Did you know that September is National Self Improvement Month? So, while we may not be the ones getting those new school supplies and backpacks, there is still no doubt about it – September has an energetic, back-from-vacation, back-to-school feeling. This is the month we want to make changes, embrace a fresh outlook and take advantage of all the new opportunities ahead of us. Really, do those memories of making this school year the best one yet ever go away?
As human beings, we are our own worst critics. Most of us are guilty of focusing on our weaknesses instead of our strengths. read more
This month is my birthday. I have decided to make it a whole
month of Happy, as in happy birthday. It
is after all, America’s birthday too. So, I decided to do something every day
this month that would make me happy. Sounds simple, right?
Before I made this decision, of course, I had to research
what actually creates happiness and what doesn’t. (There goes the simple!)
Something I discovered, much to my husband’s delight, is that buying/acquiring new
stuff is only a momentary happy, nothing that lasts very long. In fact, buying
something new can become part of the new normal and have no impact or worse,
there are reasons that it can actually rob you of happiness.
So, what does make one happy? Having a connection with
others is first on the list. This includes our families and friends. Improving
those relationships helps to improve our lives. Good health is another contributor
to happiness. It is actually a drain on our happiness when we avoid taking care
of our health. Getting our finances in order is helpful. It isn’t that money
can buy happiness, but rather that creating a budget and living within it
lessens our stress. Eliminating clutter can leave us more time and space for
creative thinking and living. Having and fulfilling a purpose is important.
Each of these concepts can be further broken down and that is what I am working
on this month.
Day one of July, I made my Happiness Proclamation. I decided
that I would do one thing each day for the sole intent of creating a happier
life. I was about to embark on my personal Happiness Happenings. I posted this
on Facebook, making it “official”. Next, I decided to go out to lunch with my
husband. This would help me begin my effort to improve an already good
relationship. We had a delightful meal and actually ran into someone who knew
us when we first met. This allowed for some fun reminiscing.
Knowing that good health is important, I went for a bike
ride. The ride was a good amount of exercise in the sun. I ended up at my
favorite dolphin watching spot and was mesmerized by the dolphins.
Day 2 of my Happiness Happenings I remembered that spending
money on others brings more joy than spending it on yourself. It is almost the
4th of July holiday and I hold sessions in a doctor’s office where there
are several women, many of whom have young children. On my way there I
stopped at a fireworks tent. I bought a few things for each of the employees.
As I delivered them, I told each person that this was my Katy Perry impression
of Firework. They all smiled and laughed and I felt happy!
De-cluttering is on my list. During the month of June, with
Let It Go Day being a special day, I began the practice of 3 a day must go
away. Every day I found at least 3 things to give away or throw away. By months
end, not only had I eliminated 90 items from my home; I would venture to say it
was more like 900. Still, there is more to be released. Therefore, I am
continuing the 3 a day through the month of July.
I am writing this very new into my Happiness Happenings process, I plan on
updating what I have done. However, I ask you dear reader, what makes you
happy? What small changes in habits can you start in order to bring more
happiness into your life? If you were to be happier, regardless of how happy
you are right now, how would you be different?
June is Rebuild Your Life Month. Whether it is that you have
been thrown a curve ball by life and desperately need to make changes or more
simply you just feel this is the time to make changes, this month can be a
great time to kick off powerful ways to recreate yourself. This is a wonderful
opportunity to reexamine your life and take charge of it by removing stressors
as you are able.
Recognizing what your stressors are is the first step. Job stress can, and often does, lead to an
increased stress level at home and conversely a difficult home life can lead to
an increase of stress while on the job. Therefore it is important to narrow
down where the stress is coming.
Sometimes this is as easy as removing clutter from your home
and giving the home a thorough cleaning. Numerous studies have shown how physical
clutter can create a mental clutter and cause an increase in stress elsewhere
in your life. In Gretchen Rubin’s book The Happiness Project, she
devoted an entire month to ridding her life of clutter. She extols the virtues
of how she truly enjoys the belongings she has chosen to keep and the freedom
eliminating the clutter has given her.
Other times, the stress may come from conflict in your life.
This may bring about the harsh recognition that a person (or persons) in your
life are simply not good for you. There are those in life that we permit, that
don’t have our best interest at heart. Cleansing those people from our lives is
the healthiest option, even when the initial removal of them can be stressful. The
removal of a toxic person from your life can cause an entire shift in how you
A job can be just as harmful. While it may be a challenge to
extract yourself from a toxic workplace, it is important to take the steps to
do so. You spend far too much of your life in the workplace, it can create
serious health issues to be unhappy that much of the time. In fact, just
beginning to look for other options whether it is a change in where you work or
returning to school one class at a time in order to change careers can bring
about an improved attitude.
Here are some changes you might consider making to lead a
healthier, less stressed lifestyle as you rebuild your life.
In my opinion one of the best changes people can make for
creating a healthy lifestyle is to eat healthy. Because of the negative health
consequences of obesity, the positive influence fitness has on our self-esteem,
and the effects of nutrition on our stress levels and our longevity, switching
to a healthier diet brings some of the greatest benefits for wellness. I won’t
tell you the best way to eat, as it is different for every individual. I can tell you that a diet full of fast foods
and snacks is NOT in your best interest.
