Archives for March 2010

Tool for Happiness: Find and Follow Your Spiritual Path

El Salvador 002The outcome of the research on happiness has revealed a number of traits identified by happy people. Whether they have religious affiliation or not, people who describe themselves as happy believe in a higher power, a higher purpose or some force greater than themselves. This “something” is called by many names, but the belief seems to give purpose and meaning.

If the research findings are right, then finding and following your spiritual path is an important tool in embracing your happiness. Here are five ways to find your spiritual path.

1. Enjoy nature

Whether it’s a walk around the local park, a trip to majestic waterfalls or observing the persistent pushups of lizards in your backyard, pausing to observe nature has physical, emotional and spiritual benefits. Make it a practice to go to spots of nature that you find comforting and there you will find peace and joy that transcends the concerns of the work-a-day world.

2. Care for others deeply

I remember the overwhelming feeling of joy that came over me when I saw my first child for the first time. I was still on the delivery table and it was seconds after I had given birth to her. I felt the love for her transport and transform my life.

Find someone you can care about deeply. Someone whose well-being makes as much difference to you as your own well-being.

This someone you care about may be your pet. If so, nurture this care and love for it is a key component of your happiness.

3. Tune into your intuition

Within you is a still voice encouraging and directing you to your good. As long as you are moving about frantically living your life and carrying out your daily tasks, however, you can’t hear it.

You also can’t hear it if you let your inner critic get the upper hand. Unfortunately she has a louder voice.

It’s only when you practice being still and listening that you will be able to hear this kind, reassuring voice propelling you to make the choices that are best for your life.

4. Do good in the world

Being alone on occasion to contemplate is enriching, but being isolated is not.

If you want to ensure your own happiness, reach out to do good in the world. You may offer your skills, time or financial support to a charity, a church or other group whose aims you support.

You can contribute in small ways by picking up your own litter, greeting the people you meet with a smile or offering a word of encouragement to someone who appears to need it.

Doing good in the world reaps tremendously rewards that sustain your happiness.

5. Treat yourself to beautiful music, art and literature

Music and art are considered universal languages because they have the power to move you to great heights regardless of your native tongue.

Likewise, classic literature, has power that transcend generations and touches you wherever you are.

Seek out the music, art and literature that speak to you meaningful ways, stir your spirit, and uplift your soul.

One or all of these five ways will help you find your spiritual path. When you do, follow your spiritual path consistently to create the happiness that only you can allow into your life.

Tool for Happiness: Accept Yourself

Young Girl Playing By Herself --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Young Girl Playing By Herself --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

No matter how much advice there is on discovering happiness, you will have to define what it means to you. It is helpful, however, to learn what other happy people have found works for them. One practice common in happy people is self-acceptance.

Here are five steps to accepting yourself.

1. Face your limitations and then do something about the ones you can

We were all born with certain genetic makeup and dispositions. Keeping in mind the things over which we have control will expedite our happiness and success. This doesn’t mean you can’ t make changes and improvements in your life, but it does mean that you have to work within your capabilities.

Some of our limitations can be pushed back.

If I decided to run a marathon, I would run into my physical limitations quickly. I’m over my ideal weight, not particularly fit, and certainly don’t have the training, stamina and practice to sustain a long run. To try to run a marathon under these conditions would doom me to physical injury, pain and maybe death.

On the other hand, if I wanted to run a marathon and was willing to commit to the diet, preparation, training and practice required to safely complete the race, I have no doubt that I would be able to complete a marathon. Perhaps I would not win, but I would be able to complete it.

Take a hard look at the things you consider your limitations to see which ones have shallow roots. Then make plans to do what it takes to push past those in your pursuit of your goals.

Going beyond what you once considered limitations will give you a huge dose of confidence, inspiration and self-acceptance.

2. Do what you love

This phrase is often completed with “and the money will follow.” But I’m not talking about earning money in this instance.

You must do what you love in order to build your self-respect and self-acceptance. When you are spending a third or more of your life on a job you hate, yielding to someone’s will, helping someone build their business while neglecting your dream you erode your own feelings of worth.

If your job pays great money but it doesn’t make you feel good about yourself, you must make a plan to escape to one that does. It make take a while to make this transition, but just getting started will begin to increase your self-love right away.

3. Silence your inner critic

As soon as you begin a new venture or set out for a goal you can count on your inner critic to step up with objections, cautions and criticisms. It’s important to acknowledge your inner critic, but send her back to her corner.

Your inner critic’s job is to keep you from taking risks and hurting yourself. But to do this she reminds you of all your failures, shortcomings, and does her negative best to keep us from moving forward. Left unattended, she will have you believing that you are completely incapable and inept. As a matter of fact, she will paralyze you from taking action.

