What Matters Most

Spirit and Soul:

As we look for the healthy lifestyle steps that are right for each of us, how can these actions become a long term way of life that truly enhances our health and happiness?

Discovering what matters most, and always keeping that as our focus, will help us stay on the right path.

And what matters most is “Spirit and Soul“.

Before we talk about spirit, here are a few thoughts about soul. When I think of soul, what comes to my mind is story. Whenever I am move deeply by something, whether a great speech or song, or when I have spent time with someone very memorable, I find myself thinking, “Now there’s some soul“. And then soon I discover that there is a rich and meaningful story to discover there as well. We are all part of amazing stories. Our own personal stories (which may or may not unfold as we have planned), as well as the stories involving the groups that we are a part of. We are even a part of the stories of those from generations the come before us or after us, and this adds a special dimension to our own stories.

If we can be aware of our story, and how the many twists and turns come to reflect our soul in meaningful and lasting ways, I think we will be well on our way to understanding what matters most.

Now what about spirit? Although the soul can often be shadowy and hard to figure out, I think the spirit is much more straight forward and is something we are potentially more able to control.

When I think about spirit, I think of attitude or style (as in lifestyle). I remember attending sporting events in high school and joining in the cheer that went back and forth between the fans of the two competing schools with each chanting, “We’ve got spirit, yes we do, we’ve got spirit, how ’bout you?” It seems to me that what we were really demonstrating is our attitude of excitement and desire to win.

In a similar way, I think we all have a spirit about us that in simplest terms can be recognized most clearly by the attitude or style we display most often. And when you think about it, what is the most real thing about us? What endures long after we are physically gone? I think it is the attitude or style of life that we are best known by. That’s our spirit.

Needless to say, since it can effect so much of our lives, and the lives of those around us, paying attention to our spirit is another important step we can take to understand what matters most. And when we understand what matters most, that is, our spirit and soul, our health and happiness are bound to flourish.

So, just for fun, here are 12 spirits (attitudes or styles) that have helped me to keep in mind what matters most. See which ones ring true for you.

The Spirit of Shalom (“sha-lome”): Shalom is a Hebrew word meaning peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare and tranquility. It can also be used to mean both hello and goodbye. It can refer to either peace between two entities (especially between man and God or between two countries), or to the well-being, welfare or safety of an individual or a group of individuals. Let Shalom greet you each morning, and watch over you each night.

The Spirit of Ikigai (“ee-key-guy”): Ikigai is a Japanese concept that combines the terms iki, meaning “alive” or “life,” and gai, meaning “benefit” or “worth.” Together this describes “a reason for being”. This word refers to having a direction or purpose in life and something that makes life worthwhile. Find your Ikigai by weaving together what you love, what you are good at, what the world needs, and what you can be rewarded for. This is “the why” that keeps us going on “the way”.

The Spirit of Gospel: Gospel in Christianity is the news of the imminent coming of the Kingdom of God. The word comes from the Old English translation of a Greek word meaning “good news”. In Old English, it was translated as gōdspel, god meaning “good” and spel meaning “news, a story.” (Written accounts of the life and teaching of Jesus are also generally known as Gospels.) What inspires me most about the Spirit of Gospel is how it draws us to be open to what is truly good in ways that are fresh and relevant. Good needs to be discovered anew each day.

The Spirit of Joy: Joy is an emotion comprised of feelings of happiness, contentment, and harmony. It differs from general happiness in that it is not caused by a particular event but comes from within us. Being kind, forgiving, and flexible to yourself and to others allows joy to develop. Seeking humor in life and an appreciation of nature are also suggestions to promote joy from within. We know our lives are full of joy when we feel connected, secure, excited, happy, proud and thankful. We should nurture the relationships and experiences that bring us these emotions. On the flip-side, we know that stress is taking it’s toll on us when we are feeling lonely, afraid, bored (or overwhelmed), sad, ashamed or jealous. We will always have things that make us feel these emotions. That’s part of life. It’s important, however, to work through them in honest and realistic ways. Joy is our best guide along the path of health and happiness.

The Spirit of Empathy: Empathy is the ability to emotionally understand what other people feel, to see things from their point of view, and to imagine yourself in their place. Essentially, it is putting yourself in someone else’s position and feeling what they must be feeling. Empathy connects us at the heart.

