Tag Archives: Happiness

Want less stress? Get excited, join a choir and help others.

7 Apr

We have all felt stressed at some stage in your life, You might even have felt stressed already today. You might feel a little bit of anxiety reading this realising you are meant to be doing something more productive or important. You are alive because of stress, If there was no stress you would be dead.

You might enjoy spending time walking in the park looking at the various animals in nature or feeling relaxed looking into your back garden at some birds that are feeding on breadcrumbs or seeds that you have left out for them.

Watching them sit on the garden fence nervously looking around and waiting for that moment when there seems to be no predators around and then quickly flying to the bread still looking around anxiously and taking quick nips at the bread while still surveying the garden for danger. Eventually flying away in a panic when they hear an unfamiliar noise like a back door slamming.  The bird needs to eat to but it also has a desire to stay alive and it does this by remaining in a heightened state of stress while it tries to eat in a possibly dangerous unfamiliar environment.

No Stress = No Human Race

This is exactly how we have survived as a human race for 10’s of thousands of years. The fight or flight response kept us alive as hunter gatherers thousands of years ago before agriculture when we had to hunt for food in environments where we could also be seen as something elses food. Cortisol, adrenaline, glucose and even oxytocin is secreted into the body to help us defend ourselves in these situations and stay alive or run away and survive. Just like the little bird in your garden. Or the squirrel in the park.

We no longer rely on hunting as a means to stay alive in this modern world. But our bodies are still equipped to experience the same fight or flight response. We might get the same release of stress hormones into our body late at night down a dark alleyway when we feel something is not quite right. These stress hormones help us to fight and defend ourselves and stay alive or depart the situation very quickly and also stay alive. A very similar situation to our hunter gatherer ancestors. But in the safer world that we live in there is less need for this response.

We have a created a number of different activities and situations that cause our bodies to  trigger the fight or flight response now, job interviews, being late for a deadline, road rage,feelings of inadequacy, difficulty paying bills or being overwhelmed at work all can trigger the fight or flight response and stress. The thing is, if the bird in the back garden feeding on the bread, felt that same level of stress all the time it would quite quickly die. Its heart and immune system would eventually break down and life would end. It’s the  exact same for us. Too much stress with out a break kills us.

Stressjpg

We are not good at being stressed for long periods of time. Our bodies can’t take it. In today’s world though how do we avoid any stress at all? We could spend our life avoiding the exam, the job interview,the first date the work presentation. But ultimately live a life unfulfilled and without challenge. Feeling anxiety and experiencing feelings of discomfort in unfamiliar situations are behaviours that our brain has not forgotten. It’s a coping mechanism. Is there a way to harness stress to work in our favour and help us?

It seems there is

Anxiety and excitement are very similar states. They are both aroused emotions. In both cortisol(stress hormone) surges the heart beats faster and the body is preparing itself for action. The only difference is that one is a negative emotion and the other is positive. When we are in an anxious state the first piece of advice usually is to calm down and relax. This is almost impossible as the body is surging with cortisol and adrenaline and the heart is beating faster and the blood is being oxygenated. Returning to a zen like state any time soon is unlikely.  How can we use this anxiety filled state to benefit us in this situation?

congruence

Well Alison Woods Brooks a professor at Harvard business school found some interesting results through research in 2014.

She conducted three experiments.

  1. The first one involved 113 participants in an activity that would certainly raise the stress levels. Sing a song in front of a group of people. The song she chose was “Don’t stop believin” by Journey due to its familiarity and popularity.  She then split participants into groups.  Each group either focused on feeling anxious, excited, calm, sad or angry. With phrases like “I am anxious” or “I am excited”. Using a video game that scored on pitch and accuracy of singing from participants.

The results were interesting. All those in the anxious group scored a 53% accuracy on the gaming results. Those that had focused on calm, anger or sadness had achieved 69% averages. But this that had focused on “I am excited” had seen a score of 80% average and reported a greater feeling of enjoyment while performing. It takes less of a move to change anxiety to excitement( arousal congruence) than to switch it to calmness.

2. Public speaking is a frightening prospect for many people but we all have to deal with it at some stage. 140 participants were asked to talk to a team of  judges on “Why they should be considered good working partners” The judges were to ask tough questions and the participants were to be filmed. Participants were asked to repeat beforehand that “I am calm” or ” I am excited”. Independent evaluators judged those in the excited group had more persuasive, competent and relaxed presentations.

3. The third experiment involved a series of mathematical tests. Beforehand 188 participants either focused on “Trying to get excited” “Trying to keep calm” or did nothing at all. All those in the excited group performed 8% on average higher in the test than the calm and control group and reported feeling more relaxed about their capabilities.

The way it works is that it puts people into an opportunity mindset with a focus on the positives that can happen rather than dwelling on a threat mindset where anxiety lies.

 

Kelly McGonigal who spoke on the TED stage back in 2013 spoke about the importance of using stress to your advantage. If we think differently about stress we can see remarkable results. The heart beating faster is helping you, you get blood flowing to the brain and greater oxygenation of the blood vessels.

