Gratitude and appreciation are two powerful weapons we can use against depression and anxiety.
In fact, Dan Baker writes in his book, What Happy People Know, that it is impossible to be in a state of appreciation and fear at the same time.
Here, then, are some ways we can cultivate gratitude.
1. Keep a gratitude journal.
According to psychologists such as Sonja Lyubomirsky at the University of California-Riverside, keeping a gratitude journal —where you record once a week all the things you have to be grateful for — and other gratitude exercises can increase your energy, and relieve pain and fatigue. In my daily mood journal, I make a list of each day’s “little joys,” moments that I would fail to appreciate if I didn’t make myself record them, such as: “holding my daughter’s hand on the way to the car,” “a hot shower,” “helping my son with his homework.” This exercise reminds me of all the blessings in my life I take for granted and encourages me to appreciate those mundane moments that can be sources of joy.
2. Use the right words.
According to Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman, words literally can change your brain. In their book, Words Can Change Your Brain, they write: “a single word has the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress.” Positive words, such as “peace” and “love,” can alter the expression of genes, strengthening areas in our frontal lobes and promoting the brain’s cognitive functioning. According to the authors, they propel the motivational centers of the brain into action and build resiliency.
“Gratitude is the heart’s memory,” says the French proverb. Therefore, one of the first steps to thankfulness is to remember those in our lives who have walked with us and shown kindness for deeds big and small. I have been extremely fortunate to have so many positive mentors in my life. At every scary crossroad, there was a guardian or messenger there to help me find my way. The mere exercise of remembering such people can cultivate gratitude in your life.
4. Write thank-you letters.
According to psychologist Robert Emmons at the University of California at Davis, author of Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, a powerful exercise to cultivate gratitude is to compose a “gratitude letter” to a person who has made a positive and lasting influence in your life.
Emmons says the letter is especially powerful when you have not properly thanked the person in the past, and when you read the letter aloud to the person face to face. I do this as part of my holiday cards, especially to former professors or teachers who helped shape my future and inspired me in ways they might not know.
5. Hang with the winners.
Peer pressure never really goes away, you know. Studies show that married folks hanging out with happy couples are more likely to stay married themselves; that if your friends eat well, their willpower will rub off on you; and that if you surround yourself with optimists, you will end up more positive than if you keep company with a bunch of whiners. By merely sitting next to a person who likes the words “thank you,” there is a high probability that you will start using those words as well.
6. Give back.
A while back I wanted to repay a former professor of mine for all his encouragement and support to me throughout the years. However, nothing I could do would match his kindness. No letter of appreciation. No visit to his classrooms. So I decided I would help some young girl who fell into my path in the same way that he helped me. I would try to help and inspire this lost person just as he had done for me.
Giving back doesn’t mean reciprocating favors so that everything is fair and the tally is even. That’s the beauty of giving. If someone does an act of kindness for you, one way to say thanks is to do the same for another.
Originally posted on Everyday Health.
One of the inquiries that most frequently comes up when I am talking to others is how to feel more powerful: in relationships, our work, and any other aspect of life.
We are often challenged by only seeing examples of how to be powerful that we may be less than encouraged by. These supposedly empowered people might appear in some ways that don’t feel right and authentic to us. The confusion can be helped with a little semantics—the difference between someone who is powerful and someone who is empowered. Empowerment comes from deep within whereas power develops as a result of relationship dynamics. Power can come from an empowered or a disempowered place.
To learn to be more empowered, we can ask ourselves how we can come from a deeper place of power inside of ourselves—that is what I would like to examine here.
When we explore our personal power, we might be challenged by the examples of power I eluded to earlier. These examples of overuse or misuse of power are the result of identification with the false (or egoic) self. This false self leads us to believe that we are in power when others are not. It leads us to believe that maintaining this relationship is what it means to be in our full selves. This dynamic shows up in ways that are both subtle and obtuse.
