Clutter does not create happiness

Do lifestyle changes make a difference to your happiness and well being? At Lifetree News we have shared the importance of honoring your strengths.  Another focus has been the “challenge of materialism.” As you reduce your clutter and become more mindful about your “stuff,” you become happier, get more done and improve your relationships.

 We live in a “world of consumerism.”  Consumerism has encouraged us to define ourselves, communicate our identity, and seek meaning through acquiring “stuff” more than through our deeper values, activities and community. But once basic needs are met, continually acquiring more material goods does not lead to more happiness.  Instead, it becomes a deterrent to happiness.  Researchers find it leads to greed, anxiety, and depression. We are much happier when we are honoring our strengths, connected with others, and serving a deeper purpose.

People today are becoming informed of the human cost of “stuff” - trafficking, sweatshop exploitation, forced and child labor and many other ills. As people become more aware of these inequalities and problems, many are redoing their relationship with stuff.  Beyond being mindful individually, activists are generating collective efforts for greater structural change toward creating a world that works for all.  Can we do “stuff” differently?  It depends on what it means to us.

Can we do “stuff” differently?

What does stuff mean to you?  When we define ourselves as continually needing more stuff, it is often motivated by feelings of inadequacy, scarcity, and lack – of not enough.  When we recognize our strengths and values as human persons, we recognize we are enough. Our existence as persons in and of itself provides extraordinary value. We find other ways of creating happiness.  

As you reflect your own unique view towards “stuff,” I encourage you to acknowledge your strengths.  Acknowledging your strengths can help you in five ways.

1. It will help you see that happiness and well being is more than just experiencing pleasure. Enjoying the pleasures of stuff is important, but once the pleasure wears off more is not better.  Chocolate is great, but too much is not. 

2. When you tap into your strengths, you will discover the kinds of activities and work that engage you.  This is where you are enthusiastic and excited, leading to a deeper level of happiness than pleasure.  Find your areas of strengths, and, use them more.  It will help you to make decisions and cut through what is important and what is not.

 3.  You will discover that you can use your strengths to serve a purpose greater than yourself.   For example, the character strength of justice may be important to you. If so, learning about the working conditions of those producing the goods and purchasing Fair Trade products can be deeply gratifying because it promotes equality.

4.  As you discover your strengths, you will better appreciate yourself and others.  When you become more positive, your relationships strengthen and improve.

5.  Aligning your activities and goals with your strengths helps you to get things done.

Try an experiment:

Take one small area in your home – such as your clothes or the kitchen pantry.  Then reflect, how much is enough? What do you really need?  Is there an excess you can donate to others? When you donate, do you feel happier and more connected?  Try it.

Jeff Shinabarger’s book, More or Less has a series of little experiments that can help you discover how much is enough for you. You will also discover the benefits of generosity, connection and joy of sharing with others.  Check it out.

To your generosity,

Dr. Alice



Annie Leonard:  How to be more than a mindful consumer. mindful-consumer.

Jeff Shinabarger.  More or Less:  Choosing a Lifestyle of Excessive Generosity. Colorado Springs, CO. David C. Cook, 2013.

Discover your strengths.  Take the VIA Survey of Character Strengths at



Joy in The Face of Pain?

All of us lose loved ones over the course of our lives. The pain of those losses especially sharp during the holiday season.  The events in Connecticut this last week have been especially tragic.  We find ourselves dazed, sad, angry, and fearful.  We want to do something to reach out to reassure ourselves that our world can be safe and caring. How can we experience the joys of the Holiday season at a time like this?

Many times, when we face tragedy, we look at it from the present moment.  It can fuel quick action. Other times, after the initial emotions subside, we dismiss it and go on with our lives. Rather than acting on the negative emotion or dismissing it we can choose the practice of calming, embracing, and looking deeply into the pain, honoring our suffering in an empathetic and supportive way.   It taps into our hunger for the sacred and a deeper spiritual power.  A deeper spiritual message emerges and we begin to view it from a broader perspective.  The pain transforms to an energy the helps us to create new intentions and new actions. 

