Stanford's Fred Luskin Advises Forgiveness as a Strategy for Self-Care

Each December as another year winds down, I reflect on:

  • The lows of the year – and what lessons I learned from difficult situations. 

  • The highs of the year – and what momentum I gained from making progress toward my goals.

  • Gratitude for the year — and for the human experience. Deepak Chopra reminds us that we are the only species who experiences full conciousness. The lows and highs are part of that experience.

I help my clients facilitate this process for themselves through a series of exercises, but I’ve realized this year that something was missing. I’m adding another category into the mix:

  • Forgiveness – a process of accepting the people or situations that have caused us discomfort and suffering

Ironically, my last blog post was about vulnerability. I must have subconsciously chosen to write about vulnerability before forgiveness because it is the appropriate pre-requisite. In order to forgive, we must get vulnerable enough to break down the emotional walls we’ve built to protect ourselves. We must stare anger or grief directly in the face and re-experience the pain. Dealing with the messy stuff is the first step toward forgiveness. You can’t go around it, you have to go through it. 

To understand forgiveness a bit more, I’m choosing to spotlight another one of my favorite thought leaders from this year’s World Happiness Summit. My third and final WoHaSu recap features Dr. Fred Luskin, researcher and Director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project.

Dr. Fred Luskin

Dr. Fred Luskin

Dr. Luskin applies his forgiveness methods to people suffering from deep resentment and anger. He has helped many people improve their lives including those who have experienced emotional trauma as a result of violence in Northern Ireland, Sierra Leone, and the September 11 attacks. 

The starting point of forgiveness, Dr. Luskin says, is to admit the inevitability of pain. Basically, there is no human who is exempt from getting hurt. So, his next question is logical: if we know people are going to hurt us, why have we not built the skill of feeling pain without having to make someone our enemy? 

“I had a close friend betray me and I was upset at him for years,” Luskin said. “It was in the midst of this, that I realized I had a real problem. There is something really troubling about not being able to get over something and being stuck in it for so long. Rather than looking at ourselves or our habits to try to ease suffering, we find reasons outside of ourselves to blame for our unhappiness,” he says.

The explanation for this begins with our biological wiring. Neurologically, our initial instinct is to protect ourselves from harm. When we feel threatened, our defense mechanism is to attack, run away or shut down. 

But we can’t blame the brain’s threat response for what we put ourselves through during the days, weeks and years that follow. While it is normal to go through a brief threat response when someone hurts us, it transitions to abnormal when we allow that stress response to linger. We allow the pain to remain a prominent part of our lives by holding onto stories that reflect the worst parts of our experiences. 

If you have someone in your life that has caused you pain — a broken-heart, betrayal, abandonment, shame, violation or rejection, — you are allowed to feel angry, sad, anxious, jealous, insecure, or any of the other negative emotions that come as a result of being hurt by another person. Dr. Luskin isn’t saying that your feelings aren’t justified toward the other person. Rather, he offers this harsh truth: it’s not the other person’s fault that you’re not skilled at self-soothing. Therefore they can’t be blamed for your longer term unhappiness. 

Dr. Luskin offers this alternative path to forgiveness:

  1. Alter your expectation of trust in other people. He says the only thing we can trust other people to do, is to act like themselves. Once you remove expectations, you see people for who they really are.

  2. Know your deal breakers – in other words, the boundaries that you are unwilling to compromise on. The next time someone hurts you and it’s not in the deal breaker category, consider the choice you have to allow your mind to process the pain and move on, as opposed to allowing the pain to dictate your relationship with that person indefinitely.

  3. Going forward in your relationships, notice if you have a habit of looking for someone’s good qualities or if you gravitate toward the “negative” stuff that annoys you about them. Notice if you spend more time “armoring up” to make sure someone doesn’t hurt you or if you spend more time actively finding the things that are good about people.

Notice how my summary of Dr. Luskin’s forgiveness advice doesn’t include saying, “I forgive you” to the other person. There is a reason for this. Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. While saying “I forgive you,” is absolutely an option, Dr. Luskin says offering forgiveness is more of an internal process. “It’s the experience of finding peace for yourself,” he says. 

