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The Key to Being Happy

listen to yourself header
 
I just received this post from my esteemed colleague, Carthage Buckley, a wise and passionate
coach from Ireland I had the pleasure of doing a BlogTalk Radio episode with earlier this year.
I thought this post was so relevant and perfectly worded that I decided to share it with all of you.
 
For anyone wanting more of Carthage’s down-to-earth, practical advise go to:
CoachingPositivePerformance.com.  He’s a prolific writer who deals with all sorts of subjects
relating to maximizing one’s personal best. Read this and check him out!

Listen to yourself and you’ll always be happy

Coaching requires the coach to spend a great deal of time listening the client. When appropriate, the coach will interject with a question. There are a number of reasons why the coach may choose to ask a particular question but quite often the question is saying one thing to the client – listen to yourself. It is important that the client does not just listen to the words they speak, but also to the way in which they say it and the feelings they experience when they say it. This is listening at a much deeper level than most people are used to. When you listen to yourself, you live your values and pursue your dreams. This is one of the most effective strategies for reducing stress and increasing personal happiness.

One day, a heart-warming message was posted on my Facebook page. My Australian friend, Marshall, had posted to tell me that he was enjoying his holiday in North America – the post was made from Vancouver. He wrote to thank me for encouraging him to take the plunge and follow his lifelong dream of visiting North America. It was clear from his message that Marshall was having the time of his life. I had previously spent a year in Australia, working with Marshall. During that time, he had told me many times of his desire to travel. I had offered lots of advice throughout the year but it could all be summed up with one phrase – listen to yourself.

While it is always nice to receive appreciation; I am afraid Marshall’s appreciation is largely unwarranted. For it was not me who inspired him, it was his own dreams. Marshall and I had often talked with our friends about travelling and about our experiences. Marshall was always keen to encourage us to fulfil our dreams. As the year moved on, I noticed a slight change in him. He began to talk more about the places he wanted to see and the things he wanted to do. It became clear to me that he had begun to listen to the advice that he was offering to others.

Marshall’s message reminded me of how I came to be in Australia in the first place. I had been working in Ireland when a colleague asked me for advice. He told me that his girlfriend had bought him a holiday to Egypt for his birthday. It was the one place that he had always wanted to go to. His concern was that he would have to give up his job – it was a summer job. We talked for a short while and he realised that he had to take the opportunity to go to Egypt. He thanked me for the advice and immediately handed in his notice. As he thanked me, my inner voice was screaming

listen to yourself. I had always wanted to go to New Zealand and Australia. I decided there and then that I needed to follow my own advice. 4 months later I had saved €4,000, acquired the necessary visas and was boarding a plane at Dublin airport. I was about to enjoy the best 2 years of my life.

When you listen to yourself it is easier to discover your purpose and live your values.

We all like to offer advice to our friends but sometimes, when we are offering that advice from the depths of our heart, we are not just speaking to our friends, we are also speaking to ourselves. So, take the time to listen to yourself; it may be the wisest advice you ever receive.

 

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade! – Or Apple Crisp……

 

(Well, the lying-down position of this image you may be getting tells it all). Sometimes, despite your best efforts and highest expectations things just don’t turn out the way you’d hoped they would. In this case, I (once again), unwittingly took the shot sideways in the middle of aiming, and couldn’t get it to stand up straight afterward on my computer. It came out right side up for my husband on his laptop. Who knows what you’ll get…                                                                    

(Am I the only one using an iPhone who does this with some frequency, or are there other directionally impaired picture-takers out there)???

The real subject of this post ironically, had to do with the the non-fit between the weather and the activity. Every Autumn I look so forward to cozy rituals with family and friends, like apple picking amidst the crisp air and gorgeous New England foliage. I DON’T look forward to roaming the orchards in humid 74 degrees with almost no foliage display in mid October. (Nor did my husband, wearing his lovely new flannel shirt!)

But here’s the point: Expectation, as per Buddhist teaching, can really set us up for problems. You want a rose, but get a marigold, then feel dejected, as though it wasn’t still a lovely flower! You want the whole New England leaf-peeping experience, then feel cheated when the temperature and foliage is more like an August day. Yet, you still get the apples and a day in the country with your loved one(s).  So, I recommend that you learn to go with the flow, whether it’s a sideways photo or an apple picking event, take it for what it’s worth, have a good laugh, and enjoy being alive! (As my sister Marge says, “It’s certainly better than the alternative.”)………..

