Genuine well being for ourselves and the planet

Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

Eating Our Way to Happiness

Food.  One can’t very well have an integrated approach to happiness without considering what we put in our bodies.

It’s a big topic.  There’s a lot to ponder.

Yet it wasn’t on my mind until this week when my friend and fellow choir member Dave Grundy gave me a copy of  Prevention magazine’s  “Happiness Diet.”

I was a tad skeptical at first, but the article makes a science-based case for why certain foods and drinks enhance our mental and emotional well being.  A brief excerpt:

“Food is directly linked to three areas of brain function that create your ‘happiness ability.’  The first is your capacity to focus, think, plan and remember (we call them ‘foods for thought’).  The second is emotional regulation (‘foods for good mood’).  And third are foods that give you the ability to power through a deadline and control anxiety (‘foods for energy’).”

I’m particularly pleased to note that some of my favorites — coffee, blue or red skinned potatoes, tomatoes, and garlic — all made the list!

So what we eat affects how happy we feel — simultaneously, how happy we feel affects what we eat. Three days after Dave brought the happiness diet to my attention, the Happiness Initiative posted a link to a happiness weight loss video from an annual conference in Australia.  The sound quality of this video is challenging, but if you can hang in there, Professor Tim Sharp — Chief Happiness Officer of the Happiness Institute in Sydney — explains how to use the “primacy of positivity to achieve a healthier weight.”  Makes sense.

An integrated happiness approach also means making the connection between how our eating choices affect the rest of the planet.   For me, that means choosing vegetarian options roughly 95% of the time to help  stem climate change.

There are many, many other issues — from fair trade coffee to the rights of immigrants on our dairy farms.  I want to highlight just one wonderful way to eat fresh, organic, and local — very local — even in the depths of winter.  Thanks to Peter Burke and his workshops at the Hunger Mountain Coop in Montpelier, my husband Bob now grows a variety of nutritious and tasty sprouts all winter long.  I love watching this little garden grow on the window sill, with snow and ice on the other side of the glass.  What a treasure!

Who we eat with can also build our happiness levels.  When I worked at Home Share Now as staff mediator, I grew to appreciate how lonely it can be to eat alone, and what a relief it was for folks in a new home share match to once again have someone with whom to share meals.  Food is a connector, dining is a relationship builder.

Food also provides an opportunity for a sustained gratitude practice.  Years ago, Bob and I began lighting candles at dinner every night, even in the summer when it doesn’t get dark till 10 PM.  At each dinner, we toast someone or something — an idea, the weather, happy news, a person in pain …  We didn’t consciously establish this ritual, much less set out to do a nightly gratitude practice.  But that’s how it’s evolved.

Now, when I think about our winter toasts next to the wood stove, or the summer toasts on our screened porch, and the smiles or sadness we share as our glasses touch, and the simple food we’re about to enjoy (almost always with his home grown garlic), it fills me with contentment, joy,  and gratitude.  In other words, happiness.

Maximizing the Happiness Miracle

When I was interviewing for the job of Assistant Director of Media Communications at Common Cause 30 years ago, I was of course asked why I wanted to work there.  I responded that my head was in the clouds but my feet were on the ground, and I thought that was a good fit for the lobby group’s ideological/practical blend.  I got the job and, after a bumpy start, it was indeed a good fit.  My struggles and persistence in figuring out what was expected of me, and the organization’s persistence in sticking with me till I found my way, paid off for all of us.

I think the much younger me had it right.  I still have faith, and I still think we need to put our noses to the grindstone.  Miracles can slip away if we don’t roll up our sleeves and do our job.  Sometimes happiness wanders in unexpectedly, but frequently happiness is not easy.

Rainbow in Vermont

One of my favorite jokes revolves around our own responsibility to seize miracles.  In the joke, a gentleman whose house is about to flooded gets a knock on the door from the police who urge him to evacuate. ” No,” he says, “the Lord will take care of me.”  After the waters have overwhelmed the street, rescue workers in a boat again urge him to come with them to safety.  “No,” he replies, “the Lord will take care of me.”  Eventually, the flood forces him to his roof, where he’s spotted by a helicopter.  The crew tries to airlift him, but, you guessed it, he once more says no, the Lord will take care of him.  Finally, as the waters rise to his head, he cries out, “Lord, Lord, why didn’t you help me?”  The Lord’s voice booms back, “I sent you the police, a boat, and a helicopter.  What more did you want?”

From the ridiculous to the sublime … That joke reminds me of a Helen Keller quote, “When one door of happiness closes, another opens.  But often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”

We’ve got to do our part, and, we’ve got to pay attention.

Here’s another favorite joke (and I apologize if it sounds a tad sexist): Two construction workers sit down to eat lunch.  One opens his lunch pail and says, “Darn!  Peanut butter and jelly again.  I hate peanut butter and jelly!”  The next day, same two workers, same lunch pail.  Again the worker says, “Oh, no, peanut butter and jelly again!!  Drats!!”  The third day (you probably can guess where this is going), there they are again.  Once more, the pail is opened.  “Peanut butter and jelly!” the worker cries.  “Arrrrggghhhh!”  Finally his co-worker can’t take it any more and says, “If you hate peanut butter and jelly so much, why don’t you ask your wife to make you something else for lunch?”  The first worker is incredulous.  “My wife?!?  My wife?!?! I made these sandwiches.

The wisdom in this joke has served me well for decades.  On countless occasions, when I’ve been in a situation not altogether to my liking, and started to complain, either my husband observed, or I noted myself, ” I know, I know, I made this peanut butter sandwich.”

Funny thing, though, I realize as I write this that I only ascribe that joke to non-happy situations.  I need to start giving myself credit for making something else — maybe VT cheddar and apples? — in good times!  You and I and everyone else — we make our own happy choices, and do the work required to fulfill their promise.

We can further maximize the miracles by helping others learn to be happier.  Last week, I had the opportunity to do some mediation work with Jeff Mandell, founder of the Vermont Institute on Health.  This Institute is a camp for teenagers who want to learn more about genuine well being.  Jeff is helping these kids build a foundation for a lifetime of happiness.   As you can see in his video, there are a lot of miracles at his camp — along with mindfulness and hard work.  Go Jeff!! (more…)