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Lessons in life: a reflection on my birthday

First off, thank you to the awesome people in my life. Thank you for reminding me that kindness exists every where. Thank you for lifting me up. Thank you for brightening my life every single day. Thank you for being honest & straight forward with me. Thank you to my family, friends, my mentors & colleagues. Thank you for showing me a thousand ways to love & live in every moment.

I saw this video a couple of days ago and since today is my birthday and I am stepping into 37 and staring the big 4-0 in the face – it seemed like a good time to take a look back on what has been a rather interesting journey so far.

It’s been 7 years since I started blogging. Putting my thoughts out into the open, for others to see, comment on and debate. It’s scary. Very scary. Mostly because I had this hang up on an unconscious need for approval. As life happened, I learnt that I really don’t need the approval or validation of others to be awesome.

I am a round peg in a square hole and maybe I don’t fit in because I am supposed to help create a new world. And I am – in my own little corner of the world, in my immediate sphere, I am making a difference and that’s enough. I am kind (mostly), considerate (maybe too much), empathetic (again, too much), loyal & protective (but these are things that I never want to change about myself).  Most days I manage to retain a sense of humor – someday’s its more sarcastic & dry and that’s ok too.

I know in my bones that even though the night is darkest right before dawn, the sun will inevitably rise. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and all I have to do is to continue putting one foot in front of the other, to keep moving forward. I have learnt to say ‘no’, draw my boundary and roll with the punches. I know that no matter how many times I fall down, I am capable of picking myself up, dusting it off and going on.

You never know when it might be the last time you speak to someone. As I lose more people who I love, I have learnt that death can come for any of us at anytime. It’s very important to tell the people you love that you love them. Let people know when you appreciate something about them. Give others compliments – genuine, specific compliments. Let people know when who they are, and what they do for you, lifts you up.

Love with gusto. I don’t get how people can love in half measures with a generous sprinkling of caution. That’s like saying I am going to the pool but I am not going to jump in, swim around or get wet in anyway. If you are going to love something, love with all your heart. I consider myself very lucky to have incredible people in my life, who care for me and show me that in a thousand ways.

Half measures & half-hearted efforts yield mediocre results. To cultivate high quality relationships takes time (sometimes years), sincere effort, devotion, honesty, integrity and most of all genuine kindness. You can’t do any of this in half measures, whether it’s your work or your people, give a 100% and more. Let go of attachment to results. The destination is important but it’s more important to enjoy the journey.

Be Grateful, cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Give more than you get, spread kindness, happiness – the world will always need more of that. When someone helps you out, thank them. Smile at someone who isn’t smiling today. Say good morning, thank you, ask how are you & really listen to their answer. Sometimes we all need a ear and a shoulder for support.

Life isn’t black or white. Choices aren’t straight forward. Decisions shouldn’t be rigid. Be prepared to change as things changed. If you are stuck in a position, take a break. Breathe, walk, come back later with a cooler head. More often than not, I find that it makes me more willing to take a look at the opposing perspective. No one is all good, all bad, no decision or action is a person in their entirety.

Bad things happen to good people all the time. And that’s ok too. Being hung up on good, bad, fair, unfair only creates discontent and dissatisfaction. Take life as it comes, instead of resisting, flow the way water flows around a boulder on a river. Death isn’t fair and sometimes it takes the one’s who are too young or too loved.

If you let people screw you over more than twice, then I am sorry but you really are a moron. And I have been moronic – too trusting, too giving, too sympathetic, too forgiving. Funny thing is, I don’t think I lost anything. I gained lessons. I learnt to lose people and sometimes to kick off the one’s that hang on and suck my soul dry. I am ok with living somewhere in the shades of gray but I know now that some things can never be compromised on. I have a better idea of what my ‘deal breakers’ are.

Success is mostly hard work, with a tiny sprinkling of luck. The harder you work, the more your luck improves. However, there IS a big difference between being smart, working smart and just being hard-working. Sometimes the lazy way to get things done, really is the best way, it leaves one with more time to do other things.

Be open to new things. It really is amazing to stay open to new opportunities, adventures, places, people, culture, food, experience. Test your boundaries – life begins at the end of your comfort zone. Be alive while you are still living. My places to see and things to do list is ever-expanding. At this rate I have given up on any hope of being able to tick it all off. However, every time I do tick off something, I do my victory dance – the cross between my chicken dance and pointy dance. Find your rhythm and do your funky dance, celebrate your victories & success, celebrate people & their kindness.

