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"It's Never Too Late to Become What You Might Have Been."(1)
 
Within the full arc of one's life, the potential for profound growth is always there, rising up to be mined. 
Here's to opening new doors of opportunity and attaining new heights of contentment.

Here is a gem of a booklet on nonviolent communication, interpersonal connection and growth: http://www.connectionaction.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/CA_simple_practices_e-only.pdf

(1) Tagline for the movie "Away from Her"


Gratitude as a Key to Happiness 


“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others”. — Cicero, 106-143 B.C.

When I have gratitude towards someone, I feel humility, respect, an open heart, and understand a fuller meaning of that person and their gesture.  It would not have occurred had the individual not valued me and cared about me.  I appreciate his/her generosity and have the urge to reciprocate, and to perpetuate the circle of kindness.
 When I feel grateful for an inanimate object like my house, it  transforms from merely a structure into an almost organic entity that protects and nourishes all who live in it. 

With these examples in mind, the following excerpt has proven delightfully true for me and other loved ones in my life:

“Feeling thankful is one key to happiness…A conscious focus on gratitude may also remind you of unassuming pluses that get lost in the ups and downs of a busy life…Grateful reflection helps you pick out and savor the good in life, even if the good isn't flashy…What's more, gratitude turns your attention to what you do have instead of what you don't…Consistently ungrateful people tend to think that material goods, such as a big-screen TV, or winning the lottery will make them happy. On the other hand, people who recognize the blessings they have tend to think they'll get happiness from things like fulfilling relationships—which, research shows, are the real sources of satisfaction. Because grateful people don't fixate on money or material goods, they may cut back on envy and nagging comparisons with the Joneses…Call it corny, but gratitude just may be the glue that holds society together.” (2)

I once saw a poignant documentary entitled Born Into Brothels about seven children living in the red light district of Calcutta, India.  There was one scene where a small, thin girl was crouched in a dimly lit, dank room washing tin bowls with scarce and dirty water.  I have never forgotten that image, so much so that each time I wash our dishes with plentiful, clear water from our faucet, I experience a moment of gratitude and happiness.

Moreover, I have always strongly believed that we are able to consciously choose to be happy.  This choice does not come from selfishness or narcissism.  On the contrary, our self-awareness and self-nurturing ultimately enable us to contribute more to those around us and the world at large. 

In fact, well-respected trainers and speakers Rick Foster and Greg Hicks assert that there are nine choices happy people consistently make in their lives which reliably result in them achieving and maintaining “a profound, enduring feeling of contentment, capability, and centeredness—the 3 Cs.”  These are Intention, Accountability, Identification, Centrality, Recasting, Options, Appreciation, Giving, and Truthfulness.

So how can happiness sustain in the face of extreme challenges or tragedy?  Foster and Hicks provide clarifying insight:“There’s no way around the fact that life brings pain…Happy people universally react to pain in the same way.  We call it RECASTING…First happy people dive into negative feelings head on and experience them deeply…They don’t censor raw emotions, deny feelings or run from pain as many of us do to ‘just go on.’…Once they are fully engaged with their emotions they move into the second phase.  They begin to transform their feelings with new actions and insights.  What lessons can they learn?  What new meaning can they create in their lives?  What opportunities for the future can they create from this experience?  They search for the seeds of growth and insight.”


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My writing of this book is a direct outgrowth of the suicide of a loved one, and my dedication to engendering positivity over negativity, knowledge over fear, creation over destruction.  LIFE.


(2) Lauren Aaronson, "Make a Gratitude Adjustment" article featured on the Psychology Today website.


NOTE: Text for this page's Gratitude and Mindful sections is excerpted from the book: "Inspirations for Thriving in Our Troubled World."  See the Products page of this website for more information.


Positive Emotional Consistency

When we buy a car, reliability and safety are often amongst the most prized attributes.  When we regularly go to a special restaurant, we hope—nay, expect—that our favorite dish will always be as succulent as the first time we delighted in it. 

Why then are we not as exacting about our own emotional consistency with one another?  Most of us have surely experienced the now you see me now you don't mercurial personality, someone who is virtually impossible to count on.  Or the even more dangerous now I love you now I'm angry and judgmental personality that renders everyone dazed and appalled.  

