Category Archives: Happiness

Everyone has hard times and difficulty, but happiness is still possible. There can be moments of joy in even the most difficult times. Pain happens in life, but suffering is optional.

Feeling Good about Feeling Good: Part 2 – Ignoring Cultural Negativity

Feeling good about feeling good isn’t easy – in fact most of us feel just a little bit guilty or self-conscious when we’re really truly happy.  Our culture doesn’t look favorably on true joyfulness – maybe it’s the puritanical roots?  I talked a lot about it in the first post in this series, which focuses on the personal drama we create.  In this post let’s focus more on the drama and negativity that is culturally conditioned, because as it turns out, there’s a ton of it.

Step 2 to Feeling Good: Ignoring Cultural Negativity

The great myth of Western culture is that we are more financially blessed and privileged as a society and so it logically follows that we must also be happier than other societies, and that those two things are related. Like the happiness maybe comes from something we’ve earned, or bought or treated ourselves to. This isn’t the case. In fact, a remarkable body of research called the “World Happiness Report” found that financial factors play a small part, but social support, freedom to make life choices, generosity and the perception of corruption also have big roles to play. The World Happiness project essentially does a mountain of research to determine which countries are the happiest and how that happiness changes with large world events. The results are highly surprising. Here’s a look at the top 10 countries (U.S. came in #13 if you’re curious) and the key showing what each color represents:

Feeling good about feeling good - the top 10 happiest countries according to the World Happiness Report. (see link in text).

Feeling good about feeling good – the top 10 happiest countries according to the World Happiness Report. (see link in text).

THese are the factors that matter in happiness - financial wellbeing, social support, health (as life expectancy) generosity, honesty or corruption of the society you live in and the general angst of your country, summed up in "dystopia."

These are the factors that matter in happiness – financial wellbeing, social support, health (as life expectancy) generosity, honesty or corruption of the society you live in and the general angst of your country, summed up in “dystopia.”

All well and good, but what does this mean for our own happiness?  Here are a few key points, in the form of actions you can take to boost your happy:

  •  Stop Watching the News.  Especially North American News. Why? Because sadly journalism is a huge industry now and the thing that makes news sell is fear or moral outrage.  More people watch more news if it’s scarier, more shocking or more directly threatening to you and generally that means spinning information to have the maximum impact. News is made scarier, bigger, more fearful,  more threatening, more anger-provoking or inciting. This is not because the world is more fearful, only because news is a business and fear sells. But really, do you need more anxiety hormones coursing through your bloodstream? Really?
  • Let go of Crisis Planning. We are kind of a nation of catastrophizers – everything is going to be something awful. The media has some impact on this because if you listen to the news it sounds like there’s going to be a terrorist showing up on your street at any moment. It’s also just human nature to fear the worst and for god’s sake we have a whole industry of Worst Case Scenario Survival Guides and Zombie Apocalypse Kits. I mean really. Ironically in the World Happiness Report (I’ll call it WHR for short) countries that were impacted by some crisis actually became happier if the social structure was strong (and unhappier if it wasn’t, which leads us to our next point).
The report provided evidence of an interaction between social capital and economic or other crises, with the crisis providing a test of the quality of the underlying social fabric.
If the fabric is sufficiently strong, then the crisis may even lead to higher subjective well-being, in part by giving people a chance to work together towards good purpose, and to realize and appreciate the strength of their mutual social support; and in part because the crisis will be better handled and the underlying
social capital improved in use.
  • Help Your Neighbors.  That whole “social fabric” thing that they’re talking about it something that you and I can actually impact.  Social fabric is strong if you’re in a community that would get out there and make sure everyone has food and water if the sh*t really did hit the fan. It’s weak if you feel like everyone in your neighborhood would get their gun to safeguard their food and water from looters.  So how do we live in a society with good social fabric? Start simple by being a good neighbor and society will follow.
  • Don’t Judge. Sure sure, haters going to hate, but you don’t have to be one of them.  The WHR shows that freedom to make life choices is a really big deal for happiness and that includes the freedom legally but also socially. This means if you don’t feel like you can do what you want to do (even if it’s legal but socially unacceptable) then your happiness is impacted. Likewise if you’re adding to someone else’s feeling of not-being-able-to-do then you’re making them less happy (and yourself as well).  At the end of the day every human on this planet is doing the best they can with what they have so being a little easier on them would help all around.
  • Fix What You Can, Drop Everything Else. Someone else said this better than I will ever be able to, so whether you’re a religious person or not, I’m guessing you can grok this:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and  wisdom to know the difference.

– Reinhold Niebuhr

  • Give Away. Generosity is a simple step to happiness that you have complete and utter control over. You can choose at any moment to give something to someone, to be generous with kindness, with your smile, with laughter, with love.  And it makes YOU happy. You feel good when you help others feel good plain and simple.
  • Practice Pronoia.  I *love* the whole concept of pronoia as visioned by Rob Brezsny. Pronoia is the opposite of paranoia and involves the deep seated belief that the Universe is conspiring to shower you with blessings.  Sure, you could expect the worst, but this is far happier. It is just as likely that the Universe is sneaking up on you to make all your dreams come true as it is that it’s out to get you so might as well engage in some constructive fantasy of the former, rather than the latter (I wrote a  whole post on this too).
  • Learn Optimism. There’s a whole body of research that suggests joy is a talent that you can practice, cultivate and increase just like any other talent.  Let’s do that and start feeling good about feeling good. In fact, there’s a whole book on it.

Feeling Good About Feeling Good: Part 1 – Dropping the Drama

I’ve been seeing an alarming trend a lot in clients, friends and myself. It seems like everyone feels just a little bit guilty when they are feeling good.  Somehow as humans we are a little bit unsure that we deserve to be happy, or healthy, or whole or generally unburdened.  There’s kind of a resting level of guilt, anxiety and martyrdom that everyone acknowledges, recognizes, and accepts as their due.

It’s not quite social acceptable to actually feel good, be optimistic or have a positive world view.  Although it is socially acceptable to put on a brave face, to soldier through, and to rally under pressure. But why? And more importantly, how do we stop buying into that ridiculously destructive collective insanity? We’ll make this a series, because I’m guessing we can talk a bit about it. 🙂

Feeling good about feeling good. Un-learn your story today to get a little breathing room in the feeling good department. Lovely photo from Renesis on wikimedia commons.

Feeling good about feeling good. Un-learn your story today to get a little breathing room in the feeling good department. Lovely photo from Renesis on wikimedia commons.

Step 1 to Feeling Good: Allowing Yourself The Benefits of Drama, Without the Drama.

