Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Healthy Dose of Gratitude Can Improve Quality of Life



McClatchy Newspapers

Research suggests that the regular cultivation of gratitude and appreciation has multiple psychological and physical benefits. Thankful people typically boast better overall health, fewer physical symptoms, higher income, more energy, larger social networks and stronger marriages. They also exercise more. They fall asleep more easily at night. They sleep longer and more soundly, and they wake up more refreshed.

The practice of gratitude may increase the levels of immunoglobulin A in your throat and nose, increasing your ability to resist viral infections. Gratitude practices seem to reduce stress hormone levels in the body. People who cultivate gratitude, optimism and happiness live longer than grumpy pessimists. Even curmudgeons can become beacons of optimism.

Research has shown that only about 50 percent of our mood is determined by our genetics. The rest is largely determined by what we choose to focus on and cultivate. This focus takes commitment and practice.

Dr. Robert Emmons, a psychology researcher at University of California-Davis and one of the leading gratitude researchers in the country, suggests a number of practices that, if done faithfully, will have you grateful in no time:

  • Keep a daily gratitude journal in which you make note of all the good things and the gifts that have come your way that day.
  • Promise yourself to practice gratitude regularly.
  • Focus on the good things that others have done for you. This makes us realize how interdependent we are and makes us realize that we are loved.
  • Learn to develop a language of gratitude rather than a language of complaint. Ask your friends and family to help you. It's often hard to see for ourselves how much we're complaining.
  • Use your senses to come into the present and appreciate the small gifts in the moment -the smile of a child, the smell of your first cup of coffee in the morning, the beauty of a sunset.
  • Take grateful actions. Smile, perform random acts of kindness, help a stranger.

We suspect that if most people engaged in these practices on a regular basis, the world would be a much happier and healthier place. And, people might need doctors like us a lot less frequently, and that's good medicine.

For more on this fascinating subject, pick up Emmons' latest book, "Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier" (Houghton-Mifflin, $25, 256 pages).

Friday, March 20, 2009

Operators are Standing By Call Now!

I recently received a marketing newsletter that informed me the best way to get people to open my newsletter is to have a subject line that indicates a time-limited offer. I thought "One Week Only!" and then realized art therapy is not really time limited. Is there really such a rush to come in for art therapy as that?

In another informative "here's how you do it" article I read that the way to wealth is to offer something online that people coming to my site can immediately purchase and download. What a genius of an idea! Instant gratification!

Believe me, I am trying to come up with just the right thing. I'm thinking of parenting advice. After all, I am an expert, having brought three children safely to productive adulthood. But honestly, I am just like a million other mothers in that way. My children are brilliant and hard working mostly because of how they came into the world. They are a result of a million experiences of which I was not an integral part. I doubt my parenting advice and methods will teach anything new. Besides, I learned most of it after they were grown up and I returned to school. It's amazing I raised such successful kids prior to my expensive education.

No, I don't want to write a book. It's a lot of work. I don't even want to write a pamphlet or an article.

Oh, then I had a wonderful inspiration. I will publish a sketchbook. That you can purchase and download from my website! Yes, a book of blank pages is
just the thing! (And if you want a larger sketchbook, please load your printing tray with "14 x 11" paper.)

I wonder how much it should cost...

Thursday, March 12, 2009

"Art Time"

What is the difference between art education and art therapy? Where does one stop and the other begin? My own experience as a potter frequently gives me the experience of being out-of-time, especially while I work on the potter's wheel. In one of the art therapy discussion groups I belong to the following conversation thread has developed. One contributor to the conversation suggests that in regard to a figure drawing class:
As things progress, if the teacher has done her job, then you enter "art time" where time seems to disappear, the model is now an object of undulating curves, infinite shading, the meeting of light and dark contrasts all of which have to be translated into the restraints of charcoal on paper. It is hardly an all right brain thing, but more a collaboration of both hemispheres of the brain in conjunction with higher and lower brain functions.

I recognize that state of being~doing, which I find is very difficult for many to describe. In that state, where Jungian Dr. Marion Woodman says, "The painting paints the painter," we seem to leave "ordinary time" which the Greeks called "chronos" and enter the time state of "kairos" which is often called sacred time, by those same Greeks... It may be a time-less state, where transformation is possible, for the strictures of reality may be loosened, by the setting aside of the reality-based ego, which for some of our patients has been formed as a limited and restrictive critical ego function.

Now I ask my readers: what is your experience of "losing time" while engaged in art (or music) making?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Cabin Fever

What an interesting time of year. While still cold and snowy in much of the country with cloudy, gray skies, the days are growing longer and brighter. Among days of bitter wind and frigid temperatures, we can experience random days of sunlight and even warmth that remind us spring is just around the corner.
Either we accept and embrace this chilly time and wile away the hours sipping hot cocoa, reading or watching movies while enjoying a respite from outdoor responsibilities like mowing the grass and pulling weeds. Or...we grow anxious.
It is subtle at first. Then, the sensation of being confined leads to pacing and a lack of focus. Minutes seem like hours, and we spend more of them peering through slits in curtains drawn to keep the cold at bay. We hope for a glimpse of green grass or crocus buds peaking through the dingy snow.
Diagnosis? Cabin fever. Treatment? Friends and activities.
Occupy your head and hands with an exciting new project in a social setting. Make the most of this time "trapped" indoors by trying a new craft. Take a class, join a group or attend a social craft event at a store, cafĂ© or friend’s house.
Even a few hours spent creatively with loved ones can bring a little sunshine into your day and chase away winter blahs.
With thanks to all the inspirational art therapists out there.