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Happiness is…

Sectionals

It’s been a year since my brother got out of the hospital and I invited him to live with me. The past week has been a series of anniversaries of traumatic events, and in that series, today was the worst day.

A year later, I am having a stellar beginning to my academic year. Further proof of the benefits of practicing mindfulness–the reminder that all things pass, and ultimately you will be OK. I have also learned how to look for happiness when it seems as though there’s nothing to be happy about, and how to savor it when I experience it.

This year began with my tennis team advancing to sectionals. If you don’t know anything about league tennis, this is a big deal. It’s sort of like advancing to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Basketball Tournament. And if you don’t watch basketball, then just think of it as a once in a lifetime experience.

One of the lessons on happiness that I often write about is that you never know how you will feel about something until you get there. I had always imagined that advancing to sectionals would be a joyful thing. And it was joyful, but it was many other things, too. That seems to be the general rule–we never feel just one thing. Instead, we feel multiple, often contradictory things. I was happy we won but it didn’t make me a happier person in general. I still worried about the same things, had the same insecurities. Winning didn’t make me less neurotic, and it didn’t change my life for the better. It was a reminder that, because all things pass, happiness is also fleeting.

During the weekend of the tournament I had the opportunity to get to know two players who I had never spoken to before beyond saying hello. Although they barely knew me, when I needed a place to stay, they invited me to stay in their room on the spot–which helped tremendously with my obsessing about money. Many of my friends helped in whatever way they could–negotiated a lower rate for my room, shared their food with me. It was a reminder that making meaningful connections with other people is the thing that brings me the greatest happiness. It’s why I have the job that I do. Why I captain so many teams. Why I want everyone go out to dinner after our matches.

In a few weeks, we will be off to sectionals, and I am excited about the chance to advance to nationals. I will enjoy the challenge. I will channel my inner warrior. I will go all out to win. But win, lose, or draw, I know that the time off court with friends old and new will give me plenty to be happy about. And after the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat fades, the friendships will still remain.

Three Years Later…

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Today is my blog’s 3rd birthday! Can you believe it? I’ve written 277 posts and still haven’t run out of things to say!

In those 3 books about God that I read this summer, they all said that we have many rebirths in the course of a lifetime, and the beginning of this blog year definitely feels that way. As you know if you’ve been reading my blog, my baby brother had quadruple bypass surgery less than a month ago. What I did not mention at the time is that I am taking care of him, so his heart attack has been a life-changing experience for both of us. While taking on this new role has presented many challenges, in some ways it has simplified my life. My behavior is more intentional; my motivation for everything I do is clear. Many of the things I have realized in this past month relate to themes I have written about over the past 3 years, so I thought I would share some of them.

1. Self-care. I often tell people to treat self-care as though your life depends on it, because it does. Nevertheless, I still struggle with it. It’s hard to go to bed on time, to cook, to go to the grocery store. I still have trouble saying no. Still push myself to the point of exhaustion. But now that I’m taking care of my brother, self-care really does feel like life or death. I have to go to the grocery store and cook healthy meals because if I don’t, he can’t eat. I have to get out of bed, even if I don’t feel like it, because I have to check on him. I have to set limits, or I won’t have the energy to care for him. Like Romeo said in his last post, sometimes it’s better when you don’t have a choice.

2. Mantras. There are so many new things to worry about now that I often feel overwhelmed. Sometimes I can’t fall asleep. I wake up to anxiety attacks. In rare moments of stillness, I cry, thinking about what he went through, wondering how we will make everything work. But in addition to my usual mantras (e.g., everything is going to be OK; I’m doing the best that I can), I have added 2 more: 1) anything is better than him being dead, and 2) if God saved his life, then he’ll help me find a way. And that helps to calm me down.

3. SolitudeI offered to take care of my brother without really thinking about it. At the time, I didn’t realize it meant that he was going to live with me indefinitely. Not that it would have changed my decision. But it’s sort of like suddenly having a child without the 9 months to mentally prepare for it. There was a moment where I mourned the loss of my space, my freedom, but that quickly faded. And surprisingly, I have gained far more than I have lost. I have someone to watch football with. Someone to talk to when I get home, to share my thoughts with. He cares about how my day went, whether I won my tennis match. I don’t dread days when I have nothing planned now, because they’re not as dreadful when you don’t have to spend them alone.

