May I continue to acknowledge what is true: that relationships are my way into health and happiness, even as I walk in a world that is no longer oriented to this knowing. Money, productivity, and appearances often tempt me to think they point to my happiness, but I will remember that they are but empty promises-- ladders leaning against walls pretending to be paths. Instead of chasing other things with only hopes of someday using those things to feel loved, I choose to remember that I can simply go straight to the love I desire to create. I don't have to do more to impress, earn more to woo, or become more to be lovable. I am enough. May I be patient with myself and others as we continue to awaken to this truth. We forgot. We fell asleep. We got distracted. We lifted our gaze off our tribes, our communities, our families, and our friends-- we got caught up in the chase, the busy-ness, the pursuing, the grabbing, the climbing, and the achieving. May I be gentle with myself as I practice prioritizing people and may I be forgiving with others who don't yet remember.
When we think of vulnerability, we all too often think of sharing our insecurities, anxiety, and stories of shame. But that type of sharing is only one out of the 5 ways to be vulnerable with others. It's certainly important to deepening relationships to know we can reveal what we fear is our worst and be reminded we're still loved and accepted; but it is such a limited definition of vulnerability.
Relational vulnerability, in general, is anything that exposes more of who we are to others; and specifically, the actions we take to share life more widely and deeply with others.
Perhaps the Scariest Act of Vulnerability?
And while I teach 5 different pathways, or acts, of vulnerability in my book Frientimacy; there's one of the acts, in particular, that I think could drastically improve our friendships, our self-esteem, our contributions in the world, and our joy, if we practiced it more regularly. But not only do we not engage in it often enough with our friends, the truth is that most of us don't even know we should be!
What is this secret act of vulnerability, if it's not bringing our skeletons out from our proverbial closets?
It's the act of Shining in Front of Each Other.
One of the most undervalued acts of vulnerability is supporting each other’s success in this world. Being willing to shine in front of our friends by sharing what is going well, why we are proud of ourselves this week, and what we do like about ourselves. It takes courage to be willing to shine fully in front of our friends, and take in their affirmation, cheers, and love.
And it takes just as much vulnerability to encourage our friends to shine in front of us! Why? Because often their shining may trigger our own feelings of insecurity or envy. It can be hard to cheer for her pay raise if we're barely paying the bills, and painful to celebrate her new boyfriend in the midst of our break-up.
But we're called to feel that vulnerability--both of sharing and cheering--and rise the occasion of being women who can shine in front of each other.
When we talk about feeling safe and loved by others we often say, we want to be accepted for "the good, the bad, and the ugly," but most of us actually feel more practiced and comfortable whining about the bad and the ugly, and not being as forthcoming with the good.
5 Ideas to Practice Shining With Our Friends
- CHERISH YOUR LIFE: While we want to be honest about the fact that some areas of life aren’t ideal, we also want to actively identify the areas that are good—and be honest about them. Practice saying, “I’m really fortunate that I don’t struggle with X, but I’m sensitive to those who do. And while I certainly struggle in other life areas, in this one I want to appreciate what I do have.”
- AFFIRM HER LIFE: Whenever you think of it, affirm everything you can think of about your friend. The number one value of friendship is to boost positivity by communicating acceptance—so cheer for her parenting style, her work ambitions, her beauty, her big heart. Everything.
- INVITE HER BRAGGING: We need to practice owning our strengths and joys, but we’re all scared to do it, afraid people will think we’re arrogant. So help encourage it in her by asking her questions that invite her to share what she’s proud of. (“When do you feel most powerful at work?” “What makes you feel the most beautiful?”) Encourage her to really feel her successes!
- INVOKE HER GRATITUDE: Women are known for brushing off compliments or dismissing praise. So, when our friend deflects affirmation, we can gift our friendship with positivity by playfully making her say “thank you” or by saying, “Wait, that was a huge thing you just accomplished; are you taking it in and really feeling it? Because you deserve it!”
- REVEAL YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Our friends should be those with whom we feel the safest celebrating our successes, so we need to practice sharing those successes—without being asked. Text her, “Just wanted to share: X just happened!” Or tell her, “I’m feeling more scared than excited that I just bought a house. Any chance you’re free to help me step into celebration mode? Takeout at my place?”
Why We Have To Shine
The biggest reason of all is that this vulnerability leads to greater intimacy and feelings of love with people because we'll feel more expressed, more seen, and more celebrated. Sharing our woes, bruises, and disappointing circumstances can only take us so far-- it's when we start whispering out loud our biggest dreams, the difference we want to make in the world, and the personal growth we see happening in our lives that we become more of our best selves.
But honestly, another motivation for me is because our world desperately needs more people willing to shine! And if we can't practice it with our friends, then what chance do we have of feeling more comfortable doing it in this world that desperately needs the best of all of us? If I can't admit where I think I'm amazing, to the people who claim to love me, then chances are high that I won't be able to fully own that amazing-ness and shine it to a world of strangers and doubters.
This holiday season when you see twinkling lights and shiny stars-- I hope it'll remind you to think of something good in your life that you can share with someone!
P.s. I'm also teaching a 1-hr class called "Vulnerability: The 5 Pathways to Deeper Connection" (complete with a bundle of resources, such as a personal application worksheet and monthly challenge) for all members of GirlFriendCircles.com this month so feel free to join us (for only $20!) and access the class with your membership! In a month where we can feel inundated with busy-ness and people, it's ever more important to practice adding Meaningful Moments to our interactions!
In my last video post I talked about how we can feel more loved. It's SO important, because if we don't take the time to really articulate what makes us feel loved, then the outcome is DISAPPOINTMENT. :( In this 4-minute video I talk about how we can transform our disappointment, and unmet needs, into clarity and fulfillment by sharing a ritual that I do on my birthday every year (and when I facilitate my annual New Years retreat) to help identify how I most want to feel.
When we articulate what feeling "loved" or "successful" means to us--because it actually feels different on each of us and can change at different times of our lives--then we can better collaborate with shaping our lives to result in the feelings we most want.
In my relationships, I assume that my friends and family DO love me... if I'm not feeling loved, then what do I need that is different from what I am receiving?
I want, more than anything, for you to KNOW what makes you feel loved and to focus your life saying yes to the things that will bring you closer to the love we all want.
If you know what feeling leads you to feel loved, how can you see that helping prevent disappointment for you? What can you do to help facilitate that feeling?
I've got good news and bad news as I share my 3rd video in our series this week.
The good news is that with practice I am getting better: it's shorter and I don't think I use any of the words that I apparently have a tendency to overuse: "abundantly", "just", or "right?". :) The bad news is that I didn't shower and my hair reflects it! haha! oh well!?!
If you haven't had a chance to watch the other two videos this week then I'll catch you up today! This one covers it all!!
In this video I reveal:
- Which of the 3 Friendship Benefits Matters Most to You. I remind you of the three biggest benefits that we covered in our 1st video, plus I share which one was overwhelmingly the most important to all of you based on all your comments! (Thank you! It was so fun to hear from so many of you!)
- Which of the 4 Type of Loneliness is the most Common to You. In a poll that we took after this video-- there was a very clear front-runner to which of the 4 types of loneliness is the most common one.
- And, My 3 Tips If You Want to Successfully Make Better Friends. I share three expectations or things to encourage you to do if you want to make sure that you actually make better friends and not just say you want to! (I expect that you're not doing at least one of these!)
