Are You As Happy As This Nun?

Halloween Surf and Breakfast

Who doesn’t love nuns? Well, I’m sure there are a few people. However there is a specific group of nuns who can teach us about how happiness can really improve our health. There was a group of sisters in Milwaukee who signed up (I’m not sure if they “sign up,” it kind of makes it seem like they have a draft pick for nuns. “Sister Mary Margaret is a first round draft pick for Notre Dame, Bob!” “What a great choice for them Marv, she can rhyme off 12 hail Mary’s a minute. That’s really going to help them in the playoffs!”)

Anyway, one hundred and eighty nuns entered the order of Notre Dame back in the 1930’s and they measured how happy they were by looking at their diaries. After studying the “happy” or “unhappy” language in their diaries for many years and combining that with their levels of health and the length of their lives, they found that the happiest nuns outlived the unhappy nuns by an average of , wait for it…nine years. Nine years! That is an incredible difference if you ask me.

You could say “Ya but, what about differences in circumstances? Probably some nuns had a terrible life while others stayed at the Nun Club Med” Well, I am no expert on nuns (for a bunch of reasons) but according to the research, one of the reasons they studied nuns was that the sisters were living lives that were very similar in circumstance to each other.  Their routines, food, and social lives were almost identical. This lead researchers to the conclusion that, all things being equal, “being happy” had a profound effect on the length of the lives of the sisters. It makes me think that feeling good can have huge benefits for us as well. So, it turns out that happiness is incredible good for us! You might be interested in my upcoming book “Doing Happiness: Uncovering the Hidden Secrets of Feeling Good.” More soon!

 

Haters Gonna Hate. Having a blast is the Best Revenge.

It was my first time attempt to dock a houseboat. I was spinning the wheel of the craft and praying that the slow moving boat would eventually obey my directions and turn. We were approaching a marina in the Trent Severn Waterway. We neared the dock a little quicker than I had hoped and I struggled to remember the instructional video we had seen the day before. We were supposed to approach at a certain angle and at a speed that was called “dead slow”. I was going more at a speed that could be called  “dead fast”, and didn’t want all of us to be “actually dead” when we came into contact with the dock. I did my best to slow our progress. My brother-in-law on the bow said “Ok Robbie, slower, I think we got it.”

We finally nudged the dock very gently. I turned the wheel harder and threw it into reverse,  bringing the stern of our intrepid ship in line with the dock as well.  We tied up the boat and I finally exhaled. I had successfully docked for the first time. It wasn’t perfect mind you, but no one had been maimed and there was no damage to anything so I considered it a huge win. We scrambled off the boat and went to buy bait. I don’t usually feel like a super hero when I  buy worms, but I did today.  I heard a voice from further down the dock.

1956, MOBY DICK

(what Weathered Marina Guy might have looked like)

“Who’s driving the boat?” asked Weathered Marina Guy.

“It was me!” I said in my manliest of voices (which is actually pretty damn manly).

“I have owned this marina for 30 years and that was the worst docking I have ever seen!

I was pretty crushed, but wait there was more.

“I really don’t want to embarrass you in front of your friends, but really, that was terrible!” He was actually embarrassing me in front of my in laws, which was worse, but hey, who’s counting? He went on for a while about how lousy I was at operating a craft and with a somewhat withered sense of self esteem, we were on our way.

Free of the humiliating clutches of Weathered Marina Guy,  we approached the locks at Buckhorn. Again, I had never done anything like go through a lock while piloting a boat, but we went for it. I had to do everything possible to not think about what Weathered Marina Guy had said to me a couple of hours before. I approached at “dead slow” and cruised by several boasts that looked like they might be worth more than a small house. Once again I held my breath. The huge doors of the lock opened and we went in. Water rushed in and rushed out. The lockmaster was amazingly helpful and in 30 minutes we were lowered about 10 feet and were on our way.

