Managing Stress

A psychologist walked around a room while teaching stress management to an audience. As she raised a glass of water, everyone expected they’d be asked the “half empty or half full” question. Instead, with a smile on her face, she inquired: “How heavy is this glass of water?” Answers ranged from 8 oz. to 20 oz.

To their surprise she answered, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, it’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a day, my arm will feel numb and paralyzed. In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.”

She continued, “The stresses and worries in life are like that glass of water. Think about them for a while and nothing happens. Think about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt. And if you think about them all day long, you will feel paralyzed—incapable of doing anything.”

The National Institute of Health defines stress as a physical and emotional reaction to life change, while the dictionary defines it as the total response to environmental demands or pressures. There seems a recurrent disagreement among researchers regarding the definition of stress in humans, but one thing is for sure, there seems an inverse correlation between happiness or joy, and stress response. The cause of a stress response can include any event or occurrence that someone considers a threat to his or her coping strategies or resources.

Good stress or eustress, is not so much a concern. That is the stress you feel when excited. Your pulse quickens and your hormones surge, but there is no threat or fear experienced. The negative stress that we are stressing here (pun intended) is the stress that interferes with our ability to get things done, affects relationships and our overall quality of life.

A study published in the Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing examined the relationship among hardiness, perceived stress, and happiness in nurses. The study revealed that nurses with a hardy attitude evaluated situations as less stressful, which resulted in higher happiness.

Hardiness allows a person to withstand physical and psychological stress without developing physical illness. This mindset views difficulties and stressful situations as personal challenges, rather than as roadblocks, and allows for personal growth in the face of adversity. So we again are looking at perception, how we think and how we view the world around us. So it would seem that a key to hardiness, resilience, and managing stress, is having a healthy mental response. It helps to be mindful of your stress response and to work towards more positive thought patterns to assist in coping.

Techniques to manage stress:

  1. Talk confidently to Someone you trust about the event or person that has caused the stress. Just knowing that you have someone in your corner that is supportive and can provide a healthy perspective will provide some measure of liberation. It leads to catharsis, that feeling of relief, and it may even lead to a solution.
  2. Practice deep breathing to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. When we are stressed, our breathing changes, becoming more shallow, affecting our ability to think clearly and feel alert. Practice breathing long slow breaths, breathe in while counting to seven, holding for a count, then releasing for another count of seven.
  3. Practice meditation to calm the mind. Meditation is widely known to reverse the stress response by changing focus and eliminating the stream of thoughts that can lead or contribute to stress. In the 2018 study that relied on the Headspace app, meditation was shown to reduce stress by 14% over 10 days. MRI scans have shown that a regular meditation practice can shrink the amygdala, which helps us respond rather than react to stressful events. If meditation seems difficult, there are apps available for download. Find the one that speaks to you.
  4. Enjoy regular physical activity to reduce levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. Endorphin-release via exercise boosts pleasure and results in a feeling of well-being. This release occurs after about 30 minutes of activity, so make that your benchmark. Find time to fit in some activity, even if it’s just a walk at lunchtime.
  5. Enjoy comedy at home or away. If you live in a bigger city, comedy clubs are available. Otherwise, watch some comedy on the television at home. As we’ve discussed, laughter creates positive physical changes in the body and lightens the mental load.
  6. Keep a journal of your thoughts and feelings to release the tension and any pent-up emotions. Feel free to expose whatever feelings comes up and let it flow. The content which you choose to write or type can be kept private. Don’t strive for perfection nor worry about grammar or spelling. This is your time to let loose and vent.
  7. Utilize the power of music to lighten the load. Music of slower tempo can quiet the mind and relax your muscles, making you feel soothed while releasing the stress of the day. Current research finds that 60 bpm can cause the brain to synchronize with the beat causing alpha brainwaves. The alpha brainwave is what is present when we are relaxed and conscious. Interestingly, Native American, Celtic, Indian Stringed-instruments, drums, and flutes are very effective at relaxing the mind. Sounds of rain, thunder, and nature sounds may also be helpful, particularly when mixed with soothing music. An app may help with this endeavor also.
  8. Make sure that the goals you set for yourself are realistic. It’s quite possible that the person that is hardest on you regarding expectations, is you. You should not be expected to operate at 100% efficiency at all times and at everything you do. Be mindful of what you can control and try to accept that which you cannot. You are essentially an army of one, and only one. Focus on what you have accomplished, not what’s left on the table.
  9. Take a long hot soak in the tub or visit a sauna. A hot bath will relax the muscles and calm the mind. Consider adding another method to the mix, music, journaling, talking to a friend, and or the practice deep breathing.
  10. Embrace the benefits of a good hug. Although not technically proven by science, the late psychotherapist Virginia Satir once said, “We need four hugs a day for survival, eight hugs a day for maintenance, and 12 hugs a day for growth. When we experience a hug, our body releases oxytocin, also known as the ‘bonding hormone.’ Your heart rate slows down, cortisol and norepinephrine levels drop and those feel-good hormones, serotonin and dopamine, increase.
  11. Practice reframing the negative situation into a more positive or even neutral event. Also, try to examine the big picture, realizing that this particular stress event may be inconsequential to the overall goal or finish line. You might also consider some potential positive outcomes to this situation? Consider this formula:

A + B = C ;   Affair + Behavior = Consequence

You cannot change the event or Affair that has already taken place, but by changing your response or behavior, you change the outcome or consequence. You are in control over how you will feel in the end.

