Funny You Should Ask: “How do you stay so positive?”

I think I recognize the eyes and the hair. Is that my friend Beth behind the N95 mask? (One of the all-too-familiar new brain tasks in our Covid-19 world.)

Yes, it is Beth, and we carefully hug each other hello (faces pointed away to avoid germs, sheesh) in the supermarket aisle. It has been way too long. 

I really miss seeing people’s faces and hugging without fear. Sigh.

Anyway. After the health and family check-ins, Beth says:

“I’ve been meaning to call you for ages. I really want to talk some time about how you stay so positive through all this, and everything else that has happened in your life.”

(Seriously. I have not made this up.)

“Funny you should ask,” I say. “I’ve just written a book about that very thing.”

guess I should have worn this button sent by Book coach Cathy Fyock!

Beth’s question represents the reason I wrote Happier Made Simple. 

It has been a decade since I wrote the memoir about our family experience with serious mental illness, and the grief and hope that seesaws with that challenge. I’ve spoken to a lot of groups about our journey, and that very same question almost always comes up in the Q&A after a talk.

I answered the question “How do you stay so positive?” so often that dozens of people followed it with, “you should write a book about that.”

I procrastinated for ten years, but now the book is written, and on its way to readers soon.

Thanks for asking!  Your questions have been the inspiration to do my best to answer them. We non-fiction authors hold the same hope: that our words can be of help.

 

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Happier, Not Happiness. Why? Setting the Record Straight

“Randye, I really hesitated bringing up the topic of happiness tonight, because of your book. I don’t want to negate your message.”

Those words, from the leader of our Mussar study group (I’ll explain later) last night.

I so appreciate her concern, but immediately move to set the record straight. 

Constant happiness has never been the goal of my book – or, indeed, of life. I state that right away in the first chapter, and in the subtitle: Shortcuts to More Serenity in a Complicated World. (Italics added here for emphasis)

Why more serenity? 

So we can be less distracted by needless anxiety, creating more emotional space for things like appreciation, love, and service to the world.

Happier is not the same as Happiness. 

When we are Happier, we can meet life’s challenges with a clearer mind, 

What is Mussar? It’s “a traditional Jewish path of spiritual development that leads to awareness, wisdom, and transformation.”

I think of it a Jewish Zen of a sort. Mussar’s roots are in Judaism, but the applications seem universal.

Ethics, philosophy, spiritual belief… the group meets every week or so on Zoom to explore teachings that cultivate “personal growth and spiritual realization.” 

That description comes from the back cover of our optional textbook, Everyday HolinessFrom its chapter on Trust:

“t makes sense that God created this world replete with all its difficulties. It’s because it’s not our job description to be happy and fulfilled….It is only when you are running after the elusive goal of being happy that this world seems so terrible.”

From my book:

We’re not supposed to be happy all the time. We’ve got a beautiful range of emotional states that co-exist so we can tell the difference between them – and put all that energy to good use.

There is no conflict here.

Not “constant happiness.” That is not the goal. Just happier – so we can love more, work better, have the space to find and fulfill our life purposes.

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Hindsight Resolutions: What Got Done in 2021?

What Got Done is Also Who You Are!

Happy New Year! If you feel like you’ve already let yourself down by not yet making any Resolutions for 2022, you can opt to give yourself a break.

How? Just decide not to make any resolutions this year. Instead, take a look back and see how 2021 played out for you. You might be pleasantly surprised at how much you accomplished – or at least survived – in the last 12 months.

Yay, you! Pat yourself on the back.

For inspiration, take a look at your calendar, and some photos, of the past year. Then answer these two questions:

  1. What got done in 2021? This is the place for things you accomplished, even (maybe especially) if you just went with the flow and took a spontaneous shot. It could be anything, from finally replacing the toaster to earning a PhD. If you feel proud (or relieved) it counts! This list is more proactive – life didn’t force it upon you. You created the change.
  2. What challenges did you meet/survive/learn from in 2021? Here is where you give yourself credit for getting through the stuff life threw at you this past year. We all get a free square for living through another year of Covid.
  3. If you rewrote (or wrote) your 2021 resolutions now, with the hindsight of what actually happened, how cool would you look?

