If you compare your life to other people’s lives, how does it make you feel? Writer and Happinez Festival speaker Andrea Owen used to do it all the time, and she usually thought other people were much smarter / better / prettier. Until she looked at it differently.
Friend A has a fantastic job. After she graduated, she made a great career for herself. While your job, well, let’s just say it pays the bills. Your colleagues are nice and everything, but you don’t feel you challenge yourself as much as you should.
Friend B has a great, loving relationship with his partner, they have been together for fifteen years now. How do they do it? After your last serious relationship, you only had a couple of flings. Guess you’re not really a catch.
And friend C. She has a busy life with three children, races from piano class to hockey training to ballet class, always cheerful as ever – while you, without any kids, crash in front of the TV every night feeling exhausted.
Recognize this train of thought? Then you’re probably good at it, too: comparing yourself to others. Everybody does it. It’s almost impossible not to, Andrea Owen says in her book How To Stop Feeling Like Shit – 14 Habits That Are Holding You Back From Happiness. But it is possible to change how it makes you feel.
For some reason, comparing yourself to others often makes the other person seem “better”. Right? It’s like other people have better lives, better bodies, better homes, better relationships. And even if they don’t – and you feel like yours is better – this isn’t the best way of increasing your self-esteem. Because if your sense of self is dependent on how other people do it, life will always be a competition: In order to be happy about yourself, you have to do better than others. Tiresome, isn’t it?
Modesty is highly appreciated in our culture. Pride, not so much: It’s associated with bragging and arrogance. That’s why feeling proud isn’t always easy. You may tend to punish yourself for it (“don’t think you’re all that”, “others are much better at this”). A real shame.
To train your pride, make a list of everything you’ve achieved in your life. Don’t just put your diplomas on it, or the jobs you’ve had, but also the skills you’ve developed (from typing with ten fingers to beautifully painting a wall, and from telling great stories to really listening to someone). And don’t forget about all the things that scared you, but you did them anyway: jumping off the highest diving board, giving a presentation, applying for that dream job). Finished the list? Now it’s time to applaud yourself for it. Or, as Andrea puts it: “Allow yourself to wallow in fulfillment about everything you’ve achieved.”
There are probably things you do because they inspire you. Like following fitgirls on Instagram, just as Andrea did for a long time. Or hanging out with a colleague you look up to – because you want to make a promotion, like she did twice, and because she stands up for herself. But do they truly inspire you? Take a good look at your sources of inspiration, and think about whether they motivate you or get you down. If someone makes you feel small, or like you’re a failure, they’re not a good source of inspiration. It’s better to find people who actually make you feel good about yourself and inspire you to challenge yourself more.
Text: Dorien Vrieling – Photo: Zoe Deal
In our fast-paced lives, finding time to meditate can be a challenge. But a quick meditation session can help a lot! Here are three nimble ways to center yourself again.
Your body will benefit from the vibration you make from this meditation. It’s like the purring of a cat. Sit down, relax, breathe in, and let the sound aaaaa escape from your slightly opened lips, like a deep bass from your belly. Let it flow into a uuuuu sound coming from your chest. Finally, let a long mmmmm reverberate in your skull until the very last of your breath is gone. According to Indian tradition, aum is the oldest sound in the universe. Hum yourself into balance with this holy sound.
This is one of the shortest, simplest meditations ever: the 16-second technique devised by meditation master davidji. Breathe in through your nose while calmly counting to four in your head. Then, hold your breath for four seconds. Breathe out, again counting to four. Don’t breathe for the next four seconds. That’s it. You can repeat it if you have more time, but even after just one round, you can see a change already. It slows down your stress hormones, tells your body and mind to relax, and extra oxygen clears your head.
Do it like the Buddha: Walk while meditating. It’s a way to literally come down to earth. Ideally, you do it barefoot in a quiet spot, like a deserted field or a meadow. However, walking meditations can also be done on the way to the bus stop, or while lining up at the departure gate. Go as slowly as possible. Be aware of how your heel comes down first and the rest of your foot later. Notice how the other foot comes up heel first until your toes are in the air. It only takes a few minutes to feel much more grounded and to let your fluttering thoughts settle down.
