Improve Happiness by Discovering Your Strengths

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It is easy to become consumed with the down side of situations and to lose site of the goodness and power within ourselves.  Nevertheless, recognizing that you have choices is a good starting point that can be truly empowering.  Even more important is discovering that you have used the power of choice before in ways that were healthy and successful, and sometimes when you didn’t even realize that was what you were doing.

Try thinking of a time when you were happy and proud of yourself.  Chances are it was a time when you made a good choice and tapped into one or more of your strengths.  Rather than focusing on times you didn’t feel good and trying to find motivation to do things differently, you will have more success and feel better along the way, by starting from a positive experience.  Build on your successes.  It takes practice, but by developing new habits for tackling life’s challenges, and focusing on the good inside of yourself, your overall sense of satisfaction and happiness in life can improve dramatically and you will not only heal, but learn to thrive.

Sunset at Porto Covo, west coast of Portugal
Sunset at Porto Covo, west coast of Portugal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here are some practices to get you more in touch with the goodness within yourself:

  • Take a few minutes each day to relax, close your eyes, and bring to mind thoughts of warmth and love enveloping you.  Breathe that in and breathe out any negative thoughts or feelings.  Take those moments to appreciate the unconditional positive love that surrounds you.
  • At the end of each day, think of something that happened that day for which you were thankful.  Keep a list of those things so that you can look back on them. For more information on this practice, refer to my previous blog, Thankful List.
  • Think of times that you successfully navigated a situation or frustration.  What skills were you using?  What quality of your personality was working for you?  Try to apply that quality to future scenarios.
  • When you experience a negative feeling, challenge the belief behind it.  Are you making negative assumptions or leaping to conclusions? If you were to assume the very best instead of the worst, how would that change things?  How does that affect the way you feel?
  • Pay if forward.  Every day, make a kind gesture for someone else.  Open the door for someone, or buy coffee for someone else in the line.  Doing good things for others makes us feel good about ourselves, and could be the fuel for a fantastic day.

Recognize and celebrate your goodness.  Remember it when faced with an opportunity to make conscious choices about how to handle a difficult situation or feeling.  Doing so, is a great starting point that will help you to add to your repertoire of positive qualities and tools for achieving, happiness, success and thriving!

Tamra Hughes, MA, LPC


Healing From Loss

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Grieving the loss of someone you love is one of the hardest experiences to go through in life, and it is an experience most of us will encounter at some point.   Finding a way to cope with the deep emotions that loss elicits can be overwhelming, and if not dealt with properly, it can lead to feelings of isolation and hopelessness.  It is imperative to take time to nurture your wounds following loss, but it is equally important to do it in a way that will eventually create feelings of new hope and happiness for the future.  The reality is that grieving itself is important.  Being sad about the loss, crying and reminiscing are all valuable tributes to your loved one, and cathartic in the grief process.  Nevertheless, there is a time when the sadness needs to evolve into the action of healing.

Many people have found solace in the wake of loss or disaster by taking action and improving their life, the world, or the lives of others as a tribute to their loved one.  Take for example the Susan G. Komen foundation, established by Susan G. Komen’s family following her death from breast cancer.  Another example is the establishment of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), or on a smaller scale, someone who speaks publicly about a tragic loss in hopes of preventing further unnecessary loss or just in hopes of motivating individuals to make the most out of every day.  There are even ways to cope with loss that are more personal, less public, and yet still meaningful in the process of recovering from grief.  It is not to say that there may not always be some lingering sadness when reflecting on the memory of someone who you loved and lost.  However, letting the spirit of living resound within you can add a new and very fulfilling meaning or purpose to your life.  The following are some suggestions that may help get you started on the path to feeling better:

