Category Archives: Gratitude
Strengthen self-control.We don’t have to exhaust our willpower or decision-making quota for the day when we make healthy habits automatic. Make one or more of these fundamental habits a regular part of your daily life in order to help you set and keep other healthy habits: 1. Get seven hours of sleep; 2. Go for a 20-minute walk; 3. Don’t let yourself get too hungry; 4. Take time to unclutter; 5. Give yourself a healthy treat.
Get some sleep. According to sleep expert Michael Breus, Ph.D., sleeping less than seven hours each night can negatively impact your outlook, make you crave unhealthy foods and even kill your productivity. For those with serious trouble sleeping, he suggests you go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, take the TV out of the bedroom and get out of bed if you can’t fall asleep within 20 to 30 minutes.
Build up your emotional toolkit. If you struggle with depression or bouts of anxiety, build up your emotional toolkit. Use the tool of self-compassion to treat yourself with the same loving kindness you would extend to a friend. Silence that inner critic and give yourself a soft place to land when things don’t go right or you are working through a challenging experience. Fill up your mind with kind thoughts about yourself.
Happiness is the gateway to success, but like most good things in life, it also takes some work. Roll up your sleeves and put some effort into becoming a happier you. Here are 11 things you can do to enhance your happiness today. (For all of you happiness over-achievers, click on the headings below for more information on each tip!)
1. Take a look back
If you aren’t sure of your passion as an adult, revisit your youth for clues. Perhaps when you were a child, teenager or even a young adult, there was something that you were passionate about. Maybe there was something you loved to collect, a place you loved going, or an activity that you loved doing. Bring those old experiences back into your current life.
2. Go in search of awe
A sense of awe may help you fight depression and inflammation. Find awe by visiting a natural wonder. Listen to your favorite music. Lose yourself in an art museum. Go in search of what inspires you deeply.
3. Connect with people
Our relationships can have an almost magical effect on our happiness. Singer-songwriter Lisa Loeb feels fulfilled when she’s collaborating and connecting with others. You can find inspiration in others, too.
4. Value experiences over things
Things are nice, but the joy we get from experiences lasts longer, causes less waste and probably has a smaller negative environmental impact. Walk to a destination with your family to enjoy the outdoors and connect through conversation. Take a hike in nearby hills. Plan an exciting trip together. All of these things will give enjoyment that you can anticipate, experience and then savor afterward.
Read the rest of my article on Live Happy.
If you love Thanksgiving but your traditions are getting a little tired, we’ve got you covered. With a little creative planning, you can make this year’s Thanksgiving the most festive and fun-filled yet.
1. Plan ahead for the day you want
It sounds simple, but your ideal holiday won’t materialize unless you make it happen. Maybe you envision a formal Thanksgiving dinner complete with centerpieces, nameplates and an elegant menu. If that’s your plan, spell it out ahead of time. If you want potluck, paper plates, jeans and football, plan that and let people know. Share your desires openly with family, i.e. “I hope you will stay all day so we can have lots of time together”—to create the day you want.
Related: 8 Easy Practices To Enhance Gratitude
2. Think about timing
It may sound like a no-brainer, but the timing of your dinner can impact the entire day. If you call your mealtime too early, you might get stressed with the-time crunch of meal prep (unless you’ve done most of it in the days before). Some like to eat later in order to enjoy appetizers and the anticipation of the holiday meal all day. Or maybe you have guests who are going to be glued to a particular football game during the day. Consider all of these variables and plan accordingly.
3. Relax your expectations
Without dwelling on it, acknowledge something will likely go wrong with your day, but that’s OK. A quirky uncle might say something, well, quirky. Someone might not show up who said they would. If you want to have the best possible holiday, roll with the punches. (Rest assured: No one’s Thanksgiving is perfect.)
Read the rest of this article on Live Happy:
Posted on October 18, 2015 in Gratitude, Happiness by Sandra Bienkowski
Poor Mondays. The black sheep day of the week, they always get a bad rap. Here are six tips to help you love, instead of dread, Mondays.
1. Don’t buy into the Monday hype
If you believe Mondays are terrible, you might look for little things to prove your case. You stub your toe in the morning and automatically think, “Yep, here we go, this whole day is going to be a disaster.” How can you enjoy your Monday if you think Mondays are doomed? Don’t program your brain to scan for the bad stuff. Change your outlook to view Monday as the start of your spectacular week.