The ego needs to continually be fed or pumped up. It needs proof that it is in fact secure. It will approach situations so that it can receive this bolstering—but underneath, there is a constant nagging sense that the security of the position can be lost at any moment. When we are coming from this place of ego, we may have experiences that help us feel powerful for a bit; for example, we might get praise or be put in a position of power.
We can at times confuse these experiences with having arrived at a place of empowerment. However, when we do not get these bolstering experiences or when something goes wrong, we can easily see how unstable our position is. What you might notice is a lack of consistency; that we’re sort of up and down and that we might need more and more, and then more again in order to maintain this sense of security or power or whatever it is.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the ego. It’s not a matter of getting rid of it. It is a very important part of who we are. But we do want to see it for its role in our lives rather than sourcing our power from this place. An alternative is to source our power from a much deeper place—the core of who we are. There are many different terms for this; regardless of what we call it, this deeper place inside of us creates a more sustainable source of power. The first step is to begin to discern between the two.
Another way to come from a stronger place inside of ourselves is to use the tool of connecting with resources. Simply put, resources are energies in our consciousness that provide us with real depth of connection, energy, feelings of security, etc. A resource can be a spirit, a concept, a totem, or anything else that holds significant energetic power for us.
There are many different ways to approach the concept of resources. Here, I am going to write about it in the most general way. As an example, lets look at something like compassion. You can connect to this feeling—this energy, this way of being—in any way that’s right for you and then find ways to bring this through your own being and out into your life.
As we do this, we actually become stronger. One way to do this is simply by being more intentional. In other words, by stating that “I would like to be more…” (in this case, “compassionate”). When you do this, you are drawing on supportive and infinite energies to help strengthen you in any given moment. You can also ask for help. For example, “Please help me be more compassionate in this situation.” Whether or not you know who you are asking, you are going to benefit. You can also call on these resources through a practice. A practice helps you understand the resource you are working with more deeply and also how to more effectively work with it. In our example, you would increase your compassion through a practice by saying, “okay, in these certain circumstances or in a situation like this, I’m going to look at how I can be more compassionate.” Or, you can look for examples of compassion and draw from those.
As we begin to work with resources, we connect with the core aspects of who we are and develop a deeper understanding of them while also fortifying and learning how to act from them. This both confirms our power and helps us draw from a deeper, more sustainable place. This strengthening process in and of itself helps us detach from our identification with the egoic level and provides ways for us to be powerful that are also aligned with the kind of person we want to be.
Our work with resources and how we source our power are deep topics that require a bit of time to understand. If you have not already, take a moment to sign up for my mailing list so that you can continue to receive information that will help you to step fully into your power and let your light shine.
For more about self empowerment take a look at my article >>> “On Trusting Ourselves.”
Better self-love equals better decisions. Creating an ongoing experience of self-love for yourself keeps you operating at a higher level. Like all things that you do to take care of yourself, loving yourself makes it easier to make better choices simply because you are feeling better when you make them.
Helps determine your real needs. If you do not give yourself the love that you need, you may end up getting confused about what your real needs are. If you do not even fulfill this most primary need how can your really know what your other needs are.
You know how to do it best. While it is wonderful to receive love from others, we actually know what we want and need better than anyone else. Sometimes, if we are feeling a lack of love or care from an outside relationship, we can focus on giving/showing this love to our self in exactly the way that we know we need.
Sets the tone for the people in your life. We teach others how to treat us. When we love ourselves, we show others how to love us, thus setting a standard for the other people in our life.
Self-love is the best form of self-protection. When you act lovingly toward yourself, you are unlikely to tolerate unloving behavior from others. As a result, many problems can resolve themselves without effort, and certain predatory types will find the presence of your self-love less appetizing.
You are the root of positive change. Whether you are a professional caregiver or trying to have your impact be a positive one, giving yourself a steady dose of self-love keeps you healthier, happier, and in the game longer. If you shirk your responsibility to love yourself, you will lessen your overall ability to make a difference.
