Category Archives: Happiness

Don’t Give Up Thankfulness

I was sitting in Marble Collegiate Church yesterday listening to the pastor speak about things we should not give up for Lent. Loving others was at the top of his list, followed by thankfulness. Don’t give up thankfulness, he said.

This is not a new message. Many of us keep gratitude journals. One friend writes daily thank you notes to the Universe.

I wonder, though, if this doesn’t become pro forma after a while. Oh yes, we think, I need to get an entry into my gratitude journal. I need to write my note. I need to say thank you. OK – one more thing checked off of my list for the day.

What if we practiced mindful gratitude every day? What if we reflected on all the gifts we have been given and focused on the one that has a special significance in this moment, on this day.

I close my eyes after I make my journal entry and bask in the wonder of each day’s gift. Some days, it’s easy – one thing jumps out at me – a special moment or a kindness or the first crocus. Sometimes it takes a lot of searching to find anything at all. Sometimes there seem to be so many things that it’s hard to single out just one. Reflection helps. Sitting with an idea, a vision, some new thing, brings clarity.

I used to make gratitude lists. Now I focus on that one important thing. I relish the good feelings that one thing brings. I close my journal with a smile.

Don’t give up on thankfulness. It just keeps the good things coming.

Friends (of) … With Benefits

No, not that kind of friends with benefits. This is about the many wonderful organizations that give you wonderful free things in return for your support. On Saturday, I attended a percussion concert at Alice Tully Hall, courtesy of a friend’s contribution to the Julliard Association. Here’s what the membership includes:

Two complimentary tickets by mail for six performances per semester (12 per year). Selection can be made from orchestra, chamber music, and dance performances based on availability.
Access to the Juilliard dining hall in the Samuel B. and David Rose Building adjacent to the School
Advance ticket purchase by mail to Juilliard Opera productions, the Alice Tully Vocal Arts Debut Recital, and the William Petschek Piano Debut Recital
Advance ticket purchase by mail for special Juilliard performances, including Juilliard galas and Carnegie Hall concerts
A subscription to the Members’ Calendar of Events and The Juilliard Journal, published eight times per year

If you prefer art, the Whitney Museum allows you to curate your own membership. This can include

tickets to their summer opening cocktail reception to preview and celebrate our newest exhibitions with other members, curators, and artists
Invitation for two to the annual champagne reception in the Trustee Boardroom for informal mixing and networking
Ongoing invitations to cultural events throughout NYC, including receptions, gallery openings, and art fairs
Two guest passes so you can invite your friends or entertain colleagues
Invitation for two to a Behind-the-Scenes tour of the Museum, including access to normally restricted areas
Exclusive presentations by our curatorial staff with insights on the curatorial process and Q&A
Quarterly recommendations from curators and art insiders about cultural activities not to be missed in NYC

and more.

Interested in dance? Here’s what Alvin Ailey has to offer:

Priority notification of American Ballet Theatre’s Spring Season at the Met
Two (2) passes to a special ABT Working Dress Rehearsal at the Met
Two (2) passes to a Working Dress Rehearsal in selected tour cities
Subscription to ABT’s publication On Point and ABT’s member e-news

The list goes on – and it’s all one search away. There’s community theater; there are local music groups for every taste.

What can you find?

Autumn Comfort Food and Ancestors

It’s autumn and the thermometer has dropped, so, as I sit bundled in a sweater, my thoughts go to comfort food. Specifically, to soup. Memories of my mother making escarole soup rise to the surface like steam off the soup pot. She made her own beef stock, so escarole soup also meant marrow bones. I can still taste that marrow, spread thick on a piece of bakery rye bread, then heavily peppered. And then the soup! Thick with escarole, scented with garlic and heavily ladened with Parmesan.

I will make my own soup today. It is a distant relative of my mother’s recipe, adapted to my expanded waistline and desire to minimize cholesterol, and it will be delicious in its own way. My grandmother’s spirit is at my side as I saute cabbage with onions to create a base. Next come tomatoes, bok choy, carrots and butternut squash. Pepper, perhaps a touch of dill, a few red pepper flakes. Green beans and cauliflower, if the spirit moves me. These are my own additions to replace the heartiness of the beef marrow.

Finally, I will add lots and lots of escarole. My mother’s spirit nods in approval. The soup will simmer on until all the flavors have blended. I may thicken it with some turnip puree (thinking of the old children’s book Rutabaga Tales). Later, I will feast on my soup, trying to avoid dipping in too many huge chunks of sourdough bread.

It’s a good day to bake some apples, too. I think of Auntie Adelaide, who made the best apple pie in the world, and honor her as I core apples. As they bake, I smell Auntie’s pie.

Autumn days are perfect for comfort and memories. Family members long absent visit in my kitchen on days like this and I am content.

Are You Dancing at the Shame Prom?

Twenty seven courageous women write about their dance in the moving compilation of personal stories that is Dancing at the Shame Prom: Sharing the Stories That Kept Us Small. Some of the stories made me laugh; some made me cry. All of them moved me.

