Happier Challenge: Break Bread Together

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGoooood Monday morning! We’re kicking off our first-ever theme week here at Happier, and we’re starting with a focus on family connection.

It’s no secret that the history of human beings is full of rituals around food. “Breaking bread together” is considered a sacred activity in nearly every religion, and eating together is a universal symbol of connection. Is this some sort of mysticism at work? Nope—science repeatedly shows that family dinners strengthen relationships, make kids more resilient, and are generally one of the easiest ways to lower teens’ risk of everything from eating disorders to substance abuse. Even if you don’t have kids and are a full-grown adult, eating with people you love confers plenty of benefits, from increased emotional well-being to actually increasing your odds of eating more nutritious foods. So that brings us to this week’s challenge, all about your family and food:

If you don’t normally have a sit-down, home-cooked family meal, have at least one, this week. If this is already part of your routine, invite a guest to join you!

Here’s some inspiration to get you jazzed to embrace family meals:

Will you take our challenge and share a moment about it in the Happier community? It would make us happier!

Happier Jump-Starts: Super-Charge Your Snacks

happier-jump-starts-snacks-101914It’s not socially acceptable to list “snacking” as one of your favorite hobbies, but I totally would if I thought I could get away with it. The truth is that I love food. I am not a health food fanatic by any means (all things in moderation, and that includes indulgent items!), but I do try to keep meals balanced and nutritious. Lately—inspired by our recent release of Kristin McGee’s Eat, Move, Feel Strong course—I’ve been trying to be more conscious of those between-meal morsels that make their way into my mouth, too.

The goal is to make sure snacks fill me up with the good stuff (protein, healthy fats, fiber) without leaving me feeling deprived. Here’s a few (hopefully new) ideas for you to try, based on my own snacking habits:

Do a protein with that fruit. Fruit is delicious and good for you, but whenever I feel virtuous snacking on an apple, I’m hungry again half an hour later. Have an apple with some almonds, or a pear with a slice of cheese, or smear some peanut butter on your banana. Find a pairing you love, or experiment until you do.

If you must dip, dip it good. I know tons of kids and even some adults who won’t eat raw veggies without some sort of dip. Hey, that’s fine; just make sure your dip has some nutrition! Go for a ranch or onion dip made with Greek yogurt (I like Gimme Some Oven’s recipe), whip up some guacamole (healthy fat!), or learn to love hummus. Speaking of hummus…

… roasted chickpeas are a great alternative to chips and crackers. Even if you’re not normally a fan of chickpeas, they’re super-easy to roast with the spices of your choice and make a fiber-filled, crunchy snack free of guilt. Yum.

Learn to love chia. The debate continues on whether chia seeds are a superfood (or if there’s any such thing as a superfood…), but chia is definitely packed with fiber, calcium, essential minerals, and even protein. Try some new recipes with it or just toss some on your salad, in a smoothie, etc. They’re a great source of nutrition and they help you feel full.

Don’t give up your favorites… just make them a little healthier. Remember what I said about all things in moderation? I am never going to be the kind of person who scolds you to give up cookies or anything, nor do I believe in “healthifying” recipes to the point where they no longer taste good. So, chocolate chip cookies made entirely with whole wheat flour and raisins instead of chips? Blech. (I’d rather skip the cookies.) But chocolate chip cookies made with a little bit of whole wheat or almond flour subbed in, or with the addition of some rolled oats? Sure! There’s way to make the less-healthy stuff a little bit better for you, and that—along with moderation!—means you can still feel okay about the occasional indulgence.

Have any great snacking tips to share? Lay ‘em on me.

Hacking Productivity: Do This To Your To-Do List And You Will Be Happier

I’m big on to-do lists. And while my entire life revolves around technology, I like to write my to-do list by hand, usually in my orange (of course!) Moleskine.

I used to write my list in the morning, to start the day. Then at some point in the evening I would go through and cross off what I had accomplished. I don’t think I’ve ever crossed off more than 50% of my to-dos and… well, that didn’t make me feel very productive.

Recently I realized what happens: as the day goes on, new stuff comes up that I need to take care of, which wasn’t on my list to begin with. I AM getting things done but when I look at my to-do list, it doesn’t feel that way.

IMG_8909So I’ve turned my to-do list into a Did It / To Do list instead. I still write down what I need to do every morning (well, most mornings), and then try to have the list handy throughout the day as a reminder. But at night, I sit down and as I cross off things, I also add ones that I accomplished but that weren’t on the list to begin with. I used to feel like this was cheating, but it’s actually kind of awesome. I get to see all the stuff I got done in a day and for a moment feel a bit like a superhero.

When I feel productive, I am calmer and happier. So any little hack helps, especially when most of my days feel like I’m juggling while riding a skateboard on uneven ground. (And I say this having actually juggled never, and been on a skateboard once.)

If you have a fave productivity hack, I’d love to hear it!

Mindful Break: THIS Makes a Person Great

7edf8a61-6656-4fb8-9f89-bdeadba2d100-1She travels alone to Honduras, Egypt, and Europe.

