5 Ways to Practice the Skill of Happiness

5 Ways to Practice the Skill of Happiness

We live in a culture that teaches us that fulfillment, happiness, and contentment are found outside of ourselves. We are bombarded at every turn with messages that entice us with the good feelings that can come from the next purchase and the next achievement.  These messages hijack our brains and keep us focused on feeling that we are not good enough and we don’t have enough. No wonder we find happiness so elusive!

We know that these external things do create momentary feelings of joy and satisfaction, but that it is temporary. When the feeling wears off, we turn to the next we feel we need and don’t have.

So, what do we do?

First, happiness is a skill and a temperament.

When I was growing up, we had a family living next door where the parents argued, loudly, quite often. They had two daughters. One daughter seemed to struggle with her sense of self and mood quite a bit. This seemed understandable given the high conflict home she lived in. Yet, the other daughter seemed joyful and unimpacted by her parents’ conflict. It was a remarkable testament to the power of temperament when it comes to happiness.

We are all born with a “happiness setpoint.” This is the “default” setting for our mood. It simply means that some people tend to experience states of happiness more readily than others. It does not mean that everyone else is doomed to less happiness. This is where the happiness skill comes in.

Happiness is the practice of certain skills that direct our attention and energy in the direction of satisfaction and fulfillment. As humans, there are certain kinds of experiences that evoke feelings of satisfaction, joy, and fulfillment. When we use our intention to cultivate these experiences, we increase our sense of happiness.

  1. Cultivate a safe, encouraging inner world. So often people come to therapy because their lives do not look and feel how they want them to look and feel. We are certain that if our families were more supportive and helpful, or if we made more money, or if we had the right partner, we’d be happy. Yet, when I begin to explore their inner world, we discover that it is full of mental and emotional habits that are self-critical and focused on what is not working. These habits are often efforts to cope with pain and unmet needs. We don’t mean to foster our own misery, but without realizing it, we do. When we begin to explore our own relationship with ourselves and intentionally meet ourselves with kindness, love, and encouragement, we begin to experience a life where there is an abundance of kindness, love, and encouragement – we feel happier!
  2. Practice present moment embodiment. Embodiment is simply our felt sense of our own Being, our “self,” inhabiting our body. It is our felt emotions, embodied beliefs (beliefs we “feel” instead of think), and our “gut feelings.” Trauma forces us out of embodiment and many of our human coping mechanism take us away from the here and now. Yet, this is why we find satisfaction, joy, and fulfillment so elusive: we can’t feel satisfied by something we can’t feel here and now. When we learn how to safely inhabit our body in the present moment, we find there is rich satisfaction and fulfillment available to us, when we know how to receive it. We don’t have to practice complete embodiment all at once. We can gently and slowly explore embodiment and cultivate it over time.
  3. Invest time and energy in nourishing relationships. We are social creatures. We need connection and belonging. For too many people, community, connection, and meaningful social support feels scarce and hard to come by. Emotion regulation and embodiment helps build and maintain social connections. We can also begin by looking for opportunities to connect with those around us in small ways that can grow over time and may become robust, fulfilling relationships.
  4. Help others. We are wired for feeling good when we help others. Being of service makes us feel we have value and purpose. This goes a long way to creating a feeling of happiness, belonging, and fulfillment. We can help in formal and informal ways. Simply a smile or granting right-of-way to a stranger can give us a little bit of a feel-good jolt. Getting involved in structured volunteering can not only give us a sense of purpose, but also help us feel a sense of community and belonging. We also nurture a sense of gratitude when we help others.
  5. Stack basic self-care. Our mood is directly tied to how well-rested, nourished, hydrated, and physically- and financially-fit we are. When we prioritize and protect our basic self-care and needs, we create a foundation for mental health and physical health that supports our capacity for joy and happiness. The more we care for ourselves across domains of life, the more we have options to live to our highest capacity for happiness.

It is true when they say that happiness is an inside job. It is a skill to cultivate and refine. It comes from an inner intention, relationships, purpose, and self-care. Then, the outside stuff is just icing on the cake, but we feel less of a need for it in order to be happy.

What will you do today to practice the skill of happiness?

Future You Is Counting On Today You

Future You Is Counting On Today You

Your future self is counting on you. 

We have a weird relationship with time. We don’t think the future is real. We haven’t experienced it yet. We don’t know exactly what it will be like. We don’t know what we will be like. It’s imaginary. It’s in the future.

Our lack of connection to our future self is a big problem when it comes to our financial well-being. It is part of our common human experience to discount the future and preference reward in the present over reward in the future.

This is not just you. It’s all of us. 

The problem is that, when it comes to money, the future is everything. What we do today profoundly decides what we will experience in the future. And, what we will experience is either more freedom, more options, more of our time under our control, or less of all of these things – all depending on our financial choices today.

Your future self is out there. Waiting for you to become her. She is REALLY hoping that you are going to make good choices so she can enjoy her present. 

Invitation: pick a time in the future (could be next month, year, or decade). Write out a little about who you are, how old you are, and what your life is like. Answer the question from the pov of your future self: What do you want to see when you look back at your financial choices? What has today you created for future you? How do you feel about that?

Want to take a deeper dive?

Join me in my FREE Class:

The 3 Principles of Intuitive Budgeting for Women+

Unconditional Love? Or, Commitment to Connection?

Unconditional Love? Or, Commitment to Connection?

A healthy relationship is based in unconditional love, right? 

…right? 

