Paul O'Brien

Decision Makers' Corner

Official Blog of the Divination Foundation

Paul O'Brien is an author, spiritual counselor, founder of Tarot.com and the Divination Foundation. He is also the host of Pathways Radio, an interview program focused on personal and cultural transformation and author of the syndicated advice column, Paulo's Perspective, dedicated to coaching people on enlightened decision making.

The Beliefs that Govern our Lives

Your beliefs — about yourself and the world you live in — are the lens through which you experience life. Every thought, every feeling, every decision and every action you take, arises out of your beliefs. Many are so deeply ingrained that we take them for granted as representing reality and rarely question their validity. We act on beliefs as though they are a fixed part of us; while our subconscious selects information that reinforces what we already believe.

Eastern masters have long advised, “Cease to cherish opinions.” From the Zen perspective, all beliefs are little more than current opinions — based on the best perceptions we can make, given our upbringing and conditioning, and what we would like to believe. Around age 3 or 4 we begin to make conclusions about our environment and form core beliefs to make sense of the world. Such deeply entrenched opinions can continue to operate subconsciously for a lifetime.

Looking at beliefs as opinions illuminates their impermanent nature. As I discuss in my book, Great Decisions, Perfect Timing, every belief is a choice — one we are making now or made years ago. Recognizing the nature of beliefs helps us be more open and flexible; and able to allow our beliefs to naturally evolve based on new learning experiences. If we want to make better decisions for ourselves, we must be willing to reconsider what we think is true and grow beyond the limitations imposed on us by our current beliefs. The important question now is: How aware are you of your beliefs, especially your fears? Often the vigor with which we defend against our fears unwittingly locks us into the belief behind them. More than any other mental structure, your beliefs and the attitudes they derive from define what is possible for you. Beliefs can be a major limiting factor in getting what you want.

An important part of self-knowledge, it is necessary to take full ownership of what you believe – something most people actually never do. For one thing, it requires the courageous humility of self-examination. To make things more difficult, many of us were taught that certain beliefs are sacred and that even to question them is a sin. Well, the wise and the brave are willing to question and test everything they believe in order to make better, more conscious decisions. Can your current beliefs pass two critical tests? Are they 1) based in reality as best you understand it now (have you studied?) and 2) do they help the realization of your higher desires, your aspirations? If you answered no in either case, it’s time for some more experimenting and learning! Nothing is more important than having success-functional beliefs!

A skillful way to look at beliefs is to take them as current operating assumptions, rather than ‘facts’ or articles of faith you must cling to. They should work for you, not you for them! Ultimately, we are responsible for our beliefs and the decisions we make from them. Believing itself is a choice, so decide wisely. Be sure to upgrade your beliefs as needed. Try and learn new things.

A Desperate Need for Wisdom

As I point out in my book, Great Decisions, Perfect Timing, one of the benefits of living the “synchronistic lifestyle” is wisdom–a rare quality that no longer gets the respect it deserves. Wisdom is the learned ability to calm down and make great decisions–based on experience, common sense logic and intuitive intelligence.

Lack of this profound quality handicaps our personal and cultural evolution. Nowhere is this more evident than in polls that show almost half of American voters are so emotional they might be willing to risk further damaging government by electing a con-artist demagogue.

Wisdom requires resisting the pull of strong emotions like fear and anger, the attraction to magical thinking or addictions to instant gratification. As Wikipedia puts it, “Wisdom is a disposition to find the truth coupled with an optimum judgment as to what actions should be taken.” The pursuit of wise judgment is why my life and work are focused on visionary decision-making.

Wisdom is both a function and result of skillful decision-making. You only have to listen to Trump for two minutes to see how critical a bit of wisdom is to good decision-making in these crazy times. Rather than make ridiculous xenophobic decisions about building walls and banning peoples, wise leaders humbly enlist creative intuition and good advice to make decisions that will benefit everyone in the long run.

When you practice fine-tuning your intuitive sense, you more easily notice meaningful synchronicities and insights that arise. Everything that happens shines with a greater sense of meaning, which provides a basis for even more wisdom. As wisdom is cultivated, it helps you balance taking care of yourself while attending to the common good. Things are out of balance, on the other hand, when our point of view is narrow or self-obsessed–constrictions of consciousness that can happen due to lack of self-esteem or an inflated sense of self-importance.

