Tag Archives: Happiness

Special Places

There are places in this world that just seem to resonate with us in ways we may not always be able to explain. These are the places that help us “find ourselves”. We usually refer to them as our “happy places”.  They are the places that often “feel like home” to us in ways that nowhere else does.  Time in those places help us to refocus, to remember what’s important in life, to reconnect with ourselves, and to relax.  We can’t wait to be in these places, and we absolutely hate to leave them, doing so usually while kicking and screaming (either literally or at the very least mentally).  We all have such a place.  It may be a physical address or building, or it may be some place more general like a tropical island or the mountains, but either way, we all have such a place.  Just pause for a moment, right now, close your eyes, and picture that place in your mind.  Recall how it makes you feel.  Just breathe it in for a moment.  Allow those feelings to come back to you in this moment of reflection.  It feels so good, doesn’t it?

For me, that special place is the beach. Any beach really, so long as it is warm. The feeling of the sand between my toes, the rhythmic sound of the ocean, the relaxing feel of the breeze on my face…these are some of the things about the beach that call to me.  Time there helps me to refocus my life, to remember what’s most important, to reconnect with myself and my dreams, to relax, and to re-establish that sense of calm in my life which I appreciate so much.

It is in these places and at these times when life gets a bit clearer and we start to see the areas of our life that could use a little adjustment. We can sit back, away from the normal daily chaos in our lives, and reflect on things like:

  1. What about my life is working right now? What about it do I really like?
  2. What about my life is not working right now? What about it do I not like so much?
  3. What am I willing to commit to in order to have more of what is working in my life/less of what is not working in my life?
  4. How do I keep this clarity about my life when I go back?
  5. What can I do differently in my daily life to maintain this feeling?

Maintaining the feelings, the clarity, and/or the calm that you experience in your special place can be accomplished after you leave that place, though a conscious effort is needed on your part. Taking the time to ask the questions listed above is a great place to start, but that is only the beginning. You have to actively work to make the changes you committed to once you return home.  You have to take the steps you identified when answering the 5 questions above in order to maintain the life you identified as desirable when you did that reflection.  With practice and perseverance, living that way will become your new habit, but until then you have to become aware of the times when you slip back into your old habits and then work diligently to pull yourself out of them.

Reflection for the purpose of awareness is the first step. Taking consistent action is the second step. Together you can create a life anywhere that resembles the one you have when you are in your special place.

Life’s Cyclical Flow

I read a short piece today from one of the required books for my Yoga teacher training course that beautifully captures a concept I have been trying to articulate for years and so I scrapped my original blog idea for this week so I could share this instead. It’s something I have tried numerous times to write about, but no matter how hard I tried I never really felt like I had captured the essence of the idea.

The concept I am referring to is that of how we have a tendency in our society to move from one thing right into the next without ever really being present, without ever really experiencing each individual moment or the time in between each thing that we are doing. But Rolf Gates describes it so well in his book, Meditations from the Mat. He begins by talking about the style of yoga he teaches (flow yoga).  In flow yoga you go from one yoga posture right into the next – one flows into the other seamlessly so the multiple postures are like one long posture and the breath and meditation remain unbroken throughout the practice.  But he points out that not all yoga styles are like that.  (In fact the style of yoga I have practiced all of my life is not like that.)  Neither way is right or wrong, but Rolf points out that there is an important lesson we can learn:

“…it is our tendency to pay attention to the postures themselves, but not to the spaces in between.  So it is in life.  We leave one relationship or job and set our sights on the next.  We cross one item off our to-do list and dive into the next chore.  The illusion is that the posture ends.  The reality is that the posture never ends, it just shifts from one form to the next, one lesson to the next, one opportunity to the next.  We remain life’s student whether we are inhaling or exhaling, in a relationship or out of one…” – Rolf Gates, Day 35, from Meditations from the Mat.

