“Look for simple things”, Emily Capuria of Balance & Thrive and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Look for simple things. Practicing gratitude is truly about seeing and appreciating the simplest of things like your car starting on a cold day, your husband making the coffee on a Monday morning, taking a virtual Peloton class with your sister, cuddling on the couch to watch a movie with your kiddo, your dog greeting […]

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Look for simple things. Practicing gratitude is truly about seeing and appreciating the simplest of things like your car starting on a cold day, your husband making the coffee on a Monday morning, taking a virtual Peloton class with your sister, cuddling on the couch to watch a movie with your kiddo, your dog greeting you at the door, the sun shining, the falling snow or a walk outside. These simple things are so often overlooked, but these simple things are truly what matter most. When you see and appreciate these simple things, you really start to see all that you do have to be grateful for.

As we all know, times are tough right now. In addition to the acute medical crisis caused by the Pandemic, in our post COVID world, we are also experiencing what some have called a “mental health pandemic”.

What can each of us do to get out of this “Pandemic Induced Mental and Emotional Funk”?

One tool that each of us has access to is the simple power of daily gratitude. As a part of our series about the “How Each Of Us Can Leverage The Power Of Gratitude To Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness” I had the pleasure of interviewing Emily Capuria.

Emily Capuria is a psychotherapist, author of the book Happiness Happens, and coach who works with women who have big dreams and live messy lives. She shares simple strategies to help them step out of the stress of the day to day, figure out what’s next, and turn their goals and dreams into reality — ultimately creating the happy & fulfilling life they want (and deserve!!) minus all that pressure of perfection. To download her free printable calendar with daily ideas and inspiration of small things you can do every day (without feeling like you’re adding to your already full plate) visit balancethrive.com/freecalendar.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about you and about what brought you to your specific career path?

I started Balance & Thrive in December of 2012. My education and professional background is in psychotherapy. I became fascinated with food and how it impacts the body while I was navigating my personal journey with unexplained infertility. This led me to become certified as a Holistic Health Coach and also in the Transformational Coaching Method.

In 2009, I had become pregnant and ultimately miscarried early in the second trimester. I had fallen instantly in love with that baby, and when the heartbeat stopped, I felt like mine did too. I had never in my life felt so broken.

Unexplained infertility had become this dark cloud that infiltrated every single area of my life, and I knew that if I wanted to make it through, I needed to start doing things differently.

I needed to look at my worst case scenario — the very real possibility of never having kids — and find a way to be happy anyway. Balance & Thrive is what I created because of that loss. It’s the meaning that I gave to my journey.

I know what it’s like to feel completely alone, broken, lost and overwhelmed.

I also know what it’s like to find new purpose and meaning in your life. To find peace and acceptance with where you are while also being hopeful about the future.

I believe that it’s possible to be happy and to live a purposeful, meaningful and connected life even when there’s also something in your life that feels hard, sad or complicated.

It’s not one or the other. It’s not all or nothing. You don’t have to avoid the pain in order to feel the joy.

The good, the bad and everything in between can all coexist. My personal experience navigating this is what inspired my business. And it’s built on this idea that life is messy — and that’s okay — you don’t have to clean it up. And when you stop worrying so much about living a perfect life — doing all the things all the time, being everything to everyone — you can start living a happy one.

I live what I teach, and it’s really cool to have my business and my own personal lifestyle be so in sync.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

The most interesting story is probably that I got pregnant out of the blue in 2015.

We were preparing to do our final IVF cycle at a clinic in Michigan — which in itself was pretty random. My sister had met a doctor she thought I’d really like, and that doctor happened to be able to fit me in when we were going to be there visiting my sister for a 5k to support the nonprofit she works for AND the doctor was able to run all the tests that day because I was in the exact right spot in my cycle.

It all just sort of came together. I left there with a plan to start the meds for IVF, only to call them a couple weeks later to say I was pregnant.

It totally blew my mind.

This also really changed the trajectory of my business because after 7 years of dealing with unexplained infertility, I realized that I didn’t want to build a brick and mortar business anymore. I wanted the freedom and flexibility to really turn myself over to being a mom. So I closed my physical location, turned my focus to a healthy pregnancy — and the wild ride that is first time new mamahood — and ultimately moved more into the online space.

