Happy christmas couple wearing santa's hats and holding a remote control

Recapture the Holiday Spirit

The holidays are a great time to gather with family and friends and rejoice in each other’s company. If hustle and bustle of the season is keeping you from doing much relaxing and rejoicing, challenge yourself to take a deep breath and recapture that holiday spirit. Watching a good holiday movie is a perfect way to infuse that good cheer. Here is a list of films that are sure to help you meet the challenge of recapturing joy and love this holiday season.​Love Actually"Love is...actually all around.” Love Actually shares the stories of multiple people falling in, and a few out, of love during te holiday season. The various story-lines demonstrate the true meaning of love, both the good and the bad. Take the time this holiday season to tell the special people in your life that you love them.Miracle on 34th StreetKris, a jolly, good-hearted man, claims to be Santa Claus and spends his time reminding people the true meaning of Christmas despite the rampant commercialism all around him. Most think he is delusional and a danger to the kids, but Kris has convinced a few to believe. Miracle on 34th Street is about belief, a belief in Santa Claus, a belief that represents hope and joy.A Christmas CarolThere’s a good chance the most have read, watched or even acted in some variation of A Christmas Carol. The story follows Ebenezer Scrooge, (Bah, humbug!), a man who thinks of nothing but money and doesn’t care about the people around him. That is until one night, when he is visited by three ghosts that teach him life-changing lessons. The most important lesson to gain from this story is that you should always be grateful for what you have, no matter how little or how much.The Polar ExpressThe Polar Express is a modern classic children’s book adapted into a movie in 2004 by Robert Zemeckis. Ayoung boy boards a special train on Christmas Eve that takes him on a magicaladventure showinghim the wonder of life will never fade if you always believe. Just like the lesson from Miracle on 34th Street, believing can open your eyes to the many wonderful things and opportunities you can have in life.White ChristmasIrving Berlin’s White Christmas follows two army buddies turned entertainers who fall for a sister-act post-WWII. However, this isn’t just a love story. The selfless acts performed by the characters Wallace and Davis (played by Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye) for their ex-general is the best part. So, take a note from White Christmas and do something selfless this holiday season. You will be surprised at how much joy even the simplest of acts will bring you.Meet Me in St. LouisThis isn’t a typical Christmas movie but it has a moving Christmas scene where Judy Garland sings “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” The beautiful thing about this movie is the togetherness of the family. Although they have their problems, they work through them together.It’s a Wonderful LifeThis classic Christmas film is a must-see! A guardian angel helps a compassionate but depressed and frustrated businessman by showing him what life would have been like if he never existed. Author and inspirational speaker Bob Welch wrote the book, 52 Little Lessons from It’s a Wonderful Life. One of my favorite quotes is from George, who says that “No man is a failure if he has friends.” Definitely food for thought that should keep you motivated all year round.The Bishop’s WifeThis is another classic film that everyone should see at least once. An angel (played by Cary Grant) arrives to help a Bishop and his wife realize what is truly important in life. Dudley the angel brings happiness and good will to anyone who needs him. Give this a watch and take a lesson from Dudley and put your family first this holiday season.Die HardMost people don’t think of this as a Christmas movie, but it most definitely is. It is a mix of a variety of films including The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street and A Christmas Carol. With so many Christmas themes packed into one film and all wrapped up in a big shiny Hollywood box of explosions and action how could you want anything more?We hope you get to cuddle up with your loved ones and watch at least one of these movies this season. We are sure you will see an increase in your holiday spirit and overall happiness.Mariana Lenox is half of the husband/wife movie review team at the blog Reel and Unscripted. Her love of movies began young with all things Disney but has since been expanded to include allgenres, as proven by her now 4,000 strong movie collection fondly known asthe "movie wall". You be the judge on whether or not this represents anobsession or a just a hobby!
Read More
Boats on Beach

