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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Summer Spiritual Tune-Up - 12 Tips for a for a Happy and Meaningful Life

Well, we are midway through summer and here is your chance for a spiritual tune-up.  Personally, I try to spend a little time every day to incorporate some spiritual tools in my life to stay spiritually fit.  Some days it works better than others.   But, when I am in a good place spiritually, everything else in my life feels right.

A few years ago, a friend gave me a copy of something called 9 Timeless Secrets of Being Happy.  I enjoyed it and shared it with my students.  But after I went over it with my class, I realized that I should update it to include more spiritual tools.  So, I expanded it, edited it and rewrote it to be more encompassing, not just addressing happiness, but also encouraging us to develop serenity and a meaningful life.

Take a little time to go over the following tips.  I give this list to my students at the beginning of each year. They highlight 3 things to work on throughout the year.  Then, they post it on their agendas or in their lockers at school and on their refrigerators or mirrors at home where they see it daily.  This way, it is a gentle reminder to keep working to stay spiritually fit.

So, here are a dozen simple spiritual tools.  Like my students, please choose a few to focus on, print them out or put them on your computer or iPhone and work on them until they become a habit. Celebrate the little victories and the baby steps as you practice and enjoy the growth they bring to your life.  Real change is challenging and a slow process, so be patient with yourself.  Remember, a baby tries an estimated 2,000 times before it takes its first step.

1. Be a Giver/Help Others
In big and small ways, help others as much as possible.  Feel the profound joy of giving freely with no expectations.  It all comes back to you in countless ways.  People who volunteer or care for others consistently are happier and less depressed.
Altruistic giving has been shown to increase positive neurotransmitters in the giver, receiver and anyone observing the act of giving.  So, give to someone close to you and also practice those random acts of kindness.  A simple suggestion is to tell someone you love how much you love them and why you treasure them in your life.  Do someone a good turn today and don’t get found out. 

2. Savor the Moment/ Be in the Moment
All I have is this moment, but much of the time I waste by ruminating over the past or stressing over the future.  To live deeply in this moment and breath in the miracle of all that is available now is truly living.  But, I must be present and be here now. Cultivate mindfulness by giving attention to whatever you are doing.  When you feel your mind wandering, take a deep breath and gently bring it back to the moment.  If you are washing the dishes, be present washing the dishes and enjoy the warm water and the slick feel of soap.  More importantly, be present to those around you by really listening. 

3. Embrace Silence
Take time to sit quietly every day without electronic distractions in order to get a better perspective on life.  Even just a few moments of pure silence can refresh a stressed soul.  Personally, when I stopped the chatter of having the radio on constantly in the car and the TV on constantly at home, I was able to feel a deeper peace and enjoy life much more fully.   Try to set a timer for 1 minute, read something inspirational, a prayer or a poem, and then sit comfortably in silence for that 1 minute.  If you can do this daily for a week, increase the time to 2 minutes and so on, up to 10 minutes.  In the race to get through each day, slow down and notice the deep peace in silence.

4. Try New Experiences/ Don’t Be Afraid to Make Mistakes
Don’t let yourself get caught in a rut.  The only difference between a rut and a grave is how deep it is.  Stay out of survival mode.  Be spontaneous, adventurous and play every day.  My 5 year old gives me lessons in this daily.  Get out of your comfort zone and remember you always have a safety net.  Don’t listen to the lie that you don’t have enough time or energy.  New experiences create energy and allow us to find more time for everything.  In addition, I have found that perfectionism paralyzed me.  But, a wise boss once told me, “I know you are not trying new things because you aren't making any mistakes.”  Fearlessly try new things and learn from those mistakes. 

5. Forgive/ Let Go of the Past
Harboring resentment only hurts you.  I like the saying that resentments are like stray cats, if you don’t feed them, they go away.  Another great saying is that keeping resentments is like when I drink poison thinking it will kill you.  Don’t let others rent free space in your head.  Forgive and let go.  If you let go a little, you get a little relief.  If you let go a lot, you get a lot of relief, and if you let go completely, you are FREE.

