Kitchen Therapy


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Short Ribs In Red Wine and Port

I admit it! I have (until recently) been one of those people who thought creativity meant being able to paint or decorate!
It was something that involved a lot of drawing and knowing which colours went together.
So, given this definition, I routinely described myself as “the least creative person you were to ever meet!”
Then, my 10 year forced me to re-evaluate my beliefs.
I had his future clearly planned for him in my mind. Studying economics at university and then working for one of the major banks! Done!
Then something weird happened. He started to develop a real creative streak!
I started to get nervous.
He enjoyed it and others noticed he had a knack for it.
My banking dreams were being threatened and replaced with visions of him painting portraits at Circular Quay!
How could he do this to me!!!
Just as I was beginning to think I had to do something drastic to save my child from a life of artistic poverty, he said to me “Jack (his friend) and I have been talking and we decided we are going to work for Disney making graphics for their movies!” I wanted to cry! Working for Disney! That was a real job? Right? And he would be making money!

He forced me to re-think my ideas on creativity! It was the best gift he could have ever given me!

Today I see creativity everywhere I go.
Take this week’s French Fridays with Dorie recipe. It took creative genius to pull this baby off!

Juggling work, three kids at three different schools doing three different after school activities, a father coming out of rehab after a massive heart attack and stroke and me deciding to go back to uni, I was sure these ribs were going to fall by the wayside!

But the sadist in me wouldn’t let go of the satisfaction I knew would be waiting for me at the completion of this week’s recipe! So after buying a wheelchair and mobility scooter for my dad, I ducked into the fabric shop nearby and bought the cheesecloth for the bouquet garni.

After driving to uni to pick up my time-table with my 3 year old I realised it was ‘O’ week (orientation week) so I put off my grilling plans and we joined the celebrations!

A few lollipops and some one on one time with my baby was worth the delay!
Back home and the grilling…

…chopping and cooking were finally under way!

Before long the ribs, vegetables and a tonne of booze were all tightly snuggled into the oven for a few hours and we were on our way to pick up the others from school and meet friends for a catch up.
While the kids ran around and the grown ups chatted, the ribs bubbled away at home. We came home to the most amazing smell! Everyone was so excited about dinner till I told them it was for tomorrow night! Ha!
The next day the fat was scooped off and the ribs were ready for the final grilling!

They were pretty amazing!
If I didn’t join French Fridays with Dorie I would never have cooked these!
I would have flicked through the book and came back to it on the odd occasion and maybe even made a handful of recipes I felt comfortable with.
How much I would have missed out on!

The creativity of the other members inspires me, check out their takes on this recipe here.

 

 


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Good Stuff and Gratitude

Wineglass Bay – Tasmania

The 4 hour drive from Launceston to Wineglass Bay on the east coast of Tasmania was long, slow and uneventful (except for the wars being waged in the back seat over, well… everything).
It was during this leg of our Tasmanian Christmas vacation that I had a moment of perfect clarity. An Oprah “aha” moment. It was perfect and fleeting. And I knew I had to grab it and flesh it out before it was drowned and lost forever in the singing and wailing coming from behind me.

Life was short and I was spending too much time on things and people that were not serving me. In fact, they were sucking the life right out of me!

This moment lasted seconds but it felt like existential enlightment flooding every inch of my being! It was a very physical experience, I didn’t just think it, I felt it! And for a few fleeting moments, everything made perfect sense!

I decided right there and then to be picky, really picky, with what I allowed to fill my mind!

I resolved to set my standards high and to do everything in my power to fill my mind with good stuff! Exciting, inspirational, “feel good” stuff!

I made an active choice to fill my mind with beauty and creativity.

I identified what dragged me down (and who) and was clear on what fueled me and always set me back on course.

So these days I spend a lot more time here…

And it never fails to shock that pants off me how clear I am when I leave this place! I walk away feeling strong, focused and clear on what and who is  important.

The other thing that has kept me on track is this blog!
If I’m not immersed in putting together the latest post or cooking the latest Dorie recipe, I lose myself in the amazing blogs you guys have. Blogs that feel like a home. Blogs that are lovingly maintained and radiate warmth and personality. Blogs that I look forward to reading simply because they make me feel good.

And then something amazing happened!

These amazing people, whose blogs I admire, actually throw encouragement and acknowledgement my way and make me feel 10-feet tall!

