When the Future Dies: Making a New Start After Tragedy and Disaster

Lonely“It’s a kind of test, Mary, and it‘s the only kind that amounts to anything.  When something rotten like this happens, then you have your choice.  You start to really be alive, or you start to die.  That’s all.” ~James Agee, in A Death in the Family.

That quote begins a chapter on “recasting” in Foster and Hicks’ book How We Choose to be Happy.  It’s about the process people go through to successfully recover after life-altering traumas and disasters shake their lives.

I turned to it when I got a note from a friend of mine in Japan.  His family wasn’t directly affected by March’s devastating earthquake and tsunami, and the ongoing threat from the Fukushima nuclear disaster.  But emotionally it’s all taking its toll.

“It’s hard to feel motivated to do or start anything new,” he wrote, “when it all could be washed away in an instant.”  He describes it as “a typical ‘What’s the Point?’ mild funk.”

When Disaster Changes Everything

I could feel the sadness and lethargy in his words and I thought of all the photos I’d seen of people who had been through this year’s horrendous natural disasters.  Not only in Japan, but in the aftermath of the massive floods and fires and tornadoes here in the United States, too.  Their faces looked so bewildered, their eyes so bereft of hope.

Life is difficult enough when tragedy strikes on a personal level: the loss of a loved one, the breakdown of a marriage, the loss of a home or career.

But what do you do when your entire future dies?  When the whole world has changed and you know that life will never be the same again–not for you, not for your children or for their children? How do you regain your bearings?  How do you make a new start?

The Two-Fold Path to Healing

According to Foster and Hicks, whether the loss is personal or shared by countless others, the process of recovery and healing is two-fold:

1) First, you dive into your feelings—into your sorrow, emptiness and grief, your pain and rage and fear—and let yourself experience them completely.  Struggling to just “get over it,” or to bravely “just go on,” leads only to numbness, not healing.

  • Try naming what you feel or describing it.  Then just let yourself really, really feel it.  Where is the feeling located in your body?  In your chest?  In your stomach?  In your throat?  Is it heavy?  Tight?  Watery?  Hot? Honor it by paying attention to it, and just let it be.  You don’t have to do anything about it or react to it in any way.  Just recognize it. Feel it; breathe into it and let it be.
  • It helps not to associate the feeling with your identity.  Instead of saying “I am sad,” say, “I’m feeling a lot of sadness right now.”   The feeling isn’t you; it’s an emotion that you are experiencing.

2) In the second phase, you begin to search for new insights and interpretations of life. You find yourself looking for the worthwhile knowledge you gained from your experience, for the new meanings that you can create in your life.  You begin looking for opportunities for the future that you can create from your new position. In other words, you begin to grow, to shape new understandings and purpose from your tragedy.

There’s no right answer; there’s only the answer that’s right for you.  Some will find meaning in being of service to others.  Some will experience a revelation about what’s really important for them to do or experience or accomplish in their lives.  For some, meaning will come through creativity expressed through one of the arts or through inventiveness.  For others meaning might come simply through a commitment to cherishing and savoring the present.

If you know your values-based strengths, you may find guidance in applying the top few of them to your new situation.

Growth Takes Time

While you’re going through the process, be patient with yourself.  To make a buy allegra 120 mg new start on life in a radically changed world takes time.  For some it may be a matter of weeks, for others months or even years before real happiness returns as a regular part of their everyday experience.

That doesn’t mean you’ll stay locked in sadness the whole time.  The pain of tragic experiences and the memories of them wax and wane.  You’ll have your moments of light and joy as you go along.  Whole good days will sneak up on you more and more often.

But coming to terms with a devastating loss is a struggle, and all growth takes time.

From Tragedy to Transformation

Interestingly, recent research into grieving draws the same conclusions that the Foster and Hicks interviews produced.  The struggle to come to terms with loss produces growth.  In fact, the research indicates that the more distress the losses caused—the more unfair they seemed, the more unexpected—the greater the potential for meaningful post-traumatic growth.

