Day 231 in Beijing: The Gift of Therapy.

Welcome and be happy.

Welcome. Smiles await you.

I received my undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of New Mexico in 1996 at the age of 26.  I then traveled and took the path less chosen for a number of years. I returned to school in 2003, graduating with my M.A. in Counseling Psychology, in 2006.

I have worked as a therapist/social worker for the last 8 years. I learned to help people heal as they figure out their best path in life.

How many of us even know what is the best for us in any given moment?

I’m not sure much of what is best for me most of the time.

I have taught myself to trust a combination of using gut instincts, behavioral therapy skills I’ve learned to process experiences, and advice from trusted family and friends.

What I’ve learned from my job is that I trust that people, with my guidance, have a better sense regarding what is the right choice for them.

I can support and give insight by helping show people what I’ve learned, mastered and continue to study through the years.

Perhaps the safety people feel when someone isn’t perfect, or admits that they too are growing each day, allows them to create plans unlike any I could have imagined for them.

It is a wonder to see how their minds work. I love watching people grow and learn about themselves.

As mentioned before, I do cause most of my own problems and pain.  However, I’ve also come to realize that, when I own my choices, people react in ways that surprise me. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.  It depends on their view of the world and their place in it.

The old saying, “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, but teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime” makes sense to me.  It is also how I work as a therapist.  I can guide and teach a client but they have to help himself to learn the skills so they can continue down their own path, confident in his own abilities.

This insight about owning my life and letting others own theirs allows me to see when it is someone else’s issue.

This gives me greater confidence and trust. I can look at the issue more objectively, without anger, and decide if I want to put any energy into it or the person.

I’m content with who I am and how I deal with others. The people I care about seem to feel the same way towards me.  This doesn’t mean I’m going to stop striving to learn, advance, and grow. I’m just going to do it with a stronger sense of self. This means, I can take ownership of my mistakes and let others do the same. I don’t need to carry what is theirs.

Thoughts to ponder:

1. How can I take responsibility for my actions while still being able to see when it is the other person’s issue?

2. How has my thinking changed since 5 years ago about self/other blame and judgment?

3. How would I like to be able to think about self/other blame and judgment in 5 years?

4. When someone criticizes me, what steps can I take to think logically about their points and decide whether or not they are accurate in my own world view?

5. When you were a kid, what belief system did you learn, through watching others?

6. Does it still work for you or have you changed it and how?

7. What would you like to change about your belief system today?

8. What do you imagine your belief system will be 10 years from now?

Day 228 in Beijing: Linear and Circular Spectrum.

Make your choice and see what you can become.  The options are endless.

Make your choice and see what you can become. The options are endless.

I am often asked by people about how to be happy in their job, their relationships and their life.

My belief system is grounded in behavioral therapy and has been further adapted to include other methodologies and mindfulness.

This does not mean it has a religious or spiritual belief behind it but that each moment is impermanent and we have a choice to live our lives, by choosing our thoughts and behaviors, which affect our emotions, each nanosecond that we live on this planet.

I used to search for jobs, friendships and relationships that would be “the one.”  The more I looked, the more I found that no matter how much I believe one job is better than another, one person is better than another or that “this new thing” will allow me to be happy, I was incorrect.  My hypothesis was that something else would make me happy when I wasn’t willing to do the hard work to re-frame my automatic negative thoughts and my biases to the outside world.  I wanted everyone else to change instead of realizing that it is my fault, in a very positive way, for each and every interaction that I have and what the outcome will be to that interaction.

We all have this ability to be exactly who we are and what we are right now.

We are that job we don’t like, which is a job someone else would love to have.

We are that person we hate, who is that person someone else would love to love.

We are all those things that we despise.

I was the thing I despised because of my ego and my insecurities.

In the end, we may just be specks of dust and atoms that scatter back into the universe.

This is exceptionally freeing to me because that means I can live my life with less regret and less pressure to have to “be something” or “prove something” that doesn’t really count in the long term.

This allows me to take on as many roles, and personalities, as I want and make changes whenever I choose to make them.

Many people I know see their life or their life choices as a linear spectrum.

They see it as a flat line that goes in one direction.

There is good on one end and bad on the other.

