Monday, April 14, 2008

The Happiness Project and Desire Paths

In my Google FeedReader a couple mornings ago, I read about Alex Shalman, who interviewed 34 amazing people on the subject of happiness and created The Happiness Project.

These are my answers.
  1. How do you define happiness? Being content in the moment, it usually happens several times a day. Not worrying about the future or the past. When I appreciate the world for what it is.
  2. On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your happiness now, versus when you were a child? As an adult my happiness has fluctuated but I would rate it around 7.5 or 8 right now. I think there is room for improvement--I think I'm onto something. As a child, looking back, I think I was mostly happy...probably 6ish. But I don't even know if kids know what happy is. My adult brain doesn't remember.
  3. What do you do on a daily basis that brings you happiness? (and how consistent is the feeling of happiness throughout your day) Overall my happiness tends to decline if I start worrying too much about things that haven't happened yet. It goes up and down throughout the day, but when I am home with my husband and dogs, that's when I am happier. I try to live as in-the-moment as possible and I try to see life from other people's points of view. What has this person experienced that might be influencing this interaction? How can I be more tolerant of other people? Also, noticing what's going on in the sky---sunrise, sunset, birds, clouds, stars. There's a lot we miss by not looking up.
  4. What things take away from your happiness? What can be done to lessen their impact or remove them from your life? I take away from my own happiness--my own perception of reality, if I start to feel sorry for myself. I have love, shelter, food, an indoor toilet...I have a pretty good life. When I get caught up in a negative moment, when I get frustrated, my happiness is less. So I think of this as a skill I can develop---sustaining my happiness.
  5. What do you plan on doing in the future that will bring you even more happiness? Well, I'm predicting that spending more quality time with my friends and family and less time working for a paycheck will bring me more happiness. Future plans include: reduce expenses, learn to live more simply, appreciate the quiet, work hard and get sweaty, drink lemonade on the lawn. Sleep, rinse, repeat.
I thought that was a good introduction to this new blog we created to document the next stage in our lives. Keith can add his own ideas about what makes him happy. I created a separate account for him on here, so it will be clear who's writing each post.

What's the New Plan? Let's start with Why a New Plan? In the simplest terms we're looking for a desire path to happiness.
Desire path: A term in landscape architecture used to describe a path that isn't designed but rather is worn casually away by people finding the shortest distance between two points.

We've been discussing what our possible plans include now that OHSU is Not the Plan. It comes down to several things we're looking for:
  • Somewhere the dogs can be happy---a lot of room to run, no loud garbage trucks/buses/fire engines (Mia doesn't like loud noises, but who does?), plentiful squirrel population, grass to eat/lay in
  • Somewhere we can build a house, a tiny house (under 200 sq ft hopefully, with recycled/salvaged materials, a composting toilet, and solar heat)
  • Somewhere we can grow our own food
  • Somewhere we can appreciate our friends and family
  • Somewhere we can easily get to outdoors activities (fishing, camping, hiking...)
  • Somewhere we can reduce our costs enough so that we only have to work part-time and can spend the rest of our time as we want
We considered checking out communes. There are A LOT of communes. But many have pet restrictions, most have large buy-ins, we'd be living not so close to friends and family... We ruled out communes.

We considered buying some land, since they're not making any more. Small problem: We don't have any money.


Well, there was a crazy option floating around in my head. I told Keith I had a fantasy of living the life we wanted to live, but living it Idaho. Specifically, on my parents' property. Keith, of course, has been trying to convince me to live in my hometown for years. But I had a negative association w/ my hometown and my mental health.

However, I've been reconsidering it.
And my perspective has changed.
A lot has happened since I last lived there...

