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Diane Dreher's Tao of Inner Peace Blog

Returning to Center

The Tao Te Ching tells us:

 

"The solid earth is our foundation.

The calm center prevails in a whirlwind.

Those who follow the Tao may travel all day

And still feel at home.

However events may whirl around them,

They remain centered and calm."

(Tao Te Ching, chapter 26)

 

Centering focuses our energies so we can respond with greater calm, clarity, and power. Years ago, while training in the nonviolent martial art of aikido, I learned how to throw an opponent twice my size by moving from center.

 

In these stressful times, being able to return to center can help you connect with new power and possibility. To do this:

 

  • Go off by yourself for a few minutes, taking time to refocus your energies.
  • Stand with your knees slightly bent and your arms relaxed, held out in front of you at waist level.
  • Focus your attention on your hara, your center of power two inches below your navel.
  • Take a deep breath and release it, letting go of all tension.
  • Breathe in slowly and deeply, focusing on the hara, taking in new energy.
  • Now release this breath, feeling more centered, relaxed, and at peace.

 

After some practice, you'll be able to return to center by merely focusing on the hara while taking a deep mindful breath. Swiftly, effortlessly, you can center yourself in any situation.

 

I wish you joy on the path.

Diane

 

If you'd like to sample the new Tao of Inner Peace audiobook, click on this link

 

 

 

 

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The Wisdom of Nature’s Cycles

The ancient wisdom of the Tao Te Ching tells us:

 

"The Tao moves by returning

In endless cycles.

By yielding, it overcomes,

Creating the ten thousand things,

Being from nonbeing."

                           (Tao Te Ching, 40)

 

The Tao Te Ching teaches a vision of life as a process, constantly moving, changing, and growing as cycles of energy circulate throughout all creation.

 

We experience these cyclical patterns by getting close to nature. We can watch an apple tree blossom in springtime and bear fruit in summer. In autumn, its leaves fall to the ground. Slowly disintegrating into humus, they enrich the soil, bringing new energy to the tree in spring.

 

The cold winter weather is part of the pattern. The "chill factor," a prolonged period of temperature below 45 degrees, is essential for apple trees to blossom and bear fruit. The trees must spend enough time in a state of dormancy (yin) to spring forth with new life (yang).Reconciling opposites in endless harmony, the seasons turn and the cycle begins again.

 

For centuries, Taoist and Buddhist monks have regarded cyclical work—gardening, cooking, housecleaning—as spiritual exercises. In our daily lives we too can participate in nature's cycles of renewal by doing something cyclical like:

  • Planting a garden,
  • Growing herbs on a sunny windowsill,
  • Planting a tree and tending it,
  • Recycling our cans, bottles, and newspapers,
  • Making a compost pile—recycling kitchen scraps into natural nutrients for the soil.

 

Each of these practices affirms our participation in a pattern far larger than ourselves. Each practice physically benefits the planet while renewing our vision of the cycles of life.

 

On an individual level, each of us has our daily energy cycles or circadian rhythms. We have peak periods during the day when our energy flows the most strongly. This is our prime time, or yang. During our lag time our energies diminish and we feel tired as the cycle turns to yin.

 

Becoming aware of our daily cycles can help us live more creatively. Years ago, my friend Bill, a wise physics professor, taught me an important lesson. Optimistic and productive, he scheduled his day around his circadian rhythms, doing his research and teaching during his morning prime time and saving routine work like opening the mail for his lag time, 3:00 in the afternoon. I've followed his example over the years, realizing that, for each of us, our personal energy cycle is a vital natural resource.

 

Personal Exercise

  • Take a few moments now to reflect and identify your own daily cycle. When is your best time of the day? When is your prime time when your creative energies are the highest? Are you a morning, afternoon, or night person?
  • What time of day do your energies decrease?
  • Can you track your daily cycle? Where are yin and yang for you?

