Be Thankful

As an American who lives overseas, sometimes celebrating Thanksgiving can be very tough.  No one has off either Thursday or Friday, or your friends have gone elsewhere for the holiday.  So, like many expats, I celebrate it on another day (this year it’s Saturday).  I’ve invited a bunch of people for a buffet meal – 2 vegetarian adults, 2 vegetarian kids, 6 meat eaters and only 2 of us are American!  I’m so thankful for having people around to celebrate one of my favourite holidays.

Being thankful is important in life.  Finding just little bits of positivity can be so helpful both mentally and physically.  Mentally, it can open you up to other possibilities, will allow you to look more regularly for the positives versus negatives in life and make you feel better about yourself, your life and your future.  Physically, finding the positives in life can keep heart issues at bay much more than looking at just the negatives.

So, do yourself a favour, and look for the beauty in the world around you.  It might just be that the sun is shining today (which it is in London), or a smile on a baby or the sight of an older couple holding hands.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you, American or not!

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10: Commit to Your Goals

This can be a tough one. It can be scary to commit to something that might or might not work out.

I went to see Carol Dweck yesterday in a small talk given in central London. She spoke about her book, Mindset, and the difference between a fixed and growth mindset. Those with a fixed mindset believe that effort means that you aren’t smart or talented, and so you if it doesn’t come easily, they won’t do anything to get better. Those with a growth mindset believe that you can work toward becoming better at something and that mistakes are a good way to continue learning.

In order to fully commit to a goal, you HAVE to have a growth mindset. There will be set-backs and you may have to learn new skills. You have to work on optimising your strengths and figuring out how to work around or strengthening your weaknesses. Do Not go for perfection in the way a fixed mindset sees it – as nothing can go wrong. Go for “perfection” in the way a growth mindset sees it – working toward making what you do better and better along the way.

My goal is to start and improve a private practice in psychotherapy. I have begun to follow this goal by getting into a CBT programme at Oxford, finding a space to do my therapy, starting a twitter & facebook page that will eventually be linked to a website (as will this blog), and through networking as much as I can!

So, make those goals and go for them! They can be a small goal or a big one, it doesn’t matter, but find that passion!

4: Practice Acts of Kindness

One of the things I love about working at my school is that they read a book called How Full is Your Bucket?. And then they post lovely things about random people in school on a board. It’s fabulous!

In an article in Psychology Today, they found that doing nice things boosts your serotonin levels. Why is this good? Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that boosts feelings of well-being. So when you are kind to someone else, you are also being kind to yourself.

Depression and anxiety can come through a lack of serotonin, and helping others can combat this, a bit. In addition, it takes you outside your own little sphere. We see that life is not just about ourselves, but about others. And that can really help us see the positives in our lives.

I try to find the positive behaviours that people do and tell them how much I appreciate those good acts. Even just the act of smiling at others, can boost both their feelings of happiness as well as yours. The more you can do, hopefully the more others will also do, thus spreading good feelings long.

3. Avoid Over-Thinking and Social Comparison

I find the third of the 12 things that happy people do differently to be one of the toughest to achieve. I grew up in a competitive world, where students would compare themselves to each other all the time. It became part of who I was, in some ways. But I’ve worked hard at fighting these thoughts. When I see a friend who has done much better than me, academically or financially, my first thought should be, “How awesome for them.” Instead, I tend to do a comparison, and thus think worse about myself. Envy is not something that helps you grow, but rather holds you back.

So now I try to use thought stopping and fighting those thoughts. Someone else’s achievents have nothing to do with me. Am I happy with where I am right now? If not, then what steps do I have to do to get there? And what successes have I already achieved? I then can remind myself that I have the skills to problem solve and get to where I want to be.

2. Cultivate Optimism

The second thing that happy people tend to do differently is to cultivate optimism. When the students ask me how I can be so positive and optimistic, I ask them if they would want to talk to a counsellor who isn’t. They laugh and see my point. Optimism can be an amazing thing.

Optimism can have a very positive effect, particularly if you think about the idea of a self-fulfilling prophesy. In a self-fulfilling prophesy, you predict that something is going to happen in your future. This prediction tends to come true due to a feedback system. If I am optimistic that things are going to go well, then I will act in this way and thus it’s more likely that things will go well. The opposite applies too.

Optimism is part of a growth mindset (if you haven’t read Carol Dweck’s book, you need to!). For example, if you have a failure, instead of seeing it as horrible, you’ll see it as a mistake to learn from, an opportunity to grow.

So, every day, take a minute or two to imagine just how well the day is going to go. Visualize yourself doing an activity the way you want it to go. It’s more likely to happen that way.

1. Express Gratitude

According to Dictionary.com, the definition of gratitude is the quality or feeling of being grateful or thankful.  In the States, we tend to do this once a year when we have Thanksgiving.  But for me, it’s something that I do every day.  I started to do a daily appreciation on my private Facebook page after seeing a Ted Talk on Positive Psychology by Shawn Achor (it’s amazingly funny and worth seeing) while being a substitute teacher for a Health class.

Every day I search out something to write.  And so what I’m doing is looking for life’s positives.  This search means that I don’t ignore the little good things in my life, but magnify them.  And the bad stuff becomes lesser.  Many people have a habit of focusing on the negatives and this becomes their life (self-fulfilling prophesy, my friends).  While there are bad things in my life, and I’m not someone who is always positive, I like the fact that I try to find the good in my life and make those experiences more important than the bad ones.  It’s too easy to be bogged down by the downers.

Here’s a visual for you – even in those places where it seems to be ugly, beauty can be found.

Happiness

I recently saw a posting on Facebook about the twelve things happy people do differently. I went onto Google and did a bit of a search and found quite a few resources on this. I figured I could focus on one a week and write about it. Here’s the list:

1. Express Gratitude
2. Cultivate Optimism
3. Avoid Over-thinking and Social Comparison
4. Practice Acts of Kindness
5. Nurture Social Relationships
6. Develop Strategies for Coping
7. Learn to Forgive
8. Increase Flow Experiences
9. Savore Life’s Joys
10. Commit to Your Goals
11. Practice Relgion & Spirituality
12. Take Care of Your Body