MEL for DSC Magazine, November 2020

In this month's issue, we're looking at the bright side of life (as best we can, anyway).

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Mistook your monthly magazine for a pack of One Wipe Charlies and flushed it down the toilet? No worries, here’s the online version!

In this edition:

  1. How Are Dogs So Happy All the Time?
  2. Why a Shower and a Shave Really Does Help You Feel Better
  3. How Smells Can Make You Feel Good
  4. How to Turn Your Home Into a Sanctuary
  5. An Expert’s Guide to Being Grateful in 2020
  6. Oh FAQ! How Do I Give Myself a Decent Self-Massage?

Welcome!

Always look on the bright side of life.

Pretty hard when you’re coming to the tail end of a year like we’ve had in 2020, but… okay. Still, it’s good advice, because even though it can often feel like the storm clouds are directly overhead and things will never, ever be back to “normal,” finding some time for your own happiness might just be the best thing you can do.

So how does one find even a hint of the bright side of life in 2020? It can be hard, sure, but it’s out there. For instance, in this issue, we found that maybe it’s something we can learn from our pets — after all, dogs are seemingly always in a good mood. Or maybe it could be found in the smell of some freshly baked bread (or something far stranger!), or in turning a part of your house into a space you actually want to spend time in, or perhaps in the feeling of giving thanks for what we have, even in these turbulent times.

Or, maybe it’s in something as simple as spending time giving yourself a massage.

Whatever you do, remember, the bright side of life is out there. But also, 2020 is almost over, so you got that going for you, too, which is nice.

1 – Arf Arf! (Translation: Don’t Worry, Be Happy)

What’s a pooch’s secret to living such an irrepressibly cheerful life? Dog trainer and certified animal psychologist Zazie Todd has some ideas.

What is it about dogs that always seems to allow them to see the bright side of life?
They know that they will get taken for walks, their meals will be provided and if they’re a good boy, they’ll get a treat. When we look after our dogs properly, they don’t have to worry because they know they can rely on us!

Humans get frustrated about the simplest things, but dogs always seem unflappable. What’s our problem?
Think about how happy your dog is when you pull out the treats: It means you’re going to teach them something new. Imagine if we were as open to learning as they are. It can ultimately be very rewarding to find a way to solve that problem. 

Most dogs handle their emotions so well. How do they do it?
Have you noticed how your dog turns to you for reassurance if something is a bit stressful? You help them to feel safe. Similarly, if you’re finding things hard, reach out to friends and family. It can make all the difference.

What can a human learn from a dog’s endless optimism?
Think about the things that make dogs happy: following scents, hanging with their doggy friends, chasing a ball — all things where the dog is fully engaged in the moment. We might not enjoy the same activities as dogs (Eating poop? No thanks!), but we can make sure that we maintain that same kind of flow and engagement. Whatever your thing is, make time to do it.


2 – Why a Shower and a Shave Really Does Help You Feel Better

Not at your best? Even the pros say that cleaning yourself up could be the thing you need to see you through the day.

A Shower Makes You Feels Good, Physically
Anthony Rossi, Dermatologist: “The heat warms up your muscles and makes you more pliable. So you’re more relaxed, and you’re not as tense. Plus, a nice shower puts your body at a more thermoregulative temperature. We’re 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, and temperatures that are closer to our body temperature are probably easier for us. We really want to maintain our homeostasis.”

A Shave Makes You Feel Good, Emotionally
Dr. Claudia Luiz, Psychoanalyst: “Cleaning up of any kind has been revealed to increase happiness. Simply by doing something positive, you set yourself in motion to feel better and do better. Doing the deeper work of challenging your negative self-perceptions is what will eventually turn into behaviors that reflect positive self-esteem.”

Your Brain Associates a Better Appearance with Success
Ari Hoffman, Psychotherapist: “When I get up and look in the mirror and I’m unhappy with what I see, it doesn’t feel great. And even if I know ‘it’s only skin-deep’ and ‘you can’t judge a book by it’s cover,’ it still doesn’t feel good. And even if I have great self-esteem, not liking what I see in the mirror makes a difference.”

“However, if, when I look in the mirror, I think to myself, ‘Wow, you’re looking fine,’ that will increase my confidence and my willingness to put a little more out there and ask for that raise — or just feel good knowing that I look good.”


3 – Stink So Good

Can different scents make you happy? An olfactory scientist explains what smells can lift the spirit, and why it’s all about childhood.

