The Most Important Work of the Day

 

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When do you think your most important work of the day takes place? Maybe it’s in the middle of the day when you are in the thick of creative projects at work? Maybe it’s the volunteer work that you do after your “real” job? Maybe it’s in the evening when you are spending time bonding with your family? Maybe it’s right before bed as you spend time reflecting on the day? This is all important work.

For me the most important work of the day happens right up front, first thing in the morning. I wake up early – always have – a blessing and a curse passed down from my Dad’s side of the family (mostly a blessing, I only say a curse because I’m usually toast by 9:30 pm). I’m on autopilot a little first thing. I put the tea water on, do some yoga while waiting for it to boil, and then fortified with my steaming mug I sit down and get to work.

And by getting to work I mean I sit down and meditate. How can I consider sitting and doing “nothing” as my most important work of the day? Here’s what happens for me when I meditate. I give myself permission to relax with purpose. I can physically feel the calm wash over me as I start. When my mind starts to chatter (which it will inevitably do) I give myself permission to let it go. Have you ever had the experience when you can’t stop thinking about something, or someone, or a certain situation and you go over and over it again in your mind? Meditation is like taking a deep breath and saying “time out”.

Meditation helps me let go of the chatter and opens up space for calm, for creativity, for peace, for gratitude. It helps me to recognize that I already have everything I need in this moment. It makes me feel more positive. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve finished meditating and when I’ve looked up I’ve been struck by just how beautiful the world around me is. And those feelings often stay with me through the whole day. They help me to be a more patient parent, to be a more creative soul, to approach stressful situations in a calmer way, to focus on the positive, to want to connect with the people around me.

I’m certainly not trying to suggest that meditation makes me perfect – just that personally it helps me realize who I want to be and how I want to move through the world. And that for me is the most important work of the day – to set an intention of how I want to see and interact with the world around me.

So how will you set your positive intention for the day? Some people pick a daily mantra, or give themselves a pep talk in the mirror. Some people pray. Some people break a sweat. Some people snuggle with their children. The way we start the day matters. It is important work. It sets the tone for the entire day and that spills over into the rest of our lives. Find whatever it is that makes you feel love, connection, happiness first thing in the morning and do it every day.

Be happy, be healthy, be well.


Here is a little more food for thought for the importance of starting our day in an intentional way:


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Joyfully Well

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Have you ever noticed what a “heavy” topic health and wellness can often be? It seems like articles and studies are published daily demonstrating links between serious diseases and conditions and our lifestyle choices. Terrible things that will happen to us if we don’t exercise and eat the right things, if we don’t get enough of certain vitamins. If we allow too much stress in our lives. If we are exposed to too many toxins. On and on! It can feel like a war that we have to wage just to desperately cling to our health! Or like a hopeless battle that we’ll never win no matter how hard we try. The implication can be the more unpleasant something is the better it is for us. It’s the “no pain, no gain” or “you have to suffer to be beautiful” attitude.

Maybe last week you heard me tell the story of the women in my friend’s office who brought in a green smoothie to work every morning and then cringed in misery the entire time she was drinking it? When my friend asked her if she enjoyed them she said, “No! I hate them, but they are supposed to make me healthy!” The sad thing about this story is that this women is trying so hard to be healthy but she’s doing it in a way that brings her unhappiness every single day. I’m here to tell you there is another way! So here is my challenge to you to think about today:

What can you do to be joyfully well?

What foods do you love AND are healthy for you. What hobbies can you take up that get you moving AND make you happy? What kind of self care can you do that makes you feel relaxed and pampered instead of tortured and miserable?

Because here is the thing. To truly be well we have to shoot for our relationship with health and wellness to be a life long love affair. You may be able to force yourself to drink a horrible green concoction that you hate for 30 days but unless you find the joy in it what is going to happen after that? Most likely no matter how stubborn you are you will not keep it up your whole life long and thirty days does not a lifetime of wellness make.

