Practicing Gratitude with “The Little Book of Gratitude”

Gratitude Book

Robert A. Emmons has a real winner in his book, “The Little Book of Gratitude.” I find this book a bright gem to carry with me anywhere, reminding me of the benefits of a gratitude practice and a wealth of activities for expanding my daily gratitude practice.

Emmons research has shown that gratitude, among many other strengths, is the best indicator of emotional well-being and strong relationships. He says, “It (gratitude) is also the truest approach to life.” In this little book, Emmons reminds us that gratitude is a valuable life orientation. Research shows we more easily notice the negative because we are wired for negativity as a survival mechanism. Through daily practice we can reorient our focus to what is good, what is going well, and all that exists in our days to give thanks for. When we do this we experience better health, increased well-being, and live with more contentment and inner peace.

“The Little Book of Gratitude” is filled with research, wisdom, activities, and even the myths surrounding gratitude. Many of the activities I have practiced for years and I have learned even more by reading this little book. Yes, it is little and can easily fit into a purse, backpack, or bag.

My favorite reminder for gratitude, as a life practice, is Emmons, ‘The 3 Stones of Gratitude’. What are the 3 stones? 1. Look for the good. 2. Receive the good. 3. Give back the good. I have my three stones on my altar and, often, in a pocket as I go about my day.

I highly recommend this book to learn about gratitude and develop a regular practice of gratitude so that you, too, can experience both the health and happiness benefits of giving thanks.

The Value of Massage

I was recently asked the value of massage? I am a massage therapist, massage instructor, and have received massage regularly for most of my adult life, yet, I found myself pausing before answering the question. I have been participating in the massage world for so long, I take its value for granted and give it little thought beyond scheduling my own massage or preparing to give a massage to a client.

My first answer to her question is that massage is an essential part of my self-care routine along with exercise, good food, rest, yoga, and meditation. I get massage regularly — once a week when I can and, at the very least, twice a month — because I can’t imagine my life without it. Massage, both giving and receiving, has been a valuable part of my own healing from childhood trauma. Massage helps me relax when I can’t on my own or simply want the support to relax. Massage is therapeutic when I’ve been injured or have overworked muscles from exercise or work (and too much snow shoveling) – it facilitates my own healing and balancing. Massage also allows my mind to relax as I get to receive care from someone else’s experienced touch.

I am an advocate for regular massage whether once a week or several times a year. Massage balances our nervous system by boosting our parasympathetic nervous system responsible for the relaxation response as well as decreasing inflammation, lowering heart disease, and increasing heart rate variability (an important marker for overall health). Massage also lowers blood pressure, aids in creating a quiet mind, encourages our immune systems to work better, inspires our body’s healing systems, and improves circulation. Massage helps facilitate healing from stress, overexertion, injury, and emotional upset. Massage also facilitates the release of Oxytocin, the calm-and-connect, feel good neuropeptide I spoke about in my last blog post.

Massage is safe touch so I don’t need to worry about unsavory or unwanted touch. I know I can talk with my massage therapist if her touch is too firm or too light. When I work with clients, I encourage them to let me know if my strokes are painful or too light. I tell them that they live in their bodies, I don’t. So communication along the way is essential for me to do my best to serve their needs.

[Note: I do know there are those uncommon & unfortunate scenario’s where massage therapists overstep safe touch boundaries. Unfortunately, those are the folks who give massage a ‘bad’ name.]

Massage is self-care, which I encourage all my clients and/or students to include in their health protocols. I am grateful I learned the value of self-care early in my adult life as everything I do for myself, my health, and happiness allows me to be more fully present in my work and enjoy a full, healthy, and active life.

If you have never tried massage, go and schedule one today. If massage doesn’t appeal to you, consider acupuncture, acupressure, shiatsu, or acutonics as part of your self-care. You owe it to yourself.

Carving a Path to Health through Chemical Boosts

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Did you know that your body has a host of chemicals accessible to you for boosting both your health and happiness? As a health practitioner, I find this fascinating and exciting. I get to see my clients with a different perspective — which chemicals are they a bit short on that could be a player in their compromised health?

These chemicals — Serotonin, Oxytocin, Dopamine, and Endorphins — when released, provide you with opportunities to feel healthier and happier. In fact, you can turn them on for a boost by doing simple and fun exercises/activities throughout your day.

By learning about these naturally existing chemicals and how they detract or enhance our health, we can look for those things we can do to help them be released. These chemicals get released in short bursts and don’t tend to last. We can increase the frequency of their presence with new habits. We can create micro-moments of chemical boosts. Micro-moments add up over time to improved over-all health and positivity.

