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.

Running is my therapy

Meme from movie Elf, I just like to run
Special guest blog by Mathew Smith
I stumbled upon an activity last summer that made me very happy.
Pound, pound, pound. My feet slammed against the cement sidewalk with a force they haven’t exerted in decades. I was running, actually running!
I hadn’t felt like this since I was a kid. That feeling of speed and energy. It made me smile, one of those you-can’t-help-but-smile smile, a natural smile from that primitive part of the brain. I felt alive! I felt strong! I felt like giant breaths of air were coming into my lungs and going right to my legs bringing them the energy and oxygen they needed to keep pumping.
I turned another corner and had to lean into it–I was running that fast. I could actually feel the wind whip by my face, and the sidewalk was whizzing by. It was exhilarating.
I got home shining in sweat, legs wobbly, gasping for air…no I was not near death, I was feeling better than I’d felt in years. Who knew jogging could do that?
How did someone like me start running?
I was searching for answers as to why I felt so tired, uninspired, and unmotivated all the time. I happen to run, forgive the pun, across a book titled Running Is My Therapy by Scott Douglas. What caught my interest was that Scott’s stories were so relatable. He was using running as a way to boost his energy, feel motivated in life, and ease his mental ups and downs.
Even though I am not an athlete at all I was drawn to the idea of running. Then the science behind it closed the deal for me. There were actual details, facts, studies on how the brain reacts to running. It turns out running does a whole bunch of great things for the brain, your mood, and your energy level. Some scientists claim it is better than any antidepressant.
It is a well-known fact that exercise is great for the body. Running is one of those great ‘cardio’ gems. It gets blood flowing, really flowing for the half-hour or hour you run. But, as an added bonus your body keeps burning calories and moving blood around for hours afterward. This is especially good for the brain.
There is also something special about running compared to other cardio exercises like biking. It seems to harken back to our early years living on the savannah, hunting over long distances to stay alive. Our ancient ancestors were designed to be able to run long distances and those who could survived and past on their running genes.
Studies have found that something happens to the brain when you run, that it almost disconnects with your body,  to be able to deal with the pain and strain your muscles endure. Sounds bad, but, it turns out this is a great thing. You get a big dose of endorphins, which make you feel great, and the break from mind and body clears your head. It’s almost like your brain goes on autopilot as all the energy you have goes into running. Your brain takes a breather. Which is great if you are someone who is anxious, dwells on problems, or just has a brain that feels like it won’t stop.
Then there are the social aspects. I found a running club in town that met two times a week. It was organized by The Running Room store and they touted it as inclusive to everyone. Hmm, I was a bit skeptical. I was picturing twenty gazelle type runners wearing those bright one-piece spandex suits and mirrored sunglasses talking about marathons and half-marathons. I called the store and asked about the running club–was it actually free? As a first time runner would I be okay?
I was told it was free (yippee). I was told there were plenty of first-timers, even non-runners (walkers they are called), and there would be a group I would fit into. I guess I was going to find out on Sunday morning if this was the crowd for me.
Saturday night, 2 am, I found myself driving home a couple of guys I had went out with that night. They were pretty drunk and planning on sleep their hangovers off in the morning, while I knew I had to get up early and make my way back downtown to go running. When the alarm clock went off five hours later I was feeling good.
As I drove to Running Club I recalled the previous night, having a beer with the guys talking about life. They had complained about their jobs and the struggles to make ends meet. They rehashed old memories, their glory days of years past (decades past in most cases). They didn’t mention any future plans, goals, or anything like that. To them, it was like life was something to endure.
The exact opposite atmosphere almost smothers me as I walk in the door of the Running Room. Even though it is eight am on a Sunday morning the room is buzzing with energy. Positive energy. There are half a dozen older ladies huddled by the door in their sweatpants and bright white running shoes. They are gabbing and laughing and saying, ‘good morning’ to all that enter. I’m instantly feeling better. Yes, there are a few one-piece spandex suited gazelles in the room, but, for the most part the crowd is middle-aged non-athletic looking people.
I actually spot a guy I know from my job. I’m kind of surprised to see him because he doesn’t strike me as a ‘runner’. I have only seen him in a chef uniform as he teaches in the culinary arts program at the college. He says, ‘Hi, are you part of the running club?”. I tell him this is my first time. He says this is his first time at this running club. He is with a friend and looking to do the ten-kilometre run. Then he is meeting someone about a second job because the summer is quiet for him and he hates to be bored. Multiple jobs and ten km runs, um, overachiever club?! This makes me worry. Is everyone here like this? Am I going to fit in?
I join a group and go for a run and soon realize something funny happens when you run with people. Your mind starts to relax and you feel more open. It may be that you are not face to face with someone, so it makes it easier to talk, or it could be that you feel good and just want to chat? So, I chat. I found it interesting to hear tidbits of the other runner’s lives because the crowd was so diverse. A mixed bag of people; a computer guy, a student/waitress, a teacher, a chemical engineer, a retired couple.
Our leader that day, Chris, is working on a Master’s degree in poetry. A poet who runs?! I was quickly learning that runners are not the typical athletic type. They come in all shapes and sizes. I might actually fit in here. It’s easy to talk to these people and I quickly feel part of the group. There was so much positive chatter about the future; everything from running goals to life goals. These were happy, motivated people. This was a great atmosphere for sparking happiness.
So what we have is an activity that has scientifically proved health benefits, an uplifting crowd of followers, little cost, and is for everyone under the sun? Who can say no to that? Your #HappyAct this week is to take a step, or many, towards those happy feelings that come with a jog.
Mathew Smith | You can meet up with Mathew every Sunday morning at 8am at the Running Room on Princess St. once the Covid-19 restrictions allow the Running Club to start up again.

