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Mindset Mind & Body

On Being Brave

When my children were little, I read a story in a magazine that stopped my heart. A mom had sent her daughter to the corner grocery store to buy some bread and milk. Her daughter was walking home with the purchases when a stranger in a car pulled to the curb beside her. He smiled at the girl, used her name—which he had overheard the clerk use at the store—and told her to get in the car.

The girl, who was 10 or 11, was confused. She knew better than to get into a car with a stranger, but she had been taught to be polite and respectful to adults. Against her better judgment, she obeyed.

Luckily, a woman driving by saw the interaction and noticed the look of terror on the young girl’s face. The bystander acted quickly, blocking the man’s car with her own so he could not speed away.

It turned out the abductor was a registered sex offender recently released from prison and on parole. If not for the brave bystander who intervened, something horrible might have happened. Ever since I read that story, I have marveled at that bystander’s bravery—and her willingness to take action to save someone’s life.

What Is Bravery?

Bravery is a virtue that was considered fundamental in the ancient world, but what is it, exactly? Is it even relevant today? Let’s take a look.

In the time of the Iliad—an Ancient Greek epic poem about a hero named Odysseus that describes the last year of the Trojan War—the Greeks called bravery thumos, the Greek word for “liver.”

The Ancient Greeks believed the liver to be the seat of many emotions that people in today’s world would more readily attribute to the brain or the heart. Courage, confidence, “spirit”—these were things that came from that big, fleshy, reddish-brown organ in your torso, according to the Greeks.

Achilles, the strongest warrior of the Trojan War, who looms large in the Iliad, had plenty of thumos. But the Ancient Greeks also valued other qualities, many of which were embodied in Odysseus. It was Odysseus, after all, who made the plan to defeat Troy by hiding soldiers in a giant hollowed-out horse that he offered to them as a gift of peace. Odysseus had clever ways of dealing with problems, and shrewd judgment. He knew how to win a battle no matter what it took. He also personified persistence in the face of adversity—part of the Ancient Greek idea of bravery.

Bravery in war was a primary virtue. But the Greeks also valued cunning, pride, know-how, good judgment, and skill in war.

Aristotle: Bravery Means Balance

The Greek philosopher Aristotle, who lived several centuries after the Iliad was composed, also grappled with the question of bravery in his writing on ethics. For Aristotle, bravery was about balance: too little of it, and you have cowardice; too much, and you have foolhardiness.

Aristotle did not believe more bravery was better. He argued that bravery had to be gauged to the danger. The brave fear what should be feared, and are bold when the situation demands.

Combining Courage With Good Character

Confucius, the Classical Chinese philosopher whose ideas had a formative influence on Chinese culture, had a slightly different idea of bravery. Confucius argued that courage needed to be combined with good character. No one would admire the bravery of a rapacious evildoer, as such boldness would amplify vice, rather than embody virtue.

In fact, to possess bravery without a strong sense of right and wrong would turn bravery into wickedness, according to Confucius. In The Analects of Confucius, a collection of his aphorisms published after his death in 479 B.C., he wrote, “An ordinary person with courage but no righteousness would become a bandit.”

Bravely Breaking Totalitarian Laws

In the modern world, the best examples of bravery may be people who have gone against the current of their societies to stand up for what is right—for example, the Germans, Poles, and other Europeans who resisted the Nazis during World War II, hiding Jewish people in their homes, even as they knew they could be killed for doing so.

These resisters were truly brave. So were the Americans who lived in the Deep South before the Civil War who refused to obey unjust laws and instead secreted escaped slaves to the North where they could live freely. And the Chinese students and other demonstrators who participated in the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing in 1989 to demand democracy and freedom of speech in Communist China. Standing unarmed against a totalitarian force, the demonstrators showed extraordinary bravery.

When you are truly brave, you do not merely endure the troubles that come your way, but put yourself in jeopardy against overwhelming odds in order to fight for what is right.

Against the Consensus

While being brave was highly valued in Ancient Greece and Classical China, most people in the Western world don’t talk much about bravery today. You may hear people say someone “bravely fought cancer,” but bravery these days is more about trying new foods, asking someone you just met out on a date, or doing something that creates personal risk, like skydiving or bungee jumping.

For most people, there are certainly fewer physical threats today than there were in the ancient world. But are there fewer opportunities for bravery?

Most people feel a tremendous amount of pressure to unquestioningly go along with what is happening in today’s world, and there seems to be less tolerance for people to use their own conscience to make choices outside of the societal current.

But going along with the status quo is not being brave. Bravery is when you do something that your conscience tells you to do—or that you know is right—even though it is outside the social norm.

The situations in our lives that require courage today are often quiet ones. We show bravery when we stand up to a boss at work, defend someone from a bully, or tell a friend about their child’s missteps. When we do the brave thing in these everyday situations, we aren’t going to be recognized for our courage. No epic poem or magazine article will be written about our heroic deeds. Instead, we become everyday unsung heroes, acting with virtue in the face of challenges.

Are You Brave?

Are you sleepwalking through your life, going along to get along, or are you acting with integrity, even when it is difficult to do so? Do you make your own decisions, or just go along with whatever is easiest, and grumble about it afterwards? If you don’t make your own decisions and back them up with action, are you really your own person? Are you living a virtuous life, or a life of conformity?

There may not be an imminent battle to win or lose with swords, but these questions make it clear that the personal stakes for courage are as high as ever. When you act with cowardice or remain quiet in the face of unkindness or evil, you lose your sense of self.

When you act with bravery, you increase your self-respect. And as you act with bravery more often, you also gain confidence that you can make a difference, and aren’t helpless or passive, in your life or in the world at large.

How to Be Brave

You know when you feel afraid. Maybe your heart starts to race, or your hands get sweaty, or you start to get lightheaded. When you feel that fear, check in with yourself and acknowledge it. But don’t let the fear stop you. The voice in your head telling you not to act is the voice to ignore.

