If you're the black sheep of the family, this letter is for you

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Dear black sheep, if you visit your family for a birthday or the holidays, you put on a benevolent smile, but you sense a big distance. You don’t say all that much, because you don’t agree with most of the things being said. And you know there’s no room for other ideas.

After that one Christmas that ended in an icy silence, you learned to shut up. Or maybe, after a fight, you stopped talking to your family altogether and your heart starts pounding when you walk into an aunt in the supermarket. Or maybe you have a difficult time handling how some family members do pick your side and yet make you feel like you’re ‘different’ or not good enough. Every time, you leave feeling bad, because you feel they don’t understand you or see you. 

Feel different? 

If you feel different within your family, or you feel like you’re the black sheep in an otherwise white herd, this letter is for you. As a child, you probably had the distinct feeling you couldn’t be yourself (you maybe even fantasized that you were adopted), but back then, you were still tied to the family system. 

Now that you’re older, you’ve driven away from the herd. You’ve grown, and that makes the differences between you and your family more visible. Maybe you’ve picked a practical profession, as opposed to your ‘educated’ family, and they keep asking you when you will really do something with your life. Or maybe you were the only one to go to university (this is me). Maybe they call you ‘the professor’ every time you say a ‘difficult’ word. Maybe you have a different view on politics than the rest, maybe you’ve stopped going to church or maybe your love life is different from how your family thinks it should be. 


In the system of a family, there’s always a ‘we’. How much room there is for people to be different, depends on how broad-minded this ‘we’ is. If there’s room enough, people are less likely to have conflicts (I’m lucky that this is the case in my family). If, however, the family is like crabs in a bucket, there will be trouble. 

The extreme step is to end all contact with your family. In some cases, it’s the best solution, but there are quite a lot of downsides. It will not make the pain go away, and it ends all hope for improvement. The thought of ‘honor your mother and father’ can cause a lot of guilt. And every year that goes by without you talking to your family, will make it more difficult to break the silence. 


What I would rather suggest, dear black sheep, is to keep your distance – both physically and emotionally. You don’t have to go to every birthday, but make sure you see your family a couple times a year, but it’s mostly about emotional distance. Study your pain with a therapist or go to a workshop about Family Constellations. Write it all down. Practice self reflection, even if you think only ten percent of the trouble is your ‘fault’ – analyse the ten percent. Try to see your family members with kindness, take their own youth and personal problems into account. See whether you can change something about the dynamics between you and your family by assuming another role, and avoiding to get into the same old dynamics. 

Celebrate what’s there 

 Whether the relationship will get better or not, it’s important to make room for grief. Allow yourself to grieve about the things you hoped for, but your family wasn’t able to give you. Mourn the image of a family, laughing and having dinner sitting at long tables in the grass – the image you’ve kept in mind for so long, but simply doesn’t exist. Cherish the good memories, cry about the sad ones. 

Black sheep, accept things the way they are. From there, it’s easier to see and celebrate the good stuff. You may even be able to jump into the white herd every now and then, and afterwards get back to the sheep you’ve chosen to be around in your own life. 

With love and respect for how you’re handling it all,


Text: Susan Smit - Photo: Nathalie Heathcoat

The useful art of thoroughly enjoying the weekend

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Looking forward to the weekend? With the help of Japanese philosophy Kaizen, you turn your leisure time into magical days of rest and inspiration. 

The Japanese word Kaizen means ‘unceasing improvement’ or ‘change for the better’. It might sound like quite a bit thing, but essentially, it’s about the little things. According to Kaizen, a little progress every day brings us more than big plans. 

The philosophy is quite useful when you apply it to your weekend. With more leisure time, it’s easier to examine your habits and make conscious decisions. Healthy rituals can make the weekend a magical time of recuperation. 

Have a kind look at yourself and decide what you need to be back at work on Monday feeling recharged and inspired. 

Five tips to enjoy your weekend to the max: 

1 Don’t compare yourself to others 

It will only bring you stress and unrealistic goals that won’t help you to relax. If people around you are very social in the weekends, and you prefer to spend the day with the dog at the beach, just listen to your heart. Doing what others do simply because you ‘should’ too, won’t bring you the energy you need. 

2 Re-examine your habits 

Do you usually fill your weekend with social activities? Or is it the opposite: you would like to see more people during the weekend, but you’re too late to make appointments? What do you really want to do in the weekend, and does this match with your habits? 

3 Plan your social life 

And find out how social you want to (and can) be during the weekend. You don’t want to start working again on Monday feeling all exhausted because you’ve been around people too much. Or annoyed because you would have wanted to have a good talk with a friend, but didn’t. 

4 Practice really being there 

If you actually do the things you want to do during the weekend, but they just don’t bring you the kind of energy you want, perhaps you’re not present enough. While watching a movie, really watch the movie – leave the phone in the kitchen, and actually enjoy the fact that you’re granting yourself the time to do this. 

5 Re-invent yourself 

Are you rooted in habits that no longer serve you? Examine what you would really want to do. Which things make you happy, make you feel alive? Find a new hobby or organize a get-together with friends or acquaintances (who may become friends). Start a book club, invite people to play board games or start a dinner club – small or big, whatever you prefer. 

Photo: Jordan Bauer

Trouble saying no? Ask yourself these five questions

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Saying no can be difficult, because no one likes to disappoint others. We all want to be a good, helping friend, colleague, partner or parent. But sometimes we have to ask ourselves: how about me, am I helping me too?

You long for more me-time and more space in your agenda, but when someone asks you to get together, or to help them at work, you’ve answered ‘sure’ before you know it. This way, the list of to-do’s will never end, you feel yourself getting more and more tired. Yet saying no is difficult. After all, we don’t want to disappoint anyone. But if we keep saying ‘sure’ forever, we’ll disappoint ourselves in the end. 

In his ‘Dankboek’ (‘Book of gratitude’), Dutch writer Ernst-Jan Pfauth notes five questions. You can ask yourself these questions every time you’ve said yes when you wanted to say no (or when you’re on the verge of saying yes). Every time someone asks you to substitute at your children’s soccer club, or to do your colleague’s task for them, be sure to think of the five questions first. They can help you to make a well-considered decision and answer them wholeheartedly. 

