How to Celebrate Christmas Without Gifts

not exchanging christmas presents

While it can be fun to exchange gifts on Christmas, it can also burn a hole in your wallet and stress you out.

Why not try something different this year?

Instead of spending too much money on “things,” you and your family could agree on spending quality time together, i.e. make meals, play games, sing songs, go for walks, tell stories, and so on.

Simply enjoy being with your loved ones. That’s what matters most.

Celebrating without gifts also teaches you to feel grateful for what you have. In fact, relationships are what make you truly happy, not things. I wish this were more obvious in the western world, but the commercialization of holidays seems to overshadow this aspect.

Not giving and receiving Christmas gifts has the added benefit of preventing disappointment. No need to return or re-gift things you don’t like. No extra clutter. It’s a win-win situation, and it’s exactly what I’m doing this year.

Happiness Comes from Within

happy from the inside

We’re always striving for happiness, that ever-elusive sweet feeling we want to hold on to so badly.

But it slips away. We can’t quite hold our grasp.

Why can’t we be happy all the time? Why do we need to experience sadness, anger, and frustration? Is there really no such thing as everlasting bliss?

I’ve asked myself these questions many times, and I’ve looked at other people who claim to have found happiness through meditation (one example is Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard, also known as the “world’s happiest man”).

Personally, I think it’s important to distinguish between feelings of happiness and contentment. I would consider myself content with my life. I’m not suffering. I’m more than OK. Nevertheless, I’m not always happy.

There are times when I’m sad, angry, and feel misunderstood. I’ve come to realize that these feelings are completely normal. They’re not bad per se. You could consider them signposts, giving you hints about what you need to work on in your life. They’re opportunities to grow.

Therefore, we shouldn’t chase the fantasy of constant happiness. That’s pretty much impossible. However, we can focus on feelings of long-term contentment.

Practicing gratitude comes into play here. Accept what you have and be thankful for it. Don’t complain about everything that’s going wrong. Don’t cry about all those things you wished you had but you don’t.

Know that you are perfectly lovable the way you are. Love yourself unconditionally.

When you feel content, you don’t have that urge to look for happiness externally. Happiness is right here with you. It comes from the inside.

Of course, this is radically different from what is portrayed in movies and commercials. They want you to think that you need to find happiness “out there.” I used to believe that too. From experience I can tell that you can find short-term happiness and pleasure out there, but anything worthwhile comes from within.

Gratitude Makes You Happy

being grateful makes you happy

Warm sunshine on your face. A hug from a good friend. A delicious meal.
All of these are things to be grateful for, even though they seem small and insignificant.

When you practice gratitude, you can’t help but feel happy. Research has shown that people who count their blessings experience better health, build stronger relationships, and find it easier to deal with problems.

This is also great news for couples. If you express gratitude for your significant other, you will have more positive feelings toward them, and ultimately, your relationship will benefit from it, leaving you more satisfied.

All of that sounds good in theory, but how do you actually practice gratitude? Thankfully, there are many ways to do so. Here are three of them:

1) Start a Gratitude Journal. This is not your regular type of journal. In this little book, you’ll be writing only positive things. People, places, events – anything that you appreciate can be included. It’s important not to filter your thoughts but to let your creative juices flow.

2) Say Thank You to Someone. Make it a habit to thank people for their help and the positive impact they have on your life. This is a great way to make them happy, and you will also feel ten times better about yourself.

 3) Try Gratitude Meditation. Pick something you’re grateful for and focus on it. If negative thoughts keep popping up, simply let them go and refocus on the good ones again. Do this as often as you like.

Feeling grateful comes easy to you when you’re already in a happy state, but for someone who’s going through hard times, it might be more of a challenge to allow these feelings.

What’s important is to not feel frustrated if you can’t think of too many things you’re grateful for. The more you practice, the easier it will get.

In Praise of Gratitude

Why You Need a “No-Tech” Hour

one hour without technology

Technology is fascinating, I agree. These days there are countless smart devices on the market that offer you all the features you would ever want. People absolutely love these fancy gadgets!

Therefore, it comes to no surprise that these electronic devices are becoming increasingly popular all around the globe. If we take a look at Apple’s iPhone sales in 2010, we see that they sold almost 40 million phones that year! How many do you think they sold three years later? 90 million? Nope, they sold over 150 million iPhones! And let’s not forget all the MacBooks and iPods and iPads they sell. That’s a huge amount of electronic gizmos for all those tech-hungry people out there.

While there are certainly many benefits to owning tech devices, it’s not all rosy.

