happiness

LifeTip: Where Is My Happiness?

Photo by  Evan Kirby  on  Unsplash

Photo by Evan Kirby on Unsplash

Isn’t the ultimate goal for us to be happy?  It’s something that each and every one of us truly wants but we can easily get caught out in the weeds during our search for it.  Whether we’ve fallen off the path or in a new search of it, happiness is something that each of us deserves to experience. So why is this so hard for some of us to find when we all want it so badly?  Perhaps a good place to start would be in taking a look at what happiness really is.

Many clinically-based definitions focus on the consistent state of experiencing positive emotions along with the strong ability to mitigate the damaging effects of negative emotions.  What?? For the rest of us, I like to think of happiness as that emotion that brings about feelings of: pride, excitement, enjoyment, “warm fuzzies”, contentment, and joy. As that first definition suggests, being happy doesn’t mean that you’re immune to sadness, disappointment, frustration, or the “blahs”.  Contrary to popular belief or desire, it’s okay for different emotions to cohabitate (remember the ending of “Inside Out” when the memory balls were multicolored?). An authentically happy person is able to consistently experience that true joy and zest for life and, in turn, successfully work through those “yucky” times with greater ease than unhappy people.

I can almost hear some of you saying, “yea, but what is it?  What will make me happy?” Not that I necessarily want to play that ‘counselor card’, but you already have that answer inside of you.  No one can tell you what makes you happy; only you can identify things that make you happy. So, think on it for a minute. What things truly light up that fire inside of you and leave you feeling like you’re wrapped in a soft, cozy blanket?  For some, happiness is just that – wrapped up tightly in a fleece blanket, snuggled up on the couch watching a movie. For others, it’s out hiking in the greenbelt on a warm sunny day. Others experience happiness in being surrounded by close friends or family members.  The point is, happiness looks different for each and every one of us and it’s our job to figure out what those things are that bring us happiness; we can’t rely on someone else to do that for us.

Still having a hard time pinning down things that make you happy?  Here are a few things that you can do to help:

Practice gratitude:  be thankful for the things that you have and for the people that are around you.  By counting your blessings and reframing your thoughts to ones of giving thanks, you’ll find that you experience more optimism and gratefulness throughout the day.

Cultivate relationships:  we all have an inherent need for human contact and it’s through this contact, that we’re able to create a foundation of security and peace.  Whether it be an intimate relationship or a social relationship, it’s important that we all have a network of people that we can share our happiness with and who can support us when the happiness fades a bit.

Get off your rear:  stop creating a permanent divot in your couch and get out and enjoy the outdoors.  Many studies have shown that sunlight and nature have a tremendous benefit on our mental health and our happiness.  Go explore a new biking trail, join a Meet-Up group, take in some live music, or enjoy a nice café latte at your favorite coffee house.  Regardless of what you chose, get up and do it!

Be kind:  doing nice things for others makes us feel good about ourselves.  More importantly though, being kind to yourself. Treat yourself with the same amount of love, appreciation, and forgiveness that you want others to give you.  To me, loving yourself is the key to true happiness.

This list could go on and on for happiness is found through a multitude of ways.  The bottom line, though, is that you need to take action and hunt down your own happiness.  You will soon find that your true happiness is often right in front of you. Pick it up and embrace it!  Every single one of us deserves to feel that highly sought after joy, excitement, and peace.

Intentions over Resolutions (And Book Inspo!)

Photo by  Daria Shevtsova  on  Unsplash

As 2017 draws to a close, I’m feeling reflective and hopeful. There’s a simultaneous sense of looking back and looking ahead, trying to stay present while also taking stock of another year in the life, all while preparing for what’s in store in the new year. We hear so much talk about resolutions this time of year. There’s a sense of “not good enough” that always comes up for me when I think about resolutions. This idea that we have to give something up, be better, be more disciplined, lose more weight, make more money, do more, have more, be more. But more isn’t what I’m feeling right now. Yes, there are things I want more of. But they aren’t really about things, or even really goal-oriented at the moment. They aren’t things I can pass or fail at, and they aren’t about discipline and control.

Enter intention. Intention is a practice, much like mindfulness. It is about the process and the journey rather than the outcome and destination. For so many of us, resolutions have us kicking off the new year in a burst of energy, willpower, and drive, and often end in a month or two in disappointment, self-recrimination and shame. Intention is all about self-compassion, gratitude, resilience and presence. When I think of what I want more of in 2018, it’s all of those things.

There are a few books I’ve read this year that have tended the embers of these intentions, and some that I offer to you as a way to light your own path away from burdensome resolutions and towards a new way of being with yourself and your loved ones. Shauna Niequist’s Present Over Perfect, Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness, Amy Johnson’s Little Book of Big Change, Rebecca Scritchfield’s Body Kindness come to mind. I have Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, Shonda Rhimes’ The Year of Yes, Jen Sincero’s You are a Badass and Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck all queued up on my bookshelf. Are you sensing a theme?