You can’t kill your inner critic, but you can disarm her whenever she appears. Her words distort the truth of who you are so you can’t left your self-worth be defined by her and your work toward your goals be dictated by her.

4. Pat yourself on the back

When I was growing up we were discouraged from talking about our own accomplishments. My parents feared that it would make us boastful, shallow and distasteful people. They were misinformed.

Congratulate yourself when you complete a goal. Celebrate when you reach a milestone, even small ones. These moments of acknowledging your achievements bolster your self-esteem.

5. Give up the quest for perfection

I recently told a client that she must resist the urge to try to edit and write at the same time if she hopes to finish her book. She was amazed that I advised her not to read the previous chapter before starting the new one.

If you reread your previous writing before continuing, it is near impossible to resist the urge to edit and rewrite.

Once the rough draft book is completed you may go back through the book to begin editing and smoothing out the rough edges. But trying to edit and write at the same time is like trying to ice and bake it at the same time.

Trying to fashion a perfect life is futile as well. You must live your life knowing that making mistakes is part of living. When you learn from the mistakes it’s very beneficial, but you will make new ones. Treat mistakes and setbacks as lessons.

As you grow and develop your skills you get better at what you do. Becoming comfortable with your own imperfection ensures your happiness.

When you accept yourself, you won’t waste time on trying to please others, looking to them for validation or swayed by the fickle judgments of others. And best of all, you will be better prepared for happiness and success on your own terms.

Tool for Happiness: Take Responsibility for Your Life

vicandjazzy2Popular comedian during the 70’s, Flip Wilson, became famous for saying “The Devil made me do it” to explain his behavior.

As we laughed at Flip, the rest of us may have wished that we could blame the Devil or someone else for our behavior too, but it does no good. No one makes us do anything. We choose.

When I got a call from a customer complaining about a flaw in my service once, I could hear the relief in her voice when I took full blame for the problem. I am sure she was braced for a fight, but accepting responsibility diffused her anger. Once I took responsibility for the problem I was able to apologize for the inconvenience she had experienced, and discover what I could do to resolve the problem.

Viktor Frankl, one of the most well-known Holocaust survivors, discovered after he was released from four years of horrible treatment in concentration camps that his wife, family and parents had all died in the camps.

Frankl learned that everything can be taken from a person except one thing–to choose your own attitude in any given set of circumstances. We cannot control others, only how we react to others.

To increase your happiness take responsibility for your own life. Circumstances around you will tug at you for your attention, time and money. The choices you make determine the direction and quality of your life.

How can you better take responsibility for your life?

1. Listen to the feedback you get from people you trust.

One holiday season I drove my grandkids through a neighborhood near me to see the beautiful Christmas light displays on the many homes. As we went around this cul-de-sac, my youngest grandson noticed that we were passing the same houses.

“Are you lost, Grandma?”

“No,” I quickly replied. “I know where I’m going.”

But as I made the third turn around past the same houses looking for the way out of the cul-de-sac, I had to confess to my grandson. “Anthony, you’re right. I am lost. But don’t worry, I’ll find the way out.”

Do you want to be right so badly that you block out good feedback and miss the opportunity to correct your behavior?

2. Give what you want to get.

I also call this “taking what you want to the potluck.”

If you want a party to be fun, you must take fun to the party. If you want to attract friendly people you must be friendly.

Whatever it is you want to receive you must be willing to give. That’s just the way it works.

If you don’t like what you’re getting, take a look at what you’re giving.

3. Stop blaming your parents, spouse or someone else for something that happened long ago.

None of us were responsible for the way we were raised or treated by others. But we are responsible for how we are treating ourselves in the present.

If we continue to live in reaction to the past, we will continue to get the same consequences from the past.

The moment you release the past and decide to live your life the way you want, that’s the moment you begin to get the life you want.

4. Be willing to take the consequences that go with taking responsibility.

As I was positioning my laptop on a table in Starbucks recently I knocked over a clay flower pot. It broke into pieces as it hit the floor.

I reported it to a nearby clerk and asked for a broom so I could pick it up. I was fully prepared to pay for it, if required.

Instead, the clerk said “No worries. Thank you so much for telling us about it. You’d be surprised how many people just try to hide the broken pieces and never tell us.”

Taking responsibility certainly has consequences, but there is no substitute for the good feeling that comes from resisting blame, making good choices, and giving what you want to get.

Tool for Happiness: Build Healthy Relationships

42-17122763Happy people tend to have fulfilling friendships. While we must not count on others for our self-worth, we do benefit from building healthy relationships with others.

Here are five ways to build healthy relationships.

1. Listen

There is a reason that God gave us two ears and one mouth. Listening to others strengthens relationships because it says that they matter to us.

