10 Significant Life Lessons from the talented Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn

For beautiful eyes look for the good in others.
For beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness. And for poise, walk with the knowledge
that you’re never alone.
— Audrey Hepburn
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Intelligent, graceful, beautiful - and wise.

These are just a few of the epithets that have been used to describe Audrey Hepburn, and for many she remains the quintessential Hollywood actress of the mid-20th century. One of only 12 actors, male or female, to win the coveted EGOT - Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards.

20 years after her death, she was voted the most beautiful actress in the world by Life magazine, and today she remains a shining cultural star.

Yet the most remarkable thing about Audrey, wasn't her status as a film or fashion icon. It wasn't the magical way she transformed a string of pearls and Little Black Dress - It was her humility of heart, tenacity, and compassion for the vulnerable.

Born in Belgium, her mother was a baroness and her father an aristocrat,  she grew up in the shadow of World War II.  She never forgot the help she received as a young child during during German Occupation, and in later life devoted herself to assisting children worldwide through UNICEF.

Here are 10 lessons we can learn from the life of Audrey Hepburn.

 
 
 

1. She had a quiet courage

Although both Audrey's parents were fascist sympathisers (though her mother later became disillusioned with the movement), Audrey and her half-brothers never shared their leanings. As a young girl growing up in war-torn Holland, she even used her talents as a fledging ballerina to raise money for the Dutch Resistance by dancing.

The rooms were blacked-out and the audiences remained eerily silent so as not to attract the attention of Nazis who were everywhere.

Occasionally, like some other children in the area, she carried money and secret messages for the Dutch Resistance. 

On one memorable occasion she was stopped by a German soldier as she was out after the nazi-enforced curfew. He forced her to remove her shoes. Thankfully, she later reported, that day she wasn't carrying any messages, but the day before she had secret literature - hidden in her shoes.

That desire to help others never left her.

 

2. She had the resilience to overcome early struggles

Audrey Hepburn as a child

Audrey Hepburn as a child

Growing up in Europe in the 1930s and 40s, Audrey's life was not easy.

Her childhood in war-torn Arnhem in Holland, was made more difficult because her fluency in English made her a target for the German occupiers. She hid the fact she spoke English from all but immediate family. Throughout the war, she used a Dutch name too, Eeda van Heemstra, to avoid suspicion.

She saw her older half-brother forced from their home for his refusal to join the Nazi Youth Organisation. He spent the war in a concentration camp. 

Her other half-brother, who aided the Dutch Resistance, was forced into hiding for several years in order to avoid the same fate. It wasn't until some weeks after the war ended that Audrey discovered that mercifully they had both survived.

Audrey also witnessed innocent men being shot by Nazi soldiers in the street, and saw Jewish children being herded onto trains like cattle. She recalled she was a child, watching a child, and the horror of it gave her intermittent nightmares for the rest of her life.

No wonder she later said,

The most important thing is to enjoy your life - to be happy - is all that matters.”
 

3. the starvation she endured made her appreciate the simpler things in life

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Throughout the war, the Netherlands was occupied by the Nazis.

Food and fuel were scarce, and the winter of 1944-5 was known as the Hunger Winter as a German blockade prevented food supplies reaching the area. As many as 22,000 people died.

Throughout that winter, Audrey recalled she existed on tulip bulbs ground down to make flour, endives and grass.

She later remembered how she saw women with their dead babies on the roadside, collapsed from starvation.

The experience left her with jaundice and anaemia, and near to death at times. For the rest of her life she suffered with a delicate stomach, and respiratory and metabolic issues. It also contributed to several miscarriages as her body never fully recovered from the ordeal it had endured.

Sadly, when people envied her waif-like figure and ethereal beauty, they did not realise that it was the result of severe hunger in her formative years. There were also rumours that she was anorexic. 

Perhaps because of this, compared to many of her Hollywood peers, she lived in relative simplicity. Once you had endured extreme starvation, she noted, "you never send a steak back because it's underdone..."

She later said, quite poignantly,

I came out of the war, thankful to be alive, aware that human relationships are the most important thing of all, far more than wealth, food, luxury, careers or anything you can mention.

 

4. She was able to forgive her father for walking out on the family

Audrey Hepburn reunited with her father

Audrey Hepburn reunited with her father

When she was six years old, her father left the family home for good.

The story goes that he popped out for a packet of cigarettes and never came back. Audrey was heartbroken - and despite all her fame and achievements in later life,  she never got over it.

She saw him some years later on the eve of World War II. She was at school in England, and somehow her mother, who was in the Netherlands, tracked down her ex-husband and sent him a message asking him to place Audrey on a plane back to what she thought would be safety in the Netherlands.

Audrey's father duly complied, but they lost contact completely and she spent over twenty years assuming he had died. 

Of her father leaving, she later described it as, "a tragedy from which I don’t think I’ve ever recovered. I worshipped him and missed him terribly from the day he disappeared..." 

It was her first husband who helped her find him. He was living quietly in Ireland, having spent the war years interned on the Isle of Man for his fascist leanings.

Although they were never truly close again, Audrey supported him financially, and their relationship was cordial enough for her to regularly write him letters that began, "Dearest Daddy..."

 

5. during the war She found hope in something beyond herself

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One of the things that kept her spirits up through those dark days of World War II was her love of ballet and dance. Throughout the horrors of war, with the shadow of death at every turn, dancing became her raison d'etre.

"I love dancing," she explained, "because it can take you out of yourself..."

For Audrey, it was both a means of survival and self-expression.

She gave lessons to girls only a few years younger than herself in order to earn a little money, but when she performed herself she preferred to do so solo.

Eventually, starvation made her so weak that one day she collapsed in class. The kindly male ballet instructor saw her weakened state and shared his meagre supplies with her.

But the damage had been done. After the war, she resumed ballet lessons in London her body never recovered the strength necessary to become a prima ballerina.

Still it gave her that beautiful and much loved grace and poise.

"I couldn't express myself while conforming to a line of twelve girls. I didn't want to conform."

 

6. she was conscious of her own self-worth

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Even as a young woman, trying to make her way in the acting industry, Audrey Hepburn knew her worth.

When she came to Paramount's attention, she was a young actress, establishing her name in London.

Paramount told her they were keen to fly her to America to audition for Roman Holiday, but they had a condition. The US actress, Katherine Hepburn, was already well-known and they didn't want their audiences to be confused.

Would she consider changing her name?

Audrey refused. She got the part anyway.

 

7. She took her profession seriously

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Audrey won her first Oscar very quickly - for her portrayal as a royal princess in the 1953 film, Roman Holiday.

Yet despite this, she remained committed to a disciplined schedule of acting tuition in an attempt to perfect her craft. She was not one for after- parties or night clubs, preferring to spend time honing her skills.

This led to criticism from some journalists and fellow actors, who regarded this and her natural reticence as superior behaviour.

But Audrey explained it thus - she was still a young woman. She had a lot to learn. Her desire was not to be a celebrity but a great actress, and to do that she needed to work - and work hard.

 

8. She prioritised being a mother over her acting career

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At the height of her fame, when she, alongside Elizabeth Taylor were the highest paid actresses in the world, she walked away from Hollywood to focus on family life.

Perhaps due to the malnutrition in her youth, she suffered several miscarriages, and the most important thing for her was to be an available mother to the two sons she had, ten years apart.

Audrey was very close to her children, and wanted to live a quiet life as a doctor's wife to her second husband, and hands-on mother.

She loved to cook and eat big bowls of pasta for her sons and their friends - spaghetti al pomodoro was a favourite - and happily walked them to and from school.

After her death, her eldest son, Sean Hepburn-Ferrer, described her as his best friend and confidante.

