Where Logic Meets Love

Investing in Daily Happiness

Thursday, December 30, 2010

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Investing in Daily Happiness | Faith Permeating Life
This end-of-the-year post was supposed to be about the happiness project I'm starting in 2011, but since my computer's in the shop for who knows how long and I'm working off my iPad, my ability to map out a comprehensive plan and create my Resolutions Chart is a bit limited at the moment. So I'll talk about something else instead.

A while back I wrote about a job opportunity I was being pushed toward that wasn't the kind of work I wanted to do. I told my boss I'd rather keep doing the work I was doing than get paid more money to do something else.

Well, I guess she finally understood both my love of the work (from that conversation) and the value it brought to the college (when she heard people in other departments talking about my work) because she submitted a request to HR for a title and salary change for me. It's not official yet, but basically I get to keep doing the work I've been doing for the past few months, except have it actually be my job, and get compensated accordingly.

This whole experience really brought home for me why it's so much more important to be doing work you enjoy than to be continually striving for a higher position and more money. When I first heard about my (for lack of a better word) promotion, I was excited and told Mike and my family about it. But the excitement quickly wore off once I got used to the idea. The real joy comes from doing work I love every day. I've already been doing this work for a while, and I get up every day looking forward to going to work. My title and my salary can't provide me with that kind of daily contentment and satisfaction. I think there's so much more happiness to be gained from spending eight hours a day enjoying your work than striving for those periodic bursts from a promotion.

Another note: I was reminded of how lucky I am to have a husband who shares my financial goals and philosophy. The truth is, we have a modest budget right now, but we've been living fairly comfortably and happily. Assuming all goes well on HR's end, I'm going to get a pretty substantial raise. As I've said before, and as Mike said to me the other day, a lot of people would mentally adjust their standard of living and say, "Oh, now we'll be able to _____________." But we don't plan to do that. Our only new expenses will be Mike's student loan payments that start next month.

What this means is that that extra money is going to go into savings. And that means that when we talk about wanting to buy 20 acres of land and build our own house in the next 10-15 years, that's a reasonable goal. When we talk about adopting kids (some or maybe all -- but that's another post), we know that's expensive, but we know that's important to us. And it makes a lot more sense to put that money toward our long-term goals than to increase our budget for eating out.

In some ways, it's the same idea as what I said above about work. We have a goal in mind of what we want our day-to-day life to be like in the future, and so it makes more sense to invest in a satisfied daily life than to invest in short bursts of happiness from new purchases or nights out.

We're happy now, and we're laying the foundation to be happy in the future. What more could you want?

The Many Gifts of Marriage

Friday, December 24, 2010

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The Many Gifts of Marriage | Faith Permeating Life
I recently finished a sweet book called I Like Being Married. It's basically a collection of quotes and stories from both celebrities and unknown people about why they like being married or about meeting their spouse. Nothing earth-shattering, but if you're married, it's a cute, sweet book to reminder you why being married is awesome.

One of the couples talked about having a wedding ceremony around the theme of service and incorporating foot-washing. This made me take notice because so many people at our wedding told us they'd never been to a wedding with the theme of service before ours, and how meaningful they found it.

It made me start thinking about our readings -- which were not your typical readings at a Catholic wedding. (Actually, it was kind of funny that the priest asked, rhetorically, "When's the last time you were at a wedding where the Gospel was about the Last Supper?" because my friend who got married three months earlier had the same reading.) We didn't like any of the traditional Old Testament readings around marriage because they tend to focus on a wife-be-submissive-to-your-husband theme that we're not big on. We settled on the shema (aka "Hear O Israel") as a representation that faith was the foundation of our marriage, just as the Jewish faith formed the foundation of the Christmas faith.

Our New Testament reading is the one that really got me thinking about how it's played out in our marriage. It's 1 Corinthians 12:4-14. (Reproduced here thanks to the awesome biblegateway.com.)

