What is the difference between Mindfulness, meditation and Meditation (uppercase “M”)?

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Over the past few years, the idea of living mindfully and practicing mindfulness has captured the collective imagination of people all around the world. From the streets of Bali to boardrooms in Silicon Valley, there has been widespread adoption and thousands of mindfulness gurus are teaching a myriad of flavors of it.

 

As a result, there are many diverging views about the similarities and differences between mindfulness and meditation and we find that often people are speaking past each other because a lack of consensus and clarity on what mindfulness and meditation mean. This is my personal attempt to provide some clarity and offer my own understanding. But first, let’s look at some of the existing opinions out there.

 

Some practitioners argue that the two are essentially the same — age old practices focused on making us more calm, developing a higher degree of self-awareness, and increasing our level of compassion towards others.

 

Others say that mindfulness is an intention and way of being, whereas meditation is a practice (see Headspace’s FAQ). Jon Kabbat Zinn, often credited with popularizing mindfulness in the US says that  “mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” Meditation on the other hand, is the actual practice of sitting and applying a specific technique for desired outcomes.

 

Still others assert that in addition to mindfulness, mindfulness meditation is a type of meditation, focused on creating more awareness and presence, i.e., more mindfulness. This allows for a number of other approaches to meditation with different intentions to co-exist with mindfulness meditation.

 

Finally, there is the view that builds on this understanding and goes further, saying that there is meditation with a lowercase “m” and Meditation with an uppercase “M.” In this view, Meditation is understood as an intention and practice that goes beyond mindfulness and into the realm of awakening to the ultimate nature of reality in which pure awareness transcends and includes body, emotion, thought, personal identity, space/time, individual consciousness,” leading to a fuller embodiment of conscious love, and a commitment to positive change in the world.

 

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 4.14.39 PM“Whereas a basic mindfulness practice allows us to be more present within the container of our everyday experience, Waking Up takes us beyond the mere present moment of thought, sensation, and emotion, to come to the direct experience of a non-separate awareness, totally open, spacious and free. Many of us have felt and known this experience directly in our own lives.” Beyond Mindfulness by Dustin DiPerna

 

Here is a summary of the viewpoints laid out above (which of course aren’t completely exclusive to begin with):

 

  1. meditation with a lowercase “m” refers to the broader set of practices that produce positive effects like equilibrium, concentration and altruism.
  2. mindfulness is a way of being in any moment — aware of each thought, each emotion and each action as it arises, thereby bringing a further degree of intentionality and equanimity.
  3. mindfulness meditation refers to meditation focused on helping practitioners become more mindful.
  4. Meditation with an uppercase “M” refers to practices focused on a more fundamental awakening to the true nature of how things are and a commitment to living more fully and serving a higher purpose.

 

This is quite different from how the word mindfulness is used the mainstream, which seems to be a narrow understanding of mindfulness. “Pop” mindfulness has come to be seen as a stress-busting productivity hack that miraculously makes anxiety disappear and the work day more tolerable.

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 4.14.46 PMThe good news is that with almost any meditation or mindfulness meditation practice, these results are observable with consistent practice and so we are fully in support of the widespread adoption of these techniques in all walks of life and by all people. Having said that, this narrower understanding may have lost some of what is fundamental to the individual experience as well as the collective impact that can be generated.

 

So at Sphere, our intention is to help rediscover and repurpose Meditation for contemporary practitioners. From more basic options for beginners, to more advanced courses focused on generating stability in multiple states of consciousness (more on that in a subsequent post), our hope is to include and transcend mindfulness in a deeper and more profound exploration and a wider and more extensive embrace.

Come explore with us.

Outdoor Mindfulness Exercises for Earth Day

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All of us are reliant upon the sun for energy, the earth for food, trees for air, and water for drinking. But when we go about our busy lives, it is easy to take the water, air and plants around us for granted. The practice of mindfulness takes us off autopilot, allows us to pause, experience the present moment and give gratitude for all the elements of the natural world that support our daily lives.

 

Stepping out of our classrooms or houses to practice mindfulness allows us to connect, appreciate and develop a relationship with the natural world. My students tell me that after practicing mindfulness outside, they frequently have “mindful moments” where they simply notice and appreciate what is around them. To do this with your students in celebration of Earth Day, here are some exercises that my students have found beneficial.

 

Engaging the 5 Senses

First, take your students outside and ask them to sit down on the ground, on a bench, or whatever works for the space you are in. Invite them to spread out in order to feel like they have their own space, but keep them within earshot.

Part 1

Start by asking your students to close their eyes and take a few deep breaths. Then ask them to put their attention on the sounds around them — seeing if they can focus on the calls and movements of birds or any other natural sounds within earshot. Their attention will naturally dip back into their thoughts — gently remind them to bring their focus back to the sounds every minute or two. When the timing feels right, move on to the next part.

Part 2

Next, ask your students to feel the sun on their skin — their faces, hands, arms or any place exposed to the sun. Ask them to keep their attention on all the parts of their body where they can feel the sun, reminding them that all the life and energy on earth comes from the power of the sun.

Part 3

Ask them to feel the air moving across their skin. After doing this for a minute or two, ask your students to concentrate on a specific part of their body where they can feel the wind — it could be the tip of their nose, their hands or the back of their neck. Ask them to keep their attention in this specific place until you feel ready to move on to the next part.

Part 4

Instruct your students to feel their bodies sitting on the earth. See if they can keep their attention focused on any part of the body that is touching the earth — it could be their feet or the whole lower half of their body (if they are sitting on the ground). Ask the students to really connect with the earth and feel the earth supporting them.

Part 5

Next, ask your students to connect with their breath. See if they can focus on their breath for 1-2 minutes, paying close attention to each inhalation and exhalation. Ask them to keep their focus on each breath while thinking of how the air passing in and out of their lungs comes from the trees.

Part 6

End with a gratitude practice. Ask students to envision their favorite place or thing from the natural world. It could be a park, an animal or a tree — whatever comes to their mind. Once they have something in mind (it will take a moment or two), ask them to send thoughts of gratitude to this place or element of the natural world. Encourage them to fully appreciate this place or creature. Remind them how special it is to have this creature or part of the natural world in their life.

 

After you have done these exercises, ask your students to end by gently opening their eyes. Then have a discussion about what they just experienced together. Discussion topics might include:

  • Which one of the elements did the students connect with the best?
  • What did this feel like?
  • Does anyone feel more like part of the Earth?

Tips for Teaching this Exercise

  1. Use your intuition to figure out how long to spend on each part. The whole exercise can last between 10 and 25 minutes depending on your students. You can also break up the exercise and have a discussion in between the different parts.
  2. You want your tone to be gentle and inviting.
  3. Before teaching this, it is good if you have a time before the school day or before teaching this lesson to go outside and practice the exercise yourself.

Make this mindfulness exercise a special Earth Day treat. And if you have experiences with or ideas about celebrating Earth Day in similar ways, please share them in the comments section below.

 

 

The Stealthy Way to Manage Your Inner Critic

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Let me introduce you to someone who’s been pretty central in my life: my inner critic.

 

My critic’s been with me for about as long as I can remember, following me around with a lot of Very Important Things to inform me about: its opinion about what I’m doing, what I should be doing, and what I’m not doing.

 

It comments on things such as: what my hair looks like today, whether I’ve exercised enough, whether the work I’m doing is good or not.

 

Actually, often it’s not just one critic with a specific opinion – sometimes it’s practically a whole family reunion of critics!  At times, it can get pretty loud up there in my head.

 

But in my work with coaching clients, and in my own life, I’ve discovered a couple of sneaky ways of working with the inner critic that, while perhaps not eliminating it entirely, certainly turn down the volume.

 

How To Work With Your Inner Critic

Since you’re a human being, you probably have a critic (or two) as well.  (Be careful to not get an inner critic about having an inner critic!)

 

Here’s the thing about the inner critic: just because you have one doesn’t mean that you have to believe what it has to say.

 

Here are two strategies to work with your critic when it shows up in your head:

STRATEGY 1)

While our critics try to keep us on the straight and narrow path, and mostly really want the best for us, sometimes they can speak to us in an especially harsh tone, such as: “Who do you think you are?” “Are you kidding me?” “You are a joke/fake/fraud.”

 

Just as you wouldn’t put up with a horribly mean and demeaning person in your life, there are also some critics who should not be granted any type of audience with you.  They aren’t invited to this party, and they need to get the boot: set a boundary, and don’t take their calls or texts.

 

STRATEGY 2)

While some of our critics are are shaming and debilitating, others are like nudges, unskillful flag carriers for things that are actually important to us. These critics say things such as: “You can do better.”  “That wasn’t your best effort.”

 

Think about it this way: these types of inner critics are a bit like an elderly aunt who criticizes your every move and can’t give you a compliment to save her life.  For example, instead of telling you she’s concerned about your health, she makes a comment on your pants size.  She loves you, but isn’t very skillful in how she expresses that love.  That’s your critic, too: it loves you, but doesn’t say it very skillfully.

 

Instead of trying to get rid of these types of critics (internal or external), you’re better off to acknowledge them, give them a small amount of attention by finding the critical nugget of information they want to share, but not take in all of what they’re saying to you.

 

With your elderly aunt, you might be able to say to yourself, “Well, that’s just Aunt Mabel; but yeah, I probably should back away from the dessert table.”

 

Similarly, with your inner critic, listen for the nugget of information, or the personal value that’s underneath.

 

For example, if you have a critic that’s particularly concerned about your being perfect, never making a mistake, you probably hold a value about being of service, quality, or excellence.

 

When we can find the nugget that’s useful for us hiding underneath the criticism, we can see that what we really want isn’t perfection. Instead we can ask ourselves, “How can I be of more service, quality, or excellence?”

 

Your critic is like a favorite song of yours that’s gotten the volume turned up too high, and is no longer pleasant to listen to. Turn down the volume on the critic’s criticism, and see what deep desire of yours is hidden underneath.

 

Why It Matters To Manage Your Inner Critic

Ironically, when we are wrapped up in the story of our critic, we are less able to do exactly what the critic is wanting us to do or be: be excellent, be successful, get things done.  That’s why getting detangled from it is so important.

 

If we can have some compassion for the less skillful parts of ourselves and not believe everything those parts say, the critic’s voice will diminish.

 

The critic may never go away entirely – which is perhaps just as well, as our critic is usually part of our conscience – but if we find and honor the nugget – the important piece, the personal value – that’s underneath the critic’s crummy delivery of its message, its vice grip on us lessens.

 

And then you can get back to the job of being awesome.

 

 

5 Simple Lessons About Happiness I Learned From My Children

Children are wiser than most of us acknowledge and have a great deal to teach us. They interact with the world in an unassuming way, not yet programmed by the routine thinking of the adult world.

 

My training as a psychologist taught me to observe and look for trends in human behavior. I’m a mother of two boisterous boys and when I stepped back recently to observe their behavior I noticed some powerful yet simple patterns.

 

We all have the ability to learn from children and those around us. Here are 5 of the lessons my children have taught me about how to be happier: 

 

1. A lack of sleep makes us grumpy

We are quick to put a child’s whiny mood down to being tired, yet as adults we frequently underestimate how important adequate sleep is. As we grow-up we get better at hiding the pure frustration and moodiness that comes with being exhausted. Tragically, many of us begin to think it’s normal to feel this way and constantly live in a state of sleep deprivation. But just as it is for children, adults tend to get grumpy when they’re tired. Being grouchy impacts on the quality of our interactions with the world around us, and ultimately undermines our happiness. Sleep is an essential prerequisite for a positive mood for both children and adults.

 

2. You can run-out excess mental energy

Just like the kid’s song states, watching my children has taught me that we really can “shake our sillies out”. When my boys are getting titchy, there is nothing like some physical outside playtime to turn their moods around. It’s appears to feed their brains fresh air and push out all the mental cobwebs. An excess of mental energy in adults often feels liked a stressed, anxious or overactive mind and my boys have taught me that exercise can act as a physical release for that mental tension.

 

3. Joy is found in the moment

Our lives are happening in the now, right in front of us. Children naturally commit themselves fully to what they are doing and immerse themselves in the present moment. When they are actively involved with a task they are not lost in their heads contemplating tomorrow, but focus intensely on the activity at hand. Adults too often run through life completing tasks on auto-pilot while absorbed in their minds or while on their phones. Children know that true joy is found in interacting fully with the present moment.

 

4. Remember the good things and don’t dwell on the bad

My children naturally have a willingness to let go of the drama and concentrate on the happy times in life. Each night when I lay down to tuck my 4 year old into bed, even if parts of the day have been tough, he always remembers the positive moments. As adults we too can encourage positive feelings by making a conscious decision to concentrate and recall the good-stuff that is happening in our lives.

 

5. Friendships are essential for our well-being

My boys are never happier than when they are playing with their friends. We are naturally social beings. Even if some of us have a lower need for contact with others, we all still need genuine human connection. As we move further into adulthood, finding time to spend with our friends and maintaining our friendships can feel like a luxury that time doesn’t afford. Yet it shouldn’t. My children have taught me that friendships are an essential key to our lasting happiness. We were born to crave connection and if happiness is important to us then our friendships deserve to be at the top of our to-do lists.

 

 

Beauty as a Force For Change

 

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The Global Climate Summit in Paris was followed by a breath-taking light of show of Louie Schwartzberg’s work projected upon the greater-than-life exterior of the Vatican in Rome.

 

Project Happiness Founder and CEO, Randy Taran, recently had the opportunity to chat with award winning cinematographer, Louie Schwartzberg, about happiness, purpose and opening up to the beauty of life.

 

Here is the transcript of that interview about Beauty as A Force for Change:

 

Randy Taran (RT): Louie, such a pleasure to be talking with you. Your Gratitude Revealed series is so compelling. One of the first things that struck me –in your mindfulness episode, you described that state as “being present always, ready for the light to strike, without preconceived notion or judgment.” Sounds kind of like a metaphor for your work.

 

Louie Schwartzberg (LS): Yeah, well, that’s what I’ve learned…that the art of filmmaking has become practice for me as meditation might be for some people, or yoga, because basically what I’m doing is I’m allowing my mind to be like film – and what a beautiful metaphor. Here is film sitting in the camera like total darkness, always in this state of readiness for light to strike, without any preconceived notions or ideas about subject matter, wide open to whatever comes in, and always in a state of conscious awareness, but with a blank slate. So, no preconceived ideas, no prejudgments, no attitude about being a know-it-all, but more in a sense of wonder and curiosity.

 

RT: Yes, that’s beautiful, and that allows you to do the profound work that you do…

 

LS: I think it enables me or anyone to basically connect with the deepest part of your soul because you are recognizing and identifying yourself with universal rhythms and patterns, which is what nature shares with you… like looking at the veins going through a leaf, or the veins going through your body. Those patterns and rhythms are synonymous throughout the universe, and they’re also happening inside of every cellular body, so you get that connection. You’re looking at something and recognize it as being real, truthful, authentic, and, guess what, it happens to be a part of you.

 

RT: Yes, just like we are a part of nature and something greater.

 

LS: Right, which is why I’ve been using my imagery as a bridge, not as an end-all necessarily, to get people to appreciate and experience nature. I’m using – I call it – visual healing, whether it can be used either in hospitals or in schools or on your i-Phone, to have a two-minute experience, like the short videos we did for Gratitude Revealed. I think that it’s one way to share that wisdom and sacred knowledge that we have become disconnected from, and so, that’s the gift I’m trying to share with people, because we don’t always have access – we’ve become disconnected and have forgotten that prior to the industrial revolution, everybody was living in nature.

 

…I think we need to reconnect, not totally, but at least a little bit, and now we have scientific evidence, that proves that, you know, a walk in the woods reduces your stress, lowers your heart rate, promotes creativity, better thinking, lower blood pressure. I mean, we kind of knew all this stuff before, but now we can actually measure it.

 

RT: How does nature change people?

 

LS: I’ve worked with the Nature Bridge program which brought over a million kids to national parks, children who grow up in inner city who are marginalized, and have never been to nature, kids in South Central LA have never been to the ocean. And so, they have a lot of fear, anxiety, and after a three-day trip in a national park with their friends, they are completely changed forever, and their attitude to, not only nature, but to life is totally changed. All it takes, I believe, is an immersive experience in nature, and I think it can happen overnight.

 

RT: And awe plays a really big role in your work – can you speak about awe as well?

 

LS: Well, I think – I mean, for me – awe is a glimpse, or portal, into the divine, and we all have a desire to be connected to that, and, whatever religion or practice one does, we all want to feel connected to a universal energy that’s about love, right?

 

RT: Right, right!

 

LS: So, it doesn’t matter what pathway it takes, or what your belief system is, or what the story is. We just want to feel it. And that sense of awe, for me, happens when I recognize something of extraordinary beauty in filming nature, whether it’s a flower, a hummingbird, a landscape. It could be, for many people, listening to a beautiful piece of music, or eating a delicious fresh-baked muffin, or practicing your religion. But, here’s, I think, the interesting part: in the videos I have online, most people say “Oh my God, it’s beautiful.” What is important is feeling the divine, is to be moved. It doesn’t matter how you get there. If it’s walking into a cathedral, wonderful. Walking into Yosemite, awesome. We all want to feel that in the moment, in the present moment. And we don’t have to argue about how we got there.

 

RT: What has been one of your most memorable experiences in filmmaking or even in creating the Gratitude Revealed Series? What stands out for you in your mind?

 

LS: Well, the most recent, amazing, emotional experience I have, I guess, – you know, your recent history is what you remember first – we recently had the honor to project some of my nature imagery on the Vatican during the Climate Summit in Paris to support the popes and cyclical saying we need to protect the earth. Wow, to see my images of flowers and birds and bees and mushrooms on the Vatican, oh my God, because then you see I’m crossing over into that more traditional form of belief, which is fine, and we certainly are grateful that we have a pope who is more enlightened and to be able to share the love and shine light on ane43f2d71115624ecdc0a16becf24380c institution that has not always been very imagesopen-minded. For me personally, this meant a lot because, as my parents are Holocaust survivors. Who would have thought that in one generation, the son of a Holocaust survivor would be shining light on the Vatican…

vaticanc4cfiRT: Well, I can feel one thing, is that your parents must be very proud of you, Louie, for what you’ve done…

 

LS: Well, I think so. They’re up somewhere. I mean, I’ve got survivor DNA, and what’s fascinating is that though my parents went through an amazingly horrific experience, they still had love in their life, and they still had joy and love that they shared with their children. And then, I know many psychologists now are trying to understand and study why is it that some people have the ability to bounce back better than others, which is called resilience. We all have bad things happen in our lives. I rolled through a stop sign this morning, and it’s okay, but for some people that could ruin their whole day. And it’s just being able to look at things differently and just bounce back. We’re all going to have bad things happen. Unexpected things, and people who are more centered, whether they meditate or whether they have that connection with nature, I think we bounce back a lot faster.

 

RT: Speaking of bouncing back, how do you define happiness?

 

LS: Wow, for me I think happiness means fulfilling my purpose in life. It’s not about being smiley or jumping up and down and certainly not buying anything that’s material. I was certainly overjoyed yesterday when I did my presentation at Big Sur – I felt the reaction from the audience with the applause and with tears. Because I feel like I’m sharing nature’s energy with them, so, it’s also interesting too, in the Gratitude Series, one of the ones we did was on “Purpose” and one of the scientific research findings has discovered that people who have purpose live longer. So, yeah, for me, doing my film and being able to share it with people, being able to share this interview with you, that makes me happy.

 

 

RT: If you were not the brilliant cinematographer that you are, is there a natural talent that you wish you were born with?

 

LS: Oh wow, I think being able to create music. I’m just blown away that people can sit down with a musical instrument and just play, not play by looking at a score sheet, but just play. That just blows my mind.

 

RT: Well, in a sense, the ideal is for everyone to play their own instrument, whatever that may be, right?

 

LS: Yeah, right. I’m just in awe that people can do that…like where did that come from? And that’s what I guess we’re all trying to do too. When you have found your instrument, how do you get into the flow? It’s like you’re the creator. It’s you allowing that creative energy to pass through you. And that’s true, you can hear it with great musicians, you can here it with even sports guys talk about it, about being in the zone, being in the flow. That’s what makes a Kobe Bryant a Kobe Bryant, you know what I mean? That he has just completely let go and is able to channel something that enables him to achieve perfection.

 

RT: Yeah, it’s an ideal state, it’s, personally, when I feel that, it’s where I want to live, you know?

 

LS: Exactly. That’s another maybe definition of happiness.

 

RT: Yeah! Yeah, it is, I think that’s definitely part of mine. You mentioned, I think in one of your recent films that we’re on the threshold of extraordinary advances born of our drive to unveil the mysteries of life. Can you say more?

 

LS: Yeah, I think we’re in an incredible time and place where we’re seeing both breakdown and breakthrough. Breakdown of government, economic systems, economy that isn’t working clearly, you know? But at the same time we have amazing solutions being offered by creativity and technology. Now we have scientific tools and evidence that can actually measure things like happiness and longevity, the healing power of nature, how wonder enables creativity, which enables better business practices. We have data that we can measure it and prove what poets and artists have known for thousands of years, like love makes the world go round.

 

RT: Right along with the simple things our grandmothers told us! Count your blessings…

 

LS: Exactly, right, so it’s in literature, it’s in poetry, it’s in art that goes back for thousands of years but it’s kind of interesting now because we can measure it. When you’re in the zone, when you’re in nature, when you’re in love, guess what, we have endorphins that are being released and oxytocin and all these hormones that are traveling through your body, which is great that we understand it from a western scientific point of view; but we always felt it in our hearts. We need to use our hearts to take advantage of the technological solutions that are present, use things in the positive way, not to control your life, but use it in ways to enhance your life. That’s what I’m doing with Moving Art: creating these little video shorts that people can watch or…meditate with. There are ways we can use this technology in a positive way.

 

RT: Take your time-lapse photography – doesn’t it change people watching it? Would you say that people somehow slow down when they’re watching a flower bloom?

 

LS: Well, what certainly is happening is that I’m breaking the constraints of how people are viewing life, I’m opening up your worldview. We have a very narrow world view, when we look at things from the human perspective, our life being at a certain metabolic rate, at a certain age range… When you look at a flower, it may only be opening up for a week, and then it’s going to die. Same thing is true with looking at a redwood tree looking at us. It lives 500 to 1,000 years and we’re just like here for a flash, so when you’re opening up this dimension of time, it’s almost like a dream state. It broadens your horizons, it opens up your worldview. It makes you realize that our concept of time is an illusion, that this wristwatch is only a click-click linear thing, a mechanical device that is not really the definition of time.

 

There are so many experiential portals of time that we need to be aware of. It’s kind of like when you’re playing the piano, a human being is only playing one octave. Well, guess what? There’s eight octaves above it and below it. You only see one narrow spectrum of light – the colored light spectrum – but there are wavelengths of energy above and below it – x-ray, gamma ray, ultraviolet, infrared – just because we don’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there, and just because we don’t see a flower open and close doesn’t mean it’s not moving.

 

So, I’m able to show people – not talk about it, but literally show people – what it’s like to be a hummingbird and what it’s like to be a flower from their point of view. And what that does is it opens up your heart. It does. I love the fact that the most common phrase I get is “Oh my God”, which is great because what does “oh my god” mean? The “oh” means it makes you present, the “my” means it touches the deepest part of your soul, and “god” is that universal connection we all want to be a part of.

 

RT: And it connects us to the mystery of life.

 

LS: And that’s really important to – I’m glad you said that word, the mystery – because that’s what I’m trying to do, is unveil the mystery of life and I don’t think there’s an answer. There’ll never be an answer. That’s the point. We’re on the journey. When they asked Einstein the mission of God, he said it’s a sense of wonder, so embrace the mystery. That to me is what I’m trying to do and that’s what I’m trying to share with people.

 

RT: That’s beautiful and much needed. If you wanted to share some words of wisdom with others, what are three things you would want to say?

 

LS: I’d say, especially with young people too, find your passion and follow your passion. That way you have meaning in your life and you’re serving a purpose for the greater good, and that will make you happy and very fulfilled. I think that’s the most important and I would say. In addition to that, live in harmony with nature, which, when you do that that also means the choices you make, what you eat, the energy that you use, the way you relate to people, it’s all about harmony, nature’s all about harmony. It’s all about symbiotic relationships and so, if you do that, and actually the same thing is said in the bible “do unto others as you would do unto yourself” right?

 

RT: Right.

 

LS: That is the essence of nature. Every ecosystem wants to flourish, and it flourishes by not being greedy, by not taking advantage of each other. Because, when one aspect dies, it affects everybody. So, for an ecosystem to work well, everybody has to work well, everybody has to flourish, everybody lives in harmony. So: find your passion, live in harmony, and then the golden rule: “do unto others as you do unto yourself.” Thank you so much for this really profound and sacred interview.

 

RT: Thank you, Louie. I’m so happy to share your amazing work.

 

Make sure to check out this video documenting the breath-taking light of show of Louie Schwartzberg’s work projected upon the greater-than-life exterior of the Vatican in Rome: https://vimeo.com/149340815

 

 

How to Expand Your International Day of Happiness All Year Long

IMG_0518 (2)This year, you have a choice. Though International Day of Happiness is a great excuse to celebrate happiness one day a year, why not use the day to kick-start your happiest year ever?