I have learnt the value of quality over quantity. It doesn’t matter whether it’s clothes, shoes, handbags or relationships. It’s better to have few very good friends, who lift you up, sing you the song of your soul when you have forgotten it. Then to have hundreds of friends whom you rarely, interact with. Small talk is over-rated. Don’t change yourself to fit with others. You are an original and it’s worth more than a copy. So be you, be awesome, be totally weird!

Commit to things but make sure that they are really what you need. We tend to confuse our wants with needs. I want a knight in shining armor who will ride off into the sunset with me, so we can have a house in the country with white picket fence and 2.5 kids. What I need is someone who will let me be the monk who meditates for a month in a remote mountain in solitude. Or go off in a grand adventure around the world with my friends. See the difference? Huge! What I think I want is what I have grown up with in fairy tales and the social expectations heaped on me. What I need is what my soul demands, the wanderlust in me who begs to be set free.

Don’t listen to other people’s advice, nobody knows what they are doing. People mean well – at least sometimes they really do. But if I wanted to run like the wind, I wouldn’t go to a turtle for advice. We are unique human beings and each one of us dreams of something very different from the others. If you listen to other people, they’ll either tell you what they have done, what has worked for them, or how you should or shouldn’t do what you want to do. So if you are going to take advice, better make sure that the people who advice you ARE where you want to be.

 Avoid toxicity – at all cost – in everything. You only have one life to live, one body to live in, one mind that will be with you for the rest of your life. So be kind to yourself, to your body, your mind. Avoid toxic people, junk food, negative thoughts. They take out more than they put in and in the end, it’s really not worth it. Cut out the crap, exercise, meditate, take long walks in nature, hold hands and hug your loved one’s.

The only person you should be competing with is yourself. Don’t compare yourself to others. You don’t really know what they are going through. Also, you may not really want their life if you knew. What others have to say about you is none of your business – it’s a reflection of them, not you. Also what others do is none of your business unless it has direct negative impact on you (like a physical threat). In which case – hit first, hit hard, neutralize the threat and remove yourself from the situation.

Discard labels. Tags and labels are for stuff – clothes, shoes, bags, accessories. Not human beings. Do not allow others to label you – beautiful, smart, stupid or whatever. Good or bad – your life’s narrative is your own. You decide how you want to write it and do it your own way. If you don’t, others will. Choose your words wisely – the way you describe yourself – verbally out loud or silently within your own head – is what you project out into the world.

If you are stuck, keep hammering at the door to new opportunities. If it stays closed, then sneak in through the window. The only one who can really help yourself or change your life for the better is you. Pick your heroes and mentors carefully, they do shape who you become but even they can only show you the door, the decision to walk through is exclusively yours.

Be awesome, be kind, charity starts with yourself and in your own home. Be the best version of yourself.  Be your own best friend. Learn to love your life and be comfortable in your own skin. Believe in yourself and stop being your own worst critic. 

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My first ink – a symbolic commitment to myself. The phoenix symbolizes rebirth, courage – the strength and resilience to rise from ashes. Among the Chinese, the phoenix (fèng) is also the symbol of good fortune. The word on top is Meiyo – Honor, it’s from the code of Bushido. Warriors have only one judge of honor & character and that is themselves. Every decision is their own responsibility and how it’s carried out is a reflection of who they truly are. The word in the bottom is Yu – heroic courage, again from code of Bushido. It denotes the difference between living life like a turtle hiding inside its shell vs. living life completely, fully and wonderfully. Courage that is not blind but intelligent & strong. The word on the left is Ga or Hagane – meaning Strong as metal. The word on the left is Chi, meaning Wisdom. Honor is leading, therefore on top; courage is the power coming from deep down, and strength and wisdom are the qualities needed to tackle life, therefore under the Phoenix’ wings.

Remembering Cesare Tavella

The Cherokee Indians have this saying as a yard stick to measure our lives against and for Cesare this was certainly true. He passed away from a horrific tragic incident on Monday and left the rest of us crying in his wake. We lost a great deal that night – a great friend, colleague, doting father, son, brother, loving boyfriend. He was many things to many people, much-loved, respected and truly dear to all who knew him. If I had called Cesare a great man on his face, he would’ve laughed at me. But he WAS a great man to work with – kind, humble, knowledgeable, with a wicked sense of humor. He was efficient and practical about getting things done. As a professional colleague if you had a problem that you needed to get resolved, he was the person to hand it over to.

