Feeling Free, Alive and Identity-Wise

MS butterfly chair v.2“In the social jungle of human existence, there is no feeling of being alive without a sense of identity.”

 ~ Erik Erikson

How free and alive are you feeling these days?

If the constraints of “adulthood” have dimmed your enthusiasm or daunted your sense of liberty, you’re hardly alone.

A father of the psychological human development movement and coiner of the popular phrase “identity crisis,” Erik Erikson recognized the link between forging our personal identity and cultivating our sense of vitality.

The early 20th century psychoanalyst, who rose to prominence writing about the human life cycle, touches upon an important point in his above referenced quote. 

When we’re young, we imagine ourselves in unlimited ways. We fearlessly dream up identities of our own choosing and conjure ideas about ourselves that know no bounds.

But as we grow up and conform to what society and others dictate, we can lose our luster in life and also diminish our personal pizzazz.

Maura Sweeney in Foundations of HappinessWhat Childhood Fascinations Can Teach Us

As one who believes we often glean clues to life from early childhood experiences, I thought I’d look into my own past. For example, what wild fascinations did I cherish as a youngster that provide me with veins of vivacity and identity today?

As it turns out, my earliest fantasies about life and identity arose from the air above and the allure of personal flight.

For example, I watched with curiosity as airplanes flew over my childhood home and contemplated what it would feel like to sleep in the sky atop soft, billowy clouds.

Watching Sunday evening episodes of The Wonderful World of Disney,  I yearned to grow a set of wings; I wanted to fly like Tinkerbell. After school reruns played a role, too. Watching Superman take to the air wearing his cape caused me to fashion one of my own using a pillow case cover. I wanted to leap up and out into the great unknown, cruising the sky while streets and tall buildings passed beneath my gaze.

When Flexible Flier TV ads boasted that kids could “fly through the air” in their sneakers, I pleaded with my mom to buy me a pair. If kids on the commercials could jump high and leap above the ground wearing these athletic shoes with a wing logo, then I wanted to do the same. 

Mesmerized by Mary Poppins, I once took a large umbrella into the street on an especially blustery day. In the same way this magical character performed feats of flight in the movie, I tried to take off into the wind, too.

In many ways, the ability to fly fueled my every childhood imagination. The notion inspired my freedom, piqued my fancy and beckoned me toward an inwardly cultivated sense of identity.

As you might imagine, I never grew wings like Walt Disney’s Tinkerbell character. I never jumped as high as those Flexible Flier ads claimed. Neither was I able to fly in that makeshift Superman cape or catch sufficient wind gusts in my umbrella to lift into the air like Mary Poppins.

However, by entertaining those early ideas and retaining an affinity for them, a uniqueness to my identity eventually managed to emerge.

As I took up interests in foreign cultures and found opportunities to travel via the more common wings of jet propulsion, those early musings found alternate means of expression.

I’m sure some find my many air travels too distant, too challenging or, at times, even too boring. But for me, there’s a feeling of expansion and personal exhilaration.

The outgrowth from my childhood fantasies has helped me connect with different people, learn from a variety of perspectives and broaden my knowledge base in ways that traditional academics and a former corporate career could not. Finding ways to entertain that early fascination with flight has both differentiated me from others and kept me tapped into a personally pleasing life force. 

I may have added years to my physical frame, but the spirit within keeps me interested, engaged, and even enlivened at midlife.

Maura Sweeney in Foundations of HappinessTime for You

What inspires one does not inspire all. Though we share several common bonds, we are each invited to employ our own hearts and imaginations to create a life and identity sufficient to call our own.

If you feel a need for greater freedom, vitality or sense of self, I hope you take a few moments for personal reflection. Remind yourself of what your early fascinations looked like.

Then find at least one small way to turn those youthful whims into an adult reality on your own terms today. 

With this theme in mind, may you be inspired by my latest podcast entitled, Who Do You Want to Be?

Maura Sweeney podcast Living Happy Inside OutMaura Sweeney is an International Speaker on Influence, Leadership and Emotional Intelligence

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Podcast 107 Thanksgiving for Gifts in Disguise

Maura Sweeney Podcast Cover“Grief is in two parts. The first is loss. The second is the remaking of life.”

~ Anne Roiphe

It would be great if every gift we received was a welcome one.

Unfortunately, not every “gift” arrives bearing happy sentiments and a reason to celebrate.

At times, we all encounter life-altering situations. They may show up as an illness, the loss of a job, an unexpected divorce or any one of a number of uncomfortable and even gut-wrenching scenarios.

This latest podcast is not designed as a downer. To the contrary, I’m utilizing it as an opportunity to give thanks during the Thanksgiving holidays. We can all find reasons to be thankful for the obvious: a loving relationship, the warmth of a home, the companionship of a beloved pet, the arrival of a new child.