As Aristotle put it, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” It is important to be able to call upon a strong ego that is ready to defend boundaries, but the ego should never allowed to run the show. The ego is properly a lieutenant who should take direction from a higher consciousness, the spiritual self. The ego can be maniacal and does not provide good leadership.

Establishing an appropriate relationship between your ego and higher consciousness is the fruit of self-knowledge. Experience is a great teacher, and the single experience that most helps develop wisdom is strategic decision-making–provided we are brave enough to creatively and proactively step up, go through and move past our fears and make the important decisions).

The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity, answered “Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present, the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

Could anyone could sum up the hazards of neglecting wisdom better?

Channeling Your Own Creative Power

Spring in full bloom is a perfect time to spread your creative wings — including through playfulness, joy and humor — with some playful monkey business. If you’re feeling more creative or playful than last year, it might have to do with this being the Chinese Year of the Monkey. This nimble, playful and oh-so-clever primate wants adventure or to seek out more creative solutions (in contrast to the energy of last year’s Goat, which was more about careful footing and diligence).

How can we channel creative energy this year that supports our learning and productivity? Well, truly fruitful creativity requires focusing your attention and doing things in the right order. Ironically, these boundaries free up creative power so it can flow through us. Hardly anything is more joyful than creative productivity!

Focus On Goals

Creative power is unlimited, but requires focus to produce effective or pleasing results. If you want to creatively design or produce something, make your goal enough of a top priority to work toward it every day. That’s how I finished my book, Great Decisions, Perfect Timing. I wrote an hour or two upon waking every morning for over four years — every day of the week, no matter where I was. In spite of the disciplinary aspect of making myself do this, I found I kept discovering fresh insights!

Do Things in the Right Order

Creative Power is the first archetype of the great Chinese oracle — the I Ching, or Book of Changes. It represents the highest expression of pure Yang ‘doing’ energy. As the Visionary I Ching App advises, if your goals are in alignment with the greater good — if you assert yourself in a positive way — actions taken with good timing produce success. How do we channel creativity most effectively? We start by doing things in the right order, while creating some space for creative inspiration. A mindfulness practice like the “Letting Go” meditation taught in Great Decisions, Perfect Timing, is an easy way to release mental roadblocks, “priming” your mind for better intuitive reception. It’s critical to learn how to clear your mind of distractions and emotional clutter when you need a creative solution the most!

Work Can Be Fun!

If you are focused on a creative pursuit, make sure to take in the pleasure and joy of the experience. A recent article in Current Biology by Patrick Bateson noted that “acting playfully” and “coming up with new ideas” and being humorous are linked. Interestingly, playful creativity was defined as an internal human attribute — as opposed to being motivated by external rewards, which were shown to actually inhibit creativity! Organizations should take note that it is beneficial to profits and customer satisfaction for staff members to be playful and creative at work. Bateson points out that companies like 3M give employees a portion of each day to engage in “speculative ideas” to help spur their creative juices.

Channeling Creativity

Let feelings of deep pleasure sink in … let yourself enjoy the process — whether you’re writing, playing music or making art. If you feel distracted or frustrated, do a quick “Letting Go” meditation, or just put creative work aside and escape into something you enjoy. By combining focus, timing and playfulness, you will be able to joyfully channel creative power. So, plant some wild seeds and manifest some monkey business!

A Synchronistic Lifestyle

Often we are our own worst enemy. We resist painful realities or avoid difficult situations; or we become overwhelmed by taking on too much. Pain is a normal part of life, but the extent of our suffering is largely governed by attitude. We do not have to resign ourselves to being helpless victims, always defending against possible dangers. One way of managing personal challenges is to look at life as a game of strategy and timing, like chess or the game of ‘Go.’ Of course, our lives aren’t games that we can ever really lose — at least not as long as we keep improving. But it can be hard to grow while managing our responsibilities, as well as unexpected occurrences that could knock us over!

