Wednesday, April 30, 2014

There's so much to happiness

I was asked to be a "pioneer" for a start-up website called Happify, a site that's doing its bit to lift the spirits of internet users anywhere.

Now that Happify has been up and running for a while and has greatly expanded its exercises and offerings, the business also has begun something it calls Happify Daily. Because I think a lot about happiness (and blog about it as well) and know that you and I make choices about being happy or unhappy, I was intrigued by what I read in yesterday's Daily.

"Happiness is not:
• Feeling hunky-dory all the time
• Having all the money you could ever want
• Refusing to see the negative stuff in the world
• A final destination."

Happify Daily also pointed out that happy people are healthier:
• They have lower rates of cardiovascular disease
• They have better immunity
• They heal faster after injuries
• They're more likely to have a healthier diet
• They live longer.

And the Daily said we can get more happiness from a good experience by sharing it with others and by dwelling on the moment. I can't really add anything to that. It speaks for itself.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Feel the joy?

What's your definition of joy? Would you like more of it in your life?

I'm sure I've mentioned before the description of joy someone wrote in a card they sent decades ago when my former husband faced cancer. This is what it says about joy: "In times of sorrow, JOY is a seed of hope. In times of loneliness, JOY is a single ray of light. In times of success, JOY is an avalance of flowers, giggles, songs and hugs.... Its value is the same on the mountaintop or at the depth of the canyon."

Joy. It means different things to different people. It means something different to you and me at different stages of our lives. It means something different to us depending on what's happening in and around us.

That last sentence says it all, however: "Its value is the same on the mountaintop or at the depth of the canyon." So whatever joy looks like for you today, is there some way you can create more in your life right now? What would it take? For, as we know, we have limited control over the circumstances of our lives. But we do have choice about how we respond. Will you choose hope today? Will you choose light? Joy? Peace? Serenity? Hugs and giggles?

Monday, April 28, 2014

Listen to other voices

Vive la diffĂ©rence!  We often say that, but do we really mean it? Don't we more often tend to seek out those who think like we do, act like we do and live like we do? Don't we often stay far away from those who hold extremely different opinions and world views from us?

It's understandable that we do that. We hang with our own tribe. We avoid a lot of conflict by not hanging out with those unlike us. Don't we?

Do we really? Or does it keep us from growing? Does it keep us stuck in old thought patterns and behaviors? It certainly can.

It seems to me that if we really want to change what's wrong in the world today, if we really want to be peace-seekers and peace-makers, we may want to at least consider the notion of moving toward those who are different from us. We may want to consider listening to voices that don't sound like ours. Voices that are saying different things than we are. Voices with which we aren't always comfortable.

Having said this, I admit to being outside my comfort zone with this idea, too. Yet, I've been thinking a lot lately about how I can share peace, how I can let peace live in me and then bring it out into the world. And I don't think it's by staying in my comfort zone—and always hanging with my tribe.

What do you think? Can we really try to celebrate difference? And can we find some common ground with "the other?" I'd love to hear your experience of this.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Building a foundation for love

Yesterday I talked about our yearnings and longings. Being true to them—and to ourselves—is part and parcel of our ability to love. For to truly love, it's necessary to be who we were created to be.

That means we need to be clear about who we are. Clarity is such an essential piece. And we can live many years of our lives simply doing what we thought was ours to do—and what we've even become very accomplished at doing—and still not even know what our true gifts and passions are. Sometimes it takes a bit of digging to get down to that. It's helpful to think back to childhood, too, and remember what really absorbed us and called to us then. There can be clues in that. Or think about what it is that when you're doing that, you truly lose all track of time. What energizes you? What gifts do you bring to the world?

If we are to truly love others, it's important to show compassion to ourselves. When we know and love ourselves well, we can truly be present to the others in our lives. We will be more generous-spirited and open-hearted.

And it's important to care for ourselves. Self-care isn't a luxury. It's really the foundation piece of caring for those others in our lives—contrary to what many of us learned as we grew up! If you and I take good care of ourselves, we won't be resentful when we also spend time tending to the needs of others. But when we spend our lives as doormats and give, give, give to others with no concern for ourselves, we can end up not only burned out—but deep-down angry and resentful.

That's no recipe for a joyful and love-filled life, is it? Does something need to change for you today so that you can practice self-clarity, self-compassion and self-care?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Listen to your longings

Did you grow up with messages telling you to pay no attention to desires, yearnings, longings, passions? "Do what needs to be done." "Seeking pleasure leads to no good end." "It's selfish to think about what you desire." We can still hear those same messages in different parts of society today.

