It Just Happened

This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post


A few months ago, I attended a meeting at the Polsky Center at the University of Chicago. It was a gathering of people from the University and entrepreneurs from the community. We were there to talk about the development of a new center for innovation.

During the lunch break, I spoke with an entrepreneur who runs a business creating healthy skincare products. She told me about her dream of outreach to the community in terms of training local people in the manufacturing of her product.

She also shared her story of how she started her business. Several years ago, when her son was young, he had severe eczema. To address his skin condition, she started experimenting with different lotions and oils and crafting them from scratch at home. At the same time, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

These two events led her to make a radical shift in her life. She left her corporate job and created a business around manufacturing and selling the healthy skincare products she had created for her son.

When I expressed my awe about her story, she said, “Oh, it just happened.” As our conversation evolved, I asked her if she was interested in sharing how she made that shift from the corporate world to being an entrepreneur and again, she repeated, “It just happened.”

I left the conversation fully impressed with all that she had accomplished, all that she had planned, and completely amazed by her humility. But it was more than humility, I think. Like many of us, she was not recognizing the amazing things she had accomplished.

She had done so much, achieved and created and succeeded and I was in awe of her. It made me think about how often we focus on what we have not done rather than what we have accomplished. We come to the end of the day and see the list of things undone and focus on those rather than seeing: “Wow, there were so many things that I did today. I did X, Y, Z, . . . And I did them with calmness and compassion and awareness.”

I am much happier with my day when I take note of what I have done and achieved that day, even the little things. Focusing on the good, on what’s done, helps me feel peaceful and whole.

As we launch into this new year and pause to reflect on the one completed, let’s remember all that we have done and all that we continue to do each day – even the little things, even the things that we do with ease. Those things count and deserve celebration because you are enough. You are whole and complete right now, just as you are.



Movie review: Inside Out

Movie Inside OutHave you seen the new movie, “Inside Out“?  If not, I highly recommend it. As many of the movie critics say, it’s much more than a kids’ movie. Honestly, it’s probably not even that entertaining for kids under age 6 or 7 as it is somewhat slow moving in the beginning while they establish the assumptions that they’ll use for the workings of the human mind and our emotions.

One of the reasons why this film is so delightful is that it brings us face-to-face with the complicated cast of characters (our emotions) that are busy formulating our impressions of the world and how we interact with it. The movie doesn’t shy away from the complexity of our emotions, our personality, and how a significant event in our lives (in this case, moving to a new city and leaving one’s friends) can chip away at the core parts of who we are and make some emotions, that previously were playing minor roles, major characters in our life. All of this can lead us to act in unexpected and uncharacteristic ways that can lead to a turn point or rebuilding of our core selves.

At the beginning of the film, we are entertained by the energetic and, literally, glowing, “Joy.” She is clearly in control of the emotional and mental life of Riley, the 11 year old girl who is experiencing this dance of emotions, mental development, and the upheavals of moving to a new city. Joy oversees command central and makes sure things run in a largely positive manner, including making sure each day ends in a joyful moment.

I found Joy to be a happiness tyrant who belittles Sadness and dismisses Fear to the point where I felt bad for them and wanted her to treat them better — making sure they are heard (and felt!). One example of Joy’s over-the-top approach is when Sadness touches a core memory and turns it from the glowing gold of a joy memory to the blue of a sad memory. Joy approaches this as a tragic event.  Though as the story unfolds, Joy learns the value of Sadness.  Indeed, one of the beautiful, yet subtle, messages of the movie, from my perspective, is that Joy and Sadness are always together.  They go hand-in-hand in the movie and in our lives. It’s not Joy OR Sadness.  It’s really Joy AND Sadness.

Sadness also demonstrates her value when she helps a despondent, Bing Bong (Riley’s childhood imaginary friend). Bing Bong is filled with sadness and cannot carry-on with his task. Joy is beside herself about what to do. The situation is resolved when Sadness sits down next to Bing Bong and simply listens to him and what he is thinking and feeling. After she does this Bing Bong is ready to continue on his way. Joy is full of wonder about how Sadness did that, and Sadness shrugs and says, “I just listened to him.” What a great example of how the simple act of listening and being with our sadness can have such a profound impact on how we’re able to act in the world.