2. Make Mondays easier
What can you do on Sunday to make your Monday go more smoothly? Put outfits out for the kids ahead of time? Make a dish in the slow cooker to heat up Monday evening? Make sure your fridge it stocked up? Review your calendar for the week on Sunday night and make your to-do list for the week. Then get a good night’s sleep so you can start the week refreshed.
One email from a stranger made a difference in my life.
Here it is:
“I just read your article on MindBodyGreen. I am in awe of the timing of everything this morning. I have a had painful childhood similar to yours. I am always scared to share it with people because I am afraid of their reaction. I am afraid of them thinking that somehow that’s who I am. For most of my life it has been a secret. Yesterday, I told my alcoholic mother that I can’t be around her anymore. Feeling so much fear and anxiety this morning, and then I read your article. The timing of it is just so perfect. Your article truly helped me this morning know that my future doesn’t have to have that pain in it, and that I am on the right path.”
I read it and felt so incredibly thankful. Maybe my story gave him a little bit of hope that his future can be different from his past.
I thought: This is why I write.
His email made me feel like I am zeroed in on my purpose. It isn’t easy to be vulnerable and share my story, but if doing so can make the tiniest bit of difference in just one person’s life–it’s worth it.
Sharing my story made him feel like he is on the right path, and his email made me feel like I’m on mine.
What an incredible gift he gave me.
Here is the story I shared: The 4 Best Lessons I Learned From Seeing A Therapist In My 20s
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” ―Brene Brown
You can learn something from everyone who crosses your path. Some people provide those what-not-to do lessons, and others will offer you little gems of wisdom. I love soaking up thought-provoking insights and bits of wisdom from other people. Not too long ago, I was at the art studio of painter Jonas Gerard who told me you have to silence your inner critic to create. Too much thought will mess up what you are creating, he said. So true for artists and non-artists alike! Back in college, my favorite journalism professor and National Geographic photographer, Yva Momatiuk, taught me never to regret painful experiences because it means you are truly alive. She said it’s where I will find my best writing. She also believed travel is where your real education occurs. I couldn’t agree more.
I guess you could say I am a pearl of wisdom collector. There are some books that offer great life lessons in small bites: What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self and another book titled Dear Me: A Letter to My Sixteen-Year-Old Self, that has lots of letters from famous people … What a great concept to think of what we would tell our 16 year-old selves now … as adults. The late movie critic Gene Siskel used to ask celebrities: What do you know for sure? in interviews. Oprah loved the idea and started her own list of what she knows for sure.
I put together my list of 48 things. Some I learned from the school of hard knocks, some I collected from wise souls, others are quotes I memorized because they resonated with me. If we all shared our life lessons we could use wisdom to zoom through the tough parts of life a little easier and a little faster and arrive where all the joy happens sooner. Not everything has to be learned by getting beat up in the arena. If you are open to it, you can learn from others. Here’s my list of 48 things I know for sure . . .
1. Fix yourself first.
2. Wisely choose who you spend your time with because they will influence you.
3. When people show you who they are, believe them.
4. If the person you are in a relationship with is really into you, it won’t be a mystery.
5. There’s a difference between feeling better and getting better.
6. Always be reading a book you don’t want to put down.
7. Continually work to reduce the things that irritate you. Scale down that irritation list.
8. If you have a job you dread, find another job and quit the one you dread. You should wake up with joy, not a knot in your stomach.
9. Every decision you make shapes how you feel about yourself.
10. Don’t do tension. Just don’t do it.
11. Life only stays the same if you do.
12. Live with the awareness that a single decision can change everything.
13. Your strengths are your guideposts to your purpose.
14. If you were taught that life is difficult and has to be endured, reject the notion.
15. Don’t date someone you also want to fix.
16. Don’t get in a relationship with someone who doesn’t show signs of empathy.
17. Ask yourself if you are in denial about anything. Then do what most won’t do: Run toward it. Expose it to light. Fix it.
