One Super-Easy Thing You Can Do to Be Happier

I wanted to share this article I wrote for Thrive Global about one of my favorite things to do each morning—go outside—and how it can wake you up, boost your mood, and improve your sleep!

One of the best things you can do for yourself each day is to go outside in the morning. It’s so simple, but it can have a major positive impact on how you feel.

Getting sunlight first thing makes you more alert and spurs production of both serotonin, which boosts your mood, and vitamin D, which is essential for good health and supports your immune system. Serotonin production is spurred when sunlight enters your eyes, so spend some of your time outside without sunglasses. Spend about five to ten minutes without sunscreen as well, since getting sunlight on your skin is what triggers vitamin D production. (Be sure you’re outside before 10 a.m., as the sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.)

Sunlight exposure in the morning also helps regulate your sleep cycle. It does this by reinforcing your body’s circadian clock, which runs many of your biological processes. Our circadian clock revolves around the patterns of the sun; in fact, the word “circadian” is Latin for “around day.” At sunset, our body releases melatonin to help us sleep. At sunrise, melatonin production is decreased to help us wake up. Exposure to sunlight in the morning enhances the suppression of melatonin. This is most effective if you go outside within two hours of waking up.

And if you need another good reason, here you go: nature is a portal to peace. Being outside grounds and centers us. The natural world is soothing; we are animals, after all, and being outdoors feels…well, natural! Simply stepping outside can instantly calm us down when we are stressed. Our breathing slows as we unconsciously mirror the peaceful rhythms of nature. We are taken beyond ourselves as we pay attention to the sights, scents, and sounds around us. We are refreshed and rejuvenated.

Life coach Wendy Battino lives in Alaska, but makes a point of going outside and touching the ground every day, regardless of the weather. She says, “Getting outside is a powerful way to get grounded instantly. No matter where you live, you can find nature—even in the busiest and biggest cities like London, you can find something natural to connect with. … It’s powerful to do something physical to connect to the earth in the morning. I step outside barefoot, regardless of the weather. Even if it’s forty degrees below zero, I can at least stand on the porch for a little bit, or I can scoop up some snow and wash my face with it.”

Ways to get your nature fix:

·         Take your morning coffee or tea into your yard and sip slowly, soaking in the sunshine.

·         Go for a walk and, instead of listening to music or talking on the phone, enjoy the sights and sounds you encounter.

·         Stand barefoot on a patch of grass or dirt and really feel your connection to the earth.

·         Find a “sit spot” on the ground and sit in silence while you breathe deeply and devote your attention to the natural world around you. What do you see—a tiny snail, or a beautiful flower, or puffy white clouds scudding across the sky? What sounds can you hear—birdsong, the wind rustling through the trees, crickets chirping? What scents do you smell—the earthiness of the ground beneath you, freshly cut grass, the perfume of nearby flowers? Feel yourself relaxing as you ease into nature’s slower pace.

In the fascinating book Joyful, Ingrid Fetell Lee says, “Access to nature has been shown to improve sleep quality, decrease blood pressure, and even lengthen lifespans. Large-scale studies … show that people living in greener areas have a lower incidence of anxiety and depression and display an ability to recover more quickly from stressful life events than those in less green areas. One possible reason is that spending time in nature decreases blood flow to a part of the brain … which is associated with the tendency to brood over problems. Natural settings literally make us more carefree.”

Tomorrow morning, try going outside and letting the sunshine and fresh air work their magic on you. Your body and your mind will thank you!

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6 Short & Sweet Ideas for a Spring Routine Refresh

I wanted to share with you this article I recently wrote for Thrive Global about some easy ways to take care of yourself. Spring is a perfect time to refresh our daily routine and make sure it’s serving us, rather than running us ragged!

Starting your day mindfully improves the rest of the day. Morning rituals are wonderfully beneficial, but when you’re busy, the thought of trying to squeeze something else into your day can be overwhelming. The good news is that your ritual doesn’t have to be complex or time-consuming to be effective. Here are some short and sweet practices that you can easily manage.

1.      Ease into the day.

Instead of jumping out of bed, take a moment to center yourself. After you wake up, lie still and take three deep breaths. Place one hand on your belly and one hand on your heart. Breathe in slowly through your nose until you reach maximum capacity, feeling your belly rise. Then slowly release the breath through your mouth, feeling your belly fall. Imagine that you are inhaling peace and exhaling any tension you may have. Repeat two more times. Then stretch your arms and legs, lengthening your body as much as you can. As you get out of bed, pause to feel your feet on the floor. Then get up and on with your day, refreshed and ready!

2.      Replace phone time with something positive.

Instead of checking your phone first thing, which can negatively affect your focus and your mood, do something uplifting for five minutes. Write in a journal, sit in silence, read a few pages of an inspiring book—whatever makes you feel happier.

3.      Shower mindfully.

This practice doesn’t take any extra time at all, so it’s especially great for those super-busy days. Feel the water hitting your head and streaming downward. Imagine that it is washing all negative energy out of you and down the drain. Then imagine the fresh water replenishing you with positive energy for the day.

4.      Get outside.

Sip your morning coffee or tea outdoors for an instant reset, courtesy of nature. Getting sunlight first thing makes you more alert and spurs production of the mood-booster serotonin; it also helps regulate your sleep cycles. Bonus points if you can put your bare feet on the earth for some quick grounding.

5.      Set an intention/visualize/schedule some self-care.

Take a few minutes to sit quietly and think about the day ahead. Check in with yourself and see how you’re feeling. What does your day hold? Is there something important you want to accomplish? Set the intention that you will handle it easily. Visualize it going well. Are you facing a busy day? Set the intention to navigate it with serenity and grace. Visualize a smooth path ahead of you. Feel free to ask for help from whatever higher power you believe in, or simply your own inner self.