Another delightful aspect of this film comes at the end when Riley is 12 years old and the inner workings of her mind and the control console are far more complex than they were a year before. I think this is a wonderful representation of the growing complexity of the human mind and our emotional life as we develop from childhood to adolescence. It also seems to make room for the many other emotions that we experience beyond the five (Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust) represented in the movie.

I hope you’ll have the chance to see the movie, “Inside Out.” If you do, make sure you bring a hankie or two.

Book Review: The Happiness Project

The Happiness Project book“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all [people] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The Declaration of Independence, In Congress,

July 4, 1776

Here in the U.S., as we celebrate our independence and reflect upon how much progress we’ve made this year and how much more we have to go as a nation, it’s also helpful to pay attention to our individual pursuits of happiness.  Gretchen Rubin’s thoughtful, humorous, and action-oriented book, The Happiness Project, is a great place to start.

Some people may question whether, in the face of so much suffering around us, if the pursuit of our personal happiness is important. To address this, Ms. Rubin often comes back to the question of why someone like her, who has so much and is basically happy, should take on a happiness project. She wonders, can she be happier and can she prepare herself, emotionally, for that dreaded time in the future when things might not be going so well and happiness may be much more elusive?  She is not in the grip of crisis and she writes, “I didn’t want to wait for a crisis to remake my life.” (page 15). I think this is true for many of us, we don’t need to wait for a crisis to start focusing on our happiness. AND, our personal happiness matters.

It matters for at least three reasons:

  1. When you feel happy you can do your best work and fulfill your life’s purpose.
  2. When you’re happy, you can help others and assist them in their pursuit of happiness.
  3. Happiness is contagious. (Relates to point number 2.)

Hopefully, you’re convinced that your personal happiness is a top priority in your life. This doesn’t mean it’s a narcissistic pursuit. We’re talking here about healthy personal fulfillment. Ms. Rubin outlines many, many approaches in her book. A former lawyer, she is methodical in her approach to her happiness project and has done extensive research on the different ways that people have used to achieve this ultimate state of well-being. Let’s look at a few of those approaches.

One of things that struck me throughout her book was the impact of small changes. Some of the small changes that she made included, the “evening tidy-up” which for her proved to be a way to maintain her workspace and home in a way that she found pleasing. She also revels in the cleaning out of a closet — so much so that it is a gift that she offers to do for her friends. (Of course, those who are open to it.) This sharing with friends and family is also a foundational aspect of the book. Ms. Rubin notes how a sunny attitude and a cheerful review can boost one’s mood and those around her. She also does an amazing job (one that I really admire) of not just thinking about doing a kind act for another person, but actually following through and buying a gift or providing that helping hand.

Small changes and the positive contagion of emotion are themes throughout the book, but she notes the one thing that she did that had the largest and most sustainable impact, was her Resolutions Chart. (You can find a copy of the chart to download here.)  The resolutions are broken down by month which is a great approach. Rather than taking on everything all at once, she focuses on a particular area of her life, let’s say, “family,” for one month, has specific resolutions around that topic and then can review her progress at the end of the month. From there she can determine what she wants to continue in that arena.

As I read the book, there were a few resolutions that really stood out for me and I have been incorporating into my daily life. For instance, she has one called, “Be Gretchen,” which I have incorporated as just, “Be me.” A couple of  others that have been helpful include, “Tackle nagging tasks” and “Don’t nag.” For me, tackling nagging tasks has been really liberating because I found there is enormous mental energy and emotional criticism that lingers inside myself with those tasks that never seem to get done. (Getting the appropriate help to complete those tasks is also crucial for success.  There is usually a reason that they’re not done. Maybe they’re too hard, maybe you don’t know how to complete them, or maybe you don’t wanna!)  Also, the avoidance of nagging and, for me, the avoidance of arguing, have been helpful. When I catch myself going there, I try to re-frame my words so that they are kind, motivating, and come from a place of love — definitely more happiness promoting than nagging or arguing!

What about you? Have you engaged in a happiness project? What are your top tips for promoting happiness in your life and those around you? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Wishing you an abundance of freedom and success in your pursuit of happiness!

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