18. Decide what kind of life you want and then construct your life according to that vision.
19. Learn from the success of others so you don’t waste time.
20. If you are in the right relationship, life improves.
21. Be more interested in what other people have to say than what you have to say.
22. Marry your best friend.
23. Face the darkness, stare it down and own it.
24. You can learn something from everyone.
25. Don’t be a victim.
26. Design your own day and fill it with tiny things that make you happy.
27. Set boundaries with the people in your life.
28. Shatter your external mirrors. Don’t let other people determine how you should feel about you.
29. Don’t neglect your needs for the sake of other people.
30. Share your imperfections, it connects us to each other on a real level.
31. Don’t try and fix your parents for what they did or didn’t do. Just claim responsibility for fixing yourself.
32. You teach people how to treat you.
33. Do at least one thing every day you love.
34. Always be honest, it lightens your load.
35. If you are broken, you will choose someone who is broken.
36. Never emotionally react to something right after it happens. Think first.
37. Leave something unsaid every day.
38. What people say and do has a lot more to do with them than it does you.
39. If it has to be a secret, don’t do it.
40. You are stronger than you think you are.
41. Smile and say Hello to strangers.
42. Never hold your fork with a fist. Proper manners tell a lot about you.
43. Learn how to comfort yourself.
44. Lots of problems could be solved if people just talked openly about things.
45. Anticipation is a big part of happiness. Plan things you can look forward to that will make you happy.
46. Living with gratitude is the pathway to joy.
47. Nothing works until you do.
48. You already know the answer.
So … what would you tell your 16-year-old self? What gems of wisdom have you collected from others? And what do you know for sure?
“The aim of life is self-development. To realize one’s nature perfectly—that is what each of us is here for.” Oscar Wilde
My husband and I own lots of personal development books. If you scanned our bookshelves, you’d find lots of titles about goals, fulfilling your potential, happiness and success. We get teased for our collection. People call it “self-help” with disdain. Others joke that our books make them feel like underachievers.
I get it. People like to make fun of personal development (PD) or self-help. It conjures up images of gurus leading people to run across fire or chop wood blocks in half to achieve personal empowerment. Some picture PD as people repeating positive affirmations to mirrors or weeping in the self-help aisle of Barnes and Noble. There’s some woo woo in PD that can give it a bad rap.
It never surprises me when people say they don’t like self-help and they won’t be voraciously reading the books anytime soon. What kills me is that good PD (and there’s a ton of it!) covers fundamental principles that are life-changing. It kills me that people would rather proudly declare that they don’t need those books and wear that sentiment as a badge of honor, than be open to information that could take their lives to a whole new level of happiness and fulfillment. Information like …
Fix yourself first. If you don’t work, nothing else will. I venture to say that more people ignore their issues than tackle them head on. Many people get stuck in their lives at the same point with the same problem, instead of taking a hard look at the underlying internal issue causing the problems. The foundation of PD is to fix YOU first. Get unstuck. People think they have a food problem, a job problem, a relationship problem, but it’s really just a YOU problem—we are all at the source of our problems. We are the common denominator. When you change, everything externally about your life changes too.
Figure out the kind of life you want to have first, then build your life around it. Instead of searching for a job and letting it dictate where you live … Instead of starting life where you end up after high school or college … first decide what kind of life you want to live. What kind of lifestyle do you want? I love the sun and wanted to live in places where it’s sunny most of the time—that’s why I’ve spent most of my adult years in Texas and now North Carolina. Sun makes me happy. I also love to be around people and hustle and bustle, so I live in walking distance to restaurants, shops and a movie theater. I have a sister who is the opposite, the quieter and the more rural, the better for her. It sounds like such a basic tip, but I’ve met lots of people who complain about where they live and can easily list what they don’t like about it, but they act like they can’t move. Life can change with just one decision.
Learn from the success of others so you don’t waste time. I love this principle. Most likely, what you want to do with your life someone has already achieved. Find out how they did it so you can learn their tips and strategies. Learn where they made mistakes so you don’t waste time making the same ones. What sounds like copying is more about being smart with your time. You don’t have to stumble where others have stumbled if you take the time to study them. Personal development legend Jim Rohn once said it would be great if failures gave seminars because then you would know exactly what not to do. Same goes for people who are successful, you can figure out what to do by studying them. As Jim Rohn said, “If you want to make money, study the acquisition of wealth. If you want to be happy, study people who are happy. Only by continuous learning do you open the doors of success.”
