Archive for May, 2009

Smile birthday

Photo by Pink Sherbet Photography

Start each day with a smile. Try to fit in as many as you can.  Just talking with friends or coworkers can spark a grin.  Discussing funny TV shows or commercials, venting frustrations about being overworked or counting idiots in traffic can be a great vehicle for fun and laughter.

Smiles are contagious too. Once you start smiling, others will start.  Try an experiment and see how many people you can get to smile in a meeting or conference room.  Share a funny experience about your child, a picture of your pet or some other tidbit and let the room lighten up before the information flows.  It will make for a more relaxed and productive time.

Smiles are good for you. When you smile, it changes how you feel.  It’s hard to stay angry when you’re smiling.  Don’t we all have fights that end like that?  You’re right in the middle of a big tirade about how unjust life is, how no one listens or cares about you, then suddenly your dog runs over wagging her tail and offers her tummy up for a rub and you totally lose track of what you were mad about.

Smiles promote positive connections. A true smile is recognized by most everyone.  When you smile with your heart it shows.  We all know that used-car salesman smile and that we should avoid it.  But a real honest-to-goodness feel-good smile can light up a room, or make someone’s day.  Getting the smile is almost as great as giving it.

Smiles are fun. Smiles accompanied by giggling are likely to make you instantly popular as people come to investigate the good news.  Ever drive down the road listening to a comedy tape?  Ever noticed the people in the other car smiling at your laughter, even though they have absolutely no idea what’s so funny?  That’s the power of a smile!

Smiles are free. One of the great bonuses of smiles is that they cost nothing.  In fact, giving smiles away enriches those that give them.  Smiles can bring relief, hope, perspective and relaxation.  Sometimes all at once!  Smiling is a great gift to give when times are tough – they’re a treasure that everyone longs for.

Smiling becomes easier the more you do it. This is really true!  When you find things to be happy about, even in the midst of turmoil, it brings peace and spreads love.  Smiles are a sign of joy and caring.  When you give someone a smile, most often it is returned to you.  Smiles often multiply, bringing more joy and laughter with it.

Smiles help heal. Anyone who is stressed out, in pain or suffering knows that a simple smile can start the road to recovery.  Smiles can ease tension, relive pain, and inspire a new outlook.  Whatever kind of day you are having, a smile can make it better.  Try it today and see.


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Surprised monkey

Why is fear so powerful and convincing? When we see or hear something that pushes our primal fears; of not having enough shelter, food, or good health, our fear center takes us over and we become powerless.

Suddenly we start to listen once again to that false voice of self-criticism inside us.  The ones that tells us we’re not enough; not smart enough, not successful enough, not dedicated enough, just not enough

Our fear can be over anything at all; fear we are not worthy of love, fear that we will never achieve our dreams, fear of not enough money, or fear of dying.  Even when these fears are totally false, still we can fall victim to them.

I remember when I was around 26 and I started thinking about death.  This lead to an irrational fear – not of dying, but of suffering.  Suddenly I started imaging all the potential ways I could be being kidnapped, tortured, beaten or worse.  These worries would pop up when I was walking to the car alone, in the dark of night, or even in a crowded store with too many strangers.

But most of this fear is irrational. It comes from our “old brain,” the one that said “Run before you’re trampled to death!” and “Look out for that snake!”  We don’t need these adrenaline-filled warnings anymore, yet our bodies are still primed to produce them.

Too much fear rewires the brain.  When we worry too much, our brains slips into a pattern, like a groove on a record, that’s hard to break out of. And since we are often surrounded by bad news – murders, disasters, illness and problems abound in the nightly news, it’s easy to believe the world is a scary place.

So what is the opposite of fear?  Joy!  Happiness, fun, laughter and love. But how do we break away from fear and into the bright light of smiles and peace?  There is no easy answer, but here are a few ideas that seem to work best for me:

1.  Distraction. One great way to get rid of fear is to distract your mind with another activity.  It could be doing the dishes, making dinner, solving a puzzle or walking the dog.  You could listen to some music, watch TV, or read a book.  Often just taking your mind off your worries for a while will help you see them in a more realistic light and this will banish the baseless fears easily.

