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The Paradox of Pursuing Happiness

Many people spend a large portion of their lives actively pursuing happiness. Thousands of books have been written on the subject. Movies have been made. Countless articles and blog posts address thousands of different ways that you can be happy. But what these documents don’t account for is that happiness is a fleeting emotion – and so the pursuit of it will always feel equally fleeting and not very satisfying.

The thought propelling the pursuit of happiness is actually very positive. We all deserve to find moments of happiness in our lives – and those moments are wonderful to enjoy fully. However, if we focus our energy on always pursuing the euphoric feeling of happiness, we’ll often be left feeling quite the opposite – unhappy with the results. We run the risk of setting ourselves up for emotional negativity and let down.

Instead, it’s often more productive to focus ourselves on the practice of contentment. Feeling generally positive about our lives – or even feeling centered and calm – leaves us feeling much “happier” overall. Focusing on contentment means that we’re staying mindful and fully present in our day-to-day lives. If we focus on the pursuit of happiness instead, we’re often not in the moment: we’re focusing on a constant chase of an emotional state. By embracing contentedness, we’re developing a sense of peace and calm within ourselves.

Today, I suggest that you release the notion of actively pursuing happiness. Instead, focus yourself on staying content. Focus on staying in the moment. Focus on being mindful and remaining centered despite the ups and downs that will inevitably happen within our days. This is much more likely to lead to many more happy moments.


Approaching Situations that Cause You Anxiety

Many of us have situations that cause us anxiety. It may be speaking in public, or it may be facing a conflict in your relationship. Recognize that many people have similar reactions. Whatever situation you’re facing that causes you anxiety – I know that it can feel overwhelming. You may feel as though you’re unable to control how you’re feeling, or that you can’t possibly face these situations.

I suggest you take these steps to overcome your anxiety so that you’ll be able to manage the negative impacts.

Accept How You’re Feeling

Any anxiety that you’re feeling is usually a response to a deeper fear or source of upset. The first step to approaching situations that cause you anxiety is to embrace how you’re feeling. Accept the fact that the situation you’re about to encounter causes you anxiety. Feel it deeply, and allow for your reaction.

Create Space for Yourself to React

It’s important to give yourself emotional and mental space to react to the situation that causes you anxiety. If you’re afraid of public speaking and you throw yourself into a public speaking event without preparation or time to accept your anxiety your negative feelings are likely to escalate. Instead, create space for your reaction to the situation. Give yourself time to react. Likewise, after the situation is over, give yourself time to decompress. You will want to have plenty of space during these situations to accept and move past your anxious reaction.

Practice a Moment of Meditation

When the anxiety you experience is situational, meditation can help. Some people prefer to meditate before they approach the situation that causes them anxiety. If we follow the public speaking example, you could take time before the event to meditate calmly. Focus on being fully present. You can also meditate during the situation that’s causing you anxiety. Meditation doesn’t need to be a quiet act where you’re alone. It can be repeating a mantra to yourself in your head, or it can be focusing on your breath instead of any negative emotional reaction. Again, using the public speaking example, you can take a few seconds between sentences to repeat to yourself, “I am strong.” Or you can take slow, metered breaths between each phrase. After you exit the situation that’s causing you anxiety, you can still practice meditation to soothe yourself and bring yourself back to the present moment.


Validate, Empathize and Acknowledge Your Partner’s Experience

It’s not uncommon to have a disagreement in your relationship. It’s to be expected. Any time two unique people with differing backgrounds, priorities, and emotional attachments come together to try and make a decision or work to improve their relationship they’re bound to clash every once in awhile. That being said, there are ways that you can disagree – even when emotions are running high – that keep communication lines open and maintain your relationship as a safe space for one another. There is no one-size-fits-all plan for solving relationship arguments or disagreements, but there is one step that you can take to help ease tensions and improve communication to reach an effective resolution to you and your partner’s problem.

Acknowledge, Validate and Empathize with your partner.

It simple yet many couples don’t do this. When you’re arguing with your partner or with anyone in general, you may feel defensive. You may feel angry or hurt. Maybe you feel that your feelings aren’t being heard. You are completely entitled to these feelings. You’re always entitled to your feelings and I encourage all of my clients to fully acknowledge and accept what they’re feeling – whether it’s positive or negative – before choosing to focus on the moment and what is best for that situation. However, while you are entitled to these unpleasant feelings that are a result of an argument, your partner is likely experiencing many of those same feelings. They, like you, are entitled to their feelings, as well.

When you’re trying to work through a problem as a unit, it can help to acknowledge and validate your partner. Acknowledge and validate their experience. You may not agree, and I’m not implying that in order to make up agreement is necessary – it often isn’t, and it’s unreasonable to force any parties to agree to something they inherently disagree with. Acknowledging and agreeing with your partner without validation and empathy will not make the problem go away.

