Thursday, April 7, 2016

“Happiness is a Teacher”

Happiness, specifically the question “what makes you happy?” is a theme that has been deliberated several times over the last few weeks in various medias I have read or listened too.  

So what have I picked up from all the happiness chatter?

I was struck at how much significance was put on this question - “Happiness is intricately related to who we are.”

I was reminded of my favorite EE  Cummings quote on this very topic. “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” This quote, if taken candidly, takes on a new importance. Especially if we believe our values define us as a person.  

It is important for people to understand what values are truly important to them. Without this knowledge you can’t really determine any priorities in your daily life.  

My values determine my life priorities, and my core beliefs and ultimately how I want to live my life. My values are what gives me purpose.

Without set priorities you can’t truly be happy because you won’t have a verifiable purpose. This is what makes the discovery of “who you are” such a valuable gift.

However, there is a risk. 

Defining your values and setting life priorities not only make you happy, they give you purpose in your day-to-day life.  That to me is a key to true happiness.  However, defining your values and ultimately what makes you happy can also lead to major life changes: maybe  a new career; moving to a new city; or leaving an unhealthy relationship. 

If you took EE Cummings quote to heart you would need to be cautious that when you look for what truly defines your state of happiness, because it could very well result in changes to significant parts of your present life.  

Or not. 

Dr. Robert Holden, directs a Happiness project “Happiness Now” in England. It is an eight-week-program that enable participants to embark on a personal development journey to discover what happiness means to them. Happiness requires a lot of "self-attention," Dr. Holden says. "Happiness is a teacher that helps you learn more about who you are, more about what is really important in your life and what your life is really for.”


I think it is important to take stock in your values and your priorities on occasion:  without comparing yourself to anyone else, and without caring what anyone else thinks of you; take stock of your life, and your values, and your true purpose

 You may be surprised what a wonderful life you have. And that is something to be truly happy about. 

A French writer that goes by “Colette” (born Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette) says it best: 

"What a wonderful life I've had! I only wish I'd realized it sooner."
Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Hello World

I had the opportunity to travel to 38 countries before I met my husband and settle down, and to this day my travel experiences have shaped almost all my decisions, from eating choices to voting.  

Some of my most memorable times have happened overseas.  My husband and I got married in Killarney, Ireland; and we took our twins to Okinawa, Japan for their first birthday. 

Travel is an essential component in my past experience, it has enhanced so many aspects of my life. The people I have met and the lifelong friends I have made overseas are dear to my heart.

In a few weeks I will have the opportunity to take our 10-year-old twins on a month-long trip to Japan (Thanks in part to my twin sister who has lived there for 11 years and my supportive husband.) I am very excited for our children (cousins!) to spend a significant amount of time together and build special memories, but the idea of the life lessons we will learn on this trip has also absorbed my thoughts.  

So what are some valuable lessons I learned when I traveled? And what would be my wish list for our twins to discover?

Firstly, and this is an easy one - travel light for opportunity and independence. We are only taking carry-ons so we will not need to rely on luggage carts or individuals for assistance. 

I know from personal experience that the less you carry on a trip the more remarkable your trip will be.  I overpacked for my first international trip and getting from terminal to terminal was awkward and backbreaking.  It was hard to get on and off trains and frankly I felt naive and unrefined. I vowed never to make that mistake again.  

On my next trip I packed very light (no check-on bags) and my unplanned 6-hour layover in Schiphol airport (Amsterdam) resulted in a spontaneous (and memorable) trip to the Anne Frank House. Because I did not have to worry about collecting and rechecking any bags, or finding a locker; I was able to use every minute to broaden my life experience by hopping on the train to this extraordinary historical landmark.

I hope my kids discover early in life that things weigh you down and can keep you from doing things. Pack less things to make more room for experiences. 

Things happen. When you travel to foreign lands you learn quickly that you are not the center of the world and although you may have planned every detail of your trip perfectly that does not mean that it will turn out that way. In fact, chances are it won’t. And guess what? That is okay!  

Travel is an opportunity to discover more about yourself. To live spontaneously with an open heart and mind.  I am reminded of a favorite quote by Charles Swindoll,  “Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.”  Adopt this quote as your travel mantra. 

It truly is a small world and I am excited for the new perspective this trip will give my children. Not just about the obvious such as food and language, but about their place in the world.  Other cultures matter; the world is small and we are all connected.  

One year after I had visited Turkey, that country was struck with a devastating earthquake and 6,000 people were killed. As someone who had just visited, I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone that I had a conversation with at a cafe had lost a loved one; or if someone that said hi to me on the street was affected by the tragic quake; my visit brought the headline to life for me by mixing up emotions and concern.  

