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positive psychology

5 Commuting Tips: Work Charms Series

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I have recently embarked on my first real “city rush hour” commute, and oh boy, I haven’t been missing out on anything. The experience, however, has given me some opportunities to reflect on how I can make my commute more Enchanted, so I thought I would bring it up as part of the Work Charms series. I’m by no means a commuting expert, but I wanted to share a few things I’ve learned along the way. Feel free to share your own tips with me as well; I could certainly use them!

1. Be mindful. Of course, we should be mindful of other commuters, but what I actually mean by this is to consider our commute as part of our day, rather than just a transition time between here and there. Our time is valuable and I find that I am much more content if I am appreciating what I am doing in and of itself, rather than just treating it as something that will bring me to the next thing on my to-do list.

2. Explore the senses. Keep your eyes on the road, of course, but being considerate of your senses can be a nice thing. I recently cleaned my car out and got some new air freshener, which smells nice. I also have some new music. I like to bring tea or coffee with me. If you commute by bus, walking, or bike, you may not have as much control over your environment but maybe you can take the time to look around you and explore something you hadn’t noticed before.

3. Invest in yourself. I am currently listening to some sociology and psychology books I had on Audible that I never had a chance to listen to before. After that, I plan to listen to a Korean language series. Consider how much time you have on your commute. Now, imagine that you have that much time every day to take a class or to learn something new. What would you invest in for that amount of time?

4. Practice compassion. It’s easy to find ourselves angry when people cut us off or drive recklessly. There is a quote by Thich Nhat Hanh I like to remember when I’m not feeling compassionate, which is: “When a person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over.” This reminds me that another person’s careless behavior says more about their own emotional state than it does about me personally. So, I can empathize with their sense of stress or urgency and let my own anger go.

5. What happens on the commute stays on the commute. By that I mean, don’t let a bad commute ruin your whole day. You can treat the time that you arrive at your workplace as a new day and a fresh chance to start over. Take a moment after you arrive at your destination to take some deep breaths, have a little tea or coffee, and start your day anew when you enter your workplace.

Do you have any tips for how to make a commute more pleasant?

5 Morning Routine Tips: Work Charms Series

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Hello all. If I’ve been a bit quiet as of late, it’s because I just completed an intensive training for a new job. I’m currently working for a children’s literacy nonprofit, which as you might imagine is a dream come true for me.

All this time navigating a new work environment has had me thinking a lot about how I can apply an Enchanted Outlook to the workplace. Now, I’m not a workplace guru by any stretch of the imagination, but I’d like to share a thing or two I’ve been thinking about in a new series called Work Charms. And no, this is not about impressing your coworkers with your charming charisma, but rather little tweaks or “charms” we can make in our day to make for a happier work life.

So, let’s start with morning. Here are a few things I have been working on doing before I even step foot in the car.

1. Don’t press snooze. I have, historically, been the worst about this, even after a full night’s sleep. I am not the kind of person to want to hop out of bed. In fact, I tend to hit the snooze button until the last possible minute. Science does say, though, that hitting snooze isn’t great for us. Lately, I have decided that if I’m not jumping up to start my day, I can at least be upright. I will grab a blanket and the mug of water on my bedside table and sit on my yoga mat for five to ten minutes, until I have woken up more. (A chair works too; I just don’t have room for one in my bedroom.) This quiet time allows me to transition from sleep to wakefulness without being too grumpy.

2. Practice gratitude. This time I am slowly waking up is a good time to practice gratitude. Truth be told, I had some genetic testing done last year for a potentially life-threatening condition and was fortunate that the results were negative. Ever since that time, I have practiced gratitude for every day that I am alive. I have realized that every day is not something that is owed to me, but rather a gift I can be grateful to have. Along those lines, I reflect on how to make the most out of my day.

3. Capsule wardrobe. I know, they’re everywhere lately. Mine isn’t a true “capsule” with strict rules, but rather I try to stick primarily to neutral solids (black, brown, camel, navy, cream) for the majority of my clothes, and add a pop of pattern or color here and there. I set out my clothes the night before, but if I ever forget, it’s not too hard to pull something together quickly.

4. Rule of 3. I usually don’t do more than three makeup items (like foundation, eye liner, mascara) and usually don’t do more than three accessories (like glasses, belt, necklace). That’s just a personal preference, but I like to keep it simple.

5. Simple nutrition. I’m passionate about wellness, but lazy about breakfast. Since I know that about myself, I did some research into the healthiest breakfast bars. My favorite are Lara Bars, but I also like Kind bars and Kashi bars. It’s probably healthier and cheaper to make overnight oats or have a banana with peanut butter or something, but “Morning Stacey” seems to just want to grab a breakfast bar and go. So, I at least try to make sure it’s a somewhat healthy one.