My work this year with Rachel Madorsky of The Coaching Therapist Institute (Tracy and I both became Certified Transformational Coaching Method Practitioners) has helped me shift gears internally and in my work, and I’ll let you in on a little secret: my intention for 2018 is to allow myself a lot more grace, a lot more room to fail, and a daily practice of slowing down, staying present, letting go of what doesn’t serve me, and honoring my own work/life alignment by focusing on self-compassion, gratitude, resilience and presence. What will your intention be today?

LifeTip: Decisions! Decisions! Oh My!

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This time of year is fraught with decisions and not just what gifts to buy, who to have holiday meals with, or how to reconcile the year-end bookkeeping. Underneath all the minutia of details is often an undercurrent of deeper questions connected to that nagging sense of knowing the new year is ever so close and hoping that THIS year is THE year . . . the year to conquer all those habits that keep you from living the life you’ve imagined. Many of us start the year off strong, determined, and resolute in our goals, only to find our hopes dashed as the realities of life creep back in and resolutions fall to the side. I think it’s probably safe to say this has happened to all of us, at least once!

I think it’s a conundrum. The new year represents this major launching pad for intentional renewal and transformation but in reality is usurped by the hectic happenings that are so part of the end of the year.  Knee deep in holiday shopping, traffic, parties, family drama, and the like we hastily declare resolutions that in the end don’t even begin to reflect who we are, what we really want, or what we could reasonably achieve. Often they reflect culture, family, or what our best friend or romantic partner is doing. It’s as if all the chaos of the end of the year robs us of the chance to tune into those deeper currents of what could be (for the next year) that are rumbling within.

How do we deal with this conundrum, especially given the fact we are already in the frenzy of the holidays? How can we get tuned in so we can make more meaningful decisions/resolutions that stand the test of time? Following is a short but useful exercise to help you get in touch with your core values. Core values are deeply held beliefs that represent the essence of who we are, the truth of that inner being within. We each have our own unique set and while many may have a vague sense of what they are, clarifying and naming them can have a profound effect on decision-making. Decisions made through the lens of core values will naturally be more in line with the inner you. And, being more in line with the inner and real you brings about a more centered and happier you. It just makes sense, right?!

Try the short exercise below. Identify your core values. And, with your next dilemma, whether it’s how and who to celebrate the holidays with or a potential life-changing resolution ask yourself if it supports or goes against one of your core values. Try letting your core values act as a roadmap to guide and resolve both internal and external conflict. Experiment. Have fun with it! Even if you have to make a less favorable decision you will likely find meaning in that decision, making it, perhaps, a little more bearable. Many of my clients find that it works.

Happy Holidays and Happy 2018!

LifeTip: Who Has Your Power?

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Many of the folks that come into counseling, tell me that they’re feeling sad, depressed, anxious, defeated, or have lost their self-confidence and want to know why.  “Am I crazy?  Have I lost it? Am I too broken to be fixed?”  No, no, and NO!  There has been a theft and the thing that’s been stolen is power.

We all come into this world with our own power; something that is ours and only ours.  This power is a valuable resource and something that everyone wants more of.  As we grow up, we’re taught how to add and multiply, recite the pledge of allegiance, ride a bike, and tie our shoes, but we’re never taught the lesson of how to protect our power.  Being a visual person, I like to think of power as a stick (wand, sword, lightsaber, you choose the form…) that we each hold.  Every day, someone is vying for that stick, trying to break off pieces to add to their own.  Often, we are unaware that the theft is even happening.  Phrases like:  “You can’t do that”, “You’ll never be good enough for that”, “You’re wasting your time”, “Hopefully you’ll grow out of your ugly phase”, etc., all take a chunk out of our power stick.  Without the tools to fight this, we’re eventually left with a tiny little nub of a stick leaving us feeling defeated, self-conscious, depressed, and expecting failure out of life.  But this doesn’t have to continue.  We can take back our power stick and start to expect success – more importantly, we can begin to truly love who we are and recognize the phenomenal power that we possess.

So now what?  Maybe you’re thinking, “thanks, Justin, you’ve been able to point out that I’m feeling pretty low, but what in the heck do I do now?”  Let me first ask you to sit there and truly embrace the feelings that you’re experiencing.  Put a name to it.  What color is it?  Where in your body are you feeling it?  Is your stomach in knots?  Is your heart beating fast?  Are you feeling hot in the face?  Recognize those feelings and say to yourself, “enough is enough!”  This is your body, your mind, and your power.  It’s time for you to take that power back!!

