The Joy of Giving

This year I participated in a gift tree for the children of workers in my area. It was fun to go out and buy for young children and especially to wrap up the gifts. I don’t know why, but there is such joy in wrapping and seeing a wrapped gift. Maybe it is the unnecessary beauty added to something mundane. Maybe it is the sense of the unknown and the anticipation. Maybe it is seeing something special amidst the blandness of the rest of the house. No matter the reason, I hope the wrapped presents and the gifts themselves bring as much joy to the children as they did for me.

What has your gift giving been like this year? Has it been a hassle to go out into the cold and buy an obligatory gift for the aunt you only see once a year? Are you worried about the added expense of the holidays? Are you feeling resentful that what you normally give is nowhere near what you receive? Perhaps it is time to rethink giving.

giftsGiving should be from the heart. It is not an obligation or a social necessity. The joy I received from the gifts I purchased is because, first, I decided to give. No obligation was in place. I choose to give. Second, I choose to give to the children of people who have gifted me throughout the year. It was personal and heartfelt. I wanted to show my appreciation. Third, they won’t even know it is from me. The gifts are from “Santa” and neither the children nor the workers will know who it came from. This takes out the personal element and makes it magical. I secretly gave. They receive with general, not specific, gratefulness. The entire exercise is bigger than us all.

This season explore the joy of giving.

Choose to Give

Look at your gift buying list. Really look at and connect with each name. Consciously choose to give. Remove obligation. Remove the thought that you will be a pariah if you are the only one who does not give. Truly look at the other person. What makes them special in your eyes? What do you want to thank them for? What is going on in their life; could they use a little joy and love? Then choose to give to them from your heart.

Give with Intention

Why are you giving to the person you are gifting? Do you want to thank them? Do you want them to know they are loved? Do you want to make them feel better after a tough year? Don’t just give a thing. Give an intention for their well-being.

Give without Expectation

Make it about them, not you. Don’t try to give a better present than your siblings. Don’t give to receive gratitude. Give with a presence of anonymity. You can still put your name on the present, but remove all of your expectations for what “should” come back to you. Truly give to the other with no expectation to receive back.

And remember that giving does not just mean material things. Don’t just give tangible presents but give of your presence. Be aware of those around you and be wholly present for them. Give compassion to those you love, and those who trigger you. Give kindness; as the stores get busy consciously give kindness to the store clerks and other shoppers.

This holiday season bring back the joy of giving . . . and notice the ten-fold joy returned to you.

taking water for granted

Waste Not Want Not

I took a long hot shower. And I felt a little guilty. Cabo San Lucas has been on water rations for the past few months so getting a shower at all is a luxury. On my recent visit to the States, when I was able to have more than a three-minute shower, I felt a little guilty. When I shared this with friends, we made jokes and of course I released any guilt, but it really struck me how water is not an issue for them – not even on their minds – where to me it is a constant thought and challenge.

Water usage is in the top 10 of things I think about in Mexico. When can I wash dishes? How many loads of laundry can I get done when the water is turned on? Will I get to take a shower today? Water is rationed. Water is precious. Water is priceless and rare. Water is not wasted.

In Illinois when I caught a friend washing the kitchen sink and not really using the water but letting it run full blast down the drain, I freaked out. To me it was like sucking all the air out of the room or buying groceries and immediately putting them in the trash. To her, it was a daily occurrence. Water is abundant. Water is readily available. Water is taken for granted.

I have often written about focusing on what we have and acknowledging the good in our lives, but this is more than just taking things for granted versus acknowledging our abundance. This is about truly being aware of our lives and what is happening around us. How often do we go about our day not even noticing what we are doing? Not seeing what we are using? Not noticing what is available to us? It is almost as if we are sleep walking through life. We are going through our routine and unless there is an issue we don’t really see what we are doing or effecting.

What if you spent one day really noticing everything you touch, experience, and have? You wake up in a room with a comfortable temperature. You are able to get out of the bed. You have the ability to take a shower and get clean. You have a refrigerator which keeps your food fresh. A vehicle takes you to do work allowing you to receive money to buy what you need – and sometimes a bit more. And on and on. This is not to mention the enjoyment you have when you interact with family and friends. Being able to enjoy music or a movie. Create a piece of art. See and smell beautiful flowers.

