Season of Peace: The Importance of Quiet Time

For many of us, this time of year—now through New Year’s—is very busy. There are parties, get-togethers, year-end events, concerts, receptions, and more. In my mind, there are several reasons for this December social crunch. The first is very simple: It’s fun and fulfilling to celebrate various holidays, as well as the completion of another year. From here on out, though, the reasons for our busyness get a little more complicated.

  • In our society, being busy is a badge of honor. The more booked your schedule is, the thinking goes, the more “in demand” and important you must be.
  • Many of us purposefully fill our lives with endless duties and distractions because the alternative—being alone with ourselves—isn’t attractive. We don’t want to have to think about and process our lives, and we’ve never learned to be comfortably quiet with ourselves.
  • We feel compelled to use our time constructively. For many people, sitting and doing nothing feels downright wrong because we think we can’t afford to fit that kind of indulgence into our busy lives.

I definitely understand these reasons for being and staying busy, no matter what time of year it is. There was a time in my life when I was constantly engaged in some activity or other—when being alone with no distractions was a foreign concept to me. But over the years, I’ve come to realize that “quiet time”—in other words, any sort of peaceful reflection like meditation, prayer, breathing exercises, taking a walk, etc.—isn’t something to be avoided. In fact, it’s something we should all cultivate for the sake of our mindsets, well-being, and personal development. Here are a few reasons why. Quiet time:

  • …strengthens your ability to focus and lengthens your attention span because your concentration isn’t being pulled in ten different directions.
  • …charges your creative juices. Often, you’ll have your best ideas and most imaginative thoughts during your quiet alone time.
  • …helps you connect to your innermost thoughts, intentions, desires, and values as you “converse” with yourself…without the often-distracting opinions of others.
  • …improves your attitude and puts you in better control of your life, because it gives you space and time each day to reconnect to your most important goals and dreams.
  • …can help you decompress and relax at the end of a hectic day. (And those seem to occur quite frequently this time of year!)
  • …can slow down your heart rate and even lower your blood pressure!

Throughout your life—and especially in the midst of busy seasons like the end-of-year social swirl—it’s important to proactively carve out quiet time in order to relieve stress, recenter yourself, and check in to make sure your life is reflecting your values. My best advice is to approach quiet time as though it were any other essential activity (which, in my mind, it is!): Plan ahead of time when you want to do it.

Personally, I meditate in the evenings. I find that taking 20 minutes around 7 p.m. is a wonderful way to process everything that’s happened throughout my day and to clarify my intentions about what I want to accomplish most in the future. I have also talked to many people who say that quiet time at the beginning of the day is helpful in developing a sense of deep-seated peace and a positive attitude that lasts through the day. Here are a few other ways to fit quiet time into your schedule:

  • Turn off the radio during your commute to and from work. This period of time might not be totally distraction-free, but I bet you’ll still be surprised by how peaceful the relative solitude can be.
  • Bundle up and go for a walk. If you bring your mp3 player, make sure the music you play isn’t intrusive. You’ll reap twice the benefits from this activity, because exercise is a form of physical meditation and is itself a great way to boost your brain, creativity, and mood. (In fact, some of my greatest ideas and personal revelations have occurred to me while I was exercising with no other distractions.)
  • Build in a buffer zone before you go to bed. Don’t turn the TV off and immediately crawl under the covers. Instead, dim the lights and meditate, pray, or reflect on the day for a few minutes before getting in bed and going to sleep.
  • Instead of eating in the office break room or watching TV while you down your meal, set up a lunch date with yourself. Use the time to really savor your food and think about whatever occurs to you.

I think you’ll be surprised by the impact the “sound of silence” can have on your mental, emotional, and even physical well-being. So in the midst of accepting social invitations and connecting with your friends and loved ones, set up a few distraction-less dates with yourself. A few minutes alone each day is a small price to pay for increased happiness!

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Are you wearing a mask?

Tomorrow is Halloween, a day when kids (and adults!) across America wear masks. It’s fun to “become” a superhero, a werewolf, a princess, a robot, a witch, or something else entirely, simply by putting on a costume. And it’s nearly as fun to observe others’ costumes, identifying who or what each person is supposed to be. I’m looking forward to seeing what my neighborhood’s trick-or-treaters have in store this year!

Thinking about Halloween costumes over the past few days has led me to consider something more serious, though: the concept of masks in general. On October 31, it’s easy to tell when someone is wearing a mask. Throughout the other 364 days of the year, however, masks aren’t so obvious—but they are common.

As many people go through life, for a variety of reasons, they feel compelled to “be” someone they’re not. Are you one of them? You might wear a mask all the time, or only in certain situations. You might be trying to please others, to make them believe a certain thing, or to keep a secret. You may be using your mask as a defense mechanism. You might even be trying to prevent yourself from having to face the truth. Here are a few examples of what I mean:

