Sunday, December 30, 2012

Tip #53: Write a blog!

Well, here we are. I did get to a year of tips! I know it's such a cliche, time flies, but it's true. I'm amazed a whole year has gone by so extremely fast, but I'm even more surprised by the fact that I have been able to keep up with my weekly tips. It's been an incredible experience in many ways, much more fulfilling than I expected, and thus, for my final blog post of the year, I'm encouraging you to also write your own blogs as a mean to achieve happiness. From this experience, and the things I have read, I do think this makes a lot of sense. 
As I have already said in previous tips, a blog is a way to leave something behind. You can make a private blog at first, which can be like a journal, but later, with time, you may see that other people can benefit from it and it's all ready to go. 

It can also be a part of a healthy challenge, which is what it was for me with the weekly deadline that I imposed on myself. I have to say, sometimes this deadline was hard. I remember one week when I just felt a bit stressed with everything and decided to not post something. As I was talking about it, my 15 year old son said in a shocked tone: "What? You HAVE to write the tip!" That really was enough motivation for me! And the thing is, you don't know how absolutely excited I am today for so many reasons (of course, number one being that I have been able to stay healthy the whole year), but having being able to meet my own imposed challenge is amazingly rewarding.

It is definitely a way to connect and learn from others. I have heard from friends far away (as far a Indonesia!) and friends very close by, who I feel are much more connected to me now because of the blog. I have enjoyed their comments, their suggestions and I have also learned immensely from them. And, mostly, I have felt their love. This is kind of strange, but some Mondays I would feel a curious wave of love inside me and I always thought that it just meant that someone was reading my blog. It doesn't even matter if it's true, as I derived a great benefit from it. But, what it is definitely a fact is that social connections are the number one mark for longevity (people without them live much less), and I have discovered that a blog is another great way to increase them.

But, I think the number one reason why I feel that everyone should write a blog is because you matter. Your story can help me, just like my story has helped you. We ALL have something valuable to give. I know many of you, so I know this is an indisputable fact. If you are creating your business, don't you think that there are many people who can learn from your struggle? If you are a teacher, don't you learn from a other teachers? Then, what you do in your class can definitely help me as well. You know, I never thought people would be interested in reading about  mushrooms, for example, but I got many great comments to that post and I realized maybe it was just a good reminder for my friends to add something healthy easily to their menus.

I also think it has been therapeutic for me, and although I really cannot explain why, I think it can help anyone else as well. Some of the people who sometimes read this blog have great blogs already (Forthcoming and La Mia Famiglia are just two examples), but I know many of you still feel a bit scared of technology. I have to say that Blogger is a rather easy platform to use (although the comment section is a bit unstable). Here's a tutorial. I know it can be daunting, but it's just a matter of doing it (like most things in life). It really can be a fun project and it is a way to be creative, which is also so important for health and happiness.

Well, I hope you consider the idea. There are other ways to share, like social media platforms, or even journals that you can pass on. Let me know if you have more ideas.

And I also wanted to finish this year with a shout out to my husband, Shawn, as tomorrow is our 20th wedding anniversary. I feel extremely thankful that I have such a great partner in crime and that I am here to celebrate it!

I don't think I'm going to write any more tips for now, but I definitely have something planned for this blog for 2013. I'll explain next Sunday!

Please, let me know if you already have blogs of your own. I want to read them!