Am I too easy to reach? 

If the question doesn’t reach you, you can’t answer it. According to Pfauth, it can be helpful to turn off notifications in your phone. This keeps others from distracting you. 

Did I take some time to think?

Request or invitation popping up? Take some time to think about it. Many people tend to answer requests quickly – not allowing themselves the time to really think it through. Pfauth says it’s wise to ask for some time to think. But what if they are pushing you? Pfauth: ‘Then they should have gotten in touch earlier.’ 

Do I feel like it’s my duty to do this? 

Family or high school reunions. Your aunt’s birthday. Drinks with colleagues. People get lots of invitations in a lifetime. Many of these get positive answers because the person answering feels they have to. But do you really have to? What is best for you: chitchatting with colleagues or having quality time with your family? Visiting your aunt or finally spending some time alone? 

Hell yeah, or hell no? 

And then there’s the requests that seem like small things, but take quite a lot of time after all. Having coffee with a student who’s interested in your field of work. Checking your cousin’s thesis. Filling out someone’s research form. All these things probably make you think ‘oh, it only takes an hour’, but if you add up all the hours, you’ve easily spent a whole day. That’s why Pfauth says it’s important to be picky when it comes to what you spend your time on. He refers to a mnemonic created by American music entrepreneur and author Derek Sivers. He says: only say yes to requests when your reaction is ‘hell yeah!’. If you’re not enthusiastic about it, it’s a no. 

Would I do it if I had to do it today? 

If the request is for something in the future, we’re more likely to say yes. After all, our diaries are still empty a few weeks from now. But diaries tend to fill up quickly, and by the time it’s the day of the appointment, it may not be that convenient at all. That’s why Pfauth always considers: ‘what if the appointment would be today, would I want to do it too?’ If you wouldn’t, the answer to the request is no.  

Photo: Analise Benevides


Four insights that will change how you feel about your body

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For many of us, exercising is about losing weight or improving our looks. Why not exercise to take care of our body, of because it makes us happy?

The number of inspiring women who show a different, more candid image of beauty, is increasing. At the same time, an hour of scrolling through Instagram or browsing the average fashion magazine, still gives you the impression that skinny is the standard. 

Gym versus couch

That’s why many of us still exercise to lose weight and/or look better (whatever ‘better’ may be), not because it’s healthy for your body or gives you a pleasant feeling. In fact, the gym can make you feel quite uncertain about your body, so it’s no wonder that it can be quite the challenge to get off the couch and put on your sports gear. And that’s a shame. 

Look with loving eyes 

If you can manage to look at yourself with different, more positive eyes, the relationship with your body becomes more loving. Exercise, even if you’re not the athletic type, will be fun. Which helps you to love your body even more. This is how to do it: 

1 Think of food and exercise as two different things

Allow yourself to allow a meal (or a luxurious piece of chocolate), without wondering if you’ve burned enough calories today. By focusing on calories, you reinforce the idea that being slim is ideal, and you stop listening to your own body. Thinking thoughts like these creates a negative relation between food and exercise:

- I have to do something to burn the calories of this piece of pie, no matter how tired I am
- I didn’t exercise today, so I can’t have dessert 
- Yesterday I went completely off limits, so today has to be about balance
- That sandwich looks so good. How long do I have to exercise today to earn it?

2 Learn to listen to your body 

Every body – yup, yours included – longs to move. That’s natural. If you think of exercise as an unpleasant chore, you make it into something negative. Respect your body’s needs: exercise, but allow yourself days of rest, too. And don’t force anything. There’s nothing wrong with pushing yourself occasionally, but don’t make exercise into agony. There’s a difference between challenging yourself and punishing yourself. 

3 Focus on other advantages than weight loss

Exercise can have so many advantages. It really depends on what’s important to you. A few examples:

- When you’re feeling stressed, taking a walk helps you to relax
- Going for a bike ride with your partner, kids or friend is a fun way to spend time together
- Boxing and other explosive sports are perfect to get rid of frustration
- Dancing for an hour to your favorite music makes you happy
- Team sports are a fun way to meet people

4 Have fun 

If you like to do something, it’s easier to keep doing it. Find a way of exercising that makes you want to move. If running or cardio isn’t your thing, try something else. Yoga, walking, volley ball: there are so many alternatives. Or find an exercise that doesn’t make you think of sports. After all, dancing in your living room, walking along the sea or riding your bike is exercise, too. 

Text: Sanne Eva Dijkstra - Photo: Matthew T Rader

These houseplants have a healing ability

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Houseplants are a decoration to your home, clear the air and have a beneficial effect on health. Use one of the plants below to turn your home into a green oasis. 

It sure looks nice, a home filled with trendy houseplants, but there are many more reasons to give your home a green make-over. Plants have a great effect on our health. Science proves that green surroundings help you to focus, decrease stress and decrease your chances on cardiovascular diseases. 

Ivy, fern and palm

A couple of years ago,  NASA made a list of houseplants that have a positive effect against several ailments by filtering the air in your home or office. According to NASA, there’s a ‘sick building syndrome’, that may occur when you work or live in a badly ventilated building. Symptoms such as dizziness, fatigue, headache or allergy can be the result of air pollution by fungi, cleaning products or chemical materials that were used building the office or home. 

NASA mentions how plants such as the Anthericum, Nephrolepis Exaltata and certain kinds of palms absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide, in order to turn it into oxygen. The plants also remove other unpleasant substances such as benzene, formaldehyde and ammonia from the air. 


The eucalyptus or gum-tree originally comes from Australia, where the indigenous people consider it a holy plant. They believe the plant represents the division in underworld, earth and heaven. It’s supposed to have a cleaning effect: negative energies would disappear once one burned a eucalyptus leaf at a certain spot. 

