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.

See past your thoughts

Dog walking in the woods

Have you ever gone for a walk or a drive, and arrived not remembering anything you’ve seen along the way because you were so lost in your thoughts?

It happens to me more than I would like to admit.

I’m conscious of it now, so when it happens, I stop in mid-stride if I’m walking, scold my brain, and start looking at the world around me. I make a conscious effort to be in the moment, listen to the wind in the trees, the birds, see the snow glistening on the pines and just take it all in.

It’s easy to become prisoners of our thoughts. It’s hard work to see past them.

1,000 days

People wearing masks in 1918 in California

Very early on in the pandemic, an older caretaker of a church told Dave, “It will be a 1,000 days, every pandemic takes a 1,000 days.”

The Spanish flu lasted from February 1918 to April 1920. The World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 pandemic on March 11, 2020. By my count, we are at 675 days which means we have about 10 months left of living with COVID.

For the first time in almost two years, I am quietly optimistic we are beginning to see the light at the end of the COVID tunnel.

Early on, the other catchphrase was herd immunity. The pandemic will subside when a large proportion of the population has either contracted the disease or developed enough antibodies through vaccines to protect themselves from contracting the disease. With the highly contagious Omicron variant, we are now seeing herd immunity in action.

This week’s #HappyAct is to allow yourself to hope. Stay strong during these last few critical weeks and months and let’s all continue doing what we need to do to support our beleaguered healthcare workers who have been the real heroes on the front lines.

I choose to hope the end is near, and I for one, can’t wait to see what’s on the other side.

Ed. Note: This post is not based on any scientific evidence. Please take it as it’s intended, hopeful musings that brighter days lay ahead.

Here’s to all the jolly old Saint Nicks

My daughter Clare with Santa

Last week, I took Friday off to do some Christmas shopping. I happened to walk past the mall Santa who was sitting alone on his red throne with his mask half-dangling beneath his snowy white beard.

A young family was just leaving, and I thought how sad it was that he was sitting there all alone. Usually there would be a line-up a mile long to see him, and I shouted, “Hi Santa” and gave him a big wave on the way by.

I started thinking about all the COVID Santas. Most of these guys are in their 70s, putting their health at risk letting tiny unvaccinated toddlers and babies sit on their lap to keep a time-honoured tradition alive and create special memories for their families.

We always knew Santa was a hero, but this year he’s earning his black buckled belt in kindness.

This week’s #HappyAct is to thank everyone who dons a red suit this time of year to make a child smile. Thanks Santa! (And if it’s not too much trouble, if you can add to your list an end to COVID in 2022, that would be great!)