I was thrilled. Ordinarily, having somebody tell me I was terrible at something would have been really tough to take. However, right after the experience I was able to redeem myself and once again, started to feel pretty good.

We celebrated by finding a spot near some cliffs that was 20 feet deep and jumped off our houseboat into the cool water below. It was some of the most fun I’ve had in a while. Funny enough, I was holding a Go Pro while I did it. so, you can see it too.

Have a great day everybody and remember, having a blast is the best revenge!

Many thanks to Egan Houseboat Rentals! They are great people who really know what they are doing.

Have a look at their awesome website…

houseboat

The Hope For Today Cafe: New Episode! Gather Your Tribe Around You When You Are Sick

One thing is for certain, when we are having a hard time with cancer or any other tough disease we are going to need some help. But who do we get help from? The people we are closest to? Sometimes..and sometimes not.

Every notice when you are sick (or someone you love is sick) that the people you think you can count on are actually different than the folks who help you the most? I know! Its weird right?

How do we deal with that?

Is it OK to ask for help?

Well, I am kind of in love with this episode of The Hope For Today Cafe. In this podcast my good friend Deborah Kimmett and myself wax funny about how to gather your tribe around you when you are sick. Please give it a listen and share!

10 CC’s of Happiness- Stat!

happiness

I’ve been thinking about happiness a lot lately. It might seem a bit odd to be talking about happiness in a blog that sometimes deals directly to living with cancer. Ridiculous even. Point taken. Living with cancer can be one of the biggest challenges we face over the course of our lives, so where  does happiness fit in? Well, I had cancer a few years ago now and one thing I noticed during all of the tests and treatments and time for recovery was that life goes on for us and those we care about. The journey is often a marathon and not a sprint. So, if we can help ourselves find even small moments of happiness or even an afternoon of feeling good on this journey, we deserve it! The big question of course is “How?” How can we squeeze a bit of happiness out of this strange time of our lives? Heck maybe ‘Happiness” is too big a goal, maybe just “feeling a bit better” is a more reachable target. Either way, there are very simple things we can do to help make it happen.

#1 Spend some time in nature.

Spending time in nature has been shown to improve our mood quite dramatically. In a major study, Trent University Researcher Dr. Elizabeth Nisbet, found that people who spent time in nature on a regular basis felt much happier and as a bonus watched less TV. Do you have to do something dramatic like white water rafting or fly through the air in one of those squirrel suits? No! Just spending some time in a park or ravine or on a nature trail will do just fine.

#2 Write down a list of things that you are thankful for.

Keeping a gratitude Journal or even making a list of things that you are thankful for can have a very significant impact on how you feel. Again, you might have to dig a bit deeper considering the circumstances, but if you start small you might end up with a pretty good list. For instance when I make a gratitude list my most recent cup of coffee is usually the first item and then I go from there. At the University of California at Davis, psychologist Robert Emmons found that having a gratitude journal helped improve the mood of participants as well as increased their tolerance to pain. Isn’t that something? So what are you thankful for? Coffee? Lunch? The latest episode of Game of Thrones?

3: Your Favourite Music.

Can you remember your favorite song right now? The song that gets you completely cranked up, can pull you out of a dark mood and make you dance like a maniac even if you’re doing your taxes?  Me too. In fact, I remember being 13 years old at the top of a ski hill that I was terrified of and listening to Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” in my head to get the courage to ski down.

Once again the benefits of music are backed up by science. Music can be a very wonderful tool in helping us to feel happier in our daily lives, moment to moment.

In an article published in The Huffington Post called “The Happiness Habits of Exuberant Human Beings” they state that

“Over a three month period, researchers from the Group Health Research Institute found that patients who simply listened to music had the same decreased anxiety symptoms as those who got 10 one hour-long massages.

So, feeling a bit down? Play your favourite song or if you’re really ambitious create a playlist of tunes that makes you feel good and you’re well on your way to having a tool that is scientifically proven to help you feel better.