Allison from French Whisk and Yummy Chunklet dished out a Sisterhood of World Bloggers Award!

This award simply asks that you pass it on. I’m kind of new to this blogging thing, but two blogs that have recently struck a chord with me are:

Jane at 7 Sutras

Gina at Gina Marie’s Kitchen

At the same time, Betsy from A Plate Full of Happiness and Katie from Prof Who Cooks awarded me with the Stylish Blogger Award!

Talk about feeling great! I am conscious of sounding like a gushing Gwyneth at the Oscar’s so I’ll just say thank you for the awards!
(And I am pasting the badges on my sidebar with pride!)

This Award has a few more requirements:

1. Thank the Person – thanks again guys!

2. Share 7 things about yourself – I think I’ve shared enough above and don’t want to risk boring anyone anymore!

3. Share 15 blogs you enjoy – again, being kinda new to this I don’t know that many blogs to nominate! But here’s a few that I’ve come across that stood out to me:

Effie at Effie’s Food Corner

Brian at Ottertude

4. Let the Bloggers Know! As it’s after midnight in Sydney, Australia I will do this first thing tomorrow!!!

Good Night!


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Chicken B’stilla

I love cookbooks! I love to read them, take in the photos and then stack them lovingly on the bookshelf, full of good intentions to return soon and often!

But if I’m to be honest, I don’t return soon enough or often enough. And if I’m to be really honest, when I decide to make something from one of my beloved books, it’s usually something I am comfortable with. You know… we all have our comfort zones. Our grooves… Okay! Our ruts! I admit it! As much as I like to think I’m open minded and expose myself to new experiences, my initial reaction is “play it safe!”

Now that’s no way to live life!

And that’s why I joined French Fridays With Dorie. I knew myself enough to know that I would follow through on a commitment and I would cook recipes that I would normally dismiss.
Recipes like this one!

A “sweetly spiced” chicken pie which has “as it does in Morocco, a dusting of cinnamon sugar over the crust.” Ummm… no thank you!

But I made a commitment…

So I found myself marinating the chicken in onions and spices.

 

Boiling and simmering ’till “falling-off-the-bone tender.” Then whisking, reducing and thickening some more.

 

Spooning into stacked and buttered filo sheets.

 

Then topping with some more stacked and buttered filo sheets before tucking the edges in “as though you were making a bed.”

 

Baking ’till golden brown and serving warm.

 

Yes, I skipped the dusting of cinnamon sugar on the top (what can I say?! I really wanted the kids and husband to eat it!).
I also skipped the almonds (my daughter is allergic).

The final result… everyone loved it! Even my 3 year old!

The only issue we had was that it was so rich and flavourful we couldn’t eat too much of it so I had to make sure we had other bits and pieces to fill up on.

Best of all… feeling amazingly good about myself for stepping out of my comfort zone!

Thanks French Fridays With Dorie!


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Counselling 101 – Skills we should be taught at school!

 Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” Rudyard Kipling

As a psychologist I get to witness  the power of words first hand. I see the effects of words that evoke fear, powerlessness and helplessness. I also see the flip side to this, words that empower, motivate and create joy, love and happiness.

Understanding and fully appreciating the power of words has been one of the most amazing things about my line of work. People are able to shift from depression, anxiety and fear to a state of peace and happiness through words.

The words we use to describe what we experience will in turn become our experience.

If one of my children is feeling sad, angry, happy, or playing victim I ask them what they are thinking. I can guarantee you the response is usually “I don’t know” followed by a scowl!
And it’s true, they have no idea what thoughts lead them to this emotion. They just know they feel good or bad!
And same goes for any of us, we don’t really pay attention to the constant chatter in our minds. But it’s there and it’s creating our reality!

As a psychologist, I have come to the conclusion that this is one of the most important lessons I need to teach my children.
To build in them the awareness and understanding that they are not victims to random emotions that take over their bodies.

(I know I am referring to children here however this is something most of us as adults have never really been taught. I passionately believe that this is crucial information about living that all kids need to be taught in school so they have the resources to become functional and contributing adults. Unfortunately it isn’t taught in school and it is what I teach my adult clients. Imagine how far we would all be if we were given this information at a young age?)