Awareness of synchronicity can help tremendously. This is a higher awareness of timing, a stronger sense of being in the flow of life and essentially trusting life’s process of evolution. The happy result of this approach is the realization of a “synchronistic lifestyle.” Below are some benefits that describe a synchronistic lifestyle, wherein we learn to make better decisions and ride the waves of change rather than flounder.

Creativity

Inspiration is the mental connection between a receptive intuitive sense and an idea ready to be adopted by someone who can appreciate it enough to do something with it. Stress and distractions block receptivity to creative inspiration, but our brains are hard-wired to seek solutions to problems. The best approach, however, is a calm mind and a quiet heart. How can you follow inspiration if you’re on high alert? There are mindfulness exercises to “calm” the mind (see the book Great Decisions, Perfect Timing). Sometimes it’s enough to just remember what you enjoy or find meaning in, acknowledging the importance of your creative side.

Develop Confidence in Your Own Intuition

Once you have identified the meaningfulness of what you enjoy, celebrate your competence! You are much more capable than you generally give yourself credit for. Believe in your inner strengths—and assert your desires. We can quickly feel overwhelmed if we never say “no” to co-workers, friends, and even strangers. Being assertive while doing what you are good at will make you more visible to key people. The exercise of confidence reduces stress levels over time.

Wisdom and Contentment

Think of contentment as a “ripened state of happiness.” Based on an unconditional acceptance of reality, contentment arises from conscious feelings of gratitude and compassion — for yourself and all beings. Cultivate contentment by appreciating all the ways that things in your life are going right. Contentment usually arrives after you have had time to digest insights and unlock their meaning. That’s when you have achieved some wisdom, the culmination of learning from experience. Wisdom helps us balance our needs with the greater good. As Aristotle put it long ago, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”

You will feel less stressed just by knowing what is possible. If you cultivate the synchronistic lifestyle, you will have more access to creative powers that influence life’s ebbs and flows and your reactions. The more you trust your intuition and take the risks that grow you, the more accurate and trustworthy your intuition will become. Your understanding of people and human nature will dramatically improve. You will learn that the more you trust yourself — and the Universe — the more confident and happy you automatically will become.

China Awakens to Spiritual Heritage

Sometimes perfect timing happens the minute you make a great decision and sometimes it takes years. My recent trip to China in October illustrates the point. Amazing synchronicities proved out the truism that “everything happens for a reason!”

Attending this year’s International Holistic Centers Gathering, held outside of Beijing, I was asked to talk on my new book, Great Decisions, Perfect Timing. Now, Beijing is fascinating, but what hits you upon arrival is a thick and suffocating smog that makes it difficult to see further than a city block. Add traffic gridlock in a city of 20 million people and, in spite of great historic sites, the place is barely livable.

The conference was held at a resort community known as “Jackson Hole, China” (search articles online). A billionaire developer, Mr. Liu Xiangpiang, developed the gated community a decade ago, adding in a personal growth center and spa. He and his wife, Annie, were most gracious hosts.

The 1500-home village is modeled on Jackson Hole, Wyoming and is a veritable monument to the American dream of conspicuous consumption. The homes are log castles of 4,000 to 5,000 square feet that cost $1 to $8 million, and they are selling as fast as they are built. The town center reminded me of a Wild West theme park. To make it even more westernized, they built a church with a cross in the center of the town, which is popular for weddings.

Tai chi is a passion of Mr. Liu’s and he led an excellent Tai chi class at our conference every morning. A CNN article quoted Mr. Liu as saying, “Those who can afford to buy houses here, have enough money … they want spiritual fulfillment.”

One can hope that injecting a spiritual element into materialism will lead to greater awareness in China of its own amazing heritage of Taoism, Tai Chi and the I Ching. My experiences with Chinese people lends weight to such hopes, as I found myself in the ironic position of bringing concepts back to a modern China that knows very little about its own noble spiritual traditions.

After giving a talk about my ‘psychological’ I Ching, I took questions. Mr. Liu himself asked me if my Visionary I Ching was influenced by personal growth experiences. I responded recounting many of the trainings I have undertaken. He asked if I had a Chinese translation of my I Ching. When I said “Not yet,” he said he would like to publish it if I did. (I thought, “Maybe that is the reason I am here!”) The next day I met with nine PhD. candidates doing dissertations on the I Ching. When I explained Jung’s synchronicity and archetypes as a way to understand the I Ching, they too thought I was a genius!