Besides spiritual powers, the plant is also supposed to have medicinal powers. The indigenous people from Australia use eucalyptus as a medicine for fever, colds or respiratory conditions. The plant is also said to put insects such as flies and mosquitos at a distance. Long story short: this is the kind of plant you want to have in your home. 

Aloe Vera

This plant isn’t just an easy one to take care of; it also has a healing effect. This effect is mostly in its juice. The gel-like juice contains anti-inflammatory and painkilling elements. That’s why it alleviates an itch, stimulates the healing of the skin and calms red or burnt skin.  

The juice of the Aloe vera can be ‘tapped’ by cutting off its leaves and collecting the dripping juice. It can be put to use on blisters, acne, dry skin, burnt skin, rash from shaving or eczema. The only downside is that aloe vera doesn’t grow very fast. Do you expect to be using it a lot? Then you should probably order multiple plants. 

Text: Joanne Wienen - Photo: Jazmin Quaynor

How are you really doing? It's time for your annual performance interview

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Times change, people change. At work, we’re used to having an annual performance interview– to talk about how we’ve changed and how we’re doing. Why not schedule one of those with yourself every year? 

At work, a performance interview is a moment when employee and employer sit down together and see whether both are still happy. What’s going OK, what could be better? 

There are things to be said about this method – some think it’s a bit outdated. However, it can be a great inspiration for checking in with ourselves. Just take a moment and reflect on what you’re doing and how you feel about it. Do your relationships and friendships still make you happy?  Are you challenging yourself enough? 

Change is the only constant 

As humans, we tend to let life pass on by sometimes. We once chose to study subject A, so we keep working in that field for the rest of our lives. Once we’ve found the job we thought we always wanted, we made an effort to make it a success. Even if our gut feeling tells us that this job doesn’t make us as happy as we thought it would. 

The same goes for relationships and social activities. We do things we always did, because we once liked them. But people change, preferences change, interests change. The things you loved when you were twenty, aren’t necessarily the things you love when you are thirty. A friendship that once meant the world to you, may have lost its meaning a few years later. Just because you once took guitar lessons, doesn’t mean you have to keep playing the guitar for the rest of your life. And just because you once loved to party, doesn’t mean you can’t be a homely person now. 

Still ‘performing’ the way you want to?

 That’s why it’s important to have a ‘performance interview’ with yourself every once in a while. Just pause to see whether the way you’re living your life suits the person you are today. Whether your relationships are still satisfactory, and serve your needs. Whether your hobbies still make you happy, or feel like routines. A conversation like this isn’t always easy. It requires you to take an honest look in the mirror and admit that some things suited the old you, not the present you. That’s scary, because admitting so means you’ll need to change some things. However, there’s one thing even scarier, and that’s living a life that’s a 6 while it could have been an eight – simply because you dreaded change. 

Text: Joanne Wienen – Photo: Bruno Cervera

How to live your best life - even when times are tough

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How do we live our best lives, even when we’re going through a rough patch? It’s not a crisis until we call it a crisis, says mind architect Peter Crone. 

According to Crone, we try to simplify life’s complexity with words. Instead of labeling a rough patch as a crisis, we should embrace life just the way it presents itself, he says. If something ends, it’s a chance to make a new start. With this mindset, you enable yourself to see the positive sides of a situation and you live your best life. Even if your world seems to be tumbling down. He shares his insights with Goop

Survival methods 

The construction of your identity starts when you’re just a child. The first time you do something wrong, you find out that love and acceptance aren’t self-evident. You develop survival methods to regain that feeling of belonging. These methods help you to create an identity as an expression of a deep desire to be a part of something bigger (a family), and to feel loved and accepted. 

Not good enough 

When we fail, we tend to make this feeling of ‘not being good enough’ a part of our identity. We get so attached to the idea that we’re not enough – no matter how strange that sounds – that we start seeing it as part of us. We don’t think we’re beautiful enough, young enough, smart enough, attractive enough, etcetera. 

Holding on to this belief – that, in fact, is just a reflection of something in your past – has a huge impact on your life. It causes you to bump into the same problems and restrain yourself, instead of giving yourself the chance to grow. That’s how we let the difficult moments in our personal history decide the image of ourselves – an image or identity we mistakenly think is fixated. 


As soon as you label your situation with the word ‘crisis’, you deny the advantages of it. You make it into a bad thing, causing your ego to resist. Biologically, our brain was designed to protect us from (possible) failure and pain. The irony is: once you resist, this will only cause you more pain and grief. Difficult times can represent transformation and new possibilities. Live your best life, and in order to do so, says Crone, allow a version of us to disappear, so that a new version can be ‘born’. 

Go with the flow 

We all experience setbacks. The trick is to accept them and think of them as a natural part of life’s flow. If you hold on to your past and define yourself based on what went wrong, it’ll cause you more pain. But if you learn from your mistakes, accept that there are difficult times and don’t blame yourself for them, you can go with the flow. There’ll be space for you to grow, even – or maybe especially – in times of crisis. That’s how you’ll live your best life. 

Text: Sanne Eva Dijkstra - Photo:  Joe Gardner


In an argument? This is how to confront someone if you're a highly sensitive person

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Being in a relationship or a friendship means having a quarrel sometimes. Initiating a solution can be stressful, especially when you’re a highly sensitive person. Do you want to get back to your partner or friend after you’ve had a row, but you don’t know how? This is how you do it, preserving your energy level. 

You sense before you understand 

If you’re highly sensitive, you’re very empathetic. You experience stimuli and emotion more intensely than others. Noises, other people’s emotions, tension… you sense all of it. And then there’s your own emotional life. If you’re in a conflict, you tend to feel twice the tension, anger, frustration or grief. In other words: your antennas are very powerful. An attribute to cherish, because your sensitivity makes you empathetic and intuitive. At the same time, it takes a lot of energy. 

These six tricks help you to confront people in such a way that it doesn’t wear you down, yet it increases the chances of a positive outcome. 

1 Filter your emotions 

Do you feel the tension in your body increase? Imagine a gigantic whirlwind raging through your body, blowing away all feelings and physical sensations that aren’t yours. It’s like counting to ten, made visible. For some, this works better. 

