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How to live well: 5th meeting - positivity, savouring & gratitude


"Ten thousand flowers in the spring; the moon in autumn; a cool breeze in summer; snow in winter.  If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life."                                Wu-wen

"Thus weave for us a garment of brightness; that we may walk fittingly where birds sing; that we may walk fittingly where grass is green; O' our Mother the Earth, O' our Father the Sky."       Tewa Indian 'Song of the Sky Loom'

Over the first 4 meetings of this 10-session "How to live well - a shared exploration" course, we have looked at Values and how they can express helpfully in the goals we choose in our Relationships, Work and (especially during the course so far) in our Self-Care.  Then last week in "How to live well: 4th meeting - coping with difficulties, the mindbus, compassion, mindfulness & reappraisal" we particularly explored Coping Skills for responding to difficult situations.  The focus for this fifth week of the course is on Savouring Skills for responding to welcomed situations.

The Home practice requests below list the exercises it would be good to do this week.  Many of these ideas are based on the work of Barbara Fredrickson, Fred Bryant & related Positive Psychology researchers.  Barbara has published extensively, is well known for a series of insights - for example her Broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions - and can be seen in this interesting short video on Remaking loveFred Bryant has championed the idea of Savoringand continues to publish on this theme

Here are the "Home practice" requests for this fifth week:

1.)  Please make sure that you've completed & scored the positivity ratio assessment questionnaire at the start of the week.  Then daily during the week, please complete the positive emotions assessment questionnaire for the previous 24 hours.  Finally, at the end of the week, please complete the positivity ratio assessment questionnaire again ... what has changed over the seven days?

2.)  Aim to continue practising a 12-breath mini-meditation three times daily.  This week's practice is the last where we chop & change, adding new areas to explore.  The first 4-breath sub-section is the same as usual ... intention/scanning/naming ... and the fifth breath is also the same, involving soothing touch/self-compassion.  Breaths six to eight are different.  They involve savouring in the present.  Awareness is on what's feeling good right now ... as one scans through the body and in the sounds & sense of one's environment.  I usually continue to keep my eyes closed during this section of the exercise but, if it would help savouring in the present, you can always allow your eyes to open (even if only a little).  Enjoyment, gratitude, appreciation.  Then the ninth breath is familiar again, a connection to our values ... spine & heart.  Then the last three breaths again have a new focus ... savouring into the future.  What am I looking forward to in the next few hours ... the Ta-Da's of my day maybe?  What looks as though it might be interesting, fun, warm, relaxing, stimulating ... ?  Here's a talk through of this fifth week version of the 12-breath practice.  It would be good if one of these three daily meditations is made a bit longer ... so one goes through the 12-breath sequence 2, 3 or even 4 times.  I usually up the ante a bit as well, so that if I lose focus during any of the 4-breath sub-sections of the practice, I go back to the beginning of that sub-section and start again.

3.)  Set aside 5 minutes a day for the gratitude & appreciation exercise.  It's usually better if you try to do this exercise at a similar regular time each day (looking back over the previous 24 hours).  If it fits for you, taking this time towards the end of the day may be a little better as you then go to sleep with these appreciations in your mind.  However much better to get the exercise done at any time of day that works for you, than to try for the end of the day and find you're too tired or too rushed to do it.  Note down three things ... like 'snapshots' of appreciated times ... three 'blessings'.  They're not meant to be 'the best' moments ... just three experiences that were pretty special.  Once you've jotted down three, re-imagine them.  Probably easiest if you close your eyes.  Go into your senses.  What did the situation look like?  How did you feel physically?  Write down a few words that describe how the experience made you feel emotionally then ... and now.  Do this for each of the three experiences. Experiential processing like this typically boosts wellbeing more effectively than staying in one's head ... and typically counting our blessings like this helps to reduce our stress levels.  And, once you've been doing this for a day or two, you'll probably find you're looking out for & noting these special 'snapshots' as you go through the day.  That's great.  You may also enjoy sharing this exercise with others and asking about their day as well.  As usual there's a tendency to habituate, so it may be most effective to repeat this exercise for a week or so every month.

4.)  Have at least a couple of 'Ta-Da's!' in your day.  This is a tip from Barbara Fredrickson.  Having a balanced time perspective is associated with greater wellbeing ... so we aim to be able to remember aspects of the past happily, savour the present too, and plan for & look forward to the future.  Suggestion 1.) above encourages savouring in the present and into the future.  Suggestion 2.) involves savouring into the immediate past.  This suggesion 3.) is both a future savouring exercise & a preparation/alert to savour in the present once the event is reached.  I often find I don't have to add anything extra to my To-Do list.  It's more about identifying certain activities that I can look forward to with some pleased anticipation.  I do pretty routinely keep a To-Do list, so I note the potential Ta-Da's! by putting an exclamation mark beside them on the To-Do list.  Sometimes I may also add an activity to give the day a bit of extra Ta-Da spice, but mostly the potential spice is already there ... it's just about taking a few extra moments to identify the activities and savour them ... in anticipation & in execution!

5.)  On most days also experiment with the coming to our senses exercise.  And, if you would like other ideas for savouring, try out one or more suggestions from the blog post "Deepening our enjoyment & appreciation of life".  Again these suggestions are both about savouring into the future and preparing oneself to better savour in the present.  The coming to our senses exercise is potentially a particularly good one for practising losing our head & coming to our senses.  So the instruction is to take 5 minutes (or longer) when walking (or when travelling in other ways, for example running, on a bus, in a train, a passenger in a car, etc).  Quite deliberately start by bringing attention to what one can see by repeating silently "Observing ... " and completing the sentence with whatever one's eyes are noticing.  And again "Observing ... ", "Observing ... ".  Then the same process of deliberately paying attention to our senses, but this time it's "Hearing ... ", "Hearing ... ", "Hearing ... ".  Often I'll then return to "Observing ... " x 3 and then I move on to "Sensing ... ", "Sensing ... ", "Sensing ... " before moving back to "Observing ... " again and so on through the sequence.  By "Sensing ... " I mean noting the sensations of one's body ... especially on the interface between skin & outer world e.g. the breeze on my face, the feel of my trouser legs on my shins, the pressure on my feet from my weight and the ground underneath, and so on. 

6.)  If you found it helpful carrying a quotation before (about heart or spine), try it again for savouring & appreciation.  Here's a list of savouring-relevant quotations you can choose from ... or use an alternative quote that you select.  Again carry it with you all week.  Learn it.  Feel it.  (a minute a day?)

7.)  At some point before our next meeting please take 10-15 minutes to complete the VIA survey.  You can then download the free report or (and this may be worthwhile) spend $20 for the fuller VIA ME! report.  Please bring whichever you get to our next session.

8.)  And try to keep momentum on the Four fundamentals of Exercise, Diet, Sleep & Dependencies.

9.)  Finally, please glance back over the 10-page handout you were given at this fifth meeting of the course & jot down further thoughts/feelings on this week's session 5 reflection sheet.  There was the 'positive' emotions broaden & build resources - part 1 & part 2, gratitude & appreciation exercise slidesinstructions & record sheet, the coming to our senses walking/travelling exercise, and the savouring-relevant quotations sheet.  What last night felt most interesting & potentially helpful for you ... what felt less clear or less helpful? 

Enjoy ... and see too notes for the next session ... "How to live well: 6th meeting - work, balance, practice, strengths & goals'".


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