4. FriendshipsMy friends are so awesome. I am so thankful for them. Even though they don’t know my brother, they call and text to ask how we’re doing. They’ve made meals for us. They say prayers for us. They wished me luck on my first day back to work because I was stressed about it. They’ve listened to me cry. They’ve spent hours putting together shelves so that my brother could have space for his belongings. They are taking good care of me, so that I can take good care of Romeo.

5. GratitudeIn my prayers, when I give thanks for all of my blessings, I always do so with some anxiety, knowing that at some point I will lose the things that I am thankful for. What will I do then? Fortunately, hardship and loss have heightened my awareness of how plentiful my blessings are. I am even more aware of what a gift it is to be able to breathe, to feel your heart beat, to walk. (All mindfulness exercises, by the way.)  I’m thankful that I have a job that has vacation days. I’m thankful that every day my brother gets stronger. That he is happier now than he was before the surgery.

If this period of my life marks a rebirth, then my goal in this lifetime is to be more fully aware of what a gift it is to be alive.

Wins and Losses, Part 2

Dale

This year I had several people opt to leave my team so that they could join a more competitive team instead. I guess I can’t blame them for that, because most of the players on my 4.0 team are rated 3.5. Which is not a good thing if your goal is to win. But I do have a greater appreciation for the people who play on my teams because they care more about having fun than they do about winning.

Don’t get me wrong; I want to win. I’ll chase every ball down and risk throwing up on the court if I have to in order to win the point. It’s just that, at the end of the day, going out to eat with my friends afterwards is just as much fun as winning. And I’m not willing to kick people off my team just because they lose. Hell, I’d be the first person to get the boot if that were the case.

Still, at the beginning of the year, I decided I was going to focus more on winning. I was going to try to have more confidence in my game. Focus more on my strengths. Tell myself I’m a good player and see what happens.

I’m not sure it’s going so well. I don’t think I’m winning any more than I did last year, but I curse at myself more often, and more loudly, on the court. And I’m a lot harder on myself. And I’m more pissed off when I lose.

Perhaps this wasn’t such a good idea after all.

Despite my increasingly bad attitude, I never get upset when my teammates lose. In fact, if the match was close, I count their loss as a win. Like the other night we lost 1-4, but when I wrote up the summary, I wrote it as though we had won 3-2, since 2 of the losses were in the tiebreak. When one of my teammates commented on how positive I was, I thought, well it’s easy to be positive when you win.

But then I remembered that we lost.

In a previous post I brought up the debate of whether it’s better to love winning or to hate losing. Federer plays because he loves winning. Nadal plays because he hates losing. Things have worked out pretty well for both of them, so I guess you can’t go wrong with either approach.

But I’m not sure either of these statements accurately reflects why I play. I love trying to get better. I love trying to win. I love having a way to exercise that doesn’t involve torturously counting every second while I’m on a machine. I love having something that allows me to forget what a terrible day I’m having and focus solely on hitting the ball. I love practicing and I love competition. I love cute outfits and friendship and food.

And I can enjoy all of these things, regardless of whether I win or lose. I guess when it comes down to it, I really just love playing.

Some Things Never Get Old

A few months ago my brother called to tell me about a baby bear spotted in the parking lot where he lives, which is quite an anomaly because he lives in the city. He also sent me pictures and video clips. And he cracked himself up making up additional fake bear sightings: the bear was also seen going to Starbucks buying a coffee, having a beer at the local bar, etc.

He had the same obsession with bears as a kid and made similar jokes that were primarily funny because they made him laugh. Even though he is 38, he is still a kid in many ways. He continues to see the world as though he is experiencing it for the first time.

