Category Archives: Topics

Ho Ho Ho! Happy For a Reason

HHo Ho Hoow would you answer the question “What do you want in life?” As it turns out, many people say they want to be happy.  Yet, despite our relatively prosperous conditions, only one-third of Americans report being happy and we rank 17th compared to other countries on how happy we are, with Denmark and other European countries at the top.

So what do we need to be happy? (Hint: I don’t think you’ll find it under the Christmas tree.)

Scrolling through the documentaries on Netflix, I decided to one watch on this very topic called “Happy.”  It was released in 2011, but if you haven’t seen it, I recommend it. While I’ve heard most of the information before, it is always good to be reminded of some basic facts.  First and most important, It is estimated that at least 40 percent of your happiness is created by with intentional activity–meaning it’s your responsibility (with 50 percent going to genetic and 10 percent to circumstances).

And, it’s not about how much money you make, how much success you have, or how much prestige you get from others.  In fact, after you have enough money to get your basic needs met, money will not buy you any greater happiness.  Even living under extremely poor economic conditions doesn’t doom you to a life of dread. In fact, many people with very little in the way of creature comforts are quite happy.

In the book “The How of Happiness,” Sonja Lyubomirsky details many of the intentional activities you can engage in to boost your happiness quotient. Try a few of them as you finish the holiday season and set some intentions for your happiness as the New Year begins.

  1. Be socially connected – The happiest and healthiest people have strong relationships to family and friends.  The communities you live in can provide love, meaning, support, and increase your feelings of self-worth. These networks support you with daily routines like cooking and taking care of children as well as during times of crises.
  2. Be physically active – Being physically active improves your life on many different levels by releasing hormones into your blood that do some pretty amazing things for your mood (and your weight). Doing some extra physical movement that feels good to your body, even if it’s only for a few minutes, every day will help you feel better, have more energy, and be more positive.
  3. Be resilient – The happiest people know how to bounce back from adversity.  One of the things that happy people do is re-frame negative events into learning opportunities.  You can’t change the events that happen to you, but you can change how you relate to them. As it turns out, construing benefit in negative life events is a tremendously effective coping strategy.
  4. Be grateful – Studies have shown that just listing 5 things that you are grateful for every Sunday can increase your mood compared to people who don’t take note of the good things in their lives. An attitude of gratitude can be practiced every day.  Before you go to sleep at night or when you first wake up, think of one or two things you are really grateful for.  When you feel grateful for someone, let them know through a kind word, a thoughtful email or card, or even just a hug.
  5. Be mindful – One of the attitudinal qualities of mindfulness is having a “beginner’s mind.” When you are keenly aware of your surroundings or seek ways to live out of your normal routine you will flourish with positive mental health.  There are many ways you can do this. You can drive a different way to work, go to a new restaurant, explore a new museum, try a new craft, learn a new language, play a new sport, or join a new club. Be open to the new and interesting in your life.  Never be a person who says they’re bored!  Life is an exciting adventure.

Happy Holidays!

Print Friendly

Mindfully Having Your Holiday Treats

We are smack in the middle of the holiday grazing period.  All of the break rooms Happy Holidaysare filled with candy, cookies, donuts, chocolate, cakes, and pies.  Brunches and holiday dinners with family and friends have tables filled with an overabundance of food. What to do?

These are just a few simple thoughts I want to offer you as you make your journey through the daily opportunities to eat holiday delights.

  1. Mindfully assess the situation. There will probably more food than you could possibly try or taste. Pick out the items that you think look the tastiest and just eat those.
  2. Relax. Enjoy the food you’ve decided to eat and savor it fully.  If you relax while you eat, you will be able to register fullness sooner and you will be less anxious –therefore not in as great a risk to overeat.
  3. Eat as if for the first time. Sometimes those treats that we think we like don’t taste that great if we eat them mindfully. Try tasting your food with a beginner’s mind. I recently tried this with a class of Eat for Life participants. One person brought in “puppy chow” for us to try because she said it was impossible to eat it mindfully.  We each ate only three pieces of this chex, peanut butter, chocolate, butter, and powdered sugar concoction.  I doubt that most of us will ever eat it again. If the food you eat is only palatable eaten by the handful, you might want to question if you really like it.  If it’s food you still really like, then you will be able to savor it fully.
  4. Beware of your hand that unconsciously reaches for food. If your office is like ours, there has been a daily influx of holiday treats. People commonly say things like, “I didn’t even want the donut but it was there so I took it.”  I would recommend questioning that strategy.  Do you really want to eat it just because it’s on the table? Or, if you’re standing at a party, try standing away from the food so that you’re not just automatically reaching for food that’s an arm’s length away.  It is estimated that we make 200 food decisions a day on a regular basis, but I’m sure that number increases during the holidays.  Make mindful, conscious choices and you will feel much better after the holidays.
  5. Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. This is no forbidden food so you can eat anything that you want. Having holiday treats can be a wonderful way to celebrate. When you don’t prohibit yourself from having food then it is less likely you will binge on it.