 

9. She was a Philanthropist and humanitarian

Audrey Hepburn on a UNICEF project in Bangladesh

Audrey Hepburn on a UNICEF project in Bangladesh

Audrey never forgot the sacrifices made by the Allied forces to help liberate her country. Immediately after the war she worked voluntarily as a nurse in a home for wounded Dutch soldiers.

That sense of gratitude never left her.

Her son, Sean Hepburn-Ferrer, recalled, "She was grateful to the people who liberated her. She never forgot the chocolates and the outstretched hands - the little acts of kindness to children like herself. Later in life, those memories inspired her to work for Unicef. She wanted to give something back to the world."

In the late 1980s, when her two sons were grown, she turned her attentions to humanitarian efforts. Recalling how the United Nations Children had brought much needed food and medical aid after the war, she approached UNICEF and asked to help in any way she could.

Before her untimely death at the age of 63, she travelled to over 20 countries including Turkey, Guatemala, Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia.

She saw firsthand the plight of innocent children whose lives had been blighted by war, famine and drought. She spent her final years drawing the attention of politicians and world leaders to the plight of these children.

As she said, "I think that, today, never has there been more suffering in more places all at once. At the same time, never has there been so much hope. We've had the greatest gift mankind could possibly give to children, which is "The Convention on the Rights of the Child..."

UNICEF noted that thanks to the Convention, the way children were treated changed. They were seen as human beings with their own needs and rights instead of as passive objects of charity and care.
 

I can testify to what UNICEF
means to children, because I was among those who received food and medical relief right after World War II...”
 

10. She was still very human

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Of course, Audrey had her short-comings and detractors. What person doesn't?

Humphrey Bogart, who she starred with in Sabrina criticised her acting ability, complaining it took 30 takes for her to shoot one scene.

The writer, Truman Capote, who wrote Breakfast at Tiffany's, was hugely disappointed that she was cast in the role of Holly Golightly over the more obvious allure of Marilyn Monroe.

In her early Hollywood days she had an affair with her co-star William Holden and was keen to marry him, even though he already had a wife and three children.

And she could never give up her life-long addiction to cigarettes, started as a teenager at the end of the war when the English liberators of Arnhem gave her their tobacco...

Yet these things did not define her.

What shines through are her kind heart, intelligence and compassionate nature.

With grit and resilience she overcame the tragedy of war and abandonment by her father.

She used her talent and beauty to touch the hearts of millions of movie goers world-wide, and her wisdom and star quality to help transform the suffering of hundreds of thousands of children in some of the poorest, most neglected parts of the world.

Audrey Hepburn was truly a global icon.

 

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7 key ways of setting boundaries to protect your health

Oprah Winfrey’s 'SuperSoul Sunday' guests share why setting emotional boundaries is the key to creating positive and healthy relationships.

When I was younger, I loved to study. I was good at writing essays, completing coursework and reading widely on any subject - but there was also a problem. I was living with a severe pain related condition which limited what I could do.

Very often, I couldn't get to school for days, or weeks at a time.

I would teach myself the work at home, my mother would take it to school for the teacher to mark, and it would then be returned to me.

Although it wasn't easy I persevered, and managed to get high grades.

Word started to spread about how academic I was, and at times I'd get phone calls from other people - often adults - asking me for assistance with their own work.

"I'm having a bit of problem doing this essay," they'd say. "Would you be able to help me with it?."

Or, "I'm so stuck. Help please! Need to give it in by Friday!"

And, keen to help, I'd say yes.

That created another issue.

I was already far behind on my own assignments  - and now I was using energy reserves my body didn't have to help other people with theirs too.

I also worried that I wouldn't be able to help the other person in time. After all, I could rarely keep up with my own course work. What chance did I have of completing someone else's?

My mother explained the importance of saying no, telling me the necessity of prioritising and letting others know what I could and could not manage. But I found it hard to listen.

Instead, I'd stress myself in the effort of trying to help other people while my health and coursework suffered.

If I didn't help they'd be upset with me, I reasoned, and I'd be letting them down too.

It never occurred to me that by jeopardising my health the only person I was harming was myself.

It took years for me to learn the importance of my mother's lessons of setting boundaries in daily life. 

 
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Why Boundaries are important

Boundaries are vital for our everyday functioning. It helps provide a structure of self-care.

  • I've found that when esteem or confidence is low, it is easy to drop one's boundaries and give in to the whims or requests of other people, even if it might be detrimental to my health.
  • Yet having clear set boundaries are an important part of self-identity and recognising your worth as an individual.
  • If you're struggling with health issues, for example, and those around you are not supportive, then one way of setting healthy boundaries is to decide what is acceptable to you or not. For example, if a loved one is constantly dismissive of you, you have to set a clear boundary that such language is not acceptable to you.
 

Kate (not her real name) told me that her teenage children constantly belittled her struggles with chronic fatigue - letting her know what an inconvenience it was to them that she was always ill.

"It felt like they were blaming me for being ill. When they were younger they were a bit more understanding, but I guess as they grew up and I got worse it wore on their patience. I felt terribly guilty - I wasn't the mother I wanted to be - so I found myself pushing myself all the time to do things for them, but it just made me worse and worse which frustrated them more. I felt like I was being spun round in a spiral and I just couldn't get out of it."

Of course the emotional pain of her children being upset with her, and her own sense of regret at not being able to be there for them as much as she wanted to made her health worse.

One of the ways she managed to set boundaries was by refusing to push her body beyond its limitations in order to please them.

"As much as I love my kids I realised that my health had to take priority. I made the decision that if they were going to be hostile to me when I was so ill, then I wasn't going to force myself to cook dinner for them when I could barely stand or move.  After all, they were in their mid-teens and old enough to help round the house more anyway.

"At first it was hard for me to do this - they are my kids, after all. And of course they didn't like it - but I was able to take the time I'd normally use to prepare dinner to rest, regain some energy and do something enjoyable for myself. Now they realise that there are days when they'll simply have to go in the kitchen and fend for themselves. It also means they're a bit less critical of me now - as they've seen that there are consequences for their behaviour."

Suzanne's issue was different.

She was fortunate enough to have a spouse who bent over backwards to assist her.  So she found she had to set boundaries of a different type.

Although she realised how lucky she was to have such help, she still needed to maintain some independence - even if it was a struggle at times. She really loved cooking, and her boundary was to tell him that there were days she just wanted to be in the kitchen and cook the meal herself, even if it took longer and meant dropping the odd item of cutlery here and there.

Photo: Didin Emelu, Unsplash

Photo: Didin Emelu, Unsplash

 

Here are seven simple ways of setting boundaries to protect your health:

  1.  Know your health limits. If completing the task for someone makes your health worse, emotionally or physically, then you have every right to say no. You need to be clear about the impact it will have on your health - and if it's going to be detrimental to you.
  2.  Make it clear. I used to go into so much detail when I was unable to help someone. I'd explain about my health, the tasks I hadn't been able to complete for myself, and how much it would affect me if I forced myself when I wasn't physically capable of it. Clearly, I felt guilty about letting the other person down. But really - there is no need. In fact, when you go into too much detail you're just giving the person an opportunity to try and get you to change your mind.  It's fine to simply say, "I'm so sorry - I won't be able to help you with this right now."
  3.  Buy some time. If you honestly feel unable to say "No," then you can tell the person you'll get back to them. This isn't ideal as it drags the situation out and gives the impression that you might be able to accommodate them, but it's better than saying an instant yes to something you know you simply aren't capable of doing. It gives you time to think of an alternative solution to help them. But if the answer's going to be a firm no, then don't keep them waiting too long! 
  4.  Take note of your feelings. Do you only hear from the person when they need your help with something? Do they then disappear and only call again when they need more assistance? How does that make you feel - are you fine with it, or do you feel resentful or uncomfortable? If it's the latter, that can be a sign you're not being appreciated or valued. A sure signal that it's time to draw up those boundaries again.
  5. Remember to keep the focus on you. Instead of outlining things by pointing out the other person's shortcomings, you can explain things in terms of why it's important for you. 
  6. Turn off your smartphone. In establishing healthy boundaries, it's important to have a regular habit of self-care to nourish the spirit, the mind and body. This can be as simple as turning off the television or smartphone for one afternoon a week in order to spend time by yourself or connect with a loved one.
  7. Know your non-negotiables. It's best to work out what these are ahead of time and then stick to it. For some people it's their family meal time. Unless it's an emergency, they won't take calls while they're all eating dinner. For others, it might be their exercise routine. For my friend Adele, it was organising the annual family barbeque. After doing it for five years straight, she decided that her boundary was that she wouldn't arrange any more unless she received help and support from the wider family. "I guess Ijust want to feel appreciated," she said.

