Singing Your Way to A Longer & Healthier Life

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44This past weekend my sister and I were at a local bar for their Saturday night karaoke get together.  Later that morning, when we arrived home I began researching the effects of singing and it’s relation to wellness.

This past week was Sing For Your Heart from December 8 th to the 15th in the UK.  Singing does not merely benefit our hearts but so much more as you will see in this piece.

While researching this topic I was able to locate some research studies that confirmed a few of my ideas on singing and improved health.  As a singer, I have noticed a sense of well being while I am singing and certainly stronger abdominal and back muscles but what I found out was even greater than I imagined.  I have used music to assist me in studying for exams on numerous occasions by creating lyrics with my course materials.  There is something to be said for using the part of the brain that remembers twenty year- old song lyrics.

You don’t have to be a great singer or even a rockstar to achieve the results that are contained in this blog.  What makes singing so appealing is that we can all do it and we can all benefit from doing so.

Clive Ballard, director of research at the Alzheimer’s Society and Professor of Age Related Diseases at King’s College, London,  said singing as an activity did seem to help people with dementia.

“People seem to enjoy doing something jointly with other people and there is a lot of evidence that being socially engaged is good for people with dementia.”

He said the part of the brain that worked with speech was different to the part that processed music, allowing those who had lost their speech to still enjoy their music. 

 

  

Sound therapist Jovita Wallace says “Sound vibrations massage your aura, going straight to what’s out of balance and fixing it.”
Singing the short-a sound, as in ahh, for 2-3 minutes will help banish the blues. It forces oxygen into the blood, which signals the brain to release mood-lifting endorphins.
To boost alertness, make the long-e sound, as in emit. It stimulates the pineal gland, which controls the body’s biological clock.
Singing the short-e sound, as in echo stimulates the thyroid gland, which secretes hormones that control the speed which digestion and other bodily processes occur.
Making the long-o sound as in ocean stimulates the pancreas, which regulates blood sugar.
To strengthen immunity, sing the double-o sound, as in tool. This activates the spleen, which regulates the production of infection fighting white blood cells. (1)

Scientists say singing boosts immune system.
– Singing strengthens the immune system, according to research by scientists at the University of Frankfurt in Germany, published in the latest edition of the US Journal of Behavioral Medicine. The scientists tested the blood of people who sang in a professional choir in the city, before and after a 60 minute rehearsal of Mozart’s Requiem.They found that concentrations of immunoglobin A – proteins in the immune system which function as antibodies – and hydrocortisone, an anti-stress hormone, increased significantly during the rehearsal. A week later, when they asked members of the choir to listen to a recording of the Requiem without singing, they found the composition of their blood did not change significantly. The researchers, who included Hans Guenther Bastian from the Institute of Musical Education at Frankfurt University, concluded singing not only strengthened the immune system but also notably improved the performer’s mood. (1)

  • Singing releases endorphins into your system and makes you feel energized and uplifted. People who sing are healthier than people who don’t.
  • Singing gives the lungs a workout,
  • Singing tones abdominal and intercostal muscles and the diaphragm, and stimulates circulation.
  • Singing makes us breathe more deeply than many forms of strenuous exercise, so we take in more oxygen, improve aerobic capacity and experience a release of muscle tension as well.” — Professor Graham Welch, Director of Educational Research, University of Surrey, Roehampton, UK

 

5 Reasons Singing Is Good for Your Health

April 17, 2011 12:00 AM  by Mehmet C. Oz, MD, and Michael F. Roizen, MD

The YOU Docs love good music (one of us, Mehmet, cranks up Springsteen in the operating room; the other, Mike, is a huge fan of both classical piano and Frankie Valli). But when it comes to singing, we don’t care whether you’re first soprano in the church choir or you just belt out off-key oldies in the shower with the door locked. Bursting into song lifts your health in ways that surprise even us (and might make the cast of Glee America’s healthiest people). The benefits should get you singing out even if you can’t carry a tune in a bucket.

