I was having a conversation with a good friend not too long ago about some distressing comments I had read online in response to a posted article. Frankly, they were ugly and I chose not to continue reading. My friend’s observation: “Society has lost its sense of civility.”
I’ve thought a lot about that conversation since. I took a look at the Merriam-Webster definition of the word, which is: 1. an act or utterance that is a customary show of good manners; 2. speech or behavior that is a sign of good breeding.
Civility isn’t complicated. It’s manners, politeness, showing courtesy and kindness to others. It’s being respectful, to both yourself and others. It’s maintaining composure in difficult circumstances or with difficult people. It’s being willing to hear others’ perspectives and opinions, even if you don’t agree with them. One does not have to go too far these days to find examples of the lack of it.
I thought about how I might draw some food for thought from the science of positive psychology about how this atmosphere of disaffection and discord impacts wellbeing.
Dr. Martin Seligman, in his book, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being, discussed his theory of wellbeing, and what promotes human flourishing. The acronym he gave it, PERMA, stands for:
- Positive emotion
- Positive Relationships
I’m struck by how incompatible those ideas are with the lack of civility in our society today. If positive emotion and engagement might encourage and reinforce civility, what does the lack of it do to us as individuals, as a culture? What does it do to our wellbeing, our happiness, our sense of flourishing?
Make no mistake, happiness and wellbeing are important business. Research shows that happy people are healthier, live longer, have better relationships, make more money and contribute more to society. I don’t know about you, but when I hear and read some public dialogue these days, I don’t feel a sense of positive emotion, of wellbeing. I feel ill.
In case you think I’m referring to any particular brand of politics, I’m not (despite the current political climate.) At time, students – and parents – show disrespect to teachers and faculty, even though they may have a legitimate disagreement. Parents go into tirades at coaches and school-age players at sporting events. The internet provides a space for all sorts of bullying, harassment and name calling.
What has happened to respecting others’ opinions, even if they differ from your own? What role models do younger generations have to look up to, if what they have to emulate are adults behaving badly? Speaking of adults, if our homes and families are where we get our foundation what, exactly, are we passing on? What has happened to basics such as kindness, character, dignity, and acting like a grownup (assuming you are one.)
Going back to Seligman’s PERMA, I can’t help but wonder how this type of behavior impacts our mental, physical, spiritual and emotional health. One definition of flourishing is: “to grow or develop in a healthy or vigorous way, especially as the result of a particularly favorable environment.” It’s our responsibility to create that favorable environment, for ourselves and others. As someone wise once said, “We carry our own weather with us.”
The good news is that so much of this is under our control. We have the tools we need to create positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment. Research shows that approximately 50% of our happiness is determined by genetics, 10% by our circumstances (married, single, living conditions) and 40% by behavior. We get to choose who we will be and how we will relate to the world around us. We decide what kind of meaning our lives will have. Making a conscious effort to practice kindness, hope and optimism, gratitude, connection – all of these contribute to impacting the world around us. So does courtesy, respect and good manners. And those start at home, with us, and with what we teach our children.
George Washington said it well: “Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.”
What about you? What’s your take on the topic of civility? Please feel free to post a comment on my blog or share it with me in an email.
I’m taking the month of August off from writing this newsletter, for vacation and family time. Enjoy the rest of summer and I’ll see you after Labor Day!
I don’t know about where you are, but summer in Colorado is short and seems to fly by faster each year. At the beginning of the season, I usually have lots of plans, ideas, and to-do’s – what I want the summer to look like – most of which probably don’t ever get off the ground. I’m ok with that, though, because some of them do – and they add to the memories of summer that will last long after Labor Day.
In his book, Flourish, Dr. Martin Seligman enumerates the benefits of happiness or well-being in our lives. They include more meaning, love, gratitude, positive accomplishment, growth and better relationships. Seen in this light, putting a premium on enjoyment of life is part of the picture of having a full, successful life. The whole goal of positive psychology is, in fact, to increase flourishing in our life, according to Seligman. I, for one, don’t want to pass up on having a flourishing life. So, with that in mind, here is my summer season list, so that I can be, as Montagu said, seized by those moments of happiness and flourish.
- A trip to the coast of Oregon – something I’ve been wanting to do for years!
- Try standup paddleboarding – I have no excuse not to, my son rents them out at our local lake.
- Let go of anything I don’t need or want anymore – make space for more life, less stuff. (The key here is to be sure that more flows out than in.)