That is not to say that joy and easy are synonymous. For me personally it might be easier to sit and veg out to a movie but I know going for a beautiful trail run with a friend, although “harder”, is going to feed my soul, bring me a greater amount of joy AND contribute to my well-being.

For some people it’s dance. For some hiking in the woods. For my sister anything to do with boats. For my husband skiing and mountain biking. Sometimes remembering how we loved to play when we were children and finding ways to do more of that in our adult lives can do the trick.

Wellness is not a quick fix. It’s like any kind of relationship. You can suffer through a bad one for awhile but over the long haul it will make you miserable and it won’t last. The challenge is to create a relationship with wellness that makes you want to be with it for the rest of your life! So that you can see yourself growing joyfully old together.

Be happy, be healthy, be well!

starting-4_1_17Registration is now open for my  Crafting A Wellness Vision Workshop starting 4/1/17. Join the next cohort of women creating personalized thoughtful approaches to health and wellness through a series of daily coach guided journaling prompts and activities.

Life in Flow Motion

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Life is busy. Does it ever feel like your to-do list is endless and ever expansive? Like you cross three things off, but add five more? Our days and attentions are fragmented – pulled this way and that between running errands, taking care of children, working, picking up at home, trying desperately to keep up with friends. Monotasking seems like an antiquated, slow moving idea. All the while our monkey minds work overtime in the background giving us a running commentary on how we are doing, what we should be doing, how that last conversation should have gone, what next thing on our to do list needs to be crossed off.

You need a break. Your brain needs a break. You are not a robot. You cannot keep up this pace indefinitely until the kids move out! You will break down at some point.

But how? Well you probably know me by now. I’d recommend starting out by trying meditation. But what if meditation isn’t your thing? I have a dear friend for who the just thought of sitting still for 20 minutes and not doing anything stresses her out even more. But your brain like any other part of your body needs a chance to rest and recharge in order to be able to do it’s best work with positivity and creativity.

Herein enters the idea of flow. Flow is not a new concept. It was coined in the early 1980’s by a psychologist named Mihaly Csikszentmihályi. You may of heard of people referring to flow as “being in the zone.”  Flow usually happens when you are doing an activity for which you  have the skills and knowledge but also is slightly challenging for you. Flow is an active process (rather than something like meditation or relaxing in the hot tub). Your brain is engaged and challenged and you seem to know exactly what to without hesitation. People who experience flow often report loosing track of time because they are so immersed in what they are doing. It is also sometimes called “The Deep Now”.

Here’s the part I think is really cool. The idea of flow has been around for awhile now, but more recently they have been able to study brains of people who are in a state of flow. The original hypothesis was that much of the brain would be active while in flow in order to create such a state of optimum engagement. What they found was actually the opposite. When a person is in a state of flow much of their brain actually shuts down leaving just the part that is focused on the activity engaged. The prefrontal cortex – which is the part of our brain that houses our ego, our inner critic, our constant commentary – shuts down. Leaving us with the ability to be more confident, more creative, braver and focused.

At the same time our brainwaves also slow down – going from the fast moving waves we have while moving through our normal busy days to a much slower speed found between daydreaming and REM sleep. We also get a flood of wonderful neurochemicals. A heady mix of endorphins, dopamine, serotonin. And this optimum state of being lasts past just the time we’re doing the activity. Studies have shown that not only are people more creative when they are in a state of flow, they are actually more creative the following day!

What are the times in your life when you have experienced flow? I’ve been in a flow state while running, writing, drumming, reading. I know my husband finds it when he goes mountain biking or skiing. Often people report finding themselves in flow when making art or dancing. Usually flow is great not only for our brains but we enjoy it, it builds our self confidence because we are excelling at something that is slightly challenging. We feel happier. There are so many reasons to find and make time for flow in your life!

It might be possible to take flow to an unhealthy extreme – to get so immersed in what you are doing you loose track of time and forget to take care of your body or pick up the kids from school. If you find you have that tendency I’ve heard the suggestion of setting a timer so you know when to stop. But when used in a productive healthy way flow might be just the thing to helps part of your brain put the endless chatter on hold and finally take a well deserved rest.