Choose to live positively. I know people right now who hate their jobs. HATE. They’d quit if they could. They get out of bed with that sinking feeling in their stomachs. They say things like, “It’s a job, right? I’m not supposed to like it.” And I’ve met people who hate a different aspect of their lives and they live with it, justifying it with sentences like: “Life is supposed to be hard,” or “Life is to be endured” as if suffering is noble. You can sell yourself on negative beliefs, or you can wake up and ask yourself what your life would look like if it was amazing—and then get busy making it so.
PD can be gained from the real stories in your life, not from mirrors and mantras. You can get your PD in all sorts of ways. If you still can’t stomach the self-help aisle of the bookstore, read biographies or find mentors who are more successful than you. Take a course, interview a grandparent, start a deep conversation with a friend or write in a journal. Or when you encounter adversity, ask yourself what you can learn from it. When you are especially happy, notice it, and ask yourself how you can get more of those moments. When you actively work to increase your self-awareness, you will be flooded with moments of clarity and ideas. You just may start listening to that quiet voice inside your head that knows what you need to do.
Being against personal development is like being against growth. Having an interest in it doesn’t mean your life is in tatters. Applying personal development is about living fearlessly—facing problems internally so you can watch everything improve externally. Sometimes immersing yourself in PD just means you want to take your already kick-ass-self up a notch—and do it expediently—so you can get busy loving (your kick-ass) life.
“When you are through learning, you are through.” Paul J. Meyer
I’ve always thought there are no coincidences. And while my husband and I love to plan our days, it amazes me how life can toss your To Do list out the window and show you what’s truly important. Any day you wake up, everything can change.
When I woke up on January 11th at 6:30 a.m. my first thought was: I’m so tired. Waking up every 10 minutes isn’t an ideal way to sleep. Giving up, I got out of bed and decided to look for a maternity dress to wear to my baby shower the next day. After rummaging through my closet, I found one. I stepped into the bathroom to try it on and suddenly my water broke all over me and the bathroom floor. I stared down at my feet in disbelief.
So the day began as I called out to my husband Reed and said, “I think we have a problem,” and the day ended for us as a new family.
Our twins are here. We had our minds set on February 1st. That was our plan, make it to February 1st. It was the magical safe zone in our heads … 36 weeks pregnant with twins. But there we were, on a rainy January 11th morning, making our way to the hospital at 33 weeks pregnant. Less than 12 hours later, our girls entered the world, their tiny bodies lifted into the air, born 20 minutes apart—our two mini miracles.
Call it intuition. My mom was going to fly or drive to stay with us and help for three months starting on February 1st. She really didn’t want to miss the birth of our girls, so I called her up one day and asked if she’d come earlier, just in case. The date she chose to fly out? January 11th—the day we welcomed our girls into the world. As we made our way to the hospital, she was making her way to the airport. She had no idea I was in labor until my husband called her at the airport. What makes the story more special is that it’s my birth mom, who I searched and found when I was 26. She never thought she’d recover from having to give me up for adoption when she was a teenager, and here she was arriving just in time to meet her new granddaughters and be a part of their lives from the beginning.
The little things. Going home from the hospital without your babies is awful. Chalk it up to one of my least favorite emotions experienced ever. I knew our girls received stellar care in the NICU (or as one nurse told me: “Think of it as the most expensive babysitters you will ever have.”) and it was just a matter of time before they’d be discharged, but our painfully quiet house filled with all things baby, was difficult to endure. It gave me a brief insight into the pain of what my birth mom must have experienced, going home without a baby, but her pain wasn’t temporary.
My sister made our homecoming better. With her extra set of keys to our house, she decorated our house for a celebration. Pink girl balloons tied to our mailbox, yummy groceries, flower arrangements, homemade soup, and champagne chilled on ice awaited our return. The love from my sister made the first night tolerable. Her touches made me feel hopeful.
While NICU nurses might have a serious job to do, the small touches meant so much as our girls spent three weeks in the NICU before coming home. I was given little bits of cloth to put my scent on as I slept, to place next to the girls tiny faces in their isolettes the next day. The NICU nurses took time to do baby footprints and a volunteer dropped by with homemade guardian angels to hang above their isolettes. Strangers made us blankets for the girls.
