Authentic Optimism – How Do We Actually Make Our Lives Better?

Sometimes it feels like it’s hard to be optimistic in the midst of stressful situations. But often this is due to a misunderstanding of what true optimism really means.

Theology of The Body reminds us that optimism isn’t rooted in wishing our problems away or telling ourselves pretty lies about how things aren’t really as bad as they seem.  TOB explains that our optimism is rooted in the fact that at the beginning of time, God had a plan for the world and that–in spite of sin thwarting that plan in the present–God’s plan will be restored through grace at the end of time.  The fact is, as St Paul reminds us in Rom 8:28 all things work to the good for those who love God.

A study by Boston University School of Medicine found that optimistic people live up to 15% longer and are up to 70% more likely to live to at least age 85.

This study demonstrated that optimism isn’t so much a trait as it is a skill made up of three qualities:

-Goal orientation: Rather than “thinking positively” optimistic people acknowledge that bad things are bad, but they ask. “What can I make of this?”  (c.f. Rom 8:28).

-Gratitude: Optimistic people intentionally recall their blessings, strengths, and skills as a reminder of what they have to work with in responding to life’s challenges.

-Gregariousness: Optimistic people maintain a sense of community and actively work to find ways to be a blessing to others even when they are struggling.

So how do we become more optimistic in our daily lives?

1. Keep the Big Picture in Mind–Joy requires us to be able to step out of the chaos of everyday life and remember who we are and what’s important. This requires us to stay connected to God–to be able to see things from his point of view. Find ways to bring the present moment to God no matter how crazy it is. Ask him, “What do you want this moment to look like? How can I respond to this in a way that glorifies you?” Then re-engage the situation from this more graceful perspective.  Keeping the big picture in mind helps you remain connected to what’s important

2. Be Kind–True joy comes from seeking little ways to be a gift to others all day long.  As you go about your day, consciously ask yourself how you can make a difference in this moment?  Is there something you can do to make this person’s day even a little easier or more pleasant?  Is there something you can do to take down the tension in this situation?  Is there some way you can surprise someone with a small thoughtful gesture or little act of service? You don’t have to be a martyr about it.  In fact, it’s better if you aren’t.  Just look for those little ways to be a gift or create caring connection while you’re passing by or passing through.  These little acts of kindness increase your joy by helping you see all the ways you are making a positive difference in your world and in the lives of those around you.

3. Stay In School–Research shows that joyful people are eager students in the “school of life.”  Joyful people are always open to seeing things from a new perspective, trying a new experience, and growing in ways that help them be stronger, healthier, more well-rounded people.  Joyful people aren’t shy about sharing what they like.  They know who they are and what they stand for, but they are open to discovering all the ways God is revealing himself to them through the people and the world around them.  And the more ways we open ourselves to this experience of God the more his grace makes us joyful. So, be yourself, but don’t be afraid to be more, learn more and grow more.

 

For more on increasing authentic optimism in your life, checkout God Help Me! This Stress is Driving Me Crazyand tune in to More2Life, weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXm 130!

The Road to Recovery: Psychotherapy or Medication—Which Is Right For Me?

Depression is often an ongoing struggle, which can make it difficult to know what approach is best for us to find lasting healing. New research, however, gives us a deeper look into understanding how to treat our depression in a way that does not just lessen our symptoms, but works with and through our depression symptoms to achieve sustainable healing. 

A new study out of Orygen, the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health in Australia, shows that psychotherapy should be the first approach for depression treatment, with medication being a secondary option. 

This research, published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal, reveals that individuals ranging from 15-25 who received psychotherapy alone experienced equal improvement in their depression symptoms as their counterparts who received psychotherapy and medication treatment. 

These findings demonstrate the reality of the common misconception that medication treatment for depression should be a first approach. Often it is said or believed that medication should eliminate all of our symptoms of depression and that once we are on medication, ‘everything will be fine.’ This, however, is not the case. 

Medication helps to address or alleviate the physical symptoms of depression such as body aches, fatigue, and lethargy. What this really means is that medication is helpful in allowing us to feel ‘better’ enough to do the work towards directly addressing our depression and finding lasting solutions. 

