Residents of Australia’s Small Towns Happiest According to New Survey

I recently posted a photo of a sign on my Facebook author’s page: “You can’t say good eye might without sounding Australian.”

AustraliaHa, ha. Very true. I just love an Australian accent.

I’ve visited Australia in the past and absolutely loved the place. I even do some writing for Property Women, a group of powerhouse Aussie women who invest in property, and it’s an absolute pleasure to work with them.

I must say, people in general seem incredibly relaxed and happy in the land down under. However, it seems that some people there are happier than others. They just happen to live in the tiniest towns, according to a comprehensive survey by the University of Melbourne.

They interviewed 17,000 people and found that Australians who lived in towns with fewer than 1,000 people are significantly happier and enjoy higher levels of life satisfaction than those who lived in big cities.

Why is that?

Here is what a few people from those small towns had to say in an article written by Jennifer King for Australia Broadcasting Corporation:

  • Mission Beach Tourism chairman Chris Jahnke lives in the small tropical town, Mission Beach Village, Queensland, which boasts a population of 765. He has been a local since 2003, after moving there from Melbourne. It is the sense of community which makes him happy to live there. “Just driving down the road and waving to people, you know,” he says.
  • A sleepy hamlet in the Southern Highlands, Burrawang has a whopping population of 238. Quaint country lanes meander through peaceful, flower-filled gardens with cows grazing nearby. Artist Susan Buret moved from Brisbane to the village in 2009, and loves the solitude and quiet. “There are no street lights so you can see the night sky, the air is fresh and there’s a sense of safety because we all know one another,” she says. “There are no parking hassles, kids can walk to school, there’s more space for your buck so you can have a great studio or a big veggie garden and chooks (that’s Aussie for chickens by the way).”
  • Mataranka has a population of 244 people. Irish nurse Leona Hannigan, moved from London to the center of Australia and feels that it has been one of the best things she has ever done. ‘From my experience in Australia, I notice people in Mataranka are happier,” she says. “They are very welcoming and, because it’s such a small community, you get to know people in the area.”

Australia 2It’s easy to see the attraction. A tranquil and slower way of life, a true sense of community, and lots of nature and fresh air. What’s not to love? I feel calmer just visualizing these places.

The other thing I noticed from the interviews was an appreciation for the most basic, simple, and joyful things in life that we often take for granted. For example, they mentioned a beautiful night sky, a veggie garden, or the pleasure of just waving to other friendly people.

No matter where we live, we can try to slow down and incorporate some of that gratefulness into our lives. Check out my blog, Savor the Day, if you could use some tips on how to do so. 

Eddie Cantor, a vaudeville, film, and radio star famous for his song Makin’ Whoopee, said it well. “Slow down and enjoy life. It’s not only the scenery you miss by going too fast – you also miss the sense of where you are going and why.”

Images courtesy of Michelle Meiklejohn and Jennifer Ellison at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Moving Forward After Adversity

Have you ever faced the kind of gut-wrenching adversity that crushed your spirit and sank you into despair?

Facing adversity can feel overwhelming like a tug-of-war.

Facing adversity can feel overwhelming like a tug-of-war.

As I’ve written about before, I’ve been a full-time caretaker for my mother who suffered from Lewy Body dementia. On top of that, my son is going through a nasty divorce, my mother-in-law is fighting ovarian cancer, and we recently moved into our new house and had no gas for two weeks.

Even with all that – cold showers and no stove taboot – I was surviving. I tried to follow my own advice in my blogs about allowing adversity to teach me important life lessons and mold me into a better and stronger person. Then life served up another whopper a month ago when my Mom died. Now that stopped me in my tracks.

During her lifetime, my Mom was my best friend, advisor, and soul mate. She made me feel safe and secure and was the root and foundation of my being. True, because of the dementia I have been losing my mother slowly for years. Yet, I still felt a deep sorrow and loss when she passed away. As the reality sunk in, I couldn’t believe she was gone. I felt lost.

Maybe you’re facing some kind of loss or trying to overcome adversity. Maybe like me, you’ve recently lost a loved one. Or perhaps you’re facing a serious illness or going through a nasty divorce.

So, how do you move forward after a life-changing loss? How do you pick up the scattered pieces of your soul and begin living again? Here are five ways to find the strength to go on and make the most out of your life:

Take the Journey

As I’m discovering, there are no short cuts to the grieving process. Don’t fight the emotions. Whether you like it or not, you will be forced to go along for this painful and bumpy ride. I surrendered myself to all the feelings of loss, guilt, sadness, and depression. Accept all the ups and downs. Honor the journey.

