Happier Jump-Starts: Tips for Indulging All 5 Senses at Work

happier-jump-starts-081714Everyone knows there’s all kinds of benefits to making your workspace one in which you feel comfortable—it impacts everything from mood to productivity—but so often, we don’t really pay it the attention it deserves. Or if we do, we attend to our visual sense (“There! I put up a picture of my family!”) and neglect everything else. We use all five senses every day; make your work environment one that makes you happy in every sense! (P.S., I work at a desk and know not everyone does, but I think all of the following tips can be modified for just about any environment, including for those whose work means staying home with the kids.)

Sight

Good news: sight is the sense we’re most likely to address when thinking about what we need to make our environment happier. So you’ve already got pictures of loved ones, maybe a pop of your favorite color here and there, a sentimental item that reminds you of a fabulous past vacation or something. That’s a great start! Now consider whether you have something in your immediate line of sight in your workspace that makes you laugh. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive, either, but something that triggers humor will make you happier and help keep you grounded during stress, too. For me, one year when my daughter and I were making vision boards and cutting up magazines, as a joke she handed me a scrap that says “It’s like someone put a hot frying pan on my face.” It still makes me laugh (what?), and I have it on the bottom corner of my cork board for comic relief as needed. (Sometimes I look at it during conference calls.)

Hearing

If you listen to music throughout your workday, chances are good you already know how much sound affects you throughout the day. If you find music distracting, there are still ways to adjust your background noise to amp up your mood. I have a “soothing sounds” app on my phone I sometimes use during times of stress, and a playlist especially for my office. Because I work from home, I’m also lucky in that I don’t have to filter out a bunch of coworker noise, but if you work in a busy office or other noisy environment, invest in a good pair of noise-canceling headphones (even if all you want to listen to is ocean waves). If you work where wearing headphones isn’t compatible with your job—say, if you’re a teacher—consider what sort of sounds appeal to you and how you can integrate them. My single best office investment may be the set of wind chimes right outside my window. (And if that appeals but you can’t have actual chimes, there’s multiple wind chime apps out there.) Maybe you get one of those little perpetual fountains, or something else. Give it some thought.

Taste

I feel very strongly that every desk should have a chocolate drawer, but I take my treats very seriously. Treat yourself every day at work in some small way, whether it’s the aforementioned chocolate stash or your favorite beverage that you only ever have on the job, and you’ll soon come to associate work with happy taste buds. It really will make you happier to be there.

Smell

Modern technology has given us an assortment of ways to bring just about every scent imaginable into our homes, cars, even clothes. You have to be a bit judicious with this one—many people are sensitive to perfumes and heavy scents, you and don’t want to impinge upon your coworkers—but consider bringing a favorite scent into your workspace. Even a spritz of your beloved’s cologne on a scrap of paper you can slip out of your pocket, or taking a whiff of your lunch or a favorite old book (really!) can change your mood.

Touch

Most of us have no problem seeking out a more comfortable chair or a more ergonomic keyboard, if needed, but does it occur to you to wear something soft on a stressful day? What sorts of tactile sensations work for you may be something you’ll need to explore—a stressball on your desk may be a good idea, but maybe miniature Zen garden with sand you can rake is more your thing—but don’t neglect this last sense figuring it doesn’t matter. For me, the hands-down winning benefit of the home office is that I can pick up one of my dogs for a snuggle as needed. I know that’s a luxury most of us don’t have, but a favorite smooth river rock on your desk or velvet scarf…? You’ll figure out what makes you feel good.

Have a great week, and here’s to indulging all your senses at work!

Living Happier with Nataly: Is there an equation for happiness?

As reported in The Atlantic, a team of British researchers came up with an equation that can accurately predict your short-term happiness:

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Wow. Even for a former math nerd like me that’s a lot of variables.

At the core of this equation — and this study — is the relationship between your expectations and the actual outcomes. Perhaps not surprisingly, what it shows is that when you expect a reward or good experience you are less happy when you get it if you expect nothing at all. The conclusion then seems to be that it’s better to not anticipate good results, outcomes, or experiences to maximize how happy you feel when they actually happen.

At the same time, many studies have shown that the act of anticipating or planning good experiences — like a vacation — makes you happier. So in many ways, it’s a tradeoff between feeling happier as you anticipate or feeling happier if you don’t anticipate, but it happens.

