How and Why to be Socially Connected

(This post contains affiliate links. Purchases made through these links will support the website at no extra cost to you.)

A couple of years ago, I visited a homeless shelter with a youth group. While we were there, we participated in an activity, a sort of game that the leader of the shelter had created to educate people on the reality of homelessness and how people become homeless, and the cycle of hopelessness that results.

The narrative of the game was that we, the players, had just been released from prison—the situation of the majority of the homeless men in the shelter. We had an amount of money typical of a person in that situation, and a certain number of resource cards. Then there were event cards where things happened to us that we needed resources to deal with. For example, we had to go see our parole officer, and this involved somehow getting a ride. We could ask a friend for a favor, we could pay a taxi, or we could walk…. Anyway, to make a long story short, my group didn’t get to see their estranged family, ended up sleeping under a bridge, but we stayed out of jail—just barely.

What I learned from this activity was how much I depend on my network of friends and relations. In all of the hypothetical situations that our group ran into, my real-life answer would have been, I’ll ask a buddy. I’ll ask my parents, my cousins, my friends.

The Benefits of Social Connectedness

Everyone should have a positive social support network. In many cases, it is literally the only thing that protects people from becoming homeless, going to jail, committing suicide, or many other negative outcomes. The one biggest difference between successful and unsuccessful people is what their social support network looks like.

Imagine a successful young man or woman. After graduating from highschool—which they do, thanks to supportive parents, school staff, and classmates—they move onto getting a job or going to college. The people that they and their parents know will be invaluable at this time in their lives. While some people get jobs by filling out employment applications, I for one have never been hired this way. The only jobs I have ever gotten were jobs where I knew someone, and other people’s experiences confirm that this is often the case. People like references that they know and trust.

This is just one example of how a positive social support network can help a person. Dr. Emma Seppala at Stanford.edu writes “that lack of social connection is a greater detriment to health than obesity, smoking and high blood pressure.” And that “people who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression. Moreover, studies show they also have higher self-esteem, greater empathy for others, are more trusting and cooperative and, as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them. In other words, social connectedness generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional and physical well-being.”

Shawn Achor, the happiness researcher, writes in his book, Big Potential that working together with other people makes your productivity rise exponentially. One study showed that even standing next to a person who is viewed as a friend will make obstacles seem smaller and more manageable. (in the study, people were asked to estimate how steep a hill seemed. People with friends nearby found that the hill seemed more climbable than people who were alone did.) The book is filled with other fascinating studies showing similar things.

What Can We Do About It?

So what does this mean for you? Social connectedness is good for basically everything. It makes your health better, enriches your life, makes you happier, more likely to have a good job, and more likely to achieve your personal goals. But who do you need to get to know? How will you avoid losing touch with your friends?

A lot of people want to go back to their highschool or college years, not because they fear the responsibilities of adult life, but because highschool and college was the last time they felt like they had a close network of peers to look out for them. Once you leave highschool or college, it is common to feel friendless, and the longer you wait to make friends, the harder it can get. Young people are more adaptable and tolerant of others (in general), so it can be easier to make friends when you are young.

So, how do you cultivate social connections?

Where to start

First of all, recognize that you and everyone else is lazy. You are likely to see people who it is easy to see, and not see people that it is hard to see. This makes it important to engineer your life to encourage social connection.

Family

The most obvious people in your life are the ones you live with. You see them everyday, and their behaviors and attitudes affect you the most. Studies have been done on spouses and their behavior and its effect on each other. As you might expect, a happy wife does make a happy husband, and vice versa. Similarly, a person whose husband or wife who succeeds in losing weight to become more healthy is considerably more likely to do the same. The first thing to focus on then, is the people who live with you. A strong healthy spousal relationship is one of the best predictors of success, while divorce is a strong predictor of unhappiness and poverty.

Spousal relationships are not the only family relationships that are important, however. Married couples who have children are less likely to be lonely in their old age than those who raise dogs or cats instead. Parents should have good relations with their children—after all, you might need their help in old age, and the empty nest can be lonely if the kids never want to visit. It is also super important for parents to try to cultivate good relationships among their children. A supportive sibling is such an asset to an adult, and a loving extended family, complete with aunts, uncles and cousins, is the best environment for a child’s growth and development.

Work

Not everyone lives with family, but many people work with others. Forging relationships with co-workers can be extremely helpful for accomplishing work-related goals, but it can also enrich your life with real friendships, if these relationships are extended outside of work hours. (if you only see your co-workers at work, their presence might do little to relieve your feelings of isolation.)

Not everyone leaves their homes for work, however, and even among those who do, many people don’t seem to have much in common with their co-workers. So where will you find friends?

Church

In the book Coming Apart Charles Murray cites some fascinating statistics on self-reported happiness and church attendance. Apparently, Americans report higher levels of happiness the more frequently they attend Church, all other things being equal. There are probably other factors involved, such as feeling more spiritually well, but one cause of this correlation is doubtless the effect of Church community.

If you have strong religious convictions, and spend time weekly with other people who share those convictions, the likelihood of your making friends is much higher. If you have trouble just walking up to strangers after Church and talking to them, most churches have events and volunteer opportunities which will give you an opportunity to mingle with people in a more structured way, and eventually make friends. These events are not a substitute for an active social life where you invite friends to your house and are invited to theirs, but a gateway and a necessary supplement to it.

Community Events

Most towns have a few organizations for getting things done. Whether its volunteer groups trying to help people who need help, or volunteers for the town parade, there is usually something that you can do to with other people in your neighborhood. There are often events at public libraries, and local schools.

If one is not isolated by a disability or by living too far from anyone else, there is usually some way to meet other people in person and develop relationships that will enrich your life.

A Word of Warning

Now, of course, a social network is only as good as the people in it. Gangs are very strong and connected social groups, but they tend to lead to crime, prison, drug use, and other negative outcomes. Social support networks of this kind do more harm than good and need to be replaced with better networks before you can make any progress.

Gangs are an extreme example, but toxic relationships can exist in any social milieu. Jordan Peterson has famously advised people to “make friends with people who want the best for you.” And to walk away from bad friends, and people who want to keep you in self-destructive behaviors. Whatever you might think of the rest of Jordan Peterson’s ideas, this advice just makes sense. Good friends are people who try to help you become better and happier, not people who try to keep you in your cycle of bad habits.

 

That said, forming strong social connections is the best investment you will ever make. The best social network will contain people who are older than you, so that you can learn from them, and younger than you, so that not all your friends will die before you. It will contain men and women, married people and singles. And these people, ideally, will look out for you, will help you and your children, will broaden your horizons and make you a better and happier person.

 

A few resources for becoming more socially connected:

This is THE classic guide to improving all your relationships with people you meet.

Shawn Achor shows how happiness and productivity are linked to social connectedness. It’s an entertaining and compelling look at how we do things and how we can do them better together.

Rule 3: Make friends with people who want the best for you. (And other advice that gets you out of yourself and vibrantly in contact with others.)

The Five Love Languages is a best-seller for a reason. It is a quick, fun read that tells you how to improve the most important relationship in your life–your marriage. (I’m actually running a giveaway for this book right here.)

