Lisa Niver: Hello. This is Lisa Niver from We Said Go Travel and I’m so excited to be here today with Meaghan Murphy. Hi Meaghan.
Meaghan Murphy: Hi. YAY!
LN: I love that you start with YAY! and I see that you have YAY! behind you. I absolutely loved your book, Your Fully Charged Life, a radically simple approach to having endless energy and filling your day with YAY. I know you have lightening bolts on you and behind you, could you tell us a little bit about how did the lightening bolt become this symbol of your book?
MM: I think it’s really important to surround yourself with visible and verbal messages of strength, positivity, and resilience, and things that you connect with that work as a mantra. For me, the lightening bolt, dates back to my mom. So, growing up there was this picture of my mom on the wall, and she was wearing this lightening bolt T-shirt, and she had these epic braids, and it was a honeymoon shot. She had road tripped to Yellowstone National Park with my father for their honeymoon. I grew up looking at this picture, and putting my mom on this pedestal because she was the type of person who was relentlessly confident and always taught us: don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness. Everything is always possible! I was really brought up that way. Having people in your life at a young age show you. encourage you and cheer you on, is key. I credit witnessing that confidence and that sense of possibility as encouraging and enabling me to find that for myself.
LN: I love that positive image from your mom, but can you talk about how growing up your image was more grumpy, and in the book you even say Neggy, like negative.
MM: I’m a person who trained to live with positivity, who trained to live with optimism and joy, and the same way I may train for a marathon or train to see my abs again after three kids.
I trained to prioritize positivity and reprogram my brain to live with optimism and joy. I am a person who has very strong negativity bias. I was a really grumpy kid. My nickname was Grumpy. I wrote a school play in 5th grade and my character that I wrote for myself was, Neggy, the embodiment of negativity.
I really was a very pessimistic, angsty kind of kid. I’ve always been an empath and I had these big, big feelings. Big happiness. Big sadness. Big fear. Big anger. I had big feelings and I didn’t know what to do with them, and for me, that translated into an eating disorder.
I wound up developing anorexia as a way to quiet all of those big emotions, right, because as a kid you sometimes get messages: don’t cry, why are you so upset, and so, for me it was like I don’t want all this attention on my feelings, I’m just going to shut them all up, and I shut them up with an eating disorder, because when you’re starving, you’re numb, and you can easily just quiet everything. So, that was what my teen years were like. Really, really tumultuous.
LN: You speak, in your book, about anorexia and your friend, and eating disorders. Working at a Women’s Magazine and writing about food and eating disorders as well as raising three kids, what do you say to people that are also struggling with those issues and trying to figure out how to quiet their emotions and pick something that is not harming?
MM: The first thing to know about eating disorders is it’s never about food, and it’s really never about exercise. It’s about what feelings or emotions that you’re trying to manage with food. What is fueling that addiction?
For me, I can now look back and say, I didn’t know how to handle my feelings. I had big swells of energy and emotions, and I just didn’t know what to do with them, and so I quieted them. For other people it could be perfectionism. For other people, they could have gone through some type of mental or physical abuse, and they’re band aiding it with an eating disorder.
An addiction is never really about the wine, it’s never about the drugs, it’s never about the food, it’s about this underlying problem that you’re medicating with whatever the addition is. I think it’s the beauty of my book, is that my book is a toolkit to help you get unstuck. It’s not a replacement for therapy. It’s not a replacement for medication, if that’s what you need, but it’s a toolkit, a happiness toolkit that will help inch the happiness needle so that when you are going through hard things and hard times, you have resources. You have tools that you can rely on to help get unstuck.
LN: One of the things I loved in your book is when you talked about being the boss of your brain, and I love that you said: “You can deliberately direct your brain to get on the YAY bus, or the it-will-be okay-bus, or the sad and sorry for yourself bus,” that really spoke to me. Can you talk a little bit more about how did that come to you and what people can do to switch buses?