Here’s the thing. You love drama. You will deny this, but at a fundamental level all humans do. You LOVE drama. You crave it (I do too). Here’s why:

  • Having drama means you’re important enough to have drama – this meets our craving for status, influence, recognition.
  • It means your lire is exciting in some way (even if it’s a bad way). Internally this has a lot of value for all of us humans – we like to have interesting things to talk about. This is also about status and recognition, but also just good socializing.
  • It means you have an excuse to be “too busy” to do the things you didn’t want to do anyway or to take on the extra projects/duties/responsibilities/crap that you didn’t want to take on anyway.This allows us a graceful way to say no, because saying no is really hard.
  • Drama gets sympathy points from everyone else, and on some level we all love both sympathizing with someone else, and also getting sympathy. This is sort of what makes us human, and a community. This meets a big need for care and community from the people around us.

So – the goal here is recognizing when we really have something going on and honor that – make time and space, take what we need and be human. Also to recognize when we’re just creating drama, exaggerating a situation, or making excuses. Sometimes there really is drama and that’s life, but lots of times there really isn’t and in those moments we can just drop it.  Differentiating can be incredibly difficult, but it’s so liberating to stop making excuses, gossiping about yourself and your problems, and just be.

Recognizing when you’re Creating Drama

If you can learn to let go of the story and find what you need in another way, then things do actually get a whole lot simpler. It becomes easy to answer the question “How are you?” with a “great” rather than a dramatic story about how bad/busy/stressed/tired/overworked/crazy/etc… you are. Or to answer the “how are you” question with a “crappy” if that’s the real answer.  There doesn’t have to be a story, sometimes it’s just crappy. But all in all, letting go of your story makes it easier to just feel good. To feel good about feeling good even. Here are some ways to recognize when you’re making something more difficult than it needs to be:

What is Your Story?

Sometimes there is a story that they (or I ) tell over and over in some version that becomes sort of routine.  It’s the story you don’t have to think about, you just tell, and it usually gets an emotional reaction – sympathy, moral outrage on your behalf, something.  Often it starts with a phrase like “You wouldn’t believe…” or “Guess what’s happening now…” or “Listen to this…” and the other person responds by emoting. In many ways we are mutually entertained by this, but we also kind of get stuck in the cycle of that being the way things are because we’re getting positive reinforcement. The relevant question to ask when you notice your story, is:

Is this the way I actually want to be in the world? Or am I perpetuating a story that doesn’t need to exist?

I’ll give you the example that I am working on letting go of – this is my “story”.

You wouldn’t believe how busy I am! I’ve really bitten off more than I can chew between [insert random obligation here] and [another random obligation] I feel like I hardly have any time at all. And now my boss is asking me to [yet another obligation].

My typical story is all about being busy. SO busy. SO VERY busy. And it’s usually told as a bid for sympathy and also a bit of a brag, all rolled into one. Which is recognizably absurd – I know. Ironically it has taken me years to notice that this is my story, and as much time to sort out why.  As it turns out it’s because I perceive my value in the world to be about the things I do – the activities and the accomplishments and the ways I’m productive in the world. So by being so busy, I”m also being “so valuable” (sort of sad, right?)

The most absurd part is that while I’m telling that story I continue to perpetuate it – I take on more projects, I say yes to the next random obligation, I sleep less and try to do more.  CLEARLY this is me creating my own drama and recognizing my story can help me to stop telling it.

Letting Go Of Your Story

To start letting go of your story you have to start to recognize what you personally get out of it. This is different for every person and requires some painful soul searching. Here’s the list of things I think I get from my story:

  • Value – by telling this story some part of me feels valuable – I’m doing things.
  • Emotional connection– other people express sympathy for my workload – it’s a way to know that people care about me and to feel connected.
  • Kudos – doing it all with a smile makes me “brave” or “good” or some other undefinable something.
  • Excuses – I get to say no with good reason to the things I really don’t want to do.  I Don’t even have to say “no” I can say “I would love to, but…”

For me letting go of this story means finding other ways to get or do those things, better ways. As absurd as it sounds this is actually deeply emotional work. For most people, the story that they tell is reflective of some deeply held beliefs about the world and their place in it, and it’s usually a kind of dysfunctional way of going about it.

  1. Recognize Your Story – this has to be the first step. You can’t change it unless you see what it is.  It’s harder than it looks and the best way to figure it out is to ask your friends. Not acquaintances, but the people who have known you for years. They will know your story right away and if you give them permission, they will usually be able to tell you.  Make sure you ask when you’re in an emotional place to actually hear them and not get defensive about what they say because it can be hard to hear.
  2. Pay Attention When You’re Telling It – start to notice what you feel when you’re telling your story.  Notice how the other person reacts and how that makes you feel. Check in to see if there are benefits that you get out of this.
  3. Build Your List of Things You Get From Your Story – you have to know what you’re getting out of it to be able to change it.
  4. One At A Time Find Other Ways to Get Those Things – this is the really hard part, and it will be different for every person. I”ve used a number of tools to separate my emotional feeling that my value is in what I do (not who I am) with the logical recognition that this doesn’t make sense. This has included Byron Katie’s “The Work,” hypnotherapy, meditation and a lot of personal contemplation (not to mention years of homeopathy and the occasional counselor thrown in there). It’s also included growing enough of a spine to learn to say no (we’ll do a whole post on that).
  5. Un-Learn Your Story – practice not telling your story. Recognize the situations when you would normally launch in, and don’t.  It feels awkward to not say it, it feels like there’s a weird conversational faux-pas happening, but just don’t give in. Practice first with friends and ask them to give you gentle reminders when you’re launching into your story.  Ask them to help you notice.
  6. Be Gentle With Yourself – this is far more difficult than you think it’s going to be.  It involves looking at your own most vulnerable pieces. The parts of you that learned something in childhood that your adult brain now has to sort through.
  7. Start Feeling Good about Feeling Good – this is what it’s all about.  You’re dropping your story so that you can let go of dysfunctional ways of getting what you need. This is about learning to feel good without using drama as a crutch. It’s about learning to feel good about feeling good and not letting guilt (about being happy) get in the way of actually being happy. We humans are crazy hairless monkeys, so we might as well enjoy it and not get all neurotic.

It can be tremendously liberating to let go of your story, but it also takes time. Just be gentle with yourself and ease your way into feeling good about feeling good.

Lifehack to Making changes – What Are You Resisting?

Let me be the first to say that making changes in life really sucks.  That’s a technical term. There are many reasons why making changes is difficult – you have your routines, you making changes means the people around you also have to adapt and shift, etc… But I believe the biggest reason that making changes is so difficult is that human brains are tricksy and the change you want to make is actually just a thin veneer over the change you NEED to make. Let me explain.

