Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Which World Will You Live In?

“Loving people live in a loving world. Hostile people live in a hostile world. Same world.”
—Wayne W. Dyer


Monday, March 27, 2017

Life Lessons From the Barn: Look Where You Want to Go

So many lessons I’ve learned in riding can be neatly applied to the rest of my life. Take this deceptively simple instruction: Look where you want to go.

In riding, and even when leading a horse, if you’re unsure about where you want to go, or even just not paying attention, the horse can take over. You may or may not want to go where he does, so you’d better stay focused!  Don’t look at the ground (unless you want to meet it, abruptly) or at the horse himself. Look where you want to go. The act of turning your eyes in the direction you want to travel causes tiny changes in body position sending information to your horse, and making it much easier to steer him. (I’ve also heard race car drivers are told never to look at the wall—unless they want to crash into it!)

You can waste a lot of time looking in directions that don’t propel you forward into your desired happy life. Maybe you spend too much time looking back, regretting things you’ve done or opportunities missed. Maybe you stare at the blemishes in your life—the daily irritants, the painful experiences, all the stuff you wish was different. You might even be mesmerized by the things that scare you—afraid to take your eyes from them long enough to move head. I know I’ve turned my eyes in these less-than-helpful directions plenty of times.

So where should you look?

Look for opportunities. Look for someone who has already gone where you want to go—what path did they take? No two paths are identical, but you can often get some hints about where to go next from someone who has walked the path before you.

Look for inspiration, look for humor, look for happy.

Yes, you’ve got to back up your looking with action, but the first step is always—you guessed it—look where you want to go.

Where do you want to go? Are you looking in that direction?


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Trace That Stays

Photo courtesy janeb13

Introduction by Ted Kooser: Marge Saiser is a Nebraska poet about whose work I have said that no contemporary poet is better at writing about love. Here's a love poem from her new book, I Have Nothing to Say about Fire, from Backwaters Press.

The Print the Whales Make

You and I on the boat notice
the print the whales leave,
the huge ring their diving draws
for a time on the surface.
Is it like that when we
lose one another? Don't
know, can't. But
I want to believe
when we can no longer
walk across a room
for a hug, can no longer
step into the arms of the other,
there will be this:
some trace that stays
while the great body
remains below out of sight,
dark mammoth shadow
flick of flipper
body of delight
diving deep.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2016 by Marjorie Saiser, “The Print the Whales Make,” from I Have Nothing to Say about Fire, (Backwaters Press, 2016). Poem reprinted by permission of Marjorie Saiser and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2017 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004- 2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.


Monday, March 20, 2017

Choose Happiness, Spread Happiness

Photo courtesy Luiza

Happiness matters.

So much so that in 2012 the United Nations created the International Day of Happiness, and it was celebrated for the first time in 2013. The purpose of this day is to educate and make people aware of the benefits of happiness. As the official website notes, “‘Progress’ should be about increasing human happiness and wellbeing, not just growing the economy.” 

How can you participate? It’s easy:
  • Do what makes you happy.
  • Spread happiness. Smile and share your happiness with others.

You can also join the movement here

That’s it.

Bring on the happy!

I’m happiest when I’m engaged in work that helps others, when I’m taking care of myself, and when I have enough free time to enjoy my favorite simple pleasures. How about you? How will you choose happiness today? What will you do to spread happiness?

Join in the celebration by sharing your happiness with the world via Twitter or Instagram, using any of the following hashtags: #internationaldayofhappiness, #happinessday, #choosehappiness, #createhappiness, or #makeithappy. I’ll be posting my happy little moments on Instagram today.


Friday, March 17, 2017

The Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel Principle

Photo courtesy Jennifer Pallian

Sometimes this world is too much for me. Too many activities. Too much noise. Too many expectations. Too much stuff in my house. Too much stuff in my head. More than once I’ve written about my attempts to banish busy or do less, and yet I still wind up searching for ways to make life more manageable and thus happier. My newest discovery is the principle of “less, but better.”

The phrase less, but better comes from the design philosophy of industrial designer Dieter Rams, but it’s easy to see how we can apply it to our overcrowded lives.


Less seems pretty self-explanatory. Do less, have less, embrace enough and avoid excess. Of course, excess looks different to every person. What is excess to me could be just right for you. I hate being rushed and I get anxious when stretched too thin. To maintain my personal happy balance, I need to commit to doing fewer things, whether that means trimming my to-do list, or saying no to activities I’d like to do but that will put me over the border into Crazytown.

No matter what our personal less/excess level is, we need to be clear in our own minds about what we truly want and need. Less, but better is the way of mindfulness, intention, slowing down to think rather than diving in heedlessly. It’s the way of becoming more thoughtful with time and energy.

Instead of throwing a ton of stuff (activities, food, clothes, possessions) at yourself, ask, what do I need? What do I long for? Would one gourmet dark chocolate sea salt caramel be more satisfying than five grocery store candy bars? The answer is almost always yes.


Getting rid of excess, or not buying into it (or buying it) in the first place, is just the start. Once the excess is pared away, we’ll have time and space, and probably money, to go deeper, to enjoy better. Since deeper is my word of the year, I really appreciate this. When a new something-or-other catches my attention, I remind myself that this is the year I want to go deeper into the things that I love and that I’ve already committed to such as my writing, my horse, and sketching. Instead of reading more books this year, I want to read better books, and absorb more of what I read. I’d rather put my heart into a few things than spatter my attention across a multitude.

I don’t say this is easy. I still find it remarkably hard not to run after the first shiny object that attracts my eye. But I am getting much better at choosing that single dark chocolate sea salt caramel.

What is one area in your life where you can experiment with the principle of less, but better?


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

If You Want to Be...

Photo courtesy Aaron Burden

“If you want to be sad, live in the past. If you want to be anxious, live in the future. If you want to be peaceful, live in the now.”
—Karen Salmansohn, Instant Happy


Friday, March 10, 2017

Spring Cleaning for Your Mind

Photo courtesy Suchitra
We’re expecting some family visitors this weekend, so I’ve been sprucing up the house so it looks its best. It’s not quite a full spring clean, but it’s more than I usually do. (Wouldn’t want the family to see how we really live…) I had extra time to think while I cleaned out the fridge, so it occurred to me: while you’re spring cleaning your home, why not take a broom to your brain? Flip on the light, open the windows, sweep out all the dusty corners and grubby nooks. Drop all the thoughts and feelings you no longer wish to entertain into a metaphorical bag and take it to the curb. Out with the negative, in with the positive.

For instance, out with:
  • Negative self-talk (Tell your inner critic to shut up.)
  • Angry thoughts
  • Excuses
  • Fears
  • Resentments
  • Grudges
  • Judgment
  • Criticism
And in with:
  • Affirmations
  • Forgiveness (As Karen Salmansohn wrote in Instant Happy: Happy = “Repeat after me: I forgive myself for not being perfect. And I recognize none of us are perfect, so I am open to forgiving others.”)
  • Gratitude
  • Acceptance
  • Courage
It’s a lot easier to spring clean a kitchen than a brain, but the results of our “brain cleaning” are more likely to bring us lasting happiness. What would you like to sweep out of your life this spring?