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Over the last couple of weeks, as I’ve sincerely worked to achieve a higher level of overall happiness, this question has come to my mind over and over (and over) again: does it take as much work to be unhappy as it does to be happy?

I sincerely wonder.

Time is the great equalizer—we all have precisely the same number of hours in each and every day. What differentiates one of us from the next is not how much time we have at our disposal, rather it’s how we choose to invest those 24 hours every day.

 

I threw this design together, but the phrase is not my own.
It’s been all over Pinterest, Instagram and the www.

Let’s push pause on the discussion of happiness for 32 seconds and think about this concept in general, starting with some introspection: what is your goal? Greater happiness? Increased success? A higher level of productivity? An enhanced level of gratitude? Now think of someone who has achieved the end in mind you are anxious to achieve. Do they make different decisions with their time than you do? Perhaps? It’s definitely worth thinking about.

(Un-pause.)

My personal goal is an increased level of happiness in my life. Thus, I’m asking myself the following:

1.  Do happy people invest their time more wisely than I do?
2.  Assuming (as I am) that the answer to the question above is “yes,” the obvious follow up would be: How do happy people’s decisions with their time differ from my own—what, specifically, are they doing differently than I am?

Happy vs Unhappy: is the amount of work the same?

So. . . . I’ve had this line of thought running through my head (and heart) on repeat, and today, I happened “randomly” across the following quote from author Carlos Castaneda:

“The trick is in what one emphasizes. We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves happy. The amount of work is the same.”

I say “randomly,” because I really don’t feel there was anything random about it. The moment I read those words, their validity fell upon my heart like a ton of bricks. It was a message I needed to receive, in a moment when I sincerely needed to receive it.

What do YOU think?

I am not an expert on happiness (clearly). I’m genuinely eager to explore this subject right along with the rest of you! So please, tell me what you think!

1. What kinds of choices with their time do you think happy people make?
2. Or perhaps a better question is: what kinds of actions, thoughts etc do happy people choose NOT to waste their time on?
3. What kinds of choices with your time tend to make you happiest?
4. If you think back on a time of sincere happiness, how were you choosing to invest your time during that period of your life?

Let me know any of your thoughts in the comments below! Don’t feel like you have to answer each of the numerical questions above! Just let me know how YOU feel as it relates to the subject of time and happiness—be as brief or as long winded as you like! As always, I promise to do my best to respond to each of your comments personally!

Here’s to greater happiness, today!

xo,

Nat

Disclaimer:

Please don’t misunderstand. I am a generally happy human being. I am. But I want to be happier. I think there is greater happiness available to me. . . to each of us, and I want to get out there and find every ounce of that joy that I possibly can! (I KNOW you want the same! Just as time is an equalizer, I’d venture to say that the pursuit of happiness is an equalizer as well. . .)

Happier Today is a new series!

Missed previous posts? Here you go!

Happier Today Part I: an introduction
Happier Today Part II : happiness as a verb

 

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!! 

Pardon the funky color. Dark kitchen, late afternoon. Dear Photo Nerds: 50mm, f1.4, iso 1600.

Don’t you worry, my holiday diet plan consists of plenty of culinary delight! I love fudge. I love butter mints. I love hot chocolate. I LOVE cheesecake. Aaaaaaand I have to have at least one cup of eggnog before the season feel’s complete (even though I’d hardly call myself a fan of the stuff).

You know what I also love? My waistline, AND feeling healthy: mind, body, spirit. I love feeling comfortable and confident, bright and clear minded.

Real confidence and clarity come from truly caring for myself–physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.

One of my goals this month is to be moderate. I want to enjoy the holidays, and food is one of my very favorite enjoyments! BUT I don’t want to eat myself sick. I DON’T want to eat myself numb. And I certainly don’t want to eat my way all the way into the month of February!

With SO.MANY.GOODIES lying around this time of year, we’ve got to fight hard to even the scales! Again and again (and again!) I am NOT advocating deprivation. I’m not advocating dieting or calorie counting. Not at this time of year! And I’m certainly NEVER an advocate for guilt! What AM I advocating? MODERATION.

Simple Tips for Holiday Health:

Eat breakfast! Eating breakfast helps you stay full throughout the day, so that when it is time for meals, you’ll make healthier choices. I recommend a breakfast high in protein.

