feeling sad? try these quick pick-me-ups!

When-Youre-Sad

 

January is always a bit of a sad month for me -- and I know I'm not alone in this. For a lot of people, it's a gloomy, gray month filled with the dreaded post-holiday blues. It's back-to-work after a couple of months of fun-filled activities, and it's a especially tough time for anyone who suffers from SAD. About a year ago, I drew the image above when I was having a hard time after the holidays (it's always such a letdown when they're over, isn't it?), and I spotted it recently when I was flipping through my old sketchbook. 

Just like last year, this January has been less-than-stellar for me. I've always disliked this month, though I'm not sure if it's because of the post-holiday blues, the weather, or just the coincidence that things seem to get harder for me when the first month of the year rolls around. Whatever the reason, January is usually tough. And this one has been no exception. It's been filled with a lot of uncertainty and moments of unhappiness. When I rediscovered this image I created, I realized that it would be a good time to start taking my own advice -- and to share it, just in case anyone else out there could use some suggestions for those sad days. 

Whether you're going through a sad situation (a loss, a break-up, etc.) or you're just having a bit of a down day, these are some of the best ways I've found to feel a little happier when I'm feeling low. If you have any other tips or tricks you use when you're feeling sad, I'd love to hear them in the comments section below! 

 

WRITE YOURSELF A LOVE LETTER

Self-love is a great place to start when you're having a down day. Take a few minutes to write up a letter to yourself about all of the reasons you're awesome. This might sound like vanity or excessive self-pride, but it's actually really helpful when you're feeling sad. It shifts your focus from what's wrong to what's right. (If you find it too hard to write a love letter to yourself, give a gratitude list a try. Gratitude is a great way to focus on happiness!)

 

SMILE IN THE MIRROR

Smiling at yourself in the mirror can be a great little pick-me-up, even when you don't at all feel like smiling. (In fact, science shows that smiling might actually make you feel happier!) If you're a lipstick-wearer, it can also be fun to add a bright red or pink lip. It'll add a little fanciness to that smile of yours. You'll probably feel silly when you first try it, but that's part of the fun. Usually you'll feel so silly that you'll start laughing at yourself, which is a great mood booster. 

 

TAKE A NAP

While I'm not a big nap-taker personally, I know there's a lot of science that says a well-timed nap can make you feel a lot better (particularly if you're sleep-deprived, something that can happen when your feeling sad or stressed). Even if you don't love naps, give yourself time to rest and relax. Sadness --  even just a little dip in your mood -- can be exhausting, and you deserve a nice little rest. When you're sad, give yourself permission to take time for rest. 

 

TREAT YOUR SELF

Inspired by this episode of Parks & Recreation, one thing you can try when you're feeling bad is give yourself a little treat. Go grab a favorite scoop of ice cream, order a pizza, schedule a spa day, buy yourself a new book -- whatever it is you love, treat yourself to it! Of course, sadness can't be bought (or eaten...) away, but I've found that it's really nice to have a little treat when I'm feeling sad. 

 

PUT ON A GREAT OUTFIT

When you're down in the dumps, it's so tempting to sit around in sweatpants, fueling that sad feeling. While I'm not at all against sweatpants (I love them), I've found that it's really useful to get up and get dressed in something you really feel great in. Consider what outfit always makes you feel great about yourself and put that on -- even if you're just staying at home. Decking out in your best gear will give your mood a boost. 

 

DRINK SOME TEA

Drinking tea has a ton of health benefits, which makes it a great go-to when you're feeling sad. Not only is it healthy, but I've found that the warmth of it can be really soothing (especially during the cold month of January!). Sadness won't ever be cured with a cup of tea, but it's a nice way to add a bit of warmth and calm into your day. For an additional happiness boost, give a new kind a try. Doing something new is a good way to perk up your brain! 

 

CALL A FRIEND

One of the absolute best ways to cheer yourself up when you're sad is calling a good (and positive!) friend. You know that person who always knows how to find the good in a situation? Or the one that makes you feel like a rockstar when you're down? Call him or her up for a chat -- and a mood boost. Another great option is to create a connection with someone positive. Check out the Happiness Amplification Project to learn more about increasing happiness.  

 

LISTEN TO HAPPY SONGS

Sad songs can be alluring when you're feeling sad, but, believe me, happy songs are the way to go. Check out my Stay Positive! playlist on YouTube if you don't have a lot of happy songs in your life. Happy tunes can really boost your mood, and they work even better if you move to the music. One of my go-to tactics for down days is putting on some positive songs and dancing around my apartment. It sounds (and probably looks) silly, but it's a great way to feel happier. 

 

BUY YOURSELF FLOWERS

I'll admit -- I'm not big on flowers myself. I'd much rather have a box of chocolates or a playlist full of songs. But I know a lot of people benefit from the bright hues and floral scents that flowers bring to a room. So if you're feeling down, pick up some flowers for yourself as a little mood boost. And if flowers aren't your thing, find a way to focus on colors, sights, or scents that make you feel happy. 

