Life Is Good

When Bert and John Jacobs were kids, their mother would look around the dinner table and say, “Tell me something good that happened today.”

Life Is GoodSo simple, but that became the inspiration behind the $100 million apparel company, Life is Good.

“We didn’t realize until long after starting Life Is Good, but she was really the inspiration for the whole thing,” Bert says in an interview for People. “She taught us that in the most difficult times, that’s when optimism is needed the most.”

When they were first starting out, the brothers needed a bit of that optimism.

After college, they wanted to start a business that would enable them to sell their artwork. Rather than trying to break into the intimidating world of fine art, they decided to sell T-shirts. In 1990, they traveled the east coast visiting colleges with duffle bags full of shirts with little success, sleeping in their van and living on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Until they designed their first “Life Is Good” T-shirt with the now famous smiling beret-wearing stick figure named Jake. “We wanted to come up with a rallying cry for optimists,” Bert says of the concept.

It was a good one. On the streets of Boston, they sold 48 of the original “Life Is Good” shirts in 45 minutes. Soon after, companies were contacting the duo. As the brand’s popularity began to snowball, Bert and John connected with more and more people who wrote to them with their stories of optimism.

That led to their book, Life is Good: How to Live with Purpose and Enjoy the Ride, published by National Geographic last year. The brothers share tales of against-all-odds scrappiness that illustrate the superpowers that make up the book’s 10 chapters: courage, openness, simplicity, humor, gratitude, compassion, fun, creativity, authenticity, and love. The book is about overcoming obstacles and embracing opportunities. It’s about simplifying your life to focus on what’s most important and letting your imagination run free.

Children, the Jacobs point out, are the ultimate optimists: they possess the superpowers in abundance until experience and maturity take their toll. The challenge, then, is not learning to live well but rather re-learning it.

River SunflowerSo true, right? As I look at my grandchildren, this becomes abundantly clear. As I’ve shared in this blog, my son is going through a terrible divorce. But what impresses me most about the grandchildren is their resilience. Children have a wonderful ability to adjust and stay optimistic.

This weekend they camped with their father and then Sunday night we had a family barbecue. Despite a turbulent year, it struck me that they were so carefree and happy.

Forget the divorce. What were they thinking about? Cutting a big sunflower for me and their Daddy and putting it on the dinner table along with a big pine cone they found in the mountains. Playing with their new puppy. Jumping on the trampoline. Learning to play chess.

One of the customer letters the Jacob brothers include in their book is from a 10-year-old boy who had a leg amputated at birth and whose twin brother is blind. “Me and Nicky have all of your shirts with the things we like doing best…. You’re lucky to have a brother too. I hope you do fun things together!”

Yes, we need to re-learn that bright optimism, cheerfulness, and hopefulness as adults.

“Optimism is a lot more than a philosophical viewpoint,” John says. “We see it as a pragmatic strategy for accomplishing goals and living a happy and fulfilling life.”

Stop Making Happiness the Goal

Have we been trying too hard to be happy? Does it seem like the more you strive for happiness the more it seems to elude you?

Is the media making us feel like happiness is like a button we push for instant bliss?

Is the media making us feel like happiness is like a button we push for instant bliss?

These may sound like odd questions coming from a blogger who writes about finding your bliss.

However, one recent study showed those that made happiness a goal, reported 50 percent less frequent positive emotions, 35 percent less satisfaction about life, and 75 percent more depressive symptoms.

Maybe that’s why I’ve noticed lately happiness isn’t quite as trendy as it used to be. A few years ago, the science of happiness made the covers of Time, Oprah, and even The Economist. Happiness articles and quotes glutted the Internet. The quest for happiness bred a whole industry of life coaches, motivational speakers, psychotherapists, research enterprises – and yes, blogs like mine.

But are we getting tired of pretending to be happy all the time? Are we sick of the media telling us to have a positive attitude no matter what’s happening in our lives?

Maybe so.

Jimmie Holland, M.D., a psychiatrist with Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York, coined the term, “the tyranny of positive thinking.”

Sometimes it might feel like we’re being bullied into thinking that if we don’t wake up every morning with an instant perpetual smile on our face – something is wrong with us.

Social media hasn’t helped. When I described some of the trials I’ve faced these past few years, a friend told me, “I would have never guessed. You look so happy in your Facebook pictures.” Yes, I suppose that I’ve fallen into that trap posting only photos that look like I’m having the time of my life – all the time. Of course, I’m not, but this is the fictionalized world we all live in with social media.

Commercials also make us feel like happiness is an entitlement. An instant feeling on tap that can be purchased with that new sports car or a new pair of shoes.

The truth is everyone has problems. No one is happy all the time. It’s like that quote from Regina Brett: “If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.”

The fact is, most people have it worse than you despite the happy picture they are painting on Facebook. So maybe it’s time we all quit comparing our ‘happiness’ with others. Quit making “living happily ever after” some kind of prize we all want to achieve.

Negative Emotions Are Normal at Times

I was reading an interesting article, The Fallacy of Happiness, on Spike. The article pointed to a study by health insurers Aviva, that showed a quarter of adults in the UK suffer from stress, anxiety or depression and are not seeking help for it because they feel embarrassed by their “mental health conditions.”

Here's your happy pill!

Here’s your happy pill!