 

 

5 small yet powerful decisions that can have a positive impact today

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It can be overwhelming, can't it?

There's so much advice around on how to live a healthier life. We're told to: 

  • lose weight this way
  • get more energy that way
  • feel more zen by doing this
  • add more zest by changing that

Little wonder that sometimes we don't know how to start, and our desire to transform our lives falls by the wayside in a heap of half-neglected dreams and hopes.

Is there a simple way we can make big changes to our lives?

One thing I've discovered for myself is, that if we want to see long-lasting results in our life, it's often best to start small.

Here are 5 simple ways that we can add to our life today that can yield huge benefits down the line.

 

1. Start Your Day with a Morning Prayer

Photo: Ben White, Unsplash

Photo: Ben White, Unsplash

 

Taking time in the morning to spend a few minutes in prayer, can set the tone for your entire day.

There were times I used to wake up, and the first thing on my mind was all the cares and anxieties of the day. I saw everything through a negative lense, and that had an impact on how I viewed my entire day.

Finally, I made up my mind to start the day on a more positive note. I decided to be more intentional of expressing gratitude and saying a prayer of thanks first thing in the morning.

This connects us with something deeper than ourselves, providing comfort and strength, especially when we feel overwhelmed by the anxieties of life.

Researchers from a 2015 study on depression and anxiety found that people who lived with long-term health issues and who also practised spiritual disciplines, including regular prayer, had higher levels of hope and optimism than their peers.

 

2. Change Your Breakfast

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Like everyone else, I'd heard the medical advice about eating five fresh pieces of fruit and vegetables a day. So I'd dutifully buy brocoli, spinach and cabbage  - promise myself I'd eat them, only to find them wilting and unloved in the vegetable drawer of my fridge a few days later.

So I made the simple decision to have a green smoothie for breakfast.

That was a simple decision to make - but it had a profound effect on my diet. I went from being an occasional consumer of vegetables to eating kale, spinach, swiss chard and red cabbage on a daily basis.

I found I ate more carrots and apples too. As a result of that small decision, I was able to lose the extra pounds I had gained as a side-effect of pain medications. It was also easy for me to make healthier food choices throughout the day, once I'd had my green smoothie fix that morning!

So - if you want to start a positive habit, pick something small and doable - then run with it!

Tip: If you are new to smoothies, why not try this Kale and Melon Smoothie? A deliciously easy way to disguise kale, and get your morning off to a healthy start.

 

3. Save your change

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This is a wonderful tip that I learned from my friend, Sarah.

Sarah and her husband love to go on holidays abroad. In fact, she's sunning herself somewhere of the Caribbean coast even as I write this.

When I asked her what their secret was, she said it was all to do with saving £2 coin.

Now £2 doesn't sound like much. However, Sarah and her husband had turned this into a regular habit. Whenever they went to the supermarket, they asked the cashier if she they could have some of their change in £2 coins. On some weeks they were able to save several £2, and on other weeks they didn't. What they found was, that by the end of the year they regularly saved over £500 with very little effort which was enough to treat themselves to a short break somewhere.

The average working American spends ona average $11 twice a week on lunch. But if they saved their cash and chose to carry sanddwiches to work instead? That's an extra saving of $1000 per year - and that is not a small sum at all.

And if they choose to invest the money they saved?

And the best thing about it? The change was so small that they didn't even miss it.

Tip: Why not start today with saving a pound day? 

 

4.  Cut Out Sugar from Your Tea

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I love English breakfast tea. 

I especially adore a good cup of Earl Grey tea with just that hint of bergamot essential oil. For years, I made my cuppa with demerara sugar, thinking it was a healthier choice than white. Until one day a nutritionist told me that demerara sugar didn't really have much nutritional value at all.

Since that conversation I made the decision to stop adding sugar to my tea.

At first it tasted awful. My palate was so used to its sugar quota that the unadulterated taste of tea just seemed wrong. I didn't swap it for other sweeteners or honey - it took a few days, but I gradually got used to the taste of sugarless tea.

And do you know what? Now - if someone inadvertently gives me a cup of tea with sugar, I just can't drink it all. I've managed to retrain my palate!  

Tip: Commit to trying tea without sugar for 21 days. Not only will you be taking a small step to help your health, you'll also save yourself approximately 40 calories per cup.

 

5. Use Your "Grey Time" Wisely

Photos: Annie Spratt, Unsplash

Photos: Annie Spratt, Unsplash

Life makes so many demands on us.

There are emails to answer. Phone calls to return. Meetings to arrange. Appointments to attend... little wonder that many of us never get round to doing what we really want to do.

In these situations we often live reactively rather than responsively. Reacting to what happens around us instead of responsively to what is important for our long-term goals and visions.

Mark McGuinness, a London-based coach, talks of the importance of setting your priorities early in the day rather than being continuously focused on other people's schedules.

We need to:

  • prioritise our creative work
  • respond to more tedious work or tasks later in the day

Sometimes its easy for us to procrastinate and delay what is most important to use because, on some level, we are actually intimidated by it. In those cases, it's easy for us to keep ourselves busy by slavishly working our way through emails. 

The best way I found to discipline myself was by adapting a form used in CBT where you have to account for every hour of your day (copies in resource library). 

 

Black Grapes and Red Cabbage Smoothie

 
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A beautifully delicious smoothie. The black grapes add a sweetness and the red cabbage has a peppery kick at the end. Great if you're new to smoothies and just discovering how versatile they can be. The sweetness from the grapes and banana should keep your sugar cravings at bay. And the grapes and red cabbage provide antioxidants which boost and promote good health. The flaxseed and goji berries provide essential fatty acids and amino acids too. And the purple colour indicates that this is a good choice for women with menstrual cramps.

Next time you want something sweet, why not reach for this instead?

 

Ingredients

11/2 cups black grapes

1 cup red cabbage, chopped

1 small banana, sliced

2 teaspoon flaxseed and goji berries

1/3 cup coconut or mineral water

3 or 4 mixed nuts (walnuts and brazil nuts)

 

Directions

Add all ingredients to your smoothie-maker. Blend and enjoy.

 

5 simple Ways We Can Still Feel God's Presence When Things Hurt

 
Photo:   Dmytro Tolokonov ,   Unsplash

Photo: Dmytro Tolokonov,  Unsplash

“ Human beings grow by striving, working stretching... in a sense, human nature needs problems more than solutions.”

— Philip Yancey, writer

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When I was growing up, the name Job (pron. Joab) was one I heard constantly. 

"Have you read the book of Job?" someone would ask brightly.  "His faith never wavered. He always believed."