Society teaches us the importance of being kind to others and treat others with compassion and love, but we rarely hear about the importance of loving ourselves.  If anything, we learn that loving ourselves equates to selfishness and self-centeredness.  I want you to hear me say that this is wrong!!!  You are worthy.  You are special.  You do deserve to be loved.  You do deserve respect.  You are strong.  You are powerful.  The time is now to rebuild that power stick and fall back in love with yourself.

Navigating through these feelings and emotions can be tricky and feel super uncomfortable.  The discomfort can often cause us to shut back up that door to our authenticity room thereby protecting us from having any more power taken away.  This is where therapy comes in.  Your therapist’s goal is to support you as you rebuild your power stick and re-ignite that internal fire.  Yes, you can do this.  Even though you may feel defeated as the world has tried to put out your flame, you do have the power to stoke back up that fire and let that light shine bright!

Your new journey is waiting.  Let’s get on the road and take back that power that was once stolen!

LifeTip: Time, Is There Ever Enough?

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Time – that never-ending beast that we seem to fight against each and every day.  Between work, grocery shopping, walking the dog, and getting that overdue oil change done, we seem to find ourselves in this strange game of time manipulation.  As tough is the game can be, we always seem to find a way to make it all work out and get our relegated tasks complete.  Often, though, we tend to leave out one of the most important tasks.  We find ourselves grumpy and tense wondering “what is it that I forgot to do?”  The checklists are complete, the laundry has been folded, dry cleaning has been picked up, and the gas tank is filled…what could possibly be left unfinished?  Well, that unfinished task is you.  Take two seconds and ask yourself, “when was the last time I spent quality time with myself?”

If you’re anything like me, you may be feeling a little bit of anxiety just thinking about trying to fit one more thing into your day.  What happens to us, though, if we don’t take that extra time for ourselves?  Perhaps we start to feel cranky, unappreciated, overwhelmed, tired, burnt out, complacent, and edgy.  That fire that used to burn brightly within us has started to die out and the excitement that we used to have has morphed into resentment.  We all keep doing our own version of the hokey pokey, but is this really what it’s all about?

The answer is no.  Life is meant to be lived and not merely survived.  We tend to spend so much time and energy in taking care of other people and other things, that we neglect the most important person that we know – ourselves.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were able to re-ignite that passion and zest for life and not feel so bogged down by the daily grind?  That fire can be re-lit and the person holding that matchstick is you.  You are the person that needs the attention, compassion, and nurturing.  It is through this continued act of self-love and self-care that we can refuel our gas tanks and regain that passion.

Below are a few easy yet effective ways of giving back to yourself:

  • Go for a walk
  • Make yourself a nice meal
  • Take yourself to the movies
  • Enjoy a nice latte at your favorite coffee shop
  • Set aside your phone, iPad, computer, etc. and pick up your favorite book
  • Journal – take 10 minutes every day and just write.  Put pen to paper and just let your thoughts flow.
  • Open up that sketch pad and let your creativity fly.
  • Put on your favorite music, snuggle up on the couch in your coziest blanket, and just take in the serenity.
  • Go in the backyard and play fetch with Fido.
  • Take in a yoga class
  • Treat yourself to a relaxing mani/pedi
  • Find a relaxing spot in the park, sit down, close your eyes, and just breathe

No matter how simple or mundane you may think the activity is, it is essential that you take that time for yourself.  Self-care is kind of like the airplane emergency concept.  We’ve got to make sure that the oxygen mask is secured on ourselves before we can try to take care of anyone else.  The concept of time doesn’t have to be a beast to be conquered.  If we can work our own self-care into our daily schedules we can quickly find that life is truly meant to be lived and not just survived.

Love yourself.  You are the most important person that you know.

 

ParentTip: Bridging the Parental Happiness Gap

Soon to be published research calls into question the significant happiness gap between parents and non-parents in the United States. With data representing 22 different countries, results point to the US families enduring the largest happiness gap of all. So are parents regretting the decision to grow their families? Not at all. In fact, researchers attributed this gap to several factors, the most influential being summed up as "the tools to combine work and family." Specifically, that the relative wages earned compared to the cost of childcare for a 2-year old and the amount of paid leave, doing the most damage to American parents.

What's even more surprising? Some countries, Norway and Sweden, to name a few,  were found to have no gap at all and even an inverse outcome of parents reporting more happiness than non-parents.

Cultural factors were also found to play a role, when considering the almost limitless options of parenting styles available in our country coupled with the societal need to "compete" for the best childcare and educational options. What does it all boil down to? The stress of too many parenting options, not enough support, and the constant struggle of families wading through the inequality of resources as they try to do what's best for their children.

So how do we bridge the happiness gap? Dr. Coontz of the Council on Contemporary Families suggests more holistic and family friendly policies and legislation that support people's efforts to balance work and family.

How do YOU think we can bridge the gap?