Take this simple positivity test and remember the magic number

three smiling boxes and one frowning box

What if I told you the secret to happiness and success is a line and a number?

The line is called the Losada line and the number is 2.9013 which is the ratio of positive to negative interactions you need to have to be happy and successful. Simply put, you need to have at least three positive interactions to every negative one to be happy.

The Losada line and ratio came out of a study done in 2005 by two psychologists, Marcial Losada and Barbara Fredrickson who analyzed the interactions of management teams and how successful they were. The mathematical formula they used was subsequently challenged and discredited by some experts, but many psychologists still cite their work and adopt the principles of the Losada line in sport, business, and to help individuals achieve positive mental health.

They found if teams generate more than 2.9013 positive feelings, emotions or interactions to every 1 negative feeling, emotion or interaction, the team has positive energy needed to feel good about themselves and flourish. A 5:1 ratio is a culture everyone wants to be part of. Teams below the Losada line of 2.9013 have a deteriorating culture, and at 0.73 to 1, the team culture destructs.

In another study, Dr. John Gottman looked at similar research in marriages. Gottman claims he can predict divorce with 90% accuracy by counting the number of positive versus negative interactions a couple has.

In marriage, the magic ratio is 5:1 (why the ratio is higher in marriage is an interesting question, presumably because marriage is hard and there are two individuals’ happiness at stake!)

Happy couple have at least 5 positive interactions for every negative one. You can read more about Gottman’s study and the types of positive interactions between happy couples here.

This week’s #HappyAct is to take the personal positivity test and strive to increase your personal to negative interactions to 3:1 or higher. Gottman also has a quiz on his website called “How Well Do You Know Your Partner” (note you have to provide your email address to get the results emailed to you but a summary pops up on the screen as soon as you provide your email).

And don’t worry if you score low initially on the personal positivity test. I expected to because I’m at home nursing a broken ankle right now. Think of it more as a check in with how you’re feeling, then start working towards improving your positive interactions and on a path to better mental health and happiness.

Won’t you be my neighbour

Group of neighbours

The neighbour’s annual Christmas holiday gathering 2021

Last week after I wrote my blog, I went for a nice walk in the snow to look for the eagles that soar over our lake this time of year. I slipped on a slight skiff of snow on ice and fell and broke my ankle. Two trips to the hospital, one surgery, a cast and crutches later, I’m now staring down 6-8 weeks of sitting on my couch with all our holiday plans scuppered.

As the week wore on, we started getting calls and texts from neighbours who said they were planning to pop by with food. Not just food, full meals of pork roast and potatoes, Morroccan chicken with salad, pulled pork, beef brisket, ribs and chicken wings and treats and wine. We have enough food in the fridge now to last until Christmas without having to cook a meal!

We’ve always been blessed with best neighbours. As a kid growing up in Port Credit, our neighbourhood and the people in it were our entire world. All the neighbourhood kids hung out together playing street hockey in the winter and baseball in the summer. The Moms of the Neighbourhood were a powerful posse, watching over and taking care of us. On the one hand, it was great. If you needed help–you could knock on any door, but the downside was there were about 25 other parents watching your every move who could get you in trouble!

I appreciated this amazing group of women even more as a teenager when my Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. For seven years, they visited, brought us food and helped drive my Mom to appointments, and then doing the same for my father after she passed away.

In 1995, Dave and I made a huge leap of faith and moved to a small farmhouse outside of the village of Sydenham where we didn’t know a soul. Our first two sets of neighbours were a family of sheep farmers and a single guy, a military communications officer named Kramer.

Kramer was like the Kramer of Seinfeld fame with a big personality and a big heart, but with a lot less hair. He would show up at our door out of the blue with a whiskey bottle in hand or come for dinner, and stay until the wee hours of the morning. We’d push him out the back door, watching him stumble and weave across the lawn in the moonlight and up the steps until he was home safe.

On the other side of us was a lovely family of five called the Orsers. They too became fast friends and we’d visit back and forth, especially during lambing season when Dave and I would spend hours in their barn, petting and holding the baby lambs. During the ice storm of ’98 when we lost power for two days, Neil and Pat and the kids all bunked down at our house since we had a wood stove.

When Kramer moved to the Wasaga Beach area, we said our sad goodbyes and welcomed new neighbours into our midst: a young couple by the name of Jeff and Karrie. Jeff and Karrie became some of our closest friends. It was Jeff who found our beloved cat Angus dead, hit by a car on the road and gently put him in a box and broke the news to us when we came home from work. It was Jeff and Karrie who babysat Grace for the first time, giving us our first afternoon out as new parents. They live in Edmonton now—our kids are all grown up, but we still keep in touch.

