5 Minutes to Inner Peace

SunriseRecently I received an invitation to participate in an unusual study.  Its purpose was to determine the impact on participants’ fears and feelings of well-being of a simple, five-minute daily practice called, “The Three Treasures Practice.”

Because one of the designers of the study was a former mentor and instructor of mine, Ann-Marie McKelvey, whom I like very much and trust deeply, and because I only had to invest five minutes a day for two weeks, I agreed.  Who can’t clear five minutes in their day?

The practice is called “The Three Treasures Practice,” by the way, because it draws on the disciplines of loving-kindness meditation, EMDR (a therapy technique for reducing the effects of trauma), and positive psychology.

My immediate response to the practice, after I received the instructions and did my first session, was, “Wow!  That was easy –  and do I feel great!”   But it was only after the first full week of doing my daily sessions that I began to see the incredible power of the practice.

Before beginning it, we participants took a brief survey that had us identify one of our biggest fears and to rate it, and the negative feelings that went with it, on a scale of 1-10.  I rated my fear at a 5.  But my feelings of grief and sadness over it scored a 9.  To my surprise, by the end of the first week, all my scores dropped dramatically.  I was looking at the situation from an altogether different perspective.

By the end of the second week, my fear and the sadness and grief were hardly at play at all in my life.  I felt free from my concerns and saw clearly that if the situation I had feared did materialize, I would be able to deal with it as if unfolded.  I thought about the old adage that most of what we worry about never happens.  And even when it does, it rarely takes any of the forms we imagined.  All my apprehensions had done nothing but waste time I could have spent enjoying life in the present.

I ‘knew’ all of that about worry before I began the practice.  But I worried anyway, and was deeply attached to my concerns.    What you know in theory is far from the things you learn from experience.  The Practice simply melted my worries away.  Life became lovelier and more vibrant again.  Day by day, I was effortlessly moving into a broader, easier world.

Because, since I began doing The Three Treasures Practice, my understanding of its beauty and power has only deepened, I wanted to share it with you.   And I’m delighted to say that the developers of the practice and of the study have given all the participants full permission to share it.

So consider this happy invitation to try it yourself.  Make a commitment to give it a full two-week try.  And you, too, may want to write down what you biggest fear is and rate its intensity from 1-10, where 10 is complete, abject fear, and 0 is no worry.  Then think about the feelings that accompany your fear.  Does it make you feel any of these emotions:  Loss?  Anxiety? Grief? Sadness?  Anger?  Loneliness?  Which ones?  Rate those, too, so you can see the changes in your life at the end of the first week and at the end of the second.

Remember that the practice is designed not only to ease your fears, but to heighten your sense of well-being, too.  So write down the following feelings and rate each of them from 1-10 as you’re experiencing them right now:  Joy, Peace, Openness, Love, Connection, Kindness, Trust, and Happiness.

You don’t have to do that part.  But if you do, it will give you a way to evaluate how the practice is working for you.

Now here are the actual instructions for the practice, as given to those of us who engaged in the study:

Instructions for The Three Treasures Practice

1. Sit comfortably in a quiet environment.  Take deep inhales and deep exhales as you settle.

2. Cross your arms over your chest and place your hands on alternate shoulders like a pharaoh.  [Right hand on left shoulder; left hand on right shoulder.]

3. In a determined way, gently and slowly tap each shoulder one at a time.  Tap so that it is loud enough to hear.  This is called the EMDR Butterfly Hug.

4. As you perform the Butterfly Hug, silently or out loud say to yourself for five minutes:

“May I now be filled with loving kindness.”

“May I now be safe and protected.”

“May I now be resilient in mind and body.”

“May I now live with ease and joy.”

 The Loving-Kindness Meditation is an ancient tradition that goes back thousands of years.  Although the phrases may differ from culture to culture, the basic principle is to alleviate suffering.  Please use the positive LKM phrases above for the next 14 days* along with the Butterfly Hug for five consecutive minutes each day.

If you have trouble remembering the words, please print them on a card to look at during you initial repetitions.