Your life is the way it is because that is the easiest way for it to be right now and the way that “works” even if there’s something about it that clearly isn’t working. When you look at your life there are areas that are easy, areas that are messy and areas that are downright dysfunctional but all of those parts of your life are doing *something* for you.  No matter how crappy parts of your life might look, they are giving you something positive (even if you complain about it constantly or feel like you need to change it). If it wasn’t giving you something positive  you wouldn’t be doing it that way.

Lifehack – Follow the Resistance

It’s easy to look at the end points that you want to change – I want to lose 10 pounds, get my groove back, have a better relationship with the in-laws, learn to really communicate with the kids, etc… Those are the goals.  To get to those goals there are things you have to change and somewhere in there is a change that you’re resisting.  Especially when you’ve had the same goal for a long time (like that same 10 pounds has been waiting to come off for five years).  Somewhere there is something that you’re resisting doing, resisting looking at, or just not seeing.  The most important thing you have to do when you’re making changes is to follow the resistance.  This is where the real meat of the matter lies.  The problem is that sometimes it can be hard to find the resistance, and as it turns out there is a  way to find that resistance and toddlers already know it.  It’s to just keep asking “why?”

Just keep asking "Why?" Making changes is hard, but it's easier when you know what REALLY needs to change.

Just keep asking “Why?” Making changes is hard, but it’s easier when you know what REALLY needs to change.

Just Keep Asking “Why?”

That sounds really simple, but it isn’t. Here’s an example that I have had the opportunity to explore recently.  One of my clients has an issue with her weight – we’ll call her Jane Doe. She is a mother of four, has a full time job, and a happy marriage. Her family is financially comfortable but doesn’t have a lot extra.  She eats well all day, exercises and has an active job but then falls apart in the evening and gets cravings for salty-crunchy, that are incredibly hard to resist.  We had been working together for some time and just kept getting to this same block.  She was beating herself up for not being able to get past this, for not having the will power, and for not being able to just make it change. After a few months of futility, we sat down and had a heart-to-heart to follow the resistance. Here’s what happened (slightly paraphrased because the whole conversation gets really annoying before it actually resolves).

Amy: “Why do you binge on the salty-crunchy in the evenings?”
JD: “I can’t stop myself”Amy: “Why?”
JD: “I just can’t – it tastes too good”
Amy: “Why do you need something to taste so good?”
JD: “It makes me happy. It’s instant pleasure”
Amy: “Why?”
JD (clearly annoyed now): “It just is – it’s easy and makes me happy”
Amy: “Why do you need something easy that makes you happy?”
JD: “everyone needs pleasure in their lives”
Amy: “Why is your life not giving you pleasure?”
JD (kind of angry with words coming out in a rush): “I work so hard and then come home and have more work. I clean, I cook – my husband helps but between the two of us we’re always running kids here and there, spending money so they can do their stuff, there isn’t really time or money left over for me, so this is what makes me happy.”

Then she cried.

You know you reached the resistance when you cry. Or get angry, or shout and scream, or storm out of the room.  THAT is the resistance.  THAT is the thing that is lurking underneath that really needs to change.  It isn’t the weight, or the binge eating, it’s the lack of time and energy for her own happiness.  Is it easy to change? Nope.  Is it going to require a big step back to find a solution? Yup. When she figures it out will it make a way bigger impact on her life than the silly 10 pounds would?  You bet.

What You Resist Might Just Be What You Need To Change Most

The funny thing about making changes is that it’s all linked up.  There is the thing we might want to change (the 10 pounds) and then the change that we really REALLY need to make for our life to work (JDs lack of time for her own happiness). The change we want seems to always hinge on the change we actually need in the big picture – it’s like some wonderful cosmic synergy  that happens. I tend to call anything along this vein The Great Mystery. It’s like the universe keeps bumping us up against the things that will help us the most if we can just get to the bottom of them.  The really hard part is getting to the bottom of them. So – did Jane Doe just make some time for herself and la-di-da 10 pounds fell off and everyone lived happily ever after?  Um… No.

Making Changes: Resistance is Tricky

No – Jane certainly did not make time for herself and those 10 pounds melted away.  Here’s how the rest of the conversation went:

Amy: “Now we’re getting somewhere! What else could you do that would make you happy?”
JD (genuinely angry now): “You don’t understand.  We don’t have time, we don’t have money. The kids have gymnastics, soccer, summer camp and tutoring and it eats all of the money and I have to run them around to these things. There just isn’t anything left over.”Amy: “Why do you have to run them around?”
JD: “Because they have to do those things – they love them and I want them to have every opportunity.”
etc… etc… etc…

There was a lot more back and forth in which Jane got incredibly frustrated with me, got angry, got indignant, called me a bunch of names for being insensitive, and ended up crying again.  At the end of the day we were friends again, but there was a lot of messy, dark, ugly ground to cover before we got there.  The whole conversation is too cumbersome, but the bottom line was that Jane was beating herself up against a made up idea called “good parent” and to be a “good parent” meant giving up everything that makes you happy so that the kids can have all of the things they’re supposed to have.  That one isn’t an easy fix at all.  But, by managing to fix it not only Jane’s life would be better but her whole family dynamic is better too.

Jane just had an appointment after about 6 months of silence after the above conversation.  I really wasn’t sure if what we did helped or if I’d made her angry enough to go somewhere else.  As it turned out it was a great thing – and also still a work in progress.  Jane ended up sitting down for a conversation with her husband who, as it turns out, felt exactly the same way but instead of turning to food he turned to alcohol.  The two of them tried to shift things around and give each other more breaks and more space, but time management wasn’t really solving the problem.  At this point they sat down with the kids to have a conversation.  Then the floodgates opened.

The kids were stressed out – they could see that mom wasn’t entirely happy and dad was distant and all of them felt guilty for it in different ways (kids always seem to think they cause any problems around them).  Sitting down and talking about it was stressful for the family but got a lot of simmering issues out in the open.  It also revealed that what the kids wanted more than gymnastics and summer camp was time with their parents. The kids really missed the sit-down dinners they used to have before everyone started running in twenty different directions.  They missed the lazy Saturday morning brunch with waffles and they wanted to go camping again and roast marshmallows on the camp fire.  To get those things back, everyone would have to dial back their extracurricular activities.

This wasn’t easy – the kids liked the stuff they were doing, but at the end of the day they liked time with their family more. Did this help Jane?  Not at first.  The things they wanted to do were all food-intensive (as family activities tend to be).  Jane actually gained weight at first because the brunch was all carbs, the sit down dinners were all comfort food and they only managed to go camping once but it was an absolute festival of hot dogs on sticks and popcorn over the campfire and marshmallows galore. As the time went by though and Jane relaxed into a little bit more leisurely schedule, things started to shift. Jane was feeling happier and less rushed and over-scheduled.  She felt like she was enjoying her kids more and not just seeing them as to-do items.  After this six months, the weight was actually starting to come off.