Kelly says that when you believe that while you are stressed the body is helping you with your current situation your body believes it too and responds accordingly.

She argues that stress makes us social. The body produces oxytocin when we are stressed its also produced when we make love or are hugged by someone. It’s seen as a trust hormone. It’s a neurohormone. When we are stressed and we seek supports and make social contacts with others we produce oxytocin. The more oxytocin we produce the faster you recover from stressful situations. This might account for the high levels of life expectancy within countries that score high for strong social support on the World happiness report. Countries Like Norway, Denmark, Iceland and other Nordic countries score high on trust and social supports. Icelandic citizens in particular with a life expectancy of 83 rely on strong social supports and connections.

Choir6

 Sing like your winning

Iceland has over 300 choirs with more than 9,000 members in a population of 325,000 people, that is very impressive.Choirs are a great way to feel less stressed and connected as explained here  by Oliver Burkeman and experience something greater than you alone.

It’s what we do when we are in a stressful situation that matters. A 5 year study by Michael Poulin released in 2013 at the University of Buffalo in New york involved almost 900 people in the Detroit Michigan area.  The participants all aged between 34-93 were asked two questions

  1. How much stress have you experienced in the past year?
  2. How much time have you spent helping to friends, neighbours and relatives?

Specifically, over the five years of the study, we found that when dealing with stressful situations, those who had helped others during the previous year were less likely to die than those who had not helped others,” he says.

Self-reported stressful experiences included such things as serious, non-life-threatening illness, burglary, job loss, financial difficulties or death of a family member.

Respondents also reported the total amount of time in the past 12 months they had spent helping friends, neighbours or relatives who did not live with them by providing transportation, doing errands and shopping, performing housework, providing child care and other tasks.

“When we adjusted for age, baseline health and functioning and key psychosocial variables,” Poulin says, “the Cox proportional hazard models (the most widely used method of survival analysis) for mortality revealed a significant interaction between helping behavior, stressful events, morbidity and mortality.

“Our conclusion,” he says, “is that helping others reduced mortality specifically by buffering the association between stress and mortality.

It’s not that we experience stress that is affecting us it’s what we do with the stress that matters. Stress is inevitable we can’t escape it will always be a part of our lives.

If you are feeling anxious before a test, a first date, job interview or work presentation understand that what is going on in your body is trying to help you. So

What works/

  • Reframe your situation: Use that energy to help you “feel excited” will always give you greater advantage, It’s called arousal congruence.
  • When you are stressed use the supports around you to help you release oxytocin. Get hugs, have sex or simply connect on a deeper level with those around you. The oxytocin will help the heart regenerate from stress related damage. The more oxytocin you produce the faster you recover from stress.
  • Join a choir. The sense of belonging and connection to something bigger has a great impact on our stress,social connections and pain threshold. Research from Goldsmiths college in London explains this
  • Do good for others. Caring for other people lowers levels of stress considerably and creates resilience.

 

Maybe its time to take control of your stress.

 

 

The 3rd Happiest Place in the world?

30 Mar

Iceland seems to be the place to go for a short break these days. No one ever talks about taking a two-week holiday or a month off to see Iceland. A couple of things probably play into this. One is that it seems to be really expensive. So expensive that only the Norwegians and the Danish and any of the residents of Monaco could afford to go and you know the Monegasque. people have no plan on heading north on holiday. The second is probably the weather. I’m feeling cold just thinking about the place.

Iceland is also a pretty unforgiving landscape. Icelandic natives call it the Beast, It gets tepid rather than warm during the summer months, tepid and bright and then it gets cold and dark really dark.  Many people think there are no trees in Iceland. That’s a myth but the truth is they don’t have as many as the Vikings would have seen in the 9th century on arrival or the Irish monks that visited in the 7th and the 8th century. What must Iceland have looked like to these early arrivals on this volcanic rock. The First Norwegian arrivals called it Snowland. A large amount of Iceland is volcanic rock. Not ideal terrain for tree planting. But reforestation is happening. Most trees are based around towns and Reykjavik

Alcohol was only legalised in 1989. With less than 30 years of legal alcohol production they wouldn’t be seen as world leaders in brewing or distilling. In 1908 Icelanders voted on a ban on all alcohol this came into play in 1915. By 1921 Spain refused to buy any Icelandic fish stocks until Iceland began to buy Spanish wine. Spirits were legalised in 1935 and beer with more 2.25% alcohol was not allowed, with the temperance lobby arguing it would lead to greater depravity( said the descendants of the Vikings)

As Icelandic citizens travelled abroad regularly the began two get a taste for beer. Bars in Iceland began adding spirits to non alcoholic beer for customers in the 1980’s but the minister for Justice banned this practice. Coming in line with other western societies prohibition of beer ended on March 1st 1989. Which ingeniously is now called “Beer Day”or Bjordagur.