  1. Improve your planning to reduce overwhelm and create a sense of control. Consider daily checklists, a calendar or planner, and/or even sticky notes to manage thoughts and goals. Stress management research by Robert Epstein has exposed how stress can be managed through planning.
  2. Consider adaptogen supplementation toassist the body in finding homeostasis and to calm the chaos. Viable options include ashwagandha, Siberian ginseng, and Rhodiola.

In reality, stress is unavoidable. The big question is, what do you do with it? It’s quite possible that the amount of stress you are feeling may be directly related to your perception of the event. How you choose to frame any situation or person, correlates directly with your stress response. For example, it is quite possible for two people to experience the same event, yet to respond very differently. How you respond to the event has been shown to be more important than the actual situation itself.

You need not let stress affect your ability to feel joy. If the event cannot be changed, work to change your response to the event, while adding mitigation strategies to bring about a sense of calm. While these techniques can be quite helpful in managing stress and therefore increasing joy and that sense of well-being, it also works the other way. Being joyful mitigates or assists with the stress response, therefore, increasing your joy should reduce your stress. You have more control of your feelings and emotions than you might realize and even baby steps towards improvement can accumulate into healthy rewards.

“Don’t let your mind bully your body into believing it must carry the burden of its worries.” ~Astrid Alauda

The Value of Self

We’ve mentioned self-care in other blogs, yet it is so important that we will expand on it here to include self-love. What does it mean to love yourself or to practice self-love? Were you taught that this is a bad thing, that it is selfish, that you should instead be selfless? We should indeed aspire to show love to others but, in reality, the love and acceptance of self is one of the greatest requirements to happiness and long lasting relationships. When the flight attendant tells you to put on your oxygen mask first before assisting another, it is for good reason. You simply cannot take care of (love) another if you cannot take care of (love) yourself primarily.

Research not only points to the benefits of self-love, but it also shows that self-criticism is comparable to self-sabotage. It actually hurts performance, productivity and well-being. Expressing as a people-pleaser, for example, may seem altruistic, but in reality, it’s a call for self-love. It is the needing/wanting of validation from others while ignoring the true value of yourself. It’s chasing after love that already lies within you. The truth is, you are wonderfully made, special, with a history and purpose unique to you. If you believe in your value and honor yourself, you need no other person(s) to shower you with praises. You know your worth.

Perspective is key. How you view your past can directly affect how you value self. Are you hard on yourself for the past experiences that you deem as mistakes? Perhaps mistakes should be redefined as ‘opportunities to learn and grow.’ After all, it is through our mistakes that we find personal growth, learning and meaning. Through mistakes we can determine what we want and don’t want, what we need and don’t need. It may be time to appreciate past ‘mistakes’ as a stepping stone to something greater. Be compassionate with yourself. You are in the process of evolving into something truly magnificent. Life is a process of learning and change. Embrace all that life brings your way. It has and will continue to make you who you are. In the meantime, guard your thoughts about self.

Start keeping track of judgmental thoughts you have about yourself and others. Write them in your journal, then rewrite them with a focus to create a positive counter-thought. Put those positive thoughts on sticky notes and place them in various locations in your environment. Changing your thoughts can have a profound impact on changing your life. Remember that joy is not tied to circumstance. Whatever is going on in your life, rise up and choose joy. Acceptance means never turning your back on yourself. Make a decision today to love and respect yourself. If you don’t, odds are, no one else will. You are, in essence, setting the bar for how others can/will treat you.


“Loving everything about yourself – even the unacceptable – is an act of personal power.

It is the beginning of healing.”


13 steps to achieving self-love:

  1. Stop comparing yourself to others
  2. Don’t worry about others’ opinions
  3. Allow yourself to make mistakes
  4. Remember your value doesn’t lie in how your body looks
  5. Don’t be afraid to let go of toxic people
  6. Process your fears
  7. Trust yourself to make good decisions for yourself
  8. Take every opportunity life presents or create your own goals/dreams
  9. Put yourself first
  10. Feel pain and joy as fully as you can
  11. Exercise boldness in public
  12. See beauty in simple things
  13. Be kind to yourself

Self-love is about accepting what you’ve been through and the choices you’ve made because you now know that you acted on the knowledge and experiences that you had to date, at that time. Sure you have evolved and may be a different person now than you were then. Your today’s choice may be different than yesterday’s choice. This is progress. Don’t be hard on yourself. Self-judgment can be harsh and may not lead to healthy progress. Self-acceptance of all of who you are is a key to self-love. Your journey is different than anyone else’s and the ride you have been on has made you who you are.  Love yourself foremost by accepting all parts of you, mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical. You are so special and you totally got this.

