Category Archives: happiness

Christmas Cards in October?

Christmas Cards in October?

Yes, I’m one of those people. I start working on Christmas cards in October. Typically, I’m ordering something around now, though there have been times in the past when I would have already received my order and begun hand-addressing the envelopes. (My list is about 125 people so it takes some time.)

This year, though, I am not sure what I’m doing. Yesterday I browsed through some online card templates; and today, while at Costco, I saw some very pretty boxed card sets. But somehow, it all fell a bit flat.

It’s entirely possible that the dullness is the result of this lull I’m experiencing. A lot of things are falling flat lately, so it’s not just the cards. But the cards truly gave me pause, because it is one of my favorite things about the holidays: giving and receiving cards. It’s a symbolic gesture that says: I’m thinking of you. I love it.

I think that’s why it feels flat. Nothing I’ve seen has sparked that moment of “I’m thinking of you” within me. It actually feels more like an obligation than a joy. And that’s exactly what gave me pause.

When something that has previously carried the spark of creativity, love, and imagination loses its sparkle, it becomes obligation or duty… and there’s no joy in that.

I know that there are times in our lives when both obligation and duty are required, but they truly are limited to the smallest minority – like, maybe 5% or less. The rest of the time, most of our daily lives are ruled by either routine or joy, with routine often in a significant majority. It’s the joy component that most interests me.

How do we make joy out of routine? How do we protect our joy in light of the requirements of routine? Is it truly all about attitude? Choice? Perspective?

You’re probably expecting an answer here – but the truth is: I don’t know. I watch people all around me, every day, going through the motions of life, their heads buried in their phones or computers, or projects, barely looking up to recognize what’s going on around them. It saddens me. I’ve been party to it – still am, sometimes – so I know it’s a difficult pattern to break, especially when we don’t have a motivation to do so. There’s no reward, it seems, to breaking the habit of daily living.

I think that’s the biggest issue facing our society today: this idea of an immediate tangible reward. We’ve gotten to where we can’t tolerate failure, so instead we accept habitual mediocrity. It’s not just coloring within the lines, but allowing someone else to choose all the colors and their placement for us. It’s life without risk… and also without reward.

Which means it’s also a loss of joy. Pure true unabated joy.

When was the last time you laughed so hard your abs hurt? 
Or your heart filled with pure unconditional love and gratitude? 
Or you smiled so deeply that you began to cry? 

These are all expressions of joy. Pure joy.

For me, I will probably send out Christmas cards this year, though I am giving myself wiggle room and might send New Year’s cards instead. Because, if I don’t feel joy in creating and addressing them, I don’t want to send out a message of “obligation” instead of a message of “thinking of you.” As we know, everything carries energy. Even our correspondence. I’d rather wait or skip a year, instead of sending out something just to have done it.

And I think that’s a healthy question we can ask of most everything in our daily lives, don’t you?

xoxo,
Martina

How Non-Attachment Enhanced My Birthday

Last week was my birthday, and it was one of the best I’ve celebrated in a long time for many reasons, but especially this:

I practiced non-attachment.

Everything throughout the day was a gift. The text from an old friend? A gift. The call from across the pond? A gift. Three small celebrations with family and friends? All gifts.

Absolutely everything in my day was filled with joy, because I wasn’t attached to any of it. I was in a space of non-attachment, and non-attachment allows you to move through life with more grace and ease than practically anything else. 

So what is non-attachment?

To begin with, let’s identify what it’s not. It’s not detachment. Detachment still requires there to be something else to detach from. Non-attachment has no such requirement. Detachment is a response to something, non-attachment just is.

Non-attachment isn’t the same as not caring, however. Non-attachment is about not having an investment in the outcome. It’s a process of divestment, in which the object is not just no longer a focus to be for or against, but there is no object. Non-attachment is about transcending expectations to arrive at a place with no suffering, because there’s nothing to react to or push against or for.

Everything just is. 

If I had not been practicing non-attachment, like in years past, I would have wondered where certain texts, calls, or cards were and why I had or had not received them by now. I would have been mired in the story my brain made up about the situation, rather than simply not creating a situation to begin with. In making up stories about why, I would have been stuck in a cycle of expectation and suffering.

Instead of creating stories and situations, I chose not to invest my time or energy into these questions or anything related. I went through my day and saw every incoming birthday wish as a bonus. There was nothing to push against, there was only the open arms of receptivity to what is. And as a result, I had one of the best birthdays I’ve had in a while, filled with love and celebration.