I was not able to share his excitement about the bear sighting, but there are things that I never get tired of. This weekend I went to districts with one of my teams, and even though I didn’t win and my team didn’t win, I am happy. I feel blessed because I had the good fortune to experience some of those things that never get old. My list includes, but is not limited to:

1. Winning. I know winning isn’t everything, but it sure feels good when you do. Even though my team didn’t win, one of the local teams did, and we got to share in their victory celebration, which is almost as good. Especially when the celebration involves food. Plus UVA won, which means we have already tied our 2 wins from last season. And it was an upset against a top 25 team, which makes it even sweeter. Plus Switzerland advanced in Davis Cup this weekend, so I’m happy for Federer, too.

2. Tennis. When I started playing tennis again 14 years ago, I was obsessed with it. I played at least 4-5 times a week–sometimes 2-3 times a day–and would drive to different cities to play. I played in every league and tournament. I feared that at some point I would grow tired of it, but I think I’m even more obsessed with it now than I was back then. One of the members of the winning team is in his late 70’s, and he still loves tennis. He is still competing, still winning, still talking trash on the court. I hope I am fortunate enough to be just like him when I grow up.

3. Shopping. Ok, I know this one is superficial, but it’s true. I love shopping. I got to buy cute tennis clothes, which is something I don’t have access to ordinarily. And they were on sale. Not half of half of half, as my mom prefers, but still a pretty good deal. And I’m going to wear my new outfit to my singles match tonight. I will probably lose, but I will look good doing it.

4. The Beauty of Nature. On the way to the tournament I drove through the Rockfish Valley. Initially I was so anxious about getting lost that I didn’t pay attention to my surroundings. But when I entered the valley I was in awe of how beautiful it was. It was absolutely breathtaking. I never get tired of the beauty of nature. I never tire of looking at the sky at sunset. Of the changing of the seasons. These are the times that I have those moments of clarity. These are the moments that bring me closer to God.

5. Friendship. One of the things I love the most about tennis is the friends I have made and continue to make. This weekend I got to spend time with some of my closest friends and reconnect with old ones. As I got to know some of my teammates off the court, I felt like I was meeting them for the first time. Spending time with friends, getting to know people better, and adding to my tennis family never gets old.

It really is true that some of the best things in life are free. Except for shopping. Shopping is never free. But a 30% discount on everything in the pro shop is pretty nice, too.

Some things never get old

Good Fortune

Money can’t buy happiness. Beauty is only skin deep. Age is just a number. It may be an illusion that wealth, beauty, and youth bring happiness, but I have to admit, sometimes it’s still a convincing one.

Earlier this summer, when I was stranded in South Carolina waiting for my car to be fixed, I had the good fortune of staying with a friend from graduate school and her family. At the time, I had been on this kick about destiny, so her daughter recommended that I read Holes, by Louis Sachar. It’s about a boy who is sentenced to work at a camp for delinquent boys for a crime he didn’t commit. Although it didn’t seem like it at the time, he was exactly where he was supposed to be. I was working hard to stay positive about my situation, so I wondered if my reading “Holes” was meant to be, as well.

I asked my young friend what else I should read, and she recommended Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin. It’s about a Chinese girl named Minli who goes on a long journey to try to change her family’s fortune. In the end, she learns that family is the greatest fortune of all.

Every year my college friend and I have an Inner Child Reunion. During our first reunion a few years ago, I introduced her to Sophie and she realized that she had a part of herself that was not allowed to play. So we make it a priority to get together for a few days over the summer for an extended play date. This year we could not find a mutual time to meet, so she decided to bring her son and meet me at my brother’s house because I had to babysit my niece. So it was a double reunion since she, my brother, and I all went to UVA.

As usual, my friend and I lamented over the very adult burdens of money, weight gain, and aging, but without the same level of obsessiveness as before. Perhaps it was because spending several days with 4 adults and 2 actual children, in addition to our inner children, left us with less energy for lamentations. Or perhaps it was because being together helped us to be more grateful for what we have.

I’m not gonna lie. We did not become enlightened beings over the past few days. We would still like to make a little more money, lose a little weight, and slow down the aging process. But we were also reminded that we are blessed to have family and friends who enjoy singing and recording “Let It Go” for hours on end, several days in a row. How many other people can say that? (I would post one of the videos but it’s kind of embarrassing.)