- Go horseback riding at least once. I live in Colorado, for Pete’s sake.
- Practice listening more than talking.
- Take more walks with my husband. Spend time with my precious son, before he goes back to school. And, of course, our dogs.
- Spend more time at home – puttering, reading, de-cluttering (my new favorite thing) or – what a concept – just enjoy being.
- Eat outside whenever possible – whether at home on the deck, or at a restaurant.
- Pick wildflowers from the yard and bring a bouquet inside.
- Finally, for all of you who wrote the kindest emails on the passing of our beloved Ben, thank you so much! And – May I take this opportunity to introduce our new family member, Princeton. I had absolutely no intention of adopting another dog so soon, however, Princeton needed a home and one thing, as they say, led to another. He is a perfect fit for our family and we are so happy to have him. I plan on spending lots of time with Princeton and Charlie this summer – hiking, walking at the lake and playing. A simple summer pleasure and, for me, one of the best.
Speaking of wellbeing (and dogs), do you know that there are actual health benefits to having a pet? Research shows that owning a pet can improve quality of life in several ways. Emotionally, having a pet has been shown to decrease depression, stress and anxiety. Pets also can help lower blood pressure, improve immunity and even decrease the risk of heart attack and stroke. Then there’s all that unconditional love and loyalty that pets can provide.
I’m sharing my seasonal bucket list with you in the hope that you might be inspired to create one for yourself, as you become more intentional about what you want your summer season to look like. I invite you to craft one for yourself and, if you feel like it, share it on my blog or my Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/Evergreen-Life-and-Wellness-204475386293524/
Here’s to summer!
Our family said goodbye to our 15-1/2 year old Yellow Lab last week. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in a very long time. I used to say, jokingly, that Ben was the rock of our family. But it was true. I never, ever, not one day, saw that dog in a “bad mood,” or anything but unconditionally loving. I don’t think I ever heard him even growl. He was, unfailingly, good natured. Not many humans, including myself, can have that said for them. Over the last year or two, knowing that he was slowing down, I remember feeling that every day with him was a bonus. And it was.
I realize now that I wanted so much to postpone the day I might have to say goodbye to him. Maybe I was in a bit of denial. He had been such an important part of our family fabric for so long, our son had grown up with him. Matthew used to say, “Ben is the best person I know.” I got such a kick out of him, too – he always seemed to be smiling, and he snored louder than any dog I ever knew. He had a champion pedigree but was just an easygoing, lovable hulk of a guy. I wanted him to always be there. But the day came when that was just too much to ask. He was always there for us, and so we gathered around him one last time.
Ben was beautiful inside and out. I often said if we could all be more like Ben, the world would be a good place. I’ve been thinking of what I learned from him and this is what I came up with.
Lessons from Ben
- Show up for the ones you love and don’t be shy -Let them know how happy you are to see them!
- Sometimes you just need to sit in the sunshine for a while and be.
- Go big or go home. If you’re having a good meal, enjoy it as though it’s your last. When it’s time for a walk, give it all you’ve got. Nap time? Stretch out and snore like you mean it.
- You can remain calm and patient no matter who is annoying the crap out of you. (This would mainly refer to his adopted younger sibling, Charles the Cockapoo.)
- Choose peace. Even with the cat. Especially with the cat.
- Steady as you go – there’s a lot to be said for consistency, just doing the next thing in front of you. Saves you lots of wear and tear all the way around.
- Patience pays. Hang around looking hungry/cute/eager to please long enough, and someone’s bound to give in.
- If you have a great heart, you don’t need much else.
- Just the quiet presence of someone you love can be such a comfort.
- And, finally, have fun and don’t forget to bring snacks.
There have been all sorts of studies in recent years about the psychological and physical benefits of having a pet – less stress, lower risk of depression and isolation, improved blood pressure, increased longevity, and more. I’ve never tried to quantify those benefits in my own life, but I know this for sure: Having this special guy be part of our lives is something I’ll forever be grateful for.
“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh
As someone who has journaled off and on throughout my life, I have to admit that the last few years have been more off than on. I’d always appreciated the process and found it an excellent outlet for organizing my thoughts, but had somewhat fallen out of the habit.
Over the last year or so, I somehow seemed to keep stumbling on one article or another about the benefits of journal-keeping, but couldn’t quite get back into making it a habit. Enter The 5 Minute Journal.