 

LIGHT A CANDLE

Another great scent-related mood booster comes from lighting a candle. Not only is it pretty (and it sets the mooood), but if you pick a scent you love, it'll perk you up a little bit. I personally love anything that is sickeningly sweet (think: fresh baked cake, frosted sugar cookies, etc.), but there's a candle out there for every single scent preference. Try making your dinner a candlelit one or taking a bubble bath surrounded by scented candles.  

 

WRITE ABOUT YOUR FEELINGS

Writing is my outlet when things aren't going well. Whenever I feel sad, I grab a pen or my laptop and pour out my feelings, and, man, does it feel good. Even if you don't consider yourself a writer, writing about how you feel can be so cathartic and clarifying. Often it's when I write that I find solutions to my problems or uncover a perspective I hadn't thought of before. And the great thing is -- you can get it all out you and not show it to a soul. 

 

MAKE SOMETHING

I love creating things, and it's one of the quickest ways for me to boost my mood. Not only does it feel good to make something that no longer existed before, it's also a great way to get out of your mind (and rumination on sad thoughts) and direct your focus to what you're working on. While it's never a good idea to ignore your feelings, sometimes it's good to take a break from them and create something with your hands. 

 

TAKE A WALK

Another way to break the rumination cycle is to go for a walk. Take a turn around the block, visit a local park, or go for a power-walk at your local mall. It doesn't matter where you walk -- just get out of where you've been feeling sad and experience a new environment (with a little light exercise thrown in!). Add a soundtrack if you like (like my Relaxing Walk playlist) to keep excessive rumination at bay. 

 

READ A GOOD BOOK

Nothing feels quite as wonderful as good book (at least, if you're a book nerd like me!). A really captivating book can take your mind away from your sadness and allow you to focus on a story that's far away from wherever you are. Choose a genre that really appeals to you and set aside some quite, alone time to spend turning pages and becoming absorbed in someone else's words. You can check out what I'm reading on GoodReads (and check out my book here!). 

 

WATCH A FUNNY FILM

Another great way to cheer yourself up is to watch a really funny film. My go-to film for sad days is Elf. I don't care what the season; if I'm having a down day, it's going on the TV. If you have a film like that -- one that you always want to watch when you're feeling down, a sad day is the perfect time to put it on. And if you don't have a favorite? Ask a friend for a recommendation or check online for good ideas. 

 

LOOK AT THE BIG PICTURE

The absolute best thing you can do for yourself when you're sad is focusing on the big picture. Whatever's causing your sadness might feel overwhelming and all-encompassing at the moment, but it will get easier to cope with in time. In most cases, what's got you down today won't matter in a year -- or even in a month. And even if it will, the pain will lessen as time goes on. Also, I've found it helpful to look up at the stars and realize just how small I am in this crazily huge universe. It helps, I promise. 

 

Like it or not, sadness is part of life. We all have our down days. We all have the moments that break our hearts, the times when we just feel like crying. But there are lots of little things you can do to help yourself cope with sadness. The tips I've listed above are useful for bouts of heartache or a bit of post-holiday blues. If you think you might be suffering from serious sadness or depression, please reach out to a loved one or a therapist and seek help. We can be happy every moment of our lives, but we all deserve as much happiness as possible. If you're just feeling a little down, hang in there. You're not alone -- and it will get easier!

 

 

Finding-Self-Cover

If you're looking for some more soul-searching inspiration, check out the Finding Yourself workbook. Discover more about yourself, and uncover what you want most by downloading a copy of the e-book Finding Yourself: A Soul-Searching Workbook for Surprising Self Discovery. Filled with inspiration, questions, and activities to get you thinking about what it means to be you, Finding Yourself is a must for learning more about who you are and about what matters most to you. Learn more about the workbook here and purchase your own copy here.


what are you doing for others? : 100 great ideas

What-are-you-doing-mlk

 

If you love quotes like I do, you'll know that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man of many wise words. While I was searching through his quotes the other day, the one above stopped me in my tracks. Due to the nature of my work, I spend a lot of time focusing on the self (and encouraging others to do the same). A lot of my work is based on turning one's gaze inward and finding ways to make life better from the inside out. Self-love and self-knowledge are some of my favorite topics to write about because I believe the relationship you have with yourself is the foundation for all your relationships. (For more on building this foundation, check out Finding Your Self and Loving Your Self.) But, of course, cultivating self-love and a positive attitude is only part of equation for living a positive and present life. Another huge aspect is doing what you can to make the world a more positive place. 

When I first read this quote, I immediately thought, What am I doing for others? What am I doing on a daily basis to make the world a more positive place? What I love most about what I do for work is that I have the power to positively impact the lives of others online. I have the opportunity to reach out to others and share what I've learned about living a more positive, more present life. While this is nothing on the level of a positive impact of someone like MLK, it does feel good to know that, in some small way, I might be doing something for someone else. And, even if you don't have a positivity-focused job, I bet you have some area of your life in which you positively impact others -- coworkers, family members, kids, friends, etc. 

