3 Tiny Steps to Break the “I Know Better But I’m Not Doing Better” Cycle

spiral

You know what I never do when I’m feeling depressed? Google “how to stop being depressed.”

Because I know how. I know exactly what I need to do to feel better.

The knowing and the doing are not the same thing.

I don’t know anyone who does exactly what is good for themselves all the time. I know lots of people, however, who get off track and quickly find themselves in a shame spiral about how they should be taking better care of themselves.

You know what doesn’t fix depression? Shame.

In fact, shame can prolong the funk. It keeps us from going back to the gym, or calling a friend, or reopening our gratitude journals because it’s been so long. Shame perpetuates the cycle.

Here’s how you can break it.

3 Tiny Steps to Get Back to Doing What’s Good For You

1. Combat the shame by reaching out.

Shame says things like, “what the hell is the matter with you?” and “maybe you’re just lazy” and “everyone is tired of hearing about my problems that I’m not doing anything about.”

The best way to shut that shame up is to tell someone about it. Shame is a gremlin that withers and dies when you shine a light on it.

Tell someone you trust that you are struggling. Tell them it’s hard, and that you’re scared, and that you don’t know what the heck is going on. Ask them to listen without helping.

2. Focus on direction, not distance.

The more time we spend not doing what makes us happy, the farther we imagine the journey back to it must be. That’s a myth. In truth, happiness is not a destination but a direction in which you travel.

The moment you turn around, you are already back on track.

But here’s the thing about turning around: a significant force is required to change direction. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that once you get turned around, it will take much less effort to keep moving towards the light. That’s physics.

Keep telling yourself:

point towards happiness

3. Do one small thing before you feel better.

Exercise, eat healthy, go outside, do yoga, keep a gratitude journal, call a friend, take a walk… SO! MANY! OPTIONS!

A long list of potential lifesavers can become the weight that drowns you. Think smaller.

Pick one thing today you can do to move towards the light. Pick the easiest thing: the one item on your to-do list that will require the least amount of effort but still earn the satisfaction of a checkmark.

Have faith that will be enough.

Remember that you are only changing direction, and each small action is a degree you’re turning. Every degree counts.

You can do this.

Happiness Interview with Grandma & Triathlete Sharon Couto

I want to be Sharon Couto when I grow up.

Her effortless style, charm, and grace are rivaled only by starlets from the Golden Age of Hollywood – and she is so much more than a pretty face. Sharon is a mother, grandmother, wife, friend, writer, and retired teacher. But perhaps the label that impresses me the most is triathlete.

At 61, Sharon swam, ran, and biked her way to the finish line of the Eagleman 70.3 Ironman.

I’m thrilled to share her – and her happiness interview – with you today.

sharon couto

How do you define happiness?

Happiness to me is a feeling of being aware of the present in the strongest way… going forth in life, considering the past, but feeling worthy and joyful in the present. There is a purity in the present that will never happen again, and mindfulness of this, celebrating “the moment” is a great gift in discovering Happiness. Happiness is simple, really, if we use our senses to FEEL it in each and every moment. It is always there, just waiting for us to discover it.

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

moments instead of timeWell, I am very aware of my spirit of control.

I stop to admire flowers and babies and art and food. I read. I call or visit my children and grandchildren and my Mom almost every day. I exercise! I build goals into my exercise that tests my spirit and challenges me both mentally and physically. I run. I swim. I cycle. I practice Yoga.

I came to all of these things later in life, which gives me, I think, such a great appreciation of my health and ability to DO these things. These activities give me lots of time to think, to be mindful of my SELF, which makes me mindful of others. I feel blessed – HAPPY – to be healthy.

I manage time very well; I don’t overlook moments of beauty or love or my passions. It’s amazing what can be fit into 24 hours if we concentrate on moments rather than TIME!

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

Oh, yes; there’s one great big “should.” I’ve had to let go of that feeling that women, in particular, are happiness-providers.

I can’t crawl into anyone’s soul or heart or brain or body to build a stronger spirit for anyone else. I can teach and advise and offer experience and the wisdom that comes with age, but I cannot make someone feel inward happiness. I can bring happiness to the table, to the occasion, to the moment… but happiness is mindfully and uniquely individual.

What do you do when you aren’t happy?

