Gratitude Generates Greater Happiness

Gratitude Generates Greater Happiness

The holiday season creates expectations for a festive and loving gathering with family and friends. Yet it’s often met with undue stress, disappointment, anxiety or depression. Maybe it’s fortuitous that Thanksgiving kicks off the season. We’re expected to be grateful. If this attitude of gratitude were adapted into our daily lives, might it bring greater happiness? As a psychotherapist, I often work with people suffering from anxiety or depression. One of my first tasks is to create a safe enough environment for the person to trust me enough to decrease the negative rumination. As they move away from their inner doubts and fears they’re able to view life more realistically. They eventually discover that there is much to be thankful for. Gratitude is defined as the feeling or quality of being grateful. It is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. They recognize that many times the source of that goodness lies outside themselves. As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals – whether to other people, nature, or a higher power. UC Riverside professor, Sonja Lyubomirsky, says in her book, The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want, that “Gratitude is many things to many people. It is wonder, appreciation, looking on the bright side of a setback. It is fathoming abundance, thanking someone in your life, thanking God and ‘counting blessings.’ It is coping, present-oriented and not taking things for granted.” Her research demonstrates that “expressing gratitude has several benefits. People...
The Five Languages of Apology

The Five Languages of Apology

Has a loved one ever hurt you and though they apologized, you weren’t able to put the offense behind you? Something about their apology was missing the mark. In their book, “The Five Languages of Apology” Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas found that “what one person considers a sincere apology is not necessarily what another person may consider a sincere apology. In essence, they have different languages of apology.” Apologizing is fundamental to having healthy relationships. The five are as follows: a. Expressing Regret: “I am sorry” The offended person needs to hear the words I am sorry. Those words convey ownership; that you realize what you did has hurt them deeply. It acknowledges and identifies their pain and ownership of your behavior. “Without the expression of regret, they do not sense that the apology is adequate or sincere.” b. Accepting Responsibility: “I was wrong” Willingness to admit wrongdoing. Own it. Conveying that what you did was wrong, unkind or insensitive. Some people have a difficult time admitting they’re wrong. Saying I was wrong does not mean I am bad. It erroneously becomes tied to their self-worth instead of being linked with behavior. Everyone messes up from time to time. No one is perfect. As one comes to terms with their individual strengths and limitations without feeling ashamed, they will be better able to own the wrongdoing. c. Making Restitution: “What can I do to make it right?” A person whose primary language is making restitution requires that the offender express a willingness to do something to make up for the pain that was caused. (When you know what...

7 Tips to Help Children Manage Stress

Some children mange the pressures of school quite nicely while others find that too many commitments, conflict in their families and problems with peers can be overwhelming. The key to helping kids manage stress is to teach them to problem-solve, plan and know when to say yes and no to activities and commitments. It isn’t to “make everything smooth and comfortable.” Below are 7 tips to help your children manage stress successfully. 1. Stop over-scheduling. One of the biggest stressors for kids is being over-scheduled. Yet children are expected to do well in school, excel at extracurricular activities, come home, finish homework, and go to bed just to do it all over again the next day. Where’s the downtime? Kids need downtime to rejuvenate. Their brains and bodies need to rest. And they might not realize this by themselves. So knowing when your child is over-scheduled is important. 2. Make time for play. Allow children to play with no end goal in mind. Young children do this naturally. Combine play with physical activity, which is critical for well-being. Some ideas include: riding your bikes, throwing around the baseball, wrestling and hiking. 3. Make sleep a priority. Sleep is vital for everything from minimizing stress to boosting mood to improving school performance. If your child isn’t getting enough sleep it may be an indicator that they’re over-scheduled. If possible, keep TV and other electronics out of your child’s bedroom. 4. Teach your children to listen to their bodies. Try this: Sit in the car with your child, and press the gas and brake, and listen to the engine revving. Explain...
Helping Children Cope with Stress