It comes down to these points:
1) Mom and Dad would love to have us as close as we could stand it. (They say. I gave them an out, told them they could change their Official Stance at any time.) Keith loves my parents, which I am very grateful for. This wouldn't be an option otherwise. But, hey, they're likable people. Keith says they're the least selfish people he knows. I'd say that's about right. All they've done for us, just in the past couple years, is amazing. I know that they'll need more help as they get older and I'd love to spend more quality time with them. When the shit hits the fan (in whatever sense), your family is what matters. My mom says she doesn't want us to feel obligated. I said, I DO feel obligated. But in a good way. You help the people you love. I've never been able to imagine either of my parents in assisted living or a nursing home (I'm not judging if that's your situation!)---I think it is my obligation to help take care of them if they need it. And trust me, they still take care of me and I'm almost 30.
2) We could help take care of their place, plant a big garden, pick fruit and nuts from their trees, you know---good hard manual labor. Grow our own food, learn to can/preserve, you know, for End Times. [kidding, only not really]
3) The dogs would LOVE it. A lot of squirrels to chase, a man across the street who feeds them milkbones (neighbor Frank),a several-acre field next door where they can run full throttle... Also, there's a pretty large dog pen where we could safely contain them if needed.
4) It's QUIET. This is a big one. I don't mean Quiet like Since-We-Moved-to-the-Inside-of-the-Building Quiet. The loud noises there include single-prop planes making a descent into the field that serves as an airport, and the occasional semi-truck you can hear on the highway down the road. They live on a dead-end road outside of a town with less than 1500 people. It's pretty quiet.
5) We could build our own tiny house. No, really tiny. We have some Needs and Wants (e.g. indoor/outdoor shower valve, sleeping loft, outdoor dining area, hammock space) and we'll build around that. There are a lot of sites about tiny houses out there, from the most expensive and pretty elaborate to the cheap and functional. Ours will definitely fall closer to the cheap-and-functional end of the spectrum. We're in the R&D phase.
6) We can learn new skills. Like welding. And canning food. And planting and harvesting a garden. And building a house. And not strangling ourselves/each other when we live in a tiny house. With two pit bulls. Next door to my parents. In a largely Republican, high NRA-membership, vegetarian-hating part of Idaho.

Well, that's not a comprehensive list of Pros, but you get the idea. Now, of course there are Cons. Several. But my Pro list outnumbers the Con 2:1.

major con: no more shrink. My therapy is in Terminal Illness Stage. I know how much time I have left (roughly), so I better make it count. (I mentioned to him that for the money I owe him I could skip town and build a tiny house... but I'm not that kind of person.) Of course, this really sucks. First of all, I actually like my doc. You see someone once week and spill your guts, you get attached. Second, my mental health the past couple years has relied on chemical alteration and with a PT job/no insurance, this means no meds, either. Can sunshine, hard work, the love of my family, and a lot of fresh air cure me for good? Isn't that basically what they used to recommend to Crazies? Apparently they still do.

I guess the overall idea is that we'll be maximizing our time together, learning how to live more simply, appreciating our family, getting to enjoy the outdoors, slowing down, but working hard. Ideally these things = less stress, more rewarding life.

I expect there to be challenges. That's part of the appeal. We don't want to be stagnant pond scum, we want to be the tadpole that turns into a frog. Or something like that. This is something we always saw ourselves doing somewhere, sometime "in the future." But, really, as Cormac McCarthy wrote in The Road,
"There is no later. This is later." What are we waiting for? Let's do it! (But I have to finish this quarter of school first.)

So, that's the rundown on our New Plan. Check in periodically for updates if you're interested. If you use a feed reader like Google Reader to keep track of multiple blogs (such a time saver!), you can click on that orange button at the top of the page and you'll get notified anytime there's a new post. I recommend that----if you have a Gmail account it's really easy. And it's really not too hard to do otherwise. Just a tip.

We won't be making a physical move until this summer at the earliest, but we'll be posting about the psychological preparation and any really outstanding things we want to incorporate into our New Life. And what it means to leave Portland.

So one of the ways we're getting ready to leave is by doing things we've been putting off/haven't got around to yet. Yesterday we went to the Farmer's Market. Keith got tricked into talking to someone running for city council. When we tried to explain why we wouldn't be voting in the Portland elections this year, I realized we needed a better pitch for our New Plan. I tried to say,
Well, we're going to grow our own food, build a little house. But I really wanted to say, We're dropping out. Keith said, We should have said, The System's not working for us so we're going to stop working for paychecks and we're going to start living Life. Any of the above work, I guess. It's just saying it and sounding convincing without sounding psychotic. Delicate balance.

But the Farmer's Market was great----really big and not too crowded. (Our first time going in almost 2 years living here.) But it was overcast and chilly so I'm sure that once the weather warms up we'll have to fight the crowds. We didn't end up buying anything, but we just cruised the aisles looking for ideas for the New Plan (hanging lettuce baskets!) and what all was for sale. Also, I spotted some goslings at work the other day!


Anonymous said...

Oh, "almost 30," your leaving modern adolescence, for better spaces I'm sure. I only hope you have a good internet connection.

I've been looking at the metroshed. There sure are a lot of interesting options out there today, probably because of the internet. Keep us posted.


evangeline said...

i love this plan.

theotherryan said...

Interesting, I'm on a somewhat comparable boat but for the semi short term (5-6 months). No reason to do the whole rent thing, rather put that in the bank. Heck a bonfire of singles would atleast be fun for a few minutes. Much better then rent.

Her folks are uber coool and living cheap (free) is enough of a plus to cancel out modest amounts of irritations. I think it will go real well and if nothing else it will be interesting.

Jules said...

Hi April,

Good luck with the plans, i hope whichever path you choose is an interesting and rewarding one.

Thanks for your comments on my blog,