Getting Happy With A Little Help From Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg. If you haven’t heard of her yet, you’re gonna.

This incredible woman is the COO of Facebook and soon to be billionaire when the company goes public. You can read more about her in this Yahoo Shine! article.

What does the female COO of Facebook have to do with my own, humble Journey To Happiness Experiment? Well, as most of us know, feeling happy is inexplicably tied to how good you feel about your job and Sheryl offers sage advice on the issue.

In the article, she says: “The most important career choice you’ll make is who you marry.”

This is too true – especially for women. Marry the right person and your spouse is your champion, urging you to ever greater heights. Marry the wrong person and you’re in for a world of painful nagging from a significant other who can’t (or won’t) understand your personal career goals.

How can you be happy if your soulmate isn’t onboard with one of the most important aspects of your life i.e your job/career? The answer is, you can’t be happy.

So for those of us, like Sheryl, who have chosen wisely – bravo (I’m pretty pleased to say I’m one of them!) but for those of us who haven’t, you have 2 choices:

1) Leave

2) Spend as much time and effort that it takes to fix the difference in viewpoints.

Pretending that you’re okay being a stay-at-home mum or housewife or tuning down your ambitions to keep your spouse happy , isn’t going to do you any favours. You’ll be miserable for years, maybe even the rest of your life and end up resenting or maybe even hating your partner.

That’s why I think it’s a good idea to heed Sheryl’s advice. She should know – the woman is married, has two children and oh, she made a cool US$30.87 million last year.

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The Lesser Cousin Of Mindfulness

I’ve discovered that in the journey to happiness, mindfulness is the light that illuminates the road.

Mindfulness is essentially a Buddhist practice. It means staying in the moment and being mindfully conscious of what’s taking place in your thoughts, body, emotions and surroundings while maintaining a sense of calm.

Sounds like a deliciously peaceful idea but let me tell you it’s a DAMN hard thing to put into practice!

I haven’t managed to ‘stay in the now’ despite reading and re-reading one of the best books on the topic – The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.

In his book, Tolle encourages readers to savour the moment – even if you’re just washing the dishes or hanging clothes out to dry – without thinking of the future or the past. No grasping for something that you want to happen and no replaying what happened before. Just taking pleasure in the water over your hands as you get your dishes clean or inhaling the fresh scent of clean clothes as you hang them up to dry. This sounds wonderful and even doable but I’ve perhaps managed it for say half a second at any given time! My ‘monkey mind’ as the Buddhists call it swings from one branch of thought to another with no regard for my efforts.

For instance, I’ll catch the scent of clean clothes and think ‘how lovely’. Before I can stop myself, the next thought would be ‘we need to get more detergent coz we’re running out’ followed by ‘what else needs to get on the shopping list? Are we out of eggs? Better go and check’ and on and on and on.

I almost gave up trying mindfulness altogether when I realized that I might be setting a standard that’s way to high for my monkey mind. These days, I’m attempting to get to the lesser cousin of mindfulness – staying aware of my thoughts. I’m at least conscious of my monkey mind and how it leaps from thought to thought. I’m less ‘attached’ to it’s antics and the thoughts that come into my head.

That’s why I was able to feel some sense of calm this morning, despite waking up on the wrong side of the bed. I didn’t snap at The Engineer even though I felt like it when I couldn’t find a book I was looking for. I was glad that I held my tongue because it turned out that it wasn’t he who had misplaced it, it was me!

If I hadn’t been aware of my thoughts that were going in many different directions and Lizard Liz going ‘it’s his fault – blame him!’, I’d have probably started an argument and then felt guilty about it for the whole day. This way, I’m still not in the best of moods but at least I’m free of the additional burden of unnecessary irritation and guilt.

I may not be deliriously happy today but I feel rather calm – and I’ll take that for now!

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Thanks, David Beckham!

There’s something in my life that makes me  really, really  happy although I hardly ever give it much thought – my job.

I’m a freelance writer/editor and I’m one of the few lucky people who happen to be in a line of work they love.

This point was brought home to me when one of my editors sent me an email this morning. She wanted me to write a fashion snippet that involved watching a 30-second underwear ad featuring David Beckham – first thing in the morning! It was a pleasant eyeful to say the least and I’m not even a Beckham fan.

Here’s what I was ‘forced’ to watch for work:

All the happiness books I’ve read and self-help gurus I’ve heard go on and on about being grateful for the little things to create more joy in your life. So, today, I’m grateful for David Beckham and his H&M ad ; )

I never thought I’d say this but thanks David!

Happy Introverts

I’ve never been a big fan of small talk. That’s why I look forward to most parties the way other people look forward to a trip to the dentist.

It was different when I was a kid. Back then, parties were about presents, games, cake and sugar highs. These days, parties are about mindless chatter, listening to complaints about the government (local, international, basically every government in the world) and attempting to sidestep the resident alcoholic who’s had too much too drink.

Yes, party-wise, things have certainly taken a dive since my primary schooldays and I’m always pleased when I have a genuine excuse not to attend one of these sorry soirees.

