You Are a Star (In More Ways Than One)

>> Saturday

The molecules you're made of were made in a sun. That sun (or star) lived a full sun life — a billion, two billion, maybe five billion years — and then at the end of its life it went supernova and exploded, creating a huge cloud of stardust. We know this because the heavy elements existing in such abundance on earth are created in the nuclear furnace of a star.

The dust accumulated, pieces drawn together by their own gravity, and eventually settled into our solar system as we know it.

Not only is all life on earth star stuff, but you are solar powered. The energy from the sun is captured by plants and then converted by you into energy.

And the evolutionary path that led to us was further helped by another star's supernova explosion which created another vast dust cloud filled with radiation. Our solar system passed through that radiation cloud and it caused massive mutations in the early life forms on earth, leading life into new directions, one of which led to you.

You are made up of an old star. You are fueled by a star. Your genetic evolution was crucially influenced by a star.

And when you die, you will become star dust.

Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of Viewfinder: How to Change the Way You Look at Things.


For a Great Mood, Stick to the Basics

>> Sunday

I see my work as beginner material. And I'm not saying that to insult my work. Not at all. The most important material in any field is fundamental and not fancy. It is beginner material. Most of the greatest gains come from the most basic methods.

Think about that. When you're trying to improve your mood, almost all the benefit comes from just a few basic techniques. The ignorance of this fact sends people on time-wasting goose-chases.

For example, I know a young man who drinks wheat grass, uses healing magnets in his shoes, and drinks water only if it is filtered. But he doesn't exercise. In my opinion, exercise is beginner material. It is basic and fundamental and would produce more real gains to his state of health and well-being than all the esoteric stuff combined. There are hundreds of studies showing how effective and important exercise is, and there are only scattered reports or mere anecdotal evidence that the other three things I mentioned make much of a difference or do any good at all.

If the basics are already in place, and you've got extra time and money for more questionable things, by all means go for it. But if the most important basics are not taken care of, forget the esoteric things.

There are a few things in life that are really important. All else is secondary and even superfluous. But there's only one problem: The fundamentals are boring to an inquisitive mind like yours, so it wanders off and wants to get fancy. But to really be in a good mood a lot of the time you need to keep coming back to the basic fundamentals.

No matter what you're trying to accomplish, you will do best if you concentrate most of your effort on the most basic and fundamental things.

Earl Nightingale once had a conversation with his friend, Dr. L.D. Pankey. Nightingale was looking at a picture of one of Pankey's classes he taught for the people in his profession every year, when he noticed that there were some familiar faces — faces he'd seen in pictures of earlier classes.

"I notice many of the people who took your course a year ago took it again this year," said Nightingale, "What did you teach them this year that you didn't teach them last year?"

"Nothing," replied Pankey, "I teach them the same thing every year, not only in this country but abroad as well. Oh, I add to it each year, as I learn new things. But basically, it's the same course every year."

"Do you mean you teach the same things to the same people all over again?"

"That's right," said Pankey. He looked up at Nightingale. "When you find your golf game isn't as good as you'd like it to be," he said, "or you suddenly find the ball isn't going where you want it to go, and you can't quite put your finger on what's wrong, what do you do?"

Nightingale didn't have to think about that one. "Well, I go back to the pro for some lessons."

"That's right. And what does he teach you? Does he teach you something new about the game — something you didn't know at some time before? Or does he merely remind you once again of the basic fundamentals that, if you'll but be guided by them, will result in your getting the kind of score you'll be happier with?"

The idea of coming back to basics is itself a basic and needs reminding too. And one of the most enjoyable ways to re-learn the basics is to teach them to others. No doubt, as you read the articles on this blog, you'll learn some useful things you'll be able to teach your friends, and by teaching them, they will benefit and you will learn it better. That's a finding that has schools changing their curricula.

In tutoring programs in the past, they would take kids who excelled and let them teach kids who weren't doing very well. But recently, a different approach has shown a tremendous amount of promise: Taking average or below-average students and having them teach students two grades lower — fourth graders tutoring second graders, for example.