Years of refinement of my modern I Ching (beginning in 1989 up until the current Visionary I Ching app now available) have enabled the program to enter China at the right time. Sometimes perfect timing takes a while. In the case of returning a 21st century version of the I Ching back to its roots, it only took 25 years!

Develop Your Visionary Potential

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Both businesses I founded had “visionary” in their name (Visionary Software and Visionary Networks). Now we have the Visionary I Ching app. From the start of my entrepreneurial career, I called myself “Chief Visionary Officer,” because I saw myself primarily as an inventor. Obviously, the word “visionary” has long packed meaning and power for me. Nowadays, it has become a fashionable word, if only for marketing.

Writing my book, Great Decisions, Perfect Timing, made me wonder if the visionary capacity – including an ability to practice my Visionary Decision-Making (VDM) processes – is really available to everyone. It starts with holding to a vision that can “inspire you to take the risks that grow you when the timing is right.” VDM is simply beyond many people because most people are too busy and distracted to think outside the box of their beliefs.

In truth, a highly visionary capacity is available to everyone … eventually. I wrote the book to serve both those who are already becoming intuitively adept and those who want to. Each of us certainly has a capacity for vision, even if few of us dissolve the box of our thinking.

How can a person develop their visionary capacity? Well, for one thing, you can improve your skill at envisioning novel results by practicing active imagination. In other words, “think different” … and think bigger. That’s how I created the first interactive divination software (which culminated in Tarot.com, I-Ching.com, and now the Visionary I Ching app).

My book shows how to channel and focus Creative Power—the archetype that is first hexagram of the I Ching. This is divine power resource that is always there for you. Through active imagination, dreams and daydreams, Creative Power generates insights and visions. As the nursery school rhyme chants, “life is but a dream.” Yes, but it is a dream that you are creating with and for yourself. Surround yourself with objects or people that inspire you, like favorite music, time with a loved one, or meditating quietly with nature. Doing what inspires you will cultivate intuitive intelligence and creative powers.

You might ask: How do I be sure that my vision is real rather than wishful thinking or fantasies of my ego? In order to be sure that a vision is in alignment with who you are at depth, you can use the “heart-check” method. A trustworthy vision will connect mind, heart and soul. For some, success takes the form of a harmonious and loving family life. For others, it could translate into a strong sense of mission or purpose related to one’s vocation, or some competitive victory on behalf of a partnership, family, tribe or entire world.

As we move toward a more evolved society that spawns dreams of greater creative freedom, the ability to formulate and realize the visionary capacity becomes more essential for individuals and society. Developing your visionary potential and increasing creative freedom is part of your legacy to future generations. As we cultivate intuitive intelligence and evolve toward our human potential, we make it easier for all those who follow us. This is the path of healing the planet as well as ourselves.

The Other Side of the Microphone

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In my previous blog post about interviews, I referred to my being the host of KBOO Community Radio‘s Pathways program. In this blog, I’m going to share about my own appearances in support of my latest book, as well as my talks about the I Ching.

Nowadays I find myself on the other side of the microphone as the person who is trying to help people make better decisions via my latest book, the Amazon.com best-selling Great Decisions, Perfect Timing. It’s gratifying to see that there is an appetite for the book and its message, which includes some interest in online classes that we are in the process of developing.

When I invested everything I had in developing I Ching software back in 1989, my peers thought I was crazy. The only excuse I could offer at the time was, “Wherever God drags me, I will follow.” Now I’m finding myself invited (not quite dragged) into the limelight through media interviews and public readings. Even though I don’t have a huge desire to promote myself, the response that Great Decisions, Perfect Timing is receiving tells me that I should step up to the microphone.

Readers have responded warmly to the personal stories in my book. Many have been inspired by how I walked away from a high-paying, VP-level job in the tech industry to pursue my desire for greater creative freedom designing esoteric software that had special meaning for me. However, I signal a note of caution. Some think that the lesson is to simply “follow their muse out of love” and shuck their jobs right away. But after I left my full-time position, I kept up a “day job” as a high-tech marketing consultant for years in order to fund my creative pursuits. Greater creative freedom takes commitment, discipline, and sacrifice. The happy ending to my business story certainly did not happen overnight!