  • John is dissatisfied with his career, doesn’t feel challenged, and is sick of having to stroke his egotistical boss’s ego. But when he walks into his office building every day, he puts on the mask of an engaged worker. In order to maintain the status quo (and keep his job), he has mastered the ability to seem interested and eager when he’s anything but.
  • Stacy has been married to Travis for years, but still isn’t comfortable around his parents. During family visits, she downplays her political beliefs, dampens her humor, and bites her tongue in an attempt not to offend her set-in-their-ways, judgmental in-laws. The Stacy whom Travis’s parents think they know is a complete fake.
  • Ella has been battling breast cancer for several years. She often feels discouraged, defeated, and lacking in hope. However, her friends and family members describe her as the most optimistic, upbeat person they know. Why? Ella feels that it isn’t fair to drag others down and believes that she isn’t “supposed to” show any signs of giving up, so she buries her negative feelings deep inside while pasting on a smile.
  • Keith, a high school junior, isn’t very popular. He is deeply hurt when his classmates tease him about the clothes he wears and the comic books he reads, and he dreads walking into school each morning. However, he usually throws his classmates’ name-calling and insults back in their faces. He is known as “that wisecracking kid who doesn’t care what anybody thinks.”
  • Marian’s friends think that she lives a charmed life. Her house is immaculate, her clothes are stylish, and each batch of professional-quality pictures of her children that she posts on Facebook are more adorable than the last. What Marian’s friends can’t tell from external appearances is that Marian is miserable because she is on the verge of a divorce, and two of her children are driving her over the edge as well.

If you’re wearing a mask in your daily life, you may be tempted to tell yourself that “it’s for the best”—that it’s worth putting on an act of some kind in order to avoid confrontation and judgment while earning the approval of others. That’s exactly what I told myself in the years leading up to my breakdown. Deep down, I knew that the anxiety and unhappiness I felt wasn’t healthy, but I simply couldn’t face the possibility of being anyone other than the upbeat, workaholic golden boy so many people expected me to be. At that time, I didn’t love and respect myself enough to honor what I was truly feeling, and I managed to convince myself that I could keep up the act forever.

As I eventually learned the hard way, there are consequences to wearing a mask. Masks prevent you from living fully and authentically. They limit your potential and rob you of joy while compounding your feelings of inadequacy, helplessness, unworthiness, and more.

Please trust me when I say: While taking off your masks may seem frightening, painful, and/or unwise, it’s one of the best things you can do for your health, your ultimate peace of mind, and your future. Being authentic is the only way to live the full, abundant, and satisfying life you were always meant to live. (For an in-depth look at how to begin removing your masks, review my posts on creating a more authentic life with yourself, your spouse, and your friends.)

So friends—I hope you enjoy wearing whatever mask you like tomorrow on Halloween. But after the tricks, treats, and parties are over, I hope you’ll make a genuine effort to put masks away until next October 31. If you do, I promise that the next year will be more full of growth, opportunity, and fulfillment than you ever thought possible.

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“Thank-Yous” Every Father Should Hear

On Sunday, June 16th—otherwise known as Father’s Day—dads across America will receive ties, tools, and other “toys” from their children. Sure, those gifts (as well as cards, visits, and family meals) are a great way to let Pops know that you love him and that you’re glad he’s part of your life. Like many of you, I am hoping to spend the day with my father and with my son, probably at the beach with Josh and maybe a nice meal later with my dad.

But this year, in addition to the “traditional” Father’s Day activities, I thought about what I could do to really honor my dad in a way he’ll remember and cherish. It didn’t take me very long to think of an answer: Tell Dad thank you and mean it.

I know that stereotypically speaking men aren’t supposed to be very “touchy-feely.” But I promise you—speaking as a father myself—when it comes to your kids, all of those rules go out the window. I cherish every “I love you,” “thanks,” and genuine smile I’ve ever gotten from my son, Josh. It’s incredibly heartwarming and fulfilling to hear directly from your child that he or she thinks you’ve done a good job as a parent.

Unfortunately, because our parents tend to be such constant presences in our lives, we often take them—and everything they’ve done for us—for granted. No, your dad probably wasn’t perfect (no parent is!), but chances are, he helped you become a capable, responsible, and fulfilled adult, and he always wanted the best for you. Father’s Day is the perfect time to think about all of the specific ways in which your dad has impacted your life. As I plan to do, I hope you’ll also spend some time reflecting on your relationship with your father and give him the gift of heartfelt thanks.

To help you get started, here are eleven “thank-yous” that might just make your dad’s Father’s Day perfect:

  • Thank you for almost always making time to come to my games, concerts, and awards ceremonies. I know you were under pressure and busy a lot of the time, so your priorities taught me that family and relationships are always more important than work and outside achievements.
  • Thank you for supporting me when I decided I’d rather be in the school band than play basketball. The fact that you clapped loudest at our concert let me know unequivocally that you love me for who I am—especially since you were the star point guard during your own high school days!
  • Thank you for making me help with yard work and home improvement projects on the weekends. I may not have enjoyed it at the time, but you taught me the value of hard work. Because of you, I take pride in a job well done, no matter how large or small!
  • Thank you for teaching me to ride a bike, and especially for encouraging me to get back up and try again when I fell. I learned that persistence and practice pay off, and that the results can be fantastic!
  • Thank you for coaching my YMCA sports teams. You showed me what good sportsmanship looks like and taught me why it’s important to shake hands after every game, even if we lost! In all aspects of my adult life, I know how to lose (and win!) with grace because of you, Dad. And even though I’ve aged out of Little League, I also exercise on a regular basis and try to stay physically fit.
  • Thank you for disciplining me and telling me why you were disappointed. I certainly didn’t enjoy being punished, but now I have a strong set of core values and a firm sense of right and wrong.
  • Thank you for teaching me how to drive and for remaining patient throughout the process—I know I wasn’t always the nicest student. Now I can merge, parallel park, and back like a pro. (But I’m still trying to beat your least-number-of-stops-on-the-way-to-the-beach record!)
  • Thank you for showing me that there’s a difference between being aggressively confrontational and being politely firm. Because of you I stick to my convictions and don’t let others take advantage of me while remaining respectful.
  • Thank you for making executive decisions on everything from where to eat dinner to when to leave the neighbors’ holiday party to which movie to watch on family night. These examples may seem insignificant, but over the years you taught me the value of knowing your mind and acting decisively. You saved me a lot of waffling, hemming, and hawing!
  • Thank you for always treating Mom with respect, patience, love, and sometimes a little mischievousness. You taught me how to treat someone you love and what a strong marriage looks like. Now I have a great relationship—and a lot of fun—with my own partner.

