Archive for August, 2016

Well-Being with Whitney: Lessons from the Desert

Wednesday, 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

Saturday, 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?

Wednesday, 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.

Well-Being with Whitney: Pursuing Happiness: Music

Saturday, August 20th, 2016

One of the simplest ways to boost your happiness is by listening to upbeat music.

A University of Missouri study found in 2013 that people who listened to upbeat music experienced rushes of the neurotransmitter dopamine — which is linked to happy feelings —  in their brains. Music has such a powerful effect on mood that music therapy can help treat depression.

Well, that helps explain why one of my guilty pleasures is listening to disco music! Disco doesn’t get much respect musically because it’s so over-the-top corny. But it’s full of relentlessly positive beats. Hearing even a few seconds of a disco song makes me feel as carefree as I felt in my girlhood, when my idea of ultimate fun was roller skating at my local rink to the latest disco tunes. While I no longer roller skate regularly (and thankfully, I no longer wear antenna headbands featuring smiley faces), I still love listening to disco music for fun.

No matter what your opinion of disco music is, I challenge you to listen to classic hits like “Y.M.C.A.”, “I Will Survive”, and “Funky Town” without cracking a smile.

Upbeat, disco-like rhythms remain popular in today’s music, as evidenced by songs like Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling” and Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.” The chorus of another recent upbeat song — “Happy” by Pharrell Williams — urges listeners to “Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth” and “Clap along if you know what happiness is to you.”

While in Los Angeles (the music industry’s biggest production site), I visited Warner Brothers Studios (whose record label represents the discographies of artists ranging from rockers like the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the incomparable Prince to show tune greats Michael Bublé and Idina Menzel) and learned what elements make up winning upbeat songs — the ones that get the record deals. Rhythm plays an important role, so hot beats are key. Rhymes also matter, so poetic lyrics help. And of course, composing a compelling melody is vital. But the most important element is the “hook.”

A hook is the part of the song that grabs a listener’s attention. Catchy hooks are the song’s sections that replay in your mind after you’ve heard the song play. They’re the parts of the music that you want to sing in the shower or whistle as you walk. Hooks can be anywhere in a song (beginning, middle, or end). All that matters is that they’re memorable, upbeat sections.

There have been countless times in my life so far when I’ve cheered myself up simply by humming a hook from one of my favorite songs. You can probably think of many times you’ve done the same.

My joy level rises even more when I’m using music as a tool to worship God. The band at my church plays plenty of upbeat worship songs with catchy hooks, and not only do I sing along every Sunday, but sometimes I dance a bit, too. Music plays a vital role in heaven, where people are free to experience pure joy. There’s something about music that resonates in our souls at a primal level.

What kind of music do you like to listen to, sing along with, whistle, or hum? Do you play a musical instrument, and if so, which one and why do you enjoy it? When was the last time music made you happy? How can you incorporate music into your life more to experience more joy?

Well-Being with Whitney: Olympic Endurance

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016

Riding my bike for 10 miles, mostly uphill, in the rain recently at Mont Tremblant national park in Canada, I found myself thinking about the athletes competing in this summer’s Olympics in Rio. What incredible endurance they have! My bike ride was challenging for me, but it was nothing compared to what Olympic athletes endure. What is it that motivates Olympians to keep practicing their sports faithfully, over and over again, and to keep going in competitions even during the toughest challenges?

I think their inspiration is similar to what inspired me during my own athletic exertion: appreciating the benefits of the journey itself, no matter what results end up coming from it.

That’s what inspires my favorite Olympian of the Rio games, USA beach volleyball champion Kerri Walsh Jennings. Walsh Jennings’ long winning streak (she had never lost a match in three previous Olympics) was broken when Brazilian team Agatha Bednarczuk and Barbara Seixas won a late-night match over Kerri and her teammate April Ross. Kerri and April won the next time after that, so they earned a bronze medal overall. Kerri didn’t like to see the gold medal she was expected to win slip away, of course. But as much as she works hard to win matches and medals, she keeps the healthy perspective that the journey of playing her best is what offers the ultimate value.

Kerri has lots of wise advice for how to endure our journeys like champions. A key strategy she has for her own endurance during matches is: “Breathe — be in the moment. Believe — have faith that you can rise above it. Battle — you gotta be prepared to go for as long as it takes.”

So often, when we’re faced with a choice about whether to endure or quit in a situation, we consider only what we hope the results will be. We decide based on the likelihood of good results happening from our effort. Should we keep loving that difficult person we know, or just give up on the relationship if he or she isn’t responding the way we’d like? Should we keep volunteering for that cause we support, even if all the hard work never leads to the paying job we need? Should we keep praying about that chronic health problem when we don’t see any healing taking place?

Olympians know that the journey is more important than the destination. Sure, they’d love to win medals for their efforts. But the most important lessons they learn come from simply experiencing the journey, no matter the results.

When we choose to endure a situation that we sense God wants us to stick with, we can’t predict how it will ultimately turn out. But we can be sure that just by going through process, we’ll emerge as stronger people. As the Bible says in Romans 5:4, perseverance (another word for endurance) produces character, which in turn produces hope in us.