If you eat more than you planned, don’t get down on yourself.  This is the hardest time of the year to eat mindfully.  Enjoy every morsel! Enjoy your life! Enjoy the blessings of the season! Your happiness will help you be the best you can be and eat in a way that honors your body.

Print Friendly

Feast On Your Life At Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving celebration word cloudWe all have many memories of past Thanksgivings. If you are like me, some are fantastic and a few are not all that great.  When I was a little girl and life seemed much simpler, I absolutely adored Thanksgiving.  I loved playing with my cousins that I didn’t get to see that often.  Sure, the food was good, but it was the company that made it the most fun.

As I got older, some Thanksgivings had pieces of the usual family dramas that make the holiday more difficult—misunderstandings between family members, alcoholism, split family rivalries, and guilt trips.  Of course there were still many Thanksgivings filled with loving connections between friends and family and tables filled with amazingly delicious food.  Sometimes both of these types of Thanksgivings occurred simultaneously!

My best advice for facing Thanksgiving is this—make it the Thanksgiving you want it to be. Even if you find yourself around some people that you find a little irritating, you can make the day a success. The key is attitude, focus, and gratitude.  Let’s break those down.

  1. Attitude:  You can choose the attitude you want to have every day.  On Thanksgiving morning when you wake up, choose the attitude you want to have.  You can be happy or you can be upset.  It is totally up to you.  Remember to keep choosing your attitude all day long. Even in the face of sometimes difficult circumstances and people, you can be the person you want to be.
  1. Focus: Are you focusing on the things that you like or the things that you don’t like?  Our brains tend to focus on the negative and you have to rein it in to focus on the positive.  It can take some mindfulness practice to remember to focus on what you like, not what you don’t like.  Talk with your favorite Aunt Sally and don’t get into an argument about politics with your Uncle Harry.  Be present for the wonderful smells and tastes of Thanksgiving. Don’t worry if everything isn’t perfect. It’s called “life” and there’s nothing perfect about it. That’s okay!
  1. Gratitude: Since Thanksgiving is the holiday to give thanks, this is probably the most important point to remember.  Gratitude can help you have a better attitude and better focus.  By enumerating the many blessings you have in your life, you feel better and, the better you feel, the more you are able to see the positive instead of the negative.  When your mind shifts away from the problem and into what’s right, you can often find solutions to any problems that might arise during the day.  When you express gratitude to others and speak about gratitude, you might rub off on everyone else around you.  Positive energy is contagious and you might even get a grumpy relative to crack a smile.

For a little extra helping of gratefulness go to theses daily grateful living practice ideas.  Make your life a feast on Thanksgiving.  It can be a feast of right attitude, focus on the positive, and gratitude.  Then there is a lot to be grateful for.  The yummy food is just extra!



Print Friendly

A Mindful Halloween Meditation

Tick or treating is so much funYes, anything you bring your attention to turn it into a meditation—even Halloween! So, let me tell you a little story and share my meditation on Halloween.  Last year for the very first time I was struck by the irony of me giving out full size, sugary candy bars to innocent children as they paraded up to my door on Halloween.  I also was struck by the irony of me then thinking about taking the left over candy to work to perpetrate the sugary treats on my innocent co-workers.  These behaviors were ironic because I teach a mindful eating class which raises the awareness of the impact of loads of sugar on our emotional and physiological well-being.  And, here I was inflicting it on others because of Halloween. Continue reading

Print Friendly

5 Tips for People Too Busy to Meditate

Be mindful in letterpress wood typeWhen someone tells me he is too busy to meditate, I know he is just the person that needs it most. The busier you are, the more you need to take time for a bit of mindfulness.  I’m sure you have felt the energy drain of a day when there is too much to do.  Instead of grabbing another cup of coffee or some sugar to give you an energy boost, try a little mindfulness.  Just like you plug in your cellphone every night, plugging into the present can be a great re-charge for your body and mind.

Mindfulness is about dropping in on all of our senses in the ever changing moment we call “now” with kindness and curiosity.  It just takes a few minutes throughout the day to make a huge difference in how you feel, how you respond to the stress in your life, and how much energy you have for all of the things you want to do.

