Search On

“Those who are not looking for happiness are the most likely to find it, because those who are searching forget that the surest way to be happy is to seek happiness for others.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

  • Hope
  • To be inspired
  • Discoveries

These were three of the most frequently searched words/terms in 2014, according to Google. Personally, I am encouraged by this news.

Permit me then, if you will, a somewhat disjointed post; one which makes sense to me though it may not be entirely clear to you.

Fresnel Lighting of Pigeon Point Lighthouse

What else might people be searching for beyond these three foci? Could it be around:

  • Forcing breaks or sealing cracks?
  • Being a puppet or pulling the strings?
  • How to act on one’s dreams?
  • Possibilities
  • Swimming with or against tides?
  • Being part of a cure or part of an ongoing disease?
  • How to be more open to exploring?
  • Calling
  • Could it be worse… or better?
  • How to summon strength you already have?
  • If I had wings, where could I fly?
  • Significance
  • What you want people to know about you
  • What lights will guide you home?
  • How to be a greater contributor?

Regardless of what you may be searching for — finding it, being it, and appreciating it, comes easier when you are inspired; whether through self-inspiration or by others. Would you agree?

92646099_cc9d599dee_mThere are countless ways in which to become inspired. You’ve read about them, you’ve practiced them, and you’ve seen others successfully embrace them. If you’re searching for or open to a couple of ideas, here are three on inspiring yourself or others:

  1. Create space. Be clear about your position on changes you believe¬†you or another individual can take. But don’t force the change. Instead, give time and space to stay the same; to consider choices. Allow awareness and self-determination to make clear that impending change can bring about desired results.
  2. Consider non-conformity. Falling in step for the sake of business or social conformity makes hypocrites of most. It requires you to replace the real you with a fake you. Expecting that everyone follows rules made and imposed by others is a ploy that creates conformity, establishes control, and drains inspiration. People aren’t made with cookie cutters. You need to be you!
  3. Tell yourself a different story. The stories we tell ourselves inspire us or bring us to our knees. Invoke your inner story-teller and tell yourself better stories. Tell yourself stories about hope, inspiration, and strength; confidence, competence and compassion. Write and tell a new chapter, a new ending, a new story forward.

3796936397_457ba87887_m

I Dare You

285024032_0b8b039b63_m“Iron rusts from disuse; stagnant water loses its purity and in cold weather becomes frozen; even so does inaction sap the vigor of the mind.”

~ Leonardo da Vinci

I dare you… to stretch yourself. I’m not talking about exercise or warming up your muscles. Rather, I’m encouraging you to test your perceived limits; to learn, maybe even begin to master, a new skill; to explore something unknown that you’ve been curious about; to challenge your mind, body or spirit.

With most activities, if we want to get better, it helps to stretch ourselves. Athletes strive to move faster or become stronger. Musicians aim to complete a harder, more intricate piece of music. Writers endeavor to craft that literary treasure. And business people are driven to increase productivity, sales and the bottom line.

192250230_a897fa01c9_m

In our busy world, where time flies, if you don’t challenge yourself your creativity and even happiness can stagnate. When the status quo becomes not only the norm but comfortable, you may find yourself unrecognizably following your routines even though they are no longer fulfilling or enriching.

This “dare” doesn’t necessarily mean doing something that makes you anxious or nervous. The point is to open yourself to new opportunities when you’re ready. As you meet new challenges, you encounter new character traits, gain new confidence, and enhance your sense of accomplishment. As you meet your doubts and broaden your horizons, your mind can become too busy to worry about inconsequential things that life throws at us from time to time.

6445984891_7aca263a20_m

Something I’m uncomfortable with is being humorous while speaking in front of large groups. Some people are naturally humorous; I’m not. Entertaining and witty I can be, but humorous, not. So I am enrolling in an Improv class to learn how to become more at ease integrating humor. For me, this is a stretch.

