Work, Play, Love.

If you are familiar with the movie Eat, Pray, Love, you would remember that on a life changing journey across the world, a woman discovers the secrets of life happiness to which she categorizes into eat, pray and love. I won’t go into all the details, but I would highly recommend watching this film, as it explores simple aspects of everyday life that provide the greatest happiness and life satisfaction of all.

On a similar note, positive psychology experts agree on several strategies for life enhancement. Simple actions in your daily life can add up to create feelings of happiness, well-being, positivity, and pleasant experiences that reflect a meaningful life. The following tips are easy ways you can increase life satisfaction in three key areas of your life:

Work

During your work day, consider starting a meeting with positive comments about your fellow peers’ contributions. This may raise positive affect, and thereafter generate greater likelihood of creativity and good decision making. You will foster healthy and relationships within your environment, which may also stimulate productivity in the workplace!

Play

Help others to find some time to unwind, have fun, and play! Take a moment to think about someone in your life who may need some down time but has responsibilities that hinder them to do so. For instance, offer to babysit for new parents, take a larger share of a project for someone who is overloaded at work, bring dinner and a board game to an elderly person, and start to play as well so that you can reap these benefits too!

Create time for yourself as well by participating in brief relaxation activities to break up your day…meditations, a nature walk, or yoga are great ideas! Relaxation can make your mind and body more sensitive to pleasurable moments the rest of the day.

Love

Be kind to those you love and those who you have also just met. Research shows that engaging in kind acts on a regular basis increases well-being for yourself and for others. Tell those close to you that you love them. Your sincere expression of love will boost your relationship and produce positive affect in others.

What are your ideas of incorporating more positivity and kindness in your everyday work, play, and love? I’d love to hear from you.

Always,

Paula

Boost your Happiness!

Learning how to increase levels of happiness is by far one of the most searched for things by people all over the world. In attempt to find some answers, David Myers, author of his book The Pursuit of Happiness, provides strategies how you can boost happiness in your daily life. I share some of his suggestions from the book below…

  1. Realize that enduring happiness doesn’t come from success. Just like being wealthy or healthy, its absence creates misery, but having it doesn’t necessarily guarantee happiness.
  2. Take control of your time. Happy people feel in control of their lives, often by mastering the use of their time. Its helpful to set goals and break them up into daily tasks. Although we often times get frustrated by overestimation with how much we will accomplish in a day, we tend to underestimate how much we can truly accomplish with simply small steps towards our goals every day.
  3. Act happy. When we put on a smile (even if we really don’t feel like it), this facial expression triggers signals to our brain that our body must be feeling happy. Talk as if you feel positive, full of self-esteem, optimistic, and outgoing and soon enough your mind may start to believe it.
  4. Seek work and leisure that engage your skills. Happy people are more likely to be in a mental state called “flow” (see my article about flow here). They get engaged in tasks that challenge them without overwhelming them, such as gardening, socializing, or craftwork to name a few.
  5. Start moving! A multitude of research reveals that aerobic exercise not only promotes health and energy, but is also an aide for mild depression and anxiety. A healthy mind begins with a healthy body.
  6. Give your body adequate sleep. Happy people live active, vigorous lives yet reserve time for renewing sleep. Many people suffer from sleep debt, resulting in feelings of fatigue, reduced focus, and gloomy moods.
  7. Prioritize close relationships. Close friendships with those who deeply care about you can help you get through difficult times. Confiding in one another is good for the soul and body, so make sure to nurture your closest relationships. Act lovingly, display kindness, share quality time together, and make room for fun.
  8. Focus beyond yourself. “Those who feel good do good”, as happiness increases helpfulness. Reach out to those in need, and you will also reap the benefits.
  9. Keep a gratitude journal. Take some time each day (morning or evening) to pause and reflect on positive aspects of your life such as your health, friends, family, freedom, education, senses, natural surroundings, etc. For tips on how to start a gratitude journal, read my post on Gratitude Journaling 101.
  10. Nurture your spiritual self. Faith provides a support community, a reason to focus beyond the self, and a sense of purpose and hope. Numerous studies show that actively religious or spiritual people are happier and are able to cope better with crises.

