How Does Happiness Feel to You?

Let’s share a meditation today. Simply copy down the headers and write your own responses. I’ve included my answers for inspiration. I’m excited for you to use this tool to bring you into the present moment and more in touch with yourself. The goal is figure out how happiness feels to you so you can add more of it to your daily life.

Look

To me, happiness looks like a luxuriously appointed room, with panoramic views of trees, wildlife, and gardens. They could be oceans, lakes or mountains but the glory of wide open spaces is mine to enjoy. I have time and freedom to savor it. To me, happiness looks like I have space to myself, peace, and the promise of adventure.

Feel 

Happiness feels soft like throw pillows, cozy fireplaces, and hot tea. It feels serene and gentle, like my dog at my feet. It feels expansive and as if I do not need to strive but I may settle, be at ease and rest.

Taste

It tastes like hot chocolate and delicious meals that feed, fuel, nourish and surprise me. Rich flavors that feed my soul and my heart’s longing for fulfillment and adventure.

Smell

Happiness smells like a new book and typewriter tape. It smells like ink, sea salt, and sunset. The lush abundance of freshly mown grass and ripe summer peaches. It smells wholesome and rich, tender and calm.

Sound

It sounds like a fireplace crackling. Happiness sounds like woodland walks on secluded paths. To me it is symphony music and the effervescent bubbles of champagne. 

That is what happiness feels like for me. And reading it over, most of it includes activities I share with my dog. So maybe, for me, happiness is life with my trusty pup. How lucky are we to live in a world with dogs?

Did you try the exercise? How does happiness feel for you? 

Savor and Celebrate the Life We Have

Today I am thinking about creating the life I want. Having so many goals and projects in the works can sometimes feel overwhelming. I want to build and create while also making time to nurture relationships and live my life. I often check in on myself to be sure that I am not just accomplishing, completing, or “working,” rather than living. 

I don’t want to be distracted for the best times of my life and unfortunately that’s really easy to do. In a culture that glorifies “busy,” it’s easy to be consumed with productivity. We’re trying to make a home, raising kids, and all of it feels like it’s big and important. We’re sprinting through the seasons sometimes and it seems that no sooner is one task complete than there are five, or fifteen, more to fill it.

Remember Your Goals

What helps me to get out of the hamster wheel and see the big picture is reminding myself that all of this was once a dream. A beautiful home, a healthy family, a partner I love and admire – all of these were items on a wish list that I once imagined for myself. 

I distinctly remember a morning in Chicago, driving from my aunt’s apartment downtown back to my college dorm in Rodgers Park. Thinking I’d like to work in a city but have a country home where I raised my family and did my writing. I like the idea of being near a large metropolis while also distant from other people. A chateau or country estate sounded perfect to me.

Find Where You Are

Flash forward fifteen years and here we are in our country home, mouse problems and all. We’re savoring sunsets, active in our local community, and live in a small town where we know people and are known pretty much everywhere we go. It feels so comfortable and also magical that this life I imagined one morning in undergrad is here. I dreamt of this time and this place. Having imagined this moment in my life, now that I’m here I want to savor it. I want to cherish what I have while still pursuing what comes next. 

Savor & Celebrate Your Progress

For me savoring looks like a cup of tea and a long lunch with my partner. It looks like giving our dog some extra love and attention. Sitting in the sun and meditating so that I am fully present here and now. It feels like hyyge – making myself comfortable and writing to express my thoughts and process my emotions. It is being still and listening to my children as they drift off to sleep. Extra kisses on soft cheeks and all the snuggles I can possibly fit into a day. It is “one more minute,” of play when I can give it and boundaries when I cannot. And taking care of myself so that I am here for a very long time to savor and celebrate a long life. If you’re looking for some tools to find your own focal points there’s a great guide here.

Notice What Fills You and Follow It

This life is about creating spaces where I am comfortable, inspired, held and free. Finding a way to make every hope, wish, and dream I have come true because when I am building and growing, and reading good books I feel whole. Eating good foods and traveling, inspires me and stretches my wings. Learning new things fills me up and keeps me interested and engaged. I am forever looking forward to all of the good that is here now, and all of the wonderful that is yet to come.

With the fall winds upon us our windows and doors are blanketed in ladybugs. Every one that lands and stays, every one that I must pick up and place outside drenches me in good luck and positive thoughts. I am fortunate, blessed, grateful for all that I have and eager to see what comes next! 

How do you savor and celebrate life’s special moments? What times have been your favorites? What sacred dream are you pursuing now?

Release Your Expectations

Today I am giving myself a gift to release my expectations in order to truly enjoy life. Expectations feel enticing. They fill our imagination’s desire to formulate what might come next. But they also box us in, they limit our vision for how things may turn out. Expectations do not open us to the promise of the universe. Instead they trap us in a web of possibilities rather than free us to enjoy the serendipitous.

Expectations are limiting and confining. They trap us in resentment. When reality does not conform to match our visions we may feel let down. It is as if we got what we wanted but not all of what we expected. In this way we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. When we envision the perfect evening or event, we imagine it so exactly that we leave no room for imperfection. And no event or other person can ever live up to that. We imagine a reality with no flaws and that simply does not exist. 