Teenagers Grace and Clare with two children next door

When we made the move from Sydenham to Verona, we thought the same thing: there is no way we’ll ever have such great neighbours, but yet again, we were wrong. Our one neighbour Mark Berry reminded me so much of my Dad who had passed away just after we moved into our beautiful lakefront property.

Mark was the inventor of the “unbirthday party”. He’d putter over to our house on his tractor bearing gifts for us and the kids “just because”. His dog Buddy became best friends with our border collie, even sleeping some nights on our deck in our lawn chairs in the summer. We were very sad when he moved back to Toronto to be closer to his children.

Fast forward to today, when once again we have the best neighbours ever. Through the years, our little tight-knit community has grown even closer. Whether it’s popping by for a drink, getting together to celebrate one of the kids’ birthdays next door, graduation celebrations, Canada Day fireworks, or our Christmas Eve tradition of gathering at one of our houses, our time spent together has become some of my favourite memories here on the lake.

They’ve become extended family, and have been a huge life support for us, especially this year. I honestly don’t know what we would have done without them.

So thanks my dear friends and neighbours, for your love and support, friendship and all the delicious food that is now overspilling from my fridge. I look forward to sharing many more precious memories in the years ahead with my favourite neighbours, the best neighbours in the world!

Clare trick or treating with the neighbourhood kids

Clare trick or treating with the neighbours’ kids this year

Neighbours making pizza

Pizza making party next door!

Take the high road

Sign that says "I would rather be annoyingly positive and optimistic than destructively negative and hateful"

Is it just me, or does it feel like nobody takes the high road anymore?

Last week, I was out for my lunchtime walk, and I came across an altercation at the local high school. There was an older student on the one side of the road screaming at two kids across the road. The language was deplorable but it was the intensity and hatred that made me stop in my tracks.

I wasn’t sure whether I should intervene, or just mind my own business and keep walking. I was concerned it could escalate into something far more serious. I hesitated for about half a minute, then walked up to the girl who was yelling and swearing and her friends, asking if there was a problem and whether I could help.

The girl glared at me and said, “Those two have been staring at me non-stop for the past three days. They needed to be put in their place.” She had other choice words for the two kids that I won’t repeat here.

Now, I don’t know what transpired between these two groups of kids, and I know it’s high school, but I will say this whole incident really disturbed me.

First, I can tell you I never once spoke to anyone like that in high school. Sure, there were cliques and kids who didn’t like each other and didn’t get along, but you mainly stuck with your own friends and avoided them. No one ever stood in a street and hurled vitriole and swear words at the top of their lungs for the whole world to witness.

Second, this girl said these kids had been “staring” at her for the past three days. If that was their biggest crime, I can only imagine how this girl will cope some day when she experiences real conflict at home, with her friends or in the workplace.

I think what upset me the most though was this girl thought it was OK to act and speak like that. In fact, not only did she defend herself and her actions, she took pride in her response, saying someone had to stand up to them, they deserved it.

I just couldn’t stop thinking, if this is what our kids think is normal and acceptable behaviour, what hope do we have as a society of being kind to each other and battling the divisiveness that seems to be permeating our culture?

To me, it’s simple. You never know what people are dealing with in their lives. That’s why you should always take the high road and turn the other cheek.

It comes down to two basic tenets: treat others with kindness and respect.

This week’s #HappyAct is to always take the high road. Have a kind week.

Just hang in there

Happy couple of 30 years

This weekend, Dave and I celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. We’ve always been there for each other and supported one other, but I’m sure if you asked Dave, he’d say at times it hasn’t been easy living with me. (He on the other hand is the President’s Choice of Husbands).

I think the best advice I ever received about how to have a long, successful marriage was from an older gentleman who I met earlier this year at the Old Mill in Toronto. Leslie and I were there having brunch, and were seated next to a large party, a family celebrating some special occasion.

At the end of the brunch, while his children and grandchildren were visiting, the gentleman who was sitting at the head of the table must have noticed me watching him so I smiled at him and he smiled back.

He reminded me of my father with piercing blue eyes, a kind smile and gentle goodness about him. After a few minutes, he came over to talk to me.

We exchanged greetings and chatted casually as strangers do. When I asked if it was a special occasion, he told me he and his wife were celebrating their 65th wedding anniversary. He told me how he met his wife, and a bit about their life together. When I asked what the secret to a long, successful marriage was, he thought for a moment, then answered, “Just hang in there.”

Such sage, simple advice.

To my loving husband of 30 years, thanks for hanging in there with me. As we often say, I can’t imagine going through this crazy life with anyone but you.

