7 days to JOY

Happiness may be based on circumstance, but Joy is a choice. According to Brene Brown, Joy comes to us in ordinary moments. We risk missing out on joy when we get too busy chasing down the extraordinary. It is quite possible to lament on daily drudgery only to envisage joy and happiness as being somewhere in the distant future. Author Greg Braden calls this thought pattern “preoccupation destination addiction.” But if happiness and joy always originate in the future, how will we ever achieve it? With this commentary, you are encouraged to seek out joy every day for a week. In doing so, we can learn to appreciate the small things in life that are all around us and the magic that we are capable of producing for ourselves and the souls we encounter.  A journal will help facilitate this endeavor.

Day 1:
The Smile Project: Choose this project on a day that you plan to be out and about, running errands. You will make an effort on this day, to make eye contact with anyone who comes near to you and when you do, you will greet them with a deep and conscious smile. In doing so, you give them a very special gift, a piece of you.  Giving is a fundamental way of providing joy not just to you, but to the receiver as well. Joy that is shared is joy made double. Open your heart to receive what is mirrored back to you. And take a moment at the end of the day to journal the experience.
Day 2:
Count your blessings: Joy is what happens to us in any and every moment when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are. Research has shown tremendous benefits to the practice of gratitude. Daily gratitude results in higher reported levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness, energy, and sleep quality. What you will do on this day is set the timer on your phone to alert you every hour. At that time, you will take out your journal and write down something that you are grateful for. You may start superficially, but try to dig deep at some point and dig up the gems.
Day 3:
Use Visualization: Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase, “if you can see it, you can be it.” Mental images can be seen as the seed of all ideas, all progress, and all future development. The importance of this tool is understood by anyone successfully applying the Law of Attraction. Studies actually show that our minds/bodies don’t know the difference between visualization and actually having or doing a thing, so it will respond in the same way it would if you were actually experiencing that which you visualize. On this day you will find a quiet place to sit comfortably. You will think of an experience or thing that you wish to achieve. Now play it out in your mind, feeling in your heart all that the achievement provides. Try to elicit as many senses as you can. Enjoy the realization of having this thing or experience and stay in this state of bliss for as long as possible.
Day 4:
Learn / Create: This will be a day of creativity and expansion. Creativity is one of the greatest virtues anyone can be blessed with, yet many of us never allow our true creativity to be expressed. What do you long to do or learn? On this day you will use Youtube.com to search out a video to teach you something new or to do something creative. Perhaps it is dancing (ball room or line dancing), it could be painting, writing, yoga, or anything else you deem appropriate. The key is to open yourself up to new opportunity and experience. Creativity is about living life as a magnificent journey. Embrace your creativity and your ability to learn new things that sound exciting to you.
Day 5:
Clear a space: A crowded closet or overflowing table may seem like a trivial thing, yet an orderly environment can make you feel more in control of your life, affecting your mood. The more things are in order, the more joy you may feel. Today you will choose a drawer, cabinet, area, or closet to attack. You may need to remove everything to begin, then sort out what you need, discarding what you don’t need. It may be helpful to buy instruments or tools to help organize what you choose to put back. For example, I recently organized a drawer in my bathroom vanity. I purchased plastic organizers from the dollar store to allow me to “put things in their place.” Now every time I open that drawer, I feel joy at the tidiness of it.
Day 6:
Watch your thoughts: Today will be a day of introspection. Thoughts matter. Our thoughts are the soil from which springs our words and actions. Using our mind to compare ourselves to others wastes precious energy and depletes our joy. Research shows that it breeds feelings of envy, low self-confidence, and depression while compromising our ability to trust another. Today you will make a point to notice any time that you compare yourself to another. It may be as simple as the comparing your looks and/or clothing while in line at a store.  Comparing yourself to another is a form of judgement, a judgement of yourself. When you catch yourself in action, make a point to replace that thought with a positive affirmation starting with the words “I am…”
Day 7:
Embrace self-care: Caring for self is one of the most essential things you can do and one of the easiest to dismiss. Self-care is important to physical health, yet we should also practice emotional hygiene, taking care of our emotions, thoughts and feelings. If you consistently neglect yourself for the sake of others, contrary to what you might think, there may not be kudos at the pearly gates and you will likely deplete yourself of happiness and joy. What do you need? Today you will choose an emotional need and a physical need that would fall under the genre of self-care. For example, you may know that you need to set boundaries with someone emotionally. Now is the time. On a physical note, you can enjoy a walk in the park, a hot bath, a massage or simply quiet time in a special place. Take the time for self-care. Your health and happiness depend on it. And above all, allow yourself to be loved.

