Gratitude’s Gifts

Gratitude’s gifts are several. It gifts us with a moment or few of heart-uplifting, thankful, good feelings. Psychological studies find that practicing gratitude enhances well-being. If we share that gratitude with another, it makes us feel (measurably!) even better. As well, hearing someone express their gratitude for you is delightfully affirming.

With a nod to the arrival of Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada, it feels timely to share inspiring research findings on gratitude and well-being.

Practicing gratitude is good for your mood.

There are many books on the subjects of gratitude, thankfulness and wellbeing, and there is a whole field of psychology – Positive Psychology – studying this sort of thing. Cool, right? Think yourself into happiness. Easy? Sort of.

Now, don’t swallow the shaming, blaming kool-aide, please. Whenever I talk about this kind of research, in the realm of “thinking positive thoughts is good for you”, I mean AUTHENTIC positive thoughts. Lying to yourself is never good for you. Never. There is even research on that, in women with breast cancer. Realistic thoughts, even if they are negative, are associated with a better prognosis.

I learned the authentic thoughts lesson well some years back, when I was living in a leaky, mouldy, basement apartment, going through a breakup, and broke. Truly, those things all suck (yes, in a first world problems kind of way). I couldn’t summon gratitude for the fact that I had shelter, for instance, though I dutifully tried to be more “positive”. But I hated that apartment. And the mould was making me sick, and the darkness wasn’t helping me heal my heart. In that case, I COULD be, and WAS grateful for the unending support of my family, whose faith in me buoyed me when I didn’t have that faith in myself, and who were solidly there for me when I needed them. This was authentic for me at the time. And you know, changing my thoughts and – with great mental discipline – shifting to more positive thoughts, really helped me get out of that apartment and out of that hard phase in my life. Practicing gratitude was an important part of this process.

In honour of the true spirit of Thanksgiving, of gratitude for the gifts in our lives, I invite you to make space for gratitude more often. What would happen if you shifted from focusing on the daily annoyances, to daily gratitude? This study found that a gratitude intervention measurably improved mood for study participants, as well as improving their sleep. Cool, right? Taking a moment to find something you are authentically grateful for, be it the scattered autumn beauty of coloured leaves on the pavement, or the huge support a friend provides, or the delightful curiosity of your child, taking a moment to bathe in that feeling will make you happier, and it may help you sleep. Isn’t that something to be grateful for? 🙂

This thanksgiving, I hope you will be inspired to intentionally practice gratitude. Write a letter to someone far away, share your gratitude around the table, keep a gratitude journal, or simply be present to gratitude.

I invite you to share your approach and your results over on my Facebook page. May we inspire one another with our stories.

PS: Here is a great short video on the power of sharing your gratitude, from the folks at SoulPancake.

Creating Lasting Change, from the Inside, Out

by Dr. Mahalia Freed, ND

People come in to consult with me because they want something to be different. They want to be able to sleep, they want to have a baby, they want enough energy to enjoy their downtime, they are tired of struggling with depression, they are tired of picking up every bug during cold & flu season. While the details of treatment are unique for each person, every healing journey involves the integration of new lifestyle habits and/or ways of thinking. This means more than simply trying something new and finding that it makes you feel good, but truly integrating a change so that things ARE different from now on. This means going beyond the latest wonder-supplement for immunity or depression. Instead, we go within, to discover what it is that has thrown off your body’s natural balance in the first place.

What formula can we follow to get you there?

I can’t count how many times I have seen variations of the following scenario: I am working with someone and we come up with a plan, eg. work out 4 days a week. At their follow-up, they have been to the gym once, and then … it fizzled. They resolve to meet the same goal again. And again, despite telling me it is what they want to do, and telling me how they know they will feel better, they don’t do it.

Why not do it?

Why would someone tell me they want to exercise, ask for and agree to the plan, and then not do it?? I don’t view this as a patient being “noncompliant”. This is your care, your process. Your responsibility is to yourself, not to me. My job is to help you get where you want to go, to help you find balance in your life and within yourself. The question, then, is what is the obstacle to you taking this step that you tell me you want to take? What is the gap between what you say will be good for you, and what is right for you now, in this moment?

I have some theories.

