Research shows that we all have an innate setpoint of happiness — that general level of well-being with which we come into the world. If left to our own devices, our unique happiness baseline remains quite steady throughout our lives— wonderful if born an optimist, a bit unfortunate if you’re naturally a glass-half-empty kinda girl. One study even indicates that regardless of whether someone wins the lottery or is paralyzed, her degree of happiness returns to original baseline within a year.
The good news is that our happiness setpoint is, to a large degree, under our control if we know how to shape it. Like repetitive exercise for our minds, when we deliberately adopt daily habits supporting optimism, our happiness is eventually strengthened. We all have the power to boost our level of happiness in spite of whatever life throws our way.
It is, therefore, possible to maintain an optimistic worldview despite facing numerous life-challenges. Enter Sarah Trimmer, whose timeline exhibits plenty of adversity. Last year, she shared her happiness life hack in an inspirational Tedx talk. Sarah told me that she was not always a positive thinker: “I was definitely an angry person in my early 20's. I would say I trained myself to find the good and stay optimistic.”
Using the hashtag #beginandendhappy, this is how Sarah chooses to focus on the positive each day:
• Today I am grateful for...
• Today I helped someone by...
• Something that made me happy today...
• Today I learned...
• Tomorrow I will...
Sarah began by writing out the answers daily, eventually completing the phrases through simple reflection. Her story demonstrates how we can all choose our perspective, positively manipulate our worldview, and influence our overall level of happiness.
As she explains in her talk, #beginandendhappy is not about denying the painful, the terrifying, the challenges life delivers. Not at all. It is about recognizing, grieving, and offering ourselves compassion while also focusing on what is pleasant rather than what is lacking.
So how has my family adopted Sarah’s happiness hack? The #startandendhappy outline now fills the massive chalkboard overlooking our dining room table where we gather nightly. Taking turns completing the phrases over dinner, I have seen a rise in our happiness and gratitude levels in just a few short days.
Thank you, Sarah, for sharing your wonderfully motivational story. You have officially paid your happiness forward to my little family. You have also inspired me to do the same.
Success. What does it mean to you?
There are as many diverse definitions of success as there are varied personalities. For some, success equals financial prosperity; for others, a purpose in life or a hearty social circle; still others’ idea of success amounts to keeping the kids alive, fed, and reasonably clothed for the day.
For Tim Ferriss, best-selling author, success can be divided into categories of healthy, wealthy, and wise. In his most recent book, The Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers, he shares replicable tips and tactics from dozens of highly successful people. It is a fun, intimate look into the thought processes, habits, and motivations of some fascinating folks.
Now, can you guess what, according to Ferriss, is the most consistent pattern for those interviewed in the book? Yep, a daily meditation practice. In fact, 80% of the world-class performers interviewed in his book regularly meditate or practice mindfulness. Whether you view this statistic as causal or correlational, it is certainly significant and not at all surprising.
Regular meditation helps our busy minds settle. A snow globe is a great analogy. When we are stressed and overwhelmed, our minds are like the snow globe after it is vigorously shaken —impossible to see clearly through the scattered flakes. When we take a few breaths and allow our bodies to calm a bit, it is the snow globe equivalent to the flakes settling to the bottom. The stressors haven’t disappeared, but we now have a clearer perspective, allowing for more creative thought, enhanced problem solving, and reconnecting with what most matters as the unimportant falls away.
It would therefore make sense that creative, ambitious, successful folks have incorporated meditation into their daily lives. And although I am personally aware of the many benefits of mindfulness, it is always awesome to see how it enhances others’ natural talents, productivity, and possibilities.
Ferriss shares his previous fear that meditation might cause him to lose his edge. After giving it a try, though, he explains, “…meditation simply helps you channel drive toward the few things that matter, rather than every moving target and imaginary opponent that pops up.” He goes on to write, “Done consistently, my reward for meditating is getting 30% to 50% more done in a day with 50% less stress.”
