Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for November, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving pic for wow
“Life is a Banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”

Auntie Mame

Choose To Be Grateful – It Will Make Your Life Happier

As we approach Thanksgiving, we reflect on what it means to be grateful. Over all my years of working with thousands of people, I have found that we all seem to have a varying natural capacity to experience gratitude. Some people are upbeat and positive and tend to see the good in everything. When there is a problem, they embrace it and see opportunity for growth and learning. They tend to be happy people. Others focus on the negative. They operate from judgment and fear and they struggle mightily with overcoming the dark side that seems to follow them everywhere. They are not so happy. Yet, regardless of one’s inclination to live life one way or the other, I have also come to realize that attitudes and life approaches are truly a choice and anyone, regardless of their circumstances, can fill their hearts with gratitude if they choose to.

The following article by Arthur Brooks, NYT Columnist, substantiates my experience and I think you will find it interesting, too.

“For many people, gratitude is difficult, because life is difficult. Even beyond deprivation and depression, there are many ordinary circumstances in which gratitude doesn’t come easily. This point will elicit a knowing, mirthless chuckle from readers whose Thanksgiving dinners are usually ruined by a drunk uncle who always needs to share his political views. Thanks for nothing.

Beyond rotten circumstances, some people are just naturally more grateful than others. A 2014 article in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience identified a variation in a gene (CD38) associated with gratitude. Some people simply have a heightened genetic tendency to experience, in the researchers’ words, “global relationship satisfaction, perceived partner responsiveness and positive emotions (particularly love).” That is, those relentlessly positive people you know who seem grateful all the time may simply be mutants.

But we are more than slaves to our feelings, circumstances and genes. Evidence suggests we can actively choose to practice gratitude — and doing so raises our happiness.

This is not just self-improvement hokum. For example, researchers in one 2003 study randomly assigned one group of study participants to keep a short weekly list of the things they were grateful for, while other groups listed hassles or neutral events. Ten weeks later, the first group enjoyed significantly greater life satisfaction than the others. Other studies have shown the same pattern and lead to the same conclusion. If you want a truly happy holiday, choose to keep the “thanks” in Thanksgiving, whether you feel like it or not.

How does all this work? One explanation is that acting happy, regardless of feelings, coaxes one’s brain into processing positive emotions. In one famous 1993 experiment, researchers asked human subjects to smile forcibly for 20 seconds while tensing facial muscles, notably the muscles around the eyes called the orbicularis oculi (which create “crow’s feet”). They found that this action stimulated brain activity associated with positive emotions.

If grinning for an uncomfortably long time like a scary lunatic isn’t your cup of tea, try expressing gratitude instead. According to research published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, gratitude stimulates the hypothalamus (a key part of the brain that regulates stress) and the ventral tegmental area (part of our “reward circuitry” that produces the sensation of pleasure).

It’s science, but also common sense: Choosing to focus on good things makes you feel better than focusing on bad things. As my teenage kids would say, “Thank you, Captain Obvious.” In the slightly more elegant language of the Stoic philosopher Epictetus, “He is a man of sense who does not grieve for what he has not, but rejoices in what he has.”

In addition to building our own happiness, choosing gratitude can also bring out the best in those around us. Researchers at the University of Southern California showed this in a 2011 study of people with high power, but low emotional security (think of the worst boss you’ve ever had). The research demonstrated that when their competence was questioned, the subjects tended to lash out with aggression and personal denigration. When shown gratitude, however, they reduced the bad behavior. That is, the best way to disarm an angry interlocutor is with a warm “thank you.”

I learned this lesson 10 years ago. At the time, I was an academic social scientist toiling in professorial obscurity, writing technical articles and books that would be read by a few dozen people at most. Soon after securing tenure, however, I published a book about charitable giving that, to my utter befuddlement, gained a popular audience. Overnight, I started receiving feedback from total strangers who had seen me on television or heard me on the radio.