In studies on this approach it was found that the second graders obviously benefit, but the fourth graders did too. Many of them had never quite mastered some skills until they had to teach it to someone. The process of teaching the younger students allowed the older students to clarify and solidify what they had learned before, and it also improved their attitudes and increased their self-confidence besides.

When you think you've got a pretty good grasp on something from, try teaching it to someone. The process of doing so will increase your own understanding, as well as giving you an even better ability to stay in a great mood than you have now.

Helping someone else learn something fundamental will deepen your mastery of those important basics. One of the things I like most about the business I'm in — writing — is how much better I understand what I learn just by trying to explain it in writing.

The point of all this is: Stick to the basics. One good way of reviewing some basics you already know is to teach them to someone.

Fundamentals are the most important. Everything else is icing. When your frame of mind is in good shape, when your relationships are all doing well, and when you've done what you can for your health for today, then concern yourself with extras. Don't spend time on icing when the basics are not in place.


The Top Ten Ways To Raise Your Mood

1. Respond to good news enthusiastically. It's called "capitalizing." If your significant other tells you some good news, how do you respond? Four possible ways to respond are: 1) enthusiastically, 2) negatively, 3) positively but subdued, or 4) uninterested. Studies show when you respond enthusiastically, as opposed to any of the other ways, it makes a big difference in how satisfied your significant other is in your relationship, how committed s/he is, and how in love s/he is with you. And, of course, if your significant other is more satisfied with your relationship, is more committed to you, and more in love with you, that will really raise your mood, too.

2. Look at personal photos. Listening to music and eating chocolate didn't really change experimental subjects' moods very much. Alcohol and TV each gave people a 1% rise in their happiness score. But the clear winner was looking at personal photos. It gave people, on average, an 11% rise in their mood.

3. Experiment with your posture. Someone who feels down tends to slump. Someone who is happy tends to sit up straighter, walk more upright with the head held up, looking ahead instead of down. If you have been paying attention, you know this already. Posture tends to be a reflection of mood. What you might not have realized is that it goes the other way too: If you change your posture, it will influence your mood. Experiment with your posture while you're walking or sitting. Do more of what makes you feel better, and less of what doesn't.

4. Compare your situation to something worse. Think of something you are unhappy about. Now notice that the reason it makes you unhappy is that you are comparing your situation to something better. You're comparing your situation to something more ideal. But try this: Think of someone in this world who would take your situation over theirs in a heartbeat. Or imagine your own situation was much worse than it is. Whatever you are unhappy about, you can easily find a worse situation to compare it to. And from that perspective, you are lucky to have the problem you have, even though it is obviously not ideal. Who says the ideal is a legitimate thing to use as a comparison anyway? Something worse is at least as legitimate, and has a benefit too: You feel better.

5. Pretend the universe is in a conspiracy to make you happy. When something bad happens, pretend the universe is in a conspiracy to make you happy and it gave you this bad thing as the perfect way for you to learn something — a lesson that will ultimately make you happy. This way of reframing a setback will improve your mood in the moment, and will raise your mood in the long run. It'll help you learn and improve what you do in the future. It will help you make the most of whatever happens. What unpleasant situation do you have? Is it teaching you something valuable? Could it, if you looked at it that way? Your ongoing mood has a lot to do with how things look to you. And how things look to you has a lot to do with how you look at things. Use this to your advantage by using this reframe.

6. Think of something you're grateful for. It is surprisingly easy to think of something you're grateful for. It only takes a few moments. And as soon as you think of something, you feel noticeably better. If the first thing you think of doesn't raise your mood enough, ask yourself what else you're grateful for. We naturally have our attention on our goals and what we'd like to attain in the future, and the mind naturally compares what we have with what we want to have. That's motivating sometimes, but it can also make you feel demoralized or frustrated. It is equally legitimate — and ought to get equal billing — to think about what you have (compared to others or compared to your past), or what you have gained, or what you are just plain glad about. Try it the next time you feel discouraged or frustrated. Ask yourself, "What am I grateful for?"