We often think about finding happiness as one of those things that might be impossible especially when going through one of life’s greatest challenges, but by using even the simplest of techniques (that are backed up by science!) we can just maybe make this journey a bit easier and feel a bit better along the way.

Writing Is Better for You Than You Think

that_thing_you_are_writing_is_awesomeThe timer on my phone is set to 4 minutes. “OK everybody, go!” A group of folks start scribbling in old school notebooks. We are writing something pretty simple. In fact, I had asked, “What is something terrific that happened this week? People actually smile as they write. This might not be what they expected when they joined a cancer support group called “Write For Your Life”. It wasn’t what I expected either. As they hit the three minute mark, I remember my first experience with therapeutic writing. I sat down at a Starbucks, put a notebook on one of their tiny round tables and was pressing so hard with my pen through the paper that I was sure I was engraving my thoughts on the unsuspecting wooden surface. It seems the wooden laminate wasn’t ready for how angry I was at being sick. I had written things like “Why did I get cancer? What am I going to do now? How am I going to pay my bills after surgery?” That was a pretty tough day. I certainly didn’t leave the coffee shop with any easy answers, but I did feel a bit better. It turns out, that wasn’t a coincidence. My friend Eugene Nam explained to me that Therapeutic Writing has benefits that would make any drug company jealous. Writing and journaling when you’re sick has been proven to (believe it or not) lower blood pressure, alleviate depression, reduce stress-and get this-reduce the length of hospital stays.

I say “Two Minutes” to the group. They write a bit faster. I noticed something else that happens as well. When we write in a group we give people the option of sharing what they have come up with. People tell bits of their story and we all learn from everyone’s experience. At times we have all doubled over in laughter when someone talks about something ridiculous that happened or listen intently while a member shares a particularly tough challenge.

My timer rolls past one minute. People scribble even faster, trying to put the finishing touches on their short piece. “Remember, it’s OK if it’s not perfect, it’s your story and however you tell it, is just fine.”

My phone chimes.

“Ok Everybody, times up. Does anyone want to read their piece?”

I have no idea what’s going to happen next.

Here’s some fancy research on how great Therapeutic Writing is…

Writing about traumatic, stressful or emotional events has been found to result in improvements in both physical and psychological health, in non-clinical and clinical populations. (Pennebaker & Beall, 1986)

In clinical populations, a meta-analysis (Frisina et al, 2004) of nine expressive writing studies found a significant benefit for health.

Expressive writing about one’s breast cancer, breast cancer trauma and facts related to breast cancer, significantly improved and physical and psychological health, such as the quality-of-life (Craft, Davis, & Paulson, 2012; Henry et al. 2010)

Testicular cancer survivor participants assigned to the positive expressive writing showed significant improvements in physical and psychological health (Pauley, Morman, & Floyd, 2011)

So, what do you want to know about happiness?

happinessWhat do you want to know about happiness? Seriously.

It seems to me that happiness is one of those things that all of humanity is after but not that many of us get on a regular basis. After we have enough to eat, a warm place to sleep and access to a decent PVR all of us start to wonder about how to obtain this strange commodity called happiness.

We stumble on it on occasion in strange places that always seem really funny to me. In fact, one of the happiest times I had this past year was standing ankle deep in water during a thunderstorm while unplugging the drain at the side of my house. Really. This raises several questions, the first of which is probably “Why don’t I get out more?” There are a whole ton of questions you might have about happiness as well. Ones like…

Can we be happier on a daily basis? Is it something we arrive at when we get a new BMW convertible? What about sex? (I mean in relation to happiness..) What about money? Is it the root of all evil or does it actually help us get more satisfaction in our lives? What about genetics? Can we do simple things everyday that will help us increase our happiness?

What are your questions about happiness? I really want to know. In fact, I am currently writing a book about happiness and I would love to get your questions and input. What do you want to know happiness?