Most of us don’t really pay attention to what we are thinking, but we are pretty aware of how we are feeling at any given moment. So start with your emotions. Ask yourself  how you feel which also helps to build emotional awareness and identify and verbalise feelings better. 
Once you establish how you feel, take a step back and try to identify what you were thinking and as I said, people find it very difficult to pin down their thoughts. So take it slowly. How you feel and how you behave is determined by what thoughts are going around in your head. So if you’re feeling sad, you’ve been thinking sad thoughts and you may be crying or isolating yourself. If you’re feeling sorry for yourself, you’ve probably been telling yourself that something is not fair and you may be sulking or stomping around! If you’re feeling happy, you’ve been having happy thoughts and your behaviour may be to whistle, play or be easy-going.

Your thoughts will determine how you feel and act. 
You cannot have happy thoughts and feel angry.
You cannot have angry thoughts and feel happy.
If you are thinking happy thoughts, you will be feeling happy and acting happy.
If you are thinking angry thoughts you will feel angry and act angry.
And so on…

 It sounds incredibly simple and yet it is one of the hardest things to master!
Choosing your thoughts and ultimately choosing the life you have.

Please feel free to leave me any questions or comments you have!


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How Can I Be Happier?

 

We have studied depression in depth for the last century and we know a lot about what makes us miserable! 

Most of have felt depressed at some point in life. We feel down, we don’t really care about much, we have no energy and for a while, life feels unpleasant. But we know we will get through it.

Some people however have more frequent episodes of feeling down and the duration and intensity of these episodes can be used as guides to unresolved psychological problems. Depression is way for the body to communicae to us that there is something wrong. When I talk to my clients about depression I get them to think of it as a continuum rather than a question of “Am I depressed or not?” On one end of the continuum is the mild to moderate range where the experience is painful and uncomfortable. While on the other end we have Bipolar or Manic Depression which is more biological in nature.

Our goal is to treat the problems that the clients present with, to get the levels of depression and anxiety to nil, zero. But people want more than just feeling not depressed, they want to have meaning and happiness in their lives.

This recognition led to a new branch of psychology called Positive Psychology. It is interested in the “scientific study of optimal human functioning.” So the goals is no longer to just identify and treat mental health problems, but also to teach people how to enhance the quality of their lives using substantiated research and findings that have been proven to deliver results.

I like to think of happiness also having a continuum where the more frequency, intensity and duration of symptoms is symbolic of being further along the continuum and feeling happier!

Martin Seligman, on of the founders of Positive Psychology defines happiness as “both positive feelings (such as ecstasy and comfort) and positive activities that have no feeling component at all (such as absorption and engagement)”.

Mihaly Csiskzentmihalyi claims the way to happiness is through “flow”, a state where we are so engrossed in “some activity that time either lengthens or disappears, we no longer notice our surroundings except as related to the activity and any problem or discomfort drops entirely out of mind”.

I used to think “I’ll be happy when…”
I struggled (for a long time!) with the idea that happiness was a choice avalaible to me at any  point. I believed that happiness was the end goal, the reward for hard work and suffering!. I remember thinking “if I just went around all day feeling happy I’d never do anything again!” I got really stuck here. I felt accessing happiness just for the sake of it was cheating and fake.

Then one day it dawned on me. When you are happy you are more likely to achieve your goals and succeed! When I feel happy I am excited and energised. I feel at peace and I find it easier to get absorbed in whatever I am doing. I can appreciate my self and my surroundings more. I have increased clarity in thought and inspiration. Feeling happy actually helps me to produce a higher quality of work.

So rather than asking “Am I happy or not?” ask yourself “How can I be happier?” This changes the nature of happiness from something that is the end result to happiness being  an ongoing process. Something that is infinite in nature and within your control.

Can you think of something you really want?
Imagine you have it.
A new house, a new car, a new body? Whatever you think will make you feel happy. Now imagine yourself going through the day having this something you treasure. How will you feel about yourself, how will this effect the interactions you have with the world. Will you feel more confident, assured? 
When you have really stepped into the role and can feel this I want you to consider that you just had acces to all those feelings all on your own. They are there, available to you at any moment!  

When you’re happy, nothing has actually changed yet everything suddenly seems different.


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There is no set time or age when you suddenly lose all your fears and become a grown up!!!

Do you sometimes feel like everyone grew up and worked out how to behave like an adult and you got left behind?

