Three keys to being your best STRONG self – Happiness, Resilience, and Gratitude
I am honored to have been asked by financial advisor Jessica Weaver, and author of Strong Woman, Stronger Assets, to speak with her clients about being strong women. Jessica is also the author of Strong Woman, Stronger Assets. Jessica and I met through a women’s inspiration group we both belong to – Believe, Inspire, Grow (BIG). Jessica approached me and asked me to design and create a bracelet to complement her book cover and message of her book – being STRONG women. I am a psychologist with a private practice, and I love working with women helping them to be as strong as they can be, whether that be through psychotherapy, workshops, or a bracelet.
Through both my experience in working with clients for 20 years, plus my knowledge of the research in psychology, three characteristics come to mind when I think of strength – happiness, resilience, and gratitude. These concepts resonate with me so much that I have bracelets to help people focus on building these factors every day.
Let’s start with happiness. I have a cautionary word about pursuing happiness, and that will come in my next factor, resilience. But for now, let’s focus on what research in psychology and neuropsychology tells us about happiness.
Gratitude Journal.Psychologist/Happiness Expert Shawn Achor found that spending just 21 days using a Gratitude Journal significantly elevated mood. However, there were two key components. With each daily entry, you need to focus on something different. In addition, the entry has to be specific. For example, instead of writing, “I am grateful for my best friend”, you would write, “I am grateful for my best friend because she is an amazing listener.” Making it different every day, and making it different, helps you to scan the environment and train the brain to think (and see) more positively.
Smile. I am not suggesting that you repress your feelings. Negative feelings, such as sadness and frustration, are worth exploring. However, if you are in need of a quick “pick me up”, your own smile just might do the trick. When you smile, the “feel good” neurotransmitters – endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine, are released in your brain. These also work physically to reduce pain, lower blood pressure, and lower heart rate. All with a smile!!! And when you are feeling crummy and smile at another person, you may get a response from the other person that is just enough to shift your mood and change the direction of your day.
Exercise. Make it a goal to get at least 15 minutes of cardiovascular activity every day. A brisk walk will do. Research demonstrates that daily exercise can be as effective as taking an antidepressant. And if you add nature to your exercise, the benefits are even more. And if you add being with others while exercising in nature, then you have reached maximum benefit. For this reason, almost four years ago, I started weekly women’s walking group. Walking with others in nature results in decrease depression, and an overall improvement in mental health and well-being.
Reach out to someone special.We are social beings, and we all need support. Sometimes, even those closest to us do not know that we may be in need of support. One simple way to receive it is to reach out to a trusted, supportive person. Talk on the phone, or make a plan to get together for a meal or coffee.
Visualize a favorite experience/memory.Advances in technology and brain scans have helped to prove that we have known and felt – that visualizing a favorite memory or experience makes us feel good. The brain cannot distinguish between remembering an event and living an event. How cool is that? So think about that awesome day at the beach gazing at the sunrise or sunset, listening to the waves, feeling the sand between your toes, smelling the ocean air.
Now the reason I cautioned above about pursuing happiness is that happiness is elusive. Happiness is fleeting. And how do we know when we have achieved happiness anyway. Psychologists are now saying, “Resilience is the new happiness.” If you build up your resilience, then you can bounce back from difficulty, and once again reach your happy state quicker. Also, when you focus on resilience rather than happiness, then you can have a more fulfilling day, even on the unhappiest of days.
Positive Self-Talk.A sure way to build resilience is to practice positive self-talk. It seems to be part of the human condition that we get caught up in negative self-talk. It takes awareness of these thoughts, and practice, to turn them in to positive thoughts. Every time you catch yourself in a negative thought, challenge yourself to turn that into a positive thought. It really is true that our thoughts help to shape our reality. So pay attention to your thoughts, because YOU are listening!
Locus of Control. Feeling as though something is within our control, as opposed to out of our control, helps to build resilience. If you have the belief that your thoughts and behavior have an impact on a desired outcome, then you are more likely to put in the time and effort.
Boundaries.People with high resilience have strong boundaries. They have strong boundaries within areas of their lives. For example, if they are experiencing difficulty in one area, they do not let that spill over to problems in other areas. Similarly, they are better able to set interpersonal boundaries, including saying no when necessary.
Stress Management.People with high resilience know how to manage stress. They know what specific coping methods help them. For some, this involves high energy activities, such as running or spinning. For others, this involves more relaxing activities, such as meditation and listening to music. This can also change daily, or be a combination of both. Resilient people have a wide repertoire of stress-relieving activities and take time to engage in them.