 

Slow

I do almost everything FAST. I walk fast. I eat fast. I talk fast. I think fast. Regrettably, I drive fast. When I moved to Maine from New York City I felt like I’d landed on the “Slow Planet.” Drivers on local roads coming from opposite directions would wind down from a frenetic 20 miles an hour to a dead stop, and have a conversation with each other while everyone behind them would wait patiently, never beeping their horns. (?) Cashiers at checkout counters would wrap every purchased item as though it was made of 14 karat gold, then fish around for the right bag, all while shooting the breeze with me. People on elevators would wait courteously while others filed out first – all in slow motion.

Where I came from in New York I was typical – everyone rushing around everywhere as though North Korea had finally launched an ICBM with a big warhead on it headed toward NYC. With millions of people around, it always felt normal and necessary to be quick on the draw! So the transition to the “Slow Planet” has been a challenge. Not only that, but in my line of work as a psychotherapist slow is often needed to be attuned. Clients don’t want to feel they’re playing “Beat the Clock” in their precious time with me, so I’ve had to be mindful of pace and intensity there as well.

The good news is that I’ve found an anti-zoom antidote to “Fast” through kayaking, which I’d highly recommend to everyone. Even though my kayak is capable of moving very quickly and efficiently through water it feels like an oxymoron to be doing “fast” there. What’s the rush? There’s no email or texts calling, as service if often nil, no laundry, no dishes, no blogposts, no bills, no nothing except the beauty of the water, the mysteries under the surface, the cottages on the shore, the breeze, and the lapping, rhythmic sound of my paddle pushing me gently forward. Unless you’re an olympic contender for “speed kayaking,” (don’t think that actually exists….), there’s no point in being fast when you’re in that realm. Calm reigns and stress is quieted. Reflection and being present in the moment is natural. I’m finally home, and you will be too, where “Slow” is the gift……

How Your Lens Effects Everything

 

This is a pretty winter scene, wouldn’t you say? When you look at it do you see stillness, silence, the beauty of nature imposing itself on a cityscape, maybe a snow day off to relax and refuel? Or do you see a frigid, lonely, oppressive, colorless storm aftermath with probable power outages and traffic shutdowns? Well, it’s all in your lens, or the way you take in the visual experience and the meanings you give it. If you’re a Southerner, or a pessimist you probably zone in on all the discomforts and possible inconveniences associated with this scene. If you’re a hardy New England nature lover, or just an optimist, you probably see the exquisite beauty in the scene. You might view it as an opportunity for a snowshoe hike or a hilarious snowball fight. It’s all in not only what you pay attention to, but the meanings you assign to your selection.

The 2016 election was, (and continues to be!) a perfect example of this issue. You hear from three Trump advocates / surrogates about his behavior in a particular situation and they frame it as “take charge,” “authentic,” “strong,” “warranted.”  You then hear from three liberals about the same events and they frame his behavior as “authoritarian,” “deceptive-lying,” “bullyish,” and “provocatively inappropriate.”  The two sides, based on their lenses can’t even agree about the occurrence of the same exact events.  (To this point, we now even have a new term called “alternative facts” coined by the incoming administration).

Whether you’re a democrat, a Republican, an independent or apolitical, how you see political events and the world in general entirely depends on your lens.

As a psychotherapist part of my work is to a) encourage clients to notice what they pay attention to, and b) challenge the lens through which they take in events, or the meanings they give their experiences. I try to practice what I preach, knowing how radically it effects my moods, energy states and world view. I would encourage you to do the same!

“5 Foolproof Ways to Ruin Your Holidays” on BlogTalk Radio 12/14/16 8:30 PM EST

Don’t miss my next 25 minute BlogTalk Radio episode on Wednesday, December 14th at 8:30 PM EST

If you’ve been telling yourself a story about all the stresses, expenses, difficult relatives, ridiculous gifts, cards to send, the hassles of putting up and decorating the tree, Chanukah forgotten, cleaning the house, making flights on time, too much eating and drinking, getting too fat, cleaning up the house, no time for anything, then this episode is for you!

I’ll give you 5 sure methods to make all the negative spin come true, individually, and as a couple. Enough chirpy info about how to do better! Let’s look at how you can SABOTAGE any fun, joy or meaning!