Essentially, medication functions on the level of addressing our limbic system (our emotional reactions/the physical symptoms of depression), whereas therapy also focuses on our cortex (our thinking brain) to help us work through our thoughts and emotions in order to find and achieve health and healing. 

To think of it another way, if depression ran on a scale from 1-10, and without treatment we are constantly living at a ten—feeling excessively lethargic, achy, entirely disinterested—typically this means that we can’t get out of bed or do anything to effectively work towards healing. When this is the case, medication can be a helpful approach in lowering that scale—from, say, a ten to maybe a five or a six. Lowering our symptoms from a ten to a six is extremely helpful, but it doesn’t mean our depression is completely gone. What it does mean, however, is that we are now at a point that we can get out of bed, we can face our struggles, and we have the energy to do the work we need to do to lower or even eliminate our depression. 

This and other research suggests that psychotherapy should be the first approach for sustainable depression treatment, especially for younger individuals. Medication is best reserved as a secondary approach and has been found to be more effective for older adults. 

If you are struggling with depression or other mental health concerns, Catholic Counselors is here to help you find faith filled answers to life’s difficult questions. For more information or to schedule an appointment, give us a call at 740-266-6461 or visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com.

The Small Changes That Lead To Greater Happiness

Do you ever just feel “off,” but you don’t know why? Everything seems to be fine, daily life is running along relatively smoothly, but you just feel down, melancholy, or disconnected from life/others?

A new study out of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and Texas A&M reveals that making small changes—such as smiling more—can make an impact on our emotions and overall mood. It seems like a small change, but a meta-analysis of 138 studies demonstrates that smiling really can make us happier. 

“We don’t think that people can smile their way to happiness,” lead researcher, Nicholas Coles, said. “But these findings are exciting because they provide a clue about how the mind and the body interact to shape our conscious experience of emotion.”

If simply smiling more can make an impact on our emotions, what are some other ways for us to lift our mood and feel reconnected?

Acts of kindness—Buy coffee for the person behind you in line, pick up flowers for your significant other on your way home from work, volunteer at the local food pantry. Acts of kindness give us the opportunity to go outside of ourselves and do something to help and bring joy to others. In return, this helps us to feel more positive, purpose driven, and connected to others!

Set daily goals—Setting small, daily goals allows us to feel proactive, productive, and in control. These goals can be anything from doing one load of laundry, to spending five minutes outside, or even simply brushing your teeth on days where accomplishing a larger goal just doesn’t feel doable. Choose whatever small, attainable goal appeals to you each day. It’s not about the task itself, its about the feeling of accomplishment!

Pray—Take time to pray each day. Share with God what you are thinking and feeling. No emotion is too big or small for God to handle. Ask God to help you express your emotions in ways that glorify Him. Setting aside time to pray, or simply praying as we go about your daily activities helps us to feel reconnected to God, to our surroundings, and to our purpose. 

Listen to music—Listen to music that reflects the mood you want to be in, not the mood that you are in. Often when we are sad, angry, etc. we listen to music that reflects that mood. This typically causes us to remain in this mood, however, listening to music that reflects the mood you want to be in (i.e. listening to happy music when you are sad or listening to energetic music when you are tired) actually causes us to adjust to a mood that better matches the music we are listening to. Surprisingly, this can make a big difference in our emotions throughout the day. 

For more on increasing positive emotions, check out Unworried: A Life Without Anxiety and tune in to More2Life—weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 130!

Increase Your Happiness in Less Than 20 Minutes

As the weather warms up, our ability to spend time outdoors increases. While we are aware that this may make us happier in the moment, new research shows that spending time outside has a significant impact on improving our mental health.

A recent study published in the International Journal of Environmental Health Research reveals that spending 20 minutes in a park, regardless of physical exercise, can have lasting health and mental health benefits. 

“Principal investigator Hon K. Yuen, Ph.D., OTR/L, discovered park users experience physical and mental health benefits such as stress reduction and recovery from mental fatigue.”

