This is one of my favorite images of myself, ever. It was taken by my dear friend, Gina Zeidler, while we were in Mexico photographing a wedding together.

You know why I love this picture so much? It’s not because it’s incredibly flattering (it’s not),  nor is it because it’s so technically astonishing (again, its not. . . it’s an iphone picture, after all). No, I love this image because of the way it makes me feel. I’ve never seen such a sincere belly laugh captured anywhere in the history of photography! When I look at this, I’m transported right back to all the hilarity (and joy) of the moment it was taken.*

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A quick grammar lesson, just for fun:

Feeling Happiness:

When we’re discussing happiness as an adjective, it’s all about how we feel. It’s no secret that we all want to feel happy. I mean, really, how many people do you know whose goal in life is literally to be unhappy?

Yet interestingly, many people (myself included) often make decisions in the name of seeking happiness that actually bring the exact opposite into fruition in their (our) lives. When you really give it some thought, it’s easy to see how and why this would happen.

Since happiness is an emotion (as we discussed in Happier Today: part I), it’s so easy to confuse it with other emotions that produce feelings similar to happiness. Thus, people find themselves (aka I find myself) making decisions that they (we) sincerely believe are leading us toward greater happiness, when in fact, the opposite may be true. Let me give you an example:

When I was young, I was a dancer and a choreographer (I actually earned a dance scholarship at the University level). During my college years, I had the opportunity to be involved in many wonderful productions both at my university and in my community. However, when it came to auditioning for some of the larger productions (national/traveling shows), I would always convince myself that I was simply too busy. I sincerely believed that I was “happier” participating in the smaller shows that were easily accessible to me—my feeling was that these shows were less stress and pressure and that they allowed me to have time in my life to pursue other things in tandem with following my passion for dance. At the time, I thought my decision not to audition for these larger shows was born of a desire to be truly happy. In retrospect, I can see that my decision was born of a desire to feel safe. If I didn’t audition, I didn’t run the risk of being rejected, thus I could maintain a feeling of safety and control (not happiness, mind you, but safety and control—really not even close to the same emotions when you lay them out side by side)! I chose to play it safe and missed out on the opportunity for sincere happiness—the tragedy is that I had myself absolutely convinced that the opposite was true!

I can think of a million examples from my life where I confused happiness with other emotions! I think it’s likely that you can too. Take a look at this list of feelings that could easily be confused for happiness and see if any of them potentially ring true for you (ps this list could easily be three miles long, but we’ll keep things simple by including only a few).  

What do you think? Is it a little eye opening when we see these emotions displayed side by side like this? How many of our day to day choices are potentially driven by a different emotion than we allow ourselves to believe? It’s worth some real introspection, I think. . .

Doing Happiness:

There’s an old country ballad by Clint Black called, Something That We Do.  I don’t think I’ve heard the song even once in at least the last 10 years, but this week, as I’ve been focusing more and more on the art of happiness, a line from the song keeps popping into my head. It’s a song about all things love, and of love, Black sings, “but it isn’t something that we find, it’s something that we do.” (As an aside, I think Bob Goff might agree.)

We’ve all heard it said that love is a verb. It’s something we DO. Our actions surrounding love are what keep love alive. Love without action is simply an idea. Love WITH action . . . is power. Love, coupled with doing, increases both the love others receive from us as well as the love we feel for the people we share it with (as well as the love we feel for and from God and the love we feel for ourselves).

We’re merely dancing adjacent the true depth of the concept here, but you get the picture.

And so it is with happiness. Happiness isn’t something that we find, it’s something that we do.

Happiness, friends, is a verb.

Putting it all together:

What happens when we put all of this together?

1. What happens when we get really clear about the decisions in our lives . . . and more importantly, the true driving emotions behind them?
2. What happens when we turn happiness from a feeling into a verb—something we DO?

Could these decisions transform the way we think (and feel)? Could these decisions revolutionize the way we live?

Happier Today Experiment:

Allow me to remind you of the Happier Today Theory (from part I):

The Happier Today Theory maintains that when we are feeling unhappy, we have two choices:

1. We can seek out ways to avoid our unhappiness.
2. We can seek out ways to increase our happiness.

Assuming (as I am) that choice number two is the superior option, I’ve got an experiment for us.  Let’s try approaching happiness as a verb. What do happy people do? How do happy people live? How do happy people respond to uncomfortable emotions? How do happy people manage themselves in their relationships with others?

I’m willing to bet my bottom dollar that as we mindfully approach happiness as a verb, we can legitimately become happier, TODAY! . . . and tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, but most importantly, I believe this decision will increase our happiness in the here and now (and I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty appealing to me).

“Game on,” you say? Good. Me too.

xo,

N

PS Happy Halloween. Is The Great Pumpkin coming to your house too?