And for men specifically, I also suggest some version of this acknowledgment:

  • Thank you for teaching me the “essentials” like how to tie a tie, iron a crease into slacks, shine my shoes, and shave. While I might not put all of those skills to use every day, I always take pride in my appearance…and I think I do “clean up” nicely!

Whether you write your own personalized thank-yous in a card or share them with your dad in person, you can rest assured that this will be a Father’s Day he’ll remember forever. Here’s to you, Dad!

 

The Year of the Quitter: Twelve Habits to Drop in 2013

The Times Square ball has dropped, champagne has been sipped, and 2013 has begun. Are you feeling energized and excited to embark on a new year…or (more likely) are you just plain exhausted?

If you barely have the energy to think up a list of resolutions that you know you won’t end up keeping, you’re not alone. So many Americans are desperate to perform to a certain standard, look a certain way, weigh a certain number, make a certain amount of money, and much more…despite the fact that nobody can do it all, all of the time. So when you inevitably take on too much and allow one of the plates you’re juggling to drop, you end up disappointed, tired, and miserable.

Well, if you ask me, enough is enough. A big part of my own happiness journey has centered around the realization that for decades, I set myself up for disappointment by having unrealistic and unsustainable expectations. And I promise that if you’re currently caught in this trap, you’ll be best served by making 2013 the year you stop doing things that aren’t adding to your happiness.

In this post, I will share twelve behavior habits that you might want to consider quitting. And some of them will probably surprise you, because on the surface, they’re success-oriented. But trust me: More isn’t always better. This year, resolve to stop pushing yourself too hard, prioritizing the wrong things, and working toward success for the wrong reasons. Here’s how you can do it…and make 2013 your greatest year yet:

*Give up on relationships. …The ones that aren’t working, that is. Whether it’s a coworker who hands out backhanded compliments like they’re candy or a “frenemy” who always tries to one-up your accomplishments, there are people in your life who drain your energy and make your attitude dip into murky territory. No matter how much you may want to make these relationships work, forcing yourself to spend time with negative people won’t do you any favors. It’s okay—and actually healthy—to distance yourself from so-called “toxic” individuals. Of course I advocate doing everything you can to eliminate strain with family members. Realize, though, that maybe this is the year to finally admit that you and your partner have irreconcilable differences that are making both of you unhappy, or it is the year to finally tell your mother that her controlling behavior needs to stop.

*Stop being so darn nice. …And start being real. Chances are, you sometimes swallow blunt comments or constructive criticism in favor of a more diplomatic response. You might even allow yourself to be taken advantage of from time to time in order to please another person. Guess what: It’s time to stop! Dishonest politeness doesn’t develop authentic relationships. No, it’s not appropriate to go on reality show-worthy rants whenever you feel upset, but at the same time, masking your real opinions and feelings isn’t helpful in the long term. Remember, having a smaller number of true friends is healthier than denying your own happiness in order to make everyone else like you.

*Stop working so hard. Don’t become a total slacker, but do think about the b-word: balance. The fact is, every year we try to reach new heights in our careers. However, everyone has physical and mental limits. And more to the point—despite the fact that our society often confuses the two—achievement doesn’t equal happiness. No matter how good your intentions are, overloading on work will cause your relationships, mindset, and even health to suffer. For me, 70- and 80-hour weeks actually caused a breakdown, not happiness! Please, don’t follow in my footsteps. Even if you don’t drive yourself over the edge, living the life of a workaholic can still bury you in stress, anxiety, and depression. This year, really think about what a healthy balance looks like. And remember, no one looks back on their lives at age eighty and says, “Gee, I wish I’d spent less time with my family and friends and more time at the office.”

*Lower the bar. This may come as a shock, but you probably expect too much from yourself. Whether the issue is your appearance, your house, your family, or your job, you want to achieve as much perfection as is humanly possible. And on top of that, you most likely focus on what you do wrong and rarely celebrate what you do right. Well, guess what? Setting the bar so impossibly high is a recipe for feeling miserable. This year, it’s time to really realize that you’re human, so it’s inevitable that you will mess up—or even just put in an “adequate” performance—every now and then. That doesn’t mean that you’re in any way unworthy or undeserving of love. This year, consciously lower your expectations to more realistic standards, celebrate your many successes, and stop beating yourself up so much.

*Ignore the Joneses. Keeping up with the Joneses seems to be the American way of life. We’re constantly comparing ourselves to our friends, our neighbors, our coworkers, and even people whose lives we see displayed on reality TV. I know that Bob’s salary is the same as mine, you might think. How come he’s driving a new SUV and I can’t even scrape together a down payment? No matter what the situation is, thoughts like these only leave you feeling jealous, less-than, and unhappy. The most ironic part is, the friend whose life seems perfect on the outside probably doesn’t feel that way in the privacy of his own home. For years, I was the guy whose career and bank account others would have killed to have, but the truth was, I was stressed out of my mind and unable to relax for even a second! Yes, it will be hard to change your habitual thought processes. But you need to understand the fundamental truth that “happy” for you won’t look the same as it does for anyone else—and that’s okay! Focus primarily on your own feelings and fulfillment—don’t use another person’s life as a measuring stick to determine how good your own is.

