Although I am not an expert in psychology, I believe I have some useful insights to share with you that have developed over the course of the past fourteen months of being completely removed from the life I have known. I have spent these last months restructuring my life, reformatting my thinking patterns, and really turning myself inside out to find a place of balance, serenity, and joy in my life. Stepping away from my social circle, my home, and all my comfort zones provided me with plenty of time to reflect and work towards some much-needed self-improvement. Although on paper I always had everything I could ever dream of, 2017-2019 propelled me into some not-so-great places in my headspace. There were so many wonderful things happening in my life throughout these years yet I seemed to obsess on the ways friends during that period truly, deeply hurt me. I was in a rut. No matter what I accomplished or how much love I was surrounded by, I was determined to fixate on those who I felt wronged me. I spent those years blaming myself for things I did not do, closing myself off to those around me in anticipation of them failing me too, self-victimizing, and just being overall not my happiest self. I sadly became mistrusting of others as well. Launching into isolation during the pandemic served me as a welcomed blessing by providing me with ample time to think, correct, and reset. Below I share with you my personal tips on finding true happiness through liberation from all that bogged me down. I'm really thrilled to share with you a year's worth of difficult self-exploration work broken down into fifteen concise tips that I guarantee will change your life immensely if you are willing to incorporate them into your daily practices as well.
1. Spend More Time in Nature. As a city girl, I rarely spent time in nature. I was petrified of bears, bees, hunters, ticks, lurking murderers hiding in forests, chupacabra...The list is endless. On our road trip, we started to spend more time outdoors since most indoor activities were closed during the pandemic. Our first encounter with nature began with bike rides through the swamps of Hilton Head. The Jurassic Park-like landscape lured us to take longer rides through the Spanish moss-soaked trees and massive oaks. My confidence slowly built and before I knew it I was cheerfully waving to the alligators we rode by just as I would to my New York City neighbors. Next were the trails of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Trekking its stunning trails truly challenged me as we visited in September when bears are actively fattening up in preparation for winter. During the hikes when we seemed to be the only souls in sight, yes, my heart beat a little faster, and horrible images of being mauled by bears constantly crept into my thoughts. Yet, after completing these hikes I always found myself rewarded by feelings of rejuvenation and longing for more time embraced by trees, the crackling of fallen leaves, and the most comforting silence. So there we were embarking, again and again, on trails throughout the USA. Whether they were nine-mile treacherous trails in Telluride, three-mile trails through the slot canyons of Utah or two-mile trails along the ominous Oregon coast, I suddenly found myself always craving to be with nature.
Nature brings you closer to divinity. It leaves you in awe. It humbles you. It challenges you to prove to yourself that you are capable of everything. Nature will heal you. It will help peel away your fears, mostly by forcing you to face them. Submerging in nature ignites big questions about purpose, life, goals. The lakes and streams offer moments of self-reflection with the natural reflections they provide. Nature will literally stand by your side and reflect with you. The mountain peaks stand with you as you go through your peaks and valleys. The crashing waves cry with your pounding heart. The barren deserts show you endless possibilities. The skies loyally follow you wherever you go and never leave your side. Snow will transform your nostalgia for childhood by magically turning you into a child again. The stars will gently remind you of how tiny you are in the grand scheme of things while also whispering the endless possibilities available to you. Rainbows shoot jolts of love straight into your heart while the setting sun pumps it with gratitude. The rain mentors you as you search within yourself and coaches you into entering tomorrow's sunny day better prepared. The tall cliffs teach you to pause. The pods of dolphins on the horizon remind you to smile. The warm seas purify your soul. There is nothing, absolutely nothing that will change your life more deeply than immersing yourself in nature. The more time you spend with it, the more positive changes you will see in yourself. I promise that eventually, you will hear it speaking directly to you and answering most of your questions. In my experience, spending time with nature regularly is the most crucial step you can take towards finding inner peace and happiness.