Be happy, be healthy, be well.

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Bridging The Political Divide One Blueberry Salsa Recipe At A Time

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I know that this is a health and wellness blog and my posts have been trending more towards the political lately. These days as I see so many people I love experiencing extreme amounts of stress and anger and frustration and fear that I have to believe the two are inextricably tied together.  It has been hard to think about much else lately. When I’m scrolling through my social media feed it almost seems a bit jarring to come across a post that doesn’t have to do with politics. Like, “Wait! Don’t you know what’s going on right now? Crazy cat videos are no longer important!”

We are all trying to navigate this new political climate in our own way. For me I’m trying to take at least one positive action a day for the world and also for my sanity and well-being.  I’ve also been trying hard to replace anger with curiosity. The question I’ve been mulling over a lot lately is how did we get to this place? How can we create a culture that invites conversation over argument when there seems to be such a huge gap between our beliefs?

I came across this Ted Talk last night that I thought was fascinating. If we really want to move forward as a nation I think it’s important that we take a closer look at our mindset. That we try to shift from the feelings of “we’ve got to beat them,” to “we’ve got to reach them.” Being angry can certainly fuel action, but it seldom convinces someone to see things from your point of view.

Now I fully admit to having lived my whole life on the left coast. I’m positive my way of looking at the world has been shaped by that. Most of the people I’m surrounded with have a similar world view as I do. But still I have a few aunts and uncles that I’m pretty sure have a very different take on things. I’m pretty sure their environment has shaped their views as well.  I know them to be good people who love their children. I have hobbies in common with them. We’ve known each other our whole lives. We’ve celebrated lots of holidays together over the years.

The idea of calling up these relatives and engaging in a political conversation is overwhelming. It makes my stomach clench. Just the thought of it makes my shoulders tense and my heart beat faster (Wow! Instant physical reaction even without the actual interaction). There are issues I feel so passionately about that I’m not sure at this moment in time I could rationally and calmly have a political conversation with them.  I can however imagine calling up my uncle and asking for that awesome blueberry salsa recipe that he made last time he was visiting. Maybe it’s not a conversation that will be world altering, but at least for me personally it’s a start. A reminder to both of us that there are real people that we know and love behind the political labels and party lines.

I’m not saying I think people should just get over it so that everyone will get along. I’m not saying we shouldn’t feel passionately about world issues or that we shouldn’t turn those feelings into phone calls and letters and emails and action. But there is a big difference between action and anger especially when it comes to our health and well-being. One empowers you and the other breaks you down. One reaches out and the other pushes away.

I have another aunt I love on the left side. She is very politically involved. She puts in long hours volunteering for her party. She is up to date on the issues. She reaches out to people to make sure their voices are heard. When we lost the election I was worried she would be hit hard. She had poured so much time and energy into the effort. I tentatively asked my cousin how her mom was doing. “Better than the rest of us!” I was so surprised by the answer. But now thinking about it I wonder if it’s because she is used to having these conversations. She is more aware that there are people out there with different ideas. I need to ask her about it, but I wonder if she like me is excited that even though we may not have the president we hoped for we now have a huge uprising of people who are getting involved, speaking out, learning about the issues.

Yes we can view it as a stressful, scary time. We can focus on the things that might happen (but haven’t yet). But when we do that we cause ourselves to essentially live in a reality we don’t like prematurely – think of me getting stressed out just by the thought of having a conversation with relatives that hasn’t even happened. When I imagine it happening the stress to my physical and mental health is the same whether or not that conversation takes place. I’m the only one who is negatively effected, not my uncle and aunt who don’t even know this is going on in my imagination!

So for my part I’m going to try my hardest to focus on the incredible and exciting positive response we’ve been seeing from people getting involved in the political process in a way that I’ve never known in my lifetime (thank you Mr. Trump!). I’m going to reach out to my friends and relatives on the other side and remember that they are good humans who have been shaped by their environment just like I have. Eventually I’m going to try to have some conversations with them through the lens of curiosity. I’m going to remember that one person doesn’t define a nation, that it’s all of us and our voices that do. I’m going to use mine!