Self-Development for Stay at Home Moms

We’ve all heard the phrase, “occupational hazards.” You might think of cooks burning themselves, linemen suffering accidents, office workers getting back problems, or something like that. You might even think of a sort of humorous occupational hazard, like English teachers finding themselves correcting their friends’ grammar. Anyway, every occupation comes with its own set of hazards, even being a stay-at-home mom. In fact, the occupational hazards of being a stay-at-home mom are surprisingly dangerous and subtle.

A woman who works a “normal” job in the world, whether it’s being a lawyer making six figures, or working at a grocery store for minimum wage, has certain benefits associated with this job. She has contacts with the outside world. She has a schedule of sorts that makes her go from one place to another. She is recognized for her work, and she’s at least paying into social security, if not into another retirement account.

But then the woman has a child, and finds that she needs to spend time with her children for their well-being. And sometimes when the wife works a job it actually costs a family money, because of peculiarly designed tax codes and the cost of daycare. Besides, there is no substitute for a strong family environment with a caring parent. Children almost always do better both cognitively and emotionally in a stimulating home than in an institution.

The Dangers of Staying at Home

But when a woman quits her outside job to spend time caring for her children, she often loses her contacts, her schedule, her recognition and her societal respect. This is a dangerous situation for a woman to be in, for anyone to be in. Adults need the company of other adults. They need structure in their lives, and they need to have a sense of self worth, which in many cases, is a by-product of being respected by others.

Bitterness

In her book, The Price of Motherhood, Anne Crittenden tells the story of one lady who quit her job as the copy editor of the Washington Post so that she could care for her children as she believed they needed to be cared for. She said,

“It’s a shock…raising children is still part of a relatively low status world. Everything was gone once I started to stay home. In my new job as a mother I had no salary and no professional contacts. There were no more movies, no more dinners out, no work clothes….it was as if everything was being taken away from me.

“I hope this doesn’t sound self-pitying, because self-pity is not what I felt. Anger is what I felt. You can sit behind a desk in an office and proofread and be paid $50,000 a year…you can enjoy freedom and respect. Or you can stay at home and do work a thousand times as important and not only not get paid, but almost have your privileges as an adult stripped from you.”

This is one option: anger at your fate and at society for making the life of stay-at-home moms so unrespected. I think there’s a lot of that nowadays. And some of it, perhaps most of it, is justified. It’s true that society doesn’t seem to care about the sanity and self-worth of those who train tomorrow’s citizens in mind.

But anger and bitterness can eat you from the inside out and leave nothing left. You may have started out with the noble ideal of raising your child, and chosen to leave behind a promising career or a fulfilling job. And this is noble. But you can become embittered by the consequences of that choice, and bitterness has a way of turning into resentment. And if you resent your children, one wonders if they will really be better off for having their mother around.

So don’t get bitter… easier said than done. How will you avoid bitterness and resentment? How can you avoid pining after the freedom and respect you had previously? How will you maintain your sense of self-respect?

Needing To Be Needed

But, maybe you don’t have this problem. Maybe you have always dreamed of being a stay-at-home mom, and you are so happy to be one now. That’s great, but even this can be dangerous, too. Some women get their sense of self-respect by devoting themselves to their families in a fanatical, controlling way. They compensate for their lack of worldly status by basking in the fact that their families “need” them. This can be as poisonous an attitude as anger and resentment.

C. S. Lewis describes where this attitude can lead in his book The Four Loves. (The sections on affection and friendship are amazing!) He invents a character, Mrs. Fidget, to personify this outlook.

Mrs. Fidget… died a few months ago. It is really astonishing how her family have brightened up. The drawn look has gone from her husband’s face; he begins to be able to laugh. The younger boy whom I had always thought an embittered, peevish little creature, turns out to be quite human. The older, which was hardly ever at home except when he was in bed, is nearly always there now and has begun to reorganise the garden. The girl, who was always supposed to be “delicate” (though I never found out what exactly the trouble was), now has the riding lessons which were once out of the question, dances all night, and plays any amount of tennis.

Mrs. Fidget very often said that she lived for her family. And it was not untrue. Everyone in the neighbourhood knew it. “She lives for her family,” they said; “what a wife and mother!” She did all the washing; true, she did it badly, and they could have afforded to send it out to laundry, and they frequently begged her not to do it. But she did. There was always a hot lunch for anyone who was at home and always a hot meal at night (even in mid-summer). They implored her not to provide this. They protested almost with tears in their eyes (and with truth) that they liked cold meals. It made no difference. She was living for her family. She always sat up to “welcome” you if you were out late at night; two or three in the morning, it made no odds; you would always find the frail, pale, weary face awaiting you, like a silent accusation. Which means of course that you couldn’t with any decency go out very often….

Mrs. Fidget, as she so often said, would “work her fingers to the bone” for her family. They couldn’t stop her. Nor could they—being decent people—quite sit still and watch her do it. They had to help. Indeed they were always having to help. That is, they did things for her to help her to do things for them which they didn’t want done….

The Vicar says Mrs. Fidget is now at rest. Let us hope she is. What’s quite certain is that her family are.

Now Lewis is evidently exaggerating for the sake of humor as much as to make a point, but there is a real danger here. If a woman finds all of her self identity in being needed by her family, she will either end up controlling and limiting her children and ruining their lives, or she will be empty and embittered when they leave home.

If she becomes a controlling parent both her spouse and her children will suffer. But the children will get the worst of it, because they are not developed yet. Children are not supposed to need their mothers forever. Children are supposed to grow up and become independent. But it is perfectly possible to change that: to make a person permanently dependent on another emotionally and even physically.

If her children are lucky enough to escape and strong enough to go start independent lives of their own, then in her middle age, when they are grown up and gone, her life will be empty of all meaning. If she has made her self-worth completely dependent on being needed by others, when they don’t need her anymore, she will have no selfworth.

Self-Worth and Self-Development

So how can a mother stay at home with her children, and raise them well, and still be happy and fulfilled? Is it possible? Or is there too much societal pressure against it? Is the only solution to work an outside job and put your kids in a daycare center all day?

I think there is a solution. In fact, I think there are many solutions—about as many as there are dedicated stay-at-home moms. But they all boil down to one thing. Self-development.

Usually when someone finds a career fulfilling, it is because that career has possibilities. It gives you opportunities to advance, to challenge yourself. You can feel that you are getting somewhere, that you are better in some way than you were the year before, that you have done something worthwhile.

Now motherhood is definitely challenging, but does it offer opportunities to advance?

I think it does, but only when viewed in the right way. I think that motherhood is not only easier but more fun if it is approached as a learning experience. You are learning how to be a better parent. Studying new ideas for raising your children and teaching them new skills. Seeing how much independence they can handle, how strong you have made them. Constantly learning new things and new methods. This is one way to make motherhood fulfilling.

But some women, despite taking pride in their parenting, and trying to do a great job, still need some recognition of their abilities and feel insufficiently challenged. This is not a good situation, as it can lead to frustration and boredom, and there’s nothing so boring as a bored person. I think that it is very important for a woman like this to find something she can challenge herself with.