“How strange it is that such normal, eternal human emotions as stress, anxiety and depression are now placed under the category of mental-health problems,” columnist Patrick West writes. “Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, the clinical depression which leaves people unable to get out of bed for days: these are conditions that properly fall under the category of mental illness.”

He has a point. West contends that it’s natural to worry or feel low from time to time. These are normal human emotions that have somehow become pathologized.

All of a sudden, negative feelings are considered some kind of disease or aberration – something that must be cured right away. That’s become obvious with all the assortment of “happy pills” the pharmaceutical industry hands out like PEZ Candy. I mean, how did our parents and grandparents ever survive without prescriptions like Xanax, Zoloft, Prozac, Valium, and Ambien?

You Are Fine Just as You Are

Lancet, a prestigious medical journal, published a study on 700,000 women in midlife showing that there might not be a link between good health and happiness as other studies in the past have claimed.

Even more interesting than the results were the reactions of people,  Of course, grumpy people were jumping for joy since they no longer had to endure accusations that their crappy attitude is endangering their health. But countless others were outraged that all their quests for happiness might not lead to good health and longer lives like they thought.

But here’s the thing. The giddy kind of happiness we have all come to expect is not the norm. Life can be a struggle at times, filled with disappointments, failures, and obstacles.

Many people who make happiness their objective are trying to avoid uncomfortable negative feelings that come with the normal ups and downs in life. We can’t be happy all the time. Happiness is fickle.

Everyone has those heart wrenching moments when it’s impossible to be a Pollyanna. For example, I wasn’t jumping for joy while watching my Mom die after suffering from a horrible disease this past year. I wasn’t cheerful as I watched the painful disintegration of my son’s marriage and the effect on my three grandchildren. When I first started writing, I wasn’t exactly exultant when stacks of rejection letters filled my mailbox. Or ecstatic when people I loved betrayed me. You get my drift.

Should we still try to aim for a positive attitude? Definitely. Will we always achieve it? No.

Groundbreaking work by Iris Mauss supported the idea that striving for happiness may actually cause more harm than good. ”When people want to be happy, they set higher standards by which they’re more likely to fall short,” she said. “This, in turn, may lead to greater discontent, in turn, lowering levels of happiness and well-being.”

Mauss explained, she’s not saying, ‘Don’t try to be happy,’ If you give people the right tools, they can increase their happiness and well-being, she notes. It is an exaggerated focus on happiness that can have downsides.

No matter where you fall on the happiness spectrum – which in part is due to genetics – self-acceptance is key.

Let’s face it, I’m never going to be giddy and giggly, but that’s okay. If you’re like me, a bit on the serious side, you can take comfort from studies that show too much cheerfulness can make you gullible, selfish, and less successful. A wee bit of unhappiness, in fact, can inspire us to make necessary changes in life.

Happiness is not a Goal

“Happiness is not a goal…it’s a by-product of a life well lived,” Eleanor Roosevelt famously said.

So, let’s all ditch happiness as a goal. As I wrote about in a previous blog, aim for fulfillment instead. Strive for contentment. Set your sights on inspiration and adventure. Search for purpose and meaning in life.

If you make those your goals, you’re more likely to feel the joy and happiness you’ve been searching for all along without even trying.

Images courtesy of Stuart Miles and iosphere at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Focusing on Myself

This is the year I’m hitting the pause button on what has been a stressful few years, taking a deep breath, and focusing on myself.

The future is looking brighter.

The future is looking brighter.

I’m done dwelling on what I can’t change or control. I refuse to let stress interfere with living life to the fullest.

That’s my pep talk to myself. And you know what? I’m making progress.

As I shared in a previous blog, I am taking time each and every day to do three things for myself during my year of healing. You can click on the link above to find out what those three things are.

Here are three more steps I’ve taken this week toward a happier me. I hope these tips will give all of you some inspiration to take time to focus on yourself as well.

Spend on Experiences

focusing me concertWe splurged on tickets to Desert Trip – a three-day music extravaganza in October held on the same polo grounds where Coachella Fest plays – nicknamed Oldchella.

Hahaha. Make fun of us, I don’t care. This is every baby boomer’s ultimate dream!

After all, we’re the generation that refuses to grow old or grow up. Okay, we are getting older. I got my first senior discounted breakfast at I-Hop last weekend. Of course, the restaurant knows better than to call it that – it is simply named “The 55+ Menu.” Hey, I saved four dollars even though it hurt my pride. But my point is, we’re young at heart.

And ready to relive the 60s. We are talking Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, The Who, and Bob Dylan performing. We’re in the lawn section and will need binoculars, but I’m still stoked. Can’t wait!

Do something that makes you excited. It doesn’t have to be extravagant. Science proves you’ll be happier spending money on experiences instead of things. New things make us happy, but only temporarily until we get used to having them. Then, the joy wears off.

However, the memories of experiences such as traveling, going to an art exhibit, learning a new skill – or rocking out to the Rolling Stones – will last forever. So forget that new iPhone or new pair of designer shoes. Cross something off your bucket list and live!

Take Care of Your Health

focusing me doctorOkay, this one isn’t as exciting, but nevertheless, it’s an important step. After caregiving for a few years, I had neglected to care for my own health. Confession time: it had been four years since I had a check-up. At 55, that’s not good.