But when holidays arrive and we are hard-pressed to find joy, a podcast like the following may be just what you need in the moment. May this one help you anticipate some unexpected “gifts” from the curve balls that would otherwise daunt your spirit.

What might such gifts look like? 

Consider gain in the midst of loss, increase following diminution, advancement in the process of setback and growth in the process of decrease.

The above statement above reads like a series of contradictions. But with a willingness to brave through uncomfortable and sometimes gut-wrenching life encounters, we can emerge with unexpected gains that might never have received through more common channels.

In the following podcast, I share a personal story of how grief arrived and ultimately brought me gain. Forcing me to face my fears and examine elements of my life that I preferred to ignore, I ultimatly grew in self-knowledge as well as a greater understanding of others.

This Thanksgiving season, you might be facing some of your own fears. You might be presented with a gift you, too, would rather exchange for a better one.

May the following podcast, entitled Thanksgiving for Gifts in Disguise, lift your spirits and help you see yourself through a more hopeful lens.

Your current situation might not immediately change, but the expectation of a brighter, happier and more peaceful you may begin to emerge.

Sending you my wishes for a season of thankfulness as you listen below.

 

Maura Sweeney in Ulcinj MontenegroMaura Sweeney is an International Speaker on Influence, Leadership and Emotional Intelligence

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Podcast 106 Living in Polarity or Peace?

screen-shot-2016-11-15-at-8-49-22-am  “Happiness is a choice. You can choose to be happy. There’s going to be stress in life, but it’s your choice whether you let it affect you or not.”

~ Valerie Bertinelli
 
“You find nice people wherever you go,” my daughter quipped to me last year.
 

She smiled in recognition of my consistent mindset following my return from a luncheon. It was one of several political gatherings I’d attend on both sides of the proverbial fence as our nation moved closer to the 2016 Presidential election.

It’s true, I do find nice people everywhere. But it’s likely because my choice is to view them from the heart and soul rather than see them through polarized or labeling lenses.
 
Admittedly, some people are brash and close-minded but I won’t relegate truculent personalities to one named group or another. When there’s neither inspiration to be gained nor common ground to be discovered, my attention floats to others endowed with higher ideals, bigger ideas and more constructive conversation.
 
As our latest national election has come to a close, I’ve been struck by polarized people in both camps: some who believe they’ve lost and others who think they’ve gained.
 
Days before election day, I bumped into a middle aged friend. He’d endured what he believed was a constant barrage from the “liberal left” painting him as an angry white male and was already bemoaning a Hillary win.
 
“I’ve never been prejudiced, but I’m supposed to feel guilty for being white. If Hillary gets in, the hate speech will only get worse. I’ll be unheard and invisible!”   
 
I understood the man’s feelings, but couldn’t agree with his position.
 
“Why allow anyone in office to daunt the way you feel about yourself?” I asked him. “Never allow a figurehead of any sort to dictate your estimation of self.”
 
Observing some today on the opposite side who feel similarly victimized, minimized and afraid, I’d offer the same advice.
 
Maura Sweeney in Foundations of HappinessProtesting Authority
 
At 9 years old, my fourth grade teacher’s authority loomed over me.
 
With a stern countenance and intimidating air, her presence glowered above from my spot in the front row seat. She’d often call on me, but mostly when I hadn’t raised my hand. She never missed an opportunity to publicly point out my wrong answers.
 
Was she trying to find fault with me? I wondered. 
 
That fall, the teacher remarked unfavorably about my weight as I took my turn to step atop the nurse’s scale. My weight registered above average for a girl my age, but the teacher’s audible remark and outward disapproval added to my shame.
 
Months later, a similar thing happened when she called me to her desk to pick up my class photo.
 
“You must have been afraid when the photographer took your picture,” she remarked, addressing the obviously blank face it bore.
 
I was confused, frightened, distraught. I dreaded getting up for school.
 
Late one afternoon, I literally took matters into my own hand. Using white chalk, I defiantly drew a stick figure of my teacher on the schoolyard asphalt. Attiring her in a triangular dress, I carefully depicted her with an angry glare and a familiar set of eyeglasses.
 
Beneath the image, I wrote a new name for my authority figure: “Mrs. Crappy.”
 
Finishing my art work, I felt somewhat empowered. I’d expressed a personal angst that apparently had no other form of outlet that year. However, my supposedly stealthy protest didn’t go unnoticed. The next morning, I was summoned to the principal’s office.
 
“Did you draw that picture in the schoolyard?” the principal asked.
 
“No,” I lied, now intimidated anew.
 
“Maura, the custodian was cleaning out my office yesterday afternoon and saw you drawing outside the window.”
 