What do you think? Are you ready to incorporate these tips for a happier life? Share in the comments below.

Always,

Paula

The Art of Aging Successfully

It is a known fact that our country’s population is increasingly aging, and is therefore no surprise that more and more people around us will likely be over the age of 65 years. Are you wondering what factors may lead someone to age well, in other words, successful aging, positive aging, or healthy aging? Many scientists are actively conducting research in this field, and this will likely continue to be a “hot topic” in the future years to come.

The phrase “successful aging” was first popularized by researcher Robert Havinghurst in 1961 when he wrote about “adding life to your years”. It is now understood that there are essentially four important components to successful aging:

  1. Avoiding disease and staying healthy
  2. Maintaining an active engagement with life
  3. Maintaining high cognitive and physical functioning
  4. Keeping a positive outlook on life

Naturally, what successful aging means to a 65-year old will look different to an 85-year old. Moreover, one’s environment, gender, race, ethnicity, and other social identity groups may influence the way in which one achieves successful aging.

Social support and productivity, which are both necessary parts of life engagement, fall nicely in line with life pursuits of love, work and play. Social support in particular, is most effective when it’s mutual and balanced and is instrumental for successful aging. Studies have shown that the more social ties one has, the less decline in functioning over time. However, this tends to vary with gender: in most cases, men report to receive emotional support primarily from their spouses, while women often rely heavily on their friends, relatives, and children for emotional support.

Along the lines of productivity, research suggests that the more productive a person is, the more higher-functioning they are. Interestingly, physical activity (an aspect of productive activity), helps to maintain health functioning and therefore prevent declines in overall well-being.

A large Harvard study called “The Adult Development Study” tracked a young cohort of over 250 participants for 80 years. These participants were considered socially advantaged and overall healthy. The results show that more than 80% outlived their 80th birthday and on average seemed to maintain the following lifestyle: not smoking (or stopping smoking while young), coping adaptively, not abusing alcohol, maintaining a healthy weight, some exercise, a stable marriage, and being educated. These variables were attributed to the participants’ longevity.

Another very interesting study in 2001 proposed the theory that longevity may be rooted in experiencing positive emotions in early life. A recollection of many positive memories from one’s early life may be related to a reduced risk of mortality. Other studies have found that resilience may also play an important role in successful aging.

All in all, the immense amount of research in this area suggests that people have more control over the quality of their lives during the aging process than once believed.

I encourage you, readers, to take a few moments and reflect on what aging successfully means to you, and how you can tailor your current lifestyle to create a rewarding future.

Always,

Paula

Yoga as a Moving Meditation

As many of you may know, yoga is a very popular form of exercise in today’s society that is great for strengthening the body and improving flexibility. Additionally, it consists of a mind-body-spirit connection, as many people use yoga to quiet and still their minds. Therefore, along with improving physical fitness, yoga can be used as a tool by connecting more with our spirit so that we can connect more with God. However, since many of the yoga classes typically found in fitness studios are fast-paced, it may be difficult to calm your mind as you are struggling to maintain your balance, hold a pose for several minutes, or keep your arms elevated a certain way. By focusing too much on strenuous poses, you might not have the motivation or energy to focus on other important mindfulness aspects of yoga such as belly breathing, or cultivating a clear mind.

Yoga, in fact, is considered a moving meditation as it was originally created to prepare the body for meditation. Breath and movement gracefully connect, allowing for the opportunity to listen to your mind, body and spirit while maintaining self-awareness. One of the central components of yoga is the breath. When we slow down our breath, we actually slow down our mind. When we slow down our mind, we are able to create inner peace within our spirit. And when we are able to have peace of mind, we open up a greater capacity to hear our inner voice and to feel a stronger connectivity with God.

With its roots in Eastern religions, today yoga may be practiced with a spiritual component or in a purely secular form. Yoga itself is simply a tool to use for whichever purpose you choose, whether that’s simply for physical fitness, mindfulness, or religious practice. What matters is the intention for your yoga practice. Interestingly, Christian yoga – a yoga practice with a Christ-centred focus and scripture meditations – is becoming increasingly popular among those of Christian belief.

