Category Archives: Happiness

How the Recession Changed Our Viewpoint of Happiness

During the recession, our family civil engineering business took a nosedive. We went from 12 employees to two. The two remaining – my husband and my brother – both worked part-time.

recessionThis was a huge adjustment to our finances. The previous boom years provided the most income we’ve ever earned. In fact, our income was cut in half.

Instead of moping about it, my husband and I decided to take advantage of the extra time and became full-time ministers, learned sign language, joined a sign language congregation, and started doing volunteer work with the deaf community.

You know what? We were never happier.

That’s why I found an article, Post-recession Americans Don’t Need Money to Find Happiness, written by Courtney E Martin for the New York Post, last week so fascinating. In the article, Martin pointed out that “the American Dream is being remade in the wake of the Great Recession.”

“Just as necessity is the mother of invention, a recession can be the father of consciousness,” she wrote. “More and more of us are becoming conscious of the ways in which money, and all of the stuff it can buy, doesn’t reliably lead to happiness.”

recession-2Although Martin argues this isn’t a hippie movement, you baby boomers may relate to this concept.

Does it remind you a little bit of the 60s, when many thought society had been corrupted by capitalism and the materialist culture it created? Although a more radical time, during that tumultuous decade it dawned on many young people that while pursuing “success,” people lost sight of the more meaningful experiences life had to offer.

Seems some of those attitudes are with us again after the recession, causing profound changes in the way people work, think, and live.

How so?

Changes in the Workplace

A recent article from Inc. “10 Ways Your Office Will Change in 2016,” pointed out that the top search term in 2015 at Monster.com was “part-time.”

“A growing number of white-collar workers are opting not to return to staff positions in the post-recession economy, working instead as contractors in roles that offer more flexibility but less security and benefits,” Beth Braverman wrote in the article.

And in many cases, less money, I would add.

recession-4In fact, a third of American workers free-lanced last year, with 60 percent of freelancers doing so by choice, according to a study by Upwork.

Once again, I am one of those people. A freelance writer who, in fact, does much of my work through Upwork, I’m apparently part of a growing crowd. In fact, it’s estimated that half of the US workforce will be freelancing by 2020.

I’m not getting rich, but I like the flexibility and the extra time it gives me to concentrate on spiritual matters, volunteer work, the important people in my life, and my health and well-being. Turns out, I’m not alone.

The recession taught many that there is more to life than climbing the ladder, working around the clock, and accumulating things that collect in garages and storage units.

I hope that as the economy recovers we don’t lose that insight.

Changes at Home

recession-3Many bought extravagant homes they could not otherwise afford and lost them during the housing bubble burst.

You know what? Those people learned that life went on. Buying that home they always “dreamed of” turned into a nightmare and many discovered it wasn’t worth all the stress that resulted.

Turns out that owning a fancy home wasn’t the answer to finding contentment, satisfaction, and joy after all.

In fact, home ownership rates are at their lowest since 1995. in the years since the housing bubble burst, many have come to the conclusion that home ownership isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be and are now renting a less expensive apartment instead.

Others opted for home ownership, but decided to downsize. This idea spawned the whole tiny house movement.

These days, more and more people are choosing experiences, adventures, and seeing the world over a big house with a huge mortgage.

recession-4Another popular alternative? Over 50 million Americans are living in multi-generational households and sharing expenses.

Our family fits into that category. For the past year, my husband and I have shared our home with our youngest son and his wife as well as our divorced oldest son and his three children.

Last spring, my youngest son and daughter-in-law moved up north. However, after an extended custody battle that left our oldest son financially devastated,  we still live with him and his three children.

Yes, it was an adjustment after being empty nesters for a couple of years. But you know what? In the end, we liked the arrangement.

After losing my mother as well as my mother-in-law last year, it was nice to have a safe, secure, and loving cocoon of family around us. The grandchildren cheered us up and kept us young.

Three houses down and across the street, my sister and her family live in a main house and my brother and my other sister live in two casitas on the same property. Yup, we got a regular family compound going and you know what? It’s working for us.

We’re not alone.

This multi-generational trend has even reached the White House, with Michelle Obama’s mother living with the President and his wife and often spotted shuttling grandchildren to school. The fact is, studies show that people who live in multi-generational homes actually like it.