“We have the strength to master our reactions purposefully to even the most traumatic events,” say Foster and Hicks, “and, in so doing, transform ourselves.  Therefore, we do not have to be held captive by sadness and loss.  We can experience them fully and grow richer from having been in their shadow.”

My friend in Japan is on the right track.  He’s identifying what he’s feeling, and he’s asking the question that his feelings are presenting to him right now:  “What’s the point?”  And the asking itself, in its own right time, will lead him to discovering his own perfect set of answers.


Photo courtesy stock.xchng.com


Can Smiling Make You Happier?

Just as we naturally find ourselves smiling when we’re happy, putting a smile on your face can make you feel happier.

Smiling facesIt’s almost a chicken and the egg phenomenon, happiness research says.
Just as we naturally find ourselves smiling when we’re happy, putting a smile on your face can make you feel happier.

Well, not all of the time.  Smiling isn’t a magic cure-all.  In fact, if you suggest that someone should “just smile” when she’s down or upset, you’re likely to make things worse.  You need to honor and empathize with negative emotions and look for alternate ways to help.

But if you’re feeling neutral or pleasant, putting a big lip-stretching, cheek-raising smile on your face will overwhelmingly up your happiness quotient.

Grin while you’re watching a comedy and it will be funnier.  Try smiling when you’re exercising or even doing routine chores, and suddenly you’ll find you’re more engaged and happier.

Things just go better with smiles.

Feedback from a Smiling Face

One reason smiling faces trigger increased happiness is that the set of the facial muscles a smile produces is associated with happiness by the brain.  A study at New York’s Barnard College found that people whose range of facial expression was limited by Botox injections experienced a blunting of emotions.  The brain wasn’t getting the emotional feedback from the face that it buy fioricet with visa expected.

But there’s far more to the smiling-brain connection than that.

Smiling is Good for You

Because it’s a signal that you’re experiencing happiness, and because happiness is what you’re designed to feel, when you’re smiling, your body responds in a host of positive ways.

Among other benefits, smiling:

  • Elevates your mood;
  • Relieves stress;
  • Boosts your immune system;
  • Lowers your blood pressure; and
  • Releases endorphins, natural pain killers and serotonin.

And if that’s not enough, it helps to keep you in a positive mood, enhances your chances of success, and makes you a social magnet.

The Contagion of Smiling

People enjoy being around smiling people.  When I broke my arm recently, my coworkers sent me a card signed by everyone on the staff.  So many of them wrote “Hurry back! I miss your smile!”

Happiness is contagious. And smiling, the flag of happiness, helps spread it around.  When you smile, you’re doing your part to make others happier as well.  Smiling is an act of buy ambien in the us kindness, a service you’re rendering to make one little corner of the world a brighter place.

Prove It for Yourself

You can test drive the power of smiling for yourself.  Make an intention to practice smiling as you go through your day and watch how it enhances and brightens your mood, affects your performance, and how it impacts the way people around you relate to you.

And here’s a fabulous experiment you can do right now:  Go look at these gorgeous photographs of happy, smiling faces and watch how you respond.  After you look at several of them, intentionally put a big smile on your own face and notice the difference in your levels of openness, joy and appreciation.

When I tried it, my own level of happiness deepened so profoundly as I continued to scroll through the smiling pictures that it actually brought tears of joy to my eyes.

Amazing, isn’t it, how easily we can turn up our happiness and spread it around?  How wondrously powerful smiling can be?

Want to make the world a happier place today?  Wear a smile, “like” or tweet this article, and pass it on to a friend.

Here’s beaming at you!



Photo: istockphoto.com


Happy Regardless: What My Broken Arm Revealed About Positivity

HermesNot that there’s a good time for such a thing to happen, but it was a really inconvenient time for me to break my arm.

It happened a month ago today on a gorgeous mid-April Friday, the first day of sunshine after a long spell of rain.  On the spur of the moment, my friend Kim and I decided to meet at the dog park when I finished work to let her exuberant young puppy, Bella, do some doggie socializing and go for a run.

