Do it for you

Neil Pasricha's Happiness Equation

I’ve just finished reading two books, Neil Young’s biography Wage Heavy Peace and Neil Pasricha’s New York Times Bestseller from 2016, The Happiness Equation.

Both were great reads and even though they were very different books, the authors shared a common message: to be happy and successful in life, you have to do it for you.

I didn’t know much about Neil Young before I read his biography, other than he grew up in Omemee (pronounced Oh-me-me) outside of Peterborough and of course his music, since I’m a big fan.

To say he’s led an interesting, incredible life is an understatement, but I was surprised to learn of all the health challenges, personal tragedy and struggles he’s shared in his life from polio as a child, to back surgeries, grief and loss.

Throughout, music has been his inspiration, solace, escape and passion. I wasn’t aware of his other passions in life–his love of old cars, model trains and his quest to revolutionize sound by developing technology to restore the purity of records through his company Pona and interest in electric vehicles through his Lincvolt project. What an amazing guy.

Did he pursue any of these things because his record labels wanted him to, or to sell records or ingratiate himself with fans? No, he did it for himself.

Young insisted on festival seating for all his indoor shows, even though it meant less money for the band because he wanted people who were stoked to be there at the front of the stage instead of “rich folk on cell phones”, saying the feeling of the shows and experience for the band and audience was much better. He once had his manager rewrite the contracts for a tour already booked because they hadn’t included festival seating.

A writer once accused him of compiling his archives just to further his own legend “whatever that is”. He writes, “What a shallow existence that would be…” and then in classic Neil Young fashion, “it pissed me off.”

In The Happiness Equation, Parischa openly admits he was a victim of his own success early in his career, equating happiness with more book sales, speaking engagements and the number of hits on his blog.

Parischa talks about intrinsic and extrinsic motivators, saying the happiest people are driven by intrinsic motivation. They eschew the critics, the pressure to do what others want them to do, and they forge their own path. He quotes John Lennon who once famously said, “I’m not judging whether ‘I Am the Walrus’ is a better or worse than ‘Imagine’. It is for others to judge. I am doing it. I do. I don’t stand back and judge…I do.”

This week’s #HappyAct is to take it from the Neils and do it for you.

The Summer Side of Life

This week, a part of Canada died. Gordon Lightfoot passed away at the age of 84.

A troubadour and master storyteller, his soothing voice and spellbinding lyrics captured the essence of life, love and everything Canadiana, making him one of our most beloved national artists of all time.

Here are songs and lyrics from my favourite Gordon Lightfoot songs of all time to add to your playlist, a tribute to the man and legend. Even now, as I read these lyrics and listen to the beautiful strains of his guitar, my eyes well up.

Song for a Winter’s Night

The lamp is burnin’ low upon my table top
The snow is softly falling
The air is still in the silence of my room
I hear your voice softly calling

If I could only have you near
To breathe a sigh or two
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
On this winter night with you

Christian Island

I’m sailing down the summer wind
I’ve got whiskers on my chin
And I like the mood I’m in
As I while away the time of day
In the lee of Christian Island

Minstrel of the Dawn

The minstrel boy will understand
He holds a promise in his hand
He talks of better days ahead
And by his words your fortunes read
Listen to the pictures flow
Across the room into your mind they go
Listen to the strings
They jangle and dangle
While the old guitar rings

Canadian Railroad Trilogy

There was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run
When the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun
Long before the white man and long before the wheel
When the green dark forest was too silent to be real

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings
In the rooms of her ice-water mansion

Pussywillows Cattails

Pussywillows, cat-tails, soft winds and roses
Rain pools in the woodland, water to my knees
Shivering, quivering, the warm breath of spring

Don Quixote

Through the woodland, through the valley
Comes a horseman wild and free
Tilting at the windmills passing
Who can the brave young horseman be


At times I just don’t know
How you could be anything but beautiful
I think that I was made for you
And you were made for me

The Last Time I Saw Her Face

Her eyes were bathed in starlight
And her hair hung long
The last time she spoke to me,
Her lips were like the scented flowers
Inside a rain-drenched forest
But that was so long ago
That I can scarcely feel
The way I felt before

Here’s a clip of Lightfoot performing That’s What You Get For Loving Me with Johnny Cash in 1969.

