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What Really Makes Us Happy, and Why

“Whatever you do, make sure it makes you happy.” ~Unknown   Like many of us, I live paycheck to paycheck. Which is okay. We aren’t alone. CNN reported nearly 76 percent of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. I want to give a quick shout out to all the hardworking folks out there who budget every week to see how much they can spend on groceries. We got this. So back to that 76 percent number, for the sake of simple math that means that three out of every four people are living paycheck to paycheck, which sounds about right in my experience. I guess I have rich friends, though, because they all have big savings accounts, houses, and nice cars. Am I a little jealous? You bet. I am sitting over here hoping my car makes it another six months. I drive a 2002 Acura RSX, with over 150,000 miles on it. Some people might be thinking, there’s plenty of life left in that car; what are you talking about? This might be true, but it’s starting to give me problems, and not being a car guy, I’m left trying to figure out what is worth fixing and what can be put off and paid for at a later time. Not the most reassuring thoughts when commuting. You might be thinking, oh great, another one of these “woe is me” posts. But bear with me; you might be surprised what I learned by the end of this. More to the point, I have always wanted a truck, for a variety of reasons that I won’t get into right now. So my plan was to start saving for one. I started reading about ways to save money and put together a plan. Here are the quick highlights of what I did to save up enough for the down payment. I called Comcast and cancelled my cable (saved $80/month) I refinanced one of my credit cards (saved $20/month) I opened a ROTH IRA and put $35 a month in there because I can make better returns than it sitting in savings, and it helps me not spend it frivolously ($35/month) I started tracking my beer consumption and cut it way back ($30ish/month) I cancelled my Audible subscription ($15/month) I priced out my grocery budget and realized I could save money by ordering from a meal service ($20/month) I started saving everything I could from each paycheck ($100+/month) Total savings: $300/month It took a while, but I was able to finally save up enough. I was so pumped to start shopping for my new truck. (I had my heart set on a Toyota Tacoma 4×4.) I started looking on AutoTrader, Craigslist, and Cars.com, and would Google every dealership I drove by. I even test drove one and had a huge smile on my face the entire time. Dealers were calling and emailing me every day (which was annoying, but I secretly liked the attention). They were out [...]

2018-11-14T13:14:38+00:00 By |

The First Steps Toward Creating a Life You Love

“My goal is to build a life I don’t need a vacation from.” ~Rob Hill Sr. The other day I had an interesting conversation with a friend, who asked me the question “Who is the happiest person you know?” Ask yourself this question now. It’s difficult to answer, isn’t it? There are certainly people around me who seem to be happy, but the happiest person I know? I couldn’t easily come up with an answer. The conversation with my friend proceeded with him saying, “You seem happy, but it’s so easy for you; you live in Cornwall by the sea, you work for yourself, and you have all the freedom in the world because you’re single.” It made me smile to think about how people perceive others’ lives. If you ask the next person they might say the absolute opposite: “It must be hard for you living so far away from anything, starting a heart-centered business from scratch with nothing. You must be so lonely being single and doing it all on your own.” And the truth is, all the above is true. I feel each and every variation of the above on occasions because I’m human! I think and dream just like a regular employed person, I love just like a married person, and feel and breathe just like a city dweller. We are all the same. But the conversation made me reflect on my own happiness. What does it mean to be happy? I feel the happiest I’ve ever been right now, whether I look at my life with glass-half-full or half-empty eyes. I asked myself why, and the only answer I could think of is, right now I feel authentic. I wake up each morning and my work feels like a joyful adventure, so I don’t have to drag myself through days, questioning the point of what I’m doing. Feeling complete deep down for the first time in my life soothes the loneliness of not being in a loving partnership right now, and walking the beach with my dog every morning watching the sunrise, instead of being on a packed London commuter train, makes my heart burst with happiness. This isn’t a recipe for happiness in any shape or form. These are just my things. My choices leading to the life I am creating for myself, from a place of authenticity. I have started to understand and accept that my life is up to me—my choices, my creation. The life I am living right now resulted from the choices I made before now, and yet they are no longer important; only the choices I make right now are. Right now I am free from the past but have a choice in creating my future. So often we look outward and feel trapped by things that aren’t real. For me it was my past, my CV, other people’s perceptions, my own fears, and those pesky little shoulds, from myself and others. Or we think that we’re slaves to the choices we made in the [...]