Again you need to be quite organised if you like to drink alcohol in Iceland, as all Vínbúðin ( Wine shops) are state owned and are few and far between. They have restrictive opening hours 11am until 6pm Monday to Saturday . They go mad on Friday and stay open untill 7pm. On Sunday you can forget it none are open that day.

So when Icelanders are not drinking they read books. They really love books . In Iceland they publish more books per capita than any other country. Apparently 1 in 10 will publish a book over a lifetime.  As they say, “ Better to go Barefoot than without books” Maybe this ability to get lost in reading and writing allows the Icelandic to immerse themselves in imagination  and learning during the dark winter days and nights.

The Icelandic have a day for lots of different reasons. A day for men Bundadagur, a day for women called Konudagur and a day all countries should celebrate… a day for buns Bolludagur.

Buns

If you like McDonald’s you are out of luck They closed down when the Krona became expensive to deal with internationally and all the McDonald’s produce had to be imported from Germany. Not a bad thing in my opinion.

The truth is that when you are living or travelling within Iceland. You seem to have a disconnection and a connection. You have a connection to beauty and vastness of this beautiful Island. You can find solitude and a connection with nature that other places on earth make it feel a little more difficult to do and you also make a connection with people, you also can readily disengage from what really doesn’t matter in life and create a greater bond with the environment around you, the people from it and ultimately a greater connection with yourself.

Icelandic land

What are the 6 key factors to happiness and how does Iceland score rate with them?

  1. GDP per capita
  2. Social Support
  3. Healthy Life expectancy
  4. Social Freedom
  5. Generosity
  6. Absence of corruption

Icelands GDP per capita

When you think about it the GDP of Iceland should have fallen dramatically since the financial banking collapse of 2008. The Nordic average between Norway, Denmark,Sweden,Finland and Iceland is $47,375. Iceland’s GDP in 2016 sits at $43,872  this is higher than Finland but below the other 3 Nordic countries. But we know GDP on its own does not create a happier nation.

But economics does play a part and for a while Iceland was teetering on a rocky edge. The financial collapse in 2008 brought tough decisions for the people of Iceland. Three Banks  Kaupping,Glitnir and Landsbanki  were the banks responsible. The banks were equivalent to 10 times the GDP of Iceland and 20 times the state budget. Too big to bail out. In the space of 3 days 97% of the banking sector collapsed.

Iceland responded by conducting an extremely detailed investigation through a special agency into how this came about . They discovered like many other countries that the loans and capital were built on a distorted web of transactions and deals.

From this the Govt decided that people could not be driven into bankruptcy and the debt of households could not be more than the cost of their house. It became more complicated than this. The British and the Netherlands Government wanted a return of $5 billion that their citizens had lost  from Icesave accounts s during this collapse, The two governments had paid out to the citizens from those countries that had lost out. They then looked to Iceland for a reimbursement. The Icelandic Govt was going to reimburse but the president Olafur Ragnar Grimsonn vetoed this twice and went to a democratic vote of the people and the decision to pay back Britain and the Netherlands was vetoed,

Gordon Browns Government were incensed and placed Iceland on a listing of terrorists countries and organisations that included Al Qaeda and the Taliban. But the president Olafur said afterwards. “Paying back the British economy was asking Icelandic taxpayers to be responsible for the failure of this private bank. It was equal to asking the British Taxpayer to be responsible for $1,125 billion for a failure of a British Bank in Spain or Italy.” We did not pump public money into failed banks. We treated them like private companies that went bankrupt and let them fail”

Investigations happened and CEOs of Banks and others were jailed. No one else had done this before. GDP has dropped over the past number of years but all the mathematicians , engineers and computer scientists that were involved in the banks quickly got jobs in the I.T, Science  and start up sector, a much more beneficial use of talent for Iceland in the long run.

Dora Guorun Guomundsdottiris a psychologist in Reykjavik and the director general of the public health services Iceland. claims that money only 1 to 4% of happiness in Iceland. She says that people often overestimate the importance of money and their happiness.

We must also remember that Greece, Italy and Spain are still struggling years on and are much lower down the world happiness rankings with Greece at 87. Ireland is doing better at number 15 on rankings but it has accumulated a lot of debt for future generations.

Social Support

This is one of the key advantages of living in small communities, Thee is a greater chance of feeling that you have the support of people around you.

The question asked in the World happiness report was “If you were in trouble, do you have relatives or friends you can count on to help you whenever you need them?” Iceland scored higher than any other nation on this front with 99% of its populace agreeing with this statement. The one key thing that Icelanders feel is that there is always someone there to look out for them. Even as outlined above times of economic crises the Government and especially the President looked out for them and acted in a manner that cared more than other governments had done in similar circumstances. Those in power supported them in hard times.

Within Icelandic life Children have always mattered. Parents are provided with 9 months Maternity/Paternity leave for children. Both parents get joint custody of children after a divorce unless otherwise agreed. The child will always take the father’s name but since 1991 equality has allowed the mothers name to be used to. It works like this your father’s name could have been  Olarfur Arnarson his son’s name is Benny he becomes Benny Olarfsun ( son of Olarf) rather than Benny Arnarson. A daughter’s name might be Eva she will be called Eva Olarfdóttir( daughter of Olarfur) you get it now.