Cesare and I met earlier this year when he took over the job of leading PROOFS, our food security project. We hit it off from the very beginning and quickly developed an easy camaraderie. He was that kind of person, he had a way of putting people at ease. A man of his word, he earned trust through his actions. One of his favorite sayings was that ‘we don’t have to like each other but we must respect each other’ and that sums up the way he was with the people around him. The respect that he gave to even the bearers or drivers in his office was telling of the way he treated all people with dignity. He was not impressed by titles, status or hierarchy – he was impressed by how much people would bring to the table and could contribute to improving the lives of others. He had a way of cutting through the bullshit to get to the heart of the matter. He called a spade a spade but was tactful, diplomatic & always had a smile on his face.

As we became friends, I discovered that there was no BS’ing around him, none of the tedious small talks that barely scratch the surface. Our conversations jumped topics, ran deep, was heated, long & would range from our frustration with our work, how change doesn’t happen fast enough, to our weirdest travel experiences, our kooky retirement plans or wildest dreams. He was easy to talk to, to get to know, to let your guard down with. He was so positive with this ‘joie de vivre’ about him that you could not help but be utterly charmed by his enthusiasm for life and all that it had to offer. Decades down the road, Cesare hoped to buy an island to retire to and Kate & I tried our best to convince him to let us live on it as caretakers. The island dream was something that would materialize far into the future but we talked about it like it was right around the corner.

The day he passed away, we exchanged messages back and forth about the long weekend get-away (respite in nature) in which he was supposed to join our group but decided at the last moment that he couldn’t. He teased me about being a city girl for loving the comforts that civilization/technology offers us and declared that my love for air-conditioning is the reason Bangladesh is sinking from climate change and our Island would disappear before we ever get a chance to retire …. “I love to swim but to swim on a permanent basis….”.

We spoke briefly barely an hour or so before the incident, which made it that much more harder for me to wrap my head around the fact that I would not be able to pick up the phone and hear him on the other end anymore. The hours since then has been interminable. Why? How? Who? The what if’s? And in the midst of this crushing grief, this sudden loss of a great person, a friend, I am now confronted by questions from others on what was he like? how will he be remembered?

The answer to that is I want him to be known not for the tragic way his life ended but the incredibly kind, passionate way he had lived & dedicated his life to a cause, to the greater good.

I want him to be remembered as he was – warm, loving, kind, funny, intelligent, a witty gentle old soul. He’s the only Italian I knew who didn’t care for coffee at all but was very specific about how he wanted his pizza. He doted on his daughter, loved his girlfriend and was very close to his family.

I want to remember Cesare the way I had seen him – always relaxed with the creases around his eyes deepened by his smile. He smiled with his heart, it sparkled in his eyes and lighted up all those around him. A truly remarkable human being who gave selflessly of himself to the service of others.

It is incredibly sad that Cesare’s life ended so soon and I cannot put into words how much we will miss him. Cesare was a positive person and would not want us to be sad today. If he were here he would tell us to cheer up, smile and remember all of the great memories we all shared. Even though Cesare may be gone, his memory will live on in all of us forever.

Buddy, you will be sorely missed! May your soul rest in peace … much love from all of us you left behind, to follow in our time.

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(All pictures of Cesare is by Laurent from their joint visit to the PROOFS project in June 2015).

Respite in nature

This long weekend, I did something I hadn’t attempted before. I went hiking up a trail to reach a lake, at 1072 ft above sea level. The short hike of 1.5 hours, took me almost 4 hours. Up and down the mountains, scurrying from one to the other, picking our way around trails washed away by landslides, trying not to fall into the abyss as we gingerly attempt to find strong footholds, I watched the locals in pure awe as they went up and down, sure footed, nearly sprinting through the trail. We were left in their trail dust and I kept falling further behind from the group. My head was buzzing, my heart had felt like it would burst through any moment. In those moments, I felt the effect of nearly two decades of smoking, more acutely then I had ever felt before. Towards the end, very close to our destination, I stood on a ledge, unable to take one more step, unwilling to tumble into the abyss, I leaned on my stick as I tried to make up my mind on whether I wanted to throw up or lie down in a place I could not even stand properly. I almost gave up right there.

And I remembered  then – it’s darkest right before the sun rises. In the midst of the chaos of life, we become blinded to it’s blessings. 

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Once we reached the village and soaked ourselves in the lake, I could feel myself relaxing and settling into my new surroundings. We went to bed early only to wake up 3 hours later. The village was quiet, all lights were off and yet it was bathed in silver moonlight. I took a walk through the valley, admiring the full moon, a sky full of stars, the cleanliness and quiet of village life. My group asked me the next day if I had been afraid.

