Practicing Conscious Gratitude

“The root of joy is gratefulness…It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.” 
― David Steindl-Rast

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In the Muppets’ Christmas Carol Movie, Kermit sings: “Tis the season to be jolly and joyous” . . . But what if you’re not feeling overly joyous? As we enter the holiday season this year, many people are feeling less than joyful. The political scene is grim and there is a lot to feel anxious and unhappy about. And for many, the idea of spending more time with family during the holidays does not fill the heart with glee. How you feel is your choice, daily. But if you want to feel more joy, not only this holiday season, but in general, there is an answer.

Science tells us that happiness and joy are things we can cultivate. Thanks to the advent of fMRI machines (functional magnetic resonance imaging), we can now watch our brains in real time and see which areas of the brain light up when we’re angry, frustrated, or joyful, and we can also watch the brain change depending on what we focus on. The idea that our brain architecture can change has been termed “neuroplasticity.”

We can literally rewire the neural pathways that regulate our emotions, thoughts, and reactions. This means we can create new neural pathways that lead us to compassion, gratitude, and joy instead of anxiety, fear, and anger. We can reprogram our brains’ automatic response with a conscious effort to build new pathways.

 

In a study done by The National Center for Biotechnology Information, Neural Correlates of Gratitude, it was found that gratitude can be a natural antidepressant. When we consciously focus on what we are grateful for, certain neural circuits are activated; when activated, an increase of dopamine and serotonin is produced, which is similar to how many antidepressants work.

Building new neural pathways may not come easily at first. A good analogy is bushwhacking through a jungle. Imagine trying to walk through a jungle in a dense rain forest. It requires a machete every step of the way to clear the path the first time through. After a few more times, you might lay down some stones to keep the path clear and eventually the path becomes a road and soon it becomes easily travelled. As you walk the path more and more, you continue to reinforce it and make it even stronger. Eventually, this new neural pathway becomes a habit.

To add to the strengthening of some pathways, our brain also has a way to ‘prune’ the pathways used less often. Scientists call this “use-dependent cortical reorganization,” meaning that we strengthen whichever neural pathways we use most often, and lose the ones we use the least. Hebb’s Lawstates “neurons that fire together, wire together.”

                    Neurons that fire together, wire together

 

So how do we do this? How do we create these new neural pathways and start to rewire our brain towards happiness, compassion, and joy? Many studieshave shown that cultivating gratitude, or practicing Conscious Gratitude, is the most powerful way to start building new pathways.

Seth Godin, best selling author, recently stated in an interview: “I think that gratitude is a profound choice. It is not just something that some people do. There is a way to look at life as either “have to” or a “get to”. There are all these things in life we could do because we have to do them, or there are things in life we do because we get to do them.”

Godin goes on to explain that this has nothing to do with the truth of what is going on in the world around you. It has to do with our narrative about what is going on.

Living life knowing you “get to” do something is better than constantly feeling like you have to. Godin poses the question: “What is the opposite of gratitude?” And he believes the opposite of gratitude is entitlement. “People who believe they are entitled to something, walk around expecting that the world owes them something, whereas the people who are grateful for something are eager to share that gratitude with others, and that lines up exactly with “have to” and “get to.”

So if we agree that being grateful can lead to joy, then how can we start feeling more grateful?

“Look closely and you will find that people are happy because they are grateful. The opposite of gratefulness is just taking everything for granted. ” ― David Steindl-Rast,

David Steindl-Rast, the highly-respected Benedictine monk, author and spiritual leader, explains his methodology for staying in a gratitude mindset in Anatomy of Gratitude:

“There is a very simple kind of methodology to it: stop, look, go. Most of us are caught up in schedules, and deadlines, and rushing around. And so the first thing is that we have to stop, because otherwise we are not really coming into this present moment at all. And we can’t even appreciate the opportunity that is given to us because we rush by. So stopping is the first thing … and finding something in that moment … I don’t speak of this moment as a ‘gift’, because you cannot be grateful for everything. You can’t be grateful for war, violence, domestic violence, or sickness, things like that. There are many things for which you cannot be grateful. But in every moment, you can be grateful. For instance, the opportunity to learn something from a very difficult experience. So opportunity is really the key when people ask, can you be grateful for everything? No, not for everything, but yes you can be grateful in every moment.”