2 Set an intention 

By setting an intention of how you want to feel during the conversation, in fact you’re creating a constant reminder. For example: ‘speaking out what’s important for you in a loving way.’ When things get emotional, your intention reminds you to slow down and be true to yourself. 

3 Imagine your protective coating 

Exercise: imagine there’s a big egg around you. When you’re riding your bike, on the sofa, sitting behind your desk, walking in the street… Wherever you are, this egg protects you from unpleasant or negative emotions. You can imagine your egg exactly the way you want, as long as it makes you feel pleasant and comfortable. How do you feel? What kind of feeling do you want to hold on to? This way you can imagine your egg in every color you want. Or maybe you want an egg with glitters or stripes. If you’re able to imagine it very well, you’ll feel protected from other people’s emotions. Your egg is extra useful in difficult situations, like confronting someone. 

4 Create your own mental safe space

This trick, originally created for introverts, works well for highly sensitive people. It requires some practice, but once you’ve created it and know how to find it, it can really help you. It’s about creating your own mental safe space. 

This is how it works: think of a precious moment or a lovely place you’ve been. Create a place in your memory for it, a place you can always ‘reach’ in your mind. Be aware of the place before you confront someone. This helps you to start the conversation in a relaxed manner. 

5 Write morning pages 

Writing morning pages helps you to clear your mind, shut up your biggest enemy (your inner critic) and calm your mind and anxious feelings. Put a notebook and pen next to your bed before you go to sleep. The next morning, as soon as you wake up, you write three pages. Just jot down everything that comes to mind. It’s like a braindrain: you allow your brain to release everything. It’s a great exercise to break down hurdles that keep you from feeling good and to be more aware of our emotions. It helps to start the day with a clean slate, ready for every challenge crossing your way. Including, if necessary, handling a conflict. 

6 Stone for support 

The healing powers of a piece of mountain crystal help you to be close to your emotions, to sharpen your intuition and maintain your ability to focus. Convenient, because sometimes – in the heat of the moment – you need to be ‘present’. Besides that, mountain crystal cleans your aura and helps you to get rid of negative energies. Just put a piece of it in your pocket, or use it as a pendant on your necklace. 

Photo: Lacie Slezak 


If summer isn't your favorite season (because you don't like the heat)

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If your skin doesn’t take the heat very well, and you’re not really into imposed happiness (social events! Hanging around!), this just may not be your season. And that’s fine. This helps. 

Go into the woods

In cities, summer is even hotter than in the country, because bricks retain heat. In the woods, there’s much more shadow, and it’s quieter than at the beach. Trees offer cool and quiet. 

Create a water reservoir

You’re not the only one having a hard time: during a dry, hot summer, the garden wastes away. And once the desired rain finally falls, most of the water is drained via the sewer – such a shame. Make sure the water isn’t wasted and create a water reservoir. It doesn’t have to be complicated, just saw through the drainpipe, so the water can find its way through your garden. Even better: create a green roof, that doesn’t just retain water, but also cools off your home during the summer. That’s feng shui: with water around you, it’s easier to handle the sun. 

Don’t forget about the fun sides 

There’s an upside to summer, too. Think of a thunderstorm, when all the built-up tension discharges and rain just keeps on falling from the sky. When the plants shake their leaves with sheer joy over the thick drops of water, and the clouds are so dark that blackbirds start singing because they think night is falling. When you smell the lovely scent of rain falling on dry grounds, named petrichor(ancient Greek for ‘the blood of the Gods’). 

Imitate migratory birds

If you can, travel to a place where the climate suits you better. Spend your summer vacation on an island in the middle of the sea, where the temperature is lower.

And don’t forget… it’s just one season 

Perhaps the most important thing is: don’t let anyone tell you anything about summer. You don’t have to like it. Some people love summer parties and crowded terraces, others prefer to read a book in the shadow under a tree. Some people flourish in the sun, others do better when there’s fog or rain. However, here’s a comforting thought: summer is just one of the four seasons, and this too shall pass. Before you know it it’s September and you’re riding your bike in the drizzling rain. 

Text: Anne Wesseling – Photo: Jeremy Bishop

'It takes one to know one' - why there's so much truth in that expression

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Even young children know the phrase: it takes one to know one. Sigmund Freud is the famous thinker behind this logic. He called it projection: when we ‘project’ your unpleasant character traits or feelings on someone else. 

‘I can’t believe how annoyingly confident she is. She really thinks she’s something special, doesn’t she?’ Thoughts like these – they’re not pretty, but let’s be honest: we all have them sometimes. Especially regarding people we’re around a lot, such as family members, friends and significant others. 


According to psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and generations of psychoanalysts and other therapists after him, thoughts like these are about projection. We label someone else with an unpleasant feeling (jealousy, anger, fear) or character trait that actually says a lot about ourselves. We do so because it’s a trait we have ourselves (you’re quite confident yourself, too) or because you’d want to be more like this person (you’re insecure).  


Projection isn’t always obvious. An example: you’re convinced your partner is cheating on you. Nothing happened, there’s no reason to suspect anything. It’s your jealousy making you suspicious. Instead of examining the jealousy, you project the unpleasant feeling on them. 

Self protection

‘It takes one to know one’ is applicable in lots of situations. The things we blame others for, contain valuable information about ourselves. That’s because projection is a means of self protection. We point the pain, fear and insecurity we don’t want to feel at another person. That’s how we keep ourselves from dealing with pain, and blame or label others. 

Valuable lessons

So what use is it to know all this? Well, the more we know about projection, the more we can learn about who we are. Think about the qualities that annoy you in your partner, or in the people you work with. If you take an honest look at yourself, do you think you have some of those qualities in common with them? Or perhaps, do you blame them for it because of some fear or insecurity you have? Every time you project something onto someone else is a chance to learn about yourself. It’s not easy, but it’s worth trying: it makes it easier to know what you need and helps you to communicate with others. 