An Exercise in Validation and Empathy

Validating and empathizing with them is sometimes as simple as saying, “I see and understand what you’re feeling, it makes sense to me and if I were in your shoes I might feel the same way.”

It may be saying, “I hear what you are saying, it makes sense to me and I imagine that if I were in your shoes I would feel hurt.”

This relates to a process I encourage – the mirroring exercise. The mirroring exercise works like this:

Sender: Speak slowly about a given topic, using short sentences.

Receiver: Repeats back to sender everything that is being said, word-for-word.

Maintain eye contact at all times.

Receiver: May hold up a hand to signal to the sender that they’re moving too fast.

When the sender is finished speaking…

Receiver validates and empathizes by saying: I hear what you are saying and it makes sense to me. If I were in your shoes I might feel the same way (list the emotions they’ve expressed to you). Did I get that correct? Did I miss anything?

During this exercise, partners aren’t permitted to ask each other questions about their feelings or distract from what their partner is sending. Partners will likely feel uncomfortable. That’s normal! The point of this is to practice daily, for about 20 minutes (10 minutes each) to regularly validate and empathize with your partner.

By acknowledging your partner’s experience – their emotions, thoughts, and reactions – you open the door to allowing your relationship to remain a source of comfort despite the disagreement you’re having. Empathizing with your partner by saying “ If I were in your shoes I also might be feeling the way you are feeling” will help you and your partner to connect. Opening that connection can help you move forward in a safe space with love.


Saying Yes, Saying No: Assertiveness in your Relationship

The word “assertive” is often confused with aggressive and therefore considered a negative trait. Nobody wants to be viewed as aggressive, rude, or pushy. But I’m challenging you to look at an assertive personality trait as something that’s incredibly positive. In fact, I encourage clients to use the Assertiveness Method to attract their best life and act with self-confidence. Being assertive can help you make the best decisions for you and to respond to others in a balanced way. Learning the Assertiveness Method is simple – say “no” three times a day. It’s very possible that you find yourself saying “yes,” even to requests that you’re not wild about. Choose three small things a day that you don’t want to do, and instead of saying, “yes,” say, “no.”

You can say, “no,” to something big – maybe a relative wants you to pet sit for them while they’re out of town and you have other plans. You can also say, “no,” to something small – maybe your significant other asks you to grab them a cup of coffee while you’re reading your book, and you don’t want to.

Saying, “No, I have plans that weekend so I can’t watch your pets,” or, “No, I’m reading, would you get the cup of coffee yourself?” may sound impossible. You may have to force yourself to do it at first, and it will be uncomfortable for everyone involved. But over time, about 3-6 months, you’ll start to feel more capable and balanced. You’ll say yes when you’re invested and want to do something and no when you don’t. You’ll feel more connected to yourself, like you’re taking better care of yourself, and that you’re setting yourself up for your best life.

The Assertiveness Method can also work positively in your relationship. When you’re committed to your significant other, there’s a willingness to sacrifice for them. You may want to say, “yes,” to help them, make their life easier, go to events with them, etc. This is a positive thing! However, when you start saying, “yes,” to requests even when you don’t want to, a level of resentment starts to build. To keep your relationship happy and healthy, practice saying, “no,” to requests you don’t want to fulfill. Though you may both be surprised at first, you will both appreciate the honesty and openness in the long run. And, of course, you’ll each individually appreciate the fact that you’re caring for yourself – and therefore bringing your best self to the relationship.

For more about the Assertiveness Method, watch my video here. 


Cooling the Summertime Blues

If you’re feeling some summertime sadness this season, you are not alone. In some cases, summertime elicits a biological depression reaction. Almost 10% of people in the United States experience SAD (seasonal affective disorder) over the course of the summer. This is especially difficult emotionally, as summertime is always framed as a time when people are having the most fun during the year. However, summer isn’t all catching lightning bugs and digging your toes in the sand! Longer days with increased heat and humidity can make summer days downright miserable. People often have trouble sleeping, many experience unintended weight loss, loss of appetite, and generalized anxiety during the hot days of the summer season.

Summer also comes with a long list of emotional stressors. If you’re a parent, your kids might be home from school. There’s a societal pressure for you to be overjoyed – the kids are home! But whether you’re employed or you stay at home, this sudden shift in schedule can be difficult to manage. There may be financial worries around the vacations you’re expected to take, or any summer camps or babysitters you might hire to help watch your children while you work and/or try to take care of your daily task list.

