Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Our Insatiable Appetite for More

We have a perfectly suitable television that sits above our fireplace.  It's proportionally appropriate and serves the viewing needs of our family well.  Every few months I battle the staggering desire to buy the beast, the behemoth screen that will overwhelm my senses and offer life-size action.  We don't need it, but everything around me and inside of me screams that a bigger TV could, in some way, make my life better.  However, if I were to impulse buy, we would be making a purchase we couldn't afford and likely sacrificing something that would serve our family better (although it's difficult to imagine what that could be).

We are a nation that loves the big.  The bigger the better.  'Go big or go home' is a famous mantra.  Reality TV is riddled with 'can-you-eat-this-much' challenges.  On July 4, I watched the Coney Island Hot Day Eating Contest with my children.  It was difficult for me to explain to them why the contest was unhealthy and wasteful, yet throngs of people cheered them on (and I was mesmerized).  The sponsoring company of the contest did donate a truck load of food to the local food bank, so there was some altruism to counterbalance the waste.

A recent study noted average home sizes around the world for newly constructed units since 2003.  Ireland, Spain, and France came in around 1,000 square feet.  The United States led the way with an average home size of 2,300 square feet.  In spite of the greatest wave of bank defaults and house foreclosures in history, we continue to build the largest homes in the world.

Alongside our big homes, we like big cars.  To the end of protecting the environment, the small-car craze is sweeping Asia and Europe.  A leading anthropologist says that the United States' love for the big, gas-guzzling SUV will prevent us from following suit.  According to the article, the big vehicle speaks to our identify as a person offering a sense of power and control that is deeply ingrained in our psyche.  The vehicle buying decision is not always driven by affordability or transportation needs, but rather what we believe the vehicle says about us.  The alluring big offers perceived power without regard to practicality.

It's well noted that Americans love to super size our food as well.  A new study concludes that the obesity epidemic in American is largely driven by over-consumption.  The researcher states that to return to the average weights of the 1970s, we'd need to reduce our daily caloric intake by about 350 calories per day for children (one can of soda) and 500 calories for adults (one hamburger).  The study recognizes the significance of  physical activity and other variables, but argues that public policy should be shifted toward encouraging people to eat less, to stop going big.

In addition to our big homes, big cars, and big meals, we are trending toward capacity-busting schedules as well.   In most communities, an all-you-can-fit-into-your-schedule buffet of activity options exist for children.  Many are great opportunities for youth development.  And my generation is full of parents wanting to be everything to everyone, including our children.  Again, bigger isn't always better.  The potential negative effects of over-scheduled kids has been documented and debated. Recently, the potential negative effects of over-scheduled kids on parents has been exposed as well.  Parents, trying to give their children experience-rich environments, are in danger of adding time, financial, and expectation stress to their own lives.  And children are mirroring their parents stress.   Relationally-rich environments may be the better alternative. 

The YMCA of the USA states that healthy homes are built on 5 pillars.  They include eating healthy, playing everyday, getting together (particularly one-on-one time), going outside, and sleeping well.  It's notable that each of these pillars can be built at low or no cost, include a relational component, and have nothing to do with going bigger or extreme. 

My pastor friend says that our country has this insatiable appetite for more.  It's a gnawing deep within us that hungers for the big.  Ironically, our habits of over-indulgence do little to fill this desire.  This soul-deep clamoring for more is met in the simple, the antithesis of big.

A thankful heart is one antidote to our addiction to big.  Ann Voskamp says, "... real men let go of self-sufficiency and know it's all pure grace and pull it straight out into lifestyle, wholesale thanksgiving."   

A peaceful center pushes back the pursuit of the big.  A pastor's wife, recently reminded me of this.  "Rest," she posted on Facebook, "doesn't mean an absence of activity! It is understanding the Peace comes from the inside out -- fixing our eyes on God and leaning into [Him]"

Simplicity casts off the weight of the big as well.  In Walden, Thoreau speaks to this.  "It is desirable that a man live in all respects so simply and preparedly that if an enemy take the town.... he can walk out the gate empty-handed and without anxiety."  Leo Barbauta concurs.  "Each day is a journey, and we load ourselves up with material possessions, with tasks and projects, with things to read and write, with meetings and calls and texts.  [The big].  Our hands are full, not ready for anything new.  Drop everything... enter each day empty-handed, and full-hearted." 