Finding Balance

Of course, poverty doesn’t bring happiness either. After analyzing Gallup poll data, the Brookings Institute found that Americans who reported the lowest levels of well-being also made less than $2,000 a month, which coincides closely with the the federal poverty guideline level for a family of four.

However, wealth does not necessarily bring happiness either. An often-cited Princeton study from 2010 found that a salary of $75,000 per year was the level at which security and happiness reached a pinnacle, but that increases beyond that didn’t result in greater happiness.

Experts say being rich brings its own kind of suffering. Wealth can lead to sleepless nights of worrying as well as an unhappy family life and relationship problems. It can lead to comparing yourself to others, jealousy, or, in the language of the tenth commandment, coveting. The love of money can inspire greed and an insatiable appetite for more wealth which results in frustration and a lack of contentment.

Maybe that’s what some of us learned during the recession. Indeed, the old adage that money does not bring happiness turns out to be true.

Now that the economy is beginning to recover, let’s all resolve to remember that fact and I think we’ll all be a lot happier.

Do you agree? Has your attitude about life changed since the recession? Let me know in the comments below.

Images in order of appearancce, courtesy of David Castillo Dominici, scottchan, jk1991,    jscreationzs, and Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

How Facebook Can Make Us Happier

Want to spread a little happiness to those you love?

FacebookAccording to a new study, simply leaving a personalized comment on a friend or family’s Facebook post can make them feel like they’re walking on sunshine and brighten their day.

New research conducted by Carnegie Mellon University and Facebook published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication suggests personal interactions on Facebook could make you just as happy as if you got married or had a baby. The study was based on 1,910 Facebook users from 91 countries during a three month period.

Really? I’ll admit a personal message or comment definitely perks me up, but are they saying it can make you as happy as having a baby?

Apparently. Turns out that some Facebook interaction reminding you of the people you care about in your life is good for you. The researchers found that 60 comments a month from close friends were linked to people reporting satisfaction akin to experiencing major life events.

The research debunks former studies that reported social media makes people depressed and lonely. Perhaps checking Facebook obsessively 300 times a day could be isolating and prevent you from having real relationships. As always, balance people! But the study shows that staying in touch with friends with a few positive comments is a positive thing for everyone involved.

Facebook LikeInterestingly, Facebook “likes” did not have the same power to alleviate negative feelings.

“We’re not talking about anything that’s particularly labor-intensive,” said co-author Moira Burke. “This can be a comment that’s just a sentence or two. The important thing is that someone such as a close friend takes the time to personalize it. The content may be uplifting, and the mere act of communication reminds recipients of the meaningful relationships in their lives.”

So there’s your assignment for the day. Take just a few moments to make an uplifting comment on one of your friends’ Facebook pages. Not a Facebook user? Pick up the phone or send a text to someone you love. You’ll feel happier for bringing some extra joy into someone’s life.

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

 

How to Eat More Fruits and Vegetables to Boost Happiness

Your mother told you to eat your veggies. As usual, she was right.

Fruits and VeggiesWe all know that eating more fruits and vegetables makes us healthier, but now a new study from Australia suggests it can make you feel happier as well.

Researchers discovered that people who switched from eating almost no fruit and vegetables to eating eight servings a day felt an increase in life satisfaction similar to how an unemployed person feels after finding a job.

Yippee! I’ll take some of that!

More than 12,000 adults participated in this study and kept food diaries answering questions about their lives and their mental and emotional health. Those that increased their fruit and vegetable portions reported increased happiness within two years of the changes to their diets.

Happy Couple“Eating fruit and vegetables apparently boosts our happiness far more quickly than it improves human health,” study co-author Redzo Mujcic, a health economics research fellow at the University of Queensland in Australia, said in a statement.

The new findings may help doctors convince people to eat more fruits and vegetables, she added. “There is a psychological payoff now from fruit and vegetables, not just a lower health risk decades later,” he said.

Want to get on the happiness train? Here are six easy ways, according to Heather Mangieri, a nutrition consultant and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

#1 Start First Thing in the Morning

Start eating fruits and veggies at breakfast, Mangieri suggests. This is a recommendation I happen to follow already. Super simple. Just toss some frozen blueberries or diced bananas on top of your cereal or add to yogurt. Or add veggies to an omelet.

