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The Power of Words

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you-are-beautiful-campaignBy Caren Chaffee 


Very recently, a surprising and, for some, confusing billboard was erected in various locations in Erie County, N.Y. The billboards, placed along major routes in the Buffalo region, simply stated “you are beautiful” – in plain font, all lowercase letters, without graphics or decoration.


This uncomplicated message incited a great deal of discussion throughout print, radio, television and social media. Many wondered: (1) where it came from; (2) who had placed the billboards in such strategic locations throughout the area and (3) above all, what it meant.


The answers were easily identified: (1) The message was first created by artist Matthew Hoffman in 2002, when he printed 100 stickers and left them in various locations in Chicago. Since then, more than 1.5 million stickers have been shared on every continent in the world. He went on to collaborate with thousands of other artists to re-create the message in cities across the globe through every possible art medium. (2) The billboards placed in Erie County are a part of a public art project organized by a Buffalo-based art gallery. (3) According to the website, “It’s our mission to leave the world a little better than when we found it.”


Words are powerful in many ways. They can be used to encourage and support, to comfort and soothe, to provide explanation, to ask questions, to apologize, to teach… and to hurt.


When we share a message with others, we can actually see its impact. A positive message can brighten someone’s day and often gives implicit permission to “pay it forward.” The result is more cheer, more happiness and a greater sense of community. A negative message can be insidious, breeding cynicism and distrust.


The power of words is immeasurable, and the example we set for youth is critical. Mr. Hoffman shared a story of an eighth-grade student who received permission from her principal to place a note stating “you are beautiful” on every locker in her school. The impact this likely had on impressionable middle school-aged youth who often grapple with feelings of self-worth was, in all probability, beyond estimation.


Mr. Hoffman launched his campaign anonymously for a long time. When finally began to talk about his project publicly, he was quoted as saying, “Can you feel the landscape changing?


Public reaction to the “you are beautiful” campaign made the answer to his question clear. Social media posts included statements such as, “Whoever put this sign next to the freeway exit is my hero,” “Morning commute pick-me-up,” “Makes me smile every day driving home from work,” “Thank you for reminding us,” “Greatness this morning” and simply, “Yes!”


We all have a choice to spread cheer or breed unhappiness. Our words have power, and with power comes great responsibility. We must be responsible to ourselves and to our communities with the words that we choose.

Life's Journey Series: The art of self-care

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By Denise Morganthall


With today’s hectic lifestyle and abundant responsibilities, it can be difficult to make time for health and self-care needs. But what better time to explore some self-care strategies than at the start of what for most people is a long weekend?


The idea of self care has been around for centuries, but it really gained a popular following in the 1980s, when it was employed in households, businesses and health care facilities. It has been proven that taking care of ourselves makes us better caretakers for others, whether children, parents or patients.


Self care is about choosing behaviors that balance the effects of emotional and physical stressors in our lives. This can involve exercising, eating healthy foods, getting enough sleep or practicing relaxation techniques, anything that cultivates a healthy mind and body. Here are some ways to make time for your own well-being:

  • Listen to music
  • Read a book or magazine
  • Get a massage
  • Take a power nap
  • Go to lunch with a friend
  • Go for a walk or ride your bike
  • Plant a garden
  • Draw or paint
  • Go fishing

This list of self-care strategies could go on and on. The most important thing is that we take care of ourselves, do what we enjoy the most and make the best use of our time. You must make yourself a priority to attain a better state of mental and physical well-being, and self-care gives you the knowledge and tools to improve the quality of your life.

Life's Journey Series: You are responsible for your life

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positive outlookBy Denise Morganthall 


Many of us go through life hearing these words over and over again … “You need to be more responsible.” Sound familiar? When you were a teenager I am sure you heard, “If you were more responsible, that would not have happened.” You may even hear your boss tell you that you need to be more responsible. Unfortunately we are very good at playing what we call the “blame game.” We are constantly blaming others when we should be blaming ourselves.


It is easy to blame others for our irresponsible behaviors and our quality of life. We blame our parents for how we were raised, our boss for our low salary, our spouse for having no time to ourselves. Why do we do this? The answer is fear. Taking responsibility for our lives can be a scary thing. When you accept full responsibility for your life, you then need to accept not just the successes but failures as well. Maybe you had a troubled childhood, and you obviously aren’t responsible for what happened at that time, however from this point on you are responsible for what you make of your life. There is no reason to take revenge out on your parents for what happened years ago. There is nothing they can do now to make the past disappear, however, you can talk about it and work on the present and the future. Don’t ever let a negative past define you; let it be a lesson that strengthens you and leads you on a path to a positive, brighter future.


If we are to be 100 percent responsible for our lives then we need to look at life through a different lens. A positive outlook produces a positive outcome. If you are driving and someone cuts you off, your first response may be to get angry and start yelling and throwing your fists around. Before you do this, let’s think this through. Maybe this person just found out he has cancer and may not live. Or maybe she has 1,000 things on her mind and just wasn’t thinking. Or maybe there was a blind spot in the road and your car wasn’t visible. Of course, maybe the other driver is just disrespectful. But whatever the case, you need to move on.