Sounds good so far, but the question is how? Well, the truth is that happiness looks different for everyone, both locally and globally. The Project Happiness team was recently invited by ReThink, Trinidad, to visit Guyana to hold a training on happiness and emotional resiliency. With Her Excellence, Sandra Grainger (the first lady of Guyana)’s support and attendance, the training was held in the Ministry of Education with 70+ teachers, public health personnel, social workers, and national administration. Having recently been identified as the country with the highest suicide rate per capita in the world, the Guyanese we met welcomed tools to create a positive impact and seed hope in their community. At the end of our time together, the participants reported feeling uplifted, energized and excited to implement what they had discovered.

Here are some inspirations from that trip to help you get your happiness in gear:

1. Start with Respect:

Emotions are like a boomerang; what you send out comes back to you. If you treat others with respect, chances are they will respond in kind. When we first got to the country, it was unclear if we were going to be regarded as just another organization trying to impose our “solutions.” When they understood that we were there to share ideas and actually learn from one another, it changed the tone to one of sincere communication. Self-respect was another aspect. In these all-too-busy times, we shared that it’s important to respect yourself too! This includes your time, your energy, and even your inner voice. It all matters.

2. Walk in Someone Else’s Shoes:

In order to have a real conversation with anyone, it helps to know what they are dealing with now and what challenges they have faced. In Georgetown, Guyana’s capital, there had just been a riot in the local prison, and it was burnt to the ground. Many people were enraged. Yet, the First Lady, Mrs. Sandra Grainger, who attended part of the training, spoke of empathy. “These men were someone’s son, or brother or friend. You never know what had happened to put them in that place, or what hardships they had to deal with.” Everyone was touched. The takeaway: even though we may come from different experiences, it is important to consider what lies beneath the surface. Empathy can go a long way.

3. Adults Like to Play Too:

Who said fun was limited to children? Research has shown that play is one of the best ways to recharge, restore and jumpstart creativity. Especially when times are tough, find ways to lift one another up and laugh. Music and dance are universal elixirs. When we asked the group to get up and break out into a happy dance, the enthusiasm was palpable. One of the fastest ways to shift out of a bad mood is to shake it! Music crosses all boundaries – let it be your fuel.

4. The Power of a Circle:

A highly effective strategy to bounce back from stress is to show and receive gratitude or appreciation. In Guyana, we had participants form appreciation circles of about 10 people each. They had to tell the person on their right, one thing that they appreciated about them: something that involved their character rather than their clothes. It was one of the most popular activities, so much so that we did another one at the end. People were laughing, crying, hugging… and opening up to their strengths. If you are interested in knowing more about the power of circles or starting one yourself, learn more here.

5. To Feel Good, Do Good:

There have been many studies that show that people who give to others end up being happier. Not only do we feel a greater sense of meaning, but this actually promotes long term happiness. Connecting to others is also something we are wired to do – we all seek to be part of something greater. When we offered the participants the chance to become a Happiness Ambassador, to help bridge the latest in the science of happiness for people in all walks of life, you could have heard a pin drop. The idea of working with them, to tailor our programs to be sensitive to the specific needs within the community, was much appreciated – it’s back to that respect thing… If this strikes an “AHA” chord in you, you can also learn more about bringing this movement for global well-being to your corner of the globe.

At the end of the day, well-being is not rocket science. It’s the simple day-to-day habits that we intentionally do that shape our brains to receive greater happiness. International Day of Happiness is just a reminder of all the resources you already have inside of you. Choose to use them, and better yet, share your gifts with others all year round.

5 Reasons Why it’s Important to Commemorate Special Occasions

 

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“Twinkle lights are the perfect metaphor for joy. Joy is not a constant. It comes to us in moments – often ordinary moments. I believe a joyful life is made up of joyful moments gracefully strung together by trust, gratitude, inspiration, and faith.” – Brene Brown

Since the dawn of civilization, man has given high priority towards the commemoration of special occasions. We can see this in the pagan rituals conducted by our tribal ancestors during initiations, the ancient Egyptians’ celebrations during the annual harvests, the elaborate coronation ceremonies during the Middle Ages, and the gruesome acts of human sacrificial offerings that were made by the Mayans.

 

The list of the number of rites, rituals and celebrations that the people on our planet partake in is almost endless and incredibly diverse. Commemoration rituals can be as simple as treating ourselves to a spa day after accomplishing something challenging at work to a full blown 3 day wedding extravaganza to share the happiness of our blessed union with our loved ones.

 

All around the world, special events and celebrations like weddings are even led up to with great gusto. The market for invitations, save the dates, and other types of celebration reminders are prolific and extremely popular. In fact there is a ubiquitous industry for the celebration of practically all mainstream holidays such as Christmas, Valentine’s Day and New Years Eve.

 

Every culture, nation and tradition has developed its own unique ways of honoring special occasions. Their customs and traditions are a direct product of their cultural background, history, religious beliefs and even the geography of the region they live in. We see this in religious and cultural festivals around the world like the Carnival in Brazil, Chinese New Year, Oktoberfest in Germany and Diwali in India.

 

As eclectic as these practices are, if we take a closer look, we’ll see that there is a common thread of themes that connects each and every one of them. We will see that all of these occasions center on universal human experiences such as love, sadness, joy, reverence, success and sacrifice.

 

No matter which country you visit, you will notice that we all rejoice in the same things, such as a happy relationships, the birth of a child, professional or personal victories and other milestones. Similarly, we all mourn the same things, such as losing a loved one or facing a major setback or disaster.

 

It seems that as a species we are instinctually driven to honour the significant moments in our lives. There are deep underlying needs that drive us to engage in celebrations. As a result, we have found so many wonderful ways to meet these needs and create more meaning in our lives.

 

There are, however, skeptics out there who perceive these celebrations as being fluffy, ostentatious and prodigal. These practical traditionalists view these occasions with an eye of cynicism, preferring to maintain a stance of reticence and living their life in a moderate and simplistic manner.

 

Of course everyone is free to live their life in a manner of their choosing, but they would be missing out on a lot of life’s “goodies” by excluding themselves from participating in gatherings that pay homage to the important milestones in life. Here are some significant benefits that they would miss out on:

 

  1. Cultivating a sense of community:

    One of the most opportune times to bond with our families and friends is during special occasions. Whether we come together to celebrate happy occasions such as a bridal shower or a more sombre occasions such as a funeral, we get a chance to connect with those we love and care about on a deeper and more profound level.

  2. Instilling a sense of meaning and significance to our lives:

    The unique rituals and practices that highlight important milestones such as weddings, graduations or birthdays all serve an important purpose. Participating in the customary rites (cutting cakes and drinking champagne) connects us to the significance of the role that an occasion plays within the grand scheme of our lives. It instills a sense of reverence and appreciation for the gift of life and connects us to a more omnipotent force.

  3. We will create lasting fond memories:

    The human mind tends to recall memories that carry a high emotional charge to them. When we commemorate a special occasion, we are essentially placing a mental bookmark on an experience, thereby making it easier to remember it in the future. The photos, videos and other forms of memorabilia from those occasions serve as triggers that we can use to re-live those pleasant experiences in the future.

  4. It adds fun and excitement to our lives:

    Celebrations can be incredibly fun and provides us with the perfect opportunity to engage in the joys of life such dance, song, food, play and laughter. Who doesn’t look forward to the fun-filled occasions where we can let our hair down and take a break from our mundane existence? The little kid within us still relishes in the excitement of an upcoming celebration and this is an emotion that we deserve to indulge in as adults as well.

  5. We take our place in the circle of life:

    When we commemorate special occasions, we are essentially connecting with our humanity and the commonality that we share with all those who have been long gone before us. We tap into the timelessness of the human spirit when we take the time to pay respect to the important rites of passages that were celebrated by our ancestors in the yesteryears.

 

 

10 Things I Wish Someone Told Me as a Teenage Boy

One punch came at me, I ducked. Another punch came at me, I could not quite duck. The punch landed square on the side of my helmet. I turned starry eyed and fell back into the lockers. My teammates were standing around, cheering loudly — pushing me back into a boxing match with my senior teammate. The punches kept pummeling me. I tried as best I could to hit him, but I was a scrappy 140-pound freshman. There was nothing I could do but endure the punishment from my senior teammate — he was a good 8 inches taller and 60 pounds heavier then me.

 

I suffered through it, and then waited for the next week when I would be forced to box another one of the seniors on the team. This was how you “manned up” — all the freshman on Varsity lacrosse had to box all of the seniors on the team. It was our right of passage. It was brutal, scary, and certainly did not make me a better lacrosse player. In fact, it just made me scared shitless on my walk back from field to the locker room — “Would I have to box Josh or Andre today” — I never knew until we came back in the locker room and the seniors announced it was “boxing time.”

 

Is this Normal?

As a young man, I thought this was normal: men were just brutal to each other and going through punishing physical rites of passage was the way to man up and prove oneself. Many young men at my school created their own rites of passage — from racing cars to violent physical battles. I was lucky to make it through my adolescence without a serious injury but others as my school were not so lucky. Some died in gang violence; others died drunk driving.

 

Across our country, young men from all backgrounds are initiating themselves and the results are terrifying: There are over 1,000,000 adolescents in gangs around the country; over 90 percent of them are young men. Numerous young men  at fraternity hazing over the years. What young men need is for older men to put them through a curated, trying, but ultimately caring and safe rites of passage. They need older male mentors who have “been through the fire” to help guide them on their journey to manhood and teach them that being tough and loving are not mutually exclusive as our dominant cultural message of masculinity suggests.

 

To help young men on their journey through adolescence, I now work as a mentor, educator, and wilderness + mindfulness trip leader. Years of observing and engaging with adolescent men in their schools, their communities, and the backcountry have allowed me to see what was missing for me at that age. These accrued observations guide my work to ensure young men are equipped with the tools they need to step into manhood with compassion, self-awareness, and true power.

 

Below are ten things I wish one of the seniors on my team had told me when I was a freshman. They are lessons I now pass along to the young men I mentor and lead on wilderness trips:

 

1: How My Brain Worked

For young men in particular, it is important to teach them about hyperrationality — the balancing in your brain between perceived risk and consequences. According to neuroscientists, the adolescent male brain is the most susceptible to dangerous risk-taking. I used to take physical risks frequently — jumping off bridges, driving cars too fast, diving off moving boats. It wasn’t that I was unaware of the consequences (like crashing the car, hitting the river bottom, or getting in a boating accident), I just didn’t think any of it would happen to me. But bad outcomes do happen, especially to young men: They represent nearly 4 out of 6 teenagers that die every day in car crashes in this country. Because most young men are never taught how their brain development affects decision-making, they are more likely to make rash decisions. I teach my young men how their brains work. That way they can make smart, informed decisions — especially when those decisions could yield irreversible consequences.

 

2: Be Myself, Don’t Perform Myself

Young men want to be liked, accepted, and seen. To have all three, they feel they have to perform the person they think others want them to be. Young men are terrified they’ll be rejected if they reveal their authentic selves. I performed a lot in high school, but deep down, I yearned to be able to express myself fully — my love for dance and appreciation of the natural world. But I didn’t. I too was scared I would be judged as “uncool,” or not exciting enough to hang out with. Many of the young guys I work with feel the need to perform as well: they have to pretend to not care at school (even though they do) or disregard their emotional worlds (even though they yearn to express themselves). Interestingly, most of these young men have an awareness of the difference between performing versus being themselves, but they don’t stop performing for fear of losing friendship or face. I tell my young guys that if someone only likes them when they’re performing, that person isn’t a true friend. Your true friends are the ones you can be real with. And you won’t find out who that is until you stop performing.

 

3: How to Manage My Anger

As a young man, I often burst into violent fits of anger. Sports provided me with a culturally appropriate outlet for my anger: playing defense in a game of lacrosse allowed me to whack my opponents with a 6-foot titanium stick, for example. This is one of the most common things I find working with young guys: They have a lot of anger and don’t know how to deal with it. Young men express anger in different ways, but few young men have healthy ways of confronting this anger, which can lead to violence, even death. In 2013, males ages 15 to 19 were three times more likely to die by suicide, 7 times more likely to be victims of homicide, and 8 times more likely to be involved in a firearm-related death than were females of the same age.

 

But once I quit sports I had no outlet. The big shift came when I was 19; I learned to meditate. During my first ten-day meditation sit, I truly faced my anger for the first time. Introducing young men to mindfulness practices is a powerful and effective tool I use to help them address their anger in a healthy, direct way — not to squelch their anger, but to acknowledge it, sit with it, and most importantly make sure that you do not react from a place of anger to make a stupid decision that will harm yourself or someone else.

 

4: Accept My Range of Emotions

1When I was a young man, I tried to suppress everything. In the midst of playing sports and training my feelings into submission, I remember telling myself, you don’t have emotions. I thought that having emotions would get in the way of succeeding in sports, academics, and later, in my professional life. The older men around me didn’t seem to express emotions other than my anger or boredom, and it was rare that I allowed myself to fully experience emotions other than those I saw modeled. If I did, I would judge myself for it. I wish someone had taught me, just as I do to my young men, that it’s natural and beautiful to feel the full range of emotions; this what it means to be fully human. And there’s nothing “unmasculine” about it. In fact, the opposite is true. Really knowing what’s going on internally enables you to be a more powerful, self-aware man.

 

5: Stay Present

With all the pressure that I felt to go to a good college, I agonized all the time over the future. When I wasn’t living in the future, I would ruminate on the things that I had done wrong in the past. The dumb thing I’d said to a girl, the pass I dropped, or the easy test question I’d missed. I remember staying up late one night in my bed concluding that life was about collecting experiences, like trophies, rather than enjoying what is. The notion of living in the present wasn’t even a remote possibility because I was scared of what would bubble up from my interior. I have seen over and over in mindfulness retreats that young men are scared to sit still because they do not have the tools to deal with the feelings that naturally arise. They would rather play with their phones, move around, or do almost anything other than sit with uncomfortable inner states. In an extreme example, a recent study showed that men choose to give themselves electrical shocks rather than sit with their thoughts and emotions . Luckily, mindfulness meditation again offered help; the practice allowed me to understand dwelling in the present moment as a real possibility. This is why I incorporate mindfulness into the work I do with young men in the classroom, mentoring, and in the backcountry.

 

6: Live in Gratitude

There were so many things in life that I took for granted as a young man. My family did their best — we would take a minute of silence before dinners. But I did not have a relationship with the feeling of gratitude. Because I was so focused on getting somewhere or thinking of what I didn’t yet have, I never fully appreciated what I did have. As a young man, I was never taught how to practice gratitude — meaning how to actively develop and grow a sense of gratitude. Research shows gratitude is a practice that you can actually grow and cultivate. When one of my mentees came back from being in the wilderness for a long time he felt a sense of gratitude that he never had before. He appreciated his home, the clean water, his parents, and the food at the table. When he got home, we established a practice for him to access gratitude to ensure he didn’t slip back into taking all of the things in his life for granted, as it is so easy to do. One of the main reasons I take young men into the woods is to develop and cultivate a deep sense of gratitude for the natural world — and for everything in their lives back home.

 

7: Develop Real Relationships With Women

At my high school, it was all about the hook up. For me and my friends, the measures of success were how many girls you could hook up with and how “hot” they were. (It was not even a possibility for an athletic guy to come out as gay at my school — he would be hazed and isolated.) This hook up culture prevented me from having emotionally intimate relationships with young women. Without men who modeled this kind of emotional intimacy, it took me years before I learned how on my own. I talk a lot with my young guys who are exploring sexually with woman about noticing what different interactions with women feel like. Does it feel good to have an emotion-less hook up? What about emotional intimacy feels intimidating? What does a healthy relationship with a woman look like? By developing this awareness, they can start to learn how to develop healthy, loving relationships.

 

8: Build Intimate Emotional Relationships with Men

I had a lot of good buddies in high school, but it was not until late college that I started to develop truly intimate emotional relationships with men. This was in large part because of the stigma against emotionally intimate male relationships. Express vulnerability to another guy and you’re “gay” — meaning weak — the cardinal sin of masculinity in our culture. In a radical perversion of our culture, being emotionally open and real has been attached to gender identity. There is so much fear amongst young men of being called gay that they protect themselves by never showing vulnerability around other men. The result is young men who keep their inner lives hidden from one another. The consequences are deep and long lasting: Many young American men leave high school without knowing how to develop authentic male relationships and go through their lives never experiencing deep male friendship. I teach my young men that being open and real with their male friends is the best way to develop an understanding, compassion, and true brotherhood with one another.

 

9: Prepare for Life After Sports

Sports were my singular passion growing up. I played football, track, basketball, soccer, baseball, tennis, and excelled in lacrosse. I swam every summer, and starting at age 12, I was determined to play Division 1 sports. I achieved my goal when I was recruited to play lacrosse at Brown University. But when I got there I realized my dream wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. I thought that somehow if I played a Division 1 sport, I would’ve made it; I’d be happy. During my freshman year, I started hanging out with men outside of sports who valued sweetness, intellectual curiosity, and a deep focus on social justice. I realized that I no longer loved lacrosse and wanted to move on. During this transition, I had little guidance from coaches, friends, or family about how difficult this transition would be. It proved to be brutal: I derived my sense of self-worth entirely from being a good athlete. In the absence of mentorship, I went on a soul searching solo trip around the world. I now work with many young men now aspiring to play Division 1 sports. I remind them that there is much more to life to being an athlete; in the long run being a thoughtful, compassionate, intelligent man will be more important than anything they accomplish on the field.

 

10: Decide What’s Important to Me

I felt enormous pressure to go to a “good” college. But my parents and teachers didn’t put this pressure on me; I put this on myself. As a result, I did the things high schoolers are told to do to gain acceptance to elite institutions. I got good grades, became a member of National Honor Society, and took a ton of AP classes. I did do some things that I naturally cared about. I did actually love sports, some of my history classes, and spending time out in the mountains of Colorado and the waters of the Chesapeake Bay. But since I was so “on track” I didn’t have time to really step back to ask myself what was truly meaningful to me. What did I really care about? Many students who are on “track” and go to good schools (and others who do not) bump up against these questions of purpose as they navigate life post-high school. I wish mentors had been asking me questions about what was important to me. Why was it that I went through high school without ever having to confront the most important questions in life: What kind of human did I want to be and want did I want to give to the world?

 

At the end of the day, how are you going to start crafting your own life after adolescence if you can’t answer the big questions about purpose and values for yourself? I tell the young men I work with that, ultimately, they’re going to have to decide what is meaningful to them — not their parents, not “society,” or what is expected of men in our culture. They must follow what makes them come alive, what’s good for the world, and what their heart truly cares for. If young men were taught to follow their hearts more, we would live in a very different world. Instead, most young male hearts are wounded and armored. Laying down the armor and opening up the heart is the first step to experiencing the true fullness of a deeply meaningful human life. True, it can be scary and ambiguous, but it is what I needed to hear most from an older guy on my journey though adolescence.

 

 

The 3 Ingredients for a Supportive Self Care Ritual

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When you were in school, did you take a class about taking good care of yourself? Probably not. Like doing laundry and effective housecleaning techniques, taking good care of ourselves – e.g. self care – is one of those vital life skills we never really get taught. If you were lucky, you had a parent or mentor that demonstrated good self care practices, but even then, we now live in a society and culture that runs at such a breakneck speed, self care seems like an afterthought or a selfish indulgence.

 

Self care isn’t selfish  – in the opinion of myself and others, it’s required.

 

But what is self care? How does one practice self care? I like to think of it like a recipe – it requires a few ingredients to make it “successful” (a term which is relative, personal, and totally not objective) and everybody has their own ideal version. Here are my top 3 ingredients to ensure your self care routine is nourishing and supportive:

1. It’s Personal

Whenever I talk about self care, many people envision things like bubble baths and eating chocolate. While that might be nourishing to some, it isn’t for everyone – my definition of self care is anything activity that fills your cup, anything that helps you get in touch with the best version of yourself.

 

I give you permission to choose self care rituals that are just as personal and individual as you are. I have a friend whose self care routine is listening to his favorite music while walking his dogs. My self care routine includes journaling in the morning with a cup of tea, or reading books late at night (again, with hot tea). Your self care could be going for a jog in your favorite park, writing a letter to a friend, spending time in the kitchen baking, or even binge watching documentaries on Netflix – nobody has the right to judge! Good self care is personal.

 

2. It’s Intentional

It is easy to confuse things that make you feel good with self care – there is some overlap, but they aren’t exactly the same thing. For example, I love to clean the house – it makes me feel so much better afterwards. But, that isn’t self care; I’m often tired afterwards, and annoyed because it’s one more thing on my to do list. Another good example is binging on chocolate; it might feel good, but if you berate yourself constantly afterwards for your splurge, it might be doing more harm than good.

 

When deciding the role self care plays in your life, bring strong intentions into it – those intentions, such as knowing how you want to feel after self care, can help you ensure your focus is in the right place. Then hold yourself accountable and make adjustments to ensure your self care rituals get you in touch with filling your cup. Self care is intentional.

 

3. It’s Sacred

Lastly, when it comes to self care, it needs to be a regular, repeat activity that you make sacred. You shouldn’t ever feel ashamed that you are missing out on something else because you’re enjoying your self care activity; nor should you feel like self care is a chore. Indeed, if you have satisfied the first ingredient, your self care routine should be something that you truly look forward to. You should be proud of taking good care of yourself! It should be an activity that you just don’t feel as good without it – it should be a ritual that brings you closer to the best version of yourself. Good self care is sacred.

 

3 Choices to Bust You Out of Stress

There is not a day that passes without stressful situations, people or thoughts.  The fast pace of work, uncompromising drive to perform, competitive nature of people and lack of down time all contribute to what has become an epidemic of stress-related issues.  It isn’t just emotions that are affected either.

 

“Just talking about stress management… stresses me out.  I don’t want to manage stress. I want to  tame it, rise above it, get stronger and then move on.”  ~ Lane Michel

 

Our whole being is being depleted daily through dealing with stress the way we Bust out of stresslearned as we grew up in a world that doesn’t exist now.  Our emotions are stretched to the point of desensitization.  Our mind is exercised to the point of exhaustion, consuming negativity and narrowing focus.  Our body is a battery emptied before the end of the day when we are supposed to recharge… which doesn’t happen because sleepless nights from stress interrupt our natural process for regeneration.  Our spirit is disconnected and too far away too often leaving us confused, bewildered or hopeless.  It can easily feel like we are in a little life raft in the middle of the ocean experiencing one perfect storm after another while we bail out the raft and try to survive until rescue arrives.

 

In truth, the rescue comes from within us. We can be supported by tools, practices and others to learn new ways to rise above daily stress and extreme life events. A great deal of research has contributed to chart a course to thriving, not just surviving, through life’s stressors.

 

3 stress busting choices will change your relationship with stress, forever:

  1. Build resilience… to keep your energy up before and during stress
  2. Pause briefly… to rise above any stressor
  3. Hold appreciation in your heart… to positively shift your power

 

1. BUILD RESILIENCE

Our first choice is to build the capacity to be resilient during times of stress. New research over the last 10 years has established that emotions play a much greater role in our health than previously accepted. In fact, emotional intelligence is key to improving physiology, health, mental clarity and performance in every aspect of our life. Emotions and our heart as a regulator of emotions turn out to be key to building resilience.

 

The Institute of HeartMath, leading researcher for bridging the connection between our heart and mind, defines resilience as the capacity to prepare for, recover from and adapt in the face of stress, challenge and adversity. Resilience is the most effective personal skill needed because without intelligently managing our personal energy, we cannot succeed in the world we have created today.

 

If the level of stress, challenge or adversity remains high without adequate tools for maintaining resilience, then:

  • Personal energy becomes drained
  • Perception narrows
  • Depleting emotions dominate thoughts words and actions
  • Performance declines
  • Burn out, poor decision-making and declining health result

 

The keys to energy self-regulation and improved performance are:

  • Self-awareness… what stressor is draining your energy?
  • Breathe… deeper, slower breathing establishes an inner calm
  • Learn personal practices to stop depleting and start renewing energy

 

Developing resilience skills enables greater capacity to store and efficiently utilize our human energy system. Building increasing levels of the physiological state called coherence leads to an optimal state in which heart, mind and emotions are aligned and in sync leading to sustained health and performance. Heart Rhythms, specifically Heart Rate Variability, provide a measurable window to monitor and manage resilience. Proven technology has enabled simple feedback apps and devices (such as those from HeartMath) that coach, train and support development of resilience skills.

 

The most important step in instantly building our resilience, while experiencing a stressful situation, is to remember to breathe.  No one even needs to know that we are taking a little slower, deeper breath.  Just choosing to breathe opens up the potential to rise above stress.

 

We can choose to quickly build skills and habits that harness the intersection of science and consciousness practices for significantly improved personal and professional effectiveness.

 

2. PAUSE FOR CHOICE

Just a simple pause will change our world.  We don’t have to react to everything so quickly.  We don’t have to fight every moment.  We don’t have to see everything as a battle or war or competition.  We don’t have to make sure that we come out ahead of everyone else.  We don’t have to be embarrassed, guilty, shameful or regretful because of our reactions.

 

We call this BreathPause for Choice” because this simple act of pausing for as little as a few seconds enables your higher intelligence to engage. You can override a reaction that is might be inappropriate, inflammatory, shameful or any other negative of a long list of the source of many regrets or guilty feelings that merely add to our stress. The time it takes to reverse the damage done — to correct the reaction and the resulting negative consequences — is so much greater than this short pause.

 

When we are in conflict, challenged or having trouble focusing but feel pressured to do something our stress levels rise further. If we aren’t being physically attacked, then we all have the ability to pause. When the pause is inserted after taking a breath and before opening our mouth, we all realize just how much wiser we can be.  We have so many ways to handle things better.