We all have the power to do something kind for others, to make the world a better place by taking positive action (even if we don't all have the opportunity to be inspirational activists and leaders like MLK!), but sometimes when life gets busy or we're overwhelmed by our own stress, we can forget about the positive power we wield on a daily basis. In honor of MLK (and positive, forward-thinking leaders everywhere), I encourage you to embrace that power and do (at least!) one small positive thing on the list below to make someone else's life just a little bit better.  

  1. Write a letter to a friend that lives far away
  2. Call up a relative who might be lonely
  3. Bring your neighbor's paper up to the door
  4. Sign up to volunteer at a local shelter
  5. Bake a special treat for someone you love
  6. Be on time when meeting up with others
  7. Read a story aloud to a child you know
  8. Let someone else go ahead in line
  9. Pay for the person's coffee behind you
  10. Give a generous tip to a service person
  11. Like every photo on your Instagram feed
  12. Send flowers to someone who loves them
  13. Plant something in honor of someone
  14. Visit the gravesite of someone you've lost
  15. Take your dog for a long, fun walk
  16. Give your significant other a massage
  17. Send an "I love you" text just because
  18. Let someone else win a silly argument
  19. Forgive someone who's hurt you
  20. Do someone else's chores for him/her
  21. Play with animals in a shelter (or adopt!)
  22. Make someone else's favorite meal 
  23. Send an email to an author/blogger you love
  24. Connect two people who might hit it off
  25. Make someone else laugh with a joke
  26. Offer to run an errand for a busy friend
  27. Respond with kindness to someone unkind
  28. Smile at every neighbor you see today
  29. Text an old friend to reconnect
  30. Donate things you don't use to a shelter
  31. Send a "just because" gift to a friend
  32. Make (and share!) a list someone's good traits
  33. Send a friend an old photo of you two
  34. Pay for someone's meal at a restaurant
  35. Stand up for someone who's in trouble
  36. Write to Congress re: an issue you value
  37. Donate old books to your local library
  38. Volunteer to read to others who cannot
  39. Spend time chatting with an elderly neighbor
  40. Offer to wash your parents' cars
  41. Post nice comments on social media
  42. Draw a picture for a child
  43. Visit children at a local hospital
  44. Speak up for voiceless animals
  45. Donate time or money to a good cause
  46. Put someone else's needs before yours
  47. Share your favorite blog with a friend
  48. Positively review a product you love
  49. Offer to babysit a friend's kids
  50. Smile at people in cars next to yours
  51. Bring a loved one breakfast in bed
  52. Compliment a complete stranger
  53. Give your pet an extra special treat
  54. Offer to work late for a coworker
  55. Clean up someone else's mess
  56. Warm up a loved one's car 
  57. Give someone a huge, bear hug
  58. Make a special lunch for someone
  59. Get your coworker's coffee for him/her
  60. Offer to take notes for someone else
  61. Help someone with a task you do well
  62. Send anonymous flowers to a friend
  63. Let a car cut in front in traffic
  64. Tell a heart-warming story to a friend
  65. Give a great book to a bookworm
  66. Grocery shop for a parent / neighbor
  67. Drop off dog/cat food at a shelter
  68. Tip someone you don't have to tip
  69. Speak to a manager about good service
  70. Offer to take a photo for selfie-snappers
  71. Write a (handwritten!) thank you note
  72. Fill up someone's parking meter
  73. Leave a positive note on someone's car
  74. Give what you can to a homeless person
  75. Take flowers to a nearby nursing home
  76. Compliment a parent on his/her child
  77. Point out the positive to someone
  78. Tell someone why you love him or her
  79. Put your phone away while with others
  80. Talk to someone who looks shy
  81. Make a playlist or CD for a friend
  82. Pick up litter and throw it away
  83. Give someone else the parking space
  84. Write your mail carrier a nice note
  85. Include everyone in a conversation
  86. Text "good morning!" to a friend
  87. Plant a tree at your local park
  88. Encourage someone's efforts
  89. Bring in a sweet treat for coworkers
  90. Go to Coinstar and donate your change
  91. Sign up to attend a fundraiser
  92. Call your parents (or grandparents)
  93. Buy a product from a small business
  94. Help someone with bags / boxes
  95. Share your gratitude with your parents
  96. Sign up to become an organ donor
  97. Give a homeless person a coat / blanket
  98. Donate in someone else's name
  99. Teach a child how to do something
  100. Ask someone, "How can I help you today?"

 

The things on this list might seem small in comparison with the acts of great leaders, but did you know that kindness is contagious? Yep, it's true! Doing something kind for someone else makes it more likely that person will do something kind and then there's a ripple effect. So, it might seem like doing one small, positive thing isn't a big deal, but small things can have a big impact!

Have any additional acts of kindness to add to this list? Feel free to share them in the comments section below! 

