I’m not a whole lot of fun when it comes to New Year's. I don’t like going to big parties. I don’t really even like staying up late or drinking too much champagne as the new year rolls in. I tend to use New Year's Eve as a time of introspection, quiet reflection, intention setting, gratitude for the previous year’s blessings, releasing what I don’t want to carry with me into the New Year, and quiet communion with the Divine. This year, I’m going to a hot springs resort by myself to do this, so I can enter 2014 from a centered, connected, intentional, mindful place. At least, that’s the plan…
But first, a few reflections on 2013.
A Year of Change: Professional
2013 was a year full of change for me. Many of the changes were thrilling professional dreams come true. Most notably, my book Mind Over Medicine debuted on the New York Times bestseller’s list. My National Public Television special Heal Yourself: Mind Over Medicine was a hit. The Whole Health Medicine Institute MD Training program launched, and we just graduated the inaugural class. Plus, I landed a book deal for The Fear Cure: Cultivating Courage As Medicine For The Body, Mind & Soul, wrote another book The Anatomy of a Calling, launched and completed the second year of Find Your Calling with Martha Beck & Amy Ahlers, and got started with development of my next two programs- Medicine For The Soul with Rachel Naomi Remen in January 2014 and The Surrender Sanctuary with Tosha Silver in February 2014 (more on those two programs soon, so stay tuned!)
A Year of Change: Personal
On a personal level, however, 2013 was exceptionally challenging. Trying to accomplish all of these professional goals while prioritizing my amazing seven year old daughter Siena was hard. She is such a supremely enlightened little individual that I hope she forgives me for the times I wasn’t with her, but I worried a lot about whether or not I was being the kind of mother she deserves. I spent a lot of time reflecting on what it means to define success on my own terms, and one of my definitions of success includes raising a happy, healthy, secure, confident child. So far, that’s exactly what she is, but I’m very aware of how this kind of career can seduce you away from what really matters.
For those of us in the United States, today is a day of giving thanks, of counting our blessings, of expressing gratitude, of remembering how far we’ve come. But even if you live elsewhere, I invite you to give thanks not just today, but every day.
It’s no accident that I put Gratitude in the healing bubble of the wellness model I introduced in my first TEDx talk and will be teaching further in my upcoming book Mind Over Medicine. Along with Love, Pleasure, and Service, Gratitude is essential to living a whole, balanced, optimally healthy life.
The Science of Gratitude
In her book The How Of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky shares that the happiest people were not the richest, most beautiful, or most successful. Instead, as it turns out, the golden ticket to happiness lies not so much in changing our natural tendencies or even our life circumstances, but in adopting certain behaviors that have been scientifically proven to increase happiness. In her study, happy people shared similar traits.
They devoted a lot of time to nurturing their relationships with family and friends, they were first to lend a helping hand, practiced optimism when imagining their futures, savored life’s pleasures and made efforts to try to live in the moment, exercised frequently, were deeply committed to lifelong goals and ambitions, and showed poise and strength when facing life’s inevitable challenges. She also found that you can be happier by avoiding over-thinking, cutting yourself loose from ruminating thoughts, eliminating social comparisons, taking action to solve problems right when they arise, seeking meaning amidst stress, loss or trauma, practicing forgiveness, engaging in activities that get you “in the flow,” smiling more, and making efforts to take care of your body.
But perhaps the single most potent factor affecting how happy you are - and the one most easy to change - is how much you make gratitude a practice.
As described in his book Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman conducted a study and taught a single happiness-inducing strategy to a group of severely depressed individuals. Although these people were so abysmally depressed they could barely climb out of bed, they were instructed to do one simple task every day: go to a website and write down three good things that happened to them that day. Within 15 days, their depression improved from “severely depressed” to “mildly to moderately depressed.” 94% of them reported feeling better!
“Mama… I’m BORED.”
“You have an entire bedroom full of toys, a whole art table full of art supplies, a hundred books you could read, and four kids in the neighborhood dying to play with you. How can you possibly be bored?”
It’s enough to make every mom roll her eyes. Yet, I can’t quite bring myself to get irritated with my daughter, not only because I’m young enough to remember what it was like to a kid, but because, even now, one of my greatest fears in life is that I’ll wind up bored.
I remember, when I was in medical school, telling people I’d probably grow bored with medicine in ten years and wind up going to law school. I figured, after ten years of practicing law, I’d maybe take up journalism or work for a publishing company.
Only eight years passed before I quit my job as a doctor, but by then, I had already started another career as a professional artist. And since then, I’ve also started writing books, blogging, and running a business as an online entrepreneur. Clearly, I was a bit prescient.
I also grew… not so much bored, but just plain unhappy… with my first marriage after four years. I broke up with my second husband on our two year anniversary. (Third time’s a charm - we’ve been together for ten years now. Phew.) I’d like to say that our relationship is working because Matt’s far from boring, but while this is true, I think the success of our relationship has more to do with my attitude than anything else. This time, I chose to focus on the good stuff, rather than complaining about the bad - a surefire way to take power over your life, rather than feeling like the victim or blaming something or someone else for being “boring.”
Photo Credit: Armosa Studios
When I signed up to attend Chris Guillebeau’s World Domination Summit in Portland, I was motivated mostly by the desire to connect with my blogger friends. I had no idea I’d come away from it noodling how I will change the world with $100. But before I share my ideas about how I might do this and invite you to share how you would change the world with $100, let me give you a little back story.
An Investment In Community
In 2011, the first World Domination Summit was kicked off at a loss of about $30,000, which Chris felt was totally worth it, as an investment in bringing together his online community live. He viewed it as a way to give back, to bring people together, to thank his online community, and to experience the joy of witnessing the tribe that unites around his Art of Non-Conformity message.
Nonetheless, as a savvy businessman and author of The $100 Startup, he knew it would be good business to at least break even the second year around. So he raised the prices a bit.
In the interim, Chris, whose business is famously non-commercial and sponsor-free, was approached by corporate sponsors who offered to offset the cost of the summit, in exchange for banners, sponsor announcements, and the other kind of hoopla you often see at large conferences. But, true to his integrity, Chris made the decision to stay aligned with his policy, even if it meant running the conference at a loss again.