Happiness in the Blue Zone

Research shows that our inclination to be happy is only 50% dependent on our genes.  So what if you weren’t born with the happiness gene?  The great news is that the other 50% is largely dependent on external factors and circumstances.  It is true that we can’t control everything that happens in life, but there may be a way to lean into a happier life. 

New York Times best selling author, Dan Buettner has been gaining a lot of publicity recently with his new book release, THRIVE: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way. 

Buettner has teamed up with National Geographic to research some key happiness contributers and their relationship to longevity.  It has led them to areas known as the “Blue Zones”, where people are reporting a high level of wellbeing.  The team found that there were essentially six life domains, or thrive centers that were common denominators for life satisfaction.  They include the following:

1. Community – the places people thrived most were those that made them feel safe and those that provided opportunities to walk – cities that had large sidewalks, outdoor cafes, parks, and gardens (way to go, San Luis Obispo, CA! – noted to be the happiest place to live in the U.S.)

2. Work – Do you enjoy your work?  Do you work close to your home? Do you regularily take vacations?  Turns out that all three factors contribute to your wellness.

3. Social Life – I once read that you become the average of the 5 people you surround yourself with most.  If that were the case, wouldn’t you want to surround yourself with positive people?  Having a close knit of dependable friends is crucial for wellbeing, according to Beuttner.

4. Financial Life – apparently, the old saying “money can’t buy happiness” may be true.  According to the research, after the basic necessities of life are met (food, shelter, health insurance), money will bring about only short-lived happiness.  The key to long-term financial wellness is to “save mindlessly and spend thoughtfully”.

 5. Home – Creating an environment that is clear of clutter, planting a garden, and surrounding yourself with items that hold meaning to you will all facilitate a happy demenor.  Beuttner also recommends creating a room where you can engage yourself in challenging, yet meaningful activities/hobbies. 

6. Self – This takes us back to Monday’s post.  It is incredibly important to know your own strengths, values, talents, and passions.  Turns out that the people that were happiest in life knew what made them unique.

I think Beuttner’s book gives us a lot to think about.  It shows us that happiness is something that we can lean into by making a few adjustments in our life.  I can’t wait to read the whole book!

Attitude of Gratitude

Each night before I go to bed, I silence my mind and give thanks for the events of my day and also for the good that is yet to come.  For a long time, it was harder for me to give thanks for the moments that had been particular challenging on a given day or for the situations in which I had struggled.  Going down the “why me” path was always so much easier and required little to no attention.  Just as the pathway to a knee-jerk reflex does not involve looping through the brain, so is the incessant, negative self-talk we give ourselves.  The only way to break the cycle is to be present (as we discussed last week) and be grateful

Feeling gratitude is one of the kriyas that can truly send your wellness quotient flying, not to mention change your life in the process.  There has been a lot of research showing that those who practice an attitude of gratitude have a more positive outlook on life, improved social connections, and better sleep patterns.  Dr. Robert Emmons from the University of California, Davis (my alma mater!) is currently developing a tool to measure the level of gratitude people show in their lives. 

So, why should we adopt an attitude of gratitude?  I came up with 5 of my own reasons:

1.  What we focus on, multiplies.  When we focus on what is going right in our lives, we find that our lives actually begin to feel quite abundant.  We find so many things to be thankful for, just by taking a few minutes to re-focus. 

2.  We feel happier.  Who wouldn’t be happy when they focus on what they have, not what they lack. 

3.  It reminds us of what’s important in life.  It’s harder to complain about your work, when you are grateful for having a job.  It’s harder to feel sorry for yourself, when you are grateful for having a family that loves you.  It’s harder to be upset about home renovations, when you are grateful to have a home not affected by a tsunami. 

4.  It allows us to appreciate those around us.  It’s so important to acknowledge the people in your lives.   Thank that stranger for letting you have the parking spot.  Compliment your best friend if you like her outfit.  Tell someone why you’re grateful to have them in your life.  It will make their day….and yours!

