Holidays of Happiness

Black Friday is finally here and we can officially enter into the season of all things Christmas! I’m so excited and fear not there will be lots of holly jolly cheer over the next month. As we enter the season though I wanted to take a moment to talk about what the season evokes for many of us: happiness. I know that happiness is what many people are searching for in their drugs, alcohol, beauty treatments, crazy behaviors, excessive spending and relationship choices. We try all these external things to make us happy only to often find that we’re more miserable than we were before we started, or that the happiness is very temporary. It’s only when we start to work on the internal that we’re able to tap into happiness that we can access anytime of day or night. It turns out though, that when we find internal happiness, the external shows improvement too.

It’s important to know that what makes me happy isn’t necessarily what will make you happy. But when my happy comes together with your happy we can spread a lot more happy around the world because we’re bringing what only we can bring to the table, combining it with what someone else can bring and making something amazing with it. It’s like baking a cake: it’s no good without the liquid, if you only baked the dry ingredients you would probably end up with just brown dust in the pan when it’s done.

The holidays are really about people coming together to celebrate each other and the lives we’re blessed to live. For those who are spiritual there’s the underlying influence/inspiration of Christmas or Hanukkah to make it even more meaningful. But just like there would be no presents under the tree if someone didn’t buy them, you won’t have happiness unless you choose it. Why would you choose to be Scrooge when you could choose to be Tiny Tim who knows how to be happy even when life looks bleak.

This holiday season I encourage you to find your smile, let your holiday joy shine an spread some holiday cheer to everyone you meet.

“Happiness is the greatest beauty secret.” Tina Turner

A Day of Thanksgiving

Tomorrow is the celebration of Thanksgiving. It’s a time for us to eat, reflect and celebrate all the blessings we’ve experienced in the past year. It’s not about the trappings and trimmings like Christmas and who can outdo each other with the best gift. No, it’s a time for simple things; food, family and football for many, and a time for all, religious or not to take time to count our blessings and the things we’re thankful for in the past year. It’s almost an accounting before we get to the new year and set new resolutions, a time of reflection over the next month and planning on what we’ll do different or better in the next year.

But Thanksgiving is really a time for us to be present, to not worry about what tomorrow will bring or the ways we’ve failed in the past, but a chance to just be and be thankful for being alive. A time for us to set aside our differences and challenges and laugh and cry over the events of the past year; to remember those we’ve lost and celebrate those we’ve found.

Thanksgiving is really the first gift of the holiday season. A gift of being present, of letting go of the complications, and re-unwrapping all the gifts we were given over the past year all at once. It’s a chance to get in the mindset of the upcoming season of love, joy and giving and a reminder that that’s what this season is really all about.

So tomorrow I hope that you’ll take some time out of the bustle, food preparation and thoughts of gifts to make peace with the past year and anticipate the month of celebration ahead.

“Thanksgiving is the holiday of peace, the celebration of work and the simple life… a true folk-festival that speaks the poetry of the turn of the seasons, the beauty of seedtime and harvest, the ripe product of the year – and the deep, deep connection of all these things with God.” Ray Stannard Baker

Thankful for Blessings

Thanksgiving is just a few days away and I’m super excited (even though I’m not going to be eating a lot of the food this year with my diet change). I love that people around the USA are taking time out of their lives to be thankful and appreciate the blessings, the people and the victories in their lives over the past year. As you get ready for Thanksgiving I want to reflect for just a moment with you on the words of Psalm 100:4-5:

“Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation.”

These may be words you heard at Church this week or read in another newsletter, blog post, or devotional. They’re probably nothing new. But I believe they’re a good reminder to us today that Thanksgiving and giving thanks is really a starting point. It’s how we’re to enter God’s presence, it’s how we’re to start the day, it’s how we’re to approach situations, it’s how we’re to see life: through the lens of blessing.

When we see life as a disaster just waiting to happen I don’t believe we’re giving God the credit for being the Awesome God He is, for begin a good God, for being a God who has our best interests at heart and knows the plans of blessing He has for us. Instead we’re immediately discrediting Him, and we’re putting ourselves at a disadvantage as well. When we’re expecting the bad, we can’t be open to the good. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather rejoice than cry over life.