There are hundreds of different options out there. Some ladies learn languages, write books and blogs, or perfect their cooking with ever more intriguing recipes. Others run photography businesses, design clothes, do direct sales, make and sell amazing crafts, or paint pictures. And these are just a few of the many options out there. I’m sure there are plenty of ladies who write computer programs during their toddler’s naps. Even reading good books is a productive activity.

Christian women can (and should) spend time in prayer and spiritual reading, in developing a relationship with God that will outlast any life-changes. In A Mother’s Rule of Life, Holly Pierlot describes how this activity helps her become happier in her home life, and how much it helps both her family and herself to be happier and more contented.

I think these sorts of activities are extremely good, both for the women who are doing these things, and for their families. If a woman has a productive, fulfilling hobby, she has an extra source of happiness and interest in her life, and this will enrich her family’s experience.

Time spent on productive businesses and hobbies is not wasted, and it is not time taken from the family. Not only does it give her children a broader range of activities to observe, it makes the mother more interesting, more perfect, more truly human. She will be a better person and a better mother because of it. And her family will be better for it as well.

Some books that every mother can enjoy. (These are affiliate links. Purchases made through these links benefit Enjoyingwomanhood.com at no extra cost to you. I have read all of these books and found them excellent)

Holly Pierlot shares her personal journey from desperation and misery in her family life to peace and order. While this book is written for Catholics, her ideas and insights could benefit any mother of children.

In this famous book on parenting, John Rosemond draws from his own experience, his knowledge of child psychology, and common sense to develop a sensible, healthy system of raising children that is liberating for both parents and children.


Conor Gallagher takes the wisdom of ancient Greece and applies it to the 21st century child. People haven’t changed much over the last 3000 years or so, he contends, so why not listen to what Aristotle had to say about kids?

Surround Your Children with Beauty

This post contains affiliate links. Purchases made through these links support the website at no extra cost to you.

Recently my baby was given a present of a lovely cloth baby book, for which I was very grateful. I was so thrilled to see that someone was making attractive things for children.

We develop a taste for what is presented to us as children. Children who grow up being fed only fast food often have a hard time developing a taste for either vegetables or fine wines. If you want your children to have a healthy taste for beautiful objects, ideas and actions, you are going to have to present beautiful objects, ideas and actions to them. I personally believe that this starts almost as soon as the child develops the ability to see clearly.

The first step is trying to give your child attractive, classy toys rather than garish, ugly ones. Then, as your child grows older, you will probably want to read books to him or her. (Reading books to your children is one of the best predictors of future academic success.) Now, there are a lot of kids books out there, and a huge range of quality. I suggest that is important both to choose ones with attractive, realistic pictures, and good ideas.

You will also want to decorate your house, and your kids room. Family photos are always a good choice for putting on the walls, but usually you want something else too. And when you choose your wall art or your decorating style, you should remember that it will be a major influence in your child’s life. What do your decorations say about you?

Then there’s the videos your kid will watch. I think that, in general, we are pretty good at making sure that the movies our kids watch don’t “have anything bad in them” by which we mean that there is nothing too graphic in terms of sex and violence. But that’s not what I’m talking about. (I’m also not going to argue about whether or not your kids should be watching movies at all and at what age. Too many other people have written about that.)

This might sound a little snobby. What does it matter if your baby’s toys are carefully chosen since your baby will probably rather play with plastic storage containers in your kitchen, or cardboard boxes out of the trash. Babies don’t have high-class taste. Why does it matter? What does it matter if your kid watches a few dumb cartoons, as long as “there is nothing bad in them?”

Yes, your baby will probably rather play with an empty kleenex box than with the carefully chosen toys you have gotten for him or her. But you still made the effort to choose attractive toys for your kid, and the commitment to choosing good things is what matters. Your child will outgrow her desire to play with empty boxes, and will appreciate the beautiful things you have gotten—if they are there to appreciate.

If you want your children to grow up to have good taste, who admire the truly beautiful, think beautiful thoughts, and do beautiful works, you will have to show them these things.How can your son or daughter appreciate them if he or she has been surrounded by ugliness and vulgarity?

Your child deserves to be treated with respect, and if you think the video style is ugly, then it isn’t good enough for your child either. The ideas presented are likewise important. If you think a cartoon is stupid and dumb, then it isn’t good enough for your child. If the characters are small and mean and selfish, and do not grow, the story is not good enough for your child. If the characters are immature and materialistic, then they aren’t good enough for your kids to hang out with.

And, yes, if your kid reads a couple of mediocre books, or watches one or two lame videos now and then, it’s probably not a big deal. But if you show your kid these videos on a regular basis, and make no effort to choose high-quality books and pictures, how is he to know the difference? If your child has been shown beautiful things, and told good stories his whole life, he will know the difference. It won’t take him long to learn, either. Your seven-year old should be able to tell the difference.

If you have taught your child, mostly by example, what beauty, order, and goodness are, they will be able to choose beautiful, good things for themselves as soon as they are able to choose. If you have surrounded him with good people, good characters in the stories you read him and noble ideas, when it comes time for him to choose his own friends, he will be able to choose more wisely.

 

Here are some books and toys that I think are great for small children:

A classic story of determination and kindness. Lovely cheerful old-fashioned pictures.

I loved this book growing up. It’s one of those stories that has a repeating element to it, and kids love to have it read out loud. It’s also a super cute story. The illustrations are old woodcut style.

Robert McCloskey’s gorgeous illustrations are the best part of this heartwarming story about a family of ducklings surviving in the big city.

This is a cute story about a girl having a new experience and learning something about life. This would be a great story to read to a kid who just lost her first tooth.

This is a retelling of the classic story of the resourceful traveler who tricks the stingy householder into feeding him. The pictures are wonderful.

My baby loves these stacking rings. They are nice colors, and made out of woodThese little buckets stack and nest, making them great for practicing motor skills, and playing games. They can be used for counting and color recognition games later.

This elephant is so cute

The animals in this little fabric book are so nicely drawn and are made of different materials and textures. My baby already likes petting the cat and pulling the mouse’s tail.

Making Memories or Growing Up?

I have an eight-month-old baby right now, and she is very charming. I am fully aware of this, and I am appreciating and enjoying it. But when I go places with her, people tell me, “You need to enjoy this time with your baby. They grow up so fast!” I feel tempted to retort something like, “I hope to enjoy that too!” Or, “What, are you expecting me to raise a monster?”

Now I get it, babies are charming, and innocent, and sweet, and helpless, and it is a lovely phase… But it is only a phase, and if it lasted more than a year, there would be a serious developmental problem.

Appreciate What We Have

I agree that we should appreciate the different stages in our lives. Each phase happens only once, and has unique features that set it apart from other stages of life. And taking baby pictures and making baby journals can be happy and useful activities. (If nothing else, 20 or 30 years later, when your kids ask you how to deal with babies, you’ll have something to tell them because you will be able to refresh your memory with the journal and the photos.)