Text: Astrid Maria Boshuisen – Photography: Alan Jensen – Styling: Cyn Ferdinandus
Looking for more quick ways to incorporate meditation in your life? In the new issue of Happinez, Happinez – Being in the here and now, you can find several other meditations.
Iran is a country of poetry. Neda Kazemi – daughter of an Iranese father and a Dutch mother – knows this better than anyone. Her travelling agency Ciran organizes hiking trips and travels through Iran.
For the new issue of Happinez: ‘Being in the here and now’, anthropologist Neda guided journalist Marjoleine de Vos and photographer Joss de Groot on a trip through the country. Poetry was the central theme of the trip.
People often come to Iran because they’re looking for the roots of civilisation. They want to see a much-discussed country with their own eyes. I think Iran makes travellers think about several things in advance: they have heard that it can be dangerous there, but also that it’s beautiful, and that people are very friendly.
Once they arrive, the country often exceeds their expectations. Most people know that Iran is the birthplace of civilisation, but they had no idea that there’s so much history to be found there – that nature is so beautiful and diverse, and that people are this friendly. If you find travelling most satisfying when it surprises you, then Iran is probably the most rewarding destination on earth.
Absolutely, in everything. For instance, in the language. In Iran, it’s hard to find someone giving a speech without quoting part of a poem. Most expressions are lines from poems. Everyone cites poetry – the baker, the taxi driver, the professor, everyone.
There’s a lot of poetry to be found in graveyards, too. I lost my dear sister when she was just thirteen years old. On her grave, there are two lines from a beautiful Hafez poem. When I visited Hafez’ mausoleum with Marjoleine de Vos one morning, there was a man there who immediately found the poem for me and recited it so emotionally that, of course, I cried. These rules describe my sister’s life so accurately.
Farsi, the Persian language, is a language made for poetry. Farsi and poetry are closely connected. And perhaps every country triggers different senses. For instance, some countries have a prominent painting tradition. In Iran, it’s mainly about poetry and philosophy. My father always used to say that in Shiraz, where two of Irans best poets come from –Hafez and Saadi- you couldn’t become anything other than a poet. The city radiates romance. In springtime, the streets smell of fresh blossom, nightingales fly through the air. The city intoxicates you.
It’s always been intertwined with my life. My dad was a professor in applied arts, he knew a lot about literature. He used to sit in our garden with friends, quoting poems for hours. Sometimes there were tears in their eyes, just because of the beauty of the words. Thirteen years ago, I married Mohammed. For him, poetry is one of the reasons to live. On the invitation to our wedding there was a poem, and he always brings collections of poems when we go away for the weekend. When he was young, he had to fight, because Iran was at war. Even in this heavy period, when death was around the corner, he carried Hafez poems with him every day.
Travelling to Iran is more than a beautiful experience, it’s enriching. The best lesson from Iranian life is probably how to live in the present. In Iran, you experience a feeling of timelessness. You realise that you’re in a place right now, that this moment is valuable, and that you wouldn’t want to miss it.
Another thing that sticks with you, is how welcoming people are in Iran. They share happiness, they share sadness, they share their homes. If I visit someone, it’s no problem if I bring ten others. It’s a spiritual country, not a materialistic one. Love and friendships are number one.
That’s a difficult one, the entire country is beautiful. I’m in love with every inch of my home country. I love the mountains in Northern Teheran, where I grew up and sometimes went skiing. But Yazd is also fantastic, a mind blowing town in the desert where you can stroll through the alleys for hours. Another favourite: the currents in the mountains, with their refreshing water.
Photo: Joss de Groot
What’s the secret of desire and temptation in a long-term relationship? Relationship expert Esther Perel knows all about it.
In an ideal relationship, we expect our partner to be both our best friend and an irresistible bed partner. The ideal lover tempts us, understands us, and brings stability. But according to relationship therapist Esther Perel, this list of demands often brings us trouble.