Should you find yourself become drowsy, please stand up to do the practice until the five minutes have transpired.

* The 14 day part was for participants in the study.  Two weeks of daily practice will provide you with enough experience to judge whether the practice is something you want to continue.  If you’re like me, your inner answer will be a definite “Yes!”

That’s it!

Try it, and then come back and leave your comments.  I would love to know what your experience is with this beautiful and, in my view, very powerful exercise.

 

 

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Finding Meaning in Your Life

Finding MeaningIf  you got to this page because you were searching for an article on finding meaning, chances are you’re feeling dissatisfied with your life in some way, as if it should be more than it is.

Maybe you’re lonely or feeling empty, or insignificant.  That’s what meaning is, a feeling of personal significance, a feeling that your life matters, that you’re important in some way.

You are.  You do.   That’s the bottom line.

Need more convincing?  Read on.

Four Things to Know About Meaning

First of all, you’re not alone in looking for meaning in your life.  All the Big Brains who study and research and contemplate meaning agree that, on some level, every single one of us searches for it.  We all want to know that there’s some purpose for our being here.

Meaning, says psychologist Michael F. Steger, Ph.D., lets us make sense of our lives and lets us live purposefully in the world.  “Meaning,” he says, “is a unique expression of what makes us human, and what makes us great when we’re at our best.  The data from four decades of research are clear, meaning matters.”

Secondly, you matter to you If you didn’t, you wouldn’t even be looking for answers.  You wouldn’t care about relieving the pain of your loneliness, or your dissatisfaction, or your sense of insignificance.  Let yourself say this to the person reading these words:  “I matter to me.”

You’re important to yourself, too.  You’ve set everything else aside right now just to search for some understanding, comfort and healing.  You’ve let yourself be your top priority.  Own it: “I’m important to me.”

A third thing to know about meaning is that it isn’t the same thing as happiness, or success, or fulfillment, or being loved.   You can experience your life as meaningful even in the midst of great sadness, or failure, or loneliness, or pain.  You still matter; you’re still important.  There’s still a reason for your being.

“But what is that reason?” you may cry back to me.

Well, that’s where things get a little complicated.  I can tell you my personal answer and I can tell you about the reasons that others have suggested, but in the end, you have to discover your answer for yourself.  Because the final thing to know about your life’s meaning is that it’s personalized.  Your reason for being may be the same as mine.  But it may be different, too.  You get to decide.   Meaning isn’t something that the outside world gives you.  It’s something that your life offers you through the living of it.

How to Find Your Meaning

Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist from the last century who probably thought about meaning more than anybody else ever has, said that we can find meaning in three ways.

The first way is through creating something or doing some kind of activity or work.   The second way is through engagement with the world or with another person.  And the third way is by taking an attitude of defiance toward suffering.

Defiance Toward Suffering

Let’s start with the last one first.  If you’re suffering, just by finding this article you were exercising your defiance of your pain.  You had already made up your mind not to let it rob you of your meaning.   You had chosen to rise above your pain, to be greater than it.  And you were doing more than that, too.  You were exercising courage and the will to keep on keeping on.  Both of those qualities are personal strengths and clues to what gives your life meaning.  You’re saying, “I’m important to me.  I matter.”

I knew a woman who suffered from an incurable disease that slowly paralyzed her body.  When it forced her to retire from her work, she vowed that she would do at least one useful or creative thing every day.  And she did, and it gave her life meaning.

Toward the end, the only creative thing she could do was smile.  And she did that, too, every day.

She used her ability to accomplish something to defy her pain and suffering.  What a valiant spirit!

Finding Meaning through Work and Activity

In his beautiful  article on finding meaning through work and activity, minister Lee Woofenden offers this explanation for the way that our work contributes to our life’s meaning:

“…our most real and human aspect is the love and understanding that forms our mind or spirit. This is what makes us truly human. And the world of our thoughts and feelings is the one that we inhabit most intensely and deeply.

“And yet . . . if our thoughts and feelings have no means of expression, they also lack a certain sense of reality. It is not enough for us to simply feel strong feelings and think enlightened thoughts. We humans have an innate drive to express those thoughts and feelings through our words and actions, and in our relationships with our environment and our fellow human beings.”

