My 5-3-1 Happiness Challenge: Will you join me?

When I was at Pilates the other day, my trainer told me about 5-3-1, a simple (and genius!) way we can all be happier. Specifically: Spend five minutes a day in meditation; write down three things that you are grateful for; and lastly, do one random act of kindness. Each day.

Though I do meditate every day, sometimes I’m too busy to think about focusing my thoughts on gratitude, or going out of my way intentionally to do a random act of kindness seven times a week. So I’m going to give 5-3-1 a try this week starting today, and I’ll report back next week with my results. I’m pretty excited, and I hope you’ll join me!

Before I begin, here are some thoughts about making the 5-3-1 Happiness Challenge really work for me (and hopefully you, too):

1. Meditate for five minutes a day: Remember, your daily meditation doesn’t have to take place sitting in a quiet room on a pillow with your legs crossed. Meditation is about bringing compassion to our lives—and then sharing it with the world. You can do this while walking the dog, taking a stroll on the beach, cuddling your cat and so on. These forms of meditation may be considered “informal,” but they’re just as powerful—if not more so. I also prefer to meditate with animals close by (definitely try it if you haven’t already!). And since all we need is five minutes a day for this challenge, try these mini meditations as a launching point.

2. Write down three things that you’re grateful for: I’m grateful for my health, yes. And for my family. Etc. Etc. But this week I’m going to challenge myself to look deeper and uncover new things specific to each day to be thankful for; little things that pass me by and get forgotten because so often, life just moves too fast. So instead of “I’m grateful for my daughter,” I’ll be looking for more focused gratitudes, such as, “I’m grateful that my daughter and I were able to share some laughs during breakfast this morning.”

3. One random act of kindness: This one is a little more difficult for me, if only because I want to be a little creative about it. I’m thinking about sending a little thank-you note or email to someone who helped me recently; I could also purchase the Starbucks latte for the person behind me in line at the drive-through. I’m also hoping that as I go through my day, opportunities will arise for me to do a conscious act of kindness on the spot. Clearly I need some inspiration here, so I’m definitely going to check out this list of 101 Easy Ideas for Random Acts of Kindness.

Tell me: Are you in? Please join me for the next seven days, and let’s report back next week with our results!

23 ways meditation can improve your life right now

I truly believe meditation can impact our lives in positive, astounding ways. I noticed this firsthand when my daily meditations and my animal Reiki practice helped me to fight breast cancer, twice. But I’m not the only one: Meditation is going mainstream, with more people than ever before jumping on board, eager to experience for themselves the amazing benefits of meditation that have been supported by scientific studies. Discipline yourself for astounding results.

The benefits are numerous and broad; in fact, meditation is almost like a “happy pill” that any of us can take, and it doesn’t cost a thing. The best part is, it’s easier than you think. It can be done anywhere; meditation doesn’t require a formal setup. You can do it while walking the dog, while in the pasture with your horse, while sitting still on a bench. There really is no wrong way to meditate, as long as your heartful intention is there. 

If you haven’t found time to meditate lately, here are 23 reasons to put it back on the priority list. (I personally like to meditate with animals; how about you?) Check out these 23 ways meditation can improve your life right now:

1. You’ll sleep better. Insomniacs, rejoice! Mindfulness meditation improves the quality of a person’s sleep, especially in older adults.

2. You’ll lower your blood pressure. Studies have indicated that mindfulness meditation, which helps you let go of pent-up tension, is a natural way to help lower your blood pressure. Some people even attribute their daily meditation discipline to allowing them the ability to reduce their dependence on blood-pressure medications.

3. Meditation helps you to better handle stressful situations. When you are able to get into a quiet, mindful space on a daily basis, you’ll feel calmer overall, allowing you to regulate your emotions and better handle the daily stressors that typically might send you over the edge.

4. Meditation decreases depression and anxiety. Mark Ruffalo is one celebrity who has spoken out about how meditation “saved him” from anxiety. But countless others with depression and anxious thoughts are feeling the benefits as well. Even cancer centers across the country offer meditation rooms for patients. Training our thoughts to focus on the “right now” instead of anxiety-producing thoughts is so helpful when you’re going through a tough time. And yes, I know this from firsthand experience, too!

5. Meditation helps to relieve pain. Amazing but true: Studies have shown that meditation can sometimes take the place of narcotics for patients who suffer from chronic pain. Though not a cure, as pain sufferers will tell you, even a small bit of relief can be priceless. I found meditation absolutely essential to help me relieve the physical and emotional pain of breast cancer treatment.

6. You’ll boost your immune system. In fact, a recent UCLA study found that HIV patients who practiced meditation were able to “slow down” the drop in their CD-4 cells (these are the immune cells that are attacked and destroyed by the virus).

7. You’ll feel the positive results of meditation in just minutes. It’s true! In study after study, it’s shown that you’ll feel the benefits of meditation in no time at all. And though every minute counts, if you want to feel the best results, shoot for at least 25 minutes a day for three consecutive days, according to Carnegie Mellon University.