You can also use fruit to make a smoothie. Mangieri recommends using yogurt with no added sugar. “We have this heightened sense of sweetness just from overdoing it on sugars,” Mangieri says. We should try to get back to basics and let fruit be sweet enough for our taste buds, she adds.

#2 Keep Fruit and Veggies in Sight

Make fruits and vegetables visible to encourage everyone in your family, including yourself, to eat them, Mangieri says. Keep a fruit bowl in your kitchen. Put carrot sticks, snap peas, and celery in the refrigerator where you can see them along with some hummus for dipping. Yum!

#3 Frozen is Fine

Frozen vegetables, such as peas, broccoli, and carrots, are a great way to make sure you always have vegetables in the house, Mangieri says. They are easy to prepare and keep for a long time. Mangieri recommends steaming the vegetables and adding them to casserole dishes.

Frozen vegetables are usually just as nutritious as fresh ones , according to Keri Gans, who is a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

Salmon#4 Fill Half Your Plate with Fruits and Veggies

No measuring involved. The new USDA guidelines recommend filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables.

Center your meals on what vegetables you’ll eat and then think of what grains and protein to add, Mangieri suggests. Make fruits and veggies a focal point and you’ll have an easy time meeting the dietary recommendations.

#5 Add Fruit to Desserts

Let’s face it, we’re all going to indulge in some ice cream or cake sometimes. Of course, it pays to remember portion control when it comes to your sweets. But if you’re going to treat yourself, why not add some fresh berries on top?

“Fruits are nature’s natural candy,” Mangieri says. She recommends pureeing berries and adding them as a sauce to desserts.

So there you go! No time like the present to eat a little happiness. Grab a piece of fruit right now and be on your way to a more joyful day!

Images, in order of appearance, courtesy of Suat Eman, photostock, and mrsiraphol at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

The Happiest Words in the English Language

“I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word. Sometimes I write one, and I look at it, until it begins to shine,” Emily Dickinson wrote.

As a writer, I am in love, captivated, and addicted to words. And with good reason. Words are powerful and sometimes even magical.

Cruel words can cause pain or anger, make us cry, and bring disharmony to the world. On the other hand, inspiring words can lift us up, bring joy, motivate us to do good, offer hope, heal, and excite us.

That brings me to the subject of this article: What are the happiest words in the English language?

I ran into an interesting article in The Atlantic, The 200 Happiest Words in Literature.

WriterAs a writer, I was fascinated by this subject. If you take a writing class, one of the first things you learn is that every story known to man can be reduced to a handful of plot lines.

Opinions vary on exactly which plot lines those are; however, researchers from the University of Vermont and the University of Adelaide collected computer-generated story arcs for nearly 2,000 works of fiction and classified each into six types of narratives based on what happens to the protagonist:

(1) Rags to Riches (rise), (2) Riches to Rags (fall), (3) Man in a Hole (fall then rise), (4) Icarus (rise then fall), (5) Cinderella (rise then fall then rise), and (6) Oedipus (fall then rise then fall)

The study focused on the emotional highs and lows of each story type. Then, the computer analyzed which emotional structure writers used most and which ones the readers liked best.

Using 10,000 of the most frequently used English words, researchers then asked people to rate the happiness quotient of the words they encountered. In the end, they had this massive list of words ranked by happiness. The results?

The happiest word: Laughter – followed by happiness, love, happy, laughed, laugh, laughing, excellent, laughs, and joy.

The least happy: Terrorist – followed by suicide, rape, terrorism, murder, death, cancer, killed, kill, and die.

In the middle of the pack you’ll find dull words like particularly, list, brown, expectations, equation, index, and explain.

That gives you a glimpse, but if you’re curious what made the top 100, I’m including a more detailed list below.