So, off to the doctor I dutifully went. Unfortunately, I have been stress eating and weighed in at 170. The doctor informed me that I’ve gained 10 pounds since I last visited four years ago. Thank you very much for sharing that bit of depressing news. “Weight can sneak up on you after menopause and start adding up fast,” he advised.

Really? I never would have guessed. Actually, I wrote a whole blog, My Menopausal Middle, on this very subject.

But, all right, all right. So, I’m concentrating on eating healthy and have lost four pounds so far. Trying to focus on eating lots of veggies from the garden, fruit, lean proteins, whole wheat. I feel better already.

Also did my blood work and got a mammogram today – where I learned that my once dense breasts are deflated now that I’m post menopausal. More cheerful news. My ego deflated a bit along with my boobs, but that does mean it makes the mammogram easier to read and more accurate.

Even with all the humiliating news, I feel better that I’m taking care of my health.

You already know that if you remain healthy and physically strong, you’ll be happier, right? So quit procrastinating and get started today to a healthier you!

Get a Pet

Focusing me puppyWe got a new puppy. Technically, my son and his three kids got a new puppy, but while they are away, I’m puppy sitting.

Her name is Rey Anne ( the first name is Star Wars related since my son picked her up on May the Fourth be with You; the second name is for the girls’ favorite movie). She is a German Shepherd, seven weeks old, and we’re all in love.

Yes, puppies are a ton of work, but she makes me laugh with her awkward puppy clumsiness that causes her to slide across my wood floor. This morning, when I couldn’t find her, she was in the kids’ room snuggled up into my oldest granddaughter’s pajama top. That warmed my heart and made me smile.

Studies show pet owners tend to be less depressed, lonely, and stressed. They exhibit greater self-esteem and are usually more physically fit. If you’re a baby boomer like me, you may want to skip the puppy part and adopt a grown dog – it is exhausting! However, let’s face it, these furry creatures make us happier.

So there you go. Those are my three steps towards happiness I took this last week.

What did you do this week to bring more joy into your life? I’d love to hear! Please share in the comments below.

Images courtesy of graur razvan, ionut ponsuwan, and photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

California Dreaming: Laguna Beach

Last weekend, hubby and I decided to revisit Laguna Beach for a bit of baby boomer bliss..

This charming beach town, located halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego, with over 20 different scenic coves offers everything from surfing, paddleboarding, snorkeling, kayaking, and whale watching excursions. Add ultra-chic restaurants and shops and one-of-a-kind art galleries and you get the picture.

Laguna Beach me and ScottMy husband and I happen to have a bit of history here. When I was 16, my father had to meet someone for business in Laguna Beach (if you look behind the town, you’ll see one of my father’s proudest engineering feats, the design of Portofino Laguna, a 200 home development built into the hillside).

He offered to take me and my boyfriend, Scott, along and drop us off at the beach ( incredibly, the same guy I later married – we’ll celebrate our 38th anniversary this year!).

Did I mention that the surf can be a little rough in Laguna? We decided to do some body surfing despite the churning waters. I wiped out on a massive wave (think Beach Boys’ song: Heheheheheheee wipe oooout!) and my face – upper lip first – was smashed into the ocean floor.

Actually, I blame the Beach Boys for this entire mishap since they went and romanticized this whole surfer chick thing with songs I grew up on like Surfer Girl.

The result: the ugliest scab mustache that lasted for what seemed like a year, but in reality was just a few miserable weeks. Yes, I know, it could have been worse. I could have broken my neck, but this was a teen girl’s absolute nightmare!

I begged my Mom not to send me back to school where the teasing was merciless, to no avail. But good ol’ Scott still loved me and told me I looked beautiful despite the thick scab  that made me look like a cross betweeen Cheech Marin and Burt Reynolds. He’s a good guy; that’s why I married him.

I eventually got over the traumatizing experience and have been back to Laguna Beach a few times since then. I knew it was absolutely gorgeous. So, hubby and I went back for a romantic weekend and visited a couple of places somehow we had missed previously.

By the way, the water was waaaay too cold for me this time of year and after my experience, I’m not sure I’ll ever navigate the waves in Laguna again, so the places we visited were more about the hiking and spectacular scenery than swimming.

Heisler Park

Laguna Beach Heisler Park

Located just north of the main beach, Heisler Park offers an easy half-mile stroll along a paved path with spectacular views of the coastline and the soothing sound of crashing waves. You can take one of the paths to the beaches and tide pools, just watch the tides and weather.

Benches, picnic tables, and barbecues abound where you can enjoy the magnificent views. Hubby and I had a picnic on one of the grass areas and it was perfect!

We visited the end of April and were fortunate and didn’t run into a lot of crowds – which I know can be a nightmare during the popular summer months. There are metered spaces all along Cliff Drive if you can find a spot.

Treasure Island Park

Laguna Beach Treasure Park

A true hidden treasure, this park is located on the grounds of the five-star Montage Laguna Beach, where the truly rich stay. Exquisitely landscaped, several lookout benches line the easy-to-walk winding path to enjoy the stunning scenery. Stairways and ramps lead you down to the beach, where you can walk through a beautiful rock archway during low tide, find a spot in the sand for sunbathing, and a large tide pool.

In addition, there is plenty of grass areas for a picnic. I’d suggest bringing some wine and cheese to catch a romantic sunset.

