Success and Happiness

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As many of the loyal readers and frequent visitors of the blog may know, it’s been on a hiatus. Or rather, I’ve been on a hiatus as I finished the final stretch of gradschool. The end of gradschool included completing my thesis, a final case presentation, and finishing up the work I’ve been doing counseling elementary school children for the year. I am now, officially a Master of Social Work, and since graduating, I’ve been thinking a lot about careers and success. I am about to truly begin my career as a counselor/social worker/therapist. Something I’ve wanted to do since I was 12 or 13.

After watching this video this morning, I realize that success is a journey, not a destination. Just as one accomplishment ends, another quickly comes into view. Desire and ambition doesn’t end, (or should only end with the end of one’s life). Success is not a place that you arrive to, although when we are working towards a goal, it can certainly feel that way.  It is easy to think that once we accomplish one goal, our lives will change. Your life will change, but it is always changing. I just finished graduate school, and while I feel proud, accomplished, relieved, I also now have another chapter to begin. A new goal to work towards, new insecurities, new stressors as I begin to worry about how I will maintain my work/life balance. I realize that because success is a journey, not a destination, I cannot put my life on hold while I work to achieve a goal. This is life. This is it. This moment is all we have. We must enjoy the journey, and enjoy the ride along the way because it’s all there is.

One point made in this video by the author of “Before Happiness” is that those who are happy, tend to be more successful. Research shows that contrary to what logic tells us, success doesn’t actually make us happy. Happy comes first, and success follows. This reinforces the concept that everything starts within (I’ve written about this before). Work hard, but make sure that your work gives you fulfillment, not just money. My hope, as I begin the next chapter in my life is that my work feeds and nurtures me. I hope that my work contributes to my sense of meaning and fulfillment, that it pushes me to grow, and learn. My hope is that I remember success is about the journey, and this is my hope for you all, as well.

Is Wealth A Burden?

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I read an interesting article in Vanity Fair magazine the other day about Perfection Anxiety, and it discussed how extreme wealth may actually be a burden. The article proposes that when money is limitless, it ceases to make one happy. We’ve all fantasized about winning the lottery, (I know I have) and becoming rich beyond our wildest imaginations. Rich enough to quit our 9 to 5ers, rich enough to buy that expensive sports car or take your friends to a fancy dinner….every night. What if this fantasy was just that, and if extreme wealth was really a burden?

Statistics show that money does make you happier, but only up to about $50,000/year. After that, the more money you have, the less it matters. Think of it this way, if you gave a starving man a cheeseburger, that one cheeseburger would make him really happy. If you gave a starving man 2 cheeseburgers, the second probably wouldn’t make him as happy as the first, but it may make him a little bit happier in comparison to how happy he felt after the first one. If you gave a starving man 8 cheeseburgers, he would not feel 8 times happier than he did after the first one. It’s the same with money. Money can give you the things that you need and want, and this will make you happier, however only to a certain extent.

            The Vanity Fair article explains that when one has too much money, it “stops working” to make you happier. I wrote a post about happiness and how we don’t just want to experience happiness, but we also want to achieve it. In fact, in order to feel truly happy, we must also experience sadness in contrast. Think of how happy and excited you feel when you buy something you’ve been lusting after for a while, something you’ve saved up for. Think of how grateful we feel when a loved one buys us a present we’ve really wanted for a long time; that high you get when you get that new iPhone or super nice yoga mat. Now, imagine you could buy anything you wanted, always and forever, and suddenly that excitement, anticipation, gratitude is lost. It’s important to have goals, things we can’t yet attain, because we feel a sense of pleasure in working towards these goals and then a sense of accomplishment when we reach a goal.

If you are among the extremely wealthy, I’m sorry. Let me know if I’ve gotten it wrong. If you are not among the extremely wealthy, you get to take this moment to be grateful that you can still derive pleasure from things. We get to feel grateful that we have things to work for, presents to give, and get, and we can still derive simple pleasure from saving up for a special treat. And remember, winning the lottery probably won’t solve your problems, so enjoy the moment : ) Happy Weekend!