Helping Children Cope with Stress

As the new school year is upon us, so does a wave of emotions for your children: excitement, homework, and sometimes stress. Stress is a normal physical response to events that disrupts the emotional balance in the body. Most of the stress comes from the demands of the environment (school, family, social) that are greater than one’s current level of coping. Everyone is affected by stress and each reacts to it in their own way. There are both “good stress” and “bad stress.” Good stress is that optimal amount of stress that energizes and motivates us to do our best work. It encourages us to develop effective coping strategies to deal with our challenges. This ultimately contributes to one’s resilience. Bad stress occurs when we feel overwhelmed and unable to move forward. Parents may be unaware of the stress their children experience. The National Association of School Psychologists reports that the following are common causes of stress for school-aged children: School: When their classroom lacks structure, have unclear or unreasonable expectations, or have an unrealistic fear of failure. Home: Lack of family routines, over-scheduling, prolonged or serious illness, poor nutrition, change in the family situation, financial problems, family strife or abuse, or unclear or unreasonable expectations. Peer-related: Having to deal with bullying, fitting in with the crowd, or moving to a new community. The following strategies from “Helping Kids Cope With Stress” Kids Health may be helpful: Notice out loud. Tell your child when you notice that something’s bothering him or her. If you can, name the feeling you think your child is experiencing. (“It seems like you’re still...

Working Together Strengthens Family Bonds

We’re in the middle of summer now, and you’ve likely had the children home for a good three weeks. Are you having the best summer ever? Or have you begun counting down the days to when they go back to school? In order for all of us to enjoy the summer it’s important that we pull together, divide the daily household workload, be considerate of one another’s commitments and celebrate life daily together. Including children in daily responsibilities teaches them realistic life lessons. Consider the following: 1. Give your children household chores. Chores given at an early age helps children build a lasting sense of mastery, responsibility and self-reliance. It also teaches them how to be empathetic and responsive to others’ needs. Richard Rende, a developmental psychologist says “Parents today want their kids spending time on things that can bring them success. But ironically, we’ve stopped doing one thing that’s actually been a proven predictor of success—and that’s household chores.” Chores, when done in the spirit of cooperation strengthens family cohesion. 2. Create a schedule. Children feel more secure when they know what to expect from day to day. Similar to a teacher, in order for the day to run smoothly, teachers have a daily lesson plan. At home the structure may be – children get up at a reasonable time,  help in preparing breakfast, cleaning up the living areas, then playing outdoors. Reading, indoor activity and lunch followed by quiet time / nap time. Also, make time to play and structure time to chill and relax. 3. Help your children develop a healthy relationship with time. Manage down-time...
Emotional Regulation Cheat Sheet

Emotional Regulation Cheat Sheet

No matter how good your communication skills, everyone experiences “emotional hijacking” when conflict affects their significant relationships.   First Step for Emotion Regulation: ASSESS the elements of what is happening ACTION: Stop doing whatever you are doing, so that you may reflect on your own experience EMOTION: Label the emotion you are experiencing in the moment. (a one word answer, such as anger, sadness, disappointment, fear, anxiety) THOUGHTS: What types of thoughts are you having related to the emotion?                a. All or None                b. Judgmental                c. Catastrophizing                d. Mind Reading                e. Assuming the worst                f. Time Traveling   Second Step for Emotion Regulation: Application of SKILLS ACTION: Inhale, expanding the belly, for a count of 3; Exhale, contracting the belly, for a count of 5. Repeat 6 times EMOTION: Validate it; Practice KIND – NON JUDGMENTAL- COMPASSION towards yourself for having the emotion. Say to yourself “It makes sense that I am having this emotion, based on….”         i. My history         ii. Anyone would feel this way in the same situation         iii. My current biological disposition (e.g. sleep deprivation, PMS, recent alcohol consumption, medical illness, other stressors) THOUGHTS: Let go of sticky obsessive thoughts, REDIRECT ATTENTION to the present moment.      a. Move attention to the physical sensations of breathing (see step 1b).      b. Next, notice the feeling of being inside your mind-body vehicle.      c. Hear...
Talking With Loved Ones When Concerned About Suicide

Talking With Loved Ones When Concerned About Suicide

February is Suicide Awareness Month and I was concerned about the staggering statistics in the rise in attempts by teenagers and young adults. Coming of age for teenagers involves shifts and changes. This transition may exhibit the emotional tug of war in loud outbursts or quiet brooding, spending more and more time away from home and with friends, and even opting for solitude rather than joining us at the dinner table.  How do we watch for behaviors that stem away from characteristic adolescent moodiness and veer into more dangerous contemplations of suicide? By 2014, suicide was the tenth leading cause of death in America, and climbed up to number two for teenagers and young adults.  1 million estimated suicide attempts are made in America alone per year, and over 40,000 lead to actual deaths.  These staggering numbers can catalyze us to understanding the vastness of the issue in our culture and inspire us to be vessels of hope to those who don’t know how to handle thoughts of suicide. There are a few signs to look for.  90% of suicides are related to mental disorders, particularly depression and anxiety. Other risk factors include substance abuse disorders, prior suicide attempts, family history of suicide and family violence, and exposure to suicidal behaviors of others.  Listen for conversations that include comments of: Hurting themselves Having no reason to live Being a burden to others Watch for behavior changes, particularly related to: Increased use of alcohol or drugs Reckless behavior Withdrawing from usual activities Isolating from community Sleeping too much or too little Giving away prized possessions If you suspect a loved...
Five Positive Practices