7. Take some time and sit still quietly. Simply sitting and thinking can raise your mood consistently. All you have to do is sit still without doing anything. How often do you do that? You always have lots to do, and if you're not doing something, you're watching a movie or listening to music. Your mind is almost continually engaged. When you sit still, after about fifteen minutes, your mind seems to go into a defrag mode. Unresolved issues bubble up and get resolved. Your mind seems to naturally sort itself out. It feels almost as if you had things you needed to think about that were pushed to the back of your mind, waiting for an opportunity. Sit still and let your mind think for a half-hour to an hour. I think you'll be surprised at how clear-headed and peaceful you become.

8. Do some exercise. Exercise beats depression, but even if you're not depressed, a little exercise usually raises your mood. It's an all-purpose mood-raiser that just about anyone can use. If you haven't exercised in the last couple days and you're not feeling as good as you would like, try doing some exercise today and see if that helps. It probably will.

9. Get a little done on a purpose you care about. Think of one small goal you really want. And it's really important you think of something you want. You could do things you should do all day long, completing task after task, but if there's no juice in it, all that accomplishment won't raise your mood. For real enjoyment, you need: 1) something you want to accomplish, that 2) you enjoy accomplishing. Do a little of your joyful purpose today, or if the day is almost done, then start tomorrow. Think of something you really want to do that you really like to do, and get a little of it done.

10. Reframe a circumstance that makes you feel bad. "Reframing" means interpreting the situation differently. When something happens, you interpret it a certain way, and your mind usually does it automatically. The situation just seems a certain way to you, and you have feelings appropriate to the way you look at it. When you reframe a circumstance that makes you feel bad, you won't feel bad any more. Nothing has changed except how you're looking at it, but that's enough to change your feelings. To reframe something, all you have to do is 1) notice some circumstance is bringing you down, and 2) ask yourself if there is some other way to look at it than the way you automatically look at it.

There you have it. Ten good ways to improve your mood. Keep this list around and when you want to feel better, try one.

Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of Viewfinder: How to Change the Way You Look at Things.


The Serious Advantage of a Disadvantage

Irwin Kahn from Franklin, Ohio, wrote to Dear Abby. When he was ten years old, he said, his mother sent him to a children's home. She kept his younger brother and sister, but got rid of him, and she even told him why: He was too much of a troublemaker. He was, of course, hurt by this.

He was an emotional mess for awhile and developed a severe stuttering problem. But he had been assigned a "Big Brother" and the staff of the children's home were good people, and this combination helped him develop some inner strength and a sense of values.

At age seventeen, he left the children's home to make his way in the world. "I educated myself," he said, "overcame my stuttering, became a successful corporate CEO, and now enjoy multimillionaire status. I retired at 52."

What seemed a terrible disadvantage — getting booted out at age ten, rejected by your own mother — might have actually been to his advantage. It might have been one of the best things that could have happened to him.

This conclusion seems so much the opposite of what most people would think, but let's look at this for a moment. Because his mom sent him away, he came into the care of people who were devoting their lives to helping others. He came under the influence of a Big Brother, who voluntarily and out of genuine kindness, spent time to help a young person.

If his mother had not abandoned him, Kahn would probably never have met these people or been influenced by them. His mom may have been a terrible influence on him. She may have been a cold-hearted, uncaring mother.

The actor Edward James Olmos grew up in East L.A. and his parents divorced when he was seven. He lived in a three-room house (including the kitchen) with a dirt floor. Eleven people lived there.

Olmos is one of those who made the best of how things turned out. "Some people say they didn't have a choice," he says, "They're poor or brown or crippled. They had no parents. Well, you can use any one of those excuses to keep your life from growing. Or you can say, 'Okay, this is where I am, but I'm not going to let it stop me. Instead, I'm gonna turn it around and make it my strength.' That's what I did."