When we forgive for the goal of being at peace, we become empowered. We don’t automatically require better behavior from our offender because we are in charge of how we think about this person, and thus, in charge of the degree to which they impact us. We can make the choice to move on whether or not our offender changes. This is not to suggest that you can’t have a conversation with the person about what they did to hurt you and how you can repair the relationship. That is one option. But the larger point Dr. Luskin makes is that when you decide to forgive a person, it’s your chance to take back your own power rather than be victim to the situation. Your act of forgiveness provides you with a fresh start and new possibilities that are all in your control.

Members of Dr. Luskin’s forgiveness project have found ways to stop blaming other people for problems in their life. We can all do the same if we choose to release the bitterness and resentment we’ve created in our heads.

Fortunately, these last few weeks of the year serve as a timely opportunity to use forgiveness as a self-care strategy. As you transition to a new year and a fresh start, why not take Dr. Luskin’s advice and begin your own forgiveness process as one step toward emotional wellbeing.

Lessons from Bridgette Corridan (and Brené Brown) on Vulnerability

Bridgette Corridan

Bridgette Corridan

My second World Happiness Summit influencer is Bridgette Corridan. Bridgette is the Senior Manager of Talent Acquisition at Athleta, a musician, wife and mother living in California with her family. While we come from different places, we are kindred souls, and I am so happy to know her as my mentor. At the summit, she spoke as part of a panel about finding happiness at work, where she cited vulnerability as a life changing technique.

First, since many people believe vulnerability to be a sign of weakness, I should clarify what ‘being vulnerable’ really means. Leading vulnerability researcher, Brené Brown defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.” She’s talking abouta person’s ability to be open to an experience, even if they feel uncomfortable or believe they might ‘fail.’ 

There are many ways to do this. One way is to talk about your real emotions or beliefs to others (even if it is uncomfortable or you don’t know how people will respond). It’s tough to do that when we’re terrified about what people might see or think. When we’re fueled by the fear of what other people think or that voice that’s constantly whispering, “you’re not good enough” in our ear, it’s tough to show up. We end up hustling for our worthiness rather than standing in it.

Bridgette is a firm believer that you don’t always have to be buttoned up and have your sh** together. The buttoned up you isn’t the real you. So when you are courageous enough to expose your raw self, not only do you learn, but others will learn from you and relate to you.

Another way of tapping into vulnerability is to expose yourself to new and different experiences from others. Getting out of your comfort zone is not a new concept, but is the right piece of advice for someone wanting to learn how to be vulnerable. Allow yourself to take that new photography course despite your fear of not being good at it. Apply for a new job even though you have no traditional industry experience on paper. Meet new people outside of your race, social-economic status, religion, culture, even though they are not like you. Travel internationally and absorb the nuances of diverse cultures. Attend plays, concerts, comedy shows, speeches, debates or meetings that conflict with your beliefs. I could go on, but you get it. All of these actions require vulnerability.

Doesn’t sound that painful, right? Unfortunately, the stigma around vulnerability prevents many people from experiencing its benefits. Rigidity, uniformity, and constant preparedness avoid the risk of something uncomfortable happening, yes, but those small, closed behaviors also avoid growth. Brené says, “growth comes from being vulnerable. When you shut down vulnerability, you shut down opportunity.” 

For Bridgette, she is using vulnerability as a strategy for positive change in her organization. In business, she believes vulnerability has a dual benefit for the employee and the employer. Leading through vulnerability encourages employees to release emotional barriers that they put up out of fear of being judged as weak or unsuccessful. Once those walls come down, employees feel a stronger connection to the company, trust their leaders, and feel the intrinsic satisfaction of showing up as their true selves at work. Everyone wins. 

