refuses to submit to the program is punished. “I am freedom from all responsibility,” the evil power croons to Meg. But she recognizes that this is a false consolation, a substitution of conformity for equality. “Like and equal are not the same thing at all!” she screams.

The fundamental lesson is that it’s OK—even desirable—to be a misfit.

Looking back, I’d say that A Wrinkle in Time formed my early theology as much as (or let’s be honest, more than) the Bible.

Incidentally, I’m putting this post together on Thursday, and Caroline is in the chair next to me with the new graphic novel version of A Wrinkle in Time. I gave it to her for Christmas and she’s already on her second reading of it.

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A New Model of Empathy: The Rat — Washington Post

I expect there is more of this going on in the animal kingdom than we want to admit:

In a simple experiment, researchers at the University of Chicago sought to find out whether a rat would release a fellow rat from an unpleasantly restrictive cage if it could. The answer was yes.

The free rat, occasionally hearing distress calls from its compatriot, learned to open the cage and did so with greater efficiency over time. It would release the other animal even if there wasn’t the payoff of a reunion with it. Astonishingly, if given access to a small hoard of chocolate chips, the free rat would usually save at least one treat for the captive — which is a lot to expect of a rat.

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May your weekend be filled with a small hoard of chocolate chips… or whatever delights you.

A Clock That Shows the Seasons

What’s this, you ask?

 

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A Brooklyn-based creative firm has come up with a clock that shows the passage of the seasons. It makes one revelation every 365 days. [Edit: I meant “revolution,” but nicely played in comments Mary!]

Oh, how I love it. The concept, the execution…

To be clear, I’m not the kind of gal who has a $300 clock, unless you count my iPhone, which also does a lot of other stuff.

But I am the kind of gal who’s captivated by the idea of a clock in which you can’t detect time passing, but you can see it having passed.

Isn’t that the way we experience life?

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P.S. Reminder that the Sabbath blog continues to be open for business. This week, we’re featuring Winnie the Pooh (here) and Renita Weems (check it tomorrow.)

Toggl: A Tool for Pastors and Other Busy People

One of the presenters at CREDO a couple of weeks ago talked about Jim Collins, the business consultant and author of Good to Great, who breaks down his work week in the following way:

53% Creative
28% Teaching
19% Other

I don’t remember the presenter’s point any more; I just remember scoffing at the percentages. “Must be nice,” I thought to myself. In parish ministry, what with committee structures and aging buildings and never-ending communications tasks, the administrative load is considerable. (And the emails never end.)

The next night at CREDO I received the results of the Clergy Vocational Profile, which is a 93-question survey that 10 members of Tiny Church filled out.The profile asked them to rate me in terms of various skills and activities, but also how important they considered those skills and activities. I filled out the same profile for myself. There were two free-form questions at the end: what does this person do well, and what does she need to work on.

I learned a couple things from the CVP. One, and not surprising, I am much harder on myself than others are on me. But that’s not what this post is about.

Two is that, while administration was not unimportant to the respondents, when it came to the free-form question, nobody affirmed the way that I put the Sunday School schedule together. Instead they affirmed gifts in preaching, worship, teaching, communication, spiritual guidance, and visionary leadership.

By the end of the week I had come back around to Jim Collins’s ratios. I began to wonder whether I’d been letting my schedule happen to me, rather than trying to create a schedule that matched my skills and the things that the people at Tiny Church value about me.

The other thing I claimed while at CREDO is that I am a creative person, who needs to spend time doing creative tasks in order to feel fulfilled and whole. (This realization came after the “play with art supplies” evening, when I asked to take home some stuff so I could make a book of my CREDO experience over the remaining days. Ahem.)

So! Given all this, I created a goal: to re-balance my schedule to reflect the following ratios as much as possible:

50% Creative: sermon prep, order of worship prep, reading, writing, vision work
25-30% Connecting: pastoral care, teaching, mentoring leaders, meetings
20-25% Logistics: paperwork, email, right-hand-left-hand stuff

I have a number of steps in place to make progress on this goal. One of them is to use Toggl to keep track of what I do with my time.

What is Toggl? Toggl is an application (web, desktop and smartphone) that lets you track how long you spend doing various things. You can use it in two ways:

  • Live: Say you’re working on the bulletin. You type “bulletin” into the window, select a project (mine would be “Creative”) and hit Start. When you’re done, hit Stop. That’s it.
  • After the fact: Say you’re visiting someone in the hospital. You can manually enter in the time you spent with that person afterwards.

Toggl also lets you generate pie graphs to show how long you worked on various things. So I can look at my ministry activities and see whether creative really does take up half the “plate.”

Insert standard caveats here about how ministry does not conform to easy categories. And there is a sense in which ministry is by nature reactive. If the building floods, as it did at my friend Eric’s church this week, the “logistics” piece of pie is going to be huge.

