I Am Participating in my Destiny: Journal Entry, by Erin A. Alexander, LPC


I really do feel blessed in a lot of ways. Despite the ‘downs’ and occasional disappointments, I can truly say that I am happy overall. Sometimes I can hardly believe that I am saying that, and I have actually felt that way for the past 2-3 years. My life has never been like this before; I have never been able to, for lack of better phrases, appreciate the sadness and pain in life. These things have not diminished my spirits; quite the opposite…all of the negatives have sort of given me a second wind. I love life more and I want to actively participate in my Destiny more, if that makes sense.

I am doing things that I would not have done 5-10 years ago, like becoming less of an introvert in some respects. For example, I love public speaking now, and it was a major fear up until a year ago. I have also expanded my circle of friends to others who would ordinarily be outside of my comfort zone. I’m glad because I have been meeting and enjoying the company of some wonderful people! All of this because I made the decision to step outside of my little comfortable introvert world.

I have learned and mastered the challenging art of forgiveness and letting go. I realized over the years how miserable I was because I was holding grudges and just holding on to things that were not important. It took up so much time and energy that is now free for other activities. My physical health has also improved because I don’t hold on to things…fewer headaches, less muscle tension, etc.

And regarding my health, I feel more healthy now than I ever have in my life. When I say ‘healthy’, I mean as a whole person…the mind, body, and spirit. I have made it a part of my life to keep my whole self healthy.

It took years for me to get to this point in my life. It has been a challenging and eventful journey; I expect that there will be more to come. Since I am equipped with a pretty good resiliency foundation, I think I will be OK. I am going to keep going and taking charge of my Destiny!


Want to be Happy? Change Your Frame of Thought, by Erin A. Alexander, LPC

photos from iphone 036

Many times, people get caught up in being unhappy because of their job circumstances or relationship situations. For example, when a person gets hired at a governmental entity (whether it is city, county, state, federal, school district, or otherwise), he/she starts complaining about all of the policies, procedures, politics, etc. Well, from my experience in working in most of those entities, the environments are rather conservative. There is not a lot of acceptance of free-thinking, or “lone wolf” kind of attitudes. This is what the expectation is when you are hired. You are to conform to the policies and procedures…play by the rules. So when I hear people complaining about their jobs in this respect, I wonder if any of this was considered prior to their accepting the job.

In order to be happy at the job, one has to re-frame one’s thinking. I mean, you can’t really change anything, so adjust your thought processes so that you can be happy and productive at work. Make a decision to set reasonable goals for yourself so that you can feel accomplished. Set boundaries so that you’re not overwhelmed. Don’t try to control what you cannot control, because when it all boils down to it, you cannot control what others think, feel, or do. Make a calculated decision to take care of yourself, meaning have a good work-life balance.

The same thing applies to relationships. You cannot change anyone’s personality. You cannot force anyone to do anything they don’t want to do. It’s a very egocentric point of view to expect for everyone else around you to behave in specific ways to accommodate you. Babies and children do that, and many times feel as if they are being harmed by others, but as they mature, usually they grow out of that. People learn to re-frame their thinking so that they can cope with the behaviors of others, without feeling “attacked”.

So how would you get out of your own world, so to speak, and start seeing things from the perspective of others? Examples of this would be to focus on the positive qualities of others, rather than the faults; believe that people are not always engaging in behaviors with negative intent; believe in the affirmations of others for the good things that they do; and ask yourself, ‘Is this really worth my time and energy to be upset over? Am I overreacting?’

The bottom line is, when we change the way we think about situations, we really can cope with them. The whole premise of cognitive behavioral therapy is to adjust faulty thinking so that behaviors can change.

Being Alone Without Being Lonely, By Ben Martin, Psy.D.

There is a great difference between being lonely and being alone. Many people are alone and lead happy lives. It may behoove us to study some of their traits, because many of us are likely to be alone at some point in our lives. Points to consider:

Our culture has a high divorce rate.

Statistics show that wives outlive husbands.

Our society advocates self-sufficiency and independence.

Contrary to many beliefs, the elderly are not the most lonely among us. It is young people who are most lonely, and herein may lie some of the differences between being lonely and being alone.

Many elderly people have developed traits or habits that help them be comfortable with themselves alone. They have found ways to keep busy mentally. Many rely on good memories of a deceased spouse for comfort while relishing the peace and quiet of a household void of too much activity. They have reached the point where their status quo is calmness.

The young, however, are subject to a wide range of moods. They may be up one morning and down that evening or up and down several times in a given day. They are often bored and restless to the point of being unhappy for no clear reason. When they are not sought after and included in all activities of their peers, their self-esteem takes a hit.

When they are lonely, they blame themselves and resort to activities that exclude social contact or productivity, such as watching too much television.

Being alone can have its advantages. The creative person craves time alone. Any professional who takes a sabbatical and spends some time alone returns refreshed mentally and spiritually.

