Have Less Frazzle and More Fun This Holiday
Holidays. The annual, breathless whirl of go-go socializing, shopping, cooking, decorating, wrapping — all building up to the gleeful spree of giving and receiving. It’s the time of year when we come together, and try to make special, memorable moments with the most cherished people in our lives.
For many of us, it’s the most important time of the year. Special outfits are bought. Pictures are taken. Gatherings are organized. People are paying huge amounts of money to fly to and from Denver through precarious weather, just to be together for those few days. We can feel a lot of pressure to make it special. I’ve been certainly hearing about the impact of this intensity in my recent life coaching sessions.
In trying to make our holiday memorable we often wind up focusing on The Stuff of the holidays. And I’m not just talking about presents. I’m talking about all the other Stuff: Wreaths. Tinsel. Sequined sweaters. Lights. Trees. Cookies. Handmade ornaments. Homemade peanut brittle. Centerpieces. Food. Wrapping paper. You know: The Stuff.
It’s hard not to get excited about The Stuff when Pinterest-inspired visions of sugarplums are dancing in your head. And the fact is that having special holiday Stuff is part of what makes this time of year so memorable and festive festive. It feels happy to look at twinkly lights, and to listen to holiday music, and decorate the tree together with people you love.
But notice as I just called your attention to happy parts of the holidays I was not talking about The Stuff itself, but the experiences you had with The Stuff.
And that’s the important part, and the true secret to having a happy holiday:
Focus on having happy experiences, not on The Stuff.
At the end of the day, no one remembers The Stuff. No one is going to remember the peanut brittle you’re killing yourself to make, nor will they think back about your awe inspiring decor or feel grateful for how many hours you sat by yourself painstakingly hand-painting ornaments. It’s only value of The Stuff is as an attractive background to happy experiences.
Here’s what really makes memories: Memories are seared into our brains through emotionally heightened experiences, and through novelty. So if you really want the legacy of your holiday efforts to be that of happy memories, put the glue gun down, abandon the idea that you’re going to make 36 hand painted tins in which to gift your brittle. Instead, start thinking about something genuinely fun you can do with your family that you will all enjoy. (Including you).
The details don’t matter. What matters is that you have a good time, and do something memorable together. So go ice skating. Have a snowball fight. Go caroling, or volunteer. The more energy you put into these activities, and the less you put into stuff, the more fun and less frazzling your holidays will be.
Tips to have genuinely happy experiences:
1) Smile. When you smile you will feel happier, and other people will feel happier. Lift up the corners of your mouth and whatever is happening will start to rise like bubbles in champagne.
2) Decide in advance that you’re going to have a good time. What will you need to be telling yourself in order to have fun? “Wow, this is great.” Decide in advance to feel grateful and appreciative of whatever experience you have, and then it shall be so.
3) Prioritize making other people feel happy and loved above all else. This will automatically make you feel happy too, if you are following rule #2 above: Decide how great it’s going to feel to bring joy to others. Give lots of hugs, tell people how terrific you think they are and smile at them a lot– no Stuff will make them feel any happier.
4) Do something different. Novelty adds interest and excitement to the most banal of experiences. So try doing something that you’ve never done before this year. Go to a hot springs, go somewhere on a train, try going down the sledding hill upside down and backwards. Go big or go small, but do something new.
5) Find ways to incorporate meaning in your holiday traditions through rituals. Mark the passing of time with letting kids make sloppy, crooked new ornaments every year. Take a new family photo every year in your shocking Christmas sweaters. Have a solstice ritual where everyone gets to say what they’re releasing into the darkness and what they’re embracing in the new light.
Be happy this holiday. Remember it’s not about The Stuff, it’s about having fun with people you love. So stop wrapping things and start wrapping people up in big hugs. You all deserve it.
Your Efforts Matter More Than You May Ever Know.
My friend Ambra has been struggling. She’s a Denver psychologist who works with severely traumatized children and their families. Every day, she is fighting against an ocean of pain and darkness to save the lives of children. It’s like she’s in a life-raft of support and compassion, and straining to haul dozens of drowning, desperate kids on board. She knows that if she gets them in to the boat, they will have a better future. But the boat is leaky, she is only one person, and she can’t save them all. She agonizes over the ones she watches slip under: The ones that seem broken beyond repair, or who are trapped in toxic inter-generational systems of depravity that are too strong for her to break. Some days she doubts herself. Lately she feels like she’s loosing the battle.
