Wednesday, January 31, 2018

What Makes Someone a Good Match?

And by good match, while I am primarily gearing this article towards romantic relationships, much of the insight within can also be applied to platonic/familial/friendship connections as well.

So, what makes two people a good match for one another?  How do we really know when someone we are having a relationship with is truly healthy for us, as well as someone with whom we are well suited?  Because, as you and I both know, plenty of us (myself included) and very, very often, have made or make the mistake of thinking someone is great for us simply because we have strong feelings for, maybe have some things in common with, and are already into the midst of a relationship with them.  So, we ignore red flags. 

We let time pass and sweep concerns under the rug, not wanting to truly have to face nor address them.  We reason away things about someone that we may not think make them the best fit for us after all.  Or, we are in denial about a persons true character (which may not be so great after all), instead, preferring to see them in the best light possible since we chose them as someone to love, so we desperately want to believe that we chose right.  That actually, this person doesn't totally suck.

However, that isn't what I am talking about here ;-).  Those who cling to the notion that the person they are with is right for them, even though much evidence, which is likely evident to their family and friends quite obviously, as well as to the person in the relationship- though they often don't want to see it, when actually that person probably isn't that great for them.  Instead, what I am talking about in this article are the people who are truly good fits for one another.

How do you know this?  As opposed to just thinking its so because you are smitten.  But what are some indicators that a person is genuinely likely a good fit for you?

While there are no hard and fast rules here, (because of course, no two people are an ideal match.  There will always be some areas of mismatch in every relationship- what's important is to find someone with whom you have not only a resonating connection but much of the criteria below as well) there are some pretty strong indicators and signs to look out for that make someone likely to be a positive match for you.  To name some key ones:

1. Openness between the two of you.  No, this does not mean you must tell your partner all and everything.  No one owes it to any one person in their life to tell them every single thing.  There are some things and bits of ourselves which we wish to keep private, or quiet for just our own.  This is normal and more than ok.  However, generally speaking, you should be able to talk about most things with your partner.  You should feel safe with them, able to reveal your heart, your fears and your passions, the mundane and the exciting, to the person with whom you are in a relationship.

2.  You generally feel joy, buoyed and happiness in their company.  Of course, everyone has bad days or tough moments.  This is human.  So your partner will not be ever positive and constantly happy.  There will be moments they might be down like all of us are on occasion too.  But the point is, the joy and happiness should significantly outweigh the "down" moments.  The majority of the time, you should come away from having spent time with/interacting with your partner, feeling good and happy.

3.  You treat each other with kindness.  This seems like a no brainer, but you might be surprised.  A lot of people do not actually treat their partners that kindly.  They might take advantage of them, say deeply hurtful/verbally abusive things to their partner, put them down, lie to them or dismiss them, the list of mistreatment goes on.  This is not someone who is a good partner.  And actually, to take it a step further, that isn't even love. 
People who are good together treat each other with warmth and caring.

4.  You trust each other.  Again, seems like a no brainer.  But then you hear about these couples where one of them just takes it upon themselves to routinely snoop through their partners phone.  Or, they get into their partners emails and take a look through.  Or, they constantly question their partners whereabouts in depth and with suspicion.  The list goes on.  This is not a healthy relationship.  A healthy one is built on trusting one another.  That doesn't mean never having moments of fear, anxiety or doubt.  Sure, these can flare up from time to time, even in the most confident and trusting of us.  But the key is in how you handle it.  Approaching your partner calmly and respectfully about your worries.  Big picture though, you should generally trust your partner.  If you have loads of doubts, it might not be the best fit, or, you yourself might have trust issues that need to be addressed and worked through.

5.  You are intimate.  While this does refer to sex, it isn't just about sex.  Intimacy occurs in and out of bed.  Sex is an important part of close intimate romantic relationships, but its not the only important part.  And though sex is connected with, its different than intimacy.  Intimacy is less about physical affection and more about emotional bonding, emotional closeness, familiarity and friendship.  In great relationships, you feel connected both in and out of bed.

6.  You let things go.  Your partner will annoy you sometimes.  And you will also annoy them.  This is par for the course in all close relationships.  You might say or do something inadvertently to offend or irritate one another.  You will say things you don't mean.  You will have moments of behaving inconsiderately.  This occurs within any close relationship.  Its part of being human.  Even with our best intentions in mind, we make mistake.  The key is in how you deal with it.  If its a little thing, maybe just let it go without a word.  If its something that is truly bothersome, speak up, mention it and vocalize your upset, but then let it go and move on.  Holding onto anger and petty annoyances, as well as ruminating on the difficult traits about your partner will only serve in adding tension and resentment to your relationship.  Yes, be open with one another when something they have done upsets you, but then let it go.  And focus more so on all that you love, admire and are in awe of about your love.  If you are coming to find it hard seeing things you love, respect and admire about your partner, it might be a strong sign the relationship isn't such a healthy one, nor a good fit, any longer.

7.  They inspire you.  There should be aspects of your partner that you look up to, think are awesome, feel inspired and potentially even awed by.  This also goes for friendships generally too.  Part of why we choose to be with someone, both romantically and platonically, is because they have pieces of them which draw us to them, which we find awesome, invigorating, interesting and motivating.  Choose people who add to and inspire your own life.  This will add layers of richness, new ways of thinking and potentially even additional discoveries and experiences to your life.

