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  • Writer's pictureSusie Csorsz Brown

Spiritual Wellness - Family-sized

This is the fourth of four articles looking at the different part of Wellness, what they are and how they benefit your children. Each article will end with suggestions how to bring more of that wellness to your kids' (and your) lives.

Previously we talked about Physical Wellness, Social Wellness, Mental & Emotional Wellness.

This week, Spiritual Wellness. And listen, spirituality does not necessarily mean being religious. It can, of course, but not necessari

What is Spiritual Wellness?

One does not have to be of a particular faith in order to be spiritually well. On the contrary, one can be very spiritual AND not have a defined religion. Spiritual well-being can be described as a sense of inner peace, as well as the journey to finding one’s purpose and meaning in life, as well as the discovery of what is important in life and one’s place among these important things. Spiritual well-being plays a role in one’s coping mechanism, and also includes personal values. Sure sure, religion may play a role in one’s spiritual well-being, but it is not necessarily a component; spiritual practices may include other activities beyond religion. It is important to understand what you need to feel spiritually fulfilled, and to fully embrace your own personal values. With a healthy level of spiritual wellness, one can accept and grow from the challenges in life, and benefit from a strong sense of self-efficacy which in turn feeds into a strong sense of self and a purpose in life.

Spiritual wellness embraces several different concepts, many of which ebb and flow throughout one’s life. When one is younger, finding inner peace and quiet looks very different than during later years, as does finding and embracing one’s purpose. The journey to discovering what is important in life and where one’s place is amongst these important things is just that, a journey, and it looks differently for every individual.

Some of the important things we learn along this journey include tolerance of others, acceptance of differences, appreciating and defining a sense of self and ascribing to different values and principles.

Two qualities of considerable importance as part of our spiritual wellness include kindness and compassion. Kindness is the ability to be deliberately and openly happy for another person or thing. This is a social action, providing a sense of connection, and often includes unbidden gestures. Acts of kindness provide positive experiences for others; we benefit by being a part of the process, and appreciating the experience for other people. Compassion is the ability to feel for other things, to feel the suffering they may be enduring and to feel compelled to act on the urge to reduce or diminish the other’s suffering. Perhaps even at a cost to our own self, we might feel compelled to act. Kindness and compassion work hand-in-hand to build humanity, to forge connections that are central to effective communities and society. Without these two qualities, we are just individuals living near one another; kindness and compassion together help us to build a better humanity

Have you heard of mindfulness? Mindfulness can play a key role in focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, to being aware and placing value on what is occurring rather than just letting life pass by. Focusing on emotions that result, or interactions with self and with others can help one gain insight into their own needs and responses as well as those of others, increasing awareness, sense of self, empathy, and acceptance. Having a healthy level of spiritual well-being plays a key role in self-control, too, helping to curb unhealthy or unwise decisions or behaviors.

Another super hero skill that plays a role in spiritual wellness is gratitude. Appreciating what another does for you, appreciating what you already have, . I don’t consider gratitude to be the same thing as being beholden to someone; you aren’t indebted because of an act of kindness. To me, gratitude means being able to take a minute to really think about how an act has positively impacted you. These are gifts that come to you perhaps at a sacrifice on the part of another, but with an intentionality from the giver. Gratitude is something that you feel in your everyday life for something that is beyond what you might expect.

Why be grateful? Why put energy into caring about the act of another? Gratitude is good for your mental health. The grateful mindset predicts increases in how happy and satisfied with life you are, and increases your capacity for optimism. It also predicts lower levels of the toxic thoughts that prevent people from being happy – emotions like envy, possessiveness or materialism. People who regularly feel grateful often feel more energetic, enthused and attentive … gratitude helps you feel happy to be alive.

Why is spiritual wellness important for your kids?

As kids grow, we rush them out of the ability to connect with their inner voice and to appreciate just being. We over-schedule them to the point of no longer leaving time to just be ‘unbusy’. Children have an innate capacity for openness to experiences and positivity. They are able to tune in and appreciate. Filling their toolbox with skills like mindfulness, self-control and gratitude will support their embracing of qualities like compassion and kindness.

All aspects of wellness are interrelated, so all are important. Is one more important than others? That might be like asking a parent to pick a favorite child; I’m not going to answer. However, many aspects of spiritual wellness are abstract and ‘big picture’ and harder to explain and grasp. Suffice it to say, helping our kids find meaning and purpose in their life, to slow down and appreciate their surrounding and circumstances, and to empower them to understand how their decisions and choices impact the world is a vital part of this aspect of wellness.

Appreciating their role in life, and their importance in this world will also benefit our kids with their level of happiness, confidence and sense of self-worth.