Then, on the other hand, we can hear voices saying that pleasure is the only thing.  "Get what you want. Don't worry about anyone else." "Have it your way." As with so many things in life, there's some balance to be had, isn't there?

When we do pay attention to our yearnings and passions, we can be more truly ourselves. It is those longings and desires that really give us our juice and lead us to do those things in the world for which we have true passion. Those yearnings bring us energy.

I have long had a passion for justice-seeking, for example. It jazzes me to speak up for and work for justice for those on the margins. Admittedly, it has also led to occasional problems—for example, when I wrote articles that spoke truth to power and named things that needed to be called out. But that's who I am. So that's what I did. And now I'm thinking about how to incorporate those same passions into this stage of my life.

To what desires and yearnings do you need to listen today?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Receive—& let go

I don't know about you, but I find it easier to give than to receive. Somehow it just feels more comfortable for me to be on the giving end.

Recently, I'm getting in touch with what that might mean, at least for me. When I give to someone else, I'm the one in control. But when I receive from someone, I'm not. Is that a gender issue? I'm not sure. Or is that because I'm an Enneagram 8? Either of those could be true. Or it could just be my own issue.

In any case, I'm trying to let up a bit on being that strong, capable, competent, leap-tall-buildings-single-bound-land-backward-in-high-heels sort of person. I'm trying to let others know I need them more. Let them give to me, too. It's good for them. And it's good for me. And actually, it would be nice to retire that "Wonder Woman" costume! Why have I been hanging onto it all these years? Truth be told, it did serve me well after my divorce when I had to be out there making it on my own. It did serve me well when I worked in a patriarchal workplace. But it's one of the things (there are many more) I want to let go at this stage of life.

What's your experience of giving and receiving? And what do you need to let go these days?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The power of love

What if love is more than a concept? What if it's something that we are? Something we live?

How would our lives be different if we believed that? And lived it?

Would we be more generous? Lit up and passionate? Open to others—even perhaps those with whom we think we have little or nothing in common? Would be remain more calm and serene in the face of daily little irritations—to say nothing of the large life circumstances that tie us in knots? Would our words be healing rather than divisive and cutting? Would we be less negative?

We are told that there's incredible power in love. Perhaps life is all about simply surrendering to that power, letting it fill us so that we actually are love. We are also told that compassion cures more ills than condemnation. And that makes complete sense, doesn't it?

How do we "simply surrender" to the power of love? I think a large amount of letting go is required first, don't you? Let go of anger. Fear. Resentments. Old beliefs that no longer are helpful. Negative attitudes. Old emotional baggage. Unresolved grief. And sometimes even toxic friends and situations. And let tears flow if you need to because tears moisten and soften the heart. Then perhaps love can settle in our hearts and very bones. And, surprisingly, we'll meet love in ever so many places ourselves! It's catchy, you know!

Monday, April 21, 2014

What's your song?

"A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song."

Those words appeared on a lovely greeting card I saw on the shelf in a gift shop recently. The words  really caught my eye. Such a simple thought. But so profound.

That sentiment made me think of my increasing love for the questions rather than a search for the answers. More and more these days, what I long for is a place where it's OK to ask questions. A place where there's no "dumb question." A safe setting where others don't judge me for my doubts or for the questions I have for things about which I used to feel so certain. I yearn for places where we can all explore our questions together and move beyond what would be possible if we kept those questions to ourselves.

The sentiment also reminded me that we each have a song. Why am I here? What song do I bring to the world? What do I offer that someone else might need?

What's your song? What have you come to bring into this world that no one else can offer in exactly the same way? We are each completely unique. No one else ever has been just like you or me, and no one else ever will be. And so our song is unique, too. What's yours?

Friday, April 18, 2014

Sharing peace

A weekend retreat in which I participated last weekend caused me to reflect on peace—peace among nations, peace in the hearts of world leaders, peace in our churches and mosques and synagogues, peace in our hearts, peace in our communities, peace between groups who see things very differently. Peace everywhere. What a lovely thought.

So, I wondered, if we really are to be the change we seek, what would that mean?

I thought about the Lutheran faith in which I was raised and in which I spent nearly all my years thus far. Part of the Lutheran worship experience includes what's called "sharing the peace" or "passing the peace." During that time, worshippers greet each other saying, "The peace of the Lord be with you" (or something similar). But what if "sharing the peace" or "passing the peace" meant something far more than what's done within the context of the worship service itself? What if it really were something I/we carried out into the world?