  

This month, as we begin the cycle of another new year, I'm excited that Penguin Random House is publishing a new audiobook edition of my book, The Tao of Inner Peace, which offers more lessons on living in harmony with the cycles of nature.

 

I wish you joy in this new cycle of your life.

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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).

__________

 

References

 

 

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.

 

References

 

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.

 

Reference 

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

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Overcoming Hope Challenges

When you face challenges and disappointments as many of us are these days, these five steps from the Hopeful Mindsets Project can help you see beyond the darkness and bring the light of hope to your life (iFred, 2021).Together, these 5 steps spell SHINE.

 

The S in Shine stands for Stress Skills. When we feel stressed by our challenges, we can pause for 90 seconds, take slow deep mindful breaths, connect with nature, or confide in a friend. These skills will bring us back to center and help renew our hope.

 

The H in Shine stands for Happiness Habits. We can keep our hope alive by doing things that make us healthy and happy, like exercising, eating healthy food, listening to our favorite music, and spending time with friends.

 

The I in Shine stands for Inspired Action. This means setting goals that bring greater joy and meaning to our lives and making a plan to reach, finding alternatives if one of our steps is blocked, and moving forward one step at a time.

 

The N in Shine stands for our Hope Network, our supportive team of people who care about us, who encourage and support us. We can build our hope by connecting with people on our hope team often.

 

The E in Shine stands for Eliminating Challenges to Hope—these are external challenges like setbacks and  disappointments as well as internal challenges like old limiting beliefs about ourselves, worry, rumination, and focusing on what we can't control instead of recognizing what we can.

 

If you've been feeling blocked and disappointed in an important area of your life, you can overcome this hope challenge by recognizing it as a shadow on the path. You can find the light of hope by first using your stress skills, pausing for 90 seconds, taking slow deep breaths. Then reconnect with your happiness habits—spending time in nature, listening to your favorite music, and seeking support from your hope network. When you connect with the light, you'll find expansive new possibilities where you had never seen them before, moving forward in the light of inspired action.

 

Instead of getting stuck in darkness and disappointment, you can use your hope skills to shine the light on new possibilities. In 2008 when Barack Obama lost the New Hampshire primary, instead of giving up, he drew upon his hope skills, giving his memorable "Yes We Can" speech, energizing himself, inspiring his followers, and going on to win the presidency.

 

With renewed hope we, too, can see beyond the darkness to the light, moving forward in life with new energy and inspiration. Yes We Can.

 

I wish you joy in the days ahead and renewed hope to light your way.

 

Reference

 

International Foundation for Research and Education on Depression (iFred). (2021). The Hopeful Mindsets Project. https://hopefulmindsets.com/

 

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Cultivating Your Hope Network

The ancient wisdom of the Tao Te Ching tells us that:

 

The Tao leader creates harmony

Reaching from the heart

To build community.

     (Tao, chapter 49)

 

Today we need community more than ever to restore our hope. In the midst of the COVID pandemic, research reveals alarming rates of depression and anxiety worldwide (Nochaiwong, Ruengorn, Thavorn, et al., 2021). In America, 84% of adults have been experiencing prolonged stress and 40% have had symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder (American Psychiatric Association, 2021; Panchal, Kamal, Cox, & Garfield, 2021).

 

Research has shown that we need a sense of community to live healthy lives (Fredrickson, 2013; Seligman, 2011; Umberson &Montez, 2010). The Hopeful Mindsets project has found that building a Hope Network is one of the five keys to restoring our hope (iFred, 2021).

 

Do you have a Hope Network--a supportive team of people who care about you?  Not just anyone but people you can trust and confide in, who offer encouragement and support, who make you feel better when you're around them.

 

Who's on your hope team? Your best friend? A wise mentor? A trusted family member? A supportive teacher, doctor, therapist, faith leader, counselor, or coach? As you cultivate your hope network, become more aware of  the quality of your connections. Someone who makes you feel inferior or drains your energy can only be an acquaintance, not someone for your hope network. Cultivate your hope network intentionally,strengthening your current connections and building new ones with these five steps inspired by the Hopeful Mindsets Project (iFred, 2021).

