Are The Best Things in Life Really Free?

christmaspresents

We were at Costco. In December. On a Sunday. Needless to say it was a zoo. People were honking at each other in the parking lot and inside the store the isles were so crowded that all you could do was shuffle along like a Christmas zombie at the same pace as all of the other shoppers through the entire store even though all our family really needed was dog food. Let’s be honest those free sample counters are hardly free – somehow while I was innocently trying a taste of Tillamook cheese the rest of my cart was inexplicably filling up with items that would add up to hundreds of dollars at the checkout.

I shuffled past the women’s clothing section and being stuck in a zombie pile up I HAD to look at what they were selling. Two of my weaknesses are hoodies and the color purple. Lo and behold there was the cutest purple hoodie  sweater I’d ever seen! It was like it was made for me (well, and probably thousands of other women across the country).

I checked out the price. Definitely not in the budget – especially this time of year with so much other spending going on. And so I, the girl with a cart load of yummy healthy food for my beautiful family, sank into a serious case of the holiday grumps. Did I stop at just being grumpy about not being able to afford a purple hoodie? Oh no! That would not be enough of course. I then had to get down on myself for being materialistic. Didn’t I recognize all of the blessings I did have?! What was wrong with me! But berating myself just made me feel worse and didn’t fix it so I sunk deeper. At the check out I looked at all of the other holiday shoppers with their carts full of gifts and came head to head with the super ugly and uneasy feeling of jealousy. Ugh!

Now to my own credit this is not a normal feeling for me. I’m generally a pretty positive practical person and so I was kind of shocked to meet up with these yucky feelings there in the Costco check out line. My husband and I over the years have chosen jobs that we felt made a difference and that we liked doing over other potentially higher paying occupations. Things are sometimes tight but we are a long ways off from being poor. Things were a little extra tight this year with both boys in preschool and myself working only part time, but those were choices we made to have the life that we wanted.

I reminded myself of all of this and the queasy feeling eased a tiny bit but still lingered. I didn’t really feel like partaking as the family sang boisterous holiday songs along with the radio on the drive home.

I got home and took a nap. Okay. A little better. I asked myself what I would tell someone I was coaching in this situation. Gratitude. Focus on all of the good things in your life. I keep a gratitude journal next to my bed and every night I jot down three or four things in that journal that make me happy and I’m grateful for each day. I started to wonder how many of those things cost money. So I did a little study of myself and looked back over the last week to take a tally of what things that I was grateful for cost money and which things didn’t…

Here is a snippet from 11/21 through 11/23:

  • I’m grateful that my workshop is full (free!)
  • That we had a super awesome healthy dinner AND the kids liked it (mixed bag)
  • That all of the laundry including the socks is sorted and put away (free!)
  • I had a good run at Fit School and am starting to make friends with Meg and Aly (mixed bag – paid for the running program, but new friends are free…)
  • My warm comfy bed (not free)
  • Our sweet kitty (mixed bag – she costs some, but her sweetness is free)
  • That the kids spent an hour today happily playing together without needing me (free!)
  • Sam’s creativity and Orion’s funny sense of humor (free)
  • The beautiful color of light this morning at sunrise (free)
  • Delicious smoothies for breakfast (not free)
  • Hot showers for water and tea (not free)
  • That blogging is so much fun (free)
  • That I have a family that loves me (free)
  • That there is a turkey in the fridge waiting to be cooked (not free)
  • For all of the sweet things people have written on the thankful tree (free)
  • That snow is in the forecast (free)

I kept reading through my gratitude journal tallying as I went. Total tally for the previous week; Free: 23, Cost Money: 5, Mixed Bag: 4

Somewhat to my surprise this little exercise was making me feel a whole lot better!  Not only was I steeping in the happy memories of all of the things that I love in my life I was seeing a pattern that was not as materialistic as I had feared. Whew!

I called my sister and she made me laugh like she usually does and life was looking up a little more. I took a deep breath and headed downstairs. There, my sweet and incredibly intuitive husband who had not only refrained from asking where I had disappeared to but had also made dinner and was now playing legos with the boys walked over and gave me a big hug. All of a sudden the ridiculousness of all of this brought on for want of a purple hoodie shifted into perspective and the sweetness of my life came back into focus. Thank goodness!

Why do I bother telling you my purple hoodie sob story? Well the night of my gratitude tally I did a little research on happiness. According to the Association for Psychological Science studies have shown people who are happy, “have more stable marriages, stronger immune systems, higher incomes and more creative ideas than their less happy peers.” Well who wouldn’t want all of those benefits! But the other exciting thing their research has show is that, “people can increase their happiness through simple intentional positive activities such as expressing gratitude or practicing kindness.” (Lyubomirsky & Layous, 2013).  Awesome! Science backs up that not only did my gratitude experiment help to make me happier (which I knew of course but always nice to be scientifically backed up), but it also probably had a positive effect on my health and well-being.