Seth Godin believes that acting “as if” is underrated. “If you start acting as if you are grateful, you start feeling more grateful and you will become more grateful.”

Here are some things you can do right now to start practicing Conscious Gratitude:

1. Choose a time and focus on gratitude

Choose a specific time everyday where you will stop for a moment and focus on what you are grateful for in that particular moment.
I use 11:11. I have an alarm set on my phone to go off every day at 11:11. I stop whatever I’m doing (within reason- if I’m driving on a highway obviously I don’t stop) and I silently focus on what I am grateful for in that moment. Even if I’m stuck in traffic, I can be grateful for my car or a good sound system or enough money for gas to get me where I am going.

2. First thing in the morning, before your feet hit the floor, be grateful

Before you hop out of bed in the morning, take 30 seconds, (it really does not take more than that) to think about 3 things you are grateful for. This can be done silently in your head. Or better yet, if you have a partner that you share your bed with, ask each other to list those 3 things. It can be as simple as gratitude for a comfortable bed, a warm house, and a good nights sleep. It’s been shown that starting your day in gratitude positively impacts you for the rest of the day.

3. Start a Gratitude Journal

Choose a journal that you like the feel and the look of, and make sure that it is used solely for writing about things your are grateful for. How you write this is up to you; it can be as simple as list making. I like using colorful pens playing in my journal, but use what ever works for you. Make it a routine, try to write in it daily, even if it’s just for a few minutes a day.

4. Start new traditions in your family — like gratitude at meals

This may feel uncomfortable at first; but with time, the practice of going around the table and saying one thing you are grateful for that happened that day, can become a cherished family tradition. It’s a great conversation starter and a wonderful way to lift the energy at any meal time. Another tradition can be saying one thing you are grateful for before going off to sleep. If you have children, it is a wonderful way to end the day just before they go to sleep. Another tradition to reinforce gratitude in relationships is texting to a loved one in the middle of the day, one thing you appreciate about them. This works well with teens and couples with busy schedules.

So this holiday season, if you are hoping to embody Kermit’s words . . .

Tis the season to be jolly and joyous
With a burst of pleasure, we feel it arrive
Tis the season when the saints can employ us
To spread the news about peace and to keep love alive

. . . You can start by practicing gratitude consciously today. And if that doesn’t come naturally, start by ‘acting as if’ you are grateful. And pretty soon, what was once an act will become a habit.

 

I’ll close with a great interview with Brené Brown talking about Active Gratitude.

 

I’d love to hear how you practice conscious gratitude.
And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.

 

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Finding Purpose

“The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others.”

― Albert Schweitzer

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Almost 60 years old, and most of my friends and I still talk about finding our calling, finding life’s purpose. What are we truly meant to do?

Dave Isay, founder of StoryCorps explains:

“Finding your calling — it’s not passive. When people have found their calling, they’ve made tough decisions and sacrifices in order to do the work they were meant to do.  In other words, you don’t just “find” your calling — you have to fight for it. And it’s worth the fight. People who’ve found their calling have a fire about them,”

Isay has listened to thousands of people tell their story and describe fighting to find their purpose.  He describes his amazing work with StoryCorps in this great TED Talk – Everyone Around You Has a Story the World Needs to Hear:

 

A wonderful article in Daily Good elaborates on Isay’s findings by outlining the 7 lessons Isay describes in his new book:  “Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work.”

I love this first Lesson:

1. Your calling is at the intersection of a Venn diagram of three things: doing something you’re good at, feeling appreciated, and believing your work is making people’s lives better.

 

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That diagram shows the ‘sweet spot’ – intersecting three things: Doing something you are good at; intersecting with the knowledge that you are making people’s lives better – service; and feeling appreciated for this work.  This idea mirrors Albert Schweitzer’s quote:

“The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others.”

Your calling takes courage and doesn’t always pay well. But we know it when we are doing it.  We get in the flow; we feel good about ourselves and our work; time flies; and although the pay check may not be great, we keep doing it because we know it is right for us.