I'll continue to battle the urge to buy the bigger TV.  And, on a good day, I'll work to say no to the advertisers and yes to the blessings all around, each so extravagantly simple. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Dinner for Six

Kelly Chripczuk guest-posts reflective Y thoughts below on work, play, and social responsibility.  Kelly is a pastor to many, mother of four, and a blogger (A Field of Wild Flowers). 

It started in a moment of frustration as so many things do when I find myself home alone with four young children during the “witching hour” of 4 to 5 pm.  I was buzzing around the house tossing cereal in front of the twins in their highchairs and ferrying snacks to the older two who were camped-out in front of the TV while also trying to make dinner. 

Chop, chop, chop, . . . scrape go onions into the pan.  Grab another handful of cheerios for the babies.  Turn, and chop, chop, chop, . . . scrape go carrots.  Then the call from the front room, “Can we have some more snack . . . and some juice, please?” 

Something snapped in me as I marched out, two glasses of watered-down juice in hand.  I proclaimed, with a slight edge to my voice, “Someday you guys are going to cook dinner and I’m going to sit and watch TV while you do all the work.”  I was half-teasing, half- exasperated and didn’t expect my kids to turn with wide-eyed looks and exclaim, “Really?  Can we?”

*   *   *   *   *   *

We just recently finished reading the book, Farmer Boy, with our kids.  It tells the story of one year in the life of Almanzo, an eight year old boy who lives in the early 1800s.  It was a slow book, mostly full of long, tedious descriptions of farm equipment, chores and food, but my kids loved it.  When I asked what they liked best they both said, “The corn part.” 

The book tells of a night, very late in the spring, where the farm experiences unexpectedly low temperatures.  The father wakes the whole family, from the oldest to the youngest, to try to save the corn crop from a killing frost.  Almanzo, along with his brother and sisters, stumbles out of bed and into the cold, dark night.  They pump barrels of water and ride to the corn fields.  Each member of the household runs continually through the fields, filling a small bucket with water and pouring a little on every young plant.  If they can wet the corn before the sun hits it, the crop will be saved. 

As we read Farmer Boy I was struck by the significant role children used to play in their families.  Almanzo works along-side his parents in nearly every task and his help matters.  No one would argue that it’s a good thing that we’ve left the days when children dropped out of school to help on the family farm.  But I wonder if many modern kids aren’t missing something crucial to the development of a healthy sense of responsibility and self-esteem.  Is it possible that deeper than their desire to be waited on hand and foot, my children also have the desire to be part of a loving, grace-filled community where their contributions are needed and valued? 

*   *   *   *   *   *
Since reading Farmer Boy I’ve started giving my kids more jobs to do around the house.  I asked them both to empty the dishwasher the other day and a few minutes later I found my son sitting on the counter-top next to a teetering stack of dishes.  The whole stack slid into motion just as I rushed across the room to catch them.  Sure, there are more messes and many things go slower and end up being more work than if I just did them myself, but the look of pride on my six-year-old’s face as she makes her own sandwich or serves up a bowl of cereal for her brother makes it worth it. 

I want to give my kids a chance to be part of something bigger than themselves, but this often starts with letting them be part of the little things of life.  I want them to know that their willingness to contribute and pitch-in when and where they can (or even if they think they can’t) is worth something.  I’m hoping that this attitude is something they’ll carry with them as their awareness of the needs in the world, as well as their ability to meet them, increases. 

Places like the Y and other social organizations do a great job giving back to and supporting their communities.  It’s often through organizations like these that kids get their first exposure to the ways individuals and communities can impact the world around them.  As individuals involved in the lives of young children, we also have unlimited opportunities to invite children into little acts of service that can help them grow in awareness of the value of their lives.    