Sad EmoticonSo we can end on a high note, we’ll start with the 100 words that were at the bottom of the heap as least happy. These words are truly awful:

Terrorist, suicide, rape, terrorism, murder, death, cancer, killed, kill, died, torture, raped, deaths, arrested, killing, die, terror, jail, kills, war, murdered, killings, fatal, tortured, abused, sickness, failed, cry, cruel, violence, sadness, diseases, abuse, wars, evil, earthquake, depressing, poison, fail, disaster, bomb, tumors, poverty, headache, depression, criminal, punishment, killers, illness, disease, dead, slavery, sick, (curse word), rejection, injury, destroyed, crying, violent, tragedy, slaves, slave, prison, hates, failure, fails, bankruptcy, virus, suffer, robbery, rejected, racist, dies, worst, pain, funeral, dying, heartbreak, unhappy, unemployment, sorrow, painful, hurts, hated, crimes, corruption, pollution, homeless, drowned, agony, tsunami, robbed, hurt, divorced, depressed, loser, crime, cried, suffering, injured.

That was dismal and depressing, so let’s move on to the happy words.

Before we begin, however, I’d like to note that some of the words wouldn’t make my list. For example, materialistic words like rich, diamonds, profit, millionaire, promotion, earnings, and profits. Really, people?

In my opinion, other words have more merit. Happy words like laughter, joy, peaceful, sunlight, weekend, honesty, hugs, exciting, optimistic, song, goodness, humor, smiles, kisses, celebrate, moonlight, fun, and friendship. I was also happy to see a few spiritual words like praise, faithful, honor, blessings, heavens, angels, and glory make the list.

I also agreed with the participants that chocolate is one of the happiest words. And you’ll notice grandmother and grandma made the top 200. Love that!

Happy EmoticonSo here’s the complete list, beginning with the happiest. I am giving you twice as many happy words to make up for all the brutal words listed above – 200 in all. See what you think:

Laughter, happiness, love, happy, laughed, laugh, laughing, excellent, laughs, joy, successful, win, rainbow, smile, won, pleasure, smiled, rainbows, winning, celebration, enjoyed, healthy, music, celebrating, congratulations, weekend, celebrate, comedy, jokes, rich, victory, Christmas, free, friendship, fun, holidays, loved, loves, loving, beach, hahaha, kissing, sunshine, delicious, friends, funny, outstanding, paradise, sweetest, vacation, butterflies, freedom, flower, great, sunlight, sweetheart, sweetness, award, chocolate, hahahaha, heaven, peace, splendid, success, enjoying, kissed, attraction, celebrated, hero, hugs, positive, sun, birthday, blessed, fantastic, winner, delight, beauty, butterfly, entertainment, funniest, honesty, sky, smiles, succeed, wonderful, glorious, kisses, promotion, family, gift, humor, romantic, cupcakes, festival, hahahahaha, honor, relax, weekends, angel, b-day, bonus, brilliant, diamonds, holiday, lucky, mother, super, amazing, angels, enjoy, friend, friendly, mother’s, profit, finest, bday, champion, grandmother, haha, kiss, kitten, miracle, mom, sweet, blessings, bright, cutest, entertaining, excited, excitement, joke, millionaire, prize, succeeded, successfully, winners, shines, awesome, genius, achievement, cake, cheers, exciting, goodness, hug, income, party, puppy, smiling, song, succeeding, tasty, victories, achieved, billion, cakes, easier, flowers, gifts, gold, merry, families, handsome, lovers, affection, candy, cute, diamond, earnings, interesting, peacefully, praise, relaxing, roses, Saturdays, faithful, heavens, cherish, comfort, congrats, cupcake, earn, extraordinary, glory, hilarious, moonlight, optimistic, peaceful, romance, feast, attractive, glad, grandma, internet, pleasant, profits, smart.

Ah, that was much better than all those totally heartless words, right?

So, now you know what other people thought. What’s your favorite happy words? Please share in the comments below!

Images courtesy of punsayaporn and emoticons by farconville at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Five Uplifting Things You Should Tell Yourself Every Day

There is this quote I saw on Pinterest: “What you tell yourself every day will either lift you up or tear you down.”

Depressed ManLike that song, “You Had a Bad Day,” Monday was a terrible day for me. I’ll spare you the details, but no matter what I tried, I felt rattled, my feelings were hurt, and I felt sad and depressed. I cried a bucket of tears and blew my diet by eating tons of Doritos.

Oh, I’m sure you’ve been there and know what I’m talking about.

So I woke up the next morning asking myself what I needed to tell myself to turn things around. The following is a list I came up with after some thought. Not that these words were a cure-all, but they did help me to have a better day.