As always, thank you for having made this an incredible year.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Tip #52: Start with happiness

I recently recorded a PBS special called The Happiness Advantage with Shawn Achor. I had already seen a TED Talk of him (see Tip #19: Nourish your Friendships), so I decided to watch the episode and see what else I could learn. Well, although some of the things mentioned I (we) already knew, I still enjoyed hearing about many fascinating experiments that prove his theory, which is this: We don't have to seek happiness (in things, events, like "I"ll be happy when I retire") but we have to START with happiness. Or:

Be successful --> Be happy (WRONG)
Be happy --> Be successful (RIGHT)

But I want to write here about the exercises he recommends to be able to achieve that goal, so that we can rewire the brain in such a way that we start from a place of happiness when dealing with life. Because, according to him, this is possible even if you consider yourself an incorrigible pessimist. So, here we go. There are five exercises we can do. We have to choose only one of these, but do it for 21 days in a row.
  1. Three Gratitudes: Say or write three things that you are grateful for in the last 24 hour period. Try to be specific and say different things each day if possible.
  2. The doubler: Write for two minutes about a meaningful experience that you have had in your life. According to him, when we have this kind of experience, our brain gets already rewired but when we think about it, the same areas of the brain also get engaged, so we get double the effect.
  3. Fun Fifteen: Do a fun activity which involves movement for 15 minutes. He mentioned that this type of activity makes you feel so good about yourself that it leads you to do improvements in other areas as well (something he calls a cascade of success).
  4. Ripple effect: Add 3 smiles to your day, but to moments where you normally would not smile. The name of the activity comes from the fact that when you smile, people around you tend to smile too, and thus, everyone is happier. And if you cannot smile, put a pencil in your mouth as the men in my life demonstrate in the picture. You may not look happier, but you are actually releasing dopamine by doing it (and getting happier, whether you want it or not). He wisely suggests throwing a pencil at your spouse when you are having an argument. I'm keeping a pencil near by. :)
  5. Charge your battery: For this one, you have to spend two minutes writing a meaningful e-mail to someone in your life, a different person every day, telling them why they mattered to you. And the theory behind this one is that having many meaningful social connections is a more important factor to your longevity than, for example, smoking.So, you strengthen those connections with your e-mails but also feel really good when you do something like that.
What I liked about the talk is that many of these I have more or less adopted already, although I definitely do not do them often enough, so he did inspire me to try to do a specific one for three weeks, treat it like an experiment and see what happens.

So, what do you all think? Do you want to join me in this? Should we do another Google Doc? Let me know!

Happy Holidays!!
Thank you for always being there for me.
Without a doubt, I have the best audience in the world.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Tip #51: Be there

We've had a hard week here in Connecticut. We live very close to Newtown. I'm sure for parent's of little children it must be even more emotional and difficult to make sense of such horrific events.

While looking for consolation, I found some quotes which I would like to share with you as this week's tip, as they all point to the same thing: We can only heal as a community, and it is the compassion within the community which will sustain us.

In BreneƩ Brown's blog Ordinary Courage, I found this wonderful quote from Mr. Rogers:
"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, especially in times of "disaster," I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world."
And then, by chance, as it tends to happen, I heard a wonderful radio program called  "On Being." The episode was titled "Presence in the Wild" with Kate Braestrup, a pastor who wrote Here If You Need Me.She works as a chaplain in Maine helping victims of search and rescue missions. And she was just saying the same thing as Mr. Rogers. It is the people that surround us in tragedy, the community, who will heal us. And often, we don't even know we have that support until tragedy strikes. I know so well from my own experience, how when I have needed support I have had so many people helping me, friends and colleagues, family members and neighbors, to whom I will be forever grateful. Exactly a year ago I had a big surgery and we had amazing people cooking for us, making sure our kids were OK, sustaining my spirit with their visits and love. And healing me in the process.

I think most of us have this net (although we may not know it) but we also have to remember to be the net to others. To keep reaching out, to be there to embrace the people who need to be embraced. Because this blog is geared towards health and happiness, we can remember that this compassion to others is indeed healthy to us too.

And let me finish with some words from Pope Benedict, who prayed that God "sustain the entire community with spiritual strength which triumphs over violence by the power of forgiveness, hope and reconciling love."  Let's all be together.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Tip #50: Be in the moment

I have already written about the power of now (and the book of the same title by Eckart Tolle), and how I have found that, although extremely difficult, it is a simple solution to make us feel more centered and satisfied with our lives, regardless of our circumstances.