How might my life be different if I really shared the peace? What might change if I passed on the peace I already had nurtured in my heart? How might my relationships be different? My community? Our world?

What do you think?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Happiness: An inside job

Recently I heard Oprah Winfrey say, "You can feel happy, or you can be happy."

Do you know the difference?

When you feel happy, your emotional well-being is based on what's happening outside and around you. Nothing wrong with that. We do have life experiences that simply make us feel happy for a time. We spend a day in an activity we love doing. We hear a concert or attend a play that we thoroughly enjoy. We spend time with a friend or loved one, and life seems beautiful for that time.

However, when we are happy, we can be sure it's an inside job. It's something that arises from deep within us, and it really is part of an intention on our part to make the best of our days and years. It's a choice—a decision we make. We can be happy even amid challenges and difficulties. That emotional state isn't the result of the good time we just had. It's more of a joy and serenity that's settled into our bones, into the very marrow of our being.

Feeling happy is delightful. But being happy is a wonderful choice if you are interested in a lifestyle of contentment and joy.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The small stuff

So much is said about not sweating the small stuff, isn't it? And that phrase surely does make a good point. It's not helpful to daily living when we get hung up on every little thing that comes our way. We need to choose our battles, and we need to keep a perspective.

However, when we run into snags in our relationships, isn't it often a collection of the small things that hooks us? She cuts us off when we talk. He leaves drawers and doors open just a tad. She one-ups me every time I share an experience. He reads the newspaper at the table. And on and on the list goes. After a while, those small things add up and drive us nuts.

We tend to deal with the big things—address them and find solutions. But we let the small things build up and build up until the steam is coming out of our heads or the volcano erupts.

It's all about awareness. Pay attention to those small things. Either decide they're really not important enough to focus on—or if they really are important to you, find a kind way to discuss it with your partner, friend or child. See whether you can find solutions together. And if those small things are not important, then let go! And really let go and focus on the things you love about that other person. The point is to not let these small things build up until they can sidetrack your relationship.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Believe it

Have you heard about the Dove soap beauty-patch experiment? It's an amazing story—one I learned about on a "Today" show segment last week.

A series of women agreed to participate in a research group to test a patch they would wear on their arms 12 hours a day for two weeks. In that time, they would record a video diary about how they felt during that time period. These women knew that the patch was supposed to enhance the way they saw their own beauty (knowing we women often don't see our own beauty). They had no idea what the product contained.

At first the women said they noticed no change; but after about the fourth day, they began to feel more confident, more beautiful and willing to try new things. They made different decisions than they had made when they didn't like the way they looked. They felt better about themselves.

At the end of the experiment, they were told that the patch contained absolutely nothing. There were no secret ingredients—nothing that would affect the way they saw themselves! However, because they believed the patch contained ingredients to enhance their beauty, they felt more beautiful and felt better about themselves. The message: Beauty is a state of mind!

Believe it! Believe in yourself. Believe in your beauty. You are truly a one-of-a-kind!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Love the possibilities

Recently I read a list of points titled "Honoring Ourselves." One in particular caught my eye.

"To honor the self is to be in love with our own life, in love with our possibilities of growth and for experiencing joy, in love with the process of discovery and of exploring our distinctive human potential." Just reading that sentence delighted and energized me. Does it do the same for you?

What would it look like to "be in love with our own life"? "In love with our possibilities of growth"? "In love with the process of discovery"?

I have a strong sense of energy and movement when I think about these things. Growth and development hold such potential and are lifelong journeys. You and I know we are absolutely unique. There is not now nor ever will be another you on this planet. You have unique gifts to bring to the world. So when you love your life, love all your possibilities for growth and love the discovery of who you really are and where you are going, you are honoring that person you were created to be. That means, too, that we dishonor that creation when we don't become all we can.

I have been in stuck places before where I've not felt those possibilities and that love. And I've needed help to get unstuck. I also know how much joy I feel when I move past that and get on with the process of discovery and growth.

Where are you today?

Friday, April 11, 2014

'No' is a complete sentence

Do you have trouble saying "No" to people? Most of us desire love and approval, and that can make turning someone down difficult. Yet, saying "No" is a way of taking care of yourself. And as we know, self-care is a precursor to care and compassion for others. It's tough to give to others from an empty well.