 

Play with happiness

Each one of us is struggling these days to stay motivated, find comfort, and stay happy during COVID-19.

On Friday, I participated in a group counselling session offered by my company. The theme of the discussion was dealing with self-isolation. It was interesting to hear how COVID-19 was affecting people in different ways and the strategies people were using to cope with self-isolation. If you’re as lucky as I am to have an employer who is proactively offering opportunities to take care of your mental health, I highly encourage you to take advantage of them.

If you don’t, the good news is there are many wonderful resources online to tap into. Last week, I shared Yale’s online happiness course. Another great resource is the Conference Board of Canada who has been producing short videos on mental health.

Here’s one to watch from Dr. Bill Howatt, Chief of Research and Productivity on the PLAY model to happiness. Dr. Howatt shares that while half of our happiness is genetic disposition, the other half we can directly influence through PLAY:

  • Finding something you’re Passionate about
  • Living in the moment
  • Finding one Awesome thing each day
  • And finally, Laugh, be silly, vulnerable and laugh often

Certainly COVID-19 has forced us to live in the moment, but the others may be a tall order these days. It’s still great advice at any time.

This week’s #HappyAct is to be proactive in taking care of your mental health and PLAY.

300 Happy Acts

flower petal

Last week, my little blog hit a milestone. I posted my 300th happy act.

Six years ago, when I decided to start this blog, I wasn’t sure where it would take me. The idea was simple: post one insight or one little act of happiness each week, and challenge my readers to join me.

I was inspired by many things, but mainly from watching people I care about struggle with happiness.

Sadly, I think my blog is more relevant today than it was six years ago. I believe mental health issues in young people especially are reaching epidemic proportions in this country. When social platforms like Facebook talk about removing likes to protect people from feelings of envy and negative self-worth, it’s a sign of a major societal problem.

I’ve learned many things from this blog. I’ve learned the importance of living in the moment, and being grateful for what I have. In going back through some of my old drafts, I found this post I had written but never shared for my 100th happy act written on Thanksgiving weekend. I’d like to share it with you now.

——————————————-

This is my 100th blog post. I’m happy I reached this milestone on Thanksgiving weekend because it reminds me of everything in my life to be thankful for.

It also reminds me the things that make me most happy are life’s everyday moments. So for my one hundredth #HappyAct, I thought I’d recite happy moments from just one day this weekend.

  • Swilling German beer at my friend Karen’s Oktoberfest party
  • Meeting someone new
  • Feeling the breeze and warm sun on my face
  • Watching the sun shimmer on Bella and Clare in the boat
  • Petting my big dopey mutts
  • Making a Halloween scarecrow
  • Curling up and watching a movie with Clare
  • Reading the newspapers
  • Sitting with a glass of wine on the back deck
  • Buying $30 worth of candy at Bulk Barn that will last only a week
  • Eating caramels at 10 o’clock in the morning
  • Biting into a fresh, crunchy apple
  • Having a hot tub
  • Watching a red leaf dance in the air as it gently floats to the ground
  • Picking fresh flowers

This week’s #HappyAct is to celebrate the little moments that make life wonderful and be grateful for each and every day. Thanks for continuing on this journey with me.

The Science of Happiness part 4: the twenty minute rule

Sitting infographic

I firmly believe the greatest risk to my physical and mental health right now is the amount I sit.

The negative health effects of sitting have been known for some time, but stole headlines a few years ago when James Levine, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic coined the phrase “sitting is the new smoking” and said “the chair is out to kill us” in an interview with the LA Times.

It’s estimated that in North America, half of our waking hours are spent sitting down. “Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV, and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death,” says Levine.

The harmful physical effects of sitting are well known. Sitting or lying down for too long increases your risk of obesity, chronic health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes and some cancers and can shorten your life span.