MM: It’s very clear to me that most times in life I can’t necessarily control what’s happening to me. If my dad’s diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and dies, I can’t stop that. I can’t think cancer away, but I can absolutely manage my reactions so that I can move through that hard thing with grit and grace.
When I got COVID, I can’t think away COVID. I can’t pretend it’s not happening, but I change the way I look at it to help me move through it. It’s understanding that our brain is incredibly powerful. When we learn to do the tricks that I talk about in the book, with reframing and cognitive reappraisal, it makes those hard things easier to manage and easier to get through. So, we’re never thinking away bad times, we’re never thinking away bad things, but we’re making choices that makes those hard things more manageable.
LN: I’m so sorry about your dad. I know that’s something you talk about in your book and also turning a boo into a boo–yah. Can you talk about how journaling is not for everyone, and I think that journaling is definitely thrown out to many people as the solution. I love that you turned it into something so “of today and now” with theYAYList on Instagram. Can you tell people about it?
MM: First of all, gratitude is absolutely the secret sauce in life. Grateful people are happier people, that is unequivocal, and that’s science backed. It’s not even what I think, it’s science backed, but I’m not somebody who’s whoo-hoo, I’m not somebody who has crystals in my pocket, I’m somebody who works at this, and I want practical tips.
I’ve been a service journalist for 25 years and I’m Editor-in-Chief of Women’s Day, and I was at Good Housekeeping, and Cosmopolitan, and Self magazine. What my secret sauce is, or what my skillset is, is that I’m able to fun-filter news so you might actually want to use it.
We all need a gratitude practice, and we need to practice gratitude, yes. When someone tells me to put something down in a gratitude journal or a gratitude diary, maybe I’ll do it for a day, but then I think– thanks for one more thing to do. It’s homework and I can’t keep that up.
What I’ve learned, that by asking myself, what made you say YAY today, and asking my kids around the dinner table, what made you say YAY today, or before bed, what made you say YAY today, that is absolutely gratitude practice. It’s a way to pause and appreciate the good in your day and to understand that hey, there was good, even on a bad day there was good, and let’s find it, and let’s celebrate it, and let’s hang onto it by creating a YAY list. My standalone Instagram account, TheYAYList, that is simply a way to pause and appreciate. It’s a gratitude journal 2.0, it’s a fun filtered version of keeping a gratitude diary and that’s what works for me.
LN: I love that its on Instagram so everybody can find you and figure out how can they either do something similar or maybe respond to what you’re doing. In the book, you say: “Slam the brakes on your runaway brain, and that sometimes it feels like you’re on the Acela train to Sucksville.”
I know for myself, when I was getting divorced, I felt like I lived in Sucksville and when I read that you used the word Sucksville, I thought I’m not the only one. That’s one of the things that we are all searching for, is to know: Is this normal? How do other people feel? It’s great that you created this Gratitude journal 2.0.
MM: The key why gratitude works so well, is that when you’re pausing and appreciating what’s good in the world, it softens the edges of the bad, and it makes the bad less prominent and less loud, less pronounced, and that’s really the key because negativity can be so loud, and when you’re going through a divorce, or you’re losing a loved one to stage IV pancreatic cancer, like that negativity, that bad is so loud, and so glaring, and so consuming that unless you work hard to punctuate that and soften those edges with moments of levity and light, you will absolutely be pulled down, absolutely just completely drained, and that’s easier said than done, but the good that you’re punctuating it with doesn’t have to be big and it doesn’t have to be massive.
It can simply be noticing something good in your day, and I’ll talk about my neighbor Larry’s irises are blooming, and he came over with a pair of scissors and said: “Cut some.” And now, I have this beautiful bouquet on my table and that’s a good day. No matter what crap thing happened during the course of the rest of the day, what if I just allowed that to be loud.
What if I allow myself to appreciate those flowers and understand that even on this bad day, there was this moment of good. Sometimes that’s just what it’s about, putting fun on the calendar, allowing yourself, even in tough times, tough days, to experience some moments of joy and realizing that, that’s not frivolous and that’s not silly, it’s actually necessary.