2. Prune Bad Relationships.
As a result of being completely removed from my circle of friends and acquaintances while traveling through the country, I really had some time to reflect on many of my friendships. I have learned that I held on to many friendships because I either felt bad cutting them off or I found it difficult to let go of the memories we made together. I spent too much time wondering why certain friends never extended invitations to us, while always accepting our invites. I also contemplated silly things like why certain people wouldn't respond to a text, or care enough to follow our road trip journey either through my blog, or Instagram account. I mean, they came over for many dinners and soirees, shouldn't they be interested in my big adventure? My mind just went to all these useless places whenever I thought of them. They didn't make me feel good about myself. They often made me feel used and unappreciated yet I needlessly sought their approval and affection. With a lot of time and effort, I mustered up the courage to stop reaching out to everyone that has made me wonder too often if they truly valued my friendship and whether they appreciated my generosity. Not surprisingly, these folks never reached out to me either. Since letting them go, I no longer have to dwell on the negative thoughts that weighed me down whenever I thought of them. I had a very hard time accepting that sometimes friends just grow apart or that those I considered good friends did not feel the same way about me. It's been gratifying to focus on spending time with friends who I truly know love me, want the best for me, and understand me with all my quirks. I'm disappointed in myself for allowing myself to focus so immensely, for so long, on those who did not treat me well but I am also proud of myself for finally cutting the chord of those very relationships that made me feel bad about myself. If you find yourself complaining, crying over, or even gossiping about a friend often, this is not a true friendship.
There are also those so-called friends who are obviously threatened by your successes and clearly try to compete with you, or the friends who you cannot be honest with because you know they will take things too personally or get defensive, or the friends who cannot remove themselves from the purposeless drama that they obsessively dwell on and invite into their lives, or the friends who when you share that you are making a huge move to the west coast immediately respond with "will you be buying or renting there?" because their capacity to dream and take risks is limited... you get the point. Make no space for people who don't understand you or help you become the best version of yourself. Limit your time with people who cannot fathom changes or transformations or they will try to limit your aspirations. It is absolutely possible to maintain communication with these questionable friends by bumping them into the category of close acquaintances, just don't invest too much time or effort into people that don't inspire you, understand you, and support you. Setting many unfulfilling relationships aside allowed me to also set aside harmful feelings and ultimately cleared the way to focus on the friends who make me feel good. Our time is extremely limited. Focus on the friends who are secure enough in their own life decisions and don't need to compare their life to yours, focus on friends who inspire you, focus on friends who genuinely love you, focus on friends who are on the same path of self-improvement as you are, focus on friends who have similar values and aspirations so that you can be a source of encouragement to one another. Focus on friends who fulfill you not fatigue you.
3. Make a Drastic Change in Your Life.
Yes, that's right. Make a drastic change in your life in order to drastically change (and I don't mean get a new haircut). You will never live your best life within the safety net of complacency. We all fall into patterns where our routine feels safe and comforting even when we know deep down inside that we could experience so much more if we just allowed ourselves to. We often follow the same patterns of convincing ourselves why we shouldn't pursue our hopes and dreams (lack of money, saving for the future, lack of time, etc...) I'm imploring you, based on my personal experience, to change jobs, change cities, change your direction entirely- just make any transition that will make you nervous, afraid, and hesitant so that when you finally do make that shift you can feel victorious, successful, and ready to take on anything. Too many people let life slip away and put their dreams on hold for a day that may never come. Taking big risks in your life will yield big results, mainly a new phase in life when you will feel exhilarated and rejuvenated. The best thing I ever did was leave my comfort zone and take the risk of traveling the USA during a global pandemic with no plan, no friends, no vaccine, and burning through enough of our savings to put a hefty down payment on a beautiful, new house. The fears that almost kept me from living this dream adventure are gone, along with the money spent on our road trip, but the memories are more priceless than any home we could have ever built. The risks we took on the road have encouraged us to take on many more. It feels fantastic to be afraid again. It feels beautifully unsettling to not know what awaits us on the other side of the country as we get ready to move to the west coast. I have had butterflies in my stomach for the past thirteen months of my life because I allowed myself to make a drastic change of leaving home, then traveling the country, and now changing coasts. We could have easily stayed put in New York City for those thirteen months we left it, saving each penny during an unprecedented era, remaining safe in our apartment where we would be protected from the impending virus (which I was petrified of at the onset by the way). Luckily, we were able to break through the physical and mental lockdowns that would have kept us chained to our routine lives. Make that drastic change and fall in love with life. Allow yourself to approach the unknown, to live unconventionally, to follow your dreams no matter how scary they seem. I can attest, from personal experience, that facing one fear at a time will slowly begin to unravel a routine life and launch you into a life of wonder, excitement, and well-serving uncertainty.