I hear parking can be difficult on crowded days. We were lucky and used an inexpensive pay-to-park underground parking garage. There’s also free parking east on Wesley and we saw coin-metered parking along South Coast Highway.

If you visit my home state of California, be sure and stop at this magical place. I’d highly recommend it, even though the place once gifted me a scab mustache!

 

 

 

 

Located midw

My Menopausal Middle: Menopausal Weight Gain

The following is from a humorous article I wrote about menopausal weight gain – more specifically menopausal belly fat – for Hot Flash Daily. The article was inspired by a photo my hubby posted on Facebook of me.

Body FatMind you, normally I try to avoid things that make me plump like mirrors, shop windows, other people’s sunglasses, large puddles, aluminum foil, or any other reflective surface.

Then, hubby posted that darn photo without my Facebook approval.

Don’t you love it when you see a picture and don’t recognize yourself?

I mean, how did I get SO wide? And what’s with that huge bulge around my waist? As the joke goes, my muffin top became a pound cake. When did that happen?”

Oh, I pretend to be puzzled but maybe I do know how it happened. Read, “Confessions of a Menopausal Chocoholic Crack Head” and you get the idea. 

But wait a minute, I take that back. Of course, I don’t accept those as the REAL reasons for this newly acquired belly fat. Like everything that goes wrong in my life, I blame menopause.

Which isn’t all malarkey, you know. Science actually agrees with me. Get ready for some real technical, fancy, savvy language to explain why I can’t lose this pooch.

According to the American Chemical Society, “estrogen receptors…serve as a master switch.” When estrogen levels in the brain dip during menopause, this master switch increases hunger, slows metabolism, and encourages fat gain around the waist.

Oh, great! In non-technical lingo, that means I’m so hungry I’d steal the chip from a monk, my metabolism called it quits, and all that extra fat now makes a beeline to my menopausal middle.

OverwieghtWhew, this menopausal belly fat SO isn’t my fault. But, after the Facebook incident, I decided it was time to face the music anyway.

I reluctantly decided to give up “mirror fasting.” Have you heard of this marvelous trend? People are refusing to look at their reflections for days, weeks, months, or even years so they can quit focusing on their looks and concentrate on more important stuff.

I wholeheartedly embraced this fabulous idea as soon as menopause gifted me with this Buddha belly.

I mean, look what happened to Narcissus who fell in love with his reflection and stared at it until he died. Yes, died! And who wants to be like the evil queen in Snow White who was a compulsive mirror gazer? Or what about the evil magic mirror in Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen that distorted the good and beautiful aspects of people and magnified their bad and ugly qualities? People just couldn’t quit looking at it. The evil mirror eventually broke into a million pieces; the fragments got into people’s eyes and turned hearts cold like a lump of ice.

There’s clearly a pattern here.

So, I quickly abandoned mirrors and felt very self-righteous about the whole thing.

But now things were different. Since hubby went and destroyed my blissful ignorance with the photo, I took a deep breath and looked in the mirror. Just for one second, but the damage was done. Then, I knew it was true: “Middle age is when your age starts to show around your middle.” No denying it. Depressing, but I survived it.

Okay. Next step. I thought about a measuring tape, but couldn’t find one (okay, I didn’t even look, leave me alone!) So, It was time for that scornful scale I broke up with long ago.

I waited for the morning, peed, and removed every item of clothing and jewelry – even my wedding ring. Then I plucked my eyebrows, shaved my legs, removed my nail polish, cleaned my ears, blew my nose, clipped my toenails, and checked for lint in my navel. Heck, I would have temporarily donated a kidney if I knew how.

And still…the scales read a whopping 167. By far, the most I’ve ever weighed in my life – even counting pregnancy. Deep sigh. It was like that poem, “When what to my wondering eyes should appear, but ten extra pounds on hips, thighs, and rear.”

So once again, I’m on a diet which stands for Did I Eat That? Time to play Hunger Games. Which is the sure ticket to failure, by the way, but I’m desperate.

Before I got started, the experts say to throw out all your junk food. Since I paid a lot of money for all those goodies, some pre-action was in order. So I diligently ate all the chips and chocolate chip cookies so they wouldn’t tempt me anymore. I worked day and night on this project as I pondered on the universal wisdom of the joke, if we’re not supposed to have midnight snacks, why is there a light in the refrigerator that makes it so easy?

Now I needed to lose 20 pounds instead of 15. Did I mention that menopause makes you extra hungry?

As you can tell, the whole dieting thing wasn’t going so well. After one week, I was obsessively examining myself in the mirror (I forgot all about Narcissus) to see if I looked any thinner. Yup, the low fat diet was working. My fat was definitely hanging lower.

If only losing weight was as easy as losing my menopausal temper!

On second thought, maybe it’d just be simpler to bake some cookies for my menopausal lady friends and look thinner by comparison.

Yup, that’s my plan. I’m forbidding any more pictures of me from my waist down on Facebook, breaking up with my bathroom scales once again, and I’m definitely going back to mirror fasting!

Image courtesy of jk1991 and AKARAKINGDOMS at FreeDigitalPhotos.net. Be sure and check out Hot Flash Daily for more informative and fun articles on menopause.