Travel and Happiness

A little experience may make you a cynic, but a lot of experience can bring you back to a truer and kindlier self, according to Plato. Traveling can give you those life experiences that broaden your horizons while humbling yourself to the world around you. While you don’t have to sell all your possessions and become a worldly wanderer, there may be some benefits to taking the time out of your busy life to see the places you’ve always wanted to see. Checking off those boxes on your bucket list and fulfilling your goals can certainly give you a sense of accomplishment in your life. Even spending a relaxing vacation with loved ones can nurture those personal relationships that are important to you. Or, you can stay home and live those life experiences vicariously through these travel bloggers who chronicle their globe-trekking adventures for all to see. Either way, an escape is an escape… right? Two Happy Campers are Mark and Michelle—two people who are perfectly happy to live in the present. These habitual campers only work to support their travel. They have left the material world behind to live their life to the fullest. ThePlanetD is run by an “adventure couple” from Toronto who specialize in “adventure travel.” They have achieved their goal of making a living out of traveling, and are perfectly content spending the rest of their lives seeing the world together. Beers and Beans is a blog by Beth and Randy, who want to help you travel better. One is a photographer and the other a journalist: A perfect team to document their journey throughout the world providing inspiration for others to do the same. Nomadicsamuel.com not only offers up traveling tips, blog posts and photos from around the world, but this site also features links to the top 100 travel blogs. You can spend hours perusing other travel sites reading and learning about how others are making the most out of their life experience.
Read More
Dan Buettner speaking on stage.

