Making Bad Art Really IS Good for You!

I recently read an article that made me extremely happy. It discussed a study that found that making art can reduce stress levels, whether or not you have any experience.  (You can read the full article here.) A group of 39 people of varying ages, races, genders, and experience making art spent 45 minutes either doing collages, modelling with clay, or drawing with markers. Of the people in the study, 75% of them had lower cortisol levels after the session (cortisol is a biological indicator of stress).

And get this—the levels didn’t differ based on prior experience with art-making! Isn’t that great news? It’s just as I said in my old post, “Making Bad Art Is Good for You”—and now there’s scientific proof that’s true! It really takes the pressure off, doesn’t it?

So, here’s your prescription from Dr. Ashley, lol: Create something! Today, or this week, I invite you to set aside some time to play. Get creative in whatever way makes you happiest, whether that’s doodling, coloring, drawing, painting, collage, sewing, knitting, crocheting, cooking, gardening, decorating your home, photography, clay modeling, making music, arranging shells on the beach—whatever feels the most fun. Let yourself just enjoy the process without judging the result (easier said than done, I know, but try it!

Is there something you’ve always wanted to try but haven’t, because you “don’t know how”? There are tons of instructional videos out there. Or you could even—gasp—just play around without any instructions at all! (This makes my inner perfectionist freak out, so I know it’s a good idea!) Go for it! You have nothing to lose and a happier, healthier self to gain!

You can also take classes, which I enjoy because then you’re interacting with other creative souls as well as learning something new. If that appeals to you, you may want to check out the women’s art camp I’ve talked about before (here, here, and here). I’m actually teaching there this year (on creating a restorative daily ritual) and I’m already counting the days! I can’t wait to immerse myself in that magical experience again, connecting with fascinating women and creating our hearts out just for the fun of it! This year’s camp is Wednesday, November 6 through Sunday, November 10 in Hunt, Texas. You can learn more at www.luckystarartcamp.com.

Meanwhile, go play! It’s good for you!

IMG_9414.JPG

Creating a Vision Book

I recently took a fabulous online course called Magical Mornings by Meghan Genge, which I thought was just about creating a morning ritual but turned out to be so much more than that. (I highly recommend the course if you want some really lovely, deep practices to help you “find clarity on who you are, and a sustainable way of creating a life full of wonder”: check it out here.)

Anyway, one of the practices she suggested was a vision book, which is a twist on the vision boarding process. If you’re not familiar with vision boarding, it’s where you go through magazines and cut out pictures that appeal to you—perhaps places you want to visit, or ways you want your home to look, or specific items you’d like to own—and paste them on pieces of cardboard or foamcore. Generally, people create vision boards to represent things that they want in their lives.

Meghan’s idea was more about evoking feelings. She talked about a picture she had found of a tree house overlooking the sea in Scandinavia. The picture called to her not because it was a house she wanted to live in or a place she wanted to visit, but because it made her feel a certain way: “excited, delighted, and slightly squirmy with possibilities.”

In this practice, you choose images because of how they make you feel—whatever feeling feels good, and that you want more of in your life, whether it’s excited, full of potential, happy, intrigued, open, or something else—and cut those out. So instead of a specific car you want, you might choose an image of a woman driving down a coastal highway in a convertible, because you like how free and adventurous it makes you feel. Then you paste the pictures in a journal or sketchbook that you can flip through at any time.

Years ago Kate Spade ran a magazine ad that featured a woman dressed up and smiling—obviously having the time of her life at some sort of elegant party—and the caption was something like: “She had a glass of champagne in her hand and confetti in her hair.” I was completely captivated by that ad and that sentiment, so much so that I tore it out and taped it to the wall. I wanted to feel like that woman more often—carefree, on top of the world, beautiful, fun. That’s the sort of image I’m talking about.

Go through a variety of magazines and cut out any image that appeals to you on that gut level, even if it doesn’t make any logical sense at the moment. Once you have a nice pile, select the ones that really resonate—that make you feel “squirmy with possibilities” or just feel like a deep internal yes. Then put those aside for a day or two. Come back to them after that time, and sit with each one, seeing if it still feels wonderful. If so, paste it into your journal.

Then whenever you want a lift—when you want to connect to those wonderful feelings—pull that journal out and slowly flip through the pages, allowing the images to bring out those feelings in you. You can make this a daily ritual, to plug you into those emotions every day.

Add images as you come across them. And if at some point one or more of the images in your journal no longer feels right, tear it out or paste over it! This journal should be evolving, not static—just as you are. Sound like fun? Try it for a while, and let me know what you think!

journal pic.JPG

Approaching Your Life as a Work of Art

Each one of us is an artist. An artist is merely someone with good listening skills who accesses the creative energy of the Universe to bring forth something on the material plane that wasn’t here before. … So it is with creating an authentic life. With every choice, every day, you are creating a unique work of art.
— Sarah Ban Breathnach, Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy

I’m continuing to read Simple Abundance—at 700+ pages, I’ll be at it for a while!—and I’m continuing to find all sorts of interesting insights. (See first post here.) Something that has really struck me is this concept of creating our daily lives as works of art.  Breathnach recommends to “start thinking of your life as a work-in-progress. Works-in-progress are never perfect. But changes can be made to the rough draft during rewrites. Another color can be added to the canvas. The film can be tightened during editing. Art evolves. So does life. Art is never stagnant. Neither is life. The beautiful, authentic life you are creating for yourself and those you love is your art. It’s the highest art.”