I certainly wouldn’t have won an Olympic medal for my bike ride, but because it challenged my endurance, it did make me stronger. I’m glad I didn’t give up, even when high hills loomed and mosquitoes swarmed around me. Once I decided to finish the trail, the rain didn’t seem annoying; it was exhilarating. My legs were sore when I stepped off the bike, but I felt encouraged that I could endure the problems in my life with more resilience afterward.

While you enjoy watching athletes compete in the Olympic games, try to notice the ones who don’t win medals, yet still do their best and stay strong until the end of their competitions. Let them inspire you to stay strong as you face your own challenges. Their examples of endurance can motivate all of us!

Well-Being with Whitney: Olympic Resilience to Overcome Challenges

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016

Olympic athletes are masters of a skill that’s vital to wellness: resilience. As we watch them compete in their sports at the summer 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, we can learn a lot about how to overcome challenges by tapping into the inner strength that comes from resilience.

Everyone pays attention to the Olympic champions who end up on the podiums, winning gold, silver, or bronze medals. Yet regardless of how well the athletes perform during their brief time to compete at the games, all are champions of character. They all worked intensely and made significant sacrifices to dedicate themselves to be the best they could possibly be at their respective sports — from swimming and gymnastics, to running and biking.

I visited Montreal, Canada — site of one of the most popular summer Olympics — to learn about Olympic resilience and how we all can apply those lessons to our lives.

The brightest star of those games was Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci, who at only age 14 became the first person to win a perfect score at an Olympic gymnastics event. Not only did Nadia set that world record, but she won three gold medals at the games and became a celebrity for her athletic accomplishments and girl-next-door-charm. But even Nadia, who seemed perfect, had significant challenges to overcome. Around the same time that she was shining in the world’s spotlight, she was dealing with the stress of her parents’ divorce and having to switch coaches.

A Japanese gymnast from those same Olympic games, Shun Fujimoto, didn’t quit even after he broke his right knee during floor exercises. His determination to complete his routine helped his team win a gold modal.

Other athletes who didn’t make the awards podium still showed incredible resilience. One of them was Canadian race walker Alex Oakley, who at age 50 became the oldest track and field Olympics competitor but didn’t let his aging body discourage him from trying out for his fifth Olympics. Another was Princess Anne, an accomplished equestrian who broke a long tradition of remoteness in the British royal family to join and compete with the British horse team. Entire national teams who failed to win the medals they wanted still won at resilience. For instance, after Australia’s Olympic team returned home without winning any gold medals at the Montreal games, they worked together to create the Australian Institute of Sport, a training organization that has helped other Australian athletes learn how to sharpen their skills.

We all face significant challenges on a regular basis. Whether life hits us with a broken relationship, a job loss, a health crisis, or some other challenge, resilience will empower us to navigate the situation with strength. Let’s aim to be champions of resilience!

Well-Being with Whitney: Brazil, the Olympics, and Trying to Solve Overwhelming Problems

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016

Sometimes problems grow so large that they overwhelm us. That’s when we especially need resilience to stay hopeful and keep trying to find solutions. Watching the people of Brazil host the summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro this year shows how hope and progress can still emerge from a mess of overwhelming problems.

The list of problems the Brazilian people are facing right now is a long one.

An outbreak of the dreaded Zika virus in Brazil stopped some Olympians and spectators from coming to the games, and Brazil’s residents continue to fight the illness. It’s transmitted through a means that’s hard to avoid: contact with mosquitoes, which are prevalent outdoors.

Then there’s the severe water pollution in Brazil. Brazilians are placing their health at risk whenever they use their polluted water for basic needs like drinking, cooking, and bathing. The site of Olympic sailing and windsurfing events, Guanabara Bay, is so polluted with sewage and garbage that scientists warn anyone coming into contact with the water risks contracting infections or diseases like hepatitis.

Brazil’s economy is on the brink of collapse, as well, with widespread poverty as Brazilians endure the worst recession there since the 1930s. The financial crisis has led to increased crime like robberies and gang violence, creating security concerns.

On top of all that, Brazil’s government is facing the problem of how to deal with corruption issues. Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, is going through an impeachment process after being accused of breaking financial rules. The interim president during Rousseff’s suspension, Michel Temer, is trying to lead a government in turmoil, where people don’t agree over how to deal with the nation’s many challenges.

Yet despite all the overwhelming problems Brazilians face, they still welcomed people from all over the world to the Olympics in Rio this summer, and they’re still living with faith and hope as they work on solving their country’s problems. Many Brazilians are meeting their challenges with resilience — just like Olympians do.

We, too, can face any problem we encounter with resilience. Rather than complaining or worrying, we can focus our time and energy on trying to solve the problem, and remain hopeful through the process. As American inventor Henry Ford once said: “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re probably right.”

Sometimes problems are beyond our ability to solve ourselves, but even in those cases we have a choice to be resilient — to persevere and adapt in adversity — or not. What overwhelming problem are you facing right now? How could you let the stories of this summer’s Olympic-size challenges in Brazil inspire you to tackle that problem with resilience?