When we look at the challenges of the shootings this year, we can see deep societal issues -- a need to reduce the emphasis on violence, healthy role models for boys, and the need to have restrictions on assault weapons to name a few. We can each be sensitive to these issues and take new actions within our awareness of the values that are important to us.  All actions count, no action is too small. When we honor our deeper values in memory of those important to us, they stay with us in spirit.  

Let us heal ourselves by using these painful experiences to honor the those in Connecticut increasing our awareness of the problems, and taking new action in their honor.  It gives deep meaning to our lives and an appreciation of the power of spirit to bring us through adversity. 

Perhaps this is the essence of the Joy of this season, -- the ability of our higher spirit to bring us through pain and tough times.

Can Everyone Be a Leader?

As we watch the news on the elections, it becomes clear.  The issues are complex.  No one approach has all the answers.  Often we look to leadership outside of ourselves to solve our problems.  There is no question that outside expertise is important.   Still, there is another kind of leadership, the kind that exists within you and me.  This kind of leadership may have more power than you think.

So often we see a leader as someone who has authority and control. Actually, leadership may have more to do with our self knowledge and personal integrity than getting others to agree. Then we lead by our example.  Knowing yourself and maintaining your values while staying connected to others is fundamental to our personal health and success at home and at work.  This, I believe, is true leadership. 

Within your contacts every day, someone could be watching you, closely observing your words and actions. Someone could be inspired by what you say and do. When you are aware of that influence and use it wisely, you are being a leader. Here are three tips for exploring this kind of leadership.

Tips for Managing Family Differences

I recently visited my roots, my family of origin.  We had a successful gathering.  We enjoyed being with each other, and also had to make decisions regarding our larger family goals, such as managing the family farm.  In almost every family, individual members often can have different views.  While this can give rise to potential conflict, it can also lead to stronger and more effective teamwork. The challenge is to stay positive, working in individual perspectives, while also looking at the best interest of the whole. Here are three tips for managing differences so as to create success.  

Focus on the Positive

Celebrate your strengths. We all have individual strengths and at the same time share deeper values and strengths with the people we love. Recognizing your character strengths, such honesty, love of learning, sense of humor, is important because it focuses on what you love to do that also serves the greater good. Family is a good place to discover and share them.   When you can use your

Celebrate Your Strengths

What is it that enables you to cultivate your talents, build deep lasting relationships with others, feel pleasure, and contribute to the world?  What is it that allows you to develop a sense of well being?    We all have character strengths that empower our lives.  When you tap into your strengths, it leads to a solid foundation of self esteem and increases your optimism, enthusiasm, and joy.  Here are some ways in which they show up.

 Discover your Strengths

During the day, when do you feel the most strong, enthusiastic, and deeply absorbed in your work?  These are the times you are in your strengths.  Your strengths are the areas where you can become deeply engaged.  When you use your strengths more frequently, it increases your happiness, sense of well being, and joy.

Create Harmony - Move Beyond the Battle with Stuff

Battling stuff can be a real challenge for many families. If you want to move beyond the battle, you might want to consider tapping into your strengths, and put the challenge of battling with stuff in a broader context.  Today, many see simplifying our lives as a an opportunity to change to a much healthier style of living.  It becomes a way create a new vision and take action to make a difference. Here are a few tips to that might help you broader

Reduce Your Fear of Public Speaking - Fred Miller Says it Like It Is

Each month I do an interview on how people use their strengths to overcome significant challenges.  This month, we investigated how character strengths can help you to overcome one of most people's greatest fears, Public speaking.  Some people fear public speaking more than dying! So says Fred E. Miller, author of his just published book, "No Sweat Public Speaking."  

When I interview speakers, I look for their strengths.  My guess was that Fred’s top strength was his ability to put people at ease and his sense of humor.  He took the strengths test and found his top strength actually was integrity and authenticity.  This strength shows up in his straight-talk, down to earth style. 

Indeed, I have watched a couple of the speakers he has coached.  They were enthusiastic, clear, entertaining, and definitely looked calm, -- as if they had no sweat.  When I asked Fred about his secret formula for reducing speaking fear, he said “My clients have their sweat glands surgically removed.”  Needless to say, he was teasing.  For good practical tips, just listen to the replay in the in the conference calls.


