Well-Being with Whitney: Pursuing Happiness: TV and Movies

October 19th, 2016

What is it that really makes us happy? A plethora of research studies have attempted to reveal the science behind happiness. One of the most popular ways of pursuing happiness is by watching a movie or television show. Upbeat movies and TV shows are often marketed to us with the promise of making us happy — at least for the time we spend watching them.

Hollywood is in the happiness business. Many entertainment productions are specifically designed to try to make us happy. But do they actually do so? I studied what research reveals and toured some Hollywood movie and TV studios to learn more.

Being truly happy means experiencing joy — not just a temporary sense of pleasure, but a lasting sense of fulfillment that runs deeper in the soul. Ultimately, joy comes from being in a relationship with God. That’s the source of it. But there are many different ways we can open the gifts God gives us in our daily lives to experience more of that joy (and feel more happy in the process). There are also many ways we try to pursue happiness that don’t deliver the results we’re seeking.

Watching TV and movies seems to be one of those ways we hope we’ll find more happiness, only to be disappointed.

While in Hollywood, I toured two major studios: Paramount and Warner Brothers. Together, these industry behemoths produce lots of popular content that people watch for a quick fix of happy feelings. Both companies have long histories of producing popular comedies (from Paramount’s classic “Road to…” movies with comedian Bob Hope to Warner Brothers’ popular Looney Tunes cartoons) as well as other popular, upbeat productions like musicals and adventures. Both studios also continue to produce entertainment designed for happy escapism today — from Paramount’s Star Trek science fiction franchise to Warner Brothers’ superhero shows.

So how does Hollywood aim to make us happy? By immersing us in stories that touch our emotions. From the writers and designers to the directors and actors, everyone who works on a movie or TV show tries to create a world that seems real to us when we watch it. They want us to connect emotionally to the plot and characters in ways that make us feel good. If they succeed, they make good art — and often, lots of money as well.

Good entertainment is a good way to lift our moods temporarily. And if our entertainment is inspiring, it can influence us to think in positive ways, which leads us in the direction of other choices that actually do promote lasting happiness. My young adult novel Dream Factory describes how people in Hollywood’s golden age tried to do exactly that. They often succeeded, I think, and so do those who work on today’s inspirational shows.

But overall, we don’t get happier from simply watching a movie or a TV show.

Entertainment on a screen — even in productions with the most feel-good elements — doesn’t appear to increase lasting happiness much, despite the fact that so many people turn to Hollywood entertainment to for a dose of happiness. In fact, if we watch too much TV or too many movies, we can actually become less happy.

A University of Milan research study of whether or not watching TV led to more happiness concluded in 2009 that “high levels of television consumption are negatively related to individual life satisfaction.” Not only did TV watching fail to increase people’s happiness, but the more they watched TV, the less happy they became. Those who watched 2 1/2 hours or more of television per day reported the lowest levels of happiness.

Still, we often do experience happy feelings while enjoying a good TV show or movie. Just reflect on how you felt when you watched the latest fun, creative dances on “Dancing with the Stars” or saw a film with an inspiring story, like The King’s Speech. Hollywood entertainment can make us temporarily happy.

So the key seems to be figuring out how to use these experiences we love of watching TV and movies (in moderation) well — to translate the fleeting happy feelings they give us into mindfulness that can lead to greater lasting happiness. Rather than just experiencing positive emotions in front of a screen and then ignoring the experience afterward, we could reflect on the works of art we’ve just seen on TV or on the movie theater. We could discuss what we’ve seen with others. We could think and pray about the show or film’s message. We could respond to it in practical ways by changing something in our lives for the better.

If we let our entertainment lead us to think and act in positive ways, then it can bring more than just temporary happy feelings our way.

Well-Being with Whitney: Lessons from the “Father of National Parks”

October 12th, 2016

Wholeheartedly pursuing creative ideas fans a flame of positive transformation. When famous naturalist John Muir — who is considered the father of national parks — passionately worked on his creative conservation ideas, great joy resulted from his efforts.

I visited the John Muir National Historic Site in California to learn more about Muir, who devoted himself to the conservationist cause that he said God had called him to pursue passionately. Muir urged people to explore creation often and care for it well.

The passionate words that Muir wrote about the natural world inspired others to discover joy in it and choose to protect it. “The battle for conservation … is the universal warfare between right and wrong,” Muir wrote, with his zeal for the cause evident. He also wrote that, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”

It was Muir’s message of joy waiting to be discovered in nature’s wonders that captured people’s attention. Ultimately, Muir’s contagious joy and hard work putting his ideas into action (such as by founding the Sierra Club) led to the establishment of the world’s first system of national parks.

