What has life taught you?

I love it when people ask me a question, and are really interested in what I have to say. It gives me an opportunity to experience what's true for me now, and come up with things that I may never have articulated before.

This week such a question came from my dad, who asked: What is something important about life that you've had to learn for yourself? He and some friends are putting together a book that compiles many different people's answers.

Here are some that I came up with:

  • I am the only person responsible for my life and choices

  • It doesn't feel good to hurt people or wish them harm (myself included)

  • My well-being is a gift to others (as well as to me)

  • At the core of me is divine, loving awareness

  • Fighting reality is always a losing battle

Part of me reads this list and thinks it sounds like just so many tired words. No different than the motivational quotes that I'm inundated with on my Facebook feed. And as mere words, I guess they are boring.

But to me, they aren't just words. Each one has stories and meaning attached, and a sense of visceral knowing that they are true. Not in a way that I would try to logically prove, but that is nevertheless very important to my life.

I'm not sure if would have ever learned these things just by reading someone else's words, but it sure is fun to try to put my experience into words after the fact.

It's also fun for me to hear other people's words, and then learn the stories and experiences behind them.

To that end, what are some of your answers to my dad's question?

What important things about life have you had to learn for yourself? This could be "old wisdom" that you were told as a kid but didn't understand at first, or things you were never told at all, but stumbled upon later in life. How and when did you learn these things?

We both look forward to hearing.

Ingredients for joyful, engaged work

This week I've been working with a local childcare center on ways to strengthen the sense of teamwork and engagement among staff, and create an atmosphere of joy and generosity. 

For leaders who want to create that kind of workplace dynamic, I suggest three important ingredients:

  1. Be kind and generous with your employees.

  2.  Help your employees be kind and generous with each other.

  3.  Join forces with your employees to be kind and generous toward your clients and customers. 

Ingredient #2 is especially interesting to me because I think the structural ways that leaders can support good relationships among employees are often overlooked. We tend to assume that if we put a group of people together, they should just get along. But in practice, it's a lot more complicated than that!

It takes more than standard social politeness to create the kind of trusting relationships that bring out everyone's best, and safeguard a group from the inevitable stresses of life and work. It takes people knowing and appreciating each other as full human beings, with unique gifts to offer and unique limitations to be sensitive to.

How to support that will be different in different settings, but it's worth thinking about:

  • What meeting practices could you incorporate that would allow a little more humanness to show through?

  • What could you do to make it safe for people to ask for help without fear of judgment?

  • What systems or resources could you provide people that would make it easy for them to acknowledge and appreciate each other? 

  • What performance review criteria might you add to reinforce that relationships are a priority?

In your own work experience, how have you been supported in building and maintaining great relationships with colleagues? When the relationships haven’t been so great, what was missing that might have helped?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Generosity Without Burnout

I think a lot about how to help people (including myself!) cultivate authentic generosity in their lives and businesses. From my perspective, this skill is the key to easeful relationships, effective teams, and personal happiness. However, the word “generosity” often gets associated with self-sacrifice and burnout — which is not good for our happiness or relationships. This week’s blog post is from my friend Julia, whose thoughts about “generosity without burnout” I was interested in. I hope you find her perspective valuable!

Generosity sounds like an amazing thing. Almost every person you ask will tell you they want to be generous “someday,” when they can afford the time, money, effort, etc. But could we start practicing generosity right now, without waiting?  My answer is... perhaps. 

When I consider being generous, I usually ask myself a pretty simple question: What distinguishes an act of care or kindness towards someone from an act that is generous?  I personally consider something or someone generous when they are willing to give something that they value without being reimbursed in equal measure. For example, we don’t think of stores that sell their goods for a fair price as particularly generous; we think of them as getting a fair exchange. Even in business, when someone offers a free introduction or a free promotional item, it still doesn’t feel generous – at least not to me - as this is a calculated marketing strategy and isn’t necessarily indicative of the spirit of giving.

So to me, generosity is really about going beyond self-benefit and genuinely caring about something that may or may not bring immediate benefits through an exchange. 

There is, however, a very real and beautiful benefit that does happen as a result of being generous, and it is hard to measure: it is the benefit of feeling like you are a good person. It is sort of a way to pat yourself on the back and say, “Today you did well in life, be proud of yourself.” And that feeling, in my experience, generates more of itself by attracting good things to an already “good vibration.” Simple: If I walk around smiling, there is a better chance someone will smile back. However, if I walk around looking somber and cranky, the possibility of getting a friendly, “Hey, I see you, here is a smile for you” goes down exponentially.