Best of all, Jane said she was actually enjoying her life in a way that she didn’t realize she was missing. Her slow creep into losing her own joy had been gradual enough as to go unnoticed by her and everyone else.  She would never have said at the beginning of that conversation that she wasn’t happy.  Her resistance pointed to a problem that she wasn’t seeing or acknowledging and by doing the hard work of actually addressing that problem, she is seeing a huge reward.  Jane came back to say thanks – how awesome is that?

If you notice that you are making changes, or trying, and you’re coming to a block somewhere that doesn’t seem to move no matter what you do, maybe it’s time to follow the resistance.  Get into it and find the big thing hiding underneath – your life will be better for it.

New Years Resolution? Less, but better.

New years resolutions are funny things, that ironically seem to demotivate people – myself included. Here’s one you (and I) might actually keep: LESS BUT BETTER.  Of course there have been some resolutions in the past that worked – among the favorites were: dance more (I actually managed to keep that one), watch the sunset every night (I didn’t even come close, but had fun trying) and write your book! (deadlines work for me).  The most hated were the usual – get fit! (Totally undefinable, no woman is ever satisfied that this has happened, and really?!?) Take better care of my skin (sigh. I’m just not a 5-step beauty routine girl) and Always keep the house visitor-clean (sadly, no.) This year, however, I’m keeping it a little more simple.  This year’s resolution is LESS BUT BETTER.

Less but Better? Here’s Why:

I am a do-er, and I have a tendency to forget that I am human and unfortunately not, as I would like to believe, bionic.  Not even a little.  Having a baby really drives that home – not only am I not bionic, I’m not even in control of my schedule and I can’t seem to make it out of the house without some kind of bodily fluid on my clothes. I get up at night to nurse, but end up “sleeping” for 10 hours just to make up for the normal sleep I don’t get. Answering email has become the herculean task, simply because I can’t figure out how to fit that and everything else into my baby’s nap time. Plus, I don’t want to miss a minute with my baby.

Dieter Rams, a German industrial designer, is known for living by the principal of “Less but Better.” It has become his mantra in terms of designing goods with simplicity, beauty and functionality. And why couldn’t a life be designed the same way? I want my life to be less but better. By shaving off all of the unnecessary pieces until what is left is essential, true and beautiful.  Even Leonardo Da Vinci agrees, saying:

Less but better. Simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication

Less but better. Simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication

Life is busy, especially if you stubbornly refuse to give up the things you love to do.  Even so, there has to be a limit somewhere.  There has to be an end point.  So this year, let’s try something different. Take the time to make a list of you commitments in life (i.e. laundry, girl scout troop leader, volunteer, grocery shopping, side project at work, duties at church, taking the kids to soccer, walking the dogs, mowing the lawn, etc…) and to find a way to take at least 2 items off that list.  Preferably their least-favorite two. These could be items that you find money in your budget to pay for, like a cleaning or lawn service, or it could be items that just take up time in your life but aren’t bringing whatever reward you were looking for, like that side project or the volunteer gig or the book club you hate.  Either way it’s like cleaning out the clutter. This means less demands on your time, but better. Keep the really important stuff and the really beloved stuff and ditch the rest.

This year make everything less but better.

This year make everything less but better.

It’s not just the work and responsibilities – it’s the stuff.  I’m so sick of extra stuff that clutters up the place and gets in the way of the stuff I actually like and use.  And here’s the thing – I notice in my life, and this might be true in yours too, that I hold on to things for the wrong reasons.  The dishes I love stay in the cupboard because they’re the  “good” set and not for everyday use.  The clothes that make me feel spectacular only get worn on special occasions because I might mess them up.  It’s recently occurred to me that this is all backward. I want to wear clothes that make me want to do a little dance every day and not only that, I want to toss the rest. If they’re uncomfortable, unflattering, or not my style, they’re going. Forget about what they cost when I bought them, how much I think I should like them, or any other ridiculous excuse. Likewise if my biggest interaction with an object in my house is to dust it, then it’s pretty much got to go. If it isn’t making life better then I don’t want it.

For that reason I’m staying home tonight.  I’m going to be in bed by 11:00, I’ve been relaxing more than normal.  I’m soothing the relaxation guilt caused by not doing anything with the simple expedient of a  clever ‘to-do’ item called ‘working on New Years Resolution.’  I want to do the important things and the wonderful things and strike a lot of the silly crap off my list. Because there is to much silly crap.

Get Good Sleep, Because Good Sleep is Hard To Find

Everyone wants good sleep, but let’s face it – most of us really don’t sleep like champions. Actually, thanks to modern living, most of us get pretty lousy sleep. Huh. It’s kind of the one area where humans are moving steadily backward. Seems like a good time to reverse the trend because let’s face it – everything is better if sleep is better (I’m getting that lesson drilled into me currently by my fantastic, but sleep disruptive, newborn.)

This, just for the record, is not my sleep disruptive newborn, but it is a sleepy white puppy from dailycuteness who looks like good sleep is on the menu.

This, just for the record, is not my sleep disruptive newborn.  It’s a puppy from dailycuteness who looks like good sleep is on the menu. I want this type of good sleep.