Instead, ask yourself how the person or mentor you look up to the most would act facing the same situation. Then channel that person—whether it is Jesus, Ganesha, the Biblical David who stood up to Goliath, your closest friend, a parent, your spouse, or another relative—and use their bravery as your own. This means telling your close colleague that you disagree with their decision to get a nonessential surgery (though you will support whatever choice they make); insisting that you get remunerated by your clients for the time you spent on a job even as they try not to pay you; or writing a letter to the editor or an opinion piece for the newspaper explaining why you disagree with your local politicians’ attempt to enact popular but unethical legislation.

When You Act Rightly

In his short essay “The Great Learning,” Confucius wrote that when you act rightly and affect your small sphere of direct contacts and family, it’s worthwhile because it’s the right thing to do, but also because right action reverberates to produce an outsized effect. In other words, your right action influences the people who you affect and those who see you doing the right thing. Then those people, in turn, act just a little differently with their contacts, and your circle of influence spreads like ripples in a pond. The effect you have diffuses, spreading outward through society. Maybe you can’t completely change society, but every ripple affects the whole pond. Your actions matter.

“I think it’s always brave to do what we know is right, even if it isn’t popular or will not benefit us personally,” says Christine Gross-Loh, Ph.D., an expert in Asian studies and coauthor of the book “The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life,” which includes a chapter on Confucius. “I think we all benefit in the long run by having done the right thing.”

The Butterfly Effect

The “butterfly effect” is an idea first proposed by meteorologist Edward Lorenz in 1963 and later championed by mathematicians, physicists, and other thinkers interested in chaos theory. Lorenz proposed that every time a butterfly flaps its wings, the weather across the planet is affected. The idea behind his theory is that small actions can have a nonlinear impact on a much larger system.

That’s what your bravery can do today. Being brave, in both small and large ways, has a positive impact on the world.

Jennifer Margulis, Ph.D., is an award-winning journalist and book author. Learn more at www.JenniferMargulis.net

 

 

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Mind & Body Mindset

Virtues: Our Best Bet for Happiness

“What constitutes a good life?” “How should one live?” “What kind of a person should one be?” In their answers to these perennial questions, history’s great minds have frequently invoked the concept of virtue.

Philosophers ancient and modern have argued that the road to a happy, thriving, worthwhile life is paved with virtues. Aristotle, for one, believed that anyone willing to lead a virtuous life could achieve fulfillment. More recently, philosopher Rosalind Hursthouse posited that possessing and exercising virtue is the only reliable bet for a happy and flourishing life—just as adopting a healthy lifestyle is the only reliable bet for a healthy life.

There are no guarantees in life. Yet, if we commit to living virtuously, the argument goes, we are doing all that is in our power to maximize our happiness.

Is there any merit to these claims? Are more virtuous people indeed happier? If we cultivate virtue, could we become happier too? Fortunately, the scientific study of virtue has seen an awakening in the last couple of decades, providing us with fascinating insights into the relationship between virtues and happiness. Before we delve into these, let us briefly examine how psychologists think of virtue.

While virtue is an elusive term, most psychological definitions agree that virtues represent extraordinary character strengths in the service of optimal intrapersonal and interpersonal functioning. Consider honesty, kindness, sincerity, wisdom, courage, justice, and diligence. These are our noble attributes, and act as powerful resources in dealing with the difficulties inherent to human existence and social living.

Given the critical role they play in optimal functioning, it is not surprising that people who lack virtues generally do not fare well. When we think of people who make life difficult, either for themselves or others, we often notice conspicuously low levels of certain virtues, whether integrity, mercy, or self-control.

The Relationship Between Virtue and Happiness

The burgeoning empirical literature on virtue and happiness offers strong support to the age-old argument that virtues increase happiness. One line of support comes from studies showing that doing good is associated with feeling good.

For example, one study using a daily diary method found that engaging in behaviors that allow the exercise of virtues (e.g., expressing gratitude, giving money to a person in need, persevering at a valued goal even in the face of obstacles) was associated with significantly higher well-being than engaging in purely hedonic behaviors, like getting drunk or high on drugs, or having sex with someone one doesn’t love. Furthermore, daily virtuous—but not daily hedonic—behaviors predicted greater life satisfaction and greater sense of meaning the following day, attesting to their causal role in fostering happiness.

Relative to pursuing hedonic or egoistical goals, pursuing more virtuous goals has similarly been linked to greater well-being. In one study, those who endorsed other-oriented and altruistic life goals, such as commitment to family and friendships, helping others, and being socially and politically involved, reported higher life satisfaction both concurrently and over time. Commitment to competitive goals related to wealth and consumption, in contrast, was associated with lower life satisfaction. The picture emerging from these and similar findings is that virtuous, self-transcending priorities in life are linked to greater happiness.

Studies that assess to what degree a person possesses certain virtues, and how happy they are, further testify to the positive relationship between virtue and happiness. These studies have benefited from the Values in Action (VIA) classification that specifies 24 measurable character strengths, such as love of learning, bravery, forgiveness, fairness, and gratitude. It is possible to take the VIA survey online (free, but registration required) and see what your top virtues are.

Which Virtues Are Most Closely Linked to Happiness?

Studies using the VIA framework reveal a positive relationship between virtually any character strength and happiness. That said, certain strengths turn out to be even more closely connected to happiness—specifically, the strengths of love, gratitude, hope, curiosity, and zest.

Research on adolescents and young children (as described by their parents) similarly reveals love, zest, hope, and gratitude as the character strengths most closely affiliated with happiness. Cross-cultural studies, and studies that assess people’s strengths by asking knowledgeable others instead of relying on self-reports, further reinforce the robustness of these findings.