If you're willing, please leave a comment and share with me which tip is the hardest one for you! Which one do you find yourself most resisting or refusing to believe?
May we all stay open and willing to doing whatever it takes to create meaningful connection,
p.s. We are re-opening GirlFriendCircles.com THIS Tuesday, July 19! Get ready to say "yes" to greater connection in your life! Watch your inbox for your personal invitation!
p.s.s. Not sure if the new GirlFriendCircles.com will provide what you most need and want? Watch today's video to find out what's coming!
Hello GirlFriends! GirlFriendCircles.com is getting ready to re-open on July 19 with a bigger vision and a more beautiful interface! Woohoo!
I want to share with you WHY we're going through all this effort to revision and relaunch our community for women's friendships, so I made a 12 minute video to share with you:
- The Two Friendship Problems I see in our world that are stirring me to action and inspiring me to brainstorm solutions for connecting us in meaningful ways.
- The Three Biggest Possible Reasons Why We Need to be Connected as pretty much every other benefit falls under one of these three!
- Some of the Excuses We Use for giving up or not committing ourselves to action and learning... and how those objections aren't serving our needs.
- A Glimpse of My Vision and Hope for All of Us as we commit ourselves to creating better friendships in our lives.
At the end of the video I invite you to leave a comment and share with all of us which of the 3 BIG reasons for better friendships speaks most to you today? (Of course we all want all three of them, but which one feels most valuable or urgent to you?)
p.s. This video will be the first in a series of three so watch for my next one on Thursday when I want to remind us all of the 4 most common types of loneliness!
It's story-time! This week I am telling you a story with hopes that it inspires you to say yes to something big in the name of friendship.... despite the excuses we all make so easily.
Once Upon a Time....
Our story begins with an idealistic freshman collegiate girl who saw a poster promoting the opportunity to study abroad in Paris for 3 months. While she knew not a word of French, it didn't stop her from trying to talk everyone she knew into going with her on this glamorous-sounding adventure. Everyone eyed her like she was crazy except for one friend, Valerie, who within moments said, "I'm in."
Wanting their passport photos would look as chic and grown-up as they felt, they made the horrible mistake of both chopping off their long hair right before the adventure. Therefore, our young heroines--one sporting a haircut that was basically a mullet, and the other with bangs that started at the back of her head-- set off for Paris with little more preparation than learning how to say Bonjour on the airplane over the Atlantic.
To anyone who knows Shasta or Valerie, it will come as no surprise that their favorite activity while living abroad was eating the local food (and they each came home with an extra 20 lbs to prove that point!). So much so that it made sense to them, at the time, that paying the 17 Francs to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower wasn't as compelling as buying a week's worth of pastries and bread. They figured they had seen great views from the top of Notre Dame and that pastries were much more important than "tourist traps." But needing to bolster that decision, they idealistically announced that they'd "save it" for romance and come back someday together with the "men of their dreams." They patted themselves on the back that they could assuage any guilt for not ponying up the money and assured themselves that these imaginary men would one day thank them for the privilege of having Eiffel-Tower virgins to accompany them to the top.
The Paris Promise was made: they'd return.
Twenty Years Later...
It wasn't an easy promise to keep. There were many times when both doubted whether it would ever happen as it just never seemed realistic or likely. Neither of them ever had thousands of dollars sitting around looking to be spent, (especially knowing that if they ever did return they'd need more budget than last time)! ha! And it seemed one or the other was always in graduate school, pregnant, going through a divorce, or had some other big reason why an international trip wasn't possible any given year.
But a couple of years ago, they started saying, "We simply have to do it."
And finally--this month--they did.
In January they booked discounted airline tickets on a sale, split the cost on a two-bedroom AirBnB, and saved up all their extra money to eat their way through France once again (this time hoping that 20 lbs couldn't be added in a mere 2 weeks, right?!?) Plus, as fantasized, this time they arrived with the men they love by their side.
These two best friends retraced steps and recalled memories. They laughed at who they had been twenty years prior. They grimaced over photos from the first trip; and then decided they might as well just be grateful that they had set the bar so low back then that now it was fairly easy to believe they had indeed improved with age! They toasted that they were still friends after all these years; and celebrated how much they'd created the lives that were mere fantasies when they were 18. They bonded as friends, and as couples. . And they smiled. And hugged. And laughed. A lot.
Here are a few photos:
The Moral of the Story...
It's really easy to make up excuses for why we can't do something. And by excuses, I don't mean that they aren't real reasons. In fact our reasons are usually pretty good as most of us feel limited by the constraints of time or money, or both.
For us to pull this trip off-- Valerie and her husband had to find childcare for their three kids, my husband and I had to put some of it on our credit cards, and all of us had to say no to other things in order to say yes to this.
But I can attest that after having had the privilege of traveling with friends, as couples, that it was worth every decision that got us there. It was incredibly special and bonding.
Your story doesn't need to be a return trip to Paris with a friend from 20 years ago... it can be a camping trip this summer with a group of new friends, or an invitation to a friend to meet you in Mexico for a 3-night deal, or the decision to go on a day-trip with another couple.
All you need is a willingness to plan ahead to do something bigger with someone than meeting for dinner, the courage to extend invitations to others to join you on a memory-making adventure, and the commitment to devote some time and money to that time together. Traveling with friends--whether driving an hour out-of-town for a day-trip or jumping on a plane for a weekend away-- logs more hours together and guarantees more bonding than meeting for a gazillion lunches ever could! Shared memories bond us to each other in accelerated ways.
This summer: what adventure do you want to do and are you willing to put that idea into action?
This morning as I was sipping my Chai tea, talking with one friend after another on the phone, and coloring in my adult coloring book (a trend I'm happily jumping into!)--two all-too-familiar feelings emerged, again, together: Pride and Guilt.
Pride, or a sense of gratification, because I was taking a slow morning since I wasn't feeling super energetic, because I was coloring which has to be good for my creativity on some level, and because I was catching up with people I love. All good things, all meaningful to me, and all restorative.
But with it, like a Siamese Twin, was the feeling of Guilt. Guilt because I took a relaxing day yesterday and should be more productive today, because I really needed to shower, because it's almost noon and what respected and accomplished women just color in the middle of the day?!
Where Pride & Guilt Lurk
I've observed recently how these two feelings seem to act like best friends in my life lately-- always wanting to hang out near each other. Whether it's the rescheduling of an early morning phone call even when I know my sleep is more important or the guilt I feel leaving my husband at home to go on another TravelCircle even when I know that traveling in this way is invigorating to me in an important way. It seems weird to me that the very things I am proud of myself for doing are the areas where I feel the most guilt.
I hear it in my friends, too:
- They feel proud of themselves for making the time to go out with friends while feeling guilty for leaving their kids in the evening.
- They feel feel proud of themselves for practicing their independence and meeting their desire for adventure by traveling or going on a girls weekend while they struggle with guilt for spending money.
- They feel proud of themselves for having great friends even while they feel guilty leaving their husbands/partners without them for the night.
- They feel proud of themselves for saying no to attending another meaningless event even while they feel guilty for letting someone down.
- They feel proud of themselves for saying yes and going outside their comfort zone even while they feel guilty for how that yes might impact others.
- They feel proud of their amazing promotion, accomplishment, fulfilling marriage, or amazing kids while they feel guilty for how that might make others feel who don't have that same pride.