It’s the physical expression of our inner spirit, Woofenden says, that allows us to feel fulfilled.

I heartily invite you to read his entire article for deeper insight.

“Work” doesn’t necessarily mean the job you do for a living, of course.  It can mean gardening, washing the car, or sweeping the floor.  But it does also mean your job.  And if you think that what you do for a living isn’t meaningful, you might benefit from looking at it a little differently.  Try seeing how what you do fits into the bigger picture, how it has its place in a complex organization that, in some way, helps your fellow man.

Whatever work you’re doing, the more of yourself you can put into it, the more meaningful it will be for you.

Engaging with Life and People

Psychologists who are studying the ways that a sense of meaning shows up in our lives are discovering that when you ask people what was meaningful to them in the past couple of days, they’ll name times when they were doing things they enjoyed, whether that was a solitary hobby or having lunch with a friend.

It’s often the moments of simple pleasure that make our lives feel worthwhile.

“Finding meaning in life can be exciting when you bestow loving focus, attention and care on to what you do,” writes Naveena Gerrits  in her wonderfully helpful article on engaging in meaningful activities.

She provides a big clue to extracting meaning in that sentence: give your activities your loving focus, attention and care.

Doing that will keep you rooted in the present and help you enter the flow state, that space where you’re so engaged that you lose all track of time.

If you want to find a path to meaning that suits your personality and style, Gerrits’ article is a fabulous place to go for suggestions.  She lists dozens and dozens of activities you might explore, broken down into the headings:

  • Creative Forms of Expression
  • Hobbies  – Work – Career
  • Ethics – Contribution – Society
  • Environment – Nature – Cosmos
  • Relationships – Family – Home
  • Spirituality – Religion – Philosophy

The Ultimate Meaning

Throughout the ages, humans have been trying to find the meaning of life.  The ultimate reason for our being is one of life’s ultimate mysteries.  The answer you choose to the question, “Why are we here?” like the answer to finding the meaning in your own life, is a personal matter and depends, in large part, on your spiritual or philosophical orientation.

You may even decide that, because it has no one-size-fits-all answer, the only honest answer is “Beats me!”  It’s too big a question for most of us.

But “What makes my life worthwhile?” is a question that hits home for us all.  Your answer may change as your life changes.  You may find it in relationships today, in your work tomorrow, or in overcoming suffering at some point along the way.  Think of discovering the meaning in your life as a day by day adventure.

Every day, try to do something that gives you a sense of satisfaction, achievement, relatedness, contribution or pleasure.  Let your personal interests guide you in finding them and experiment from time to time with new things.  You can print out a copy of Gerrit’s list or bookmark it and review it every now and then for ideas.

Increase the attention you give to your health, too – to the quality of your nutrition, to giving yourself adequate amounts of hydration, exercise and sleep.   The healthier you are, the easier it is to feel zest for life.

Take the VIA (Values in Action) Survey and learn what your highest personal strengths are.  Then find ways that you can use them more often and in different applications in your life.

Try keeping a gratitude journal to increase your awareness of the things that let you feel good about being alive today.

And every day, tell yourself “I’m important to me.  I matter.”  Because you are, and you do.

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Our site has a wealth of articles that can help you live a more meaningful, flourishing life.  Browse through the topics in the Article Index while you’re here and see all that’s available to you. And pick up a copy of our free Quick Start Guide to Fabulous Well Being for more easy and powerful ways to enrich your life.  Just fill in your email at the top right of this page.

 

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Are We Having Fun Yet? The Power of Humor and Playfulness

PlayfulnessIf you’re one of the lucky ones who rank high in the personal strength of humor and playfulness, chances are good you’ve had your fun and giggles today.   Good for you!  And good for the rest of us, too–because you brighten our slightly dimmer worlds.

If, on the other hand, you take life and your roles in it with a strong dose of grown-up seriousness, you may want to seriously consider adding more fun to your days.  Here’s why.