If, at least, sometimes, life is what happens while we are making other plans, then what does your personal history have to teach you?

Share your top three items in the comments! (just click the bubble next to this article’s title)

Be proud! You are a rock star.

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“I Appreciate You”: Does Enduring Love Require Gratitude?

“Without gratitude, love cannot endure.”

This quote stood out to me in the required reading for an adult learning class on Mussar ” a traditional Jewish path of spiritual development that leads to awareness, wisdom, and transformation.” That week’s topic? Gratitude, which happens to be a vital element in Core Phrase #4 in Happier Made Simple‘s chapter about Appreciation.

Three things come to mind:

1- Resist the temptation to take things for granted. Whoever gets up first in my house makes the coffee. These days it’s often my husband, even though he switched to tea months ago. I always, always thank him for the coffee. It’s such a joy to come downstairs and smell the caffeine. A relationship gets stronger with every sincere thank you.

2 – Express the gratitude whenever possible – don’t keep it inside, don’t make someone guess. I first heard my daughter say “I appreciate you” to the man who later became her husband, and I love how that sounds and what it means. When you are grateful to the person and not just for the task done, it adds another layer of positivity.

3 – Appreciation is the opposite of contempt – One study on marriage ( Drs. John and Julie Gottman) found that the strongest indicator that divorce might be near was the attitude of contempt, as expressed in gestures like eye-rolling. Imagine what might change, if we could catch ourselves before expressing contempt, and substitute appreciation instead.

Judaism changes with the times, but one practice in its roots is the concept of everyday blessings for simple situations.  An early form of the “gratitude list” – but expressed many times in a day, in the moment. I don’t spout Hebrew prayers all day (don’t even know those prayers), but I love the concept. My days are richer when I look for appreciation moments instead of trying to remember it all and make a list before bed (which seldom seems to happen).

In my book, I also talk about thinking how we are grateful to other people (as well as a higher power if you wish), and not merely grateful for.

This simple change can add the element of Engagement and Connection to Appreciation.

No one is an island.

Say thank you. Or I appreciate you. Your relationship will be stronger for it, your life richer.

Thank YOU for reading this, and for any stories you care to share.

 

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It Is What It Is: How Accepting Reality Leads to Happier

Core Phrase #2: It Is What It Is.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because (a) I did not make up the phrase – it’s widely used, and (b) the Reality concept here is also about something we also hear a lot about: Acceptance. 

Whenever I find myself spinning my wheels about “why me?” and “this shouldn’t be this way”…I realize I’m doing just that…spinning my wheels, and with absolutely no traction. In mud. Or snow.

So I’ve learned to come back to It Is What It Is…and that seems to lead to a more useful thought/question: Now What?

Yep. Acceptance is hard – and the difficulty increases along with the gravity of the situation. But if we don’t (eventually) get there, we can stay lost in the negative emotions that keep us stuck, and we never ever move forward from Pity Party Land. Or the Judgment Zone. 

There is an audio preview of this chapter on soundcloud. enjoy!

 

 

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Happier Made Simple: The Book, Some Listening, and You

What is Happier Made Simple really all about?

It’s about little changes that can make a big difference.

Like: the words we use when we talk to ourselves, and to others.

Like: trying some actions even before they feel like second nature- and noticing what happens.

Like: taking small, consistent steps until you reach your goals.

I’m thrilled to let you know that I’ve finished writing the book Happier Made Simple: Choose Your Words. Change Your Life (Shortcuts to more Serenity in a Complicated World)

How? One 30-minute writing session at a time.

The road to publication is in progress, too, and here’s where you come in.

You can get a sneak peek by:

1- joining the new facebook page

2- listening and subscribing to audio messages – link below to one

3 – signing up for my mailing list to stay informed.

 

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Hello Again, Stranger!: Tiptoeing Back Into Small Encounters

How I’ve missed you, person I meet by accident. We’ve been in our caves, zooming away, and hiding behind our masks for too long.

Cheers!

Yesterday my daughter Ali and I went took her three little munchkins out for ice cream at a local shop located on a family farm. Afterwards we went out to see the donkeys (gotta get fertilizer for the corn crop from somewhere!), and in the blink of an eye our 5yo made instant friends with another little girl named Emily, and (blink again) suddenly our kid troupe of three was a horde of five kids – Emily had a little brother – running around as if they’d known each other forever.