But “enjoying” your baby can become an obsession, too. In fact, some people are so overwhelmed by being told to enjoy their babies, that it comes as a relief when people tell them that it’s okay that you aren’t necessarily enjoying your sleepless nights, and being bitten by your teething baby. Some mothers end up with unnecessary feelings of guilt because they are not taking enough baby pictures, or not getting professional pictures taken.

In a few years, people will probably start telling my child that she should enjoy this time when she has no responsibilities, because “Life will never be so carefree again.” Then in highschool, she will be told by well-intentioned adults that, “These are the best years of your life, you need to enjoy this time, because once you’re an adult all the fun is over.” And then she will graduate, and if she starts thinking about getting married, the message that will face her everywhere is that the wedding is great, not the marriage, and it all goes downhill from there.

Now, once again, I do think that children should enjoy their childhoods and that teenagers should have some fun in highschool. And it is true that adults have more responsibilities than children, and that responsibilities can be hard. (See my article about why responsibility is actually amazing) But there is no reason why the rest of their lives must be pointless drudgery.

Babies are supposed to grow up; that’s what babies are for. Children are supposed to become adolescents and adolescents are supposed to become adults. And the more you grow as a person, the better your life should be. Your experiences are there to make you grow. And the goal of growth is maturity.

Experiences Are for Growth

Each stage of life comes with experiences that are unique to it. And the purpose of these experiences is to allow us to grow into better, more mature people—to develop virtue, as philosophers would have once said. A baby is working on developing physical virtues when she sticks her toes in her mouth, or crawls, or takes her first step. This is why these events should be celebrated, not because they are “memories” that you will be able to savor in your later life.

Your baby grows into a child. Soon your child can not only walk, but run, talk, and read books. Each of these events should be celebrated, because each of them marks a stage of development toward the virtuous adult that your child is meant to become.

And then your child becomes a teenager. Teenagers have an instinctive desire to grow up. They want to take responsibility for their lives, but they aren’t very good at knowing what good decisions are. Their behavior is often looked upon as rebelliousness by their parents, and in a way it is. It is the adult attempting to put away the things of the child. But teenagers lack the control that an adult needs to handle adult responsibilities alone. He or she should be helped to reach that goal. But if the teenager is told that teenage years are basically just an extension of childhood, and that he will have no new responsibilities, but continue to be treated as a child, he is bound to be frustrated. Or if he is told that being a teenager is the best time of his life, he is unlikely to take the effort to learn the self-control needed to become a responsible adult.

The teenager’s attempts to gain independence should be celebrated too, even as they are disciplined and directed, because they are an attempt to develop the virtues of the adult. It is also important to make the teenager realize that responsible adulthood is the goal to which he should be striving, and not “having fun” or “making memories.”

It is strange to me that people still tell teenagers that highschool is the best years of their lives despite the prevalence of teenage depression and even suicide. I wonder how many of them are depressed because they have been told that life goes downhill from there, and they find that life is already unbearably bad.

A more useful tactic would be to give them a mission to accomplish, something to take their minds off the feeling of pointlessness they so often have. What we should tell them is something more like what Jordan Peterson says in 12 Rules for Life: “We must each adopt as much responsibility as possible for our individual life, society and the world. We must each tell the truth and repair what is in disrepair and break down and recreate what is old and outdated. It is in this manner that we can and must reduce the suffering that poisons the world. It’s asking a lot. It’s asking for everything.”

Now of course no teenager can do this alone, or without direction. They will need guidance to find their own way to make the world better. And if they do this, and only if they do this, their own lives will become better, as they themselves grow and develop.

Let’s Empower Ourselves

A mature adult is one who has accepted responsibility for is or her own life. The mature woman has recognized that she can make a difference in her world, and that she has the duty to do so. She cannot blame someone else for all her problems, which might seem hard at first. If you can blame someone else for your problems, then you can momentarily feel good, “It’s not my fault.”

But the victim mentality is the most dis-empowering mentality in the world. If nothing is your own fault, then you can’t fix anything. If you can’t fix anything, then life is hopeless, and you might as well give up now. And I think it is closely tied up with the “making memories” mentality: the idea that you must try to get the most possible pleasure out of life, right now, rather than doing something that is meaningful and good, just because it is meaningful and good.

“Just enjoy them while they’re young. Soon they will be teenagers.” Implied in this seemingly innocent comment is the idea that your children will be awful when they are older, and there’s nothing you can do about it. When people tell children or teenager that they need to enjoy their lives now because being an adult is harder, what they are really telling them is that they will have no power to make their lives better. In fact, they are telling them that the more power over their lives they have, the worse it will get.

Let’s stop trying to “make memories,” and start trying to learn and grow. And if making baby albums helps us and our children learn and grow, then let’s make baby albums. Let’s stop telling our kids that their lives are better now than they ever will be again, and start helping them develop the skills and virtues they will need to make their adult lives more satisfying and fulfilling every day.

And finally let’s do good things just because they are good, and fun things just because they are fun, and not because some future version of ourselves will be able to sit in a rocking chair and say, “Remember when…”

Rearranging the Furniture

So, Christmas vacation is over and we are finally back to a normal routine. (well, as normal as it gets.) It wasn’t my intention to take such a long break from the blog, but I’m back now.

A few days after we got home, we rearranged the furniture in the master bedroom. I’d been having a few issues with the room—like not wanting to spend any non-sleeping time there, and having clothes pile up on a chair as a result. This was bothering me. My husband also stated that he didn’t like being in the room much, except when sleeping. We had our bed and the baby’s crib in the room, and it turned out all that was needed was to move both of them over a few feet so they were against a different wall. Now the room seems spacious, I actually cleaned it, and you know what? Last night I hung up my clothes before I went to bed, instead of just throwing them on a chair.

Now some people make fun of women for rearranging furniture, but this experience, combined with a podcast I listened to lately (highly recommended), made me realize that rearranging the furniture isn’t a frivolous waste of time, but can actually be a fantastic tool for self-control.

Typically, bad habits involve following the path of least resistance. When we feel energetic, enthusiastic, and fresh, we can make all the decisions we want, and make good decisions, but, like water flowing over a surface, humans tend, when they are tired, not paying attention, or depressed, (and most of us are in one of these states most of the time) to seek the lowest point, travel the same well-worn paths, and break no new ground.

Decisions

Making decisions can be exhausting itself. According to Inc.com “It’s said the average person makes 35,000 decisions every day.” Some people react to this by making the more trivial aspects of their lives as routine as possible. Former President Obama was an example of this. He only wears gray or blue suits, so that he doesn’t have to think about that aspect of his life. The way he put it was, “You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.” Whether or not you agreed with the former president’s politics, this is something that makes sense.

So what does decision fatigue have to do with rearranging the furniture? Well, every time you walk into a familiar room in which everything is the same as it was before, all your routines for that room kick in. Sometimes these routines are helpful. You don’t have to think about turning the light switch up for on and down for off. This is something your brain has routinized; you don’t have to consciously process it.

But sometimes our automatic routines are less useful, like dropping clutter on a particular chair or table, or turning on your TV the moment you walk in. Or just leaving it on all the time. Or wasting time on social media all day long on your phone. We do these things, not because we have consciously chosen to do them, but because they are easy and automatic. So the key to changing these habits is not to use more will-power—we only have a limited amount—but to to make them less easy and less automatic.

