Overcome Your Challenges and Climb Greater Heights

Pond Clean Up Lisa-Michelle Kucharz 2

Last weekend, I participated in a community pond clean up with one of my best friends and partner in adventure — Sophia — and, as planned, we then went hiking and grabbed a bite to eat. While getting back into the car after lunch, Sophia asked me if I wanted to continue hiking at a nearby preserve, and I enthusiastically agreed.

Yesterday afternoon, I went on a four-mile solo hike. When I completed the three-and-a-half-mile lap around the lake, I continued in another area of the park Around the one-mile mark, as I was trying to capture a photo of an American Goldfinch dancing in a puddle without scaring it off, it hit me that it was exactly two years ago that I saw stars when my left foot hit the ground while getting out of bed. I went to urgent care and then a series of doctors for two months till they figured out I had the after effects — aftermath— of a virus, along with a heal spur. While they told me the post-viral condition would most likely pass, they also informed me that some people who developed such horrible cases could endure it for up to five years. For more than six months, I could barely walk, and the pain and stiffness spread to other joints. When I started to feel a little better, I could only walk very slowly for about a quarter of a mile.

Lisa-Michelle Kucharz Hiking April 2019Once I was able to pick up the pace from last-place turtle and was well into my quest to complete the 52 Hike Challenge, I fractured the same foot! It had been nearly two months since receiving a diabetes diagnosis, so I was frightened my need to stay off of my feet for six or more weeks would lead to weight gain and higher glucose levels. Determined to do everything possible, I found chair aerobic routines online, adapting them to my needs, and I strictly followed my meal plan.

Lisa-Michelle Kucharz Hiking 2019The last five years of my life were filled with unimaginable challenges, but guess who’s doing well today, despite it all? Don’t get me wrong, my life isn’t easy peasy, but I’m doing more than just making the most of it. I’ve completed 111 hikes since 2018 and appreciate every moment I can spend in nature. I lost and kept off more than 100 pounds and, most importantly, improved my health — no longer requiring medication.

When we face our challenges head on with knowledge and a plan, focus on what’s going well, and surround ourselves with inspiring and supportive people, we can accomplish almost anything.

If you’re going through a difficult time, take a step back, find support, and put together a plan to overcome your challenges and maybe even climb greater heights — one slow step at a time.

Lisa-Michelle Kucharz Hiking

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Your Smile Can Increase Your Happiness

When it comes to increasing our happiness, it’s important to remember that the tools take different levels of effort, and it’s helpful to have a menu of tools – available for choosing at the right moments.

Smile to Increase Happiness Lisa-Michelle Kucharz

Recently, I presented 10 positive psychology tools to help increase happiness at Israel’s paramedic school. The first tool has no cost and is the easiest to carry out: Smiling.

Creating a full smile, known as a Duchenne smile — named after the neurologist who greatly advanced the the science of electrophysiology, Duchenne de Bologne — involves smiling using the muscles around your eyes as well as your mouth. Sometimes, we call it “smizing,” because it feels like you’re smiling with your eyes. While most people think the relationship is only reversed, research shows that facial expressions effect emotional experience. Smiling, even if you are faking it, can improve your mood.

Use this tool throughout your day, repeating it as often as possible, even for short periods. For maximum benefit, smile — even if not based on real emotion at the time — for one to two minutes.

For your own benefit, you can smile in private or public. To also positively impact and help lift the moods of those around you, share your smile in public. Our brains are wired for sociability, so when you smile in public, the moods of those around you can also be boosted.

Have a great day, and remember to smile!

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How to Increase Happiness with Positive Psychology Tools: Lecture for First Responders in Israel

It was an honor to lecture on How to Increase Happiness with Positive Psychology Tools at the paramedic school in Israel. I was grateful for the opportunity to share scientific studies and practical tools to help first responders be happier and healthier.

Lisa-Michelle Kucharz Happiness Presentation

After defining happiness and positive psychology, we discussed the importance of being happy. Extensive research by Sonja Lyubomirsky demonstrates that “happy individuals are successful across multiple life domains, including marriage, friendship, income, work performance, and health.” Research shows that the relationship between success and happiness is reciprocal – happiness leads to success and success contributes to happiness. According to Tal Ben-Shahar, “happy people have better relationships, are more likely to thrive at work, and also live better and longer.”

We also discussed studies by Martin Seligman and others indicating that positive mental health and optimism influence physical health. Did you know that optimism is robustly associated with cardiovascular health, pessimism with cardiovascular risk? Positive mood is associated with protection from colds and flu, and highly optimistic people may have a lower risk for developing cancer? Seligman demonstrates that “healthy people who have good psychological well-being are at less risk for death from all causes.”

Perhaps the most critical step in creating lasting change is understanding why it’s important. After the paramedic students were fully onboard with their whys, we were ready to dive into the research and applications of 10 tools to increase happiness:

  • Smiling
  • Laughter
  • Happiness boosters
  • Gratitude jars
  • What went well?
  • Celebrating success
  • Using strengths
  • Visualization
  • Physical activity
  • Self-care and recovery

With much of their work being carried out in teams, we touched on how to incorporate some of the tools into groups or even family life.

Of course, my goal wasn’t only to share research and information. It was to equip the soon-to-be paramedics with practical tools to start using almost immediately to help them increase their happiness. The best way to make sure one follows through with a new activity or tool is to create a routine – to schedule it and make it a habit. Research shows that stating an intention may be a good start, but scheduling time for execution will lead to better fulfillment. With that in mind, we looked at a sample routine and discussed how they could schedule at least one tool in the coming days.

I was humbled to see the feedback about the lecture – ranging from “very good” to “magnificent!” More importantly, I hope the experience makes a difference in their lives.

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