Care and Share

As a tourist traveling through Europe, it was not unusual to find myself at the mercy of a localite. I could be immobile, physically stuck without the kindness of a stranger. It meant surrendering to the moment and trusting in the outcome that was to be. 

For example, I took a train to Verona Italy, a place made famous by Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” At the train station, we needed to take a bus to the hotel; and no, I do not speak Italian. I had done some research and knew what bus number to board. However, bus after bus came and departed, all of the wrong bus number. Finally, I walked around a bus and asked the driver if he went to our hotel. When he said yes, my family and I boarded. It was a very hot day and the bus was tightly packed with people, mostly standing. I then realized that I had no idea where or when to get off the bus and because I could not see the driver, I had little assurance that he would tell me when to step off. I was most definitely in a pickle. It became quite clear that if I did not seek the assistance of a stranger, I would risk spending the rest of my vacation circling Verona. The woman standing next to me did not speak English, but she knew the hotel and was kind enough to hold up the number of fingers representing the number of stops ahead of me, until I reached my destination.

What a blessing it is when someone goes out of their way to be kind. Can you remember a time when someone asked you for help, perhaps asking you for directions to a particular place? Were you eager and willing to help them? Your act of kindness was not just a benefit to them, but also to you. You see, researchers have found that when we show acts of kindness to others, we release oxytocin, which makes us feel happy in the process. Both parties involved with the transaction will experience reduced anxiety due to lower cortisol levels, and a feeling of gratitude for the connection with one another. According to the Mayo Clinic, being good to others boosts serotonin and dopamine levels, the neurotransmitters in the brain that give you feelings of satisfaction and well-being. Random studies have suggested doing acts of kindness to feel happier, more confident, more resilient and more empowered.

So why not bless others without being asked. Showing kindness may create laughter, a chuckle, surely a smile. It begins with the understanding that we all struggle, we all suffer, we all have bad days. When we take a moment to bless a stranger, we create space for them, acceptance, and in doing so, the heaven expands and the angels sing. Why not be the person that brings warmth and value to someone else, with no expectation in return. After all, a candle does not lose its flame when lighting another candle.

“Don’t wait to be kind. Don’t wait for someone else to be kind first. Don’t wait for better circumstances or for someone to change. Just be kind, because you never know how much someone needs it.” Nikki Banas – Walk the Earth

Kindness is always a choice. Scout out the opportunities to bless others with your kindness. And when you do, please tell us the story, Care and Share.

  • why were you moved to do what you did?
  • what exactly did you do?
  • how did the other person respond?
  • How did the act of kindness make you feel?

When you see someone struggling, don’t be the observer, be the blessing. Equally important is sharing the good news. Perhaps we could all use more positive news in our lives. Ultimately, we want these stories to lift others, bringing feelings of encouragement, empowerment, and love for one another.

You can share your story at the In the Spirit of Love website for potential exposure in a future blog:

Bless you for blessing others…

Confident Joy

What does it mean to be confident?
When you experience confidence, you exhibit and elicit a positive mindset, free from the negative perceptions of worry and doubt. The fundamental essence of confidence is trust. With confidence, you have a firm belief that an event or person can be relied upon and when that person is yourself, it is termed self-confidence.

There is a vast amount of research supporting a relationship between confidence and happiness. For example, a 2014 study of 200 students found that the increase in self-esteem provided enhancement to happiness.
Here are 8  Strategies to help you to build confidence:

  1. TAKE ACTION: Lacking confidence can make you feel stuck, like a poet without a muse. Moving forward with some type of action, even if small in scope, creates a new sense of freedom. Any action will likely expose you to new possibilities and as physics dictates, “an object in motion tends to stay in motion.” The action will be a catalyst for more action, fostering a “snow ball” effect. Making a commitment to move forward is key, so make a list of potential first steps, then choose one and do it.
  2. USE POSITIVE AFFIRMATIONS: We tend to think with a negative bias. Another words, unpleasant thoughts, emotions, or social events have a greater effect on one’s psychological state than positive things. This can lead to adverse contemplation and information processing. To counter this effect, we can make a conscious effort to think good thoughts and value what is working in our lives. The use of positive affirmations (statements) are a proven method of self-improvement. Simply state or write the positive affirmation out loud and with conviction, several times a day.
  3. ACT CONFIDENT: Just as smiling can make you feel happy, acting confident can generate the feeling of confidence. You can fake it til you make it. This may require dressing for success and observing your body language. Make a point to maintain a straight, erect posture while maintaining good eye contact with others. Consider the traits of someone you deem confident and adopt them. 
  4. JOURNAL FORMER SUCCESSES: The act of laying down one’s thoughts to paper is an ancient tradition dating back hundreds of years. Writing can eradicate those blockages of the mind while providing a more positive understanding of ourselves and the world around us. Procure a notepad or booklet that speaks to you, perhaps with a special design. Choose a comfortable location that is peaceful and private. Begin a list accomplishments and positive outcomes from the past, then make a point to review the list every day.
  5. VISUALIZE: As previously stated, the human brain can lack the ability to differentiate between what is real and what is imagined. Seeing is believing and believing is seeing. Creative visualization is a process that can rapidly accelerate any achievement and take our potential to a whole new level. Take the time to imagine an optimum scenario and let it play out in your mind bringing you a sense of clarity and purpose. Practice your “dress rehearsal” several times a day and allow the affiliated emotions to flow.
  6. HIRE A PERSONAL (LIFE) COACH: A personal coach will be an advocate and will focus on strengthening the personal perspective. A coach can help to “raise the bar,” enabling the client to increase expectations of themselves and the situations they encounter. A coach will fortify a client’s foundation, providing a revised sense of focus and understanding. With the advent of the internet, coaching can be done remotely. Consider doing a bit of research and making contact with a reputable, certified coach.
  7. LOSE THE FEAR TO FAIL: Fear of failure is a powerful emotion that can stop you in your tracks.  But what if we look at it differently? What if failing was simply a powerful catalyst for change? If we can reframe failure as the opportunity to learn and grow, we can view life as an adventure in contrast, accepting what is. Losing attachment with an outcome and trusting the flow of life, enhances our ability to feel good about ourselves and our world.
  8. VALUE SELF: Self-love and self-care are not egocentric, narcissistic, arrogant, or conceited. Love of self is not just a feeling but an action. It requires a kindness and nurturing of body, mind, and soul. Think of someone that you truly adore and let the feeling of love permeate you. Now take that blissful feeling and turn it towards yourself.

Confidence isn’t easily achieved overnight. Confidence can ebb and flow with the tides of life. It can take years and even decades to develop. You can be on top of the world until a situation or person sucks the life right out of you. It is similar to trust in that both beliefs are aligned with firm foundations in the traits of ability, reliability and strength. Confidence in someone or something familiar may be based on similar past events. For example, if a friend has enacted a betrayal of any sort, the natural human instinct is to mistrust that person or lack confidence that they have the ability to provide for your safety. In the latter case, confidence or trust in that person must be rebuilt. And although promises are nice, a new pledge of allegiance may not suffice. The proof is in the pudding. After a betrayal, consistent action is required, along with accountability, honesty, and a compassion for forgiveness.

Yet, confidence in a new situation or person may be more ingrained in the personality, likely learned in childhood. There are a variety of childhood experiences that may contribute to a child’s mistrust and lack of confidence. These absorbed core beliefs learned in childhood can be easily be carried into adulthood. Any painful past event, even just one, can leave scars that cause a person to build walls around their heart for a lifetime, to protect themselves from future pain. This makes it difficult to trust, to have confidence.

The good news is that confidence for yourself, another, or a situation can be healed and rebuilt. The key to confidence is always trusting that you have your back. Whatever situation occurs, you have the ability to not only adapt, but to thrive. Using strategies outlined here, we can have hope in a future for ourselves that is free of doubt and worry.

Expoloring Your Life’s Purpose

Have you struggled to find your life purpose, why you are here? The idea that life has personally purpose is not dedicated to only a chosen few and it does not necessarily equate with your daily job. Everyone is special in some way or many ways, everyone has merit, and everyone has purpose – yes even and especially you. In the words of a dear friend, “the beautiful light inside of you is meant to be a beacon of hope to others. You are here for a very important reason.”

A study conducted among adults over the age of 50 living in the UK found that the factor most closely tied to authentic happiness is a person’s belief that their life has purpose. Living a life of purpose provides fundamental life presence and authenticity which leads to less anxiety about the direction of life. That feeling that your life has purpose has the ability to provide resilience and the motivation to move forward, because it’s a calling. Who can resist a calling?

Your life purpose may be simple or complex. It can be specific or broad. There are those that believe purpose is related passion, that thing that moves your heart strings. Here is an exercise that you might find helpful to determine your life purpose. The more open you are to this process, the more successful you will be at getting a result and the less time it will take to achieve that result. Pray for guidance before you begin.

Finding your life purpose in 20 minutes:

  1. Find a blank sheet of paper or open an electronic document where you can type.
  2. Write at the top: What is my true purpose in life?
  3. Then write an answer, any answer that pops into your head. It doesn’t even have to be a complete sentence, just write something. A short phrase is fine.
  4. Now simply continue repeating step 3, writing more things, until what you write makes you cry. It could take many pages to get there, yet continue to this end.