Furniture

This is where rearranging the furniture comes in.

Do you have a piece of furniture that collects things? (I used to have this problem with the kitchen table. You can read about how we fixed that problem here) Why do the things go there instead of where they’re supposed to go? Often you will find that the clutter-collector is on the way to the place for the things it collects. Or sometimes the clutter-collector is in a logical place for those things, and should be replaced with something designed to store those things. In the first case, moving the piece of furniture can solve the problem. In the second case, it should be replaced with something else, perhaps some other under-utilized object you already have in the house.

Do you have a habit you want to change? How about constant snacking? Even something as simple as putting your snack food on a higher shelf can make a difference. Or putting healthier snacks in places where they are easier to grab and less healthy snacks in more out of the way spaces.

If you are watching TV more often than you want to, an option is rearranging the furniture in your living room so that it doesn’t center around the TV. If the furniture doesn’t make you face the empty screen, it won’t tempt you to fill it.

But what will you replace your TV watching with? Rearranging furniture into a conversation circle can do wonders for your family social life.

What else can we change?

What I discovered by rearranging my bedroom furniture was that I hadn’t wanted to spend time in that room because the furniture was near the door, and so in order to move into the working space of the room, you had to walk past or around the furniture. It was not difficult except psychologically, but I never wanted to do it. In a book of applied psychology I read that neighbors tend to be more friendly with the neighbors who are on the same side of the street and whose doors or yards face each other. It isn’t hard to cross the street, but people rarely do it if they don’t have to.

How many things could we change in our lives, simply by rearranging the “furniture”? Is there an app you could delete from your phone that would save you time and energy? Would moving a chair or table make you exercise more often? Instead of trying to use your limited will-power to help you make your life better this year, why don’t you think about what furniture your should rearrange in your life?

Christmas Outfit Ideas

Here are some Christmas outfit ideas, just in time for last minute outfit choosers like me. (The pictures are affiliate links. Amazon will pay me a small amount if you buy through these links. This does not change your price at all.)

(Disclaimer: I have not tried all these pieces, but all of them are rated at least four stars by Amazon users.)

Christmas Outfit Ideas

 

Here is a pretty, formal dress for Church or a formal Christmas party. It would pair nicely with the black shrug below, which would add some warmth on a cold day, and could easily become a wardrobe staple for work outfits or dressing for church. Or the more dramatic draped green dress could make a fun and flattering piece to wear to Christmas parties or even Church.

Formal Christmas dress

 

Black shrug to go with Christmas dress or other things.

 

A more dramatic dress for formal occasions. Also comes in other colors.

 

Here is a comfy-looking and warm sweater that could be paired with the skirt below for a cozy outfit for opening presents or a family party, or just about any other time you want a warm, cozy, comfortable option.

Cashmere sweater with stylish sleeves.

Comfy but cute skirt

 

Now, suppose you already have the perfect Christmas outfit, but you don’t have any formal outerwear to go with it. This classy coat and the gloves would pair well with any dressy ensemble and could even dress up an otherwise dull outfit for shopping or running errands.

Cute warm gloves in an assortment of winter colors

 

Classy coat for any occasion

Have a wonderful Christmas, and don’t forget to sign up to join our book giveaway and share it with any of your friends you think might be interested.

Book Review and Giveaway: The Five Love Languages

This week, we’re doing something a little different. I’m giving away a copy of The 5 Love Languages to one lucky email subscriber. Once I hit 100 subscribers, I will pick one random subscriber and send her, (or him) a book. Subscribe now to enter. You will receive weekly emails, (usually on Tuesdays) with thought-provoking articles, clothing suggestions, or book suggestions.

So, why The 5 Love Languages? Well, the goal of Enjoying Womanhood is to help as many women as possible live intelligent, fulfilling, enjoyable lives. And I can’t think of many things that would contribute better to that goal for most women than reading this book.

In this book, Gary Chapman, a marriage councilor with many years of experience, shares what he has learned about people and about love. The general idea is that each person has a “love tank.” This is a person’s emotional equivalent of a car’s gas tank. If the car’s fuel tank is empty, the car won’t go anywhere. It will sit wherever it is and get old and wear out. The same is true of people. With no love in their “love tanks” they will be sad, and they will feel that their relationship is over, and that there is no reason to keep trying.

Now, this might not sound very interesting yet. If people don’t feel loved, then they won’t want to act loving. Why do we need a book to tell us this?

Well, as the author describes in the book, he learned over the course of many years, and working with many many couples, that not all people love, or feel loved, in the same way. He has isolated 5 love “languages,” five ways in which people express and feel love. You may love your spouse, boyfriend or child very much, but despite all your efforts they might still feel unloved. This can spell disaster for your marriage, and for any other relationship too.

Not only does Chapman describe the five love languages, and have amazing stories about the successes that married couples have had using these strategies, he also gives concrete tips on how to learn your spouse’s love language, and how to speak it. These concrete tips are amazingly helpful to help you express your love in vital and creative ways which will add spice and variety to your marriage and keep it from getting old and stale.

Marriage is the most important choice most people make in their lives, and the most important mission most of us ever take on. Are we putting enough work into it?

Subscribe here to get more ideas about living a full and enjoyable life as a woman, and enter to win a free copy of The 5 Love Languages. (Even if you already have a copy, you can give it to any friend for a Christmas gift, so you can still sign up.)

Rebranding Responsibility: Let’s Make Commitment Cool Again

What do you think of when you hear the word responsibility or responsible? Merriam Webster suggests three synonyms for it: reliability, trustworthiness, and burden. I think we can all agree that we think of a responsible person as reliable and trustworthy, and that these are good qualities. But we also seem to have the idea that responsibility is a burden, something to be run from, something to be afraid of.

Rebranding responsibility: make commitment cool again

Why is this? Why is it that we fear responsibility while admiring the responsible person? Why do we not want to become what we admire? This seems contradictory.

I think this contradictory attitude is the result of two different things. First, we have somehow created the idea that responsible means boring. And secondly, responsibility means making choices and even commitments, and then living with those choices, and that can be hard.

Responsibility: Boring?

When you hear the words “responsible adult,” the image that probably pops into your head is an overweight, balding middle aged man with a dull job, an ordinary suburban house, and an unsatisfying family life. Or perhaps a frazzled woman wearing mom jeans, who drives a minivan to take her 2.5 bratty kids to classes and other activities, while working a job and doing endless boring housework.

This is the bourgeois adult ideal: a perfect cog in the economic machine. The bourgeois idea of the “responsible adult” is someone who goes to work, makes payments, puts money in their retirement fund, and looks forward to the day they can retire and not have to work anymore. They watch (and pay for) cable, buy things that advertisers tell them they need, get a newer car and a bigger TV occasionally, and generally keep the economic machine turning, both as a producer and a consumer.

It’s not surprising that this ideal seems unattractive. There’s nothing either noble or exciting in it. Who would want to take on responsibility if it meant that? I am going to argue that it doesn’t. But first, let’s talk about the other reason people want to avoid responsibility.

Responsibility: Limiting?

