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    How to Be Present During the Holidays

    It’s here - that season when you throw sanity out the window and with wild abandon throw yourself full throttle into the holidays. I mean, there are things to do, people to see, places to go and only a certain amount of time to make things happen. Right?

    For the most part, we’ve gotten really good at our to-do lists. We get the coveted gifts for our family, hopefully at the prices we want to pay. We plan holiday gatherings and assign tasks to our guests. We ferociously clean and shop and wrap and eat and, if we are honest, we often complain either inwardly or outwardly about how we try to make the season merry and bright for the ones we love. When that is the case, we look a lot less like Santa and a lot more like the Grinch.

    Maybe you gave up aiming for the “perfect” holiday, but still find yourself stressed about all that you want to pack into the month. Even if you've opted for simpler moments of peace and quiet, you may find yourself wrestling with everybody else’s expectations. 

    In reality, the holiday season is full of opportunities for us to really be there for our friends, family and even strangers. Though it may be tempting to rush through it all and complete our to-do list with as little financial and emotional damage as possible, this season has the unique potential to create a mindshift, not only for this month, but on into the new year.

    A couple of years ago, a holiday to-do list went viral, probably for a lot of reasons, but perhaps the most important is that in spite of how “connected” we say we are, people are longing for the presence of people in their lives. The list is a great reminder of ways we can be present in the lives of those we know and those we have the opportunity to get to know. 

    Keeping this list in mind can set the tone for how you give what you give during the holidays and beyond. It’s kind of amazing that the gift we can give to people that means the most doesn’t actually require us to spend money, but in our minds it may be the most costly present because we can’t be completely present with someone while focusing on something else at the same time. Perhaps the best present is to be present. Time is the one thing that once it’s spent, you can’t get it back.

    Dr. Suess said, “Sometimes you never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.” There will always be things to buy, but the moments when we give our best selves to people are what make lasting memories.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on December 7, 2019.

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    How Can You Show Generosity?

    A CBS piece shared the story of Dale Schroeder, a humble man from Iowa who worked as a carpenter at the same company for 67 years. He never married and had no children.

    Since he had no living relatives, he approached his lawyer about a plan for his money after he passed away. When his lawyer asked him how much he was talking about, Schroeder told him, “A little shy of $3 million.” The lawyer said he almost fell out of his chair when he heard the amount.  

    Schroeder never had the opportunity to attend college, but he wanted to help kids from Iowa who otherwise would not have the opportunity to receive a college education. Schroeder passed away in 2005, but his legacy lives on. 

    In all, Schroeder provided college tuition for 33 people who call themselves "Dale's Kids." They are now teachers, therapists and doctors, among other professions, all without any college debt thanks to Schroeder. While none of them can thank Schroeder personally, they can pass on his generosity to others.

    Certainly, giving financially to a worthy cause is one way to be generous, but that’s not the only way. You can also be generous with giving your time or lending a listening ear.

    For example, a 90-year-old woman sent a note to her next door neighbor saying she was lonely, scared and had no friends. She asked the neighbor if she would consider spending some time with her. Sometimes just your presence is an incredibly generous gift. 

    However you choose to be generous, here’s the really cool thing: not only does it benefit the person you are helping, it also benefits you.

    “Helping is love made visible in acts of generosity small and large,” says best-selling author of Why Good Things Happen to Good People, speaker and Stony Brook professor, Stephen G. Post. 

    Post says that generosity is good for our self-esteem and well-being. In a study of people over the age of 65, those who volunteered in the past scored higher in life satisfaction and had fewer symptoms of sickness. Those who did not volunteer proved to be sicker and unable to give to others. Post believes that feeling happy and connected to others are fundamental components to overall health, and that being generous with others forms bonds that are meaningful which then increases our happiness. Being a generous giver actually makes us want to be more giving in the future. 

    Post also finds that generosity is empowering. It inspires others to be compassionate and pay it forward. 

    “When the happiness and security of others is as meaningful to you as your own, you are a person of love and you will flourish,” Post says.

    Being generous is contagious. When someone else is generous to you, it encourages you to be generous to others, too. Giving of your time and resources can really feel good, and it has the potential to create a ripple effect of kindness in your home and community. Giving to others is powerful and makes for happier, healthier people.  

    As we head into Thanksgiving week, think about the many ways we have experienced blessings from others and the chance we have to bless people we know, as well as perfect strangers. The good news is, you don’t have to have saved $3 million dollars in order to be generous.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on November 23, 2019.

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    How to Be a Happier Person

    A few months ago, I asked my Facebook friends what brought them happiness. Although their answers varied, people said things like family, friends, being in nature, their faith, pets, their spouse and more made them happy. 

    Here’s what I found interesting: Nobody listed money as something that brings them happiness, yet it is the thing many of us devote our lives to getting more of in the pursuit of happiness.

    Gary Kunath, author of Life...Don’t Miss It. I Almost Did, worked in corporate America and bought into the idea that the more money you make, the happier you will be. The only problem was, he wasn’t happy and he was working long hours away from his family. Through a series of events, Gary did some tough soul-searching and decided to leave his corporate job and do something different.

