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



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.

"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

"Catching Happiness"

Listen to our monthly conference call, "Catching Happiness,"  in which  I interviewed Barbara Altman, author of the book, Cry Depression, Celebrate Recovery.

In this call we explored an approach to growth that rejected pathologizing termonology in favor of a language of hope, individual character strengths, and personal longings directed toward meaningful goals.

Becoming Resilient

LifeTree News
Creating Prosperity with Harmony
Alice G. Vlietstra, Ph.D.
October, 2010
 Becoming Resilient
 1.  Welcome
 2.  Becoming Resilient
 3.  Key Essentials for Change
 4.  Relationships Build Happiness
 5.  Announcements
 1.  Welcome
 Fall is here.  In the Midwest US, trees are displaying their beautiful red,
 yellow, and orange colors and the days are sunny and crisp. Autumn is one of
 my favorite seasons of the year.
 Autumn is a time of harvest.  This year's harvest has more people choosing
 life by questioning the cultural influences that have driven our behavior. 
 The old story of money and stuff as leading to happiness has lost its appeal.
 Now people are seeing it for what it is, a fabricated story developed by
 advertisers to get you to buy. It also is a story of corporate domination
 and exploitation. Rather than relying on Wall Street, people are now actively
 creating change on Main Street.
 I am very happy to see this. It awakens our capacity for cultivating real wealth
 -- healthy children, families, communities, and ecosystems. The need to question  our culture became very clear to me last June when once again I was doing an  investigation as an expert witness. In addition to working with individuals and  families who want to expand and grow, I am sometimes asked to do developmental  investigations for young adults in prison. 
 Their developmental histories shows a consistent pattern - troubled childhoods,  family disruption, little community support, gangs, drugs and alcohol, violence,  and crime.  Today, the United States has one of the highest crime rates in the world.  In our current days of mass incarceration, it has been estimated that one out of every 31 US adults in the justice system (Alexander, 2010).  This does not make me happy. The lioness within me began to roar. We have the information needed to do a better  job. While we cannot change the past, we can learn from this information how to create change for the future. I began coordinating information on our strengths.  A book is forthcoming.  Meanwhile, let me give you a few basics.
 2. Becoming Resilient
 Economist, David Korten recently came out with the new expanded edition of his book,  "Agenda for a New Economy." It is issued as a report for the New Economy Working Group.  In it Korten gives the rationale for the kind of change most likely to be successful.  The most critical change needs to come from the bottom up. When society is organized  by dominator systems, the impetus for change rarely comes from within.  It has to come from the people.
 Korten finds that that most successful projects do not come from a large,
 well organized plan.  Instead they come from the dedicated efforts of many people,  each finding the role that best uses his or her gifts and passions. 
 The connections are maintained by the framing ideas and mutually supportive
 relationships. The knowledge comes from the people's heads, that is, our heads,  not from outside experts. The challenge is to recognize, organize, and use it in  effective ways. New ideas gain traction depending on what works and what does not.
 3. Key Essentials for Change
 Korten believes a successful strategy for change has three key elements. The first  is to identify and question the stories driving our culture.  Exploitive dominator  structures are based on our culture's stories about who we are and the nature of man.  What is the story that the media is giving us?  Is it that we are hedonistic,  dependent, little beasties in need a strong leader?  Research gives a picture that  is quite different.  More and more it is showing that we are wired to care and connect; to create and to do.  We grow and develop in the context of our relationships.   Questioning our cultural stories is critical for change.  It happens as we individually engage in conversations in our neighborhoods, at our meet-ups, in our religious institutions, and in our families. Take time to question and decide what makes sense to you. 
 A second critical source of change is in the support we give to the businesses and  activities in our local communities.  You can have a significant impact by supporting your local farmers, shopping locally, and getting involved in initiatives for building  your neighborhoods. 
 The third way is to get engaged politically.  Gather information; talk with your
 neighbors, and work to elect leaders that will enact real policy changes. Be sure
 to vote.  All of this activity helps to create the kinds of change that supports life.
 4.. Relationships Build Happiness
 The good news is that these kinds of changes lead to increased happiness. More and  more research is showing the critical importance of our relationships to our happiness.  Last week a study by Wagner (2010) reported that people who decided to prioritize goals around good relationships and good health were happier, regardless of major  life events.  Those who focused primarily on being able to buy what they wanted or on being successful in their careers reported less happiness. 
 In this study, the less people were involved in relationships, the less happy they
 got.  The lesson is, if you want to be happier, consider changing your life goals.
 Concentrate on helping others, your relationships, and family, rather than on
 material possessions as a priority.  People who are active in their churches
 and communities and in social and political activities also report higher levels
 of life satisfaction.  Get involved.  Working to make a difference can give you
 internal rewards: A sense of satisfaction, connection with others, and a feeling
 of aliveness in creating an effect.
 5.  Announcements
 Upcoming Teleconference - I will be interviewed by Joe High, 4th Quarter Financial Coach, Tuesday, October 12, 2010 9:00-9:30 AM  Phone 218-548-0869, Access code 978836#
 Topic:  Put Your Relationships First:  Have a Healthy Financial Discussion with Your Spouse.
Warm Regards,