Or, "Nobody suffered more than Job. He got through it - why can't you?"

So who was this Job - who commanded such reverence from my elders that his name was mentioned to me repeatedly throughout my years?

Job was a biblical figure who lived over 3,000 years ago. The book named after him is thought to be one of the oldest written works in existence. And appropriately, it is a book that deals with an age-old question:

  • Why do the good suffer?

 

At first, life was going well for Job. He was kind and respected. Devoted to God and his family. He owned over 7000 sheep and 3000 camels. He'd been blessed with seven sons and three daughters. He was described as being "the greatest man amongst the people of the East."

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Then everything changed. His animals died. He lost his land and wealth. Even his children died. His wife, overcome with anger and grief, wanted him to die too and end his suffering.  

When his friends visited, instead of comforting him, they criticised. He must be secretly wicked, they suggested. God would never punish a good man in such a way.

They even found fault with his recently deceased children - suggesting they had received their just reward for some unknown sin.

How hard it must have been for Job, covered in sores and boils, faced with his wife's grief and his own, to sit and listen to the harsh words of his friends.

In a nutshell, Job had it tough.

I marvelled at Job's resilience. Amazed that someone could bear so many troubles with such stoical courage.

It was something of a relief to read his story for myself in my teenage years and realise that he was not completely the noble saint I'd imagined.

Job was far more human in his response.

At the beginning he responded to his ordeal with great equanimity. Though overcome with grief  he composed himself enough to say, "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away..." 

 

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When his friends visited, and annoyed him with their platitudes, rather than smiling meekly and offering them more tea, Job let his irritation show. “Miserable comforters all of you,” he said, patience pushed beyond limit.
 

But as the months passed and his suffering continued, he found it hard to maintain his composure.

He questioned God and pondered the worth of his existence. He challenged God to answer him. He longed for death to release him.

"Why did I not perish at birth and die as I came from the womb?" he wonders. "Why were there knees to receive me and breasts that I might be nursed? For now I would be lying down in peace; I would be asleep and at rest..."

When his friends visited, and annoyed him with their platitudes, rather than smiling meekly and offering them tea,  Job let his irritation show. "Miserable comforters all of you," he snapped, patience pushed beyond limit. "You just go on and on and on..."

From being rather wary of Job and how I failed to measure up to him on some spiritual yardstick, I grew to appreciate him. In fact, I really liked him.

Job understood. And rather like me and, I suspect, you - Job also asked the question, why.

  • Why are we left to wait, hoping for relief which we have yet to see? 
  • Why do our prayers go unanswered?
  • Why do many of those from who we thought support would come, shun us or turn away?

God doesn't answer Job's questions. He hasn't answered mine. Yet there are still important lessons we can learn from his desert experience.

 

1. accept the silence

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In our modern world we have largely lost our sense of awe and wonder.

Science has explained almost everything. There is no longer any mystery.  We might marvel at the beauty of the stars but we also know that they are 4.24 light years from earth (whatever that means)...

So unresolved pain, that defies any purpose or definition, doesn't fit our 21st century mindset, which demands answers for everything. And when prayers and reason fail to provide solutions it is easy to become disillusioned.

"I have no peace," cries Job when he realises there is no end to his suffering. "I have no quietness. I have no rest, but only turmoil..."

Instead of us feeling awe at the mystery of human life, we're often berating it for not providing the answers we so desperately need. It feels like a sign of neglect.

"I cry out to you God," says Job in desolation, "but you do not answer. I stand up but you merely look at me."

So how are we to cope in that desert experience? What are we to do?

Hard as it may seem, there are times we just have to "be still and know."

Be still means to quieten our minds, quieten our complaints and our yearnings. Let go of our need for answers and explanations.

Know that despite our lack of answers we are loved.

Know that silence from the heavens doesn't mean neglect although it feels as it is.

Know that pain and suffering is, sadly, a natural part of life.


  • What is the one thing that you can be still and focus on right now, in the midst of your desert experience? What is the one thing that can bring you a sense of comfort and peace?

 

 

2. Realise that Life is Unfair

Photo by  Skylar Sahakian  on  Unsplash

We're raised in a Walt Disney world where good is ultimately rewarded, and kindness wins in the end. Our medical advances mean that thankfully so much pain and suffering, which was really the lot of most of mankind, has largely been eliminated. 

We are no longer used to everyday pain in the West. We are lucky. But it makes those of us who do live with long-term health issues an anomaly. 

Job reminds us that bad things happen to good people. Job wasn't hiding a dark secret, or leading a shameful life for which he had to be punished.

It was the opposite. He was loving, caring - taking care of the local orphans.

Yet all this counted for nothing. "My relatives have gone away. My closest friends have forgotten me," he says. "Even when I beg my servant for help he ignores me..."

When I talk to people from other cultures, where suffering and bereavement, is much more a part of their daily experience life, there is a more philosophical response to suffering. They truly understand the heart behind Job's words when he says of his losses, "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away."

When God finally breaks his silence to answer Job his response is surprising.

He doesn't commend Job for being a good and faithful man. He doesn't praise him for the compassion he always showed to poverty-stricken children who bore no relation to him.  Instead he questions him.

Where were you, he asks, when I created the earth? Can you make the sun rise in the morning or the stars come out at night? Can you create water or find food for the lion? I can do all these things.

On the one hand, God is telling Job his friends are wrong. He isn't being punished for some sin. But God also wants Job to know that his concept of God is inadequate -  he is simply too small to have any real awareness of what is happening. There are things that our human understanding cannot comprehend. Despite the advances of science, there is still mystery in the human experience.


  • Today is it possible for you to recognise our human limits and trust God to take care of the part we do not know? 

 

 

3. Appreciate Nature

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When God chose to respond to Job, he didn't answer his questions directly. Instead, he directed Job's attention to the wonder of nature and creation.

God speaks to Job of lions and of ravens. He directs his attention to the strength of wild ox and the diligence of the horse in battle.

It seems a very strange answer to a man who is in such turmoil. 

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Sometimes we can be so overcome with the circumstances of our health, we fail to see the beauty of God in anything around us...”
 
 

Perhaps God does not answer us in the way we would like, but sometimes we can be so overcome with the circumstances of our health that we fail to see the beauty of God in anything around us.

When we are ill, it is vital we take time to recharge our spiritual batteries by getting out of our own lives and interacting with nature.

A visit to a park, a day by the sea, taking time to bury our feet in the sand  - all these things have a restorative power on our psyche.

So somedays, when it all seems to overwhelming, get out somewhere fresh and invigorating if you can.

And breathe breathe breathe in the fresh air. It's what your body needs.


  • What can you do today to appreciate the awesome quality of nature? Even if it's something small like taking time to sit in your garden or nearby park - just make time to enjoy and savour it.
  • Or, on the days you can't get out, do what I do. Search Youtube for a relaxing nature walk and visualise yourself there, soaking in its energy.
 

4. realise It Shows Ourselves Who we Are

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The accusation is made that Job only believes in God because God has been good to him. After all, he is blessed with a wife, wonderful children, plenty of land and a great deal of wealth.

It is easy to believe in God, it is alleged, when things are going well.

Yet his experiences helped Job develop spiritual depth. He had good old-fashioned grit.

By the end of the story, Job realised that it wasn't his good nature, or even the daily sacrifices he made to God that counted. 

Yes, he complained about his fate but he never lost his ultimate belief.

Job was able to examine himself and his life and realise the duality of our existence. Although we are an amazing, wonderfully made part of nature we are also infinitely small in the big scheme of things. We are intelligent with a quest for knowledge and understanding. But we only see through our own gaze, and there is much beyond our comprehension. 