In the early days of my marriage, after attending a social event my husband and I would return home talking about the people we had met there. He would always share all the things he had learned about various people, some of whom I thought I knew well. When I asked him how he learned so much about people in just a few hours time, he said “While you’re busy talking, I’m listening.”

People enjoy talking about themselves, so if you just listen you will learn about them and make them feel valued in the process.

2. Give it time

Building healthy relationships takes time. While we can often get a good feeling about someone on first meeting them, deep and strong relationships require many interactions over time.

We’ve grown accustomed to fast food, fast transportation and fast communication. Developing a strong friendship is not typically done fast. Avoid rushing to “best friend” status, and work at creating long-lasting relationships that grow over time.

3. Set and respect boundaries

While I was attending a networking meeting recently a new member entered the room. When I reached to shake her hand, she put her hands together in prayer-like position, bowed, and explained that she doesn’t like shaking hands. For each new person she met she explained her unwillingness to shake hands.

For this member, a clear boundary was drawn.

While you may not have the same boundary she had, you certainly have limits to what type of touching, behavior or even conversation you allow in your presence.

Some people are happy to welcome surprise visitors to their home, but I prefer visitors to call first.

Other people are happy to meet you at a restaurant for meals, but don’t like having entertaining people at home.

Then there are people who require that you leave your shoes at the door before entering their home.

Setting your own and respecting the boundaries of others gives us comfort by letting us know what to expect. People who are unable or unwilling to respect your boundaries have no place in your circle of friends.

4. Stay in touch.

Most people spend at least half of their waking hours at work, commuting and completing other day to day tasks.

It’s easy for time to pass by without talking to and visiting with friends you enjoy. If you want to maintain your own happiness, it’s essential that you stay in touch with valued relations.

You can stay in touch in person by visiting and enjoying activities together. But you can also stay in touch using the many forms of communication available to us. The important thing here is to make it a priority to make occasional contact to ensure strong healthy relationships.

5. Give mutual support.

Keep healthy relationships by not only lending a listening ear, but also being of assistance when needed.

One friend was recently laid off from her job. I immediately put her in touch with a number of contacts who may be able to help her. Each time I see an announcement of a job fair or other employment opportunity I email it to her.

A healthy relationship is one where you care about what matters to the other person and give your support when possible.

Sometimes your support may involve holding someone’s hand when they are grieving or another time volunteering to help them with an overwhelming task.

The measure and extent of support varies by situations, of course, but healthy strong relationships are strengthened when you give mutual support.

These five ways to build relationships only work when they are reciprocated. Trying to build a relationship with someone who isn’t equally willing to do these five things is like building only half a bridge. Without the cooperation, participation and involvement of the other person, you essentially have no relationship at all.

Tool for Happiness: Make Someone's Day

writing-by-candlelight--photo by skippyjon via flickr

writing-by-candlelight--photo by skippyjon via flickr

Isn’t it interesting that even people who don’t like to send letters, admit that they love receiving them?

Letting someone know that they have made a difference in your life makes their day and adds to your happiness.

No matter how much sending email and text messages have become the common mode of communication, nothing delivers the feeling and emotional impact like a handwritten personal letter or card.

When my children were young they grumbled when I insisted that they send handwritten thank you notes for every Christmas and birthday gift they received. From the way they moaned and whined, you’d think they’d grow up hating to send thank you notes.

On the contrary, as adults they now even send thank you’s to each member of the interview committee following job interviews.

Send someone a handwritten letter today. If you don’t have stationery, a plain sheet of paper or page from a spiral notebook will do. A blank card is a great choice since it gives you structure but also freedom.

The pen you choose won’t matter to the recipient, but it will matter to you. So, choose a pen that feels good in your hand. Give several pens a test drive, then write the letter with the one that flows smoothly across the page and rests comfortably in your hand.

In addition to handwritten letters, I also like to send “real” greeting cards for year-round holidays when people least expect them. Last year, after receiving one of my cards, one friend commented that she didn’t even know they made Happy Thanksgiving cards.

You can buy a set of 6 or 8 of these holiday cards for almost every holiday of the year for around $5. It only takes a few minutes to address them and most mailmen will pick up outgoing mail when they deliver your incoming mail.

I also enjoy sending postcards when I travel. To make this task easy I print off address labels of friends and relatives before I leave town.

On the first day of my trip I look for affordable sets of postcards. Then when I have a long ride or down time between touring historic sites, I can jot a brief greeting on each card. If I don’t find a post office handy I ask the hotel guest services associate to get the stamps and mail them for me.

Letting others know that they matter in your life is a practice that happy people share. The great thing about sending personal handwritten letters or cards is not only do you make someone’s day, but you make yours as well.