Insight is Not Enough

My background is as a clinician, a counselor who worked with all manner of people, in particular people diagnosed with chronic and terminal conditions.  Understandably many of these people were depressed and/or anxious. Others had a history of trauma namely physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse, others were witness to horrific events like shootings.  Still others had disorders like borderline personality, bipolar disorder or schizotypal tendencies. Bottom line few were very happy, especially given the circumstances that brought us in contact diagnosed with chronic and terminal conditions.

Reading a recent article by Richard A. Friedman, MD, in the New York Times, I was struck by his declaration that insight about yourself is only the beginning and not a guarantee for happiness. Yes, Dr. Friedman, I could not agree more. Self-awareness is a fine and necessary attribute to cultivate. It is important to know what we do some things and not others. What motivates us and what does not? This knowledge can help you content with long routed behaviors and conflicts. Mostly likely you’ll feel less emotional pain, but necessarily more happiness.

You have to work for deep-rooted happiness, just as you need to work to foster your self-esteem and self-efficacy. Like Mama always said nothing worth having comes easy.  To enjoy work, do what you like. If you are not in a position to jump up and nab the perfect job, find what you like in your current one and focus on that. Not working to happen for you, well find what you enjoy outside of work and place your attention there.

What makes most people happy in my practice is the pursuit of happiness. The process of living in such a way that our actions at home, work and play are focused towards a greater good, while celebrating the good of now and not ignoring the negative of now too, is key.


We can’t take any credit for our talents. It’s how we use them that counts.

“We can’t take any credit for our talents. It’s how we use them that counts.” – Madeleine L’Engle

Get out a piece of paper and  grab a pen. Without modesty write down your talents, skills and the stuff you have always been good at doing.  Now, pick one. How are you going to put it to best use today?

The Meaning of Happiness

Happiness has been a frequent topic of conversation among my clients, colleagues, and other partners in crime over the last several weeks. Not surprising, it is the start of a new year and we are all in agreement that we want 2011 to be better than 2010.  Happiness is a foundational notion in America, (see the Constitution). Happiness can be an elusive emotion. Here one moment, poof, gone the next, maddening. What exactly is happiness? And what makes people happy?

(If you have read my blog for a while this next statement will be familiar) Looking at my dictionary “Happiness” is defined as “contentment”. “Contentment” in turn is defined as, “satisfied with what one has”.   “Contentment, being satisfied with what one has” – that is it?!? Sounds different from common synonyms for happiness: pleasure, gladness, and fortunate. Contentment somehow sounds like compliancy, or as if you are settling, which seems an odd theme for a blog written by a Life Coach.  But is it really?

Going back to the idea of happiness as foundational to America, happiness is essential for people to live a virtuous and good life. Specifically the “pursuit of happiness” in life, not the acquisition of everyone each man wants in life. The pursuit, the quest, the working for, the success and failures that happen throughout this pursuit in life are key. It is the process of living in such a way that our actions at home, work and play are focused towards a greater good, while celebrating the good of now and not ignoring the negative of now too.

These actions can be a simple as making your bed in the morning because you like too or Bearing witness to the simple stunning beauty of a mass of birds swelling and condensing across the sky as they seek a set of trees to roost in for the night. These actions can be a grand as putting in the time “to get the job done right.”  For each of us these actions are different as the feeling of happiness. Dante was on to something when wrote, “Take henceforth your pleasure as your guide.” (From the Divine Comedy, the line is Virgil’s parting statement as he leaves Dante about to enter Paradise after traversing Purgatory and Hell). If you live fully, with your eyes open to what difficulties people create for ourselves and how we can address these, you know where happiness, real happiness, lives and  can guide yourself there through this heart-felt and won wisdom.


The secret of joy in work is . . .

“The secret of joy in work is contained in one word-excellence. To know how to do something well is to enjoy it.” Pearl S. Buck

Yes, Ms. Buck, I agree and I would dare to add that to achieve excellent one must practice the skills embodied in ones work and not fear failure. When failure happens, and it will, view our missteps, disconnects and even when we fall flat on our faces, as opportunities for learning. Through that process we discover our talents, build our resilience and increase our excellence.

In Service

This is Martin Luther King Day, the 25th Anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr. day. As The King Center says  “On this holiday, we commemorate the universal, unconditional love, forgiveness and nonviolence that empowered his revolutionary spirit.” Right, yes, he represented, embodied cultivated  love, forgiveness and non-violence he also lived with courage, dignity, service, and compassion.  I admire this man, his wife who as a partner in vision action, and deeply admire the conviction with which he lived.  In most simple, banal terms he walked his talk.

