4 Steps to a Happy New Year – All Year Long

We all want to be happy. This basic human desire fuels our lives. We invest significant effort in its pursuit, striving for the perfect spouse, a rewarding career, a beautiful home, the appreciation and respect of others — whatever we believe will deliver the fulfillment we seek. With all the right factors in alignment, we’ll be happy, right?

This common belief pervades our culture. Yet we’ve all heard stories of people with all the outer trappings of happiness who are miserable inside. Then there are those who face difficult challenges or live with very little and are deeply content.

New research in the fields of psychology and neuroscience has shown that contentment is actually an inside job – a skill to be developed, an attitude to be cultivated. These steps can help you encourage positive emotions and build greater resilience even when the external circumstances of life don’t cooperate.

1. Want what you have.

In any given situation, we can choose to focus on what’s lacking or what we’re grateful for and appreciate. Contentment or discontent naturally follows based on the choice we make.

You can experiment with the effects for yourself. Recall a few of the blessings of your life, however small or common, and notice the effects on your body and mind. You might notice that your body relaxes as a pleasant emotion arises. A smile might come to your face. Now consider something you’re unhappy about or wish to be different. How do your responses differ? Where does each rank on the happiness scale? Which would you like to have more of? If it’s happiness you seek, the choice really is yours.

The effects of gratitude can accumulate with a daily practice – whether you take a few moments’ pause to reflect at the start or end of your day or write down your blessings in a gratitude journal. Robert Emmons, author of “Thanks: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier,” says grateful thinking can increase happiness by as much as 25 percent, and lead to more energy and better sleep.

2. Be kind to yourself and others.

Kindness begets kindness. It’s a contagion of the healthiest kind, and it feels good – for the person who extends it and the one on the receiving end. Kindness cultivates good will, connections between people and an open mind that’s more at ease.

Most of us are quite adept at thinking harshly of others and ourselves, with harmful effects. The next time you find yourself in a judging frame of mind, take a moment to pause and note the effect your negative thoughts have on your sense of wellbeing and on your sense of connection with others. Then let those thoughts go and replace them with kindness. Try giving yourself and others the benefit of the doubt, and recognize that we all just want to be happy even though our actions may be misguided at times. Most of the time we are all doing the best we can.

3. Give yourself downtime for play and relaxation.

Being an adult is serious business, or so we’ve been led to believe. We’re constantly in push mode – to excel at work, with kids, with parents and family, within our communities. We’re so busy striving to achieve the happiness we seek that little time is left for enjoyment. Yet, research shows that play and relaxation are actually good for creativity, health and wellbeing – and that adds up to happiness. So as you’re filling up your 2016 calendar with appointments and obligations, be sure to add in a balance of play dates – not just your kids but for you, too.

4. Practice mindfulness.

None of these practices are possible without mindfulness. Mindfulness is the ability to focus awareness in the present moment and become aware of our current state of mind and emotion. Most importantly, it empowers us with choice. Without mindfulness, we’re tethered to our conditioned ways of thinking and responding.

Try taking mindfulness moments throughout your day to check in with how you’re feeling – especially if you find yourself going down a path of negativity. Take note of your feelings, thoughts and sensations, accept them and let them go, then apply the kindness or gratitude steps above. Gradually you’ll find a new level of balance, ease and happiness unfolding that can transform your life.

 

Kathy Simpson is a freelance writer with Copper Beech Institute who specializes in mindful living and holistic health. Copper Beech Institute is hosting a number of retreats in the new year to inspire renewal, authenticity, and happiness in your life. For more information, visit out retreat page.

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Finding My True Self

By Sharon Gutterman, Ph.D.

My life changed thirteen years ago. Nothing drastic, but a series of life changes slowly started to erode how I felt about my life and my future. My husband retired from his medical practice. The business I had created lost its funding. I had high blood pressure and was overweight. I had friends who were sick and some had died. My children who were married with children moved away. I was anxious, scared, and didn’t sleep well at night. I had lost my sense of self and often wondered, “Who am I?”

My husband wanted to explore yoga in his retirement and I went to a class with him. The practice resonated with me. I began to read books and articles on the topic – on the psychology and the way they described the mind and the human condition. It made sense. I have a Ph.D. in medical education and taught the psycho-social side of patient care and stress reduction to the medical community for years. I was now learning that suffering is universal and the way to alleviate suffering is to deal with it skillfully and thoughtfully. Meditation was a foundational way to approach suffering – a way to start to feel better. And so I began.