Why does guilt come on the heels of pride so very often? Is that the way it has to be? Do we just shrug our shoulders and say, "Such is life?" Is one feeling more real than the other? Are they both equally valid? Am I supposed to ignore one of them?
What My Pride & Guilt are Telling Me
If the definition of being an Emotionally Intelligent (High EQ) person is contingent on my being able to accurately identify what I am feeling and know how to move myself back to a place of peace, then it is crucial that I listen to my feelings. But what does a girl do when her feelings seem to conflict with each other?
- Examine each feeling, starting with pride. Starting with pride, I close my eyes and ask, "Does this feel nourishing to me? Good for me? In alignment with my values?" My head nods. "Do I believe deep down that this is what I need? That I'm in fact proud of myself for listening to my inner wisdom?" I know I do.
- Next, examine guilt. I then turn to examine guilt. Guilt is the healthy response to wrong behavior, it's our indicator that we've acted outside of our values so the last thing I want to do is just shoo it away without checking in. So I close my eyes and ask, "Have I done something wrong? Am I acting outside of my values or code of ethics? Am I hurting someone willfully? Do I owe anyone an apology?" While I might feel bad that someone feels disappointed or inconvenienced, I know to my core that I have done nothing wrong.
- Explore the origins of my guilt. Rather than just tell Guilt that it doesn't belong here, I wish to understand why it's here in the first place. And the answer comes to me almost instantly: I think I'm supposed to feel guilty! For me, the sense of gratification for doing something good for me is a natural byproduct of my choice for self-care, for nourishment, for connection. But the guilt is a learned feeling-- a feeling that emerges when I sense that others might or could judge me. It's not guilt from messing up, but fear that I'm not doing something "perfectly." In the exploring, I realize that one feeling (pride) is what I am really feeling and the other (guilt) is what I have generated based on my comparisons to my ideal or that of others.
- Moving back to peace. Just running through this process this morning while I was coloring gave me so much more freedom. I wasn't doing anything wrong, just something unconventional. But the coloring and talking to friends was actually more in alignment with my values and who I want to be than feeling pressure to "work" because it's the middle of a certain weekday. I felt a peace come over me as I released the need to hold the guilt and instead embraced the gratification I felt that I was doing exactly what was best for me today.
If we don't articulate our feelings and manage them to return us to peace then we risk living with these unprocessed conflicting and disorienting feelings all the time.
And if we name them but don't choose which one we want to give precedence, then we're at risk of simply saying no to that which is good for us because we give in to our unexamined or fake guilt. But how sad would it be if we didn't go out with friends, travel to amazing places, say yes to big things, say no to meaningless things, or spend time coloring in the morning all because we didn't realize that the guilt wasn't really ours? It's not authentic guilt. How tragic would it be to live our lives more in alignment with this crazy picture of what others (or ourselves) think we should be instead of what our hearts and inner wisdom tell us we need?
Next time you feel guilt... I hope you'll ask yourself "Is this authentic guilt or is this fake guilt?" And follow in the direction of the choice that makes you most proud of yourself; you know, that feeling of maturity, gratification, and real connection to yourself. We need a lot more women doing that which is good for them instead of complying with their fake guilt.
To all of us celebrating the choices we make that support our lives,
We've all heard the stories of people on their death-beds saying things like, "I wish I had made more time for my family and friends," or "I wish I had played more, not taken it all so seriously." We pass around inspirational blog posts on Facebook of experienced mothers saying things such as, "I wish I had worried far less about keeping the house clean and far more about playing," and from the wise women who reach the maturity to be able to say, "I wish I had eaten more ice cream with friends instead of forever trying to lose those stubborn 5 lbs. What a waste of energy my entire life!" We hear the wisdom. And we resonate. We know deep down that it is truth. But knowing something and having it change the way we live our lives are two very different things.
It's past time, my GirlFriends, that we choose friendship even when it feels inconvenient, expensive, and time-consuming. Even when we think we prefer sitting on the couch. Even when we think we don't have the money to visit her. Even when we think we don't have the time to call.
It's time to choose friendship in higher doses. It's the medicine our bodies and souls are dying without. It's the cure to that which ails us. It's the love that will remind us how connected and supported we are. It's the peace that comes with knowing we are not alone. It's the safety net that will protect us when the storms come... and they always do.
What Could Choosing Friendship Look Like?
Choosing friendship means not missing the weddings, the birthdays, the big moments. We do whatever we can to be there even if it means buying a cheaper used car, forgoing a shopping trip, or putting off the new dishwasher.
Choosing friendship means we get on a plane and go see her. Just because you miss her. Even if the plane ticket goes on the credit card. We put far less important things on there and the investment is well worth it.
Choosing friendship means we tell our spouses, our kids, and our bosses that our annual girls weekend away is a non-negotiable. We are going. Every year. We don't ask if we can afford it this year, have the time, or if it's convenient on everyone else-- we say yes and figure it out. That's how we roll; that's what we do.
Choosing friendship means saying yes to a spontaneous invitation. Or better yet, being the one to give a spontaneous invitation! I made a pot of soup-- can you come over tonight?
Choosing friendship means not allowing "tired" to be an excuse (the only exception is if you really will sleep during that exact time!) as whatever else we go home and do instead won't make us less tired, but it will make us less connected.
Choosing friendship means buying a random card at the grocery store, writing a few lines of love, and mailing it out to someone who pops into your heart. $4 and 10 minutes is always worth it. Always.
Choosing friendship means initiating with new friends. Even when the time together isn't yet as easy, meaningful and intimate as you would like it to be. You initiate in faith that some of them will one day be your best friends. Much like we work out not because we see the difference in each work-out, but because we know we will over the long run.
Choosing friendship means telling your kids, "Just like you played with your friends today, it's time for mommy to go play with hers" even when they beg for you to stay home. (And the more regular you are with going out, the easier it will be on everyone else!)
Choosing friendship means not letting your pouting lover dissuade you from going out... but saying, "I can't wait to come home... but I know if I want meaningful friendships that they require time together. Thank you for supporting that!" And then kiss him/her on the mouth so hard that they recall just how much you love them... and then walk away for a few hours with women who will love you in different ways.
Choosing friendship means saying yes to more sleep-overs, more weekends away, more dinners around your table with friends, more evenings out, and more hours spent in conversation.
Choosing Friendship From a Place of Love and Hope
Yes we need boundaries,
yes we need to listen to our bodies,
yes we need to say no more often to some things,
yes we need to take our temperaments into consideration,
yes we are busy,
yes we don't want to rack up credit card bills,
yes we have more meaningful relationships to consider besides our friends...
yes, there are always ifs, and's, & but's....
This isn't a post about draining yourself more and giving more when it feels yucky... no, this is a post about saying yes to people who have the highest likelihood of loving you in meaningful ways.
This is a post that reminds us that if we want to feel known, then we want to say yes to more conversation. That if we want to feel supported, then we want to say yes to more vulnerability. That if we want to feel joy, then we want to say yes to more moments that make memories. That if we want to feel connected, then we must fly, call, and talk more. That if we want good friendships then we will want to invest whatever we can today knowing it will come back to us in fabulous ways.
It is all so very easy to get used to the routine, the slow drain on our lives, the ongoing stress of our finances, the burden of everyone needing more of us... but that is not the way we choose to live. We want more. WAY more love and laughter and connection and joy. Way more!
And you, and only you, can choose to say, "I will not let a year pass without us getting together. I will not let this week pass without meeting a friend after work. I will not let this evening pass without calling a friend and telling her that I miss her."
