Rewrite Your Story—Don’t Let Limiting Beliefs Rob You of Happiness

July 28, 2017

Most of us tell ourselves stories. Stories about what kind of people we are, our capabilities, about what other people are like or what they think about us, even about how the world works. Some of these stories are harmless, but many of them keep us stuck in places we don’t want to be, or keep us from doing things we want to do. Sometimes our stories get in the way of our happiness.

These stories are often called limiting beliefs because they limit our lives and our potential.

What does a limiting belief look like?

Limiting beliefs are usually blanket generalizations, and they often start with the words “I can’t,” “I am,” or “I am not.” Here are some common ones:

I am not smart.
I am not athletic.
I am not enough.
I am broken and need fixing.
I can’t do that.
I am not worthy of _____.
I can’t afford that.
I am not lucky.
I am not creative/an artist/a writer.
I am too old to _____.
I am too young to ______.

Where do limiting beliefs come from?

Many limiting beliefs have crept into our subconscious minds and set up camp without our even being aware of them. Sometimes we’ve picked them up in childhood from a careless remark we overheard, experiences that we barely remember, or from what society has drummed into our heads. We’ve all received messages about what makes a good woman or a good man, for example. We’ve probably also had more personal stories woven around us by our families of origin—maybe we were labeled the “klutzy one” or the “goofy one,” and that story has influenced and limited how we think about ourselves even now.

Our stories may have a small element of truth, or they may have been true at one time. Remember, however, that they are almost always generalizations, and make the assumption that things and people are the way they are, and there’s no such thing as change and growth.

How do we rid ourselves of limiting beliefs and rewrite our stories?

First we must become conscious of them. When an opportunity comes into your life, what does your mental chatter sound like? When you really want to go for it, does a voice in your head tell you, you can’t, it won’t happen, so why even bother?

Or maybe that voice is critical, telling you you’ll look ridiculous, or questioning whether or not you deserve this opportunity. Limiting beliefs come in many different guises.

Once we become aware of our limiting beliefs, we can challenge them. Are they really true? Every time? Think about times when they were not true. Push the boundary of that belief. What have you learned or experienced that you can now use to disprove it? (Byron Katie has done some really amazing work challenging thought patterns like this. Click here for an introduction to her teaching.) 

Discard the beliefs that are not true, and replace them with new stories. Start small, or take a giant leap—whatever works for you. “Act as if” your new belief is true. Taking action will help make your new belief real.

I write this article for myself more than for anyone else. I wrestle with many limiting beliefs—“I am not brave,” for example. I feel unsure of myself often, get tongue tied when I should speak up, and cringe while contemplating any number of activities other people don’t think twice about. The desire to live a full life and pursue my dreams has helped me to challenge those limiting beliefs. I am not brave, yet I own and ride a 1,000-pound horse, something that most people can’t say. I am not brave, and yet I wake up every day and do things that scare me (because many, many thing scare me)!

And that’s what it really boils down to. Very often, the underlying emotion behind a limiting belief is fear. Fear of criticism, of looking ridiculous, of failing. I’m sorry to say, these fears are likely to come true. If you’re out there daring to learn something new or live in a way that is out of the ordinary, you will experience failure, looking awkward, and probably someone will criticize you.

I have two little words for you: So What?

We have the choice of allowing our stories to mark out the boundaries of our achievements and our world. We can stay comfortable and hidden and afraid—or we can rewrite our stories and live.

Do your stories (limiting beliefs) keep you from pursuing the things that make you happy? What limiting belief are you willing to challenge?

Kay Ryan

A Pin Hole of Light

July 26, 2017

Photo courtesy Ezgi Platin

Introduction by Ted Kooser: Kay Ryan was our nation’s Poet Laureate at The Library of Congress for the 2008-2010 terms. Her poetry is celebrated for its compression; she can get a great deal into a few words. Here’s an example of a poem swift and accurate as a dart.


We say
A pin hole
of light. We
can’t imagine
how bright
more of it
could be,
the way
this much
defeats night.
It almost
isn’t fair,
poked this,
with such
a small act
to vanquish

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2011 by Kay Ryan, whose most recent book of poems is Odd Blocks, Selected and New Poems, Carcanet Press, 2011. Poem reprinted from Poetry, October 2011, by permission of Kay Ryan and the publisher. Introduction copyright 2012 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.


Looking for the Simple Pleasures of Summer

July 21, 2017

I hate summer in Florida. It’s hurricane season, mosquito season, sweat-through-your-T-shirt season, I-wish-I-lived-in-Maine season. All the cheerful articles and blog posts about having summer fun leave me grumpy, since many of their suggestions aren’t practical for our extremely hot and humid climate. My idea of summer fun in Florida is to stay inside as much as possible. Unfortunately, errands still need to be run, horses still need grooming, and household maintenance still requires setting foot outdoors. Now more than ever I need a stock of simple pleasures to look forward to until cooler temperatures arrive (probably sometime in January, if the past couple years have been any indication). I want to savor the summer, and I want to share summer pleasures with you…but I confess my stock of simple pleasure ideas is running low.

