Be grateful you're selfish

I’m a very selfish person.

I’m cracking up as I realize the self-serving nature of practices that I thought were more about other people than about me.

In a society where striving for the next thing is often the norm, it’s easy to forget the goodness in our lives. When we forget, we’re missing out on experiencing the benefits of gratitude.

As a child, I was taught to write thank-you notes when I received a gift. Back then, it was more of a duty, and I missed out on experiencing the benefits of expressing gratitude. The intention behind our actions matters.

As Thanksgiving approaches, it’s a great time to consider the importance of counting our blessings, and harvesting the bounty gratitude has for our health.

Research reveals people who cultivate gratitude experience:

  • a reduction in toxic emotions, such as envy, frustration, and regret
  • reduced depression and anxiety
  • stronger immune systems
  • fewer aches and pains
  • fewer symptoms of stress
  • better sleep
  • greater happiness
  • more enthusiasm and energy
  • greater determination and better focus in achieving goals
  • better resilience when challenged
  • greater optimism
  • stronger relationships
  • increased tendency to exercise

As science reveals the positive impact gratitude has on our health, wellness, and quality of life, I realize my expressions of gratitude likely benefit me more than others.

Keeping a gratitude journal is helpful. We can increase the benefits of this practice if we don’t just make a simple list of what we’re grateful for, but we add the reasons why we are grateful.

When we do this, we move it from being an intellectual exercise into becoming a whole-body experience. We then feel the sense of gratitude moving through our bodies even more.

With an established gratitude practice, I find myself paying more attention to the good that happens through my day, helping to over-ride the very human tendency to pay more attention to what’s challenging.

There’s a saying of what we appreciate, appreciates. I know this to be true.

The other side of the equation is, what we don’t acknowledge and give our energy to, withers.

It’s easy to take what we have for granted. We can overlook the importance and blessing of people in our lives and fail to tell them we appreciate them and why.

Thanksgiving reminds us to pause and consider the good we do have, and gives us the opportunity to express our appreciation to those who support our lives and to acknowledge our blessings.

The practice of card writing has continued into my adult life, and I delight in sending out decorated cards to people who’ve gifted me or touched my life.

Expressing my gratitude is no longer a duty, as it was in my childhood. As I write each card, I envision the person, and think about the way they touch my life.

I can feel the sense of gratitude in my body as the surge of beneficial body chemicals courses through me. This increases my quality of life.

This Thanksgiving weekend, I invite you to consider the good in your life. Let those dear to you know you’re grateful and why, and harness the benefits of gratitude.

Happy Thanksgiving!


How good is your memory?

Who was the actor who always played the bad guy?

Man, I can see his face, but who the heck is he?

In the past, we’d ask the question, and if unanswered, let it linger, only to delight when the answer finally fell-in.

In my house, it wasn’t uncommon for someone to suddenly shout out the answer to a question, even hours later. We’d all chuckle and congratulate the person, amazed at the way memory sometimes works.

Our friend Jeff’s memory is full of remarkable facts from life and history. It amazes me what he remembers and the diverse facts he has stored inside his memory bank. We frequently marvel and admire his ability to remember. He’s a living Wikipedia.

With technology ever available to answer our questions and offer up fun facts, we’ve developed a new game of ask Mr. Google. We no longer have to wait for the answer to our questions to arise from memory, but now try to be the first to find the answer on the internet.

It’s such a delight, and a relief to my wondering mind to find the answer to my questions —  or is it?

I’ve become the queen of searching information on the internet, finding the right combination of words to come up with the answer. This is a skill set of its own.

Recently, I’ve started to question whether my relationship with Mr. Google may be impacting my ability to remember.

Neurons that fire together wire together.

Our brains strengthen a memory each time we use it.

What happens to my memory when I stop using it? Does it affect my ability to remember? I started to notice it does.

I used to know all of my friend’s phone numbers off the top of my head.

Not so much these days, as I rely on speed dial on my phone. Heck, I recently had to look up my husband’s cellphone number. It startled me to have to do this.

I used to be an excellent speller, but this ability has also been impacted, as I rely on spell-check and auto-correct. I have to look up words I used to know how to spell.

