* Approaching the New Year With Gratitude

By Laura Keys – Courier & Press – December 19, 2017 –

Have you ever noticed that no matter what happens in some people’s lives, they are able to maintain a relatively positive attitude and see the silver lining in each situation?

They see the opportunity in a challenging dilemma, and they appreciate what they have, even in the face of loss. That doesn’t happen by accident.

Fortunately, a positive attitude can be developed with a little practice. The brain is a muscle, and you can strengthen your mind’s natural tendency toward optimism if you work at it.

This is not just good practice for our mental health but for our spiritual health as well. Many different faiths emphasize the importance of thankfulness, especially as a form of prayer. Eckhart Toelle said, “If the only prayer you ever say is ‘Thank You,’ that will be enough.”

Thankfulness doesn’t always come easily, but it is at those times that we need to seek out gratitude the most.

One of the ways we can train our brain in thankfulness is keeping a gratitude journal. In one study, psychologist Jeffrey Froh at Hofstra University asked students to write in gratitude journals each day for two weeks.

Students were asked to write down things they felt thankful for on a daily basis. Three weeks later, the students who counted their blessings reported feeling more optimistic, more satisfied with their lives and had more school satisfaction.

Froh explained the results this way: “It’s beyond feeling good, and beyond happiness… we found that grateful kids tend to report less physical complaints; but also in the adult literature they found that grateful people who counted blessings were more likely to exercise, more likely to report better sleep, less likely to report these physical complaints.”

 Researchers Robert Emmons and Michael McCollough also found many positive effects of keeping gratitude journals. Among the benefits were:

  • Being more likely to make progress on personal goals
  • Higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm and energy
  • Reporting having helped someone else or offered emotional support
  • Children reporting more positive attitudes toward school and their families
  • Adults with neuromuscular disease felt more optimistic about life and slept better

Twenty-one days is the time it takes to form a new habit. Now is an ideal time, as we prepare for the coming year and celebrate the holidays. It is a time to take stock of how we want our new year to unfold, and it’s a time to make promises to ourselves about improvement and renewal.

A different new year challenge than working on our outsides (gym memberships, new diets) would be to start with our insides (our hearts and minds). A gratitude journal could be just the thing to increase our compassion, optimism and humility.

Make this a part of your new year’s renewal. Select a special logbook that can be written in each day. At the beginning or end of the day, write down five things that make you feel grateful and thankful. You may feel like drawing a picture or attaching photos that mean something special to you. In any case, write down five items each day for three weeks.

If you have trouble getting started, think about simple or even obvious things like running water, your favorite song, coffee, that it snowed (or didn’t) today or experiencing another sunrise.

Once the list gets started, it’s easy to add items. At the end of three weeks, spend some time reflecting on the material you gathered. Meet a friend for lunch or coffee, and share your gratitude.

For more information on the benefits of gratitude see   happierhuman.com/benefits-of-gratitude/.

* Is Your Mind Full? Try Mindfulness

By Callie Sanders, LSW – December 12, 2017 –

With the demands of 21st century life – work, parenting, endless emails, texts, social media, etc. – people wear overstimulation like a badge of honor.

There seems to be a kind of confusion in our culture where people feel the need to be anxious and always “on the go” to be effective.  I’m just as guilty.

With that being said, we find ourselves in a mindfulness revolution.  It’s prominent everywhere.   From hospitals to corporations, 33% of Americans said they had used alternative health practices, including meditation (National Institutes of Health).

Mindfulness practice embraces the beauty of monotasking.  The way I describe mindfulness to the students I work with is simply “paying attention on purpose.”

By incorporating mindfulness practice at my schools this year, the students that are willing to give it a try leave my office feeling less stressed.  Most ask to repeat the practice during additional visits.  Let’s face it, kids are stressed out too.

There aren’t any prizes handed out for being the greatest at mindfulness. It is about connecting to our experiences in a different way and giving ourselves a chance to pay attention in the present without adding more stuff to our plate.

