Shower wisdom

I absolutely love my morning shower: the comforting ritual, the relaxing warmth, and the way my mind is free to wander to new ideas and insights.

This morning, what came to me was this bit of wisdom: "If you were meant to live someone else's life, you would have been born someone else."

Prior to the shower, I was in quite a funk, focusing on all sorts of life circumstances I wished were different, feeling resentful, discouraged, and afraid. So the words were just perfect.

I love the idea that, whatever struggles I happen to be facing, they are my struggles. My experiences to live through. My challenges to learn from.

They are part of the richness of my life, just as much as the joys and triumphs. And I am the one who gets to choose what they mean, and how to handle them. 

It's so easy to look outside of myself for clues as to how life is "supposed" to look and feel, but it's not very helpful. Look to others for inspiration? Sure. But it's my life to figure out.

There is so much power and freedom in that realization.

I love that I don't have to figure it out all at once. And that whatever I do figure out can change. And that what you and I figure out for ourselves can look very different and still be perfect.

What is something you've realized for yourself recently? When and how did you realize it? Do you get good insights in the shower too?

The Choose Joy Plan

This week I am blessed with another guest blogger, Jennifer Zwiebel, who impressed me on a women's entrepreneurship panel last year when she talked about helping people turn their Big Visions into reality. Below is a slightly updated version of an article she originally posted on her website, which I liked so much that I asked if I could share it. I hope you find it valuable too!

People (smart people) have been telling me for a while to trust myself, to do what brings me joy, and to trust that the Universe has got my back. And to the intellectual, rational, socially constructed part of me THIS SOUNDS INSANE.

Are you telling me I can build a thriving business and life just by watching movies and eating chocolate all day?? That I can spend my time playing with my kids (who, in this fantasy, are never cranky and always want to play with me) and reading my YA novels and getting massages while money magically appears in my bank account and the laundry miraculously folds itself??

Um, no. But getting all snarky about it is a fantastic way for me to NOT LISTEN to what these people are really saying.

Once I stop being angry and rolling my eyes I can hear the truth: We get this lifetime.

Whether or not you believe we come around more than once, right now we are here, in these bodies, with these specific humans and these gifts and these circumstances, and whatever time we've been given. What are you going to do with that time?

And what are you willing to let go of so you can have more of what's actually important to you?

I mean both the practical stuff (I can't both bake a birthday cake from scratch and write copy to launch my Vision Planning Sessions in the one hour I have available) and the emotional stuff--like the trifecta of guilt, fear and shame that accompanies so many of the things we don't accomplish.

And how about this: are you willing to accomplish less and enjoy more?

Are you willing to disappoint expectations (your own or others') that don't actually match the life you want to live?

And, while we're at it, are you willing to be honest about the life you really want to live?

That part can be hard and scary because (a) a lot of us aren't used to actually sitting down and thinking about it, we're on autopilot; (b) we don't want to sit down and think about it because we know deep down that we're pretty off course from where we really want to be; and (c) we're scared that we can't really have what we want, so why torture ourselves?

The thing is, we know inside when we're not being truthful with ourselves, and it has a cost. The cost is living a pretend life, working toward goals you don't really care about and giving up the magical moments in which you feel truly alive, connected and awed by the miracle of it all.

Want to experiment with this way of being? How about joining me on the Choose Joy plan? It's not a program, it's nothing complicated--it's just a way to experience life more consciously and joyfully, and it looks like this:

WHEN YOU HAVE MULTIPLE THINGS YOU COULD BE DOING AND YOU ONLY HAVE TIME FOR ONE, PICK THE ONE YOU REALLY WANT TO DO.

SEE WHAT HAPPENS.

That's it.

Here's an example:

I love to celebrate birthdays. They're fun! There's candy!! And I once took a cake decorating course and have a 50 piece cake decorating set that I almost never get to use.

This year, on the actual day of my son's birthday, I have to pick. I can't do it all. So we're going out to dinner and he'll order whatever he wants for dessert. (And the truth that I don't particularly want to admit is that he'll be happier with that than with my beautifully hand-decorated cake.)

And the fact that it's February and I'm still sharing my 2019 Envisioning tool is how far I got with that particular bit of marketing. (You can still use it, by the way--it's really, really helpful!!)