Being able to go out somewhere and accidentally meet and talk with someone random is something I hadn’t even been aware I missed so much.

Ah, people.

And, as moms of any age do, Ali and I started to chat with Emily’s mother. They don’t live in our town, so it’s unlikely we’d run into them again. Still, what a nice ten-minute conversation – we covered sleep training, school in a pandemic, sibling rivalry, and ice cream flavors.  And then we each went home to our separate lives.

But – oh, how lovely. For the past year, most “meetings” with people outside our pods have been carefully orchestrated, sanitized, and/or with a computer screen between us. Being able to go out somewhere and accidentally meet and talk with someone random is something I hadn’t even been aware I missed so much.

Ah, people.

  • Ah, little child sitting next to me on an airplane who gives me a sticker from her collection to put on my iPad case.
  • Oh, couple we chat with at the bar, talking about our families, our work, even (sometimes) politics.
  • Oh, woman behind me in the produce section who shares exactly how she can tell a melon is ripe. (thank you!)
  • And -for me – oh my audience members how I miss you. The exchange of energy, the shared laughter during the show or presentation, , the small chats afterwards.

How I’ve missed you. How I treasure you. These small encounters are little gifts from the universe that we didn’t know we needed, experiences to remind us that we don’t have all the answers, and that some of our plans need to be flexible.

Because: life.

Let’s inch out of this pandemic together, probably on tiptoe, but let’s never forget how much we can meant to each other – even in ways we took for granted, or didn’t remember to treasure, before we were isolated from them.

Stranger: welcome back. I appreciate you as never before.

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April’s Word: Complete. How Did it Go?

Well…is anything ever really complete? (*sighs* started with a disclaimer…no-judgment zone)

As you may be aware, this year I opted out of New Year’s Resolutions (okay, opted out again) and chose instead a try-and-see approach simply by choosing a word for each month, no pressure, and seeing what might happen.

April’s Word

April’s word: complete. Well, it was going to be finish, but that sounded too much like a command and I hate being told what to do (even by me). Complete, on the other hand, is a gentler verb (as in “you complete me.” Corniness aside, it’s still kinda sweet). Complete can also be an adjective, with all sorts of warm fuzzies attached. (as in, my life is complete, a self-talk phrase I used a lot during my 16 single-parenting years.. Better than, um,  my life is finished. You get the point. Word choice matters.)

Bottom line results for April: I did complete a few things (yay), but more often I just made some progress. And, as one of the Covid-era  online webinars I took reminded me: Progress is a form of success. (Shout-out to Brandon Eastman’s Be Better Industries).

Everything I did complete felt SO. DAMN. GOOD. Completion leaves open space.

Done: (work projects with deadlines don’t really count, as we’re usually motivated for those)

  • Completed (or skimmed and donated, truth be told) some books still left piled in

    Love my Sis – Color Adds to Doodles

    my reading spot from January’s word: Open.

  • Completed three of the masterclasses I’d started (Steve Martin on Comedy, Ron Finley on Gardening; Nancy Cartwright on Voice Acting)
  • Fixed the stuff in the mending pile
  • 2nd vaccine shot received!

Progress: (projects that had been getting pushed aside more each day):

  • Voice education started in January (warm-ups and reading)
  • 2 doodling classes (March’s word: Visual Art)
  • The happiness class I’d started (online) – hey, made it to end of week 2 (am I the only one here who starts a class and lets it slide?…show of hands, please)

So – if I were to grade the power of this word for me I’d give it a B+ – allowing for just being human.  Might try that word again. Everything I did complete felt SO. DAMN. GOOD. Completion leaves open space.

Note: I noticed that I never completed blogging about my words for February or March. So there’s that.

Briefly:

February’s word was: Write.

Results:

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Unmoored: What To Do if Life Goes Adrift

I’m not a huge interpreter of dreams, but last night’s was a doozy. My home was about to fall into a sinkhole. ( What ?!?!  )

So I had to climb onto the roof, leaving behind all I had worked so hard to create.  Carefully chosen wallpaper, brownies baking in the oven – all abandoned; I climbed up, nearer to the sky (with a friend, identity unknown) as the house drifted into the water (I guess I had scored a waterfront property in this dream, wahoo) – destination entirely unknown. No map. Just safety from disaster, and no choice but to trust that we would land somewhere. Somehow.  And eventually we did land – on an island where my family was among others waiting to share this new experience.