Please drop me a line at robhawke@gmail.com

And if you want to hang out with me, you’ll find me by the side of my house waiting for the next thunderstorm.

Look forward to hearing from you!

John Cleese on the “How” of creativity.

I am a huge fan of Mr. John Cleese. Yes, I was one of those irritating teenagers who could repeat the Argument Sketch (A brilliant Monty Python bit) ad nasuem.

I love Cleese’s work. Its funny, absurd and wickedly smart. A few years ago he did a talk on creativity. He talked about what creative people have to do to have an effective process. The “How” of creativity if you will. Most people don’t really believe that the HOW of creativity exists. They think that we (those who create) just blunder about until some great (or not great) idea falls from the firmament and then we write it, sculpt it, draw it, or deliver it in whatever discipline we choose. Cleese doesn’t agree with that. He feels we need SPACE to create. Here’s the video here…

He believes (as does another hero of mine, some unkown named “Stephen King”) that inspiration does show up but that it will show up much more often if we are present, ready and waiting for it. We have to keep our appointment with creativity in order for things to happen. Like a lot of appointments though, sometimes we have to wait for the other party to show up. Sometimes we have to twiddle our thumbs and wait.

I honestly think that most people can’t handle the uncertainty of not knowing what will happen next. Sometimes when we are making something we have to sit there for long periods of time waiting for something to happen. OK maybe its not that long, but it FEELS like a long time.

I have done some creative work in my time. A couple of books, a bunch of live comedy, a CD with a very good friend of mine, and in the process of ALL of them there was some time spent just wondering what the heck to do next, but if we stick with it and stay in that uncomfortable space for a while, an idea will magically bubble up from somewhere. Call it the collective unconscious, call it the depths of your psyche, call it Harold, but whatever you call it, something, some idea or inspiration will arrive.

Keith Richards, another remarkable artist who I have a tremendous amount of respect for was asked how he writes. He said “You don’t really write, you transmit.” When we are writing, improvising or whatever, we sometimes lose yourself in the process and feel a kind of beautiful “Lift Off”. The thing we are working on creates itself in an almost effortless fashion. That is a wonderful feeling, but we have to force ourselves to show up and do our art in order for that to happen. So what’s the big deal here? I think that as creative folks we have to embrace what most people do not. We have to come to terms with not knowing how its going to turn out. We have to hang out in the “uncomfortableness” of being unfinished and trust that somewhere out there or somewhere in here, there is an answer and it will arrive.

If we keep showing up, it will.

The Power Of Laughter Rocks!

FullSizeRender (3)It was my absolute honour to present A Spoonful of Laughter to the L’Chaim Cancer Support Group for Jewish Women last night. From the moment I walked in people were telling me jokes. “Oh, You’re the comedian? I’ve got a joke for you! A postman and a raccoon were walking down the street and…” And so it went. I was in stitches.

Taking a group of people who have had very little to no experience doing Improv through a workshop can be an adventure but these ladies went for it with incredible trust and enthusiasm. We talked about the medical benefits of laughter and how laughter can be such a powerful and positive tool for healing in our lives. As always at about the 20 minute mark the energy in the room shifts in a palpable way. We transformed from a bunch of individuals concerned about how we look in front of others to a unified group that is ready to share and take risks. Frankly, I love it. I’ve seen this happen again and again with groups of 15 to crowds of well over 100. When that happens it sets the stage for very good things to happen. We could see bits of this last night when by the end of our evening people were sharing their stories about the cancer journey, laughing at each other’s jokes and generally having a blast. Who knew a cancer support group could  be such a good time?

Barf it Out! One of the keys to Creativity

Boy-on-High-DiveHave you ever had a bunch of ideas for a project and stood at the precipice only to stop dead in your tracks? Sure you have! Sometimes it feels as if we’re teetering on a high diving board before we begin something. We’ve done our preparation, we have our materials, we have told ourselves we HAVE to do this thing and we are ready to go. So we stand with our toes over the edge of our creative project staring down into the abyss at what looks like cold water below us. (Holy Metaphor Batman!) Worse yet, that water might have rocks underneath it! We might be killed when we jump off this cliff, and we’re only wearing a small bathing suit that covers the bare minimum of our intimate creative bits! (Ok, now my metaphor has lost its mind).

