How To Be Happy: Lessons From My Son

His little face is still all chapped from his cold, but I lovelovelove these photos of my sweet, blue-eyed boy. James is such a joy - always smiling his big, bright-eyed, tooth-y (he has FIVE teeth now!) grin that lights up the room, as well as the hearts of everyone who sees him. He is a happy baby...people tell us that everywhere we go. He loves life and loves people and just always has so much fun, no matter what we are doing.

It's contagious!

Watching my happy, cheerful, bright baby boy, I can't help but admire his optimism and joy. I want to capture some of it and infuse it into my own life.

Everything is new and interesting and exciting and wondrous to baby James. As we grow and have more and more experiences, some of that newness and wonder unavoidably and inevitably fades away. We discover that, along with the amazing and fun and beautiful, life also holds many unpleasant things. We learn what it means to feel pain, betrayal, disappointment, and fear. We become disillusioned, losing that innocence, blind trust, and curiosity.

But watching James, I see that he is the perfect example of how to be happy. Here are some things that I've learned from my son:

  • Try new things, new foods, new places, new activities. Step outside of your comfort zone - new things challenge us, thrill us, scare us, and teach us. We grow mentally and physically by doing new things. The mundane can be depressing, discouraging, boring...no growth takes place there.
    But to try something new...that is what puts the excitement in life. That is the adventure of it.

  • Trust. Dare to trust. Dare to give people the benefit of the doubt. With age comes wisdom and intuition and good judgement. Use those. But also, try to let your guard down and trust. Take a leap of faith.
    Time can harden our hearts...try to let yours soften and see what happens.

  • Ask for help. When James wants a toy that he can not reach on his own, or when he wants to go somewhere that he can't get to, he turns to me and makes it clear that he would like help. He has no pride that gets in the way of receiving help when he needs it. Our pride often stands between us and our goals, and at times, even our needs. We become so intent on independence and self-sufficiency, which are important things, without a doubt. But it is also important to recognize the times when we would be better off and more successful by asking for help. There is no shame in acknowledging that we can not or should not do something on our own.

  • Appreciate the little things. My son takes such pleasure from the very littlest of things. Tickles on his tummy, a funny sounding voice, a silly word, birds chirping, a squirrel standing on a path, splashing water, a spoon banging a pot, his dog licking his face... watching him giggle and experience SO MUCH GENUINE JOY from the simplest of things makes my heart swell and yearn to be so easily HAPPY. We should remember that happiness, joy, and grace can be found in the little things...the things and events and items and experiences that maybe we have come to take for granted.
    Try to be consciously and intentionally grateful for the little things.

  • Show more affection. Cuddles, slobbery, open-mouthed kisses, gentle caresses of the face and arms and chest, a warm bright smile, holding hands...these signs of affection are second-nature to James. He shows his love so openly and so honestly. That kind of love is so rare. Life lends itself to heart-ache and each of us has - or will probably - experience betrayal, hurt-feelings, or heartbreak at some point. Experiences train us to be guarded with our emotions and with our feelings. We hold back, even at times when maybe what we should really do is rush into someone's arms and give them a big smile and kiss. Sometimes it is right to be unashamedly in love, enamored, and infatuated. Sometimes we need to cuddle, to touch, and to openly, genuinely adore...in all of the vulnerability that that entails.

My son is honest, kind, grateful, curious, loving, vulnerable, trusting, and brave. He has so much joy and happiness in his heart, and he has already, in his short little 8 months of life, been the greatest teacher I have ever known.

A Case For Gratitude

There are moments in life when you are overcome with a sense of gratefulness - where you are totally consumed by a warm feeling of joy and thankfulness. It might be while watching a sunrise, or while holding a precious child. Maybe it’s when a family member or friend does something selfless or thoughtful for you. Or when you get a job that you’ve been dreaming about, or get engaged, or adopt a new puppy… No matter what causes it, there is no denying: gratitude is a good feeling.