Stock up! Chop fruits and veggies for easy access. You’ve got nearly unlimited access to poor health options this time of year. Give yourself an alternative! A lot of the time, I find I simply eat what’s right in front of me, not necessarily because it’s what I WANT to be eating, but because it’s so accessible! Watch out if all I have easy access to all month is toffee and candy canes. You’ll need a crane to lift me into the new year . . .

Stay hydrated! If you do nothing else for yourself every day, hydrate! It makes a bigger difference in your overall health than you can imagine! Plus, it fills you up and keeps you from eating an entire roll of cookie dough. Stock up on water (or buy a good reusable bottle). If possible, opt for alkaline options, aka artisan water.  Fiji is my fave!

Plan ahead! Know your day is going to be nuts? Prepare meals and snacks the night before! I cannot stress this enough! If you allow yourself to get too hungry, you will be forced to make a nutrition decision from that state of mind/body–it will be  MUCH harder to make a decision that will really serve your overall health. Plus, getting too hungry is bad for your blood sugar and makes you a Moody Mildred.

Exercise! Get a workout buddy or simply find someone you can report to! Even if you only spend 5 minutes dancing to Jingle Bell Rock! You’ve got to get yourself moving, every day!

Eat a cookie–for crying out loud! Want some of Aunt Mildred’s chocolate walnut fudge?? For Heaven’s sake, eat some! Just don’t eat the entire pan. . .  Depriving yourself at this time of year isn’t fun. . . or very realistic. Most of the time, deprivation simply leads to overeating at some point in the future. Have a piece or two of fudge, and then move on to the vegetable tray. Side note: You’ll find that the more you fill yourself with healthy alternatives to sugar, the less you’ll actually crave the stuff.

I truly believe that your body is an outward expression of an inward state of being. That said:

Simple Tips for Emotional Success:

Turn off the boob tube! Commit to cut down on TV time. I think TV is GREAT, but as with anything, excess isn’t a good thing. Find a book, write in your journal, cuddle up and spend some  time with your spouse in front of the fire. Don’t waste this beautiful month of joy and friendship and celebration completely tuned out on life!

Lights out! Set a bedtime, and STICK TO IT! In order to be at our best emotionally, we’ve got to be well rested! Keep in mind that as you become consistent with regular bed/wake times, your body is much more stable and calm overall. Every time you participate in mismanaged sleep, your body basically goes through a process of jetlag. That’s SO HARD on your system. Plus, you won’t have big dark bags under your eyes in all the holiday pics.

Write! If you want to really connect to what’s going on inwardly (in order to change or nourish what’s going on outwardly), you’ve got to connect with yourself. It’s time to stop burying problems in food. . . or successes and joys for that matter! If you feel something, feel it! Start to notice when you’re feeling the urge to eat something unhealthy, see if there is something going on mentally or emotionally that has triggered the urge to eat. There is a VERY good chance you are either trying to celebrate (reward) yourself or avoid something painful/difficult to face. Use your journal as a place to explore what you’re experiencing emotionally. SO many of us walk through this season (and life in general) emotionally numbed by food. . .never allowing ourselves to thrive emotionally (and thus, we don’t thrive physically either).

Say “thanks!” If you don’t want to journal your feelings. . . try writing down a list of gratitude each day. 10 things you’re grateful for (though, chances are, once you get going, you won’t stop at just 10). This is such a healthy exercise for our minds. It helps us retrain our thinking, so we’re more actively engaged in focusing on the positive rather than the negative–what a perfect frame of mind to commit to this time of year!

We can do this! Let’s prove that we CAN care for ourselves in any set of circumstances, and hit the ground running come 2012!

Photo by G.

You know, this time of year is a real struggle for me. I have a tendency to feel anxious and melancholy. . . for no apparent reason. It’s important to acknowledge that these feelings existed even before I had a legitimate reason to be experiencing them, so they can’t simply be chalked up to grief or intense missing, though yes, those feelings have clearly been added to the mix.

This time of year will always hold a little tenderness for me, but that doesn’t explain why it always has.

I think I’ve figured it out. Officially. Finally. Thankfully.

A Quick Premise:

I believe that our bodies and our spirits are intimately connected. I believe that a healthy body leads to a healthy mind and spirit—and vice versa. Note: I didn’t say a “skinny body leads to a healthy mind and spirit.” I said a healthy one. There is a significant difference between being thin just for the sake of it and actually being healthy—mind, body, soul.

