Posts Tagged ‘gratitude’


What up, friends.

I was having a discussion with a client of mine about positivity, and it struck me that I’ve never straight on discussed on my blog how I feel about positive thinking.  I think it’s… well.  It’s amazing.  Perhaps the most important thing in our lives.   For mental health, for our relationships, for our bodies, for our souls…   Gods!  It’s a huge topic, too.  “Positive thinking.”  So I’m going to focus on, like I said, the most important points.  First, gratitude.  Then, what does gratitude do to improve our mental and physical health?

First, there’s a caveat. (I feel like Prometheus.  These damn things never go away.)  Positive thinking is, while the absolute most important, also the absolute most difficult part of this whole recovery deal to wrap our heads around.  Whether it’s because of our natural wiring and drive perfect ourselves, or our consumer culture, or globalization, or stress, or what-have-you, we are really, really good at being down.  Sadness and futility are pervasive.  The English language, you know, has twice as many words for describing sad emotions as for describing happy ones.  That shouldn’t be surprising.  The real kicker of the whole deal, too, is that sadness begets sadness.  Once we start thinking negatively, more negative thoughts pull us further under, and before we know it we’re being dragged along the bottom of the ocean bumping our heads on all sorts of lava flows and abandoned ships.  I see this time and time again with my clients.  Everyone recognizes the fact that positive thinking is the pavement on the road to recovery, but no one has it easy internalizing this fact.  So take it slow.  Practice some of the ideas and activities I (and others) propose when you feel like it.  Affirm yourself as much as you can.  Love and forgive yourself as much as you can.  Try and think of how you would treat your partner, or your child, and give yourself the same leeway. Look at the things in your life that give you stress and see how you can change them.  Trust me– the world really is a bright and beautiful and lovely place.  All we’ve got to do, well, I guess is warm up to that idea over time.  Then give it a bear hug and fight as fiercely as possible to hold on to it forever.

The world is full of pain.  We all know this.  Yet while it sucks big time, why dwell on it?   Especially when it’s our own suffering?  Focusing on our own problems doesn’t do anything for anybody.  What’s more, everything in our lives could be a whole hell of a lot worse.  We could have a shit show of everything.  That would be very bad.  That would be as bad as some other people do have it.  So perhaps we should feel sympathy for them, and think about their pain and how we can ease it, instead of focusing on our own issues that really could be eons worse. Every day we wake up feeling healthy deserves a prayerful of thanks.  Remember how scary it is to be sick?  It’s amazing that we have whatever health (and existence!) that we do.  This fact is worth cherishing beyond measure.

That said, the pain that we do experience doesn’t even have to be a bad thing.  Instead, we can internalize it as an inherent part of the human experience.  Without pain we would never know true joy, so we honestly have no choice but to be grateful for sorrows.  Moreover, we, as human beings, are united by our basic humanity.   “Hearts united in pain and sorrow,” wrote Khalil Gibran, “will not be separated by joy and happiness. Bonds that are woven in sadness are stronger than the ties of joy and pleasure. Love that is washed by tears will remain eternally pure and faithful.”  Not bad, eh? We are profoundly connected to each other by our abilities to feel and to love and to bleed, and all of our struggles help us to be truly, deeply human.  In this way, our suffering makes us profoundly (and bittersweetly) beautiful creatures.  We can–and should–find gratitude in our hearts for every experience, even for this.

What else do we have to be grateful for?  How many good, or fine, or acceptable things are there in our lives?  How many beautiful things surround us on a daily basis?  One of my favorite pieces of prose I have ever read was by a female prison inmate.  In it, she discusses the simplest of pleasures, and how desperately she yearns to experience them.   The greatest aspect of all, to me, is that she talks about color.  She yearns for color.  When I read this piece, I think about the fact that no matter where I am or what I am feeling in my life, I will always have the beautiful, wonderful experience of color.

“I want to see the colors, all of them, every color ever spun into existence.  And white, true white, pristine and unblemished.  And acres of green trees, and miles of yellow-ribbon highways, and yards of Christmas lights.  And the moon.”

What a rich and lovely and vibrant thing.  This passage will never leave me, even in my saddest times.   And it will always remind me of what it means to be human, to have senses, to experience the world, and to live and love and absorb beauty.

One of the great loves of my life once said this:

“I love life. I love everything about it. Smiling, laughing, loving, crying, breathing, jumping, running, flying, standing still – arms open, head tilted towards the heavens. Everything in, around, and about my life is beautiful. I watch countless sunrises, sunsets, wind blowing in the trees, waves rolling on open water, birds flying in the endless sky and fall more in love with this world every day. I don’t understand how any person could be anything but overjoyed with life.”

And he has a point, does he not?  The things he loves are simple and universal, and they flood him daily with enormous feelings of gratitude and love.


So what does this do for our bodies and our health?