My hope is that you can tell yourself these words when you’re having a bad day – or on any day preferably first thing in the morning – and have a happier day as well.

Here’s my list:

#1 Today is a New Day

New DayWhen you’re feeling down, this is actually a great thought. I woke up the next morning and got a do-over. I resolved to lean on God for strength and gave him thanks for another day of life.

I enjoyed savoring some quiet time with my first cup of coffee, and reminded myself that each day is brimming with opportunities and possibilities. Every new day offers a chance to make necessary changes that will make us happier, nourish ourselves spiritually, be whoever we want to be, improve ourselves, learn something new, eat healthier, take steps to promote healing in our lives, or make someone else’s life better.

If you are looking for ways to start your day on a positive note, check out my blog, Ten Ways To Start Your Morning Right, for some inspiration.

As a famous quote wisely says: “It’s never too late. If you weren’t happy with yesterday, try something different today.”

#2 This Too Shall Pass

My Mom used this phrase a lot with us kids and I use it like a chant sometimes. Coincidentally, a friend who knew I was having a bad day, texted me this great reminder. As I wrote in a previous blog, when we’re in the middle of a crisis, loss, or setback, we may feel like the situation and the emotions that come with it will last forever, yet it inevitably passes.

Life goes on and takes us with it. With God’s help, our ability and infinite capacity to endure and bounce back is far greater than we think.

#3 Let It Go

ForgiveLike driving a car, we may glance behind us every once in a while, but we can’t move forward if we’re concentrating on the road behind us. Let go of the past and let go of all those angry feelings, bitterness, and resentment.

Don’t allow someone else’s actions to dominate your life. Choose to embrace forgiveness and move forward. It is only through forgiveness that we find peace, freedom, empowerment, and happiness.

#4 Do Not Allow Anxious Thoughts to Steal Away Joy

This is a hard one of me. I have a tendency to get stressed out, worry excessively, feel overwhelmed, and overthink problems. I’ve written quite a few blogs on this subject, and I’m still working on it.

Being anxious is more than just a waste of time. It makes us suffer, zaps our energy, damages our health, and accomplishes nothing.

So, I got up the next morning and told myself to stop. To use the power of prayer for the peace of God that excels all thought. To notice the small and ordinary things that can make my day special and savor moments with my loved ones. To exercise and breathe deeply whenever I needed to calm myself. To do something that brings me joy. And to replace negative thoughts with more productive ones.

I know all this stuff, but I needed reminders. What can I say? It’s a work in progress.

#5 I Can Create Any Feeling I Want

That’s such an empowering thought. While it’s true, we can’t control everything that happens to us and what other people do or say, we are not powerless over our emotions. Other people and situations do not determine our feelings. We do.

Feeling sad, frustrated, stressed, or angry are not our only choices. We can choose to feel peaceful, grateful, and content. Not always an easy process, but doable. (See my previous blog, Happiness is Easy as 1-2-3, for steps on how to do so).

The fact is that only we, and we alone, have the power to create any feeling we desire.

So that was my self-inflicted pep talk today. Please share what phrases you feel are “musts” for a happier day in the comments below!

Images courtesy of graur codrin, FrameAngel, and Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

 

CURRENTLY: How I’m Finding my Bliss the Summer of 2016

One of my fellow bloggers asked me to join a blog hop to share where we are currently in life. Our dreams and what we’re reading, watching, listening to, and loving in the CURRENTLY Summer 2016 Blog Hop.

In other words, how am I finding my bliss this summer? Sounded like a fun idea and I’m game. So sit back, have a read, and enjoy.  Then visit the other #Gr8Blogs  listed at the end of this post  for more Summer 2016 CURRENTLY inspiration.

Here we go…

Scott and Julie Skydeck*Loving…

My hubby. We celebrate our 38th anniversary on the 17th of this month and I’m beyond grateful for every moment I’ve had with the love of my life.

I’m also loving Chicago, where we went on our anniversary trip (which I’ll be writing about in my next blog). Here’s a picture of us 1,353 feet up on the famous Skydeck. First time visiting this fabulous city and it ranks right up there with my other favorite cities: Seattle, Sydney, London, and Paris.

