The Joy of Little Things

So like everyone else in the country, I bought a Mega Millions lottery ticket—and like everyone else except one person, I didn’t win. It was really exciting to imagine what I would have done with all that money, and I was disappointed not to win.

I had to remind myself that while more money would be fun, I don’t need it in order to be happy. (In fact, most lottery winners end up less happy than they were before they won!) As the poem below illustrates so beautifully, what is truly important and valuable in life are the “little things,” which are actually not so little: love, companionship, and the comforts of home.

We can have all the money or fame in the world, but if we’re alone, it doesn’t matter. And as long as we’re safe, we don’t need a large or fancy house to be happy. The tiniest things can bring us joy—a hot cup of tea or coffee in a favorite mug, a lovingly tended plant, a cherished heirloom from a grandparent. We tend to take them for granted. So in praise of those “little things,” here is this wonderful poem.

The Joy of Little Things  

--Robert William Service

It's good the great green earth to roam,
Where sights of awe the soul inspire;
But oh, it's best, the coming home,
The crackle of one's own hearth-fire!
You've hob-nobbed with the solemn Past;
You've seen the pageantry of kings;
Yet oh, how sweet to gain at last
The peace and rest of Little Things!

Perhaps you're counted with the Great;
You strain and strive with mighty men;
Your hand is on the helm of State;
Colossus-like you stride . . . and then
There comes a pause, a shining hour,
A dog that leaps, a hand that clings:
O Titan, turn from pomp and power;
Give all your heart to Little Things.

Go couch you childwise in the grass,
Believing it's some jungle strange,
Where mighty monsters peer and pass,
Where beetles roam and spiders range.
'Mid gloom and gleam of leaf and blade,
What dragons rasp their painted wings!
O magic world of shine and shade!
O beauty land of Little Things!

I sometimes wonder, after all,
Amid this tangled web of fate,
If what is great may not be small,
And what is small may not be great.
So wondering I go my way,
Yet in my heart contentment sings . . .
O may I ever see, I pray,
God's grace and love in Little Things.

So give to me, I only beg,
A little roof to call my own,
A little cider in the keg,
A little meat upon the bone;
A little garden by the sea,
A little boat that dips and swings . . .
Take wealth, take fame, but leave to me,
O Lord of Life, just Little Things.

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Resolution #4: Be Light

As I’ve discussed in previous posts (here, here, and here), I’ve been thinking about resolutions since I turned 50 last month. Inspired by Gretchen Rubin’s book The Happiness Project, I’m compiling a list of intentions that will guide me each day and help me stay on track with the kind of person I want to be and the type of life I want to live.

Here is my latest one: Be light.

This has two meanings for me. First, I want to be a voice of positivity, and have a beneficial impact on others. My Kundalini yoga teacher talked about this recently, about “Being the lighthouse,” and I thought, “Yes! That’s how I want to be.”

I am a naturally optimistic person, always looking for the bright side of things. As I’ve focused more on increasing the joy in my life, I’ve learned a lot, and I want to share it with as many people as possible. This world can be so tough. We need more “lightworkers.” I want to look for opportunities to help spread happiness whenever I can.

The second meaning is to be light-hearted: to be more playful and silly, and stop taking myself so seriously. In the words of one of my favorite Jimmy Buffett songs, I want to grow “older but not up.” (Actually, I’d rather just stay this same age for a while, rather than grow older, but given the real alternative I will reluctantly keep aging!)

I became so serious after my son was born. I lost a lot of my lightheartedness. The incredible responsibility of being a parent—of caring for this tiny helpless thing—it overwhelmed me. But I now realize that things can be important, and still be treated as such, without having to be so serious. You can play and still teach—in fact, play is how children learn. I feel like I became so serious because of fear. I’m afraid that if I don’t pay attention, if I don’t work really hard, if I don’t “take this seriously young lady,” something bad might happen.

I have all these rules about what a stable home life looks like and how to keep my son healthy and happy and safe. And those are nothing but, as my friend and excellent life coach Carla Robertson says, SIMU—Shit I Made Up. Sure, some routine is necessary, and some caution is advisable, but I have gone overboard out of fear—and it’s time to lighten up.