Compassion and Empathy.People with high levels of empathy have compassion and empathy for others. They know that giving to others benefits the receiver, and that engaging in such activities also boosts mood and feeling connected to others. In turn, this helps to foster resilience.
Gratitude.Not only does practicing gratitude help us to be happier people, but gratitude builds resilience. When we focus on what we have rather than what we don’t have, we become more appreciative for the smallest of things. Then when we are faced with struggle or difficulty, we are better equipped to handle the situation. We become better able to see the good, even during tragedy and/or loss.
As Gratitude was mentioned in both elevating mood and building resilience, discussing methods of practicing gratitude is worthwhile. I have an entire workshop dedicated to this topic, and I will mention just a few.
Take time to appreciate your life just where it is.So often, we are not where we want to be. We may want to have already finished an accomplishment, completed a goal, or be making more money. When we focus on where we want to be, we lose the opportunity to experience the joy of exactly where we are. Don’t give up your goal, but you will experience more fulfillment in life if you are able to enjoy the journey to the goal as well.
Team Gratitude.This involves picking a partner and having a commitment to share what you are grateful for, for as frequent as you like. This could be a family member, coworker, or friend across the country. You could choose to share daily or weekly, and share via text, email, or phone. The idea is that hearing what another person is grateful for can open your mind to things to be grateful for that you may have overlooked.
Finding the Good in Bad Situations.This can take great effort, particularly in horrible situations. However, even horrible situations can have at least one positive aspect. For me, this involved being grateful for my predictable and comforting cup of hazelnut coffee at the hospital while my fiance was being treated for cancer back in 1994, and being grateful for our unconditional love for each other. Other examples – While waiting in a long line at a store, be grateful that you were able to find and buy what you wanted. If you are stuck in traffic due to an accident, be grateful that you are not involved in the accident. If an appointment is canceled, be grateful for the unexpected free time. During these trying times, think to yourself, “What can this teach me?” “What can I learn from this situation?” “How can I grow from this?” “What small good thing can I find in this?” Finding even one small thing to be grateful for can make even the most horrible of situations feel less horrible.
Send a Thank You Note. Using a store-bought, hand-made, or computer generated thank you note, think of one person who has had a positive impact on your life, and write and mail a thank you note. This could also be sent via text or email. The gratitude could be about one single event, or ongoing. It could be someone from your past, or someone who continues to have a positive influence in your life. Surprise the people in your life and send one out every week, or every month. You could really take this on and send out one thank you note every day, making it part of your daily routine to thank one person every day, for acts big and small. Not only will this make the recipient happy to receive in the mail, but practicing this kind of gratitude will lift your spirits by remembering something special that was done for you. It also increases social connectedness, which tends to make us happier. Expressing appreciation is one of the easiest ways to strengthen a relationship and foster a sense of connection.
Start the Day off with Intentional Gratitude.Incorporate an exercise in gratitude into something that you already do every morning. While you are eating breakfast, pay attention to the way the food tastes. If you are drinking a warm beverage, cup your hands around the mug and feel the warmth. Take in the smell of what you are eating and drinking. Look out the window and appreciate what you see, and that you have eyes to see it!
Gratitude in the Ordinary Day.Some days are filled with simply ordinary activities and responsibilities. Even in these ordinary days, we can be grateful. For example, when doing laundry and the piles of clothes are high, we can be grateful for the washing machine, and grateful that we have people we love in our lives whose clothes we wash. We can be grateful for what goes RIGHT that we take for granted. We can be grateful that the coffee maker worked, that we did not get a flat tire, that the basement did not flood, or that the refrigerator is working.
If you are looking to feel stronger in your life, these exercises in happiness, resilience, and gratitude will help you on your way. And remember – find joy in the journey!
If you would like to purchase a wearable, inspirational reminder to help you cultivate happiness, resilience, and gratitude in your life, here are the names of some related bracelets. Just put a key word in the search area, the bracelet description will pop up, then click on the bracelet description. http://peggysmidnightcreations.com
The Gratitude Bracelet
Grateful For You
Happiness and Joy Bracelet
The Happiness Bracelet
Positive Affirmation Bracelet
The Resilience Bracelet
The Mid-Life Resilience Bracelet
The Tranquility Bracelet
The Positive Energy Bracelet
Find Joy in the Journey Bracelet
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