Small Steps to Good Sleep

  1. Make sure your sleep environment is totally dark. This means no nightlight, no TV, no light coming in the window, no bright alarm clocks. Focus especially on the blue-spectrum lights which are more sleep-disruptive than the red end of the spectrum.  Seriously my bedroom looks like a crazy person lives here (ahem. Quiet in the peanut gallery) because all of the lights that indicate my various electronics are on are covered with layers of tape so I don’t have little blue and green lights all over the room.
  2. Caffeine only before noon.  This includes sodas and iced tea, and even dark chocolate if you’re especially sensitive. My favorite case of “cured” insomnia involved a mechanic, who in answer to the question “how much water do you drink in a day” replied “three pots” meaning that the only drink the shop where he worked was coffee and he had three pots per day (!!) Sometimes, looking at the simple things really is the best.
  3. Exercise. Exercise helps everything.  Really everything.  For most people it is best for sleep to exercise in the morning, but some people respond best to evening exercise. As with everything else, try it at home and see what your body likes best. Remember 10 minutes is more than none, so don’t feel bad about just doing 10 minutes if that’s all the time you have.
  4. Cut down on the sugars and starches in your diet. If you’ve read anything from this blog you probably know I’m not a fan of the carb-heavy diet and here’s one more reason. Carbohydrates stimulate cortisol production, especially when they are eaten right before bed. Eating a carb-heavy meal is likely to put you to sleep at first as your blood sugars rise, but when they quickly start to drop it can wake you up at night and prevent you from getting into deeper sleep stages.  Make sure the last meal of your day is mostly proteins and not so many starches and sugars.
  5. Melatonin before you go to bed – between 1 and 10 mg depending on your body’s response.  When you get the right amount of melatonin you will fall asleep easily and generally stay asleep well.  Too much produces extremely vivid dreams or nightmares as well as a groggy feeling in the morning like you’re not ready to get out of bed. If you notice those symptoms just decrease your dose. In general, the amount of melatonin that you need decreases over time and typically you will be able to sleep well without it  within a few months.  The typical starting dose is 3mg and you can use more or less depending on your needs. This is the hormone your body naturally produces to help you feel sleepy, but if you’ve been sleep deprived for a while it gets used first to help protect your brain from oxidative damage so there is less left over for sleep.
  6. Eliminate food sensitivities. Food sensitivities are one of the biggest hidden causes of sleep disruption that I encounter with my clients.  Eating a food to which your body is sensitive increases inflammation and your internal stress levels, which raises cortisol (one of your stress hormones, but also the hormone that wakes you up and gets you going in the morning)  and prevents restful sleep. It also makes pain levels higher, if you have pain that prevents you from sleeping, simply because of the increased inflammation. Eliminating food sensitivities takes some work at home but it’s entirely possible (and free) you just have to know how.
  7. Warm milk before bed. Skip this, of course, if you have a milk or dairy sensitivity.  Warm milk before bed (or hot chocolate with real cocoa) is wonderful.  Milk contains a protein called casein that acts as an opiate and sedative, which helps you to sink into sleep more easily. Mama really did know best.
  8. Protein rich foods for the evening meal.  In addition to cutting down on sugars and starches, boosting the protein for the last meal of the day makes a huge difference to sleep. Protein digests and is converted to sugar slowly so your body isn’t stimulated to wake up because of hunger or fluctuations in blood sugar levels.
  9. Numb out as you fall asleep. This is one of my favorite things. I had insomnia as a child and my father was able to help me overcome it using this technique.  As you lay down for sleep find a comfortable position and then focus on a heavy feeling in your body.  It is almost the feeling you get when you go to the dentist and have your mouth numbed – that heavy, numb, overly-large feeling.  Start thinking of that feeling in your toes and feel it gradually creep up your feet to your ankles to your calves and up your body slowly all the way to your head.  At first you may have to go through the cycle slowly from toes to head a few times, but this is an effective way of shutting down your brain and blocking out the thoughts that can sometimes keep you awake.  The more you use the numb out, the easier it will become.  Now if I have a hard time sleeping, I numb-out and I can barely make it past my knees before I’m asleep.
  10. Eliminate noise or add a loud fan.  If your sleep environment is noisy then do everything you can to either make it quiet or to mask noise changes.  Some people don’t notice noise when they sleep, but most people will rouse, at least partially, in response to noise. Even if you don’t wake up fully, noises can change your sleep cycles and interfere with deep sleep. If you live in a noisy area or have a noisy house then getting a loud fan or white noise machine (or app) can really help to cut down on the disruptions.

Of course there are a million other things you can do for sleep, but these are some of the basics of good sleep hygiene that can help to get you on track for many better nights in the future.  Good sleep = good day.

You don't need to be that guy. Seriously, transition sucks but chances are it won't matter in a year. Don't let little stuff change your happiness.

Manage the Unexpected – Coping With Change

I’m realizing how much we humans like to think we’re in control of things and how things are stable – coping with change isn’t our inherent strength.  More precisely I’m beginning to understand how fearful you can get when you realize you AREN’T in control of things.  On some level you know, with absolute certainty, that life is going to do whatever it wants anyway and you don’t really have a choice in the matter.  Still, it’s human nature to go through elaborate gymnastics to try to pretend that the universe isn’t inherently chaotic. Which is hilarious, when you really think about it. Your happiness can’t depend on what’s happening around and to you – it has to be about how you cope with it.

This has come to the surface for me because, like every other topic I write about, something in my life has triggered it.  As many of you know I’m recently married, recently pregnant and moving – which means I need a good reminder about coping with change and keeping my joyfulness in the process.  In times like this, where one uncontrollable situation piles on top of another it is easy to watch yourself fall back on the human defaults.  Eat more comfort food, drink more wine, get Grumpy or Weepy or really any other one of the Seven Dwarves with the possible exception of Sneezy. Maybe I have some control.  Or, at the end of the day, maybe I don’t. Why should that change how I feel?

Here’s the thing – it’s really scary and vulnerable to know that you don’t know what’s going to happen next.  The more the outcome matters to you, the scarier and more vulnerable it is. This is admitting that you are adrift in life and can’t see what is coming around the next corner. It is also liberating in a strange way.  It means letting go of all of the things you think “should” happen or  “could” happen and just waiting to see what is actually going to happen.  It means letting go of what you want, and just waiting to see what IS – waiting for reality to show up.  Actually allowing life to unfold in a surprising and often wonderful way and accepting whatever comes.

Of course in medicine this is a common crossroads for people to walk.  The waiting for test results, the waiting for therapies and the waiting to see if a treatment plan is working.  Accepting your own limitations, especially if those limits are changing, and learning to work with a new normal.  My experience has been that for many people dealing with not being in control is more difficult than dealing with the condition itself.

Take Care of You First When You’re Coping With Change

Chances are if you’re coping with change or some unexpected situation has happened then this is when your schedule is most likely to be overfull, action-packed and non-stop.  It could also be when your budget is the tightest, your pennies the most pinched and generally when you have the least extra anything.  It is also the most important time to take time for you.  Whether you have it or not, you can’t do without it.  Your happiness is a priority. Don’t cancel the massage or the lunch with friends or the hour that you get to read or whatever.  Leave room for you in your schedule because this is when you need recharge time the most.  It’s also when you need real sleep and good food the most so those areas aren’t the places to cut corners either.  Here are a few quick fixes for getting through tough times:

  • Streamline Your Time – Quit the PTA, the extra committee at work, the neighborhood association that meets too frequently or whatever it is that you feel like you should be doing, but don’t need to be.  The bottom line is that those things will go on just fine without you but you’ll move forward much better without the extra obligations. You can always go back to it later but right now you need that time for your life.
  • Minimize Other Stress – If one area of your life is unexpectedly blowing up, then make sure the other areas of your life are staying calm.  Say no to extra projects at work, delegate whatever you can, and stay away from office politics as well as actual politics – this isn’t the time.
  • Ask for Help – You have a community of people, and humans are social animals.  It helps your friends to feel like a part of your life if they can help you in some small way – especially when you’re in a crisis.  It doesn’t have to be huge stuff, it can be tiny things but everything adds up. Besides there’s a wonderful warm-fuzzy that happens when someone in your community steps up for you.  Besides – you will get to step up for them at some point, it’s what we do.
  • Offload Junk – I’m not sure why this helps, but I’ve found that for a lot of people sending a load of stuff to goodwill and clearing some of the clutter out of their home actually helps to clear up mental clutter too – it’s like the magical sneak-attack stress fix.  If you haven’t worn it or thought about it or dusted it for 6 months, toss it. It’s not making your life better in any way.
  • Don’t Take On Other People’s Problems – Ironically, we love to do this.  Roll around in someone else’s muck – for whatever reason it’s a very human thing.  When everything is fine in your life that probably doesn’t really have any negative consequences, it’s probably just fine.  When your life is blowing up is when it’s a problem. If you’re coping with change then you don’t also need to cope with other people’s change.  So – what does this actually mean?  Take a break from the evening news, from the water cooler gossip, from the facebook and the twitter.  They will still be there when you re-emerge, I promise.  But for now, take a break.
  • Tackle One Thing At a Time – If you write out the whole list of what needs to be done and look at it like that you’ll probably take to heavy drinking.  Make it into bite-sized pieces and just take everything one step at a time.  Calling moving companies to get a quote is one step.  Just do that one thing and you’ve made progress.  Looking at the whole list can put almost anyone into a panic attack, but looking at single steps is doable.  I use an organizer called todoist that syncs between my computer and phone and that helps to keep me on track.  Break up the big jobs into single steps and divide those throughout the time that you have to get this transition finished. Leave tomorrow’s tasks for tomorrow. Just do one thing now.
  • Make Sure Some Things Stay the Same – Okay so lots of things in your life are changing.  Is there something you can keep constant to make you feel stable and secure no matter what is happening?  Maybe it’s a cup of your favorite tea at night or having your favorite foods on-hand. Maybe it’s keeping your favorite pictures close or making sure you have your favorite candle burning so the room smells the same.  It could be your favorite T shirt, your favorite socks, your favorite football.  Whatever – the thing that stays the same doesn’t matter, it’s that *something* does.  You need a good touchstone to tell you everything is okay, because it is.
  • Hire Help – There is plenty of stuff you will have to do during a transition that is above and beyond all the normal stuff you have to do.  If you can, hire out some of the normal stuff. Hire someone to mow the lawns, clean the toilets, prepare the meals, or whatever normal stuff you just can’t get to.  It can be a really nice thing to take those basics off your to-do list.  If money is tight then these are great areas to ask for help (although it would be a really good friend who would clean your toilets for you).

Change Your Words For Coping With Change

There is a great loophole here. A back-door to coping with change and with the unexpected.  That is simply that the way you see things changes everything. Change your story about what’s happening and keep your happy. It is not the situation that’s happening, but your perception of it that matters.  Your view on what is happening to you determines how you actually feel. The words you use about a situation become that situation.  I like this video as an example of how words change people’s perceptions of things:

The situation in the video doesn’t change – a blind man is still asking for help, but how he’s asking is more likely to resonate with people in one scenario than the other.  Words are powerful.

If you say something is too much for you to handle, then it is.  You are right.  If you say you’re handling it then you’re right – you are.  If you try to see the wonderful possibilities and the good surprises that could come out of this change, then I honestly feel you’re more likely to notice those blessings when they happen.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff by Richard Carlson Ph.D.  - great strategy for coping with change.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff by Richard Carlson Ph.D. – great strategy for coping with change.

It’s a bestselling book (by Richard Carlson, Ph.D.) because most of us aren’t good at not sweating the small stuff.  At the end of the day though, it really is small stuff.  Don’t let the little stuff that normally gets to you add to the big stuff that’s happening right now. Most of this won’t matter in a year and really won’t matter in five. Just let it go.

You don't need to be that guy.  Seriously, transition sucks but chances are it won't matter in a year.  Don't let little stuff change your happiness.

You don’t need to be that guy. Seriously, transition sucks but chances are it won’t matter in a year. Don’t let little stuff change your happiness.

Coping with change means letting go of a lot of the little things that you would normally stay on top of.  Don’t worry about perfect – good enough is good enough right now (that’s why they call it good enough).  Really it doesn’t matter if the dishes aren’t done, if the dog misses a walk or if your lawn is too tall. Just get through the big stuff and everything else will sort itself out. Other people live through this, you will too.  And the best part is that you can stay happy while you do – you just have to make happy a priority.

Chocolate really does make you smarter! Image courtesy of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Chocolate Makes you Smarter. Even Nobel Prize Smart.

Okay, so maybe not a guaranteed Nobel prize, but according to new research there is a link between chocolate and smarts – that is to say, eating more chocolate makes you smarter and actually increases the likelihood that you will win a Nobel prize. Honestly, just the health benefits were enough to encourage me, but the Nobel prize thing isn’t bad either! I’m not 100% sure what actually triggered this research because it seems like a kind of bizarre association between things, but somebody thought this was important enough to fund (and I like chocolate enough to feel like it’s important enough to pass on!). Not only that, it was important enough to publish in the New England Journal of Medicine, which is considered one of the most prestigious medical journals in the world.

Chocolate Makes You Smarter – Maybe Even Nobel Prize Worthy

The overarching theory is that eating chocolate could make you smarter by improving cognitive function, which we can measure by the number of Nobel laureates per capita.  The study shows a very strong association in that direction, and that association is mathematically and statistically highly significant – meaning that it probably is an accurate description of reality.  So today’s excuse to treat yourself? It’s because you’re working towards the Peace Prize.

Chocolate makes you smarter! Image courtesy of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Chocolate makes you smarter! Image courtesy of the New England Journal of Medicine.

In this graph you can clearly see that the countries in which people eat more chocolate, also win more Nobel Prizes. Coincidence? I think not. Previous research from the University of Nottingham showed that dark chocolate improves brain function and cognition. Flavenols from dark chocolate were shown to increase blood flow to key brain areas for two to three hours after consumption. This increased blood flow then led to increased alertness and performance. There must be a god, and that god must love us because CHOCOLATE MAKES YOU SMARTER.

