Cherish life. Nourish it.

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I Will Be Happy When __________. Signed, Goldilocks

Mature woman beach“I will be happy when…….?” I’m a perfect size 6? Get my degree? Get married? Buy that house? Take my dream vacation? Lose weight? Get a job? Retire? Get a new car?

How many times have we made similar statements? They’re powerful words, because they infer that happiness is an elusive state that depends on everything being “just right.” Remember Goldilocks? Goldie believed that happiness always depended on external circumstances. She saw no need to take personal responsibility for her own happiness, nor did she recognize the role of contentment and gratitude in her life.

Goldie had not developed the ability to be at ease with life’s highs and lows. Her comfort zone was incredibly narrow. Instead of embracing the whole spectrum of emotion, she wanted everything to be just so. Nothing imperfect or unexpected was tolerated.

Likewise, today many feel that happiness is the result of avoiding or getting rid of bad feelings. But rejecting our emotion only creates more bad feelings. Rejection of our own emotion is a rejection of self, contributing to feelings of brokenness or unworthiness. And if we believe we’re unworthy, we won’t believe we deserve to be happy!

If we feel blocked from happiness, one exercise is to look at what’s “in the way” as The Way. Think about it: how many times have we experienced stressful events, only to look back on them with gratitude for the lessons they taught us? Patience, endurance, clarity, flexibility, hope, and adaptability are all fruits of the tree called hardship.

Some may say that these are old fashioned values, but old gold is still gold, and emotional resilience is currency that we can invest every day.

Rather than depending on “just right” moods or circumstances, we can learn to allow happiness to become an overall state of being. The power of this approach is that it allows us to find the good in every situation.

Daily practice can include focusing on:

  • what we’re grateful for
  • areas of contentment
  • what’s working in life
  • drawing pleasure (aka nourishment) from our daily activities

Spending a few minutes each day quietly contemplating all our reasons to be grateful has proven to be an excellent technique to ground us in happiness as well as contributing to overall health. (see links below)

Instead of rejecting unpleasant emotions and feelings, we can learn to see all our experiences as just that-experiences. And experiences are the fabric of life. Rejecting so-called negative experience is a rejection of life.

We all experience discomfort. How we choose to respond to it determines our happiness set-point.

The human mind tends to get stuck in loops–repeating thoughts, beliefs, and interpretations that tell and re-tell the story of our lives. But we have a choice: we can consciously choose thoughts that will make space in our mind and heart for happiness. We can practice doing this again and again. Happiness can become a habit.

In addition, pleasure is all around us. Beauty in nature, the touch of a loved one, savory tastes and pleasant aromas, beautiful music, the feeling of oxygen coursing through our body. Once we accept what is and stop rejecting our reality, we create a still, quiet place for these pleasures to reside. We feel nourished physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We fully occupy the myriad small moments that are gifts of joy, gifts that nourish, experiences that contribute to true contentment.

And contentment? Contentment’s contribution says, “I have enough. I am enough. Life is good.”

The time that we spend postponing happiness, believing everything in life has to be just right before it can happen, is distracting us from the actual life that we have right now, in the present. And it’s only in the present that we can choose to experience the happiness, joy, and contentment that are right in front of us, waiting for our attention.

Links: “How to increase and sustain positive emotion: The effects of expressing gratitude and visualizing best possible selves” “Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life”


Lessons in survival

MP900341418As I spend time with clients and friends, I am constantly struck by the indomitable beauty of the human spirit.

We all face situations when we feel we have no control, feel trapped, and are sure we are powerless. Our emotions and negative thinking predict failure, and we can doubt our ability to carry on.

How do we respond to those situations? For the most part, we strive to face them with courage. But often the hardest part of those situations is knowing how to deal with our painful thoughts and feelings. Fear is so powerful. It can be paralyzing. Is there something stronger with which we can subdue it?