What if you spent one day and really looked at what is around you? Like water, what are the things you love and would miss, but don’t acknowledge every day? Is it your spouse? Your children? Housing? Ready transportation? The ability to walk?

Take a moment today to really acknowledge the world you interact with and the wonder and abundance all around you.

working in paradise

The Truth About Paradise

When I speak to friends back in the States, they always have the same response. “You must be loving it there in paradise.” Their words convey a perception that I am spending my days drinking piña coladas on the beach. My friends assume our move to Mexico means a life of luxury, ease and perfection. The weather, scenery, culture, and food are amazing down here, but there is a truth about paradise I want to share.

The definition of paradise according to Merriam-Webster is “a place or state of bliss, felicity, or delight.” Paradise is not perfect weather or amazing food. Paradise is not an ocean view. Paradise is being able to experience the bliss, joy and delight in the weather, food, and view. Paradise is being able to experience bliss, joy and delight even when not surrounded by natural beauty. Paradise is a state of mind and a way of life. Paradise is a place within, not a location without.

working in paradiseWe have all had times in our lives, difficult times, when we wanted to run away and join the circus. When we want to leave our current lives to escape to a foreign land. However, most of the time, the problem is not where we are located but how we are approaching life. No matter where we are, we bring along with us all our own issues and baggage. The setting may change, but the challenges are just the same. This is seen daily in my new community. Not everyone down here is in paradise. Many of my fellow ex-pats spend their days complaining. “This isn’t good enough. This isn’t fast enough. This is not the way I like it.” These ex-pats are surrounded by the same “paradise” I am but they do not experience any of it. Wherever you are, you have the choice to create paradise or hell.

The paradise I experience is of course aided by the location, but I need to mentally create the state of bliss. My new location did not take away the personal growth work I am doing. My new location did not remove the need to make money. My new location did not magically make difficult people easier to deal with. I still need to work on myself, work for a living, and work on my relationships. A few years ago I learned the quote, “Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.” This phrase points to how we are in a human experience and no matter how enlightened we are we still need to go about the same daily human experience as everyone else. The same goes for living in a resort town. Yes, the view is gorgeous. And yes, I have laundry and grocery shopping to do today. Oh, and I might be triggered at the store and have to work through my response to it. Life goes on. And it is up to us to make each and every activity blissful.

How can you begin to create paradise in your life? Where is there beauty and wonder you could stop and recognize? Where do you need to disconnect from tasks and reconnect with experience? What viewpoint could be shifted to bring you a bit more bliss?

woman smartphone

Virtual Versus Actual Reality

Do you feel sweat on your brow, does your heart quicken and your throat contract, does dread and panic spread across your mind and body – when you realize you don’t have your mobile phone? Then you could have Nomophobia.

This mental state, which is not recognized in the current DSM-V, was first labeled by a study conducted in Britain. The term “NO-MObile-PHone-phOBIA” was coined in Britain back in 2010 and was noted to be to be experienced by 58% of men and 47% of women. Steward Fox-Mills explains that “whether you have run out of credit or battery, lose your phone or are in an area with no reception, being phoneless can bring on a panicky symptom in our 24/7 culture.” I have observed this as an apparently severe aliment of the Millennial, but believe more GenXers and Boomers than would like to admit it are probably affected by this phobia every year.

woman smartphoneWhen did we become so attached to being attached electronically? When has a text, a Like, a link, or being Followed become more important than a live connection? When did we become more rewarded and connected to technology versus living breathing beings?

Knowingly or unknowingly technology companies have tapped into our neuropsychology, especially those of us who are extraverts. “Extraverts thus appear particularly sensitive to impulsive, incentive-reward-driven behavior by temperament and by situational factors heightening positive affect,” reports a study in October of 2010. Basically the more immediate the reward, the more the reward is valued. Every time we get a text, a Like, or an email we get a little boost. The reward endorphins can become addicting.

