Decluttering our homes and lives

Accumulating possessions is not always associated with an improvement in wellbeing. It can actually lead to stress and health issues.

On the other hand, giving, donating and getting rid of stuff are usually described as positive experiences. Decluttering homes even has health benefits.

A new Netflix series, Tidying up with Marie Kondo, brings a powerful message across: organising our homes and offices comes with rewards.

Marie Kondo, dubbed the Japanese Mary Poppins, creates happiness by helping people throw away stuff they don’t need and organise their belongings. As a result relationships seem to improve and families live happier together.

The concept is of course not new, as professional organisers, unclutter clinics and clean-up blogs have been around for a while. But there is something appealing about watching this show.

Whether it is a desire for simplicity, a need to create organised spaces to think, work and live, or just guilt reduction, the slowly disappearing clutter towards the end is satisfying.

Marie Kondo makes decluttering homes, and lives, a fun activity. But she does something else. By asking whether objects spark joy she reminds us about our priorities and what life is all about – something we occasionally forget.

What really matters – Inspiring life lessons

What really matters – Inspiring life lessons

Dying is an intense sad process, but there is another side to it as well: people often take the opportunity to reflect.

As a doctor I have the privilege to talk to people who are nearing the end of their lives. A while back I asked one of my wonderful 85-year old patients what had been most important in her life.

She didn’t need much time to think, and said: “That has to be my family, doctor, and the move from England to Australia with my husband.” Her loved ones, and the journey that changed her life – she couldn’t have been more concise.

I asked myself: what matters most? I found three inspiring life lessons.

#1: Achieving childhood dreams

Randy Pausch was a professor in computer science who died of pancreatic cancer. He became well-known after he gave a lecture titled The last lecture: Really achieving your childhood dreams. It went viral on YouTube.

In the video below Pausch gives another, shorter, inspiring speech to university students about how to live your life well by nourishing relationships with others and expressing passion. Pausch died 68 days after giving the speech.

#2: Don’t be afraid to fail, be afraid not to try

“If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” Apparently Steve Jobs asked this question everyday, and it has become a guiding principle for many. Like Randy Pausch, Jobs was looking for passion: “There is no reason not to follow your heart,” he says in one of his famous speeches. Jobs reminds us that all negatives, like fear of embarrassment or failure, just fall away in the face of death.

#3: Begin with the end in mind

One way of following your heart is to begin with the end in mind. This principle is very similar to Steve Jobs’ philosophy, and it’s habit two of Covey’s famous 7 habits of highly effective people:

(It) is based on imagination – the ability to envision in your mind what you cannot at present see with your eyes. It is based on the principle that all things are created twice. There is a mental (first) creation, and a physical (second) creation. The physical creation follows the mental, just as a building follows a blueprint. If you don’t make a conscious effort to visualize who you are and what you want in life, then you empower other people and circumstances to shape you and your life by default.

Our patients are our best teachers

A patient once told me that he and his wife took their four-wheel drive and caravan five times on a trip around Australia. I said I’d love to do the same one day but that five times was a hard act to follow. He looked at me and replied: “Aim for it.”

When I listen to my terminally ill and elderly patients, they remind me – like Pausch, Jobs and Covey – to keep on trying, follow my dreams and be there for others.

Self confident career planning… a short guide

Dr Jocelyn Lowinger gives us valuable tips about realising our dreams. Great post!


A better way:

What would it be like to get up everyday excited to go to work?

Careers and work are important activities. Most of us need to work throughout our lives. And if we work full time it’s likely to be 40 hours plus a week we spend working. That’s a huge chunk of our waking lives.

Yet how many of us are truly happy at work or find meaning at work?  How many of us get distracted from our dreams and settle for second or third best? How many of us go to work bored and uninspired, wishing things could be different and more exciting? How many of us have a real plan for our careers anyway? Maybe it’s time to find a better way.

Finding self confidence:

Like learning to walk, successful career planning and reaching our career goals takes self confidence, self belief and plenty of persistence. And some…

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The art of accidental happiness

This excellent post from Dr Jocelyn Lowinger appeared this morning. What I like about it is that it challenges the usual way we think about happiness.


Happiness and how to get it

Happiness, and how to get it, certainly seems to be on our minds.

Millions and millions of words have been written about how to be happy and how to find happiness. Books, blogs, websites, apps, memes, tweets…

Psychologists, doctors, counsellors, coaches, researchers, philosophers, religions of all varieties all have something to say about happiness.

We have a whole happiness industry – but is it working?