Lean on Loved Ones

Although it’s tempting, now is not the time to isolate yourself. Ask and accept help from your loved ones. For example, losing my Mom has made me draw closer to my siblings who are traveling this painful journey by my side. This was my mother’s ultimate wish and she would be pleased that we have come to appreciate each other on a whole new level. If you’re a spiritual person, this is the time to strengthen your relationship with God so he can give you the power to carry on and find inner peace again.

Express Your Feelings

Don’t bottle up your feelings and try to appear strong for everyone. I am an introvert and a fairly private person, but I realize that now is the time to openly discuss my feelings with others. Pouring your heart out in a journal can also be beneficial. Sharing your thoughts with others can help you decide what to do next and figure out how to move forward with your life.

StuckLet It Go

Once you’ve gone through the first three steps, be careful not to get stuck in all the “I should have…” or “I wish…” that often comes with the territory but can interfere with your recovery. Grieving is inevitable, but don’t allow sorrow to become a way of life. The goal is not to wallow forever in negative feelings but to move on, be there for the people who need you, and enjoy life once again.

Take Positive Action

When something bad happens to you, it can actually be a potent and powerful influence in your life. It can clarify your priorities and define your path. Adversity can be a catalyst for making changes. As yourself what kind of action will make you feel happy and fulfilled. Then take one small step each day to move toward that goal. Focusing on the needs of others is also an effective and positive way to move forward.

Moving ForwardEveryone experiences hard knocks in life. No one is immune. But you do have a choice. You can give up. Or you can regain your footing, take a deep breath, and move forward.

You can make a conscious decision to make the most of your life no matter what obstacles or painful experiences come your way. If you make that second choice, you will develop strength and endurance. You will become wiser and teach others by example how they can overcome adversity. You will grow as a person in ways that would not otherwise be possible.

If I can leave you with one positive thought it is that you can survive anything. There is light at the end of the tunnel. I know it deep in my soul.

Images courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Can Vacations Make You Happy?

We’re right smack dab in the middle of summer and chances are that many of you are probably looking forward to a vacation at the beach, in the mountains, or overseas.

Vacation 1But do holidays actually make you happier?

Not to burst your bubble, but not so much, according to one study published in the journal, Applied Research in Quality of Life.

Researchers from the Netherlands questioned about 1500 Dutch adults, 974 of which took a vacation during the 32-week study period. They discovered the biggest shot of happiness actually happens before people left on a trip.

In fact, planning and anticipating the vacation boosted happiness for eight weeks. However, after people get back from their trip, unfortunately, happiness levels dropped back down to original levels. In other words, you’re right back where you started.

No doubt, part of the reason for that is due to the stress of going back to work. That big pile of work waiting for you can be a Debbie Downer for sure. And let’s face it, some trips can be stressful in themselves.

But does that mean you should cancel your plane tickets?

Hang on just a second before you get all depressed. Thankfully, there are a few ways you can maximize the amount of happiness you get from your vacation.

Vacation 2Start Planning Early

This is a no brainer. If your happiness levels are highest before you leave, extend the amount of time you experience that vacation high by planning months in advance.

Do lots of research. Schedule activities and plan which sites you’ll visit. Or try watching a movie or reading a novel set in your planned destination to set the mood. Talk about the trip with family and friends. Listen to music that reminds you of your vacation spot.

Make plans well in advance of your trip and put a bright spot on your horizon.

Take the Stress Out of Your Trip

I always laugh at that scene in City Slickers where Billy Crystal is being dragged by a bull and screams, “I’m on vacation!” Or when he tells Curly, “…if you’re gonna kill me, get on with it; if not, shut the hell up – I’m on vacation.” Sometimes we try too hard. Don’t over-schedule yourself. You’re going on vacation to relax, remember?

And please, leave your lap top at home and tell your business associates you won’t be taking phone calls. And finally, travel with people that will make your vacation a positive experience. That means no inviting that friend who often makes snarky remarks or your Uncle Bob who tells nonstop jokes.

Savor the Memories

In one of my blogs, Spend Money on Experiences not Stuff, I point out that while the initial high of buying things like a new pair of shoes quickly wears off, memories of experiences continue to provide feelings of joy and happiness long after the event is over.