  • Look at yourself. Ask yourself what qualities have you learned and what lessons have you seen in yourself through this experience? At first you might not think of anything, but persevere! Qualities like grit and determination are not to be underestimated!
 

5. learn to Forgive Others

Photo by  Lina Trochez  on  Unsplash

Photo by Lina Trochez on Unsplash

Which is worse - to be abandoned by your friends when you're ill. Or for them to visit and sit with you but berate you for your faults?

Three of Job's friends visited.

They sat with him in silent grief. He must have appreciated their concern, but when they spoke their words were wounding. And heaped more distress on someone who had already faced so much.

And Job, in his vulnerable state, was deeply hurt. That was understandable. He even asked them,  “How long will you torment me and break me in pieces with words?”  

Do you know anyone like that? Someone who visits in the guise of helping you but then says things to bring you down? Perhaps it's not deliberate. Job's friends were trying to comfort not distress him - but they hadn't gone through what Job had, and their words were wounding nonetheless.

Yet after God spoke, Job was able to see beyond his circumstances, and overcame his anger toward his friends. He was able to forgive them their unkind words and even say prayers on their behalf.

One of the hardest things to face is the necessity of forgiving those who have been so harsh to us. I know that from firsthand experience. 

Sometimes it requires more effort from us to forgive than to stay angry or hurt at the other person. But by forgiving others, it allows us to move beyond the stress of anger and emotional pain toward a place of peace and love.

And peace within ourselves is exactly what we need to help our bodies cope with long-term health concerns.


  • Which is the friend or colleague who said hurtful words to you? Today can you make a decision to forgive them and move on? Even if you can't quite talk to them as yet, can you bring yourself to say a prayer for them or send them thoughts of loving kindness? 
  • Today let us not remain trapped by the harsh words of others. Let us move beyond them and live in the light.

 


 
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Antoinette Faith is a writer who encourages women to lead optimistic, healthy and joyous lives whatever their situation. With a degree in Economics and Social History, and training in Positive Psychology, her website, antoinettefaithliving.com focuses on using the tools of Positive Psychology and Christian-based Spirituality to tackle the challenges of life.

 


 

 

Illustration: J'adore Paris

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J'adore Paris is meant to create a sense of fun and joy. I visualised a young woman, in a beautiful brightly coloured skirt, flowing in the breeze, with French bread in her basket, and her faithful companion by her side, looking up adoringly at her.

The idea was that she longed to visit Paris and hadn't been able to before. Who knows why? But she had finally got there - and she was happy!

Here is her story:

From her earliest age, Matilda had been drawn to Paris.

Perhaps it was living across the Channel - in a country of cold, grey skies - that made her yearn for the romanticism of the city. So, of course, when she was finally able to visit, and stand in front of the Eiffel Tower, what else could Matilda do but exclaim, "J'adore Paris!" in her best French accent.


Pineapple and Melon Smoothie

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Summer is the perfect time of the year to enjoy those healthy tropical fruits that remind us of sun, sand and sea - and general holiday bliss. What better excuse is there to enjoy a delicious pineapple smoothie?  As you enjoy your smoothie, why not close your eyes for a couple of minutes and visualise the warmth of the sun on your body and the gentle lull of ocean waves? 

 

Benefits

The great thing about pineapple, is that although it's sweet to taste, it actually has a low calorie count. It's also high in antioxidants and vitamins. Pineapple also contains the important enzyme, bromelain, which is particularly good at fighting inflammation. So its ideal for those who live with inflammatory pain conditions such as arthritis.

Cantaloupe melon, with its beautiful orange colour, is high in beta-carotene, which is thought to help slow down the process of chronic degenerative diseases on the body and the effects of ageing. It also protects the skin, which is great if medications have left your skin lacking its glow and in need of some TLC.

Galia melon is actually a hybrid of cantaloupe and honeydew. It's high in Vitamin C and dietary fibre. It is high in pectin so its great for the digestive system.

 

Ingredients

  • 1/4 fresh pineapple
  • 1/4 cantaloupe melon
  • 1/4 gaia melon
  • 11/2 tsp pea protein powder
  • 1 tsp coconut oil
  • t sp grated ginger
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 tsp good quality honey (optional)

 

Directions

Chop the pineapple, and melons. Add everything to your smoothie maker. Blend and enjoy!

 

A deliciously tasty Kale and Melon Smoothie

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If you're new to green smoothies - and unsure about kale - then this kale and melon smoothie is a great place to start. It's such a perfect combination. The natural sweetness of the melon disguising the kale. Yet you still get that beautiful striking green colour that makes the heart sing.

If you're unsure about eating raw kale, you can steam it for seven minutes before adding it to your smoothie. 

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Ingredients

  • 2 cups of kale, organic
  • 1 1/2  cups of melon
  • 1 1/2 inches of fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 tsp mixed seeds (eg. sesame and sunflower seeds)
  • 1/2 organic apple
  • 2 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp pea protein
  • 1 tsp coconut oil
  • 1 cup of almond milk

Instructions

Add all the ingredients to your smoothie maker. Blend until smooth and enjoy

 

 

25 Small Things that can Reduce Stress, Increase Joy and Make You Feel More Content Overall

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What are the things in life that make you smile?

According to a survey of 2000 people it's actually the most simple of things - with sleeping in freshly laundered bedsheets topping the list. 

The key is to do the simple things often - and be attentive at the same time. If we pay attention, it's actually a great way of boosting our mood and our levels of resilience too.

Rebecca, aged 25, says, "I was seeing a psychologist for a while to help me cope with early onset arthritis. I'd been forced to place my graduate studies on hold and my boyfriend and I had just split up so I felt very low.

"One of the things the psychologist recommended was to do five small things a day that gave me joy. At first it was a struggle. I couldn't even think of five things. And when I did, I asked myself, how could something as simple as having a warm bath bring me joy? But after some time I learned to focus on what I was doing in that very moment - being mindful. I really got into it, and it became a way of helping me cope with the stresses I was facing."

The five small things that Rebecca did were the type of simple activities we carry out every day. But by consciously placing her attention on what she was doing, they created anchor, or rest points, during the day, turning them into small acts of appreciation and self-care. 

We might not be able to control the effect of illness or the breakdown of a relationship, but taking small actions in other areas of our life can impact our situation indirectly. It can enhance our belief that we can cope in specific situations, and can help us strengthen our resources to more successfully manage the area that is challenging us. 

So, listed below are 25 small things you can do, which the average person says makes them feel so much better.

 
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  1. Listening to birdsong from my bedroom window
  2. Make a greeting card
  3. Being around children - even if just for a few minutes - and hearing their laughter
  4. Doing gentle exercise which releases happy endorphins
  5. Escaping to the seaside for the day, breathing in fresh sea air and eating freshly caught fish n chips on the beach
  6. Relax and enjoy a cup of your favourite herbal tea
  7. Getting into bed to clean and freshly ironed bedsheets
  8. Laughing at a funny memory
  9. Cook a new recipe
  10. Dance to lively music
  11. Catching up with a friend you haven't seen in a while
  12. Playing your favourite board game from childhood
  13. Sing your favourite song
  14. Complete a word puzzle or crossword
  15. Adult colouring in
  16. Reading a chapter from my favourite book
  17. Having coffee in a new cafe
  18. Taking a bath in the evening by candlelight with classical music on in the background
  19. Looking at funny videos on WhatsApp or Youtube
  20. Doodling or drawing
  21. Watching nature or history documentaries
  22. Having a pampering evening with a face mask
  23. Wandering round an antique market
  24. Trying out a new cuisine
  25. Sitting in a park under a tree, just relaxing and listening to nature
 

So what simple things make you happy? Write in and let me know!

