“We are about as happy as we make our minds up to be,” one of my best friends said the other day. It’s a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln, who certainly knew a lot about happiness and sadness in his life, but when she said it recently, I could not help but wonder why some people are happy most of the time and others are not?
I appreciated what my girlfriend said. We had carved out some time during the busy holiday season to spend time together and catch up. After all, it is the time of year to be grateful, not only for friends but also for all the other good things that have so generously been given to us. Still, I wonder, why are some people generally happy and content while others find life overwhelming and riddled with problems?
Seems to me, people who are more content are better able to appreciate the simple moments that are built into our everyday routines, which at times, is not so easy considering all the distractions. We are bombarded morning, noon, and night with advertisers, marketers, and well-meaning friends and family because our culture has become obsessed with having more, buying more, seeing more and being more.
Simply being aware of this subtle bombardment makes a world of difference. It allows each of us to stay clear of mindless distractions and be content with what we already have every day of our lives. Fact is, happiness and joy surround us. They are ours simply for the taking.
Here are 8 simple tips on where and how to find contentment:
1. Develop a health routine you enjoy
Yes, as a health coach people hire me to help to them find the secret to good health habits that last so they can look and feel better well beyond fifty. Ideas we often come up with include setting up a meditation routine each morning. Or engaging in a simple exercise regimen. You can chose to move on your own, with a friend or in class with an instructor. Maybe you take a mindful approach to eating: Make grocery shopping an experience to dazzle your taste buds rather than a chore. Explore farmers markets year round. Try new recipes and add some excitement to your cooking routine, knowing you are preparing something healthy for you and others who join you at the table.
2. Say hello to nature
Welcome an orchid into your home. Water your plants. Step outside and feed the birds. Take a walk, stop and appreciate the scenery. Close you eyes, soak up the sun and be thankful.
3. Create an end-of-day, winding-down routine
Designing an evening routine is something you will look forward to as your day comes to an end. This will also ensure that something is within your control no matter how harried the day may have been. And if the day was spectacular, your evening routine becomes an additional bonus of goodness. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. Simply enjoy your dinner, tidy up the kitchen, read a good book and goto sleep. Perfect!
4. Design opportunities for experiences rather than time to buy more things
Whenever a weekend afternoon presents itself in which a movie will be showing or an art exhibit is opening that I want to see, I plan the afternoon around that experience. Not only do I watch the movie or go to the art exhibit, but also I plan the before and after as a date with myself to just enjoy the outing even more. Maybe afterwards I will bring a journal and head to a local coffee shop (if I go see a matinee), or enjoy a nice lunch by myself before heading to the theater or museum. Recently, when my husband and I were in the N.C. mountains, I went for a short walk and then headed to the local library branch to catch up on emails and read magazines. These magazines were not piled up and unread on my living room table…they were free. Set aside time for interesting experiences, time for relaxation, time to engage, time to enjoy and time to let go of…time.
5. Create and design a welcoming space
This is one I know I need to do but struggle with because my home office has overflowed to my dining room table. Slowly I’m working on organizing my office better, throwing out “stuff” no longer useful or needed and reclaiming my dining room table. My goal is to be greeted with fresh flowers upon walking through the front door, and enjoying an abundance of light filling the room and sitting down at a clean, clutter-free dining room table. Once done, I also plan to keep it that way.
Whether you can curate your entire home or simply a room of your own to always be welcoming, making the effort to do so offers priceless moments of appreciation every day.
6. Do something to let your mind escape
Read a book. Write in your journal. Meditate. Establish a routine that allows your mind to relax or even nap. It’s not only your body that can become exhausted.
7. Make progress on a project, no matter how minimal
Whether it is something as grand as completing a significant task to edge you even closer to your goal, or just adding an idea to your journal to ensure you do not forget the “aha” moment that presented itself during your day, do something that keeps the flames of your dreams burning and your hopes alive.
