Living in Gratitude


The following post is offered by Spirited Life Wellness Advocate, Lisa MacKenzie.


“To be grateful is to recognize the love of God in everything He has given us- and He has given us everything.”  -Thomas Merton

One of my children recently gave me a book entitled Living-in-Gratitude_imageLiving in Gratitude.  We’re a family of readers and often talk about what we’re reading or what we think the other person might like.  But when I started reading this book I wondered if it was given as a secret message for Mom.  I kept hearing in my head “Are you grateful? Is gratitude part of your life”?  Then I would say back to the voice, “Of course I practice gratitude…..well, I think I do…..well, maybe I don’t all the time…. well how do you practice gratitude anyway?”

The book is a month-to-month guide for the practice of gratitude. The author, Angeles Arrien, a cultural anthropologist, says that “practice is meant to be active, rigorous, and dynamic.  To practice is to take action that supports change and provides a discipline for incorporating and strengthening new values, skills and character qualities.”  I was especially interested in how a practice of gratitude might affect health in particular, since health and well-being are pretty important to most of us.  Our first thought may not be about gratitude as a basic health practice.

Even though it’s July, I started at the beginning of the book with January.  I worried that this was all going to be very shallow like “in January be thankful for a new year—a fresh start.”  Then I realized that the message from my daughter might be: give up on the cynicism for just a bit and read the book.  Right off the bat the author quotes Hopi Elder Thomas Banyacya who reminds us to vision and in visioning one must stop, consider, change and correct.

Arriens details this practice, which offers a way to align our vision with our choices.  This makes sense.  I was already feeling a tiny bit grateful for a new tool.  Unfolding in this January chapter are also the concepts of blessings, learnings, mercies and protections:  what they mean and the importance of paying attention to them.   As we identify blessings, learnings, mercies, and protections we have additional tools to develop a framework of intentionality, which as the author states, “helps us enter frequently and joyfully into the life changing state of being which is gratitude.”

Further into the book is another important question that addresses all areas of health and wellness.  Dr. William Stewart, author of Deep Medicine and the medical director of the Institute for Health and Healing at the California Pacific Medical Center, suggests that we ask this question:  Are the choices I am making health enhancing or health negating?  And he’s talking about all realms of health from the spiritual to the financial. Dr. Stewart and many others have demonstrated that health improves or declines according to the choices we make.

Arriens points out that it is well documented that the daily practice of gratitude increases health and well being.  Genuine expressions of gratitude reduce stress, develop positive attitudes and performance, strengthen the immune system and increase our experience of joy and happiness.

This book encourages gratitude through reflection, questioning, action and practice.  It recognizes the importance of research and intellectualism but then goes to the deeper meaning found only in the heart. I’m only up to March but I’m beginning to think that Living in Gratitude might just change the way I think about wellness.

(Book cover image from

Lisa-MacKenzie-90x120-Lisa MacKenzie

The Happiness Advantage


Shawn Achor, a leading researcher in the field of positive psychology, spent more than a decade at Harvard University trying to figure out what makes people happy.  He outlines his findings in a TEDx talk (click on the image below).  His 12-minute talk, which is among the top 20 most viewed TED talks, is worth watching, as Achor is a captivating and funny presenter.  However, if you don’t have time to watch the whole piece, tune in at about the 10-minute mark and you’ll catch his practical tips for becoming a more positive person (or you can keep reading for a summary).

shawn achor_edschipul

In Western society, we think that working harder leads to more success and that, in turn, should result in greater happiness.  But Achor says that 90% of your long-term happiness is predicted by the way your brain processes the world and that you can train your brain to become more positive.  He calls this the “happiness advantage,” and he has found that when you’re operating in this mode, your intelligence, creativity, and energy levels all rise, not to mention your productivity and success!

Achor offers the following 5 tips for training your brain to be more positive, and he says that after 21 consecutive days of these practices, you’ll notice a difference:

  • 3 gratitudes (write down 3 things you’re grateful for that day)
  • Journaling (write about 1 positive experience from the last 24 hours)
  • Exercise
  • Meditation
  • Random acts of kindness (as simple as sending 1 email of appreciation/gratitude every day)

While Achor focuses on work success and productivity, it seems that this brain training could have a farther-reaching impact into other areas of life.  What do you think?

-Katie Huffman

Image by Flickr user Ed Schipul, via CC

For the Attainment of Heaven


Dr. Warren Kinghorn, a Duke University psychiatrist and theologian, spoke recently with the Duke Clergy Health Initiative about a Christian view of flourishing, advocating for the care of both body AND soul.  As part of that talk, he shared the following prayer from St. Thomas Aquinas:

For the Attainment of Heaven

God of all consolation,
You Who see nothing in us
but what You have given us,
I invoke Your help:
after this life has run its course,
grant me
Knowledge of You, the first Truth,
and enjoyment of Your divine majesty.