Be happy, be health, be well.

via Daily Prompt: Overwhelming

The World Needs You

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Friends I urge you now more than ever to attend to your health and well-being! There is a lot going on in our world right now, but feelings of anger, frustration, overwhelm or depression experienced over extended periods of time is incredibly damaging to our health.

I have loved this quote from Bansky for a long time. But I used to look at it in a different light. I used to think that his words of encouragement were solely for the people out there who were ready to throw in the towel and give up. I see it in a slightly different light these days. The sort of change we are looking for in this world is not going to happen overnight. We need to be in it for the long haul and in order to do that it’s vital that we are taking care of our bodies, our minds, our souls. These days when I think of Bansky’s words I see them as a reminder that rest is a nonnegotiable part of pushing forward. Rest is just as important to learn for the people who don’t ever want to quit.

Please. Don’t give up! Don’t stop taking action! Don’t quit! But I want you here for the long haul. The world needs you here for the long haul. If we let the stress of the world break us down then essentially it wins.

Learn to rest. Take time to turn off the television, stop scrolling through your news feed, have conversations about something else going on, walk away for a little while. Don’t forget your body when your mind is constantly clamoring for your attention. Eat well, move, sleep, breathe deeply, go outside. All of these things don’t mean that you are being neglectful or lazy or shortsighted. It’s the opposite! Because you and I know that by taking breaks and learning to rest you will be here to show up for a long, long time. And that’s exactly what this world needs.

Be happy, be healthy, be well.

Making Peace With Missing Out

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I think one of the most common struggles when it comes to taking care of our health and well-being is the feeling that there is not enough time in the day. It’s so true that we all have the same 24 hours. How is it that we are are supposed to do our work, spend time with our family and friends, take care of household chores, exercise, eat right, get enough sleep, manage our stress, AND find time to do things that fuel our souls and make us feel alive and inspired. It is easy to feel overwhelmed and like we’re being charged with an impossible task!

We want to be good parents, good children, good employees, good friends, good people. We want to make sure we are meeting everyone’s needs. We want to say yes when people ask us to do things.  How do we do it all and still meet our own needs? Have you ever noticed that taking care of ourselves is often the first thing that falls to the wayside when we are stressed and busy?

Here is the thing. There will always be more. There will always be more things vying for your attention, wanting your help, asking for your time, your money, your energy. It’s a big world out there!  As incredible as it would be to be an inexhaustible resource to every person, every cause, every job opportunity it’s just not possible. We need time to rest, recharge, replenish, reflect. It’s critical. The other choice is to become run down, exhausted, broke, stressed, burnt out.

If you are looking for another way here is what I would suggest.

Make peace with missing out.

Here’s how. Take some time to sit down and think about what things in your life that are really important to you. Don’t make that list too long – maybe just 3 or 4 things. Write them down. Read them every day. Think about them. Talk to people you love about them. Then ask yourself every time you are faced with an opportunity or asked to do something, “how does this serve my list?” Get really really clear on how your decisions are serving your top priorities in life.

In a recent blog post I wrote that we make about 35,000 choices every day. Imagine what our lives would feel like if the majority of those decisions moved us in a direction closer to being in alignment with those 3 or 4 things that are most important to us.

When I was a newish mom I used to subscribe to an email list that would send me a weekly email with all of the events going on around town for kids. I wanted to make sure that I was being a super mom so I’d write everything down on our calendar and try to take the kids to as many as possible. I’d feel a little stressed if we were running late or if the kids were dragging their feet to get somewhere. If we missed an event that I had on the calendar I’d feel downright disappointed and frustrated. Like I failed that day.