Tune into www.BlogTalkRadio.com/SusanLager for live streaming, or for the recorded episode afterward, OR to join me live on the air with your own Grinch stories or ideas call into the studio at: 877-497-9046  I’d love to make it a conversation!

Wanna Be Happy? Live Like a Puppy!

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Meet Barley (Lager) – our new “Grandson.” He may be the youngest member of our family, but we think he’s wiser than all the rest of us combined. He knows how to live and love and get his way when he wants to do his thing. You can’t walk with him ten feet in public  without his universal fan club, (mostly older, very fancy, done up ladies), stopping, shrieking, cuddling him and kissing him on the mouth – even though he may have just eaten some fresh deer poop. Like most puppies, he loves everyone and everyone loves him. Of course, it helps that he’s soft and fuzzy, full of kisses and clumsy like a baby. But, he knows a few things about how to live with joy that the rest of us could learn from, probably saving us thousands in therapists fees like mine, and thousands of hours of searching through self help books. If we all just emulated the Barleys of the world we’d probably also spare ourselves loads of angst, and mountains of emptiness and stress.

So, here’s what Barley has already taught me about how to live happier:

  • Be present in the moment, whatever that is
  • Be curious – it’s an amazing, big world out there!
  • Eat heartily when you’re hungry and nap when you’re tired
  • Play a lot with gusto and abandon
  • Be loyal, but also love the one you’re with – unless they’re mean
  • Forgive and forget – today’s a new day
  • Cuddle and kiss your family whenever you can, especially when you greet them
  • Ask for what you want without shame
  • Enjoy your own body – it’s full of wonderful parts!
  • Give everyone the benefit of the doubt – maybe they’ll be a new friend!
  • Back off when someone says “No” – and don’t bite!
  • Be determined about getting your rewards
  • Listen very carefully, trust your nose and tune in
  • Be silly and unselfconscious – who gets hurt if you’re having fun?

(Feel free to add to this list in the name of helping all of us “grown ups” learn to live with more joy and exuberance). Right now, with Barley’s modeling, I need a nap…..

Are You a Time Optimist?

My husband and I still have a ridiculously predictable ritual: We agree to do some errands together on a weekend, often involving returning or searching for an item in a Marshalls or T.J.Maxx store. I tell him I’ll be ten minutes, he says “ok,” and half an hour later I’m still in the dressing room frantically trying on deals of a lifetime while he’s outside, aggravated, saying he should have brought a book! As someone who is generally considerate of other people’s feelings, I apologize and we agree not to shop together in the future, because I lose all sense of time, and he hates to wait. He forgives me, and all is well, until…..the next time.

Here’s another similar scenario: I have a family member (whom I won’t mention by name), who is joyful, highly creative and full of intense energy. He does everything with tremendous passion. Unfortunately, that usually means fixing or building something, or solving some complex problem “in no time” while he makes his wife wait for him to go somewhere or do something else. He’s a loving, thoughtful husband who somehow lives in the doghouse much of the time in his marriage. Luckily, he too has a forgiving spouse who adores him.

Are we folks who chronically underestimate the time it takes to do things really just inconsiderate of others? Do we all have ADHD? Are we disorganized or are we just “time optimists”? I like to think that it’s the latter category – chronically underestimating the time it takes to do things. When our son was about eight years old he remarked one day that I seemed to always be “missing ten minutes!” How astute! – yet it took me another nine years to realize that I could leave for work ten minutes earlier and not be crunched for time – that inevitably, en route to work I’d get caught behind a school bus or an old lady driving fifteen miles an hour, no matter how well intentioned I was about not being late for clients.

These days, I still try to add at least ten minutes onto the estimate for the time needed for just about everything in life. I’ve relinquished myself to the “higher power” of Geologic Time – that no matter how fast I can do things, the world still moves very, very slowly. I can tell you that this practice lowers your stress level, makes everyone around you feel much less irritated, helps you enjoy the scenery behind old ladies and school buses, and can even improve your marriage! The only thing that I can’t vouch for is what happens when you hit a sale in your favorite store….