The idea is that when you are overcome with emotion, with passion, you’ve found it. To some people this exercise will make sense, to others it may appear trivial. Sometimes it’s best not to analyze too much and just go for it. If you persist, you will find an answer that moves your heart. As you progress, some answers may be similar seem repeated. That’s fine. After 50 or 100 answers, you may get distracted, want to give up, or may even get aggravated. Push past these feeling and continue on. You may feel emotion about certain answers, yet they may not bring tears. Keep track of those. Put a star by them because they may be a link to the final answer. Try to do this exercise alone and in a quiet environment. If you find that your mind is not in the right place to begin, put the paper away for a later time when your heart is open it.

A potential final answer might be, “to live consciously and courageously a life of compassion to awaken a great spirit within others, to leave the world a better place.” This could be considered a broad purpose. How might someone make this happen?

After about 20 minutes, this is what I arrived at: “to live authentically, capturing the essence and beauty of life, spreading the loveliest parts of it to those I encounter, thereby bringing to them peace, love, and understanding.” Sounds good right? I arrived at what seems a beautiful life mission, but even so, there were no tears. Is this my life purpose or what I want to be my life purpose?

The epiphany came a few weeks later when a major breakthrough occurred. As I sat with my coffee early one morning, I opened my laptop and read the introduction to a book I was writing. Upon reading the last sentence, not only were there tears, it made me sob. That was it. My purpose is to write for you. The exercise opened the door to the awakening. Thank you for taking part in my passion and life purpose. Now it’s your turn to give it a try, to explore your life purpose.

“If you can’t figure out your purpose, figure out your passion. For your passion will lead you right into your purpose.” ~Bishop T.D. Jakes

Thought Awareness

Your thinking and how you analyze the world around you has evolved, mostly unconsciously, over your lifetime. Your training and experiences have shaped your worldview and because no two people experience the same life, how you think is distinct to you. This is a good reason not to be judgmental of others; you have not lived the same experiences as they have. Their belief system, and yours, will be unique to personal experience.

The average person has up to 60,000 thoughts per day and according to research conducted by the National Science Foundation, 80% of those thoughts could be negative and 95% repetitive. Most people don’t monitor their thoughts in an effort to improved them. If we are not diligent with our thinking, thoughts can easily run amuck, especially when they are habitual. It’s hard to stop a snowball rolling downhill and when you continue to think those habitually negative thoughts long enough, they become a belief.

In order to break the cycle of the negative monkey mind, you must be diligent with identifying those thoughts. You need to basically stalk yourself. Pay attention to the thoughts you think and begin to question the origin, i.e., “where did that thought come from?” Ask yourself if your beliefs are justified and valid. Keep a journal. I have a friend whose father has always been very consistent about telling her how stupid she is. As she began to accept it, the thought became part of her subconscious mind. It soon grew to become a belief, a very harmful belief that is absolutely not true. So every time she tells herself how stupid she is, she needs to correct herself saying something like, “that untrue thought came from my dad. I am smart about many things.” So keep in mind that the negative thoughts you think might not have originated from you but from someone else that has influenced you, and the sooner that you replace those thoughts with a positive thought, the better.

Although thoughts, as well as the stalking of thoughts, can be painful. The practice can teach you a great many things about yourself and those around you. Growth requires self-examination. “Even though you may not actually like the feelings of inner disturbance that may come from asking key questions, you must be able to sit quietly with yourself and face them if you want to see where they come from. Once you can face your disturbances, you will realize that there may be a layer of pain seated deep in the core of your heart. This pain is so uncomfortable, so challenging, and so destructive to the individual self, that your entire life has been spent trying to avoid it. Your entire personality is built upon ways of being, thinking, acting, and believing that were developed to avoid pain. Real growth takes place when you finally decide to deal with the pain.” From The Tethered Soul by Michael A. Singer.

Exercise: Bounce technique

When experiencing a negative thought, bounce it away with a positive thought instead. Simply replace the thought with a better feeling thought. Draw a line down the center of a tablet or piece of paper, creating two columns. When you catch yourself having a negative thought, write it in the left column. Then draw an arrow leading to the right column and re-write the statement in a positive version. This will assist you in shifting your thoughts. Whenever you catch yourself in the left column, replace the thought with the right column. For example:

Words are a byproduct of our thoughts, and words, in themselves, hold a great deal of power. Pay attention to the words you use and how you use them. Never allow yourself to speak unkindly to yourself or about yourself. You may think Self-deprecation to be funny, but is it really? In reality, it’s a way of reprimanding yourself by belittling, undervaluing, or disparaging your identity. Doing so does not honor you. As they say, to thine own self be true. There is nothing in this world that can trouble you as much as your own thoughts. To be in joy, you need to accept yourself in a loving manner. Choose your words carefully and not just when speaking about yourself, but also when speaking about others. It could be said that we receive in return that which we choose to put out into the world, so choose your words and thoughts wisely.