There you have it. If it isn’t obvious, I’m NOT a morning person. Kudos to those who go about their mornings with flair. For the rest of us, I hope one of these tips was helpful.

Is there something you have added to your morning routine that is particularly helpful?

 

Contentment or Growth?

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Today’s post is more question than answer, but it’s something that’s been on my mind a lot this past week. I have sometimes been jokingly told in my life that I’m too content, complacent, even. This is usually related to sensory things like food and clothing, as I’m more of an ideas/imaginative thinker and don’t prioritize concrete, sensory things very much. It’s rare that I don’t appreciate a meal, for instance, so long as it hasn’t gone bad. It’s sustenance and I’m grateful for that. I’ve been grappling lately with when we should want to grow and change and when to practice gratitude and contentment.

Some choices are clear with this. I think that situations that involve harm to others or any kind of immorality require growth and change. In contrast, I think that, when it comes to living an overly-consumerist lifestyle and in situations where we are always looking outward for the “next fix”, we might do well to practice more contentment and be more grateful for what we already have.

So I guess my question is, if you could pick one way to live your life, would it be a life of growth and change, or a life of contentment and gratitude? Why? Or, do you have a way that combines both growth and contentment?

Tolkein Food Quote

Optimism Do’s and Don’ts

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The Original Phoenix wrote a wonderful post recently called 4 Ways Positive Thinking Helps Me that got my wheels turning, particularly since she mentioned some articles that were critical of positive thinking. I had seen some similar anti-optimism articles circulating lately and have been wanting to address both sides of the coin. When I worked as a suicide prevention instructor, I had given a lot of thought to when and in what ways optimism is helpful and when it is not so helpful. I decided to compile a little guideline to optimism from what I had learned through work and also through personal research.

1.Do practice gratitude.

Studies have shown that practicing gratitude has a very positive effect on mental health along with tons of other benefits. I like to think of what I am grateful for when I wake up in the morning. It puts my stresses in perspective.

2. Don’t ignore your own feelings.

In America where I live, there can be this kind of expectation of optimism that sometimes makes it hard to NOT look on the bright side. Think about it: what’s the standard answer to the question, “How are you?” Do people really want to hear any answer other than “good?” But denying our own feelings isn’t helpful. We can be honest with our own feelings and still hope for a positive outcome in difficult times.

3. Do find the silver lining.

When bad things happen to us, it’s very easy to focus on what else could go wrong. I am guilty of this as well. While being prepared for the worst isn’t a bad thing, I do like to take a moment to ask myself, “what could go right?” What opportunities could come from a bad situation? What can be learned? How can this experience lead to growth?

4. Don’t be blindly optimistic when the consequences are high.

There are many times when it pays to be optimistic. When the consequences of failure are high, it doesn’t pay to be optimistic.* In other words, go into that job interview optimistic; what’s the worst that can happen? But don’t start up that full passenger jet plane with the check engine light on and hope for the best. Blind optimism in risky situations is not a good thing.

5. Do make optimism intentional.

It’s easy to fall into a rut of our traditional thinking and forget to be optimistic; I’ve certainly been there. That’s why I try to make time for optimism. Optimism can help  with ability to cope with stress, our social support, our health, our career, our longevity, and more* so there are a number of reasons why it pays to be a little optimistic besides just “feeling good.”

6. Don’t forget to wallow now and again.

Is there anything more cathartic than a good cry? When I was little and I would cry, my mom would read me the Owl at Home story about “Tearwater Tea.” Owl wants to make his favorite tea, so he thinks of sad things like broken chairs and forgotten spoons until he has filled up a teapot with his tears. As silly as it is, it’s a reminder that a good cry once in a while is important. Just make sure that wallowing is a place you visit on occasion, and not a place you live full-time.

7. Do defend your own personal boundaries.

Don’t let others tell you how you should or shouldn’t feel. You are feeling miserable today? Feel miserable. Feeling optimistic? Feel optimistic. Exploring our own emotions is a very personal journey and shouldn’t be invalidated by others. It’s okay to feel what you need to feel. Even this post; if you’re not feeling it today, it’s okay to say, “no thanks” and come back to it another time.

8. Don’t force optimism on others.

On the flip side, it isn’t helpful to force our feelings on others when they come to us for help. Truly listening involves accepting how someone else is feeling with no strings attatched. I have found that when we listen in a non-directive way, it is easier for people to talk through their own feelings and to find a solution that works best for them. Often this process leaves people feeling much more optimistic in the end than if we try to force them to feel how we feel about a situation.

