Our 4 Steps on the Pursuit of Happiness

Years ago, we sat down together as a family and composed our family mission statement:

We are committed to being happy and enjoying a more simplified life; and agree to hold ourselves and each other accountable to attitudes and behaviors that support those outcomes.

We revisit our mission statement periodically during our family meetings and are continually striving to live a more balanced, joyful lifestyle. One of the topics that has come up often is our desire as a family to return home to Oregon.

Our 4 Steps on the Pursuit of Happiness @EvaVarga.netOur parents are aging and are in need of our help. We want to be there for them. Though we make trips home regularly – it just isn’t enough. The kids long to have a stronger bond with their grandparents. My husband had thereby been actively seeking work in Oregon over the past year. As a hospital administrator, the opportunities were rare.

In early May, we talked about the possibility of looking at pharmacy positions and stepping away from hospital administration. This would be a huge change for him professionally and a decision he would have to make on his own. I assured him we would stand behind him no matter the path he chose to follow.

A few weeks later, he came home from work one evening and stated, “I’m ready to look at alternatives. I am open to the possibility of returning to pharmacy.” No sooner did he make this decision and he received a phone call from a former colleague who shared that he would be retiring. “Would you like your Pharmacy Director position again?

Coincidentally, we had plans to be in Oregon that weekend and thus he made arrangements to interview. They offered him the job that afternoon and our world was sent spinning.

We debated if this was the right decision for us as a family. My daughter spoke eloquently, “I want the dad I have when we are on vacation. I want you to be present. I think we should try this, Dad. If this doesn’t work, we can try something else.

Stepping down from a career path he had worked so hard for was the bravest thing he could have done. It wasn’t an easy decision yet we have been working towards a more joyful life for years.

Our 4 Steps on the Pursuit of Happiness

Based on our personal journey, our conversations, and our observations, here is a list of the 4 most important things we have done to simplify our life:

1. Eliminate Possessions

Keep Only What Brings You Joy – Too many material possessions complicate our lives to a greater degree than we ever give them credit. They drain our bank account, our energy, and our attention. They keep us from the ones we love and from living a life based on our values.

My son seems to have learned this lesson early in life. His only “toys” are Lego and HO trains. Though they have taken over his room – two tables take up the entire floor space for his Lego city – there is little else other than a book shelf (one shelf is dedicated to Lego – books, catalogs, magazines, and instruction manuals) and his dresser.

Invest the time to remove non-essential possessions from your life. For inspiration, consider reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing On the same note, stop buying things that you don’t need.

Downsize – All the while we have lived in Redding, we have rented our home rather than buying. The repairs, lawn care, and maintenance are someone else’s problem, not ours. As a result, we have had more time to travel and enjoy quality time with one another.

While a rental is not as readily available where we are moving, as we have toured homes and considered purchasing a home again, we have considered only what we need. There are some magnificent homes on the market. As a family of four, we really don’t need a 4 or 5K square foot home.

We selected a home that reminds us a lot of the home we once owned in Bend. It has a slightly smaller footprint but it is enough. Presently it has a lawn, but we’ve decided to move forward with a xeriscaping plan to reduce the need for supplemental water from irrigation and maintenence.

2. Get Organized

A Place for Everything – Assigning a place for each object simplifies life dramatically. As described in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, it is a key component in making a space less frustrating and more beautiful.

Streamline your Finances – If debt is holding you captive, reduce it. Do what you need to do to get out from under its weight.

We’ve had just one credit card these past 10 years. We use it for most all our expenses and thereby capitalize on the rewards structure. Most importantly, we pay it off each month.

Relatedly, our vehicles are paid for and we are not encumbered by monthly payments. Our only expenses are our monthly living expenses. We set aside a significant portion of our earnings to a college savings plan, our retirement fund, and of course our vacation savings.

We have only recently discovered Dave Ramsey’s “Baby Steps” and I highly recommend his podcast. I look forward to using his Smart Money Smart Kids: Raising the Next Generation to Win with Money with the kids as we jump into the “Baby Steps” ourselves.

3. Simplify Relationships

Reduce Negative Thoughts – Resentment, bitterness, hate, and jealousy have never improved the quality of life for anyone. Forgive past hurts and replace negative thoughts with positive ones. Keep your speech plain and honest. Mean what you say and avoid gossip.

Without going into detail – there have been multiple occasions when others have said hurtful things to me or my husband. On occasion, when I catch myself thinking poorly of that person, I’ll stop and remind myself that it really doesn’t matter. What is important is how I feel about myself.

Strengthen Relationships or Let Them Go – Make the effort to spend time with people you like. Do not waste time keeping up with friends who bring you down or bore you. This applies to work as well. Don’t be afraid to seek out new career options if you are not happy or you don’t feel valued in your present job.

Surround yourself with people who bring you joy. Life is too short to get caught up in the drama.

Our 4 Steps on the Pursuit of Happiness @EvaVarga.net4. Slow Down

Screen Time – Television, movies, video games, and technology can rearrange your values. It can dominate your life and have a profound impact on your attitude. When we moved to Redding four years ago, we made the decision to eliminate television from our home. We thereby haven’t had cable for four years and haven’t missed it.