At barely 10 years old, I was busted. Looking out the window at my work, I was forced to fess up.
 
I acknowledged defacing the schoolyard and admitted to unkind name-calling. But I also used this unanticipated opportunity to share some specific instances where I felt treated in a biased fashion by my teacher. I had nothing to lose.
 
Airing my fears, some legitimate and others overblown by imagination, actually worked toward a good outcome. My voice was heard and my position partially acknowledged.
 
“I’ll ask the teacher to move your seat,” the principal offered. “It might be good for you both.”
 
It was.
 
Maura Sweeney in Foundations of HappinessChoose Happiness
 
Life always presents us with opportunities to feel marginalized, demonized and even victimized. But it also presents us opportunities to choose something else. We can see something else and even be something else.
 
Though I suffered emotionally, that fourth grade experience helped me move slightly upward on my path to emotional maturity. Forced to confront my condition and communicate it to a figurehead helped me grow. I felt less voiceless, less victimized, less small.
 
Today I’m grateful. One of several life challenges, it would equip me in transitioning from inward child to self-governing adult. It also helped move me away from polarity.
 
In the above quote, Valerie Bertinelli wisely advises that there will be stress in life. In a polarized world, we can hardly avoid it. Still, it remains our choice as to how we respond. 
 
Designed for peace every day of the year, my latest podcast is for those still struggling with polarizing thoughts on both sides of our latest Presidential election. 
 
 
Maura Sweeney podcast Living Happy Inside OutThere’s always the choice for happiness and I hope you choose it today!
 
Maura Sweeney travels to Asbury Park, NJ Stone Pony + Bruce SpringsteenMaura Sweeney is an International Speaker on Influence, Leadership and Emotional Intelligence

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President Buchanan’s Vision for New Leadership

 

infl-buchanan(NOTE: The following is a chapter excerpt from my upcoming free book entitled, Favorite Leadership Quotes.)

Call me naive or idealistic, but I have always believed in humanity’s inherent greatness. Over the years, I’ve also concluded that humanity’s greatness remains untapped, untested or both.

Living in a comfortable, default mode, most of us are familiar with answering to authorities. We follow well-worn paths of commonality and act as responders rather than creators. Unaware of the greatness living within ourselves, we often fail to mine, develop and share our better qualities with others.

James Buchanan was familiar with leadership, but he was also tested by its mettle. The 15th President of the United States, Buchanan once aspired to become comparable in stature to America’s first President, George Washington.

Progressing from Minister to Russia to Secretary of State and Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Buchanan was on his way to diplomatic stardom. But he was ultimately presented with a momentous challenge, rising to President just prior to his country’s fateful entry into the Civil War.

Confronted with mounting divisions between America’s northern and southern factions, he tried without success to strike common ground. Believing that secession of the states was illegal, he also believed in the illegality of war.

History reports that Buchanan’s inability to relate to the factions in his country left him perpetually branded as one of the worst U.S. Presidents in history.

Maura Sweeney in Foundations of HappinessRewriting History’s Record

Despite his inability to lead others during the 19th century and help them see the proverbial light, Buchanan’s quote speaks today of a man deeply committed to his convictions.

A lawyer by trade, James Buchanan believed strongly in the law and referred to it as his only master.

What sets Buchanan apart for future history was his attempt to elicit higher ideals from both staff and citizenry. He clearly hoped that America’s social conscience would arise, averting blinding bloodshed, economic destruction and deep emotional sorrow.

Though Buchanan failed to elicit the better bounty within mankind at the time, the greatness Buchanan believed in concerning his fellow man still awaits its virtuous manifestation.

Maura Sweeney in Foundations of HappinessJesus, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

I’m easily reminded of the historic Jesus who taught us that the ultimate “kingdom” was to be found “within” us. Others come to mind, like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., who promoted human advancement through inner peace and self-governance rather than boorish behaviors and violence waged against our fellow man.

At some future date, estimations of President Buchanan may be viewed through a higher and more illuminated lens. Buchanan believed in the inherent greatness of his own people, even when they were unable to see it in themselves.

As our human race evolves and becomes sufficiently tempered by brute behaviors and the ill effects of war, historic records may be revised. We may uphold James Buchanan as an early, if misunderstood, political visionary and harbinger of leadership for a more noble order of humanity.

Maura Sweeney in Foundations of HappinessReflections

Like James Buchanan, your present day convictions about humanity’s inherent greatness may deny you popular accolades. Not everyone may respond to the greater behaviors and consciousness you promote, exemplify and elicit.

But your ultimate legacy may burn brighter in years to come.

Beliefs we carry in the inherently better qualities of man will ultimately find their way to the surface. What we see, believe in, and hope for internally communicates emotionally and energetically to those around us, helping to convert the public psyche and also heal its battered subconscious.