Muir’s enthusiasm bolstered his strength many times when his ideas caused controversy. He had to battle those whose economic interests were threatened by Muir’s urging to save natural resources rather than deplete them. Lumberjacks who wanted to cut down ancient Redwood and Giant Sequoia trees, for instance, were often at odds with Muir. However, Muir kept working wholeheartedly, and eventually his ideas came to fruition.

I had a fascinating experience while visiting Muir’s home. After saying a silent prayer asking God to thank Muir for the work he did and let him know how much I enjoy the national parks he helped create, I stepped into the living room of his house to discuss his life with a ranger. The front door (which had been firmly closed) suddenly opened wide, but no one walked inside. As the door stood open with no one there, the ranger and I remarked at how surprising that was, and continued our conversation while she walked over to shut the door. A brief flash of light in the living room caught my attention, so I snapped a photo of the area with my digital camera to study it later. (In the past, I had seen orbs show up on digital photos after I saw momentary flashes of light with my natural eyes and had just been praying about something. So now I try to take photos in similar situations, since digital images reveal parts of the light spectrum that go beyond what human eyes usually see.) As I had suspected, a brilliant white orb appeared in the photo, floating over a sofa.

Was the orb Muir’s way of sending me a “thank you” message from heaven for my prayer? I can’t say for sure. But it sure was a thrilling experience!

The joy that comes from passionately pursuing creative ideas keeps renewing its energy over time. When we work on something creative that will bring joy to others, it builds a lasting legacy. And the momentum of that legacy has the power to cross the boundaries of space and time. That’s true whether or not others can communicate with us in the afterlife. The results of our creative work remain right here, bringing joy to new generations of people.

What creative idea is stirring in your soul right now? How can you make time to pursue it, so you can bring joy to others through your work?

Well-Being with Whitney: Lessons from Mountains

October 5th, 2016

Mountains challenge us to consider our perspectives on every situation in our lives. Visiting a mountain inspires us to seek a higher perspective on whatever we’re thinking about at the time, which promotes our well-being. During this U.S. national park service centennial year, I visited two mountain parks — one American (Shenandoah National Park) and one Canadian (Mont-Tremblant). Both offered valuable insights into well-being.

Shenandoah National Park is famous for its stunning mountain vistas. Its main road — Skyline Drive — winds 105 miles through the entire park, rolling over the Blue Ridge Mountains like a long gray ribbon. Driving any part of that wondrous road leads to such inspirational views that Skyline Drive has 75 overlooks for drivers to pull off the road to safely enjoy the scenery. Hiking the park’s mountain trails leads to even better perspectives on the Shenandoah valley and Piedmont land below. Every time I hiked, I experienced a new view, since the weather changed the appearance of the surroundings. A foggy morning left the trees on the heavily forested mountains shrouded in white mist. By midday, their vivid green colors emerged in the bright sun. As late afternoon turned into early evening, the Blue Ridge mountains around me appeared in their namesake blue haze. Nighttime featured silhouettes of mountains against the sky.  In short, Shenandoah shows how a mountain environment offers constantly changing views, reminding us that what we see is just a part of the whole picture — a small snapshot of reality at just one given place and time.

Mont-Tremblant in Canada is renowned for its pristine wilderness, complete with packs of wolves that roam the mountains in remote parts of the park. The rangers and scientists there work hard to keep the wolves wild by dissuading wolves from coming into contact with humans (such as setting up barriers around campgrounds) and ecologically restoring indigenous forest in wolf territories. Mont-Tremblant, which is divided between recreational areas for people and wild areas for wolves, shows how different perspectives can be among the species who share the mountains.

When we visit mountains, we remember that we only see a small part of the full picture of any situation in our lives. There’s a greater perspective to be gained if we’re willing to climb higher in our quest for knowledge and understanding.

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from?” the Bible asks in Psalm 121:1. Ultimately, the only one who has a fully accurate perspective on our lives is God. Many people have had “mountain top” spiritual experiences in which they’ve gained true wisdom because they’ve climbed higher in their relationships with God.

It’s easy to forget in the rush of our daily lives that our personal perspectives are limited. That’s especially true if neglect our well-being in some way that interferes with our ability to focus: when we’re hungry or tired, when we’re distracted by difficult emotions we haven’t processed, or when we’ve neglected prayer and meditation.