At Athleta, Bridgette is using vulnerability to transform the hiring process. She’s changed the old school interview method of drilling into the candidate using targeted questions. Instead, she starts with an overview of who she is and why she connects with the company mission. She uses vulnerability to expose her authentic self to the candidate. She doesn’t necessarily know if she will be successful or how the candidate will respond, but she opens herself up to learn. Bridgette says the candidate is usually visibly surprised at this approach and the tension subsides. She then gives space for the candidate to offer their summary of who they are and why they are interested in the position. As the candidate has just seen Bridgette reveal her real self, they see she is not just a canned company robot, and they are able to mirror her vulnerability to reveal their true story. She can usually tell at that moment if the candidate is the right fit. In the end, the recruiting experience becomes authentic, not contrived. There is no doubt that both parties walk away having learned something new.

Still for many people, being vulnerable is not only uncomfortable; it’s not even in the realm of familiar. Brené says, “I was raised in a ‘get ‘er done’ and ‘suck it up’ family and culture. I wasn’t taught how to deal with uncertainty or how to manage emotional risk. I spent a lot of years trying to outrun or outsmart vulnerability by making things certain and definite, black and white, good and bad. My inability to lean into the discomfort of vulnerability limited the fullness of those important experiences that are wrought with uncertainty: love, belonging, trust, joy, and creativity to name a few.”

I believe that whatever your experience with vulnerability has been to date, it is never to late to let go and lean in. Bridgette reminds us that there is no one right way to be vulnerable. She says, “start where you are because all we can do is learn, stumble and move forward.” If you’ve never done something before, there is a big chance you may make a mistake. Vulnerability reminds us mistakes don’t have to be good or bad, they are inevitable. The beauty of this approach is that the pressure subsides because you can switch things up mid-stream. "The times that you decide to change your approach are not because you did something ‘wrong,’ those are moments of self-realization.”

Bridgette definitely walks the talk on this. She recently shared a story with me about the process of creating her new album, and the struggles she had holding herself accountable to practice her voice scales. She was tempted to blame her voice coach for her lack of success, but knew she needed to lean into this discomfort and continue embracing the fear. “Blaming others for not being able to show up as your true self is a cop out. Showing up as your fullest, brightest self is where your power lies.”

Thank you Bridgette (and Brené) for reminding us to let go of labels and expectations, and lean in. 

Happiness Summit Recap: Featuring Mo Gawdat

At the end of March, I attended the World Happiness Summit, an international conference that brought together leading researchers, academics and entrepreneurs in the well-being industry to talk all things happiness. May is mental health awareness month, so I wanted to this month’s blog update to be the first of a 3-part series featuring 3 of my most impactful influencers from the summit. 

mo.jpg

First up, Mo Gawdat. Formerly the chief business officer of Google, Mo turned his life on its head to become somewhat of a happiness missionary. Mo suffered the unexpectedly tragic loss of his son and he began to question the way he had been leading his life. He had achieved incredible career success, travelled the world, and owned 17 cars, but was increasingly unhappy. To honor the memory of his son’s positive outlook on life, Mo quit the rat race and began researching the true meaning of happiness. As an engineer, he redefined his own happiness formula using simple mathematics principles, which led him to write an amazing book called Solve for Happy. He's since committed to exposing as many people as possible to what he learned. In my five years of studying happiness, Mo has brought me refreshing inspiration, and is now my new favorite thought leader of the industry. 

Here's my summary of Mo’s top 3 tips:

1.    Expectations vs. Reality: It’s easy to be happy when things are going according to your plan. But what happens when things don’t go our way? This is where the true personal development ‘work’ begins. Mo says that most of the time, we become unhappy because what’s going on in reality doesn’t meet our expectations of what we want. So we end up feeling disappointed. Our brain is constantly comparing moment-by-moment events to our expectations of how we expect them to be. This happens approximately 60,000 times per day! If you always have high or unrealistic expectations for certain people, scenarios or events in your life, you may be in a perpetual state of disappointment, which leads to an overarching feeling of unhappiness. To get out of this cycle, we can use tactics like mindfulness to re-adjust our filters so we can actually see life as it unfolds instead of wishing it were something else. Mindfulness teaches us the power of objectivity. When we see things exactly as they are, without attaching our biases, judgments or our labels, we are freed to be curious and interested in what’s going on just as it is. This frame of mind opens us up to learn from reality, instead of getting caught up in the emotion of why there isn’t something better.

