Lessons from a 100 year old man

One of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2019 was to practice gratitude daily. This meant writing down two or three things I was grateful for each night, specific to that day. It was an invaluable exercise and a practice I will continue. But it wasn’t until I sat with a very special man, on the eve of his 100th birthday, that I understood the true meaning of gratitude.

This man, was unlike anyone I’ve ever met before. He lived a simple life and was no stranger to hardship; yet he had a humility and kindness like no other. He had overcome adversity and deep loss. He kept active, had a fondness for routine and seemed deeply embedded in his community. On having the privilege to sit with and get to know him, I came to learn the secrets to living such a life. And it just so happened that top of the list was the very thing I was trying to cultivate in my own life; practising gratitude.

So I decided to share what I experienced every time I met this man and what I believe was integral to his long, fulfilling life. They’re simple and practical things to do but hopefully helpful.

  • Practice gratitude: This gives me a balanced perspective on life. It enables me to recognise where to focus my attention (grateful for the little things) and discard that which is immaterial. 
  • Stay connected: Feeling connected to those who matter most to us is so important for our wellbeing.  It enables us to feel safe and secure.
  • Have a good sense of humour: Being able to share a laugh and laugh at ourselves will always provide relief at a time when we most need it. 
  • Have a belief system:  While I am not religious, I do believe in practising that which brings calm into our realities. For some that is prayer, for me it’s meditation and yoga. 
  • Stay active: It keeps us physically fit but it helps the brain to feel happy.
  • Practice kindness: You have nothing to lose by being kind!

Even if you just choose one of these to start the year with, you’re off to a good start. Remember, you’re more likely to be successful in reaching your goals by changing one thing at a time and not everything all at once.  I do not claim to be as wise as a 100 year old, but I believe that practising gratitude is a good place to start. Happy New Year!

10 things to Remember for Surviving November… (and the rest of the winter!)

I woke up a few mornings ago, feeling a little out of sorts. I looked out the window, it was dark and raining. And then I remembered, it’s that old familiar feeling I get every winter, simply, sadness.

I go online and find a test Do I have Seasonal Affective Disorder? It tells me I’m in the ‘mild range’. It was somewhat validating to have this information, but where do I go from here?

I got to thinking about what helps me get through this period and what resources are useful for clients. I thought it would be helpful to share them in the list below.  It’s important to note here that much of this is anecdotal; I am not a psychiatrist and do not have the capacity to make a diagnosis of depression or otherwise. My endeavor here is to offer mainly practical advice for a balanced approach to looking after your mood during the winter season (not just November, as the title suggests).

 In life we are tasked with finding the balance between processing (i.e not denying or running away from your emotional experience) and also recognizing that it can be manageable. The goal here is in finding a healthy balance of recognition and subsequent movement towards a happier, healthier you. When we learn this, we move from feeling like slaves to our emotional experience to a place of hope and empowerment. Here we have a choice. For those of you visiting my blog for the first time, you can find a more detailed look at low mood and the inner critic here.

10 Things to Remember for surviving November

  1. Practice self kindness and self care every day. This might mean something like developing a mantra ‘I am doing the best I can today’.
  2. Avoid triggers that will make you feel worse about yourself, it’s important to keep the inner critic at bay. 
  3. Spend time with people you love and who make you feel good about yourself. Don’t over-commit yourself to anyone beyond this. 
  4. Don’t drink alcohol excessively. This will make you feel much worse and hangovers make your mood less tolerable. 
  5. Get regular exercise. Several studies have shown that exercise and antidepressants are equally as effective.
  6. Continue doing the things you love, even if it’s a little less than before. Modify if you have to.
  7. Enjoy the little things. It’s important to slow down and savour the moment. There might be one moment that went well in the day for you. It’s useful to remind yourself of this to keep the hope up. Keeping a gratitude journal can help with this.
  8. Make your home a cosy and inviting space to be in. 
  9. Remind yourself you have come through this every other year and you can do the same this year. One day at a time. 
  10. Get therapy if you need to. This might help you to let go of old, redundant thought patterns or it may simply provide you with a space to discuss what’s going on. But do so in conjunction with something from the list above.

If you found this helpful, please share and visit my other posts on the same topic. And remember you’re not alone. Many people experience low mood in the winter. There is always support out there.