Emotions

Music Offers Many Cognitive, Emotional and Physical Benefits to Young and Old

Photo by Mike Giles on Unsplash

Photo by Mike Giles on Unsplash

“Music is therapy. Music moves people. It connects people in ways that no other medium can. It pulls heart strings. It acts as medicine.” — Macklemore

 

Much research over the years has centered on the potential, perceived and realized benefits of music. In fact, the area of study has blossomed, growing from the preliminary findings of earlier studies to recent ones that built upon them. What’s exciting is the widespread and diverse benefits that music offers to everyone, young, old and in-between.

Musical training gives babies’ brains a boost.

Even before babies can walk or talk, they can benefit from receiving musical training. That’s the finding from a 2012 study. In the first study of its kind, researchers from McMaster University found that one-year-old babies who engaged in interactive music lessons with their parents were better able to communicate: they smiled more, were easier to soothe, displayed less distress when things didn’t go their way. Babies in the music lessons study group were also able to point at things out of reach and wave goodbye.

Children who regularly attend and participate in music classes benefit from improvements in speech and reading.

A 2014 study found that attendance and participation by children in music classes – especially music classes involving instrument playing – exhibited improvements in neural processing of sound after two years of classes. The researchers at Northwestern University said that the active music class participants had greater improvements in speech and reading scores than their peers who didn’t attend music classes.

Structured music lessons improve kids’ academic performance and cognitive skills.

Researchers in a 2018 study found that structured music lessons added to regular school curriculum significantly enhanced students’ cognitive abilities, leading to improved school performance. The cognitive skills’ improvement was in the areas of short-term memory, planning and inhibition, and language-based reasoning. The first large-scale longitudinal study adapted to regular curriculum at school also found that visual arts helped significantly improve children’s visual and spatial memory.

Early musical training benefits the brain in later life.

Researchers in a 2013 study found that early musical training has a lasting and positive effect on how the brain processes sound, with benefits to aging adults years later. Neural timing, researchers said, is one of the first age-related declines, resulting in compromised hearing, such as a slower response to fast-changing sounds, which is vital in interpreting speech. The researchers looked at musical training adults had in childhood and found that the more years those adults had training in music, the quicker their brains responded to a speech sound. Even though the response was just a millisecond quicker, researchers said that the millisecond, compounded with millions of neurons, corresponds to making a real difference in the lives of older adults.

Surgical music therapy program helps reduce pre-operative anxiety in women undergoing breast biopsy procedures.

Anxiety before surgical procedures is a common concern for patients about to undergo necessary interventions. Results reported in 2016 from a two-year clinical trial on live- and recorded-music therapy during breast biopsy procedures found that women undergoing those procedures self-reported a significant reduction in their pre-operative anxiety levels. Researchers said that adding a music therapist to the surgical setting may help patients achieve goals of reducing anxiety, managing pain, learning more about their procedure and gaining satisfaction from the experience.

Seniors’ mental health gets a boost from religious music.

Research published from a 2014 study discovered that, among older Christians, listening to religious music – especially gospel music – is associated with less anxiety over death, and increases in feelings of satisfaction with life, self-esteem, and sense of control over  their lives. Study authors wrote that even among those seniors with health problems or physical limitations might find listening to religious music might offer a valuable resource to better mental health.

Making music may help children improve pro-social behavior and problem-solving skills.

In a 2013 study, researchers from the School of Psychology at the University of West London found that young children, both boys and girls, who engaged in making music – singing or playing a musical instrument – improved in the pro-social behaviors of helpfulness, cooperation, and social bonding, and with problem-solving skills. Study authors said that making music in class, particularly singing, may encourage students with emotional difficulties and learning differences to feel less alienated at school.

Music listening may offer multiple benefits to older adults with early memory loss.

A 2017 trial found that the mind-body practice of music listening, as well as meditation, may offer several benefits to older adults with preclinical memory loss. After three months, said researchers, both groups showed “marked and significant” improvement in subjective memory function and objective cognitive performance. These improvements were around attention, processing speed, executive function, and subjective memory function – domains generally affected in preclinical and early-stage dementia. The cognitive improvements were not only sustained at six months, they increased. The two groups also showed improvements in mood, sleep, stress, well-being, and quality of life, gains that were either sustained or further enhanced three months after intervention.

Parkinson’s patients may build strength through singing.

Other promising 2017 research finds that patients with Parkinson’s disease might be able to build strength in their muscles used for swallowing and respiratory control through singing. These two functions are complicated by the disease. Study participants were trained in proper breath support, posture, how to best use muscles involved in the vocal cords. Singing significantly improves this muscle activity. Researchers noted that participants also reported other benefits from the singing therapy: improvements in mood, depression and stress.

Music therapy offers comfort to palliative care patients.

In a three-year study of male and female palliative-care patients with a terminal illness, researchers in a 2011 study found that music intervention therapy proved effective in enhancing their pain relief, comfort, mood, confidence, relaxation, resilience, well-being, and life quality. The music therapy team consisted of music therapy students from a university and musicians from a professional symphony orchestra.

Cancer patients find symptom relief from music.

A systematic 2016 review of literature finds that there is a significant body of evidence that music therapy and music interventions help alleviate cancer patients’ symptoms, including pain, anxiety, and fatigue, while also improving their quality of life and overall well-being. Among the findings: music interventions had a moderate-to-strong effect in anxiety reduction, a large pain reduction benefit, and a small-to-moderate effect of music treatment on fatigue.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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How to Do the Right Thing

How to Do the Right Thing

Photo by Fabien Bazanegue on Unsplash

 

“With integrity, you have nothing to fear, since you have nothing to hide. With integrity, you will do the right thing, so you will have no guilt.” – Zig Ziglar

 

When faced with deciding on how to act, sometimes the toughest part is figuring out how to do the right thing. Of course, how you view the right thing, what you think of as the right thing, makes all the difference. And this is often not clear. You may experience conflicting emotions, feel ambivalent about potential choices, or strongly for or against certain action – whether you are convinced that it either is or isn’t the right thing to do. How, then, can you make an informed choice and be confident that you’ll do the right thing?

Start with integrity.

Merriam-Webster defines integrity as, “firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values.” The word refers to moral or ethical strength and the quality of being honest. When you start with integrity, you are being true to your core values, not straying to conform with popular opinion. Acting in integrity is not always easy, for there are shortcuts that will speed the process that may sabotage the outcome, even as they provide a quicker path to the result. Without integrity, you may feel remorseful and guilty at an unfair or unfavorable result, while you have no cause for such negative thoughts when you act in accordance with your beliefs. Ask yourself first what you know in your heart feels right. Your mind may rush in with excuses or propose different courses of action, but your integrity will never fail you.

What about when the right thing isn’t so obvious, or when it’s decidedly against prevailing opinion? If you must act in opposition to what others think or do, will you be considered a disruptor, an outsider, someone to keep at a distance, decry, criticize? Temporarily experiencing discomfort when you do the right thing is likely something you can weather without too much difficulty. The key is to be comfortable with your choice. Again, when you start with integrity and follow through with action that reflects your integrity, you’re reinforcing your commitment to truth, justice and honor.

Be considerate how your actions will affect others.