This and similar studies reveal how even small things can make a big difference in improving our mental health. Here are a few tips to improve your emotional and physical health today:

Take time each day to do something you enjoy—Take at least five to fifteen minutes each day to do something that brings you joy. Reading, taking the long way home so you can spend a few more minutes driving and listening to your favorite music, drawing, writing, or doing a brief workout are all examples of activities that you can do even for just five minutes a day. Taking this time to do something that brings you joy allows you—no matter what kind of day you had—to feel as though you were productive, experienced peace and happiness, and even gives you something to look forward to the next day. Whatever your favorite activities is, try to spend at least five to fifteen minutes each day engaging in that activity. 

Be present—It’s often easy to get engrossed in the chaos of daily life, and when this happens, we often experience a sort of “tunnel vision” where we are so focused on the task or tasks in front of us, we unintentionally forget what is going on around us. To avoid this tunnel vision mindset, take moments throughout the day to look up and look around. Notice the ceiling, let your eyes rest on a part of the room you don’t usually look at, note what sounds are going on around you, even what smells are in the air. Doing this periodically throughout the day helps to bring us back into the present moment and acknowledge what’s going on in the world around us and takes us out of feeling “trapped” by the things we have going on in our lives. 

Express gratitude—Make a list of three to five things you are grateful for each day. This can be a physical list that you write down or just a mental list that you reflect on during your day. Acknowledging the things that we are grateful for each day does not mean minimizing our struggles by saying things such as, “I have things to be grateful for so I shouldn’t feel ___.” Expressing our gratitude allows us to acknowledge the blessings that we have in our lives, it highlights the positive things, however it does not mean that our struggles do not matter. The intention is to lighten the load of those heavier things. Or simply find the joy among the potential chaos. 

For more on increasing happiness in your daily life check out The Life God Wants You To Have and tune in live to More2Life—weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 130!

To Cohabitate, or Not to Cohabitate. That is The Question

Celebrity couples live together, regular couples live together, if everyone’s cohabiting, that means there has to be some benefit to it, right? Not so fast…

A new study published by the Institute for Family Studies found that cohabitation is rapidly becoming more popular than marriage, even “shotgun cohabitations” are statically more common than “shotgun marriages.” However, research released by the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and The Wheatley Institution at Brigham Young University has reveled that married couples report three key differences in the quality of their relationships than couples who are cohabiting. 

According to the results of this research, the first statistically significant difference in these relationships revels that married couples are more likely to report relationship satisfaction than couples who are cohabiting. After controlling for factors such as age, education, and relationship duration, it was found that 54% of married women report higher levels of satisfaction while married men report 49% relationship satisfaction. When compared to their counterparts of cohabiting women and men, these individuals reported 40% and 35% satisfaction rates, respectively. 

Next it was found that married couples report greater levels of commitment in their relationship than couples who are cohabiting. As the top three reasons for couples to cohabit include convenience, financial benefits, and “to test a relationship,” it should be no surprise that 46% of married couples report higher levels of commitment in their relationship, compared to approximately only 30% of cohabiting couples. 

Finally, research has found that married couples are more likely to report relationship stability than cohabiting couples. When respondents were asked how likely they were to say that their relationship would continue, 54% of married adults reported relationship stability and continuation, while only 28% of cohabiting adults reported stability and a future for their relationship—this includes cohabiting relationships that include children. 

This and further research reveals that cohabitation fundamentally changes the way that couples view marriage. Couples who cohabitate naturally develop the mindset of, “What if it doesn’t work out?” This thought pattern that a cohabiting couple can simply move out and move on with someone else distresses these three important factors of relationship satisfaction, commitment, and stability that are essential to a successful and thriving marriage. 

When discussing these results, the Institute for Family Studies reports, “despite prevailing myths about cohabitation being similar to marriage, when it comes to the relationship quality measures that count—like commitment, satisfaction, and stability—research continues to show that marriage is still the best choice for a strong and stable union.”

For information on how to have a successful and thriving marriage, check out Just Married: The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Five years of Marriage, and find more resources by visiting us at CatholicCounselors.com!