I decided to try it after hearing an interview with one of its creators, UJ Ramdas. It incorporates some of the basic principles of positive psychology, and that’s what got my attention at first. I also appreciated that the beginning of the day starts out with three things you are grateful for. Knowing the benefits that a grateful mindset can bring (better health, more happiness and stronger relationships, for starters), I got hooked in a bit further.
I’ve been keeping the journal for almost two months now and here is what I’ve found:
- It really doesn’t take more than a few minutes, morning and night.
- The book starts out with a clear explanation of the principles behind the morning and evening prompts. For example, starting the day with three things you are grateful for automatically puts you in a state of not only looking for the good things in your life, but being mindful of them.
- The morning prompts set you up to be intentional about your day. Asking yourself, “What would make today great?” at the beginning of the day acts as a catalyst that programs you to be more purposeful about how you go about your day. Improving your days on a daily basis over time lead to an improved, happier existence.
- That same question (“What would make today great?”?) also serves as inspiration – encouraging you to look at specific actions you can take to make it a good day, what you have control over. (“Going for a run with my dog,” is something within your control ; having that great job land in your lap, not so much…..) The more you act successfully on your own behalf, the more empowered – and better – you begin to feel.
- I’ve found that reflecting on three “amazing” things that happened during the day has helped me to focus on things I may have otherwise overlooked. Recent entries for me have included things like a surprise call from a long-ago friend, a beautiful spring day, an interesting conversation, and a red BMW convertible in the lane next to me filled with 3 (HUGE) St. Bernard’s out for a ride.
- The evening question, “How could I have made today even better?” effectively encourages actionable problem-solving and trains me to look for better ways to do things next time. Since life (mine, at least) tends to have recurring problems, I get a chance to think about what I might do next time in the same circumstance.
Each day starts with an inspiring quote, and the book itself has a rather simple, minimalist look to it. I’ve never really been one to journal in the morning but now that I have, I’m enjoying having those few minutes to plan what I’d like my day to look like.
Overall, this journal has been a simple, yet effective investment of my time each day. Some critiques I’ve read are the price (I paid $22.00, the journal lasts 6 months), and that it can become repetitive. I find that the consistency of the questions works well, for me at least. Knowing I’ll be answering the same questions each day is training my mind to be on the lookout for the answers. I’m definitely a fan of The 5 Minute Journal.
Something I’ve observed over the years (in my own life at times, as well as others) is what’s come to be known in some circles as the “What the Hell Effect.” It goes something like this: “Well, I really blew my weight loss/healthy eating/no sugar/Weight Watchers/Skinny Bitch – or whatever -plan today. What the hell – I might as well really blow it. I’ll start over tomorrow.”
Researchers have given this phenomenon a name – the Abstinence Violation Effect (AVE), which has also come to be known as the “what the hell effect.” The “what the hell effect” comes into play whenever we indulge in a behavior that we have decided not to indulge in, sworn off of, or committed to giving up. When it comes to food and eating, for example, a “dieting mindset” can trigger feelings of guilt and shame, of not “being perfect,” which can then spiral down into an overeating binge.
When it comes to change, an all or nothing mindset simply isn’t realistic. Research shows that most individuals don’t overcome a problem on their first try. Expecting perfection from yourself is a setup for failure. The process of change very often involves trial and error, “one step forward and two steps back.” Knowing this can prevent a full backslide into the old behavior.
Here are some solid strategies to get you back on track fast when you derail in the moment:
- Don’t use blowing it as an excuse to REALLY blow it. Acknowledge the lapse, forgive yourself and move on. Everyone makes mistakes, blows it, from time to time. Get right back on the horse, minimize the damage done. Keep your eye on the bigger picture – a change to a healthier lifestyle is a marathon, not a sprint.
- Remember your why – the commitment you’ve made to a healthier life and what that means to you. Keep a strong vision in your mind of the person you are working to become and hold to that vision at times like this. The power of this kind of personal vision cannot be overstated.
- Hopefully you have a support system of like-minded friends, family members or a group. (If you don’t have one, you need to get one!) This is the time to use them. You may be feeling some weakening in your commitment – having someone to talk things through with can help you get back on track more quickly.
- If you’ve blown your food plan for the day, and someone just dropped off a box of fresh pastries direct from the bakery, realize this: You have a choice, you really do. You can renew your commitment by walking away and going on with your day, or not. The choice is yours. Keep in mind if you continue on with your “slip,” it may not be as easy to start over the next day as you think it will be. Each time you make the right choice for yourself, you strengthen your emotional muscle, and it becomes easier to make good choices in the future.