And I realized something else – I am wary of people, not nature or anything that is part of it. 

Boga Lake, Bandarban.

Boga Lake, Bandarban.

I stayed put the next day while a major part of the group hiked up higher to the 5th highest peak in Bangladesh. I went for a walk through the village, photographing children, watching people at work, admiring the serene beauty of my surroundings. I couldn’t help but notice that the children of the village were wary of us, outsiders. We had descended on them like locusts. Large groups had arrived that morning, we were loud, obnoxious and littered everywhere. A clean village turned dirty within a minutes. The local shop keepers watched us from a distance, cleaning up their parcel of land as soon as groups moved on. We had drifted so far from nature, from any sense of belonging that we had no problem polluting our environment wherever we went.

And I knew the reason I am wary of people – we are unaware, unconscious, inconsiderate of anything other than our need to consume and our greed for more. 

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As I walked on, a lady on a loom caught my eye, we smiled at each other and I joined her on her veranda. It was mid-day by then and already quite hot and humid, a few minutes after I joined her, she muttered something and got off her loom and went inside. I sat on the veranda wondering if I had somehow offended or disturbed her with my presence. For the few minutes that I was left alone, I debated slinking back to where I came from, ashamed of what I considered to be an intrusion. But she returned with a drink of water and a bunch of bananas. It was probably what she had at hand to offer, as she indicated that I should eat and drink, I settled down again into enjoying our mutual company. A few minutes later, she took the loom apart and wrapped it up and once again I wondered if I should leave. But an elderly lady came by and helped her set up another loom, this time with bright yarns of green and red, she was going to weave another shawl. I sat on the floor, part of her scene, trying to stay out of her way as I watched their hands deftly set up the yarns in place. The repeated motion was soothing, the dedication and attention to detail felt like meditation.

They chatted quietly between themselves and smiled at me while pointing for me to have more water or banana. A man passing by joined us and she repeated the same ritual, went inside to get him a drink of water and more bananas. He could speak my language, so we struck up a conversation. The ladies were curious and had quite a few questions – we traded answers back and forth, smiling, giggling as we shared our lives in languages we do not speak. Her neighbors joined us and five more kids. The man left, he was going to walk back to his village and it would take him the rest of the day, she offered him more bananas to take for the way. I sat there for nearly an hour longer, the ladies around me talking, the kids playing, slowly relaxing in my presence. When they first arrived, they stayed out of reach, as they relaxed and lost themselves in play, they inched closer, until they started initiating games with me.

I had not remembered to ask permission to take photographs when the man was there, so I kept my camera closed. Recording the moment in memory. A group of ladies and their children, enjoying a lazy afternoon, working, weaving, catching up with each other and watching over their kids. An hour later, I decided to make my way back to the house I was staying at, as I waved goodbye, the kids waved back and the ladies smiled.

On the way back, I stopped to admire two kids playing, I took a picture of them, one turned around immediately and said ‘no’. I apologized as I showed them the picture. The other one had been playing on the veranda, she said ‘yes, more picture’, so I took a couple more. Each time I snapped a pic and showed them, they giggled.

And I learnt once again – We are all strangers in a strange land, until we stop, smile and acknowledge each other’s presence. Hospitality is a state of mind, not material status. Trust must be gained and respect offered if we are to coexist in peace and tranquility with each other.

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As I returned back to the home we were staying in, the lady of the house offered us lunch. I am not a big fan of vegetables but that fresh vegetarian meal was so delicious that I took three more helpings. She was obviously pleased that we were enjoying her meal and we lingered afterwards chatting, drinking tea, trading more questions back and forth. Her husband came by and teasingly asked us whether we think that his sweetheart is more beautiful then him, she said something to him in their own language and they lovingly teased each other before he turned around to tell us that he too had been very handsome in his young years. The couple has 3 children, two of whom are studying here in my city, the youngest is living with them in the village. They run the home-stay during tourist season to make extra money while the rest of the year is spent in agriculture, running their little shop and handicraft sale. They have tried to diversify their income base to give their children an easier life then what they had.

People and their resilience continue to surprise me. For them the market is a day’s walk away, for others it can take up to 2 days. The village people rarely get sick, but they think it’s partly because they have no doctor in the village and  the closest health complex would take a day to reach on foot. I think it has more to do with their environment. Ingredients are fresh, they drink water from the mountain springs, the air is clean and they have close to zero carbon emission. It’s one of the purest, cleanest places I have been to in this country. They have an innate sense of belonging in nature, a respect for nature that is missing in most of us city folk. Their bond with each other and their community strong, everyone looking after each other.

