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?

Unconditional Love? Or, Commitment to Connection?

Unconditional Love? Or, Commitment to Connection?

A healthy relationship is based in unconditional love, 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. 



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

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. 



 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.

How Do You Define Wellness?

How Do You Define Wellness?

There are many ways to be well.

We get a lot of messages, often conflicting, about what we should do to be healthier and happier. Many of these messages have subtle, and not so subtle, messages of shame and guilt imbedded in them.

We can feel like wellness is something we are morally obligated to pursue to be worthy of existing. The truth is, we do not owe anyone wellness, and we certainly do not owe anyone conforming to their definition of wellness.

To create our own definition of wellness, we want to answer the following questions:
  1. What are my wellness values? Do I know why I want to practice wellness and what I want “wellness” to look like for me?
  2. What is my intention? Do I know what I hope to get out of practicing a specific wellness behavior?
  3. What are my circumstances? Does this wellness practice realistically work with my current situation, schedule, temperament, and obligations?
  4. What is my history with this aspect of my life?
Case Example: Kelli

Kelli knows that she values self-care and self-worth. She also wants to be physically stronger than she is right now and she is exploring how to pursue this in a way that is healthy for her.

She has this goal because she wants to be able to play with her children and lift them up more comfortably. When asked if there were any more reasons she wants to be strong, she said, a little surprised, “well, I’m afraid my partner is not attracted to me and a part of me is worried they will look elsewhere.”

Kelli also has a history of over-exercising when she was younger. She used to use aerobic machines for hours at the gym. Today, having two small children, she cannot spend “hours” at the gym, but she feels she can use hand-weights at home.  When Kelli used to workout, she felt that the more she exercised, the more people would like her, and her mom, especially, would approve.

At face value, Kelli’s goal of “increased strength” is neutral/positive. When we look at the bigger picture, we can see that there are aspects of this practice that may not be aligned with her higher goal of being true to herself and increasing her self-esteem. Her strength goal is tied up with a belief that she has to earn her worth in the eyes of others. Because this factor is in play in her partnership, she is at risk for overexercise, even if it is a different type of exercise and her time is more limited.

While Kelli’s circumstances make ‘hand-weights at home’ a healthy practice, there is some risk in her intention and history with this practice. By working with her therapist, or even journaling about her fears about her relationship, she can increase the degree to which this wellness practice aligns with her value around self-care and self-worth.

When we explore our wellness goals through this lens, we can make sure that our wellness practices are truly aligned with our values and truly serving us, rather than our wellness practice serving our fears.

Wellness Tip: 

Get out your journal and write on the question,

“How do I define Wellness?”

Notice any “outside” influences. Are you seeking wellness to gain approval, a sense of worthiness to others, or to avoid rejection and abandonment? Have you attached a moral reasoning to your definition of Wellness? If you defined it in a way that was just about you and for you, how does your definition change?

Why Anti-Diet Dietitians Are A “Thing”

Why Anti-Diet Dietitians Are A “Thing”

There are many reasons women seek dietitian services.

Increasingly, dietitians are embracing an “anti-diet approach.” These dietitians are moving away from a focus on weight loss and  thinness as an ideal, or even healthy, goal.

If this surprises you, you can thank Diet Culture.

What is Diet Culture?

Anti-diet dietitian and author, Christy Harrison, explains:

“[Diet culture] is Western society’s toxic system of beliefs that: Worships thinness and equates it to health and moral virtue, Promotes weight loss as a means of attaining higher status, demonizes certain foods while elevating others, and oppresses people who don’t match up with its supposed picture of “health.” 

Diet culture can show up in many ways:

  • following food rules
  • not eating gluten (without having celiac disease)
  • not eating after a certain time of day
  • completely cutting out sugar
  • making fat people pay for two seats on an airplane
  • having to track down special clothing stores in order to find your size
  • labeling foods “guilt-free” or “sinful.”

Our culture’s deeply held belief that thinness and dieting are “healthy” is not based in science, but instead by the profound influence of diet culture in every aspect of our lives, even, and especially, our doctors’ offices. Diet culture results in so many of us disconnecting from our natural biological processes and even shames us for having them!

What is an anti-diet dietitian?

Anti-diet dietitians take an approach that recognizes that healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes. Healthy nutrition means different things for different people and a dietitian can be instrumental in helping a person on their healing and wellness journey. An anti-diet dietitian is a dietitian, educated and trained, licensed and registered, but without a foundational belief that the primary goal of nutrition counseling is “successful dieting.”

The primary goal is to help clients:
  • reconnect with their awareness of their body’s biological signals for food
  • move past fear of food and various eating behaviors
  • cultivate nourishing, healthy behaviors around eating, movement, and well-being
  • without a primary focus on weight

For many people, after years or decades immersed in the beliefs of diet culture, this change can be surprisingly challenging. Anti-diet dietitians are here to help!

To learn more, or to find an anti-diet dietitian for yourself, check out the providers here.

Want to Make Changes? Instead of Browbeating Yourself, Do This…

Want to Make Changes? Instead of Browbeating Yourself, Do This…

Many of us where raised with guilt and shame as tactics for getting us to give adults the behavior they wanted from us.

No wonder I see so many people who speak so harshly to themselves in an effort to motivate themselves to change!

This is the thing: Shame and guilt don’t work.

Shame and guilt cause us to feel unsafe and when we feel unsafe we go into defensive states, like fight, flight, or freeze. In fight/flight/freeze, we “batten down the hatches” and try to protect ourselves. Hardly a state for expansive growth, learning, and healing.

We don’t have to talk to ourselves using the same ineffective and hurtful strategies of our childhoods. We can be to ourselves the parents we needed, right now, today.

Here are some effective ways to kindly motivate yourself:
  1. Decide to see yourself with compassion and patience.
  2. Validate the “Ungh, I don’t wanna” feeling.
  3. Show yourself an image of how you will feel after you do the thing.
  4. Speak kindly to yourself inside.

Here are some examples:

“Oh, I know you want to keep scrolling. Of course you do. We worked hard all day and these videos are funny. And, you deserve to get good sleep and take a break from the phone. Let’s put on a sleep meditation instead.”

“Oop! We just blew off taking our medication/supplements this morning. Come on, let’s go back and get that done. We will feel better knowing we did that.”

“Of course you don’t feel like getting up to brush our teeth. We are tired. And, remember that we committed to taking care of our teeth. It will build our self-trust if we do this. Come on, you can do it.”

It may feel uncomfortable or even really silly at first, but there is a part of all of us that just wants kindness and compassion rather than the emotional abuse that our inner critic likes to dole out.

In time, it will feel natural, you will trust yourself more, and you might even find that you are feeling more patient and compassionate with others.


Wellness Tip:

Don’t try to argue with your inner critic, or try to get her to change her tune.

She won’t.

It’s not her job.

She’s just trying to protect you in the way that she knows how.

Instead, let her know, “hey, I’ve heard what you have to say. Thank you for trying to help. Just for a moment, I’d like to hear from this other voice.”

Then, see if you get a little reprieve from the harsh criticism.