*   *   *   *   *   *

So that’s how it came to be that my 4 and 6 year-old children will be cooking dinner at least one night this summer.  It won’t be a Martha Stewart-esque moment of culinary delight.  Instead it’s likely to be peanut-butter crackers served on paper plates on a sticky table.  But however it turns out, we’ll let it be enough and enjoy the sense of pride and accomplishment they get from  putting what they have to offer onto the table. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Resolving the Health Care Crisis

Few things stir up emotion and opinion like the recent health care debate. The line in the sand has been drawn and there is little toeing the line. Many people are either outraged or inspired and both can't wait until November. What's seemingly lost in all of the statistical sword fighting and op ed warfare is the fact that we have great control in resolving significant pieces of the health care crisis. We can change this, starting now.

Health care experts fear a dramatic increase in health care costs if nothing is done to mitigate America’s obesity crisis. A recent study projects that 42% of Americans may end up obese by 2030 (with 11% being severely obese). These figures could result in billions of new health care expenses. (Hellmich, Nanci, "Obesity Could Affect 42% of Americans by 2030", USA TODAY, 5/8/12).

This is old news; we know this. Seven years ago, Dr. Raphael Levey spoke at a health care summit and said, "A relatively small percentage of the population consumes the vast majority of the health-care budget for diseases that are very well known and by and large behavioral. Even as far back as when I was in medical school (Harvard, 1955) many articles demonstrated that 80% of the health-care budget was consumed by five behavioral issues." We know the issues: too much stress, smoking, and drinking; too little exercise and nutritionally rich foods. (Deutschman, Alan, "Change or Die," Fast Company, May 2005). Why is there such a wide action gap between knowing the issues and doing something about them?

We've known for decades that behavioral issues and lifestyle choices drive obesity and the associated diseases. Yet, we face statistical forecasts showing that almost half of our country may be obese in the not-too-distant future. Where is the disconnect?  It's because fear doesn't motivate.

About 1.3 million heart patients have angioplasties and another 600,000 have bypass surgeries every year at a cost of approximately $30 billion. These are often short-term solutions to difficulties experienced by heart disease patients. Many return for additional surgeries and, according to reports, 90% of these patients have failed to switch to healthier lifestyles. However, a unique therapy approach has reversed these morbid statistics. What was the method? Doctors reframed the fear of dying into the joy of living. Patients found for themselves the joys in playing with their grandchildren in the park and the motivation swelled. A deeper meaning had to be found. And, as it was, the patients embraced hope and worked toward living rather than trying to escape death. (Deutschman, Alan, "Change or Die," Fast Company, May 2005).

Steve Denning reported on the ten happiest and the ten most hated jobs (Forbes, 9/12/11). Interestingly, the jobs with the better compensation and higher social statuses did not translate to increased happiness. (The happiest jobs included Clergy, Firefighters, and Physical Therapists. The most hated jobs included Director of Information Technology, Director of Sales and Marketing, and Product Manager). Denning states that the fundamental aspect of our careers, and our lives, is that they're meaningful. He states that the person living the life must be engaged by it and the work must be worthwhile. Again, fear doesn't motivate. The fear of not having enough, of a lack of provision, and of economic instability doesn't carry the sustainable drive that the joy of doing meaningful work fosters.

In a recent interview, author Ann Voskamp talks about the intense days of running a household of 8 while writing her best-selling book, One Thousand Gifts. (Olasky, Marvin, "The Write Way," World, 7/14/12) She said that she would write after the children were in bed from about 9 p.m. until 2 a.m. and then find a few hours of sleep for herself. Her husband, a farmer, was doing his work while also home schooling all of the children and doing many of the household chores. She said that when she felt that she couldn't continue that pace, her husband would encourage by reminding her that they believed this was God's chosen path for them. And they'd go on another day. Fear screamed for surrender, but didn't motivate. In fact, fear faded in the light of meaningful, purposeful work as they believed in a Greater Story.