As we exude our own greatness, others are offered glimpses of their greater selves and freed to respond in like fashion.

If you’re inspired by quality leadership, give some thought to the idea presented by President Buchanan.

Consider how you, too, might aid others in discovering their own greatness – through elicitation rather than domination.

Maura Sweeney in Foundations of HappinessFor more inspiration on the topic of leadership, check out the following videos:

Take-Aways from Woodrow Wilson’s Childhood Home

Making a Peace Palace Out of You

If You Could Come Back as Anybody

MS photo on Prime TimeMaura Sweeney is an International Speaker on Influence, Leadership and Emotional Intelligence

Subscribe to her podcasts on iTunes, Stitcher and Google Play

Fan her on Huffington Post & Facebook

Follow her on Twitter & Google+

Enroll in her eCourse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Podcast 105 Living With Inspiration

unnamed“Happiness radiates like the fragrance from a flower and draws all good things towards you.”

~ Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

Are you living with inspiration, the fragrance of life that draws all good things toward you?

It’s hard to imagine any of us living long without at least some amount of inspiration. We can think of it as the inhaling of our breath, the expansion of our lungs, the very process that keeps our body functioning every moment of the day.

However, inspiration is so much more. It’s the rarefied and sometimes elusive element that keeps our spirit alive.

If you’ve ever suffered from depression or visited places where despair and desperation reign, you can appreciate the power and role of inspiration. Inspiration brings an ethereal, yet tangible, presence to our awareness and moves us forward, upward and into a better space.

My husband recently decided to drive to Sarasota, Florida where we could take in the sights, sounds and fragrances of the city’s downtown market. While there, we enjoyed live calypso music, sampled flavors from several food stands and I got in my latest dog fix, hugging friendly canines and chatting with proud owners about their beloved pets. The flowers in the above photo captured the pleasant essence of the morning.

The car drive took us only about an hour and downtown parking was free, but the feeling derived from that street market was priceless – and inspirational, too.

Maura Sweeney in Foundations of HappinessRecognizing Inspiring Moments

I’m reminded of being awakened by a similarly inspired moment over 20 years ago.

It was another weekend morning, but back then I was a stay-at-home mom with a toddler. Much of my time was spent cooking in the kitchen, wiping up dog slobber and occasionally strapping my daughter into the baby seat behind me so we could bike around our local suburban neighborhoods.

That morning, we were all out front with the garage doors open to early sunshine and the first hints of fall crispness in the air. My husband alternated between lifting weights, reading the newspaper and sweeping out the garage. Meanwhile, our daughter rolled around the cobble stoned driveway on her Big Wheel as our playful boxer Henri laid pleasantly on the front lawn. Henri liked keeping a guarded eye on Kaley, as if she were her personal charge.

With cup of coffee in hand, I stood somewhere between the garage and the driveway, taking in the sunshine, fresh air and especially the moment.

“Jimmy,” I suddenly noted, “do you realize what a wonderful life we have?”

“We’re doing nothing out of the ordinary, but I feel like heaven has descended upon us. No amount of money could buy the peace I feel right now.”

It was an inspired slice in time connecting me with a sublime sense of equanimity. Posited against a decade of infertility and an often stressful former corporate career, my thought provided me with a deep sense of appreciation. Though firmly grounded to the pavement, my spirit felt elevated, even elated.

There’s nothing more uplifting than touching upon atmospheres that brighten our mind, expand our soul or enrich our senses. However encountered, they remind us that we can hope for more or experience something better.

Maura Sweeney in Foundations of HappinessThe Magic of Inspiration

Inspiration is a highly creative and even magical word. In addition to arousing wonderful emotions, it has the capacity to lift us beyond dilemmas, move us toward solutions and even provide us with divine guidance.

We can all find ways to step into places and spaces of inspiration. Sometimes, we can join in where it already exists. At other times, we can serve as active creators of inspiration for ourselves and others, too.

Tune in here to Podcast 105: Living in Inspiration.

Wishing you all good things that inspiration can bring!

Maura Sweeney in Foundations of Happiness

Thessaloniki Summer and FIMBA copyMaura Sweeney is an International Speaker on Influence, Leadership and Emotional Intelligence

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Podcast 104: The Heart of Generosity

Maura in Assisi Happy“The heart that gives, gathers.”

~ Tao Te Ching

We define generosity through a narrow lens, but it’s a larger concept worthy of reflection.

Generosity is nobility of thought or behavior, the disposition to deliver gifts, entertainment, hospitality or other benefits. Generosity also encompasses our forgiving and gracious attitudes.