Dr. Alice

 Alexander, M.  (2010) The New Jim Crow.  New York:  The New Press.
 Kasser, T. (2010) Making a Difference Makes You Happy.
 Korten, D. (2010)  Agenda for a New Economy:  From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth, San Francisco, Ca:  Berrett,-Koehler Publishes, Inc.
 Wagner, Gert (10/4/2010) Happiness Levels Are Not Set in Stone.

Newsletter Name: 
Lifetree News

Reduce Stress: Try a One-Minute Happiness Shift

Have you ever noticed that you tend to make dumb decisions when you are stressed out?  That is, you might talk excessively or lash out angrily. By contrast, when you are calm and peaceful, it is much easier to find creative,insightful solutions. One way to move from stress to calm creativity is to shift to a happier state. 

Change Your Focus, Change Your Life

One of the biggest findings in happiness research is that once our income is beyond poverty level, further increases in money does not lead to increased happiness.  Other ethical principles also are proving to be empirically sound.  Giving makes people happier than self-indulgent pleasures, and the strongest determiner of happiness is showing itself to be meaningful relationships.

Gratefulness Improves Your Life

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

November 2009

Gratefulness Improves Your Life

In This Issue:

1.  Welcome
2.  The Benefits of Being Grateful
3.  Gratefulness and Today's Challenges
4.  Using Gratefulness to Improve Your Life
5.  Announcements

1. Welcome

I have changed the format and focus of my newsletter, Successful Relating, to
Life Tree News, and have given it a new format.  Let me know how you like it!

Thanksgiving is right around the corner. It is a day when Americans pause and
give thanks for the many blessings in their lives. When less than half the
early Pilgrims survived the first winter; they were grateful to be alive. Today,
as we face our challenges to freedom we can continue to honor the Pilgrims by
looking at the power gratefulness in our lives. This is the focus of this

2. The Benefits of Being Grateful

Religion and wise sages have long embraced gratefulness as an critical component of health and well being. More recently research has bolstered this position.  Here are a few highlights from research by Emmons and McCullough (2004). Overall, they find that most people are grateful.

    * Grateful people are happier.  They report higher levels of wellbeing,
      life satisfaction, vitality, optimism, and lower levels of depression and
      stress.  Gratefulness enhances pleasant feelings  more than it diminishes
      unpleasant ones. Even so, grateful people do not ignore the negative
      aspects of their lives.
    * Grateful people are more caring. They are more likely to be empathetic and
      to take the perspective of others. They are seen as more generous and more
      helpful by people in their social networks.
    * Grateful people are more spiritual.  They are more likely to acknowledge a
      belief in the interconnections of all life. Those who regularly attend
      religious services and engage in religious practices are more likely to be
      grateful. Gratitude does not require a religious faith, but faith enhances
      the ability to be grateful.
    * Grateful individuals are less materialistic. They place less importance on
      material goods, are less likely to judge their own and others success in
      terms of possessions accumulated, and are more likely to share their
      possessions with others that relative to less grateful persons.

