Tag Archives: happiness

Loneliness – The “Illusion” That Feels So Real

Scan 5Many of us are lonely today. It crops up in my own life from time to time even though I am married, do work I enjoy, and have a few people I care deeply about and who also care about me.  You don’t have to be alone be lonely.

It is my nature to question things and look deeper (both a curse and a blessing!), so I’ve delved into this feeling of loneliness almost as an afterthought from writing about happiness. I believe that loneliness is a common and misunderstood obstacle to happiness.  Loneliness is a serious issue and impacts the quality of our lives.  There are many different kinds of loneliness. It is sort of a catch-all term that says very little about what is really going on. Are you lonely because you miss a best friend?  Do you miss being part of a group, something larger than just you?  Does it make you feel unseen because you do not have a place that seems familiar, where you are known? Are you missing a romantic partner in your life?  Are you feeling overwhelmed because you don’t have someone around whom you can lean on and depend upon when things get difficult?  Loneliness has so many faces and so is harder to pinpoint.

A sense of connection is often the missing link in our lives and is a common thread with loneliness. The Welsh have a word for a special kind of loneliness, called Hiraeth. It doesn’t have a precise English translation, but in general means “a homesickness for a home you cannot return to, or that never was“.  It is similar to the Portuguese “saudade” which is the theme of Fado music. Hiraeth is a mix of longing, yearning, tinged with grief or a sense of loss and a desire to connect with or touch that which has been lost. It is the feeling of separateness or disconnection that is at the root of any type of loneliness. There is help for this deep existential form of hiraeth  as well as the temporary fleeting feelings of loneliness we all experience from time to time.

Nurturing a sense of connection is the best (and maybe the only) way to shift a feeling of loneliness. I believe that we are all interconnected and interdependent with each other, but the illusion of separateness persists due to our egoic minds, modern life, and our culture of fear and lack. But since I also believe our view of reality is almost entirely perceptual, the “illusion” of loneliness is a very real part of a lonely person’s life.

I do not intend to trivialise the problem of loneliness, but sometimes actionable steps are simply the best way out of a bad cycle.  Just taking a step in the right direction immediately improves our perception and thus our situation.  Try some version of my suggestions, tweak them as much as you need to so they are meaningful to you. and take a step out of any bleak feelings you are having. (The only reason I “know” about this is because I have felt it myself, and edged my way out of bleakness by trying something different.)

  • Make a habit of nurturing others. For happiness in general, studies show that it is just as important to give support as to get support. Make eye contact and smile at someone. Even if they don’t smile back, it cost you nothing to do this and is likely to bring about a lovely smile in return. Offer to get groceries for an elderly neighbor, foster a dog or cat, take care of a friend’s children, teach a class, volunteer in your neighborhood or community. Giving support to others creates a feeling of connection.
  • Make real attempts at connecting with other people. Sign up for an exercise, language, art, sewing, craft class, join a book group, show up at the weekly office coffee hour, take a minute to chat with a co-worker, neighbor, or acquaintance, attend a community talk or lecture, start or join a local walking group. (Yes, I know. All the advice we’ve all heard before. But it really works!)
  • Get better sleep. Sleep deprivation under any circumstances brings down people’s moods and exacerbates negative feelings. You will not feel like building connections if you are suffering from chronic sleep deprivation. It is important to tackle this issue. Give it your attention by trying different things for a couple of weeks at a time. (There is a mountain of information out there to cure insomnia, but my next blog will be about this very thing.) Chronic sleep problems are usually the result of bad habits that need to be changed. 
  • Make a habit of staying open. This can be as simple as being aware of the next breath you take or the food you are tasting. It involves staying open to life and experiences as much as staying open to people. I know that loneliness itself can make people feel more negative, critical, and judgemental. Sadly, people who are lonely are far less accepting of potential new friends than people who are not lonely so the hurdle comes down to feeling what you are feeling and gently pressing on anyway.
  • Ask yourself, “What is it that I really want?” We often avoid this question in anything but a trivial way because it can be painful and can bring up what is “missing” in our life. But it is easier to know how to address an issue if you are clear what you really want. Chances are, you do not really want the third chocolate brownie or the 5th piece of pizza. Overeating is a common quick fix for feelings of lack or of not “being” enough. There are other things we do to mask discovering what it is we really want of course, but by far overeating is the most common. Without getting into a deep rut with this, touch into the question “What is it that I really want?” for a few minutes each day. Beginning to feel comfortable with this question – and the resulting answer – will go a long way in resolving feelings of loneliness and unhappiness.

Sometimes the wanting or longing you feel can be a marker for you to follow along your path. I wish you well as you listen to the whisperings that come along when you ask the important questions.