Grandparents were already spoiling our new girls. Other family and friends flooded us with baby gifts. Friends stopped by our house with cookies. Love kept showing up in tiny ways to carry us through.
My friend went into labor too. My husband and I went to a Marvelous Multiples class where we met another couple, Alicia and Mike. We both were carrying twins due the same week. Two boys on the way for them, two girls for us. We both went into early labor just days apart and ended up next to them in the NICU. While lots of moms carrying multiples experience preterm labor, there were so many similarities in our stories and we were able to talk, share and support each other through the process. Now they are new and lasting friends and we can’t wait to get together with them for some twin outings.
The name Marie. To pay tribute to my birth mom and explain my adoption story to our girls someday, we used the middle name my birth mom gave me at birth, Marie, as the middle name for our new daughter Riley … Riley Marie.
Two birthdays and two birthday gifts. On my Birthday, Jan. 21, 10 days after the girls entered the world, they were removed from enclosed separate isolettes and moved into one open crib—together. Ever since they were reunited, they turn toward one another. They may start out on their backs, but they always turn to face each other and reach out to touch each other’s hands. And on my husband’s Birthday, coming up March 1, our girls will officially be full-term … a day I consider to be their second Birthday. A day we can all celebrate life’s mini-miracles.
What was originally on my To Do list for January 11th? Writing work for clients, get groceries, get my nails done, call the vet, write a blog … but a different plan was in store for us. A plan of welcoming two new precious lives into the world—surrounded with the love from family, friends, new friends and strangers. In 24 hours, everything can change.
“Sometimes life knocks you on your ass—get up, get up, get up! Happiness is not the absence of problems; it’s the ability to deal with them.” – Steve Maraboli
I was reading an article in a parenting magazine that said there are two types of parents—frenzied/stressed or calm. I immediately thought, “That can’t be true. People are complex and don’t fall into such concrete categories.” (I also thought that statement might infuriate a lot of moms … particularly of the stressed out variety.) So I quickly thought about a handful of moms I know, and was surprised to discover I could immediately categorize them into one of the two camps—frazzled or serene. And then it made sense to me, whether you are a stress monster or the queen of tranquility is really a matter of choice. It’s a choice for everyone—regardless of whether you have kids.
When I was in my early twenties, I was in the stressed category, but I wanted out. I was an expert at creating drama in my life. I was depressed. If you named an aspect of my life—money, love, work, health, family, friendships—I could tell you what was wrong with it. When you are in depression’s grip, each aspect of your life has a tendency to spiral downward. Toss in a little denial and you don’t connect the dots that you are the common denominator of your problems. Fortunately, I knew I needed help. Talk therapy with a blunt (and funny) psychologist helped me transition to a more peaceful state of existence. He said I needed to learn some coping skills. (I didn’t even know the term … coping skills.) Some of the fundamentals he taught me, I still rely on today. Here are a few …
Set boundaries. This was a big one. Setting boundaries is about curing the disease to please. It’s about standing up for yourself, letting people know your limits and teaching people how to treat you. It’s about saying No or telling people when they have crossed a line.
I realized through counseling, that every time you cross a boundary, blur a boundary or fail to set any, life goes downhill—fast. I entered therapy not even being able to recognize boundaries, and came out seeing where they were needed left and right. Setting boundaries is about expressing your needs, preventing others from exploiting you, protecting your time and energy, and honoring how you really feel by being genuine.
Recognizing boundaries is about paying attention to those times and events that give you a sinking feeling because it’s a sign that your self-respect or personal power is being compromised. Your boundaries define and draw an invisible line around what’s acceptable to you and what’s not.
Best-selling author and personal development expert Cheryl Richardson has a great quote on boundaries … “Too often women neglect to stand up for themselves by avoiding confrontation and end up weakening their internal shield, making it harder to set boundaries at all. So, if someone offends you, it may be necessary to let them know in order to protect and strengthen your internal boundaries.”
Shatter your mirrors. Stop looking to other people to determine how you should feel about yourself. Shattering your mirrors means you go internal to determine your self-worth instead of letting it be determined or shaped by other people and experiences. Other ways to shatter your mirrors …
See yourself through your own eyes, not someone else’s.
