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New Perspectives

by Vivienne Silver-Leigh(more info)

listed in psychospiritual, originally published in issue 112 - June 2005

Sometimes we can forget to enjoy the things we have in our lives; the tsunami disaster showed us how much we have materially in the West, but we rarely stop to appreciate it. We are just used to it. Pictures of the disaster forced many of us to change our perspective on life.

But how can we create more appreciation of everything we have?

It is realistic to express our negative feelings, irritations, sorrows and pains, but we need a balance so that we can look around and be grateful for what we have. The old fashioned virtue of 'counting your blessings' is one way to start.

Input Laughter and Enjoyment

It is a step by step process to take yourself into a positive frame of mind; in a crisis, of course, this is difficult to do, and you need every bit of help you can get – therapy, or talking to good friends who really listen to you.

I have known periods of anguish, self pity and despair, and I came through with lots of help. Now I keep myself upbeat, in different ways. Some of my choices are: regular swimming, talking with close friends, going to art galleries and walking in parks. This also means not doing things I find tedious and dreary, whenever possible. I say no, to commitments that I know will depress me. I keep away from committees and dull lectures. I have choices, and I prefer to do things which cheer me up.

This year I plan to read more novels, and go to more cultural events, because these take my mind beyond my own narrow world. Watching TV is probably the most depressing thing that I do, and I hope to cut that down, although I will look out for humorous drama or a stand-up comedian. A good laugh has been recognized as being therapeutic.

Managing the Happiness Hormone – Serotonin

We can eat foods that influence our body chemistry; 'serotonin' (a neuro transmitter in the brain) is said to maintain a happy feeling, keep our moods under control and relieve depression. Certain foods contain the amino acid tryptophan which increases the serotonin levels; bananas and turkey sandwiches are two foods recommended. So it's bananas every morning for breakfast for me.

To counteract low spirits, we can help ourselves by doing things well-known to bring about cheerfulness; walking in the early morning sunshine, avoiding junk foods, enjoying time with friends.

I eat a pretty good organic diet, hoping my immune system is benefiting. But when I quietly consume a bar of dark organic chocolate, hopefully the serotonin in my brain gets a message that I am spoiling myself and I feel much better! Not good for the waist line, but definitely a feel good factor. I approve of healthy living of course, but I don't give up such small enjoyments which keep me sane.

Ways to Stay on Top of Things

Amelia, aged 26, works in a financial company, and has recently been promoted to a higher position, working very late hours; and eating her evening meals from an automatic machine. She is currently off 'sick', feeling exhausted and miserable. She comes for counselling and begins to understand that this is no way to live. She does not take the anti-depressants offered by her GP, but after a week's rest, she feels much better. She will fall ill again if she does not alter the situation that is making her so stressed; so she creates a plan for the next year, involving requesting shorter hours, changing her job and eventually doing some further studying. Back at work, she finds she is more in control and can cope better.

Looking at her current lifestyle and finding ways to improve it worked well for Amelia. She managed to avoid negative crutches, such as alcohol, which merely covers up the underlying existential sadness which we are afraid of.

Finding Meanings in Our Lives

Nowadays, the Soul in us is not a popular subject of conversation. Perhaps it is easier to talk instead about finding depths of meaning in our lives.

Not everyone has a religious affiliation; and there are different ways to reach deeper into ourselves. My choice has led me to the silent meeting of the Quakers, to reflect and connect, to the inspiring belief that 'there is that of God in everyone'.

Through the arts, perspective can also be widened, bringing deeper levels of feeling and understanding. While taking time to be in touch with nature, away from pressure, brings us back refreshingly to our inner selves.

Thomas Moore, ex-Catholic monk, turned Jungian psychotherapist, wrote: "Care of the soul is not solving the puzzle of life; quite the opposite, it is an appreciation of the paradoxical mysteries that blend light and darkness into the grandeur of what human life can be". I found his book Care of the Soul full of wisdom and practical ideas.

Further Reading

Thomas Moore. Care of the Soul; How to Add Depth and Meaning to Your Everyday Life. Piatkus. 1992.

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About Vivienne Silver-Leigh

Vivienne Silver-Leigh had a career first as a speech therapist, and then became a lecturer in English and counselling. She trained counsellors for five years, and now has a private practice, working as a psychotherapist, from a humanistic/integrative perspective. Following a strong interest in spirituality, she learned yoga and various forms of breathwork and meditation. She can be contacted on e-mail: VSilverl@aol.com

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