8. Express love and kindness
In some form or fashion, express love to someone, something or the world in general. Part of the reason I know the importance of this is because I married later in life. I did not have a spouse or children with which to express love with daily so I had to get to know my neighbors, and my friendships are an important part of my life today. I still find myself reaching out to someone whose memory dances across my mind. I simply text or call and say “Hello!”
Try to inhale and exhale love and kindness, and you will be doing yourself and others a great favor.
So what is important to you in your life? Are you living in a way that fulfills your purpose? And what does this have to do with being happier and healthier? The answer may be as simple as understanding your spirituality and how it benefits your health.
For many people spirituality — which does not necessarily mean religious belief — is at the core of their being. It is the lens through which they experience life and see the world. Understanding spirituality in the context of optimal health is extremely important.
For many people spirituality gets at the heart of what is important to them. Some may want to be healthy for health’s sake or to feel more alive and happy. But for many people, achieving optimal health is important because it ties in to their deepest values and beliefs and it brings them overriding joy and happiness in the present moment and throughout their lives. Understanding this and refocusing on it daily often leads to sustaining healthy behaviors for a lifetime.
For others, spirituality provides a sense of strength and healing during times of adversity, illness or death. Through the healing process people often draw on their spirituality to make more sense of the adversity.
There has been a great deal of interest in recent decades in understanding the impact spiritualty has on one’s health. Research has shown the positive relationship between health and religious practice as well as meditation, an understanding of humanism and living according to tenets of a well-defined morality.
It is unquestionable now that when people live their lives with a sense of meaning and higher purpose, their health improves. They have lower inflammation and increased immunity and therefore less heart disease, strokes and other complications from chronic diseases. Which by the way, has now been determined to be the No. 1 killer in society today.
Having a good sense of purpose makes you more resilient and better able to deal with the stress and demands of life. Living with a sense of purpose and meaning doesn’t merely help you get through an adverse time, but also improves your health.
So how does one determine what his or her purpose in life is? It can come from knowing you are helping others, serving a greater purpose or excelling at a skill or craft that is meaningful to you. So regularly ask yourself these questions to explore the role of spiritually in your vision of obtaining optimal health.
- What does it look like when I am spirituality centered and devoting my time and energy to the things that reflect my deepest values?
- What would need to happen for me to feel “successful”?
- Am I cultivating a daily practice of present awareness so I live my life in a more spiritually focused way?
- Once you define your sense of purpose and have cultivated an awareness of that purpose on a regular basis, you need to sustain that awareness so it further impacts your life and health. Do you believe and trust in yourself to be able to reach these goals over the long haul?
Of course you can with the proper attitude and accountability. You can bring yourself joy, live longer and be happier in the process.
We are in an exciting time in life. Just as we had the beginning of the digital revolution at the end of the last century, we are now experiencing a personal transformation revolution. It’s about becoming healthier, happier and living your own life with purpose. But better health and positive change won’t come unless you know what you’re doing.
Here are five steps to help you begin your own journey on the road to personal development:
- Set goals: The first step to living the way you want is to set goals for each part of your life. Those would be your health, career, finances, spirituality and family, but not necessary in that order. Setting separate goals in each area of your life allows you to prioritize what you want to achieve so you can increase your chances of doing so.
However, if you are like most people, you set goals but fail to achieve them because they are too vague. When I work with my health coaching clients, one of the things we work on is setting SMART goals. So what is a SMART goal?
S — Specific: If you want to lose weight, for example, you need to specify how much.
M — Measurable: The easier it is to track your progress, the better your chance of attaining it. “If you don’t measure it, you can’t improve it,” said Lord Kelvin. Tracking your food intake is one way to do this and makes it less difficult to determine if extra efforts are in order in case you experience a setback or come up short on the progress you desire.
A — Achievable: Although you should aim high, make sure your goals are still achievable and action-oriented.
R — Realistic: While some goals are achievable, they might not be realistic for this moment in time. An example might be you have decided to do a marathon but you have not even run a mile yet. Running is realistic, but you might want to start by building up to running a marathon by completing a 5k (3.1 miles) or a 10k (6.2 miles) race first.
