EATING WELL IN KANSAS CITY - November 2019
By Sandra Silva, J.D.
This month’s Evolving theme is “Joy” and while there is no recipe to “cook-up a pot of joy,” there are concepts to consider and foods that can support happiness and joy.
For many of us the experience of “joy” is infrequent and usually fleeting. I do not have an expectation of living periods of extended joy. However, as I observe my life as a whole, I want to see a preference for positivity occasionally punctuated by the appearance of “joy.” This is my preference, in part, because I suspect “joy” is an infrequent visitor to naysayers and curmudgeons. There are four concepts that help support a positive outlook that invites “joy” to visit more often: choice, presence, happiness and optimism.
The character of Travis Shaw opens the 2016 film, The Choice, with these words:
"Now pay attention because I’m about to tell you the secret to life. Ready? The whole damn thing is about decisions; little, seemingly insignificant decisions that clear the road for monster-truck, life-altering ones. You see, every path you take leads to another choice. And some choices can change everything. Every damn moment for the rest of your life hangs on it."
Simply, choices can alter our influence on our self along with those within our most intimate heart circles, professional spheres, community and, ultimately the planet and its residents. In this over-stimulated society, even when it is our intention to do so, it is difficult to pay attention to the tasks at hand let alone recognize a life-altering choice lurking in the fray. It is easy to lose touch with our own experiences. Some individuals have even abdicated their power to make a choice about their degree of awareness and by extension, their degree of being present to themselves and others.
We each have a unique way of being. Whether for gain or for naught each person has a presence, i.e. an energy or power surrounding them that serves as their personal introduction to those with whom they are interacting. Kristi Hedges, author of The Power of Presence, suggests that some may refer to presence as, “…confidence, or charisma, or being compelling—but we experience it the same. And if the person is a leader we are inspired by it.” Given the title of her book, Hedges acknowledges there is power in presence. Hence, a pattern is beginning to emerge: choice, intention and presence. How do we use these energies to add value to our life and those we love?
Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, has long been recognized as the founder of positive psychology. Ironically, Seligman’s early work focused on the concept of “learned helplessness” which was first researched with laboratory animals, the theories of which were later applied to people who had experienced uncontrollable events resulting in inappropriate passivity and demoralization. Perhaps it is his deep appreciation of the human spirit to persevere in the face of disruption that has motivated Seligman to move in another direction.
Seligman now focuses on mental health (as opposed to mental illness) and explores the cultivation of happiness. He suggests that happiness can be experienced by nurturing existing strengths such as kindness, generosity, originality and humor which he calls signature strengths. He suggests the emphasis should not be on trying to correct weaknesses; the highest success in living and the deepest emotional satisfaction, i.e. happiness comes from building and using one’s signature strengths.
Seligman’s step from happiness as an experience, to optimism as a way of engaging life, brings us full circle to the importance of choice. In his book, Learned Optimism, he shares the story of young parents who are faced with the reality that their newborn is not reacting to loud noises, i.e. lack of a startle response. Armed with a little research from the internet and anticipating a physician appointment on Monday each of the parents makes a choice. The father elects to wrap himself in worry, pulling away from both his wife and baby. He feels helpless. The mother, with the same information, elects to be optimistic. At the appointment the physician reinforced their internet info asking them to be patient; there is sometimes a lag in development of the startle response. The father continued to feel helpless and the mother remains optimistic. A week later, the baby responds to a loud truck outside.
During that trying week, the father made a choice not to be present to his family, denying him of his innate presence and did not use whatever strengths he might have called upon. He lost moments of happiness with himself, his wife and his newborn daughter. I feel certain “joy” did not visit him that week. The mother chose optimism. She was present to herself and her baby, infused their lives with her unique presence, perhaps sharing some happy moments. Joy was waiting in the wings.
Foods to support happiness and joy
Key to experiencing happiness, joy and having an optimistic outlook is the production of dopamine and serotonin in the brain. Foods that contain the amino acid known as tryptophan can help, such as salmon, eggs, spinach, seeds and nuts. Also important are the choices made around values and lifestyle such as a commitment to eat less saturated fat, consume probiotics, exercise regularly, sleep adequately, listen to music and maintain regular contemplative practices.
Remember, “…every path you take leads to another choice. And some choices can change everything.”
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Sandra Silva, J.D. is the Store Manager of GreenAcres Market in the Village at Briarcliff. Sandra has a deep commitment to healing and healthy eating. She and her staff are available to speak at community gatherings, small or large. Contact Sandra at the Market, 816-746-0010 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Good health! www.greenacres.com