Friday, November 20, 2009

The Non-Extremist's Guide to Happiness

Photo by Rosendahl.

The other day I was on the bus to work; it was a grim, dismal day. Rain in billowing sheets was streaking down the windows, my mind was in a tangle of lightning crackles - and I knew inside that I was enjoying my misery, and it was stupid.

It's funny how sometimes being grumpy feels so great. Why? I suppose it's an ego thing, like we feel entitled to be that way. It can feel soothing to feel so sorry for ourselves. But that negative vibration will just attract more of the same.

Before you think I am getting too new age on you, think of it this way. Why is it that people who complain constantly are never happy? They have an endless array of things to whine about, and it becomes tiresome. Doesn't it? I think complaining is best left for when it's actually WORTHY of a complaint, and that is super rare.

And then there are those other types - the ones who are always happy, who beam with light constantly, and who say life rules. I used to look at these people and think they were phony, or that they were hiding something. And actually, sometimes I think that was the case. But now I can really tell the difference between phony-happy and real-happy, and the REAL happy people are absolute beacons to behold. I LOVE being around them, and they are RARE. I really aspire to be this way.

I don't always succeed, as I am a slave to my ego like most people, but I have learned a hell of a lot over the last 2 years, and the most important thing I've learned is that my attitude is EVERYTHING.

So, back to this day on the bus. I remember feeling like everything was going wrong that day, and that the day would just continue to be shitty. And in actuality, that's usually what happens, because we talk ourselves into it. Bad things we focus on will just lead us to notice more "bad things" and ignore anything good. The fact is there is always bad and good things around us ALL THE TIME, but it's what we choose to focus on that will make the difference.

So I sat there, and I thought to myself... "I don't really want to have a crappy day, it's been crappy enough already and I want to have a good day." It is so hard to pull out of a gloomy mood, but it's possible. It is almost impossible to go from a major low to a major high, though. Luckily I wasn't too far down, I was just irritable. I decided I wanted to cheer up and so opened myself up to that. I didn't really expect such a quick response but as I looked out the window, a car pulled up beside the bus, and this ridiculous yellow lab stuck his head out the window, his mouth open and jowls jiggling, a bit slobbery. The best thing was that he was looking around erratically like everything was confusing and amazing, and it was hilarious.

Animals soften me. I started giggling, and the teenager across from me looked up and followed my gaze, and he started to smile too. I think he was glad to see me giggling because I have a very intense scowl. And thanks to this silly dog, my mood lifted, my vibrations changed, and the rest of my day went well.


I've read a lot of self-help blogs that will write long articles about how being a morning person, and having a routine, can really change your life and make you happy. Fuck that. Not everyone is a morning person, and too much routine can be dull. And I also find that a lot of these blogs are repetitive and say the same things over and over. Well, I'm not going to. I am anti-article. I will only ever write like I would talk to someone or tell a story. If you get some useful insight, or some inspiration, awesome. That is the point of sharing in the first place.

I am a night person. This works for me, and always has. I have tried to be a morning person - I was once, for maybe 2 weeks, but I gradually went back to my natural way - late nights. Why change? It works! Never change what works.

I do find that if I do certain things at the start of my day, it will generally lead to having a great day. In the dark days of the year, especially.

What ingredients equal a great day for you? If you can figure this out and do them all in the first hour of your day, the rest of it will probably flow along the same lines, because you will glow with a natural and genuine happiness.

For me it's this:

+ Waking up without an alarm (rare)
+ Vitamin D (actual sun, or supplements in the dreary Vancouver months)
+ Water with MSM
+ Hugs with my pooch in bed before I get up
+ If I am going to work, leave early so I don't rush
+ Take the time to look as nice as I can

And my secret recipe for an awesome day, especially at work, is to have a Choco-Gorilla shake from my favourite restaurant, Gorilla Food, in downtown Vancouver. Cacao has a lot of fanatics, and a lot of critics. For me, it works wonders. I don't really care if it's not truly raw, and I don't really care if it's a stimulant. So what? I am not an extremist (though some would disagree) and I enjoy what it does.

What it really does for a while is turn me into Beavis.

And because I am so hyper and happy, and I don't get any crash like I used to with my high-sugar diet, I smoothly go from hyper to normal but stay happy. It's awesome!

If I can't have that, I have fruit. Pineapple, berries, or something. I wait as long as I can to eat. Contrary to what most people believe, I think having an empty stomach for the beginning of the day - until you are actually hungry, is beneficial. The less your body has to focus on digestion, the more energy it has to heal anything intrinsically "wrong" going on. This is why fasting (which is what you do overnight, hence "break fast" when you wake up and eat) is so healing. It's your nightly detox. So when you do wake up, it's best to have something very light, and nothing that will weigh you down. A lot of people have heavy breakfasts, but then need something to perk them up, like coffee, or sugar, and then they crash later on, and then need more stimulants. You get the picture.