All of this also inspired me to write my book Happiness Happens which is a how to guide for people to navigate some of those big changes in life, figure out what’s next and to keep tapping back into that space of happiness and fulfillment — which ultimately comes from within.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why do you think that resonates with you? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“This too shall pass.”

It’s something my grandfather would always say and my mom still says so it’s been there playing in the background my whole life. It’s really a reminder to soak up those good times, enjoy the moments and be present because they won’t last forever. And it’s a reminder for when times are tough that this challenge won’t last forever. So take a deep breath, keep moving and find your way through.

I love that this message holds true no matter what else is going on. So it’s this really consistent anchor that keeps me grounded — it reminds me to be present and grateful AND it reminds me to stay steady and keep going.

Either way it’s there for me to lean on and guide me through — and I love that.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story about why that resonated with you?

The Choice by Edith Eger. It’s such a powerful reminder that people are unbelievably resilient, and that it’s not about the absence of pain or challenges in life but rather the choices you make to find your way forward.

It can be tough. There’s about a decade of my life I once wished I could do over. And I spent a lot of time shoving that down and shutting myself off. It wasn’t until about 2 years into dealing with my unexplained infertility diagnosis that I realized I couldn’t keep going as I had been. I had to face my stuff, and forgive myself, so that I could move forward.

I had to tear down all of those walls I had built up over the years to hide the fact that I felt completely broken. It was uncomfortable and hard, and really forced me to face things I didn’t want to face. But then once I stopped trying so hard to keep it together, I felt like I could finally breathe.

Sometimes I catch myself in this space of trying too hard and feeling pulled away from myself and I remember that I have a choice and what I choose is up to me. Happiness and fulfillment in life isn’t about life going perfectly, it’s about living each day in line with who you are and what you want. It’s about forgiveness and finding meaning, and Dr. Eger’s book is a powerful reminder of that.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Yes!! A few things.

I’m working on my first children’s book that I am SO excited about. My hope is that it’ll help kids really cultivate a powerful trust in themselves that they can lean on throughout their lives. So many people spend so much time searching for things outside of themselves (I did this too) when your purpose and true happiness actually lives inside of you.

I’m also launching a podcast this spring and writing a second nonfiction book. Both projects are focused on having real, honest conversations about life and giving people, especially those who haven’t found what they’re looking for in the personal growth world, tools to step out of the stress of the day to day, figure out what’s next and truly create the happy, fulfilling life they want (and deserve!!).

I’ve had so many clients over the years tell me that they feel like they’ve failed at self-help, or that the advice doesn’t feel relatable to their everyday real life. That’s a failure not by the person but by the industry. There’s a lot that sounds good in concept, a lot of really inspiring stories out there, but a lot of times it’s tricky to translate that to your unique experience and ultimately put into practice and create the change. My work is really about bridging that gap in a “oh wait, I can do that” kind of way.

I want people to see that happiness truly is accessible to them and if things are tough right now, it’s not because you deserve it or are doing it wrong — that’s just how life is sometimes. And when you stop worrying about living a perfect life, you truly can start living a happy one.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I have an amazing support system that I am so very grateful for, but for the better part of the last two decades my husband, Mark, has been in it with me day in and day out. He’s that person I can go to when I feel totally overwhelmed and like nothing’s working and he’s that person I can go to when things are clicking in the most amazing ways.

I love that he tells me like it is and doesn’t let me stay stuck in the mess too long with his reminders to “build a bridge and get over it.” Like when I got slammed in the comments section in response to an article I wrote for the Cleveland Plain Dealer he held me when I cried and then was quick to remind me to move on and get back to work.

He’s unbelievably supportive, has my back 100% of the time and his belief in me is unwavering. He can see my strength when I can’t and helps me to keep going when I don’t think I can. Having him in my corner helps me to step out of my comfort zone and take risks which is what so much of business, parenting and life in general is all about.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now that we are on the topic of gratitude, let’s move to the main focus of our interview. As you know, the collective mental health of our country is facing extreme pressure. We would like to explore together how every one of us can use gratitude to improve our mental wellness. Let’s start with a basic definition of terms. How do you define the concept of Gratitude? Can you explain what you mean?

Gratitude is seeing and appreciating what’s working in your life.

Back when I was in college, I remember having a conversation with my mom about prayers. So often we’re praying for God to give us something or to create some kind of change. She talked about focusing your prayers on being thankful and seeing all that’s working in your life.