A viable assertion, then, is that without emotional consistency, relationships struggle while teetering on a foundation of quicksand.  The results can include confusion, hurt, insecurity, resentment, anger, and even emotional shutdown.  However, our own 'reliability factor' can be a daily practice that will come more easily and organically over time, and will hopefully engender consistency from those around us.  Relationship quicksand can transform into stable bedrock.



What is a Culture Without Character?

News stories that depict a breakdown in the daily practice of good character reside every way we turn.  It seems that many of us have abandoned fundamental tenets of civilized life.  The organization CHARACTER COUNTS! is conducting an educational program to once again raise the tragically sinking bar of civility.  Ultimately though, the primary accountability lies with us as parents and our families to manifest The Six Pillars of Character. 

This website is quite wonderful:  http://charactercounts.org/sixpillars.html


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Discover how 
"mindset" traits that are part of your character are more important than your skill set in getting and keeping a job. 

Are you a highly principled "Cultural Creative"?  If you embody 10 or more of the following 
characteristics, the answer is yes. 



Strategic Self-Inquiry Can Result in Personal Growth

Here are 7 key questions you can ask yourself on a regular basis.  Your honest answers will be revealing and can motivate you to make important, life-enhancing shifts:   

*  How adept am I at self-soothing? 

*  Do I feel my partner's efforts are never good enough?  This could either be a case of that person legitimately not living up to his/her potential in our relationship, or that my expectations are too high and need to be readjusted.  The readjustment process can be very liberating and exciting for both of you. 

*  Do I need to more realistically manage my expectations about people, taking into account their other obligations and time constraints? 

*  Do I have a double standard and hold others to a higher standard of behavior than I do myself?  

*  On a daily basis, do I feel genuine gratitude for all that I DO have, versus what I am temporarily deprived of?  Am I able to sublimate short-term discomfort for long-term goals and gains? 

*  Am I striving to be as emotionally consistent with my loved ones and friends as possible?  Being consistent engenders trust and deepens bonds.  Can the people I care about feel confident about which ‘me’ they will encounter from moment to moment, day to day? 

*  Do I have a strong enough core self to weather life's storms?  If not, believe that I can strengthen my emotional and psychological core much like my physical core.  It takes commitment and daily practice, but the rewards are viable and enormous. 

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Re-Thinking How We Present Ourselves to the World

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What if one's ugly thoughts or cruel acts were reflected on one's face, for all the world to see?  That is the compelling question in The Picture of Dorian Gray, the deeply insightful 1890 novel by Oscar Wilde, and the 2009 U.K. film entitled Dorian Gray

If we have a pleasing exterior, do we strive to match that with the quality of our inner spirit and soul?  What you see is what you get.  Or do we distort our reality and manipulate those around us with superficial outer charm?

Although we in the real world escape the gothic horror-like fate of Dorian Gray, it is inevitable that scowls, if frequent enough, will eventually etch themselves upon our faces for all to witness.  However, it is also true that we have the power to change that at any moment any day with a more open heart and mind.





DID YOU KNOW?
There is a new book and film entitled Wisdom that explore the greatest gift one generation can give to another:  http://www.wisdombook.org/

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"What's the last gift you're going to give your family?  In a sense, it's knowing how to die." — Dennis McCullough.  Fascinating article about 'graceful exits' here: http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/its-your-body/graceful-exit
There is an amazingly inspiring story about perseverance and overcoming obstacles:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uOk24NRX934
Plus the story of JR Martinez, an Iraq war veteran burned over 40% of his body, going on to act, become a motivational speaker, and to dance...magnificently:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=reIPWyLYvng

*  "Free will is a gift you'll never know how to use until you fight for it." — From the last scene of the 2011 film The Adjustment Bureau

There is an insightful article about the link between happiness and a spiritual core, and why some people actually choose to be unhappy:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/deepak-chopra/why-you-dont-want-to-be-h_b_789295.html
Stephen R. Covey asserts that "Nature teaches the inescapable law of the harvest.  All lasting results are produced in a sequence, are governed by principles and are grown from the inside out...The same is true of human nature.  There is a 'law of the harvest' that governs human character, human greatness and all human relationships.  And it stands in sharp contrast to our culture of quick-fix, victimism and blame." — From The 8th Habit, page 49.