“When one buys an experience, they seem to be buying themselves a story as well,” said Dr. Amit Kumar, a social psychologist and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. “So one way vacations continue to provide hedonic benefits even after they’ve long since passed is because they live on in the stories we tell.”

The positive memories you’ll have after a vacation are priceless. Extend your pleasure when you get home by looking at photos, sharing them on Facebook and Instagram, and talking to loved ones about your trip. Use souvenirs and photos as home decor. For some great ideas check out this fun blog. I love their idea of creating a memory jar.

So, if you want my advice, ignore the study about vacations. On average, Americans only use up half of their vacation days. How awful! We need to take some lessons from Europe where every country has at least four work weeks of paid vacation. We all need a break from real life.

Trips can strengthen family bonds, improve our long-term health, and bring romance to a marriage. Sixty-two percent of adults say their earliest memories are of family vacations. My Mom recently died and I can tell you, some of my most cherished memories are all the family trips we took together.

So go and create some great memories! If you can’t afford a big vacation, at least schedule some long weekends and apply all of the rules above. A big trip is not in the cards right now for my husband and I, but we’re planning a get-away to Malibu for some kayaking, hiking, and lounging on the beach later this month. I don’t care what the studies say. I can’t wait!

Images courtesy of Nutdanai Apikhomboonwaroot and Idea go at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Five Happy Snoopy Quotes

As a young teen in the 70s, I fell in love with all things Snoopy. He was just so cool and there was something a bit cute and quirky about the beloved dog. I loved to doodle Snoopy cartoons and, of course, I had my favorite Snoopy stuffie.

Can cartoons give us wisdom? I say yes, especially when it comes to Snoopy!

Can cartoons give us wisdom? I say yes, especially when it comes to Snoopy!

Who am I fooling?

I still love Snoopy. In fact, now that I write a happiness blog, I’m impressed with how much wisdom Charles M. Schultz cartoons contain.

So with that in mind, below I’m sharing some of my favorite Snoopy quotes that support the science of happiness.

Put them into action today!

 

 

  1. “The less you want, the more you love.” The Snoopy quote posted on a cartoon with Snoopy on the roof and Charlie Brown leaning against his dog house is all about gratefulness and being thankful for what you have. Want to become a master of gratitude? Check out some tips in my blog, Start Each Day with a Grateful Heart.
  2. Does chocolate really make you happy? You bet! Charles M. Schultz agreed. One of his         quotes: “All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”
  3. Change is good. We’re never too old to change. We just need to embrace it. If you don’t       believe me,  check out my blog, Why We Should Embrace Change. That’s why Charles M.       Schultz said, ”What’s the good of living if you don’t try a few things?”
  4. Love the cartoon of Snoopy hugging Charlie Brown with the quote: “I don’t have time to       worry about who doesn’t like me…I’m too busy loving the people who love me.” After all, happiness is all about relationships.
  5. “Happiness is a warm puppy.” You got that right, Mr. Charles. A simple but true statement. No doubt about it, pets can make us happier. Want to learn why?  Check out my blog, Friends with Benefits: How Pets Make Us Happy.

Okay, there you go. Five Snoopy quotes to keep you smiling!  Gotta love Snoopy, right?

Image courtesy of jesadaphorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Menopause and Bad Eggs

Time to lighten things up around here. So, this week’s blog comes courtesy of an article I wrote on menopause for Hot Flash Daily. If you’ve never checked out this site, be sure and take a visit.

Hope this article gives you menopausal women a few chuckles:

Menopause Bad EggWhat do you call a hen who can no longer lay eggs? Henopause.

Okay, that was bad, sorry.

I might be joking about it, but at the risk of sounding weird, this whole egg thing really bugs me.

Unlike men, who somehow continuously make sperm throughout most of their life, women are unable to make more eggs after the two million that they are born with are gone. Now, does that seem fair to you?

Just wait, there’s more. By the time a girl has her first period, she has an average of about 400,000 eggs. Only 400 to 500 mature fully to be released during the menstrual cycle. What happens to the rest? The crazy eggs die off, degenerate, and are reabsorbed into our bodies.

Am I the only one that thinks that sounds gross and a bit disturbing?

By the time we’re nearing menopause, we’re no longer producing enough of the hormones we need in order to release eggs, which doesn’t really matter, because we’re running out of eggs anyway. The eggs get really fragile and fall apart easily so any eggs that are left are unusable.

In other words, we have bad eggs.

