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.

5 Powerful Steps to a More Intentional Life

intentional

Most people I work with have a picture in their heads of what they want life to be like, but there is a disconnect somewhere between the wanting and the actual living. They get caught up in day-to-day minutiae, in habits, and in putting off in order to get by for a little longer.

The key to breaking this cycle – to connecting the dots between ideals and reality – is to live intentionally.

But how? What does that often tossed about word actually look like in actionable steps? Here are a few ideas to get you started.

1. Keep a budget.

…for where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also.

-Matthew 6:21 ASV

Your money is one of your most powerful tools, and how you spend it is often the most clear indicator of how you’re spending your life. If you want to live with more intention, you need to spend with more intention.

Know where your money is going. Better still: decide where you will spend your money based on what matters most to you. Then, pay attention to whether or not you are following through on those decisions.

I have used an Excel spreadsheet and envelopes to manage my budget, and that worked just fine for several years. I’ve recently switched over to a new system called You Need a Budget and I am in love. A little obsessed even. They have a 34 day trial.

2. Track your time.

Even more valuable than how you spend your money is how you spend your time. Obviously.

What’s not so obvious? How you’re actually spending it.

I’m convinced most of us are unaware of how much time we let slip through our fingers.

After reading 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam, I decided to log my time for a few days using an app on my phone. I kept track of how much time I spent working (and what I did when I was “working”), cleaning, cooking, exercising, hanging with friends, talking to my husband, and getting ready.

And screwing around on the Internet.

It didn’t take me long to realize that I needed to delete that app from my phone or spiral into a pit of obsessive self monitoring and criticism. BUT! That short experiment did remind me to pay more attention to the minutes (and hours) that can easily be siphoned away from what matters to me and into what’s easiest for me.

3. Plan your week.

My friend Kate recommends a Sunday Summit, a weekly meeting with yourself when you can reflect on the past week and plan for the next one. I’ve found this to be one of the very best things I can do to ensure I’m living deliberately and in line with my goals.

When I plan my week, I open up the Word doc where I keep my personal and professional goals and choose some step I can take towards at least one goal from each category. Then I schedule it into my week – I decide exactly when I will have time to actually do the things that keep me moving forward.

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I also schedule in one-on-one time with each of my kids and my husband. This helps me to maintain some sense of balance among all the various things that matter to me.

Planning your week is all about putting the big rocks in first and letting the inevitable minutiae fill in around them.

4. Keep your to-do list short.

Living an intentional life is not about getting more done; it’s about doing what matters to you.

I never put more than three items on my daily to-do list. This forces me to be prioritize how I’ll spend my days – and as a result, my life. Limiting myself to three must-dos means that I am always aware that there is only so much I can do in a day, and so I have to deliberately make room among the errands and the responsibilities for the tasks that light me up.

5. Set your intentions.

It’s really hard to live your life on purpose if you haven’t put any thought into what that purpose is.

Write a mission statement. Make a vision board. Create a life list or set some goals. Get super clear and specific on what in the heck you want all your days and weeks to add up to.

If you don’t make time to decide what you want your life to be, you’ll constantly find yourself taking a look around and wondering “where did the time go?” and “how did I get here?”

Happiness Interview: Heidi Oran of The Conscious Perspective

Heidi Oran is a self-described “survivor of a quarter-life crisis.” She’s young, wise, and a a prolific writer on spirituality and personal growth.

Heidi and I stumbled across each other on Twitter, and I always enjoy her positive attitude and insights. It was because of this upbeat online personality that I decided to reach out to her for a happiness interview. As it turns out, she’s just as smart as she is sunny!

Heidi Oran with her family.

Heidi Oran with her family.

How do you define happiness?

I define happiness as this: a positive sense of well-being, or inner peace.

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

I’ve had a tricky relationship with the happiness over the past five years. I feel like when I chased it I was let down. I’d reach that high and then come right back to reality unfulfilled.

Eventually I realized that for me, true happiness is just a synonym of inner peace. Because if I have that, it doesn’t really matter what’s happening in my day-to-day life, I’ll have that positive sense of well-being consistently.

true happiness is inner pieceWhat “shoulds” have you let go of in order to pursue your happiness?

You know what? I’ve always been a bit of a rule breaker, never really following the typical path in life that is supposed to lead us to happiness, ie. college, romance, wedding, babies.

I ditched my hometown at 20 to move to the wilderness of Ontario. I had my first baby at 23. I am not technically married to my husband. I’ve always been an entrepreneur. I am just now going back to university at 31. I have lived a should-free life for all of my adult hood (thanks to my dad for the example of a free-spirit, and my mom who allowed it!).

I think my pursuit of happiness wasn’t so much about letting go of shoulds, but rather, letting go of debilitating fear and limiting beliefs.

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

I actually recently heard Jon Acuff say, “You’re going to have to do some things you don’t want to do, in order to do more of what you want to do.” And I think that’s so perfectly true about happiness.

Things happen, people get sick, we struggle financially, etc… But again, if we have that underlying sense of inner peace, we can handle it better and still appreciate what we have.

Thanks, Heidi – peace is a major part of my definition of happiness, too!

Keep up with Heidi at her blog or on Twitter.