When an acquaintance mentioned his irritation at the United States for sending money to Turkey to help in the quake recovery; I was truly astonished. I was very saddened by the headlines and wanted to help too. Travel changes your perspective and helps you identify with other people. 

Keep an open mind about opportunities; a nonjudgmental almost novice outlook frees your mind from the clutter of a schedule and unrealistic expectations. You don’t always have to do what the “vacation books” suggest, (that is someone else’s bucket list).  

If you just want to find an amazing spot to sit and read your favorite book - do it. Create memories that mean something to you versus checking off a list.  Allow yourself to just quietly “exist” from time to time. Look around and really absorb the city; the sites; the smells; and the sounds.  You may find that “happy place” you will revisit again and again. 

To this day, I remember sitting on a park bench in Rome and just watching and soaking in the feeling of being a part of that exact moment at that time in Rome. Thinking what would it be like to live here; to drive your moped to work; to stop in the coffee shop across the Colosseum for your daily coffee fix.  It is one of my favorite memories, and now 10 years later when I quiet my brain and think back to that time, I can still hear the sounds and experience what it felt like to truly “be” in Rome.  Exist quietly from time to time and add new meaning to your travel experience. 

I laughed out loud when I discovered this quote by Dagobert D. Runes,  “People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home.”   This is so true!

Take it easy on souvenirs.  I planned early in my “traveling years” to buy either a linen, pottery, or a print from the places that really moved me. This was with the intention to bring home only souvenirs that I would use. Now years later when my husband and I have decided to “reduce clutter” and keep only items that are useful and bring back good memories I can choose to actually keep most of my travel keepsakes because they have a use in our home.  

Respect the locals and their traditions and any sacred customs or guidelines. 

When I visited China, our tour guide warned us not to speak out about any opposing viewpoints any of us may have with the Chinese government.  He could not promise that we wouldn’t be arrested for not respecting rules and opinions set by their government.  This is an extreme example, but we will be visiting  sacred temples, etc., and even though we may not believe in their specific rituals we need to respect the rights and customs of the locals that do - even if we don’t agree or understand.  It is a great lesson in empathy and a wonderful way to open your mind to new opinions and ideas. 

Learning new ideas doesn't mean you need to change your own, it just makes the world a much more interesting place. 

Use the skill of map reading. Although I agree is it a smart idea to use a GPS system in the busy streets of a foreign land; before you head out on your adventure look at a map to give you an overview of the amazing world you are about to experience. 

And lastly, leave all expectations behind.  

Travel with a mind open to new ideas; leave preconceived notions at home; and be just be wowed at all the “newness.”   The need to be in control is “mind clutter.”  Flexibility is a good thing. The need to control your day and fixed agendas will steal life experiences from you.  

Remember that your trip starts the minute you walk out your door. There is some truth in the old cliche “It is not all about the destination it is about the journey.”

Sunday, April 19, 2015

How will our children be different as adults (than we are) when they are raised constantly “connected” to the world?

I am an older parent and I have to admit one troubling aspect of childhood that is significantly different for my children then when I was young — “Solitude”  or lack thereof. 

What ever happened to precious solitude, the glorious state of being alone and being okay with that? 

How will our children be different as adults when they are raised  constantly “connected” to the world, literally attacked by social media throughout the day? Even children’s game apps send notifications asking “Where have you been?”  

Being deluged by notifications, status updates and texts puts other people in control of your child by impacting their daily life.  Always trying to impress or staying ahead affects the mental state of that person. It distracts that person from their “present real” time; and I find it extremely unsettling. 

I honestly don't know how I would have dealt with that kind of “pressure” when I was a child, and yet I sit and watch it happen to my own children. 

It is “unnatural” to always be connected. Spending time alone in today’s society has taken on a new urgency — how can constantly being connected not affect our children’s personal development? It concerns me that children (especially teens) constantly try to impress others throughout the day via status updates, snap chat, etc. 

We have rigid “screen time rules” at our house. Our 10-year-old twins have to “earn” their screen time by exercising; practicing their piano, or reading.  Solitude is a parenting goal for me and for now it is working.  But what happens when they move from home; When opportunities for solitude are no longer achieved through parenting?  How can I as a parent make solitude a natural comfortable state, like it was (and still is) for me? 

Wayne Walter Dyer, an American self-help author and motivational speaker once said “If you are comfortable in your own skin and if you really love your own person, you will not be afraid to spend some time alone. You will enjoy the time you spend alone as much as you do when you are surrounded by the people you love dearly…You cannot be lonely if you like the person you’re alone with.”