T — Time-based: Setting a deadline will help you remain focused and ensure you stay on track. Using the same example above, you might say, “starting June 1 I will begin jogging and complete a 5k race by Sept. 1, 2017.”
- Create an action plan: Once you’ve set your goals and have written them down, create an action plan on how to achieve them. What activities do you need to do to achieve your goals? If you have a long-term goal, break it down into small steps to make it manageable. Don’t forget to track your progress so you can look back and pat yourself on the back every time you move one step closer to your goal.
- Make time for growth activities: Even though life is very busy, it’s vital that you make time for yourself and your own personal growth. Take 15 minutes to read, learn, or listen to a podcast. Wake up 15 minutes earlier to read or write in your journal. If mornings are tough for you, block out 15 minutes during the day or before you go to bed at night. Whenever you chose is up to you but make sure to try and do it daily.
- Adopt a positive mindset: Optimists are more likely to enjoy and succeed in life than people who always see the negative in a situation. Fill your head with positive information and people. Before long you too will have a sunnier disposition and all the health benefits that come with it.
- Keep a journal: Journaling allows you to keep a record of your progress. It helps you learn from the challenges you face and your triumphs and everything in between. I personally like to have two journals going at all times, a gratitude and goal journal. Writing everything down gives me a chance to reflect on my journey, embrace the challenges and savor the joyful moments along the way to the destination.
If you have already set your goals and accomplished them you are in good shape. Give yourself a pat on the back. Even though there is no special prize, if you have managed to do it by yourself, you’ve learned it takes longer and with more mistakes.
However, have you tried to succeed alone and failed? Health coaching can help you dive a little deeper. I know the reason that people lose weight but never seem to keep it off. People THINK that the reason they give up exercise is that they’re lazy but there’s a surprising reason they don’t stick with it. Meditation is something one can use to relieve stress; I know what it takes to cultivate a daily practice with little effort. People feel they should be restricting calories and avoiding certain foods to eat a healthy diet and are shocked when that’s not the case. Would you like to have a wellness breakthrough session with me? You’ll discover the top 5 things that can get in the way of your health goals, and the #1 thing you need to move forward.
We all have stress, but one of the best ways to manage it is to first become aware of it. To help build your awareness of stress and its impact on your life, try the practice of “mindfulness.”
Happy New Year! By now, everyone has been into 2017 for two days. That’s two days into the new goals, resolutions and intentions for yourself this year. One that has been on my list for a couple of years has resurfaced again…. a formal meditation practice. Most of us know nowadays that meditation is a good thing. But so far I have not been able to stick with it because I’ve allowed myself to become too busy too often. But this year will be different. I’ve decided to do the following:
- Start small, meditating only 3-5 minutes (or less if need be). Slowly take one deep breath in and think, “I receive life.” Exhale slowly and think, “Life is good.” Then repeat for at least two more rounds and you will be energized significantly because more oxygen has entered your blood stream than usual. The longer and slower you do this, the more alive you will feel.
- Understand that this simple breathing exercise reduces stress, calms anxiety, erases irritability and clears your mind. The process is called “mindfulness,” which at first seems contradictory. “Mindlessness” is more like it because your goal is to clear your head of all thoughts except for breathing and exhaling. This increases your resilience to stress and induces a calming effect on your nervous system, thus erasing anxiety.
This makes sense given that meditation allows you to focus on breathing in and breathing out while everything else that clouds your mind disappears. If you feel that your mind is drifting, simply go back to thinking only about breathing in and breathing out.
- Understand the principles of meditation. Beginning meditators often think the goal is to get to the point that they can focus without becoming distracted. That goal is difficult. Instead become aware that your mind has drifted, redirect your attention back to your point of focus without criticizing or judging yourself.