Recognize that people may not agree with your action, even if they approve of the intent of your decision. Think through the possible ramifications of your action and how they will affect others, as well as how your actions may make them feel. This does not mean you compromise your desire to do what is right, although it may allow you to incorporate softening effects into your action.

For example, if a co-worker consistently shows up to the job with alcohol on his or her breath, or exhibits other signs of drug or alcohol addiction, you may not want to notify human resources, but it is the right thing to do. Your colleague needs professional help, and this may be the necessary wake-up call so that he or she can get the detox and psychotherapy it will take to get clean and sober. If it’s a family member you believe is in distress from substance abuse, poly-drug use, and/or mental health disorder such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other conditions and could benefit from counseling and treatment of some kind, figuring out a compassionate way to approach him/her and the specific language to use may somewhat ease the shock of your words. Note that those suffering from drug and/or alcohol abuse are often expert in denial. Also, you cannot force anyone to get treatment, no matter how desperately it is needed. You can only be there with your support and love and encourage your loved one to seek help. Know that family support is crucial in recovery from substance use and mental health disorders.

Stop worrying what others think.

Suppose you know that what you’re about to do will aggravate, infuriate, confuse or surprise others. Despite being the right thing to do, you fear the retaliation and disapproval that will follow. There’s no point to stewing over what others think. They’re going to vent their emotions, let you know their opinion, maybe even steer clear of you for a while. Stop worrying what they think. What’s more important is to be at peace with your actions.

What about loved ones and family members who take offense or retaliate with rejection, harsh words or withdrawing of affection over your actions they deem harmful to them in some way? The sting may be onerous, yet if you truly believe you’ve done the right thing, you must be able to live with your decision. The offended loved one or family member may come around, even thank you later, although it is also true they may hold resentment for your do-good actions.

There is also a bright side of doing the right thing, however, taking action that others don’t expect, and that is the opportunity for them to see you in a different light, to rethink their perception of you. When you do the right thing, you’re also giving yourself a boost in self-esteem. Knowing what’s right and doing it are the hallmarks of personal integrity.

Doing the right thing can be contagious.

Standing up for what’s right can inspire others to take similar action, to step out of their comfort zone and act in accordance with core beliefs and values. While you may initially feel alone in choosing the course of action you firmly believe is the right thing to do, your example may encourage others to follow your lead. First one, then another, then a few more may do the right thing. Your action can precipitate contagious behavior. Yet, even if it doesn’t, you are content with your decision, knowing that you acted with integrity and followed through to do the right thing. You can lead by example, even if others decide not to emulate your behavior.

 

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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What Does Your Apology Say About You?

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Why It’s Good That You’re Not Perfect

Why Its Good That Youre Not Perfect

Photo by Monica Galentino on Unsplash

“Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.” — Brené Brown

 

It’s practically a universal fact that almost everyone wants to get ahead. If I’m being honest, I must confess that I do. Even though I’m no longer striving to achieve a lofty career goal at a large corporation, I still have goals and want to succeed at them. It’s just that striving for recognition, money and advancement is no longer at the top of my wish list. I used to want that more than anything. Now I prefer to live a life of abundance: of spirit, joy, surrounded by loving family and friends, healthy, content and curious, willing to go out of my way to help others, to rejoice in the goodness of others.

I also know that I’m not perfect. The fact that I can readily admit that alleviates a certain amount of tension.

Trying too hard to be perfect never gets you anywhere. I learned that a long time ago. Granted, you make mistakes. Everyone does. Some of mine have been colossal blunders, while others were the result of being too hasty or careless or skipping some steps in pursuit of a goal. After beating myself up about it, I finally figured out that such hyper self-criticism was a waste of time. It made more sense to determine the lesson from the failure, if for no other reason than to not repeat it again. But perfectionism, trying to be perfect? According to experts, that’s an impossibility and a losing strategy.

On the other hand, striving to do better is an effective approach. With a worthwhile goal providing motivation, healthy striving can lead to a richer and more fulfilling life. I’ve found that to be true with goals large and small, some more immediate and others requiring considerable time and effort to achieve.

Suppose you’re not very good at math and want to become more proficient. Or you want to train yourself to be better at differentiating differences and spotting changes, as in identifying what’s different in a field of changing icons and images in a brain teaser game online. With diligent practice and the belief that you can improve your skill, you do indeed get better. That’s not trying to be perfect but striving to improve. The former is a hopeless pursuit, the latter laudable and likely to succeed.

In an average day, most of us experience a few disappointments, make the wrong turn, put the wrong ingredient in a recipe, rush through a quiz and make a few mistakes, forget what we were going to say, say the right thing at the wrong time or the wrong thing at the right time. These are examples of what we’d consider a failure, blunder, mistake or stupid move. With the mindset that always demands perfectionism, we’re likely to continue to spiral down, never quite making the mark and sinking deeper into a less hopeful and more negative state of mind.

In contrast, by taking mistakes, disappointments and failures in stride and striving to do better, we’re bolstering our resilience, maintaining good balance and promoting a healthy way of living. Sure, it may take practice to overcome a tendency to get things right every time, as well as learning to ignore the comments from others about “Better luck next time.” This is especially true if perfectionism has become ingrained and those who know you expect you to be perfect all the time.

Having witnessed a few friends and acquaintances who’ve succumbed to the tantalizing and wrong siren song of perfectionism – and coming close myself on one or two occasions – I know that the preferred and much more effective and satisfying way to live is to engage in healthy pursuit of achievable goals.

If you tend to believe the same way I do, you’re not perfect – hooray! Neither am I, thankfully. Life is so much more enjoyable this way and that’s why it’s good that you’re not perfect. Keep in mind, though, that just because you’ve let go of pursuit of perfectionism does not mean you relinquish your goals. Adding incrementally to your strengths, skills and accomplishments boosts your self-confidence and self-esteem and intensifies your sense of purpose in life.

 

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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What Does Your Apology Say About You?

Photo by Will O on Unsplash

Photo by Will O on Unsplash

 

“A meaningful apology is one that communicates three R’s: regret, responsibility and remedy.” – Beverly Engel

 

When you say that you’re sorry to another person whom you’ve wronged, or who believes you’ve wronged them, what does your apology say about you? Is that even important? Doesn’t the fact that you deliver the apology in the first place hold greater weight? After all, an apology should be about the person harmed, not the offender. While the apology has been much studied, not much literature exists about the effects of the apology on the apologist. Maybe it’s time that someone study that.

“I’m sorry.” But, do I really mean it?

Countless times each day we hear people say, “I’m sorry.” We say it when we inadvertently cut in front of someone to get into a door, when we bump into them in line, when we’re taking too long to order, and the queue of customers continues out the door. While we may mean what we’re saying, we likely don’t consciously think about the words. We just say them out of habit. Not that being quick to acknowledge the wrong or perceived wrong is bad, it may just be perceived as insincere – if it’s even overtly acknowledged. What’s the other person going to say, anyway? Unless they’ve got a wild hair, are easily angered, impatient or just rude, they won’t call you out on your behavior. But maybe we really don’t mean it. Others may notice, or they may have become so used to such feigned apologies that it doesn’t faze them anymore.

Timing is everything when you deliver your apology.