Text: Dorien Vrieling - Photo: Vince Fleming


A letter to all the troublesome, lazy and lovable adolescents

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You’re trying so hard to understand the world. Trying to see through it, in order to feel safe and determine your position. You’re in such a hurry to get all your questions answered.

You want to do everything so well. You’re exploring, looking for right and wrong, for beautiful and ugly, for how it’s supposed to be and how it’s not. ‘Good’ and ‘bad’ are not the absolute concepts the people who talk about them want you to believe. And how it’s supposed to be, dear, that’s even more of an invention. More important than finding good and evil is the boundary between true and untrue. If you feel something is true, you’ll experience a small shock. You may not know the One Truth, but at least you’ve come closer to your own truth.

Loving the truth also means being critical, letting go of what you think you know, acknowledging your own part in things, debunking illusions, seeing things for what they are and not what they’re made to be. It also means being willing to adjust your truths when you need to, and being open to other possibilities.

Dare to have doubts

Dare to have doubts, is something I would keep whispering in your ear the next few years. The ability to be unsure may be your most important instrument. Have the guts to not know. Dare to wait before you judge. Dare to change your opinion. Being certain and sure is regarded as strong and reliable in this world, having doubts is supposed to be for the faint hearted and the fidgety. That’s while doubt is the starting point of all knowledge. If you don’t allow yourself to have doubts, you think you know the truth all too soon and judge based upon this truth, you’re putting on blindfolds.

The world of high school you’ve entered, holds so many chances for you to connect to your peers. You will make friends, some of them will remain with you your whole life. You will share experiences, have fun, fight and close alliances. Sometimes you’ll be on your own, other times you’ll feel like it’s the two of you against the world. Having a laughter attack, feeling butterflies in your stomach and feeble knees, you’ll be able to face new situations, simply because you’re together.

Be true to yourself

In all these commitments to friends, it’s important to be who you are and never renounce yourself, no matter how much you long for a connection and acceptation. Remember: being liked is only worth something if people like you for who you are, who you really are. It’s about empathizing with others, connecting to some of them with an open heart and still being true to yourself. Because there you find your lust for life, your creativity, your happiness and your freedom.

With love and respect for who you are,

Susan Smit

 Photo by Andrea Tummons

This is how nature helps you to recover

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Being outside makes your blood pressure decline, allows your body to recover from stress and eases your mind. But how much nature does one need, exactly, for that positive effect? Try the ‘nature pyramid’. 

Research shows that five hours in nature is enough to profit from nature’s positive effects. It might sound like quite a lot, but you don’t have to spend the time all at once. A practical tool is the ‘nature pyramid’. 

The pyramid consists of four layers that go from ‘little everyday moments’ to ‘really going outside’. Together, the layers make for an ideal maintenance dose. And it’s actually quite simple, because you can get your dose of nature in several ways.

 This is how the pyramid works:

 1 Your daily dose

 This is the first, broad layer, and it’s easy to score here. Just make sure you create a base by surrounding ourself with green and soaking up small portions of nature every day. The more often you go, even if it’s just for a couple of minutes, the better. 

 * pick a walking or biking route with trees, on the road to work or school 

* Put plants in your house and on your desk and allow your eyes some rest by looking at it for a couple of seconds every once in a while 

* Put pots with fresh herbs in the kitchen, and smell them as often as you can (instant energy boost!). 

* Play a recording of birds in the woods on YouTube while you’re at work

* Paint a wall green 

* Just walk into the garden (if you have one)

 Tip: the beneficial effect of green is bigger afterwards than it is beforehand. So taking a walk after work is even better than before work. 

 2 Your weekly dose: into the woods (for a few hours) 

 This is the second level in the pyramid. Think of it as your maintenance dose. It’s not complicated: just go outside once a week for a couple of hours. A day to the beach has a fantastic effect, just like an afternoon in the woods. Spending the day with the kids? Why not take them into the woods instead of to the indoor playground.

 Tip: the weather doesn’t need to be fantastic: if it’s raining softly, the woods smell extra nice! 

3 Every couple of months: a big dose (like a mini vacation)

The higher you get in the pyramid, the longer and most intense the experience. With level 1 and 2 you easily reach a couple of hours a week. Take some more time every couple of months, for instance by taking a mini vacation – not a citytrip, but a trip outside. Go camping for a night, or retreat to a log cabin. 

Tip: go to the same place every couple of months, so you’ll experience it in every season. 

4 Annually: a reset for body and mind 

The top of the pyramid is narrow, but it adds a lot of depth. You don’t need to do it more than once a year, but make sure you have the time: go outside for a few days (or longer) and be outside continuously. Five days is perfect, more is fine. Go for a hike in the mountains, follow the pilgrims’ path to Santiago or take a long walk in your own country, there are several options. 

Quick result with the nature pyramid

The most important thing is to start with something small. Just try it. Start with the lowest layer of the pyramid, with lots of small portions of nature that help you to recover from stress and complicated emotions. Then move on to step two. This is how you easily bring more nature in your life. After a difficult time in your life, you can add a retreat (like in Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild). 

But it starts with small moments. After a busy day, when everyone’s tired and the house seems too small. It’s comforting to know you can find instant relief in something that’s always at an arms reach: a pot of fresh herbs. Basil, or thyme, or rosemary. 

Breathe in, breathe out.

‘What are you doing, mom?’ 

‘Here, darling. Just smell it!’ 

Text: Anne Wesseling - Photo: Patrick Hendry

Abandoned by your partner? What it teaches you about love

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A while ago, by coincidence I was in the same room with an ex partner. As we sat next to each other, I recognized the feeling. Everything we said was fine, but below the surface I felt a deep defense from him to me. In the last phase of the relationship I had gotten used to it, but now, it struck me like an unpleasant smell you want to walk away from. 

It was such a contrast with the things I experience in my present relationship: veiled rejection versus connection. The closed door with the blocked-up mailbox opposed to an elegant gate made out of lights, and a doormat that says ‘Welcome’. It gave me a cheerful insight: the best thing about being dumped is that you never (or hardly ever) have to sit next to someone who doesn’t want to be with you. 