Right at the top of my list of things that are important to me is Family – so I did some thinking about what that really means for me. For me that means connection, that means time together, that means laughter and mealtime conversations. It does not mean me using my scary mom voice to force all of us to get into the car and rush to some event around town that the kids really don’t care about anyway.

I’ve unsubscribed to that email list. I know where the website is when I need it. These days I’m getting better at making peace with missing out.

So how exactly do you say no?

When I was younger I was a serial people pleaser. I thought that was the best way to get people to like me. I thought saying yes to everything that came my way was the best way of saying yes to the universe. I tried to be open to every opportunity, every exciting new thing, every request for my time and energy. Being open is good right? So why was I feeling so frazzled and overwhelmed?

Then one weekend I was at a weekend-long meditation retreat. The teacher was an older woman. She was so peaceful and calm. Something about just being close to her made you feel more relaxed. One meditation was particularly emotional for me. Afterwards she came and sat next to me. She asked me what was going on and I told her I just felt totally stretched thin and like I was letting people down around me because I couldn’t do it all and do it well. She just rested her hand on my back and said, “You know Brooke, it’s okay to say no to people.”

I don’t think anyone up to that point had ever really told me that.

I want to share a little trick with you that I recently heard on a podcast that for me as a recovering people pleaser has been great. It’s these six little words.

“Let me get back to you.”

When you are face to face with someone who is asking you to do something it can be really hard to say no.  In that moment you might not know if it resonates with your most important things or not. You may need some time to process the request. When that happens you just use these six magic words! They give you time to think about it without closing the door but also without committing. They buy you time to figure it out and make a thoughtful decision. Ultimately if it’s not the right fit for you, it might not feel like it but you will be doing everyone a favor by saying no.

I still sometimes struggle with saying no to people, but I do it a lot more frequently these days because even though I worried for a long time that by saying no I would be restricting my life and missing out on things what I’ve found has been just the opposite. Instead I’ve opened up space and time and resources for the things that really matter to me most. I have more quality time with my family. I find I have more time for taking care of my health and well-being.   If anything my life feels more expansive.

I’d love to hear if there have been times in your life when you’ve been really happy you’ve said no to something. Are there times you wish you would have said yes?

Be happy, be healthy, be well!

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5 Free Apps For Better Health And Wellness That I Love

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Maybe you’ve heard that sitting is the new smoking? I have had a little bit of a love/hate relationship with technology over the years. For a long time I resisted it as much as possible. I was the last one in my office to get on Facebook back in the day.  It’s hard to ignore the fact that as a society technology has played a major role in moving us indoors more and making us more sedentary – contributing significantly to the obesity epidemic and all kinds of other health problems our nation is now facing.

But as with most things in life the issue of our society becoming technologically driven is not clear cut good or evil. There are of course many great things that technology provides us with. I get pretty excited when it contributes to helping us live healthier, happier lives. I keep an ongoing list of health and wellness apps that I use myself or have been recommended to me by clients. Here are 5 of my favorites that are free:

  1. 1 Giant Mind – If you are feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and like you don’t have enough time a daily meditation practice can help. Here’s the thing though, you can’t use meditation like a band-aid. It would probably help a little  to sit down just on those days that you are feeling particularly under the gun and meditate but much more effective is a daily practice. 1 Giant Mind makes it very accessible, it walks you through the basics of meditation and runs a 30 day challenge  where you unlock more great teaching along the way. I can’t recommend this app highly enough. I honestly can’t believe it’s free.
  2. Fooducate – Fooducate is touted as an app that helps you with weight loss, but that’s not why I like it (you know me, I like to focus on your health not your weight). You can certainly use it to track calories if that’s your gig, but what I like to use it for is as a way to learn about products and get ideas for healthier alternatives. The Food Finder feature allows you to scan barcodes on any products you are considering and then it will give it a “grade” and more information about it. But what I especially love is that it will provide you with alternative ideas for healthier items. Other fooducate users can post about ways that they have used that food. Fooducate does a great job of making you feel like part of a community of people who want to eat healthier. There are paid features to this app, but you can do a lot with it for free. It’s definitely worth checking out.
  3. Runtastic – If you are ready to get moving and are looking for an app that will track your workouts Runtastic Pro is a great option. I used this fitness tracker for years and found it to be really user friendly and accurate. It used to be that this tracker was just for running and walking, but now you can track all kinds of activities from rock climbing to cross-country skiing to wakeboarding. Seriously if you can think of it they can probably track it. One part I love about Runtastic is that they will give you a map of a course you’ve been on with the mileage and time, making it easy to challenge yourself to work on improving your time. Again their are some fun paid features (i.e. you can pay for stories while you are running), but the free version is pretty powerful and all you need to get started.
  4. Water Time – Drinking more water is a goal that a lot of women I work with have and it’s a good one! Drinking plenty of water flushes out toxins, it transports nutrients to your cells and helps your body to work more efficiently. But sometimes it’s hard to remember to stop and take the time to do it! There are lots of water apps out there but I found this one to be simple and easy to set up. It gives you reminders throughout the day to stop and drink (you just have to remember to have your water bottle with you!). With the free version there are some ads, but if they bother you an upgrade to the ad-free version is just $0.99.
  5. Lotus Bud – This sweet app is surprisingly simple and often exactly what I need. Throughout the day at random times the lotus bud app will “ring” a meditation bell reminding you to take a deep breath and be mindful of the present moment. It’s funny because my kids love it too. If they hear the bell go off they stop whatever they are doing and say, “time for a deep breath Mom!” A great app for all of us!

I’ve come around to embracing technology, especially when it can help us with our health and happiness. I’d love to hear what apps you use and would recommend. Leave me a comment below if you have one that you love.

Be happy, be healthy, be well!

 

One Foot In Front Of The Other – How To Know When You’re On The Right Path

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I’m going to tell you right from the get go that the title of this post is a little bit misleading because here’s the thing. I don’t believe there is a right path. There is a right direction, there is a grand and inspiring and enlightened and vibrant place that you are moving towards but there is no one “right” way to get there. We make about 35,000 choices EVERY DAY! How would it be possible to get every single one of those “right”?

I like to think of it like this. Whatever it is that you are looking for in order to be happy, in order to be fulfilled, in order to be the best version of yourself in this lifetime – it is out there. It is out there like one amazing awe inspiring view. For me that would be the mountains filled with alpenglow but for you that might be the ocean or big sky country or a sparkling city vista at night. We’re not born seeing the view – we may have a sense that it’s out there and a general idea of the direction but there is never a straight direct path with blinking neon lights saying “GO THIS WAY”.

Instead there are subtle signs. Gentle nudges. We can’t always see them, we FEEL them.  We start out in the trees and have to find our way through. It’s easy to get turned around, or distracted and even completely lost at times. Like any good life wanderer the more we pay attention, the more signs we come across pointing us in the right direction.

Every “wrong” choice can be a gift too if we are paying attention. It becomes one of those things that nudges us back to moving in the right direction.

In my early 20’s I moved to a magical little mountain town where I ended up meeting my husband Mike. It was one of my first “real life” experiences after college. This little town is full of amazing, self-reliant people. People who grow glorious gardens. People who know how to cook and bake and can their own food. Potlucks – which happen frequently – are an amazing site to behold. These are people who know how to knit and fix things. They are people who have spent extensive time hiking in really remote parts of the mountains. Strong, kind, community focused kind of people.

When I first started meeting people in the community I felt a little like they were beautiful, magical creatures. Amazing and fascinating but not quite real.

Every other week Mike and I would make the hour long drive to the nearest town with a big grocery store and we’d load up our shopping cart with Rice-A-Roni and boxed mac and cheese (sometimes we’d throw in a can of tuna or some frozen veggies to make it “healthy”). We thought that was pretty normal but after living in this town for awhile it became apparent pretty quickly that the locals had a very different way of approaching food.