What was even more startling as I researched this was learning that getting the recommended 30-60 minutes of exercise a day won’t help. You can’t offset 10 hours of stillness with one hour of exercise.

Here’s the science behind it. Metabolism slows down 90 percent after 30 minutes of sitting. The enzymes that move the bad fat from your arteries to your muscles, where it can get burned off, slow down. The muscles in your lower body are turned off. After two hours, good cholesterol drops 20 percent.

And that’s only half of it. Sitting too much also has an impact on your mental health.

Dr. Alan Schlechter, a professor on the science of happiness at New York University says the way we tell our brain to grow is to move. We are meant to move, and when we sit down for more than 20 minutes, our body and brains shut down.

There is one simple solution to fighting the chair. Get up and move every twenty minutes.

As one expert said, “Just getting up for five minutes is going to get things going again. These things are so simple they’re almost stupid.”

This week, I’m taking up my armrests and fighting the chair in the interests of my own physical and mental health. I’m going to start booking walking meetings at work, move around more, take the stairs, watch less TV at night and get up and move every 20 minutes. Who’s with me?

Know where you belong

sign that says happiness is knowing where you belongI’ve spent the last four days in Toronto. It struck me more than ever, that even though I was born there, I don’t belong there.

Toronto is an amazing city, but like with any large city, there is the good, the bad and the ugly.

Toronto the good

Stunning skyscrapers, lakefront paths and parks, festivals and events, fine dining and shopping, and people of every faith, race, culture living for the most part in respectful harmony.

Toronto the bad

Relentless traffic, air pollution, soaring housing prices, long commutes and endangered greenspace from concrete sprawl.

Toronto the ugly

Poverty, homelessness, and indifference. Both days, walking the few blocks to my course in the financial district, I walked past at least a dozen people sleeping on the street. One man was lying in the middle of the sidewalk sideways and was so still, he could have been dead. Everyone, EVERYONE including me stepped around him and walked by. I’m still ashamed.

This week’s #HappyAct is know where you belong. United Ways across the country are kicking off their campaigns. Get involved, give and help change lives locally where you belong.

Eight tips for achieving family life balance

elephant balancing on a ballForget work life balance. Some days I think the biggest challenge is family life balance.

In the past six weeks, we’ve had friends or family over three weekends, went to a friend’s cottage one weekend, attended two country fairs, one regatta, one baseball tournament, shuffled our work schedules so we could be home during the day for two service provider visits, and chauffeured kids to various camps, practices and friends’ houses.

Some days it’s exhausting, but most of the time it’s busy, fun and manageable. That’s because we learned the importance a long time ago of always scheduling in down time.

Here are eight tips that we’ve found helped our family maintain a healthy balance on the home front:

  1. Keep one weekend a month completely open. Dave made me promise this years ago and it’s been our saving grace ever since.
  2. Don’t feel pressured to spend time doing something you don’t want to do. If I don’t have the time or feel like baking for a potluck or school fundraiser or dinner party, I’ll just buy something. Same thing with our house—our friends and family know they are always welcome to drop by and there will be a cold beer for them, but we don’t spend hours cleaning or tidying up—they take us as we are.
  3. Keep things simple when you do entertain. I’d rather spend an extra hour with guests chatting on the dock than cooking and cleaning on a beautiful summer’s day, so we often serve what’s simplest and easiest.
  4. No matter how many chores or things need to get done, carve out one hour a day for down time.
  5. If your child asks you to play cards, read, or play a game, say yes. I remember when the kids were little, they would always want to curl up in our big green chair and read after supper. I’d leave the dishes in the sink and read with them. The dishes could wait.
  6. Know what time is most precious to you and protect it. For me, it’s the first few hours of the day on the weekends. I can face just about anything as long as I can enjoy my coffee and read the papers before jetting off somewhere.
  7. Say no sometimes. Where we live, our kids often want us to run them into Kingston for something. It can kill up to half a day since we live north of the city. If we’re really busy the rest of the weekend, and it’s not something important, I’ll just say no.
  8. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. When Dave had his knee replaced last fall and I was juggling kids, work and running him to appointments, I asked my neighbour to take him to one of his doctor’s appointments—it was a huge help.

This week’s #HappyAct is to share your tips for finding the right family life balance. What are some of the things you do to keep your non nine-to-five life in a happy state of equilibrium? Leave a comment.

Accept we are not in control

Comic Mind full or mindfulSpecial guest blog by Ray Dorey. You can read more of Ray’s adventures at www.storiesfromdoreyville.wordpress.com.

“The key to a happy life is to accept you are never actually in control.” – Character of Simon Masrani, Jurassic World.

I think I laughed out loud when I first heard this. I’d always believed the polar opposite. But as I’ve come to learn, these words from a fictional movie about a dinosaur park couldn’t ring more true.