I prefer to take the ends of those lines and bend it into a circle.  I see it as those ends are not the opposite.  They are actually very close together and can oftentimes be interchanged.

I’m not saying that every US president is the same but, in many ways, they are probably not that different when you look at it:  both human, both “male”, both work in politics, both think they are doing the right thing, both believe they are chosen to lead, etc.

I recently went swimming with sharks in Malaysia.  Some were about 3 feet long and I was right beside them without any protection.  I also went skydiving after I received my Marriage and Family Therapist License as a way to prove to myself that fear and anxiety are lies and I have a choice to overcome what I choose to overcome.  I continue to do that every second of my life and love how my mind and body respond to the mastery of a new skill.

I feel it is my responsibility to take the positive in me and let it flow into what I do.  If I don’t, I then encourage negative energy from other people to build and take control of my life.

I encourage you, in your own way and style, to be willing to feel the fear in new adventures, to make mistakes, and to revel in the changes that result.


Day 223 in Beijing: DeHappy and BeHppy!

This place is happy 24 hours a day and 365 days a year!

This place is happy 24 hours a day and 365 days a year!

A friend of Jill’s has an app that is called BeHppy!

It is a stream of pictures, taken by anonymous people that have downloaded it, that then post pictures that make them happy.  The viewer can then click a smiley face to show the poster that their picture made them happy.

People have posted pictures all over the world and of many different things and events.

Jill and I have been posting pictures of our travels and people seem to enjoy them.

One of person that posts always finds pictures of things that are “smiling” even though they aren’t people or animals.  It is quite fun to see how people can interpret smiling and happiness in their own way.

Jill’s friend, Aline, is the owner and founder and a wonderful person.  Do her a favor and download it and start using it.  It is really fun and easy and just click the link below:


I like this app a lot since I’m a firm believer in behavioral interventions allowing people to change their thoughts and emotions.  There are studies that show that by simply looking in a mirror and smiling for 5 minutes, you can change a person’s emotion.  I’ve tried it before and actually prescribed this as a technique and I know that it works.  If you are interested in reading more about this, this is a good primer: One Smile (Only One) Can Lift A Mood.

It quotes Daniel Goleman and Paul Ekman.  Both are very noted researchers and scientists.  Dr. Ekman actually had a tv show called “Lie To Me” about his theory of the facial recognition of micro-emotions that was interesting and fun.   I’ve read a few of his books and taken his micro-emotion recognition tests.

Most people score about 3 out of 15.

I scored an average of 13 out of 15.

I think this is because I tend to focus on people’s faces and study their emotions as a behavioral therapist.  I want to know exactly when something changes and how that shows up.  I look for the tiniest trace of a change and then try to call my client’s attention to it so they can see that emotions can be changed in an instant and that nothing is permanent.  A large part of my behavioral therapy practice is using empathy constructively and helping people learn acceptance of themselves, their choices and of others.

As for happiness, I’ve often found that people want to be happy without really defining what that term means to them.  To me, happiness is finding contentment.

I’ve noticed that when I’m content, I’m happy.  I find it hard to find happiness first or believe that it is a constant.

Without happiness, how could we know sadness?

Without sadness, how could we know happiness?

Or any emotion in between.

As Jill and I have traveled, we’ve searched for pictures to post on BeHppy of words or images that have the word “Happy” in them.

Here are just a few.

I hope you enjoy them and find happiness, contentment or whatever emotion would benefit you in this moment.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Day 220 in Beijing: Ego Pharmacy.

Need some help with your ego?

Need some help with your ego?

So, Jill and I were walking around Georgetown, Malaysia today looking for temples to visit.

Trust me, that is not a hard job here as there are so many amazing temples from so many different cultures.

We’ve found churches, mosques, Buddhist temples from Burma (the only Burmese Buddhist temple outside of Burma/Myanmar at this time), one from Thailand, and temples from China.  We even found one a tower that combines Chinese, Thai and Burmese religions and houses a 90 foot tall Kuan Yin statue that is awe inspiring.

However, since I work as a behavioral therapist, I noticed this sign and started laughing at it.

I think, in many ways, that an “ego pharmacy” would be a wonderful addition to any practice.

In fact, I think of myself as an ego pharmacist since I help people become more content and able to deal with stress in their life as my job.