My reaction to this study was echoed by the researchers themselves, who pointed out that it only looked at short-term happiness spikes vs. longer-term life satisfaction. There are many variables that determine our overall life-satisfaction and it’s not really about finding some perfect formula. Instead, it’s about adopting certain simple habits — like practicing gratitude, staying connected with people we care about, learning to savor small moments and joys, investing energy into learning new things and pursuing what you are interested in — and making them a regular part of our lives.

(It would be really cool if I could come up with a crazy-looking equation for what I just wrote – next time!)

Mindful Break: Guess Who Is Happiest?

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yearbook-photosI stood in an airport security line waiting to fly home.

My ears perked up when I heard the TSA airport security guy say, “How come nobody smiles anymore?”

He had a good point.

We go to great lengths to look beautiful, dress nicely, and renovate our homes and bodies… but if you can’t smile, what’s the point?

A dour person with a great physique? Booooring.

A frowner with stylish clothes? Booooooooo.

A long face in a fancy home? Something ain’t right!

A SMILE CHANGES EVERYTHING!

If you’re terribly out of shape, but have a great smile, you get 9 out of 10 points on my scale of attraction… for what it’s worth.

If your career is at a standstill, make others feel happy with your smile and watch a work freeze melt in the warm glow of your heart.

Are you feeling like you are not accepted in your social circle? Just smile at the doubters and haters who will wrack their brains trying to figure out your secret to happiness.

Author Tim Sanders says that an average person in the US is smiled at over 15 times a day, but we are so blocked that we smile back less than 6 times.

Medical expert Jonathan Levine writes that “babies smile an average of 200 times a day. The average woman smiles 62 times a day and the average man only 8.”

In the famous “Yearbook Study,” researchers analyzed 114 pictures from the 1958 and 1960 yearbooks of a women’s college in the Bay Area. Young women who expressed genuine smiles (happiness) in yearbook photos, as middle-aged women, had better marriages and fewer setbacks. (See above photo and judge for yourself)

So how can we smile more often?

You don’t necessarily need to have a happy day or a period of good fortune in order to bust out an authentic smile… which is the way most people think of it.

There is a rip cord in every human heart.

Pull it and, at least for one glorious moment, say BYE BYE to your doubts, your fears, your darkness… and send your smiley-self exploding upon the world!

Maybe it’s thinking of something delicious you will enjoy today, or pondering the unconditional love of your children, or tilting your mind upward toward your life’s greatest possible dream scenario. Remember, as a sacred text says, “Vision is Creation.”

The infinite light of your soul is searching for a crack in your armor, dying to bust loose!

So take a moment to let go, break down, and let the angels of light blow through the seams of your heart.

There is nothing like a smile to heal your troubles and change your day.

As Buddhist monk Thich Naht Hahn said, “Sometimes joy is the source of your smile. BUT SOMETIMES a smile is the source of your joy.”

In other words, fake it til you make it.

Happier Jump-Starts: Tips for Savoring Summer

happier-jump-starts-081014-summerI know it’s not summer everywhere in the world, but here in the my neck of the woods, it’s not just summer, summer’s nearly over—my kids go back to school tomorrow. We had a wonderful break this year, full of all the things I love to do when schedules are a bit more flexible and the weather is warm. Hopefully you still have at least a little summer left, so here’s a few ideas from my family favorites for making sure you maximize those long, warm days and late nights.

1) Go swimming after dark. I’m a big fan of the beach and all things water, anyway, and I do happen to live in the south (where summer is synonymous with heading to the pool), but even when I lived in cooler climes, it was officially summer when you went swimming at night. I don’t know why, I just know there’s a certain novelty and joy in splashing around by moonlight. This one is particularly fun with kids who’ve been allowed to stay up late for this specific purpose.

2) Take an outdoor, unplugged day with the people you love best. Ideally you get a full vacation (or two) during the nice weather, but reality doesn’t always match the fantasy. That’s fine; even a single day with loved ones, spent outdoors and electronics-free, can recharge you all. Go for a walk, go geocaching, try something totally new (we spent a day kayaking for the first time and had a blast)—it doesn’t matter. Just go.

3) Revisit old favorites. Reread the books you loved as a child. Make your kids join you for a viewing of an iconic movie from your angsty middle school years. Catch fireflies in a jar. Dance in the rain. Pick up a craft or hobby you’d set aside when life got busy. Our natural circadian rhythms mean we need less sleep during the summer (more hours of sunlight), so use that extra time for some nostalgia.