2018-11-05T18:20:25+00:00 By |

I Lost My Job, Twice (And it was a gift.)

The news came just as an article I wrote—Meditation:  Neuroscience Shows How It Can Change Your Life for the Better–was chosen to be the cover story for a regional publication. I had been meditating for about two years, twice a day, about half an hour to two hours in a sitting. Two and a half years earlier, I had also lost my job. I had begun meditating about four months before. Now this was a poignant moment to experience my own brain on meditation. In both events, the situation was out of my control and I was essentially “laid off.” In both job situations, I felt it coming. Something didn’t feel right and had to give. No matter the reasons, our brains perceive and evaluate losing one’s job as a big threat. It ranks among the highest stress events, right up there with death of a loved one, divorce and serious illness. It is a blow to our base chakra, survival senses kick in. Most people go through an emotional cycle of denial, fear, anger, blame and eventually adaptation. I went through this same cycle both times. But the speed at which I cycled through these emotions to adaptation was radically different the second time, after two years of meditation. On the first round, I had been the sole source of income for my family for over 10 years, and that career had a substantial retirement fund. I felt I was carrying everything for my family’s survival on my shoulders. I had moved my family to this new place for that job. I knew no one and no one knew me; I had no support network there. I reached out to strangers, some of whom were kind and helpful, and some who betrayed me for their own sense of security. I feared that I had really messed up making this move. The constant scanning for the source of threat was living in a soup of anxiety. We know that under stress our brains release stress hormones and chemicals, like cortisol. I experienced all the signs of too much stress:  anxiety, aches and pains, difficulty sleeping, etc. I started meditating, and praying, just to deal with this stressful daily scene. In neuroscientific and psychologic terms, I was ruminating. My brain’s Threat Center and Me Center were in close cahoots to evaluate threats. They were turning events over and over in my head, trying to understand myself vis-à-vis everyone else. Trying to understand seems like a logical route to solutions, but in a threat-induced loop, I was susceptible to taking things personally, all input was evaluated in a self-referencing loop. That’s not objective or balanced. My Me Center was over-riding my Executive Center, the part of my brain that actually can help me understand in a balanced way. Rumination plays a big role in depression, and in the worst-case, suicide. It can lead us into the illusion of a tunnel without options. When we meditate, we continually [...]

2018-12-11T12:08:42+00:00 By |

How to Keep Your Marriage or Relationship Strong and Beat the Statistics

“Good relationships don’t just happen. They take time, patience, and two people who truly want to be together.” ~Unknown You can`t take it anymore. Life’s getting boring, you fight over everything, your relationship has lost its spark, and you can’t look each other in the eye without feeling regret. Many marriages and relationships get to this place eventually. According to recent surveys, one of every two American couples gets a divorce. This means you only have a 50 percent chance at making your relationship work, no matter how well it began. The only way you can turn things around is by making some changes in how you interact. According to experts, these are the top eight tips that, if followed, will give your relationship a fresh breath of air. I’m not married, but I’ve applied these tips in my romantic relationship, and it’s gotten a lot stronger as a result. 1. Understand that there are usually underlying issues behind every fight. Most of my past arguments with my girlfriend weren’t about money, but they usually happened when I was struggling financially because I was feeling bad about myself. In the past, any time my girlfriend and I talked about finances, I would use aggression and humor to protect my ego and deflect the conversation elsewhere because I felt inferior. It wass't about her, but I made her think it was. So yes, at many times, it's not about you. It’s your partner being angry—even at themselves—that is causing problems. What to do then? Ask them questions to help them get to the root of what’s really bothering them. If they have the self-awareness to identify what’s going on and they choose to share that with you, let them know you understand their feelings and agree to talk through this issue when they're ready. It can be hard to be understanding and to not take things personally when someone gets upset or accusatory, but this is the most helpful thing you can do. And they will likely remember this later when the same thing happens to you. 2. Avoid the “The Four Horsemen.” According to John Gottman, marriage coach and bestselling author of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, there are four signs to whether a couple will separate or stay together. Gottman calls them The Four Horsemen: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. Avoid these horsemen and your relationship will be a lot more connected and peaceful. Criticism: Attacking the other person, not their behavior. Contempt: Too much sarcasm and cynicism with a sense of superiority over your partner. It’s a disguised form of disrespect and disgust. Defensiveness: Not accepting responsibility and blaming it all on the other person. According to Gottman, defensiveness escalates conflicts, which is why it’s so deadly. Stonewalling: This means disengaging and avoiding conflicts by all means. Leaving the room or not responding to your partner not only withdraws you from the discussion but from the relationship as well. 3. Cope [...]