1. Lowers your blood pressure. You may have heard the heartwarming news story about a woman in Boston whose blood pressure shot up just before knee-replacement surgery. When drugs alone weren’t enough, she began singing her favorite hymns, softly at first, then with more passion. Her blood pressure dropped enough for the procedure, which went off without a hitch. Now, we’re not suggesting you trade blood pressure treatments for a few verses of “Amazing Grace.” But try adding singing to your routine. It releases pent-up emotions, boosts relaxation, and reminds you of happy times, all of which help when stress and blood pressure spike.

2. Boosts your “cuddle” hormone. Yep, oxytocin, the same hormone that bonds moms and new babies and that makes you and your partner feel extra close after a romp in the hay, also surges after you croon a tune with your peeps

3. Allows you to breathe easier. If you or someone you know is coping with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), singing just twice a week could make breathing feel easier and life feel better. In fact, in England there are “singing for breathing” workshops. The benefits, said one person with the lung disease, “It makes me feel on top of the world . . . and it makes COPD a lot easier to live with.” Why wait for a workshop? Try crooning a tune or two on your own.

4. Helps you find serenity after cancer. Surviving cancer is a major milestone, but afterward, you still have to cope with the memories (tests, diagnosis, treatments) and quiet will-it-come-back worries. Vocalizing can help you blow off steam and stress. Turns out that singing actually calms the sympathetic nervous system (which tenses up when you do) and boosts activity in the parasympathetic nervous system (which makes you relax).

5. Rewires the brain after a stroke. Plenty of people who’ve survived a stroke but lost the ability to speak learn to communicate again by singing their thoughts. Singing activates areas on the right side of the brain, helping stroke survivors  to take over the job of speaking when areas on the left side no longer function. Called melodic intonation therapy (MIT), it’s used in some stroke rehab programs, and insurance may cover it. Ask about it if someone you love has speech difficulties from a stroke.

That’s not all singing can do. It also helps everyday health, increasing immunity, reducing stress for new moms, quieting snoring, easing anxiety in ways that may also ease irritable bowel syndrome, and simply making you feel happier. That’s a great return on something you can do in a choir, in your car, with your kids, in the shower, or even (you knew we were heading here) in a glee club. Here’s how to put the “glee factor” to work for you.  (2)

 

  Helen Astrid leading vocal coach and singer, confirms that regular exercising of the vocal cords can even prolong life, according to research done by The Helen Astrid Singing Academy in London. “It’s a great way to  keep in shape because you are exercising your lungs and heart. Not only  that, your body produces ‘feel good’ hormones called endorphins, which  rush around your body when you sing. It’s exactly the same when you eat a  bar of chocolate. The good news with singing is that you don’t gain any  calories! Not only can it increase lung capacity, it improves posture,  clears respiratory tubes and sinuses, and can increase mental alertness  through greater oxygenation. It even tones the muscles of your stomach  and back, that is if you’re singing correctly.”

After consulting some therapists and my psychology textbooks from university I also was able to confirm the following:

Singing can help boost confidence, cure depression, process negative feelings and improve relationships.  There is something to be said for the feeling one gets when people clap for you after you sing as well, 

When you’re happy, you’re likely healthier. It’s hard to be sad when you’re singing.

 

Sing To Your Heart’s Content

  Singing even helps you live longer according to the findings of a joint Harvard and Yale study which showed that choral singing increased the life expectancy of the population of New Haven, Connecticut. The report concluded that this was because singing promoted both a healthy heart and an enhanced mental state. Another study at the University of California has reported higher levels of immune system proteins in the saliva of choristers after performing a complex Beethoven masterwork. (3)

According to The perceived benefits of singing findings from preliminary surveys of a university college choral society :

Women were significantly more likely to experience benefits for well-being and relaxation, younger people were more likely to report social benefits, and those professing religious beliefs were more likely to experience spiritual benefits.  (4)

 

Researchers from McGill University in Montreal said it was the first time that the chemical – called dopamine – had been tested in response to music.  Dopamine increases in response to other stimuli such as food and money.  It is known to produce a feel-good state in response to certain tangible stimulants – from eating sweets to taking cocaine.  Dopamine is also associated with less tangible stimuli – such as being in love.  (6)