It’s a familiar quote, “Timing is everything.” Whether in whole or as part of a longer quote, the exact words have been uttered by sports professionals, entertainers, business executives, Internet sensations, religious leaders, politicians, chefs and others. There must be a germ of truth in the statement. In fact, there is, according to research.

Aaron Lazare, author of a book about the apology, and others have said that effective apologies generally share certain underlying features, the most important of which is timing of the apology. Lazare also said this about apologies: “One of the most profound human interactions is the offering and accepting of apologies.” Early and delayed apologies, if heartfelt, can be equally effective.

A 2013 study published in the Western Journal of Communication, “Effects of Timing and Sincerity of an Apology on Satisfaction and Changes in Negative Feelings During Conflicts,” found variability in satisfaction of recipients of apologies relative to timing. Earlier apologies resulted in greater satisfaction in being understood during the communication in conflicts that could have gone past 10 minutes. On the other hand, later apologies were deemed more satisfying communications when delivered in less than 10 minutes of conflict discussions. One author noted that apologizing too frequently “becomes background noise.”

The lesson to take away here is to make a determined effort to be forthright in your apology, considering how and when best to deliver it so that the recipient is both ready to receive it and you can communicate honestly and empathetically.

It’s not about you, but an apology you make does affect you.

Granted, an apology is supposed to be about the other person, not you. Yet, the affect your apology has on you is often overlooked. To be more in touch with your motives, as well as your humility and humanity, it’s first wise to understand the basis and purpose of the apology. In an important study on apology by Cynthia Frantz of Oberlin College, “Better Late Than Early: The Influence of Timing on Apology Effectiveness,” the author reminds us to be more focused on the person we’re apologizing to than ourselves. The point is that you want to be reassuring to the point that he or she believes you sincerely understand your wrong. In addition, without acknowledging the wronged person’s emotional state, your apology likely will fall flat, being received as insincere.

However, it’s also worth noting that once you focus your intentions and fashion your words, giving appropriate thought to the timing and place to deliver your apology, you’re engaging in proactive behavior that will have an emotional effect on the recipient as well as you. You know you’ve followed through on a substantive issue, even at some pain, shame and embarrassment on your part. It feels good to lift this burden and you can move on from here.

If you blurt out the apology with no consideration of when and how it’s delivered, though, it likely says something quite different about you, perhaps that you’re more concerned with getting this off your mind than caring how it’s received. Other potential reflections of you as a person because of this ill-conceived and half-heartedly delivered apology could be that you’re self-centered, superficial, and overly consumed with appearances than substance.

Sex makes a difference, apparently.

It seems that men apologize less frequently than women, and that they report fewer offenses they believe they’ve committed. That’s according to a 2010 study published in Psychological Sciences, “Why women apologize more than men: gender differences in thresholds for perceiving offensive behavior.” Another study found that men apologized more frequently to women than other men.

A side note is that hallmark traits of psychopaths include lack of empathy, lack of remorse or guilt, no matter how much they hurt others, failure to accept responsibility, pathological lying and shallow affect, among others. If a psychopath does offer an apology, it’s usually to exert control or manipulate the other person, as they are masters at both.

How to deliver a heartfelt, genuine apology.

You want to be earnest, honest, empathetic, concerned and compassionate when you’ve hurt someone by your actions or words and want to offer an apology. What does a real apology look like? It’s all the former and a few more necessary ingredients. A real apology must contain the following:

  • Delivered with appropriate timing.
  • Acknowledgement of the hurt you have caused.
  • Recounting the incident in detail – so the wronged person knows you know what you’ve done wrong.
  • Taking responsibility for the situation.
  • Recognizing your part in the event.
  • Stating your regret.
  • Asking for forgiveness.
  • Promising that it will not happen again.

Note that in some situations where you’ve wronged another, an apology is not complete unless and until you also make appropriate restitution.

 

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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Want to get my free newsletter? Sign up here to receive uplifting messages and daily positive quotes in my Daily Thoughts. You’ll also get the top self-help articles and stories of the week from my blog and more.

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Best Ways to Spend Idle Time

Best Ways to Spend Idle Time

Photo by Pacto Visual on Unsplash

 

If you ever feel like there just isn’t enough time in the day to get things done, you’re probably overstressed, overworked and overcommitted. On the other hand, do you sometimes recognize that time stretches on, like you’re in a slow-motion movie, and it seems like this moment will last forever? How can two different views of time exist? Here are some of my favorite quotes on time that may serve as reflection on the best ways to spend idle time – and be time well spent.

Spend time with family.

“I absolutely love spending time with my family.” – Kevin Alejandro

You may not get to choose your family, yet you do choose whether to spend time with them or not. Too often, though, we tend to take family for granted, feeling they’ll always be there – until they’re not. Use spare time to do something with family, for it will always be some of the best idle time you’ve ever spent.

Find the beauty in each moment.

“Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in.” – Henry David Thoreau

When was the last time you looked at your surroundings? Really looked, not just allowed what’s there to serve as background? There’s true beauty all around, if you but make a conscious choice to look at it and be amazed by its power to enrich and nourish you.

Reflect on your blessings.

“I think, every time I’m on the mountain, I’m just so thankful to be there.” – Chloe Kim

I’m grateful to be alive, having experienced a brush with death more than a few times. Some might call me lucky, while others just marvel I’m still here. Nevertheless, what those life-threatening experiences taught me is to be profoundly appreciative of life. I’ve been blessed with many gifts, not the least of which is my ability to find the positive in almost any situation.

Relax.

“The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.” – Sydney J. Harris

Why put off doing what relaxes you when the science proves that relaxing activities help refresh, restore and revitalize your body, mind and spirit? Take a half hour for meditation, or engage in restorative yoga, or surrender to a luxurious massage. If something relaxes you, you’ll reap enormous benefits from using the time you have to do it.

Enjoy your passions.

“If biking is your passion, set aside time to enjoy a good ride.” – Patrick Dempsey

I’m passionate about many things. For example, I find the wilderness awe-inspiring and mysterious and treasure memories of driving, hiking, fishing, swimming and exploring America’s great national parks. That wilderness is also dangerous and ever-changing doesn’t lessen my passion to be in it. I just exercise appropriate caution. I have other passions as well, some of which many share. These include gardening, walks in nature, creating tasty and low-fat desserts, writing, decorating, shopping for the best deals, and painting. It isn’t the what but the fact that I do what I’m most passionate about. Whatever time I spend with my passions is the best time.

Have a cup of tea.

“Tea time is a chance to slow down, pull back and appreciate our surroundings.” – Letitia Baldridge

I love a good cup of tea. My favorite for the past year is green tea, sweetened with Stevia and organic honey. Perhaps some of the research around the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties in tea swayed me when I first started drinking in during convalescence from a hospital stay, although I have to admit tea drinking is totally different from my daily latte experience. I do appreciate my surroundings when enjoying each of them, and I value the time I spend treating myself to both.

Walk in nature.

“The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.” – Rabindranath Tagore

Whatever the season, nature is always there to be experienced, appreciated and treasured. Personally, I’m fond of trail walks, possibly because there are numerous nature trails near my home. Whenever we travel, though, I’m always keen to explore the local trails and plan our lodging to take advantage of the most scenic trailheads. There’s a sense of peace and belonging I get from walking in nature. For me, it’s a kind of meditation. I’m conscious of breathing in and out, being in the present, fully aware and alive. What a wonderful and welcoming way to spend a little time. Besides, as  research shows, nature walks, especially in groups, can help banish stress and increase well-being. And, for women with depression symptoms, regular walking can improve their quality of life.