I’m not saying non-attachment is easy (there were one or two “why haven’t I heard from x yet?” thoughts that popped up). But I am saying that a practice of non-attachment makes life easier. It also opens us up to greater possibility for joy, creativity, and innovation, because we have freed up significant mental and emotional real estate in our minds and in our time… and those are probably the best gifts of all.

Happiness.

With New Year’s Resolutions safely behind us, it’s time to address the motivation behind why we desire change. Happiness.

More often than not, when we want to change something it’s often because we don’t quite feel happy.

We are tired or overweight so we want to lose weight and feel better. In other words we want to feel HAPPY about ourselves.

We are frustrated and discouraged at work, so we want to find a new job that pays us more. In other words, we want to feel HAPPY about our life’s work.

We are disappointed and lonely because we are single or in an unhealthy relationship and want to find “the one” or no longer be with “the wrong one.” In other words, we want to feel HAPPY about our relationships.

I could go on, but you get the picture. Happiness (or lack thereof) is a motivating factor for why we desire change. Note that I didn’t say it’s a motivating factor for actual change…because it’s not.

Here’s the rub: we desire to be happy, but happiness as a goal in and of itself is never achievable. Why? Because Happiness is a byproduct of something else. It’s the side effect of living your life with passion, purpose and joy.

Happiness is what happens when you make deliberate decisions to live in alignment with your values and goals, with who you are deep inside. Whether your goal is to be a cheese farmer or a banker, it’s the same thing. Happiness is what happens when you stop pursuing happiness and start living from your heart, your passion.

I’d like to say it’s a Catch 22, but that implies some circularity of thought. It doesn’t. If you want to create change, because you’re unhappy, don’t set happiness as the target. Set the target as something tangible, accessible, and aligned with your values. Happiness will then be the result of working toward your goal.

The Two C’s That Make the Holidays Stressful

One of the reasons we have so many arguments and disagreements with family during the holidays is because we engage in the practice of Competing and Comparing. Here’s what I’m talking about…

There’s a difference between saying,

“I make my potatoes differently,” and “I make my potatoes differently.”

See?…. No?

Yeah, it’s not obvious is it, not without tone and inflection – which is to say, not without intention. It’s the exact same phrase, nothing more than an observation perhaps, but the intention changes everything. But…

A passing observation is rarely passing if it’s speckled with comparison and competition.

If an external value system is placed on the item in question (potatoes), then comparison is immediately included in the intention (“different” becomes “better”). Comparison is better or worse. Once we have attached a value to it, it opens the door for competition, which internalizes the comparison. (aka: I’m better because my potatoes are better.) Whoa! And therein lies the problem, because it can be said or received either way. We don’t control how others receive our statements, of course, but we can certainly control how we say them.

So, how do you navigate the holiday season with less stress, arguing and disagreement? Raise your awareness to Comparison and Competition, and choose something different.

Sub-text, second-level dialogue, and assumptions are all fodder for Comparison and Competition. Once we engage in either we create opportunity for disagreement and argument, hurt feelings and frustration. So, it’s easy to see why the holidays can be fraught with strife for so many as families gather together to celebrate. Keeping the two C’s in check can lead to more enjoyable holidays together now and in the future.

Finally, when in doubt, it’s best to choose gratitude. Regardless of how the potatoes are made, a simple “Thank you for making the potatoes” goes a lot further than any passing observation ever could (even if Aunt Bernie’s potato recipe is awesome). There’s little room for disagreement when gratitude is shared.

Feeling Stressed?

Stress can be like wind on the surface of water: temporary, changing, and totally outside of our control.

We often feel stressed and anxious because of circumstances in our life that we cannot control or influence. (Usually, actually, we think we can, which contributes to the level of stress we experience.)

Therefore, it’s important to know which type of stress you’re dealing with. In my experience, there are two types:

  • surface stress
  • deep stress

This week, I’m looking at surface level stress, because it’s the one we can deal with most readily, since it’s predominantly external. For that metaphor, let’s liken stress to wind blowing across the surface of a lake, causing ripples. The water deep underneath might be calm and clear, but the surface looks like a hot mess.

It’s this stress that’s truly temporary. Additionally, 9 times out of 10, the key to alleviating this stress is to remember that the vast majority of the water (what’s underneath) is calm and unaffected by the wind.

The wind can be anything from a child’s or boss’ tantrum, to a bad hair day, or traffic, or not having enough milk for your coffee in the morning, or even…

…family, friends, colleagues and social media. Basically, it can be anything external to you.

