No Shortcuts Here

Truth Byte #70:

“Hard work before glory work.”





A couple years ago, I taught my son to do the laundry. I am an equal opportunity employer, and I think all my children (aka mini-helpers) should be able to eventually manage a household. His favourite part of doing the laundry has always been pouring in the liquid detergent and fabric softener. He calls the detergent the “yolk”. Another feature of our washing machine is that the buttons all have different tones, so when you are punching in the settings, it sounds like a little song. So of course, he also loves pushing the buttons.

For the past few years, whenever I was doing laundry, he asked to “put in the yolk and press the buttons”. Sometimes I let him, because I’m a mom and it’s a reasonable, doable, non-life-threatening request that teaches him something.

But sometimes I didn’t.

Sometimes I didn’t because secretly, I love pushing the buttons

On those times when I was really wanting to push the buttons, I would say to him, “If you want to do the glory work, you have to do the hard work.” And that’s how he got interested in learning to load the washing machine on his own. Hard work first, glory work next. There is no point pouring yolk and pushing the buttons if there are no dirty clothes to wash.

Ok, so what does this have to do with counselling?

You have to do the hard work to get to do the glory work.

People seek out therapy when they have tried everything else they can think of and nothing has really worked. Most people (except counsellors) come to counselling as a last ditch effort to make sense of their problems and get through them. They know how they want to feel. They can imagine what it will feel like to pour that yolk and can almost hear the delightful sounds of the buttons. What they forget is that the hard work comes first and they will have to face that incredibly smelly pile of dirty laundry before anything else.

We can’t bypass the hard part and reach happily ever after. It simply doesn’t work that way.

I had a friend reach out to me a while ago about her relationship with her husband, and how she was so tired of saying the same old thing year after year. She felt she wasn’t being heard, and she had come to the end of the line: she wanted to separate. We talked a little bit about what that would be like for her, and then I shared a little bit of what I have been learning lately about the male brain.  

  • Did you know that women can read facial expressions and tones of voice that don’t even register in the brains of men?
  • Did you know men, from before birth, are wired to learn with their eyes and bodies more than their ears?
  • Did you know that women can hear and distinguish two sounds simultaneously while men concentrate on one sound and everything else becomes white noise?
  • Did you know men bond with each other by doing activities together women bond with each other by talking?

A lot of this is basic brain-wiring! Of course, there are always exceptions and outliers, so not everyone will fit into these simplified differences, but, in general men’s brains tend to be more like other male brains than like female brains.

The first thing is to do the hard work of realizing you can’t change anyone else’s brain, especially when they pretty much came like that. Only they can change their brain. You can change your own.

The next part of the hard work is being willing to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, to try to see a situation from another perspective.  Maybe he is just tired and needs to numb out with tv. Maybe she’s spent the day speaking to no one but the children, and wants to have a grown-up conversation so her brain doesn’t turn to mush. 

Maybe you both need different things in the exact same moment.

Seeing it from the other person’s perspective helps us to stop taking things personally, and have more compassion and understanding for the ones we love.

The last part is changing your actions and thoughts. This actually impacts your brain! There are certain beliefs you have been carrying around for years that you may not be aware of. When you challenge that default brain setting, you actually create new pathways in the brain.  Therapy helps a lot at this point (and even earlier!)  because you are working with a professional who has loading dirty clothes down to a science.

Once my friend and I chatted about all these things, a light switch went on. She is now doing the hard work of trying to understand where he is coming from and acknowledging all the demonstrations of love he shows regularly. She is starting to decode his love language, and trying to understand things through his eyes. I think they have a while to go before the yolk and buttons, but the key is to stick with the hard work. It takes time and persistence, but eventually, the glory work will follow.

So what is the glory work? The glory work is where you start to realize that everything you see around you can be interpreted in several different ways. The glory work happens when you see that your way isn’t always the right way, and you begin to genuinely learn from others and from Life. The glory work is where you begin to relax and enjoy your life and relationships rather than always feeling like you have to fix or manage something.  And the glory work is absolutely within your reach, if you are willing to do the hard work first.