Advertising and popular culture tend to idolize the footloose young person and the rebel. American Eagle Outfitters is a particularly good example of this, having ads that present the teen or twenty-something, wearing jeans and casual tops in various stages of disarray, complete with slogans like, “I can dance weird,” “I can make my own rules,” and “Vacay all day.” Nowhere is there a picture of a person who looks like he or she is doing anything serious. No applied high-school or college students, no one who looks like they are working on anything meaningful, no one who looks married or even committed. Of course, American Eagle Outfitters is a casual brand, but I think the real reason that they only show people partying or breaking the rules is that they understand that working and being responsible aren’t “cool.” What is “cool” is partying, going to the beach, and the hookup culture.

The “cool” person is the one who has no commitments. He or she is typically in an open relationship, and despite having all the stuff he or she wants, can pick up and do something else whenever he or she feels like it. She is definitely “child-free” so that she can travel and spend all her money on herself.

Making life choices will always be somewhat challenging. But if we think that there are only two options: being “cool” and having no responsibilities, or having responsibilities, and being boring, it will be even harder.

Is Limitation Bad?

Committing to one thing does indeed limit you. Buying a house, getting married, whatever responsibility you take on will limit your options. Even committing to go to your friend’s birthday party on Friday evening means that you are not going to be able to go to any other parties that evening, or stay home and watch netflix. It means that you have set aside that time for one specific purpose and no other. How much more limiting is marrying one man. It means that you can’t go out with other men or marry them. And if you are married, and especially if you have children, it means that there will be many things you cannot do. It means that you have set aside your entire life for one purpose and no other. A somewhat frightening thought.

So let us imagine that you have no responsibilities. No one will mind if you leave tomorrow and go hiking in Peru, or clubbing in New York. You have no husband, no boss, no one working for you, and above all, no children to tie you down. You don’t even have to worry about going to your friend’s birthday party on Friday, because you haven’t made any commitment to do so. In fact, you never make any plans that involve other people, because you want to make sure no better ideas come up at the last minute. Above all, you never get into a serious relationship, because you are afraid that it will tie you down, take too much of your time, and that someone better might come along…

Doesn’t it sound wonderful? No? It might be nice for a few days, but in the long run, it sounds even more boring and more lonely than being a cog in an economic machine.

So what is the right answer? What is the right sort of responsibility? What will allow us to fulfill our dreams of being more, of being valued and worthwhile people? Should we tie ourselves down to the bourgeois life of keeping up with the Joneses, or should we be “cool” unattached, and inevitably, lonely when we get just a little older, or is there another option?

Responsibility gives us power

The first question we should ask is whether being limited is necessarily bad, or whether it actually our limitations that give us power. The idea of limitation being empowering may seem like an oxymoron or a paradox, but think about it for a moment. Imagine water flowing without limitations. It spreads itself out everywhere and cannot do anything except cause trouble. Now imagine that same water in a fountain. It leaps, it sparkles, and everyone comes to look at it because now that it is limited to certain ordered paths it has become a dynamic thing of beauty and order. Or for a less romantic example, you could imagine the water in pipes in your house. As long as the water remains within the pipes, it can wash clothes or dishes, and quench thirst. If it leaves the pipes—well you’ve probably all experienced plumbing leaks, so I don’t need to tell you what happens.

Responsibility changes our life from a puddle into a fountain

Like pipes for water, our choices limit us to certain courses of action. If you have chosen to get married, you are limited—you are limited in who you will love, and what you will do, to a certain extent. But it is precisely those limitations that give you your power. Because you have chosen one course of action among many, you now have the ability to direct your actions effectively. You know what your priorities are, and this allows you to balance and direct your actions effectively.

Any person who has chosen any responsibility is in a sense limited by that responsibility. A mother of young children can’t simply run off and see the world at a moment’s notice, nor can she spend all her time playing video games. Neither can a man or woman with his or her own business or any other career. The children, the family, the business must be taken care of before other things can be done.

Besides giving life structure and direction, responsibility also gives us power in a different way. If we admit that we are responsible for our own lives, we have the power to change those lives. As Steve Maraboli, the behavioral psychologist and motivational speaker says, “The victim mindset dilutes the human potential. By not accepting personal responsibility for our circumstances, we greatly reduce our power to change them.” Sometimes it feels good to be able to say, “It’s not my fault. That wasn’t my job.” And sometimes it is true. But which would you rather have written on your tombstone? “It wasn’t her fault.” or “She did what she could with what she had, and made the world better.”

Traveling, hobbies, and freedom are fun, they are not what gives meaning and structure to life. It is our responsibilities that do that. The things that “tie us down” are precisely the things that lift us up, that make our lives a story rather than just a sequence of undistinguished events.

responsibility quote Enjoyingwomanhood.com

Successful Woman: Mary Somerville

Despite the quaint and stilted style of this narrative, which was written in England in the late 1880’s, the character of this notable woman can still delight and inspire us. I particularly enjoy the anecdote about the marmalade.

Mary Somerville Woman Scientist
Mary Somerville

 

MARY SOMERVILLE, the most remarkable scientific woman our country has produced, was born at Jedburgh in 1780. Her father was a naval officer, and in December 1 780 had just parted from his wife to go on foreign service for some years. Her father was Admiral Sir William Fairfax, who gave many proofs that he was in every way a gallant sailor and a brave man. Mary Somerville’s mother, Lady Fairfax, does not seem much to have sympathised with her remarkable child. Mary, however, inherited some excellent qualities from both parents. Lady Fairfax was, in some ways, as courageous as her husband; notwithstanding a full allowance of Scotch superstitions and a special terror of storms and darkness, she had what her daughter called “presence of mind and the courage of necessity.”

On one occasion the house she was living in was in the greatest danger of being burned down. The flames of a neighbouring fire had spread till they reached the next house but one to that which she occupied. Casks of turpentine and oil in a neighbouring carriage manufactory were exploding with the heat. Lady Fairfax made all the needful preparations for saving her furniture, and had her family plate and papers securely packed. She assembled in the house a sufficient number of men to move the furniture out, if needs were. Then she quietly remarked, “Now let us breakfast; it is time enough for us to move our things when the next house takes fire.” The next house, after all, did not take fire, and, while her neighbours lost half their property by throwing it recklessly into the street, before the actual necessity for doing so had arisen, Lady Fairfax suffered no loss at all.

During the long absences of Sir William Fairfax on foreign service, Lady Fairfax and her children led a very simple life at the little seaside village of Burntisland, just opposite to Edinburgh, on the Firth of Forth. As a young child, Mary led a wild, outdoor life, with hardly any education, in the ordinary sense of the word, though there is no doubt that in collecting shells, fossils, and seaweeds, in watching and studying the habits and appearance of wild birds, and in gazing at the stars through her little bedroom window, the whole life of this wonderful child was really an education of the great powers of her mind.

