C’mon, Get Happy! In Your 40′s?!?!?

click-heels“How to be happy? The answer, it seems, is turn 46 years old,” writes Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein.

This tantalizing lead caught my eye. As someone born in 1963, blissful happiness should be within my easy grasp. Hmmmm … Let me get back to you on that.

Klein was referring to the work of Carol Graham, who’s been studying happiness patterns throughout the world. Graham found that, regardless of a people’s country of origin, the keys to happiness are a stable marriage, good health and enough (but not too much) income. Not surprisingly, happiness-killers are unemployment, divorce and economic instability. And uncertainty. It’s more difficult to be happy when you’re in limbo.

How does the magical age of 46 figure in? Measures of well-being and contentment correlate more highly with ages mid- to late-40′s.

Thinking back through the decades of my life, I realize that, for me, there are definite trends in my happiness (and unhappiness):

In my teens, happiness = friendship with and acceptance from my peers.

In my 20′s, happiness = my vocational accomplishment and success.

In my 30′s, happiness = my perception of my kids’ well-being and sense of motherhood competence.

Now in my 40′s, happiness = the pieces of my life fitting together into a rhythmic whole. Except when one of life’s curve balls hits, and all the pieces ended up a jumbled mess.

That’s the kink in Graham’s theory for me. Life feels more in limbo this decade. There’s uncertainty around parenting teenagers who have a mind (and a driver’s license!) of their own. Health issues creep up among friends and family; sometimes those health concerns erupt and completely upend life as we know it.

Happiness, while certainly attainable, seems a bit more fragile at 46.

So, here’s my invitation for you Wise Women today: Think about how and when happiness shows up in your life. Comment below, if you like. But, more importantly, spend some time pondering.

New Year’s Resolutions & Strategies On Keeping Them

ist2_2024989-new-year-s-resolutions-dieting“The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective.”  (G.K. Chesterton)

Happy New Year everyone!  Hope all had a relaxing and rejuvenating holiday (I write this a bit tongue and cheek, as while many of us have a break from work and enjoy wonderful family time, there is no end to preparations!)

So we have another opportunity to start a new, and set goals for ourselves.  Almost half of us set personal goals, and while many people do not carry through with their resolutions, about 46% of us who make resolutions are still working towards our goals after 6 months.  That statistic was better than I expected.

Despite this fact that the majority of those who set resolutions do not keep them, the above quote from Chesterton caught my attention, because even if we don’t all follow through to the end, New Year’s at least gives us the push we need to stop and reflect and SET goals for ourselves that hopefully we’ll keep.

Michael York, a business consultant to selling organizations, says that when it comes to resolutions:

1. Most people expect not to keep a resolution

2. Most don’t know how to truly set goals or don’t believe it matters

The secret of achieving goals is as follows:

“Hidden in our everyday lives is the real truth.

Architects know it.

Coaches know it.

Builders and rocket scientists know it.

Blueprints and game plans and models WORK!”

The only New Year’s resolutions I’ve been successful at achieving were ones that I set 3-4 years ago that were about getting friends together on a regular basis with a common focus – a gourmet cooking group, for example.  Of course, in those situations, I had friends that I involved in my goal there to keep me on track.

I must say my annual goal of exercising regularly always falls by the wayside.  That goal is still a top priority, so it behooves me to figure out how to break down this goal into small manageable parts on a weekly basis so I can achieve them – a blueprint as Michael York points out.  So as a beginning, I’ll write out exactly what I need to achieve on a weekly basis, and what exercises (and length of time) I’m going to commit to it.  And maybe just maybe, it will become a routine, and I’ll actually enjoy it!

I also received two vegetarian cookbooks for Christmas, and while I’m not sure I can or want to go all the way to that side of eating, I do love the idea of adding more vegetarian meals to the weekly planning.  This is called being a Flexitarian (as penned by freelance writer Lambeth Hochwald – and very clever I might add).

Anyone else have resolutions or wisdom on how to keep their resolutions to share?