She kicks back at night with a glass of wine.

She lives on a tropical island and is always planning her next adventure.

Get ready for this…

She is 93-years-old and a self-proclaimed “recycled teenager.”

She is my stepfather’s mom. On Friday when I saw her in Los Angeles, I asked about a big bruise on her arm.

She got the bruise pulling and tugging and yanking her giant piece of luggage from baggage claim.

“What? Nobody offered to help you?” I asked

“No. So I did it myself.”

She wasn’t complaining. It’s not her style. How could nobody offer to help a 93-year-old lady get her heavy bag from baggage claim?!

On a similar note, my wife was riding the subway to work this week. She’s 33 weeks pregnant. Yet most of the time, nobody stands up to giver her their seat. They bury their heads into their mobile devices, hoping not to make eye contact with her and continue playing Candy Crush.

This made me think back several months ago. I was walking down the jetway to board a plane.

I accidentally kicked a woman trying to help her toddler out of the stroller. She said to me, “Aren’t you gonna say sorry?”

Before I could apologize, the torrent of passengers pushed me past her and onto the plane.

I was THAT guy, just like the people in the subway, stuffing their face into their mobile devices and in the process, disconnecting from the human experience.

I ask you as I ask myself: Do the little things matter anymore? Would I have stood up on the subway for a pregnant woman or helped a 93-year-old lady pulling her bag from baggage claim?

Here’s my answer: I would have helped if I saw them, but I probably would NOT have seen them because I would be reading something on my iPhone.

When you stand up for someone on the subway, you stand up for yourself, for your own dignity.

When you help an old lady get her luggage, you relieve another’s burden, and release your own.

The Course in Miracles says, “What you give to others you give to yourself.”

****

Poet Mark Nepo tells a story of a little girl he once saw in Honduras. She was slowly but surely pulling the wings off a butterfly and saying, “Pobrecita, pobrecita.” (“Poor little thing.”)

It turns out the little girl had endured great hardship, having lost both her parents and brother.

Nepo explained the sad symbolism of her action, “What we don’t face as our own, we perpetrate on others.” Whether that is active (pulling the wings off a butterfly) or passive (ignoring a 93-year-old), it is real for everyone.

I ask you as I ask myself, what are you pretending not to see because you are are so damn busy?

The question is never… does someone nearby need your help? The question is… are you seeing them?

What you see (or don’t see) around you is merely a refection of what you see (or don’t see) within you.

Nepo speaks of the worst people in history, the Hitlers and Milosevics, who didn’t just wake up one morning and become terrible. They made choices, one at a time, because they did not have the courage to give up illusions and look within.

Let’s flip it. The great ones among us don’t suddenly wake up and become great. They make choices, one a time, because they do have the courage to look within and work through (rather than run from) their issues.

Putting it in everyday terms: courage is the daily decision to move through your own stuff.

Today, look around. Actively seek out someone you can help, whether an old woman… or yourself. It is all one in the same.

Happier Jump-Starts: Tips For Busting Clutter

happier-jump-starts-declutter-101214It’s unclear if cleanliness is truly next to godliness, but science suggests that order in your environment makes you happier and while clutter may foster creativity, order fosters generosity. Interesting stuff.

If you’re busy with work and family—or just, you know, life—cleaning your home may feel like a herculean task for which you have no time. The secret to keeping clutter at bay is to do small things on a regular basis, rather than trying to do everything all the time. Here’s a few ideas my family uses:

Basket or bust. There seems to be a tendency for horizontal surfaces to accumulate stuff ’round here, so a while back we implemented a rule that tables/countertops can only hold items if there’s a basket or other receptacle there for that specific purpose. No basket? Don’t leave your book (or mail, or hairbrush, etc.) there. Support this rule with clear designations for where things should go, so there’s fewer temptations to leave things around in random spots.

Weekly basket binge. To implement “basket or bust” we added a bunch of baskets and other “stuff holders” to our household, knowing full well that some (all) of them would be filled with junk in no time. Every Sunday is basket-emptying day, and if the kids don’t take their stuff and put it where it belongs, said stuff disappears (that’s a pretty good motivator to clean up).

Do the important stuff daily. Everyone has a different flavor for this: the FlyLady insists that if you shine your kitchen sink daily, your dishes will always be done; while Stephanie O’Dea of Totally Together Journal changed my life by suggesting you have the kids wipe down their bathroom sink and counter with the clothes they’re about to throw in the laundry each night. Pick the things you hate to see dirty and figure out how to keep ‘em clean every day, rather than waiting until they become a biohazard.

Break it down, pitch in. Everyone in the family can do chores. (If you’re a family of one, you’re on your own, but probably you have a smaller space, at least.) Make chores bite-sized and set an expectation that everyone do a little every day. If you cook, someone else does dishes. If someone does laundry, grab the dryer sheet out of the dryer and do some quick dusting with it before you toss it.

