How to be happier, make big changes and feel better

For longer than I care to admit, when I thought about how to be happier my mind went to my job. My body. My relationships. That is, once I graduated. Got a job I liked. Left a job I hated. Lost the last 10 lbs. Then I would be happier. 

I dutifully held my feet to the fire. Found fault in what I did wrong so I could redirect my efforts. And, of course, repeated my positive affirmations. So why wasn’t I happier? Or more satisfied? 

Well, I was doing it wrong. Giving up when I made a mistake made me feel worse than the mistake itself. Chastising myself didn’t make me do better. And then when a happy thing did happen, it didn’t make me happier. At least not for long. 

Today, I feel better than I ever have and am making bigger changes in my life. I’ve figured a lot of things out along the way, and books are part of that journey. Here are three that helped me and I continue to refer back to the concepts in each of them. (And pinky swear, I read them all the way through!)

The How of Happiness: The best news from Sonja Lyubomirsky’s work is that we control up to 40% of our happiness. Research indicates that we’re born with about 50% of our “happiness setpoint.” Only 10% is related to circumstances, like a cash windfall or diagnosis. The rest is up to us and Sonja offers ten happiness activities to consider, based on your individuality. I especially like her work on gratitude, that goes beyond the typical advice. (BTW, I got to meet Sonja in 2019 when we both spoke at the MSMU Women’s Leadership Conference. I geeked out a little.)

Photo by Andre Furtado: https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-in-red-floral-shirt-lying-on-grass-field-1429395/

One Small Step Can Change Your Life: As a recovering perfectionist, this book offers practical advice for making big changes through small steps. Do you ever start out gung ho with, say, eliminating sugar, but then eat an Oreo and then think “what’s the use?” If you feel like “change is hard” Robert Maurer shows you that it doesn’t have to be. 

Self-Compassion, The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself: At least  92% of clients who coach with me need more self-compassion. If you’re over 50, for sure you’ve come to believe that chastising yourself for a Cheetos binge will prevent you from buying the next bag. Yeah, not so much. Kristen Neff shows how to be happier and healthier by being kind to yourself. Treat yourself like you would a good friend and you’re more likely to break out of unhelpful patterns. 

There you have it, proven strategies for how to be happier, make big changes and feel better about yourself. One small step at a time. 

It’s okay (even recommended!) to give yourself a gift during the holidays

I wrote a post in December 2019 about the five gifts to give yourself. That was pre-pandemic in the U.S. Nearly three months before we had any idea of the road ahead. And you know what? Shockingly, I wouldn’t change a thing.

I say “shockingly” because I tend to look back at what I’ve done and think I coulda shoulda done better. And at that time it was easy to be sanguine about the future. But I know how we are. You know it, too. Even with all we’ve been through – and continue to experience – we tend to think self-care is selfish

But the truth is, self-care ISN’T selfish. 

So, back to the gifts to give yourself. Here’s a quick recap: 

  1. A time out 
  2. A good life
  3. Permission
  4. Breathe
  5. Want what you have

And so I offer this to you again and encourage you to read the original post with fresh eyes and a curious mind. Can you give yourself a gift this holiday season?

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

How to balance a robust professional and personal life

I listened to a recent interview with Susan Rice, U.S. National Security Advisor from 2013 to 2017. She’s been under pressure in a way that most of us will – gratefully – never experience. Yet each of us has our own pressures, which are no less significant.

What stood out to me in particular was when the interviewer noted how Rice had managed a complicated life with a great deal of elegance. She was asked about her hacks for managing a really robust professional career along with a robust personal life (marriage and kids).

I loved her response!

First, she said “No one does it perfectly or to their own satisfaction.”

So true. It’s easy to see someone’s “outsides” and make assumptions. But honestly, we’re each doing the best we can in the moment (thank you, Brene’ Brown!). What if we decide it’s not supposed to be perfect and that’s part of the journey?

Then Rice acknowledged that along the way she learned there are certain things we can control. And that those are the ones we should focus on.

Yes!

I love that she started with mindset. Simply put, “I can’t do it perfectly, and that’s okay. I will focus on what I can control.”

However you balance self-care, remember there’s no "perfect." Thinking there is can cause as much stress as whatever else we think!
Photo by Gustavo Torres on Unsplash

That’s 80% of the battle, my friends. The stories we tell ourselves control our lives. Ruminating on being busy and overwhelmed, regret of past decisions, or feeling sorry for ourselves, are all unhelpful. And our results suffer. We suffer.

Reworking our mindset is the most effective tool to change our behavior and get the results we want.

Rice continued, “I really tried to take care of myself. To sleep as much as I reasonably could. To exercise as much as I reasonably could. And to prioritize time with family and friends, because that was rejuvenating time and gave me…the strength and perspective to deal with the things I couldn’t control.”

Notice that when asked for hacks she didn’t mention a productivity app or how to get more done in less time. She went right to the foundation of what’s essential to operate at the highest level: Self-care.

Maybe you make self-care a priority. But if not, brainstorm all the ways you might begin. (And if you sometimes think self-care is selfish, take a peek at last month’s blog.) How can you take care of yourself to do all that you have in front of you?

Wherever you are on the scale of self-care, remind yourself there’s no perfect. The idea that there is “perfect” can cause as much stress as whatever else we think! If anything, start imperfect and know that it all counts. Start with mindset. 😊

Share below your #1 self-care habit.

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