En-JOY is an Action Verb: Mental Health Means Enjoying a Life Worth Living

May 12

 

The term mental health has become quite a buzz word (and well it should), but as a concept, it is very broad. What does mental health really mean? At its core, it means not merely the absence of illness; mental health means thriving and enjoying a life worth living.

Mental Health Awareness Month is in full swing, and how wonderful it is.  To have an entire month dedicated to increasing awareness about mental health and wellbeing is in itself something to celebrate. It means that we as humans want to be well, to not only exist but to live and to thrive, and we want to raise awareness so that this wellness can be achieved by all.

Truly, mental health and a life worth living can indeed be achieved by everyone. Happily, these concepts don’t discriminate. Each and every human being on this planet can create his/her own life worth living. Positive psychology is a field dedicated to helping people transcend challenges and problems and make meaning in their own lives.

To transcend problems is not necessarily to completely get rid of them. That’s not always so realistic. We, as human beings, face myriad challenges in our lives, including (and certainly not limited to) various physical and mental illnesses. Do these health challenges mean that a life worth living is out of reach? Is it possible to thrive and have wellness while simultaneously living with a physical or mental illness?

The answer is simple, and admittedly it’s not necessarily easy: a resounding and confident yes. Really? Is it really possible for someone living with depression or anxiety, for example, to thrive? (Yes.) Does he/she need to wait for the depression or anxiety to be gone in order to live a life worth living? (No.)

Here's how enjoy is an action verb and how we can use it to create mental health and a life worth living.Creating a life worth living is a grand adventure, a majestic quest that begins with a mere step and continues one small step at a time. At the heart of it is finding joy, day by day and moment by moment. Mental health means thriving and enjoying a life worth living.

Enjoying a life worth living. En-JOY is an action verb. A question to explore over and over again is how can I create joy in this moment (or this hour or during this event, etc.)? This isn’t a superficial joy or putting on a superficial—and artificial—happy face. This is about paying attention to who you are, where you are, and what you are doing and creating joy in that moment.

As someone who once experienced a significant amount of social anxiety, I used to live in fear of being judged wherever I went. While I was able to make myself go out and about in the world, I did so with anxiety and dread. One time, I vented to a mentor that I didn’t want to attend a certain event because I knew I would do something stupid and make everyone look down on me more than they already did. My mentor merely grunted and said, “What do you care what people think? Does it matter? Just go have fun and enjoy the experience.”

Perhaps you’re thinking what I initially did, that he completely trivialized my anxiety and clearly didn’t understand. Thanks to my superhuman ability to ruminate, I mulled over his comment repeatedly, for days. And nights. And more days. Eventually, his remarks began to blend with what I already knew about positive psychology, counseling, and wellness. It spilled over into other areas of my personal life and experiences as well as into my experiences in working with others. Things began to click.

No matter our challenges, we can all take an active role in owning our own lives. We can create joy, even little joys, in our lives. Feeling that life isn’t worth living? Find things that you are grateful for, that you like and that you enjoy, and focus more on them. Perhaps it’s fresh air but the thought of going out of the house makes you want to hide in bed and never get out. How about opening a window and enjoying the feel of the air? Then later what about opening the door? Then maybe enjoy a step or two outside. Concentrate on how good these things feel rather than how hard they are or what might happen. Little by little, you are en-JOYing your life.

Once I understood that “enjoy” is an action verb and that I could thus act to make joy in my life, to make my life worth living, I found myself transcending my anxiety. I didn’t need it to go away before I could have a life worth living. Waiting doesn’t work. Instead, I took charge of enjoying my life and making it worth living. It was then that I found that true happiness (not a problem-free happiness but a core satisfaction with life and all of its ups and downs and twists and turns) means actively making joy rather than passively waiting for it to appear.

My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel is the story of two people who don’t quite know how to live in the world—the man, Brian, because of debilitating anxiety; the girl, Abigail, because of instability and abuse.  Neither one of them feels they have a life worth living until they slowly begin to create joy. One time, Abigail says enthusiastically, “Come on, Brian. Let’s go play in the rain!” That, right there, is the embodiment of enjoyment. Play in your rain!

 

 

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Happiness and Maximum Mental Health are for Everyone!

Mar 19

 

happiness words

Happy happiness! And by default, I tell you also, “Happy maximum mental health!” It’s a great day to start celebrating being happy. What, though, does this actually mean? I’m happy you asked, and I’m happy to share my own humble answer.

Is happiness simply the opposite of sadness? I think it transcends that. Sadness, strife, and struggle are part of the human experience. So are happiness, harmony, and exhilaration. We humans are complex, and we don’t live in an either-or state. We can be happy overall even though we grapple with difficulties.

Happiness is also more than a fleeting emotion. It’s an integral part of mental health and well-being. Positive psychology, also nicknamed the science of happiness, seeks to discover what it is that constitutes a life worth living, and perhaps more important, what people can do, what traits they can hone, to create their own life worth living.

The exciting and probably not-so-surprising news is that these happiness scientists are learning that it’s not what happens on the outside that induces a state of happiness and mental health but instead what we attend to on the inside. (Yes, attend to. All humans have inside of us the stuff that creates happiness. It’s just a matter of personalizing it and nurturing it.)

The science of happiness points to, among other things, the practice of gratitude, of flow, and of identifying and using our strengths. Shifting our outlook, our “inlook” (as in how we view ourselves), and our actions can help us intensify our state of happiness and sense of peace.

Maximum Mental Health and International Day of Happiness cover imageOne outspoken champion of mental health, well-being, and happiness is Aleks George Srbinoski.  An expert in success and happiness strategies, he’s the founder of FulfillingHappiness.com. His latest, recently released book is titled Maximum Mental Health: Overcome Depression, Anxiety, and Other Mental Illnesses with 20 Principles for Happier and Healthier Living. In this practical and insightful book, Srbinoski presents useful information and tools in a way that helps people enhance their mental wellness immediately and long term.