Regardless of your interpretation of success, who wouldn’t want some of that?
Meditation is simple but not always easy. It is most helpful when getting started to have a voice guiding you. Visit my website, sign up for my email list, and I will send you a 5-minute guided meditation (along with a guided Coffee Mindful Break and Mindfulog to track your practice). You can also visit my resource page for links to other helpful guided meditations.
Read more about how to practice mindfulness here.
And if you are local, join me this Tuesday for a panel talk: STRESSED? The Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce Women's Business Council presents Mindful Living at Lehigh Country Club.
I recently had the privilege of talking with Armin Brott (aka Mr.Dad) on his Positive Parenting Radio podcast. Listen in as we discuss why I wrote a book especially for moms as well as how mindfulness meditation positively affects our brains, our families, and our ability to calm down and savor the beautiful moments with only five minutes a day. He asks some great, edifying questions. I hope you’ll take a listen here!
How are you feeling about winter, right about now? Many of us in the Northeast are struggling with the winter doldrums, as the sun has made only a rare appearance. What about shaking things up a bit with a simple, healthy challenge? Not your typical clean-eating or 20 push-ups-daily challenge, but a 7-day mindful break challenge?
Mindful breaks are opportunities and reminders to pause and bring your full attention to the present moment at any point in the day (read more here). Instead of distractedly running through the endless to-do list in the shower or multi-tasking at a frantic speed, we become more keenly aware of the moment, which changes everything — from the feel of the pace, to our general level of gratitude.
Laura over at mamapure.com has invited her readers to take the Breathe, Mama, Breathe challenge with her, selecting one mindful break for the week. She writes about how, as a mom to two toddlers, practicing the Waking with Gratitude Mindful Break “sounds so simple, and it is, but this little mindful break has had a very positive impact on my day and I think it will for you too!”
Breathe, Mama, Breathe shares 65 mindful breaks from which to choose. I invite you to sprinkle them throughout your day and see what happens.
If you’re local, come on out to Let’s Play Books in Emmaus to hear more about mindfulness and Breathe, Mama, Breathe Saturday, February 18th 4-5:30pm.
Mindful eating, simply put, is paying attention to our body’s level of hunger and fullness, noticing what it is we choose to consume, and eating until just satisfied. This may have been challenging before having children, but once the toddler stage hits, there will be plenty of leftover food on our kids’ plates tempting us to shovel into to our mouths because:
a.) we certainly don’t want to waste food.
b.) it secretly looks delicious and when stolen off someone else’s plate calories don’t exist.
c.) it is simply easier to place the food directly into our mouths than wrap it up for tomorrow’s leftovers.
d.) we turn into mindless Mamavores, unconsciously consuming whatever food remains.
When we stop and pay attention, though, we may realize just how many extra calories we are consuming in this barely conscious way. So, in order to avoid this ongoing pattern, it helps to put a game plan in place. Here are a few tips:
- Once your little one has finished her meal, move her plate out of your reach or take a moment to wrap up the leftovers immediately, so you are not tempted to repeat the above scenario.
- If you are moving towards her leftovers, pause, and ask yourself why. Is it out of boredom, anxiety, or just plain habit?
- If you are truly hungry and deliberately choose to eat the leftovers, enjoy the food slowly. Be aware.
- Pay attention to your energy level after eating various types of food. You may be surprised at how some can completely sap our energy while others help sustain it for hours.
- Include your family in mindful eating, teaching everyone to pause and take a breath before diving in. Using your senses, notice the colors and shapes of the food, take a moment to reflect on how the food made its’ way to the table, inhale the fragrance of the food, and chew the first few bites slowly, fully tasting the flavors. You may want to mindfully eat your last bite as well, as a reminder to remain somewhat aware during the meal, thereby noticing more easily when we have reached the sweet spot of just enough.
