Sunday, May 31, 2015

Beach days and Daydreams

Last week was challenging on the personal front. Nothing particularly catastrophic happened. Nevertheless, I was in my feelings for the better part of the week and didn’t start pulling it together until the end. My friend also had a bad week on the professional front and decided we needed to hang out. Since we only had morning commitments on Friday and the rest of the day free, we decided to go to the beach. We’re fortunate enough to live about 30 minutes away.

It was just what the doctor ordered. It was sunny with temperatures in the 80's and not a cloud in the sky. We went to a residential area to avoid the touristy, commercial section. I’m convinced the water was bluer than I had ever seen it. As we kicked back on our blankets and took it all in, we began to share our dreams.
I started. I finally gave voice to what I truly want to do when I have the courage to let go of what I think I should do. When I asked her, she hesitated to respond. I watched her tear up as she acknowledged how it hurts to dream, especially when your basic needs aren’t met. She’s done with college and finds herself in the tough position of securing a full time job and applying to graduate schools. For whatever reason, it just hasn’t come easily for her. I remember being exactly where she is- beating down the bushes looking for work, living off of student loans, exploring all options, including relocation, and just living with constant, nagging anxiety. I had some sense that things would work out, but I just didn’t know how or when.
As I listened to my friend, I had an epiphany. I remember like yesterday my prayers for the things I have now. It wasn’t that long ago that I was broke, depressed, and just trying to survive. Now, I have a career and a fairly stable income. Sure, I'm still revising my career path to make it more fulfilling. But, I made it. It seemed so elusive several years ago, but here I am doing everything I set out to do. The lesson here is that if God was able to open doors of opportunity for me, why wouldn’t He also do the same for my friend? And if He showed Himself faithful in my professional life, why wouldn’t He also be faithful to provide in my personal life?
I think we all cycle through times of life marked by frustration and angst-filled waiting followed by joyful fulfillment. For most of us, the things that we feel will never happen usually happen eventually. When they finally do, they create space for new dreams. In the meantime, there are always some small gifts you discover along the way if you have eyes to see beach days and daydreams.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Joy Journal: Do Something

All things come to an end and it’s time to wrap up the Joy Journal series. In the last several posts, I’ve shared very specific things I do to fill my joy tank: eliminate negative people, celebrate positive people, engage in happy behaviors, and prioritize time away. I think the best way to conclude is to discuss how to sustain a lifestyle of joy. This requires effort on your part though. It requires you to do something.

A lot of times people feel as though they don’t have options. They’re in a dead end job. They’re dissatisfied in their relationship. They hate where they live. Their life doesn’t feel like it belongs to them at all. Rather than a series of personal choices and outcomes, life feels like a bunch of reactions to situations outside themselves. Perhaps they don’t make any changes because they feel powerless to do so. Some seek professional help, which is always a good idea. However, for some it's not to learn skills to manage life, but to be rescued from their life. Unfortunately, no one can do the work of living your life but you. To live effectively and joyfully you need to start taking back control.
If you don't like your life, change it. Most things you can't control but there are always a few things you can. The biggest take home should be that you can't wait for wonderfulness to happen to you. If you wait for happy feelings to hit you, you'll be waiting a long time. Sometimes you have to decide how you want to feel and diligently seek a lifestyle that supports it. A happy life is yours. Sustained joy is yours. But it requires something of you. It requires you to do something.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Joy Journal: Get out of dodge

You may or may not have noticed this week's delay in posting for the series. I've been in vacation mode and it's been glorious. It's been so nice, in fact, that I decided to add a post on the value of travel. Sometimes the quickest way to get a boost is going out of town.

There's nothing wrong with day trips here and there. But I'm particularly fond of a total change of scenery. You know...the trips that require rental cars, hotel stays, flights, and if you're really lucky, passports.Vacations have a way of putting things in this important perspective: you are both less important and more important than you think.