Oh, and fruit is best by itself. When you eat fruit with other things, especially proteins, the fruit can't digest as quickly. Fruit, on its own, goes through your body FAST. Within a couple of hours, usually. When you eat it with nuts, for example, or after a meal of will sit in your stomach with that, and ferment. And then you get...GAS. WOO! Fun times. Sometimes I will combine things like nuts and fruit but I always know what's gonna happen when I do....

Anyway I am totally getting away from what I was supposed to be focusing on here, which is attitude.

Attitude is key to being happy and healthy. If you are a complainer, I would challenge you to write down a few of your most pressing problems and try to find things about them that are good. Do you hate your job? Your relationship (or lack of)? Your family? Your body? Force yourself to look at things differently. And you can do this with anything.

I'm going to use a recent example that I am doing. Usually I dread Christmas season, because I see it as a time of unnecessary spending, consumerism, obligations, and obnoxious customers. I always leave everything to the last minute, it's stressful, I never have the money to get people what I would like to give them (if I've even spent time thinking about it).

So instead, this year I have done the opposite (as I have been doing with pretty much everything that causes me stress - I will write about this next time). This time, I have started 6 weeks early. I had a hidden source of money (accrued vacation pay) which I decided to use for gifts. I put a lot of thought into what would really make certain people happy, and how it would make me feel to see them happy. I am more focused on that, than receiving. The opposite of usual. So now I am having a ton of fun with it, and enjoying the process, and looking forward to Christmas for once (for reasons other than "Yay, I will get presents.")

Tonight as I was walking my dog, sloshing around with wet leaves everywhere, mucky wet grass and drizzly rain, I thought, "I hate winter." And so, I changed my thinking. Winter causes me stress, so what can I find to like about it?

+ The air is super crisp
+ Warm snuggles with my dog and my boyfriend
+ High collared, sleek turtlenecks, which can hide love bites
+ Christmas lights
+ Snow (or rain and wet grass) makes my dog go to the bathroom more quickly
+ Doggy sweaters

+ My birthday
+ Seeing family for Christmas
+ Big scarves
+ Warm food on occasion, and hot teas

This is by no means a complete list, but it's 5am and I want to finish this up. My point is, if you try, you can find good about any situation. It doesn't matter how insignificant it seems. There is good and bad things about everything, and everyone. You choose what to focus on. Hell, you might even feel guilty for being happy in certain situations - DON'T. It's YOUR life. Be selfish. If it's not making you happy, don't do it. Please yourself first.

I admit, sometimes the bad will overwhelm the good, and you have every right to remove yourself from a situation because you know you need to do so. You have every right not to like someone, and not associate with them. But in cases where you really have no choice, look for the good, the beauty, and the lessons you can learn from them. After all, it's reality, you might as well get what you can out of it. That's how it is. The only thing that is real is what is happening to you right now. You pick your attitude to what happens next.

Friday, November 13, 2009

An Introduction to Myself

Today my name is Laura because that is where I began.

I began as a coddled child, but an ecstatic and creative one. I was forced into vivid imagination as I was often alone, no siblings, no very close friends. Always the odd one out, I was the sensitive strange one, easy to pick on, which I was, to the point of major harassment.

As time went on I built up a wall, and hid within books, music, mountains of sugar, writing, and obsessions with boys. My trusting nature and sensitivity never changed, but I became brooding, self-loathing, and antagonistic. I was overly defensive because when I was growing up I had no defenses - they grew to be overwhelming. But it worked - people did start to leave me alone. Sometimes, though, this included the people I did not want to intimidate. My brutal and blunt attitude cost me friends when it was not necessary. It took me years to balance it.

I suppose I am just describing a typical teenager, and I'm not looking for sympathies from how I grew up - in fact, I am glad for everything that has ever happened to me. I actually miss being a teenager, as some of it was enthralling. I am telling a simple version of my life so I can get on with the good stuff but give a basic idea of who I am and how I got this way.

To keep it blunt, I was a negative, impatient cynic who was dying for someone to show me love, when really I just did not know how to love myself. I looked for it everywhere but within.

A couple of years ago, I was deep in doldrums. I was in the worst possible rut, and did pretty much nothing with my time. I had no job, I laid around my room all day, I gorged on chocolate and pizzas, I dealt with people bailing on me constantly, convinced no one liked me and never being able to understand why. My anger grew, my anxiety was the most extreme it had ever been, as in I would walk my dog in the evening with my key through my knuckles in case someone attacked me and I had to throw a nasty punch. I always looked behind all aspects - I just thought I had it coming.

I am going to say something weird now, but keep reading and you will understand.

Getting furious at my dog is the best thing that ever happened to me.

Why? Because it was something completely opposite of who I am. I intensely love animals, and I especially adore my dog, who I admit can be frustrating at times when it's dark and raining and cold out and she just won't do her business. And so I would lose my temper, verbally. Every time I would see her cower and then I would cry, because I felt the most intense guilt I had ever felt, and the most deep self-hatred. Who had I become? A person I couldn't stand, a person I hated. A person who often thought about dying - which I'd never honestly considered in my life.