The legend of the jacket

Golfer in jacket
My brother Don, three-time TBW champion

A few years ago, we were sitting in a restaurant when I happened to overhear the conversation at a table next to us. The person was telling the story of a time when he was on vacation, and this group of golfers came in to the restaurant, and did a special jacket presentation like they do at the Masters. I smiled, because I knew he was talking about my brother. The story was the legend of the jacket.

For the past 15 years, my brother Don has organized a guys’ golf trip. It started out as The Boys Weekend, an exclusive invitational of three or four days of golf, with a bit of drinking mixed in for good measure. In the last decade, TBW has morphed into The Boys Week, an annual event where Don and 11 buddies rent a villa somewhere in North America and golf for seven days straight to see who reigns supreme on the golf course and wins the coveted jacket.

There is a trophy. One of the guys stole an old trophy out of their Board Room and every year, a new plaque is added with the TBW Champ’s name. But it’s the jacket that is the true prize and symbol of victory.

The jacket itself is an old brown herringbone blazer Don found in a thrift store years ago that mysteriously has the ability to fit every winner like the old pair of jeans in the movie The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants.

Each year, it is handed over to the champion to wear with pride. The keeper of the jacket is responsible for getting their name and year embroidered on it. One of the boys fell down on his duties one year, so the new reigning champ kindly embroidered it for him—on the inside lapel.

Lapel of jacket with name embroidered on the inside

My brother has won it three times. The boys just got back from TBW in Prince Edward Island this year and I asked Don if the jacket came home with him this year. Sadly, Don said his game “fell apart like a cheap suit on the final round” and Bubba won it this year. Here’s a picture of Bubba in the jacket sporting his Anne of Green Gables look.

Congratulations, Bubba, and the entire TBW 2022 crew!

Golfer in jacket
Congratulations to Bubba, the 2022 TBW Champ!
12 golfers on a green
The field at the 2022 TBW Invitational in PEI

You’ve got a friend

Author and her best friend

There are no words to describe the comfort of a friend. Friends console us when we’re down. They are a sympathetic ear when troubles weigh heavy on your heart and the first person to say I believe in you. You will overcome this.

They share in life’s joys, sorrows and celebrations. They are the person you turn to when you need a hug, or someone to listen without judgement, or just want to share a laugh or what’s on your mind. They love you unconditionally, warts and all. Without them, we’d be lost.  

It’s a scientific fact that having one good friend has a significant impact on happiness. It’s not surprising having a friend increases your happiness in good times, but it’s been proven that having a friend is critical during times of stress when you need help.

In his New York University course The Science of Happiness, Dr. Alan Schlechter lectures about the “tend and befriend” response. The cousin to the fight or flight response, the tend and befriend response is when the hormone oxytocin, induced by stress tells us to reach out for help. When we reach out to a friend, our cortisone level goes down and we feel better.

They say you’re lucky to have at least one true friend in your lifetime. I’ve been fortunate enough to have two, my best friend Leslie and my husband Dave. Thanks for being my rock, guys. I love you both.

This week’s #HappyAct is to tell your best friend how much they mean to you.

Author and her other best friend, her husband

Forgive me/she/her

Pride month poster

June is Pride month. A few weeks ago, I finally changed my autosignature to include my pronouns she/her at the end. I’ve been meaning to change it for almost a year now, but finally got a round tuit at the hardware store when I was on vacation last week.

I’ve always considered myself an ally of the LGBTQ community and am looking forward to seeing a rainbow-filled feed on my social media channels on Tuesday.

But I confess I sometimes do find it hard to navigate this world of diversity and inclusion. It will be only a matter of time before I make a mistake and will have to ask for forgiveness.

For instance, I was writing an email to my team last week. I have a small team and we all know each other pretty well, so our work emails are pretty informal.

I started out writing my normal, “Hey guys, I’ll need to move our regular team meeting…” But then I remembered reading an article that said “guys” is inappropriate since it implies men and excludes others. I say this to my family all the time so hopefully I’m not insulting Grace and Clare the next time I say, “Hey guys, what do you want for dinner tonight?”

I thought about “Hey gang” but was afraid it might be discriminatory against people in actual gangs or imply they were a bunch of miscreants or hooligans.

I tried “Hey folks”, but then wondered if that had southern connotations, even though we don’t live in the United States, or a rural connotation that might be offensive.

I’ve sometimes used “Hey peeps” which seems pretty harmless, but could be racist towards chickens.

In the end, I just went with “Hey team”. Whew, problem solved.

You see my dilemma.

I know I’m being cheeky and there is a good chance someone who is reading this has already taking offence to me making light of an important subject.

I believe people have a right to be called whatever they want, whether it’s he, she, per, ze/ziethey, or they. Addressing people the way they prefer to be called is simply a matter of respect and is no different than when women started challenging the use of Miss and Mrs. as part of the feminist movement.