Certainly feelings of happiness and positive emotion are essential for feelings of wellbeing. Depression and related mental health disorders are  common, around 1 in 6 of us will experience depression at some stage of our lives.* So there does seem to be an urgent need to boost happiness.

But with depression rates so high, are all these millions of words and 10 steps to happiness lists having any effect at all? Perhaps pursuing happiness in itself is the wrong goal altogether?…

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7 amazing health benefits of positive thinking

7 health benefits of positive thinking

“I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 things that do not work.”

This quote from Thomas Edison oozes positive thinking. Optimistic people have a favorable expectancy of their future, and not without reason it seems: studies indicate that optimism leads to a longer, healthier life.

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic identified seven potential health benefits of positive thinking:

  1. Increased life span
  2. Lower rates of depression
  3. Lower levels of distress
  4. Greater resistance to the common cold
  5. Better psychological and physical well-being
  6. Reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
  7. Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress.

We can train ourselves to turn a half-empty glass into a half-full one. Positive thinking is not about ignoring problems. It’s about changing your perception of negative experiences.

Here is a simple exercise to practice positive thinking:

  • Look at what you have achieved on a daily basis. Don’t look at what you could’ve done better
  • Every night write down 3 achievements
  • Try to analyse why they went well
  • Give yourself a compliment for your achievements.

We don’t always control the events in our lives, but we can train ourselves to be more optimistic. And it appears to be healthy too.


The secret of happiness

The secret of happiness

Is the grass always greener on the other side of the fence? Most people will answer ‘no’ to this question. Yet we often want what we don’t have. And against better judgement, we sometimes hope that happiness lives on the other side of the fence too.

The commercial world thrives on selling happiness: it’s not the new phone, car or dress, but the dream of a better life that’s on offer. And we all fall for it, thinking that somehow we will be happier after the purchase.

The reason for this is that we’re not good at predicting what makes us happy. Unfortunately, happiness as a result of a treat, purchase, or even winning the lottery, is short-lived – probably less than three months. Spending money on others makes us happier than spending it on ourselves, according to a study published in Science magazine.

Interestingly, happy people enjoy themselves without expensive treats. One happiness study showed that it’s the simple, cost-free things in life that matter, like listening to music, reading a book, going swimming, or enjoying a hobby.

We can spend a lifetime searching for happiness, not knowing that it’s right on our doorstep – because we’re too busy looking at the grass on the other side of the fence.

What makes you happy? There’s a good chance that it’s an inexpensive, relaxing activity, or an act of kindness.

Live your dreams (don’t wait until tomorrow)

Live your dreams

Over the years I’ve known several people who became ill shortly after their retirement. I remember one hardworking business man who suddenly died after he signed off. He left his wife behind with the tickets for their world trip.

My personal motto is Live your dreams. Our emigration to Australia was part of our dream. My wife and I feel privileged that we have been able to find a place on earth where we are truly happy. I teach my kids to do what they love and to enjoy the journey.

It’s a recurring theme in discussions with patients: how to give passion a place in your life, now, not later. It is easy to do and can be as simple as blocking off a few designated hours every week.

But sometimes I forget. It’s easy to lose myself in daily routines, busy schedules and tight deadlines. The day-to day-business sometimes seems more important that my dreams. There are always plenty of reasons why not to do something I’m passionate about.

So I remind myself, like some businesses do by writing their mission and vision on the wall. My motto appears when I switch on my iPhone (see image).

Make that change in your life that makes you happier and healthier. Take up your old hobby again. Organise the trip you’ve been dreaming about. Whatever it is: start today. Don’t wait until tomorrow.

The secret sauce of health care

The secret sauce of health care

The previous Christmas parties at work were nice. We sat down and were served a nice dinner. There was nice live music. We were fed and entertained – what more can you ask for?

Last year our management team took a different approach. We were not fed. We had to prepare our own food: Select the toppings for our pizza and bake it in the wood fired pizza oven. We waited patiently in line. We were the chefs.

There was no band. We had to sing ourselves – on stage. We were the entertainment. There were sumo suits; there was a gladiator ring. It was the best Christmas party ever.

Participation is fun. It creates a sense of ownership, responsibility and improves team spirit. That’s why social media are so popular. Social media empower us: We have become participants instead of spectators.

This is how it should be in health care. I love it how some of my patients take ownership of their health. They are actively engaged, do research, ask questions and understand their treatment. As a doctor I’m not telling them what to do, but I’m part of the team. It’s also called shared decision making.

Participation is the secret sauce. As health care professionals we must do everything we can to encourage participation.