RIP Gord.

May the force of sleep be with you

Darth Vader meme, "Worst case of sleep apnea ever"

Every night, I get to sleep with Darth Vader.

A couple of years ago, Dave got a CPAP machine. When he sleeps, it sounds like the white noise through a stormtrooper’s mask. I keep hearing “Luke, I’m not your father” in my dreams. The good news is I don’t have to listen to him snoring anymore.

But the machine has helped him sleep which is a good thing.

You see the problem is, we’ve become a nation of insomniacs.

Experts from the Royal Ottawa Institute of Mental Health Research estimate that half the population in Canada now struggles with some sort of sleep-related problem. This week, we’ll all feel the pain of sleep deprivation thanks to the time change.  

March 17 is World Sleep Day. While most Canadians will be focused on the luck ‘o the Irish and swilling back green beer, we’d have far more luck in life if we took steps towards better sleep health.

Sleep is one of the three pillars of good health, along with nutrition and exercise.

The guidelines recommend adults between the ages of 18-24 get 7 to 9 hours of good-quality sleep a night and 7 to 8 hours for adults aged 65 and older. 

The worst part is we all know the drill on what we should be doing to get a good night’s sleep: go to bed at the same time every night, limit alcohol, caffeine consumption and screen time before bedtime, get plenty of exercise so we’re naturally tired. So why are so many of us up at night and exhausted all the time?

A century ago, we were a far more active society. There were also no screens in the early twentieth century. You don’t need a research study to confirm the obvious: sleep disorders have burgeoned with the use of electronic devices.

Just as modern devices are hindering our ability to sleep, some devices are helping our ability to sleep. It seems every Tom, Dave and Harry these days has a CPAP machine (I say Tom, Dave and Harry because sleep apnea is overwhelmingly diagnosed more in males).

CPAP machines actually have only been around for 40 years and came about thanks to man’s best friend.

In 1980, Dr. Colin Sullivan noticed his dog was having breathing issues. He used a vacuum cleaner motor and hose contraption attached to his dog’s snout to increase the airway and breathing for his pooch when it was sleeping. Sullivan later did research at the University of Toronto on SIDS, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, surmising the cause of death of infants was related to interrupted breathing.

CPAP machines have become a life saving device, so I’ve resigned myself to sleeping on the dark side of the bed, one with the force beside the man behind a mask.

This week’s #HappyAct is to take care of your sleep health. Just be careful not to choke on your aspirations.*

Happy dreaming.

*famous Darth Vader line from Rogue One

Hail to the Shamrock Shake

They’re back. Nothing says green and spring than sipping a minty, delicious McDonald’s Shamrock Shake®.

The Shamrock Shake was created in 1967 by Hal Rosen, a Connecticut McDonald’s owner and operator who made the delicious, minty shake to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. It became a staple in the McDonald’s menu in March when it rolled out across the nation in 1970. Here are six fun, interesting tidbits you may not know about the Shamrock Shake that will make you want to zip into your local McDonald’s drive through faster than a leaping leprachaun.  