Cut to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I was an impressionable 11 years old when that film came out. Okay, picture Veruca’s final scene in the Golden Egg Room, where she wants her father to buy her one of Wonka’s golden egg-laying geese. After Wonka refuses, Veruca has a grand fit and breaks into the song, “I Want it Now,” trashing the room and disturbing the Oompa Loompas’ work. Although Veruca deserved it, I still cringe when she climbs onto an Eggdicator and is promptly dropped down the chute after being rejected as a “bad egg,” Her father is also classified as a bad egg and joins her when he attempts to rescue his daughter.

That’s what I think of when I think of bad eggs.

Or the quote by C.S. Lewis comes to mind: “No clever arrangement of bad eggs ever made a good omelet.”

At menopause we might have a few thousand or so of those bad eggs – stragglers like the people who hang out long after the party is over. What happens to them? Just like the other unused eggs, these bad eggs are absorbed into our bodies.

Yuck! That idea almost freaks me out as bad as the possibility of a shrinking hoo-hoo. To my horror, I discovered that during menopause, our vaginas can actually become shorter and narrower. We’re lucky that our lady bits don’t just up and disappear, my friends. What happens to our ovaries ain’t pretty either. Prepare yourself. Our ovaries shrink and atrophy – oh, how I hate that word that means waste away. How lovely. Or as Auntie Mame (one of my favorite funny movies) would say, “How vivid.”

All this just isn’t very flattering.

The good news?

Once our eggs are all gone, at least we don’t have to absorb bad eggs into our bodies anymore.

The more I think about it, the more I like that. After menopause, we’re done with those disgusting bad eggs. That just might be cause for a celebration. I feel better now. So to quote Auntie Mame again: “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death! So, live! Live! LIVE!”

Eggs or no eggs, we can still do that! Heck, yeah.

If you enjoyed this article, you may want to check out a new series I’m writing for Hot Flash Daily sharing what famous Hollywood stars have to say about menopause. First up, hot flash heroine, Whoopi Goldberg.

Image courtesy of mapichai at FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

When a Parent Dies

Saturday night, my Mom passed away.

Me, my sister, and Mom at her 50th anniversary party.

Me, my sister, and Mom at her 50th anniversary party.

Hospice had told us that Mom would probably die three to seven days after we started morphine treatments. On day six, Mom began pausing between breaths and our caregiver told me that my mother had a weak pulse.

After almost a week of agonizing waiting, the time had arrived.

I told my Dad and brother who were in the house that Mom’s end was near and asked my oldest son to call both my sisters to tell them that they should come over to say their last good-byes. My father came into the room briefly and said a few words and left in tears. My brother and I held our mother and told her not to worry and promised that we would all take care of each other. We both told her how much she meant to us and what a wonderful mother she had been.

I kissed her face and told her that she was a faithful servant of God and would be safe under his care and that I looked forward to seeing her again when she would not be in pain or sick anymore.

My youngest son and his wife came in to say their good-bye. I went outside to see how my father was doing and talk to the caregiver who was giving us our privacy. When I returned to Mom’s bedroom, the pauses between my her breaths were much longer. And then she took her last breath.

That moment will be forever in my memory. Although I am glad that Mom died peacefully at home with family by her side, I am still haunted by it.

Range of Emotions

Mom in the middle with her family on a trip to Australia.

Mom in the middle with her family on a trip to Australia.

My sisters both arrived and we all sat in the room crying together. When the hospice nurse came to care for her body, we went outside on the patio. We looked at the stars, and talked about some of our memories of Mom. Surprisingly, we were even able to laugh about some of humorous moments we had with her. However, when the mortuary came to take my mother away, we all burst into tears again.

It’s now been five days since I lost my mother and my best friend. The tears come and go.

As everyone knows, a wide variety of emotions are involved in the grieving process. The standard advice is to allow yourself to feel whatever you need to feel during this time.  In my case, anger is not part of the equation. However, there is a bit of guilt. I had been a caregiver for my Mom, who had Lewy Body dementia, a combination of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, for a few years. There is some remorse that I couldn’t be more patient at times. On the other hand, I also know that as an imperfect human being I did the best I could under the stressful circumstances. There is also some guilt over the fact that on some level I am relieved that my caregiving days have come to an end – it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done – and I will now have my freedom again. At the same time, I feel a little lost. Once again, I am older and wiser and know this is a natural way to feel. I can forgive myself.