5.  We are able to exude a positive vibe.  When we display gratitude, it makes others want to jump on the bandwagon and think about what they are thankful for also.  It is infectious, like laughter.  People are attracted to it and are more apt to pay it forward. 

To sum up, let me just say this:  Be grateful for what you have, be grateful for what you don’t have, be grateful for what is coming your way, but most importantly, be ever so grateful for where you are in your life today.  If you can rise up to that space, you will literally shift the vibration of your life.  ***Check back Wednesday for techniques to help you exercise your gratitude muscle!

Deepali’s piece of wellness:  This week, start and end each day with at least 5 things that fuel you with gratitude!

Each New Moment…..

“Every morning is a fresh beginning. Every day is the world made new. Today is a new day. Today is my world made new. I have lived all my life up to this moment, to come to this day. This moment–this day–is as good as any moment in all eternity. I shall make of this day–each moment of this day–a heaven on earth. This is my day of opportunity”.
— Dan Custer

What if we could really live every day like that?  The truth is, we can.  It is a choice we make each day, each moment.  No matter what has happened in our past, no matter what fears we hold for the future, we get to choose whether to accept the gift that is offered to us every minute of the day – and not a moment sooner or a moment later!

Have a wonderful weekend!

photo by Wendy Ku

A Balance between Past and Future

It is impossible not to reflect upon our past or envision our future.  In fact, I don’t even think it is entirely unhealthy to do so. 

Our past has taught us valuable lessons and shaped who we have become.  We can look back at mistakes we made and have the knowledge to take a different route.  We can recall vivid memories of happy times when we learned to ride a bike or when we fell in love. 

There are also times when we have to think ahead and decide how to save money for college or book a family vacation. Many of us make plans for the future by setting an intention, writing down goals, and envisioning an outcome. 

Both the past and future do deserve some recognition, however problems arise when we live in either space.  We choose to live in the past if we hold onto regrets, anger, disappointments, or even constant nostalgia of happy times gone.  These things have already happened.  We choose to live in the future if we worry, build anxiety, or create a variety of scenarios and outcomes in our head.  The future has not yet arrived. 

Eckhart Tolle states that the remedy to get over your past is forgiveness.  “Forgiveness happens naturally as soon as you realize that the past cannot prevail against the power of Presence”.  And, as far as the future goes, “You create a good future by creating a good present”.  It always comes back to the Now.  Do you think you are feeding all your energy to your past, forsaking the present?  Are you obsessing about the future and hoping that your life will catch up to it?  Maybe you don’t like your present circumstances and are re-living times that were better or creating fantasies about escaping into the future.  How do you deal with a heartbreak, a job loss, an illness when it truly feels like your current reality? 

You stay in the Now.  In the most literal sense, you take each individual moment and become aware of it.  For in that space, the present space, there is stillness in the midst of chaos.  You can breathe here.  And if you can string together many of these peaceful moments, you can free yourself from the bars of your past and the angst of the future.  That is your balance point.

In the Here and Now

photo by GoodShot

How many of you have a list of things in your head right now that need to get done?  Mid-morning meeting. Check.  Quick lunch at desk. Check.  4pm pilates class. Check.  Pick up kids. Check.  Grocery shop. Check.  Our days (and minds) are full of countless check marks.  With all the items on our to-do list, how many of us really pay attention to the tasks we’re actually performing?  Can you even remember being at that work meeting?  Were you tasting the food you ate for lunch?  Were you listening to your kids when they told you about their day at school?  In today’s world, it is becoming increasingly difficult to be mindful and present to what we are doing.  Are you feeling overwhelmed or overworked? You may appreciate reading a great article by Leo Babauta, creater of the website Zen Habits, to offer you some tips. 

I think being mindful of the things on your to-do list, whatever they may be, will allow you to be more productive.  No task is too mundane to discount your full presence into it.  There are three meanings to the word present: here, now, and gift.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence.  Being in the here and now allows us to appreciate the gift of the moment.  