You Can’t Judge Depression By Its Cover

“They seem/seemed so happy.” “They have everything together.” “I/They don’t have any reason to complain.”

Chances are you’ve said at least one of these things about someone, or maybe you’ve even said them about yourself. 

Researchers are discovering a surge in this topic that many are calling “smiling depression,” or the more technical term, “atypical depression.” These terms describe individuals who seem to “have it all together,” who appear happy—but under their external facade or appearance are struggling with depression. 

One article describes, “It can be very hard to spot people suffering from smiling depression. They may seem like they don’t have a reason to be sad – they have a job, an apartment and maybe even children or a partner. They smile when you greet them and can carry pleasant conversations. In short, they put on a mask to the outside world while leading seemingly normal and active lives.”

This type of depression can be difficult to identify, especially with the influence of social media and the norm to only share the highlights of our lives or only post what we want people to think about us. Furthermore, it can be difficult to know how to reach out for help when we are the ones experiencing this “atypical depression” because, “maybe others won’t understand,” or “I can’t let people know I’m struggling, everyone knows me as a happy and put-together person.”

So what do we do to overcome this struggle within ourselves and support those who may be dealing with atypical depression?

Make Prayer a Two-Way Communication—Often we feel as though we have to recite written prayers, or share with God our every need or dream in an eloquent, well thought out manner. While these prayers can be helpful—and all prayer is good—it is important to remember that our relationship with God should be, as with any other relationship, a two way street. While God loves to hear our prayers and our voices, God wants to communicate with us, He wants us to listen to Him. To do this, it is important that we try spending time each day sharing our prayers with God, but then spending time in silence, listening for His voice, for His direction, for His love. This is an incredible way to not only strengthen and deepen our relationship with God, but it also allows us to feel less alone and less as though it’s all up to us. God is there for us, we just have to provide the space and the silence for Him to speak to us and work through us. 

Honesty is The Best Policy—So often I hear, “my friends can always count on me to be there for them, but I can’t expect them to be there for me.” As described in the first point, relationships are—or at least are intended to be—two way streets. Allow yourself to expect from others what they can expect from you. With this mindset, be honest with those who you feel a connection with. Maybe it’s a family member, maybe it’s a close friend, or maybe it’s a co-worker or someone who you enjoy talking to but aren’t extremely close with. Sharing your feelings with the latter individual may allow for a new, beautiful friendship to blossom. No matter who you share your feelings with, be honest. Put down the appearance you so often carry, and be yourself—the put together parts, the struggling parts, and everything in between. 

Likewise, be that person for someone else. Be the person who your friends can be honest with. Ask questions about them. Remove the barriers of appearance. We will all be a lot happier when we can be our true selves with others. 

Random Acts of Kindness—Kindness and happiness can have a ripple effect. Hold the door for someone, smile at that stranger, say thank you, pay for the coffee of the person behind you in line. These seemingly tiny acts can make such a big impact. Not only do these acts touch others lives in beautiful ways, they make us feel good, positive, hopeful. These small acts bring light to the world. They allow others to feel seen, to feel cared about, they allow us to go outside of ourselves, be a positive influence on another person’s life, and do something good. Pay attention the next time you do this for someone. How do they react? Are they surprised? Do they smile a little more? Do their eyes light up?  How do you react when you practice an act of kindness, or when someone does this for you? This little moment of joy, of hope, of positivity can influence us and others in bigger ways that maybe we simply didn’t notice before. 

For more ways to overcome the daily challenges of life and bring more peace and joy to yourself and those around you, tune in to More2Life—weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 130. And be sure to visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com! 

How To Get Your Feelings Heard And Your Needs Met

“Hi! How are you?”, “I’m fine…” End of conversation. This type of exchange is very common, but has become entirely ineffective when it comes to actually getting to know and understand how someone is feeling. The greeting, “How are you?” has essentially become a closed ended (yes or no) question and leaves it entirely up to the person asking the question to decide how positive or negative we are feeling. 

A new Yale study published in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology revealed that adults believe that males are in more pain than females. Although this study focused on physical pain, the same concepts can be applied to emotional experiences as well. 