Incredibly 70.5% of babies are born out-of-wedlock in Iceland. There is no stigma with this in society and at the father is generally a part of the child’s life always. This goes back to Viking times when the men went travelling to foreign lands to pillage and get warmer, they left their wives at home with slaves from Scotland or Ireland. Many wives ended up having babies with the men left behind , When the Vikings returned their was a great tolerance for what happened and today it’s not uncommon for all 3 parents to be were involved in parenting. To this day if a parent that has sole custody marries again the Stepfather or Stepmom also gets custody even after one whole year of cohabitation.

Universities run day care for babies so Mothers can continue their education. This is very normal. Maternity leave is for 9 months at 80% salary. Thus is divided into 3 months for the Mother, 3 Months for the Father and 3 to be shared by both.  State run play schools are then there to help once the parents return to work, Iceland like all the other Nordic countries a high level of social support that contributes to its peoples happiness.

 

Healthy Life Expectancy

iceland thermal

The Icelandic population is one of the worlds highest Life expectancy rates at 83. The world average is 71. The fresh air, clean water, time spent sitting in thermal pools and an oily fish diet must play a big part in this. In the World Happiness report 2017 ( which rates this score on a number of factors) this is where Iceland excels with a score of 72.05 when the Nordic average is 71.42 and with the United states pitching in at only 70.13 . It’s hard to beat the Icelandic on life expectancy.

Generosity

They are also a very generous nation and happily give to others. They score higher than any other Nordic country the donation scale. Scoring 0.27 on the index as opposed to The Nordic average of 0.12. In 2015 Over 12,000 of the 329,000 Iceland population asked the Government to provide more support to Syrian refugees. Many offering ways that they can help.

Social freedom

Iceland 1

On March the 8th 2017 World women day Iceland announced it will require all employers to prove that they provide equal pay to their employees, regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexuality or nationality. Iceland is the first country in the world to introduce such a policy.

When Icelanders were asked “Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with your freedom to choose what to do with your life?  95% of the population were able to respond positively to this in line with Norway, Denmark and Finland.

Choices in Iceland are easier if you know that you have a large number of supports available to you. Education is free and University education has no tuition fees just a simple €100/€250 registration fee so students are not crippled with debt on leaving College.

For single parents with children there are day care facilities available within the University to cater for child minding. The ability to make independent decisions about careers and life choices is driving factor in happiness levels. Icelanders have a huge feeling of autonomy and control over their lives.

With 24 days annual holidays provided and 12 paid public holidays, Iceland has plenty of time to enjoy time with the family,travel or enjoy leisure time.

Just like other Nordic countries babies are left in prams outside coffee shops and children are allowed to travel to school on their own as young as six. Playing outside even on dark evenings and long summer nights is a way of life for citizens, with many social freedoms that others do not.

Interestingly Iceland’s government-run television station, which began broadcasting in 1966 and was the country’s sole channel for 20 years, went dark every Thursday until 1987 in order to promote human interaction. It also did not broadcast during the vacation month of July until 1983. People in Iceland love playing boardgames. Maybe thisd began in that period. Scrabble, anyone?

 Corruption

According to the Global peace index. Iceland is the safest place in the world to live a position it has held since 2009 with the exception of 2010 when it slipped to number 2. Knowing your country has that title must create a nice feeling for residents of Iceland. They don’t have an army or a navy yet they were one of the founding members of NATO.

On the Corruption perception index 2016 Iceland scored the lowest score of all the Nordic countries dropping to 14th place. This is not the worst position to be,but it is an indicator that perception from citizens  is different from once perceived. In the world happiness report 2017 Iceland scored a 0.72 perception of living in a corrupt society much higher than the Danish score of 0.21 and a Swedish and Norwegian score of 0.25.

The banking crisis and trust in organisations that plan to place factories where they can mine silica for Solar panels are seen as at odds with how Icelanders see how their country should move forward. There is also talk about privatisation off the health service which is worrying many that health care may drop into the wrong hands.

Strong Mental Health

Icelandic road

Dora Guorun Guomundsdottiris reckons that if monetary income only predicts 4% of happiness where does the other 96% needed come from. According to research that she has completed and from other studies, the best predictor for happiness is, social relationships. Findings from Icelandic data demonstrates that living with a partner is more likely to result in living a happier life than living alone, and spending time with friends and family also increases happiness. Another important factor for happiness is health, and in particular a persons mental health.

Dora developed Ten commandments of Mental health to help with people’s misconceptions of what leads to happiness. The Public health Institute of Iceland sent the ten commandments on a fridge magnet as a Christmas gift to every Icelandic home. If you drop into any Icelandic home have a look on the fridge and you may see them sitting there. Here they are

  • Think Positively
  • Cherish the ones you love
  • Continue learning as you live
  • Learn from your mistakes
  • Exercise daily
  • Do not complicate your life unnecessarily
  • Try to understand and encourage those around you
  • Do not give up: Success in life is a marathon not a sprint.
  • Discover and nurture your talents
  • Set goals for yourself and pursue your dreams

What is working?