Play with your cat.

“Time spent with cats is never wasted.” – Sigmund Freud

You needn’t be a cat person, or even have a cat in your household, to derive benefit from playing with a feline. It can be a friend’s cat, or the beloved furry friend of a loved one, family member, neighbor or co-worker. I’ve owned several cats over the years and they’ve always amazed me with their never-ending curiosity, playfulness and independent spirit. Hearing and feeling them purr fill me with a sense of contentment and joy. I can be watching TV, listening to music, or just sitting back doing nothing else but playing with the cat. Nothing against dog-lovers, for spending time with dogs ranks just as high in satisfaction. In addition, pets have healing powers and much more, according to research. They make you feel less lonely, for one thing, which is incredibly useful for shut-ins and those without family.

Be flexible.

“Summertime, this is the time that you flex.” – Cardi B

Each season presents unique opportunities to spend free time. My favorite season has to be summer, however, since there’s invariably good weather (occasional thunderstorms notwithstanding) and myriad activities to choose from to have a good time. The key, I find, is to be flexible. If you’re intent on going for a hike and a friend invites you to go swimming, have lunch at a favorite café, shop a great sale, the more willing you are to rearrange your free time to accommodate this unexpected gift the more likely you’ll be glad you did.

Make a choice.

“Time flies. It’s up to you to be the navigator.” – Robert Orben

While it’s true that each day contains just 24 hours, how you spend your time is very much your choice. Even if you must work, that’s a choice. Doing chores is a choice. Taking a break now and then is a choice. So is parceling out an hour for doing what you want, pursuing an interest, investigating something new, making new acquaintances. No one else dictates – or should be allowed to tell you – what you can or cannot do with your time. Own your destiny. Choose how you spend your time.

Savor a favorite food.

“We all need to make time for a burger once in a while.” – Erica Durance

Who doesn’t love a good burger? Whether its angus beef, turkey, salmon or veggie, burgers have long been a go-to form of comfort food for millions of people. The same holds true for many other favorite dishes, whether exotic cuisine or homecooked meals. That’s why turkey dinners are so scrumptious, why the smell of bacon makes you salivate, why the aroma of baking pies brings back your childhood. Instead of wolfing down a favorite food, pause and take in everything about it that’s special. Really savor it. This is the essence, I think, of mindful eating.

Make someone feel important.

“No matter how busy you are, you must take time to make the other person feel important.” – Mary Kay Ash

If you want to go for the gold, use some of your spare time to go out of your way to make someone else feel important and loved. This act of self-generosity doesn’t need to entail spending money. Indeed, often it’s the mere act of conscious listening to what the other person has to say that results in them feeling important, the center of your attention for that brief span of time. Acknowledge what they say, offering words of encouragement, comfort, congratulations, assistance or whatever the person seems to need most. Doing so sincerely and without haste will make you both feel you’ve made good use of the time.

Cherish the moment.

“Time itself comes in drops.” – William James

Time isn’t like a daylong downpour. It doesn’t present itself in four-hour blocks. Instead, time is seconds and minutes, more like gentle drops of rain. Once this moment is gone, it’s forever lost. For this reason, be mindful of the fleeting nature of time and make a concerted effort to live in the present and cherish every moment.

Feel empowered.

“The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” – Bertrand Russell

I believe that every day I deserve to chuck my schedule aside for a while and do whatever I feel drawn to do most. I’m not talking about completely abandoning what must be done, just taking a short hiatus from tasks and responsibilities. The knowledge that I’ll return to my work or chores with a sense of renewal and feeling newly motivated further encourages and empowers me to do what I want with my idle time.

 

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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15 Ways to Increase Your Happiness

To automatically get my posts, sign up for my RSS feed.   

Want to get my free newsletter? Sign up here to receive uplifting messages and daily positive quotes in my Daily Thoughts. You’ll also get the top self-help articles and stories of the week from my blog and more.

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How To Help Your Child Combat Loneliness

 

lonely child

Photo by Max Goncharov on Unsplash

“You are never alone. You are eternally connected with everyone.” – Amit Ray

 

Many children, especially latch-key kids who must fend for themselves while one or both parents work, suffer from loneliness. Some have it worse than others. I can relate, having endured years of loneliness as a child. While I’m not a trained child psychologist, some of the basic habits I used to overcome loneliness may be helpful to parents of lonely children, as well as to the kid themselves.

By all accounts, I was a lonely child. My older brother, usually charged with watching over me, couldn’t be bothered to play as we were separated by four years. It might as well have been 10, for his friends teased him about babysitting his sister and his interests were far different than mine. With no other kids in the neighborhood my age, this generally resulted in me spending hours by myself. I envied my brother’s many friendships and how happy he seemed to be when around them. I wished desperately for someone to play dolls with me, to cook on my Easy-Bake oven, to build marvelous creations with Legos or Lincoln Logs, all to no avail.

My parents both worked and when they were home, there were chores to do, dinner to prepare and dishes to clean afterwards. I helped as much as I could, yet I was mostly in the way of getting the meals to the table on time. This made me feel left out and didn’t help with how lonely I felt all the time. Little did I know that some of the daily activities I took for granted would greatly assist me in becoming more externally-motivated and less prone to dwelling on how sad, depressed and lonely I felt.

Reading

A bright spot for me turned out to be reading. My love of the written word began early as my mother read to me every evening, no matter how tired she was and how much laundry or other tasks remained to be done before she could rest. I loved the colorful photographs in these books and remember vividly the wondrous tales told by L. Frank Baum in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and other chronicles, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and a host of other books. I started reading books on my own before age 5 and my mother took me to the public library once a week to borrow several to keep me occupied for the next seven days. I quickly graduated from typical children’s books to ones with fewer pictures and longer chapters. I read through complete series, several genres at a time, always eager to see what was new at the library.

What reading did for me was open me to new worlds. I identified with the characters, their challenges and journeys, their triumphs and heartbreaks. I wasn’t alone any longer, now that I had a repertoire of favorite characters.

My strong recommendation is that parents today adopt the practice of reading stories to their children. The earlier this habit begins, the better it is to help develop the child’s imagination, foster a sense of self-empowerment and discovery, and a willingness to try new things. It doesn’t take a great deal of time, either. Just 15-20 minutes a night on a consistent basis will work wonders. Research also shows that curiosity helps children become better at math as well as reading. This is a win-win.

Playing with Dolls

I became an expert at play almost when I began to walk. As a young girl, I had several dollies (my word for my little companions). I’d dress them in various outfits for activities we’d do and little excursions we’d take. The occasional mishap, where a head or limb would fall off during tree-climbing or other strenuous pursuits, didn’t faze me. My dad was, among other things, an expert carpenter. He could literally fix anything. I know. I watched him do it.

How, though, did playing with dolls help me overcome loneliness? For one thing, I developed the art of casual conversation, talking with my little charges as if they were human. I even spoke their responses so that everyone both participated and got their turn to say what was on their mind.

