What Is Your Happiness Level?

On a scale of 1 to 10 how happy & fulfilled are you currently with your life?  1 being the worst you’ve ever been & 10 being you are thriving & living your best life…what is your level of life satisfaction & happiness at this time?

If your number is an 8, 9 or 10, rinse & repeat on whatever you are doing because it sounds like you are living well!  If your number isn’t currently an 8, 9 or 10, reflect on the last time in your life you felt happy & fulfilled & think about what was going on at the time – what were you doing or not doing?  What can you do to bring some of that success and meaning back into your life?

If you would like to feel healthier, happier & more fulfilled then ask yourself what are the barriers to success to making that happen?  What actions steps could you take to be happier on regular basis?

A recent article on happiness in Business Insider reports that research shows we can do a lot to create our own happiness.

“40% of our happiness is under our own control.  The rest is determined by genetics & external factors.  That means there’s a lot we can do to control our own happiness.”

Here are nine happiness-promoting behaviors backed by science:

  1. Relationships are essential. A major study followed hundreds of men for more than 70 years, and found the happiest (and healthiest) were those who cultivated strong relationships with people they trusted to support them.
  2. Time beats money. A number of studies have shown that happier people prefer to have more time in their lives than more money. Even trying to approach life from that mindset seems to make people more content.
  3. But it helps to have enough money to pay the bills. People’s well-being rises along with income levels up to an annual salary of about $75,000, studies have found. (That number probably varies depending on your cost of living, however.)
  4. It’s worth stopping to smell the roses. People who slow down to reflect on good things in their lives report being more satisfied.
  5. Acts of kindness boost the mood. Give your friends a ride to the airport or spend an afternoon volunteering. Some research has shown that people who perform such acts report being happier.
  6. Breaking a sweat is about more than burning calories. Studies show that increased levels of physical activity are connected to higher levels of happiness. Exercise tends to help mitigate the symptoms of some mental illnesses as well.
  7. Fun is more valuable than material items. People tend to be happier if they spend their money on experiences instead of things. Researchers have also found that buying things that allow you to have experiences — like rock climbing shoes or a new book to read — can also increase happiness.
  8. It helps to stay in the present in the moment. Several studies have found that people who practice mindfulness meditation experience greater well-being.
  9. Time with friends is time well spent. Interactions with casual friends can make people happier, and close friendships — especially with happy people — can have a powerful effect on your own happiness as well.

If you would like to be happier, healthier or more fulfilled in your life in 2018 & you are not sure how to get there, give us a call at Foundations Counseling Center & we can help get you started in the right direction.

Lori Corrigan, MA, LCPC – 847-497-0524

 

How You Living?

How you living?  I watched a very powerful inspirational video recently by minister & motivational speaker Dr Rick Rigsby that highlighted the importance of asking ourselves this important question early & often.

Life is busy & sometimes we live our day to day routine attending to the commitments of family, friends, school, work, community, etc. on autopilot.  We navigate through the daily, weekly, monthly journey of life, but often times we are going through the motions not really knowing or understanding what the impact is on our life as a whole.  How often do we check in with ourselves & assess how we are doing – truly doing?

Personally, professionally, mentally, physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually…where are you at in your life?  How are you living?  What do you think about your life?  How do you feel about it?  Are you largely happy or unhappy?  Fulfilled or unfulfilled?  Stressed or overwhelmed?  Healthy or unhealthy?

There are many different aspects of our lives that make up our whole self & often times one or more of those individual components are not as great as we would like them to be.  We don’t always realize the negative impact a lack of health & happiness in one or two areas of our life is having on our life as a whole.

So what can we do to cultivate greater understanding & awareness for the quality vs quantify of our lives?  One answer is to pay closer attention to our physical well being as our bodies are a strong indicator of overall life wellness.  Our bodies can provide a lot of information about the many different aspects of our life & health if we take the time to pay attention.  Headaches, stomachaches, skin problems, high blood pressure, back pain can all be indicators that chronic unmanaged stress or fear or hurt or anger about something is negatively affecting the quality of our life.

A recent article by MindBodyGreen states “80% of visits to primary care physicians are due to symptoms ultimately caused by stress or emotional problems”.  In the counseling profession that is known as a psychosomatic disorder which is physical ailments that are caused by emotional or psychological factors vs a medical illness.

It is the mind-body connection.  There is an actual physiological process that our bodies go through when we are overwhelmed, stressed, or experiencing difficult emotions. When we are fearful, angry, sad or chronically worried our brain’s limbic system – which supports a variety of functions such as emotion, behavior, motivation, long-term memory – gets activated & sends out chemicals like adrenaline & cortisol that suppress our immune system & make us vulnerable to illness & infection.  During those times our bodies are susceptible to increased inflammation, autoimmune & stomach problems, irritable bowel issues, colds & flu, higher blood pressure, sore muscles & irritable behavior.

