Here comes the final installment in the FLAFFs trilogy (scroll ‘way down if you’ve missed the Six Secrets outlined in the previous two posts). I promised this post would capture what the FLAFFs recognised about the power of celebration, and how we weave that into our day to day lives.
Over the years, Rick and I moved to Mitchells Island with our Shedders community; Sue and Ken settled in Darwin (although “settled” perhaps isn’t the right word for people who never stop travelling); Kerry and Gordon stayed on in Sydney. You’d think the FLAFFs would have drifted apart. But the strength of all the work we’d done together wouldn’t allow that to happen. So we still meet by phone at least once a month, and find a few days each year to spend together doing something unusual and relishing our longstanding relationship.
That leads us to the seventh secret:
7. We celebrated
Then, during a meeting eighteen months ago, when we were living far apart and not seeing each other often, we decided to take some time weekly to write a report on the week just past. It would allow us to stay in touch, and, if we designed it well, would give us impetus in our own lives.
We stole ideas from Martin Seligman’s wonderful book “Flourish.” Seligman reckons that flourishing in life requires five ingredients:
– positive emotions – what you might call happiness or just plain feeling good
– engagement – that sense of being immersed in something you are doing, of being “in the zone”
– relationships – feeling deeply connected with lots of people
– meaning – a sense that your life has purpose and what you are doing is meaningful
– accomplishment – setting goals, however small, and achieving them.
So every week, I and each of the other FLAFFs writes a report that we call Celebration of Life.
Following the formula above, I engage in perhaps fifteen to twenty minutes of introspection and writing. I begin by looking at the moments during the week when I really felt positive, and acknowledge them. You can see that I learn from this exercise what it is that makes me feel good. Surely this is not unimportant.
I reflect on when I felt deeply engaged, as opposed to multi-processing or just skimming over the surface of an activity. It might have been doing a yoga practice, or writing a post, or figuring out the solution to a dilemma in the garden.
I look at the moments during the week when I felt closely related to someone. Perhaps it was a special contact with my kids, my mother, or my Shedders housemates. I mention joy I’ve experienced with close friends, people at choir, even in connecting with strangers.
I philosophise about something that I’ve been thinking about relating to the meaning of life. What’s important to me and what are the threads that link one part my life to another? What have I learned about the world, myself, my loved ones this week?
And finally I get to cite a few of the week’s accomplishments. As a results-oriented person, this is one of my favourite parts. I might describe how Eve and I cleared the weeds out of a whole garden, or quote a special acknowledgement I got on my blog, or give a count of how many copies of Shedders I sold (click here to join the club). I might rave about how confidently I learned a new song at choir, or about finishing the month’s bookclub book, or about having had a special day out with Rick.
I tell you about this practice in part to bring you up to date with the latest chapter of footloose and fancy free. But I tell it mostly because over the year and a half that I’ve been faithfully participating, I notice it’s made a difference in my life.
I love doing the report. It keeps me looking at what’s working in life and steers me away from pondering my disappointments. Twice I can remember feeling sorry enough for my pathetic self that I skipped the report, but nobody beat me up for it and by the next week I was happily back in harness again.
I also love reading the others’ “celebrations”. I’m getting a distillation of what’s important in their lives. Though you’d think I’d know both Rick and his week inside out, I find I even learn a good deal about him from reading his report.
In the ten or so years that we’ve been FLAFFing, these five elements (“PERMA” is Seligman’s acronym: Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, Accomplishment) were always present. But it’s during the last year and half, from focusing on the weekly report, that they’ve really crystallised for me as a series of stepping stones to a successful life.
Busy as we all get, it’s unusual to actually stop and reflect on what we’ve been up to. And it’s even more unusual to share it with others in a structured fashion. Writing the report is the sort of practice we all know we should do, but it’s tough to keep up enough momentum to do it on one’s own. Knowing my other FLAFF partners are out there earnestly writing their reports helps keep me on track.
And to tie the Celebration of Life report back to the theme of this blog – which is about exploring co-housing – I would have to say this exercise makes me a healthier member of my key Shedders community, better equipped for living harmoniously in our tightly-knit shared household. The weekly reflections allow me to notice what I’m doing that’s working, and what’s not. It gives me a sense of driving my life, of having my hands on the steering wheel, amidst the strong currents created by my fellow householders.
Actually, it makes me a better member of all my communities.
I am appearing at a Meetup get-together in South Delta, BC, later this month, where I’ll read a chapter or two from Shedders. And I know there’ll be a lively follow-up discussion about co-housing and intentional communities.