what makes you happy?

Photo by Zachary Nelson on Unsplash

I find joy most days and in most situations. I am generally optimistic and look for the best in people. My faith tells me God is good and so are His plans. Even so, sometimes sadness or stress lands heavy on my shoulders.

The other day an article captured my attention. It offered four practical activities, supported by neurology, that will help make us happy. The four actions are not difficult to apply, even if we are not brain researchers, and they are simple yet powerful. I want to share them with you:

1. Ask, “What am I grateful for?

“Gratitude makes us feel better” + “A grateful attitude improves our mood and increases our energy” = TRUTH. Gratitude activates our brain to produce dopamine and serotonin – chemicals that enable us to see rewards and take action to move toward them. As an additional benefit, when we are grateful for something or someone, those chemicals give us a natural “high” which motivates us to feel it again and so repeat the process.

The article also taught me something new:

Even when life is hard and we can’t find anything for our gratitude list…
it doesn’t matter! The simple act of searching has the same effect!

2. Name your negative feelings.

Pretending not to feel bad or suppressing negative emotions does not work to make us feel better, and sometimes has the opposite effect. Even if we can fake it on the outside, our internal limbic system is reacting.

On the other hand, if we voice our feelings, it reduces the amygdala reaction in our brain. Describing our emotions with a word or two helps diffuse the intensity.

We will increase our happiness
when we state how we feel when we are not happy.

**An interesting side note: Labeling is a primary tool used in hostage situations to diffuse negative emotions.

3. Make a decision.

Making decisions also calms the limbic system, reducing stress and worry. We do not have to make a perfect decision – a good enough decision will help. Deciding gives us a sense of control, and feeling in control reduces the stress hormone cortisol… and increases dopamine activity. In addition, if we do something because we “should” or because we “have to”, we do not get the same benefit.

We feel better when we choose to do something that produces a good result
than when something good happens by chance.

4. Touch people.

When we feel rejection in relationships, our brain circuitry reacts the same way it does for physical pain (activating the anterior cingulate and insula). We all need to feel love and acceptance.

Small touches like handshakes and pats on the back release oxytocin which activates pain-killing endorphins. Holding someone’s hand during a medical procedure lowers the discomfort level. Massage also increases dopamine and serotonin activtity. And the more we care for the person, the more their touch helps.

Hugs are powerful.

So there you have it. Four “easy” activities that can make you more happy. 🙂

Which of these activities can you practice today? What else makes you happy?

You might also want to read: got the gratitude attitude? or learning to be thankful

to celebrate or not to celebrate

Photo credit: Theresa Thompson / Foter / CC BY

Photo credit: Theresa Thompson / Foter / CC BY

This past week I celebrated my birthday!

Years ago, I had no desire to advertise that fact. It wasn’t that I wanted to hide my age; I just have never been one who enjoys all the focused attention that a birthday entails. I am not fond of birthday parties for myself (although there have been a few exceptions), and I definitely do not like surprise birthday parties. (It probably has something to do with wanting control. That should be fairly obvious if you have read a few of my posts! 🙂 )

Despite that historical background, I have changed my tune when it comes to birthday celebrations. I’m sure my years living in Mexico had something to do with my new attitude. In Mexico, there is always a good reason to have a party! Celebration is an important part of life. Birthdays, especially, get lots of attention… hugs, phone calls, words of affirmation, songs, gifts, cakes, piñatas, meals out, parties… it’s all good! In church settings, the birthday celebrator often stands up front during the service and gives thanks to God for the gift of another year of life.

That tradition touched my heart.

At my age, now 54, I have had to say good-bye to too many friends – many who were younger even than me. I am well aware that not everyone gets to celebrate 54 years of life. I am blessed. I do not want to take that for granted.

Instead of ignoring the accomplishment, I want to be thankful.

So… parties still are not my favorite means of celebration, but I do like to spend quality time with people I love; I really enjoy hearing from family and friends; and I love to do something special or go somewhere fun to intentionally recognize the milestone and express my gratitude. (This year it was a day at Hollywood Studios with my wonderful husband!)

Birthdays have become a very worthy celebration for me.

How do you feel about celebrating your birthday? What are some special things that you do to recognize the day?

learning to be thankful

ID-10087368I’m not very good at being thankful. Well, maybe I’m not that bad when it means saying “thank you” to the waitress or the hotel clerk. I do that pretty well. I am less quick to express my gratitude to those closest to me… my husband, my family, my God. That is a bit ironic since they are the ones who give me the most and the best of themselves. They give over a long period of time. They give well.

I suppose it is that very consistency that leads me to take them for granted. I hardly notice the effort, or I deem it expected and obligatory… just an ordinary part of life.

But love and sacrifice are so not ordinary.

When a husband stays with his wife through hard times and sad times and keeps loving and laughing and giving and forgiving, that is something special. When children respect and enjoy their parents… and each other… in spite of hurts and differences and distance and time, that is something special. When God loves without limits, unconditionally and unendingly, that is something special.

Not to be taken for granted.

I want to notice these special gifts and be more grateful. Thanksgiving is such a wonderful reflective time of year. It so frequently gets lost in between the other holidays, and yet it is so important for me. I need the continual reminder.

So I don’t just expect and assume with those I love… so I remember to say “thank you”.

Who do you want to thank today? 

muy agradecida por…

sunrise Nicholas Tarling freedigitalphotos.netMe desperté muy temprano esta mañana. Yo estaba (más de) un poco de mal humor ya que realmente no quería estar alerta a esa hora, pero casi de inmediato algunas personas especiales llegaron a mi mente y decidí aprovechar de la tranquilidad para orar por ellos.

