How to Be Happy in Life: The Happy To Do List

Happy to do list

Happiness is a choice! This is my motto in my life and in my work. I coach many people on how to make this choice and find their own happiness.

One of the strategies in bringing happiness into our lives is to get into good habits that make us pay more attention to the good things we already have. It makes us feel happy about what we have in life and attract more of it through our focus.

Together, my clients and I come up with a simple “happy to do list” – a list of things they can do to change their happiness level within 3 weeks. This list follows the rule that it only takes 21 days to make a habit.

This Happy To Do list is written in past tense. It’s more of a list of accomplishments to tick once they are achieved. When you go over it, instead of seeing things you still need to do, your focus is on your successes.

I promise that if you do this every day, then after three weeks, you will feel happier.

Helping Kids Build Healthy and Powerful Character Traits

Little girl with a doll

Many parents talk to me about their kids’ character traits and behavior. “He is a stubborn kid. He was always stubborn” or “She is a nag. She nagged from the first day she came home”. I wonder how much of what these parents are describing is real character (permanent and unchangeable) and how much of it we can change.

All kids are born with their unique character, a personality. This becomes really obvious when you have your second child. You realize that some of how they behave is just something they are born with. You notice that they have a certain character from the very first day you spend with them.

Unfortunately, not all character traits are wonderful and great. How they develop later on in life depends mainly on how we view these traits and how we react to them. For example, many parents treat their kids’ behavior as a result of a character trait. Since character is solid and fixed, they thing this behavior cannot be changed.

This post is part 1 of 6 in the series Helping Kids Build Character

From the Life Coaching Deck: If-then Parenting Style

Here

Ashley was a very successful woman. She was brilliant and smart. She had been in a very solid and stable relationship with her husband of 12 years before they decided to have their daughter Mira.

When Mira was born, Ashley was 39, with a booming and successful business that took her away from home 2-3 days a week. Her husband Daryl decided he would take over the responsibilities of caring for Mira. He changed jobs and started working from home. Ashley continued to travel 2-3 days a week.

This seemed like a good arrangement in the beginning but the gap between Ashley and Daryl increased and they often had arguments about the best parenting style for Mira.

I met them both when Mira was 1 year old. At first, I thought they wanted to do the parenting program with me. After a while, I realized each of them was trying to convince me that their parenting style was the better one and that I should tell their partner this.

This post is part 1 of 11 in the series From the Life Coaching Deck

From the Life Coaching Deck: Learning to Want

Couple holding hands under the table

A while ago, I told the story of Magda and learning about the “wanting muscle” and choice. She learned that she was allowed to want things for herself. That she had to live by her own expectations.

Two weeks later, I saw Magda for the second time. She looked so much more alive and beautiful. Her skin was shiny and she was smiling and happy. She behaved like a giggling teen when she told me the list of her wants was getting bigger every day. Funnily enough, her daughter was the one who helped her with this homework task. Which was good news for Magda, because she had managed to teach her daughter that it was OK to want.

“I saw my mom 4 days ago and I am going again after work tomorrow. I have decided to take 4 days off in between. It is bliss. She still complains but no more than she did when I was there every day”. She was grinning from ear to ear.

The Stress Pill: Seeing Shadows of Lions

Stress ball shaped like a pill

I have written a lot about happiness over the years. I think happiness (in all its variations) is what everyone wants in life. For example, researchers found that parents name happiness as the ultimate goal of their parenting role. Happy parents = happy parenting = happy kids.

Happiness is not only the goal of parenting, it is also a most basic human goal. We are here to be happy, to find happiness and to enjoy it. We want to be happy with our relationships, with our families, at work, with our health, with money. We want to be happy with our friends and hobbies, with our achievements, with our homes. We want to be happy with what we have and we also want to be happy about some things we don’t have. For example, if I don’t have sick kids, that makes me externally happy.

One small thing that gets taken away from us helps us feel happy about what we have in our lives. For example, it’s only when you get a muscle cramp from lifting too much that you learn to appreciate the simple ability to raise your hand to the steering wheel or to take off your shirt. That is basic human nature, to define happiness by comparing it to unhappy times.

The most common obstacle to happiness is stress. In reality, stress is fear. It is fear that manifests in tensions that drive us into primal behavior (fight or flight). In the old days, it was what made us freeze in the face of a lion. While in the past, it was very obvious that lions, snakes and other scary animals were the enemy, today, the enemy is inside of us. We get anxious and stressed just thinking about a possible scary future.

This post is part 1 of 4 in the series The Stress Pill

Save Your Marriage: Have Good Sex

Two hands clasped on a sheet - good sex requires a good connection

Sex is one of the top three reasons why couples divorce. That means that it is highly important to work on improving your sex life. Of course, good sex goes hand in hand with good communication, trust, respect and working on keeping the relationship alive.

