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sHeroes: How Author Nancy Jane Smith is helping people to live happier, more fulfilling lives

Gratitude: Practice deep — not wide. I am a huge fan of practicing gratitude. It allows us to be thankful for the little things in our life and see the world through a different lens that is more positive and clear. However, I believe that we have taken gratitude to an extreme in our culture […]

Gratitude: Practice deep — not wide. I am a huge fan of practicing gratitude. It allows us to be thankful for the little things in our life and see the world through a different lens that is more positive and clear. However, I believe that we have taken gratitude to an extreme in our culture — so far that it becomes a weapon for our inner critic who uses it to criticize us with phrases like ‘I should be grateful, some people have it worse’ or ‘Why am I complaining? At least I don’t have X.’ This kind of thinking is unhealthy. Instead lovingly remind yourself you are grateful that you do have a great life AND that doesn’t mean you should settle. You can be dissatisfied AND grateful AND want more. One way you can practice healthy gratitude is by practicing deep — not wide — gratitude.As you’re getting ready for work, name the specific things in your life you are thankful for and challenge yourself to go as deep as possible. Instead of ‘I am grateful for a roof over my head,’ you could say ‘I am grateful for the heat coming through the register, for the sound of my kid’s laughter, the smell of the coffee, the feel of my spouse’s arms around me, etc.’


For my series on strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nancy Jane Smith. Nancy has a Masters Degrees in Higher Education and in Community Counseling from the University of Dayton. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor with eleven years in private practice and has spent 20+ years working as a counselor and coach. She has written three books on living happier, most notably The Happier Approach: Be Kind to Yourself, Feel Happier and Still Accomplish Your Goals.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

While I have always loved psychology and helping people, my first love was helping people find their purpose through career counseling. When one of my clients left my office for the last time with renewed excitement for her life after finding her “perfect” career, we both considered our work together to be a success. Imagine my surprise when she sits on my couch six months later only to let out a big sigh and say, “Can we do those assessments again? I LOVED learning about myself and talking with you about passion and purpose!”

We quickly realized that lack of knowledge about her purpose was only one step in the process. The real work revolved around getting her out of her own way which began with helping her quiet her inner critic, what I would call her ‘Monger,’ so she could keep moving forward with her goals. From that point forward, I changed my focus from career counseling to helping people build more resilience in the face of stress.

What does it mean for you to live “on purpose”? Can you explain? How can one achieve that?

To me, living on purpose means being intentional with your day-to-day life, but there are two myths that keep us from doing that.

One is the myth that purpose equals getting paid. We are sold the belief that once we find our purpose, we will be compensated for it. The truth is that we can live ‘on purpose’ and never earn a dollar for it.

The second myth is that we we aren’t truly living if we haven’t discovered our purpose yet. We treat it as the search for the Holy Grail.

The reality is that when I am living with intention, I am more empathetic, kind, and humorous… all which comprise my purpose here on earth.

Living on purpose means showing up every day for your life while being as genuine and authentic as possible. The more we do this, the more our natural gifts come forward.

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?

In January 2017, my father who had been suffering from Parkinson’s with Dementia suddenly died of a pulmonary embolism. His death shook me to my core. He was my true North and losing him is/was devastating.

When seeing clients became too hard, I took time to write the book I had always wanted to write.

My dad, despite being a successful husband, father and businessman, always felt like a failure. When I realized how his Monger had ruled his life until the bitter end, my purpose became obvious to me. This voice contributes to so much anxiety, stress, and unlived dreams, and I wanted to help people quiet theirs. He inspired me to dive deeply into a subject we both struggled with, and the pain of his death inspired me to take action in my own life too.

As someone once said to me, this book was a love letter to my Dad.

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?

The values of our culture are mixed up. We value external pleasure — more money, bigger houses, and more possessions. Everything we value is about how we look, what we own, and how successful we appear. The problem is that these things are never enough. We can never have enough to feel successful because happiness is an inside job.

The other issue stems from how we talk to ourselves. Yes, the cultural values are misguided, but individuals have transferred that message internally. So we listen to the voice of the Monger that tells us we aren’t enough and that we have to hustle for happiness.

In reality, happiness comes from acknowledging how we’re feeling, stopping all the pretending, and choosing to honoring our unique gifts, values, ideals and standards as individuals instead of striving for external validation.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

As a kid, I loved being a Girl Scout, so working with the Girls Scouts of America and helping troops gain their Me badge now is one way that I give back. What’s more, helping girls understand their emotions and thoughts rather than be told they have to live up to an impossible standard is very rewarding.

Another favorite nonprofit that I work with is Dress for Success. I have donated time to them through mentoring to help women recognize and shift the negative way they talk to themselves.

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?

Strategy #1. Recognize that there are no finish lines. One of the ideas that snags us and keeps us feeling unfulfilled and unchallenged is when we buy into the myth that there is a finish line. The belief that ‘Someday when I accomplish X, THEN I will be happy,’ or ‘Once I get Y, then everything will be OK’ keeps us unhappy because the finish line keeps moving. Notice how often you have this finish line mentality and ask yourself, ‘Is this my dream or someone else’s?’ Happy people are living a life based on their own values and goals. They recognize that the joy is in the journey, not the finish line. You’ll be happier when you remember and accept that you are ‘forever incomplete’ and that there is no finish line.