- How’s that working for you? Love Dr. Phil or not, this is a great question to ask yourself if you find yourself in the same situation repeatedly. If you break down and have a cigarette in a moment of stress, and then go all in and buy a pack (and find yourself doing this repetitively, having to start over – again) – How’s that working for you?
- A side effect of relapse into old behavior can be a loss of confidence in yourself and your ability to change. Self-criticism and shame are not your friends. Reaffirming your commitment to change is. We sometimes think chastising ourselves is a way to make ourselves “tow the line.” It isn’t. Forgive yourself and move on by renewing your commitment as calmly as you can,
- Learn from it. What can you learn about yourself here that will help you deal with challenges in the future? Were you exceptionally upset or stressed about an occurrence, worrying about the future, bored, sad? What can you do differently when this occurs in the future? Knowing that you will be challenged again – and developing a plan of action to deal with it – is key.
Remember – Change is a process, not an event. You are in the process!
Do you know anyone who isn’t pressed for time these days? Everyone I talk to seems busier than ever in their work and family lives, often with little left over for themselves. And I’m just talking about the basics: Healthy food, exercise, sleep, downtime.
Extreme business is probably a topic for another day all by itself. What’s important here is that staying physically and mentally fit is the most important thing you can do to ensure you give your best to what’s important to you. Not doing so impacts your energy, mood, performance and ability to enjoy life. Ongoing neglect can eventually result in health issues – heart disease, hypertension, obesity, insomnia and lowered immune capacity, just to name a few . One of the most effective – and simple – ways to achieve fitness is to eat right and exercise. I know we’ve heard it all our lives. But how many of us actually do it? Most current statistics show that only about half of Americans exercise regularly (that is, at least three sessions a week of 30 minutes each.), and obesity has reached an all-time high in the U.S. So what gives? We have all the information we need about what’s good for us – why aren’t we doing it?
What I hear from people goes back to that time thing – too much to do and not enough of it. Lack of energy is often blamed as well. And the thought of making changes can be daunting – but it doesn’t have to be!
Making even one small change can make a difference in how you feel and look – and serve to inspire you to continue making additional changes that, over time, can have a significant impact in your wellbeing.
So what about chunking it down, and looking at one small change you could make in the interest of a healthier you to move the needle a little closer to an improved lifestyle.
I’m going to list a few ideas here to get you going, most of which will require an investment of no more than 10 minutes a day. Some will take under a minute. Choose one that fits for you, and notice how it makes you feel.
- Take a brisk 10 minute walk outdoors. While any type of movement is good for you, studies show exercising in natural environments increases energy and feelings of positivity, and decreases stress, anger and depression. Outdoor exercisers report greater enjoyment and satisfaction with exercising and a greater likelihood to repeat the activity again.
- Start your day with hydration. Staying hydrated is one of the most important things you can do for your health. After 7-8 hours of sleep, you’re already slightly dehydrated. Water is one of the most important sources of energy for the body. Starting your day with a full glass of water rehydrates you and gives you an energy boost. And it takes less than a minute.
- Try a green smoothie. If you love your morning smoothie, try throwing in a handful of spinach, kale, or other juicing greens. It’ll boost the nutrient content, stabilize your energy and is an easy way to trick yourself into getting your greens. Here’s my favorite Green Smoothie recipe.
1 cup soy or rice milk
Frozen bananas and blueberries (or your favorite fruits.) I like to freeze mine for added texture.
1 cup vanilla protein powder
1 cup kale and spinach
2 T. wheat germ (high in Vitamin E, anti-oxidant)The beauty of starting your day this way (aside from the nutritional benefits) is that studies show that each time we take an intentionally health action, we are more likely to take other healthy actions. On the go? It’s portable. Time: 5 minutes.
- Take five. Or ten. Sitting quietly and focusing on your breath for even 5 minutes can work wonders to calm your mind and body, steady emotions, alleviate stress, and help you to re-focus and reorder your thinking. There is an abundance of information available on meditation these days, and the benefits are too numerous to go into here. Just try it. Start with 5 minutes for a week. And see where it takes you.
- Take time off. Many of us struggle with this, especially in the world of computers, and smartphones. It’s much easier to bring the office home with us these days. But it’s important to know where to draw the line between work and time off. Taking an afternoon off to spend with family or friends, going for a bike ride, or reading a good book has documented benefits for wellbeing. Driving too hard without a break impacts focus and productivity over time. The most successful among us know the value of time off and its impact on performance and creativity.