When you do say "No" to others, do you feel guilty? Yup, I've been there and done that, too. It helps, however, if when you feel that guilt, you ask yourself some questions. Did that other person have a right to ask you to do something? Yes. Did you have a right to say either "Yes" or "No?" Yes. If you had said "Yes," what would have been the outcome for you? And that's a very important question. Because often the outcome is that you feel angry with yourself for doing something you don't want to do or don't have time to do. You are upset because it takes you away from things you want and need to do. You begin to feel resentful. You also feel somewhat dishonest and inauthentic because this really isn't what you want to do.

It helps to realize that some things are yours to do while other tasks are really for others with the skills, time or desire.

Remember, too, you don't need to offer an explanation if you don't wish to do so. "No" is a complete sentence. You don't need to give reasons or excuses. Assertive communication is honest and is part of respectful relationships.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Take a wrong turn?

Have you ever taken a wrong turn and gotten lost when you're driving to a new location? Me, too. While it can be frustrating, particularly if you're working under a time crunch to arrive at your destination, you know enough to stop, get your bearings, turn back and try a different road.

Life is like that, too, isn't it? Sometimes you make a decision that takes you down a path that simply doesn't feel right for you. When that happens, the same rules apply: Stop, get your bearings, think about where you really want to go, and try again. I've been there, too. Perhaps you have also. And likely, we will be again!

If you are facing some big life questions and thinking that where you are isn't where you want to be, it's not too late. It's never too late to make some changes in your life. What do you really want? Where do you want to be? No matter at which stage you find yourself in the process of discovery, try to see the experience as an adventure. You can learn so much simply through the process of asking the big life questions and exploring possibilities.

Hats off to you if you've stopped to ask the questions—if you're giving yourself the time to explore. If you want some coaching along the way, I invite you to contact me. Happy travels!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Need more zest in your life?

Have you ever been at a point in your life where things are neither good nor bad, neither hot nor cold, just sort of "unh"? Life isn't so bad, really. But you're not all that excited about it at the moment either. Are you experiencing that now?

Several clients have brought such an experience to the table. While each case is unique and each client creates an action plan that grows out of her own process, I do encourage her to first spend some time just feeling what's real. Be with the experience for a while. See what bubbles up when you do that. Being with an experience, really being with it, creates a higher awareness of what's going on inside you as well as around you.

That awareness can help you discover your true passions and help you get in touch with what you really want and need in your life. Then you can leave the blahs behind and create an action plan that brings that needed zest into your life. It all starts with awareness, however.

If you'd like to talk about adding more zest to your life and finding your passion, please contact me. We can do a complimentary strategy session.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Random kindness for you

In the past two or three decades, the term "random acts of kindness" has been popular. In fact, there's even an International Random Acts of Kindness Week (it was February 10-16 this year). Wikipedia says that the phrase "may have been coined by Anne Herbert, who says that she wrote 'Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty' on a place mat at a Sausalito restaurant in 1982 or 1983."

The idea of practicing kindness in a random fashion is a delightful idea, isn't it? Have you ever had someone ahead of you in line pay for your coffee or your meal? Have you ever done something kind for someone else in spur-of-the-moment fashion? You may remember the photograph from November 2012 of a NYPD officer, Lawrence DePrimo, who gave socks and a pair of boots he had purchased to a bare-footed homeless man. Many examples exist. And you no doubt have your own.

It's a wonderful act of love and compassion to reach out to strangers in some way, and it makes your heart so happy to do so. Don't stop doing that. But here's another thought:

Remember to treat yourself to some random acts of kindness or senseless acts of beauty, too. Doing so will fill up your well—a source from which you'll draw to show love and kindness to others. Self-love and self-care are not only acceptable. They're essential.

What helps fill up your well? Quiet reading time? A spa treatment? Lunch with a friend? Snuggling with your sweetie? Whatever it is, you don't always have to plan it ahead of time. Just do it. Today.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Let go of revenge

"Never does the human soul appear so strong and noble as when it forgoes revenge and dares to forgive injury." That's the quote that greeted me one day last week when I turned to a new day on my desktop calendar. It's attributed to Edwin Hubbel Chapin.

Someone else has said, "Revenge is sweet." But it really isn't sweet, is it? Revenge takes enormous amounts of energy—negative energy—from us. It also leaves us with a bitter taste afterward.

Forgiveness, on the other hand, frees up our energy to be used in the myriad ways we need to best follow our paths on this planet. As we've said before in these blogs, it lifts a huge weight from our shoulders.