One afternoon, I received an unsolicited email. “Dear Professor Brooks,” it began, “You are a fraud.” That seemed pretty unpromising, but I read on anyway. My correspondent made, in brutal detail, a case against every chapter of my book. As I made my way through the long email, however, my dominant thought wasn’t resentment. It was, “He read my book!” And so I wrote him back — rebutting a few of his points, but mostly just expressing gratitude for his time and attention. I felt good writing it, and his near-immediate response came with a warm and friendly tone.

DOES expressing gratitude have any downside? Actually, it might: There is some research suggesting it could make you fat. A new study in the Journal of Consumer Psychology finds evidence that people begin to crave sweets when they are asked to express gratitude. If this finding holds up, we might call it the Pumpkin Pie Paradox.

The costs to your weight notwithstanding, the prescription for all of us is clear: Make gratitude a routine, independent of how you feel — and not just once each November, but all year long.

There are concrete strategies each of us can adopt. First, start with “interior gratitude,” the practice of giving thanks privately. Having a job that involves giving frequent speeches — not always to friendly audiences — I have tried to adopt the mantra in my own work of being grateful to the people who come to see me.

Next, move to “exterior gratitude,” which focuses on public expression. The psychologist Martin Seligman, father of the field known as “positive psychology,” gives some practical suggestions on how to do this. In his best seller “Authentic Happiness,” he recommends readers systematically express gratitude in letters to loved ones and colleagues. A disciplined way to put this into practice is to make it as routine as morning coffee. Write two short emails each morning to friends, family or colleagues, thanking them for what they do.

Finally, be grateful for useless things. It is relatively easy to be thankful for the most important and obvious parts of life — a happy marriage, healthy kids or living in America. But truly happy people find ways to give thanks for the little, insignificant trifles. Ponder the impractical joy in Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poem “Pied Beauty”:

Glory be to God for dappled things —

For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;

For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

Landscape plotted and pieced — fold, fallow, and plough;

And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

Be honest: When was the last time you were grateful for the spots on a trout? More seriously, think of the small, useless things you experience — the smell of fall in the air, the fragment of a song that reminds you of when you were a kid. Give thanks.

This Thanksgiving, don’t express gratitude only when you feel it. Give thanks especially when you don’t feel it. Rebel against the emotional “authenticity” that holds you back from your bliss. As for me, I am taking my own advice and updating my gratitude list. It includes my family, faith, friends and work. But also the dappled complexion of my bread-packed bird. And it includes you, for reading this column.”

Arthur C. Brooks is the president of the American Enterprise Institute and a contributing opinion writer.

May We All Choose to Have a Happy Thanksgiving (and a happy life!)


Thank you to my dear “old” friend, Scottie, who reminded me of this quote

Read Full Post »

Wow pic

“I truly believe the only way we can create global peace is through not only educating our minds, but our hearts and our souls.”

Malala Yousafzai

Islamophobia

It is horrible – the deadly attacks in Paris, the beheadings of innocent people in Syria, the countless atrocities against humanity all conducted in Allah’s name under the guise of Islam. It is frightening and close and sad beyond belief and it is incumbent on us to be ever vigilant, alert and aware of our surroundings. ISIS and other terrorist groups must be stopped!!

But as conscious people, we must also be careful to not allow our reactions to go to the extreme. During WWII with Japan, we rounded up every Japanese law-abiding citizen and locked them in encampments for years. In retrospect, we realize how very wrong that was. Today, I believe we must be careful to not fall into a similar mind-set. We must be careful to not engage in the current wave of gratuitous Islamophobia that is being spread throughout our country. Unfortunately, this insidious religious intolerance, grounded in prejudice, hate and fear, is blessed by many Christian and Jewish clergy, proudly featured in political rhetoric by several Presidential candidates and embraced by a growing number of Americans who continuously stir up anti-Islamic passions.

A young, bright Muslim boy brings to school a model of a clock he has created and is immediately handcuffed! If he had been a rosy-cheeked boy with the last name of O’Brien, I doubt the reaction would have been the same. Islamophobia is the latest expression of “the other” that we are supposed to fear and fight, the latest incarnation of the “public enemy”. It has become the only socially accepted prejudice that can be spouted by public figures with a great deal of impunity.