I’ve heard from so many people this year that other people have it worse than me. They get caught up in the Hardship Olympics, and because other people have it worse, God forbid, I were to enjoy myself or get excited about Taco Tuesday or a new dress. Because other people have it worse and if I’m happy I’m being somehow disrespectful or I’m crapping on their bad times. No. No, no, no, no, no, we deserve happiness. We deserve happiness even in hard times.
LN: I really love what you just said about the Hardship Olympics because during this past, it’s been so uncertain during COVID, there’s been so many challenges, and I do think there’s a feeling that you can’t be happy. Can you tell people about being Chief Spirit Officer and how that connects with Larry giving you the flowers.
MM: Four years ago, the then mayor appointed me Chief Spirit Officer, and it was an honorary title in a voluntary capacity of cheerleading for my town. I run an Instagram called, Bestfield New Jersey. The town is called Westfield, I call it Bestfield, and it rhymes with west.
It’s an effort to celebrate small businesses, and the people, and the places, and the things that I think make Westfield the Bestfield. It’s absolutely a celebration of community and small businesses. I think it’s really important to love where you live and have a sense of community belonging and pride.
I know that if I connect with my community, if I give back, if I feel a part of something, I’m better for it, and so that’s an active practice for me. My neighbor, Larry, is an unlikely friend. He’s a divorcee and just turned 60 and has been my neighbor for eight years now. We had this beautiful exchange where my kids would leave piles of rocks by his fence and then he would paint them, and then we would hide these Bestfield rocks, these spirt rocks, all over town and they would have messages like, you’re stronger than you think you are, or there’d be pizzas in celebration of the pizza run, or he got really punny, he’s very clever, he’s an advertising guy and he would write crocodile rock, and it would be a crocodile. Really, really fun. He was going through some hard times in a divorce, and had lost his dogs, and so this became this beautiful exchange between my kids and Larry, Larry and me and my kids, and then the community because the people who found the rocks would get excited and celebrate, too. So, it was just this sort of happiness boomerang, just by this simple act of painting rocks.
LN: It sounds like you’re saying– meet people where they are. You had rocks and he had paint, but it became something so much bigger.
MM: It became such a really lovely exchange. Here’s the key, community is incredibly important. I geek out over the science in my book, and Martin Seligman and the PERMA Theory of wellness, but relationships are everything. People are the answer to all of life’s problems. It doesn’t mean your key relationships. It’s not necessarily your husband, or your mother-in-law, or your kids that are the solution. It’s the cashier, it’s the UPS driver, it’s the person you decide to look up from, look up from your run or your walk and acknowledge and recognize because people need to be acknowledged and seen, especially after this year. People need to be seen, that feels good, and that doesn’t mean you’re going to have them over for a barbecue and braid their hair, but see them. Put your phone down and see them.
LN: The other thing I really loved in your book was all the F words, because people love to think what the F word is. We get so focused on making mistakes and then don’t know what to do next. In your book, you gave a really clear path of the steps.
MM: When you make a mistake, the first F word is F**it, because that’s usually what comes out of my mouth when I’ve messed up. But then there is figure it out, where did you go wrong, and if you can fix it, great, fix it, take that effort and fix it. So, you say eff it, you figure it out, you fix it, and if you can’t then you have to forget it, no stewing and move forward.
And flashback because you need to learn from it, and you also need to sometimes flashback to a thing you did right so that you stop beating yourself up. That’s also really key. You’re not a failure because you F’d up in this moment, flashback to something you did right and understand you’re also a person who does things right. This was a blip on and radar, right, you F’d up, okay. Now onward, forward.
LN: What I’ve noticed certainly in hard times, like going through my divorce, I focused a lot of the F word of failure. It’s helpful to focus on looking for the positive, looking for the small things, activating gratitude. Without the steps of how to get out of the abyss, people just suffer.