Feeling gratitude in every moment, and looking at the positive aspects of our experiences, increases the amount of time we spend thinking positively about the world.  With more and more positive thoughts accumulating in our heads, we are de facto pushing out the negative ones.  Instead of spending our time trying to get rid of negative thoughts, which can sometimes help us achieve neutrality, we can actively use positive thinking to shove them out the door. “Sorry, self-hate! My brain is an open invitation party for lovers and optimists only.”    Even if it is only a little bit at first, the ability to think positively and gratefully about our lives grows and grows, and can become more and more the dominant mode of thought.

Like I said above, easier said than done.  But it’s true and it’s important and it’s absolutely a practical step towards well-being.   Make a list about yourself, for example, of all of the beautiful things inside and out.  Or stand in front of the mirror.  Or flex and look at your muscles.  Do whatever you need to to appreciate your own body.  Lay in your bed and breathe deeply in and out, and think about your heartbeat and your nerves and all of your fibers working together.  Even better, though, is looking for gratitude outside of yourself. Open your fridge and feel grateful for your bounty.  We live in a world of abundance, so instead of resenting it, be grateful that you have enough food and resources to meet your needs.  It’s okay if you overeat once in a while, or what-have-you.  Isn’t that better than starving for the rest of your life?  I know a lot of people who in secret admit that they have envied starving children in India because it is “effortless” to be thin.  Please don’t be one of them.  It is the most wonderful thing to be fed and warm, and we have nothing to be but grateful for it.  Our societies have hindered our ability to normally use those resources, but that’s okay.  We can get that back.  We just have to love, love, love ourselves and rise above the troubles coming at us in our lives.  We have worlds worth of things to be grateful for, and focusing on them helps us transcend the ugliness in our own lives.

Studies about gratitude have shown time and time again that it increases well-being.   Feeling grateful makes the world a generally brighter place, and we could really use that from time to time.  The thing is that it doesn’t just have to be an occasion, or an intervention, but it can be a habit.   To make that happen, we can routinely focus on our gratitude, AND, if we really want to push the envelop, we can explicitly express our gratitude.  Expressing thanks to others has shown to be hugely beneficial and stress reducing.  One slighter but no less important method is expressing thanks privately, such as writing, drawing, or singing how we feel.  I mean it.  Get it out there.  Share with your loved ones and the wider universe what you are grateful for in any situation, and your brain be much better prepared to deal with future struggles.

I write about gratitude today not only because it is the most important thing in my life but also because it is so incredibly relevant to contemporary culture.  We live in a time that compels us to think about what we can’t have, to wish we could be better, to want want want want need need need need.  Bullshit!  Contemporary culture actively works to eliminate gratitude and appreciation.  Constantly, it chips away at our “gratitude muscles.”  I don’t like this one bit.  Positive thinking is enabled by gratitude and acceptance and love, and sometimes we need reminders of that fact.  So… stop.  breathe.  look up.  look around.   Life certainly is a clusterfuck of struggles and pain sometimes, but we always exist, and we always have something beautiful in our lives, and we always have each other.  If those things aren’t enough to ease the burdens off of our shoulders, I don’t know what possibly could be.

Kevin Spacey’s character in the film American beauty says:

“It’s hard to stay mad, when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst…and then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life…”





The history behind Paleolithic diets

The palaeolithic diet, is a eating style which is compared to the caveman diet because it only allows you to eat certain types of meat and vegetables and bans sugar and ready-made meals. Similar eating styles were presumed to be used 2.5 million years ago. The modern version permits dieters to have grass fed, pasture raised meats, fish, vegetables, roots, nuts and fruits. However, it excludes grains, legumes, refined sugars and dairy. It tries to mimic what cave people might have lived off of.

The science behind this method is that research has suggested that modern people are genetically developed to consume the diet of their ancestors. In addition, studies have shown that there has been nutritional benefits of trying the old age diet. Some people think it can help with acne because it helps improve their skin. It seems like a good idea if you want to cut down on fatty items and ready-meals, improve your quality of life, living longer which will reduce the risk of your family cashing in on the Aviva Life insurance, or which ever company you might be with. However, it is not popular with everyone, nutritional experts and the National Health Service of England have implied it is likely to be a fad diet. Critics believe it doesn’t reach certain dietary recommendations and the diet provides no benefit, but equally no harm.

The main foods of the diet are based around those which can be hunted or gathered, such as fish, eggs, nuts, fruits and seeds. By eating lean cuts of meat, including wild game and grass fed beef, proved to have higher levels of omega 3 oils. Any product which was not consumed by the cave people are not permitted, these include dairy and grains.

To wash all that down with, dieters can drink water and some teas, but are banned from alcohol.










05 2011

Evolutionary Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a bit of a popular meme these days.  Rooted in the Buddhist tradition, mindfulness is defined by consistent awareness of one’s bodily functions, emotions, state of consciousness, or consciousness itself.  Mindfulness is the seventh element of the Noble Eightfold Path, the primary Buddhist path to enlightenment, and has been serving Buddhists for thousands of years.  Additionally, mindfulness has leaked into Western psychological practices, where serenity and presentism are employed to mitigate anxiety and depression.