Spring Cleaning and Decluttering Makes Us Happy

Are you dreading the task of spring cleaning? If so, consider this: There may be some serious benefits to tidying up.

Spring CleaningAccording to a new survey by Schick Intuition, 92 per cent of Canadian mothers say taking steps to simplify their lives with cleaning and decluttering actually improves their happiness levels.

Makes sense to me.

After spring cleaning, I love the fresh, bright look of my home. I adore all the cheerful morning sunshine that streams through clean, sparkling windows. And I enjoy the refreshing clean smells instead of that old stale winter air. Add a gentle spring breeze and some bright spring tulips on the table –  and, yup, I’m feeling pretty good.

I was recently working on a magazine article on this subject, and my editor suggested taking a look at Marie Kondo’s #1 New York Times best-selling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. To be honest, I had never heard of this now-famous Japanese cleaning consultant. However, when I began mentioning the book to others, people gushed about this mysterious guide for simplifying and organizing your life.

Clean ClosetSome of her stuff sounds a bit kooky, like the way she talks about inanimate objects as if they had real feelings. But some of her advice, hits home. The basic premise of Kondo’s book is to ask the simple question: What sparks joy?

“Keep only the things that speak to your heart,” she writes. “Then take the plunge and discard all the rest.” Although that seems like a simple solution, when I used it in my own closet, it worked like magic. Turns out letting go can be liberating and empowering.

If you need some tips on decluttering, you can check out my blog, Clearing Clutter Makes You Happy.  If you’re ready for the next step and are ready to do some spring cleaning, what are some of the things you should tackle?

Here are some suggestions:

  • Once a year, wipe down overlooked surfaces like baseboards, door frames, and walls.
  • Move your sofa and chairs, roll up area rugs, then vacuum and mop floors. Carpets should be cleaned professionally every 12-18 months or rent a deep cleaner to do it yourself. Wash or dry-clean rugs.
  • Pick a cloudy day to wash windows to reduce streaking.
  • Before the outdoor entertaining season gets underway, scrub sliding glass door tracks with an old, dry toothbrush to loosen debris, then use your vacuum hose to remove it. Finish off by wiping with a wet sponge.
  • Go over curtains and drapes with the upholstery attachment on your vacuum. Sheer curtains can be put in the dryer on low with a fabric-softener sheet.
  • Dust ceiling fans with a special extendable pole duster. For deep cleaning, use a step ladder and wipe the blades with a water-moistened microfiber cloth or terry towel. Repeat with a dry cloth.
  • As it gets warmer outside, put away gloves, winter clothing items, and boots so you’ll have plenty of space for spring clothing.
  • Store shovels, salt, scrapers, and other winter gear. Clean patio furniture.
  • Rotate and flip mattresses. Wash blankets and comforters, or dry clean if necessary. Wash mattress pads and bed skirts. Have pillows professionally cleaned or freshen up in the clothes dryer on the air cycle (no heat).
  • Go through your medicine cabinets and safely discard any outdated products. Wash and dry shower curtains and liners.
  • Clear out your pantry, kitchen cabinets, and drawers and wipe down. Store or donate equipment you don’t use, such as small appliances or cookware. Discard stale spices and any outdated items.
  • Clean the refrigerator and freezer. Vacuum the cooling coils under or behind your refrigerator.

There you go! Put on some invigorating music and get started. Conquer that clutter and give your house a good cleaning and you’ll feel healthier, refreshed, and revitalized. What are you waiting for?

Image courtesy of scottchan and khongkitwiriyachan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Three Simple Things You Should Do Every Single Day

As readers of my blog know, I have deemed this as my year of healing after a tumultuous few years. Last week I made a deal with myself. I listed three non-negotiable things I must do every day to help me along this path.

Make a list of three non-negotiable things you must do every single day.

Make a list of three non-negotiable things you must do every single day.

And you know what? So far, it’s working. I feel calmer, more centered, and yes, happier. I encourage every one of you to do the same thing.

My sister, Joanie, sold her house recently and is staying with me while she looks for new digs. She saw me writing this blog and asked what the subject was going to be.

When I told her, she said, “Just three things?”

Yup, just three. It’s tempting to list 10 things you should do every day, but so as not to put pressure on yourself, I suggest you start with just three as well. Everyone’s list will be different.

For example, Jim Valvano, the passionate and committed former basketball coach Jim Valvano who in the fight of his life against cancer, stated: “To me there are three things everyone should do every day. Number one is laugh. Number two is think — spend some time in thought. Number three, you should have your emotions move you to tears. If you laugh, think and cry, that’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”

I like that list.

There’s nothing revolutionary or new on my list, just three simple things that provide an anchor for me. Three things that help me focus on myself, which often gets lost in the hustle and bustle and stresses of life. Three basic needs that help me get through a bad day.

Mind you, I was doing all three of these things before, but not every single day. What are the three? Not in order of importance, but for me they are:

exerciseExercise.

Yes, I was exercising, but not every single day. Even if it’s only 15 minutes – I do something. I’m not talking running a marathon or deep squats. I get bored easily, so I rotate activities. Some days I go to the park and walk. Afterwards, I lift weights at the city gym (I joined for $25 a year – what a deal!). Other days, I do a 20-minute Windsor Pilates routine that relaxes me from YouTube. Most days, my dog sits by my shoes in the closet begging me with his sad eyes and guilts me into taking him for a walk.