If you’ve used phrases like, “My mind just works too fast” or “I’ve tried it and failed,” or my favorite, “I don’t have time for that,” you’re exactly the kind of person that needs mindfulness most.  Mindfulness is a lifelong journey, not an all-or-nothing mentality, and it’s free.

According to a study conducted in 2013 by the University of Southern California, most Americans spend 13-plus hours a day consumed by media.  No wonder everyone is stressed out.

I was skeptical when the term mindfulness was first introduced to me.  But when I decided to give it a chance, I was surprised how simple it was and what I felt.

Practicing mindfulness can happen anywhere.  I like to practice in my vegetable garden or out in my yard.  When I take a second to sniff a fresh tomato after I pull it off the vine or listen to the birds singing in the background, I feel better.

For just that one second I was present; I noticed nature.  What a powerful feeling!  I encourage you to try this with your family at home.  After you take a second for yourself and enjoy nature, be grateful.

Lastly, I want to leave you with some tips for your workday, especially in the afternoon when the “two o’clock yawns” kick in.

When you can take a break, don’t go straight to your phone for at least one of the breaks.  A 2014 study found that being able to see a cellphone hinders the ability to focus on tough tasks.

If you can, go for a short walk and try not to ruminate on work.  I realize this can be difficult, but don’t be afraid to give it a try.  Ignoring your phone is a great way to practice mindfulness during the walk.

Also, do someone a favor.  Not only does this help you connect to others, it aids in recovering from stress.

Most importantly, start small.  Remember, no rewards are given for being the best at mindfulness.  I encourage you to put your phone down during dinner this evening and engage in conversation.  You will feel better being present.

* Agree to Disagree in a Respectful Manner

By Dawn Tedrow, LCSW, Dec. 5, 2017 –

There are a lot of things to be unhappy about in our world today.  Everyone has their own opinion when it comes to politics and current affairs, and many are not shy about expressing their feelings. If you open up your social media news feed and read through the comments, you will see a lot of negativity.

What about you? Have you taken a look at your own attitude and behavior lately?

We try to raise our children to be well rounded individuals, to know the difference between right and wrong and to handle conflict appropriately.

Sometimes things are said just for the sake of stirring up an argument with someone who posted their opinion.  We feel hurt by things people post, and want them to know they have offended us.  But what is the right way to handle this conflict?

We must remember that our children are observing our reactions to these situations and they are often mirroring our behavior.

As a parent, I am entitled to my own beliefs that influence how I raise my child.  However, I am also responsible for ensuring they conduct themselves in a way that is respectful.  Perhaps it is time to review the idea that we can “agree to disagree.”

Be mindful of how you respond to situations you disagree with.  I am also guilty of uttering something under my breath about the latest news.  What I would like my child to take away from the moment is that I don’t agree with what is being said or done.  But your child is also hearing the words you are saying and thinking of how to apply it to situations in their young life.

Unfortunately, our bad behaviors may teach our children to handle a situation in an inappropriate way and they may ultimately be punished for it.  We are setting our children up for failure by not keeping our own reactions in check.

The next time you are watching the news and disagree with what is being reported, take a moment to think about how you should respond.  What do you want your child to learn from your reaction?  How would you like them to react to a difficult situation at school when you are not present?

The first step in expressing yourself in a positive manner is by starting with “I feel.”  Surprisingly, many children don’t know how to describe their feelings, so it might be helpful to have a list of feelings available for them to look at while instructing them in this skill.  “I feel angry” and “I feel sad” are some examples.

Once the child understands how to identify their feelings, you can begin teaching them to identify what is making them have this feeling. For example, “I feel angry when you tell me to pick up my toys.”

Practice modeling this behavior around your children and continue to encourage them to use their words instead of acting out inappropriately.  As always, be sure to praise them for using their words in a respectful and appropriate manner.