Feeling overwhelmed? How to be happy anyway.

“I only clean up after my horse” artwork by Lesley Bruce, available on a T-shirt here

According to author Martha Beck, PhD, society these days has evolved in such a manner that folks think they’ve got to be prancing around gleefully (think: Swiffer commercial) in order to be truly happy. On the contrary, Martha says “True happiness is sustainable delight in the beautiful moments of everyday life.”

Martha’s article in Oprah Magazine How to Find the Kind of Joy that Lasts also says;

“People started telling me to “be here now” when I was about 20. “Great!” I responded. “How?” Be still, they said. Breathe. Well, fine. I started dutifully practicing meditation, by which I mean I tried to be still while compulsively planning my next billion-watt wow. But one day, while reading up on the latest research in positive psychology, I discovered a two-word instruction that reliably ushered me onto the plains of peace when I couldn’t force my brain to just “be still.” Here it is: Make something.
You see, creative work causes us to secrete dopamine, a hormone that can make us feel absorbed and fulfilled without feeling manic. This is in sharp contrast to the fight-or-flight mechanism, which is associated with hysteria hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. Research indicates that we’re most creative when we’re happy and relaxed, and conversely, that we can steer our brains into this state by undertaking a creative task.
To get a dopamine “hit,” make something that pushes you to the furthest edge of your ability, where you’re not only focused but learning and perfecting skills. Cooking an unfamiliar dish will do the trick, as will perfecting a new clogging routine. At first, depending on how addicted to mania you happen to be, the excitement-grubbing part of your brain won’t want to stop obsessing about over-the-top experiences. It will cling to its fantasies about the next huge thrill, its fears of Suicide Tuesday. Keep creating. 
As you persist, your brain will eventually yield to the state psychologists call mindfulness. Your emotions will calm, even if you’re physically and mentally active. You won’t notice happiness when it first appears, because in true presence, the mind’s frantic searching stops. In its place arises a fascination with what’s occurring here and now. Though this feeling is subtle, it’s the opposite of dull. It’s infinitely varied and exquisite.
The aftermath of a creative surge, especially one that involves a new skill, is a sense of accomplishment and increased self-efficacy-which psychologists recognize as an important counter to depression. Instead of a Suicide Tuesday crash, you’re left with the happy fatigue of someone who is building strength.
Pay attention to this process, and you’ll see that the motivation to be here now will gradually grow stronger than the cultural pressure to seek excitement. You’ll find yourself increasingly able to tune in to the delights of the present even when you’re not actively creating. When this happens, you’ll be on your way to genuine happiness: abundant, sustainable delight in the beautiful moments of ordinary life.”  Read the rest here
Photo ©Sharyn Morgan, she’s pictured here with 19 year old Quarter Horse Jake. Sharyn originally hails from Australia, now she lives in New Mexico where she and Jake enjoy trail rides. Jake also likes a good scratch. And carrots.

Gina’s take on the idea:
Not feeling creative? Does making something sound like just more drudgery on your “to-do” list? As someone who “makes stuff” all day as part of my job, I’ve come up with a little different two-word instruction. Mine is “Clean something“, and while I’m not a PhD in psychology like Martha, I’ve discovered that it works as described above for me. Now, I will be the first to reveal that things around here are pretty messy. Some days I think the only difference between me and the folks on hoarders is the fact that messes and disorder really bug me. OK, I’m not as bad as the hoarder people, but it sure could be a lot neater around here.

Which brings me to exactly what I do to help ME feel better. We all have stuff that bugs us – accumulating stacks of papers/magazines, Christmas decorations in February, fingerprints on the fridge door, the overflowing junk drawer(s) – mental note: there’s ephemera for scrapbooks in there… Anyway, every so often I pick one thing that’s really bugging me, and just TAKE CARE OF IT. If you do this, you have to be careful / disciplined that the thing you pick doesn’t blossom into a multi-faceted project that you can’t / don’t complete and end up feeling worse. Otherwise, insert your little “Clean something” efforts into your day a few times a week. Eventually all those areas that make you feel bad to look at them will dwindle (somewhat) and you’ll feel slightly less overwhelmed.

Horsework before Housework T-shirt available here

A little more advice: Pick something that you can accomplish in an hour or less. My biggest one here recently took only minutes to do, but hours of mental wrangling to get there… getting rid of the heaps of empty plastic horse supplement containers and lids that were cluttering my barn. I kept thinking there’d be a perfect use for them. But the use never came and I’ve been looking at stacks of tubs and lids collecting dust for years. The other day I decided “enough is enough!” and I rounded them all up and put them in the recycle bin. Took a few minutes! But now, the little part of my brain that was thinking about what I could be doing with those piles of containers is now FREE to think about other things. And believe me, I need all the brainpower I can get.
Try it. And let me know how it goes.

Wanna read about my own cleaning endeavors?

Housekeeping Advice: aka The Hairball Story is here

The Epic Mess. Also known as “Fixing the Fireplace” is here

Rob and the Emergency Media Stand is here

Part 2 – Rob and the Emergency Media Stand is here

Oops! I did it again… is here


  1. […] Last time, I featured an interesting excerpt from Martha Beck’s article How to Find the Kind of Joy That Lasts in which she advised folks who were in a slump to Make Something. Since my work here at HoofPrints consists of making stuff nearly every day – and I’m not nearly as relaxed and blissful as I’d like, I came up with my own little offshoot of Martha’s effort – Clean Something. After that, I advised folks to pick something (mess, clutter, etc) that they could manage in about an hour, and TAKE CARE OF IT. Sounds good, huh? And I bet you’re thinking that by practicing this regimen, that my house, office, barn would be relatively neat and orderly. I wanted to share, just to set the record straight, that that is not exactly the case. It’s so not the case that it made me think of the old Saturday Night Live character played by Chris Farley: Matt Foley – The Motivational Speaker. For those who don’t remember, Matt Foley is the antithesis of a good motivational speaker: abrasive, clumsy and down on his luck, living in a van down by the river! There’s a good Conan O’Brien interview with Chris Farley that talks about the character here. To illustrate, I’d like to show you a picture of the rather bizarre creation I discovered the other day. I dropped something on the floor, got down on my hands and knees to retrieve it, and this caught my eye – it was directly under the center post of my office chair. It was fairly big, and perfectly round, I was immediately horrified as I thought it looked like a giant spider egg case. It was only less horrifying, however, once I picked it up and realized it really was just a giant hairball. A hairball that had survived the vacuum (yes, I DO vacuum) because of the fact that it was tethered TO THE CHAIR by a single long hair, so each time the chair got moved, the hairball stayed exactly underneath it, picking up my hair and Lucy‘s hair for who knows how long. Ewww. Of course, I then did what everyone does these days. I took a picture of it and shared it on Facebook (with apologies to family members who do not find any humor in a dirty house – and sorry Mom and Dad – you paid for a college degree so I could write about hairballs on the internet…) […]


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