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills. For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many.

We picked this to echo the "two become one" sentiment, with the idea that we were both bringing a completely different set of gifts and abilities to our marriage to make one life out of them. That it was one God we both believed in, but that we remained two individuals with different strengths who formed one union.

I was surprised recently to find out that some couples we know really have gone into marriage expecting that both partners will do 50% of everything. I don't think either of us ever had that notion going into marriage, or if we did, we quickly settled into a different pattern. I acknowledge that I am extraordinarily blessed to have a husband who enjoys doing the dishes. And cooking. I guess we did split the cooking initially until I got sick and he cooked every night, and he eventually got in the habit of planning out meals and shopping for groceries. I am perfectly happy in my role as the breadwinner who carefully manages and tracks our finances, organizes our receipts and our papers, and generally makes sure things get picked up around the apartment. Mike does laundry once a week and runs errands as needed. I used to do laundry while he was at work on Sunday until we figured out it was keeping us at our parents' too late, so now he takes it there on his day off.

The point is not so much who does what as that we both acknowledge that we have different strengths and thus should take care of different things. And sometimes it's just a matter of who has time to do what. Or who is most bothered by things. And there are compromises. I accept that the dishes will sit in a big pile on the counter all day, but that they'll be done when I wake up the next morning. Mike knows that I will support his dream to be a restaurant manager, despite what anyone might say and despite that we spent a ton of money on his social work degree, but also that our future plans will always revolve around my career above his. (Not that he really cares -- he can't wait to be a stay-at-home dad.)

It kind of saddens me to think that people are holding grudges against their spouses for not having the same priorities they have. God made us different to complement each other. I hate cooking and Mike is awesome at it. Mike makes big piles of things all over without seeing them as messy, so I keep our apartment organized so it's easy to pick up when needed. I try never to hold it against him that he's not me.

One other thought, and this is for the guys. Guys seem baffled by this concept that their wives will be more willing to have sex with them if they, say, clean the kitchen. It's not that having a clean kitchen turns us women on. But I realized that most women have the responsibilities of shopping, cooking, cleaning, watching kids, running errands, and so on. You expect them to do all that and then have sex with you? We may not divide all the chores 50/50, but when it comes to serving your spouse and your family -- you both have to be giving 100% wherever possible. And just going to work all day isn't enough, because that doesn't make your spouse feel like she's being served.

Mike thinks he's a really lucky guy, but I'll tell you something -- I get home from work and dinner's on the stove, errands are run, the bathroom is clean, the laundry is done, and you're going to wash the dishes for me? I'm the luckiest women ever to have a husband that serves me like you do. It feels like all I can give in return is to have sex with you. Does that work?

:)

The Joy of Giving

Thursday, December 16, 2010

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The Joy of Giving | Faith Permeating Life
Today I was reminded what a joy it is to give.

It's the one activity that consistently makes me happy -- not just giving, but thoughtful giving -- and yet I often forget. It's one of the reasons I know God has infinite patience, because I will come to him when I hit a low point and ask God to bring more joy into my life. And God is like, "C'mon, Jess, you know this." And as soon as I remember (usually during reflection in church), I always get so excited thinking back to times when I worked to find the perfect gift or surprise someone in a way I knew they wanted.

I also thought today how irrelevant cost is when you're getting a really thoughtful gift for someone. I have four bosses and I got them each a personal gift, ranging from $50 to $0. Actually the $50 gift could technically be $0 too because I bought it with Amazon money I earned from taking surveys. Anyway. One of the gifts I had bought used, in "acceptable" condition even, and yet my boss was absolutely beside herself that I had remembered a comment she made over a year ago about giving away a favorite movie to a friend and never finding another copy. And to be able to do that for her just brightened my whole day.