When someone ends a serious relationship, they have been in a process for a while. It can take weeks, months or years, but step by step, they move away from you. As their partner, you notice every inch of the separation. Every indifferent hello, every dutiful ‘I love you too’. Every wandering eye, every routine kiss, every lukewarm goodbye, every disapproving sigh, every soulless session of lovemaking. Everything.  

What being abandoned teaches you 

How is it possible that I underwent this covered rejection as something acceptable for so long? Because it was too painful, to unsafe to accept, and I wanted so badly to believe that everything was OK. Because I thought I could regain his love by scoring points. Because I thought my love was big enough for the both of us. And secretly (because my self-love isn’t the problem) because I thought: I’m lovable, so you’ve got to love me. Now I know: I don’t decide about other people’s love. 

 If someone closes the door to their heart for you, you can’t open it. The door only opens from the inside. You can keep dribbling in front of the door with your package of love, but it remains closed. If someone seriously considers leaving you, it’s probably too late. The path outside is only open to who’s outside already. This can be comforting later on: there is nothing you could have done to change things. 

 You don’t have to bang on their door anymore

 For the hardcore people among us, who have hope even after they’ve got dumped: it’s unlikely that someone opens the door again after ending a relationship. After all, it’s not in their interest to do so. In order to see the decision of going as a good and necessary thing, they need to avoid true connection or loyalty – even if there are children involved. 

 Once I’m alone again, at home, I sigh. It’s not a sad sigh, but a relieved one. I don’t have to bang that door anymore. And it’s cost me a couple of years, but finally I’m able to say: I don’t even feel like it anymore, not the slightest bit.  

Text: Susan Smit - Photo: Joe Gardner

Why it's important to be open about your feelings as a parent

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Mommy’s doing fine, she’s just a little tired. Look, she’s smiling, right? And daddy is always strong, he never cries. Most parents put a lot of effort in hiding their own pain and sadness from the children. They don’t show their emotions, because they don’t want to burden their offspring with grown-up trouble. But how wise is that? 

There was a time when my kids were aged 1 and 4 years old and I was processing grief over a broken family. The tricks I had always used to hide my feelings from them at difficult times, didn’t work anymore. I just couldn’t glue the fake smile onto my face, couldn’t manage to make phony jokes, couldn’t produce the high-pitched voice (the higher, the more tired I used to be). There was just too much pain. I couldn’t help but show how I was feeling. 

‘Don’t cry, mommy’ 

I just expressed my sadness, constantly telling my children that it wasn’t their fault, that I was strong enough to get through it, and that it would pass. Sometimes I cried, often without noticing it. My sons full sentence, without even turning towards me from the child’s seat, was: ‘Don’t cry, mommy’. It wasn’t until I touched my cheeks that I noticed they were wet. 

After a few weeks, I managed to save my tears until they had gone to sleep. After a couple of months, they saw me laugh every now and then. And after a year, I had regained calmth, strength and the pounds I had lost, and I was able to genuinely enjoy things again. My daughter seemed to follow the process of grief and recovery with curiosity. She had seen her mother tumble and fall, saw her hurt and then pick herself up again. So that’s how it’s done.

Show them how you’re bearing pain

As parents, we’d love to prevent our children from all the suffering. ‘I would take it from you if I could,’ I heard myself tell my daughter a while ago, about her eczema. I meant it, but at the same time I know it’s not my job. Instead of taking away her pain, I better show her how to bear it herself. 

By the way, one might wonder whether it’s possible to fool children. You may think you’re successfully hiding your feelings, but children sense so much more than we know. Little pitchers have big ears. And if your grief is off-topic, because you hide it or deny it, they’ll start drawing their own conclusions, based on their fears. Or they take it personally, the way children do (‘Mommy is sad because I was cheeky the other day’). 

Resilience and self-love

It’s not OK to burden your children with everything you go through as an adult, because that way you create an unsafe environment. But if you structurally hide your painful emotions, you implicitly tell your kids pain and grief are shameful and weak. You have to be happy, or at least act like you are, or there’s something wrong with you. Psychologist Dirk de Wachter says: ‘The art of living is learning how to be unhappy,’ and I agree with him. Somewhere along the road, life will knock your children down. By showing them that it’s possible to create a space for pain and disappointment, you teach them that emotions are not the end. You give them two valuable presents: resilience and self-love.

Text: Susan Smit – Photo:  Bruno Nascimento

Sunny weather? Why that might be a challenge if you're highly sensitive

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It’s June, and that means: sunny weather. For highly sensitive persons, the sun can be extra intense. How does that work? HSP-expert Femke de Grijs explains. 

For many people, being highly sensitive is combined with perfectionism, empathy and overstimulation. Highly sensitive people experience the world – with all its stimuli and triggers – more intensely than others. This has its upsides: as a HSP, you probably feel more connected to nature, easily pick up how other people feel, you’re genuinely responsible and strive for harmony. 

But living an intense and highly sensitive life has a downside, too, especially if you don’t know how to handle it yet. Your sensitivity makes you vulnerable, you tend to get off balance and when you’re overstimulated, you sometimes get angry, scared or sad. 

The stimuli don’t just come from other people’s actions, but also from natural circumstances. Like the weather. If there’s a heat wave, for HSP’s this is extra intense. 

Boundaries and drinking water

Femke de Grijs, HSP expert, explains. ‘People who are highly sensitive are able to enjoy heat more intensely, but they can also experience the downside of it more intensely – think skin problems, headaches, nausea, lack of concentration. Of course, it’s different for everybody.’ 

When a highly sensitive person experiences physical, emotional and / or mental problems, they might have been in the sun or in the heat for too long. That’s why boundaries are very important for them. 

But, as Femke says: ‘Some highly sensitive people find it difficult to set these boundaries. They feel guilty when they say they want to stay in and other people are disappointed.’ 

True to yourself 

‘In that case, it’s very important for a HSP to control their sensitivity and stay true to themselves and their own energy,’ Femke advises. ‘That’s how they can be clear about their boundaries, and don’t make other people’s feelings personal.’