You are a role model. You are teaching your friends, partner, children, and others how to love themselves each time you show up for yourself in this way. We can all use some extra support in the direction of loving ourselves even more completely. You doing this for yourself helps those around you to do the same.
Do you ever feel compassion fatigue? Read more about caring for yourself here >>> “4 Ways You Can Stop Burnout When You Care a Lot.”
As we move through the bumps, jolts, and obstacles of life, we can use them to justify our own “rightness” or choose to see through the eyes of compassion. When seen most clearly, any person who hurts us is merely a person who is suffering himself or herself.
When we choose to see others in this way, it opens up a door to a more expanded way of being. This does not mean that we should put ourselves in harm’s way or simply accept harmful behavior. That would be a cop-out—a way to bypass our own responsibility. It is a way that we can get trapped in a kind of pseudo-compassion. This false compassion is a trick of our ego and a way to feel important through our own victimhood.
Instead, we can make choices that both offer others compassion and takes care of ourselves. Compassion requires that we be able to stand in another’s place and understand where they are coming from. It asks that we feel another’s motives and empathize with their plight. Respect and love for ourselves and others helps us put boundaries in place, say no, or simply remove ourselves from harmful situations.
Both compassionate understanding and self-care are essential.
Goddesses, such as Quan Yin, Yemanja, and Mary, show us the way to unconditional compassion for others. They overflow with deep acceptance of the natural evolution of the soul—marked at times by oversights, limitations, and ignorance. They know that no one escapes these challenges and that each one is doing the best they can at any given moment. In their strength and with compassionate grace, they show us how to emanate light in the face of all of life’s challenges. They do not exalt or negate suffering—they simply offer it compassion.
Compassion toward another is, in the end, a gift to us. It releases us from the shackles of judgment. It creates the space for us to learn and grow. It sets us free to live and love more deeply.
We may look around our lives or the world and see many things that are wrong—politicians who are power-hungry, friends who are self-absorbed, or family members who are stuck in limiting belief systems. These clear problems may invoke in us frustration, judgment, or even deep sadness. To protect ourselves, we may feel the need to make these people bad in some way.
We might believe that they are harmful, lost, or just wrong. We might feel that, if they continue to act in this way, it will be infringing upon our ability to be ourselves or have the kind of life that we desire. But what if, instead of blocking our path, they are signs pointing the way? Do not go that way—that is not your way. What if, instead of negating our way of being, they are helping us see how to be with all aspects of ourselves and of life? What if they are deepening our ability to trust in the divine unfolding of things and more completely challenging our ego’s limited grasp of how things should be? Our compassion can be our teacher, showing us the way to deeper truth and happiness.
As with many things, the first person who needs compassion from us is usually ourselves. Many of us, especially those on a spiritual path, can forget to develop ourselves in our striving, forget that we are in a perfectly timed process of unfolding and that our mistakes and limitations are part of the process not keeping us from it. Cultivating compassion as a ground for our spiritual development ensures that we are approaching it from the healthiest and most beneficial direction—with honor and integrity rather than an egoic need to be something other than who we are at any given moment.
My prayer is that compassion lives in your heart, that you remember to be compassionate when you have forgotten, and that you have the strength to feel compassion when it is most challenging. I ask that you feel compassion’s gifts and be open to its teachings. I ask that your life be inspired by divine compassionate grace.
Are you on a journey of compassion? Read more on this topic here >>> “Be More Compassionate: Love Yourself and Change the World.”
As life pushes us in the direction of truly knowing who we are, both the moments of challenge and the moments of grace provide us with insight into our deeper nature. The question is not about where to look for these opportunities, but how to listen to life so that we can make the most out of them.
At one point or another in our lives, many of us feel the call to realize who we are at a deep level. This is sometimes a pull from within that starts when we are relatively young, or it may be a challenging life event that pushes us to seek out more, or a certain age that we reach that reminds us of how little time we actually have. No matter how it comes, the desire to know our soul’s true voice breaks through.