The Importance of Setting Intention

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I was in final savasana the other day at yoga, laying on the floor, legs and arms resting, palms up to receive, when the teacher discussed setting your goals for class. He explained that not everyone will have the same goal, and that our goals can change from class to class. Some people come to yoga to get in shape, some to relax, some to connect their mind and their body, some come to heal physically and/or emotionally. Of course, yoga will give you gifts that you may have never hoped for, but it is always good to have an intention, or a goal, and remember what that goal is so that you don’t get discouraged when comparing yourself with others. You may have a different goal than the person next to you.

Matt and I have also recently gotten into the show Scandal, for those of you who don’t know this show, it is basically about a group of lawyers, working for the main character (who is also a lawyer) Olivia Pope. They call themselves gladiators in suits, and “fix” problems that need fixing (mainly hired by politicians and other power players that reside in Washington. Olivia always asks her clients what their “end game” is, meaning, what are their goals. What is best-case scenario for the end result of their work together? What Olivia is really doing is setting an intention and a goal to shoot for.

This concept of goal and intention setting is so important for life as well. What is your end-game for your day, or your job, or your yoga class, or your conversation with your husband? Setting your intentions can be such a powerful step to take prior to entering into an experience, because it gives you something to aim for. This simple step of setting your intention/goal, can also prevent you from becoming side-tracked, or disappointed with the end results. For example, I recently competed in the Yoga Asana Regional Championship, and my goals while training were focused on my postures. My intention for the competition was to provide a graceful, strong demonstration of the postures that I could perform. It was to perform my postures to the best of my abilities. There was no strategizing to score points, or maximize my overall score. However, when I checked the results of the points, I found myself disappointed with my overall point score, and feeling discouraged as I compared myself to all the other amazing yogis’ points. Timeout. My postures were awesome, and I had left the competition feeling inspired, proud, and as if I had conquered something major. My “end-game”, my intentions and goals revolved around my postures, and I had reached my goal. Reminding myself of my original goal, helped to re-frame the entire experience for me, and reminded me of what a powerful tool intention-setting can be.

Remember this very simple concept before you begin something (even something as simple as a yoga class). Some days, my goal for yoga class is to really push myself, to conquer the monkey mind that tells me “I can’t do anymore”. Some days my goal for yoga class is to have compassion for myself because I am prone to believe that I have to do everything perfectly. I often put a lot of pressure on myself in life, a byproduct of which is pain and suffering, so some days, allowing myself to sit down and rest for a posture is my goal. Some days, when my life is crazy or I’ve had a particularly negative thought process for the day, my goal is simply to be in the moment, and to connect my body with my mind. The point is, that your goals can change, and simply by setting an intention prior to beginning, gives you a purpose.

Can Money and Success Satisfy the Soul?

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I was thinking about this the other day as my graduate school nears the end and I begin thinking about my future career. There are so many choices to weigh as far as careers go, especially in the psychology/social work field. Should I choose a job that pays well but is not so enjoyable, so that my day-to-day may be a little less joyful, but I’m able to afford vacations, self-care, nice dinners out. ? Which will make me happier, or is there a balance? Continue reading

Happy Weekend!

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In the book “Peter Pan”, Peter also says that the moment one doubts their ability to fly is the moment that they cease to be able to. The original Peter Pan is such a good book with so many good quotes and it’s really a story about fear, imagination, wonder, and the way society grows older. Children have so much faith and imagination, and many people lose this as they grow older. Imagination and faith give you wings. They are the wings that take you to places outside of the box and allow one to achieve great things….maybe even miracles. For to have faith is to have wings… Happy weekend!

Less Space, Less Things, More Life

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Matt and I at Earthbound Organic Farm in Carmel, Ca.

I have been a very lucky grad student in that I have a lot of financial support from Matt and I have been lucky that I’ve been working only 1 day/week during the school year and 2 days/week during the summer. Of course during the school year I also have to work an additional 16 hours unpaid as an intern, but I still feel like I have more free time than my classmates who are also working part-time paying jobs, and raising children. It’s been two years, and I had forgotten how miserable I was when I was working 40 hours/week and taking a prerequisite statistics course in the evenings for the social work program but reading this article brought it all back for me.