 

The Benefits of Grown-Up Playfulness

The idea that cheerfulness is good medicine has been around for centuries.  You have probably heard about the healing role that comedy and laughter can play in cancer recovery, and that cheerfulness contributes to a healthier heart.

But it turns out that an attitude of playfulness comes with a barrel full of benefits in addition to its medicinal value. In face, empirical evidence shows that it’s related to:

  • increased flow experiences
  • enhanced teamwork
  • greater creativity and spontaneity
  • better quality of life
  • decreased computer anxiety
  • more positive attitudes towards the workplace, job satisfaction and performance,
  • more innovative behavior, and
  • higher academic achievement

 

How to Lighten Up

Everybody ranks differently in terms of their personal strengths.  But all of us can build any strength that we focus on.  It’s really just a matter of making the decision and committing a little bit of regular time. And what could be more fun than learning to have more fun?

If you’re not inclined to playfulness in your daily life, you can find ways to add more fun to your days in ways that are comfortable for you.  Not all playfulness involves bubbling exuberance or silliness.  Experts in playfulness say that it comes in five different flavors – spontaneous and impulsive, expressive, creative, fun, and silly.  Pick one to cultivate that suits your personal style.

If the idea of being more spontaneous appeals to you, for instance, you might consider joining an improvisation class.  In his article “What I Learned from Improv Class,” blogger Scott Berkun busts some myths about Improv (“It’s not about being funny.”  “You don’t have to be a natural performer.”  “It’s not hard to learn.”) and makes the experience sound wonderfully worthwhile.

If you lean toward introversion, look for activities that let you combine playfulness with your sense of beauty and appreciation and find yourself splashing along a shore at sunset, or blowing soap bubbles out the window or at the park.  Spend time with your pet, or cuddle up with some Mark Twain or a comedy film.

If you’re a people-lover, put together a group or find a friend who enjoys similar hobbies or interests.  You can check out meetup.com to find existing groups in your locale that may appeal to you.  Join a laughter yoga group.  Or round up some neighborhood kids and head for the park.

Playfulness for you might involve sports or games, playing music or engaging in one of the arts or in a craft.  Look for classes or workshops in things that interest you.  If you enjoy music, for instance, take learn to play an instrument.  Join a choir, or a Sweet Adeline group, or a barbershop quartet.

Ask yourself what’s fun, and do more of it.  If you can’t think of anything, take a little trip back to your childhood for ideas.  How did you have fun when you were ten?  Could you do that now, or some version of it?

For more ideas, visit a craft or hobby shop, or an art supply store.  Wander down the aisles of a toy store and see what’s there.  Take home a few things to play with.

 Where to Start

The best way to begin adding more humor and playfulness to your life is to set an intention when you wake in the morning to see the humorous side of things and to let yourself be more playful.   In other words, make a commitment to lightening up.

Try stepping back from your day now and then and imagining that what’s going on around you is a scene from a sit-com.  See that irritating coworker, for instance, as one of its characters.

Go on a comedy binge.  Read funny books and joke books.  Go to comedy clubs.  Watch comedy movies and TV.   Train your mind to see what’s funny in everyday situations.

Humor and playfulness alleviate life’s monotony and give us perspective.  They provide us with the moments of pleasure that make our lives feel more meaningful and worthwhile.   We don’t, after all, call it “lightening up” for nothing.

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If you found this article worthwhile, please click one of the social buttons to share it.

And for more powerful ways to live a flourishing life, be sure to grab your free copy of our Quick Start Guide to Fabulous Living from the top of this page.

This article is one in a continuing series on positive psychology’s 24 character strengths.  To find the others, go to our Article Index and scroll down to, “Strengths, Individual.”

You may also enjoy “The Positive Power of Play” and “Raging Positivity: How to Be Happy Through and Through.”

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The Gratitude Solution

Gratitude“The struggle ends when gratitude begins.” ~Neil Donald Walsh

Take a problem, any problem.  Pour some gratitude on it, and watch it begin to dissolve.

If that sounds like a stretch to you, all I can say is give it a try.