O most bountiful Rewarder, endow my body
with beauty of splendor,
with swift responsiveness to all commands,
with complete subservience to the spirit,
and with freedom from all vulnerability.

Add to these
an abundance of Your riches,
a river of delights,
a flood of other goods

So that I may enjoy
Your solace above me,
a delightful garden beneath my feet,
the glorification of body and soul within me,
and the sweet companionship
of men and angels around me.

With You, most merciful Father,
may my mind attain
the enlightenment of wisdom,
my desire what is truly desirable,
and my courage the praise of triumph.

There, with You, is
refuge from all dangers,
multiple of dwelling places,
and harmony of wills.

There, with You, resides
the cheerfulness of spring,
the brilliance of summer,
the fruitfulness of autumn,
and the gentle repose of winter.

Give me O Lord my God,
that life without death
and that joy without sorrow
where there is
the greatest freedom,
unconfined security,
secure tranquility,
delightful happiness,
happy eternity,
eternal blessedness,
and the vision of truth,
and praise O God.


– Katie Huffman

(Photo by Flickr user sgs_1019, via Creative Commons)

The dance


Every thought you think creates a biochemical equivalent in your body.  And that is why writing down things you appreciate is good medicine.  And so is truly owning how bad something feels.  That too moves energy and changes chemistry.
Health isn’t about denying your sadness or grief. Instead it’s a dance of feeling, releasing, appreciating.
How are you doing with this dance?

–Dr. Christiane Northrup

Dr. Christiane Northrup is one of my favorite proponents of holistic health and wellness, and when I came across this quote, it rang true to me.  While it is good to focus on the positive gifts in our lives, sometimes we need to sit with the hard things too.  I know that I need to be reminded of this dance today.

— Caren Swanson

Let’s look at the world a little differently


My favorite Super Bowl XLVII commercial was the one in which retirement community members escape for a night on the town, boogy their way to dawn (including a stop at Taco Bell), and return home the next morning exhausted, tattooed, and mischievously happy.

I’ll have to keep thinking about how I can make a blog post out of that video.

But today, I wanted to highlight Coca-Cola’s contribution to the Super Bowl.

Lovely, right? I saw that video last summer (along with about 6 million other folks), but it has really stuck with me since it aired last Sunday night.

We’re currently immersed in winter workshops for our third group of Spirited Life participants, the purpose of which is to introduce clergy to the foundations, resources, and possibilities of Spirited Life. One of these foundations is the concept of positive psychology.

Positive psychology does not ask people to deny the brokenness or challenges of the world; instead, it espouses the value of training ourselves to purposefully look for the innately good and beautiful parts of life and Creation.

I think that Coca-Cola has given us a great picture of just that. From security cameras that were created to record the bad guys of the world, we’ve received a delightful and surprising gift.

Take a minute today to dwell on some of the unexpected gifts in your life.  And as the tagline suggests, “let’s look at the world a little differently.”

– Ellie Poole



Finding your strength amidst the broken places


This piece is offered by my fellow wellness advocate Lisa MacKenzie:

Years ago, after going through a difficult time, I received a card from a friend on a cold snowy day. The card read:

“Perhaps strength doesn’t reside in never having been broken, but in the courage required to grow strong in the broken places.”

I found the card last week as I was sorting through a box of papers and began thinking about the word strength.  Reflecting on getting stronger in the broken places, I thought first of a broken bone: once healed with a good callus, the bone is just as strong as before the break. I thought of a child, abandoned by a father, who grows to become a beautiful, loving mother.  Of an old woman, left alone in a rundown trailer, who wakes each morning and thanks God for another day to work in her garden.  You know people like this.  Perhaps you, too, have found the courage to grow strong in the broken places.

So how do we find that strength — not only in the broken places, but in the stress and strain of everyday life?  How do we identify our personal strengths when we are so used to finding our faults instead?

As a program, Spirited Life is interested in the field of positive psychology, resilience, and what it means to flourish.  Positive psychology is a branch of psychology that focuses on the empirical study of such things as positive emotions, strengths-based character, and healthy institutions.  We’ve been using some of the tools found on Authentic Happiness, the homepage of Dr. Martin Seligman, director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania and founder of positive psychology.  One of the areas that Seligman looks at is character strengths.  He has created multiple surveys, all of which are free — they just require creating a login.  If you want to evaluate your own strengths go to the following website:

Evaluate your strengths here

  • In the blue menu bar at the top of the page, click the “Register”  link. When the Registration page appears, go to “Free Registration,” enter your name and email address, then create a password.
  • After you register, log in to the site and the “Authentic Happiness Testing Center” page will appear.
  • Under “Engagement Questionnaires,” go to “VIA Survey of Character Strengths” and choose “Take Test.”

Regardless of whether you use these tools, perhaps you’ll take some time this Advent season to think about your strength and courage.  Write your thoughts and your story down. Consider it an early Christmas gift to yourself.

— Lisa MacKenzie

(Image courtesy of Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr/Creative Commons)