4) Plant memories for later. Love the warm breezes, blooming foliage, and the added adventures you’re enjoying right now? Take pictures, bring back souvenirs, and otherwise surround yourself with little reminders of how much fun you’re having. Come those cold, rainy/snowy days later on, things like that photo of the baby birds peeking out of the porch birdhouse will bring a smile to your face.

5) Clear out the clutter. Okay, I’ll grant you that this one doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, on the surface, but there’s a reason lots of people do “Spring Cleaning.” The ability to throw open the windows and get out after a season of being cooped up and cold seems to motivate us to get our lives in order. I don’t know about you, but around here cleaning and organization kind of falls by the wayside in favor of barbecuing and swimming, in the summer. So I like to set myself a few small decluttering projects toward the end of the season, just so that my sadness about summer ending isn’t compounded by all kinds of messes I forgot to deal with, too. Summer’s perfect for a yard sale or just a big clean-out-and-donate binge, and you’ll be happier having it done before “regular life” kicks back into overdrive.

Enjoy the rest of your summer!

Living Happier with Nataly: What a 65 Year-Old Man Taught Me About Zip-lining

We took a quick family trip to Vancouver recently. (If you haven’t been, I highly recommend it. Beautiful city, amazing food, a lot to do whatever your interests are.) Once my daughter learned that there was a zip-lining park near by she got so excited that we all decided to go.

There were 9 of us in our zip-lining group, plus the two guides. In two hours we did 5 zip lines and it was awesome. It was our second time doing this as a family and I have to say, I was pretty impressed at our kiddo’s fearlessness – at one point we were going 35 miles an hour 5,000 feet in the air!

One of the men in our group seemed really hesitant. He took a while getting up to each of the lines, walked slowly in between, and generally looked not very into what we were doing. On our last line I ended up sitting next to him as we waited for everyone to come over. He complimented me on our kiddo being brave and asked how old she was. I told him she was 10.

“Well, I am 65 and this is my first time doing this. I can’t tell you how scared I feel, my heart is beating so fast, but it was just something I’d always wanted to try and I got tired of being afraid.”

I told him I thought it was awesome of him to conquer his fears. He looked pale, and scared, and I don’t think he is going zip lining again. But it’s not about that at all. It’s about trying something even though it seems scary or challenging. Whether you love it or hate it, do it again many times or never again, the point is pushing a little out of your comfort zone.

I said goodbye to our zip-lining companion and on the way back to our hotel made a list of a few things I was going to try even though they seem really tough right now. What’s on your list of challenging experiences you want to try and when can you give one a shot?

Mindful Break: Happiness Champion of the World

daveblog1I had a call last week with one of my best friends from childhood. He is by far the most successful of all the friends I grew up with. His company is uber successful. He has a happy, healthy family. Life is good.

And yet, throughout the call, he was still complaining about the same stuff he complained about 20 years ago.

“There never seems to be enough time in the day.  If only I wasn’t so busy.”

“My ankles hurt. Gosh running is hard.”

“My partner and I are always arguing. It breaks my heart.”

Finally, I asked him, “I know you are financially set, but are you enjoying your life?”

Despite his wealth, my friend, like most people, answered the question with a pause, a hesitation, and then, with something less than “yes” and closer to “no.”

In the past few weeks, I have asked this question of a lot of different people, as someone had asked it of me.

It’s a tough question.

I have found that most of us are not enjoying our lives to the extent we should be.

So I ask you today: “Are you enjoying your life?”

Be honest.

If your answer is anything less than a resounding yes, then something needs to change. And change is easier than you might imagine.

MAKE THE DECISION.

My friend’s daughter gave an awe-inspiring speech to her high school graduating class.

She told her graduating class the story of her early high school years; and how she dressed in over-sized t-shirts and ratty sneakers. She was ashamed of her body, comparing herself to a “garden vegetable.”

Whether you are 17 or 47, maybe you can relate?

But then she had her moment. She told her peers how she spent one summer at art school, and hung out with the right crowd, with her crowd.

She continued, “A lot of people [at art school] wore blue lipstick, polk-a-dots, grew their leg hair out, and felt good doing whatever they wanted. And these people told me that my body was beautiful. And I thought they were beautiful because they thought they were beautiful.”

Wow. Okay, that struck me.