Letting Go And The Pretzel Test

pretzel

‘Tis the season … of inescapable stress, unattainable expectations, fitful sleep, poignant memories, and increased time with those who share your genes and are doing their own version of this pressure-filled holiday dance.

One way I monitor my stress level during the holiday season – and throughout the year – is to do The Pretzel Test. As I plan, coordinate, orchestrate and otherwise attempt to control life, I will sometimes (unfortunately, not always) stop and ask myself, “Am I twisting myself into a pretzel on this?”

I know the answer is yes when my nerves feel brittle and ready to snap, just like a pretzel. Or, I’ve twisted and turned all my desires/priorities and subjugated them to someone/something else in supposed service of the “greater good.” Or, I finally recognize that I’m more invested in the outcome than the person who actually should.

When the realization hits that I’ve reached pretzel status, it’s time for emergency action. Sometimes that involves chocolate (again, unfortunately). Other times I pull out the quote below and read carefully. Inevitably, the line I need to be reading jumps off the page at me.

Are you feeling a little crunchy this week? How and what can you let go?

Let Go
To “let go” does not mean to stop caring, it means I cannot do it for someone else.
To “let go” is not to cut myself off, it’s the realization I cannot control another.
To “let go” is not to enable, but to allow learning from natural consequences.
To “let go” is to admit powerlessness, which means the outcome is not in my hands.
To “let go” is not to try to change or blame another, it’s to make the most of myself.
To “let go” is not to care for, but to care about.
To “let go” is not to fix, but to be supportive.
To “let go” is not to judge, but to allow another to be a human being.
To “let go” is not to be in the middle arranging all the outcomes, but to allow others to affect their own destinies.
To “let go” is not to be protective, it’s to permit another to face reality.
To “let go” is not to nag, scold or argue, but instead to search out my own shortcomings and correct them.
To “let go” is not to adjust everything to my desires, but to take each day as it comes and cherish myself in it.
To “let go” is not to criticize and regulate everybody, but to try to become what I dream I can be.
To “let go” is not to regret the past but to grow and live for the future.
To “let go” is to fear less and to love more.

“Waiter, I’ll Have What SHE’S Having”

when-harry-metI’m a pretty decisive person. For example, I’ve noticed that, 99% of the time at restaurants, I’m the first one to decide what to order, close the menu and put it aside. Others at my table take a few more minutes to peruse the choices, pose questions (“What are you going to order?”), and eventually choose. (And sometimes, that choice is up for debate up until (and even after!) the food is delivered.)

Now, maybe that’s not a fair example of my decisiveness as I love to eat and have no food allergies. But, I still think I lean toward the decisive-end of the continuum, something I was reminded of after thumbing through Suzy Welch’s new book, “10-10-10: A Life-Transforming Idea.” (How’s that for a long way to go to get to the point of today’s post? My apologies to those of you who read the title and thought I was going to share tips from the Kama Sutra.)

Welch’s premise is that life’s tough decisions should be analyzed through a 10-10-10 lens. Namely, as you wrestle with a problem, you ask yourself: What are the consequences of each option being considered – over the next 10 minutes? 10 months? 10 years? By tuning into the immediate-, short-, and long-term impact of the various choices, you allow the “right” decision (for you!) to bubble up to the top.

I had two reactions to this approach:

  1. Frustration/Envy. 10-10-10 seems like yet another example of a simple truth packaged in a new way and selling like hotcakes. Don’t even get me started on, “The Secret.” Darn that Suzy Welch. Why couldn’t Anne and I have come up with that catchy hook first?!?!?
  2. Curiosity. Hmmmm … Do I analyze decisions similarly? Certainly not at restaurants, where the first ’10′ dominates my thoughts (my satisfaction over the next 10 minutes). The latter, longer-term 10′s (impact on my waistline and overall health) are usually off my radar.

I’m more familiar with the decision-prompting question: “What would you do if you learned you only had 30 days to live?” This question (usually invoked for significant decisions) is designed to help people identify and make time for what’s most important to them.