So if you check in with yourself & notice that you haven’t been feeling particularly well & those symptoms are not otherwise accountable by a medical diagnosis, then there is a good chance that chronic stress or challenging thoughts & emotions are the cause.

The good news is there is something we can do something about it!  The first step is to become aware so check in with yourself early & often to know how you are truly living & feeling.  Next, take a few deep breaths & try to really understand what is going on – what are you thinking or feeling & how are you behaving?  Are you having a hard time focusing or thinking about things but don’t know how to say them?  Are you feeling a particular way about something but not letting others know how you feel?   Ask yourself what is important to you in your life & what you would like to do to achieve your hopes & dreams.

Seek to understand what your body is trying to tell you & figure out what you would like to do about it.  The only thing we have control over in life is ourselves as individuals so if we want to be happy & fulfilled then we must take personal responsibility for making that happen & work to change the direction of our lives if need be.

If you realize there are things in your life that are overwhelming or unsatisfying & don’t know how to solve those problems, then consultation with a counseling professional may be a great step in the right direction to help you make the changes that will bring you closer to the life you truly desire.

Peace & good health to all.

 

Understanding Why We Change

change-your-life

Lasting behavior change is not something that comes easy for most of us humans – it takes time, patience, hard work, motivation, commitment.  The truth is, if you want something bad enough you are going to have to work for it, and the process of change starts with understanding how ready (aware & motivated) are you to do something different?

Psychology pioneers Dr. James Prochaska and Dr. Carlos DiClemente have proposed there are five Stages Of Change we go through when it comes to change:

stages-of-change

and Psychology publication Very Well expands on the five-stages to include a sixth:

 1.  Pre-contemplation.  People in this stage are often described as “in denial” due to claims that their behavior is not a problem.  If you are in this stage, begin by asking yourself some questions:

  • Have you ever tried to change this behavior in the past?
  • How do you recognize that you have a problem?
  • What would have to happen for you to consider your behavior a problem?

2.  Contemplation.  During this stage, people become more and more aware of the potential benefits of making a change, but the costs tend to stand out even more. This conflict creates a strong sense of ambivalence about changing.  If you are contemplating a behavior change, there are some important questions to ask yourself:

  • Why do you want to change?
  • Is there anything preventing you from changing?
  • What are some things that could help you make this change?

3.  Preparation.  During the preparation stage, you might begin making small changes to prepare for a larger life change. For example, if losing weight is your goal, you might switch to lower-fat foods. If your goal is to quit smoking, you might switch brands or smoke less each day. You might also take some sort of direct action such as consulting a therapist, joining a health club, or reading self-help books.  If you are in the preparation stage, there are some steps you can take to improve your chances of successfully making a lasting life change:

  • Gather as much information as you can about ways to change your behavior.
  • Prepare a list of motivating statements and write down your goals.
  • Find outside resources such as support groups, counselors or friends who can offer advice and encouragement.

 4.  Action.  During the fourth stage of change, people begin taking direct action in order to accomplish their goals. Oftentimes, resolutions fail because the previous steps have not been given enough thought or time.For example, many people make a New Year’s Resolution to lose weight and immediately start a new exercise regimen, begin eating a healthier diet, and cut back on snacks. These definitive steps are vital to success, but these efforts are often abandoned in a matter of weeks because the previous steps have been overlooked.  If you are currently taking action towards achieving a goal, congratulate and reward yourself for any positive steps you take:

  • Reinforcement and support are extremely important in helping maintain positive steps toward change.
  • Take the time to periodically review your motivations, resources, and progress in order to refresh your commitment and belief in your abilities.

5.  Maintenance.  The maintenance phase of the Stages of Change Model involves successfully avoiding former behaviors and keeping up new behaviors. During this stage, people become more assured that they will be able to continue their change.  If you are trying to maintain a new behavior:

  • Look for ways to avoid temptation.
  • Try replacing old habits with more positive actions.
  • Reward yourself when you are able to successfully avoid a relapse.
  • If you do lapse, don’t be too hard on yourself or give up. Instead, remind yourself that it was just a minor setback.
  • As you will learn in the next stage, relapses are common and are a part of the process of making a lifelong change.

So take a moment to think about something that is important to you that you would like to change…what stage of change are you in?

Lastly, when I think of people in the helping profession who are experts in the change niche I think of Psychotherapist, Author & Speaker Bill O’Hanlon and his proposed Anatomy of Change.  Mr. O’Hanlon adds the following areas of focus for further understanding of the change process:

  • Main principles of interest – social following / influence, contextual influences, loss avoidance/aversion.
  • Changing patterns –  identifying problem / unwanted pattern, changing problem patterns, search for exceptions.
  • Solution talk –  Exceptions to the Problem Rule, The End Game, Highlighting Choice, Find Context of Commonplace, Worse Case Comparison, Taping Into Altruistic Expertise.
  • Dissolving impossibility talk – Spinning Problems Into the Past, Going Unglobal, Spinning Reality/Truth Claims into Perceptions.