This also applies to other parts of my life, not just parenting. I am too serious about work. As I’ve talked about here before, I feel like I must get all my work done before I can relax or play. But here’s the problem with that thinking: The. Work. Is. Never. Done. Ever. So…I’ve been making a real effort to get past that Puritan ethic, and instead find some harmony between work and play. The list doesn’t have to be finished before I take some time to relax.

Luckily, we’re about to take a couple of short trips for our Fall Break, so I will get a chance to reset my work-o-meter to vacation mode. This time, when I come back, I’ll be more mindful about incorporating that balanced approach into everyday life!

Since we’ll be on vacation next week, there won’t be a post; I hope you have a wonderful week and are able to find time to relax as well!

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Sharing the Load Makes it Lighter

This week I feel compelled to share one of my very first posts again. So many people today seem to be struggling and in need of support. The world can be a difficult, overwhelming, and isolating place. We often think that we are the only ones who are having a hard time, but that is definitely not the case. If this post helps you, I’m glad. If you don’t need it today, it’s likely that someone you know does, so feel free to share.

You Are Not the Only One

Your fear, your pain, your secret shame—whatever wakes you up at 2 a.m. or keeps you from falling asleep—you are not the only one to experience it. If you were to share it, someone else would understand. Someone would say, “Me too.” It may not be your spouse, or your parent, or even your best friend—it may be a stranger whom you’ve never met face-to-face. But rest assured, they are out there.

Yes, they, because there’s probably more than one. This burden you carry feels all the heavier because you think you carry it alone. That is not true. If you speak the secret in a safe place, others will speak up too. They will say, “I feel the same way,” or “I’ve done that too, and I’m so ashamed.” The relief you will all feel when you find each other is enormous. Sharing the load makes it easier to carry, and sometimes bringing it into the light makes it disappear.

I witnessed this on a private forum for a class about writing through your pain to the love on the other side. These women—complete strangers at first—gradually began to share their most secret secrets, and the acceptance and understanding is overwhelming. One will post a gut-wrenching admission of something which has smothered her in shame and guilt for years, and within minutes, others are posting. Forgiving, commiserating, sharing their similar experiences. Each one feeling like she alone had done that or felt that way—until the dozens of others spoke up.

It is powerfully uplifting to witness the healing that happens when you share what you think is the worst part of you and it is met with compassion and love. It opens the way for peace and joy. Feeling afraid, ashamed, or guilty blocks joy from entering your life like a clot blocks blood flow—and it can be just as life-threatening. Dissolving that clot by sharing your truth will clear the path for all the goodness that is waiting for you.

If you are suffering, I encourage you to seek out a safe place to lay your burden down. Look for support groups, classes, or organizations that might yield a space for you to share. Your tribe is out there, I promise. Online classes are great because it can be easier to be truthful when you’re not actually in the same room—or city—as the other people.  I have a special love for Martha Beck’s classes because I find they tend to draw people who are either also in pain and seeking to transform, or those who are or want to be healers.

Be cautious about the group you choose—speaking up only to be met with judgment can be devastating. I’m not a huge fan of most religious groups because judgment just seems to be built into organized religion, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t wonderful congregations out there.

If you aren’t ready to share yet, you could try reading memoirs by authors who have had similar experiences. Maybe start a journal or write a letter to an author you feel a connection with (you don’t have to send it). Sometimes getting everything on paper helps you release it, and imagining a sympathetic response can help you feel understood.

Whatever you do, know that there are others who feel like you, who have experienced what you have. What I am learning is that none of us is truly alone. We are part of a collective love, if we will only open up and welcome it.

 

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17 More Mood Boosters

One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats.
— Iris Murdoch

Some days, it’s a struggle just to make it through in one piece. We’re down, or frustrated, or angry, and happiness feels out of reach. On days like this, tiny little actions can help us feel better—and might be all we can manage. Here are some of my favorites:

Go outside. Every time I walk into my backyard, I instantly feel calmer. I don’t know if it’s the silence (why are our houses so noisy?) or some sort of ancient instinct, but it works every time. Walk on the grass in your bare feet. Watch the clouds, listen to the birds, smell the flowers.