I think of Ambra as I look at the photo on my kitchen counter, the one propped up beside a small painting that I recently bought at a fundraiser. It’s of a proud young woman, Gayla, holding up the painting that I now own. She’s a disabled orphan who lives in a group home in Armenia. Her painting has rosy pinks and blues glowing in a mystical tree of life on a summer’s day. It’s beautiful. I plan to hang it in my second child’s room, should I ever be so lucky to have another.
The only reason that this painting exists is because someone working in an Armenian orphanage cared enough to try and start a group home for disabled, orphaned adults to move in to after they aged out of the state orphanage. Their efforts rescued Gayla from the dirty, cold psychiatric hospital that would have been her only other option, and gave her a home. They raised donations from kind strangers to have an art teacher come in to teach weaving and painting, and buy her art supplies.
Now Gayla gets to sit by a sunny window, in a big house with a tree outside. She is with people who love her. She has a teddy bear on her bed, in a room she shares with her friends. She is happy because of the love that surrounds her. Her happiness rippled out through her heart to her hands to the paper, to me. It makes me feel happy to think about the possibility that a baby — my baby — might someday gaze up from a crib and absorb the beautiful message of love that came straight from Gayla’s heart. It brings me hope.
The efforts of all the volunteers who helped Gayla have rippled out far beyond their original intention. They are now touching my life in a way that they probably never even considered. The truth is that everything we do rings an energetic bell that reverberates into the lives of others, even though we may not understand how. Our efforts matter.
For every child that Ambra has lost, swirled away into the darkness, she’s lifted countless others into her boat without even realizing it. Just the fact that she cares enough to try matters. Her presence in young lives allows them to experience small moments of love and goodness that shift something inside of them. Simple time in a safe space with a kind person becomes a soft tone that counters the harsh ringing of abuse that has been echoing in their families for generations. I believe that she is starting a new vibration in psyches that will reverberate and expand into subtle positive changes throughout their life, and which may ripple out into the lives of their eventual children, and their children’s children.
Long after Ambra’s time in this world has ended babies will be born with more peace and stability in their lives because of her efforts today, even though she feels like she is failing in the present. She matters, even if she doesn’t always feel like it.
And so it is with you. Even though you may never witness the fruit of the seeds that you plant today doesn’t mean they don’t matter. Everything you do that is loving, generous, and helpful ripples out into the world, touching other people and making it a better place. The simple act of attempting to be decent, matters. Every time you practice patience, compassion, and love, it rings like a bell and spreads out to people that you may never meet, but who benefit from your kindness in mysterious and unexpected ways that you may never know.
Every moment is an opportunity to be fair, kind, and merciful. Every day is a new chance for you to be a dynamic center of love that touches other people. The world is already a better place because of your efforts. The world is a better place because you are in it.
With love and gratitude,
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
P.S. If you are interested, you can learn more about The Society for Orphaned Armenian Relief (SOAR) at http://www.soar-us.org/
P.P.S. You can learn more about the practice of Dr. Ambra Born, the best damn child psychologist in Northern Colorado, at www.reachinghope.org
How to Feel Happy Again
Feeling happy is what it’s all about. But sometimes, it can be hard to muster up good feelings. On today’s episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast, I’m sharing some simple tips that you can start using today to help you feel happier and more satisfied with your life — as is.
#Mindfulness #Gratitude #Happiness
How to Feel Happier, Today: Listen Now
A Good Life Coach Has to LIVE
Part of becoming a good therapist or life coach is becoming the kind of person who lives what they teach about how to feel happier, have better relationships, and feel more satisfied with life. One major life-lesson for me has been around the power of risk, and how magic can happen when you are brave enough to take a chance and try something new.
Because nothing is going to change until you do.
Allow me to share a personal story, in hopes that it inspires you to look at the opportunities you may have in your own circumstances to embrace the power of risk… and let some fresh air in to your life.
The adventures of a lifetime seem insane, at first.
You would think that the moment my husband asked me if I wanted to live in an RV and be a nomad for a year would stand out in my mind as being kind of a big deal. The sort of life changing event should happen in a dramatic setting — like standing on windswept cliffs overlooking a fjord or something. But the truth is that I don’t actually remember it at all. I probably just started getting mute links to travel blogs of young families who traveled full time in my in-box, which was then fodder for dinnertime conversation. My husband Mat Bobby is subtle in his craftiness.