Do you see a common thread linking the character strengths most strongly linked to happiness—love, gratitude, hope, zest, and curiosity? One might argue that they all have a self-transcendent aspect to them, involving positive connections to things that go beyond the self. Love, of course, connects us to other people. Gratitude connects us to a benevolent higher force, as well as to others. Curiosity connects us to a rich, fascinating world. Hope connects us to a desirable future. And finally, zest represents an energetic connection with all that life offers. Transcending the ego and connecting to something larger than the self are considered essential to psychological health and well-being. It should probably not surprise us, then, that virtues that facilitate these qualities are the ones most conducive to happiness.

How to Cultivate Virtue

The unequivocal relationship between virtue and happiness suggests that cultivating virtue can be a promising happiness strategy. Both longitudinal and intervention studies support this view, and show that increases in virtue are accompanied by increases in happiness. The happiness gains turn out to be even greater if an increase occurs among the aforementioned virtues most closely linked to happiness. As with any character trait, there is a significant genetic component to virtues; hence, we should not expect them to be endlessly malleable. At the same time, the evidence is compelling that we can cultivate virtues to the degree that they give our happiness a boost.

If we are convinced of the felicific powers of virtue, how should we go about cultivating it? The answer to this question goes back at least as far as Laozi (Lao Tzu), and to Aristotle, who argued that virtues can be formed by habit. Accordingly, we become virtuous by acting virtuously. If we want to cultivate kindness, for instance, we need to habitually perform acts of kindness—such as volunteering, checking in on elderly neighbors, or expressing gratitude to others. Or, if we want to cultivate curiosity, we need to create opportunities in our lives to stimulate and satisfy our curiosity. We might, for example, commit to listening to new podcasts, trying new foods, or traveling to new places on a regular basis.

But, of course, virtues are not only habits of deed, but also habits of the heart and the mind. Virtuous actions, if they are sincere, spring from virtuous thoughts and feelings. Hopeful, wise, and loving acts, for example, are preceded by hopeful, wise, and loving psychological states. Although different virtues might require different approaches, one skill can universally facilitate the cultivation of habits of the heart and the mind: mindfulness—paying attention to our present-moment experience with an attitude of openness and acceptance.

The more mindful we are, the easier it becomes for us to recognize our more and less virtuous thoughts and feelings. This recognition, combined with a gentle and compassionate approach toward ourselves, will in time allow us to better regulate our thoughts and emotions, strengthening our more virtuous inner states while reducing the less virtuous ones.

The Role of Culture in Cultivating Virtue

Being exposed to exemplars of virtue is crucial to the cultivation of virtue. When we consider the character development of children, the importance of surrounding them with virtuous role models seems apparent. Yet adults also benefit greatly from contact with those who possess admirable character traits. These people both instruct and inspire us by their sheer being. Critically, exposure to virtue (or lack of it) takes place not only in our daily lives and within our small social circles, but also on social media. A valuable question to ask ourselves is what virtues the celebrities or influencers we follow on social media represent, if any.

This brings us to the importance of culture in the cultivation of virtue. Virtues need favorable cultural conditions to thrive, one of which is the wide availability and endorsement of virtue role models. Another is the cultural salience of virtue—or how much virtues are a part of the public conversation. In a virtue-salient culture, people talk and write about virtues, which itself is an indication of how much this topic is at the forefront of their minds.

Interestingly, there are ways to scientifically capture the cultural salience of virtue. In one such study, I collaborated with my twin sister, Dr. Selin Kesebir, from London Business School. Together, we tracked how commonly words related to virtue appear in American books over the 20th century. Specifically, we came up with a list of 50 virtue words (e.g., love, courage, perseverance, forgiveness) and examined these words’ appearance frequency in books digitized by Google. Our analyses revealed a significant decline for 74 percent of them from 1900 to 2000.

Upon closer inspection, we saw that the decline was more pronounced for certain groups of virtues. For instance, the appearance frequency of courage, bravery, and fortitude—all virtues related to the ability to act and prevail in difficult circumstances—dropped 66.6 percent, on average. The majority of virtues indicating care and concern for others (kindness, generosity, mercy, charity, thoughtfulness, helpfulness, courtesy, love, politeness, gentleness, benevolence) also showed precipitous declines; the average drop from 1901 to 2000 was 55.7 percent for this group of words. Finally, virtues encouraging a modest opinion of oneself (humility, humbleness, and modesty) also showed a substantial decline of 51.5 percent.

Our findings suggest that over the course of the 20th century, the attention paid by the culture to concepts of moral character and virtue in the United States has declined. This is in keeping with the larger trends in the American moral landscape observed by many scholars and social commentators, particularly the increase in individualism.

Virtues, almost by definition, make the world a better place for ourselves and for others. The diminished cultural salience of virtue during the 20th century might thus be a cause for concern. One hopeful development marking the first two decades of the 21st century, however, is the increased popularity of the field of positive psychology. In their endeavor to study what makes people thrive, positive psychologists have turned their attention to virtues and character strengths, in both individual and organizational contexts. The scientific study of virtue has thus been witnessing unprecedented growth, and the lessons learned have been increasingly infiltrating the culture. Think of the popularity of concepts like “gratitude journaling” or “random acts of kindness.” These concepts are only a recent phenomenon and are exceedingly promising developments—especially if we agree that virtues are our best bet for happiness.

Pelin Kesebir, Ph.D., is a writer, speaker, and consultant trained in social and personality psychology. She has published dozens of peer-reviewed articles on the topics of happiness, virtue, and existential psychology. Dr. Kesebir is an honorary fellow at the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

 

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Mind & Body Mindset Relationships

A Healthy Relationship With Your Emotions

She was someone who ruminated and worried all the time. Her mind was constantly busy chewing on and planning for one problem or another. She desperately wanted relief from her thoughts and the cacophony of her mind.