A large part of happiness, related to our ability to find flow, practice gratitude, and recognizing and using our strengths, is how we see ourselves and how we feel about ourselves. This is the “inlook” to which I referred to above. (Yes, I made up the word. Don’t judge.) What do we discover when we reflect inward into the core of who we are? Srbinoski address this concept in Maximum Mental Health. He discusses the relationship of who we are on the inside, what we do on the outside, and how these impact mental health.

To celebrate the release of Maximum Mental Health as well as International Happiness Day, Srbinoski has shared one of his favorite chapters from the book—Sensational Self Image: Construct New Beliefs and Emotions to Strengthen identity, enhance self-esteem and build empowering belief systems.” Another happy surprise: he has placed the first two chapters of Maximum Mental Health on FulfillingHappiness.com, and they’ll be there for people to read in full until early next week.

In addition to the rest of it, I love this line from the chapter: “Like movie watching, it is not the canister that people look at, but what shines from it it.” Now, Aleks Sribinoski and I present to you this chapter from Maximum Mental Health and ways to create and enjoy the movie within you.

 

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Sensational Self Image: Construct new beliefs and emotions to strengthen identity, enhance self-esteem and build empowering belief systems

 

She is ugly and defective.

She spends almost all her waking hours (and some of her sleeping ones as well) obsessing over her appearance. Whatever she tries, nothing can hide her unsightliness. If only she was taller and thinner, especially around the waist. She can hide her knees, legs and feet, but not always her rough and bony hands. Then, of course, there is her face.

Eyes are too far apart, ears stick out, nose is crooked, teeth are stained, lips too thin, cheeks are droopy, forehead overly high and hair too frizzy. Make-up can only do so much!

 

Next stop – surgery.

Followed by – more surgery.

Then – a little more surgery and maybe a little more after that …

 

He is dumb and dopey.

No matter how hard he tries, he always loses. He was only accepted into his third choice university. He foolishly chose not to study medicine and only completed a Masters but not a Doctorate. It took him six whole months to find a suitable position in his obscure profession after graduation. Nobody respects him or his profession. They know he is a fraud.

He needs to find a way to do more. If only he was quicker. If only he hadn’t made all those stupid choices and did those higher courses. Just like his degree, he’s practically useless!

 

Next stop – medical school.

Followed by – business school.

Then – law school …

 

He thinks she is beautiful. She thinks he is intelligent. Neither love themselves or feels good enough for the other. She loves him and he loves her but they don’t believe each other!

Before a major cosmetic surgery, patients are often advised to see a Psychologist. This is for two basic reasons. One is to see if a change on the outside will actually be accepted as a positive change on the inside (to their self-image). Secondly, will the surgery just lead to more imperfection seeking and obsessiveness, or will the change be appreciated and lead to greater overall happiness and life satisfaction?

Our true problems are rarely visible! Changing your face or having more diplomas on your wall will not change who you are. Only an internal adjustment can change who you are. Who you are is what you project. Like movie watching, it is not the canister that people look at, but what shines from it. What shines from it is based on how the film has been shot and organized inside of it.

Your self-image, how you view and refer to yourself, influences all your major life decisions. Although “Behavior is King,” and continuing to act in a way that corresponds with your values and goals will lead to changes in your self-image, developing empowering beliefs about who you are makes it easier to feel good about yourself and the process of acting towards your values much easier.

 

Our Deepest Fears

To figure out our deepest fears, consider the babies in the orphanage from the chapter “Praise Pays.” What was it that the children were starved of?

 

Physical expressions of … love!

 

What would someone who receives little to no love from significant people conclude about themselves? That there must be something wrong with them, that they are “not good enough.” All disempowering beliefs stem off these two—that “you’re not good enough” and because you’re not good enough, you won’t be loved.

Failure, embarrassment, rejection, and so on, all these natural and inevitable painful experiences if not dealt with in an empowering fashion will lead to feelings of inadequacy or unworthiness (both relating to not being good enough) and to question whether you can be loved. It’s true, not everyone receives as much love as they should, but that doesn’t mean that difficult past experiences should have to dictate your present self-image and future possibilities.

 

Rules of empowerment

Harness Your Uniqueness: You are you. There is only one of you, and that is the source of your power. No one looks like you or can do what you can as a whole. As discussed in “Authentic Achievement” you have your own unique strengths and limitations. When you do utilize your strengths in the right way, no one can create what you can create. To do this you must …

Seek Self-Acceptance: The ultimate confidence comes when you have nothing to hide. You do have physical imperfections and knowledge gaps. Self-esteem that is too low will limit you. If it is too high you run the risk of not valuing and avoiding the true effort required for success. To do this you must …

Move beyond Labels: You are more than “good” or “bad.” Those labels are far too simplistic. We’ve all made mistakes and we’ve all done wonderful things. Who you are depends not on the past, but what you are moving towards right now! If you are moving towards your values (not those of others) and progressing at the right speed for you (in acceptance of fears, doubts, and previous failures), then you are on the right path. When on the right path, you must

Praise Your Potential: Be curious, open and appreciative of what you discover. If you allow it, your own potential will surprise and humble you. It has happened to you many times in the past. Do not try to force progression, inspire it. Always seek lessons from positive and painful experiences. To do this you must …

Decide what it will mean: Whether you face a positive or painful experience, the answer should always be the same. “How do I use this in an empowering way?” All scars and setbacks have a story and once accepted can be transformed into symbols of strength and greater purpose. To do that, it is important to re-frame difficult experiences in order to replace limiting beliefs.