Subduing the Mamavore can not only tame the growth of our waistlines and increase our energy, but also models mindful food habits for our children — a gift of health for a lifetime.
To learn more about mindful eating join me for a free talk at St. Luke's Bariatric Surgery Support Group Wednesday, February 15th from 7-9 at the Scottish Rite Cathedral in Allentown. I will be talking about how to make mindful eating a part of everyday life - with lots of practical tips! Everyone is welcome. Hope to see you there!
Question: What’s it like to be a published author?
Answer (How long do you have?):
#2. Somewhat like bringing a baby into the world (read about the similarities here).
#3. In retrospect, though, the process is summed up perfectly by Adam Grant, NYTimes best-selling author, professor, and motivation/meaning expert in his popular TedTalk. In it, he discusses the trajectory of any creative project resembling something like this:
This is awesome.
This is tricky.
This is crap.
I am crap.
This might be okay.
This is awesome.
That pretty much covers it — an accurate description of what writing a book was like for me.
Grant asserts that as long as we expect the first few drafts of our creative project to be crap, we can acknowledge and move past the “I am crap” stage without getting stuck there. When we learn to anticipate this line of thinking, along with the inevitable accompanying doubt and insecurity, we can invite it to have a seat right alongside us as we continue plugging away.
Thankfully, I persevered through the phases above, finally landing on “this is awesome.” Creating Breathe, Mama, Breathe has been a wild, wonderful ride and I am grateful for the opportunity to share it with the world. I hope you locals will join me for a book discussion and signing at the Moravian Book Shop in Bethlehem Saturday Jan. 28th from 1-3pm to hear more. I would love to see you there!
New Year’s Eve 2011:
My little guy, not yet three weeks in this world, is cradled in my arms as tears spill down my cheeks, occasionally landing on his softly swaddled form. Raw with exhaustion, frustration, and worry, I brace myself for another round of this precious, six-pound bundle refusing the breast. Not only is his ongoing rebuff despairingly frustrating (You need to gain weight! Little guy, why won’t you just eat?), but also completely unexpected, as all went smoothly with my daughter when I was a breastfeeding-mama newbie a full decade earlier.
New Year’s Eve 2011 is a but a brief snapshot of the ups and downs of life, as that tenacious newborn is now a five-year-old thriving bundle of energy. Clearly, we both survived. But in that trying moment, I was overwhelmed and scared. And seemingly alone in my struggle. Both my husband and mom tried to reason with me. But, I recall thinking, they don’t really understand — How important this is to me. How frustrating. How I am failing my beautiful little son. How utterly helpless I feel.
Leaning on my mindfulness practice and talking with other moms who struggled similarly felt like a huge sigh of relief. I no longer felt alone and helpless. And with that knowledge arrived a bit of self-compassion, clarity, strength, and resolution.
I set out to write a book to teach busy moms simple ways to slow down, bring more joy into their lives, and cope with difficulties in part because it was also what I was living: the wonder, the trials, the depths of love, exhaustion, and bliss. The easiest way for me to do this was by sharing my own experiences (both unskillful and proud), along with research and ongoing lessons I endeavor to practice as well as preach.
So, although the details of our experiences may not look entirely the same, I hope the stories in Breathe, Mama, Breathe resonate with you — remind you to savor the beautiful moments, offer hope in the trying ones, and, ultimately, bring the sustained awareness that you are not alone.
Learn how to meditate here.
Remember to breathe, Mama, breathe.
Happy New Year 2017: May it be a year of health, happiness, prosperity, connection, and love.
My literary baby, Breathe, Mama, Breathe: 5-Minute Mindfulness for Busy Moms is now officially out in the world. To help celebrate, workingmother.com is featuring five mindful breaks from the book here.
I would love to see a world in which all children are raised by mindful mamas. Breathe, Mama, Breathe is my humble contribution to that dream. Please share with other moms in your life and help me spread the word. Thank you!