Even so, the seas of life will surely rock your boat at times, but you can choose your response to the storms. You are not the bad feelings nor thoughts that you get in your head. You are not the storms you walk through. You are the person experiencing the storm. The storm may knock you off your feet, but you are strong. You will rise again. Either the weather will change, you will find shelter, or you will look the storm in the eye with resilience and fortitude, because you know that storm cannot hold you back indefinitely. When you can keep a healthy perspective, your wrath exceeds that of any storm, so be mindful of your thoughts and choose wisely.

“No thought lives in your head rent-free. Each thought you have will either be an investment or a cost.” ~ T. Harv Eker

The Joy of Laughter

Let’s face it, life has its ups and downs. There are times when you may not feel like smiling, let alone laughing. But if you abstain, the joke is on you. Laughter is shown to be so healthy that it should be added to your wellness regiment.  There are many reasons to laugh at the world around you. Research shows positive mood to be closely tied to spontaneous laughter. As a medicine, it is usually free and without negative side effects. Those that laugh easily will experience more joy. Here are six motivators to encourage you to laugh at yourself, others, and the goofy things you experience.

  1.  MITIGATES AGING: Researchers at Loma Linda University have discovered that laughter or even the anticipation of a good laugh, will produce an increase (as much as 87%) in the level of a specific anti-aging hormone called HGH. Human growth hormone, produced by the pituitary gland, stimulates growth in childhood, but as we age, the released amount tends to decrease. “You don’t stop laughing because you grow older, you grow older because you stop laughing.” ~Maurice Chevalier
  2. IMPROVES HEART HEALTH: Laugher oxygenates the blood and stimulates its circulation. In addition, it has been indicated through research from the University of Maryland Medical Center that laughter causes the tissue that lines the blood vessels to expand, allowing for improvement in blood flow. Interestingly, persons with heart disease were found to laugh 40% less often than those without heart disease.
  3. SPURS THE IMMUNE SYSTEM: Laughter creates a double whammy here. Not only does laughter reduce stress hormones, but it assists the immune system to function at higher efficiency. Laughter helps immune system components like natural killer cells, B cells, T cells, and lymphocytes.
  4. IT’S EYE-CATCHING: If a smile makes you more attractive, what might a good laugh do for you? Research actually shows that by laughing, you will increase your attractiveness as viewed by others. When you are laughing, you appear comfortable with your surroundings, leading others to also feel safe.
  5. FOR THE HEALTH OF IT: Laughter truly may be the best medicine. According to Mayo Clinic, laughter actually produces physical changes in the body. It is very helpful for pain management, enhances digestion, relaxes tight muscles, stimulates many organs and releases endorphins, the feel good hormone in the brain.  Laughter has even been found to increase longevity or lifespan by 7.8 years on average. “Laughter opens the lungs, and opening the lungs ventilates the spirit.” ~unknown
  6. IMPROVES RELATIONSHIPS: Although you can laugh at yourself, laughter is usually shared with at least one other person and shared laughter contributes to bonding with others. In fact, we are 30 times more likely to laugh when we are with someone else. In general, couples who laugh more together tend to have higher-quality relationships. It is considered a supportive activity. “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” ~Victor Borge

It is said that adults laugh up to 15 times per day, however, children laugh up to 400 times per day. What a shame to lose the playfulness of childhood as we age. Let’s take some time to be playful, to remember our childhood days of splendor, when there was exciting new things to learn and when the concerns of tomorrow are left to be discovered. Reminisce and revisit what it’s like to experience the joys of childhood, visualize those playful happenings.

Laughter is also a social sign of affection and affiliation. By sharing life events through laughter, we seek to find greater meaning in ourselves and others. We can enhance current relationships and make new ones. And when it comes to stressful situations, a solution via laughter, can change everything, promoting immediate feelings of well-being. The art of laughter requires no pre-requisites nor fancy credentials. It’s simply about living in the moment and enjoying the people and places that you frequent. It’s about enjoying the life you live no matter the circumstance. So, ..when was the last time that you had a good laugh?

“Your body cannot heal without play. Your mind cannot heal without laughter. Your soul cannot heal without joy.” ~Catherine Rippenger Fenwick

Embrace Gratitude

Embrace an attitude of Gratitude (Gratitude = Joy = More Gratitude).

