It’s too easy, especially during these politically and socially tense times, to use our tribes not just as a group to stick with, but as a way to stand against others. When we swallow and then spit out the nasty venom of today’s rhetoric onto others, it is not only a terrible way to treat people, but also an angry, toxic way to live. I find that getting to know people one-on-one, people who aren’t in my tribe and wouldn’t agree with any part of my politics, expands my life. To be clear, I don’t get into politics with these folks, nor try to change anyone’s mind. Instead, I just try to connect in whatever way we can, to remind myself that we are all humans who have reasons for our choices…even if I don’t understand them. I do this to remember that most people are generally good, and because it helps me find our actual similarities. Yes, I stand up for what I believe in and give to causes I care about, but I also know that living a life where I’m angry at half of my fellow humans will just eat my stomach lining up a little at a time. Which makes no sense.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Deirdre Maloney, who helps people achieve their goals, sleep better at night, and love life more. She does it through her work as an international speaker, published author and president of her training, facilitation and marketing company Momentum LLC. Deirdre has used her brand of “mild audacity” to inspire positive change around the world, presenting for organizations like Boeing, National Association of Women Business Owners, and Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Her books include Bogus Balance: Your Journey to Work/Life Bliss, the Tough Truths mini-books series on happiness and leadership, and The Mission Myth.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My career path, business offerings and books have all followed my own personal path. When I left my job as a nonprofit executive director to start my own company, I focused on helping nonprofits become more successful businesses through stronger leadership, management and communication. Soon enough (and as an entrepreneur myself), I figured out that lots of for-profit folks could benefit from the same lessons, so I broadened my focus to include every sector. And then…well, I realized the hard way that trying to do so much in every single part of your life can actually suck the happiness out of all of it, which is when I went to work on work/life balance and life satisfaction.
What does it mean for you to live “on purpose”? Can you explain? How can one achieve that?
I think I have a different take on this than others. Having a “purpose” sounds rather grand and — let’s be real — can be intimidating. To me, living life “on purpose” means, quite literally, being purposeful. It means constant, diligent awareness and intentionality about the things you choose to do or choose not do with your days, and the people you choose or choose not to spend time with. Living life on purpose means ongoing, constant and thoughtful introspection, noting which parts of your life no longer delight you (or have gotten to the point of making you downright miserable), and which feed you in satisfying ways. Most importantly, it means being willing to adjust your path accordingly over time…expanding the delightful stuff and easing up or out the stuff that just doesn’t work for you anymore. It means making these changes despite any fears and grieving that might come up, knowing that being as happy as possible as often as possible isn’t just a good thing for you, but also makes you a more delightful person to be around. It’s amazing how much grit and effort this happiness work can take, but in the end, being satisfied with how we fill this short life is exactly what this short life is all about.
Do you have an example or story in your own life of how your pain helped to guide you to finding your life’s purpose?
If I had to choose one area that has truly benefited from being purposeful, it has to do with the intentionality of choosing the people with whom I surround myself. While we all have a lens through which we see and live our lives, we are also susceptible to other people’s moods and temperaments…to the point where interactions with them naturally bring out those same moods and temperaments in ourselves. If we choose to surround ourselves with cynical, angry people, we will undoubtedly match that energy. If we choose to surround ourselves with supportive, thoughtful people, we will match that energy as well. I recognized that certain interactions left me feeling positive and happy, while others (where I may have groused and gossiped and complained more than I was proud of) left me filled with ick. That’s when I began the process of regularly considering the people around me and which ones I choose to spend time with, talk with, and trust with my time…intentionally pursuing more time with the positive folks and less time with the negative ones. We make a lot of excuses as to why we can’t do this, but most of them aren’t real. Yes, it’s hard, but I can say from experience that it makes a tremendous difference in the happiness of life.
The United States is currently rated at #18 in the World Happiness Report. Can you share a few reasons why you think the ranking is so low?
We are a country that takes special pleasure in “shoulding” on everyone, assuming that there is one way for each of us to be successful, loveable and valuable. Everywhere we turn we are pummeled by people and the media telling us how we “should” live, what kinds of jobs/titles/salaries we “should” have, how and if we “should” have a partner and kids. We are told how we “should” exercise and eat. How we “should” dress and look. Who we “should” spend our time with. We are bombarded by advice that pretends to be fact when it’s not. Our “shoulds” seem to point to what is right and, therefore, what is wrong. We hear bogus mantras that define success as toughing our way through a toxic situation, that we must earn our keep — even in situations we detest — in order to be valuable, that we must be the best we can be through XYZ. And when we find that one of these “shoulds” doesn’t serve our happiness (and it happens all the time), we assume that the problem is with us and not the “should” itself. So we stick with the unhappy thing, telling ourselves that this is how it must be. It’s not.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
It wasn’t just my success, but my challenges that helped me do this. I learned how to be happier because I’ve been unhappy. I’ve been depressed. I’ve gone years without a belly laugh. It wasn’t until I realized that I was valuing myself based on other people’s “shoulds”, that I was living a life that didn’t serve me, that I was able to make changes that worked for me. Now I think the greatest thing I do — whether in a book, on the stage, as a coach or with a friend — is to help people assess whether or not they are truly satisfied with life, help them recognize how their own “shoulds” and fictional stories are getting in the way of their own greater happiness, and help them plan a new, specific set of strategies to get happier.
What are your 6 strategies to help you face your day with exuberance, “Joie De Vivre” and a “ravenous thirst for life”? Can you please give a story or example for each?