I am grateful that I was able to keep my promise to Mom that I would never put her into a nursing home – one of her biggest fears. There is also tremendous relief that my Mom’s pain and suffering is finally over.

My Mom (right) with her own mother.

My Mom (right) with her own mother.

The fact is that I’ve been losing my Mom bit by bit for years now. Although it was not a sudden, shocking death, it is still painful and I already miss her. Sadly, as my Mom and I had told each other, you only get one mother in life and no one can take her place.

For the past week, we’ve had relatives, friends, and members of our congregation coming over to say their good-byes and then paying their respects. We have had an outpouring of texts, emails, phone calls, and visits offering kind words, food, help, and comfort for which I am so grateful. My husband, my siblings, and my children have been together almost every day which brings me comfort since they share many of the same feelings and memories.

On Monday, I went to see Jurassic Park with some of my family which was a welcomed distraction and break from all the emotions we’ve been going through. Nothing like watching dinosaurs eat people to take your mind off everything, right?  My grandchildren who were here over the weekend have also been a breath of fresh air.

As I write this blog, I am grateful to be alone for the first time to process some of my thoughts and emotions. Unfortunately, I got an awful case of the stomach flu and right now – besides being miserable – I am extremely fatigued.

Those who have lost a parent have assured me that it will get better and I know that is true. The aching will always be there but it will dim with time so that memories will bring me comfort instead of pain.

Hope

I couldn’t get through this without “the Father of tender mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation.”

My mother and I share the same hope for the future. I look forward to the prospect of being reunited with my mother. God, who started mankind off in a lovely garden, has promised to restore Paradise on this earth under the rule of His heavenly Kingdom in the hands of the now glorified Jesus Christ. (Genesis 2:7-9; Matthew 6:10; Luke 23:42, 43) In that restored Paradise, the human family will have the prospect of enjoying life without end, free from all sickness and disease. (Revelation 21:1-4; compare Job 33:25; Isaiah 35:5-7.) Gone, too, will be all hatred, racial prejudice, ethnic violence, and economic oppression. It will be into such a cleansed earth that God through Jesus Christ will resurrect the dead. If you would like to learn more about this hope as well as for tips on dealing with your grief, you can download the free brochure, When Someone You Loves Dies.

This hope brings me enormous comfort.

A Tribute to Mom

Mom, I will never forget your boundless love and generosity, your complete dedication to your family, your kindness, compassion, and thoughtfulness.

I am so grateful that you brought us all up according to Bible standards, that you gave my siblings and I such incredible childhoods, that you always made us feel secure and safe, that you so willingly listened and helped us through all our troubles, and that you were such a good friend to me. I am so thankful for all your unfailing loving support and wise advice throughout my life.

I am happy that you were adventurous and took us children with you on your travels around the world. And thank-you for being such a great grandmother to my children and grandchildren.

I know your passing will leave a huge gap in my life and I already miss you more than words can say. I so look forward to the day when we can be together once again.

Love you, Mom.

Losing a Parent

My Mom is dying.

I’ve known this for several days now, but this is the first time I’ve written down the devastating, heartbreaking words.

My Mom on her wedding day.

My Mom on her wedding day.

These past few weeks have been a nightmare.

As readers of this blog already know, my Mom, who suffers from Lewy Body dementia, recently broke her hip. She had a hallucination in the middle of the night and was trying to get out of her bedroom, forgot her walker, and fell.

After her surgery and a few days at the hospital, my Mom was sent to a rehabilitation center. Unbeknownst to us, she developed a bedsore which was not treated. Within days, the bedsore turned into a seven-inch long and an inch-and-a-half wide raw, gaping wound. We are not sure who to blame. Although we cannot be sure, we are suspicious that Mom may have had a staph infection as a result of her surgery at the hospital.

At any rate, the sore began to tunnel and quickly became infected. Antibiotics were not effective. We landed back in the hospital. However, the doctor did not recommend surgery since it would have been horrifically painful and Mom probably would not have survived it. If by some kind of miracle she did, my mother would have had a permanent colonoscopy bag. The doctor recommended that we bring Mom home and put her back into hospice care with the goal of making her as comfortable as possible.

The family agreed to take his advice after a long cry-fest.

I’ve been a caretaker for my Mom for a few years now and my job is not over yet. We are told that even though she sleeps most of the time that the hearing is the last to go. So we talk to her, watch home movies, and listen to music with her. My sister and daughter-in-law are sitting with her now so I can have this quiet moment.

Surprisingly, amidst all the pain, I still can feel grateful.