So since I’m such a summer grump, I put out a call to my friends on Facebook to see what simple pleasures they enjoy during the summertime. Here, in their own words, are some sweet summer pleasures they savor:

“Sitting in matching tree swings with my husband, talking and watching the fireflies. Tubing, also with my husband.”—Maria

“I just love Target in August. It reminds me of my young co-ed days going to college. We had one right next to campus at NAU, and it would be full of all my classmates, dorm mates, sorority sisters, and cute boys. Picking out sheets, towels, and even garbage cans made me feel so adult! Every August at Target still takes me back and this summer I get to do that with my boy!”—Moki

“Camping in the many places by or around Banff. We use a tent.”—Anita

“Really cold watermelon, corn on the cob, Rainier cherries…shared with family and friends; crepe myrtle trees bloom and when the blooms start to drop, they look like colored rain or snowflakes on the breeze; that glorious (peculiar) golden green color we see just before dusk. It’s especially noticeable after a rainstorm. It almost glows.”—Laure

“Tomato sandwich!”—Debbie

“I love grooming and bathing horses and then hand grazing them until they dry. Just spending quiet time with my favorite horses without asking anything from them. Another simple pleasure would have to be picking fresh veggies at work and being allowed to take them home to enjoy with my family.”—Chris

“With school out for the summer, I savor sleeping in!”—Kathy

“Sitting on my front porch between 7:00 and 8:00 a.m. reading…when there is still a bit of coolness, but [it’s] not cold. It is refreshing, and so pleasant. T-shirt, shorts, maybe a hoodie. Birds singing, calm, quiet, pleasant.”—Lynn [Lynn lives in Canada—can you tell?]


“I love working in my yard. It’s a great way to sweat/get rid of some toxins and it’s good for my health, plus I get some good ole Vitamin D. Then I like sitting in the evening looking at my yard listening to the birds and hopefully catching a glimpse of some birds with something refreshing to drink”—Robin

“My favorite summer pleasure is taking a trip as far north as I can…to get away from the Texas heat.”—Becky [Clearly a woman after my own heart.]

After some additional thought, I came up with a few simple pleasures I plan to savor between now and the end of summer—pleasures like floating in our pool (now that our son is grown, we rarely use it), making homemade ice cream, sharing a margarita with my friend down the street, taking a few days off for a mini staycation, listening to music by candlelight, hosting a game night for visiting friends, and putting together the jigsaw puzzle my friend Mary gave me. Of course, there will still be plenty of reading and hanging out with Tank while he grazes. And perhaps the best thing of all, taking the pressure off myself to “enjoy” summer—or, at least, not worry about enjoying it in ways that other people say I should enjoy it!

What are your favorite summer pleasures to savor? Please share in the comments section!

Tank's favorite summer pleasure

Seize the Pleasure: Nine Happiness Quotes From Jane Austen

July 18, 2017

Today is the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen, at age 41. Her novels have had a lasting impact on the world of literature and have inspired countless fans as well as quite a few books about them and her. Since I wrote this piece, we’ve seen even more Austen-inspired books, essays, celebrations, and so on, come into being. (See below for a link to Signature’s “Essential Guide to Jane Austen,” as well as two fun and free printables.)

In remembrance of Miss Austen, here are nine quotes from her books related to happiness:

From Mansfield Park:

“There will be little rubs and disappointments everywhere, and we are all apt to expect too much; but then, if one scheme of happiness fails, human nature turns to another; if the first calculation is wrong, we make a second better: we find comfort somewhere.”

“A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of.”

“There is nothing like employment, active indispensable employment, for relieving sorrow. Employment, even melancholy, may dispel melancholy.” 

From Sense and Sensibility:

 “I wish, as well as everybody else, to be perfectly happy; but, like everybody else, it must be in my own way.”

“What have wealth or grandeur to do with happiness?” “Grandeur has but little,” said Elinor, “but wealth has much to do with it.”
“Elinor, for shame!” Said Marianne. “Money can only give happiness where there is nothing else to give it...” 

From Northanger Abbey:

“[I]t is well to have as many holds upon happiness as possible.”

From Emma:

“Why not seize the pleasure at once?—How often is happiness destroyed by preparation, foolish preparation!”

 “Perfect happiness, even in memory, is not common.” 

From Pride and Prejudice:

 “I never could be so happy as you. Till I have your disposition, your goodness, I never can have your happiness.” 

Reading Jane Austen makes me happy—it’s a simple pleasure I haven’t indulged in for quite some time. I might choose Mansfield Park or Northanger Abbey to read next, because I’m not as familiar with them as I am with Pride and Prejudice or Emma (my two favorites).

Do you have a favorite Jane Austen novel?

Signature's free, downloadable “Essential Guide to Jane Austen”
Jane Austen quote printables
Jane Austen-themed printable bookmarks


Wonder Woman Made Me Cry

July 14, 2017

Photo via Freestockphotos.com

A few weeks ago, a good friend and I indulged in the deliciously decadent simple pleasure of going to see Wonder Woman on a Friday afternoon. Our intention was nothing more than being together and having fun while most of the rest of the world was at work.

