Tag Archives: gratitude

The Search for Meaning

searchYears ago I went through an intense phase of grumbling about life. During this time, my friend Nubby gently suggested I read Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl. The book was written in 1946 after Frankl had survived being a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. Ultimately, Frankl presents how to face suffering while finding meaning in life so it can be lived not in bitterness, but with purpose. In Dr. Frankl’s country of Austria his book is translated to mean “Say yes to life just the same.”

I had meant to read it for years. The book was already on my shelf, so I didn’t have to go far to find it. The next day after Nubby made the suggestion, I didn’t get out of bed. I kept the blinds closed, commiserated with myself, moaned and groaned about my life — wallowed in it until I was pruney. Then I read Man’s Search for Meaning.

On that feeling-sorry-for-myself day when I refused to get out of bed, Dr. Frankl’s story spoke to me. Here is what it said:

  • We are capable of free thought.
  • We can make it through anything with a positive state of mind.
  • When we look death in the face, the cruelty of it can slice through our illusions so that things become very simple.
  • These are the energies that really count: love, hope, neutrality.
  • The ego is a rather frail construct.
  • We can step back and realize that no horror has any power over us.
  • We can transcend our own personal Auschwitz.
  • Nothing can break our spirit unless we allow it.

After finishing the last page of the book, I laid there in the dark room for a while questioning whether I would have had what it took to get through Auschwitz alive. Then I wondered, had I survived such a horror would I have been deeply bitter and resentful and hateful for the remainder of my life? I wondered if I would have chosen to see the joy and beauty in life again or would I have just grumbled through the rest of my days. I got out of bed, straightened the covers, took a shower, and decided to live.

The Power of the Mind to Heal

power of mindThe mind is so powerful that it alone can help you heal. You have the ability to focus your thoughts on what you want and how you want to feel. In each moment you can notice where your mind has gone, whether to worries, fears, judgments, and other negativity, or to thoughts that are aligned with what you want for yourself.

The first step is to have an ongoing practice of noticing and managing your thoughts. This isn’t easy to do if you’re addicted to the television culture, where mass media offers a never ending stream of negative concepts into your brain. Or, if you like to get online and read the daily headlines followed by stories of horrific occurrences around the world. Or, if you like to “trauma share” with friends and colleagues about the annoying things that happen to you.

In the case of serious physical illness, we might find ourselves in a doctor’s office listening to negative possibilities and statistics that don’t sound promising. Because we are susceptible to these predictions, we often believe the bad news and accept it as fact when it isn’t. This can hinder the ability to heal because the mind is powerful enough to create what it believes.

We hear stories about people on their “deathbeds” whose families don’t tell them what the doctors have said about their dire situation. The person gradually gets well and goes on to live a full life. The mind didn’t have the opportunity to grasp onto the negative concept of doom, and instead believed in wellness. Our unwillingness to integrate the power of the mind into mainstream medicine is a hindrance in modern healthcare. If we were masters over our own minds we could enhance and improve the entire medical system.

There are few more important things you can do than to shift your mind to the positive. Any negative thought can be transformed by focusing on its opposite. Writing down the opposite thought, even drawing it out, helps change the negative thought pattern. Notice what you think about. Are you hooked in to the latest gory or fear-based story on the nightly news? Do you have people around you who enjoy talking in negative terms, going over and over the same dark topics? Do you do this yourself? If so, noticing these times and making an effort to change them is your path to making a positive mind a habit.

The best conversation I had over the past holidays was with a friend at a dinner party who said, “I’m focusing all of my attention on seeing the best in people. I’m simply not talking negative about things. My challenge is to practice this even when others around me are being negative.” Isn’t that a challenge we all could be willing to take on?

That was a conversation I could have carried into the wee hours of the morning. When you find another person who’s behaving as if their positive thoughts make a difference, it’s inspiring, uplifting, and life-affirming. This is where true healing begins.

 

7 Ways to Have a Real Thanksgiving

Recently I asked a friend, “What do you think is the importance of gratitude?” He said, “I feel good. It opens my heart up. Maybe that is enough. But it is a form of delight. I have a need to get to the feeling of gratitude. I can’t will it, but instead I must feel it. It comes from the act of giving. God gives us all this abundance. Gratitude is a feeling you show toward kindness or a blessing.” Wow!

Of course, it’s easier to feel deeply grateful when life is going well. But the practice and real treasure comes when you express appreciation for life even when it’s difficult.

Professors of Psychology Michael McCullough and Robert Emmons did research on gratitude and thanksgiving. Their studies found that daily gratitude exercises lead to higher alertness, enthusiasm, optimism, and more energy. They also found that grateful people feel more loved, less stressed, and less depressed. They exercise more regularly and make more progress on personal goals. All this from having gratitude for something! And each day, there is something to be grateful for.

As our gratitude holiday approaches, my practice is to keep my thoughts focused on what it’s truly about (between running to the store for more cranberries…). Here are my 7 ways to have a real Thanksgiving.

1. List 10 parts of your body that function reliably. For example, your ears, eyes, heart, bladder, kidneys, knees, ankles, toes, fingers, wrists, stomach, nose, eyebrows…

2. List 10 things that make you happy.

3. List 10 people who have helped you in the past, no matter how small.

4. List 10 people you have helped, no matter how small.

5. List 10 things you are grateful for in your life.

6. List all of the good that has come into your life in the last 5 years.

7. Complete the following sentence: I’m so happy and grateful now that…

The World’s Healthiest Cranberry Sauce

cranberriesThere was something oddly comforting about that canned jellied cranberry sauce slurping out of the can onto a plate, where it was cut into slices. Although it never seemed like “sauce” to me, it still helped the overly dry parts of the turkey go down easier. Served at every Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner during my childhood, it was simply tradition.

But nowadays, I’ve eliminated canned foods from my diet (and I think it’s wise we all eat as many fresh foods as possible). So I was thrilled when my friend Gina Renee gave me this recipe a few years ago. I’ve got it printed from an old email she sent me, and I guard it, keeping it in a special box.

When you make this cranberry sauce you’ll know why. I’m particular about food, and this one’s a keeper. It goes perfect with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, or whatever else you might be cooking up this Thanksgiving. You can make it a day or two in advance, which means you’re not rushing around at the last minute putting it together. And here it is…

The World’s Healthiest Cranberry Sauce

12-14 oz fresh, organic cranberries

1 cup fresh squeezed organic orange juice

1 tsp fresh minced ginger

1 tsp orange zest (zest the organic orange first, before squeezing it for the juice)

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/2 cup crushed pineapple

1/2 cup raw honey

Bring orange juice, ginger, orange zest, and cinnamon to a boil on high heat. Rinse cranberries and add once the orange juice mixture is boiling. Reduce heat to medium and cook uncovered for about 10 minutes or until cranberries are soft and the mixture thickens. Add crushed pineapple and honey. Remove from heat and cool.

You’re going to love it!