Perhaps you’ve heard the famous Aesop’s tale, “Androcles and the Lion.” Androcles was a man who after escaping enslavement, stumbles upon a lion in the forest. With a thorn stuck in his paw, Androcles discovers the lion to be in great pain, so he removes it for him. Later, both he and the Lion are captured and Androcles is sentenced to be thrown into the lion’s den. Even though the lion was ravenous, he merely licked his friend’s hand in greeting. The emperor was so astonished by the action, he set them both free. Not only is gratitude high on the emotional scale, it seems it has the power to launch miracles

 According to Zig Ziglar, gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions.  It’s simply impossible to have a negative thought while in gratitude. When you commit to appreciation, your life becomes richer and more satisfying. We can focus on the benefits of receiving gratitude from others, and/or we can focus on the significance of cultivating gratitude ourselves. Gratitude has the ability to increase our joy by pushing away those negative thoughts that can derail us.

Researchers have found that gratitude actually changes the neural structures of the brain, providing positive feelings of happiness and contentment. Oprah may have said it best when she said, “Be thankful for what you have, you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never ever have enough.

George Mason University’s Center for Advancement of Well-Being looked at joy over a period of time and found that gratitude predicted increased future joy. Somewhat surprisingly, joy also predicted increases in gratitude over time, suggesting an intriguing upward spiral between gratitude and joy. In other words, it looks like gratitude increases joy, but in turn joy also increases gratitude; and this “cycle of goodness” might be important to our happiness. Joy also predicted increases in happiness over time, supporting the idea that joy is important to subjective well-being.

According to Positive Psychology, the benefits of gratitude are endless. They encompass a 3-legged stool, so to speak. The psychological leg of gratitude includes positive emotions and thought, the physical leg provides a stronger immune system, better sleep, less pain, and optimum blood pressure. The Social leg of benefits include stronger interpersonal relationships, better communication, and increased likeability.

Gratitude can be easily practiced and can take on many forms including:

  • A Written note to another
  • A Vocal Expression to another
  •  A Prayer of thanksgiving
  • An Expression to self (thoughts & written word (journaling)) Those that keep a gratitude journal, experience deeper, more meaningful lives. Can you set time aside each day?

One of the best times to practice gratitude is as soon as you wake from sleep. True love might just be the first thought you have in the morning, and the last thought you have before bed. In the first few minutes of the day, for example, the mind is very receptive to influence, with the least amount of resistance. So before you jump out of bed, consider a gratitude rant, either silent or aloud. Simply be mindful of the wonderful things and people in your life and savor the sweetness of as many things as you can muster. In doing so, you can yearn to experience the positive feelings that make you smile and expand the heart. Just a few minutes of thankful thinking can improve your mood for the entire day.

Other ways to embrace an attitude of gratitude include:

  • Showing more enthusiasm when communicating
  • Noticing the beauty in nature
  • Smiling often
  • Volunteering your time/skills
  • Leave someone a larger tip than usual
  • Making a gratitude collage of pictures

And just as we can be thankful for the ease of life, we can also be thankful for adversity, whether it is self-induced or dropped in our lap. Adversity can enlarge our world view and pull us into unknown territory. It’s much more difficult to learn, grow, and expand when we stay enchanted within our comfort zone. Challenges provide enormous opportunity for resilience, improved self-esteem, and fortitude. We don’t just go through the obstacles; we grow through them.

Although life can surely throw us a curve ball when we least expect it, shifting to a spirit of gratitude aligns us with the positive energy needed to bear any burden and persevere through any storm. Happiness and gratitude are closely linked. No matter where you might be on the emotional scale, gratitude will move you upwards towards joy and happiness.  Perhaps it’s not happiness that brings us gratitude, but rather, gratitude that brings us happiness.

Choose Joy

There once was a man who decided to take a sabbatical to a remote monastery. It was in a beautiful location, perched on a mountaintop, near the Alps. One fine day when the weather was pleasantly warm, he ventured out alone. Upon finding the perfect, scenic location, he laid down a blanket, settled in, and began his daily meditation. After a bit of time, he opened his eyes to see that a monk was traveling nearby on foot. In a gesture of good will, the monk wandered over to say hello. The monk was curious about the guest. Taking a seat beside him, they began to discuss their travels and what had brought each of them to this particular destination.  Then, after a few moments of silence, the monk, searching for more answers, asked the question, “Tell me, what is it that you wish for?”

Taking in a deep breath, the man surveyed his surroundings, contemplating an answer. The monk, patient as he was, asked again, “What is it that your heart longs for?” After a brief pause, the man provided the monk with a list of things that he thought, once achieved, would make him happy. He voiced each one with articulation and emotion. He felt in his heart that if he could just get all of the things on the list and be successful financially, then he would find joy. The list included material things, the repair of a tattered relationship, and a new job. The monk could see how the man was looking for things or people outside of himself to make him happy, not realizing that happiness is ultimately an inside job; it starts within. So after listening  intently, with a bit of pause, the monk asked one additional simple, yet nagging question: “What if you choose joy first?”