Getting regular exercise is another wonderful way to keep
your weight in check, manage overall stress levels, and stay connected with
others. Exercise has been proven repeatedly to help not only the physical body,
but also the emotional part of you. Dr. Daniel Amen, a psychiatrist who has
written numerous books on the brain and brain health (How to Make A Good Brain
Great and Unleash the Power of the Female Brain are two of his books
I’ve enjoyed) repeatedly says that 20
minutes of vigorous exercise is better than any drug he can prescribe.
Get Good Sleep
People often underestimate the importance of getting enough
sleep, and getting good quality sleep. However, lack of adequate sleep has many
negative consequences. Stress can rob you of a good night’s sleep. It is
important to utilize stress reducing techniques to enable you to sleep better.
It is also important to include good sleep habits so that you are better able
to handle the day’s stresses. Self-hypnosis and meditation are two great tools
to improve sleep while better handling stress.
Create A Happiness Ritual
Whether it is a daily cup of tea and quiet contemplation,
coloring in a coloring book or a daily yoga session, find something that brings
you joy and practice it. Practice it on a regular basis, so that you are
reminded of your value. By consistently practicing your ritual you have those
feelings to draw on when you are feeling stressed or sad.
No one has ever promised that life is going to be easy, although,
it has been said that everything happens for a reason. Rebuilding your life can
be as simple as de-cluttering your home (and your mind) or changing the
relationships in your life. By readjusting the sails to navigate away from the
past towards a new and improved future can be the best decision you will ever
make. So, use this month to start rebuilding your life now. Your destination just
might surprise you.
More and more I see the hashtag First World Problems. It is
a humorous look at ourselves, after all people often say that we in western
modern societies have it really easy. For example: A possible infection, another root canal and
the removal of two wisdom teeth; starting to look like a fabulous summer
#firstworldproblems, or this: I've received new honors from my college, so the
old resumes I have printed are useless now. #FirstWorldProblems. Someone worrying about which job offer he is
going to take might seem frivolous to a man who's wondering if he'll be
alive tomorrow, or whether he can feed his family for another week.
When we are suddenly facing real problems, we often start to
wonder how we could ever have been so worked up about what we thought were
problems before. Why did we spend so much time worrying and fretting that we
could have spent enjoying? Still, if during that time we are given the adage,
there are people who are much worse off than you, it feels flippant. Harken
back to the times our parents told us we should be grateful for our least
favorite dinner, after all, there are children starving in Africa. I didn’t
know a kid who didn’t wish they could ship that meal off to the starving!
I once heard a therapist suggest that her sister in another war
torn country had real problems, so the client she was seeing should be grateful
that being left by her husband with small children to support is all she had to
deal with. How did that make the client
feel? Guilty as well as terrified, hurt and unappreciated would be my guess.
You can be sure that the client she was speaking to was not
unaware of human trafficking or war or
starvation that goes on around the world, still that awareness didn't make a
difference to her because she was living her life.
The fact is that fear, anxiety and hopelessness are
correlated with life circumstances, but only up to a point. Living in a nice safe environment is also correlated
with feeling safe and secure, but the correlation isn't as exact as you might
think. You see, fear is fear, whether it's fear of starvation or fear of riding
an elevator to your office. Someone who is frightened or depressed in an
outwardly perfectly safe and secure environment still feels as if they are
living an unsafe life.
Furthermore, recent research has shown that only 10% of our
happiness is due to our external circumstances. A full 90% is based on our
So, I make the case that while we don’t want to trivialize
anyone for their fears or worries, there is something to be said for practicing
Over the ages, many philosophers and sages have celebrated
gratitude. Many of the world's great religions and spiritual practices, have
all at various times endorsed the idea that being grateful encourages
reciprocal kindness, as well as individual and collective well-being. When
people focus on gratitude on a regular basis it has been found that they enjoy
increased alertness, enthusiasm, optimism and energy. In one study with hundreds
of participants, the gratitude group experienced less depression, exercised
more regularly and made more progress towards personal goals. According to
these research findings, people who feel gratitude are more likely to feel
loved and respected than the non-grateful. They also showed better immune
function and less physical illness!
So rather than just noting the bare fact that there are
people physically worse off than us, it may be better for us to actively focus
on what we do have. When we start to actually notice and appreciate that we
have access to clean water, or the internet, or other people who aren't trying
to kill us we can create a shift in our awareness. Keep in mind that comparing
yourself to another (she got a promotion and I didn’t even though I work just
as hard as she does) will result in more bad feelings. Your bad feeling comes
from focusing on what someone else has that's more than what you have.
Next time you feel really worried or down, think of three
ways in which it could be even worse. Not how someone else has it worse, but
instead it might be worse for you (but isn’t). For instance, you were stood up
because your friend “got a better offer”. You might think, yea that sucks and
hurts being dissed, but at least I have other friends to call and chat with.
Or, at least I have a great job and my kids are safe at home with me.