The Arts – Music and Singing – Music as a therapeutic medium has demonstrated to be efficacious for pain management (Trauger-Querry & Haghighi, 1999), in facilitating the resolution of grief (Bright, 1999), as a means of finding a personal identity (Smeijsters & van den Hurk, 1999), to improve the lives of people with communications problems related to cognitive impairment (O’Callaghan, 1999), and to enhance the quality of life for Alzheimers patients (Hanser, 1999). Recent longitudinal analysis of music-therapy related articles in the ‘Etude’ music magazine for the period 1883 to 1957 has also indicated consistent and adamant support for the (physical and psychological) health benefits of singing (Hunter, 1999) (1)

 

 

 

 

References:

1. Barbershop Harmony Society 2012.

2. 5 Reasons Singing Is Good for Your Health  April 17, 2011 12:00 AM  by Mehmet C. Oz, MD, and Michael F. Roizen, MD

3. Heart Research UK, Suite 12D, Joseph’s Well, Leeds LS3 1AB

4. The perceived benefits of singing findings from preliminary surveys of a university college choral society 2012. 

  1. S.M. Clift Centre for Health Education and Research, Canterbury Christ Church University College, Canterbury, Kent CT1 1QU, England
  1. G. Hancox  Department of Music, Canterbury Christ Church University College, Canterbury, Kent CT1 1QU, England

5.  http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/4448634.stm

How singing unlocks the brain

                        By Jane Elliott                                            BBC News Health reporter
 
6.   January 2011 Last updated at 13:04 ET  Music ‘releases mood-enhancing chemical in the brain’By Sonya McGilchrist Health reporter, BBC News
 
 
 
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Unleash Your Authentic Self

What exactly is the authentic self?  Let’s begin with a definition of authenticity which has been described as Authenticity means being real and genuine when you communicate.  We can add trustworthy, loyal and sincere as areas that are part of our authentic selves. The truth should guide you on your path.

Michael Kernis and Brian Goldman defined authenticity as “the unimpeded operation of one’s true or core self in one’s daily enterprise. (1)

Writers tend to agree that authenticity is something to be pursued as a goal intrinsic to “the good life.” And yet it is often described as an intrinsically difficult state to achieve, due in part to social pressures to live inauthentically, and in part due to a person’s own character. It is also described as a revelatory state, where one perceives oneself, other people, and sometimes even things, in a radically new way. Some writers argue that authenticity also requires self-knowledge, and that it alters a person’s relationships with other people. Authenticity also carries with it its own set of moral obligations, which often exist regardless of race, gender and class. The notion of authenticity also fits into utopian ideology, which requires authenticity among its citizens to exist, or which claims that such a condition would remove physical and economic barriers to pursuing authenticity.

“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” ―    C.G. Jung

To know ourself, our authentic self, is to embark on the greatest journey of all. Author, Hermann Hesse and psychologist, Carl Jung were pivotal influences in my own journey of discovery and both continue to be touchstones for my path in life.

In self-analysis we stop looking outward and focus inward. In doing so, we begin to strip away the compressed layers of conventional attitudes we are taught as ‘reality’, or how we should be, and begin to think for ourself, as we are, with all variables in play and in doing so we come into our authentic self. We do this not in a narcissistic way, where we use the world and others to inflate and gratify an immature grandiose-self, but quite the opposite, in a whole, non-fragmented way where we are functioning on all levels – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. We detach from the world, just as we detached from our birth mother when we were born, in order to find our true identity and thus embrace the person we are.

http://asheham.wordpress.com/2011/01/03/carl-jung-journey-to-self-discovery/

 

 

The Authentic self is who we truly are or are aiming to be.  Those that choose enlightenment and want to be better people do so but now we add the public self to the equation and everything changes.  The public self is what “society” expects us to behave like, how we act, talk and our opinions are greatly influenced by what we should do.  This is not necessarily a bad thing for if we did not follow laws and behave in a civilized manner there would be repercussions for our actions.

Many people present a persona on Facebook that is contrary to who they truly are, is this to follow some norm?  Is our authentic self truly what we are projecting to the world of social media?  Or are we inclined to be pretending to be someone else just to fit in?