This is especially beneficial if the sun is shining: getting sun raises your serotonin levels (one reason why some people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, a depression/funk that sets in during winter months when days are shorter). Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood; low serotonin levels are thought to contribute to depression. The increase in serotonin happens when sunlight enters your eyes, so don’t wear sunglasses; sit or stand facing the sun (obviously, don’t stare right at it, though!). If you’re concerned about skin cancer or aging, limit your time in the sun to about 15 minutes, and do it in the morning or later afternoon when the sun is not so strong.

A great way to start your day is to go outside first thing in the morning, stand with your bare feet on the ground, and face the sun. Breathe deeply and center yourself. Early morning sunlight exposure can help you sleep better, which will definitely improve your mood. It does this by resetting your biological clock. For this benefit, go outside between 6 and 8:30 a.m., as later sunlight doesn’t have the same effect.

Put on something soft, like a cashmere wrap or super-fluffy socks, and snuggle into it.

Rock in a rocking chair. It’s so soothing!

Make a cup of something hot—tea, lemon water, hot chocolate—and hold it in both hands. Imagine love coming into your hands through the cup, then sip that love into yourself.

Eat some chocolate, especially dark chocolate. No explanation needed! (But it really works, because chocolate contains serotonin and stimulates endorphins (see below!)

Exercise—even 10 jumping jacks or running in place, if you can’t take a class or go for a walk or run. Get your blood pumping and endorphins will flow. Endorphins are neurotransmitters that block pain and produce a sense of pleasure and satisfaction. Bonus points for dancing around like a fool to some of your favorite music.  (This is one of the hardest tips for me to follow—I am not a natural exerciser, and it often feels like TOO MUCH EFFORT to even get up and stretch, much less jump around or walk. But it never fails—when I move, I feel better.)

Listen to music—whatever you love. Nat King Cole calms me every time I’m feeling jagged. When I’m down, ‘80s music cheers me up—anything I can sing along with. Singing actually helps you feel better, also. Even if you think you have a terrible voice, give it a try. Singing releases endorphins, which make you feel good. It also makes you breathe more deeply, signaling your nervous system to relax and getting increased oxygen into your blood, which boosts energy. It’s even better if you sing with a group, either formally or informally; studies have shown that the social interactions and feelings of support you get from choral singing lead to increased happiness.

Look at your favorite colors. Color is energy and can actually affect our mood. My favorite colors are aqua, turquoise, cobalt, and hot pink. Looking at the blues calms me down, and looking at hot pink revs up my energy.

Take that a step further and make some art. It doesn’t matter if you have “no talent.” Draw, doodle, or paint, simply to access the joy of creating. I find coloring with crayons to be especially calming—I like to draw random shapes and color them in, so I’m not putting pressure on myself to “do it right.” The feel of the crayon or pencil or paint brush on the paper is very soothing to me.

Rub scented lotion or a few drops of essential oils into your hands and breathe in. Lavender is relaxing; peppermint boosts energy and relieves stress. I also like rose, orange, and neroli.

Read something inspiring. Maybe keep a book of poems close by, or make a notebook of quotes that you love, and open it at random. I love Mary Oliver’s poems, any book by the Buddhist monk and Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, or Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea. Another uplifting book I’ve recently discovered is Wake Up to the Joy of You by Agapi Stassinopolous.

Clean in such a way that it gets your blood pumping, like on-your-knees scrubbing the floor or tub. Not only does this give you the endorphin boost of exercise, but also the sense of accomplishment when you’re done! I find this especially useful when I’m upset. I can pour all of that energy into my work and really get results!

Pet your dog or cat. Studies show that stroking, cuddling, or even gazing into the eyes of our pet leads to a rise in our oxytocin levels. Oxytocin is the “love hormone” that is also released during hugs, sex, and breastfeeding. It reduces stress and anxiety levels while increasing feelings of relaxation, trust, and bonding. Snuggling your pet (or human!) also releases serotonin (see going outside, above).

For even more oxytocin/serotonin boost, hug someone! Good, long hugs make you feel loved--and make the person you’re hugging feel loved too! I once read a book about keeping your marriage strong which recommended multiple long hugs each day as a way to reconnect and then deepen your connection, without having to say a word. Science, people! It works.

