New Experiences, New Neural Pathways, And Lot’s of Fun!

Spent the weekend with my grandchildren which always feeds my happy & healthy with play, adventures, and fun. This weekend was filled with ‘first’s’ which I am grateful to participate in and witness.

My 5 1/2 year old learned to tie her new shoes! Version 2To be sure a new neural pathway was formed in her brain, she tied & untied, tied & untied, over and over again. Each time she was ever so proud of her accomplishment!

For my 14 month old, he participated in his first Easter egg hunt. After the first two finds with the help of his Dad, he was off and running to keep up with his sister.

Version 2 The day before Easter, the sun was shining so we headed outdoors with sidewalk chalk on the driveway — nothing like fresh air, creativity, and keeping up with a toddler learning to run with his new shoes to feed the soul with joy!Version 2 For me, my fun was photographing the events when I wasn’t dying eggs, filling eggs, working on puzzles, or joining the fun with sidewalk chalk!

My return home is full of memories, appreciating my family, and looking forward to our next adventures!

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An Important Book Review: A Short Course in Happiness after Loss by Maria Sirois

Maria Sirois
Maria Sirois is an elegant and graceful storyteller with a wealth of stories from her own life and work. In her new book, A Short Course in Happiness After Loss, she reminds us that loss is an inevitable part of life which none of us is spared. Through her writing about loss, and I mean the kind of loss involving abrupt change to the core of our being and the way we think life is or should be. Losses such as death, divorce, and illness. These are kinds of loss that alter our reality (and often instantly) where we are taken out of our day-to-day normal and brought into the depths of raw and consuming emotion. All of these losses involve grieving and require time to heal.

Maria leads us through the journey with full permission to be in all the mess and emotion for as long as it takes. She leads us on an upward spiral through grief, hope, courage and onto the possibility of happiness with baby steps of awareness to rise up and see life as it is — a co-existing of good and bad, of up and down, of messy and orderly, sadness and joy. Maria’s authentic and raw honesty goes right to the heart and opens the door to moving forward into a life of meaning and pleasure. She is not talking at us about loss. She leads us, through real experiences, onto the path to healing.

Slowly, with tenderness and respect, Maria shows us that happiness — a life of meaning and joy — is possible when we begin to notice what is good, what is beauty, and onto what can be a new normal with joy as well as loss.

I was reminded of the morning my mother died and I went for a hike in the woods to cry, to remember, and to be cradled in the arms of nature. It was there I found a robin’s egg, newly hatched. I saw that coexisting was the metaphor of the release of my mother from this life for which I felt enormous grief and a glimmer of beauty and life continuing on in spite of the empty well I felt knowing my mother was gone.

Yes! I highly recommend Maria’s book for everyone, since loss does not discriminate who will or won’t experience loss. We all will, at some point. This book is an important guide through loss to the other side. A great short course to be, perhaps, better prepared when loss finds itself into our life. If you are in the midst of loss and wanting to find your own way to a new normal, this book is a beacon to find your own courage, awareness, and bravery on your journey.

Living in Strength

 

Mountain Goat Utah

“Curious people pursue experiential novelty, variety, and challenge.”

I thought I would be writing about mindfulness in this post. However, what I am full with this morning are my strengths — love of learning and curiosity. So I am going with the flow and will write about mindfulness at another time.

I have spent too much time in my life in judgement and self-criticism around what I thought were my faults. I have worked hard to try to fix them with all the New Age approaches and therapies I could use — affirmations, visualizations, energy healing, journaling, and reading every self-help book I could lay my hands on. I also spent years in therapy through my 20’s and 30’s trying to understand and looking at my past as the focus of blame and trying to repair my faults. All of my efforts provided few lasting results. I still struggle with forgiveness and teamwork. Sound familiar?

Then, several years ago I found the Certificate in Positive Psychology course through The Whole Being Institute and offered at Kripalu. I became immersed in Positive Psychology which is grounded in the science of what is good and what is working in life. Rather than looking only at what needs fixing, Positive Psychology looks at successful, happy people and looks at what they do that makes a difference regardless of their past (or present circumstances). What a game changer this has been for me!

Note: if you want to shed light on your life and begin living from what is working, go to Whole Being Institute (www.wholebeinginstitute.com) and consider investing positively in yourself.

