Benefits of Gratitude

gratitude

Every year, on the last Thursday of November, American families, friends, neighbors, and the otherwise lonely, gather together to celebrate Thanksgiving. For many of us, this year will be no different, and we’ll engage in yet another gastronomic extravaganza. We’ll gnaw on spiced and tenderized turkey wings, eat forkfuls of oven-baked stuffing, scoopfuls of buttered mash potatoes, cleanse the palate with a slice or two of cranberry sauce, and slip into our sweatpants to make room for the must-have dessert: pumpkin pie. We will likely eat ourselves into a tryptophan daze.

Some of us may even dress up in native American costumes, or as Pilgrims, recalling what we learned in history class, how the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians indulged in a three-day affair of eating, fishing, and hunting in November 1621, celebrating what is acknowledged as the first Thanksgiving. In the winter of 1620, after much of the Pilgrim population was killed, the colonists requested help from the native Indians, who taught them how to hunt, fish and plant crops. In return, the Pilgrims invited the Wampanoag to feast on their bounty of ripe food to celebrate their first successful autumn harvest.

While the narrative of Thanksgiving is partly about how varying cultures and races can gather together and actually get along, the holiday is a time to reflect upon what we are thankful for – in other words, gratitude.

A few weeks ago, while engaging in meditation during a yoga class, the instructor spoke in a melodic chant, with the goal of centering our thoughts on self-appreciation and appreciation for others. She encouraged us to hold onto equanimity and to release ourselves from attachment and aversion, then asked us to imagine sharing that peace of mind with others – loved ones, friends, strangers, even those with whom we are experiencing a somewhat challenged relationship.

As I focused on my breath, filling my lungs with the sweetness of a Sunday morning, I thought about the once-upon-a-time gratitude journal in which I wrote daily statements of thanks each day. I couldn’t recall how long it had been since I had written in that journal. As the yoga instructor had encouraged, I carried my mindful practice into the rest of my day, also bringing with me the theme of gratitude. I told myself I would start a new gratitude journal, in which I would jot down brief observations, thoughts, anything that reminds me I have a lot to be grateful for: the hand-knit afghan my mother-in-law gave me, hot water, a refrigerator full of food, socks with no holes.

In my research about the benefits of gratitude, I learned that keeping a gratitude journal does more than remind me I have a lot to be thankful for. Studies have shown that gratitude improves our emotional, mental, and physical health. It makes us happier, helps us sleep better, inspires us to exercise more, keeps us connected, increases our social capital, makes us more productive and less envious, motivates us to make decisions.

If it’s that easy, writing in a gratitude journal five minutes each day as a means to improve our long-term well being, by more than ten percent researchers say, then I’m in, hook, line, and sinker. Are you? I can’t think of a better time than now, November, National Gratitude Month, to start penciling the page with, “I’m grateful for …”

“This a wonderful day. I’ve never seen this one before.” ~ Maya Angelou

 

 

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Creating Powerful Prose

powerful_prose

Are you looking for a solution to creating powerful prose? Of course you are. Why would you want your work to be clogged up with useless words, sentences, and phrases? After reading five online writing guides, I found that most of them agreed on the same words that, as one guide asserts, “deserve to die.”

Many of the words you can safely kill are ambiguous ones like adverbs and adjectives. For instance, writing “The toddler jumped high” doesn’t tell us how high he jumped. Two inches? Ten inches?  The same goes for the following: “The woman is tall.” Your version of tall will likely be different than mine. But if the sentence is written with detail, as in, “The woman is six foot eleven,” then we can agree she’s tall.

Here is a partial list of more words you can kill off:

Very and Really: Though both are meant to augment an adjective, verb, or another adverb, they do the exact opposite – they weaken the word it intends to modify.

Just: this word also weakens the writing. If someone smacked my hand every time I used “just,” I’d have one huge bruise.

Perhaps and Maybe: Both of these adverbs make the writer sound unsure, which makes the reader question the writer’s reliability. When reading my work recently, an editor told me she noticed I use both of these words too often. (how much is too often?) She also mentioned that women tend to use “maybe” and “perhaps” more than men. I don’t know how true that is, but her feedback made a difference. Each time I’m tempted to write “maybe” or “perhaps,” as in, “Maybe I felt sorry for him,” I stop myself and ask, “Well, do I?” If so, I write it that way: “I feel sorry for him.”

