Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Getting Back to Happy

The year I started this blog about one of my passions
(learning more about how to be happy), my mother
died, my dog died and a close family member got very
sick.  I needed the information on my own blog,
but a whole series of negative events happened in
 my life, and I didn't have the energy or verve to write it.

Which is too bad.  Since then I've concentrated on my
art blog Barbara Muir Paints, and that's been good.
I just realized the other day that I'm close to having
written 2,000 blogs on that site, and that will be an
achievement to celebrate.

As Shawn Achor says, being happy is the start, not
the end result.  First you work on being happy,
and everything else follows.  I'm reading a novel
now about a very unhappy woman who is given
this advice, and has to try and discover what
makes her happy.

Let's think about it today. What makes you happy?
Knowing you are out there thinking about how to
be happy makes me very happy -- so does the hot
chocolate I will drink in a few minutes, and the thought
of the wonderful people I'll see in the class I teach tonight.
What else? The animals (two cats and a dog, all having their
afternoon naps against various heat ducts).  The picture
above is a kind of summary of what makes me happy --
drawing, art, flowers, coffee, reading. And that's for starters.

Have a doing what makes you happy day.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Inspiration is key

 A writer I know works with his 
faithful companion -- the dog.
I am always excited when I discover more intelligent proof
for the importance of happiness.  It helps me add to
my understanding of why I think happiness is so vital.
My latest source is a short TED talk by
Shawn Achor, founder of GoodThink Inc. called
The Happy Secret to Better Work.  Achor was a professor
at Harvard for 10 years.  His Happiness course was
one of the most popular courses on campus. It makes
perfect sense to me that as Achor says people assume
that achievement and success leads to happiness,
when in fact it's the other way around.  Like the title
of my blog, Smile First, it turns out that happiness
comes first.  Happy people are more productive.
Our brains work more efficiently when we're happy.
But one of the most exciting messages in his talk
was that 5 actions can change your level of
happiness in 21 days. 

Here are his recommendations
1. Being grateful for 3 things each day
2. Writing in a journal daily, about one beautiful
or positive experience in the day.
3. Exercising.
4. Meditation and
5. Doing random acts of kindness.

Since listening to the talk last week I've been following
his plan. Writing down three things I'm grateful for every day
makes me think about the good parts of my life. Most
of the time I could write a much longer gratitude list, but in hard
times those three things can turn a day around. The positive
journal idea, helps me hold on to what is meaningful and
memorable in my life. Exercising is a vital way to show
ourselves that we matter. It requires a certain daily discipline,
plus it's fun, so it boosts our happiness.  And being kind makes us feel
happy.  It all comes back to the core message that in order
to love others, we have to love ourselves first.  When the
day is done, if we can look back and see the good in the
day, and that we were kind, we know we are honouring the
best in ourselves, and that leads to happiness.

Watch this fabulous talk if you haven't already.
Achor is a wonderful speaker, and has definitely inspired me
to be happier.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Keeping the kids happy

 Ava, Lili and Wrenna -- sisters enjoying a great summer
It’s summer – long days and no school make parents
busy planning how to keep their children happy.  No
parent wants to see those long days disappear on
television and worse – boredom.

But how do children think about happiness and 
summer? I interviewed girls of three different ages
in one family to get their thoughts. All three said that 
they had always been happy, that they like being with 
their family. These lucky girls have parents who take 
an active interest in their delight in life, and encourage 
their passions.

The youngest Wrenna is a duct tape artist.  We started
talking and she showed me a large box filled with
bright coloured wallets, cell phone covers, and even a
purse.  I had no idea duct tape came in so many colours
and patterns, bright reds,  and blues, ice cream patterned,
leopard skin duct tape?  Wrennna laughed.  Her wallets
are very pro – lots of sections for cards, money stamps.

Plus she paints.  Suddenly her sister covered the table in
Wrenna's brilliant canvasses. Her level of creativity,
and skill was impressive.  This summer she is going to
be going camping with her family, and she loves that activity. 

The only thing she could think of that ever made her unhappy
was a giant salad that she didn’t like, a terrific indication that
this is a happy child.

11 almost 12

Lili who is going into Grade 7 loves being with 
her family, going on bike rides, visiting her 
grandfather on his farm.  She loves travelling with 
her family.  “We went to Argentina and that was so 
much fun!"  Like many preteens she enjoys socializing 
with friends. “My family is funny and jokes around a lot,” 
she says.  The only thing that makes her unhappy is 
when her sisters get “in her business,” go into her room.

This summer she’s going to Miakonda, a summer 
camp, where she’ll sleep in a tent with her fellow 
campers.  She’s looking forward to doing arts and
 crafts and canoeing there.