 


6 tips for tackling tough conversations

Speak-Now-Taylor-Swift
Image via Big Machine Records

 

Have you ever been in a position where you really wanted to talk to someone about something but the topic of conversation was really awkward / emotional / sensitive and so you put it off for ages hoping that it would somehow be resolved or disappear but, without talking about it, there was obviously going to be no miraculous solution so you had to actually get the courage to bring it up and you were so scared to do it and it had been on your mind for so long that you didn't even know where to begin? 

If you answered yes, I feel you. That was me a couple of weeks ago. There was a big scary conversation I wanted to have, and I'd been wanting to have it for months and months and months but every time I was about to bring it up, I got way too scared and chickened out. This happened over and over and over again. 

Until, one day, I realized that, if I didn't say what I needed to say, I'd always be wondering what would have happened if I had. When the clock struck midnight on New Year's Eve, it hit me over the head like a ton of bricks: if I wanted to talk about something (and I wanted change in the New Year), I was going to have to open my mouth and speak. No one was going to do it for me. I had to stop second guessing myself, worrying about the conversation not going the way I wanted it to go, and just do it

Also, on NYE, I was deeply inspired by this. It might sound silly for a grown woman to be motivated by a music video, but for years I'd been feeling so much anxiety and uncertainty. And, scared as I was to let go of those feelings, I desperately wanted to be "out of the woods," to be in a place of stability and clarity. After watching the video (over and over again!), I knew the only way I'd ever be the version of the girl at the end of the video would be to open my mouth and speak the words constantly circling in my mind. 

In a way, the video is very much a metaphor for what it feels like when you're scared to have an important conversation -- you're overwhelmed by feelings of anxiety, wondering what could be, scared of where you are but just as scared of what will happen when you eventually are brave enough to speak your mind. Whether you're having a relationship-based conversation, a salary negotiation, a serious talk with a boss or client, or a heart-to-heart with a friend, the point leading up to the actual speaking is a scary time indeed. 

But the only way to get out of the woods -- out of that place of anxiety and uncertainty -- is to use your words. As someone who put doing this off for months, I know just how hard this can be. I finally had the courage to say what I needed to, and I know you can too. Here are some of the best pieces of advice I can offer for anyone struggling to have a tough conversation: 

 

KNOW THE OUTCOME YOU WANT

Get specific about what you really want before you launch into a tough conversation. It's not enough to think "I want to make more money" or "I want her to be more affectionate." You need to have concrete desires in place, like "I want a 10% raise" or "I want her to hold my hand in public and spend more time cuddling with me." If you don't know (and say) specifically what you want, how is someone else supposed to give it to you? Imagine (in detail!) what it will be like to have the exact outcome you want. Also, ask yourself why you want this. Understanding the why will show you what you're really looking for. Do you want more money because you feel unappreciated at work? Will money make you feel more valued? Do you want a committed relationship because you truly love this specific person? Or do you just want a relationship in general? Getting to the heart of why you want what you do will help you have a much more productive conversation (or it show you that you don't need to have the conversation at all!). 

 

THINK ABOUT THE OTHER PERSON

When it comes to big scary conversations, it's important to consider not only your own needs and desires, but also those of the person (or people) you're communicating with. Before conversing, spend some time thinking about what outcomes they might be hoping for, how they might perceive what you have to say, and how they generally prefer to communicate. Try vividly imagining the conversation from the other person's point of view. How might your boss perceive your resignation? How might your partner take the news that you'd like to spend some time apart? What would it be like to be the friend with whom you've had a disagreement that you're trying resolve? Considering how the other person might feel and what s/he might experience is important for having a meaningful interaction. Just as important is considering how this person prefers to communicate. For the most part, big important conversations should happen in person, but that's not always possible, so consider the best method of communication -- not only for you, but for the other party as well. And, last but not least, take into account how this conversation will impact your relationship, not just from your perspective, but from theirs as well. 

 

PONDER THE POSITIVE POSSIBILITIES

Going into an important conversation, it's useful to ponder what would happen if the best possible outcome occurred. What is the absolute best-case, most amazing scenario? What other positive possibilities might you not be considering? (For example, what if you boss isn't able to give you a raise, but is able to offer you a different position that you know will be more enjoyable?) Before you talk, try thinking outside the box and imagine the craziest (best!) possible scenarios. For example, if you're asking for a raise, imagine being offered not only the amount you're asking for, but also a better title and a corner office. Consider how these best-case scenarios would play out. What are the upsides and the downsides of getting exactly what you ask for? What if, for example, you ask your boyfriend to spend more time with you and he suggests moving in together? How would you handle a scenario in which you're given way more than what you asked for? Pondering the positive possibilities will help you feel more prepared as you go into the conversation and may help you identify aspects of the situation you might not have considered. 