1. Pay attention…and adapt. This goes back to the idea of being purposeful. Once I realized that I was feeling ongoing bouts of unhappiness (punctuated by moments of anxiety and depression) I realized how much about my life I just didn’t…like. This sounds like an elementary concept, but it’s not. I began to pay attention to how I felt each morning as I looked ahead to the projects and people to come, and how happy or unhappy I felt. Then, at the end of the day, I looked back at it and reviewed how happy or unhappy I felt during various parts of it. I logged this for months, noting the patterns. Then, and this wasn’t easy, I planned for and made changes to increase the happy stuff and decrease the unhappy stuff. I now continually pay attention to my own happiness levels and adapt accordingly. I also do a formal “personal strategic planning” session for myself at least once each year.
2. Leap. Making changes, big and small, can sometimes be so scary that we just hold onto the thing we know…even if it doesn’t make us happy. I love the phrase “leap and the net will appear”. Thoughtfully and purposefully making change that gets you out of an unhappy condition is one of the most important, meaningful things you can do in this life. Even if it doesn’t turn out perfect (it might not), even if others get mad (they might), this is about moving forward and living the best life you can. I always remember this and allow myself to leap, even when it terrifies me. A good example of this is when I started acting in community theatre. It’s such a different experience than my speaking, and it was very scary at first. But it was stimulating and exciting and fun. To this day it makes me happy. And if it stops doing so, I’ll stop doing it.
3. Find and spend time with my tribe. The choice we make about the people we surround ourselves with is one of the most critical choices we make in this life. I greatly value community. Not just a few people I chat with now and again…but a group of people who value what I value, who love and support me and want the same from me, who will be my greatest cheerleaders while giving it to me straight. These people don’t just add their own happiness value, but they are there to convince me to leap, to make change when it makes sense, to call me on my own B.S., and to remind me I’m a good person no matter what happens.
4. Like myself more. One of the reasons I need my tribe as much as I do is because, no matter how much I work on it, I tend to be the most critical, the hardest, and — actually — the harshest on myself. I’m actually continually shocked, when I truly pay attention to my inner dialogue, how judgmental and relentlessly critical I am to myself. I work on this issue every day…to hear those thoughts and change the channel, to remind myself that I am as precious and valuable as anyone else. Sometimes — and this is true — I even force myself to hug myself, to make up with myself for the way I allow myself to be treated. A work in progress for sure.
5. Like others more. It’s too easy, especially during these politically and socially tense times, to use our tribes not just as a group to stick with, but as a way to stand against others. When we swallow and then spit out the nasty venom of today’s rhetoric onto others, it is not only a terrible way to treat people, but also an angry, toxic way to live. I find that getting to know people one-on-one, people who aren’t in my tribe and wouldn’t agree with any part of my politics, expands my life. To be clear, I don’t get into politics with these folks, nor try to change anyone’s mind. Instead, I just try to connect in whatever way we can, to remind myself that we are all humans who have reasons for our choices…even if I don’t understand them. I do this to remember that most people are generally good, and because it helps me find our actual similarities. Yes, I stand up for what I believe in and give to causes I care about, but I also know that living a life where I’m angry at half of my fellow humans will just eat my stomach lining up a little at a time. Which makes no sense.
6. Meditate. How do I do the other five strategies? I work hard to be diligently mindful of my thoughts, my actions, my feelings and my own fiction. How do I do this? By getting up each morning and meditating. Meditation allows me to recognize my own thoughts, note them, and let them go. It’s not about changing the thoughts as much as it is about noting how wacky and frenetic and untrue they can be. By flexing this muscle for 20–30 minutes each day, I train myself to pay attention to those thoughts and feelings for the rest of the day, reminding myself that thoughts aren’t facts, and preventing those thoughts from dictating my life. At any moment my thoughts can be a tool or a mess. Either way, they do not define me. Mediation makes that possible.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that most inspired you to live with a thirst for life?
It all began with “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. The book itself is about creativity, but to be honest it was actually those dang morning pages she prescribes that got me on my own journey of paying attention to my life…even (and especially) the parts I don’t want to face. I also love the books “Outrageous Openness” and “Change Me Prayers” by Tosha Silver, and the book “10% Happier” by Dan Harris. I now listen regularly to Dan’s podcast as well, which keeps me nice and honest with myself.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that relates to having a Joie De Vivre? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
It’s a quote that I originally attributed to the lovely Thomas Maloney (who happens to be my Dad), but later learned was taken from a quote by Abraham Lincoln. The way my Dad put it was this: “In the final analysis, we are about as happy as we make up our minds to be”. Think about that. It reminds us that we have the power to steer our own lives. That we have choices, and those choices define and determine our own happiness. That, when we’re on the other side of this life, the greatest factor in how happy we were during it is how we chose to live it. It’s hard to make excuses about staying unhappy when you hear that one.
3. Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I just released my newest book “Tough Truths: The Ten Happiness Lessons We Don’t Talk About”. It’s a mini-book, and it’s meant to get people to recognize…really recognize…how happy or unhappy they are, how they’re getting in their own way of happiness, and how they can get out of it and get happier. I’m also in the midst of creating a relatively badass “Happiness Boot Camp” weekend based on the book, which I’m extremely excited about.
4. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would love to inspire loads of people to look deep within and recognize their own happiness (or unhappiness) levels, and truly think about what they can do to fix it. I want people to call themselves and each other out on the fictional excuses and reasons and beliefs (and “shoulds”) that allow them to stay comfortably stuck in their very certain unhappiness, and to support each other on a journey toward a better life. Yes, happiness takes work. But if we truly understand that it benefits not just our lives, but makes us so much better to be around, then maybe we will be willing to leap…to make the big and small changes that will make this life worth living. For real.