Los minutos sumaron a medida que más y más personas llenaron mis pensamientos aturdidos, y mi mal humor empezó a convertir en gratitud. Hay muchas personas maravillosas en mi vida. Son amables y valientes, divertidas y generosas. Comencé a hacer una lista; me siento orgullosa de muchos de ellos…

Mi mamá – Aunque sé que ella tenía miedo del diagnóstico de cáncer y que casi quiso morir a causa del dolor, ella eligió valerosamente someterse a la cirugía y a los tratamientos de la quimioterapia. Ella está pasando sus días buenos con amigos y familiares, a menudo ayudando a los demás. Muchas veces no es fácil, pero ella es fuerte y un ejemplo para mí.

Mi marido – Ha viajado para cuidar a su padre esta semana; sé que es difícil para él allí. Es desalentador para él ver a su padre deprimido y débil y triste, una sombra del hombre que solía ser… A pesar de los retos, mi marido está sacrificialmente sirviendo a su papá – al limpiar, cocinar y ser un compañero. Lo extraño mucho cuando no está aquí, pero me alegro de que él esté allí con su padre.

Mi familia – En mi familia y la familia de mi esposo, hay otros que hacen la mayor parte del cuidado de nuestros padres ancianos. Aunque nosotros ayudamos de vez en cuando, ellos son los que están presentes o pendientes casi todos los días. Estoy impresionada por sus corazones dispuestos y su atención a los innumerables detalles. Sé que es frustrante y agotador a veces. Ellos son mis héroes.

Mis hijos – Estoy muy orgullosa de mis hijos. Cada uno es único y dotado de muchas maneras. También son imperfectos y tienen todo tipo de desafíos y problemas normales, pero me encantan los adultos se están llegando a ser. En especial me gusta que me amen también.

Mis amigos – Tanto los del pasado y mis nuevos amigos de este año han añadido mucho gozo a mi vida. Me siento inspirada por su fe y su deseo de crecer y su determinación de seguir adelante. Algunos de ellos han tenido que superar heridas y pruebas muy difíciles, pero los veo comprometidos con sanarse y refrescarse y con encontrar la fuerza para ayudar a los demás. He recibido abundantemente de sus vidas generosas y estoy agradecida por cada uno de ellos.

Nunca pude volver a dormir… mi lista seguía y seguía, y al final me di cuenta que era una vida muy bendecida que me estaba despertando a conocer. Una buena manera de empezar el día.

¿Quién está en tu lista de agradecimiento? ¿Quién hace que te sientas orgulloso/a?

got the gratitude attitude?

I’ve been amazed the last few days by great contrasts in gratitude displayed.

In one instance, a fellow missionary friend received various favors and helps, but made only negative, complaining comments.

In another situation, a young lady, on her own initiative, said “thank you” various times, in the middle of a very busy schedule, to the people who had done something nice for her.

In both cases, the actions were so noticeable that a third-party, impressed by the behavior, came to tell me about it. Unfortunately, one was very encouraged, but the other felt frustrated and disappointed.

I’ve had people rationalize their lack of thankfulness with, “We don’t thank people for something when they are only doing their job” or “I’m not detail oriented. I don’t write notes”. They haven’t convinced me. In my opinion, these are just excuses for a lack of gratitude and an unwillingness to make the effort.

There are many ways to express gratitude. When I was little, my Mom taught me to write thank you notes for gifts or special treats. We taught our children to do the same. We also taught them to say “grace” before a meal, to “try a bite” to show gratitude for the food offered, and to say thank you to the cook before leaving the table. Living in a foreign country, we saw many examples of poverty and need, and our children learned gratitude for all they had. On teams, we say thank you in many ways (diplomas, gifts, financial and “day off” compensations).

Sometimes it takes extra time, effort, or even expense to say thank you; it is a habit we learn and can improve mostly it just takes a sincere attitude of  gratitude. I know I can grow in my gratitude attitude… the picture I added to this blog has been going around on Facebook and Pinterest and challenges me greatly.

I can also learn from you…  How is your gratitude attitude? How do you say thank you?

a tribute to mom

Years ago, I heard about writing a “tribute” to my mom. The idea is to write out a special thank you letter, including stories, memories, lessons learned, and her character that influenced my life in a positive way. If possible, read the tribute to her personally… and then maybe frame it for her to enjoy for years to come. Both my husband and I followed through with that idea, and our mothers have hung the framed tributes to this day.

As I read over the tribute today, I see so much of myself in her. So much of what she valued, loved and enjoyed… are now a part of me. I am grateful again for the influence she has had, and continues to have, in my life.

As a mother, it is important to take time and reflect on what I pass on to my children. They will always carry a part of me in who they are…

I’d like to encourage you to do a tribute for your mom. It is certainly possible that your mom was not perfect… mine surely wasn’t. But she was the women chosen by God to give me life… and then help mold me into the person I am today. Writing the tribute might just be the exercise that God uses for you to process through past  – or even present – pain… and find the ability to forgive.

If you enjoy a loving relationship with your mother, all the more reason to write the tribute – today! Time is precious and each day is a gift. We don’t know how much time we have to honor and thank the ones we love… today is a great day to let her know that you love and appreciate her! 


Have you done a tribute for your mom?

(I’ve included my tribute so you can get the idea!)