We do it not from guilt, but from love. From the whisper of our future self saying to us now, "You won't regret having more love and connection in your life. Do it. Say yes." We do it because we know this is what we value and how we want to structure our lives.
We will probably feel busy, tired, and broke whether we reach out or not... at least if we don't use those as excuses to not then we will at least have the friendships in our lives that energize us and protect us from the effects of the stress!
Choose Friends. Make Time. Repeat.
Always in love,
Leave a comment: what excuse do you most consistently use to not spend more time with friends? What would it take to not see that excuse as a limitation or justified reason to not pursue more love? Are you willing to consider that you might feel that way no matter whether you do or don't spend more time with friends but that one option might leave you with more love and joy, too?
My birthday was last week and I lived it up this year with a retreat-day (complete with a massage, soaking in a rooftop infinity hot tub, and journaling), an afternoon of shopping with my husband, 3 days of play, America's Cup races, and yummy food with my parents who came into town, and on the actual day of my birthday I threw myself a little birthday party with some of my girlfriends. One or two people made comments like "You shouldn't have to throw your party!" but I smiled and said, "That's what I want to do!" And indeed it's exactly what I wanted to do. Why leave it to chance? Why risk it not being fulfilling in the ways that only I could possibly know I need? Why not create the evening I most wanted to experience? Besides, life has been full with so many different events and groups the last couple of years that so many of my friends hear me talk about each other but haven't actually had the privilege of meeting each other. I could think of nothing I wanted more than to be surrounded by some of my friends and showing them off to each other, possibly even launching a few new friendships among them!
We live in a world where there is only a 50% chance that any two of our closest friends know each other! It's so easy to meet people from here-and-there, giving us the feeling, at times, of having lots of friends but not really having a "group" of friends. I've realized recently that I have several amazing groups of friends, but that my worlds hadn't collided in a little while. It was time! A birthday is a fabulous excuse to bring the people we love together! (And with my birthday being on 9/11 I feel an ever greater joy and honor to spend that evening celebrating life and friendships!)
So I made my dream list of local friends. They were quite varied: one has been a friend for the entire 8+ years I've lived in San Francisco and another I just met in May; one was in her early 30's and another in her early 60's, one came in fierce stilettos & fashion garb and another one was make-up free and walking around in her socks; one is traveling around the world on a mission with her life-changing book and another one who isn't quite sure what she'll be doing next; one who has created and celebrates her financial abundance and another who isn't exactly sure how to pay next month's rent; half are mothers, half are not; one has been married over twenty years, another is happily single... And those are just some of the differences between those who could come!
The night was SO very special. I kept the planning easy (tacos!) so that hosting was a breeze. I wasn't there to impress anyone with my party throwing skills as much as I was there to make sure everyone felt loved! I don't think anyone who came knew more than 2 other people, some didn't know anyone but me. But by the end of the evening, I couldn't have been more blessed by the loved felt in the room. Email addresses were being exchanged, photos texted to each other, and I just sat their gleaming in pride at how amazing my friends are!
In fact, one might think that to sit in a room with amazing women who are showing up in this world in such big, beautiful, authentic, and deep ways might be intimidating. But on the contrary. As I went around the circle describing each friend to the others I kept hearing myself use words such as "truth speaker," "strong," "independent," "a fierce protector of causes and people," "living out her mission," and "generous." Those words kept coming up over-and-over, and I slowly realized that even while we all couldn't be more different from each other, in other ways we lived out the truism that "You are the sum of your friends."
These ladies have rubbed off on me... been contagious in their courage. I've not only been more inspired to be those things I admire because of watching them be those things, but it has given me permission to be those things without fear of failure, judgment, or jealousy. We see each other all doing our best to be the blessing in this world we feel called to be and we cheer each other on. They give me confidence.
My take-aways for you:
1) Throw your own party! I am proud of myself for planning the party I most wanted. And I ended the night with satisfaction that I was surrounded by the women I wanted around me and that I could run the party how ever I wanted! (complete with sharing questions and stories about each woman!)
2) Show your gratitude! I actually named mine a Girlfriend Gratitude Birthday Party, went around the room and bragged on each women in front of everyone, and sent them each home with a card telling them what I admire about them. (You can get more ideas from my book on page 134-135.)
3) Don't be afraid to collide your circles! I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I felt a small pang of worry the afternoon of the party wondering if my circles of friends were just too different from each other to really connect, but deep in my heart I knew they'd all rally and fall in love with each other, just as I had. And it was magical! Now I feel more joy knowing that many of my friends have met each other. (And it makes me want to throw myself a monthly birthday party just to do it all again!)
The season of thanks is coming! So you don't need a birthday to plan your own little soiree. Just pick a date in early November for a Girlfriend Gratitude Party of your own, make a list of girlfriends and start inviting! :)
This is a blog post I have been so looking forward to writing for the last two months! Women lean in every time I share pieces of this content around a dinner table, in a workshop on friendship, or at a mastermind group. It's not only crucial information for our lives, but it speaks so directly to the power of friendship that, even though I heard it first in a business context, I knew I had to share it with my blog community. Simon Sinek's Explanation of 4 Hormones You Need to Understand
In early May, I attended Rock the World 2013-- a women's business conference in NYC--where Simon Sinek was one of the keynote speakers. Simon is the author of Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action (2009) and a motivational speaker whose TED talk is in the top 10 most-viewed ever! But what he shared with us in May was some of the content of his next book coming out later this year.
Sinek relied on human biology to illustrate what motivates behavior, saying basically that our actions boil down to the good feelings we get from four key chemicals in our body: dopamine, endorphins, oxytocin, and serotonin. When we trigger any of these chemicals in our bodies, we get a shot of something euphoric whether it's extra energy, joy, calm, or pride. Here's how we receive those good feelings:
- Dopamine is the result of accomplishing goals, it's designed to help us find what we're looking for. Every time we see a finish line, cross something off our to-do list, or see movement toward our goals-- we get that shot of dopamine!
- Endorphins mask our physical pain and help us keep pushing ourselves to where we need to be. For most of us who live more sedentary and safe lives, our most common form of endorphins come from exercise. If you've ever had a "runner's high"-- you know this feeling.
- Oxytocin is one I talk about a lot in connection with our friendships as it reinforces bonds, builds trust, and relieves stress. We get this from touch, meaningful conversation, breast-feeding, and when we see/experience acts of human generosity.
- Serotonin happens in moments of pride, recognition, and status. When we receive our diploma on stage, say "I do" in front of friends and family, or are the recipients of a meaningful award-- we get that shot of serotonin that boosts our joy.
Now, what I thought was super fascinating is that the first two chemicals you can get all by yourself. You need no one else present to get your dopamine from crossing something off your to-do list or to exercise and feel the endorphins. Sinek called these "selfish" hormones.
The latter two--oxytocin and serotonin-- are "unselfish" chemicals since we need someone else present in order to receive the rewards that our body wants to give us. He gave the example of someone who could just receive an email telling them that enough credits had been accomplished and the bill paid so therefore they earned their diploma-- and that person would have most certainly received a shot of dopamine for reaching their goal. But it's when that person dons their cap and gown and walks in front of everyone that the serotonin is released. We need an "audience"-- someone to cheer for us or witness our success-- to give us that sense of pride and recognition. And the best part of these unselfish chemicals? BOTH people get the shot. Not just the graduate on stage, but also the teachers who taught that student, the family that supported them, and their friends who did it with them. Oxytocin and serotonin need others present to initiate them, but they also benefit all parties.