 

TAKE NOTE OF WORST-CASE SCENARIOS

On the flip side, it's also important to consider worst-case scenarios. Overthinking what could go wrong or worrying about the future isn't very useful when it comes to living a positively present life, but there's something to be said for considering a worst-case scenario and investigating how you might overcome it if it were to happen. When you imagine what could go wrong, you're likely to come up with solutions and you'll realize that, even if the worst thing were to happen, you'd be okay. If, for example, you were fired for asking for a raise (unlikely to happen, but just consider it), you'd most likely find another job and probably be thankful you were no longer working for a company that fires employees for asking for better compensation! It's important not to dwell on worst-case outcomes (or best-case either), but allowing yourself to consider them will help remove some of the fear you're feeling. Once you've considered what could go wrong (and how you'd cope), you'll feel braver when beginning your conversation. Also, keep in mind some of my favorite lyrics from "Out of the Woods": the monsters turned out to be just trees. Sometimes the worst thing is in your mind and the reality isn't all that scary. 

 

CHOOSE A GOOD TIME TO TALK

There's never a perfect time to have a challenging conversation, but there are some really bad times to have a tough talk. Some examples: when you've had no sleep the night before; when you're really hangry; when you're super stressed -- or when the other person is any of these. First, identify when an ideal time to talk would be for you. If you could choose any situation / time / place, what would it be? Are more articulate and alert in the mornings? Or do you define yourself as a night owl? Would you rather talk in private or in pubic? Do you communicate best right after you've eaten a good meal or had your first cup of coffee? You can't always conduct the conversation exactly when you want to, but you can try to do it at the best possible time and in the best possible conditions. After identifying what would be best for you, consider what would be the best time to talk with someone else. Is there a time when your boss seems more relaxed? Does your partner seem more at ease on the weekends? You're much more likely to get the results you'd like if you conduct the conversation when the other person is in a positive mindset. Not sure when the best time is for someone else? Ask!

 

BE BRAVE + GO FOR IT! 

This is, of course, the most important piece of advice: just do it. The longer you wait, the harder it gets (believe me, I know this first hand!) and the more it seems like a bigger and bigger deal in your mind. If you keep waiting to speak your mind, what once seemed like something you should bring up turns into a big, huge, scary conversation that you'll be dreading on a regular basis. Don't let this happen to you. Find a time that feels right (even if it's not perfect) and start talking. You don't even have to come to a conclusion right away -- just get the dialogue flowing and let the other person know where you're coming from. People can't read your mind and they might have no idea what you want if you don't tell them! I know it's hard and I know it's scary, but if you don't initiate it, it might never happen and you'll always be filled with the unpleasant "what if..." sensation. So go on -- set a date, schedule a meeting, make the call -- do whatever you have to do to start talking. 

 

BONUS! 
LISTEN VERY CAREFULLY. 

Here's an additional piece of advice: once you've bravely initiated the conversation (yay, you!), it's so important to listen closely. I cannot stress this enough: listen. If you've prepared a lot for the conversation, it's tempting to focus on what you have to say and what you want the outcome to be, but try your absolute hardest to listen carefully to what the other person is saying. The best way to have a productive conversation of any kind is to be a good listener and respond to what someone else is actually saying. As you probably know, it can be difficult sometimes to accurately interpret others' words, and nothing screws up an important conversation more than assumptions and miscommunications. These can be minimized if you listen fully to what others are saying -- not what you want them to say, not what you think they might say, not to how you read into the words they're saying. Listen to the actual words being spoken and, if you're not sure about the meaning, don't guess. Ask! 

 

 

 

Loving-Your-Self

Having the courage to have tough conversations is an act of self-love. Want to empower yourself with some more serious self-love and acceptance? Start loving yourself (or increase the love you already have for yourself!) with the inspiration and motivation found in Loving Your Self: An Empowering Workbook for Increasing Self-LoveFilled with uplifting encouragement, thought-provoking questions, and engaging exercises, Loving Your Self is an essential tool for mastering the art of self-love. Learn more about the workbook here and purchase your own copy here.


reader request: how to protect your heart

Protect-Your-Heart

 

Happy 2016, Positively Present readers! I'm so excited to kick off this new year with you. There are so many exciting projects in the works for the coming months -- new books, new products, new projects, and more -- and I can't wait to share them with you! To begin the new year, I'm starting off with a new type of post: Reader Request. I often receive emails, Instagram comments, blog post comments, etc. from readers asking if I'd write about a specific topic. I love when I receive requests because it tells me what you want to read and it inspires me to explore topics I might not have considered. If you have a request, contact me and I may just write about it for you! 

 

The first Reader's Request is a great one because it's a topic I've struggled with it a lot over the past year or so, but one I've avoided writing about (for a number of reasons): protecting your heart. ('Bet you guessed it from the title, didn't you?) A few weeks ago, I posted an image on Instagram featuring the words "Protect Your [Heart]," and one of my followers asked me if I'd write an article about how to actually do that. As soon as I read her comment, I knew it would be a great topic to write about -- especially because it's something I've struggled with personally. 