She says great sex fulfills two opposite needs: Our desire for safety and our desire for “the unknown” – and we look for both these components in one person. “In the paradox between love and desire, the ingredients that fuel love –reciprocity, safety, care, responsibility for the other – are sometimes the very ingredients that suffocate desire,” Perel says.
But what is the secret to desire and temptation in a long-term relationship? Perel’s book “Erotic intelligence” is all about this question. She says a great sex life doesn’t come automatically with a healthy relationship; you have to keep working on it as a couple.
An aching desire for each other doesn’t just appear from nowhere. According to Perel, time, attention and dedication are necessary for a good sex life. Try to block a night for sex, just like you would for a night out.
Couples with a healthy sex life know that foreplay has nothing to do with the five minutes of “playing time” before the real action: “Foreplay starts at the end of the last orgasm.”
“Create a space where you leave your job, stop being a good citizen who takes care of things, and who’s responsible. Responsibility and desire collide. They don’t go well together.”
According to Perel, the safety of a relationship is the ideal place to experiment. Because you trust your partner completely, you feel free to experiment together, express your desires, and talk openly about your sex life.
“Erotic couples know that passion increases and decreases. It’s like the moon, every once in awhile, there’s an eclipse. But they know how to revive it because they have broken through a big myth: The myth of spontaneity, that told us desire comes falling out of the sky while you’re folding laundry,” Perel says.
If you’ve been friends with someone for a long time, it’s hard to imagine your life without them. However, it’s wise to take a close look at your friendship every once in a while. Does it still help you grow?
Sure, you’re willing to listen to their stories about the nagging new colleague, difficult family situation, or physical discomfort. But if they hardly respond to the things you tell them, or immediately relate everything to themselves (no, my relationship isn’t exactly the same as yours), it might be time for a change. Friendships have to be two-way streets.
Friendship comes in all shapes and sizes and there’s nothing wrong with friends you simply watch movies with or go to the gym with. But best friends should be there for you. If they’re not, you might wonder what use the friendship is to you.
This is probably the #1 sign that something’s off in your friendship: If you’re happy they’re leaving again. One thing’s for sure: This friendship only costs you energy, it doesn’t give you any.
Fighting doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. Just like in a relationship, the occasional explosion can clear the air. But this only happens when a fight is about something substantial. If you guys keep fussing about little things, all this negativity gets under your skin.
Some people are sensitive. There’s nothing wrong with keeping that and mind and being careful with criticism. But in the end, good friends need to be able to tell each other they are making a mistake – simply because they wish the best for each other.
“Oh, by the way, me and that other friend talked about your relationship trouble.” Wait a minute – did she just talk about this sensitive issue with someone else? Good friends know when to keep things a secret.
Good friends care about you and want to know about your background. If they meet your friends and family, they want to get to know them, because they are important to you too. If they don’t, they may be jealous or they simply don’t care. Which isn’t a good sign.
It may seem like a small thing, but admit it: It does get annoying if your friend’s a cheapskate. (Of course, if they’re having money issues, it’s different. Although it’s always unpleasant if they keep letting you pay all the bills or “forgetting” to pay you back).
There are a few important elements in every friendship, and respect is probably the most important one. How can one ever feel safe with a friend if they don’t respect them? Many unpleasant aspects of friendships are surmountable (no one is perfect), but this one means code red.
Text: Dorien Vrieling – Photo: Greg Raines
Whether it was three or thirty years ago, this letter from Susan Smit is for you.
Dear child of divorced parents,
You probably know the song, and its words may be recognizable to you: “Sometimes moms and dads fall out of love, sometimes two homes are better than one, some things you can’t tell your sister ‘cause she’s still too young, yeah you’ll understand when you love someone.”
It’s for the better, they say. You will understand it when you’re older, they say. That’s how love can be, they say. But in the meantime, you’re the one who has to travel from one house to the other all the time. You’re the one who has to miss mom and dad – always one of them. You’re the one who sees other children in the street who are walking between their mom and dad, and who think it’s the most natural thing in the world.