Traditional Buddhist mindfulness recommends that you pay attention solely to the present.  Much of the pain and negativity we experience in our lives, so the theory goes, is rooted in the past or in the future.   For example: I might be sad because I put my dog down last week.  Or I might be anxious because I am feeling a little unwell, and I am unconsciously more distressed about the possibility of getting more sick in the future than I am about my current pain.  In order to avoid these mental traps, we are told to live in the present.  What exists for you now?  What do you hear?  How do each of your body parts feel?  What types of colors surround you?  If we ask ourselves these questions, we tend to come up with fairly contented answers.   I hear my brother on the phone.  I have a funny itch on my elbow.  I see my mother’s freshly painted watermelon walls.  I like all of these things.  Moreover, if I have a negative answer, such as “my head hurts” at least it is not “my head hurts and I live in constant anxiety of it continuing to hurt.”  Mindfulness releases us from anxiety, which is perhaps why it is so popular in American culture today.

Mindfulness, furthermore, has picked up some less traditional connotations.  We often hear the phrase “mindful eating,” for example.  Just like mindful existence, this practice is defined by awareness.  Where did my food come from?  How did I prepare it?  What does it feel like in my mouth and in my stomach?  These questions are supposed to improve our relationship with food.  Additionally, we hear about mindfulness in human relationships and in performing tasks.  How absolutely concentrated am I on my current situation?  How can I live better and more fully in each moment?

Yet I, along with many others, challenge both the possibility and the benefit of this perspective.  Living and thinking solely in the present alleviates some of my anxiety, but it also prevents me from a more full appreciation of who I am.  Many mindful practitioners try and derive positive emotions from their mindfulness (as opposed to simple negation of the negative), and therefore end up drawing on personal experience.  This is awesome.  We all have histories, and they define literally everything about us.  Our histories extend back to the moments of our births, but they also extend to our parental histories, our grandparents’ lives, and all sorts of complicated societal trends.   Each of these factors have molded who we are.

I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this.  Living a paleo lifestyle means that I am constantly thinking about my evolutionary history.  I wonder often how my life is shaped, and then can be optimized, by my distant past.   I do not mean to suggest that Lucy getting in a fight with some other Australopithicus and causing family drama has shaped my life in any meaningful way.  What I mean is that the genes I’ve received from their copulations have.  I want to discuss the brilliant book Sex at Dawn with you, but it’s so rich and so full of evolutionary lessons that it will take me a number of posts to cover throughout time.   The point is this: if I am programmed to be openly and socially sexual, for example, is that why I’ve often felt so awkward and confused when I’m with acquaintances?  If I’m programmed to live in moderately sized groups of 300 or so, is this why I struggle to be interested in the well-being of larger communities?  If so, knowing the origins of my odd or negative feelings helps me to mitigate them.  Mindfulness, thus– as a constantly evolving  explanation for human nature– helps me to understand myself, to understand society, and to embrace innate humanity.  Knowledge is power, says a lot of people.  Amen, good sirs.  Empower me to understand and love myself.

Furthermore, an appreciation of our evolutionary past informs how I should feel about the present.  If I want to, I can idealize the past.  Living in a communal, altruistic tribe sure sounds lovely, doesn’t it?  And I do fantasize about that sort of life from time to time.   But the fact of the matter is that we cannot ever live in the past.  And we  cannot ever know how nice (if at all) it ever was.  As beautiful as the night sky is, we now have electricity, which is pretty cool.  And as awesome as small social environments are, we now have the opportunity to be enriched by myriads of diverse peoples, which is even cooler.    These bits of knowledge help me to have more gratitude in my life.  I have heard, and have always thought, that being grateful is one of the surest paths to happiness.   This makes sense.  Gratitude => positivity => contentedness.  I have the option of wishing  I lived in different times.  But I don’t have the option of living in different times.  Instead, I have our world, and I have millions years of history to appreciate, and uncountable joys for which to be enormously grateful.

Moreover, thinking about the different living situations people have coped with throughout time compels me to feel just fine about whatever situations I’m dealing with.  Instead of seeing different challenges, such as trekking to work in the snow, as burdens, I view them as just normal parts of my normal life.  If I don’t want ancestral humans to complain about gathering tubers, then I’m certainly not going to complain about whatever food gathering situations I find myself in.  Each society and each life has baggage, and increasing my knowledge of the ways in which different people embrace their own teaches me to embrace mine in turn.

Finally, having a sense of humanity throughout time gives me a sense of the overall, evolving, diverse intricacies of human nature.   It’s a bit grand, and a bit overwhelming, and even a bit transcendent.  If I am a mindful human being in any meaningful way, this is a significant part of it.  And it brings a transcendent sort of joy to my life that centers my happiness every day.  I am no Buddhist and I am no evolutionist and I am no psychologist, but I’m me in the modern world, and that is a-okay.


02 2011