  1. Do a three minute breathing space.  This short exercise is one of the favorites from my classes. Developed by Mark Williams, Zindel Segal, and John Teasdale for their mindfulness-based intervention for depression, it is a perfect way for dropping out of automatic pilot and dropping into your thoughts, feelings, and body sensations.
  2. Take a mindful walk.  For three minutes, get up and simply walk.  Don’t think about your worries, your projects, and your to-do list.  Be aware of your body moving, placing your feet on the ground, the movement of your legs, the air against your skin, the muscles that are involved in moving you forward.  Every time your mind wanders, bring your attention back to simply walking.  Come back refreshed and more energized.
  3. Do a short seeing exercise.  For a couple of minutes, stand at a window and gaze outside.  Take in the sky, the clouds, the sun, the rain, the trees, the flowers, the birds, the cars, the buildings, etc.  Scan the environment and just notice the colors, the shapes, and the sizes. Be aware of the world around you. Breathing gently in and out and bringing your curious awareness back to your surroundings. See what you discover.
  4. When you are in a conversation with someone, let the other person be your object of mindfulness.  When your mind wanders from what the other person is saying, come back to the words that they are speaking.  When the person is finished talking, repeat back to the person what you heard them say so that you know you have understood them.  Notice how you get distracted and keep bringing yourself back to the person in front of you.
  5. Break out of your routine.  Nothing gets our attention more than novelty.  The problem is we fall into routine patterns and habits that lull us to sleep.  In the morning, eat something different for breakfast.  Drive or commute a different way to work. Meet someone new for lunch. Take in a new activity – a new museum, store, sport, hiking trail, lecture, or a new restaurant. Make your life a little spicier and notice how it brings you more fully into the moment.

While it is recommended that you engage in longer periods of time for sitting meditation or yoga, there are great benefits to be found in little mini mindfulness moments throughout your day. In fact, mindfulness throughout the day is the final goal anyway. You can bring your mindfulness to any activity and make it a meditation.

By coming back to the moment over and over again, no matter what you’re doing, you will improve your ability to take care of your busy day with more ease.  You will have more attention and focus so you get things done faster.  You will be utilizing the decision-making, creative parts of your brain so your performance will improve. And you will be calmer which makes you feel good and enhances the quality of the relationships you have with others.

Turn your busy day into a mindful day.

Print Friendly

Mindfulness-based, Intuitive Eating – Learning to Trust the Body

Trust1Your body is a magnificent instrument that is designed to move you toward a state of health on a moment by moment basis.  Just think about it works to heal your body when you injure it in some way.  At the cellular level, the body just knows what to do.  In the same way, the body knows when it needs to be fed and responds positively to food that it determines is healthy for it. It actually works to dispose of food that is not good for its functioning.  And many of us make it work overtime if we are putting food into that is toxic to the system in some way, such as eating too much sugar, fat, and salt.

If you have not been paying attention to your body’s physical signals for a long time, it might sound a little overwhelming to think about trusting your body to tell you what it really needs.  Not listening to your body can happen for a number of reasons—you’re too busy, you’ve followed the advice of diets or diet gurus to tell you what to eat and when, and you listen to the thoughts in your head more than you listen to your body.

In the class that I teach, the idea of mindfulness-based, intuitive eating can be a little scary for people.  The most common things I hear (and I hear them all of the time) are:   If I eat intuitively, I’m afraid that I will get fat. How can I eat whatever I want and not gain weight? If I don’t weigh myself regularly (something I ask people not to do), how will I know how much I weigh?

Let’s take them one at a time. Continue reading

Print Friendly

Three Days to Less Stress – Meditation Can Help

alarm clocksEverybody is looking for a quick fix to be less stressed.  We try shopping, drinking, distracting ourselves with TV, and even complaining to try to feel better.  However, these strategies are only temporary and often have negative side effects (e.g., financial difficulties, being hung over, being overweight, and feeling more negative).  Let’s face it, there are usually no quick, easy fixes to life’s challenges.

However, now researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have given us some hope.  David Creswell and his research team did a study where they had one group of participants complete a brief mindfulness meditation training program – 25 minutes of meditation for three consecutive days.  The meditation instructed them to monitor their breath and pay attention to their present moment experiences.   The comparison group participants were given instructions to enhance their problem-solving skills.  After their training, all participants were compared on stressful speech and math tasks in front of stern-faced evaluators in white coats.   The participants who had the meditation training reported less perceived stress than the comparison group, indicating greater psychological resilience—a known indicator of greater physical and psychological well-being and health.