Just like mountains have grown upward from a foundation of solid rock, we need to solidify our foundation of well-being in order to grow to fulfill our highest potential.


Well-Being with Whitney: Lessons from Volcanoes

September 28th, 2016

Lassen Volcanic National Park, one of the parks I visited during this U.S. national park service centennial year, shows the incredible energy of volcanic activity at work. The park comes alive with boiling water and roaring gas exploding up to the ground’s surface from deep underground. Brightly colored minerals escape in the process, creating a lovely landscape that’s contrasted by noxious smells and silly noises like gurgling and thumping. Spending time in nature is always good for our well-being, and a volcanic natural environment is especially useful to enhance our wellness through anger management.

We live in an angry world — one that’s full of problems because of its fallen state; one where hurt people hurt others through their anger on a regular basis. All of us get angry sometimes. It’s fine to get angry, since anger is a natural emotion that’s meant to direct our attention to something that should be changed. Where the trouble comes is when we react to that anger in harmful ways rather than responding to it wisely.

Volcanoes symbolize anger. Some volcanoes are mountain cones with magma seething beneath for a long time that occasionally explode lava at the top with tremendous force. Others are flat fissure vents in the ground that ooze lava slowly.  Lassen Volcanic National Park features every kind of volcano that exists on Earth (plug dome, cinder cone, shield, and composite). Every person on the planet has a temper, as well. What kind of “volcano” is your temper? Do you blow your top suddenly, erupting with force that damages others around you at the time? Or are you passive aggressive, with anger that seeps out at others in hidden yet still dangerous ways?

My own style of expressing anger is passive. As a result, sometimes I don’t realize when I’m angry until I realize that I’ve spoken mean words or avoided spending time with people who have upset me. When that happens, I know I should pray for God’s help to deal with the situation. The Holy Spirit empowers me to change so I can respond to anger in positive ways that lead to good results, rather than reacting to it in negative ways that prevent real progress.

How about you? Whatever your temper style, volcanoes are useful reminders that anger is a fire that needs to be managed well so it doesn’t lead to destruction. Let volcanoes inspire you to figure out the reasons behind the anger you experience, and get to work addressing those issues in positive ways. Prayer is the best way to start. Ask God to show you why you’re angry and what you can do about it to find peace of mind and try to to resolve the issues behind your anger. Then — here’s the hard part — take action on whatever you discover will bring healing to the situation. Sometimes that involves challenging decisions, such as forgiveness.

Anger is an emotion that we will all feel sometimes. Just like fire from volcanoes, anger has incredible power. If we respect that power and respond to it well, we can use it to accomplish something good.

What’s making you especially angry right now? How can you respond rather than react to the situation?

Well-Being with Whitney: Lessons from Lakes

September 21st, 2016

Looking into a lake is a beautiful reminder of the importance of reflection for our well-being. The water’s calm surface mirrors our reflection back to us, inspiring us to consider how we’re really doing at that time. Underneath the surface of lakes, water runs deep — just like the workings of the body’s cells and the soul’s thoughts and emotions. The lake park I visited for this series of wellness blogs on the U.S. national park centennial was Crater Lake National Park in Oregon: home of the deepest lake in the USA, and one of the deepest lakes in the world.

Crater Lake, which formed over the top of a volcanic basin after an eruption thousands of years ago, is 1,943 feet deep. It’s also one of the clearest lakes on Earth, with water that comes from pristine rain and snow. Plankton live in the lake, and so do two kinds of fish: rainbow trout and kokanee salmon. Two islands pop up from the middle of the lake, which is five miles in diameter. The lake’s water is such a deep, pure blue that simply the sight of it inspires awe. According to a legend from the Native Americans who lived around the lake years ago, the mountain bluebirds in the area were first grey and acquired their vivid blue color only after dipping into Crater Lake’s water.

This wonderful lake is just one of many on the planet, though. There are lakes of all shapes and sizes dotting the landscape for us to visit to reflect on our lives. So you won’t have to travel far to find a lake to visit for some refreshing reflection whenever you can make time for it. Afterward, let your lake time motivate you to reflect on your life every day — perhaps when you first get up in the morning, or just before you go to sleep at night (when you’re less distracted and more relaxed).

Water promotes reflection in a variety of powerful ways. It symbolizes clarity and purity, inspiring us to try to understand our lives better and clean up the messes that linger under the surface, with God’s help. Not only that, but water molecules transmit energy that affects us at the cellular level. Since our bodies are made up of so much water (between 60 and 70 percent for most adults), the water in our cells resonates with the energy of the water molecules we encounter at natural places like lakes.