You have probably given thought to stretching yourself. What’s preventing you from doing so now? ūüôā For those who are curious how or where to step into this, here are three considerations to get you started.

  1. Take cooking classes.¬†Even if you’re hesitant to go to classes of any sort, especially if you consider yourself an introvert, drag yourself out of the house and be open to chatting up (not for long) strangers. There is fun to be had, watching everyone learn and seeing people enjoy being newly creative. Go stimulate your taste buds!
  2. Volunteer at a local mission or soup kitchen for a day and realize how comfortable your life really is, while helping others at the same time. It will likely broaden your perspectives and reground your sense of appreciation.
  3. Be willing. An attitude of willingness is essential. You can make excuses all day that will keep you from stretching yourself and taking the next step. You need to step away from the demands of every day life. An attitude of willingness will stretch you simply by making a commitment to take the plunge.

8026940272_9891c14712_m

Comfort Food Cravings

“If hunger is not the problem, then eating is not the solution.” ~ Author Unknown

At one time or another, most of us have had food cravings. And often, the preferred choice is “comfort food.” When people eat, they frequently feel better. Yet there’s a big difference between tapping into a food’s inherently calming properties and using food as an emotional anesthesia. That kind of eating may buy you a temporary sense of calm, but it’s usually a quick fix that wears off fast. And where does it often leave people?

Comfort foods work on a purely, and usually deliciously, psychological level. Eating comfort foods from our past works by rekindling happy memories of those times. The same holds true for food that reminds us of someone we loved. Different comfort foods can appeal to different genders. A Cornell University study discovered that women prefer sweet foods such as ice cream, but men go for savory items like soups and steak.

While comfort food may make us feel good at the moment, and may indeed be delicious, psychiatrist Robert Gould suggests that people tend to eat based upon emotion and don’t understand why they think they’re hungry. Think about that. Gould thinks people should ask themselves why they crave a particular¬†food before they eat it and to assess honestly whether or not they are really hungry in a clinical sense. The study also found that men tend to use comfort foods as a reward, while women often feel guilty after indulging.

Regular comfort eating as a response to stress — especially chronic stress — is considered an unhealthy behavior akin to smoking cigarettes. Why? Because comfort foods are often low on nutrition. One 2007 study found that when given both grapes and hot buttered, salty popcorn to eat while watching a sad movie, participants ate far more popcorn.

While foods that produce physical happiness affect our physiology, comfort foods provide happiness on a psychological level. When you’re down in the dumps, however, you probably won’t care about the distinction, as long as you feel better.

People often conflate happiness with comfort. In the case of comfort food, people may be misusing food to soothe themselves to unhealthy results.

If you’re nodding your head in agreement and believe your food cravings may not be in your better, long-term health interests, here are three ways to rethink food cravings and defaults to comfort food:

  1. Experiment to find new favorites. Consider the possibility that you haven’t yet found your favorite comfort food. Think about choices you never would have thought of years ago. You’re never done learning how to savor nutritious food in new ways.
  2. Wait. If you’re really craving some comfort food, try waiting 15 minutes before you reach for the chips. It will give you time to evaluate whether you really want it and the craving may subside.
  3. Find a new comfort. If you’re eating because you’re bored find another way to amuse yourself so you’re not always reaching for food. Try going for a swim, or even a walk. Exercise is a natural mood enhancer. If you’re feeling sad or anxious, try short bursts of any type of activity.

A Meaningful Life Trumps

“Life is not infinite, but its potential is. Embrace every second and you’ll triumph over compunction.” ~ Eric Tonningsen

It took years, but I finally figured it out. When you’re not happy, unfulfilled, or not living a meaningful life — you ought to (I really wanted to type must)¬†make a change. If you remain a slave to cultural expectations, and the trappings of money, power, status and/or perceived success, you’ve left a void in your life. I told myself, “If you’re truly unhappy with your job, move on.” “Find a way to pursue your passion and your mission in life.”