And I realized that our dissonance lies in our disconnection – from each other, from nature, from having lost our sense of community or belonging. In the cities, we don’t know our neighbors, we are so busy rushing from one task to another, we rarely stop to check on the people around us. In our greed for more, we hustle and we forget to slow down, to enjoy the moments that make up our day, with the people we share our hours with. Our children no longer has childhood of free play and easy camaraderie with fellow playmates. It’s scheduled and supervised as we control every moment of their lives.

I used to travel and find pieces of my soul in far flung places. This time when I traveled, I learnt to shed the excess baggage of expectations, vanity, ego.

I learnt to ask for help as I gasped my way through mountain trails.

I learnt to pace myself and respect my ability to get things done in my own time.

I learnt the meaning of “wabi-sabi” through witnessing it first hand among the tribe we lived with.

I settled into the art of letting go of expectations of how things should be and instead admire what is.

I learnt that digital detox is not about being off from network but resisting the urge & expectation to be hitched to a digital leash.

The power in letting go of regret

Regret… now that’s an emotion that we are ALL familiar with, some perhaps more than others. Unless you are a sociopath, in which case you do not have the brain function necessary to feel the emotions associated with ‘regret’. So anyway, I did a quick search on this blog and turns out I have written exactly eight posts were I have tagged ‘regret’ as a key word. It’s a word that I have associated with coming out stronger from adversary, in making life choices, with death, with honesty, with having more than others – a myriad of situations which on the surface are not related to each other.

But looking at these posts, basically I have associated it with any situations where I felt there was a choice (ok, death was not by choice but maybe I have survivor’s guilt). So even though we love the feeling of having options – unfortunately, the minute we make the choice – any choice (it really doesn’t matter what we choose) – we immediately open ourselves to the very real possibility of experiencing regret – for not picking the option we didn’t choose.

I was watching the movie “About Time” last weekend, and the main character in it reaches the age of 21 and discovers that part of his inheritance is the ability to time travel. Now I tried imagining that given this ability there would be events in my past that I would choose to erase (trust me, I have a vivid imagination). The thing is, just like in the movie, if the butterfly effects of things changed means that I don’t meet certain people, experience certain situations, fundamentally, who I am, would change. And surprisingly it turns out THAT is a choice that I am not willing to make.

I like me, I am me because of everything that has happened to me, through the years, with the people, in places and situations, which at the time I had thought were the worst thing that can possibly happen. Yet, there I was, slapped on the face with the realization that I don’t want to lose or change who I am.

You know what that means? I don’t.

I think it might mean that I am letting go of the regret I had felt at the decisions I had made through life. That I had somehow made peace with my choices. Now knowing me, before I make any choice, I do weight them on a scale (I am a Libra so that figures my obsession with the scale thingy). I do the whole exercise of columns and rows of alternate scenarios and in most cases, I had chosen, what I believed at the time, to be the best possible option/choice. I can be quite obsessive with having a plan A (for action) and back up plan B, C, D… you get the picture.

Now, if you watch the Ted Talk below you will notice that at 6.15, she outlines what people regret the most – or rather the choices that people regret the most and funnily enough these are related to – education, career, romance, parenting, self, leisure, finance, family, health, friends, spirituality and community – in exactly that descending order. And that basically means that we most regret the things where we feel that we had a choice and we could’ve chosen something else. But what if like me, you get to a point, where you realize that at the moment of choosing, you had weighted all your options and you had made the best possible choice you can?

Would you still then hold on to regret? Or would you let it go?

So, here’s what I am going to be doing…. I am going to get myself tattooed this weekend and then be damn happy that I at least had the courage to do something that I had always wanted to get done. And if I regret my tattoos, then I guess I will learn to love my imperfect flawed creation 😉

The lesson that I ultimately learned from my tattoo and that I want to leave you with today is this: We need to learn to love the flawed, imperfect things that we create and to forgive ourselves for creating them. Regret doesn’t remind us that we did badly. It reminds us that we know we can do better.

BTW, hindsight is always 20/20, so don’t bother looking back.. just keep moving forward 🙂

 

 

The ability to be vulnerable

Brene Brown is a social researcher who thought she was researching “connection”. You know the thing that holds us together? whether its society, community, family, work or relationship between two people. It doesn’t matter if you are an extrovert or an introvert, all of us needs connections, a sense of belonging, a sense of self-worth which is intrinsically related to our well-being. Take this sense away and each person is an island of desolation. Keep it alive and you are part of a much wider picture and together you are beautiful.