Masaru Emoto, who conducts fascinating research into how water molecules change scientifically in response to people, writes in his book The Secret Life of Water that if readers “simply look at water” then “you will discover that water takes you to another world where you will feel the water within you being washed clean … it will heal you at your core.”

What situation in your life right now could you understand more clearly if you went to a lake to reflect on it? What decision are you trying to make that you could make with more confidence if you reflected on it thoroughly first?

Well-Being with Whitney: Lessons from the Forest

September 14th, 2016

Need a fresh dose of healing? You may find it simply by visiting a forest. Trees promote well-being in a wide variety of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual ways.

Out of all the different environments I visited this year for the U.S. national park service centennial, the forest is my favorite. I ventured to Redwood National Park in California recently for this blog series, but in the past I’ve hiked in other national parks with majestic trees, such as Olympic National Park in Washington and two other California parks, Sequoia National Park and Muir Woods National Monument (on a trip that led to significant healing in our family). Forests full of trees are also full of valuable lessons that benefit us tremendously (pun intended) when we make the time to learn them.

Naturalist John Muir, who helped start the U.S. national park system (the world’s first), once said that “The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.”

Just by breathing in the air around trees, you can experience many health benefits for your body, including lower blood pressure and higher immunity to diseases like cancer, according to research from Dr. Qing Li at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo. That’s because trees emit natural substances called phytoncides, which are linked to biological benefits in humans who breathe them in.

Trees are good for the soul as well as the body. A 2015 multi-university research study published by the American Psychological Association found that people who looked up at tall trees for only 60 seconds experienced a sense of awe as a result. The awe that trees inspire has been associated with lowering disease-causing inflammation in the body, promoting peace of mind by fighting anxiety and depression, and motivating spiritually enriching actions such as prayer and meditation.

Redwood National Park is home to the the tallest trees on the planet: coast redwoods. Many of those majestic trees tower more than 300 feet above the forest floor. The redwoods are also ancient, living for hundreds of years or more; some survive to be more than 2,000 years old.

People who visit the redwoods from all over the world are often overcome with emotion in their presence. I saw people cry at the sight of them, and tears welled up in my own eyes when I entered the forest.

Trees that tower over us and exceed our lifespans illustrate an awesome truth: We are each part of something much bigger than ourselves. Our personal stories are all connected to a greater story of what’s happening on Earth — the history of all us, traveling through time together. The Creator we all have in common has designed us to be closely connected to each other in relationships of love and respect. When we forget that, trees remind us.

Although trees are silent, they speak to us loud and clear about the vital roles we all play in creation. No wonder why so many people throughout history have walked in the woods for inspiration. One of the most famous was author Henry David Thoreau, who wrote in his book Walden that he “went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately.” In that same book, he urged: “We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake” to our life’s purposes by regularly visiting forests and letting trees remind us of who we are.

How have you experienced benefits lately from spending time around trees? How can you incorporate more time in the woods into your regular schedule?

Well-Being with Whitney: Lessons from the Ocean

September 7th, 2016

The ocean has helped people throughout history navigate their way through journeys. While kayaking in Channel Islands National Park during this national park service centennial year, I learned a lot about how spending time on the sea can give us guidance for our well-being. Nature always promotes wellness, and ocean environments especially can teach us valuable lessons about how to make wise decisions.

I needed wisdom to make good choices about how to get around well in the kayak as my daughter Honor and I navigated the waters near Santa Cruz Island. We tried to explore as much as we could in several hours without tipping over, drifting away, or getting stuck inside one of the sea caves we paddled into together. Thankfully, our kayaking group had two expert guides. They gave us helpful suggestions — but it was up to use to make the ultimate decisions about what to do when.

As we navigated the kayak through a large group of seagulls taking off and landing on the ocean’s surface, I locked eyes with some of the birds and noticed that they seemed to be watching us as intently as we were watching them. What are they thinking? I wondered. The gulls were expert navigators. Did we look foolish to them as we paddled by? Or did they appreciate seeing humans trying to get around in their habitat? Around the ocean, all living creatures are constantly on the move.

Channel Islands National Park has helped people and animals alike navigate the ocean for thousands of years. The native Chumash tribe of people traveled back and forth between the remote islands in simple boats routinely, because they knew the routes well. But explorers from other places sometimes wrecked their ships in Channel Islands waters. The islands have served as sanctuaries for nesting animals like sea lions for years. The area is rich in wildlife. We encountered humpback whales, dolphins, sea lions, seals, and a plethora of birds on the water. While hiking, we also came to face to face with a creature that exists nowhere else on Earth except the Channel Islands: the diminutive island fox (we saw several, including a mother and kit together).