Warning: We're Not Getting Enough...
He connected these four chemicals to how leaders and businesses can better understand how we're wired to help create more healthy workplaces; I heard the whole thing through the lens of friendship. While all four chemicals have their "addictive" qualities to them, Sinek warned that they are only dangerous when they are out of balance. And I agree with him that we live in a culture that is focusing way more on the selfish chemicals than the unselfish chemicals. We think it's easier to become workaholics to get more dopamine than it is to go hang out with friends to feel the oxytocin. (And how much more so when we don't yet have the close friends we find meaningful!)
Furthermore, two other chemicals-- testosterone and cortisol-- are INHIBITORS of oxytocin. In other words, when we feel stress or anxiety which results in cortisol shooting through our bodies, it prevents us from receiving the benefits of oxytocin which includes feelings of trust, safety, and empathy. We cannot build relationships of trust when we are in survival mode! That has far-reaching implications, to say the least. So the more stress you have in your life, the harder it is for you to experience the rewards of trust, generosity, love, and bonding with others. One short-circuits the other.
So here's my plea to the 22,000 women who subscribe to my blog-- please, please, please make sure you're intentionally adding oxytocin moments to your life! Make sure you're not on an unbalanced chemical loop where you just go after accomplishment and exercise to boost you. It's the selfless chemicals of oxytocin and serotonin that decrease your anxiety, turn your immune system on, facilitate feelings of trust, and basically make this world a better place where we can show generosity and love to one another!
I find it awesome that our bodies reward us to take care of each other!!! And who better to be shining givers and recipients of this than all of us who are committed to growing healthy and meaningful relationships in this world!
If both Hanukkah and Christmas commemorate moments where we remember that God intervened in our lives-- be it by keeping a single-day of oil burning for eight days as the Jews rededicated their temple or impregnating a young woman to give birth to a baby who was to show the world what love looked like in action--then the approach of New Years should naturally stem from the awareness that God is among us. December reminds us that our lives are more than just ours. We go into January knowing that there is something bigger at play.
I want my New Year to be birthed from a really divine place. I want my hopes to feel magical. I want my dreams to feel in alignment with my work in this world. I want my resolutions to change more in this world than a few pounds off my body. I want my goals to not just feel like an obligatory to-do list or a re-hash of last years failed attempts.
Whatever belief system you have in place and whatever word you use for that which is bigger than us-- I hope you'll take the time to bring the true spirit of Hanukkah and Christmas into your New Year.
Who We Want to Be In 2013
Jim Wallis, the president and CEO of Sojourners and author of forthcoming book, On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned about Serving the Common Good, sent out a newsletter this morning that speaks to this point. He spent the first part of 2012 researching and writing this book about the common good and how we seem to have lost this concept in our politics and our society.
He says, "What I learned in the course of writing was how ancient the concept of the common good really is. This quote dates back to the fourth century:
This is the rule of most perfect Christianity, its most exact definition, its highest point, namely, the seeking of the common good … for nothing can so make a person an imitator of Christ as caring for neighbors."
—John Chrysostom (ca. 347–407)
My roots are in Christianity, but yours doesn't need to be in order for that quote to still matter. In fact, some of the most beautiful "imitators of Christ" are the atheists, agnostics, other-religious, and non-religious people I know.
For no matter the religion we do or don't subscribe to, what most of us still quote would be what we call the Golden Rule:
"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
In other words: work toward the common good. Care about those around you. Love.
Setting Our New Year Intentions
So as I sit with that this morning, I want the seeds of my New Years resolutions to come from that place of the common good. Therefore the question I need to be asking myself isn't only "How can I improve my life this year?" but also, "How can improving my life this year serve more people?"
Some of the questions I'm asking myself:
- Am I as loving as I want to be?
- Am I acting with as much courage as I am meant to have?
- Am I becoming a more generous person each year?
- Am I growing in my own self-awareness so that I am taking more responsibility for my triggers, my responses, and my defensiveness?
- Am I living more often from a place of joy?
- Am I growing in my compassion and empathy for those around me?
- Am I seeing emotional growth in my life that excites me?
For many of those questions, I find myself pausing, unsure if I can unequivocally say yes. When I notice that pause, I am then asking, "What could I do in 2013 to become this more loving, courageous, and centered person that I want to be?"
Doesn't that feel so much more significant than beating ourselves up about our body weight, our spending habits, or any other number of actions that produce our immediate guilt? And don't we think that by focusing truly on who we want to become--people with more joy, peace, patience, and courage--that we'll find our other habits changing to align with what is now more true for ourselves? I think so.
So rather than encouraging you to add "Make 3 new friends this year" or "Call one long-distance friend each week" to your New Year's list; I'm instead inviting you to start from a deep and quiet place to ask yourself: "What quality can I grow that will help me love others better?" Who do you want to be? How do you want to expand?
Then whisper a prayer that expands that in you: "I'm willing to become a more loving, forgiving, generous, kind, centered, hopeful, and patient person."
Choose to be one more person in this world who cares about the common good, who doesn't vote only on self-interest, and who chooses to live from love instead of fear. And from that place of wanting to grow into a more loving person, trust that your love will pull more people in to give it back to you.
Your love will not produce an empty vacuum, but rather will create a circle of love surrounding you with more meaningful relationships, life purpose, and consequential joy. For love begets love. Love drives out fear. Love invites greater love. Love changes us. Love changes the world.
And that is what I call the greater good. Happy New Year!
I wrote this post last year at Thanksgiving on my former blog and have had many requests for it to be re-posted. So here, GirlFriends, is my Thanksgiving prayer for you: Anyone who hangs out with me for long will frequently hear me use the metaphor of an open hand.
It's a hand gesture where each hand is cupped, palms up. Relaxed in a way, and yet, intentional enough that I could bring water to my lips with those fingers if needed.
The very act of making those open hands has become my own little mantra in life, inviting my heart to reflect the handmade sign. It's how I want to show up in life, especially in my relationships.
What Open Hands Are Not For when I see those open hands I am reminded of all that they are and, conversely, all that they are not.
- If my hands are open, then that means they are not limp, by my side, unwilling, un-noticing, or incapable of being ready to receive.
- If my hands are open, then that means I am not clinging, fists tight, trying to hold, control, keep or grasp.
- If my hands are open, then that means I am not palms out, pushing away, putting up walls, resisting, defending, refusing to let life in.
- If my hands are open, then that means they are not flat and stretched, unable to hold anything of value, refusing to be a safe container for that which is given in my life.
- If my hands are open, then that means they aren't trying to stretch the fingers ever wider to hold more and more. For they would know that as the fingers spread, so do the gifts begin to seep out like sand through the cracks.
No, I want to step into life with gentle, but firmly cupped hands. Not needing to grab, push, cling, force or refuse. Rather, I show up with a readiness that says I will look for things to hold, people to love, life to relish, moments to enjoy, gifts to appreciate.
What Open Hands Remind Me Open hands remind me that I am deserving of goodness. I am worthy, willing and capable. I refuse to let past rejection, fears, insecurities and previous losses stop me from being ready to receive this time. I value living life fully and I will look for moments to cherish and love.