If someone is having a bad time, or overwhelmed or dealing with anxiety, among other things, I help them using empathy and then techniques and skills which are proven, scientifically, to relieve those issues and allow the person to figure out what is best for their life and what is their best choice at this time for them.

People are constantly figuring out what is best for them and, therefore, behavioral therapy allows them to learn the skills that I know and be able to use them on their own to figure out what is right for them each and every day.

It is a wonderful job since I get to see people grow, change, and decide out what is right for them every day.  I don’t know of many jobs that offer that kind of reward and allow for such a positive change in the world.

One of the beautiful parts of behavioral therapy is that my beliefs are not part of the issue for the client.  They decide what is right for them and then figure out what choice they want to make and how they want to live their life.  It will be their life and therefore it is up to them to take the responsibility and see what is right for them.

Interestingly, when people decide they don’t want to change and then they realize that this is still a choice to stay the same, and therefore, by taking responsibility for “not changing” they have made a choice and a change.  It becomes a paradoxical intervention that by not changing, you are changing, and that allows people to change more quickly.  It is also solely based on their own choice so they feel more in control and empowered to make, or not make, the change that they feel is needed at that moment.

So, if you want to change, or don’t and can’t figure out why it is so hard to be content, step on into the Ego Pharmacy and see what happens!



Day 219 in Beijing: Lily’s Vegetarian Kitchen.

Buddhist monk.  Check. Blessed food.  Check. Delicious.  Check.

Buddhist monk. Check.
Blessed food. Check.
Delicious. Check.

Jill and I have decided it is time to start becoming more healthy and we’ve decided to try being vegetarian at this time.

It actually started on New Year’s Day, even though it wasn’t a new year’s resolution, and it seems to have been quite easy so far.

Strangely enough, we decided this before we went to a the Thekchen Choling Buddhist temple on New Year’s Day to hear the chanting that they perform for the new lunar month.  But that is blog post for another day.

Being that Buddhists don’t eat any type of animal, and I then read the wonderful book, Direct Expressions written by their Lama Thubten Namdrol Dorje, and agreed with his viewpoints on health, treating other creatures with respect, and not wanting to hurt others, and therefore not wanting to hurt myself, and it just all fell into place.

I’ve done stints of being a vegetarian for up to 6 months, and have found, when I set my mind to it, it is actually quite easy.

One of the reasons is that I was in a pretty horrific car crash when I was 4 years old and have no sense of smell because of my head injury.  I also believe that my sense of taste is probably at about 50% of what most people can experience.

The silver lining is that I’m not tempted by smells of food as I walk by stores and restaurants, and therefore, find the ability to follow through on this change easier than most people since they are usually tempted and it is harder to ignore those senses.

One of the restaurants we went to on our vacation to Malaysia was Lily’s Vegetarian Restaurant.  It was only 2 blocks from our hotel, The Sunway Georgetown, and it was fantastic.

We tried the local Penang style food, even though they had vegetarian fried chicken, which looked amazing, and were blown away.

Everything was fresh, delicious, with just the right amount of spices.  We also had soursop juice and lime juice for our drinks.  Jill has become addicted to lime juice and I’ve become addicted to soursop.  We have no idea how we will deal with the withdrawal symptoms when we return to Beijing in just a few days!

All I can say is if we can find vegetarian food in Beijing that is at all similar to the food we’ve found here in Malaysia, we will not have a problem staying vegetarian and being much more healthy in the upcoming year.

ps. If you’d like to read Direct Expressions, by Lama Thubten Namdrol Dorje, he has put it online in the form of a PDF.  I highly recommend it as it is a wonderful read and he has a fantastic sense of humor and humility.

Here is a direct link to his book:


This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Day 200 in Beijing: Not in Beijing.

200 Days in Beijing.  And San Francisco.  And Healdsburg. And Malaysia. And Sinagpore.

200 Days in Beijing. And Shanghai. And San Francisco. And Healdsburg. And Johor Bahru.  And Kuala Lumpur . And Sinagpore.

It should be day 200 in Beijing for me.

It is not.

I’m in Kuala Lumpur.

Little did I think when I started this blog that I’d even be doing a daily blog that would take me all the places I’ve been to as of today.

A bit of history:  I used to have a blog, a few years ago, where I posted things about my views on life, love and therapy.  I decided that it probably wasn’t the best thing to do since I wasn’t sure I wanted my personal life out there.