Under ordinary circumstances, I think my mind would have instantly shut this new idea out. My preoccupation with risk and possible consequences would have shouted down the quiet voice saying, “This could be really cool.” Ordinarily, if I had considered leaving our home in Denver and blowing around the country with our young child, it would have been like flipping channels on a TV screen and having every station broadcasting a different catastrophe. Kidnappings. Breakdowns. Murderous strangers in isolated campgrounds. Financial ruin. Or vague anxieties that whined, “But that’s just not what responsible people DO.”
But the truth is also that at the time we started talking about this, I was at a low point. I was doing my internship to finish my PhD, and working crazy hours at a community mental health center in North Denver, seeing clients who were often extremely traumatized and unwell. I became vicariously traumatized and unwell in the process. And even though I’d delayed the start of my internship by a year to be home with our new love-child, I was still up many times through the night with our toddler. Then one of my clients died of an “accidental overdose” that may or may not have been a suicide. I was devastated.
To deal entirely new levels of grinding, unstoppable exhaustion, stress, and trauma during my internship I had to find new ways to cope (learning many more valuable life-lessons in the process — stay tuned for more on that subject). But one way I dealt with it was through simple distraction.
My reading tastes shifted from my usual daily diet of scholarly articles and serious, introspective novels that tackled the human condition to reality TV shows, entertainment news, and the Twilight series. (Don’t judge me).
So when MB started sending me links to travel blogs about living full time in an RV my mind probably leapt to it as another entertaining diversion that would protect me from thinking about the horrors that would otherwise fill my mind. So I let it in.
It wasn’t scary because I didn’t take it seriously. It was kind of fun to think about — sort of like talking about what you’d do if you won a lottery ticket. The pre-travel discussions themselves brought fresh energy to our marriage. We would wander around our Capitol Hill neighborhood, rattling the stroller along the uneven sidewalks, and talk about where we would go, and what we would do if we were full-time nomads. I wanted to go to the southwest. I imagined doing yoga alone in a vast silent desert, fragrant with sage. Mat wanted to go anywhere-but-here. He was living in his own small hell at the time, driving back and forth from home to work, to sit in a cubicle and peck code into a dead screen. Our conversations about the possibilities of travel and adventure were our oasis.
Daydreams are the seeds of a new reality.
Until my sneaky husband started sending me pictures of actual Airstream travel trailers that were for sale on Craigslist. And that we did actually have enough money in the bank to buy one. Oh, and that more and more people in his industry were working remotely, so as long as we had internet access he’d still be able to do his job. I was so numb, and generally exhausted that my usual anxieties must have been throttled into unconsciousness. Because eventually I found myself in the passenger seat of our shiny new red pickup truck, speeding across Ohio with an envelope thick with cash, to purchase a thirty-foot Airstream travel trailer sight unseen.
The moment we bumped into the backyard of the farmhouse and saw our new home, shining like a silver loaf on the moist green grass, my anxiety flittered back to consciousness. Too late to halt the insanity that had possessed us both, but soon enough to purchase insurance before we rolled out of the driveway with our gleaming home in tow. Insurance that paid for the repair after one of the supposedly “new” tires blew out on the long haul back to Colorado, tearing out the entire wheel-well in the process.
So began a year that was challenging, chaotic, uncomfortable, scary, and…. Alive. We traded Saturday trips to box stores for canoeing amongst manatees in the warm clear springs of Florida. Instead of pushing our stroller up and down the same rut of blocks in Capitol Hill we pushed it around old costal towns like Savannah and St Augustine. We caught beads at Mardi Gras. We floated in hot springs under the New Mexico desert sky. We ate Dungeness crab that we caught off a dock on the cool, misty coast of Oregon.
That year is a string of shining, precious memories strung together like a necklace of priceless jewels. We had adventures together, experienced once-in-a-lifetime moments as a family, and were both ultimately pushed into greater contact with our authentic selves. I’ll tell you more of those stories sometime, too.
But today, the point is about learning how to take the kind of risks that allow you to crack your life open and let fresh, new energy come in. For me it took extreme circumstances for risk to over-ride my natural apprehensions, and let the possibilities flow in. But I don’t think it has to be that hard for you.
Here’s the punchline, the take away, the big life lesson (which corny to say but I mean it sincerely): Let yourself dream. Don’t take zany, “but that’s impossible” thoughts too seriously. Don’t listen to the little voice inside your head that has 47 reasons why everything is a terrible idea and won’t work.
Just give yourself permission to have interesting conversations about possible possibilities, and see where the winding road of your imagination takes you. Who knows — it might turn into the literal road that you drive into a new reality.