Strategy #2. Get cozy with your inner critic. The inner critic, what I call ‘the Monger,’ is the voice playing in our heads all day long telling us how much we failed and how far we are from success. For many people, this voice talks unchecked and it is the main reason why the ‘Joie de Vivre’ gets sucked out of us. When we can get cozy with our Monger, we can practice my A.S.K. system. First, you acknowledge your feelings. Second, you slow down and get into your body. Third, you kindly pull back to see the big picture. A.S.K. challenges the Monger’s negative voice and limits its influence.

Strategy #3. Gratitude: Practice deep — not wide. I am a huge fan of practicing gratitude. It allows us to be thankful for the little things in our life and see the world through a different lens that is more positive and clear. However, I believe that we have taken gratitude to an extreme in our culture — so far that it becomes a weapon for our inner critic who uses it to criticize us with phrases like ‘I should be grateful, some people have it worse’ or ‘Why am I complaining? At least I don’t have X.’ This kind of thinking is unhealthy. Instead lovingly remind yourself you are grateful that you do have a great life AND that doesn’t mean you should settle. You can be dissatisfied AND grateful AND want more. One way you can practice healthy gratitude is by practicing deep — not wide — gratitude.As you’re getting ready for work, name the specific things in your life you are thankful for and challenge yourself to go as deep as possible. Instead of ‘I am grateful for a roof over my head,’ you could say ‘I am grateful for the heat coming through the register, for the sound of my kid’s laughter, the smell of the coffee, the feel of my spouse’s arms around me, etc.’

Strategy #4. Reframe positive thinking. Positive thinking is awesome — except when we use it as a tool to be hard on ourselves by saying things like ‘I should be happy. I don’t know why I am such a whiner. These are such champagne problems.’ We tell ourselves to ‘think positive’ as a way to belittle and ignore what is really happening. At its worse, thinking positive can leave us without a plan of attack for the problems or issues in our lives, so be honest with yourself. If you are sad about a lost promotion, acknowledge you are sad. You have every right to be disappointed. Feel that feeling. Then honestly look at the situation and see what went wrong and make a plan for how you can get the promotion next time. When we just think to ourselves, ‘I shouldn’t be sad, I should be grateful I have a job’ we stay unhappy and unfulfilled.

Strategy #5. Avoid black and white thinking. Our inner critics, or ‘mongers,’ convince us that life is divided into only 2 categories — right and wrong. This all or nothing thinking keeps us miserable because the reality is that life is full of grays. Black and white thinking keeps us stuck in what I call ‘good people rules.’ Good people ALWAYS eat breakfast at home. Good people are NEVER late. Good people ALWAYS workout in the morning. This rigidity leaves us little wiggle room. Give yourself a break and ask yourself where you can add wiggle room. For example, ‘Today is going to be a busy day, but I will feel better if I can take a 20-minute walk at lunch.’

Strategy #6. Practice mindfulness hacks. These are 10–30 seconds mini-breaks that you can take throughout the day that allow you to get into your body and get out of your head (a great way to get a perspective on your Monger’s nagging voice). Examples are: do a full body wiggle, tap your toes, stretch your arms over your head, touch your toes, do a neck roll, or take 3 breaths every time you hit a stop light.

Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that most inspired you to live with a thirst for life?

When I read Tara Brach’s book Radical Acceptance, it was the first time I realized

how loud my Monger was. I always recommend her book to clients, and my copy is well-worn.

Sarah Wilson’s First We Make the Beast Beautiful is an incredible first-hand look at anxiety. She does an amazing job of describing what it is like to live with a loud Monger and the unusual ways anxiety shows up in our lives.

Finally, I love Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast Revisionist History because his stories help me see the world differently.

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?

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” — Howard Thurman

I have always loved this quote because it takes the pressure off of having to find the perfect purpose. Rather it is about showing up each day and seeing what makes you come alive. Joie De Vivre comes from feeling alive, getting up out of bed knowing you are going to contribute to the world in an authentic and genuine way. When I live my life from this quote, I cut out all the noise of what I SHOULD be doing and can instead focus on sharing my unique gifts with the world.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am working on reaching as many people as possible with this message from nonprofits to corporations. We all need to learn about the influence our Monger has over us and the strategies to counter it so we can bring more natural Joie de Vivre into our lives.

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 have inner critic work become part of the curriculum for programs designed to give individuals a leg up in their careers or lives. The Monger knows no socio-economic class. We ALL have one.

It isn’t something that comes in only after you have privilege or a good job. It is debilitating to all of us.

Too often with these programs, we work on skills such as resume writing, but we don’t work on building resilience when their Monger has beaten them down.

I’d like to see Monger become an everyday word that we can talk about and help each other with.

Follow Nancy on Social Media:

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