Playing the Happiness Game


What if there was a happiness game you could play, an easy-peasy one, where you’re always the winner?  And what if you played it with friends and they ended up winners along with you?  What if the prizes were things like increased zest and resilience?  What if it helped you to stay strong, motivated and optimistic even in the face of difficult real-life obstacles?  Would you want to play?

A friend of mine told me about such a game last week.  And even though I’m not a big game fan, I took a look at it just to see what it was all about.  I turned out that in order to understand it, I had to sign up.  So I did.  And I went through the first group of awfully simple tasks in just a few minutes.  “Is that all there is to it?” I asked myself.  Yes.  It was that quick and simple.

That night I dreamed that I found a bar of Zest soap in my shower and after lathering myself with it, emerged feeling wonderfully fresh and eager to start my day.  Since then, I opened the novel I’ve procrastinated about finishing and have written an entire new chapter.  I approached other tasks, dreaded but necessary ones, with a brand new attitude and actually enjoyed doing them.

It’s called SuperBetter, and here’s how it works.  It presents you with quests to accomplish.  Simple things, like choosing your secret identity.  You get to select which quests you want do.  It presents you with things called Power-Ups, easy things like drinking a glass of water or looking out your window for a minute or going for a walk around the block.  You get to name Bad Guys, the obstacles that stand in your way, and to invite Allies (friends or family members) to join in and support you.  You earn points.  You get cheered on.  Every aspect of it is designed to help you take better care of you.

That’s because it was designed by a gamer who needed a life-line when she was in the darkest period of her life.  She was having such a hard time recovering from a concussion  that she was considering suicide.  She invented the game to help her stay alive.  And not only did it do that, it helped her become better in every way than she was before she was injured.

Since the game has been online (You can play on your phone or tablet, too.), a study by the University of Pennsylvania showed that “using SuperBetter for 30 days significantly reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety; and increased life satisfaction, social support, and the belief in one’s ability to succeed and achieve goals.”

That’s a lot from one quick, simple game!  But my first week of experiencing it was enough to convince me and keep me playing.

With the holidays quickly approaching, I figure we can all use a little extra zest and energy in our lives.  You can begin playing right away here:

Have fun!


PS  Here’s a TedTalk about the game by its creator:  The Game that Can Give You 10 Extra Years of Life

Or read the inventor Jane McGonigal’s book about her personal story and the science behind SuperBetter here.



Trick or Treat

Halloween Pumpkin Display

When I stopped at a local shop today, the clerk, a senior-aged woman, was wearing a cute tee-shirt featuring a smiling, broom-flying witch, complete with cat, and the message “Happy Halloween.”   I told the woman I liked her shirt and she flashed a huge smile.  “Thanks!” she said.  “It’s my favorite holiday.  My dad’s birthday was the day after, so we always had a Halloween-Birthday party.”

While I can’t say it’s my favorite holiday, it does bring back a slew of delightful memories for me, too, some of which still make me laugh out loud.  When I was in third grade, for example, my mother made a pumpkin costume for me fashioned out of chicken wire and orange crepe paper with black construction paper eyes, nose, and toothy grin glued on.  She even made a hat from a crepe paper covered paper plate, complete with a tall, green stem.  I hated it.  I wanted to wear a hand-me-down dance costume my cousin had given me.  It had a short, lavender net skirt and a bodice decorated with purple satin grapes.  My mother thought it was too revealing for school, but let me wear it under the pumpkin outfit.

To my humiliation, my mom had to squeeze in the sides of the pumpkin getup in order for me to fit through the school bus door.  As soon as I got to my classroom, I ditched the pumpkin in the coat room and happily spent the day dressed as a grape.  That was my Halloween trick that year.

My mom had a great sense of fun and loved Halloween.  She spent the last decade of her life in a wheelchair, but that didn’t stop her fun.  She had my dad pin a white sheet around her that covered her electric-powered chair, painted her face with zinc oxide so it was pure white, painted big dark circles around her eyes, and donned a white, frizzy old wig.  When the treat-seeking neighbor kids came to the door, she would zoom over, her sheet billowing around her as she made ghostly moans before laughing, “Trick or Treat!”