However, when her father returned from sea about 1789 he was shocked to find Mary “such a little savage”; and it was resolved that she must be sent to a boarding school. She remained there a year and learned nothing at all. Her lithesome, active, well-formed body was enclosed in stiff stays, with a steel busk in front; a metal rod, with a semicircle which went under the chin, was clasped to this busk, and in this instrument of torture she was set to learn columns of Johnson’s dictionary by heart. This was the process which at that time went by the name of education in girls’ schools. Fortunately she was not kept long at school. Mary had learned nothing, and her mother was angry that she had spent so much money in vain. She would have been content, she said, if Mary had only learnt to write well and keep accounts, which was all that a woman was expected to know.

After this Mary soon commenced the process of self-education which only ended with her long life of ninety-two years. She not only learnt all she could about birds, beasts, fishes, plants, eggs and seaweeds, but she also found a Shakespeare which she read at every moment when she could do so undisturbed. A little later her mother moved into Edinburgh for the winter, and Mary had music lessons, and by degrees taught herself Latin. The studious bent of her mind had now thoroughly declared itself; but till she was about fourteen she had never received a word of encouragement about her studies. At that age she had the good fortune to pay a visit to her uncle and aunt at Jedburgh, in whose house she had been

born. Her uncle, Dr. Somerville, was the first person who ever encouraged and helped her in her studies. She ventured to confide in him that she had been trying to learn Latin by herself, but feared it was no use. He reassured her by telling her of the women in ancient times who had been classical scholars. He moreover read Virgil with her for two hours every morning in his study. A few years later than this she taught herself Greek enough to read Xenophon and Herodotus, and in time she became sufficiently proficient in the language to thoroughly appreciate its greatest literature.

One of the most striking things about her was the many-sided character of her mind. Some people men as well as women who are scientific or mathematical seem to care for nothing but science or mathematics; but it may be truly said of her that “Everything was grist that came to her mill.” There was hardly any branch of art or knowledge which she did not delight in. She studied painting under Mr. Nasmyth in Edinburgh, and he declared her to be the best pupil he had ever had. Almost to the day of her death she delighted in painting and drawing. She was also an excellent musician and botanist. The special study with which her name will always be associated was mathematics as applied to the study of the heavens, but she also wrote on physical geography and on microscopic science. It is sometimes thought that if women are learned they are nearly sure to neglect their domestic duties, or

that, in the witty words of Sydney Smith, “if women are permitted to eat of the tree of knowledge, the rest of the family will soon be reduced to the same aerial and unsatisfactory diet.” Mrs. Somerville was a living proof of the folly of this opinion. She was an excellent housewife and a particularly skilful needlewoman. She astonished those who thought a scientific woman could not understand anything of cookery, by her notable preparation of black currant jelly for her husband’s throat on their wedding journey. On one occasion she supplied with marmalade, made by her own hands, one of the ships that were being fitted out for a Polar expedition.

She was a most loving wife and tender mother as well as a devoted and faithful friend. She gave up far more time than moat mothers do to the education of her children. Her first husband, Mr. Samuel Greig, only lived three years after their marriage in 1804. He appears to have been one of those men of inferior capacity, who dislike and dread intellectual power in women. He had a very low opinion of the intelligence of women, and had himself no interest in, nor knowledge of, any kind of science.

When his wife was left a widow with two sons at the early age of twenty-seven, she returned to her father’s house in Scotland, and worked steadily at mathematics. She profited by the instructions of Professor Wallace, of the University of Edinburgh, and gained a silver medal from one of the mathematical societies of that day. Nearly all the members of her family were still loud in their condemnation of what they chose to regard as her eccentric and foolish behaviour in devoting herself to science instead of society. There were, however, exceptions. Her Uncle and Aunt Somerville and their son William did not join in the chorus of disapprobation which her studies provoked. With them she found a real home of loving sympathy and encouragement. In 1812 she and her cousin William were married. His delight and pride in her during their long married life of nearly fifty years were unbounded. For the first time in her life she now had the daily companionship of a thoroughly sympathetic spirit. Much of what the world owes to her it owes indirectly to him, because he stimulated her powers, and delighted in anything that brought them out. He was in the medical department of the army, and scientific pursuits were thoroughly congenial to him. He had a fine and well cultivated mind which he delighted in using to further his wife’s pursuits. He searched libraries for the books she required, “copying and recopying her manuscripts to save her time.” In the words of one of their daughters, ” No trouble seemed too great which he bestowed upon her; it was a labour of love.”

When Mrs. Somerville became famous through her scientific writings, the other members of her family, who had formerly ridiculed and blamed her, became loud in her praise. She knew how to value such commendation in comparison with that which she had constantly received from her husband. She wrote about this, “The warmth with which my husband entered into my success deeply affected me; for not one in ten thousand would have rejoiced at it as he did; but he was of a generous nature, far above jealousy, and he continued through life to take the kindest interest in all I did.”

Mrs. Somerville’s first work, The Mechanism of the Heavens, would probably never have been written but at the instance of Lord Brougham, whose efforts were warmly supported by those of Mr. Somerville. In March 1827 Lord Brougham, on behalf of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, wrote a letter begging Mrs. Somerville to write an account of Newton’s Principia and of La Place’s Mechanique Celeste. In reference to the latter book he wrote, ” In England there are now not twenty people who know this great work, except by name, and not a hundred who know it even by name. My firm belief is that Mrs. Somerville could add two cyphers to each of these figures.”

Mrs. Somerville was overwhelmed with astonishment at this request. She was most modest and diffident of her own powers, and honestly believed that her self-acquired knowledge was so greatly inferior to that of the men who had been educated at the universities, that it would be the height of presumption for her to attempt to write on the subject. The persuasions of Lord Brougham and of her husband at last prevailed so far that she promised to make the attempt; on the express condition, however, that her manuscript should be put into the fire unless it fulfilled the expectations of those who urged its production. “Thus suddenly,” she writes, “the whole character and course of my future life was changed.” One is tempted to believe that this first plunge into authorship was, to some extent, stimulated by a loss of nearly all their fortune which had a short time before befallen Mr. and Mrs. Somerville.

The impediments to authorship in Mrs. Somerville’s case were more than usually formidable. In the memoirs she has left of this part of her life, she speaks of the difficulty which she experienced as the mother of a family and the head of a household in keeping any time free for her work. It was only after she had attended to social and family duties that she had time for writing, and even then she was

subjected to many interruptions. The Somervilles were then living at Chelsea, and she felt at that distance from town, it would be ungracious to decline to receive those who had come out to call upon her. But she groans at the remembrance of the annoyance she sometimes felt when she was engaged in solving a difficult problem, by the entry of a well-meaning friend, who would calmly announce, “I have come to spend an hour or two with you.”

Her work, to which she gave the name of The Mechanism of the Heavens, progressed, however, in spite of interruptions, to such good purpose that in less than a year it was complete, and it immediately placed its author in the first rank among the scientific thinkers and writers of the day. She was elected an honorary member of the Astronomical Society, at the same time with Caroline Herschel, and honours and rewards of all kinds flowed in upon her. Her bust, by Chantrey, was placed in the great hall of the Royal Society, and she was elected an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Dublin, and of many other scientific societies. It was a little later than this, in 1835, that Sir Robert Peel, on behalf of the Government, conferred a civil list pension of 200 a year upon Mrs. Somerville ; the announcement of this came almost simultaneously with the news of the loss of the remainder of her own and her husband’s private fortune, through the treachery of those who had been entrusted with it. The public recognition of her services to science came therefore at a very appropriate time; the pension was a few years later increased to 300 a year.