 

Some techniques for learning to insert a pause include:

  • Count to 3 before opening your mouth to reply or respond to others
  • Ask trusted friends to help catch reactions
  • While speaking pay attention to heartbeat; increased heart rate is a sign of reacting
  • When surrounded by anger, remove yourself to gain perspective
  • A rubber band on our wrist can be snapped when we should have paused but didn’t to remind us next time to take a pause
  • Practice role playing the pause with co-workers and friends

 

After learning to insert the pause, then listen and connect with what is around. What really is going on? Asking that question to our self in the pause enables us to listen for our own intelligence and intuition. It is far easier to choose the words to speak or the action to take when it comes from within us. If there is no insight gained yet, pause a little more to understand who is speaking and what they are really saying.  Often others or our reactions come from external and unrelated to situation we found ourselves.  A pause allows for clearer heads to prevail.  Diffusing any situation takes mental and emotional clarity that can be delivered quickly with a pause.

 

With practice and building confidence in the pause, it becomes so easy that people find them self unconsciously inserting pauses in conversations all day long. It just becomes a new normal. Can you imagine how much more kind and thoughtful our world can be if more people engaged their intellect more often by slowing down only a few seconds to pause?

 

 

3. HOLD APPRECIATION IN YOUR HEART

One of the largest sources of stress is conflict.  A common thread to conflict is a lack of caring, understanding or compassion.  It is true that nearly all conflict can be traced back to unresolved emotions.  The depleting, heavy and negative feelings that hang out in our energy are felt by others near and far.  Most often, we are oblivious to the true emotions generating conflict.  Being unaware of these emotions builds stress within us and can easily trigger stress in others. It is helpful to remember Wendy Mass’ words, “be kind, for everyone is fighting a battle we know nothing about.”

 

Daily living induces stress as well. In any given day we can experience stress creators such as being cut-off while driving to work, children testing their parent’s patience past the limits, financial worries, negative media streaming bad news constantly or simply the “final straw“ of an accumulation of stress over time.  We are drawn in to what seems so very important in the moment.  Our perspective and attention narrows to the point where we may even forget that others are experiencing stress at the same time.  The daily adventure we call life pulls us away from our heart if we are not skilled in remaining centered, grounded and aware of our surroundings. What seems natural to focus internally actually works against us. The result can only be a collision of circumstances that will inevitably produce more stress.

 

In the very second when we feel like pulling away, the third choice to make is to hold appreciation for something, anything, in our heart. The appreciation can be for a person, place, experience or thing.  What matters the most is that we feel deep appreciation.  Most often the object of our appreciation comes to us without effort, but if there is a struggle to find something, here are a few ideas to illustrate how simple we can begin with appreciation and still have a positive impact:

  • The sun rising reminds us that “every day is a new discovery”
  • How a favorite food tasted
  • The scent of a flower, fresh rain, incense or another loved fragrance.
  • A moment in time you hold as dear
  • A childhood victory that delighted you
  • The smile on a child playing without a care
  • The unconditional love of an animal

 

You want to have a few of these objects of appreciation practiced before you make the first choice to Build Resilience and the second choice to Pause. This allows you to instantly shift your reality once you take the third step with Appreciation.

 

Simply by putting attention on the feeling of appreciation we are keeping our heart intelligence engaged in the situation we are facing.  Many studies have shown that by holding the feeling of appreciation in our heart a shift can be felt within and around us. Our heart’s electromagnetic field carries messages through feelings, thoughts and intentions that influence our environment. We can choose to either continue to transmit more stress, more heavy emotions, more confused energy or we can access and activate caring, understanding or compassion through this simple action to return to one of our most powerful emotions, appreciation.

 

 

IT’S 3 CHOICES IN LESS THAN A MINUTE

Alleviating stress seems out of the question. Avoiding stress is impossible while we are still breathing. The best solution for stress then is to shift our self completely into a place where a new foundation for quickly busting through stress is possible. The great news is that with three quick choices, you can.

 

  1. Building resilience starts with a slow, deep breath allowing us to
  2. Pause in order to listen and connect with
  3. Appreciation held in our heart.

 

The most effective tools and practices in life are truly simple. The beauty of these three choices you can make is that they can be done in less than a minute having a positive impact on stress all day long… and for life.

 

 

 

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT BUSTING OUT OF STRESS?

VeraHeartYou are invited to join Lane Michel and Lynda Nguyen, certified HeartMath Trainers, for the Resilience Advantage™ Workshop.

 

In this skill-based program, you will learn practical tools and strategies to strengthen resiliency and improve decision-making. Based upon the Institute of HeartMath’s research into the physiology of optimal performance with expertise from VeraHeart, you will walk away with concrete practices that increase well-being, mental clarity and emotional stability.

 

 

5 Lessons Teenage Boys Learn from the Natural World

 

One mile in either direction, the river explodes with speed and force, waterfalls crash in a soul-stirring chorus. Between the falls, however, the water fans into a forested floodplain, carving a gentle bowl in the canyon floor and depositing a white sand beach beside a deep swimming hole, stands of old growth cedar, surrounded on all sides by three thousand foot cliffs. For three days, our tribe of twelve — we call ourselves  W.I.L.D. guys — have called this place home. Now, returned from their 24 hour solos, the young men are gathered at the fire to share their stories, and recall for themselves and each other what they’ve learned in the span of one brief (and very long) day.

 

IMG_0640.JPGThis is my favorite part of our wilderness journeys. We talk a lot about mindfulness and gratitude on trail. But it turns out that what makes it all stick, what allows young men to integrate these things into their lives, is the direct encounter with their internal world that happens from sitting in the woods by themselves. Below are some of the most common themes that emerge in these gatherings around the fire. Taken as a whole, they offer a compelling story for why wilderness immersions and solo ceremonies are important elements of young men’s journeys into adulthood.

1. Gratitude, especially for parents.

There’s something perfectly natural about the distance that teenagers throw up between themselves and their parents. They’re becoming their own people, and they need to prove to themselves and everyone else that they have independent existences, outside of their family units. What’s crucial is that they also recognize that their lives are possible because of the innumerable ways they are held, loved, supported, and cared for by their parents. We hear boys come back all the time from their solos and say, “Wow, I never realized how much my parents do for me.” One boy who had been fighting with his parents about a proposed move to a new city came back and said, “My dad has done so much for me my entire life and this is his dream job. The least I could do is move with him and be a good sport.”

2. Self Love.

Buried a millimeter beneath the surface of most teenage boys’ bravado is a deep fear about whether they are doing a good job with their lives, and whether they are lovable. A lot of boys shield themselves from this fear by either displaying a lot of pride and vanity, or being self-deprecating. The wilderness teaches that neither of these strategies are necessary, because they are, in fact, doing a great job with their lives, and are completely lovable. It’s really common for guys to come back to the fire and report, in clear and humble ways, that they feel really good about their true selves, and that they’re excited to do better. We think that’s exactly the sweet spot from which to launch into adulthood.

3.  Staying Present.

24 hours can be a long time if you’re waiting for it to be over. What’s amazing is that most guys experience boredom at the beginning of their solos, but almost nobody experiences it by the end. Sure, they have to run head first into the wall of wanting it to be over for a while, but on the other side of that is a relaxation into the present moment that most young guys have never experienced before. One young man told us that his solo felt like a time warp. The first half was interminable. He thought about getting up and leaving. He felt angry that we hadn’t gotten him yet. He worried that we’d forgotten he was out there. And then something clicked. He made peace. “They’ll get here when they get here,” he said to himself. And all of a sudden hours felt like minutes and we were there to bring him in. Overjoyed, he couldn’t believe it was already over.

4.  Non-Aggression.

A lot of boys come of age thinking that anger is the only permissible emotion and aggression the only way to feel powerful. You can’t talk them out of this. The messages supporting this story are too strong – it has to come from direct experience. We had one young man who explained to us on the first day of our trip that he fought other boys because that was the only way to earn respect. “Win or lose, once you fight a guy, at least you can respect each other.” We felt sad to hear him express this, but knew better than to argue with his experience. His identity was too strongly connected to being the kind of guy who’s willing to fight. We listened with compassion, but without telling him that he was wrong. Our strategy is to let the wilderness teach in its own mysterious way. Around the fire that night he shared the dream he’d had on solo. All of the animals in the forest had come to him, one by one. “I don’t remember what it sounded like,” he said, “but they each taught me in their own language the way of non-aggression.” You might not be able to believe your parents that fighting isn’t the way to be powerful, but when a bear tells you in its own language, well, that’s another story.

5. Wonder and Delight.

Nothing teaches us about the power of our own brains like sitting somewhere by ourselves for 24 hours. We start to realize that the external world does not dictate our experience — we do! Do things not go our way sometimes? Sure. Would we like them to be different? Of course. But must this cause us to feel annoyed or unhappy? No way! Our human consciousness is incredibly powerful, and we have a lot of choice about how to experience external conditions. One young man told us that he spent the first hours of his solo feeling super annoyed at the swarm of gnats buzzing in his circle — until he realized he could shift his perspective. He recounted how all of a sudden it was as if the gnats were dancing for him, not his antagonists but his companions. The change filled him with delight. Another young man told us how at first the scale of his surroundings — the monumental cliffs, the vast sky above — made him feel lonely and small. And then he realized that he had always been this small at the scale of the cosmos, and that it was in fact a great relief to know how much larger the universe was than him. And in the moment of that recognition came a personal connection to existence on a grand scale, and a feeling of joy that he’d never known.

These are just a few of the common threads that we hear around our campfires. Each young man’s story is unique, just like each young man’s journey to adulthood. What unites us as human beings, however, is our innate capacity to experience gratitude and interconnection, if only we have the tools and practices to get us there. Wilderness immersion and ceremony are powerful ways to introduce young men to these vital sources of well being. There are reasons why these sorts of ceremonies have been used in countless traditional cultures: there’s nothing like some good old fashioned growing up medicine to support healthy, happy, purpose-filled lives.

The backbone of happiness: How posture makes us better people

If you are anything like me, the idea of sitting or standing with erect posture has a place in your heart like cold showers or marathons. It is probably good for you but a little intense.

 

When I was a kid, my two sisters were ballerinas. During their recitals, I developed a particular skill where I could lie on my own lap and sleep soundly – like a laptop. I carried this skill with me into college, where as a sophomore at Brown I found myself falling asleep in 6-person seminars, despite sincere interest in our discussions. I went to a sleep doctor who told me that I was normal and not narcoleptic. It wasn’t until my friend Charlie taught me to meditate, that I learned what I consider to be one of my life’s most important lessons and something I believe everyone should know. It solved not only my sleep problems, but I believe has made me a better person.

 

The way we hold our bodies affects how our minds work. Most of us, via incorrect posture, cripple our mind’s capacity for cognitive functioning, confidence, and wellbeing. Mindfulness taught me how to listen to my body, and meditation taught me how to sit. This is what I have learned:

 

Image 1

Image 1

1. Queen Victoria was wrong. Conventional chair design inevitably makes us slouch. The image of sitting erectly on a flat surface, introduced in the Victorian Era, was disproven via a series of X-rays taken by the German orthopedic surgeon Hanns Schubert in the 1960s. Our skeletons are not meant to bend at a 90-degree angle from our hips, it is not biologically correct and constrains the lumbar region of our spines (see image 1).

 

Posture

Image 2 by Wilfred Gachau

2. Get your knees below your hips: What researchers found was that by bending our legs at a downward angle from our hips our spines could follow their natural curve. This alleviates tension in the lumbar region and allow our spines to properly carry our body weight. If you visit a preschool classroom you will notice children tilting their chairs forward to achieve this angle. They are doing what their bodies are asking of them, and would continue to do so if their teachers did not tell them to stop rocking on their chairs. The trick is to get your knees below your hips, at around a 20-degree angle. If you are familiar with meditation, you have probably heard this before. This can be achieved by sitting on the edge of your chair, with strategic placement of cushions, or with “forward tilting seats” (see an example in image 2).

 

3. Give your happiness a solid footing. Posture is a foundation for wellbeing. Wherever you are reading this, try getting your knees below your hips – standing also works. Lift your shoulders, move them back bringing your shoulder blades together, and relax them by your sides. Lift your head up as if it is a balloon pulling your body upward. Angle your gaze, rather than your head, to read these words. How do you feel? According to social scientist Amy Cudding, a researcher at Harvard Business School, this posture changes the cortisone and testosterone levels in our brains, giving us more confidence, improving our cognitive functioning, and increasing our chances of success.

 

If you search for it, you’ll find a community of “forward tilted seat” advocates trying to change the way we sit. According to Danish orthopedic surgeon A.C. Mandal, “in no other field of human activity is a similar gap between theory and reality found.” Given that the average American adult spends 50-60 percent of their day sitting and approximately two-thirds experience lower back pain, there should be more awareness of how to sit right.

 

For me, there is a sense of freedom and possibility in recognizing how powerfully our posture can influence our optimism, confidence, and joy. It means that before intellectualizing my worries, I can change my body position. Then, even without chocolate or coffee, I can already start to feel my worries lose their footing and the fire of trust and optimism kindling. Our problems may not evaporate, but our ability to face them with confidence – and what this added strength could mean for the world – is exciting.

 

 

 

Interview with Hector Estrada, Happiness Role Model

Hector and RandyHector Estrada is a true Agent of Happiness. Born in Mexico, he arrived in the United States with only a dream. He wanted to express his authentic self and create beauty. Against all odds, he started a life and step by step gained confidence, skills and a community. From the start he gave back, through volunteering. Dealing with his own early trauma and challenges only strengthened his desire to be there for others.

 

We are grateful to Hector for his passion to spread the message that everyone deserves happiness and that his new line of hair products which is helping support our programs in the U.S and globally.

 

Below is a transcript of Randy’s conversation with Hector about the launch of his new product line, the proceeds of which will benefit Project Happiness.

 

INSPIRATION:

Randy Taran (RT): Hector this is such an exciting time. It seems like yesterday we were just talking about your hair product line and now they are here… so beautiful! What gave you the inspiration?

 

Hector Estrada (HE): My inspiration about the shampoo is simplicity, in design and in how you live your life, and elegance, which is about creativity and quality, and saving.

 

RT: Saving?

 

HE: Saving… since I was a child, I learned, to do more with less. I really want to dedicate these shampoos to my mother. She had 6 children, was a single mom with lots of stress, worrying, and she was always working hard for her kids. She never had time to take care of herself; she never was able to educate herself. I always wanted to work in beauty, and also to help educate people…because my family never had these opportunities. And now, I have my career that I love so much, and I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to help Project Happiness educate so many people. This is my life that I am living now.

 

RT: What was it like – the relationship with your mother?

 

HE: When I was a teenager, she really did not know who I was. She was afraid for me to go out into the world and to be a hairdresser, and openly gay – she was so afraid that I would be hurt in the world. We didn’t really communicate much because she didn’t have the skills and I didn’t know how; I was too young.

 

RT: Recently your mom passed away, much too early from cancer. What did this whole experience open up for you?

 

HE: I couldn’t understand how it happened – I think that part of why my mother got cancer was so much stress, she didn’t eat well, she didn’t look after herself, she didn’t know how to be happy, she had no one to teach her about these things.

 

RT: Maybe that’s partly why it’s important to you. You really live these ideas of being a positive person, cultivating well-being, and being healthy mentally and physically. These are also the foundations of Project Happiness. So, what are some things that help you?

 

 

NOURISHMENT – BODY AND MIND:

HE: The first thing when I wake up in the morning I drink hot water and lemon and honey, every single morning. I also feel grateful to have life, and also for what I already have in my life. This is the first thing I bring to my body and to my mind.

 

RT: What kind of food gives you vitality?

 

HE: I carefully select all my food, and everything has to be simple. After I drink the hot water, I run, do yoga or exercise. Then when I finish, I make a big smoothies – I put broccoli, spinach, half an apple, orange and I put in my blender, and I drink it every single morning. Then I make my oatmeal with almond milk and a little honey. This is my breakfast.

 

RT: And that keep’s you going?

 

HE: Yes! I make my own food, organic of course, I shop at Rainbow, one of my favorite places in San Francisco. I like to buy local, I like to support San Francisco and California. Because, now I am American – this is my life, this is my country.

For dinner, which is early, I eat something very light – things like my grandma made when I was a kid back in our small town. Though I live in San Francisco now – a very sophisticated city – I’m back to eating the way my grandma taught me…very very simply.

 

RT: So keeping it simple in your food is a wonderful way to give you energy. But in this society, it can be very complicated and overwhelming for people to live simply. May be it’s the addiction to technology, maybe people feel more disconnected. What are your thoughts?

 

HE: I don’t want to be negative about technology. Technology is important in life, but it’s not everything. I choose not to have technology in my house, because it’s not necessary for me. I really decided to connect with myself first, and then later I can connect with toys.

I think people feel disconnected because they don’t listen to their bodies. If you can have discipline in the morning, like when you wake up, you can make a choice not to reach for your phone first thing. Give yourself 5 minutes and feel that you have life, that you are healthy. Then it becomes natural to put good things into your mind, and into your body.

 

COMMUNICATION:

RT: Absolutely – being mindful about the way you live your life… Waking up with and starting your day with gratitude can set the tone for your whole day – it is a powerful practice. You mentioned communication earlier – why is communication so important to you?

 

HE: When I first came to this country, I was very nervous and I was so afraid to live the way I was living. I was illegal in this country, and the reason I came was to be free, to have a better life and to help my family. I couldn’t express my feelings – I didn’t know where to start.. When I first came here, I had no one, I didn’t know what to do, but I went to a therapist, a lawyer, I talked with friends, and the doors started to open. Through communication, step-by-step, I found how to live the American dream. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to become successful, and I’ve always had a vision to bring education forward. You don’t have to be a teacher in University, but I can be a teacher in advising on how to have better communication

 

RT: Yes, this was the first step in opening the doors; if you kept it all inside, nothing would have happened. Emotions point us to what we need to pay attention to. Part of that is being true to yourself – being authentic.

 

HE: Being myself has been very important. It has brought me more happiness, freedom and creativity.

 

CREATIVITY:

RT: What does creativity look like to you?

 

HE: I have been challenged all my life, since I was a little kid, and it has been creativity that has saved my life. I had every reason to be a drug addict or an alcoholic; I had a very difficult life. Even though I was on my own, I talked to myself – I was my own father, my own mother, my own friend. At one point in my life I was so scared, so sad, and angry, but I worked very hard, and people started to see my creativity, and they came to me and wanted to give me a hand to help me to get to the next level.

When I was little, one day my grandma, who saw that I was different, told me, “Hector, you should learn to work with your hands, because when you learn to work with your hands, you will have something you can take wherever you go.” That’s when I started to learn the importance of creativity. It’s very important for every single kid to know their strengths, and to experience creativity.

 

RT: In one way, creativity was like a lifeline; it guided your life and may have even saved it.

 

HE: Creativity saved my life – 100%. It gave me passion, love, a way to rise above my circumstances. All the negatives that I went through brought me… beauty.

 

INTUITION:

RT: What is your hope for young people? From the moment we met, we shared that passion to give them a way to take charge of their happiness and make life better.

 

HE: I hope for young people to feel very authentic, free, to feel grateful, to be independent in the mind.

 

RT: In the mind… because success did not just appear without any work on your part – you developed positive habits in your mind, over the years. That is so important – it’s a big part of what we teach.

 

HE: When you have positive habits in your life: to be healthy, eat well, exercise, it influences your brain. For me, after 5pm, I don’t eat a lot, because I like to sleep, and it helps me to sleep. Before I go to bed, I drink natural teas, like ginger and mint – I buy my mint and I make my tea. It relaxes me, so I go to bed with a clear mind. My dreams tell me so many many things. Every morning when I wake up, I remember my dreams, because I am really connected.

 

RT: So speaking of dreams, what is the secret to making your dreams come true?

 

HE: To be connected with yourself, to be positive, to have connection with people, to have communication with people, and to be honest.

 

RT: Honest with yourself first.

 

HE: Yes, and then I can be honest with the world.

 

RT: What are some of the lessons you have learned in recent years?

 

PATIENCE:

HE: To have patience, to listen to yourself, and listen to those people who want the best for you, to look in people’s eyes, absorb everything, to be focused. You know, for many years I was hiding my emotions, my creativity, my life, myself…and this is the beautiful thing I learned in this country – to have patience.

 

RT: And you also had the courage to be authentic.

 

HE: Because I decided to develop an independent mind – to listen inside of me.

 

RT: So your intuition is quite strong – is that something that you cultivate?

 

HE: Yes, and I think everybody has it. But they need to discover it… by the thoughts they think and how they live their life. My recipe is Project Happiness – it works really well – believe me!

 

(Laughter)

 

RT: We do talk about discovering your strengths and using them to help others! In your life, you give back so much. Why is that such an important part of who you are?

 

HE: It goes back to my own family. In the beginning my mother had no idea who I was –I was a teenager when I left home. She just knew that I was sending money to take care of my family. Later she discovered that I had my own salon, and I started my own line of hair products, and she told me, “Hector, I’m glad you did what you did, to be yourself and to be openly gay and follow your dreams. I see the way you have lived your life. Now I am sick, and I’m going to go away, and I feel so peaceful, the way I see you – you’re happy and you are doing amazing things for the family, and for people. That’s the only thing you are going to take when you go – that peace in life. “

And my mom, when she passed away, didn’t have anything. The only thing she had was her family and what she wanted to do was to bring us all together – that gives you so much peace in life. And that’s what I want in my life – when I leave, I want to go very peacefully. This is what I learned.

 

RT: That’s beautiful. Inner peace, emotional resiliency, giving back – is that partly why you are so passionate about working with heart stampProject Happiness?

 

HE: To me, Project Happiness is about communication and education. Any education you have is power in your life. I don’t believe in happiness all the time, because we are human beings. I do believe in being consistent in life. Project Happiness gives you the tools to be consistent, and how you can practice, exercise that part of you.

 

TEENS:

RT: That’s true for everyone, and I know you have a special place for teenagers too.

 

HE: The teenage years are difficult for every single person. It’s difficult time for the parents. Teenagers don’t want to listen to their parents, including myself, but they are open to listen to someone else. I feel that I can share my life, my own experiences with them, inspire them. I have big hope for teenagers and some advice:

 

  • To have better communication
  • To connect more with themselves before they connect with technology
  • To listen to those who see their potential
  • To tune in to the deepest part of themselves, and strengthen their minds
  • Education is power, and a key to freedom
  • To save money for the future, don’t waste it on stupid things. Buy things you need and buy quality, its about beauty elegance and simplicity.

 

RT: This is a good reminder for most people!

 

HE: And it has to do with why I’ve created my own line of hair products. Because I’m talking about freedom, beauty, simplicity, elegance, and education.

hector blog

 

RT: You embody Project Happiness – it’s the way you live your life, it’s what you infuse in your products and in every thing you do.

 

HE: Every bottle I sell gives a portion to Project Happiness. My vision is to give a lot of money to Project Happiness to bring this project to more people – universal. I feel very fortunate to be able to do this. Simplicity, just like caring, is a powerful force.

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Smile for the Camera, Smile for Yourself

SmileLaughter may actually be the best medicine! People define happiness in many different ways, but at its core, leading researchers have proven that happiness involves feeling positive emotions that express life is good and meaningful. Understanding, accepting and living this idea of happiness reduces your risk of heart disease, strengthens your immune system, and might ultimately add years to your life. Happiness is also deeply intertwined into the idea of “Pay-It-Forward” and when you are happy, you tend to prioritize positivity in your day-to-day activity. When you laugh or smile or even think a good thought, your body responds to that just as much as your mind does.

 

It doesn’t take much to realize how beautiful the world around you really is. The more beauty you see, the more you smile—and the healthier you feel. Have you noticed differences in your health when you smile more?

 

To bring out your beautiful smile as often as possible, here are three simple activities we can all do to introduce a little more happiness in our lives:

 

1. Three Good Things

In our day-to-day lives, it’s easy to get caught up in the things that go wrong and feel like we’re living under our own private rain cloud; at the same time, we tend to adapt to the good things and people in our lives, taking them for granted. As a result, we often overlook everyday beauty and goodness–a kind gesture from a stranger, say, or the warmth of our heater on a chilly morning. In the process, we frequently miss opportunities for happiness and connection.

This practice guards against those tendencies. By remembering and listing three positive things that have happened in your day – and considering what caused them – you tune into the sources of goodness in your life. It’s a habit that can change the emotional tone of your life, replacing feelings of disappointment or entitlement with those of gratitude – which may be why this practice is associated with significant increases in happiness.

 

2. Best Possible Self

Sometimes our goals in life can be elusive. But research suggests that building optimism about the future can motivate people to work toward that desired future and thus make it more likely to become a reality. This exercise asks you to imagine your life going as well as it possibly could, then write about this best possible future. By doing so, research suggests that you’ll not only increase your happiness in the present but pave the way for sustained happiness down the line.

 

3. Positive Events

One of the most direct ways to increase happiness is to do more of the things that make us happy. But when life gets busy, we don’t always remember to make time for enjoyable activities. Intentionally scheduling a variety of enjoyable activities into the day can help overcome this barrier to happiness.

This exercise prompts you to engage in a variety of activities associated with happiness and reflect on how they make you feel. Different kinds of activities bring different kinds of satisfaction, all of which contribute uniquely to happiness. Research suggests that variety and novelty in daily activities is an important component of happiness, so trying a number of different activities can prevent you from getting so used to any one activity that it ceases to bring you pleasure.

 

People always brighten up the room when they smile. What made you smile today?