While Halloween is celebrated in more solemn ways in other countries (You can read about customs around the world here.), costumes are a big part of the fun here in the States.   But what if you’re a kid whose days are spent in a wheelchair?

One father whose son was wheelchair bound built a costume for his son that was so spectacular the photo of it went viral online.  Now the dad has a nonprofit business that makes costumes for wheelchair bound kids.

And a group of college kids built a foam barn to encase a wheelchair-bound  girl who loves farm animals.  All of her friends dressed as barnyard critters for her Halloween party that year.

These last two stories come from a wonderful site called Good News Network.  You can subscribe and get a bit of good news in your mailbox each day if you like.  It’s a fine way to counter all the yucky news the media feeds us.  And the link is my Halloween Treat for you today.


Finding Meaning in a Meaningless World

Finding Meaning

I was watching videos on YouTube this week when one of the “recommended for you” videos that the site suggests was titled “My Life Has No Meaning.  Help!”  I didn’t watch it. The mere title saddened me, and because I don’t leave comments on YouTube there was nothing I could do to help.  But it made me think about how hard it is for many of us to find meaning in life.

We’re fed a constant diet of disaster, contention and chaos, after all.  And even though the items on the news may not touch us personally, they act like a dark gloom cloud perpetually hanging over our heads.  Add to that the normal stress of everyday life and the monotony of its routines and it’s easy to see how life can lose its flavor.

So how do you find meaning in life?  I decided to browse through some quotes on the topic to see what clues I could find.  The first thing I noticed is an almost universal agreement that life doesn’t have a built-in meaning of its own.  Here’s how Joseph Campbell put it:  “Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.”  In other words, meaning is something each of us gets to create or discover for ourselves.

I picked a few of the quotes about life’s meaning that I liked best to share with you, and to give you some clues on where you can look to find or to make your own meaning.  I hope you’ll find them as insightful and inspiring as I do.

This one made me laugh.  It’s from Edgar Allen Poe, of all people.  “The best things in life make you sweaty.”  It’s true!  Fill your day with exertion and tasks accomplished and you’ll feel like you’ve lived.

Terry Pratchett says, “You know full well that the meaning of life is to find your gift.  To find your gift is happiness.”  And how do you find your gift?  It’s what you truly enjoy doing, what comes easily to you, and what you’re naturally good at doing.  Check out my articles on strengths to get some clues.

Since one of my own top strengths is an appreciation for beauty and excellence, I especially like these two:  Johann Gottfried Herder says “To think what is true, to sense what is beautiful and to want what is good, hereby the spirit finds purpose of a life in reason.”  And this delightful one from Welwyn Wilton Katz:  “Life is a fairy tale.  Live it with wonder and amazement.”

These final three tell of something deeper, and, I believe, hold the essence of building meaning into our lives.  First, Richelle E. Goodrich, says, “I’m starting to think this world is just a place for us to learn that we need each other more than we want to admit.”  And next, from Roy T. Bennett, come this advice:  “Learn to light a candle in the darkest moments of someone’s life. Be the light that helps others see; it is what gives life its deepest significance.”  And last, but not in least in any way, is this from C. JoyBell C.: “Always remember that the most valuable thing that you can do in this world, is to live a life of love.”

Work hard.  Play hard.  Use your talents.  Find life’s delights.  And above all, shine your light and give your love.



Riding the Waves

I thought, when I sat down to write today, that it would be nice to share some uplifting thoughts with you.  Something to encourage you and brighten your day.  Something to reassure you that, despite the unprecedented series of upheavals we seem to be witnessing around us, all is well.  But when I sat down, that seemed like a tall order.  Hmmm.  What can I share?

Well, I had a chance to walk through some awe-inspiring autumn scenery this week, and there was one moment when, immersed in nature’s splendor, I felt truly lucky just to be alive.  Think of all the events that had to happen just the way they did in order for you to be here.  What are the odds?  They must be incalculable.  Think of all the things that had to happen just for the planet itself to be here.  Yet here it is, and here we are.  Even if we have no idea what “here” really is or how we got here, or what life is all about.

