Tag Archives: generosity

Happy

Yesterday evening, I watched a documentary called Happy. This film explores what makes people happy. It was a welcome reminder of what happiness really is and all the ways we can work on and maintain happiness in our lives.

Interestingly, our genetic makeup determines 50 per cent of our happiness. Some of us are just born happier! Circumstance (where we live, our job, life events) only contributes 10 per cent towards our happiness. So we have a whole 40 per cent to work with. We have the power to boost our own happiness. It’s a personal choice. And one well worth making.

So because it’s always good to be reminded of how to be happy, and especially coming up to Christmas, I’m going to share a few of the best ways to promote happiness.

1. Gratitude: Recalling all the things you’re grateful for really makes you appreciate all you have. I’m currently keeping a 30-day gratitude journal where I write 10 things each day that I’m grateful for and the reasons why. Afterwards, I read them aloud. So by day 30, I’ll have 300 wonderful things to read. I’m only on Day 6 but already I’m feeling the change in my mood and my energy. And it’s making me more aware of the abundance of things I have to be grateful for as I go about my days.

2. Compassion: Caring for others is guaranteed to make you feel good too. Try completing a random act of kindness. Give a stranger a free parking ticket, donate clothes to the homeless or volunteer to work with the ill or the elderly. Helping others unites you with your fellow man. Doing meaningful things with your time fills you with a sense of purpose and pride. Another way of bringing compassion into your life is to do a Loving-Kindness meditation where you focus on sending love and kindness to yourself and to others. This form of meditation has even been known to help with depression.

3. Flow: Do things that bring you into a state of flow. When you’re in flow, you’re totally in tune with what you’re doing. You’re present. Time stands still. For some people, this could be painting or playing piano. It could be scuba diving or upcycling, surfing or sewing. Uncover your passion, get your creative juices bubbling and enter the flow.

4. Dopamine: Dopamine is a hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain. In simple terms, it’s a feel-good chemical. We release this chemical when we perform rewarding activities like eating and having sex. However as we age, this hormone is produced less and less. The good news is that the more we show our bodies that we need this chemical, the more our bodies will continue to make it. It’s like a muscle that gets bigger the more we exercise it. Aerobic activity is great for stimulating dopamine release. Interestingly, if we work out in novel ways, even more dopamine is released. So instead of your usual jog, sign up for The Color Run. Rather than hitting the gym, go rock climbing or white water rafting. Replace walking around the estates with a hike to a spectacular location.

5. Mix it Up: Following on from the previous tip, another way to prevent yourself from sliding into monotony is to change things around. Take an alternate route when you’re walking your dog. Try out a different café. Attempt a fresh recipe from that book that’s been collecting dust ever since you received it three Christmasses ago. Join an adventure club. Attend a Meetup outing and make new friends. Travel to a destination on the opposite side of the map. After watching Happy, Bhutan is now on my bucket-list. Bhutan is a place located on the slopes of the Himalayas that officially uses Gross National Happiness as an indicator to measure quality of life in holistic and psychological terms. Now that’s my kinda country!

As you can see from the list above, the road to happiness is simple. And it’s free. In fact, once our basic needs are met, money does very little to increase happiness.

Happiness is sharing a meal with your loved ones. Happiness is laughing over a latte with friends. Happiness is being present with your children. Happiness is being astonished by the beauty of nature and the miracle of life. Happiness is when you realise  just how rich you really are.

Tuesdays with Morrie

I pick up a little book called Tuesdays with Morrie while on holidays in Spain. I saw it years ago but avoided it because the blurb on the back made me worry that it’d be a depressing read. It is about a dying professor (Morrie Schwartz) and his younger student (Mitch Albom). This time, I am ready. I devour it in two sittings. And I cry and cry and cry.

It isn’t that it’s unbearably sad. It’s just so touching, it moves me like nothing else has for a long time. I can feel Morrie’s energy with me as I finish the memoir. I love him. I can honestly say that he (and the endearingly honest Mitch) has changed my life. The gradual shift in Mitch’s attitude inspires me almost as much as Morrie’s wisdom.

Morrie allowed himself to let go, to be vulnerable, and to ask for help. He observed that, when you’re an infant, you need help from others and, when you grow old, you require their assistance also. However, what we fail to acknowledge is that we need other people in between times too.

Morrie told the tale of the little wave that witnessed other waves crashing against the shore. The wave wailed, fearfully: “Oh no, look! This is the fate that awaits us. How horrible!” Another wave reassured him: “Don’t fret, little one, for you are not a wave, you are part of the ocean.” As Rumi wrote: “You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean, in a drop.”

Morrie’s message has made me realise how closed off I’d become. I’d tell myself that “I like my own space”. I’d go home while co-workers would sit and have tea, a chat and a laugh. I’d stay alone in the flat watching episode after episode of The Good Wife. I’d spend weekends preparing classes instead of exploring the countryside with loved ones. I’d retire early rather than spend time with friends.