For people to have lived on a cold  volcanic rocky outcrop in the Northern Atlantic for over a 1,000 years, it takes a number of strengths and one of those strengths is resilience. Whatever about living in Iceland in 2017. It is hard to image what it was like in the 9th and subsequent centuries. A country completely exposed to the elements. Yet they grew oats, barley and wheat, and ground the grain to make flour, porridge and ale. Vikings grew vegetables such as onions, beans and cabbages. Their farm animals included pigs, sheep, goats, cattle, geese and chickens. They used manure from the animals to keep the soil fertile. The surrounding oceans were the farms for Fisherman. But through all this the bitter cold of living in unheated abodes unlike now must have been difficult. Surrounded by unforgiving seas.

On 11 march 1984 Guðlaugur Friðþórsson was On a fishing trawler which capsized off the Westmanns Islands 3 miles from Iceland’s coast. The 4 other fisherman onboard died as the ship sank. Guðlaugur swam the 3 miles in 5º sea temperature to the Icelandic coast before having to traverse volcanic rock and -3 º wind temperatures to arrive at house 9 hours after capsizing at 7am. His core body temperature had only dropped to 34º without signs of Hypothermia. A film called the deep was made about his story. This is an example of the resilience that is needed to live on a rocky outcrop in the North atlantic.

The Icelanders also understand the importance of social  connection and surrounding yourself with family and friends. OF all the countries in the World happiness report 2017, Iceland scored highest when asked “If you were in trouble, do you have relatives or friends you can count on to help you whenever you need them?.  A huge 99% of icelanders said yes to this. They understand the importance of having social connections.

Equality is also something that they have worked on providing equality to all nationalities , genders and sexualities on March The 8th of 2017. Inequality within cultures is one of the greatest contributors to happiness.

The financial collapse of 2008 happened over 3 days that should have signalled an end to Iceland’s fortunes. They are still struggling to this day and the president and the people of the country that the public money should not be used to fund private banks. Measures were taken and some bankers were jailed none of the same actions are taken by Ireland, Greece Spain or Portugal all countries that could have learned from Icelands human approach. The people of Iceland feel they have a say and for many (but not all) they feel that the Government cares about them.

Iceland’s biggest problem at present is the huge rise in the number of visitors. It was roughly 500,000 a year before the iconic collapse of 2008 and is now closer to 1.5 million a year. Can Iceland sustain this number of tourists and does it have the  infrastructure to cope with an increasing number of them. Does Iceland want its main industry to be tourism or has it a more sustainable goal for industry as tourism can be fickle and as the ash cloud eruption of 2010 showed it can suddenly stop.

They have realised that if others are miserable, the likelihood will be that everyone will struggle with Happiness. The financial crisis is seen as a chance to wipe the slate clean and use it as an opportunity to build a more open society. In Iceland 85% of people reported  more positive experiences( feelings of rest, pride, accomplishment and enjoyment) than negative experiences of pain, boredom and sadness. This says a lot about the 3rd happiest nation in the world.

Sunny Iceland

Either way the Sunny outlook of a people who have found a way to live happily on a sometime dark, unforgiving rocky outcrop in the North Atlantic is a testament to the realisation that it is your outlook on life and how you live it that matters not your surroundings alone. Icelanders have learnt to embrace where they live and love who they live with.

They have a lovely saying that sums it all up, sometimes life can unexpectedly surprise you with little gifts

Það er rúsínan í pylsuendanum (That is the raisin at the end of the hot dog) 

 

 

Happiness isn’t complicated.

26 May

Gratitude

3 Dec

sunriseOver the past few months I have presented a number of talks to various groups either adults or students. Some of the talks are based around different topics positive mental health, happiness or inspiration. There is one thing that links all these together and that is something so simple and so uncomplicated that most of us never bother to practice it. It is a simple yet beautiful word and action… it is simply …Gratitude.

The world revolves at just the right speed the sun rises to greet us each day without us asking and the moon lights our way through night and provides the tidal cycles that are so important to the earth and its climate. Our environment is enriched with air which freely allows us to breath with most of us never understanding how this combination of  21% oxygen,  78% nitrogen and 1% other gasses formed to provide the most essential element that keeps us alive. The earth spins and night turns to day. While nature and the seasons work in harmony to provide us with food and water to keep us alive and colour to bring us joy. Our bodies work like a vast industrial complex pumping blood and fluid around our vessels , regulating temperature, blood pressure and our heart rate while manufacturing skin, hair and new cells whilst repairing what is out of balance…..it’s just amazing.