That really struck me so I started focusing my prayers on what I was grateful for from the day.

It came at me in a different way when I was dealing with infertility and feeling so overwhelmed and frustrated that this thing my body was supposed to do — it just wouldn’t do. I felt anger and shame as a woman.

I don’t remember exactly where I learned the idea of doing a body scan, but I started to do one each night — moving from the top of my head to the tips of my toes — thanking each part of my body for working. It was so basic and simple, but thanking my eyes for seeing, my ears for hearing, my heart for beating helped me to feel grateful for so much that my body was doing right.

It didn’t negate the pain of infertility but it created the space for me to see and value my body in a whole new way. I was able to feel sad and disappointed about my infertility and also happy and grateful for so many other things.

Now every night my prayers are a list of all that I am grateful for from the day, and it’s really the simplest of things that I’m seeing and appreciating in my life like my warm house, time with my family, the sunshine (especially in winter!!), my breathing lungs, connecting with a new client, catching up with an old friend and other things like this that are the simplest and also the most important things.

Why do you think so many people do not feel gratitude? How would you articulate why a simple emotion can be so elusive?

One, people often hear about being grateful for tough times and this idea that life is happening for you, not to you. And that we should be grateful for those tough times and how they shape us. I 100% disagree. I think life is happening — not to or for you — because that’s part of the human experience. You don’t have to be grateful for the tough times. You can be grateful for the support during the tough times or the lessons you learned, but you don’t have to put a positive spin on everything all the time.

As much as I love positive psychology, optimism and so much of what is out there to help people feel more hopeful in life, I often see it missing the mark when life gets hard. We have a full range of emotions for a reason and it’s absolutely okay to feel all of them.

You don’t have to glaze over the challenge to find the good. It was never meant to be one or the other. Gratitude simply helps you create the space for both. You can be grateful for the good times and also completely heartbroken over the loss of a loved one. And you don’t have to be grateful for your divorce or a scary health diagnosis or credit card debt or whatever hard thing you’re facing, even if you are grateful for the lessons you learned or the new path it put you on.

Two, it’s hard to smell the roses when you’re surrounded by shit. Our brains are wired to track towards problems so when life gets tough, you’ve got to really be intentional about shifting your focus. This can feel less important than dealing with the problem at hand when in reality, taking the time to step out of the mess and see what’s working is just the thing that will help you to tap back into a space of openness and creativity — which are required for problem solving.

This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be constructive to help spell it out. Can you share with us a few ways that increased gratitude can benefit and enhance our life?

Gratitude helps you to see what’s working in your life. It creates space when you’re feeling consumed by stress. It helps you to see the value in what you’re doing. It enhances your life because you’re seeing, and experiencing, the full range of it.

Let’s talk about mental wellness in particular. Can you share with us a few examples of how gratitude can help improve mental wellness?

Gratitude gives you a more positive (or at the very least balanced) perspective. You’ll see things more clearly, be better able to problem solve and be less likely to get swept up in a situation. This means you’ll act in a way that feels good to you — calm, steady and in alignment with your values.

It also helps you to tap into that sense of hope and optimism. Think of it like this, if you were in the center of a tornado — chaos swirling around you — gratitude is the thing that helps you to look up and see the light.

Lastly, when you can see what’s working, you’re less consumed by what’s not. Again this is not about ignoring the reality of your situation but it is about bringing in a new perspective, building your resilience and strengthening your overall well-being so that you can find your way forward.

Ok wonderful. Now here is the main question of our discussion. From your experience or research, what are “Five Ways That Each Of Us Can Leverage The Power Of Gratitude To Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness”. Can you please share a story or example for each?

1. Look for simple things. Practicing gratitude is truly about seeing and appreciating the simplest of things like your car starting on a cold day, your husband making the coffee on a Monday morning, taking a virtual Peloton class with your sister, cuddling on the couch to watch a movie with your kiddo, your dog greeting you at the door, the sun shining, the falling snow or a walk outside. These simple things are so often overlooked, but these simple things are truly what matter most. When you see and appreciate these simple things, you really start to see all that you do have to be grateful for.

This was the game changer for me when I was feeling so overwhelmed with infertility. When I could see and appreciate these simple things, things really shifted for me. Yes, I was still dealing with this hard thing, but I felt less consumed by it.

