Another Unexpected Gift from My Gratitude Practice

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

I never shut up about gratitude practices.

A gratitude practice – or whatever you want to call it when you keep a record of what makes you happy – is the very best way I’ve found to figure out what actually makes you happy instead of what you think should make you happy.

And figuring out what makes you happy is the very best way to find your purpose.

But it never looks like that at first.

At first it looks like a trivial list of relatively nice things.

Today I’m grateful for dinner at the kitchen table, a walk through the park, and that early-morning phone call with my mom.

Trivial. Nowhere in there could you spot profound insight or anything worthy of the title Purpose.

But the practice, the keeping on, creates a collection of lists. A collection of list reveals patterns.

That’s how I found out that going outside is good for me and face time with my family makes me even happier than travel.

It’s also how I discovered that I like to make things.

This was a surprise. I have never considered myself artistic or crafty.

But I did really enjoy knitting when I tried it. And I liked taking my daughter to a local pottery painting studio. And painting with my girlfriends sure was fun. And – you know, it seems like every time I create something with my hands it makes The List.


I tell people to figure out what makes you happy and do more of it, so that’s what I do.

I make more things. I begin to build creating into my day. I’m not very good – most things I make are barely worth keeping, let alone sharing – but the process of making still makes me happy.

My in-laws come to visit and I take them out hunting for furniture to makeover, because this is a side business my mother-in-law has taken up since retiring. And while I’m walking around with them, I decide that I really, really want to try to make something beautiful from ugly furniture.

My teenage son decides he wants to try and make money selling that upcycled furniture.

And all of a sudden, my son and I are in business together.

My son – who thinks my dancing is lame and my movies are lame and my advice is the lamest of all – he wants to go shopping with me for fabric. And he wants me to get out the staple gun so we can recover a seat cushion together.

making things with my kid makes me happy

So I’m quitting the inspirational speaking and the writing and going full-time with my true passion: painting furniture.

No, not really.

But I am spending more time with my son, and he is happy about it.

Never in a million years would I have connected these dots this way or foreseen this as a potential thing we could share. I did not see this coming until the very second it popped into my life.

All I saw was the pattern in my gratitude practice:

Making things makes me happy.

So I did more of that. I followed my happiness.

And my happiness led me some place unexpected: exactly where I needed to be.

The lesson here is simple:

VIDEO: 4 Great Things You Don’t Need to Be Happy

Monday, April 21st, 2014

If you can’t see this video, click here to watch it on YouTube.

What Will Make You Happy?

Everyone has an answer. In fact, a quick Google search reveals 1.7 billion answers.

what will make me happy - Google Search 2014-04-19 11-10-45

But, for every single thing some expert says you HAVE to have in order to be happy, there’s at least one person out there living a perfectly happy life without it.

4 great things that could make you happy:

  1. Marriage
  2. Money
  3. Kids
  4. Travel and Adventure

All four of these things are fantastic, and each one has personally made my life happier at one time or another.

They are also unnecessary.

I know lots of people who aren’t married, don’t have kids, don’t travel the world, or don’t have a lot of money – and still manage to be happy. And they aren’t happy in spite of not having these things.

What’s the point?

The point is that there is no one thing you need to have, do, or accomplish.

All that matters is what makes YOU happy.

The secret to happiness is to figure out what lights YOU up – and do more of that.

Happiness Interview: Erin Szymanski of glitteR & gRit

Friday, April 18th, 2014

Erin Szymanski and I met through a local mastermind group just before she opened her bridal shop in Pittsburgh.

You’d never guess by looking at Erin that she owns a bridal shop. She’s more likely to be wearing black leather pants than white lace, but that’s exactly why she created glitteR & gRit: she wanted a place for people like her.

It turns out there are a lot of people like her. Her shop has been wildly successful, in no small part because of Erin’s unwavering ability to listen to her gut.

I’ve never met anyone so in tune with and willing to listen to their own intuition.

I’ve watched Erin make numerous business decisions – seemingly effortlessly – by checking in with who she is and what her vision is. “No, that just isn’t a good fit for me,” she’ll say.

I aspire to have as much confident in my instincts as she has in hers. This is a woman we can all learn a little something from.

Erin SzymanskiWhat makes you happy?

Sunshine peeking from behind dark clouds, a good cup of coffee, sitting with my besties and just watching their kids, staying at the dinner table for hours after the food’s gone because the conversation is so good, baby animals. Oh. And wine.

