Growing Happiness Through a Gratitude Journal That Lets the Good In

firewood pic AK July 2016 cropped IMG_7226 (2)

Life has a way of throwing us a curve ball, at times adding challenges that seem to gray every thing around us.  Due to a recent illness within my family that ended with a surgery, I went to that gray place. I was thinking to myself, “Ok you are a therapist, what do you want to do here to feel better?”  I found Rick Hanson’s book: Hardwiring  Happiness peeking through my most recent stack of books by my reading chair.  I began re-reading parts of Rick’s book and found one of my favorite parts about taking in the good. I  like to call it “letting in the good”. I really like this concept of letting the good come in even when it feels dark and gray. Our brain does gravitate to the “dark side”. As Rick Hanson likes to say the negative experiences are like velcro and the positive experiences are like teflon.  The brain has a negativity bias that is built-in to keep us safe. Understanding this principle helps us to know we have to highlight and focus on the good to experience it more easily. I’m not saying we should not let our self feel sad, that is important as well. But we have to be vigilant not to go to the “dark side” and hide from the light that is always there for us.

Out of the weeds and tangles of life great beauty can be found.

 

A bit later I decided to do a bit of writing in my gratitude journal as this is always a mood lifter. As I began to write I thought why not do a more descriptive writing entry in my gratitude journal to “let more of the good come in”. First of all let me say a bit about  “letting in the good”. The following is a summary of the first three of the four steps of what Rick Hanson calls “taking in the good”. In this case it is in past tense as you are remembering and recalling.

LETTING IN THE GOOD

  1. Acknowledge the Positive Experience -In the case of reflecting back, bring forth the positive experience to your mind.
  2. Enrich It – Keep this time in your mind, opening the memory so you can fully remember it and enjoy it in its fullness. Think of how it personally helped you.
  3. Absorb It – Let it sink into you becoming a part of you.

You can use this process of “letting in the good” as you write in your gratitude journal. For some a gratitude journal may be more about listing what you are grateful for that has happened to you that day. In a Descriptive Gratitude Journal you would want to do the following:

  • Be detailed in your description of what you are grateful for or what positive experience you had that day.
  • Describe all the positive feelings you felt during this experience.
  • Relive this positive time in your mind. Let it stay with you, enjoying the feel of it again as long as you can. 

I hope you will try this enhanced gratitude journal writing. The good feelings will have a better opportunity of becoming a part of you, living on. And of course the more you journal about your positive experiences the more that you will draw more positive experiences to you.

Best wishes for happy days ahead!

 

How to Be Happy Even in the Tough Times

Daisies in open field with blue skies

We all want a PERFECT life, with all good things always coming our way. Nothing wrong with that. What we envision will many times be what we get, just not always in the form we think it will come or with the exact timing we wanted. We are all human and live in a human world with constant change and things not always going in the way we planned. Being able to go through those times and still be happy is a sweet thing indeed. It means we have some control over our emotions and have some choice. Isn’t that a grand thing.

Sometimes it takes us remembering what it is that REALLY makes us happy.

  1. Yes it is fun and exciting to go on vacation. Or buy a new something for our house. And it can make us feel happy. But in the end, for most of us it is about our time with our loved ones and the beautiful interaction and love that flows between us. So for me I try to remember when I am feeling sorry for myself that it is not so much about what I have or specifically if something goes as planned, but who I am with and my time spent with them and the joy and playfulness that we create together. Plus the support and strength we draw from one another. Giving us a life of love and connection – what we truly need as humans. For example: Your spouse or partner seems down and really is not into the fun time you have planned together. You feel upset too in that you wanted a fun time with your loved one and it is not happening. So opposed to having a fit of upset, you dig a little deeper and find that your sweetheart is really distressed about a particular something that you did not know about. So you learn more about this and find an empathy and wanting to help make your loved one feel better. You begin to feel closer with the sharing of this information. So all is not lost, you connected at a deeper level. You now understand your loved one better. You can put your heads together and find some ways to make it better for both of you.
  2. We see something going a certain way and it does not. We don’t understand. We did all the right things. What happened? Sometimes we don’t always know. But, what we forget is that the other something can lead to something even better. And we have to remember that all is well regardless of what happens. We don’t have to let what happens to us dictate weather we are happy. You have all heard the saying: “One door closes and another opens.” Well it is true. We just have to know and have confidence this is happening. Knowing there are good things out there for us. And things will work out. Our knowing and action toward this will facilitate this happening. Meaning we accept and move on when a door closes and go out there and create opportunities for others to open for us. Knowing that many times these new open doors will lead to something even better.  For example: You are in charge of a project in which you have taking a lot of time to find another to assist and they do and you feel all is going so well.  Happiness blooms all around you! And then the person needs to   bows out. All that thoughtful planning down the drain. Frustrated, you begin again. But is all lost?  No. You are just now ready for the next person to finish in another way that may be just as good or maybe even better. So stay tuned for Chapter 2.  Your story will enfold, maybe even with a better ending! 