4. Read Books That Inspire You and Give You the Tools to be the Best Version of Yourself.
Filling your mind with fantastic guidance towards self-improvement, inspiring teachings of great thinkers, images of big dreams and goals, as well the influential words of people who share their stories of insurmountable accomplishments, truly will shape the way you think and approach your life. Just like we are what we eat, we also are what we think. Pack that brain of yours with the knowledge that fuels creative and powerful thoughts that will encourage you to live your best life as a wonderful human being. Here are some of my favorites that helped me evolve over the past year:
"The Fourth Agreement" - Don Miguel Ruiz
"The Fifth Agreement" - Don Miguel Ruiz and Don Jose Ruiz
"The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari" - Robin Sharma
"The Secret" - Rhonda Byrne
"The Journey Within" - Radhanath Swami
"The Fountain Head" - Ayn Rand
"Many Lives, Many Masters" - Brian Weiss
5. Live Generously and Engage in Thoughtful Gestures Each and Every Day.
Nothing brings more joy than making someone else happy. Whether you simply take the extra few seconds to hold the elevator for an approaching person, text a friend an encouraging message, or even send someone you love a surprise gift, the warm reactions you will receive in return supersedes any joy you can experience elsewhere. People are sadly not accustomed to random acts of kindness, you will see this in their reactions to you when you carry these acts out. You may notice the recipient squirm, question the gesture, and even resist accepting your kindness, but ultimately, once they process the circumstance, you'll notice the sparkle in their eyes and the happiness in their smile. Engaging in thoughtful gestures towards others is the only act I can think of that so beautifully fulfills the giver and the receiver mutually. Make it a practice each day to compliment someone on their appearance, or thank a staff member for a job well done, or buy a cup of coffee for the person in line behind you, or treat your friend to lunch, or support a cause that your friend cares about.... the list of ways to participate in a generous lifestyle is endless. When you make it a habit to be thoughtful of others regularly, you will be rewarded with daily bursts of happiness in return. It's that simple. This tip is probably the most simple and least time-consuming way to ensure experiencing joy in your life every single day.
6. Do the Opposite of Whatever Everyone Else is Doing.
If you're doing what everyone else is doing then by default you are living a safe, measured life and not taking the risks you should be to live your fullest life. My message to you is to be different. My life has been so rewarding and fulfilling because I consciously decide, whenever possible, to do the exact opposite of what others are doing. The less treaded territory has almost always been the place that I have found happiness because the road less traveled truly delivers the most unexpected treasures. Humans sensibly feel most safe blending with crowds, traveling in herds. It's comforting to know that there is support in the successes and failures we share with others. It feels safe to make choices that are similar to the ones of our neighbors and friends. But, there is something extremely inhibiting about following the status quo. Write your own unusual script, despite how scary or lonely it may feel. Feeling unsafe and uncertain is healthy sometimes. Allow yourself to enter these spaces. They will ultimately take you somewhere much better than where you started off. I write more about not following the masses in this article.
7. Spend Time With Friends.
We were away from our close circle of friends since the onset of the pandemic. I never realized how much I missed social interactions until we hit a city where we had a friend or two to meet up with. Each time I reconnected with an old pal I felt satiated and truly happy. Those rare meetings with friends while on the road were a celebratory event that made me realize that although at first I convinced myself otherwise, hanging out with people you love regularly is an important part of a happy life. Once we arrived back in New York City I made sure to fill my calendar with as many dates with friends as possible. Firstly, I knew my time with them was limited since we will be moving soon. Secondly, I learned how much I missed them during the year we were essentially friends-free while on the road. So, my advice to you is to meet up with a friend as often as you can. There is nothing like making memories with people who love you and who you love equally in return.