The health care debate is loud. The trump card of fear is routinely played by those hoping to scare the opposition into folding. Maybe it's time we leave the playing table and step away from the game because we know that fear doesn't motivate. Instead, let's propose a platform of purpose. Let's promote change by encouraging others to embrace the joy of living, find comfort in community, and seek life transformation. 

To a significant extent, we can control health care costs by caring for ourselves and others well. Deep happiness can be found in our careers by engaging in meaningful work and serving others. And we can persevere by finding purpose beyond ourselves and pointing others to the same.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Communicable Joy

I recently drove to the Y's scenic Camp Thompson on a Sunday afternoon. I was going there to talk with the Camp Koala folks about the Mentoring Project. Camp Koala facilitates a 3-day resident camp experience for children ages 7-12 grieving the loss of a parent or primary caregiver. While I was supportive of their work, I wasn't looking forward to the presentation. I envisioned such a camp to be heavy, thick with grief, and depressed. What I found was completely different, joyful in fact.

In a recent blog post, Margaret Feinberg writes, "... Harvard and MIT researchers documented that the spread of happiness (or sadness) is absolutely contagious, with spreading patterns very similar to communicable diseases like the flu." Many studies have already shown the positive holistic health effects of a positive attitude and joyful living. Feinberg identifies such examples from a BBC article that cites a group of psychologists who found that, "positive thinkers live 7.5 years longer than their more pessimistic counterparts. Have a positive attitude toward aging proved to have even greater effect than physiological measures like blood pressure and cholesterol. And a [another study] concluded that laughter helps blood vessels stay healthier."

I have a friend that directs a local food bank. A few weeks ago I saw her sitting in the lobby of the Y, while two others played the guitar and sang. My friend said that she was on her way into the Y for her workout, but "heard this beautiful music and decided to stop and sit for a bit and enjoy it." I believe in life lived slow, but as the practical realities of my day mount, I'm too easily lured by the temptress of the to-do list, often at the cost of stopping to enjoy the music for a bit. I saw a bumper sticker the other day that read, "Don't postpone joy." My food bank friend reminded me of this, her contagious appreciation of the moment.

I write often about this slower, joy-focused living, however it isn't my nature. I'm a skeptic.  Most of my career, I've been in positions of risk management. I identify the negative, the what-ifs, and the worst case scenarios before they happen. My inclination is not to, as John Calvin said, "[see] sparks of His glory, as it were, glittering in every created thing." The negativity and discontent that's created from such a worldview can be suffocating. In turn, my writing on intentional living is, in a sense, a sermon to myself. A call to hold life loosely, breathe deeply, live fully, and look with wonder at the world around. I need daily reminders to do this. Eighteen months ago, my wife accepted author Ann Voskamp's dare to name, number, and journal 1,000 gifts of grace. I thought it was a quaint task for my sweet wife, but too Pollyanna for me.  Her grace journaling was contagious.  Today, I listed #920, "sitting on the deck after work and playing Zingo with my kids."

Camp Koala packed the Masland Dining Hall with campers, their families, counselors, therapists, and "big buddies." They smiled, they laughed, and they talked. They all seemed a bit giddy to me for those walking through a very difficult season of suffering. As part of their closing ceremonies, the campers and staff performed a song that they had written during their time at camp. The chorus, repeated often, said "as we celebrate our time together." These campers weren't hovering under a dark cloud of depression, they were bursting skyward in celebration of their memories of time with loved ones. This was evident in their smiling faces as they walked outside and released balloons attached with a note to their loved one lost. They looked up, breathed, released the balloons, and exhaled a contagious joy that I was blessed to be exposed.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Life Lessons From My Kids

I'm a seasonal reader. I go through spurts of devouring books and then I put them down for a bit. Even if it's a terrible read, I force myself to finish a book that I start. This makes little sense outside of my own discipline. I can't force myself to move to an electronic reader, I appreciate hard copy books. I am currently reading books on Dietrich Bonhoeffer and John Wooden. In my youth, I used to read fiction. Now, I'm almost exclusively a reader of non-fiction books - mostly those on faith, life, and business or the interweaving of the three. I read these books, make notes, and discuss with others. Some have made an impact on my daily life. However, I'm often reminded that some of the greatest life lessons can be learned from children. Luckily, I have two boys to teach me great things. Recently, I've been enlightened to three principles integral to living life well, each taught to me by children.

