Tag Archives: choosing happiness

How to Thrive, Not Just Survive

Posted on January 6, 2014 in Fulfillment, Happiness, Self Improvement by Sandra Bienkowski

There is a saying that people change for one of two reasons … they either learn enough that they want to, or they hurt enough so they have to. Many times I’ve made the decision to deliberately change—for both reasons. When life sucks, it’s a teacher and a motivator.

At the time, the guy I was dating was a dud. He had all the warning signs. He bragged about his bachelor status, he thought the ladies loved him, and he owned like two pieces of furniture. Oh, and my friends disliked him immensely.

Then there was my job. I was a health care editor with cool perks (like lots of travel—Vegas Baby!), but the company I worked for in Dallas was bought out by a company in California. Coworkers/friends walked by my office with their careers in a box. My job was safe (so they said), but I also was spending too much money. Job insecurity and over-spending? Not a brilliant combo for my future.

I was overweight. Self-medicating with Ben & Jerry’s and Lifetime movies in my solo apartment wasn’t doing a lot for my waistline. Eating to ease the 30-something, life-isn’t-going-as-I-thought-it-would blues, made me more blue.

In short, my life was kind of messy. So, I did what I always do in times of mini-crisis. I grabbed my journal. I jotted down the current state of things. I wasn’t wimpy about it. I gave my life a review like a movie critic. I didn’t gloss over the unattractive parts. I knew yours truly was responsible.

Then I sketched out my ideal life on a piece of paper. What would my life look like if I loved it? I was determined to shove my life from My Life Sucks to My Life Rocks … and fast. Soon I learned a lesson that stuck: We all have incredible influence over our lives with the decisions we make, and don’t make, each day.

Today, life is much different. I am married to the man of my dreams. We have beautiful twin daughters. I love being an entrepreneur with my own biz, and the freedom of working from home with a flexible schedule is divine. Oh, and we live in a town where people take vacations—so it’s no accident that sometimes our life feels like one.

Life changes when we change. There is power in knowing you can rewrite your life script. For me, I had to stop living for fun in the moment and map out my next steps. I had to wake myself up from the denial that happens when you choose the comfort of familiarity over what you really want. I got clear and brutally honest with myself on the life I desired. (I turned what I wanted into a list I read each morning over coffee.) It worked. Here are some more tips that worked …

Be willing to take a hard look. Be willing to step outside of your life and give it your best critique. Change won’t happen if you deny or ignore those little whispers that tell you something isn’t right. “Your willingness to look at your darkness is what empowers you to change,” as Iyanla Vanzant says. The uncomfortable part of change is short-lived—and the benefits are long-lasting.

Know everything can change. Don’t get so used to the way things currently are that you forget things can be completely different. Life doesn’t have to be about getting by, getting through or plodding along. It can be about thriving. Sketch out your ideal life. Is your current life close to your ideal vision? If not, what decisions do you have to make to get there? Formulate your action plan. Don’t choose familiarity over risk at the expense of your own happiness.

Forget the wait for the weekend mentality. If you are waiting for the weekend, something in your life needs to change. Why dread five days of the week and only look forward to two? Design your life so you don’t dread a day of the week. Life shouldn’t be spent waiting for the two days that begin with the letter S.

Get a job you don’t dread. Sure, you may have to drag your butt to a job you dread to pay the bills, but if that’s how you feel, devote some time to changing your job. I don’t care if the job market is tough, reinvention is possible. Don’t get stuck doing what you’ve always done if it wipes the smile off your face five days a week. Find something you are more passionate about. Consider entrepreneurship and positioning your strengths to work for yourself. Own your own time. No more depressing Monday Facebook posts for you!

Set your life up like a vacation. Oh, I’m big on this one. I love Seth Godin’s quote: “Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, you ought to set up a life you don’t need to escape from.” Okay, I may not be sitting around under a palm tree, sipping Pina Coladas, and flipping through a favorite magazine, but I do LOVE my life. I love our ordinary days. I deliberately do things to make life more like a vacation.

Purposefully choose where you live. I grew up in the snowbelt outside Syracuse and that’s why I moved South. Warm temps and sunshine make me happy. I like climates where people can dine outside almost year round.

Be in the right relationship. Finding the right person may not be easy, but knowing you have the right person is easy. Just ask yourself one question: Does your significant other make your life better?

Improve your ratio of excitement to dread. How can you get more exciting moments on your day and how can you reduce the dread? Make a dread list if you have to and make it your mission to make the list shorter. A great way to get more excitement is to fill your calendar with events and plans that make you excited with anticipation—a big contributor to happiness.

Connect to what you love doing. Don’t get so busy living life that you forget to do the things you love most. When is the last time you checked to see if the things you love doing the most are showing up on your monthly, weekly and daily calendar? Notice what resonates with you. On the days you are the happiest, what are you doing?

Don’t defer your happiness by waiting for vacation, waiting for the weekend or waiting for your life to change. You can change your life dramatically when you change the one thing you control—YOU.

The Best Gift You Can Give to Your Children

Posted on September 14, 2013 in Happiness, Relationships, Self Improvement by Sandra Bienkowski

The best gift you can give to your children is not your time. It is not books. It is not college funds. It is not the best private school. It is not the biggest Pinterest-themed Birthday parties. It is not your amazing cooking. It is not your immaculate house. It is not your crazy-good multitasking skills. It is not putting your kids first. The best gift you can give to your kids is your own happiness. I know because I grew up with a mom who was sad.