I have somewhat of an obsession with “to do” lists – summaries both personal and professional, detailing all of my goals and tasks for a given period of time.

In my job, I have every day of the week planned nearly down to the minute. All meetings and objectives are scheduled to optimize efficiency and ensure completion.

And whether personally or professionally, I had always at least partially measured my success by how many of the items on my list were completed in the time I had prescribed.

But as we all know, life often doesn’t care about our tidy lists. It can be so easy for our plans to fall off the rails, and that can lead quickly to frustration – and possibly anxiety if we allow it.

I’ve learned that what is far more important than measuring ourselves strictly to planned objectives, is how we choose to react to the inevitable surprises and challenges that get interjected without notice or reason.

The past two years have been especially challenging for me personally. I’ve suffered multiple retinal detachments in both of my eyes, requiring surgery and extended recovery periods. In an instant, all of my immediate plans were abruptly pushed to the side, and longer-term plans became a complete blur (pardon the pun).

But my recent health issues have also strangely been among the most positive things to happen to me. Throughout seemingly endless visits to my ophthalmologist, I encountered and empathized with many others fighting their own vision issues, from the very young to the elderly.

My experience has taught me patience, perspective, and what is truly important in life. During recovery, when I couldn’t do much but keep my head down and stare straight at the floor, I would write (using my one good eye of course). I’d often scribe summaries of everything I was grateful for – from my parents, siblings, and faithful canine companion, to the air I breathe. It didn’t take long to fill at least a page and a half every time.

I watched a documentary recently about mindfulness, the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to the internal and external experiences occurring in the present moment. Participants at a weekend retreat were first required to purge distractions including leaving their smart phones in their rooms. Two of the exercises stood out. In the first, attendees simply walked across a room. But they did so very slowly, and were encouraged to be mindful of every step, including awareness of the position of their body and the feel of their feet on the floor. In the second exercise, participants ate a quiet meal, chewing slowly and focusing carefully on the taste and texture of every bite. On the surface, both exercises appeared ridiculous, but I understood the lessons they were meant to teach – to concentrate on the here and now and truly savour each precious moment.

I now follow a couple of Twitter feeds to provide daily reminders to slow down and value each moment. Buddha Quotes (@ByBuddha) and Daily Zen (@dailyzen).

As I write, I often glance at my dog, sleeping peacefully on the couch. I envy her, for I doubt she ever worries about the future. If she could write, her daily “to do” list would most likely be limited to four core activities: eat, drink, play and sleep. Not in any particular order, and just responding to needs and wants from one “now” to the next.

At the risk of oversimplifying, we really need to learn to “go with the flow.” There’s no problem in trying to maintain control – we all have responsibilities that we must try and manage. Just be cognizant of the fact that challenge lies around every corner, and we must be mentally prepared – and conditioned – to cope.

This week’s #HappyAct is to focus on the present moment. Every minute you spend worrying about future events robs you of your enjoyment of the here and now. Practiced mindfulness can easily lead to deliberate happiness.

Get unplugged

Special guest blog by Alison Taylor

Sometimes, it’s the simple things that make me happy. Well, to be truthful, most times it is the simple things.

Living in a country setting really makes you appreciate the quiet calm of the countryside. I am lucky to have access to hundreds of acres of fields and bush that I can walk through with my pal, Molly (friend of the four legged kind).

I like to get away from “devices” and unplug. I don’t disconnect though….I rather connect in a different way and use my senses to observe and interact with the “natural” kind. Sometimes it is the stillness, and peacefulness of the experience. Other times, the wind is howling, snow is crunching under your big boots, and you feel exhilarated.

There can be those moments where you see wildlife and marvel at their resilience, or watch the birds flittering in the grasses and listen to their songs and time stands still.

For me, I like to unplug as much as I can on weekends. My work week is full of the latest buzz words: high tech, digital disruption, seeking electronic efficiencies, etc.  It is nice to spend my weekend on what really matters, and spend time “unplugged” and surrounded by an environment that has stood the test of time and will be around many years to come whether I plug in or not.

It’s not a dress rehearsal

man and girl dressed up
Clare and David at our friends’ Jill and Gary’s wedding

I’ve always been grateful for the wonderfully different people in my life and how they’ve all taught me something or influenced me in some way.

I have one friend, David who lives in Australia that I’ve known for years, since he’s the brother of one of my closest friends.

David is one of a kind. Flamboyant, funny, thoughtful, witty and a sparkling conversationalist, one of his favourite sayings is, “It’s not a dress rehearsal, baby.”

Life isn’t a dress rehearsal. We only get one run on or off Broadway, and there’s no script or encore performance.

This week’s #HappyAct is to seize centre stage and live each day to the fullest. Take advantage of opportunities when they come around because they might not come around again. Enjoy the show.