On a recent spring afternoon, my two boys and I were walking through the parking lot, heading to the store. Brady, our four-year-old, stopped and said that he needed to go back to the car to get something. We circled back and opened the car. Brady crawled into the vehicle and came out wearing his bright orange construction goggles. He climbed out of the car and started again toward the store.

Me: "Why did you get those, Brady?"
Brady: "I wanted to wear them into the store."
Older Brother: "I don't think that you want to wear them in there, Brady, people will see you."
Brady: "I don't care, I like them."

We need to care much less about what people think of us and, instead, live life full, happy. If you're inclined to wear bright orange construction goggles into the store, then wear them proudly. Kirk Franklin said, "You want to be great? Stop trying to be liked."

If you haven't seen the You Tube video of Caine's Arcade yet, take ten minutes and watch it. This young man built an elaborate cardboard arcade in his father's used auto parts garage. I won't spoil the story, but in short, Caine never gets discouraged and builds his dream with a smile no matter the circumstance. Author Seth Godin commented, "The goal wasn't to be accepted, that goal was to do it right."

Our oldest son, Carson, frequently reminds us of the profound idea of deep trust highlighted in Psalm 56:3. The Psalmist writes, "When I am afraid, I will trust in You." Carson drew a word picture of this verse that hung on our refrigerator for some time. I took a photo of his picture that I keep on my phone as a daily reminder. Carson uses this verse to sustain him through anxious times and encourages his mother and me when our days spiral chaotic. As adults, we muddy up the middle too often seeking complex solutions to stress mitigation. Carson's childlike faith calls us to stop, clear our minds, and know that our fears, anxieties, and worries are best alleviated when our trust is rooted in something bigger than ourselves. The Biblical narrative repeatedly calls us to "fear not" and, in turn, "trust." Most self-help books often end up in a similar place: step out of ourselves, hold onto something deeper, and trust. The Psalmist knew the shelter to life's storms isn't built by our own hands, but in trusting the Hands that hold us all. Carson knows this too.

Many times we pass through our days without stopping to appreciate the showers of blessings and gifts that are all around us. Last week, Brady missed a day of pre-school with a headache and a slight fever. He slept most of the day. The next morning, the pitter patter of little feet on wooden steps woke us. As Brady came down the stairs, he called for us. "Mom, Dad..." he said. "You know that head hurt that I had yesterday, it's almost gone!" The fact that he was feeling just a bit better had him wildly excited about the opportunities to play that he would now be able to embrace. He was marveled and amazed about the healing process of our bodies. He was thankful. Lisa Bergren writes, "Every morning when we wake, we choose to encounter the day as something to be survived or something to be welcomed. On this day I choose joy (laughter)." Brady could have opened his eyes to the day frustrated that remnants of a headache remained. Instead, he chose cart- wheeling joy that the headache was almost gone.

There are many lessons to be learned from children, if only we have eyes to see them. Live life full and happy, giving much less regard to what others think. Replace fear with trust, understanding these life stories are best written when they're about something bigger than us. And, be joyfully thankful, choosing an attitude of hope each day. These are meaningful lessons I've learned from my children. May they be undercurrents in your lives, lived well.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Mentoring Matters.

