Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Gratitude is the Gateway Emotion to Good Things

After I lost just about everything (money, men, apartment, and job), the only thing that got me back was GRATITUDE.

By experiencing true gratitude for my family, my friends, and the opportunity I had to rebuild and rest, I learned that in all that was lost, I had been found.

I believe, and once I'm done writing my capstone I will publish something official on this, that GRATITUDE is THE GATEWAY emotion to all the good stuff.

By gratitude I mean HEARTFELT "thank YOU." Not the BS thanks we sometimes mindlessly express. I mean the kind where your heart expands and you FEEL it. Here's why GRATITUDE is the shit:

It induces you to SAVOR small things you can easily take for granted. Like running water, clean sheets, or your honey who just made you breakfast and wished you a good day.

In the process of SAVORING, gratitude gently, effortlessly, helps you become more MINDFUL, more PRESENT. Only if you are HERE and NOW can you be truly grateful for what is. (This is a relief for people like me who can't meditate regularly).

Being GRATEFUL opens your heart; by experiencing it you are automatically acknowledging all that you are able to RECEIVE and experience. So you are OPEN.

Lastly, true gratitude inspires you to want to give and serve others (Fredrickson, 2009). Not in the tit for tat kinda way, but in a way that is energized to really make a difference.

I have so much more to say about this...but for now this will do. Gratitude is the bombdiggity.

PS Sometimes people think I'm all pie in the sky - like just because I'm me I have an extra canny ability to experience this full-of-wonder-type-of-gratitude...but it's not me.

Anyone can get themselves into Gratitude. It's a process. Here are some ways I do it:

1. If I'm feeling like dump and throwing a pity party or hissy fit, I'll take a mental break from whatever I'm thinking and just list all the things I'm grateful for in my head until I feel better. I'll do this as I walk from the subway to my office or as I take a coffee break. Sometimes it takes a while. Here's how it sounds: "I'm so grateful for my legs that carry me. I'm so grateful for my mind that works. I'm so grateful for safety I feel. I'm so grateful for these cute shoes. I'm so grateful that it's warm outside..." Stay with this for minutes until you TRULY feel and believe just how damn lucky you really are.

2. If I'm about to sleep and feeling icky, I'll write at least three things I'm grateful for and why. The key is to be specific about the things as they relate to the day. So for example, even if a meeting didn't go well, instead of focusing on how it sucked or I suck, I'll say: "I'm grateful that I have a team dedicated to helping me organize our next presentation." Or, "I'm grateful that I had the opportunity to present and learn so I can kick ass next time."

3. If all else fails, just focus on everybody else who has it worse than you. This will zap you into a mindset of acknowledging all the abundance in your life. It may feel like cheating, but you gotta do what you gotta do.

To conclude (again). "If you focus on what you don't have, you'll find you never have enough. If you focus on what you do have, you'll find you always have more."

Thank YOU for reading.


Source: Positivity by Barbara Fredrickson

Friday, June 25, 2010

Practicing Breathing, a Transferrable Skill

William James, THE man in psychology, says that do and your emotions will follow. Exercise is a great way to practice self determination and discipline. Talk about transferable skills. My downward dog and breathing spill over from mat to work to friends. For example, having practiced focused breathing for the day, it's now easier for me stay centered on writing my capstone instead of e-mailing, or to stay fully engaged in conversation with someone, instead of letting my mind wander to build my grocery list.

Check out the video I embedded and Yoga Yak for free yoga online.



Yesterday my friend and I were talking and I shared my freakish fear of the octopus. Whenever I'm in the ocean and begin to wander into waters where I can't see a thing, I immediately begin to imagine a giant octopus lurking around ready to seize and squeeze and take me down.

Sometimes, get this, I even imagine it in the pool.

Sometimes, it gets so strong I have to get out the water. But usually I don't because I know my fear is bogus.

There's good, valid fear that keeps you safe and then there's what I call FAKE FEAR. Fake fear is the kind you need to have a face to face with, a sit-down.

Here's how my "sit-down" goes in the water (it's more like a pep talk): "Stella, look at how beautiful the water is...such a nice di da, la di da, ahhhh, doesn't that water feel amazing...there's no one here but your friends and little fishies, you are safe."

