One of the greatest blessings of my life is that I get to meet really cool people – people like Leah Lizarondo.
Leah is a fellow TEDx speaker, food writer, super successful blogger, public policy expert, former CEO of a non-profit, wife, mother, and fabulous dresser. I can’t think of anyone else I respect or admire more than her.
She also has a mega-watt smile that is frequently on display, so naturally I had to harass her into doing a happiness interview with us!
How do you define happiness?
This was a hard one for me and I think being older has really helped. Its like what you say — letting go of the “shoulds” — but really along with that is not giving a fuck about what other people think. Not to say I put my whole life out there in the open. But when you let go of the “shoulds” and not give a flying F, you suddenly realize that you’re free.
Freedom, the MANY definitions of it, is happiness.
I say many definitions because freedom is not one concrete thing. There’s a lot of self-consciousness in our 20s and 30s and with that we allow ourselves and our actions to be defined by what other people think–whether it’s society at large, your parents, your boyfriend, your friends. I think that’s why I moved to NY in my 20s; I wanted to be away from everyone who knew me and just be free to explore, do things, and make mistakes. And boy did I push the envelope. I made TONS of mistakes. But I would never trade it for anything else. I look back at it now and I think, well, that was fun.
Fast forward almost 2 decades later, I realize that freedom, happiness, all these things comes from our own energy and drive.
How do you fit what makes you happy into your day-to-day life?
First, whenever I hear myself say “should” its a signal for me to think again. Its a constant exercise. We are programmed by shoulds (I even find myself saying it to my kids!) so its take a lifetime to deprogram.
I also try to move towards happiness every day — even on the hard days. That may mean: pulling out my yoga mat even for a 15 minute practice no matter how tired I am, making sure I tuck my kids in and have a few moments of sweet conversation with them on a particularly busy day, doing one thing that moves a work goal forward no matter how small, eating something that makes me feel nourished.
What “shoulds” have you let go of to pursue your happiness?
I’ve had to balance my values as a parent and the pace that I want to have with my work. That’s the biggest thing — all the work shoulds.
I never changed a diaper or really ever held babies before my first child, but as soon as I give birth my whole life changed. That sounds like a cliche but its true. Before I gave birth I was 100% career at the expense of everything else. But after, I just couldn’t — and didn’t want to — do the same. From not holding babies, I became an attached parent in all its Dr. Sears textbook incarnations. I co-sleep, my kids nurse well into toddlerhood, and I like to spend time with them a lot.
Time is finite. Something had to give, and it was work.
That decision did not come without much hand wringing. Even just recently, I let go of a plum project that many people would give their right arm for. But, it would have required really long work weeks and being away too much. That decision was hard, but I have a little 21 month old who will grow up too fast (and I know that because I look at my 9 year old and think, wow, how did that happen?)
I’ve had to adjust my expectations — not in what I want to achieve work-wise (I’m just as goal-oriented), but in the time bounds.
I’ve also let go of a lot of relationship shoulds. I used to think that every relationship had to be fixed, to be just right, but really there’s freedom in embracing imperfections. And, some relationships require just walking away from. That is OK. Relationships also don’t have to be constrained within conventional definitions, social mores. Convention changes all the time — so I’ve had to set my own definitions.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about happiness?
From yoga, and the hardest to be mindful of:
That in itself is a meditation and really hard to understand sometimes. I’m still working on this!
What do you do when you’re feeling unhappy?
I drink and do drugs. Just kidding.
I go out, see my friends, be out in the world. I learned that when I am feeling unhappy, it’s usually a feeling of disconnection — whether its with myself, where I am, with someone.
If I surround myself with good friends, good people, HAPPY people, I reconnect. And, as you know, studies have shown happiness is contagious (all kinds of energy is) and good energy is very attractive (and sexy) so I seek it out. Pretty soon, I feel so much better. Humans were designed to connect and I am a voracious connector. I love people.
I also do things that I know are GOOD FOR ME but not necessarily easy. In other words, taking care of myself.
Women have a hard time doing that. Moms I think sometimes feel guilty.You know how in those airplane safety demos they ask you to put the oxygen mask on first? I used to think, well, that’s counter-intuitive, but hey you have to keep yourself alive to be able to care for others. So I do things that make me feel alive. I make myself do yoga, I drink a green juice or two, I get a massage, I go somewhere alone or with friends.
I think of “the greatest love of all” and I used to think, that’s selfish. But really, sing it with me, “learning to love yourself…”
Thank you, Leah, for making me google the lyrics to that song and discover that it is not about being pregnant but about loving yourself – only 30 years after it was released!
Your turn! What do you do that is GOOD FOR YOU but not necessarily easy? Tell us in the comments to inspire and encourage others.