So I left a world in which I prostituted myself to shareholders, made good money, traveled the world and had whatever I wanted. What was missing was meaning and significance. And I knew this for some time.

I’m not saying quit your job; you may love your job. ¬†But are you happy? Essentially we are when we get what we want. But when our happiness outweighs the meaning in our lives, something’s disproportionate. I believe happiness without meaning characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed life, in which things go well, needs and desires are easily satisfied, and difficult affairs are avoided.

When I decided to step out of my comfort zone and into the unknown it was terrifying and exhilarating; surreal and at times, indescribable. Suddenly, I was accountable to myself. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t that highly confident being. Yet I knew I was heading in the right direction.

Days after I left the traditional workforce, I came across this Joseph Campbell quote. It has guided and inspired me since. “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” To which I have personally added, “…and what you can still be.”

If you are contemplating a major life shift; how you might contribute in more meaningful ways and; how living a life of greater significance might change you — here are three anchoring thoughts as you explore your potential and how realizing it could be beautifully fulfilling.

  1. Figure out what defines you. You’ve dreamed most of your life. You have a vision for ‘what could be.’ It/they can still be achieved. Personally, I have a lot of life left and plans to effect change. Sure, everything won’t work out just as I’ve planned. But I can focus on being ready for whatever opportunities (and challenges) come my way. Dreams and visions can define us, even if they don’t turn out exactly as we hoped.
  2. Question whose approval you are seeking. Like it or not, we’re all sometimes guilty of relying on others opinions to feed our feelings and self-worth. While approval and compliments from others can feel great, seeking them all the time can be unhealthy. They can turn into self-fulfilling cycles of negative feelings. When you start on a self-discovery journey and pursue what you want to do, you take ownership of your life and begin to realize that it matters what you think about you.
  3. You have a right to pursue your passions. Don’t ever let anyone convince you that pursuing your passion is impractical. Passion is what brings meaning and value to your life. The quality of your life experience is directly affected by the pursuit of your passion(s). Don’t allow your passions to drift into the “maybe someday” file. Life is too short to settle for anything less than passionate.

One Small Touch

“Each time someone stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, they send forth a tiny ripple of hope.” ~ Robert F. Kennedy

Some, perhaps many, of us have learned: We did not have to do something amazing to initiate growth. A small action can go a long way. It doesn’t take a boulder to create a ripple effect in the water. A finger is enough. As everything is interconnected in life, we only need be brave enough to take the first, maybe very small step. Before we know it, we may realize that we are a ripple effect.

A ripple effect is a situation where, like the ever-expanding ripples across the water when an object is dropped into it, an effect from the initial state can be followed outward incrementally. Applied to our lives, everything we do and think affects people in our lives and their reactions in turn affect others. The choices you make have far reaching consequences. Not surprisingly then, each of us carries within us the capacity to change the world in small ways for better or worse.

Examples of ripple effect can be found in economics, social interactions, charitable activities, financial markets, political influence, compassionate action and so on. The concept helps to explain how individual and grassroots efforts can yield significant change.

Case in point: A Harvard University study was conducted on a large, real world social network. It used modern statistical methods to analyze data from the Framingham Heart Study. It found that if a friend of a person became happy, the person’s chance of becoming happy increased by about 15%. If a friend of a friend became happy it increased by about 10% and a friend of a friend of a friend by almost 6%. This event occurred even if the person had never met many of the people involved.

If we can synchronize our intentions and actions toward common goals, our independent waves will continue to add to each other as they travel out through energetic fields. The result will be much greater than we can manifest independently.