What surprised me, though, was how much some of the other gifts touched their recipients. For my coworkers, I had baked cookies and wrapped them up in individual packages. I also wrote a little thank-you note in a card for two of my coworkers who had taken on some of my work when I was working from home with mono. Both of them seemed really touched and one even came over to give me a hug. It wasn't that I had been thoughtless about their gifts, but I wasn't expecting such a big reaction. One of my other coworkers got really excited because she loves chocolate-chip cookies. And for one of my bosses, I had taken a guess at something she might like and it turned out to be one of her favorite things. And so while I had just intended to do something nice in the spirit of the season, it ended up affecting people even more than I'd thought, which in turn brought me so much joy!

I really want to give this kind of special gift to Mike this year, but it's more difficult with him. With my boss, this one thing stuck in my head because she rarely talks about something she wants. With Mike, it's not that he's a greedy person or anything, I just live with him and so get to hear every thought that goes through his mind about things he might want to get or thinks are cool or whatever, and he's forgotten about 90% of them by the next day, so unless I write them down, I don't remember. Plus he changes his mind a lot. When we were dating, it seemed easier because could grasp onto small things I learned about him and build gifts or surprises off those, but I realize now that those things were based on an incomplete and not very accurate view of him as a person. Not that I have a complete view of him now, by any means, but I know and understand so many more facets of his personality now that it's easier to see what he wouldn't like, but hard to know exactly what would thrill him.

Anyway, that's my challenge for the next week or two, but I wanted to jot down this reminder that doing nice things for others is a good way to give me a boost. I think I'll try to build this into my happiness project / resolutions for next year.

What kind of thoughtful gifts or surprises have you received? Or given?

Maternal Instinct

Friday, December 10, 2010

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Maternal Instinct | Faith Permeating Life
When Mike and I were dating in college, we started talking about getting married: When we would want to get married, how long we'd want to be engaged for, etc. At some point I explained to him that, in my mind, there were two timelines at play here.

The first was the timeline of our relationship. We seemed to be at or at least near to the point where we'd been dating long enough and our relationship was mature enough that it made sense to get engaged.

The second timeline, though, was that of my life -- or, I guess, in this case, each of us had our own life timeline. And when I thought about myself -- Jessica, college junior, 21 years old -- I didn't feel ready to be engaged. I didn't feel that I was mature enough to think about myself as a woman engaged to be married.

I should back up and explain something. I once heard the Holy Spirit described as the love between the Father and the Son, and Mike and I have modeled our understanding of our relationship after this; that is, our relationship is a third entity separate from either of our lives. So, for example, we chose to be abstinent until marriage because even though both of us individually might have desired sex, we felt it wasn't the best thing for the life of our relationship.

Sometimes people ask me whether I feel I got married too young, or whether it was a good point in my life, or whatever. I always tell them that I felt it worked for three reasons:
  • One, Mike and I were both mature enough to be ready for marriage.
  • Two, we had been together almost five years at that point and were at a good point in our relationship to make that commitment.
  • Three, we were both at good points in our life timelines -- he was in grad school, I had just finished grad school and started a new job -- that it was a good time to get married.

The next expected "phase of life" now is having children. Many people have told me (usually pregnant friends) that "There's never a 'right' time to have a child." But looking back at how we were engaged and married at good points in our lives and our relationship, I'm not entirely sure that's true.

As recently as six months ago, I honestly loathed the thought of having a baby. The only reason I knew I wanted children is because I could imagine myself at 30, and I didn't want to reach 30 and have it still just be the two of us. I can imagine myself in a house full of kids who are older, playing board games, doing chores together, watching movies, building forts, playing in the yard. But Jessica, 24 years old, was not remotely ready to be a mother.

God has been shifting things around in my heart lately -- and confronting me with lots of adorable babies -- and Jessica, 25 years old, is a little more comfortable with the idea of being a mother. It doesn't seem so far-fetched to me anymore. And this gives me hope that when we reach the time we do actually plan to have a child, I will be not only on board, but -- as it turned out with the engagement -- a little impatient.