Get a massage. Not only will this help relax your muscles so you can release tension, it will also stimulate endorphins.

Laugh! Especially on days when you feel more like crying, laughter can really help. Laughter reduces anxiety and boosts your immune system. Studies have shown it can even increase your tolerance for pain. Laughing stimulates the release of endorphins, those feel-good hormones that are also released during exercise.

Laughter is so powerful, people now do laughter therapy and laughter yoga! (http://www.laughteronlineuniversity.com/laughter-yoga/) To get yourself started, watch a funny video online, or a TV show or movie if you have more time. Some of my favorite comedies are Abbott and Costello movies, “The Inlaws,” “Airplane,” “Young Frankenstein,” “His Girl Friday,” “Best in Show,” “The Philadelphia Story,” “Some Like It Hot,” “The Producers,” “Raising Arizona,” “The Muppet Movie,” “The Princess Bride,” and “Arsenic and Old Lace.” TV shows that always get me laughing: “I Love Lucy,” “Laverne and Shirley,” “Seinfeld,” and old Monty Python episodes. What are your favorites? Make a list one day when you’re in a good mood and keep it handy for emergency laughter infusion as needed!

Or, cry! Go ahead and cry it out. Crying physically releases those feelings of tension, anger, and sadness. A good sob can clean you out and make room for positive emotions. Watching tearjerker movies can help you access those feelings if you’ve stuffed them way, way down like we tend to do. I prefer ones with a somewhat happy ending so I finish up with happy tears, like “An Affair to Remember,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Field of Dreams,” or “Sleepless in Seattle.” Classic tearjerkers are “Terms of Endearment,” “Beaches,” “Love Story,” “E.T.,” “Ghost,” “Charly,” “Steel Magnolias,” “Titanic,” and “The Notebook.” “Life Is Beautiful” is amazing in that it’s equally funny and heartwrenching; it’s especially poignant (read: full-on sobfest) for parents. What tearjerker always gets you going?

I hope that one or more of these ideas will be useful to you the next time you need a lift. What other mood-boosting activities have you tried and either loved or hated?

The Big 7 Ways to Boost Happiness (Quickly and for Free!)

I just got these 7 tips on how to boost your happiness in Sonia Sommer’s “Wellness Wednesday” email and had to share them with you! Here’s what she says:

I used to struggle with depression and anxiety. For years. If this is you, I know how it feels mate. I thought I'd stay like that for my whole life.

But I didn't.

These days, I jump out of bed feeling joy. Even when life serves up the shit sandwich, emotions pass through very quickly and I go right back to my new baseline of genuine happiness.

You're supposed to feel happy most of the time too. That's why I've been throwing joy spaghetti on your walls lately, so that something will stick.

It's actually natural to feel joyful. Stress and anxiety are an unnatural state.

Joy tip #4 the Big 7

My fantastic colleague Brian Johnson sent me this and I have to share it with you because it's a beaut summary of many of the methods I used to create my happiness baseline. 

This comes from a compilation of research by Neil Pasricha, author of "The Happiness Equation."

If you do any of these seven things for two straight weeks, you will feel happier.

Three Walks + The 20-Minute Replay + Random Acts of Kindness + A Complete Unplug + Hit Flow + 2-Minute Meditations + Five Gratitudes

Let’s take a super quick look at our Big 7 ways to boost our happiness and remember that science says the Happiness Equation STARTS with happiness.

It’s Happiness —> Great work —> Success NOT Great Work —> Success —> Happiness.

1. Three Walks. Exercise is as effective as Zoloft in reducing depression. Even just three brisk walks can do the trick! Remember that *not* exercising is like taking a depressant and get out there and MOVE YOUR BODY.

2. The 20-Minute Replay. Writing for 20 minutes about a positive experience is a GREAT way to boost your happiness. Scientists call it savoring. Groove the good stuff!

3. Random Acts of Kindness. Did you know that THE fastest, most reliable way to boost your mood is to do something nice for someone else? Yep. Find ways to do something nice!
 