I hope this has been a helpful guide to optimism. And speaking of gratitude, thanks to The Original Phoenix for the inspiration. Be sure to check out her blog for posts about mental health, college life, and the power of human potential.

Source: Positive Psychology: Theory, Research and Applications, by Kate Hefferon and Ilona Boniwell

Witchcraft?

Pictured here: Stacey, who is, incidentally, not a witch.
It took me six whole months writing a blog on magic to be accused of witchcraft and demonic influence. I can’t decide if that is a success or a failure on my part, since I thought it would happen much sooner. Perhaps it is a testament to the respectfulness and open-mindedness of bloggers on the whole.

While I try to make a point not to respond to those types of comments, this person did bring up a good point that I have been meaning to address. What do I mean when I use words like magic and enchantment? Truth be told, I haven’t delved into this much intentionally, because I am working on another project that goes into this distinction in much more detail and didn’t want to repeat myself too much.

My inspiration for this blog was primarily a quote from J.B. Priestly:

 

“I have always been delighted at the prospect of a new day, a fresh try, one more start, with perhaps a bit of magic waiting somewhere behind the morning.”

 

In short, I use the word magic in a literary sense as a metaphor for happiness and I use the word enchantment to mean having an optimistic mindset, since an enchantment in fantasy means a change in perception. Fantasy literature has, in fact, used magic in this same context since the late 1800s and rarely uses it in the spiritual/religious sense of the word.

That said, I also understand that I have readers of all different spiritual beliefs. If my blog inspires you, whether it enhances your mental wellness, your spiritual journey, or your literary understanding, I am very happy to have you as a reader. I don’t believe it is my job as a writer to determine in what ways my writing will (or won’t) impact my readers, and truly, it is the responses and interpretations I didn’t even think of that make my keeping a blog worthwhile. So please keep reading, and may your days be filled with more magical moments than you can count.

New Year’s Resolution: Five Things Learned So Far

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I am now on my third month of my resolution to invest in growth, both in my personal growth and in the world around me. Here are a few things I have learned:

1.Investments come in all shapes and sizes. I was a bit worried about investing in growth this year because my budget is tighter right now than normal and my life has been pretty chaotic lately. There are a few things, like purchasing a news subscription, that I have decided to hold off on. BUT, I have realized that there are so many things we can do to invest in ourselves and the world around us that cost nothing or can even save us money. I have enjoyed consuming a more plant-based diet, simplifying my cosmetic/beauty ritual with more versatile and ethical products like shampoo bars, purchasing re-usable products rather than disposable ones, learning new things through Youtube and Netflix, and becoming more politically active. I know that when I do have more flexibility in my budget again, I will be able to save more money because of these budget-cutting changes.

2. Not everyone gets on board. I’ve shared a lot of my changes with friends and family, with varied results. I’ve had one person ask me why I would shop at a co-cop or farmer’s market when Kroger was so much cheaper. I tried to explain that I shop healthier there and purchase less junk food and less meat, so I actually save money, both literally and in healthcare costs down the road. Got a blank look from that one. I’ve shared some Facebook links encouraging a call to action that got very minimal responses. (Having worked for a nonprofit before, I expected that.) But, sharing information isn’t so much for all the people who don’t respond as for the people who DO find the information useful or inspiring. That makes it worth it.

3. You learn what people DO want to invest in. For all the moments I thought people would respond and they didn’t, there were some that surprised me, like the time I shared the $10/month Mighty Fix subscription I bought back in September and got a HUGE response with tons of comments and even people texting me for more information. Another time, I asked for documentary recommendations for me to watch so I could learn new things and got so many responses I still haven’t watched them all. So, sometimes the things people do get involved with can surprise you.

4. Perfectionism is a thing. Because so much of what I am doing involves self-improvement, I do sometimes feel a little hypocritical when I fall short of my own expectations. I eat fast food with a client about once or twice a week and I am still beating back an insatiable sweet tooth daily. I’ve been wanting to reduce my trash, but have thrown away a lot of trash lately since I’ve been cleaning out my house. I’ve found myself questioning things I say or how I present myself if it isn’t “growth-oriented” and have to remind myself to invest in self-care and authenticity, too. I’ve second-guessed a few purchases that were not the most ethical or the most prudent choices. When these things happen, I just try to remind myself that growth is not linear. The important thing, I think, is not to restrict ourselves or think about what we “should” be doing but rather to enjoy the process of growth and to realize all the ways our lives are enriched by making positive changes.

