Happiness Haiku

About two years ago, I read the book One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. It inspired me to start keeping a thankfulness journal.

Thankfulness has long been touted as an important spiritual discipline. But recent psychological research shows its connection to a happier mindset as well. Writing down the good things that happen in a day helps bring the positive things to the top of our minds and overcome our natural human “negativity bias.”

Over the long term, I think my thankfulness journal has really improved my mood and, more importantly, begun to discipline my mind into a habit of focusing on the positive things. Every night, look back over the day and write down the moments that brought me happiness. Sometimes they’re things anyone would consider happy–like getting a call from the Los Gatos Library, inviting me to their literary fair next month (see my note in the sidebar!). But more often, I write down the little things that brought me a smile or a heaven-sent moment of relaxation in the midst of a stressful day. A sunny morning walk. Classical music playing over the gas station speakers. A yummy cup of coffee.


This past spring, I decided to take my one-line thankfulness notes to the next level for an extra boost of happiness. First thing in the morning, I would look back over the last night’s thankfulness notes, pick one, and immerse myself in that memory. Then I used it as the subject for a seventeen-syllable haiku poem (5-7-5). Haiku is short, rewarding, and emphasizes life’s details–a perfect form for this exercise.


A haiku a day

Lupin beside the asphalt

Gratitude snapshot.

Photo credit: Tom Flemming

Writing a happiness haiku first thing in the morning had two benefits. First, it started off the day with a focus on something good.


Shopping bag of smiles

Rainbow Skittles, photos, frames,

A little goes far.

Photo credit: Dano Nicholson
Photo credit: Dano Nicholson

Morning haiku also had an unexpected perk. It got the words flowing. When I was done with my seventeen syllables (sometimes counting to seventeen before coffee was harder than it should have been), I wanted to write more. Which was perfect for someone working on a second novel.

#23-Cactus Flower

From among sharp spines

Pale orange petals shimmer.

Fierce, lovely triumph.

Photo credit: Seen Not Heard

It’s been several months since I wrote my last haiku, but now I have a collection of these short, intensely focused memories of happiness, like tracks showing me the road I walked. At the moment all my words are going into The Book, but maybe when it’s done, I’ll pick back up on this habit of capturing the ephemeral blessings in daily life.


I don’t love running. Really, exercise in general doesn’t thrill me, with the exceptions of hiking and ballroom dancing.

Image courtesy of stock.xchng and sundesigns

But I do it, at least sometimes, because I know it’s good for me.

And ironically, it’s taught me some things about life.


Image courtesy of stock.xchng and iwanbeijes

You run differently for a 100-meter dash than you do for a 2-mile loop. A 26-mile marathon is a different skill entirely. You have to know in advance how far you’re planning to go, then pace yourself accordingly. At the Olympics, the long-distance “run-walk” stride may look slow, but you know those runners are going to last til the end. Some efforts in life are short-term and you give your utmost for a few hours, days, or weeks, knowing you can then flop down, exhausted. But if you’re going to last and continue having resources to give over the long-term, sometimes that means curbing your pace, conserving your energy.


Image courtesy of stock.xchng and wordvt

When I first started my running route through my neighborhood, I made it my goal to jog to the top of the hill without stopping. I made it, but then I stood at the top, bent over and gasping for breath, for at least five minutes. My lungs burned, my calves burned, and by no means did I want to run anywhere else after that. But a few weeks ago, as I started getting tired and sore halfway up the hill, I…stopped. Realized I didn’t have to achieve high marks on my imaginary goal. I listened to my pain, stopped to catch my breath, then ran on to the top feeling good and ready to continue (like pacing, rest is an element of long-term survival ). I realized that I didn’t have to wait until I was completely exhausted and feeling horrible to take a long rest. I could take a short one when I just felt tired. And then I could continue on with energy and a good attitude.


Image courtesy of stock.xchng and MeiTeng

When running, there are two possible things to think about: the pain, or everything else. I can focus my mind on my screaming calves and how hard my heart is hammering, or I can enjoy the blue sky and the quiet places my routes take me. Sometimes even my body’s exertion is a cause for thanksgiving–legs that can move, lungs that can fill with clean air, eyes that can see the beauty around me. The act gives me a rush of adrenaline, helps me find the good even in an activity I don’t love.

