Good Things…

No doubt, the experience of a global pandemic has been challenging for so many people, in unimaginable ways.  While by no means have I been impacted to the degree so many we learn about every day in the news, this experience has removed certain distractions, clearing the way for deeper reflection and time to consider what really matters, as well as what we may have taken for granted up to this point. Each day, I find myself noticing these things. Sometimes I feel guilty for not seeing them before, and often, I am grateful for having a second chance to reflect and appreciate things differently.

By comparison in my life, one element absent from my daily routine since mid-March is my daily drive to and from work. Fortunately, I’ve been able to fill that time with productive and meaningful things, despite a closure that prevents me from leading a school full of students, staff, and middle school life. Only now, since I’ve resumed a modified schedule, as the world looks to reopen, have I realized the important space my commute occupies in my life, particularly as a learner.

This particular drive has been a part of my life for two and a half decades. And in all that time, I’d rarely given it too much thought. It was a 45 minute drive, to and from work, that I “had to do”. We all get 168 hours a week. Roughly eight of those hours for me was spent in the car. In recent times, I’d come to see this as  my spending the equivalent of what is (on a good day), a standard work day, with my eyes on the road and my hands on the steering wheel.

Eight hours is significant. Think about what we can do in that amount of time. Get a recommended night’s sleep. Read one or more books, or write a daily journal or blog entry. Exercise or meditate daily. Share regular meals or conversations with our loved ones. I have previously written on this topic in my #OneWord2019 post, Pause. In fact, one of my favorite aspects of his post is that it involves my daughter, driving the same route as my commute, with me seated in the passenger seat. (Another blog for another time.)

I’ve gained so much perspective and time to reflect on why I am grateful for being fortunate, lucky, and blessed in life. However. one down-side that’s presented itself on a regular basis since mid-March has been coming to re-imagine how I’d make up my “learning time”. I’d accepted long ago that if I was going to be driving, I could also be learning.

Prioritized meaningful professional learning has long been something I “get to do”. Whether it’s being an active member of several professional learning communities, listening to audio books and podcasts, or having a phone conversation with a friend, colleague, or mentor, my eight hours on the road would be for learning, I “have to” drive to and from work. I “get to” learn.

One podcast worth your time is called The Science of Happiness. Now, admittedly, I am someone who enjoys learning about self-improvement techniques, to improve myself for others, and share with others, I know this may not be for everyone. Reading and listening to this content always seems to help me to reflect more deeply, understand and empathize with the human condition, and, equip me to help others. 

More than usual these days, I find myself contemplating the words of Dacher Keltner, Ph.D., who poses the following thought to open the podcast:

“Imagine your body had a happiness button, with a direct line to your brain. And every time you pressed it, you felt a jolt of joy, satisfaction, and contentment. You could get happy in an instant, whenever you want. Would you use it? Would you press the button?”

While there is no “happiness button”, one small way that we can offer ourselves some “space for grace” during a pandemic is to “just write”. One topic on which to focus is identifying “good things” that are happening, despite challenging circumstances. This episode of The Science of Happiness podcast will help frame your thinking, if you wanted to get started today.

In the coming days and weeks, I am going to share some examples from my life. Keeping a journal or blogging are by no means a substitute for the services that a licensed mental health professional can offer. However, three good things can help bring some positive focus to the simple joys in our lives.

Here are just some of the “good things” in my life:

  • Daily exercise

Since January, I’ve re-engaged in daily exercise. Then back in February, there was an article being shared at school by a number of male staff members regarding male heart health. This got me thinking about how, just last year I competed with students in a “push-up contest” in the common area we shared in a 40 person cabin on an overnight class trip. I had said I would do double the number of push-ups that the student who could do the most in the cabin. Well, as you might imagine, when one 13 year old did 30 (and I had to do 60), I had my work cut out for me. Surrounded by a pack of cheering adolescent males, I pulled off 43. While there was no one more impressed with my feat that I (after all, I did the number of push-ups equal to my age at the time), nonetheless, I had lost to a kid. Reading this article, resuming a regular fitness regimen, and having the time to reflect on this fond, fun memory has only really been possible because I’m distracted less or perhaps, differently. (Oh, and by the way, I can and do my 40 push-ups, as part of my daily workout.)

For the first time in my life, I’m hydrating properly. Drinking half my body weight’s worth of water, in ounces has long been a goal of mine, and now, as of January, I’m doing it. At the risk of making a completely unscientific statement here, educators don’t drink enough water. It has everything to do with fearing the need to use the restroom within a 41-minute block of time (or worse even, if you teach a lab science, a dreaded 84 minutes, sans the luxury of two minutes of passing time)! As a school leader, a teaching period is no excuse for my lack of hydration. In fact, this has been a goal since I attended my first Edcamp Long Island session, where the facilitator addressed a packed room on The Checklist Manifesto by Dr. Atul Gawande and how “drink more water” was among the items on his daily checklist. Now, I can’t for the life of me figure out why that memory stands out, to this day. But, as a result, years later, I am drinking more water.

  • Family Dinners

The Schug Family has always sat down together for nightly family dinners. Having two working professionals and three busy, growing children, at middle school, high school, and college age, we’ve somehow managed through the years to eat together, almost every night, in fact. And in this age of having to focus on Device Free Dinners, now it seems, more than ever, it’s been nice seeing one another’s faces, asking “What was the best part of your day?”, and listening, even through the lively commotion of simultaneous, unrelated conversations that occur between us. While this routine (and device-free) has been a long-standing tradition in our home, I have a renewed appreciation for what I can learn, by listening.

Daily exercise, hydration, and family dinners. Not necessarily topics I’d ever imagine writing a blog post about, but they’ve turned out to be three good things.

What are three good things happening in your life right now?