2. Talk about it. “How are you?” is a question that many of us are asked multiple times a day. What would happen if instead of the standard “I’m good” or “fine” you responded with some gratitude, with something that was working for you at that moment.

This idea came to me when I passed a neighbor on a walk. I said hello and asked how he was doing. “I’m walking and it’s a beautiful day so that’s good.” It really struck me — a simple focus on the “so that’s good” brings your attention to what’s working. It’s real and honest, and it’s a great way to put your appreciation out into the world. Plus, it might just inspire the person you’re talking to to do the same!

3. Work it. Create gratitude statements to align your mind with what you want. This is especially great if you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed or stuck. If you’re feeling stuck with wanting to find a romantic partnership — tease out what that partnership would look like — for example connection and adventure.

Then look at all the ways you have connection and adventure in your life now. For example, meeting a friend for a hike to explore a new nature trail, catching up with a neighbor for a socially distanced walk or learning a new language on Babble and planning a solo adventure to really immerse yourself in the culture.

Create a running gratitude list that’s focused specifically on connection and adventure. Every night add 1 thing (or more) from your day to this list. This will help you to see that you already do have some version of what you want in your life, and doing this naturally opens you up to experience more!

4. Involve others. Play the appreciation game — perfect for individuals, couples and families of all ages. During dinner, each person takes a turn to go around the table and share one thing they appreciate about each person. It’s a simple formula, “(person’s name) one thing I really appreciate about you is (something you appreciate about them).” My 5-year-old LOVES this game — my husband and I do too (…so does our dog Stella).

It can be an every night kinda thing or a fun, special activity that you play weekly. You can do this when you’re out to dinner with a friend or on your special occasion family Zoom. Not only is it a really powerful way to acknowledge and appreciate the people in your life, it’s also a great way to inspire others to practice gratitude (especially kids!)

5. End your day with it. Whether it’s writing in your journal, listing out one line statements in a notebook, dropping a post-it note in a gratitude jar or saying prayers — create a nightly ritual to end your day in gratitude. Play around with some different ideas and find what works well for you.

What works well for me personally is saying my gratitude based prayers. I review all that I’m grateful for from the day, it’s usually simple things like “I’m so grateful for Sunday breakfast as a family” or “I’m so grateful for the sun on my walk today.” It’s specific from the day and serves as a great reminder of all that’s working. It’s also a ritual I enjoy teaching my son.

If you’re not sure where to start, try the body scan like I mentioned before — simply express thanks for each part of your body that’s working for how it’s working (I am so grateful for my heart beating, for my lungs breathing, for my blood flowing, etc).

Here’s a video where I talk about the 5 Ways to Leverage the Power of Gratitude on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iy0yrdMQtK4

Is there a particular practice that can be used during a time when one is feeling really down, really vulnerable, or really sensitive?

First and foremost, acknowledge how you’re actually feeling and find a little space for acceptance there. So often we judge feeling down, vulnerable or sensitive and it’s so powerful to say — yep, this is how I’m feeling right now. It might not be ideal, but it’s real.

Then you lean into a gratitude practice not to “fix” but to expand your experience. You can hold the space and acknowledge how you’re feeling while also looking for things that are working.

One way to do that is to identify a particular area in your life where you’re struggling and list out all the ways things are working in that area. For example, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by credit card debt — look at all the ways money is working for you right now. Are you able to pay your electric bill? Do you have food in the fridge? Did you get a paycheck this week? Is your car paid off and working fine?

Remember, the goal isn’t to erase the feelings you’re having, it’s about making room for both and expanding your experience so you can move forward.

Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that you would recommend to our readers to help them to live with gratitude?

The best tools are a journal and a pen. Keep both by your bedside and write down what you’re grateful for, especially in the beginning. You can use the formula, “Today I am grateful for___________because___________.”

I also really like Greater Good Magazine (https://greatergood.berkeley.edu) and the Science of Happiness.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

A movement where happiness is more important than perfection. And where people are finally free from other’s expectations, the illusion of who you should be and this crazy push to “fit in” and be perfect.

What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?

Readers can visit my website balancethrive.com/freecalendar and download a fun monthly calendar with daily ideas and inspiration of small things you can do every day (without feeling like you’re adding to your already full plate) to stress less and live happier. I update these with new ideas every month.

I also love connecting on Instagram @balancethrive, Facebook @BalanceAndThrive or LinkedIn @emilycapuria

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

Thank you!!

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