5. Growth is a mindset, not a temporary change. There is actually a wonderful book that goes into this in much more detail by Carol Dweck. In this process, I have realized that it is not so much about the physical changes I am making, though they have certainly been impactful to me, but in nourishing my ability to affect change in myself and to share that with others. It’s had a huge impact on my perceived self-efficacy. Things like learning new facts that have completely blown my mind, getting responses to emails I have sent out to political leaders, having people contact me to ask questions about changes I am making, figuring out simpler ways to perform everyday tasks- those things have made me realize that investing in growth is a lifestyle change that could potentially have ripple effects within myself and maybe even in my community as well. It’s that realization, even more than the actual changes, that has had a huge impact on my outlook in life.

Six Myths About Happiness Explained


Exploring how life’s magic leads to happiness has lead me down some peculiar paths and has lead me to some even more peculiar ideas about happiness. I would like to clarify some of these ideas and explain what the field of positive psychology has discovered about happiness.

1. Money doesn’t buy happiness. 

Money does buy happiness… a little bit. We need enough money to cover our basic needs and to have some sense of stability. We are happier when we are warm and dry, have food in our bellies, and have a degree of choice/mobility financially. I have heard a few different numbers given for how much is ideal, but it seems that happiness increases as household income increases until it plateaus somewhere in the mid to late tens of thousands. (Seventy thousand in household income was one number given; I imagine this number would fluctuate depending on cost of living, inflation, etc.*)

2. Winning the lottery will make you happy. 

Neither is it true, though, that the more money we have, the happier we will be. This is because of something called the Hedonic Treadmill, also known as Hedonic Adaptation.* We become accustomed to a new income and lifestyle and continue to want more and more. Thus, something like getting a huge windfall will make us very happy… for a very short period of time, until we adjust to that change. The idea that more money will give us more happiness (beyond approximately seventy thousand in annual household income) is a myth. We will be just as happy making seventy thousand a year as making two million a year, or two hundred million. For those on the Hedonic Treadmill chasing that six figure salary, it is better to focus on daily intentional changes like practicing gratitude and to recognize that much of happiness comes not from a change in income, but a change in mindset.

3. Running/eating well/thinking happy thoughts is all anyone ever needs to be happy. 

I once had a coworker at a mental health nonprofit who believed this and was very dismissive of mental illness, which infuriated me. Mental illnesses can be life-threatening and can require professional treatment, often including medication or even hospitalization. Would we tell someone with stage four cancer to take a walk and eat some vegetables? No, we would trust that that individual was following a healthcare plan set up by medical professionals to best suit their needs. The same goes for mental illness.

4. Positive psychology is invalid because it ignores mental illness and is just about “happy thoughts.” 

I actually heard a Professor of Psychology make this argument against studying positive psychology and I wondered how familiar he was with positive psychology research. Positive psychology is a more holistic approach to mental health, rather than focusing exclusively on illness. Just as a doctor might suggest preventative lifestyle changes such as eating well and exercising, so too can a positive psychologist suggest ways to increase our mental wellness. Additionally, “positive emotion” is a very small piece of the mental wellness pie, and having healthy emotional responses, including “negative” emotions, is also vital to overall happiness, according to positive psychology research.*

5. Everyone has an equal opportunity for happiness. 

Fifty percent of happiness is genetically variable, and another ten percent is circumstantial.* If someone else just doesn’t seem as happy as you no matter what they do, consider that they might be genetically predisposed to be a little less happy. Circumstantial factors like culture, socioeconomic status, and gender also play into how happy we are.

6. You can’t change how happy you are. 

Despite happiness having a genetic set-point and being influenced by circumstance, forty percent of our happiness IS variable.* That means there are things we can do, like practicing gratitude, learning something new, and performing random acts of kindness, that can increase our happiness quite a bit. Our happiness is absolutely something that we DO have some control over if we are intentional about making changes to support positive mental health.

I hope this has clarified some nuances about happiness. There are a lot of memes and platitudes on the internet that don’t address some of the complexities found in happiness research. I am far from being an expert, but I have done quite a bit of research, so if you have a question about happiness you would like me to address, please let me know.

*Source for this post: Positive Psychology: Theory, Research, and Applications by Kate Hefferon and Ilona Boniwell

What would YOU like me to write about?

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It just so happened that my 200th follower coincided with my 50th post, which coincided with my 500th like. Wow, what a surreal day.

I wanted to take this opportunity to thank my readers. While those numbers might not be much in blog terms, they mean the world to me. To have a platform for my writing is something that I have dreamed about since the first grade. It is finally happening for me, and that is thanks to you.

So, in light of this, I was wondering, is there anything in particular you wanted me to cover in regards to finding life’s magic? Maybe a book or film you would like to highlight, a concept you would like me to clarify, a question about me, or a favorite topic you have interest in? Please let me know in the comments below.

Thanks again for the stopping by, and happy reading!

 

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