Please Note: I do want to say I am not promoting that we ignore our upset or sad or angry feelings. Those are all valid and should be acknowledged. I am promoting that we allow ourselves to go beyond this when we are ready to do so and know that it is possible. I am saying basically we do not have to stay stuck in an emotion that we have more choice that we all think. 

In the end, it is all about perception, how we view something and how we choose to respond. We can choose happiness. It is just a step away. It may not look the way we originally thought it would, but it is still there. So go for it. It does not have to all be perfect to be happy. So step out and dare to be happy even when all is not perfect. You will be glad you did!

 

Unplug, Relax and Enjoy

laberinth at flainnifans near zion natioanl park

Can we really unplug, relax and enjoy? I say yes, we can do this. But it is a very conscious choice we make in each and every moment I think. As of recent due to increased job, community and personal commitments I have found myself in a place to really re-look at this concept.

As I begin my vacation travels this week, I see lots of folks completely plugged in and checked out to others around them, including themselves. I am not suggesting we all throw out all of our electronic devices we are all a bit addicted to. But I am suggesting that we do a check in with ourself every so often as to the balance of being emerged in our high-tech environments and the “crazy busy” life so many of us create for ourselves AND taking time for self-care and letting joy and peace flow into our live. Thus my own check in as I take some time away from it all.

As I sat on a plane earlier yesterday, I sat across from a father who had his young baby son  lying on his lap. The baby was asleep with his little arms flung out above his head, a content and utterly peaceful experience on his face. To his side dad had another child who was resting on his shoulder, cuddled up and asleep by her daddy. It was all so sweet and very calming to be sitting by. A bit of a “wake up call” for me to take more time for this beautiful, peaceful calm together time with my loved ones. Without this balance we can feel disconnected and very un-centered.

So I am off to begin this process to re-balancing once again. And yes it is an over and over process I think. It is so easy to get off course, but always possible to get back on a path of more joy and peacefulness.

Some questions you might ask yourself as you too are trying to access and get back on the path:

  1. How am I doing? How do I feel the majority of the time?
  2. What am I doing on a day-to-day basis for self-care? 
  3. Do I plan long-term what is the very best for me and what I want and what brings joy to my life?
  4. What kinds of boundaries do I set up to make sure I am doing what is the best thing for me and that is balanced and healthy?
  5. And the ultimate question, “Is this how I want to live my life?”

I hope you will enjoy this beautiful spring time emerging around us and use it as a time for re-birth and new beginnings toward better self-care and reaching for all the joy and happiness you deserve.

Much peace and love to you all.

 

A Fun Calming Technique for Children – Butterfly Breathing + Butterfly Hugs

butterfly animated smiling pink with poka dots butterfly note for board.docx - source Your child is angry and beginning to escalate. Or you know your child is anxious and not sure how to feel better. I want to share a simple, fun technique designed for children I recently learned about at the Oklahoma Play Therapy Association’s Annual Conference. Dr. Jennifer Baggerly, PhD, Professor at the Counseling and Human Services at the University of North Texas at Dallas presented the Butterfly Technique. Here is how it works:

Butterfly Breathing

  1. Let your child know there is a way to make them feel better. It is always best to help your child when the emotions have not escalated to a very high level.  The sooner you can assist the better.
  2. Ask your child to pretend to be a butterfly! Model for your child what butterfly wings would look like. Hold your arms out and bring them in toward each other. And then out again, letting your arms / wings flap.
  3. Practice together with your child how their butterfly wings work. Practice always helps for being able to remember later when it is needed.
  4. Have your child now let the butterfly breath as it flaps it’s wings. Model for your child how the butterfly breathes. There is more than one way this can be done. The most important message is for the butterfly to breathe deep. One way to model this is by demonstrating and talking through the following wing / breathing pattern.
  • As the butterfly opens its wings, take a deep breath – you can count 1, 2, 3 as you open your wings if you wish.
  • As the butterfly closes its wings, let the breath out, letting all your worries out – you can count 3, 2, 1 as you close your wings if you wish. 

5.  Continue  “Butterfly Breathing” until your child feels more calm.  Model and do this with them as they learn this technique.