I started to meditate with headphones and tapes, mostly visualizations where I would throw my troubles into a pond, for instance. I continued with my daily meditation practice for a couple of years, crying with everything that came up – things I hadn’t looked at in a long time. Eventually I read, “Full Catastrophe Living,” by Jon Kabat-Zinn and took an intensive Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Course with him and Saki Santorelli at Omega Institute. This course led me to take the MBSR teacher practicum at UMASS Medical School’s Center for Mindfulness. I continued to attend mindfulness workshops, to go on retreat, and to read. Nothing else held my attention like this topic.

Slowly, over time, I began to feel better. Small synergistic changes took place within me. I started doing things more slowly. I could hear myself breathing. I remember looking up early one evening and staring at a pink and silver sky. In autumn, the vibrant leaves captured my attention. My relationships were also beginning to change. I was talking to my son after being away on a meditation retreat. He said something, which ordinarily would have prompted me to respond sarcastically, but instead I replied with compassion.

A few more years passed by when I reached a place in my life when I genuinely felt authentic, that I was my true self and able to share mindfulness with others. I’ve taught adult education all my life; it was a natural extension to now teach a practice that was so pivotal in my life. I began teaching the 8-Week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Course at a yoga studio and soon started to offer adaptations of it to make it more accessible to those who might not want to commit the whole series. Now I teach day retreats, workshops, and retreat weekends in a host of settings from schools and businesses to retreat centers, including Copper Beech Institute. I put the seeds out there to help others. It’s a wonderful space for me.

My mindfulness work not only takes me across the country, but around the globe teaching on cruise ships, in Israel and Costa Rica, and at international retreats. While all of these experiences enrich my life, the place I love to teach most is in prison. It’s a place where I don’t recognize myself, as I never could have imagined teaching here. I was a doctor’s wife with three children, a nice degree, and a career. When I’m teaching in prison, there is no judgment. I tell my students they are more than their crimes. We sit with each other, human being to human being just trying to figure this life out.

My teaching is truly a blessing in my life. This practice and experience didn’t just happen to me – it’s available to everyone. It does take courage to dip your toe into mindfulness and change old habits, but with time and practice change is possible. Know that I’m here to help you on your journey.

Sharon Gutterman, Ph.D. is an internationally acclaimed and experienced mindfulness teacher. She is senior faculty with Copper Beech Institute and founder of Mindful Wow! Wake Up to Your Life. Sharon will lead two retreats at Copper Beech this season: the weekend retreat, Introduction to Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, February 5-7, 2016 and the day retreat, Immersion in Mindfulness, June 10, 2016. Copper Beech Institute offers more than 40 retreats, courses, and events to foster peace and resilience in everyday life.

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#GivingTuesday: Gratitude for My Journey to Peace

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When I applied for a scholarship to attend the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Course at Copper Beech Institute this year, I had a specific goal in mind. I was about to face one of the largest surgeries I have had and I knew there was going to be a lot of pain ahead of me. I have stage 4 metastatic breast cancer and have certainly had my fair share of pain. I wanted to learn a method to help me handle it this time.

When I did some research on MBSR and discovered that Jon Kabat-Zinn had originally designed the course for people struggling with chronic pain, I was all in! I never imagined that I would be in the hospital for almost two months, as I developed MRSA after surgery. I had countless tests, painful procedures, and needed two more significant operations. I used the skills I learned in MBSR every step of the way, every day.

I am still recovering and practicing mindfulness meditation daily. The MBSR course has allowed me to delve to new levels of meditation that I believe has been the cornerstone to my recovery. Less than six weeks since coming home from the hospital, I’m no longer on pain medication. My surgeons are astounded – and I am convinced that the relaxation and calm I achieve in my daily meditation is the reason for my progress.

Words cannot fully express the gratitude I feel to the Copper Beech Institute community – and to everyone who donates to The Boundless Heart Fund. I encourage you to help bring peace to more lives with a donation to the Boundless Heart Fund in any amount. When we become our best selves, we become a gift to others. And in this way, your gift is a loving circle of healing and hope.

by Kim Green

Boundless Heart Fund Scholarship Recipient

Kim Green is a mother, wife, and author of the blog, Seventeen Years of Pink. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in June of 1989 at 34 years old. Her cancer has metastasized twice and she is now stage 4. Hers is the journey of living with cancer, raising a family and trying to keep a sense of humor. Kim participated in the MBSR course at Copper Beech Institute to help her cope with chronic pain and build resilience in her life.

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