*Don’t focus on your spouse. …To the point where you forget to take responsibility for yourself, that is! Yes, conventional relationship wisdom tells you to focus on your spouse and to put his or her needs first. To a point, that advice is accurate: As a partner in life and in love, you should be your spouse’s biggest supporter and coach. Just don’t allow tunnel vision to blind you to your own needs and responsibilities. While you should never take advantage of or ignore your partner, putting yourself second all of the time can breed frustration and resentment. This year, look inward more often, and figure out what will make you happy. Remember that when you do things that make you happy, it’s good for your husband or wife too.

*Stop giving so much. If you don’t, you’ll eventually run dry! The fact is, there are a lot of people in our lives who depend on us and who want our help, our time, our advice, etc. But it can be all too easy to keep giving and giving and giving to others to the point where there’s nothing left for you. So if spending all of your time and energy on others is the norm, and doing something for yourself is extremely rare—watch it. Figure out what is important to you and what fulfills you, and prioritize those things more. Stop putting others and their needs first all the time! In order to be happy, you have to know what your strengths are, and you have to play to them on a regular basis. You can’t live your life primarily to please other people.

*Stop pushing your kids so hard! As parents, we really care about our kids, and we want them to have the best possible futures. But that doesn’t mean you need to turn into a so-called “Tiger Parent.” Too much pressure to perform can cause children of any age to burn out and make self-destructive decisions. It’s crucial to remember that success and happiness aren’t the same thing. Your kids will be much happier, healthier, more creative, and more motivated throughout their lives if you prioritize balance and love them for who they are, not for how many As they get on their report cards.

*Forget quality time with your kids. …And start focusing on quantity! Please believe me, if you are simply home more and allow your children to seek you out in their time and on their own terms, you will be amazed how much they come to you. This one change in your scheduling can make all the difference in the world in your relationship with your children. It’s easy to use the words “quality time with my kids” as a free pass to focus on other aspects of your life 95 percent of the time. In other words, we want to believe that we can make up for working 70-hour weeks by taking a trip to Disney World, or catch up on all of the week’s events while going out for ice cream. But the fact is, life is found in the everyday moments, not in the big blowout trips. And kids themselves are perceptive—they can tell if they always take second place in your life. I also know from experience that doing “normal” things with your kids on a regular basis will mean more to them—and to you—long-term than the occasional extraordinary event. So this year, as much as possible, build regular “parent time” into your schedule, and try to be present for as many day-to-day activities as you can.

*Cancel your gym membership. No, I’m not saying that you should give up on exercising, and of course, if you’re already a gym lover, continue going. But if you’re a fitness newbie, begin with something that’s sustainable. You don’t want to purchase a gym membership only to have real life get in the way and derail your big plan. Then, not going to the gym will become just one more thing to beat yourself up about. So start small. Take a 20-minute walk every other day around your neighborhood—that’s it! You can work up from there if you want to. Also, try not to make physical activity all about weight—it has many other benefits. Exercise will make you feel more relaxed, stronger, and more capable of handling life’s challenges. It will also improve your sleep, and it’s a natural anti-depressant that will help your attitude and outlook.

*Stop obsessing over your health. Everywhere we look, there’s a new medical threat to worry about. Sure, you can spend a lot of your time worrying about BPA in your water bottles, drug-resistant bacteria, or the likelihood of whether swine flu will overrun your community. Likewise, you can make appointments with specialist after specialist whenever you feel sick, and try every new vitamin, supplement, and protein shake on the market. But it probably won’t help as much as you hope! At the end of the day, you’ll never have ultimate control over everything you touch, breathe, and eat. And if you allow yourself to fret over every health threat you hear about on the news or see on the Internet, you’ll be afraid to leave your house without a hazmat suit on. Just focus on eating right, going to the doctor, and fitting in as much exercise and relaxation as you can. If you don’t, all the worry and stress will be what ends up killing you!

*Trash your goals. …Except for this one: Be happier! Much like striving for perfection, being too goal-oriented can harm more than it helps. When you’re always focused on the “next big thing,” you’re perpetually anxious, you often forget to live in the present, and you’re never able to enjoy all of the blessings you already have. Plus, taking a step back from “the plan” can bring some much-needed clarity. You may find that the direction you’ve been heading isn’t what you want after all! My breakdown—at the time—was horrible. But it really was the best thing that ever happened to me in the long run, because it forced me to literally drop all of the things I’d been working on and to reevaluate how I was living my life. I promise you, when you prioritize your own happiness and well-being, you’ll be truly amazed by how smoothly everything else falls into place!

Believe me, being a “quitter” can be a very smart move, as long as you’re leaving behind activities, habits, people, and responsibilities that aren’t enriching your life. Above all else, as you move through 2013, take it from me that a successful life without happiness really isn’t successful at all!

 

 

Look at the Little Things…and Be Grateful

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.”

—Robert Brault

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, there’s a lot of talk about thankfulness. It seems to me that most of us are in the habit of focusing our gratitude on grand statements made on this once-a-year holiday. You know what I mean: “I’m thankful for my family, my friends, the fact that I live in America, my health, etc.” And that’s great—we should be thankful for those things. But what about the days when there’s not a turkey in the oven and family gathered around the table? Do you take the time to be grateful in the everyday?