There are downsides to being constantly connected and immersed in technology, one of them being the slow death of our face-to-face conversations.

When we’re waiting in a public place, we don’t initiate small talk with strangers anymore, instead we bury our heads in iPods or smartphones or tablets or ebook readers. It’s so easy to use technology to distract ourselves. Far too easy.

Striking up a conversation with the friendly-looking girl next to you seems more complicated and simply takes too much effort. After all, tapping on your smart device is easy as pie and very familiar.

Times have changed, and this is the new normal, especially for the younger generations. I’m not saying I condemn this kind of behavior, even though I think it’s not necessarily a good development. Unfortunately, I’m guilty of it too.

Technology can be very addictive. And the Internet even more so.

That’s why I have a suggestion for what we all can do in order to not turn into tech zombies.

We need to unplug every day for at least an hour. Yes, that’s right. One hour without any kind of technology, including the TV, stereo, and so on. No checking of phones allowed. None. Zero. Zilch. Nada. It’s incredibly hard, isn’t it?

During this one hour we can do the following:

1) Be active and exercise, i.e. go for a run, do Yoga, or lift some weights. Even taking a walk in the park would be beneficial.

2) Have an actual face-to-face conversation with a friend! Particularly important when you can’t remember the last time you talked to a real face and not a screen.

3) Read books and magazines that are made of paper. Yes, they’re still around. Not only can we avoid exposing ourselves to radiation, but we also get to touch actual paper, which feels quite nice, doesn’t it?

4) Be creative. Write, draw, knit, or maybe compose a song. Even if you think you’re not good at it, do it anyway. Doesn’t it feel awesome to express yourself in creative ways? You don’t even have to show your work to anyone. The simple act of creating is therapy for your soul. While technology can help with creativity, it’s also a great deal of fun without it.

If you experience withdrawal symptoms, don’t give up. You can turn this into a challenge for better motivation. When your hour is up, you can reward yourself and scratch that itch: check your phone.

If one hour is too easy, take it up a notch and go for two or three hours!

It’s important to unplug once in a while – for your overall health and sanity. Don’t you agree?

iPhone sales per quarter

How to Deal With Disappointment

tips to avoid disappointment

When was the last time you were disappointed with someone or something?

Did it bring you down for the rest of the day or even week?

Being disappointed sucks. We can probably agree on that. Who wants to have their expectations and hopes crushed? No one.

So let’s look at some quick tips that will hopefully fix this:

1) Don’t set your expectations too high. This is the number one thing that leads to disappointment.
You expect your significant other to be perfect, to basically read your mind and cater to all your needs? That would indeed be nice, but it’s highly unrealistic. After all they’re only human, too. Know that they will make mistakes, and that they will hurt your feelings (hopefully not on purpose). Therefore, set your expectations of them a notch lower. This might just save your relationship.

2) Realize that rarely in life do things go exactly as planned.
You can plan an important event and put in as many hours into the preparation as you want, but most likely things will turn out differently than planned, and that’s OK. It helps to be flexible and let go of the need to control everything.

3) What looks like a negative event can turn out to be just what you needed to grow.
Losing your job might have been tragic, but maybe that’s exactly what you needed. And then a much better opportunity comes along. That’s what’s called a blessing in disguise.

4) When you don’t get what you want, don’t be disappointed, because life often gives you something better than what you wished for.
You really wanted to catch that last bus, but it drove off seconds before you arrived. Don’t be sad, because how else would you have met your future spouse who was late for the bus as well?

Disappointments are an opportunity for you to learn and grow. Try not to blow things out of proportion and get a crying fit (like my toddler loves to do) but realize that life is not always fair; it can seem rather cruel indeed, but it usually happens for a good reason.

Keep these things in mind when you feel like blaming other people or life for making you disappointed. After all, it’s simply your reaction to the external world. You react with disappointment. Next time you might choose to react with forgiveness instead, which is harder to master but much more enjoyable to experience.

Bye-Bye Coffee, Welcome Green Tea Goodness!

tea helps you stay awake without side effects

My new appreciation for green tea started when I quit drinking coffee cold turkey. I had abstained from coffee for almost four years but started drinking my caramel macchiatos again this year for a period of about four months.

Those were wonderful four months, but they also reminded me of the ugly side of coffee: the jitters, the afternoon low, and the addictive qualities it has.

After drinking one last cup of coffee way too late in the day, causing me to stay awake until 4 am or so, I swore to myself to stop my coffee addiction for good.

From one day to the next, I gave up my daily cup of joe and haven’t looked back!