In high school I had an English course with a mild-mannered teacher. At the beginning of class we had a brief, five-question quiz to ensure that we were keeping up with assigned reading. Being the first week of school, my friends and I were much more concerned about positioning ourselves in the appropriate social structures of high school than diving into classic literature. In turn, the answers I listed on the quiz read something like this, Q: What main character were we introduced to in the opening chapters of The Scarlet Letter? A: Dr. Suess. After reviewing the quizzes at his desk, the teacher softly asked me and a few others to step outside. In a matter-of-fact and forcefully clear tone, he said that he did not intend to waste any more of our time or his, so he directed us to go to the Guidance Office and sign up for another English course, one in which we could coast through without the expectations he would demand. I pleaded to stay in his course and, thankfully, he obliged with the qualification that there would be no tolerance for a cavalier approach to his course. In addition to teaching me English, he taught me a much-needed lesson about expectation, accountability, and the experience of learning.

According to the YMCA of the USA, one out of every three children in the U.S. lives without his or her biological father. [Consequently,]… studies show that kids who grow up without a father in the home, on average, may face greater struggles and may be more likely to live in poverty or be incarcerated (Nock and Einolf 2008).

I have a friend leading a large ministry. Years ago, as someone just stepping into career opportunities, I requested a meeting with this ministry leader, hoping to draw from his experience and wisdom. Over the course of the next 7 years, he has met with me every single time that I've asked him to and an important friendship has developed. In spite of the many demands from his work and life, he has made time to invest in my life and I'm a better person because of his investment.

Youth from fatherless homes account for: 63 percent of youth suicides, 71 percent of pregnant teenagers, 90 percent of all homeless and runaway children, 70 percent of juveniles in state-operated institutions, 85 percent of all youths sitting in prison, 85 percent of all youth who exhibit behavior disorders, 80 percent of rapists motivated with displaced anger, 71 percent of high school dropouts, and 75 percent of all adolescents in chemical abuse centers. (“The Future: Set Adrift on a Sea of Fatherless Children,” Idaho Observer, July 2003. As quoted in: Sowers, John. “Fatherless Generation: Redeeming the Story.” (Zondervan, 2010).

Steve, a Youth Outreach and Day Camp Director at the Y, recently held an informational meeting to recruit volunteers for a new youth program. I was intrigued as half of those attending were former campers or counselors of Steve's programs. As I asked them why they were volunteering, they said that Steve had invested in their lives in significant ways and that they just wanted to give something back to him.

Whether done formally or informally, mentoring is an opportunity to change history, to re-write the story of a generation. Mentors will be the quiet heroes of this movement. Studies have shown that one-to-one mentoring, done over time, transforms the lives of both the mentor and mentee. Mentors matter. (The Mentoring Project Field Manual,

I recently talked with a Y staff person who told me that she was excited to finally have the opportunity to work at Camp Thompson as a resident camp counselor. In the past, she has volunteered her time to serve in counselor leadership training programs in preparation for her full-time role. I asked her why she had given so much volunteer time to prepare for a seasonal position. She said that she had attended Y camps ever since she was 7 and as a new camper, the Youth and Camp Thompson Director, Justin, had bought her a slushy when she was having a bad day. "That was really nice," she said, "and it made me stay." Now, she wants to return that favor of kindness to someone new.

The impact of investing in the life of another often isn't quantifiable, yet it's significant. If you are mentoring another person and you are faithfully loving, modeling, and coaching your impact might not be immediately measurable; however, you are making a profound difference(The Mentoring Project Field Manual,

When I was in college, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I wasn't sure if she'd survive and I was too scared to go home and visit. Instead, I went to a Campus Crusade for Christ meeting. We played basketball and at the end, I shared my request for prayer. The leader said that he'd give me a ride back to my apartment. I don't know his name, but I know that he cared about my situation and I know that he prayed for my mom, who is still living today.

Historically, mentoring has been a primary form of education. In the article, "Change of Course" (World Magazine, April 21, 2012), Andree` Seu writes, "Before seminaries had endowments, a young man would attach himself to a country pastor, read the man's books, and follow him on his parish visiting circuit. It was not considered a substandard education, but real discipling of the younger in faith by one older."