Have you learned any life lessons from running? From any form of exercise? 


Ever popped popcorn in a hot air popper? It’s pretty fun. In fact, I maybe do it more for the entertainment than for the popcorn.

You have to position the implements carefully, though, or you can end up with a popcorn explosion on your hands. You start with so little–just a handful of hard kernels–that if you hadn’t seen it happen before, you’d never expect what happens to them. 

They whirl around in the popper, getting blasted with hot air and doing mostly nothing for a long time. Then–just when you’re about to lose interest and determine that you’ve got a dud batch of kernels on your hands–something happens.

One at a time, a few kernels start to inflate like parachutes, turning from hard pellets to fluffy, cloud-like pillows. 


Then a few rapidly turns into a lot

…until your popper is so full that it looks like it’s going to explode. If that bowl in the picture weren’t squeezed right under the chute, there would be popcorn all over the kitchen floor. (Sometimes a few rogue kernels still get away.) 
I look back at my posts of the last few months, and I kind of see my life going through the popcorn popper, too. A few months ago–a very few–I was writing empty posts, hard posts: how to speak to the suffering, grieving through song lyricsthe confusion of being a twentysomething. But my life today is so full that it threatens to overflow all over the floor. While I still ask unanswered questions and find a constant need for direction, I am also brimming over with gratitude. In just a few months, I’ve gone from a career stalemate, consuming loneliness, and paralysis about future decisions, to career doors opening, an assembly of breathtakingly wonderful people in my life, and hope for the future ahead. Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning (Psalm 30:5). 

Joy that overflows like popcorn.

What are you thankful for in your life today? How have you seen fullness grow out of emptiness? 

Confessions from a Home Office

After almost 9 months of chugging away as a freelance writer, editor, and English tutor, I feel that it’s time to share my perspective on working from a home/office…er, home office. It’s often glorified as the ultimate work situation, but it’s certainly not free from challenges. 
After college, I moved back into the room of my childhood. The challenge was converting it into an office as well. Organizing the same amount of space to serve two purposes was a challenge. At first I just kind of put my work in a blender and watched it explode all over the floor. 
I eventually got a bit more organized, at least space-wise. But organizing time can be harder. I am my own boss, which leaves me accountable only to myself for time management. Sometimes I’m distractable and not productive enough. More often, though, I’m doing five things so efficiently that I multitask myself clean out of productivity. Trying to do too many things can actually keep my thinking so shallow that I’m not productive at anything, especially writing. 
Working from home can be hard to explain to others. Sometimes people think that because I stay at home, I don’t actually work. I promise–I do. But getting respect for that isn’t always easy. It can also be tough to guard my work time. Because I’m within earshot of the phone, the dishwasher, the oven timer, the front door, it’s the easiest thing in the world to get interrupted and distracted. Or to use home chores as procrastination stations. 
My job can be lonely. Sometimes I get to the end of the day overflowing with words because I simply haven’t opened my mouth to talk to a human being all day. My brain gets tired from juggling e-mails, flashback scenes, and semicolon placement, but there are no co-workers to socialize with around the water cooler. I’m learning I have to be proactive and intentional about spending time with people.   

But there are also some undeniable perks to the job. I love that my mornings aren’t dictated by a rush to beat traffic or catch a train. I really enjoy the quiet and calm of my own home atmosphere. It’s pretty nice to be able to grade papers while watching blue jays perch in the backyard birches or redline a manuscript while wearing my fuzzy slippers. And it’s been a special blessing to be available to help care for my grandma these past five months. 

A few days ago I wrote an e-mail to a friend who asked me what it was like to be a freelancer. My response was long. It’s a lot of work, and trust is a constant challenge as I have to keep surrendering my question-mark future into God’s hands. But I also realized that I love my work. I sure don’t feel like that every single morning. But overall, I’m so grateful to have this chance to pursue my God-given passions from a base of nurture and support.  I look back over the last nine months and realize that this time has not been wasted. In spite of the logistical snags, the isolation, the multitasking, the procrastination–I’m moving in the direction of what I was made to do. And that is a great feeling.

One of my goals this summer is getting my children’s novel ready to start the publication process! In the interest of productivity on that, I’m going to be cutting back to blogging once a week for the summer. Don’t let me slack off! The race is on! 