Naturally, this jumpstarted my imagination, as every day the girls (all my dollies were girls) wanted to experience something new. We had tea parties, played hide-and-seek, picked wildflowers in the field behind our house, sampled strawberries and blueberries from our truck garden and got dirty weeding and picking off caterpillars and other insects clinging to the vegetables.

Lots of girls, and some boys, still like playing with dolls. Whether they’re Barbie and Ken or Wonder Woman, Superman or some other action hero toy, such play stimulates curiosity, enriches the imagination and pushes the boundaries inherent in isolation. Besides, if your children do have friends, it’s wonderful to take the dolls on a little road trip to play with other dolls. This is a childhood pastime that never seems to go out of style, for good reason: it works to keep children amused and occupied with healthy activity.

Making Things

Our family was modest of means when I was growing up. I didn’t know this, however, until it came time to buying a new toy or dress or something I fancied for Christmas or my birthday. My mother was the one to let me know we couldn’t afford the most expensive item, although she usually cloaked that disappointment with an acceptable substitute. She’d help me make a new wardrobe for my aging dolls, or she’d take me to the sewing center or fabric store to let me pick out ribbons for a new sash to freshen my dress, or other items for my hair.

She encouraged me to make what I wanted as well, whether that meant fashioning toy cars from cereal boxes or constructing buildings and houses from leftover cardboard, bits of wood my dad gave me, using twigs for trees and flowers for bushes in the communities I fashioned at the side of the house. To an adult, it might have looked like a mud pile or merely an odd arrangement. My parents, however, knew these were my creations and told me how creative my designs were. Thus, began my lifelong interest in making things, seeing how to extend the life of items, transform them into something new and useful. It was also a trait that others found helpful, and I soon had friends who wanted to make stuff with me.

Instead of automatically replacing what’s broken, out of style, a little threadbare or cracked, encourage your child to figure out ways to redeem the item. Recycle various parts, give them a coat of paint, regard them as trusted family members worthy of respect and friendship. This helps your child develop problem-solving skills, discover talents they didn’t know they had, and instills a sense of pride and self-accomplishment. Besides, knowing how to make things is a skill they’ll use the rest of their lives. People gravitate toward those who can be so self-sufficient.

Spending Time in Nature

Another habit I cultivated early was being outdoors. My parents made it a point for their two kids to spend time outside, no matter the weather or season. While we didn’t know they needed alone time, we didn’t need any prodding to scurry out to play. My brother, of course, raced off to be with his friends, while I had plenty to do with my village creation, picking wildflowers, walking the cat on a leash (he didn’t much care for that). There was sledding and ice skating in the winter, making leaf houses in autumn, and so much more. Since there was a city park adjacent our house, I got lots of exposure to nature. Plus, families picnicked in the area and I was often invited to play with all the kids they brought along. Even though I might never see them again, we had lots of fun.

It’s a memory I treasure today. My parents could see me from the window, so I was never far away. I also knew to stay within calling range, so I’d be on time for dinner. Granted, things were much safer decades ago. People were more trusting, and trustworthy. Still, outdoor activity and leisure pursuits are excellent ways to banish loneliness.

Go for walks in nature with your children. Take vacations to visit state and national parks. Go to amusement parks, zoos and wildlife habitats with them. How can you be lonely when you’re able to witness such abundant life, the riches of nature? In addition, you’ll be helping your kids to appreciate what this world has to offer, and love of being in nature is a healthy habit they’ll likely pass on to their children as well.

 

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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11 Ways to Simplify and Enjoy Your Life More

5 Tips to Banish Loneliness

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15 Ways to Increase Your Happiness

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5 Secrets to a Happy and More Productive Life

5 Secrets to a Happy and More Productive Life

Photo by Austin Schmid on Unsplash

“Sometimes it’s the smallest decisions that can change your life forever.” – Keri Russell

 

Everyone has a favorite theory about what constitutes a happy life. Likely you know a few people who’ll readily tell you theirs. Allow me to share my five secrets to a happy and more productive life.

Only do what matters.

On any given day, we’re assailed with nonstop demands on our time, from the insatiable fount of hard-to-discern-what’s-valuable information on the Internet, to work, home, entertainment, invitations from friends and colleagues, junk mail, spoof robocalls and more. No wonder it’s become paralyzingly difficult to carve out chunks of time to devote to yourself. By prioritizing everything you must do, however, and giving weight only to what matters most to you, what you deem essential to accomplish today, you’ll find that you’re less distracted, cut down on daily stress, and find pleasure in completing task, projects and pursuits that are paramount.

Instead of letting others dictate what should matter to you, make sure you are the sole arbiter of this distinction. When you control what you feel is important, you’re taking the first proactive step to not only simplifying your life, you’re also enriching the precious 24 hours you have to live today.

Love what you do.

No doubt many have found themselves in dead-end jobs, forced by economic circumstance to take and keep whatever gainful employment was available. By resigning yourself to forever being less-than-satisfied with your means of bringing income into the home, however, you’re likely to lose out on a priceless and crucial ingredient in living a happy and more productive life. When you love what you do, every day is filled with opportunity, hope, discovery and purpose. Even challenges, major or minor, will not dissuade you from your enthusiasm, diligence, willingness to take risks, or forego immediate gains for long-term progress.

Here’s what happened to me. When I was raising two small children myself, I took an entry-level job in the purchasing department of a major automaker. I did very well there, all the while earning two college degrees at night. My supervisors wanted to promote me to the position of buyer, but I declined. I heard about a job in the public relations department, interviewed for it and got the position. At last, I was able to make use of what I had learned in school and every day flew by. I received incremental promotions and eventually rose to the executive level, even though there were some disappointments along the way (losing a plum reporter’s job during a major financial downturn and being reassigned to financial analyst position, for example).

Granted, it takes some imagination and a well-thought-out plan to see past the pigeonhole job you may be in right now (like my stint doing budgets, paying bills, analyzing and forecasting how the department could afford a mid-year new-car press preview). You can get beyond this unsatisfying stint and leave depression behind, starting with an adjustment to your mindset. Do the best you can with everything you do, no matter how menial, whether it’s considered drudge work no one else wants, or beneath your talents. How you meet challenges is a testament to your creativity and problem-solving, two traits that will serve you well wherever you go in life. So, be the best barista ever. Welcome guests as you park their cars. Find satisfaction in creating an efficient filing system. Think how you’re instilling a sense of wonder in your small children as you distract them from sibling rivalry or engage their curiosity when they complain of boredom. Offer suggestions when asked in company meetings. Become an expert in your area, so that you’re looked to for answers.

It’s by loving your part in excellence that you widen your sphere of influence, expand your horizons, and go on to bigger and better things.

Engage in your passions.

Think about what gets you excited, what you can’t wait to do. The origin of this excitement is your passion. And passion is what makes life extraordinarily rich and rewarding. How sad that so many people put off doing what they find pleasurable because of a sense of duty, citing lack of time, or that it’s not right to have fun when there’s so much work to do, or some other excuse that robs them of vitality and fulfillment.