Here is a quick overview of our inner chemistry — the four major players for health and happiness. (Note: there are many chemical processes in our body happening all the time, these are the major players).

1. Dopamine: For most of us, when we are low in dopamine, we experience self- doubt and tend to procrastinate. When we have enough dopamine circulating we feel motivated. One of the easiest ways to boost our dopamine is to take our large goals and chunk them down to smaller goals. Each time we accomplish one of our smaller goals, consciously celebrate your work. Celebrations can be simple — no need for a party with all of your friends (unless you want to). I like to celebrate by going to my favorite bookstore or cafe for my favorite coffee or tea. I return with more motivation to go onto my next goal.
2. Oxytocin: Too little of this neuropeptide and we experience mistrust or separation. We can boost oxytocin through holding hands, hugging, touch (massage anyone?), and, my favorite, eye contact. Each day we can boost our oxytocin in simple ways that connect us to others leading to a calm and connect state of mind.
3. Serotonin: When we lack serotonin, we feel depression and/or loneliness. The easiest way to boost serotonin is to practice heartfelt gratitude. End your day with listing 3 – 5 things you are grateful for from your day. You will feel better and improve your sleep as well.
4. Endorphins: Most associated with the second wind that athletes experience. When we lack endorphins, we feel pain and increased stress. Exercise is one way to increase endorphins. Another way is a good laugh (a full belly laugh) or even a good cry. If the weather prevents me from getting out into nature (my favorite endorphin release), I keep a stack of movies that always bring on my laughter or my tears.

I hope you find this useful and will plan for daily boosts of one or more of your naturally occurring chemicals for health and happiness. Let me know how it works for you!

Let’s Talk About Health & Sanity

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A Nature Valentine

Wow! For the first time since the internet arrived in my home — dial-up at first and now a cell tower box that has its own phone number — I’ve run out of available data ten days early! I had to purchase another GB so I can have limited access from home. I am determined to make that one GB last!

More importantly, running out of data days before the next round begins is an indicator of where my mind has been since the inauguration in January. Unfortunately, I have not been celebrating. I have been obsessed with following the whirlwind of news surrounding our frightening political climate. I have been obsessed with wondering what list of new changes will greet me each day that inspire my concern, fear, and anger.

Running out of data while the second snowstorm blankets my weekend has been a wake-up call. No wonder I have been restlessly sleeping, eating less than healthy foods, and ignoring my body’s cries for movement (other than snow shoveling). I’ve also allowed my meditations and writing time to wind down to minutes a day instead of much longer. I understand why I don’t feel myself — my stomach has been in knots, my mind’s been racing with fear and negativity, and my generally zestful energy level has been waning into a state of ‘tired is normal’.

Now, I do believe we are in a time of crisis where being informed is essential and what is daily coming from the White House each day is anything but normal. I also believe that my own health and well-being are also essential so that I can continue to make my daily phone calls, write letters to government officials, take action when & where possible, as well as participate in local action groups. I refuse to give over my health and sanity to a political climate I don’t agree with.

Running out of data? I am grateful for I was called back to myself and what is important for me to maintain my health and sanity. I spent the last three days reading, being outdoors, meditating, writing, and photographing the beauty around me in nature. Because I took a media, internet, and news break, I got to see a fox in my front yard one evening, finish a knitting project, do my yoga in a relaxed and healing way, dust off my kettle bell, and actually enjoyed the snow falling (at least until I had to get out and clear it). Clearly I have not been a beacon for all the positive psychology I have been studying and practicing for years!

This morning as I went to work I felt refreshed and sane. I was more present with myself and with my clients in a way I hadn’t experienced for several weeks. Before leaving work (where I do have wifi access), I briefly checked my email and looked at the headlines. When I closed my computer, I didn’t feel the concern and overwhelm I’d been living (obsessively).

I am committed to continuing to take breaks from the internet, social media, and the news. Time to renew and refresh is so important at this time. If we are to resist and stand up for our rights that are threatened every day, we must be strong and aware of our need to regroup when our health wanes. The news will still be there with right action to take. Let’s not give over our own health and well-being to these people.

Marching Into History

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“Never depend upon institutions or government to solve any problem. All social movements are founded by, guided by, motivated and seen through by the passion of individuals.”
~ Margaret Mead

Yesterday, history was made with women marching & gathering all over the globe to stand in solidarity for human rights, women’s rights, and to stand against derogatory statements made during the election campaign which too many have taken as permission for unacceptable behavior. The energy was palpable at the gathering I attended. I looked around and witnessed generations standing together which reminded me of my own daughter and grandchildren who were held dear in my heart. Also palpable was the common thread to hundreds of other marches both in our country and around the world. I also felt the presence of millions of women who could not be there in person but were cheering on the sidelines from their homes and work places.