Now this is quite embarrassing. But but because our brains all work alike, I bet you have your own fun batch.

What's really scary is when these fake fears disguise themselves as the real thing. This is my warning to all of you. When it comes to your dreams, beware of the FAKE FEAR. It's ugly and will take you down. I've spent over six years training entrepreneurs and shaking off this fake fear.

Now that you've met my octopus, take a fresh look at whatever is keeping you back in life - in your career, your relationships, or whatever. Is it a fake-out?

If it is, have a mini session with yourself. Don't be mean or angry. Just say, "thanks for sharing, but I think I'm going to do X anyway."

Much love,

I'm on a blogging out!

I was reading about electricity today. Don't ask.

And what I realized (I mean, I knew this before, but I just didn't think about it this way) is that even on an atomic level, we are both positive and negative. Remember protons and electrons?!?

Down to the molecule there exists both. Here's where being human comes in: down to your thoughts, words, and actions, you have a choice between the two.

This is a great little story illustrating the choice. It was shared by Barbara Fredrickson, author of Positivity, at the IPPA Conference.

An elderly Cherokee Native American was teaching his grandchildren about life.

He said to them, "A fight is going on inside me, it is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One wolf is evil; he is fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, competition, superiority, and ego.

The other is good; he is joy, peace, love, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.

This same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person, too."

They thought about it for a minute, and then one child asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win, Grandfather?"

The Elder simply replied, "The one you feed."
- Unknown

Srikumar Rao: Plug into your hard-wired happiness | Video on

Srikumar Rao: Plug into your hard-wired happiness | Video on

Does your blood sing with happiness as you wake in the morning? Can you drop to your knees in gratitude at all the blessings you're experiencing right now? If you're not this damn radiant, well, Professor Rao, from Columbia University, says you are wasting your life!

Because, guess what, your life is perfect. I know, I're thinking, Stella, what are you on? But I agree with the dude. I'm not a complete master...but I'd say I'm getting there, and Rao is one of the reasons why.

Here's what Rao recommends:

Don't invest in the outcome, invest in the process. Do all you can to achieve your goal, but don't put your happiness on the line if you don't succeed. We've been taught that happiness happens when we achieve or get what it is we desire. But success is completely out of your control. The only thing you control is the process, the path towards your goal.

Watch out for the "If ______ (fill in the blank), then I'll be happy." This is the flawed model we've been trained on. Rao believes that if you can't find passion within yourself NOW, then no job, opportunity, person, or thing will do the trick. Everything you need to be happy, is within you, NOW.

Much love,

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Synthesizing Happiness

Here Dan Gilbert, Harvard Prof, discusses how we synthesize happiness. We CAN make happiness and the kind we make is equally as good as the kind that we kind of stumble upon. The very commodity we chase, is one we can manufacture from within. Fascinating stuff and great news!

He also shares some cool studies about choice. Our "creating happiness" button only goes on when we have no other choice than to accept the cards we're dealt. Given the opportunity to reverse a decision, or to choose differently, can actually leave you unsatisfied in the long run.

This flies in the face of our assumptions about freedom of choice as a good thing. Intuitively, as consumers, I think we're all beginning to feel this truth. Personally, I'm tired of standing in the grocery store stumped over which toilet paper to buy. That's why brands who curate our decision making process are cashing out!

Think of Chipotle (which I just had for lunch). It's a simple as 1, 2, and 3. Or Amazon, which smartly suggests, "customers who bought what you just did, also like this..." Consider how you can make the lives around you more rich by curating and simplifying options for others. It takes so much damn energy to make a decision - so there is a lot of VALUE (be it emotional or monetary) that you can provide by taking decision making work out of whatever is at hand. For business owners, consider how you can taste match your customers' needs and lesson the choices they have to make. For employees, give your boss less options and a clear recommendation. For friends, narrow dinner options down to 3 cuisines instead of "what do you feel like eating?"