Your Ideas Count

Lifetree News
Creating Prosperity with Harmony
Alice G. Vlietstra, Ph.D.

March-April 2011

In This Issue

1.  Welcome
2.  Your Ideas Count
3.  Facing the Challenges
4.  No Sweat Public Speaking
5.  Upcoming Events

1. Welcome

     We see it in the news every day. More and more people are taking action to make a difference. Sharing your ideas and taking action is important. It gives hope. For example, in the midst of Japan's three-prong horror of the Sendai quake, the tsunami, and the nuclear crisis, is an emergence of possibilities of rebirth and recreation.

     Japanese leaders, as Dr. Saionji, are working in the midst of the devastation to create a vision for a new and caring society - the creation of communities, villages, and cities of sustainable healthy living. This not only serves Japanese citizens, but leads the way towards new possibilities for our collective future. These kinds of ideas can transform the world. How ideas as these can come to life is the focus of this e-newsletter.

2.  Your Ideas Count

     When we face disasters as in Japan we become more willing to give help and are more open to new ideas. The challenges before us help us to transcend individual interests to redefine ourselves as part of a broader global community. New ideas are needed in many areas in our local communities, which then can have a global impact. 

     When your ideas are aligned with your deeper character strengths, they have a greater impact because they serve the common good. You access a higher source of life which enhances the well being of all. A shared focus of using character strengths brings greater personal satisfaction to everyone involved. This helps to mobilize the strength and endurance needed to bring new ideas into fruition.

3.  Facing The Challenges

     Bringing a new idea to life, however, has challenges. A new idea needs to be made visible and to be discussed. The first step to bring a new idea to life is to build a solid case that shows why it is beneficial. People need simple, direct, to -the-point messages that give the reason, the benefits, and the advantages. People also will need to know who the idea is for and how it directly benefits them. Success stories on the benefits also are a great help.

     Finally, challenges and objections also need to be overcome. One way to face these challenges is to tap into your character strengths. These are the areas of your life where you and others are the most enthusiastic, resilient, and engaged. This helps you transform your challenges into the positive.

4.  "No Sweat" Public Speaking

     One of the biggest challenges for bringing your idea to life is public speaking. You need to share your ideas with others for an idea to take hold. This may occur with a few friends or colleagues, in a business setting, or at a public speaking event. Survey after survey shows that more people fear public speaking than any other fear. Statistically it affects 75% of all the people. Many ideas lay dormant because of this fear. It holds back many careers.

     On April 19th, I will be interviewing one of my colleagues, Fred E. Miller, on "No Sweat" Public Speaking. Fred E. Miller is a speaker, author and coach. He has just published his book, No Sweat Public Speaking. Come join us on April 19th to hear how he uses his strengths of solid know- how, practical ingenuity, and humor to put you at ease. .

5.  Upcoming Events

No Sweat Public Speaking! with Fred E. Miller
April 19, 9:00-9:30 AM CDT
Dial 760-569-9000 Access Code 308311#
Fred's top character strength is integrity and authenticity.
Join us to hear how his straight talk combined with humor
and practical know-how can reduce fear and put you at ease.

Warm Regards,

Dr. Alice

For more information on the work of Dr. Saionji and the Goi Peace Foundation, check out the website at

Newsletter Name: 
Lifetree News

"Catching Happiness" - Interview with Barbara Altman

Come and explore an approach to growth that rejects pathologizing termonology in favor of a language of hope, individual character strengths, and personal longings directed toward meaningful goals. In this conference call, I interviewed Barbara Altman, author of the book Cry Depression, Celebrate Recovery.

As a child, Barbara dreamed of earning a degree in music and becoming a concert pianist.  Instead, at age 16, she was called into the principal’s office.  The principal was concerned that Barbara might be "schizophrenic."  Come and learn how her strengths in music, love of learning, persistence, and a caring community helped her transform herself from a diagnosis of illness to health.  She now serves as a deeply valued contributor to the community.



How to Be Emotional Strong - Tap Into Your Strengths of Character

Today, with the many changes in the economy, the loss of jobs, and the challenges of the weather, it is easy to become anxious and depressed.  The next series of posts look at the importance of cultivating your resources for

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