 

Example Re-frames for Common Limiting Beliefs

  1. I’m not good enough

You know what, you’re right! You’re not good enough. If you were, you would already have whatever it is you are working towards. The point is that no one is instantly successful. No one is good enough in the beginning. It’s a process. Therefore, one way to directly challenge this belief is…

Re-frame: My competence grows with effortful practice.

 

  1. I don’t deserve it (unworthy)

Why not you? Why does some other chump deserve the win more than you do? The way I see it, everybody (except for the truly troubled and cruel) deserves a great life. Everybody deserves to win. Now of course, not everybody will, which means when you do get a win, it should be doubly celebrated. The trouble of course is guilt. Somewhere along the line you were taught others deserve more than you because they worked harder or are more disadvantaged or whatever. Rubbish! If they get a win, great, good on them. If you’re smart, you’ll pay attention to what they did so you can do better next time. If you get a win, even better, good on you! It’s that simple.

Re-frame: Whether I win or not, I deserve success. 

 

  1. I’m a failure

If you were a failure, you’d be dead by now. As long as you’re breathing and moving, there is only one way to fail and that is to stop trying to learn. Now it’s actually pretty hard to stop learning. Considering we are designed to learn, you would actually have to interrupt your very nature in order to attempt to do so. The only sure-fire way to do that is to die. It’s never about failure, but rather how you perceive the learning process.

Re-frame: I’m a learner (and a pretty darn stubborn one too).

 

  1. I don’t have the money/time/resources

Neither does that guy, or that girl, or that annoying 15-year-old kid tinkering in his or her parents’ shed and on their way to becoming a multi-millionaire. It’s never a question of money/time/resources but passion, perseverance and resourcefulness. There is always time if you want it bad enough and are patient. There is always a way to find more money/resources if you keep connecting to more and more people and are patient enough. The key is patience and perseverance. Both are essential traits.

Re-frame: I will consistently work at it and find the money/time/resources.

 

  1. I’m going to get laughed at (embarrassed, rejected)

Yes, yes you are. If not laughed at, then you will be ridiculed in some other way. There is an a-hole in every bunch. However, also realize it’s a lot rarer than you think. Most people, and hopefully that includes the ones closest to you are supportive. The question is what does it mean? The answer is what people say about others is much more a reflection of them than of the person they are referring to. In other words, being laughed at is more about them attempting to mask their own fears and inadequacies than yours.

Re-frame: The people that matter will appreciate and respect my efforts. I appreciate and respect my efforts.

 

  1. I won’t be able to maintain it if I am successful

This one’s a doozy. Welcome to the strange world of self-sabotage. Self-sabotage is based on a real problem, being that maintaining and growing success takes more effort and sustainable growth than the initial achievements. It’s hard work! So the critical part of you in its constant effort to protect you may try to get you to fail because it will be easier in one sense but of course disappointing in the grand scheme of things. The key here is to remember that you are deserving and you are built to learn. Otherwise you never would have succeeded in the first place.

Re-frame: The first time is the hardest. If I’ve done it once, I will be able to do it again and again …

 

  1. I could lose everything (large or small risks – emotional, social, financial, or physical)

Too true. But then again, many things could happen to you. You could be struck by lightning or picked at random to win a prize. The next person you meet may become your best friend or someone who is trying to take advantage of you in some way. Who knows? I don’t think it has to be about winning or losing, but rather a careful consideration of risk-to-reward. You take a risk every time you leave the house and sometimes by staying in it. What you really want to consider is “Do I want this and what is the smartest way to go about it?” My motto is: always follow your dreams but cover your responsibilities. Take as many calculated risks as you can but never risk more than you can afford to lose.

Re-frame: I will always seek a healthy balance between risk and reward and cover my responsibilities.

 

  1. I don’t want to feel alone (especially if going against an influential person)

I respect your honesty. The truth is, humans are social creatures, and the decision to go off and work on things (often by yourself) is a difficult one to make. However, by taking those sometimes lonely leaps of faith you get to finally learn how to rely on the most important person in your life. Yourself! You learn that you are more resilient than you thought and that you can cope. It’s a crucial lesson that must be learnt. Self-reliance is an extremely attractive trait. Ironically, this also tends to improve your relationships because you become more appreciative and efficient with the time you do have with others, and of course, less in need of their approval.

Re-frame: I will become comfortable with my own company and make the most of my time with others.

 

Beliefs into Targeted Stories (Mind Movies)

Once you have your empowering re-frames, you can then safely work on further enhancing your self-image. As much as we enjoy language, sensory experiences are what drive us the most. Positive beliefs and language must be integrated with your imagination. This of course happens naturally, but we can amplify the process.

This is where you create your mind movies and imagine your best-self performing at your peak (see Peak Performance Principle) with full experiential power. You work to see, hear, feel, smell, taste, and positively focus on being at your best across a range of different experiences. This is very much what hypnotic brain re-training is based on.

You can go into your past with the lessons you now have and re-imagine and enhance a memory. You can amplify the present. However, what is often most useful is the targeting of important future events, problem solving and experiencing them as successes before they happen, thus becoming more prepared and creating a stronger and more realistic expectation of success.

The goal can be as simple as going for and enjoying a walk. It can be more complex such as doing well at a job interview or being charming at a social gathering and highly complex like finishing a massive long-term career or lifestyle project.

As you know by now, at times an unwanted “elephant” (thought or feeling) may pop up in your experience. Notice, accept, let go and re-focus on what you do want as often as you need to. As you continue practicing, your mind will surprise you by showing you another path beyond your previous limits. Then it simply becomes time to “act now.”

 

Principle Summary

Sensational Self Image: Construct new beliefs and emotions to strengthen identity, enhance self-esteem and build empowering belief systems.

