Advice from a sea turtle

Girl walking on a beach

I’ve been dreaming of white sandy beaches and palm trees lately. It made me think of one of my favourite passages, “Advice from a sea turtle”:

Swim with the current
Be a good navigator
Stay calm under pressure
Be well travelled
Think long term
Age gracefully
Spend time at the beach

Have a happy week!

Discover the spiritual insights of Haiku

Haiku poem

By guest blogger Alison Taylor

The second decade of the twenty-first century has been one that will go down in the history books that is for sure. I have made a conscientious effort to stay focused on the positive.

One of the positive things that has happened to me is the discovery of poetry. I really was not much of a poetry fan and have avoided it for most of my life. However, with most of my days spent in front of a screen, I needed something that was a departure from the digital “screen in your face” world.

I discovered Haiku. Funny enough I discovered my new appreciation for the art via social media, but then it morphed into a challenge for me. I started writing random thoughts using Haiku.

Haiku is a form of poetry that originates from Japan and consists of three phrases with a 5, 7, 5 syllable pattern.

I found a notebook I bought a few years ago while in York, England. So I already was starting from a happy memory of a place I love and it set the stage for my Haiku writing adventure. I would transport to somewhere else with my notebook and write. No big commitment needed, just let my mind wander and three sentences later a Haiku was born.

I started sending my friends some inspirational Haiku’s when they were having a tough day. Then I added it to notes in birthday cards and now it just calms my mind and a Haiku will pop into my head and I write it down. Here are a couple I wrote for this blog. Maybe you want to give it a try?

The quiet and calm
Sun down, stars are appearing
Night time once again

Find your Happy Act
You may be surprised, who knew?
A smile on your face

And for Laurie as she ends one chapter of her career and embarks on another:

It is not goodbye
It is a new beginning
It is happy times

My unscientific poll on work and happiness

happy co-workers

Recently I emailed a dozen friends and asked them three questions about how happy they were at work. The results were very revealing. The people who responded work in all sectors, government, private sector and self-employed. Here are the results of my unscientific poll on work and happiness:

My first question was, “Are you happy at work?”

More than half were not happy at work. Some said they were ashamed to admit it, because “they have a pretty good gig”; one person said they weren’t happy but planned to slog it out until retirement. A quarter of respondents said they were happy, and one person said at different times in their career they’ve been happy, and unhappy at other times.

When I asked what was the cause of their happiness or unhappiness at work,

On the plus side, the common themes were working with great people, loving what they do, and the variety of work. One person said they work in a low-stress environment and have an eight-minute commute, so they can come home for lunch every day if they want.

For those unhappy at work, here were some of the reasons they cited for their unhappiness:

  • Lack of involvement and inclusion and team camaraderie.
  • Being tired of dealing with some teams who don’t appreciate the work they do.
  • The inactivity associated with being on a computer eight hours a day.
  • One person said working within an environment where there are too many people in authority who “literally don’t have a clue what they are doing” and a “poisonous” atmosphere as a result of so many people being off on leave, creating more work for those left behind who are still working diligently.
  • One person who is self-employed said, “I’m bored, but I like the flexibility of what I do, so I stay at it. Also, the administration associated with being self-employed is a tough slog. I’m always behind on that, so that creates guilt that I’m not keeping on top of things.”

My final question was “What would make you happy or happier at work?”

  • Being valued and respected and having their work acknowledged was a common theme, along with being able to do more of what they love to do and having challenging projects.  
  • Better work-life balance, and being compensated fairly and seeing more transparency in salary grids were cited as other key factors.
  • One person said they’d like to have a friend at work and work with a diverse team.
  • The one person who was unhappy at work in the “poisonous” environment said they cope by focusing on their family, volunteering and sports and outdoor activities to remind themselves of what’s important in life.
  • On a lighter note, one person wanted a Keurig machine, a fitness room with a treadmill or exercise bike and another an office cat (for me, it would be a dog!)

So what does this tell us and what can we do to be happier at work? Scientific studies show having at least one good friend at work is a key contributor to happiness. Making sure we choose a positive environment where we work with good people and where our work is respected is critical.

