Why I’m Still Talking About Happiness

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

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

Friday, August 15th, 2014

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

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014


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

Friday, August 8th, 2014

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.

Book Review: Married with Luggage

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

Married with Luggage BookIn Married with Luggage: What We Learned about Love by Traveling the World Warren and Betsy Talbot combine practical relationship advice with inspiring stories of adventure. The result is a book that encourages couples to dream big and live boldly – together.

The togetherness, of course, is often the tricky part.

Couples are rarely made up of two identical people; in fact a pair of opposites is more likely. That can complicate just about everything – from household chores to vacation planning. Major life changes – like selling all yourself and traveling around the world together – are guaranteed to shine a harsh light on a couple’s differences.

Betsy and Warren decided to become completely and permanently nomadic, committing to working and living on the road for years at a time. While they were united in this big goal, they had different ideas about how to achieve it.

Betsy writes:

“I wanted the comfort of my things and the status quo while I slowly imagined myself morphing into the future. The more he pushed to sell, organize, plan, and save, the more I felt like things were being taken away from me. Warren felt like I was not committed to the plan and forcing him to be in charge of our motivation. He thought this was unfair.”

This resonated with me and reminded me of when Jared and I were preparing for our own epic road trip and life change. We bumped heads a lot because of our personality differences.

I jumped out of the gate with big plans and long lists of sweeping changes we needed to make. He wanted to move more slowly and thoughtfully and think through all the possible obstacles. I interpreted his cautiousness as negativity; he felt my eagerness and optimism was bordering on reckless.

Despite our often conflicting perspectives, we did manage to come together to accomplish something amazing: we traveled for a year with our two kids and made permanent changes to our family’s lifestyle. The key for us has been to learn how to use each other’s strengths and when to grow beyond our individual tendencies.

I’ve often said that ideally a relationship lets one plus one equal more than two. Betsy describes this coming together perfectly:

“We’re a little like Goldilocks and the Three Bears: he’s too fast, I’m too slow, and together we’re just right.”

Throughout Married with Luggage the Talbots share real-life examples of how to work and live together without compromising who you are and what you each value. This isn’t a couple who has merely figured out how to bite their tongues so that they can share a meal without bickering; they’re each accomplishing major personal and professional goals while spending a ton of time together.

I think that’s what I loved the most about this book. The stories and advice were appropriate for everyday life, but I was also inspired to keep dreaming big for myself and for my relationship. That has not always been an easy balance for me.

I’m much more likely to make life lists and grand plans than my husband is, but I’ve also learned the hard way that pretty much everything is richer and better when my relationship with him is also strong. It’s important to me know I can have both my lofty goals and my stable marriage.

In addition to their insights on marriage, there is no doubt that Warren and Betsy want to encourage readers to rethink their day-to-day lives. They advocate unplugging regularly (“Technology is available all the time, but we don’t have to be.”), opening up to strangers, being open to unexpected adventures, and exploring more of the world – exactly what you’d expect from a pair of globetrotting bloggers.

But whether or not you imagine you and your spouse sailing together on an Antarctic cruise, or simply enjoying more weekends at your local farmer’s market, this book can offer you some valuable perspectives on life, love, and partnership.

Where have you discovered good advice about relationships? I’d love to hear about your favorites in the comments.