And so we went to work. Through the practice of mindfulness, Lina learned to witness her thoughts; she discovered a separate place inside herself from which to watch her mind, and hear what her thoughts were telling her. She became the listener to her thoughts rather than the thinker, and in the process she unlocked a deep and much-needed sense of peace.

However, when we attempted to bring this same sort of mindful detachment to her emotions, it was a much harder and more painful process. While most of us can get the hang of witnessing our thoughts, and can understand the purpose of it, it’s far more challenging and even threatening for us to detach from and take a witness seat to our emotions. It turns out that we’re even more attached to and identified with our emotions than we are to our thoughts, and we’re pretty darned attached to our thoughts.

To take a step back for a moment, while I’m using the terms emotions and feelings interchangeably, technically, they’re different phenomena. An emotion is a chemical response that happens in the body, a physical process that includes brain activity and hormonal changes that we’re not conscious of. A feeling, on the other hand, is something we’re aware of, a state of mind that generally comes in response to an emotion or thought.

But for the purposes of this article and limited space, I will use both terms to refer to what we generally call a feeling. That is, an internal experience that’s mental, physical, and also conscious. Emotions and feelings, as I’m using the two terms here, are those sensations we experience as deeper than thought, taking place in the whole body, and associated with the heart rather than just the head.

Interestingly, we’re open to the idea that who we are is not our thoughts, but we are incredibly resistant to the idea that who we are is not our emotions. So too, we can accept that our thoughts might not always be true, believable, important, or even ours to decide. But, when it comes to our emotions, we are firmly convinced that our emotions are true and of great importance. We can let a thought float through our mind, without engaging it or paying it much mind, but that same willingness doesn’t apply when it comes to our feelings. Feelings are what define us (or so we’ve been taught) and therefore must be given our full attention and reverence.

When we feel sadness, we say we are sad. When we feel happiness, we say we are happy. We are our emotions. So too, we imagine that our emotions hold some fundamental truth about our experience, that they contain important clues to our deepest nature. We view our emotions as the keys to the castle that is us.

Our emotions, as we’ve learned to relate to them, are manifestations of our life experience. They hold our suffering and also our joy; emotions are our heart’s way of carrying and expressing our life. To detach from our emotions would be to lose some primal part of ourselves, to relinquish everything we’ve endured, suffered, and enjoyed. To relate to our emotions with a sense of separation would, ultimately, be to abandon who we are.

Simultaneously, we imagine that our feelings are what cause us to suffer. In fact, it’s not the feelings themselves that make us suffer, but rather the way we relate to them. We don’t experience suffering so much as we suffer our experience. We attach and identify with our feelings, which costs us our emotional freedom and our happiness. We immediately construct a narrative to explain why the feeling is there, to make sense of it and fit it into a larger self-story, thereby adding layers of made-up meaning, complexity, and usually suffering to it. When a feeling arises, we give it permission to consume us and control our state of being. We think it’s that important.

In truth, our emotions are not as important, solid, or revelatory as we imagine them to be. In fact, they are more like weather patterns that move through our consciousness, constantly changing, coming and going without our permission. Some are strong and dark, others are light and breezy; we can feel excited, sorrowful, frustrated, anxious, and joyful, all in the matter of an hour or, for some of us, a minute. Often they happen without any identifiable cause and are simply remnants of old memories and conditioning. At times, the intensity of a feeling will match the situation; at other times, it won’t. Sometimes feelings are in alignment with what’s true and sometimes not. But what’s certain is that feelings are not facts.

The point is, we don’t choose our emotions and we don’t have to relate to them with such respect and fear. We don’t have to surrender to them simply because they appear. Our emotions don’t hold the keys to our happiness or well-being. And furthermore, we don’t have to investigate, understand, dive into, and essentially get inside every feeling that shows up. Having a feeling doesn’t mean we have to get busy feeling it.

Like thoughts, feelings will pass—if we let them. If, that is, we don’t assign them the highest importance and meaning, latch onto them and go for the ride they’re offering, and don’t build them into narratives about us and our life. Essentially, they will pass if we don’t relate to them as who we fundamentally are.

To free yourself from the tyranny of your emotions, start by first just becoming aware of your emotions—actually paying attention to the feelings moving through your inner world. We can’t change anything until we’re aware of it. Sitting at your desk, taking a shower, driving, or doing anything, really, get in the habit of turning your inner lens on your own internal landscape. Throughout the day, pause and ask yourself, “At this moment, what feelings are present inside me?” Note to yourself, “Oh, I see the weather of sadness is here, or hmmm, there are winds of irritation passing through.” Pay attention to where and how they are showing up in your body. What’s important is that you do this without getting involved in the storylines attached to the feelings, the who and what they’re about, and why they’re here. Just notice the feelings on their own, name them if it helps, again, without diving into or identifying with them. Notice too, how quickly they can move through you, change, and disappear—when you maintain your witness seat.

Keep in mind that you didn’t build this reverence for your emotions overnight and you’re not going to undo it overnight. Keep practicing awareness, watching your feelings come and go; keep practicing noticing without engaging, building the you that’s not defined by your emotions. As you practice, your life will change, and so will you.

Nancy Colier is a psychotherapist, interfaith minister, public speaker, and author of “Can’t Stop Thinking” (2021) “The Power of Off: The Mindful Way to Stay Sane in a Virtual World.” and “Inviting a Monkey to Tea.” For more information, visit NancyColier.com

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Mind & Body Mindset

Love and Flowers for All Seasons

I dearly love roses. During the first several years of our marriage, my thoughtful husband, Kevin, often brought them to me or had them delivered to the bank where I worked. After buying a home in the country on two acres of land, Kevin wanted me to have a steady supply, so he started a multi-colored rose garden right under our front porch.

