Expressions of gratitude elevate mood, decrease stress, and improve health; great things to manifest in the coming year. So instead of starting 2018 by declaring New Year's resolutions that won't make it into February, choose to express your gratitude to the old year.
You can do this by writing 10 things you are grateful for from 2017. To make this writing count, avoid generalities such as, “I’m grateful for my job.” Be specific and personal. “I’m grateful my boss recognized my hard work and nominated me for the Employee of the Month award in March.”
Caveat: I know what I’m asking is hard given all the pain and angst the last 365 days have brought many of us. But if we don’t pause to acknowledge the positives 2017 had to offer (even if they seem small), the only things that will stand out are the negative moments. That is just how our brain works.
I wrote my 10 thankful happenings on the first pages of my 2018 gratitude journal. That way every time I open the journal, I am reminded what went well last year.
Consider gifting yourself with a regular gratitude practice in 2018 that starts with this 2017 gratitude reflection.
In peace and solidarity,
In these last days until Christmas, many who celebrate are running around trying to find the perfect gift. Before you head to the mall one more time, take a moment to think about what you are giving. Not all gifts are created equal. Delete off that list the clothes, electronics, and toys you planned to buy, because…
MORE STUFF DOES NOT MAKE US HAPPIER
Okay, I’m exaggerating a little for effect. There are some caveats. First, this applies only to those who are financially secure, not to the financially vulnerable—like those who regularly experience food or housing insecurity. Second, we do experience a short blip in happiness when we get stuff we want. BUT it is temporary, and we quickly get back to baseline.
So if you really want to find a gift that is remembered and savored for more than a blink of the eye, research suggests giving experiences not things.
Not sure what would make a memorable experience gift. Here are five suggestions to get you started.
1. Weekend trip.
This is well-suited for couples, friends, and families—think a camping trip to a nearby park, a two-day hotel reservation in a close city, an all-inclusive spa getaway, whatever. You are only limited by your imagination (and budget).
2. Annual membership to a museum or science center.
Pick a place you know the recipient will be excited about. Consider a family membership for those with kids.
3. Tickets to a play, concert, or sporting event.
Just make sure the type of event suites the recipient’s taste, that you gift more than one ticket (no one wants to do this stuff alone), and the date will likely work for all involved.
4. Classes to learn a new skill or refine an existing one.
The categories here are endless—wine tasting, painting, photography, Tai-Chi, dancing, pottery-making, yoga, singing, piano, swimming…I could go on. Just make sure you gift more than one set so the person can bring a friend or two, which ups the joy and memorability factors.
5. Season passes to a nearby amusement park.
This is particularly great for families. What kid doesn’t like to splash around, eat junk food, and ride roller coasters.
In peace and solidarity,
I am writing this post outdoors on a wooden bench next to a small lake. Natural sounds and sights surround me: trees, grass, birds, and insects…lots of insects. As those who know me can attest, I am generally not an outdoorsy person, particularly when the temperature is above 85 degrees as it is right now. But I do experiment with possibilities. For example, is it possible writing outdoors will lead to increased focus and fluidity?
Moreover, my experimental writing location is part of a larger intention to shift how, why, and when I work so I can be more present in my work and my play.
This is not the first time I have felt the need to change how I engage with the world. I feel pulled to reinvention every four to six years usually after I have achieved a life goal or felt forced to alter one. Some reinventions have been seismic, like leaving the business world to pursue psychology. Some have been subtle, like broadening the focus of my writing through blogging.
The commonality among my reinventions is purposefulness—(re)making the choice to bravely explore what my spirit seeks whether that is a profession that aligns more closely with my sense of purpose or a more public platform for improving the well-being of others.
My reinvention process usually starts with feelings of restlessness. Through practice and support I have learned ways to increase my courage, comfort, and patience with this process. Instead of running from these feelings as I did in my youth, I now engage them. I acknowledge them (sometimes grudgingly) as a sign I am ready to risk embarking on change.
If you have recently experienced an event that has left you unmoored—career promotion, health crisis, personal loss, household move, marriage or divorce, LBGT coming out, birth or adoption of a child, retirement—I invite you to open yourself to the possibility that a reinvention, a change, is in order.
Fortunately or unfortunately, there are multiple paths toward self-reinvention. Below is one set of practices that might make finding your path easier.
When “negative” emotions like restlessness or anxiety come up, it is natural to avoid them whether through artificial busyness, distraction, or disconnection—think scheduling every second of your time, overeating, excessive alcohol/drug use, or zoning out in front of the TV/tablet/phone. Instead of squelching your feelings, choose to engage them by creating time and space for silence and non-judgmental reflection. Sit (or squirm) with what surfaces.
Underneath the feelings are messages about what you need that is presently absent from your life. Journaling, meditation, and nature walks are helpful ways to bring these messages forward. Listen to these messages to determine what need they are pointing toward. If you identify more than one need, consider which one feels most pressing.
Explore what is possible if you courageously choose to walk toward fulfilling this need—a hard exercise for many even in fantasy. If you want help imagining, respond to the questions below. Caveat: give yourself permission to embrace honestly, without censure, your initial responses.
The distance between wanting to change and actually doing so can be wide. Hold close that every journey begins with a first step. That step need not be long; it just needs to be. What can you do now to take one step toward exploring your need? Once done, what can you do now? And now? And now?