*Background on the image referenced at the beginning of this post: I was sitting in the tiniest hammock in the world, posing for a picture, and as I adjusted myself in an attempt not to fall out of said doll house hammock, I may or may not have released the most robust. . . um. . . well, let’s just call it what it was, FART in recorded history. (You can tell I’m a mother of boys, because I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard in my life.)

Do you hurt?

Or do you feel as though you are in a never ending state of melancholy?

Or do you know that you’re simply getting by, rather than living in an abiding state of sincere happiness. . . real joy?

Maybe you suffer from depression or other mental ailments that make happiness difficult to achieve, let alone to sustain.

To each of you, I offer my most earnest namaste. You are not alone.

Sometimes, happiness is hard.

I’m going to be very transparent. October through January . . . hurt. It’s like somehow the days on the calendar are coded into my emotional DNA. . . October rolls around and my chest starts to pinch, a physical heaviness sets itself upon my shoulders and a dull ache arrives and parks itself at the nape of my neck. It doesn’t take much to make me cry once October arrives. It doesn’t take much to make me assume the sky is falling either. This bright and cheery time of year is hijacked by my grief (and/or the anticipation of it).

October 24: Baby Gavin was born.
December 29: Baby Gavin entered the hospital.
January 7: Baby Gavin died.
January 27: Baby Gavin’s namesake, my wonderful little brother Gavin’s birthday (Jan 27, 1986-June 17, 2007).

By February, slowly, but surely, the cloud begins to lift. But in it’s wake, I tend to find the pieces of my broken life, littered all around me. Being so incapacitated for 4 of the wildest months of the year isn’t really conducive to staying atop your throne, and climbing back up to reclaim your rightful place as ruler of your life can be as arduous and painful as the falling down.

And I’m done with that. Yes, sometimes happiness is hard, but I’m up for the challenge . . . how about you?

Join me as I test my Happier Today theory  in hopes of encouraging a brighter, happier, more abundantly joyous future for us all! 

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The Happier Today Objective:

I’m writing this week’s series with three primary objectives in mind:

1. I want to be happier.
2. I want you to be happier.
3. I think God wants you and I to be happier.

What is Happiness?

One of the most profound things I’ve learned about happiness over the years is that it’s an emotion, not a state of being. Happiness is a feeling that is inspired by outside stimuli—an emotional response to the world around us.

We can increase our happiness by the way we choose to respond emotionally to the events in our daily lives.

What is Joy?

Joy, on the other hand, is a state of being.  Joy is achieved from the inside out. It is more permanent.

So why, you may ask, is the project called “Happier Today” when joy is arguably the more sustainable and desirous of the two? Good question.

Here is the best (and most honest) answer I can provide: While joy, as a permanent state of being, may in fact be the greater good of the two ends in mind, I still want to experience a greater consistency of the emotion called happiness. I think you do, too. Also, I believe that the pursuit of happiness leads ultimately to a greater undercurrent of joy in our lives as well.

Producing Happiness:

It’s hard to be happy.

Or, perhaps I should say, sometimes it’s hard to produce happiness.

Being happy, after all, comes as a result of producing happiness, correct? If happiness truly is an emotion, and we are the governor of our own feelings (aka our response to the stimuli that surrounds us), then we are only as happy as we choose to be. . . and the choice in favor of happiness is made one day, no, one decision at a time.

Over the last few years, a huge part of my business has shifted into the world of Personal Development Consulting (I use this obscure term, because “Life Coach” makes me want to gag). This wasn’t an industry I sought out. This wasn’t a goal of mine, nor was it even on my radar, honestly. In fact, I don’t really believe that one person can effectively tell another how to live. Decisions about life, and shifts in the way that we live  our lives, ultimately have to come from the inside out in order to be sustainable (not to mention purpose driven and sincerely fulfilling). So, as inquiries for this kind of service started coming in, I initially turned them all away.

When the requests didn’t stop or even slow down, I did some soul searching and became aware of two things:

1. People are awesome.
2. People need connection and support.

Allow me to expound:

1. People are awesome, because they WANT to be remarkably happy! Other creatures seek fulfillment, safety, comfort . . . but human beings want to be happy! Not just happy-ish, but deeply and genuinely so. I knew this all along, but the constant influx of messages seeking guidance or help in achieving greater happiness (even from individuals who were genuinely happy already), was just astonishing to me. I was inspired and encouraged in a million ways.

2. People need connection and support. Growing up (high school into early adulthood, especially), I was fiercely independent. I was also generally unhappy. I was an absolute island unto myself. For some inexplicable reason, I wanted to be perceived as strong, and again, inexplicably, I thought that strength meant that I needed to stand alone. My “strength in independence” was sincerely my greatest weakness during this period of my life; it lead to far more isolation, anxiety and unhappiness than I could ever say.