My version is a tad more graphic: “If I were to be hit by a bus tomorrow, would I be satisfied with how my overall life was going?” You may laugh, but I truly imagine myself sitting up in Heaven either smiling with satisfaction or clucking with regret.

Now, for life-changing decisions, I still won’t make a snap decision after using this “rule.” Usually, I’m too ambivalent to immediately know the right path (true for even decisive people). But, I do know that, if I’m on the wrong path, I continue to see a regret-filled Elaine-in-Heaven and that image begins to haunt nudge me in a certain direction.

The problem is – that’s the Elaine I’ve been seeing lately … Sigh. I KNEW there was a reason I picked up that book. Darn that Suzy Welch …

Coffee Chat with a 1,000 Wise Women

imagesAs Elaine and I were sitting on the beach in Rhode Island Labor Day weekend, Elaine absorbed in a magazine, myself trying to keep up with the antics of the little guys, Elaine stopped and pointed.  Her finger rested on an ad in More Magazine, which was promoting their 3rd annual “Reinvention Convention” taking place in New York City on October 5th.

Elaine and I attended the first Reinvention Convention two years ago – not unsimilar to this Labor Day weekend, we were sitting on the beach and she noticed this ad, and we decided right then and there that we would go.

We both immensely enjoyed it.  It was a day of meeting interesting women, sharing stories, talking about careers (changing, starting, and or jumpstarting), finances, health, beauty and fashion.  This year’s key note speaker is former First Lady Laura Bush.  Other notables include:  Jean Chatzkey, Financial Editor, Dr. Pam Peeke, author of Body for Life for Women, Dr. Gail Saltz (Psychiatrist and Today Contributor), and Mica Brzezinski from Morning Joe, to name a few.  Both Elaine and I were refreshed from spending a day away from our normal routine, which gave us new perspectives, got the wheels in our head cranking in a little bit of a different way, and bottomline, inspired us.  After leaving this conference, Elaine and I contacted each other the next day … and our Wise Women idea was born.

So for any of you that are in the New York area, or not so far away, you should consider attending.  You never know when the inspiration might hit to take you in a new direction.

48 Hours of Only “I Want To’s”

christmas-presentHave you ever coveted a shiny, new toy or gadget, like a Blackberry or IPhone? Only to receive it as a gift, and quickly realize that, while the perfect gift brings delight, it also requires planning and effort (i.e., work!) to truly enjoy it.

I went through a similar process when I received the one thing I truly crave: the gift of time. To be specific, 48 glorious hours, no family around, and no commitments on the calendar. I was practically drooling when I found out that I had a completely free weekend (and so was every other female I told.)

When I first learned I would be alone, I jotted down ideas of things I wanted to make sure happened during the as yet unspoken-for weekend. Knowing the importance of putting “first things first,” I planned to build the weekend around these high priority want-to’s. The final list included four items:

  1. 1.5-hour massage
  2. overdue movie outing with a friend to see “Julie & Julia”
  3. facial and eyebrow waxing appointment (also overdue)
  4. sushi dinner

After scheduling these commitments, I decided I would leave the rest of the weekend free and simply do (or not do) as the spirit moved me.

The 48-hour countdown gift began on Friday night at 5 pm. Unfortunately, I was so drained by a busy week at work, all I could dream about was collapsing in my bed. But, I didn’t want to “waste” an entire evening of freedom. So, I compromised with myself. I drove to Border’s, picked up a book on how to maximize personal energy (which seemed particularly important given I’m at the beginning of the semester, and I already feel exhausted), stopped by Chipoltle for dinner to go, and headed home. By 7:45, I was in pj’s and in my bed thumbing through my new book. Ahhh … heaven.

The “work” phase began Saturday morning when I woke up and had six hours of unclaimed time stretching before me and my facial. Now what? I was paralyzed by all the possibilities. I had to sit down and sift through my impulses and decide whether to place them in the yes pile or no pile. I found myself resorting the piles several times over the course of the weekend. And, I hate to admit this, but this process felt like WORK! (I know, you now see me as one of those vile creatures who complains she can’t gain weight or doesn’t know how to spend her money. Sorry. But, it’s true – it’s not as easy as it sounds.)