My Mom (in front) at her 50th anniversary party.

My Mom (in front) at her 50th anniversary party.

For 77 years, I’ve had the best relationship with my mother. She is my best friend and for that I am thankful.

Before we started the morphine treatment that would put Mom into a gentle sleep – we were all able to tell her how much we loved her. I realize not everyone has the opportunity to do that and for that reason I am grateful.

That same morning, when Mom saw all the extended family in her room, she said it felt like a party. She asked for a sip of wine which we gladly supplied. Mom wanted to wear her favorite red lipstick and her rings. She was more alert than she had been in weeks. Even though she was in and out of it that day, we felt it was a good morning for her. I am thankful for that.

Mom told us that she wanted us all to take a trip to Maui together and we assured her that we would. Right before my mother gave birth to me she lived in Hawaii for a short time and has the best memories.  I can hear Hawaiian music drifting out of Mom’s room now and know that she is smiling inside.

I am grateful that we are a large family and can support one another. I am thankful for all the friends and members of our congregation for their kind words, prayers, and offers to help. I am appreciative for the wonderful hospice workers and caregivers that are lovingly helping us. I am grateful that my mother will die at home surrounded by the family she loved and dedicated her life to knowing this was her desire. I am happy that she won’t be suffering any longer.

And I am grateful for my faith that has taught me to rely on God for strength beyond what is normal and given me a solid hope for the future. I know that I will see my Mom again. That is a tremendous blessing.

Still, my heart is breaking into a million pieces right now. Grief comes in tidal waves of despair.

A parade of relatives and friends are coming through the house to say their good-byes and trying to find some sort of closure. This has been exhausting but a blessing of sorts. All the people are a distraction and that is not completely unwelcome since I know that my emotions would be overwhelming otherwise.

Even though I am a writer by trade I do not have any words to describe the pain I am feeling right now. A part of me is dying and I know that I will never be the same again. As anyone who has lost a parent no doubt knows, this is another journey. There are no shortcuts to grieving or the healing process. Unless we die first, losing our parents is a road we must all travel.

As I wrote in my blog, This Too Shall Pass, time may heal all wounds, but while the open, gaping wounds close up, the scar remains. However, I am old enough to know that life will go on and take me with it. Our ability and infinite capacity to endure and bounce back is far greater than we think.

As Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss-American psychiatrist and author of On Death and Dying, said: “The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.”

In the meantime, I console myself with the scripture at John 5:28-29: “Do not be amazed at this, for the hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who did good things to a resurrection of life, and those who practiced vile things to a resurrection of judgment.

And my all-time favorite scripture at Isaiah 41:10: “Do not be afraid, for I am with you. Do not be anxious, for I am your God. I will fortify you, yes, I will help you, I will really hold on to you with my right hand of righteousness.’

Five Foods That Make You Happy

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well,” Virginia Woolf wrote in A Room of One’s Own.  Amen sister!

Eating HappyWhen we feel low, it is natural to reach for food to comfort us. When life gets tough the tough get eating.

Can certain kinds of food really make us feel better? Yes, experts say.

“Foods are chemicals,” explains Gary Wenk, PhD, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Ohio State University and author of Your Brain on Food. “Because these chemicals resemble the ones found in our brains, they have a powerful impact on our mindset.”

What kinds of food make us happy? Before you reach for junk food like doughnuts or potato chips – hang on a minute. “Comfort” foods may make you feel better for the short term but later can make you feel downright cranky. According to research by the Public Health Nutrition, people who indulge in junk food often are 51% more likely to develop depression than those who rarely or never eat it.

So that got me to wondering which foods make us want to jump for joy. Here’s a list of five foods to get you munching down and singing zippity do da in no time:

Seeds and Nuts

Tryptophan helps produce serotonin, which makes us feel relaxed. Food that has tryptophan can help fight depression, insomnia, and anxiety. Most people know that milk, bananas, and avocados contain tryptophan, but so do protein-rich nuts such as cashews, pistachios, and almonds as well as sunflower and pumpkin seeds.

Coffee

Enjoy that cup of Joe. Drinking four or more cups of coffee a day was associated with a 20% lower risk of depression in women, according to 2011 research in the Archives of Internal Medicine. That’s because caffeine activates serotonin and dopamine release in the brain.