And while his analogy may speak more clearly to those of us who have done yoga at some point in our lives, the truth behind the message is relevant for all of us. We move from one thing in our lives to the next without taking the time to enjoy or appreciate the space in between those things. Often we plan to enjoy that space when we reach a certain point in our lives (after we are married, after we have kids, after we get that new job, after the kids are out of the house, after retirement, etc.), when instead we can and should be taking the time now to be in that space.  This rat race we call our daily lives takes such a toll on us – if only we would just slow down long enough to be in that space between the events in our lives, we would be so much the better for it.

My goal personally for the past several years has been to cultivate a practice that allows for a cyclical flow in which I pause to reflect and appreciate between the things I am doing in my life rather than rushing from one thing to the next. It is a practice, as is all things, but with practice I have gotten so much better at it wherein now I am pretty good at taking time to be in the space between the things happening in my life instead of rushing off to the next one. The result has been that I feel better, calmer, and I enjoy my days so much more.

Life truly is cyclical – the flow from one thing to the next, one day to the next, one goal to the next continues in what can become a vicious circle. But we have the ability to pause, breath, and experience the space in between, to slow things down and enjoy. If nothing else, take some time to celebrate and reflect on what you accomplished before going on to the next thing.  As Rolf Gates pointed out, we are all students of this life.  The question is what kind of student will we be?  How will you flow from one thing to the next in your own life?  As someone in the midst of this practice now, and as a former teacher, I would highly recommend taking the time to enjoy being a student of life.

Finding Joy

I have heard it said that the key to happiness is being able to find joy in your daily life, in the seemingly mundane things that make up our everyday routines. And my experience, particularly in more recent years, has proven that to be quite true. The problem is that for so many of us, we do not pause long enough to see that joy.  It’s not that there is no joy to be had, it is that we just don’t see it, even when it is right in front of us.

It is no secret, nor should it be a surprise to anyone, that we all get so caught up in the day to day happenings of our very busy modern lives to the point that not only do we not find joy in our lives, but we seldom even notice the people and things around us that could bring us joy if only we stopped for a moment to take them in, appreciate them for who and what they are, and gives thanks for them.

“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” – William Arthur Ward

Some people refer to this phenomenon of going through the motions of life without really being present as living in a robot-like or zombie-like state. Regardless of the words we use to label or describe it, the bottom line is that we are not present in the moment. We don’t see the people and things right in front of us for the beautiful, amazing creatures and opportunities that they are.  We are so focused on where we are going next, on the goal we are trying to achieve, on getting through the day, on getting to our next day off or our next vacation, on getting to the next thing on our To Do list, on reaching retirement, on getting the next job or house, etc. (you get the idea here), that we go through virtually every waking moment of each day not noticing most of who and what is around us, let alone see any joy in those things.  The sad and ironic thing is that for many people when they reach their destination (be it the end of their To Do list, the weekend, that next vacation, their next job, the completion of their goal, etc.), they usually find no more happiness than they had previously.  Why?  Because joy and happiness doesn’t come at the end of your journey to that place you wanted to reach – joy and happiness is found throughout that journey.

“Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.” – Greg Anderson

Like most of us, I spent many years living for the next thing. I was never quite happy, but I was certain I would be after the next thing. But then I wasn’t.  It was a vicious, rather depressing cycle.  When I finally decided to let go of the next thing and really experience each moment as it came and went, careful not to become too attached to any one moment though as that can be problematic in and of itself, I finally began to enjoy my life and all the people and things in it.  I had spent so much of my life looking for joy and happiness and what I came to realize is that it was always right here, in front of me, the entire time…I was just too busy, too side-tracked, too distracted to notice it.

It is so easy to get wrapped up in the trappings of this modern world, but if we are conscious about the choices we are making, focusing on each individual moment, I do believe we would all experience more joy in our lives. While reaching a specific destination in our lives is important, let us not forget that what is even more important are the experiences along the way – opportunities to learn and grow, to appreciate the people and things in our lives, to give thanks, to create something new, and to experience true joy and happiness.