In short, generosity reflects the inner self: expansive thoughts, ample intentions and general feelings of unselfishness. As we connect with our liberality of heart, generosity spills over into every aspect of our life.

Musing about the topic, I’m reminded of two members of my extended family: Aunt Helen and Uncle Joe Bernadino. Though Uncle Joe passed a few years ago and, at 96, Aunt Helen is now feeble, this pint-sized couple personified generosity.

They enriched my life and the lives of many others, too.

Maura Sweeney in Foundations of Happiness“It’s a good thing we were thrifty; we didn’t know we’d live this long.”

~ Aunt Helen

The Bernadinos weren’t wealthy by ordinary standards, but they abounded in the wealth of generosity. Born in the earlier part of the 1900’s, the couple brought gusto, giving and a sense of humor with them as they aged.

Classmates in elementary school, their lives took different turns. Uncle Joe left school at age 12 and helped with the family’s trucking business during the Great Depression. Aunt Helen graduated from high school and finished second in her class at Manhattan’s tony Katherine Gibbs.

Divorces on both sides brought the unlikely pair together and they married in their late forties. Though carrying private sorrows, including the death of Aunt Helen’s youngest son, the couple exuded generosity in various ways.

My earliest recollections include the two bringing dinner to my family on Friday nights when we’d drive down to our house at the New Jersey shore. Armed with her apron, Aunt Helen greeted us first. Uncle Joe lumbered behind, carrying a giant pot of “gravy” for “macaroni” dinner.

When my husband and I moved to Florida, the Bernadinos became common — and welcome — fixtures. Their first visit was brief, but meaningful, as Aunt Helen and Uncle Joe insisted on helping us rake fallen leaves in our yard.

Maura Sweeney in Foundations of HappinessLife Enrichment from the Generous

The Bernadinos’ generosity of spirit imprinted their lives upon us in diverse ways.

Aunt Helen offered to prepare dinner on their first visit, but I proudly informed her I was cooking.

“What are you sauteing those chicken breasts in?” she asked me, peering into my fry pan an hour later.

“Water,” I responded.

“Water?” she bellowed, appalled that good chicken could be treated so poorly. “Put some fat in there or you’ll have no taste!”

Aunt Helen was bold and audacious, but never bossy.

Two days later, she stepped into our garage, flapping a white undergarment in the air.

“Something is wrong with your dryer,” she announced. “Look at my girdle! It’s been spinning on high for an hour and it’s still wet.”

Uncle Joe’s handyman skills came to the rescue. Within minutes, Aunt Helen returned, this time displaying what looked like a massive pillow. “Uncle Joe pulled this out of your dryer. When’s the last time you cleaned out the lint remover?”

I didn’t know I had a lint remover, but I was spared a future broken dryer.

Maura Sweeney in Foundations of HappinessThe Bernadinos visited us nearly every year, taking up short-term winter residence in each of our successive homes. Aunt Helen presided over the kitchen and lovingly prepared her home made soups and “gravies”. Retired from his garbage collection business, Uncle Joe took charge of the trash, binding, compressing and recycling like a professional.

Though adept at my corporate job, I was deficient in domestic skills. Aunt Helen delighted in teaching me her recipes and supervised my progress like a proud master chef.

Uncle Joe introduced us to his cousin “Dolly” who lived in our area who would drop by for lunch, laughs and delivery of her exceptionally light cheesecake. The Bernadinos loved when company arrived at our home and even joined us on outings.

“What do your friends want with us oldies?” Aunt Helen would laugh just before jumping into our car with Uncle Joe. Friends remember them fondly, reminiscing about Uncle Joe’s easy jokes and Aunt Helen’s lack of filter: “You’re 35? How come you’re not married yet?”

Mostly, however, friends remain touched by the genuine interest Aunt Helen and Uncle Joe took in their lives.

The last time I visited the couple at their New Jersey condo, Uncle Joe was losing his sight but pointed proudly to a plaque on the wall.

“Remember that?”

I’d forgotten.

Heralding back to the early 1990’s, the inscription read Honorary Award for Culinary Excellence, Presented to Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Bernadino. Following an awards night highlighted by music and entertainment, members of my staff called Aunt Helen and Uncle Joe to the platform to receive the plaque of appreciation.

The honorary plaque found its genesis when Aunt Helen and Uncle Joe learned I was hosting a celebratory gala for my staff. “Why pay caterers when you can have us do the cooking for you?” they protested.  The result was a fabulous feast for an appreciative corporate gathering.

Years later, what remained for the Bernadinos was the joyous knowledge of having contributed something of their souls to a group of young people.

Whatever you’re capable of doing, giving or sharing, never underestimate the power and happiness that arises from generosity. 

Listen here to Podcast 104: Are You Generous?