The way Sandra Bullock transformed her high-profile heartache into the creation of new meaning in her life, growth and insight is an excellent example of RECASTING (full definition to the left).  An excerpt of an article on Bullock is here:
http://www.people.com/people/package/article/0,,20364464_20364639,00.html

"People with a winning blend of perspectives have hope for the future, feel securely rooted in the past, and are energetic and joyful about being alive in the present." — Carlin Flora
Full article available at:
  http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200911/life-in-balance-timely-makeover

Mindful Graciousness & Courtesy    

I believe that positive emotion and spirit can imbue all of our daily interactions.  Yet it takes a highly conscious and conscientious mindset to live a gracious, courteous life.  It is something one has to commit to, and something that is enhanced as you become increasingly aware of your impacts on others. Really, the small gestures do make a difference, carefully considering what causes someone else to be happy or more comfortable.  It is also about respect for others and honoring their value.  But perhaps at the core of it for me is having an open heart for other people.

A handful of personal examples follow: 

*  Fulfilling the ritual every morning of having tea and coffee ready for my partner and myself, with soft lights and jazz music in the living room conducive to quiet conversation 

*  Making sure my stepson is sitting at the second head position of the table across from his father 

*  Respecting my daughter’s right to have a sacrosanct private space in our home

*  Consistently and genuinely asking for the opinions and input of the young people in our home

Stephen R. Covey sums it up effectively: 

“With people, little things are the big things…Small courtesies and kindnesses given consistently yield huge dividends.  This is the realm of EQ (emotional intelligence)…Genuine kindness, courtesy and respect come from a deep character reservoir of SQ (spiritual intelligence) and even obviate the necessity for a lot of social niceties and ceremonial-type courtesies…Often when I speak to children at home or school, I tell them that if they will learn and use four expressions sincerely and consistently, they can get what they want in most cases.” 

One word – "Please.”
Two words – “Thank you.”
Three words – “I love you.”
Four words – “How may I help?” (2)

(2) Stephen R. Covey, The 8th Habit, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004, pages 171-172.


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Interfaith Harmony Is Possible

A beautiful and immensely hopeful documentary entitled Sound of the Soul tells the story both of the religiously tolerant Moroccan city of Fez where Muslims, Christians, and Jews live in peace, and also a manifestation of that in the form of the “Fez Festival of World Sacred Music.”  Sound of the Soul demonstrates the essential connections between all faiths.  It also eloquently speaks to the necessity that we cultivate our hearts and spirituality so that humanity can survive and thrive. 

For more information, visit:  http://www.soundofsoul.org/page.asp?s=soundofsoul&content_id=14400

Explore several religions on an interfaith web portal:  http://www.patheos.com/Religion-Portals.html



How to Achieve Enduring Happiness by Healing "Spiritual Deficiency Syndrome"
 
There is much to be learned about nourishing the spirit from many religious traditions.  What follows is a beautiful thesis by Abraham J. Twerski that could clarify this universal quest for anyone.
 
"The cause of enduring unhappiness is neglect of the human spirit.  It can be alleviated by administering essential spiritual nutrients."

Twerski goes on to outline 11 key attributes/abilities that, when combined, are the sum total of what constitutes the human spirit, and will result in greater happiness.  The eleven are: Self-awareness, Humility, Choice, Patience, Making the most of our circumstances, Improvement, Compassion, Perspective, Purpose, Truth, and Change.

Read the inspiring explanations of each category here:  http://reformjudaismmag.org/Articles/index.cfm?id=2931

Mindfulness = Presence of Heart
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Nourishing Your Spirit Amongst Wildlife & Currents

One of our most favorite weekend activities is to go kayaking in a double sit-on-top in Richardson Bay just off Sausalito near San Francisco.  Especially when the water is glassy calm like liquid mercury and swelling up to meet the boat, we feel peacefully at one with Nature.  Many times, the seals, seagulls, pelicans, and cormorants are all out in an exquisite display of interspecies harmony.  Then, there is a point in every paddle as we're floating between air and water currents when our minds elevate to a sensation of deep calm and joy.  Truly, there's nothing like it.  Even windier, choppy water days provide an invigorating glad-to-be-alive outing.

If you live in or are visiting the Bay Area, "Sea Trek" of Sausalito offers great deals on kayak rentals:
http://www.seatrek.com/

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Houseboat with birds
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Seagull & seal



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