4. A Complete Unplug. We’ve gotta make waves. Fully on. Fully off. Repeat. Are you training your RECOVERY as much as your “on” phases? Remember that it’s not that we work too hard but that we don’t recover enough. 
 
5. Hit Flow. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi tells us that the optimal state of human experience is found when we are engaged in activities that stretch us such that the challenges match our skills. Too much challenge = anxiety. Too little = boredom. The right match? FLOW. Find it!
 
6. 2-Minute Meditations. Meditation is huge. I meditate every single day because it's changed my whole life. You don’t need to be a levitating monk in the Himalayas to experience significant benefits. Even just a couple minutes a day keeps the gremlins away.
 
7. Five Gratitudes. As Neil says, “If you can be happy with the simple things, then it will be simple to be happy.” Find things to be grateful for and focus on them often. What are YOU grateful for today?

Thanks Brian. That's awesome!

I'm loving the 20 minute replay. It's like mainlining joy !

Which ones are you going to try today ?

xox, Sonia

Aren’t those tips amazing? If you’d like more info on Sonia Sommer and what she offers, check out her website at www.soniasommer.com.

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Resolution #3: Choose Love

The more I read about happiness, the more I see how closely related it is to love. When we come from a place of unconditional love, we can make ourselves and others happy, because really, that’s all each of us wants: to be truly and completely loved. It’s hard to think of a situation where “choosing love” would not make me—and anyone else involved—happier.

Love in action takes the form of kindness and compassion. Love accepts. Love supports. As the Bible verse says, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

In daily life, I can choose love by asking myself, “What is the most loving response or action?” For example, if I’m in an argument that’s unimportant, I can decide I’d rather be happy than right. I can show myself (and the other person) love by choosing to end the conflict rather than prolong it. Or, if I’m tired but pushing myself to keep working, I can be kind to myself by taking a break.

An area where I’ll really need to pay attention is judging. I can be extremely self-critical. Beating myself up when I fall short is most definitely not kind. Instead of getting upset when I make a mistake, I can show myself compassion and understanding. And since I often hold others to the same high (read: unreasonable) standards that I hold myself, I can do this for them as well—making all of us a LOT happier!

It’s not always easy to show someone else compassion, especially if they’re angry. But I remember that when my son was little and got upset, I felt instant compassion. I could identify with that feeling of frustration—of not being able to communicate clearly, or get what I wanted, or do what I felt like. I was able to connect with him, see behind the behavior to the cause, and soothe him. And really, aren’t we all still little kids inside? When you get upset, how old do you feel? I feel like I’m about three or four. If I can picture that small child inside another, I can access a sense of compassion for their pain, and react from there rather than meeting anger with anger.

And imagine being able to do this for ourselves! Usually when I get upset, I then get mad at myself for being upset! I’m both the small child and the angry parent. Ugh!!! Even typing that makes me feel awful. What if I could instead be the compassionate, kind, loving parent to myself next time? Wouldn’t that be something? I wrote a post about loving yourself in February (see below), and I’ve been slowly improving at it. But when I’m upset, my good intentions tend to fly out the window. I plan to refocus on this—and be compassionate with myself when I forget, of course! J

Love Yourself (originally posted 2/18)

Wednesday was Valentine’s Day, which encourages us to show our love for our romantic partner. Where is the holiday that encourages us to show our love for ourselves?

Truly, this is so important that we should be reminded every day, not just one day a year. We can’t fully love others if we don’t fully love ourselves. And yet we often treat ourselves terribly. Our needs are always last on the list. “Oh, I don’t have time to _______, I have to work/take care of my children/clean the house/go to the store/cook dinner/do laundry, etc. etc.”

However, as many of us have found out, if we focus solely on taking care of others and neglect ourselves for too long, it will eventually have a negative impact. We get sick, or are constantly tired or irritable (or are sick, tired, AND irritable). Often when this happens, our instinct is to push through, because we are needed. We’re not making it up—we do have tons of obligations and people who depend on us—bosses, coworkers, children, spouses, parents, friends. But our first obligation should be to ourselves. I know it sounds radical. But it’s true.