Read something spiritual and inspirational.

Once again, I am a regular Bible reader. The religion I belong to provides a daily text with a scriptural thought that I read in the mornings, a suggested Bible reading each week which we review at a midweek meeting, and a convenient online Bible and library I can access on all my mobile devices. Even so, admittedly I’d become sidetracked with work and the business of life and a day or two would slip by without any spiritual fortification. Because of the challenges I recently faced and still am facing, my reliance on God and need for spiritual food requires more deep reading and meditation – yes, every single day. Of course, praying each and every day is also a worthy goal.

read a bookDo something I love.

Yes, I promised myself that every single day I would take the time to refuel and refresh myself so my tank is not depleted. Many days that means lounging on the couch with popcorn and reading a bestseller which feels luxurious. Other days that means sitting on the patio with a glass of wine, relaxing music, and watching the sunset with hubby. Or it could mean snuggling with one of my grandchildren, writing in a journal, gardening, taking a nap, or doing some deep breathing or relaxation exercises. But at the end of the day, I make sure I’ve done something that is just for me.

That’s my list. There are tons of other things you could include on your list to do every single day (with links I’ve written blogs about) such as:

It’s entirely up to you what you choose to do every single day. But make that list and start living!

I’d love to hear what you would include on your list. If you are so inclined, please share in the comment section below!

Images courtesy of nuttakit, everydayplus, and apolonia at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Five Fun Ways to Celebrate Spring

SpringI love this photo. I lived in Washington State for a few years and loved watching the crocuses break through the frozen soil to announce that spring was right around the corner.

The bright tulips and daffodils never failed to cheer me up. In Puyallup, where I lived, the town even had a daffodil parade to celebrate the season.

I now live in the California desert. We’re not exactly famous for crocuses or daffodils here. However, spring still manifests itself in beautiful ways. The wildflowers bloom, the jacaranda trees explode in purple flowers, and even the cactus display flowers in brilliant colors.

Wherever you live, you can’t help loving springtime. Longer days brighten the sky, birds sing joyfully, and trees begin sprouting bright new leaves.

How can you celebrate this spectacular time of year? Here are five simple ideas to get you started:

  1. spring vegetablesIf you’re looking for a way to bring the beauty of spring and nature back into your hectic life, think about planting a garden. After many years of threatening to plant a vegetable, herb, and flower garden, I finally did! One of my favorite activities is picking out seeds or plants at the garden center with my grandchildren and planting them when we get home. The joy of walking outside, enjoying the beauty of greenery shining in the sun, the sound of bees buzzing nearby, plopping an irresistible strawberry in your mouth, and then gathering vegetables and deliciously aromatic herbs for a recipe – what better way to celebrate spring! If you don’t have a garden, visit a Farmer’s Market instead.
  2. spring picnicEat al fresco! Spring is finally here and we have that precious extra hour’s daylight. Head outside, have a picnic at the park or some other scenic area, and enjoy eating fresh food with a view. Or simply throw a bright and cheerful tablecloth on your patio table, add some fresh cut flowers into soup cans painted in spring colors, and a few floral napkins. Then enjoy a magical spring dinner with the family outside to welcome the season. Or simply eat outside at a local cafe. 
  3. Take a hike. This is a no brainer, but put on your hiking boots, pack up some water and snacks, and go discover the great outdoors. As I pointed out in my blog, Hiking and Happiness, no big surprise, a new study shows that walking or hiking in nature can bring us inner peace, joy, and happiness. Or if you prefer, gently stroll on a deserted beach with your loved one or take a bike ride with your kids or grandkids. Just get out there!
  4. Bring the outdoors in. Open your windows and listen to a spring shower or simply enjoy a gentle spring breeze. Take a few calming deep breaths and enjoy all that fresh air.  Buy some showy tulips or daffodils with their bright, cheery colors or clip some spring blossoms and display them in your home.
  5. spring kiteWhen was the last time you flew a kite? Bring out that inner child hiding inside. This carefree activity can get you outside, help you focus on the present moment, let go of stress and worries, and do something just for the sheer fun of it.

Don’t let spring zip by without some kind of celebration. These are just a few ideas, I’m sure you can come up with more. In fact, I’d love to hear them in the comment section below.

Whatever you choose to do, shed that winter coat as soon as the weather allows, grab a pare of scandals, and get out there and enjoy the glory of spring!

Images courtesy of Simon Howden, Carlos Porto, franky242, and phanlop88 (in the order the photos appear) at FreeDigitalPhotos.net. 

How to Find Yourself Again

Do you feel like you need to find yourself again?

Last week, I got a letter from the hospice bereavement coordinator that helped my family care for my mother in her final days. They acknowledged that family members who have spent most of their time caring for their loved ones for months or perhaps years often ask themselves after their death, “Where do I go?” or “What do I do?” 

Finding Yourself

That’s exactly how I felt after my Mom died.

I was the primary caregiver for my Mom who had Lewy Body dementia, a combination of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s that rendered her helpless both physically and mentally. Being a caregiver was the hardest job I’ve ever had – by far. When she passed away last June, I assumed that while I would grieve for my Mom, I would also feel a sense of relief that my job was finished and my life could get back to normal.

