Happy?!

We’re in the back half of year two of the COVID-19 pandemic. The smoke from 400+ wildfires burning in western Canada has kept us from biking, hiking or kayaking since early July. Canmore’s under a boil water advisory. A low battery alert on one of our home security system sensors starting going off at 3:30 this morning. And we’re under yet another heat warning. So I’m finding it kind of hard to be happy.

In fact, I’ve expressed displeasure or discontentment almost every day of the past week. But sitting down to draft this month’s post for the Photo Blogging Challenge prompted me to dig out my notes from Dr. Laurie Santos’ The Science of Well-Being online course. And right there on page 1:

So it’s time to put some effort into re-framing my thoughts and reviving the purposeful actions that got me through the first six months of the pandemic feeling pretty content. Already, this month’s theme is a winner in my books!

Being Happy Requires Effort

The literature is pretty consistent – eating well, regular exercise and quality sleep are foundational to good health and happiness. Beyond that, what practices work best to foster happiness for me?

  1. Planning enjoyable experiences and savouring them
  2. Keeping a daily gratitude journal
  3. Mindfulness meditation
  4. Strong social connections
  5. A daily dose of Vitamin N(ature)

I’ve slacked off on several of these. I just looked, and I see that when I started a new journal for 2021, I failed to copy over the prompts I developed to foster planning/anticipating, savouring, gratitude, kindness and social connection. So I just copied them into my 2021 journal. And beginning tonight, I’ll be steering my thoughts in a better direction. If you want to give this a try, here are the prompts I use. Feel free to copy and modify:

  • What was the best part of my day?
  • What is one nice thing I did for someone else today?
  • Who did I appreciate today?
  • Who can I acknowledge today or give credit to?
  • What’s something I’m looking forward to?

A while back I replaced mindfulness meditation with learning a language. I don’t want to give up the language lessons. So I’ll spend some time over the coming week thinking about how best to revive my meditation practice.

The social connection front is complicated by COVID-19. I’d really like to get together with friends and family IRL. But with case counts rising again (and Alberta basically doing away with contact tracing and mandatory isolation for those who test positive (and testing is going to be very limited going forward)), I remain hesitant. This is another area that I’ll reflect on over the coming days.

And while hiking, biking, kayaking and other outdoor adventures are my favourite ways to get my daily dose of Vitamin N, there are still plenty of opportunities for nearby nature experiences. Gardening, short walks (with a PM 2.5 filtering mask) and making observations for iNaturalist are the first three things that come to mind.

Phew! Now that I’ve got all that out of my head and organized into a go-forward plan to turn Happy? into Happy!, it’s time for this month’s photos.

1. Spotting a chick in the nest

We got in two long bike rides in early July (before wildfire smoke blew in). Finally, on July 9, we spotted an osprey chick in the nest that’s just off the Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail between Canmore and the east gate into Banff National Park. Hooray!

osprey and chick

2. Kayaking

This spring we added an inflatable kayak and all the associated gear to our collection of outdoor adventure stuff. We’ve made a bit of a game of shortening our set-up and takedown times. And the views from the middle of a mountain lake are so different to those we enjoy from a mountain top. The birdwatching is usually pretty good, too. This particular day, paddling the length of Barrier Lake and back, we were happy to be out on the water after heavy rain forced us to abandon plan A.

man in kayak on lake

We’ve hit pause on our 2021 kayaking plans due to the smoke that rolled into the area the middle of this month. With virtually no precipitation in the long-term forecast for western Canada, we may resort to paddling with particulate-filtering masks on. As we confirmed on our last kayaking adventure in July, smoke can make for some interesting photos.

3. Birdwatching

To get good at using a long telephoto lens requires practice. So we headed out with the purpose of bird photography multiple times this month. This recent Relive video recap shows Mr GeoK is getting good with his long lens.

I use a shorter telephoto lens, but some days I come away with bird photos that make me smile. This ball-of-fluff spotted sandpiper chick is a good example.

spotted sandpiper chick

4. Hunting wildflowers

July is peak wildflower month in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. And while we’ve yet to do a single hike that takes us up out of the valley bottom, we ticked off a bunch of favourite wildflowers while out and about in Canmore: wild roses, wood lilies, yellow-flowered avens, frog orchids, round-leaved orchids and an elusive sparrow’s-egg lady slipper.

lady slipper blossom

5. Sharing the Harvest

Gardening is a long-time thing for me. It’s sometimes frustrating, sometimes brings joy, and always brings a harvest. Some crops are bountiful one year and scant the next. Grow a range of fruits and vegetables and most years you’ll have at least one crop that you can share. In 2021, I’m growing garlic for the first time and I doubled the number of onion sets I planted. To make room, I cut back on the number of kale plants thriving in my little raised garden beds. My heart sings when I’m able to share the harvest. So far this year I’ve delivered kale, beets, swiss chard, basil and cherries to family, friends and neighbours. I look forward to sharing carrots, garlic, onions and apples later in the season.

kale and carrots

Writing about these images has lifted my spirits. So I am grateful for this month’s theme. If you’d like what makes other Photo Blogging Challenge participants happy, check out the link up over at A ‘lil HooHaa.

And if you’d like to join the PBC fun, the theme for August is Adventures! All you need are five photos. How much writing to go with those photos? Entirely up to you!

Finally, I’m curious…what are your thoughts on happiness? Is being happy a stand-alone goal? A by-product of crafting a purposeful life with strong social connections? An impossible dream?

PS – Between starting to write this post this morning and hitting publish this evening, I’m happy to report that the boil water advisory has been lifted for several Canmore neighbourhoods. And we’ve solved our security system sensor problem which should make for a good night’s sleep. Small wins, but at this point in the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s three cheers for small wins!

4 thoughts on “Happy?!

  1. I keep saying that I am going to buy a kayak. If I had views like that any time I paddled, I’d already have one. Maybe this fall, pending on sales around here. Great work overall this month. The first shot is incredible!

  2. Wonderful and timely post. Loved the photo of the osprey family.

    Every now and then we need a jump start on our thoughts. Clear them out, reorder them, prioritize them. What’s important? What needs to be prioritized. Glad to see that you’re working on this as I am.

  3. Susan

    Your post was so timely! The smoke, the never-ending pandemic, the heat, the wildfires, crops burning up so they cannot be harvested – all of these things are leaving people fatigued and often anxious. I really appreciated your reference to your notes from your online course – 40% thoughts and actions. For me, the gratitude and the mindfulness pieces are really important, as are exercise, thoughtful and purposeful choices for nutrition, time outside, learning new skills or listening to different ideas, and connections with friends and family. I feel very fortunate to know amazing people who enrich my life and bring much joy and happiness. Thanks for being one of them and for this photo blog!!

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