Often it’s the little details and ordinary rituals that determine our happiness, rather than the major events and big-ticket purchases. Although our consumer culture insists that comfort has a price tag, what we buy doesn’t necessarily change how we feel about ourselves. Arranging things comfortably can make a lot more difference. An expensive new car, for instance, may not make driving all that much more pleasant if the garage is full of junk and the car has to be parked outside in the snow and ice.

This winter I’ve made a point of keeping a glass fruit bowl on the kitchen table, filled with navel oranges, McIntosh apples, and bananas. It’s meant to be a symbol of abundance in general; but I have noticed that there are also more specific positive effects, in addition to general feelings of well-being.

fruit bowl 

When the kitchen table lacks a centerpiece, it tends to get used as a shelf and to get covered with clutter. That in turn causes depressing feelings of disorganization and time pressure, such as that the house is a mess and it will take forever to get everything clean. If I let those feelings get out of control, I’m likely to neglect some household chores and end up with a real mess. A fruit bowl on the kitchen table avoids this unfortunate result by making clear, through its presence, that the table has been arranged with care and is not a random junk repository.

Keeping a fruit bowl where I’ll see it every time I walk into the kitchen gives me an effective visual prompt for healthy eating. Even though I know that fruit has a lot of good nutrients and fiber, if the fruit is tucked away in the refrigerator drawer then it’s “out of sight, out of mind,” and other, less healthy snacks may come to mind instead. Seeing the fruit makes me more likely to think “Yum, apple,” and eat it.

McIntosh apples are my preferred variety, but the supermarket where I regularly shop no longer stocks them; it seems they’re not as popular as they used to be. So I have to make a trip to another store just to buy apples. At first I thought the extra errand was a nuisance; but on reflection, I’ve decided to consider it a self-nurturing ritual and to be grateful for it. Every time I see McIntosh apples in the fruit bowl, they subconsciously improve my mood by reminding me that I am willing to go out of my way—literally—to do small things to make myself happier.

And one more thing about eating fruit – it’s a great opportunity for mindfulness.

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

To read all posts in this series from the beginning, click here.


Last month I began this series of posts by writing about the addictive nature of negative thinking, which can make our lives unmanageable. As with any addiction, the first and hardest step is admitting there’s a problem. What comes next in a 12-step recovery program is to believe that a power greater than ourselves can “restore us to sanity.” The concept of sanity comes bundled with some thorny social constructs, so I’ll leave it aside for the moment and talk about belief.

In this context, belief doesn’t require professing faith in a particular church or creed; it has more to do with acknowledging that we don’t know all the answers and that we can’t do everything ourselves. The human ego often stubbornly insists on trying to do things without help. While that may be understandable when we’re four years old and struggling to master shoelace-tying, it’s not the most useful way to go through life as an adult in our complicated modern world.

Sometimes we just need to recognize that there are things we can’t handle on our own. We shouldn’t feel that it is a weakness to ask for help, whether we are seeking divine guidance or simply calling a friend when we’re feeling down. And when we have the attitude that nothing ever gets done unless we do it ourselves, we end up depriving ourselves of help that we might otherwise have gotten, and struggling under heavy burdens that we didn’t actually have to carry alone.

Why are we often so unwilling to look outside ourselves for help? I’d say that a large part of it is fear. We may try to convince ourselves that we are tough and don’t need any help, or that whatever help we might get wouldn’t be very useful anyway; but underneath that bravado, we’re afraid of showing trust and then finding that it didn’t work out. Not believing that we’ll get any help is a defense mechanism to protect against the risk of asking and then being rejected or otherwise hurt.

Now, back to the topic of sanity. It has both a subjective dimension (whether or not we feel in control of our thoughts) and an objective dimension (whether or not our society pegs us as having a mental disorder). Because of the stigma associated with the latter, which has persisted even into a modern era that otherwise embraces diversity, many of us are reluctant to describe ourselves as needing to be restored to sanity. And considering how much negativity our culture deems acceptable and normal in the mass media and other places, going through life with gloomy thoughts does not, in itself, fall outside the range of what is currently regarded as normal.

Put another way, having negative thoughts burdening our minds probably is not going to result in being diagnosed with a mental disorder, unless we become overwhelmed with so much depression and anxiety that it interferes with our daily functioning. But even if we don’t reach that point, negative patterns of thinking can leave us feeling out of control. So I would say that taking action to banish such thoughts is likely to improve our sanity, regardless of whether anything in our thought patterns might amount to a clinically diagnosable condition.


Click here to read Recovering from Negativity, Step Three.

Mindfulness always has been a challenge for me because I tend to get easily distracted by drama of one sort or another. Drama is fine for creative writing, but not so good when it gets into one’s personal life and occupies way too much brain space. So I’ve tried reminding myself to just be here—to focus on where I am. That never seemed to work quite right for me, though, because (especially when I was at home) I couldn’t manage to unbundle the word “here” from all of my place-memories and associated thoughts. Instead of centering me in the present, the word “here” evoked images of a gallery filled with Ghosts of Here Past.

I recently tried another focusing phrase, “what is now,” and to my surprise, I felt immediately calmer and more centered. Even though the words don’t look all that different when written down, they feel much more concrete to me, stripping away the usual mental chatter and leaving only simple objects and physical sensations. In the future I’ll keep in mind that because we all process language differently and have so many personal connotations attached to each word, finding the right phrase to set forth a thought can take some time and perseverance. So instead of being impatient when something isn’t quite right, we should be gentler and more forgiving toward ourselves and others, in recognition of the fact that we are all works in progress.


Even though it is still cold and icy here in Ohio, I’ve heard birds chirping cheerfully for the past few days, as if they can feel that spring is on its way. I took this photograph of ice on bare bushes yesterday; the branches seem just a bit brighter than they had been, and the afternoon sunlight stronger, as if sending a quiet message that the seasons are changing as they always do.

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

Sitting in three neat rows of desks, the middle school students did their best to look attentive and ignore a furiously buzzing fly on the window… [This is Part 12. Continue reading this installment, or read the story from the beginning.]