Forever Young: Dan Buettner on Human Longevity

Kamada Nakazato’s family was so poor that she dropped out of school in third grade to help her mother raise her siblings. At 18, she entered an arranged marriage with a man four years older. Kamada shouldered most of the parenting when their six children were small, because her husband traveled often in search of work. She wove straw hats for supplemental income, but the family still survived almost entirely on sweet potatoes. Eventually her husband could return home and help her finish raising the children to adulthood.Then World War II broke out, turning her native Okinawa into a battleground and changing the island’s culture forever. But Kamada’s life changed little: She had family responsibilities and still needed to work hard to eke out a modestexistence.In 2005, at age 102 and a widow for 10 years, she met Dan Buettner, an American on a research expedition seeking the health secrets of centenarians from Okinawa. Kamada wore a traditional kimono and brushed her hair straight back. Buettner noted her gentle brown eyes, which held wisdom, kindness and a deep spirituality. Everyone in the little community on the Motobu Peninsula revered her as a spiritual leader.“Living History”Buettner also treasured Kamada, one of the individuals who helped him uncover the well-being formula of the world’s longest-lived people.“I remember the little house in rural Okinawa.… This woman was born in the rain, outside, and now sort of knew life was angling in on her,” Buettner says. “To watch her go through these daily chores in this ancient house—it just felt like I was living history.”Digging into the backgrounds of centenarians like Kamada refined his life mission, making Buettner a best-selling author and earning him TV time alongside Barbara Walters and Oprah Winfrey. But conducting in-depth interviews with the elderly and studying their lifestyles wasn’t always his passion. “I had no great affinity for old people when I started this, as some might think,” he says with a chuckle.Instead, Buettner’s research into the “Blue Zones”—regions containing the highest concentration of people 100 or older—appears to be the apex of a lifetime exploring the globe… or perhaps only half a lifetime, it may turn out.Buettner’s PathBuettner learned to live self-sufficiently in the woods of his native Minnesota by age 6. His father, a special-education teacher, passed down a desire to experience the world in every way. Well-spoken and confident, Buettner, who turns 53 on June 18, has barely a wrinkle on his face and only a touch of gray in his hair. Seeking adrenaline during and immediately after his college days at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis-St. Paul, he sold newspaper subscriptions in a program that paid for long excursions to Spain and Morocco. Only later did he embark on real adventures.He set a Guinness World Record for biking across the Americas, from Alaska to Argentina. The 15,000-plus miles of Americastrek were completed in 1987. Then the Soviet Union began to break up, and Buettner cycled across that empire, in 1990’s Sovietrek. Two years later, Africatrek covered almost 12,000 miles.MayaQuest, when he and a team of experts on Mayan civilization traveled to Central America seeking an explanation for the society’s sudden collapse roughly 1,100 years ago, ultimately made Buettner an Internet pioneer in 1995. During that journey, the travelers uploaded their findings for—and responded to questions from—teachers and students at 40,000 participatingschools.“We were all trying to figure out how we could use the Internet as a communication vehicle for schools,” Buettner says. “But also, how do you engage students in a meaningful way, so they’re avidly learning about science?” MayaQuest attempted to explain how environmental factors influenced the Mayans and other cultures, and in the process encourage naturalism in a newgeneration.“MayaQuest was the first one out of the chute,” Buettner says. The “Quest” series later expanded. “We went on to explore the legend of Marco Polo, human origins in Africa and origins of Western civilization. Eventually, we stumbled upon a World Health Organization finding that Okinawa had the longest disability-free life expectancy in the world. I thought there had to be a non-genetic explanation—something is going on with their lifestyle and environment. We used the quest mentality to try to open that treasure chest.”Into the Blue ZonesSo began Buettner’s investigation into the secrets of centenarian-rich pockets of Japan, Mexico, Costa Rica, Italy, Greece and even Southern California—the research tour that would earn him publication inNational GeographicandThe New York Timesled to his 2008 bookThe Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, and what has become his life’s work, an attempt to spread the same healthy, happy principles to U.S. communities.In 2009 Buettner formed theBlue Zones Project, an organization that works with companies, schools, cities and towns to improve community well-being. More than 750 businesses and 40 schools have taken up the lifestyle principles, and dozens of city councils have joined in, adapting their communities to encourage the health of residents by building more bike paths, for example, and changing construction codes to encourage more pedestrians.LikeSUCCESS, Buettner believes there’s much more to life than amassing a fortune. Everyone has needs, and certain luxuries are always welcome, but making the most of life is about finding personal peace, enjoying family and friends, realizing a purpose, giving back, and passing on wisdom to future generations. The better their diet and health, the longer people can live, thus giving them a greater chance to impact the world. Astonishingly, these “success measures” directly relate to longevity.This revolutionary work has tied together the sciences of health and happiness with the search for meaning, so naturallySUCCESS’s interview with Buettner focused on how anyone can relate to his findings and how the Blue Zones studies have changed his life.Q:As an explorer, your M.O. was to tackle one challenge and search for the next. Why did you settle on longevity as your life’s work?A:I think each of us has a desire to find something that’s meaningful to others, not just