Seafood

Want to be happy as a clam? Eat them. Even canned clams such as those used in clam chowder provide plenty of vitamin B12 which help produce feel-good dopamine and serotonin. In fact, a deficiency of this important vitamin can lead to depression. Other seafood, including trout and salmon, as well as beef, chicken, dairy products, and fortified cereals also contain a good dose B12.

Foods That Make You HappyFruits and Veggies

Eat three servings of fruits and vegetables a day for a bit of that Pollyanna attitude. According to a 2013 study in Psychosomatic Medicine, optimistic people had 13% higher carotenoid levels in their blood (an antioxidant particularly abundant in sweet potatoes and carrots) than those with a more negative outlook. Folate helps produce that good ol’ serotonin that regulates mood and can be found in spinach, brussels sprout, broccoli, avocado, asparagus, and kale. Fruits like blueberries and oranges contain high amounts of antioxidants and vitamin C which both help reduce stress.

Chocolate

I wrote a whole blog about how chocolate makes us happy. That’s because chocolate contains a variety of chemicals, some of which make us feel good by boosting our endorphins (the feel-good hormones).  Tryptophan is also found in chocolate which, as I mentioned earlier, is used by the brain to make serotonin and can help us feel relaxed and happy. Caffeine gives us an extra boost of energy.  Scientists at the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego even suggested that chocolate contained substances that produce a cannabis-like effect on the brain. Who doesn’t want a bit of happy high?

So next time you’re feeling a little down in the dumps, go ahead and chomp on one of these five foods and you just might find yourself singing, “My oh my, what a wonderful day!”

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic and stock images at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Aim for Fulfillment Not Happiness

If you read my blog, you know that now is not the perfect time in my life.

ThoughtfulFor the last few years, I’ve been caring for my Mom who has Lewy Body dementia with an extra dose of Parkinson’s. She recently broke her hip and was just released from a rehab center. My son is going through an awful divorce. My mother-in-law is fighting ovarian cancer and her numbers are up which means another debilitating round of chemo. We are a couple of weeks from the completion of building our new home which is a bright spot in my life but is also stressful. Budgets, getting a mortgage loan, and an upcoming move are all dancing around in my head.

So stay with me here. I’m not whining about my life. Believe me, I have many blessings to count and I have learned to savor the day and appreciate the small moments of joy that we all experience.

But are these the happiest days of my life? Let’s just say I’m not exactly doing cartwheels of joy or a happy dance right now.

And that’s my point. I want to be clear. Just because I write a blog about happiness doesn’t mean I believe that you should feel inadequate because you can’t maintain a certain level of glee at all times.

Happiness is not Sustainable

We live in a strange era where boundless happiness studies, books, and websites like mine rule. While they provide some useful information, all that hoopla about happiness could make us feel that if that fleeting feeling of joyfulness escapes us, we’ve somehow failed. Or that our lives are lacking in some fashion.

We baby boomers might be especially vulnerable to these feelings since we grew up in an age of entitlement where we were taught to go after whatever makes us happy. If we can’t achieve that elusive happy feeling at all times, we feel a bit insecure and disillusioned. Like something is wrong with us.

But here’s the thing. It’s okay to feel sad, angry, worried, or depressed sometimes. These are perfectly natural feelings. We don’t have to be happy 24-7. The simple truth is that a giddy feeling of happiness is not sustainable.

Target

Aim for Fulfillment

So instead of shooting for happiness, why not aim for fulfillment instead?

That’s what Michael Hedrick suggested in his article written for Psych Central, Why You Should Seek Fulfillment Instead of Happiness.

“Fulfillment is the idea or feeling that things are okay even if you’re going through a rough patch,” Hedrick wrote. “It’s the knowledge that you’ve got comfort and a stable foundation and that you’re working towards something bigger.”

As he points out in his article, fulfillment means different things to different people. Many seek fulfillment through spirituality. That’s certainly true in my case. No doubt, I’ve gained a sense of purpose, meaning in life, and personal satisfaction from studying the Bible and striving to live my life in a way that pleases God. Helping others and making a difference in people’s lives, developing your character and abilities, or achieving a goal can also feel fulfilling.

So make fulfillment your target.

As Albert Einstein said in one of my favorite happiness quotes, “I have never looked upon ease and happiness as ends in themselves – such an ethical basis I call more proper for a herd of swine…The ideals which have lighted me on my way and time after time given me new courage to face life cheerfully, have been Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.”

Well said!

So maybe Bobby McFerrin shouldn’t sing: “Don’t worry, be happy,” but instead say, “Don’t worry, be fulfilled.” I admit, not quite as catchy, but more realistic!