 

 

Gratitude: Good Medicine for Stress and Striving

Photo Oct 25, 5 06 29 PMThe Stanford student approached me after the second session of our Exploring Happiness course. “I’m sorry but I have to drop your class. The course conflicts with my family values.” Perplexed, I inquired further. She explained, “You teach the science of well-being and self-care. When I was a child, I understood that my job was to be very successful. I asked my Mom, ‘How do I become very successful?’ She replied, ‘You have to work very hard.'” The student pursued further. ‘But Mom, how do I know when I am working hard enough?’ Well, my daughter, I’m sorry to say but you are working hard enough when you are suffering.’ 

 

I flinched. We talked. I gently invited her to imagine an integrated, vital strategy, in which she could experience a deep sense of well-being, accomplishment AND success.  We talked more. She cried. Sadly, she dropped the course.

 

Do you wonder what goes through her mind when she awakens at 3am in the morning? The research indicates that her perfectionistic striving for success will eventually lead to mental and psychological burn-out. Eventually, anxiety and distress will impair her creativity and accomplishments. She is a student who concerns me.

 

In this case, our student swallowed her mother’s well-intended but likely, bad medicine for success. Yet, some parents are astonished to learn that their kid has adopted this strategy all on their own.  Recently, a parent consulted with me: “I’ve always advised my kid that their happiness comes first. I don’t understand why he is driving himself so ruthlessly.”

 

No, it is not always you, dear parents. Then why? In a word- their peers. Some high-achieving peers observe these intensely self-sacrificing students who relentlessly pursue an idealized, and often unattainable, success. The irony is that when character strengths, like grit, fortitude, persistence, and determination, are taken to an unhealthy extreme, they back-fire. The perfectionism, relentless striving and constant comparison with other students result in a downward spiral into emptiness, deep isolation, frustration and emotional distress. What is the way out? How can we help?

 

You probably already know that you can talk yourself blue in the face. So instead, consider modeling the healing power of gratitude. Gratitude isn’t just a soft filmy blur of appreciation. It takes gumption and courage to live with gratitude in a culture that rewards relentless striving. It takes grit to choose to live with thankfulness for what we have, rather than focusing on endless lists of what is missing. Gratefulness is not only an antidote to distress; it is a gold standard of deep fulfillment, meaning, and good health.

 

Dr. Robert Emmons, UC Davis, researcher and author of “Thanks”, reminds us, “Gratitude can be as easy as a beautiful sunset, an exquisite bite of chocolate, a child, or the brilliance of autumn leaves. No matter what shape or form gratitude takes, it fills us with a warmth and a reminder that life is good; this moment is special. Gratitude provides lessons to make us stronger. It is more than appreciation – it is a gift.”

 

Research suggests why the experience of gratitude is transformative and offers tremendous health benefits. Thankfulness awakens our brain’s pleasure centers, and our bodies produce bio-chemicals that activate a strong and powerful sense of our potential, well-being and connection. Our bodies respond with vitality and a stronger immune system. We may be inspired to serve others, to contribute to the greater good.

 

Power up your gratitude muscle by a few simple actions, and model the change you wish to see in your kids. Do these practices alone. Do these with your family and friends. Research shows that if you practice just three times a week, you’ll begin noticing a stronger sense of ease, calm, and lightness. Best of all, these practices can spark new connections in fun heart-warming ways. Choose some:

  • Gratitext: Take out your cell phone/tablet. Imagine a particular person to whom you are grateful, maybe someone who helped you get where you are today. Send them a “gratitext” or a note, expressing your thoughts and feelings of gratitude to them for adding value, sparkle, inspiration to your life. Notice the good feelings that arise when you send this note – and how you feel when they respond.

 

  • Reach Out: Notice the many people who earn lower wages but perform a service that adds value to your day. Reach out, and sincerely thank them. Experience the gentle exchange of appreciation.

 

  • 3 Good Things: Begin a “gratitude” journal. Several times weekly, jot down 3 good things that happened. Stumped? No problem. Take a deep breath, and give thanks for the simple things. The people who contribute to your comfort, whether or not you personally know them. Hot and cold running water. A daily hot meal. Gratitude is a powerful antidote to entitlement, indifference, the “blahs”, and discontentment.

 

  • Just Like MeFind a good place to “people watch”. Relax and just be aware of others, take a deep breath and bring to mind the following thought: “Just like me this person has faced struggles, suffering and disappointment. Just like me, this person wants to be content and happy.” Observe what gets stirred up in you or how this guided attention changes your emotional state. Do you feel more empathy or perhaps appreciation for our shared humanity? Share your experience with each other.

 

  • Soak in this awesome 5 minute video with your family and friends: Just watch this video and notice your thoughts and feelings!

 

 

Gratitude. Simple. Transformative. Express your thankfulness with courage. Do things that open your heart. Share how your friends and family contribute to your life. As a great philosopher noted, life is short. Enjoy it day after day. Moment after moment. Savor the goodness in your life, little things and million dollar moments. Share the practice of gratitude, a very good medicine indeed to offer to your loved ones.

 

 

 

3 Simple Ways to Start Living a Life in Gratitude

Picture for blogThe science is in! And it undoubtedly proves that gratitude is more than just a simple sentiment. Studies link gratitude to a stronger immune system, lower blood pressure, better sleep quality, reduced risk of heart disease, and better kidney function. But the benefits of living a life in gratitude extend much further than purely physical. A study out of the University of California, Riverside, reported that grateful people experience more optimism, joy, enthusiasm, and other positive emotions, and they have a deeper appreciation for life’s simple pleasures. These researchers also found that by expressing gratitude for people in your life, like a friend or romantic partner, you can report higher levels of satisfaction in relationships. The most intriguing fact to come out of this study though was that gratitude is a skill that can be learned and nurtured, much like perfecting your Grandmother’s secret recipe.

 

Gratitude, however, doesn’t always come naturally. In our day-to-day lives, it’s easy to get caught up in the things that go wrong and feel like we’re living under our own private rain cloud; at the same time, we tend to adapt to the good things and people in our lives, taking them for granted. As a result, we often overlook everyday beauty and goodness—a kind gesture from a stranger, say, or the warmth of our heater on a chilly morning. That is why it is so important that we make it a priority to live our life in gratitude. Intentionally developing a grateful outlook helps us all recognize the good in our life and acknowledge that these things are truly “gifts” that we are fortunate to receive. Here are simple actions we can take to start making gratitude a habit:

 

1. Three Good Things

This practice guards against those tendencies to miss opportunities for happiness and connection. By remembering and listing three positive things that have happened in your day, and considering what caused them, you tune into the sources of goodness in your life. It’s a habit that can change the emotional tone of your life, replacing feelings of disappointment or entitlement with those of gratitude—which may be why this practice is associated with significant increases in happiness.

 

2. Start a Gratitude Journal

This exercise helps you develop a greater appreciation for the good in your life. In fact, people who routinely express gratitude enjoy better health and greater happiness. The best part—there is no right or wrong way to keep a gratitude journal. We recommend starting out with writing 15 minutes per day, at least once per week for at least two weeks. Soon you’ll figure out what works best for you and discover the impact on your happiness level.

 

3. Write a Gratitude Letter

This exercise encourages you to express gratitude in a thoughtful, deliberate way by writing—and, ideally, delivering—a letter of gratitude to a person you have never properly thanked. Call to mind someone who did something for you for which you are extremely grateful but to whom you never expressed your deep gratitude. This could be a relative, friend, teacher, or colleague. Try to pick someone who you could set an in-person meeting with in the next week to make the most out of this experience. When writing the letter, don’t worry about spelling or grammar and just focus on how this person’s behavior affected you. Not only will it brighten your spirit, but it will remind the recipient of your letter that our actions really do make an impact.

 

So much goodness happens when you’re grateful. What are you grateful for today?

 

 

 

Mental Wealth: Are Your Investments All in Your Head?

wealth-abundance

That’s not a typo…I DO mean ‘Mental Wealth’, not ‘Mental Health’. ‘Wealth’ evokes images of abundance. It’s a ‘happy’ word no matter how you look at it. ‘Health’, on the other hand, can go either way. You’ll see why that’s important by the end of this article.

 

 

Look around. Do you know people who seem to be upbeat, and ‘bad days’ are only minor speed bumps on their life road? But others have a bad day and it puts them into a ditch? Have you ever wondered what the difference is? I sure have. It turns out some people have to work harder than others to experience ‘happiness’.  

 

Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, a professor at the University of California, has studied the ‘Science of Happiness’ since 2001. Results of her multiple studies indicate that 50% of happiness is genetic, 10% is life circumstances, and 40% is within our power to change. This explains why improving life circumstances, like increasing income or changing appearance, does not make people sustainably happier. That’s only 10% of the picture. And as of right now, we can’t change our genetics. That leaves us 40% to work with to impact our happiness. No problem.

 

Except there IS a problem. We are hardwired to focus on the negative. It is an adaptive, self-protective characteristic. As hunter-gatherers we needed to constantly scan our environment to pick out threats. We are rewarded for focusing on the negative. Noticing that giant predatory kangaroo meant we stayed alive. This easily turns into a negative feedback loop. The good news is that by understanding how the brain fashions connections we can break out of the negativity loop and fashion durable positive thinking patterns. We can harness the power of the Tetris Effect.

 

The Tetris Effect, named after the computer game where players manipulate falling cubes, illuminates what happens when we learn. MRI imaging of subjects who played the game for 1.5 hours a week over a period of three months showed increased thickness in their gray matter, and improved function in visual-spatial skills. Amazingly, the amount of energy used in their brains while playing the game DECREASED from the beginning to the end of the study.  In other words, as their brains mastered the task, they became more efficient. In other words, the more you do something, the less ‘brain power’ it takes to accomplish the task.

 

The ability of the brain to rewire itself is called, ‘plasticity’, and we can use this ability to break the negative thinking cycle and develop new positive pathways. The pathways are created by practicing positive thinking, then by using that pathway over and over it becomes automatic, something called, ‘Acquired Optimism’.

 

And that’s why the term ‘Mental Wealth’ is important. The words we choose are one way we wire our brain for positivity, and ultimately, happiness.

 

 

 

What Does It Actually Mean To Love Yourself?

loveyourselfMany of us know that we need to be loving to ourselves, but what does this actually mean?

Since most of us had little or no role modeling regarding loving ourselves when we were growing up, it’s often challenging to know what loving ourselves looks like.

 

Sarah asks:

“All I know about ‘loving oneself’ is to not let anyone (anymore) abuse me in any way, including yelling, criticizing me, etc. As I write this, it sounds like I just described ‘protecting myself,’ so maybe I don’t know what loving myself REALLY means. I would love to hear your definition.”

 

Let’s look at what loving yourself means and what it doesn’t mean.

Loving yourself doesn’t mean:

  • “I’m just going to take care of me. Too bad if you don’t like it.”
     
  • “I’m not responsible for how my behavior affects you. That’s your problem.”
     
  • “If you love me, you will do what I want (whatever that is).”
     
  • “I’m only trying to help you and support you in what I believe is good for you –- even though you haven’t asked for my help or my opinion.”
     
  • “I’ll put my full attention on you and sacrifice myself for you so you will put your full attention on me and sacrifice yourself for me.”
     
  • “When I’m hurting it’s your fault, and it’s up to you to fix it.”
     
  • “Since I need your attention and approval to feel good about myself, it’s okay for me to do whatever I can to get what I need –- such as being overly nice, being angry, blaming you or withdrawing my love from you.”
     
  • “If you love me, and I end up disabled or dying as a result of not taking care of myself physically, that’s your problem, not mine.”

Loving yourself does mean:

  • “I am responsible for learning to manage and regulate my own feelings so that I don’t dump my anger, neediness and pain on you.”
     
  • “I am responsible for defining my own worth and giving myself the attention I need, so that I am not in need of getting this from you, and so I can share my love with you, including supporting you in doing what brings you joy.”
     
  • “I am responsible for managing my time, my space and my finances in ways that make me feel safe and don’t place an unnecessary burden on you.”
     
  • “I am responsible for learning how to access a spiritual source of love so that I can share love with you, rather than trying to get love from you.”
     
  • “I am responsible for taking care of my physical wellbeing – eating healthy foods, getting exercise and getting enough sleep, so that you don’t eventually have to take physical care of me, unnecessarily.”
     
  • “I am responsible for the effect my behavior has on you when I have acted out in ways that are hurtful to you.”
     
  • “I am responsible for taking loving care of you when you are my responsibility — because you are my child, or you are old, sick or disabled and I have agreed to take care of you. There are times when it is loving to me to put myself aside for you, like when you are an infant or toddler and you need me, or when you cannot take care of yourself.”

 

It took me many years of inner work to discover what loving myself looks like for me, and it may be different for you, since each of us has different things that make us feel loved and important. What makes you feel loved and important?

 

Start learning to love yourself now by taking our free Inner Bonding course at http://www.innerbonding.com/welcome

 

“The Happiness Equation” for Parenting and Life

My husband stands next to me in the kitchen of our humble south Florida home. Nearby, our 27-month-old son Taber plays with yellow construction trucks. I breathe in the beauty of daily things and begin to clean up after dinner.

 

“Dada look! Crane truck!” Taber shouts.

 

“Yes, look at that crane truck,” my husband responds kindly. Then he sighs. I can tell he’s not fully present. Tired from a day of dealing with administrative complexities, my husband is restless. He wants to do more than go out for our regular before-bedtime bike rides or walks.

 

“We have about 30-minutes before the sun sets,” he states looking at the kitchen clock. “Let’s do something different tonight. Let’s drive to the Everglades.”

 

“We’ll be pushing bedtime back,” I say with hesitation.

 

“I know. I know. But we are so good about honoring Taber’s need for daily rhythms and I need this Amy.” He leans onto the counter. “I need to get into the wild with you all. We won’t stay long. The sunset there will be gorgeous.”

 

I look at my outdoor-loving, world-traveling, adventure-seeking husband of 16 years. Yes, he needs this. “Alright. I’ll just let these soak.” I place the dishes in a sink of warm, soapy water. “Let’s do it,” I say with a smile.

 

A vast expanse of birds, water, greenery, and calm await us. To turn in all directions and see only nature’s splendor, free from the engineering encroachment of human hands, brings deep renewal. As a family, we walk down a trail leading into seemingly endless waterways and grasslands. There are a few small fishing boats out on the water. Egrets fly overhead. I take a deep breath. I also needed this.

 

I look at Taber. His happiness is pristine and wondrous. His whole being pulses with the perfect presence of life. While we spend a great deal of time outdoors as a family, he’s never seen this. The yellow and orange light of the setting sun drench the wetlands around us. Taber shouts and a white ibis takes flight from a nearby tree. The stressful shadow of the day slips off my husband’s shoulders. I feel a rush of aliveness lift my heart. Instinctively, I begin to run. I run up and down the trail skipping, shouting, and smiling from ear to ear.

 

Like a child, I run freely. Taber watches me and takes off too. “Mama! Mama! Mama!” He runs after me with joy. A game of chase commences. We run apart, together, embrace and do the dance again. Laughter echoes off the water. Taber’s eyes shine. I pick him up and lift him high above me. “More! More!” he laughs. The luminous sunset bears witness to this precious, holy moment.

 

Amypic“Lift him up again Amy,” Clark calls out to me from down the trail. He has his iPhone in his hand. I pick Taber up once more.

 

The resulting photo captures an extraordinary mix of light and shadow. It is a beautiful representation of the transformative joy I’ve known in my journey as a mother. Yes, there are struggles, but the overwhelming emotion is one of humbling gratitude. On the drive home, I reflect upon happiness.

H=S+C+V

Happiness equals set point, plus conditions, plus volition. This is the happiness equation taught by professor Jonathan Haidt, author of “The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom.” According to Haidt, an individual’s genetic set point combine with life conditions and choices made. For over a decade, I drew upon Haidt’s scholarship in my role as a teacher of comparative religion and philosophy. Now as a mother, I take in his insights on an entirely new level.

 

On one hand it’s a simple concept. I inherited a certain genetic makeup from my parents predisposing me to various physical and emotional traits and temperaments. The conditions of my life are multifaceted and complex in their interactions. My education, nationality, economic status, place of residence etc. weave together to create a nexus of ever-changing conditions. Finally, I make choices. I navigate through daily rhythms and choose what I read, eat, and say. I choose what thoughts I want to infuse with attention. My choices impact both the conditions of my life and my expression of the range of behaviors present in my set point. I take up practices such as meditation and journal writing — documented activities proven to contribute positively to one’s well being. Yes, set point, conditions, and volition constitute the ingredients to happiness.

 

However, it’s one thing to teach a course focusing on meaning, ethics, and happiness. It’s quite another to structure a life so as to best apply this wisdom to the work of parenting. Currently, my husband and I determine nearly all of the conditions of Taber’s life. It won’t always be that way. But for now, the choices we make deeply impact the expression of his genetic inheritance and his emerging power of volition. Our daily choices now matter on an entirely different level. I also apply Haidt’s wisdom to myself in a new way. I work to keep the light of joy within myself burning brightly so as to best nurture the light within my son.

 

We arrive home late and peacefully dive into our routine bedtime rituals. Certainly, this spontaneous departurefrom our regular rhythm was worth it. While nursing Taber down to sleep, I soak in the echo of the nature’s power. May we make time for such moments as parents. May we nurture both the best in ourselves, and our children. May we mindfully make choices that create space for the emergence of pristine, wondrous happiness.

 

 

What if Airing Our Weaknesses Was Actually a Sign of Strength?

reckoningsFor a long time, I’ve held the optimistic notion that most people want to believe what they do is righteous. As much injustice as there is, most of us are simply scrambling up Maslow’s hierarchy (or the spiral dynamics) in pursuit of love, esteem, and self-actualization……even if we scramble in ways that might be considered ungraceful, or downright unjust.

 

For this reason, I’ve never really been one for finger-wagging. I’ve challenged myself not to assume that people who commit what I consider to be injustices are evil and need reprimanding, but to operate as if they believe what they’re doing is noble and are fulfilling shared human desires. Although I disagree with WHAT they do, I try to empathize with WHY they do it.

 

And I’ve wondered: if we connect with people’s WHYs, might they be more willing to challenge their WHATs? If we approach people who have transgressed by assuming their nobler intentions, might they be more willing to admit wrongdoing? What if instead of sensationalist, gotcha-style finger-pointing, there were a genuine opportunity to say, ‘I wanted esteem, I did wrong, and I’m sorry’? Going further, what if public apologies weren’t mere acts of self-defense, but open expressions of how we’ve learned and grown? What if airing our weaknesses was actually a sign of strength?

 

It is with these questions in mind that I’ve been chewing on the possibility of a space for public reckoning. A space where people can reckon with things that sit heavy on their conscience, and release them into the public domain. My thinking started with the likes of Bernie Madoff, Donald Rumsfeld, and Fidel Castro releasing their burdens of conscience on their deathbed, and evolved to include everyday people making amends with everyday regrets — people recovering from addiction, parents overcoming intolerance for their LGBTQ children, and veterans working through acts they committed while fighting wars they no longer believe in. (You know, as part of my 5-year plan en route to Fidel et al.)

 

As my thinking evolved, so did a medium to carry the message: the podcast.

 

And thus, it is with great joy that I share with the Project Happiness community the launch of my new podcast: Reckonings!

 

Reckonings  features stories from the conscience. I invite cops, business leaders, veterans, ex-supremacists, and others to reckon with things that sit heavy on their conscience, and openly share their stories. I don’t absolve my guests or sensationalize their stories; I simply offer a space for honest and heartfelt reckoning.

 

New episodes will be released every Tuesday. So far, most relevant to Project Happiness is episode #2 featuring Mark Whitacre, the FBI informant in the one of the biggest price-fixing cases in US history, who was played by Matt Damon in The Informant. It’s a powerful story of redemption from corporate greed, and discovering that happiness comes not from a life of success, sought by climbing the corporate ladder, but from a life of significance, achieved by fulfilling our true purpose and helping others.

 

I’m only learning how to manifest my vision in an audio experience, but when I let myself dream out loud, I imagine big benefits of public reckoning:

  • Healing for my guests and for the people (or kinds of people) my guests impacted with their actions
  • Inspiring my listeners to engage in personal reflection and reckon with their own lives
  • Encouraging my listeners to live in deeper alignment with their moral compass
  • Building a stronger culture of emotional honesty and compassion

12243580_10153083895836637_2904409660829569936_n

As you enter the holiday season and find more time for reflection, please subscribe to Reckonings on iTunes, take a listen, and leave a review. If you’re feeling extra generous, join the Facebook page  and spread the good word. And if you have thoughts, I’d absolutely love to hear them:stephanie@infinitelunchbox.com.

 

 

5 Reminders to Make it a Happy Thanksgiving

thanksgivingThanksgiving is my favorite holiday as it brings us back to the important things in life… and we’re not talking about cyberweek or Black Friday specials! This is a time to take in the moment, slow down and connect in ways that linger long after the table is cleared.

Here are five reminders that help me see give thanks at a whole new level:

 

1. Be grateful for the small stuff: The small stuff is actually the most important, like sharing a smile, savoring a good meal, having the grace to wake up another day, or simply saying I love you. The beauty of everyday life is present all the time if we just notice. Take regular gratitude breaks – it’s worth it.

 

2. Live as if this year was your last: Often we only appreciate something when it is threatened. We value our health when we get sick, we appreciate the charm of a house just before we sell it, and we remember meaningful conversations when the other person is no longer around. What if we could reverse that and feel gratitude right here and now? What if we could be thankful for what is present in front of us, even if it is not exactly what we had in mind?

 

3. Lessons all around: In Man’s Search for Meaning, author Victor Frankl explored how we cannot change what life presents; we can however choose our attitude in any given set of circumstances. When challenges shock the day-to-day as we know it, two questions are helpful. 1) What did I learn from this situation?How has it made me stronger?It can take some time, acceptance and inner stillness to even ask these questions. When we’re caught in the escalating tornado of emotions, it’s hard to have perspective. But by looking back, everything becomes clearer. Clarity gives birth to peace. Another aspect is self-compassion. Consider replacing “If I had only…” with “I did my best under the circumstances.” That’s part of the lesson, too.

 

4. The human condition: One of the things that blasts open our humanity is that we all have to deal with the hard stuff at one point or another. It doesn’t matter what country you live in, how much money is in the bank or what job you have — life happens. Some people get their lessons earlier, some experience suffering later on. In all cases, it cracks open our hearts to know a new level of compassion for others (as opposed to being pre-occupied with thoughts like “Why me?”). If we remember that it is not personal — dealing with challenges is just a part of life — then compassion, even for ourselves, will grow.

 

5. There is a bigger picture: We are all connected to something greater, however that is defined. We all have a purpose/assignment in life. Often, that is fulfilling on a deep level and can help others, too. Trust that there is a bigger plan at work, even if it may not be visible yet. Try tuning in. Carve out some quiet time. Listen for the clues and connect. Expressing your authentic self, kindness, love, understanding and forgiveness all open the gates of gratitude.

 

This Thanksgiving, I am viewing things in a new way. I have a renewed appreciation for the little everyday moments that remind me of all the good in my life. When I make time to notice, there are a lot! I hope it is the same for you.

Resentment VS. Forgiveness: What is the difference?

Forgiveness

 

“I’ll never forgive Andrew for what he did to me. He doesn’t deserve my forgiveness,” Carolyn told me in one of our early phone sessions. Carolyn’s focus was on whether or not Andrew deserved to be forgiven, rather than on whether or not it was loving for her to forgive or to continue holding resentment.

 

Take a moment to tune into how you feel when you choose to hold on to blame. Do you feel happy, open, peaceful, and joyous, or do you feel angry, tense, closed, and unhappy?

 

What Carolyn didn’t realize is that forgiving someone is not about them. It is about taking loving care of ourselves by releasing ourselves from resentment and blame. It is about moving out of being a victim of others’ choices and taking responsibility for our own feelings of wellbeing.

 

“But what Andrew did was unforgivable,” Carolyn told me. “How can I forgive him for cheating on me and ruining our marriage? How can I forgive him for leaving me for a younger woman, for breaking up our family, and for the pain he has caused our children? What he did hurt so many people. Why should I forgive him for it? Wouldn’t that be the same as condoning his behavior?”

 

This is a common misconception – that forgiveness is the same as condoning. I remember reading about a woman whose adolescent son got shot and killed by another adolescent boy. While this mother was deeply heartbroken and never condoned what the other boy did, she not only forgave him, she got to know him and helped him to heal the pain that led to his shooting her son.

 

It is not loving to ourselves to condone others’ unloving behavior, nor is it loving to ourselves to continue to hold negative feelings in our body. Resentment is like a poison that continues to feed upon it self, creating more and more darkness.

 

“Carolyn, what are you afraid of if you let go of your resentment and forgive Andrew for what he did?”

“I’m afraid he will think that what he did is okay.”

“At this point, why are you concerned with what he thinks? What difference does it make to your life right now what he thinks?”

“I just don’t want him to think that he can just act like this and get away with it.”

“So you are punishing him by holding blame and resentment within yourself?”

“Yeah, I guess I am. He should be punished.”

“And who do you think is suffering as a result of your punishing him?”

“Well, certainly not him! He is having the time of his life!”

“Are you suffering as a result of focusing on punishing him instead of taking loving care of yourself?”

“Well, I am miserable. But I’m miserable because of what he did to me.”

“I know that is what you believe, but the truth is that you are miserable because you are focusing on punishing him rather than on taking loving care of yourself. You are being a victim, blaming him for your feelings. Your feelings are being caused by what you are telling yourself and how you are treating yourself – not by anything Andrew has done. From what you told me in our last session, you weren’t any happier before Andrew left than you are now. You were always making him responsible for you and he never did it right enough for you. As long as you have your eyes on him instead of on taking loving care of yourself, you will feel miserable.”

