Meaghan Murphy was at a low point in her life when she was inspired to start actively looking for life’s silver linings. Her father had just lost his battle with pancreatic cancer and she was mourning the absence of her cardinal. Every day she’d post a picture on Instagram with #operationgoodgrief to document one thing that didn’t stink. She kept this up for two years and began to heal.
Now she wants to help others live happier lives with the research-backed tips and advice she’s sharing in her new book, Your Fully Charged Life: A Radically Simple Approach to Having Endless Energy and Filling Every Day With Yay, which comes out February 23. Click here for a chance to win the book!
The book is perfectly timed after the unthinkable loss and stress we’ve endured during 2020. “It all goes back to looking for and dwelling on the positive to outsmart our natural negativity biases,” she says. “With practice, it becomes second nature!”
A lifelong Jersey girl, Meaghan is a Westfield mom of three (Charley, 10; James, 8 and Brooks, 7) who loves her hometown so much she was asked to be its chief spirit officer. She’s also the content director of Woman’s Day, a job she started during the pandemic while finishing her book and homeschooling her kids. She credits looking for reasons to smile and be grateful plus early morning workouts with getting her through such a challenging time. A certified personal trainer who never misses a chance to exercise, Meaghan is also the queen of all things holidays and regularly shares genius tips on the Today Show with Hoda and Jenna and Live with Kelly and Ryan.
With years of magazine editing experience under her belt, she’s a master of mom hacks, too. We caught up with Meaghan to ask her how the heck she does it all and how we can channel our own positive energy to be happier, even when life gets hard.
NEW JERSEY FAMILY: In your new book, you talk about the power of mind-set shifting when things are really hard. What is this and how does it help?
MEAGHAN MURPHY: There is so much great research that shows that deliberately changing the way you think, talk about or perceive hard or scary things can lead to real and measurable positive outcomes. I use a strategy called cognitive (aka positive) reappraisal or reframing. You basically take a stressful situation—like finishing a book and starting a new magazine gig during a global pandemic with three home-schooled kids—and think about it in more positive (although still realistic) terms. You actively look for and focus on what’s positive about a crappy situation. For me that meant celebrating the fact that I no longer had to commute to New York City, which freed up nearly three hours of travel time and guaranteed I was home for nightly family dinners for the first time in years. Just recognizing those glaring benefits helped me gain much-needed perspective and the energy to charge ahead.
NJF: Your nickname was Grumpy as a kid yet you’re always so happy. How do you do it?
MM: I’m not always happy, but I am always grateful. I’m convinced and science has shown over and over that dwelling on the positive and maintaining an attitude of gratitude are magic for your energy and mood. On days when I’m tired, overwhelmed, anxious, I legit stop myself and recognize something that doesn’t suck about the day. For instance, I may have head-butted the laundry basket in the dark and now have a mark on my forehead that has my kids comparing me to the bad guy in Home Alone, but I conquered three loads of laundry to earn that battle wound and now everyone gets to go to in-person school in a clean uniform! #momwin
NJF: Your idea for making a yay list every day was born from grief after your dad was diagnosed with cancer and all these years later it has manifested into an Instagram account, your book and a way of life. How can we incorporate this into our lives to help us find more joy?
MM: It’s crazy to think that something so upbeat and positive like @theyaylist was born from such sadness. As I was grieving the loss of my Dad, I actively set out to find and document one thing each day that didn’t stink. Maybe it was a 5:45 am workout at SLT in Short Hills with my Dawn Patrol of workout buddies or an encouraging coffee mug with a message like You’re Stronger Than You Think You Are. I’d post a picture on Instagram with #operationgoodgrief. I kept that up for 2 years and ultimately I healed. Again, it all goes back to looking for and dwelling on the positive to outsmart our natural negativity biases. With practice, it becomes second nature! Start by asking yourself: What made me say YAY today? Then share that YAY with someone you love and ask them to share theirs. Good vibes are contagious.
NJF: Where do you get the energy to pack so much into each day?
MM: I say ‘no’ a lot so I can say ‘yes’ only to what actually matters. Your energy is a finite resource. Guard it with your life. Don’t waste it on people, places and things that don’t give you a charge. I prioritize family fun and will 100 percent blow off work Zoom calls to go sleigh riding with Team Murphy. And guess what? When I get back to the home office (after a few hot chocolates) I will do a better job because I’m now operating with a full battery.
NJF: One thing 2020 has taught us is the power of slowing down, doing less and prioritizing self-care. How does that look for you?
MM: I quote Dr. Caroline Leaf, a neuroscientist, mental health expert and author, in my book who says: “True mental self-care is not chocolate cake and spa days. It’s making choices each day that create a life you don’t need to regularly escape from.” I’m careful to choose wisely: I fit in fitness because it’s my mood magic; I protect my sleep and log seven hours so I’m not a mombie (part mom; part zombie = mombie); I call my mom or my sister when I’m feeling disconnected and need a love charge; I make my bed or organize the kitchen junk drawer if I’m spinning out of control and overwhelmed with to-dos—lots of tiny choices each day that refuel me and ensure I don’t have to escape from me.