ourselves. Most explorers start with an individual journey, and it eventually evolves into an expedition that has a chance to somehow make humans better. From the first trip to Okinawa, I knew,Wow! Here is a body of wisdom that can make a huge impact on America.At the time there were 77 million baby boomers who were getting old. I thought it was going to be something a lot of people would care about. It was the perfect alignment between my personal interests and a bigger interest.Q:How would you describe the experience of spending so much time around centenarians?A:It’s special. It really is. There’s a certain awe you have to have for someone who has reached triple digits. Somewhere between knowledge and wisdom is experience, and this demographic literally has more life experience than any other on Earth. I had a great editor atNational Geographicnamed Peter Miller, who told me to go and not just interview a bunch of centenarians, but go live with them.When you spend enough time with them, you discover a uniformity—they tend to have a sense of humor. They tend to listen. The grumps are kind of weeded out before age 100.Q:They’ve had many peaks and valleys over a long life. Why does happiness shinethrough?A:It comes not from money, although it’s important they have enough. They have food, shelter; they can treat themselves once in a while; it’s not just a life of drudgery. They have good access to healthcare, not top-of-the-line healthcare, but public healthcare that keeps them from developing diseases.But there’s also a connectivity you wouldn’t feel in a big city or a soulless suburb in America. Your neighbors are in your business a little. If you don’t show up to the local festival, they’re going to knock on your door and say, “Where the heck have you been?” It’s not a lonely existence. It’s a connected existence the human species has evolved with for the past 2.5 million years.Q:Has being around people who follow such a healthy routine led you to have more self-discipline?A:One thing I learned is you can enjoy rich foods and sweets occasionally, but one way to cut about half of that is just don’t bring it into the house. I don’t bring meat into my house, or sweets, or snacks. If you put a nice steak, or chips or a bowl of ice cream in front of me, I’ll eat it, but the fact it’s not in my house cuts a lot of it from my diet.People in the Blue Zones have no more discipline than we do. It’s really not our fault so many of us are overweight and unhealthy. It’s not a lack of discipline. We just let our environment careen out of control. People in the Blue Zones teach us how to set up our environment correctly. It’s not a magic diet. It’s a game of inches.I’m working around the country to lay out all those inches that add up over time. The places that have adopted early have innovative leadership that works well together. They’ve tried a number of things and seen them fail, and are ready to try something pioneering.Q:Studies suggest that because of obesity, today’s generation of children may have shorter lives than their parents. If they take care of themselves following these methods—and we assume medical advancements occur—how long do you believe a baby born today can live?A:[Demographer] James Vaupel has shown, pretty convincingly, that life expectancy jumps about two years every decade. A child born today could probably look forward to living 15 or 20 years beyond the current life expectancy [about 76 years for men and 81 for women in America].That jump is not linear. It’s erratic. When we discovered penicillin and antibiotics, the life expectancy of the human species leaped enormously. The life expectancy for a male in 1900 was about age 46. We’ve almost doubled it. If we could double it again, the life expectancy goes up to 150 or 160.We cannot see what that innovation would be in the same way we couldn’t have seen penicillin coming. But things like the sequencing of the human genome provide a glimpse of the potential for life expectancy.Q:As important as healthy living, your research indicates the ability to articulate a purpose for life is crucial. How can we find purpose, which seems like an abstract concept amid our daily grind?A:One is religion. If you’ve strayed from religion, go test it again. [Most] people who make it to 100 belong to some faith-based community. Along with a faith comes a value set you sign up for, a goal—whether it’s to be a good person to get into heaven, or be reincarnated. It puts the numbers on your side for longevity and happiness.People who pledge to our program are invited to a three-hour purpose seminar. We take them through an internal inventory to identify passions, strengths, things they enjoy doing, and how they can put those to work. In that cross-section, you get a pretty good idea of purpose besides “I’ve got to make money” or “I’ve got to raise my kids.”You’d be shocked how many Americans never have time for that internal inventory between waking up, going to work, getting dinner for the kids and then watching four hours of TV, on average. The internal inventory is the biggest step.What gets people in the Blue Zones out of bed in the morning, out of the easy chair—what gets them taking their medicine—is anexpectation. They don’t just expect to receive love or resources, but they are expected to love and to contribute. Expectation and purpose are part of the same package.We have a mindset in America that you have productive years into your mid-60s and then you retire. There’s no retirement in the Blue Zones. Rather than quitting their jobs and golfing for a couple years, then asking what’s next, these people continue to work for city mayors as aconsigliere, or take up town patrols, or continue at their job, but not as many hours.Q:To make it personal, can you envision keeping up your current pace for another 50 years?A:I’ll keep doing what I’m doing. I’m sure it’ll evolve. I’m thinking about purpose a lot right now and where people find that around the world. Working with these cities through the Blue Zones Project is satisfying because I can impact so many lives. The model isn’t exactly perfected, so I don’t see any reason to stop doing this for the foreseeable future.I have as much energy as I did when I was 30. So it’s hard to think about a sunset.
Read More
Family with luggage walking at airport

