…if you’re like me, keeping a gratitude journal feels like homework. Instead, I started asking myself and my family on daily: What made you say YAY today? Pausing to appreciate the good stuff together over dinner or before bedtime, helped establish a fun habit that we all share and reap the feel-good benefits of as a Team.
Often when we refer to wellness, we assume that we are talking about physical wellbeing. But one can be physically very healthy but still be unwell, emotionally or mentally. What are the steps we can take to cultivate optimal wellness in all areas of our life; to develop Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing?
As a part of our series about “How We Can Do To Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Meaghan B Murphy, a longtime magazine editor, writer, on-air lifestyle expert, podcaster, and certified trainer.
Currently the Editor-in-Chief at Woman’s Day magazine, Murphy is a media veteran who previously served as executive editor of Good Housekeeping. She lives with her husband and their three children and fur-baby in Westfield, New Jersey.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series Meaghan! It’s an honor. Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I’m a Jersey girl and you might catch me fist-pumping as I say that. I grew up in the ‘burbs in a hardworking middle-class family — my dad was a human resources exec and my mom was a teacher. I’m the oldest of 3 — my sister is my best friend and I married my younger brother’s best friend! Life was good…I wasn’t always so good. But I was formed by my struggle bus years.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I never pursued a career in a textbook way, but I’ve had a lot of really great jobs. I think my secret sauce is passion. I’ve always relentlessly chased people, places and things that excite me. As long as I care a whole lot, I do a good job.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
My Dad was my biggest champion. I was a cub reporter for the Star-Ledger newspaper when I was 17 and Pop collaged every byline (yes, even a profile of an exterminator!) behind plexiglass in the basement. By the time I started at YM magazine when I was 19, there was barely any wall space left in our home. He recorded all of my TV appearances on VHS tapes and held viewing parties. After he passed, I missed his cheerleading, especially after a big work win. My childhood best friend Heather picked up the slack!
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
I changed my name from Meaghan Buchan to Meaghan B Murphy after I got married. I had spent 20+ years saying “It’s like Buchanan without the extra A-N” and I was excited to be an easy-to-pronounce leprechaun. I had never had a middle name, so I also legally took the letter B as a nod to my maiden name. I became every copy editor’s worst nightmare. It really is Meaghan B (no period) Murphy. I went from correcting pronunciation to correcting punctuation. I’m embarrassed to admit that in the early days, I let it slide — my byline ran with the period in SELF magazine. Now I kick myself for not having the confidence and conviction to fight for my right to no period and I will never bow to the collective pressure again.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
My best friend died tragically when we were 16-years-old and Charlotte’s Web helped me make sense of the loss. Although Charlotte’s end is heartbreaking, it comforted me that death breeds life and that true friendship is forever in our hearts. I later drove a VW dubbed the Spider-Mobile and got an eight-legged friend tattooed on my foot.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
My Mom’s life bumper sticker has always been: Ask forgiveness; not permission. I was raised to “do the thing” no matter what and deal with the consequences later. This mindset helped me fearlessly go after life…and helped me perfect the art of the apology.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
My book Your Fully Charged Life: A Radically Simple Approach to Having Endless Energy and Filling Every Day with YAY comes out 2.23.21, so that’s what I’m MOST excited about! The book is a science-backed guide to living with optimism and joy even during a dumpster fire of a year. I know at least one of these tips or strategies will resonate with each reader helping to make their tomorrow more awesome.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. In this interview series we’d like to discuss cultivating wellness habits in four areas of our lives, Mental wellness, Physical wellness, Emotional wellness, & Spiritual wellness. Let’s dive deeper into these together. Based on your research or experience, can you share with our readers three good habits that can lead to optimum mental wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
- First, cultivate an attitude of gratitude — it’s associated with lower rates of depression and anxiety and more success at work and in your relationships. So many good things! But if you’re like me, keeping a gratitude journal feels like homework. Instead, I started asking myself and my family on daily: What made you say YAY today? Pausing to appreciate the good stuff together over dinner or before bedtime, helped establish a fun habit that we all share and reap the feel-good benefits of as a Team.