So let go of your expectations and the single-minded focus on the end goal. Be present in each moment as it unfolds. Even when things become difficult of challenging, there is beauty and joy to be had.  Pause to reflect in the moment.  Give thanks for what the moment has to offer you, even if it is a difficult lesson.  And always remember that at the end of the day, it is about the journey, not the destination.  That’s where the joy resides.

Thinking vs. Feeling Your Feelings

I was recently talking with a friend about the topic of feeling your feelings vs. thinking your feelings. Then I began seeing things on social media these past few weeks on this topic as well. Clearly it is time to write a little something about it.

This is certainly something most, if not all, of us are guilty of doing. I know I have become a super star in the field of thinking my feelings instead of feeling them. I think in many ways we are trained by society to do this…to think our feelings rather than actually feeling them.  First of all, there is no time to stop and feel anything.  There are too many things to do and never enough hours in the day (both personally and professionally), so merely thinking our feelings is much more efficient and fits better with our lifestyle in today’s world.  Plus, to actually feel feelings usually gets translated into you being weak (a common perception we ascribe to people who take the time to feel their feelings).

Thinking your feelings vs actually feeling them is easier, neater, cleaner, and nicer for everyone involved in the process. We just think about them and move on – it is that simple. Feeling them, on the other hand, requires that we get messy and deeply experience emotions we don’t like (pain, loss, sorrow, regret, etc.).  Feeling our feelings can take time and can uncover more things for you to address too.  It just is not convenient or efficient by today’s standards.

In addition to thinking our feelings, we are also quite good at talking about them rather than feeling them. Many people think because they have talked about them they have processed them (and therefore felt them), but that is not necessarily the case. If the talking about the feelings is more of a venting or complaining session then you are not processing/feeling them.  Granted, talking about your feelings may be more of a step toward feeling them than just thinking them is, but you still haven’t felt them in most cases if you are just talking about them.  Talking about them can even help you push them farther away making it harder to be able to feel them.

Feeling them takes time and can be inconvenient in this fast paced, modern world. We are expected to handle things gracefully and not show emotion in many avenues of life. There are such high expectations for all of us (real, imagined,s or self-imposed).  The question to ask is are you just finding ways to cope with your feelings or are you actually allowing yourself to feel them?  Are you getting by without feeling them?  Are you burying them and moving on?  If you are doing any of those things, they are still there.  They haven’t gone away, though we tell ourselves that they have.

“We fear violence less than our own feelings. Personal, private, solitary pain is more terrifying than what anyone else can inflict.” – Jim Morrison

We have to learn to address them for good. If you don’t feel them they get buried deep inside of you and can manifest inside you in the form of an illness or it can negatively impact your life externally via your relationships, etc. We need to feel and process them so they dissipate, otherwise they build up and get worse.

Let them out, express them, feel them, own them, and above all take action. Do something active with your emotions so you can truly feel them and work through them – journal, cry, draw, punch a pillow, etc. Find ways that work for you, but by all means take the time to really, truly feel your feelings.

It may get darker before it gets lighter but real growth and transformation can only come through allowing yourself to feel those feelings inside of you. True light only can come if you let yourself feel your feelings and you work through your stuff.

Closing One Chapter, Starting A New One

Normally I only blog once a week, but I just really felt moved to share my experience today as I brought closure to one chapter in my life. This might be the most open and vulnerable piece I have written so far…maybe it isn’t, but it sure feels like it as I am sitting here writing this because I’m “deep in the weeds” with all these emotions at the moment.

What a bittersweet day! It was the final day in my house. I sold it and tomorrow is settlement so today was my last day at the house.  Before it was my house it was my grandparents’ house.  I grew up there – every Sunday evening and every holiday we would gather there for family dinner.  After it was my grandparents’ house it became the house my ex-husband and I shared for several years before our divorce, and then it became just my house.   There are lots and lots of memories in that house, so it is hard to say goodbye.