Unfortunately, I also tend to feel guilty about being party averse (or as others would point out a party pooper). I genuinely admire people like my husband, The Engineer, who feeds off the energy of a crowd and gets more and more vibrant and cheerful as the evening wears on.

Meanwhile, I’m sitting in a corner trying to stifle a yawn.

I’ve always felt my lack of interest in hobnobbing and making small talk was somehow a failing on my part but I was really pleased to discover recently that not being an extrovert may not be such a bad thing after all.

I found a nifty little article on the topic in the February issue of O magazine.

The article called Shh! Your Inner Introvert Is Calling caught my eye. Written by Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, the article is about the subdued power of people who are more quiet caterpillars than social butterflies.

Susan says talking deeply can help people feel happier. She explains how jumping quickly from subject to subject (i.e idle chitchat or small talk) isn’t the forte of the average introvert who generally prefers deep,serious conversations that focus on a single topic (that’s me!). She cites a study by University of Arizona psychologist Matthias Mehl PhD. He found that the happiest participants were twice as likely to have substantive conversations as the unhappiest ones. The happy people were also far less likely to take part in small talk.

This is great news for me! Finally, a study that gives me a real reason to sidestep small talk. Less small talk = More happiness!

Lizard Liz The Inner Critic

It’s Monday, my least favourite day of the week.

Even though I work as a freelance writer, it’s a myth that people who work from home are essentially, pajama-wearing, TV-watching layabouts who work sporadically and when the mood hits. I have to say that ever since I began working from home, I’ve been working harder than I ever had in my life!

In order to keep my sanity in the midst of working on the sea of articles that I’m currently wading through, I thought I’d take a quick break and share a Illuminated Idea that struck me out of the blue (as these types of ideas tend to do).

I’ve come to realize that while it may seem that there are a number of issues that make us unhappy or at least mildly displeased with ourselves and our day-to-day routine, the general feeling of less-than-thrilled tends to orginate from just a one or two issues that affect of our lives.

For instance, if your confidence level is low because you feel your boss has it in for you at work, that feeling is bound to radiate into other areas of your life like your marriage. You’re more likely to snap at your husband when he says dinner’s a little to salty ‘coz you’re already feeling sore about your what’s going on at the office.

So, I decided that I should really work at finding the one or two issues that create the most unhappiness in my life and here are my findings:

1) My waistline

2) My bank balance

The problem is, one expands while the other shrinks and it’s not the right one doing the expanding/ shrinking.

When I feel fat, I don’t feel like meeting people, which makes me feel reclusive and unattractive which leads to me declining invitations to social events which leaves me feeling even more reclusive…you get the picture.

As for my bank balance… well, I’m extremely fortunate that I have a seriously understanding spouse who handles the finances (plus no kids to worry about) but I recently realized that a part of my self-worth is affected by the amount of money I have in my bank account!

This might seem pretty normal to many people but it was a horrible eye-opener for me. I’ve been waiting for a few checks for some of my writing projects but they haven’t arrived yet (such is the freelance life) and I’ve been watching my bank balance get smaller and smaller. It seems to be in direct proportion with how I feel about myself – smaller and smaller.

I’m going to have to find a way to get over this. Working out to get a little more trim and earning more money will certainly do the job but I need to do something to lift my mood now.

Meditation usually gets Lizard Liz (what I call the eternally dismal, negative voice inside my head) to shut up but it’s not always possible to sneak off into a corner, sit cross-legged and get into a ‘loving kindness’ kinda mood.

Instead, I find these 3 methods are really easy to use at any time, so I’ll share them here:

Keeping an eye on my mind

When I find myself rattling on and on inside my head, I try to mentally step back and look at “Lizard Liz” (who, btw, looks like a lizard wearing a fancy hat with flowers on it). I tell her that she needs to quiet down and I use the kind of  tone I would use on a small, bewildered child. This helps me feel in control and allows me to dismiss Lizard Liz’s rattling criticisim.

Changing my posture

It’s hard to feel ‘useless’ or otherwise unworthy when you’re sitting upright and have a big, silly grin on your face. If you’re at a meeting at work, you might want to leave out the silly grin but look for an opportunity to smile at someone so your mood gets lifted. This helps me push Lizard Liz (or Detrimental Dan/Nagging Nancy or whoever it may be in your case) to the back of my mind.

Separating constructive from destructive

Sometimes, I notice that Lizard Liz actually has something worthwhile to say. If I’ve been lazy and not checked my article before submitting to the editor, Liz usually pipes up with “what if there’s a ton of mistakes and the editor never calls you again.” While the words are a little extreme, the message is sound. I should check my work before submitting it to the editor. I find Liz usually goes silent the moment I do what I’m supposed to do.

Why Alessandra Ambrosio Doesn’t Make Me Happy

Right, I’ve started my hypnosis therapy using Paul McKenna’s CD as mentioned in my previous post.

I can’t tell if it’s working yet ‘coz I just started it last night and then again this morning (you’re supposed to listen to it once in the morning and once at night). However, I must say that it’s intriguing. McKenna has a bit of a creepy voice and it took some getting used to especially on stereo but the whole CD is basically him telling you what an awesome human being you are… for nearly 30 minutes straight.