2.    Suffering Machines: ITS NOT OUR FAULT! We are built to suffer. Every 7 seconds the human brain scans for threats, what’s not working or what’s going wrong. In his book, Solve for Happy, Mo quotes Rick Hanson from UCBerkley who famously says, negativity sticks like Velcro to your brain, while positive experiences slip off like Teflon. This fact alone is powerful, because it shows us that the reason we get angry, annoyed, anxious or frustrated is because it is our autopilot biological nature to do so. But those who do nothing to work against that are choosing to remain in that state of suffering. We must build consistent habits around acceptance, gratitude and optimism if we want to override the autopilot. 

3.    Choosing Happiness: Doing things that make you “happy” are typically the simplest things. Happiness doesn’t have to be some unattainable mecca, which we often think it must be. Mo says he realized he was happiest when he has the ability to express himself clearly, drink a quiet cup of coffee, and spend time with people he loves. He realized those things are simple and more importantly, repeatable. So the he created his “happy list,” and carved out time each day to do those things. 

These nuggets are a small sampling of life lessons from Mo. He realized the chase of money, status and contrived career moves wasn't intrinsically meaningful. And so he dug deep to solve the questions that so many spend a lifetime trying to answer. That type of awakening is life changing. But it takes commitment and daily practice to be able to challenge the illusions we've created for ourselves. While our stories and paths are vastly different, I relate to Mo's ability to question everything he knows - and that is why he is now one of my most influential mentors. Mo’s passion to live in this new way has taken him on a mission to help show one billion people how worthwhile it is to find their own happiness. You can visit his website, onebillionhappy.org for more info.

Stay tuned for the second of my top three happiness influencers from the World Happiness Summit, coming out in my June update.


Like what you've read? Want to learn more about the science of happiness? 

Click here to register for my new workshop at Torc Yoga featuring many of the happiness concepts that Mo discusses. How to be Happy will review the latest research from the World Happiness Summit and help you decide what practical happiness habits you want to incorporate into your life! Even better, Snap Kitchen is partnering with us to provide a healthy lunch!

The Deets:

Saturday, June 16

1 – 3 p.m. 

Torc Yoga (31 S 2nd St. Philadelphia, PA)

$25 early bird rate until May 31


Announcing Brand New Life Coaching Packages for Women

It has been a while since I wrote a blog post. Let me catch you up. You know about how my life shifted in a major way when I found the field of Positive Psychology, and how it took me some time, but I pivoted my career so that I could be constantly immersed in the science of happiness, practicing it for myself and teaching others how to flourish. Since I started Her Savory Life, I always focused on sharing my experiences with women in their search for personal development and life satisfaction. And then, earlier this year, I became a Certified Professional Coach, so I could facilitate a systematic and more in-depth personal growth process with women who want to change their lives.

Click the image for details about the coaching packages and to sign up.

Click the image for details about the coaching packages and to sign up.

I’m living a combined personal mission to live a conscious life with an even more powerful professional mission to help young women do the same for themselves. 

What do I mean by conscious? Consciousness is another word for awareness. Awareness might sound like a simple concept, but words really don't do it justice. When you experience this way of living, every moment of every day is a choice – an opportunity to make intentional decisions. Consciousness let’s us choose to think, feel, say or act in a way that feels meaningful and authentic. But this is not how we’re wired. When we’re on autopilot day in and day out, we’re pretty unconscious – stuck in our routines and going through the motions (unless you are the person who jumps out of bed with excitement each day)! When life seems unfair or hard, and we want to react by giving up or giving in, consciousness gives us the choice to regain control, even when it seems we have none. The most powerful saying I’ve lived by lately is that “no one can make you feel any way.” So when we feel stuck, unhappy, scared, anxious, worried or sad – emotions that are even more relevant today in this country – consciousness gives us the power to change that feeling without blaming other people or falling victim to a defeatist mentality.

