Be Fit For Life

with Ellen Cohen-Kaplan

21 days to happiness

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The holiday season brings all kinds of literature, but most of it just encourages consumption – LAST DAYS OF SALE! BLACK FRIDAY! CYBER MONDAY!  25 DAYS TILL CHRISTMAS!  LAST DAYS TO SAVE BEFORE THE NEXT BIG DAYS TO SAVE!

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This week, I want to focus on something that’s more important than all the consumerism of the holiday season. Many of my posts discuss exercise, nutrition, vitamins, recipes, and information for managing different aspects of well-being. This week I want to focus on what makes it all worthwhile- how happy you feel as you go through your days. During an exercise class last week, one my participants said, “I just checked off 3 different elements of my happiness challenge in this last hour.” When asked what she meant, she said she was doing the “21 days to happiness challenge” and that she was reading the book by that same name. It seems that after much research and cross referencing studies, there were 5 basic elements that led to people feeling happier (besides the temporary high from drugs or alcohol!)

  1. Three Gratitudes: Pause to take note of three new things each day that you are grateful for. Doing so will help your brain start to retrain its pattern of scanning the world, looking not just for the negative inputs but for the positive ones.
  2. Journaling: Similar to the gratitude practice, but in this case, detail — in writing — one positive experience each day. This will help you find meaning in the activities of the day, rather than just noticing the task itself.
  3. Exercise: Exercising for 10 minutes a day not only brings physical benefits, but it also teaches your brain to believe your behavior matters, which then carries (positively) into other activities throughout the day.
  4. Meditation: Take just two minutes per day to simply breathe and focus on your breath going in and out. Doing so will train your mind to focus, reduce stress, and help you be more present in this moment.
  5. Random Acts of Kindness: This can be something simple, such as writing one positive email to praise or thank someone each day. Not only does it benefit the recipient, but it also increases your feeling of social support.

Some things I’ve noted about the above:

#1- Have you ever noticed that as soon as you become interested in something, your attention is drawn to all things relevant to that subject? For instance, when we began looking for houses, every open house and for sale sign grabbed me like never before. When you set your intention to be aware of something, anything related to your interest stands out.

#2 – I find journaling easier than ever because of the digital notepad on my smartphone but you can also use a small notepad. Record your positive experience right after it happens. If you jot a few words down while your memory is fresh you won’t take time away from your day. You can then scan them at the end of the day or week to remind you of the small things you may have forgotten.  You’ve captured the event and your emotions at that moment without depending later depending solely on your memory!

#3. – So much to say about this, but I’ll boil it down to this- exercise releases endorphins, pushes circulation to your brain, releases serotonin (your pleasure chemical) and in general enhances your sense of physical and mental wellbeing. More than 10 minutes a day will give you even more benefit!

#4. – Many of you may think you’re unable to meditate, especially if you’re a Type A personality. If you substitute the word relaxation for meditation, it may not seem as threatening. Just listen to your favorite music, give yourself permission to stay in one position for a few minutes, and commit to practicing this for 2-5 minutes a day, focusing on your breathing and the music, or on tightening, then relaxing your muscle groups. Our brains were not made to function without a break.

#5. – This can be as easy as complimenting someone, really listening intently to someone who appears to need it, or offering your place in line to someone who seems to be in a hurry. The more complicated you make it, the less likely it is to happen.

Instead of focusing only on the shopping, food, preparation and all the tasks that must be done within the next 3 weeks, these 5 practices can help bring more meaning to the holiday season. Are you up for the challenge?

Try it and we’ll compare notes in a few weeks!

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