The warm and enthusiastic response to this particular story (and many others in the book) signals a natural drive for greater creative freedom. When I advise people not to quit their day job (just yet), I remind them of how grateful we should be for any creative freedom at all. As recently as 250 years ago, we had no freedom to choose our profession, where we live, even who we marry. You are probably living a high level of creative freedom right now. The desire for even greater creative freedom is positive, however, because this desire drives personal and cultural evolution. It gets better!

If you listen to any of the radio show I’ve been interviewed for, I hope that you find them worthwhile and enjoyable. My recent interview on the Dr. Pat Show (with Pat Baccili) is a great introduction to these podcasts if you haven’t had a chance to hear them yet. You can listen to this and all of my recent interviews on the Resources page of the Divination Foundation website.

Note: All the proceeds from Great Decisions, Perfect Timing and the best-selling Visionary I Ching app go to the non-profit Divination Foundation.

The Transformative Power of Media

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Media transforms lives and reflects our fascinations. We read books that inspire us, view films that move us, and listen to programs that broaden our knowledge. Sometimes getting involved with media can be a powerful, transformative experience in and of itself. That certainly describes how I became the host of the Pathways interview program on Portland’s KBOO Community Radio.

During Stage Two of my life (I explain the life stages in my latest book, Great Decisions, Perfect Timing), I worked in software marketing for an Oregon start-up. I loved listening to the Pathways interview program on KBOO. At the time, the show was hosted by Tom Park, who conducted insightful interviews with leaders involved with personal and cultural transformation. Obviously, the content of the show resonated with me. In a stroke of synchronicity, I happened to meet Tom at a men’s group in 1980. I told him how much I enjoyed the show, and I mentioned that if he ever wanted help with interviewing to please let me know, because I thought I would be good at it.

Over one year later, Tom contacted me and asked if I was still interested in helping him do interviews on Pathways. I began as co-host and became the primary host of Pathways when Tom retired from the show last year. This all goes to show how after you put yourself out there for what you want, divine providence can come around when the timing is right—another case of the “law of attraction” at work!

The Pathways show is an extension of my life’s mission and the mission of my non-profit Divination Foundation, which is to research, develop and promote technologies for personal and cultural transformation. I’ve learned so much picking the brains of cultural change agents and spiritual leaders, and that’s helped me understand myself and has also provided a wide perspective on the world we live in, to support a sense of hope and meaning. In the process, I’ve interviewed hundreds of people over the years, including such luminaries as Deepak Chopra, Don Miguel Ruiz and John Gray.

My Pathways interviews are available to stream or download on Divination.com, and you can subscribe to the podcast for free on iTunes. The conversations cover personal and spiritual development, entrepreneurship, financial responsibility, creative power, shamanism, sexuality, philanthropy, environmental issues, spiritual awakenings and many other topics that are delightfully unclassifiable. The programs are short (28 minutes long), free of advertising and free of charge.

I’m no stranger to giving talks or being interviewed myself (or giving speeches to large audiences). In my next blog post, I’ll discuss my adventures on the other side of the microphone!

 

Grandma’s Law: Bite the Bullet, Have More Fun!

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A hyper-connected world makes us hyper-distracted. Smartphones, tablets, even watches spit out endless texts, tweets and funny kittens — making it difficult to concentrate or accomplish goals. When faced with a list of tasks, the common tendency is to save the hardest for last, putting off the more stressful items until we have no choice. This tendency leads to procrastination or incidental neglect, where critical factors don’t get the attention or quality of thinking they deserve.

How can we better prioritize things to correct for this self-defeating tendency? In my recent book, Great Decisions and Perfect Timing, I bring up an aspect of emotional intelligence known as delayed gratification, which I refer to as “Grandma’s Law.” Daniel Goleman, the author of Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, makes a compelling case for delaying gratification. He calls for greater “cognitive control” to help children manage their attention through the use of mindfulness techniques. This is Grandma’s Law in a nutshell!