Experiencing joy is our natural state and is available to all of us. It can be experienced when we make a conscious decision every day regarding our focus. The greatest honor that you can give yourself and those you love is to live in joy. Stay close to anything and anyone that makes you feel glad to be alive. Make a conscious choice to focus on joy, since only by being happy can we have the necessary faith, courage, and strength to face our sorrows and overcome them.

The Art of Grieving

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO GRIEVE?
Grief is an emotion that everyone will likely experience at some point in their life. It can be expressed as mental suffering due to the loss of someone or something. The expanse of the grief that might be felt can vary from person to person and also with respect to the actual event. For example, two people may both lose their jobs from the same employer at the same time, yet one may experience more grief as a result. Everyone’s walk is different yet there are strategies that may be helpful to all.
1)      Acknowledge the pain: Hiding your emotions, avoiding the feeling of pain or loss can only prolong the process of grieving. Sit with them. Although we may be wired to run from pain, this natural instinct cannot lead us to a place of healing. Accept the event or loss. Tell yourself, “Yes, I recognize, understand, and accept that this event happened to me and I feel _____.”
2)      Label the emotion(s): Investigate your feelings at a deeper level. You labeled a feeling in step one. Are there more? Has the event left you feeling shame, guilt, anger, sadness, fear, worry, rejection, envy, hopelessness, distress, sorrow, disappointment? With introspection, you are likely to uncover more than one feeling or emotion tied to the occurrence. The more of them that you can acknowledge and label, the more hope you will have in healing them.
3)      Have intention: At some point, you will decide that it is time to end the grieving process. You will be ready to be done with it and move on. When you are, say to yourself several times a day, “I intend to express and release this emotion (feeling) from my body.”
4)      Express the pain: Studies have shown that negative emotions actually weaken the body. Suppressing them utilizes high amounts of energy, robbing our bodies of useful, vital function. There are several safe methods that one might use to express negative emotion.
a.       Exercise: Physical movement provides for elimination of physical, emotional and mental toxins while triggering the release of endorphins that make you feel good. Exercise need not be taxing. Walking near moving water can be especially soothing.
b.      Write: Journaling allows you to tune in to your true feelings. It has no impact on others and allows you to express yourself in a safe environment. Start with a description of the event, then turn your focus from the external to the internal. Express your feelings with as much detail and fullness as possible. And if you choose to write a letter to someone else, it is a means of catharsis, whether you ever actually deliver it.
c.       Art therapy: Art therapy has been very useful for the expression of feelings in children. There is no reason why it could not be equally useful in adults. Create a sketch of what you are feeling. It need not be museum quality. Only you need see it. Freedom of expression and self exploration is the key.
d.      Verbal Expression: You can confide in a close friend or relative. Just be mindful that this form of expression may challenge the relationship over time. Another option might be to acquire the service of a therapist, counselor or wellness coach. Feeling safe to express yourself honestly and without judgment is critical. As crazy as it might sound, talking to yourself in the mirror may also be helpful.
e.      Aggressive Expression: This may sound a bit strange but I have found screaming to be quite helpful for expressing my emotions. You can find a remote area, put your hands over your ears and just let it rip. Screaming into a pillow may also work. Just don’t try it in a confined space, like your car, it is damaging to the ears. You might also consider breaking something, something of little value of course.
f.        Music Therapy: You could say that emotions resonate at a certain energy level or vibration. For example, hopefulness resonates at a much higher vibration than hopelessness. There may be a certain type of music that you are drawn to during the grieving process. Music that aligns with your energy. Music can be very healing. Continue to seek out music that makes you feel good during your journey.
5)      Release the pain: Releasing the pain is similar to expression yet one step further along our path. When we are ready to release, we understand that the grieving process has served its purpose. It no longer serves us and we are willing to let it go. Do not place judgment on yourself or others with regard to the timing of this step. There is no right or wrong, no pre-set timeline when it comes to grief. You will know when you are ready.
a.       Breath work: Sit or lie flat in a quiet, comfortable location. Breathe gently through the nose while placing attention on the heart. Imagine that with each inhale you are taking in grace, love, and acceptance. With each exhale, imagine that you are releasing those negative emotions that no longer serve you. Continue with these deep, long, slow inhalations and exhalations for a minimum of 10 minutes. Breath work is especially helpful when done outdoors in the “fresh” air.
b.      Meditation: Meditation has been shown to improve psychological balance and enhance overall health and well-being. Sit or lie comfortably and focus your attention on the breath. Try to clear your mind of any thoughts and just focus on your breathing. Counting each breath, counting during each breath, or humming might be helpful. Try to stay in this space for a minimum of twenty minutes. You may find that after practicing mediation, certain insights become more apparent.
c.       Laughter Therapy: You will reach a point when you are ready to laugh again. Laughter therapy promotes overall health and wellness by relieving emotional stress. It can lift the heavy burden of loss and provide a welcomed respite. In fact, I know of a woman who believes she successfully treated her cancer by watching comedies on TV. Laughter is not only a form of expression, it is a form of healing. Give yourself permission to laugh.
d.      Emotional Freedom technique (EFT): This is a wonderful technique that utilizes the combination of talk therapy and acupuncture meridians. You basically say out loud, “Although I feel ____, I love and accept myself.” And you say this while tapping through several acupuncture points. You can find specific guidance if you search this topic on-line.
Grieving is a process and everyone’s journey is different. Feeling uncomfortable with someone else’s journey through grief is normal, but placing a deadline or judgment on someone else is unhelpful. Each of us needs to set our own pace. With respect to you, allow yourself to feel your feelings and walk through the stages of expression and release. You need not feel alone during the process.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to others for love, comfort and acceptance during any part of your grieving process. But always keep in mind that ultimately, total acceptance can only be found in self. Find the good in your situation, bless the event for what it provided, then release it and move forward into the light of your grace.