Live Life Today

Living in the present moment of life – moment to moment awareness; noticing vs judging; responding vs reacting – are basic tenets of Mindfulness, which is a purposeful way of living that can foster many positive health benefits with regular practice.

mindfulness benefits

The only thing we ever truly have is this very moment right now.  A lot of the stress and anxiety we experience as humans along the journey of life is when we consistently process life with a past or future lens.  The past has already happened and the future has yet to exist.  Yes we are affected by our previous experiences and yes we do need to plan for the future, but ruminating or worrying too much about the past or the future can make us eternally dissatisfied with the present moment of life.

In a recent blog post, Charlie Ambler from Daily Zen writes about how living for today can enrich life:

The culture of hope and forward-thinking plans has always relied on a perpetual sense of dissatisfaction with the present moment. Only those who are unhappy with themselves now feel the need to work so single-mindedly towards a glorious later.  There’s nothing wrong with being ambitious. We run into problems, though, when we obsessively try to plan life in advance. The best lives are led fully day-by-day. People who are good to others, work hard, cultivate mindfulness, and discipline themselves end up growing into new, better people.

So take a deep breath and go forth in your next couple of minutes, hours, days and weeks being mindful of life as it is happening – with moment to moment awareness; noticing vs judging, responding vs reacting.  Note how you feel physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, personally, professionally when you slow things down and smell the roses a bit.  Be grateful for who you are and all that is as each and every day of life is a gift.

Inspirational video for living for today by Louie Schwartzberg:

 Live Mindfully & Prosper all!

How We Process Sadness

A basic tenet of Mindfulness is that we can become aware of and respond to intense emotion in different ways.  The way in which we attend to our thoughts & feelings when experiencing a life event shapes our reality – it is not what happens to us that makes us who we are, but rather how we respond vs react to our experiences.

According to @mindfulonline, a recent mindfulness-based intervention study showed that people who processed things from a wise-minded perspective (balance between left-brain logical mind & right-brain emotion mind) “showed marked reductions in activity in a region of the brain often linked to self-evaluation and analysis (the medial prefrontal cortex). They also showed increased activity in regions linked to direct, moment-by-moment sensory experiences (the lateral prefrontal cortex, especially the insula)”.

wise mind

What does all that mean?  Author Zindel Siegel proposes the following:

Mindfulness Changes How We Process Sadness

The fact that these two regions are tightly connected prior to practicing mindfulness suggests that it is usually very difficult for a person to focus on the moment without setting off thoughts about the self.  The “uncoupling” of these two parts of the brain that is associated with mindfulness suggests that the person is now able to maintain attention on body experience, without automatically activating “stories” about the self. Having actual data showing this phenomenon is hugely important, as it supports the notion of a fundamental neural dissociation between two distinct forms of self-awareness—narrative and experiential modes—that are habitually integrated but can be uncoupled through mindfulness training.

Siegel suggested the data from the study shows we can train ourselves to become less self-reflexive – that with regular practice we can learn to separate the experience from the story and subsequently be more present with difficult emotion without feeling as if we need to react to it.  The goal is to NOTICE what we are feeling (good, bad or indifferent) vs JUDGING the experience before we’ve even fully understood all that it means to us.

Slow things down when processing events.  It is important to honor how we feel, but remember feelings are not necessarily facts.  When we live more mindfully we learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and our ability to tolerate distress dramatically increases.

Pause.  Breathe.  Slow things down.  Notice vs judge.  Respond vs react.  Live mindfully & prosper!

Living in the Present Moment of Life

here&now

Life is in the here & now.  Life happens moment to moment in the present, not yesterday (the past) or tomorrow (the future).

The fabric of our lives is made up of every single moment we experience, good, bad or indifferent, that comes with the journey of working toward our hopes and dreams.  Without failure there would not be success and without lows there would be no highs.  The rich, vibrant woven tapestry that represents who we are comes from ALL of our experiences, not just the ones we like or are happy with.  Every ‘no’ brings us one step closer to a ‘yes’, and every time we experience something unpleasant, not so great, terrible or awful we are provided an opportunity to see what we are made of and see if we can learn and grow from the challenge.

So what would happen if we learned to live life more mindfully and live our day to day lives more in the here and now of life vs holding on to the past or worrying about the future…making the decision to radically accept life as it comes, warts and all, if you will?