2018-04-17T05:34:53+00:00 By |

9 Beliefs You Have to Let Go If You Want to Find Inner Peace

“Enlightenment is a destructive process. It has nothing to do with becoming better or being happier. Enlightenment is the crumbling away of untruth. It’s seeing through the facade of pretense. It’s the complete eradication of everything we imagined to be true.” ~Adyashanti I don’t know exactly when it happened. It was probably about eighteen months ago, maybe a couple of years. I can’t really remember, and it doesn’t really matter. I was up to my neck in stress, and having one of those days. It was one of those days where you wake up late and your neck is a little stiff. One of those days where you skip breakfast, and you immediately feel that you’re behind schedule on every little piece of work. Where you have calls that you’ve forgotten to make, and emails that you’ve forgotten to send. One of those days where you know there’s no way you’ll have time to go to the gym later, even though today’s the day you need it the most! Just one of those days. So I got home from work, sat in my meditation chair, and tried to calm myself down. But the stress and the frustration weren’t going anywhere. I wasn’t going to simply breathe it away. As I sat there, struggling to relax, I found myself more and more wound up, until a deep pressure was gripping my forehead. Suddenly, in a split second, I just let go, and the flood gates poured open. I let go of wanting to solve any issues in my life. I let go of trying to be calm, or trying to be stressed. I let go of trying be happy, I let go of trying to be sad. I let go of problem solving, and I let go of ideas of procrastination. It wasn’t the kind of letting go where your mind subtly grips onto something else. The kind of letting go when you scream “I just don’t care anymore” but you know you’re now just holding onto the idea of “not caring.” It wasn’t that. It was just… letting go. And I realized at that moment that all my worries were tangled up this thick web of beliefs I had about what I should have been experiencing. See, it sounds like a cliche, and maybe it is, but I realized that I didn’t need to get anywhere. Exactly where I wanted to be was hidden behind layers of beliefs. It was cloaked behind a thick forest of shoulds and should-nots. But as much as I’d heard this before, it wasn’t until I was actually able to give in that I could start to clearly see the unconscious beliefs that had been getting in the way of my inner peace. To some extent, everyone seeking change and peace are initially guided by ideas. But I’ve come to realize since then that the real change happens when you let go of ideas, as opposed to following new ones. After [...]