And this is the power of the service I now provide. I’ve launched my own coaching services for women to help them design their own conscious way of living based on what they want out of life. Together, we identify and change the things in their lives that no longer serve them or make them happy. We add new plans and habits that alter the trajectory of their lives. The women I work with want better things from themselves. They don’t want to settle for anyone or anything. They don’t want to wake up years down the road regretting the risks they didn’t take. They don’t want to dread going to work. They don’t want toxic people to influence them. They don't want to feel obligated to live up to people's expectations. They don't want to be guilted into making decisions that don't align with their values. They don’t want fear to rule their lives.

My clients don’t want life to happen to them, they want to happen to their lives. 

In that vein, I am “retiring the name” Her Savory Life as the title of this blog. Her Savory Life has been a chapter of my journey for nearly four years, which all started the day I decided my intuition was too loud to ignore. The name Her Savory Life began as an exploration of self. I wrote about slowing the hamster wheel of life and questioning my blind adherence to societal milestones. I wrote about redefining a warped version of success that was based on what looked good on paper. Her Savory Life was the forcing function for me to savor life’s moments and release my grip a bit. My writing then morphed into a mantra for women that I spread through workshops and talks. The mantra was based on living by your authenticity instead of trying to blend in. It was about savoring the experience instead of yearning for the destination. 

I am grateful to my Her Savory Life experience. Like a slow winding stream, it floated me to where I am today. Now, its time for the platform to evolve. I intend to use this blog for updates and info about mental and emotional wellness research and strategies.

In addition, I am excited to formally announce the release of 2 new private coaching packages for women in their early 20’s to 40’s who are facing pivotal moments in their lives.

Click here to see the packages!

I am providing the service that I wished I’d had 4 years ago at the beginning of my self-exploration, life goal setting and personal/professional transitions. It would have been so empowering to have an objective support system teaching me about how my brain works so I could use it to my advantage. Sometimes as women, we need to get out of our own heads and ask for help.

In honor of the launch of these 2 packages, I will be offering one complementary coaching session for women interested in learning more.

Click here to schedule your free session!

Want Inner Fulfillment? Lead a Value-Based Life

For as long as the topic of happiness has been studied, there has been a corresponding theory that states one can only truly be satisfied with life if they are inwardly happy with themselves. To be happy with yourself individually without reliance on anything or anyone else, is a complex topic (and much of the inspo behind my career path!) Today, I am talking about one specific solution to leading a life of greater happiness.

This is known as living a ‘values-based life.’ Values are things that you believe are important in your life and work. The thoughts you think, the emotions you feel and the actions you take can all be more purposefully channeled to enhance your overall level of happiness. As simple as this sounds, this kind of life model takes focused effort to consciously and actively operate in a mode where each choice you make is fully aligned with your top priorities. I'm talking small, medium and large choices - even things as simple as accepting an invitation for drinks with a co-worker because every action we take has an impact on our wellbeing.

“Having a strong sense of what matters to you, and letting your values guide your actions can lead to greater happiness,” says psychologist Susan David. Values are things like fairness, accountability, faith, generosity, honesty, creativity, humility or being family-oriented. They are attributes or traits that lead to a sense of fulfillment, pride, happiness and satisfaction.

When we don’t live in a way that connects to our values, we behave in a way that will eventually lead to stress, conflict and dissatisfaction. An example: I’ve decided one of my top values is creativity. The act of being creative fulfills my soul, is a source of positive energy and makes me feel good. Accepting a co-workers invitation for drinks on the Wednesday night that I usually reserve for writing (the only night I have free for this activity), would most likely create inner conflict and contribute to some discontent later in the week.

Another example, if I value family, but I’m working 60-hour weeks, chances are I’ll feel stress and internal conflict for not having the autonomy to spend more time with my loved ones. 

Again, this heightened sense of living is a commitment and can be a mindset that takes willingness, time and practice to cultivate. There will definitely be those times when we are tempted to stray from our values – which is OK on occasion and treated with self-compassion.