He kept adding to it, and by the time we sold our home 14 years later, our rose garden was a work of art and living testimony to the hours of love Kevin had poured into this symbol of devotion.

As we considered selling our home, I remembered how things looked when we first arrived. The entire two acres was covered with dead grass, briars, and weeds. An acquaintance said reviving it seemed hopeless.

Kevin was undeterred.

He spent many hours bringing the grass back and planting every tree, bush, flower, and plant in that yard. He designed and built a peaceful fenced-in area behind the house where he could be found every spring tilling the ground and planting a large vegetable garden. Walking away from that place tore at my heartstrings. It felt like leaving a part of Kevin behind.

The truth is, Kevin and I are getting older. Along with age come health challenges that prohibit us from doing the things we did in the past. As attached as I was to our house, roses, and yard, we had come to accept that the toll it was taking on our bodies, minds, and finances was greater than the emotional pain of letting them go.

We now rent a townhouse that requires zero outdoor maintenance on our part, which brings an immeasurable sense of peace. Even though we no longer have two acres of land to garden and plant, the townhouse provides a large balcony outside our kitchen and another smaller balcony outside our upstairs bedroom—perfect outdoor spaces that are manageable for us.

When Kevin and our son, Zach, asked me what I would like for Mother’s Day this year, my immediate response was that I would like a flowering oasis on each of our balconies and to start growing more plants inside. I will never forget how meaningful it was to stand beside Kevin at our kitchen counter on Mother’s Day morning to plan and plant together. Rather than a large-scale rose or vegetable garden, we set our sights on lovely container gardens for both balconies. I often admire them. As I do, I stop and consider the season of life and wisdom these gardens represent.

Plants and Flowers Bring Hope 

Plants and flowers breathe life and clean air into stagnant environments. Even an unsightly office space is cheered by a tiny fern or flowering plant. You truly can brighten any “corner where you are” by accepting limitations, adjusting expectations, and working with what you have. With this, you can find contentment in your circumstances.

Create a Nature Sanctuary On Any Budget

When Kevin, Zach, and I discovered we needed something to elevate our planters for better visibility, we found two ladderback chairs online for $20. Inexpensive planters can be found in unlikely places and artfully converted with a touch of paint or stenciling. I placed a wagon wheel handmade by my Dad next to one of the chairs to add a unique and whimsical element. It was already a treasured possession and cost nothing. It is surprising what you can find if you shop in your own home.

Bargain Hunting Can Be a Family Adventure

Our balcony retreats aren’t quite as full as I envision, but each step toward that goal creates memories along the way. Taking our time, paying with cash, and searching for bargains and secondhand treasures together as a family is like a scavenger hunt that we all genuinely enjoy.

Seasons Change but Love and Flowers Remain

Life evolves—bodies age. But what a comfort it is to know we can still create a charming space, no matter how small! I still miss looking out our living room window at those stalwart rose bushes loaded with multi-colored blooms. But how abundantly blessed I am to look out at these vibrant container gardens planted by the same loving hands that brought so many roses into my life. I smile and breathe a prayer of gratitude for the dear, steady, man who remains faithfully by my side and whom I love now even more than I did then.

Cheryl Smith blogs at Biblical Minimalism.com, where she shares her family’s journey to relinquish excess and deepen their connection to Christ. Her book, “Biblical Minimalism,” is now available for purchase.

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Mind & Body Mindset

Don’t Underestimate the Power of Emotions

Have you ever been embarrassed and your cheeks turn red? When you went on your first date, did your hands get sweaty? Or maybe you gave a presentation at work and were so nervous that your stomach hurt, your heart was racing, or your mouth became dry. These are familiar examples of how your thoughts—and subsequent emotions—cause physical changes in your body. But did you know that your emotions have so much control over your biology they can make you sick or heal you?

We’ve all heard that chronic stress is unhealthy. Even Western medicine acknowledges that stress is a major cause or contributor to 90 percent of disease. Yet most of us downplay the role of emotions in both disease and wellness. That’s partly because we’re looking for physical answers to our seemingly physical problems. But it’s also partly because most of us don’t actually believe that emotions alone are capable of eliciting a full-blown disease. I didn’t understand the significance of emotions either until recently. I’d like to share my mom’s story.

My mom had been sick since her early 20’s, beginning with kidney disease. Over the decades, her laundry list of diseases grew along with her list of pharmaceuticals. At one point, she was taking 15 prescription drugs every day. She was in and out of hospitals routinely for various ailments, including multiple heart attacks and strokes. For decades, my family lived in constant fear that she was going to die at any moment.

Then, roughly three years ago, her husband passed away. By this time, her remaining kidney, which was a transplanted kidney, had shut down. Along with kidney failure, she suffered from heart disease, type 2 diabetes, Hashimoto’s, seizures, skin cancer, arthritis, high blood pressure, very high triglycerides, and polyps in her colon. The doctors said there was nothing more they could do, but I could not let her die.

I began diligently working to reverse her many ailments. I identified and addressed her physical triggers, such as nutrient deficiencies, heavy metal toxicities, and food sensitivities. I cooked all of her food from scratch, according to my dietary principles. She drank clean, structured water. I also motivated her to begin walking and spending time absorbing the morning rays of the sun. Within 7 months, all of her physical ailments and diseases had reversed except the high blood pressure, and she stopped taking 12 out of 15 prescription medications.

Overall, this was a remarkable achievement. For example, for decades, she had injected herself with insulin before every meal and prior to bedtime. Within 7 months, the diabetes was gone. By all accounts, my mother was physically healed. Her team of doctors couldn’t believe it, so they ran numerous tests trying to find something wrong. Every test came back normal. There were no signs of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, kidney failure, or any other physical ailment. Yet a few months later, she died. She was physically the healthiest she had been in 50 years, but she died. Why?