Just how powerful is our relationship with odor? Strong enough that even one whiff can either make your day, or ruin your week. “Your sense of smell is so strong, the right scent can absolutely improve your mood,” explains Dr. Pamela Dalton, an olfactory scientist with the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. “Even more easily, though, it can worsen it, too.”

Smells Like Childhood
Does that mean there are happiness-inducing scents to stock your home with? Depends, because smell is the most powerful sense tied to memory. Meaning that if cat urine invokes a nice memory, a whiff of the stuff might be all you need. “The best smells are the ones with the most positive associations,” Dalton says. “My mood-lifters have been things like the smell of diesel (from being on boats as a child) and the smell of tomatoes in my grandmother’s garden. So it really depends.”

Happiness is a Warm Loaf
That said, some scents are primed to bring a smile to anyone’s face. “Baking bread or cookies are very popular aromas. It all comes back to childhood: Even for people whose parents never baked bread in the home, the aromas still generate positive feelings. It may be that the dominant volatiles in fresh bread also occur in other situations where we have some positive associations.” 

Nothing Beats that Number One Stink
But don’t go thinking the only thing that’ll cure your fall blues is a boule of sourdough. It might improve your mood, sure, but it’s got nothing on that one scent from your childhood only you think smells good. “Whatever that is for you, it’s way more powerful than bread, cookies, or anything else.” Now, excuse me while I go sniff some fresh pavement.


4 – How to Turn Your Home Into a Sanctuary

We’re all stuck at home like never before, but with a little effort, you can make your space feel less like a prison and more like somewhere you actually want to be.

Kitchen
Now that your kitchen is suddenly a hotbed of homemade sourdough, you should probably clear away all the random crap taking up precious counter space. “No clutter,” says Natalie Chong, principal designer of Nest Design Studio. “Buy proper dish towels, not bathroom towels. You don’t have to get fancy — clean and simple is best.” 

Living Room
There’s a reason why high-end spas, hotels and boutiques are lousy with scented candles: Fragrance is a powerful (and cheap!) way to create ambiance. And if you’re working from home, lighting a candle can help draw a line between the workday and downtime. Choose a vibe — calming? uplifting? sexy? — and light up accordingly. 

Bedroom
Listen, your mother was right about making your bed each morning. Think of it as the first task of the day, and cross it off your mental to-do list for an easy win. Chong recommends investing in high-quality matching sheets and two to four pillows, and guess what? You’re worth it. 

Bathroom
You can live without a solid gold toilet, but a clean bathroom is essential. “New, clean towels, no hair — or other gross things — sprinkled on the counter,” says Chong. “Add some simple art, a non-branded soap pump, a proper toilet brush and a shower curtain that isn’t totally see-through.” 

Home Office
If you’re lucky enough to have space for a home office, you’re basically winning this global pandemic. Position your desk near a window, if possible — sunlight is a natural energy-booster — and keep the room clutter-free so you can focus on those 87 daily video calls. 

Windows
Can’t go out? Bring the outside in. “Plants have this amazing ability to evoke a sense of calm and a serene, natural feeling,” says Chong. “Place them by a window with lots of light and they’ll thrive. If you don’t get a ton of sunlight, try a low-light-tolerant plant such as a snake plant or ZZ plant.”


5 – An Expert’s Guide to Being Grateful in 2020

Thanksgiving is all about gratitude — but what does that look like right now?

It’s been a rough year. The lucky ones among us have made it through the last 10 months with our health and a modicum of sanity, but no one’s getting out of 2020 completely unscathed. When waking up and reading the news feels like a monumentally heavy task, how can we practice gratitude? And why does it matter? 

The Science of Gratitude
According to Emilie Macas, a meditation instructor and Integrative Reiki Master at The Chopra Center, practicing gratitude is key to our health, both mental and physical. “There are many scientific studies showing how gratitude creates positive changes in our brain,” says Macas. “Gratitude ‘neutralizes’ negative emotions and can actually increase neuron density. The more you practice gratitude, the more you strengthen the brain’s neural circuits for gratitude; it becomes easier to focus on positive feelings.” 

Research has found that practicing gratitude increases dopamine, a chemical messenger that plays a crucial role in feelings of pleasure. “Practicing gratitude also increases serotonin, the ‘happiness chemical,’ because it contributes to feelings of wellbeing, stabilizes our mood and helps us feel relaxed,” says Macas. Studies have shown that gratitude helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, too, which can lead to positive physical changes like more energy, better sleep, a reduction in blood pressure and a boost to the immune system. We’d raise a glass to all of those things right now. 