Technology is still a major component of our life, however. It is critical for the kids’ Mandarin lessons and for my work as a blogger.  We try to minimize our screen time and though we can still make improvements in this area, we are getting better at recognizing when it begins to affect our attitude.

Time Commitments – Most of us have filled our days full from beginning to end with time commitments: work, home, kid’s activities, community events, religious endeavors, hobbies… the list goes on. When possible, release yourself from the time commitments that are not in line with your greatest values.

We have had to reevaluate this on a few occasions to avoid burnout (see my earlier post, I Am Not a Soccer Mom: How to Avoid Child Burnout). We try our best to create a balance between extracurricular activities and family life.

Sometimes it requires us to make tough decisions when conflicts arise – Do you want to go to the Junior Olympics (swim meet) or Sons of Norway heritage camp? We allow the kids to make this decision for themselves. We discuss our goals and values openly as a family.

I do my best to create a healthy balance; often setting aside personal goals (marathon training) and choosing to work on only one or two at a time. I want my children to be lifelong readers and to develop their music and language skills daily. I thereby try to model this as often as possible – setting aside 30 minutes each day to work on my own language skills, conversing with those who are fluent, and reading for leisurely and self-improvement regularly.

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We are excited to return to Oregon, to return to the community in which my husband and I grew up and began our professional careers. We will be surrounded by family and childhood friends. Yet our move will be bittersweet.

It is always difficult to say good-bye. We will miss the friends we have made here in California. We will cherish the memories we have made.

Our move back to the Oregon coast will come with its own challenges. The population is significantly smaller, and likewise the homeschool community. It will take some getting used to – as with most things. Yet, we welcome the change.

Lessons Learned from My Mother

Last week, I shared with you the Lessons Learned from My Father.  While many of the lessons learned from my mother are similar, today I share with you the wisdom I have gained from her.

“Motherhood is a choice you make everyday to put someone else’s happiness and well-being ahead of your own, to teach the hard lessons to do the right thing even when you’re not sure what the right thing is, and to forgive yourself over and over again for doing everything wrong.” ~ Donna Bell

lessons mother

Values

I learned to be myself.

One of the most important lessons I learned from my mom was to be true to myself. I struggled a lot through school battling with peer pressure and bullying. I was fortunate to have a mother who understood what I was going through and who really listened to me. She was always there to comfort me when I came home in tears. She was always there to pick me up when I failed.

Above all, however, she encouraged me to stand up for myself and not succumb to peer pressure.  “You are beautiful. You are loved. Don’t let their jealousy change who you are as an individual.”

I learned the fundamentals of leadership and service.

My mother was always eager to help. She was my 4H leader as well as a room mom, volunteering to help in the classroom whenever necessary (building floats for the annual Cranberry Festival, holiday parties, etc.). Through her example, I learned the value of leadership and volunteering.

Leadership capability is a pretty accurate indicator of success in an individual. Leadership skills include proactivity, responsibility, empathy, creativity, vision, and public speaking skills. As I stated last week, kids learn by osmosis.

In other words, they will copy what they see us doing. As parents, we can help nurture leadership qualities in our children by giving them opportunities to take responsibility for themselves and their pets and by encouraging them to lead discussions in small groups like book club, and to share their talents with others.

thankful mother

Connection Traditions

I learned the importance of a family meal.

Growing up, we sat down to dinner together most every evening. It was a time to come together and discuss what was happening in our lives. We discussed plans for the weekend and concerns for finances when money was tight.

Countless studies have shown the positive influence that sharing a meal together as a family has on children. Of course, when I was a child electronic devices were unheard of, but today they are a huge distraction. Consider these suggestions for connecting with one another around a meal:

  • First: no TV, no cellphones, and no tablets.
  • Begin with grace. If you’re not religious, have everyone share something that they’re grateful for that day.
  • Family news: everyone takes turns sharing something positive and negative that has happened to them during the day.
  • “Got any stories?” This is a tradition that Patrick and I have had for a few years. Each person is expected to bring something interesting to the table that they’ve read or heard during the day.

I learned the value of preparing home cooked meals. 

Every August, my brothers and I would accompany my mom to Dillard where we would spend the day picking fruits and vegetables.  We had only a small garden ourselves and the farms in Dillard provided us with the food we would need for the next year. Doesn’t sound really exciting, but we all looked forward to it.

We were always a stinky, hot mess by the time we were done. Mom always stopped at Bear Creek on the way home so we could cool off in the water. For this reason I love little side adventures and unexpected surprises when traveling.

When we got home, she would spend the next week preserving and canning the produce we brought home. It was such a joy to come home from school to see rows and rows of delicious canned peaches and spicy beans that lined the counters.

I learned the importance of holiday traditions.

Instead of setting out the Easter baskets by our bed or in the living room, my mom always created a fun hunt for them. Adding a scavenger hunt to anything turns it into an awesome, memorable tradition. I’m not sure there’s anything more fun as a kid than a scavenger hunt.