Maybe, you can’t even remember the time when your parents lived in the same house as you. Or maybe they have just told you they are splitting up. Either way, dear child, I feel for you. I would want to carry the “missing” for you, take away all the restlessness, and beseech your fears, just as I –a child of divorced parents myself – would want to do for my two small children and my two “bonus” teenage daughters. But it’s all on your plate, no matter how small or big you are.
You love your mom and dad equally, no matter who left, no matter who was unfaithful, no matter who is said to be “guilty” of making the family fall apart. You hate how one of your parents rejects or criticizes the other because you feel they are rejecting part of who you are. Your heart hurts when one of your parents doesn’t want the other to come over, so they don’t even know what your bedroom looks like – as if your life exists of two separate parts, and there is no glue in the world that could keep them together. Your heart jumps up and you feel safe when you hear one of them speak the words: “Your mom and I have discussed…” or “You are just as skilful as your dad.”
When everything changed, you probably saw sadness, anger, or panic in your parents. Or perhaps they didn’t show it, but you could feel it. Slowly but surely, there was room for laughter again, the frown left your dad’s forehead and the sadness left your mom’s eyes and everyone seemed to get used to the new situation. It comforted you, but you don’t like them acting like things were never different. Why did the old photo albums disappear from the cupboard, why did they take away the picture of you as a baby with mom and dad and why do they act indifferently when you share a memory from the time you all lived together? It seems as if that time is no longer allowed to exist because it wasn’t “real”, or one big mistake.
Don’t you hate it when one of your parents tries to get information from you about the other, or when you have to pass on messages between them? After all, you’re not a mailman, are you? And don’t you hate it when appointments about when you’ll be picked up or taken someplace are vague or keep changing. Or when your parents try to compete about who’s the nicest parent.
Dear child, even though your parents make mistakes and handle the situation awkwardly, know they never intend to hurt you. Know that your feelings matter. Know that you’re always missed, but that you don’t have to worry about the parent you’re not with at the moment. Know that your feelings are normal and that you are always allowed to feel and express them. Know that you are allowed to miss the other parent, that you’re never betraying the parent you’re with. Know you are loved, and that your parents’ love for a new partner or new bonus children will never ever change that.
Know that you were never a mistake, even if your mom or dad talks about their relationship as if it was a mistake. You’re the opposite: you’re the biggest gift they ever had.
With love and respect for who you are and how you’re handling all this,
Text: Susan Smit – Photo: Japheth Mast
Futile things become bigger and bigger in your mind until you end up in a downward spiral that convinces you the apocalypse is near. Sounds familiar? There’s something you can do about it. These tips will help you to rise again.
You have control over the things you think and the questions you ask yourself. If you notice you’re ending up in a downward spiral of negative thinking, it helps to think about these seven strategies.
It probably sounds like 1 and 1 is 2, but it is more difficult than you might think. Perhaps you feel like you’re thinking very rationally, but chances are you’re way beyond that point. Take a step back and genuinely ask yourself: am I blowing things out of proportion? Realize that it’s highly improbably for you to come up with a brilliant solution in the middle of the night.
Thinking spirals are not reflective and not healthy, but thank goodness they can be recognized – often because they take certain shapes in your brain. To be able to see them more clearly, it helps to write them down or to tell someone about them. This makes it easier for you to look at them objectively, and to decide whether you can distance yourself from them.
This is a hard one, but it helps you to decide what it is you’re so afraid of. For starters, you rate yourself between 1 and 10 for how well you are able to handle your fear (tolerance). Keep this figure in mind. Then, rate your feelings of fear (intensity). If your first figure is higher than your second, it means you’re perfectly able to fix this particular problem.
If you have to set up a big project at work, it can be so stressful that you don’t know where to start, causing the figure for intensity to be higher than the figure for tolerance. But if you divide this event into smaller tasks, ones that you can handle, (for instance: looking for a location, sending the invitations, selecting speakers), you’re making things a lot easier for yourself.