- Second, protect your sleep. I function best on 7 hours and I have an Off Switch that can’t be tampered with. You need to learn your optimal sleep number and then guard it with your life. Don’t leave your bedtime open-ended. There will always be just one more thing that you want or need to do. The trade-off of later nights is bleary-eyed mornings, caffeine-fueled afternoons, yawn-filled evenings and a cycle of low-grade exhaustion known as “getting by” mentally and physically. And here’s the rub: Getting restorative, restful sleep isn’t only about making sure you log the requisite hours. Our circadian rhythm, which rules so many biological processes, especially sleep, thrives on predictability and routine. A study published in Sleep found that when two groups of people slept for 7.5 hours a night for a full month, the group that went to bed and woke up around the same time every day felt more alert and awake during the day than those who tucked in and got up willy-nilly. So while there are plenty of times for spontaneity, don’t make your bedtime or wake-up time two of them.
- Finally, once you get out of bed at that magic hour, make it — hospital corners, optional! Retired Admiral William H. McRaven, a former U.S. Navy SEAL, literally wrote the book on the power of this simple chore, Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…and Maybe the World. Part of his reasoning is that the task gives you a sense of control and achievement and sets off a motivational domino effect. The satisfaction and accomplishment act like a shot of energy, prompting you to take on the next things, which feeds your motivation for the next, and so on, leaving you feeling accomplished and content.
Do you have a specific type of meditation practice or Yoga practice that you have found helpful? We’d love to hear about it.
My beloved yoga routine went out the window during quarantine. I just can’t get into the Zen zone with 3 kids and a dog as very vocal distractions. I’ve never had a traditional meditation practice; although, I’m the first to extol the benefits. I’m in the camp of Ellen J. Langer, Ph.D., the Mother of Mindfulness. She talks about the simple process of noticing new things. When you spend more of your day actively noticing new things, it puts you both in the present moment and forces you to be more engaged with and more open to different versions and interpretations of what’s going on — and those effects are enlivening. Langer has said this form of mindfulness also gets you to the same place as more traditional meditation or mindfulness interventions, meaning it likewise can improve well-being, reduce stress and lead to other positive, proven benefits. One of my tricks for doing this is simply changing up my routine. Having coffee by a window in the living room vs. the kitchen nook; walking to the ATM machine on the opposite side of Elm Street — literally changing your perspective can happily lead you to pay more attention and notice new and different things.
Thank you for that. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum physical wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
- Movement truly is the ultimate medicine and multivitamin. Exercise has legit been proven more or as effective than a lot of medications currently being used to treat common conditions, including depression. It’s also a pretty great insurance policy against a lot of ailments and diseases, including thirteen types of cancer. One of my Murphy’s Laws to ensure you fit in fitness is: Never miss a Monday! No matter how many days you work out, make one a Monday. A start-of-the-week sweat session can set the tone for the next six days and help slay both the Sunday Scaries and the Monday Blues.
- Sweat with a squad! You might be surprised by how much more motivated you are, how much more enjoyable exercise is and how much of an extra charge you get taking a class once in a while or teaming up with others. Energy is contagious regardless of the setting, and research suggests that during a workout it’s no-joke as catchy as “Old Town Road.” Granted, the pandemic has made this harder to do. I’ve had to put my in-person Dawn Patrol workouts on pause. Nowadays I create sparks by giving everyone on the Peloton leader board a high-five or joining a Zoom barre class with the camera on to sweat virtually square-by-square with like-minded fitness fans.
- Give your butt a rest! Sitting has been called the new smoking, and while few habits are as dangerous as puffing away, spending too much time on your behind is linked to all sorts of scary health problems, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Beyond the possibility of sitting yourself to death, it’s also a huge physical and mental energy suck. It reduces circulation, and the lack of muscle movement impacts hormones, the functioning of mitochondria (your cells’ power plants) and more. I have a standing desk, which keeps me on my feet all day, but if that’s not your speed, try pacing when you take a phone call, setting a timer to take stand-up breaks…drink a whole lot of water so you’re forced to make trips to the bathroom! #halfkidding
Do you have any particular thoughts about healthy eating? We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?
I think a lot of us have to ditch the “good” or “bad” mentality. Yes, certain foods are healthier than others. That does not make any good or bad, nor are you good or bad based on what you eat. Do you say things like “I’m so bad, I had a huge bowl for ice cream,” or “I’m going to be good and order grilled salmon?” The more that loaded language infiltrates your brain and speech and the more your emotions and identity get tangled up in food choices, the harder it becomes to pursue your healthy-eating goals.
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
- Talk to strangers! We need other people. We all have an innate and fundamental drive to connect with fellow humans — to be seen, to form relationships, to feed a sense of belonging. When we feel disconnected or alone we’re at a higher risk for depression, anxiety, poor sleep, fatigue and more! Consider getting out of your own world and briefly into someone else’s. A simple and quick chat may energize you in a way that whatever you’re thinking about or listening to our reading can’t. When I’m having a crap day in my new work-from-home bubble, I will often sit on the front porch masked up, waiting to exchange physically distanced pleasantries with the mail carrier, gas meter reader, a neighbor walking their dog, UPS man Anthony who’s become my buddy…those quick exchanges recharge me.