If you try, or have tried, any of these ideas to step out of feelings of loneliness and darkness, please let me know how they worked for you.

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Living With Good Health and Vitality – Implementing The Four Pillars of Health

happy-people-in-the-poppy-field-1280x800-wide-wallpapers-netOur bodies are designed to perform optimally. Knowing this yet seeing the number of people who struggle with feeling good every day can be perplexing.  Why does it seem so elusive for many people to wake up feeling great and to have energy throughout the day?

There can be complex issues that effect our quality of health caused by modern 21st century lifestyles, but in an effort to distil information into bite-size chunks let’s keep this simple. I believe there are four essential foundations for optimum health and that often we leave one or more out of the equation while trying to care for ourselves  The Four Pillars of Health, which form the foundation for great health and vitality, are Diet, Exercise, Good Sleep, and Mental Outlook. Very often people will focus on one, two, or even three of these categories but it is a bit more rare to embrace all four consistently….so at times we get out of balance, or homoeostasis.  The body will always circle back to homoeostasis if we give it what it needs.

All four of these “Pillars” are equally important and support good health, but let’s arbitrarily start with Diet. (This is where most people start when trying to make changes to enhance health.) There are volumes of wonderful blogs and books dedicated to this subject, but in a nutshell what you must do is eliminate, or severely restrict, all processed foods from your diet. You want to eat foods that come from Nature, not from a laboratory. Your body does not know what to do with the artificial ingredients in processed food and they will cause serious problems for you in time. Begin this process by adding in good healthy things to your diet – focus on the plethora of foods you CAN eat, instead of the things you cannot. If you build your diet on what you must stay away from, your willpower WILL cave in time! Ask yourself the question, “What great foods can I add to my diet?” Stop thinking “no,no,no” when it comes to food, and instead make a list of healthy foods you like and have fun creating new meals. Give yourself the tools you need to get started by doing a little research, collecting tasty recipes, and start adding great food to your pantry and fridge. Remember to make the shift to focusing on everything you can eat and don’t browbeat yourself. Begin to crowd the bad stuff out of your diet by adding in the good.

Exercise: Most of us simply don’t get enough. Our ancestors walked around about 10 times more than we do. (Great quote from Lucas Rockwood: “Sitting is the new smoking” – I love it!) Sit less, and move more. The fact is, the more lean muscle mass you have, the more energy you’ll have. And, even better – the more you will need to eat to maintain your lean muscle (without gaining weight) and keep going.  If you don’t have much lean muscles mass, you won’t have as much energy and you will require much less food to maintain your weight.  So, look into Burst Training (sometimes called Interval Training), and move your body every day. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk whenever you can, join a class, and move your body throughout your day in as many creative ways that you can think of.

Sleep:  It doesn’t matter how great your diet is, or how much exercise you get; if you are not sleeping enough consistently, are are not going to function optimally. Full stop. Rest and recovery phases are crucial for healing and maintaining vitality and good health. Sleep dysfunction is tricky because there are so many different causes for lack of sleep.  Good sleep hygiene is essential, and an upcoming blog will be devoted to this topic. But it’s really good and proactive for you to dig into your own research about this, so even googling “sleep hygiene” is a wonderful start. Take even a small step in the direction you want to go and try to let go of worrying and fretting about not getting enough sleep.  I know how hard it can be, because I have not been a very good sleeper at times….but never once was it helpful to worry about it.  Watch this space for more information about improving the quality of your sleep.

Mental Outlook: We’ve all heard how important a positive attitude is for health and happiness, and more than likely you’ve incorporated some of this sage advice into your life already. If so, good for you!  If not, don’t take my word for it – just commit to adding some positive practices, such as positive affirmations and a gratitude journal, yoga, meditation, etc. into your life every day for one month, and then see if your life improves. If it doesn’t you’ve lost nothing.  But you will never know that life can be so much better if you don’t give it a try.

We swing from “vine to vine”, looking for something else (we’re not sure exactly what) because we don’t see we are already whole and complete as we are right now. We just have to wake up and tune into this. For me, a meditation and yoga practice is important for clearing the clutter in my mind and tuning in but there are other practices that can be just as valuable, including Tai’ Chi and Qi gong (pronounced Chi Gong).  I believe a spiritual practice of some sort – whatever that is for you – is important for a sense of fulfilment and vitality. Does the word “spiritual” bother you?  Then pick another word.  But a practice where you can quiet the mind and stop the chaos, and feel a part of something greater than just yourself and your problems is crucial for good health.  This positive spiritual practice will help you plug into things that really nourish and recharge you.  You must nourish yourself! Even if your time is limited, you can set priorities and let something go so you can have a mini-break and recover. You only have 30 minutes while the baby sleeps? Spend it meditating instead of watching some silly TV program. The meditation will leave you more calm and refreshed than the TV. Remember that you can only do one thing at a time well, whatever the hype is about “multi-tasking”. If you try to open up too many windows on your computer, what happens?  It crashes! So will you. Get calm, close some windows, take a deep breath, and focus on the one thing you need to do in front of you. When that is done, you can move on to the next thing. Work on one “window” at a time.