It’s easy to get caught up in the hectic pace of everyday life: bills to pay, deadlines to meet, carpools to drive, and homework to be done. It’s also easy to focus on the negative aspects of those everyday moments: The chores seem endless. The bills keep piling up. Your kids misbehave, the dog makes a mess, and you can never, ever seem to find time to do anything for yourself.

But believe it or not, there are actually plenty of things that we can (and should) be grateful for in these mundane moments. Think of it as thanks-living. After all, you have a house to clean, when others may have none. You have bills to pay for things that keep you comfortable, like your heat and electricity. You have children who are healthy and full of life and a fun-loving pet that puts a smile on everyone’s face. And so on.

When you begin to see and feel small doses of gratitude on a regular basis, you’ll notice that you’ll start to feel happier, and you’ll experience an amazing shift in perspective. You’ll notice the negatives less, and the positives more.

To make habitual gratitude a part of your everyday life, start by making a list each day. Carry a small notepad and pen with you and jot down the little things that you feel grateful for as they occur to you (or type them into a list on your smartphone!). The act of physically recording them will help you to stop and truly think about each moment of gratitude. (You might also share with others how thankful you are for the small things. It will not only remind you to stay on your toes, but it might also inspire them to start the same practice!)

As this becomes a habit, you’ll find that you no longer need an actual list to remind you to be grateful.

To get you started, I wanted to share a list of “little things” that I’ve been grateful for recently.

  • A hot cup of coffee
  • Clean sheets that just came out of the dryer on my bed
  • A phone call with an old friend
  • The smell of my favorite dinner cooking in the kitchen
  • A great talk with my son

Remember, your list doesn’t have to be profound. Sure, at times, it may be, depending on life and your circumstances. But that’s the beauty of this whole thing. Life isn’t always profound. It ebbs and flows. And when we can learn to be grateful for the things we have each day, no matter what circumstances life gives us at that particular moment, we will discover one of the keys to living a much happier life. This Thanksgiving I challenge you to make a promise to yourself and to your family for the year ahead: to be grateful on this day, certainly, and during all the ones that follow.

Lastly, remember that your kids develop their mindsets, attitudes, and habits based on yours. So realize that engaging in thanks-living isn’t just something that you’re doing for yourself—it’s a gift you’re giving to your children, and to their children after them.

I’d love for you to share your own “little things”—in other words, simple pleasures that bring you joy—in the comments section of this post!

 

 

It’s Not Easy (or Happy!) Being Green

When St. Patrick’s Day rolls around, you just can’t escape green. Even if you don’t wear it (and want to risk getting pinched), it’s still everywhere from store windows to menu specials to parades on TV. But that’s okay—on March 17th, green is good. “Irish” green is associated with happiness, celebrations, shamrocks, and the Emerald Isle. Too bad that’s not the case the other 364 days of the year!

The truth is, most of us normally experience green in a much more negative way: through envy. And that’s definitely not a good thing. Being in the clutches of the green-eyed monster can really sabotage your overall happiness. That’s because envy makes you focus on what you don’t have instead of all of the great things you do have.

Social media has really exacerbated the extent to which envy affects our lives. Think about it: Sites like Twitter and Facebook allow people to live their lives in full view of others…and sugarcoat every aspect of them. When you log on, you’re bound to see pictures and posts that read, “Most beautiful wedding ever!” “This was a dream vacation in paradise!” or “Drinks on me—I just got a promotion!”

As you’re scrolling through this never-ending list of good news, it’s all too easy to feel like you’ve gotten the short end of the stick and say, “Woe is me!” And, of course, it doesn’t help that your Facebook newsfeed doesn’t ever go away. You can always torture yourself by taking a look at how much “better” everybody else has it.

But here’s the thing: While you’re living your life in a constant haze of jealousy, you don’t see the other side of the coin. What social media might not tell you is that the friend who got a promotion might also have just had a huge fight with her spouse. But unless she is one of those people who thrive on drama, she isn’t going to post those details of her personal life…and you won’t know that things aren’t as perfect as they seem.

The bottom line is, jealousy doesn’t do anybody any good. It makes you feel needlessly unhappy, and it can negatively affect your relationship with others. Here are six of my tips to help you banish envy the next time it starts to rear its ugly head:

  • Admit that envy is a problem. To some extent, envy is natural. You can’t go through your life without feeling jealous from time to time. So first, simply take note of when and why the green-eyed monster makes an appearance. (You may not even have consciously realized what you’re feeling!) Specifically, be aware of how strong your emotions are and what effect they have on your attitude and behavior.

You don’t have to take your emotional temperature every five minutes, but being generally aware of the role envy plays in your life can really make a difference in your behavior. For instance, if you’re carrying around a lot of anger toward a coworker because the boss liked his project proposal instead of yours, it could be making you unnecessarily snarky, critical, and negative. That means that you’re ruining your own day and hurting your performance…and you might also be burning some office bridges you’ll regret later!

  • Remember that “happiness” looks different for everyone. When you’re constantly comparing yourself to the Joneses, you’ll suffer several unintended consequences. First, worrying about how you don’t measure up robs you of your present happiness. Plus, it leaves you unable to think about how you really want your own life to look.

We talk about the American dream of a house, a pool, two cars in the garage, and the proverbial white picket fence. But the truth is, the same cookie-cutter mold doesn’t work for everybody! The lifestyle that makes your neighbor or your cousin or your dentist happy might not work for you. And if that’s the case, who cares if it’s flashier, more glamorous, or “cooler”? Trust me, when you give yourself permission to live your life on your terms instead of letting others set the bar (and feeling jealous as a result), you might be surprised by how good you already have it.

  • Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Yes, living with an “attitude of gratitude” is a clichéd concept. But infusing it into your life will also totally change your viewpoint…especially if you have a chronic case of “the envies.” The fact is, it’s very easy to take things for granted: the information your coworker emailed you, the fact that your car is running, and even the food you’re eating for dinner. Most of us have gotten into the habit of ignoring all of the good things in our lives, and instead, we focus our mental energy on being upset about what’s wrong. But it can be a true game changer when you reverse the time you spend thinking about each.

Over the course of my life, I have learned that it’s smarter to thank others because of how they make your life better instead of secretly resenting them because they have something you don’t. And yes, it does take a while to make this change in how you habitually think. To start tapping into the power of gratitude, just say “thanks” to the people who help you out during your day. (You might even work up to writing thank-you notes, as I do.) And beyond that, try to notice all of the blessings in your life. For me, my wonderful wife and extraordinary son top the list, as well as the fact that I finally get to do what I love—help others live happier lives. In time, you’ll start to notice that most of your envy has miraculously left the building.

  • Focus on others…but in a different way. If you have an hour or so of free time, you could spend it by trawling Facebook (and maybe watching a reality show that highlights the lifestyles of the rich and famous in the background). At the end of that hour, you’ll probably feel dissatisfied with your own lot in life, if you’re not outright angry at how “good” other people have it. Or, you could spend your free time helping your kids build a fort in the backyard, using your financial know-how to help a friend set up a much-needed budget, or even volunteering at a local organization that needs an extra pair of hands.

If you choose the second option, you’ll be a lot happier—guaranteed. Instead of focusing on how much you think your life sucks, focus on how you can use your strengths to help others’ lives be better. It will take the same amount of time but will be so much more uplifting and productive. We all have a choice: We can choose to look to the right and see people who have “more,” or we can choose to look to the left and see others who aren’t as fortunate…and whom we can tangibly help. I firmly believe that the greatest fulfillment in life comes not from satisfying ourselves, but from helping others.

  • Be generous. You’ve heard the saying, “The more you give, the more you receive.” Well, that goes for happiness, gratitude, help, friendship, and more! When you are generous with these things, you’ll invite them back into your life, too. People who are positive, supportive, and loving experience life very differently from those who are jealous and negative.

Here’s an easy example of what I mean. Say your friend just got engaged, and you’re still looking for your own Mr. (or Ms.) Right. It’s okay to feel a twinge of jealousy at first. But instead of feeding the fire by scowling at a newly posted album of engagement photos and wishing that you too could change your relationship status to “engaged,” call your friend and congratulate her! You’ll have to acknowledge that she didn’t say “yes” with the intention of making you feel bad, and you’ll probably also hang up the phone feeling happy for her.

  • Pay more attention to the little things. If you think about it, a lot of us experience envy over the “big” things: relationships, wealth, career opportunities, vacations, houses, etc. But it’s also true that all of our happiness doesn’t come from, say, getting a new car—a lot of it also comes from a variety of little things that add up.

Take a few minutes and think about what makes you happy on a day-to-day basis. It might be eating a delicious meal, taking a few minutes to read a chapter in your latest book, or taking a walk with your spouse. Then, make an effort to incorporate those things into your life as often as you can. Think about it this way: You can’t give yourself a promotion at work, but you can definitely get yourself a yummy cup of coffee on your way into the office. When you let the little things make you happy more often, there will be less room for envy to creep in.

Ultimately, don’t underestimate the insidious power of envy. If you allow it to take root in your life, it will bring you only bitterness, isolation, and disappointment. But the good news is, it really is in your power to take charge of the green-eyed monster. Just remember, if you always try to focus on what is going well in your life, you will feel much more balanced and look back on your life with much less regret. I promise, taking gradual steps to banish jealousy will make you happier each and every day!

 

Prioritize Your Marriage Every Day

If there’s ever a time when we make focusing on our spouse or significant other a priority, it’s Valentine’s Day. After all, February 14th is all about romance, fancy dinners, thoughtful gifts, and expressions of love. In that sort of candy-coated situation, it’s very easy to feel a spark as you gaze into your partner’s eyes.

But what about the other 364 days of the year? If you’ve been married (or in a committed relationship) for much time at all, you know that champagne and chocolates are only a small part of what makes up a partnership. You also have to deal with things like shared bills, housework, busy schedules, kids, the occasional argument, and more. And in the midst of all of that chaos, well, it can be all too easy for the “love” part of your relationship to take a hit.

If you have read my book or heard me speak, you’ve probably heard me say that your marriage is like anything else in this life. If it is not growing and expanding, it is slowly dying. If you don’t put regular work into maintaining your marriage and repairing any problems that crop up, it will eventually break down, or even worse. Furthermore, if you’re unhappy at home you’ll find it more difficult to succeed in other areas of your life as well because you will constantly be stressed out about your number-one relationship. And you’ll also lack your partner’s full support. That being the case, we all must start to put even more effort into our marriages than we do into succeeding professionally or trying to keep our homes, lawns, and/or cars looking great.

Essentially, the real secret to maintaining a fabulous, loving relationship with your spouse boils down to this: Every day, it must be your number-one priority to make your husband or wife feel as special, loved, and valued as he or she did when you first got married.