What an intense mix of emotions I felt as I walked through the now empty house one final time. Sad but exciting. Happy but heart-wrenching.  Cathartic but depressing.  It is hard to fathom that any single event can evoke so many contrasting and powerful emotions.  I took time to walk around the property and take some photos, to sit in each room, to remember, to feel, and to acknowledge my emotions and how I was feeling.  The final thing I did before I walked out the front door for the last time was to reclaim my energy and to send blessings to the home and new owners.  It was a type of prayer-like ritual I did because it felt like the right thing to do – to take back my energy from the space, to make it clean/pure for the new owners and send them blessings to them and the life they will have in that wonderful space.

It was hard to leave, but it is a necessary step for me to reach the exciting goals I have for my newly imagined, post-divorce self.  It is time for me to move on from here, while it is simultaneously time for someone else to begin making new memories here. And so it is.

“Everything has seasons, and we have to be able to recognize when something’s time has passed and be able to move into the next season.“ – Henry Cloud

One additional thought to share on this topic – a great resource on this topic actually. As some of you may already know, I enjoy listening to numerous podcasts, but one of my absolute favorites is The RobCast hosted by Rob Bell. In one of his most recent podcasts he talked about the seasons of our lives.  It was very well done and it came at the perfect time for me, just one week before moving day.  If this topic of closing one chapter of your life to start a new one (the changing seasons in your life as Rob Bell describes it), then I highly recommend you check out that episode here – it is that good.

In A Perfect World

Confession – I am a recovering perfectionist. Recovering as in I work on it daily…everyday. In some ways it is like an addiction – it is a daily struggle to stay on track and not slip back into that old habit.  I struggle with the tendency to be perfect in all that I do each and every day and I struggle to remind myself that I am not perfect – never have been and never will be – and that’s okay.  It’s hard, to say the least, and I am not even sure I know how or when I learned to be this way, but at some point in my childhood perfectionism became a thing for me and I have been fighting with it ever since.

From what I say to what I do and how I do it, I am in a constant battle with myself.

  • * I write in pencil mostly so I can erase things if they aren’t neat enough or organized on the paper in a neat and orderly fashion.
  • * I will redo projects, writings, lists, etc. numerous times if they are not “perfect”.
  • * I obsess over what I am going to say in scheduled meetings…and you can be sure I will critique what I said after the fact with a fine tooth-comb.
  • * I will even go so far as to write out things I am going to say in meetings if I think it is important enough to make sure I say the right words.
  • * When I write my blog, I write and rewrite over and over in a search for the perfect words.
  • * I have put off doing many things (i.e. projects, life goals, etc.) in my life because not everything was “perfect”.

That’s just a sample of the ways in which my perfectionism manifests itself daily…just enough of a sample to give you an idea of what I am talking about.

And if I’m not perfect, which of course is all the time, then that ego voice in my head has a field day telling me what a horrible person I am because I can’t get anything right. It is a crazy, vicous cycle that for years plagued me with little relief. But in the past 3-4 years I have slowly come to accept and understand that, like everyone else in the world, I am not perfect, that I will not do things perfectly, and that despite my imperfections the world will continue to spin on its axis and life will go on.  I will be fine, as will others around me, despite my imperfections.  It’s a matter of reprogramming my brain to relax in the face of imperfection and ultimately to stop expecting it altogether.

“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.” – Salvador Dali

Here’s what I have found to work for me when I feel that perfectionst tendency kicking in:

  1. Stop and breathe.
  2. Step back and ask myself how big is this thing really…what’s the worst that can happen if I don’t do/say this perfectly.
  3. In extreme cases, I may ask for a second opinion from a trusted friend or colleague on how big of a deal a lack of perfectionism might be in this case.
  4. Most importantly, I give myself permission to be human…which means I give myself permission to not be perfect.