One area of Positive Psychology that has had a tremendous impact on my day-to-day life has been the study of strengths and learning to live more from my character strengths while nurturing some of the strengths that are not at the top of my being in the world.

Learning about virtues and strengths that are universal opened my eyes to a whole new world and a positive focus in my life as well as those I work with. Martin Seligman and Chris Peterson (two top psychologists in Positive Psychology research) wanted to know about the strengths that are inherent in people worldwide. Through their research and work, they found there were six virtues — wisdom, temperance, transcendence, courage, justice, and humanity — that are commonly valued across cultures. Within those six virtues are twenty-four strengths that are also commonly valued worldwide. They are: creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, love of learning, perspective, bravery, persistence, integrity, vitality, love, kindness, social intelligence, teamwork, fairness, leadership, forgiveness, humility, prudence, self-regulation, appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humor, and spirituality. These strengths exist in everyone to varying degrees. Seligman and Peterson found that everyone has strengths that are used more than others and that through questioning we can learn what strengths make up who we are as individuals (a personal blueprint of strengths) in our lives. Our top five to seven strengths are used most and are referred to as our character strengths or those that make up who we are in our day-to-day.

Note: Go to http://www.viacharacter.org to learn your personal ranking of the 24 strengths. There are, also, other organizations that offer strengths questionnaires for you to learn yours. A simple Google search will lead you to several.

When I took the VIA (Virtues in Action) questionnaire I saw my personal blueprint showing my ranking of the twenty four universal strengths. I had an ‘aha!’ moment! I was pleased and sat with a clearer understanding of who I am in my life to myself and others.Though my most used strengths were no surprise, they were a relief to know, and my understanding of myself expanded.

My character strengths (or my top 5 – 7) shed light on how I think, act, and present myself in my daily life. What was even more enlightening were the strengths, though present, that are not my most used. The two at the bottom of my list of twenty-four are the ones I’ve judged (and been judged for) myself for not expressing easily. I felt ‘off the hook’ for my life-long struggles to be different than I am and more like others.

Fun for me has been identifying when I am using my strengths, being mindful of using them in new ways (there, I am writing about mindfulness), and when I am spotting strengths in others. I am also learning to use my top strengths to nurture those strengths I use less, yet would like to use more.

“Teamwork is a strong sense of duty, works for the good of the group rather than for personal gain…”

Teamwork is not a top strength for me which explains why I work so much better being self-employed and in a solo healthcare practice. Now, I’ve been on many teams in my life (as an athlete in my youth, teamwork was important), however, teamwork isn’t something I often seek out now that I am older.

Last fall I was accepted to work as part of a team of teaching assistants for the current year-long course in Positive Psychology. I realized it as an opportunity to use the year to strengthen my skills of teamwork. I thought it would, at times, be a challenge to be communicating, working with and sharing responsibilities to guide a group of new students into and through a year of Positive Psychology study.

I must admit that there have been times in my adult life where I would not have even begun such a journey. There have also been times when I would excuse myself (yes, quit) to return to my solitary and comfortable way of being.

This time, however, my commitment is to continue and learn all I can while immersing myself fully in a team. My two top strengths — love of learning and curiosity — I am using to bolster teamwork in myself. I like to look at it as tethering my top strengths to one that I want to develop and master more. I am using my love of learning (learning all I can about myself and the team I am part of) and curiosity (my natural tendency to explore) to become a better team player.

What fun I am having!! I love the journey and am making new life-long friends in the process. I am even more passionate about Positive Psychology and working with others to extend the outreach of happiness in the world. I am appreciating my team and grateful for this opportunity (two of my other character strengths). I know I will continue to look for more teamwork possibilities in my life and will do it again and again!

I highly recommend you find out what your top/character strengths are and find ways to consciously live from them. I know you will be happier, healthier, and experience a more fulfilling life. For yours, go to http://www.viastrengths.org.

Smile, Look Up & Expand Your Body

PeaceBirch

These are three simple adjustments we can make anytime, anywhere, to change our mood, lift our spirits, inspire self-confidence, and communicate our strength and positivity. They are smile, look up (yes, that’s right, look up to the sky), and expand your body or as Amy Cuddy in her book, Presence, calls stand in a power pose (more from Amy Cuddy later).