On Saturday afternoon, my friend Gail asked me what I had planned for Sunday morning. At the time, I was in “doing” mode and I rattled off the plan: mass at 7:30 (remember, I LIKE getting up early), trip to Wegman’s to fill our empty fridge, and then trip to Costco. My goal was to hit the stores while most were reading the Sunday newspaper, avoid the dreaded crowds, and feel good about lounging around the rest of the day after my productive morning.

With a few verbal slaps (admittedly well-deserved), Gail “encouraged” me to rethink this plan. Changing gears and expectations was a tad difficult for me, but I managed. On Sunday, I ended up not leaving my house until my 4 p.m. massage and spent the time cocooning in my house. Thank goodness for Wise Women friends like Gail!

So, what can I conclude after a weekend focused solely on “want to” versus “have to”? I realize that the ‘have to’ pull is quite strong even in the absence of others and their requests. That there can be overlap between the ‘want to’ and ‘have to’ lists if I have the right attitude. (For example, I did a lot of cleaning this weekend, and truly enjoyed every minute.) That being completely choiceful actually takes effort or “work.”

But, wow! That kind of work is worth it!

As Seen On TV: Neckline Slimmer

neckline-slimmerAs Wise Women, we strive to embrace the aging process and its precious gifts of wisdom and inner beauty. However, if we’re really honest with one another, we’ll also admit to concern (panic?) about what happens to our faces and bodies as we grow older. It’s OK for us to be old, less OK for us to look old.

And we all have our own personal phobias: gray hair, flabby upper arms, crow’s feet wrinkles or the dreaded double chin.

For those who fear the double (or more) chin, the Neckline Slimmer comes to the rescue! The device allows you to do resistance training to tone your neck muscles. I almost fell off the treadmill when I first saw the informercial for the Neckline Slimmer playing on the TV monitor at my gym. In addition to the remarkable before/after photos, the informercial has a live demonstration of someone (40+ woman, natch) using the Neckline Slimmer. In case the up-and-down head motion is too difficult to learn, a free training DVD is included.

What is wrong with us, ladies?!?!? Are we so desperate that we’re willing to shell out $19.95 plus S&H for this useless device? Do we really believe that “exercising” our neck for two minutes a day will produce such miraculous results? And, who can even nod their head for two minutes straight anyway? Go ahead – try nodding for even 30 seconds. I bet you’ll be dizzy after 10. Seriously, try it right now as you sit at your desk.

Now, before I get too high on my horse, I will confess that I have my own beauty hang-up about aging: wrinkly hands. Remember those Jergen’s hand lotion commercial featuring mothers and their adult daughters? And you had to guess whose wrinkle-free hands were whose? Well, those 1970′s commercials definitely made an impression on me as I’m obsessed about minimizing hand wrinkles. Weird, huh? I slather on hand lotion multiple times per day year-round. It’s even part of my morning ritual as I drive to work. There’s a certain long stop light where I lotion up. (Only the backs of my hands, mind you; otherwise, the steering wheel gets too slippery.) I like to think that my hands could be ready if Jergen’s decides to resurrect its old campaign and does a casting call.

Anyone else willing to fess up to a particular “sensitivity” about looking older?

“My Whole Life Is HAVE To”

steve-martin“My whole life is HAVE to,” says Steve Martin’s character in the 1989 movie Parenthood; he is lamenting all the responsibilities – wife, kids, parents, house, job – packed into his life.

When I catch that movie on TBS for the 12th or 88th time (some number in the double digits), I have various reactions to this scene. Sometimes I want to hit “Gil” upside the head and lecture him that all of these burdensome responsibilities he’s moaning about are what constitute life’s blessings. Other times I silently cheer him on and think, “You’re so right, Gil! Give yourself a break. Head for Tahiti for a week (or month, or year).”

I will confess that I’m experiencing a lot of Tahiti-fantasies myself lately.

More specifically, I mentally toss around the question, “What would it be like to do ONLY what I want for a day?” (In my wilder fantasies, I broaden this time frame out to a week or even a month.)