Last year, my 5-year old daughter asked my 8-year old son if she could put in the yolk and press the buttons. He looked at her, looked at me, looked back at her and said, “You have to do the hard work if you want to do the glory work. But I can help you do the hard work.”

If you need help with the hard work, email me at connect@talktosaira.com for your free 20-minute telephone consultation or to sign up for my mailing list.

On Marriage

Truth Byte #69: It’s the little things that hold us together.

As Spring arrives, so does wedding season. So many people get so excited for their big day, spend lavishly, dress scrumptiously, and gather together friends and family to witness this lifelong commitment.

But what happens after the dust has settled and the humdrum of regular life kicks in?

This year is my lucky 13 in marriage, and while I still consider myself quite the infant when it comes to married life, there are some things that I have picked up in this last decade that may be useful if you are newly married or struggling with a marriage that doesn’t feel like what you signed up for.

WARNING: I know that some readers may be annoyed by this post because marriage actually didn’t work out so well for them, and I understand that perspective. But even those who have been through horrible endings, once they have had a chance to allow the wounds to heal, will likely seek out a long-term companion. Whether married, common-law, live-in, deeply committed, or some other label, I know about some things that are actually working for people in monogamous relationships. So if that’s you, it still may be worth the read.

What does it take to remain content and connected as a married couple?

When I scroll through my social media feeds, I see married couples on fancy holidays and picnics in the park. I see birthday bashes, sporting events, daddy-daughter dates, and girls’ night out.

But what I don’t see is what actually sustains us in marriage.

What we don’t see is the daily connection, the interrupted conversations, that sweet touch on the small of the back, that look of adoration. What we don’t see is the tightening of lips and shoulders when someone puts down the one you love in front of you. What we don’t see is the teasing hug good night before bed because she wants to stay up and watch mindless tv, and that’s okay with you. What we don’t see is him making your mom feel better when she uses the wrong pronoun.

These little moments are what keeps a marriage afloat during stormy waters.

No one ever told me about the power of these little things when I was a newly-wed. We committed our lives to each other after living on our own terms for a decade.

Suddenly, our lives were expected to blend together seamlessly.

There were times I felt so lonely and confused, even though my partner was lying right next to me in bed. I guess I thought marriage was going to be like a series of dates, each one more thoughtful and surprising than the next because as time went on, he would get to know me better, right? And for the first couple of years, it was.

We played house, had a baby, figured out how to include each other in our families of birth, and paid all our bills on time.

But as time marched on, our calendars got busy, we had another baby and suddenly date night was not easy to pencil in. As my partner loves to say, we became two ships, passing in the night. We decided to attend a 9-month training program to learn about the dynamics of intimate relationships, and finally we started to see how the ebbs and flows we were experiencing were part of the maturation of our bond. We learned about the stages and phases of love, and how authenticity and commitment would always bring us back to each other.

We learned that our marriage was something we had to mould and tend to, otherwise, in a very short time, and without warning, it would wither away.

We watched as that withering happened to some dear friends around us. We watched as they let each other go in search of greener pastures, while their children, parents, friends, and extended family tried to figure out how to reconcile this new normal.

We wondered if it was just a matter of time before we were that couple that drifted away from each other. Neither of us can look at our own parents and say, “Now there’s a happy couple”, so we had no role-models to look up to.

So we studied relationships, grew together while remaining strong in ourselves, and we looked for mentors, people who had the kind of marriage we wanted to someday have.

And we found them!

This older couple that we know just go together like peanut butter and jelly, like milk and cookies, like saag and roti. They get each other. Each of them makes the other seem shinier. They are also not afraid to ask for what they need and disagree (honestly and respectfully) on a regular basis. They have surrounded themselves with other people who believe in marriage and are willing to fight through the storms holding hands. They are the two rocking on the porch at the end of a life well-lived who the neighborhood kids call Grandma and Grandpa.

The two essential ingredients they have cultivated are: mutual respect and a deep, abiding friendship.