What Are You Thinking?: The Art of Discernment

Many years ago, I was taking evening classes which required a 90-minute commute. Class usually ended at 9 PM, then I would make my way to the interstate and try to wind down during the drive south. One particular evening, I was forced to make a ‘split second decision,’ a decision that could seriously affect the life of a stranger and/or myself.

I found myself in the passing lane behind another car. We were both passing a semi-truck, the other car was located near the front, and me near (adjacent) to the back of the truck. The road was curving to the right with a slight incline, so there wasn’t much ‘line of sight.’ My best recollection would place our speed at approximately 70 mph when the car in front of me locked up the brakes. I had a split second to make a decision. I could swerve into the right lane and hit the truck, I could swerve left into the median, or I could rear-end the car in front of me. Option 1 didn’t seem like much of an option. I would likely lose my life. Option 2 was viable, however, I had no idea why the car was breaking so suddenly. Could there be something or someone in the median? If so, I could potential injure others or even take their life. That would be a hard pill to swallow. With option 3, there was the possibility of injuring the driver in front of me and even myself. All these possibilities flashed before my consciousness in about a second.

Discernment is the art or ability to choose or judge well. The ability to discern well, can have a tremendous impact on the results of any event or situation. So, how does someone achieve good discernment?  

The first step might lie in the understanding of truth. When a person has a good understanding of right from wrong, good from bad, they are able to place a healthy contrast to any situation. Another avenue to healthy discernment might be found via failure. When we make bad decisions, they provide vast opportunity for self-awareness and wisdom. So in that respect, a bad decision is not a failure at all, but an opportunity for future personal growth. The art of discernment may grow over time, as we experience the magical aspects of life and how situations unfold. Over time, we can develop a keen sense of awareness and respect for the power in our choices.

We should always seek to make good choices with the assistance of healthy discernment. Some tips for choosing well include consideration of the following:

-Choosing the right choice over the easy choice

-Choosing others before self

-Choosing love over any negative emotion

-Choosing quality over quantity

-Choosing quality over cost

-Choosing only after adequate research

Our experiences help to provide the catalyst to mold our perspectives and enable the cultivation of healthy discernment. We make hundreds, if not thousands of choices each and every day. We can live a better, more fulfilled life by taking personal responsibility for our own decisions. This may require time and introspection. Hopefully, you will always have adequate time to make your decisions, including the time to change your mind if appropriate.

In case you are wondering, in my featured scenario, I chose option 3, to remain in my lane, come what may. The decision left me stranded, my car totaled, but me in one piece. I was not injured nor the car or driver that initiated my sudden response. There was indeed much in the median. A tow truck, two cars, and a sheriff deputy on foot. I will never know why flares or warnings were not posted. What I do know is that I made the best choice that I could, given the circumstances, and my discernment played a key role in making that decision.

6 Reasons to laugh, even when you don’t feel like it.

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 regimen.  There are many reasons to laugh at the world around you. Here are six of those 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.
  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.
  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 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?