Other than the hours of 9 to 5 when I’m being paid to do someone else’s have-to’s, I would ignore others’ needs and do only what I wanted. No need-to’s, have-to’s, or shoulds. No driving anyone anywhere. No coming up with meal plans. No touching base with anyone simply because, “Uh oh, I haven’t talked to them in a while.” No blogging on Tuesdays and Thursdays. (I would blog, except it would be when I chose to post versus on a schedule.) No making doctors appointments for myself or anyone else.  (I could check my calendar and add dozens more tasks to this list, but I think you get my point.)

There are times when doing all the above things gives me immense satisfaction and a feeling of exhilaration. There are other times that I slog through my have-to’s and feel like I’m pushing a rock uphill.

For the last several years, I have indulged this fantasy of doing absolutely nothing for anybody on the day after Christmas. I call it PJ Day and, for the entire day on the 26th of December, I remain in pj’s, watch TV, read, eat leftovers, and completely ignore everybody. Really – I’ve got them trained to barely talk to me and they certainly know not to ask, “What’s for dinner?”

It’s heavenly.

But why should I have to wait until I’m utterly exhausted after the holiday whirlwind to take a break from juggling the needs of kids, spouse, dog, family, friends, neighbors and, oh, yes, my own needs. What would it be like to juggle only one ball – my ball – for more than just the day after Christmas?

And, why does this feel like such radical thinking and so utterly self-centered as I write this? Why do I feel the urge to justify and/or apologize for these thoughts?

Evaluating Life – By the Numbers

Remember Baribie’s infamous declaration “I hate math?” In the “great” tradition (insert sarcastic tone) of female stereotypes, I am not a numbers person.

So, I find it somewhat ironic that, when I’m evaluating myself or my life, I end up quantifying my judgments. I commonly have thoughts like:

“only 60% of me wants to go on this trip…”
“On a scale of 1-10, I’d give myself a 7.5 on that presentation…”
And, last night as I drifted off to sleep, I thought, “I spent 85% of my energy on work today. I literally ‘gave at the office’…’”

Along with this last thought, other percentages danced around in my head. I estimated that I had expended my energy in the following ways yesterday:

85% at work (it was only an 8 am – 4 pm day, but it was intense), 7% on myself (exercise, read advice columnists online and sit and daydream when I arrived 15 minutes early for a meeting), 10% on my family (most of that time in the car chauffeuring), 2% on my significant other (exchanging info about our days while cheering on our son at a basketball game and over dinner), 1% on my friends (a few, quick emails), .005% on my spiritual life (the quick prayer I offered before dinner), and .5% on my family of origin/extended family (email to my sister-in-law).

(Yes, for those of you who ARE numbers-oriented, I do realize that these numbers add up to more than 100%. But, gimme a break, I was half-asleep when coming up with them and grateful to even remember them this morning.)

I also remember the dissatisfaction I felt at the end of the day yesterday. Even my half-asleep self realized that these percentages were not conducive to a well-rounded life. That using up so much energy would result in my energy tank running on fumes by the time I made it home.

Do you ever think about how you spend your time and energy in a typical day? Normal week? I find it validating, particularly when one area of my life takes more time than normal (e.g., when a family member is sick). If the percentage shoots up in that area, it’s no wonder that I’m so tired if I try to maintain the other percentages in my life.

It’s Tuesday morning and time to wipe the slate clean. What will the numbers be today?

Playing Small

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?” Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to manifest the glory that is within us. And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

The words of Marianne Williamson hang on the wall in my office. My eyes glance at the wise words every day, but rarely do I see them.

Today, I’m really seeing the quote. And letting the words sink in anew.

Williamson gives us a gentle, yet forceful reminder that we frequently settle for less — in our relationships, in our expectations for our lives, in ourselves — and end up playing small.

Clearly, this quote popped on to my conscious radar today for a reason. The universe is challenging me to notice the places in my life where fear is in the driver’s seat and nudging me to take corrective action.

Where are you playing small in your life? How can you let your light shine brighter?

Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

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