8. Make No Room for Gossip.
Just as I recommend reading books that boost your life by filling your mind with positive thinking patterns, I equally recommend making no room for caustic, negative, and hurtful comments made about other people. When you allow yourself to engage in gossip, you are permitting negative energy to permeate your mental space which will inevitably dilute your progress towards becoming a loving and compassionate human being. Those who gossip about others will gossip about you as well. By communicating that you do not want to participate in a meaningless conversation, not only will you block useless conversations from your life but you will also be teaching the other person how to treat you. Since our bandwidth is so limited, do we really want to make room for such idle and corrosive discourse?
9. Keep a Gratitude Journal.
Taking the time to reflect on the daily occurrences that you are grateful for really will propel you into a life of gratitude and ultimate fulfillment. When you sit there with a pen in hand each day thinking "what am I grateful for today?" you begin to feel blessed for things often taken for granted like waking up that morning. You also begin to notice things you may have overlooked had you not taken the time to reflect on your day. This is a powerful exercise as the more time you take jotting down moments of gratitude, the more you begin to feel grateful for things that never even occurred to you. When you realize all the ways that your life is blessed you suddenly view your life as abundant and plentiful in every aspect. There is no greater fulfillment than knowing you have everything you need.
10. Refrain From Engaging With Anyone "Too" Anything.
The recent political climate has been one of the most divisive events that I can point to in my lifetime. We should all be able to speak and vote freely without the fear of repercussions, ostracization, or cancellation. Most people are extremely respectful of other people's opinions, even if they differ from their own. There is a small, but loud, group of folks that are so extreme in their points of view that they unknowingly become vile. Whether they are "too left" or "too right" on the political spectrum, or "too pro-animal rights" (think PETA throwing red paint at fur wearers), or "too pro-life" (to the point of murdering doctors who provide abortions), these people are poisonous. Anyone who is too extreme is too much for me. Staying away from them and refusing to engage in any conversation with them has served me well. They march with anger, not love. They serve to divide, not love. They force their ideas upon you and ridicule you if you don't concede. Stay away from any form of extremism.
11. Create More Time in Your Day.
My entire life I relished my sleep. When presented with options, sleep always won. I never imagined that I would one day be setting my alarm to start my day at 5:30 am. I have been owning my weekday mornings since January. It is possibly one of the most impactful changes I have made in my daily routine. I found myself often complaining that I didn't have the time to do some of the things I always wanted to. I realized that in order to have time to do these things I would need to make time in my schedule. Waking up earlier is the only way I could obtain more time in my day and so that's what I have been doing! There are countless benefits to starting the day this early. For one, I have the whole house to myself while everyone is sleeping, without any distractions. I use this time to meditate, journal, and watch an educational video or TedTalk. At 7:00 am I head to the gym for an hour. By 8:30 am I am showered and dressed ready to start the day armored with gratitude, inspiration, and a great fitness regimen. Exercising is a crucial element to my own happiness. Even while we were exploring the country in the most beautiful of places, if I was not exercising, I was not myself. There was a period of several months while we were on the road that I dropped working out from my routine. No matter how incredible our sightseeing experiences were, I just didn't feel like me when I stopped taking care of my body in this way. Exercise is not only crucial for its obvious health benefits, it also clears your mind, releases stress, zones you out, and most importantly pushes you to break through boundaries. Those very moments that you are convinced you can't push any further, but yet you manage to anyway, leave you feeling undefeated. Each day that you spend lifting an extra pound of weights or running just one-minute longer is a day where you have proven to yourself that you can. Create more hours in your day by waking up earlier too.