So how do we teach our children—boys and girls—to express their feelings effectively, and how do we express our own feelings in a way that will allow us to be heard and understood by others?

1) Honesty is the best policy—Hiding our feelings and waiting for others to ask about what we are feeling or experiencing is not an effective strategy. Because of this, it is best to be open and honest about our feelings or experiences. If someone important to you asks, “How’s it going?” Instead of replying with the casual, “I’m fine,” be honest and specific by saying, “I’m really struggling today,” or “Today has been a really nice day.” Sharing our feelings shouldn’t be reserved for when we are really happy or really sad, we should be honest at all times—both about the good and the bad. 

2) Teach others what you need—Being honest about your feelings but not getting the desired response? People can’t read minds. Identify what type of response you need from someone and respectfully ask for that outcome. For example, “Hey, I’m feeling really stressed out, can you problem solve with me?” Or, “I just really need a listening ear and for you to tell me everything’s okay.” No matter what it is that we need, it is always best to express that openly to another person, that way we get the response that we need, and we don’t leave others feeling confused as to what type of response we are looking for.

3) Ask questions and teach others to do the same—Create a dynamic of open and honest communication by asking others more specific questions about their feelings and experiences. “What has been the best part of your day?”, “What have you been struggling with today?”, “What do you feel like you need (from me or others) to make today better?”. These and other questions are much more specific and effective than the general question of, “How are you?” or “How’s it going?” Similarly, asking these more specific questions allows us to have this type of dynamic in our relationships. At best, it teaches others to ask these types of questions to us in return, and at the least, it presents the opportunity for us to respond to other’s answers about the best or most difficult part of their day with our response to these questions. Either way, it’s a win-win and everyone gets their feelings heard. 

For more resources and information on how to get your feelings heard and how to live a healthier emotional life, visit us at CatholicCounselors.com and tune in to More2Life—weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 130!

How to Build Sustainable Happiness in Our Every Day Lives

We live in a busy world. Our daily schedules are hectic enough, and with the currently popular push to prioritize self-care, it can often feel as though our own happiness is just another thing we have to schedule onto our to-do lists. 

But it shouldn’t be this way! So how do we find happiness in our every day lives, just based on what we are already doing?

New research out of the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Recovery Research Institute identified three top practices that significantly increase overall, daily happiness levels. 

The researchers on this study provided a variety of brief, text-based, self-administered exercises to five-hundred adults. Each exercise required approximately four minutes to complete. The results identified these top three happiness exercises that will help to boost our overall happiness!

1. Reliving Happy Moments

How to: For this exercise, choose one of your own photos that depicts a happy moment for you. Is it a picture of your family? A picture of you with your significant other? With your best friend? An achievement? Whatever you choose, take a a few seconds to remember that moment, then write a brief description of what was happening in that photo. 

Why this works: This exercise gets you thinking about good times. It takes you out of the present moment (especially if the present moment is a stressful one), and allows you to focus on something good that has occurred in your life! 

2. Savoring

How to: Think about and describe two positive moments or experiences that occurred during the preceding day. Was it a positive interaction you had with a coworker or family member? Was it getting to enjoy a few moments of sunshine? Describe this happy moment and how it felt to experience it.

Why this works: It’s easy for us to get caught up in our hectic, fast-paced day, and we often simply focus on what’s next and what we have to do. This “Savoring” exercise gives us a chance to reflect on the positives of the day and reminds us of the happiness or little blessings throughout the day.

3. Rose, Thorn, Bud

How to: Briefly list 1) a positive moment and 2) a challenge you faced during the preceding day. Next list a positive moment or a pleasure you anticipate for the following day. 

Why this works: Like the “Savoring” exercise, “Rose, Thorn, Bud” allows you to think of a positive moment that you experienced during the day. This exercise takes this a step further, however, by allowing you to consider a challenge that you faced and evaluate how you overcame this challenge, what your plan is to overcome this challenge in the future, etc. And finally, this exercise ends on an important and uplifting note by allowing you to reflect on something you can look forward to in the coming day. 