‘Nonessential’ Travel? There’s No Such Thing

"Nonessential travel." It's one of those phrases that fly by at Twitter speed. It's everywhere, this nonessential travel, a virtual pandemic in itself. The State Department advises against nonessential travel to Mexico and a few other countries. An EU commissioner, meanwhile, advises against nonessential travel to some parts of the U.S.Yet no one actually defines nonessential travel, or its presumed opposite: essential travel. I called the State Department, and a spokesman told me it's "a personal decision" based on each traveler's "circumstances." In other words, nonessential travel is one of those terms that sound good, authoritative, but upon further inspection mean very little — or, more precisely, mean different things to different people.For most of us, a trip to the beaches of Cancun sounds decidedly nonessential — but for a frazzled office worker, teetering on the verge of a breakdown, that same trip might be very essential indeed. And what about a group of human rights lawyers due to meet in Mexico City to discuss an important case? I suppose visiting a sick relative counts as essential travel, but it depends on the illness and — let's be honest here — the relative.The fact that such a term even exists — nonessential travel — speaks volumes about how much the travel experience has evolved over the centuries. For most of human history, all travel was essential. You traveled to seek food, to find God, to fight a war, or flee one. It's no accident that the words travel and travail share a similar root. Travel was hard. You didn't do it to go sightseeing or chill out. It wasn't until 1841 when a Baptist minister named Thomas Cook arranged an 11-mile excursion in England that package tourism — and, yes, nonessential travel — were born.Sometimes we can't distinguish essential from nonessential travel until after we're safely back home. The trip that seems crucial at the time might not in retrospect. Once I took an "essential" trip to Vietnam for a business meeting. We ate and drank fulsomely but, as far as I could tell, there was nothing essential about the meeting. Likewise, I can think of some trips that began frivolously, on a lark, but turned out to be surprisingly essential. The point is we're constantly revising our ranking of trips in terms of their importance, their essentialness.I realize the officials at the State Department probably do not have author Henry Miller in mind when they issue these travel warnings. But maybe they should. Miller once said that, for him, the "destination was never a place but a new way of seeing things." And so it is with me. Travel — all travel — is essential. A good trip, even a bad one, salves my soul, fires my imagination. I could no longer live without travel than I could without, say, a really good cup of coffee. Not a matter of life or death exactly, but close. So, if the opportunity arises, yes, I will gladly hop on a plane for Mexico City. Of course I'd pack a generous supply of Tamiflu. Some things really are essential.Eric Weiner, a former NPR reporter, is author of The Geography of Bliss, One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World.
Read More
Josh Radnor holding picture of himself.

Josh Radnor on Maintaining a Positive Life

Josh Radnor is perhaps best-known for his role as Ted, the central character on CBS’s Emmy-nominated comedy How I Met Your Mother. He is the writer, director and star of the Sundance Audience Award winner Happythankyoumoreplease. Liberal Arts was his second film to write, direct and star in. His latest movie is Afternoon Delight with Kathryn Hahn, which opened in late August. Josh, who has been pegged as a maker of “feel-good” movies, talked to writer Pat Lavin about optimism and the other things that really matter inlife. My television show, How I Met Your Mother, is very popular with the college set. They have a strong relationship with the show and with Ted, the main character I play, so Ted and I have often been invited to speak on campuses. I have great affection for Ted, but he’s not me. So I often seize the opportunity to engage our audiences in a deeper conversation about what I feel really matters. Here’s a taste of what they’re likely to hear: I love a good quote, and I don’t know who said it or if I’m crediting them correctly, but here’s one of my favorites for you: “Kindness is not about payoffs and instant gratification. It’s a low risk investment that appreciates over time.” No act of kindness or compassion is inconsequential. Such acts are contagious and felt in the collective. Kindness is not a suggestion. It’s an imperative. We just need to be kind, unconditionally and without ulterior motive, even—or rather, especially—when we prefer not to be. For me it’s simple and not entirely unselfish: When I’m kind, I feel good; when I’m not, I feel horrible. My mind and my intentions are very powerful. I can always tell the state of my mind by looking at the state of my life. So I could never claim to be a perpetually happy person. I much prefer the word “contentment.” It speaks to me of an inner calm that has no opposite. I’ll be all locked up in my head and somehow something will shift and I can move forward with clarity and a sense of purpose. When light and oxygen enter a previously dark and airless room, that’s called grace. And I choose optimism, but optimism that requires a clear-eyed, unblinking assessment of the problem at hand. It’s not about denial or repression as the pessimists might maintain. What distinguishes optimism from pessimism is the focus. It’s about transforming the situation. I wrote and directed a movie called Liberal Arts, and it contains a line I’m really proud of: “You think it’s cool to hate things, and it’s not. It’s boring.” Where we put our attention is deeply important. To focus on what we hate only seems to create more of that very thing. So give what you want to get. If you’re feeling unloved and unappreciated…love and appreciate. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and alone, help others! One of the best definitions I’ve heard of suffering is, “wanting things to be different than they are.” Think about this…problems are actually habitual and endlessly rehearsed patterns of thought. I think if we could look behind that curtain even for a second—we’d want to hug and help each other all day long. Each of us—in every moment—is making a contribution to the world through our thoughts, our words and our actions. I think we underestimate just how much power we have. Read more fromthis interview. PatLavinis a Certified Hypnotherapist and Life Coach. Her inspirational and insightful articles, essays and interviews have appeared in publications throughout the country.
Read More
Josh Radnor by vagueonthehow, on Flickr