Regardless of the nature of your problem, look for something in the situation for which you can be grateful.  If you’re deeply enmeshed in it emotionally, it may take a little effort; but the effort is well worth making.  And always, you will be able to find things to be grateful for.  Always.   Once you find a few things, center your attention and your breathing in your heart area, and let yourself actually feel your gratitude for them.  You’ll return to your problem with a lighter, more resourceful frame of mind.

The power of gratitude is proven, not only by personal testimony that stretches back into the mists of time, but through empirical evidence generated by researchers in positive psychology.

What the science shows is that, as one of the key positive emotions, gratitude expands your view of things, giving you a broader, more resourceful perspective.   The spaciousness it creates lets you soften the tight focus you had on your problem and to open yourself to clues or comforts that may have been hiding just out of sight.

Gratitude is more than emotion.  Positive psychology classifies it as one of the 24 basic character strengths.  And like all strengths, you can increase its play in your life simply by giving it more attention and creating an intention to apply it more fully in your life.

The Amazing Benefits of Gratitude

It’s worth the effort to build more gratitude into your life.  Not only will you be happier – and able to more easily deal with your problems – but you’ll gain a wealth of additional benefits.

Grateful people, for example, sleep better and have better relationships.

Positive psychology tells us that gratitude involves both acknowledging good things that happen – being mindful of present benefits – and recognizing that the sources of goodness are outside us.  It helps to keep us rooted in the present moment and to experience more peace.

In his essay on gratitude for Positive Psychology News Daily, David Pollay quotes University of California psychology professor Robert Emmons as saying:

“Our groundbreaking research has shown that grateful people experience higher levels of positive emotions such as joy, enthusiasm, love, happiness, and optimism, and that the practice of gratitude as a discipline protects a person from the destructive impulses of envy, resentment, greed, and bitterness.”

Read slowly through that list of qualities again, and just for a moment, close your eyes and imagine being filled with them.   Imagine how enriched you would feel if they were your default way of experiencing life.

How to Build Gratitude

All the personal strengths are like muscles; exercise them and they get stronger.   Here are a few fun practices, many of them from the wonderful little book, Gratitude: How to Appreciate Life’s Gifts,  that you may enjoy for inviting more gratitude into your life:

  • Set aside time for gratitude.  Before you get out of bed in the morning, take a few minutes to remember some of the people, things and events that you value.  End your day with the “Three Good Things” exercise, or by making an entry in a gratitude journal.
  • Take time to make a list of the people and things that you value in your life.  Include people and events from the past that helped you become who you are today.
  • Notice when things go well – your car starts, your coworker smiles at you, your report goes well, your family enjoyed their dinner together.   Be grateful for events.
  • Look around and see what you’re taking for granted: running water, electricity, working plumbing, food, clothing, fresh air, health, soap, razor blades, towels, toilet paper.  What would your life be like without them?  What if you had no access to them, or even the hope of any?
  • Be grateful for talents, skills, abilities.  Wow, I can read!  Isn’t that a miracle?
  • Savor happy memories.
  • Be thankful for bad things avoided and for things you haven’t lost.  It could have been worse; it was worse in the past.
  • Think about where things came from and what it took to invent, create, package, transport, and market them.  Think about all the connections involved, all the people and systems and materials.
  • Express your gratitude.  When you receive good customer service, look the other person in the eyes and express your appreciation.  Both of you will be pleased.  Praising people for what they do motivates them.
  • Use focused gratitude to improve a negative situation.  If your hands are hurting you, appreciate your strong legs or that you can see well.  If you’re struggling with your job, try keeping a gratitude list of the things about it you can find to appreciate.
  • To build the gratitude skills of your children and to generate a more positive work environment, practice expressing your gratitude for good efforts out loud.   Positive moods are as contagious as negative ones.  By practicing gratitude you literally make the world a happier place.

Need some inspiration to get your practice started?  Enjoy this beautiful video, written by Buddhist monk written by Benedictine monk Brother David Steindl-Rast, founder of the uplifting website Gratefulness.org:

http://youtu.be/kTdKH9AXYTg

If you found this article worthwhile, please click one of the social buttons to share it.