The ability to be alone and be happy is an important skill to possess and I hope an ambition that I can instill in my children. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Do you have a "fixed" or a "growth" mindset?

“So what are you going to do with that?” 

I have been blown away by the number of times I have heard this question when I tell them people about personal development classes I plan to take this spring. My answer is straight on, I hope to be inspired by learning new things, which in turn will make me a more interesting person not just to others but to myself. Knowledge inspires. Why do we expect or even want immediate payback for everything? 

We have all heard the adage “There is a vast difference between living and existing.” What I take this to mean is that when you know more, you are able to understand more, which leads to inspiration and a more fulfilling life. 

The more you learn, the more more comfortable you are in other people's company, whether it be a neighbor; your kid’s teacher; colleagues; or peers.  As we grow  older, our life does not stay the same. It is in continual change. You may switch jobs; move across country; have children (or not); your children grow up and move away; the changes go on and on and on. Challenging yourself with new ideas and a new ways of thinking about things can serve as a great survival technique.  

I have recently started a book “Mindset” by world-renowned Stanford University Professor psychologist Carol Dweck -  She talks about “fixed mindset versus growth mindset, a simple idea that makes all the difference.”  

“People in a fixed mindset believe you either are or aren’t good at something, based on your inherent nature, because it’s just who you are. They believe that talent results in success - without effort.

People in a growth mindset believe anyone can be good at anything, they believe their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work - brains and talent are just the starting point.”

So the next time someone asks “What are you going to to with that? I will tell them that I have a “Growth Mindset” and it is never too late to learn something new and wonderful and in turn have a new love for life. 

"Try to learn something about everything and everything about something" 
Thomas Huxley

Saturday, February 28, 2015

What's Up With Your Attitude?

The other morning as I was getting ready for work I looked in the mirror and said, “I am so tired and I look terrible!” One of my daughters overheard me and she quickly admonished me.

“Mom, you can’t think like that, then you will believe it, and your beliefs can affect your attitude and you could have a bad day.”  

That wise advice from my nine-year-old got me thinking. Is there an effective way to control your internal critic and instead shift your thoughts to something more positive and realistic?   How can you silence your inner antagonist even during the most trying times?  Because as my daughter said; your attitude may ultimately affect your actions, which can affect your day.  

The significance of attitude in our day-to-day life is great and can have long term impacts. 

Years ago I was having a particularly hard time at work. It involved a higher-ranking manager and an impossible deadline.  I felt as if I was being “tested” on every level of my professional being.   A co-worker pulled me aside and told me, “All anyone will ever remember is your reaction, no one will remember the circumstances or that you are being treated unfairly. They will only remember YOUR reaction.”   I took her words to heart, held my head high and made it through the storm.  Not long after, a senior manager pulled me aside and praised me for my “positive” attitude.  He said he had been watching me throughout my ordeal, and he truly admired me and was very impressed at how professional and confident I remained the entire time.”   My attitude, had I reacted differently, could have resulted in serious ramifications during that “test.”

Attitude. It controls everything. It can be a bully and force you to be angry and bitter, or it can serve as a guru and help you feel peace and happiness. 

If you look up attitude it is often described as a way of talking and behaving. But attitude has much more significance in our lives. In fact attitude is a way of life. How often do we tell our kids, “Watch your attitude,” or “You need to change your attitude.”  Why do we tell our kids this? Because your attitude can determine your outcome. It is all you have control over.

I read an interesting article years ago that has always stuck with me. It referred to people’s life experiences as “filters”  or “predetermined ideas.”   People’s life experiences work as filters for any new opinions ran through their mindset. You can’t change the way people think or act. So a good “survival technique” is to change your expectations of others. Realize you won’t always like someone else’s approach or behavior, and that is okay.

Attitude is a way of life. Attitude determines outcome. It is the only thing you have control over in your busy chaotic life. Which adds significance to the old cliche “The only difference between a good day and a bad day is your attitude.”   

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Ripple Effect

My nephew Parker Fettig was born eighteen years ago (January 15, 1997), at 23 weeks to my beautiful sister-in-law Catherine and my brother Doug. Parker lived for seven days, but his presence in our family and those people he touched while on this earth remains as strong as the days he was with us.  He is our little angel who has given our family a great gift; that is to truly appreciate each day. The old cliche “each day is a gift,” rings loud when you lose someone close to you.  I have always marveled at the strength of Doug and Catherine, even more so after having children of my own. To find their way out of such a loss with such incredible grace has been nothing but awe-inspiring. 