- Do meditation in your own way. It’s alright to do more while concentrating on your breathing. Some people find that a walking meditation is the way to go. This increases your heart rate and distributes more oxygen throughout your system. Jogging is even better. Just remember to stay focused on your breathing. If your attention drifts to past, future or evaluative thoughts, remind yourself that you’re breathing in life and exhaling the phrase, “life is good.”
- Do away with all-or-nothing thinking. If you can’t do 30 minutes of meditation, then do 15. The idea is to learn how to clear your mind and focus only on your breathing. On those days when you have more time, you can gradually build up to 30 minutes if that’s your preference.
Doing at least 15 minutes of a formal practice when you begin meditation will allow you to try different types of meditation. It will also increase your comfort and familiarity with meditation so you can restart a formal practice if you’re going through a period of stress or overthinking.
I am only one week into it right now, with a goal of continuing to do so at least three times a week throughout January. Won’t you join me?
Last week’s post noted that using what is known as “the happiness advantage” is a great way to improve both your personal and professional lives. One of the ways I mentioned to raise your level of happiness is to briefly note on a regular basis those things for which you are grateful. A helpful internet application (“app”) which allows you to record your “gratitudes” is Gratitude Journal 365.
I enjoy keeping a daily journal in which, among other things, I write down three things for which I am grateful. I suggest that one of your happiness-advantage techniques is to give it a try to do this at least three times a week. Simply write down three things for which you are appreciative. Don’t simply do this in your head. Write them down.
Start out simple with things like “my morning cup of coffee” or “the sound of rain on the roof,” then go on to bigger things like “my daughter gave birth to a healthy baby boy” or “I’ve paid off the credit card and cut it to pieces.” The goal of the exercise is to remember the good things in your life and savor the happiness that goes with them.
As your write, here are some important tips:
1. Be as specific as possible. Specificity is the key to fostering gratitude. “I am grateful that my husband cooked supper for us when I had to work late on Tuesday.”
2. Go for depth over breadth. Elaborating in detail about a particular person, thing or event for which you are grateful carries more benefits than listing superficial things.
3. Get personal. Focus on people to whom you are grateful. This has far more impact than those things for which you alone are grateful.
4. Consider what your life would be like without certain people or things, rather than just tallying up all the good stuff. Be grateful for the negatives outcomes you avoided, escaped, prevented or turned into something positive. In other words, try not to take good fortune for granted.
5. See good things as “gifts.” Doing so guards against taking things for granted. Relish the gifts you have and received.
6. Savor surprises. I love the word “savor” because it allows you to linger on gifts that are unexpected. Savoring is a stronger level of gratitude.
7. Revise if you repeat. In other words, writing about the same people and things over and over again is OK, but writing about a different aspect of each person in greater detail is even better.
8. Write regularly. Whether you chose to write every day or three times a week, commit to a regular time of day to journal and honor your commitment.
9. Don’t overdo it. This is supposed to be enjoyable. No one savors a routine chore.
10. And remember, it only takes minutes to unleash everything great in your life.
Just the thought of another South Carolina summer wears me out. It may be debatable about what is causing more and more heat year after year, but there is no doubt in my mind that climate change is real.
My husband and I are rejuvenated every summer when we take a short up I-26 to the mountains. Not only do we have fun together, traveling also is healthy — physically and spiritually. Let’s take a closer look at the benefits:
Studies show that people — especially men — are less likely to have a heart attack if they take at least one vacation per year. One nine-year study of 12,000 men found that those who took a well-planned trip were 30 percent less likely to have major heart problems.
Leaving town on a pleasant vacation is also a great way to kick the blues, and women appear to benefit most for this, studies show. There are several ways to fight depression, and travel is one of the most effective. I like to think of the mountains as one of only a few “thin places” on earth. A slow hike up a mountain obviously exercises my heart, and it is at the top where I feel closest to God.
Vacation travel reduces stress on you as well as your mate, not only during the trip, but well after you get back home. Studies of regular travelers show most are less bothered by stress hormones. (But not at airports, I might add.) Other studies show that workers who take pleasant trips have lower rates of absenteeism and burn out, plus higher productivity levels.