My mom couldn’t have kids so she adopted my sister and me, but that didn’t heal her sadness. She never fixed herself from her own devastatingly crappy childhood so she repeated the pattern with us. Most of my memories of my mom involve her sitting at the kitchen table, smoking, complaining, drinking, and yelling at us. She didn’t act like she liked us. The most devastating part for me—now that she’s gone—is to think of what could have been. This is a woman who looked beautiful when she dressed up. She had a bubbly, quirky personality that would sometimes emerge from the sadness. When she was kind, she was really kind. But that side of her didn’t show up often enough.

She never got over not being able to get pregnant and have babies. She never got over not finishing college like my dad did. She never talked about, processed or fixed her childhood that involved violence and secrets. Secrets she said she’d tell my sister and me about one day. That day never arrived. She had a father and a brother I never met. I finally saw some glimmers of true happiness in her late 60s and 70s. My sister’s boys—her grandsons—brought her happiness. My dad, retired, brought her happiness. Then she got cancer. She didn’t want to die. Death took her anyway.

Sometimes now I wish I knew—as a child—how to change things for her, even if it wasn’t my job. Back then I was only consumed with navigating my own survival in the crazy chaos that went on inside our postcard-looking home. It’s hard to console yourself with your mom’s death when you can’t tell yourself that your mom had a great life.

I watched my mom cry more times than I can count. I watched her take naps during the day. I listened to her rants. I heard her crying upstairs in her bedroom. I watched her quit numerous jobs. I watched her argue with my dad. I told myself early that it was bullshit and the cycle would stop with me.

I knew as a kid that there was no way I’d come out of that childhood intact so I sought counseling in my early twenties. I was in talk therapy weekly to dig myself out of depression’s grip and to end the pattern of craziness and sadness. I told myself I’d do it without medicating. I watched my mom medicate with alcohol and I wanted to fix myself without any type of pill or substance. Plus, I learned the difference between feeling better and getting better, and I wanted to get better. I did it with talk therapy, writing and processing. And it worked.

Now that I am a mom, I think my number one job to create a happy home and lead by example. I think it’s my job to be a happy person so I can be a healthy mom. I think it’s my job to have a happy relationship with my husband so we can be healthy parents. I think it’s my job to be happy, create happy moments, smile, laugh and exude positivity that fills up our house. It’s my job to live authentically happy—no matter what it takes.

I think it’s my job because I know my girls will be watching.

Diary of the Clinically Happy

Posted on January 28, 2012 in Happiness by Sandra Bienkowski

Before the days of working for myself, I was a few cubicles down from a guy who was chronically grumpy. Unlike some curmudgeons, he carried it off with half a smile on his face. It was his shtick. He was snarky and always complaining about something, yet it was part of his charm. One of the things he complained about was my incessant cheeriness. He couldn’t believe anyone could actually be THAT happy. Little did he know, I took great pride in his jab because I knew how far I had to travel to arrive at clinically happy. (He probably thought my smile was just a façade for a dark and brooding personality.)

I have to confess that some people act like my happiness is accidental, like it has nothing to do with my own actions and choices. Or in stealing Lady Gaga’s lyrics, “I was born this way.” I’ve even heard, “You always have so much fun; I want to vicariously live through you.” Frankly, those observations annoy me. It’s kind of like telling someone who has practiced 1,000 hours at something that they have natural talent. Happiness sometimes is the result of hard work.

I first struggled with depression as a teenager. I remember going up to my parents in the kitchen and telling them I needed a psychologist. They found me one, but he wasn’t the best. He helped a bit, but it wasn’t life changing. I tried again with a psychologist in my mid-twenties, and struck gold. He was the perfect psychologist for me because he was blunt, funny and I finally felt understood. Here’s just a slice of the process that got me closer to happiness.

Every decision you make shapes how you feel about yourself. You have the ability each day to make hundreds of little decisions that make you feel good about yourself. He used a ridiculous example. Apparently he asked for extra sauce all the time at the Wendy’s drive-through so eventually he gave the cashier extra money as a way to pay for the extra sauces he requested. The cashier looked at him like he was crazy, but he did it because it made him feel good about himself. I got it! Tiny decisions and life-changing decisions all shape your self-image. Each day you can consciously make decisions that lift you up or take you down—but it’s always your choice.

Piss off three people a day and you will be cured. This advice only applies to you if you are silent when people are really ticking you off. (If you already piss people off on a regular basis, go on your merry way.) If you are fearful to make people angry at you by expressing how you really feel, piss off three people a day and call me in the morning. It’s called expressing your boundaries, teaching people how to treat you, and being authentic—and it’s healthy. Plus, depression is often anger masked, and if you can unmask your anger (in a healthy, non-CSI way) goodbye depression. As depression travels to your rearview mirror, you begin to feel gratitude and see happiness ahead.

You are stronger than you think. When I was younger, I thought it would be much easier to be rescued than rescue myself, but my psychologist wasn’t buying. He kept saying, “You are stronger than you think.” Sometimes it was, “You are stronger than you think, lady.” Eventually, I realized he was right. I think lots of people are stronger than they think.

It wasn’t like I woke up one day clinically happy. I knew I had to work through some major stuff to get there. I put myself through mental boot camp. For others, happiness might be a simple choice. Either way, the most important thing to realize is happiness is a decision. I don’t mean that to read like some cheesy car bumper sticker. You can tell happiness is a decision when you meet people who choose to be victims, choose to be complainers, choose to be bitter, choose to blame others or choose not to change their lives. Happiness is in your reach if you choose it. It’s up to you.

Oh … one last thing. My psychologist asked me one day, “How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb?” I said, “I don’t know.” He said, “Zero. They wait until the light bulb changes itself.”