But still, let’s be honest. We clergy often use the unpredictability of ministry as an excuse, letting our time be taken up with the low-hanging fruit that makes us feel busy but that doesn’t actually transform lives for the sake of the gospel.

I am just as guilty of this as anyone… but I’m hoping that, with a better sense of how I spend my time, I can improve.

Now the question is, where does Facebook fit into the pie…

Friday Link Love: Tickling, Ambition, Funky Geometry, and More

Away we go!

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Mrs. Melissa Christ — New Yorker

I tweeted and FBed this but if you missed it:

Then Jesus came over and introduced himself and we chitchatted about everything, from keeping the Sabbath to how we both felt really sorry for the lame. Then I asked Jesus about his family, and he said, “My father is a carpenter,” and I could feel myself getting all flushed as I immediately thought, Hello, new coffee table.

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I Giggle, Therefore I Am — Slate

How tickling helps us know we exist:

“When you look at the evolution of the development of tickle, you’re also looking at the evolution of the development of self,” he says.  What’s at work in tickling, he argues, is the neurological basis for the separation of self from other. After all, as Provine noted so indelicately, you can’t tickle yourself. Your body knows that you are you; you can’t fool it. “Otherwise you’d go through life in a giant chain reaction of goosiness,” Provine says. “You’d be afraid of your own clothing if you could never distinguish between touching and being touched.”

When a baby senses a foreign hand lightly brushing his bare feet, he’s experiencing something that is recognizably other—which means that there’s something that isn’t other, too: There’s himself.

So if you don’t like being tickled, does that mean you aren’t self-differentiated or something?

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What God Can Do — Rachel Hackenburg

A friend and I talk a lot about ambition—how does this work in a Christian context which emphasizes virtues of cooperation and humility? Pride is one of the deadlies, eh? Rachel provides some good fodder as well as some blunt honesty:

I want to be great. I want to be great at everything I do, and I give myself a hard time for not being brilliantly excellent 100% of the time — as a pastor, a preacher, a mother, a writer. I long to be stellar … and not just to be stellar, but to be known for being stellar. It’s entirely vain of me, and I want to repent of it as soon as I see it glaring in front of me. But the desire always returns. I’ll see news on Facebook about a clergy colleague’s invitation to the White House, or about another mother who is teaching her children how to cook five-star meals after they finish their homework each day, or about a writer friend who’s on his fifth book … and the demon wells up again: “I want to be great too! I want people to see that I’m great.”

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Neil Gaiman’s 8 Rules of Writing — 99U

Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.

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Meet the Hexaflexagon — io9

And it will indeed blow your mind:

First discovered in the 1930s by a daydreaming student named Arthur H. Stone, flexagons have attracted the curiosity of great scientists for decades, including Stone’s friend and colleague Richard Feynman. Here, the ever-capable Hart introduces the folding, pinching, rotating, multifaceted geometric oddity with her signature brand of rapid-fire wit and exposition. She even shows you how to make your own.

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Eternal Clock Could Keep Time after Universe Dies — Scientific American

I can’t speak to the science of this, but the idea of such a clock makes me feel all fizzy inside.

The idea for an eternal clock that would continue to keep time even after the universe ceased to exist has intrigued physicists. However, no one has figured out how one might be built, until now.

Researchers have now proposed an experimental design for a “space-time crystal” that would be able to keep time forever. This four-dimensional crystal would be similar to conventional 3D crystals, which are structures, like snowflakes and diamonds, whose atoms are arranged in repeating patterns. Whereas a diamond has a periodic structure in three dimensions, the space-time crystal would be periodic in time as well as space.

Too bad Madeleine L’Engle is no longer with us.

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Hacking Habits: How to Make New Behaviors Last for Good — 99U

Seems very sound to me:

Habits consist of a simple, but extremely powerful, three-step loop. Here’s Duhigg:

First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is areward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future. Over time, this loop… becomes more and more automatic. The cue and reward become intertwined until a powerful sense of anticipation and craving emerges.

The first rule of habit-changing is that you have to play by the rules. That is, there’s no escaping the three-step loop (e.g. cue, routine, reward) because it’s hard-wired into our brains.

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I will be off the next week. (Gasp!) I’m spending the weekend with friends, then attending the Presbyterian CREDO Conference at Mo-Ranch. I am very psyched to be there, having heard universally positive things about this gathering. I also have many dear friends who will be there too.

If I blog, they will be photo-blogs, which I sometimes do as a spiritual discipline when I’m away on retreat, to get myself beyond the words that so often fill my days.

Or I may not feel guided towards that at all. We will see.

Just in Time Living

There are people in my life who do their Christmas shopping several months in advance. I guess they’re taking advantage of sales, or cutting down on the December stress, or heck, maybe they’re procrastinating some current unsavory chore by working waaaaay ahead.