So that’s what we hold on to now: mutual respect and deep friendship. When things get heated I ask myself if I would say what’s about to come out of my mouth to a friend. He asks himself if the respect he feels for me is strong enough to stand up for me when it counts. We keep coming back to each other, no matter how far away our ships sail in the night.

We invest in the little things.

Sometimes we go to bed angry, because that works for him. He always wakes up feeling better. Sometimes we hash it out, because that works for me. I can sleep soundly then. So yes, there is give and take, and unfortunately, I don’t really get to be a brat and get my way all the time (though I SOOOOOO want to sometimes!). I have to show up as an adult and treat him like one too. No matter what the conflict, the marriage comes first, always. Before the kids, before our jobs, before our extended family obligations, before finances, our marriage is first.

So those are my thoughts on marriage, and how it’s actually the little things that keep us together. I am someone who loves to learn about myself and the people around me, and if you are too, here are some books that have helped us along the way:

If It Hurts, It Isn’t Love by Chuck Spezzano
Mars and Venus in the Bedroom by John Gray
The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine
I Wish He Had Come With Instructions by Mike Bechtle
How Can I Be Your Lover When I am Too Busy Being Your Mother? by Sarah Dimerman & J.M. Kearns

Listen to our podcast and join my husband and I as we journey through marriage and parenting, and adulting in general, and let us know if there is a topic you want to hear us talk about.

Ten Years and Counting

Truth Byte #67

Your love matters.”

 

Yesterday was a busy day. I had five clients, two conference calls, one free consultation, and a job interview. Plus, I made three breakfasts, three lunches, and four dinners, made sure kids were brushed and washed and happy and looked after. I even squeezed in two calls to my sister and a text to my mom. And let’s be honest, I checked social media a few times and read a chapter in my book and watched some tv.

 

A busy day.

 

In the middle of it, I got a call from a number I didn’t recognize. I eventually the reached the person, who was looking for a counsellor. After a few minutes, it became clear to me that she was looking for free counselling services, which I am not offering anymore. It was hard to be on that call, because I knew she was not going to get what she wanted from me, and yet she was keeping me on the phone….right in the middle of my very busy day. Read More

Befriending that Voice

Truth Byte #53

 

“Even in partnership, you must learn to walk alone.”

 

I have an incredible husband. Despite my drama stories to the contrary, he is the most patient, steady, loveable, and supportive guy I know. He rides with me on the roller-coaster of parenthood, the stormy ship of entrepreneurship, and the oft hum drum boredom of long-term commitment. He is in it for the long haul, says the right thing at the right time and always knows how to make me laugh (or at least roll my eyes while smiling).

 

But even in the midst of a truly rich marriage, I have learned that I am alone.

 

And not in a bad way, just alone.

 

Let me explain.

 

It hit me during the first few months of our marriage.  We had been building up to our big day for months, and had waited until after the wedding to move in together. Our honeymoon was perfect, two weeks of uninterrupted time in a tropical paradise.

 

And then we came home.

 

And we had jobs, and groceries, and car payments, and in-laws, and laundry, and all the other little things that “real life” is composed of.

 

At first, I happily played along in my new role as “wife”. But after a while, I noticed that we had separate lives. We work in completely different fields, so there isn’t really any “shop talk” that happens at home.  The poor guy had to explain his early tech projects to me in fashion metaphors, it was the only way I was going to follow along!  We had different work schedules, so the time that we spent at our home just playing was minimal.  But it worked for a while.

 

Then the babies came, one then another. And that changed everything.  Suddenly, we were tag-teaming as we negotiated who would do what for which kid and how we could be impactful and available parents while still trying to build our careers and run a household. And there were moments when I was nursing a baby or driving a little one to preschool or trying to make friends at some mommy-social that I felt so alone. And not in a good way.

 

Somewhere along my journey of university, career, marriage, and kids, I had to face the fact that I am alone. All alone.  Late at night, when I wake up with a start, it’s just me. Sure, I could reach over and shake him awake, or cuddle up with a kid or two, but what happens in my inner landscape is something only I can experience.

 

So why am I telling you this? What’s the point?