It’s important to note that we’re worthy of love, just as we are. We don’t have to be constantly productive to prove our worth. We are each born a magnificent soul, deserving of unconditional love. When we give ourselves that love—not demanding anything in return, not trying to “be better,” just appreciating ourselves as is—it makes a huge difference in our lives.

I’ll admit, showing myself unconditional love is something I struggle with daily. I’m a perfectionist and highly self-critical, and as I’ve discussed before, I have the urge to always be doing something to “earn my keep.” But running around like a hamster on a wheel all the time doesn’t feel good. No matter how hard I work, I never cross everything off the list (gah, how I hate that fact!). I never reach that mark of “enough.”

I always feel like I come up short when I tie my value to what I’m accomplishing. If I can wrap my head around the idea that I’m inherently worthy—that I was born enough, and don’t have anything to prove—that feels SO much better. I feel open rather than constricted. Relaxed instead of clenched. Happy instead of apprehensive.

There’s a common saying: When Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. The converse is absolutely true: when I’m happy, I can spread that happiness. I’m more likely to be kind and patient with those I love—and even with strangers. So, when you tend to your own happiness, you’re really doing others a service.

What if we all devoted time every day just to showing ourselves some love? Paying attention to our needs and our wants; taking a moment to sit and listen to our inner voice, who often gets drowned out in the cacophony of modern life. I’m not talking about hours each day—just as much time as you can comfortably fit into your schedule. Maybe five minutes, sitting outside while you watch the clouds float by, or fifteen minutes of meditation or yoga or reading—whatever lights you up and makes you feel whole.

Today, take a moment to show yourself some love. Do something you enjoy, or give yourself a treat that that makes you feel amazing. Book that massage! Steal away and read that book! Savor the chocolate! Do it just because—because you are a miraculous, incredible, gorgeous soul who deserves all the love in the world. XXXOOO!

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New Resolution: Let Go. No, Seriously, Let Go.

Here is my next resolution:

Let go.

Sounds easy, doesn't it? But for me it's enormously difficult. I might have a little bit of a control issue. I know, though, that trying to control everything just makes me miserable.

Because the truth is, we're never in control. If I can let go of  expectations, my need for things to go a certain way, and anything that bothers or worries me but that I can't change, it will free up a ton of energy and make me a whole lot happier.

This is something I've been contemplating for a while; below is a post I wrote about it back in August of 2017!

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"The Power of Letting Go"

Recently in my yin yoga class, my teacher read the poem below to us. I felt that instant electric surge of recognition. The entire poem rings so true for me; see what you think:

“She Let Go”

She let go.

She let go. Without a thought or a word, she let go.

She let go of the fear.

She let go of the judgments.

She let go of the confluence of opinions swarming around her head.

She let go of the committee of indecision within her.

She let go of all the ‘right’ reasons.

Wholly and completely, without hesitation or worry, she just let go.

She didn’t ask anyone for advice.

She didn’t read a book on how to let go.

She didn’t search the scriptures.

She just let go.

She let go of all of the memories that held her back.

She let go of all of the anxiety that kept her from moving forward.

She let go of the planning and all of the calculations about how to do it just right.

She didn’t promise to let go.

She didn’t journal about it.

She didn’t write the projected date in her Day-Timer.

She made no public announcement and put no ad in the paper.

She didn’t check the weather report or read her daily horoscope.

She just let go.

She didn’t analyze whether she should let go.

She didn’t call her friends to discuss the matter.

She didn’t do a five-step Spiritual Mind Treatment.

She didn’t call the prayer line.

She didn’t utter one word.

She just let go.

No one was around when it happened.

There was no applause or congratulations.

No one thanked her or praised her.

No one noticed a thing.

Like a leaf falling from a tree, she just let go.

There was no effort.

There was no struggle.

It wasn’t good and it wasn’t bad.

It was what it was, and it is just that.

In the space of letting go, she let it all be.

A small smile came over her face.