The problem with practicing generosity for its benefit is a pretty strange one – I find that generosity is a bit addicting, and sometimes I can get into the spirit of it and not notice the burnout.   

My solution to the generosity burnout question is pretty straightforward: Generosity needs to be inclusive.  Put simply: Don’t forget to include yourself! When we try to be generous with others, but forget to be generous with ourselves, the burnout is inevitable. So I suggest a simple, but powerful shift of perspective: Give yourself the feeling most people get from being generous ahead of time. Generously assign yourself the label of a great person, pat yourself on the back, and ask yourself what it is that you want and decide that you deserve it.  And once that preliminary step is done, go ahead and have fun being generous. You won’t need the benefits, since you already took care of them! I call it “generosity planning.” The fastest way to become generous is to honestly assess your own needs and take care of them. Once that is done, generosity is really a natural human trait.  Happy, self-satisfied and loving people can’t help themselves – they are just naturally generous!

So before you get on the self-sacrificial train of inauthentic generosity, make sure to create trust in yourself and do whatever you need to do to make sure you know what makes you happy!  And then... generously share!

Julia Fishman
Lic Avatar® Master
508 665 8325

Are they deadlines, or lifelines?

Lately I have been contemplating how I relate to self-imposed deadlines.

It seems to me that the reason to set deadlines is to ensure that I will actually do things that I want to do, rather than waste time and put them off.

But oftentimes when I have a deadline, it ends up becoming harder to focus on the activity at hand, because I get anxious and preoccupied with whether or not I'm going to get it done in time.

I may still finish, but worrying about it takes the fun and joy out of something I was once excited to do and sort of defeats the purpose.

Getting rid of deadlines altogether isn't the solution, because that leads to a lot of meandering and distraction when there really are things I want to do that feel important to me.

So what is the answer?

A friend recently suggested to me that instead of thinking about them as deadlines (connoting fear of death!), I could think about them as lifelines that help me stay tethered to, and acting on, the things that bring me life.

It's a subtle shift in perspective, but I like it. It helps me lean into what I want rather than try to prevent what I'm afraid of.

This weekend I have a deadline to finish doing some deep work around my business, getting very clear about the clients I most want to serve, and how. I'm enjoying thinking about this work as a lifeline, leading me into my next phase of growth.

What about you? Do you have deadlines looming in your life that instill more fear than excitement at the moment? Or something important that you've been resisting attaching a deadline to at all? If so, does the "lifeline" perspective help? What other ways have you found to make deadlines your friend? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

You don't need a reason to change

My husband sent our kids out to get ice cream last night, and while they were gone, moved, stacked and decorated the table and chairs in our kitchen to create this scene:


I'm not quite sure what possessed him to do it, but it brought him joy, and made us all laugh.

It can be so powerful and freeing to do something out of the ordinary. Not because you're hoping for a particular outcome, or want to prove anything, but to experiment just because you can.

What could you intentionally do differently today? It doesn’t have to be big or complicated at all. Can you catch yourself on auto-pilot, and choose to experience something new instead?

If you're willing to play, I'd love to hear what you do, and what it's like. Comment below, or join the discussion in the Gift of Happiness Facebook group.

Authentic kindness in business

I posted this article in the Gift of Happiness for Business group this week about a Southwest Airlines flight attendant who came up with a creative and generous way to honor a passenger with Down syndrome.

It impressed me not only because it was a fun and unique idea, but also that it was actively supported by company leaders who could have easily said "no."

In your own business, what do you do to make your customers feel cared for and appreciated, beyond providing the products or services they pay for? 

If you have employees, how do you encourage them to share authentic kindness with the people they interact with?

If you want to increase sales and genuine word-of-mouth referrals, these are important questions. I'd love to talk them through with you to see if I can help. Get in touch, and we can set up a time to chat.

Sponsored by moments of joy

I've been enjoying Preston Pugmire's Next Level Life podcast for creative entrepreneurs.

One of the fun things he does each week is name a "sponsor" for the episode. But the sponsors aren't companies; they are experiences. Like the feeling you get when you're cutting wrapping paper and the scissors start to glide, or when you have a kernel of popcorn stuck in your teeth and you finally get it out, or the sound that it makes when you connect perfectly with a high five.*

This part of the podcast always makes me smile, and it's a great reminder that happiness isn't very complicated. It's not some far-off permanent state we need to strive to attain; rather, it lives in each small moment that we let ourselves experience and enjoy.