But I DID pour my heart into helping my son get what he needs at school.

And I DID NOT make myself feel bad for more than 30 seconds about everything I wasn't getting to.

And we ARE going to celebrate my son's birthday as a family.

Which means that I picked the most important things (for me), so...I WIN!! The Choose Joy plan is helping me course correct and create my own version of a well-lived life. Join me!!

Jennifer Zwiebel, founder of A Place of Joy, collaborates with mission-driven entrepreneurs to bring their Visions to life. Jennifer guides clients through her VisionMaker™ system, allowing them to process challenges quickly and uncover solutions that allow them to connect with their truth and creativity, make conscious decisions and take aligned action so their Visions become a reality. To be a part of her engaging, highly creative community of VisionMakers, visit aplaceofjoy.com and take the next leg of your journey in great company!

A relationship experiment

Not long ago, I posted this question on social media:

For those of you who have a really good relationship with someone: What are the little things that you -- or they -- regularly do that contribute to the quality of the relationship?

The responses were wonderful, and led me to design a 14-day relationship experiment for myself, focusing on small daily actions I can take to create a stronger sense of love and connection between now and Valentine's Day.

Do you want to join me in my experiment?

Despite what the time of year suggests, this doesn't have to be about love and romance. You could focus on a partner, child, parent, coworker, friend, ex, or anyone else you care about. The most important thing is that you want to have a good relationship, and are willing to take the lead.

The experiment is simply to do one of the following activities each day for the next two weeks, and see what happens.

  1. Notice and thank them for a specific thing they did that made your life better

  2. Surprise them with an act of service that you think they will appreciate

  3. Ask a question that you’re genuinely curious about, and pay full attention to their response

  4. Check in with them during the day, just to say I love you or am thinking about you

  5. Surprise them by sending a card in the mail (if you don’t have a stamp handy, you can use SendOutCards)

  6. Buy or prepare a food or drink for them that they especially like

  7. Offer loving touch, like a hug or foot rub or back scratch

  8. Greet them and say goodbye in a way that feels kind and good

  9. Apologize for something you said or did that probably made life harder or less enjoyable for them

  10. Invite them to do something 1:1 with you, just to spend alone time together

  11. Ask for their input or advice on something you’re trying to figure out (or offer them some other way to contribute to you that they would enjoy)

  12. Surprise them with a small gift you think they will like

  13. Tell them a joke (or deliver one in a note or text)

  14. Make a list of reasons you’re glad they are in your life, and share it with them.

If you'd like a printable version with slightly more detailed instructions, you can download that here. If you give this a try, please tell me how it goes!

Planting seeds, nothing more

I wish I could remember how I learned about Nimo Patel, but I don't. What I do know is that nearly every song on his album, Empty Hands, is on my "favorites" playlist, and one in particular, Planting Seeds, popped into my head as I was thinking about this week's blog post. The refrain goes like this:

Whatever grows will grow. Whatever dies will die. Whatever works will work. Whatever flies will fly. Whatever fails will fail. What's meant to soar will soar. We are planting seeds, nothing more. 

The song helps me feel what it's like to be unattached to outcomes. Not indifferent to them -- in fact, quite the opposite! -- but to be humbly aware that once I've done my part, the results are out of my hands.

Once I've put something out into the world, it doesn't do any good to worry about how it will turn out. Instead, I simply want to do the next thing, and the next: planting as many seeds as I can, while I can, with the hope that they will grow into something beautiful.

I've shared the YouTube video for this song below, and hope you will find four minutes to listen to it.

I’m also curious to know what kind of seeds you hope to plant with your life. What do you want more of in the world? More love? Peace? Wonder? Gratitude?

How can you plant some of those seeds right now, even in the next five minutes? 

I hope you enjoy both the planting and the letting go.

The gift not in the box

Standing in a long line at the post office the other day, I got chatting with the older gentleman in front of me, who was sending a wedding gift to his niece: a pair of candlesticks that he had picked out with great care, gotten shipped all the way from Israel, and wrapped and repackaged for the newlyweds with ribbons and a handwritten note.