 

I have had many clients over the years that are running from loneliness.  Whether it’s a spouse they yearn for, a child, a pet, or some other kind of companionship or love, so many of us are looking to fill the emptiness inside. And what I have learned, both personally and professionally, is that no matter what the quality of our relationships, if we can’t be comfortable alone, those relationships will never be enough.

 

Let me say that again: if you aren’t okay being alone, no one else’s love will ever be enough.

 

Now I am speaking as an extrovert, and I know there are introverts out there who are probably thinking: “I am TOTALLY fine by myself!” And that may be true for some.

 

But for all of us, no matter what our social leanings, there is that corrosive voice inside that we don’t want to be left alone with.  You know, that voice that tells you that you are a failure, that you are screwing up, that you are a fraud and a fake, and that all your plans will ultimately fail.

 

That voice.

 

When you can learn to be in the presence of that voice and just not believe it, then you have really arrived.

 

Then you have a hope in hell of letting someone love you all the way, and being able to love them back without walls.

 

So this week, I challenge you to face that voice. To look deep inside into the part of you that was planted a long, long time ago, and really hear it. Hear the pain, the hopelessness, and the judgment. And just let it be.  Don’t “technique” it away with all the self-help tools you have collected (journaling, meditation, positive self-talk, etc. etc.), just be with it.

 

See what happens. 

 

See if you can sit in that uncomfortable place of self-attack and find another way, find another truth. Because until you do, you will be looking for someone else to drown out that voice. And no one else really can.

 

Ultimately, the only relationship that matters is the one you have with yourself.

 

And isn’t it time to listen to the most important person in your life: you? Even if you don’t like what s/he has to say?  Of course, there are ways to be supported in this task, and many people seek out counselling to have a reliable and consistent framework as they move through befriending that voice, so if you need that support, get it.

 

And in the meantime, keep looking inward. It’s where all the answers lie.  More at www.talktosaira.com

If It’s Not Fun…

Truth Byte #50

 “If it’s not inspired, it’s just busy work.”

 

I used to be a really busy person.  I rushed around from one thing to another, always feeling like I was squeezing in life between events. Even when I was with people I Ioved being around, my mind would flit on to the the next to do in my agenda.

 

Not inspiring.  Not inspired.

 

It wasn’t always this way.

 

Years ago, during my Master’s degree in California, I met a group of incredible minds.  We laughed, learned, and lived together, coming with all kinds of back stories to a space we would share for four years.

 

I remember dinner parties with these friends. 

 

They would start in the early evening, and go on and on into the wee hours of the morning.  We talked for hours about the newest television drama or the meaning of life, and everything in between. When I was with them, I was inspired.  We made art together, wrote poetry, checked each other’s grammar for essays, and personally researched the human spirit in ourselves and each other.  We participated in each other’s religious and cultural ceremonies, shared meals and gifts on Holy Days, met each other’s families, and found a home in each other. Those were days of little sleep and much reading, few boundaries and dozens of breakthroughs.

 

Those were the most inspired years of my life.

 

Fast forward twelve years.

 

I am a mother of two young children and I am an entrepreneur.  I volunteer at least ten hours a week on professional boards, and babysit other people’s children regularly. I run a private practice as a psychotherapist and also run a household. I am the one who drops and picks the little ones from all their activities, including school, and I have a thriving and full social life with my incredible husband and our friends.  Plus, I go to the gym five times a week and squeeze in a manicure and massage once a month.

 

I have a lot to do.

 

Gone are the days of endless dawdling and conversation.  These days, I am one busy woman!

 

But until recently, that busy-ness was just busy-ness, not inspired action.

 

Today, I filmed an episode of my YouTube show, Today is Your Day, and we discussed the benefit of inspired action. If action is not inspired, it simply one more “have to”.  And I hate “have tos”.  Always have.  Sucked it up and pushed through most of my life, but these days, if something is a have to, I am out.

 

And so these days, I am remembering what I learned from my friends in California: if it isn’t fun, why are we doing it? Anything from school picks ups, to client re-scheduling, to photocopying the class list, to folding laundry can be fun…if done in the right frame of mind.