As we emerge from this pandemic, we have a unique opportunity to redefine our relationship with work. At the core of the discussion should be these three questions.

Special thanks to the people who participated in my unscientific poll.

More reading on work and happiness

Slow down, you move too fast

Song lyrics

For many of us, life is about to get really busy again after two years of discovering a slower pace of life. When things become crazy and out of control, remember to slow down and make the morning last.

You never know what you will see when you slow down. The other day, I was running late and hitting land speed records on my back roads over to Sydenham. I came up behind a farmer’s tractor and had to slow down and follow him around the curves. While I crawled behind the tractor, I looked to the left and saw a beautiful herd of deer in the field grazing on the green tufts shooting up through the last remains of snow. If I hadn’t slowed down to follow that tractor, I would have never seen such a beautiful sight. 

So remember,

Slow down, you move too fast
You got to make the morning last…

I got no deeds to do
No promises to keep
I’m dappled and drowsy and ready to sleep
Let the morning time drop all its petals on me
Life, I love you
All is groovy

Still one of my favourite Simon and Garfunkle songs of all time. Here they are performing The 59th Bridge Street Song live.

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.

Adopt Happytalism

International Day of Happiness poster

A decade ago, the United Nations held its first ever conference on happiness and established an International Happiness Day to remind us that being happy is a human right and worth celebrating.

This year the significance of International Happiness Day on March 20 and the belief that happiness is a fundamental human right is playing out on the world stage as we watch millions of Ukranians refugees and citizens who have had their happiness ripped from them overnight with every Russian rocket, bomb and artillery strike.

In 2011, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution that made it a “fundamental human goal” to give happiness as much priority as economic opportunity. In 2015, the UN launched the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which seek to end poverty, reduce inequality, and protect our planet. It also recognized the need for a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes sustainable development, poverty eradication, happiness and the well-being of all peoples.

What’s interesting in all these resolutions is there is no mention of war or conflict and its impact on happiness; the focus is solely on economic factors.

Most likely that’s because in war, there is no happiness.

As we face this global crisis, let’s find positive ways to look after ourselves and each other and adopt Happytalism.

The UN secretariat for the International Day of Happiness is calling on all 7.8 billion people and all 206 nations and territories in our global community to take the “Ten Steps to Global Happiness” challenge and call to action. You can find all ten steps here. I’ve listed my top five, with the last one being my own:

  1. Celebrate the day. Do something special, just don’t let it pass by.
  2. Attend a world happiness event. There are live and virtual events on almost every topic imaginable, from education, health, technology, self and work. See the full list of events here. There’s a small cost to the virtual events, but in many cases, the proceeds go to helping others, like sponsoring a teacher that is helping underserved populations.
  3. Do what makes you happy. Happiness is about practicing self love, mindfulness, acting consciously, and with purpose and intention, positive energy and mindset, and celebrating the things you love that make you happy.
  4. Tell everyone. Spread the word and mission of #InternationalDayOfHappiness. Post something that makes you happy on social media, write a song or letter, make a poster.
  5. Support the people of the Ukraine. Make a donation. This CBC story lists charities you can support.

This week’s #HappyAct is to adopt and spread a more holistic, inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to the world order that promotes sustainable development, eradicates poverty and war, and focuses on the happiness and the well-being of all peoples.

#HappinessForAllForever.

The key to job satisfaction in a post-pandemic world

I love my job sign

You can’t read a business article these days without some reference to The Big Quit or The Great Resignation. According to a report by Morneau Shepell, one of the country’s biggest HR consulting firms, 25% of Canadians are considering leaving their jobs. Companies are scrambling to try to figure out how to hold on to their top performers and lure the brightest minds to their organization. We’ve entered a new war for talent.

Flexible and hybrid work and employee wellbeing seem to be the two top themes, with competitive compensation and benefits programs now being table stakes.

I believe while providing flexible work and focusing on employee wellbeing will be important, they will not be enough to create true job satisfaction in a post-pandemic world.