8.  To piggyback on #7, they bring out your best self.  This also goes for friendships and family connections.  If you find shitty parts of yourself coming out often around a certain person...such as, maybe you drink more than you prefer to every time you hang out with this particular person, or with one person you find yourself complaining all the time, or with another person, you feel gossipy and cruel whenever in their company, these are not good energies to be spending time around.  These are not people who will uplift you, who will bring our your best self, and who will inspire your life in awesome, positive ways.  Don't waste time with them.  Your partner (and friends) should inspire and make you feel like the best version of you.

9.  Your stomach flip flops with them.  Hear me out on this one.  And yes, this is more relegated to romantic connections.  This is a feeling that, as the years go by with your partner, tends towards dying down a bit.  Not necessarily extinguishing entirely (I have heard of couples, real ones, who are still actually smitten with one another well into old age, and who do still feel quite in love one another.  So this feeling absolutely can last.  A huge part of that comes down to you).  But, if you aren't a smitten kitten from the start with your partner, this can make things much harder down the road when you do go through more challenging times, not to have that sort of "positive currency" and passion for one another stored away, if you will.  If someone makes your heart flip flop, then, when there are tough times between you two, this is something you can remember...revisit...potentially fall back on to help you get through it.  Don't get me wrong, this isn't the #1 priority you should be looking for in a mate.  There are many other extremely important ones.  But, this one is more important than you might think.

10.  You play and have fun together.  People who laugh together, play, are silly and can be fun with one another, first of all, laughter actually bonds people and makes them feel closer to one another, and second of all, those who play together are more likely to stay together.  This goes for both friends, family and romances.

11.  This seems obvious, but again, a lot of people do not choose a partner who does this.  Be with someone who treats you really well.  Someone who is kind to you.  Thoughtful and considerate.  Who goes out of their way for you.  Who speaks to you with love and respect.  Someone who is willing to challenge themselves for you (as you should for them too).  Someone who inspires you and moves you.  Be with someone who excites you and makes you want to be your best self.

There is one caveat with this one (#11 just above).  Yes, sometimes really great people make grave mistakes and can really fuck up.  So, someone you love deeply may at some point do something that hurts you immensely.  In fact, there is a decent chance of it happening.  This is part of what happens in many, even most, close human relationships.  But the key here is this: look at this person over the big picture.  With regards to the entirety of your relationship with them, have they treated you great?  If the answer is yes, then one major misstep does not necessarily mean this person is outright crappy for you.  This is more something to weigh, with regards to who they have been to you over the big picture, as a whole.

Now, some general red flags to watch out for (in all relationships, romantic, friends and family): someone who says really shitty, nasty things to you.  Someone who lies.  Someone who dismisses you.  Someone who manipulates you.  Someone who attempts to make you choose between them and other people you love.  Someone who has very bad boundaries.  Someone who has addictions to drugs or alcohol.  Someone who takes advantage of you.  Someone who does not respect the boundaries you try to lay down with them, but instead bulldozes over them.  Just to name a few big ones, though there are of course more.  And again, these can apply to both romantic partners, friends, as well as family members.

There are of course, other important and great traits to look out for in partners.  Including, someone who is non judgemental, who is open to different ideas, ways of thinking, opinions, etc, even if they themselves don't agree with it, they are open to both hearing about and even considering such.  Also, when you are in an established partnership with someone, not making jump big decisions without considering and at least talking with one another first.  This is part of being a team, as well as being considerate of and wanting to remain close with your partner.  And its a major part of building a life with someone, talking with them about big decisions prior, as a means of navigating through life with them by your side.  I would add in certain traits here that make for great partners likely include someone who is generous, and thoughtful.  

Life is incredibly short to surround yourself with crappy people, those who are unhealthy, toxic or bring you down.  What a waste, of energy and time spent when its with not good people.  Sometimes, letting certain people go is incredibly hard.  In fact, it can be one of the hardest things you ever do.  But, in letting the wrong/unhealthy people go, weights will be lifted off your chest and life over the long term.  And this makes room for the healthy/positive/good people to be able to come into it.  Its one of the best things you can do for yourself.  One of the hardest, but without question, one of the most rewarding.  Being incredibly careful about whom you let into your life and to whom you choose to be close.  And choosing only those who enrich, add joy, inspiration, respect and awesomeness to your life.

Monday, January 29, 2018

My Misgivings with Modern Marriage

Hi all,

Before I am immediately written off as cynical or unromantic, let me start by saying that the premise behind marriage based on romantic love, I not only agree with but think is beautiful, wildly romantic, and a very worthwhile goal for those who want such.  Striving towards building a life with someone, a layering of so many hundreds of thousands of nuances, emotions, shared experiences, moments, of navigating through both immense challenge and awesome triumph, all while doing so together, I think this is a truly awesome thing.  Its incredibly emotionally moving when two people love each other enough (as well as are generally well matched) to move forward together with the intent of doing this.  So I am in 100% support as well as awe of the idea behind what a marriage based on love signifies, when this is two peoples main reason for being together.

However.  With the way marriage is approached nowadays, both the wedding day itself, as well as the idea of marriage in the big picture afterwards, there are some aspects of it that I find well as downright negative for our culture as well as the individuals in it.  I believe that if we could separate and ultimate eliminate those trouble spots, filtering them out if you will from the main idea and values behind marriage, that a lot of relationships might thrive much more so than they do when muddled with many of the clouding and not so encouraging mindsets that have seeped their way into the big picture of marriage nowadays.