So there she was starting what she thought was going to be a one year research, except that it turned into a six-year stint, during which her assumptions were thrown right out the window and at one point, she was forced to seek out a therapist because she was struggling with accepting the result that was staring at her on the face “Vulnerability”. The people with a strong sense of belonging, of self-worth, were the people who were willing to be Vulnerable. Now admittedly that’s scary. It scares me. I am so good at being self-sufficient and strong that the idea of allowing myself to be vulnerable to or with another person frankly gives me the heebie-jeebies. I am not sure if it’s something that I am willing to do deliberately.

So maybe this should go on the list of things to which I challenge myself over the next four months of this year …. open myself up to the possibility of being vulnerable – knowing full well that it’s going to be damn uncomfortable and freaking scary. Now let’s see how that goes 🙂

Brené Brown: The power of vulnerability

The other thing that they had in common was this: They fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful. They didn’t talk about vulnerability being comfortable,nor did they really talk about it being excruciating — as I had heard it earlier in the shame interviewing.They just talked about it being necessary. They talked about the willingness to say, “I love you” first … the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees … the willingness to breathe through waiting for the doctor to call after your mammogram. They’re willing to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out. They thought this was fundamental.

I personally thought it was betrayal. I could not believe I had pledged allegiance to research, where our job — you know, the definition of research is to control and predict, to study phenomena for the explicit reason to control and predict. And now my mission to control and predict had turned up the answer that the way to live is with vulnerability and to stop controlling and predicting. This led to a little breakdown — which actually looked more like this.  And it did.

……..She said, “What’s going on?” And this is a therapist who sees therapists, because we have to go to those, because their B.S. meters are good.  And so I said, “Here’s the thing, I’m struggling.” And she said, “What’s the struggle?” And I said, “Well, I have a vulnerability issue. And I know that vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love. And I think I have a problem, and I need some help.” And I said, “But here’s the thing: no family stuff, no childhood shit. I just need some strategies.” So she goes like this. And then I said, “It’s bad, right?” And she said, “It’s neither good nor bad. It just is what it is.” And I said, “Oh my God, this is going to suck.”

 

 

Gratitude, Schmatitude & rebooting life

If a fellow isn’t thankful for what he’s got, he isn’t likely to be thankful for what he’s going to get.
~Frank A. Clark

“Gratitude, she claimed, was the answer. Wallowing only makes things worse. “Instead, start each day with five things you’re grateful for. We can e-mail our lists every morning to encourage each other.”

Last year, November, when I was struggling with the new direction my life was taking, too exhausted, too depressed to get through the days, this landed in my inbox in the morning and this quote and this paragraph caught my eye. Everything that I feared, everything that depressed me, were things in the future. Things which may or may not take place. Things over which I did not have any control.

So a few weeks of feeling like this, I was tired of being depressed and negative. Life changing events shake us to our core. Yes, mourning and grieving are inevitable for what could have been but would never be. But life doesn’t end, it goes on and we have to find a way to go on with it.

So I took the advice and started a gratitude list with my girl friends. Every day we emailed each other 3 things that we were grateful for that day. Here’s the things that we were grateful for:

“Having friends who will be there for you – through the good, bad and ugly”

“Having fantastic colleagues who are incredibly understanding, supportive & wise”

“Having a job that I genuinely love doing”

“Learning something new everyday – at work, at university”

“Being able to make a difference in the lives of people we see everyday and those we don’t even know”

“Not getting lost in a new city and making some local friends”

The rest went more or less along the same line….. looking back what does this list say to me?

Human connection is by far the greatest need that we have. Beyond the need for the basic – food, clothing, shelter – all the other levels of Maslow’s theory are based on factors affected by people, other than you.

Did the gratitude list help me? It took a few days but eventually once again I started looking more at the positive incidences in my every day life. You attract whatever it is that you are looking for. Since I looked out more for the good things in life, I noticed them more. Because I saw them more and felt an even greater sense of gratitude for them, my satisfaction with my life was once again restored.

Nothing in life is as it seems – because everything depends on how you see it 🙂

Happiness = love + grace + gratitude

Unexpected death

Death is inevitable. A fact of life. Yet every time someone close to my age passes away, it shakes me to my core. It makes me question everything.

This time, I am questioning ‘why her?’ She’s a beautiful person, inside out, loving, caring, a gentle soul. In love with her husband, excitedly waiting for the arrival of her child. So why now? why her? why this baby who is wanted so much? and so lovingly?

Part of me is angry at the injustice of it all. The part that questions ‘why?’