So I think it’s quite fitting to close with this video entitled: How to Know Your Life’s Purpose in 5 Minutes!  After all, at almost 60 many of us are running out of time!

I’d love to hear if you’ve found your life’s purpose and how you found it.  And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.

Giving Voice to Your Courage

One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.

– Maya Angelou

Giving voice to our courage. Such a wonderful concept. Thank you Dorit Sasson for the oportunity to be on your Blog Talk Radio Show.

What a wild ride I am currently on!  It is taking a helluva lot of courage at the moment as I navigate my way toward my publishing date. I am doing new things every day, facing new challenges and learning as I go.  This journey is not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure.

It is taking a courage I did not know I had – planning events, marketing myself, learning new things about how to use technology. Phew!  Thank goodness for my team behind me, helping me along the way. Thank God for my sons – teaching me about technology and guiding me as I learn. And thank you to people like Dorit that help me to get the word out about my book.

Thank you again to my son Lukas for getting my website set up – This Way Up Book.  On that site I will be listing events as they come up and I’ll be posting interviews as they happen.

Thank you to my son Devin for writing some music for me to use on my YouTube Page;  and to both Lukas and Devin for helping me get that page set up.  Watch this space as it evolves.

It’s all coming together, slowly but surely . . . running as fast as I can to keep up.

It’s a wild ride – but to be honest,  I am having a blast!

I’m going to close today in a slightly different way.  Instead of a You Tube Clip from someone else, I’m going to close with the Blog Talk Radio Interview with ME!  Feels surreal!

Please take the time to listen:

Giving Voice to Your Courage with Author Patti Clark

I’d love any feedback you have, and as always thanks for stopping by, I appreciate it.

 

 

This Way Up, The Website!

Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy

― Marcel Proust


I am so incredibly grateful to my son Lukas! He makes me very happy.

It’s an exciting time.  I saw/heard a message when I was meditating 2 days ago:

Envision what you want, do what needs to be done to set it up and step into the life you’ve created.

That’s exactly what it feels like I am doing at the moment. Now that my book is written, I am getting it out there. Lukas has built a beautiful website; I’ve had business cards made with the website and new email address; I’m setting up speaking and book events and I’m stepping into the life I’ve created.

Suffice it to say that at 58 (my birthday was yesterday!), building a brand new website, although not completely impossible for me, would be way way beyond my skill set.  As a matter of fact, most of the stuff going on in my life is way outside my comfort zone; I’m on a steep learning curve!

Please take some time and visit the new website; it’s crisp and clean and colorful and creative. It’s called:

This Way Up Book (www.thiswayupbook.com)

I’d love to hear what you think of it. You can comment on it here or on that website’s comment page.  I’ll be keeping workshops and events for the book updated there. So visit often!

I’ll close with a wonderful video about gratitude – because I’m sure feeling grateful today!

Discover the three keys of gratitude to unlock your happiest life!

The Power of Music

“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.”

– Aldous Huxley


My friend Tam sent me a beautiful video recently about the power of music.  It brought tears to my eyes.  I was thinking about it yesterday during a Creative Empowerment Workshop that Deb and I were running – I looked around watching the participants do their art, all listening to music.  Many were listening to the music that we supply, softly playing in the background; a few others had their own music playing on their ipods, but everywhere I looked people were immersed in some sort of music.  Near the end of the workshop, one participant said: “I really like the music you play during the workshop, I feel calm when I listen to it.”

Friedrich Nietzsche once said: “Without music, life would be a mistake.”  Too harsh perhaps?  But reading this article in one of my favorite blogs, Daily Good, I am moved to see Nietzsche point.  The article describes music “bridging life and death.”  It is an interview with the woman who founded  The Threshold Choir, Kate Munger.  In the article Munger describes the beginning of The Threshold Choir.

“In November of 1990 I was invited to spend a day with a friend of mine who was dying of HIV Aids. He was comatose, but very agitated.  I sat down by his bedside and didn’t know what to do. I waited and waited. All I knew to do, to calm myself, was to sing. So I sang one song and I sang it for two hours. I sang it over and over again. I watched his breathing slow, and he got much calmer. And I got much calmer, because it was a song that was really soothing to me personally. So as I got comfortable, he got comfortable and at the end of the experience I felt like I’d touched something very deep.”