So.  Here are where I feel the trouble spots, not-so-good values and/or the dangerous ways of thinking with regards to marriage are in our culture:

  • The still very prevalent, oft unspoken about but narrow gender roles that tend to permeate most marriages.  The man usually being the breadwinner, the head of the household, the one who works.  The woman tending towards being the primary caretaker of children, the one who gives up working in light of having them, the person who handles their social life and calendar, who does the cooking and baking, as well as much of the housework.  Changing her name as a near knee jerk response to getting married, and taking on the mans (essentially, giving up part of her identity- a near automatic reaction and assumed response to marriage).  And forget about homosexuals being allowed to marry- that isn't even an option.  It still isn't recognized in most states.  So their wanting to have such a union isn't even allowed, according to most of our culture.  All in all, there are still extremely narrow ideas about both, what a marriage should look like from the inside, as well as who is even allowed to have such a thing. 

  • There is a perspective that older, single men are seen as "independent," "sexy," "cool," "stoic and strong," in their choosing to live a life doing their own thing, without a committed long-term relationship.  Whereas a woman who decides on remaining single is looked at as a "spinster," an "old croon," as something to be pitied or even suspicious of.  As though her life is lacking, or that she "just couldn't find" a man- aw, too bad, queue pitying looks from all.  So while men not marrying and remaining single tends to be looked up to and considered a respect worthy choice, with regards to women, its considered pathetic, sad, their lives unquestionably lonely and the women must most certainly being left wanting.  How absurd, unfair, and even often times, untrue is that?  What a double standard, and a ridiculous one at that.  

  • Relationships end.  Yes, many endure (although, just because a relationship lasts doesn't mean it should.  Not sure why simply by means of a relationship being long and lasting, that its considered an automatic success.  Not even close to so.  Plenty, in fact loads of people, stay in relationships resigned, rather unsatisfied and not very happily), but just as many end.  They end for any variety of reasons.  People change over the years.  What might once have been a good and the right fit, may no longer be so.  People might marry too young or too soon in life, realizing they may have picked someone who isn't a great match for them over the long term.  Betrayals can happen between two people which one person is incapable of getting over.  Taking ones love for granted or relationship laziness and lack of effort may occur, silently causing the relationship to crumble and wither over years.  Deal breakers may come up, which the couple is unable to surmount together, splitting them into separate directions- though not necessarily for lack of love.  The relationship might either have always been (but maybe it was unrealized prior), or grow into, an unhealthy one which needs to be ended.  The possibilities go on and on.  Some of these reasons do not mean the couple was a bad match all along.  I am a believer that each person we meet comes into our lives for a reason at that time.  Whether to challenge us, teach us something, help in a part of our lives we might need it, show us what we don't want or where we might need to address certain weaknesses within ourselves, etc, whatever the reason, there is one.  But the point is that while some relationships last and are truly happy as well as good fits over the course of a lifetime, many do not, and this is ok.  Its normal.  Its nothing to be ashamed of.  Its part of being human, changing, being open to growth and the ever shifting phases of life.  A relationship ending isn't a failure.  Its an authentic and real part of moving through ones life stages.  What does, to me, more mark being a major mistake, is staying in something that no longer fits.  Wasting ones precious time left, that is ticking every minute of every day, with the wrong person.  

  • I personally don't like the idea of being bound to someone by legal means (aka a marriage license), the government and law having a hand in my relationship.  There is something that's kind of ick about that to me.  I understand that to some people, that slip of paper holds a lot of meaning.  I respect that, and can understand why.  I also get that, unfortunately or not, that slip of paper offers benefits like lower taxes, better health insurance rates, etc.  But to me, there is something (in some ways) far more romantic about not being legally bound but instead, choosing to be with that person every day.  Simply because we want to be.  Not because we may feel its no longer fully right but because we feel trapped and daunted by the legality of impending court battles and proceedings, if we were to choose to leave, so we stay partially because its just "easier."  Having a marriage license can become a deterrent and stressful barrier with regards to the decision to walk away from someone, even if that might be the right thing.  This can cause people to stay where they otherwise shouldn't.  Personally, I want to be with someone because I truly want to be, deep in my heart.  And I want him to want to be with me for the same reasons.  

  • I suspect the idea of marriage does not appeal to quite a few people.  To many, I know it does, and that is a great, respectable thing.  For those who wish to get married, they should absolutely do such.  But I often feel we still live in a very one-size-fits-all society.  There still seem to be pretty narrow ideas of what constitute a "good" romantic relationship.  It must be monogamous.  Eventually married, that is, if you are "truly" committed to one another.  If you don't get married, apparently you aren't serious about each other.  You should live together.  And children should generally follow at some point- otherwise, you either literally biologically must not be able to have them (oh, pity those two, how sad), or you are "selfish."  That's basically it with regards to how we believe relationships should look.  Oh, and you should stay together at all costs, otherwise, you have failed.  At least, according to our culture.  If your relationship trajectory or nuances look much different from this, people draw judgements and often, harsh ones.  That you're "less committed," or "must not be in love."  That you're "selfish" or that your relationship "isn't as good as others," just to name a few.  This is sad, short sighted, as well as frustrating to me.  Since so many of the relationships in our world that do follow this narrow and essentially demanded-upon-mold end regardless, why do we all assume that this one way is still the "right way"?  Plenty of relationships that follow the traditional expectations also aren't that happy.  Yet, as a society, we still seem to be rigid, generally unaccepting, as well as afraid of relationships that might look differently, or follow a vastly different trajectory.  Why, because something is different, must it be worse, less happy, less real, or less wonderful?  Surely there must be more than one or two ways to have a happy, healthy romantic relationship?  