 

 

 

The authentic self is the soul made visible. – Sarah Ban Breathnach

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Behaving authentically means acting in accord with one’s values, preferences, and needs  as opposed to acting merely to please others or to attain rewards or avoid  punishments through acting ‘falsely.’ . . . Authenticity is not reflected in a  compulsion to be one’s true self, but rather in the free expression of core  feelings, motives and inclinations. (2)

Don Miguel Ruiz shares centuries of Toltec wisdom in his book The Four Agreements.  To apply this wisdom, choose to create these profound agreements with yourself:

1.Be impeccable with your word. Carefully examine what you tell yourself, what you tell others, and when you decide to speak. Use your word consistently to express and strengthen your values. Don’t employ or overlook factual errors, fallacies or, distortions during communications. Express yourself authentically. Earn trust. Do what you say.

2.Don’t take anything personally. It’s not all about you. Reject the fallacy of personalization. Rely confidently on your own well-founded self-concept; it is the only evaluation of your worth that matters. Challenge and balance your first-person viewpoint.

3.Don’t make assumptions. Suspend judgment. Readily acknowledge what you don’t know and have the courage to ask questions. Carefully examine the evidence. Don’t attribute intent to others. Retain a healthy skepticism as you avoid cynicism. Develop, refine, and constantly apply your own well-founded theory of knowledge.

4.Always do your best. Do all you can while you recognize you can’t do it all. All you can do is all you can do. When you have truly done your best, there is no reason for shame. It’s ok to goof off if you do your best when it matters the most. Apply your time and effort toward your well-chosen and enduring goals.

If you are ready to explore and unleash your authentic self start with these three simple tasks and see where they take you.

1.  Sit in silence with yourself every day.

Living an authentic life means taking action from the inner confidence of intuition. Most people have no idea what their intuition feels like because they are so busy. We do not stop to listen to what we truly desire.  Our culture values productivity over peace and tranquility.   Cultivate and harness your voice of intuition.  it will always lead you to where you need to be.  You need to be able to actually hear it,  practice the art of silence every day — even if it’s only for 5- 10 minutes at a time.

2.  Be vulnerable. That’s Where The Real Power Lies.

If we want to live an authentic life, be more real, feel more alive, empowered, and fulfilled then we need to be vulnerable. Being vulnerable is facing these emotions of shame, fear, guilt, frustration, and grief.  It’s only when we connect with our pain and move through it that we connect with the emotions of love, joy and happiness on the other side.

Have the courage to be still and feel what you feel, don’t run from it. Being vulnerable is real strength. It’s the ability to honour your boundaries. It means having the confidence to be the real you even if it’s not pleasant. Being vulnerable is the path to authenticity.

3. Fulfill Those Dreams.  Write out the steps you will need to take in order to live that dream and take your first “next step.” It won’t feel overwhelming if you focus on one step at a time.

Images: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

References:

1. Wright, Karen (May 01, 2008). “Dare to be yourself”. Psychology Today.

2. Kernis, M. (2003). Toward a conceptualization of optimal  self-esteem. Psychological Inquiry, 14, 1-26.

NEXT BLOG IS ON MODERN HERBOLOGY

Acts of Kindness

Living in the city one does not tend to expect much from one’s neighbours but the events of this past weekend proved otherwise.  As the snow began to fall on Thursday evening up to Sunday in the wee hours I was surprised at the amount of people in my neighbourhood that pulled together as a team to remove the snow.  I am not just talking about the snow on our walkways or on the front street, but the back alleys and even the roadways where many of us park.  It began with one person shovelling their neighbours walk and by Saturday we had several people that produced snowblowers and shovels clearing driveways, walkways, & streets.  It almost became competitive with teams forming to see who can clear the most snow first.    Now that is community spirit and concern for the people that live here.  I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

A big thank you to all the wonderful people that restored my faith in humanity.  Remember it only takes one person to make a change and watch what effect it has on the many…

A Writer’s Journey in Art Therapy

Before I begin this blog I wanted to emphasize that I write real events about the real world and real people, generally myself.   I want to take you on a journey to a place I recently explored.

My hope is that you, the reader, will continue to read my blogs and find inspiration in your own lives and maybe try new things.  Much of what I write is about wellness of body and mind,alon with maintaining balance in our lives.  May you always be blessed with treasures on your life path.

    As a writer recently dealing with losses in my life I wanted to explore something other than the traditional psychotherapy route.  I was reviewing other options when I came across an art therapy class in Edmonton which is near where I live.

