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I was reminded last week that I am a grateful creature of habit.  I  have some fairly fixed routines that help me enjoy each day.  I sleep until about 7:30 each morning, get up, have my coffee, walk with my friend, eat breakfast, blog and do what household chores there are to do.  Then and only then do I give myself permission to sew or read or run errands, etc.  One of the gifts of aging, I find,  lies in recognizing the many ways my daily routine keeps me feeling safe and sane.  Doing the “same old, same old” most days actually tends to reduce my stress and keeps me from worrying about what comes next. 

Last week I sat down to blog.  Instead of the desired program coming up on the screen, I got a message that I needed to verify to Google who I was, and until I answered all their questions satisfactorily, I was locked out.  Unfortunately, part of the verifying information was linked to an old cell phone that my deceased husband had used to set up my Google accounts three years ago and was long gone.  However, the more I tried to fix the problem, the more complicated it seemed to get. My daughter eventually got things fixed for me, but there were four days when I couldn’t use my computer.   Change can definitely be disorienting! 

If I’m honest, I don’t really like surprises.   If I have a general idea of what is happening, I can hang fairly loose, but when there are too many unknowns, my anxiety level rises.  For instance, when my daughter and I got off the turnpike at the wrong place, and our GPS took us on a roundabout way to compensate for our mistake, I was able to enjoy our prolonged trip since I knew we weren’t really lost, just going to be late.  But, if we’d been lost……

It’s not that I have to have everything planned.  In fact, I like to leave space for serendipity, though it is also nice to know what lies ahead.  I can enjoy the unexpected more if I have paid my bills and finished the laundry on schedule, for instance.  That’s why I keep a date book which I call my portable brain, but it only helps me if I write things down and remember to check each day’s schedule.

Psychologist Robert Thayer says that our moods are created not so much by our thoughts and stressors or even those things that crop up and throw us for a loop, but our moods have more to do with the consistency of our daily patterns and routines and the resulting feeling of security that brings.  Being able to rely on daily patterns helps us anticipate much of what lies ahead and helps us relax and enjoy being in the moment.  He suggests that by respecting our daily routines, we reduce our stress levels by deactivating our flight or fight instincts.

In the end,  happiness is not experiencing something new; but that deep sense of contentment lies in continually experiencing what we already have in new and different ways.   Unfortunately, we’ve been brainwashed into thinking we’ll be happier if we just do more, buy more, and accumulate more when the constant need to adjust to something different or demanding makes us feel insecure.  It is learning how to be content with what already is that opens the way to true contentment.  Which brings us back to the serenity prayer.  “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

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