  • The money spent on a wedding day.  My god.  On ONE single day, which will be over in a manner of hours.  People spend thousands and thousands of dollars.  And further...

  • The whole culture of what weddings have become.  No longer are they really about celebrating the couple and their love, but more nowadays, popularity contests, fashion shows, and showcases in selfishness and greed, these things tending to dominate more and more.  Who gets chosen as Maid of Honor, Bridesmaids, or Best Man, and if a friend isn't "chosen," feeling slighted or even angered.  Fights ensuing, even losses of friendships coming to pass over such.  Finding the "perfect" dresses, wedding dress (which usually costs an arm and a leg) as well as bridesmaid and maid of honor dresses.  Everything must be color coordinated, and all the girls and guys essentially looking the same, wiping out all sense of individuality.  Hair the same, shoes the same, etc.  All becoming interchangeable and matchy matched for synchronized photos of the day.  Guys and girls footing obscene bills for their suits, bridesmaid dresses, hair, shoes, as well as to throw parties for the bride and groom, which have become multi-day, hundreds and hundreds of dollar feats.  Obscene.  And then friends are seen as shitty if they express feeling hesitant about any of such.  This whole scene of expectation and entitlement, of throwing money around left and right for such, of silly battles over who gets picked for what, all of this leaves a majorly bad taste in my mouth.

  • And to throw in a minor irk, Bachelor parties.  So let me get this straight.  One is committing themselves to one person for the rest of their life (I am assuming, as this is the premise behind most traditional marriage molds) and yet, at the Bachlor party, its encouraged, laughed about and even permitted that another woman undress themselves, rub their body all over, and sometimes even go further physically, with the man who is about to be married.  As well as his friends, many of whom are likely in committed relationships themselves.  Huh.  So because they are "getting hitched," they are essentially permitted to cheat for an evening and do things that would very likely deeply upset and hurt the woman they love.  But, because the naked woman is being paid, and because its his "last Hurrah" and because this is "just what people do" in wedding culture, its all ok.  How does this make any sense?  It shocks me that women turn a blind eye to this, either dismissing or laughing it off because "this is what a Bachelor party is."  Just because something is what our culture does, does not mean its right, logical, good, or that its what people should continue doing.  Why does no one ever stop to question or challenge things like this?

In conclusion, from what I have both witnessed and read in our culture at large, both weddings and the premise behind marriage have become twisted as well as lost in a smog of ridiculousness.  From the money spent on one single day, to the obscene amount of both entitlement and expectation behind such.  To the encouragement and allowance of essentially cheating, a "freebie" of sorts, at ones Bachelor party (absolute absurdity at its finest).  As well as many people getting married because its "what you do," not because the idea and tradition truly appeals to them.    

What about instead, considering some new or varying ideas/approaches.  A few of these could be (though there are of course, a plethora of other possibilities as well):

--Promise rings.  Not wedding rings that apparently symbolize "forever" (since really, who can truly promise this?  No one), but instead, promise rings as symbols of deep love and a commitment to wanting to build a life together right now.

--How about vows instead of impossible, fantastical promises like "I will be with you forever, until the end, through sickness and health, no matter what," which again, no one can truly promise, instead something like: "I love you deeply, I feel we are a great and healthy match, and right now you are the person with whom I want to build a life.  I am committed to and invested in this, to working through challenges as well as triumphs with you and our relationship hopefully intact.  I intend to work hard at this to the best I am able.  If any of this changes, I promise to speak about such with you openly and honestly."  To me, much more honest and realistic vows.

--If you so choose to get married, how about having a more intimate, small, do it yourself type of ceremony somewhere outdoors, natural, under a forest canopy, or in a field of wildflowers, or on the beach, with just 20-30 of your nearest and dearest.  Make it a potluck.  Everyone brings food as part of the celebration.  People can wear whatever they want.  No bridal attendants (aka bridesmaids or groomsmen).  You eat, dance, and celebrate both the couple in love, the journey they intend to take together, as well as everyone being together.  That's it.  No frills.  No over the top, insane, unnecessary add ones and what are ultimately, distractions.

--Or, instead of getting married, why is a marriage the only authentic and worthwhile relationship celebration people are allowed to have?  Why not have a commitment ceremony?  Not a wedding or marriage, but instead, more what I outlined in the second point with regards to potentially more realistic promises, complete with promise rings.  If this sounds more real and appealing to you than a marriage or wedding.  

--Or, instead of a commitment ceremony or wedding, what about having a celebration for each year that you are together?  Inviting friends and family to a small party to celebrate your relationship and their presence in both of your journeys thus far?

--And how about, if instead of viewing marriage as a unit involving husband in role of breadwinner and protector, while wife is typically relegated to the role of "angel in the house," nurturer and domestic goddess, if instead we saw marriage as a spiritual, intellectual, artistic and social partnership.  A lifelong collaboration, a consistent growth, an ongoing project, an ever shifting and constant becoming, both together and separately but side by side.

--As well as, with regards to how one choose to judge and perceive others relationships, why not attempt widening your idea of what is "acceptable," "right" or "ok."  Just because something might not work well for you or be something you would choose, doesn't mean it wouldn't be right and good for someone else.  What might be the best route or way of being for you, can be something totally different for someone else.  Neither one is wrong nor right.  Its merely a matter of perception, an "eye of the beholder" sort of idea, if you will. 