“I’m tired of being miserable. That’s why I called you. But I don’t know how to forgive him.”

“Carolyn, forgiveness is a natural outcome of taking loving care of yourself. As you practice learn to take responsibility for your own pain and joy, you will stop blaming Andrew for your feelings. The more you learn how to love the beautiful essence that is within you, the more you will find yourself forgiving Andrew.”

 

Resentment toward others is a clear sign that we are not taking care of ourselves. As you shift your intent from blaming others to loving yourself, you will find that forgiveness follows naturally.

 

Start learning to love yourself now by taking our free Inner Bonding course at http://www.innerbonding.com/welcome.

Why Creativity Makes Us Feel More Alive

 

aliveIn my 20’s there were days, I felt unhappy. Days, I didn’t want to get out of bed.

 

There was always something calling to me, though, whispering to pull me out of the dull drums. Something saying, “You know I bet if you did this, you would feel some love and happiness.”

 

Now after many years, I’ve come to know that voice and her name is Creativity.

 

I like painting, writing and reading. I like to knit too. And cook. And I like walking in gardens having a real conversation with a friend.

 

But in the past, even if that interested me, I didn’t always wake up in the morning excited and enthusiastic to do that thing I LOVED.

 

And that was because in the desire to have a BIG happy full life, these smaller things didn’t seem like they held enough significance. They seemed not important enough to make a REAL difference in feeling like a success.

 

These acts of creativity weren’t the man showing up so that I could be happily married thereafter. Or my book making the New York Times Bestseller List. Or winning a million dollars.

 

They were just these small things that gave me simple joy.

 

ANYTHING we do because we enjoy it is a creative uplifting experience. We don’t have to be artistic to be the creator of our aliveness.

 

When I did something creative that I loved, even if seemingly ordinary, it ALWAYS had a much larger impact to my happiness than I could ever realize. Here’s why:

 

1) When we do something creative it’s like active meditation.

 

When we create (building a toy car in our garage, taking an improv class, planting an herb garden…) we put our focused attention on it. It asks us to be present.

 

But even more so, because we enjoy doing it, we don’t have to think that much about being present. We just ARE. We’re IN IT. Enjoying it because it gives us PLEASURE. And that WAKES US UP. It gets the energy in our body flowing again.

 

2) Creativity shifts our perspective.

 

Whenever we create something (learning a new language, taking a road trip to a neighboring town, getting a puppy…) it shakes us out of the same-old, same-old. It brings brighter light. We’re stretching and growing.

 

These moments accumulated, begin to form new bones. Our blood gets regenerated. And we embark in a wild world of curiosity and discovery that breathes new life.

 

3) Once we ignite creativity it always leads us somewhere else.

 

Like a river finding it’s sea, the current of creativity guides us to unknown explored territory. And even though we never know where it might lead, it’s always to a bigger body of water.

 

First, it takes us closer to ourselves and THAT makes a huge difference in our life, career and relationships. I took a cooking class for fun — only to discover later how much pleasure I got from having dinner parties, where I deepened relationships with new friends.

 

I learned the Tarot, thinking I was crazy, but it ended up giving me the idea to create a book and card deck set, which is now published.

 

I attended a painting workshop and found that I continued painting on my own for over 20 years. Through that process, I continue to develop an incredible intimate relationship with myself.

 

You get what I mean?

 

Creativity has this wonderful way of connecting us to more and more happy, pleasurable things to appreciate and pulls at our heart strings.

 

Perhaps, the result is something we never thought of. And that’s the cool thing about creativity. It thinks FOR us and has a bigger plan in store than we could possibly know until we engage with it.

 

4) Creativity produces self-esteem.

 

When we show up to do something creative, we’re taking a positive action step in our lives. We’re making a statement that we’re willing to create change and do something different, just by the act of showing up.

 

The more we meet our creative nature the more we’re saying, I’m doing something I enjoy because doing something that brings me joy matters.

 

It doesn’t have to be a big deal. Or become anything.We’re just doing it because we love it and the more we do stuff because we love it, the more self-love we embrace.

 

And the more self-love we embrace, the more happiness and appreciation is cultivated.

 

5) It’s something we do just for ourselves.

 

We do little acts of creativity not for someone else. Not because we want or need someone to love it. Or buy it. Or approve of it. We do these things because we’re called towards it.

 

It doesn’t have to save anyone. Or better the world—although it does, it always does, because as we create, we increase our happiness and then those we come into contact with feel that and are energized.

 

So what do you feel like creating this week?

 

A scrap book? Building a solar panel? Hanging some new pictures on your wall? Turning on some favorite music and dancing in your living room? Taking a walk with your camera and finding new angles and light?

 

Each moment shared with Creativity is divine. It’s how we got here in the first place. So why not connect and be inspired? Love is waiting for you right around the corner.

 

 

 

What Stops Us From Being Happy?

IMG_4919 (1)

It’s the one thing everyone wants and we spend our lives pursuing it, but in this day and age it seems to be becoming more elusive. The word ‘happiness’ is bandied about a lot these days, it appears in advertising campaigns around the world in a bid to sell us more of what we so desperately seek. In an age when we have all the conditions to be happy why does it feel like we are actually becoming more unhappy?

 

There are many barriers that prevent us from being happy but the good news is they are all within our control. Here’s a look at what could be holding us back from happiness and what to do about it:

1. Fear

So often we can remain stuck where we are due to the fear of change. This can be fear of the unknown, of failure, of what people may think, of risking our security and what is comfortable and ‘safe’.

 

Over the last year I have made massive changes in my life including a career change,leaving a long term relationship and moving to the other side of the world. This was made tougher due to my fear.

 

I was scared I wouldn’t have enough money, fearful I wouldn’t be good enough to do something so different and scared I might fail. I was worried what others would think of me, about being on my own but most of all I was scared of the unknown and getting outside my comfort zone.

 

It takes courage to step outside our comfort zone and do things that are different and unfamiliar. But unless we take the first step we’ll never grow to become the people we’re capable of being.

 

2. “I’ll be happy when….”

We postpone our happiness until a time in the future when everything is perfect. We think that we have to struggle now to enjoy happiness later. Maybe when we retire or win lotto, marry our fearsoul mate or have done all our jobs!

 

Our annual holiday is a fine example; we look forward to it all year and almost postpone our happiness until such a time we have idyllic conditions; no work, a nice hotel, warm weather, the beach. But imagine if there was joy in every day we’d no longer need a holiday to ‘get away from it all’. If we’re not careful we end up waiting all week for Friday, all year for summer and all life for happiness.

 

We put off our happiness until conditions are perfect but what we don’t realize is that conditions never will be perfect, there will always be something happening, but along the way there will be lots of perfection sprinkled into our lives and that’s what we should learn to appreciate.

 

Dr Alfred D’Souze said, “For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin – real life. But there was always an obstacle in the way. Something to be got through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life”.

 

3. Comparison

Do you ever look at ‘successful’ people and think; “They have it all figured out. They are better than me, why can’t I be more like that?”

 

We live in a world where we are surrounded by ideals, the media presents us with better versions of just about everything and a mind-set that we should be striving for more, so there’s no wonder so many of us feel like we’re not enough.

 

I have become a published writer and achieved many goals this year but I still catch myself looking at best-selling authors with their thousands of followers and feel inadequate. I fail to appreciate my successes because I’m wanting more when I compare it to those who are more successful.

 

Unfortunately there will always be someone more beautiful, clever, talented or stronger than you. But the reverse is also true: there will always be people less than you in all of these areas. So instead of comparing yourself to others, look to see if you’re fulfilling your own potential to the best of your ability.

 

4. Accountability; believing happiness can be found outside of ourselves

In our consumer-driven world we have been seduced into an external search for happiness when really it’s an inside job. Happiness cannot be bought and often our pursuit actually takes us further away from the goal.

 

It is too easy to fall into the trap of putting our happiness in the hands of others, believing they will make us happy. The same applies to material things; our jobs, house, car. None of these things will bring us the happiness we seek because the best things in life are not really things at all.

 

Sometimes we lack accountability for our own happiness and can blame our unhappiness on external circumstances when tough times arise. You may not always be able to control what happens to you, but you can control how you react to it.

 

5. Expectations

Sometimes we can be too hard on ourselves. We forget that we are all human and no-one is perfect.

 

For a long time I felt like I should have it all figured out and know what I wanted. I expected to have all the answers and was frustrated with myself during those moments when I felt lost.

 

These unrealistic expectations put unnecessary pressure on us. Don’t expect perfection; from yourself or from life and know that we don’t always have to have it all figured out.

 

6. Negative thoughts

Our mind is our world and what we think becomes how we feel and then how we act. If we are filling our mind with negative thoughts, this is what will manifest in our lives. Henry Ford said “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re probably right”. Think positive and believe in yourself.

 

The happiness in your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.

 

7. Not living in the present

Today is a gift, that’s why it’s called the present yet if we spend today going over the past or worrying about the future we rob ourselves of the present and we do not experience the now.

 

Be in the moment, enjoy doing what you love rather than always chasing future dreams and the next big thing. If you are connected with the present moment you’ll experience more joy, contentment and happiness. Through mindfulness you can cultivate the circumstances to see the joy in every moment. This is how we learn to love life.

 

8. Busyness

In todays world we are driven by the need to succeed to prove our self worth. We like to be needed, to feel valued and if we’re not busy then we’re not successful. We feel useful when we’re busy and as such we’ve moved to get rid of all the downtime and pauses from our life. By doing this we’ve lost the opportunity to rest and recharge and have no space left in our lives to live. It seems like we live on fast forward and as a result we’re living a fast life not a good life, where we can do more things in less hours of the day but spend less time doing the things that really matter.

 

In my previous job in the corporate world I was so busy striving for success that I never really noticed if I was happy or not, I didn’t really have the time. Nor did I have the space left in my life to do the things that I really enjoyed.

 

“Don’t be so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.”

 

9. Not being grateful for what we have

We take so much for granted we sometimes forget how lucky we are. We tend to focus on what we haven’t got instead of all the things we’re lucky to have (and others do not). By constantly pursuing the bits that are not quite there yet we run the risk of forgetting about the majority of the things in our life that are good.

 

gratefulThere’s this feeling that the grass might just be greener on the other side, but it always is. Even when we get there. This leads to a never ending quest that is never fulfilled. Try thinking of three things each day that you’re grateful for or keep a gratitude diary. I have found this is a very small thing that can make a big difference.

 

“Happiness is not about getting what you want, it’s about loving what you have.”

 

10. It’s the journey not the destination

Most importantly we need to realize that happiness is not some far off destination we arrive at. It’s more about the journey that happens along the way and this is the everyday moments that are in fact our lives. We need to let go of our limiting beliefs and what is holding us back and embrace our own power within. This is how we create a life we love and cultivate our own happiness.

 

 

 

When the Google Search Fails: 5 Ways to Navigate Uncertainty

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I am the kind of person that wants immediate answers to the big, un-answerable questions of life. Lately, I have found my mind wishing I could just type those bigger life-questions into a Google search. And I know I’m not alone in this desire. 

 

In my observation and personal experience, humans love time frames. To give ourselves some semblance of certainty, we’ve created various structures and institutions, like college for example, that can provide us comfort and cushion our journey with a sense of stability.

 

Yet when we step out of these institutional structures that have fostered our critical thinking skills, it feels scary to consider the limitless options with logic alone. It is during these times of uncertainty that we’d ideally turn to our innate intuition for answers, but too often traditional education has neglected to teach us how to access and trust this inner guidance. 

 

Since choosing a less structured path after college, I have had the sometimes not-so-pleasant, yet extremely rewarding opportunity, of staring uncertainty right in the face, running from it, cozying up to it, and everywhere in between. As a result of wading in uncertainty’s waters,  I have discovered and reaffirmed a few important lessons for when the google search fails. Here are 5 practices that have helped me step into a more intuitive place in my decision-making process:

 

1. Assuage the Inner Critic

The fear of uncertainty can often manifest as the strong, and often not-so-friendly voice of the Inner Critic.  This is the voice we have internalized along the way from various sources, such as influential people in our lives or even messages from the larger culture. It is the voice in our heads that tells us we are not “_____ enough.” We hear this voice so often, that many times, we believe it is true! Well firstly, it isn’t. Although the voice intends to help us from experiencing embarrassment from our peers,  it  ends up holding us back BIG TIME from exploring, expanding, and finding true happiness. When we can become aware of this voice, externalize it, and gently acknowledge it , witness the voice and lovingly call BS on our inner-critic, we can free up the mental space to better listen to where our soul is being pulled.

 

2. Let Go to Make Room for Flow

The good stuff, the reaffirming support, and the synchronous splendors of life often come when we are in a state of relaxed flow. When the mind has thrown in the towel and completely surrendered to what is present in THIS moment, not trying to change or figure things out, little signposts begin to pop up, whether it is a phone call from a dear friend who shares with you the exact words you need to hear, or perhaps a literal sign on a road has some wording that strikes a chord somewhere in you. The place of full surrender is a powerful one. To surrender to the flow, you must LET GO of expectations and the idea that your life needs to be “fixed.” Try repeating a mantra to yourself: On the inhale breath think of the word “let,” and on the exhale breathe, the word, “go.” Relaxing into the pattern of breath can support you in your process of letting go.

 

3. Give the Universe a Chance

The Universe is abundant by nature – just like your essence! Yet the mind perceives scarcity/lack/and the notion of “not enough” to go around. That is why it grips and grasps so desperately onto objects, people, and dreams. But if we only realize that the Universe has a beautiful way of giving us what we need, when we need it. If we just OPEN up to receiving and release the expectation of what it might look like, then we will be served up something so delicious we couldn’t even dream it with our minds! One ingredient is necessary in this approach: TRUST. Make the conscious shift to trust that there is enough to go around.

 

4. Lean In – It Won’t Destroy You

Let yourself cry and feel totally insane if that is what you are feeling. Visit the shadow stuff -which is also a part of you, equally worthy of being here and receiving love. Bring consciousness to it, and lean in. Don’t opt out of discomfort. Even the most unpleasant feelings of anxiety and doubt hold within them messages, and in those messages are seeds of transformation and expansion. Tears are God’s heartshield wipers” -Jeff Brown.

 

5. YOU Have All of the Answers

This last point is important. We are conditioned to look outside of ourselves for answers our entire lives. But in making a decision for your life, your intuition is your best guide. This is where tuning into your inner wisdom comes into play. When you envision yourself making a given decision, listen closely to your body. What do you feel? Where do you feel it? Does the thought of it totally light you up, or do you experience a pit in your stomach? Get clear on those feelings and what they might be telling you. No one can do that for you but YOU.

 

 

 

 

Why to create a meaningful DIY gift

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If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone?

 

When my dear father-in-law, Norm, died a couple years ago, we all mourned the loss of this generous, funny, and oh-so-loving man. Most people know the pain of losing someone who has such a unique spirit. It takes a lot to move through the grief and accept the gaping hole that’s left by their death.

 

But here’s what’s worse: when that grief is layered with regret.

 

It breaks my heart when I’m at a funeral and people tell beautiful and funny stories about the person who died — and then they say, “I wish I would have told her that.” “She would have loved to hear these stories.”

 

As much as I miss Norm, I have no regrets about anything left unsaid. You see, Norm got to hear all the great things we shared at his funeral. We said all of it — and more— in a Celebration Book we gave him for his 70th birthday.

 

Thirty of Norm’s family, friends, and colleagues all responded to questions I sent them about Norm. Things like, “What do you love best about Norm?” or “What are your favorite memories of times you shared with him?” or “What have you learned from Norm?”

 

love-best-sampleFolks sent appreciations, stories, humorous anecdotes, family lore, photos, drawings and even some heartfelt crayon scribbles from the tiniest members of the family.

 

People had a blast remembering stories and digging up old photos. It’s impossible to participate in something like this without being filled with joy! All too often in life our monkey minds are trying to get us to focus on what’s wrong or what’s missing; working on these books is a practice in seeking what is good.

 

It made me so incredibly happy and at peace to know that Norm got to hear all the reasons we loved him so much. He got to hear the tales that made up the storyline of his life with us. He got to laugh at all his memorable antics. He got to see himself reflected in the eyes of all the people who knew him best. He got a whole kaleidoscope of love —all between the pages of a book. And because it was in a book, he got to read it over and over again before he passed away.

 

After Norm died, I pulled out his book and found such solace in re-reading all the entries and seeing his charming spirit so alive on every page. When I was making the book for him, I never thought about how essential it would be for my healing process and that of the rest of the family. Because, you see, whenever any of us opened up that book, like magic, his “Norm-ness” was right there!

 

We got to re-live that trip to Mexico when he and Sue got locked in a jail because they wanted to buy art made by the prisoners. We got to laugh at how Norm would always finish anyone’s dessert; all we had to say was “Norm?” and hold up our half slice of peach pie or tiramisu. We got to share smiles over the way he was so game for anything — the way he’d throw his arms up in the air and say “what the hell!” when we’d suggest a game of blindfolded taste testing of the nasty-flavored jelly bellies or a scavenger hunt or that he be a judge for our “Iron Chef” competition using pop rocks and potatoes.

 

So, people got filled with love creating the book as a surprise for him. Then, Norm got the joy of being seen and recognized while he was alive. And then … we all got an amazing keepsake tribute book about him after he died.

 

These books are potent. Don’t wait; say it now!

 

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Sign up for my DIY Celebration Book Making Class: I want everyone to receive one of these life-affirming books! To make it super-easy for folks to make them, I’ve created an e-course that outlines the step-by-step process and includes all the templates you need, a resource list for materials, plenty of how-to tips, and inspiring audio/videos. I can save you lots of time and trials by sharing everything I know about creating Celebration Books. The five-week class is $29. http://simplycelebrate.net/diy-celebration-book-class (Note: To win a free spot in this DIY class email Sherry by October 31 at 12n PT and tell her in one paragraph what you love about the person you want to create a book for. Sherry will pull one name out of a hat (literally!) and you can start the class immediately.)

 

 

 

 

How to Create More Magic in Your Life

10366132_10103104566635383_9038330468988894513_nDo remember the last time that you said “Wow!”? 

Did it happen while you were…

… witnessing a beautiful sunset?

… watching a movie or musical performance that took your breath away?

… playing with a child who was bursting with giggles?

 

Whatever caused you to say it, you can never forget that exquisite feeling that you experienced during those delectable moments.

 

As we grow into adults, a lot of people find it difficult to feel these emotions. We accumulate numerous layers of conditioning, while attempting to fit into society’s moulds. In this way, our curiosity and sense of wonder gradually gets diminished and is replaced with a scepticism and seriousness.

 

The hectic and busy pace of life adds to this numbing process by desensitizing people to subtler energies around them. Like hamsters inside a running wheel, they get so caught up in their day-to-day routine that they cannot perceive the world beyond their five senses.

 

Now some may argue that this transition is a necessary part of the maturation and growth process. While it is true that we should avoid getting our heads stuck in the clouds when dealing with real world problems, I don’t believe it is necessary for us to completely disconnect from this child-like sensibility.

 

Allowing ourselves to have experiences that create a sense of awe within us is one of the most effective ways to feed our spirit. And no matter how vigilant you are about your health, relationships or bank account, if you are not feeding your spirit, your life will lack texture, depth and vibrancy.
Experiencing magic is like having a surge of electrical current run through our body. In an instant, our life can go from black and white to technicolor. Our intuition, creativity and ability to sense the underlying wisdom that exists below the surface of everyday living gets heightened.

 

I know this because I have witnessed this phenomenon many times in my life – you see, magic has been a constant theme throughout my journey. I watched spellbinding shows and concerts; I allowed myself to get lost in the magical worlds of video games, movies, music and theme parks.

 

Yet the experience of magic is very personal. Everyone feels it in different ways and contexts. For example, my mother experiences it whenever she sees her flowers bloom in the springtime. I’ve seen my brother in this elated state while celebrating the victory of his favorite sports team.

 

You too have specific triggers that elevate you to a heightened state of wonder. If you are finding it challenging to recall the times when you have felt this way, I’ve outlined some guidelines that will facilitate your inner processing and help you connect with these emotions on a regular basis:

  • Step 1: Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Remember a time in the past when you felt light, joyful, and experienced a wonderful feeling of enchantment. Visualize the experience vividly in your mind’s eye and notice your surroundings – the environment, people, and any other details. Spend a few minutes soaking in this experience and enjoying all the delightful sentiments that you felt at that time.
  • Step 2: When you are ready, open your eyes and begin making notes about what you saw and how it made you feel. Focus on your emotional experience and what made this particular memory so special. Be as specific as possible. You can repeat this process if would like to visualize other similar experiences.
  • Step 3: Now bring yourself back to the present moment and ask yourself what kind of activities can elicit the same kind of emotions within you. Make a list of at least 2-5 activities. Would you like to be accompanied by other people (your partner, friends, family) or would you rather experience it yourself?
  • Step 4: Do any necessary research and sign up for these engagements if necessary. Then take a look at your schedule and make some time to engage in these activities on a regular basis.
  • Step 5: Pass on the magic by bringing a sense of joy into another person’s life. Whether it’s someone in your immediate circle or an elderly person in a retirement home, choose someone whose life you think you can brighten with your presence and positive energy.

 

The whole purpose of conjuring more magic into our lives is so that we can understand instinctively our role as powerful co-creators of our reality. When we realize that we are by-products of the incredible forces that orchestrate the Universe, we can begin channeling this power to manifest our heart’s desires.

 

All my best on your journey,

Seline

 

Happiness for High Achievers

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High achievers are used to getting what they want. They set their mind to something and achieve it, which makes them feel great. So they’re happy, right? Unfortunately, the happiness halo of the latest achievement only lasts so long. They earned the A; they made the sale; they got the promotion. The buzz of achievement is like a drinking a double espresso. Great while you’re in it, but beware of the crash.

 

I know this because I’ve had my own addiction to the self-esteem buzz of achieving goals. I did well in school, and I was successful at work. But there was one goal that really kicked my butt: losing weight. As a young woman, I had a burning desire to be thin like the waify models I saw in my monthly Vogue magazine. I dieted; I restricted; I worked out furiously, and I made it. I got thin and rode the wave of elation in my size 2 jeans. “I’ll never go back!” I proudly proclaimed. Those moments of weakness that sent me to the pantry in midnight frenzies were over. I had conquered my hungry demons and was on top of the world! Now all of my problems were solved, and I could finally be happy.

 

Just kidding. When the wave of elation crashed to shore, I was the same me with the same self-doubt. And the self-doubt drove me right back into the food. Now I was doubly depressed. Happiness evaded me fat, and it evaded me thin. In fact, when I finally figured out how to stay slim, I ended up taking anti-depressants to escape my personal dark cloud.

 

It took me years, but I finally discovered the little secret to happiness that was hidden in plain sight. Don’t get me wrong; I love being slim. It’s just not what makes me happy on a day-to-day basis.

 

For happiness of the day-to-day variety, the “set goal-work hard-achieve goal” conveyer belt never worked for me. What worked was shifting my perspective to notice the scenery along the way: The raucous blue-jays that chirp outside my window in the morning, the golden quality to the light at sunset, a hug from my husband, a heart-felt connection with a friend or client.

 

My fear used to be that being happy today would sap my motivation to achieve the next goal. And in a sense, that’s true. I don’t need the next achievement for a brief jolt of happiness, because I have happiness available here and now. This realization has given me the freedom to set a different type of goal: achieving things that make my heart sing rather than what I think will impress others. And unlike the double expresso, that buzz lasts.

 

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You can download Renée’s “Top 10 Weight Loss Tips for High Achievers” at docrenee.com. A former food addict, Renée Stephens, PhD is on a mission to help people lose weight with ease by releasing cravings and letting go of self-criticism and guilt. She is a coach, the author of “Full-Filled”, published by Simon and Schuster, and the host of iTunes top weight loss podcast, “Inside Out Weight Loss” with over 4 million downloads to date. You can find her at docrenee.com

 

How To Meet All Of Life With Love

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Is meeting every person, experience and situation in your life from a place of Love really possible?

 

Or is this amazing experience available only to enlightened masters, or those meditating many hours a day, living separate from the world?

 

When we truly realize and trust that we are created from the fabric of Love, and thus this frequency lives in us, activating it feels not only possible, but inevitable. Love is in our DNA. Our Blueprint. Even if we are not feeling it coursing through us at the moment, it is still who we are; waiting to be realized. And the more we put our focus on awakening the Love within us, the more it shows up. Often in surprising ways. Love can take our breath away. Move us to tears. Push us to do things we never could have imagined. It is the most powerful catalyst in the Universe and with practice can completely quiet the other dominating catalyst in our world: fear.

 

So, how do we activate this LOVE within us so profoundly that it becomes our dominant reality with all people and situations? There are infinite pathways to remembering and experiencing ourselves as Love. Here are a few suggestions that I have found to be very powerful:

 

  1. CULTIVATE LOVE WITHIN YOU

Notice what you love, every chance you get. Express your love at every opportunity. Along with sharing the Love vibration out in the world, it trains your awareness of when you are feeling love.

 

Spend time with anything that organically creates the experience of love in you, such as a child or a beloved pet. Focus on love like you would a skill that you want to hone in yourself. Through focus on anything that brings up the feeling of love in you,  this powerful energy becomes enlivened.

 

It is very helpful to create a morning prayer that reinforces this desire and intention. For example you may say every morning upon awakening: “I am intending to activate the Love within me today in every way with all people and all situations. I am intending to feel Love coursing through me as my dominant experience today and to radiate Love and Harmony to all those around me.