I know where this dream came from. Life is like that now for me – unmoored. Maybe for you too. My business has changed. More people getting into voice-overs and narration – suddenly everyone and their grandmas have created in-home audio and video studios, (and so my cool set-up isn’t the novelty it used to be).and they are lowering price points.

Live speaker gigs with actual people have disappeared for now – or morphed into virtual presentations. Even audiobook narration (my constant staple in 2020) slowed down for awhile – so I ‘ve had more unscheduled time than I had before Covid, and have been feeling (like in the dream) adrift and unmoored. Not sure what to leave behind, not sure what the Universe is trying to tell me.

One year (and counting) into this pandemic, and I can barely remember what it felt like to have a jam-packed day and then gratefully collapse back home, grateful to slow down at last. Can you?

So – we adjust. I’ve jumped (or been forced to jump) many times before, and have always landed on my feet. I bet you have as well.

But in-between the old and the new, there is that time we spend adrift. Boats unmoored, not quite knowing how to navigate.

Still – there is a lesson in everything. I firmly believe that. I have to. I’ve been unmoored before – and, looking back, it always led me to greater things.

So – we adjust. I’ve jumped (or been forced to jump) many times before, and have always landed on my feet. I bet you have as well.

My husband deserted our family when my kids were 3 and 6, leaving me to fully support and raise my son and daughter. This led to a new career as a radio broadcaster, and also a drama teacher. It also inspired me to greater heights as an actor and voice talent.

After 17 years, the radio station decided suddenly to “make a change”. I felt lost (unmoored). This feeling led to time to write my book (Ben Behind His Voices) – and to my speaking career, national and international.

Two years ago, I discovered that my biological father was actually a sperm donor – and my whole concept of “family” had to change. This led to discoveries: a new genetic half-sister; a reinforced concept of the value of “shared experience” and that family is what you embrace.

Every job loss, every relationship gone pffft!, every empty space left when you lose something is also an opportunity. Sometimes you know where to steer the boat – sometimes you don’t. In that case, some faith is required.

  • Stop flailing and complaining
  • Let Go of the past
  • Listen to what the world seemed to be telling me
  • Trust that you don’t know – or control – everything. But you do have choices.
  • Take a New Step off the boat onto that new land.

How about you? When have you been set adrift in the past, and what happened (oh, hindsight, you fantastic teacher). What did you learn? What new things did the open sea lead you do?

Unmoored. For now. Where will you travel to?

 

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What’s in a Word? Turns Out, a Whole Lot.

Screw New Year’s Resolutions. Especially this year, unless the resolution is to just, well, stay alive. (Stupid Covid.) I can’t remember the last time I made a resolution, anyway, since my higher self knows they only make it until mid-January at best. Then it’s another whole 11½ months of Oreos buttered popcorn, and guilt until we “resolve” again.

I tried New Year’s “Goals” too – you know, changing the word to be more, um, productive. Even broke the goals down into monthly ones. Helped a bit. But nah. Ultimately, I ended up accomplishing only part of the list (the things I wanted to do the most), but also – and this is important for all of us to realize – many things that hadn’t been on the list of goals to begin with. Hmm.

Sometimes, life shows us the way, instead of the other way around.

But I still do believe that our thoughts, and the words we choose to express them, are the seeds of everything that follows.

Sometimes, life shows us the way, instead of the other way around.

So, this year, I choose words. One word. Not for the year (evidently I’m not so great with commitment), but one for each month. Easier, right?

One little change…

Choose a word, repeat it to yourself frequently, and observe what happens: what you do, and also what happens to you (or what you “attract”, for you New-Age thinkers)

The possibilities, as they say, are endless. You can choose an action, an attitude a focus, a theme. Experiment and see what works. Much easier than a resolution. You can’t really fail at an experiment – just get some results that inform you. Emotionally safe!

Words are shortcuts, too.

My word this month was: OPEN. Just that. Nothing attached, except what came to mind in the moment.

And here’s what happened:

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