I’ve had an epiphany. I’m not certain if I read this somewhere or if I conjured it up in my head with the confluence of many books about the subject. I’ve scoured my reading lists and bookmarks and can’t find the article it originated from. Wisdom, in whatever form, comes to us in whispers and this piece of insight materialized during my morning painting. I think it has the power to change my life.

Happiness = Joy + Sorrow*

Wow.

Think about this for a minute. The terrible meeting you had at work today, the frustration over a lost raise, the unrequited dream of making millions and living abroad, the relationship disappointments, the biting self doubt – all of these annoying, frustrating, sad moments, according to the above equation, are adding to the sum total of your happiness.

At first glance it seems absurd. Happiness = Joy. Full stop. Right? Isn’t it that feeling we get that makes us smiley, alive, light and free? Well maybe it’s not quite so simple.

According to Martin Seligman, author of Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, happiness is actually better defined as well-being and is composed of four factors: positive emotion, engagement with what one is doing, a sense of accomplishment and good relationships.

At the risk of oversimplifying, I think it’s important to remember that it’s unrealistic to be in a state of joy 100% of the time. We will always experience a mix of highs and lows as we stumble, learn and get back up again. Positive emotion isn’t blind to negative emotion and instead can be seen as a daily practice in choosing to nurture, recognize and be thankful for the good things in our lives. True engagement isn’t free of challenges either. It requires intention, self-discipline and patience. Same goes for accomplishment – the road to true mastery and achievement is long and hard. And, as if we don’t already know this from the sting of past hurts, no fulfilling, genuine relationship is immune to frustration and pain.

The most incredible part of this epiphany is how it can be used as a mental tool to instantly lift my mood during the day. In the middle of a frustrating conversation, I playfully say to myself “Oh, this moment is just adding to my happiness bank today”. It makes all the difference to shift your thinking and realize that in life, imperfections and negative emotions are completely normal. They’re part and partial to our daily existence. They’re unavoidable and essential to the human experience and the sooner we realize the inevitabiliy of this, the sooner we’ll quit trying to chase just one half of the happiness equation and learn to wholly accept what comes at us.

Perhaps happiness isn’t an end goal that we perpetually chase, occasionally experience and then yearn for over and over again.  Perhaps it’s the sum total of all the things that make us stronger, better, wiser, humbler and more aware of our existence here on earth.  Joy wouldn’t taste as sweet without the salt of sorrow.

* Where Sorrow can = Frustration, Sadness, Annoyance, Anger or any other yucky feeling.

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I’ve had some trouble keeping up with my 100 Days of Art project (mostly due to time constraints) and have decided to convert it to 100 works of art instead. It’s going very slowly. I’ve got 97 projects left to go (!!). When I do make the time to paint, it makes a huge difference to my mood and well being. I’m hoping to be able to catch up this weekend.

This is my first self portrait. I decided early on to stop stressing about proportions and perfection. When I let go of my own expectations the fun crept in. I’m really proud of this one. The expression feels alive and though it doesn’t look exactly like me, I feel like I captured something very authentic.

7/100 (7/14/2014). Created after Ramiro's visit, used Kauai selfie as inspiration (http://agirlintheworld.smugmug.com/Family/2012/USA-Kauai-Hawaii-Private/i-T9M3McN/A).  Also created during Brazil World Cup 2014 fever :)  Ramiro gave feedback that I should add blues in skin tones to add contrasts.

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Today’s painting was inspired by a nameplate a friend gave to me as a gift from Tanzania many years ago.

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My succulents in watercolor. And also my first time, in nearly two decades, working with watercolors again. Fun fun fun!

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Presence

June 19, 2014

Her steady quiet presence makes a house a home. Always she makes me wish I was more kind, more generous, more gentile and more excited to go on walks. How do dogs do that? Soften us up and give us pause.

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I’ve recently been inspired by the #100DayProject trend that’s been sweeping the net (namely works by Elle Luna, Shitty Watercolor, Sketch Away and other folks on Instagram) and have decided to challenge myself to 100 days of art. It’s been hard getting started. I’ve stared at blank sketchbooks for weeks – paints unopened, pens untouched. Last night I just decided to draw what I love and here’s the result.  No fear, no overthinking.  It was super fun!

Excited to see what today’s inspiration will be.

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Simple pleasures

June 6, 2014

I’m trying my hand at succulents and cacti. So far so good. Half the fun is moving them around different parts of the house to chase the light throughout the day. Amazing how four dollars can bring such joy. A pretty plant that I can’t easily kill.

Here’s to life’s simple pleasures. :)

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I love Europe for its museums and castles, Asia for its food and beaches, and North America for the countless things that make it a great place to call home.  But South America I love for its sobre mesa –  the art of the long, drawn out table where friends and families loiter together for hours after a meal.  It represents everything I admire about Latin culture: togetherness, leisure and the art of savoring life’s simple moments.  It is likely the reason why, when we go to Argentina or Spain or Mexico, time stretches as if everything is in slow motion.  There’s nothing urgent enough to hurry over; no task, errand or meeting too important to make you skip a meal or coffee with the important people in your life.  I always return from these visits fresh with wide spaces in my mind and body where joy and pleasure have room to roost.

I’ve thought a lot about meaning over the last few months and though I don’t have the golden key answer to the purpose of life, I’m convinced that a good meal shared with loved ones has a lot to do with it. Children laughing at the table, a grandmother’s story over wine. These are the moments that fill our cups and make our days worthwhile.

In Latin America economies may tumble, governments may flounder, and cost of living may rise and fall, but the love and camaraderie of friends and relatives remain daily constants in life.  And for this there is no price.  It is a wealth that cannot be matched.

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