Images courtesy of marcolm and renjith krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

When Caregiving Becomes Complicated

Caregiving just got much more difficult for me.

Caregiver A couple of weeks ago, my Mom had an hallucination that scared her and got out of bed at midnight while we were sleeping. She forgot to use her walker and was carrying a pillow. Evidently, Mom was trying to bolt out of the room when she fell in the doorway.

As I’ve explained in past blogs, my Mom has Lewy Body Dementia (LBD) with Parkinsonism. The Parkinson part of her disease has taken a terrible toll on her body physically. Even though she uses a walker, falls are becoming more and more frequent. It seemed inevitable that she would eventually break something despite all our family’s efforts to watch her around the clock.

We took her to Urgent Care the next day. The X-ray came out negative and the doctor told us that in all likelihood she sprained her hip, so we took her home. After a few days, her hip was only getting worse. She could not walk at all and I had to have my husband or brother physically lift my Mom from a wheelchair to the toilet. As her primary caregiver, I felt totally overwhelmed at this point.

Surgery for LBD Patients

We took her back to the doctor and they ordered a CT scan for the next day. That scan showed that Mom had fractured her hip – substantially – and we landed in the ER. The fracture required a partial hip replacement surgery.

Hip ReplacementThis was one of my biggest fears. Almost three years ago before we knew Mom had LBD, she had a hip replacement in her other hip. After the surgery, she didn’t know where she was or who I was for six weeks. Her mind never came back completely. After her diagnosis, we became aware that this is not uncommon and general anesthesia can cause permanent damage in LBD patients.

This time around, we requested spinal anesthesia along with “twilight” anesthesia as is recommended for LBD patients. Fortunately, the surgeon was able to accommodate our wishes.

Right now, it’s hard to tell if there will be any long-term consequences or if the surgery will speed up symptoms as it did last time. LBD patients are extremely sensitive to pain medication and as a result my poor Mom has been hallucinating non-stop since the surgery. But we are hopeful that once they wean her off the drugs, she will become more lucid.

My heart breaks and we’ve all shed tears over the situation. My Mom is in rehab now and my siblings, children, and my father are all rotating to stay with her.

Caregiving Statistics

Just another part of this journey into an unknown world. From time to time, I like to share my experiences as a caregiver because I know that I’m not alone. Far from it. In fact, I fit right in with all the statistics.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 43.5 million of adult family caregivers care for someone 50+ years of age and 14.9 million care for someone who has Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia. Of those caring for someone aged 50+, the average age of caregivers is between 50-64. A Gallup Healthways Wellbeing study found 72% of caregivers cared for a parent, step-parent, mother-in-law, or father-in-law, and 67% of caregivers provided for someone age 75 or older.

In other words, if you are a baby boomer, chances are good that you are helping to care for mom and dad.

If you’re a woman, the statistics go up. An estimated 66% of caregivers are female. The majority of caregivers (55%) in one Gallup study reported they had been caregiving for three years or more.

The Home Alone study―a study of family caregivers who provide complex chronic care―found that nearly half of the caregivers surveyed performed medical and nursing tasks. More than 96% also helped their loved one with daily activities such as personal hygiene, dressing/undressing, getting in and out of bed, giving prescribed medications, shopping for groceries, and providing transportation.

Yup, check-check-check, that’s my life right now. And evidently, a lot of your lives out there as well.

Getting Help

Like most caregivers, I work part-time as a writer as well as caring for my mother full-time. I absolutely want to love and care for my Mom. This has been my choice; however, because of all the complications and some burnout I am experiencing, our family will be looking for a part-time caregiver to help us out. It’s definitely time.

Because here is a sobering fact: According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “the close relationship between the caregiver and care recipient is a shared relationship with involved emotions, experiences, and memories, which can place a caregiver at higher risk for psychological and physical illness.”

That’s the thing. We caregivers have to take care of ourselves so we can take care of our loved ones. As I pointed out in a previous blog, several friends and family members who have gone through this experience have strongly advised me to care of my physical, spiritual, and emotional needs and recognize my limitations. 

So as I continue down this path, in a future blog, I’ll share my experiences with finding the right caregiver for my Mom to hopefully help those of you in the same boat.

In the meantime, if you are a caregiver like me, please feel free to share your experiences and any advice you have in the comments below.

Images courtesy of olovedog and patrisyu at FreeDigitalPhotos.net