CARING FOR YOUR SOUL

I think of my soul as that part of myself that carries my values, my best self and my essence as a being. It connects me to all people, to other beings and to nature. For me, this is about our spiritual nature. Not only do these practices increase my happiness, they also help me be a better person (or at least feel like one).

Trust Something Greater than Yourself (You

Are Not In Charge)

Twelve Step recovery programs talk about a higher power (something beyond you) that can be trusted to be ‘in charge.’ A belief in a benign force in the universe that is greater than us as humans can serve your happiness. Whether you label it God, goddess, Allah, fate, destiny or the unknown, letting go of the sense of responsibility for everything that happens to you creates relief and a sense of well-being. Since the definition of faith is a belief in something that can’t be proven, why not choose to believe in something that brings you peace of mind and contentment (as long as it doesn’t lead you to be unkind to others with different beliefs)?

Live Your Values

In What Happy People Know, Dan Baker says, “When people identify their values, it gives their lives focus, and gives them a sense of security during times of chaos and confusion. When people live up to their values, it gives them a sense of purpose, peace of mind, and fulfillment—all necessary ingredients for happiness.”  Awareness of your deepest values, and using those values to guide your actions also makes decision-making easier! Some values relate to actions we know create greater happiness – like love, compassion, generosity, kindness, sharing, being responsible for the consequences of your actions, authenticity, and integrity. Sometimes our values require sacrificing a current pleasure (like being responsible for our impact on the environment, or putting someone else’s needs first), but knowing we are being the person we desire to be provides a deeper satisfaction.   It can be interesting to ask yourself, “What would someone who watched my behaviors say is most important to me?” If it isn’t in alignment with the kind of person you want to be, think about what you would do differently to live your values more completely.

Make a Difference

We need to believe our life makes a difference in the world in some way that is important to us. It can be to please someone by making a tasty and healthy meal, or by listening and being a good friend, by raising a happy, self-sufficient child, rescuing an animal, or through acts of kindness. If you are fortunate, your work helps you meet this need. Many times, it takes asking yourself what opportunities you have at work to make a difference to someone. Read about becoming a Daymaker. In general, we want to believe that we have a positive effect on other people, and that when we die we will be missed and there is a difference in the world because we existed. If you are feeling down or depressed, one of the best ways to improve your mood is to do something for someone else. Volunteering can be a great way to find a sense of purpose, feel appreciated, and avoid boredom. 

Let Go of Judgments

Letting go of judgments improves your connection to yourself, as well as your relationships. In general, when you judge people, it is because you are comparing yourself to others to find ways you are better than so that you feel good enough. You are setting yourself up as the judge of right versus wrong and better than versus less than  based on your own perspective and beliefs. Not only are you ignoring the old adage about not judging another until you have walked a mile in his shoes (lived his experiences and beliefs), it becomes a trap because when you don’t think you are better than, you typically think you are less than, and that feels awful. When we judge others, we also judge ourselves, and many of us are much harsher critics of our selves than we are of others, which is obviously a detriment to happiness. Making judgments also separates you from others because judging is the opposite of accepting. Try a belief that all people are of equal value, simply for being human, which means you are as valuable as anyone else (no less, no more). You can still try to be your best possible self, but it doesn’t come from trying to prove yourself good enough.

Compassion for Yourself

Compassion is about sympathy for someone suffering. Since life gives us many opportunities to experience pain, being as gentle with ourselves as we would be with a beloved child helps us deal with life’s challenges more effectively. When we allow ourselves to be imperfect, and to grieve our losses, while not getting caught up in stories about being a victim or fairness, we actually strengthen ourselves. We are often our own harshest critics, thinking that striving for perfection makes us worthy. Instead this strategy burns us out, makes us irritable, and sometimes we fail to take responsibility for our imperfections and the impacts our failures have on others. You don’t have to be a superhero; you just have to be you. Don’t beat yourself up when you fail to be your best self, let yourself be human, which means being imperfect.  If you have trouble feeling compassion for yourself, start by downloading an MP3 of my teacher, Robert Gass, guiding his Opening the Heart meditation.