Fascinated by research revealing London cab-driver’s brains were more densely wired in areas responsible for spatial awareness, I’ve also started to question my increased reliance on Google Maps.

I love plugging in an address and being accurately guided to my destination.

It’s eased a lot of tension between my husband and I, as I’m no longer responsible for accurately interpreting a map when we travel. Yet, I’ve noticed a decreased ability to remember what streets to turn down when navigating places, without the assistance of technology.

It turns out this inability to recall what’s easily available on the internet is normal. If we know we can find information again easily, we’re less likely to commit it to memory. It’s called digital amnesia.

While I love what technology can do for me, I don’t want to have to rely on artificial intelligence if it comes at the expense of my own memory. I don’t want a fading cell battery to be the cause of concern, or have to grab my phone when asked for a phone number I should know.

I know I need to make some changes.

Jeff remembers because he uses his memory. As he shares what he knows, he jogs our memories, and often times, we remember too. That, of itself, is delightful. It’s fabulous to recall what you already know.

I’m now creating a new habit of trying to remember instead of looking things up. I hope people are patient with me, as I search my memory bank.

Mach4 hair ablaze

I’m losing my mind! What’s wrong with me?

I can’t remember what I the heck I came into this room.

Why didn’t I think of that earlier, when I needed it?

I hear people call it Sometimers. Sometimes I remember, and sometimes I don’t.

As the epidemic of stress grows, people may question their ability to remember, frightened about their thinking, and wondering if they have early-onset dementia.

Thankfully, for most of us, challenges with remembering, and thinking of solutions to life challenges has nothing to do with dementia, but it has everything to do with stress.

The stress epidemic not only challenges our physical health, but it impairs the ability to remember and to come up with simple solutions, as well as our emotional intelligence.

Fight-or-flight is the status quo and feels normal for many people.

I recently cringed as I heard someone say:

“if you’re not busy and stressed, you’re not doing enough. That’s just the way it is these days.”

That may be the way it is, but we don’t have to accept it. It’s not a fun or healthy way to live. It makes us sick. Most visits to the doctor’s office are related to stress.

For many years, I didn’t know there was another way. Mach4 hair-ablaze was my way of life.

 I thought the pit in my belly was normal. As soon as my eyes opened in the morning, I’d leap out of bed and get busy.

Busyness was a distraction from what was happening inside me, it numbed the feeling.

In the midst of my descent to burnout, I had no idea what was happening inside of me.

All I knew is my sleep was impaired, my muscles were tense, and I thought I was losing my mind.

My memory grew poor, so I started to keep ever-expanding lists and notes, and notes and lists to refer to my notes and lists.

I had frequent shocks of adrenaline run through my body, causing my mind to race. I’d worry even more, thinking I’d forgotten something.

Often, this would happen in the middle of the night, awakening me from much needed sleep.

I was over-reactive to minor situations, and often irritable. I’d find myself just staring blankly into space if given a moment to breathe. There are periods within that time I have absolutely no memory of.  

It was terrifying, and the fear only made everything worse.

Sounds dramatic, doesn’t it?

Ashamed and terrified, trying to fake I was OK, I lived a life of quiet desperation, not knowing the solution was closer than I could’ve imagined.

I’ve worked with many people who think they’re going to feel better once they retire, only to find the feelings of stress are compounded.

Their minds and bodies have grown accustomed to the patterns of stress, and didn’t receive the memo they were no longer required, so they keep showing up as the stress response in the body.

The work that served as the source of and distraction from their stressful feelings is gone, but the stressful patterns inside of them have been established and continue to function.

They don’t get to enjoy the fruits of their labours.

We can try to calm the busy world, to avoid life and stress, but the most powerful place to take action is within our own minds.

It’s an inside job. Mindfulness practices changed my life.

Life’s always got its stressful moments. It’s not what happens to us that matters the most, it’s how we respond that’s key.

The brain changes for the better when we engage in mindfulness practices. We can become resilient.

With mindfulness practice, the fight-or-flight centre in our brain gets smaller, and we engage the executive centre. Our bodies learn a new way, and the random shots of adrenaline and cortisol released by the body because of our habits of stress, are reduced.