This week, let’s try to be mindful of our days.  Use ALL your senses.  Take in the light of the sun shining through your window, feel the soft fur of your puppy against your skin, listen to the sound of a train in the distance, smell the aroma of flowers on your walk outside, taste the savory flavors in the meal you’ve cooked for dinner.  Note to self:  remember that using our senses and being present brings color into our day-to-day lives.  Check.   ***Stay tuned for more discussion on how to be present.

Deepali’s piece of wellness:  Take one full minute each hour of your day to reconnect with your breath, your self, and your surroundings.

The Deeper Seed of Happiness

When it comes to spirituality, there are few teachers that compare to Eckhart Tolle.  I have read the book below and I highly recommend it to all.  There are many spiritual life lessons packed inside.  This is an excerpt from the January ’09 issue of O magazine. 

Oneness with All Life by Eckhart Tolle
  1. Don’t seek happiness. If you seek it, you won’t find it, because seeking is the antithesis of happiness. Happiness is ever elusive, but freedom from unhappiness is attainable now, by facing what is rather than making up stories about it.
  2. The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it. Be aware of the thoughts you are thinking. Separate them from the situation, which is always neutral, which always is as it is. There is the situation or the fact, and here are my thoughts about it. Instead of making up stories, stay with the facts. For example, “I am ruined” is a story. It limits you and prevents you from taking effective action. “I have 50 cents left in my bank account” is a fact. Facing facts is always empowering.
  3. See if you can catch the voice in your head, perhaps in the very moment it complains about something, and recognize it for what it is: the voice of the ego, no more than a thought. Whenever you notice that voice, you will also realize that you are not the voice, but the one who is aware of it. In fact, you are the awareness that is aware of the voice. In the background, there is the awareness. In the foreground, there is the voice, the thinker. In this way you are becoming free of the ego, free of the unobserved mind.
  4. Wherever you look, there is plenty of circumstantial evidence for the reality of time—a rotting apple, your face in the bathroom mirror compared with your face in a photo taken 30 years ago—yet you never find any direct evidence, you never experience time itself. You only ever experience the present moment.
  5. Why do anxiety, stress, or negativity arise? Because you turned away from the present moment. And why did you do that? You thought something else was more important. One small error, one misperception, creates a world of suffering.
  6. People believe themselves to be dependent on what happens for their happiness. They don’t realize that what happens is the most unstable thing in the universe. It changes constantly. They look upon the present moment as either marred by something that has happened and shouldn’t have or as deficient because of something that has not happened but should have. And so they miss the deeper perfection that is inherent in life itself, a perfection that lies beyond what is happening or not happening. Accept the present moment and find the perfection that is untouched by time.
  7. The more shared past there is in a relationship, the more present you need to be; otherwise, you will be forced to relive the past again and again.
  8. Equating the physical body with “I,” the body that is destined to grow old, wither, and die, always leads to suffering. To refrain from identifying with the body doesn’t mean that you no longer care for it. If it is strong, beautiful, or vigorous, you can appreciate those attributes—while they last. You can also improve the body’s condition through nutrition and exercise. If you don’t equate the body with who you are, when beauty fades, vigor diminishes, or the body becomes incapacitated, this will not affect your sense of worth or identity in any way. In fact, as the body begins to weaken, the light of consciousness can shine more easily.
  9. You do not become good by trying to be good, but by finding the goodness that is already within you and allowing that goodness to emerge.
  10. If peace is really what you want, then you will choose peace.

Exerpted from Oneness with All Life by Eckhart Tolle. Published by arrangement with Dutton, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. Copywright © 2008 by Eckhart Tolle

Sweet Surrender

Sometimes, a “sweet surrender is all I have to give”, as per Sarah McLachlan’s hit song.  It is oftentimes, the best gift to offer the universe.  For some reason, we all have this sense that if we hold on to an idea, a person, an emotion,  we will continue to move forward.  I’ve found that actually the reverse is true.  We have to ask ourselves, “what are we really holding onto anyway?”  Often, it is something that has occurred in the past that doesn’t serve us in the present. It is an anchor that holds us back.  I think it is one of the most difficult kriyas that we must implement in our lives in order to fuel our happiness and peace.