NJF: Gratitude is a big theme in your book. How can we teach our kids to be grateful?
MM: It all starts with you. We’re mom mirrors—our kids are a reflection of what we say and do even when we think they’re not watching. So make sure you’re expressing gratitude on a regular basis for the small and big things you appreciate. When your child actually hangs the wet towel on the back of the bathroom door, give them a verbal high-five. When your husband moves a meeting to pitch in for school pick-up, make sure he knows how thankful you are. Also, handwritten thank-you notes are non-negotiable. A text doesn’t count.
NJM: Celebrating is huge for you and your crew, especially when it comes to the holidays. What’s your favorite holiday (if you have one) and why?
MM: We holiday hard at my house. Picking a favorite holiday would be like picking a favorite child. I love Halloween because my birthday is October 28th and orange is my favorite color; I gobble up Thanksgiving too because turkey décor is underrated; Christmas is a kid-pleaser that makes me feel like a kid again; Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love—what’s not to heart about that?!; my name is Meaghan Murphy and I’m practically a leprechaun so clearly St. Patrick’s Day is a big one for this wee folk; Easter is the prettiest holiday—all those pastels; July 4th comes with buntings; and don’t even get me started on Taco Tuesday. My motto and my goal as the Editor-in-Chief of Woman’s Day is to find a reason to celebrate each and every day!
NJF: Work-life balance is such a loaded phrase for parents. How do you realistically savor quality time with your three cuties while giving your best to your work?
MM: The idea of balance is a joke. There are days when work has to take precedence—I’m shipping a magazine to the printer on deadline. There are days when family is foremost—my kid is having a tonsillectomy. I don’t ever try to even the score. Instead, I focus 100% of my attention on whatever it is I’m doing in the moment. Being present makes the time you do spend on anything impactful.
NJF: We love that you’re a Jersey girl through and through. What do you love most about the Garden State?
MM: I’m so Jersey and I love when out-of-staters call me out on it! I’ve never lived anywhere else and I probably never will. I run the social media @bestfieldnj as a hobby. It’s a love letter to Westfield. I believe everyone should have a sense of pride and community for the place they call home.
NJF: You’re big on shining a light on small businesses and hidden gems. What are some of your favorites in NJ?
MM: Every time you shop small a real person does a little happy dance! I try to keep these folks dancing: The Farmhouse Store in Westfield. I’ve basically furnished my entire home and bought every teacher, housewarming, mother-in-law, gift from there—they wrap in the most adorable burlap with purple trim. Baron’s Drugstore is my Happy Place. In fact, it has at least one cameo in my book. I will go do a lap through the aisles just to say high to Moira and Zoe at the makeup counter and the manager Teresa. I’ve scored everything from YAY plates to a ceramic Christmas tree to Big League Chew and helium balloons there. Fitness-wise, there’s no place like HOME Power Yoga in Cranford. It’s a sister-owned business that has cultivated an incredible community. A new discovery is Art with Heart Designs in Chatham. My kids’ gym teacher wrote the address down and told them to slip it to my husband. They surprised me with a lightning bolt ring & bracelet, plus a Mama bracelet for Christmas. Wait! We have to eat, too! The Brussels Sprouts at Charley’s Ocean Grill in Long Branch are the best I’ve ever had. My mouth waters when I get within a 1-block radius. Fornos of Spain in Newark’s Ironbound section was our extended families pre-pandemic meeting place for celebratory dinners and Limani in Westfield is a big warm Greek hug. I could fill this whole magazine with my NJ picks!
NJF: What’s one mom hack that’ll make our lives easier?
MM: Learning to properly fold a fitted sheet is a game-changer, but I have to show, not tell, you how to do that. I made a video on Instagram (@meaghanbmurphy)! People are also usually blown away with my baking soda soak for pans with baked-on grease. Soak them overnight with baking soda and the grime slides off like magic in the morning.
NJF: You’re also a certified trainer and queen of working out. What’s your advice for those of us who struggle to find the time and energy to exercise?
MM: You can’t “find” time like it’s a lost puppy; you have to make time. I say commit to 19 mornings of movement. Get up an hour earlier than whatever your normal wake-up time is and sweat. Maybe that’s a Peloton ride, a walk around the block, a virtual power yoga session with my podcast co-host Heidi Kristoffer’s amazing CrossFlow app. I dare you to move your body for 19 days. I bet the habit sticks when you begin to reap the feel-good benefits.
NJF: What’s your motto?
MM: I love a good motto! Today it’s Onward! The only direction is forward.
NJF: If you could choose one takeaway for moms from your book, what would it be?
MM: Everything is going to be okay. We tell it to our kids and it magically eases every physical and emotional ouch. We need to hear it and believe it on repeat, too.