As we watched the movie, sharing popcorn and sipping from our water bottles, something surprising happened. We both teared up.


We walked out of the theater, both a little stunned by how entertaining and empowering the movie felt, and by our own reactions to it. Since then, I’ve pondered my (our) teary response to the movie. What affected us so much?

And then to my surprise, I found we were not alone in our tears. Many, many women were being affected this way. I found the No Man’s Land scene the most moving, but other women were moved to tears by the scenes of the Amazons training or fighting on their home island, Themiscyra. Each story I’ve read about a woman crying during Wonder Woman has been a little different, but mainly they’ve focused on the concept of representation—having a role model up on screen who is unabashedly feminine and powerful.

The character of Diana Prince/Wonder Woman is not a damsel in distress, a sidekick, an afterthought, or a love interest. She’s the main event, and she is inspiring. She’s strong, brave, loving, and purposeful. She doesn’t wait, she acts. She doesn’t waffle, she decides, and when she acts, she does so in the service of others. That’s a pretty darn good role model, and one that is larger than life. One I wish I’d had when I was growing up.

I’m not what I think of as brave, or even assertive. I grew up in a culture that didn’t encourage those qualities in women, and I’m shy by nature. Even though I knew strong and capable women, they tended to stay in the background, not lead the way. Would I have been a more courageous, outgoing person with an example like Diana Prince to emulate? I don’t know, but I agree with the woman who said, “I wish I could go back in time and watch it with 8-year-old me.” Sometimes you have to see the example—to be made aware of the possibility—before you can emulate it.

Now I realize this is all in the context of a fictional superhero movie. I realize our decisions and actions in real life can be more emotionally fraught and tricky to navigate than No Man’s Land, especially when we’re not Amazons equipped with magical shields. Even so, I’ve found myself thinking of Diana more than once when I face problems in my day-to-day life. Would Wonder Woman be fazed by the challenges of redesigning my blog, or by not placing (again) in an essay contest? Somehow I doubt it.

So much to my surprise, I’m adding Wonder Woman to my list of role models. I could do worse.

Do you have any unusual role models you look up to? 


Beyond This Work

July 12, 2017

Photo courtesy Kyle Ellefson

Introduction by Ted Kooser: When we’re on all fours in a garden, planting or weeding, we’re as close to our ancient ancestors as we’re going to get. Here, while he works in the dirt, Richard Levine feels the sacred looking over his shoulder.

Believe This

All morning, doing the hard, root-wrestling
work of turning a yard from the wild
to a gardener’s will, I heard a bird singing
from a hidden, though not distant, perch;
a song of swift, syncopated syllables sounding
like, Can you believe this, believe this, believe?
Can you believe this, believe this, believe?
And all morning, I did believe. All morning,
between break-even bouts with the unwanted,
I wanted to see that bird, and looked up so
I might later recognize it in a guide, and know
and call its name, but even more, I wanted
to join its church. For all morning, and many
a time in my life, I have wondered who, beyond
this plot I work, has called the order of being,
that givers of food are deemed lesser
than are the receivers. All morning,
muscling my will against that of the wild,
to claim a place in the bounty of earth,
seed, root, sun and rain, I offered my labor
as a kind of grace, and gave thanks even
for the aching in my body, which reached
beyond this work and this gift of struggle.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright © 2010 by Richard Levine, from his most recent book of poetry, “That Country’s Soul,” Finishing Line Press, 2010, by permission of Richard Levine and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2011 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.

If We Thirst for Freedom

July 05, 2017

Photo courtesy Samuel Schneider

“Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup
of bitterness and hatred.”
—Martin Luther King, Jr


Happiness, Freedom, and Letting Go

July 03, 2017

Photo courtesy Ester Marie Doysabas
“Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything—anger, anxiety, or possessions—we cannot be free.”—Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation

Over the past few days, I’ve been going through each one of the 877 (!) posts on Catching Happiness, to make sure they all transferred properly to the new template. This process has been bittersweet, as I’ve relived highs and lows from the past eight years: milestones in my son’s life; adopting our cat, Prudy; the joyful memories of our dog, Scout, and the deep grief I felt when she died almost two years ago. There have been changes, both longed for and mourned over, dark days of depression and overwhelm, but also days of excitement and exploration. So many simple pleasures and everyday adventures.

I can see how much happier I am when I’m able to let go, to allow these happenings and emotions to flow through my life, rather than cling to them, or try to hurry them along without truly experiencing them. I’m not naturally good at letting go, but I’m getting better with practice. And it’s true—letting go, freedom, happiness—they’re connected in ways I’m just now beginning to understand.

As I get older, I’m having to let go of more and more things I do not want to let go of. I’m not in charge of the world, surprisingly. Some days, I’m barely in charge of myself. But when I do manage to uncurl my fingers and letgoalready, I’m glimpsing a freedom I’ve never experienced before.  It feels good. It feels…happy. And I want more of that.

What have you let go of? What would you like to let go of?

Happy Independence Day to all my American readers!