Find out more ways to increase your happiness by checking out, “Unworried—A Life Without Anxiety” and tune in to More2Life—weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 130!

Our Kids Might Know More Than We Think They Do

As parents, we often want to protect our children from negative encounters or situations that we experience in our adult lives. But is this the best approach? New research reveals that kids may know more about how we feel than we might think. 

A study conducted at Washington State University Vancouver evaluated mother’s and father’s interactions with their children after experiencing an anxiety inducing event (such as public speaking with negative feedback from the audience). The participants were separated into two groups, one group was told to suppress their emotions in front of their child while the second group was instructed to act naturally. 

After the negative event, the parent’s were given a task to complete with his or her child that required the parent and child to work together as a team. 

The researchers found that the parents who suppressed their emotions had less positive and less efficient encounters with their child than those who acted normally and shared their negative feelings with the child. 

One researcher stated, ““The act of trying to suppress their stress made parents less positive partners during the…task. They offered less guidance, but it wasn’t just the parents who responded. Those kids were less responsive and positive to their parents. It’s almost like the parents were transmitting those emotions.”

Moreover, this study showed that when parents suppress emotions the children became more sensitive to the parents, particularly to their mothers. 

Researcher, Dr. Sara Waters, continued by saying, “Kids are good at picking up subtle cues from emotions. If they feel something negative has happened, and the parents are acting normal and not addressing it, that’s confusing for them. Those are two conflicting messages being sent.”

The results of this study show that it is more beneficial for parents to share their experiences with their children. Allowing children to see the full trajectory—from beginning to resolution—of a conflict teaches children how to regulate their own emotions and learn that problems can get resolved. Waters says, “It’s best to let the kids know you feel angry, and tell them what you’re going to do about it to make the situation better.”

This statement by Dr. Waters demonstrates the parenting technique of Modeling that we discuss in our book Parenting with Grace—The Catholic Guide to Raising (Almost) Perfect Kids! 

For more parenting tips and information, check out Parenting with Grace and tune in to More2Life, weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM channel 130!

The Spirit of Giving…Can Make Me Happy Too?

The Christmas Season is over, but that doesn’t mean our spirit of giving should be. 

New research conducted at Northwestern University reveals that giving to others provides us with an ongoing source of happiness—no matter how frequently we do it. 

In these studies, individuals were given a small monetary allowance each day for about a week. One group of individuals was instructed to keep the daily allowance for themselves, while another group donated the money each day to a charity or cause of their choice. Each group kept a log of their overall happiness at the end of every day. 

Upon completing the experiment, the participants who gave to others reported greater overall happiness each day, while those who kept the money showed a decline in happiness each day over the course of the week. 

So what does this mean for us in our every day lives?

While the currently popular topic of self-care is very important, the results of these and similar research studies show that it would be beneficial to our overall happiness to add giving to others to our regular schedule. 

Giving can come in many forms, from donating to a charity on a regular basis, volunteering at or donating to a food bank, giving money, water, food, etc. to homeless individuals we see, or giving clothes, socks, or other necessities to homeless shelters. While these are just a few examples, these are all great ways of giving to others within the immediate or greater community. 

However, we can also bring this spirit of giving to those within our family. In addition to our regular family life, one way of increasing our practice of giving within our family is to choose at least one family member each day and ask ourselves, “What is one thing I can do today to give to my [spouse, son, daughter, etc.] and show him/her that I love them and care about their happiness?” This can be done through getting/making your spouse’s favorite meal for dinner, giving your chid his/her favorite snack when you pick them up from school or extra-curricular activities, letting that family member choose what game you play as a family, or letting them pick which show you watch together. Writing a small note of love and appreciation for that family member and placing it in their packed lunch or somewhere else for them to find during the day is another great practice.

Whatever it may be, these small acts of kindness can have a big impact on another person by showing them you care. Moreover, practicing giving in these and other ways will actually increase our personal happiness as well! 

For more resources on increasing your happiness, check out The Life God Wants You to Have and tune in to More2Life, weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM channel 130.