Then she said something that should be a Happier post, on every quote website, and every high school chalkboard in the universe:

“I decided that I was pretty.

“I decided that I was worthy.

“I deserve happiness and I’m worthy of happiness!”

Could anyone on Super Soul Sunday have said it any better?!?!

She reminds us all that you don’t have to read a bestselling book, or take a crowded workshop, or eliminate certain food groups to learn your Truth.

Because your Truth cannot be learned. Acceptance cannot be achieved.  Happiness cannot be found.

Make the decision NOW, today, that you ARE all those things you hope to become.

No one is going to do this for you. Not your crush, nor your boss, nor your partner.

Instead of just moving on to the next email, make the decision right now and spread the word:

Today, I made the awesome decision to be peaceful, beautiful, and happy! (Be sure to share a happy moment about your resolution, too!)

Happier Starts: Tips for Looking Awesome Every Day

happier-starts-look-awesomeListen, no one is spontaneously happy and cheerful all the time. When you feel good, you tend to look good, but sometimes you’re just not feeling your best. Maybe you’re not even feeling bad, but just kind of… meh. It happens.

Modern media would have you believe the best way to look fabulous on one of those meh sorts of days would be with hundreds of dollars worth of make-up and even more expensive clothing. No thanks! I mean, hey, go for it if that’s your thing, but I prefer to keep it simple (and cheap). The key is to find small ways to feel a little more awesome, which will, in turn, make you look more awesome. Really, it’s easy. Try one of these:

1) Wear something you love. Whether it’s your favorite color or something that’s just cozy, heading out into the world in something that makes you feel good actually makes you look better. (Think about it; does anyone look great in clothes that make them uncomfortable? Exactly.)

2) Go for a sentimental item. I happen to wear earrings just about every day, and for the most part I pick a pair that I figure kind of goes with my outfit. But sometimes I pick a pair because of who gave them to me, or because I bought them on a trip and I’m feeling nostalgic. Sometimes I wear one of my grandmother’s scarves when I’m thinking about her. And it always makes me smile to wear something my kids gave me!

3) Get noticed. You know that phrase, “a pop of color?” Stylists love to talk about how it adds interest and/or depth to an outfit. I happen to own a super-comfy pair of orange and burgundy suede shoes. They’re… a little unusual. I don’t wear them all that often. But I get compliments on them every time I do. If I’m having a blah kind of morning and discover I’m dressed in old jeans and a t-shirt (boooring!), I’ll add those shoes, and without fail, someone will notice and I’ll end up grinning.

4) Dress up when you don’t have to. This one isn’t for everyone—maybe you detest dressing up and the very idea makes you itchy—but wearing something a little fancier than is necessary may just put an extra spring in your step for the day. Try it and see.

5) Smile (even if you have to fake it). We already know that smiling makes us happier even if it starts out as fakery, so I’ll point out, again, that the best way to look awesome is to feel awesome. A smile is truly your most invaluable accessory when you’re trying to look your best.

By the way? You’re looking rather fabulous today. I couldn’t help noticing.

Living Happier with Nataly: This Quote is My Life Mantra

If there is one quote I live by, it’s this:

LIFE IS SHORT. COLLECT EXPERIENCES.

I made it up a while ago. Someone once told me it sounds depressing but I disagree. Life moves fast. There is so much going on each day that it’s easy for moments to just blend into the next. Sometimes I feel like I live in a perpetual state of hurry.

miaSo this quote is my mantra to remind me to focus on what’s important — experiencing as much as possible, in every small and huge way. An experience could be playing a game with my daughter before bed or it could be something more special, like visiting a new place. But to collect it you have to be present in it or it will rush right by.

What experiences will you collect today?

Happier Starts: Tips for Better Summer Beverages

happier-starts-beveragesI’m less of a Pinterest person and more of a Pinterest Fail kind of person. I realize it’s something of a sacrilege to admit that, but I am just… not crafty. I tell you this by way of preface; if you want recipes for cucumber-watermelon-limeade with a twist of mint or a DIY on making your own goblets, I’m sure that stuff exists on Pinterest. I’m sure it’s great, too. But that’s not really my sort of thing.

My sort of thing is more like… how can I do something foolproof, cheap, and low-effort that will make me or my family/guests smile? And right now we’re smack in the middle of a typical southern summer, at my house, which means the temperatures are soaring and everything from lazy evenings to fancy social events start with an icy glass of something. Here’s a few simple no-crafty-skills-required ideas for keeping your drinks fabulous.

