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“If only I had a better job.” 

“If I could just find Mr./Mrs. Right.” 

“If I just had a higher-paying job.” 

While happiness and contentment may seem to be elusive sometimes, many people believe it will come to them through some external means like finding the right job, the right spouse or making a certain amount of money, research indicates this is not true.

Sonja Lyubomirsky and her team at the University of California-Riverside reviewed 225 studies involving 275,000 people, and they found that people aren’t happy because they are successful. Instead:

  • They are successful because they are happy.
  • Happy people are easier to work with, more highly motivated and more willing to tackle a difficult project. As a result, they are more likely to be successful.
  • Happy people appear to be more successful than their less-happy peers in three primary areas of life – work, relationships, and health.

While many people seek happiness through people, things, work, etc., the research suggests that happiness does not come from someplace or someone else. Those things or people might contribute to a person’s happiness, but true happiness comes from within.

“Happiness is a choice,” said Dr. Patrick Williams, clinical psychologist and master certified life coach. “In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl said that what kept him alive in the prison camp was knowing there was one freedom no one could take from him – his thoughts. He chose to make the best of a terrible circumstance.

As you think about the year ahead, perhaps you are considering some changes in order to be a happier person. Here are a few things to think about:

  • Love and accept yourself for who you are. This does not mean change isn’t necessary. Recognize that we all have our strengths and opportunities for growth. Beating yourself up over your weaknesses does not contribute to being happy. All of us are gifted at something. Treat yourself kindly and acknowledge that you are a work in progress.
  • Be accountable for your actions. Instead of blaming others for all that happens to you, accept responsibility for your choices. It has been said that you cannot change the past, but you can impact the future. Make an intentional decision to do things differently.
  • Stop trying to change others. The only person you can change is yourself.
  • Determine your priorities and live by them. Living out someone else’s dream for your life can be a major source of unhappiness. For example, a young man who had been swimming since he was small started having headaches every time he prepared to swim in a meet. He was an exceptionally good swimmer and there seemed to be no good explanation as to why he kept getting the horrible headaches. One day, his mom commented that she just didn’t understand these headaches because he loved to swim. He responded, “No mom. I don’t love swimming. I am good at it, but I don’t enjoy it at all.” Ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing.
  • Start with abundance in your life. Instead of focusing on what you don’t have, look at what you do have – a roof over your head, clothing, food, etc. Someone once said, instead of looking at whether your glass is half-empty or half-full, just be thankful you have a glass.
  • Define happiness. In his article, Why Happiness Isn’t a Feeling, J.P. Moreland says a classical understanding of happiness is virtue and character, a settled tone, depends on internal state, springs from within, is fixed and stable, empowering and liberating, integrated with one’s identity, colors the rest of life and creates true/fulfilled self. What is your definition of happiness?

“The reality is this, if you have food in your refrigerator, clothes on your back and a roof over your head you are richer than 75 percent of the world and if you have money in the bank, in your wallet and some spare change, you are in the top 8 percent of the world’s wealthy,”  Williams said. “Happiness is a matter of perspective, it has nothing to do with the trappings.”

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on January 18, 2020.

Image from Unsplash.com

The YMCAs and Planet Fitnesses in town and all the other gyms are packed full this week with all those that made New Year’s resolutions to lose some pounds, to better their physiques, and to get more healthy. Did you make any New Year’s resolutions? Did you set some goals for 2020? I hope they weren’t all about diet and exercise! Did you make some Relationship Resolutions for 2020?

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Many people are looking to do some cleaning out at the beginning of a new year. Whether it’s a detox body cleanse or binge-watching “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” on Netflix, people are interested in freeing themselves from toxins in their body and letting go of material things that seem to hold them back from living their best life.

A relational cleanse could also be helpful. Start by asking yourself, “What did I drag into this new year that is holding me back?” It could be things like:

  • bitterness and resentment
  • a toxic friendship
  • lies you have taken on as truth about yourself
  • childhood experiences that still haunt you
  • a lack of forgiveness of yourself and/or others
  • disappointment that weighs heavily on your heart
  • despair that things will never change
  • an addiction
  • a job you dislike, or something else.

