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.”
My mother used to say, “There is no rest for the wicked.” Religious views and centuries of shame aside, when we step out of integrity, we are cast out on the turbulent seas of our own making. The level of that turbulence will be in relationship to what we know is right.
Having integrity is not about following someone else’s view of what is right or wrong, even if that person is a spiritual teacher, a parent, or a good friend. It is not about following a doctrine or a diet. It is listening to the truth of our heart and the wisdom of our soul in the process of choosing what is right and good.
It can be easy to berate ourselves when we notice a step out of integrity. The right step being so obvious, how could we, why would we, choose another way? But these momentary lapses of judgment represent areas where we have not yet blossomed into the fullness of who we might one day be.
In this moment, we do not yet have the strength to realize the highest and most noble aspects of ourselves. These moments also serve to alert us to what work still needs to be done, where there is a need to strengthen our resolve and let go of our baggage.
When we attack ourselves for our mistakes, we are not able to learn as fully from them. We divert our attention from the important task at hand, which is bringing ourselves back into integrity so that we might once again be able to benefit from the well-being it bestows.
It is helpful to remember that if we innocently make a mistake, this has a different effect than when we knowingly act in ways that are out of integrity. It makes no sense to judge ourselves harshly for something we were simply unaware of. However, once we recognize our errors, we are responsible for and to them.
It does not matter how much we try to fool ourselves: we know what is right. We know when we have chosen to act in ways that are wrong. We feel the impact whether we try to hide it or not. If we play cat-and-mouse games with the truth, we are deeply out of integrity. And although we can do so for a lifetime, at some point, there will be a reckoning.
Accountability is a central mechanism of integrity.
The path of integrity requires taking responsibility for our actions with compassion for the parts of ourselves that are still growing. We do not let ourselves off the hook, but we understand that sometimes we will fail. Mistake are inevitable; our job is simply to correct ourselves and get back on track.
This can be hard work in a world where integrity seems scarce. It can be challenging to know what is right, and even more challenging to follow through on that. While we can be aided to act with integrity by those around us, the true answers to what is right can be found in our hearts.
In a world where so many people so often act in contrast to their values, we might also wonder if is it even safe to try to act with integrity ourselves. Are we not putting a lamb before a wolf? What is the price that we might pay to try in this kind of world?
However, integrity offers its own protection.
This does not mean that harm will not come your way or that you will not get confused in situations that are designed to confuse you, because even the best of us fall or get taken down sometimes.
Being in integrity means that your heart is clear and therefore less easily taken advantage of. It means your mind is clear and therefore less easily corrupted. It means you know the truth of who you are and therefore are not a pawn for others.
Integrity is a blazing sword of protection and clarity. To wield it, we need to deeply respect ourselves and others. And, from this place of respect, choose to do what is right—plain and simple—each time we are faced with a choice.
To have this is to have an inner peace regardless of the circumstances.
If we want to accept ourselves more it is helpful to see how we do not accept ourselves. Answer the following prompts to see where you might not be accepting of yourself .
• One thing I have a difficult time accepting about my life, but deep
down know is true, is:
• Some of the things I feel I need to accept about my life that may be
difficult to accept are:
• The reason I know these things are difficult to accept is:
• I will know that I have fully accepted these things about my life when:
• This stops me from accepting these things about my life:
• I would accept these things about my life if only:
• I am afraid that, if I accept these things about my life, then:
Integrity: 1.) The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.
2.) The state of being whole and undivided (Dictionary.com).
Integrity is doing what is right each time you have a choice—or otherwise, it’s owning up to your mistakes and making amends. The following is a list of things that you can do to have greater integrity in all areas of your life.
Do what you say you are going to do. When you make a commitment, stand by it. Yes, it is true that things happen and plans change. Sometimes you will need to break a commitment because it is the choice that has more integrity, but this should be the exception, not the rule. If you make lots of false promises or do not follow through on what you say, it might be time to buckle down and make some changes.
Be who you say you are. Similar to the last point, don’t present yourself as something you are not—in big or small ways. Learn to honestly portray yourself; if that is difficult, explore your insecurities or lack of self worth.
Tell the truth. This does not mean you need to crush people under the truth of your personal perspective—just be honest and forthright in all of your dealings.
Clean up your messes. Mistakes happen. Yes, it is better to prevent them—but when they do happen, you should own up, apologize, make amends, and do whatever else needs be done to take responsibility for your part.
Don’t take responsibility for what is not your fault. You are not obligated to take all the responsibility for a situation wherein you are not the sole actor. This would just be lying to yourself in a different way. Own your own mistakes, and let other people own theirs.
Know your shadow. Our shadow is the part of us that we do not see. Mostly, it contains the parts of us that are considered socially unacceptable or too painful to know and integrate into ourselves. When we do not know our shadow, it leaks out in ways that we are not aware of, which can cause harm. When we know what we have put in shadow, we can choose not to use it or we may put it in service of the higher good.
It is impossible to make it through a day without making some kind of error in judgment. You spill coffee, knock something over, forget to do things, and the list goes on. If you are really self-critical, you might hold onto these small errors, but most often they can easily be let go of.
However, the bigger mistakes are often not as easy to excuse. You might hurt someone you care about, make a poor ethical choice, or make a bad business decision. Sometimes, you hold onto these mistakes for years, unable to forgive yourself.
Just as forgiving others can set us free, so can learning to forgive ourselves. The following are some steps that you can take to clear the slate through self-forgiveness.
Give yourself space to grieve your losses. When you make a mistake, you are usually aware of it because it causes some type of pain. You may lose a trusted friend, self-respect, or an opportunity. Giving ourselves time to grieve what we have lost honors not just the part of us that made the mistake but also the part of us that has lost something because of it. When you acknowledge what you have lost and give yourself time to grieve, it softens you.
Understand why/what motivated you. Sometimes you make a mistake because of a lack of insight or information. Sometimes you make a mistake because of emotional pressure or intensity. But very often there is a clear understanding that you did not do the right thing. Understanding why you made the mistake allows you to empathize with yourself for the choice. It also helps you understand how you can avoid doing it again in the future.
See the intelligence behind your choices. It might be hard, if you just did something that you consider really stupid, to find the intelligence in it. While it might be a stretch in some situations, more often you can find a reason that is smarter than you thought. Maybe the choice resulted in more clarity. Maybe it brought something to the surface so that it could be cleared.
Put it all in perspective (big picture). Seeing the parts of the choice that were productive or supportive can help us get a broader view of the situation. What seems at first like a big loss might ultimately result in an even bigger win. Our defeats might result in a stronger character. And what about all the things that you have done right? Maybe this was a big mistake, but look at your track record. Perhaps you have made many more right decisions. Or, after a long stretch of mistakes, you have become ready to turn the corner. That is a huge step forward and puts you in a different relationship to your mistakes.
Honor and affirm the essence of who you are. No matter what you have done, there is a ton of good in you. It may be hard to connect with that when looking at your mistakes, but it is there nonetheless. When you are struggling with forgiving yourself, it is helpful to think about the core of who you are. What can you do to affirm this essence, especially at these times?
Commit to a new direction. It can be easier to forgive yourself when you make a decision not to make the mistake again (when possible). Making a commitment to a new direction means that we have acknowledged the error of our ways and decided to do something different. Being accountable to yourself and others through making better choices helps you feel better about yourself, and it is easier to forgive yourself from this place.
There is a point where you will realize that forgiveness is a necessary ingredient to your happiness: that you might as well start down the path of forgiveness because there is no other way to freedom. This is true of others, and this is true of ourselves. Carrying the weight of past errors does nothing to correct them—forgiving yourself does.