A light breeze blew through her. And the sun and the moon shone forevermore…

by Rev. Safire Rose (as posted on Elephant Journal)

I get goosebumps every time I read it. Every line is what blogger Keri Wilt of FHB&Me calls a “head bob moment”—yep, that’s me! “The committee of indecision”—oh yeah, I’ve got them! “She didn’t read a book on how to let go”—ha! I can’t tell you how many books I’ve read on pretty much that subject. What, I can just do it without someone telling me how? What a radical, extraordinary concept! And oh, the planning … and the talking about it, and the analysis of pros and cons … that is me all over.

Every time I read those last few lines, I can glimpse the peace that’s available to us if we can actually let go of everything that doesn’t serve us. I can imagine that light, joy-full feeling of truly letting go, and I want it!

I find that I am holding on to quite a few things that are blocking my path to joy. Here are some I could let go of that would really lighten my load:

·         Needing to be perfect/not letting myself make mistakes

·         Needing to always be in control

·         Needing the house to be perfectly neat all the time

·         Needing to be right in arguments—there’s that saying, would you rather be right or happy? Must. Remember. That.

·         Agonizing about mistakes I made and embarrassing moments from my past

·         Worrying about any future event that may or may not happen

·         Worrying about anything that is out of my control

·         Self-consciousness and caring about others’ opinions of me

·         Wondering why I seem to be the only person in the house who can change the toilet paper roll or put clean dishes up. Just kidding---sort of! But there is truth at the heart of this: I can let go of the irritation I feel about these issues, and other ones that are really not worth getting upset over. So much energy wasted on the small stuff!

Is there something—or are there many somethings—that you could let go of? You can always grab them again if it turns out you need them! But perhaps you could experiment with letting go of one need or expectation or fear, and see what happens. I will be doing my very best to let go just like “she” did, and I hope you are able to do the same!

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Counting My Blessings

It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.
— David Steindl-Rast

In my last post, I talked about the idea of creating resolutions in honor of my birthday, to “keep me on the path of increased growth and happiness; guidelines to give me more direction as I go about my daily life.” I’ve come up with the first one:

Be grateful.

So simple, yet something I have trouble remembering to do. I really want to focus on it, though, as it’s a direct route to happiness. Multiple scientific studies back this up. According to an article in Psychology Today, gratitude

·         Opens the door to more relationships

·         Improves physical health

·         Improves psychological health

·         Enhances empathy

·         Helps you sleep better

·          Improves self-esteem

  •           Increases mental strength

Yes, please!

An article on happierhuman.com that references the results of 40 studies on gratitude says, “A five-minute a day gratitude journal can increase your long-term well-being by more than 10 percent. That’s the same impact as doubling your income! … According to gratitude researcher Robert Emmons, gratitude is just happiness that we recognize after-the-fact to have been caused by the kindness of others.  Gratitude doesn’t just make us happier, it is happiness in and of itself!”

When I’m counting my blessings, I feel so much better about everything. I’m more satisfied with my life, less critical and judgmental, and more relaxed. Plus, as I said in a previous post, Zoom in on the Good, when I consciously seek things to appreciate I seem to encounter them more and more.

I enjoy paying attention to stuff I often take for granted. For example, every time I go with one of my parents to a doctor’s appointment or surgery, I’m reminded what a blessing good health is. I’m also constantly grateful for my son and husband.

But it’s easy to be grateful for the wonderful parts of your life. What’s difficult is to find silver linings in the tough times. I think, though, that that sort of “attitude of gratitude” might be the most powerful. If we can find some tiny thing to be grateful for in the midst of difficulty, it can spur optimism and hope, and make the tough time more bearable.

I’ve been reading Gabrielle Bernstein’s book May Cause Miracles: A 40-Day Guidebook of Subtle Shifts for Radical Change and Unlimited Happiness. In it, she talks a lot about the power of gratitude. The affirmation for Day 11 is “I am grateful for this moment.” She recommends you repeat it to yourself throughout the day, and I’ve continued to use it. Not only does it help me appreciate ordinary pleasant moments that I might have missed, it also helps me reframe challenging moments. I try to see how I could be grateful for that moment. What could it teach me?

Or, failing that, I use the old “at least I’m not…” trick. No matter what’s happening, it could always be worse, so voila: instant gratitude. Plus, when I think to myself, “Could be worse…” I remember a scene from one of my favorite movies, “Young Frankenstein,” when Igor says, “Could be worse; could be raining” and it immediately begins to pour. Makes me laugh every time, and that always helps.