Are there people who suck the life right out of you every time you are around them? If so, why do you choose to hang with them? How would your life be different if you moved on?

What purpose does unforgiveness, resentment and bitterness serve? Holding on to emotions may seem powerful in some way or that it is actually impacting the other person, but it’s really killing you instead. Letting go of the poison doesn’t excuse the behavior; It gives you the freedom to live.

What about disappointment and the complications of life? Spouses walk away, jobs end, unexpected illness hits, children make poor choices, and sometimes the biggest disappointments come from the ones you care about the most. Is collecting and carrying around disappointments helping you move forward? Sometimes you look back and realize that one of your biggest disappointments taught you one of your greatest life lessons. But, if you can’t figure out how holding on to disappointments is helping you be your best you, then it’s time to let them go. Doing this might feel like letting go of a very heavy weight.

Excessive spending, gambling, alcohol, drugs, food, sex, pornography, video gaming, exercising, work and cutting are just a few of the addictions people often find themselves battling. Acknowledging that any one of these has a stranglehold on your life is the first step toward dealing with it and moving forward. Addictions are often bigger than what we can handle on our own, so don’t be afraid to seek professional help to get you moving in a healthy direction.

Oftentimes, the hardest part is recognizing that we each make a choice, consciously or not, to continue hauling stuff around that isn’t helpful or healthy for us. Making an intentional decision to stop dragging around unhealthy relational things can give you a completely different perspective on a new year and your life. Opportunity lies ahead.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on January 20, 2019.

When a new year dawns, people often reminisce about all they have experienced during the past year. Others consider whether or not to make the usual and customary New Year’s resolutions. You know the ones – exercise more, eat healthier, organize better and spend less.

Contemplating another year makes me thoughtful. The past year has been a hectic one. In addition to the day-in and day-out routines of life, there have been exciting and scary moments, a few once in a lifetime opportunities and amazing celebrations. One thing stands out though – the unexpected goodbyes I have said to a number of people.

Most of us probably live life at a pretty fast pace. This year I have come face to face with how easy it is to take tomorrow for granted when it comes to relationships. For example, I recently saw a friend in the grocery store. We’ve mentioned getting together for coffee for months. We laughed about it, but in my heart I asked, “How can I be so busy that I can’t find time for coffee with my friend whom I love?”

My husband and I frequently talk at dinner about inviting friends over, but I know that if I don’t grab my calendar and look at dates, we’ll be having the same conversation about the same group of friends six months from now.

Here’s what I think bothers me the most about this:  Not only is my life’s work all about healthy relationships, but I have also been blessed with many special people in my life. No question about it, I thrive on relationship. As I have come face to face with losing people who are close to me, it has hit me like a ton of bricks that life really is short and there is no promise of tomorrow.

New Year’s resolutions aren’t necessarily my thing, but on the eve of a new year, I am absolutely resolved to spend more time with the ones I love.

I remember reading “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying – A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing,” written by Bronnie Ware, a hospice nurse who interviewed hundreds of her patients. It was interesting to me that all of the regrets really had to do with living life to the fullest with the people in your life. Every male patient (and many women, too) Ware cared for said they wished they hadn’t worked so hard but had spent more time with their loved ones instead.

Another regret was not realizing the full blessing of friends until they were facing death. Many said they had gotten so caught up in life that their friendships had been sidelined. Yet in the end when they were getting their affairs in order, the money or status weren’t what was most important to them – but the relationships were.

I don’t want to look back with regret when it comes to the relationships in my life. I am definitely taking some intentional steps about creating space for the relationships that speak life to me.

I hope the new year 2018 brings you many blessings, including those of love and relationship.

Happy New Year!

The top 10 resolutions for each new year are often to: lose weight, get organized, spend less/save more, enjoy life to the fullest, stay fit and healthy, learn something exciting, quit smoking, help others in their dreams, fall in love, and spend more time with family.

These are great goals, but studies show that without accountability, your goals will be out the window in a month. But what if you and your spouse made some fun resolutions to build up your relationship?