I, too, was chronically sick until six years ago. I nearly died from an advanced stage of an autoimmune disease. In fact, my symptoms and disease progression mirrored my mother’s, including kidney issues, polyps, arthritis, and high cholesterol. And, like my mother, I healed from every physical ailment.

But there was one ailment my mother never recovered from, and this was the ailment that would ultimately take her life. My mother died of “stress-induced cardiomyopathy”—a broken heart. On the anniversary of her husband’s death, she felt pain in her heart and was rushed to the emergency room. They ran a gamut of tests and ultimately diagnosed her with a broken heart. That’s why we were able to free her from all of her medications except the blood pressure pills; she couldn’t handle the stress of losing her husband.

At the time, I knew the high blood pressure was a clue that her biology was being driven by the emotion of sadness, which led to anxiety and fear. Consequently, I worked with her on the emotional level, but eventually she shut down. So I hired a grief counselor and found her a friend. But the emotions were too overwhelming and, ultimately, she succumbed to the grief.

This was a pivotal point in my own journey. My mom’s story revealed a gift that God has given all of us—the ability to harness your emotions to change your biology. From her story, you can see how unresolved emotions can not only make you sick, they can kill you. On the flip side, God also gave us the ability to heal using our emotions. One of the best examples of this remarkable gift is spontaneous healings.

When symptoms disappear without formal treatment, it’s called spontaneous healing. Spontaneous healings exist for all types of diseases—even cancer, which is often viewed as a death sentence in our society. In fact, in 2011, an article in the Journal of Natural Science, Biology and Medicine stated:

“The spontaneous healing of cancer is a phenomenon that has been observed for hundreds of … years and after having been the subject of many controversies, it is now accepted as an indisputable fact.

“Spontaneous regression of cancer is not a rare occurrence … [and this] proves a remarkable fact that cancer is not an irreversible process.”

Furthermore, in 2002, medical journals published at least 4 articles every month documenting cases of spontaneous healings of disease. Clearly, your body is capable of creating spontaneous healing. How?

Spontaneous healings usually involve a shift in emotions, such as an act of forgiveness or letting go of a negative emotion, such as  anger or fear. A study published in Medical Hypotheses about spontaneous remissions revealed that even as far back as 1984, “Several investigators, without known contradiction, have found that depression quite regularly long precedes cancer.”

When the emotion is released, the disease can dissolve. That’s how profoundly our emotions affect our biology.

You can access that amazing healing power anytime you want to achieve a health goal. Simply by shifting your emotions, your physiology will change.

Dr. Sina McCullough is the creator of the online program, “GO WILD: How I Reverse Chronic & Autoimmune Disease,” and author of Hands Off My Food,” and “Beyond Labels.” She earned a Ph.D. in Nutrition from UC Davis. She is a Master Herbalist, Gluten Free Society Certified Practitioner and homeschool mom of three.

Categories
Family Habits Mind & Body Mindset Parenting Relationships

Connect With Children Through Purposeful Play

I recently asked a friend what she had been up to and she answered, “Not much. I’ve just been playing with my kids.”

I asked her to restate her answer without “Not much” and without the word “just.” With a quizzical look, she obliged. I then asked her, “Didn’t that feel better?” She agreed that it did.

You might be surprised at the power of play. Even when we’re busy—and who isn’t busy—play can be a priority for our children and us. “I’ve been playing with my kids” is a goal to set and meet.

What do you think of when you think back to your childhood? Many of us think of the many “little” things that made up quality family time. Some big things will make the list. For me, being shocked with the gift of a viola when I was 12 is on my list. After renting one for a while, my parents knew I was serious about learning how to play and improving my skill. Buying me my own viola communicated their belief in me. That was more valuable to me than the gift itself.

But it’s the consistency of “little” things that are actually “big.” These experiences, like playing with siblings and parents, school performances, family dinners, and holiday traditions, define childhood for most of us.

Children Should Play Now

Many children, regardless of age, haven’t been able to live as children during the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ve had to learn online, isolated from friends. They’ve had to work at home, rather than play at home. In addition to typical chores, many cared for siblings and helped their parents, who were distracted and extra busy working from home. Having parents close-at-hand but unavailable can be confusing for a child.

This summer, let’s give them back their childhood. We can’t allow children to be defined by what they lost during the COVID crisis. Let’s give them a summer to remember, one that they’ll want to look back on. Lately, Fred Rogers’ statement, “Play is the work of childhood” hasn’t been true. Let’s change that going forward.

Play With Children

One of my saddest encounters with a child occurred when I researched how children believe parents’ phones affect them. At a park play area, a young boy’s countenance changed from happy-go-lucky to sad as he shared, “I wish my mom played with me instead of taking pictures of me playing.” I’ve heard this echoed by many, many children throughout the years.

Some people have said, “Love is spelled T-I-M-E.” To a large extent, that’s true. “Like” is also spelled T-I-M-E. Children frequently tell me, “My parents have to love me. I wish they liked me.” They follow this with, “My dad sometimes plays with me, but I don’t think he wants to play my game with me. I wish he wanted to,” and, “My mom tells me to ‘go play,’ but I like playing best with her. She’s always busy. If she liked me more, maybe she’d want to spend time with me.”

I respect that you’re busy. I fully recognize you had to think about whether you had the time to read this article. Every minute matters to busy parents. That’s why saying “yes” to our children encourages them deeply. Playing with them communicates both love and like!

When children invite us to play with them, they notice when we stop working, reading our book, or visiting with a friend to say “yes.” When we initiate play without them asking, they notice. When we prioritize them, they feel loved. They know they’re loved. But it goes deeper than that. They also feel liked.

What’s the value of your children knowing you like them? They’ll feel known, which is the heart’s desire for everyone. They’ll feel wanted, which meets a need we all have. Because they’re known and wanted, they’ll feel safe with you. This makes everything more positive. Children’s behavior will be more consistent. Security also increases cooperation, confidence, and obedience. But there’s still more.