I have found that many people get confused on this journey. They wonder if they are really hearing their inner truth or whether they are caught in yet another layer of delusion. The transition to this deeper connection with the self requires new skills and new levels of discernment; without these things, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and lost.
The following are tools that help uncover and strengthen the true voice of your soul.
Acceptance. What we resist persists. This means that if we want to open deeper parts of ourselves, we need to start by accepting who we are right at this moment—all of it. When we can provide ourselves with that unconditional acceptance, we set the ground for our soul to unfold.
Forgiveness. Forgiveness creates space for new parts of ourselves to come forward and for old parts of ourselves to leave with grace. The negativity that we hold distorts the face of our true self. When we forgive ourselves and others, we let go and let truth appear.
Compassion. A partner if not a parent of acceptance, compassion allows us to meet all aspects of ourselves and hold them lovingly. When we have compassion, we are less likely to judge and condemn. This helps us release all that does not serve us rather than trading one limitation for the next.
Respect. Fostering an environment of respect for both ourselves and others allows us to see the beauty in them and in us. Respecting another says, “I see you and I honor and acknowledge who you are.” Respect for ourselves does the same.
Generosity. Generosity is the natural byproduct of a fully expressed soul. The more expressed we are, the more able we are to be generous in all the ways listed above and more. The generosity we express is not about getting something in return, but about the overflow of the soul’s true voice.
Learn more about empowering your true voice in my post here >>> “A Secret Key to Your Personal Empowerment.”
I hear it all the time from people who work with others in any helping or healing capacity: “I am exhausted. I am not sure I can do this anymore. I need a vacation. Maybe I should go into another line of work.” This same fatigue also affects those who are caring for other people in their lives. It is the result of actively attending to other people’s pain at the expense of your own self-care. It even has its own label: compassion fatigue.
One of the first things that I talk to practitioners about when they start to work with me is their own self-care. The more that you care for yourself, the more you are able to assist other people. The problem is that many helpers and healers get into the work because of their own wounds. This is fine overall; however, you will continue to deplete yourself to the extent that you have not healed.
If you find yourself stressed, with little energy to put into your work, or have noticed your behavior deteriorating in other areas of your life because you are caring a lot for others and little for yourself, try some of the following tips.
Boundaries. You may need to rewrite the way that you do the work you do, or work in a different way. You may need to learn to say no to those you love so that you can do some things for yourself. If you are feeling fatigued and possibly ready to quit, your boundaries are not in the right place. You are giving more than you have to give. Ask yourself: what do you need to make this a healthy arrangement?
Time out. One of the best ways to figure all of this out is to take a break. This can seem like a really big request when you feel like you are barely keeping up as it is. BUT—and it is a big “but”—it can be the smartest and easiest solution to your dilemma. Take as much time as you believe is possible and then take just a little more. The space will give you the perspective to help you see new ways of doing things.
Therapy. As I said, very often we get to this point because of our unresolved issues. Get some help from someone outside of your situation who can help you examine and shift the underlying patterns that are creating your over-giving.
Vision. First, connecting to your vision can be reinvigorating. However, it can do more than that. Take a look at how you are represented in your vision. Is it possible to have a vision where not only are you helping others but you are also well cared for? Write or rewrite a vision statement with this in mind, and read it regularly to keep yourself on track.
Perhaps most importantly, know that this can just be a passing phase. You can offer your amazing gifts to others in whatever way you do and you can be healthy while you do it. Look for new solutions, and don’t settle!
Take a look at my article here for more ideas on why loving yourself is so key >>> “7 Reasons to Love Yourself First.”
It all started in childhood—as things do. I learned not to speak my truth. I learned that speaking my truth meant hurting other people—even if I was reporting the facts, even if was just saying how I felt. I also learned that speaking my truth meant that I would be hurt—rejected, criticized, and misunderstood.
As a result, I have been hyper-vigilant about sharing the “right information.” Trying not to say too much. Not calling a spade a spade when someone wants to believe otherwise. Anything and everything that I can think of to stop the hurt.