Choose one of these four pillars that you think needs some bolstering (Diet, Exercise, Sleep, and Mental Outlook) and add one positive thing to your life every day. You will be the one to benefit from this positive attention. Please watch this space for future blogs on each indivdual Pillar of Health.

Note: Dr. Pedram Shojai is a wonderful teacher to learn from.  I discovered him while compiling notes for this blog. He is teaching and writing about the very same thing (now I know there is nothing new under the sun!…..ideas, thoughts, and words are part of our collective knowledge base and are constantly being recycled and given a new spin, a new life.) that I am writing about only he calls it The Wheel of Vitality, and Mental Outlook is referred to as Mindset. Follow him if you are interested – a beautiful man with wonderful things to say.

Making Room For the Right Things

Happiness requires that we’re not constantly “spinning our wheels” and doing the same wrong things over and over. There is a saying – usually attributed to AA – that the definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over and expecting different results. Most people, myself included, agree with this statement. Yet surprisingly most people, myself included, have done this very thing. Yes, more than once.

When I keep doing the same behaviours, but expect different results, usually at least two things are happening. The first is that I am not living in the Now (see my last post) so I’m not conscious and present with myself. The other thing that is always happening is I am lying to myself about something….even if the lie is that I don’t know what else to do. If you find yourself spinning your wheels and frustrated with your life, stop and take a deep breath and an even deeper pause. More activity is not going to help. Take a breath before you get to the breaking point, and make a date with yourself to explore what you are doing every day to block happiness from yourself. To help you get started, here are a few things to consider stopping and eliminating from your thoughts and from your life.

1). Stop Focusing On What You Don’t Want To Happen: Spend your time focusing on what you DO want to happen. This sound ridiculously simple, but most people focus their thoughts on things that they don’t want to happen. Every morning when you get up, picture what you DO want to manifest in your life….the big picture. Then, throughout your day, remind yourself of this picture and take at least one small step towards this every day. Positive thinking is at the forefront of every success story. Keep the thoughts of what you DON’T want out of this picture.

2). Stop Spending Time With the Wrong People: Life is too short to spend time with people who suck the life out of you. If someone wants you in their life, they’ll make some space for you. You should not have to fight for a spot. If someone wants you in their life, they won’t criticize, belittle, or judge you. Walk away from these people!  Do not jostle for a position in someone’s life who continuously overlooks your worth. Spend your precious time with people who leave you smiling, not crying.

3). Stop Holding Grudges: Stop living with hate in your heart. This is poisoning you. I promise you, you will end up hurting yourself far more than the people you hate. Forgive these people, and remember that forgiveness is not weak. Forgiveness is not saying, “What you did to me is okay with me.” It is saying, “I am not going to let what you did to me ruin any more of my present moments.” If you cannot forgive and lay down the heavy burden of your grudges, you will let the person ruin your happiness forever. That, my dears, is giving someone a whole lot of power over your life and happiness. Liberate yourself!  (If you need to forgive yourself, give yourself this gift and know you will do better next time. Then, move one!)

4). Stop Blaming Others For Your Problems: The extent to which you achieve your dreams depends upon the extent to which you take responsibility for your life. You are denying responsibility for your life when you blame others – and giving them huge power of your life.

5). Stop Doing the Same Things Over and Over Without Taking a Break: You cannot be at your best when you are tired, fatigued, and burned out. The time to take a deep, slow breath is the exactly when you don’t have time for it. If you keep doing what your are doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting. At times, you need to take a step back to see things clearly.

6). Stop Trying to Be Someone You’re Not: It is often a big challenge to be yourself in a world that seems to want to make you like everyone else. Be yourself anyway. Those with the least confidence in who they are may criticize or judge you, but you really don’t want these people in your life anyway. Don’t press yourself into a mold so people will like you. Be yourself and the right people will be drawn to you and like you for who you are.

Maybe you can think of other things that you need to stop doing. If you keep doing the “wrong” things – those things that burn you out, cause resentment, make you like yourself less, then there is far less space to allow the right things into your mind, heart, and life. Practice, starting today, to make room for these right things by eliminating one “wrong” thing at a time from your life.