8. Meditation makes a person more compassionate. The science shows this to be true. And as I have found in my work with animals, the compassion and kindness we feel after connecting with our inner self through meditation extends not just toward fellow humans, but to animals as well.

9. The “little things” won’t upset you the way they usually do. Meditating helps you to focus on the big picture of what matters in this day; it trains your heart and mind toward living mindfully and in the now. As a result, you’ll feel better able to peacefully navigate your day when small stressors crop up. For added inspiration, try this book: The Big Book of Small Stuff: 100 of the Best Inspirations from Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.

10. People who meditate are happier. Happiness is something we all strive for, isn’t it? Meditation helps to take us there—in fact, studies show you’re actually “rewiring your brain” for happiness. Science says there are seven habits we can practice for a happier life. Guess what? Meditation will nurture all of them!

11. Meditation helps to boost your memory and ability to focus and learn. Students who took part in “mindfulness training” did better on the GRE than those who did not. And remember, kids are never too young to learn how to meditate (and experience the positive effects of it!).

12. Your overall quality of life will improve. In addition to all of the scientifically backed health benefits of meditation, you’ll begin to feel more fulfillment in your daily life. Here are 10 profound tips from a Buddhist Monk on living a fulfilled life.

13. You’ll feel calmer throughout your day. When you’re able to find your Zen, you can bring balance into your family and work life, and your day will run smoother.

14. You’ll be more successful in work. Meditation is a success secret of CEOs and famous actors. Even corporations like Google and Apple encourage their employees to meditate—because it helps the bottom line. Here are three reasons everyone at Google is meditating.

15. It can help you to quit smoking and other addictive behaviors. This woman did it, and you can, too.

16. Meditation can reduce your risk of a heart attack. Meditation helps you to reduce the amount of stress you feel in life—which can help you combat cardiovascular disease, as this article from the American Heart Association points out.

17. Some researchers believe meditation can even protect against Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

18. Meditation can help you manage grief. When dealing with grief and loss, it can feel as if nothing will ever help. But when you meditate, you are training your mind away from the hurts of yesterday and the fears of tomorrow. I used meditation to manage my grief when my beloved dog Dakota passed away.

19. Meditation helps you deal with traumatic events in your past. Related to #18 above, veterans and those suffering from PTSD have found much help in meditation.

20. It will help you to be present and really live in this very moment. How many of us rush, rush, rush through each day? But then we wonder where the day went and wish we could slow down. Part of living a mindful life is living (and enjoying) the moment as we experience it. Meditation can help you to embrace more of these moments.

21. You’ll attain a better understanding of your deepest self. Meditation can help you answer this question: What is the true purpose of your life? Additionally, meditation can help to strengthen your connection to your intuition.

22. Meditation can help you feel inspired in new ways. Need to do some brainstorming? Is there a problem that needs solving? Focusing your mind in meditation can help you see things in new and different ways.

23. It literally reshapes your brain. Who knew “reshaping” your brain could improve your life … but it does! All of the positives listed above result from meditation’s physiological effects on the brain itself. Here’s a fascinating TED Talk on the subject:

How does meditation improve your daily life?

8 easy activities that are good for the soul

Living with intention. Living joyfully. I try to connect with these ideals every day, though some days I’m more successful than others. The thing is, when I take the time to really nourish my inner self, I feel stronger, more balanced and, well, happier. So no matter how busy my schedule gets, I always try to make space for simple, soul-nourishing activities such as these:

1. Watch the sun rise. When was the last time you took the time to do this? (And I’m not talking about seeing the sun rise over the freeway while driving to the airport to catch an early-morning flight.) I mean, awakening in starlight, then setting your intention to wait, watch and really savor the beauty that is a new day beginning. This is not just a wonderful time to clear your mind and think, but also a special way to start your day.

2. Plant a vegetable (preferably one you love to eat). You don’t have to be a green thumb to try this one out, and you don’t have to plant an entire time-consuming or complicated garden. Just pick one veggie and give it a whirl. There is something almost meditative about working with the earth, digging and planting. The payoff—eating something fresh you grew yourself—nourishes both your body and soul.

3. Groom your animal. Brushing your dog, cat or horse feels good for them, but it’s good for us, too: It’s the kind of easy, repetitive work that lets our mind wander to a peaceful place. Strengthening your bond with your animal is another bonus. (They’ll shed less, too!)

4. Make your bed. When your bed is made first thing in the morning, your room looks better and more welcoming all day. Also, it starts your day off right by accomplishing this one small task. And at night, isn’t your state of mind in a more positive place when you can wind down in a tidy room? Try it tomorrow; it takes just two minutes.

5. Do a random act of kindness. There’s real power behind a random act of kindness. Even a small gesture of kindness can generate tiny ripple effects and help make this world a better place. Here’s an inspiring TEDx Talk on the subject. See what this woman learned when she dedicated herself to 38 acts of kindness for her 38th birthday:

6. Visit your local art museum. Most of us like to visit an art museum when we travel to a new city. It’s refreshing and almost meditative to wander and contemplate art—but most of us forget we can do this in our own city, as well. (I know, I know … it’s not The Louvre, but still.) We lead such busy lives we often neglect nurturing ourselves. But don’t think of visiting an art museum as a mere indulgence; studies have linked “artistic consumption” to improved health.