The exercise mentioned above can be very useful to make a big problem more manageable, but sometimes you’re caught up so deep in your spiral that this doesn’t help any longer. The only solution that’s left then is mental discipline: don’t allow yourself to think about it anymore. Not even a bit. Admit to yourself that avoiding the subject in your mind is a lot more useful at this point than going over it again and again, while you’re no longer able to think clearly.
If you know how your mind works, it’s a lot easier to adjust to it. This helps you to embrace the idea that your brain isn’t infallible, it makes mistakes sometimes. It also teaches you that if you have been thinking about a certain subject in a certain manner for a while, it doesn’t necessarily mean that’s true.
If you know there are triggers that can make you end up in a downward spiral of negative thinking, you can try to avoid them next time. That’s how you learn to rewrite wrongly programmed ideas in your head, and if that doesn’t work, to at least avoid them.
If mental discipline fails, think of physical things you can do. For instance, you can put a rubber band around your wrist, to pull when you feel an unhealthy urge coming up. Mow your lawn, or go for a walk. These physical actions have the same effect as writing down or speaking out your problems: they bring some distance between you and your fears, so it’s easier to assess them and handle them. Singing a silly song works fine, too. As long as you do it out loud – yes, even if it’s the middle of the night.
Knowing how to relax, or even how to meditate when your thoughts are giving you a hard time, is a great help. If you can remember how to find this relaxed mode, and what it feels like, you’ll know how to use it when you need it the most. Think of your brain as a kind of muscle, that can be trained, a muscle that’s better at handling stress if you remain strong by practicing often.
This relaxation in your mind can be practiced and reached in many ways: by practicing yoga, by reading, by getting to know more about spirituality or by knitting, embroidery, or drawing.
Keep in mind: feelings of fear don’t have to be your normal state. Stress can be a powerful means to personal growth, but finding yourself in downward spirals of negative thinking isn’t useful for anyone. You can fight it by learning how to handle it in a good and healthy way.
Photo: Andrew Dong
Tantra teaches you to handle your sexual energy in a new way: consciously, with a heart that’s involved, attentive to everything that’s happening. It strengthens every aspect of your love life.
Tantra is much more than sex. It’s where bodies and minds meet. In our modern, western society, sex is focused on an orgasm. Tantric sex is about much more. It helps the body to let go of tension, it helps the heart to be confident and open, and it helps the mind to be free, playful, and calm. Besides, tantra promises to have a positive influence on your relationship: the intimacy with your partner will grow, there will be more lust, and your relationship will deepen.
1. Make sure no one will disturb you.
2. Prepare yourself a nice hot bath with some scented oil, or turn on the shower. Use candles, incense, music, and flowers to turn your bathroom into a temple.
3. Touch your heart with your hand, feel the warmth and lovingly greet yourself (in tantra, this is called the ‘heart greeting’).
4. Get into the bathtub, or in the shower, and let all the tension flow from your body. Then, attentively, touch every part of your body and say or think something kind about it.
1. Embrace your partner, close your eyes, and think about what you’re feeling now. Keep embracing for about three minutes.
2. Relax your body more and more, and make sure you use your whole body in the embrace.
3. After two minutes, pay attention to your partner’s breath. Let your breathing and their breathing become one, so the two of you slowly breathe in and out.
4. Sit down and look each other in the eye. Tell them candidly about what you felt about yourself and your partner.
5. Listen attentively to what your partner was feeling.
1. Make sure you will not be disturbed and block your diary for at least an hour.
2. The ‘giving’ partner has prepared the room with gentle lighting, candles, and aromatic scents, and trays with attributes.
3. The ‘receiving’ partner can lay down and is blindfolded.
4. The giving partner surprises the receiving partner with, for instance, grapes (seedless), lychees or small pieces of pineapple, drops of liqueur or pieces of chocolate; with sensual strokes using feathers and other materials, essential oils, music, and whispers of sweet or passionate words.
5. The giving partner takes off the blindfold. Avoid using words. Just look each other in the eyes for a while and then take the time for a long embrace.
6. Reverse roles (or do so some other time).
Exercises from: Margot Anand, ‘Love, sex, and awakening.’