Mindfulness is a buzzword these days. We can know a lot about something without ever really knowing it. I find this is the case with mindfulness these days.

We don’t get a flatter abdomen or bigger muscles by reading about the gym; we have to do the exercises. So too with mindfulness.

It’s powerful and effective when we commit to practicing it for our own health and happiness.

You owe it to yourself.


Random acts of kindness

I’ve been in a bit of a slump. I don’t like it.

That inner sense of irritability, wanting the world to go away, and the desire to withdraw from life doesn’t happen very often for me. When it does, I don’t enjoy being in my own skin.

People seem more annoying, traffic feels slower, every-day problems seem bigger, and the committee of negative critics in my head wants to call extra meetings.

My thoughts grow negative and darker.

It would be easy to blame the outside world, and others, for my state of internal affairs, but I know I’m the common denominator.

I am the only one who can change it, and thankfully, I have some tools.

When irritation starts to build, one of my favourite tools for pulling myself out is Random Acts of Kindness (RAK). Even thinking about and planning them causes a shift in my mind and body.

RAK don’t have to be big. Simply doing something nice for someone without being asked, and with no expectation of a return, is a random act of kindness.

The ways we show kindness don’t have to cost anything, and can be as simple as:

  • holding a door open for someone
  • letting someone in in traffic
  • paying for the guy’s coffee behind you at Tim Horton’s
  • plugging a parking meter for someone else
  • sending a kind text to a friend.  
  • There are so many ways to show kindness.

Beyond thinking of RAK as just wearing rose-colored glasses, they are a topic of interest in the scientific and psychological world today, as researchers delve into the benefits.

While recipients of kind acts benefit in a variety of ways, we don’t have to wait for them to happen to us. The greatest effects are experienced by those who perform such acts: (https://positivepsychology.com/random-acts-kindness/)

  • Reduced depression and  anxiety
  • Increased self-worth & happiness
  • Increased confidence
  • Increased sense of personal connection
  • Reduced stress hormones
  • Decreased blood pressure & heart rate
  • Increased heart health
  • Decreased pain
  • Increased cognitive function
  • Strengthened immune system
  • Increased energy

We can rewire our brains and reset our body chemistry for the better, as acts of caring find their way into our brains and bodies. Successful people are found to incorporate kindness into their lives.

Even planning future acts, or recalling past acts of kindness, cause a positive shift inside us.  

While no one else even needs to know about the kindness you’ve extended, benefits are experienced by people who merely witness such acts being performed. They are uplifted and more likely to extend kindness to others, compounding the effects.

Recently, I was inspired by a woman, Karen Otway, who gave me a lovely necklace. When I thanked her, she told me she keeps such gifts tucked away in her bag to give to people who touch her life, or seem in need of a boost.

She lit up from within as she told me about her habit.

Others, including me, receive the benefits of her kindness, but clearly, she does as well.

As research into the benefits of RAK continues, encouraging such acts is being considered as an intervention to support mental well being.

There’s a Random Acts of Kindness Foundation you can visit to learn more about the benefits, as well as receive ideas to inspire you.  

Nov. 13 is World Kindness Day, but don’t wait until then to utilize this simple, yet powerful practice.

Let the wave of kindness begin.

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About the Author

Corinne is first a wife, mother, and grandmother, whose eclectic background has created a rich alchemy that serves to inform her perspectives on life.

Corinne, a registered nurse with a master’s degree in Health Science, is a staff minister with the Centre for Spiritual Living Kelowna, and a hospice volunteer. She is an adjunct professor with the school of nursing  at UBC Okanagan, and is currently teaching smartUBC, a unique Mindfulness program offered at UBC, to the public. She is an invited speaker and presenter.

From diverse experience and knowledge, personally and professionally, Corinne has developed an extraordinary passion for helping people to gain a new perspective, awaken, and to recognize that we do not have to be a slave to our thoughts or to life; we are always at a point of change.

Through this column, Corinne blends her insights and research to provide food for the mind and the heart, to encourage an awakening of the power and potential within everyone.

Corinne lives in Kelowna with her husband of 41 years, and can be reached at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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