Three Counter-Intuitive Ways To Be Happier As A Family

I may run a company that helps people be happier but believe me, it’s not like I have some super wisdom about happiness. Especially when it comes to family. Our family is small — it’s just my husband, myself and our 10 year-old kiddo — but with three people, three different personalities, crazy schedules, demanding jobs, and endless juggles, it’s not always easy to find our awesome place.

But we manage, and when I was thinking about writing this post I realized there are a few things we do that, if you had asked me a few years ago, I would have thought odd when it comes to helping us be happier. Those are usually the best little habits, the ones that surprise us, so I wanted to share them:

Skip meals

OK, of course I don’t mean that you should go hungry. But when life gets crazy, one thing we often do is skip having a sit-down meal. Instead, we grab some random food from the fridge and if it’s warm enough, we go outside and eat it on the deck; or when it’s too cold, we have a mini-picnic in the living room. This totally removes the pressure of cooking something, and chills all of us out a lot.

Ignore bedtime

When my daughter was younger I was obsessed with sticking to a routine. Everyone was happier when she went to bed on time and woke up refreshed and well, happy. There were many times whenicecream we were at family events or with friends and I would be militant about getting home for bedtime. Nothing wrong with that — and when your kids are really little that’s probably the best thing to do — but sometimes having extra hanging time together as a family turns out to be more important. So from time to time, especially when we’ve all been running around a lot and not had a lot of hang time together, we’ll stay up way past kiddo’s bedtime, either watching a movie together or just hanging out.

And sometimes we’ll go out and get ice cream when we have no business eating ice cream that late. Life is short!

Make a big mess

Hi, my name is Nataly and I am a total neat freak. I have a really hard time dealing with messes and yet what I’ve learned is that sometimes a happier family means a messier one. (Seriously people, this is a really big deal for me to say, so it really must work.) The other day we came back from a short trip and instead of unpacking — first instinct! — I suggested we go for a walk instead. We ended up not unpacking for two days and you know what? We had extra chill time together and the clothes went back where they were supposed to be eventually.

Then last week in the morning I realized we had a bunch of bananas that were going to rot if we didn’t do something — so with 20 minutes before we had to leave for school kiddo and I whipped together some banana bread dough. We made a serious mess in the kitchen doing this, and we had to leave it there until end of day, but we had so much fun with our last-minute baking project.

I’d love to know if there are any other surprising or counter-intuitive things you do that help you be happier as a family — share, please!

Happier Hearts: Happy Family, Happy Life

This week we’re all about connecting with your family in wonderful ways, so what better time to share some of the make-your-family-more-awesome-er resources we love? Exactly!

Do It By The Book
If you’re the sort who likes to grab a book and read up on new things, we have two to recommend; both Bruce Feiler’s The Secrets of Happy Families and Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families are worth the read if you can spare the time and are looking for some great ideas on how to make your family even more fabulous.
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Unplug, Reconnect, Love No Matter What
Prefer to watch a couple of videos? Over at HuffPo this short video about unplugging to reconnect with your family, and if you have more time, Andrew Solomon’s TED Talk about loving children who are different is difficult but moving.

Still Working On Family Dinners?
Hopefully you’re making great progress on this week’s challenge to eat together, but if you’re still struggling, I have a few more great online resources for you that made us happier.

Do you have a favorite resource that’s helped your family be happier? Please tell us about it!

Mindful Break: What The Heck Is Sacred?!

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 1.47.38 PMCan you be bought for a price?

Seriously.

If someone offered you $10,000,000 to expose all your life’s secrets on reality TV… would you do it?

Carolyn Myss calls it The Prostitute Archetype, meaning one who is willing to compromise their integrity for financial stability.

Whether it’s a value that defines you, or an object that represents your Truth…

… in order to be spiritually whole, we need to have something that is totally off-limits, something that is super sacred.

In today’s world, there is very little that cannot be bought.

For instance, take the sad story of the Hopi Indians.

A contested auction of sacred Hopi Indian masks went forward last year in Paris and generated more than $1 million.

One featured item, a headdress known as the Crow Mother, drew intense interest.

Bidding soared to $210,000, drawing applause from the crowd.

Except for one protestor who stood up and shouted: “Don’t purchase that. It is a sacred being.”

Reading that BROKE MY HEART.

The Hopi Indians believe these masks are divine beings which were stolen from tribal lands in Arizona.

The Hopi Indians had made quite a stir leading up to this auction…

… but the auctioneer in Paris rejected their protest saying that the “objects were no longer sacred and had become important works of art.”

Can you imagine?

That’s like someone saying, “She’s no longer your wife, she’s too pretty and everyone deserves a chance at her!”

The devastated Hopi Indians said of their lost masks, “They are truly sacred to us. We feed and care for them. And to see people walking out with them in bags, like some object, I feel really helpless and hurt.”

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C’mon! If we don’t stand up for that which is sacred, our souls will literally die and we will become soulless Freakazoids!

Think of what in your life is SACRED, untouchable, off limits!

For me, it is my career. There are many times where it would seem easier to do something with more stability, with benefits, more security.

But some part of me has to keep going, through thick and thick, on this journey for a more meaningful life.

There are days when we all want to give in, sell out, take the easy road.

And those are the days when we need rituals, sacred texts, Hopi masks to “anchor us in our Truth!”

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.”

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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.