When we prioritize liking children, we’ll have meaningful and personal conversations instead of interrogations. Thoughts and feelings tend to merge during conversations stimulated by play, and both are strengthened. They get to know us just as we get to know them a bit better. Because we’ve gotten to know each other beyond “mom, dad, and child,” children will discover what they have in common with us. “Mom, you liked games like this when you were my age? Cool! And your mom played with you? We’re like you and your mom except now you’re the mom!” or “Dad, I liked playing catch today and hearing your great baseball story. I didn’t know you weren’t a very good player at the beginning either. Now I can believe you when you say I can improve.”

Play for the Heart

Through play, parent-child relationships can again be defined by joy and togetherness rather than disappointment and separation. In addition, by simply prioritizing play, frustration, fatigue, and anger can decrease. The mental health benefits are real.

Playing to take a break from technology and the intensity of work is good for everyone. It leads to more rest. Stress lifts and confusion dies out. Contentment and clarity result. Loneliness and isolation are replaced by renewed relationships and fellowship.

Character can grow. When children only play games by themselves on their devices, they can quit games they might lose, develop pride when they win, and get angry when they don’t.

When children play with others, they’re more likely to develop self-control and learn humility when they win and patience and teachability when they lose. They can learn sacrifice, selflessness, and respect for others as they let siblings choose what outdoor game to play, help younger siblings learn new board games, and celebrate someone else’s victory.

Learning resiliency, helping children to bounce back quickly from disappointment and defeat, might be among the best reasons to prioritize play this summer and beyond. Our children have experienced a lot of loss. Negativity and fear are common. We can’t allow children to be so overwhelmed by it all that they’re defined by loss.

When children aren’t chosen first, or a sibling knows more than they do at a museum, or they accidentally knock over their carefully built tower, our presence helps them mature. We can encourage them to try again, play again, ask again, and show up again. They can develop resilience.

Play for the Mind

All kinds of play are good for the mind. Children—and adults—are smart in eight different ways. Through a variety of play, each intelligence can be awakened and strengthened. Knowing and planning for this adds value to our play. Remember, no one “just plays with their kids.” When you play with them and plan various rich play experiences for them, you’re increasing their intelligence. Tell your friends that the next time they ask you what you did all day. For example:

The word-smart part of the brain uses words. Play word games, talk and listen, read together, enjoy learning and using new words, write and produce plays and skits, read and listen for enjoyment and to learn from different websites, and more. Go to the library and bookstore.

The logic-smart part of the brain uses questions. Play games that require factual recall, cause-and-effect thinking, and predicting; enjoy nonfiction books and presentations on sites like YouTube; read mysteries, building things and asking questions while you do; enjoy inventing a solution for something; and more. Go to museums.

The picture-smart part of the brain uses your eyes and pictures. Color, create, play games that require visual recall, read picture books and talk about the illustrations, build and design everything from the doll’s bedroom to an organizational system for the laundry room, and more. Go to art museums and craft stores.

The music-smart part of the brain uses rhythms and melodies. Make noise, sing songs, write and perform funny musicals for relatives, play instruments, compare ringtones and alarms, and more. Go to musicals, concerts, and music stores.

The body-smart part of the brain uses movement and touch. Make designs with sidewalk chalk, play old-fashioned tag, play catch, ride bikes, “wrestle” with dad, build tall towers, join a sports team, create dance movements, and more. Go to sporting events and the playground.

The nature-smart part of the brain uses patterns. Hike, fish, go camping, walk around the neighborhood, garden, read books about animals, spend time outside, play games that use patterns, collect things according to their designs, and more. Go to the zoo, park, pet stores, and animal shelters.

The people-smart part of the brain uses talking with other people. Invent something together; tell people why you like the music, art, and games you do and learn what they like; teach someone to play one of your favorite games; spend time with people; and more. Go listen to speeches and debates.

The self-smart part of the brain uses reflection. Play by yourself, make choices, do quiet activities, write poems and songs that express how you’re feeling, and more. Go where they want to go—a museum, park, store, etc.

Play On Purpose

Some children and families have done better than others during the past year. No matter your situation, remember that play has purpose. Relationships, the heart, and the mind can all be strengthened. Don’t “just” play with your kids. Play!

Dr. Kathy Koch (“cook”) is the founder of Celebrate Kids and Ignite the Family, a faculty member at Summit Ministries, and the author of five books including “8 Great Smarts” and “Start with the Heart.” Dr. Koch earned a Ph.D. in reading and educational psychology from Purdue University.

Categories
Featured Fitness Habits Mind & Body Mindset

Reclaiming the Lost Art of the Stroll

Not long before the pandemic hit, someone reported me to the police. I wasn’t selling drugs or stealing a car or making too much noise in the middle of the night. I wasn’t even breaking the law. My only crime was to stroll through an American neighborhood where walking is not the done thing.

“People here drive everywhere,” the policeman told me. “Walking sets off alarm bells.”

A joke, right? Wrong. In a world in thrall to cars, walking is often seen as deviant behavior.

I grew up in a Canadian city where people would drive rather than walk 10 minutes. My earliest memory of walking to high school was hearing some guy hanging out the passenger side of his friend’s ride, hollering at me, “Get a car, loser!”

In many cultures, landing your first set of wheels is a rite of passage, a passport to adulthood. Driving can certainly boost your dating odds. Remember that famous line from Grease: “Tell me more, tell me more, like does he have a car?”

Small wonder the World Health Organization described walking as a “forgotten art.”

To make matters worse, when we do walk, it’s often with a very modern blend of impatience, distraction, and goal-hunting. We use apps to count our steps. We curse anyone daring to dawdle in our path. We spend much of the time staring down at our smartphones. All over the world, distracted pedestrians get hurt walking into lamp-posts, fire hydrants, or other distracted pedestrians.