2018-11-05T18:10:04+00:00 By |

Tiny Wisdom: Enjoying the People We Love

“Good relationships don’t just happen. They take time, patience, and two people who truly want to be together.” ~Unknown   In the past, whenever I heard someone say that relationships take effort, I assumed it was a person who wasn’t in a happy one. When it’s right, it shouldn’t feel like work; it should be effortless—or so I thought, ironically, in a time when I had few relationships. What I didn’t realize then is that things change over time—we change over time—and that we need to choose each day to see the people we love with new eyes. I’ve been with my boyfriend for three years now, and although my feelings for him have only grown deeper, there are times when I let our familiarity create a wall between us. It’s not conflict, or mistrust, or disappointment—it’s the subtle knowing that he’s always there. If I’m not mindful, I can use that as an excuse to not be there with him. To be physically present, but not really—not aware and connected. When the newness is gone and you’re part of each other’s routine, especially if you live together, it’s easy to shift the dynamic from fun, excitement, and spontaneity to habit, necessity, and responsibility. But it’s not just a matter of taking each other for granted. Sometimes when we’ve gotten comfortable with each other, we forget to focus on everything we appreciate about each other, and fixate instead on the little things that we might find bothersome. It can be instinctive to hone in on the small things that aren’t working instead of realizing just how many big things are. Psychologists suggest that healthy relationships have a five to one ratio of positive to negative interactions. I suspect the ratio holds true for positive to neutral interactions, as well. In other words: We need to enjoy other more often than we simply share space. We need to make it a priority to be silly, playful, spontaneous, generous, thoughtful, and affectionate. Sometimes we may not fully see the people we love because we’re too caught up in our own worries. Other times, it might be because we’re too comfortable to fully appreciate what comfort means. Either way, we can make a little time to smile with the people we love. It might take effort to come into the moment, but once we let ourselves enjoy each other, it rarely feels like work. https://tinybuddha.com This post was republished with permission from tinybuddha.com. You can find the original post here.

2018-10-25T18:59:22+00:00 By |

There’s Nothing Wrong With Being Single: Releasing the Shame and Stigma

7 Ways to Find Happiness While Single!   “Single is no longer a lack of options, but a choice. A choice to refuse to let your life be defined by your relationship status but to live every day Happily and let your Ever After work itself out.” ~Mandy Hale In our society, being single is still heavily stigmatized. Being single is often perceived as something out of the norm. It is more acceptable to be part of a couple (even a dysfunctional one!) than it is to be single. And it is even more acceptable to be divorced than it is to be single. Unfortunately, our society makes us believe that being single is wrong, and your goal should be to find someone to be in a relationship with. Then and only then are you complete, happy, and more acceptable socially. Many single people feel lots of shame around being single. They feel like it’s their fault. They feel like there is something wrong with them. They feel like a failure. This societal pressure makes single people invest themselves in the wrong relationships, just to feel accepted. The reality is that being single is about being in a relationship with yourself. It is the most intimate relationship you will ever experience in your life. Being in a relationship with yourself should feel like the most natural thing, but it’s often regarded as an uncomfortable one. We find it easier to be with others than to be with ourselves. How crazy is that? I also want to add that it’s normal and healthy to want companionship. We want to connect with others. We are social animals. We are meant to be with others. Let’s don’t deny it. The problem starts when your desire to be in a relationship is fueled by the discomfort of being with yourself. The desperation for another person to save you from being single will only create more drama in your love life. That’s why it is so important to break thought the conditioning and become a happy single before you start looking for love. Ever since I can remember, I struggled with being single. I struggled with my status because I believed this collective conditioning around being single. I believed that it’s more socially acceptable to be in a relationship. I believed that there must be something wrong with me if I hadn’t found my life partner by the time I reached my thirties. That I was broken, less of a human being, and not complete, all because I was single. For the majority of my life, I desperately wanted to change my relationship status and escape all those thoughts and beliefs. I was ashamed of it. I felt like I hadn’t made it in life, because I couldn’t find a partner. I didn’t lke being on my own. I didn’t like being alone. I didn’t like having too much time on my hands. I used to make sure I had [...]

