What makes your heart sing?

When did you last see a glorious sunrise or sunset? When did you laugh so hard your insides rebelled? Have you taken a young child to the park lately, and heard her cries of delight?

All of the above, at one time or another, made my heart sing in a way that infused my body with positive feelings and added energy to my day. These were much-needed tonics, since at that time I was caring for my aging and disabled mother.

Recent research on behaviour and health has shown that people who experience positive emotions act with more compassion, have greater life satisfaction and enjoy better overall health, making this a worthy topic for my year-end column.

I do not only mean sprinkling positive thoughts among our already full and busy days. I mean making an intentional effort to recognize and experience the good we have in our lives and using it to help us balance the pain and sorrow that is also part of our earthly existence. This simple activity can become an ode to our Creator for the gift of our life.

I may have mentioned before in one of my columns that when I was caring for my mother during the last years of her life, I intentionally made an effort to recognize not only the good things in my life but also to experience some of it on a regular basis.

So I made a habit of walking the promenade in a neighbouring sea-side town where I would feel pure delight at my lightness of being, which only the ocean breeze could offer. And in the fall, especially on a sunny day, I would feel sheer joy walking under a canopy of golden glowing autumn leaves. It literally made my heart sing!

Often I would take my camera and record the scene so that I could recall the moment at another time, when sorrow or tiredness tried to take over. I printed these photos out and carried a little album of gratitude with me for several years.

Later I realized that I was actively involved in neuroplasticity – a neurological process that allowed me to rewire my brain in ways that helped me to more readily appreciate the positive things in my life and process my sorrow in a good way. Looking back, my mother intuitively grieved the loss of her husband and my father in the same way. She remained thankful for the time they had together touring Canada and the United States in their recreational vehicle. When she recalled moments of sheer delight, it softened her burden of loss.

Cultivating AWE
And so here is my year-end gift to you. Try out the habit of AWE as outlined by Linda Graham in her book Bouncing Back: Rewiring your brain for maximum resilience. These simple steps add flavour to your experiences.

Appreciate. Consider what you do have. Really consider. Practicing appreciation has been shown to create positive moods and reduce depression.

Wonder. Look around and notice your environment, whether in nature, in the city or in between. You may find yourself in amazed admiration for what you see.

Empower. Realize there is something you can do to help someone or some cause. Your actions can make a difference in this world.

A month ago my spouse and I walked the Sea Wall in Stanley Park, Vancouver. It’s the same wall my mother and I walked for many years every Friday after my father passed away. It was a crisp, clear day. At Third Beach I saw the bench my mother and I always sat on for lunch. It was empty and the sun was shining through the trees. I pulled my camera out of my backpack, took this photo (above) . . . and my heart sang.

  • Arlene Van Hove is a therapist, a mother of four adult children and a grandmother to an ever-increasing brood of delightful grandchildren. She also belongs to the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign, a subsidiary of the Stephen Lewis Foundation, which raises funds for grandmothers who are raising the next generation in countries devastated by the Aids epidemic.As a writer Arlene hopes to provide a comforting voice for all those who struggle with the complexity of life. At the same time, she believes one of the roles of a columnist is to unflinchingly challenge 'the map when it no longer fits the ground.' And while she has less advice for others as she herself is aging, she hopes her columns will encourage her readers to develop questions and answers for themselves that continue to be worth asking and answering in the 21st Century. She is a member of the Fleetwood CRC in Surrey, B.

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