But, for most people, that feeling of gratitude is short lived and only comes around every once in awhile when something special or exciting or extraordinary occurs. Think about how wonderful it would be to feel that sense of gratitude all of the time. Luckily, gratitude - that feeling of immense thankfulness and an awareness of the blessings in life - is something that can be cultivated through practice and through focus. It is a habit…a state of mind. You can set the intention to feel gratitude throughout each day. And the cool thing is, when you look for things to be grateful for in your life, you will find them…and you will realize that there are WAY more things in your life for you to be grateful for than you ever could have imagined. 

Cultivating a habit of gratefulness will lead to you viewing all of the beautiful - and even the not so beautiful at first glance - things in your life as gifts, and you will then see just how much you have been given in life. You will see that when you focus on being grateful for things (no matter how small) in every day, and on looking for the good in each situation, you will be much happier. Happiness is a choice: you can either choose to be happy, or to not be happy. In fact, it’s the simplest of choices. If you choose to be happy, then be happy! Gratitude can help to get you there. Even in the most unfortunate of circumstances, there are ways to look at a situation in which you can find things to be grateful for. And focusing on gratitude and the blessings and lessons in each moment of your day will contribute to your increased happiness.

Some great ways to cultivate a habit of gratitude include meditation, starting a gratitude journal, and doing a little check whenever you think of it by taking a moment to breathe deeply, close your eyes, and think of three things that you are grateful for. How can you not be happy when thinking about life’s blessings? If you are in a situation that feels scary, overwhelming, frustrating, depressing, infuriating, or hopeless…try to think of how the situation may in some way be a blessing. Maybe there is a lesson that can be learned? Maybe there is a chance to start new or to learn something about yourself? Maybe there is a chance to grow stronger? Maybe there is an opportunity to try something new or meet new people? Maybe there is a chance to reflect on something beautiful? I promise that if you LOOK for things to be thankful for…you can find them. And you will be happier, less stressed, and healthier for it. 

This is a great article on the health benefits of gratitude. Check it out here if you are interested!

How to you cultivate gratitude in your daily life?

xo, Anna

Love What You've Got: A Reminder About Social Media

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Do what you love. With the rise of social media, we are constantly being bombarded with images and stories of people doing cool stuff, and of new things to lust after. When you spend time scrolling through Instagram or Facebook, you will see the parts of peoples' lives that they choose to share with the world. What does this mean? It means that those happy pictures and epic adventures that you see on social media are not the whole story. Rarely do people share their not-so-fine moments, their hardships, or their failures. You will probably not see too many pictures of things that are not brand new and exciting and impressive. People tend to share the most interesting, ground-breaking, and envy-inspiring parts of their lives, and it is important to keep this in mind when you feel yourself starting to feel inadequate or jealous.

We, as a part of today's society, tend to want more. We want more money, more vacations, more adventures, more peace, more clothes, more house, more cars, more hours in each day, more friends, more love, more admiration... We are constantly stressing over changing and improving ourselves - over our perceived inadequacy in comparison to the parts of peoples' lives to which we are privy through social media. We yearn to be thinner, more fit, taller, better-looking... to go on more adventures and climb bigger mountains and hike further and surf bigger waves. After awhile, it becomes difficult to just stop all of the "wanting" and think, for a moment, about all of the amazing aspects of your life; about the impressive things that you have accomplished and about all of the beautiful things for which you have to be thankful.

Social Media can be a wonderful thing in so many ways. It is great for businesses to promote their services. It can be a source of inspiration with which to look at people doing things that make them happy and that encourage you to do what makes you happy. It can be a catalyst that makes you want to try something new. It can be a platform for news, and a means of keeping in touch with people. It can be a way to learn about new gear, new products, and new trends. It can show you ways to pursue and live a healthier lifestyle. Social Media has such positive potential.

Just keep in mind what parts of peoples' lives you are seeing and realize that it is not the whole picture. Take inspiration from what you can and allow yourself to be motivated and to strive to better yourself. But also, remember who you are and remember all of the amazing things that you have done and that you will do. Keep in mind the wonderful things that you have and be thankful for them. That is a sure-fire way to a satisfied life. Don't stress about the cool new things that your friend just bought and wrote about on facebook that you can't afford, or the incredible, awe-inspiring climb another friend did in Glacier National Park. Appreciate the motivation that such posts can give you and work on achieving your own sense of fulfillment and satisfaction. Be proud of the life you live, and love what you've got.