 

So my challenge to you today would be to take stock of all the have tos on your own to do list.  What could you just do later? And what could you never actually do well, unless it is inspired? Your answers may surprise you.

 

Want more? Join us on YouTube for Today is your Day, or visit us on a Thursday night at The Get Happy Club! Email connect@talktosaira.com for details.

When They Don’t Want Your Help

Truth Byte #46

 

“Not everything is your business.”

 

I am a helper.  Always have been and probably always will be.  So when I hear a cry for help, even a silent cry for help, I spring to action.  I want to heal your pain, solve your problem, and make you smile again.

 

But this winter I have learned that not everything is my business.

 

I come from a very close-knit faith community.  Whenever I go to one of our gatherings, even if I am in a totally different country than where I usually live, somebody in the group will know someone from my family.  We are a community of adventurers, explorers, and pioneers, that left the pain of our poverty behind as we forged new vistas.  We are an immigrant community with international roots, and even though my great grandchildren will likely know little of the cultural ancestry that I have subconsciously marinated in, the rhythms and flavours of “back home” run deep and strong in the caring way we interact, our collective, hidden anxieties, and how we dance and laugh with reckless abandon on the big days of celebration.

 

We have come a long way, both literally and psychologically, and we have a lot to be proud of.

 

But as an intimate, caring community, we are also painfully aware of those who are struggling.  When tragedy strikes in one family, the ripples run quickly through our networks and reach the farthest corners of this planet, all the way to the lands where we came from. Long before the click of a button, our collective information travelled quickly, often with well-meaning embellishment and loving prayer along the way.

 

So when something bad happens to someone in my community, I feel it.

 

And I want to help.

 

But there are millions of us spread all across this blue/green globe. And I can’t save everyone.

 

This winter, I have learned that not everything is my business.  I have sat with people in pain, and allowed myself to be uncomfortable with my impotence.  I have watched the inevitable unfold and been powerless to change it.  I have realized that you can only help someone who is willing to grab on to your hand as they are falling.

 

I now unnderstand that sometimes people unconsciously prefer pain over change.

 

I know this not only as an observer, but as someone who used to live there.  There was a time in my past where I thought I knew everything about myself.  I thought I knew every nook and cranny of my inner landscape, and I had unearthed even the darkest of demons.  I was emerging from an intense few years of personal transformation, and I felt shiny and perfect.

 

And suddenly, the people around me, the people I considered my community, started exploding.

 

Marriages fell apart. Careers were in shambles. Children got seriously ill and injured. Addictions took hold. Friendships deteriorated. Hearts broke. Life just generally sucked for multiple people in my life simultaneously.

 

And I couldn’t save them.

 

I couldn’t fix it.

 

I had all this incredible knowledge and training and experience, and yet I couldn’t help the people who mattered the most to me.

 

Because they hadn’t asked for help.

 

And when they finally did, I wasn’t the one who could get through to them.

 

So years ago, I had to step back.  I had to look around at all those I loved, and I had to make a choice.  Would I spend the next decade furiously trying to fix it, or was there another option?

 

Perhaps I could gently turn back around to the people in my world who were thriving. Could I focus on building something that would last, rather than constantly trying to salvage bits of hope out of rubble of the personal tragedies around me?

 

Even though I kill plants on a regular basis, I know about the fundamental law of gardening: what you focus on will grow.  I was ready to focus on what was already growing, rather than trying to fix what needed repair.

 

And as I shifted my attention, the seeds of hope took root in my heart once again, and my life began to unfold organically. The people who could benefit from my particular flavour of care started knocking on my open door, and the results were incredible.  I was making a real and lasting impact on lives. And those who I couldn’t help also, somehow, began to find their way.  By letting go of the “how”, I stepped aside and the Master Teacher in each person light their own path.

 

Today, my community thrives. The leaders have woken up to the depth and complexity of the issues, and have found solutions that address root causes rather than handing out the sparkly band-aids of the past. I have found my place as the quiet listener who sends prayers and heart and referral letters. And when I hear those calls for help, even the silent ones, I trust that I am not the only one listening.