I still believe that there should be a balance between rest, work and play and between stillness, silence and moments of noise and interaction. But Morrie’s story has shown me that the most important thing in life is to love. To share what you have with others. To give another human being the gift of your time. Morrie said that he was always 100 per cent present with whomever he was speaking. When he was talking with Mitch, he thought only of Mitch. This resonates with me as I am often in the company of others when I’m not really there. I’m thinking of what needs to be done, or how I shouldn’t have eaten that or I might even be putting a photo through Instagram while somebody attempts to converse with me.

Morrie’s big, brave, generous heart has made me resolve to really live life, to connect with people, to appreciate nature, to question the values we’ve been brainwashed into adopting, to understand that love and peace are what’s true and priceless compared with ever-changing, unreliable material and physical possessions. One of my new goals is to do something that makes me feel alive every single day. I also promise to be present with people, as if each encounter were our last, and to ask, in the words of Robert Holden in his book Loveability: “How can I love you more?”

I have a couple of hours before I have to head for the airport. I could go for a last swim at what the locals call the “healing beach”. But it’s a bit of a walk, I mentally argue. And it’d mean packing a wet bikini. Then, I remember that I’m living life. So I set off in my flip-flops, carrying a pink towel. A line of ants and a yellow butterfly cross my path. A lone purple wildflower on this dry dirt track reduces me to tears. I offer an Hola and a smile to an old man sitting alone. He returns my smile, its corners clipped with surprise. An elderly couple stroll ahead, hand-in-hand. Yet again, my eyes mist. I beam as I spot a set of keys a stranger has carefully balanced atop a bollard.

My breasts bob and sway as my feet flap upon the sand. I feel like an ancient elephant striding across the desert. I inhale the scent of my sweat that has collected in cracks and creases. A homeless man sits on a wall behind the beach. I abandon my beach bag and strip. I don’t suck in my stomach. Not today. I duck my head into the ocean even though my hair was freshly washed this morning. I am alive.

Mitch and Morrie used to say, “We’re Tuesday people” because they usually met on Tuesdays. And I am writing this piece on a Tuesday, watching the waves surge and retreat, with tears in my eyes and a heart that’s breaking… wide open.

Image: Author's own

Image: Author’s own

Reap what you Sow

I just received a gift. A big one. I am shocked and delighted. And I can see how much pleasure these extremely generous people are deriving from my reaction. Yet there is an element of resistance within me. It’s like I feel it is unfair for me to be presented with this when other people would have to work hard to get it.

For the past number of months, every morning before I get out of bed and sometimes before I fall asleep, I’ve been giving gratitude for all the wonderful aspects of my life. For those who haven’t heard of the law of attraction, the theory is that whatever you put your attention on multiplies. I don’t believe it’s really about material manifestations. Rather, it involves generating more of that beautiful feeling of gratitude, and this means creating more things in your life that you’re grateful for.

So even though I hadn’t specifically asked for this, and a part of me feels oddly guilty upon receiving it, my attitude of gratitude is working. Clearly, I have issues I need to be aware of. So I can start believing I deserve good things in my life. So I can understand that guilt is a useless, destructive emotion. So I can realise that things don’t have to be difficult. And so I can stop caring what others might think of me. If I manage to achieve all that, who knows what other exciting surprises are just around the corner.

I want amazing things for you too so I suggest that you start practising gratitude daily. Keep a gratitude journal or mentally list off a number of things you’re thankful for each day. And watch the little (and large) miracles that come your way. Enjoy. You deserve it.

picstopin.com

picstopin.com

Wish you a Merry Christmas

“Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.”

When I read this quote by Hamilton Wright Mabie, it made me realise that Christmas is a wonderful occasion. Without it, the winter would be long and dark and joyless. Because of it, we decorate our homes and celebrate with loved ones. We prepare delicious meals and spend time with friends and family. We organise parties and string coloured lights across our streets. We give each other gifts and take time to rest and have fun. We sing along to much-loved tunes and give more generously to those in need. And we allow ourselves a sprinkle of hope and magic as we acknowledge the birth of baby Jesus and anticipate the sound of sleigh bells for Santa’s annual visit.

Unfortunately, some people dread this time of year. The pressure of spending money on presents and getting the house ready for visitors, the long dark cold evenings and, for those who have lost a loved one, the memories of happier Christmases past, are difficult to handle. However, there are many reasons to be thankful for this beautiful season. Here are some of mine…

Nature is stunning when it dresses for winter…

liffey walk

december liffey

icy walk

Fairy lights, candles and the scent of Christmas trees…

xmas tree

This year, I am choosing to focus on the best qualities of Christmas – generosity, love, laughter and fun, holidays and rest, good food and movies, parties, games and warm fires, loved ones who travel home from far off lands, and Christmas songs…

So, how about connecting with the true spirit of Christmas this year? The authentic sentiments of love, hope and blessings. Give your loved ones the best present of all – the gift of your presence. Your happiness. Your joy. And spread the goodwill all around. Ho ho ho!