Travel is a learning experience, too, which is not only enjoyable but an excellent way to exercise your brain. New cultures, cuisines, sights and sounds combine to keep my memory sharp. How about you?
Being blessed has everything to do with being happy. Christians and Jews especially understand this, as well as members of most other major faiths and persuasions. But happiness often requires an attitude-adjustment technique.
- Sleep in a comfortable bed. A saggy mattress will not do.
- No matter what, make it a point to wake up each morning thankful you’re still alive. You have lots of good things to do for others as well as yourself.
- Your home, apartment, room or wherever you live is your castle. Keep it clean. There is no room in a happy life for confusion.
- Surround yourself in light. Flip on the switch, open the curtains, lift the shades, step outside. Light is energy. Darkness is depressing.
- Keep a fresh coat of paint on your walls, and decorate them with beautiful art. And make sure each piece means something positive to you.
- Same goes for music.
- De-clutter your house and your mind will follow. But remember, one room at a time.
- Count your blessings. Your life is full of them. It’s all a matter of attitude.
Make Life Meaningful
Happiness, resilience, connection and kindness — the key ingredients for a good life — do not come naturally for everyone. They thrive with practice. Here are two simple ways to stay in good shape:
- Live in the present. Stop fretting over the past and quit worrying about the future. Be mindful of what you are doing in the present. Mindfulness helps each of us to tune into our own senses. So practice paying close attention to your thoughts, feelings and sensations in a non-judgmental way. This reduces stress and opens the mind to the good things in life.
- Practice mindful eating. This fosters a healthier relationship with food. Hold a single raisin between your thumb and forefinger. Focus on it. Turn it in gently, notice the folds and ridges and the areas that shine and those that are dark. Roll it at your fingertips, exploring the texture. Close your eyes as you hold it and imagine how it tastes. Bring it close to you nose and appreciate its fragrance. Bring it to your lips, then gently place it in your mouth. Enjoy the initial taste. Bite it in half. Note what is happening in your mouth as you slowly chew. Now slowly swallow. Feel it moving downward into your stomach. Consider the next one and start again.
By increasing awareness of internal and physical states, you are practicing mindfulness. You are living in the moment. You are practicing control over your thoughts, feelings and behavior right now. You are also becoming more attuned to hunger and fullness, and therefore eliminating emotional eating.
“When we taste with attention, even the simplest foods provide and universe of sensory experience,” notes mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn. So take time to practice this everyday and at every meal. And enjoy!
The exercise of gratitude as a tool for happiness has been in the mainstream for years. Studies support its effectiveness, suggesting that a positive, appreciative attitude contributes to greater success in life. While many acknowledge gratitude’s list of benefits, it can be difficult to sustain. Many of us are trained to notice what is lacking in our lives. For gratitude to meet its full healing potential, it needs to become more than just a one-time thing. We need to find a new way of looking at things and create new habits.
Practice makes perfect. If we practice giving thanks for all we have, instead of complaining about what we lack, then we give ourselves the prospect to see all of life as an opportunity and a blessing.
Gratitude focuses on where we put our effort and attention. Gratitude balances us and gives us hope.
Some Ways to Practice Gratitude
• Keep a gratitude journal in which you list things for which you are thankful. You can make daily, weekly, or monthly lists. Greater frequency may be better for creating a new habit, but just keeping that journal where you can see it will remind you to think in a grateful way.
• Make a gratitude collage by drawing or pasting pictures.
• Practice gratitude around the dinner table or make it part of your nighttime routine.
• Make a game of finding the hidden blessing in a challenging situation.
• When you feel like complaining, make a gratitude list instead.
• Notice how gratitude is impacting your life. Write about it, sing about it, express thanks for gratitude.
As you practice, an inner shift begins to occur, and you may be delighted to discover how content and hopeful you are feeling. That sense of fulfillment is gratitude at work.