Will you join me this week in being thankful for the blessings and potential blessings, rather than the bad stuff that hasn’t happened, and give God an opportunity to show His faithfulness to a new generation of people?

The Emotion of Health

One of the things that surprises me in life is how much hurt and suffering we unleash on ourselves. It sounds crazy, and it really is, but there are lots of us who are suckers for punishment. We choose to be miserable, choose to be unhappy and do nothing about it. There has been a lot of talk and research over the past couple of decades about exactly how we get sick or where diseases come from. There are some really obvious answers to that question like the child with developmental disabilities whose mother smoked crack while pregnant or the viruses and bacteria we can see under a microscope slide as causes of illnesses. We know a lot about what goes on in our bodies when we get sick or have a disease, but the actual cause is something that has been under more study of late.

The question that has been raised over and over is: can something like anger, hatred, stress, depression, fear or sadness cause these illnesses and diseases? Lots of people have come to the conclusion that they can. There’s also really good evidence that much of the reason we’re sick or overweight has to do with the foods we eat, but that’s a discussion for another time. Today I want to focus on the possibility that what you’re feeling is causing the illnesses and diseases you face. Like the mom who gets cancer after her son dies because she struggles so with her grief, or the executive who develops ulcers because he’s so stressed about his job. In these cases it’s an illness or disease indicating that something is wrong: and it’s not necessarily a biological thing, it’s an emotional thing.

When we choose to bottle up all the negativity and stress within us we’re like a well shaken can of soda: when opened immediately after shaking it explodes everywhere (and sometimes before opening if the pressure is too much). Why we don’t think that the pressure inside our minds and bodies has an equal impact on us, I don’t know. But how many times have you been really angry about something and going over and over it only to realize that the more you think about it the worse you feel physically or emotionally, maybe even sick to your stomach over the situation?

The fact is emotion isn’t just a bunch of words or an intangible feeling: it’s something that has very physical implications. Unfortunately if we really let the negative emotions take hold in our life we can become so wrapped up in them that we start to ignore the physical indications that the negative thoughts are hurting us and just try to keep going. Sooner or later it will catch up with us, whether with premature death or other long-term consequences. Choose today to not let negative emotions rule your life anymore, release them, forgive yourself for holding onto them and move on.

“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” Mark Twain

The Return on Thanksgiving

I’m a believer in Karma (reaping/sowing, cause/effect, reincarnation, the Rule of Three, payback, etc.). Call it what you want but I believe that there are repercussions, reactions and responses to our actions whether they are good or bad. I believe that if you are nasty to someone you’ll suffer similarly in the future or something else will be the kickback/payback for your cruelty. If you are someone who steps up to the plate whenever a need arises I believe that your needs will be met as well. It’s not always black and white but I believe that for every action there is (at least) an equal and opposite reaction.

I know that most of us are looking for an edge in life and being happy or successful, and I believe that Karma and being thankful are two things that can work for your advantage if you’ll work with them. The foundation of this edge however has to be your understanding of how it works. It’s really quite simple: when you do good, good things will come to you, and when you do bad things, bad things will come to you. Again, it may not be immediate, but then again it may be so immediate that it smacks you upside the head without warning.

So if you’re in need of a little boost or advantage today in your life the place to start is with Karma and being thankful. It may not be the easiest place for you, but it’s one that not only is good for you, but good for others as well. I’ve read countless stories and talked with countless people about how a kind action totally changed their life. You, too may have stories you could share of the difference that someone made in your life because they were kind.

So the closer we get to Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas I encourage you to get caught up in the spirit, and challenge you to stay in the spirit all year long. Be thankful, spread goodness and accept the blessings that come your way.

“The unthankful heart… discovers no mercies; but let the thankful heart sweep through the day and, as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings!” Henry Ward Beecher

Give and Receive

I’ve been thinking lots of thankful thoughts this month, I hope you have as well. One thing I struggle with personally is learning to receive, not just give. I’m naturally a giving person; I like to help others, to shower love on my partner and do good for the world. But when it comes to having needs I’m just getting a grip on the fact that needs are supposed to be met and in order for them to be met you have to receive. Thanksgiving sounds like it’s all about giving to others, but it’s also about giving thanks for all you have, which means that in order to have stuff you had to receive it some way.