To get a brief understanding about what art therapy is about, I researched some sites on-line and these were some of my findings: :

What is Art Therapy?’ brochure from the website of (BAAT– British Association of Art Therapists),

“Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses art media as its primary mode of communication. It is practised by qualified, registered Art Therapists who work with children, young people, adults and the elderly. ( 1)

Clients who can use art therapy may have a wide range of difficulties, disabilities or diagnoses. These include, for example, emotional, behavioral or mental health problems, learning or physical disabilities, life-limiting conditions, brain-injury or neurological conditions and physical illness. Art therapy may be provided for groups, or for individuals, depending on clients’ needs. It is not a recreational activity or an art lesson, although the sessions can be enjoyable. Clients do not need to have any previous experience or expertise in art.”

    People always search for some escape from illness and it has been found that art is one of the more common methods. Art and the creative process can aid many illnesses (cancer, heart disease, influenza, etc.). People can escape the emotional effects of illness through art making and many creative methods. (2)

Art therapy can help improve various mental and physical symptoms including, but  not limited to, reducing pain, anxiety, and tension. It can be beneficial to  those who have mental disorders, severe or light emotional abuse, cancer, post  traumatic stress disorders (PTSD), people who are bipolar, and a variety of  other serious ailments. (3)

  As a Fibromyalgia sufferer I know that stress can make the fatigue and chronic pain unbearable for many and more of us are also being diagnosed with IBS or Endometriosis as well.

   Art therapists have conducted studies to understand why some cancer patients turned to art making as a coping mechanism and a tool to creating a positive identity outside of being a cancer patient. Women in the study participated in different art programs ranging from pottery and card making to drawing and painting. The programs helped them regain an identity outside of having cancer, lessened emotional pain of their on-going fight with cancer, and also giving them hope for the future.

Studies have also shown how the emotional distress of cancer patients has been reduced when utilizing the creative process. The women made drawings of themselves throughout the treatment process while also doing yoga and meditating; these actions combined helped to alleviate some symptoms. (2)

  The creative process and artwork are considered in terms of their therapeutic benefit to the client rather than their artistic merit per se. Working in a collaborative manner, the art therapist serves as a guide and facilitator helping the artist-client to express their individual style of creativity and then “translate” their art into meaningful avenues of exploration and personal insight.

My session began with the closing of my eyes and deep breathing exercises that I was instructed to follow and continued to do so until I began to paint.  After an hour and a half I felt I painted what I needed to and stopped. 

  My therapist asked me what the significance parts of my painting meant to me and we explored several areas in my life.  The release of emotions and some old and new hurts materialized yet I was almost cleansed in a way.  Many areas of my artwork indicated a strong sense of self, confidence and a free spirit.  I was advised to look at it in the privacy of my own home for a few days and see if I saw something new to review.  My use of vibrant colour indicated a high level of happiness in my life. I was surprised at many of the things I painted and with a variety of brushes and techniques.  I was present but I was in the “zone’ that writers, musicians and other creative types enter where time did not exist.

  Art therapy has been recognized for its contributions in clinical environments such as mental health facilities and hospitals, the practice of art therapy extends well beyond the boundaries of health services to include work in corporate, educational, social, cross-cultural and community settings. 

References:

1.  http://baat.org/What_is_Art_Therapy.pdf, p.1

2. Stuckley, Heather L, and Jeremy Nobel. “The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature.” American Journal of Public Health (Feb2010): 254-263. Web. 9 Nov 2010.

3. http://www.arttherapyblog.com/art-therapy-benefits/#ixzz2AZst86JV

The Power of HealingTouch

After a stressful week, all I could think about was my upcoming massage appointment which was this past Monday.  Now, for me massage is one of the things I use for pain management often brought on by stress.  Stress takes it’s toll on many of us, leaving some of us with sore backs, & tense shoulders, the list continues.  My lower back had been in knots for several days and that tension was also wreaking havoc with my IBS and knee pain.

Upon my arrival at the massage therapy centre I was feeling emotionally worn out, tired, sad, lonely, etc.  Once inside the room where the massage was to take place I told Amy ” I am feeling very emotional today so if I have a cry, don’t be surprised.”  She immediately asked me ‘ if I wanted a hug?”.  I said “Yes,please.”.  We hugged and I know that hug was what I needed more than anything.  I thought to myself Monday night after the massage, why didn’t I ask for a hug?  Well I am going to ask whoever is around when I need a hug but now I know what I need.