In Parker’s memory, Doug and Catherine went on to start Precious Beginnings: Parents Supporting Parents of Critically Ill Newborns,  a nonprofit group of families who have parented babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), in Portland Oregon.

In an inaugural issue of Precious Beginnings newsletter Catherine wrote about their experience:  “ Our son Parker was born in January 1997 at 23 weeks old. He only lived for seven days in the NICU. It was where he lived his life...where he was born and where he died. When he was born we did not know what to expect. 

“We felt so lonely in this new world of the NICU. We wanted to know our future. We wanted to change the past. We were powerless. So we chose to do the one thing that we had total control love him and to appreciate each moment of his existence. To celebrate his life and marvel in the midst of the unexpected, that here before us was our beautiful son.Through the noise of the machines, from the shock and disbelief that this was happening to us, to the blur of our life having been enveloped by a world we did not choose...somehow, we tried to stay as focused as we could and to remember that this child of ours was a gift.

“We now appreciate those days and those moments. For whatever reason, that was all we were meant to have with Parker in this life. But he blessed us with wonderful gifts: experiencing the power and magnitude of love, and the genuine goodness in others. And learning that life, for however long it is or whatever it may be like, is precious, and we should appreciate each moment.”

This is Parker’s amazing legacy. What we do for others can be everlasting; we plant a seed with every action and word spoken to others. Life is precious, set down your phone (often) and carve out time with those important to you, so you don’t miss out on the precious gift of the present.  Keep your heart and mind open to the seeds planted by those people we have loved and have gone before us. My brother Doug lovingly refers to this as the “Ripple Effect,” as he notes below. 

“When your child dies you are initially lurching moment-by-moment through the phase of intense grief, trying (and failing, and trying again) to accept a new reality. 

“But in those painful early days a beautiful and powerful emotional undercurrent has also begun to manifest itself.  I call it “The Ripple Effect".  

“When a life, regardless of how brief (in our son Parker's case it was seven days), touches other lives it sets in motion a series of potentially unending ripple effects. 

“After 18 years these ripple effects continue for us in many forms; from the life-long friends that Parker has brought into our lives, to the privilege of listening to and helping others going through painful times, to a thoughtful word or gesture of remembrance, or to the powerful reminder that each moment of our lives is a precious gift. 

“If you are open to them, these ripple effects can be felt from all those who impacted your life before they departed.  Be it a grandparent, parent, sibling, child, close friend - there can be a gentle ripple washing ashore at the most unexpected time.  

Be open to it's embrace and let it wash over you.”

Parker's mom and dad, Doug and Catherine Fettig, 
and his brothers Pierce (left) and Calder (right).

Friday, January 30, 2015

Why yes, the clutter does make your butt look fat!

How might your life be better if you owned fewer material possessions?  I love this question and I have been having this conversation with my kids quite often lately.

My husband and I are determined to teach our children that a simplified life is the best life. We shouldn’t waste precious time looking for matching socks, car keys, etc. Personally I don’t want to be folding a ton of laundry when I could be playing board games with my kids.

A couple years ago I came across a book by clutter buster Peter Walsh “Does This Clutter make My Butt Look Fat?”  his theory is that when you have too much clutter it affects your energy level, your ability to make and eat healthy meals, etc. He asks his readers, “Is hanging on to all those memories (baby clothes, papers, books, etc), keeping you from making new ones?” I love that question! I printed it out and hung it in our storage room where many years of special “memories” have seemed to take root.

Although we constantly make a concerted effort to keep the clutter down, when you have kids and a busy life it can start creeping back.  

So in our daily attempt to live a life comprised of “more experiences and less things” I have fallen in love with the blog     

They say it best: “Minimalism is a lifestyle that helps people question what things add value to their lives. By clearing the clutter from life’s path, we can all make room for the most important aspects of life: health, relationships, passion, growth, and contribution.

There are many flavors of minimalism: a 20-year-old single guy’s minimalist lifestyle looks different from a 45-year-old mother’s minimalist life. Even though everyone embraces minimalism differently, each path leads to the same place: a life with more time, more money, and more freedom to live a more meaningful life.

Minimalism is a tool that can assist you in finding freedom. Freedom from fear. Freedom from worry. Freedom from overwhelm. Freedom from guilt. Freedom from depression. Freedom from the trappings of the consumer culture we’ve built our lives around. Real freedom."

Getting started is as simple as asking yourself one question:
How might your life be better if you owned fewer material possessions?”