Social media, of course, feeds the feeling you might have that you’re wrong for experiencing the blues during summer. Everyone has a picture-perfect projection of days at the beach, eating ice cream with friends, or going on sun-soaked adventures with family. I want to take this moment to communicate with you that feeling depressed during this season is completely okay. Embrace how you’re feeling rather than beating yourself up about it. You won’t be able to move past these negative emotions until you acknowledge them. Then, when you’re ready, try some of these tips to overcome your summertime blues:

  • Get plenty of sleep. Lack of sleep will make anybody miserable, and your body needs the extra energy right now to deal with changing schedules.
  • Drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated will help you through the heat and humidity and keep your body feeling right. This will help improve your outlook.
  • Exercise, but don’t overdo it. Exercise releases endorphins, but when you push yourself too hard in the heat the sick feeling you may experience will detract from any positivity your work out brought you.
  • Think about your feelings. Take this time to be introspective.
  • Manage your expectations. If the finances aren’t there to take a big trip, think smaller. Do something that will bring you joy, even if it costs nothing. Release preconceived notions of the grand adventure summer is “meant” to be and do what makes you truly happy with people who fill up your days with positivity.
  • Build in quiet time. There’s a temptation to fill every day with barbeques, get togethers, and trips to the pool. Block out time specifically for yourself and/or your family, whichever you prefer. Read a book. Meditate. Take a long bath. Breathe.
  • Release any pressure. Whether you feel pressure to post pictures of your smiling family on social media (when you can’t get your toddler to stop crying over their just-dropped popsicle), or you feel pressured to spend every minute “having fun” and keeping busy, release the need to comply with these pressures. Make your schedule according to what brings you joy. If you wilt in the heat, don’t go to the beach. If your kids dislike camping, make s’mores over the stove.

Find your own summertime rhythm regardless of what friends, family, are doing. This will release any pressure to do it differently.


“You Complete Me” ???

We’ve all heard the saying, “You complete me.” We may have even said it ourselves when we meet a significant other who feels like they just click into our lives like a missing puzzle piece. People who use this phrase feel like their partner is the missing component of their lives they never knew they needed. Their lives feel happier, healthier, and more fulfilling with their partner – so, naturally, they believe that their partner has completed their life. This thought pattern is accepted, and often encouraged in the media. The idea that you aren’t complete until you’ve found love or committed to a serious relationship is perpetuated as a societal norm.

Wanting to find love and maintain a happy, healthy relationship is positive. As humans, we are born to interact and connect with others on that deeper emotional level. However, the concept that your significant other completes you isn’t necessarily healthy. First, let’s look at the pressure that puts on a potential romantic partner.

While a partner may feel cherished at the thought of being your other half, or that you view them in that light, it can also cause some stress or anxiety that you didn’t intend. Being tasked with completing somebody is no small thing. It means you are relying on them to somehow make up for your mistakes or flaws. It means that it’s their job to better you and push you to be your very best, shining self. This is probably not what you meant when you thought or voiced that they completed you. You probably just wanted to say something sweet! Still, keeping in mind that your words have a deeper meaning and a greater impact than you realize is important.

Second, let’s look at how this phrase reflects onto you. You do not need another human or a relationship to complete you. On your own, you are an amazing, beautiful, independent being. You have hobbies, interests, goals, dreams, and desires. You have a favorite restaurant on the corner, a group of friends and family members who you enjoy spending time with, and a book club you joined last year. You are constantly growing, each day, just through the small experiences that you live through. You make choices, you make mistakes, and you have exciting success stories.

Having a partner may fulfill a goal, desire, interest, or dream you have. Having a healthy, loving romantic relationship may make you feel content, happy, and like you’re having more success stories than mistakes. But that does not mean this wonderful person in your life completes you. You are not half of a person, you are whole and you are unique. When you start viewing your partner as just that – a partner – instead of the other half of yourself, you give both of you permission to be fully who you are and to fully love and appreciate every aspect of each other. Together, you create something exciting and new that involves both of you.


The Science Behind Laughter

Is laughter really the best medicine? We hear this saying all the time, and it can be easy to roll our eyes at when we’re not feeling so great. Whether it’s stress caused by outside situations that’s bringing you down, or internalized negativity, sometimes the last thing you want to do is laugh. Still, don’t we always feel noticeably better after a good laugh? Or don’t we feel like a weight has been lifted when you finally break down and laugh so hard you cry after a full day of everything-feels-like-it’s-going-wrong moments? The truth is that laughter is a kind of medicine – and not just because it makes us feel better emotionally! There’s a science behind it that proves just how positive laughter can be in your life (especially when you’re feeling down).

Laughter Gets Your Blood Flowing

The act of laughing dilates your blood vessels, improving the blood flow all over your body. Increased blood flow improves brain function, muscle function, and the function of most of your organs. It also decreases the chance of cardiovascular disease. So, just by improving blood flow, laughter helps to improve the functionality of the rest of your body. The increased blood flow also releases T-cells, B-cells, and Gamma-interferons, all of which boost your immune system.

