Seven steps to a happier me. And you.

A long time ago I decided that one of our jobs in this life was to do what we could to be as happy as we could be. Pretty simple right? It was my ‘Ah ha’ moment all those years ago, and I believe that it changed the person that I became.

You see, back then I was a dweller – one of those people who used to dwell on situations and interactions, replaying things back in my mind, questioning ‘why’, or more accurately ‘why me?’. I wasn’t miserable. Far from it. But at times I’d tie myself in knots trying to explain life to myself. It’s not that life was that hard for me either. My parents worked very hard to provide me with everything I needed and even a bunch of stuff that I wanted; they sent me to a good school where I had a good bunch of mates. For me, life was sweet. I had no excuse to why I leaned toward pessimism, except that perhaps it was hereditary or that it was chosen.

Disregarding the former as it was something beyond my control, I pondered the fact that, to some degree, I could be choosing to be mad, upset, disappointed and all those other things that come with a negative mindset. If I was unconsciously choosing to take an unhappy path, surely some good things could happen when I was making deliberate decisions.

So I made a decision to try and make the most of the things that I could control. An attitude adjustment of sorts. And it worked! I became more relaxed and happy-go-lucky, and importantly more positive. So here they are, my tips to becoming a happy chappy.

1. Respond rather than react. Although you don’t have control over everything, you can choose what happens when you’re presented with situations and circumstances. If your first move is a considered response, it is far more likely to be positive than what your first emotional reaction may be.

2. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Life is full of bumps in the road, and with any luck you’ll be presented with more small bumps than big. But if you choose to trouble yourself over the tiny, insignificant bumps, then unfortunately you’ll probably spend your life troubled. The key is to assess how much the situation really matters at the end of the day. If it’s merely an inconvenience or something you can live with, perhaps it’s better to let it slide. With time you’ll take small bumps in your stride, and with any luck eventually you won’t even notice them.

3. Forgive, forget and let go of the grudges. I discovered that it takes a lot of be happyenergy to stay angry at people, and even more to hold a grudge. It takes effort to hold in all that anger, and it will end up hurting you more than it hurts the other party. So take a step back and review whatever has been done to offend you. Use the same yard stick as above – how much did the action really matter at the end of the day? If the answer is not much, then consider forgiving the person. I’m sure by that stage they’ll know they’ve made a mistake and will be willing to make it up to you. If the action or mistake is unforgiveable, then you might just have to cut that person loose. It’s a pretty dire move, and sounds like a harsh action, but sometimes it just need to be done. The idea here is to set the burden free, so if you are going to get rid of the person you’ll need to be prepared to move on. That means no more dwelling!

4. Stop comparing yourself to others. It’s a sure fire way to tie yourself in knots or bring out the green-eyed monster. The thing is, there will always be people who are better off than you, and those that are worse off. You need to remember all paths are different, success is relative and can be measured against many different yard sticks. Pick your path and measure success against milestones. And be happy for others’ success and for your own.

5. Expect less. This one can be a bit of a balance, or it can be a complete false economy. I’ve found disappointment is often set up by our own expectations. If you put 100% into something – whether it’s work, relationships or any group activities – then there is a big possibility that you’d expect the same of others. The thing is that the others involved may not feel the same amount of passion as you do for that particular thing. Perhaps they put their 100% elsewhere, or maybe they’re not 100% type people. For me, adjusting my expectations (to whatever effort is required to achieve a reasonable result) means that I’m surprised and delighted a lot more often.

6. It’s okay to smile. Sometimes you can be so caught up in the negativity, whether it’s environmental or self constructed, that you forget to see the lighter things in life. Even if you are mourning a death or the end of a relationship, the world moves on and there are lovely things happening all the time. If you see one of these lovely things, (e.g. a brand new baby or a puppy) it is quite alright to notice it and to smile. Or if you see something funny, it’s okay laugh. These things will instantly make you feel better, and might even pull you out of whatever darkness surrounds you.

7. Sometimes there is no reason why. Sometimes things happen for absolutely no reason at all, and at no fault of others. Some people think that it’s all part of a bigger picture, whilst others believe in Karma or God’s design. That kind of thinking gives people hope, however I believe that it also puts people on the quest for answers. “Maybe it’s because I stepped on that cockroach yesterday”, or “It’s because I was an evil murderer in my past life”. If you can accept that sometimes things just happen, you can save yourself the anguish of the search for meaning.