To reap the rewards of solitude, a person who feels lonely can tune out thoughts of self and seek out activities. They can:

write letters




care for a pet

enroll in a correspondence course

A person who is feeling lonely should avoid situations such as:

drinking alcohol alone

using other escapes such as non-prescribed medications

watching so much television that it becomes a substitute for socializing

It may sometimes be good to be alone, but it is rarely good to be lonely.


Why chocolate really is the secret to happiness

Money may not buy happiness or grow on trees but when it comes to chocolate, it seems you can have both. Chocolate really does grow on trees and the chemical feel-good factor comes from the world’s most widely consumed psychoactive drug.

The Theobroma cacao is an evergreen that is native to tropical regions of the American continent and its seeds or beans are the source of the 4m metric tonnes of chocolate produced each year, and much of it from countries like the Ivory Coast and Indonesia.

Chocolate consumption goes back at least 4,000 years, to the peoples of present day Mexico: the Mayans, Aztecs and their predecessors, the Olmec. Just as today, they roasted the fermented seeds from cocoa pods, grinding the roast to a powder which they used to make a chocolate beverage, a cold, foaming drink that was very different to the substance we consume today. Sometimes they added honey to sweeten it and the Aztecs also added chili-pepper to give the phrase “hot chocolate” a whole new meaning.

Two thousand years ago the Mayan people, of what is now known as Guatemala, even came up with the original “chocolate teapot”, a ceramic vessel used to pour the foaming drink and archaeologists have found evidence that chocolate drinks were served up at the celebrations after the interment of sacrificial victims (though I’m not sure that the condemned would have been made any happier with a bar of chocolate).

Montezuma’s secret

The last Aztec emperor Montezuma II consumed a lot of this drink every day, and it was hinted that this enhanced his virility. No wonder the Spaniards were interested. Of course, it was the Spaniards who brought this wonder drink back to Europe, but adding sugar and spices like cinnamon and vanilla, another import from the Americas, transformed it into the much sweeter drink we have now. Chocolate drinking became the thing to do in fashionable society.

Less than 200 years ago, the invention of the chocolate press by Casparus van Houten senior made it possible to separate roasted cocoa beans into cocoa butter and a solid that could be made into cocoa powder. This powder could be recombined with sugar and cocoa butter to produce an eating chocolate, and in 1847 the Bristol Quaker firm of Fry’s, closely followed by Cadbury’s in Birmingham, made the first chocolate bar. The Swiss came up with milk chocolate bars in the 1870s, and to this day Switzerland and Britain are two of the top nations for chocolate consumption. Chocolate Easter Eggs were invented in the 1870s, and we haven’t looked back since.

Chemical sensations

The taste of chocolate comes from a mixture of chemicals, many resulting from the roasting process, in which sugars and amino acids combine, forming members of a family of molecules called pyrazines, which contribute the nutty, roasted and chocolately sensations.

But what about the “feel-good” side of chocolate? For a start, there is the world’s most widely consumed psychoactive drug: 1, 3, 7-trimethylxanthine by name. You may have heard of it: we call it caffeine. It works by counteracting the natural neurotransmitter adenosine, resulting in an increase in heart-rate and muscle contraction. There is also a significant presence of theobromine in chocolate, a similar stimulant which also happens to be the molecule that makes chocolate poisonous to dogs. Then there is serotonin, a natural neurotransmitter which controls many functions in the brain, including mood and behaviour. The body makes it from the natural amino acid tryptophan and chocolate contains both serotonin and tryptophan.

Another chocolate molecule believed to be important was discovered less than 20 years ago: anandamide. This binds to receptors in the brain known as cannabinoid receptors. These receptors were originally found to be sensitive to the most important psychoactive molecule in cannabis, Δ9-THC. Likewise, anandamide and similar molecules found in chocolate are also thought to affect mood.

Phenylethylamine, another family of chemicals, is found in chocolate in very small amounts. It is a naturally occurring substance with a structure that is closely related to synthetic amphetamines, which of course, are also stimulants. It is often said that our brain produces phenylethylamine when we fall in love, and it acts by producing endorphins, the brain’s natural “feel-good” molecules. The bad news, however, is that eating chocolate is probably not the best way of getting our hands on phenylethylamine as enzymes in our liver degrade it before it can reach the brain.

There are yet more other molecules in chocolate – especially in dark chocolate – like flavonoids, which some scientists think may help improve cardiovascular health (but chocolate manufacturers have been known to remove bitter flavanols from dark chocolate).

There is one feel-good factor I’ve not mentioned, which isn’t a molecule – the melt-in-your mouth sensation. The fatty triglycerides in cocoa butter can stack together in six different ways, each resulting in a different melting point. Only one of these forms has the right melting point of about 34 degrees, so that it “melts in your mouth, not in your hand”. Getting the chocolate to crystallise to give this form is a very skillful process, the product of very careful chocolate engineering.

There is still much yet to know about chocolate and some are now even sequencing the genome of cultivated cacao. But the continuing intricacies in chocolate and cacao that we are discovering through science can only add to the very simple human pleasure of breaking off a piece and popping it into our mouths.


Simon Cotton, Senior Lecturer in chemistry at University of Birmingham