Raindrops on Roses

Last week, it rained almost all week. 
When I was living in Seattle, the rain frustrated me. It was constant. All I could think about were wet socks, frizzy hair, cold fingers, dirty puddles, indoor mold. 
Now that I’m back in California, where showers are balanced with sunshine, it’s easier for me to be thankful for the rain. Now I go out in my rain boots with my camera, enjoying the beauty that the rain brings, especially to the rose garden. I’ve always loved taking close-ups of dew-studded roses. I hope you enjoy the results!

They’re little miracles, reminders of the beauty brought even by hardship, signs of joy even in the rain. They remind me of the song from The Sound of Music:

“Raindrops on roses, and whiskers on kittens…

 “bright copper kettles, and warm woolen mittens…

“brown paper packages, tied up with string…

“these are a few of my favorite things!”

Happy Monday! What’s beautiful in your world today?

Looking v. Seeing

A few weeks ago, I went hiking at Monte Bello Open Space Preserve with several members of my church’s college/young adult group. We made a 6-mile loop that took us along several prominent ridgelines and, most spectacularly, gave us a sweeping hilltop vista of the San Francisco Bay.
As one of my fellow hikers pointed out the numerous cities grouped around the Bay, I was awestruck. I recognized so few of them, knew so little about the geography of the area where I was born and raised. I keep good track of the places I go on a regular basis: friends’ houses, my church building, doctors’ offices, grocery stores. But the San Francisco Bay Area has so many mini-locales and sub-cultures, all packed into a relatively small space of land, and many of them I’ve never experienced. There’s so much to learn and do right here where I live.

 I was also taken aback by the beauty of this place I live in. I stood on the hilltop noticing, as if for the first time, the blue mist over the bay, the red-roofed towns clustered around the water, the chaparral sprawling over hills and valleys. After returning from 4 years of college in Seattle, I thought I’d never take the beauty of “my own, my native land” for granted. But even with the best of intentions, when you look at a place every day, sometimes you stop seeing it. The beauty of the places and people around you becomes pure routine, a sleepwalk through life.

When I stop seeing what’s around me, taking it for granted, I start focusing instead on what I don’t have: a car, a home of my own, a perfect plan for my future. I’ve heard that contentment, though, is not necessarily having everything you want, but rather wanting what you do have. And to want what you have, you first have to recognize and appreciate it.

On the hilltop I was freshly struck by the diversity and beauty of the landscape I live in. I saw my home as if for the first time. And I think that’s what gratitude really means: living life with eyes wide open for beauty, even the beauty of the everyday.

What do you see around you that you’re grateful for today? 

    Gratitude Monday

    It’s Monday! I’m going to start off the week with what I’m thankful for today: the beautiful flowers that are popping up all around the Bay Area. This is the ornamental pear tree outside my house: 
    Have you ever wondered how all the pear trees know to bloom at the same time? I was wondering that this week. On cue from Heaven, maybe.
    I love that spring begins in mid-February here. The rush and hum of the world coming back to life is one of my favorite sensations in all the world. 
    Boy, I’m thankful to be living back in the Bay Area!
    What are you thankful for today? 

    I’m sorry this comes later than usual…I had a big post in the works for last week that just wasn’t ready to go up yet. Hopefully it’ll be worth the wait when it gets posted this Friday 🙂

    10 Reasons to be Thankful for Post-Grad Life

    This week was the 4-month anniversary of my graduation from college. While this new season has brought a lot of transition and uncertainty, I have also had numerous inspirations to celebrate this phase of life (students everywhere, take heart!) 
    When I’m loving life, being thankful is easy, but the practice also helps dissipate melancholy when I’m not. So, because I need to remember, and because students everywhere need a reason to believe there’s life beyond midterms, here’s a chronicle of some things that have made these last 4 months good. 


    Sunshine and sand beaches
    Time to read books I choose

    Time to cook 
    Time to write
    Time to play
    Time to stop and smell the flowers (occasionally)
    Friends who are also family in Christ
    That being old and graduated doesn’t mean I stop having adventures
    And that the end of school doesn’t have to be the end of being a nerd.

    Whatever your stage of life, what are you thankful for today?