Everyone and everything living in an ocean environment knows the importance of working with the water when making decisions. The ocean’s power is far too great to discount when getting around.

Sometimes the water is calm and visibility is clear, so the best way ahead is easy to find. At other times, waves crash wildly around and storms obscure the view, so it’s confusing trying to figure out which way is the best way to go.

That’s true of the changing circumstances we go through every day, as well. When facing important decisions, sometimes the best choice is clear, but sometimes the options swirl around us in a stormy mess and we can’t figure out what to choose.

So the next time you need to make a significant decision, let the ocean remind you to seek guidance first. Don’t rush into it. Respond, rather than react. Make time to reflect on the pros and cons. Pray about it, and then listen for insights that come to you. Ask someone you trust and respect for advice. Be patient, waiting until you have clarity and peace before making your decision.

As Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote in her beautiful book A Gift from the Sea: “Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach — waiting for a gift from the sea.”

What important decision are you trying to make soon? How can you make time to seek clarity and peace about it, despite the pressures swirling around you like a stormy sea?

Well-Being with Whitney: Lessons from the Desert

August 31st, 2016

Spending time in nature is a vital part of wellness and well-being. Not only does going outdoors promote good health, but it also reminds us that we’re connected to something greater than ourselves: an awe-inspiring system of living things that has been designed to work together. I’ve long loved to visit our national parks here in the United States. This year, the national park service centennial inspired me to visit even more and write a series of blogs on the lessons that different natural environments can teach us about wellness. Here are some insights from the desert: Joshua Tree National Park in California.

At first glance, the desert seems like a hostile environment. Joshua Tree (which comprises some of both the Mojave and Colorado/Sonoran deserts) looks like a wasteland littered with rocks, shrubs, scattered palm trees, and not much else. How can such harsh conditions — little water, blazing sun, high winds, and relentless heat — actually promote wellness?

The desert shows us how resourceful we can be.

Spending time in a desert challenges us to adapt to our circumstances by finding ways to survive (and hopefully thrive) despite the difficulties we encounter. Animals and plants work on adaptation in a desert habitat. For example, kangaroo rats have adapted to life in Joshua Tree’s desert by absorbing water from the seeds they eat and escaping heat by going underground rather than sweating so they don’t lose water. They can survive even if they never drink any water at all! Among plants, for instance, palo verde trees have adapted to the desert by dropping their leaves during droughts to retain as much water as possible in their systems.

Just like them, we also have to adjust when we’re in a desert. I carried plenty of water with me, for instance — both to drink and also to pour on a sports scarf I wrapped around my neck for relief from the heat. I also wore sunglasses to protect my eyes from the sun’s strong rays and the swirling dust kicked up by high winds.

Many different kinds of tough circumstances can pull us into a “desert” in our lives. Injuries and illnesses lead to desert times for our bodies. The stress of going through crises may lead us to a desert state of mind. Our spirits can dry up like a desert when we neglect staying in contact with God through prayer and meditation.

The key to thriving in the desert is being resourceful — learning how to tap into the resources we need, despite the tough situations we’re facing. What inspires me to be resourceful is to remind myself that the ultimate source of everything I need is God. He’s the one who created the desert and all other parts of nature; he’s the one who has the power to provide what I need in any situation. He can do the same for you, whenever you rely on him.

Tapping into a relationship with the Creator gives us the gift of “living water” the Bible says (John 4:10), which will empower us to meet any need we have in body, mind, or spirit. Just as a natural supply of water lies hidden underground at Joshua Tree National Park, the living water of help from the Holy Spirit isn’t something we can usually see. But it’s always there, available to us.

So the next time you find yourself facing desert circumstances, be resourceful! Look for ways to get the help you need by tapping into the gifts God has given you — from caring relationships with friends and family to refreshing practices like sleeping and exercising well. Adapt to your tough situation with the confidence that you can make it through successfully.

What have you learned from a recent desert experience in your life?

Well-Being with Whitney: Creativity and Happiness – Charles Schultz and Peanuts

August 27th, 2016

If you live each day with a sense of wonder, extraordinary ideas will come to you in the midst of ordinary life. You’ll discover that creativity will flow through your life — and that will make you happy. “Happiness is a warm puppy,” the beloved Peanuts comics cartoonist Charles Schultz famously said. That simple yet profound statement evokes the joy that comes from everyday experiences. Ordinary happy moments inspired Schultz’s creativity, and the creative ideas he communicated to others made them happy — illustrating the beautiful cycle of creativity and happiness at work.