Part of me is weeping at the loss of two beautiful souls.

Part of me is praying for the family left behind, may they find the strength to bear this unbearable loss.

And out of this reminder of how short life really is, part of me is thinking ‘if I die tomorrow, will I die happy with my life?’ Have I done everything that I want to do? Have I lived a life of no regret? Have I lived while I am still alive?

Since this is a question that I ask myself quite frequently, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’. If I die right now, right here, there will be no regrets. I have built myself a good life, I have tried to do good, I have done my best to give back – to my family, friends and others.

There’s only one nagging irritation somewhere in the back of my head – for far too long – I have allowed myself to care about people who are more concerned about what they want, what would make their life easy & keep them happy, then what’s good for me. I guess the time to do some spring cleaning is long overdue.

The lazy person’s guide to being healthy

Let’s face it, it’s been about 8/9 weeks since your new year resolution to work on a healthier, skinnier you… and now your motivation is waning. Gym is boring. Food is interesting. You are cheating… with yourself.

“Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.” – Dalai Lama

Fact is most of us will not realize the value of good health until our body or mind or both quits on us.

 

In our hyper-active, hyper-connected modern life, we are so busy being busy that finding the time and energy to exercise, eat right, engage in activities that reduce the inevitable stress that arises from such a hectic lifestyle should be a top priority in ALL of our lives.

So what can you do when you don’t have time to take care of yourself? Here’s a short list which you can customize and adapt to your own routine. Six non-sweat easy tips and One that encourages you to sweat it out 😉

Practice Gratitude: 

First thing in the morning when you open your eyes, in the space before thoughts invade and the to-do list in your head starts ticking. Stop. Breathe. Practice gratitude.

Be grateful that you are alive.

Healthy.

Awake.

In your bed and not a hospital.

Be grateful for being able to breathe without assistance.

Some days I am so depressed that I find it difficult to find things to be grateful for. Yet I know that I am incredibly blessed. So on my bleak days, I decide to be grateful for little things, like breathing, reading, books, the fact that I can walk without pain or that I still have all of my teeth. Whatever floats your boat… just find something to be grateful for and sincerely concentrate on that blessing.

Meditate:

Take a few minutes and meditate. There are many ways to meditate. You can chant, concentrate, visualize, play the singing bowl, flute or a guided meditation CD … whichever method works for you. Again, if you are not the kind that can sit cross-legged on the floor with your hands on your knees, don’t. If walking on the grass in the backyard works for you, do.

Meditating is about centering yourself. Connecting to the here and now. To be present. It’s the deepest part of you that remains unruffled through the storm of life. It stores your energy, your resilience. Connect and appreciate yourself.

You can create a daily routine to help get yourself into the mindset to meditate or you can take a few minutes through out the day to practice it as you need it. It’s like taking a smoke-break for smokers. Instead of getting off your desk to go smoke, you take a few minutes to breathe and center your mind.

 

 

Sleep:

When you cheat on your diet or worry obsessively or simply don’t get around to doing any of the above… don’t worry .. there’s still something that you can do to keep yourself healthy. You can sleep. Not the tossing & turning kind of sleep but a real good night’s sleep. Empty your bedroom of all electronic devices, specifically the TV and make it the kind of haven that you need to truly relax in. If darkness is your thing, install double blinds or get a light blinder for yourself. If you are a light sleeper, put on some white noise to reduce outside interruptions to your sleep cycle. Whatever else you might cheat on… don’t cheat yourself from getting a good night’s rest. Make it routine & a habit to go to bed at a fixed time. Cheating throughout the week and making up for it by sleeping in on the weekend, doesn’t work.

No matter how blue I am .. I usually feel a whole lot better after I have managed to get a good snooze. It has helped me hang on to my sanity on days I want to blow my top 😉

 

Hug:

Hug the person next to you. Hug before you leave home. Hug when you get home. Hug your colleagues if you share that kind of relationship. Hug your friends when you see them. A 20 second hug releases oxytocin, nature’s anti-depressant and anti-anxiety hormone.

 

 

 

Laugh:

Find something to laugh about throughout the day. If not a belly laughter at least smile through out the day, even when you don’t feel like it. Try it. You can’t smile and hold on to anger, depression, anxiety, stress. It’s just not possible. The physical effect of putting on a smile or laughing, transforms negative emotions & releases happy hormones. So go on .. laugh at yourself, or if all fails, laugh at all the cute animal videos on YouTube 😉

 

Write it out:

Put aside 20 minutes at the end of the day, sit down comfortably and write. Don’t think about what to write or how to write. Just write. Whatever is on your mind. Forget about spellings and grammatical errors. Suspend that grammar nazi in you. Just write.