Attached is the video that Tam emailed to me.  A lovely representation of the power of music.

Please let me know your thoughts on this video, and I’d love to hear any stories you have about the Power of Music in your life.

And as always thank you for taking the time to visit, I appreciate it.

More on being right or being happy . . .

“Do you prefer that you be right or happy?”

– A Course in Miracles


It’s been very interesting – I have received so many emails, Facebook comments, Twitters and personal conversations about my last post – Right or Happy?  Not always an easy decision.  It seems to have touched a chord in many people.  As a matter of fact, one article claims that this is the most quoted line from A Course in Miracles.

Do you prefer that you be right or happy?” This is surely one of the most frequently quoted lines in the Course, especially when Course students are engaged in a debate of some sort. When someone expresses a strong conviction—a belief that he or she is right about something—this line is often used to suggest that being right and being happy are mutually exclusive. You can either stand up for what you believe is right or you can be happy. There is no way you can be bothright and happy; this line from the Course says that you must give up any and all desire to be right in order to be happy. It has become a part of Course lore that we can be right or we can be happy, and never the twain shall meet.”

I don’t know if that’s true, that never the twain shall meet.  But I’ve talked to so many people in the last week who claim that this was the main cause of their divorce or separation from a loved one.  I know that when Jeff and I get in arguments, we usually back ourselves into our separate corners and argue our point, trying in vain to prove we are right.  Just as an aside, I’m about 5 foot tall and Jeff is over 6 foot tall.  We had a counselor once who suggested I stand on a chair when we argue to even us up so I don’t have to look up to him when trying to prove my point.  That one act, standing on a chair, usually helps to end the argument, not necessarily so I can argue my point better, but because it makes us laugh! And this eases the way for us to come out of the respective corners that we’ve been backed ourselves into and start to communicate differently. A sense of humor makes all the difference in the world.

There is an inspiring article about being right or happy on one of my favorite blogs, Positively Positive. Well worth a read.

This little video about being right or happy is kind of fun.  (The video ended up being an advertisement for starting your own business, which I’m not advocating, but the beginning of the vid is fun anyway.)

 

 

I’d love to hear about your experiences being Right or Happy.

And as always thank you for taking the time to visit, I appreciate it.

 

 

Right or Happy? Not always an easy decision.

“Would you rather be right or happy.”

– Hugh Prather


I was on a beautiful bike ride yesterday on the new Hauraki Rail Trail.  It was a beautiful day, sunny and stunning.

The only problem was that on the first part of the journey, my husband Jeff and I were in an argument.  The argument wasn’t huge, it was a revisit of a common theme.  I tend to hyperbolize things . . . (OK and occasionally make stuff up to make a better story), and Jeff tends to want the TRUTH with a capital T in most situations.  On this particular occasion, I was talking about something financial, and I did a bit of spinning a tale, and Jeff reacted, in my opinion over-reacted.

I won’t bore you with details, but suffice it to say that it somewhat ruined the first half of the ride for me.  At the spot where we were going to turn around, Jeff put on his goofy grin and said, so “Do you want to be right or happy?”  Which allowed me some space to see the humor, which opened up our communication and we could talk about this latest argument.  We talked about the workshop we did with Hugh and Gale Prather in Tucson, AZ back in 1989.  It was a relationship workshop and a central theme was Right or Happy.  Sigh – I usually want both.

The important realization I had  though, was that after talking at that mid-way point on the ride, I had such a better time on the second half of the ride.  Although I didn’t prove my point and make him see that he was wrong and I was right, I was so much happier after we were able to communicate through the difficulty and move on. The ability to communicate through it was the central key.  We both listened and tried to understand the others’ point of view – not to say that the other person was right or wrong, just to understand the other side and accept it as valid for that person.

Please don’t get me wrong, this is not an easy decision, and anyone who knows me – knows that I really like to be right!  But usually (always?)  in relationships there are two sides of a story, two experiences in an argument and both are usually valid depending on which angle you are viewing it from.  And yesterday, on the bike ride I viscerally felt the feeling . . . I’d rather be happy.  But damn, it is not always an easy decision.