Reality is full of delicious flaws that make life interesting and richer. It’s easy to get so caught up in our curated lives that we forget that it is the very real flaws that make life beautiful. The imperfections make it real. When you release your expectations it frees you to see beauty everywhere. It opens your eyes to see the whole picture, not just the small area where you are looking. Letting go, frees us to savor and enjoy what we have already and to absorb even more.

I remember in my early 20’s a girlfriend was getting ready for a date. This woman was an artist with make-up. As I watched her, completely mesmerized by her artistic talent and expertise – turning elixirs, shadows, and powders into wearable art. She explained that whenever she did her face she was always sure to over-do one feature. She explained that by adding more definition to one area, the imperfection would make the whole of her face, “perfect.” 

My friend explained that when her entire face was done flawlessly, it would look plastic – so perfect that she would not look real. She would look like an avatar or as if she had had work done. Which was not a look she was going for. Much like Cindy Crawford’s mole, a small imperfection made her human. It also set her apart from her fellow models because it was a trademark, something that made her stand out.

Expectations are much the same – we do not imagine the imperfections. Because if I told you to imagine a model with a mole, chances are none of us could imagine Cindy Crawford. That is until we had seen Cindy Crawford and then we can think of no one else. Therefore, as I look ahead I am reminding myself not to get too attached to what I envision. To anticipate a good time but not to anticipate how it will be a good time. It is the surprise, not the expectation, that fills life with wonder. 

How do you release your expectations? Or how do you guard against developing expectations in the first place? 

Looking for Flowers: Staying Out of a Negative Mindset

Have you ever noticed how when you’re in a bad mood the world seems out to get you? Or the inverse, when you are feeling great the world is also full of joy? Today I am thinking about self-compassion and how important it is that we take care of ourselves first so that we can come to the world with a positive mindset.

An old story comes to mind. 

A weary traveller came to the gates of a new city and asked the gatekeeper, “What kind of city is this? The last city I left was full of thieves and evil people.” 

The gate keeper answered, “We have those kinds of people here too.” 

The traveller moved on not wanting to stay one more minute in such a terrible place. 

Later that day another traveller came to the gates and asked the gatekeeper, “What kind of city is this? The last city I left was full of creative and interesting people, everyone was kind and I left many friends.” 

The gatekeeper answered, “You’ll find people like that here too.” And the traveller entered the city.

The gatekeeper did not lie to either traveller – there were both kinds of people in her city. But the wisdom is in recognizing that that which we look for we will find. The first traveller sought only to find the evil and darkness in others and would likely find it. The second traveller saw only light and would likely find the same. 

Have you ever had a conversation with someone like the first traveller who is hurting so much they seem to have no choice but to fixate on the negative things that have happened to them? A friend once spent an entire day lamenting to me about the hurt her family had caused her, how their cruelty had poisoned their relationships, and how she was an innocent recipient of this pain. On the way out of a family event her father asked her to please wait as he had picked up dinner for her. In that moment it really struck me – was my friend truly being harmed and hurt by her family? Yes. Was it because of their careless disregard or intentional desire to cause her harm? No. She was simply choosing to observe and remember those situations when they had disappointed her. She was looking for their faults and not their kindnesses and like the first traveller, she found it.

My friend’s inability to accept love was causing her pain. We remember pain longer than ease because in our primitive history it has been the avoidance of pain that contributes most greatly to our survival. For example, if we remember caves may be mountain lion dens we will not be eaten. On the opposite end, if we find a field of flowers it may be beautiful but if it does not lead us to find honey or food our primitive brains forget as it is not imminent to our survival. This survival tactic worked well for our primitive selves and we can all be grateful to our ancestors for remembering every danger that kept them alive so that eventually we could exist. However, these are no longer primitive times. If all we remember is danger and pain, looking for mountain lions – we will miss all of the flowers.

We lead lives full of potential and possibility but when we focus intently on the negative we loose sight of the joy and love in our lives. Negativity may initially generate a response from others – attention, pity, or support. If a person continues to come to us with their negative story and we do not share their perspective – we see that person like the first traveller, better to let them move on than waste our time trying to introduce them to good people. The perspective of the traveller, is the travelers responsibility, not the gatekeepers.

It is our responsibility to take care of ourselves and love ourselves first. It may be difficult to shift your attention, to see someone else’s care for you. But with practice even that first traveller can learn to look for the good so that their toxicity does not spread into personal relationships and their life. In my friend’s case – her father was showing love and care to her – it’s her job to see and appreciate it. 

What makes this work most important is that if gone unchecked that negativity will consume you and every relationship we hold dear. We become the mountain lion, the dangerous predator consuming and destroying the love and connection the world offers us. Much like that first traveller, we walk alone and miss so many friendships and opportunities simply because we were not looking for the flowers.

How do you protect yourself form mountain lions? How do you make self-care a priority so that you don’t become a mountain lion yourself? 

Also, no mountain lions were harmed in the writing of this piece. This work is not based on any one mountain lion living or deceased, it is the authors attempt at metaphor. She has no animosity to the mountain lion community – please do not eat me. I just needed an animal that lives in caves and might, in a hypothetical situation consume a prehistoric cave invader.