How you view and refer to yourself shapes your identity and influences all your major life decisions. You need to actively build empowering beliefs and “mind movies” of future success that reinforce your uniqueness and show how you are good enough and worthy of love.

 

Fast-Action Techniques

  1. Reflect on the three most common things you say about yourself that could be seen as negative or disempowering. Create an empowering re-frame for each and write them down. Keep the written reframes in your wallet or on your phone and read over them regularly, especially if feeling negative or disempowered.
  2. Look into a mirror, breathe deeply and imagine previous experiences of love, kindness and curiosity. As you look at yourself, repeat these sentences based on the rules of empowerment out loud. “I am unique, I accept myself, I am more than any label, I am worthy of love and my life is meaningful.” Repeat daily for one week.
  3. Practice creating mind movies (with amazing and empowering special effects) of yourself being at your best and problem solving important future challenges. Aim to experience success before the event occurs. As previously stated, the goal can be as simple as going for and enjoying a walk. It can be more complex such as doing well at a job interview or being charming at a social gathering and highly complex like finishing a massive long-term career or lifestyle project. If negative thoughts or beliefs occur, notice, accept, let go and re-focus on your empowered re-frames and what you do want as often as you need to.

 

***The complete “Maximum Mental Health” book is available at:

www.amazon.com/dp/B00U3SRQJM

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Emotions: Permanent Outlook or Temporary Attitude

Jan 13

Life. It’s a ride. Specifically, it’s a roller coaster, and according to Grandma in the movie Parenthood (1989), a roller coaster is wonderful. She describes, “You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn’t like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.”

By definition, a roller coaster has ups and downs and twists and turns. To “get more out of it,” like Grandma remarked, one needs to fully surrender to the experience. Living through the downs and through the ups, acknowledging that both exist is one of the keys to embracing life and making it a good one.

Life is full of ups and downs. When we recognize that they're temporary, we don't get stuck. Returning to Grandma’s description of life and rollercoasters, both can make us frightened and scared and sick. Simultaneously, both can make us excited and thrilled and just plain make us like them.

What makes a life “good” and worth living is not the absence of the downs. It’s not a life that just goes around and around in a circle. What makes a life “good” is how one interprets it, the things on which he or she focuses.

Fans of college football more than likely watched the first-ever College National Football Playoff Championship on January 12, 2015. The game was a face-off between the two college teams who earned their spot in this championship: the University of Oregon Ducks and the Ohio State Buckeyes.

In the 2014-15 collegiate football championship game, the Ohio State Buckeyes beat the Oregon Ducks 42-20 to win the title. Before the game, many experts predicted that the Ducks would win, and almost no one expected that the Ducks would lose by so much. At the end of the game, one announcer, in reference to the Ducks’ quarterback Marcus Mariota, that year’s Heisman Trophy winner, remarked, “What a disappointing end to his [college] career.”

“What a disappointing end to his career.” Really? That statement bothers me. I discussed it with my kids when we heard the announcer say that, and it came to bother them as well (or, more likely, my discussion of it grew bothersome to them!).

To be sure, the players and fans of the UO Ducks were disappointed. That’s a normal reaction when a major game is lost, especially unexpectedly. We are all human, and our life experience is indeed a roller coaster. We have drops and downs and twists and turns. Games are lost. Things go wrong or don’t go as planned. Obstacles appear in our paths to trip us. And we feel negative things in the drops, including disappointment.

Especially in the roller coaster’s drops and downs, it is imperative to keep our perspective. There’s a difference between a temporary feeling of disappointment and the more long-term attitude of a “disappointing end to a career.” The latter is a pervasive attitude that can insidiously take over one’s interpretation of life.

To be disappointed in an outcome, such as the loss of an important championship game, again, is a natural feeling. This type of feeling is an isolated type of feeling. It doesn’t permeate everything one has done, is doing, and will do in the future. It’s not a catastrophe. It feels fleeting, impermanent. This game was disappointing for the Ducks, yes, but there will be other games, and not all of them will be disappointing. Many of them will be victorious and celebratory.

The announcer’s remark that the game was a disappointing end to Marcus Mariota’s entire career takes on a whole new level of meaning. The implication is that Mariota’s college career is over, done, finito (it might very well be, as Mariota might enter the upcoming NFL Draft). But it is not an “end.” Nothing is over for this football player or his team. Life goes on, especially with the right outlook. Further, there’s an insinuation with the announcer’s remark that this loss, this last game, will darkly color Mariota’s full college career.

One event, no matter how disappointing in the moment, does not destroy one’s past accomplishments. Mariota earned the Heisman. It won’t be taken away because the Ducks lost the championship. Ditto the myriad accomplishments, achievements, and honors Mariota earned while at the University of Oregon. The loss did not cast a pall on his life or the lives of his teammates or the university’s football program. Their past, present, and future are all “pall-less.”

When we can adopt Grandma’s attitude and love that life is interesting because of all of the things it makes us feel, we are less likely to get stuck in the downs. We can feel them but know that we will make ourselves whoosh back up and twist to and fro. When faced with disappointments, we will see them for what they are, temporary emotions rather than permanent shadows cast over our entire lives.

Being able to live the roller coaster is one of those things that contribute to a good life, a life worth living.

Grandma in Parenthood loved the roller coaster of life and all of its ups and downs.

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How an Act of Kindness Made a Difference for My Son

Dec 8

Recently, we took a family trip to Disney World. Topping my children’s list of enjoyment was pin trading. Disney sells cute little pins to tourists, and employees throughout the parks and resorts wear their own to trade with guests. It’s typically something that connects people, brings them together in friendly conversation and exchange.