Images: Author’s own.

Giving Change

I recently received an email from an old friend, who’s living abroad. She was writing to tell me that my blog has really inspired her to stop and look at life and has made her realise how lucky she is. She continued:

“Today, I was rushing to get to the shops before they closed when I saw a man, alone in the snow. He was shaking. I was a bit apprehensive but I thought: ‘I can’t leave him. It’s minus 10 and instinct tells me he needs help.’ So, I stopped. It turns out he had Parkinson’s and had hurt his arm. I phoned for a taxi and paid the driver to bring him to the hospital. The look of relief in the old man’s eyes when he sat in and shook my hand was heart breaking. I really think reading your words has changed my way of thinking. I’ve always had a lot of empathy but it takes courage to do something about a situation that’s a bit intimidating. Thanks, Sharon.”

This story brought tears to my eyes. Only days previously, another woman had told me I should stop publishing my work on the internet because I’m not getting paid for it, and on top of that, somebody could steal it. But this unexpected email reminded me why I’m doing what I’m doing.

Not everything we do has to result in monetary, or even personal, gain. Occasionally, people surprise us by giving, without looking for anything in return. The other day, I stepped onto a busy Luas (Dublin tram) when I felt a tap on the shoulder. I looked around at a dishevelled young man, who carried a sleeping bag under his arm. He said:

“Sorry, luv. I just wanted to let you know that your bag’s open. Be careful ‘coz someone could snatch your purse.”

I thanked him and zipped up my handbag. We then chatted about his life as a homeless person. He spoke about how he tries to rustle up enough money each day to stay in a hostel. Otherwise, he sleeps on the streets. I waited for him to ask me for some change (of which I had none – I’d given my last few coins as a tip to a waitress) but at the next stop, he simply said, “See ya luv” and was gone. “Take care!”, I called after him, feeling helpless yet totally moved. Yesterday, it snowed. I hope he’s okay.

Speaking of looking for change, check out this inspiring short film… 

‘Tis the season of giving presents to our loved ones but how about, this Christmas, giving or doing something special for somebody who really needs it?

Random act of kindness

Last week, I was presented with an interesting assignment: give something to a complete stranger. I loved the idea! Little did I know how difficult I would actually find it…

I gleefully pondered the many wonderful things I could bestow upon a stranger. I could buy someone a coffee or hand a child a large, coloured lollipop. I could pay for someone’s parking or help an elderly person across the street. I could saunter up to a solitary diner in a café and present them with a beautiful lemon cupcake. I could purchase a bus ticket for the person behind me in the queue.

But I repeatedly talked myself out of each idea. They’ll think I’m crazy. My motives will be questioned. It’s easier to just look after myself. I marvelled at my own hesitation.

Three days later, I still hadn’t completed my mission, and I was having a pretty horrible week. Money worries, strife with a loved one, and a serious dose of PMS. I was hardly in any form to accomplish this random act of kindness.

Today, after a triathlon of tears, free-flow writing and meditation, I dragged myself out the door. And someone from a passing car fired an egg at me! Its insides dribbled across my runners. I wanted to cry.

I considered going home immediately as I silently wailed: Who would want to make someone cry? Then, I wondered: Was the energy I was giving off attracting all this negativity? The car had long gone and I hadn’t reacted. I sent the goon with the great aim some loving thoughts, took a deep breath, and made up my mind to be strong and turn things around. It was now or never.

inspiringbetterlife.blogspot.com

I popped into a shop and bought a Cornetto. A man wearing sunglasses walked my way.

I tried: “Hi. Can I give you an ice cream?”

“I don’t want it,” he muttered as he side-stepped me.

I felt bad but I recognised his scepticism towards my altruism, and moved on. A few others approached me.

“Would anyone like a Cornetto?” I ventured.

“Why?” asked an elderly lady.

“Because I’d like to give this to someone.”

She took it and queried,” How much do you want for it?”

“Nothing,” I answered. “I just wanted to give it to someone.”

With that, she beamed and said: “Thank you. That’s very kind.”

I walked home with a renewed light in my eyes and a smile on my lips. As I neared my flat, a young boy grinned at me and bellowed, “Hi!” The negative energy I had been wallowing in melted away in this child’s generous greeting.

This once-assumed easy task taught me a lot. It showed me that I still care what people think of me. It confirmed that what we’re thinking about the world will be perfectly mirrored back to us. I realised how suspicious people can be of simple acts of kindness but that is merely because these acts are so rare. When you do something with a pure heart, the self-protective barriers will subside, and the results will be extremely rewarding for both giver and receiver.

Now, I have an assignment for you, my lovely readers. Give something to a complete stranger. Take note of what happens and be aware of how you’re thinking and feeling before, during and after the act. It will teach you some valuable lessons and it will make a lucky stranger’s day.

"The universe is exactly the way we think it is and that's why." John Woods

Featured image: Painting by Pamela Cisneros