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.
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.
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?
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.
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:
- Keep one weekend a month completely open. Dave made me promise this years ago and it’s been our saving grace ever since.
- 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.
- 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.
- No matter how many chores or things need to get done, carve out one hour a day for down time.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Special 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.
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.
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.
More and more, you hear about agile teams, projects and processes. Agile methodology is when you plan out your tasks or work in phases, then measure and tweak along the way.
The reason why I like this word so much is because the agile approach embodies an inherent philosophy that has a direct impact on happiness —the importance of aiming for progress, not perfection.
Two of the leading experts in the field of perfectionism are Canadians—Paul Hewitt, a professor at the University of British Columbia and Gordon Flett at the University of Toronto. In just one of their many studies of 10,000 professors, they found a statistical co-relation that those pursuing a perfect solution had a lower number of publications, lower amount of citations and a lower impact on their profession. They also had a higher rate of depression, anxiety, eating disorders and, shockingly, a higher rate of suicide.
I’ve never been a perfectionist. I can’t imagine the burden that weighs on people of trying to be perfect or achieving the perfect result all the time.
I’ve learned there are many ways to skin a cat. When my team works on a design concept or develops communication plans at work, there isn’t any single right or wrong answer or method. There are simply different options and approaches with different merits and risks. You choose a course, try it out, see what works, then adjust your plan.
You learn most when you fail. Unfortunately one of the biggest issues in business today is organizations say they are willing to let their employees fail, but when push comes to shove, the focus on the bottom line wins out. Companies are so lean they can’t afford the time, money or resources to fail.
Still, aiming for progress, not perfection is a philosophy that can benefit just about every aspect of our lives. Trying to lose weight? Aim for progress, not perfection. Studying for a big exam? Planning a large event? You know the answer.
This week’s #HappyAct is to aim for progress, not perfection. Perfection is an elusive dream. Instead set small, baby step goals, and celebrate when you hit milestones.