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Christmas is much like Thanksgiving in that, while we celebrate something simple—gratitude and love—we go about it with such hell-bent enthusiasm that it is ultimately too complicated to be felt. It is like putting on a lavish Broadway production at an intersection when a simple stop sign would do. A gift under the tree for someone we hold dear has exploded into carloads of presents and days wandering the stores in a stupor, suddenly conscious that we know very little about those we love. A Christmas tree has morphed into a week-long crusade to transform the whole house, yard and office into a sparkling wonderland that inspires not awe but exhaustion and dread at the thought of taking it all down. We are suffocated by a barrage of Christmas cheer extolling love and brotherhood, yet there is no time of year where people feel more stressed, depressed, lost and alone. This year, ignore the production and just read the stop sign. Pause. Then give everyone the gift they yearn for most during the holiday season, including yourself—smile.

For one week allow yourself to smile. When you pass a mirror or reflective window, sneak a peek at your expression. If you notice a negative or neutral expression, smile. It doesn’t have to be a big, goofy grin; a slight Mona Lisa smile will do. How does it change how you feel? How does it change your perceptions? Throughout your day, notice people around you.  If you catch their eyes – smile, and try to make it a genuine one. How does it change your experience? How does it feel to give everyone you meet a gift from the heart?  Does it help you recapture the essence of this holiday?

Post sticky notes with the word “smile” and notice how just a slight smile can melt away tension and make you feel better. When you meditate do so with an “inner smile” like the smile of the face of the Buddha

Smiling is the perfect gift. We are born smiling. Using technology to look inside the womb, pictures show that even before we enter this world we appear to smile. Once we are born, smiling can increase our life span by up to seven years. Research shows that smiling decreases blood pressure and the production of stress related hormones such as cortisol while it boosts the immune system and the production of mood enhancing hormones such as serotonin. Smiling also makes us more attractive.  We appear more competent to others when we smile. If we wonder why life was so magical as a child, consider this—a third of adults smile up to 20 times a day but children smile as many as 400 times.

Smiling sends feedback to your brain to elevate your mood even if the smile is forced. Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile but sometimes your smile is the source of your joy.” If you can simply smile and follow the flow of that action without analyzing it you will find a wellspring of respite bubble up immediately.

Smiling not only improves our lives but warms the lives of others. It is a universal instant way of connecting to another person. A study in Sweden found that it is very difficult to frown when looking at someone who is smiling. Smiling is evolutionarily contagious, and it suppresses the control people have on their facial muscles. People will almost automatically smile back as a way of gauging the sincerity of your smile. Studies show that people who had pencils in their mouths to inhibit their facial muscles and prevent them from smiling could not determine the genuineness of someone else’s smile while those who did not had no trouble. Given the amazing implications smiling has on life, it is wonderful that it is so infectious.

Dale Jorgensen, an expert of the effects of smiling says, “We really are in charge of our destinies. We do have influence over what happens to us by virtue of our actions. Smiling is a case in which a simple act can have profound effects on the kinds of experiences we have with other people and how they treat us.”

Happy Mindful Walk

Walking on the grounds of gratitude I stumbled upon the palace of happiness.  ~Brendon Burchard

Not only can adopting an expression of happiness lighten your mood, but your body language while walking can talk your mood into a more positive one.

Psychologists in Germany and Canada used biofeedback with students walking on a treadmill to prove this. The students had their gait monitored with motion capture technology. For half of them, the more happily they walked (characterized by larger arm and body swings and a more upright posture), the further a gauge on a video monitor shifted to the right; the sadder their gait, the more it shifted leftwards. The students weren’t told what the gauge measured, but they were instructed to experiment with different walking styles to try to shift the bar rightwards. This feedback had the effect of encouraging them to walk with a gait characteristic of people who are happy.

For the other half of the students, the gauge direction was reversed, and the sadder their gait, the further the gauge shifted to the right. Again, these students weren’t told what the gauge measured, but they were instructed to experiment with their walking style and to try to shift the gauge rightwards as far as possible. In other words, the feedback encouraged them to adopt a style of walking characteristic of people who are feeling low.

After four minutes of gait feedback on the treadmill, both groups of students were given a quiz on how accurately forty different positive and negative emotional words described their personality. This quiz took about two minutes, after which the students continued for another eight minutes trying to keep the gait feedback gauge deflected to the right. The students’ final and crucial task on the treadmill was to recall as many of the earlier descriptive words as possible.

The striking finding is that the students who were unknowingly guided by feedback to walk with a happier gait tended to remember more positive than negative self-referential words, as compared with the students who were guided to walk with a more negative style. That is, the happy walkers recalled an average of 6 positive words and 3.8 negative words, compared with the sad walkers who recalled an average of 5.47 positive words and 5.63 negative words. Focusing on the students who achieved the happiest style of gait, they recalled three times as many positive words as the students who achieved the saddest style of gait.

So, find a beautiful place to walk. Start out with a bouncy gait, swinging the arms in a relaxed, upbeat manner and looking around with a smile as you walk. Breathe deeply and every now and then pause and hold your face up to the sun. Does it change your mood as you walk? Are you starting to notice more positive and beautiful things along your path? How would it impact you if you walked this way even a few moments a day from the parking lot to work or from your car to your house? Of all the solutions we ponder to make ourselves happier, could it be as simple as the way we put one foot in front of the other?

Metta Meditation

I smile like a flower not only with my mouth  but with my whole being.  ~Rumi

The Metta meditation is the perfect way to manifest the season of love and gratitude.  Metta meditation is opening your heart to yourself and others by repeating a compassionate statement – wishing a beautiful life for yourself, those you love, those you have difficulty with and ultimately, all sentient beings.