What made it so easy for me?

I consciously chose to not restrict myself from caffeine completely. If I felt really tired, I was allowed to drink black or green tea. I did and still do sometimes, but not daily (more like once or twice a week). It’s been great!

I can still enjoy a warm beverage but without any side effects.

I’m really glad I made this decision. If you feel like your coffee consumption is getting out of hand, give green tea a try. It might be a bit strange to switch from coffee to tea at first, but you will get used to it eventually.

And if you can’t give up coffee for good, that’s no big deal either, as long as you don’t feel like you’re a slave to it.

Remember to Live in the Moment

slow down and enjoy the moment

Take a moment and slow down. Really slow down.
Put down your phone, and learn to see the world again. See the colours, see the lights, see life.

Do you remember what it was like to see everything for the first time? Do you remember the excitement? Tune in to that feeling, and look through those brand-new eyes again.

Isn’t the world amazing? Miracles are around every corner.

Watch other people, watch them interact with each other. Real people – not actors – your neighbours, your coworkers, complete strangers. Everyone is interesting in their own way.

If you can feel as excited as a child, you know true happiness. You don’t feel bored. You couldn’t care less about that mobile device in your hand, because life is happening right in front of you. And it’s amazing!
It’s juicy, crunchy, tasty. Take a bite and savour it. Life is good.

Bored and Frustrated? Time to Declutter Your Closet!

pare down clothing for sense of peace

You’re at home, bored, nothing seems to be fun? You don’t even want to watch TV or play with your phone? You’re sick of it all?

I have a little project for you. Declutter your closet! And I don’t mean taking out that one shirt that’s pretty much falling apart.

I mean:
1) Take out all your clothes.
2) Look at each piece.
3) Make a decision whether to keep it or not.

It seems fairly easy in theory, but when you get down to it, you realize that, for some reason, certain items that you haven’t worn in years are still hard to get rid of.

You might say to yourself, “but I paid a lot of money for it!” or “but it was a Christmas present from my grandma!” or simply “but it’s still in good condition.”

Those things might all be true, but they are excuses not to make a decision that is uncomfortable to you.

What good is a practically new sweater when you never wear it? It just takes up space in your closet. If you donate it, someone else can wear it and take great joy in it. Whereas, if you keep it in the back of your closet where it never sees the light of day, it will make nobody happy, and at least to me, that seems more wasteful than donating it.

After you’ve taken out all your clothes and analyzed each piece, you will have a pile of clothes that will be donated and possibly a pile of clothes that are no good anymore (Tip: holes and stains don’t mean you have to throw the item in the trash; you can always reuse it as a cleaning rag), and of course there will be a pile of clothes that you are keeping. The latter you can safely put back in the closet.

What you will notice is that all of a sudden you have more space in your closet. And not just that; now it’s filled only with clothes that you love and wear on a regular basis.

Every time I pare down my clothes like that I feel a sense of accomplishment and peace afterwards. Give it a try and see if it makes you feel just as good.

When You Need to Get Things Done

getting things done

There is an important email I have to write. I was going to do it yesterday, but for some reason that never happened.
I thought, OK, I’ll do it first thing in the morning.
Next day, it’s 8pm.. Still haven’t sent that email. It’s not that I’ve forgotten about it. I keep thinking about it every hour or so.

Then why don’t I just write that damn email? The longer I think about it, the harder it seems for me to actually sit down and get it done.
Hello procrastination! Nice to see you again. No, not really..

Does that sound somewhat familiar to you?
How do you stop yourself from procrastinating?

When I catch myself putting something important off, I know that I’m avoiding it because it is a) out of my comfort zone and/or b) overwhelming/a lot of work. As soon as I realize what I’m doing subconsciously, I make the decision to take action. Because once you’ve snapped out of that state of avoiding it at all costs, it gets infinitely easier to get things done.

But how do I start?

Coming back to that email example.. I need to sit down, open my email app, shut off any distractions like YouTube or iTunes or whatever I have been doing to avoid writing.
And then I get down to it. I actually start typing words.

But since I know this email is not going to be easy to write, I allow myself to write the most horrific sounding, grammatically incorrect crap that comes to me, because at this stage it’s all about getting my fingers moving and tackling that thing I’ve been avoiding for so long.

This simple first step, a first shitty draft, creates momentum, and now I can feel that “kick in the butt” that I need to complete this task. It’s magic. From here on everything else seems easy, maybe not comfortable, but certainly doable.

I hope that helps you deal with your own procrastination. You can also check out the video I did on this, which has a couple of other tips.
Take care.