I visited the Charles M. Schultz Museum and Research Center in Santa Rosa, California to learn about this cultural icon’s creative process. That process was surprisingly ordinary.

Day after day, Schultz (who went by his nickname, “Sparky”) would follow the same routine of working in his studio in the morning, eating lunch at an ice skating rink he had built for the community (he always had a tuna sandwich and sat at the same table), then returning to work in his studio during the afternoon until he was satisfied that he had produced something humorous and thought-provoking for the Peanuts comic strip.

Sparky rarely traveled or did anything else that would take him away from his daily routine. How boring! I thought at first (especially because I love to travel and find that it always ignites my own creativity). But just as everyone has a unique personality, everyone has a distinctive creative process that works best for him or her. “I have the feeling that working in the same room is the only guarantee of keeping going,” Sparky once commented about his own creative process. “Somehow, a change of scenery makes working more difficult, but sitting down in the same place each day turns on the creativity.”

Peanuts masterfully depicted mundane moments in the lives of children to whom people could easily relate. “Most of the ideas I get are just sitting down here at the drawing board merely doodling,” Sparky revealed. Just by showing up and paying attention to the ordinary moments of his day, Sparky discovered extraordinary ideas that fueled the world’s most popular comic strip for half a century.

Your ordinary life contains countless extraordinary experiences that can spark flames of joy and creativity within you. Finding those experiences involves paying attention and appreciating the wonder of what you discover. One way to find something wonderful is to pray, as Sparky did regularly. His faith inspired him to seek out joyful experiences. Whatever way of looking for joy works best for you, just start your search. Even the process of seeking can bring you happiness.

You’re bound to think of good creative ideas when you’re happy. So let the ideas flow, and act on them in order to spread the joy to others. As Sparky advised aspiring cartoonists: “Draw from your own personality and experience.” Whether or not you’re a famous artist, your ideas matter. Express your ideas in your own unique way so they can help make the world a more joyful place!

Well-Being with Whitney: What are You Willing to Change?

August 24th, 2016

When healing — of body, mind, or spirit — happens, it’s never by magic. Healing happens by relationship, through decisions to grow closer to God. Too often, we pray for better health and then passively wait for something to improve. But God always asks us to participate actively our healing. Saint Brother André Bessette (who became famous for many healing miracles that happened after he prayed for people at Saint Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal, Canada) often asked people seeking healing one key question: “What are you willing to change in order to grow closer to God?”

The power to heal ultimately comes from God. So when we want to be healed in some way, the most powerful step to take is to move closer to God — Creator of our bodies, minds, and spirits; and the source of all healing.

Brother André, who spent many decades praying for people in need of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual healing, challenged people to open their hearts when approaching God. Rather than seeing God as some sort of magician they hoped to convince to help them with a trick for their health, people should engage in personal conversations with God in which real love is exchanged, Brother André advised. “When you pray,” he said, “you talk to God the way you do to a friend.”

I visited Saint Joseph’s Oratory (named for Brother André’s patron saint, St. Joseph, Jesus Christ’s father during his earthly life) recently to learn more about this humble man who believers say God worked through to heal thousands of people in different ways. What was the meaning of wellness to him?

It was simple, yet profound. Wellness, from a faith perspective, means being connected to God in relationships where we’re willing to do whatever God asks, because God loves us and we love him.

God doesn’t expect us to be perfect; only to be willing to say “yes” to what he asks us to do. What are we willing to change in our lives that we know is currently putting distance between ourselves and God? That’s a challenging, yet worthwhile, question to consider. If we dare to ask in prayer or meditation with God, we’ll get the insights we need.

For instance, I was moved after my visit to ask God to show me one specific bad habit I could change to move closer to him. What came to mind was my tendency to yell at people around me when I’m under stress. That was something significant enough to be worth working on, yet manageable enough for me to handle. So, with God’s help, I’m working to grow beyond that. What motivates me is simply love for God, not an attempt to convince God to give me something I’d like to have in my life. Just like I want to do whatever I can to keep my relationships with other people healthy, I want to do the same with my relationship with God, just because I love him. The next time I ask God to heal something in my life, I know that whatever he decides to do will also be based on love.

We can’t predict what will happen when we ask God for healing, but we can be confident that God will respond with love, and we can best receive his love when we’re in close relationships with him.