One day, a man brought his own gigantic selection of pins and parked himself at a table to trade with guests. Unlike the Disney employees, he could be selective in his trading and only accept/trade away what suited him. That’s entirely well and good. What was not so well and good was how he rejected my thirteen-year-old son’s trade proposal. The man was harsh and brusque, telling him his pin was inferior and refusing to trade for the one my son had been seeking.

My son was unamused. Okay, he was offended. As we stepped away, he expounded at length at the fact that the guy was mean. People, in fact, were mean—after all, look at how so many pushed and shoved. My attempts to reframe his perspective were unsuccessful. Then, wonderfully, a kind stranger stepped in.

KINDNESS IN THE MOMENT: A TEMPORARY SHIFT OF FOCUS

How an act of kindness made a difference for my sonThis compassionate man had witnessed the exchange. He happened to have the pin my son was seeking, so the guy approached him and traded with him. The exchange was quick and simple and profound and significant.

This act of kindness shifted my son’s perspective from the negative to the positive. For my son, the issue wasn’t really about the pin itself. At age thirteen he has transcended a solely materialistic, I’d-better-get-what-I-want, attitude. He’s at the age where he is truly paying attention to how others act and what makes them act that way.

In the span of about ten minutes, he witness disregard for others, and he witnessed empathy for others. With the random act of kindness from a stranger, my son’s perspective shifted. He learned that kindheartedness trumps heartlessness.

PERSPECTIVE: GOOD OR BAD? HOW DO WE SEE EACH OTHER?

For the rest of the day, his conversations returned to this encounter as he processed “bad” versus “good.” In talking this out, he was making sense of a fundamental human issue: do we see each other as basically good or as basically bad?

Of course the issue of human nature isn’t as simple as one extreme or the other. No single person is all good or all bad. Some people, though, do seem to use their character strengths of humanity—love, kindness, and social intelligence—well and often.

My son, being just thirteen, is straddling a great fence. On one side is the dichotomous thinking of childhood, as in “The pin trader is simply a big jerk. People are big jerks.” On the other is the integrated thinking of older adolescents and adults.

This seemingly simple event, where one man ridicules a kid for having an inferior pin and then turns him away but another man approaches and offers a trade, had a profound effect on my son. As he talked about it all day, he was accommodating all of this new information into his existing understanding of the world.

He learned about others, that some are more pleasant than others. He also learned a very important life lesson. He is beginning to internalize something I’ve been teaching my children since they were small. We can’t control what others do, but we can control our reaction and our attitude. A big part of that is determining our perspective. How are we going to see others?

Was the pin-trading gentleman a jerk? Maybe. Or did he act like a jerk in the moment? More likely. We don’t know enough to judge from that single interaction. It is evident, though, that the man who spontaneously sought my son out to offer a trade did so out of a sense of caring and compassion for a kid he didn’t even know.

INTERNALIZING IT ALL: CHOOSING OUR OWN PERSPECTIVE

It’s a choice. We can focus on the negative in people, in life. Or we can focus on the positive in people, in life. The kind stranger that day in Disney World helped shape my son’s perspective; he learned to focus on the positive. Rather than fixating on the negative interaction and dwelling on how harshly he was dismissed, he zeroed in on the compassionate man.

Focusing on the good in people helps us see more good in the world. It inspires us to nurture the compassion in ourselves. These, in turn, enhance well-being.

And Disney thought the pins were all about money.

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Flow: Creating a Life Worth Living

Nov 3

 

When you lose yourself in an activity, you have found flow and you have found yourself.

Hello and good day to you, my fellow human beings – all seven-plus billion of you! Incredible, isn’t it? There are seven billion people on our planet, all unique individuals. Even more incredible is that the seven-plus billion of us have a great many things in common. One such commonality is, unfortunately, stress.

Focusing only on making a living creates stress.Stress comes in many different forms and from a multitude of sources. It also has many rather nasty symptoms. In general, people often find themselves busy, rushed, facing looming deadlines, dealing with conflict, addressing seemingly insurmountable problems and challenges, illnesses both mental and physical. We hurt, we ache, heads pound, stomachs protest, and in general we feel that we’ll explode, and if we don’t explode we’ll certainly implode.

Why? Why do we do this to ourselves? There are many reasons, of course. One predominant reason is that we need to make a living. That looks different for the seven-billion of us, and it may or may not involve economics. Regardless of how we’re doing it, we need to make a living.  When we get so wrapped up in it that we are stressed and feeling toxic, it’s time to step back. Happily, it’s possible to shift from focusing on making a living to focus on making a life worth living.

The field of positive psychology is dedicated to helping people do exactly this. They are researching and coming to understand what that means and how to achieve it, and they willingly share tools to help all seven-plus billion of us overcome adversity and create our own life worth living.

In their research, positive psychologists have discovered something called flow. Flow. It sounds peaceful, doesn’t it? It evokes a river, ever bubbling and flowing, paying no attention to obstacles in its way but instead fully present in what it’s doing. Okay, so people aren’t rivers. But we can experience flow nonetheless.

Flow is a state of being. Humans enter flow when we engage in something that captivates us so much that we focus completely on what we’re doing. All other thoughts and worries drift away, the racing thoughts become still, and the experience is one of pure enjoyment.

Find an activity that you love, and do it regularly. Where can we find this flow?! The answer is quite personal. Search your heart. What brings you joy? Perhaps cooking or baking, sewing or making crafts. Maybe hiking or biking or boating. Getting lost in a good book. Exercising or playing a favorite sport. The list is endless, and as long it’s not harmful, there’s no such thing as a wrong activity.