Josh Radnor Talks About His Directing Philosophy

Excerpt from Josh Radnor interview (original full story):I watch some of these movie previews and I think, “My God, kids are watching this!” So I really consider what characters I want to bring to life. I’m obsessed with content and what we put out into the collective consciousness, so I have really strict standards about what I’ll do. Ultimately, the only real power I have is to say no. So I’m very proud of my résumé. But I love giving my film characters a real tangle and then watching how they manage to triumph. I write for actors. I write really juicy parts.I’ve learned a lot about real life from directing movies. For instance, I’ve learned about leadership. At the base of it is love—love for the project and a deep gratitude to the people involved in bringing it to life, but I’ve learned that sometimes sternness is also required. I also learned a lot from some wonderful mentors early on who let me believe I could do something that felt impossible at the time... be a professional actor. When you achieve something like that, suddenly all things seem possible.Somehow I knew that in order for me to keep my sanity as an actor, I needed to confront my mind and create a new relationship with it, so I’ve been meditating for nine years. It helps me to have a practice where I can watch my thoughts and learn not to react or identify with them. I call it serene self-observation; it’s a lifelong process—serene being the key word here. I should add that I fail at this regularly. But there’s a place beneath the madness that is calm, alert and awakened. This is the place I try to access and act from. It’s our natural state, our “Being.” I find it so useful to check in with myself and ask questions.“What am I being in this moment? What am I contributing? Am I asleep or am I awake?” Each of us—in every moment—is making a contribution to the world by our thoughts, words and actions. I think we underestimate how much power we have. Whatever qualities we wish the world to embody, we have to embody in ourselves. I believe that’s how we change the world. Not by hoping or wishing or delegating, but by being that change. I’m working hard to embody that change through the movies I make by offering a more inspiring, uplifting point of view. Too many people are already calling attention to the dark and dysfunctional.Pat Lavin is a Certified Hypnotherapist and Life Coach. Her inspirational and insightful articles, essays and interviews have appeared in publications throughout the country.
Read More
Young woman traveling the world.