  1. Look Up:

Looking up is a simple action with powerful results. If we are worrying, feeling blue, or stressing about something, our eye gaze tends to be down — anywhere below eye level. A simple adjustment to our mood is to look up. Lifting our eyes and head to look up changes our posture — we stand taller, open our chest & heart, breathe deeper, and feel lighter and more joyful.

I remember working with young children who were mostly from troubled families. They would come to Day Care each day with their feelings on their sleeves or in their fists. When they walked, they often looked down toward the ground. When someone approached them, they would startle or duck down. When sitting, they would wrap their arms around themselves as if protecting their hearts from harm. On walks or even indoors, I would have them look up toward the tree tops or the sky and tell me what they saw. This simple shift in their gaze lightened their mood almost immediately with laughter and open dialogue soon after.

This simple practice of looking up is something I do on all of my walks. If I am feeling down or out of sorts, I will walk outside and look up to the sky. I’ve known for many years that looking up changes my outlook, lifts my spirits, and I go about my day in a more positive frame of mind. I am even convinced that on long hikes or runs, when I look down at my feet I feel more pain in my body and when I look up, my pain diminishes and often releases entirely.

This has been my little secret awareness for many years until reading Amy Cuddy’s work on how we hold our bodies, I now know there have been studies done that support what I’ve known all along! When we change our posture to a powerful pose (expanding, looking up, and becoming bigger) rather than a powerless pose (folded in on ourselves, looking down, shoulders rounded) we benefit by feeling more self-confident, self-assured, less anxiety and depression, and less physical pain.

Looking up! How simple is that!

2. Smile:

Another simple practice I use is to smile. My Positive Psychology instructor, Tal Ben-Shahar, teaches that it isn’t just any smile, but an authentic smile which includes smiling with our eyes. We all know the fake smiles. We’ve seen them in photo’s of people who are told to smile for the camera but aren’t really feeling it — they are smiling only with their mouths. An authentic smile is one where we smile with our eyes as well as our mouths!

When you look at someone or a group of people and they are smiling or even laughing, what do you naturally do? Of course, you smile or laugh with them even if you don’t know what they are happy about! Laughter and smiles are contagious and they feel good because they communicate to the brain to release ‘feel good’ chemicals (hormones).
My first Qi Gong class always ended with the instructor saying, “Put a smile on your face and then open your eyes.” With a smile, I breathed deeper, stood taller, and moved onto the rest of my day in a more positive mood.

Research now shows that the posture we hold triggers our brain to release different hormones that match our posture. A simple act of changing our physical posture with a smile directs our feelings and our actions. When I wake in the morning, I stretch, pet my dog & cat, and put a smile on my face — all before getting out of bed. This daily ritual sets the tone for my day.

I challenge you to practice waking each morning and, before tossing back the covers, put a smile on your face first and then see how you feel and act. Imagine everyone in your family or circle of friends beginning the day with putting a smile on their face!

3. Expand Your Posture into One of Power:

Amy Cuddy, in her book, Presence, talks at length about how we carry ourselves — our posture. She says, “The way you carry yourself is a source of personal power – the kind of power that is the key to presence.” Her research and that of many others sited in her book, substantiate that expanding our body by standing taller, opening our chest, looking up, and arms open (not wrapped around ourselves) has many benefits. When we stand in a powerful pose we communicate presence, self-confidence, and self-assurance. We are more creative, courageous, generous, resilient, and open. In her words, “It doesn’t change who you are; it allows you to be who you are.”

When we stand or sit with our posture open, powerful, and head held high, we communicate and feel very differently than when we sit or stand in a powerless position with head bowed, arms wrapped around ourselves, and our shoulders rounded.

Try it. Walk around the room in a powerful, open posture. How do you feel? Then, change to a powerless posture and notice how you feel. When we stand in a more powerful way we feel happier, more optimistic, confident, and less stressed or anxious. We can more easily access positive memories and positive outlooks when we stand in a powerful way.

These are three simple practices that communicate to our brains to feel better by releasing positive hormones. I encourage you to try them out and then share them with those in your family and circle of friends. If everyone did that, we would find ourselves living in a better world with happier people!

Lastly, I highly recommend reading Presence by Amy Cuddy. She also has done research on the not so positive effects of technology (head bowed over a cell phone, texting, playing games, watching the news) and the posture that is being expressed worldwide…