What I did not realize is how good it feels to be pampered for 45 minutes under the gentle touch and care of my talented and kind hearted massage therapist Amy.  I have only seen her twice for treatment but she truly listens to where I tell her my body hurts and offers suggestions to me that are extremely helpful..We also discuss things going on in my life that are causing me additional pain and hurt..I laid down on the massage table on top of a warm towel, the room smelled of flowers, the lighting minimal and the music peaceful and serene.

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We undervalue the power of touch.  When we are babies psychologists tell us that we require cuddling and attention from our Mother’s or we may develop abandonment issues later on during the preschool years.  Those hugs and kisses were given freely and with much care behind them but as adults we do not often see the value a hug or a touch can bring to ourselves and the other person.

In life we have burdens that we must carry which Amy and I discussed at great length.  Both of us recall from our university days – she in massage therapy, while I was pursuing a BA degree in psychology that psychological and physical stress combined with heavy responsibilities creates tension ( the burden we bear goes to our backs).   It is also important to note that responsibilities involving our jobs, paying the bills, etc. are just as heavy as the obligations and expectations our loved ones and families have of us and the ones we want for ourselves.

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Healing touch is not just limited to humans, our pets want us to hold them, carry them and hug them too.  They radiate love … Trust me on this one if you are a dog owner don’t tell me rubbing their tummies does not make you feel just as good as they do, while you are doing it.

Many people can be reached with a hug, a stroke of their shoulder or holding their hand.  No words are required when we see people in pain or feeling hurt…  I dare you to stand up and hug someone and soothe a soul without saying a word..

My massage on Monday left me pain free, relaxed and full of energy but this was not a clinical massage.  This was beyond that, it was two virtual strangers being human, I see your pain, I feel your pain, and I am going to lessen that pain with a hug.

If you would like to read more material on the topic of Healing Touch, please follow this link for some research findings at http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2012/02/massages-mystery-mechanism-unmas.html

Joy of Forgotten Treasures

  Sunday evening I started an intensive reorganization of my office. As a writer, singer, herbalist student, very amateur musician or rather dabbler, and crafter my space is extremely limited and as such I am always coming up with space saving ideas. I began doing a visual review of what needs to be rearranged and discovered a collection of angel pictures and ornaments I had forgotten about, There is a small bookcase I was able to utilize to display these items and I was most pleased with my discovery and new display They now sit beside my waterfall which is now flowing and that too is a treasure I enjoy to watch.

  Angels make me think of Christmas and pleasant memories, human decency, kindness and love. Maybe this is why these angels mean alot to me they allow me to be in a special place.

  To create,one requires a certain ambience and those forgotten treasures are a part of who I am in many ways. Funny how as we get older we change, life changes, seasons pass but those forgotten treasures will remain the same.

Gratitude Quotes By Maya Angelou & Betty White

In a recent interview with Maya Angelou  by Dawn Reiss – Maya stated:  “I’m grateful for being here, for being able to think, for being able to see, for being able to taste, for appreciating love – for knowing that it exists in a world so rife with vulgarity, with brutality and violence, and yet love exists.  I’m grateful to know that it exists.  &  “In the midst of hard times, you have to say, ‘I know this will not last forever.’ No matter how bad it gets, I’m always grateful to know that I don’t have to stay with the negative. I don’t have to continue in this climate of cynicism. I may not see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I know there is one,”

“It’s [old age] not a surprise, we knew it was coming – make the most of it. So
you may not be as fast on your feet, and the image in your mirror may be a
little disappointing, but if you are still functioning and not in pain,
gratitude should be the name of the game.”
Betty
White

Phillips Brooks
Stand up, on this Thanksgiving Day, stand upon your feet.  Believe in man.  Soberly and with clear eyes, believe in your own time and place.  There is not, and there never has been a better time, or a better place to live in.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon
You say, ‘If I had a little more, I should be very satisfied.’ You make a mistake. If you are not content with what you have, you would not be satisfied if it were doubled.