I am not one of these people. At all. At the beginning of September I got an invitation to a party that’s not until the end of October and I was in awe: How do people do that?!?

I remember one August a few years back, Caroline started talking about Halloween. The conversation moved from idle chatter about the holiday to wanting to nail down specific plans. (Can’t remember what those were now.)

I said, “You know what, sweetie? It’s not even Labor Day. You don’t have school shoes yet. I love talking about what you want to do at Halloween, but there is no space in my head for Halloween planning right now. Talk to me after school starts.”

Yes, I really say things like this to my children. And then they roll their eyes.

You’ve heard of just in time business processes? Instead of keeping a bunch of inventory on their shelves or factories, companies are refining their supply chains in order to get products and parts in stock exactly when they’re needed. According to Wikipedia, “Implemented correctly, JIT focuses on continuous improvement and can improve a manufacturing organization’s return on investment, quality, and efficiency.”

Lately I have been practicing just in time living. It’s a matter of survival. Life is not structured to allow me to work months ahead. (Is it for anyone?)

Example: Monday is grocery day. I had made a list over the weekend, and it was a doozy because we are out of everything. Problem was, the longest period of time I had for shopping yesterday was the 40 minutes during Caroline’s piano lesson. So I broke the weekly list into two parts and bought only what we needed for early in the week. The rest will come later. It feels inefficient—two trips to the grocery store. But in another way it feels more efficient—the tasks are smaller, which makes them easier to pull off in the midst of a life that doesn’t have big honkin’ blocks of time at the moment.

Just in time living feels chaotic, and it is, in a way. But paradoxically, the chaos requires a lot of planning. You have to build in some margin for error and unexpected circumstance. You need good systems. Just in time relies on “signals or ‘Kanban’ (看板) between different points in the process, which tell production when to make the next part. Kanban are usually ‘tickets’ but can be simple visual signals, such as the presence or absence of a part on a shelf.”

So I am obsessive about getting things onto the to-do list. Which is a challenge, because our brains don’t remind us of things at convenient times. You don’t realize you’re out of toilet paper when you’re on aisle 9 of the Costco. You realize it when, well… you know.

When just in time living works badly–which is much of the time lately–it feels like I’m perpetually behind. Nothing is ever spectacular, it’s all just good enough. But those few times when it works well, I feel like a domestic ninja: In the moment. No wasted moves.

It also makes Sabbath all the more important: one day a week when I’m not making any mental calculations.

Is your life “just in time”?

How do you “do it”?

The Spirit Speaks through a Typo

A friend of mine likes to think of boundaries and margins as a coastline: not rigid, always shifting and changing.

For a person who writes about Sabbath, I have not done a good job stewarding my time and my psyche lately.

I knew it would be this way this month. July always kicks my butt. July is daily swim team practice and twice-weekly swim meets and this year, swim lessons for the younger two. July is dripping bathing suits hung on doorknobs and towels draped over every open door in our house. Meanwhile there is a week of drama camp, a church retreat, and two different speaking engagements for which I am preparing. It’s good stuff, all of it, but it converges in July.

August is ordinary time—work and play. August, there’s nothing unusual except a short visit with a friend and her son. August is 31 days of puttering. August is a deep breath of air so hot and humid that it makes you feel desperately and wondrously alive.

But gah. July.

I’ve been reaching out to friends, who help me find solid ground to stand on during such times. One of these friends wrote to me last week, urging me to leave space in the margins of my life so that I can absorb the unexpected and find time to rest.

Only she typed it wrong, in that way that many of us do when we hear the words reverberate in our heads and transcribe them incorrectly.

She wrote, “You need to live room in the margins of your life.”

Not leave room. Live room.

Not since I heard a preacher misspeak the phrase “love is stronger than death” by saying “love is stranger than death” have I been so captivated by a misspeaking.

I need to live room in the margins of my life.

Live room. I almost know what it means, and then I lose my grasp on it.

I think it’s that you bring the same intention to saying no as saying yes. That rest is as important a pursuit as work and play. That the margin is where the interesting stuff happens. The seminary buzzword for that is liminal space.

Patty Digh writes in Life is a Verb:

A friend told me I reminded her of a trapeze artist, flinging myself out into the universe. That moment of release before catching the new bar is called transition. Perhaps it is the only place that real change happens. As humanitarian Danaan Parry said, “I have noticed that, in our culture, this transition zone is looked upon as a ‘no-thing,’ a no-place between places. I have a sneaking suspicion that the transition zone is the only real thing, and the bars are illusions we dream up to avoid where the real change, the real growth occurs for us.”

Live the margins.

That’s what I learned about Sabbath, by the by. Sabbath isn’t the thing you do once a week that lets you live more productively the other six days. Sabbath itself is life, experienced wholeheartedly. It’s the space beyond have-to.

I’d almost forgotten that—curse you, July—but a typo helped me remember it.