Some people say money can’t buy happiness. Other studies have shown that to be true but only with an annual income over a certain amount. Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs suggests people can’t focus on things that make them happy until they have their basic physiological and safety needs met first.  I’m curious what you think? Are the best things in life free? Or do you need a certain amount of money to lead a happy and fulfilling life? Leave a comment below and let me know what your opinion is.

Be happy, be healthy, be well.

For more tips tricks and inspiration for leading a happy, healthy life sign up for my monthly news letter.

What is Unattachment and Why Is it Important for our Health and Well-being?

cedarinsnow

“Don’t hold on to someone who’s leaving, otherwise you won’t meet the one who’s coming”-Carl Jung

When we were young my husband and I fell deeply, madly, passionately in love with each other and simultaneously with a beautiful twenty acre piece of land nestled in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. It was (and is) a magical place with a creek and open pasture, edged by huge big leaf maples and towering cedar trees. The views of the surrounding mountains were incredible. It felt wild and expansive and we rose to the challenge of filling every inch of it with beautiful dreams of a home and gardens and a family. We were visionaries of the most incredible life and this was the place we were going to sink our roots in and live our whole lives long.

The property wasn’t quite legally subdivided and so couldn’t officially be sold yet, but we were confident that things would be taken care of. The owner was open to us using it until all of the permitting was completed. We happily got to work planting trees, putting in a garden, building a tree house and garden shed. After a year or so things were still not finalized, but seemed to be moving in the right direction. We built an arbor and on a sunny August day got married there and celebrated with the entire community.

We waited five years for permits to be filed and subdivisions to be completed. We waited five years before the whole thing crumbled. The owners went through a bad divorce, there was a family misunderstanding…we never really understood fully what happened (isn’t that sometimes the way with things that break our hearts). We were told the land was no longer for sale and wouldn’t be.

We were lost. I mean to say we were completely wrecked. Done for. Brokenhearted. Shocked. Angry. Confused. We practiced the opposite of unattachment. We were so angry! And we held onto our anger and simmered in it and with no productive way forward we stumbled through life for awhile. As a couple we suffered and our marriage suffered too.  We felt victimized. Someone had taken all of our dreams and crushed them. Someone had broken years of promises with no apologies and no alternatives. Who were we even now? What were our dreams?

Slowly we found our way through. Slowly we built new dreams and a beautiful life that we never could have imagined at the time – but not before a lot of lost time and more heartache than was necessary.

When you spend an extended amount of time in a negative state (such as holding onto anger) there are very real physical repercussions. It is it’s own kind of chronic stress. Under stress your body releases the hormones adrenaline and cortisol which in small doses can be helpful in certain situations, but when they course through our system on a regular basis they can have a very real negative effect on our hearts and brains. Research has shown that chronic stress can cause you to actually become hardwired to react to new situations in a negative way and can inhibit growth of brain cells that make connections to the prefrontal cortex-the part of our brain responsible for learning new things and creating memories.

My husband and I were talking about it the other day and he asked me what I would do differently now. At that point in our lives we did the best we could with the experiences and tools that we had. But if I could go back now and talk to myself I would tell myself to cultivate gratitude. To focus more on the good things that happened there and less on the the things that were “taken from us”. I would work on reframing the situation to realize that we weren’t victims, that we chose to hold on for as long as we did. I would journal and meditate and breathe and look ahead to new adventures and I would try to let go more gracefully. Those feelings of anger and bitterness didn’t serve me and they didn’t change the outcome of the situation at all.

So I’m writing to you today about the power of unattachment because I wish it was something that I had known about and cultivated back then. That piece of property was never ours. Despite paperwork sometimes saying otherwise we don’t ever truly own a place. Another person no matter how much we love them does not belong to us. And as much as you might want something and work towards a dream you can never be absolutely certain of the outcome.

Please don’t take this post the wrong way. Dreaming big is not a bad thing! Loving deeply is the only way! Taking time to mourn something you’ve loved and lost is a necessary part of moving on. Do those things with your life! And then when it’s time to move on from a dream or a person or an expectation take a deep breath and let go.

Practicing unattachment can help on any scale – from letting go of someone who has broken our heart to letting go of our expectations that we won’t get stuck in traffic or that another person is going to feel the same way about something that we do. When we are able to set aside our expectations we are able to find peace. When we practice unattachment we are able to meet the challenges this sometimes tumultuous life puts forward gracefully and calmly.

Unattachment does not mean you need to live in a cave somewhere in the Olympic rain forest with only a hand-carved wooden bowl and spoon as possessions. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t love deeply and passionately and madly. It doesn’t mean it’s wrong to feel that little surge of giddiness when you put on that new pair of jeans that fit you just perfectly. It simply means being able to let go gracefully when it’s time to so that you can move forward towards the rest of your life with an open heart and no regrets.

Be happy, be health, be well.

Sign up for my monthly newsletter for more tips, tricks and inspiration for leading a healthy, happy life!