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The Power of You

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Every one of us has the power to build better lives for ourselves

One of the cruelest lessons a human being learns is that life isn’t fair. We each face struggles that we have no control over. Mean bosses, troubled children, health problems, natural disasters.

But we do have control over how we react to these challenges. We can overcome our wired reactions of fight or flight and instead take a deep breath, pause and think our way through our problems.

As America tiptoes through the aftermath of a divisive election, perhaps now is a good time to think about how to make our personal lives better and our tiny spheres of influence more pleasant.

To start with, we’re all lucky enough to enjoy the beauty of the Lowcountry and the wonders of our ingrained hospitality. We’re one up on much of the country.

Beyond that, we can contemplate the power we each have to live happier, healthier lives.

Yes, we have the power.

Here are just a few ways we can improve our outlook, our health and our happiness. Along the way, we can build stronger relationships with the people around us and create an even kinder community.

It all starts with our thoughts.

POWER OF POSITIVE THINKING

When the going gets tough, there’s one adage worth remembering: “Attitude is everything.”

No, we can’t make everything rosy again, but we can try to keep our focus on the future and recognize whatever graces we have at present.

Researchers have found that positive thoughts turbo-charge our brains and invigorate our muscles. Barbara Fredrickson, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina, wrote in her book “Positivity” that positive thinking opens us up to more thoughts, energy and imagination, which in turn lead to happiness and success. Negative thoughts blind us to options, sap our energy and make us sick.

Other studies have shown that positive thoughts and emotions lead to stronger friendship development, marital satisfaction, higher incomes and better physical health.

Those who view the glass as half full rather than half empty are more open to new experiences, critical feedback and increased “oneness” with others. They are more trusting of acquaintances and are more welcoming of people of another race.

However, Fredrickson cautions against “forcing” positivity. It can lead to toxic insincerity. Instead, start by being open to new thoughts, people and experiences. Becoming a positive person takes some work, but it’s definitely worth it.

POWER OF HEALTH

Right on the heels of the power of positive thoughts is the power of influencing our health.

Indeed, there are health challenges beyond our control, but studies show we have more control over our health than most of us probably realize. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (note the last two words) proved that ramping up physical activity can help you lose weight, of course, but also reduce your risk for heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. Activity can also strengthen your bones and muscles, improve your mental health and mood and increase your chances of living longer. That’s just from being more active.

Add a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables and lots of chicken and fish, and you will feel even better. Luckily, we are surrounded by farms on Hilton Head Island and Bluffton and live just a few hours from the country’s year-round garden, better known as Florida. Abundant fresh veggies and fruits are easily accessible here.

For an outstanding, free resource to help you enjoy better health, check out www.sparkpeople.com. It was started by a tech gazillionaire who wanted to help others improve their health.

THE POWER OF PRAYER

Whether it comes in the form of meditation or daily Mass, prayer-like activities give us an opportunity to focus our thoughts and take stock of the positive things in our lives. The also offer the chance to think of those we love and send them positive energy. Humans have been praying for our entire existence, regardless of religion or belief. It’s a powerful practice that takes us out of ourselves to become better people to those around us.

THE POWER OF KINDNESS

“Treat others as you would want to be treated.” The golden rule is a maxim of altruism seen in almost every religion and culture from the beginning of recorded history. From the Talmud: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.” From the Bible: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” From the Quran: "Wish for your brother, what you wish for yourself.” Kindness begets kindness. Sociologists say society would collapse without this tenet.

THE POWER OF FORGIVENESS

Some argue that only God can forgive, but all of us can forget. Forgiveness really is releasing from your mind a hurt or injury that is in the past. It goes back to that painful observation that life isn’t fair. We have the power to choose to either harbor ill will and feed it for years, or ignore it and move on. Time heals if we let it.

THE POWER OF LISTENING

The best way to enable others to get close to you is for you to listen to them. Hear their perspectives, thoughts and feelings. You’ll be better for it, and so will they. Learning about others will enrich your life and boost the happiness that you derive from other people. You’ll be amazed by what you learn if you listen.

THE POWER OF GIVING

Mahatma Ganhdi once said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” There is evidence that people who give from their hearts, whether it’s money or service, are happier and enjoy more tangible success in life — including prestige, power and wealth. But what’s most important is that they gave first, then enjoyed success. They didn’t give to obtain success, but gave because they wanted to. If they truly gave with the thought they would receive nothing in return, they actually got something in return. Those who give with the hope of getting something in return — a favor or recognition or a business lead — tend to get nothing. Give because it feels good and good will return to you.

As America adjusts to a new presidential perspective and a rapidly changing world, we each can steer our lives to more positive outcomes. We can choose what lives we lead. Positivity opens us up to joy and happiness. Negativity closes us up and leads us to loneliness and bitterness. 

We have the power to decide which path we take.