Here are three ways in which you can initiate ripple effect:

  1. I’m not promoting this; it’s simply an example: For just US$4 you can provide a child with clean water. Consider joining the Ripple Effect movement and invest US$4 every month to save and improve lives. You’ll contribute to a wave of positive change and watch as the waves get bigger and bigger, bringing clean water, better health, and new opportunities to countless in great need.
  2. Move forward so that you are in your best place possible including relationships, health, career, and spirituality. To effectively help others, you often have to have gone through difficult experiences in order to relate to others. But you also have to know how to grow from those experiences and to use them to benefit yourself and others. If you succeed and “walk your walk,” others can and will be more open to your insight and ways.
  3. Your influence and ability to effect change will grow as your ripples flow outward. Consider smiling at someone you don’t know, acting instead of just thinking, initiating a thoughtful gesture, or alleviating a stranger’s pain. Do good things. Small things. Humbly. For others.

Eight Worth a Listen

“Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.” ~ Shel Silverstein

During my recent absence, I continued to host the weekly radio show, Awakening to Awareness,¬†where¬†an abundance of valuable information was covered on each show. I would be doing my guests a disservice if I didn’t highlight for those who follow this blog, who they were and what they shared. Their full bios are available on the show’s web site. If you are interested in listening to the podcast from any of these (and other) shows, simply click here.

            Rhonda Vigeant

Rhonda Vigeant

Rhonda Vigeant shared nuggets about “Home Movies – Unearthing the “REEL TRUTH” About Your Family.”

                     Ricky Powell

Ricky Powell

Ricky Powell shared insights into and a blueprint for¬†“Creating Lifelong Happiness.”

                    Jim Breen

Jim Breen

Jim Breen, a veteran first responder, opened up about “Saving and Reinventing Lives.”

                    Audra Erwin

Audra Erwin

Audra Erwin, the High on Life Coach,¬†and her soul sister Tamara Montana dove deep to explore the tenets of¬†“Every Master Was Once a Disaster.”

                      Chris Teunissen

Chris Teunissen

Chris Teunissen, a Dutch national who has lived and worked in the Far East for 23 years enlightened listeners about “Home is Where You Make It.”

                      Nellie Williams, EA

Nellie Williams, EA

Nellie Williams, educated listeners about the IRS (for whom she used to work) and how to “Bullet Proof Your Taxes.”

                      Barbara Allisen

Barbara Allisen

As business women, Barbara Allisen and guest Renee Shupe shared knowledge and experience about “Reinventing Ourselves as Entrepreneurs.”

                      Rebecca Keller, Ph.D.

Rebecca Keller, Ph.D.

Rebecca Keller, a Mom, a Scientist, a Publisher and an Entrepreneur awakened us to perspectives about life and science education in “Life Unfolding and Interrupted.”

A little something for everyone. Enjoy listening if interest strikes and time avails.

Approaching Retirement

“Retirement has been a discovery of beauty for me. I never had the time before to notice the beauty of my grandkids, my wife, the tree outside my very own front door. And the beauty of time itself.” ~ Hartman Jule

Mea culpa. In yesterday’s post I mentioned taking a break. I poorly communicated my intention. What I meant was in that specific post (about phobias), I was going to depart from my blogging categories and posting style. Some of you were kind to wish me well on my ‘sabbatical’ which was not where I was heading. You can’t get rid of me that easily. ūüôā

A recent New York Times blog listed six benefits of aging and these are not exclusive to the negative stereotype of those in their 70’s and older:

  • Tranquility
  • The cooling of passion
  • Submission to what you cannot control
  • Willingness to be strong
  • Increased appreciation and gratitude
  • The love of family

How wonderful it is to become comfortable with ourselves and others.

Baby Boomers or “the sandwich generation” to some, are definitely reinventing retirement in response to the particular challenges faced as they simultaneously manage their own aging with taking care of their children and their parents. These are no small tasks and there is no ‘right’ way to retire. Everyone has to cut their own personal path and many of us are.