We turn on taps and clean water flows through them when others lie thirsty. We jump in the shower and we have instant hot water when so many in this world have never experienced the cleansing of a warm shower. We cool food in fridges and cook meals in ovens  from food on our tables as others go hungry. We have roofs over our heads and blankets on our bed when so many in this world are homeless. With health in our hearts we can run, jump feel the wind and sun on our faces when so many will never know what is to be able to walk or run. Swim in the sea and feel the waves wash over our faces when so many have never even had the ability to dip a toe or hand into or even stood and witnessed the might and beauty of the ocean. We are surrounded by radiant colours that change with seasons and beautifully dance with the rays from our Sun when so many have never been given the gift of sight.  We dance and hear music that lifts our moods and soundtracks our lives when so many have never experienced what it is to feel or hear that joy. We share touches with hugs and sneak kisses with lovers when so many would love to know what the warmth and love and caress from another human feels like…just once. We have friends that enjoy our company who revel in our smiles and share in our laughs when others have no one….not a single hand to hold. We can feel our heart sing as we express what we truly believe to be right when so many are too afraid or never allowed to speak out…………

We live on a dot spinning at 167o kms an hour surrounded by infinity and consisting of miracles. It is, a gift to be a part of this incredible world.

So what ever falls your way today… remember all the gifts that have been given to you, that so many others on this tiny dot we call “Earth” never get to experience… and simply or silently say

” Thank You “.

The Wonder of Pooh

27 Jun
Pooh Bear

Pooh Bear

Sometimes inspiration comes from the unlikeliest of places. In my last post I talked about negative thinking and tools to help combat it. My favourite tool is when I am confronted with an experience that may be causing me stress is this, I think of a role model or a person living or dead in history that I looked up to and I think what would  they do or think if they were confronted with the same situation. I find this an extremely powerful tool. It is allows me to look at the problem with the eyes of someone who’s beliefs and values I might aspire to. Standing outside the thinking or problem and challenging it with a pair of fresh eyes.

So when the chips are down there is always one role model I turn to. Someone who manages to stay happy and calm under all circumstances. He doesn’t expend energy on worrying, he just let’s life Be!. He sees chaos all around him with the friends that he keeps but he manages to somehow to turn sunny side up every time. Who is this person?. Why it’s Pooh bear of One hundred Acre wood.

Author Benjamin Hoff   in his book The Tao of Pooh has taken AA Milne’s Pooh and has shown us how this young bear and his actions are connected very closely to the eastern philosophy of Taoism.

While Eeyore frets… and Piglet hesitates ….and Owl pontificates

….Pooh just is.

The teachings of Taoism are based in a harmony that naturally exists between heaven and earth. To Lao-tse in his book “Tao Te Ching” everything has a natural balance it is only when man interferes with this balance do we begin to encounter struggle. It is important that we travel with the flow of nature rather than trying to fight against it. basic Taoism allows us to appreciate and learn from whatever happens in everyday life. Living a harmonious existence with what is going on around us rather than fighting it is the key to happiness. Taoism allows us and Pooh to work in harmony with what life throws us, allowing us to turn what others see as negative into a positive.

The more we force something we expect or want to happen, the more we are fighting against the flow of nature and less likely it will come about. Pooh is great example of Taoism in flow,not letting worry or stress impact on his existence like Eeyore, Rabbit and those around him.

” Not like Pooh, the most effortless Bear we’ve ever seen.”
“Just How do you do it, Pooh?”
“Do What?” asked Pooh.
“Become so Effortless.”
“I don’t do much of anything,” he said.
“But all those things of yours get done.”
“They just sort of happen,” he said

The idea that Pooh is seen as what Taoism calls P’u which is the Uncarved Block. P’u is the ability to enjoy the simplicity of life and disregard complexity as something that gets in the way of life. Pooh the bear of little brain managed to find joy in the simplicity if life in contrast to Owl who carried an air of intelligence by the use of big words but providing more confusion than sense. Rabbit describes Owl perfectly here

“….you can’t help respecting anybody who can spell TUESDAY, even if he doesn’t spell it right; but spelling isn’t everything. There are days when spelling Tuesday simply doesn’t count.”

So Pooh our Uncarved block looks at life and finds the excitement in life’s simplicities as outlined here.

…When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last,” what’s the first thing you say to yourself ?”

“What’s for breakfast ?” said Pooh. “What do you say,Piglet ?”

“I say ,I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today ?” said Piglet.

Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing,” he said.

Taoism also refers to the Wu Wei which literally means without doing. Letting nature take it’s course without trying to meddle. We as humans are like corks bobbing on the ocean screaming “I must have control, I need control” when we would be better served as Pooh by allowing life to happen. As Benjamin Hoff points out. It is Eeyore’s birthday and pooh has decided to give him a jar of honey for his present. Piglet decided to get him a balloon. As Piglet runs off to get the balloon. Pooh begins to get hungry and realises that he has a jar of honey.

“Lucky I brought this with me.” he thought. “Many a bear going out on a warm day like this would have never thought of bringing a little something with him.” And he began to eat.

as he licks the last of the honey he begins to wonder where was he going.

Ah, yes, Eeyore.” He got up slowly.

And then suddenly, he remembered. He had eaten Eeyore’s birthday present!