The Spirit of Fika (“fee-kah”): Fika is a Swedish word for pausing twice a day with friends and colleagues to share a cup of coffee (or tea) and a little something to eat. The word comes from simply pronouncing coffee backwards. (Those clever Swedes!) Fika is more than just a coffee break. For Swedes, Fika is an essential part of Swedish culture. It refreshes the brain and strengthens relationships. Most Swedish businesses understand the value of Fika. You won’t get any extra points from your boss when you pretend you have no time for a break, as if your work is too important. In fact, many team leaders in Sweden consider it important to regularly bake something at home to take into work for fika. When not at work, fikas tend to last a little longer. The informality of a fika makes it easy for everyone to suggest or agree to a fika. And if you don’t feel like meeting up with someone, no problem, just go by yourself. Fika-Fika!

The Spirit of Friluftsliv (“free-loofts-liv“): Friluftsliv is a Norwegian expression literally translates as “open-air living” and was originally used to describe the value of spending time in remote locations for spiritual and physical wellbeing. Today, the phrase is used by folks in Nordic countries to explain anything from lunchtime runs in the forest, to commuting by bike (or on cross-country skis when the snow falls) to joining friends at a lakeside sauna (often followed by a chilly dip in the water) or simply relaxing in a mountain hut. Working in the garden or walking the dog are also great reasons for Friluftsliv. Just make sure you have some good clothes to wear. It’s true what they say in Norway, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes”. Uff da!

The Spirit of Moai (“mo-eye”): The word Moai means “meeting for a common purpose” in Japanese and originated from the social support groups in Okinawa, Japan. Moai are groups that form so that social, financial, health, or spiritual interests can be shared together. The reasons members say they participate have to do with strengthening their relationships with each other. They use terms synonymous with Okinawan culture and tradition to explain their feelings about their group: yuimaru (the spirit of cooperation) — the idea that you check in on neighbors and offer them assistance and community, and nichigusui (healer of life), meaning that their moai activities contribute to living long, healthy, and happy lives just like exercise and healthy eating. Historically, Moais have also acted as informal lending, saving, and borrowing institutions among trusted friends. Moais are considered one of the leading factors of the longevity of the Okinawan people. Life is better when shared together.

The Spirit of Hara Hachi Bu: Hara Hachi Bu is a Confucian teaching that instructs people to eat until they are 80 percent full. This cultural practice of mindful eating is part of the reason that the people of Okinawa live to be 100 more than anywhere else in the world. (It also helps that their is diet high in vegetables such as sweet potatoes, whole grains, tofu, and legumes. They also eat very little sugar, and very little meat, dairy or eggs.) This Japanese proverb puts things another way: “Eight parts of a full stomach sustain the person; the other two sustain the doctor”.

The Spirit of Lagom (“law-gawm”): Lagom is a Swedish and Norwegian word meaning “just the right amount”. The word can be translated as “in moderation”, “in balance”, and “perfect-simple”. “Optimal” may describe it’s meaning the best. Lagom carries the connotation of appropriateness, although not necessarily perfection. Lagom pushes us to find our own individual levels of contentment, inner peace, and most natural operating state. What makes it a very Swedish (or Nordic) is just how often lagom pulls us from individual focus to group focus. Lagom is found in the Swedish proverb “Lagom är bäst“, literally “The right amount is best”. Enough said.

The Spirit of Hygge (“hue-guh”): Hygge is a Danish and Norwegian word for a mood of coziness and comfort with feelings of wellness and contentment. Hygge refers to “a form of everyday togetherness”, “a pleasant and highly valued everyday experience of safety, equality, personal wholeness and a spontaneous social flow”. The Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen has studied the positive effect of “hygge” on Danish society. www.HappinessResearchInstitute.com

The Spirit of Sisu (“see-sue”): Sisu in Finnish means strength and perseverance in a task that for some may seem crazy to undertake, or even hopeless. Sisu is extraordinary determination in the face of extreme adversity, and courage that is presented typically in situations where success is unlikely. It expresses itself in taking action against the odds, and displaying courage and resoluteness in the face of adversity. Susi is an action-oriented mindset. Or, as one Finnish author puts it, You don’t brag about having sisu; you just let your actions do the talking.”

Which of these Spirits do you resonate with the most? Would your friends and family agree? Are there any others that come to mind?

Tending first to our spirit and soul, those things that matters most, will make sure we find rich meaning in every day.

In Health and Happiness, Ted Nyquist, MD.

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