What I love is a lengthy list of pursuits and hobbies. These include reading, writing, gardening, travel, trying out new recipes, mastering a difficult challenge, getting several degrees in my chosen fields. When I’ve deprived myself of my passions, I’ve suffered the consequences. There’s no point in telling yourself that you can do this another time or that you just shouldn’t waste time on this, for tomorrow may never come. You don’t have to take all day to do what you want for free or play time, just take a small amount of time for yourself. Watch that comedy. Stroll through the mall and check out interesting sales. Linger on the nature trail to notice what’s changed since last you were here. Engage in continuous learning so you’re always reaching for the next level, expanding your horizons, and making new friends.

Be true to yourself and your values.

When you live in accordance with your values, you are living in integrity. No one can take your values from you, although many people hide what they believe and are afraid to live according to their core values out of a mistaken idea that they’ll do better by going along with what others or the majority believe and do. Herd mentality never serves anyone well, least of all the person of integrity.

Granted, you may have to buck the trend to be true to yourself and your values, but isn’t living in harmony with what you believe worth it? It is so much more life-affirming to live what you believe than to exist in a discordant state. For my part, among the many instances where I was torn between my beliefs and values and doing what was considered appropriate for me (by others), was when I took the exam to get into law school. Attorneys make a very good living, and if I became a lawyer, I thought, all my money troubles would be over. I did well enough on the test and began to take law classes. I hated every minute of it. That career choice was short-lived. I did a deep soul search and realized I owed it to myself to believe in my talent to write, and to find a career that allowed me to make use of my gifts.

Share your joy with others.

Spreading your enthusiasm and showing your happiness and joy can be contagious. If you are happy and filled with enthusiasm, others cannot help noticing. Your positivity can at least cause them to rethink their outlook for today, to entertain the possibility that things may be better than they thought and potentially improve their mood, subsequent interpersonal exchanges and action.

I’ve always enjoyed people-watching when I get my morning latte at my favorite coffeeshop. Instead of standing in line like a robot, waiting to be assisted, I find something congenial to say to the person in front or behind me. I do so with a smile. Invariably, I both surprise and delight the individual, who generally reciprocates with a smile and pleasant banter. It’s nothing consequential, yet it spreads a positive emotion and embraces human connection.

 

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

Related Posts:

11 Ways to Simplify and Enjoy Your Life More

How to Keep Frustration From Blocking Your Goals

Combat Stress With Mindful Walking

7 Tips on Calming the Noise of Life

10 Ways Nature Helps Your Well-Being

15 Ways to Increase Your Happiness

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11 Ways to Cultivate Resilience

11 Ways to Cultivate Resilience

Photo by Simon Schmitt on Unsplash

“I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.” – Carl Jung

 

Bouncing back is a concept well understood in the context of recovering from a sports injury. Following favorite players’ comeback stories fills fans with inspiration, encourages perseverance in pursuit of personal goals, and fosters a sense of self-confidence, like we can do it if they can. Cultivating resilience in the face of all life’s challenges is a proactive way of dealing with the unexpected, the upsets and disappointments, the pitfalls and successes in life, including how to cope with trauma, chronic pain, adversity and tragedy.

RESILIENCE: WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT

An article in Forbes defines resilience as “the capacity for stress-related growth” and states that resilience has two parts related to the way you bounce back and grow:

  • From big work or life adversity and trauma
  • From dealing with daily hassles and stress

A study in Health Psychology showed that the frequency and intensity of repeated or chronic everyday life strains is strongly associated with overall health and illness, even more so than major life events.

A 2013 study found that exposure to chronic frequent negative emotion and the inability to process daily stress exacts a long-term toll on mental health.

Resilience, say researchers in an article published in Trauma, Violence & Abuse, can manifest either as “prosocial behaviors or pathological adaptation depending on the quality of the environment.” If individuals suffering from lasting effects of trauma and adversity have access to resources that help them cope, they will be more likely to develop prosocial behaviors that may facilitate healing.

Rolbieki et al. (2017) explored resilience among patients living with chronic pain and found that they showed resiliency in four ways: developing a sense of control (actively seeking information and conferring with their doctor to confirm his/her recommendations; actively engaging in both medical and complementary treatment; making social connections and exhibiting acceptance of pain and positive effect.

One surprising finding is that chronic stress accelerates aging at the cellular level – in the body’s telomeres. These are the repeating segments of non-coding DNA at the end of chromosomes. Scientists have discovered that telomeres can be lengthened or shortened – so the goal is to have more days of renewal of cells than destruction or wear and tear on them.

Researchers suggest resilience should be regarded as an emotional muscle, one that can be strengthened and cultivated. Dr. Dennis Charney, co-author of “Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenge,” says people can weather and recover from trauma by developing and incorporating 10 resilience skills, including facing fear, optimism and social support. Dr. Charney, resilience researcher and dean of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, was shot as he exited a deli. Following the shooting, Dr. Charney faced a long and difficult recovery. The resilience researcher himself had to employ strategies of coping he’d studied and taught.

The American Psychological Association (APA) says that resilience isn’t a trait that people either have or don’t. Instead, resilience “involves behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone.”

WAYS TO CULTIVATE RESILIENCE

Among the varied ways to develop and cultivate resilience, some are more self-evident than others, yet each is worth a try when attempting to weather life’s challenges.

Act.

Even small steps add to a sense of accomplishment, of being proactive instead of reactive. Start with something you feel confident you can do and ask for help if you need it. There’s a lot to be said about self-empowerment when you act in your own best interests. After all, no one else can act for you.

Add to coping resources.

Everyone can benefit from having a toolkit of effective coping resources. Combat stress, depression, anxiety and other emotional, psychological and physical issues and conditions through meditation, mindful yoga, exercise and whatever helps you relax, including reading, music, doing puzzles, painting, writing and more.

Learn flexibility.

Instead of regarding your situation as no-win, steer towards an attitude of flexibility. Learn the art of compromise, as in, “I may not be able to run a marathon, yet I can manage a walk in the neighborhood with friends.” In addition, when running into fatigue or pain that prevents you from continuing, congratulate yourself on your effort and the fact that you acted to improve your resilience. Over time, you’ll get stronger and be able to do more, thus adding to your resilience and helping to improve your overall physical and mental health.

Practice optimism.

Science says that some optimism is genetic, while some is learned. You can train yourself with practice in positive self-thinking to see opportunity instead of a dead-end, to view a glass as half full instead of half empty. There’s also truth in self-fulfilling attitudes. If you believe you’ll be successful in overcoming adversity, you’re more likely to succeed. The opposite is also true: If you think you’ll fail, you probably will.

Take advantage of support.

When you need help, it’s OK to ask for it. In fact, when you know you have support available and are willing to use it, you’re exercising prosocial behavior. Similarly, when you can do so, offer your support to others who may need it.

Avoid personalizing.

There’s no point in engaging in blame or endlessly thinking about your situation. Besides being counter-productive, it makes you feel worse. Make use of some of the healthy coping measures you’ve successfully used before and stop ruminating about what happened to you.

Regard the setback/disappointment as temporary.

Nothing lasts forever, not even life-altering events, trauma, adversity and pain. You can navigate through this turbulent and emotionally trying time by realizing that this is temporary, and things will get better with your active involvement in your healing process.

Write your new story.