Why is it that some people radiate confidence, assurance, elegance while others gossip, bitch, and are just plain old nasty! And then there’s the fearful, anxious group that try really hard to please everyone in an effort to avoid being rejected and end up with no sense of self (this is ringing bells with me!)

Have you noticed some women have an aura of peace and security around them while others are desperate to please and can’t call their kid’s teachers by their first names?!

I’m only bringing this up because sometimes I swear I missed the boat on how to grow up and behave like an adult! I guess like everything else in life, there are pros and cons to this as well.

Maintaining a child like interest and joy in the day-to-day things is necessary. Especially if you’re a parent (my husband is one of four boys and he can play and be more childish than the kids, I envy his ability to do that and the kids love it!)

 However I’m raising this issue to get to the not so nice bits about being stuck in teenage mode at 40!

Sometimes we feel we are not fitting in with the other mothers at our children’s school or with our peers at work. Instead of isolating yourself and feeling there is something wrong with you I want to encourage you to see yourself like a car’s gear box (I led into that smoothly huh?) What I mean is that we can’t expect to put our lives into D for Drive and sail through life smoothly. I know it sux but it just doesn’t work like that.

Do you find yourself babbling like a fool when you talk to certain people? Or do you find some situations fill you with dread and fear (situations that others may find fun and appealing).

Well, if you can imagine your life like a gear box, just like the gear box has different speeds it can be moved to, we have many different parts to our personality that we put into gear.

Two very common parts are the inner child and the inner critic. The inner child can feel scared when faced by the bully mother in the playground while the inner critic (you know that voice that tells you nothing you do is good enough and whatever you are doing is wrong!) is always looking for people who are not good for you and actually make you feel like a loser! 

Now there would be no probs if our inner gear box was nicely greased and could sense which people and situations called for which qualities. For example, it would be great to be able to turn to your inner child when it is time to be playful and silly. It would be fabulous to hear when your inner critic is just not helping you, like when you are driving in the wrong gear and can hear the car straining! Unfortunately not many of us are built that finely tuned!

But imagine if we were?!

I’ve come to believe that the better we get at switching through the gears of our personalities and knowing which parts of life call for which qualities, the closer we get to behaving like adults.

We all have the adult inside of us, you know that side that knows what is right and good for us. The side we choose to ignore as we relish feeling sorry for ourselves. The side we ignore as we suck up to someone we don’t like because we are too scared to contemplate cutting them out of our lives. The side we bury as we convince ourselves we are absolute and utter failures! But that side is there.

I encourage you to join me in identifying when this adult side raises its head in your life and pay attention to how it feels. You mind feels clear, your chest and shoulders are relaxed, your breathing comes easier. The adult in you is there all the time. Mine gets buried easily by the other two qualities because they are more dominant, stronger and emotional. In other words, I interact with the world way more from those gears than the adult gear!

It’s just as important to get to know your inner child, how does it feel when you are being playful and silly. Recognise when you inner child is serving you and when it’s not. When does it get scared or the brat comes out?
I can now recognise that when I am dealing with some of the playground bullies (the mum’s I’m referring to!) I feel anxious, my breathing gets faster and my body becomes tense. I become a child, eager to please so they like me and don’t target me or my children! Now that I can recognise this, I am more aware of how I am interacting with these people and work at choosing to switch gears and slip into adult mode.

Same goes for the inner critic. I have another bunch of friends that make me feel like an awkward, silly, giggly klutz whenever I am with them! My inner critic screams “they are so much better than you!” and as a result I interact with them like a nerdy teen trying hard to get in with the cool girls! Sounds sad, I know, but I need to be aware of what my triggers are and which parts of my personality they engage so I can put an end to this cycle. I can honestly say I had myself convinced I was not made to mix with people and I was considering a move to the wilderness. I was convinced I could not be around people and still feel good about myself!

My family can breathe a sigh of relief now that I understand things a bit better and I will not be moving them to a bush station in the Australian outback where the only school options would be radio school!

So being aware of which gear we shift into as we interact with the world and make decision is an amazing tool to have. Once you can see yourself interacting from child mode or critic mode, imagine how it would feel if you faced the same people and situations with your gear firmly in adult mode? When I face the mummy bullies I can be polite without becoming a simpering sycophant! When I am with my assured, confident friends I no longer feel I need to run and hide out of fear of blurting out something stupid! I switch into my adult gear and I can face them head on! Confident, assured and calm!