I remember distinctly one pivotal night for me. We went to have dinner with some new friends on their organic farm. Walking through bamboo groves and into the house they had built themselves 30 years ago felt somehow like coming home. On top of the burning wood stove was a cast iron pot of something that smelled delicious. Exposed wooden beams and comfy couches made up the living room.

When we sat down to dinner there were candles on the table. The beef stew that Anne had made was made up of only things that she had grown on the farm and beef from a neighbor that raises cattle. It was very clear that this was not a special occasion type meal – that this was a way of life (I doubt very seriously that there is Rice-A-Roni lurking in any of their pantry cabinets).

When we left their house that night my heart felt filled up to overflowing while simultaneously desperately aching for more. Do you know the feeling I’m talking about? That my friends is a sign you are moving in the right direction!

But you have to act on it! Otherwise it becomes one of those happy/sad memories. The kind that make you feel nostalgic and like you may have missed out on something more.

For awhile Mike and I continued on with our regular shopping habits because they were familiar and easy and normal to us – but now on the drive home I would feel disgruntled and grumpy. That unsettled feeling was a clear a sign that I was supposed to be moving in a different direction.  It took me awhile to tune into what was going on, but finally I decided to stop wanting to be like those magical people and try to start living like them.

Maybe it will sound silly to you, but the first time I walked into the local food coop I was completely nervous. I felt like there was billboard above my head walking around with me that said, “This is the girl who mostly eats ramen noodles!” I didn’t know what all of the vegetables were, I didn’t know what half of the things in the bulk section were. The people who worked there were friendly, but I was shy to ask questions. After I bought our groceries that week I felt a little out of my element, but also exhilarated. It was a start. I could catch a glimpse of the mountain view through the trees.

The key is to pay attention. To look up from time to time and ask yourself what’s really important. To take the time to catch a glimpse of the view through the trees so you know generally which way to go. You are already on the right path. Don’t beat yourself up for not knowing more than you do right now. You are right where you are supposed to be. And although it might be a little scary, if you take the time to notice what makes you feel unsettled or unhappy you can change your path and walk towards something bigger and more beautiful. Towards the life that’s right for you.

Be happy, be healthy, be well.

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Book Review: The Happiness Project

thehappinessprojectHow is it possible that I have not stumbled across Gretchen Rubin before? I feel like now after reading her book The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent A Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun that I want to read everything she’s ever written. The title of the book is a nice summary of what her year-long experiment entails but what you can’t know unless you read this gem is just how utterly charming and relate able the author is.

One of the main points of the book is that everyone will have their own path to happiness – an idea that I personally hold near and dear. I was curious before beginning this lovely read what it would be like to dive into the details of a happiness project that belonged to someone else. Someone with different interest from me (she admits readily to not being such a fan of the great outdoors, and yoga – at least laughing yoga – also did not make the cut). It was great! The author is humble and honest and funny (sometimes without meaning to be). She admits to her faults and admirably tries to improve upon them without being preachy about it. She talks about a lot of feelings that I think many of us can relate to — one example being the idea of wanting to become a better listener without just waiting impatiently for a break in the conversation to jump in with her own story or experience.

I love how she gives an honest account of what it’s like to juggle home and work life. She talks in detail about how she came round to figuring out what it is that is really important in her life. So often we get caught up in our daily grind that it’s easy to forget to stop and take a minute to ask ourselves the big questions like, “What is it that really makes me happy?” And, “How am I making space for that in my life?” Conducting your own happiness project might be just the ticket!

I know I’m gushing here but one last thing that I love about this book is the incredible recommended reading list at the end. Gretchen Rubin is clearly a reader – she makes a lot of references to her favorite books and the impact they’ve had on her life. I don’t know if you are like me but sometimes when I’m reading a book that I really love I feel a little sad when it’s over. The silver lining for me on this one is that now I have a huge list of book recommends to add to my reading list from an author that I really love.

Check out Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project for an uplifting, enlightening, very personal journey towards finding greater happiness and be on the lookout for more great stuff to come from this author.

Be happy, be healthy, be well.

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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.

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