At the same time, I don't think our marriage is ready for a child yet. We want to adopt first, and there's a reason some adoption agencies require you to be married at least three years. We're still building the foundation of our family. We're constantly working on our communication, even after six years together. We will spend 15 seconds fighting and then 10 minutes dissecting the argument to pin down the point at which the miscommunication occurred. (If this sounds overly rational to you, know that it's usually a matter of, "No, you said this!") I fully expect we'll spend the rest of our life together improving our relationship and our communication, but I also know that having children is going to throw such a wrench in how we do things that the more positive patterns and habits we can establish now, the better.

Having finished reading The Happiness Project (the book) today, I want to spend the next year working on getting my happiness commandments and resolutions entrenched in my brain. I need better heuristics to live by before bringing anyone else into our family! I'm feeling good that working on my heart and mind now is going to prepare me for having kids down the road.

From Course Evaluations to Self-Evaluations

Thursday, December 2, 2010

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From Course Evaluations to Self-Evaluations | Faith Permeating Life
One of the things I advocate for most at my job is the student voice. I feel that education is vitally important, and we can't improve education if we don't listen to our "customers" -- the students. This is why it's so frustrating to me when instructors dismiss evaluations written by students as having no value. Students need to be able to have a say in whether they're receiving the quality of education they're paying for!

I recently realized that the issue in improving education is not so much identifying "good" teachers and "bad" teachers and getting rid of the bad ones. It's no coincidence that the instructors I had in college who made a point of saying that our evaluations didn't matter were usually the ones I disliked most. The biggest concern is instructors who are willing to accept feedback vs. those who aren't.

I've encountered two examples recently of really excellent teachers being very receptive to student feedback. I discovered that an instructor at our college who recently received a very prestigious teaching award (and also happens to be one of my favorite people) not only encourages her students to complete the end-of-semester course evaluations, but actually has the students write down a few sentences at the end of every class about what they found useful and not useful about the lesson. If there are contradictions (half the class likes breaking into small groups and half the class hates it), she presents the dilemma back to them and asks them to devise a resolution. Similarly, a friend on the other end of the education spectrum (teaching first graders), who received near-perfect scores on both parts of her PRAXIS exam, holds "morning meetings" with her students to go over the daily agenda and get their input on any problems the class may be having.

It seems like a contradiction in a way -- why are the best teachers seeking student feedback when they're obviously doing a good job already? But it makes sense that it is that spirit of constant self-reflection and openness to feedback that made them so good in the first place. In any business, the worker who can receive constructive criticism gracefully and learn from it is going to be more successful than the worker who is defensive and refuses to see any truth in the feedback they're given.

So this was my first revelation -- that the importance of course evaluations for performance review is not in identifying the highest- or lowest-scoring instructors, but in identifying over time which instructors are able and willing to learn from and improve upon their teaching methods as a result of their feedback.

My second revelation was how this same truth applies not just to education, but to life -- to self-improvement, specifically. As I've said previously, I'm a fan of Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project blog, and I finally got my hands on her book of the same name. She talks in her introduction about how people criticized her embarking on this project because she wasn't unhappy. She was pretty happy, in general, but wanted to find ways to be happier. She says you don't have to miserable to want to improve your happiness. Just as even the very best teachers can learn from student feedback, even a very happy person can find ways to bring a boost of joy into their life. And there's nothing wrong with that.

This is also similar to an idea often mentioned by Scott Smith of Motivation to Move, whose Daily Boost podcast I listen to. He talks about the importance of asking yourself once a week, "How's my life going?" It's a way to have self-reflection and self-feedback. Even if things are pretty good for you, it's not until you take the time to do this self-reflection that you're able to really make progress toward your larger life goals.

So how is my life going? It's good -- I have a lot to be grateful for -- but I'm also excited about the possibility for challenging myself and bringing more peace and joy into my life.

How is your life going?
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