 

Your first thoughts in the morning are very key in creating a powerful template for your day. Harness the power of the moment to focus in on what you want to experience for the day and repeat it out loud to yourself.

 

  1. CONSCIOUSLY DISSOLVE THE “VOICE” OF JUDGMENT

And this includes judgment of yourself as well as others. Where there is judgment, love is more difficult to access. Judgment focuses on what is not right, while love will zero in on the beauty, the brilliance and a higher understanding of someone or an experience. Love helps you find your true self, your exquisite essence that is perfect and beautiful beyond all comprehension.

 

Catch the voice of judgment and change it to this voice of love. At times of self judgment, think of yourself as a small child learning and finding their way. Speak to yourself as you would this precious child. Ask to see others through these same eyes when you are feeling judgmental. It does not mean you turn a blind eye or ignore mis-aligned behavior, rather you hold the person in compassion and love while discerning the most aligned course of action.

 

Love helps us move into and recognize thoughts and plans that align with the highest good of all. We become able to “work” at a higher level in all situations with a macro understanding of what is unfolding, rather than a limited scope grasped by our human mind and ego. Inside the Love frequency, we find ourselves moving into possibilities, solutions and connections that were not available to us before. We shift into a new level of consciousness which holds infinite potentiality.

 

  1. FALL IN LOVE WITH YOURSELF

Speak to yourself with the words and energy you would want to hear from your most precious Beloved. Every cell and every part of your being is listening and absorbing your self talk. In the beginning you may not believe it, do it anyway. You may make  yourself laugh with your comments of self love and self-appreciation. Eventually self-love becomes integrated into the fabric of your conscious self.

 

  1. RADIATE LOVE

This is the final step because it is a culmination and integration of all the previous openings. As we fall in love with ourselves and learn to meet life with the eyes of love radiate-lovenot judgment, we find that we begin to radiate love as our normal state of being. We cultivate it so strongly within us, practice it daily, and invite in this Love Stream until it becomes powerfully awakened and pulsing through us and out of us.

 

It is at this level that we can change the world merely by our Presence. We begin to work at a massive, global level that is much more about “being-ness” than “doing-ness”. We can manifest and create quite easily at this level of frequency as we are in alignment with the Power and Force of the Universe and all of Creation. As a result, our creations carry and emanate this massive Love.

 

It is at this level that Jesus and Buddha walked the Planet. And now it is possible for everyone to walk the Earth at this same level. We are ALL Masters-in-training, awakening with our unique experience, voice, creations and life.

 

We are all LOVE.

 

3 Triggers Every Parent Needs to Know

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON HUFFPO, FEB 5, 2015

 

“Help me — I feel alone, trapped and my options are down to zero.” There isn’t a week that goes by without hearing that another teen has attempted or “successfully” committed suicide. In my own neighborhood, there have been at least 14 deaths since 2009. Even one is too much.

Though the situations may appear different, they all share some common issues:

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• Trying to fit in and belong

• The urgency to live authentically

• The idea of being “successful”

 

 

1. Trying to fit in and belong.

“If these children had knives in their hands, my daughter, Dara, would have been dead a long time ago.” The feelings of isolation can start early. In a relevant CBS piece called Words Can Kill Dara, age 13, remembers being targeted in school as young as 6 years old with messages like, “nobody likes you, you’re ugly.” By fourth grade, she faced verbal knock-out punches like, “Oh you’re in class — we hoped you were dead.”

By that time, no matter how much she wanted to fit in, the online bullying had started as well. In Dara’s words, “People start to tell you these things about you, and you think, ‘oh is that what people think about you?’ and then you start to believe it.” The Mean Girls/Boys Syndrome is not just a phase. It is reinforced every year and perpetuated by fearful beliefs, like “If I support the outcast, will I become the next victim?”

Problems escalate when intolerance for differences coexists with a tolerance for hate. Cyberbullying can and does drive kids to death. The intent of circulating cutting remarks or hurtful photos is blatantly to deliver harm. If a student brought a weapon to school, there would be an uproar. Yet, anonymous social media sites not only fan the flames of hate, they actually normalize it; that is one of the most disturbing parts.

Is your child experiencing what feels like a hate crime, and are authorities saying, “That’s just the way it is?”

 

2. The Urgency to Live Authentically.

The pressures to fit into a certain mold are very real, and those who are different in any way (the way they look, dress, sexual orientation, or even their creative pursuits) often find themselves tormented by bullies.

On the last day of the year, Leelah Alcorn felt that she could not find another way. Leelah, a 17 year old transgender who was trying to build an authentic identity, posted a suicide note, before she stepped in front of a tractor trailer near her home. She is not the only one. One survey states that more than 40 percent of all transgenders attempt suicide. Her message serves as a wakeup call for compassion and change. Leelah’s final words were, “There’s no winning. There’s no way out… My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year, my death needs to mean something… fix society.”

Is your child someone who fits in or is she/he an individual who has a unique perspective on life? Can you help them express their innate strengths, and defend their right to do so?

 

3. Defining “Success.”

The need to achieve is often tied in with the need to keep up or make others happy. At Stanford University, there is something called the “Stanford Duck Syndrome.” It suggests that on the surface, students look unruffled, like they are gliding along smoothly, but underneath, the truth is that many are paddling frantically just to stay afloat. Keeping up appearances, while drowning inside from the weight of that stress, is not just an issue in the Ivy’s. A total of 50.7 percent of college students felt overwhelming anxiety within the last year, according to a nationwide American College Health Assessment survey.

It starts from a young age. In many communities there is enormous pressure to not only to do well, but to be the best. Kids are brought up with the expectation that they must go to top schools; it’s part of their “identity” and what their parents are expecting. So, they are loaded with far too many AP classes and extracurricular activities, which may be of no personal interest at all, except to enhance their resume.

The idea of building on your own strengths, finding personal expression or even exploring subject areas that do not have a large enough ROI (resume optimizing impact) is often looked down upon or vetoed. Many kids go through their formative years as “performance generators” feeling like their most unique qualities are not recognized or valued by those closest to them.

Internally, kids often believe that if they let up or cannot keep up, their parents would be devastated. Even more insidious is that these young people can be even harder on themselves, feeling shame for not living up to expectations and hating themselves for not “succeeding.” That’s when the options begin to narrow.

What is your definition of success? At the end of the day, what do you really want for your child?

 

Parents Role

After yet another suicide in my neighborhood, on January 24th, one student writes:

“School is not the entire reason, but it is definitely a large contributor to our deteriorating health. Yes, mental disability can be a part, but just think for a moment on how and why it develops… Good God, the things you put us through. It’s AP classes, it’s SAT prep from day 1, it’s punishment for less than a 4.0 GPA, and it fuels the tears that put us to sleep at night while you rest soundly… Quit coddling each other about your fears and how sad it is to deal with us and actually talk to your kids. Listen to us. I get our future success is extremely important and supposedly vital in a society like ours, but why is our mental health and emotional stability less significant? …I am so, so angry…We cannot wait for change. We need it now.” [sic]

Cause and Effects

Suicides are often blamed on mental instability, and that can certainly be a factor. TheWorld Health Organization predicts that by 2020, depression will be the second largest cause of human suffering. That said, it’s time to question: what are thecultural conditions we’ve created which breed this instability, pressure cooker environment, perceived lack of options, and depression?

 

Basic Human Needs

All of these stories highlight the needs that every human being shares — to be accepted, to belong and to be loved. Band-aid approaches, like adding an extra counselor after the fact, cannot address the source of the problem. It is encouraging that there are other ways.

When my daughter was facing depression, I began a journey to find tools that could help others too. Working with educators, we created the Project Happiness social and emotional curriculum, which works at the root cause level. I have learned that preventative wellness and developing empathy are at least as important as math or history. Programs like this create the awareness, strategies and the emotional resilience so kids can have a history. I know that with a good foundation in these skills, the best is yet to come.

These core needs show up in families too. Both parents and their kids want to be feel respected by one another and also by their peers. But as parents, let’s consider finding our own feelings of accomplishment, not living through those of our kids. With all best intentions, instead of putting them in a mold, let’s help them be inspired by their talents, appreciate their passions, and pave the way for their potential to emerge. Let’s help them see past a fear-driven mindset. It’s not about being the best, it’s abouttrying your best. It’s not about test results, it’s about curiosity and the process of learning.

Consider: what beliefs are you holding about belonging, authenticity and success that are shaping your children’s futures? What are we really asking of our kids?

 

Choosing Love over Fear

Instead of succumbing to the fear of not being enough, let them know that they are loved just as they are. The sheer acceptance and support from a parent is more reassuring and motivating than any accomplishment could ever be. Help them understand that being kind to themselves makes them stronger and serves as an antidote to the hurt. Help them to not believe the voices of doubt and hate, wherever they come from. Help them discover that they are here for a reason, and there are always choices and options, no matter what.

 

 

 

7 Qualities of a Happy Mom

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON HUFFPO

The saying goes that when Mom is happy, everyone’s happy. But in this busy world, where the ultimate luxury may be a full night’s sleep, here are seven qualities that help moms not only keep it together, but thrive. Which ones would you want to share with the favorite mom in your life?

1. Know your strengths: Happy moms recognize that “effortless perfection” is an outdated myth. Being real, authentic and present is way more fulfilling and meaningful, not to mention a much better model for your children. Focus on your strengths, and what makes you energized, not on what is “missing.”

2. De-stress: Time to de-stress is not a luxury — it is fuel for going the distance. Even a few minutes during a hectic day counts. Whether it’s through laughter, exercise, hobbies or meditation, it’s important to have a way to let go of stress. Take time to return to yourself. You and everyone around you will be happier!

3. Be gentle with yourself: Happy moms try to show compassion for themselves and to others. Mothers who, even inadvertently, put themselves down (I’m too fat, too overwhelmed, etc.) demonstrate that belief to their kids. We are all in the process of evolving. When you choose to be kind to yourself, as well as to others, it will inspire everyone around you to do the same.

4. Know when to say no: Happy mothers set healthy boundaries. This can look like prioritizing quality time with family or deciding not to take on another project that would drain all of your energy. Pleasing people, whether it is friends, relatives or colleagues, can lead to spreading yourself too thin — invest your time wisely.

5. Empower your children to help: Kids feel better when they are a contributing part of a team. Happy moms find creative ways to engage their children in helping out, whether that is assisting in putting together tomorrow’s lunch or feeding the pets. “It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings.” ~ Anne Landers.

6. Find time for friends: Friends help you laugh at your troubles, listen when you want to talk, and remind you of who you are. Being a mother is but one of your roles; real friends help you keep your identity and perspective, and remind you to reach for your dreams.

7. Have an attitude of gratitude: Happy moms know that gratitude opens the doors of the heart. Try having everyone around the table talk about one thing they are grateful for in their lives as well as something they appreciate about the others there. “People will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ~ Maya Angelou

 

 

 

How to Get Unstuck: 7 Ways to Find Your Flow

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Do you ever have those days when you feel stuck? You know, those days when it’s kind of foggy: Life is good enough but doesn’t grab you, move you or make you feel like you are even scratching the surface of what can be. When these times come up for me, I know I’ll get past them, but life is short and it’s not where I want to be parked. Here are seven ways to break through to your core, passion and purpose. Explore each one and notice the change…

1. Spend More Time in the Zone
We’ve all had them — those moments when you are so immersed in what you are doing that hours feel like minutes. You know when you are in the flow. Whether you are engaged in a project, playing or listening to music, practicing a sport, into your creativity, a deep conversation, the peace of nature, find what makes you feel energized, focused and transcendent. Then allow yourself to do more of what you love. Get ready to “unleash the beast,” and share it here. Remember that
flow is the birthplace of creativity.

2. Gear Up Your Gratitude
A quick way to get unstuck is to write a letter to one person who means the most to you — that person who has been there for you, and has seen your true nature and potential. Writing the letter will make you feel more connected immediately. Then take it to the next level. if you can, call that person on the phone and read them your letter. Be prepared for a memorable experience. Tracking your gratitude regularly in a journal will also remind you of all the good in your life, right here and right now.

3. Harness the Power of Your Smile
The simple act of smiling not only makes you feel better, but it creates a connection to others. By putting a smile on your face (bonus points if your eyes are engaged too), you not only feel healthier but you are retraining your brain to create more happiness pathways. Because of our mirror neurons, smiling, like laughter, is contagious. If you see someone else smile, your body tends to match not only the action, but the emotion behind it. You can do that for others too; explore the Faces of Happiness/. Sharing your smile will inspire others to do the same.

4. Question your Stories
Growing up, most people have heard messages that may have been helpful then (don’t speak to strangers), but as adults, these can cripple the ability to fully connect. You may have been told that you are clumsy, not clever enough, or even not lovable… there are so many versions. This becomes the story that ends up ingrained in your mindset. Is it safe to say that you are ready for something better? Choose one narrative that does not support you now. It could be “I’m not good enough, I don’t have enough time…” Byron Katie in “The Work” challenges you to answer four questions:

  • Is it true?
  • Can you absolutely know that it is true?
  • How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
  • Who would you be without the thought?
  • Explore these cues and get ready for a new perspective on an old story.

5. Your Calling is Calling
Identify someone you look up to or whose life you wish you had! Then comes the fun part: ask yourself why? What part of their existence are you attracted to? Is it their professional success, or their closeness with family and friends? Is it the freedom to say yes to adventure, their ability to set boundaries or their creative flair?

Chances are that those qualities speak to you because on some level, you know that, with some attention, intention and time, these very qualities can be the next to emerge from you. Imagine what would it look like if you were expressing these in your day-to-day life? Take one step today.

6. Be Bold
There is a well of courage inside of you that is waiting to be tapped. Think back to a time when you dealt with a major challenge that you faced. You have that capacity. Yet, from popular magazines to the daily news, society blasts messages of scarcity and fear. Brene Brown comments, “I’d say the one thing we have in common is that we’re sick of feeling afraid. We want to dare greatly.” By living more authentically and allowing yourself to dream, you blast open the doors of possibility. Be bold, play with an idea, immerse yourself in it and let it grow. “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!” Say yes to the whispers of your soul.

7. Love Yourself A Little More Every Day
As human being we have a negativity bias: The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences. If you tracked the number of mean messages you send yourself (bad hair day, can’t get it right, not again!) the amount is staggering. Cue: self-compassion.
Instead of getting angry with yourself for falling short, try a little tenderness. No one is perfect; that pursuit just causes stress. And no one is immune from going though feelings of inadequacy and challenge; it is called our common humanity. When an obstacle comes up, what would you say if you were coaching a dear friend? Respond to yourself that way and see what can shift. Remember your deepest connection to all that is; remember who you are.

What are your best ways to get unstuck?

 

 

 

The Power of Willingness

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“Faces of Happiness” photo by Mia McCormick from Colorado! 

Recovering from a serious illness, then facing more surgeries to deal with chronic debilitating pain, taught me a lot about the importance of having willingness in life. How willing would I be to face surgeries and recovery with a strong heart, facing my fears and finding the courage to go on, recover and heal? And then once healed on physical levels, how could I adopt an even deeper level of willingness and openness to life as I entered my “second chance”?

 

Life presents so many opportunities to ask ourselves, “How willing am I right now?” The question could be prompted by a potential job change, by a request from a loved one about a pattern they hope you’ll change, by a realization that things in our external life won’t change until we do. The question of willingness is primary in how we navigate through so much of our life.

 

Willingness to me is a “power” because it can catalyze many dimensions of our growth and evolution.

To be willing to learn

To be open to ideas outside your comfort zone

To be accessible to life – responsive, available embracing

To be flexible, not rigid with life

To be resilient, not hardened

To be flowing, not frozen

 

Many times in my healing journey, I could feel that when my mind and heart were more flexible, my physical health improved. It’s also true that when our responses to life are more flexible, our body in turn is more flexible.

 

Willingness is not just about mustering up some courage to face a daunting challenge. It’s also about having the willingness to experience life with a deep sense of gratitude. Willingness to experience life in all its fullness brings a sense of wonder, which in turn feeds our willingness. When we have a feeling of childlike wonder combined with profound awe, we can find deep fulfillment.

 

Take a moment and drink in the feeling of AWESOME WONDER…

  • What would it be like if we returned to a state of childlike innocence, and could drop the trappings of adulthood that kill our spirit, drown our energy, and dampen our wide-eyed enthusiasm?
  • Childlike innocence is a bubble inside of delight, even over the smallest of things. Identify a time when you experienced this feeling, this portal into the next stage of us. Remember the memory, and call it forth when you felt a feeling of inspiration.  If no memory comes to you about yourself, remember a time when someone you admire or love exhibited this quality.
  • Take a few moments to savor the feeling of freedom and peace that come from willingness to live life.
  • What part of your life would most benefit from this quality you just directly infused your heart and spirit with?
  • What actions could you take to bring this quality into your life?
  • What relationships in your life would most benefit from this quality that could bring greater inspiration and juice to the relationship?
  • What would help you remember and assimilate this experience so that it could benefit you in your work and life?

Enjoy your week!

 

 

10 Things Creative People Do

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON HUFFPO, May 12, 2014

 

Have you ever wondered why some people are more creative than others? Did you ever wish that you had more of that particular gene? The good news is that research shows that happiness and creativity are not only related, they can be developed. Here are 10 ways to jumpstart your creativity, starting now:

 

1. Listen In: Listen to your intuition and capture your new ideas. Whether from your morning shower, nighttime dreams, when running, in the car, or in nature, keep an idea notebook and jot it down.

 

2. Mind Your Mindset: When you start something new, you can either choose to put yourself down and succumb to the inner critic (fixed mindset) or enjoy the process of creation (growth mindset).

 

3. Get in the Flow: Focus on the moment rather than the goal. When you are totally immersed in a creative activity, when hours feel like moments, you open to tapping into something bigger than yourself. Let it flow through you.

 

4. Let Your Senses Come Alive: Notice not only how things look, but how they feel in your hand, how they smell, the sounds surrounding you, even the nuances of taste. Don’t forget to listen to your gut — that’s an important sense too!

 

5. Happiness Spurs Innovation: Sadness inhibits innovative ideas, causing people to exercise more restraint, but happiness expands creative thinking, fresh associations and new perspectives. Remember to take a break and make time for fun! You’ll come back refreshed.

 

6. Gratitude Rules: Being grateful for where you’re at and “taking in the good” helps sculpt your brain’s neural pathways to receive more of it. Imagine what you are creating. Like an athlete training for peak performance when you visualize something special, your can embody it even more.

 

7. Seek Out Challenging Tasks: Just for fun, challenge yourself with projects that don’t have solutions, like how to make a horse fly (no — we’re not talking unicorns) or build a perfect model of a part of the body. This opens the mind for all types of strategies, which helps generate fresh ideas.

 

8. Surround Yourself With Interesting People and Things: Spend time with diverse friends, listen to new music, see new exhibitions to broaden your horizons. Having unusual objects around you also helps you develop original ideas.

 

9. Learn Something New: By taking a class outside your typical area of interest, you can have a wider range of ideas to draw from and interconnect. Research shows that connecting in new ways is the basis for all creative thought.

 

10. Know Your Strengths and Passions: Get to know what makes your heart soar, what makes you feel most alive and energized, and use it as fuel for the creative process.

 

By nourishing your creative side, you’ll bring happiness not only to yourself but to those around you. You’ll also know what you had inside yourself all along. What do you do to tap into your creativity?

 

Need Inspiration?

Try Project Happiness’ new Do What Makes You AWEsome Challenge 

to tap into your creative flow today.

 

 

5 Vital Keys to Health and Wellbeing

IMG_7225I was a sickly child and I hated being sick. In my early 20s (which was 54 years ago!) I decided that I was done being sick and done not having energy to do all the things I wanted to do. I started doing research on what creates health, and I was fortunate to read a few books that changed my life. At that time, I threw everything out of my kitchen and started to do my grocery shopping at the one tiny health food store in Santa Monica, California.

 

As I got off all processed foods, stopped eating sugar and ate only organic foods, my health improved rapidly. My excitement about how good I felt led to a life-long passion for learning about what creates excellent health and wellbeing. I discovered that we each need to address five major life areas to create excellent health.

 

1. FOOD – Eat for a balanced gut

There are many ways of eating and there is no one way that works for everyone. Each of us needs to tune into our body to see what feels best, perhaps it’s eating a Paleo or modified Paleo diet, a vegetarian diet or a vegan diet. However, whichever suits you, there are some general guidelines that apply to everyone.

 

Recent research indicates that 80% of our immune system is in our gut, and that the balance or imbalance of our gut flora affects our organs and our brain. An imbalanced gut is caused by antibiotics and other drugs, by processed, sugared and pesticide-laden foods, by bad air, fluoridated water, too much alcohol, over-exercising and stress.

 

Eating fresh, local and organic foods goes a long way toward creating health, as does including fermented foods with each meal (unless you are suffering from SIBO – Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth. If this is the case, it’s best to work with a functional medicine doctor to heal the SIBO before including fermented foods in your diet). An imbalanced gut can cause both physical and emotional problems.

 

2. EXERCISE – The best exercise is what you do naturally

It is very important to find exercise that you love to do so that you look forward to doing it and want to do it your whole life. Research indicates that the best exercise is what you do naturally – gardening, walking, fun sports and so on. Intense or extreme exercise, such as running marathons, tends to create an imbalance in the gut flora (called gut dysbiosis), and can even create gut permeability (leaky gut).

 

3. HYDRATION – (Sorry, coffee doesn’t count, it’s a dehydrator!)

Our bodies need good, clean filtered water – about ½ ounce per pound of weight – so a 150-pound person would need 75 ounces of water daily. Coffee doesn’t count as it is dehydrating. Not enough water can cause insomnia, anxiety and muscle cramps. However, overdoing it and drinking too much water isn’t healthy either.

 

4. SLEEP – Skimping on zzz’s weakens your immunity

A lack of sleep greatly lowers the immune system’s ability to fight off illness. Most people need at least seven good hours of sleep a night to keep their immune system healthy.

 

5. STATE OF MIND – I put this last on the list, yet it’s the most important. 

Research indicates that stress is a major cause of 90% of all illness. Most people have no idea how to lovingly manage life’s stressors. They might run or meditate, and this might help, but what creates the most inner peace is learning how to take loving responsibility for your feelings. This means that you learn to move toward your painful feelings rather than push them away with various addictions. It means embracing all your feelings with a desire to learn about what they are telling you.

 

All our feelings have information for us. There are two basic kinds of painful feelings:

            1) Wounded Feelings we create by our own self-abandonment, such as anxiety, depression (these can also be caused or exacerbated by a gut imbalance), guilt, shame, anger, emptiness, aloneness, jealousy and so on.

These feelings tell us that we are being unloving to ourselves by ignoring our feelings, judging ourselves, turning to addictions to numb our feelings, or           making others responsible for our feelings.

            2) Core Painful Feelings of life, such as loneliness, heartbreak, grief and helplessness over others and events. These feelings are telling us a lot about what is happening with others and with situations and events.

When our desire is to love ourselves rather than to try to control our feelings or control others, we open to learning with our feelings, which can lead to understanding, acceptance, peace and joy. Learn to love yourself now by taking our free Inner Bonding course at http://www.innerbonding.com/welcome!

 

Is Happiness a Choice?

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So far, over 2.5 million people have seen the post, over 25,000 have shared it and the comments just keep coming. What’s up? The cartoon says: “Every single day you make a choice.” It features a guy sitting on one side of the bus looking out the window at doom and gloom, and his expression matches this dark perspective; another passenger on the opposite side of the same bus is looking out the window focusing on sunny skies, and his outlook is sunny too. Is happiness a choice? The question has sparked a wildfire of comments.

Support for “happiness is a choice”
Those who feel that happiness is a choice are deeply committed to that viewpoint. Many comments suggest that although we can’t control our circumstances, we can influence how we respond to them. “It’s not what happens to us, but the way we respond to what happens. Happiness is definitely a choice.” Do you agree?

Support for “happiness is not a choice”
The other perspective sees things entirely differently. “How can you say that every single day you make a choice when those suffering from depression have no choice — it’s bio-chemical.” And, “What about the death of a loved one — doesn’t this society even give you permission to feel your feelings?” Or, “There’s so much pressure to appear ‘together’ that it can leave no room for authenticity.” How do you feel about that?

The grey area
The truth is, this issue is complex — there are shades of grey. People think of happiness many ways. Some would argue that you are born happy… or not. That’s your lot in life. Some would suggest that it not just a state: Happiness is a skill set that can be taught. I’m firmly on this latter side and the science supports my own experience, that with certain practices, such as gratitude, happiness levels can increase significantly.

At Project Happiness, the non-profit I founded to teach kids practical tools for a happier and more meaningful life, we don’t try to force people to look through rose-colored glasses or drink the happy Kool-Aid. Rather, it is about building awareness for the importance of preventative wellness practices, and teaching skills to access more happiness as well as to better manage real challenges… both part of life. It’s about using scientifically proven strategies to develop emotional resilience within yourself, rather than looking to outside circumstances. It’s about learning how to identify and build on your strengths and regulate emotions.

Strategies That Can Help
Mindfulness is an important tool, as are self-compassion, forgiveness, and mindset. The latest research from neuroscience indicates that we can change our brain, actually reshape the neural pathways through the thoughts that we think and the practices that we adopt. With all the various tools now available, one thing is clear — the more we practice a certain mindset, whether positive or negative, the more we reinforce that tendency, and the more we lean into that direction.