He still had the jar so he simply called into Owl and had him write “Happy Birthday” on it. Owl being the intelligent member of the troupe managed to write

HIPY PAPY BTHUTHDTH THUTHDA

BTHUTHDY.

Pooh looked on admiringly.

“I’m just saying ‘A Happy Birthday’,” said Owl carelessly.

“It’s a nice long one,” said Pooh, very much impressed by it.

“Well, actually, of course, I’m saying ‘A Very Happy Birthday with love from Pooh.’ Naturally it takes a good deal of pencil to say a long thing like that.”

“Oh, I see,” said Pooh.

Meanwhile Piglet had gone to get Eeyore’s balloon. He held it tightly against himself so it wouldn’t blow away and he ran as fast as he could so he could be the first to give  a present to Eeyore.

And running along thinking how pleased Eeyore would be…..suddenly he put his foot in a rabbit hole and fell flat on his face.

BANG!!!???.

Piglet arrived first alright with his little damp rag and handed the balloon to a surprised Eeyore. All apologetic and misty eyed as he describes the colour and size that the balloon would have been if it hadn’t burst. Eeyores favourite size and colour by the way. And just then Pooh arrives with his present.

It’s a Useful Pot,” said Pooh….and it got ‘ A Very happy Birthday with Love from Pooh written on it. …it’s for putting things in.

Between them we see Wu Wei in action in its purest form allowing what happens to just be the way it is and seeing the positives in what could be at first seen as terrible series of calamities.

“I’m very glad,” said Pooh happily, “that I thought of giving you a Useful Pot to put things in.”

“I’m very glad,” said Piglet happily, “that thought of giving you something to put in a Useful Pot.”

But Eeyore wasn’t listening. He was taking the balloon out, and putting it back again, as happy as could be….

A sweet reminder of making do and being grateful with what we have rather than mourning what we don’t.

Go with natures flow, do not spend time worrying about what we cannot change, enjoy the simplicity of life and appreciate what we have. Sometimes it’s difficult to just let life happen. But when we do, we realize that life works better when we give attention to what is happening and working with it, rather than fighting against what we can’t change.

Just think next time life seems out of sorts “What would Pooh do”

Positive Mental health- Exercising your Endorphins

4 Apr

endorphinsAs I said in my last blog I am going to share what contributes to great mental health. We talked about actions making the difference. Well here is an action that makes a real difference and contributes greatly to our mental health. as far as I am concerned this is probably the greatest game changer with concern to positive mental health….. It’s exercise.

We live in quite a sedentary world. It has been engineered so that we no longer have to move to be entertained. We can happily sit in front of our game consoles, laptops and ipads and engage with YouTube, Facebook and video games which will all entertain us without ever having to leave the comfort of our couches. We use technology to babysit our children without looking at the consequences of what they are processing subconsciously. How difficult as a parent must it be to compete with the excitement of technology especially video games were they are designed to set of neural firecrackers of pleasure and reward in your child’s brain at just the right intervals. Beat that Pops.

We travel on lifts without ever thinking of taking the stairs and we love travellators in airports we can access our smartphones and still make it to our destination while still discovering who has liked our last photo on Facebook, it beats walking between terminals. We sit in cars or trains for long periods and pacify our children with consoles and DVD films on the back of headrests.

We purchase products in supermarkets that confuse us about their health benefits. we secretly pile on the pounds when we think that we are improving our health because of this purpose led confusion. In one class I asked a participant to tell me the calorific value of the soft drink he had in his hand. He read the label and said just 105 kcal per bottle. The bottle was a 500ml bottle of Coke as we looked closer at the nutritional(really!) facts we discovered that it was 105cal per 250ml of the bottle but who only drinks only half a bottle of lemonade.It’s 210 cal per bottle of soft drink which will take roughly a 3km run to burn off. Confusion reigns. But enough about the troubles with food confusion. Lets look at the actions we can do to benefit our mood and mental state.

I can not emphasize the importance of exercise to our wellbeing. I am presently looking our my office window at a sports field where my office is it’s a sunny spring morning and I would be first out the door and changed ready to play if I had a group of friends and a ball free for the next hour for a kick about. I understand the importance of exercise. Firstly I feel great when I play in team games.I enjoy meeting other people(social connections) and I enjoy working with others to a common purpose(try to win). I also love to get out and have a run around because I know what exercise is doing for me. When I am involved in regular  vigorous physical activity not only am I maintaining some level of fitness, flexibility and building resilience in times when it is needed, I am also contributing to my mental wellbeing.

My body is also reacting positively to this physical activity and is providing a chemical response in the form of Endorphins which are produced when I do anaerobic exercise which may involve sprinting or heavy weight lifting.This will cause the production of neurotransmitters called endorphins that lock into special receptor cells that block the transmission of pain signals and also produce a euphoric feeling just like opiates.