Over the past couple of years, in an effort to really nurture myself through my grief, I’ve become more and more nutritionally minded (and balanced). In so doing, I’ve become increasingly aware of the effect poor nutrition and lack of exercise have on my physiology. When I’m living in a cycle of disordered eating and exercise patterns, I become mentally clouded and depressed. My body feels uncomfortable, lethargic and frumpy (for lack of a better description). My soul feels thirsty (unquenchably so) and alone.

Today, as I suffered through Diet Coke withdrawals, I realized what happens to me over the holiday season. I eat and behave myself physically, mentally and emotionally ill. The disordered eating starts in October and lives on well into January (and if I’m being honest, it would be safe to say it continues until Valentines Day).  I know, this is fairly intimate. Many of you are reading along thinking, “I cannot believe she’s sharing all this.” But I truly believe that many more of you are nodding your heads as you experience “ah ha moments” of your very own.

Something New:

Let’s choose something new. Let’s choose to care for ourselves even when everything circumstantially seems to dictate otherwise. I don’t want to live through to New Year’s Day in a cloud of gloom and discouragement. I don’t want to eat away my worries and fears, or my joys and happiness’ for that matter! I want to be clear, happy, bright, hopeful, connected . . . free, all the things I’ve found come to me when I’m truly caring for myself. And I think that’s exactly what I deserve. I think we all do.

I’m not pledging “perfection” (whatever the HECK that means in terms of health and nutrition, particularly over the holidays), and I’m definitely not a fan of deprivation.  Heaven knows I’m in a pumpkin pie induced coma as we speak (Thanksgiving is, after all, the gateway drug). . . I’m simply pledging awareness, commitment and resolve, through 12.31.2011.

My Plan | Ideas for YOU:

1. Water: I’m committed to drinking more of it. At least 2-3 liters a day. Hydration is KEY to any kind of wellness, body or otherwise.

2. Exercise: I’m committing to getting at least 20 minutes, every weekday. No exceptions. Exercise is my anti-depressant. It’s necessity.

3.  Sleep: I’m committed to getting at least 7 hours a week night. Again, necessity.

4. Reading/writing: I’m committed to taking at least 10 minutes for myself to read and/or write, every day. It fills my cup and allows me more to share with others.

5. Proper nutrition: This one is the hardest for me to commit to this time of year. . . But, if I really listen to my body, I know, I’m ready for a cleanse. I’ve been traveling so much over the last month, and eating and exercising so poorly as a natural result, that my system is all out of whack. I KNOW that nothing centers me or brings me more clarity and peace than a good nutritional cleanse. I’m not talking molasses and cayenne pepper (seriously people??). I’m talking real, accessible nutrition that nourishes me on a cellular level. I personally love the Isagenix system, but if that’s not your thing, watch the documentary Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, grab a juicer and set something else up that works for you. Whatever serves you best, brings me joy! For me, starting Monday, December 5th, I’ll be stepping in to a 9 day deep body cleanse using the Isagenix system.

I’m going to build an accountability team with anyone who wants to join me on this journey, and we’ll all work together (personally, via facebook and email) to achieve overall success. The goal? Real health: mind, body, spirit.

2 ways to join:

If you’re interested in joining me using the Isagenix system, email Angel (ASAP so you can get your product in time) at angelnaivalu{at}gmail{dot}com.

If you’re interested in joining me using a system of your own, email me at natalienorton{at}gmail{dot}com with the subject line: Accountability. You don’t have to join this accountability circle to participate in good health this holiday season, but don’t let shyness be your reason not to. I’d LOVE to get to know you. I won’t bite. ;)

6. Moderation: I pledge to be moderate. I pledge to enjoy the holiday season, after all, food is a HUGE part of what makes this time of year great! Tradition is all wrapped up in food, and I LOVE IT.  I simply promise to be moderate. To eat what my body wants and needs and to “indulge responsibly.” ;) I promise not to eat myself sick. After the cleanse is complete on December 14th, I promise to move forward in moderation, not deprivation.

And that’s that. Who’s with me?

I can’t wait to experience this holiday season as the very best version of myself: clear, happy, bright, hopeful, connected . . . free. All the wonderful joys truly caring for myself provides!

xo!

N