- Cheerlead for your community! “Home” holds such meaningful connotations, and if you call somewhere “home,” why not go all in and #lovewhereyoulive, take pride in it and do what you can to make it worthy of the word — the best, happiest, healthiest place it can be? Maybe that means you shop local, write a nice YELP review for a favorite restaurant, donate to a food drive at a local shelter. I was appointed Chief Spirit Officer of my town by the former mayor and as a hobby, I run a social media account that’s essentially a love letter to the people, places and things that make Westfield the Bestfield! It’s a great source of pride and connection for me when I walk into a business and everyone knows my name.
- Do a friendship audit. This was a hard lesson for me. Relationship expert Terri Cole was an expert on my Off the Gram podcast and she opened my eyes to a toxic relationship in my life. Cutting ties was hard, but ultimately, it was like a weight was lifted. The three Qs she says we should all ask ourselves when evaluating a relationship are:
-How do you feel when you think about hanging out with them?
-How do you feel when you’re together?
-How do you feel afterward?
If you answer anything other than some version of good or great — excited, happy, supported, inspired, loved, enlivened, uplifted — consider cutting or loosening ties.
Do you have any particular thoughts about the power of smiling to improve emotional wellness? We’d love to hear it.
There’s a saying: A smile is the shortest distance between two people. This simple kind gesture has the power to connect even strangers. In fact, one study showed that when people at a coffee shop made eye contact, smiled or had a quick chat with their barista, they felt happier and experienced a greater sense of belonging than those who focused only on the business of getting coffee. These days behind my mask in public, I Smize (smile with my eyes) as hard as I can to inspire that sense of community.
Finally, can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
For me, spiritual wellness is about harnessing the power of awe — allowing something bigger and more remarkable than myself to stop me in my tracks and force me to see and think about the world — and my place in it — differently. Here are three ways I do that:
- Get out in nature and travel. Being outdoors or coming face-to-face with something huge, new or mind-blowing naturally inspires awe. I missed getting on a plane this year, but Team Murphy has gone on some epic hikes where a fox sighting, rope swing or surprise waterfall delivered that perspective shift.
- See things with a kid’s eyes. So much is new and amazing to kids that they’ll help you recognize awe if you let them. I remember co-coaching my daughter’s softball practice, and a huge rainbow appeared. Charley and I ran to the outfield and twirled under it. I don’t remember much from that season, but I’ll never forget the magic of that moment.
- Focus on the details. Awe can spring from simply looking or thinking about regular stuff in a new, more detailed way. So look at the curves of your child’s nose and think about he grew on what seems like a steady diet of only cereal, the occasional Sprite and cuddles. Or, next time you watch a game, marvel at humans’ potential for speed or coordination.
Do you have any particular thoughts about how being “in nature” can help us to cultivate spiritual wellness?
I have a big section in The Recharge chapter of my book dedicated to the magic of getting outside. Surrounding yourself with fresh air and nature is as close to an emotional pain reliever as you can get. I can’t understate how much research has shown the benefits of being outside, especially amongst grass, trees and other natural terrains, especially when you’re hurting and trying to heal. It’s linked to vitality, healthier thoughts, life satisfaction, health and well-being, less stress and more positive emotions, mental clarity, lower PTSD-related symptoms, and even emotional, mental and physical healing — all crucial precursors to spiritual wellness.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I want to create a global Yay Team of people dedicated to living with optimism and joy — even when that feels really hard and scary. Imagine if we all collectively committed to creating a daily Yay List documenting the good stuff?! We’d effectively retrain our brains to default to the happy thought rather than letting our negativity bias run the show and the world would be kinder and gentler.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
Oh, wow. I really admire author Mark Manson. I dog-eared every page of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. My friend Maria Menounos raves about Tony Robbins and it would be a trip to sit down with him. I’m also in awe of Brene Brown and would likely be tongue-tied in her company. I’m lucky enough to be friends with Marie Forleo who wrote a nice endorsement for my book, or I’d say her too. Way to pare it down, Meaghan!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
My website is www.meaghanbmurphy.com and I’m the editor-in-chief of Woman’s Day magazine, so that’s another fun place to find me or on my Off the Gram podcast.
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.