I went to stand up for women’s rights that are threatened, to stand up against violence, to stand for equality for all, and to stand for peaceful action over hatred. When I arrived I knew I had made the right decision. What I saw were women, men, and children. Many wore their pink hats that were made as a statement of intention for the march, others carried signs expressing their sentiment, some wore “nasty woman” t-shirts and there was a sense of peaceful intention about the gathering.

Once the group energy coalesced as a sister march for human rights we all felt connected energetically to marches & gatherings everywhere, there was a common sense of purpose — to make a clear statement that we are the people who will not be easily abused, threatened, violated, or disrespected for our gender, our sexuality, the color of our skin, how we worship or from where we’ve immigrated. We walked and gathered in determined peace in order to be heard and seen.

What inspired me was that the marches were began by an idea that one woman had after the election. I am convinced that even one person can, indeed, institute change and mobilization. Looking at photo’s of marches in every large city in the US and cities around the world make me smile with pride. I do believe we made a statement in a very positive way.

Positive psychology focuses on living life with meaning and purpose as well as focusing on what is good and what is working in our lives. A foundational tenant that Chris Peterson spoke of in reference to positive psychology is that “other people matter.” I was marching because I do believe all people matter and deserve a life of meaning and purpose that embraces our diversity and our differences. Whether in DC, Boston, San Francisco, London, Australia, or the smallest of communities, we were there together making our voices heard. I was filled with a sense that I am not alone in my concerns that seem to loom so darkly on the horizon.

I woke this morning noticing that the heaviness I have felt since November had been lifted. I am grateful, more open, and ready to participate in the work that must continue. Complacency is not an option in my mind. Real and lasting change involves action. I am reminded of what Michael Moore encouraged us all to do — make calls every day to our representatives to stand for positive change. A phone call takes minutes yet can be the action we take to carry forward the change we need at this time (202-225-3121) and encourage our representatives to make good and right choices that uphold our Constitution (we the people, for the people) as well as our Bill of Rights.

Finally, I am grateful to my sister after an overdue conversation this afternoon. We generally stand on either side of the political divide. Today we sat down to talk about our views, our concerns, and our hopes. We allowed our love for one another and our willingness to ‘agree to disagree’ to bridge our differences when it comes to politics. We took the time to empathically listen to one another. What we learned is that we want the same things for each other, for those we love, for ourselves, and for our country. Even though we voted differently, I felt the divide narrow into remembering our love for one another.

I want more of these conversations so that the divide in our country can be bridged. I want to listen more to those who disagree with my point of view or my choices. I do believe we want the same when it comes to those we love. Empathy and the willingness to take the time to truly listen is what is needed most as we move forward.

Reflections, Foundations, and Intentions

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Here we are, days before this year ends and another begins. What do you do to prepare for the next year? Do you prepare? I do!

Reflecting… What’s been done? Who have I been?

I begin preparing by reflecting on the last twelve months. My journal pages fill as I ask, “What have I accomplished and completed this year?” and “Who have I been?” I write for days and one thought leads into the next as my list grows. You see, when I begin, I often think that very little has actually been accomplished. Every day is busy and full. I find it is easy to forget once I’ve finished a project or accomplished a goal and I am already onto the next adventure. Allowing myself time to reflect is like looking at a photograph or into the woods. At first, I look at the whole scene, take in its feeling without the details. The longer I look more and more details emerge that I hadn’t seen on the first look. Nuances of color, wildlife pausing in camouflage, a bird perched on a branch watching me, a fallen tree that I didn’t see in the initial looking. There is always more to see as my focus changes and deepens. The details are both in the scene and in me, my own inner landscape in response to the outer landscape.

Reflecting back over my year requires that I take time to allow details to emerge — those details I’ve forgotten. Looking at the whole I can see and feel an experience (even the sense of non-accomplishment). My initial list is simple — drawn from the whole. As I stay with the list and begin to focus on parts (month by month or day by day) details emerge and I remember — listing the details. After a week my list has grown and I am both surprised and happy that I’ve done so much. I am grateful that most of my intentions, written a year ago, have been fulfilled. And there were many pleasant surprises as well. I always love the adventures I didn’t count on yet were an outgrowth of my intentions.

A New List Builds from The Last List…

From the list of the last year, a new list begins to form. I have a new question, “What is in me that wants expressing this next year?” My new years list has begun with events already planned — workshops, writing, travel, etc.

Another question I ask is, “Who do I want to be this next year?” These are my inner intentions — equally important for these create the environment for many surprises. For example, I wish to be even more of my Best Self this coming year — appreciative, curious, open to new possibilities, and living more fully into the spirit of giving and loving.