I struggle with this concept a lot myself.  It’s a need for control and avoidance of pain.  It’s so much easier to just hold on tightly to something, pretend that the circumstances have not changed, and continue to live in the past.  But the result is that you suck the life out of what you grip onto so tightly, and in that process, end up holding onto something that is long gone.  You say to yourself that you miss the potential of what was and what could have been in your life.  But truthfully, the “potential” of something is different than the “reality” of it.  In order to open yourself to the beauty that awaits you in your life, you must let go of the concepts and people that do not serve you.  There is a gift in remaining present in the moment.  There is a freedom there to go in any direction.  And only then, can all the good in life  come to you and through you.  Dr. Lawrence Wilson of the Center of Development states, “Your future will find you, if you let go of your past”.

Deepali’s piece of wellness: We may have control over our sails, but no control over the direction the wind blows.  Let go and see where it takes you.

Crossing the Finish Line

finish lineThere is an indescribable feeling you have when you set your mind to something and then achieve it.  Yesterday, I felt the ultimate rush as I crossed the finish line of my 1/2 marathon.  It was pure exhiliration followed by full exhalation…..a feeling of accomplishment, gratefulness, and love, coupled with the aftermath of delicious fatigue of the mind and body.  It is a journey of giving yourself fully and wholeheartedely and then being able to relish in the view from the other side. 

I did a lot of thinking during my 13.1 miles.  As I reflected upon the many challanges I have faced in my life (as we all have), I thought about running as being a metaphor for life.  There are times you feel great and at ease, while other times you are challenged to your full extent.  There are moments of confidence followed by fear and self-doubt.  And then there are those crucial minutes when all you can do is place one foot after the next  in hopes of moving foward one step at a time, one breath at a time. 

 I realized that so many of our wellness concepts were interwoven into this run.  I was, without a doubt, exercising my mind & body throughout.  I had to be present and mindful to allow myself to have the mental and physical stamina.  I had taken the risk and challenged myself to go the distance – in more ways than one.  I felt gratitude for my health – the muscles, bones, and organs that allowed me to perform this task.  Finally, in the end, it was truly about letting go and knowing that each step was guiding  me toward my destination.      

So……how do we do this latter part?  Let’s discuss some strategies this week on letting go and going with the flow.  After all, there are countless finish lines to cross in our lives.  And each can be just as exhilirating has finishing a 1/2 marathon, if you can allow yourself to let go.  Stay tuned!

My first post…….

Welcome to my blog!  I’m very excited to begin.  When I thought about the title I would use, I thought about what the word “wellness” meant to me.  It’s certainly the buzzword all over town these days.  Being of East Indian descent, I wanted to use a word from the ancient language of Sanskrit to describe how wellness pertains to all of us.  The word “kriya” fit.  Kriya literally means ‘the action of the soul’.  We are all on this journey to live our fullest potential – from the aspects of mental, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. The soul is always evolving……it is, therefore, always in motion.  In yogic terms, this starts with our breath.  The wellness kriya, to me, is the process by which we all strive to become more of who we truly are…….that perfect, authentic self that  lies deep within us.  We accomplish this by engaging and incorporating 7 actions  – the ingredients that I feel make up, what I call, our wellness quotient.  Those seven kriyas are:  Exercise the Mind & Body, Take a Risk, Feel Gratitude, Be Present, Believe in Spirit, Embrace Change, and Let Go.  Living our lives with these actions in mind will increase our wellness quotient and allow us to follow our truth.  Each week we will look closely at one of these categories.   My purpose is to empower others to believe in themselves and to provide teaching tools for unleashing their true potentials.  Let’s start peeling down the layers and get to the core!