 

1.      Listen with empathy to the people around you. Often, the best gift you can give someone is simply letting them know they've been seen and heard. Ask how they feel, then take a deep breath and just listen, reflecting back what you've heard.

2.      Practice Openness. Take your relationship deeper than simply talking about the weather, sports, or the latest news. Begin sharing your feelings, goals, and challenges as you listen to theirs.

3.      Forgive yourself and others. We all make mistakes. When you think of a past mistake, give yourself self-compassion, realizing it's only human to make mistakes and forgive yourself (Neff, 2011). If you've been harboring feelings of hurt, anger, or resentment toward someone, consider one thing you've learned from this experience. This may mean standing up for yourself and setting better boundaries  (Neff, 2021). Give yourself self-compassion, then release the negative feelings, and move on.

4.      Express appreciation with the 5:1 rule.  Consciously look for the good in the people around you and point it out, giving five positive comments for every critical one.

5.      Perform simple acts of kindness not only with friends and family but also when you're out doing errands. Hold the door open for a person carrying packages or let someone with only a few grocery items go ahead of you in line. Challenge yourself to perform at least one act of kindness each day.

 

Now think of one step you can take to cultivate your hope network—can you listen, be more open,  forgive yourself and others, express appreciation, or perform an act of kindness? As you take that step, feel a warm sense of connection and community as you bring greater hope to your life and the world.

 

I wish you joy on the path.

 

References

 

American Psychiatric Association. (2021, February 2). U.S. adults report highest stress level since early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2021/02/adults-stress-pandemic

 

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

 

International Foundation for Research and Education on Depression (iFred). (2021). The Hopeful Mindsets Project. https://hopefulmindsets.com/

 

Neff, K. (2011). Self-compassion: Stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind. New York, NY: William Morrow.

 

Neff, K. (2021). Fierce self-compassion: How women can harness kindness to speak up, claim their power, and thrive. New York, NY: Harper Wave.

 

Nochaiwong, S., Ruengorn, C., Thavorn, K. et al. (2021). Global prevalence of mental health issues among the general population during the coronavirus disease-2019 pandemic: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Scientific Reports, 11, 10173. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-89700-8

 

Panchal, N., Kamal, R., Cox, C. & Garfield, R. (2021, Feb 10). The implications of COVID-19 for mental health and substance use. Kaiser Family Foundation. https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/the-implications-of-covid-19-for-mental-health-and-substance-use/

  

Seligman, M.E.P. (2011). Flourish. New York, NY: Free Press.

 

Umberson, D., Montez, J. K. (2010).Social relationships and health: A flashpoint for health policy. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 51(1), S54 - S66.

 

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Renewing Your Hope with a New Goal

If you've been feeling listless and low on energy lately, you're not alone. As psychologist Adam Grant (2021) said in a New York Times article, languishing may be the dominant emotion of 2021. As we make our way through a succession of gray days, the clouds hang over us. We're tired, run down, exhausted with Covid coping, mourning the losses, large and small, in our daily lives. 

 

What we need is hope. Hope brings us something to look forward to, bringing a vibrant sense of color, meaning, and zest to our lives.

 

Hope researchers in the new Hopeful Mindsets project (iFred, 2021) have found that that having a goal, taking inspired action, can bring greater joy, meaning, and hope to our lives.

 

They encourage us to choose a new goal for one area of our lives. It might be returning to a favorite hobby, beginning a new project, finding a new job,  starting an exercise program, reaching out to  learn something new,  reconnecting with friends, or something else. Your goal needs to be intrinsic, something that brings you joy and meaning, not something someone else thinks you "should" do. It needs to be an approach goal, not an avoidance goal. Instead of an avoidance goal like "I don't want to be lonely," an approach goal would be "I want to meet new people." Your goal needs to be SMART—Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound (iFred, Hopeful Cities, 2021). For example, a new exercise program might be "I will walk around my neighborhood for 20minutes 5 days a week, beginning on Monday, and will have walked 40 miles by next month.  If you have a pedometer, you can measure  your progress.