Like the wind, it’s outside of your control and often has nothing to do with you personally. The key to restoring balance is to understand and remember these three things:

  • the surface is not the story
  • the wind is temporary
  • the calm beneath is the truth

If you can keep these simple ideas in mind, it will help you navigate any stressful (windy) situation with more grace and ease. There’s comfort in knowing that, at your core, everything is okay. In fact, I would argue it’s the best way to live. :)

Speaking to Joy

Recently, I was speaking with a client that is venturing into the online dating world, and this came out of my mouth:

Find someone who speaks to your joy, not your fears.

So often in life we look for a mate who meets certain criteria, because it’s what we think we want or are told we want. We look for things like: successful, attractive, sense of humor, tall, etc. All of these things are great and not necessarily fear-based. But if we scratch beneath the surface just a little bit, they actually are. Here’s why:

All of these criteria are externalized to your joy. Therefore, the criteria themselves are based on some internal fear that you are experiencing for which you want someone else to fill the void. Another way to say that is:

When a desire is based in the energy of lack, rather than joy, we are setting ourselves up for future disappointment.

It’s an idea worth exploring, because nobody (nobody) can fill an internal void. What a partner CAN do, however, is help to expand your existing joy to where you end up filling the void yourself.

That’s what I mean by finding someone who speaks to your joy. Now, what does that look like?

If you think about people (friends, family, etc.) who already exist in your life and make your heart smile when you’re around them… that speaks to your joy. It’s not about external attributes. It’s about recognizing how someone makes you feel.

Therefore, the question isn’t:

  • Who are they?
  • What do they do? or
  • How do they look?

The question should always be:

How do I feel when I’m with them?

If you can answer that with a smile, you’re more than halfway there. :)

To live life as a dog.

For dogs there is no yesterday and there is no tomorrow.
There is only now, and there is only love.

Evening watch
Love of food.
Love of sleep.
Love of play.
Love of walks.
Love of their owner.

 

And seemingly, all of these things bring joy. Yes, I think dogs “worry” when they sense their owner is sick or anxious. Yes, they sense fear… but they don’t seem to carry it forward. What happened yesterday isn’t true for today, and won’t be true for tomorrow. “This morning” doesn’t necessarily exist when it’s dinnertime.

So, how can we live life more like a dog? Well, I think the greatest gifts the dog can teach us are these: joy, loyalty and rest – all of which are unrestrained. Unconditional.

When you watch a dog at play – it seems joyful. They’re not concerned about whether their stomach is sucked in, or their tail is long enough or what breed they are. There is a ball and there is someone throwing it for them. Joy.

Watching a service dog stand by its owner in the midst of complete chaos, and only have eyes for its owner’s needs, is the purest example of loyalty I’ve ever seen. It transcends the animal nature that lies within and demonstrates a capacity of service and loyalty beyond measure.

And rest. Dogs know how to rest. They know how to seek their own space in the middle of a family event when they are tired. No apologies, no guilt, simply rest. Their bodies need it, so they do it.

Of course, all these things are encompassed in an animal that knows how to give and receive unconditional love. They don’t keep a running tally in their mind of when you last gave them a treat and whether or not you deserve a lick or two. They simply love, without strings and without expectations.

So, although our colloquial language isn’t there yet, I think it would be quite an honor to be referred to as a “dog.” Instead of being derogatory, I’d allow it to mean I had achieved some measure of peace and greatness, that I was a good friend and companion. And above all, that I knew how to live and love with a joyful heart, unconditionally. Woof!

Champions at Heart

“You don’t need a man, Liz. You need a champion.” – Eat, Pray, Love

I always liked that line, because it hits me. Right there. You know the place: That space between your heart and your throat where you can physically feel your dreams? Yeah, there. But why?

Let’s pause to look at this for a moment, because it’s actually true. We each need a champion. First, let’s define “champion.”photo 1

Among other things, a champion is a “warrior or fighter” according to Merriam-Webster. It’s also a verb: to champion means “to protect or fight for.” Let’s explore the latter, because although Javier Bardem uses the noun in the movie, I believe his true intention (or sub-dialogue) was the meaning behind the verb. So let’s go there!

When we’re children, we seem to have champions all around us. Sometimes it’s our friends or our parents. Sometimes it’s our teachers or siblings. It’s people who hold us up, hold us accountable, teach and lead us. They are there for us when things get stormy as well as when things are calm and sunny. At face value, champions are the “winners.” Looking deeper, champions are those wonderful individuals who value and respect us as individuals ourselves and who inspire us to be our best self, without asking anything in return.