2.  More fear. While this may sound strange, it works for me.  For instance, I love to watch horror movies, read scary books, or even try something new like white-water rafting that I am somewhat afraid of.  The over-the-top fears in the horror movies help to give perspective to my own fears – real or imagined.  Doing something I am afraid of, like navigating a rushing river in just a raft full of air builds confidence, and that too helps get rid of fears of being unworthy or no good.

3.  Building happiness skills. This one is harder and not effective in the short run, but provides greater benefits over the long haul.  Building happiness skills, like gratitude, optimism, stress relievers and other techniques help me to find the good things in my life and build on them.  Finding new ways to laugh, recognizing blessings I have overlooked, like having good health or reliable transportation help me to relax and feel more secure about my life.

4.  Attack them. Sometimes the only way to get rid of fear is to attack it head-on.  Since much of what we fear will never come to pass, this is often an effective technique.  Take a piece of paper, and write down what is bothering you.  Then list 5 steps you can take to do something about it.  Even if you can not start them right away, simply having a plan can bring peace of mind.  Seeing things in black and white also takes away the power of our imagination, and we find that we are well prepared to solve our own problems.

5.  Get reinforcements. Fear does not survive well in groups.  It thrives in loneliness and isolation.  When fear is overtaking you, get help.  It can be friends, family, a counselor, or a support group.  It could even be a blog where you give the help to others that you thought you needed yourself.  Other people can find the flaws in fear’s logic and blow a hole through it so big that it can’t survive.

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Monkey stress

Photo by scragz

We all need it.  Even when things are going well, we are often busy with one task after another, going from work to taking care of the kids and keeping the house in order.  Some stress is good, but often when we are working hard and things are great, we think we can handle even more and thus we tip the balance of work and play.

Stress relief is important because left unchecked, stress produces harmful changes that can lead to health problems and depression.  If we want to be happy it’s important to take care of both mind and body.

To reduce stress we need to have a method or set of steps to follow to feel better when we’re tired, overworked, feeling ill or sad. We need a way to give our body and mind a rest, a chance to recover from the symptoms like pain, headache, poor sleep or unhealthy eating.  To relax and rejuvenate so we’re ready to tackle a new day.

There is a huge variety of stress busting techniques available. They range from the ordinary to the unusual.  Since we’re all different, using an assortment of ideas and methods to match our individual styles is highly beneficial.

Some of my favorite stress relievers are meditation, music, dance, exercise, reading, chocolate, TV and laughter.  Other people enjoy gardening, painting, basketball, bubble baths, a glass of wine, playing with the kids and playing video games.

There is not right or wrong way to take a break.  If you can’t remember what it is you enjoy doing, now is the time to make a list. Get a sheet of paper and list 10 other things you ‘d rather be doing right now; fishing, taking a nap, watching a movie, bird-watching, yoga, laughing with friends, visit a museum, play the guitar, get a manicure or go to beach.

A great way to add to your list is to include things you like to do on vacation. See if there are ways to do the same things at home.  If you golf, maybe you can mini-golf with the kids; if you love the ocean you could join a gym with a great pool.  The wonderful thing is we can continue to add new ideas to our relaxation list until we have so many ideas we couldn’t possibly do them all.  Maybe you could start a monthly spa day with the girls!

Here’s a list of a few more relaxing/fun ideas:

  • Go cloud watching.
  • Ride a bike at the park.
  • Rock in the backyard hammock.
  • Ride an ATV.
  • Light some scented candles.
  • Jazz it up with some upbeat contemporary jazz music.
  • Play squirt gun tag.
  • Dance like a ballerina.
  • Cook an elaborate dinner.
  • Watch lightning bugs flash in the dark.
  • Close your eyes and pretend you’re a tree.
  • Throw a barbeque party!
  • Do some wood working.
  • Treat yourself to some fresh-cut flowers.
  • Write a letter of love to your mom.
  • Build a tree fort retreat.
  • Trade massage treatments with your spouse.
  • Listen to classical music as you clean.

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