On Christmas Eve, my mother would bake our favorite dishes for a buffet style meal and invite our neighbor Mr. Cole, our grandparents, and a few aunts and uncles to our home. The following day, we would load the car and drive to her parents where we would spend the day with our extended family.  I’ve always attributed Christmas with a huge family gathering as a result.

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How about you? What lessons have you learned from your parents? What examples do you hope to provide for your children? Share in the comments. 🙂

Lessons Learned from My Father

As the mother of two children, I find myself in the position to which many of you can relate. I want to create a close-knit, fun-loving family and raise children with upstanding character.  My father recently sat down to write his will and he shared it with me and my brothers. I have thereby been giving a lot of thought to the gifts my parents have given me.

My parents have given me more than could have ever dreamed. They taught me life lessons. These next couple of weeks, I want to highlight some of the lessons my parents taught me that I believe made me who I am today. Today I begin with the lessons learned from my father.

“He didn’t tell me how to live;
he lived, and let me watch him do it.”
~Clarence Budington Kelland

lessons_father

Finances

I learned not to depend on a traditional job as the only means of securing the future.

It might be difficult to say this to your kids if this is what you’ve been doing all your life, but times are changing and it’s becoming increasingly clear that we must learn to adapt and find multiple streams of income, and even embrace entrepreneurship. The traditional “one job till retirement” model is not working anymore, so get out of denial fast and let your kids learn about entrepreneurship.

Growing up, my father worked as a saw filer in a local lumber mill. He made good money but to help make ends meet, he did a number of other things as well – he hunted to put food on the table, he operated a small sawmill of his own (which he built himself – as pictured here in this post) and did small jobs for people or trade good with other skilled workers (we had farm fresh raw mild for several years in exchange for firewood).

My dad was frugal. He would repair broken machinery himself and sometimes engineer his own parts for the mill or our vehicles. His ingenuity was remarkable. He even holds a patent for a breakaway top guide for a circle saw. He is indeed a Renaissance Man.

I learned how to live within my means.

Stop buying things you don’t need and accumulating stuff. Kids learn by osmosis. In other words, they will copy what they see us doing. As parents, we need to show them what smart buying is all about.

My dad had a budget and always stayed within it. There was little wiggle room. Your budget can include calculated indulgences, of course, but the point here is you can’t teach good personal finance if you don’t at least try to practice it yourself.

I learned the process of earning and losing money.

Growing up, there were periods when my dad was unemployed.  The mill would shut down due to environmental pressure. We didn’t earn an allowance. Instead, my dad encouraged us to work for money.  He also hired us kids to do tasks around the house and mill – painting signs, digging post holes, shoveling sawdust, etc.

I also learned that making money is not always associated with exchanging time for money but associated with creativity. We learned to leverage our skills to create something of value. Instead of the usual lemonade stand, my brothers and I sold crafts on the roadside.

My youngest brother was really into things with engines.  When he was about 8 years old, he saved up his chore money and purchased a used go cart.  He made repairs and improvements and later traded that go cart for a 3-wheeled ATV. This trend continues to this day and he is now a successful small business owner of an auto restoration business in Eugene that specializes in classic cars.

my father

Connection Traditions

Traditions offer numerous benefits: they strengthen your family’s bonds, enrich the life you share together, contribute to your children’s well-being, and create lasting memories.  Connection Traditions are the small things you do every day, monthly, or even annually to reinforce family identity and values.

I learned the importance of a bedtime story.

Children who have parents that read to them regularly typically do better in school and have larger vocabularies than children who don’t. Reading with your child will not only make them smarter, but it’s a great way to bond. There’s something really comforting about hearing your dad read aloud to you.

More often than not, however, my dad would share stories of his youth. “Tell us about when you were a kid, Dad!” is to this day a common request. My dad is an incredible story teller. He keeps us enraptured with his tales of boyhood adventure – even the tales we’ve heard time and again.

I learned the importance of a special Saturday/Sunday morning breakfast.

Lots of families have special Saturday/Sunday morning breakfast traditions. For some it’s pancakes or cinnamon rolls, for others it’s a giant breakfast casserole. Dads and breakfasts just go together, so work on coming up with your own specialty. Breakfast need not be a solely in-home tradition, however.

I still lived at home when I was in junior college but my dad was working in Eastern Oregon. He was thereby home only on the weekends and he thereby got to taking my brothers and I out for breakfast each Sunday. When I later transferred to Oregon State University, I wasn’t able to come home as often. He then started meeting me for lunch in the Quad each Monday.  I have such fond memories of those meals.

I learned the joy of the annual camping trip.

We went camping every year in Central Oregon. It was where my dad had grown up and he thereby had many fond memories of the open Ponderosa Pine woodlands and the river running through town.  One summer, we even drove to Yellowstone National Park – a trip that I will never forget.

Inspire a love of the great outdoors in your kids by taking them camping at least once a year. If you find a campsite you love, return to it again and again as you build special memories around that place.

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Are there family traditions that you cherish? What skills or values did your father impart? Share in the comments and join me next week when I share the lessons I have learned from my mother.