I was lucky enough to have a father who was invested in my life. He taught me life lessons of commitment, perseverance, discipline, and faith. I've been amazingly blessed to have countless others invest in my life who have given me the opportunity to reflect and redirect. They've taught me that it doesn't matter how far you fall, but that you get back up again. Andree` Seu says, "It is not how many miles you've traveled since you turned your ship around. It's that you're headed in the right direction and you know where home is."

Those without a father in their lives face a great challenge. They need others to come alongside to help orient the ship. They need navigational support. You can do this. We can help others rewrite their stories. Formally, you can contact the Y (, Big Brothers Big Sisters (, or your local church to find out how you might support a youth in need. Informally, you simply need to look around. Divine opportunities surround us daily to invest in the lives of others. As you look for them, you'll soon see them in abundance. Seize these moments. They matter.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Are Canadians Healthier and Happier?

My family and I recently returned from vacationing in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. We enjoyed the sun, surf, and the slow of beach life. It's the slow that's really refreshing. Time standing still as my boys and I wrestled the crashing waves and my wife and I walking, talking - unhurried. Around the pool, we met a number of people, many Canadian. Apparently, New Smyrna beach is becoming a vacation hot spot for our neighbors to the North. The Canadians that we met were strikingly relaxed, joyful, pleasant, and social. They were sincerely kind. They seemed grateful, living life full. It was a healthy atmosphere.

The psychological benefits of gratitude are increasingly well noted. Emmos and McCullough (2003) conducted a series of experiments that found "the experience of gratitude leads to positive psychological, physical, and social outcomes... participants who were asked to think about what they were grateful for, experienced greater levels of optimism, positive mood, and feelings of belongingness [compared other control groups]..." (2009, Clay Routledge Ph.D. in Death Love Sex Magic). In addition, the participants who were focused on gratitude reported being physically healthier and said that they spent more time exercising. Routledge concludes, "The take home message is that being grateful is good for you and those around you."

In addition to carrying hearts of gratitude, simply being kind produces significant healthy benefits. According to, scientific research has shown that acts of kindness help to improve stress-related health problems, improve feelings of depression, reduce the unhealthy sense of isolation, decrease the intensity and awareness of physical pain, and increase the sense of self-worth, …happiness, and optimism. (Allan Luks, The Healing Power of Doing Good: The Health and Spiritual Benefits of Helping Others). Luks's concludes, "Helping contributes to the maintenance of good health, and it can diminish the effect of diseases and disorders both serious and minor, psychological and physical."

My new Canadian friends appeared happier and healthier than many of the Americans I know, many of whom wilt beneath the weight of life that they carry. Could the apparent wellness of the vacationing Canadians be tied to their kind and thankful hearts?

USA Today writer Jayne Clark noticed a similar difference with Canadian neighbors. She said, "I'm just back from a week in Atlantic Canada and I'd have to say... Canadians are nicer... they're more trusting... they do illustrate a tendency to assume the other guy (or gal) isn't out to get the best of you... And that attitude was refreshing." (Aug 2011).

I know a few Canadians here at home. Two are pastors. One is in education. Another is a writer. I don't know the writer, but I've read her work, so we'll call her another Canadian friend. Each of them have huge hearts of gratitude and are extraordinarily kind. The writer even wrote a book about it, counting the daily gifts of grace. In many cases, their lives are slower, yet fuller; their days less scheduled, yet richer. They seem healthy and happy.

Anecdotally, my Canadians friends seem to hold life loosely, savoring the gifts each day brings and embracing the stillness that fosters gratitude and kindness, all this elevating wellness. In a recent blog, Canadian author Ann Voskamp says, "Life is not an emergency... Weigh down this moment in time with attention full, and the whole of time's river slows, slows, slows... I am accepting the whole of the moment, weighing it down with me all here. This giving thanks for one thousand things, it's that too, an invitation to slow time down with weight of full attention... You can only hear your life sing - when you still.”

This stillness, it’s a lesson taught for thousands of years that we long to learn yet consistently crowd out of our lives. “Be still,” God says, “and know [me].” Psalm 46:10

Sounds like a prescription to a healthier life, eh?