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Does Happiness Always Mean Getting Your Way?

The BBC had an interesting article yesterday called Why are Dutch children so happy? that went on to explain why the Netherlands was at the top of a recently published Child Wellbeing Report produced by UNICEF. (By the way, the United States – perhaps unsurprisingly – rates pretty much near the bottom compared to Europe and Canada). The lead-in to the article reads:

Dutch children have been rated the most fortunate children in Europe. Their parents go out of their way to please them, and teachers expect less of them than some of their European counterparts.

Well, that’s not exactly how the UNICEF report portrays the Netherlands, but does raise some interesting questions when we think not only about our own children (regardless of which country you call home) but own lives at work. How much is our own happiness tied to having things go our way? Can there be happiness in our challenges and struggles?

Let’s take this example from the BBC article:

18-year-old Ysbrand, a student in Helmond near Eindhoven, says this picture matched his childhood. He says that his parents spent a lot of time with him when he was younger. His mother stayed at home while his father worked.

But, he said the contrast when you get to 18 can be something of a shock.

“Now I’m left to look after myself,” he told the BBC News website. “My parents say that I need to care for myself and to be independent. It’s hard. I don’t have much money as a student and to go out is expensive. Beer, for example, is very expensive in the Netherlands.”

By focusing on what will make us happy right now, we postpone possible future pain. Not that we shouldn’t aim for joy in our life, but we need to be honest with ourselves and consider whether our present experience – even if it does suck – won’t make us a better person down the road. Sometimes we need to unhappy in order to learn how to be happy. I can certainly remember painful experiences in my life that were hellish in their own special way, but in reflection I’m so glad that they were my experiences. I wouldn’t be half the person I am today without them.

And I hope this doesn’t seem like I’m picking on the Dutch. Frankly, I don’t think the example of Ysbrand above is all that different from some of the experiences I’ve seen from fellow parents here in the U.S. The desire to coddle and over-protect kids transcends borders and culture.

Today, we’re challenged to look at our own happiness and determine whether that happiness is real or is simply deferring pain for another time. Ask whether that graduate degree that might be challenging and even painful to undertake might lead to a better tomorrow for you. Ask whether the pain of quitting your job might not be the first step toward finding your own soulful work. Remember that happiness sometimes means taking the hard and painful path.

Be well.

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Being Fully Present in Our Work and Life

I found an interesting article in the The Olympian Online about fathers facing the challenge of integrating their desire to be great parents with their commitment to do great work. I liked the ideas they offered at the end of the article (Even if you’re not a dad or parent, the most of the ideas are relevant for cultivating a whole life):

  1. Don’t feel guilty for needing time to yourself. Work out. Get in a round of golf. Watch a football game.
  2. Recognize you can’t do it all.
  3. Realize your value as an employee and a parent. You can ask for some perks, too, like flex time or telecommuting.
  4. Remember, the company won’t fall apart if you put off some work until tomorrow.
  5. Prioritize and set goals. (Examples: Try not to take work home on the weekends.)
  6. Ask to be connected to the office at home. If you need to do work after hours, at least you’re still at home.
  7. Plan some alone time each week with the children.

In particular, #1 can often be difficult for busy parents. But giving all of our time to our kids, as well as our spouse and others can be a trap. It’s so vital to take some time for ourselves. That way, we can be sure that we’re fully present when we are with those we love. Same way with our work; when we have a chance to relax or do those things that recharge our batteries, we can be fully present in our work.

A few months ago, I blogged on the idea of the Oxygen Mask Principle, which is a great way to remember that we first have to take care of ourselves before we can take care of others. If you haven’t read it, check it out and consider the question I leave at the end.

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How My Children Have Influenced Me

During lunch a couple of days ago, a friend asked how I came to be a coach. As I recounted my winding career path since graduating from college, I realized there was one critical milestone in the journey: the birth of my first daughter. Her coming into this world wasn’t quite planned and it forced some replanning of my proposed future, as well as my wife’s future. Yet, in this period of reconsidering what I was all about as an individual and a professional, I asked myself one deeply soulful question that has continued to guide my life: What kind of father do I want to be?

The answers have provided a foundation not only for my personal life, but my professional life. I remember the first week of knowing that I was going to be a dad; I was terrified by all the changes that were going to need to take place…getting a solid job with health insurance (I was in graduate school at the time), finding a good place to live, etc. Then, this experience was further deepened when I started to consider all the changes that I would need to make as a person. At one point, the anxiety of it all was just too much and I started to run (physically) as hard as I could. I ran out of my basement apartment and kept running along street after street, through park after park, until I couldn’t go any farther and fell into the grass. From this exhausted state, I asked myself what kind of father do I want to be and then the answers started to appear.

I wanted my child to know love, to know integrity, to know playfulness, to know commitment, to know that this world is a good place filled with good people, to know that we can love our work. And the way for her to know these things are to see them modeled.

The process of asking myself this question did not end prior to her birth, but continues to guide me today. As my children grow, so do I as a father. Being a dad has provided another powerful layer of purpose to my life.

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Are You Getting Enough Oxygen For Yourself?

A great article at the Parentalk Working Parents Naturally Savvy site. The ‘Oxygen Mask’ Principle relates that familiar airplane safety reminder of putting on your own oxygen mask before trying to fasten your child’s mask to taking care of yourself as a parent. So often, we take care of everyone BUT ourselves and in the end, we not only cheat ourselves, but those around us. Sometimes, it’s essential that we’re selfish. Then, we can be fully present when our children, spouses, and other loved ones need us.

What are you going to do this week to get your oxygen?

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