3 Lessons from Traveling That Lead to Happiness

After graduating from college I took off to explore Europe for four months with one of my best friends. We backpacked through 14 countries and learned things about the world and ourselves that we never expected. We often joked that we learned more about life and ourselves traveling abroad for four months than we did going to school for four years in college. When you’re traveling, you get a whole new perspective on what really matters, and you feel this sense of adventure and excitement that reminds you just how many possibilities you have in life. Still infected with the travel bug, I decided last year to spend six weeks with a good friend in China. In the land of Buddhas, bikes and chopsticks, I remembered three important lessons that have helped me find happiness and fulfillment in everyday life. 1. Great things can happen when you’re flexible. When you’re traveling, you expect there to be bumps in the road, or unexpected surprises, and that’s what makes it so exciting. If everything went as planned, you wouldn’t have a story to tell other than “I saw the Great Wall of China, and it was large.” If you’re being flexible, you open yourself up to opportunities that sometimes can stem from a single moment gone wrong. My friend and I booked a few nights in a hostel in Yangshuo a week ahead of time with plans to stay in the same room together. Things didn’t quite work out as we planned. The management gave our room away, which meant we’d need to stay in separate rooms for a few nights. So we did, without complaint. This is how we met Ping Ping, who worked at the hostel front desk. Because we were flexible, understanding and patient, Ping Ping took to us and gave us an authentic experience we wouldn’t have had otherwise. She became our friend, confidante and tour guide. We spent several nights in her father’s house in her hometown, where we cooked with her family and shared the meal. We played basketball with local kids at a nearby school and toured a sacred Buddhist temple with her brother. Ping Ping gave us the opportunity to see life in China well off the tourist grid—and she also gave us the chance to really know her. Not just as the person who checked us into our hostel, but as a genuine friend. It all happened because we were willing and happy to go with the flow. It’s not always easy to be flexible in life. We sometimes get attached to rigid ideas of how things should work out, personally or professionally, but this can backfire and end up limiting us. When you’re adaptable, you open yourself up to possibilities that you might not even know are available to you. 2. Life is a lot more beautiful and manageable when you proactively create moments of awe. One of my favorite things about traveling is when I experience a moment of awe. In Yangshuo, I biked through a fairytale land, full of water buffaloes and small villages, surrounded by mountains curved like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. It was truly breathtaking. However, the most amazing moment happened when I put my bike on the back of a bamboo raft and sailed down the river back to Yangshuo. The light from the day was fading away, and all that was left was the sound of nature and the stirring reflection of the Karst Mountain peaks on the water. It was then that a feeling of calm came over me. My thoughts were pure. I felt fortunate to have this experience, and at the same time I felt so small. I couldn’t help but feel unbridled joy and freedom. Everything in life seemed so easy—and, for a moment, I was problem-less. It doesn’t take something as grand as the Lijiang River, but for me, this feeling often comes from nature. Maybe it’s a beautiful setting that does it for you. Or an intimate, meaningful conversation with someone else—someone who is going through something just like you are, who makes you realize you are not alone. These moments, when you remember you’re part of something much bigger than you, ignite a sense of awe. They’re humbling, and if you let them wash over you, you’ll feel a sense of connection and peace that makes all your problems seem manageable. We need to choose to create those moments—to get out of homes, and out of our heads, and into the great, big world together. 3. You have to let go of where you were to get where you can be. When I was young, my mother used to tell me and my brother to wave goodbye to places when we left them. If we were at the ocean, she would say, “Wave goodbye to the ocean!” I remember waving goodbye and feeling the car rolling over the hill, and then it was gone. I didn’t know if I’d ever see it again. After spending two days in Dunhuang, riding camels through the desert, savoring the culinary delight of another region, and exploring the Mogao Caves, we headed back to the train. It was a 24-hour ride to our next destination. As the train started to slowly move forward and gain speed, I looked out the window and waved goodbye (in my mind—didn’t want the Chinese family sharing a train cabin with me to think I was crazy). I was there only two days. I had seen only a few of the 492 temples in the “Caves of the thousand Buddhas” and sampled only a few dishes of the local cuisine—yet I already had to move on. As the train was leaving, a part of me wanted to stay. I knew that I would most likely never see the desert oasis town of Dunhuang again. But I also knew I was heading somewhere else equally amazing. When you’re traveling, it’s easier to let go of a beautiful moment because you know the adventure continues. No matter what rolls by outside your window, there will inevitably be more to appreciate when you get off the train. In everyday life, when you leave a moment you loved, it’s tempting to cling to it—particularly when you’re headed back to work, or to a place you’ve been to many times before. We forget sometimes that waving goodbye to one beauty allows us to wave hello to another. We may not know for sure what that might be, but there’s always something good ahead if you’re open to recognizing and appreciating it. Benjamin Button said, “I was thinking how nothing lasts, and what a shame that is.” He’s right—they don’t. But it doesn’t have to be a shame if we enjoy each moment while we have the chance and stay open to the next adventure. It’s been over a year since I returned from my last journey abroad. Naturally, I’m itching to travel again. But the adventure continues nonetheless, and I am open to where it may lead. Ehren Prudhel is a writer and avid traveler. He recently co-created the online course Recreate Your Life Story: Change the Script and Be the Hero. This powerful program blends personal development and film to help people get unstuck and change their lives. ​
Read More
Two People Mountain Biking