Moments of happiness can be fleeting, but there are always new moments available.

If you were to suggest an experience to "sponsor" one of these podcast episodes, what would it be? How many moments can you recognize today that would make good candidates? I'd love to hear.

*Did you know that the trick to a good high five is looking at the other person's elbow when you go to connect? I just learned this a few weeks ago and it blew my mind. If you've never done it, support the podcast sponsor and give it a try!

On gender, privilege and influence

Earlier this summer, the Washington Post ran a fascinating article called Crossing the Divide, which profiled four transgender people who transitioned from female to male in adulthood. Having lived as both men and women, they had firsthand knowledge of -- and empathy for -- the experience of both genders in our society. 

I'm familiar with the concept of male privilege, and how men in this society have it easier than women in a lot of ways. But what I loved about the article is that it helped me see benefits of being a woman that I'd completely taken for granted. Things like the kindness, trust, and goodwill extended to me by strangers, and the support available to me when I feel threatened or afraid.

It's not that these things are explicitly or intentionally denied to men, but the subtle social rules for them are different. As a woman, I can get away with doing and saying things that would have great repercussions if I were a man -- and vice versa.

If I changed my gender (or, for that matter, my skin tone, or age, or weight, or able-bodiedness, or attractiveness), all of a sudden I would have a new set of privileges, as well as new rules to learn about what's appropriate and how to be effective in the world.

I am curious about the kinds of privilege that you recognize in your own life, not just from your demographics, but also based on your unique skills, traits and life experience. What gifts or advantages do you have that not everyone does?

More importantly, how can you use them to make a positive difference?

How fast can we change?

This week I've been participating in a 4-day "mindset challenge" with Preston Pugmire, as part of his Next Level Life Community on Facebook.

We've only just finished day 3, but it's already been valuable to me.

The activities have involved sitting in silence for 5 minutes a day, reflecting on a question, and sharing answers in the group. It's helped me take a fresh look at my life, clarify my priorities, and shift my mindset so that I'm primed to take action on things that matter to me.

It is simple, yet effective. And I love that it's only 4 days.

As someone who is used to longer challenges (typically 2-4 weeks), I am intrigued by the idea that something short can be just as powerful.

Preston didn't waste a lot of time easing us in or helping us get comfortable. Instead, he had us dive right in on Day 1 and record a Facebook Live video in the group. He didn't coddle our fears about it, just expected us to do it, whether we were scared or not. And nearly everyone did.

Action came first, and confidence and clarity followed.

This makes me think of all the time I've spent planning and preparing to do things that I think would be good for my life, but that feel scary. Is all of that time really necessary? What if I just took a deep breath and dove in?

I'm enjoying the possibility that maybe habits don't have to take 21 or more days to change. Maybe they just take a willingness to decide that now is the time.

So, what do you do?

Earlier this week I attended a mini-workshop through SCORE with Chuck Goldstone, who offered advice for how to compellingly answer the question, "So what do you do?" He urged us to identify the core story that defines who we are, and then adapt it to the specific interests of different audiences.

What he didn't do was give a lot of examples of what a core story might be, so I've been kind of pondering it on my own: What is my core story?

At this point what I'd say is that I help people build and strengthen relationships.

That may not seem like the most obvious description for a business called the Gift of Happiness, but in my mind happiness and relationships are closely tied together. Also, in the massive, 80-year Harvard Study of Adult Development, it's been shown that good relationships are critical for happiness and health as well. (Watch the TED Talk here, if you're interested.)

In a home setting, relationships could mean kids, spouses, parents, in-laws, exes, or neighbors. In a work setting, it could mean employees, co-workers, managers, customers, donors, or prospects. Regardless, my goal is to help people think about those others with a sense of kindness and shared humanity, and act accordingly.

"Help people build and strengthen relationships" is accurate in terms of what I offer -- workshops, conversations, card-sending systems, etc. -- but I'm curious how it lands for you as an answer to the 'What do you do?" question. 

If I said it to you at a party or networking event, would it cause you to lean in and want to know more? If not, why not? If so, what additional questions would you want to ask?

I'm also curious what you say to people when they ask you what you do. How did you come up with that particular response? Does it tend to lead to valuable conversations? What other answers have you tried, or might you be interested in trying?

Thank you for sharing!