Lately I have been playing a silly gems-based game on my phone, and have noticed little by little how it has taken me away from others – away from life. “I matched four colors! I received a special tool. I made it to the next round.” Each ridiculous “win” makes me feel accomplishment – and then I can’t wait to get the next one. I want that high. The physiological reward overtakes me. Like any “doing” act, I feel accomplishment and pride in the completion.  And like any drug, the rewards are false, short-lived, and potentially harmful. Staring at my screen gives me immediate gratification, but the feeling is fleeting. I need to win the next round to feel the high again. Win, high, drop, repeat. Then I started to notice not only my addiction, but how it was affecting my life. I started to notice how I am reaching for my phone instead of looking my husband in the eye. I realize I am staring more at a screen than at the beautiful sea surrounding me. I realize my life and existence is relegated to a 3.7” screen.

Our modern electronic life offers many opportunities for instant – and fleeting gratification. The key of truly living and enjoying life, however, is to build joy over the long term. For lasting joy, like lasting love it is necessary to be committed to the long-haul, the non-flashy, and the seemingly mundane. Real joy is birthed in finding beauty and truth in every ordinary action and sense.  True love and truly living are not flashy. They exist in the common place, which is where we can find real fulfillment.

Think about your happiest moment, did it involve an award or the work which lead up to the recognition? Were you playing a video game or laughing hard with a friend? Was it the result of a carefully crafted corporate plan or the natural unfolding of a flower? My happiest moments have occurred at the top of mountains or near the ocean. I am not usually “doing” anything. My entire being is receptive of every sound, smell, glimmer, color, and texture. I am engaged. I am connected to nature and others. The difference is being fully in my body. Electronics take us out of our bodies; they restrict us to only a small portion of our brains. To be truly alive, to be truly happy, we must occupy our entire minds, our entire bodies, and our entire spirits.

Where you are filling yourself with instant and fleeting gratification? Where are you consumed with virtual versus actual reality? What precious moments are you missing? How can you bring yourself back to a real, long-lasting, consistent, and joyful life?

Make a start by joining me this weekend for the National Day of Unplugging. Don’t just turn off your phone, but all of your electronic devices. See if you can connect with your family, your friends, your loved ones, nature, and yourself this weekend.


Do You See What You Are Missing

My eyesight, or lack thereof, has always taught me lessons. Back in 2008 and in my recent book, From Type A to Type Me: How to Stop “Doing” Life and Start Living It, I shared my experiences of having poor eyesight before receiving my first glasses. I learned a lot about myself through my microscopic view of the world due to my near-sightedness. Then, once I had the right glasses, I began to see the beauty and interconnectedness of the world. Now my eyes are ready to teach me the next lesson.

A few years back I received Lasik surgery. For the first time in my life since third grade I had no need for glasses. I could see with crystal clear vision both things close by and far away. No glasses fogged up due to cold air. No raindrops blurred the lenses. I did not have to frantically switch glasses going from sun to shade. I could see the clock on the other side of the room when I woke up. I was free.

Not wanting to miss out on this blessing, I made sure to make the most of it. Using this new vision I snorkeled and saw the amazing and colorful fish in the sea. My trip to Peru allowed me to see amazing vistas and ancient wonders clearly. For the past few years, I often stopped to watch a sunset and enjoy the amazing dance of sun on the waves. Every moment was a beautiful experience of wonder and beauty.

But now that is fading.

Last summer I finally admitted that my eyesight had changed. By September, I had distance glasses again. Not realizing how much my sight had changed, I assumed I would just need the glasses for driving. The second I put them on, I realized how blind I had been. Now I am adjusting to the new routine of needing my glasses every time I leave the house and needing to remove them when I need to see close up.

I am sad for the loss of vision but I have no regrets. I knew my perfect sight through Lasik was a gift. For the nine years the surgery provided me with the gift of sight I could never have had on my own. Thankfully I did not take it for granted and actively chose to make the most of every moment my eyes were open.

What gift is in your life right now? Maybe it is something physical like your ability to walk or hear. Maybe it is a perfect job or hobby. Maybe it is your favorite painting or path to walk. Maybe it is a relationship or your canine companion which adds much to your life. Maybe it is a skill you have which you love to share with others.

How often are you aware of the wonders of this gift? Are you taking it for granted? Or are you celebrating each time you are able to experience your gift?


Take a few minutes today and inventory the gifts in your life. Your ability to see, hear, walk, talk, read, write, create, connect, love, and laugh. Look at the people in your life and how they add to your joy. Look around your house and really see your favorite items.

Everything in life is transitory. Take a moment every day to see and acknowledge your blessings, before they are gone.