Note:  One website that shows the Butterfly Breathing technique with the 1,2, 3 count is:   elfenworks.org/butterfly. In addition you may go to iTunes and look at the Butterfly Breathing app put out by Elfenworks, which is free. The Elfenworks site has a butterfly breathing script and additional information in regard to their butterfly breathing technique. 

 

Butterfly Hugs

To add to your “Butterfly Breathing” you can add “Butterfly Hugs”.  Here is how you would do butterfly hugs:

  1. The arms / wings can fold into the chest with hands moving to rest on the arms, giving a hug to yourself. 
  2. Hands tap the arms and then hands rubbing the arms from left to right.

Good luck with your butterfly breathing and butterfly hugs and remember you may find it helpful for yourself to use as well. And the more you model for your child the more he or she will probably use it!

 

 

 

 

Forgive Yourself and Move On

angel at santa fe church, kicking up his heal sept 2015

We mess up, we make mistakes, we are human! We all have times we are not happy with something we did or did not do.  So we might begin by telling ourselves: “It is ok. I am human and I can make mistakes. I am still capable and worthy of being loved.”

So what can we do to forgive our selves from our “mess ups”?

  • We can check in with ourselves and decide if we are being realistic with ourselves. Are our standards too high? I am not suggesting that we do not have standards or not try to do the best we can. I am suggesting that we remind ourselves, “We do not have to be perfect.” Letting go of this idea can be very freeing.
  • See mistakes as an opportunity to learn. I was reading about Albert Einstein and found that he had 1000 unsuccessful attempts at creating the light bulb. When he was asked how it felt to fail this many times he said ” I didn’t fail 1000 times,. The light bulb was an invention with 1000 steps .”  So know that your mistakes are just “steps” in your journey of what you want to become.
  • Start again. It’s ok. We can start as many times as we want. Isn’t it nice to remember we can always start again. It is one of the wonderful internal strengths we humans have – to begin again. 

So Forgive Yourself, Move On.

We are destined to be our best version of our self. Getting there means being ok with our human mistakes and “mess ups”. This is not to say that we do not make amends or ask for forgiveness when appropriate. It means we forgive ourselves and find compassion for ourselves. This is the first step of course to doing the same with others in our life. It is the first step toward going where we want to go. 

Best wishes in your human journey of loving and forgiving yourself. It is a basic for being at peace and continuing on to where you truly want to go!

 

Teaching Your Children About Giving

christmas tree for birds philbrook 2015

With the holiday season upon us, it sometimes feels like all we hear from our children is “what they want for Christmas”.  Many of us hope that we can help our children develop a more balanced approach to what they want / need and helping others with what they want / need. The focus of this blog piece will be on the end of teaching our children about giving. “Giving is a basic value that makes our society a humane and civilized one.” This is not always easy as there is just so much of us during the holiday season. So it becomes about us too as adults coming to terms with  our own balance of the two things. So it may start there with us examining our own hearts.

christmas tree brid decoration philbrook 2015 orange with seed in it

I decided to re-visit this topic that comes up for me ever so often in my own family. I was at Philbrook Museum of Art over the Thanksgiving holiday with my family and saw the beautiful outdoor Christmas tree decorated for the bird’s to nibble on. It made me think of the trees I have created in the past with my children when they were younger for the birds. And thought again of the issue of making sure I create this “self-care / other care” balance in my family. So here are a few ideas on the side of giving to others.

Christmas tree bird decoration philbrook 2014 grapefruit

 

Teaching Your Children About Giving

  1. Start with yourself. How do you feel about giving? Are your beliefs or values reflected in your actions?  “I feel what our children see us doing is the foundation for teaching our children about giving.”  For what we do will so much more affect our children than what we say to them. We are powerful models for our children. The second piece of this is about our balance of self-care and other care. Is our balance where we want it to be and is it reflected in a way that our children can see this balance? 
  2. Create GIVING OPPORTUNITIES that are developmentally appropriate for your children. These activities work best when done together as a family. They carry so much more weight and power this way. AND they create some very special memories and solidify the message you want to give to your children.  These activities might include some of the following: going through toys and games no longer needed or wanted and passing them on to a non-profit agency; assisting in making some holiday treats to take to a nursing home or a neighbor, having children use part of their allowance to buy something for a special toy drive or angel tree, volunteering their time to help someone who needs help, etc. All of this depends of course on the specific age of your child. 
  3. Talk with children about WHY you like to give to others in your family. This may take a bit of a different slant for different families. For some it may have a religious basis. For others it may be about their own family values. ” Regardless it is good to talk about why we give in our family.” Talk with your children about why you give. This is good for us all to consider as adults. Why do we give? For me I give because it feels right, it fits with my religious and personal value system and it always comes back as to good feelings and blessings in my own life. It is important to remember that giving comes in different forms – our time, our talents, our material goods, our money.  This is another conversation one can have with their children. This is not a lecture, just a discussion as the time arises that it makes sense to talk about it. “But again, it is the action itself that will cement in your child’s memory the value or message about giving.”  
  4. Praise your child for their giving. It always help when others acknowledge our efforts. Of course, the intrinsic rewards of giving are powerful in themselves. 