I have tested this regularly. I will gauge my mood on a scale of 1-10 before starting exercise. I might find for whatever reason my mood score might be a 4 out of 10. After 25-30 minutes of vigorous exercise running or cycling I will gauge my mood gain and discover I am a 7 or 8 out of 10 what a difference a half hour of exercise has done for my wellbeing.

Exercise also reduces stress. People who exercise more produce lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol(which produces extra sugars into our system in times of stress) and ultimately have lower levels of anxiety.

So get out there get moving. Get out of the house and pick something that you love to do. This is the key to enjoying exercise. I enjoy team games so I play team games. I only run short distances because the will to stop and boredom are increased for me without a team around me. That is just me. If you don’t like cycling don’t cycle. Find out what you enjoy and follow it. It reminds me of the time the comedian Eddie Izzard ran 43 marathons in 51 days for comic relief in the UK. In an interview afterwards British chat show host Jonathan Ross asked him ” Running 43 marathons over 51 days is some achievement what was your favourite bit” Eddie without pausing says “Stopping… stopping was my favourite bit”.

Here is another interesting fact when it comes to those mood changing endorphins.Endorphins are also released when we eat chillies. Not as a reward because the body loves chillies but your body releases endorphins to help ease the pain. Funny that.

Next time your mood is low remember that vigorous exercise will up your mood levels add a chilli half way through and you just might have discovered why Usain bolt is always smiling

Actions make the difference.

3 Apr

IMG_7116I like it when people come up with their own solutions. We nearly always have the answer but it is the failure to act on that realisation that prevents change. Actions always make the difference If you want something in your life to improve for the better a positive action is required from you. As Aesop once wrote “After all that has been said and done, there is a lot more said than done”. So true.

Over the next series of articles I am going to talk about what can we do that will help when we are feeling down for a period of time and need our mood lifted. Life can throw up some difficulties, that is simply life, we do not get to escape this. Nobody gets to sail through life without feeling the strains of a difficult period in a relationship,the loss of someone we care about or the stress of accidents and injuries that our Children or us encounter. It is the actions that follow that matter.

If you do nothing, nothing changes

So I have put together some examples of solutions that my course participants have provided that when put into action will help move you on to a brighter place. I will talk about them over the next series of blogs.

Some of them will seem very obvious but as obvious as they seem,you need to ask yourself when was the last time you did this and what are the benefits this action will bring to your life.

Years ago I had a huge fear of heights. I decided I could live with this fear of heights simply through avoidance of situations that caused this panic…. or I could do an action that might change this. I decided to jump out of a plane…. by myself.

I always remember that morning when I turned up for training at the airfield. The camaraderie and laughs with the other potential jumpers that morning was a great distraction from what really was ahead. We laughed as we changed into our silly orange jump suits and jumped off  7ft platforms learning how to roll as we hit the ground and “kick out” if our parachute became tangled mid-air. We happily rolled up parachutes that morning, cracked nervous jokes and chatted over lunch.

It was after lunch that the mood began to change. It was explained that the jumps would be taking place in groups of threes as the plane was a small Cessna. “Who wants to go first?” said the instructor I thought that sight of someone else heading towards the earth without their chute opening might put me off. So I volunteered for the first group.

With my parachute on my back and the plane bobbing towards us on the grass airfield all the fun and games of the morning seemed a distant thought as the colour drained from my face and the nearest toilet seemed like a good option. The pilot asked me my name and details… I could not even speak… complete fear had taken over I had never felt as scared in my life as I did at that point… and we where still on the ground! As we climbed into the plane and knelt facing forward I thought I was going to get  ill as the plane began to taxi down the grass runway and hover into the air. All the jokes in the world from the Instructor  and Pilot could not alleviate the fear that I was feeling right then.

As we approached 2000ft and the door off the plane opened I was never more awake or aware than at that moment. The instructor indicated to me to move slowly towards the door… place one foot on the wing strut and one foot at the door…. I could see all the fields and cows below me. Just like Father Ted explaining to Father Dougal the difference between “Near and far away” these definitely where far away.  My heart was ready to explode…. I could hear the instructors voice behind me shouting three words Go! Go! Go!. …..What did I do?

I looked down at the fields below me and felt the wind gush against me as I stood at the plane exit and I thought this is it, pause and I will never do it. I jumped…. one thousand, two thousand, three thousand…. aaaaaaaaaaaahhhh( I am being kind with my phrasing here).

I looked up at my parachute to check It had opened properly. It had not … it was slightly tangled…this would cause it to drop like a burst balloon… if I did not kick out as I did…. and suddenly begin to float slowly towards those beautiful green fields. What a feeling, oh what a feeling. The adrenaline and excitement were pumping through my veins as I celebrated with some of the coarsest words in the English language as I floated downwards. Thinking there are world leaders,politicians and some of the greatest minds  of our time who would never attempt to do what I have just done!!

Had I changed my fear off heights? It certainly helped. My next jump at 12000ft feet felt less nerve-wracking . My next one in a few weeks time will be just as much fun.

Actions always make the difference. Do nothing and nothing changes. Just be mindful of what ones you choose.

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