Beyond A New Year’s Resolution

A new year, a new you. Should the emphasis be on “new” or “renew”?

New Year’s Fireworks in Prater Park – Vienna


New Years Resolutions are very much a western idea, measurable goals if you will. The concept of “reflection” however, transcends many religious and spiritual traditions. What would you reflect on for the past year? Basic questions can include:

  • Did I learn from my successes and mistakes?
  • Have I changed at least one thing about my consumption habits that will lead to a better health outcome? (Diet, exercise, use of substances, financial spending)
  • Do I ask for help when I need it? (Social support, counseling, etc.)
  • Am I learning more about myself and others? Accepting those things I cannot change….
  • Do I better understand love, friendship, family, and society?
  • How often have I given thanks for what I have?
  • Have I visualized at least one goal that I managed to succeed at?

The above help one gain “insight” and it could be a habit each year to reflect using a journal about what we accomplished during the previous year, and what we hope to accomplish or strive for in the next.

Some common goals like “exercise more” seem unattainable in the strict sense (e.g. join a gym, run a marathon) either for physical or monetary reasons or life circumstances. If you focus on what you’ve done and congratulate yourself for persistence and alternative course of action it’s more effective than being unreasonably hard on yourself.  Work toward “renewing” your outlook. Even Forbes Magazine had a set of New Year’s Resolutions to focus more on the ‘we’ and less on the ‘me’… what our overly narcissistic culture needs to be reminded of!

Examining patterns of behaviors will help you recognize them faster. We often think that we will remember everything but our memory deludes us, think “false memories.” It is most useful to write things down as your pattern may become more obvious — that “aha!” moment. Think about these issues:

Financial health — do you continuously spend more than you earn? We’re not saying starve here, or not “treat” yourself to something nice like a good bottle of wine, a fancy dinner, a new shirt or dress. BUT, do you really need to buy caviar and champagne, or the most expensive shoes for that night out? The basic rules most financially responsible families pass on to their children are:

  • track what you spend your money on
  • pay for necessities (for your health, food, insurance)
  • don’t rely on credit (pay off debts)
  • invest (start with your time, create ideas, start small think bigger) and reinvest (training and education).
  • teaching children at each stage (7 Smart ways parents teach kids about money; Parents.com even has a set of age-by-age list of money teaching recommendations).

Physical health – Can you modify some things? Take public transport and walk longer distances as this will help you get more in shape and notice things you would otherwise miss if you were driving! I often observe architecture and stores, take photos!

One night I walked 2 miles in the cold from the metro/subway in the middle of the Moonlit night….crisp January nights can offer one the most amazing ‘star’ features, you just need to be aware of your surroundings (and any stray dogs).

Rococo architecture (photo as roadside observer)!

Relationship health — Do your relationships fulfill most of your needs? This includes friendships as well as romantic relationships (are these ‘needs’ realistic…. not narcissistic?). The key here is, do these people enhance you overall? are these people  well-intended or do they drain you? (if they are toxic to your health think about setting some limits) Are you able to forgive and put your ego aside and apologize when it is needed?

People come into your life to offer something, teach you something, share something. The Eurythmics song “Sweet Dreams” says it best — some of them want to use you, some of them want to get used by you, some of them want to abuse you, some of them want to be abused… keep your head up!

There are many articles about healthy relationships which includes

  • supporting each other, open or improving communication, reducing our expectations (too many romance novels or unrealistic movie experiences of ‘romance’ or ‘love’ may add to unrealistic expectations — do you really think you will fall in love with someone you meet at a bar? rarely happens…),
  • keeping our bodies safe (no abuse/violence – check out the Duluth Model “Power and Equality Wheels”, preventing STDs/STIs/HIV by using condoms every time you have sex, getting annual check-ups like pap smears).
  • Long-term support and commitment may be better for our health — marriage may not be such a ‘bad’ thing! Are you a commitment phobic? seems to be a trend according to experts, reinforced by our fast-paced societies. 
  • Many people afraid to even take one basic step into the sea of a more fulfilling ‘relationship’ often let their lives pass them by… they are so afraid of being ‘hurt’ again, they simply shut down and close off any chances of love.

A very useful book about this was written by a Rabbi,  “Why Can’t I Fall in Love? A Twelve-Step Program” to get you to think about your patterns — do you often pick the ‘wrong’ people, do you sabotage your relationships, do you think everyone is not perfect or you’re too picky? have you closed yourself off to love?

A great movie (the book is better) on the reality of our self, potential limitations, and sometimes luck in finding love is “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert. The emphasis for me on mindfulness, and especially allowing yourself indulgences like food without guilt, dressing for yourself and not others, are very important in a society obsessed with perfection… and no, you don’t need to travel to Indonesia, India, or hike the Himalayan mountains to find peace. Then again the experience of seeing truth ‘in front of us’ sounds a bit like Paulo Coelho’s book The Alchemist.