Hope all this makes sense! Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments.


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Cooking for the Pleasure of it! Greek Spinach Pies (from Tessa Kiros’ new book)

I bought Tessa Kiros’ new book, Food From Many Greek Kitchens and was really looking forward to trying out some recipes, however with work, 3 kids, Halloween, sleepovers and life in general, I only had time to steal brief glances through the book here and there. Knowing that soon I’d have the time to cook something from her book instead of turning to my usual meals out of ease, I planned my project and savoured the anticipation. In the end I realised I was kidding myself and there would never be a good time so I decided to pass on a lunch with some of the mums from school to stay home and play! 

I’ve watched my mum turn dodgy looking ingredients that you’d swear were on their last legs into a meal that tastes so good you can’t bring yourself to stop eating! She just slaps things together and there is never any waste or lack of flavour.

I grew up eating Yugoslav food. Manja with peas or potatoes, burek, grav (pasulj) which is a stew with beans, my mum would then throw in salty smoked pork ribs that melted off the bone and added just the right contrast to the sweet beans. (Now I’m not sure if I am doing these dishes any justice here with my writing, in fact, I would probably look at these foods in a cookbook from a foreign country and pass them by as I searched for something familiar while telling myself I was looking for “authentic” foreign dishes!)

When I was a kid, I thought everyone cooked and I ate like we did! As I got older I was embarassed when friends came over because our house always smelled on whatever my mum had going on the stove. I was too busy trying to fit in to hear my friends saying “I love coming over! Your mum feeds us the best food!” I think I took it all for granted until I married a man who was raised on meat and vegetables, he raved on and on about how great everything tasted. I then realised that I was lucky growing up in a house where cooking and flavour were valued! I have also realised that as a result I have much higher expectations from food than my husband does! 

I don’t have my mum’s flair for cooking (I think it got buried in my uptightness!) But as I’ve mentioned in my previous posts on finding youself and finding happiness, I found trying to be “perfect” (whatever that meant!) and “people pleasing”  were not working for me (funny that!). It made me an anxious, miserable, mess! So I’m letting go of how I thought I “should” be and am discovering who I actually am. And who I am is someone who loves to stay home and cook! It’s such a creative process that gives me so much satisfaction and I am finally giving myself permission to indulge in it. 

I love mediteranean, mexican and south american food and have decided I am going try to create as many “authentic” dishes as I can. Just the idea of this fills me with joy and an almost unbearable amount of butterflies in my stomach. (A few years ago I would have thought Aha! This gets me excited! So then I should follow my passion and become a chef! I thought that’s how this finding your purpose/meaning/happiness thing worked!)

Today, I can follow my interests just because they make me happy. Not judge them as possible pathways to fame and fortune. Just accept that this is what makes me happy. This is what makes me want to get out of bed this morning. What better reason could there be!

SPINACH PIES (SPANAKOPITA)
by Tessa Kiros from her book Food From Many Greek Kitchens

(the photo is my end product!)

Ingredients

27 filo sheets (23x25cm squares)
olive oil for brushing sheets

5 tbs oil
180g green onions
700g spinach leaves
20g dill
200g greek feta
2 eggs lightly beaten

Method (in my words as I don’t have her cookbook with me while I write this!)

  • Heat 5 tablespoons of oil in a pot large enough to fit all the spinach leaves and then cook the onions over medium heat until they are soft.  
  • Add the spinach and cook with lid on until spinach wilts, then take the lid off and simmer until all the juices disappear (my juices didn’t disappear so I just took it off the stove after a while and drained the spinach).
  • Once it cools, add the grated feta, dill, eggs and season.
  • Next is the tricky bit, pulling off the filo sheets without tearing (impossible but I just accepted the holes and kept going!) Put one sheet down, brush the oil over it, put down another sheet, oil it and then the last sheet.
  • Then put 2 heaped tablespoons of the spinach filling at one of the square and spread it in think line to the other end leaving a centre our so around the side and top edge.
  • Finally roll the sheet over the filling tightly and continue until you have it all rolled up. Lightly brush with oil on top. 
  • Now do the same thing 8 more times and line them up in baking dish and bake for 30 mins at 180C.

The satisfaction of cooking this was fantastic! My husband and kids were very impressed with the taste and the smell. I thought the actual taste of it was ok  (probably needed to season it a bit more). But as I said I grew up spoilt with flavour so I while I was hoping for something more, I was still pretty happy with the result!