Perhaps it is no coincidence that I finished “Where the Mountain Meets the Moon” last night, at the conclusion of our Inner Child/College Reunion. Grace Lin was right: gratitude brings good fortune.

Motivation

In the Wimbledon final today, the commentators were discussing how Federer loves winning more than he hates losing, which is why he can shake off losses and stay motivated. However, in Andre Agassi’s autobiography Open, Agassi repeatedly states that he hated tennis, but he hated losing more, and that mindset worked pretty well for him.

It got me thinking: is it better to be motivated by love or hate?

There have been times in my life when I’ve been more motivated by hate than love. Even though I did well in school, I didn’t love it. I just hated failing, and anything less than a B was failing. So I mostly got A’s, but I can’t say that it brought me much joy to get them.

I used to be obsessed with my weight when I was in my 20’s and 30’s, so I was much more disciplined back then about exercising and watching what I ate. I weigh more now, which doesn’t thrill me, but I can’t say that I was happier when I was thinner. Every now and then I will get into that obsessive mindset again, but then I decide that I’m just going to stop looking in the mirror so much. Because even if it’s an effective weight loss strategy, it’s just too painful to hate my body.

I know I said in a previous post how it’s more important for me to play with friends than it is to win, but I have to admit, losing is starting to get to me. I haven’t had a single win in either of my mixed doubles teams this year. Still, losing hasn’t diminished my love for the game or my motivation to get better. I can’t say whether I love winning or hate losing more. I think it’s more accurate to say that I love competing and I love the fight, and that is all the motivation that I need.

Plus, win or lose, at the end of the day, you still get to have dinner with friends afterwards. And for me, food is the greatest motivator of all.

Here is a picture of my only winning team this season. Which I am not captaining, of course.

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Change

You know how I said I’m not good with endings? Well, I’m not that good with beginnings, either. I think I just don’t like change, in general.

I’m like my niece in that way. When we were on vacation last month, she threw a fit when she found out that she was going to start summer camp when she got back home. Even though she knew she was going to summer camp before we left for vacation. And she goes to summer camp every year. She cried about it right up until she had to go on Monday morning. Of course, when I asked my brother how her first day of camp went, she thought it was awesome.

It’s funny how our brains work that way. There is some part of us that is like a child, and no amount of reasoning or memory-jogging can talk us out of our dread of something that we are actually going to enjoy. The difference is, when it happens with kids, you accept it as being irritating but normal. When you’re an adult, you think it’s crazy. Well, that’s how I think of myself, at least.

This past weekend I went to my friend’s wedding. I wasn’t looking forward to it because I was going to have to drive to Florida by myself and go to the wedding dateless. I tried to squeeze in as many visits with friends as possible to break up the trip and to have more to look forward to. I tried to tell myself it could be like a romantic comedy where I meet some great guy. But my inner child Sophie was having none of it; she whined and cried just the same.

Because of my night-owlness, I could not fall asleep the night before, so I woke up late as usual. Which filled me with guilt and shame for being a bad friend. I was speeding the whole way down there, trying to make it in time for at least some of the rehearsal dinner. Until my car broke down. My 4 hour drive turned into an 8 hour drive, a good portion of which was spent on the shoulder of I-95 talking to unhelpful people who supposedly deal with roadside emergencies. It felt like punishment for having a bad attitude.

I didn’t meet some guy at the wedding. And I still don’t have my car. And the car rental and repairs are going to cost me about a grand. But that’s OK. It was still worth it. I had a good time at the wedding, and I was honored to be included in my friend’s innermost circle. Things could have turned out much worse with my car. Plus, I’m getting an extra day of vacation out of it.

I guess that’s one important difference between being a child and having an inner child. In the latter case, hopefully you also have a part that is an adult who can make you do things that you don’t feel like doing. Because the adult knows that you’ll be OK in the end. Perhaps that’s what it means to be an adult–to be someone who understands the nature of change.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll get there someday.