Here are some examples to help you out:

  • Don’t come in and want to “talk” during the Super Bowl unless you want to pick a fight. Instead, schedule time for uninterrupted conversation on a regular basis. Just five minutes a day can make a huge difference in your relationship.
  • If you want to know what’s going on in his head, don’t ask your man to share his feelings. Simply ask, “What do you think?” Chances are good you will actually end up knowing how he feels.
  • Eat dinner together. Seriously, taking time away from the television and other technology to eat together enhances communication and connectedness, and that’s crucial to a healthy marriage. If you have children, feed them early and plan a late dinner for yourselves.
  • Help your spouse with organization, but remember it’s OK to be spontaneous.
  • Help your spouse be spontaneous, but remember it’s OK to plan. The key to both of these goals is clearly balance. Too much planning or spontaneity can make marriage miserable.
  • If your goal is good health, pay attention to what you eat, get enough rest and exercise regularly. Moderation in eating is important. Take walks together holding hands. Studies show that holding your mate’s hand can decrease your blood pressure. Who knows? This exercise could lead to more “fun exercise.”
  • Set goals together no matter what. Decide on one thing you want to accomplish together this year and make plans to see it happen. Doing things as a team throughout the years will help you prepare for becoming empty-nesters.
  • Find ways to encourage your spouse. The truth is, most people know deep down what their weaknesses are, but often have trouble knowing and acknowledging their strengths.
  • Figure out how to live within your means. At the end of life, relationships trump material things.
  • Don’t forget, if you want to have a little fun, you can still embarrass your teenagers by just showing up.
  • Compete with your spouse by learning to out-serve each other. Selfishness comes naturally, but selflessness takes intentional effort.

If you do the above, you’ll probably lose weight, get organized, spend less/save more, enjoy life to the fullest, get healthy, learn something exciting, quit smoking, help others fulfill dreams, fall more in love with your spouse, and spend more time with family. Who knew?

 ***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

In the movie Spanglish, the mother, played by Tea Leoni, is clearly obsessed with exercise and her looks. Her daughter, played by Sarah Steele, is not overweight, but clearly not thin enough to meet her mom’s standards. Leoni tries to motivate her daughter to lose weight by going on shopping sprees and buying her beautiful, but too-small clothing. Steele is excited about the clothing, but her self-esteem tanks when none of the clothes fit.

“Between these types of movies, television shows and airbrushed photos in magazines showing women with ‘perfect bodies’, impressionable young girls get the idea that it just isn’t acceptable to be anything but a size 6 or smaller,” says Pamela Kelle, licensed nutritionist and registered dietician. “What many don’t realize is what they see on the screen isn’t real. Their body was never intended to be that size, yet they go on fad diets and do all kinds of obsessive workout routines to get themselves down to their dream weight. The only problem is, even when they get to the size they wanted to be there is still this small voice inside saying, ‘It’s not good enough.’”

As each new year gets closer, many people, including teenagers, resolve to lose weight in order to feel better about themselves. But, is it really about weight loss?

“In most instances I would have to say that losing weight is about a lot more than shedding pounds,” Kelle says. “At every turn, sometimes even in the home, teens are bombarded with negative messages about how they look. I strongly encourage parents to be aware of how they talk about food and weight. Many parents talk negatively about their own looks. Teen girls pick up on this and often internalize it. If mom doesn’t think she looks good, the daughter thinks she must not look good either. The goal for our kids should be overall health, not a certain weight.”

If you own a scale, Kelle says to get rid of it. None of us needs a scale to know when we have put on a few pounds. The way your clothes fit tells you all you need to know.

You can protect your kids from the dangerous lies in the culture. If you want to teach your children about healthy living, Kelle’s tips can help you out:

  • Encourage and model healthy eating and exercise;

  • Provide healthy foods and nutritious meals consumed by the whole family;

  • Do not praise or glorify someone for being a certain body size or losing weight;

  • Don’t talk negatively about your own body; and

  • Don’t expect perfection.

Our bodies are the canvas upon which our internal conditions express themselves.

“Helping teens have healthy self-esteem and body image can be challenging in light of all the external messages they hear and see,” Kelle says. “Making your home a safe place where your teen can be real and talk about these issues will go a long way toward helping them fend off unhealthy habits. This is a gift that will last a lifetime.”