I think I wear “happy” always, but if I’m feeling sad or overwhelmed or angry about something, I generally pray. I pray every single day. I have a deep faith in God and in my angels whom I love.

Oh, I’m good at ranting – cleansing, if you will. too! I get my feelings out rather well, thank you. I’m the master of obscenities. I need balance, honesty and I need everything to be fair, so that particular passion fuels more passion. I’m a Libra.

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

It sounds and seems so simple, but it’s the truth. I’ve passed this advice onto hundreds of people, including my children, now my grandchildren and to my many, many students when I was teaching. Of course there are times when we can’t bear to wear the “happiness crown”, but there are so many more times when we can put it on and genuinely let it glow.

You can read more from Sharon at Mom Generations. Check out the rest of the happiness interviews here.

How to Be Delighted and Impressed by Plain Old Life

I took my first solo plane ride when I was five years old. Under the watchful eye of two kind stewardesses, I flew aboard the now-defunct Britt Airways to go visit my father. I remember feeling very important, proud, and thrilled.

Last week I flew from Pittsburgh to Greensboro, North Carolina for a speaking engagement, and as I scurried across the terminal in D.C. to make my connection I was struck by how much I still love navigating an airport. The people watching, the engineering, the reminder of my own privilege to be able to hop on a plane to conduct business – it never fails to impress me.

I suspect this is one of the reasons that travel – even business travel – still makes me so happy.

Watching people watching art in the Philadelphia airport.

Watching people watching art in the Philadelphia airport.

Sometimes it seems like we measure coolness by how unimpressed a person remains. We associate experience and savvy with one’s ability to be unaffected. But happiness, I’m convinced, is tied more closely to wonder than to aloofness – especially in the face of repetition.

Happiness is rooted in resilient curiosity and the ability to see the same miracle again and again.

The happiest people I know are easily amused. They are fascinated by strangers and awed by things like the changing of the leaves on the tree they drive by every day to work. Their seemingly low threshold for delight lets them synthesize happiness anywhere from just about anything.

I made a decision last week as I tooled around Lexington and Greensboro, North Carolina, reveling in the novelty of new restaurants and unfamiliar downtown districts:

I’d rather be impressed than impressive.

I resolve to cling to my wonder and keep my awe close to the surface.

I suppose that makes me a little like Peter Pan in that I want to never, never, never think of myself as too grown up to be as fascinated as a child.

peter pan quote

Of course, I am not a child – and neither are you. We are adults with real responsibilities and routines that quickly make the amazing become mundane. We have adaptable brains that transform the new into the old with shocking speed. How, with all this maturity working against us, can we hope to maintain even a little of our childish enthusiasm?

1. Do a gratitude practice.

One of my favorite things about doing a gratitude practice is how attune it makes me to the tiny miracles happening all around me every day. I navigate my average days looking for material worthy of my gratitude journal, and that seeking attitude makes a big difference in how I perceive everything.

2. Play just for play’s sake.

A tendency when trying to have a happier life is to think about how we can translate what we love into how we earn money. While there is wisdom in that idea, there is also value in doing things you love as a form of play. Specifically: it gives you the freedom to do things you enjoy but are not good at, a type of play we often lose when we become adults.

Experiencing the unfocused, inconsequential joy that is so characteristic of childhood is a great way to keep yourself young at heart.

3. Go down the rabbit hole.

In order to grow your curiosity, you must feed it. Make a point of hunting down answers to the random “how come” questions that pop into your head. Notice when your interest is piqued and hop on the Internet or flip through a reference book on the subject.

While it’s true that we associate knowledge with adulthood, the habit of seeking it out is a constant reminder of just how much we have to learn.

Not everything about childhood is happy – insecurity and uncertainty are as common as control is rare – but one thing that is worth hanging onto is the ability recognize the awesome in just about everything.

Let yourself be dazzled. Be impressed again by the small wonders of the world. Make it easy for happiness to find you.

Did you like this post? Share it with someone who inspires you to be more easily impressed!

Why I’m Still Talking About Happiness

sit in sign in greensboro nc

With everything  happening in the world right now, I’m struggling to write about happiness.

It seems silly to talk about pursuing personal happiness when important discussions are being had about race in my country. When people are being beheaded in other countries. When disease is spreading and grief, it seems, is everywhere.