Open hands remind me that if I give freedom to goodness to land in my life then I also give freedom to see those same gifts fly away. In their own time. I can't not control one and then try to control the other. An airport cannot choose to only accept arrivals and not departures, there are valid times for travel in both directions. I cannot force people to stay here any longer than I can force time to stand still. I cannot manipulate, coerce, charm or trap gifts to last forever.
And should I ever be tempted to close my hand around something, I inevitably have just closed my hand to other gifts as well. Ironic, that the very gesture of trying to keep one thing can be the gesture that prevents other good things.
Sometimes we're so focused on refusing to let go of one thing that we miss the other opportunities. We hold so tight that we suffocate the very breath that we never wanted to lose. With tight hands we squish the bug we were trying to save, melt the chocolate we wanted for later or find fingernail marks in our skin because we clenched too hard. That which we wanted to keep, we lost anyhow. And now our hands are just messy and sore.
Open hands remind me to engage, to not give up, to expect, to hope and to cherish. They teach me to let go, to unclench, to find peace. They offer me moments of joy and loss, inviting me to find contentment in both.
My Open Hands Blessings My open hands invite me to embrace, hug and cherish the people in my life now.
My open hands remind me to feel grateful for those relationships even when they have flown away.
My open hands provide me a visual promise that I anticipate a future filled with more love.
This Thanksgiving, I hold my hands open. Grateful for the blessings. Those blessings that I have now, the ones I have had, and those that are still yet to come.
Happy Thanksgiving GirlFriends.
On a related subject of gratitude, I am pleased to share with my GirlFriendCircles.com community that over the weekend I signed a book deal with Turner Publishing! Woo-hoo! You've been so encouraging on my blog (THANK YOU!) and there is so much more structure, process, examples, inspiration and in-depth teaching around healthy community that I want to provide. So I'll be busy writing the next six months, with a publication date probably sometime in 2013! Keep cheering me on GirlFriends-- I need it!
Note from Shasta: For Friendship Month this September I've invited some women to guest blog for me, adding their voices and experiences to our journey. We launch our guest blogs with Danielle LaPorte of White Hot Truth (bio at the end!). Thanks Danielle for giving voice in such an awesome way!------------------------------
an ode to girlfriends everywhere
girlfriend, i adore you. like, insanely, madly, infinitely, priceless diamond, cosmic shiny adore you. it's crazy how much i adore you.
you told me to dump the chump.
i cut my bangs way too short before a job interview. you told me to wear a low cut blouse to distract from the nasty haircut. i got the job.
you're happy for me. always.
you remember. everything. you're the encyclopaedia of...me.
you made the appointment for me. you waited in the car. we drove home in silence.
you make sure my burritos come with an extra side of sour cream, and you order pizzas with mushrooms only on half.
you took me to the coast when i needed it most.
when i thought the pain would kill me, you reminded me that i wouldn't die of a broken heart.
you told that bastard to fuck off so that i didn't have to.
you drove the moving van. in your first trimester. while barfing at truck stops. you never once complained.
you very gently suggested that maybe one pair of shoulder pads was sufficient.
you called in sick for me when really, I was partying on the band's bus headed for Buffalo.
you didn't make me wear taffeta to your wedding.
you lent me $200 bucks that made all the difference between rent and groceries that month. you tucked it into my purse when i wasn't looking to save me the humiliation.
you held my hand when i got my tattoos, and my wisdom teeth out, and my first really expensive pair of shoes.
you babysat so that i could be with my mother when she was dying.
you dared me and then said: if you don't trust you, trust me.
my baby was two days old. you came over and scrubbed my kitchen floor, made a lemon loaf, and rocked the baby so that i could take a nap, but i didn't sleep. instead, you and i just stared at the baby on the bed, together.
you bring me trashy magazines and don't judge me for loving them.
you coax me out of my own brain. make me stop working and have fun. and you have no idea what I do for a living.
you are how i know god is real. you are my heart honey. my harbor. my metric of faith. my fresh water source. my soul sherpa.
girlfriend, i could not, would not do this without you.
you, girlfriend. you.
Danielle LaPorte is the creator of WhiteHotTruth.com, which has been called "the best place on-line for kick-ass spirituality." She is the author of The Spark Kit: A Digital Experience for Entrepreneurs, an inspirational speaker, and a former think tank executive. Her next book, The Fire Starter Sessions: A Guide to Blazing Your Own Trail in Life & Work, launches in April 2012 from Random House. You can find her on Twitter @daniellelaporte
Call the Holy Spirit your still small voice, your intuition, your wisdom, your highest self, your conscience, your place of peace, or whatever it is that guides you, but don't miss the profundity of this upcoming statement. Marianne Williamson, in her bestseller book, A Return to Love reminds us that we are not centered on what matters if the actions of others continue to dictate how we feel and show up.
"We're not aligned with the Holy Spirit until people can behave in any way they choose to, and our inner peace isn't shaken."
That's the kind of statement that our heads can agree with, but is simply so hard to practice, isn't it?
In our day-to-day lives, it is far more tempting to fall for the deceptive thought that others determine our mood, that circumstances dictate our peace, and that the behaviors around us require our reaction. But that would be a victim mindset, a belief that leaves us feeling as though we are at the mercy of others, dependent on their whims. It's a defeating belief to feel we can't find peace until everyone, and everything, is fixed to our liking. Which is why our peace can be so hard to come by if it relies on our bosses, our kids, our romantic partners, our colleagues, our friends, and our in-laws all being in peace first!
Hard to Hold Inner Peace
Applying that statement to my own life, asking myself "where do I sometimes give away my peace because of others?" I found a few whispered answers.
- Moods of Others: My husband and I work in the same office in our house which can create a fabulous synergy most of the time.... but it also means that we're at risk of stepping under each others black clouds. Sometimes when our wireless modem takes him offline, I feel the stress that he expresses. I can't fix it and it only makes matters worse if I try to "inspire" him (apparently it feels controlling and judgmental to him? Who knew?) to react differently. How to hold my own peace even when he feels anything but that?
- Judging Others: I've been working consciously the last several months to resist making judgments about others... it's amazing though how automatically those thoughts seem to jump into my head during first impressions or various conversations! Ugh! It's far too easy for me to attach a value to the statements and choices of others. And as I judge them, I subconsciously feel they are judging me which moves me to try to impress them rather than just see them. An inner peace is hard to hold when we're judging and feeling judged!
- Filtering Their Stories: Our default thinking process is to run the stories of others through our filter of "how does it make me feel?" So their stories (i.e. their achievements, their break-ups, their stories about their kids, their insecurities) somehow start making us feel something about our lives. It's so difficult to simply let their story be their story. I find that I can start to feel intimidated, jealous, sad, fearful, and disappointed even when we're not talking about my life! It's one thing to enter into their feelings, it's quite another to change how I feel about myself based on something about them! How's a girl to feel peace if every conversation risks her feelings changing?
How Others Can Grow My Inner Peace
Seeing the list above (and I could name so many more!) makes me understand why some people are tempted to go be in solitude in order to connect with their spirituality. Bumping into each other invariably pushes our buttons. This is true whether we're talking about the people we live with, or the women we're meeting at a ConnectingCircle for the first time.
It's hard to hold our own peace around others. They either aren't living up to our expectations or desires which disappoints or angers us. Or they exceed our expectations and standards which triggers our insecurities and fears. Hard for every person to stand on the little line we have for them, without falling into the ditch on either side! (Not to mention the remote possibility that we're not the best judges of where to draw the line!)
Clearly, we have to learn to hold our own peace and let others do their thing.
