Gardening For The Soul: Ten Steps To A Happy Life

View from atop the Bavarian Alps

Spring is a good time to start fresh and focus on what’s really important in life. For me, the month of April is a time of introspection. I make a mental list of what parts of my life need to be reorganized, adjusted or just plain thrown out.  Then I replenish my house with a happy mind.

Just like spring cleaning, the job comes with a little work. But it always feels good once the task is done. Here are ten tips to get you started.

Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 12.10.13 PMAcknowledge what exists, right here, right now and accept that everything is exactly the way it’s supposed to be. Expending all your energy on battling reality is never a recipe for happiness. Try taking a realistic view of what is happening in your life; then decide what you want to do about it.

Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 12.15.06 PMRecognize that problems do not exist as separate entities from the self. Only you can turn an event into a problem by allowing it to enter your mind and consume you. Remember that what seems upsetting to you may have no effect on others. Try looking at events in your life with more objectivity and realize that you alone create the effects they have on you.

Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 12.15.27 PMTreat yourself with the same kindness you treat your family, friends and pets. This seems like a natural, but many of us place our own emotional and physical wellbeing far behind all the others we care for in our lives. Caring for your own self is as important as caring for others, plus it has the added advantage of giving those you love more of you to care about.

Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 12.15.43 PMTake a walk outside, at least once, in every type of weather. Spring offers us rich opportunities to do this. Why do we label certain kinds of weather as “bad?” Challenge your conditioning, put on the appropriate clothing and venture outside your comfort zone. Discover the essential beauty of all forms of weather.

Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 12.15.56 PMRead a book on a subject you have no interest in. Our reading preferences by definition block us from expanding our horizons. How can we possibly know what we think about all topics? Choose a new reading category, open your mind and discover something new.

Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 12.19.59 PMAccept others as they are. Decide not to internalize other peoples’ behaviors and make them your own. Instead, watch the action like you watch a movie, choosing to like or dislike what you see, nothing more. A sense of humor helps a lot with this step.

Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 12.20.13 PMLook deeply into the eyes of someone you don’t know. Ever notice how catching someone’s eye instantly establishes a connection? It feels good to be actively seen. It also signifies that that person matters. Give someone the gift of your attention. It will change your day.

Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 12.20.35 PMListen attentively. Before jumping to respond, pause a moment and digest what is being said. Wait for the other side of the conversation to finish, then take a breath. You’ll discover things you might otherwise not have heard.

Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 12.20.53 PMNext time you prepare a meal, chop things slowly. Choose one food and appreciate the feel of it in your hand and the flavors it releases.  This simple act will provide you with a whole new understanding of the foods we eat and the important gifts they bring us.

Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 12.21.04 PMDecide to be happy. Happiness is a decision. Vow not to have any more “good” or “bad” days. Realize that all days are made up of both. Greet each morning with a positive attitude. A happy life awaits you.




What Dirty Old Birds Can Teach Us About Air Pollution

Bird specimens at the Field Museum of Chicago

It couldn’t help but attract my attention; a neat row of old, preserved birds, their soft, feathery chests face-up: some were dark with soot, others by comparison, were clean. All came from an industrial area in the United States called the Rust Belt. That is key to the story. Continue reading

Trending In Health: Shinrin-Yoku (Forest Bathing)

Most of us are well aware that a walk in the woods is a breath of fresh air; especially if you’re stressed out from city life or the artificial glow of computer screens. But now in a growing trend, people are heading to the woods to experience nature in a completely different way. It’s called forest bathing. Continue reading

How To Create Winter Interest In the Garden

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“I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure in the landscape – the loneliness of it – the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it – the whole story doesn’t show.”

~  Andrew Wyeth

I grew up near Chadd’s Ford, Pennsylvania in the heart of the Brandywine Valley. The American painter, Andrew Wyeth, drew his inspiration from this place, beautifully capturing the unique winter landscape in a subdued mix of browns, whites, tans and grays. My winters were painted in the same monochromatic palette, made all the more rich by the stark outlines of bare shrubbery and gnarled tree trunks silhouetted against the white winter sky. Continue reading

Christmas Tree Farm Memories

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According to the latest statistics, 2015 has so far been a big year for the purchase of live Christmas trees. This is interesting data given the fact that more and more people are turning to artificial trees for their holiday decor. Yes, I’ve been tempted, but I still prefer the smell and touch of a live tree. To me, there is nothing like the deep earthy aroma of a fresh Douglas fir to liven up my holidays. Continue reading

Take Time, Slow Down and Smell the Leaves

There’s no better time than autumn to get outside and smell the leaves. The cooler temperatures and colorful show offer a great opportunity to reconnect with the natural world. With its unmistakable earthy aroma, fall offers us a chance to renew our spirits and to recharge.

I take pleasure in all the leafy details of the season: the delicate remains of the tooth-edged brown oak, the fiery red maple formed like a palm and the heart-shaped yellow linden. Held aloft on the fragrant air, these simple shapes flutter down from bare branches to form crazy quilts on the still-warm soil. As I walk, a crisp, crackling sound rises from beneath my feet.  I savor the heady aromas; fragrant cinnamon, orange spice and the powerful scent of dry leaves roasting in the autumn sun.

What is it about decaying leaves that summons up our deepest memories? How can one whiff of a rotting oak stir our reflection, catapulting us back into the giant leaf piles of our youth?

My view is that the answer lies not only in fall’s foliage, but also in something less tangible – its smell. More inscrutable than seeing or hearing, the experience of smelling opens pathways to a deep-seated awareness that lies dormant in us all. Untouched by human language, this awareness, once awakened, recalls the child we once were and who still exists inside us.

Floating upward through the annals of time, the distinctive smell of autumn leaves reconnects us to this child, reminding us of our own particular story, our unique pathway through life and our timeless link to the natural world.