How, I wondered, could some of these women have survived such abuse? Could I move on from seal abuse passed off as “God’s will?” What would me life have become if my alcoholic grandfather had escheated from verbal abuse to physical? If he had poured a jar of sauerkraut over my head? These were powerful tales of survival. Some shocked me; some made me cringe.

Other stories were much lighter. I laughed at one woman’s revelation of what happened in the sandbox. I smiled in understanding as I read about the beautiful but dumb boyfriend. Some seemed beyond my understanding. I will never truly understand what it is to be biracial, but the story reminded me of what it was like to be excluded for not being Jewish enough or Italian enough or Waspy enough. There are so many ways to not quite fit and you too are likely to find emotional connections to stories that are outside your life experience.

Sometimes, it was hard to not be a little judgmental – is that really a shameful experience, I asked myself a few times. It is in these stories, though, that I found the greatest learning. I had no problem relating to the body dysmorphia shame stories, but I had a hard time seeing frizzy/curly hair as a cause for shame. Of course, I must admit I have plenty of body issues of my own but happen to really love my hair, so that has something to do with it.

So, it was a surprise to find that the hair story was one that had a strong impact on me. Every time I have recommended this wonderful book to friends, I’ve mentioned that story. I love the author’s act of courage – jumping into a pool because she promised her daughters she would and emerging with no further though about how her hair looked. Don’t go with my oversimplification – read the whole story. Read the whole book. Share it. Buy it for your friends.

Finally, think about your own participation at the shame prom. Are you a wallflower? Are you pretending you weren’t there at all? Or are you ready to speak up, own your shame and move on? I want to be as brave as these women. What about you?

Trying Serendipity

I love it when things just appear exactly when I need them, don’t you? This has been a week of serendipitous happenings – from perfect people showing up to something as simple as the perfect tomato. I’m just dancing!

On Saturday, I called a friend to check on the date of a street fair that turns out to be next week. There was another fair that Saturday, though, and my friend had an unexpected empty space in her normally packed schedule, so we were able to spend a beautiful afternoon together. The weather conspired in our favor and it was one of those perfect, cool, breezy September days. We had a wonderful stroll, admired many beautiful things and managed to buy none of them.

We needed coffee, though, and on the way discovered a new store, where I found the perfect dress for an upcoming event. And, on a side trip to check on a second dress (that turned out to be wrong for me), I discovered the perfect shoes to go with the dress.

The day before, a quick trip to the Greenmarket yielded some perfect tomatoes and a bargain – delicious – lunch at a new pizza place.

Sunday, completing the last of the seasonal closet switch-over led to the discovery of my long-lost silk thermals and a favorite shirt I thought was long gone.

A brief check-in to plan a meeting this morning led to the discovery of a perfect interview for my book project, an invitation to join a group, and this week’s Woman of the Week.

The more good things come along, the happier I’m feeling. And the happier I’m feeling, the more good things appear. It feels like magic, but it isn’t really. If you’re looking for the good, you’ll see the good. If you come to expect wonderful surprises, well, there they are.

There will be gloomy days, rainy days, frustrating days, overwhelmed days, I’m sure. And it will be tempting to wallow and look for the negative. And see the negative. And expect the negative.

And on those days, I’m trying serendipity.

The Grass is Really Greener on My Side of the Fence

How much time do you spend looking at other people’s lives and thinking that maybe they have things better than you? It’s easy to forget that we only see what we’re shown – and even then, we tend to see things the way we want to see them.

On balance, the grass is looking greener and greener in my own back yard. And I’ll keep what I have, weeds and all. Today, I’m thinking about a colleague who was healthy and strong and successful until a week ago when a mysterious illness put him in danger and his life on hold. I’m thinking about so many who are mourning eleven year old losses today. I’m thinking about friends who are in pain and finding their quality of life diminishing.

As I sit here in my cozy office space, surrounded by things I love – not for financial value but for sentimental value and for comfort. I look at my Thurber dog, who always makes me smile. I download a picture of my Godson heading off to his first day of kindergarten. I nod to a picture of me sitting on a wall, staring lovingly up at my mother. When I’ve finished writing, I will enjoy a few perfect strawberries.

I’ve moved from a gratitude journal to a variation suggested by coach Natalie Tucker Miller. Every day, I write a letter to the Universe, expressing my gratitude for something. I now start my day in anticipation, What new things will I be grateful for?

Sure, my floors need resurfacing. And it would be nice if there was a bit more of a breeze in this room. But there will be smiling faces at the bus stop tomorrow. And friends to met. And art to see. And new adventures. I’m liking the grass right here.

What’s going on in your yard?

Butterflies, Joy and Change

I’ve seen a few Monarchs floating through Brooklyn this week. If you’re lucky enough to live on the New Jersey shore, you’re likely to see many more flitting by around now. They’re beautiful and I always hold my breath for a second as I watch them.

I’m in the process of emerging from my own chrysalis right now, so I have a lot to learn from butterflies. And they’ve been following me around lately, just to remind me! The lesson of the butterfly, it turns out, is letting go of old behavior and moving on to the next phase.

Moving on is not easy – at least for me. I like to dig in and hold on. I remember reading that for every successful woman you could see the fingernail scratches on the furniture where she’d tried to hang on to the old, and I know that’s true for me. Change doesn’t come easy.