I'll be honest: I'm not the best at protecting my heart. I love love so much that sometimes I don't always make the best heart-related choices. For example, I cling to romantic notions of what I think something could be and ignore what it is. I'm often so hopeful things will work out someday that I often avoid dealing with what's happening now. (Healthy, I know...) When it comes to love, hopefulness isn't always a bad thing, but sometimes I'm so frantically hopeful that I swing the door to my heart wide open when it might be better slammed shut. 

Because, you see, a wide open door can lead to some negative consequences. A door left constantly ajar allows others to come and go as they please. When you don't push the door closed, others can (and will) call the shots. When you don't remember to lock the door, sometimes the wrong kinds of people can walk right on in. A lot of us have a hard time turning the lock because we fear missing out on a possibility of love (even if we know, deep down, that it's not right); or we think if we wait a little longer or try a little harder, something will change; or we believe if we close the door on someone, no one else will ever come along; or we assume if we let a lot of people through the door, one is bound to end in happily-ever-after. 

Whatever the reason (and all of us open-heart-door types have them!), keeping the door to your heart wide open at all times can result in a lot of unnecessary pain and heartache. On the flip side, so can closing off your heart completely, but for the sake of this article, we're going to focus on how to protect your heart. (If you struggle with letting love in, check out Let Go & Let It In: How to Stop Being Afraid of Love.) Even though, admittedly, I'm not the best at protecting my own heart, here are some of the ways I've learned to keep watch over my heart...

 

KNOW WHEN TO OPEN THE DOOR

Knowing when to open the door to your heart is the absolute best way to protect it. It's much easier to stop someone from coming in in the first place than it is to ask them to leave later. It's not always easy to know when you should or shouldn't open the door, but usually you have a gut instinct about someone -- and you should listen to it. Whether you want to admit it or not, you know, deep down, whether or not someone deserves to be invited into your world. Pay attention to what your initial reaction to someone tells you. 

 

PAY ATTENTION TO HOW YOU FEEL

After you've let someone have access to your heart, pay attention to how you feel when you're with that person. Really take note of how you feel when you think about him or her. And, in particular, pay attention to how you feel after you spend time with that person. Sometimes, when you're caught up in a romance, you'll feel great with the person, but when you're not with him/her, you feel anxious or uncertain or even unhappy. Paying close attention to your feelings will give you instant access to insights that will tell you whether or not someone is worthy of your time and effort. 

 

COMMUNICATE YOUR FEELINGS

Communication, in any kind of relationship, is so important. If you don't talk about how you feel with someone else, you're bound to have all sorts of problems and misunderstandings. (Full disclosure: I am literally terrible at this. I have gone years without talking about how I feel, which, I know, is absurd, and, as you might imagine, hasn't work out too well for me. Because I'm so bad at it, I know just how important it is.) The more open, honest, and communicative you are with someone else, the more you'll learn about him/her, and the more you know, the better you'll be at making decisions regarding your heart. 

 

LET GO OF ATTACHMENT

This is probably one of the best heart-protection tips -- and tips for generally living a positive life. The only reason we have pain in our lives is because we're too attached to people, things, situations, or ideas. Detaching from people, in particular, is really hard. I recently read this article "Letting Go of Attachment: From A to Zen" and I found it super eye-opening and helpful. When you're not clinging to someone (or the idea of someone), you're able to have a clearer vision of who someone really is. The more clarity you have, the more you'll know whether or not someone is really good for you or not. 

 

WATCH WHAT PEOPLE DO (NOT SAY)

You've probably heard this type of advice before, but it's vital when it comes to protecting your heart. People can say absolutely anything they want at any time, and it's easy to believe that words are enough. But they're not. What matters, when it comes to matters of the heart, is action. To protect your heart, pay attention not to what people say, but to what they do. For example, saying "I love you" means nothing if they don't treat you in a loving way. It's easy to get swept away with what's being said, but actions are the only thing that matters when it comes to protecting your heart. 

 

DON'T FEAR BEING ALONE

A lot of us fail to protect our hearts because we're afraid of being alone, and we'd rather tolerate being treated badly than be faced with solitude. This is very bad for the protection of the heart because it can cause you to stay in situations that make you feel unhappy for much longer than you need to. One of the very best ways to protect your heart is to be okay with being alone. If you're comfortable with solitude, you won't stay in bad situations longer than necessary, and you won't settle for less than you deserve simply because you're lonely. 

 

Protecting your heart is hard work, and I definitely struggle with it myself, but I hope these tips help you if you're struggling to find what's best for you. Most of us value our relationships so highly, but we don't always pay attention to how we really, truly feel when we're in (or out of) them. Protecting your heart doesn't mean closing the door to possibilities or love; it means making sure that the people and experiences you let in are worthy of your love.  