Of course there are other things as well – like surrounding yourself with the right people, and ensuring that you’re grateful for what you have – but those were things that I personally didn’t need to worry about. I can’t tell you it was easy either. I was constantly having to force myself to let things go, to allow myself to laugh at the funny things and stop asking why. But eventually discipline turned into habit, and habit became nature. So if you feel like you could do with a positive change in your life, give it a go, even if you start with just one or two of the tips. It may not be for everyone, but it certainly made a difference to me.

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Making the tough decisions

Fotolia_Yes-or-No-decision-making-e1330349370287One of the ironies of modern life is that the very freedom that we consider a basic human right can be the source of so much stress. First world problems, right? But around me I’m seeing so many people hung up on the decisions that they need to make. They fret. Because as per economic theory, there is an opportunity cost for each path they choose. Because sometimes the decision is not straight forward – sometimes there is a need to choose between the lesser of two evils, or two equally bad or equally good ones. Or because the decision is life changing.

  • Consider the lady who’s at a point in her life where she has to decide whether to change jobs to progress her career, or whether she should stay (unsatisfied) in a job so that she will be able to take advantage of the maternity leave benefits.
  • Or the point where a young couple has to decide whether to stretch their budget and step into their first mortgage, or use their savings and go on a round the world trip of a lifetime.
  • Or the expat Aussie, living it up in London/Hong Kong/New York/Singapore with a great career, earning great money, living in a great little flat and partying with great friends. But they dearly miss their family and friends back home, and of course the Aussie beaches and weather. To stay or to go back home?

At a glance each decision comes with consequences that are somewhat equally weighted. Life is full of them. So what would you do?

At the end of the day decisions like these seem to come down to a combination of life stage, your values and your ethics – family, financial, rational, emotional, duty, live for today, plan for tomorrow. Sharing your thought processes with a confindant (friend, family, colleague, or a few thousand fellow bloggers) can help with clarity as we tend to associate with people who share our values and ethics.

However you make your life decisions, try not to let the process and the “what ifs” overwhelm you. Trust that you have the capability to make the right decision for you and then put 100% into making it work. Never look back, even if it doesn’t quite work out the way you thought it would. There might just be another opportunity waiting for you right around the corner. Or perhaps it’s right in front of you.

“When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one that has opened for us.”
Alexander Graham Bell

Tip #2: Absence makes the heart grow fonder

Secrets to a Long Love Story

I bet you’re thinking cliché right? I know, I know, but the saying must have come from somewhere. Hubby and I have been together for 15 (plus) years and I sometimes wonder whether we’d still be together if we didn’t manage a few breaks from each other. I’m not necessarily talking months and months apart across continents (although we did that too), but more so short stints – a long weekend here, a couple of weeks there.

Fortunately or unfortunately my hubby is a hobby fiend – fishing, hunting, dirt bikes – you name it and he’s probably been into it at some point. And again fortunately or unfortunately, all of these hobbies seemed to be best executed on boys’ trips away (and require he spend a bomb on accessories). Sometimes I’d be the one to go away – girls’ trip, family trip back to Thailand, work trip.

Time-Alone-QuoteThese breaks were great, as I love a bit of ‘me’ time – a little space every so often to re-evaluate, relax and reorganise my home and my mind. Self-examination is much easier to do without someone else there, and generally you need more than one or two days to do it. I’d also put in some extra family time, to be a good sister to my brother and a good daughter to my mother. Or sometimes I’d use the time to catch up with friends – I’d go out for a large one, come home completely drunk, take ages to get in the front door making as much noise as possible, then cook myself some 2 minute noodles and pass out on the couch (noodles uneaten), all without getting into any trouble for waking hubby up!

Whatever happened during our time apart, the little break would allow us time to miss the other and all those lovely things that come with them -the skin contact, the conversation, that other person to share some laughs with. It helps you forget (just a little) about those annoying habits your partner has too, so serves to extend those gaps between one tiff and the next. It gives you an opportunity to experience things without them, build some stories to tell, and best of all it allows you to reunite with them and have all those great emotions flood back.

But there is an unexpected bonus of a mini-break: it helps you remember how to be you, an individual, rather than one half of a couple. And that the world doesn’t fall apart if you’re by yourself.

I think the great poet Kahlil Gibran sums it all up beautifully in his passages from “The Prophet

But let there be space in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from the same cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be Joyous, but let each one of you be alone.
Even as the strings of the lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
 
Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together, yet not too near together
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.