Living together, or not.  Married, or not.  Monogamy, or in some kind of other arrangement (as long as both people are honest with one another about it, seem to be happy, and treat each other well).  With children, or without.  All of this is ok, and not just ok but valid, good and authenticThere are so many different ways a good relationship can look and be.  As long as both people in the relationship feel well, supported and healthy, as long as it works positively for both of them, as long as both people are treating one another with respect, love and honesty, relationships can look like many different pictures and that is a great and respect-worthy thing. 

Different does not mean less valid, less real, or less good.

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Truly Important Things

So much of what people consider important, in the grand scheme of all that is life, isn't even remotely so.  Not close to as paramount as we imagine these things to be.  Many of us (myself included at numerous times) have chased (or, continue to) the wrong priorities.  Prizing or running after things that aren't really all that important in the big picture.  Focusing on aspects of life that are not actually the ones most likely to bring deep, resonating, lasting fulfillment and joy.

There are numerous things that people believe will bring them satisfaction and happiness, and which many chase with unrelenting focus, which will not actually make them feel much fulfillment or lasting joy.  To name a few: more money, a bigger more expensive car, a hotter and/or younger spouse/sex partner, the most expensive clothes, fancy things to adorn their home with, recognition from others, a sense of perfection or "being the best" (these last two, especially fruitless, since perfection doesn't exist, and because there will always be those who are "better" off then you, as well as always those who will be "worse."  There will be people who recognize what you have to offer, and people who overlook it.  Always.  So running after such is ever shooting in the dark, sure to be a tumultuous emotional roller-coaster of feeling affirmed and good one minute, only to feel crushed and sad at the next, back and forth.  Ever at the mercy of how others measure your worth.  Forget about that.  Instead, do your best and base your standards on you.  Not on everyone around you and their opinions-an impossible measuring stick, never ending in both directions).

Other things people sink their time into which may or may not be the best use of their limited time here on earth:

--Spending hours every day at the gym in attempting to get the "ideal" body (which of course doesn't exist, as well as beauty is in the eye of the beholder so what one person finds sexy another may not).

 --Working 60, 70, 80 hours a week to make boatloads of money, as well as to feel good about oneself, and for what?  Do these people even have much time to actually enjoy that money and relax into the beauty of the rest of their life outside of work?  To really revel in doing other additionally meaningful things in their lives outside of work?  Maybe, but I am doubtful. 

--People sitting for hours in front of the TV, watching things, playing video games, something of that nature- and all the while, lamenting wishing to write that novel they really want to crank out, or run that 5k, or meet their next big love.  So much talk and wishing, but without any of the effort or action towards making it happen.

There are loads more examples...those being just a few quick ones.

What we focus on though, is what our life will be.  Where we choose to invest our energies, our time and our hearts, this is what our lives will become.  Tell me whom and what you love, and I will tell you who you are.

So, the list goes on of misplaced priorities and wasted time/energy.  People who speak of their dreams, wishes and wants continually, all while doing things that produce quite opposing results.  Then wonder why they feel left wanting, as though there is something missing from their lives.  As though there is "something more" out there.  There is.  They just aren't attuning their priorities and actions in such a way that aligns with their real, deepest yearnings.

With all of that said, here are some truly important things in life:

Wisdom.  This comes with life experience, as well as openness and a choice to create ones own wisdom.  Because there is such a thing as people who are older, and with much experience, but very little wisdom.  And there is also such a thing as those who aren't so old, but who have experience and much wisdom.  However, no one is "wise" suddenly.  This is a constantly flourishing, growing, ever being added to part of each human being.  Some more so than others, depending on how well you learn the lessons presented to you in your own life, and then change course to reflect those learned lessons.  Wisdom though, is what comes from a life well lived.  Its what comes from listening carefully to the lessons offered around you.  Wisdom is the badge of age, that grows more prominent as the years go by and you continue adding experience and knowledge to your soul.

GrowthWhen growth ceases, so does life.  Part of being a healthy human being is both being interested in, seeking out, as well as actually growing.  This can come in a plethora of forms.  We can grow daily, if we so choose.  People to whom we are close offer reflections back to us, they are our mirrors if you will.  Giving us feedback about what kind of person we are, where our strengths lie, as well as where we might be struggling or with ways of thinking that might be worth reconsidering.  Growth is offered in choosing to be patient instead of growing angry where you might have otherwise.  Its in choosing to forgive, when forgiveness isn't deserved.  Growth is seen and felt when you choose to do something different that you otherwise might not have, which you know is the more mature, positive, growth inducing course of action.  Growth is seen in vulnerability.  In speaking up and in drawing boundaries with others when needed, even if its hard to do and causes some waves in the moment.  Not everyone embraces growth.  Sadly, there are many who stay largely the same throughout their lives, dodging, ducking and dismissing away challenges for growth.  But to grow, is to truly live.

Fireplaces.  Why is it that as humans, we are mesmerized by fire?  I think there is something almost mythical about it.  Something deeply calming, cozy, and of course, warm and inviting about a roaring fire.  I cannot think of many better places to be than beside one (especially with a book in one hand, a hot drink in the other).  Fireplaces allow us to relax into ourselves and the moment.  They offer a sense of safety and respite.