Candlesticks because that's the wedding gift his beloved late wife always used to give, and he was carrying on the tradition in her honor. These particular ones because, of the hundreds he looked at online, they were the most beautiful he could afford. It was obvious he was pleased with the gift.

He hoped they would like them. 

I wish I could have bottled up the love in this man's words and put that inside the box.

Instead, it lived inside him, making him smile, its impact on the recipients almost irrelevant.

And as a witness to the story, a piece of his love now also lives inside me. It reminds me of how much unseen goodness there is in the world. Calls me to pay more attention. Urges me not to take the gifts I receive for granted.

My hope is that a bit of it now lives inside of you, too.

Changes for the new year

The New Year doesn't always bring with it clarity and excitement and resolve. But for me, this year, it did. And it feels wonderful.

I've got a daily yoga practice re-started, am beginning a 6-week fitness program next Monday, and have started de-cluttering my house. All important and long overdue activities.

I also had two big breakthroughs around work that I want to share with you.

The first is around my connection cards. Last week, I shared that I've removed all pricing for the cards, and am now operating on a "pay what feels right" basis. I'm also accepting donations from people who don't want cards themselves, and card requests for people who can't easily pay for them. This makes the whole process a free-flowing give and receive.

This past week, I've sent cards to a psychotherapist for her clients, a cafeteria manager for her customers, a mom homeschooling her kids, and a friend supporting a friend through chemo. It's felt magnificent. If you want in on this too, simply fill out a card request here.

The other breakthrough I had was the realization that I want a job related to customer satisfaction and retention. A part-time one, ideally with a service-based business that wants help building strong relationships with customers and finding new ways to make them smile.

Here’s a 6-minute video I recently recorded that explains both of these insights.

Do you have any leads or advice for me? Companies I should look into, people I should meet, or things I should do to help me find what I'm looking for? If so, please share!

I'd also love to hear what kinds of breakthroughs you've had recently. Is there something I, or someone else in the Gift of Happiness community, might be able to help with? Comment below, or in the Gift of Happiness Facebook group.

Guest blog: Fear vs. Flow

I was super excited when my friend Riley answered my call last month for guest bloggers to share their thoughts about different connection card messages (in this case, “Ease”). I really enjoyed the piece she wrote, and I hope you do, too!

Performing scripted theater is thrilling. I feel a combat-comrade bond with my cast-mates. I feel a mounting anticipation in the days leading up to a performance and butterflies in my stomach as I wait in the wings before my entrance. Afterward, I feel so exhilarated that my feet don't touch the ground, as though I were floating outside of the flow of my life.

In contrast performing improv comedy isn’t thrilling, and it is my true love. What I feel for my improv cast-mates is a warm collegiality. It's less intense; instead, there is an appreciation and sense of shared authorship when we create improv gold together. After a good improv performance, I feel deeply happy and energized. I feel as though I am in swimming in the very center of the current of my life, and at that moment I wish I could perform improv every day.

The difference is fear vs flow.

The thrill of scripted performance is based on fear and the relief from fear. For me, it’s enjoyable but exhausting. Improv is essentially free of fear for me. It’s simply what I do.

Improv isn’t scary, because it’s forgiving, and because I’m prepared, and because it’s my thing. For one thing, improv audiences appreciate that we're creating something spontaneous and unique, and they root for the performers. Also, almost any mishap is an opportunity for comedy – a performer misspeaking, part of the set falling over, or a long coughing fit in the audience. As long as the improvisors engage with the mishaps, rather than trying to cover them up, they enhance the show.

Learning to roll with mishaps, work collaboratively, respond quickly, and build on what has gone before takes practice, and of course my continuing to put in the hours reduces fear. Also, improv is really well matched to my strengths and taste.

Finally, improv isn’t scary to me because I’ve observed that, if I start in a good frame of mind, I’m reliably funny. Funny enough. If I haven't worked much with one of my cast-mates, perhaps we're klunky together. If a mishap occurs, perhaps I don't capitalize on it as well as I could. But my contribution to the performance is consistently a net positive -- the audience responds, and my cast-mates are happy. With the right frame of mind, I have nothing to worry about.

(My bad performances are consistently due to a bad frame of mind. My next step is to build skills for getting out of a funk!)