I’m also trying a written gratitude practice. In my evening journal, instead of recounting everything that happened (which seemed to result in complaining more often than not) I now focus on the positive. Ending the day by giving thanks feels a lot better than rehashing what went wrong.

Painter and creativity coach Tracy Verdugo does her gratitude practice in the morning. When I interviewed her for my book on morning rituals, she said, “I used to wake up and think about work right away, which was stressful. Now I’ve created this habit of being thankful first thing instead, and it’s a much better way to start my day.”

Do you have a gratitude practice? I’d love to hear about it!

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A Different Kind of Birthday Gift

My birthday was last week. It was a significant one: I turned 50. That number feels unreal to me. It doesn’t seem possible that I have already lived 50 years, and that even if I live to be 100 (which is a goal), my life is halfway over. Yikes. This brought up all sorts of anxious and fearful thoughts for me, so I went looking for something positive to counteract them.

A friend told me that she has heard of 50 as a birthday when we start over fresh, the slate wiped clean. There’s a lot on my slate that I don’t want to erase, but I like the idea of leaving old baggage behind, and of finding new pathways to joy.  I’ve always thought that one of the keys to a successful life is to keep growing.

I recently re-read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, in which she tries out a variety of ways “to change [her] life without changing [her] life, by finding more happiness in [her] own kitchen.” I was struck by the resolutions she created to help her stay on track each month. They included many that resonated with me, such as “Exercise better, enjoy the fun of failure, go off the path, be generous, stimulate the mind in new ways, and laugh out loud.”

As a birthday gift to myself, for something positive to focus on, I think I’m going to try crafting some resolutions of my own. I will create a set of intentions to keep me on the path of increased growth and happiness; guidelines to give me more direction as I go about my daily life.

Rubin drew up a chart listing all of her resolutions, and she checked off the ones she managed to accomplish each day. I’m not sure about the checklist; with my tendency toward self-judgment that might make me a little nuts. But I like the idea of listing them all prominently so that I can remind myself of them each morning. Often when I learn something helpful—a new way of thinking or behaving—it will stay top of mind for a few days, then it gets buried beneath the clutter of everyday life and I revert back to my old ways. A written list will keep those intentions front and center.

Creating the list will be a long-term project requiring a great deal of thought, but there are a few topics I already know will be on there. First, about that self-judgment…I want to LET THAT GO. I’m ready to stop holding myself to impossibly high standards, and beating myself up when I don’t meet them. It’s not a crime to make a mistake, so mistakes don’t need to be punished. We are human, and by definition imperfect and fallible.

Other areas of focus will be lightening up and having more fun, saying yes more often and seeking out adventure, and being fully present in the moment as much as possible. One of Rubin’s resolutions was to “enjoy now.” I tend to live in my head, and it feels like sometimes I go through much of the day on autopilot. I want to slow down and savor the good parts.

I also want to learn how to accept and allow the not-so-good parts. As I’ve talked about before, I don’t like being uncomfortable. But resisting what is just leads to unhappiness. I’d like to master the ability to take life as it comes.

As I come up with more resolutions—and as I attempt to follow them—I’ll keep you posted!

Something else I may try, and incorporate into future birthdays, is a practice my friend Wendy Battino, a life coach featured in chapter 14 of my book, recently posted on her Facebook page. She said, “I have an annual practice on my birthday; I go outside and build a fire and I write for the year ahead. Here are my prompts:

·         What wonderful things happened this year?

·         What shall I carry forward from these events?

·         What hard things happened this year?

·         What shall I let go? (Write it down and burn it)

·         What love can I give the world this year?

·         How shall I give it? (Seal it with fire)”

This seems like a beautiful practice. One of the women who commented on her page said that she writes a letter to herself each birthday covering some of these topics, and that it’s really interesting and helpful to read them each year.

What do you think? Does this practice, or the idea of creating resolutions, appeal to you? Do you have any special birthday rituals that you follow? And, how do you feel about milestone birthdays? Feel free to comment below or email me at Ashley@joydetectives.com!

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