 

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Why not get a head-start with developing your happiness habit? Download this 7 day workbook now!

 
 

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8 helpful tips you can use to Increase your happiness when you live with chronic pain

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You want to be happier.

You want to experience that sense of contentment and joy - the feeling that all is right in your world. But one of the hardest things about living with long-term pain, is accepting the fact that things aren't so right in your world after all. And trying to find happiness, trying to maintain a sense of optimism in the face of such difficult circumstances, brings with it its own set of challenges.

When you live with chronic pain, there are so many issues that have to be managed throughout the day. Even seemingly minor things - such as deciding to cook a meal from scratch if your energy is low - can have big repercussions for hours or days down the line.

Instead of thriving and enjoying, life is often spent in survival mode. The focus switches to getting through the next 24 hours as you struggle to cope with pain that can overwhelm and isolate you, or threatens to drag you into an emotional void from which it can be hard to escape. 

And of course there's disappointment too.

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Take last week, for example.

I'd been looking forward to an invitation to a barbecue from a new friend. I had anticipated it for several days - only to realise that I simply couldn't make it.

So I was forced to make that call - the call I've made so many times before. It's the one that begins,  "I'm so sorry I can't be there.... I really wanted to go..." 

Instead of attending the weekend celebration - sitting outside, listening to music and laughing with others as we

enjoyed the smoky taste of food grilled over charcoal - I stayed in, and wondered how long it would be before the pain lowered to a more manageable level.

In such times it can be hard not to feel disappointed.

So is it really possible to find happiness in the midst of such challenges? Or is there something more meaningful we can search for that can give us a joy and fulfilment instead?

 

1. Manage Our Expectations

Photo: Tess Nebula, Unsplash

Photo: Tess Nebula, Unsplash

It took me years to learn this lesson - and in many ways it's an ongoing process. But I realised when I had lowered my expectations of myself and others, I tended to be less stressed and less disappointed.

I'm a perfectionist by nature, so this has been incredibly hard for me.

But I am learning that when I let go of my expectations, especially big ones, I am able to feel so much happier.

This has helped me:

  • be less critical of myself when my body simply can't manage to do all the things I want it to do

  • realise that in life other people will let us down and disappear at the time we could do with them most. All we can do is love them and let them go, while we treasure and appreciate those who remain.

So now I tell myself, if I can do something on a given day, no matter how small - that's wonderful. I will savour and treasure the memories of that day to keep me positive when times are harder.

And appreciate those who remain constant when times get tough.

 

2. Get Enough Sleep

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There are some basics that need to be in place if we want to become happier. And one of the main things is to have a well-rested brain -  but I know from firsthand experience that when pain levels are so severe it can be impossible to sleep at all.

If you're not working, you might also find that although you're physically tired, your brain hasn't been active enough during the day to switch off properly at night.

Or you might find you have so much to do that a combination of poor health, work, child care commitments and stress can make you so over-tired, that you cannot sleep at all as your body is too exhausted. I've found that taking magnesium or using magnesium spray on your legs can help relax muscles to give some pain relief, and it also promotes sleep too.

I've also noticed that one of the ways to promote better sleep is to get outside for some fresh air during the day, even if you can't get further than your front door.

But if you can reach the park, surrounded by grass or trees, or somewhere where you can really take in deep breaths of air, it has a relaxing effect on the body later on during the day.

Using a good quality sleep mask and blackout curtain liners can greatly aid my ability to switch off. And some people love lavender essential oil too, though personally it makes me too drowsy the next day. 

 

3. Eat a Healthy Diet

Photo: Lisa Fotios, Pexel

Photo: Lisa Fotios, Pexel

Nowadays, the average person eats 500 calories more per week than they did during the 1970s - and most of these calories come from junk food or ready meals.

One of the best things you can do for your body is to make the decision to follow a healthy diet. 

It should include looking at what foods might trigger your pain, and seeing if eliminating them from your diet makes a difference, and also making the effort to eat clean food - that is, eating food in an unprocessed state as possible.

If you find this daunting, then the simplest way to have a healthier diet was to drink a green smoothie on most mornings. It's such an easy thing to have for breakfast. I invested in a smoothie maker a couple of years ago - and I must say, it's absolutely fantastic!

I'll be honest.

I don't particularly love greens or vegetables - but by adding kale, spinach and even broccoli to my morning smoothies, and then adding aromatic herbs and spices which I love,  I feel I've already got my day off to the best possible start - and that simple act makes me feel much more positive about the day ahead.

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4. gentle movement

Photo Jacob Postuma, Unsplash

Photo Jacob Postuma, Unsplash

My doctor once advised me to join the local gym for a very gentle exercise class.  I dutifully went along for the induction and one yoga session (with a very stressy teacher!) - and that was the end of my gym experience!

If you're not a gym person - the easiest thing is to find simple ways to incorporate more activity into your daily life. 

For beginners, I especially like gentle yoga dvds such as Fiona Delf which is aimed at people who have fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue.

Researchers have shown that for those who have pain conditions, Lifestyle Physical Activity is a great way of. So put on your walking shoes and take a short stroll round your neighbourhood. Taking in the local scenery can work wonders for your mood. 

Even if you have to use a walking frame or crutches, it's better to go out there, inhale the fresh air, and walk slowly to build up your functional ability, than stay indoors.

And if the weather isn't too great, gentle walking on a treadmill is also a good way to build up stamina. You can even find a scenic walking video on youtube, and pretend you're taking an afternoon stroll round Paris or Milan...


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5. Accept that your mood might be low at times

There are some people who are truly blessed to feel happy all the time. No matter what happens to them, they are able to face life with a Pollyanna response to their trials, and carry on regardless, automatically seeing the bright side of every situation.

But most of us aren't like that, and with good reason. 

We are actually hardwired to feel experience more negative feelings than positive ones.  It was the way our ancestors protected themselves from dangerous situations in the past.

Certain medication can also have an effect on our mood, making us feel lower than we normally would. I've definitely found that some pain medications can make my mood worse.

Positive thinking often encourages us to ignore these negative emotions - and instead focus on the more joyful feelings of cheerfulness, serenity and hope. 

Positive psychology, however, recognises that negative emotions are part of the complexity of human life, and can actually be used as signposts that focus our attention on a specific matter.

For instance:

  • feeling low can be a sign that we need to withdraw for awhile and allow ourselves time to heal.

  • guilt can help prevent us from repeating the same mistakes over and over again.

  • fear can be the catalyst that tells us to flee a situation in order to protect ourselves.

Negative emotions can also spur us on to greater achievements.

I remember an old university friend who didn't do much coursework from one month to the next, but when she and her boyfriend split up, she fuelled the hurt she felt into writing truly powerful essays. 

We don't want to become trapped in our negative emotions though - we need to recognise and acknowledge them, then move on. So if you feel that you're stagnating in these emotions, then get all the help you need from a medical professional or doctor.

 

6.find something that gives your life a sense of purpose...

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Does your life have meaning? Is there a goal or intention that absorbs your mind and helps you transcend whatever situation you find yourself in?

When your daily existence is largely about managing pain or health levels, it can be easy to forget the joy that can come from having a purpose in your life beyond yourself. Your life has shrunk. Places have become inaccessible, old friends disappear, and you might find yourself becoming less sociable as you try to manage the simplest of every day tasks.

It's easy to see how all of this can sap your joy.

Yet despite all this, it is vital to find something that gives you a sense of meaning and purpose. 

Before I was born, my mother experienced some ongoing health issues. It wasn't easy for her, managing her health and a houseful of young children, but one of the things she loved to do was sing. So she gained a sense of purpose by continuing to sing - both at home and in her local church.