And for more powerful ways to add zest to your life, be sure to grab your free copy of our Quick Start Guide to Fabulous Living from the top of this page.

This article is one in a continuing series on positive psychology’s 24 character strengths.  To find the others, go to our Article Index and scroll down to, “Strengths, Individual.”

You may also enjoy:

Appreciation: Positivity’s Power Tool

Getting in the Gratitude Groove

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Putting Justice and Fairness to Work in the World

Justice Fairness Equality“Daddy,” my friend’s daughter asked him as he drove her home from school, “what is justice?”

It was a pretty big question to come from a ten-year-old, and it caught him totally off-guard.  Images of courtrooms and congressional chambers swirled through his mind as he tried to drill down to the essence of the word.  He thought of crowds of protestors shouting for justice and fairness on both sides of all kinds of issues.

He finally gave up and said that it was too complicated for him to explain right now.  He wasn’t, he told her, even sure that there was such a thing.  But the question kept rolling through his mind.

Defining Justice, Fairness and Equity

Justice.  Fairness.  Equity.  We think we understand what they mean.  But these intertwining concepts are both complex and profound.

In common language, we tend to use the words interchangeably.  Plug in “equity” at dictionary.com, for instance, and you’ll see it defined as “something that is fair and just.”   But if you do a Google search on “difference between justice and fairness,” you’ll run into a quagmire of arguments and discussions stretching back to the beginnings of Western civilization that attempt to get to the heart of both.

“From the Republic, written by ancient Greek philosopher Plato, to A Theory of Justice, written by the late Harvard philosopher John Rawls, every major work on ethics has held that justice is a part of the central core of morality,” one essay from Santa Clara University says.

No wonder my friend had a hard time coming up with a simple answer for his daughter!

It’s worthwhile to read the discussions on the topic, and if you’re interested in an in-depth understanding of the questions and issues involved, I heartily encourage you to start with the above referenced essay, or with the essay “What is the difference between justice and fairness?  Which is more important?” by Chris Cooke from the University of Oxford’s Oriel College.

A Working Definition

For our purposes, learning to live with fairness and equity in our day to day lives, let’s consider a simple, working definition—one that even a ten year old could probably understand.

When people who rank high for the personal strength of fairness, equity and justice on the  VIA (Values in Action) Character Strengths  Profile, they are told, “Treating all people fairly is one of your abiding principles.  You do not let your personal feelings bias your decisions about other people.  You give everyone a chance.”

That’s clear enough.  You do your best to set your own prejudices and preferences aside when you make decisions about others, and you give everyone a chance.

If you’re tasked for hiring the best person for a job, for example, you choose the guy with the most expertise and experience, even if the runner-up is your nephew.

Putting Fairness and Justice to Work in the World

It looks simple enough on the surface.  But what if your nephew is a close runner-up and you happen to know that his toddler has just been diagnosed with a difficult medical problem and his wife is six months pregnant?  What if, in addition, the most experienced guy has told you that he is also considering offers from two other firms?  Both candidates are qualified and will serve the company well.  What’s fair then?  What takes precedence—deservedness or need?

It’s thorny decisions like these that trigger the ethics discussions I mentioned above.   In the real world, few of us have the time or inclination for sorting out the philosophical nuances, as ideal and helpful as that might be.  We have to depend on our best, most honest, judgment and let the pieces fall where they may.  And that willingness to accept the consequences of our choices is, in itself, a hallmark of the value we place on justice.

If you’re looking for a standard to guide you, all the world’s major religions tell us, each in its own words, to treat others as we would like to be treated, to refrain from doing to others what we wouldn’t want done to us.

Trust that.  And heed this good advice from H. Jackson Brown, Jr., author of Life’s Little Instruction Book.  “Live,” he says, “so that when your children think of fairness and integrity, they think of you.”

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This article is one in a continuing series on positive psychology’s 24 character strengths.  To find the others, go to our Article Index  and scroll down to, “Strengths, Individual.”

If you found this article of value, please do pass it on.

You may also enjoy: What Ever happened to Open-Mindedness?

 

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