I wonder how others’ experiences when doing “their thing” compare to mine. And is it different for the thrill-seekers among us, who might find something lacking in these warm but not intense feelings of flow? Please share!

Riley Hart is a nonprofit manager and facilitator who spends a lot of time being goofy on stage. She is a member of two performing improv troupes and is affiliated with the Mopco Improv Theatre in Schenectady, NY. Riley is available to lead your group in a fun and supportive session of improv games. You can contact her directly at rileyhart@protonmail.com.

What would your blog post say?

In my peaceful, centered moments, it is clear to me that humbly asking for help -- and being willing to receive it -- is a gift to everyone involved. Not only does it help us get our needs met so that we can be our best selves, but it invites other people to be their best selves, too. I can see that this flow of giving and receiving can ease suffering, inspire joy and creativity, and strengthen communities.

The challenge for me is that the times when I'm feeling most needy are also the times when I'm least likely to ask for the help I need. In fearful fight/flight mode, I am more likely to put up walls of protection than to let people in, and to make up stories about how I shouldn't need help, or don't deserve it, or that no one can help me, or that I don't care. It's a demoralizing and exhausting cycle that only ends when I have the courage to admit that I need and want help. 

I've spent a lot of time living out this dynamic lately, and so it's on my mind. I also know that I'm not alone in experiencing it.

Not everyone has trouble asking for help with the same things, but I do think most of us have some needs that we're ashamed to admit we have. And when we take steps to attend to those needs despite our discomfort, it can be transformative.

One need I have is to spend less time writing my blog posts each week. I’ve also had a growing desire to include more voices in what I share, and to explore some of my connection card messages with you more deeply. So this week I'm trying something new, which is to invite you to write a few paragraphs on this topic of asking for help that you'd be willing for me to share on my blog and/or in a future newsletter.

What is it like for you to ask for help? What have you learned about giving and receiving help, and how did you learn it? When you see the message, "You can ask for help," what is your reaction?

Of course you can still just post a comment down below, but if you have more to say, please let me know. and I'll give you some guidelines and a deadline.

I look forward to your words!

Sending cards to strangers

Every day last week, I sent a card to a stranger, prompted by the 12 Days of Love-Letter Writing project at moreloveletters.com. Each day they email me a few paragraphs about a person who has been nominated to receive a love letter bundle, and an address where I can send my card.

Life is so busy these days, but I look forward to writing these letters. It is an invitation to let go of my self-centeredness, expand my circle of concern, and be reminded of the good inside of me -- inside of all of us.

It's also a good indicator of my own well-being, because I find that it is only actually enjoyable when I'm at peace with my own life and self. When I'm not, it feels like a "should" and drains my energy. So I've been doing more to take care of my needs this past week, to help me write from a place of authentic joy.

I'm wondering: Does this letter-writing activity appeal to you, too? Why or why not? What other small, intentional acts of kindness would bring you joy to do several days in a row?

I found a great boss... and she isn't me!

This week I began a seasonal job at a local toy store. My first retail position ever.

Leading up to my first day, I was nervous. In particular, I was afraid of my employer getting mad at me for making mistakes, and shaming me for not learning fast enough. But it hasn't been like that at all.

The store owner and shift supervisors have been nothing but patient and kind. They give clear directions, are generous in answering questions, and don't expect me to know things that I have no reason to know. Even as a newbie, it is satisfying to know that my presence there makes a difference, and that it is appreciated. 

When I think about my earlier fears, I suspect that they say more about my current inner world than external reality. The imagined employer who is anxious, mean and impatient? Honestly, that's been me lately, as I've tried to manage myself in trying to make a living.

Rather than drawing on the wise part of me that could create compassionate space for sifting through all my questions about entrepreneurship, paid work and career, I've been letting my insecurities boss me around with their unreasonable expectations, inconsistent demands, and perpetual dissatisfaction.

It wasn't until I started this new job, working for someone perfectly lovely and reasonable, that I even recognized how bad my current inner "employer" is, and how miserable I've been working for her. 

My new holiday job will have its own challenges, I'm sure, but I look forward to working in an environment of kindness, and soaking in the lessons for my life.

The extra cash won't hurt, either. :)