Usually, I would say that all we need is to be our own champion. We do. However, it’s not “all” we need. We need each other, and we each need a champion: That one person in our life, at that one moment, who supports and protects us – who holds us up (or helps us up) when we need it most. It’s the person who makes us laugh or lets us cry – without judgment or expectation – because they know it’s what we need at that moment. It may not be the same person every time. In fact, it probably isn’t.

I know who my champions are, even though they’d probably hate that title. 😉 They’re the ones who help me to be who I am every day, by supporting, challenging and encouraging me to show up for myself. Sometimes I forget they’re there though, and then I’m reminded by something seemingly small. Perhaps something so small that they don’t realize that they just donned a cape for me and became my champion in that one moment, and it made all the difference.

So, today – it’s a simple reminder to say thank you. Thank you to all the wonderful “champions” out there holding us up, helping us out, laughing with us, and reminding us of who we are, and what we can become. Perhaps, too, it’s a reminder that maybe we’re also wearing a cape for someone and don’t even know it. How wonderful!

In the end, I think that’s why that line hits me: Feeling supported and loved is an amazing gift; Feeling championed? That’s love on a whole new level.

If this, then that…

Why is it that we’ve been programmed to delay happiness? Think about it for a second. Do you have the thought pattern anywhere ingrained in you that says: “If I do/acquire/reach a certain thing/level – I will then be happy.” Replace ‘happy’ with content, peaceful, complete – any number of words – it’s the same idea regardless. But here’s the thing: with this thought pattern, we are actually preventing our own happiness. We’re in effect saying that we’re not worthy of happiness (peace, etc.) without first suffering through something or proving our worth. As a result, we’re denying ourselves permission to be happy. WHAT?!?

Don’t worry – I do it too. Why? Because I’m human. It’s part of the human condition – or conditioning. It’s a game we play with ourselves. A game of merit and self-worth. A game of success and failure. A game with too many unwritten rules. And a game where the world is the playing field, and everyone is on a different team. Furthermore, it’s something that will never change, and that we can never win. The only way to “fix” it is to remove it entirely by stepping off the field. Now, I’m not saying it’s time to die. I’m saying it’s time to acknowledge the game going on all around us, and in us, and simply decide to stop playing. It’s easier said than done, you say? Yes. And no.

Yes, everything is easier said than done. When our friends, family and colleagues are able to point things out to us, it’s because they have the perspective with which to do so. They’re not as close to the problem as we are; therefore, it’s much easier for them to see it, which is why we seek advice, help and encouragement from others. But that doesn’t mean that they will follow the same advice if they were in a similar situation. Again, they would be too close to the issue to have the perspective that makes a solution easy. Or easier.

But no, it’s not easier said than done – because I’m going to give you an idea that will help you step off the playing field, take off your jersey and step into your happiness. Once planted, this idea will begin to grow, and little by little you will start to accept and realize its truth. Here it is:

If the assumption is there will never be a perfect time, then we have nothing to lose by claiming our happiness now. The premise of the idea “if this, then that” is based on the notion that we are waiting for the ‘perfect’ time in order to realize something in our lives. We need all of our ducks to be in a row before we feel we can move on to the next thing. However, it goes further by also suggesting that there is no ‘perfect’ time, therefore that ‘something’ we desire will always be out of reach. Do you see? If there will never be a perfect time to own what’s already ours – then why not own it now? Inevitably “no perfect time” becomes perfect.

Of course, reality steps in on certain things like, you might need to have a job in order to buy a house (or a vacation home in the Greek Isles!); but what I’m saying is that the house won’t bring you happiness. The house won’t bring you stability. The house is not the issue. Nor is the job. They are steps towards creating an environment in which you “think” you would be happier. But nothing external actually creates happiness. Happiness comes from within. A house, a car, a job, a relationship, these are all things that can come and go – and if we pin our dreams and happiness on them, then that means our happiness can come and go as well. Why would we ever choose that?

Instead, opt for a different choice, a different way of living. Waiting to be happy by virtue of an external stimulus means you will spend a lifetime waiting. I guarantee once you’ve reached the desired goal, there will always be something else looming in the distance, and because it’s a conditioned behavior, you will once more fall into the pattern of “if this, then that.” Professor Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series said it best when he said to Harry, as he was sitting in front of the Mirror of Erised, “The happiest man on earth would … see himself exactly as he is.” (And did you all notice that Erised is ‘desire’ spelled backwards?)

So, in considering this concept: if you have nothing to lose – what would you endeavor to do?