But this is the real world.

This is the soil in which we must try to cultivate our own meaningful existence.

I’ve often said that happiness matters because it ultimately leads us to our purpose, our way of contributing to the larger tapestry of humanity. It’s hard sometimes to believe that when there are singe holes in the tapestry and my personal joy is found in such small things. How can creativity and going for walks outside possibly make a difference for anyone but me?

But it does.

Because what I do in my small corner is linked to all the other corners. Beauty begets beauty, and connection begets understanding and compassion.

Because I’m a mother, and so I am teaching the next generation every single day what it means to live with intention instead of react.

Because I can’t be on the front lines of every fight, so I have to know what it sounds like when my intuition whispers, “this one.”

Because in order to stand up when it feels right and speak up when it feels wrong to be quiet, I have to be grounded and strong.

Because on the days and weeks when it seems like a war is raging constantly outside, I need to be able to heal myself from the inside.

Because on days when there is death and destruction and injustice, there are also babies born and marriage vows said and forgiveness granted – and first borns starting their first day of high school.

The good and the bad, the light and the dark, it is all part of the same real life that is happening right now.

So, I will continue on with my quest for joy and peace. I will continue learning and teaching about listening. I will keep on advocating for the intuition and the still, small voice that comes from deep inside or way out there.

Because that, I’m certain, is where the answers to all that is wrong are hidden.

Happiness Interview: Reality TV Star Susie Meister

If you were watching MTV reality shows during the late 90s, chances are you caught a glimpse of Susie Meister: the Pittsburgh native appeared on “Road Rules: Australia”, “Road Rules: Viewers Revenge” and six “Real World Road Rules Challenges”. She also has a PhD in Religious Studies.

It’s impossible not to be fascinated by a doctor who has starred in more episodes of reality television than I’ve viewed.

I met Susie last spring when we both spoke at a TEDx event. I was lucky enough to sit next to her at one of the pre-event dinners, and she charmed the hell out of me over cocktails. She also consistently makes me laugh out loud on Twitter.

What I like most about Susie is that she doesn’t take herself too seriously, but beneath her irreverence is a well of wisdom and self confidence. She’s multi-faceted, smart, beautiful – and happy.

Happiness Interview with Susie Meister

How do you define happiness?

I’ve always associated happiness with peace and freedom: peace about who you are and what life can bring, and freedom to be who you are without concern for how others see you or being imperfect.

I had this happiness as a child (my mom said I sprung out of bed in the mornings), and I was truly excited to just be myself.  Perhaps this is why I ended up doing reality television–for better or worse, the ideal reality cast member is someone who is totally comfortable in their own skin. Unfortunately, I’ve lost some of that comfort in adulthood, but it’s a journey, and I am actively working on it every day.

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

I am an extrovert, so being around other people is something that gives me energy. I try to interact meaningfully with others–even if it’s just online!–everyday.

I also find happiness in learning, so I try to always be reading something substantive.

life and motherhood are messyWhat “shoulds” have you let go of in order to pursue your happiness?

I decided to get a PhD in Religious Studies even though it’s not the most financially profitable pursuit. Society “shoulds” a lot of people into getting a “sensible” job, but I was more interested in intellectual stimulation at the expense of my bank account.

I’m also quite irreverent about motherhood. I do stand-up comedy, and when I did a show when I was 9 months pregnant people were offended when I made jokes about all the not-so-glamorous stuff about pregnancy and motherhood. Women are often told they “should” feel a certain way about having kids, and I refuse to use that script to describe my experiences. Life and motherhood are messy, and I refuse to pretend like they’re not.  Women are supposed to always be appropriate, so I let go of that “should” in a big way.

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

My friend has a tattoo that says, “This too shall pass,” and I love the reminder that no matter what you’re going through (good or bad) it will end.

Life just keeps on trucking, so don’t get too cozy in your good circumstances or too sad about your bad ones.

Also, I wear a necklace that has the serenity prayer on a scroll. I always hold it when I need to think about letting go of the things I can’t control.  I’m not very good at that though.

You can hear more from Susie on her podcast, The Meister Piece.

Want to be inspired by even more versions of happiness? Read all the interviews here.