 3. Gratefulness and Today's Challenges

While some have seen the financial crisis as a downfall, it also is blessing in
disguise. It has served as a stimulus for bonding and building our relationships.
It has helped us to discover that, once basic needs are met, happiness has little
to do with money, stuff, or the stockmarket. Economist, David Korten, sees this
as a shift from Phantom wealth, i.e. money, to the Real wealth, which is beyond
price ---love, happy children, work that provides a sense of contribution,
caring communities, and a healthy natural environment.

I am deeply gratified to see the revival of activity at the grass roots. It starts
by acknowledging what we have, and by creating new connections and building our relationships among and between each other. As we get to know our neighbors, we find gifts. As we begin to associate, these gifts become amplified and magnified. When we rely on our relationships with family, friends, and local
businesses, we can have the enduring support of a strong community, even when crises come and the role of the distant corporations fail. In a strong community, we experience gratification in finding solutions by serving each other, lessening the need for planetary resources and stuff to feel satisfied with our lives.

 4. Using Gratefulness to Improve Your Life

Try the following to make thankfulness your daily habit.  Notice how it helps you
to connect with life. Does it help you to feel stronger and happier?

    * Journal the daily moments that made you feel grateful, happy, and strong.
    * Notice how many times something bad served as a stimulus for a greater   good.  For example, "If I had not lost my job, I would have never acquired the
      skills for more fulfilling work."
    * Focus on what you have rather than what you do not have. For example, as
      you scan your home, look at your many belongings. You can create even
      more joy by redistributing the items you no longer use to charity.  
    * Think about the people you have known that have made you thankful. Write
      down what you appreciated about them and how they contributed to your life.
      They can be family, people in your neighborhood, or people you see on
      television, or even read about in books.  If possible, let them know what
      you appreciate.
    * Think of the people who have given you a challenge. Think of what you
      accomplished because of them.
    * Reflect on the animals and the places that have made you smile -- flowers,
      a woodland trail, a favorite restaurant.  Give thanks for all of these.
    * Now smile, pass it on, and give back as much as you can.   

5.  Announcements
Upcoming Teleseminar:  Women's Happiness: Transform Stress to Success
Monday November 30, 2009. 7:00 - 8:00 PM CST.  More and more women are awakening to their feminine power in evolving a better   world. Research shows this also resulted in stress.  Indeed, as women have moved  into positionsof more power and influence, there has been a corresponding decrease in women's happiness, as compared with men.

Come join us for a teleseminar to better understand the sources of the stress and to discussways to reduce it. We will look at women's happiness and stress by looking at the contributions from culture, gender differences, and a mind-body 
perspective. Join us by clicking on the link at the right. 

 Happy Thanksgiving,
 Dr. Alice

Newsletter Name: 
Lifetree News

The Long Life of Character

Successful Relating
Fulfillment through Connection and Community
Alice G. Vlietstra, Ph.D.
October, 2009
In this issue:

1. Welcome
2. The Short Life of Materialism
3. The Long Life of Character
4. The Challenge
5. Announcements

1. Welcome
Welcome.  Fall is here.  In the Midwest US the trees are displaying their beautiful red, yellow, and orange colors.  It is the time of harvest, sharing, and celebrating life. 

The new harvest this year brings stories of people who are replacing their failed money serving mindset with the mindset serving life.  The idea that we might put life ahead of money, at first, may seem unrealistic, but not when you understand how we are wired. This is the focus of this e-newsletter. 

It will also be the focus of our upcoming complementary workshop November 10.  See the details at

2.  The Short Life of Materialism  

If you ask the average American, what do you need to be happy?  A TV watcher might say food, shelter, a car, and their favorite advertized items.  We do need a certain amount of food, clothes, and shelter to live.  A nice home is good and a bit beyond the bare necessities is nice.  But after the novelty wears off, we are left with an empty feeling.  Advertisers tell us we can fill the emptiness by shopping for more stuff.  This can keep the big corporations busy, but it may not make us happier.  What research shows, that in order to be truly happy, we don't need more stuff.  We need each other.    

Indeed, researchers, Kasser and Ryan, found that people who put money and materialism high on their list of priorities were at greater risk for anxiety, low self esteem, and depression.  Money-seekers also scored lower on tests of vitality and self-actualization. They state, "The more we seek satisfactions in material goods, the less we find it there." Why?  Our attention to material objects habituates with time, giving way to attention focused on more self-directed human goals. 