Daring to speak of your affections.  This is a big one.  Too few people do this.  Too many people hold back, out of fear.  Feeling scared of rejection, or being embarrassed, or the recipient not returning their affections, or just of looking silly.  Making oneself vulnerable is a scary thing.  Its also one of the moments that makes us feel most alive.  Think about it: your heart racing, voice trembling a bit as you decide to open up and tell someone the depth of your feelings for them.  That's big.  It can also be life changing, or at the very least, it certainly heart filling and quite moving for the recipient.  What a gift you give, when telling someone they matter to you.  Life is very short.  Say what you need to say, while you can.

Here, a short, sweet, inspiring article about why its so important to tell people what they mean to you.  How it takes away from our life experience when we do not do this, and how doing so can be life changing.

Great books.  Yes, I am biased here, as a passionate and avid book lover.  Even so, books offer so many riches for the taking.  Cheap, portable entertainment.  The education and learning of any and every possible topic you could want (a language, how to cook certain foods, how to be a better friend or lover, how to garden or fish, about certain dog or cat breeds, to become a better photographer, the list goes on and on).  And within both fiction and non, books teach us how to be human.  Within stories, both real and imagined, there are absolutely examples of real human dilemmas, challenges and true-to-life emotional experiences.  Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.  In reading, we can garner new ways of thinking, different ideas on how to live, even on how to love.  We can enter into different perspectives, cultures and alternate ways of being.  If you want to do one, simple thing to add immensely to your life in varying ways, make time for and prioritize reading.

For a list of poignant, life changing, as well as enthralling and awesome reads, here you go.  A "reading list for life," if you will.

Tea.  So warm, comforting, and great for your health.  In all manner of flavors and varieties, there will most certainly be a tea out there to your liking.  Holding a warm mug of tea is just the epitome of coziness.  For some, its an acquired taste.  It was for me.  I used to hate tea but started drinking green as I know its awesome for your health.  It took me several months to actually like it, but now I enjoy it immensely, and am benefitting my health big time along with it.  Sample some different teas until you find one you like.  Add milk, or non dairy milk, some honey to it if need be, in order to create a tea drink you will enjoy.

Emotionally moving films.  Being deeply moved/inspired by/shaken up/heart rendered in watching the plights, struggles and triumphs of others is a great thing for all of us.  There is something awesome about being deeply emotionally moved by a film.  Its an intense feeling, and one every person should experience from time to time.  I believe this one is similar to books in that, watching truly high quality, emotionally moving films with great stories to them, this is another thing that can help in teaching us what it means to be human.

Kissing.  Gosh, we don't have very long on this earth.  Take a look at however old you are now.  I bet its stunning, how fast its all gone by thus far.  Life is beautiful, achingly so, and fleeting.  And you only get one of them.  One life.  And then its all done.  So, find someone wonderful and kiss that someone who makes your heart do flip-flops while you can :-)

Nourishing, nutritionally rich foods.  When you eat things that truly nourish your body, you both feel and look great.  Its clears up your skin, hair looks shiny and strong, you have energy and sleep better.  Moods are more stable.  All around, its life changing.  Conversely, when you eat badly, food that's generally easily accessible but crappy and processed, you feel it.  Low energy, more moody, usually worse skin, more bloated, the list goes on.  Take the time to make and eat things that are healthy, real, whole foods which are awesome for your body.

Animals.  There is something about petting an animal that is just...nourishing, joy inducing, totally relaxing and comforting.  In fact, studies show that pet owners tend to have lower stress levels than those who do not have one.  A pet can offer the most heart warming of companions.  An unconditional love that extends in both directions.  They offer the addition of play, silliness and joy in ones life.  An at-the-ready cuddle buddy.  A being who snuggles close when you might most need it.  Pets, especially animals such as dogs, cats, horses, have levels of empathy and nuanced intuition with regards to their owners emotional states and moods.  In other words, they can often sense when their owner is both happy, as well as distraught.  And they tend to respond accordingly, coming towards you when you might need it most.  This is an awesome, heart filling thing and type of love to have in ones life.

Candlelight.  The most flattering light known to man ;-) but more than this, candlelight is romantic.  Mysterious.  Magical.  Even sensual.  There is something about it that beckons people closer to one another.  It adds immense atmosphere with just a few lit wicks.  I would even go so far as to say that in some moments, candlelight can amplify emotion between people.  There is just something about that lulled flickering.  The gentle glow.  And alone in ones own company, candlelight is equally as awesome.  Get 3 or 4 candles, set them around your room, and light them before bed while reading or working on your laptop.  The best.

Snowfalls.  Magic.  So gorgeous.  Awe inducing.  I cannot think of much more beautiful natural scenery than a wide expanse of nature blanketed in glittering white (with the exception of maybe fall foliage, the leaves ablaze at the height of autumn).  Especially when the bare trees are covered in snow, like lace against the sky.  Snow is the only weather element that, when covering the earth, makes my breath catch.

Adventure.  If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine.  Its lethal.  Seriously though, adventure is a must for a truly happy living experience.  It brings you face to face with yourself, in ways that everyday life cannot and will not.  Within adventure, one comes face to face with their own resilience (because yes, stressful situations will arise that you hadn't anticipated.  All part of the package deal of traveling and adventure).  You will come to meet bravery head on, and decide whether or not to grab its hand or walk away and retreat.  You will become a believer in romance and magic.  There will be moments within your adventures that are just so.  You know them.  The moments where everything seems to fit together seamlessly for just that moment.  The lighting is just so, the laughter is heartfelt, the looks between you and your companions- powerful.  Or, you witness an awe inspiring sight, or gaze upon a jaw dropping piece of architecture.  You taste something mind blowing- great, now you know this piece of deliciousness exists, the knowledge of which will haunt your edible dreams forever going forward ;-). 