Psychiatrists and psychologists call this “reframing” and it refers to changing your story to focus on the opportunities revealed. For example, say you’ve returned from active deployment in a war zone with extensive physical and psychological injuries. Instead of remaining steeped in the negative aspects of your experience, allow yourself to center on other senses, traits, skills and resources you have at your disposal – your empathy, understanding, ability to solve problems, a wide support network, loving family and close friends.

Cultivate gratitude.

When you are grateful and actively cultivate gratitude, you are taking advantage of a basic part of resilience and in contentment in life. The more you develop gratitude, the more resilient you’ll become.

Remind yourself of other victories.

This may be an intensely challenging time for you, a time when failures and negativity seem paramount and inevitable. Now is when you must remind yourself of your past successes, examples of seemingly impossible hurdles you’ve overcome, victories you’ve scored. This serves as self-reminder that you’ve come back from adversity before. You can do it again.

Enhance spirituality.

Religion and spirituality have been shown as predictors of resilience in various populations studied, including returning war veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), trauma sufferers, children and adults who experience abuse or violence, patients enduring chronic pain. Prayer, self-reflection, communicating with a Higher Power serves as a healing balm to many who otherwise may resort to negative coping behaviors, such as drinking and drug use.

 

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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11 Ways to Simplify and Enjoy Your Life More

 

11 Ways to Simplify and Enjoy Your Life More

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

“Our life is frittered away by detail…simplify, simplify.”Henry David Thoreau

 

If the idea of simplifying your life is appealing, you might be more motivated and likely to get started on this goal if you can find an easier way to do it. Complicated lists filled with difficult tasks won’t get the job done.  What will, however, are ways that are both easily-understood and generally easier to do and have the added benefit of helping you get more enjoyment out of life. Here are 11 to try.

Streamline your to-do lists.

Most efficiency and time-management experts recommend streamlining items on your to-do lists. There’s good reason for this, since having less items staring you in the face daily helps remove the gnawing impediment of impossible-to-achieve success. Maybe you have 20 tasks, projects and objectives you’ve told yourself are essential. That’s too many. No wonder you get frustrated and abandon or put off working on them. Start by paring the numbers, doing away with the nonessential and non-value-added ones.

Focus on quality, not quantity.

It’s easy to lose enthusiasm and get lost in the muddiness of details, timelines and complexity of too many goals. Instead of generating momentum, the opposite is likely to occur. The solution? Once you’ve pared your to-do lists, focus on delivering quality results, not half-hearted and hastily completed items that add up to an arbitrary and too high a number. Remember, you’ll get more satisfaction out of producing a quality result than several that are less-than-your-best effort versions.

Do what matters most to you personally.

Simply put, when you do what you find valuable and focus on what matters most to you personally, you’re much more likely to be motivated to begin with and to follow through to completion. Tackling goals, projects and tasks that you don’t feel strongly about or that don’t align with your values will drain your enthusiasm as well as your energy. It will also add complexity to your life that will leave you feeling less satisfied overall. On the other hand, when you get to work on what excites and interests you, time will fly, and it will seem less like work and more like fun. Isn’t that a terrific way to enjoy your life more?

Create desirable goals and create workable plans to achieve them.

In line with streamlining to-do lists and focusing on quality over quantity, another highly-recommended way to simplify your life and enjoy it more is to create desirable goals and workable plans to achieve them. You may identify an overarching goal, such as getting your college degree, buying a home, getting married and starting a family, or a few seemingly-unrelated goals, even some that are tangential. If it stimulates your interest enough to research and pursue, it’s worth adding to your list. Keep in mind that goals and plans are a work-in-progress strategy, something you revise as your interests and objectives change, you achieve some and identify others. It’s also a great feeling to tick off the successes as you make your way through your goal list.

Eliminate sources of stress – and find effective ways to keep stress at bay.

Stress, especially chronic stress, depletes you in every possible way. There are numerous physical consequences of stress, as well as emotional and psychological ramifications of this insidious condition. Learn how to recognize stress, whether the cause is something at work, relationship oriented, self-generated, or environmental. Get rid of the stress sources that you can and then research and put into practice effective ways to keep recurring stress from negatively affecting your life. One proven method to reduce stress is exercise, and experts say almost any exercise will help to manage stress.

Focus on a few true friends.

Trying to please 100 friends or follow up and stay in contact with a 1,000 or more social media contacts is a losing proposition. Casual contacts, commenting on posts, celebrating milestones is one thing, but you simply cannot maintain high-quality friendships with that many individuals. Instead, single out those who you value as true friends. Spend one-on-one time with them as often as possible and practical and be truly with them when you are together. This is both satisfying and personally enriching as well as adds to your overall well-being and life enjoyment.

Clean out your closets and de-clutter your surroundings.

A UCLA study on “The Clutter Culture” found that the need to constantly reward ourselves with material things, to offset the stress of the workplace and life in general, instead contributes to increased stress. At least it did for moms in the survey of American families. One of the quickest ways to get busy simplifying your life is to literally clean out your closets and buckle down to declutter your surroundings at home. Researchers in the study found that participants mentioned parking their cars on the street, so they could store accumulated stuff in the garage and piling the dirty laundry in the shower because there’s no other convenient place to stash it out of the way. How many of us have garments and objects ferreted away in the closet and drawers that have never been used, still have the price tags on them and have gone out of style? Start with your wardrobe and keep going from there. Once you’ve got piles of things you never wear or use, are still serviceable and potentially useful to others, donate them to a worthy charity. Recycle, repurpose or toss out everything else. Trust me, this suggestion is very effective in both simplifying your life and helping you find more joy in it.

Practice gratitude daily.

There must be something you’re grateful for, even if what that is does not spring immediately to mind. Start by acknowledging the gift of life today. Go on to express mental thanks for all that you’ve been given, whether that’s good health, recovery from illness, accident or injury, a satisfying job, plentiful friends or something else. Being grateful is a personal sentiment in the sense that you’re putting out to the universe a thank-you for what you value. The more you practice gratitude daily, the more your well-being will improve and the happier with your life you’ll be.

Enrich your spirituality.

Along with expressing gratitude every day, find ways to nourish and enrich your spirit and your spirituality. This may mean going to the church, temple or synagogue or being outside in nature and reflecting on a Higher Power. It may involve meditation, yoga, visualization exercises, imagery, focused breathing or some other technique to connect you to your inner self and the overarching meaning of life. A sense of connectedness to the universe, to the God as you know Him or Her is always beneficial in expanding your enjoyment of this precious life on earth, altogether fleeting and worthy of spending what time you have well.

Make time for yourself.

It isn’t selfish or self-centered to carve out time to do what gives you pleasure. On the contrary, making time for yourself is an endeavor that’s both life-affirming and produces a sense of joy and satisfaction. Go for that walk in nature. Meet with friends. Relax with a good book. Garden. Pass the hours involved in a hobby, gardening, sports or other form of relaxation or activity. You’ll know you’ve simplified your life if you feel good about allocating time in your daily schedule to do what you like. It will also make today much more enjoyable.

Live in the present.

In addition to creating space and room in your life through simplification of non-essential, non-value-added items and activities, focusing on doing what matters most to you personally, spending time on yourself, eliminating sources of stress, prizing a few true friends, creating desirable and workable goals and plans, exercising gratitude, nurturing your spirituality and embracing quality over quantity, you’re primed and ready to accept and practice living in the present. This is also called mindfulness. Frankly, the present is when you live. You cannot relive the past or experience the future. Today is it. Make the most of today by fully being present in the moment. It doesn’t get any simpler or better than that to enjoy your life more.