  1. The Shamrock Shake helped build the very first Ronald McDonald House in Philadelphia and has strong ties to the Philadelphia Eagles. The daughter of Philadelphia Eagles tight end Fred Hill was being treated for leukemia in 1974. The Hill family were camping out in waiting rooms in hospitals and saw other families doing the same. They contacted their local McDonalds owner to see if they could come up with a promotion to help raise money for a place to stay for out-of-town families visiting a sick child in a hospital. The campaign raised enough to buy a four-story house in Philadelphia, the first Ronald McDonalds House. (Ronald McDonalds’ houses are now in 70 countries around the world).
  2. Some of the marketing campaigns for the famous green St. Paddy’s Day beverage have been “a bit of Irish luck in every sip”, “tis the first green of spring” and my favourite, “They won’t be around for long, and that’s no blarney” from this 1983 TV commercial.
  3. McDonald’s introduced the “Shamrock Sundae” for a limited time in 1980, a version of their classic soft serve sundae with a minty green topping, but it wasn’t successful and lasted only a year.
  4. On March 17, 2010, the world’s largest Shamrock Shake was poured into the Chicago River in honor of a donation to develop a new RMHC house. The shake was 24 feet tall.
  5. In 2017, McDonalds added chocolate to the iconic shake and called it the “McLeprechaun”. For the launch, it introduced a revolutionary limited-edition straw designed by a team of aerospace and robotic engineers. The straw was optimally designed to suck 50% chocolate and 50% mint in each sip.
  6. The Shamrock Shake is offered in Ireland, but with mixed reception, mainly due to McDonald’s marketing efforts. In 2017, McDonald’s had to apologize to the entire country for one commercial that featured a man with red hair wearing a tartan (which is Scottish) playing the milkshake like a set of bagpipes (which are also Scottish) in front of Stonehenge (which is in England), while sheep roam around in the background. 

This week’s #HappyAct is to pay homage to the frosty green of spring and make your way to McDonalds today. Here’s another classic commercial from the 80’s showing the short-lived Shamrock Sundae and one of the child actors wearing a t-shirt saying, “Kiss me I’m Irish”.

Five inspiring Netflix picks for February

There’s something about watching a great film that can brighten up even the dreariest of winter days. Here are five Netflix movies to inspire you.

  • Blinded by the Light: an endearing British film about a Pakistani teenager who discovers the music of Bruce Springsteen. A story about family ties and values and following your dreams.
  • Eddie the Eagle: if you watched the Calgary Olympics in 1988, you know the story of Eddie the Eagle, the British ski jumper who captured our hearts with his determination to jump despite all the odds (and little training!) With Hugh Jackman and Taron Egerton.
  • The Fundamentals of Caring: I loved this quirky tale of a teenager with muscular dystrophy who bonds with his caregiver on a cross-country journey to see a big pit. Terrific cast, including Paul Rudd, Selena Gomez, Craig Roberts, and it took me a minute to place the Mom, but Jennifer Ehle from Pride and Prejudice fame.
  • The Swimmers: full disclosure, I haven’t watched this one yet, but it’s next on my list. A true story of two Syrian sisters who escape war to pursue their dreams of being competitive swimmers.
  • My Octopus Teacher: a documentary by diver Craig Foster who develops a unique bond with an octopus while filming off the coast of South Africa. Beautiful, inspiring with amazing underwater cinematography.

There you have it. Happy viewing!

Ed. note: If you’re a movie buff and live in Eastern Ontario, make sure you get tickets for the Kingston Canadian Film Festival in March. The line-up will be announced on February 2 and tickets go on sale February 6. Last year, I saw the amazing film Scarborough at the festival.

Seven holiday movies you can watch in November

Scenes from Office Christmas Party

There is a raging debate that goes on in our household this time of year: how soon is too soon to start watching holiday movies and listening to Christmas music.

Dave and the girls are on the bah humbug, Scrooge side of the mistletoe, saying November is way too early, whereas I’m ready to curl up with a cup of tea or some hot chocolate and start watching holiday movies as soon as the first feathery snowflakes start to fall.

In the spirit of the holiday season and keeping harmony in households across the nation, this week my gift to you is my personal list of holiday flicks that will keep everyone in your family happy from now until December. I’ve checked it twice and all of these selections have some naughty bits but made it on my nice list:

Laurie’s list of holiday movies you can watch in November

  • Bad Mom’s Christmas: a sequel to the popular Bad Moms, rebellious Moms Amy, Kiki and Carla rebel against the pressure to create the perfect holiday for their families
  • Love Actually: I’ve always loved this ensemble movie for its beautiful acting (the scene where Emma Thompson sits on her bed listening to Joni Mitchell after she learns her husband is having an affair is masterful) and exploration of the meaning of love on different levels
  • Just Friends: still one of my favourite Ryan Reynolds’ movies of all time—a Hollywood movie executive Chris Brander finds himself stranded in his hometown over Christmas with his psychotic pop diva client played by Anna Ferris. The scene where Reynolds visits his former flame’s house and Ferris shows up makes me laugh out loud every single time 
  • The Family Stone: Another great ensemble cast movie about a dysfunctional family and the ties that bind the ones we love set over the holidays
  • The Holiday: Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz switch houses and lives for two weeks over Christmas
  • The Holidate: this Netflix original is a cute romcom starring Emma Roberts who finds a guy who agrees to be her plus-one for every holiday all year long
  • Office Christmas Party: Tired of going to boring office Christmas parties? Grab some spiked nog and enjoy this epic ultimate party thrown by a bunch of employees whose company is failing and vow to go out with a bang. Starring Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman with Kate McKinnon stealing the show as the HR person.

Of course, if you really want to embrace the Christmas/non-Christmas holiday movie debate, you can always watch Die Hard.

Finally, here are three movies I wouldn’t bother with that are on the naughty list: Four Christmases, New Year’s Eve and Bad Santa. And any Hallmark/Women’s Channel movie–all the producers deserve coal in their stockings for the terrible tripe this movies have become.

Ein prosit!

Oktoberfest beer hall in Bavaria

There’s nothing that says fall more than Oktoberfest.

Each year at this time, I start dreaming of swilling pints of beer from froth-filled glasses, eating warm, freshly-baked pretzels, and singing ein prosit by the hour with newfound friends.

While Oktoberfest is celebrated around the world, most local Oktoberfest celebrations can’t capture the magic and spirit of the authentic German festival, except Canada’s grand celebration in Kitchener-Waterloo.

I’ve been to Kitchener-Waterloo’s Oktoberfest many times and to the real Oktoberfest in Munchen, Germany. Many people don’t realize that in Germany, Oktoberfest actually kicks off in September. This year it runs from September 17 until October 3 and is expected to attract six million visitors.

In Germany, it is a national celebration with the whole country shutting down or taking vacation to celebrate for two weeks. In Munich, the festival is held on the Theresienwiese fairgrounds with dozens of beer tents, performance stages, carnival rides and attractions to keep festival-goers entertained between pints.

The first day of Oktoberfest in Munich, we arrived at the fairgrounds around 1 p.m. That’s another big difference between Germany and our Oktoberfest celebrations—in Germany, many of the events are in the afternoon, so you start drinking early. We sat down in one of the festival tents and quickly made friends with a group of German men who were visiting from out of town.

Fraulein servers in traditional colourful Bavarian costumes, their biceps bulging out of their costumes, wound their way through the crowded tables, carrying six gigantic beer steins in each hand. On stage an oom pah pah band played polka music. There was lots of toasting, singing and every hour, you’d sing ein prosit, and raise a hearty toast and chug to the cry of Oans, Zwoa, G’suffa! 

Truth be told, I don’t remember how we made it home that night, but I do remember the memories that have lasted a lifetime.

Here are three Oktoberfest celebrations in Ontario to check out:

  • Kingston-Waterloo: on now through to October 15. While the Concordia Club is generally considered the most authentic hall, both the Alpine Club and Transylvania Club provide authentic experiences. Bingeman’s used to be more the draw for the university students in town.
  • Prince Edward County Oktoberfest: September 30-October 1
  • Toronto Oktoberfest: September 30-October 1 at Ontario Place

This week’s #HappyAct is to get your leiderhosen on and raise a toast to fall. Ein prosit!

Be the next contestant and C’MON DOWN!

The Price is Right studio audience

I’ve always had a secret fantasy of winning big on a game show.

Growing up, my favourite game shows were The Wheel of Fortune and The Price is Right. I remember watching Bob Barker with his long sleek microphone, pearly white smile and slicked back hair. Barker hosted the show for 35 years, from 1972 to 2007 before Drew Carey took over as host.

There was always that moment of anticipation when the next member of the studio audience would have their name called and you’d hear Barker exclaim, “C’mon down, you are the next contestant on The Price is Right!”

Well, if you live close to Kingston, you can live out your game show fantasy next month by buying tickets to The Price is Right Live Stage Show at the Leon’s Centre on Tuesday, September 20.