Practicing Gratitude When It Feels Hard
Macas is convinced that there’s never been a better time to practice gratitude. “The whole world experienced something that placed us in a position we’ve never seen before, at least not in our times,” she says. “The uncertainty and the fear of this virus paralyzed the world at the beginning of COVID.” For Macas, who has an autoimmune disorder, one of the ways she worked through those scary early days was by focusing on what she could do to help herself and her family. “I needed to boost my immune system. Practicing gratitude just took a whole different meaning for me this year,” she says. 

For those who were directly impacted by the virus, whether through illness, job loss or — worst of all — the death of a loved one, practicing gratitude might seem like an impossible task. Macas agrees: “Gratitude is quite easy when all is shining in our lives, but when the storm hits, how can we find it?” she asks. “I always try to remind myself that these are challenging moments, but they will pass. That brings me a sense of relief, and also a light that I grab onto. As human beings, we all have situations and circumstances in life that range from small frustrations to serious tragedies, but if we slow down and connect with our hearts, we will always find something — even if it is a very small strip that will pull us through.” 

Macas lost her mother to cancer, and she remembers watching an episode of Oprah Winfrey’s SuperSoul Sunday after her passing. Winfrey was interviewing a woman who had lost her three daughters and her parents in a house fire on Christmas day; the woman was the only survivor. “I still feel her words in my heart, when she explained that waking up in the morning and standing up to make a cup of coffee was ‘a victory,’” says Macas. “These very small moments built her up to stand again and be grateful. Gratitude, at times, can be a very slight ‘light’ at the door — the only good thing we have at the moment. It is not about ignoring the negative feelings or pretending that all is good,” she says. “It’s about focusing on what is most important for you at the moment in order to stay positive, centered and balanced. Focusing on the solution instead of the problem.” 

What Practicing Gratitude Actually Looks Like
“When we slow down and really look around us, when we pay attention to what we have in life, it’s easier to be thankful,” says Macas. “For that, we really need to live in the present moment.” So what does that mean, on a practical level? Macas suggests keeping a gratitude journal next to your bed; every night, take a minute to jot down at least one thing you were grateful for that day. “You can even take a few minutes at work to make a note on your phone. Write down one thing you’re grateful for — notice when you receive thanks from others and how you feel when you thank others,” she says.

Practicing gratitude is even better when it involves the whole family. “At home I have a gratitude jar in my kitchen, a place where we spend a lot of our time,” says Macas. “On a regular basis, we’ll take a piece of paper and write down what we are grateful for.” On tough days, she says, reading those little pieces of paper really helps. Not into journals and jars? No problem. “You can even use social media to practice gratitude,” says Macas. “Take a photo — or find one — of something you’re grateful for and post it.” 

Macas also recommends hitting pause every once in a while. “Just pause for a moment and observe, really be present in the moment,” she says. “One of the pillars of Reiki is, ‘Just for today, I will be grateful.’ It’s a way of living for me, but when the pandemic struck, it really brought me to the present moment. I surrendered to just being in the moment, being grateful for what I have and paying attention to what really matters in life — without projecting into the future, because the present moment is the gift.”


6 – Oh FAQ! How Do I Give Myself a Decent Self-Massage?

According to Kiera Nagle, a certified pediatric massage therapist, the most powerful component of self-massage is simply taking the time to do it.

1. Start by taking a few deep breaths, and maybe place a hand on your heart or on your belly, to set your intentions with yourself. Just like with meditation, this will help you switch gears from everything else you’re doing.

2. To work your back, put your right hand on your left trapezius (or visa versa) — i.e., the muscle between your neck and shoulder, pushing your forefinger and your thumb together with the muscle in between. Or make a fist, placing it on the trapezius and dragging it along the muscle as you turn your head to the side.

3. To relieve tension in your front, place your thumbs between your arm and your chest, and then drag your fingers along your pectoral muscles, utilizing the same thumb-to-forefinger technique as you would on your shoulders.

4. If your hands hurt and you want to use a tool, use a tennis ball. Roll it over any muscle, especially your forearms, or your glutes. If you don’t have a tennis ball, use a stone — not only will it relieve tension, but going outside and finding a good one can be another self-care activity.

5. The cherry on top of your self massage? A nice, hot towel. Soaking the towel in hot water will loosen up your muscles, adding a nice temperature component. Remember, while it might not compare to a professional massage, that’s okay: Even if you don’t completely fix your body pains, taking 20 minutes away from your computer is worth it by itself.


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