7. Channel your inner kid with a coloring book. Tapping into our creativity is very nourishing for the soul, but sometimes being creative can be exhausting. Enter the rise in popularity of coloring books for adults, which can now be found topping the best-seller lists. Like many of the activities listed here, coloring can be very meditative and relaxing (and fun!), and studies show art therapy such as coloring can also reduce stress. I like this one and this one.

8. Find your personal Zen. Maybe you love to exercise—for me it’s Pilates. Or maybe you love painting, writing, creating music, brewing an amazing cup of coffee or baking a batch of muffins. Find a place in your day to do whatever strikes you and that you love.

These are just a few ideas that are good for the soul—do you have any to add to the list?

6 easy ways to inspire more gratitude today

Forbes recently did an article on the seven scientifically proven benefits of gratitude—among them, feeling healthier, a boost in self-esteem and sleeping better. I know for myself, I’ve tried to live more mindfully and cultivate more gratitude in my life ever since fighting breast cancer, twice. But because living mindfully and embracing gratitude into our everyday lives doesn’t always happen seamlessly, here are six tips that really work for me:

1. Set your intention—choose gratitude. Because we have good days and not-so-good days, gratitude must be a choice. Make a point daily to acknowledge all that you are grateful for. Focus on the things you do have and that are going right. There is always something, even if it’s small. When the hard times come (and they will), this important life skill can help you cope.

2. Watch this TED Talk on nature’s boundless beauty and the importance of being grateful every day. This wonderful lecture, featuring cinematographer Louie Schwartzberg’s beautiful images and wise words, is absolutely inspiring and riveting. I especially love this part, where the narrator says: “You think this is just another day in your life. It’s not just another day; it’s the one day that is given to you, today. It’s given to you; it’s a gift. It’s the only gift that you have right now, and the only appropriate response is gratefulness.”

3. Remember and hold close your favorite heartful quotes on gratitude. Here are a few of mine:

“Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.” –Karl Barth

“Gratitude is the sign of noble souls.” –Aesop

“Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet.” –Thich Nhat Hanh

“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” –Epicurus

“Some people grumble that roses have thorns; I am grateful that thorns have roses.” –Alphonse Karr, A Tour Round My Garden

4. Help animals. Volunteering at a rescue will always help to inspire gratitude. First, it redirects your focus from “me” toward a sentient being in need of love and care. Second, spending time with gentle creatures naturally just opens your heart, which will help you to see things in a more positive light. And third, helping an animal that is sick, neglected or homeless can remind you to feel grateful for the basics we often take for granted: food, shelter, our health.

5. Start a gratitude journal. Or, if you already have one, commit to writing in it regularly. Your gratitude journal then becomes a lifeline you can cling to again and again when you need to remember all the abundances in your life you may otherwise have forgotten.

6. Practice patience. Yes, it’s annoying that you’re running late and the woman in front of you in line at the market has 20 coupons and is writing a check (if only she could find her checkbook). Or perhaps it’s a person driving too slow in front of you. Identify your hot buttons and next time, instead of reacting impatiently (or steaming on the inside), be mindful. Breathe, step back and use those precious extra moments to see the big picture. Count your blessings and revel in the beautiful gift that is right now.

What are you grateful for today?

3 tips for finding more peace in your day

Have you ever noticed your days, weeks and even months sometimes slip away without you even noticing? That’s a sign you’re moving too fast—and possibly losing sight of your sense of inner peace. To live more mindfully, reclaim your days as your own, and find more peace each and every day, try these tips:

1. Set your alarm 20 minutes earlier. It’s amazing how a change so small can accomplish so much. When you’re not rushing to get out the door, you can take a few extra minutes for yourself. Read a few pages of the book at your bedside, sip your coffee, meditate, or snuggle with your cat. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, just as long as you’re taking a few peaceful moments for yourself. Starting each day with a few minutes of quiet time will help you tackle the rest of what’s ahead.

2. If necessary, schedule some downtime. Many of us with chaotic, hectic lives forget to plan quality time for ourselves and our friends and families. Yet that’s exactly what we need every week to feel rejuvenated and peaceful within ourselves again. Also, having something fun to look forward to with those that you love (human or animal) has this surprise benefit: Studies show that merely anticipating a vacation or weekend away actually boosts happiness. You don’t have to take a vacation, though, to feel the positive effects of downtime. Those that find it difficult to take time to relax and unplug actually need it the most, so try setting aside a few hours in the weekend to relax and have some fun. Your busy weeks will feel more peaceful knowing you have that to look forward to.

3. Practice gratitude. It’s so easy to constantly compare yourself to others. They have it easier, the better house, more money and on and on. But learning to be grateful for what you do have (while remembering we all have struggles—even those who seem to have it so “easy” on the outside) can help you to put it all in perspective and bring more peace to your day. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy”—and I certainly believe this to be true.

What are your tips for finding peace in your day?