We're talking about learning to have the attitude of finding or making an advantage out of a disadvantage. Learning to say "That's good!" no matter what happens, and by your actions making it good. Another way of saying this is to convince yourself that, "Trouble brings the seeds of good fortune."

This is not wishful thinking or positive thinking. This is not hoping that things will magically turn out. This is a commitment to making things turn out well.

When the energy crisis hit in the 1970s, Brazil was hurt badly. Oil imports were taking half the available foreign currency, and they were heavily in debt. The country was in serious trouble. But because of the trouble, they had to look elsewhere for fuel. And they didn't need to look any further than their own back yard.

One of the things Brazil had was a huge sugar cane crop. So they used it to make alcohol, and began converting their energy economy to burning alcohol. Today, 90% of cars sold in Brazil run on alcohol, which burns much more cleanly than gas.

The trouble brought seeds of good fortune to Brazil. Because alcohol became their chief fuel, air quality in their cities improved.

The sugar cane is ground to a pulp, and the juice is extracted and fermented. The processing plants also had a problem: All the juiceless pulp. They had to pay garbage collectors to take it away.

Trouble again brought seeds of good fortune. Uses were found for the pulp. They burned it and used the heat to make electricity, relieving the necessity of building new dams on the Amazon river — dams that cause flooding and environmental damage. And burning the pulp adds no permanent carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, because the growing plants absorb as much as is released in the burning. The pulp is also made into a nutritious feed for cattle.

The idea that trouble brings the seeds of good fortune can make itself true. If you think you can make an advantage out of a disadvantage, you may try, and if you try, you increase the odds of it happening.

But if you close your mind to the situation — if you make up your mind it is just bad — you are less likely to think of a way to turn it to your advantage.

You have something to gain and nothing to lose by taking this idea — that trouble contains the seeds of good fortune — and burning it into your mind. Make it an automatic part of your thinking. Have it so ingrained that it is your first thought when trouble comes your way. It will give you power to overcome difficulties and prevent life from sinking you into the quicksand of despair.

If you want to get fast results, try this: Repeat this idea to yourself, and while you do, allow images of any trouble happening now in your life to come into your mind's eye. Think about what has upset you lately. Think about what bothers you. Think about anything in your life right now you don't like. And while you do, repeat this idea steadily and calmly and matter-of-factly.

You truly don't know what good fortune may develop out of "trouble." You don't know yet what advantages you may derive from what now seems like a disadvantage. But commit yourself to it and you may find what you seek. The commitment will change your mood right away, and when you actually find an advantage, that will also improve your mood.

Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of Viewfinder: How to Change the Way You Look at Things.


Good Moods Are Good For Your Health, Bad Moods Are Dangerous

>> Thursday

In an article on (where the medical content of the article was reviewed by the faculty of the Harvard Medical School) pointed out that chronic or even frequent stress is bad for your heart.

Stress is a bad mood, and it isn't good for your heart (or any other part of your body). I quote the article:

"When an event is perceived as a threat — whether a deadline, a divorce, stalled traffic or misplaced keys — the body harks back to that ancient "fight-or-flight" response that once meant life or death. First, the stress hormones — adrenaline and cortisol (made by the adrenal glands) — flood the body, increasing the heart's need for oxygen as it prepares for vigorous action. Heart rate and blood pressure increase. Blood vessels in your skin constrict. Muscles tense and blood sugar levels increase. The tendency for blood to clot increases and the body's cells pour stored fat into the bloodstream. Add it all up and it puts additional strain on the heart and artery linings."

Did you catch that? "When the event is perceived as a threat." Of course, many times (maybe even most the time) you perceive something as more threatening than it really is. And regardless of how threatening it really is, your body responds to your perception, not the reality.

That's actually great news. That means if you would reframe some of the "stressful" things in your life, if you would see them in a new way, a less-stressful way, you would improve your health (and feel better too). Find out how: How to Reframe What Seems to Be a Negative Event.



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