  1.  Start by writing about your loved one.  Create a memoir or a poem.  Celebrate their life.  If you could describe your best memory of the person, what would it look like?
  2. Consider how this person impacted your life.  What did you learn from them?  What did you love about them?  Did you grow or change as a result of the relationship you had with them? For example, are you more caring? A better listener than you used to be?  Are you stronger?
  3. When we lose someone, it changes what is called our ‘assumptive world.’  That is the world as we know it and expect it to be.  We may have considered it to be predictable, reliable and safe.  We may have acted as though the person would always be there, and now they are not.  Losing this person may call into question many things we had previously taken for granted or ‘assumed’ and now we have to restructure or create a new perspective about how the world works and what we consider to be predictable. What does your new assumptive world look like?  Looking through a lens of optimism, what could your new assumptive world look like?
  4. Consider the relationship with this person as part of your story, the story of your life.  Did they encompass a chapter or many chapters?  Think of how you would like the rest of your story to read.  How can your experiences with your loved one create meaning in your future, even though they are no longer here?  How can their memory live on through you?
  5. Take positive action.  Reach out to others. Embrace life and enjoy each day.  Laugh with friends, smile with friends, and spread the spirit of meaningfulness to those around you.

The process of grief and healing can take time.  However, if you are feeling it is simply too difficult to manage, reach out and talk to someone.  Being in the presence of friends and family can help, or take some time to talk with a professional.  There are many wonderful therapists and support groups that can assist you in walking through what can be such a tremendously difficult time.  There is life after loss. However, remember that it takes time, patience and often help, to get through it and begin to enjoy all that life has to offer.

Tamra Hughes, MA, LPC

Learning to Manage Difficult Emotions

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We’ve all had those moments in life when we become so enraged we feel we could explode, or so upset we want to spread our misery to those around us.  However, if we don’t effectively manage those extreme feelings, the destruction we cause can be the source of much regret.  Take for example a woman who becomes increasingly irritated with her husband for arriving home late from work several days in a row.  Although she says nothing for several weeks, she eventually lets it all out in a huge explosion, citing everything he has done wrong during the course of the last few years.  She is threatening divorce, feeling there is just no hope for the marriage, feeling unheard.  After the hostility subsides, she is aware she has alienated her husband as a result of the attack, and has completely lost the focus of what initially irritated her.  She feels guilty and angry towards herself for acting that way and blowing things out of proportion.  Her husband is now focused on her attack as opposed to what he did to upset her, and she is then even more adamant that the next time she will not say anything and keep it to herself.  The destructive cycle continues.

The difficulty in handling emotions comes when we confuse “managing” our feelings with “suppressing” our feelings.  Feelings just happen.  They aren’t right or wrong, good or bad.  But, the way we choose to act on those sensations is something to evaluate.  We can voice our sentiments productively or destructively; and, therein we find the problem, or the solution.

When we suppress our feelings, or believe we should suppress our feelings, the negative emotions build.  We become more frustrated, more irritated, feel less understood and more isolated.  The feelings can morph into theories of victimization and helplessness.  We become a volcano that is ready to spew or one that has already exploded.  This can lead to the attitude of great remorse, and subsequent guilt, which in turn begins the cycle all over again.  On the other hand, if we allow our emotions to rule us, acting on every impulse, we often suffer the same consequences:  shame, isolation and frustration.  So how can we learn to balance our emotions with logic in an effort to productively cope with difficult feelings while still allowing ourselves to experience frustration, anger, sadness or other complex moods?  The following are a few tips to help you learn to make the most out the ever-changing climate of emotions:

  •  When you feel strong emotions, articulate what they are.  Do you feel sad?  Frustrated? Angry?  How would you describe the feeling? Write down what you feel.
  • Think to past experiences of expressing this emotion.  What has worked well, and what has not.  Let experience guide you.
  • Go for a walk, get involved in another activity, and then reassess your feelings later.  Many times, you will find the issue at hand wasn’t really that important and your anger, sadness, irritation has subsided.
  • Speak about your feelings using “I statements.”  “I feel angry, sad, etc.”
  • Set clear boundaries.  Sometimes people are afraid to set clear boundaries for themselves because they don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings.  Yet when those unspoken boundaries are violated, they are angry, sad or hurt and act with hostility towards the other.  Rather than create such animosity, feel confident in articulating your boundaries as long as you are clear, confident, and calm when explaining them.
  • Think in terms of what you can control—yourself.  Trying to behave in a way that will get your partner or friend to do what you want is completely unproductive.  They will always have the freedom to choose their actions, as will you.  What you can do is express yourself, and your choices for how you choose to conduct your life.  You have the choice to stay in a relationship in which the other person’s choices are not in keeping with yours, or to not be in such a relationship.  However, controlling their choices and their behavior will be difficult, if not impossible.
  • Remember that emotions are like the weather: they are guaranteed to change.