Maura Sweeney in Foundations of HappinessFor additional resources on thinking generously:

Meet Aunt Helen and Uncle Joe in this video entitled, Who Says You Can’t Live?

A video entitled, Love Letters

My cemetery video entitled, Honoring Others Now

Maura4u Adriatic KeyholeMaura Sweeney is an International Speaker on Influence, Leadership and Emotional Intelligence

Subscribe to her podcasts on iTunes, Stitcher and Google Play

Fan her on Huffington Post & Facebook

Follow her on Twitter & Google+

Enroll in her eCourse

Podcast 103: Creating Our Own Culture

ateam“A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.”

~ Mahatma Gandhi

If you’re anything like me, you’ve found yourself — at least once — encased in a vacuum desperately crying out for culture!

We rarely use the word culture in its more traditional sense, but it’s worth bringing up today.

As our larger society flounders amid strife, confusion and a lack of common vision, culture can be a heady term to recall. We can revive its aroma and redeploy its presence, creating greater happiness in our personal lives and in the world beyond.

Think of culture as the beliefs, behaviors, customs, arts, etc., of a society, place, or even time. When employed at its best, culture is the atmosphere of collective thought that energizes people to improve themselves from within while creating progressively positive outcomes that benefit all.

Maura Sweeney in Foundations of HappinessDefault Mindlessness v. Culture Creation

Ever consider the movies, TV shows, advertisements or even news reports we watch? Most of us grow familiar with presiding ideas and opinions and begin to consider them our own.

It’s easy to fall into default mode. Assimilating into familiar atmospheres, we descend into social, intellectual and even emotional slumber. Rather than awakening to our own sense of what’s better, brighter or even happier, we surrender to prevailing ideas and behaviors.

Few of us realize that the power to create and improve culture lies within us.

With mindfulness and good intentions, we can help cure what exists in destructive or damaging cultures and serve as catalysts to spiral them back up again. Whether it’s in our family, school, office or community environment, we can insert new ideas, inspire creativity, contribute talents or merely exude a healing presence.

Maura Sweeney in Foundations of HappinessMy Foray into Culture Creation

Musing recently, I was brought back to earlier times when culture proved important for me and my well-being. At 17, I remember realizing how important it was for me to choose a college whose culture would help me grow into healthy adulthood.

But I also recalled the flip side, the first time I needed to create a culture rather than absorb myself into an existing one.

The photo above captures that story. I’m the 27-year-old Branch Manager smiling broadly in the center of six, equally smiling, colleagues. Joined by our seven significant others as guests, we were celebrating a week’s vacation aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise, courtesy of our Chicago-based corporate employer.

Though guests of honor, others on the ship, including top executives, were unaware of our past.

Less than two years earlier, we were orphaned sales reps at a newly installed Florida field office. With barely three months on the job, our manager received a promotion and left me behind to fill his very experienced shoes.

Personal crises can wake us up, and this one did so for me. Tasked with navigating a future for our fledgling sales office, I needed to cultivate a winning culture — even though I couldn’t imagine one!

Combining desperation and grit, I swallowed my fears and stepped into a leadership role that mostly everyone in the office wanted – except me. From a business perspective, we lacked brand awareness. Our company also carried the distinction of charging some of the highest prices in the marketplace.

On the personal side, I faced peer pressure as fellow employees ignored me during sales meetings. A top producing rep told me she resented my getting the manager’s job and decided to quit. But saddled with a new mortgage at home and determined to forge forward in a quest that could benefit us all, I cultivated my own sense of culture. Over time, my leadership skills developed as I encouraged and promoted the talents and contributions of others.

Accepting the Chairman’s Award in 1986, I was thrilled to have three sales reps, two major account managers, and a sales manager I’d promoted into my previous position with me from our office. Though several staff members remained behind, we knew our individual and collective success was felt and shared by all.

I may have launched the culture, but others contributed to our winning dynamic. Together, we’d created excellence in a positive, fun-filled and supportive environment.

Maura Sweeney in Foundations of HappinessSummary and Podcast

Seeing ourselves as culture creators, we can all become living beacons to others.

Through purposeful intentions, we can exercise our better selves to model, support and benefit the greater community. Specifically, we can give more of ourselves for the greater good, engaging dormant talents and infusing innovative solutions to what’s presently plaguing our popular psyche.

Whether you awaken through personal crisis like me or merely perceive lack in a cultural vacuum, you can do your part to create a finer culture.

As you become a culture creator, plan to discover greater purpose, satisfaction and a bit more joy in life, too!

Listen here or click the bar below to hear Podcast 104: Are You Creating Culture?

Maura Sweeney in Foundations of HappinessFor additional resources on what it takes to create your own culture:

My Mothers’ Day Video entitled, The Song of Your Life.

