Treat Yourself this Holiday Season

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There’s nothing like the gift of giving over the holiday season. Whether gifts are big or small, bought or made, it’s a great way to show how grateful you are for the important people in your life. And while you’re spoiling loved ones this December, don’t forget to treat yourself too.

In all seriousness, this time of year can be so busy with all kinds of holiday parties, shopping, baking, etc., that we can lose sight of our own needs. Don’t forget to take some time just for you. Holidays should feel like holidays! Start the new year feeling refreshed and ready to face new challenges by taking time to delight in the small things.

Here are a few ways to “Treat Yo’ Self” this season:

Indulge

  • Instead of your regular double-double, spend a few more bucks and get yourself a fancy latte with all the fixings.
  • There are so many decadent treats served this time of year (Hello Brie!), give yourself a break on the calorie counting and enjoy something tasty.
  • While you work through everyone’s Christmas lists at the mall, take a detour to one of your favourite shops and pick-up a little something just for you.

Escape the holiday madness

  • Spending time with family is great and all, but sometimes it can feel a little overwhelming. Be sure to carve out time for some peace and quiet to help you relax.
  • The holidays are always scheduled with parties and family time booked weeks in advance. Save some time to be spontaneous and go with the flow.
  • If you’re lucky enough to get time off, use the extra days to go for a short trip to recharge for the new year ahead.

Reflect and Prepare

  • With the new year approaching, the holidays are the perfect time for some self reflection. Evaluate the year gone by and reflect back on your accomplishments.
  • Once you’ve had a chance to reflect on the past year, start setting goals for what you hope to achieve in the year ahead.
  • There are so many things to look forward to in December that January can sometimes feel like a bit of a bore. Prevent the post-holiday blues by planning some fun activities and social events for January.

Happy Challenge

Take some time to treat yourself this week. Remember it’s not about breaking the bank, but rather finding small ways to show yourself a little TLC.

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Strike a Balance between Work and Play for a Happier, Healthier You

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Man on Wire  Photo credit:  imagemunky, 2010, https://www.flickr.com/photos/image_munky/4441517406/

Man on Wire. Photo credit: imagemunky, 2010, https://www.flickr.com/photos/image_munky/4441517406/

All work and no play doesn’t just make us dull, it can make us unhappy. Unfortunately, with limited time and so much to accomplish, we often put our work before ourselves and are left feeling stressed, anxious and unsatisfied.  Without balance we fall – or fall apart.  Balance is integral to maintaining a healthy, happy lifestyle and realizing our best self.

How do I find balance? Here are a couple rules that I follow:

Get Organized

Finding balance starts by getting organized. When you’re juggling multiple competing priorities it’s important to schedule your time so that you can both complete the tasks expected of you and enjoy the activities you need to feel happy and healthy.  Start by charting your “to-dos” on a calendar or agenda.  Determine what needs to completed and when.  Then see where you can squeeze in some much-deserved “me time.”  And by “me time,” I don’t just mean “sit on the couch like a zombie” time. I mean time to exercise, journal, be outside, meditate or do whatever other activities serve to relax, refresh and inspire you.

Learn to say “No”

Maybe you want to be everything to everyone, but this appeasing attitude not only makes finding balance impossible, it’s self-defeating.  If you don’t make time for yourself, you run the risk of burning out and when that happens you’re no help to anyone. Start setting boundaries by saying “no” to some of the ever-growing requests from friends, family and coworkers.   Of course, saying “no” can be a real challenge for some of us. If that’s the case, try telling them you’ll think about it and get back to them. Then go home and consult your schedule and see if committing to that request interferes with time you’ve scheduled for yourself.  If it does, then let them know you can’t help them this time.  If they’re good people, they should understand.

Leave Work at Work

Finding balance isn’t just about carving out time between work and play.  It’s about how you use that time.  The whole point of downtime is to give yourself a break. If you’re constantly checking your emails or spending your weekend fretting over what’s waiting on your desk for Monday, then it feels like you never really left the office.   Instead, be strict not just about how you spend your time, but how you control your thoughts. Thinking about our tasks and responsibilities is essential, but not for the hour we’ve scheduled for unwinding.

Your Happy Challenge

Find some balance this week by setting up a schedule with some time dedicated to relaxing and de-stressing. Follow your schedule, and when you’re enjoying some “me time,” be sure to stay in the moment so you can properly recharge.

How do you maintain balance? What do you think of my rules? Share your thoughts!

Want to Reduce Stress and Boost your Happiness? Give Meditation a Try!

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By Chaiwat, published on 22 August 2012 Stock Photo - image ID: 10098546

By Chaiwat, published on 22 August 2012
Stock Photo – image ID: 10098546

Life can get busy juggling so many responsibilities that sometimes we need to slow down and take a moment to just relax. Easier said than done right? But I might just have the solution you’ve been looking for: meditation! Sure it might seem like something reserved for crunchy granola types, but I’m here to tell you that with a little practice, anyone can find some inner calm with meditation.