There are times in life when we do stupid things, things that we’d like to forget immediately. But it’s wise to reflect on it and to feel regret – the price we pay for not listening to the voice inside. If you’re brave enough to let this in, you can learn from the unpleasant feeling.
From a spiritual point of view, feeling regret over your own folly isn’t very trendy. Some say it’s useless. We need to ‘let go’, and we need to do that now. Things happen just the way they should happen, c’est la vie. And while you say these words, you put on a serene smile and carry on, happily and enlightened.
It’s no use crying over spilled milk. Absolutely true. No matter how elaborately you fantasize about other possibilities or how carefully you reproduce what went wrong, you can’t fix the past. From that point of view, yes, having regrets is pointless. But although feeling bad and endlessly going over what happened doesn’t change the past, it does have an impact on the future.
Reflecting on your actions and the consequences brings self-assessment. And self-assessment and healthy introspection help you analyze your own shortcomings and prevent yourself from behaving like a lunatic. Because you and me, sometimes we do stupid things. Has that occurred to you? We all struggle with our idiosyncrasies. Acknowledging that is the first step to change. It enables you to find out why you do the things you do, discover patterns, and find out what to do about it. You can inspect your actions, regret them (or not), apologize, make amends if you can, and decide to do things differently next time.
By the way, who came up with the idea that feelings need to be of immediate use? Or that they have to be optimistic? They exist. Period. Good or bad, useful or inept – feelings find their way through you and they have a message for you: something needs attention.
Feelings have to be felt and sometimes understood. Once you manage to do that, there’s no point in letting go (actively), because they disappear all by themselves. It’s called a coping process, and it’s highly recommended.
The only things you can regret, are the things you did knowingly. If you didn’t do something knowingly, you can still feel like it’s a pity it happened, but you won’t feel bad or guilty about it. Remorse is what you felt at that time when you heard a voice inside telling you it would be wise to do things differently – and you didn’t. It’s the price you pay for not listening to your inner voice. And it feels really bad.
‘You’ll regret this,’ I said to my six-year-old daughter a while ago, when she refused to say goodbye to a friend because of something insignificant. She thought about it for a second. Then she swallowed her pride, reached out, and gave her friend a hug. Because anything is better than regret. What a useful thing it is.
Text: Susan Smit – Photo: Natalia Figueredo
What’s the secret to desire and temptation in a long-term relationship? Relationship expert Esther Perel knows all about it.
In an ideal relationship, we expect our partner to be both our best friend and an irresistible bed partner. The ideal lover tempts us, understands us and brings stability. But according to relationship therapist Esther Perel, this list of demands often brings us trouble.
She says great sex fulfills two opposite needs: our desire for safety and our desire for ‘the unknown’ – and we look for both these components in one person. ‘In the paradox between love and desire, the ingredients that fuel love –reprocity, safety, care, responsibility for the other – are sometimes the very ingredients that suffocate desire,’ Perel says.
But what is the secret to desire and temptation in a long-term relationship? Perel’s book ‘Erotic intelligence’ is all about this question. She says a great sex life doesn’t come automatically with a healthy relationship; you have to keep working on it as a couple.
An aching desire for eachother doesn’t just appear from nowhere. According to Perel, time, attention and dedication are necessary for a good sex life. Try to block a night for sex, just like you would for a night out.
Couples with a healthy sex life know that foreplay has nothing to do with the five minutes of ‘playing time’ before the real action: ‘Foreplay starts at the end of the last orgasm.’
‘Create a space where you leave your job, stop being a good citizen who takes care of things and who’s responsible. Responsibility and desire collide. They don’t go well together.’
According to Perel, the safety of a relationship is the ideal place to experiment. Because you trust your partner completely, you feel free to experiment together, express your desires and talk openly about your sex life.
‘Erotic couples know that passion increases and decreases. It’s like the moon, every once in a while, there’s an eclipse. But they know how to revive it, because they have broken through a big myth: the myth of spontaneity, that told us desire comes falling out of the sky while you’re folding laundry,’ Perel says.