Spiritual health — Do you feel you have a place in the world?  Do you feel you have a healthy relationship with God? (even agnostics or atheists in times of trouble may question if there is something ‘more’, and we know from research that those with a spiritual foundation fare better long-term in terms of their health outcomes).  The turning point for me was meeting renowned cosmologists and physicists who in essence are scientists, they also understand there is something greater, we are all interconnected, we simply need to ‘notice’ more and work together.  For counselors and for self-improvement I recommend Scott Peck and Thomas Moore books.  My favorites are: “The Road Less Traveled” by Psychiatrist Scott Peck, M.D. and “Care of the Soul” by a former monk turned psychologist, Thomas Moore. For healing trauma, see Edward Tick, Ph.D. books based on ancient rituals of healing such as “The Practice of Dream Healing: Bringing Ancient Greek Mysteries Into Modern Medicine.”

“Disappointments in love, even betrayals and losses, serve the soul at the very moment they seem in life to be tragedies. The soul is partly in time and partly in eternity. We might remember the part that resides in eternity when we feel despair over the part that is in life.” ― Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life

2natures

Do it yourself …Hufflepuffs!

What inspires you to CHANGE how you see things?

Color your life, with change!

Do you make positive change, clean your neighborhood, or wait for (and hope) others to do so ? Is it nature or nurture?

The question always raised by fields like applied psychology (developmental, social, environmental …research is similar), socio-linguistics (“language creates culture” versus the typical Chomsky nativist view of the “language acquisition device” or LAD). 

Our nature is influenced by our environment and so this interaction creates change, for better or worse.

Speaking of language, a recent blog post about “Shiny, Happy People…” by Fractured-Faith resolved that there is a certain ‘insincerity’ and even ‘fakeness’ of some people who appear happy and ‘perfect’ all the time. This might be true, as it is likely cultural (or ‘sub-cultural’ not just ethnicity). There is reason why the rest of the world refers to the U.S. ‘happy’ and there is a popular song by Pharell Williams …. “cause I’m Happy!”

Why are we not happy? Why should we not be happy? And do we want more misery and unhappiness which we see a lot? Is it true that misery loves company? Is this why some people don’t make even the simplest changes in the way they live? Is it a choice

We cannot deny what we see “Beauty and the Trash,”  “Transformers,” “respite and public spaces” many cities are making choices for positive change and this includes working with local artists. Making even the smallest change to our environments adds more positivity and hope to all who live or work there. A book written in 1992 about Care of the Soul by Psychologist Dr. Thomas Moore for me was pivotal about this issue. He emphasizes changing our attitude, maintaining our friendships and our surroundings, our home “no matter how big or small,” to help us in the short and long-term. 

We see that even in several low-income neighborhoods with poor homeowners (family inheritance) or just plain poor, when one maintains what they have and doesn’t  focus only on how much “money they don’t have“ —  the financial component — places where people look out for each other and take care of their surroundings, it creates a sense of trust, fulfillment, and often change. Lately in most cities, due to high crime and globalization we see entire sections of uncared for “overly-tagged,” full of trash neighborhoods and municipalities. We know that when communities make the decision to change, they can. One great example is a once down-trodden neighborhood near Boston, the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) that continues to make change for residents through today.

8fe93496-d38a-4589-9f80-3025d2a3893bCreating murals that beautify, a simple act of painting over an otherwise ugly metal object add beauty, meaning, and value to a community.

Some say these acts can help to reduce crime (think “broken window syndrome”) as more local businesses open to attract visitors thus increasing local income.

Young people off the street with more jobs, happier people… domino effect.  Maybe some of us would rather have some ‘fake’ happiness through these small but important changes, than all the misery (and jealousy) that we experience on a daily basis?

Over the years, having visited countless neighborhoods including villages, towns, cities, in Europe and the Americas as well as parts of the Middle East, I realize it’s a matter of community choice and more importantly individual efforts. As a matter of fact, universities like MIT even are studying this on a larger scale —  a friend first told me about environmental re-engineering (in the 1990s, wow!) that included work spaces — from the ergonomic cubicles to the broad table placed strategically as a meeting area for people to gather — and being serious about studying change in public spaces .“Build it and they will come,” “no man is an island unto himself,” “Just DO it” are all well-known quotes that apply well here. This month, we did it. Working hard to plan for some research and community collaborations. And on an individual level what did I do? 

♥ Made the change for ourselves, and  painted the common space that was soiled from mold and mildew because ‘no one bothered’ all these months… and the outcome was worth it.