Perhaps surprising to some (many?), getting older actually has been proven to have its own set of health benefits. Researchers have found that:

  • Happiness improves with age. A recent study from the University of Warwick in England surveyed 10,000 people in the U.S. and Britain. The found that the more people aged, the highest levels of happiness with their lives was found in the older respondents. Researchers evaluated quality of life based on eight different mental and physical health factors.
  • Say goodbye to migraines. If you suffer from debilitating migraines, relief may be in sight. Migraines lessen with age according to the Headache Center in Atlanta. The study found that people who were older than 50 got “less acute migraine attacks” than their younger counterparts and symptoms as nausea and light sensitivity decreased with age.
  • Your brain works better. (This finding surprised me, too.) We all know forgetfulness is part of the territory with aging, but parts of the brain actually improve with age. The older you get the better you are to problem solve and understand arguments, according to Barbara Strauch in her well-researched book The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain. Strauch also found that judgment also improves with age, as does the ability to make financial decisions.

Don’t ever think you are too young to start thinking about aging and the effects it’ll have on your mind and body. The healthier you are now and the more positive your attitude is about moving toward retirement (because you are!), the healthier you’ll be then. Don’t let age affect the way you view yourself on either the inside or the outside.

Being in Harmony

“When you find that your life is out of alignment with your grandest idea of yourself, seek to change it.” ~ Neale Donald¬†Walsch

Life is ever-changing. Fair statement? Most of us are experiencing the shifting sands of life transitions. And there are times when we feel lost or some things feel “off.” Yet, you are in control of your life.¬†You are in control of your actions. You are in control of your choices.

More fair statements (in my mind): Taking charge of yourself by being accountable and accepting responsibility for your actions are hallmarks of a strong character. Living your life in alignment with your values is not always the easy course to follow. Many difficult decisions must be made as we transit life. So we periodically ask ourselves, Did or do I do the right thing?

When faced with constant change, it might be the time to embrace that everything you once valued as important may not be what you value now.

When you are in the midst of a life transition, or even when you’re not, it’s essential to take stock of your values, and then do whatever you can to align your life with your most core values. Living in harmony with those values paves the way for, if not ensures,¬†happiness and peace of mind. Some people call this living authentically.

In my mind, the heart is what represents your values, the things that are most important to you. When other parts of our being are not aligned with our values (eg., we make a different choice or take a different path) we experience dis-harmony which can lead to feelings of frustration, confusion, or unhappiness.

It makes sense then, that the more clarity you have about your values the more rapidly you can identify why you are experiencing dis-harmony and realign yourself to feelings of happiness. Ultimately, understanding your values helps you make choices to experience congruency, success and happiness.

It is generally accepted¬†that when you live according to your core values you are in balance. When you stray from your core values, stress can build beneath the surface. Over time, you can come back into alignment with your core values or you can rationalize them away. Or another value can overtake an existing one if followed repeatedly. (Recall yesterday’s post about affirmations.)

So here’s a simple three-step exercise:

  1. Identify a situation where your core values were tested or challenged.
  2. How did you feel before you acted?
  3. How did you feel after you acted?

Remember, you are in control…of your actions…of your choices…of your life. ¬†Create the change needed for you to be in harmony.

You’ll appreciate yourself even more.

Flourishing

“Positive anything is better than negative nothing.” ~ Elbert Hubbard

Dr. Barbara Fredrickson has been studying positive emotions long before it was vogue. Her data reveals that negative emotions, like fear, can close down our ability to function, while positive emotions open us up to possibility, and an increased ability to move forward. Dr. Fredrickson prefers the term “Positivity” to “Happiness”, and stresses the importance and possibility of not just being happy, but flourishing. How would you like to flourish?

Dr. Fredrickson came up with a top 10 list of positive emotions, in order of most frequent to least. As you review this list, ask yourself, When did I last fully experience this emotion?

Joy
Joy happens in an instant, a perfect moment captured when all is just exactly as it should be.

Gratitude
Gratitude is a moment of realizing someone has gone out of their way for you, or simply feeling overwhelmed with your heart opening, after being moved in some way.

Serenity
Serenity is like a mellow, relaxed, or sustained version of joy.

Interest
Interest is a heightened state that calls your attention to something new that inspires fascination and curiosity.