A good way to be true to yourself as a HSP, is by honestly telling people how you’re feeling and what you wish for. ‘For instance, say: “I have a hard time handling the heat and I want to go to the supermarket tonight, when it’s cooler outside.”’

Besides, highly sensitive persons tend not to drink enough water. During hot days, be sure to drink two liters of water (not too cold) in order to hydrate your body. Because, according to Femke, the most important thing is: ‘Take good care of yourself. There’s no such thing as the ultimate trick, every HSP is unique. But taking good care of yourself should always be your first priority.’  

Text: Eline Hoffman - Photo: Mel Elías

Rational thinker? Why your subconscious is interesting, too

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Expressing why we do and don’t do things in terms of feelings, becomes more and more common. You don’t apply for a job because it doesn’t feel right, or you make an offer for a house because it does. Feelings have always been important, but we haven’t always talked about them this easily.

It’s a good thing that we do now, because it brings us closer to ourselves. Interestingly, according to psychiatrist and philosopher Carl Gustav Jung, our talking about feelings shows we’re more tuned into our unconscious than to our conscious. Remarkable, in a society where awareness and the conscious are so relevant. Discover how Jung distinguishes the subconscious from the conscious. 

Conscious: being and experiencing 

Increasing our consciousness, that’s something we’ve been doing since the Enlightenment. Knowledge is power and religion isn’t necessary, because all we need is in ourselves. The moment you’re born, you’re aware of the world around you. You grow up in a certain culture, learn the language and habits, acquire knowledge with your experiences and expand this knowledge endlessly. Consciousless is life on earth: relatively clear and tangible. 

Subconscious: intuitive insight

The things you experience, but can’t explain: that’s your subconscious. Dreams, intuition, tarot sessions that offer a fitting answer to a life question, talking to a stranger inspiring you, a near-death experience that changes your outlook on life: all expressions of the subconscious. We all get inspired sometimes, and that’s when your subconscious asks you to act on it. Integrate the unconscious into the consciousness. If something doesn’t feel right, try to express as clearly as you can why it doesn’t. That’s valuable to both yourself and others. 

Subconscious: the inexplicable 

Jung compares the subconscious to the ocean that exists under the island (above sealevel: the conscious, under sealevel: the subconscious). It’s unrelated to the tangible. Think: the influence of your ancestors, past lives, different dimensions, energies, the source. Whatever you call it, the subconscious represents everything we don’t sea, but has an effect on us. If you need to experience something in a tangible way, the subconscious will tell you. 

 Want to know more about Jung and the subconscious? 

 * Psychology of the Unconscious, Carl Gustav Jung
* Jung’s Map of the Soul, Murray Stein

Text: Fabienne Peters - Photo: Candice Picard


Soulful sexuality: why the power of sexuality is all about involving your heart

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Some people see sex as an obligation, while others treat it like a wild adventure. What lies between these two extremes? In the new issue of Happinez Magazine, Susan Smit explores the idea of sacred sexuality. 

Let’s talk about sex. For some people it’s their favorite subject, for others it’s a taboo or something to joke about. This is revealing, because sexuality is often either overrated or underrated. Sex is either a duty or a lifestyle. After many centuries of selfcontrol and demureness, with sex portrayed as suspect, dangerous and sinful, we’re now seeing the opposite: soulless sex depicted in the media, in advertising, in movies and in real life.

Deeper meaning

It seems as if people in love relationships as well as outside of them either go for the excitement of extremes or settle for a practiced exercise. There are people who try to block sex through rules or strict morals; and there are people who focus entirely on their sexuality, and indulge every sensory pleasure. Where is the deeper meaning? Where is the grace? Where is the middle ground? 

Involve your heart

The middle ground is the heart. The fathomless power of sexuality reveals itself when you find the courage to involve your heart. When sex is no more than an exercise, a compulsive embrace only intended to release tension, it may give temporary satisfaction, but it will never be uplifting. The true power of sexuality remains hidden that way. But when we show ourselves and surrender ourselves with more than just our bodies, sex becomes one of the most important ways for the soul to speak to us.

 Want to read more? In Happinez 16 – Find your sparkle, you can read the whole article ‘Soulful Sexuality’. You can buy it here.

Text: Susan Smit - Photo: Christiana Rivers

If your heart got broken - four things that will make you feel better

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If your heart is broken, all you probably want to do is stay in – hidden under a blanket, playing Sinead O’Connor’s ‘Nothing compares 2 u’ over and over again. There are things that will help you more, though. 

Heartbreak is one of the worst things in the world, and unfortunately there’s no magical pill that can solve it. There are no quick fixes, no standard protocols you can follow to make the nagging feeling disappear. If you could, you would stay under a blanket for the next couple of years. It seems impossible that you will ever be happy again (on your own or with another partner). 

The most painful thing about this is missing someone who used to play such an important part in your life. It seems like there’s a hole where they once were. A hole that can’t be filled easily, a hole that makes you feel cold. What to do now, how to handle the feeling? Here’s a few options.  

Welcome the feeling

One of the most important, yet most difficult things in times of heartbreak is simply acknowledging and accepting your feelings. Don’t push loneliness or sadness away, but feel them (and express yourself). Call someone you trust to talk about it, yell or scream. Everything beats running away from it and drinking, eating or smoking too much. 

Pick up your life, but don’t overdo it

No matter how much you want to stay in, don’t. It’s unlikely to make you feel better. Just go to work and meet friends, but don’t push yourself into biting off more than you can chew. Distraction is fine, but too much of it means walking away from your feelings. 

Do things that require a mental or physical effort

Scrolling through Instagram endlessly or hanging on the couch isn’t the best thing you can do right now. Pick activities that require a mental or physical effort. It doesn’t matter what – from reading books to making a puzzle to exercising to taking a yoga class or going for a walk. Whatever you pick, make sure it’s an activity you actually enjoy. It makes it easier to turn off the ‘I miss them’ thoughts, because your brain needs the focus for other things. At the same time, it’s a reminder that you can enjoy things without them. 