There is also another lesson from Tolle (this time from his book A New Earth) which I feel I need to work on and thus, I write about it here as a friendly reminder to myself (like all tips really are), which is also connected to being in the moment.

According to him, we need to add a consciousness flow into our everyday activities and there are three ways in which we accomplish this. He calls these the "three modalities of awakened doing" and they are acceptance, enjoyment and enthusiasm. He believes that if we are not in any of these three states, we are instead creating suffering for ourselves and others. The way I understand it, we do suffer when we worry about things to come or past events, and we also make others suffer when we are not happy with ourselves, because, likely, we have not accepted our situation.

But these three modalities deserve a bit more explanation. In a way I see them as levels, from more neutral to ideal. So in my view, these would be the modalities in our everyday life:
  • Not accepting (I have made up this one): This is when we create suffering for ourselves or others. I do know I have to watch out for this, particularly when dealing with my children who may end up paying for my busy life. He suggests that when we cannot accept something, we should either stop it or change it. I'll try to remember that.
  • Acceptance: Tolle reserves this modality for those tasks that we do not want to do but still have to be done, like, for example, changing a flat tire.  He says that accepting it means that we are at peace with it.
  • Enjoyment: For most other things, we can try to bring joy to our actions. According to him, enjoyment should replace want as a motivator for our actions. And this joy should not come from the actions themselves, but from ourselves, so we will stop needing things or people to make us happy. We bring the joy to them. He believes we can bring joy to most of out everyday actions if we are really present when we perform them and I have to agree that I have definitely noticed that certain tasks, like walking to school, are much more enjoyable when I don't let my mind wonder.
  • Enthusiasm: It is this modality that it is preferred. According to him "enthusiasm means there is deep enjoyment in what you do plus the added element of a goal or a vision that you work toward." He compares this enthusiasm with stress, but this is the other side of the coin, negative energy. Enthusiasm, on the other hand, can be the positive fuel for our projects.
Well, I'll let you all that to ponder. I definitely need to work on all this, but they make sense to me. What do you think?

Lots of love to everyone.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Tip #49: Eat more mushrooms

Here's what Dr. Greger has to say about mushrooms, particularly significant for those of us with breast cancer:
Mushrooms are an underappreciated component of healthy diets. They can play a role in a dietary cognitive portfolio (one mushroom—the bay bolete—even contains theanine, the relaxant phytonutrient in green tea) and may slow breast cancer growth by inhibiting the aromatase enzyme. Surprisingly, plain white mushrooms—the cheapest and most widely available variety—may work best and are among the most anti-oxidant rich
They are also recommended by Dr.Weil, who suggests they can lower cholesterol and improve athletic performance, and by Dr. Fuhrman who makes them one of the components of his G-BOMBS that we should eat every day: greens, beans, mushrooms, onions, berries and seeds. Please note, that all these three doctors strongly suggest to always cook the mushrooms, particularly white button mushrooms, as they may contain a naturally-occurring toxin called agaritine that is deactivated by heat.

And for me, I found the most convincing evidence about the efficacy of mushrooms against breast cancer (not just for prevention) from Paul Slamets, a mycologists who is researching the impact of a type of mushrooms, Turkey Tail, on the strengthening of Natural Killer cells which help people undergoing chemo and radiation have a stronger immune system. In a a very emotional TED-MED talk, he tells us the story of his research and how it actually impacted his own mother, who had been given three months to live after her diagnosis of Stage IV breast cancer. Here's the talk, but you can fast forward to minute 8 and be prepared to cry at his story:

According to Dr. Fuhrman, women who eat one mushroom a day have a 64% decreased risk of breast cancer. If you also add drinking green tea in addition to that mushroom, your odds go up to 89% decreased risk for pre-menopausal women and 82% for post-menopausal women. This alone should make you all start having mushrooms right now!

Enjoy your week! I always love your comments. How do you eat your mushrooms? Any tips?

photo credit: selva via photopin cc