Brick Lane, a hipster haven in London, came up with a novel way to curb walk-and-text injuries: wrap local lampposts in foam padding.

The truth is, we need to walk more–for our health and for the sake of the planet. But we also need to walk better.

The French have a wonderful word: flânerie. It means strolling without any goal in mind beyond exploring, observing, and savoring. It’s the opposite of power walking.

When you channel your inner flâneur (or flâneuse), you notice flowers and trees, clouds in the sky and hills on the horizon, how the light dances on water or across the windows of a building. You hear birdsong and the laughter of strangers. You take pleasure in what others are wearing and doing. Walking like a flâneur is a balm for the mind and the spirit.

In the 19th century, Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher, used his daily constitutional to silence the chatter in his head. “I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it,” he once said.

Shakespeare was on the same page. In “The Tempest,” Prospero says, “A turn or two I’ll walk, to still my beating mind.”

Walking can even be part of a path to enlightenment. Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen master, says that a mindful stroll can bring spiritual clarity and heal both the walker and the world.

Ambling also fires up the imagination. That’s why big thinkers, from Aristotle to Virginia Woolf, have hailed the creative power of a good walk. William Wordsworth composed much of his poetry while wandering lonely as a cloud through the English countryside.

“All truly great thoughts,” said Nietzsche, “are conceived while walking.”

Nikola Tesla agreed. The inventor of the induction motor had his eureka moment while perambulating in Budapest. “The idea came like a flash of lightning,” he later recalled. “In an instant, the truth was revealed.”

A silver lining of the pandemic is that walking is making a comeback. With normal life on pause, people everywhere have embraced it as a way to exercise, unwind, or just get out of the house. I now take a long stroll every day in my corner of London. My route winds along Victorian streets and through three parks.

And I walk it in full flâneur mode. No rush. No Fitbit. No music. No phone. Just meandering for the sheer joy of it.

The other day, as I sauntered past a pond in the park, a question popped into my head: Has the pandemic finally made flânerie permissible in that neighborhood where someone dialed 911 after seeing me on foot? I emailed a local to find out.

“You’d fit right in here now,” came the reply. “I’m looking out my window, and everybody’s out there strolling around like they have all the time in the world.”

Carl Honoré is a London-based writer, broadcaster, and TED speaker. His bestselling books on the benefits of slowing down and aging have been published in 35 languages.

Categories
Meditation Mind & Body Mindset

Mental Gains from the Classic Games

Meditation creates a “virtuous cycle” where the ability to calm your mind increases self-awareness and self-awareness makes it easier to calm the mind. But meditation isn’t the only way to access this positive feedback loop. In fact, in ancient societies it was known for centuries that certain activities have a similar effect and can act as an aid to those seeking self refinement.

One of those aids is the game of Go, which has long been held to offer those who play it meaningful parallels to understand important Buddhist principles like impermanence and interdependence. For modern people, who tend to be more interested in meditation for the pragmatic rather than the spiritual, the benefits of Go are similar to the benefits of that other strategy game more familiar to westerners—chess.

Both games have held similar places in their respective societies. Chess is known as the game of kings, an art as much as a skill and a far stretch from those lesser games of chance that intoxicate their practitioners with the possibility of unearned gain or various forms of trickery.

Chess and Go depend entirely on the players’ skill, though the opponent’s actions and reactions create fortune in some measure.

Benjamin Franklin’s famous essay, “The Moral of Chess,” captures some of the most well-acknowledged benefits of playing the game, though modern research has made its own attempts to catalogue chess’s cognitive benefits.

Franklin, before venturing into a list of warnings for those who lack civility in the game, celebrated what it offered. It gave those that played the ability of foresight, circumspection, caution, and resilience, he wrote. Foresight is that essential ability to look forward and anticipate the reactions to each action. Circumspection is the ability to mind the interactions and potentials of many different factors, while caution emphasizes taking no undue risk and being careful with each move. And finally resilience, which is in some ways the greatest benefit of chess because it is a game where losing a piece can sometimes claim your hope and lead to a reckless, hopeless gameplay that guarantees defeat.

Franklin goes on at some length about how chess teaches one not to become discouraged, about how “one so frequently, after long contemplation, discovers the means of extricating one’s self from a supposed insurmountable difficulty.”

This is one of the great lessons of chess and offers an immediate and visceral opportunity to learn what modern psychology labels “emotional self regulation.” This idea is better known by many other names such as fortitude, forbearance, patiences, and self-mastery.

This is perhaps the greatest benefit that chess players gain and it comes in close parallel with those benefits gained by meditation. In meditation, one strives to still the mind, and in doing so comes face-to-inner face with a clatter of discordant thought that stirs a hundred whims and feelings. The effort of meditation makes one see themselves more clearly, and in doing so, gain some separation from the various mental barnacles that attach themselves to each one of us as we traverse this world and its endless bombardments.

In chess, this experience is played out in black and white, in the rise and fall of expectation of triumph. The challenge each chess player faces it their ability to maintain focus amid the expectation of certain victory or presumed defeat. If you can learn to see your reaction as the game unfolds, you can better attenuate the arrogance or despair that can impair your play by clouding your concentration with expectation.

So it is with life. The better we can see our expectations and emotions, the more likely we can escape their gravity. It is all too easy to chain ourselves with the thinnest thread of resignation when the board of life yet offers a hundred possible moves all in the direction of a better position.

Researchers will suggest chess has countless other benefits, from the potential to stave off dementia, to increased concentration and stronger cognitive processing (brain work like learning something new or figuring out a math problem).

But for most of us, the real benefit of games like chess and go, or meditation, is that they grant us larger access to our own minds, and the ability to control the potential that resides there.