What are some things you can do with your kids to help them embrace better Spiritual Wellness? We can encourage them to do:

1. Help your child to develop their grit. Part of maturation is developing our ability to respond positively to a challenge. Life is full of hiccups and speed-bumps. How does your child respond to these situations? I'll tell you what, if you let them win every game, if you give them a ribbon for every foray into athletics, if you hide them from all of the ugliness that might happen in the world, they will not know how to respond when the Real World rears its head. Much as we'd like to, we cannot make reality go away, much as we'd like to, we can't pack our kids into bubble wrap and manipulate their experiences. Let them live real life, and they will be better off because of it.

2. Help your kids develop their understanding of the difference between compassion and sympathy. Feeling sorry for someone does not necessarily go hand-in-hand with compassion. Having compassion for others - for other people, for animals, for the environment - helps one develop their sense of passion. Kids are naturally more empathetic and compassionate than adults; we lose this skill as we gain experience with what can only be viewed as 'cruel reality'. In all honestly, though, it doesn't have to be that way. Sure, reality is definitely not always rose-tinted (see #1 above). But along with understanding reality comes the ability to have compassion for others, to understand and share the perspectives of others, and to realize the range of humanity. Having compassion for another is also a humbling experience, as one learns to feel the emotions of others and try to do something to help or alleviate suffering. This is an amazing way to relate to other living creatures and people.

3. Make a game out of positivity. I know in the beginning, it may feel forced or pollyanna-ish. But help your kids to see the natural positive aspects of situations can help them develop their optimistic tendencies. Every proverbial cloud has a silver lining, though at times very very faint. Help them to practice this skill, though, even if it is listing three good things about their day as you tuck them in at night; playing 'Rose, bud, thorn' at dinner (one good, one new and one maybe not-so-great thing about their day); or starting a positivity journal (writing down 3 - 5 good things about their day/life). This ability to see the good in a situation really is a skill that can be practiced and honed throughout one's life. The better one is at this skill, the less likely they will be to feel despair or hopelessness in messier situations.

4. Help your child be kind to themselves. As often as not, kids are hard on themselves. They see us being hyper-critical of ourselves, of those around us, and they develop these fault-finding skills aptly enough. Rather, they should learn how to be accepting of themselves, and to start expanding their own self-care routine (and no, self-care should not include hours of gaming on their devices.). Self-care is important at all ages. Without mistakes, we miss out on opportunities to learn valuable lessons and develop skills and knowledge. Without mistakes, and then realizing the mistake is no itself a dead-end, we miss out on pushing ourselves to try differently and, maybe, gaining a success.

5. Get to know some of your kid's interests and find a related community organization where they can volunteer. If there is one thing I am certain of, big people with skills like sharing these skills with little people. Big people love helping others develop a love of whatever their field of expertise might be, and they would likely welcome your child as a volunteer. Sure, you might end up spending a Saturday trailing after your child as they volunteer at (insert your child's special interest site here), but you never know, you might find a new passion as well. They love animals? Get to the local pet shelter or shop and see how your child can be involved. Plants? The local park system probably has a list of volunteer opportunities. Helping a community in need? I am certain there is an option for that. They love tools? Maybe a mechanic shop or carpenter organization? They love tech? I bet there is a library or community college that has opportunities. Nursing or elderly care homes often welcome kids to help read books, play games or do crafts with their residents. Doesn't matter where you live in this world; there are always people who are less well-off than yourself.

6. Teach your kids to take the time to say thank you. Be grateful for people, not just things. If you just can’t say it in person, try to say it in a note. Do it every day. Not just a generic comment, either, but be specific. Thank your spouse/partner for how great they put together lunches or how nicely they clean up the bathroom after bathtime. Thank them for their animated story-telling efforts, or for how well they kept up with the bike while training your child to ride. Thank them for their amazing broccoli slaw that the kids ate up without a word. Give proper appreciation for gifts. A gift is something you are given; it is not something you are due. It is not a right to be claimed. Someone thought of you, someone took the time to get/find/purchase that gift for you, and they gave it, because they wanted to do something special for you. Say thank you. When was the last time you wrote a thank you note to someone? It's probably been a while since you sat down and put some serious thought into saying what it meant to you when someone else did something for you. It doesn't have to be prose, but taking the time to put into words what xyz meant to you helps you to focus on what it is you appreciate, and how good it feels to think those positive thoughts about someone else. You know what? It might even inspire you to do something big (or little) for someone else. And it's not about getting a thank you, or receiving praise. Doing something nice for someone else feeds a part of your mental being that thrives on doing good for other people. If this is not an action that comes naturally to you, the more you do it, the easier it will be. Giving is not actually an act that comes naturally to all people; like all skills, it becomes easier the more we practice it.