Within adventure, you will find inner confidence when you help make something work out, when pushing through a tough moment or challenging situation, in getting lost and finding your way, you name the situation, but a sense of accomplishment and confidence will come.  Adventure fills one with a sense of liberation, realizing just how capable you actually are.  I could go on and on, but adventure is one of the musts in life that so many people do not prioritize or go after, which actually is quite life changing.

Read my past blog article here on why you should date an adventurous person <3

And here, one of my earliest musings (aka articles) on why traveling is of paramount importance in life.

Traveling alone.  Yes, traveling with someone you love is a priceless, incredible, outstanding experience.  Do this for sure.  Do it many times.  But also, travel alone.  At least once and for several days in one stretch, though ideally do this more than one time.  Traveling alone is a majorly character builder.  The first time I did it, I was terrified.  A week alone in Italy.  I worried, would I be lonely?  Would the time drag on and be miserable?  What if something terrible happened and I had no one along for the ride, with which to navigate through it?  None of this came to pass as reality.  On the contrary, I loved every second of the week.  Reveling in my own company, loving being able to explore and do whatever I wanted and at my own whim.  Meeting several people along the way with whom I clicked and had a handful of awesome experiences, but mostly, spending the time on my own and absolutely loving it, much to my surprise.  One year later, a week was spent solo in Portugal. The same fears filled me as the trip approached.  And the same result was experienced.  Absolutely reveling in and relishing the experience.  Traveling alone pushes your comfort zone, its scary, its immensely liberating and exciting, its just a boatload of fun.

Falling in love.  If this isn't one of the pinnacles of human life and experience, I don't know what is.  Since the beginning of time, human beings have written about, sang of, made movies and TV shows around, talked about in great depth, searched for, lamented the loss of, obsessed over, and just generally been utterly fixated on romantic love.  Its one of the central focuses of our existence.  And how many times does this happen (falling madly in love) in each given human life?  Not a ton.  For most, it can probably be counted on one hand.  That's why this is such a huge, all consuming, deeply moving and remarkable life thing.  Its one of the most emotional, heart rending experiences in life, which most of us feel for only a special few over the course of our lives.  (Fun life fact and inspiring insight: you can fall in love with the same person, many times again, over the span of years together, if you so desire such, choose to do so, and are with the right person/in a good and healthy relationship).  So, cherish and revel in this awesome aspect of living.

Love in general.  Look around you.  Surely there are several people to whom you feel close.  Who you would claim loving (and hopefully, also liking along with it ;-)).  This could be your parents, siblings, other family members such as a cousin, uncle, aunt, grandparent, you name it.  This can include pets.  Close friends for whom you feel such depth of feeling.  As well as a romantic partner of course.  My point is, there are quite likely several sources of love in your life if you look close enough.  Another one of the most awesome aspects of life.  Both, loving others and in feeling loved.

Music.  Talk about a mood booster.  Nostalgia inducer.  Joy filler.  Entertainment and energy provider.  Music is the bomb diggity.  Sure, everyone has different tastes, to be sure.  But music in general is one of the most emotionally moving aspects of life, much like love.  Music can lift your heart, make you feel understood, be a prompt for deeper thinking, be a mood enhancer or influencer.  Music is heart rending, poignant, resonating, as well as fun and lively.  It can be anything, really.  Depending on what you choose to listen.  Music is a means of expression, it can be therapeutic, a much needed respite, or just an enormous sense of joy.  A life without music is nearly akin to a life without food.  Music, like books, add infinite richness, and awesomeness to living.

Cooking and baking.  Believe it or not, there is much joy and fulfillment to be found here.  Both, in eating whatever delicious item you have prepared, in the satisfaction of learning how to make something nourishing and tasty, and in watching the delight of others enjoying whatever it is you made.  Cooking and baking are forms of art, really.  Creating something for others to enjoy and revel in.  The process of cooking and baking can be relaxing, therapeutic.  And making your own food tends to result in much healthier, more nourishing meals as opposed to chemical laden fast food or processed stuff.  It can be such fun to cook for people and enjoy their reactions to the tasty treats you prepared.

Trust.  Knowing there are people you can rely on when in need.  Having those in your life whom you believe in.  Confident that there are a handful close to you who have your best interests in their hearts.  Who truly care about how you are feeling, about what happens to you, and your own life experiences.  Who want to listen to you as well as know you.  Feeling that you can reveal your heart to someone and their opinion of you will not alter or shift, but instead, they will adore you still just as much.  All of this circles back around to trust.  And what an important, comfort filled, soul rending feeling it is, to have people with whom you experience this.

Passion.  This both brings meaning to life, as well as is what makes people feel the most alive.  Within the throes of passion, we find our bodies tingling with thrill, excitement and a feeling of "flow" if you will.  Time tends to fall away when in the midst of passion.  We are totally involved in whatever we are doing.  Fully present.  Sinking completely into said activity or moment.  And when you have something for which you feel passion, this add s much meaning to ones life.  A sense of purpose.

Naps.  Ah yes.  A frequently forgotten about, vastly underrated thing in life.  Naps, so delicious.  Eliciting the feeling akin to sneaking a sweet treat when you aren't quite supposed to have one.  A sense of rebellious thrill rushing through you in doing so.  In a 30 minute nap, one finds themselves refreshed and rejuvenated.  I have a theory that if people were allowed naptime at work, say a one hour break to go nap and then come back to work, productivity, motivation and joy at work would be much higher as a result.