Here's how we're less important. As much as we'd like to think we stop the world and tell it to carry on, we don't. When we're absent, life has a way of moving on without us. The urgent task items reveal themselves as perhaps not that urgent at all. If they are, someone else will do them. People go on living and coping without us and that's a good thing. When we believe ourselves to be essential to every facet of life than we don't give ourselves permission to rest. Ultimately, that leads to burnout.

That brings us to how we're more important than we think. Self-care shouldn't be seen as optional; self-care is essential to being effective in anything we do. Getting away from your usual context and unplugging for a while can do wonders to recharge your batteries. It also gives you the energy needed to be productive when you return to the grind. Remember the happy behavior from last post? Smiling, laughing, enjoying the outdoors? Those are much easier to do when you aren't weighed down with your regular duties and responsibilities.

Basically, vacations let us hit the reset button. They let us take a break from serving and enjoy being served. They allow us to let go, simply be, and just rest and recover. You can enjoy that in smaller doses right where you are- random days off, extended weekends, staycations. But in my opinion, if you really want to feel renewed I say get the heck out of dodge.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Joy Journal: Happy Behavior

A lot of people believe our thinking dictates how we feel and behave. There’s definitely truth to that. However, there’s not always a linear connection between thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Often the human experience begins in the body with its sensations and impulses. Then we apply meaning to what our body tells us.  Sometimes even if you aren’t “feeling it,” you can behave in the way you want to feel and your emotions will catch up. Here's my go-to list of happy behaviors to immediately feel better.

1) Smile

Have you ever noticed the main thing all happy people do? They smile. It only makes sense if you want to feel better the first thing you should do is smile more. It might seem corny but smiles really are contagious too. If you greet others with a smile, most of the time they’ll return it, which also feels good.

2) Go Outside

You know what else helps your mood? Sunshine. It’s pretty interesting to see the shift in people when the weather changes. Problems still might be there, but for many people they just start to see things differently. It seems warmth and light give people hope, so get outside more.

3) Sing and Dance

Do both of these, preferably at the same time. It’s not about your talent. There's no need to apologize for your perceived lack of vocals and moves. It's not about that. It's about letting go and expressing what's inside you. I recommend selecting a theme song, especially for Mondays, and going to town on it. See if you don't experience an immediate mood shift.   

4) Laugh

A final thing happy people do is laugh genuinely. We're not talking about a courtesy chuckle when someone says something mildly amusing. I'm talking about deep guffaws and belly laughs from the soul. I recommend having a friend or two on stand by that can crack you up at the end of a rough day. Also, have a few comedies you can unwind with when you're feeling stressed. The adage is right. Laughter is medicine.

So, there you have it. These are specific things you can do right away to start feeling happier. It’s not a mind-over-matter exercise either. There are actual neurobiological changes made when you engage in these happy behaviors. Serotonin increases, cortisol decreases, and endorphins released leave you feeling…well…joyful. And that’s kind of the point, right?

Friday, May 8, 2015

Joy Journal: Celebrate Others

Some happiness research suggests that being others-centered, rather than self-centered, increases our sense of well-being. It’s not just about service and volunteerism though. I think the intentional celebration of others increases positive emotions in your own life.

I stumbled across this idea a little over a year ago. Some of you might recall I was struggling a bit with two good friends getting married and leaving me behind (I might have been slightly dramatic about the whole thing, I now realize). It dawned on me that I could rage against the reality that already was, or I could embrace it…and not just tolerate it, but rejoice in it. Their love stories were a long time coming, and if any two people were deserving of a happy ending, it was my friends. At first, to be perfectly honest, I had to fake it at times- the smile, the enthusiasm. It wasn’t because I didn’t want them to be happy. I was just so deep in my own pain and sense of loss that it was hard to see beyond it. But I stuck with it. I sent encouraging prayers and check ins. I bought presents. I attended events. And you know what happened? Eventually my heart caught up and I felt genuinely happy for the good fortune in their lives. My supportive actions also ignited faith in me that the same happy ending was possible for me too.