Experiencing flow can reduce stress and anxiety, improve overall well-being, and increase happiness and life satisfaction. Experiencing flow happens when we do anything that makes us passionate enough to get into and still enough to be fully immersed. When this happens, we begin to transcend merely making a living and begin to make a life worth living.

flow 3

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The Power of Perspective

Aug 4

In less than twenty-four hours, my daughter and I will hop into my Prius and head north, crossing a national boundary, on a trip to visit colleges in Vancouver, British Columbia. Soon she’ll turn 18, a legal adult, and just before she turns 18, my son will turn thirteen. How I feel about all this depends on the perspective I take.

To me, the word perspective is one of the most powerful words in the English language. It directly impacts our well-being, and it directly impacts our relationships with ourselves and with others. It’s also empowering because it implies that we have a choice.

Perspective is about changing the world inside of you.We do, indeed, have choices. Every day, we can decide to choose how we are going to experience the day. There are days, for example, when I wake up and am overwhelmed before even getting out of bed. Or, even worse, I’ve been overwhelmed all night, tossing and turning with anxiety. If I take a moment to sit somewhere peaceful and experience the feel of the air, the special morning quality of the light, I have taken charge of that moment and given myself the opportunity to choose my perspective for the day.

As I reflect on the overwhelmingly stressful day ahead of me, I break down the day into smaller bits rather than seeing just the overwhelming to-do lists and anxiety-provoking tasks. Now I can perspective-take. Do I want to continue to obsess over the looming tasks? Or do I want to adopt a different perspective?

For my own core happiness and mental wellness, I shift my perspective. I have a monstrous to-do list. That’s overwhelming and heavy. I have a list filled, for the most part, with tasks that I like and feel lucky to be able to do. That feels lighter. My house is fully of clutter and it’s weighing me down. When I take a step back from the clutter and shift my perspective, I see the signs of a busy, happy family who has a place to make clutter. Yeah, the clutter is still there and still is annoying, but it’s not so heavy anymore. It doesn’t make me grouchy. It makes me grateful.

Perspective doesn’t just apply to how we look at the things in our lives. It applies to people, too. Experts in human development discuss the landmark change that occurs in kids around toddlerhood/early preschoolhood (I made that word up). This monumental change is the ability to perspective-take, to see the world through the eyes of another human being. In other words, to have empathy.

Perspective-taking is a skill that takes a few years to develop and then a lifetime to maintain and perfect. It doesn’t always come easily for people, but when we get it, we free ourselves from hate. When we can walk in another’s shoes, we are not as quick to judge. When someone treats me poorly, I don’t have to like it. I don’t have to ask for more. But, since I can’t undo their treatment, I can choose my perspective. I can take it personally and ruminate about it for days (I’ve done this), thus feeling increasingly horrible about myself and them and the world in general. Or, I can shift my perspective and realize that their behavior is very unlikely about me, that they have something going on that causes them to mistreat people. And if it is about me, I can still shift my perspective and realize that this is something specific and it doesn’t mean that I’m a horrible person hated by everyone.

Some might argues that perspective is weak because it can’t change a thing. The day is still overwhelming and full of stress. The clutter is still there. Another person still acted like a jerk. Nothing has changed.

Perspective isn’t about changing the world outside of you. Perspective is about changing the world inside of you. It’s similar to principles of positive psychology. It’s about gratitude for what’s good rather than resentment for what’s bad. It’s about choice. At its essence, it’s a glass half-full or half-empty type of attitude. But it’s not a cliché. It’s a frame of mind that has substance.

My kids are growing up no matter how I feel or what I think about it. My daughter will be a senior. I can spend the year mourning over the fact that the time has gone too quickly (I’m sure I will do that occasionally), or I can celebrate how lucky I am to be able to feel sad. Her childhood was great, her adolescent years have been a breeze, because of her academics she is eligible for some pretty impressive colleges and thus we are able to go on this trip to Canada. My son will be a teenager next week. He’s thriving in middle school and has a sunny disposition that makes him pleasant to be around.

Instead of lamenting over my kids’ growing-up and stressing over to-do lists, I have made a choice to shift my perspective. Life has a lot of ups and downs. Little stress, big stress; illness and dying; mental illness and its challenges; work and financial stress. Rather than curse life and all of its ups and downs, I’m going to celebrate it. When we celebrate life, we can experience it with wellness and positive mental health.

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What Does Happiness Even Mean?

Mar 20

 

Every spring, the world celebrates International Day of Happiness! With all of the problems and difficulties in the world, isn’t it nice that the United Nations has designated an entire day to celebrating happiness? But some might wonder, “Why bother?” Perhaps because celebrating happiness is a wonderful thing.

What is Happiness

 

Is happiness a hoax? A concept that at best is superficial and at worse doesn’t exist? Is it the absence of sadness? Is it having lots of stuff? The answer to each of these is simply, no.

Happiness is deeper than all of these. Happiness doesn’t happen from the outside in. It happens from the inside out.

Happiness is...

Meaning

According to Dr. Viktor Frankl–a psychiatrist who devoted his life to helping people thrive through hardships–strength, resilience, and true happiness arise when people discover and use their own ability to define what makes their lives meaningful.

Living a life of meaning means living a life, not free of hardship, but of core happiness. What is meaning of life

A Life Worth Living

What makes you get out of bed in the morning? I mean overall. Sure, almost everyone experiences days when they just want to stay in bed and never get out. Those are life’s “downs” at work. What is that spark, that glimmer of happiness, inside you that keeps you going? Frankl and so many after him have emphasized that people have the freedom and the motivation to define meaning and to create a life worth living.

The Ability to Pursue Passions

Similar to the first two, when people are able to pursue those things they enjoy and about which they care, they are happy. Again, they might feel negative emotions sometimes, but they don’t feel happy. They are happy.

