Posted in Childhood, Family, Memories, Music

The Piano Man

Yesterday I walked into my parents’ house, the house I grew up in, the house my grandmother grew up in, in the Washington Park neighborhood of Denver. My Dad, as frequently happens, was excited to show me a new addition to the house. Sometimes he remodels bathrooms, sometimes he rebuilds closets – he’s pretty much capable of anything house related. A true handyman. But yesterday, the new thing he wanted to show me was not quite as practical as this.

Dad ushered me downstairs to show me the new Yamaha keyboard he had purchased. This cool new toy was purchased despite the fact that he has a piano. He has had a hand-me-down baby grand piano ever since I can remember. Well, that’s not entirely true. I remember a short period of time when I was little that my grandma lived in a house only a few blocks away (sadly, it’s since been leveled and replaced with a modern geometrical monstrosity not at all in keeping with the nostalgic historic homes of the neighborhood.) I remember the piano in her living room. I remember a brief period of time during which she gave my sister and I lessons. When she left the house, she gave the piano to my dad.

The baby grand is an heirloom, we all love the look of it. My dad used to play it frequently when I was a kid. Another magical thing about my dad – he taught himself to play instruments. He knows piano, and he used to play trumpet in a jazz band… a real one; not just a high school one, although he was in that also. When I was a kid, the house was always full of music. If Dad wasn’t making it, it was blaring through the speakers in his Stereo Room. Some people have offices, my dad has a Stereo Room. A room for his stereo and his hundreds of CDs, records, music posters, and yes, the baby grand.

Growing up, my dad would play that piano until long after I had gone to bed- even on school nights. My bedroom was directly above the Stereo Room and so the melodies floated up through the floor, crisp and clear. I would lay and listen; Bridge Over Troubled Water, Desperado, Send in the Clowns… Accidental lullabies comforting me to sleep (or sometimes keeping me awake.) I would picture my dad below me on his piano bench, fingers on the keys, sometimes coughing his raspy cough. The creak of the old bench always indicating when he’d adjusted his position. I loved the music my dad played. But slowly, over time it stopped.

Perhaps it was that we got busier, perhaps it was arthritis, maybe it was when my sister and I moved away for college, the timeline is foggy. What is clear is that the music stopped. Not abruptly enough for any of us to be alarmed, and I don’t even think it was intentional. Sometimes things just happen. Eventually the keys fell out of tune. Baby grand was now just for looking at, part of memories past.

Then came yesterday when I went downstairs and saw this new keyboard. I was a bit confused, but my dad explained all of the cool features and how many different instruments it can sound like, among the options, a baby grand. He showed me the keys which really do feel like piano keys, not little keyboard keys. He played a few tunes for me. Desperado. Bridge Over Troubled Water. Send in the Clowns. I sat there, holding my own baby, listening. I turned my head away so he wouldn’t see pooling in my eyes the tears as I felt more comforted and at home in that moment than I have in over a decade, reveling in the fact that now my baby will know that sound too… And it will never go out of tune.

 

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Posted in Attitude of Gratitude, Happiness

Why Daily Gratitude?

I want to be more happy! I’ve noticed a breakdown in my happiness level as I’ve become a full fledged adult, despite the fact that my life (while not easy) is full of blessings. I have decided to cultivate my happiness. I have had some helpful (by no means comprehensive) training on brain science, growth mindset, and the way our brains learn which will help me do this.

Background Information

When we learn something we create neural pathways, small connections in our brain. As we practice the skill, the neural pathway becomes stronger and stronger. When we learn something for the first time, it creates a connection, but if we never try the same skill again, we will never become expert at it, or we may lose it altogether. When we practice the same skill over and over again, our brains become wired to do that skill more easily, until at some point we no longer have to think so hard to do it.

Think of riding a bike. The first time you tried it, it was difficult, but as you practiced you built muscle memory. The neural pathways in your brain became stronger and stronger until you got to a point where even if you haven’t ridden a bike in years, you’d probably still be able to ride a bike. I assume the idiom “it’s just like riding a bike” comes from this concept.

Our brains don’t only build pathways of information and skills, they build pathways that make up our default thinking. The more you pick out and talk about the negatives of a situation, the more hard-wired your brain becomes to do that, until your brain is trained to see the world through a negative lens. The same applies with positive thoughts. The more you practice finding the positives in everyday situations, the more you build those neural pathways, until eventually, your mind tends toward positive thinking. Pessimism and optimism, based on this information, I believe are not inherent traits, or maybe they are, but they can be trained away.

How Brain Research is Helping My Happiness Levels

I was always a positive person, an optimist enthusiastic about life. However, after some negative experiences, and being in a workplace that was conducive to complaining and sarcasm, my optimism slowly broke down until I was genuinely unhappy. I didn’t even notice this was happening! It was a slow breakdown over several years of constant negativity. Even after five years out of that job, I find I am generally pessimistic or anxious about the bad things that could happen. Now that I have noticed my negative tendencies and have some tools and brain research to show that this can change, I am actively working to be more happy.

For instance, when my team at work gets into a pattern of complaining, I try to reposition the conversation. We all need to vent, but if I feel it is affecting my mood, then I assume it is affecting their moods as well and I try to be the driver of positive thinking. Or when I find myself playing out some horrific scenario of possibility in my head, I stop myself before I let it create fear and take over my mood (more about this will come in a later post), and I force myself to think of the most likely scenario, which is usually positive. If I am thinking of a car accident, I immediately remind myself that I get home safely every day and most likely I will get home safe again today. This doesn’t mean I am not cautious, but that I need to be more realistic about the positive outcomes of everyday situations.

On Gratitude

In my quest to be more happy, I came across the Self Journal which includes some of these findings. The Self Journal is a daily planner meant to help you establish and maintain goals. One key component is morning and evening gratitude. To reflect, even if for only a minute each morning and evening on things we are grateful for helps to build those neural pathways to positive thinking. I’ve heard and read this concept in a number of other places, so the concept was not new to me… but I’d never held myself accountable for it. Now that I am being intentional I find that it does help to create a subtle shift in my thinking for the day. It helps me start and end on a positive note, which will surely help me to reawaken the optimist inside.

I’ll be posting my gratitude often to help me realize my happiness potential. Hopefully it will help you to shift your thinking as well. Be grateful for the gifts in your life. They are there, big and small, should you choose to find them.

Today I am Grateful for…

I am grateful to see my baby’s growth. At 8 months she is learning so many new things. This makes it easier to accept her sleep regression. She was sleeping through the night for months, and the past couple of weeks I’ve been up three times a night. I’m a zombie. But… I’m a zombie that gets to see her healthy baby learning to crawl, trying new foods, attempting new consonants in that sweet baby babble. I am tired but I am grateful.