But Marianne takes it one step further, inviting us not to just tolerate others, but to be grown by them:
To the ego, a good relationship is one in which another person basically behaves the way we want them to and never presses our buttons, never violates our comfort zones. But if a relationship exists to support our growth, then in many ways it exists to do just those things; force us out of our limited tolerance and inability to love unconditionally.
It's a concept I'm holding to. I've been very mindful in recent months about trying not to attach judgements and values on the decisions of others, which does result in more inner peace. But to actually show up, across from someone who annoys me or frustrates me, and see it as a way to grow me, expand me, teach me patience and deepen my ability to love?
It reminds me that even if we spend time at a monastery, an ashram, a church, in a sacred text, or on a quiet walk in nature for our spiritual centering-- those are only the classrooms for learning. It is in our connections with others that we are on the practice field for personal growth. All my prayers are in vain if I'm not showcasing more patience for the people I meet.
So if you're annoying, bring it on! :) I have lots of room to grow!
I hear from a lot of women who feel defeated in their friendship search, or simply feel like it cannot be a priority in their lives right now. Many mistakenly think that friendship is the thing to cut when their lives get busy, express feeling guilty for asking their husbands to watch the kids so they can go spend time with a girlfriend, or conclude that since friendships are not happening naturally in their lives that they somehow just need to learn to live without a circle of friends. Maybe you've been there before? Maybe you're there now? Today I just wanted to poke my head in your inbox with a bit of a reminder about that pay-off. You know the risks. You know the difficulty. You know the challenges. You know the excuses to say no and give up. You know how weary you feel. Give me a moment to remind you what you're investing in!
Energy Output: The Investment can be Exhausting
It's a paradox that the actions that take energy also tend to reward us with the most energy. In many life moments, higher investments lead to higher pay-offs.
I mean, the very act of going to the gym is tiring for the vast majority of us, but the pay-off is, ironically, more energy. Most of us don't sit at work feeling fulfilled by the daily tasks and mountains of emails, but the sum total of that output seems to create a sense of achievement and meaning. I know just on a recreation level that it would be easier and more comfortable to sit on my couch tonight watching TV, but that if I attend to my women's business group, I'll actually come home more rejuvenated than any show could provide. I've learned that most things in life aren't the easiest default option, but they do tend to be worth the investment. And friendship is simply one of those things-- less meaningful in the beginning and a greater source of energy output, but the payoff is exponential.
Energy Input: The Payoff can be Exponential
Gallup's latest research revealed in the book, Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements
shows that there are five universal, interconnected elements that together reveal your overall well-being. Apparently, liking what you do every day (career wellbeing) is the most significant factor to your overall health and happiness, but guess what number 2 is? Yep, social wellbeing, also known as "Do you like who you're doing life with?"
While you have undoubtedly heard me quote all kinds of research about how important your circle of friends is to your life, the research just continues to inspire!
- You're Influenced by Entire Network. Our wellbeing is impacted by our entire social network. You are 6% more likely to be happy if your friend's friend's friend--count them, three degrees removed!-- is happy. The reverse is just as true.
- Friends Impact More Than money. Compare the above 6% increase to the 2% increase in happiness if your annual income goes up $10,000! "This led the study's authors to conclude that that the wellbeing of friends and relatives is a more effective predictor of happiness than earning more money."
- Your Health Prevention is at Stake. People with few social connections are at twice the risk of dying from heart disease or of catching a common cold (even though they're arguably exposed to more germs!)
- Proximity Matters. A friend who lives within a mile will have way more positive influence on your wellbeing than friends across the country. (Why GFC advocates making local friends even though it's not as easy as picking up the phone to talk to your BFF in your hometown! It's worth it!)
- Friendships Especially Important in Aging Well. One study showed that in adults over the age of 50, that their memories declined at half the rate if they were socially active compared to those who were least social.
- You Need More than One BFF! Every additional close friendship adds to your wellbeing. "Our research has found that people who have at least three or four very close friendships are healthier, have higher wellbeing, and are more engaged in their jobs."
- The More Time Invested, the Happier You Are:
The data shows that to have a thriving day you need six hours of daily social time! Six hours?!?!?! That even surprised me! Apparently regardless of personality types and other variables-- those who are thriving in life are reporting an average of six hours every day of connecting which can include: talking to friends, socializing at work, being on the phone, communicating on facebook, etc. Across the board, every hour of social connection added to your day increases your happiness almost 10%! (Isn't it ironic how easy it is to cancel on a friend when we've a bad day or skip out on socializing when we're depressed, when in actuality, that very act of connecting will raise our spirits?)
I know it's tiring. I know. I know it's discouraging at times, I know.
But I also know that this is one investment that promises the biggest pay-off to your overall happiness and health. No small thing!
May you be reminded that your willingness to engage, to meet new people, to initiate the next get-together, to schedule women into your life and to foster these friendships over time is proving to raise your wellbeing! And don't we all want that? ______________ * All research listed in this blog can be found in the chapter on Social Wellbeing in Gallup's latest book, Wellbeing by Tom Rath & Jim Harter. Purchasing their book provides a code for your access to take their Wellbeing Assessment.
Having served as a pastor in churches, I know full well that just because words like joy, peace, merry and happy are mentioned more in the month of December doesn't make it more so. In fact, for many, the holiday season can induce more exhaustion, grief and loneliness than during any other time in the year. The Holidays Don't Always Feel Merry...
- I always pause and pray for those who are grieving for those they loved and lost this year.
- I hold concern for those whose desires and needs surpass their resources.
- I ache for those who will experience more hunger, cold and fear this winter.
- I send love to those who wish they could be close to family but are separated by war, obligations or distance.
- I feel sadness with those who feel their loneliness heightened during a season where we speak so much of friends and family.
- I wish hope for those who are gripped by fear-- fear of not having enough, being enough or living enough.
- I offer peace to those who are weary, overworked, exhausted and strained by their own expectations and the obligations of others.
So we honor those losses, disappointments, loneliness and fears.
But We Can Invite Merry-ness In Without minimizing any of the very real pain that most everyone feels a bit during these busy and high-expectation times, I just want to speak a wee bit of hope into your lives. All happiness research continues to show that our external circumstances don't create our happiness as much as our response to them does.
In fact, one study highlighted that no matter what happens in our lives, we return to the same set point. This was as true for those who won the lottery as it was for those who experienced some sort of physical paralyzing disability. The best things that happen to us give us some elation, but we return to the previous outlook with or without money. The worst thing can happen to us and the same is true, with or without our same body functions.
So if it's our response that proves most impactful as to whether our happiness set point can increase, then how can we influence our response for the positive? Certainly there are many practices that can help shape our outlook, but one of the most compelling ones to me is by surrounding ourselves with meaningful community.
By Connecting With Others There isn't a loss, disappointment or fear that friendship can't touch. Having friends doesn't prevent the pain, but it proves again and again to lessen it, to give hope through it and to provide encouragement and support in countless ways.
- Some studies have shown that people with a circle of friends recover faster from surgery than those who are unsupported.
- One study asked people carrying weights to guess the incline of the hill in front of them and those beside a friend estimated it to be less steep than those standing alone.
- Many studies illustrate our increased immunity and decreased stress levels in direct correlation to our friendships.
The work you are doing this season to invite friendships into your life will pay rich dividends in so many areas of your life. This time next year, you could have several really meaningful friendships feeding your life.