Meaning.  Without it, a life is severely lacking, and this will be felt by the person living it.  Where and what is the meaning in your life?  You tell me.  It could be to share what you feel are relevant lessons learned within your own experiences, with others.  It might be in raising and rehabilitating abused animals.  It could be in cooking and baking healthy but totally tasty treats, to provide a sense of joy as well as health to other people.  It might be to bring joy, romance and wonder to the lives of those you love, by small gestures and large.  It could be via the route of being a therapist, and helping people to sift through their own challenges towards a hopefully happier life.  Meaning can be found through making beautiful art that people will then enjoy in their homes and everyday lives, adding a sense of comfort and loveliness to their life (the little things, if you will). 

The list goes on and on.  But through what means do you feel and find meaning within your own life?  There is no wrong answer here.  Just that it fills you with a sense of fullness and purpose.

A sense of purpose.  This goes hand in hand with the previous one.  What exactly are you doing here on earth?  Meaning in ones life is more personal, with regards to you specifically and the meaning felt in your own heart.  Its something felt on the inside of oneself.  But a sense of purpose reverberates to the outside.  What are you doing with your life that gives you a sense of why you are here?  Are you giving to others?  Loving as fully as you truly can?  Are you kind and loving to those around you?  Do you assist those in need?  Help provide support and mentorship to others who might need it?

Romance.  So many people accept far less than this.  Why?  To me, romance is the whipped cream, strawberries on top, and sprinkles of life.  Its what makes life beautiful, exciting, and memorable.  Its the little things in life (though romance can and often is also big things) that make it so sweet and awe inspiring.  Romance is what sears into our hearts, leaving us with the most moving of memories.  Ones we are sure to conjure up again and again, long since their passing.  And romance can be many things.  No, romance is not relegated to romantic couples in relationships.  Romance can be a feeling, a mood, a moment, a certain look someone gives you, a gesture or gift, it can be a place or atmosphere, the list goes on.  To show just a few instances of romance...

Between the pages of an awe inspiring book

Breakfast in bed, or on the balcony or patio together.

Love letters.  Hand written gets major bonus points.

Magic.  This is much like romance.  Magic is everywhere, if only you look for it.  Its felt in your heart racing prior to seeing someone whom you are thrilled to spend time with.  Its witnessed in the stars scattered across the dark sky, the moon full and bright.  Magic is within the strange, too coincidental coincidences that happen.  The timing that seems eerie and just so.  The very thing you were thinking of, coming into actualization.  Or, the signs you saw and ignored, but now realize were there all along.  Magic is found in beautiful words from those we care about.  Its found in first kisses, and even the hundredth kiss, if still you search for it.  Magic is found in seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time, or being caught in a snowstorm of brilliant white.  Magic is lain between the cobbles of that tiny Italian village you are exploring on foot, or within the heartfelt letter you've received from someone meaningful to you.  Magic is in the way he or she looks at you.  Its within that warm cup of tea, or gripping book that has you so hooked.  Magic is found in eating a delicious, creamy ice cream cone on a searing hot day.  Its found in a long embrace with someone you love.  In the lavish, hours long brunch you share with a close friend, awesome family member or lover.  Life is laden with magic, if only your eyes are open for it.

Having at least one close friendship in your life.  It doesn't really matter if you have 25 great friends, three of them, or even just one.  Because here, its all about quality.  Not quantity.  Plenty of people have loads of friends, but still feel left wanting, not connecting especially deeply with any of them.  And many people have just one or two close friends, which fulfill them immensely.  So the number isn't relevant here.  The point instead is in having at least one emotionally deep, open, close connection to another person (who isn't family, someone outside of this realm.  That's not to say you cannot have connections of this nature to family members.  You absolutely can.  But its important to have at least one non blood related person with whom you share a sense of genuine liking, trust and closeness). 

Numerous studies have shown, time and time again, that having at least one close confidant is immensely important to ones emotional, spiritual and even physical well being.  From bringing a sense of joy to your life, to providing feelings of companionship, sharing and connection, to having an emotional support and sounding board when needed, to even helping reduce blood pressure, improving coping and resilience, as well as adding big time to ones levels of happiness.  Friends are there to listen to us and support us emotionally.  They offer us a sense of understanding and empathy.  Friends also love and accept us as we are now, but simultaneously see all that we are capable of becoming and help us grow into such.  Friends are our most honest mirrors, valuable sounding boards, and people with whom to have loads of fun.  Having a close friend is of vital importance in terms of life happiness.

Playfulness.  Seemed a fitting note to end this non exhaustive list on.  As we leave childhood and become adults, most of us leave this sense of self behind.  A sense of being playful, carefree and silly.  Why?  Who decided that to play and be silly is "not ok" as adults?  That this is something only relegated and acceptable to children?  For what reason is that exactly?  I cant imagine finding a valid one to support that idiocy.  Play, silliness and fun are things that add immense joy and lightness to ones day and being.  So much of life is serious, routine and challenging.  Allow play ample room in your life too.  In fact, invite it.  This can be anything, from playing board games with friends and family, to dancing together, making silly faces at one another, having a snowball fight, sending someone playful or flirty texts, telling other funny jokes, reading a hilarious book, etc.  Play is part of what makes life awesome and a blast to live.