7. Talk to your kids about how to savor. Savoring is a quick and easy way to boost optimism as well as reduce stress and negative emotions. Savoring is the practice of noticing the good stuff around you and taking the extra time to prolong and intensify your enjoyment of the moment, making a pleasurable experience last for as long as possible. You know, like when you eat a piece of good chocolate, letting it slowly melt on your tongue. That is savoring. Whether it's preparing a meal, pausing to admire the sunset, or telling a friend your good news story, the idea is to linger, take it in, and enjoy the experience. Eventually it will become a habit that is a keeper. Regularly savoring events and experiences in your life will lead to you regularly being more optimistic, and more satisfied with your life. Savor past experiences with positive reminiscing; savor the present by practicing mindfulness; savor the future through positive anticipation.

8. Help your kids build their aspiration. To aspire is to feel hopeful, to have a sense of purpose, to be optimistic. Forgot what that feels like? I know, sometimes it can be too busy in the here-and-now to think ahead. To aspire, though, is to deliberately focus on what can be. This is more than just making a New year’s resolution; through aspiration, you are creating a determined path for yourself, giving self-guidance and purpose. Study after study shows that people who have created meaning in their lives are happier and more satisfied with their lives. You too can feel more upbeat about your future and your potential. And who doesn't want that? Genuine optimism is a friend magnet. It also makes your goals seem attainable and your challenges easier to overcome. Bottom line: you'll not only feel more successful, you will be more successful.

A person's level of hope is shown to correlate with how well they perform tasks. Using one's strengths in daily life, studies have found, curbs stress and increases self-esteem and vitality. Another study found that participants who were asked to imagine their future in an optimistic light increased their levels of happiness over the next six months. Believing that your goals are within reach promotes a sense of meaning and purpose in life—a key ingredient of happiness. Remember, goal setting is not just about setting goals, but rather about setting attainable yet challenging goals. And know this: goal setting, too, is a skill that one must develop (usually with practice). You know what you are capable of; be realistic but push yourself. Therein lies the sense of accomplishment.

Take the time to fully understand what is important to you right now. Quick, this minute: What inspires you? What are your goals? What are you moving towards? What are your sources of happiness? What are your sources of courage? These answers change with time, with life period, as you develop your relationships or begin your family. Take the time to check in with these important questions regularly so that you can ensure you give yourself what you need to feel spiritually well.

9. Help your kids make their own gratitude list. Writing a gratitude list (or drawing a picture with young children) makes people of any age feel better. Having a concrete list of all things they appreciate helps them focus on the good around them. The more they include on the list, they will begin to understand the innumerable things around us that make our day just a little bit better, all of which we should be grateful for. Without focusing on it, though, we just pass right by without even noticing. It’s in the noticing, the focusing on the little things, that will bring our mind joy. Try it yourself (especially try it with your kids!): sit down with a piece of paper (or an empty document on the computer, if you think better at a keypad). Just let it flow: What are you grateful for? Give yourself 10 or 15 minutes, and just write whatever comes to your mind. You’ll be surprised what you think of.

10. Give your kids time and opportunity to explore different methods of ‘tuning-in’. Maybe they like meditation or yoga. Maybe they prefer hiking or taking long walks in nature. Maybe they like to journal. The gift of taking the time for a pause and allowing for introspection is rewarded with kids who have a better idea of who they are, and what they stand for, and it also builds that skill of mindfulness.

Helping our kids grow up with a well-established sense of self, a capacity for compassion and gratitude and a skill with mindfulness will go far towards a strong spiritual wellness.

Bonus 1 - Spend time being 'unbusy.' We often use the excuse of not having enough time, rushing around, rather than taking the time to slow down and developing an understanding of our own inner insights. Do you let yourself be bored? Do you spend time just being and experiencing what life flows around you? Do you make the effort to see past the obvious: is it just a tree, or is it the scores of green leaves, masses of branches, and all of the life that lives in and around it? Do you see the insects, spiders and birds thriving in it? There is a lot of wonder in the appreciation of all of it, of what is around you. Noticing the finer details is as important as getting all of your to-do tasks accomplished. There’s a lot of joy, too, in seeing the little things.

Bonus 2 -  Be open to new experiences. Be accepting of uncomfortable situations. Be welcoming to the unfamiliar. These are the very sorts of situations that may open our eyes to something amazing or unforgettable. Just because something is ‘new’ (or new to us) does not mean it is bad; it is just new. Why am I emphasizing 'new' experiences? As we get older, as we mature, our brain cells benefit hugely from continuing the learning the process. Absolutely, this is true for younger generations, too, but especially as we age, we might fall into patterns where we continually do only the things with which we are familiar. Learning new things, challenging ourselves mentally or physically is a great way to keep your brain functioning well (actually there are physical changes, too, to the brain with new skills and knowledge which are beneficial). Learning new things also makes you happier, and who doesn't want to be happier?

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