But then I look at how beautiful the butterfly is. Maybe change is worth it. Butterflies float on the breeze; they dance in the air. They don’t cling to the branches or hug the ground. Butterflies always look like they’re having a good time. Can you watch one without smiling? They bring joy. They are joy.

I’m almost ready for my butterfly moment. I’m ready to push out of the shelter of that chrysalis, where I’ve been growing and stretching and absorbing energy over many months. I’ve moved out of a toxic business relationship. I’ve returned to full mobility, thanks to the wonders of hip replacement. I’m ditching my old business model.

Right now, my wings aren’t quite dry and I’m a bit shaky, but I know that is changing. I can’t wait to see what’s next!

The Kindness of Strangers

Maybe Blanche DuBois had it right. Depending on the kindness of strangers isn’t such a bad thing. I am dealing with a temporary mobility-limiting issue and have been using a cane for the last month or so. This has given me an excellent opportunity to observe the reactions of people I encounter and has left me occasionally needing their help.

There are people who will push past me to get on the bus first and others who motion me to go ahead of them. There are people who expect me to open the door for them and others who not only hold the door but wait patiently until I get there. There are people who regale me with tales of their own hip/knee surgery or the successful surgery and recovery of their friends/parents/colleagues.

A few incidents really stand out. Last week, I got into a conversation with the driver of my express bus. By the time I got off, she had taken my address so she could send me a get well card and promised that she would pray for a successful operation and send me things to make me know someone was thinking about me and to make me laugh as I recover.

At a music festival last weekend, a man came up to me to tell me that I would be much more comfortable if my cane was adjusted slightly – and proceeded to make the adjustment. He was right, by the way.

So, I once again have evidence of the truth that everything that happens has an effect on everything else. These simple acts of kindness made me feel wonderful, and, judging by the smiles on their faces, made the other person feel pretty good too.

I’ll be looking for more opportunities to do small things that make a difference. What will you do?

Family Ties and Celebrations

I’ve just returned from a weekend in the Boston area that was filled with family. We had gathered for Jessica’s Bat Mitzvah – family from up and down the east coast and a contingent from Israel.

There were many wonderful moments of connecting, reconnecting and deepening connections. There were a series of joyous moments watching the Bat Mitzvah girl blossom into womanhood before our eyes as she described her charity project, explained the halftorah and shared the significant moments of her life and the lessons she will carry forward.

There was the fun of watching the two expectant mothers – sisters-in-law, love and spirit – sharing the moment, rejoicing over each others gifts and planning for the arrival of a boy and a girl who are scheduled to appear within a week of each other.

There was my own joy in deepening bonds with my cousins and discovering new members of the expanded family.

My favorite moment, though, was listening to my aunt reflect at the end of the weekend. As she sat in the first row of the temple, she looked around her at her children, grandchildren and extended family and realized that she had created all this. The mother of four, grandmother of five with six and seven on the way, in this moment she, for the first time, experienced herself as the matriarch of our family. She’s now the most senior member and has come into full realization of her accomplishments and pride in her extended family. She’s excited about being a part of the future of her grandchildren. Her glow matched the mothers-to-be.

So, even as I celebrated my cousins over the weekend, today I celebrate my aunt. I remember how all my girlfriends wanted to grow up to be just like her. I am awed by how she managed four children as a single parent. I am amazed at how she maintained an active career until just a few months ago.

And I celebrate my family and our collective and individual futures.

You Might as Well Laugh

It’s May on the calendar and it’s been winter outside my window forever. Pretty much winter in my office too – I’ve got three layers of clothing on and the sandals in my closet are mocking me. No one I know actually saw the epic full moon Saturday because the cloud cover was so dense.
I started my morning and ended my day with two spectacular coaching calls. both clients had incredible breakthroughs and I was dancing. I’m still smiling.
But what I want to talk about is the time between those two calls. When I spoke to my own coach, I had a long, long list of complaints. And I just let loose with them. The list was so long that it made me laugh – and that’s how the call ended – with both of us sharing a lovely, long laugh. Sometimes, when things seem really bad and you can’t see a way out, you might as well laugh. So we did.
It was a very full day. I had six client calls that followed the same pattern. The clients all work for the same organization and are suffering various degrees of stress and overload in the wake of several significant retirements and two waves of layoffs. One has a boss who is prone to shouting. Another has an ever-increasing workload. A third has a subordinate who has taken passive-aggressive behavior to new levels. We’ve been working through these and similar issues with varying degrees of success. Today, though, was pretty much about complaining.
I let everyone vent. Sometimes, that’s the best coaching – just listen and go along for the ride. And I encouraged it. Exaggerated it. Egged them on. Until they laughed. Six depressed people became six people who were able to find some humor in their situation.
Sometimes – often, really, we can work on ourselves or with our coaches or with our clients to craft brilliant action plans. Sometimes we can take some baby steps towards change. And sometimes, we just can’t. And when you can’t, you can at least shift the mood.
When the going gets tough, you might as well laugh.

Previously posted on the Expanding Your Comfort Zone blog.