Always and never: Both are absolutes, and nothing is absolute. It’s best to employ these words when writing a command, such as “Always lock the door before you leave the house” or “Never leave the car door unlocked.”

Thing: This is lazy writing. What things? Books, chairs, bubble gum wrappers?

Amazing: This word is overused: “That was an amazing movie … The hike was amazing… The concert was amazing.” Which brings us to …

“Was:” A to be verb. I know I’ve mentioned this in previous blog posts, but it’s worth mentioning again. The to be verb is sometimes warranted, but action verbs make for stronger prose. Instead of saying, “I was walking to the beach,” say, “I walked to the beach.”

Let’s look at the two options in the following sentence using “amazing” and “was”:

“The sunset was amazing” versus “The sun descended below the horizon, painting the the sky magenta and red.” Which sounds better?

I invite you to explore the following websites for more words to destroy:

Lit ReactorPlague words10 words to cut

Feel free to let me know how it goes.

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We Can Cure Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimers

Since November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness and Family Caregivers Month, I thought I would take the opportunity to thank the more than fifteen million Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers in the United States for their hard work. You are to be admired, and applauded.

More than forty million people worldwide have Alzheimer’s disease. Included in that number is my father, and perhaps your own parent, grandparent, spouse, or best friend. Because I often feel helpless when I visit my father in the nursing home as I listen to him stutter my name, and watch his hand shake as he tries to lift a scoopful of ice cream to his mouth or turn the page of the newspaper, I must reach out to you. I reach out with the ice-cold truth about this insidious disease that pisses me the fuck off, and makes me want to punch the protein out of its plaques and tangles. (I’m not a violent person at all, really. But watching a loved one slowly fade into the dark more than sucks.)

Now that I’ve purged from my gut how I really feel, I’d like to share with you what Dr. Samuel Cohen, a Research Fellow at the Centre for Misfolding Diseases in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Cambridge, has to say in a video about Alzheimer’s:

By 2050, Alzheimer’s will affect one hundred fifty million people.

If you plan to live into your golden years, your chance of developing Alzheimer’s will approach one in two.

Alzheimer’s is the most expensive disease in the United States, costing two hundred billion dollars each year.

Out of the top ten causes of death worldwide, Alzheimer’s is the only one that cannot be prevented, cured, or slowed down.

The US government spends ten times more on cancer research than on Alzheimer’s.

People with Alzheimer’s can’t always speak out for themselves.

Alzheimer’s is always fatal.

Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of the aging process.

If you have a brain, you are at risk for Alzheimer’s.

We now know that the plaques and tangles clogging the Alzheimer’s brain consist of protein molecules.

We can cure Alzheimer’s.

To hear Dr. Cohen’s TED Talk about Alzheimer’s and the new class of drugs being tested to stop the disease, please click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Football and Concussions

football.concussions

It’s football season, and fans look forward to Sunday afternoons – sitting close to the television, cheering on their most-loved teams and screaming expletives at the screen when the opposition scores a touchdown.

But I am here to share with you a voice that has recently spoken much louder, not about their love of football, but about the dangers of a sport in which the primary goal is to do everything, and anything, possible to prevent the opposing team from scoring a touchdown, even if it means hurling all two hundred plus pounds of body weight at the opponent and mowing them down into the hard turf. That voice is HealthGrove, whose stated mission is “to turn complicated data into vivid and contextually-rich visualizations and knowledge products. When it comes to football and concussions, they have done just that.

HealthGrove examined data from the U.S. National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), which gathers injury-related reports from one-hundred emergency rooms every year. The NEISS data showed that the football concussion rate far exceeded all other sports, with an estimated 17, 627 concussions occurring every year. This number is nearly double basketball and soccer related concussions combined.

With all the media attention and research focusing on football-related concussions, professional players are retiring and speaking out about their fears of allowing their children to be subjected to a sport whose brutal body maneuvers have proven to inflict lasting harm to the brain.

So if your child asks you to sign him up for Pop Warner football, please, think about it before saying yes. Remember: 17, 627 football related-concussions occur every year.

It’s worth noting that, as of 2014, there were two hundred sixty five million active soccer players in the world. As the sport has grown in popularity, so have concussions. According to NEISS data, out of all the sports they listed, soccer ranks third when it comes to concussions. Just before I finished writing this post, I learned about a New York City teenager, Thomas Jakelich, who died on  October 26 due to a head injury sustained in a collision with a soccer player of the opposite team. My sincere condolences go out to his family and friends.

 

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