 

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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7 Tips on Calming the Noise of Life

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To automatically get my posts, sign up for my RSS feed.   

Want to get my free newsletter? Sign up here to receive uplifting messages and daily positive quotes in my Daily Thoughts. You’ll also get the top self-help articles and stories of the week from my blog and more.

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15 Ways to Increase Your Happiness

Photo by Anders Jildén on Unsplash

Photo by Anders Jildén on Unsplash

Life is so busy, hectic and filled with challenges. There are also myriad opportunities for personal enrichment, satisfaction, friendship, love, finding purpose and doing good for others. Still, while the desire for and pursuit of happiness can sometimes seem elusive or fleeting, there are effective ways to increase your happiness.

Find joy in the little things.

For most people, life consists of an accumulation of small moments. There are, of course, momentous events that occur in a person’s life that can precipitate a dramatic shift, changing direction, embarking on a new path. Still, everyday life goes on, populated with small, seemingly inconsequential moments. It is in the little things that you can find your joy and boost feelings of happiness. When you allow yourself to be joyful, it’s easier to find joy. While that may sound too good to be true, it works. Feel the deliciousness of descending into cool water in a lake on a hot day. Savor the aroma and taste of a favorite meal and enjoy the presence of loving family. These are the little things that are too often taken for granted, yet they are great contributors to happiness.

Start each day with a smile.

This is more than a simple suggestion. It’s backed by science. When you smile, you not only trigger smile muscles in others, according to research, you also benefit. Smiling activates neural brain circuits associated with well-being and happiness. It also feels good to smile, especially when you do it regularly.

Connect with others.

The power of social connection to boost happiness and well-being is another area explored by researchers. The construct of time, for example, motivates people to choose being with family and friends more than working – behaviors associated with greater happiness. Other research found that happiness is a “collective phenomenon,” with people’s happiness dependent on the happiness of those with whom they connect.

Do what you’re most passionate about.

If you get swept up in what you do for a living, barely noticing the passage of time, or can’t wait to get to your job or do things with your children or participate in an activity with friends, you’re engaging in what you find most passionate. Pursuing your passions is highly conducive to increased happiness and, contrary to a mistaken notion that to do so is selfish, when you do what you’re most passionate about, you’re helping develop your potential, broadening your horizons and contributing to higher self-esteem and overall well-being.

Reflect on your blessings and be grateful.

Everyone has something in their life to be grateful for. Most of us have many, many blessings. A simple ritual of daily reflection is enough to center in on them and allows us to take a few moments to express personal gratitude for all that we have been given in life. Good health, loving family, satisfying relationships, an enjoyable career – the list is endless and highly personal. There’s also a scientific basis for the statement that gratitude helps increase happiness, demonstrating that it also helps protect you from negativity, stress, depression and anxiety.

Choose to be positive and see the best in every situation.

A positive attitude is scientifically proven to increase happiness and well-being. How can you develop a positive attitude and learn to see the best in everything? It does take practice and a willingness to confront your fears and reject their power to control you. If you’ve always seen life as a glass half-empty proposition, turn that assumption around and strive to see situations as a glass half-full. Other research has found that positive emotions can even counteract the effects of adversity.

Take steps to enrich your life.

Seeking knowledge, exploring unknown areas, pushing yourself to go beyond your current skill set or experience, striving to learn something new – these are steps each of us can take to not only enrich our life but also maximize personal joy and happiness.

Create goals and plans to achieve what you want most.

If you expect or desire to achieve a certain standard of living, aspire to earn a college degree, receive a promotion, buy a house, marry and have children or any other goal you find meaningful and purposeful, you must identify the goal first and then create action plans to help you achieve what you want.

Live in the moment.

Worry about the past or anxiety over the future are both counterproductive and a waste of time. Instead, to add to your happiness quotient, change your mindset so that you live in the present. Another way of saying this is to be present. When you focus on now, this moment, you are more aware of your surroundings, your breath, how you feel, what’s going on with your loved ones, family, friends, co-workers, other drivers and everything in your immediate environment. You’re alive and fully aware of it. Being present is a proactive way to increase your happiness and something anyone can do.

Be good to yourself.

Overeating, drinking too much, staying up all hours and other bad habits aren’t good for you physically or mentally. Instead, embark on a lifestyle that includes healthy behaviors: eat nutritious foods, cut down or cut out alcoholic intake, get sufficient and restful sleep, hydrate well, exercise regularly and take frequent breaks so that you give yourself breathing time between tasks. You’ll be healthier and happier because of being good to yourself.

Ask for help when you need it.

There are times when you know you’re overwhelmed and will not be able to finish what you started. In addition, you may run into unexpected problems or difficulties while you’re working at a task or pursuing a goal and don’t know what to do about it. There’s no shame in asking for help when you need it. In fact, it’s a sign of good mental health and a positive attitude that you’re comfortable doing so. Another person may have a suggestion that works or discussing what’s perplexing you may stimulate a solution you hadn’t realized before. Similarly, if you’re bogged down with financial problems, asking for assistance to overcome them will help you figure out a path to get past this difficulty. Asking for help allows you to get unstuck and move ahead toward your goals.

Let go of sadness and disappointment.

Why torment yourself with thoughts of how sad you are or how disappointed you feel because you didn’t immediately succeed in a task or goal, lost a friend or loved one, can’t pay your bills or don’t see a clear path to your future? Stewing in sadness and disappointment will only further erode your feelings of self-worth and chip away at your self-esteem, not to mention cause your happiness to plummet. Let go of those toxic feelings. Seek professional counseling if the problem worsens or doesn’t go away after two weeks. Remember, you deserve to be happy. To get there, ditch negative emotions and replace them with more uplifting ones.

Practice mindfulness.

There are many forms of mindfulness and meditation, sometimes called mindfulness meditation. Whichever style you prefer, when you find one that fits, make regular use of it. One example is loving kindness meditation — opening hearts to positive emotions. Research shows that it not only increases positive emotions, but also personal resources and well-being. This type of meditation has many other benefits, including increasing social connectedness.

Walk in nature.

The benefits of getting outside and walking in nature have long been documented as easy, convenient ways to increase happiness. For one thing, the physical act of exercise releases endorphins in your brain that elevate mood and make you feel better. Walking in nature also highlights other aspects of joyful, happy living such as a greater appreciation of natural beauty, thankfulness that you’re alive and healthy enough to be physically active, helping to tone your body and improve cardiovascular, lung and other vital bodily functions.

Laugh, and make time for play.

It’s almost impossible to see someone else laugh and not be affected by it. Indeed, laughter is not only contagious, it also constitutes a big part of play.  What is playing? It is the act of doing what gives you pleasure, engaging in discovery, letting your creativity flow. Laughter can reduce levels of stress and inflammation and benefit heart functioning.

 

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

Related Posts:

7 Tips on Calming the Noise of Life

8 Healthy Reasons to Ditch Your Bad Habits

10 Ways Nature Helps Your Well-Being

Can You Name Your Top 5 Goals?

 

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