Obsessions, Manias, Fixations and Preoccupations

I haven’t been blogging for more than a month, not only because of the holiday busyness, but because I have an overactive brain which got hijacked by an obsession for grain-free, low carb cooking and baking. I’ve discovered several websites which tout tons of recipes for healthy, wheat-free, sugar-free breads, cakes, soups, muffins, appetizers, candy, etc., all part of the “Wheatbelly” crusade. I’m hooked. I’m like a junkie on crack. I’m often up till 1:00 AM immersed in a world of other “junkies” who spend every kid-free, husband-free, (I’m not being sexist, it’s mostly women), moment making these healthy treats, and blogging about it on their sites. I call one bunch the “Mad Midnight Popsicle Mavens.” (They really started me on this mania, with their mouthwatering pictures of their mostly sugar-free creations).

This obsession actually started for a logical reason. I’d been suffering with acid reflux and asthma for several years, often rudely injecting itself into sessions with clients, with me either wheezing or choking for a period of time, on their dime. Clients were always very understanding, but I couldn’t tolerate feeling like an old coot, so I did my homework and found out about grain-free eating  as an antidote in the Wheatbelly research. Thankfully, this way of life has helped enormously, but with the mixed outcome of creating a new “mania,” as I like to think of it – not a mental illness, but a happy passion. So happy, in fact, that I could forget to sleep, if I allowed myself, but I generally don’t.

So, what’s the point of this tale? To let anyone out there know that if you too are prone to fixations, preoccupations and manias, to be aware of how and when you allow them to rule your world. Do you forget to pick up your kids at daycare because you’re in a happy shopping trance? Does your obsession with learning an instrument trump paying the bills? Do you neglect your spouse because you’re fixated on a new puzzle? It’s all a consciousness and balance game.

Anyway, I gotta go. The grain-free cookies are calling….

Overfamiliarity

Are you in a relationship which seems to have mysteriously lost its magic? Has the experience of mystery and romance dissolved into thin air without an obvious reason?

If you’ve thought “Yes! Yes!” then you and your spouse or partner may be guilty of too much familiarity, and too many liberties taken with each other by allowing boundaries to get too squishy. Here are some examples of this you may have seen creeping into your partnership:

  • Going to the bathroom with the door open, allowing your partner the charming pleasure of hearing and smelling the result
  • Passing gas without any attempt to be private about it
  • Talking about every minuscule detail of your day, however boring
  • Continuous contact through texts, calls or emails
  • Sharing every detail of your fantasies, regardless of consequences
  • Revealing all the gory aspects of your deepest insecurities or areas of poor self-esteem

These are only a few illustrations of how partners mistakenly think that total openness without privacy will promote more closeness and comfort.

Esther Perel, author of the bestselling book “Mating In Captivity” makes the clearest case for how intentional space is necessary for eroticism, excitement and ironically, intimacy. She talks about how total democracy, lockstep teamwork and lack of space have eroded modern partnerships. Couples used to spend longer spans of time courting, longing, missing each other, having less symbiotic “togetherness,” and as a result, often experienced the critical tension the space provided for more romance and excitement.

So, if this issue of overfamiliarity seems to have seeped into your relationship, take a look at how together you may have allowed too many boundaries to have broken down, notice the effect, and explore how you can re-install some mystery and privacy – (NOT secrecy), but space in the name of closeness.

Love is the Victor

I’m writing this in the aftermath of the most recent terrorist attack in multiple locations of Paris, apparently the 289th attack of 2015. There’s no apt way to describe this scourge of hatred and violence perpetrated against innocent people all over the world. What stands out after each horrific incident however, is the heroism and altruism of first responders, and the humanity of people identifying with the trauma of violation and loss. The victor is love. What survivors of these attacks recount, is how, in the midst of the violence, when they didn’t think they’d survive, they focused on the enormity of love they had experienced in their lives, thinking they were saying goodbye to all the people who were precious to them.

I think the lesson in all this mayhem needs to be love – not only for your family and friends, but for all the people who have helped you, been kind to you, given you inspiration and support, or just made you laugh. If we could all give more energy each day to feeling and showing appreciation and love to the people around us we’d not only be physically healthier, but emotionally more robust, and spiritually more at peace and in harmony with all of life. If we didn’t wait for a catastrophic moment but instead made a daily habit of focusing on this gratitude and our common humanity, we’d be happier, more connected, and more loving as a species.

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Susan Lager

I am a licensed, board certified pyschotherapist and relationship coach in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Through my psychotherapy or coaching services, I can provide you with skills and tools to transform your life.

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