Amanda Lindhout, author of “A House In the Sky”, is a true survivor. At age 27, Amanda, a reporter, was kidnapped in Somalia and spent 460 days in captivity, in unthinkably cruel conditions. While in this situation, her survival literally depended on being able to re-frame her thoughts and feelings, since she had absolutely zero control of her own environment. Her account, while harrowing to read, points to two fundamental survival skills: counting her blessings with gratitude, and learning to self-soothe.

She writes that she would daily review small things to be grateful for:  “my family at home, the oxygen in my lungs,” the fact that one of her captors “set my food down on the floor instead of throwing it at me.”

Starving, feverish from multiple infections due to injuries, and in total darkness, she still managed to harness the power of her mind.

She would imagine a “house in the sky,” in which “the voices that normally tore through my head expressing fear and wishing for death went silent, until there was only one left speaking.” This voice, the voice of her true self, her unflinching spirit, asks, “In this exact moment, are you O.K.?” Her answer? “Yes, right now I am still O.K.”

These two practices allowed her to withstand her fear and isolation. Soothing herself with the fact that she was still O.K., despite the trauma, meant that she was surviving everything her captors threw at her. Gratitude for small blessings allowed her to feel peace.

In the privacy of her own brain, once she accessed her true spirit and will to live, nothing could touch her. 

What a beautiful example for all of us: in spite of our circumstances, we can re-direct emotions and beliefs that are not serving us, and by reminding ourselves that we, too, are O.K., we can nourish our human spirit .

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Words and Nourishment, the unexpected link

Young Woman Biting Her Finger NailIn a fascinating study published today, Gary Lupyan of University of Wisconsin revealed the deep and profound link between language, specifically word choice, and the influence on our sight, and likely smell and taste.

It’s got me thinking about how distracted we usually are when we eat. Most of us have a pretty incessant inner dialogue going. And often the words that we use are not positive ones. We frequently bolt down our food as if we were late for a train, without any pleasure or enjoyment. Taste, aroma, and texture don’t even register because we’re so busy being distracted by our own thoughts.
If the only thought in our mind about food is the term “fuel”, we are disconnecting ourselves from the exquisite pleasures of, for example, stuffed squash blossoms, polenta, and cassoulet.
Further, if we consider food to be the enemy, something that exists just to torment us and make us fat, those word-based thoughts are going to influence all aspects of metabolism, and we will not be nourished. The influence of stress around food on metabolism is well documented in the book “The Slow Down Diet” by author Mark David.
But today’s study puts an even finer point on the importance of words on our ability to see, smell and taste the things that are right in front of us. It appears that the words we use condition the brain to either accept sensory input or reject it. Think of how powerful that is.

Language literally shapes our reality and informs our senses.

This study also made me think about the type of language that we use about ourselves and others that radically influences the way we see people. The words that we use to describe ourselves, our body, and others would also affect our sensory input.
Rather than focusing on the beauty, dignity, and functionality of the human body that shows up for us every single day so that we can carry out our life, instead, we think jiggle, wiggle, wobble, dimple, gravity, dissatisfaction, and loathing. The airbrushed society in which we live has convinced us that only perfection is acceptable, and since we’re not perfect, we therefore have reasons to be disgusted with ourselves, even abandon ourselves. Our inner dialogue is worded accordingly. 

Lupyan’s work revealed that hearing a word that did not match the image the participants were actually shown hurt the subjects chances of seeing the object. It literally interrupted sight so thoroughly that there were no signals to the brain suggesting the objects that they were being shown.
The take away here is to become more aware of the language that we are using, our inner dialogue, and how it affects quality-of-life and our ability to be nourished in every way. Slowing down when we eat, blessing our food, asking that we be nourished by its goodness, and thinking of specific descriptive words that apply to its subtleties will all help us be more nourished. Thinking of our miraculous body with compassion and gratitude will help us back away from an adversarial relationship with self. Watchfulness for language that fosters judgemental or prejudicial attitudes toward self or others will allow us to pause on the spot and remember that that is not who we are, as our best self, and re-word the message into something that reflects respect and compassion.