Long ago, I dispensed with resolutions — those actions inspired by what I haven’t done. You know them — join the gym, eat better, write that book, finish that list of projects, etc. These nearly always end in the trash bin of unfulfilled hopes that I can later use to berate myself. Resolutions don’t grow from my Best Self. They grow from thoughts of not being good enough. Not good enough isn’t a firm foundation for growth, success, or surprise.

Foundation of What Worked…

What provides a firm grounding for awe, curiosity, and positive growth come from my Best Self. For example, one of last years intentions was to remember what I deeply love about yoga, hiking, and the sweet surprises that I am grateful for every day. Looking back, I did remember what I love which led me to more varied hiking, appreciating the yoga retreat I just went on (that I hadn’t planned for) and every day was full of moments of gratitude. Looking back and reflecting, I am in awe of all I’ve done and experienced in 2016. This is my foundation built on what worked.

Carrying Forward & Intentions…

Beginning with 2017, my foundation is being my Best Self, allowing nature to be my mentor for living in trust and giving, and honoring community whether near or far. I’ve ended 2016 with a new appreciation of the importance of community. I intend to carry that forward in 2017. I’ve remembered and learned that all my relationships need nurturing just as my gardens need tending in order to assist in the best harvest possible. Some practices I will continue — gratitude, living from my strengths, my yoga, my daily writing practice, and my journeys into nature. These form my firm foundation for the next cycle of intentions. Some intentions already forming are taking action over inaction, allowing room for my voice to inform my actions. I’ve learned that action creates momentum and upward movement while inaction creates stagnation and downward motion. I like the upward spiral into positivity even if inaction is sometimes the familiar and easy way ‘out’. Action always leads me somewhere — adventure, new community, resilience, and fresh perspectives.

An Invitation…

I invite you to reflect and plan for your next year. Begin with listing what was done last year as a foundation for the coming year. Write them down (if writing works for you), share them with someone you trust, create a work of art expression, and then appreciate all you’ve done.

Here are some questions to help frame your intentions and planning:

1. What did you accomplish, complete, learn, and experience in 2016?
2. Who were you?
3. What will you carry forward and upward in 2017?
4. What is already in motion or planned for 2017?
5. Who do you wish to be this next year?
6. What strengths and qualities of your Best Self will you cultivate and nurture?
7. What intentions will begin 2017 for you? Consider both specific plans and broader experiences in your intentions — leave room for surprises and opportunities yet to be discovered.
8. If resolutions work for you, write them as well.

As we prepare to say good-bye to 2016, let’s go forward into the next year open to sweet surprises and fulfilled intentions in the most positive way.

Happy New Year – may it be filled with peace in your heart!

Inspired by a Holly Tree

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There is a park I stop at every time I go to Cape May, New Jersey. This park is very close to my destination and is my last opportunity to let my dog have a walk before our arrival. It is the only park that is not connected to a food and gas rest stop. I have walked around this picnic area park every month for the past few years and, only recently, did I notice a holly tree surrounded with a small fence and a sign telling the story of the tree.

On reading the sign, I learned that the Holly Tree is over three hundred years old and is now surrounded by a grove of many younger holly trees. This particular holly tree was on the original landowners property before the Garden State Parkway was constructed. What I find most interesting is that, rather than cut down the tree which is too often the way, the people who bought the property for the Garden State Parkway decided to honor this tree that has grown there for so many years and reroute construction around the tree and create a picnic area for travelers to enjoy!

Each time I stop at that picnic area, I stop to see and honor that tree. I am in awe that one tree was the reason the Parkway was constructed with a picnic area in the middle of almost nowhere and without a food court or gas station! That holly tree and all it’s surrounding offspring continue to grow, are cared for by someone, and provide an area to enjoy nature as the traffic continues on. I wonder how many people who travel the parkway are aware that this park exists because of a tree that has survived over three hundred years? I wonder what history has surrounded this tree in those many years — who were the people who originally enjoyed the shade of that tree?

Of course, this has raised another, more current question for me. If one tree has been preserved and a major highway rerouted around it can happen, why can’t the pipeline contractors at Standing Rock find another route for their pipeline in order to honor and preserve the history of our country and it’s indigenous people and their sacred lands? Those lands have been sacred land for far longer than three hundred years. Have we not taken enough from our indigenous people?

It saddens me to realize that this holly tree preservation is such a rare happening. What would it take to reroute other plans in order to preserve our history, our environment, and honor the people who live on that land?

I am inspired by the ancient holly tree that continues to stand because someone decided to honor its existence and find a way to keep it standing. I want to be inspired by the goodness in people everywhere to find ways to respect one another, be kind to one another, and care for our history — its people and the land.