My blogs have been easier to start the last couple of weeks and I realize it’s because I have given myself less choice. I am writing about my Grateful Smile project and so my range of topics is limited. Instead of writing about any possible idea that could come into my mind, my choices are few. And, I love it.
Don’t get me wrong, having the freedom to choose can be critically important, but only when it comes to important things. It’s absolutely crucial to me that I have the right to choose who touches my body, but I could do without choosing what to have for dinner and what brand of toothpaste to buy and which colour pants I should get or what flavour of jam is best. The little choices wear me down and I do not feel empowered by them. I feel exhausted.
This week I definitely smiled less than I did last week, and part of the problem was that I gave myself too much to think about.Too many choices.
My project started off lovely and straight forward, if I felt anxious, irritated or overwhelmed, I would try to channel grateful feelings and smile. There wasn’t a lot of room for error, it’s hard to smile wrong and I found even an unconvincing smile would become genuine if I left it on my face for more than a few seconds.
This week, armed with Brene Brown and Michael Singer, I thought I would delve deeper and become more sophisticated. Instead of simply smiling and being grateful, I was trying to keep in mind whether I was allowing myself to be vulnerable. Then, I was also trying to reserve a corner of my mind to being open to the flow of life and trying to surrender. I wanted to take these amazing ideas and cram them into what I was already doing, imagining it would take me to new depths of clarity and calm.
The result was (maybe predictably) a lot more overthinking and a lot less smiling. Instead of being able to simply commit myself to smiling and reaching for gratitude, I was now lost in a quagmire of choices. Having choice suddenly left a huge chasm opening me up to a world of self-doubt. What if I surrendered when I should have smiled? What if I was smiling when I should have been vulnerable? Does surrendering to the flow of life mean I have to buy my kids tablets, chromebooks and pop because they asked for it?
It wasn’t really until I started to think about my blog that I realized that giving myself more options had really been giving myself room to think instead of do. I am an accomplished overthinker, and part of the point of this project is to focus on feeling grateful and being present, instead of just thinking about gratitude and presence. There is such a difference being thinking and doing. The smile I realize is about more than being happy, it’s about taking the positive feelings I want to grow and feeling them in my body.
It isn’t that the lessons I am trying to learn on vulnerability and surrender are not valid and wonderful things, it’s just that what I am trying to do is more meaningful to me if I keep it simple and focused. It’s a challenge for me to avoid the quagmire of overthinking, it’s hard for me to experience things in my body instead of my mind. Realistically, I don’t need to add any challenges to my project, I just need to accept that it’s enough as it is. I need to accept that more isn’t always better.
I’m not the only one that has experienced this, when I searched choice and happiness, I found myself with a bunch of interesting articles about the connection between choice and happiness and also about whether happiness is a choice. I’ll sum them up for you: Yes, happiness is a choice. Too many choices don’t make us happy.
But then, I asked myself if my Grateful Smile Project was just about being happy? There were definitely reasons that I didn’t call it the Happiness Project, my project isn’t just about being happy. Partly, I’m not totally sure how I define happiness and I didn’t want to throw myself into weeks of trying to define exactly what it is I’m reaching for. Also, (AKA the other part of partly) I firmly believe that gratitude is the key to how I want to live.
I don’t just want to smile more, I don’t just want to be happy. I want to be grateful. If I can truly feel the richness of the life I have, then I know that I am actually here living it. When I’m stuck in my head worrying about the next election, the health of my apple tree or whether the insurance company will cover the damage to our rental house, I’m not actually living my life. I’m living my thoughts.
When I live my thoughts, I’m missing out on all of the beauty and wonder that is actually happening around me. The experience of living my thoughts usually involves living through a whole bunch of terrible possible scenarios, over and over again (none of which will ever actually happen exactly the way I imagine it.) It’s true that living my thoughts gives me an infinite amount of choices about which thought developed reality I want to live in, but again, choices are not always a good thing.
Living my life means being involved in a myriad of experiences that are actually happening and then will be gone (unless I move back into my thoughts and decide to play them out over and over and over again.)
It’s day 14 of the Grateful Smile Project and I am smiling and feeling grateful as I write this. I am particularly feeling grateful for the clarity that comes from blogging about this experience. Thank you for holding up the mirror and helping me to reflect on where this next week will take me. Thank you for deciding to read this in amongst all the other choices you have to make today. I hope that wherever your choices take you this week that they brings you gratitude and of course, smiles.