 

The classic work on hope by psychologist C.R.Snyder (1994) defined hope as having goals, pathways, and agency. We first set our goal, then come up with specific steps (pathways) and motivation (agency) to achieve it. In my research with my friend and colleague psychologist Dave Feldman (Feldman & Dreher, 2012), we assigned college students to set a goal they wanted to achieve in the next 6 month, then think of three steps they could take to get them there, three things that might get in the way, and three alternative steps they could take if needed. We then had them visualize themselves taking these steps, facing the obstacles, taking the alternative steps, and reaching their goal. This simple practice significantly increased their hope, motivation, and goal success.

 

Now it's your turn.

  • Think of a goal in any area of your life that would bring you greater joy and energy and write it down on a piece of paper.
  • Now think of three steps you can take to get there and write them beneath your goal.
  • Beneath each step write down an obstacle, something that might get in the way.
  • Beneath that write down an alternative step to overcome that obstacle.
  • Then close your eyes and visualize yourself taking that first step, feeling excited and motivated, then facing the first obstacle and taking your alternative step to overcome it.
  • You're back on track to your goal, taking that second step, then facing that second obstacle, and taking that second alternative step.
  • You're that much closer to your goal. Now see yourself taking that third step, facing the third obstacle, and taking your third alternative step as your goal is in sight.
  • Take a deep breath and see yourself achieving your goal and realizing how you feel.

 

Then gently open your eyes. And take that first step. feeling your hope growing stronger as you move forward. There is power and magic in beginnings, for as the Tao Te Ching tells us, "the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."

 

References

 

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.

 

 

Grant, A. (2021). There's a name for the blah you're feeling: It's Called Languishing. The New York Times.  https://www.neprep.org/resources/Documents/COVID-19/Family%20Care%20Resources/NYT%20article%20-%20Languishing.pdf

 

iFred (International Foundation for Research on Depression) (2021). 5 Keys to Hope. https://hopefulcities.org/know-the-five-keys/ 

 

iFred (International Foundation for Research on Depression) (2021). Hopeful Mindsets. https://hopefulmindsets.com/about-hopeful-mindsets/

 

Snyder, C.R.(1994). The psychology of hope. NewYork, NY: Free Press.

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Restoring and Building Our Hope

Restoring our hope begins by managing our stress reaction. When we feel fearful, angry, or anxious, we're in  the survival mode of fight, flight, or freeze that Hopeful Mindsets experts (iFred, 2021) call the "Downstairs Brain." We feel threatened and defensive, cut off from our higher cognitive functions in the Upstairs Brain, and cannot think clearly. When our stress becomes chronic, which is understandable with all the challenges of the pandemic, we can get stuck in our Downstairs Brain, unable to come up with solutions to our problems.

 

We can restore our higher brain function and return to a more balanced state by recognizing when we feel stressed, then using stress skills like taking a 90-second pause, breathing slowly and deeply, exercising, connecting with nature, talking to a friend, or listening to calming music.

 

But that's not enough. Building hope, like building our muscles, requires consistent exercise and training. By cultivating more positive feelings with Happiness Habits (iFred, 2021), we can spend more time in our Upstairs Brain to build a more hopeful mindset. Some Happiness Habits include:

 

  • Having a positive morning routine
  • Eating healthy food
  • Getting regular exercise
  • Playing a musical instrument
  • Learning new things
  • Spending time in nature
  • Connecting with our faith
  • Practicing kindness
  • Expressing gratitude, and
  • Spending time with friends.

 

What Happiness Habits do you include in your life? Do you have a positive routine to begin your day? A regular exercise program? A creative hobby you enjoy? Do you meditate? Spend time in nature—taking walks, hiking or gardening? Do you have energizing fun in your days? Spend time with friends? Practice gratitude and acts of kindness?