(I am going from memory so I hope it makes sense and I do it justice!)


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“How to live life as a work of art, rather than as a chaotic response to external events…” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Have you given any thought to what gets in the way of your own happiness?
A major constraint on us enjoying what we are doing has always been our fear of how we appear to others and what these others are thinking about us.

We spend so much time worrying about whether we are doing enough for our children, our community and everyone else that our lives become nothing more than a response to what is happening around us. When we stop living consciously we let our environment dictate how we spend our time. We drive our kids to way too many activities spending more time in the car than together at home. We spend a ridiculous amount of energy worrying about the mum who is the school bully of the parents (you know who they are!) We try to please everyone around us and in the process lose ourselves to the point where we don’t have an opinion on anything, even what we want for dinner!

When we live life “as a chaotic response to external events” we begin to fall apart. We become anxious, depressed, exhausted and numb. We just keep going, we keep doing what we have always done if it’s no longer working for us because we don’t know how to do things differently.

Sounds crazy but it’s true! It amazes how many of my clients look absolutely confused when I ask them what they enjoy, what they like doing. They have spent so much time doing what is expected of them, they have no idea what they like. They want me to tell them what this could be!

I think one of the challenges people face is they believe that fame and wealth is where happiness lies. Csikszentmihalyi found people did not know what to do to be happy in life. research showed that people were unhappy doing nothing and were happy doing things, they just didn’t know what things they were happy doing. 

Here’s the catch, it’s important to differentiate between pleasure, which we get from eating, sex, gossip with enjoyment. Pleasure feels good but it lacks a sense of achievement where enjoyment leaves us feeling good about ourselves. I think this is how we answer questions such as ‘how do I find myself?’ and how do I find my sense of self. It’s about paying attention to what activities put us in ‘flow’.

Here is how Csikszentmihalyi defines what it feels like to be in ‘the flow’

  • Completely involved, focused, concentrating.
  • Sense of ecstasy – of being outside everyday reality.
  • Great inner clarity – knowing what needs to be done and how well it is going.
  • Knowing the activity is doable – that your skills are adequate so you’re not anxious or bored.
  • Sense of serenity – no worries about self, feeling of growth beyond the boundaries of ego (ie worrying what others are thinking and saying about you).
  • Timeliness – thoroughly focused on present, don’t notice time passing.
  • intrinsic motivation – whatever produces ‘flow’ becomes its reward.

I urge you to pay attention what activities create this state in your lives. I get immersed and excited in planning to cook an intricate and complex recipe. I get lost in the process and the sense of achievement I feel as my family eats it leaves me on a high for days afterwards. There is no fame or financial rewards but it makes me happy. Ask yourself are you after happiness or fame and fortune?

Following are great charts that Csikszentmihalyi has drawn to demonstrate how his theory works. I think they are really worth having a look over if you are looking to bring more happiness into your everyday life.

As you can see when you are engaged in activities that are not challenging and not using your skills you can begin to feel numb and empty however if you try to do something that is difficult and you do not possess the skills to do it, it will leave you feeling anxious. The optimal state is to use your particular skills to do something challenging, something that is achievable.

This graph is a summary of how people feel when different skill levels are combined with different challenges.

This last graph is a focus on everyday life and how people spend their leisure time.

So the question is not what gives you pleasure and is easy to do, but what can you do to spend more of your time on activities that are more satisfying rather than brain numbing ones like watching television? And before you think you have no talents or abilities let me stop you there, there is no correlation between intelligence and ‘flow’. Different activities will get people in the ‘flow’ zone, we just need to find what our particular activities are.

Remember to pay attention without judging “where will this get me?” or “what’s the use of that?” Pull your attention away from how the external world will judge what you enjoy and focus it on what gets you into the ‘flow’. This is how you find yourself. This is how you get your sense of self, your sense of who you are. When you can do this, you will find your purpose and your meaning in life.


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Purpose Is How We Find Our Meaning And Joy In Life

At some point, most of us will question what our purpose in life is. 
We may feel lost, empty and exhausted and think “there must be more to life than this.”

And then we get stuck.
Is there really more?
How will I find it?
How will I know when I have found it? 