However, when I started getting ready to move to Beijing, I decided to do a 14 day countdown for my friends and family that wanted to keep in touch.

When I arrived here I found that I enjoyed it so much I’d attempt to do a blog post for each and every single day of my 3 year contract at my job.

I may stay longer than 3 years but that was my minimum and that is where I wanted to start.

I’m now at 200 days and surprised at how easy it has been to think of something new, and different, each day.

There have been a few tough times where I felt I was losing steam but I asked my readers to give me suggestions and it brought me back to life.

I would like my readers to comment more and tell me what they like and what they want to know as that does excite me and I have more of an idea that people are actually reading my blog.  I would like to think people are reading it and enjoying it but I won’t know unless they tell me.

So, I appreciate, deeply, everyone that writes to me and comments.

It honestly makes me smile each time.

In honor of that, I think Steve Johnson needs a shout out, as we say in the states.

Steve is an old high school friend of mine and has been a one man cheer team for me and my blog.  I think he has “liked” every single post and commented on most of them.

Steve, thank you.  I’m honored and humbled to be your friend and someone that you feel deserves being read.

And, since this blog is mostly about life, love and the pursuit of travel, ending with a thank you to Steve, while visiting Malaysia with Jill, and then living in the same apartment complex as my older brother Robert and his wife and new born son in Beijing, China, while conversing with my family and friends all over the world, do I realize that, in the end,

I am home.

Day 199 in Beijing: Elevator Etiquette.

I posted about the number 4 and the elevators in my building on Day 177.

Keep it clean, kids!

Keep it clean, kids!

Maybe I’m becoming a elevator stalker since this will now be another post about elevators.

We are in Kuala Lumpur and we are enjoying the city a lot.

It is very beautiful, the people are incredibly friendly, and the food is amazing.

We took the elevator up to our apartment and thought this little note made a lot of sense.

Just be respectful, courteous and kind to each other and life will continue quite well.

It is something that Jill and I have noticed about Malaysia: people are incredibly kind and generous.

I’m sure this is also true of China, and we’ve seen it once in a while, but since we don’t speak the language, and most people in Malaysia speak English, generosity seems a way of life here.

We were buying some toiletries we needed.  The cashier asked if we had 5 cents, since it was 29.05 RM (Ringgit Malaysia) but we did not.  A lady, buying her own toiletries, reached over and gave us 5 cents.  This is not a big deal, and it is the kind of thing Jill and I would do also, but this kind of generosity seems to be an everyday occurrence here.

Shiny happy people in a shiny happy mirror!

Shiny happy people in a shiny happy mirror!

Case and point, Alan, who runs the Airbnb apartment we stayed at, took us out to lunch and wouldn’t let us pay.  After trying to convince him to let us pay, we told him we will pay next time and he waved us away.

We also had a few times, last trip here a few months ago, were we would share taxis with people and they would refuse to let us pay.  We did our best to offer to pay them back or take them to dinner but they would often refuse.

One of the couples that helped us out told us, “When I was in American, people helped me.  Now it is my turn to help you in my country.”  They were a muslim couple who were celebrating their 25th anniversary and on the same bus as us when we came into Johor Bahru.  They were too busy to have dinner with us that trip but we will be seeing them again and taking them out this time.

Anyway, the elevator mirrors were spotless and perfectly clean.

As you can see in the reflections.

Day 197 in Beijing: Hands Across China.

Jill and I were riding the bus a few days ago.

These hands know time, pain and the definition of work.

These hands know time, pain and the definition of work.

When we ride the bus, I try to keep my phone handy so I can take pictures of interesting sites or people as we come across them.

This man was an obvious day laborer, and was sleeping in his seat, just a few feet from us.

He woke up a few times, to let people move past him, and I’m guessing he had just finished a very long day doing very hard work.

I’m quite amazed at the work ethic of the people doing construction, and the tools they have to use, and wonder how they do it and still continue to be so happy most the time.

I’ve seen many people in America, with many more material items, better pay and better conditions, be as unhappy as possible and not feel fulfilled.

Maybe it is a cultural thing or maybe it is since they haven’t been accustomed to having those material things, they are happy without them.