 

I challenge you this week to take a step back.  What are you assuming about the people in your life who you think need help? Are you giving them enough credit? Can you see their path, even if it’s difficult, as a spiritual unfolding rather than simply a tragedy? Can you focus on their resourcefulness, their resilience, their capacity for recovery? Can you, from a place of true care and compassion, put them in the hands of their Creator, and take a break from playing God?

 

That simple shift will probably make the holidays a lot more enjoyable for all!

 

Questions? Comments? Email me at connect@talktosaira.com

Two Decades to Build a Tribe

Truth Byte #43

“Life is a team effort.”

For many, many years, I bought into this lie that I was supposed to be able to do everything.

All by myself. 

As soon as I launched from my mother’s home into the big, complex world of adulthood, I assumed that I was on my own, and somehow, I was supposed to “make it”. Sure, I had friends and professors and bosses, but the responsibility for my life was now in my own hands, and I had to damn-well make it work.

And for a while I did!

Well, kinda.

I hustled through nine years of academia after leaving the shelter (and occasional mayhem) of my tight-knit family of origin, living on a shoestring student budget and the generosity of my mom’s and aunties’ unexpected and unasked for (but oh-so-needed!) long-distance cash deposits and care packages. Every so often, I would swallow my pride and even reach out to my long-lost dad for a little bit extra to keep the heat on and the gas tank half full and maybe a plane ticket home for Christmas.

But I was making it, right?

Kinda.

In between the late-night babysitting and bleary eyed tutoring jobs, I was getting that degree so I could be that grown up that everyone wanted me to be.

But when I met my would-be husband, everything about my solo life changed.

For the first time in my life, I felt like I could breathe. I was living back in my mom’s basement, completing my Ph.D. because it was unaffordable for me to continue another year in California while I completed my research and writing phase.

My old bed and old room were long gone, and I remember how proudly my sweet mother displayed the faded Mickey Mouse bedding in the new space she had carved out for me in her home. When my face fell, so did hers, and we realized simultaneously that I wasn’t a kid anymore, and yet I still couldn’t afford to really be on my own while I finished up.

Huddled in that basement at the unfamiliar desk, I sat, night after night, transcribing interviews, tearing up drafts, and chatting on MSN with the young, patient Chicago Cubs fan who I would one day marry.

And today, I can boldly say, I could not have finished my Ph.D. dissertation without his flirtatious encouragement and my mom’s persistent and relentless monitoring of my progress. (Some would call that nagging, but not me, right?).

So why am I telling you this story?

I want to remind you that you don’t have to do this alone.

Once I married him, I was sold. I realized I didn’t have to do this alone. I now had a buddy, a confidante, and a partner in crime who would do half of all the stuff I used to have to do all by myself.

And ten years later, I have realized that one person is not enough. It’s just too much pressure!

It was only after getting married, having two kids, owning a car, building a career, and buying a house (in my mind, the pinnacle of my personal capacity for “adulting”), that I was ready to take the risk and begin building a tribe of like-minded others. I had friends from my past, we all do, but they all live far away and none of them really know each other anymore. So I decided I needed a local crew, people whose eyes I could look into without a screen between us. I started small with invitations to coffee/tea/smoothie/some-other-drink to larger events like home-grown dinner parties for people I thought I might one day want to let it all hang out with.

Fast forward one year.

This weekend, I went out for dinner after an incredible workshop that I co-facilitated with three other therapists. Three.

For those of you that know me, you know how hard it is for me to share a stage.

Three other therapists. And I didn’t hog the mic.

During the course of the workshop, I realized how we gelled, how we built each other up, and how we were harmoniously helping the women in the room to come to their own aha’s. And as I looked at them, I didn’t see colleagues or my competitors.

I saw my girlfriends. 

These were women I had cried with and to, women who had poured out little pieces of themselves into me, women who faced the same challenges that I had, and probably do the same little happy dance in their messy kitchens or pristine offices when shit goes right.

At the dinner, I looked around at the table and asked myself: would I refer a client to these women? The answer was a resounding “YES!” Then I asked a bigger question. Would I refer my own brother or sister or mom to these women if any of them needed a therapist?