My video from the U.S. Naval Academy entitled, Rites of Passage.

My blog and video with TV butler Charles MacPherson entitled, Nobility of Service.

Maura Sweeney at The Hague Maura Sweeney is an International Speaker on Influence, Leadership and Emotional Intelligence

Find her podcasts on iTunes, Stitcher and Google Play

Fan her on Huffington Post & Facebook

Follow her on Twitter & Google+

Enroll in her eCourse

 

Podcast 102: Following the Essence of Your Life

neighborhoodfriends_fotor“Friends are the siblings God never gave us.”

~ Mencius

Our life, our happiness and the very font of our desires are discovered and displayed as we connect with our personal essence.

For those seeking greater happiness but have never thought about their own essence, consider the concept now.

Essence is described as the quality or qualities of a thing that give it identity. It relates to something spiritual rather than tangible and feels something akin to one’s unique aroma or scent. The ancient roots of essence find their meaning in the Latin word esse, meaning, simply, to be.

In a chaotic world consumed by externalization — busyness at work, frenzied commitments, conflicts on all sides — it’s easy to lose touch with our simple state of being. Not surprisingly, it’s that inner being the leads us to the essence of our life and the source of our joy and satisfaction.

Maura Sweeney in Foundations of HappinessFinding Our Essence

Searching for a photo that captured my own essence, the above image immediately came to mind. That’s me third from the left, a smiling preschooler standing with excitement among neighborhood friends and my younger brother.

As I look back to my earliest years, it’s easy for me to connect with my essence. I felt most joyful, most alive and at my most natural when surrounded by other people. Playing in our neighborhood cul-de-sac with friends was golden, going to kindergarten to meet new classmates, and attending large family gatherings filled my heart with an inner sunshine. Daydreaming about meeting friends from other parts of the world also filled me with wonder; for me, there material replacements could not compare with being in the presence others.

The words of ancient Chinese philosopher Mencius in the above quote captures the essence of who I am. I see others as distant relatives or, more specifically, as siblings God never gave me. Whether writing, speaking, engaging with or interviewing others, everything I do today finds its source and inspiration from that simple essence.

If you’ve been feeling empty, exhausted or dis-spirited, I hope you listen in to my latest podcast. In it, I talk more about essence and offer a few ways in which you can access your own!

Click the bar below or right here to listen to podcast 102: Following the Essence of Your Life.

Find and follow your own essence and, in doing so, discover your own breath of happiness and life!

Maura Sweeney in Foundations of HappinessMaura Sweeney is an International Speaker on Influence, Leadership and Emotional Intelligence

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Podcast 101: Be Your Own Kind of Cookie

unnamed“All good things which exist are the fruits of originality.” 

~ John Stuart Mill

You don’t have to come from the “cookie cutter generation” to appreciate this most recent, lighthearted podcast. Anyone who has been conformed to a mass-produced, prefabricated shape — whether via occupation, lifestyle or mindset — knows what it means to feel like a copy rather than an inspired original.

Cookies provide a great analogy for life.

As humans, we’re all part of the same batter. In typical fashion, we’ve also been carved out and patterned in specific ways. For example, we’re defined and codified by our respective outer worlds that include our religious, cultural, economic and educational backgrounds.

As children, we each possessed a bit of sparkle, a natural sense of originality. There was a “more” factor within us desiring to be expressed and experienced!

Somehow, the conforming factors and experts in our sub-societies knew better. And we complied and conformed ourselves to fit in.

By the time we grew up, we forgot about our inner selves. We were no longer mindful of the untapped parts of us that could give place to those individual leanings, talents and ideas. We settled into familiar comfort zones and turned into copies of our environment rather than original versions of ourselves.

We’ve left unbaked parts of our personalities and brilliance in our proverbial kitchen.

If you’ve ever wanted to step out of conformity or exercise a bit more creativity in life, I hope you’ll enjoy this easy listening podcast. In it, you’ll be introduced to my zumba instructor Debbie Rivas and to Tampa author Brenda Martin. They are two women whose lives have continued to evolve over time and who are happy being their own kind of cookie today!

Click here or on the bar below for Podcast 101: Be Your Own Kind of Cookie.

  Be inspired to decorate your own life with originality and discover a savor and flavor bringing you extra happiness from the inside – out!

Maura Sweeney in Foundations of HappinessMS photo on Prime TimeMaura Sweeney is an International Speaker on Influence, Leadership and Emotional Intelligence

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Over the Rainbow to Happiness

Judy Garland quote from Maura Sweeney at Maura4u.com

Want to be happier in life?

Step over the rainbow.

If you’re wondering how to take this metaphorical leap, consider two synergistically inspiring items from legendary singer and actress Judy Garland.