3.  The Long Life of Character

Beyond stuff, researchers find long-tem authentic happiness results from family, relationships, self-acceptance, and meaning. Scientists, using advanced imaging technology, report that the mere act of helping another triggers the brain's pleasure center and benefits our health by boosting our immune system and reducing our heart rate.  By contrast, negative emotions suppress our immune system, increase our heart rate, and prepare us to fight or flee.

Findings generally show beyond the minimum level of income needed to meet basic needs, participating in a cooperative caring community is a far better predictor of happiness and emotional health than the size of our paycheck or bank account. The desire of many Americans to create a society of healthy children, families, communities, and natural systems is no accident.  It is the expression of our deepest desires. 

Key to the experience of this kind of happiness is the development of character.  One of the first to identify the deeper qualities of happiness and success was the stoic philosopher,  Epictetus.  He observed that if there was one prime law to happiness and success, it was "Character is destiny." Freud made the same observation as do happiness researchers today. 

Developmentally, the healthy path to a fully formed consciousness is a progression from the survival based, self-centered, undifferentiated magical consciousness of the young infant to the fully mature, inclusive, and multidimensional consciousness of the wise elder.  It requires a balanced development of the higher brain based on reflection, community and caring with the primitive under socialized instinctual brain.  This occurs in the nurturing context of caring adults, families, and communities.   

4. Facing the Challenge

The challenge is that a depersonalized economic system that has no attachment to place disrupts the bonds of community and family, making it difficult to promote the development of our higher character.  For example, leaving social learning of teens to peer groups, without adult leadership, limits the development of their morals.  We need to re-establish our local connections.  We can do this in our churches, synagogues, homes, and places where we can have local meetings.  Then we can take time to converse and become aware of the stories that have influenced us.  The women's movement provides an example of this effort. 

In the past the key to a woman's happiness was to fight the right man, marry him, and devote her life to his service.  A new gender story began with discussion circles in which women came together in their living rooms to share their stories.  Previously, if a woman did not conform to the prevailing story, she "had a problem."  As women got together, they discovered the flaw in this story. Soon, millions of women were spreading a new story that saw the feminine as a powerful force in transforming our earth.

The voluntary simplicity movement gives us another example of people discovering what really makes them happy.  You may discover that to be happy, you really do not need that much stuff.

The old story, "Money is destiny" has been a story of competition for scarce physical resources and survival of the fittest.  The consequence has been distrust, increased violence, hurt and pain.  It has ended up in an economy that is depersonalized and disrupts the bonds of community.  Do you want to keep this story? Or, would our rather get together to reexamine it as well as our essential nature? Are we really hedonistic little beasties or are we people who care?

The old truth, "Character is destiny," provides the grist for many cherished and long lived stories. Through them we discover what is important, share our compassion for each other, and what we have learned. They give us an opportunity to discover the true potentials of our human nature and a common vision of the world.  Add to this the communication technologies, now in place, that can meld our local conversations into a global one, ending isolation and competitive violence. We can change our human story from competition and exclusion to cooperation and inclusion.  Which would you prefer?


Tuesday, November 10, 1-4:00 CDT Webster University. Change your story.  Explore, gain support and share.  Come to our workshop "Breakthroughs to Success:  Achieve Prosperity with Harmony."  We will have four speakers, myself, Sue Anderson who will help us with the challenges of stuff, Julie Hood who give us the
latest on critical internet technologies and Cynthia Isaac who will help us get moving and get things done.  It is NO CHARGE.  It will be held at Webster University.  Seating is limited.  Sign up at the link.

Monday, October 26, 7:00 PM CDT Learn about new advances in Transforming Stress to Success."   Just Click this Link:

© Copyright 2009 Alice Vlietstra.  All rights
reserved. The above material is copyrighted but
you may retransmit or distribute it to whomever you wish as long as not a single word is added or deleted, including the contact information.
However, you may not copy it to a web site without my permission.

Forward this newsletter to people you think would like to read it!

Newsletter Name: 
Successful Relating
    Syndicate content