The idea that happiness comes from success is backward

I wasn’t in the best mood today. But I just received a wonderful gift: a link posted by friend Sara M. to this great (and funny!) TED talk on happiness by Shawn Achor, a psychologist whose younger sister is a unicorn.

(You have to watch the video to understand.)

His message:

“[It’s] the lens through which your brain views the world that shapes your reality. And if we can change the lens, not only can we change your happiness, we can change every single educational and business outcome at the same time.”

We hear that we should work hard to be successful, which will make us happy.

But Shawn Achor, CEO of Good Think Inc., points out that if you succeed at something, then the expectations get set higher. Happiness remains on the far side of the ever-rising bar.

Reverse it, he suggests. Change your outlook and become happy now — and you’ll work and learn better and faster.

He outlines the ways research has proven that people can train their brain to become more positive:

1. Each day for three weeks, write down three new things you’re grateful for. This retrains your brain to scan for positive things instead of negative things.

2. Journaling (writing) about something positive you’ve experienced in the past 24 hours allows your brain to relive it.

3. Exercising teaches your brain that behavior matters.

4. Meditating helps counter our attention deficit hyperactivity culture.

5. Doing acts of kindness, such as sending one e-mail a day thanking someone, builds positive feelings.

A big thank you to Sara M. for helping me refocus! Here’s the link:


Filed under Being grateful, Good ideas

After the second cancer diagnosis, something wonderful

When Clay Felker — founding editor of New York magazine, who also had stints at Esquire and The Village Voice — was diagnosed with his second cancer, doctors said there wasn’t any treatment that would extend his life.

So they suggested that Felker and wife Gail Sheehy seize life: Do something wonderful that you wouldn’t have dared do before.

Now that’s a charge worth pursuing.

Sheehy told me it took them about a year to figure out what to do. They enjoyed a great trip to France — even though he was on a feeding tube. And they found a way for Felker to pursue his passion of developing young talent in magazines, which meant moving from Manhattan to California to work at Berkeley. With lymphoma. (That’s a cancer that  begins in immune system cells called lymphocytes.)

“He actually developed a great deal of courage,” Sheehy said.

She traveled back and forth between her job in Manhattan and their new home. The couple experienced a new time of feeling young and in love all over again. And Felker’s lymphoma went away.

“That’s the kind of miracle of it,” said Sheehy.

Felker was able to work for 10 more years.

If you give someone the chance to feel alive and able to do things, they just may be able to do them.

I’m grateful that can happen.

Felker photo: USA Today. Sheehy photo: LA Times

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Filed under Being grateful, My freelance writing

Stan the toothpick man

If you won the lottery, how would you spend your time?

Driving to work over my years as a daily newspaper journalist, I passed a lottery billboard offering the possibility of millions. Periodically — even though I don’t buy lottery tickets — I pondered this question of what I would do differently if paychecks didn’t matter.

The answer can be revealing. Perhaps it can help you not end up late in life with regrets.

My answer: If money suddenly didn’t matter, I would love to have the luxury to pick and choose the stories I want to write. Interesting people. Important issues. Articles that teach and help people. And stories that are just plain fun to write and to read.

No, I haven’t won the jackpot. But since launching my freelance writing business, I get a lot more control over what I write about.

I’ve been working on several interesting stories this week, including this one on Stan Munro. The former zany early-morning Rochester TV features reporter is now crafting a career from his hobby creating buildings to scale from toothpicks and glue. Click on the link to see photos, read my story in the Democrat and Chronicle and see the details about his free exhibit in Irondequoit.

I’m grateful to be working on creating my dream job now, even without millions in the bank.

If you like that, check out this video of a creative use of toothpicks in California,

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Filed under Being grateful, My freelance writing

Gifts in the snow

My driveway tends to be a popular place for cars that need to turn around. It’s two lanes wide and located near the beginning of the street.

Tire tracks left in my driveway.

I’ve heard other people complain about having strangers pull into their driveway to turn around. Something about the extra traffic wearing out the asphalt faster or feeling like your personal space is being intruded upon.

But I say bring it on.

In the snow, strangers sometimes unintentionally leave delightful tire tracks behind. One recent morning I woke up to this view.

Consider it an early Happy Valentine’s Day gift — and a reminder to look closely at what’s around you.


Filed under Being grateful

Rochester & Syracuse connections to Oz

Did you know that L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, was likely influenced by the women’s suffrage movement? When he was writing his fantasy novel in 1900, it was unusual to have strong female characters such as Dorothy and Glinda. His mother-in-law was a feminist who collaborated with Rochester’s Susan B. Anthony.

Baum grew up in Syracuse and Chittenango, a suburb, which celebrates him with a yearly festival called Oz-Stravaganza.

For more about these connections to Oz, and about an exhibit based on the “Wizard of  Oz” movie that opens in Rochester Jan. 21, check out my stories in today’s “Democrat and Chronicle”:


Filed under Figuring out a new work life

A joy and a sorrow

The wind is growling past my house, swirling the  snow sideways. The thermometer reads in the 20s.

(That’s the view out my upstairs window just now. Rochester D&C photographers have a gallery of weather photos at

I am grateful to be able to work from home today, safe from the slippery roads and inevitable car accidents. How lucky I am to be sipping a cup of chrysanthemum-silver needle white tea, a hand-blended Christmas gift from a niece and nephew, while working on a project for a freelance writing client.

My gratitude for safety and warmth is mixed with sadness at the loss of a friend. Stuart died last night, in hospice care, after ending treatment for cancer. Many people have sent their love to Stuart and Jan in recent days. I hope that the warmth of community and the happy memories of his hearty singing voice, his love of the arts, his enthusiasm for helping city students learn and his grace during illness may lift all those who knew Stuart.


Filed under Being grateful

Six habits to boost happiness

This stuff makes sense, and it’s backed by scientific research.

Six habits that help people cultivate happiness in their lives:

  1. Pay attention.
  2. Keep friends close.
  3. Drop grudges.
  4. Get moving.
  5. Practice kindness.
  6. (No surprise!) Give thanks.

For more:

Thanks to First Unitarian Church of Rochester for sharing that link from the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, The center sponsors groundbreaking scientific research into social and emotional well-being and helps people apply this research to their personal and professional lives.

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Filed under Being grateful, Good ideas