Are you interested in trying a yoga class? Find a yoga studio near you, or simply search the web for many free yoga classes online. Many offer classes for a variety of skill levels. Whether you are new to yoga or already an experienced yogi, make sure to experiment and choose a yoga style that works best for you. For instance, one of my favourite online yoga classes is Yoga with Adriene, while The Christian Meditator has an abundance of resources for Christian meditation, mindfulness, and yoga.

Let me know your thoughts on yoga and if you decide to try using yoga as a moving meditation!

Always,

Paula

The Key to Resiliency

To be resilient is to “bounce back” from a significant risk, adversity, or stressor, and return to your relatively normal functioning life. When faced with adversity, safe coping methods are applied, and positive outcomes soon follow.

Research shows that there is no timeline and no set period for finding strength, resilient behaviours, and coping skills. These skills can be developed at any point in life, as there is always room for improvement when reacting and responding to a negative situation. Having faith for the future and the ability to perceive bad times as only temporary is an essential strength for enhancing resiliency.

An important contributing factor to becoming more resilient is having at least one supportive person in your life. This can be a family member, a friend, a teacher, or a guidance counselor to help talk you through the difficult time. One of the standout findings of resiliency research is that people who cope well with adversity, even if they don’t have a strong family support system, are able to recruit others to help them. This goes to show that people are “better together” when striving to overcome a negative situation. It is far better to share your troubles with someone, rather than battling it out on your own.

Setting goals and planning for the future are also strong factors in dealing with adversity. These actions may minimize the aftereffects of a negative occurrence by motivating you to bounce back quicker and come up with a useful plan for overcoming stress. In addition, actively planning and goal setting may minimize the likelihood of adversity itself.

This next point is probably the most important key to achieving resiliency: believing in oneself and recognizing one’s strengths. Psychologist Ernestine Brown (PhD) of the University of Alabama says,

“You pick yourself up, and give yourself value. If you can’t change a bad situation, you can at least nurture yourself. Make yourself a place for intelligence and competence, surround yourself with things that help you stabilize, and remember what you’re trying to do”.

I think many people need to be regularly reminded of this in order to heal, grow, and rise up stronger after experiencing any trauma or adversity. Teaching people such self-recognition should be a priority in our society that aims to help adults build a newly resilient approach to life. If this understanding is incorporated into schools, workplaces, and communities, consider how much better our mindsets, mental health, and life-perspectives would be.

If you’d like more information and practical tips on building resiliency, please read my article on Building Resilience.

Always,

Paula

Become the Best YOU Possible

How often do you hear people say: “I don’t have time for self-care”, “I’m too busy with my job or my family”, “I’m too tired to do that”. These phrases have become widely normalized and accepted frames of thought in our present society. People try to manage everything in their lives the best they can while often feeling energy deprived and short on time. Whether we are employed, in school, volunteering, or so on, we don’t usually make time just for ourselves. Everything else seems to take precedence over our own self-care and if we continue on, it’s only a matter of time until we see a toll on our mental, spiritual, and physical health.

If we are eager to find time for daily mindfulness, or perhaps even spending a few minutes with God, the answer is not to find time but rather to make time for it. This may mean shifting around your schedule, prioritizing certain things, or even waking up a little earlier. If we sit around just waiting for the right time, chances are we’ll be waiting forever.

Many problems and issues we face today are likely stemming from not taking care of our inner self. When we are worn down, it creates the opportunity for stress, fear, unbelief, worry, anger and many other negative emotions and mindsets to appear. When we are not feeling our best spiritually or emotionally, our body finds ways to cope and compensate for it. We crave unhealthy foods, overeat, or eat poorly. We get irritable at the smallest of things and take it out on family members. We lose our faith and fear takes over, potentially leading to hopelessness and depression.

This brings us to the importance of self-care. Self-care is spending some time everyday nurturing your mind, body and spirit. It varies for each individual, as the act of self-care for one person may be different for another. Whichever way you decide to nurture yourself, whether that be taking a bath, going for a massage, spending time in nature, or journalling, make sure you aim for something everyday. For instance, something as simple as spending 15-20 minutes meditating on God’s presence every morning can help set the tone for your day, create a sense of balance, centre the mind, and create feelings of peace and well-being.