Years later, I was touched when my mother and I were on holiday, and an elderly lady came and clasped my mother to her bosom. She told me that she could still remember the songs my mother had sung decades earlier. She said that in those years she was struggling with some issues of her own, and whenever she heard my mother sing it helped encourage to deal with whatever she was facing.

So take a few moments to think back to what you love or used to love to do. How can you find a way of adding it to your life now?

 

7. practise gratitude

Photo by  Ana Tavares  on  Unsplash

Photo by Ana Tavares on Unsplash

Previously, scientists thought that our capacity to change our brain and way of thinking was fixed by the age of 30 - after that it was all downhill.

But the good news is - it seems they got it WRONG! 

Researchers have now discovered that happiness is a state of mind which can be brought about and maintained through good habits. They realise that, just like the human body, the brain can be exercised - and by exercising it in the right way we can transform and rewire our way of thinking. 

Perhaps the simplest habit to adopt, and one that can have profound benefits, is practising gratitude. In this way, we're deliberately making the choice to look for and appreciate the good, even in the smallest of things.

As a child, I was brought up to say prayers every morning and night - expressing thanks to God, and expressing appreciation and love for the kindness of others.

It takes one month of practising a good habit for it to sink in you brain. Why not get a head start with our activity happiness planner:

 

8. Change Your Vocabulary

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It's so easy to get into a negative mindset - especially if your daily life is beset with pain. After all, it's frustrating when you find you can no longer do things for yourself in a way that you could previously.

In these situations, it's very easy for us to get into the habit of complaining about our lot in life. Do you find yourself saying: 

  • I'm fed-up with x

  • I'm annoyed about y

  • I couldn't go to z and it's made me feel really low

In a way, it's perfectly natural. If you're body is in survival mode...

Yet while it's important to acknowledge our negative emotions, it's vital that we don't get stuck in a rut of prolonged venting about any and everything.

If you've been in pain for years, it's hard to imagine that things could ever be any different, but we need to see our feelings of anger and annoyance as a temporary response to our situation.

I'm not going to say we don't have a right to feel, fed up, or annoyed or angry. But perhaps we could change how we express it:

  • I'm fed up about x today

  • I'm annoyed about y but later on I can still get to watch my favourite comedy that I've been looking forward to all week

  • I couldn't go to z and it's made me feel really low but I'm learning to listen to my body, and hopefully in a couple of days I'll be able to go to x instead...

These are just a few of the steps we can take to add more positive emotions to our lives. If you'd like to receive a free 28 day Happiness Activity Planner then click on the link below and we'll send you one right away.

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An Incredibly Moreish Carrot, Apple and Ginger Smoothie

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A wonderful Summer smoothie that's perfect for breakfast with a vibrant orange colour.  The organic carrot and apple provide sweetness and the pea protein is filling - so you shouldn't need to go snacking before lunchtime with this tasty brekkie inside of you.

A great place to start if you're new to smoothies - and sure to become a Summer favourite.


Benefits

Carrots are a powerful source of beta-carotene. Your body converts this to Vitamin A and this can help give you beautiful, glowing skin. The alkaline nature of carrots also helps purify the blood. 

Apples are high in antioxidants and flavinoids. Apples are high in Vitamin C which can help the body fight off infections and boost the immune system. Because they are rich in fibre, apples can also aid the digestion by releasing gastric juices that support the efficient absorbtion of nutrients.

Ginger is a natural anti-inflammatory that can aid digestion. It can also help menstrual cramps, nausea, arthritis and muscle soreness.

Pea protein can aid weight loss. It can reduce the level of ghrelin your stomach - the hormone your stomach releases to tell your brain its time to eat.

If you're new to smoothies this is a great one to start with.

Ingredients

  • 1 large organic carrot, chopped
  • 1 organic red apple, chopped (I used Gala)
  • 100ml almond milk
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated ginger
  • 1 teaspoon good quality honey
  • 1 scoop pea protein

Directions

Add all the ingredients to your smoothie-maker. Blend until smooth.

Enjoy!

 

Resilience - 5 key ways you can cope with the stresses and adversities of life

 
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Once upon a time, a large and beautiful oak stood near a river. In its shade were some water reeds. Compared to the oak they were small and inconsequential. 

When the wind blew, the oak was proud and upright whereas the reeds swayed according to the ebb and flow of the wind.

"You're so weak and puny," said the oak. "You bow at the slightest rustle, while I remain strong."

One day, a great hurricane came. The oak was resolute against the onslaught - confident that with its might it would withstand the worst.

In the end, however, it was this stiffness that proved its undoing. The raging winds destroyed the oak's branches and ripped off its boughs. 

Finally the storm passed and calm was restored. The small reeds, which had twisted and swayed throughout were still upright, while the oak's branches were strewn across the river. Destroyed by the ferocity of the storm.

 

Aesop's Fable

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Life will always throw us curveballs. We can't be prepared for every eventuality all the time. 

Some of us are like the oak. We can withstand so much, but when the winds of life keep blowing, we find ourselves crashing -  broken - into the river. 

Other people are like water reeds. When faced with unexpected challenges they find a way to cope and finally adapt. That's resilience.

The wind blows where it will,  but they've discovered how to adjust to the trials of life, and bend without breaking.

Thankfully, resilience is a skill that can be learned.

Researchers have found that more resilient people have greater activity in the left prefrontal cortex of the brain - the part of the brain responsible for the "feel good factor".  The good news is that we can actually train our brains to strengthen this prefrontal cortex and develop key skills like being more resilient.

So if you want to develop your ability to overcome adversity, here are five tools that can help:

 

1. Accept that struggles are Part of Life

Photo: Benjamin Elliott on Unsplash

Photo: Benjamin Elliott on Unsplash

Those of us in the West have largely become used to a comfortable lifestyle whereas those from other backgrounds tend to accept struggle as an inevitable part of the human existence.

For instance, my mother grew up in the Caribbean.

Every morning before school she had a list of chores to complete:  

  • wash the dishes
  • feed pigs
  • move goats to fresh pasture
  • collect water from nearby pond
  • and, if the pond was dry, go further and collect water from the river and take it home

Then she would walk five miles to school under the blazing Caribbean sun. 

If she didn't reach there by nine, the teacher would be waiting outside the gate with a belt in his hand, ready to administer punishment. 

By the time I went to school, I'd get up, have breakfast and then either walk or take the bus.

My nephews and nieces, born and raised in 21st century London, just have to grab breakfast, jump into their parents' car and be driven straight to the school gates.

So it's easier for someone of my mother's background to accept struggles because they were always used to life being a challenge. 

So next time you're facing adversity, try and have a conversation with someone from a completely different culture. It can serve as a timely reminder that for most of humanity, struggles are a part of their everyday life.

 

 

2. Remember your strengths/ positive reflection

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The situation you're in right now might feel insurmountable, but never forget, you were born with many strengths and qualities.

And I'm willing to guess that you've already used these qualities to overcome battles and adversities in your past.

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Excellence is not a gift but a skill that takes practice. We do not act rightly because we are excellent. We achieve excellence by acting rightly...
— Plato
 
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When we're going through difficult times, we can be so consumed by it that it can be hard to recall any strengths that we previously drew upon.  But if we look back closely, we're sure to discover resources that helped us face previous challenging situations.

So take some time for positive reflection. Remember a challenge you've overcome and ask yourself:

  • What strategies did I use - what practical things did I do to help?"
  • What are the strengths that I drew on within myself?
  • What resources did I turn to for nourishment, guidance or support?
  • What insights did I use - what sayings or perspectives were helpful to me?

 

 

3. Realise we are not our thoughts

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Every day, thousands of thoughts pass through our minds. 