Satisfaction with the Simple Pleasures

Happiness is CookiesRather than searching, searching, searching for the “big thing” that will, once and for all, bring happiness, people who are happy deep down look for the simple things in life and enjoy them. A flower growing from a sidewalk crack. A trip to a park with friends or loved ones (who needs to spend thousands on a vacation).

Inner Satisfaction

Rather than being motivated by external pleasures or monetary gain, the happy person searches for inner satisfaction such as that found in connecting to others, in doing good for the sake of goodness rather than for monetary gain. (On a similar note, researchers have discovered that once basic survival needs are met, money doesn’t buy happiness.)

Gratitude

Positive psychology researchers who devote themselves to helping the people of the world be happier have further proven the not-so-new notion that gratitude and happiness go hand and hand. Of course there are things that don’t make us thankful at all. We Happiness is Gratitudedon’t have to pretend that we are thankful when our car is totaled in a wreck. Doing so doesn’t bring happiness. But every day, we can find things big and small for which we truly are grateful. When we do, we balance out the bad and strengthen our core happiness because we know that life has goodness, not just badness.

 

So what, then, is the point of being happy? Researchers have found numerous benefits of happiness, actually.  Some of those many benefits include

  • Physical well-being
  • Increased energy
  • Longer lifespan
  • Enhanced ability to manage stress
  • Increased creativity
  • Greater sense of self-confidence
  • More social success
  • Mental health benefits such as decreased anxiety and depression 

Happiness at the core, through the good times and the bad, brings mental health and well-being, and it makes us, well, happy.

How do you find happiness?

happy snoopy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Finding the Positive and Keeping it in a Jar

Jan 9

what we see depends on what we look forI found the idea on Facebook. It’s simple and brilliant.  Someone came up with an idea to, throughout the year, jot down positive events both big and small and put them in a jar.  Then, at the end of the year, one can empty the jar and read through all of the good things preserved on those little slips of paper.

This is something that could come right out of a positive psychology textbook.  To put it (too) simply, positive psychology is a concentration on what helps people thrive even through adversity.  A positive psychologist would likely love the concept of this jar. Keeping a positivity jar would absolutely have an effect on mental health both short- and long-term.

Making a habit out of recording one (or more) good thing about one’s day helps one to focus on the good rather than the bad.  To be sure, sometimes days are rotten.  Arguments abound, things go horribly wrong.  Perhaps mental health struggles are intense.  Maybe depression is particularly devastating or anxiety is high or the manifestations of a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder flare up and tear down.  Will writing down something positive from the day cure these things or make them go away?  Of course not.  However, by intentionally searching for and contemplating at least one good moment of a horrible day, the mind is shifting its focus.  In the novel Leave of Absence, a therapist tells Oliver, a grieving main character, “I know this isn’t easy.  But there’s always something good in our day if we train ourselves to look for it.”

When thinking about the positive becomes a daily routine, one’s outlook gradually begins to shift.  Writing down the positive and storing the moments in a jar have the added bonus of accessibility.  They can be read not only at the end of the year but at any time of the year when a reminder is needed that hey, life does have good moments and I am capable of doing good things.

thistleLook for the positive in every day. It’s learning to look at the purple flowers that bloom on a thistle. Soon, the flowers are what you notice, and admire, first.

 

 

 

 

Positive Psychology tells us that intentionally focusing on the good in life is beneficial for mental health.

We now have one such jar at home. Thinking that creating our own jar would make it extra-special, my kids and I headed to a local paint-your-own-pottery place. Painting our jar together was in itself something to record on paper.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Look for the positive in every day. It’s learning to look at the purple flowers that bloom on a thistle. Soon, the flowers are what you notice, and admire, first.

Focus on the positive. See the flower rather than the thistle.

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Mental Illness and Well-being are not Either-Or Conditions

May 29

According to the World Health Organization, health is not merely the absence of disease.

Similarly, mental health is not just the absence of mental illness. “Mental health” encompasses a great deal of concepts pertaining to the human experience.  The term doesn’t really refer to a single state of being, but rather to a continuum of conditions ranging from mental wellness on one end of the spectrum all the way to mental illness on the other end.

Yes, mental wellness and mental illness are two ends of a spectrum.  Does this mean, though, that well-being is an all-or-nothing idea?  That if someone experiences mental illness to any degree of severity, he or she does not nor cannot experience wellness?  Absolutely not!

Well-being is attainable by all, no matter where we fall on the spectrum of mental wellness and mental illness.

Well-being is not the opposite of “ill-being.”  It’s not the opposite of anything.  Well-being stands alone in that it isn’t the presence or lack of any condition.  Well-being also stands with everything else because it can exist alongside anything.

What, exactly, IS well-being?  Psychologists have been studying the concept for a long time, and they will continue to do so indefinitely.  It’s at the center of a movement known as positive psychology.  It has been the focus of spiritual gurus of various traditions and cultures for millennia.  This is a really good thing for humanity, and I hope the quest continues.  Thankfully, though, we don’t have to wait for the final results to be in in order to fully experience well-being.

Well-being involves little things, so it's never out of anyone's reach.

Well-being involves little things, so it’s never out of anyone’s reach.

Simply, and literally, put, well-being is the state of being well.  That is rather vague, and this vagueness is the beauty of the term.  Following the concept set forth by the World Health Organization, being well is more than the absence of illness.  We can struggle, we can suffer, and we can still experience well-being.  I wrestle with anxiety, and I deal with bipolar I disorder.  These things can be miserable, yet through it all I can honestly claim to experience well-being.

This is possible because we are in charge of our own state of well-being.  There are numerous things that constitute well-being:  gratitude, happiness, outlook, interests, actions, use of our strengths.  This, of course, is but a partial list of attributes that contribute to wellness.  What is fantastic is that these are things that originate from within each of us.  None of these things is dependent upon external circumstances or on having perfect mental health.