I was stunned to her the same “YES!” at the same volume in my head.

I have found a group that I respect professionally, and that I trust implicitly. Even with my own family.

Plus, we have fun and like each other’s fiances and husbands and kids and parents – which is important when you are building life-time relationships.

Almost two decades after leaving my mother’s house, I am finding my tribe.

And it’s such a relief! Though flying solo felt a lot safer, it also was uber lonely. When things went wrong, it sucked.  When things went right, I had very few people to share it with that actually got it. And though at times I am gripped with an irrational fear that they will ditch me unexpectedly, I remind myself that my ego is a tricky saboteur. It doesn’t approve of my vulnerability or this growing intimacy with people outside my tight-knit family of origin.

But my spirit knows that this path of life was not meant to be walked alone.

And I look forward to the tribe growing and evolving as we all bring back the deliciousness of life and share it with each other, and the world.

Curious about who these women are? Check them out: my powerhouse super-mama: Nasreen, my deep soul-sister, Shahaa, and my giggling girlfriend Jena. And join me at www.talktosaira.com or on Jena and my YouTube Talk Show Today is Your Day if you are tired of the loneliness and want to learn to build a tribe of your own.

A Smile Goes a Long, Long Way

Truth Byte #39

“It doesn’t take much to make someone smile.” 

 

Today, I read a story to my 3-year-old daughter as she waited for her dance class to start.  While we were reading, three other little girls and and older brother that was dragged along for the carpool snuggled up around me and secretly listened.  I invited them to join us (as if they already hadn’t), and their faces lit up.  Someone noticed that they were interested and invited them to join in.

 

That was all it took. 

 

As the dance teacher came out in the middle of our second story and the girls ran in to class, the older brother, who was about four years old, was left with a half-read story and a pile of ballerina books.  He shyly leafed through the book I was reading to them, sneaking glances up at me.  I asked him if he wanted me to finish the story.  His face broke into an ear-to-ear grin as he nodded enthusiastically.  So I sat there, for just five or six minutes, completing the story with this little big brother.  And he smiled the whole time.

 

There are a lot of things we can do to make each other smile, and most of them don’t even take five or six minutes.  The easiest thing is just to smile to ourselves as we look out onto the world.  Have you ever noticed a happy stranger?  The people who walk around in the world just looking like they are at ease with everything? That’s who I challenge you to be this week.

 

But here’s the catch: it’s hard to be genuinely happy if you are

  1. Beating yourself up about something
  2. Judging other people

 

And really, those are the only two barriers.  I know this because I have met and counselled people who have every reason to be miserable, and yet, have found a way to maintain positivity.  I have also met people who seem to have all the good things, and yet their “inside voices” are like pure acid.

 

Smiling, and being willing to seeing the world through the filters of hope and positivity, is simply a choice.

 

And for the scientists out there, here is a brain-science tidbit: your mind can’t really tell the difference between a fake smile and a real one (even though your best friend probably can!) So at first, it may just be about a fake smile.  Eventually, you really will start feeling better.

 

And I am not encouraging you to be inauthentic, or just put on a happy face.  I am a true believer in showing up as you are, and being the real you.  However, there are always a variety of ways to look at any situation, and if you really look for it, there is likely a reason to smile, even if it’s just because you are smiling at the irony of it all.

 

And if it’s too hard to smile in the grown-up world that we have collectively imagined and then created, take a break from it for a while and go hang out with some kids under six.  They will remind you about wonder and curiosity and being happy for no good reason.  No kids in your vicinity? Enter YouTube.  Hundreds of videos of kids just being adorable, lovable, and laughing uncontrollably.

 

Rather than furrowing your brow at the latest world news or family drama, what if you just allowed yourself to hang out with happiness and smile?

 

It will probably make you feel better.

 

And it may even rub off on someone around you.

 

It’s your life and only you can live it!

 

Check out my weekly talkshow for inspiration and practical advice on how to live a happier and more effortless life.  More at www.talktosaira.com.