MM: Take a moment, accept that, and that’s what the whole book is about. Your Fully Charged Life is simply about creating momentum for yourself, It’s not a guide, it’s not a plan, it’s not a life makeover and overhaul, it’s simply a toolkit that will help you create momentum so that you can get unstuck.
I loved that New York Times article about languishing, and I think so many people are in this joyless stuck state, even as the world returns to so called normal, and that’s because we’re not creating momentum. It’s literally that whole physics of a body in motion tends to stay in motion, and if you can start to create positive actions, well then you can create a chain of positive actions and essentially get yourself out of the hole and move the happiness needle.
LN: I loved the quote in your book: “The pessimist complains about the wind, the optimist expects it to change, and the realist adjusts the sails.” Optimistic realism really sums up what you’ve been talking about.
MM: Life is fricking messy and there’s no clear path. You’re going to make mistakes and it’s going to get messy again. Then you’re just going to course correct. Nothing is all bad, and nothing is all good.
What I like to say is: the glass is not half empty, it’s not half full, the glass is refillable. Get the pitcher of water and put some more goddamn water in it. You have to be a little scrappy, and embrace the happy chaos, and embrace the mess.
LN: If there’s one thing that people could take away, that’s a great thing to take away: Refill the glass, why are we so focused on how full it is.
One of the things I really enjoyed so much about your book is the examples really stayed with me. Can you talk about people being like taxis.
MM: If you’re standing in the street in New York and you’re trying to hail a cab, if their light is not on– they’re driving right by you. What if I’m that cab– what signals am I sending to tell people– I’m open, and receptive, and ready to take a ride.
How am I living, how am I presenting, how am I showing up– that signals to other people that I’m here and I’m ready, and that’s very, very important.
Are you living with your cab light on? Are you receptive and open to possibility? Because if you’re not, if you’re head down, hunched over, like nothing can happen, you’re ensuring nothing can happen because you are closed off to possibility.
LN: I love that, and then I also think another thing that fits in with your having your cab light on is you talk about saying goodbye to people, or signing emails with, HAVE YOUR BEST DAY EVER!
MM: I say that all the time: have the best day ever. Routine is really important for people. People thrive with a sense of routine. Kids need routine, adults need routine, we need routine, but within routine you need to shake things up or you wind up on autopilot and you stop noticing the world around you. How many times do you say to someone–good morning, but you’re not even listening because it’s just this autopilot response. Or you’re leaving somewhere and you say, goodbye, and you barely even hear that. So, when I end an exchange or I leave the gym or the grocery store, have the best day ever, because I really actually do believe it could be, but I’m also waking someone up in that moment to this interaction which is different than me just leaving with an autopilot goodbye.
LN: That’s really important! Can you talk about the Vitamin T?
MM: Vitamin T is Vitamin Touch. People need people. People need hugs, and kisses, and squeezes. For so many of us, the loneliness epidemic in this country only escalated by virtue of a pandemic where we had to hide from each other. For people who haven’t been around people, and haven’t had hugs and any kind of that affection, just recognizing how important that can be. Maybe that needs to come from a pet, or caring for something, like a plant, but people need to be needed. People need to feel held, and cuddled, and touched, and that’s important. If that means maybe you go for a massage just to have some kind of human connection, it’s actually important.
LN: Yes. It’s very important. Can you talk about how kindness is magic and the importance of #kindnessgoals.
MM: Kindness is life, it is everything, and it is magic. Kind people are clearly my kind of people. Nothing bad ever comes from being good and kind. If you can sprinkle kindness like confetti and every cliché in the book, we all benefit. We all benefit from kindness. The person being kind benefits, the person receiving kindness benefits, and there can be this kindness boomerang that when you put good out into the world, good comes back to you, and sometimes in very unexpected ways. I just can’t encourage people enough to practice kindness.
LN: Thank you so much for your book, and your wisdom, and taking time to talk with me.
MM: Thank you so much.