12. Consume Less, Discover More.
When we returned home after nine months of only needing half a suitcase's worth of space, I was literally nauseous when I looked in my closet. So many clothes, shoes, and bags just for one person. Yuck. After the shock subsided I began to obsessively clear out closets and was pretty disgusted by how many things we accumulated over the years. I gave away hundreds of books to friends and neighbors as well as dozens of items that were still in their original boxes or with their tags still on. So far we have thrown out endless extra-large trash bags filled with garbage. The funny thing is, we aren't even hoarders nor is our apartment filled with tchotchkes. We like our space nice, clean, and clutter-free. Somehow all this stuff made its way into our closets and many of the items never even saw the light of day. Don't spend your money on things. Save your money for wonderful travel experiences, extending acts of kindness unto others, cultural experiences, whatever it is you dream of... I really thought my Gucci bag made me happy until I visited The Grand Canyon. Now, when I put on my Valentino shoes, I crave for the dirty and tattered sneakers that carried me on an eight-mile hike with an elevation of thousands of feet. While my Valentinos made me feel pretty, those sneakers helped me prove to myself that I can do so much more than I ever gave myself credit for. We have convinced ourselves that we want and need materialistic things to find happiness. Take it from me, someone who now hates to admit having a closet sprinkled with designer clothing, the most beautiful I have felt in my life was when I was covered in mud and torn athletic gear after completing a thirteen-mile Spartan race or when I traversed through the deserts or mountain peaks of our country in torn sneakers. These are the best days of my life, not the days I wore a Prada dress. Although I won't throw my wardrobe away, I am pretty certain that I will rarely invest in these luxuries moving forward. Now that I have been introduced to exploration and discovery, I am convinced that these are truly the biggest extravagances in life. Remember, that even the most wealthy people don't have access to these luxuries because they are too busy working to prove their worth or too occupied in saving for their future. Discovering the world, and in return, finding yourself is an experience that is available to everyone, including you, if you decide to explore, discover and awaken.
13. Become Friends With Death.
Yes, I believe that one of the keys to a happy life is by including a healthy dose of death in your daily routine. Every day, I am consciously aware that I can die that very day. I often think of when my time will come to say goodbye to the life I love living. Death is inevitable, we all know that, but many of us avoid thinking about it. My advice to you is to think about it often but not in a fearful way that induces anxiety. Instead, inhale healthy dosages that nudge you to live your life fully. Knowing that each day could very well be my last drives me to live my best possible day. Realizing that I may not be alive in five years allows me to think about the present and not consume myself with the future. The concept of death has been a good friend to me, constantly pushing me to live fully, grasp tightly, love deeply, and experience all that I can in life. I know, that for myself, if I didn't have death on my mind every single day, I would quickly fall into a much more complacent life where each moment would be taken for granted and pushing dreams off for an unpromised tomorrow would be a norm. So rather than fearing death, I thank it for encouraging me to live honestly, say what's on my mind, love fully, give generously, travel often, eat great food, talk to anybody and everybody, push my limits, learn new things, not place too much emphasis on money or stuff, spend as much time with my kids as humanely possible, and make wonderful memories for as long as I am alive and healthy. My relationship with death is one of my greatest drivers in life. I encourage you to make friends with it as well.
14. Stop Seeking Your Purpose in Life.
There is a strong movement directing people to find their purpose in life. I have found this to be a huge source of pressure and dissent in my own life. When we are forced to believe that we are on this planet for some greater cause we can easily fall into feeling helpless and insufficient. While I have accomplished some wonderful successes in my career life, I always focused on finding my greater calling leaving me feeling that everything I have mastered wasn't enough when confronting my so-called higher purpose in the universe. Letting go of these overwhelming expectations, and instead focusing on my journey of continuously evolving into the best human being I can be, and living my life as fully as possible, has freed me from chasing a murky goal, and allowed me to instead hone in on valuable life tools that are more realistically attainable. You don't need to be the next person who builds an orphanage in Africa. Just be a kind human, respect our planet, give to charity and others, and celebrate each moment that you are alive to live and love. Our purpose is quite simple, really.
15. Perceive Your Problems as Good Problems.
A friend taught me this concept which has become instrumental in how I view the problems that arise in my life. When I catch myself complaining to myself about how busy I am, I quickly say to myself "thank goodness I am busy and that I have a sense of purpose and that I am needed". During the last year or so of remote schooling when I am in the kitchen cooking three meals a day, I often bitch to myself about being thrown into the role of a housekeeper and chef (on top of all the other hats I wear), but I immediately remind myself that I am so blessed to have been given this extra time with my children and wouldn't have it any other way. When I face those moments of freaking out that we are moving to a city that made number two on Bloomberg's recent list of cities with the highest real estate price increases, I convince myself of how fortunate we are to be able to move to such a desirable city. Catch yourself complaining and then teach yourself to turn that complaint into a compliment of sorts. This habit is life-changing.