All this time, I believed what I had been told: that the hurt was my fault. Because I spoke the truth. So, I tried to hold it in, hold it down, explain a million times what I really meant—hoping to reclaim the truth of myself with someone else’s permission. I also noticed that I was not “allowed” to lie. Not telling the truth was like walking into an electric fence, the outcome of which I would be feeling for a long time afterward. Even the little stuff, the fibs and small concessions.
It’s easy to see how these experiences create stress. If I tell the truth, I hurt others; if I don’t tell the truth, I feel uncomfortable in my own skin. Throughout my life, I have come up with many creative solutions to this challenge, because I believed that I was the problem. I have never been like other people. This is not a claim to uniqueness born of an arrested adolescent belief that I am unlike others so that I can claim my individuated expression. This is a life lesson, hard-won after a lot of observation. I am simply not the average. I have spent my whole life teaching people to understand me. I paint the path. I show the steps. I warn them about the things that they are likely not taking into consideration. My hope has been that if I can create a clear enough path, I will be understood AND I will be loved. When people realize that I am good and loving, then it will finally be safe to speak my truth.
These deep wounds have not totally held me back, but they have dimmed my light. I have lived in their fearful shadow. I have lost my way because of them and not fully stepped in to my truest service: my mission to embody love and to speak truth. This kind of mission is not completed by just stepping in at the end, victorious. This mission is realized through the
deepest possible level of devotion—walking the path of life. The path where I learn step by step what truth is and how to speak it. Along the way, I have been gifted with more and more people who hear my truth even when I keep it inside. Because of them, I have become stronger.
I have also been gifted along the way by people who have taught me through their inability to hear me. While these are painful lessons, I recognize them as just as important. Because of them, I have also become stronger. So, I walk the path of this life to see myself and others as divine and perfect creations, and to offer us all the love we deserve. I walk this path to learn how to hold the truth in everything I do. I live in service to all the hearts that have not been seen and the voices that have not been heard.
I have yet to talk to someone at this particular moment in time who is not wondering in someway what to do. This never before experienced situation is leaving people in mass in question. Am I buying into fear? Am I not being responsive or responsible?
Uncertain situations make us all question both the situation and ourselves.
First, I honor each of our loving and caring hearts that so desire to do the right thing, the good thing, the thing that will help us all and this situation in the best possible way. There are many situations like this in life and we are collectively facing a big one.
So, what can we do to be a positive force of change in a time of upheaval? Center and Align: Knowing who we are and what we are in service to is important in times of change. We are of little service to ourselves or others without this foundational attention to our orientation.
Think constructively: Brilliant solutions come from our deep rootedness in our truth and our working collaboratively to find new and better solutions. Thinking less about the problem and more about what can be created that is in maximum and highest benefit to everyone. Challenging situations benefit from a high degree of creativity.
Act Intelligently: Challenging situations require that we take deliberate actions that are both practical -as in take in as many factors as possible- and creative as in look for new ways that will benefit as many as possible.
Work together: No one person has the answer. Listen and recognize each person’s contributions -especially the ones you find it hardest to hear. Share your own wisdom. Use a combination of your own wisdom and others to know the best course of action. And, repeat the first three steps as needed.
As you move forward, notice how much of your energy is going towards these four points and how much is going towards a contribution to the problem itself -including, arguing about how to solve the problem or endlessly debating the best approach until you are in paralysis.
Get back on track with the four steps as much as you can and take care of yourself along the way.
Multiple hands make the heavy lifting easier. Your wisdom, love, and action is needed.
Most of the people whom I work with are driven by something greater than themselves. They feel a call deep inside to make a difference in the world. I am like this myself.
One thing that I have noticed in myself is that there are two parts to this drive that benefit from being seen as distinct: my personal/egoic need to be something as a result of life influences (often because of damage) and my deeper soul’s calling to my true mission. Very often when I go to create something in the world, it is inspired by my deeper Self but driven by my injury. This very often leads to experiences that I see often in other people’s lives as well: varying results, frustration, being overwhelmed, and even burnout.