Thoughts like:

  • "Life isn't going the way I planned it..."
  • "I just can't get things together..."
  • "I'll finish that project tonight..."
  • "What am I having for dinner this evening"

As you see, some of them are good. Some inconsequential, and others are judgemental or irrational. 

If we're going through adversity, it's perfectly understandable for some of our thoughts to be more negative and judgemental than normal. The best thing to do is to allow them to pass through, and move on.

So we might think:

  • "I can't get through this.
  • "It's getting the better of me..."

But is this really true? Or are we merely thinking that it is?

Psychologists say that the best thing to do at those times is to hold the distressing thought for a minute, then let it pass on by. Recognise it's there, then let it go.

When it passes, replace it with another thought for a minute:

  • "I am having the thought that I can't get through this..."
  • "I am having the thought that it's getting the better of me..." 

The addition of these five key words at the start of the sentence reminds us that we are not our thoughts. In fact, we are greater than them. And while it is natural to have negative thoughts from time to time, we don't need to let them overwhelm us.

  • So today, if you catch yourself having a negative thought don't try to fight it. But add those words to the start of the sentence, "I am having the thought..." and realise that you are far more than the thoughts you are having at that precise moment.
 

4. belief in something bigger than yourself

Photo: Nick Scheerbart, Unsplash

Photo: Nick Scheerbart, Unsplash

 

My mother's advice for adversity has remained the same over the years. "Take it to the Lord in prayer," she says.

Having a strong faith to draw on, has helped her through many difficult times.  When she faced situations that looked bleak, her prayers and trust in God gave her hope that things would eventually change. 

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We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
— 2 Corinthians 4.8-9
 
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To my mother, resilience didn't necessarily mean bouncing back or restoring things to how they were before.

Instead, she used it as a process to help her feel closer to God. She did not expect that things would always work out exactly as she had hoped, but she certainly believed that she would overcome.

So today why not see resilience as part of the process of growth - a necessary tool in developing spiritual and emotional maturity.

 

5. Set Small, Achievable Goals

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Most self-help tools emphasise the importance of dreaming BIIIGGGG!! After all, huge goals lead to big accomplishments. Right? 

Not necessarily.

One thing I learned in dealing with long-term health issues is that it was better for me to have goals that were small, manageable and achievable. They need to stretch you enough so you feel a sense of growth, yet not so much that they become unattainable.

When my goals were too big, I ran the risk of setting myself up for failure rather than success. And to develop our resilience skills, we really need to be able to look back on a series of small successes.

For instance, suppose you decide it's high time to live a healthier lifestyle, so you add a ten minute morning walk to your routine. 

You might say, "I will go for a ten minute walk every morning this week at 9.30 am."

Now on the surface, this seems like a great goal. The problem is you haven't given yourself any leeway in case you have a bad day, or some other emergency happens which leaves you with less energy to go for your walk than expected.

A more achievable target would be, "I will go for a ten minute walk four mornings this week by 10.30 am."

This stretches you while providing that all important flexibility. 

Small goals which encourage us to move forward are better than bigger goals which leave us feeling overwhelmed.

So this week, why not think about a goal you can set yourself? Remember to keep it small enough to be doable, yet just big enough to stretch yourself slightly.

 
 

10 Must-Have Kitchen Gadgets that Can Make Life Easier if you have Chronic Pain

Do you love cooking - but find it such a challenge you're hardly able to prepare a meal at all? Are you relying far too heavily on ready-meals, and concerned about the ... that you're putting in your body?

I get it! When you're in constant pain, the last thing you might have energy to do is cook a meal. There have been times when I lived on ready meals for months.

It was expensive, it definitely wasn't healthy and it didn't always taste so great either. 

But if you love to cook, having the right kitchen gadgets can make all the difference. Sure - there still might be days you have to rely on a freezer meal or takeaway, but here are ten kitchen gadgets that might make getting in the kitchen a little easier for you.

 

1. Slow cooker

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I love my slow cooker! It's a must-have for minimal, no-fuss healthy cooking.

What makes it so perfect? You don't need much preparation, and there's only one pot to wash up at the end. Just throw your veggies and/or meat in the pot. Switch it on, and let your slow cooker get to work. Because of the timer, there's no need to really keep an eye on it either. You can place all your items in it in the morning, and have a delicious casserole ready to eat in the evening.

I wouldn't be without it.

 

2. hot water dispenser

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This is one of the most valuable aids I have in my kitchen.

At times it can be difficult and, indeed, dangerous to handle a full kettle of boiling water. With a water dispenser, I can press the button and make just one cup of tea or coffee. A real life-saver.

 

3. Smoothie Maker/Ninja Smoothie Maker & Food Processor

I ummed and aahed for ages before I bought my Ninja smoothie maker. I'd had food processors in the past, but they always seemed such a hassle to take apart and wash afterward that I hardly used them.

Enter the Ninja! It has literally transformed my life.

Firstly, it's easy to make a simple and healthy breakfast in the morning - whether it's a green smoothie or healthy oatmeal pancakes.  A perfect way to get healthy nutrients when you don't have time or energy to make a proper cooked breakfast.

It's also fantastic for whizzing up tomato sauces for pasta or blending homemade soups. And there are numerous cookbooks out there with straightforward recipes, telling you how to get the most from your Nutri.

And for me - here's the clincher. There are no small parts to get damaged or broken, and it's easy to wash up afterward. I use my smoothie maker at least five mornings a week for the ultimate .

I've had the basic Ninja smoothie maker for a couple of years - and I love it. Recently, though I've upgraded to this little beauty as it comes with the addition of a small food processor.

 

 

4. Measuring Cups

If you enjoy baking, using a set of measuring cups will make it so much easier than the traditional British method of weighing ingredients on scales with grams/ pounds and ounces.

This is the exact set that I use. It has 8 sizes - from 1 cup all the way down to 1/4 cup. It also has traditional spoon measurements of tablespoon, teaspoon and dessert spoon. I find this easier than having to weigh flour or sugar in a scale. 

I recommended it to a friend the other day, and she says it got her baking again. 

 

4. Ergonomic Knife

An ergonomic knife is one of the handiest little tools you can have in your kitchen. The angle of the knife makes it so much easier to slice through things like onions and other veggies that might previously have given you difficulty. 

 

5. Instant Pot

Similar to a slow cooker, but it cooks meals in a fraction of the time - so if you're not organised enough to place your ingredients in the slow cooker in the morning, this is an excellent alternative.

If you only need to cook in smaller quantities, a 3-litre Pressure King Pro might be more suitable for your needs.

 

6. Porcelain Mug

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On those days when a normal cup might just be too weighty, nothing beats the beauty and elegance of a porcelain mug. 

 

7. Mini Oven

I love this mini-oven by Andrew James.

First of all it looks stylish - I've had so many compliments on it. It doesn't burn food - and it also has a grill too. And it has both a fan and normal oven. It cooks chicken, vegetables and anything else beautifully.

Best of all, it has a timer. So if brain fog means that you forget to go and check it later, at least it will switch itself off. And because it's more compact than a regular oven, food cooks a little more quickly too, saving abit on fuel. One of my best buys!

 

8. Melamine Dinner Set

There are days when my arms and wrists are in so much pain, that a cup might as well be a lead weight. Those are the times when I reach for my melamine dinner set. They look fantastic, and are better for the environment than paper plates as they create less waste.

I have mine in a pretty, cheerful pattern that's bound to cheer me up. And if you have a complete set then you don't have to feel the odd one out when you're set dinner to a family or friend round for dinner.  They're not microwave safe, but it's perfectly fine to serve hot food on them.

 

9. Electric Jar Opener