Attitude to sex is something many couples need to work on. In our growing life, there is not enough education about the importance of sex for health and wellbeing. It is a very sensitive topic that most people are left to learn from experience, friends or even the World Wide Web through porn movies (which unfortunately present a very unhealthy picture of the importance of sex and how to enjoy it).

Many of the clients I see who are separated or considering divorce report that sex was a major issue in their relationship. Not enough, not satisfying or enjoyable, too much, too little, too fast, too slow, only when drunk, feels like a chore, they feel their partner does not deserve it, no romance, not sexy. Every one of these is sad and painful for both parties.

This post is part 27 of 28 in the series Save Your Marriage

From the Life Coaching Deck: The Want Muscle

Not enough

Magda came to see me after 16 years of heartache and pain. She was referred by a client of mine. She had seen psychologists and psychiatrists before, but felt very criticized and had never gone for a second session with any of them.

When I finally got to meet her, I was a bit surprised. She was in her early fifties and looked amazing – almost like a doll. She was tiny and very well presented with beautiful skin.

Yet, during the first 10 minutes of introductions, she managed to say only bad things about herself. The gist of them was that she was not good enough, unworthy and helpless. She said 27 bad things about herself in those 10 minutes. I counted!

This made me very curious about her because at that point we had just met and I knew nothing about her.

Coaching is very much like solving a puzzle. I tried to gather information that would allow me to help Magda in a way that the other therapist could not. As it turns out, Magda was an only child, born to very old parents. Her dad died when she was very young and her mom never had another man in her life.

This post is part 10 of 11 in the series From the Life Coaching Deck

From The Life Coaching Deck: Abusive Parenting Cycle

Cow in a meadow

Recently, I wrote a post about parents who justify their bad parenting style by claiming they are better than their own parents. Parenting like this creates a cycle: bad parenting, leads to difficult children, who become bad parents, who raise difficult children, etc. Over the last 28 years, I have dedicated my work to breaking this cycle. To helping kids through helping their parents.

Last week, this topic came up again when I met a 16-year-old girl who came for teen coaching. I sat in front of her for almost 2 hours and was shocked at how mature and aware she was. She was sitting in the same balcony in which I have seen many grownups who did not understand half of the things she did. Last year, I started writing a fictional story about a girl with parent problems and anorexia. In front of me was this most beautiful, good looking girl with a similar story. It amazed me to discover that the story is so much worse when you see it in real life.

She was a 16 year old, living with abusive parents, who believed they were better than their own parents, because unlike them, they did not use physical violence. It surprised me that they sent her for life coaching though. It seemed very contradictory to what a controlling and abusive parent would do. Never-the-less, I asked about her grandparents to get a better picture. Things became crystal clear: they had been abusive parents, who raised abusive kids, who become abusive parents. This cycle would go on and on unless this troubled, 16 year old teen could stop the cycle with her awareness (if she survived the emotional abuse).

This post is part 11 of 11 in the series From the Life Coaching Deck

Justifying our Parenting Style

No justifying

Finding your own parenting style is not easy. Most of us adopt our parents’ parenting style, without regard really thinking about it. We don’t choose our parenting style, but let the style choose us.

We also like to think that we are better at parenting than our own parents. We often don’t notice how we use the exact same parenting styles we hated in them. To our credit, we sometimes manage to make small changes and this makes us think that we are better than them. We can do something they couldn’t. We think that the harder it was to make the changes, the better we are. This is not always true. In fact, the damage from our choices can be as bad for our own children as it was for us (or even worse).

This is a very hard concept for parents to understand. Kids see things completely differently. If your dad beat you with a belt or hot iron and you only use your hands to beat your own children, it is not very effective to tell your kids that you had it worse and that you are better than your own dad. When you hurt your kids, they can’t really be all “Pollyanna” about it (Pollyanna was a girl who always found the positive side of everything).

Save Your Marriage: On Guard

Fencing foil

In the last chapters of “Save Your Marriage”, I explained how some parenting styles can “breed” kids who clam up and withdraw into their shells. This communication style can be very devastating for them in their future relationships and marriage. In this chapter of the series, I will explain how parents who abuse or bully, like the “king/queen” or the nitpicker, can raise kids who are constantly on guard. These kids try to protect themselves from pain and heartache and by that, they invite bullies and conflicts into their lives.

Growing up in a household where you feel constantly attacked and ridiculed, where one or both of your parents make you feel small and helpless, where you have no support and protection, where one or both of your parents nitpick, criticize, complain, are never satisfied and often angry, can make children alert and hypersensitive to any small signs that someone is going to hurt them.

This is actually a very natural reaction, in an attempt to protect themselves. But when taken into adulthood, into relationships or marriage, it can be very damaging. There is a phrase, the best defense is offense. These kids adopt this philosophy because they were attacked a lot. As a result, they sometimes see an attack when there is none. They are very sensitive to criticism and their emotional state is “I am not OK, You’re not OK” (see series I’m OK, You’re OK Parenting for tips on emotional intelligence).

This post is part 25 of 28 in the series Save Your Marriage