Throughout her life Mrs. Somerville was a staunch advocate of all that tended to raise up and improve the lot of women. When quite a young girl she was stimulated to work hard by the feeling that it was in her power thus to serve the cause of her fellow-women. Writing of the period when she was only sixteen years old, she says: “I must say the idea of making money had never entered my head in any of my pursuits, but I was intensely ambitious to excel in something, for I felt in my own breast that women were capable of taking a higher place in creation than that assigned to them in my early days, which was very low.” It is interesting toobserve that her enthusiasm for what are sometimes called “women’s rights” was as warm at the end of her life as it had been at its dawn. When she was eighty-nine, she was as keen as she had been at sixteen for all that lifts up the lot of women. She was a firm supporter of Mr. John Stuart Mill in the effort he made to extend to women the benefit and protection of Parliamentary representation. She recognised that many of the English laws are unjust to women, and clearly saw that there can be no security for their being made just and equal until the law-makers are chosen partly by women and partly by men. The first name to the petition in favour of women’s suffrage which was presented to Parliament by Mr. J. S. Mill in 1868 was that of Mary Somerville. She also joined in the first petition to the Senate of the London University, praying that degrees might be granted to women. At the time this petition was unsuccessful, but its prayer was granted within a very few years.

Mrs. Somerville’s other works, written after The Mechanism of the Heavens, were The Connection of the Physical Sciences, Physical Geography, and Molecular and Microscopic Science. The last book was commenced after she had completed her eightieth year. Her mental powers remained unimpaired to a remarkably late period, and she also had extraordinary physical vigour to the end of her life. She affords a striking instance of the fallacy of supposing that intellectual labour undermines the physical strength of women. Her last occupations, continued till the actual day of her death, were the revision and completion of a treatise on The Theory of Differences, and the study of a book on Quaternions.

She was a woman of deep and strong religious feeling. Her beautiful character shines through every word and action of her life. Her deep humility was very striking, as was also her tenderness for, and her sympathy with, the sufferings of all who were wretched and oppressed. One of the last entries in her journal refers again to her love of animals, and she says, “Among the numerous plans for the education of the young, let us hope that mercy may be taught as a part of religion.” The reflections in these last pages of her diary give such a lovely picture of serene, noble, and dignified old age that they may well be quoted here. They show the warm heart of the generous woman, as well as the trained intellect of a reverent student of the laws of nature. “Though far advanced in years, I take as lively an interest as ever in passing events. I regret that I shall not live to know the result of the expedition to determine the currents of the ocean, the distance of the earth from the sun determined by the transits of Venus, and the source of the most renowned of rivers, the discovery of which will immortalise the name of Dr. Livingstone. But I regret most of all that I shall not see the suppression of the most atrocious system of slavery that ever disgraced humanity.”

A later entry still, and the last, gives another view of her happy, faithful spirit. The Admiral’s daughter speaks in it: “The Blue Peter has been long flying at my foremast, and now that I am in my ninety-second year I must soon expect the signal for sailing. It is a solemn voyage, but it does not disturb my tranquillity. Deeply sensible of my utter unworthiness, and profoundly grateful for the innumerable blessings I have received, I trust in the infinite mercy of my Almighty Creator.” She then expresses her gratitude for the loving care of her daughters, and her journal concludes with the words, “I am perfectly happy.” She died and was buried at Naples. Her death took place in her sleep, on 29th November 1872. Her

daughter writes, ” Her pure spirit passed away so gently that those around her scarcely perceived when she left them. It was the beautiful and painless close of a noble and happy life.”

Adapted from Some Emininent Women of Our Times by Millicent Garret Fawcett.

Identifying the Underlying Problem

Awhile ago, I found myself very frustrated. I had a problem. Papers kept piling up on the kitchen table. If it had been junk mail, I wouldn’t have minded—junk mail is easy. You just throw it away. But it wasn’t just junk mail. It was other things too. Bills that hadn’t been paid yet, letters, things that had to get read… they were all on the kitchen table and it was driving me insane.

Identify the problem

I started looking on Pinterest for pretty solutions to paperwork problems. Nice folders, wall filing systems, pretty boxes, new and improved home command centers…. I was trying to decide which option was the best for us, and where I should put whatever I decided to use, when it suddenly dawned on me that the kitchen wasn’t where the papers went at all. We had an office for paperwork.

I had been really excited about having an office to handle such things with, and I had put my desk in there when I moved into the house. It was nice… but I realized that we hadn’t been using the office. We sat with our laptops on the sofa, we wrote on the kitchen table, we did just about whatever it took to not go in the office. Why?

I went into the office to check it out and suddenly I understood.

The real reason there were papers on the kitchen table was not that I or my husband was being lazy, or that I didn’t have a filing system in the kitchen, it was simply that neither I nor my husband wanted to spend time in the office. And now I understood why:the office was ugly and depressing.

Understanding the root of the problem allowed me to channel my energies to fixing the real problem. We took the ugly door off and hung curtains in the doorway. (I’ve always loved curtained doorways, and these curtains were pretty and cheap.) Then we got rid of my husband’s ugly thrift store desk and bought a piece of plywood, and used it and some white paint to turn two mismatched pieces of furniture into a pleasant looking and functional work space for him. All told, our office remodel only cost about $30, and since then, we haven’t had an issue with papers on the kitchen table. As a side benefit, we have an easier time not using electronics in the evening, because the electronics stay in the office.

Identifying the Underlying Problem

This experience taught me something which I have tried to apply to other parts of my life as well. Sometimes our problems are actually only symptoms of the real problem, and we can’t get rid of the symptoms until we get rid of the cause. Understanding this fact and taking the time to think can save time, money, effort, and sometimes even your relationships.

Suppose you have a small child who screams and throws a tantrum every evening. You can try punishing the child for having a tantrum, you can give up and allow his undisciplined behavior, or you can see if there is an underlying cause. Maybe you will find that having a mid-afternoon snack will solve your child’s evening tantrum problem. Or maybe moving his nap, or getting his back adjusted by a chiropractor… People are complex and the reasons for their behaviors are too.

I read a story recently of a woman who argued with her husband every single evening. It was tiresome and it was poisoning their relationship. Finally, however, she analyzed the situation, and discovered that she was trying to get him to talk about various issues right when he got home tired from work. Simply rearranging their schedule so that he could relax for a few minutes after he got home allowed them to regain their peace as a couple.

Sometimes it’s hard to find the root of a problem, and sometimes the root is something that you can’t change. It’s also sometimes something you would never have guessed. (One time I realized that the reason I’d been edgy and upset for weeks was because I had writer’s block, and my inability to work on my writing project was causing a low-level stress in the background of my thoughts.) Sometimes, the problem is simply our point of view or our attitude.

attitude, the difference between an ordeal and an adventure

Whatever our problems are, it is always worth finding the roots so we can understand what we are dealing with, and not waste time and effort fixing symptoms.

What problems have you solved?