If you make stuff on a regular basis (and by stuff, I mean media or art of any kind) you have probably faced this many times. Writers refer to this as fear of the blank page, actors and improvisers get stymied by stage fright. Painters get, well I don’t know what painters get, but I’m sure they get something.

Recently I was creating a workshop and I had a ton of ideas on what I wanted to say and how it was going to happen, but I couldn’t get myself to begin. I had elements all picked out, I knew what my main message was but I couldn’t get myself to start. Why? I realized that I was terrified that it was going to suck!

I know that’s incredibly obvious but I think that’s what it comes down to for many of us. We might ask ourselves “Gosh, what if it’s terrible?  What if we’re not as good as we think we are? What if this one piece of work reveals to the world that we have no place even pretending to be a creative person?”

So, we often find reasons to not begin. Common reasons include…

1: Hey, I’m a bit hungry and nobody else is going to eat that pork chop.

2: I should really re-watch season 2 of Game Of Thrones. (perhaps while eating a pork chop)

3: I haven’t dusted my light bulbs in a while and the neighbors are starting to talk.

We would rather do ANYTHING but start the creative process because it feels risky and vulnerable.

However, a person far wiser than me once said “The Best Way Out is Through”. My rough interpretation of that would be Barf it Out. Yep. Hike up your pants, square your jaw, look fear in the eye and just start.

Bring whatever it is to life in its ugly first draft stage. Let it be terrible. Make the worst first attempt that anyone has ever made. Why? Because then it will exist. Once you have that first try, then (Halleluiah!)  you have something to work with. The best part is, the work is usually pretty darn good!  

So barf it out in all its glory! Whether it’s a talk or a book or a blog or a drawing or a recipe for brussel sprouts. Once it exists you can congratulate yourself for having something, and then the rest of the process can start. In my own example of the talk for Waterloo, it actually went really well. The participants loved it and we had a blast.

Have you ever “barfed out a project” and actually found out it was better than you thought?

On Being A Positive Sh!T Disturber

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese people are Positive Sh!t-Disturbers

Are you a positive shit disturber? If you are, I’d love to buy you a coffee. Positive Sh!t Disturbers can be seen throughout the world disturbing the status quo and making a difference. In fact, I think that most positive change comes from those who disrupt in a thoughtful way and use as much positive energy as they can to improve our world.  Essentially these brave folks recognize that something needs to be changed and see themselves as the vehicle for making that happen.

We all know the names of people who have changed thousands of lives for the better like Martin Luther King and Mother Theresa. But there are some other folks who are doing incredible work right now to make the world a better place. Want some examples? Sure you do. Ever hear of Jessica Jackley and Matt Flannery? No? Well they started a little organization called Kiva which gives people a chance to loan money to entrepreneurs in the third world. This bringing together of lender and borrower known as “micro-lending” has changed the lives of thousands of people in places like Vietnam, Cambodia and Bolivia to name a few.  People have been able to start businesses and increase the level of prosperity for their families and the positive ripple effects for the community are huge.

The benefits of being a lender (and yes, I am looking at you) are really something also. When you lend money on Kiva, you read a person’s story and feel part of their entrepreneurial journey. It’s amazing to get an update that says “Maya has purchased noodles, sugar and other supplies to restock her store and can’t wait to get started” or “Miguel has purchased construction supplies for his new business and has begun his first project”.  It has been my pleasure to lend to Kiva for a while now, and I still get a ton of satisfaction from seeing people do such great stuff. You might want to check out their site here Be warned though, once you get started on lending to people it can be highly addictive.

Check out Kiva here…

Kiva!