1) Amp up your ice cubes! I’m all for just plain ice, of course, but the possibilities for going one step further are nearly endless. Doing water for a large group? Freeze berries in your cubes to add a hint of flavor and make the drinks prettier. Love ice coffee or ice tea? Coffee cubes—or even half-n-half cubes, if you like yours light—avert the dreaded water-down, and tea cubes or lemonade cubes for tea are awesome. Want your kids to drink more water, but they want juice? Make juice cubes for their water (and go with a variety of colors).

2) Find a vessel that makes you happy. You’ll drink more if have something to drink out of that you really love. (Hmmm… seems like I’ve heard that before….) Stay hydrated on hot days by figuring out what sort of bottle or cup will keep you reaching for it.

3) Play mad scientist. Someone gave me an infusion bottle as a gift (you know, a water bottle with a sort of cage in the center to allow you to lower solids into the water without them getting in the way of the straw). I put lemon and lime slices into it for weeks before it occurred to me that I had an entire garden of possibilities to try. Mint! Lemon verbena! (Okay, Pinterest, you win, I did cucumbers and they were refreshing, fine.) Kids will love this one, and if adult beverages are more your thing, c’mon now, how do you think they invented sangria…?

4) Go for the stunning visual. Sugary beverages are a rare treat around my house, but for a special occasion, doing a layered drink would be all kinds of fun. All you have to remember is that sugar in a liquid makes it heavy, but here’s a quick Instructable on the process, too. (This works for adult beverages as well, of course; higher alcohol content liquids are lighter than their lower-proof counterparts.)

5) DIY beats fancy drink labels. I’ve seen all sorts of fancy drink charms and sleeves and what have you all over Pinterest. “Make your next party perfect!” You know what partygoers really love? I mean, assuming it’s an outdoor, relaxed affair? A stack of Solo cups and an array of permanent markers. Sure, the first few people will dutifully write their names on their cups. Then will come a few fake names, and maybe a few scribbles. But then the real art begins. It’s fun and easy and I’ve yet to meet the kid or adult who doesn’t end up sort of getting into it.

Cheers!

Living Happier with Nataly: The awesome of travel

Relaxing has never been one of my strengths. In fact, not being able to relax is one of my weaknesses: left to my own devices, I usually work myself into exhaustion. There’s plenty of science that proves taking vacations, even short ones, has huge health benefits, both physical and emotional, but even that hasn’t always been enough to get me out of the office and on the way to a relaxing vacation. As funny as it may sound, I’ve had to think of ways to make taking time off easier.

One of the things I love about Happier is that I get to share the small simple lessons I’ve learned in my own life with you, so here’s how I made my recent off-the-grid vacation one of the most stress-free and positive breaks I’ve ever had:

  • Say it out loud.  I told my friends, family, and the team that I needed a break. Like, really needed a break. Going public and being open about it was awesome. Everyone encouraged me not to feel guilty about taking time off and helped me cover all the bases while I was gone. Making it a group effort helped me worry less and disconnect more. Which made me way happier.
  • Commit to unplugging. To really relax and get the full benefit of being away, I knew   I’d have to completely unplug this time. That meant getting myself removed from all work emails beforehand and staying off all social media (though I was allowed to post moments in Happier :) ….but just a few…). Instead of making up an excuse to justify my absence to others, I wrote an honest out-of-office email that said I was away because I needed a break and that I wouldn’t be checking emails on vacation. I also asked anyone trying to reach me to shoot me an email right after I was back if what they needed was time sensitive (which made me feel less panicked about missing something critical).
  • New routines. I changed my vacation-routine completely — including no super-early morning walks, trying different foods, taking time to read actual books which is a luxury — all to maximize “brain chill-out.” Doing as many different things as possible is the best way for me to disconnect from regular life because it helps me get into a whole new mind space.  As I hoped, it worked wonders this time.

When I came back, I felt more refreshed and organized — and happier — than I had in a long time. I wasn’t surprised that my vacation would be great for me, but what did surprise me was how great it was for my family and my team at Happier to have me return so calm and rested (you can email team@happier.com and ask:).

natalyvacationIf you need a break, take one. It’s not selfish. It’s a way to nurture yourself and give the best version of yourself to everyone around you.