Consider happiness as an example.  It is a state of contentment that is within everyone’s reach because it has little to do with external things and everything to do with our inner attitudes and belief systems.  Study after study indicates that external things don’t bring us lasting happiness.  As long as our basic needs are met, an abundance of material things just doesn’t increase lasting inner happiness.  How we think about things is what brings contentment.  Fair enough.

But what about someone who has a mental illness?  Can he or she be happy?  Absolutely yes.  Hey, doesn’t happiness come from within?  And what if someone’s “within” is ill?  How does it work?  It works because wellness is not merely the absence of illness.  We all have the ability to be happy.  We can all choose what we focus on and we can choose what our priorities are.  Attending to our own values and priorities is a big part of feeling happiness and contentment.

I’ll use a personal example to illustrate.  As I mentioned, I have bipolar I disorder.  Simplified (over-simplified, really), this involves states of mania alternating with states of depression.  By its nature, the mania definitely contributes to a feeling of euphoria.  Depression, though, is not famous for its feeling of happiness. One would think that anyone experiencing depression, whether as a part of bipolar disorder or on its own, would not feel happy.  To be sure, as I know firsthand, it’s hard to feel cheery and bubbly during depression.  Often, things feel downright terrible.  Yet, it is entirely possible to find things that make us happy.  Sometimes it absolutely can’t be something huge, a big-picture thing that miraculously cures depression.  It just doesn’t work that way.  However, when I’m depressed, I look for little things each day that either bring happiness or remind me of times that I am happy, and doing this helps.  So, while I experience happiness differently during times of depression, I still can find the ability within myself to bring a degree of contentment.

Further, well-being doesn’t just mean “happiness.”  It involves many different things that contribute to our health and our lives in a positive way.  Well-being is a way of being in life and within ourselves.  It’s for everyone, with or without mental illness.  It’s an inherent power possessed by every human being, and we need to trust our own ability—and the ability of others—to experience wellness in any circumstances.

What does well-being mean to you? What little steps can you take every day to achieve and maintain it?

 

 

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Better for Mental Health: Cleaning or Kayaking?

May 11
Stop and smell the flowers. Or go inside and wash the floors. Whatever helps your mental health and well-being in the moment.

Stop and smell the flowers. Or go inside and wash the floors. Whatever helps your mental health and well-being in the moment.

It’s an absolutely gorgeous Saturday where I live.  The rhododendrons are in full bloom, and the sun’s rays make the flowers that much more vibrant.  The outdoor world is exploding in shades of magenta, salmon, butter, goldenrod, blush, cherry.  With azure sky as a backdrop, nature looks brilliant today.  The air is fragrant with the smells of freshly-mowed grass and blooming trees and flowers.  With only a slight breeze to stir the scents, all bodies of water are calm.  It is an ideal day for kayaking, one of my favorite activities.  Blissfully, I am not cutting across the water today.  I’m inside.  Cleaning.  (And writing.)

Why?  Because it’s important for people to attend to their well-being.

That probably doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  As my family and I were planning the day this morning (son:  baseball practice then play practice; dad: assisting at baseball practice and household-supply shopping; daughter:  friends and a dance competition), I stated that I wanted to clean.  My husband sweetly suggested that I take advantage of weather and opportunity to kayak.

Of course I appreciated his thoughtful suggestion, but it instantly created dissonance and anxiety within the dark recesses of my soul and the more illuminated surface of my brain.  Tension took over, and I obsessed over what I “should” do.  I quickly thought of dozens of reasons why I shouldn’t waste the day by cleaning and dozens of reasons why I shouldn’t waste time by kayaking.

I am fully aware of the fact that it is essential for mental well-being to take care of ourselves.  Life is stressful, and it essential to find enjoyable leisure activities to counter that stress.  Finding healthy, pleasurable activities makes the daily grind of life bearable and helps us feel good emotionally and physically.  I’ve studied positive psychology, cognitive behavioral therapy, and many other fields of psychology and counseling.  I’ve helped others find passions and learn how to pursue them.  I’ve also had doctors and therapists help me do this during those times when I’m not in a place to apply what I know.  So I get it.  We do need to do things to decompress and maintain emotional well-being.

So this very principle was one of the many things (as in racing thoughts) that went through my head as I was anxiously debating what to do.  After near-paralysis, I had an epiphany:

There is no “right” or “wrong” way to attend to emotional well-being (as long as the activity isn’t harmful to you or others).  Leisure activities such as kayaking are a fantastic idea and are very good to do.  But they don’t have to be done just for the sake of doing them.  If you do something just because you “should” (living by “shoulds” can be very problematic, by the way), it tends to defeat the purpose of why you’re doing it in the first place.

Yes, I love to kayak.  Normally it is very relaxing.  Today, though, I want to scrub the floors.  I’m starting to see increasing evidence of poorly-wiped up spills and spots of dirt that has been tracked in from outside.  It doesn’t feel like a chore today, either.  It’s something I want to do because it will feel highly satisfying.  And I love listening to music.  I can listen to peppy music to make the process energetic and fun, and I can make the floors shine.  When I’m done, the inside of the house will look as bright as the outside with its rhododendrons.  It will smell just as crisp and fragrant as the outside, too.  When the house is clean and clutter-free, I feel relaxed and good.  And isn’t that what mental health and well-being are all about?

What, specifically, you choose to do to attend to your emotional well-being isn’t what’s important.  The key is simply to do something that makes you feel relaxed and well.  Other than safety, there are no rules.  No shoulds.  There will be many other gorgeous days, and I’m really looking forward to kayaking during some of them.  Today, though, the thought of that creates tension and anxiety.  I’m going to go clean.  It will make me feel satisfied and relaxed.  May you find something that helps your well-being, too.

 

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