It is so important to become the best version of ourselves, and the first step is learning to love ourselves by doing the things that make us feel happy and whole. Perhaps you can learn how to make healthy, delicious meals that will provide your body the feel-good nutrition it desires. Or how about spending 5 minutes a day visualizing your goals and dreams. Maybe find a exercise plan that makes you feel strong and energized.

You might be thinking, all those ideas sound great- but I am way to busy to incorporate them in my life. Well, my belief is that “where there’s a will, there’s a way”. If you really want to make them part of your wholesome lifestyle, you’ll find a way. Just like we always seem to make time for watching Netflix or browsing our phones đŸ˜‰

See if you can find a few moments out of your day to retreat somewhere by yourself and perhaps read a book, listen to relaxing music, sing, paint, garden, pray- anything that rewards you and makes you feel good.

When you feel good inside by taking the time to nurture yourself, every other area in your life is likely to fall into place. You will be making decisions and choices from a place of balance and clarity. You will be creating your life proactively instead of just reacting from one crisis to another. When this happens, we tend to make healthier food choices resulting in more energy, overall better diet and subsequently better health. When we nurture ourselves, our relationships thrive. We accomplish more doing less. We attract better and more positive situations to our lives. Self-care promotes mindful living, and increases peace, joy, and clarity. It helps us live out our truest values, creating the life of our truest desires and dreams, and helps us feel whole and complete.

So here is your challenge. Come up with a list of excuses for not taking care of yourself. Read it over. And then stop buying into these excuses! Reflect and think about your inner values, and decide how you will manage your time to incorporate your inner values into your everyday life. If you are not sure about your inner values, consider meditating on that question or ask God to help reveal any areas in your life you may be neglecting. Perhaps you will receive some clarity as to what direction you will need to take. Spending some time in silence and solitude may help you maintain balance and sustain control over your life.

Always,

Paula

Live and Breathe Positivity

It’s no doubt that we all desire to radiate positivity. Encompassing the trait of positivity, in my opinion, is one of the most virtuous and exemplary characteristics one can have. It often signifies good naturedness, friendliness, health in the mind and body, resilience and self-confidence. Being positive is also linked to experiencing greater happiness and subjective well-being. In a study examining the happiest 10% of college students, these students also showed evidence of great mental health and social relationships. How can we cultivate this positivity in our own lives? How can we beam and illuminate this positive energy from within?

Firstly, I’d highly recommend you read up on my previous blog posts on the topics of “How to Generate Happiness” and “Regulating Positive and Negative Emotions“. Those offer great explanations and go in-depth about happiness, positivity, their definitions, benefits, and how to achieve more of these feelings in the context of mindfulness. Having a foundation in those topics, you can begin to appreciate that much of physical health is indeed linked to one’s level of happiness. Happiness consequently, may perhaps lie in the reduction of tension through the satisfaction of one’s goals and needs, or in certain enjoyable activities.

Scientists reason that having a positive affect shapes the brain in several ways: increasing dopamine levels (known as the happy hormone!), influencing our reward system (located in the frontal lobe of our brain), and acting on our pre-frontal cortex areas of the brain. The pre-frontal cortex has functions such as creative problem solving, integration of ideas, understanding multiple perspectives of a situation, cooperativeness, social responsibility, negotiation skills, generosity, along with focusing on negative information when necessary.

Furthermore, a high subjective well-being predicts a lower mortality rate, fewer heart attacks, better survival of heart disease, and a reduced incidence of strokes! Those who report a high subjective well-being are likewise more likely to maintain healthy habits such as reduced levels of drinking and smoking. Generally speaking, studies have also shown that individuals who have higher traits of positive affect consequently have fewer colds after virus exposure. This is likely due to the association of higher levels of immunoglobulin A – a natural antibody in our bodies that boosts immune function. Who knew that staying positive could help with improving your immune system!

And the benefits don’t stop there: remaining positive in your life has its effects on the work and relationship sector as well. Studies have found that those with higher positivity tend to achieve more prestigious jobs, have better income, or even a better performance evaluation down the road. With relationships, studies show a greater probability and satisfaction of marriage, a more positive perception of interactions with your partner, more cooperation during times of conflict, greater ability to negotiate solutions, and more interest in one’s social activities and friendships.