It will be interesting, in the next few years, to watch as more people here start accumulating wealth and how that changes their outlook on happiness and contentment.

A close up of his hands.

A close up of his hands.

His hands made my eyes grow wide with surprise when I saw them.  His fingers had to be about one and half the length of mine, and I have pretty long fingers.  The width was at least twice as wide as mine and the nails were almost destroyed.  I could not fathom the kind of work, beating and pain that his hands must have gone through, and continue to go through, on a daily basis.

On top of that, he probably makes less in a month than I make in a week.  Or possibly a day.

I felt, and still feel, somewhat embarrassed since my life consists of so much ease, while so many in this nation work so hard, for so little, and have so much contentment.

Day 195 in Beijing: In Memoriam: Marjorie Kewley.

Hannah and Marjorie at Sam's in Tiburon

Hannah and Marjorie at Sam’s in Tiburon

Marjorie Kewley was my coworker.

Marjorie Kewley was my supervisor.

Marjorie Kewley was my friend.

Marjorie Kewley has passed from the world.

I write this to honor the person that was Marjorie Kewley.

She died 2 days ago and she passing makes the universe just a bit more dim.

I worked with Marjorie for 5 years at Family Service Agency in San Francisco.

We worked as social workers in the geriatric division in the Richmond District of San Francisco.

Our clients were the poorest of the poor.

All were over age 60 and medicare, medical or no insurance at all.

Many didn’t have families anymore or anyone else to take care of them.

We became their family.

Marjorie did this for 17 years was an inspiration to me and to everyone in our office.

She had more empathy than anyone I have ever met and yet was never afraid to speak truth to power.  This has become a trite and overused term but it was the heart of everything Marjorie stood for and believed in.

The Family Service Agency gang at Sam's of Tiburon.  Marjorie was, and will forever be, at the head of the table.

The Family Service Agency gang at Sam’s of Tiburon. Marjorie was, and will forever be, at the head of the table.

I can not think of how many people she helped, realities she changed and people she saved during her time on this Earth.

I can honestly state that I would not be the therapist I am today, nor the person I am today, if I had not met Marjorie and learned from her.

I remember one particular time, about two weeks before she retired, where she called me out.  She gave me a ride home from a seminar at work and said, “I think your ideas are fine about therapy, I just don’t like that you are so dogmatic about it.”

I looked at her, laughed because she was so honest and upfront, and said, “You are right.  I am dogmatic.  But it what I believe works best and evidence proves it.”

She looked back at me, smiled and said, “Yeah, well I still don’t like it.”

We both smiled, laughed and gave each other a hug because we were more alike than different.  We could disagree and were able to let it go immediately because we both knew we were fighting for the same common good and for the people that others didn’t seem to care about or want to be around most of the time.

She battled cancer twice and this time the cancer won.

I can’t believe it as she is someone that I thought would live forever, and the twinkle in her eye and slightly sideways smile-smirk that shows she knows a little more than you can guess she does, will always be with me.

I wish everyone has a person like Marjorie in their life at some point.



Day 194 in Beijing: Need Versus Luxury.

Understanding need versus luxury.

Need: a requirement, necessary duty, or obligation.

Luxury: A pleasure out of the ordinary allowed to oneself.

I tend to be a fairly frugal person.

I allow myself to enjoy what I have earned but also try to figure out if I truly need something or am just buying it to satisfy some desire that is fleeting and more easily explained by greed, competitiveness of wanting to keep up with others, or some other emotion that tends to backfire and leave me feeling more lonely and empty after the purchase of the product.

Need, to me, is a requirement, a necessary duty or obligation, as the above definition states. I need to eat, to breathe, sleep and to live and, when I break it down to basics, not much more. Luxuries are pretty much everything else. This includes computers, smart phones, cars, and other things most people might consider needs. These luxuries, considered needs, might be the kinds of food one eats, where one eats, what utensils one uses to eat, and what condiments one adds to that food. Maslow states as much with his hierarchy of needs.

I bring up food and why I believe it is a luxury because many people take for granted that the way they eat, and what they, eat is automatic and as a need. People may choose to eat at expensive restaurants they ignore that the majority of the world subsists on around a dollar a day. Living in China, and watching how people eat, reminds me that most Americans eat far more than they need and that type of food is a luxury that beyond the financial capabilities of many people here. This is changing with the import of McDonalds, Pizza Hut, KFC, and other Western restaurants. Sadly, as these Western restaurants, and foods become more prevalent, obesity has skyrocketed here.