For those of you who have not read Notes To Myself  by Hugh Prather – it is a beautiful book, well worth a read.  Here is a very short clip by Hugh Prather about Attitudinal Healing.

 

 

Please let me know your thoughts on Hugh Prather and any experiences you have being Right or Happy.

And as always thank you for taking the time to visit, I appreciate it.

 

 

 

 

Cooperation . . . we can make beautiful music together . . .

“We could make beautiful music together. “

– Gary Cooper


As I thought about my last blog post, Our Need For Connection, I started to wonder what is it that helps us connect, or fail to connect.  The first thing I thought of was communication. We need to communicate, to listen, to be present  with one another to find connection.  When we don’t communicate with respect, we fail to connect.

Someone once said: ” The basic building block of good communications is the feeling that every human being is unique and of value.  Communication and respect.

And then I thought of cooperation. We need to practice cooperation, working together with respect.

I think this music video by Walk Off The Earth is a brillian example of cooperation.  The song is pretty, the words are fine – but it is the cooperation between the artists in this video that, in my opinion, is absolutely stunning!  Watch how they work together.  It is Awesome!

 

I hope you enjoy this music video, and if you hadn’t heard of Walk Off The Earth before, watch them on YouTube, they are great.

And as always thank you for taking the time to visit, I appreciate it.

Who was your teacher?

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

– Zen Buddhist Saying


“Our bodies communicate to us clearly and specifically, if we are willing to listen to them.”

When I first read that statement by Shakti Gawain, I felt a tingle inside, and luckily for me, I finally listened.  I was finally ready to make some changes in my life.  If I had read Shakti Gawain’s timeless book, Creative Visualization a year earlier, it probably wouldn’t have moved me in the same way.

http://www.shaktigawain.com/

But because of where I was in my life, as I read her book, I felt the shift, I had the Ah-Ha Moment that I had heard others talk about.  I credit Shakti Gawain with waking me up, with being my teacher when I was finally ready.

Although actually, to back up a step, I would say that my sister Karin Clark would have been my real first teacher.  She saw in me my search for meaning, my longing for something more.  She saw that alcohol and partying was not only no longer enough to make me happy, but was actually beginning to destroy me.  It was my sister Karin who gave me that book, and who was and continues to be my teacher. I have never formally thanked her, so I want to do that now.  Thank you Karin, from the bottom of my heart.  In more ways than one, you saved my life.  I love you.

Who was your first teacher?  When did you have that Ah-Ha Moment?

The video below is an excerpt from an interview with Shakti Gawain about the process of creative visualization.

 

Please let me know what you thought of Shakti Gawain’s interview.  And I’d love to hear about how you found your own teacher.

As always thank you for taking the time to visit, I appreciate it.

 

How much is enough?

“Materialism can negatively influence well-being.”

– Ed Diener and Martin Seligman


We often get lost in the Myth of More – believing that “more” will make us happier – more clothes, more wine, more food, more money, more stuff!

In my post Finding Joy,  Michael Norton describes that people believe that the prospect of possessing things will make them happy.

https://patticlark.wordpress.com/2012/04/27/finding-joy/

But Diener and Seligman, leaders in Positive Psychology argue that from an economic point of view, materialism can actually negatively influence well-being.

http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2007/10/14/why-money-doesn-t-buy-happiness.html

And even when a business magazine  The Business Insider explored what will make you happy, more stuff was not on the list:

http://www.businessinsider.com/things-that-make-you-happier-2011-1#

So how much is enough?  In many articles, including this one on Zen Habits, it is argued that we already have enough now.

http://zenhabits.net/key-question-how-much-is-enough/

So instead of more stuff, most psychologists and even some economists are suggesting a change in attitude.

This wonderful video illustrates our rediculous attraction to more stuff and the damage it is doing to us and to our planet.

It is appropriately called The Story of Stuff.

 

Please let me know what you thought of The Story of Stuff.

And as always thank you for taking the time to visit, I appreciate it.