P.S. Sometimes we need guidance with one or more of these practices. That guidance may be a coach, therapist, group, practice, or location. For my most recent transformation, my guidance came in the form of an amazing writing retreat where I was showered with support from Michelle Boyd, retreat organizer extraordinaire and friend and a group of other amazing women retreatants. Together they helped me slowly exhale into imagining and responding.
In peace and solidarity
In August, I presented at the American Psychological Association Convention. It's a huge four-day affair held in a different city annually; this year it was in DC.
As always, the event was housed in a ginormous convention center with spillover programming in three nearby hotels. There were over 11,000 psychologists and graduate students in attendance.
You read that right - 11,000!!!!
My time in DC reminded me how draining and stressful navigating conferences can be. It's hard to travel, traverse a new city/venue, present, talk to strangers, and "be on" for days on end. Those last two - interacting with strangers and being "on" - are the most stressful for me. I can usually tap into the extroverted part of my personality for 24 hours...30 tops. Then it's all downhill. At the bottom of this slide is deep exhaustion and the overwhelming desire to hide in my hotel room under the covers.
Fortunately, I've learned a thing or two in my almost two decades (gulp) of conference travel. These strategies consistently keep my stress low and my energy and engagement high, even on the last day of a four-day convention. Here are my favorites.
1. Arrive at least one day before the conference starts, if funds permit. Don't spend the day buried in your PowerPoint presentation. Instead, use the time to acclimate to the space and relax. This gives you a reserve of energy you can tap once the conference starts.
2. Take regular breaks between sessions to keep focused and alert. Sitting in cold rooms listening to speaker after speaker can be mind-numbing, no matter the topic.
3. Talking about breaks, walk around the block. Walking increases focus, energy, and creativity. If the weather isn't cooperating, try deep breathing in your hotel room or sipping tea by a window. These activities are sure to get you back to center.
4. Reach out to other attendees you know PRIOR to the conference. Invite them for a meal or coffee. Social engagement has lots of stress-reducing properties. But do keep some meals free in case you need alone time or want to connect with new people.
5. Avoid the temptation to skimp on sleep. Make sure you get at least 8 hours nightly. Naps that are 20 minutes or less can also be refreshing.
Because I consistently used these strategies at APA, I was able to enjoy and engage fully in the best parts of the conference - interacting with old friends, meeting colleagues from around the world, and, best of all, learning about new research, practices, and policies.
I invite you to experiment with one or more of these strategies during your next convention. If you have other strategies that work, feel free to share them in the comments section.
In peace and solidarity,
I know, I know, a lot of us are getting very tired of thinking about and being asked whether we are happy. But hang with me for a minute and examine, I mean really examine, whether you are happy. Or said better, what your level of happiness is.
By happiness, I don’t mean giddy, laughing all the time, party like a rock-star feelings. I mean a deep, warm contentment with the major aspects of your life. Where are you with that?
Now before you jump in to determine your level of happiness, I invite you to put aside any judgments about what you find. This is not about what your level should be now – the shoulds in life do no good for anyone. This is about taking an honest look at where you are, which allows you to make informed decisions about how to shape your future in ways that improve your happiness. With that in mind, here we go…
Rating your happiness
Start by listing the major aspects of your life. For me, they are: health (physical and mental), friendships, romantic relationship, family, financial, intellectual/creative, professional, spiritual, physical environment (home, neighborhood, office), and leisure. For you, the groups might be different.
For each of the aspects you listed, rate your level of happiness on a scale of 1, almost none, to 10, deep, warm contentment.
If you’re in the 8 to 10 range on all the major aspects of your life, excellent! You can stop reading now. If you’re less than that in one or more aspects, read on!
Raising your happiness
Look at all the categories you rated below 8. Pick the one you would most like to address now and create a Happiness Action Plan (HAP). Don’t worry, a HAP is simple to create. It is just your answer to the question: What do I need to change to raise my happiness level just one number higher?
Let me digress here and address the question many of you might be asking - why am I not asking you to think about what it would take to get to 10? The answer is simple, change is not easy. If you’ve ever tried to lose a lot of weight, stop biting your nails, or quit smoking, you know this already. There is nothing more energy depleting than setting a goal that is beyond your reach. On the other hand, setting a reasonable goal is motivating and increases the likelihood of success. So, the rule here is start small and hold close the idea that any increase in happiness is progress forward.
Okay, with that out of the way, let’s get back to your happiness level. Be as specific as possible in your HAP, but remember, it doesn’t have to be elaborate. You’re just moving one level up, so keep your goals simple.
For example, several years ago when I did this exercise, I rated my friendships a 6. I had great friends, but felt disconnected at times because our busy lives made it difficult to socialize regularly. To raise my 6 to a 7, my partner and I decided to host monthly pizza nights where we invite a rotating array of friends. Although a simple plan, it did raise my happiness level and motivated me to incorporate other regular social events.
Now that you have a HAP, I challenge you to start implementing it TODAY! The only way you can make change happen is to plan for it and prioritize your plan. I’m not asking you to implement your entire HAP today, just do one thing now to move you forward. For me, that was making a list of people I would like to invite to pizza night. After today, continue to make daily progress on your HAP with the plan of having it completed in four weeks or less.
Whatever your HAP, I wish you all the best in bringing it to fruition. If you’re stuck about how to do so, seek feedback from friends or consider hiring a life coach to guide you in the process.
In peace and solidarity,