Generosity

Michael Norton has done a lot of research on how giving to others increases our happiness. He gave a TedX talk titled How to Buy Happiness in which he says, “If you don’t think money can buy you happiness, you aren’t using it the right way” and the right way is by giving it away. Giving our time and our attention are other forms of generosity that increase our happiness. One probable explanation for why generosity enhances our happiness is that when we give some of what we have away, we get the sense that we have more than enough. Our human tendency to compare ourselves to others is getting the message that we have more than someone (or some cause), which helps us believe we are living in abundance. Besides making us happier, giving to others has been shown to have positive health benefits and to increase work-group productivity, and even improve a soccer team’s performance! Get some ideas at Kindspring.

Awe

Let yourself be inspired by the grandeur of nature, by the miracle of life, by the kindness of others, by all that is good in this world. This is a form of appreciation of things that are greater than ourselves, and it leads to greater happiness. Check out KarmaTube (or YouTube) and search for the type of videos that most inspire you of amazing nature, beautiful music, or inspiring performances by people with incredible talents or those who have overcome handicaps to accomplish the unbelievable.

Permission to Be Human (Imperfect)

Being human means you will have feelings, including ones that make you unhappy. You will feel pain at losses, fear when you detect danger, anger when you feel threatened with loss or fear of losing something that matters to you. However, you get to choose how you respond to your feelings. You can get caught up in the story you tell yourself about the cause of your feelings, which will extend them, or you can pay attention to the important messages your feelings have for you.  If you let yourself experience your feelings, and pay attention to the messages they give you, and take actions where appropriate, they will pass through you.  Brain researcher and stroke survivor, Jill Bolte Taylor, talks about it taking about 90 seconds for an emotion to pass through you after being triggered, although it extends when you continue to focus on the cause of the emotion, which is often a story we create to explain the emotion to ourselves. Humans are inherently imperfect and fallible. We will never be our best selves all of the time, so give yourself a break and don’t set up the expectation that you (or anyone else) must be perfect. Embrace your imperfections. Accept that you will make mistakes. When they impact someone else, try owning up to them. No one really likes being with someone who is perfect all the time (since in our hearts we know we aren’t), so you may find people like you better as a result.  It gives others permission to be their imperfect selves.

Be Mindful

Mindfulness is about being present in the moment, and not getting attached to expectations or outcomes. It includes developing the ability to observe yourself with a bit of detachment or distance, being aware of the sensations, thoughts, and feelings you are experiencing without getting caught up in the stories or feelings related to experience. Building your ability to be mindful can help you become more aware of the stories that color our experiences, so that the story is no longer your primary experience. This can give you the ability to have more control over your experiences, your feelings and your life. Meditation is a popular strategy for developing your mindfulness although it is really just about focusing on the present moment with openness to whatever is happening. It helps to let go of judgments and comment to yourself, “How interesting!” You can even speak that phrase out loud as you observe your thoughts and feelings.

Pay Attention to Your Intuition

Intuition is the synthesis of all our wisdom, and it is often felt in the body. Trust that your gut feeling provides important information. Our minds fool us with thoughts, while there are other parts of us that tune into inputs that we aren’t aware of consciously. Research indicates that many successful business leaders pay attention to the messages that come from their intuition. Robert Gass, who teaches leadership skills, says that to build our intuition, we must pay attention to the messages we get from it. One way to develop our abilities is to quiet your mind and body and look inward, without attachment, to the path that draws your attention. Imagine venturing down that path, and observe the sensations that come into your body. Keep in mind that your physical reactions can be a result of conditioning. For instance, feeling nervous around someone you define as a different race may be more a result of past conditioning that triggers the discomfort you might label intuition. So particularly question your fear based sensations. Feel into what your heart invites you to do, let your intuition provide the courage to step into living more of the life you desire.
Choose to be happier!    You have found the place        to learn what YOU can do             to have a happier,                  more fulfilling life!
© Molly L. Stranahan, Psy.D. 2016
EMAIL Molly
Living My Values (PDF) will help you identify the values that are most important to you today.
DIG Deeper
Learn more about decoding and responding in healthy ways to the messages of your unpleasant emotions in What’s in the Way. 
DIG Deeper Caring for Your Mind Caring for Your Body Caring for Your Soul Caring for Your Relationships Caring for your soul is an important step on the path to happiness. Awe Pay Attention to Your Intuition CARING FOR YOUR Soul Be Mindful Permission to Be Human Generosity Compassion for Yourself Trust Something Greater Than Yourself Live Your Values Make a Difference Let Go of Judgments
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