Family camping is a highlight of her summer too. 
 “We like going hiking and canoeing.  Once we saw
 a moose, and that was really cool.” We’ll spend a 
lot of time at the cottage.

In quiet moments Lili loves reading and is reading
 the Harry Potter books now.  She’s read Anne of Green
 Gables, and The Hunger Games.  Plus she likes poetry.
She is an artist too.  She brought me a large canvas 
painted in acrylics in a deep rose colour, then cut in 
an abstract pattern so the edges curled.  The painting 
was both a painting and sculptural -- and shows real

Ava is very happy about the summer vacation because 
she is going to visit one of her aunts in San Francisco
 alone.  She says she can’t wait to go to the farmers'
 markets and the street fairs  while she’s there. 

The teenager says that she’s always been happy.  
 She loves listening to music.  I asked her about her
 favorite groups. She likes Pamplemousse,  
Walk of the Earth, and Mumford and Sons.

During the school year her parents have strict 
rules about when she can text, call or use Facetime. 
 “No iPad after 9 o’clock, no talking to people you 
don’t know, no iPad, or TV on school days.  So now 
that school’s out it's great that she can enjoy her iPad
any time she says laughing.

If she gets sad or moody, she says it helps to 
think about why she’s sad, listen to happy music,
 or watch a super TV show like Glee.   

Kids are not that different from adults.  What makes
 them happy is being active and following their
 interests.  This summer these sisters will have plenty 
of occasions to experience the kind of time that will
 create warm memories of a great summer when 
they are back in school.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Happy People -- The Bellini-Boyle family -- Mom and Dad

 Linda Bellini and Declan Boyle
Happiness is about mutual respect
I'm beginning a series on happy people.  There is so much
information available on happiness, that I'd like to explore
how specific people define it.  What makes them happy?,
how do they conquer the blues?  What are their tips for
getting and staying in a happy frame of mind.

Last week I had the pleasure of talking to Linda Bellini,
an IT consultant and Declan Boyle, a Fitness Industry
expert.  They are a happily married couple
with three beautiful daughters 10, 11 and 13.

What makes this family work well?
Sitting at the kitchen table I asked Linda and Declan
what it is about their own family life that makes
them happy.  It was a brilliant sunny day and outside
their garden showed the love and care they put into their

"I grew up with three brothers," Linda says  "I have three
kids, and I love having people around.  I like to know
that every time I turn around there's someone there.
Even if the girls are fighting I like being together.
I like the energy and the fact that there's always
something happening.  I enjoy being part of a family."

Declan agrees.  Both parents like doing things
with their children, going for bike rides, or skiing.
Outdoor activities are a big hit.  "A family that
does things together and wants to see the best
for other family members creates a happy
family life," he says.

Are they getting better at being happy as they get older?
"Definitely," they assure me.  Despite their beautiful home
and lovely family, they are not stress free.  Declan is between
jobs at the moment and looking for work.  But his attitude is
delightfully positive.  "I get to spend more time with my kids,
and to be here when they get home from school."

Linda, who has a demanding job in the IT business is a
devoted and affectionate Mom.  With three kids and a high
stress job, she recharges by taking time out in the day to
be alone.  "I love reading," she says. "I'm enjoying
Game of Thrones at the moment." Facebook lets her catch
up on relatives in Italy, and as an escape from the pressures
of work, she likes to relax reading Hollywood gossip blogs.

Does this happily married couple have tips for other
couples wanting a strong, and loving relationship?
They do.  Here are some of them:

1. Respect each other.  This means listening to each other
and being there 100%.

2. Check in.  Stop and really make that connection
a few times every day. Ask, 'Hey, how are you doing?'

3.  Understand, appreciate and accept your differences.
Linda comes from an Italian family where confrontation
was the norm.  Declan's Irish family were the complete
opposite.  No one discussed issues.   It's important
to realize that in a couple you are both different, and
respect that difference with your friends, your beliefs
and traditions. You have to make sure that the key
differences that matter are acknowledged and

4.  Take an inventory of what's going well.  You may
be having a hard time with work, helping your children,
an ailing parent, but take comfort in all the things
that are going well in your life.  "Count your lucky
stars," Declan says.

5. Get outside.  The whole family recommends this one.
Appreciating the great outdoors cheers them up and
makes them happy.

6.  Don't take yourself too seriously.  Or lighten up.
Realize that in most cases whether or not you're
happy or sad is your own decision -- so pick happy.

More to come:  Stay tuned next week for the kids'
point of view.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

10 Reasons to be Happy

 Sometimes a good cup of coffee with friends will
cheer you up.
Here's a little exercise that can really help on a day
when life seems too hard. It's called 10 Reasons
 to be Happy.