This was my turning point. I did not want to be who I was anymore - I knew that this was not me; I was not an angry, boring person. I had a lot of desires and ambition but no drive. I did not want to lie around and think about what I lacked. I did not want to just read self-help blogs and have no real transformation. I wanted real results, and I begged the universe to show them to me. I stopped being a cynic, and from the core of my being, I was ready to change and I believed that I would get an answer from somewhere, because I was completely open to doing anything it took to find who I really was.

Not long after, in one of the self-help blogs I read - one of the only really helpful ones - I read about raw food. Since the writing was engaging, and I'd once picked up a raw food book years before at the library (which I never ended up reading), it immediately caught my interest. And so, I got caught up in reading about this person's experiment with a raw vegan diet, every day. It was the first thing I'd read, and I eagerly awaited the next entry for more insight. I was obsessed.

I read everything I could about it, and only after a couple of days I knew that this was my answer. Food. How simple? I'd been noticing that the more crap I ate the angrier and more anxious I would feel at the end of the day, and my sugar intake was the worst it had ever been, probably 4 to 5 chocolate bars a day. Reading about raw food, it was ironic that my crutch on sugar - which was soothing as I ate it - was the reason I was depressed in the first place.

I was often depressed for no real reason, which made me even more frustrated with myself because I actually had it pretty good. I would often write about what I was grateful for, and I had a lot of things to write about. I never understood why until I linked my food with my brain.

Everything I read about raw food made more sense than anything I'd ever read, about anything. I was already a vegetarian, and I wanted to make sure I was very informed before I made any major changes. Long ago I had been vegan but extremely unhealthy, so wanted to make sure I did everything right. I was not doing it to lose weight, and I was not doing it for ethical reasons - it was all for my well-being. I wanted to be happy, for real.

I spent a couple of months reading everything I could, and then on February 1st, 2008, I went on a vegan diet. I had my farewell to cheese dinner with some deep-fried brie and mango sauce. I relished it. I also cut out refined sugar as much as I could - I would have things with evaporated cane juice and natural sweeteners. I decided to do this for two months and cut things out slowly, and go raw on April 1st.

Because I was so specific, it worked out well. I first cut out potatoes, and rice, then any treats like Luna Bars, and finally, bread. That was the hardest. And I did exactly what I had planned - all raw, 100%, April 1st, 2008.

And it was actually easy to stick with, because I had a real reason to stick to it. I wanted it more than anything. I'd tried to quit sugar so many times to lose some weight, but it never stuck. I always wanted to feed my addiction because it made me feel better mentally. Now I wanted to feel better mentally, so I knew I couldn't eat that way. I also knew a side benefit would be weight loss, so I didn't even worry about that. It was not as important.

I expected a bit of detox, and mine was not too harsh, as I had not had meat in a very long time and the rest of my diet was still full of fruits and veggies and tofu - my main culprit was the candy bars. My only detox symptoms were lethargy, a few enormous pimples, diarrhea, and a bit of a snotty nose. This all passed within a week, and after 10 days, my lifetime of depression disappeared.

It was gone. I was in a state of euphoria to the point where I could not sleep. But when I did sleep, it was deep. And When I was awake, I had astounding energy. I was sublimely happy and positive. Everything was more vibrant. My skin glowed and cleared up, my smile was constant, I was calm, my attitude changed, I attracted new friends into my life, 25 pounds melted off in 4 months - and I ate as much as I wanted. In addition to ridding myself of depression, my chronic bladder infections stopped, as well, which had been a source of agony for most of my life.

Changing my diet to this simple, natural way of eating has been the most important thing I've ever done for myself. It works for me. I am of the opinion that no creature is vegan (even herbivores ingest insects) - I am this way for ethical reasons, and I will never eat meat again in my life. I may not always be vegan, but I will always be ethical and I will always eat raw. I am not militant, either, and will never try to change anyone - I do what I do for me, and if it inspires others, great. I am not an extremist - if I eat a minor amount of cooked food, I don't feel guilty - it's rare, and always simple (baked sweet potato, for example).

The whole point of this blog is to share what works for me, and to share some things that may inspire you to find out who you really are, buried under a cloud of whatever is holding you back.

I embrace the light and dark parts of myself - but now I am a positive, energetic, and happy person. It was hard to let go of who I identified as for the vast majority of my life - but it was not who I really was.

Sometimes the answer to a problem is the simplest one, almost too obvious that we ignore it.

If you're interested in my physical transformation, here it is. This is a year to the day apart (when I started as just vegan, not raw - Feb 08-Feb.09 - no workouts were involved in this, either, though I did become more active due to having a lot more energy), though I had pretty much the same results after 4 months.

Nice to meet you, I hope you will introduce yourself to me.