Here are a few things I do to keep my own wife (I hope!) feeling amazing and special throughout the whole year. I use the terms wife, she, and her, but I promise, all of these strategies work just as well with men!:

  • Celebrate your spouse every day. Tell her how wonderful, beautiful, and talented she is. Tell her you love her every chance you get, and how incredibly fortunate you feel to be married to her.
  • Be sure to compliment your spouse whenever you can. By and large, we can’t count on hearing praise from our bosses and coworkers, or even from our friends and kids. And most certainly, we don’t make ourselves feel very good with compliments directed at ourselves, either. So over time, it’s all too easy to feel small, unhappy, and dissatisfied. As a spouse, though, you have the power and responsibility to make sure this doesn’t happen to your wife. You can light up her world every day with love, affection, and yes, glowing praise!
  • Learn, and do, what makes your spouse feel most loved. Some of us need to be touched to feel love. Others need to hear it, and still others need to be shown through gifts and nights out on the town that we are loved and appreciated. Don’t assume your way of feeling loved is the same as hers. Simply ask your spouse directly what you do for her that makes her feel the most loved, and then incorporate her answer more frequently into your daily lives.
  • Don’t let resentments build. Always keep the lines of communication open, even if you need to take a walk and clear your head before broaching a touchy subject.
  • Look at yourself before trying to fix your partner. Instead of nagging, complaining, and accusing, ask yourself—honestly—where you might be dropping the ball and/or causing the problem. When you start changing your behavior for the better, you’ll probably be surprised by how quickly your spouse will do the same for you!

Obviously, these are only a handful of the many habits that can keep your marriage great. Overall, just remember that when you are committed to loving, respecting, and celebrating your spouse every day, she’ll smile more, feel better, and experience more of that romantic “spark” (and so will you, I promise!).

So, go on that fun, romantic Valentine’s Day date…and then prioritize and enjoy your marriage every day thereafter. You won’t regret it—I know I haven’t!

Learn to Love Yourself

As we all know, Valentine’s Day is coming up soon. If you browse through store aisles, you’ll find a multitude of greeting cards aimed at husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, best friends, bosses, children, and more. It seems to me that one person is missing from that list, though: yourself!

Yes, I know. Valentine’s Day is supposed to be about letting the important people in your life know how much they mean to you. I’m not trying to end that tradition by any means. What I am hoping to point out is that most Americans don’t put themselves in that category. And if you have read any of my book or watched my videos or speeches, you know that the number one thing I believe today about happiness is this: Until a person learns to truly value and love themselves simply for who they are and what they do, they can never really be happy long-term. That’s why it concerns me that even on a holiday that’s so devoted to love most of us don’t show much of it to ourselves.

Yes, it’s a big problem when you don’t love yourself. Until my breakdown, because I did not love myself, I thought that my self-worth came solely from my achievements. I depended on “atta boys,” pats on the back, and awards to make me feel valuable and worthwhile. And that led to a life that was way, way out of balance and to numerous problems:

• I became a workaholic. My job was the one place where I could guarantee that I could be number one…if, of course, I was willing to work harder than anyone else. Thus, at Foreign Autopart in the ’90s, I was always the first one at the office and the last one to leave, continually reaching for the next record to break so I could be okay with myself (and frankly, sleep at night!).Quite simply, I was not much of a dad when Josh was young. I regret that now.

• I didn’t treat myself well. As you may have already guessed, I pushed myself too hard and rarely did “nice” things for myself—even something as simple as taking a nap when I was exhausted. These days, mainly on the weekends, boy do I cherish my naps!!!

• Not all of my relationships were genuine. Because I didn’t value myself, I was often insecure about how others felt about me—even if I didn’t show it. When I was younger, I tended to behave the way I thought people wanted me to instead of doing what I wanted to do or felt was right.

• I was always trying to be everyone else’s favorite person by doing everything for everyone. In this way, I hoped that others would love and appreciate me more. At times, this compulsion led to me being taken advantage of and abused, and later I felt resentful and totally burnt out.

I know I’m not the only one, either. As Valentine’s Day approaches, I think we should all consider how much we do (or don’t!) value our own selves. If you look to others for love and approval instead of giving it to yourself, as I once did, please try to make this change now. The fact is, you can never have totally authentic and meaningful relationships with other people or achieve your full potential until you truly learn to love the wonderful human being you are.

First, acknowledge that of course you’re going to mess up from time to time because you’re human. Then, start making a mental list of your many talents, successes, strengths, and blessings. (Ask your loved ones for help if you need to!) Remember, God made you to be a one-of-a-kind, and He gave you amazing qualities that no one else possesses.

Trust me, once you begin to value and love yourself more, your whole life will change for the better. You’ll be happier (and healthier!), you’ll feel more confident, and your relationships will improve. You may even notice more positive opportunities coming into your life as others begin to respond to you differently.

So, even if you can’t find a Valentine’s Day card addressed to “you” as you do your shopping, don’t forget to show yourself love on February 14th—and every day thereafter! You deserve it! And your kids do too, because—I promise you this—your children will learn to love themselves for who they are and what they do only if you learn how to do this first.

 

 

 

When Do You Live?: The Importance of Being Present in 2012

In just a few short days, we will all be ringing in a brand new year. And across America, people will be making New Year’s resolutions aimed at improving their lives. That’s why I wanted to make my own suggestion as to how you can make 2012 the best year yet. As you’ll see, my recommended resolution doesn’t have to do with weight or money or exercise or any of the “usual suspects”—but I think it can still make a profound impact on how happy and fulfilled you are.