Receiving isn’t about being selfish, but about recognizing that in order to care for others we have to be cared for ourselves. I am always reminding business clients that they can’t do everything on their own, but that they need to have a support team around them, even if it’s just their partner and family and not any obvious professional staff, not including those who created Facebook, websites, the internet or other tools and technologies they use in their daily life and business. Life isn’t meant to be lived fully reliant on yourself, that’s why there are other people around.

I know that prayer is supposed to be an integral part of our relationships with God, but until we’re able to receive and accept the blessings He sends us, the purpose and benefits of prayer will be limited to us. It may bring us closer to God, but until we’re willing to fully accept the terms of the relationship it won’t be all it could be. Until we’re able to accept the blessings and answers God sends, whatever they may be, we’re cutting ourselves off from the power of God.

This holiday season the best thing you could do, the best gift you could give yourself and God would be to accept what He sends your way, whatever it is. To choose to accept the support and assistance of the people in your life and to give and receive each day.

“God has given us two hands, one to receive with and the other to give with.” Billy Graham

The Chance of Change

Life is a journey.  It’s one that I’m getting more excited about each day as I progress on this journey.  I’m not sure what I really expected from 2014 but it’s been a year that has revealed a lot about myself, who I am and what I need in life, as well as even a glimpse about what my future could hold.  The biggest things that it’s taught me is how much I really know about myself, how stupid it is to try to deny who we are, and how necessary to life change is.

Change is a topic I talk about frequently because it impacts so much of our lives.  The challenge we face with change is that we’re not always ready to move in the direction  change is sending us, or we’re comfortable enough with our life that we don’t really feel the need for change, even if there is one.  Unfortunately our resistance to change will only make us miserable.  The reason you are miserable or depressed today could be because you’re resisting the change rather than because change is happening.

It’s not easy to admit you were wrong, that you need certain things in your life, or that you’re ready for change.  Sometimes the expectation of who you are with other people can be enough to keep you trapped where you are rather than grasping life by the horns.  But life is meant to be lived.

What if instead of change being a challenge it was a chance?  A chance to be free to be who you were meant to be? A chance to be the powerful and capable person I know you are?  The person who admits their needs and talents without shame and embraces being supported and supportive of those around them?  What if it wasn’t a weakness to admit that you aren’t all knowing, all capable and all powerful, but actually a strength?

This weekend I challenge you to take some time to take a good hard look at your life and make sure that you’re really living life to the fullest, and if not what things you’ll let into your life or let go of to get there.

“It’s hard to let new stuff in. And whether that admits a weakness, I don’t know.” Martin Scorsese

Celebrating Others Victories

Thanksgiving is all about what we ourselves are thankful for, but what about what everyone else is thankful for?  As kids we’re asked to list things we’re thankful for, as adults we’re told to express our thanks to those who help us, but is being thankful really that self-centered?  Is it all about us?  Are we just thankful that things go our way or are we truly grateful when things go well for others?

It can be challenging for us to accept, let alone celebrate, the good things that happen to other people, especially if we don’t think that person is particularly deserving.  When the crooks, the cheats, the liars and the stealers get away with their crimes we’re not happy, but when they seem to just receive good things in response to the shameful ways they live it’s enough to drive a person crazy.  Maybe it’s luck, or maybe it just looks like they’re getting all the good stuff, when the reality is that that’s the only good that they have in their lives, but because that’s the most public aspect of their lives it certainly seems like life is really unfair.

The tough lesson to learn is that everyone has things to be thankful for as blessings and good things don’t always see people the way that we do.  It’s a lesson that’s not just about the blessings of life but about the grace and forgiveness as well.  Life isn’t all sunshine and roses, and sometimes we make decisions that we probably shouldn’t have made but we felt like that was our only option at the time, and perhaps it was.  It’s a challenge to honestly celebrate the promotion you wanted that someone else got.  It’s also a challenge to accepting that God forgives us and those around us when mistakes are made.  It’s almost too hard to grasp sometimes, especially if we don’t feel like we’re worthy of forgiveness, or the other person is.