For a Good Mood, Get Outdoors

Before you lace up and head for the fitness center or the spare bedroom where you keep the treadmill, consider taking your sweat session outside. Along with fresh air, sweet smells and new sights, you’ll experience something else: happiness. University of Essex scientists found people who exercised outdoors for just five minutes improved their mood and reduced their stress, especially when working out near water. As the study describes, nature is a place we go to escape from the stress that won't leave us alone in modern life, and the "opportunity for relaxation and recreation has a positive influence on our emotional and physical well-being."Even better, physical activity has its benefits of positive physical and mental health. And according to the study's findings, participants "felt less stressed, more alert and alive, happier and more relaxed." When you combine physical activity and exposure to nature, this"green exercise"can be a calming activity with benefits of improving your psychological well-being and physical health. Walking with friends makes it a social event, and having the company of others only adds to that refreshing feeling. Green exercise could be your rejuvenating break from the real world.Don’t live near a lake or park? No sweat: After-work golf with a client, an early-morning tennis game with your business partner, or even just a lunchtime walk around the block counts toward your daily dose of nature.
Read More
Family sitting at table and praying.

Give Thanks

Saying a blessing before meals is part of many religious faiths and may have been the motivation for prehistoric cave paintings, scientists say. As your family and friends gather around the holiday table, consider giving thanks with one of these blessings:Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.—Psalm 100Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the universe who creates the fruit of the tree.—Jewish blessingFor flowers that bloom about our feet; for tender grass so fresh and sweet; for song of bird and hum of bee; for all things fair we hear and see, Father in Heaven, we thank thee!—Ralph Waldo EmersonBless all of those who have brought this nourishment to our table—through their labors and their lives.—Buddist blessingDeep peace of the running wave to you. Deep peace of the flowing air to you. Deep peace of the quiet earth to you. Deep peace of the shining stars to you. Deep peace of the Son of Peace to you.—Celtic blessingMay the Lord accept this, our offering, and bless our food that it may bring us strength in our body, vigor in our mind, and selfless devotion in our hearts for His service.—Swami Paramananda
Read More

Why Cooking Makes Me Happy

I’m often taken by curiosity when I meet people who don’t give a thought about cooking. “When William’s not here,” a neighbor said to me the other day over a backyard glass of wine, “I don’t think about what I eat since he does the cooking. A can of green beans or a box of mac ’n’ cheese is fine with me.”Although I like Dana, I feel a little sorry for her. Barbra Streisand once sang these lyrics about being alone: “not to share a pair of pork chops/when you crave champagne and cheese.” When Dana is by herself there’s a missed opportunity for her to indulge herself in food she truly loves, whether she cooks it or treats herself to a meal in a restaurant.Because I do live alone, I only have myself to indulge food-wise. Sometimes dinner is a quick throw-together meal of pasta and sautéed veggies. Oftentimes it’s my favorite: a roasted chicken with roasted potatoes and carrots. On weekends there might be a cassoulet and the time to bake. And sometimes it’s champagne and cheese.This is what makes me happy. It’s not just the eating. It’s the decision making, often spontaneous while I’m shopping. It’s the prep. It’s the doing, the chopping, the slicing. It’s the aroma. And then, finally, it’s the eating.As a food writer, I suppose I should have charming childhood stories about cooking. But I don’t. My mother was a working mom—TV dinners, frozen potpies,and grilled cheese sandwiches were weeknight staples. She had a few special recipes she made on the weekends—chop suey with lots of exotic canned vegetables was one of them.My grandmas didn’t live near us, so there were no Sunday mornings spent baking cookies with one of them, or Sunday nights learning secret family recipes. Perhaps that is why when I started to cook on my own—a late bloomer in my 20s—it became a particular joy for me. And, as a friend once said to me, “It helps pass the time.”It does help pass the time. Cooking takes a little effort. Now that time is built into my day and I look forward to it. The time I spend cooking for myself (the time I spend cooking for others is also pleasurable, but that’s another story) is the time I use to think about the day, let the bad parts dissolve and the good parts revive and marinate a little, like the pork tenderloin I just put in the fridge in a bath of mustard, honey and a handful of herbs.Dare I speak like the baby-boomer-me-generation member that I am? Cooking makes me happy because it IS about me. It’s my selfish indulgence. It’s champagne and cheese, even when it’s not.StephenExelis a freelance food writer and editor whose work has appeared in Deck, Patio & Pool, Country Home and Figure. He is a contributing editor to Traditional Home magazine.
Read More