The ability to control one’s impulses is a foundation of wise decision-making and effective productivity throughout life. As a parent, I tried to teach my son “Grandma’s Law,” which went like this: “Sure, you can have ice cream… after you finish your green beans.” Putting chores first was a lesson I was made to learn at a young age (I’m grateful about it now.) It took me a while to realize that the removal of overhanging deadlines made subsequent playtime more fun.

Applying Grandma’s Law in my own life, I had achieved perfect grades and scholarship awards throughout a rigorous education. Later, Grandma’s Law made a critical difference in my professional life—informing my decision-making and enabling my ability to survive, and ultimately thrive, as a bootstrap entrepreneur. As a parent, one way I invoked Grandma’s Law with my son was to get him to do his chores and homework on Saturday with Sunday as his play day, rather than the other way around (which he naturally preferred).

Grandma’s Law speaks to the logical aspect of strategic decision-making—prioritization—helping us do things in the right order. It is logical, because it doesn’t take intuition to analyze the most challenging part of a project or to-do list. Just tune into your feelings—the thing you dread having to do the most is where you start!

If you’re not sure how to focus on the most difficult tasks, ask yourself: What task fills you with the most apprehension? Which are you least confident about? These are the ones to tackle early on. After you knock them off, it’s like rolling downhill until you are done and it’s playtime!

Tip: If you’re stuck, try the “Letting Go” mantra from my book. It’s simple: Focusing on your breathing, let go of identifying with changing thoughts and feelings, while being open to and mindful of whatever arises in your mind. Close your eyes and take a full breath, thinking the word Letting as you inhale and stretching out the Go as you exhale. Repeat as often as necessary until your mind relaxes. Your head is then clear enough to make the wise move. You will get better results and have more fun afterwards!

The Amazing Power of Generosity

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In the early days of my Internet start-up (Tarot.com), I assumed the sovereign archetype and invented my own currency. I called it “Karma Coins” and it was a radical idea at the time — a way to give registered members a way to make small payments for do-it-yourself Tarot card readings, I-Ching readings and astrology reports — payments that would sometimes be too small for a credit card.

As our first year of Karma Coin operations was ending, I was inspired to give all of our 100,000 members (which grew to 10 million over the next few years) a New Year’s gift of 50 Karma Coins each. It was a gesture born of a generous impulse but also to see what would happen. I told our IT guy to deposit 50 Karma Coins into each account. On the side, I predicted to our small staff that revenues would take a hit for a few days as a result.

Boy, was I wrong! Instead of dropping, sales of Karma Coins almost immediately tripled! After that, I increased the company’s generous giving to our community. We started depositing KCs into members’ accounts on their birthdays, along with a ‘personal’ e-mail from me wishing a happy birthday and telling them about our gift for them.

We were experimenting with generosity as business practice, and it had a “Johnny Appleseed” effect. When we launched Karma Coins, Visionary Networks had few employees and was barely profitable. Some thought that giving things away might destroy our chances to grow and prosper. But this experiment was an example of listening to my intuition and a desire to do a good thing for our community, so I expanded the gift-giving in various creative ways.

Other CEOs have also understood the power of generosity. For example, you may recall recent news story about Dan Price, CEO of Seattle-based Gravity Payments, who pegged $70,000 as minimum wage at his company. He drastically reduced his own pay to balance this out. His rationale was that happy employees are loyal if they are treated generously and have a long-term stake in a business (granted, he held founder’s stock).

We all have an ability to think bigger. In my previous blog post on the Tragedy of the Commons, I referenced Charles Eisenstein’s book Sacred Economics: Money, Gift, and Society in the Age of Transition. Eisenstein mentions the possibility of making gift-giving itself into a kind of currency – where “a magical synchronicity of wants and needs” can unfold. It’s a fascinating idea.

A coda about Karma Coins: sadly, the practice of giving them away faded after I sold the company and bean-counters took over. But what I had learned from gifting Karma Coins is that when generosity comes from the heart and is in alignment with the collective good, it rebounds to the good of the giver! Even small acts of generosity can grow you while contributing to the greater social good. Let’s challenge ourselves to do at least one generous act a day without expecting anything in return. Generosity is a gift to ourselves … let’s be good to ourselves often!