Instead, I felt lethargic, depressed, and yes, lost after she died. My life, my thoughts, and my feelings had revolved around the care of my mother. I discovered that when your roles change drastically, you lose a sense of who you are. Your self-image is shattered.

This uncomfortable feeling can happen whenever you go through a major change in your life such as a divorce or losing your job. Or perhaps you’ve recently retired or became an empty nester. After dreaming of all the things you’d do when you had more time after child rearing and working 9 to 5, you feel lost instead.

Remember, although you may no longer be a caregiver, part of a couple, an employee, or full-time parent, you are still 100 percent you. You just need to find that person again. 

How?

Allow Yourself Time to Mourn

GrievingIf you have suffered a loss, be kind and patient with yourself. Acknowledge your feelings instead of sweeping them under a rug. Everyone is different. Emotions can range from anger, loss, guilt, sadness, lethargy, regret, confusion, and depression.

Whether you lost a loved one, a spouse in divorce, or a job, you may have lost your lifestyle and identity as well. It’s okay to mourn that loss.

However, be careful not to isolate yourself during this process. You’ll need a network of support. Healing may mean lots of heartfelt prayer, talking out your feelings with a supportive loved one, and/or focusing your energy in a healthy activity you enjoy.

Let it Go

As I wrote in my blog, Moving Forward After Adversity, avoid getting stuck in all the “I should have…” or “I wish…” feelings that often comes with grieving but can interfere with your recovery. Don’t allow sorrow, stress, resentment, or bitterness to become a way of life.  Take all that negative self talk out of your head like, “I’ve lost everything” or “My life is over.” The fact of the matter is that your life isn’t over; it’s just a new beginning for you.

The goal is not to wallow forever in negative feelings but to move on, be there for the people who need you, have a meaningful and productive life, and enjoy living once again. Be grateful for what IS working in your life right now. Live in the present and focus on the positive. Learn from your experiences and prepare yourself for the next exciting chapter of your life.

Moving ForwardRediscover Yourself

It’s easy to get lost in caring for your family and children or elderly parents or nurturing a career. You may have given up a lot of things that you enjoyed. Make time to get to know yourself again.

“To move your life forward, it has to start by focusing on yourself,” wrote Mark Branschick, M.D. in an article, Seven Ways to Thrive After Divorce, for Psychology Today. “Use this precious opportunity to rediscover who you are. Think of this time in your life as an adventure to explore the real you.”

You can lose sight of your unique gifts if you’re focusing on what you don’t like about yourself or your life. Think about your qualities and skills and how you can best use them. What truly makes you happy? What really matters to you? What do you feel is your true purpose in life? What hobbies and activities did you enjoy before becoming a caregiver, a married couple, or a parent? What is it that will make you excited to get out of bed every day? Make a list of what you can do to reach your goals. 

Rediscover what brought you fulfillment, satisfaction, fun, and joy as a way of rebuilding yourself and your life.

Reinvent Yourself

My life changed overnight and that can be disconcerting. Last summer, we moved into a new home we had built to be closer to my Mom (who unfortunately died the week before it was finished). My husband and I went from being empty nesters to a house full of grown children and grandchildren. Plus, I had to find new clients as a freelance writer and begin working again.

It was a tumultuous year in other ways as well. As I’ve shared before, my mother-in-law lost her fight against ovarian cancer and my son began going through a nasty divorce and custody battle.

Let’s get real, between all these events and changes in my life, I was shaken. I felt fragile and fought depression for the first time in my life.

It’s been a journey, but I am beginning to recover and heal. In the process, I’m learning to embrace all the new changes in my life. My new job writing magazine articles does require meeting strict deadlines, but the subjects are fun and it’s exciting work. We are a multi-generational family living together, but I’ve come to enjoy having the cocoon of family love around me during this difficult time. My oldest son is going through many of the same emotions as I am as he finds his way after divorce and we’ve connected on a whole new level. When our three grandchildren are with us, they bring us joy and keep us young.

My friend, Cindy (left), me, and my husband getting ready to zip line for the first time.

My friend, Cindy (left), me, and my husband getting ready to zip line for the first time.

So, don’t be afraid of change. Get out of your comfort zone and discover a new side of yourself. Maybe that means a new career, trying a new sport, traveling to a new place, changing your hair, or taking classes. Shake things up a little.

A few years ago, I reconnected with a childhood friend, Cindy, who was also a caregiver. In the last few years, she lost her husband and both her parents.

Cindy is my inspiration. Talk about embracing change. She is traveling around the world, went back to school, and moved to North Carolina to be near her daughter and three grandchildren. We went zip lining together for the first time and are making plans to go up, up, and away in a balloon next time she visits.

Embrace Your New Role

You will go through several stages before this step can happen. However, the time comes when you make a choice. You can move on and discover possibilities that a life change presents you or get stuck in negative emotions.

Find a way to put one foot in front of the other. If you can move forward, eventually you’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel. I know this from experience.

In time, you’ll reconnect with old friends or make new friends, go to work, back to school, or volunteer, rediscover what once brought you joy, enjoy new adventures, and find your way. You’ll look at the changes in your life in a positive way, feel more confident and in control, and become more productive and optimistic about your future.

The time will come when you will find yourself again, embrace your new role in life, and feel like your new shoes are a good fit. You will breathe a sigh of relief. Life will never be perfect, but eventually, you won’t have to struggle so hard to “make it work.” It just will.