Sunday, June 20, 2010

petting the grapevine

i haven't written in a while. i've resisted posting for the sake of it. as i chilled out on my deck this morning and heard and smelled nature - i got inspired.

seeping into the subtle humidity, deep into my chair
body surrenders - welcoming the warm sun
remembering the outdoors
forgetting the ac
my lids close, drinking in the sounds of chirp
and then open
i can feel a presence
i peek with one eye
someone is hovering
hey there, i say
i extend for a shake
my new friend, curly, green, fresh, dangles over me
hey there, he responds
we connect
and he wraps himself around my fingers
and i through his

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A few notes from my happiness talk

I'm giving a talk tonight for Ladies Who Launch on the Science behind Happiness. As I gather my materials, thought I'd share some of the tips I'll be handing out.

It’s your responsibility to be happy. Happiness isn't some thing you catch in the wind one day. And lose the next. It's in your control. At least about 50% - the other 50% is biological - so if you're born grumpy - you probably won't transform into twinkle toes, but you have the capacity to increase your life experience to be brighter and better.

Here are some tips:

Remember that the questions you ask create your reality.  Instead of seeking what’s wrong, ask appreciative question and find what’s right. We're programmed to see what's missing, not going to work, or unreasonable first. Try to reprogram and find the brilliance first. This applies to everything from your kids finger painting project to giving feedback to your employees.

Check your positive to negative ratio (take the PANAS quiz by visiting the website Great business teams use a 3:1 positive to negative emotion, feedback, commentary.  Flourishing romantic relationships share a 5:1 to ratio.  This tool helps you become aware of where you’re at.  Negative emotions are much stronger than positive - so you need to outweigh them, or they'll weigh you down (are you loving my puns?).

You know this...but exercise makes a hell of a difference! Studies show that it can be as strong as anti-depressants.  80% of the chronic disease that people die from over the age of 50 can be eliminated by exercise. Also, don’t forget to sleep! If you’re too tired to enjoy what brings you joy, well…that’s depressing. 

Feeling down? Count your blessings! Write them down in a journal before you go to bed. List at least three things you’re grateful for and why. “If you’re grateful for what you have, you’ll always find more. If you focus on what you’re missing, you’ll find you never have enough.”

Act and your feelings will follow.
Legendary philosopher and psychologist William James discussed how your emotions follow your actions. So smile and you’ll feel better. This is also in line with “fake it, until you make it.” This is because your brain needs re-wiring to think and behave in new way. Action best reinforces your brain (literally) to make new connections.

Recommended Books
Positivity by Barbara Fredrickson
Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman
The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt
The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
Why Good Things Happen to Good People by Steven Post

Friday, June 4, 2010

Making Cake with My Grandma

In the last hour I've just been reminded of many lessons. And the cake we're baking isn't even done yet! I'm writing this blog quickly while my grandma rests, as Ella Fitzgerald plays, and as we wait for our cream to firm up in the fridge. Here's what I got for you:

1. BLEND with the mistakes, it will turn out sweet.
It's been about 30 years since my grandma made this recipe. We're not sure why the cream is so liquidy, we expected something more stiff. So we're going with the flow (excuse the puns) and working with what we got. Just improvising - adding a lot more butter and cooling. Improvising happens everywhere. Kinda cool that you have to use the same level of calm, creativity, and positive thinking in the simplest of tasks - such as those in the kitchen to more complicated events - such as those in the boardroom, on the surgery table, or on the battle field.

2. TIMING is everything.
My grandma has to take a break because she has Parkinson's. She was just reflecting on how amazed she is at all she used to be able to do. Time takes its toll inevitably. I'm feeling more grateful than ever at the delicacy of what tremendous gifts I have right now. My youth, my security, my brain, my body. Are you making the most of what you got? Don't panic or be too hard on yourself if you jump to "NO." Sometimes making the most of it is simply a matter a drinking in the gratitude and being right here right now - just REALIZING how lucky you are. Yes, and then get to work.

3. EVERYTHING matters.
As I've been adding more butter here and there, transferring the cream from bowl to bowl, I've taken several licks of the sweet cream left lonely in the mixing dishes and abandoned spoons. Yum. But now I feel it. And it's not feeling so hot. Little things add up. Whether they are positive or negative. So making just a small step towards towards improving your mood, your love, or whatever, can make the sweetest difference. The great news is, that even if your steps have been taking you in the wrong direction, you can take just one step the other way, and begin anew. I'll be taking several steps to the gym once this weekend is done.

Much love,