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Diane Dreher's Tao of Inner Peace Blog

Building Greater Hope for the New Year

This year's holiday season has brought us the Omicron variant, supply chain delays, divisive politics, economic uncertainty, and underlying anxiety. What can we do to create greater peace as we begin the new year?


The Hopeful Mindsets project offers five steps to help us build greater hope throughout the new year. Bringing greater light to our dark winter days, these five steps spell "SHINE."


S-Stress Skills. First, we need to stop rushing. Rushing puts our bodies under chronic stress, shutting down our immune system and higher brain functions. Meditation teacher Eknath Easwaran called our fast-paced life "the hurry sickness" (Easwaran, 2016) a frantic pace that only increases during the holidays. To regain a more centered and coherent state when you catch yourself rushing, pause, focus on your heart, and take a few slow mindful breaths (Childre, Martin, Rozman, & McCraty, 2016). When you're feeling stressed, give yourself a break—for example, exercise, connect with nature, talk to a friend, or listen to calming music.


H-Happiness Habits. Give yourself time to recharge your energies with habits that renew you. Think of ways you find renewal. Beginning your days with a positive morning routine? Eating healthy food? Getting regular exercise? Spending time with friends? Creating art? Playing a musical instrument? Whatever renews you, make it a regular habit in your life.


I- Inspired Action. This year, set a positive intention for yourself. Think of a meaningful goal in one area of your life. Write down three simple steps to reach that goal with an alternate for each if that step doesn't work out. Take a few moments to visualize yourself taking these steps, overcoming roadblocks with your alternative steps, and reaching your goal. Then maintain your motivation with positive self-talk, recalling past achievements and telling yourself, "I did that then and I can do this now" (Feldman & Dreher, 2012).


N-Networking for Hope. Expand your sense of community by practicing what psychologist Barbara Fredrickson (2013) calls "micro-moments of connectivity," reaching out with a greeting or kind word to your neighbor, the grocery store clerk, or anyone else you meet in daily life. Share your goals, successes, and setbacks with supportive people who care about you. These can include your best friend, a trusted family member, supportive mentor, teacher, doctor, faith leader, counselor, or coach. Research has shown that simple acts of connection can dramatically improve the health of both giver and receiver, raising our mood, relieving stress, and reducing inflammation, creating a positive ripple effect to promote greater well-being for ourselves and our communities (Bertera, 2005; Fredrickson, 2013).


E- Eliminating Hope Challenges. What drains your energy and drags you down? Is it something external—excessive television, YouTube videos, social media, continual interruptions, a cluttered household, or a chronic complainer in your life? Or is it an internal habit—constant worry or an inner critic that tells you you're "not good enough"? Either way, use your stress skills, happiness habits, and hopeful networking to shift your attention from the darkness to the light of greater hope.


Finally, you can pause to appreciate the gifts of this winter season. Take time to reflect on a thoughtful message from a friend, your favorite music, the light in a loved one's eyes, or the beauty of a winter sunset. Moments of appreciation and gratitude not only help us feel better in the moment but can progressively rewire our brains, forming new neural connections to create a brighter outlook for the new year (Emmons, 2007; Siegel, 2010).






Bertera, E. M. (2005). Mental health in US adults: The role of positive social support and social negativity in personal relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships,22(1), 33-48.


Childre, D., Martin, H., Rozman, D., & McCraty, R. (2016). Heart intelligence. Waterfront Press.


Easwaran, E. (2016). Passage meditation. Tomales,CA: Blue Mountain Center of Meditation.


Emmons, R. A. (2007). Thanks! How practicing gratitude can make you happier. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin.


Feldman, D. B. and Dreher, D. E. (2012). Can hope be changed in 90 minutes? Testing the efficacy of a single-session goal-pursuit intervention for college students.  Journal of Happiness Studies, 13, 745-759.


Fredrickson, B. (2013). Love 2.0: How our supreme emotion affects everything we feel, think, do, and become. New York, NY: Hudson Street Press.


Hopeful Mindsets Project. https://hopefulmindsets.com/about-hopeful-mindsets/


Siegel, D. J. (2010) Mindsight: The new science of personal transformation. New York, NY: Bantam.


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Who Do You Admire?