Own your own thoughts and trust your perceptions.
Make decisions for yourself and not to simply please others so they will like you.
Realize you have as many answers as anyone else.
Know you are resilient. Effectively coping with life’s ups and downs is at the heart of resilience. Living with gratitude fosters resilience because you stay focused on the positives even through adversity. Resilience is about how you respond to situations. You don’t define your existence by fleeting experiences or temporary emotions. Resilience begins by telling yourself you are strong and reminding yourself of it when you need to hear it.
Resilience is so important because it builds a barrier from anxiety and depression because you have built up your internal and external resources to cope and you walk around with that strength.
Internally resilience is built by taking care of your needs and not neglecting them for the sake of others. It’s about facing experiences head on instead of burying your head in the sand. When you choose hope over helplessness or have faith in yourself to handle all situations you are being resilient.
Externally, being able to reach out to others for support or help when you need it is actually a form of resilience.
Discover the art of comforting yourself. When it comes to managing stress, being able to comfort yourself is crucial. Comforting yourself is actually a skill you can practice. Be on your own side. Show compassion to yourself when you make mistakes. Realize no one is perfect. Build up your internal support system with a stream of positive internal thoughts. Sounds cliché, but comforting yourself is really about treating yourself just as you would treat a best friend.
I share some of these coping essentials because they changed my life. Implementing them can slowly shift your life from chaos to fulfillment. While a certain amount of stress is a normal occurrence in life and can’t be avoided, being a living embodiment of stress is not healthy. With the right coping skills, you can choose to live in a state of calmness, instead of in a state of continual stress.
Someone complained to me once that there is nothing to do in Dallas. Hmmm … the sprawling, metropolis that is Dallas, without a thing to do? And then it hit me, the quote I learned years before, “Geography changes nothing.”
Wherever you go, your attitude goes with you. You can’t move away from you. Either you look around and see possibilities, or you see dead end roads. Your attitude shapes everything in your life. Negative attitudes keep you stuck or blind you to the opportunities that exist all around you.
Negative attitudes impact …
Happiness. Some people look at their days—or even life—as something to get through rather than embrace. Some neglect thinking about their personal happiness at all, just plodding along. Others are stuck being victims, using their energy to be angry at an external source, rather than using their energy to design a fulfilling life. While it might be easier to be angry at someone than change your life, it’s unproductive. There are all sorts of ways to get happier with a shift of attitude. Living with gratitude is a great place to start. Noticing everything you are thankful for, appreciate and enjoy can help you live with gratitude. Making a list of things that bring you joy (and asking yourself how often you do those things) is another. Or try answering the question: If I was perfectly happy, what would my life look like? Then list the steps that can get you there. Make sure you hold yourself responsible for your own happiness.
Jobs. There are people who hate their jobs, hate Mondays, can’t wait for the weekend, and spend a lot of time complaining about their jobs. But they don’t take any step to change their situation. Now might not be the time to quit a job without one in the wings, but griping fulltime won’t get you anywhere. Life isn’t meant to be endured from 9 to 5. Your actions can change things. Brainstorm a game plan. Look at things a different way. List your unique strengths and abilities and consider how you could create a job, business or entrepreneurial endeavor for yourself. Start with your own contact list to find opportunities. Realize that you alone can completely change your situation with resourcefulness and the right attitude.
Relationships. I could write a year’s worth of blogs about the bumps along my road to meet Mr. Right, but I found him when I stepped away from dating, got clear about what I wanted (even making a list) and got content living alone. Your attitude can’t be one of defeat or lacking. You have to be right with your relationship with yourself before you ever can be right with someone else. Oh, and you have to leave your house. I’ve met people who want to meet Mr. Right but then only live in two places—work and home. Waiting for him to materialize at your doorstep isn’t a good plan.
There’s a common denominator if the same problems or limitations keep showing up in your life … it’s you. Life only stays the same if you do. Everything you want is in front of you, but only if you see it.
If you want things to change, you have to do more than change the land under your feet. You have to get out of your way, open your eyes and take a good hard look at the person in the mirror. And as Deepak Chopra says, “You must become consciously aware that your future is generated by the choices you are making in every moment of your life.”