Just as we neared the park’s entrance, Bella and I somehow collided and I went flying.  I grabbed the fence to try to break my fall.  But I landed hard, hearing a sharp crack and a stabbing pain in my right shoulder as I tumbled to the ground.

Before I knew it, I was in the hospital’s emergency room getting x-rays and intravenous pain blockers.  Two days later, a specialist was showing me the pictures of the mess I’d made of my upper arm and scheduling me for surgery.

Bad Timing

As I mentioned, it was not a good time for me to be taken out of action.  Kim, whose dog I tripped over, was scheduled for surgery herself in ten days and I had planned to be with her and to help her through her recovery.

In less than two weeks, the director of the clinic where I worked was retiring and I was helping plan the send-off buy ambien from uk party for her.  I had worked at her side for over eleven years and now I would miss her last days.

Meanwhile, a  therapist and two interns were leaving the clinic and a new doctor was coming aboard.  Plus the Easter holiday would complicate the payroll processing, and all of those things were part of my job.

And lastly, I would miss an out-of-state family memorial service and reunion I had so wanted to attend.

Positivity Means It’s OK to Feel Sorry

If you or anyone close to you has ever had shoulder surgery, you know the recovery is a long and very painful one.  The therapy sessions and daily exercise regime are torture.

All in all, I had every reason to be upset.  And yet, I’ve found myself flowing through it all with a preponderance of acceptance, interest, patience, and curiosity.  To tell you the truth, I surprised myself a little with the naturalness of my own positivity.  It’s one thing, after all, to accept a theory.  It’s something else to experience its truths in the actual day-to-day living out of your life.

I’m not saying that I didn’t feel any regret or disappointment over my circumstances.  Of course I did.  And there have been moments, too, when the relentless discomfort and the weariness of enduring it had me feeling my share of self-pity and anger over my enforced limitations.

Positivity doesn’t mean you don’t ever feel the negative stuff.  On the contrary.  It means you feel fully whatever emotion is there, accepting the reality of its presence, honoring it as a valid part of your experience.

What I am saying is that, on the whole, I felt positive a whole lot more than I felt negative.  I noticed my optimism and my inclination to problem solve and my willingness to congratulate myself when I managed a challenging task with my non-dominant hand.  I noticed my genuine gratitude and appreciation for the helpfulness of friends and for their caring, and for the skill of the medical personnel who patched me back together and worked with me to make me whole again.

Opening to the Gifts

I noticed how I opened myself to the gifts my solitude brought me and to the exquisite beauty of springtime unfolding outside my windows.

One of the gifts it brought was a realization that I had actually internalized the truth that  genuine happiness isn’t dependent on external circumstances.  It’s more like an endlessly streaming fount of well-being, a breathing of the very essence of the life-force, rising from our center, and present within us all.

All that keeps us from recognizing it is the layers of beliefs that cloak it.  Peel them away, and it runs fresh and clear, like a stream hidden by tall, wild grasses.  It’s the state that positive psychologists call “authentic happiness,” a state of being where we’re grounded in and constantly fed by our true, central selves.

To find that state, to part all the grasses of misplaced beliefs that hide it from us is, really, the goal of all self-development and self-actualization work.  To seek it is one of our inalienable rights as human beings.

In the end, I believe that it’s a spiritual quest, a drive to discover and live within the embrace of the divine at the core of our being.

On a more mundane level, the positivity of authentic happiness is supportive and nurturing of all that makes life worthwhile.  It provides us with strength, with optimism and hope, with the richness of appreciation and gratitude, with the glow of pleasure and the sparkle of joy.  It fills us with the drive to discover and express our unique sets of talents, strengths, values and skills.  It opens our perception to possibilities and infuses us with the curiosity, vitality and confidence to pursue them.

This little break in my normal, busy routine let me see how much positivity means to me, and how much it means to me to share with you the tools I find for making it the driving force in our lives.  Watch for some changes here.  I expect to be turning up the fire under this blog.  I have joy to share, after all, and we need all of that we can get.