Hope
Unlike other emotions that arise out of comfort and safety, hope springs out of dire circumstances, as a beacon of light.

Pride
Ever done something really well that took a little time and effort? Maybe reached a goal you never thought attainable?

Amusement
Think of amusement as those delightful surprises that make you laugh; those unexpected moments that interrupt your focus and crack you up.

Inspiration
Inspiration is a moment that touches your heart and nearly takes your breath away – or takes in your breath, as the word literally translates.

Awe
Awe happens when you come across goodness on a grand scale, and you feel overwhelmed by greatness.

Love
Guess what? The #1 most frequent positive emotion is here at the bottom. Love encompasses all of the above. When we experience love, our bodies are flooded with the “feel good” hormones that reduce stress and even lengthen our lives.

How often are you experiencing these emotions? Regularly, occasionally or hardly any at all?

Here’s a simple exercise. Grab some sticky notes. Write each¬†of these ten positive emotions on a separate sticky note. For the next ten days, peel off one at a time and take that word with you wherever you go as your daily “flourishing mission.” Take in the essence of each word and try to bring it out in others. (Hat tip to Kari Henley at the Women and Family Life Center).

In a world where negativity abounds, why not try an intentional shift and focus on some positive emotions? You may well thank yourself for what it yields.

An Idle Luxury?

“Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer. Go some distance away because then the work appears smaller and more of it can be taken in at a glance, a lack¬†of harmony and proportion is more easily seen.”

~ Leonardo da Vinci

I love vacations! Discovering new cultures, sights, foods and people are often unforgettable sensory experiences. Time¬†away is good for the body and soul, and I’m all for nourishing both.

Doctors have been researching the ill effects of too much work, and some claim that a lack of vacation can have real health consequences. In one report, the Washington, D.C. based Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) called the U.S. a “No-Vacation Nation.”

While much of this post focuses on U.S. readers, its essence still has global relatability.

Americans may be materially richer than almost anyone else, but we have the poorest health in the industrialized world, despite spending far more per capita on healthcare than any other country. At last count, the U.S. ranks somewhere close to 50th in longevity and we are twice as likely as Europeans to suffer from anxiety and depression. In large part, these deficits are caused by lack of time. Overwork means we spend less time with friends and family, and less time exercising and eating healthy.

You’ve heard this before, haven’t you?

Vacations matter, especially for health. Sarah Speck, a Cardiologist at Seattle’s Swedish Hospital uses graphic images to make people aware of the impact of stress, and especially workplace stress on¬†heart health, concluding that such stress is “the new tobacco” and that vacations are an important way to reduce stress and burnout.

Yet vacations, clearly, are not about slacking. A CEPR study found that simply cutting our work time to European levels, would make us happier. Forbes magazine reported that the four happiest nations on earth РDenmark, Finland, the Netherlands, and Sweden Рare all characterized by the comparatively short working week and attentiveness to work-life balance.

More evidence… Leaf Van Boven, Ph.D., a professor at Cornell University, reports that the kinds of experiences people have while on vacation contribute more than what material possessions contribute to their happiness. His advice: “Instead of buying that new dress, take a vacation.”

Here’s a point to which many of you can relate: Vacations enable powerful bonding opportunities. Time spent with family and friends on vacations strengthens relationships. I still remember traveling on two-week train trips, road trips and backpacking adventures when I was young. The details remain vibrant decades later.

So, while you’re pondering why, in 2009, 86% of Americans did not take at least a two-week vacation, consider these random, simple practices:

  • Request unpaid time off, if necessary. Let your employer know that having some time to live your life matters to you and that you are willing to make tradeoffs to gain more time.
  • Some mistakes are too much fun to only make once. Let your boss handle the stress for two weeks. Or longer.
  • Share vacation stories with coworkers to ensure that all of you can have adequate vacation time without feeling guilty or fearing repercussions from higher-ups.

If a goal of yours is to improve your quality of life, then it’s time to acknowledge that vacations really do matter.