Unknowned503f04-2a78-42e8-b73d-d36977f98dbf

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 9826b99f-635d-428f-9961-758e8c6226b8.jpegAccording to the world of Harry Potter, one can discover what personality type they are. For example, the hard-working  Hufflepuffs (answer the questions via the Sorting Hat in “Pottermore” to discover your ‘House’).  

These individuals are the supposed honest ”worker-bees” and the related color is yellow. Are they ‘as good as gold’? In Don Lowry’s “True Colors” this person would be a “gold”,  going back to Ancient Greek philosophy or medicine  — Plato’s sensible type or Hippocrates’ black bile humor. All individuals are of course one part of the balance of life, as there are various personality types, but we need more community builders!

Speaking of bees, a recent scientific debate declared that bees are the most important ‘beings’ on our planet as they are in danger of becoming extinct ….they both contribute to our healthy ecosystems through pollination as well as by the healing power of their honey (see scienceandinfoblogpost).

We need to know and communicate about these issues to increase our community health literacy. We need to ‘spread the word’ that simple acts like adding more potted flowers attracts more bees (they have done in Denmark), and adds beauty and value to any neighborhood. And who knows, once one person starts, then another, and another….

One house, repainted, with the love of flowers…. in a lower income neighborhood.

Individual and community efforts, in often down-trodden and neglected communities make our daily life more beautiful and create hope.

 

Pomegranates, bittersweet moments

Demeter, goddess of agriculture,harvest and fertility, is a reminder of seasonal changes, human bounty, and potential loss. As the gods and goddesses of Ancient Greece mirrored human nature, one may say as a mother she surely felt a great emptiness when her daughter Persephone was lured by Hades into the underworld disappearing from beloved earth grounds. Hades, a dark figure (may be something like a modern Darth Vader) convinces the kind-hearted Persephone to fall for him offering her a pomegranate. By eating a few seeds she consummates this relationship so that even the great leader-god Zeus could not intervene, thus Persephone travels to Hades part of the year, and as she re-emerges her mother, Demeter brings flowers and the budding of Spring —  a beautiful myth! Writers talk about the necessity of change, darkness being a necessary part of our healing (Thomas Moore “Dark Nights of the Soul”).

The continued pagan tradition of the pomegranate, a bittersweet food of seeds or squeezed into juice, rich in vitamin C and anti-inflammatory properties, is added with barley / bulgar wheat, to commemorate death of loved ones as part of the memorial services of several Eastern Orthodox traditions (called “kolyva” κόλλυβα). There’s a great list of benefits including helping weight loss indicated in a popular fitness magazine, Shape (pomegranate info).

Late this past August through September we experienced several losses — mainly through accidents —filling us with shock, sadness and grief. Perhaps due to fate, some incidents may have been preventable. One great loss was of a couple, namely Dr. Chris and Ms. Claudia Lolas, also promoters of Greek Culture and history in bridging cultures (Ancient Persia – Iran & Ancient Greece … book written in Greek and edition in Farsi and in English forthcoming). These were great friends or family to some as their losses were amidst many other tragedies happening around the globe during those weeks. Prevention is key and such an intricate part of building health literacy.

As all good researchers do, and after an “unfair” speeding ticket I realized that we CAN do something to helping individuals and communities learn about safer driving and advocacy for better roads. In a small but winding distance from one town to another town in Southern Peloponnese (Greece) we counted 39 small memorial “churches” (10 were in straight others on curved road) clearly speeding, two-way traffic, bad weather conditions, malfunction of vehicle or motorbike, inadequate visual cues doesn’t help. GIS mapping can help track possible driving areas that need more attention.

Schools need to promote health literacy via health education, promotion of community health goals. Police can offer special trainings in conjunction with municipalities on good driving, but they must also be consistent in ticketing (speed traps, alcohol testing) and their police cars manned with appropriate equipment.

As individuals we should model good driver behavior for our younger citizens soon-to-be drivers! Here are some ways:

  • Mind our speeding (great articles such as prevent speeding or one by mechanics).
  • Wear seatbelts and ensure passengers are secure (children with safety car seats, etc,).
  • Follow Road Rules and demand clearer road signs as well as some helpful solar powered signs that “show” our speed.
  • Mind the drinking  cup !
  • Remember even if it’s not obvious, pedestrians DO and should have the right of way.

After my speeding fine and finally getting my license back (rules are very strict in this part of the world) I’m definitely checking my speedometer more often. Last night an expensive car went whizzing past me, only to be caught in a police speed trap further down and this time it was justified…as for me, a safe and guilt free ride home, in thinking of my lost friends, truly a bittersweet moment.