One comment does a good job of highlighting the complexity of this debate:

I have dealt with anxiety/depression. Take medicine for it. I don’t think anyone is trying to downplay the struggle that people with depression face. There is no need to get offended. I do believe, however, that your mindset has a lot to do with how you face life. I made the choice to get help with my depression. I am much happier now that I’m getting help. We do have control over A LOT more than we think we do. Consider that.

Some people are open to the possibility of a choice for happiness even in the darkest moments. Some tend to argue for their limitations as, “that’s just reality — it is what it is.”

Another post said:

Barring mental disabilities, most people can do this, it may take some training but your attitude is one of very few choices we can make for ourselves each day, hour, minute, second, at a time.

The question for both sides is: Can you accept the reality of the moment, be open to a glimmer of hope that your experience can change, and then deliberately try to build on that? That too is a real choice. This is a heated discussion with passion on both sides. Depression is real, and yet… I’d love to know what do you think.

 

 

 

The Top 3 Surprising Ways You May Be Sabotaging Your Own Happiness

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If you ever ask people what they want most out of their life, one of the most common responses you will get is this: “I just want to be happy.”

 

The search for true happiness has been an ongoing quest for many and continues to elude most of us. The reason why it seems so out of reach is because most people don’t realize that happiness is not dictated by their external circumstances, but their perception of those circumstances.

 

Mother Nature has given us the gift of self-awareness. Unlike other creatures on the planet, we are not solely being driven by our instincts. Yet so many of us don’t know how to handle our consciousness in a healthy way. Most of us are not taught how to do this and we usually gain this wisdom after going through many years in the “school of hard knocks”.

 

 

But why should we go through pain and hardship when we can easily bypass most of it? I truly believe that all of us have the capacity to self-manage and learn by example if we are open to it. That’s how it worked out for me.

 

garfield

Of course in my case it did take a few challenges to wake me up to the fact that I was creating my own misery by the mismanagement of my thoughts and emotions. Sometimes it does take a difficult experience to shake our world and motivate us to change; but most of the time these “life crises’s” could have easily been avoided if we had the right perspective.

 

So based on my personal experience and what I have observed in the world, here are what I think are the top 3 most common and surprising ways people sabotage their own happiness:

  1. They base their happiness on external events and people: We live in a world driven by consumerism. Corporate giants skillfully deceive us with the false notion that if we buy their product or service, we will be smarter, richer, hotter, etc. Some people who derive their happiness and identity from relationships want others to approve them and develop an unhealthy dependency on this external validation. What I have realized that is that this is all ultimately an attempt to fill an internal void- a void that can only be filled when we genuinely love and accept ourselves no matter what.
  2. They don’t take care of their bodies: I truly believe in the mind-body-spirit connection. We have to accept the fact that our body is our vehicle for our life. When we abuse or neglect it, we are ruining our vehicle thereby ruining our ride for our journey. Our body is essentially a bunch of chemicals that is directly impacted by the kind of lifestyle that we choose. Most of the health-related issues and mood fluctuations are a result of the poor management of health. Respect your body and it will return the favor with good health and great sense of wellness, balance and vitality.
  3. They are disconnected from their internal world: We are living in an age where we have become more distracted and busier than ever. This has resulted in a world filled with people who are constantly on the go and living in what I call “auto-pilot” mode. With all this focus on the outside world, very few take the time to pause and tune in within themselves. We miss the opportunity to check in with our thoughts, emotions and body which are constantly in flux based on what is going on around us. The practice of mindfulness can significantly reduce our anxiety and dissatisfaction and help us tap into the gifts that we have. True and lasting happiness can only happen when we are willing to enter a deeper realm of existence and develop a strong connection with ourselves.

 

By consciously handling these potential roadblocks, you will be well on your way to creating fulfillment, joy and meaning in your life!

 

All my best on your journey,

Seline

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Innovative education system collaborates with Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Dr. Muhammad Yunus!

 NEW DELHI, JULY 2012: 

“Don’t worry Sir I’ll manage, I don’t know how, but I’ll manage. “

 

Two years ago, I had just turned 26 and was right in the middle of a three-week recruiting campaign. My responsibility was to find and select 180 employees with knowledge in glass manufacturing for the opening of a new plant in Dubai. Due to the number of applicants, we were interviewing up to 50 persons per day, and had little time to make up our mind about each candidate. One young man entered in the room with a large smile, bright eyes, and light walk. He sat down in front of me. His name was Prakash, he was exactly my age.

 

“Why would you like to join our company in Dubai?” He replied in a very poor english what I interpreted as, “I would be proud because I could sustain my parents, my aunt, and my sister’s kids, Sir. If I make them happy, I am happy forever, Sir. This is my mission.” He said all this looking me straight in the eyes.

 

Through our conversation, I realized that, just like 90% of the applicants I was interviewing, Prakash did not master the prerequisites necessary for any kind of position in any company. His most basic skill sets were lacking–logical thought processes, literacy of rules and procedures, basic problem-solving strategies, attention-to-details, persistence, resilience, self-confidence… and more generally, the ability to learn. Prakash needed to learn how to learn.

 

After 20 minutes, I thanked Prakash, and he already understood for himself that he did not do well in the interview. I was exhausted, disappointed, and saddened by the series of interviews. It was difficult to find candidates with the right skill sets, even as basic as our screening process had needed. Prakash seemed to realize my defeat; he looked at me with a big smile, and told me, “Don’t worry, Sir, I’ll manage. I don’t know how, but I’ll manage.”  He then left and closed the door calmly.

 

Dozens of people were waiting for me behind the door. I stood up, looked out the window and saw the turmoil of the street life of New Delhi. A handful of barefoot young men were trying to sell indian crisps… I was sad. I knew with some additional education, Prakash could have become a great collaborator within our company, but we were not a training company, and needed to start operating in a few short months.

 

“I don’t know how, but I’ll manage. If they are happy, I am happy forever, Sir. This is my mission.” Those two sentences will forever echo in my mind. On that very day, Prakash ignited in me a sense of my own mission: Empower young people with the know-how to bridge into the corporate world. Just like Prakash, I knew my joy was in helping others.

 

I never saw Prakash again.

 

Two years passed. I left my job, travelled the world to interview companies to understand their needs, and convinced the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dr. Muhammed Yunus to join me in launching a revolutionary vocational education initiative called Y Generation Education. Developed along with our American partners CSMlearn in Boulder, CO, we’re launching a low-cost education system online, based on the world’s most advanced artificial intelligence to teach core skills and socio-emotional skills. Our purpose? To give underprivileged young people (16-30), like Prakash, the means to integrate into the corporate world. Presently we’re very excited to be participating as a finalists in the Google Impact Challenge. Winning this would give us the financial and technical support we still need to finish developing our technology and launch the first of many courses in Brazil.

 

As we speak, voting is open to the public to determine who will win four Google grants. We are the youngest and smallest of all 10 finalists and need your vote! If you believe, as we do, that education should teach young people the skills necessary for them to bridge the gap that Prakash experienced, please vote and spread the word. The link is the following: http://bit.ly/1Mm5lfu (You just need to accept the cookies, click in the blue box, and then press « OUI » to confirm–that’s it!)

 

Happy to exchange further with any of you! Thank you for your precious support,

Ludovic de Gromard, Y Generation Founder 

ldegromard@ygen-edu.com

 

For more about Y Generation, watch this video!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you want to be happy, BE.

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Happy last moments of summer! My balcony plants are blooming.  The sunsets every evening are glorious.  Schools are still out and folks are relishing this last sweet summer month. For many like myself, it’s a time of focused rejuvenation in preparation for the next school year: savoring an ice cream cone down to the last lick, staying up late to enjoy warm late night breezes, dipping our toes in water, laughing, hiking, BEING.

 

As a self-proclaimed ‘doer,’ my summer practice has been to just ‘be.’ With less to do in the summer months, I always find the peace a bit challenging. In a few short weeks it’ll be crazy busy again. But my ‘to do’ list today? Appreciate the present.

 

Many years ago I participated a yearlong series of Courage to Teach retreats. An essay by Parker Palmer was given to us before our summer retreat in which he wrote, “Summer is the season when all promissory notes of autumn and winter and spring come due, and each year the debts are repaid with compound interest.  In summer it is hard to remember we ever doubted the natural process, had ever ceded death the last word, had ever lost faith in the powers of new life.  Summer is a reminder that our faith is not nearly as strong as the things we profess to have faith in – a reminder that, for this single season at least, we might cease our anxious machinations and give ourselves to the abiding and abundant grace of our common life.”

 

“We might cease our anxious machinations…” A good reminder for me. My own lesson this summer is an inner lesson.  I am whispering to myself to be in the moment. Enjoy fresh raspberries and fresh strawberries and summer walks at dusk.  Be woken up by birds and not the alarm.  As Mary Oliver says, Be idle and blessed.”

 

Savor the season. Be, fully. Soak up every last drop of the summer’s stillness and start your year on a full tank.

 

10 Things That Real Friends Do

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Some believe that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.

This goes for friendships, too. Here are some of the qualities that I am grateful for in my friends. While different people have different qualities, just thinking about them makes me smile. Take a look and see which ones you can match to the people in your lives.

 

1. Focus on the good: You don’t have to impress real friends. That’s a lot of hard work. Real friends see past the surface, and appreciate the good qualities in you.

 

2. Being real: With your real friends, you can laugh or cry, be either silly or serious, and still feel the warmth of true connection.

 

3. Kindness counts: Fair-weather friends are fun when times are good. You recognize real friends who show an underlying kindness, especially when times are tough.

 

4. Mistakes are part of life: Real friends don’t condemn you for making mistakes; we’re all human, and mistakes, too, are part of life. We learn as we grow.

 

5. Balance of power: Real friendships are not about one person being the star and the other being the servant. It’s about being able to take turns: understanding and being understood, giving and getting support, and caring enough to listen for words unspoken.

 

6. F is for forgiveness: When conflicts come up, real friends have the courage to reach out directly rather than gossiping and letting irritations grow. Real friends understand, and because they understand they are capable of forgiving.

 

7. Loyalty, care and connection: In a real friendship, loyalty is key and connection is the currency. You know they have your back. Real friends look beyond the sparkle of personality to the essence of what makes each other tick.

 

8. Let each other grow: Life is dynamic and people change. Real friends give each other the space to grow, the time to recalibrate, and the open door to sharing insights that only come from experience.

 

9. Water the plant2014-08-03-sFRIENDSDNAsmall.jpg: Like plants, friendships need to be watered, too. Real friends check in with one another. Whether that is every day or on birthdays every year, it is always special.

 

10. Celebrate the good stuff: Real friends celebrate your victories. They want the best for you and have the caring and confidence to be genuinely happy for your successes. Your joy is their joy, too.

 

What other qualities are on your list? What is most important for real friendship to blossom?

 

 

 

 

 

Paying Happiness Forward, one “Art Drop” at a time

Lindsay DeAlba believes what she is getting from her art is worth more than money. Follow Lindsay’s project on Instagram @Lindsaydotart. (Story originally published on NBC Bay Area, 7/21/15)

 

My life has always been a project to find happiness. I’ve always been on the pursuit of cultivating positive emotions through sports and art. It’s a day-to-day challenge and it’s definitely not easy – I work at it! Recently, this world has seemed sad, and excuse me if I say “ugly.” With that being said, it’s hard to work on your own positivity when your surroundings feel unearthed. How do we rectify the world’s state of being? What can we do? And, will it matter?

 

Michelle Obama said, “You may not always have a comfortable life and you will not always be able to solve all of the world’s problems at once but don’t ever underestimate the importance you can have because history has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own.” Happiness is defined as, the state of being happy. Through my life, and Paint The World Pretty I have defined my own happiness. It has taken me 31 years to understand, and finally I can say I comprehend this elusive emotion, my happiness is, making other people happy.

 

One night, as I was sitting in my art studio, surrounded by my pieces, my colors, my compositions, my….what I thought was my main source of bliss, I thought to myself, “This art makes me happy, it could make other people happy too!” This is when Project Happiness: Paint the World Pretty was born. It’s simple idea that turned into a small social movement. FREE art, created by myself is dropped in different communities. The recipient’s only payment is to “pay it forward” and do something nice for someone else.Flash-forward a few weeks, a small project started by one, has spread to 15 states and 5 countries with people enthusiastically expressing their interest in making a change. So I have packed up, and shipped out art and instructions to share the love.

 

Not one person, or a small social movement will solve the world’s problems at once, but courage can be contagious. I’d like to acknowledge, that I didn’t invent the wheel. (Darn it!)  Artists have been dropping and hiding “found art” for years with different motives and desires for doing so. Admittedly, mine, started off in the pursuit of my own happiness.

 

San Carlos, California, my hometown, was the first site to have art dropped. I hid over 20 paintings all around town, on benches, in bushes, anywhere I wanted. It was like an Easter egg hunt but with paintings. I dreamt I was painting the world a better place, one free painting at a time. I had no idea that my fantasy could be a reality.

 

Shortly after, I received pictures, text messages, and overall gratitude from the community. I opened my email to a gracious letter, from a recipient of my work. She wrote, “At 63, I had never had such a wonderful thing happen to me in my whole life.” She carried on to say that she still couldn’t believe it. Staring at the email, I couldn’t believe it. I was painting the world a prettier place, one free painting at a time. I made one person feel happy and it mattered. And in return I realized I had found my own happiness. I know that the other people involved in the project feel the same way, it feels good to help others.

 

Project Happiness: Paint the World Pretty is not going to rectify the worlds state of being, but we can make small gestures of love and in the end, it will matter, because we tried and we had hope.

 

 

4 Gratitude Tips to Boost Your Abundance

Abundance

Do you crave more? More money, time, love, happiness? Whether you want to make a huge change in your life, or simply find peace with everything around you, including with your finances, gratitude is the place to begin.

As a financial advisor working with individuals and families for fourteen years, I have seen that lasting happiness isn’t achieved by reaching a certain level of wealth or a senior title. Happiness comes to those who appreciate the present moment, no matter what it looks like.

Sure, money can make life easier, however, it is when you feel grateful for all that you already have, that you experience real abundance.

Here are four ways that gratitude can help you feel rich right now regardless of your financial situation.

1. Give thanks for what you’ve already purchased.

Instead of letting your debt, student loans, credit card balances, overwhelm you, give thanks for the wonderful education you received, the amazing experiences you had with friends, or the new items that made you feel good.

Personally, when I write a check or send an online payment, I add “THANK YOU” in the memo for I have received something in return.

2. Appreciate that you have a choice over your thoughts and actions.

Life is a series of consequences from the choices you make.

When I make choices from a place of scarcity, when my mind is racing with thoughts of “I gotta have more” or “I’m not doing enough,” it invariably results in a deficit of money, sleep, and time.

I’ve learned to stop myself and be conscious of what is going on, internally and externally.

I feel better just knowing that I have a choice. I can choose to hold onto my feelings of inadequacy or let go of them and think differently. Same with my behavioral patterns. I can continue my current patterns or I can make a change.

How do you want to spend your money, time, and energy? What do you believe is possible with your money and your life?

Give thanks for the fact that you have the power of choice and allow yourself to make them from a place of abundance.

3. Appreciate what you already have instead of focusing on what you don’t.

It’s easy to get caught up in materialism and chase after things to buy your joy. But a consumption-centric lifestyle can rob you of both your financial and emotional security.

A recent study done earlier this year by Jo-Ann Tsang and her team at Baylor University found that as materialism increased, feelings of gratitude and life satisfaction decreased. Further, they found that the less satisfied people were, the less gratitude they experienced.

Focus, instead, on the abundance that surrounds you now. Make a list of your blessings including fresh air, running water, a roof over your head, your ability to walk and see.

Try giving thanks for your job, without complaining about your boss. And appreciate the money in your bank account without criticizing yourself about not having or earning more.

4. Appreciate the people in your life.

Take a moment to appreciate everyone around you. I’m definitely guilty of working so hard that I miss out on time with my kids. But whenever I spend an afternoon, or frankly even 10 minutes of pure fun and love, I feel incredibly abundant. The best is when I wake up and my three kids crawl into my bed for “snuggle bug” time.

It all starts with gratitude!

My 8 year old recently asked me, “why do you have to get all dressed up and put on that makeup?” I like you best in your pajamas. Moments like these remind me how much I am loved for who I am, not for what I do or what l look like.

Make time to connect with others, whether it’s with your family, co-workers, or in your community, and open up to the abundance that already exists regardless of what you have.

I began a gratitude practice when I decided to change my life and become a writer as well as a Certified Financial Planner. It allowed me to follow my values and make my dreams come true.

Find out more about my new book, The Abundance Loop: 8 Steps to Manifest Conscious Wealth, and learn how you can cultivate gratitude and break the cycle of scarcity in order to live in abundance.

Connect with me so we can create an abundant world together!

 

 

Mindfulness To The Rescue: 4 Ways Mindfulness Can Help Parents

When we become parents

 

Nothing is more important to us than being a good parent, even though we are certain we are messing it up most days.  While we dearly love being parents, our stress exponentially increases once that child is born.  When we become parents, doing is no longer what’s important; fully being is.  Making this shift can be difficult – mindfulness will help.

 

While I practiced mindfulness about two years before becoming a parent, it was only after my daughter was born almost three years ago that I have deepened my mindfulness to an extent I didn’t know was possible before she came into my life.  Here are four ways I’ve found that mindfulness can improve your parenting and enjoyment of it.  (If you are a parent of a newborn, save this and read it in the future.  You may need to only focus on sleeping when you can.  Be compassionate to yourself and know you’re doing your best.)

 

1.  “Floor time.”  This is a concept in play therapy that can turn around behavior issues instantly.  Floor time is setting aside 30 minutes with no TV, no phones, or other distractions.  You sit and play with your child, allowing him to lead the play.  You give her yourfull attention, awareness and presence.  This is an amazing meditation.  You do not correct your child or even name things unless you are repeating what he says, (i.e., You can’t color her face green!  Her face needs to be brown!).  I often find myself trying to use it as a reward for myself if I get some chore done, but then I miss it or my daughter really needs the attention right then and not later.  So, I suggest doing this as soon as you can in the day or when you get home from work.  I sometimes need to break it up in 15 minute increments.

Here’s an article from Psychology Today describing this in more detail:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fixing-families/201202/kids-and-floor-time

 

2.  Notice emotions in your child and in yourself.  Teach your child emotion words as soon as possible.  I made a book with pictures of all of my daughter’s big emotions and describing what they are.  We have happy, frustrated, mad, tired, sick, surprised, etc.  When she was just a little over two, she could correctly name most of these when she felt them.  She replaced many tantrums with saying that she was “frustrated” instead.  While her feelings don’t always make sense, it helps me to know what she’s feeling and it helps me empathize with her instead of reacting angrily.  Notice your own emotions-when you are hurt that your child favors grandma over you, when you are frustrated with your child putting up a fight every night during the bedtime routine, etc.  By noticing my anger, I can usually stop myself from reacting and instead be calmly present with my daughter to help her manage her own emotions.

 

3.  Get up a little bit earlier to have time to yourself.  Or stay up late, whatever works for you.  This may be working out (I am a muchbetter mom after I work out), reading, planning your day, etc.  Spend at least 5 minutes in meditation.  Be kind to yourself and open your heart.

 

“The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you

Don’t go back to sleep!”

– Rumi

4.  Try this Momma Meditation.  I started this during one of the hundreds of hours I’d spend holding my daughter while she was asleep because the second I’d lay her down, she’d wake up screaming.  The time to try this is while nursing your child, when you are rocking him to sleep or when she is asleep and you’re letting her get into a deep sleep before laying her down.  Start by watching your breath and not trying to change it.  Are you holding your breath?  Are you breathing shallowly?  As you hold your attention on your breath, you’ll notice it getting deeper and more constant.  Relax your muscles, starting from the top of your head, your face, your neck and shoulders, your arms, your stomach and back, and your legs.  It is often hard to relax these, but muscles can be relaxed and yet flexed to support your child.  Tension isn’t strength.  Now turn your attention to your beautiful child.  Notice her breathing and how it compares to yours.  Notice his features and how perfect they are.  Feel the weight of your child on you-from her head on your arm, to her fullest weight on your lap, to toe.  Sensing this weight on me is usually when I feel a swell of happiness and deep love.  Still allowing any other thoughts to drop, continue breathing and feeling your child’s weight.  Then, send love and energy from the universe to both you and your child.  I often picture a large, loving ribbon curling around us.  Visualize what you are grateful for in this day with your child.  Savor the perfection of this quiet moment.

 

 

HAPPINESS WITHIN REACH: The Open Secret

I want to be happier

 

“I want to be happier. I just don’t know how.” In my work as Stanford faculty, presenter and leadership coach, I hear this confession from adults, 18-80. We live complex, stressful and often disconnected lives, often bombarded by media that convinces us that buying all kinds of stuff will make us happy, beautiful, successful, prestigious, and even more loveable individuals. Sometimes it does, in the short run. The real problem, however, is that this media-created trance can blunt our quieter universal quest for deeper joy and kindness. But there is very good news. Deep happiness is within reach.

 

By peering into the lives of the happiest people, we can discover the research-based secrets about the quality of “happiness.” What makes the happiest people more joyful and kinder?

 

Let’s begin with your unique life. Take a “time-in” and think about this: What makes you happy? Stop reading, make your complete list, and when ready, place your experiences within these 3 categories:

 

1. SHORT TERM PLEASURES: Feeling the rush of sensory pleasures, such as great food and wine, great sex, sports, entertainment, is terrific. The happiest people intentionally organize their lives so they have time to kick back and enjoy life. But here’s the catch- these experiences are fleeting. We want more, we crave more, and we’re bombarded by media that encourage us to get out there and grab “more” pleasure. But the problem is that our brains have faulty wiring. The harder and stronger that we pursue that great rush of pleasure, the more we want. The more we want, the more unhappy we become. And as unhappiness soaks into our day, the more gratification we seek to avoid the discomfort and find another pleasure jolt. Whether the rush comes from food or drugs; money or prestige; gambling or overwork, this downward cycle inevitably leads to discontent, social comparison, restlessness, depression and even addiction. Enjoy those healthy fun pleasures, but understand that they alone will not result in sustainable happiness and contentment. Sorry!

 

2. FLOW:   Does your “this makes me happy” list include experiences that lead to that zesty feeling of a “YES” fist pump?   Maybe you love untangling complex coding problems, mastering a new level of communication skill or fixing a gnarly machine? This great feeling of accomplishment, called “flow”, sparks curiosity, adds vitality and helps us thrive.   The happiest people deliberately seek out engaging challenging experiences and they love achieving new levels of mastery. But here’s the secret: Those happy folks also know how to fail! Why? Inevitably, the “flow” urge prompts us to take new risks and step out of our comfort zone. And what do we find there? When we outgrow our current competency level, we hit the “don’t know how” zone, which feels like incompetence or a setback. If we stick with it – keep trying, and keep failing, the time will arrive when we mastered the new skill set and we experience the great feeling of flow. The happiest people understand that gaining mastery requires resilience- to bounce back after a setback or failure, and eventually enjoy that great experience of flow.   Nelson Mandela reminds us that “the greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” Flow, being fully engaged, mastery. These are powerful ingredients for deep life satisfaction.

 

3. MEANING: Did your list include connecting with others, offering compassion, being kind to yourself? Meaning is the real sweet spot for the happiest people. Happy people know how to notice and savor the good that surrounds us so often in our day. Think about this – if you hang out in the zone of negativity or threat or stress, you’ll find something to criticize in almost every second. The happiest people chose to be happy – they deliberately focus on and seek the positive benefits of each moment. We call this a positive mindset. But here’s the trick- life is never trouble free. Even the happiest people also struggle and face disappointment and adversity.   They understand that pain is part of life too, and deep meaning and purpose arise when we deliberately reframe life’s difficulties into opportunities for meaning and compassionate action. Viktor Frankl, Holocaust survivor, reminds us: “Everything can be taken from us but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Meaning isn’t an abstract or general life principle. It’s a vibrant, deliberate frame of mind that recasts life’s inevitable difficulties into purposeful thought and action.  Almost nothing imbues our lives with meaning and purpose as intensely as when we contribute to the happiness of others and when we treat others and ourselves with kindness and patience. The Dalai Lama teaches,” If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

 

Happiness IS within reach. Enjoy life’s healthy pleasures. Challenge yourself to grow, engage with life and master new accomplishments and skills. Above all, discover your unique capacity to bring greater joy and meaning to your personal life, as well as to the greater good of our communities. When you seek opportunities to help others and heal the world, you’ll find that you will truly flourish as your days will be imbued with wonderful sensual pleasures, inner peace, meaning and purpose. And that’s the open secret to deep, sustainable happiness.

 

8 Steps To Manifest Abundance

May 26th Grati-Tuesday News: Project Happiness is SO GRATEFUL that our friend and new author, Juliana Park, has generously offered to donate half her proceeds from the upcoming Hay House World Summit to projecthappiness.org! Sign up FREE today to access more from Juliana and 100 other inspirational experts featured in the summit: http://www.hayhouseworldsummit.com/?a=4436&c=596&p=r

In her new book, The Abundance Loop, Juliana outlines the 8 Steps to Manifest Abundance using the power of gratitude. Below is a sneak peak of these steps to shift from scarcity to abundance:

 

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How to Stop Mourning Your Weekend Before it’s Over

 

Ok. Let’s talk about the brain and how incredibly powerful that bad boy is in determining our entire outlook on life. We can use our thoughts for both good and evil, however it seems these days a lot of people are choosing the whole “glass is half empty” approach. Overall, I’ve always viewed myself as a bit of a Positive Polly (cool lingo I know), however lately I’ve noticed that I’m often choosing to focus on “the bad” instead of “the good” in various situations. Case in point:

 

I woke up this morning and had an instant pang of sadness. I’d just woken up from my last sleep-in of the week…and tomorrow is Monday (sad face). I was unhappy that the weekend was almost over, yet it was only 7am on Sunday morning. That’s definitely a half-empty metaphorical glass of water on my bedside table. What’s worse is that today was not an isolated incident- this feeling happens pretty much every weekend.