Five Positive Practices

We all want to live happy and fulfilled lives. Research in positive psychology suggests that the following tips have the power to actually change your outlook and help improve your satisfaction with life. Whether it’s with a friend, family member, or as a personal challenge, here are five positive practices to bring greater happiness in your life: 1. Live in the Moment.  It is easy to let our thoughts drift into the future or the past.  We think about goals and deadlines, reminisce on good times or perhaps ruminate on bad ones. Perhaps the most difficult, yet rewarding task we can do is to keep our minds in the present.  There are many ways you can practice living in the moment – starting with a personal practice of mindfulness. Not all mindfulness happens in a yoga studio or in a Zen space – it can be as simple as taking deep breaths in the office or listening to the rhythmic sound of your shoes hitting pavement on a walk.  2. Listen to Loved Ones.  With so much information vying for our attention, sometimes it gets hard to focus and we miss important moments. If loved ones are confiding in you, put whatever you are doing aside and listen to the meaning behind their message. Listen to learn. Listen to understand. Put aside the need to fix or help them with whatever they’re saying. Reflect back what you hear them say. Ask them for clarification if their message is confusing. These counseling techniques helps them to become more clear about what is disturbing for them. People typically vent so that...
Five New Year’s Resolutions that Could Change Your Life

Five New Year’s Resolutions that Could Change Your Life

  This year, consider a list of resolutions that can transform your life and relationships. Research in positive psychology suggests that the following tips have the power to actually change your outlook and help improve your satisfaction with life. Whether it’s with a friend, family member, or as a personal challenge, here are five positive practices to bring with you into 2015:   1. Live in the Moment. It is easy to let our thoughts drift into the future or the past. We think about goals and deadlines, reminisce on good times or perhaps ruminate on bad ones. Perhaps the most difficult, yet rewarding task we can do is to keep our minds in the present. There are many ways you can practice living in the moment – starting with a personal practice of mindfulness. Not all mindfulness happens in a yoga studio or in a Zen space – it can be as simple as taking deep breaths in the office or listening to the rhythmic sound of your shoes hitting pavement on a walk. 2. Listen to Loved Ones. With so much information vying for our attention, sometimes it gets hard to focus and we miss important moments. If loved ones are confiding in you, put whatever you are doing aside and listen to the meaning behind their message. Listen to learn. Listen to understand. Put aside the need to fix or help them with whatever they’re saying. Reflect back what you hear them say. Ask them for clarification if their message is confusing. These counseling techniques helps them to become more clear about what is disturbing for...
The Gift of Self-Compassion

The Gift of Self-Compassion

  Are you one of those individuals who has a big heart, is able to forgive others, and drops everything to help others – sometimes at the expense of taking care of your own needs?   Based on a study conducted at the University of Texas at Austin, self-compassion is strongly related to happiness, optimism, reflective wisdom, and personal initiative. If you find yourself continually berating yourself for not meeting your own harsh standards, you may be crippling yourself from actually being able to be happy. Whether it’s showing up late to a meeting, eating a few extra treats during the day, or losing patience with the kids, we’re overly critical and judgmental of ourselves when we believe we have disappointed a loved one or have failed. We jump to extreme conclusions – “I’m such an Idiot! I am never going to get this right!” – and blow often trivial mistakes out of proportion. Rather than being kind to ourselves so that we can do better next time, this dramatization only increases our anxiety and attachments to the problem. Self-compassion is extending compassion to one’s self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering. It encompasses three areas: * Being kind to the self amidst failure and perceived inadequacy * Realizing that failure is part of the human experience, and * Being mindfully aware of our emotions.   Consider treating yourself as you already treat others:   Be Nice to Yourself When You Fall. Different from having a positive self-esteem, practicing self-compassion means that you are kind towards your own perceived failures and inadequacies. In the same way...