First, let me tell you about a TV segment I saw several years ago. An elderly woman was being interviewed because she had recently celebrated her 100th birthday. One of the questions the interviewer asked was, “What is the most important lesson you’ve learned during all of your years?” After a little thought, the woman replied that as she looked back over her life, she realized that she had spent a large amount of her time on earth worrying about things that never actually ended up happening. She said that she now regretted all of those hours she had spent in anxious—and ultimately useless—thought, and she told viewers to be careful not to fall into the same trap.

As I watched that interview, I realized that I had spent much of my own life doing exactly what the 100-year-old woman said not to (and I figured that she knew what she was talking about). Just like her, I had spent what probably added up to years of my life wondering about frightening what-ifs and worrying about bad things that might come to pass in the future. On top of that, I also tended to replay my mistakes in my mind and beat myself up for them, over and over and over again.

In other words, I had spent a lot of my life not living in the present moment. I was so fixated on the past and concerned about the future that I wasn’t enjoying all of the blessings and wonderful people who were already around me. Now that is a real tragedy. So, please join me in resolving to make 2012 the year we all really live more in the present.

Here are three relatively simple steps to help you keep this resolution from January to December…and beyond!:

1. Let go of the past. In my experience, this is the most difficult of the three steps to accomplish. That’s because in order to stop dwelling on things that have already happened, you have to forgive yourself and others for insults, mistakes, and wrongs that you’ve been holding on to. I could write an entire book on the subject of forgiveness (other people already have!), but it’s important to realize that by allowing anger and resentment of this kind to reside in you, you are essentially welcoming toxic thoughts, harmful stress, and even physical illness. When you experience true forgiveness, though, you are preserving your health and literally freeing your thoughts from negative bonds.

2. Think ahead (realistically). Whenever you find yourself worrying about what might happen in the future, confront that worry head-on. First, determine how likely it is that your doomsday scenario will actually happen at all. In most cases, it will be a relatively small possibility. Next, think through all the implications of this possible event if it did happen. You’ll probably have to admit that it would not kill you or destroy your life forever, and you might also see that there would be a remedy within your reach even if it were not that desirable. Now that you’ve mentally dealt with this worry, you can stop dwelling on it.

 

3. Be aware. Lastly, simply make an effort to experience now. Notice and appreciate what is going on around you and use all of your senses. Also, try to be aware of when your thoughts start “living” unhealthily in the past or in the future, and then make a conscious effort to come back to the present. This will take time and effort, so don’t be discouraged if you find yourself falling back on your old mental habits more than you’d like. In fact, just be happy for now that you noticed your mind negatively focusing on the past or future. As time goes by, you’ll notice that your emotional and mental states are increasingly positive and present as you spend more and more time in the here and now.

Ultimately, I don’t want to look back on my life with regrets like that elderly woman in the interview—and I bet you don’t either. I truly believe that by living more fully in the present, we can all live the wonderful lives we were meant to live! And 2012 is the perfect time to start.

This Thanksgiving, Remember to Really Give Thanks.

Unless you have been living under a rock (but not Plymouth Rock—I couldn’t pass it up!), you know that tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Take a moment and consider what you’re focused on. Maybe it’s a delicious turkey dinner, a football game, or a long-awaited Black Friday sale. Or perhaps you’re fixated on the number of relatives who will soon be descending on your house and all of the preparations you need to take care of. But have you also spent any time focusing on the real “point” of this holiday—the things in your life for which you’re grateful?

It seems to me that for most of us in America, the “thanks” in “Thanksgiving” has gotten lost in parades, food, and commercialism. On this holiday—and throughout the year, in fact—most of us are less focused on what we have to be thankful for and more focused on what we want and how we can get more. And guess what? This attitude is making us miserable. In fact, according to a 2007 Reuter’s.com article, a study done by Italian researchers found that Americans are less happy today than they were thirty years ago.  We’re so fixated on what we lack and on what’s going wrong that there’s no room left for us to enjoy all of the blessings that we have.

My friends, I’d like to challenge all of you to change your attitudes and really celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow…and then carry that attitude of gratitude with you throughout the year. Trust me, it’s for your own good. Grateful people are happy people, and they’re also healthier—25 percent healthier, in fact, according to studies—than their unappreciative peers.

Here’s a starting point: Tomorrow, as you’re eating Thanksgiving dinner with your loved ones, think about everyone and everything that have made this meal possible. Your ancestors, whose hard work laid the foundation for your own life. Our nation’s Founding Fathers, whose resolve and principles allowed us to live in the greatest democracy on earth. Past and present veterans and service members, who have put themselves in harm’s way—and even made the ultimate sacrifice—to protect us. And those are just a few starting points for a feeling of gratitude. I’m sure you’ll think of many, many more, like your health, your house, the fact that there’s food on the table, and of course the love of your family and friends, etc.

Once you begin to consciously notice all of the great things in your life, and once you realize that you can’t take full credit for the existence of any of them, you’ll consistently feel more grateful, privileged, and humble. You might even begin to notice that you feel silly for dwelling on the fact that your neighbor was able to buy a new car this year while you weren’t.

As gratitude becomes a more prominent part of your thought processes, verbalize as much of your thanks as you can. Tell the people in your life how much you appreciate them. Why not start tomorrow with the family members who are sharing Thanksgiving dinner with you? I can tell you from experience, when you begin to connect with others in this manner, your whole way of viewing the world will change. You will feel so much more fulfilled, blessed, privileged, and happy. And you’ll look back on this Thanksgiving as one of the best holidays/turning points of your life!