Laughter Chills You Out

Feeling stressed? Overwhelmed? Laughter is the cure. The act of laughing releases endorphins, much like exercise does. These endorphins leave you feeling positive and relaxed. But, that’s not the only way laughter works to calm you down! When you laugh, your body reduces its output of stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine. Laughter is very literally taking away your ability to hold on to stress.

Laughter Yoga

If you want to use laughter in your life, consider laughter yoga. The concept behind laughter yoga is that voluntary laughter acts the same as involuntary laughter. Some liken it to internal jogging – it’s an exercise for your mind intended to release the positive endorphins and reduce stress hormones. If you’re feeling a little nervous about trying it out for the first time, I recommend starting with this simple breathing and relaxation exercise:


Have No Fear, Spring Is Here: Are You Ready to Say Yes to Life?

Have No Fear, Spring Is Here: Are You Ready to Say Yes to Life?


6 Steps to Shifting Negative Feelings

From time-to-time, we all have feelings crop up that we would rather not to dwell on. Whether that’s worry, anxiety, anger, sadness, or just all-out negativity. However, it can be difficult to let these feelings go and move forward with a more positive outlook. Negative feelings are a part of living, and they occur for a reason. But they also have a tendency to linger longer than we prefer them to because choosing negativity can often be self-perpetuating and, sometimes easier than shifting into positivity. So, how can we accomplish this shift? Practice these six steps to get started.

1. Focus on the issue you want to feel better about.

 

This can be anything, big or small. Maybe somebody cut you off on your morning drive to the office and it’s been bothering you. Maybe you’re going through a stressful time in your personal life and you need a break from constantly feeling overwhelmed. Whatever the issue is, take a moment to focus on it completely.

2. Allow yourself to feel.

 

Whatever emotions crop up as a result of this issue, allow yourself to feel them. Take the feeling into your body by putting your hands on your body palm to body, wherever you feel it most. This will allow these feelings to expand throughout your body which will deepen your experience of what you are feeling

3. Ask yourself the following three questions. Remember that both yes and no are acceptable answers.

 

Am I willing to let this feeling go?

Am I willing to allow this feeling to be here?

Am I willing to welcome this feeling?

4. Now ask yourself:

 

 

If I am not willing to let go of this feeling?

Then ask:

Would I rather have this feeling, or would I rather be free from it?

If you’d rather have this feeling, explore how come you’re resistant to letting it go.

5. Ask yourself, “When will I be willing to let this go?”

 

This is an invitation to let the feeling go now.

6. Repeat.

 

Maybe now isn’t the time to let the feeling go. Repeat these steps until you feel comfortable and ready.

These steps are a start to acknowledging your feelings, giving yourself permission to feel them deeply, and then allowing yourself to let them go. You are fully in charge of how you respond to the feelings you have, and you always have choices on whether or not you want to let them go or keep them.


Preparing for Summer with Your Family: Prioritizing Your Relationship

Summer is an exciting time for families. Your kids are home, family vacations are planned, and you may often feel like you’re connecting more with one another. However, summer can also present challenges. If you work full or part time, having kids home may bring up issues with finding childcare or summer camps and activities for them to participate in. Even if you work from home or stay at home full time, this change in how you’ll be spending and organizing your time can feel like a disruption. One important thing to keep in mind is that even though your kids are home for the summer, your romantic relationship still is a priority. Here are a few ways to prioritize your relationship during family time or catering to the summertime activities that your kids are participating in:

Date Night

Date night doesn’t have to mean getting out of the house, and it doesn’t have to mean a fancy dinner or a show. Instead, tap into your creativity to create a “date night” that focuses on your significant other and still accommodates your summer schedule. Maybe you share a special dessert and watch a movie in your pajamas after the kids go to bed, or maybe you meet for lunch in the middle of your work day. The key is setting aside focused time for one another.

Vocalize Your Feelings

When we feel like we have plenty of time for our significant other and for ourselves, we might fall into a habit of not sharing how much that focused time means to us. This can evolve into forgetting to vocalize how much we appreciate one another and ourselves. When your life gets busy with kids being home for the summer, remember to tell your significant other that they matter to you. It doesn’t have to be a great speech, just a simple, “I love you and you’re important to me,” in the morning before your day starts can often be enough.

Make Family Plans Together

When your schedule shifts to accommodate your kids being home for summer break, it’s easy to have one person in your relationship take on all aspects of the planning. Instead, sit down together before school lets out and make plans. Whether that’s signing all of the little ones up for summer sports or deciding you’d like to take a week-long trip as a family, staying organized and unified before schedules get hectic is a great way to start things off on the right foot.

Approach Everything with Gratitude

Cherish the time you have during the summer with your family. It certainly isn’t the usual pace and schedule that everyone is used to, but change can be beneficial for the soul. Find gratitude for having your kids home, and for those special moments you share with your significant other as you continue to prioritize your relationship. The more gratitude you feel and express, the more you’ll enjoy all aspects of your season.