Dr. King said “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.” What is it that we do for other. Not just  doing but doing  unselfishly and in an inspired way, one that suits your abilities, talents, and resources.  That is a call to not be stymied by the “shoulds”, “can’t’s”, and “ought’s” that can block our intentions. I should volunteer every Saturday at the Boys and Girls club, maybe every Saturday does not work for your schedule, but might every third Wednesday work? “I can’t make that much of difference.” Who say you do needs to be grand, a small honest gesture is enough. “I ought to be donating more money. . . give what you can, lending your hands to a project is just fine.

Here are some examples of real world creative altruism:

  • A friend of mind is an artist, with limited financial means, but she volunteers teaching art at local transitional housing shelter.
  • A retired chef in my neighborhood creates healthy tasty meals for the local church preschool and afterschool programs.
  • A woman uses her experience of immigrating to this country after WWII as her inspiration to infuse her English as a second language tutoring with an acculturation slant.

So what are you doing for others? What will you do for others?

Inert No More!

“Begin doing what you want to do now. We are not on this earth for eternity. We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand and melting like a snowflake.” Marie Beynon Ray

There was big snow and ice here in the South this week, and so this quote seemed extra appropriate.  Don’t wait to get started on something, just get started. You’ll never be ready enough if you only focus on the preparation. Preparation is indeed important,  going on a big trek, yep you want all your gear to be collected and in working order. And no of course you don’t want to randomly do stuff, you might be busy, but probably not productive. All that said, preparation can be an easy place to hide. If there is something important, something that feels a tad bigger than comfortable, something new on your horizon that you are resisting getting started on, it is time to get moving. Rip off the metaphorical band-aid, peeling it back slowly hurts more in the long run.

So here’s my challenge to you, break open the calendar, think about your big thing, pick a day in the next 5 to set aside a good amount of time to focus on the big thing. Got it. Good, now actually make the notation in your calendar.

  • Need to start making good on your resolution to exercise regularly? Ok, hold 1.5 hours  in your calendar to get to the gym, work out and get home.
  • Need to do some writing started? Say set said 2-3 hours  and get yourself to place where you won’t be distracted. Make the time you set aside as important as your meeting with the boss, or the kids basketball game or worship services.

You get the idea. Need some extra help, tell someone (with your best interests at heart) about your intention and ask them to follow-up with you. Just knowing that someone is going to ask can be the extra boost you need to get moving.

I am off to get started on a writing project, that has been put off a tad too long.

Eating Well: The Rules

People worry about what they eat between Christmas and New Year’s, but really they should worry about what they eat between New Year’s and Christmas. Just yesterday my husband came home from the grocery store and exclaimed how wonderful and plentiful to boot, the produce looked. (This may explain why he bought lemons to go with the 2 or 3 I had bought a few days earlier looks like avolemolo is on the menu for dinner one night this week.) That got me wondering if the local grocery store is trying to help people not just stick to their “I-am goin-to-lose-10-pounds” resolutions but to inspire them to eat well between New Year’s and Christmas.

We have all heard the statistics about American’s diets and the gross impact this had on our collective health. We consume an enormous amount of processed foods, as well as mammoth volume of food. Believe me I have a legendary appetite, as a kid I could eat 1/2 pan of lasagna by myself with all the salad and trimmings as well. Impressive but not pretty. As an adult I still LOVE to eat and cook. Many years ago in my early teens I took off about 20 pounds which I have kept off for nearly 30 years without a “diet”. Building on a foundation composed of love for food, access to locally grown fresh vegetables and fruits (Mom’s urban garden that was out little yard), a bit of willpower and willingess to experiment with different flavors and textures, I now find myself eating very much along the lines of what Mark Bittman calls his “Food Matters Rules”.

Food Matters Rules plus my metabolic boosting rule.

1. Eat more plants. That’s fresh veggies and fruits, whole grains, beans, and nuts.

2. Fewer animals, animal byproducts, and processed foods. When you do eat them think of it as a flourish to highlight a meal, not the focal point.

3. Watch your weight, to check in if you are eating too much– if  it is  watch what you eat a bit more closely for a few days.

4. Give yourself a break. The collective of what you eat adds up and really matters, a treat here and there is not going to be the end of things.

5. Figure out what works for you. Different things work for different people. The editors at Prevention Magazine put together 5 tips with the science to back them, to help.

6. Get moving and keep moving. You need to burn off what you take in, so move: walk, run, dance, use the stairs, come to my Thursday afternoon Zumba class, cross-country ski, chase the kids around the yard, jump on the bike, swim, join an indoor soccer league, try volley ball, Pilates, try a workout DVD.

Truthfully my diet is not a diet for  2 weeks, 30 days or 12o days, its how I eat day-to-day, month to month year to year. It works. It might take time to adjust what you eat and how much, but it can be done. Rule 6 is my secret weapon, because I still love to eat, to cook, I move a lot. My friend Jenn Douglass Campoli has her own story about find her own eating well diet and learning to love to move. We’d love to hear your story.