The statement you choose can deal with anything. If you have a particular issue that is troubling you, for example, you can wish to be freed from that struggle and then wish that others be free from it as well. As a general Metta meditation, however, you can consider this:

Sit in a comfortable chair with your back relaxed but erect and your hands resting comfortably on your thighs. Take a few deep, delightful breaths and feel your body sink deeper into relaxation with each exhalation. Your neck softens. Your shoulders drop heavily. You feel at ease and loved.

When you are ready, say to yourself, “May I be as healthy and happy as possible. May I live free from pain and suffering. May I feel light and at peace.” Say these words to yourself with sincerity. Feel the compassion that blossoms as you surrender to the word’s meaning.

Now bring to mind someone that you love very much. Picture their face smiling and full of joy. Then, tell them, “May you be as healthy and happy as possible. May you live free from pain and suffering. May you feel light and at peace.” Think of as many people as you like that you love and offer this prayer to them as well.

When you have wished them well, think about people that you know casually: colleagues, clients, cashiers at the grocery store and others that perhaps you pass by in your everyday life. Wish them the same statements as above.

This is more challenging but even more beneficial. Think of those that you have difficulty with. Imagine their faces alight with joy and delight. Offer them the same tidings. If you cannot bring yourself to that step yet, simply look at their face in your mind’s eye with tenderness and at your own heart with the same compassion.

Now think of all living beings. Wish that all of them are as healthy and happy as possible. Hope that they live free from pain and suffering. Desire that they feel light and peace. Float on the green leaves of those wishes. Feel the boundless love that your thoughts have ignited. Your love is a thread that connects all beings and you are part of that beautiful tapestry.


End of the Year Reflections

This has been a year where you have listened and nurtured that voice inside you. Now it is time to look at the big picture of how this has changed you and the way you approach your life.

Think back on your journey. In what ways have you grown when it comes to caring for yourself and others in your life? What have you gained and what have you let go of in the past twelve months? Who or what have you tolerated this year that you no longer have space for? What would you perceive is your greatest accomplishment? Your greatest challenge?

Now look forward to the year ahead but do so with a gentle gaze. How can you show up for yourself? What gives you joy that you can build on in the coming years? What goals do you want to accomplish? What relationships do you want to nurture?

And a final note…

After spending a month or so of feeling grateful, giving, towards those who were given less, the final moments of the holiday season are often spent, ironically, on regret and how we fall short in general.  The razzle-dazzle is put away and the scale is brought out while we weigh in the spent year; the failed goals, the personal flaws that still persist, and all the aspects of our lives that didn’t come out as planned. This week as you start to manifest your resolutions for next year instead of saying no—no more fatty foods, no more watching TV for hours on end, no more procrastinating—try saying yes.

Yes to your body, yes to your life the way it is right now both the good and the bad and yes to everyone in it. Say yes to everyone and everything that happens. Plaster sticky notes with the word “yes” around your house. If you notice that you have an impulse to disagree, think about whether it is really vital to express it. Think about the consequences of resisting something verses the reward of surrendering the illusion of control and your own self-importance and just going with the flow.

And, yes, this is a difficult challenge. It can bring out aspects of ourselves that are not pleasant—the stubbornness, the whining self-centeredness, the unrealistic expectations we hold of ourselves and others, and our deepest fears and anxieties. It can also show us how often we take a negative or antagonistic stance in our daily lives. In routine conversations with others, particularly if they are asking us to do something or saying something we don’t agree with, can we resist the temptation to disagree verbally? When faced with something unpleasant, can we relax into it without resentment? Do we have the courage to say yes to our fears?

Saying yes to something does not mean that we agree with or like it but that we acknowledge it is there. This simple act takes away much of its hold over us. It is sort of like being sick. We can deny over and over again to ourselves that we are sick, but that does not make us feel any better. In fact, it colors our every thought and action. The longer we resist, the longer it takes to heal. The quickest way to get over it is to admit that we feel crappy and take the steps we need in order to get better.

Living life with an avoidance approach narrows our options and opportunities. In an experiment done at the University of Maryland, two groups of students were asked to solve a simple maze puzzle where the goal was to help a mouse get safely to his mouse hole. On one group’s puzzle a tasty piece of cheese was placed near the mouse hole. This is called a positive or approach-oriented puzzle helping the mouse to gain something favorable. The other group’s puzzle had a hungry owl ready to pounce on the mouse. This made it a negative or avoidance-oriented puzzle.

After completing the maze the two groups were then asked to do a different, apparently unrelated test that measured creativity. The group with the avoidance-oriented puzzle did 50 percent worse than the group with the approach-oriented puzzle. It turns out that the avoidance “closed down” options in the students’ minds. It triggered their minds’ “aversion” pathways, leaving them with a lingering sense of fear and an enhanced sense of vigilance and caution. This state of mind both weakened their creativity and reduced their flexibility. On the other hand, the other group reported feeling more playful and carefree and happy to experiment. This study showed that the spirit in which you do something is often as important as the act itself.

Learning how to say yes makes a profound difference in communication as well. Rather than focusing on framing our response and putting up defenses, we can turn our attention to the flow of conversation, and this can open up the dialog. It is amazing the directions that a conversation will take and what you can learn from it when you drop the barriers that form from a resistant stance. Saying yes allows us to step outside of our self-centeredness and attachment to our beliefs. How often have arguments with other people turned out to be over something trivial in retrospect but created suffering and permanent hurt nevertheless?

Say yes to the flaws in others that you would normally be tempted to criticize. Say yes to those flaws within yourself that are part of the beautiful mosaic of your being. Say yes to life.


Torri’s book is available for purchase here.