Follow this by trying to imagine your life without those
blessings. Imagine losing that great job and being unable to get another in the
foreseeable future or having your kids being taken away from you. Take time to
imagine what that might look like, how that might feel if you didn’t have those
blessings. Do this for a few moments to get the impact of how things might have
been. Just be sure that you are focused on a blessing you truly appreciate and
not the thing that started this downward spiral in the first place. Be sure
what you focus on is something that, while it would be worse, it is not likely
to ever occur. So, if anything has been of concern (you are concerned that your
kids will be taken by an angry ex for example) eliminate that one from your
Try this, then go back to feeling the gratitude for those
blessings. Really spend a few moments enjoying the benefits in your life of
living your life. Practice a smile, because it is true that it is very
difficult to feel bad when smiling, even a fake smile. To quote Young Frankenstein, “It could be
worse, it could be raining.”
How would you like a simple exercise that helps to release
anxious feelings? What if it was fun and easy to do? Imagine if you could do it
anywhere, home, car, office, wherever you needed a quick mind/body release. There has been research done on this simple task and it has been found to help relieve stress.
First you want to acknowledge that you feel anxious, nervous,
fearful or panicky. Allow that feeling to be present, without judging, just
experience it. Understand that it is just a feeling and as such it will not harm
you. Next, close your left hand (the one you write with) into a fist. Be sure to make the fist nice and tight. Really
squeeze it, feel the pressure of the tightness. Then begin to imagine all of your
anxious feelings slowly flowing down your arm and into your fist.
If you want you can imagine those anxious feelings are like a
red glowing energy or light that travels down your arm until it is trapped in
your tight fist. Make these sensations as real as possible. You may notice that
your fist will begin to pulsate with energy as the anxiety is transferred
there. It may even change temperature.
Now, as the energy flows and the sensations occur begin to
notice that your feelings will change from fear and anxiety into a tolerable
nervous excitement. You can imagine the color changing, perhaps to a
lighter shade like pink or even a cool blue color.
Now the final step – begin to open each finger of your fist
nice and slowly. As you do this notice how the tension is released, you are setting
the trapped anxiety free! Count each finger out from 5 down to 1, taking a
breath as you open the hand up. Your hand will now be open flat and the
tension, stress, anxiety and fear will float away from you. With one final deep
breath, blow on to the palm of your hand and send all those negative feelings
away for good!
Notice if you feel a light sense of release as the anxiety
leaves. You might imagine it floating up, up and away into the sky, taken away
into the stratosphere. Repeat this little exercise up to three times and notice
how much better you feel.
You can also tune into a free stress audio here: Serenity
“My life has been filled with terrible misfortunes, most of
which have never happened.” ~Mark Twain
Have you ever had one of those days where it seems as though
everything that can does go wrong? You even manage to get in the wrong line at
the grocery store. Then, as you listen to the conversation of the person who
seemed to be taking forever getting their items, you realize their tale of woe
is so horrific you feel foolish for the things you have allowed to bother you. Suddenly
your perspective changes, maybe even your mood lifts and things just seem to be
That is a case of a cognitive reframe. Stress has been proven to be increased as
well as decreased depending on our thoughts. That's because stress, anxiety,
and irrational thinking have a big impact on daily life, and how you react to
certain situations. Reframing techniques can actually change your physical
responses to stress because your body's stress response is triggered by
perceived stress, not actual events.
Reframing thoughts about situations is often a part of what
occurs in my office. It is something I am well aware of. I preach/teach it
enough you might imagine I am one continual happy thought train. I would love
to have that be true, even more so, to have the world think that about me. I am
putting myself out there with this blog post, but I feel that by sharing this
truth, I am allowing you, reader, to understand we are in this together.
This past Saturday, I went out for bike ride with my husband
(Greg). We both enjoy riding; have ridden many miles over the years. It has
always been a source of exercise and a mood enhancer for us both. I had
recently been ill and still was not feeling my full strength as we head out. I
couldn’t keep up my normal pace. But, I was going to fight through it.
At one point Greg noticed some incredible flowers tucked
inside of a clump of trees. He called to me to turn around so that we could
take a closer look at them. That is when my imbalance really kicked in and a
turn I could normally do with ease became impossible and I fell. I laid on the
ground with tears in my eyes, more out of humiliation than any pain.
Once up, I really enjoyed the flowers and took several
pictures of them. All seemed well with the world in that moment. However, as we
got back on the bikes, I allowed my thoughts to run away with me. I began to
feel insecure. I felt old, clumsy, stupid and any other negative adjective I
could come up with in those moments. At our next stop I began to lament my
condition to Greg.
Greg would have none of it, so he worked his magic. He
reminded me of a recent conversation with clients of his who had known of many
people suffering from the same ailment I just had. Some were younger, smarter,
more balanced, etc. but all had struggled with the virus. Many of them suffered
longer than me. It is a credit to my immune system and my tenacity that I was
out on the bike.
Suddenly it was if the sun rose. We were on a beach causeway
and I noticed children and families playing, brilliant colors, the warm breeze,
the sound of the water and yes, even a beloved dolphin swimming near-by. My
thoughts were happy and confident thoughts. I felt strong on the bike and happy
that I could enjoy this perfect day.