On the surface it’s hard to imagine how beneficial it can be for our health, but science tells us there are countless benefits to quieting your mind through meditation. For starters, it can help you to reduce stress, manage pain and improve your focus. Most importantly, it can make you feel happier! Still not convinced? Check out this list of 20 scientific reasons to start meditating today.

So maybe you’re on board but how do you get started?

First it might help to have a sense of what exactly meditation entails. To put it simply, it’s about training your mind to relax. Meditation often involves sitting or lying in a relaxed position and clearing your mind.   An impossible feat to some – myself included – but even after your first attempt you can start to notice the benefits.

My first real foray into the world of meditation was through a workshop offered at my local library.  The instructor walked us through a variety of basic meditation exercises, giving us newbies a chance to try different techniques to see what fit best. I had no idea there were so many ways to meditate!

Here are a few techniques I learned that might appeal to you:

Focused Meditation

Try focusing on something really intently. It could be a visual or auditory stimulus or even a simple concept. The idea is to try and stay in the present moment.

Mindfulness Breathing

This technique involves concentrating on your breathing to help let go of distracting thoughts and emotions.

Guided meditation 

Let an expert be your guide with verbal instructions to help you relax your body, clear your mind and focus your attention.

Since that first class in the library, I’ve attended a number of different group and guided meditation sessions. What I’ve learned is that meditation is really challenging, but so worth the calm feeling you’re left with when you’re done. If you’re able to, see if you can find a guided mediation class in your own city.  It’s a great way to learn how to meditate and these sessions are often free.

If group learning isn’t your thing here are some helpful resources to get you started on your own:

8 Tips to Get Started with Meditation

Meditation Guide

Guided Meditation Channel on Youtube

Oprah’s 21 Day Meditation Challenge

List of Best iPhone and Android Meditation Apps of 2014

Your Happy Challenge

Try meditating for 20 minutes everyday for a week. Check out some of the techniques and resources I’ve listed above to see what works best for you.

How do you practise meditation? Did you find this post helpful? Share your thoughts!

Brush off the November Blues and Get Inspired

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After the fun and excitement of Thanksgiving and Halloween has come and gone, and Christmas seems like an eternity away, there’s just not much to look forward to in November.  This is about the time that I start looking for some inspiration to help lift my spirits.  Here are a few of my favourite sources of inspiration that might just give you the boost you need to take on the November blues.

TED Talks

TED Talks are one of my go-to tools for inspiration. With its tagline “ideas worth spreading,” TED is nonprofit organization that hosts conferences around the world featuring presentations from speakers across a wide range of disciplines and expertise. These talks are available for free online, including an entire section of talks on happiness.

Here are some of my favourites for you to check out:

At 20 years old he dropped out of school and became a monk.  Through that experience he learned how to appreciate the present moment. Talk about inspiring!

Not only is this talk hilarious, it also offers some really interesting thoughts on the power of positivity. Check it out and see if you’re ready to start changing your thinking.

This talk focuses on the fascinating link between body language and happiness. Be sure to watch the end where she drops one of the most inspiring mantras on you: fake it until you become it!

Oprah Magazine

Okay, so her show might be off the air and I might not exactly be her demographic, but Oprah is very much the inspiration for this blog. After stumbling upon some old copies of O magazine I quickly devoured the content that focused on living your best life. Every magazine is filled with tricks and tips for living healthier, happier lives. I especially like the posts from her resident sociologist, Dr. Martha Beck. I find myself regularly cutting quotes, pictures and entire articles out of O to save in my happy journal.

The Great Outdoors

A few weeks ago I talked about the connection between nature and happiness. For me, nature is also a major source of inspiration. When I take the time to unplug from the world, get outside and walk an amazing thing happens. My head just fills with ideas! There’s something about being outside that gives you the perspective you need to start thinking creatively.

Your Happy Challenge

Give yourself a dose of inspiration this week by checking out one of my favourite sources of inspiration. Set aside an hour and see if you can break free from the November blues and get those creative juices flowing.

What are your main sources of inspiration? Share your thoughts!

Guest Blog: The Connection between Exercise and Happiness

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Hi folks!  Do I have a treat for you!  My very talented blogger friend Sarah has written a post for the Happy Handbook. Enjoy her thoughts on exercise and happiness and be sure to check out her fabulous Ontario Wine 101 blog

Sarah Emms and her friend,  Celine McGarvey, after an 18-kilometre hike in Trois-Pistoles, Quebec. Look at those endorphins in action!

Sarah Emms and her friend, Celine McGarvey, after an 18-kilometre hike in Trois-Pistoles, Quebec. Look at those endorphins in action!