Don’t know about anyone else but I don’t think I’ve ever had the experience of having someone go on about the wonder that is Me for 30 minutes straight. So, I have to say that it’s a pretty pleasant experience.

That said, the ‘warm and fuzzy’ effects didn’t last long as I discovered this morning….

I was still feeling rather thrilled about myself after listening to the CD when I made the mistake of checking my Facebook News Feed.  I found this dratted question posed by one of my male friends:

“How do regular women feel when confronted with the likes of Alessandra Ambrosio?”

If you’re unfamiliar with the world of Victoria’s Secret models, this what Alessandra looks like:

My post-hypnosis happy mood instantly took a plunge.

I took offense with the FB question for 3 reasons:

1) The guy mentioned ‘regular’ women. I suppose he means women who aren’t Victoria’s Secret models are somehow ordinary/lesser?

2) I realized that when I compare myself to Alessandra, I feel like an exceptionally short, dumpy troll.

3) I read the comments in response to his question. One woman wrote she feels fat and the other one just wrote – fugly. The question was spreading misery all over the place

Now, I’m sure my friend didn’t intend to drag anyone down but he managed to do it anyway. I, for one, never would have thought to compare myself to a Brazilian-bombshell-supermodel-perfect woman if it wasn’t for him.

The good news is, there’s scientific proof that this guy’s question definitely belongs in the Anti-Happiness category. Studies show that upward comparisons (comparing yourself to someone more beautiful, richer, funnier, smarter) is disastrous to happy feelings. The bad news is that knowing this interesting bit of data did nothing to elevate my mood at the time.

Fortunately, all was not lost. I’m pleased to report that even though I felt awful, I managed to refrain from ranting and raving about the question to my unsuspecting husband, The Engineer (something that I would have done without a second thought before I started my Journey To Happiness Experiment).

Instead, I stayed silent. I did wonder if I should comment with a scathing “the same way you would feel when confronted with the likes of say…Tom Cruise or Leonardo Di Caprio” and then promptly unfriend him but I refrained. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my Happiness Book Collection it’s to ignore something you don’t like and move on rather than dwell on it, give it more energy and drive yourself crazy in the process.

All in all, I managed to recover pretty quickly (I’d say within 10 minutes – a huge plus for me) and was back to my post-hypnosis glow once again. Hmmm….maybe McKenna’s CD works after all…..

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Genius Or Snake Oil Salesman?

Good God – I’ve done it again! I went out and purchased yet another book – I’m officially out of control!!!!!

This time, my crime involves a book by Paul McKenna called “Change Your Life in 7 Days”.

McKenna is also the author of  such bold titles as “I Can Make You Thin”, “I Can Make You Smarter” and “I Can Make You Rich.”

To be honest, I have no idea why I bought this book except that “Change Your Life in 7 Days”  is such a DARN outlandish enticement that I had to check it out for myself. Also, the topic is related to my Journey To Happiness. If you want to get happier, you have to change your life in some ways, right? (okay, clutching at straws but I have to find a logical reason for buying the book!)

Anyways, I  jumped on Google the moment I got home and it turns out McKenna is a British dude  who – get this – used to be a DJ but who is now a master hypnotist and NLP practitioner. That was the moment when I first felt stirrings of misgivings. A DJ turned hypnotist????

Things took a turn for the worse when I happened upon a 2008 article by UK’s Daily Mail during my Google search ( why did I Google him after I had bought the book? Damnit!). The article had the disturbing title of “So Is Paul McKenna A Genius Or A Snake Oil Salesman?”

Apparently McKenna was responsible for getting talk show host Ellen DeGeneres to quit smoking and assisting Courtney Love to lose weight. His book, I Can Make You Thin, has helped turn him into a multi millionaire (in pounds, not dollars) but critics remain unconvinced.

Apparently Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority banned his advertising campaign for claiming to be ‘the most effective weight loss system available.Lose weight and keep it off.” The guys at the Authority seemed to feel there wasn’t enough evidence to prove that people using McKenna’s method would lose weight and stay trim forever… and I had just spent nearly RM70 on this guy’s book – uh oh!

Oh well, I suppose I should keep calm and carry on since I’ve already bought the book. Plus, in honour of my Journey To Happiness I really should withhold judgment and try to stay positive.

The book comes with a hypnosis CD (which you’re warned not to use while you’re operating heavy machinery i.e driving etc) as well as a DVD.I immediately downloaded the CD into my iPhone the moment I got home but I haven’t listened to it yet because I’ve been terribly busy today with 2 fashion articles for a women’s magazine. I still haven’t started on my third article, a property review, which I’m totally not looking forward to. It’s due tomorrow so I’ve got to get cracking on it but it’s going to be even more boring than it usually is because I’m writing it after the fun fashion pieces.

Gosh, I’m really not too chipper today am I?! Either way, I’m going to try the 7 Day thingee and see if I can’t do something amazing like stay cool when dealing with rude people in the service industry (really hard to do ‘coz I have a bit of a short temper).

But first….the dry, dull, dreary property review…sigh….