But that’s really what Thanksgiving is about; it’s about coming together to celebrate with each other.  I may not be thankful for what you’re thankful for, but I can be thankful for and with you.  Just because it’s not my victory doesn’t mean that I can’t celebrate equally with you.  It’s when I let those doubts, fears, and old prejudices sneak in that I start to judge and compare, and struggle to celebrate with you.

This week I challenge you to be honestly happy with one person who is celebrating something in their life.  Just let loose and celebrate life the way it was meant to be lived: together.

“It is delightfully easy to thank God for the grace we ourselves have received, but it requires great grace to thank God always for the grace given to others.”  James Smith

Thanks is Good

This month we’re talking about being thankful and this week I wanted to talk about a verse that sounds a lot simpler than it may feel.  Psalm 92:1 says: “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to the Most High.”  

It’s true, we do think about thanksgiving as a positive thing: we say “thank you” when we’re appreciative that someone helped us with something, or someone got us what we wanted for our birthday.  Being thankful is a celebration of life, living and our blessings in a world that sees too much darkness.

But being thankful can seem like a chore if it’s not something we’re used to, or it’s not a practice we have.  To practice thanksgiving, or to make a habit of being thankful means that you actively look for and seek out things in your life that you can appreciate.  It’s looking out the window in the morning and being thankful for the blue sky, sitting at the table with your family and being thankful that you’re all there, driving your car to work and being thankful that you can drive and don’t have to walk, and being thankful your computer turns on yet again today.  Those are really simple and really obvious things, but all too often we’re oblivious or take them for granted.

But if you look at the wishes people have, way too many want to be happy; which means they don’t think they’re happy.  While it’s possible that they do have a very good reason to be unhappy, the more likely issue is that they haven’t tried to be happy or aren’t aware of all the happiness that could be theirs if they would only open their eyes.  We say we want good things in our lives but how far are we really willing to go to find those good things?

In talking with a client this week she mentioned how many people talk about the struggles they’re having in her field (a medical one) and that she struggles with marketing her business because of their focus on the struggle, and not the solutions that are available.  This is too often the case for our lives as well.  We’re too busy looking at the mess to get to doing something about it.  This week I challenge you to do something good for yourself, even something as simple as looking for more opportunities to be thankful.

An Attitude of Action

We face a lot of challenges in our lives. Many of us harbor secret hopes that we can get home from work and not have any challenges to deal with at home with our partner or kids, but that’s not usually the case, even if it’s just the homework they got and we can’t understand (thank God for Google), and not anything more serious.

The thing that we aren’t always willing to realize is that the longer we put some of these challenges off the worse they will get. Our relationships won’t get better as time goes on and we continue to ignore them, our kids won’t love us more if we pass them off to the sitter more, our jobs won’t get better if we grumble more. No, these things will only get better when we start to make changes. Admittedly, changes can be really intimidating to us.

I think the intimidation is really mostly in the first step, as the saying goes “the first step is a doozie.” It’s really hard to get going for most of us because we’re daunted by the task ahead, the circumstances of our situation or even what others will think about the changes we’re making. So you know what the secret is, right? Yep: taking that first step.

The good news is that you don’t have to rip the whole band-aid off all at once, unless you know deep down inside that that’s the only thing that will get you out of the situation you’re in, or is the most necessary because of your sanity or health. Most of the time you can take little steps initially until you’re feeling the motivation and really getting into the excitement of trying new things and getting out of the situation that may have crippled you for too long.

You’re probably familiar with the saying “if you want something done you should do it yourself.” This is a really true statement, especially when it comes to things in your life that other people can’t do anything about for you. So this weekend choose one thing that has bothered you for too long and do something immediately about it, even if it’s something small.

“Have a bias toward action – let’s see something happen now. You can break that big plan into small steps and take the first step right away.” Indira Gandhi