As more and more people started reaching out to me, seeking support, I was reminded of this experience from my youth. “If I am happier and more successful when I’m sincerely engaged with others,” I reasoned, “perhaps I can help others find more success and happiness by sincerely engaging with them. . .”

So reluctantly, I took on one client, then another, then another. Now this very unique kind of consulting is one of the most fulfilling elements of my business and life.

The reason I share this with you is because over the years, as I’ve engaged in this kind of work, I’ve found an interesting trend. Toward the beginning of our time together, I almost always ask clients to tell me about a time when they remember being sincerely happy in their lives. Here’s the kicker—nearly without fail, their answers describe a time when they were engaged in important projects: maintaining good physical health, focusing on deeper levels of spirituality, developing a talent or skill, intentionally living with more gratitude and awe, investing wholeheartedly in an important relationship etc etc etc. I have never heard anyone describe their happiest time as being based on any kind of circumstance. In other words, I’ve never heard a report of this nature: “The last time I was sincerely happy, we were rich” or “The last time I was sincerely happy, I was skinny.” When I’ve asked people to dig deep and describe their happiest times, it has almost always been a time when they were actively involved in producing happiness on their own—through the choices they were making with the way they spent their energy and time.

But that’s no mystery, is it? It’s no mystery that we’re all happier when we’re participating in certain activities or when we’re committed to making healthy behaviors a constant, habitual even, part of our lives.

The Choice is Ours:

The choices we make inevitably lead us down one of two paths: the path toward a greater sense of happiness (and thus a greater sense of joy) or the path toward a diminished sense of happiness (and thus a diminished sense of joy).

I’m done with the incessant ache that haunts me throughout this joyous season. I’m not going to run from my pain. I’m sure I’ll still ache, I’m sure I’ll still have rough days, but I’m going to test a theory. . . and I hope you’ll join me (even if your life is wonderful. . . there’s always room for greater joy).

The Happier Today Theory:

When we’re feeling down—be it stress, discouragement, grief, loneliness or depression—it is our tendency to make choices to avoid or numb pain. Many (myself included) find themselves falling into the dangerous habit of distraction. We make choices to avoid our pain at all costs— by spending excessive time searching the web or on social media, by watching exorbitant amounts of television, by shoving our pain down with ravenous eating (or alcohol consumption), by seeking constant entertainment (and immediate gratification) in the form of shopping, going to the movies, going out to eat etc (not that any of these choices is inherently bad, merely that the driving emotion behind the choices being made is that of avoidance).

The Happier Today Theory is that when we are feeling unhappy, we have two choices:

1. We can seek out ways to avoid our unhappiness.
2. We can seek out ways to increase our happiness.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that choice number two has a higher propensity of leading toward greater happiness (and ultimately, abiding joy).

Join me as I test the Happier Today Theory! Over the next week, I’m going to be posting ideas and tips designed to help each of us (myself as much as anyone else) increase our happiness. . . TODAY. Engage in these happiness inducing activities with me, and let’s see if we can’t increase our level of overall happiness each and every day!! 

This morning, as we drove the boys to school, Richie in the back seat right along with the rest of the crazies, everyone singing along to The Beatles (my absolute favorite band), reading family scriptures, having family prayer, and then shouting our “I love you’s” back and forth as the boys piled out of the van and bounced joyfully into the world. . . I was filled to overflowing with gratitude and joy.

We’ve worked so hard, Richie and I, to set up our lives intentionally. Early in our marriage, we sat down together and decided upon staunch priorities surrounding what we wanted our life together to look and feel like. (NOTE: It’s no surprise that the majority of those goals centered around the kind of life we hoped to be able to provide for our children).  I’m so happy to report (to myself more than anyone else) that despite pitfalls, roadblocks, discouragement, and outright failures (yes, plural), we’ve remained committed to the things we deemed (together) to matter the very most. Case in point the ability to drive the boys to school—together—in the mornings, and the luxury of picking them up—together—in the afternoons. This is a small example of a bigger picture reality we have worked so hard to achieve.

Not to say that we’ve got it all perfect. We still have SO (so so so so so SO) far to go, but we’re on the right path—the pathway toward our intentional life, and it is so absolutely energizing and fulfilling that my heart nearly bursts with joy just thinking about it.

Intentional living will look different for everyone, but friends, do the work to get clear (about what you want your life to look like) and then get busy (creating the life of your dreams). You CAN do it, and you’ll be so glad you did!

Allow me to leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Ms Karen Lamb: ”A year from now, you’ll wish you started today.”

xx,

N

 

click here to open post Oct 16, 2013 | posted in Weddings | 11 comments

Meet Marc and Laurén. Their day began at the gorgeous Revere Hotel and culminated with their ceremony and reception at the incredible Boston Artists for Humanity Epicenter. Every moment in between was filled with the kind of love, laughter and joy that you write stories about.