I heard a lot of stories this week about things that were happening in my friends’ lives.  About their jobs, their families, their relationships.  I heard about the things that are worrying them.  Computer problems, financial problems, health problems, social problems, political problems.  And then there’s the behavior of the planet itself: the fires, floods, earthquakes, winds.  Oh my.  Whatever reality is, it seems we believe is just isn’t what it’s supposed to be.   Didn’t it used to be a lot simpler?  More certain?  Isn’t it supposed to work more smoothly than this?  And when, oh when, will it just settle down!

Maybe it won’t.  Maybe chaos is the new normal.  What if it is?  What are we to do?

A poster I saw back in the 60’s had some sage advice.  Those were chaotic times, too.  The poster showed this old bearded guy in a wet, blowing toga riding a surf board atop a huge wave, his arms spread wide, his face beaming with a smile.  The caption said, “You can’t stop the waves.  But you can learn to surf.”

You can still find joy, and peace, and contentment even when reality is heaving like a storm-tossed sea.  Part of learning to do that involves a willingness to embrace what is without wanting it to be something different:  This is my life, right now.  This is the experience life is giving me.  This is life’s gift to me, it’s present.  I can do with it what I will.  I can treat it as an adventure.  I can treat it as a challenge.  I can see it as a mirror of who I am.  I can choose who I will be in it.  I can choose to let it in, to let it enlarge me.  Or I can choose to push it out and make me small.  I can see it as a chance to use my strengths, or I can blame it as a showcase of my weaknesses and vulnerabilities.  Perhaps I can find comfort in it, or give comfort to others.  I can use it to create, or to destroy.  It’s all up to me.  Because it’s mine.  It’s my life, right now.

And that’s the bottom line.  Regardless of the reality we’re in, regardless of its unpredictable shifts and changes, we’re here.  Alive.  And that, in and of itself, is remarkable and wondrous.  May you celebrate your being, and learn to surf the waves.


Life Ain’t for Wimps

Not for Wimps

When I first got the news that Hurricane Nate was going to pummel our southern shores this weekend, my head reeled.  I felt like one of those inflatable punching dolls that pop back up as soon as you knock them down only to get another blow to the head.

“Holy Mackerel!”  I said, right out loud.  “What next?”

What was next, it turned out, was a vivid memory of Uncle Ron’s stern, booming voice informing me in no uncertain terms that he had studied the Bible extensively and could assure me there was no such thing as a holy mackerel.  I felt roundly chastised at the time and took great care never to mention the fish in my uncle’s presence again.  It took me years to realize he was teasing me.

I always smile when I think of Uncle Ron.  His deep voice may have been intimidating, but he always had a twinkle in his eye.

Maybe that’s why the phrase “Holy Mackerel” came to mind when I pondered the stream of mind-boggling events that’s been confronting us lately.  It was to remind me of Uncle Ron and how he taught me that fear could be a foolish response to life’s confusions.  You see, my Uncle Ron was a learned man, possessed of great intellect, humor and wisdom.  If I hadn’t interpreted his voice as threatening, I might have had some interesting and enlightening conversations with him.

And so it is with life.  News of fires and earthquakes, hurricanes, terror acts, and floods can be frightening.

Or not.

Life ain’t for wimps.  It comes with its bruises and blows.  But it’s we who decide whether to respond out of love or out of fear to what’s happening in the world around us.  Choose fear and you could be cheating yourself out of a great conversation with life.  Choose love and you open the door to unlimited possibilities.

Author Anais Nin wrote, “Life shrinks and expands in proportion to one’s courage.”  And courage is nothing more than keeping on even in the face of fear.  We come equipped to survive, so we respond to threats by going into full-alert mode.  And that’s a good thing.  If a tiger’s coming at you, you want to notice it and get the heck out of its way.  But once you’ve done that, or have determined it wasn’t a tiger at all, you gotta switch back into love-mode even if you’re still charged up with adrenalin and suffering from knocking knees.   There’s always something beautiful out there that you can do.  Pick a flower.  Smile at a stranger.  Pet a dog.  If you just cower in a corner because somewhere in the world tigers roam, your world gets awfully small, and you with it.

But get back out there and love, baby, and pretty soon all that energy that was fear converts into amazement and gratitude and a willingness to engage in life, whatever it brings.  Look at it and whistle, “Holy Mackerel!” at its string of surprises.  Then get yourself some mustard and have that fish for lunch.