Research claims that to develop a trait of happiness, it is roughly 50% genetics, 10% life circumstances (which you have little to no control of), and 40% choice. If you are not as happy or positive as you’d like to be, you have the choice to change that with your daily activities and practices. We must recognize and remember that every day is a gift. It’s an opportunity to become a better, more positive and happy you. And it all starts from your mindset and daily practices. Shakespeare once said,

“There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so”

In other words, if we’re experiencing negativity and adversity in our lives, let’s look at that from a different angle, a different perspective. Let’s aim to find the silver lining, and see that perhaps whatever is happening is for our highest good. Staying upset, worried, anxious, or angry won’t help in any way with achieving greater health and life satisfaction. It is up to us if we want to change how we feel and reap the benefits of positivity. It may be hard at first, but I challenge you to imagine your best possible self. See it, feel it, believe that you are already there. Then use every opportunity that presents itself to show yourself that you can be and already are the best version of yourself.

A greater subjective well-being comes with more energy and enthusiasm to pursue significant life goals, be active, be social, help others, find positive meanings, and be more open to circumstances in your life. Let’s aim to live and breathe all things positively, let’s count our blessings every day, let’s always express gratitude, and let’s imagine our best possible selves.

Always,

Paula

Coping with Stress and Avoiding Burnout

Today’s blog post is written by a featured guest, Ryan McBurney:

The phenomenon of ‘burnout’ is a psychological syndrome that results in mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion that deteriorates your work productivity and performance. Burnout is a consequence of a prolonged response to chronic interpersonal stressors on the job.

Now, with that said, I am sure we can all relate to times where we have experienced theses symptoms. The phenomenon of burnout is not specific to the typical 9-5 office job but can be seen in all different types of fields of work, studies, sports, and even hobbies. Burnout can be commonly seen in athletes by overtraining for their sport, in students by over-studying for their university exams, etc.

There are three main dimensions that play a role in burnout:

  1. Overwhelming exhaustion.
  2. Feelings of cynicism and detachment from the job.
  3. A sense of professional inefficacy and a lack of accomplishment.

Hindering all three of these dimensions results in the negative psychological state experienced by those who are burnt-out.

Although the specific causes of burnout are going to be unique to each individual and their situation, there has been 6 risk factors identified by Leiter & Maslach, 2016:

  1. Work overload.
  2. Lack of control over work.
  3. Insufficient rewards/recognition.
  4. Inadequate sense of community in the workplace (poor relationships with co-workers).
  5. Fairness of the work.
  6. Values (job goals and expectations).

The negative outcomes of burnout will again be dependant on your situation and will fluctuate in terms of severity. Common outcomes of burnout are job withdrawal, job dissatisfaction, greater personal conflict, and various detrimental health complications such as headaches, chronic fatigue, hypertension, etc.  

For those who find themselves experiencing the symptoms of burnout, the best way to recover is to simply take some time off and recharge.

So, how do we stay productive without experiencing burnout? The following techniques have been found to reduce work-related stress, and subsequently the chances of experiencing burnout: Training in goal setting, problem resolution, time management, aerobic exercise, relaxation techniques (this can include mindfulness practice), and coping in general (Hudson, Flannery-Schroeder, & Kendall, 2004).

Next time you find yourself with an abundance of work to finish, practice these techniques and ensure you find the time to take breaks and prioritize your health. Slow and steady wins the race.

-Ryan

If you liked this post, read up on Ryan’s previous guest blog for Mindfulness by Paula on Cultivating Optimism here!

Regulating Positive and Negative Emotions

When we think of our emotions, they’re generally divided into two states: positive and negative. Of course, negative emotions are those such as fear, anger, and distress which may harm the body in prolonged quantities. However, they have an important survival value if we consider these emotions from an evolutionary perspective. Experiencing these emotions long ago has helped us get to where we are today: for instance, fear has let us know to run away from predators, anger perhaps served to defend or fight an enemy, and distress might have helped us recognize our body was in pain or unhealthy and signalled us to find a solution. That being said, negative emotions shouldn’t be experienced out of proportion. When we have too many negative emotions, for instance when our daily stressors are higher than we can handle, this may lead to increases in stress hormones in our bodies over time. This in turn may increase inflammation in the body, potentially leading to chronic illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.