Stepping into the lives of others-- blessing them, listening to them, loving them, seeing them-- and receiving those same gifts, can transform your outlook, raising your happiness set point. I applaud you for inviting friends into you life.
This holiday season, whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, the solstice/lunar eclipse or New Years-- I honor your beautiful intentions and wish deep and meaningful friendships upon you in 2011.
I woke up this morning in a funk. The kind of blah mood that leaves me staring out windows and rolling my eyes at my to-do list. It's complicated when well-intentioned people ask me "what's wrong?" and I pause for a second, trying to come up with some litany of reasons that would cause the questioner to nod their head in agreement. I really do wish I had a justified reason, something I could point to, an understanding of why I feel unhappy. But I don't. Maybe I'm just tired?
Increasing my Happiness But while I may not have a specific reason to be suffering from some lack of adrenaline today, I do know bits and pieces of what will move me away from this space. Certainly I'm going to go to bed early tonight. I am going to try to get at least one thing checked off my to-do list today (writing this blog will count!) I am going to pause for five minutes and add bullet points to my gratitude journal. I am going to go for a late afternoon walk and get some fresh air and hope that a few endorphins sneak into my body. And, I am going to go to Girls Night tonight.
Every Tuesday night I go. I don't ever ask myself if I want to go. Tonight, I fear, I'd vote against attending if I raised the question. So, I just go. It's scheduled into my life the same way I wake up and go to work, brush my teeth, meditate and pray, watch Private Practice on Thursday nights, eat pizza on Saturday nights, show up in spiritual community every weekend and check my email. We routinize those things that are significant to us, those things that matter. And friendship is one of them for me.
As it is for you. Whether you know it or not.
Gretchen Rubin in The Happiness Project gives an entire chapter to "Make Time for Friends" saying "One conclusion was blatantly clear from my happiness research: everyone from contemporary scientists to ancient philosophers agrees that having strong social bonds is probably the most meaningful contributor to happiness."
In this year's book Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements, they list our social connections as the second most significant factor (only after career, which determines much of our identity and contribution) to our wellbeing. Not only because who we interact with influences our habits, behaviors and health, but the very process of interacting decreases our stress and elevates our mood. A quote for me today: "Each hour of social time quickly decreases the odds of having a bad day."
And here's a kicker from the Harvard News last week based on research from their psychologists who found that "people were happiest when making love, exercising, or engaging in conversation. They were least happy when resting, working, or using a home computer." hmm.... that explains a lot.
I could go on and on, listing the evidence to support the link between our happiness and our social connections.
On the one hand the research doesn't surprise most of us. On the other hand, I find when I'm in a bad mood that I am more prone to want to cancel plans, withdraw, be alone or simply vegetate in front of the TV. Typically as we feel depressed or low energy, our desire to interact wanes. And yet, counter-intuitively, I know that the best way to raise my joy is to connect. Ahh the conundrum.
Therefore, I have a rule with myself that I don't connect with people based on my moods, but rather based on my values. Anyone who has had any success with regular exercise knows the need. If I only went running when I was looking forward to it then I probably wouldn't make it out there all too often! But for my health, for my happiness, for the things I value, for the life I want-- I will connect.
So tonight I go to girls night. I may not be the chipper one, bringing my typical positivity to the others. But I'll be there! And if science is right, arguably I should come home to my husband a wee-bit happier tonight. Which could inevitably lead to another happiness booster on the Harvard list! May as well try everything! ;)
Expressing gratitude, which all of November is always that for me, is a powerful practice when it comes to fostering new friendships. When we're not grateful, we tend to be much more susceptible to jealousy, envy and competition. It doesn't take an expert to see how those characteristics might not contribute to healthy friendships! I notice that when I'm grateful and have a sense of my own well-being, I show up in relationship better. It has something to do with self-esteem, but also simply holding a peace about my own life, that invites me to not feel threatened by theirs. I watch over-and-over in others, and myself, how easy it is to project my own insecurities on them.
And wow are holidays a breeding ground for jealousy and discontent! None of our families are perfect. Most of us will experience some form of loneliness. Our expectations go up. Our stress goes up. Our desire to project the perfect, happy, festive smile increase. Our finances won't be enough. Nor will our time feel adequate. Our energy will feel threatened many times over. We will feel losses acutely at this time of year. And regret the gap between where we thought we'd be this year and where we really are. And it will be easy to think that everyone else has the perfect life and that you are the only one lacking.
The Effects of Jealousy If I'm not happy with being single then it's harder to want to be at holidays parties with couples. If I struggle with my weight then it will annoy me to have my skinny friends complain about not fitting into their little black dress this season. If I'm exhausted by being up every night with a teething toddler then it's easier for me to judge others who seemingly have an easier life. If my husband and I are going through a rough patch then I tend to feel more frustrated with other couples expressing public displays of affection. If I don't have kids, I get more annoyed by others who aren't willing to get a baby-sitter to come to a party I am throwing. If I am working overtime this season, I'll feel anger at the women who seem to have all the time in the world to be baking and crafting all month. You get the idea.
Jealousy. It's one of those tricky and counter-intuitive feelings. For it's easy to mistake the feeling as something that someone else is doing wrong and be frustrated with them. But really, it's reminding us that we have an issue that matters to us. It's not about them. It's our own stuff. How we react says more about our story than it does about theirs.
Certainly their action might trigger the feeling. But we'd be wrong to assume that they did something wrong, when in fact, the moment serves as an opportunity to me that I need to look at my own life and ask "What is it that I want?" And just as important, "can I be around people who have that without holding it against them?"
The Opportunity to Respond to Jealousy The real question comes down to whether someone else's happiness threatens my own. In other words, can I figure out a way to not only show up with gratitude for what I have and hope to have, but can I also show up with with gratitude for what they have?
This season, I invite you to step into awareness in two areas:
- First, increase your gratitude. Keep a daily journal if you can, where you write five things down every day. Or, make one long list today where you force yourself to list up to 50 things. Look back over the year and identify milestones you're glad you reached, moments that mattered, growth in your life that you witnessed. You may not have what you want yet, but what little glimpses gave you hope that you might reach your goal? For example, with friends, you may not yet have that circle of local friends that nurture your life, but you can celebrate that you joined GirlFriendCircles to do something about it!
- Second, increase your awareness around your jealousy. When you feel jealous, use the moment to ask yourself why you feel so judgmental. What do you feel is missing in your life? As you take more responsibility for your feelings, you'll gain awareness about who you are and have more opportunity to respond to that desire in positive ways. Don't beat yourself up! Just gently hold those moments as touchstones that remind you of who you want to become and what you want to invite into your life this upcoming year. And own it for yourself. No need to punish others. Their joy will not diminish or steal from mine. There is enough joy in this world for all of us.
May I invite you to expand your gratitude this season where you hold your life with hope and contentment? May I invite to pay attention to your stuff and not risk it bleeding onto potential friends? May I invite you to not rule out spending time with people because you feel threatened around them from your jealousy? May I invite you to be generous to the mistakes that others will undoubtedly make this time of year out of their own insecurities? May I invite you to forgive quickly when others say things unknowingly that trigger your own fears and insecurities? May I invite you to show up with the best of you this holiday season-- celebrating the best in others and yourself?
Above all, trusting that the promise of Thanksgiving, if nothing else, is one of abundance. There is enough. Enough joy for all of us. May we want the happiness of others as much as we want it for ourselves. That's my wish for us all this month!