Awesome Humans: Malala Yousafzai

inspiring-humans-malala-101514It’s old news by now (at least by Internet standards, where news travels faster than a texting teen), but last week Malala Yousafzai was awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize (along with Kailash Satyarthi). At just 17 years old, she is the youngest recipient in history. At an age when most teenagers are concerned about little beyond friends and homework, she has already been a tireless education advocate for years.

This (brief) piece on 8 Ways Malala Has Made the World Better for Women is the perfect summation of why she is such an extraordinary young adult.

Congratulations, Malala! You are a credit to Pakistan, ambitious teens, and the whole human race. Knowing you’re in the world makes us happier.

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 Challenge: Move To Find Your Groove

happier-challenge-101314Goooood morning! Maybe you’ve got the day off (happy Columbus Day!) or maybe you don’t, but either way, Monday means the start of a new week and a new chance to be healthier and happier. I did a ton of walking this weekend—the weather was perfect, and a week of too much time at my desk left me craving some fresh air—and even though I know how good it is for me, I’m always amazed at how much better I feel, afterward. It was so awesome, I hope you’ll experience something similar for this week’s challenge. Ready?

Get your heart pumping for 20 minutes.

(I guess you could just do that once, this week, but consider yourself challenged to do it every day this week. Odds are excellent that it will make you happier!)

Need some inspiration to get you going? I’m on it!

Have a fabulous, heart-pumping week! And don’t forget to come share about it in the Happier community!

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?

Mind Over Matter? Mind Can Change Matter!

brain-training-bikeThe notion that you can “think your way” to, well, any number of things, is hardly new. You can think your way toward success! Think your way through that last set of push-ups! Think your way… happier. Some people scoff, but research has shown time and again that this so-called “brain training” is a real thing. With enough practice, thought patterns can be altered.

If you live in the vicinity of Northwestern University, you might want to check out what promises to be a fascinating symposium next week—Richard J. Davidson, renowned psychology researcher and New York Times best-selling author, is presenting on the topic of Happiness as a Skill on October 16th, 2014. There will be both a lecture and a panel discussion.

The notable bit here is that Dr. Davidson’s research shows that this isn’t just about habits and actions, but real physiological brain changes which can be deliberately curated. From the lecture description:

This talk will examine the brain’s ability to change itself and enhance emotional well being through mental training and contemplative practices. The presented material will address the concept of neuroplasticity, which is the idea that our behaviors, thoughts, and actions have a robust and measurable effect on brain function and structure. By cultivating positive thoughts and behaviors we literally, at the level of biology, can alter our brain a positive manner.

Cultivating the skills which boost happiness actually changes our brains. How cool is that?? So working on being happier can alter our brains in all sorts of positive ways, making the human brain the only entity I can think of which can decide to change itself on a molecular level and then just… do it. (Nike should totally be using brains in their commercials instead of athletes.)

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!

 

 

 

 

 

Happier Hearts: Enjoy Your Tunes

Is there any better way to pick up a blah day than with some favorite music? We say no—in fact, it’s rare you’ll find Happier HQ without a soundtrack going. Music can be great happier fuel, so whether or not you’re given to spontaneous dance parties, enjoy it!

Here’s just a few ideas for enhancing your music experience, if you’re looking for some ideas.

Trust him, he’s a monkey
happier-hearts-julius-speaker-100914Whether you like a bit of whimsy, yourself, or you have a teen or tween who’s been agitating for an MP3 speaker dock, you could do a lot worse than this Paul Frank Julius Dance Machine Speaker. Did we go for it because it’s a monkey? Yes. Yes, we did.

But! The sound is surprisingly crisp for an affordable dock, so if don’t want to get a real stereo system but need a sound boost, he’s worth it. Also: monkey.

 

Perfect for your walk, run, hike, whatever
happier-hearts-armpocket-100914Call me Goldilocks if you must (you wouldn’t be the first one…), but I’ve been through an embarrassing number of armbands for my iPhone. One was too tight, the next, too prone to slipping down. One held my phone but then I still had to stick my keys in my pocket (if I had one) or somehow attach the keyring in a way that invariably jangled while I walked.

It was a problem, until I finally read some reviews rather than making my buying choices based on “that looks good.” Behold the Armpocket Aero i10: lightweight, comfortable, water resistant, and yes, Virginia, there is room for your keys. In short, it’s perfect. Yes, it’s a little more than I spent on the cheaper armbands, but the fact that this is the last one I had to buy offset the extra few dollars. Love it.

If money is no object and sound is king
happier-hearts-bose-100914Full disclosure: I have tried these, but I do not own a pair. That’s because I loved them but the price makes me hyperventilate. If you’ve got the funds and want the best listening experience possible, go ahead and pick up these QuietComfort® 25 Acoustic Noise Cancelling® headphones from Bose. True to their claims, all you’ll hear is music. That’s it (even on a plane). They’re lightweight and comfortable, too, and as an added bonus, for an extra $100 (but who’s counting?) you can even design your own, choosing from a nearly unlimited array of color combinations. These are first on my list for when that winning lottery ticket comes in.

How do you enjoy your music? Have a must-have recommendation for us? We’d love to hear it!