Really though, anything that connects or roots me to a moment. Something that calls your attention to be fully present.

How do you incorporate what makes you happy into your day-to-day life?

Since connecting is so important to me, I try to make a point to have something in my day that does just that, be it a sunny text to a friend, meeting someone new – or not – for coffee or a drink, thanking someone for their impact in my life. I reach out a lot; nurturing relationships with the people in my life eases my soul.

Are there any “shoulds” you’ve had to let go of in order to pursue your happiness?

I took the steps in my adult life that were as close as I could get to all the “shoulds;” go to school, work hard, have a profession. And then I threw it all away!

Working in a cubicle was wrong for me from day one, and having my own business, while completely terrifying, has been the happiest “misstep” ever.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about happiness?

walk with the dreamersIt’s more of an encouragement to leap; for me, that’s happiness.

Want more inspiration? Read the rest of the happiness interviews.

The Unexpected Gifts of Depression

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

walk the line“I feel like I’m always one wrong move from falling into the abyss.”

She described it perfectly.

My friend was talking about the delicate balance between making progress and falling into self doubt, and she put precisely into words how I feel about living with depression.

I walk a constant tightrope.

One misstep and I may wobble a little, have to flail my arms about to regain balance and keep going.

Or I may fall off completely.

I may fall all the way to the net and have to start completely over back at platform one.

And there is a part of me that hates that. There is a part of me that hates this part of me, that screams, “it’s not fair that my brain makes me so damn vulnerable all the time!”

I want a wider line. I want more leeway so that I don’t have to always be vigilant. I want my path through life to be a sidewalk, or a country road, or even just a matted down cow path so that just once in a while I could look up and enjoy the view without fear of falling to my death!

Instead, I walk the line.

And in return, I am granted a few rare gifts.

5 unexpected gifts of depression

1. I avoid the comparison trap.

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”

-Theodore Roosevelt

I cannot afford to spend too much time looking left or right. I mean, I am certainly tempted – but managing my depression means paying close attention to what I need to survive. I simply don’t have a whole lot of energy or attention span leftover to obsess about what’s happening on someone else’s path.

The comparison trap results in jealousy, low self-esteem, and a constant chasing of dreams that are not your own.

2. I appreciate the net.

I have no illusions about being superhuman or immortal. I know that I will fall from time to time.

And when I do, I know from experience that there will be a net to catch me. That net is my husband, my kids, my mother, and my closest girlfriends.

I have fallen into their gentle embrace too many times to take their support for granted.

3. Self care is not optional.

I see friends of mine who put off good self care. They put themselves last, promise to rest later, and go years without really and truly nurturing themselves. They manage.

That would kill me. Literally.

I can choose to take care of myself as a preventative method, or be forced to take care of myself in order to come back after a fall. Either way: self care is inevitable.

I will rest. I will listen to my body about what it wants to eat and when it wants to move. I will make connection a priority.

I am simply not built for martyrdom. Thank God.

4. I have to share the pain sometimes.

The worst part of depression is the overwhelming despair it can unleash. It is bigger than me, more than I can contain inside my own little body and head.

I have to let it out. I have to.

And that’s why I write and tell stories and stand up on stage and share my most vulnerable truths.

People have said it’s because I’m brave. “Thank you for being so raw and honest.”

But people like me don’t choose raw and honest. Raw and honest are our release valves; we let out the ugly so that it doesn’t consume us with its hugeness.

And in that release, our curse becomes our gift.

We let others know they aren’t alone. We give perspective; our darkness reveals what is light. We flash the world our insides and those who have the option to stay cloaked now know that opening up is not a death sentence.

5. I value happiness.

Perhaps the greatest gift that depression has given me is my appreciation for happiness.

I don’t think that depression is the opposite of happiness. Happiness is a choice; depression is a combatant.

But in fighting to stay alive, to stay on the line, I’ve come to demand more than just not dying.

I want this struggle to be worth it. I want every fall and every climb back out of the abyss to mean something, to have been in pursuit of something more than middling.

I want to see where the line is taking me.

VIDEO: Before You Listen to a Happiness Expert…

Monday, April 14th, 2014

This story about how a nurse treated my 9-year-old daughter reminded me that not even the expertise of professionals can trump what we already know about ourselves.

Always remember that you are the expert on your own happiness.

Your opinion and insights on how YOU feel and what YOU need are at least as valuable as anyone else’s.

Trust what you know.