You can also use this time to brainstorm ways make your day easier or to treat yourself (having a reward to look forward to can brighten up even the toughest days). For example, is there something you can take off your list or ask someone else to do? Is there a break in the day where you can relax and enjoy a cup of tea or a quiet moment outside? Ask yourself what would make you happy, and see if you can make it happen.

6.      Focus on gratitude.

While you’re getting ready, eating breakfast, or commuting to work, think about what you’re thankful for. Cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” has been shown to have enormous benefits: it enhances physical health, psychological health, mental strength, and self-esteem. Paying attention to what’s good in your life is a wonderful way to start each day with a positive mindset. And the more you appreciate what’s around you, the more you notice things to appreciate.

Beginning your day with one of these simple morning rituals will help center and calm you, empowering you to be your best self. You can also practice them at other times—during lunchtime, for an afternoon break, or in the evening to transition between work and home.

And you can always come back to your breathing to for a mini-break. Close your eyes if possible and just focus on feeling the breath as it enters and exits your nose. Breathe as deeply and slowly as possible. If you’re feeling anxious, try kaki pranayama, or “bird’s beak,” breath: inhale through your nose. Then purse your lips into an O, as if you were drinking from a straw, and exhale slowly. This helps bring about the relaxation response. Repeat until you feel calmer.

A morning ritual refreshes and restores you every day. Even tiny actions can have an enormous positive impact. Try one of the practices above for a week and see how much better you feel!

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The Season of Joy

It is the first mild day of March.
Each minute sweeter than before …
There is a blessing in the air …
— William Wordsworth

Spring is springing here, and I’m especially happy about it this year. This winter wasn’t severely cold, but it did seem very gray and wet. I have really missed the sunshine. I find myself lingering outside in the morning as I drink my coffee, watching the squirrels scamper about and listening to what sounds like hundreds of birds chattering away. On Saturday I spent hours in the backyard, and even made a little picnic lunch of bread, apples, and cheese. It was delightful. And the scents—all sorts of glorious plants are blooming, like sweet olive and wisteria, and it smells delicious! The breeze seems like it’s been perfumed.

Spring is my favorite season for several reasons. First, it’s wonderful to be able to feel comfortable outdoors—neither too cold nor too hot. (Yesterday I was able to go for a morning walk without a jacket, and yet I didn’t sweat, either. Bliss!)

Second, to watch everything come alive after being dormant in the winter makes me feel more alive. I feel like a flower blooming—unfurling slowly under the warmth of the sun, stretching out, expansive, opening. I’m free and easy (or at least, free-er and easier!) and my mind feels lighter. I’m inspired and energized.

And third, it just seems to me to be the most joyful of seasons. Sunshine quite literally makes me happy (it does this to everyone—sunlight increases our levels of serotonin). And each new flower I spot, each delicious scent I smell, each warm breeze I feel gives me a quick burst of joy.

In the spring I feel like anything is possible. It’s the very essence of hope and faith: simply pay attention to the bare branches of the trees. They literally transform overnight. One day they appear barren, and the next they’re covered in tiny green leaves. It’s incredible, and it always makes me feel awed and grateful.

And the spring cleaning! I must admit, I love a good spring cleaning. A few weekends ago I woke up raring to go, and finally tackled our garage. I went through boxes of memorabilia that had been moved from house to house, and consolidated about twelve boxes down to two. (And that was just one wall!) I made so much space, and threw away so many things that should never have been kept, and donated so many things that could be useful to others. It felt fantastic!

Is spring happening where you live? Here are some ways to truly immerse yourself in the season and its joys, courtesy of Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy.

 ·         If you don’t have them growing in your garden, bring home a bouquet of daffodils (or any other spring flower you love) to brighten your space.

·         Plant a living Easter basket. Find a pretty basket, line it with pebbles or a plastic liner, and add two inches of potting soil. Sprinkle fast-growing rye grass seed on top of the soil and then cover with another quarter inch of soil. Water well and cover with a brown paper sack for a few days until the seeds germinate. When the grass sprouts, place the basket in a warm sunny window and continue to water. In a couple of weeks you’ll have a basket of living grass!

·         Search out a new “sacred space” in the world. A shady grove of trees, a beautiful public garden that’s new to you, a museum gallery, the stacks of an old library, even an outdoor café where you can sit basking in the sunshine can help you realize the boundless treasure and spiritual replenishment of a perfect solitary hour.

And a few of my favorites:

·         Go for a slow walk outside, looking for evidence of spring. Delight in the blue sky, warm sunshine, beautiful blooms, and the scents and sounds of nature coming to life. Keep an eye out for butterflies!

·         Once the danger of freezing is past, start gardening! I love to put in plants that are already blooming, so I can enjoy the color instantly.

·         Enjoy a picnic—even if it’s just in your backyard, eating al fresco elevates an ordinary meal and feels fun and festive.

·         Wash your windows and be amazed at how much light pours in!

·         Dive into some spring cleaning. It may not sound fun, but the satisfied feeling afterward (and the space you’ll create!) is worth it!

I’ll leave you with a poem that perfectly captures how I feel about spring.

Today

--Billy Collins

If ever there were a spring day so perfect,

so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze

 

that it made you want to throw

open all the windows in the house

 

and unlatch the door to the canary's cage,

indeed, rip the little door from its jamb,

 

a day when the cool brick paths

and the garden bursting with peonies

 

seemed so etched in sunlight

that you felt like taking

 

a hammer to the glass paperweight

on the living room end table,

 

releasing the inhabitants

from their snow-covered cottage

 

so they could walk out,

holding hands and squinting

 

into this larger dome of blue and white,

well, today is just that kind of day.

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