Well, what happens with that story line is up to you, but studies show that living more in the present moment of lie, noticing and responding to things vs. judging and reacting is clinically proven to support the following health benefits:

  • Improved mental focus and coping skills
  • Reduced stress, anxiety, depression
  • Strengthened social relationships
  • Healthier mind, body, spirit

Here is an excerpt from #tinybuddha author Matt Richards who decided to try living in the present more – here’s what he found out:

http://tinybuddha.com/blog/life-becomes-beautiful-stop-anticipating-the-worst/?utm_content=buffer70eec&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

I’m glad to say that one day I had an epiphany. I realized that by being so cautious, I was actually missing out on experiencing the amazing backdrop to my journey.  On that day I realized that I wanted to walk to school present and mindful of the wonderful world around me.  I wanted to look around more and experience life in all its glory, not just worry about whether I stepped in poop.  So I did.

And yes, perhaps on occasion my shoe may have met with something nasty, but it made that walk so much more enjoyable. I remember the feelings of oneness and freedom it instilled in me to this day.  And really, that’s what being mindful and present is. It’s saying yes to life and noticing your surroundings. Fully.

It’s saying yes, I might step in something unpleasant, I might get hurt, I might feel silly, I might expose my vulnerabilities, but at least I get to experience every remarkable nuance and opportunity life has to offer too.

So what do you think – want to give this living in the moment stuff a try?  You can get started right here & right now with just a couple of simple steps; repetition and practice are key:

Breathe – take a couple of deep breaths to slow things down

Notice – use your senses to take in information without judgement when life is happening (name all the different ways you may think & feel about what is happening, don’t feel the need to judge it so quickly)

Respond – use wise-minded processing (balance between logic & emotion) to evaluate and make decisions

Be grateful –  choose to see the beauty and good that is out there & purposefully express gratitude for all that is fortunate in your life

Stay active – spend time with people, give back to others, exercise, stretch, take a class, travel, or just be 🙂

Live Mindfully & Prosper!

Live Mindfully & Prosper

Mindfulness-Prosper

Monday November 2, 2015

Good Mindful Monday all – welcome to Live Mindfully & Prosper!

Who? As a 20-year counseling professional and fellow human being who experiences ups and downs in life like all other humans, I understand the beauty and challenge life can bring.

What? One thing I know that works to help enrich daily life and manage stress is Mindfulness.  Mindfulness is a particular way of noticing and responding to life – noticing vs. judging; responding vs. reacting…think about it, big difference, right?  Mindful living is, in a nutshell, moment to moment awareness of life as it is happening – accepting life as it is happening, with an open mind and heart.  Not always easy to do, but worth the effort for sure with research showing that regular Mindfulness practice can have significant health benefits such as:

  • Enhanced emotional intelligence for improved coping and problem solving
  • Increased awareness for stronger interpersonal relationships
  • Reduced stress for decreased depression, anxiety & blood pressure
  • Improved focus and memory for more proficient critical thinking skills

How? Brain science:  Daily life requires us to interact with others, make decisions and respond to all kinds of things, and over time our brains become wired (grooved like a record) to those same responses or reactions we tend to have over and over.  Many times we are reacting emotionally (right brain response) instead of responding mindfully (balance of right brain emotion processing and left brain logical analyzing), but the good news is our brains have what is called neuroplasticity so we can recondition (re-groove) our automatic responses to life to become healthier over time and with practice.  All good things take time and the clinically proven benefits of Mindfulness are no different – to cultivate mindful living skills so they become a more automatic response to life (versus the reactions we have grooved our brings to do) we must practice them over & over again.

Why? If you start today with adding one element of Mindfulness to your daily life, possibly immediate, but more realistically over time you will likely notice a positive difference in the way you are living and feeling about life.  It may be that you are more relaxed day to day or that you find yourself responding better to things…maybe you are starting to enjoy healthier interactions with people, or you aren’t as easily agitated or maybe you feel life is perhaps brighter, more manageable or hopeful.

30-Day Mindfulness Challenge! It takes time to change a habit; repetition is key.  Start with one small thing, and build.  Give it a try, see what happens, what do you have to lose?  The possibilities are endless when we live with an open mind. 

Where/when? There are many components to Mindfulness and the benefits are many so this Live Mindfully & Prosper (LM&P) page is designed to be a resource for you in all things Mindfulness.  Visit us weekly for information, education, hands-on skills, inspiration, motivation, support & guidance regarding how Mindful Living can help you to live a healthier, happier, more balanced and fulfilled life.

Cheers to Living Mindfully & Prospering all!  Below are a few Mindful Living tips you can get started with right here, right now :).

Enjoy & be well always,

Lori

  • Slow down
  • Take a deep breath (Mindful Breathing)
  • Let go of judgment
  • Pay attention to your body
  • Use all five of your senses to notice things
  • Seek understanding
  • Express gratitude
  • Live life for today, not yesterday or tomorrow