I have been feeling a bit stressed lately. We are moving. I don’t yet have a job. The job I am leaving was perfect. I am not sure where my daughter will be going to school next year. My wife is starting a new job. Blah, blah, blah. I know that all of these things will be great two months from now. We will have survived the whole moving process. I will have a job I like and feel good about. Cold Spring School will survive—and even thrive—without me. Isabel will be happily taken in and swallowed up by a new school with good teachers and good friends. Erica will be making her new job her own and doing it with style and skill. Yet…I worry.
One way I deal with the stress is to run. Today it was close to 90 at noon and I hit the road anyway for a good, hard four-miler partially up East Rock. While I run my mind goes fairly blank and my body relaxes. When I am done the endorphins do their job and I feel good for a bit. It’s a bit like magic, actually. Within reason, this thing that makes me feel better is also good for me.
While I was running today I decided to help myself in another way, as well. I am familiar with the research into happiness that has shown that where we focus our attention can have a big effect on our overall mood. If we brood and stew and focus on all the unknowns and losses (actual and potential), we will be in a bad place. But consciously making ourselves lookat the upside of things or focus on the things we are grateful for can boost our mood and leave us happier.
What reminded me of this was a downy woodpecker. It was on the branch of a shrub I ran by. It did not see me coming and by the time it knew I was there, I was within five feet of it. Downies are small woodpeckers—smaller than robins and cardinals. They have a checked black-and-white appearance and often hang out at feeders with nuthatches and chickadees. They, along with other species of woodpeckers, have a distinct way of flying. They flap their wings a few times and then glide a bit. As they glide, they lose a little altitude. Then they flap some more and gain that altitude back. This repeats over and over. It looks like they are tracing out a somewhat-flattened sine curve through the air.
The downy I startled today hopped off its branch and into the air directly in front of me at eye-level. I had never been that close to a woodpecker before and the red spot on its head was brilliant in the sunshine. I am not a sentimental guy about animals, but this bird was about as cute as it gets. And then rather than flying left, (into the bushes), or right, (across the street and into the woods), this particular Downy flew immediately in front of me for a good fifty feet—maybe even seventy-five. It rose and fell, rose and fell, like it was stitching up a rip in the fabric of the air. It was beautiful to see.
So I took that image with me today and decided that I would write about it as my Beautiful Thing for today. I also decided that I will write about one beautiful every day for the next month. By that time, I should be moved into a new house and maybe even starting a new job. I am considering this an exercise in conscious happiness.