Being perfect is not the same as wanting to do excellent work. Wanting to do excellent work is a wonderful and important goal, but we have to find a way to release ourselves from the stranglehold of perfectionism in the midst of trying to do excellent work. Trying your hardest and doing your best should be the goal, not being flawless or otherwise risk being subjected to internal ridicule.  We thrive and improve from hard work, determination, positive support and motivation, not from listening to that demeaning voice in our head beating us up for not doing something perfectly.

I know I am not alone in this battle with perfectionism. I have met enough others just like me to know perfectionism is a bit of an epidemic in our society. So the good news is there are plenty of us out there to be able to support one another in a quest to let go of the hold perfectionism has on our lives.  Each one of us is perfect in our own way, so there is no need to compare ourselves with some external, unrealistic measure of perfection.  Simply work hard, do your best, live a positive and powerful life and allow yourself to be perfectly imperfect.  Strive to make tomorrow better than today, don’t strive to make it perfect.

“Strive for continuous improvement, instead of perfection. – Kim Collins

Becoming a Minimalist?

Beautiful china sitting in the china cabinet unused for the past 10 years. Stacks of games sitting in a hall closet, virtually untouched for the past 4 years. Bags containing bunches of other bags lining the top shelves of closets, some of which have never seen the light of day.  Clothes hanging in my closet, unworn for years.  Tools and miscellaneous supplies stock piled in garage cabinets having been perhaps never even used.  This is just a small sample of how I could have described the contents of my house 2 years ago.  When my divorce was finally complete I found myself holding the perverbial bag – while I was fortunate enough to get to keep the house, I also inherited the majority of the stuff in it.  It was certainly more stuff than one person needed for one thing.  But it was also more stuff than was really necessary to live in general.

My post-divorce world was once of deep contemplation, radical life shifts, and huge changes. And one such major transition was in my thoughts surrounding all the “stuff” in my house. In general, Americans have a lot of stuff – more so than many other cultures.  Our stuff often becomes a symbol of who we are, of our success, and our standing in society.  We buy stuff because commercials convince us it’s a must have product.  We buy things because our neighbors or family members got them and now we want them too.  We buy things because they make us feel good or accomplished or special in some way.  We buy them because there was a special sale and we got a good price.  We buy stuff simply because we can.  And then after buying all of that stuff we have to build additions on our houses, get sheds for our back yards, park our car outside so the garage can become a place to put more stuff, or rent storage facilities just so we have room for all our stuff.  And what I finally realized was how little I used any of that stuff, how much space it took up, how much of it held no immediate purpose or use, and how much of it provided me with little or no joy or fulfillment in my life.

I know I am not alone in this personal revelation. There’s a bit of a movement out there promoting this idea of minimalism…of downsizing at any age (not just when you become an empty nester or retire). Whether you read material by individuals like the Minimalists, Joshua Becker, Colin Wright, or Leo Babauta or you have gotten hooked watching shows like Tiny House, Big Living, there’s no denying this idea of less is more is gaining momentum in our society today.  And given my recent experience and epiphany I can completely understand why.

I will be moving in about a month, and I don’t plan on taking much with me at all. Aside from my bed, dresser, desk, dining room table (which I just bought less than a year ago and which I absolutely love), clothes, some art work I got when I traveled overseas, a few photos albums and a handful other items of significant sentimental value, I am getting rid of everything else. I will go from an 1800 square foot house comfortably full of stuff, to the sum total of materials possessions that could easily fit into less than 400 square foot of space.  If I haven’t used it in the past year, if it doesn’t bring my joy, if it has no utilitarian purpose then it is not going with me, plain and simple.

Sounds a bit crazy to some of you I suppose. It does to some of my friends and family too. And I know it is not a way of life for everyone.  But I also know minimalism means different things to different people…and to me it just feels incredibly freeing.  Living much more minimally will also help me stay clear about what is most important in my life – it’s not the stuff, it’s the people and the experiences.  I look forward to living with less stuff and enjoying the amazing people in my life and all the experiences on the horizon.