Hello! My name is Sarah Emms, and Julie is letting me guest blog for her today here at The Happy Handbook, which is one of my favourite blogs. I have to read it every week to see what the newest happy challenge is!

As the weather gets colder and the days get shorter, it can be difficult to motivate yourself to workout – all you want to do is stay snuggled up under a blanket with a cup of hot chocolate and a movie. But while this may make you happy while you’re doing it, it doesn’t have a long-term effect on your happiness like exercise does.

When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, which are the feel-good chemicals in our brains. The effects of the endorphins last long after you exercise, which is why it’s such a good happiness booster. Frequent exercise has also been shown to lower stress levels, help you sleep better and can improve self-confidence, which are issues that affect people’s happiness levels too.

The other great thing about exercise is that it helps you forget about all your stressors while you’re doing it. I know that when I go to a boot camp class, I’m always too busy trying to figure out the next exercise to think about anything else! If I’m struggling with an issue at school, I’ll go for a run to clear my head. When I’m finished, I find that the answer is usually much clearer, and I’m ready to tackle the challenge. Exercise is the best problem-solver!

Your happy challenge

Try a new form of exercise this week! Maybe it’s swimming laps at a community pool or trying out a Zumba class with your best friend. Or maybe it’s running around a park with your kids or walking a nature trail before the last of the leaves fall. Just get your body moving! Even 20 minutes a day can make a huge difference!

Study up on Happy Living with Your Own Positive Journal

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PicMonkey Journal Collage

create your own happy handbook with positive journaling

For some of us, happy living is easier said than done. It can be a learning process that requires hard work, dedication and practice. And like any good student, you might need to take some notes along the way.  That’s where journaling comes in!

I’ve kept journals off and on since I was a kid. Every so often I’ll dig them out from the back of my closet and read through them. Around three years ago I was flipping through old entries when I was struck by how negative they were. They were full of bad memories, guilt, sadness, anger and even rage.

Somewhere along the line I got the idea that journals were meant for getting out all of your bad feelings and dark thoughts. As if somehow writing all the bad stuff down helps you to forget and move on. While this might work for some people, I don’t think it ever did the trick for me. And I don’t feel like the many bad moments I captured are representative of my past. They tell only parts of my story – the worst parts.

Ever since I came to that realization I’ve been keeping a new kind of journal. One reserved only for happy thoughts. It’s filled with positive affirmations, silver linings, gratitude and inspiring quotes and pictures. And instead of stuffing it deep in the back of my closet, I keep it handy for when I’m need of a little mood boost.

Your Happy Challenge

Try creating your own happy journal. Everyday for a week, record a strictly positive entry in your journal. It can be anything from a doodle, to a photo, to a joke, just so long as it makes you feel happier. Read it through at the end of the week, or save it for a particularly tough day and see if it helps bring you the perspective and relief that mine does for me.

What kinds of things would you include in your happy journal? Share your thoughts!

Let Nature be Your Guide on the Path to Greater Happiness

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Fall Trees

Get outside and enjoy the view! (Photo credit: phphoto2010)

With fall now in full swing, it’s time to get outside and enjoy the rich colourful hues and crisp autumn breezes. But did you know being outside can actually make you happier?

According to several scientific studies, embracing nature can increase your overall happiness and improve your mental health. Studies have found that nature makes us feel more alive and energized, which in turn boosts our mood.

For me nature is the ultimate therapy.  It helps me to walk away from my stresses and gain some much needed perspective. All of my nagging thoughts seem less significant when I’m taking in the beautiful scenery just outside my door.

It seems pretty straightforward, but all too often we get bogged down by life’s responsibilities and we forget to stop and enjoy the view. For instance, take my coworker who I met with just the other day. His office looks out onto a clearing flanked by trees ablaze with red, yellow and orange leaves. It was so breathtaking I just had to say something. But he hadn’t even noticed. He was so distracted by his nasty cold and a desk full of assignments that he hadn’t even taken a moment to look outside.

While we might not be as fortunate to have that kind of view from our window, there are lots of other ways to get outside and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of nature.

Here are a few of my suggestions to help you boost your happiness by embracing the great outdoors:

  1. Go for a walk – Take a stroll in your neighbourhood park. Or if you’re feeling ambitious, get your blood pumping on a nature hike.
  2. Go for a ride – With winter just around the corner, head out for one last ride on your bike or rollerblades before the snow hits.
  3. Plan a pick-up game – Enjoying nature need not be a solitary venture! Grab some friends and start a pick-up game of football or soccer.
  4. Get creative – Let nature be your muse and snap scenic shots with your camera or collect vibrant fall leaves for some DIY crafting.

Your Happy Challenge

My challenge to you this week is to unplug from your T.V., smartphone or computer and get outside and enjoy the beautiful scenery. Give it a try for as little as 20 minutes and see how you feel.

