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Creating a Happy Life

The more I get to know myself (seems to take a lifetime), the more I recognize what works for my system and what doesn’t; and I don’t just mean food. It has made my choices crystal clear.

 

If I wouldn’t eat hot dogs, because well, they’re not even food, why would I stress my body with other kinds of toxins?

 

You have all heard me say that healthcare begins in the kitchen. Well my pal and colleague Kris Carr says it even better when she says “self-care is healthcare.” What does that mean? It’s different for each of us but in the end, self-care means listening to that little voice inside you that always…always tells you the truth. You know the one (no, not the one that says you’re fat or old…); the one that says to go to bed earlier, stay in tonight, stand up for your beliefs, stand up for justice…or take the day off for a much-needed play day.

 

I have learned, as I have gotten older (and hopefully a little wiser) that my personal happiness is dependent on me and my choices. I am a naturally happy and positive person, but world events, climate change, world hunger, community injustice and just plain working too much can be the ultimate buzz kill. I can begin to think of these kinds of problems as too big to solve and grow despondent. Sound familiar?

 

When we fall out of balance, joy is tough to find. Just taking pleasure in the simple things in life becomes a herculean task. It’s hard to find your way to love and happiness when you feel lousy.

 

Now this is not to say that things outside our little universes don’t have an impact on our happiness. Tragedies and injustices can steal your joy and knock the wind out of your sails in a heartbeat. We all go through times when we feel as though we’ll never be happy again. More than once in my life, I have had to choose optimism over despondency. I have had to choose hope, because hope is what creates change. When I was ill with cancer, it was hope that got me out of bed to cook another pot of brown rice and steam some kale. It’s hope that allows me to fight daily for our right to know what is in our food; to give a voice to those without one; to work for change; to help people in any way I can.

 

In the end, we can cultivate happiness only if we are awake in our lives and aware of all the messiness that makes life so great. I know that for me, if I remain mindful, I can see almost instantly when I am caught up in something miniscule and allowing it to rule my mood. I can close the door on that silly little thing and focus on my many blessings. I have become pretty good at stopping pesky irritants from ruining my day, but I have to be diligent or I can go from one little mess to another and before I know it, I am spiraling into a dark place that’s tough to pull myself back from. Suddenly there’s no good in the world and I wonder why I do what I do. Yikes, right?

 

I have developed tools to help myself stay in tune with how I feel and cultivate the happiness I need to spur my creativity and joy…and to be able to stoke my passion for my work.

 

Be Grateful

We have all heard this one so often…it’s so…Oprah, right? Be grateful. But it’s true. It’s so easy to look at what we don’t have, to compare ourselves to others and wonder why our lives are as they are. The only way around these feelings is to focus on your blessings. And if you’re like me, they’re plentiful.

 

When we were kids, my mother used to listen as we recited ten things we were grateful for before bed (You, way before gratitude journals, my mother had us counting our blessings.) It was a daily practice designed to keep us humble but to also show us how we were blessed. We didn’t have a lot of money, but we were rich in so many ways and she wanted us to see that. 

 

I do this little exercise to this day. Before sleep, after chi kung, I lay in bed and recount my day and make my list of things that bless my life…people I love…this life I get to lead, the work I am privileged to do, the challenges I overcome. Even on the worst day, this helps me go to sleep with a smile on my face. Try it, as the saying goes; you’ll like it.

 

Cut Back

I rarely bring politics into my work, because my personal views are not what you all come to me to discuss. My job is to talk about food, cooking and wellness. There’s not much space for that ugliness in the sensual world of food and healthy living…at least not the way I want to inhabit that world. But outside of food and my work, I am a politics and news junkie. I can become obsessed with what’s going on in the world. I come from a mother who was socially and politically active and no one in my family or circle of beloved friends will shy away from a good debate.

 

In today’s world, politics and the news can feel absolutely toxic and affect our wellness. So while I refuse to disengage, and I do want to stay informed so I can take action if and when it’s needed, I have had to put myself on a news and politics semi-fast. I limit myself to 20 minutes per day actually reading the news. I also allow myself one news program on tv. It’s a one hit thing. I read for 20 minutes and I am out. No grazing on news sites all day until I have accumulated 20 minutes. It’s not like snacking. It’s a once a day feast. I have tried all kinds of time limits from 15 minutes to an hour and have discovered that 20 minutes gives me the news I need but doesn’t take a wrecking ball to my mood.

 

It’s a tough one because things change so quickly and I want to keep up, but I am finding I am less upset, less anxious and angry and I sleep better. And I am still informed. Try it. See what works for you. Maybe you’re tougher than I am and can take bigger doses of it. Sometimes I feel like a wuss, but my work depends on my sanity.

 

Unplug

I think the original plan for social media was to be fun and entertaining. It seems to have become a place where people also brow beat others, bully, body shame and spout negative nonsense. So choose wisely when it comes to whom and what you follow. If something or someone chronically upsets you, violates your values or offends you, unfollow. And for goodness sake, unplug every now and then and look up. We live in an amazing and gorgeous world. Soak it all in.

 

Take a Day Off

People always say that I am so lucky to own my own business. And they’re right; I am. I have worked 7 day weeks for more hours than I can count to build this business with my husband. And even now, when I know I have a busy week ahead, I will make an excuse to work on my one day off, you know, just to get a jump on things.

 

I love what I do. I love that I get to help people in any way I can and sometimes make a difference. There’s a lot to do in this world if we hope to leave it a better place and that can send me off into a manic frenzy of activity and loss of sleep. Not a healthy way for someone committed to health to live.

 

So over the last 5 years, my husband and I choose a day each week. It may not always be the same day, but it’s a day off; a day away from the office, the phone, the computer. We hang with friends, enjoy each other; cook and eat; get out into nature, take naps and binge watch a show on Netflix. We don’t even exercise that day. It’s a total unplug.

 

If your schedule allows for it, I highly recommend it. It allows me to recommit to my work each week with renewed energy and enthusiasm. And if you can’t take a whole day, take an hour or even just a hot bath in peace or meditate for 10 minutes. Find some way to step away from life’s adventures so you can face them refreshed.

 

Serve Others

My mother used to say that if you didn’t do something each day to serve others, don’t bother getting out of bed. She believed that service to each other was at the core of what it means to be human. I agree with her; I always did. It was one of my favorite things growing up: finding a way to serve or show a kindness every day. Now before you think I am going all noble on you, I’m not. Serving others feels great and as a kid, I sensed that early on. I loved the “glow” I had after I had helped someone out. I still do.

 

Now, more than ever, we need to give of ourselves (even if it means making a donation to a non-profit you love). We live in challenging times and we will only thrive if we band together and take care of each other. It’s what we’re meant to do.

 

Gratitude, service, unplugging, finding time to chill are just some ingredients in the recipe for happiness. Find your special way and honor yourself and your life.

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