 

 

Loving-Your-Self

Protecting your heart goes hand-in-hand with self-love. Want to empower yourself with some serious self-love and acceptance? Start loving yourself (or increase the love you already have for yourself!) with the inspiration and motivation found in Loving Your Self: An Empowering Workbook for Increasing Self-LoveFilled with uplifting encouragement, thought-provoking questions, and engaging exercises, Loving Your Self is an essential tool for mastering the art of self-love. Learn more about the workbook here and purchase your own copy here.


happy is not a choice: the difference between happiness + positivity

Positivity
 

 

You've probably heard quotes like "happiness is a choice" or "if you want to be happy, be" or "people are as happy as they make up their minds to be." (I'm probably guilty of using these words. Scroll through my Instagram feed and I bet you'll find "choose happy" or something along those lines amidst my many quote-themed photos.) In theory, these quotes come from a good place. They're meant to highlight the notion that, though you don't always have control of your circumstances, you have control over how you feel. 

Except... that's not true.  

Quotes like "choose happiness" or "think happy thoughts" aim to convey the idea that, no matter what happens, you have control over what you think, but what they actually convey is that you have control over what you feel. But there's a big difference between what you think and how you feel, and the idea that thoughts and feelings are interchangeable is potentially very damaging because, much as you might want to, you can't control how you feel. And you can't control happiness because happiness is a feeling. You can't just choose to be happy when your dog just died or your wife just left or you're suffering from depression. You can't choose to be happy when you just found out your child has cancer or your parents are abusive or your doctor just diagnosed you with a chronic illness. 

If you've ever experienced any of these things (or any other heart-breaking, painful, or sad situation), you know this is the truth. No matter how much you want to be happy, sometimes you just cannot be. This is normal and to be expected because happiness is a way of feeling, not a way of thinking.  

While feeling isn't something you can control, thinking is. The literal definition of to feel is "to experience an emotion." To think is defined as "to direct one's mind toward someone or something." Experiencing an emotion just happens. You feel sad when something saddens you. You feel happy when something (or someone!) makes you happy. You can (sometimes) decide whether or not you get carried away with your emotions, but you can't control whether you have them in the first place.  

You feel how you feel when you feel it, and feelings can't be changed by words like "be happy!" or "think happy thoughts!" As anyone who's faced serious trauma or heartbreak knows, in the midst of true pain and loss, happy thoughts are not an option. But what is an option is thinking positively. Happiness is not always an option, but positive thinking always is. Let's take a closer look at how they're different... 

 

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN POSITIVITY + HAPPINESS 

You might be saying to yourself right about now, Aren't positivity and happiness basically the same thing? Aren't "positive thoughts" and "happy thoughts" the same?  No, they are not the same, and the difference between them is very, very important (especially for anyone striving to live a positively present life!). 

Fleeting Emotion vs. Logical Choice

As I said before, happiness is an emotion. Emotions, as a rule, are fleeting. Some last longer than others, but there are very rarely entire days when you are happy. Even when things are going incredibly well and you're having an amazing day, you're not actually experiencing true happiness and joy that entire day. (Same goes for negative emotions too — no matter how difficult the situation, you usually experience a range of emotions, not just "sad," and even in the most challenging of times, positive feelings like hope and even happiness can be experienced.) 

On the other hand, positive thinking is an active choice — the decision to focus on the possibility of good results or seek out the goodness in any situation or person (good or bad). Positive thinking is logical, not emotional. It's more about using your head than it is about using your heart. It's about taking whatever you experience (and feel) and trying your best to make the most of the situation (even if the situation is terrible). 

Experiencing vs. Learning

Happiness must be experienced. Positivity, on the other hand, is something that can be learned and practiced by everyone. No matter what's going on in your life, you can strive for a positive attitude. You can also practice it (and get better at it!), which is something you can't do with happiness. You can fake happiness, but that's not the same as practicing it. You're either happy or you're not. You can't learn to be happier, and you certainly can't force yourself to feel (truly) happy when you just don't feel that way.

A lot of people struggle because of the notion that you can somehow become happier overall by doing something external (getting a better job, falling in love, buying the newest gadget) but those kinds of things only provide a burst of happiness that will eventually fade until we find that next "happiness high." Happiness can be gained from external things, but it won't last because it's merely an emotion. Instead of focusing on experiences, it's much more useful to spend time and energy learning how to find the good in any situation (rather that striving for short bursts of happiness). 

Unique Feeling vs. Similar Thinking

Another major difference between happiness and positivity is this: happiness is incredibly unique. (This is why it's such a hard topic to study and deeply comprehend.) What fills your heart with joy might not even register on my happiness radar. It's kind of like love in a way (except it usually doesn't last as long): it's something we all experience at some point, but it's hard to put it into words because we all experience it so differently and for such different reasons.

Also, because happiness is a feeling, it's experienced in unique ways too. If you and I were both to think of a time when we were incredibly happy, we might have very different reactions to that memory even if we both labeled it as a "happy" time. From a mental and a physical standpoint, we all experience happiness differently. However, when it comes to positive thinking, we can all practice similar techniques. We all know what it means to try to find the good in a situation (even if we find different kinds of goodness). Positive thinking is a logical, thought-driven experience. It's something we can all understand and, most of the time, experience in a similar way. For this reason, it's much easier to share and teach to others. (And, as an added bonus, the more someone practices positive thinking, the more happiness s/he is likely to experience.) 