Write about whatever is running through your head. Whatever is clouding your emotions. Whatever is nagging at the back of your mind that keeps you up tossing and turning. Take up a pen and paper and write it out.

Get moving:

Get moving and feel that blood flowing through your veins. If working out at the gym is not your thing, try a different activity …  yoga, competitive sport, dancing, start walking to the store, running to your chores, parking farthest at the parking lot….  if nothing else, walk back home from work, at least part of the way. Again, whatever floats your boat, as long as you are being active for at least 20 minutes every day, the kind of active that raises your heart beat.

 

 

So time to get on that band-wagon of new year resolution to achieve a healthier you. If you are tired of sweating it out without seeing some results that motivate you to continue… I suggest practicing the first six tips vigorously 😉

Spread the happiness

Spread the happiness 🙂

 

Happiness is a ray of sunshine that can warm you in the coldest of days. Like the wet kiss of a puppy that make you giggle. Like a small child whispering, I love you, it can leave you toasty warm right down to your toes.

 

10% OF HAPPINESS is a result of your income, 50% can be attributed to your genetics and developmental factors, and last 40% is simply your own dispositions’ and outlook on your day-to-day life situation’s.”

 

If you are a regular reader, then you know by now that I love Paulo Coelho’s writings and follow his blog. This writing that I came across  today was just too good to not share 🙂

8 things to do every day that will make you happier

by PAULO COELHO on APRIL 3, 2013

excepts from te post by Barking up the wrong tree

1) Thank someone
First thing in the morning, send an email thanking or praising someone. Research shows this can brighten your day.

2) Spend money — on someone else
Harvard professor Michael Norton, author of Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending, talks about this in this video 

3) Give 5 hugs

In a one-of-a-kind study, students at Pennsylvania State University were assigned to two groups. The first group was instructed to give or receive a minimum of five hugs per day over the course of four weeks and to record the details. The hugs had to be front-to-front (nonsexual) hugs, using both arms of both participants; however, the length and strength of hug, as well as the placement of hands, were left to their discretion. Furthermore, these students couldn’t simply huge their boyfriends or girlfriends half a dozen times; they had to aim to hug as many different individuals as possible. The second, the controls, was instructed simply to record the number of hours they read each day over the same four weeks.
People assigned to give or receive hugs 5 times a day ended up happier than the control group. From Sonja Lyubomirsky’s book

4) Do stuff you’re good at

People who deliberately exercised their signature strengths on a daily basis — those qualities they were uniquely best at, the talents that set them apart from others – became significantly happier for months.

5) Do 5 little nice things for others

…individuals told to complete five acts of kindness over the course of a day report feeling much happier than control groups and that the feeling lasts for many subsequent days, far after the exercise is over. To try this yourself, pick one day a week and make a point of committing five acts of kindness. But if you want to reap the psychological benefit, make sure you do these things deliberately and consciously—you can’t just look back over the last 24 hours and declare your acts post hoc.

6) Create something to look forward to
One study found that people who just thought about watching their favorite movie actually raised their endorphin levels by 27 percent. Often, the most enjoyable part of an activity is the anticipation. If you can’t take the time for a vacation right now, or even a night out with friends, put something on the calendar—even if it’s a month or a year down the road. Then whenever you need a boost of happiness, remind yourself about it.

7) Spend time with friends 

Having a better social life is the happiness equivalent of making an extra $131,232 a year:
There is substantial evidence in the psychology and sociology literature that social relationships promote happiness for the individual. Yet the size of their impacts remains largely unknown. This paper explores the use of shadow pricing method to estimate the monetary values of the satisfaction with life gained by an increase in the frequency of interaction with friends, relatives, and neighbours. Using the British Household Panel Survey, I find that an increase in the level of social involvements is worth up to an extra £85,000 a year in terms of life satisfaction. Actual changes in income, on the other hand, buy very little happiness.

8) Before bed, write down three good things that happened today

Every night for the next week, set aside ten minutes before you go to sleep. Write down three things that went well today and why they went well. You may use a journal or your computer to write about the events, but it is important that you have a physical record of what you wrote. The three things need not be earthshaking in importance (“ My husband picked up my favorite ice cream for dessert on the way home from work today”), but they can be important (“ My sister just gave birth to a healthy baby boy”).

 

To read more go to the site here: http://paulocoelhoblog.com/2013/04/03/8-things-to-do-every-day-that-will-make-you-happier/

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