Yes, you could be the next contestant to spin the Big Wheel, play Bullseye, Cliff Bangers or Bonkers and win big. The Leon’s Centre website says about 60 prizes are up for grabs with a retail value of $25,000 US.

In 2001, my girlfriend Mary Beth and I planned an epic, once in a lifetime trip to Los Angeles, an extension of a work conference. We had rented a convertible, booked tickets to see James Taylor at an outdoor amphitheatre and the Ellen Show and had talked about going to see The Price is Right. Then 911 hit and all our travel plans were quashed.

Back in those days, to get picked to be in the studio audience, you had to stand in a long line, wear crazy costumes and impress the show’s handlers who would scan the crowd for the best TV-worthy contestants. Now, you just have to fill out a form and declare you’re not an employee of CBS to get tickets for the TV show.

Of course, if you buy tickets for the Leon’s Centre stage sure, you’re a sure thing to be part of the studio audience.

But beware, before you get ready to drive away in your BRAND NEW CAR!!!, California contestants get a form to fill out to pay taxes on it (I’m not sure what the rules are here in Canada for the stage show.)

If you want to win big, you can still get tickets on the Leon’s Centre website. Tickets range from $49-$59.

But here’s the million dollar question (wait, that’s another show)—is it prices from a year ago or today’s crazy inflationary prices?

I guess I’ll have to start studying up. Good luck contestants!

Immerse yourself in art

Van Gogh immersive exhibit

Last weekend, my girlfriend Leslie and I went to the Van Gogh Immersive Exhibit in Toronto.

It wasn’t at all what I expected, but was quite interesting. I expected to walk through a gallery of rooms of Van Gogh’s art projected on walls, but you actually enter one room and stay there the whole time as the theatrical experience engulfs you.

It was a massive space—the exhibit is showing at The Toronto Star building at 1 Yonge Street and I suspected the space on the first floor was the former printing plant.  

The first time we watched the 35-minute production, we simply admired Van Gogh’s masterpieces paired with classical music as they surrounded us in 360-degree views projected on the walls and floor.

Van Gogh’s famous sunflowers, lilies and almond blossoms surrounded us, followed by a starry night, scenes of fields and cafes, and portraits of courtesans, farmers and compatriots of his day.

The second time we watched it, the images transformed in a new way, dancing across the walls, rising and falling, coming to life. The smoke from a cigar billowed upward, a steam train rolled across the countryside, and a windmill slowly turned amongst threatening clouds as the animated images immersed us in their beauty and brushstrokes.  

Art aficionados and purists may balk at commercializing works of art and masterpieces, but for me it created a new and wondrous appreciation of the work of Van Gogh.

Here are some pictures of the exhibit. The Van Gogh 360 exhibit is on until May 30 in Toronto and this summer at Lansdowne Place in Ottawa. Be sure to put it on your summer vacation happy act list.

Van Gogh a starry night
A starry night
Van Gogh painting
Van Gogh art
Van Gogh lillies
Van Gogh masterpiece
Van Gogh's lillies

Listen to a happiness podcast

happiness podcasts poster

There’s a not-so-new craze sweeping the nation, and all it takes is a device and twenty minutes of your time.

It seems everybody these days is listening to podcasts. According to buzzsprout, 9 million Canadian adults listen to podcasts every month.

There are literally dozens of podcasts on happiness. This FeedSpot blog lists 80 of the most popular ones or check out Oprah’s top 16 picks.

I’d recommend the Ten Percent Happier podcast with Dan Harris. You may know Harris as the ABC news anchor who had a panic attack live on Good Morning America. He turned to meditation and started his podcast, which discusses the benefits of meditation on happiness and explores happiness in the context of current events.

On his most recent podcast, “The Upside of Apocalypse” Buddhist minister, author and activist Lama Rod Owens talks about the benefits of having an existing practice in times of heightened anxiety, the obstacles to empathy in the world right now and social erosion caused by the pandemic.

This week’s #HappyAct is to listen to a podcast on happiness on this International Day of Happiness. What’s your favourite podcast? Leave a comment.