Wow. Thinking of my life as a work-in-progress is a simple concept, but it feels radically freeing to me. It essentially takes the pressure off.  And approaching each day as if it is art I am creating—rather than just a to-do list I have to get through—really elevates everything.

Breathnach also talks about how to make our lives more nourishing by scattering moments of joy throughout. She says, “What is missing from many of our days is a true sense that we are enjoying the lives we are living. It is difficult to experience moments of happiness if we are not aware of what it is we genuinely love. We must learn to savor small, authentic moments that bring us contentment.”

Of course, as a “joy detective,” I love this idea. Something you can do, which I have done before, is to make a Bliss List: a list of simple pleasures that bring you joy. Then do at least one thing from it every day. Here are some of the items on my list:

·         Reading

·         Sitting in the sun

·         Savoring a cup of tea

·         Watching classic movies

·         Fresh flowers

·         Listening to jazz

·         Hugging

·         Toast with butter

·         Chocolate

·         Sitting and doing nothing (especially on a rainy day)

Breathnach also suggests trying to do daily tasks mindfully to “restore serenity to your daily endeavors.” She says, “Serene women do not get sidetracked. Sidetracked women, who scatter their energies to the four winds, never achieve serenity. … Concentrate slowly on completing one task at a time, each hour of the day, until the day is over.”

She says that we will wonder how we’ll manage to get everything done this way, but “I assure you that you will accomplish all you set out to do and need to do with much more ease, efficiency, pleasure, and satisfaction.” In fact, studies are now proving that multitasking actually makes us less efficient. Plus, this approach just feels better to me.

What do you think about these concepts? Do you also find them comforting and supportive? I’d love to hear. You can let me know by replying to this email, or in the comments below.

IMG_9415.jpg

 

Weaving a "Tapestry of Contentment"

I finally got a book I’d been hearing about for a while, Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach, and it’s lovely! I’m finding it enormously comforting, like a cup of cocoa on a cold winter's day. It’s beautifully written and immensely inspiring.

I've been feeling frazzled, and so was Breathnach when she began writing the book.  She says in the preface, "I shared the revelations that came while trying to reconcile my deepest spiritual and creative longings with often overwhelming commitments to family and work."

I'm underlining all over the place as I read, and I wanted to share some of the insights that have particularly resonated with me so far.

She talks about six threads that, woven together, create a “tapestry of contentment.” Isn’t that a beautiful image? The full quote reads: “There are six threads of abundant living which, when woven together, produce a tapestry of contentment that wraps us in inner peace, well-being, happiness, and a sense of security.” Who wouldn’t want that? I’m in!

The threads are gratitude, simplicity, order, harmony, beauty, and joy.  The book is organized by date, with one entry per day; she focuses on each thread for two months, so I’m currently reading about gratitude. Breathnach recommends counting your blessings, and says, “See if you can’t get to one hundred. So much good happens to us but in the rush of daily life we fail even to notice or acknowledge it.”

This really struck me. It’s so true, and it’s something I’ve talked about here before. But I continue to find it difficult to be grateful consistently. One of the tools she suggests is a daily gratitude journal, to help us maintain that focus. I’ve started one, and am trying to be more aware of all the little things there are to appreciate—even on off days. My life is so rich and full of goodness. It's a shame to pay more attention to the minor irritations or parts that are not going well and miss the greater good.

Something else that really struck me was this: “much of my struggle to be content … has arisen when I stubbornly resisted what was actually happening in my life at the present moment.” Oh, that is so me. I resist reality all the time—how about you? I’m always thinking about how to improve things, remove things, or attract new things, so I often go about in a haze of vague dissatisfaction.

Breathnach talks about the importance of accepting what is. She explains that when you surrender to reality, a softening occurs. “Suddenly I am able to open up to receive all the goodness and abundance available to me because acceptance brings with it so much relief and release. It’s as if the steam of struggle has been allowed to escape from life’s pressure cooker.” That sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? And it makes complete sense to me.

Further, she adds, "blessing whatever vexes us is the spiritual surrender that can change even troublesome situations for the better. … If you're sick and tired of learning life's lessons through pain and struggle, blessing your difficulties will show you there's a better way."

I was thrilled to see that another tool she recommends is a morning ritual! She says, "give yourself the gift of one hour a day to journey within. You need enough breathing space to allow your heart to ponder what is precious. Or perhaps you can let your imagination soar to the twilight where dreams first dwell. … This much I know: if you go deep enough, often enough, something good is bound to come back to you." And this: “Stressed souls need the reassuring rhythm of self-nurturing rituals.” Yes!

I’m going to enjoy savoring this book each day for the rest of the year. I’m sure there will be plenty more insights and ideas to share with y’all! Meanwhile, I’ve got some creative projects brewing, including a big one that launches in April, so for the next few months I’ll be posting here every other week instead of weekly. Talk to you in mid-February!

IMG_8124.JPG

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.

151.JPG

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!

070.JPG

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.

Sonia laughing.jpg

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!

Love sign.JPG