Photo: Courtesy stock.xchng

When Happiness Goes Dark:How to Deal with Life's Traumas

Discover the 2-step process for finding happiness again after trauma. How people reinvent their lives after tragedy strikes.

Cloud Eclipsing SunMy pal Mike called yesterday to say “Hello” and told me to go check out the day’s Calvin and Hobbes cartoon.  After our call, I did just that.

Calvin is telling Hobbes that he’s noticed that things don’t get you down if you don’t think about them, so he’s decided not to think about things he doesn’t like and he’ll be happy all the time.

“Don’t you think that’s a pretty silly and irresponsible way to live?”  Hobbes asks.

Calvin looks up at the sky and says, “What a pretty can you buy ativan online in canada afternoon.”

Which one do you think got it right?

Calvin’s figured out how to direct his thoughts to look for the positive.  And that’s a worthwhile positivity skill.  When you find yourself slipping into negative state of mind, you can often turn things around almost instantly by asking yourself, “What’s right about this situation?”  Or “What can I see that’s good right now?”

The Problem with Pollyannas

But Hobbes has a point, too.  Avoiding or denying a negative feeling or situation isn’t the path to happiness.  It’s the path to numbness, to shutting out the world.

In her book, Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive Dr. Barbara Fredrickson talks about how we want to grab the ever-joyful Pollyannas of the world, shake them and scream, “Get real!”

“That’s the problem with this prescription.  It can’t connect with reality.  To experience 100% positivity defies and denies the humanness of life,” she says.

Meeting the Worst Head On

Calvin’s approach of looking for the positive in an upsetting situation is an excellent tool when you’re dealing with day-to-day disappointments and blue moods.  It’s a positivity exercise worth mastering.

But when life tosses you a seriously upsetting, stressful, even tragic situation—loss of a loved one, a home, the destruction of a career, a suicide, imprisonment, the news that you have an incurable and debilitating disease—you really do need to “get real” and to meet it head on, with full awareness.

Happiness researches Rick Foster and Greg Hicks discovered that when the most genuinely happy among us face life’s genuinely devastating events, they go through a two-step process that called “recasting.”

The Two-Step Process of “Recasting” Your Life

When you go through a truly crushing experience, you really do have to reshape or reform the way you look at your life.   Your beliefs about how things were going to be, or supposed to be, get shattered.  Your dreams for your future seem wholly impossible now.

1.  Step One – Feel the Pain

What the most genuinely happy people universally do in tragic situations is, first, they allow themselves to feel what they’re feeling, down to their very depths.  They dive into their rage, fear, grief, bitterness or sorrow and feel them to their full measure.

“They don’t censor raw emotions, deny feelings or run from pain as many of us do in an attempt to ‘just go on.’  Rather they honor their own emotional world by feeling it, even when avoidance would be easier.”

That’s the first step.  Honor your emotions.  Feel them in your body; see how they shape your thoughts.

Only then can you move to the second step.

2.  Step Two — Find New Insights and Responses

In the second phase of recasting, people work toward new definitions of themselves in the context of their new situation.  They ask themselves what meanings they can glean from what happened, what lessons they can learn, what new opportunities they can create for buy acyclovir 500 mg themselves in the future.  They look for avenues for growth and insight, for new truths about themselves and about life.

“Underlying recasting,” say Foster and Hicks, “is a powerful notion: We have the strength to master our reactions purposefully to even the most traumatic events, and, in so doing, transform ourselves.  Therefore, we do not have to be held captive by sadness and loss.  We can experience them fully and grow richer from having been in their shadow.”

The process may take days, months, even years to complete.  But it is, in the end, a powerful path to rediscovering your emotional resilience and capability, and, through them, your happiness.

The Authenticity of Positivity

Positivity doesn’t ask you to be who you aren’t, to feel something other than what you feel.  It asks you to be real.  And a core part of the reality of us all is the drive to live in happiness, with sincerity.  If you commit to tapping your happiness and to being accountable for it, in time it will flourish, full of richness and meaning.