From that experience I’ve developed a habit of celebrating others. I don’t just acknowledge major milestones either. Weddings and babies are just some reasons to celebrate in life. If someone launches their own business, meets a personal fitness record, gets a new pair of shoes…if they’re treated to Starbucks, get a new pet, pass a difficult test, or find an amazing sale, I celebrate. In doing so, I give the gift of validation to the people in my life and I receive the gifts of joy, love, and connection. With byproducts like that who wouldn’t want to get out of their own head and get excited about the good things happening for others? It’s really a win-win. So go sow seeds of love and support in the lives of others. See what awesomeness you get in return.


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Joy Journal: Bye Felicia

One of my favorite phrases of the last year or so is “Bye Felicia.” For those of you who don’t know what this means, it’s pretty much a dismissive statement that you say to someone when you no longer want to be bothered. It originates from the movie Friday where Craig was sending away his neighbor, Felicia. But what makes it so great now is that it doesn’t even matter if the person’s name is Felicia. Not using their actual name further highlights how insignificant they are. I believe anyone who wants to be happy in life should think about adopting this mantra when it comes to negative people.

I’m not suggesting you make a habit of cutting people out of your life for saying or doing something you don’t like. This also isn’t about abruptly distancing yourself from relationships before giving a chance to repair a divide. I’m talking about not giving people you’re only peripherally connected to the power to affect you emotionally, especially if it’s negatively.

We all know the types. They’re jealous, insecure and petty. They make biting, rude comments but passive aggressively hide behind “just kidding.” They give back-handed “compliments” that are really digs in disguise. Maybe they’re what I call hot/cold. They are incredibly warm and nice one day and frosty and distant the next. You’re often left wondering are you best friends or mortal enemies? You just never quite know where you stand with such people. I say let yourself off the hook and stop wondering.

I used to drive myself crazy trying to please people like this and still sometimes do. I want everyone to like me and it hurts if someone doesn’t. But guess what? I’m learning to say “Bye Felicia.” People like this can’t be pleased. And if their heart is already hardened against you because of jealousy or comparison, you can’t win them over anyway. Why try? These personalities are draining and these individuals are joy killers. Keep on loving them if you want, but do so at a distance. Whether it’s the person who cuts you off in traffic or the coworker or church lady who talks smack behind your back, dismiss these Felicias. When you get really serious about being happier in life you’ll realize you don’t have time for that! What you should make time for is the life-giving relationships you have. We’ll address that in the next post, Joy Journal: Celebrate Others.


Monday, May 4, 2015

Joy Journal

Not too long ago, I enjoyed a rare time in with Redbox. One of my picks was Hector and the Search for Happiness. It's about a psychiatrist who just kind of sleep walks through life. He's generally content. He has his routine. But one day, a client comment causes him to wonder if there's more. He sets off on a journey to discover what truly makes people happy.

I was drawn to the theme for a number of reasons. I see people day in and day out that are weighed down with depression. Sometimes trauma and tragedy are the culprits. Or, sometimes life has been quite good to them, but the quiet contentment they so desperately desire eludes them. Personally speaking, I've been there. I know what it’s like to be unsure you'll see light again. I also know when things are otherwise fine, and you “should” be fine, but instead you carry around a touch of sadness like a low grade fever. You’re functioning well enough, but at a bit of a deficit. Your joy tank is on E. Wherever you are on the continuum, I think most of us are curious about the true nature of happiness and practical ways to increase it.
For me, a lot of the articles and research on happiness feel a bit trite. I can certainly appreciate cultivating a lifestyle of mindfulness, gratitude, and acceptance. At times, though, those virtues seem vague and elusive and don’t offer people immediate relief from pain. You definitely have to do intentional, long term work to see enduring results. But you also need short term encouragers along the way to energize you to stay the course on your joy journey.
So, here it is. It’s time for another series and I’m calling it Joy Journal. The next several posts will offer specific things I do to improve my mood. These aren’t just things I’ve read about. These are things that help me in very tangible ways. It’s possible some or none of these ideas resonate with you. That’s okay. I hope it gets you thinking about what a sustained sense of wellbeing looks like for you and what steps you need to take to attain it. Stay tuned for the next installment- Joy Journal: Bye Felicia.