Therefore, there comes a realization that in order to have a healthy mind and body, we must make sure to maintain harmony within ourselves by balancing all our positive and negative emotions. Ideally, we strive to make sure our positivity is much more prominent than any negativity, keeping us mostly in a positive state of feeling. When we have more positivity, we feel happier, rate our well being and life satisfaction higher, and are even more attentive and enthusiastic with our tasks.

When experiencing positive emotions, we are more likely to:

  • Help others
  • Be flexible with our thinking
  • Come up with solutions to our problems
  • Be more willing to exhibit self-control

Think about yourself for a moment- when you’re in a great mood, feeling happy, and energetic, have you noticed if you’re more willing to help someone out? Find a solution to a problem more effectively? Able to “bounce back” easier after something doesn’t quite go as planned? See if you can notice these things next time. Numerous studies have shown that we truly seem to have more psychological resilience and want to genuinely help others when we feel positive emotions.

Other researchers have suggested that positive emotions also expand what an individual feels like doing at any given time, broadening an individual’s momentary thought-action repertoire. For instance, the experience of joy appears to open us up to many new thoughts and behaviours. When we’re happy, generally we feel like doing more things, we tend to socialize more, and we tend to be more creative with our problem solving. Negative emotions on the other hand, are associated with dampening our ideas and actions.

Experiencing the feeling of joy also is thought to induce more playfulness. This is especially important when considering a developing child. Juvenile play helps build social and intellectual resources by encouraging attachment, increases levels of creativity, and aides in proper brain development. In a developing young adult, having a sense of playfulness reduces perceived stress allowing a person to better cope with stressors, and is also linked to a greater life satisfaction along with other positive attributes.

Did you know…

  • Research suggests that practicing more positivity may assist in developing leadership abilities, by being more creative toward making organizational change
  • Positivity is suggested to increase cognitive function by increasing both spatial and verbal memory (your working memory)- great news for students that are in the midst of their studies!
  • Positive affect may provide greater resilience to both chronic and acute experiences of pain
  • Generally, the more positive you are, the less of an effect negative emotions (ex. anger) have on you

When we’re working towards self-improvement, let’s keep in mind this balance between our positive and negative emotions, and continue to practice more positivity in our daily life.

Always,

Paula

Developing a Mindfulness Practice

There are many different ways to develop a mindfulness practice, depending on what you’d like to focus on and which approach works best for you. See below for a few ideas on how you can get started:

Body Mindfulness

Find a quiet place, sit tall, and follow your breath. Become aware of your breathing, but don’t try to control it. Aim for about 3 min to start, and try to increase your meditation by 1 min each time!

Another option is a whole-body scan: Either sitting or lying down in a relaxed position, begin to bring awareness to your body. Begin by paying attention to your toes, your feet, and gradually move your awareness up your body. By the time you’ve completed your body scan, your body should feel completely relaxed and heavy.

Thought, Emotion Mindfulness

Sit comfortably, and begin by taking slow deep breaths. When your breath is stable, let your thoughts come in and out, but maintain your frame of thought. Watch your thoughts as they go past, like an objective observer. Experience your thoughts and emotions without valuing or judging them. Accept your feelings, and aim not to change them, but instead changing your behaviours. Try including this as part of your meditation a couple minutes at a time. For instance, if you start thinking “I feel tired”, instead reframe your thought into “I am having the thought that I am tired”. Observe that the thought is there, and let it fade out on its own.

Mindfulness in Daily Life

Throughout your day-to-day activities, practice being aware of everything around you. From taking a walk and observing the surrounding nature, to sitting quietly and listening to the sounds around you, paying attention to how the ground feels beneath you. As another example, try to being aware of how your food tastes when you eat, how your clothes feel when you get dressed, how the water feels when you take a shower. Being aware of all the little things happening in the present moment with you, including remaining fully present with and aware of another person while interacting with them. Taking time to slow down and really enjoy the moment can be a relaxing, calming way to incorporate mindfulness into your day.

I’m excited for you to experience the many benefits of a mindfulness practice. I hope you can try at least one of these this week!

Always,

Paula