Wake up every morning and think of three things from the day before that you are grateful for.
What you think of can be tiny: you saw a beautiful flower on the way to work; or said something nice to your loved one, even though you felt frustrated; or you heard the sound of the rain and it reminded you of when you were a child. Mainly, you want to find an emotional connection to what you genuinely feel grateful for; not what you think you should feel grateful for.
Once you connect to these three things, observe any sensations in your heart. Warmth, openness, or calmness—these are all possible emotions you might experience. However, it’s possible you might feel pain or anger, or your heart might be closed—it’s okay to feel these emotions, too. It’s a process, and, therefore, a progression of little steps on the way to increased gratitude.
Meditate to find quiet time every day.
Meditating for at least 15 to 30 minutes twice a day, upon waking up and before going to bed, can help relax your mind and body. The point of any meditation is not to have an out-of-body experience (although it might happen in some cases), but instead to bring your mind into your body and connect to your breath. The aim of meditation is not to “check out” from reality, but to become more present with what is really happening at the moment.
By observing your thoughts, you get to develop the witness consciousness that will benefit you throughout the day. Maybe the next time your child is screaming, instead of reacting immediately, you can connect to your witness mind, take a deep breath, and lovingly attend to your child’s needs rather than having a knee-jerk reaction such as, “Can you just be quiet now!!!” The ultimate goal of meditation is clearing your mind enough so that you can connect to the most loving part of yourself and respond to the world with loving awareness as much as humanly possible.
Spend time in nature.
Nature is a great healer. Spending time in nature connects us to ourselves as well as our environment. Nature is a great antidote to having our minds fractured by constant multitasking and looking at computer and TV screens. When we are in relationship with nature, we reset our internal clock to be the baseline of connection and relaxation. It doesn’t matter what climate zone you are in. You can be at the beach, watching the rolling waves and feeling the sand between your toes, or you can be in the dead cold of winter in snowy Vermont and take a walk in the woods. I recently read an article in Time magazine about recent experiments of inmates in prison spending time in what was called the “blue” room. In the blue room, images of nature, a waterfall, a green forest, or meadow are projected onto a wall. Violent inmates showed dramatic improvement in their behavior when they spent one hour a day in the blue room and connected to the images of nature. If a picture showing nature can shift someone’s behavior so dramatically, just imagine how it affects our brain every time we spend time outdoors.
Move your body every day.
It might seem overly simplistic, but it’s absolutely necessary to move our bodies if we want to have our life force circulate properly and remove physical and energetic blocks that we create throughout the day. I prefer yoga, Pilates, and a brisk walk in nature. You can choose which exercise works best for you. In general, if you are skinny and have trouble keeping weight on, feel anxious most of the time, and feel overwhelmed easily, a slower, calmer exercise might benefit you more, so try Yin yoga, Tai Chi, a slow walk in the park, or swimming. If you are overweight and feel lethargic most of the time, try more vigorous exercises, like a Vinyasa flow yoga, brisk walking or slow running, biking, and dynamic swimming. Whichever exercise you choose, listen to your body and see how it responds. Ultimately, your body will teach you what exercises feel good and therefore are good for you. Aim to move your body every day for at least 30 minutes a day, and be sure to consult your physician to make sure you are fit for the type of exercise you choose.
We all breathe all of the time—if we didn’t, we would be dead. It’s important to become aware of your breath. Whenever you feel stressed or anxious, take five deep breaths and observe how it shifts your state of consciousness. My latest practice for whenever I start feeling frustrated is to close my eyes and take five breaths—and then respond. Many times, my response is much different just after a few breaths. It gives me space and time to connect to my essence and speak from the deeper, more loving space within myself.
I spend 30 minutes a day observing my breath while meditating. I try to bring my awareness to my breath throughout the day as much as I can. Breath is a bridge between body and mind, and observing the breath helps to connect the two.
Transform your diet.
There are so many trendy diets that it becomes difficult to decide which to try. There are celebrities who swear that the protein-only diet makes them look gorgeous, and doctors say that the Mediterranean diet would make you most healthy. No two people are alike, and each person has to find the diet that works best for him or her.
I personally don’t believe in short-term dieting for weight loss.
For me, diet is part of a person’s lifestyle. Each person has to decide which style of eating works best for him or her and stick with it as much as possible. In general, a healthy diet should include plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, good quality oils, and seasonal spices.
Spend time with people who uplift you.
We benefit greatly by having positive and likeminded people around us. Take note of how you feel after meeting a friend, and let your own body and mind guide you toward who your real friends are. If you feel more whole and inspired after spending time with a certain friend, then that’s the person you want to spend more time with. If you feel drained and depressed, maybe you should not spend too much time in his or her company.
Of course, even the best of us go through tough times, so I am not suggesting dropping your best friends because he or she drags you down with his or her problems. But if you notice that you surround yourself with people who constantly complain and bring your down, you should look within yourself and find out why you want to be in such miserable company.
Become part of a community.
Community for me is one of the key elements of leading a healthy life. Community is more than a circle of friends (although it might include them). Community can be a geographical place (the village that helps you raise your children) or it can be an organization that brings likeminded people together (like a dolphin-saving club). I make it a point to ensure that there is a strong community wherever I want to buy or rent a house. I no longer buy into a subdivision, but instead into a community.
Growing up in communist Russia, we had very little money exchange, but we had a very strong sense of community. We would stop by each other’s homes and ask for salt or butter when we were making a cake and then share the cake with the generous neighbors. In fact, we had so few possessions, we rarely locked our doors and anyone was always welcome.
Give to receive.
I find nothing more rewarding than giving the gift of love to those around me. I feel my level of happiness and satisfaction rises dramatically when I am able to share. In my case, I love to feed people. Every step of the preparation and serving gives me joy. Seeing faces beaming with joy after they eat my food uplifts my spirit and calms my heart.
You have to find what kind of giving brings you joy. Find a cause and contribute to it. Some people love animals and volunteer at the animal shelter once a week, some love children and volunteer at the local orphanage, some feel for the homeless and help in their local shelter. The important point is that you should not be paid for the gift. You should give without expecting anything in return. It’s a universal law: what you give comes back to you 100-fold.
Take new roads.
It’s important to not drown in the daily routine and mix things up a bit once in a while. If you have a family, it’s hard to be adventurous or take trips to exotic islands whenever you want, but you can take small steps. My husband and I try to find one new restaurant a month that we have never been to. We also walk around the streets of San Francisco and take different streets to get home just so we don’t always take the same route. We also like to be spontaneous when we can (with four kids) and meet for a date or a movie whenever possible. For me, mixing things up helps me to remember that I always have the choice to have a happy and exciting life and that my excitement comes from small events—such as seeing a good movie or having a nice dinner—and not huge events such as a job promotion or receiving a large bonus.