If you would like to try the test for yourself, here is a 30 minute sitting meditation. Use it for three days in a row and notice how you feel.  Pay attention after day three how you react to things that usually create stress for you. If you’d like, share your experience by commenting below.  If you notice it working, you might like to try some other meditations as well. Pretty soon you might be doing something everyday. You will find meditations of varying lengths on the Audio/Video Tab on this website.

Good luck!

Print Friendly

Be Mindful of Your Day

FlowerPlanning a presentation recently, I decided I wanted to give people an idea about how you could spend a mindful day. These are the three suggestions I came up with that could enhance each and every one of our lives.

1.  At the beginning of the day, make a plan to engage in at least one activity that brings you joy.

2.  Choose the attitude you want to have throughout the day.

3. At the end of day, remember three pleasant moments you enjoyed.

Enjoy an Activity

How much of your life is spent doing something for someone else or just getting through the work of the day.  Each day make some time for yourself.  The activity can be something as simple as reading a few pages from the book you’re reading, listening to some music, taking a different route home to see something new, walking on the trail, learning something new, or having lunch with a friend.  It’s your life. The key is to enjoy it every day.

Choose Your Attitude

In the stress reduction class I teach, I tell people to take a slip of paper from a bag marked “choose your attitude” — referring to the attitudes of mindfulness.  It is one of the favorite things that people do.  One the slips of paper are the attitudinal qualities associated with mindfulness. They are patience, non-striving, non-judging, acceptance, beginner’s mind, trusting, and letting go.  You could choose one of these or you could choose to be kind, gentle, helpful, confidence, optimistic, reliable, honest, and happy. The list is endless.  It’s your life. The key is to choose how you want to be.

Three Pleasant Moments  

Pleasant moments are occurring all of the time and we miss them because we’re lost in thought—planning, remembering, worrying.  Don’t miss your moments filled with smiles, tastes, touches, sights, sounds, laughs, cries, nature, pets, children, spouses, and friends. Life is all around you with pleasures that abound. It’s your life. Be present for the pleasure that’s available to you.

~One of my pleasant moments today was writing this blog.  I hope it adds something positive to your life.

Print Friendly

Five Tips for Mindful Emailing

tastingmindfulness-stockimage1Emails in the workplace often come with questions, work to do, goals to reach, and obstacles to overcome. That makes them inherently stressful or anxiety producing. Plus, communication is hard enough when we are face-to-face and email makes it much more challenging. Face-to-face we have the ability to read another person’s intentions and emotions. Over email, we are left guessing what the other person is trying to express. When you read an email that upsets you, it is often because a reaction is being triggered that may not be appropriate to the communication as it was intended.

Knowing this, here are some tips for what to do when you feel triggered emotionally by an email you receive.

1. Use the STOP sign technique before you respond.

S = Stop (do nothing)
T = take a breath (or five breaths or breathe until you’re more relaxed)
O = Observe (What are you feeling and thinking? Is this someone you have reacted to in the past? Is there a pattern of reacting that you can begin to understand better?)
P = Proceed (when you feel calm again, now you can respond if you need to)

2. After you have calmed down, re-read the email in question. Does it say what you thought it did? Or, does it say something slightly different? When I go back and re-read emails I often discover that they were much less of a problem than the first time I read them.

3. Put yourself in the shoes of the person sending the email. What might they be trying to accomplish? Usually someone doesn’t send an email to make you mad and, in fact, the email is often sent with good intentions. Assume good intentions whenever possible.

4. When you’re sending an email, check in with what you intend to convey. Never send an email that you’ve composed when you’re angry. Take a few breaths and wait until you’re calm. You will be much more capable at getting your message across in a way that can be accepted without defensiveness.

5. When possible, pick up the phone and talk or walk down the hall to speak to someone in person. While email is absolutely a necessity in this day and age, there are still times we could take advantage of some old fashioned face time.

The workplace is fast-paced and hectic. No wonder it can be filled with misunderstandings. When we practice slowing down, even a little, we can discover many new things in our communications with others. We can begin to illuminate the ways we get stuck in repetitive patterns and we can begin to understand how others operate so that we don’t take their messages so personally. When we practice mindful emailing, we have an opportunity to help the workplace be a little more friendly and manageable.


Print Friendly

Does stress make you overeat at work?

stress_eaterJack is sitting at his desk intently focused on his work. He is getting a little stressed because he has a deadline to meet and he has a lot of other work that is beginning to pile up.  Automatically, his left hand reaches down to the desk drawer that is filled with food in case he gets hungry.   Is Jack really hungry? Or, is he stressed?  Continue reading

Print Friendly