I think that it often comes down to whether or not we are listening – truly listening – to our bodies. Is the voice that says I “should” exercise coming from outside of you, when instead your body just wants some stillness? Are you exhausted? Are you resolving to do weights because your read somewhere that doing weights is the best for your bones, but what really resonates for you is ballroom dancing? Or, it might be a matter of being stuck in all-or-nothing thinking: “I have to be a saint, and never allow a morsel of sugar or white flour to pass my lips. Otherwise there is no point and I should just eat a whole package of cookies since I’ve messed it up anyway”. The accompanying guilt, shame and blame when we set ourselves to “fail” in these ways paralyzes us into inaction. And, well, we all know how good – or not good – this kind of cycle feels when we are stuck in it.

What can we do instead?

  1. Observe where you are, and practice compassion. Judging oneself harshly only leads to shame and blame, and lasting change cannot be built on these emotional states. Are you are feeling exhausted because you are watching tv or surfing the internet each night until the wee hours? Observe this pattern. Perhaps you will notice that this habit allows you to fall into sleep without feeling something (loneliness, sadness, fear, grief) that you wish to avoid. Be kind & gentle with yourself.
  2. Look underneath the behaviour you want to change, and try to track it back to the root. So, if you are eating cookie dough ice cream each evening because you are sad, rather than resolving to stop eating the ice cream, resolve to address the sadness.
  3. Identify goals that come from within you. Find yoga yucky but love being outside? Make walking your restorative exercise time.

Sustainable change comes from a place that is rooted deeply inside you. By looking at what you are doing and why, you can come to understand the root of the behaviour. From this root, guided by the principles of observation and compassion. you can rebuild a strong foundation that will take you where you want to go.

Mahalia Freed is a naturopathic doctor happily living and practicing in downtown Toronto. In her family practice, Mahalia has a special focus in endocrinology (including PMS, PCOS, thyroid concerns), mental health, oncology, fertility, and perinatal care.

Action in Stillness, Stillness in Motion: Inspiration for harnessing the gifts of winter

Dr. Mahalia Freed, ND

As we sit in the depths of winter, as the days oh-so-slowly get longer, I am thinking about change and growth. I am cultivating the patience needed to await the return of the warm sun, and seeking tools to inspire and enrich continued personal evolution. Winter is often framed as something to endure while we wait for the slush to go away and the warmth of the sun’s rays to return so that we can dispense with bulky, dark winter coats, hats, scarves, mitts, and boots. However, the season offers its own gifts. Along with lovely snowscapes, it presents abundant opportunities for stillness, introspection, and inner growth.

I often tell clients and audiences at talks that the most powerful healing tool we have is between our ears. Our minds. So, let us launch into the new calendar year with intentions to better harness this tool.

What are you searching for this winter? Have you resolved to get outside more this year? To eat more veggies? To carve out time for some kind of spiritual practice? To be more present in the small moments that make up your day? What has stopped you from getting to these goals before now? Most often, it is our minds, particularly our outdated stories – the unexamined mental maps of who we are and who we can be– that get in our way. Use the tips and info below to inspire you to examine and rewrite those stories, starting now.
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Setting Intentions for the New Year

Dr. Mahalia Freed, ND

(Written and first published for January 2010)

Last New Year’s, a good friend and I spent a very long, snowy drive sharing and concretizing our intentions for 2009. It was an organic yet intentional conversation. We went back and forth, helping each other get more specific, as well as inspiring one another with our separate dreams. I wrote everything down while she drove. Sharing intentions in this way is something I truly value. Even if you do not have the same goals, this practice creates a context of support as you move through the year, giving you someone to check in with – someone who might notice if you, say, resolved to ski 3 weekends a month and haven’t been out once by March. This kind of social support can, for example, provide us with someone to talk to if we are frustrated by continuing to struggle with a relationship pattern we intend to overcome.

For example, one of the intentions we came up with – and enjoyed following through with during the year – was to cook dinner together on Sundays. The beauty of this plan is that it addressed a number of different intentions/resolutions in one: connection with friends, cooking nourishing food, and eating at home more often.

Without any plan to do so, the two of us ended up curled up together one night over the holidays, reflecting on 2009, and looking back at the intentions we articulated that day in the car, in order to see how we did with our goals. Both of us exceeded our own expectations for the changes we could accomplish, and what joy this could bring.

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