I am very concerned about this and I think this narrow-mined discrimination should make any patriotic American concerned. Our country was grounded on the spirit and tradition of tolerance and religious freedom – the right of all people to believe as they choose. We need to stay clear thinking and realize that Islam as a religion is fundamentally peace loving and lawful. We need to educate ourselves and understand the basic tenants of Islam: Basic tenants of Islam. We must not confuse radical jihadism with Islam. We must maintain a voice of reason through the fear.

What is Islam? I draw your attention to Malala, the young Nobel Prize laureate, an extraordinary human being by most peoples’ standards. She is known mainly for human rights advocacy for education and for women. I encourage you to view this simple, short video where she references her religion and says, “For me, Islam is a religion of peace.” Malala – Religion of peace. 

I also ask you to read about Islam in America in Wikipedia, especially the section on Religious Freedom. Those of you who think our Constitution was strictly grounded in the Protestant/Christian religion will be surprised.

There are extremists in any religion or society. They are imbalanced zealots who take their religion hostage and use it to substantiate their own fears. Be they Christian, Jewish or Muslim, it is very destructive to humanity as well as to the religion they say they represent. Are there people who have hijacked Islam to perform terrorist acts like 9/11 and from groups like ISIS? YES, and they must be stopped! But those who condemn an entire religion and an entire group of people for the heinous acts of some, are driven by intolerance and prejudice and do not understand Islam.

Do we condemn all Whites for the violent acts of White Supremacists? Do we fear all believers in God because of the insane actions of those in the “Army of God” who believe killing doctors who perform abortions is “God’s will”? Do we hate all Christians because of the horrific acts of the KKK who claim their actions are deeply rooted in Christian beliefs? Do we deplore all Israelis for the terrorist actions of extremist Jews? No, because by any reasonable standards, that would be flat-out crazy.

Instead, we need to keep our heads about us and realize it is in the Western world’s power, right now, to nurture the moderate peaceful traditions of Islam. The Muslim population in the US is around 2.5 million and is expected to reach 6.2 million of legal immigrants by 2030. Perhaps more than ever, we need to realize that the main concern of those who come here to the United States to live (and those who have been living here peacefully for many generations), as well as many refugees who are knocking on the doors of Europe, is the same as it is for everyone – to have a fruitful life, to devote time to raising their families and to work hard to ensure that their children have a better future. Like anyone, they want to worship and be who they are in peace. Isn’t that what the United States is all about?

It is indeed unfortunate the Imams have not stood up as a unified group to condemn terrorism conducted in the name of Islam.  We hear from one or two, but that is not enough. I do believe this is a serious problem that perpetuates mistrust and I call upon all my Muslim friends to demand their religious leaders speak up against the radical jihadists who are misrepresenting the beliefs of the true Islamic faith. However, until they act, it is up to us to do so.

Most fear comes from ignorance. Get to know a Muslim. Then join hands with peaceful Muslims and be careful to not group them with the terrorists. If they feel like a welcomed part of the community, then don’t you see? They will have a stake in our democracy, they will have a stake in preserving the spirit and tradition of tolerance.

We in the Western world provide the alternative to ISIS and al Qaeda. By embracing the Muslim community and making them feel at home, we prove all radical and militant Muslims the world over to be wrong about their hatred for us. We need this. We need this from a strategic point of view – in the sense that having a peaceful and democratically integrated Muslim community is good for our country and good for the world. We need this because the mass majority of Muslims are not plotting the Islamic takeover of the United States. They are like anyone else, contributing citizens who live, love, laugh, cry and feel fear and hurt just like the rest of us – they, too, fear the acts of the terrorists. But my friends, we need this most of all, and especially now, for our own integrity as human beings and for the sake of our very own hearts and souls.

As we come into the holiday season, a time when we celebrate community, family and peace, may we all give careful consideration to who we are, what we stand for and what it means to live in a free country – where everyone is supposed to have the right to differing views and religious beliefs. May we all stop and recognize the way we individually respond to Islamic terrorists vs. all Muslims and how we influence others through our thoughts, words, actions, reactions and inactions, to either preserve that privilege or destroy it.

 

Read Full Post »