Images courtesy of surasakiStock, Ambro, and renjith krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

What Star Wars Teaches Us About Happiness

I was standing in line for the new Star Wars movie on opening night with my kids (I call them kids, but they are both in their 30’s now). My youngest turns to me and asks how old I was when the original Star Wars came out. All these young heads turned to look at me with renewed interest.

Me and my niece, Bella (left), and granddaughter, Eden (right).

Me and my niece, Bella (left), and granddaughter, Eden (right).

It was then I realized I was one of the few old relics at the theater, who at the age of 16 stood in those long lines in 1977 to see the latest phenomenon they called Star Wars.

Who could have predicted that 38 years later, the younger generation would still be fascinated with Luke Skywalker, wookies, Ewoks, Darth Vader, Yoda, the Millennium Falcon and all those cheesy jokes?

But make their triumphant return, they did!

Two weeks ago my granddaughter and niece, ages 9 and 8, started making plans for a party and chose Star Wars as the theme. So, Saturday I donned a Princess Leia costume at my grandchildren’s request.

Star Wars Photo 9We cut pool noodles in half and decorated them with duct tape to look like light sabers, My daughter-in-law slaved for two days making an amazing Death Star cake.

star Wars photo 14

 

 

 

 

 

The party got me to thinking about what we can learn from this classic movie. So, in honor of our Star Wars party, here are five lessons we can learn about happiness:

Don’t Allow Fear to Rule Your Life

Star Wars Photo 13“Never tell me the odds.” — Han Solo

Don’t let odds hold you back — even if an asteroid field is hurling towards you and your odds of success are 3,720 to 1.

People told me that less than one percent of submitted works are accepted for publication. They told me stories of how aspiring writers worked for years and years and had nothing to show for it besides a stack of rejection letters. That you had to have connections to get published.

Good thing I didn’t listen. Oh yes, I had that huge stack of rejection letters and it was years before I became published. Nonetheless, I overcame those odds even though I didn’t know anyone in the publishing business. I went on to have a book published by the prestigious publishing company, McGraw Hill, and hundreds of articles and short stories published in magazines. Even if I didn’t have any success, it would have been worth the effort. At least I wouldn’t go to my death bed with regrets of not pursuing my dream.

Star Wars Photo 3

So commit, make a decision, and move forward. In other words, go for it! As Yoda said, “Do or do not… there is no try.”

No more procrastination. Don’t be afraid of failure which only freezes you into inaction, cripples you, and prevents you from the person you were meant to be.

Yoda’s advice reminds me of Thomas A. Edison’s famous quote when trying to invent the light bulb: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Clearly, Yoda was onto something.

Star Wars Photo 5Value the Power of Relationships

The power that supportive relationships have in our lives is invaluable. Star Wars teaches us to have integrity and to be loyal to our family and friends through all their lows and highs.

Don’t forget, that lovable, small, scrappy group of friends took down a whole corrupt empire!

However, make sure you are choosing the right kinds of friends.

“I find your lack of faith disturbing.” — Darth Vader

Star Wars Photo 4Surround yourself with people who support you and believe in you. People who make you laugh and inspire you. Detox your life of negative people who do not believe in you and bring you down.

Don’t be fooled by appearances either.

“Why, you stuck up, half-witted, scruffy-looking Nerf herder,” Princess Leia said to Han Solo.

Lesson learned: Don’t discount or give up on that scruffy-looking nerd. If you have faith and believe in him, he just might turn out to be a hero one day.

 

Let Go of the Hate

Star Wars Photo 12“Fear leads to anger,” Yoda patiently explained. “Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.

Or as Luke Skywalker said plainly in Return of the Jedi, “Let go of your hate.”

Free yourself from fear, anger, and hate. Let the bitterness, resentment, and thoughts of vengeance go. Forgive so you can have inner peace, feel free, and be happy.

“Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny,” Yoda said.

Focus on the Positive

“Your focus determines your reality,” Qui-Gon Jinn told Anakin.

This concept is so empowering, yet many people tend to overlook it. Your perception of life is affected by what you choose to focus your mind on.  Focusing on even small and seemingly insignificant things that give you joy helps you to be present in the moment and absorb the beauty in the world.

This kind of positive thinking helps you be creative, search for solutions, and consider possibilities you can’t envision when your head is clouded with hopelessness, frustration, and self-pity. Don’t focus on everything that is going wrong in your life or negative people or disappointments. Make the best out of every precious moment. Concentrate on fun and exciting goals for the future.

Star Wars Photo 7A Little Humor Goes a Long Way

Who can forget Han Solo’s line as a massive garbage compactor closes in on our heroes. “One thing’s for sure, we’re all gonna be a lot thinner,” he said with a wry look on his face.

Humor lightens the mood and allows everyone time to regroup and reassess the situation. Share your humor with others. Everyone needs more laughter in their lives, so spread it around. A sense of humor keeps spirits high and empowers people to do what needs to be done.

So there’s your five nuggets of wisdom from the Star War franchise. I’ll leave you with one last piece of wisdom from Yoda: “Twilight is upon me, and soon night must fall. That is the way of things.”

So it is. Therefore seize the day and cherish each moment you have with those you love.

Star Wars Photo 15