 

What is one Happiness Habit you'd like to do more of?

 

Take a moment now to close your eyes and visualize yourself doing this.

  • What does it look like?
  • How does it feel?
  • Breathe in that feeling of energizing joy right now.

Then open your eyes and make a plan to add this new Happiness Habit to your life.

 

I wish you joy on the path.

 

References

 

Happiness Habits (2021) from  Hopeful Mindsets International Foundation for Research and Education on Depression (iFred) https://hopefulmindsets.com/about-hopeful-mindsets/ and Hopeful Cities https://hopefulcities.org/know-the-five-keys/

 

Hopeful Mindsets (2021) from International Foundation for Research and Education on Depression (iFred) https://hopefulmindsets.com/about-hopeful-mindsets/

 

 

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Finding the Path of Hope

The Tao Te Ching tells us:

 

Analyzing others is knowledge.

Knowing yourself is wisdom.

         (Tao, Chapter 33)

 

Today, this lesson is crucial. With all the chaos and uncertainty in our world, too many of us are stressed, confused, depressed, and exhausted. Research reveals alarming rates of depression and anxiety worldwide with 84% of American adults experiencing prolonged stress and 40% experiencing anxiety or depression (American Psychiatric Association, 2021; Nochaiwong, et al., 2021)Panchal, et al, 2021). What we need now is hope.

 

Recently, I participated in the new Hopeful Mindsets Program, which offers 5 powerful keys to hope: Stress Skills, Happiness Habits, Inspired Action, Building a Hope Network, and Overcoming Hope Challenges.

 

The first key-- Stress skills-- is essential because when we're stressed our bodies react with the survival mode—fight, flight, or freeze, that the Hopeful Mindsets Program calls the "downstairs brain." Focused on survival and cut off from our higher brain functions, we cannot think clearly to come up with solutions. We react defensively, feeling threatened, too often seeing people with different views as "the enemy," and falling into the painful polarization that divides this country.

 

But we can restore our higher brain function with stress skills that include: recognizing when we feel stressed and taking a 90-second pause, breathing slowly and deeply, exercising, connecting with nature, talking to a friend, or listening to calming music.

 

Restoring hope personally and politically begins with each one of us. We can practice one of the stress skills right now. If you'd like to join me in this,

  • Take a moment to put your hand on your heart,
  • Close your eyes if you wish, and
  • Breathe in slowly and deeply, focusing on your heart as you slowly breathe out.
  • Do this again, breathing in, then slowly breathing out, finding your own natural rhythm.
  • Feel your body relax, your mind clearing as you continue focusing on your breathing.
  • And when you're ready, gently open your eyes.

The Heartmath Institute calls this practice "Heart-focused breathing," which relieves stress and returns us to a more balanced, coherent state (Childre et al, 2016) where we can begin feeling more hopeful.

 

This first key to hope is as close to you as your next breath. You can breathe this way whenever you feel stressed and between activities during the day to begin cultivating a more hopeful mindset.

 

I wish you joy on the path.

 

References

American Psychiatric Association. (2021, February 2). U.S. adults report highest stress level since early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2021/02/adults-stress-pandemic

 

Childre, D., Martin, H., Rozman, D., & McCraty, R. (2016). Heart intelligence: Connecting with the intuitive guidance of the heart. Waterfront Press.

 

Nochaiwong, S., Ruengorn, C., Thavorn, K. et al. (2021). Global prevalence of mental health issues among the general population during the coronavirus disease-2019 pandemic: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Scientific Reports, 11, 10173. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-89700-8

 

Panchal, N., Kamal, R., Cox, C. & Garfield, R. (2021, Feb 10). The implications of COVID-19 for mental health and substance use.KFF. https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/the-implications-of-covid-19-for-mental-health-and-substance-use/

 

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