I have tried this exercise in classes for years with
surprising results.  People who have lived through
the most horrifying events can start to feel better
when they can come up with even one small reason
to be happy.

And for those of us blessed with leading
 fairly decent lives most of the time, it's good
 to focus on what's working, instead of what's not.

I'm a good candidate for this today because I have
a cold and the flu. So here's how it works.  The
 reasons don't have to be earth shatteringly
magnificent.  If you're really down you may just
be happy to be alive.

My list today:
1.  I am almost finished my portrait commission

2. Steven is getting better, which means there's hope
    for me.

3. It was a beautiful day.

4.  I sat outside for a few minutes with the cat.

5. Steven bought enough lemons for me to make
   lots of hot lemon to get rid of this cold.

6. William Kuhn who wrote the wonderful
     novel Mrs. Queen Takes The Train wished
     me well on my art blog.

7. There was a great conversation about the word
    hashtag on Q on CBC Radio this morning.

8.  We had pasta and tomato sauce with tuna for

9. New people have visited my art blog and

10. You are reading this and got to number 10.
       (and so did I).

In a class setting 10 people go to the front of the
room and each of them says, "I am happy today
because."  A strange thing happens.  No matter
how grumpy the group was before that exercise,
or how grizzly the day, people start to laugh and
smile and the mood lifts.  Ideas and words have
power.  I do believe that frequently happiness is
a choice.  If we can, let's choose that state.

Have a finding-reasons-to-be-happy day

Friday, March 22, 2013

Do your own thing

A happy mother with her child
Photo by Barbara Muir © 2013
This happiness idea is for parents.  New babies and toddlers
are all consuming.  They absolutely require the kind
of attention we give them.  But as much as they are
our hope for the future, they are also their own hope for
their own futures.  As soon as they can walk and talk
and go to school, they will be starting their own lives
with their own ideas.

We need to go back to living our own lives, as much
as possible, as soon as we can, and give them room
 to breathe, grow and become who they want to be.
My sister, who is a therapist calls this the concept
of "benevolent neglect," which is about loving and
fostering our children, but not doing their lives
for them, or living our own lives through them. 
I see so many young adults trying to study science,
when they want to be fashion designers, trying to be
 good at sports, when they want to do art, or be
French teachers. 

If we aren't careful as parents to carry on with our
own hopes and dreams, as well as nurturing our
children's dreams, we'll be working on creating
clones.  Clones aren't happy, free people who
can choose to be anything they want to be -- they're
copies, and unhappy imitations at best.

If we take our kids to ballet, or the Science Fair,
cheer them on, but don't think of their success
as our entire life's purpose, ironically they have
a better chance of thriving and loving what they
choose to do independently.

If we can do that -- continue to focus on what
we love to do, even after we have a family --
our children will thank us one day.

Have a-focusing-on-your-own-dreams day.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Happy International Happiness Day

Ready for Joy
Barbara Muir © 2011
(I'm using the same image on both blogs tonight
because that arms in the air happy pose is the
subject of the first blog on this site, and it
is the universal posture of over-the-top happy people.) 

Today seems like a great day to announce this
blog to the world. I have been pretty busy with the
rest of my life, and that is a good thing according to
experts -- busy people are happier.  So what's up?
Well it's the first ever International Happiness Day,
and the United Nations has recognized the importance
of happiness to its 193 member states.

I've been thinking a lot about happiness and couples.
This is the first day of spring, but outside it's
still winter and it's been a long one. One of my
students loaned me a book that was
featured on Oprah's Life Class series this
winter -- The Five Love Languages by
Gary Chapman.  This book has transformed the
way I look at talking to my husband, and I'm
sure you'd enjoy it whether you are married, or
 in a love relationship, or not.

The author proposes that the main reason we are
on the planet is to be loving. That's not a new message,
but the way he applies it to marriage (and it can work
 in friendship and in all of your relationships) is if that's
our primary purpose, we'll think twice before criticizing,
joking about our mates in a negative way, or putting our
partners down with other people.

Will this destroy the humour in your relationships?
I haven't found that to be true.  I think my husband
and I have had more fun, and laughed more since
I started reading Chapman's book, than we ever
did before.  And we have always loved anything

What may disappear is sarcasm -- which doesn't
really help intimate partners, or for that matter friends,
family, or work mates.  The put down is a big part of
North American life.  But in one on one relationships,
and in relationships between countries -- it doesn't lead
to happiness.

What does help is praise, and kindness -- but as Chapman
points out we have to learn how to talk to one another first.
His book goes a long way to teaching us how to transform
our love relationships.  More loving = more loved, and
that will make us happier.

Welcome to my blog and

Happy International Happiness Day.