I remember that when I quit my full-time job and began school, I felt this tremendous amount of space open up in my life. I felt joy, I felt relief, and I felt a lot poorer. I began going to yoga in the mornings, keeping the house clean, cooking healthy meals, and taking the scenic drives more often. In the raptitude article David talks about how he found he was spending a lot more money when he was working, than when he was traveling because what he found was that he had a lot more money and a lot less time. The things/activities that fell to the wayside when he began working 40 plus hours a week again were the activities that cost no money but took time. When you work full-time, what you get is more money but less time (forget about it if you are also trying to raise kids and care for a house at the same time. I don’t know how you mothers and fathers do it. You are superhumans!) This was true for me, as well. Although I had less money, I was able to fill the space with taking care of myself (walks and yoga), planning and cooking healthy meals, taking a drive for pleasure (not just to get from A to Z in the shortest amount of time possible). Suddenly, an hour long $2 cup of coffee at a café was a great luxury that I was able to afford. While it cost just a small amount of money, what it took was time, but this was time (that was time enjoyed).

Matt works only 4 days/week and we get to spend 3 days off together. What this means, however is that we are only able to afford renting a very small, 1 bedroom cottage, we often split meals out at restaurants, and I always pack my lunches on days when I’m working. Forget about going clothes shopping, or getting drinks and appetizers when we’re out for dinner. Forget about having cable television (instead we rely on Hulu and Netflix), but what we do have is time. This weekend we went out for breakfast and the bill came to $20 (excluding tip). Then we went to Earthbound Organic Farm and walked around the garden, shared a $5 cup of coconut chocolate ice cream and just felt grateful for the weather, for the way the garden flowers smelled, and for the time that we have to spend with each other.  It was a simple pleasure, but it felt real, and powerful, and pure. It felt like I was living life exactly the way I was supposed to, that these types of simple moments would be the ones that I look back upon with gratitude some day.

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This $5 gave us a wonderful experience and quite a bit of pleasure

I was watching an Oprah episode years ago that she did on Denmark, and it is, supposedly, rated to be the happiest country. She took a tour around a “typical” Danish apartment which was very small and very simple compared to American homes. The Danish had a saying “less things, less space, more life” and this saying has stuck with me ever since. More life. Life is what is important right? I remember when I was working 40 hours/week and then attending classes in the evening two days/week. On those days I would get home at 9:30, get ready for bed, and then get up and go back to work. I felt like I wasn’t in control of my life, like my life was filled with obligations on those days, and I often felt like I was failing at living life to the fullest. I wasn’t doing any activities for pure pleasure. I wasn’t feeling joy.

I’ve realized that, for me, “less space, less things, more life” is really a mantra; one that makes me feel like I am living life to the fullest. I would rather have a house someday with one less bedroom if it means one less day of work/week. I’d rather forgo a fancy vacation if it means I can pay for a year of unlimited yoga (something I get pleasure from all year round). I’d rather pack my lunches and then go out to eat with Matt after work instead because this will give me the most pleasure for my money. We are all different, however and I think it’s important to discover for yourself what makes you happy. Maybe you get real pleasure from ordering that glass of wine at dinner. Great. Maybe you would get more pleasure from a fancy vacation than a gym membership. Cool. I think that the most important thing is to ask ourselves “will this make me happy, and is my money being spent in a way that provides me the most amount of pleasure?” When we think about it, money is basically an exchange for our time right? Is the cost of that new item worth giving up whatever amount of time you have to exchange of your life to pay for it? Are you spending your money in the most efficient way? The part of our brains that is responsible for the wanting is very minimally in communication with the part of our brain that processes emotions. Therefore, we often want things without really thinking whether they will make us happy, and that’s the problem. We think we need something, or want something without really thinking whether it will contribute to our happiness and what we unknowingly exchange for that shitty new nail polish that we won’t even wear again is time and life.