As a result of these experiences, it is easy to ask the question, “Am I even on the right track?” And then, “What is Truth, and what is fantasy?” For some people, this is followed by, “Should I give up my dreams and do something ‘reasonable’?”—“reasonable” meaning whatever we have been told is the correct way to live our life. I have come to see this process—for those of us who are unlocking our true gifts and rising to our calling—as refinement. I have come to see this process as that of an old soul who knows better than to set up their life in a way that can get too far off track and who instead orchestrates things to play out so that the ego is thinned and the deeper self can truly shine through.
And so I have learned to be grateful for the frustrations that show me exactly where I am aligned with the lesser aspects of myself. I choose more and more to see this and make the necessary shifts, rather than seeing the obstacles as a sign of my lack or inability and then judging the worthiness or potentiality of my mission. The answer for me is in letting go of the idea that my mission is an outcome and seeing it instead as a process—a beautifully unfolding evolution of a way of being that I cannot fully understand and of which I will never entirely know the impact.
There is a bit of a mystery as we unfold on our life’s path. What seems clear in one moment seems obscure in the next. What works at one time no longer seems to apply as we move forward. We might wonder, why this information that way? Why is it rolling out over this stretch of time? Why is it happening this way? The mind desires to be able to know the reasons behind the unfolding. And you can ponder the whys of it all forever—or you can just let it inform you. What new information is this providing for you? How is this helping you see or understand yourself?
And instead of trying to understand our life from a more masculine, solution-focused orientation (“Here’s my problem, it needs to be fixed”), we might try viewing a challenging dynamic, situation or event as instructing us about how to unfold more completely. How is it informing me? What can I learn from it? Recognize that we can’t rush our unfolding. Wish as we might, that’s not what this path is like. It is not about demanding that certain skills unfold when we want them to because there’s a job to be done. It’s a much more comprehensive path and calling that usually spans not just a lifetime or an eight-month program but multiple lifetimes of developing skills—and also developing bad habits.
So sometimes when you are up against the things that are most challenging for you, you are not just up against your childhood conditioning. You can be locked a habitual pattern because you were or are living in an environment, a culture, a time where this is the only way to act. Or your current challenge may be necessary to your development at this time. Sometimes we lose a faculty because we need it to be offline to accommodate another, growing one. What we see as our greatest challenge might not be a problem to solve but an aspect of the larger picture of our spiritual unfolding.
Whenever we start something new, at varying points in the process, things will feel a bit shaky. Your task is less to fix or eradicate the problem and more to learn how to create the maximum health, strength, and resiliency. It’s just like when a baby starts to walk: you make sure that the baby is supported enough for them to learn how. Sometimes you provide extra support, sometimes you let the baby work through it alone. But there is nothing wrong with a baby who can’t walk gracefully. That’s what you’re doing with yourself. Sometimes the remedy for feeling shaky because you are stretching past your capacity is to bring yourself back to a place where you are fully resourced. And other times, it is best to take the risk.
You can move yourself in the direction of what you are creating, knowing that of course it’s going to happen because that’s the direction you’re going. You can make the trip as easy as possible, or you can worry the whole way. You pay attention: “This is where I can hold really well. Okay, this is the line where I’m not holding really well. Okay, let me find my edge. Let me take half a step instead of a full step. Okay. Still happened. Let me take a quarter step instead of a half step. All right, got it. All right, now let me try again.”
Slowing down to the rate of your unfolding rather than driving it forward with some sort of expectation ultimately makes the process easier and (believe it or not) faster. This is true for all of us when it comes to the unfolding of our lives. The slowing down is actually the speeding up of the process, and it requires maturity.
As we focus on slowing down and resourcing ourselves, it almost magically shifts our focus so that we worry less about making sense of it all and fixing the problem, and pay more attention to the types of things that get the job done. The reasons behind what is happening become more readily apparent, and we can work more skillfully with what we have.