There are many tactics for handling difficult emotions.  It is important to allow yourself the freedom to feel them, yet it also good to be careful to strike a balance between feeling and expressing them productively.  Part of the richness of life comes from the variety of experiences we have, both easy and difficult, good and bad.  All of these experiences and their affiliated emotions are the dynamics from which we learn and grow.  Each time we confidently and thoughtfully express ourselves, we grow in maturity and self-esteem.  As with anything, only through practice can we improve on the skill, but it is worth the effort as we learn to recognize our own inner strength!


Tamra Hughes, MA, LPC

Managing Grief During the Holidays

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The holiday season can be a particularly challenging time for people who are coping with the loss of a loved one. Trying to find ways to endure the sadness often creates feelings of depression, lack of motivation, and disinterest in being around others. However, there are ways to allow your love for that special person to help make this time even more meaningful and to let it become a celebration of their life, even if only in some small gesture.

• Create a tradition in honor of their memory. Light a candle each night of the holiday season in their honor, or host an open house each year at this time that you consider to be in their memory. Maybe you could bake their favorite cookies each year during the holidays or have a special meal that they loved.

• Make it a habit to remember the positives that they put into this world and say a word of thanks for them.

• Give a gift to a child in need knowing in your heart that it is in honor of your loved one.

• There are some beautiful children’s books written about love and loss that are wonderful to read, regardless of your age. One in particular is The Invisible String, written by Patrice Karst. It is a story that serves to remind us all that we are all connected to those we love, be they near or far, living or deceased. Reading a comforting book like that can also ease the pain during the difficult holiday time.

When grieving, try to be proactive with your feelings. Think of things that you can do to honor the positive memories you have of them and celebrate the life they lived. Most of all, don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to someone about how you are feeling. Grief is an extremely painful emotion, but it is also something from which we can grow, learn and love.

Growing Pains

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As unpleasant as sadness and disappointment are to experience, it is often in the midst of those times, or immediately following them that one feels most inspired and philosophical about life. It is a time when, in trying to make sense of what has happened that has hurt or angered someone, or in any way left them feeling uncomfortable, that they try to understand from many angles the benefit or learning experience contained in the situation.

It is our nature as human beings to learn from painful experiences.  For example, if a child were to touch a hot stove and be burned, rarely would that child do it again.  The memory of the pain is stored in the limbic system of the brain reminding him that touching a hot burner hurts.  Similarly, we are cautious about emotional experiences after being “burned”.  However, emotional wounds are far more complicated as we try to understand why something good such as falling in love with someone, could cause so much pain when it ends.  Most people are willing to venture into future relationships after such an experience, but never is it as naively as it is with the first love, when one has not yet experienced the pain of love lost.  It is our nature as human beings to learn from discomfort, be it physical or emotional. There is opportunity in most discomfort from which we can learn and grow.

Things to think about:

Think of two or three of the saddest times in your life.  Describe them and what the disappointments were that were involved.

Think of two or three of the happiest times in your life.  What was so elating to you about them?  Did you reach a goal?  Did you feel pleased with a choice you made?  Was there something unconditional about the experience?

Now think about whether or not there is any relation between those sad times and happy times.  Were there things you learned or valued more as a result of the struggles that contributed to your happy experiences?

Without sadness would we really know what happiness is?  Is it not that due to the contrast we can truly experience and enjoy the good things life has to offer?

Tamra Hughes, MA, LPC