Challenge yourself by learning to do new things 

Is there something you’ve been wanting to do for months, but didn’t have the guts to do? This is the time to take action. Don’t have a plan? It’s still a good idea to take up something new. Buy new clothes or paint a wall in your home. Introducing new things in your life will bring renewed energy. It will make you see that life is still worthwhile. 

 Text: Joanne Wienen - Photo: Brooke Cagle

Put on your shoes and go: why running gives a mental boost

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Does the sunny spring weather get you in the mood for running? Go for it! Your mind will thank you for it: running gives a mental boost. 

We can’t repeat it often enough: exercise and sports is just as good for your mind as it is for your body. This goes for running too. Whether you go for a quick round, run for an hour or pick an interval training: running benefits your mental health. 

Journalist and runner Scott Douglas found out himself. In his book Running Is My Therapy, he tells all about the positive impact running has on a life filled with fear, gloomy thoughts and psychological problems. According to Douglas, there are a few rules to think of when you use running to give yourself a mental booth. They’re quite simple. 

It’s not all or nothing

You can give yourself quite a hard time if you decide you can’t feel satisfied before you’ve walked at least three miles. But think about it: isn’t fifteen minutes running more beneficial than fifteen minutes of hanging on the couch? 

Douglas’ point is: don’t let minutes, speed, miles or your heartrate distract you and just go. The first step is the most important one, the rest will follow. Tip: pick a flexible route that allows you to change plans half way. That’s how you prevent yourself from putting too much pressure on it. You can decide how far you want to go based on how you feel during the walk. Same goes for your speed. 

Go outside 

A treadmill may seem convenient, but running outside makes you feel so much better. Choose places where there is little traffic and where nature treats you on beautiful views. Running outside isn’t for everybody, but even if you live in the city central, there are possibilities. 

Decide when to go 

Having a fixed rhythm is an important step if you’re not feeling great. For many people, taking a walk in the morning works well. It doesn’t just give your day a fresh start, but it also boosts productivity. Running at night, to let go of built up tension, can also be very pleasant. You decide what works for you.  

However, it’s wise to pick a fixed moment. That way, you’ll know when to put on your running shoes. 

Together or by yourself? Whatever you feel like 

Some people have a running buddy who motivates them to get off the couch (and the other way around). It can be very successful, especially if you guys have a similar speed and level of energy. However, sometimes it’s a good idea to go out on your own, for instance if you don’t want to decide how far you want to go before you leave. After a busy day, it can be great to find the peace and calm you need – on your own. 

So let your running session depend on what you feel like and what you need. No matter how quick, slow, long, short, early or late you run: you are running, that’s what counts. 

Text: Eline Hoffman - Photo: Bruno Nascimento



We grow by losing - and other wise lessons of the Dalai Lama

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The Dalai Lama, spiritual leader to the Tibetans, spreads Buddhist values all over the world. Discover the first nine of his eighteen rules. 

1 Love and success come with risk

The first of the Dalai Lama’s rules is a warning. It doesn’t mean you should avoid love and success, but it encourages you to be realistic about it. Don’t romanticize what you don’t have, but make sure you’re ready when it crosses your path. It will probably bring sorrow, too (like loss, or the fear of loss). 

2 If you lose, don’t lose the lesson 

Losing is more important to personal growth than winning, no matter what it’s about. Don’t let your head down when you lose, and try to discover what the experience may bring: skills, for instance, or knowledge about how you react to the fact that you’ve lost. Do you blame yourself for losing? Why is that? Ask yourself questions and gain knowledge about who you are. 

3 Live with respect to yourself and others and take responsibility for your actions 

This rule may seem obvious, but it isn’t. Think about it: do you really respect yourself? Do you respect how you look, your thoughts, emotions, actions, the way you live your life? As long as you don’t fully respect yourself, you can’t really respect others, nor can you take responsibility for your actions. No matter how hard you try. In others, you see a blow-up of the things about you that you’re not embracing. 

4 Not getting what you want is a powerful life lesson 

You put your mind to something: enrolling in an education, getting a new job, getting pregnant, a new home. And then it doesn’t happen. It hurts, because your desire for this new step has become a part of your life. You’ve made room for it in your mind and your heart, and the fact you’re not getting what you want, means you need to mourn. It’s about letting go something you don’t want to let go. That’s when you know more than ever whether this is really what you want, and why you want it so badly. The more reason to work even harder for it – or not? 

5 Know the rules and bend them

Going against the rules is easy. Breaking them in a careful way is something else. The Dalai Lama doesn’t mean you should do things secretly. He means: rules are there for a reason, so if you break them, do it carefully, take responsibility and don’t cause others damage. 

6 Don’t let small things damage an important friendship 

Having a fight with your best friend? You know each other through and through, go through changes together, but you don’t always follow each other. You’re a mirror to them and they’re a mirror to you. That’s not always pleasant. Think about why you’re feeling hurt or why you don’t understand, and consider how much this connection is worth to you. Don’t be too proud to take the first step to an open, respectful conversation. 

7 Once you realize you’ve made a mistake, make it right

Making mistakes is important, just like losing. It brings so many lessons, at least, if you realize you’re making a mistake and allow yourself to admit it and make it right. Sometimes you realize yourself, sometimes others tell you. Don’t be afraid to admit you were wrong – it’s the most powerful and sincere thing you can do. 

8 Spend time alone daily

Reading, going for a walk, meditating, making music, shopping, being in the sun, visiting a museum or the market: enjoy your time alone. Being busy all the time is not a status symbol. What’s interesting about you is not your agenda or your network, it’s who you are. Being on your own can be both wonderful and painful. On the one hand you experience peace and quiet, on the other hand your inner critic takes its chance to scold you. However, you’ll find that the more time you consciously spend alone, the kinder the critic becomes.

9 Embrace change, but remember your values 

This is a very essential rule, especially in a time when everything is possible and every day may change your life. We all have our own philosophies and opinions, and we can share them whenever we want. Be open to new insight, be curious, but be true to yourself. 

Text: Fabienne Peters - Photo Nichole Tumbaga