If we want to stay true to our highest and best selves, it's always best to not focus on revenge but to let go, forgive and move on. That's a far better path to joy and happiness than plotting revenge and trying to even the score with someone who's wronged you.

It's not always easy. I know how easy it is to get sucked into that vortex of righteous anger and to focus on the affront. But I tell myself again and again, "Let go, Sonia. Let go." As I've also said before, letting go is a process; and you do need to acknowledge the wrong and feel it before you can move to letting go and forgiving. It's so much better for your health and happiness, however.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Really seeing each other

When I traveled in parts of Asia, I noticed a wonderful custom that is so lovely and meaningful.

In parts of Asia, when they meet someone, people look at that person, press their palms together and bow while saying, "Namaste." The same greeting is part of saying farewell, too. Roughly translated, that greeting means "The divine in me bows to the divine in you." It seems like such a gentle greeting, doesn't it?

What difference might it make if we greeted one another in that fashion? And if we really looked deeply at the person whom we'd just greeted—and saw both that person's humanity and divinity? What if we didn't look at them with distrust or suspicion or through all the filters we so regularly use to judge people? What if we instead saw their spirits and souls? I wonder...

There's always so much to learn from other cultures, other ethnic groups and other religions. I want to stay open and aware so I don't miss the beauty that's out there.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Words are powerful

"I cherish my ability to adore," Jan Phillips wrote in No Ordinary Time. "I wake up adoring life, adoring earth, adoring dawn and the sound of the birds...."

When I read that this week, I was so struck by the word "adore." It's a word I very seldom use. But it struck me as a powerful word. It produced images in my mind that softened my heart somehow. It just had a different feel from using the word "love" in those same phrases. Perhaps it's because we use the word "love" so much.

I have similar feelings about the word "cherish" and the word "enchanted." Aren't they wonderful words? And don't they just make you happy when you read or say them? Some words simply delight us and open our hearts in new ways. That's the power of words.

I want to incorporate some of these delightful words into my vocabulary—because simply put, they just make me feel softer, lighter, more positive. I'm going to think more about adoring life and the sounds of the birds. What about you? Any words that are so delicious to you and change your attitude just by saying or thinking about them?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Sticks and stones....

Have you been called names during your life, some of which still have the ability to hurt today? So much depends on how you hear the names and how you define them. That can change as you age—and as you realize you have a choice about what to accept. Names can hurt—but you can also find ways to reframe many of them or simply choose to not accept them as a way to define you.

I saw a blog yesterday on the Queen of Your Own Life website that said, "People said she was strong-willed. And she chose to take it as a compliment."

The blog went on to say: "People will say all kinds of things about you in your life. Some will be compliments and others will be hurtful, perhaps. But we cannot control what other people think or do. We can only control how we respond. We proclaim that strong-willed is a wonderful attribute. So are tenacious, stubborn, hard-headed and bossy. Let's reclaim the language others use to describe women and find the golden nugget in each word, shall we?"

I like this advice. You've probably experienced that yourself. I know I have. Sometimes a trait exhibited by a woman is named in a derogatory fashion whereas when exhibited by a man, it's a positive trait. Take some of the examples in the quote. "Bossy" in a woman often is called "good leadership" in a man. Or "strong-willed" in a man is called "purposeful" and "assertive."

Rather than bemoan this reality, you and I can choose to reclaim language and not allow it to define us negatively. You and I get to choose how we respond. Choice: Isn't it a beautiful thing?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Believe in yourself

Seen on Facebook: "Confidence is something you create within yourself by believing in who you are."

When I was much younger, less confident and more shy than I am now, I envied people with confidence. I thought how fortunate they were to have been born with that quality.

Now I know, however, that there's much truth to the saying I read on Facebook yesterday. As with so many things, confidence is an inside job. It happens inside of you and starts between the ears. It's not something that's fully intact in you when you arrive on this planet. Nor is it a quality that anyone else can give you. It takes some work on your part—some growth and development. Confidence develops over time as you give yourself permission to be who you are—and come to believe in that person you really are. It happens when you like that person you are. Developing confidence is a process, and it happens as you begin to feel comfortable in your own skin (which really is about being authentic and being OK with that, isn't it?).

What are your beliefs about yourself? What messages do you give yourself? And what would it take for you to give up being who others want you to be—and be who you really are? And to feel good about that authentic you? Do you feel comfortable in your own skin? If not, what would it take to develop that confidence? Take bite-sized steps toward that today if you aren't where you want to be. And please contact me should you want to discuss this in a no-obligation, complimentary strategy session.