How do you spend time outdoors?  Share your thoughts!

Gratitude: The Key to Unlocking Happiness

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With Canadian Thanksgiving just around the corner, I can’t think of a better time to discuss the role of gratitude in happy living. Science has proven that gratitude is one of the greatest contributing factors for achieving happiness. Don’t believe me? Check out this powerful experiment in gratitude from the folks at SoulPancake:


So now that we know that expressing gratitude directly relates to our overall happiness, how do we put it into practice? One of my favourite strategies comes from Canadian writer Neil Pasricha whose 1000 Awesome Things blog helps to inspire millions of followers to embrace the little joys in life.

Pasricha’s concept is pretty simple: everyday he posts about something awesome counting down from 1000. Entries range from #995: finding money you didn’t even know you lost, to #858: the other side of the pillow, to #67: when cats do stupid things.  His blog is such a success that he’s gone on to publish several bestselling books.

Pasricha’s awesome list resonates with people because it helps us to appreciate the little things in life that we too often take for granted. While each entry might seem insignificant by itself, together the list starts to paint a picture of how awesome life truly is.  The best part of Pasricha’s list is that it’s an easy way to practise gratitude.

Your Happy Challenge

  • Write down one or two awesome things everyday for a week. At the end of the week, read them over and see how you feel.

Need some inspiration? Check out some entries from my own list of awesome:

  • The smell of freshly cut grass
  • A new book you can’t put down
  • Catching your opponents ball during a game of dodgeball
  • Ordering something different off the menu that turns out to be your new favourite dish

Bonus Challenge

  • Try the SoulPancake experiment for yourself. Start by thinking of someone really influential in your life. Next, write down reasons why they’re so important to you. Finally, call that person and read what you wrote about them and see if you notice a jump in your happiness.

What’s on your awesome list? How do you practise gratitude? Share your thoughts!

How to Find the Good in the Bad: The Power of Silver Linings

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Every cloud has a silver lining.

Last week we discussed how to embrace change and I argued that staying positive is one of the keys to making a stress-free transition. This week I want to look at silver linings as a tool for thinking more positively.

As the saying goes, every cloud has a silver lining. It’s that little bit of positive news that comes with every bump in the road. But when the proverbial shit hits the fan, how can we expect to feel anything but frustrated? Because we have to!

If we want to be happier, healthier people we have to train ourselves to focus on the good. I use the word train because I see positive thinking as a skill to be honed through discipline and practice. That’s where silver linings come in. When challenges come my way, I force myself to find the positive in every situation. And through this challenge I’ve noticed three things:

  1. The more I practice finding silver linings, the easier they are to find.
  2. No matter how disappointing the situation, silver linings almost always make me feel better.
  3. Focusing on the positive in one situation makes me feel more positive overall.

This week’s happy challenge:

In the spirit of getting happier and healthier, the next time you’re up against one of life’s many obstacles, I challenge you to find the silver lining in the situation. Write it down or share it with a friend and see if it makes you feel better.

To help get you thinking, here are a few of my own silver linings:

  • Computer crashes at the start of my very busy school term = important lesson learned about backing up my files
  • Balancing work and school is becoming more and more difficult = practice for the busy and stressful reality of a career in public relations

What are some of your silver linings? Share your thoughts!

Embrace Change: 3 Tips for a Stress-Free Transition

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It’s my pleasure to welcome you to the Happy Handbook! This blog will focus on tips and strategies for living a happy, full life and being your best self. I’m hoping you’ll join me in a conversation about happy living so we can learn and grow together. Let’s start by embracing change!

September always feels like a time of great change. Perhaps it’s because Septembers mark the start of a new school year, for ourselves or our children. Or maybe it’s the dramatic drop in temperature that makes you stop and think where did the summer go? Either way, if you’re anything like me, all this change can sometimes feel overwhelming.

Rather than letting our fears overcome us, why not try embracing that change? Here are three tips to help you embrace change:

  1. Accept it

Change is inevitable whether we like it or not. You may not be able to control every change that comes your way, but you can control how you feel about it. The longer you take to accept change, the harder the transition will be. Shift your focus from how great things were to how great things will be and instantly you’ll start to feel your stress melt away.

  1. Get Positive

Having a routine is a comfortable place to be in – but it can also become pretty boring. That’s why change can be a good thing – even if we didn’t ask for it or expect it to look the way it does. Remember, every cloud has a silver lining. If you force yourself to consciously consider the positive aspects of a change it won’t feel so bad.

  1. Get Prepared

Change is scary because there are so many unknowns.   It’s hard to predict just how your life will look with a new change. That’s why it’s so important to get yourself organized. Find out as much as you can about the change and what it will mean for your life. Talk to others who have been through something similar. Getting a game plan is a sure-fire way to reduce stress and embrace your change.

How do you embrace change? Share your thoughts below!