The first is her above quote which makes a case for authenticity. The other is her unforgettable performance singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow in the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz.

Garland’s quote and song convey the same message: a happier and loftier life experience awaits us as we step out and over our proverbial rainbow.

But how to do it?

We do it by taking a quantum leap and acting upon a belief system that lies within.

Maura Sweeney in Foundations of Happiness

Early Aspirations v. Conformity to an “Adult” World

Can you remember yourself  as a youngster? Back then, you effortlessly connected with the enlightened belief in a brilliant and benevolent world. It was easy to trust in the beauties of a sublime life; childhood innocence needs little prompting to be drawn into the finer attributes of goodness.

Over time, however, many childhood dreams were forced to fade. They were programmed to submit to wearisome ideas, to surrender to voices appealing to “grown up” reasoning.

We’ve ultimately conceded our aspirations, lost much of our natural joy and adapted ourselves to a lesser world. It’s no wonder that societal norms have turned our previously magnanimous hearts into darkened shadows of a defeated, if unwitting, prey.

We’ve been beaten down by naysayers who already succumbed to mediocrity and unwittingly convinced us to do the same. We’ve also been daunted and taunted by demigods laying claim to their rarefied spaces in the world. Rather than welcoming innovative ideas or new contributors, they’ve guarded their positions. So human hearts have sunk as faulty power structures remained intact, unquestioned and unchallenged.

Maura Sweeney in Foundations of Happiness

Serving the Status Quo v. Stepping into the Bigger Self

Serving the status quo contributes to a state of unhappiness. It stifles our soul, quenches our hope and denies us the dawning of a brighter and more abundant life today.

We can remain within the these limiting frontiers or launch out to the inner — and outer — experience of pioneering growth. We can answer the call for more when it beckons us to cross over the rainbow.

Perhaps you’ve been moved by Judy Garland’s Dorothy character in The Wizard of Oz. Your inner hopes for happiness and self-manifestation cannot be fully extinguished. Like her, you’ve refused to accept the limiting perspective presented by a fearful, dark and lackluster world and you feel destined to experience more.

Serving the status quo versus stepping out is a life story to be played out by us all.

As moviegoers, we can smile in assent as the young Dorothy returns to the wonderful and beloved world she once left behind. We remind ourselves while watching, “See! I knew she would eventually return beyond the rainbow, back to her heart’s true home.”

What we should also discover is that Dorothy’s journey over the rainbow and on her way back home tells everyone’s tale of personal growth and enrichment. Her story provides the universal parable of our belief in the unseen and our faith in the eternal paradise of the heart.

At the film’s beginning, Judy Garland’s young Dorothy character is prayerfully singing about traveling “somewhere” over the rainbow. She can’t lay physical claim to it, but her heart knows the veracity of that elusive place.

Watching Garland’s character, we learn the “how to’s” of a return home to our greater heart space. We observe Dorothy activate her courage, leverage her wits, develop new relationships and confront the curtains of presumptive authority. In facing the fiery trials of doubts and fears, Dorothy tests her own mettle and presses ever forward in her inner belief.

Eventually, the tentative, perplexed and childish Dorothy matures and metamorphoses into a first rate version of her grander self.

Maura Sweeney in Foundations of Happiness

Making Your Personal Leap

Watching the purposed character in Oz, we’re not to know exactly how Dorothy leaps across a rainbow to reach the bigger dream burning in her heart. We’re never quite sure of the exact deed she did or the moment when she transcended the last daunting thought poised to tame her emboldened spirit.

Yet, inwardly, we understand how Dorothy’s quest to return to a superior and loving society eventually becomes her new experience. It’s the process, rather than the details, that transformed her dreams to reality. And it’s the emboldened spirit that prompted a first rate version of her character to manifest.

We are all a microcosm of Judy Garland’s quote calling forth our truer self.

Inwardly, our hearts still aspire. We yearn for the fuller life our childlike imaginations prepared for us. Our spirits, in truth, don’t want to settle for second-rate versions of ourselves.

But a personal leap of faith is required to embody Judy Garland’s Dorothy character. We must step out to “un-do” our acquired trainings and beliefs. We must intentionally pierce through our tangled labyrinth of social, mental and emotional barriers.

We know our personal happiness and first-rate self awaits each of us Somewhere, Over the Rainbow. Here’s your personal reminder:

Best wishes for happiness as you step over the rainbow and claim a first rate version of yourself, too! 

Maura Sweeney in Foundations of Happiness

Maura in Istanbul Happy

Maura Sweeney is a popular Media Guest and an International Speaker on Influence, Leadership and Emotional Intelligence

Find her podcasts on iTunes, Stitcher and Google Play

Fan her on Huffington Post & Facebook

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