As a therapist, I make more money than 6,500,000,000 people in this world. In spite of that, I often feel as if I lead a fairly simple life, choosing not to have many of the luxuries that many of my friends and family can afford. I have developed this value over years, making these choices my morals. Or maybe my morals made these choices? Chicken or the egg? I believe in defining the difference between a want and a need, not buying luxuries just because others have them. I try to remember what is actually a need. If it is a luxury, then I judge its cost and whether I choose to spend money on that luxury.

An example of this is my new Computer. I had never bought my own computer. I’ve always used hand-me-downs from my older brothers or my sister because I didn’t need the newest piece of machinery and didn’t want to spend the money on something that was overkill for my wants. After many years of using these computers, I decided, since I was moving to China and wanted to have something that was reliable, up to date, and small, I’d buy my own laptop. I took over two months researching them and then made trips to the local stores to wait and see if the laptop that I wanted would be put on special or someone possibly returned it and I could buy it on discount. After a few months, I found it. It is exactly the model I wanted and I bought it. It was 33% off because it was a return and seemed absolutely perfect. I’ve owned it for 8 months now and it works perfectly.

A laptop, and any computer, is definitely a want and not a need. However, I balanced the want of this computer with what I’ve decided I don’t need in the past 10 years: I have not traveled much (after living in Japan, Great Britain, Australia and a few others places previously). I went to graduate schools, funding my studies almost entirely with student loans that I had $65,000 of debt after receiving my Master’s degree in psychology. I felt the moral obligation to pay them back as I made the choice to take out these loans.

My choice to pay back loans as soon as possible since I see them as a gift from other taxpayers to me. It was not fair for me to abuse that generosity. With this attitude, and that intention, I paid back all of the $65,000 in student loans in 6 years. I did this while living in the Bay Area making less than 50,000 dollars a year. For at least two of those years, I survived on about $25,000 a year as I worked towards my 3,000 hours to earn my Marriage and Family Therapist license. To many that may sound like a tough life. It isn’t. It is a choice. Again, even when I made $25,000 a year, I lived a more plentiful life than about 2/3s of the world. Most of them don’t have the options I have and the luxuries I can afford to buy.

To be clear, I’m not chastising those that choose a different path or have a different moral belief about their financial situation. I have made choices so that I can afford to live a life less burdened by material possessions:

I am not married.

I do not have kids.

Other than my student loans, I did not carry debt.

I have 3-4 credit cards, which I paid off every month. They helped me achieve and keep an almost perfect credit rating without ever paying a late fee or interest. They are a means to an end and I own them, they do not own me.

Living in China, I pay cash for everything. I could use my credit cards, in some locations, but I’d rather not. I’d rather know exactly how much I spend and how much I save. I budget a certain amount every week and then see how well I can keep within my means.

Compared to the guards at my apartment complex, who live on approximately $200 USD a month, I’m a billionaire here. I never let forget this is a luxury many don’t have around the world. I also remember that the guards seems to be as happy as anyone I know. Although the Western belief system continues to force us to believe otherwise, money does not buy happiness.

Be willing to ask for what you want and seeing what is given is a huge part of my being frugal. I’m also generous with my time, support and knowledge, which people seem to feel is a fair return for the material gifts I sometimes receive.

In reality, I do not need a computer. It is a luxury. I’m glad that I see the difference and can still enjoy it for what it is. A gift to myself.

Some thoughts to ponder:

What do you consider a need?

What do you consider a luxury?

Is there just one luxury that you could redefine as a need?

How would this redefinition save you money?

How would it help you feel more in control of your spending habits?

Ten years ago, what was a luxury and what was a need?

Ten years from now, what will you consider a need versus a luxury?

How does the way you use money satisfy your desires?

Also, one of my favorite websites about frugality and how to spend money wisely is The Simple Dollar.  I love Trent’s story and how he decided to change his thoughts on money, his behaviors and how he used money and how his life changed because of this.  He tends to use a behavioral therapy mindset to figure out how to spend money.  I also really enjoy his suggestions and honesty.