Chocolate makes you smarter, healthier and happier. Thank you god! Lovely image by Andre Karwath

Chocolate makes you smarter, healthier and happier. Thank you god! Lovely image by Andre Karwath

Other Health Benefits of Chocolate

Of course, smarts isn’t the only thing you get from chocolate. Here are some others:

  • Endorphins – those happy, happy little brain chemicals
  • Heart healthy – one to two servings of 70% dark chocolate (or greater) per week cuts your risk of heart failure by a third.
  • High in flavenols, antioxidants, and fiber
  • A German study concluded that regular chocolate consumption reduces your risk of heart attack and stroke by 39%
  • Chocolate has five times the health-boosting flavenols of an apple.
  • Dark chocolate is filling and according to a Swedish study (you’ll notice the Sweds are big chocolate eaters in the Nobel Prize study), meaning it reduces your cravings for sugary, salty and fatty foods.
  • Eating chocolate daily during pregnancy leads to less-stressed moms and happier babies who smile more according to a Finnish study (Finns also big chocolate eaters)
  • It tastes AWESOME (this is my favorite reason).

The bottom line is that chocolate makes you smarter, happier and healthier – just remember to get 70% dark or better. You’re welcome.

Start feeling this good. Create your own happy now.

Nine Practices to create Happiness

Wouldn’t it be great if you could create happiness – if happiness was a simple goal you could achieve? As it turns out, it is exactly that.  It is a process of doing – it isn’t something that happens to you, it’s something you chose to be, and part of that choice is acting in a way that leads towards happiness. Here are nine practices, developed by Don Richard Riso, to help you on your journey:

Treat Others With Kindness and Integrity

One of the simplest ways to help others be kind and helpful to you and to treat you like an independent worthwhile human is to do the same for them. And god knows kindness goes a long way towards happiness.

Love Yourself and Others Equally

Love your neighbor as yourself – but also remember to love yourself as your neighbor.  Many of you (women especially) tend to care for others, for the needs of the kids, the spouse, the parents and forget about your own needs. Don’t forget to add yourself to the list of cherished loved ones and to make your needs count for as much as those of everyone else.  There is no way to create happiness if you don’t factor yourself into your own life.

Be Authentic And Truthful in All Matters

Research has verified that lying, no matter how much you have convinced yourself it doesn’t matter to you, actually raises the levels of your stress hormones and contributes to anxiety, stress and the aging process.  The same might be true for the soft lies – the moments where you go along with what is going on just so you don’t make waves, even if it isn’t something you want in your life. To create happiness be true to you – your body always knows the difference.

Joy! Create happiness in your life today.

Joy! Create happiness in your life today.

Discover Beauty and Pleasure Everywhere

It’s out there. Beauty is out there all over the place and it is so easy to walk by and not notice because you’re caught up in the latest drama at work or your to-do list or that tiff you had with your partner.  Don’t miss it – if you don’t see the beauty and enjoy the little moments now, then when will you? The only time you can change is right now so if you want to be joyful then live into what is happening RIGHT NOW.

Learn from Everyone and Everything

It is so hard to remember to truly appreciate every situation and so easy to pop up the defenses. Of course you can approach every situation like the expert – you already know it, you’ve done it before, you know how this goes. The basic problem with that is that you only leave room then for one possible outcome, and that is that you come away from that situation with nothing new. In short, you don’t grow or change, you just stay stagnant. Try for one day approaching every situation as though you are new to it and as though you can learn something and I promise, you will learn something. You will grow and evolve – how wonderful is that?

Trust Your Ability to Face Challenges and Contribute Willingly

It’s so easy to worry and it feeds into so many basic states of pathology. Worry is a way of creating drama and tension, of pretending you might have control over the uncontrollable and also it’s one of the biggest ways of doubting yourself or your loved ones that you can engage in. By worrying constantly you are sending the signal that you don’t trust your (or your loved ones, if you worry only for other people) ability to cope with life, to deal with the challenges that arise. But here is the thing – if you or the people you worry about are still alive then you are entirely capable of facing everything that life has thrown at you so far. That is kind of a powerful thought – you have effectively dealt with every challenge that has come at you. That is one hell of an awesome track record. Boosting your trust in yourself and the universe is a great way to boost happiness.

Start feeling this good. Create your own happy now.

Pure Freaking Joy. Create your own happy now.

Be Attached to Nothing and Experience Real Freedom

This doesn’t mean don’t attach to anything therefore don’t love anything. Love with your whole heart, but let that love grow, evolve and change.  Let everything grow, evolve and change.  It’s so easy to get into a place where you try to keep things the same, keep them stable and predictable and uniform but life isn’t like that.  Everything grows and develops and ultimately might even fade, but none of that is bad.  By allowing your relationships, your life, your patterns to evolve you also allow yourself to find deeper joy, greater authenticity and more freedom.  In other words don’t try to control or be attached to life being a certain way, because then you don’t allow it to ever get any better.

Let Go of Willfulness and Empower Others

This one can be a challenge to see because society trains you to learn to get your own way. It’s actually one of the biggest skills you learn as an infant or toddler because at that stage of development it is important to be able to get what you need from the people around you.  As an adult, however, it can be helpful to notice the behaviors that you have adopted that might push people to behave a certain way around you or give in to you.  Guilt, shame, blame and judgement can be subtle (or not so subtle) ways of bullying people and using those tools can be entirely unconscious.  To create happiness isn’t it time to examine the ways you might manipulate those around you?

 Value Yourself and Engage with the Tumult of the World

This is the hardest one for me – both to understand and to follow.  You might, like me, notice the internal tendency to being the peacekeeper, to trying to keep things smooth and even and to keep everyone around you happy. Peacekeeping is a strong gift and can be of great value in your life, but it can also slip over into a form of self-denial.  The small ways you don’t speak your truth because you want to keep the peace.  Again, there are degrees of health here.  Sometimes engaging with the turmoil and allowing there to be bumps in the road can be the most authentic path forward and can allow you to experience real happiness and to be absolutely true to yourself.  This doesn’t mean that you should cause problems just to stir the pot, but you should be able to give true expression to problems that are already there and not try to dismiss them.

Dog smile - thanks for the picture to Pixel blue eyes (smiling) and her person Jenny.

Dog smile – thanks for the picture to Pixel blue eyes (smiling) and her person Jenny.

Create Happiness Now

Waiting for someone, something, some circumstance to make you happy is common, but it’s also a dead end. If you’re waiting to be happy and don’t do something to change your mind, you will always be waiting to be happy. Start today – take a simple step to create happiness. There is no reason to wait.  It might not happen overnight, it might not happen in a month, but it will happen and you have the power to control it.

Best Gluten Free Quick Cookies Ever.

Okay – so first disclaimer is that I’m not advocating huge amounts of cookie-eating, but there are times when you really just want a cookie and it has to be gluten free and quick. Frankly, who can eat gluten these days and who has actual time for baking? The reality is we all want food that fits with our basic nutritional philosophy, tastes good and is quick and easy to make – essentially we want perfect food. Like these perfect gluten free quick cookies from my dear friend Hallie, whom I will forever blame for getting me hooked on these.