    He learned that the quest for net worth at the cost of life worth is not a good trade-off.

    “A truly rich person is not the one who has the most, but the one who needs the least. The only reason to focus on net worth is to underwrite life worth,” said Kunath. “I promise you that in the end no one will care what kind of car you drove when you were 35 or the square footage of the largest home you ever owned. What will count and what does matter is what people remember about you.”

    While heredity and other things affect happiness levels to a certain point, studies indicate that we can do certain things to impact our happiness levels. Kunath shared these keys to happiness: 

    • Money doesn’t make you rich. How you think about money really sets the tone for your priorities in life. Do you value things or experiences with others? Do you spend your money impulsively or are you thoughtful about expenditures?
    • Help other people with no expectation of anything in return. Kunath shared a story about a college intern for a baseball team who noticed a little boy at one of their events sitting on a bench crying his eyes out. The intern went over to see if he could help and showed great kindness to the little boy. Three months after his internship ended, an executive with the baseball team called to request his presence at a meeting. When the young man showed up, he learned that the little boy had lost his mom earlier that year and the kind gesture of the intern was not lost on the father of the little boy who happened to be working on a corporate sponsorship with the team. The father requested that the intern be given 100 percent of the commission from that deal. 
    • Practice the art of savoring. Kunath suggests that happiness comes from savoring moments versus being focused on the next thing. He shared that the three greatest gifts you can give your family are time (small things matter), memories and traditions.
    • Perspective is powerful. Don’t major on the minors. Irritating things happen to people all the time such as being cut off in traffic, being lied to by a co-worker or being taken advantage of. Consider how you will allow these things to impact your happiness quotient. The truth is, these incidents are moments in time and will only rob you of your joy and happiness if you allow them to. 
    • Life is fun and fun is good. Kunath quoted Dr. Gerold Jampolsky, saying, “We can only be happy now, and there will never be a time when it is not now.” In other words, fun matters. Don’t take yourself too seriously. You don’t have to have a lot of money to have fun. Fun enhances relationships, decreases stress and creates great memories.
    • Refine your relationships, or as Kunath puts it, thin the herd. It matters who you surround yourself with as you go through life. Kunath suggests that we take a look at who we have allowed in our inner circle. If there are people who are sucking the life right out of you or who are constant takers, some pruning might be in order. It isn’t that those people shouldn’t be in our lives at all - we just shouldn't be spending most of our time with them. 

    So, if you’ve been looking for happiness in all the wrong places, incorporate these keys into your life. Remember unconditional love, making a difference for someone else, giving without any expectation of getting anything in return, appreciating the beauty of family and true friends, slowing down and savoring life, and having fun are important components of happy experiences for yourself and the ones you care about. 

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on October 12, 2019.

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    What You Need to Know About Sexual Assault

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    4 Ways to Be Part of the Racism Solution

    As the news started spreading about what was happening in Charlottesville on Saturday, it made me sick to my stomach. It weighed heavily on my mind throughout the day, and it was the topic of conversation at the dinner table and beyond.

    After watching the news and reading the Sunday paper, I posted the following on Facebook: “I am angry, dumbfounded, disturbed, sad, appalled and so much more over what happened in Charlottesville. Unacceptable. Absolutely unacceptable. We cannot sit back and allow such sick behavior.”

    The post received many comments mostly agreeing they did not want to sit back and allow the behavior. Some asked about actions steps we can take.

    That’s what I have been mulling over the past couple of days. I’m a big believer that everybody can do something. In having conversations at my office and out in the community, several action steps have come to mind.

    • First and foremost, I think it starts with each of us committing to call out racism and inappropriate behavior when we see it. Too often it is easy just to look the other way and pretend we don’t see what is right in front of us. I remember learning the rhyme, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” We all know that is a lie. Words can cut like a sword. 
    • Second, relationship coach, Dr. David Banks, makes this statement in many of our classes: “What you don’t understand, you still have to respect.” Though you may not understand or experience what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes, disrespect is not justifiable. Everybody has a story. It would probably help all of us to spend more time learning people’s story instead of making assumptions about them.
    • Third, see individuals as valuable regardless of their skin color, where they grew up, how much education they have, where they work, how they speak or where they live. What would happen if we spent more time trying to help people understand their significance? 
    • Finally, get to know people outside your own sphere of influence. This is probably the most powerful thing we all can do. While it may be uncomfortable initially, people usually find out they aren’t that different. We have more things in common than we realize.

    Franklin and Tresa McCallie took this to heart a number of years ago. They began inviting people into their home for coffee, dessert and conversation. They intentionally invited a diverse group for a time of conversation around difficult topics. To date, more than 400 people have participated. Their goal was to have people participate and then replicate the experience in their sphere of influence - the workplace, school, home and community. You can actually download a toolkit from their website to help you start on the same journey.

    This all boils down to relationship. When we take the time to get to know each other, we are more likely to focus on walking life's road together in a healthy way. Hate is a learned behavior. We have to do better for the sake of the next generation.

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