There’s an obvious answer to this pressing problem that everyone seems to be missing: the key to job satisfaction in a post-pandemic world will be in the work itself.

Let me explain.

The Friday before my birthday, I started working on a project around 3:30 in the afternoon. Fridays tend to be quieter days for me at work: there are less meetings and interruptions. It was a project where I needed concentrated time to think and focus. I worked away at it, and when I looked up at the time, it was after 5 p.m. So much for knocking off a few minutes early on my birthday weekend. But for the first time in a long time, I felt good about work. I was able to think creatively, immerse myself in a problem and logged off feeling an immense spurt of satisfaction.

I had achieved what the work experts call “flow”. Flow is a state of focused attention so intense it doesn’t allow you to have cognitive bandwidth to do or think of anything else. It is an intersection of optimal being and optimal doing and when we achieve it, it creates inner harmony and happiness since we feel engaged, productive and in control.

Flow is like REM sleep, but for work. To be healthy and productive, our body needs to experience deep REM sleep every night. If you don’t, you feel tired, irritable, and you can’t concentrate or focus.

For many knowledge workers, work has become a constant barrage of emails, zoom calls and interruptions which is affecting our wellbeing and happiness at work. We are not achieving REM at work.

In this article in positivepsychology.com, researcher Mihály Csíkszentmihályi summarized it this way: “The happiest people spend much time in a state of flow – the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”

One of the biggest benefits of flow is that it amplifies performance. Author Malcolm Gladwell claimed in his book Outliers that a person needs to do something for 10,000 hours to master a skill. In a 2014 study called the Flow Genome Project, author Steven Kotler estimated this time can be cut in half by achieving flow.

The interesting thing about flow is knowledge workers to some degree have control over flow. We can intentionally structure our workday to build in concentrated 60-90 minute sessions of work, we can turn off notifications, establish no meeting windows, and purposefully not check email. But I firmly believe companies need to wake up and create a more conducive environment to create flow in work and greater job satisfaction for their employees.

Some companies are already doing this. In my blog post The Future of Work, I talked about a Fortune 500 software company in India which tested a simple policy: no interruptions Tuesday, Thursday and Friday before noon. The company experienced a 65 percent increase in productivity but also reported employees experienced an increase in work satisfaction. They discovered the most important factor in daily joy and motivation was a sense of progress.

Hiring more employees, and cultivating a culture that encourages time spent on creative and strategic thinking and innovation are two more things companies should be doing to help employees do their best work and achieve job satisfaction.

This week’s #HappyAct is to achieve flow in your work this week. Leave a comment. How did it make you feel and did it increase your job satisfaction?

Ten love quotes for Valentine’s Day

poster of love quote

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, the day you’ll find panicked husbands staring blankly in the empty aisles of Shopper’s Drug Mart, scrambling to find the perfect last minute $10 card and box of heart-shaped chocolates.

For me, Valentine’s Day is simply a day to tell the people I love how much I care for them and how I can’t imagine living life without them. Here are my ten favourite love quotes for Valentine’s Day.

“We are most alive when we are in love.”
John Updike

“The only thing we never get enough of is love; and the only thing we never give enough of is love.”
Henry Miller

“Love and work, work and love… that’s all there is.”
Sigmund Freud (defining happiness and reflecting on the importance of relationships and having a sense of purpose)

“When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”
Nora Ephron

“It is a curious thought, but it is only when you see people looking ridiculous that you realize just how much you love them.”
Agatha Christie

“Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.”
Oprah Winfrey

“True love stories never have endings.”
Richard Bach

“Never love anyone who treats you like you’re ordinary.”
Oscar Wilde

“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”
Charles M. Schulz

And an important one for the times we live in,

“I have decided to stick to love; hate is too great a burden to bear.”
Martin Luther King Jr.

And if I were to add my own:

“The greatest teacher of love is a dog.”
Laurie Swinton

This week’s #HappyAct is to look beyond the consumer trappings of Valentine’s Day and tell the ones you love how much they mean to you. But hey, like Snoopy’s Dad said, a little chocolate isn’t going to hurt anyone.

