Dr. Joel Elkes, whose 95th birthday was celebrated in a previous post, believes that a good life is built one good day at a time. As a pioneer in the field of psychopharmacology, he might be expected to focus on drugs that help us cope with life’s challenges. However, he is much more interested in helping people improve their lives by understanding the neuroscience of a good day. A paper he delivered at Haifa University in 1988 described the elements of a psychobiology curriculum he would love everyone to enjoy. He selected the acronym NESRELL–nutrition, exercise, sexuality, relaxation, listening, and learning–to define the elements of a good day. We don’t teach what he calls lifemanship in schools, and what we do teach is piecemeal, not integrated.
I’m testing Joel’s ideas about a good day by keeping track of exercise, meditation, awareness, listening, etc. every day of this nice, long holiday vacation. I decided to keep a diary of my eating online. (There’s a cool Google application that allows you to track calories and list all the foods you eat in a day. )
I am enjoying my days very much on this vacation, but I am frustrated by not seeing results yet of all the extra exercise, reduced calorie, enhanced mindfulness. Supposedly, I should be able to consume 2,000 calories/day at my age, height, weight, and amount of exercise. I find that I gain weight when I go over 1,500 calories, however. And I have not lost any weight after consuming an average of 1,200 calories this week! I have been burning 300-400 calories in exercise, also.
The frustration of having a very efficient metabolism means that it takes longer than usual for me to see results when I focus on the nutrition and exercise part of having a good day. I could be so discouraged that I give up.
Instead, I am going to assume that my diet of soup, salad, small portions of lean meat, bread, and fresh fruit is doing good things for me, even when they don’t show up on the scales or my side profile.
And I also assume that this is an opportunity to become even more aware of what my body is telling me about this stage in life. Maybe the fact that I need less food to sustain myself means that I can be more aware of how many people cannot sustain themselves at all. What else can I do, especially during the holidays, to make life easier for them? Tonight when we shop, I will look for the Salvation Army bell ringer and a red bucket.
By exercising outside in the snow and sunshine, as I did today, I taught myself to be optimistic about my day even without as many pages read or written or pounds dropped as I would like to see. I paused on the path in the woods and raised my ski pole to the sun, thanking God for a mindful moment and for the wonderful warmth in my muscles that reminds me how good it is to be alive.
I began my day with a wonderful bowl of steel-cut oats, two tablespoons of brown sugar, some low-fat milk, and a spoon full of sunflower seeds. I love the texture of those round, pearly oats. The memory of the pleasure of eating them is as nutritious for my spirit as the actual calories they gave me. My spirit rises or falls a hundred times during the day. But those nutty, tapioca-like oats make me smile long after they are gone. Perhaps there something like spiritual metabolism? What is your idea of a good day?