Growing Happiness

“There’s an idea I came across a few years ago that I love,” says Michael J. Fox.  “My happiness grows in direct proportion [to] my acceptance and in inverse proportion to my expectations….That’s the key for me.  If I can accept the truth of ‘This is what I’m facing–not what can I expect but what I am experiencing now–‘ then I have all this freedom to do other things.”

For Fox, acceptance translates into a positive attitude in the face of his Parkinson’s Disease.*

During four recent months of health setbacks and gradual recovery, I worked hard to “grow happiness” instead of just being frustrated and depressed.  It was nearly four months of seldom leaving the house, of rarely attending church or being able to hold a conversation, of not seeing friends or going out even for coffee, of cancelling trips and seldom being on the computer.

In order to grow happiness instead of frustration, I had to accept my limitations and adjust my expectations to what was possible.  Aargh!

80919389_0ea063f00b[1]My technique was each day to imagine myself holding a salad plate in my hands.  I imagined life as a feast spread on a banquet table before me from which I could fill my plate.  Because I had a salad plate instead of a dinner plate to fill, my options were more limited than usual and I did best if I was intentional about my choice.  Imagining a smaller array of items on my plate helped me focus on what I could do instead of what I couldn’t.  It helped me remember that every choice I make about how to use my energy and time is important.

Dietitians say that when we eat from smaller and not larger plates we are more likely to eat healthier sized portions of food.  We tend to savor each bite of food more and feel satiated with smaller portions.  We avoid the guilt and physical discomfort that often attend gluttony.

Sometimes I made it into the Clean Plate Club.  Then I might choose to go back for more.  But if I could not finish what I had with anticipation put on my plate, I found my disappointment was less than if I had filled a larger plate with an overabundance of expectations.  I grew happiness by putting life on a salad plate.

For over a month I had to downsize to a saucer, which meant limiting myself to only one or two choices per day.  I kept my focus, put one foot in front of the other, and eventually changed back to a dessert plate.  I hope to step up to a salad plate this week.  Hooray!  It is incredibly exciting to plan what options I might choose.  Strange….but true:  Acceptance of the truth and expectations right for the day do grow happiness.

Of course, I still wish I had a larger plate, much as I wish my metabolism was as fast as when I was 17-years-old.  I still dislike turning away from food I love and stuff I want to do.  But whether I had health issues or not, I know that trying to consume or do everything I want makes me unable to enjoy anything as much as it deserves.  Small plates are a good idea for many reasons.

*”Feeling Alright. Oh, Yeah.”, by David Hochman, AARP Magazine, April/May 2013
*Photo “Russian New Year’s Feast” by Adam Baker, Baker


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