Reflections on the next chapter from down under

Author on a recent trip to Canada

Special guest blog post by David Dawson

Recently I sang at the funeral of one of my fellow choristers who was only 20 years older than me. He was 85. It got me thinking of what I can still do with the remaining time left on my clock.

I was inspired in my reflections by a story in The Guardian about a psychiatrist who was diagnosed with bladder cancer and told he was going to die and daydreamed about becoming an actor. At the age of 63, he enrolled at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, and this month, at age 80, is the lead in the play Freud’s Last Session, at the King’s Head Theatre in London.

There are the limitations now set by age, which are about personal energy levels and the insight of a lifetime of experiences. While becoming aware of my shortcomings in life, I have accepted that I did the best I could at the time with what I had to work with.

Rather than castigate myself for not trying hard enough or being resilient enough to achieve an unimaginable goal, I would like to think all of that has prepared me for the next period of my life where I hope to do the work I have been trained to do by those around me: filling my time as much as I can with small acts of kindness. While these are small happy acts for me, I can only hope they are huge blessings for those around me. For this, I am blessed.

I’d like to leave you with a quote from The Guardian:

 “The more we are able to accept our achievements are largely out of our control, the easier it becomes to understand that our failures, and those of others, are too. And that in turn should increase our humility and the respect with which we treat our fellow citizens. Ultimately, as the writer David Roberts put it, ‘Building a more compassionate society means reminding ourselves of luck, and of the gratitude and obligations it entails.”

David Dawson has been weathering the pandemic down under with his faithful sidekick Brad the dog by his side, musing on politics, social media, religion and life.

Making soup is good for the soul

Special guest blog by Jill Yokoyama

Every year when the end of autumn rolls around and the weather gets chilly, I start making soup. There is nothing like a warm bowl of homemade soup to lift one’s spirits. Growing up my mom used to make soup occasionally and I guess it rubbed off on me.

My first attempt at making soup was in the early 1990’s when I was about 25 years old and knew next to nothing about cooking. I made a pot of leek and potato soup which resembled wallpaper paste and I ended up throwing most of it out.

I didn’t attempt soup again until I taught at Alloa Public School in Brampton in the late 1990s. The teachers had a weekly soup club and this is where my soup-making skills really got started. I had to bring a big pot of soup and the pressure was on for it to be delicious. We would share recipes and it was a bright spot every week throughout the winter. Gradually I collected a lot of great soup recipes. Some of them are quick and easy and some of them require a bit more time and preparation, but they all are made with healthy ingredients and are a quick “picker-upper” if you are not feeling well.

For the last 10 years at least I make soup every week. Gary and I have it for dinner at least once a week and I would take it to school for lunch as well. If anyone I know is sick or needs a little TLC, I bring them some soup. I make a different soup each week and by the time I get through all my favourite recipes, winter is mostly in the rear-view mirror.

During these frigid, snowy days why not try your hand at making soup? Here is one of my favourite recipes, thanks to Libby Dawson for sharing it with me.

For the little ones in your life: check out this YouTube video of the children’s folk tale, Stone Soup, proof that soup brings out the best in people.

Sweet Potato Bean Soup – serves 6

1 tbsp. each butter & vegetable oil

½ onion, coarsely chopped

1 rounded tsp. curry powder

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled & diced

5 c. stock (boiling hot)

19 oz. (540 mL) can white beans (kidney or navy), rinsed & drained

1 tbsp. each balsamic vinegar & maple syrup (both are optional)

Salt & ground pepper

Plain yogurt; chopped fresh coriander or parsley

Heat butter & oil in a large saucepan over med heat. 

Add onion and cook about 5 minutes until soft but not brown. 

Add curry powder; cook while stirring for 1 minute 

Add sweet potatoes; cook for a few minutes

Add hot stock and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer covered for 20 minutes or until sweet potato is soft

Add half of the beans. Puree until smooth, and then add the rest of the beans. 

Add vinegar and maple syrup, stir, and serve with yogurt and parsley/coriander on top.