What we say matters.

There is energy and power in our words. People around us tune in.

Anyone who was paying attention in language class learned that words have two kinds of meaning. The obvious one is “denotation” which is the literal or primary meaning of a word, in contrast to the feelings or ideas that the word suggests. Those  ideas or feelings are the “connotation,” the subtle meaning of the word—the overtone, undertone, implication, nuance or suggestion invoked by the word.

Consider a couple health-related examples that illustrate these subtle differences.

  • I suffer with migraines.  vs  I experience migraines.
  • I’m a cancer victim (cancer survivor).  vs I’m a person who has (has had) cancer.

Do you notice that in each pair, the first (and most-common) way of stating the issue carries a sense of victimhood?

Michelle Gielan, national CBS News anchor turned positive psychology researcher, is the bestselling author of Broadcasting Happiness. She brings together an interesting combination of perspectives to address questions such as “How can we deliver negative news in a way that empowers?” To my way of thinking, the second parts of the above examples do just that—they present ones’ condition in an empowering way, for both the individual and the people around them. They are uplifting in difficult situations.

In the video that follows, Gielan demonstrates how small changes in our use of words can have big effects, and gives examples of practical strategies to use the principles uncovered in her research.

Her presentation was part of a conference for business people, but we can all apply these strategies in daily life. For instance, she briefly refers to two characteristics of optimism, and I think they bear repeating:

  • Expect that good things will happen.
  • Believe that your behaviour matters.

If we can foster optimism in the people we care about, we’ll go a long way toward creating resilience that will help us navigate through this troubled world.

The bad news…

Negative messages can have a negative effect on  our energy, our stress, and our happiness. Geilen’s research showed that watching just 3 minutes of negative news in the morning means there is a 27% higher likelihood that 6 – 8 hours later we will report having had a bad day.

How can we stay informed without getting depressed?

  1. Get news online. This gives you more control because you can choose the headlines you click and the sources you access.
  2. Choose content that will fuel you. Look for media sources that practice solutions focused journalism. They fuel you with inspiration by not only reporting what went wrong but showing you the way forward with stories about people who are effectively dealing with the situation. They include both the problem and potential solutions in the story.

Solutions Journalism Network is “enabling journalism by reporting on who’s doing it better, and how.”

To explore more of Michelle Gielan’s ideas, go to her website,  I enjoyed the free three-part series of short segments that you can get via e-mail by signing up at Broadcastinghappiness.com/happiness.

Change your mindset, change the game.

Beliefs can be changed

The psychological and physiological effects of anything in our lives can be influenced by our mindset. That means what you think can change your body’s response.

For example, if you think stress is bad for you, your body will respond accordingly. Continue reading

Security or Expansion?

Humans are wired to seek security.  It’s how we survived, individually and as a species. It’s in our genes.

Seeking security leads us to entrench in the familiar, which includes the way we do things and how we think. We become “set in our ways.” We forget how to venture out and explore. We develop a fixed mindset.

That’s the contracted state I found myself in a couple years ago. I had the security of familiarity. But I wasn’t very happy. Truly, I was bored with myself. Continue reading

A year has passed!

I started posting weekly blogs on my birthday a year ago. Since I’m the leading edge of the Baby Boom, and am now a year older, aging seemed a good topic for today.

But first, a video of my absolute-favourite song about getting old. When I first heard it, I couldn’t imagine being 64. When I got there, I made sure to listen to this song on my birthday. Today, I’m happy to share it with you. And if you want the lyrics to belt it out with them… Continue reading

What kept me going?

There have been parts of the last 15 years that were neither easy nor fun. People sometimes ask what kept me going. That is something I have wondered myself. I’ve distilled it down to innate optimism, a strong connection with my inner knowing, and an intense sense of purpose. I was born with all of them, and have consciously cultivated them over the years.

A healthy streak of optimism…

Optimism is hopefulness and confidence about the future. You might think of it in terms of the glass half empty/glass half full metaphor. When optimism becomes extreme, it falls off the edge into being Pollyannaish. Continue reading

Beyond Informed Choice

Eleanor Roosevelt on choice

Choice is our greatest power. It’s what allows us to use all our resources to live our best lives.  But the consumer culture trains us to make decisions by default rather than by conscious choice. Truth is, questioning the status quo and making conscious choices can seem daunting. Many of us are happy to let others decide because we don’t know how to make choices consciously.

Living by default

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Integrative Medicine

When Pamela Wible MD held a meeting to find out what would create an ideal medical experience for patients in her town, she discovered they wanted an integrative approach to their medical care. What exactly is that? And why would they want it?

What is integrative medicine?

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Build a new model for achieving health? There is hope.

Just who is fixing the healthcare system? That’s the question I asked at the end of last week’s blog when I discussed having empathy for our doctors, who must work in a broken system.

So, who is trying to make it better? Apparently not our governments who, despite sometimes-good intentions, become bogged down in bureaucracy. And not conventional medical channels, through which it takes 17 years for new information to make it into clinical practice.

Patients?

In a limited way, we can contribute to making things better by keeping ourselves as healthy as possible so as not to over-use the system. We don’t have to ask permission or medical sanction to eat fresh food, plant a garden, think differently about our stress, take probiotics, get a pet, meet new people, move our bodies, improve the quality of our sleep, and be of service to others.

Doctors?

Continue reading

Have empathy for your doctor.

Regular readers will know that I’m a fan of active engagement in our health-related decisions. To do this effectively, it helps to know several things about the healthcare system. This understanding will relieve your frustration with the way things are, and it may also make you more empathetic toward the doctor who doesn’t listen when you try to participate.

1. The healthcare system is a product of the consumer culture, and is designed around money.

Doctors are paid for a very short appointment time with each patient, usually about 10 minutes. That means appointments are booked close together and the doctor is invariably running late by the time the first patient leaves.

From the patient point of view, this means a long wait after arriving at your scheduled time. It also means your doctor may seem rushed, harried, and unwilling to listen to your explanation of what’s going on with your health. And, if you have the impression that doctors only want to hear about one issue at the appointment, that’s true. Ten minutes doesn’t allow enough time to sort out even one problem, never mind a complex health issue.

Sanity strategies…

  • Take a book, listen to your iPod, or decide to enjoy leafing through magazines you don’t normally read.
  • Meditate. Put on your sunglasses and no one will be the wiser. You’ll be refreshed instead of frazzled by the wait.
  • Book your appointment far enough in advance so that you can get the first slot in the morning or after lunch.
  • Don’t plan your next activity for the day based on the time you would be free if you got in to see the doctor as scheduled. You know it isn’t going to happen, so be realistic and save yourself the stress.

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Only time will tell the whole story.

I welcome reader comments on my blog. They get me thinking. Here’s one, in response to my post, written after I tripped and gave myself a black eye.

Great blog today. I love how an unfortunate event becomes blog fodder. 😊

It made me aware that I hadn’t actually thought of my black eye as unfortunate. And with that awareness, I remembered the story that first shifted my thinking about good and bad fortune.

Here’s a charming version, narrated by philosopher, writer, and speaker, Alan Watts. Born in England, he moved to the US in 1938 and began Zen training in New York. Watts, who died in 1973, is best known as an early interpreter and popularizer of Eastern philosophy for a Western audience.

So what can we make of this ancient teaching?

Continue reading