Secrets to a long love story

Spend quality time

Secrets to a long love story

The CatCat and Hubby story is a long one. We met in highschool, and through the many peaks and troughs we’ve managed to stay together, stay in love and stay happy. So it probably comes as no surprise that there have been a few people over the years asking me for the secret to our success. I’ve been hesitant to provide too much advice as I can honestly say that our relationship isn’t perfect, and nor is it easy. We argue, we’ve been through a few rough patches, and sometimes it’s just plain old hard work. And I have this strange relationship with Karma where I’m afraid if I give any advice or if I criticise I will be met with the exact opposite, just to spite me. I never comment on parenting for the same reason – I’m afraid that I’ll be cursed with an uncontrollable, tantrum throwing devil child some day. So at the risk of Karma coming to get me later on, I will pen a few tips for those that are interested.

Tip 1: Spend quality time together
Sounds easy right? But sitting next to each other on the couch while you’re both on your iPhones doesn’t count. Going out for drinks or dinner with friends doesn’t count either. What I’m talking about is 1 on 1 time when you can actually have a conversation with each other. Hubby and I do a couple of things that allow us some time together, that don’t even cost a thing.

If the stars align (i.e. he’s working and doesn’t have an early job), Hubby gives me lifts into work. It’s actually much faster for him to take a different route but the drive time (complete with traffic) gives us a good opportunity to chat. If we have time we stop off to pick up a coffee on our way and we chat about what’s coming up at work, what we might be doing socially (seeing as Hubby is terrible at keeping track of stuff like that), and we listen to AM radio (!) which often results in healthy debates over current affairs.

Another activity which gives us a bit of time together are our after dinner walks. These 4-6 km walks are only something we started recently as part of our health kick and they’ve worked a treat. We have really improved our fitness, and we get around 45 minutes to chat (when we’re not puffing from walking up those steep hills).

Hopefully that’s given you some ideas as to how to get a bit of extra QT with your love.

Watch this space for more tips and tricks for a long love story.

The importance of friends

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Society and human nature leads us to think that one of life’s quests is to find “the one”. However one of the perils of true love is that during the sunshine and rainbows of the honeymoon period the new partner can take precedence over pretty much everyone – friends, family and even children.  During this period (very much depending on the individuals involved) friendships in particular can suffer. Family will generally forgive and take you back in, however friendships are very much a two way street. Your friends will only put up with it for so long – if you don’t put in the effort, then one day your friends will give up on making that proactive contact too.

Being in a (very) long term relationship, I realised a long time ago that having a good bunch of friends, especially girlfriends, around you is essential.

1. “Show me your friends and I’ll tell you who you are.” Friends help you to define your identity as an individual. Your interests, opinions and core values are all formed by bouncing off networks of people, and as you grow up, increasingly this network is your friends. I believe that learning how to be an individual is actually more important than learning how to be one half of a couple.

2. “Love is blind”. When your rose coloured glasses (or beer goggles for that matter) are on, it’s your friends who will be watching out for you. No one wants to hear negative things about a new love, or how you change for the worse when you’re with your partner, but believe me, generally it’s a million times better than regretting it later and a pretty much always it’s zillion times better than hearing it from family.

3. Girlfriends will tell you what you need to hear, when you need to hear it. Whether it’s when your butt looks big in that dress, or if you need to stop being a bitch to your mum/partner/children/others in general, your girlfriends will tell it like it is. Your partner/boyfriend/hubby will either a) be in the “love is blind” stage, or b) be in the “keep the peace” phase by ignoring it, not caring or just telling you what you want to hear.

4. “Friends are those rare people who ask how we are, and then wait to hear the answer.”  ―  Ed Cunningham. Verbalising thoughts and having someone listen is a much bigger deal than you may realise. At a primal level, that very act of listening is recognition – that you are a human and that you matter. Think about those rare days when you don’t see another person for a while, like when you work from home. There is almost a yearning to talk  to someone else, because just that very act makes you feel human again. On a less deep level, your girlfriends are the ones who will listen to you bitch about that work colleague that always has her cleavage out, listen to you whinge about your bloated tummy, or workshop that really annoying habit your partner/family member has.

5. One day you may not be part of a couple. Not something that everyone wants to think about, however a likely scenario at some point in your life whether it be temporarily or more permanently. Quite a few years back my boyfriend (who is now my husband) took a job that required him to be overseas for 12-16 weeks at a time. It was a massive adjustment for me, as I essentially spent a good portion of time living pretty much as a single gal. Without my friends and family, I would have been lost. I was turning up to parties and big events like weddings on my own, and he wasn’t around to celebrate my birthday for a few years too. My girlfriends (and my brother particularly) kept me entertained, ensuring I didn’t feel left out, and that my birthday was celebrated properly and in style.

It’s true you’ll always have family, but family is not always what you need. So put in the effort and nurture the friendships. As you grow older you’ll start to realise how important history is, and you’ll need people to reminisce with. And as you move through life, pick up as many good friends as you can service. Because your friends are the family that you choose.