6. Be Responsible for Yourself
Don’t blame others for things lacking in your life.  Don’t give them that power.  Take responsibility and take action.  We are not victims, we are volunteers.  I tell my students we control 3 things and they all start with the letter A: attitude, action and awareness.  Blaming others and harboring self-pity steals our energy and joy.  Be the change you want to see in the world.  This works in and outside the classroom.

7. Build Relationships
People who have one or more close relationships lead happier lives, according to a study by Dr. Martin Seligman.  Seligman goes on to say that it doesn't matter how many relationships you have, one is enough.  The important aspect of any relationship is that you are supportive, you cooperate and you share personal feelings.  These relationships can be with a friend or family member.  If you have even one person who cares about you, you are truly blessed.  If you don’t have anyone, build a new relationship by really listening to someone and being helpful to them. 

8.  Be Grateful
Cultivate an awareness of all the gifts given to us constantly.  If you are reading this, you are fortunate to have a computer, a connection to the internet and the ability to read.  Realize that a vast majority of the population of the planet would change places with you in an instant.  Start a gratitude list to increase your awareness of the gifts surrounding you.  You are what you focus on.  So, if you focus on what is missing, your life becomes empty.  Focus on all you have on the inside and outside and watch it all grow.  Take more action; write a gratitude letter to someone who has helped you.  Deliver it in person and let that person know how much they mean to you.

9. Work Through Fear
Fear holds us back from truly living our lives.  You can generally unmask your fear by asking two questions: 1. Are you afraid you are going to lose something you have?  2.  Are you afraid you won’t get something you want?  Once you are aware of the fear, then focus on some action you can take to help.  For example, if you are afraid you won’t have enough money, do some research or reach out to others for ideas about saving money or generating some income.  It is OK to feel the fear, but don’t allow it to paralyze you.  Walk through the fear and feel it dissipate.  Also, if you share a fear with someone you trust, it feels like you cut it in half. There is power in just getting it out of your head and letting it go.  Writing about it by keeping a journal can also help us keep perspective on fear.  Here are some acronyms that help us understand fear:
FEAR = Failure Expected And Received, False Evidence Appearing Real, False Expectations Appearing Real, Forget Everything And Run (Polite Version), Face Everything And Recover, Frantic Effort to Appear Real, and my favorites-Forgetting Everything’s All Right, and Fear Expressed Allows Relief.

10. Be Aware of Your Internal Dialogue
Listen to what you are saying to yourself.  So many of us have tape recordings going on in our heads we are not even aware of, like “You will never find someone to love you” or “You are not pretty enough” or “You can’t make anything work in your life.”  First, be aware of these negative messages, and then start to say the opposite to yourself, like “I am a beautiful child of God” or “ I will keep working on myself and love will become abundant in my life,” or “I will make a difference in someone else’s life today and improve myself.”  Start writing your own script for your future.

11. Quit Taking It Personally (acronym - Q-TIP)
Don’t let anything people steal your serenity.  Most things aren't personal and even when comments are made that are designed to hurt you, try to not take it personally.  If that person is really trying to hurt you, don’t allow them to succeed.  It is OK to create healthy boundaries, but don’t waste extra time and energy by trying to extract an apology or get revenge.  Remind yourself you don’t need anyone’s approval.  Learn to laugh at yourself and let it go.  Try to keep your ego small enough that no comments can hit the target.  If you can become more immune to what others say, then you will not be the victim of unnecessary suffering. 
12. Choose Kindness-Always
Be kind to yourself and others in all circumstances.  One of the hardest things to do in this world is to be kind when someone else is not kind to you.  Today, look for a situation in your life when you are presented with negativity and choose to give kindness.  It may be in your family, at work or even driving.  Don’t be afraid to look into the other person’s eyes, smile and respond in kindness.  Feel the true strength in authentic kindness.  See how this makes you feel and the power it has to transform a situation and improve your spiritual condition.

Here is a link to 9 Timeless Secrets of Being Happy by Brian Vaszily that inspired this blog post.  Check it out if you have time and don’t miss the beautiful PowerPoint that presents the ideas a little differently.

Here are a couple quotes to end the blog:

Pick the day. Enjoy it - to the hilt. The day as it comes. People as they come... The past, I think, has helped me appreciate the present - and I don't want to spoil any of it by fretting about the future.
– Audrey Hepburn

When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.
-Helen Keller

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