So we embark on a journey. An exciting voyage of self discovery.
Well, it’s exciting from a therapist’s perspective however I’m not sure if my clients would use those words to describe what they go through!
They would probably describe it more as a very painful, depressing, anxious and even angry time in their lives. I would understand if you thought me to be a bit of a sadist at this point, however this pain is essential. This pain is what tells us that we have lost our way in life. It is meant to work like an alarm system, guiding us as we navigate through life. Giving us feedback as to how we are progressing in the world.

When you find yourself feeling depressed, anxious, angry, exhausted and numb, I ask you to stop and listen. You are being told that what you are doing is no longer working for you.  

The way you are living, the choices you are making on a daily basis as to how you spend your time and energy have now become the problem. You have lost your way and this is what your pain is trying to tell you. 

So where do you go from here?

  • Well, you can choose to ignore the unpleasant feelings until you collapse into a crying heap with the doctor mumbling something about chronic fatigue (this seems to be my preferred way of coping).  
  • You can try to numb and bury those feelings real good with food, alcohol, drugs, affairs, gossip, dramas – both on television and real life, etc (hmm, I think I can claim this method as well).
  • Or you can use these feelings to guide you to your purpose in life. I made that sound pretty easy huh? Well the answer really is just that simple. We are encouraged to find our purpose; find our true/real/authentic selves; find our meaning in life and all for a good reason.

Having a purpose in life is what makes us happy.

How to be happy has been discussed by the greatest minds in the world for centuries. It’s not a new concept or one that I will in any way claim to have made some radical new discovery about. However after working with hundreds of clients from all walks of life I can say with confidence that people who find themselves, who live an authentic life, a life in line with their purpose, are the happiest. Being a psychologist, I have ingrained in me, a deep respect for scientific research, so I can make this claim with a sigh of relief as we now have the research to confirm what we have always known. To find our purpose, our meaning in life is to find ourselves and in turn our path to happiness and joy.   

So all this may sound fine and good but I know from personal experience that you are probably thinking “it doesn’t tell me how to actually find what my purpose is! I am ready to do what it takes! Just tell me what I am meant to be doing?”

I know this because my clients have read every self-help book, listened to hundreds of seminars, watched endless you tube vids hoping that this will be it!
The thing that finally reveals to me my purpose so I can get on with it!
Get on the path that will bring me guaranteed happiness and wealth. 

However this seems to also be where most of us get undone. For we not only want to be taken by the hand and lead to our path, we want a guarantee that our path will bring us guaranteed emotional and financial rewards. Oh, yeah, and if it feels like hard work at any point, then obviously we are not on the right path. Because finding your passion and following your purpose should be effortless and feel good 100% of the time. Right? Many of my clients have spent a lot of time trying to work out what their passion is and feel very confused when they try to work out how their fondness for sex or eating can be turned into a profitable business.

In this day and age, the focus seems to be very much on doing what makes us feel good. Eating cake feels fantastic, however it only feels good while we are eating it, take away the cake (or alcohol, sex, drugs, gossip, etc) and you don’t feel good anymore. In fact, once all these numbing behaviours are gone, you will probably feel worse about yourself. This is how you know if you’re on the right path, it shouldn’t leave you feeling bad at the end of it.

I am talking about finding who you are by paying attention to the things that make you lose all sense of time when you are doing them. Is it when you are following a new and complicated recipe? Or when you have discovered a new bush walk? You may find what you like surprises you. I ask that you simply pay attention without judging. Without asking “now how in the world is this going to make me money?” To find yourself and in turn, find your purpose and find happiness I ask that you pay attention to what gets you in the ‘flow’. While you are engaged in this activity what we are looking for isn’t necessarily just that you feel good. It may be something that challenges you, requires work and effort. When you are engaged in it however time flies. You get lost in what you are doing and time has no meaning. Once it’s done, you feel a deep sense of fulfillment and satisfaction.

So if you are feeling anxious, depressed, angry, exhausted, empty and fantasising about disappearing (and not even caring that you want to disappear) it is time to accept that what you are doing is no longer working for you. I’m guessing that you are spending your time and energy on activities that are not giving you any fulfillment or pleasure. It is time to rediscover your passion for life. It is time to find yourself, by finding what you are interested in and good at. What you like doing just for the sake of it. (We’ll worry about what the point of doing it is later, let’s just work out what gets you in the ‘flow’!)

Please feel free to make comments and suggestions.