 

I feel like I often spend my whole Sunday in a state of mourning, as I know the weekend and I are about to part ways soon. Furthermore, if Sunday is the day of mourning, then grocery shopping is definitely the funeral. My brain habitually goes into a deep state of despair when it’s time to go grocery shopping on Sunday afternoon and I tend to have an internal battle in my mind. Logically, I am very well aware that I should just get on with it – write the list, do the shop, get ready for the week. That’s the sensible option Liz!

 

However, there’s also this other voice inside trying to take control. I’m pretty sure it’s the same voice that believes the calories don’t count if you didn’t purchase the food yourself. The dialogue of this voice normally sounds something like, “Delay the shopping. If you don’t do the shopping, then the weekend isn’t over and all those suckers who are organized and preparing for their week will be SO jealous of you extending your weekend.”

 

Whilst I’m aware that my weird Sunday grocery shopping issues are a mere anecdotal example, I do believe they’re indicative of a greater problem that a lot of people (surely not just me?) are facing. It’s what my new friend Eckhart Tolle (more a one way friendship at the moment but if you’re reading this Ecky, give me a buzz) refers to as “living in the now.”

 

I personally start thinking about going back to work on Monday when it’s Sunday morning. I literally cut my weekend in half by not living in the present moment and just enjoying what ‘is’. Thinking about Monday isn’t going to change a thing. Stressing about it isn’t going to delay it any further, or magically make it disappear yet I seem to think that worrying about the week ahead is a sensible Sunday pastime. Hmmm…perhaps you’re actually more of a Negative Nancy, Liz!

 

Ecky says a LOT of extremely wise things, some of which I will refer to in future blogs. I think this quote is particularly relevant: “Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life.” I have to consistently remind myself of this, especially on those Sunday mornings when I’ve already fast-forwarded 24 hours. We need to be present in our own lives, and realize that by consistently wishing we were somewhere else or doing something else we are only denying, and probably not enjoying, what ‘is’.

 

While Ecky is awesome, I thought I would also share THREE THINGS that have really helped me to live in the now:
1. STOPY WORRYING. There’s no way you can appreciate your day when you are already worrying about tomorrow. It is going to happen- regardless of how much you think about it. Write all your to-do’s for the week, accept that you cannot change what ‘is’ and redirect your energy somewhere else. You will notice you have so much more space in that mind of yours!

 

2. SAY GOODBYE TO TECHNOLOGY. Turn off the TV and put down your phone. As a society, we spend too much time mindlessly scrolling through news feeds and tuning out to a show we don’t even really want to watch. Then two hours later we feel like we’ve been robbed of our time. Instead, utilize this time for creative projects that you’ve been putting off starting/finishing. You will all of a sudden actively enjoy what you’re doing in the moment.

 

3. NOTICE THE SMALL THINGS. So many of us are thinking about our next job or activity while we are still completing the previous one. If you’re in the shower, take time to appreciate the warm water and relaxing sensations. Smell the ingredients and take joy in the process when cooking. Take awe in the abundance of nature when you’re on your morning walk. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, take 3 deep breaths and redirect your attention to then now.

 

So, with all this in mind I am off to go enjoy my Sunday afternoon while the sun is (semi) shining! I hope that this has at least got you thinking (just a smidge) whether you sometimes find yourself doing these things. If it doesn’t resonate with you then I seriously applaud you- keep going! If you found yourself nodding along then join me in trying to always enjoy (or at least accept) the present moment for what it is. Remember, do you want to be Polly or Nancy?

 

 

Breaking the Cycle of Scarcity Through the Eyes of Gratitude

gratitudeBy Juliana Park

May 19, 2015

I had always thought I was happy. Even when kids in my small hometown in Rhode Island called me “Chop-Chop” and made fun of my Asian eyes, I learned to laugh with them. At eight, I didn’t know how to deal with my true feelings, so I buried my shame and went to my imaginary happy place. I was thankful that I could get people to laugh, even if I bore the brunt of their careless comments.

 

At home, things were also under tight wraps, and there was a strict code of what was acceptable to say and do. To earn my parents’ approval, I was a dutiful daughter: good in school, polite and quiet, and I didn’t speak my mind there either. I knew they would be disappointed if they knew how sensitive I was, so again, I swallowed my true feelings. I never felt free to speak or live my own truth.

 

Thus I learned early on to smile in the face of slurs, to bury my emotions, and I convinced myself everything was fine. For most of my adult life, I was able to maintain a sunny disposition on the outside, priding myself on being available to anyone who suffered from lack of joy or who needed help. I was a loyal and trusted friend with a perpetually positive outlook, and I fiercely protected that persona even within my first marriage. I wanted so much to be that person, the one everyone perceived as being so confident and carefree.

 

Regretfully, perception is not always what it appears. And sometimes life has to take a drastic turn before things get better. Let’s just say I saw my share of “drastic.” But within that chaos, I discovered something very valuable: the true nature of gratitude, and for me, it made all the difference.

 

I had been drowning in the “drastic” part of my journey. Try as I might I could not be perfect, and my first marriage slowly and sadly disintegrated. I was completely depleted, the break-up was really painful, and I felt like a failure. I was still not able to express my authentic self and, truth be told, I was not even sure who I truly was. But at least I was free to start over and make different choices.

 

But as you might know, old habits die hard. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before I became friends with a woman who desperately needed my help as she was leaving her marriage. I showed up as the dutiful friend, helping to babysit her children, buying her groceries and spending endless hours on the phone as her main source of support. But she was quickly depleting me, physically, emotionally and even financially — the story of my life. Towards the end of our friendship, I lent her $2,000 to engage a lawyer. Mistake! Not only did she never pay it back, we never spoke again.

 

The cycle of lack was back with a vengeance. At first, I couldn’t understand why I kept allowing myself to get used. Why did I keep putting other people’s needs and happiness before my own? Why couldn’t I stand up for what I wanted? Why didn’t I do what is truly best for me?

 

I finally saw this as a recurring pattern and set out to break it. Through therapy, holistic studies and a lot of introspection, I came to realize the negative outcomes in my life were invariably the result of poor choices that I made. When I looked deeper, I could see those poor choices were driven by stress, anxiety and personal feelings of inadequacy. I didn’t feel like I had enough, and worse, I didn’t feel like I was enough. To break the cycle, I knew I had to stop the anxiety and poor self-esteem. But how?

 

I began my search when all of a sudden, the solution found me. It was gratitude. This flash of insight happened on a seemingly normal day, the evening after my daughter’s 9th birthday party. She was so full of joy and love that I found my love for her filled me with appreciation for my life, the entirety of my life, the sheer wonder of it all. As I felt that gratitude course warmly through my body, I realized that this powerful emotion would be the “thing” that would help me make better choices and transform my life!

 

Steeped with gratitude, I gradually started to make different choices, and those choices led to better outcomes — emotionally, physically and financially — it all improved! Once I changed my beliefs about what was possible for me, abundance opened up all over. Seeing the world through the eyes of gratitude is one of the most powerful ways to transform your life. Rather than live in a cycle of hopelessness and scarcity, I believe anyone can live each day in abundance. Just power-up your appreciation for what you do have and who you truly are, and break free.

 

 

 

 

Happiness Challenge: Day 21 (The finish line!)

21 Day challenge - Day 21

 “We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.” ~Herman Melville

#ThoughtfulThursday Challenge: Connect to thrive! At every level there are invisible patterns of unity and oneness interconnecting everything. These have no power structures or hierarchies; they are not for sale. They pass freely from heart to heart along the web of oneness that connects us all. We can be present with someone whose language we don’t understand, who speaks about circumstances we have never experienced, or whose reactions are baffling to us. It’s an orientation and intentionality to simply be with another…
In the next 24 hours, adopt the orientation of oneness with something or someone(s). Hold hands with a loved one and be present to the currents of connectivity between you, share a meal with someone of a completely different background than your own, tune into the buzz of the natural world around you…You’ll soon find that in each of us, there is a little of all of us; one effects the whole!
CONGRATS ON FINISHING THE 21 DAY HAPPINESS CHALLENGE! Did you enjoy it?If so, you’re in luck because the fun continues with today’s launch of Circles, a supportive community to help you practice happiness habits like those featured over the past 21 days. Sign up and be one of the first to start a Circle today:

Happiness Challenge: Day 20

21 Day challenge - Day 20

“Your body’s ability to heal is greater than anyone has permitted you to believe.”
Trust your body – it contains all the wisdom you need to care for yourself properly, you just have to take the time to listen.
#WellnessWednesday Challenge: You are a miracle of nature. The human body has such powerful self-healing potential that the main way you can even prevent it from healing is to interfere with it. Do you have maladaptive habits that may be interfering with your body’s innate ability to heal itself? Simple lifestyle corrections and food can do wonders for your health and, therefore, happiness…
For the next 24 hours, think of movement and healthy eating as “happiness triggers” rather than thinking of them as exercise and dieting.  What is one “happiness trigger” you will commit to today?

Happiness Challenge: Day 19

21 Day challenge - Day 19

“Gratitude is the memory of the heart.” ~Jean Baptiste Massieu
Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it. Who are you grateful for? Tell them. Taking time to remember and then letting them know will fill two hearts- theirs and yours.
#GratiTuesday Challenge: Thank everyone and everything you encounter on your journey today as though you had chosen it…keep coming back to that thankful heart state as often as you can for the next 24 hours. Our days are happiest when we give people a bit of our heart rather than a piece of our mind.  Happy Journeying!

Happiness Challenge: Day 18

21 Day challenge - Day 18

“Our mind is a garden our thoughts are the weeds, you can grow flowers or you can grow weeds.” 

#MindfulMonday Challenge:  Monday is a chance to start anew, begin the week with your mindset primed to receive the best that life has to offer. Whatever we plant in our subconscious mind and nourish with repetition and emotion will one day become a reality. For the next 24 hours think of yourself as a “thought farmer,” begin planting empowering thoughts early in the morning and don’t stop working till evening…seeds become the garden you live in, sow wisely.

Perhaps adopt this motto for the day: “I believe in the good things coming.” Focus on these good things as they show up in your day, week, and beyond! Whatever is going on in your mind is what you are attracting into your life…

Happiness Challenge: Day 17

21 Day challenge - Day 17

 “A bad day for your ego is a great day for your soul.” ~Jillian Michaels 

#SoulfulSunday Challenge: Make it a great soul day. Trust your soul to direct you today- it is always there and always rooting for you even when your mind may falter. (Hint: “When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.”~Rumi)

For the next 24 hours,  free yourself from your ego armor. The ego is not bad, it wants to protect us, like armor, but it often manages to do so in a unhealthy, often painful and inauthentic way. The ego is your self-image; it is your social mask; it is a role you are playing and it thrives on approval. The ego, however, is not who you really are…You are a soul. Today, allow your true essence to break through the ego armor recognizing the deeper, soulful part of you.

Happiness Challenge: Day 16

21 Day challenge - Day 16

“Love and intimacy are at the root of what makes us sick and what makes us well…I am not aware of any other factor in medicine—not diet, not smoking, not exercise—that has a greater impact.” ~Dean Ornish 

#SocialSaturday Challenge: “Life is about finding people who are your kind of crazy.” One of the clearest research findings is that we are social creatures – how we relate to others is one of the strongest indicators of wellbeing! In fact, studies show that that not having close personal ties poses the same level of health risk as smoking or obesity. We are wired to love, to be loved, and to belong…so, in the next 24 hours, reflect on who are “your kind of crazy” and spend time “traveling with them” today :) Extend this challenge beyond this weekend by gathering your tribe and become a founding member of a Circle of Happiness: http://www.projecthappiness.org/happiness-circles/
“As I get older, I recognize just how important it is to be surrounded by people who deeply believe in our value and goodness even when we lose our footing. It took me years to rid myself of the lite-dimmers and it has been much clearer sailing since. Not that there isn’t value in having difficult people to overcome, but eventually it becomes essential to be surrounded by those who lift and wish us higher. If they don’t see you in your highest light, wish them well and cut the cord.” ~Jeff Brown

 

 

Happiness Challenge: Day 15

21 Day challenge - Day 15

 Can you remember who you were before the wold told you who you should be? 

The “WHAT IFS” and the “SHOULD HAVES” will eat your brain. Let them go, today.
#FridayFreedom Challenge: Much of the pain we are dealing with are really only critical thoughts. The “shoulds” are often positively intended, like messages from your parents about safety or success when we were children. Guess what – you have changed! These thoughts no longer serve you in your adult life. Let go of these outdated thoughts by recognizing they were originally intended to help you, and then gently send them on their way. Tell your “should,” ‘Thank you for wanting the best for me, I am so ready to find another way to be.’
What “shoulds” are getting in the way of your authentic happiness? In the next 24 hours, replace that inner critical voice with thoughts that feel more empowering, and freeing! Letting go is liberation.

Happiness Challenge: Day 14

21 Day challenge - Day 14

“The true measure of an individual is how they treat a person who can do them absolutely no good.” ~Ann Landers

Happiness and altruism are intimately linked in a positive feedback loop – doing good is an essential ingredient to being happy, and happiness spurs kindness and generosity.

#ThoughtfulThursday Challenge: In the next 24 hours, give back to the greater good without any strings attached. Perhaps do something for someone and don’t tell anyone, or, at least for the day, try to let no one come to you without leaving happier. Tip: If you don’t think you have anything to give back, think again…the greatest gift you can give someone is your presence!

Little by little, a little becomes a lot. As Desmond Tutu puts it, “Do your little bit of good where you are, it is those little bits of good put all together that overwhelm the world.”

Happiness Challenge: Day 13

21 Day challenge - Day 13

“I have a choice: Do I want to align with the GREATEST VISION OF MYSELF or Do I want to align with my EXCUSES?”  ~Debbie Ford

#WellnessWednesday Challenge: When you mentally rehearse new healthy habits, you strengthen your ability to create them in your life. Identify images that align with accomplishing your goals and spend time visualizing them daily! Are you living by design or by default? Design the highest grandest vision possible for your life today. For the next 24 hours, live  “AS IF” this grand vision has already come true. Extra Challenge: Practice this “AS IF” mentality for the rest of the week, living “out of your imagination, not your history.” You become what you believe…

Happiness Challenge: Day 12

21 Day challenge - Day 12

“Dear Past, thank you for all the lessons. Dear Future, I am ready.”

If you never tasted a bad apple, you would not appreciate a good apple. You have to experience life to understand life. Be grateful for the profound teachings contained within times of great difficulty. When you review your life, where have you learned more compassion? Where have you learned more about yourself? Where has your heart grown wise–in just having good times, or going through difficulties? In fact, in some buddhist traditions, there is actually a prayer asking, “May I be given the appropriate difficulties so that my heart can truly open with compassion.”
#GratiTuesday Challenge: For the next 24 hours, practice gratitude for EVERYTHING, even difficult emotions, because of their potential to wake you up. When life is sweet today, say THANK YOU and celebrate. When life is bitter today, say THANK YOU and grow…
It is said that the “stance of happiness” is a deep appreciation for what is and eager anticipation of what’s next. Try this stance on today by regularly repeating this mantra: “For all that has been, THANKS. For all that will be, YES.”

 

Happiness Challenge: Day 11

21 Day challenge - Day 113“Your mind is your instrument. Learn to be its master and not its slave.” ~ Remez Sasson

Mindfulness is not meant to remove us from the reality or responsibilities of everyday life, but rather places our feet firmly in the practical ground of experience. When we are under stress, the brain processes information through pathways that lead us to impulsive and reactive behavior. Mindfulness strengthens the brains resourceful pathways; it’s a way of traveling through our lives in peace.

#MindfulMonday Challenge: For the next 24 hours, PRACTICE PEACE. Try this exercise to strengthen your brains ‘peaceful pathways’ — Take a moment to step fully into this lion’s ‘shoes’ and connect with one word that describes your experience being the lion in the picture (i.e., strong, serene, peace, brave, still, etc.). For the rest of the day, if you begin to feel scattered or stressed or disconnected from the present, breathe deeply as you come back to this one empowering word. Let this mindful lion state expand within you, and invite it to grow forward into your week ahead, accompanying you through the inevitable stress that arises.

When you schedule a peace practice into your regular morning routine, the rest of your day’s to-do list (and overall well-being) will benefit as you approach each task mindfully!

Happiness Challenge: Day 10

21 Day challenge - Day 10

“You cannot think your way into your life purpose, it can only be felt with your heart.” 

#SoulfulSunday Challenge: What is one small shift you could make to live closer to your truth today? Set an intention to live closer to your truth for the next 24 hours. (Hint: If you’re not energized or excited by it, it’s not your souls true path)
Little by little one travels far. If you’re true to the small steps you take, your life will be truth ache free. And always remember, your path is beautiful and crooked, and just as it should be…

Happiness Challenge: Day 9

21 Day challenge - Day 9

“The natural world communicates its profound messages: things are okay as they are; you are okay just as you are; simply relax and be present.”

Native Hawaiians have a beautiful concept called “mana,” which means the power of the elemental forces of nature are embodied in each of us. We evolved in nature, and studies show that natural settings – the beach, the wilderness, sitting under a tree- are restorative. In fact, your brain on nature, is happier :)
Day 10 Challenge: For the next 24 hours, adopt the pace of nature. Tune in to the rhythm of the natural world – go outside, look around you and realize the earth is breathing with you – let that life force flow through you. Extra challenge: Just for today, go off the grid. Perhaps even, *gasp*, turn off or leave your phone at home! Our devices are meant to connect us, but the truth is that every moment we spend checking our phone is a moment of our life, right in front of us, that we’ve disconnected from. Today, disconnect from your devices and reconnect with natural world, and yourself! 

Happiness Challenge: Day 8

21 Day challenge - Day 81

“The greatest prison people live in is the fear of what other people think.” ~David Icke


 #FridayFreedom Motto: “What other people think of me is none of my business.”

Often our loudest internal voices have an external origin. Notice where the limiting voices in your head are coming from (i.e., a parent, a friend,a boss)…what might you be capable of if you could let go of the opinions of others?
CHANGE YOUR HABIT OF THOUGHT: Over the next 24 hours, notice any critical inner voices on loop in your mind (hint – often they become loudest in stressful situations). Take note of what they are saying and who is saying it, then change your inner narrative. What could you say to yourself instead that would feel freeing? Write it on a post-it and stick it in your regular line of sight, such as on your mirror, computer screen, dashboard, etc. – practice this new empowering story until it becomes the automatic voice in your head!

 

Happiness Challenge: Day 7

21 Day challenge - Day 7

“Remember the emphasis on the heart. The mind lives in doubt and the heart lives in trust. When you trust, suddenly you become centered.” ~Osho

#ThoughtfulThursday Challenge: For the next 24 hours, practice HEARTFULNESS by dwelling in your heart space as much as possible.
Try this heart opening exercise to fill yourself with love and send it out to the world: “Imagine that there is a light in your upper chest near your heart, growing brighter and brighter, radiating. Breathe slowly and deeply, filling your lungs with air. Now let the light have a nice steady glow, like the glow you see from a candle, only much larger. Let it become more radiant and begin to surround your whole body. That’s it, the sensation you’re getting in your chest is all right, that is your heart opening. Now imagine sending a beam from this glowing area to someone or something you want to share love with. There you go, that’s love.”    

 

Happiness Challenge: Day 6

21 Day challenge - Day 6.2

“When I loved myself enough, I began leaving whatever wasn’t healthy.This meant people, jobs, my own beliefs and habits…anything that kept me small.My judgement called it disloyal. Now I see it as self-loving.” ~Kim McMillen
#WellnessWednesday Challenge: Treat your body well, it’s the only place you have to live. In the next 24 hours, write a commitment letter to your body, telling it how you intend to love and accept it unconditionally, and practice self-care habits that support its thriving. Here’s an example-
My Dear Dedicated Body, 
From this moment forward, I vow to feed you with clean food and positive thoughts. I will water you religiously.I’ll seek nourishment for your physical form, but also for the spirit you so tirelessly protect. I will strive to understand you, in all your delicate complexities, so that I may serve you into your old age. 

From this moment on, I will hold in my heart that you are doing your best for me, and I will not expect more. From this moment on, we are a team and I will repay your best with my best: and we will be brave together. 

With Deepest Gratitude, 
Me

 

Happiness Challenge: Day 5

21 Day challenge - Day 5

“We tend to think that being unhappy leads people to complain, but it is truer to say that complaining leads to people becoming unhappy.” ~ Dennis Prager

#GratiTuesday: Complaining keeps us locked in negativity. When we complain, we are buying into an ego-driven story that centers on how any event affects ‘me.’ Gratitude is an antidote to complaining. The lens of gratitude dissolves the ‘poor me’ perspective, shifting our focus to see the inherent good in things that we often complain about.

CALL TO ACTION: For the next 24 hours, replace complaining with appreciating. If you catch yourself starting to complain, immediately give yourself a moment of appreciation. Then watch how your life changes. Remember: Complaining is draining, appreciating is invigorating. The choice is yours…

This this and more like it here.

Happiness Challenge: Day 5

21 Day challenge - Day 5

“We tend to think that being unhappy leads people to complain, but it is truer to say that complaining leads to people becoming unhappy.” ~ Dennis Prager

#GratiTuesday: Complaining keeps us locked in negativity. When we complain, we are buying into an ego-driven story that centers on how any event affects ‘me.’ Gratitude is an antidote to complaining. The lens of gratitude dissolves the ‘poor me’ perspective, shifting our focus to see the inherent good in things that we often complain about.

CALL TO ACTION: For the next 24 hours, replace complaining with appreciating. If you catch yourself starting to complain, immediately give yourself a moment of appreciation. Then watch how your life changes. Remember: Complaining is draining, appreciating is invigorating. The choice is yours…

This this and more like it here.

Happiness Challenge: Day 4

Happiness Challenge: Day 4

21 Day challenge - Day 4

“Become intensely conscious of the present moment.”~Eckhart Tolle

#MindfulMonday: How often do catch yourself thinking, “I will be happier when…”? Your life is NOW, not “when…” The start of a new week often pulls us from our present moment. Stop measuring days by degree of productivity and start experiencing them by degree of presence, this is the essence of a happy life.

Call to action: For the next 24 hours, practice a steady presence with your immediate experience. Realize deeply that present moment is all you have and honor your NOW, by returning to this simple breath practice at regular intervals throughout your day:

BREATHE IN, “Hello Moment.” BREATHOUT, “I am here.”

Happiness Challenge: Day 3

21 Day challenge - Day 3

Place your hand over your heart. Feel that? That’s called purpose. You’re alive for a reason.

#SoulfulSunday: “That thing that you do, after your day job, in your free time, too early in the morning, too late at night. That thing you read about, write about, think about, in fact fantasize about. That thing you do when you’re all alone and there’s no one to impress, nothing to prove, no money to be made, simply a passion to pursue. That’s it. That’s your thing. That’s your heart, your guide. Thats the thing you must, must do.” What is your thing? The things that make you happiest are not random. They are your calling…placed inside every human being is a call to joy, and the purpose of your life is to answer that call.

CALL TO ACTION: In the next 24 hours, book a meeting with yourself and explore this question, “From 0 to 10, how alive do I feel?” Zero represents “the living dead,” and 10 represents “100 percent alive.” Notice how alive you feel in your life right now, and identify what would help you to feel even more alive. In particular, name specifically what inspires you and what motivates you to show up in your life each day. To live your purpose, you have to dare to be even more of who you really are.

Happiness Challenge: Day 2

21 Day challenge - Day 2

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” ~Jim Rohn

 

#SocialSaturday: Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one. But not just any one. Energies are contagious so surround yourself with people that reflect who you want to be and how you want to feel. By choosing who you spend time with, you are literally shaping your own future. Who is in your core circle? Examine the people you spend the most time around. Consider if these people are enabling you toward your ideal self (Do they match who you want to become in the future?). If they are not, identify people who do embody qualities you desire and increase contact with them…soon your “friend average” will be a source of strength and positive vibes.

 

Call to Action: For the next 24 hours, choose to surround yourself with people who uplift you. Set an intention for how you want to feel at the end of your social interactions and notice who meets you in that elevated space. Hint: Those are your people!

Randy Taran on Huffpost Live


HuffPost’s Third Metric seeks to redefine success beyond money and power. As part of our ongoing series, we celebrate the International Day of Happiness and explore how we can all be a little bit happier.

Originally aired on March 20, 2014

Happiness Challenge: Day 1

21 Day challenge - Day 1

Life isn’t happening to you; life is responding to you.” ~Rhonda Byrne

The first day of our challenge starts with #FridayFreedom, because happiness is directly proportional to your belief in how much freedom of choice you have. The research proves that happiness is possible through intentional habit changes, more than circumstantial changes. In fact, only 10% of our happiness is due to our external circumstances and a full 90% is based on our inner environment, with as much as 40% of that being accounted for by our intentional daily activities and the CHOICES we make. So, here’s an invitation – let International Day of Happiness be your personal liberation day!

Call to action: For the next 24 hours, make a commitment to yourself to choose happiness. Consciously track these happiness choice points throughout the day and at each juncture, consider if your choice will make your future self experience more or less freedom. “When you make a choice you change the future. ” ~Deepak Chopra