Big Picture vs. Present Moment

Whatever you experience (good and bad) can impact your happiness levels. It's hard to be happy if aspects of your life (some of which might be out of your control) aren't going well. For example, let's say you're having a really great day at work and you receive an unexpected promotion. This should make you really happy, right? It might — but it might not make you happy for very long if something really unhappy is happening in another area of life. You can't experience true happiness when certain areas of your life are negative, uncertain, or unhappy. Happiness focuses on the big picture. This isn't a bad thing, but it's an important difference from positivity, which isn't at all concerned with (or impacted by) the big picture.

Positive thinking focuses on the current moment and determining what you can gain from that experience or interaction. It's about making the most of whatever is happening to you right now. It should not tainted by what has already happened or what could happen (unless you're recalling a time in which you struggled with a difficult situation and overcame it, reminding yourself that you're strong enough to survive whatever you're currently going through). Positivity is about taking whatever's happening and trying to make it as good as it can possibly be, regardless of what's going on in other areas of your life or what might happen in the future. 

There are some major differences between happiness and positivity, but making the differentiation between happiness and positivity isn't meant to make "positive" seem better than "happy," or to put down happiness in anyway. It's only meant to show that there is a big difference. Here's why this difference matters...

 

WHY THE DIFFERENCE MATTERS

After reading about the differences between happiness and positivity you might be thinking, So what? Why does this matter? It matters because so many people use these very different terms as if they are interchangeable, and this can lead to damaging beliefs in those who read/hear phrases like "if you want to be happy, be happy!" or "choose to be happy!" 

Because happiness is not a choice, when people are told to be happy and they're unable to achieve a happy state (because they're in a bad situation, because they have a chemical imbalance that doesn't allow them to be happy often, or for any other reason), they feel like failures. If happiness is promoted as something that can just be chosen, like pulling an item off a store's shelf, those who cannot seem to "choose" it feel as though there is something wrong with them. On the other hand, if you were to suggest to someone who is struggling that s/he "think positively" (accompanied by suggestions for how to actually do it), those words might actually be useful and encouraging. Happiness is not an action that can simply be chosen, and suggesting it is can actually cause feelings of frustration, confusion, and even self-loathing. 

And speaking of self-loathing, one of the other reasons using happiness and positive thinking are used interchangeably is: it causes a lot of people (most of us, in fact!) to strive for something that is unattainable: a lasting, permanent state of happiness. Due to many popular culture messages about happiness, many of us believe we should strive for happiness most of the time, even when we're sad or struggling, even when we're stressed or heartbroken. 

As Dan Harris writes in 10% Happier, the “pursuit of happiness becomes the source of our unhappiness.” If you're striving for a constant state of happiness — a fleeting emotion that rarely lasts for an extended period of time and that sometimes comes from negative sources, like abused substances, the approval of negative people, unhealthy activities, etc. — you're bound to be, at the very least, disappointed a good deal of the time. You might feel guilty when you don't feel happy when everything is going well or confused when you experience happiness during difficult times.

Making an emotion (happiness) a life-long goal is a pretty great way to set yourself up for a lot of disappointment and stress. While there will (hopefully!) be many, many moments of happiness in your life, no one is happy every single moment of every single day, and striving for that is like spending your life hoping to find an actual pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. This isn't meant to leave you feeling as if happiness is some crazy dream that'll never be made real; it's only meant to show how the pursuit of happiness isn't what leads to true fulfillment. Happiness comes in amazing, fleeting moments that we're all lucky to experience from time to time. And the best way to keep an eye out for these moments (and make the most of them when they happen!) is to focus on positive thinking, on seeking out the good in your life, no matter where you find yourself. 

Rather that focusing on choosing happiness, what we should be focusing on is thinking positively. Remember: we can't choose how we feel, but we can choose how we think about those feelings (and whatever it was that caused us to feel that way). Instead of focusing so much being happy, what we should be focusing on is how we can make the most of our lives (both the happy and the sad parts). 

When we see something that tells us to simply "be happy," we should question that request and think about how the notion of happiness-as-a-choice is actually impacting our lives. Of course, there's absolutely nothing wrong with thinking happy thoughts or gravitating toward things that make you happy, but it's important to keep in mind that happiness (no matter how great!) is fleeting. If you're looking for lasting contentment, learning the art of positive thinking is the best place to put your time and energy. 

 

 

Loving-Your-Self

Positive thinking can be tough when it comes to self-contemplation, which is why it's so important to focus on self-love. Want to empower yourself with some serious self-love and acceptance? Start loving yourself (or increase the love you already have for yourself!) with the inspiration and motivation found in Loving Your Self: An Empowering Workbook for Increasing Self-LoveFilled with uplifting encouragement, thought-provoking questions, and engaging exercises, Loving Your Self is an essential tool for mastering the art of self-love. Learn more about the workbook here and purchase your own copy here.