  • 1/2 package of Bob’s Red Mill Shortbread Cookie Mix
  • Lots of walnuts and pecans (unsalted)
  • 6 tablespoons of Kerrigold butter from grass-fed cows
  • 1-2 egg yolks
  • Gluten free love

So – this is a cheat on the recipe on the back of the Bob’s Red Mill Shortbread Cookie Mix package that adds some awesome health benefits as well as all the fun addictive properties of cocaine (sorry about that – once you start eating these it’s hard to stop). Here’s what you do:

Bob's Red Mill GF Shortbread Cookie Mix - this is where the magic starts...

Bob’s Red Mill GF Shortbread Cookie Mix – this is where the magic starts…

Steps to Make the Perfect Gluten Free Quick Cookie:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375*
  2. Put 1/2 the package of Bob’s Red Mill Shortbread Cookie Mix in a bowl
  3. Grind the walnuts and pecans so that you have about an equal amount of this nut mix. I use a Vitamix and do kind of a rough chop so that some of it is finely ground like a nut powder and some of it is more like crushed nut pieces. It’s about 2 cups of whole nuts to grind down to the right amount, but there is a lot of flexibility here so don’t worry about measuring.  Just eyeball enough nuts to equal the amount of the cookie mix you used.
  4. Add 6 tablespoons of butter (I pre-melt it so that it mixes easily) and 1-2 egg yolks.  1 yolk makes the cookies drier and more crumbly like shortbread and 2 makes them stay together a little more than that.
  5. Mix well.
  6. Shape into little balls and then flatten onto baking sheets.
  7. Bake for about 15 minutes, give or take, until the edges start to turn a light golden-brown.

These are delicious and have 1/2 the sugar of the original recipe along with all of the additional benefits from the pecans and walnuts including fiber, protein, the cardiovascular protective effects from nuts and good healthy fats.  Did I mention they’re delicious?  Yeah – that’s an understatement. Plus you don’t really have to measure or be good at baking – it all kind of works out in the end no matter what. My first batch was seriously nut-heavy. I totally overestimated how much I would need and just dumped it in. They were awesome.  The second batch was lighter on the nuts and I tried two egg yolks instead of one because they were small eggs. Still awesome. I’m thinking they’re fool-proof.

These really are the best gluten free quick cookies ever. They even have a little bit of healthy in them.

These really are the best gluten free quick cookies ever. They even have a little bit of healthy in them.

Of course it’s still a cookie and not exactly health food, but it is so much better for you than regular cookies, and it’s made of real food, and start to finish it takes maybe 20 – 25 minutes including clean up.  How’s that for gluten free quick cookie perfection???

Be a blissed out joy-bunny! The gorgeous fractal is "Finite subdivision of a radial link" by Brirush - Own work.

Addicted to Thinking? Learn To Meditate

When we think of addiction we usually think about the big scary addictions like heroine or crystal meth or alcohol.  As it turns out you may be plagued by an addiction that takes a far greater toll on your health – you may be addicted to thinking.

Ha! How could that be a problem? We *love* thinking.  We worship thinking.  Thinking helps you to grow and innovate and solve problems and plan for your day, your life, your week, your career.  Thinking got you all those certificates and awards and diplomas and promotions. But what if there is a point where all the thought turns into over-thinking. Where the planning becomes worrying, and where the thought loops become obsession?  What if we are a Nation that thinks instead of feels?

I feel like this is a fine line to walk, but every day in my patients (and yes, in myself too) I see people trying to solve all the possible problems of the future by thinking of them in advance. I see people so consumed by fear and anxiety about what might happen that they don’t notice the wonderful things that are happening right now.  I see people trying to decide if they love their partner by making pro and con lists (hint – this isn’t going to generate the right answer for you). Maybe we all need to take a collective deep breath and watch all those thoughts go by until they can settle down just a little to give us space to feel, to notice, to breathe.  Maybe then we can unwind all those knots in necks and shoulders and relax those overly tight muscles.

What is the Answer to Over-Thinking?

I feel like there is only one answer to the problem of being addicted to thinking, and that is mindfulness.  I know mindfulness is the new buzz-word. Everyone thinks you should have it because it helps with stress levels and combats chronic pain, but what is it actually? In a big general sense, mindfulness means being here right now. Instead of thinking about the past and what has happened, or the future and what might happen, or analyzing the “why” or “how” questions, instead you are completely present with the here-and-now. Surprisingly, that is harder than it sounds, and it isn’t something we’re used to doing.  For this the practice of mindfulness meditation is the key to training your mind to be right here, right now.

How To Practice Mindfulness Meditation

First – assume the position. Not crash position, actually just sit upright in a chair with your feet flat on the floor and your hands resting gently on your thighs.  Keep your back upright and straight, so not slouched down resting on the back of the chair, but rather  with your vertebrae ‘like a stack of gold coins.” Keep your eyes open and your gaze downward at about a 45 degree angle.  Open eyes help you to not get distracted by your thoughts.  Here are the steps:

  1. Assume the position! (As I just described)
  2. Set your timer on your phone for 3 minutes. (Yes! Just 3 minutes!)
  3. Take three deep breaths to help settle your mind and relax your system
  4. Just keep your eyes open and notice what is happening in your mind.
  5. Chances are, you’re thinking.  Notice the thinking and let it drop without following it and turning it into a story.
  6. When you have a new thought pop up, just notice it and drop it.
  7. When the buzzer rings, drop the thought that’s happening right then, and you’re done!
  8. Pat yourself on the back because you just did your first mindfulness meditation.
  9. Now rinse, and repeat!  Do another 3 minutes and then you’re done for the day.
  10. Try to do this 5 days a week and then just watch out world because there is going to be a whole new you.

The Benefits of Mindfulness

Mindfulness does so many wonderful things for you – here’s just a short list.

  1. Cures that pesky addiction to thinking
  2. Reduces anxiety
  3. Reduces panic attacks and helps you get out of them more quickly
  4. Helps decrease chronic pain
  5. Gives you more peace of mind with who you actually are (and helps you to have less of the self-critical voice in your head)
  6. Increases attention span
  7. Helps you focus
  8. Increases your joy in the moment
  9. Enhances your immune system
  10. Helps reverse heart disease

    Be a blissed out joy-bunny! The gorgeous fractal is "Finite subdivision of a radial link" by Brirush - Own work.

    Be a BLISSED OUT JOY-BUNNY! The gorgeous fractal is “Finite subdivision of a radial link” by Brirush – Own work.

As if all of that wasn’t enough, you also get to be the blissed-out joy bunny on the block because you are able to see all of the wonderful things happening right now. Mindfulness is no joke and the more research we have on it the more powerful we realize it is. Isn’t it time you dedicate 6 minutes a day to being a happier you?