Marc and Laurén, being a part of your special day was a joy and an absolute honor in every way. Thank you for being who you are. . . your love for one another, your families and friends was inspiring  to say the very least. I feel so blessed to know you both. xx, N

Enjoy!

 

 

click here to open post Oct 02, 2013 | posted in Weddings | 22 comments

I frist met Stephanie (co-founder of the exciting new site/service Traveling Spoon- shameless [and totally unsolicited] plug) via telephone as she and I discussed the details of her sister Alexis’ Annisquam, MA wedding. Steph and I were fast friends (same with Alexis), but I could never have anticipated just how intertwined our lives would eventually become. I have since shot Kellin’s wedding on Oahu, Mei’s wedding in Cape Cod, and I’ll be shooting Annie’s wedding in Ojai this coming weekend (all bridesmaids/sister-friends of Alexis and Steph). Each of these girls has become such a beautiful and treasured part of my life. They aren’t clients, they’re family, and working with them over the years continually reminds me of why I started shooting weddings in the first place. The passion and joy these girls continue to ignite in me surrounding all things love and marriage (and friendship, and family, and LIFE) have blessed my life in countless ways.

The night before Stephanie and Craig’s big day, Steph’s brother-in-law, JP (Alexis’ husband—because I know you’re trying desperately to keep track of all of this), asked me if I felt pressure to perform (I’m paraphrasing) seeing as Stephanie was the one who had initially reached out to me and thus initiated this wonderful string of weddings and life-long friendship. I thought honestly before answering, and I share my response here simply because I can’t think of a more concise or genuine way to illustrate my love for Stephanie (and Craig).  ”No. I don’t feel pressure at all,” I said. “But I do feel such deep sense of love, respect and gratitude as a result of simply having Stephanie and Craig in my life, that I am absolutely devoted to showing up tomorrow and giving them nothing less than my whole soul.” (Again, paraphrasing.) So there you have it. . . Stephanie, Craig, I love you. Thank you for your cherished friendship, your remarkable example and your unfailing love.

Enjoy.

The first two images were shot on my drive from Oakland to Guerneville (Dawn Ranch). Talk about setting the stage for something magical. Wow.

THIS DRESS. I gasped when I saw it on the hanger, gasped when she put it on, and it still takes my breath away every time I look at it. Absolutely timeless. Sigh. Perfection. (Because it’s hard to tell, L-Front and R-Back.)

This peek-a-boo shot of the shoes makes my entire heart smile. I adore it.

Something you need to understand about Stephanie: she is a self proclaimed, “serial creator.” (She also has better style than Jackie O and more creativity than Martha Stewart.) Basically EVERY detail you will see here, she created herself—right down to taking a letter press course, making the mold and hand pressing her own invitations. . .

Steph nannied for this darling little flower girl. . . the ring bearer too.

Below: favorite shot of the day? Darn close.

A zillion forevers ago (which basically means it could have been last month or 3 years ago, I don’t know), Stephanie’s Hasselblad was stolen while she was visiting China. As a surprise, Craig emailed me a few months before the wedding to discuss purchasing her a new one to gift her on their wedding day. The night before, he dropped it off to me (MINT CONDITION, friends, I was drooling), I loaded the film and wrapped it up to give to her before their “first look” the next day. (He really did think of every perfect detail, right down to the bicycle card. . . which I’ll explain shortly.)

A little more about Craig. Someone as exceptional as Stephanie is bound to find someone with equal proportions of exceptionality, yes? This is certainly the story of Stephanie and Craig. The attention to detail and commitment to meaning Craig exhibited through his groomsmen gifts. . . was . . . well, pretty exceptional.

He even gave them some fancy James Bond pen that I SERIOUSLY thought one (or all) of the groomsmen’s heads was (were) going to explode over. . . and more, more, more. The gifts were never ending and ever amazing.

Albus got fancy, too.

First look. . . I LOVE Craig’s expression—absolute love!!!

I promise to explain the “bicycle thing” soon.

Below. . . (included in the ceremony even) are the mysterious bicycles, and here is the story of the magic behind them.

You’ve never been loved until you’ve been loved by a Lawrence. Anyone who knows this beautiful family would agree.

Confession, I got misty while shooting the dyad above. Don’t know that I’ve seen a brother love his sisters this much. . . not since I watched the way my Gavin loved me. . .

Below, right. Favorite.

Now keep in mind. . . Stephanie did allllll of this herselllllllf. . .

I think the people we choose to surround ourselves with say a lot about the kind of people we are. . . Judging by the quality of the toasts as well as the sincerity of the people delivering them, I’d wager (again, as if I needed further convincing) that Stephanie and Craig are pretty darn special.

“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.” Marcus Aurelius

I love you Stephanie and Craig, and I just know you’ll be running together through the stars . . . forever. xx, N