Personally, I don’t care what I’m called as long as you don’t call me late for dinner.

I know I have a lot to learn. I will make mistakes. I just hope you forgive me/she/her when I make them.

And to all my LGBTQ friends, I love you just as you are. You are authentic, funny and strong, and I am proud to celebrate by your side, a true ally, this month. Happy pride month, everyone!

Ed. Note: The dilemma of how to address people was encapsulated perfectly in the Saturday Night Live skit, “It’s Pat” in the early 90’s. Here’s an episode where the friends of androgynous Pat throw a birthday party for them. SNL was always on the cutting edge of societal issues. While the character of Pat was a caricature, the humour was in seeing how people with good intentions tried to unearth clues as to how to address Pat.

Coming to grips with the five most terrifying words you will ever ask yourself

Author with her daughters on the beach

One of the best Quora posts I ever read was someone who posed the question, “Is this all there is?” The author bared his soul, sharing his story about how he struggled with this question and how the implications of his answer compelled him to make monumental changes in his life.

For many of us, our lives are never ending hamster wheels. Get up. Work. Make dinner. Squeeze in an hour of exercise. Watch TV for an hour. Do it all over again. At some point, we will inevitably ask ourselves, is this all there is?

I know my answer.  While there are days when life’s routine wears me down, I have lived a good life.

I have watched the migration of the wildebeast and zebras in the setting sun of the Serengeti.

I have strolled along the banks of the Seine, the Thames and the Hudson.

I have explored the stopes of a gold mine thousands of feet underground, and hiked to the peaks of majestic mountains.

I have swam with dolphins, raced through forests on dog sleds, and snorkeled with schools of exotic fish in clear sparkling waters.

I have hiked glaciers on mountainsides and ziplined through the canopy of the rainforest.

I have known the love and respect of a wonderful man who has been my soul mate and partner for more than 30 years.

I have experienced the joy of watching my children grow, from taking their first uncertain steps, to watching their chubby little legs race down our hill to the lake on a warm summer’s day, to blossoming into the beautiful, strong, independent young women they’ve become today.

I have cherished friends who know me better than I know myself.

And I have enjoyed the peace and tranquility of living for almost two decades on my beautiful spring-fed lake and all the joys it brings each season.

I hope life brings more adventures, but if this is all there is, I’m OK with that. I choose to find joy each day in my small, simple life, and be grateful for the life I have lived.

This week’s #HappyAct is dedicated to the memory of my sister-in-law, Karen Gillies who passed away this week and who was taken from us far too young. An amazing wife, mother and friend, she embodied kindness and grace. Karen told us that she had come to accept her fate. I derive some comfort in knowing that Karen would have answered the question, is this all there is, the same way.

 Author at the top of Whistler mountain

Make love a daily ritual

Roses are red
Violets are blue
I promise each day
To say I love you

There are few words in the English language that convey such emotion as the simple, four-letter word love.

Just thinking of the word love makes you feel warm all over, giddy inside, happy and fulfilled.

I made a vow when I was quite young to tell the people I love that I love them every day. You see, when I was 12, my Mom was diagnosed with cancer. I knew the day would come when I might not be able to say those words to her anymore, so we made a pact to say we loved each other every day. She died when I was 19.

I’ve continued that daily ritual in my marriage and with my children. Not a day goes by where I don’t tell them I love them.

If there’s one thing this past year has taught us is, life is short. This week’s #HappyAct is to make sure the people you love know how you feel about them. Don’t leave words unsaid.

Happy hearts day, everyone. And for those of you with a more amorous turn who like a play on words, feel free to make love a daily ritual too!

Living a life of no regrets

I had an interesting conversation with a friend the other night about regrets and the impact they have on our lives and relationships.

Regret is a negative emotion, but it can have positive outcomes. It can give us insight and help us make sense of the world and our place in it, and impel us to make positive changes in our lives.

Left to fester, however, regret can make us doubt our decisions and path in life, and create a devalued sense of self-worth. It may lead to us withdrawing within ourselves and to feelings of unhappiness and depression.

We can regret actions we’ve taken, or actions we didn’t have the courage to take.

It was a heartfelt conversation, and my friend and I learned this the other night about dealing with regret:

  • First, it’s never too late. It’s never too late to say I’m sorry, to reach out, to take action.
  • Accept that sometimes life has its own plan and your path is where it decides to take you.
  • When it comes to regret and relationships, know that the other person’s perception of what happened may be completely different than yours.
  • Forgive yourself, forgive others and move on. We are all human, we make mistakes.

No one lives a life of no regrets. If someone says they have no regrets, they’re lying. But hopefully our regrets are few and we’ve learned from them.