In my younger days, I can recall thinking that happiness was somewhere in the distance, somewhere in my future. I thought that someday, something would happen, and happiness would be achieved. Author Gregg Braden calls this type of thinking preoccupation destination addiction. This thought process assumes two things:

  1. That certain events must take place for happiness to be achieved
  2. That the current moment holds no significance

These assumptions couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, all that matters is now. Do your thoughts partake in time travel? How much time do you spend with thoughts devoted to the past or future?  

Doctors have pondered the connection between our mental and physical health for centuries. Emotions and Health, NIH Medline Plus said in 2008, “Until the 1800s, most believed that emotions were linked to disease and advised patients to visit spas or seaside resorts when they were ill. Gradually emotions lost favor as other causes of illness, such as bacteria or toxins emerged, and new treatments such as antibiotics cured illness after illness.”

What are the implications of mental health on our physical health?

According to Dr. Fabrizio Mancini, “optimists live longer.” He says, “fortunately, many people are asking: Is there a better way to stay healthy? Is there a better way to get healthy? Isn’t there something better out there? The answers are yes, yes, and yes. Once this concept sinks in, you’ll want to make self-healing a continuing operating principle in your life. There are many simple lifestyle options that can help your body self-heal. For example, exercise is self-healing and even a 10-minute walk can make a positive impact on mental and physical health.”

You might consider the following linear process of thinking: Our thinking affects our emotions, our emotions affect many aspects of our life, including our physical and mental health. Your body responds to the way you think, feel, and act. In fact, your body reacts the same to an event as it does to a thought that mimics the event. This is often called the mind-body connection. When you are stressed, anxious, or upset, your body tries to tell you that something isn’t right. For example, high blood pressure or a stomach ache might develop after a particular stressful event. Therefore, if we can keep our thinking in check and in a healthy state, we can experience enormous positive ramifications. In fact, the following physical symptoms may indicate that your emotional health is out of balance:

  • Unexplained fatigue
  • Depression, hopelessness
  • Headaches
  • Changes in blood pressure
  • Trouble fall or staying asleep
  • Stomach issues
  • Changes in heart rate
  • Sexual issues
  • Stiff neck, sore back
  • Excessive sweating
  • Changes in weight

Therefore, addressing our thoughts is our pathway to peace. Joy is possible no matter life’s outward appearance. Your perspective is the key. Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% your response to it. What does Joy look like for you? As you follow along with these blogs, we will address thought patterns and how they affect our capacity to feel joy. We will address the key differences between happiness and joy, and we will provide strategies to not only get you to that feeling of pure joy, but to keep you there, no matter the circumstances happening around you. That is where we find the golden nuggets, that pot of gold under the rainbow. Yet, unfortunately, many people aren’t even looking for the rainbow.

We need not bow down to the negative conditions of the world nor give them our energy; we can rise above these things. There is much good to be found in the storms of life, and as you learn to dance in the rain, every step gets you closer and closer to who you really are, which is joy. To quote Ask and it is Given, “The basis of life is freedom, the result of life is expansion, but the purpose of life is joy.”

Stay tuned and travel with me as we discover what life is really meant to be. Open your heart to your true purpose, to choose joy!

Let us give Thanks

We are coming upon the time of Thanksgiving when we gather with those we love to feast on turkey and other traditional foods which include stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. Although John Adams and James Madison designated days of thanks during their presidencies, it was Abe Lincoln who proclaimed it a national holiday. For 36 years, a noted magazine editor, Sarah, Josepha Hale, published a number of editorials and sent scores of letters to governors, senators, presidents and other politicians launching a campaign to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday. Abe finally heeded her request in 1863 at the height of the Civil War.

About half the pilgrims survived the first winter in Plymouth. What a risk they took in the yearning for prosperity and land ownership in the “New World.” After spending much of that first winter on the ship suffering exposure, scurvy, and outbreaks of contagious disease, they managed to befriend native American tribes who taught them how to cultivate corn, avoid poisonous plants, and extract sap from the maple trees.

With gratitude they celebrated a three-day feast. Pilgrim chronicler Edward Winslow wrote:

“Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labors; they four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the Company almost a week, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deer, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governor, and upon the Captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”

The origins of thanksgiving may preempt the Pilgrim’s feast of 1621. Ancient history depicts annual celebrations spanning cultures, continents, and millennia. The Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all feasted and paid tribute to their gods after the fall harvest. In 1565, the Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilé invited members of the local Timucua tribe to a dinner in St. Augustine Florida, after holding a mass to thank God for his crew’s safe arrival.

In current times we celebrate with parades and marching bands, and we pardon one or two turkeys from slaughter, sending them off to a farm for retirement. And as you celebrate with family this year, let us not forget the original intention of thanksgiving, to thank God for not just the autumn harvest, but for his divine providence. In the words of Zig Ziglar, “Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have ever more to express gratitude for.”

https://www.history.com/topics/thanksgiving/history-of-thanksgiving