To answer this question, focus not on celebrities or famous people in the news, but someone you've known who has touched your life and taught you an important lesson.


My high school civics teacher, Miss Sirabian, made a positive difference in my life. Unlike other teachers, she never talked down to her students. She was the first adult I ever knew who treated me as an equal.


Her class required lots of work. We studied American history, the Constitution and the founding principles of our democracy. And we had to do our own journalistic research, relating these principles to political issues and events in the daily news.


Each day, Miss Sirabian would ask us questions about all this. Dark-haired and petite, she would pace back and forth, challenging us to deal with hard concepts, asking us what we thought about politics, power, and world events. Then she'd sit at the front of her desk with a deep sense of presence, listening thoughtfully and sharing her own insights.


Born of Armenian immigrants, she took her American citizenship very seriously. 'In a democracy, it's not only our right but our duty to participate,' she said, adding, 'I've never missed an election in my life.'

With her dedication, openness, and authenticity, Miss Sirabian touched this class of unruly teenagers, making us aware of our destiny and duty as citizens. She took our ideas, our lives, and our collective future seriously and because of this, so did we.


Now, many years later, I realize how much her example has meant to me. For I, too, have never missed an election in my life. I have contacted state and federal representatives on issues I care about, registered voters, and worked to get out the vote by walking precincts, distributing flyers, and, lately, doing lots of phone banking.


I will always be grateful to Miss Sirabian for treating all of her students with equal respect, for living the democracy she taught, and for teaching us that we are responsible for the world we create.


Now it's your turn.

  • For the next few moments, pause to recall someone in your life who has taught you a vital lesson—an older relative, neighbor, teacher, coach, or someone else you've known.
  • As you connect with this person in your memory, breathing  a little more slowly and deeply than usual.
  • Focus on your heart as you experience appreciation and gratitude for their presence in your life.
  • Feel this sense of gratitude flowing through you, reaching out to them through the distance of time to that space where we're all connected.
  • And breathe their lesson into your heart.

When you're ready, gently open your eyes and ask yourself, "How can I express more of this lesson in my life today?"


I wish you joy on the path.




An earlier version of this story appeared in Dreher, D. (2000). The Tao of Inner Peace. New York, NY: Penguin Putnam. A new audio edition of The Tao of Inner Peace will be published in January, 2022 by Penguin Random House.


The breathing exercise incorporates the Heart-Focused Breathing technique from the HeartMath Institute. For more information on their breathing techniques for better health and greater peace of mind, see https://www.heartmath.org/


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Creating a Circle of Light

Last Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent and the first night of Hanukkah—a time to light candles of hope to light the darkness. This is the darkest time of the year. The nights grow longer until the winter solstice on December 21st. And this is a dark time in our world today, with Covid, political discord, anxiety, and confusion all around us.


Yet each of us can light candles in the darkness.  In my church, we used to stand in a circle holding small white candles. One person would light a candle, then use that candle to light the one held by the person standing next to them until gradually, the whole chapel was filled with a circle of light.


Lately, on dark mornings when it's hard to get out of bed, I've been practicing a new  meditation, creating a circle of light to begin my day. In a practice inspired by Buddhist teacher John Makransky (2007), I recall my many benefactors—those individuals who have brought love and light into my life. I think of my grandmother, my Aunt Norine, my dear cousins Norma and Jerry, my first dog Cinder, my best friends in high school, college, and grad school, the kind professor who saw my potential, my friends and loved ones today, and people whose lives have inspired me.  


Encircled by the light, and realizing that I'm not alone, I begin my day grateful for the love and light that has graced my life.


You can create your own circle of light in this brief meditation.

  • Take a few moments now to close your eyes.
  • Breathe slowly and deeply, focusing your attention on your heart .
  • Now think of someone—a friend, family member, even a beloved pet—who has brought the light of love into your life. This can be someone from the past or someone you know now, for all are eternally present in your heart.
  • Breathing in, see the light increase as you think of this benefactor, and then the next.
  • Notice how you are feeling as the circle of light increases.


Then when you're ready, gently open your eyes, realizing that you are never alone, and that you can share and expand this circle of light throughout your day.


I wish you greater light and joy on the path.



Makransky, J.(2007). Awakening through love: Unveiling your deepest goodness. Boston, MA: Wisdom Publications.

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