Well, let’s explore it. 

When we think of unconditional love, we usually think about being loved when we are sick, or don’t look our best, or make a mistake. We think about being loved even with our foibles, faults, and frictions. We want to be fully accepted. 

Yes, we should expect a partner to be down with our humaness, to be messy with us, and create a life with us that has room for imperfection. And, we expect to give this unconditional love in return. 

However, healthy love is not and should not be truly unconditional. 

Abuse, neglect, disregard for a partner’s appropriate needs, inability to communicate effectively, problem-solve together, and be an active participant in the partnership are not included in the container of unconditional love. 

Our partners should add to our lives and make them more fulfilling, supporting us in the pursuit of our goals and dreams. When partners make life harder, interfere with our goals and dreams, and drain us of our resources, it is not healthy unconditional love to continue in the relationship in this way. 

What if, instead of upholding unconditional love, we focused on: 

Commitment to the Connection. 

By upholding commitment to the connection in the relationship, we focus on supporting healthy connection as we go through day-to-day life. 

Commitment to connection is commitment to communication, to expressing and meeting needs, to accepting and caring about each other’s feelings and experiences, to seeking effective problem-solving. 

Commitment to connection requires both (or all) partners to show up for connection. When connection is broken, we are either working to repair it, or not. But, it becomes more clear when a relationship is not working when a connection is chronically broken. 

Unconditional love is not a value worth pursuing if it costs us our peace, mental and physical health, and months or years of our one precious life. 

You are worthy of connection. 

Warmly,

Karen 

Journal Prompt: What does connection mean to you? How can you invest in connection, no matter how small, in an important relationship today?

Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness…Or Does It?

Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness…Or Does It?

 There’s a saying that “money doesn’t buy happiness.”

But, I call B.S.

Things don’t make us happy. This is true. We buy something and it elevates our mood and outlook for a time, but then that wears off, and we need to buy something else new to recapture that good feeling.

However, using money to buy things is not the only way to use our money. When we use our money to increase our time and our options, we increase our access to happiness and fulfillment.

In this way, money absolutely buys happiness.

We can use our money in this way by focusing on different money management practices depending on our goals and situation.

If money is tight, we can increase our access to choices by starting to create a small savings fund. Saving a little at a time adds up over time.

If we have more flexibility in our financial situation, using our discretionary funds to buy services (increasing control over our time) and experiences (rather than things) will increase our satisfaction. Ensuring that we are always contributing to savings protects our ability to make choices, so always prioritize savings.

Money, used well, does buy happiness.

How can you create more control over your time and expand your choices?

Want to take a deeper dive?

Join me in my FREE Class:

The 3 Principles of Intuitive Budgeting for Women+!

Healthy Boundaries: They’re Not What You Think!

Healthy Boundaries: They’re Not What You Think!

Boundaries. This word gets thrown around a lot. Especially last month when a well-known actor’s ex- published text messages where he gave her a list of things for her to do/not-do because these were his “boundaries.” This list was not about boundaries. It was about control, and she, rightly, wasn’t having it. 

Boundaries are not about the other person’s behavior. We can get caught up in thinking of it that way because it’s another person’s behavior that violates our boundaries, causing us distress. We talk about boundaries because we want them to stop this behavior. But, getting someone else to change their behavior is not how healthy boundaries work. 

A healthy attitude toward boundaries is one that recognizes that we are all connected AND each of us has ownership of ourselves and our behavior. We honor that when we allow others to do, say, and be whatever it is that they want to do, say, and be. 

If we do not like something that someone else is doing, saying, or being, then our responsibility is to ourselves to act in a way that protects our peace, while also respecting the autonomy of the other person. 

This is easy to say. Very hard to do (but easier with practice). 

Healthy Boundaries Practice:

  1. What’s bothering me about what’s happening right now? (My sister is commenting about my weight again and I feel angry and frustrated.)
  2. Let go of the urge to make the other person change. (This is where she is on her journey. I’ve asked her to stop doing this, but clearly she can’t or doesn’t want to.)
  3. Take responsibility for meeting your own needs, rather than wanting the other person to meet them. (What I want from her is to care about how I feel about what she is saying and to tell me that I (and her and everyone) is worthy of love and dignity at all sizes. I need to create this for myself no matter what she does or says.)
  4. Determine what it would look like to meet your own need. (What do I need to take care of myself around her when she starts talking like this? Can I recognize that her comments are actually about her own suffering and not about me at all?)
  5. Decide what your action will be. (When she starts talking like this, I will remind myself that I am worthy of love and dignity at all sizes. I will remind myself that her comments are not about me. I can change the subject. I can remind her that this is not a subject I want to talk about. I can tell her that if she continues to talk about this, I’m going to have to leave/end the conversation. I can tell her that we can’t be in connection if she is going to talk like this to me.) 

In this practice, the focus is not on getting the other person to change their behavior. The focus is on our needs and taking responsibility for protecting ourselves. The other person may choose to change their behavior if they want to stay in connection with us, but this isn’t the focus.

 Sometimes, people see this practice as giving ultimatums. However, an ultimatum is still focused on forcing change in the other person. Healthy boundaries honor the dignity of choice for both people. “You do what you want to do. And if that doesn’t work for me, I’m going to do what I need to do to take care of myself.” That’s it. 

Warmly,

Karen

 Journal Prompt:

 What is a situation where I need to have a boundary? Write through the Healthy Boundaries Practice to come up with some strategies for supporting your peace and self-care in that situation.