Most of us want to be a positive influence, to contribute in some way to the world around us. Too often, we feel that we lack the time, money, or other resources we need to make an impact on the world around us. So, despite having good intentions, we often end up not doing anything.
Another scenario is those of us who are already taking care of others in some way – whether that means raising children, caregiving of an elderly parent or, increasingly, both. We may already feel stretched and depleted, with little left over to give.< We may already feel stretched and depleted, with little left over to give.
Research has found that caring for others or volunteering in various capacities can enhance both health and happiness, especially among older or retired individuals. Helping others provides a sense of meaning that can boost both self-image and mood, which in turn can enhance our sense of well-being.
“If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way.” ~ Napolean Hill.
I like that quote because thеrе аrе mаnу times in life whеn wе саn simply ѕеіzе a mоmеnt аnd be a positive influence. I like thеѕе оdd moments bесаuѕе thеу usually take рlасе ѕmасk dаb in the middle оf аn оn-gоіng life. We don’t have to plan them or wait for them.
Anything you do, heck – еvеrуthіng уоu do – саn mаkе a dіffеrеnсе. Simply taking the time to hold a door for the person behind you, or sending a handwritten thank you or card to someone, can make a difference to the recipient. I once went through a Starbucks drive-through ready to pay for my order, only to be told that the person in front of me had already taken care of it. When I agreed to pay for the person in line behind me, I was told that this string of kindness had been going on all morning – for hours! Need I mention the good feeling I had for the rest of the day?
If you’re wondering where to start, here are a few ideas although I’ll bet you can come up with your own just by looking around.
Lеnd a hand. Hеlр a со-wоrkеr lеаrn thе соmраnу’ѕ new рrоgrаmѕ, or help your nеіghbоur сlеаn out her gаrаgе. Acknowledging how much you appreciate someone’s work on a project can make his or her day.
Raise уоur сhіld wеll. There’s an old сlісhé that says thеrе аrе thrее mаіn wауѕ tо mаkе a difference in the wоrld. Thе fіrѕt іѕ to рlаnt a trее. Thе ѕесоnd іѕ tо wrіtе a book, and the thіrd іѕ tо rаіѕе a child. You may not be able to impact the world at large, but you dеfіnіtеlу can be an exаmрlе tо your сhіldrеn ѕо thеу grоw up tо be rеѕроnѕіblе, respectful and kind adults who contribute to society in a positive way.
Got free time? Hаvе extra time оn your hands? (Lucky you!) There are literally hundreds of community organizations looking for you with just as many options. Hеlрing out at a local animal shelter, an organization such as Project Angel Heart, that delivers meals to those coping with life threatening illness, or CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) that act as voices for abused and neglected children – the list is endless. You can give as much of your time per week or month as you like and you wоn’t juѕt bе mаkіng аn impact оn others’ lіvеѕ. You might just discover new purpose in your own.
Plant a trее: Plаntіng a tree, or ѕеvеrаl, is one оf the оldеѕt wауѕ to make an іmрасt оn the rest оf the world. Hоwеvеr, it іѕ juѕt аѕ important tоdау аѕ іt hаѕ аlwауѕ been. In fасt, with thе grоwіng concern fоr glоbаl wаrmіng, thіѕ ѕіmрlе асt іѕ еvеn more nесеѕѕаrу аnd useful than еvеr.
Fасе уоur challenges: Challenges can brіng out thе bеѕt in us depending on our perspective. Fасе your challenges squarely аnd uѕе thеm as stepping stones to personal growth and and ѕuссеѕѕ.
Help оthеrѕ tо face their challenges: Support and mentor others in facing their own challenges. Yоu dоn’t hаvе tо gіvе a speech or wrіtе a book for this. Sіmрlу ѕhоwіng your own dеdісаtіоn in wоrdѕ аnd асtіоnѕ can serve as inspiration, and don’t underestimate the power of encouragement and quiet confidence in others that they, too, can walk through difficulties.
A study published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2013 concluded that, “Help given to others is a better predictor of health and well-being than are indicators of social engagement or received social support.” Concern and caring for others is part of the fabric of our lives. Showing that concern and care can be as simple as stopping in to check on an elderly neighbor, or picking up a few groceries for her. And there you go – you’ve made a positive impact on someone’s world. I guarantee you the impact you receive will be just as powerful.