*Reading…

If you read my blog, you know I just finished reading a copy of legendary teen idol Bobby Rydell’s autobiography for a book review. I’m excited that this man, famous for hits like Volare and starring in Bye Bye Birdie, did an interview for me as well. His answers to my questions were brutally honest – which is so refreshing.

Book at BeachI just started reading a new book, Descent, by Tim Johnston. The publisher calls the novel a “literary thriller.” As a review by the Washington Post notes, “It’s a thriller because it concerns a girl of 18 who is abducted during a family vacation in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. It’s literary because Johnston’s prose is lyrical, even poetic, to a degree rarely found in fiction, literary or otherwise.” Sounds like the perfect summer read and I’m on board!

*Watching…

10 Cloverfield Lane. Man, I haven’t seen a movie this good in a long time. If you haven’t seen it yet, the less you know, the better. Don’t read any reviews. Here’s what you need to know: This movie captures your attention immediately and keeps you on the edge of your seat the entire time. The acting is phenomenal. John Goodman defines the word creepy. The tense, chilling thriller reminds me a bit of Hitchcock and will keep you guessing to the end. Oh, and the ending! Just spectacular and guaranteed to knock you off your feet. A must-see. It just debuted on Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD and On Demand on June 14, 2016. Check it out!

(For the perfect feel-good, funny, and inspiring movie, watch Eddie the Eagle. Just watched last night and loved! Hugh Jackman is just perfect in his role.)

As far as TV, love Big Bang Theory to make me laugh. And I’m oh so ashamed to admit I’m hooked on the trashy but entertaining Bachelorette. Don’t ask me to explain why.

Music*Listening…

Paul McCartney is releasing his latest album this month, Pure McCartney, a collection of 67 of his hits starting in 1970. It includes songs like “Maybe I’m Amazed” and “Live and Let Die.” Sounds cool, but recently, I discovered this laid back solo from his debut album: “That Would be Something.” Unfortunately, the song didn’t make the final cut for his album, but I’m obsessed with it. Click here to check out a live performance of this simple but oh-so-groovy song.

*Thinking About…

Oh my, many, many things are rattling about in this brain of mine. June 13th was the first anniversary of my Mom’s death, so she is definitely on my mind. I’m trying to focus on all the good memories we shared instead of the awful memories of her death – and succeeding fairly well. I’m attending a sign language Bible convention this month, so I’m having good spiritual vibes. And I’m kicking around ideas for an eBook (it would be my first) and whether I actually want to write one or not. It would be a ton of work writing and promoting it. Then again, maybe I’ll just keep freelancing for magazines writing fun lifestyle and travel articles and enjoy the simple pleasures of summer. Then, I’ll do this debate in the fall. Yeah, that sounds better. 

*Anticipating…

This may explain my fascination I mentioned above with Paul McCartney, but I’m going to see him live at Desert Trip in October along with the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and the Who. Can’t wait!

*Wishing…

I’m a lucky girl and many of my wishes have already come true. But at the top of my bucket list is a trip to Africa.

*Making Me Happy…

Life. Grateful for each and every day. My faith. My husband, my children, my grandchildren, the rest of my family and friends. My writing. Good memories. Sailing. My many blessings.

grandkids and puppy*Seeing in My Camera Lens…

No brainer. My adorable three grandchildren, of course! Here they are happy with their new puppy.

So there you go. Thanks for stopping by! For more Currently -Summer 2016 inspiration, visit the #Gr8blogs below. And hey, if you’re pumped about writing your own Currently – Summer 2016 post, just add your family-friendly Currently link to your blog post in the comment section. We’ll visit your blog and give you some blog love!

JD’s Writer Blog

C*U*R*R*E*N*T*L*Y What I’m Up To!

Cat Michaels, Cat’s Corner

CURRENTLY Blog Hop Summer 2016: Dreams, Inspiration of a Writerly Life

Corrina Holyoake, Venturing Into the Unknown

CURRENTLY Blog Hop – Summer Dreaming

Carmela Dutra, A Blog for your Thoughts

CURRENTLY: A Blog Hop of What I’m Up To

Auden Johnson, Dark Treasury

CURRENTLY Blog Hop – Summer 2016

 

Images courtesy of marcolm and imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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.

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.