christmas tree bird decoration philbrook 2015 cranberry ring

I hope you will find your balance in your family of self-care and other care. And that you will give your children this holiday season the gift of giving. Happy Holidays and Best Wishes! Tanna

christmas tree dec for birds philbrook 2015 orange with cereal cranberry string

 

 

 

“Say One Thing You Are Thankful For About Your Family” Thanksgiving Activity

Thanksgiving animated picture nov 2015

Want to encourage your family to be thankful and appreciative of one another? I am always trying to think of ways to encourage this kind of interaction to take place in my own family and with the families I work with. We might remember to be thankful of those outside our family, but at times we overlook those closest to us. So let’s use Thanksgiving as a start point in remembering to show our thankfulness for our loved ones.

I have always liked the activity at Thanksgiving where you go around and tell one thing you are thankful for.This is a fun one to do around the dinner table.  This is fairly easy for most people to do. Most of us can think of one thing that we are thankful for. It is good to remind folks it can be a small thing. It does not have to be large. I have enjoyed this version, But I am thinking of another version for this Thanksgiving that I thought I might share.

“Say One Thing You Are Thankful For About Your Family.”

In this version you are encouraging the family to reflect about what they like about their family as a whole. It is easy to take family for granted. And Thanksgiving is a perfect time to think about this. Now it may be that you do not like everything or very much about your family. But my guess is that with some thought you can think of one thing you are grateful for. I might note that family can be the family you have created and gave birth to or it can be your family of origin.

If you really can not do this version, then go back to what you are in general thankful for. But you can use this as a time to think to yourself or with your partner or spouse what family attributes you wish to create that later your children will be thankful for. That is a bit deeper. But sometimes thinking ahead can be a good thing. What we project out is many times what we get back. It is sort of like goal setting or creating an intention.

I wish you all the very best of Thanksgivings!

Thankful orange picture with branches be thankful

 

 

Happy Journals, Happy Families

journal picture IMG_7984 (2) november 2015

I sometimes suggest a “Happy Journal” for a client who needs to do more focusing on the “happy stuff”. I at times will ask the entire family to partake in this simple, but very effective activity. I always like to remind folks that “what we focus on is what we get more of”. Thus, for those who want to have a happier family here is a tool to encourage your family to look for the happy in their lives.

The Set Up for Beginning Your Happy Journal Family Adventure

  1. Have a family meeting where you set down and explain what you are going to do as a family. “Because we want to focus on the good or what makes us happy, we have decided we are all going to keep happy journals. What we focus on we get more of. So here is a way to put more focus on the happy.”
  2. Have family members choose from a variety of decorative spiral notebooks or journals as to what they like the most. I would suggest that you buy a few more than you need so that there will be some choice for everyone. Plus you can pick out ones that you know will be a hit with each of your family members. If you have young children or those who like to draw you may want to include some that are blank paged journals.
  3. Suggest that everyone write in their “happy journal” everyday. “We would like for everyone to write down something in their happy journal everyday. This way it gets to be a habit for us all to think more about the “happy stuff” that is going on in our lives.” You can suggest that everyone try to think of 3 things that made them feel happy that day. Or whatever number of things that you feel would work with your family. Or you could leave it open ended, with no set number.
  4. Each person can write or draw what made them happy that day. This is helpful for those who are not writing yet or for those who prefer to express themselves in this way.
  5. Maximize or let your happy experiences grow by sharing them with one another.  This could be done in a set way or a more spontaneous way.  Some possible more structured ways of sharing might be: sharing at the dinner table every night one happy thing that everyone is planning on writing in their happy journal or sharing at bedtime with each other. Sometimes tying an activity to a routine already in place can help. In a more spontaneous way, you might ask your child, “What have you found to put in your happy journal lately?”
  6. All family members participating makes this a very powerful activity. When children and teens see there moms or dads write down what is making them happy and sharing this, they will see that this is a family value or something that is important – to focus on the happy stuff or the good.

I hope you will try this whether your family is just you as a couple or if you are a couple with a young child or if you are a single parent family or a blended one. It is all good, encouraging each other to see the happy things that are all around us!!!