WGA Blog Post: Field Notes on Happiness from a Wine Bar in Omaha, Nebraska

BUVETTE FINAL22Ironically, I spent Canada Day long weekend in Omaha, because—for various reasons—my husband and I were invited to attend the US Olympic Swim Trials. The most charming district of this Midwestern city is known as the Old Market, where we wandered each afternoon, ultimately ensconcing ourselves at a cozy, bricked-walled, French grocery/wine bar called La Buvette, to read and write. I pulled a magazine from my bag: the current special edition of TIME, devoted entirely to The Science Of Happiness. For the first time in a very long time, I read a magazine from cover to cover, without skimming or skipping any of the sections. While there’s too much to cover in a single post, I hope you find wisdom in these field notes about the latest research on what makes us happy.

  1. We’re at our happiest when we are in the present moment, 100% consumed in whatever activity we are doing—whether we are 100% in the zone of our creative/writing process or 100% in the zone of washing the dishes—what matters is being present, keeping our minds still, and when our minds do inevitably wander, that we observe this shift without judgment, and bring our attention back to what we are doing.
  2. IMG_5381Science proves that living mindfully, breathing with awareness, and learning to devote our attention to one task at a time—be it writing, eating, visiting with a friend (without checking phone or otherwise interrupting the flow of experience)—makes us happier, and fundamentally healthier, with less inflammation, heart disease, anxiety and depression.
  3. Many of us are highly-attuned (if not addicted) to social media, checking and responding to calls, emails, and texts, succumbing to the ever-present influx of communication. Science now shows that our over-engagement in outside (usually electronic) stimuli is too erratic a demand on our brains (and bodies) for them to function optimally, making us less productive, less clear-headed, less effective colleagues, and distracted (annoying!) partners. To quote the magazine, “One of the greatest exercises in presence and joy is to spend a half-day or whole day on a technology fast, ideally in nature, without a schedule. That means no screen time. None.”
  4. Watch tearjerker movies like the Nicholas Sparks inspired flick, The Notebook. Studies show that watching sad stories of love gone awry (and such), puts us in a thoughtful mood and compels us to appreciate what we have.
  5. IMG_5155Engage with your community! Go to events that interest you and cultivate a strong network of friends and social support. In doing so, you’re building resilience and inner fortitude.
  6. Writers tend to crave alone time; we fantasize about silence, retreats, cabins in the woods, of uninterrupted time to read, ponder and write. While uninterrupted writing time is necessary, balance is key. Once again, research shows that we feel better (and happier) on days when we’ve have social interactions.
  7. Writing is hard work, but know this: “Applying yourself to something difficult makes us happy. We’re addicted to challenges, and we’re often far happier while working toward a goal than after we reach it.”
  8. IMG_5337I can’t give the mindfulness sections enough justice here, but I encourage everyone to read up on the health benefits of living mindfully, potentially learning to meditate—and simply learning to do one thing at a time. Note: I intend to devote my next story to mindfulness and the book/TED talk, The Art of Stillness by renowned author Pico Iyer.
  9. Psychologists recommend keeping a gratitude journal. People who do this regularly are routinely 25% happier than those who don’t. Perhaps write out your gratitudes and observations once per week. Also, writing handwritten letters is known to boost a sense of wellbeing and joy, “…the act of putting pen to paper can have a profound effect on the sender—and the recipient.”
  10. Not surprisingly, money helps us experience a higher quality of life, offering more opportunity…but it only goes so far. We experience more lasting joy from money spent on experiences rather than on ‘stuff’. That said, when we inevitably do go shopping—for say, a new jacket, sheets, or a book—“consider and appreciate how the object will add value to your life.” Does the new jacket make you feel badass, sexy, or more professional? Are you savouring the softness of your new sheets against your face each morning? Is that book you bought still sitting on the shelf, or are you planning to dive into an absorbing read this weekend?

IMG_5173We live in one of the happiest places in the world, alongside Costa Rica, Hawaii, Alaska, Denmark, Sweden, and Australia, which has a lot to do with our quality of life, access to social support/health care, and our freedom to make our own life decisions. Still, it is the human condition to experience periods of sadness or depression—circumstantial or clinical—and it’s important not to beat ourselves up for being human. I’ve only scratched the surface of everything covered in this special edition of TIME (marriage, kids, inner life, spirituality, exercise, resilience), and this post is not intended as a sales pitch or endorsement for the magazine, though I did find the issue very much worth reading.

Back to Trials. This meet is sometimes referred to as the most competitive in the world due to its extremely high level of performance. A few highlights include viewing finals each night from the USA Swimming “box,” hearing our good friend Chris Hindmarch-Watson announce during the races; meeting Olympic open water swimmer Alex Meyer; chatting with 11-year old Macenna–a lovely, bright spectator-swimmer who reminded me how much I love (and miss) coaching age-groupers; watching Katie Ledecky crush the field in the 800 free…and witnessing Ryan Lochte qualify for his 4th Olympic Games in the 200IM (…phew!).

One of the most original experiences of the competition, however, was a behind-the-scenes tour I was offered where, among many interesting sights, I was invited into the athlete’s lounge (no coaches allowed!) where the swimmers—to calm their nerves—could sit with a pack of therapy dogs.

IMG_5241Therapy dogs! So, I took the chance to sit with a large russet bulldog, a German Shepherd named Canon, and a little Aussie, all of whom lifted my spirits immediately. Readers who know me personally, know that I adopted a rescue dog in April named Lulu, a little Miniature Pinscher-Chihuahua cross. I must say that Lulu has enriched my life to such an unprecedented degree, that I encourage anyone considering adopting a dog or a cat, to go visit some animals that need homes! While the abovementioned edition of TIME that inspired this post did not address animals, pets or dog therapy, Lulu has been the most joyful addition to my life in a very long time, and that I am forever grateful to Ashley Gubenco of Pawsitive Match and Barb of BARCS for their generous work within the animal rescue community, and for their independent roles bringing Lulu and I together. She is my souldog.

Image Voices in the OceanFor those of us that find joy in learning about, and bonding with our fellow creatures and the natural world, I hope you’ll join me at Voices in the Ocean tonight, an event hosted by Wordfest at the downtown Calgary Public Library, featuring the astonishingly accomplished and compassionate Susan Casey. WGA members 50% off tickets ($10).

I hope to see you at Shelf Life Books tomorrow morning for the annual Fourth Street Pancake Showdown, with special guest Aritha Van Herk. Celebrate her new release, a gorgeous volume of poetry, Stampede and the Westness of the West. And…in case you didn’t know…Shelf Life Books will compete with neighboring businesses for the title of Pancake Master 2016.

Pancakes shall fly 9—11am.
Flapjack, anyone?


samanthawarwick-headshot-highres-14-of-30Samantha Warwick
is the Program Director and Lead Blogger for the WGA Calgary Office. Her first novel, Sage Island, was released in 2008. Her nonfiction and poetry have been broadcast on CBC Radio and appeared in various literary and commercial publications including Geist, Event, The Globe & Mail, Alberta Views and FASHION. Lulu is a 4-year-old Chihuahua Miniature Pincher cross, supplanted to Alberta from a shelter in California. Lulu is the Chief Executive Officer of the WGA Calgary Office, where she oversees room temperature, treat supply and screens untrustworthy office visitors.

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