Use it or lose it. take an (honest!) inventory once a month or so of your belongings. Do you have items you can donate? Broken or otherwise ruined items you’re hanging on to “just in case” that should really be tossed? Be ruthless. Most of us have too much stuff. Getting rid of some of it can be freeing, and ultimately it leaves you fewer things to clean.

Can you keep the clutter down at your place without it making you crazy?

The Awesome Power Of Tiny Family Traditions

Most of the time it feels like our little family of three — my kiddo, my husband and myself — are literally running through our days during the week. It’s like a whirlwind of work, school, activities, dinners, breakfasts, events… and often it feels like a race that leaves us exhausted.

I’d love for us to have more time to just chill out and catch our breath, but that’s not happening in the short-term. Instead, what I try to do is come up with tiny traditions we can make part of our crazy busy days. It’s nothing fancy, but turning a regular moment into a small tradition makes it more special, more fun, and makes it feel like our daily race has some pauses in it.

Here are a few of my favorites:

“Civilized mornings”vivaldi

When my husband travels kiddo and I have “civilized mornings.” We put on classical music, make a nice breakfast, I drink tea, and we even speak with a British accent sometimes. It’s our little girls’ tradition and it makes a hectic morning a bit more, well, civilized.

Gratitude lunchbox notes

Every morning I write a little note and put it in kiddo’s lunchbox. I take a few seconds to think of something to thank her for or to tell her something I am looking forward to us doing. It’s my little gratitude ritual every morning and I know it’s something she looks forward to at school.

Friday family movie night

By the time we all get home on Friday we’re exhausted, so cooking is out of the question. We get takeout and have a picnic with it while we watch a movie in the living room. It’s like a big collective family exhale.

Random dinner Sundays

On Sunday nights I cook up a storm for the coming week — I make and prep dinner for four days ahead. So for dinner that night we have our very official “random dinner.” Sometimes it’s leftovers. Sometimes it’s breakfast for dinner. Sometimes it’s really just a collection of random stuff we find in our fridge. It’s chill and relaxed and lets us finish out the weekend on a great note.

Do you have a tiny family tradition to share? Share it in the comments for inspiration — I’d love some new ideas!

 

 

 

 

 

Shocker In My Mailbox

aa178206-8235-4167-ba8f-29359d3bec8eThis past week I was phutzing around the house and saw something.

“What’s this?” I asked my wife.

I held it up in the light to see if it was real.

I felt the sharp edges, the texture. Wow.

In this day of high tech, I figured, maybe just maybe it could do something like talk or sing.

So I shook it back and forth.  But no. It couldn’t do anything. Weird.

It made me feel as if I was back in 1984, standing at a pay phone, smelling like Drakkar Noir, sporting a pair of white Guess jeans pegged at the ankles.

Her friend Katie had taken the time to write us a letter, address an envelope, get a stamp, and walk to the mailbox to mail it.

Any of those actions might dissuade a human being in the year 2014, but not Katie.  In some small yet truly profound way, she touched us, literally.

And then, not two hours later, while walking in NYC, I got sledgehammered by The Flu.

You know that feeling when you get knocked to your knees with nausea and exhaustion?

So I was bee-lining home and this lady tried to stop and ask, “Do you know where Allan Street is?!”

All I could say was, “I don’t feel good” and walked right past her, hoping to make it home before I ended up horizontal in somebody’s planter.

And the lady yelled at me, “SCREW YOU!”

It’s never a surprise to hear that in NYC. And maybe I deserved it.

But did she really have to say it?

In one morning, I felt the high note of kindness, and the low note of anger. As Sinatra famously sang, “You can’t know one without the ooooother!”

******

Contrast is life’s great equalizer.

Let’s be honest. When only good things happen, 9 out of 10 humans get greedy or lazy or lustful or gluttonous or all of the above.

Of course, when only bad things happen, 9 out of 10 humans get sick, angry, and defeated.

So we need contrast.

Mark Twain said, “Happiness ain’t a thing in itself; it’s only a contrast with something that ain’t pleasant.”

In other words, if you sat around all day and opened handwritten letters from Katie, ate cous cous, had private yoga massages, and got your toes painted purple, you might be relaxed, but you would NOT be happy.

Happy is the one who gets blitzed with a gnarley workday (it happens!), eats bad sushi for lunch (yuck!), finds out the bite on her leg was actually from a scorpion (hello Mister Exterminator)… and THEN returns home to read a handwritten letter, eat cous cous, get a private yoga massage, and her toes painted purple.

The richness of highs and lows, experienced with grace and courage.

That’s what Mark Twain meant by contrast.

Contrast is like cabbage, or vitamins, or whatever your mom made you eat as a kid. You took your dose, you didn’t like the taste, but in some deep and wonderful way, you trusted mom.

If you are having a typical Tuesday, or a tough time in life right now, or are in need of a little reminder as we all do sometimes…

… know that the handwritten letters, the pistachio ice cream, the one-minute hugs are storming toward you… ready for the rescue.

There’s no question about life’s inherent goodness… the question is always, always, always… WILL YOU KEEP YOUR HEART OPEN?