2018-10-25T19:03:52+00:00 By |

How to Stop Worrying About the Future and Start Living Your Life Now

“Every tomorrow has two handles. We can take hold of it with the handle of anxiety or the handle of faith.” ~Henry Ward Beecher Retirement. A word that fills people with both excitement and fear. On the one hand, we’re excited about the possibilities that retirement brings. The possibility to travel, to try new hobbies, to live our lives the way we want. On the other hand, we worry about whether we’ll have enough money to survive until that unknown age at which we’ll die. And maybe not just survive but to actually thrive in our later years. That fear, that endless worry about the future, is what keeps many people stuck in soul-sucking careers. Following the safe path in life, trying to save up money for that day in which they’ll no longer be working. Sacrificing their one precious life in exchange for a sense of security later on. I understand those fears about the future and retirement. I recently turned forty-nine years old, which means that my retirement is only fifteen years away. Fifteen years may seem like a long time, but I know that those years will pass quickly. I have some money saved up in retirement accounts and I will also receive a small pension. And hopefully I’ll also receive money from Social Security. Will that be enough? And how long will that money last? I have no idea. My retirement years could have been a lot different. Three times in my life I’ve walked away from jobs that paid me lots of money and paid generous retirement benefits. My friends who decided to stay in those jobs will likely have few worries when they retire. So yes, I gave up a lot of money and a secure retirement. But I also saved my soul in the process. Those jobs I walked away from? They were destroying me. I hated being stuck in a cubicle. I hated sitting in front of a computer all day long. I hated writing pointless memos. I hated going to meetings to talk about things that I didn’t care about. My dad spent over twenty years in a job he hated because he had no choice. He had to support his wife and three kids. And I saw firsthand how staying in that job destroyed him. And I vowed a long time ago not to do to myself what he did to himself. So I did whatever was necessary to get out of those jobs. And then I used some of my savings and took the time to do things that people say they’ll do in retirement: I backpacked around the world, visiting over thirty countries and living in several others. I volunteered with street children in Mexico and with cancer patients in the Philippines. I learned Spanish, starting from point zero to becoming near fluent. I lived at a yoga center in Pennsylvania and a meditation center in Wisconsin. And afterward I started my own [...]

2018-11-05T17:46:35+00:00 By |

5 Ways to Calm Your Mind When You’re Exhausted (Without Meditation)

“Calm your mind. Life becomes much easier when you keep your mind at peace.” ~Unknown   Let me start with a confession. If I’m honest with you, even just writing these words actually makes me feel kind of uncomfortable. But I’m going to say it because it’s true, and some of you reading this are going to realize that on some level you probably share the same feeling. I hate meditation. Now, let me do the obligatory defend-the-shocking-thing-I-just-said. I mean, to be more specific, some days I hate meditation. Most of the time, I love it. I really love it. It’s had the most positive influence of anything in my entire life. But so have my family, and some days… just joking. Look, normally meditation makes me feel on top of the world. I’m bursting with gratitude, and even the idea of stress can seem to be so far away. But on other days, I do also kind of hate it. Actually, hate is too strong, let me say I really dislike it. I’m sure some of you can relate. But there’s a reason we feel this way at times: exhaustion. About six months ago, my meditation practice had been going well. I was feeling incredibly content, just with life in general. But after a couple of weeks of travel, difficulties with work, and family commitments, I found myself tired, very tired. And my mind started racing a lot more than it had been. Mentally, I felt like I had lost my inner calm. Like I’d taken one step forward and two steps back. So I tried to do what I always do. Meditate. But for a couple of weeks, I was approaching the practice with completely the wrong attitude. I started trying to use meditation as my medication, and it had the opposite intended effect. It just wouldn’t work! I actually started to get completely annoyed with the whole thing. So I tried harder, and harder, and harder. Every day I would sit down to meditate, only to leave the session feeling even more tired than when I had started. It was at this point that I decided to shift my focus to other ways to calm my mind, at least until I had more energy. And I realized a few very important things. Firstly, I realized that I truly am in love with meditation. Even when I ‘hated’ it, I still wanted to practice consistently, and followed through with it. But I also understood that in times of stress, we can sometimes start to resent things we love. I understood that although I’ve barely missed a day of meditation in the last couple of years, I’m still a human being in a human body and I’m going to have days where I feel like I’m back where I started. I also came to realize that a calm mind is a focused mind, and a tired mind doesn’t have the resources to stay focused. [...]

2018-11-19T10:39:24+00:00 By |