Sometimes that commitment means consciously choosing to look at the world from the vantage point of finding its pleasantness, of asking what is good about right now.  And sometimes it means walking through life’s darkest valleys, eyes wide open, and embracing the pain.

So Calvin and Hobbes were both right in their own ways.  And Mike, who has gone through some dark valleys himself, gave you and me both an excellent gift by sharing yesterday’s cartoon.  Thanks, Mike.

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Photo credit:

Billy Alexander, at www.Sxc.Hu


Why Happiness Matters Now More Than Ever

Shoreline StormEven if your exposure to the news is limited to a five-minute radio broadcast a couple times a week, it’s no surprise to you that life on planet Earth seems to be more threatened, stressful and intense with every passing day.

In light of the global challenges we’re facing, to focus on your personal happiness can seem frivolous or callously self-centered.

But the fact is you need to buy famvir 125 mg take time to attend to your happiness more than ever when times are tough.  Here’s why:

1.  Happiness Lets You See the Bigger Picture

As Dr. Barbara Fredrickson’s studies have proved, a positive orientation toward life lets you look at things with a broadened viewpoint.   When you’re happy, you’re more open to noticing the things in life that are beautiful, and satisfying, and good.  You see the roses, not just the thorns.

But not only that, but you’re more likely to spot new possibilities and opportunities.  You can ask more positive “What if” questions, and find more creative, playful, daring, and ingenious answers to your situation.

Positivity lets you see solutions, not just problems.  And even in those cases where there are no solutions, positivity helps you see how to manage the problems in the best possible way.

2.  Happiness Keeps You Healthier

When you take time to enjoy life, your physical health improves.  You’re less vulnerable to stress.  Your immune system is stronger.  You’re more likely to eat healthier, to exercise more, and to sleep better.   That matters a lot when times are tough.  Good health helps you be more resilient, capable and strong.

3. Happiness Helps Those Around You

Happiness is contagious. By turning on your own happiness, you’re performing a genuine service to others.  Research shows that happiness spreads three people deep.  When you’re happy, the friend of a friend of your friend is likely to feel happier, too.  Your happiness reaches out to others to lighten their loads, brighten their days, lift their spirits, and give findviagra.com them hope.  That, in itself, is reason to be happy, isn’t it?

4.  Happiness Lets You Be the Real You

Genuine happiness springs from your own unique makeup.  The combination of things that brings out your senses of delight and pleasure, meaning and satisfaction is unlike anyone else’s.  When you’re happiest, you’re centered in authenticity, connected to your heart.  In a real sense, feeling genuine happiness is a spiritual experience, not unlike love.

5.  You Only Live Once

old neighborMy 75-year old neighbor stopped by for coffee.  A few of his childhood buddies have recently passed away, and the subject of his own death crept into our conversation.

“When you’re at my funeral,” he said, “and looking down into my coffin, you tell everybody that every day I did what I wanted to, okay?  Tell them that every day I had some fun.”

That’s a beautiful request.  I wish every one of us could ask the same.

We only get to walk on this planet in this time frame inside these wondrous, vulnerable, one-of-a-kind bodies of ours once.  Being happy is a way to say thanks for the experience.

No matter how foreboding the world may seem at the moment, no matter how deep the pile of problems you see around you, the world is brimming with things that can stir your senses of awe and wonder, that can give you pleasure, and peace, and delight.

Let life’s colors and sounds, its fragrances, tastes and textures be gifts you give yourself. Revel in the relationships that bring out the joy in you.  Savor the memories of those times when life was especially sweet or fun.  Carve out little niches of time to spend doing the things that please and enrich and satisfy you. Seek out whatever brings you joy.

You deserve it.  Just because, for right this now,  you’re here.  This is your one life:  Today.  Make the most of it.  Make time for happiness.

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Photos by: “theswedish,” stock.xchng