Changing our thoughts and behavior is certainly not an easy task, but if we want to see change in our lives we need to change our reactions to situations that are presented to us. Everything you experience today is the result of choices you have made in the past. If you are an alcoholic and you keep drinking, your life is not going to get any better. You have the choice to change who you are and what you want out of life. Yes, that may mean changing your friends, changing your outlook or your habits. But if you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’re going to keep getting what you’ve always gotten. If you need more help around the house, your house will remain a mess until you ask for help. By taking no action and complaining, we are allowing things to happen to us rather than accepting responsibility for our lives. No one else can help you get what you want. When we complain, we are wasting time, and often voicing our displeasure to the wrong people. Rather than telling your boss that you’re upset with your new work schedule, you complain to your spouse. You whine to your friends that your spouse is always on the road and your relationship is on the rocks. Complaining will get us nowhere if we don’t go to the right person. We all have the responsibility to take action to make our lives better.


Life’s Journey series: Secrets to a positive attitude

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positive thinkingBy Denise Morganthall 


Our attitudes, or how we react to people or situations, determine the type of day we will have. If we wake up to a rainy day, it is easy to feel moody and tired unless we shift our attitude and look on the bright side. It could be as simple as saying, “I’d like to see some sun, but I know we need the rain” or “It doesn’t matter what the weather is. I am going to have a great day.” In the words of Art Linkletter, “Things turn out best for people who make the best out of the way things turn out.”


Our attitudes are shaped by our intelligence, self-esteem and mood, but the remarkable thing is that we have a choice every day regarding what we will embrace. We cannot change the past or how other people behave. Some things are inevitable, no matter how much we desire otherwise, but we can change our reactions to other people and situations to produce a positive result. Years ago I attended a seminar emphasizing how our attitude affects our life. The leader shared a story about a man who was driving his SUV on the interstate when he saw an 18-wheeler coming toward him. He was hoping the 18-wheeler would get back on the other side of the road, but unfortunately it clipped his vehicle, sending it spinning in circles before landing on its side in a ditch. When passersby stopped to help him, he looked up, smiled and waved and said, "I’m alive!" Now that’s a positive attitude.


Sometimes life can seem unfair, but some of our unhappy times may be a blessing in disguise. If you lose your job, it could be the opportunity to find one you truly love. If your boyfriend/girlfriend breaks up with you, it might be the chance you needed to meet someone new. Remember that whatever you are working through now is helping you have a brighter future. Don’t forget the Law of Attraction, and if it helps, think about the fact that there is always someone having a harder time. There is an old saying, "I had the blues because I had no shoes until upon the street I met a man who had no feet."


While we are all ultimately in control of our own attitudes, which means it is important to surround ourselves with positivity. If your friends don’t improve your mood, it’s time to find a new circle. Make time to do things that make you feel good about yourself. Avoid comparing yourself to others. And remember that life is not just about the journey, but the quality of the journey. Make every day the best it can be.


Photo credit: iStock/Eskemar 

Summer break should not include a break from reading

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open bookBy Caren Chaffee 


Summer signals warmer temperatures, more sunshine and time spent at the beach or pool. For many children, it also means summer vacation and a welcome break from school. However, a break from school should not signify a subsequent break from reading. Reading is a crucial skill that can be further honed during the summer months, when children may have some extra “free” time.


Studies repeatedly demonstrate that poor reading skills lead to poor outcomes:

  • Students who are not proficient readers by third grade are four times more likely to leave school without a diploma (The Annie E. Casey Foundation).
  • Students reading below their grade level are twice as likely to drop out of school as those who can read at or above grade level (Adolescent Literacy: A National Reading Crisis).
  • Among adults at the lowest level of literacy proficiency, 43 percent live in poverty. Among adults with strong literacy skills, only 4 percent live in poverty (First Book).
  • More than one third of all juvenile offenders read below a fourth-grade reading level (Adolescent Literacy: A National Reading Crisis).
  • 82 percent of prison inmates are high school dropouts (The Coalition for Juvenile Justice), and a very high proportion of them cannot read (Adolescent Literacy: A National Reading Crisis).

There are several populations who are at greater risk to struggle with literacy skills. Specifically, studies indicate that economic circumstances play a role in reading proficiency. In fact, only 16 percent of students eligible for free or reduced lunch programs (based on household income) are proficient in reading. In comparison, 42 percent of students who are not eligible for a free or reduced lunch read at proficient levels (NAEP Reading 2009).  In addition, reports from all 50 states indicate that boys are less proficient readers than girls. In some states, the gap is as large as 10 percentage points (Center for Education Policy).


There are many ways to help youth become more skilled readers.  The key is increasing their exposure to reading materials and opportunities to read:

  • Libraries are a primary source of reading materials, which can be borrowed free of charge.
  • It is important for youth to witness adults reading. High-frequency reading parents are six times more likely to have high- frequency reading children (2008 Kids & Family Reading Report). 
  • Bookstores often hold age-appropriate reading programs or book club meetings.
  • Many restaurants and bookstores offer summertime incentive programs for youth and reward their reading activities with free books or meals.
  • A weekly “theme” can act as a springboard for new reading materials and topics. Not only can meals and activities be based on the selected theme, but youth can be encouraged to read books related to the theme.
  • Fun everyday activities can quickly and easily be turned into opportunities to read:
    • Museums, zoos and local parks often have signage that youth can read aloud.
    • News stories on the internet provide daily opportunities for youth to learn about current events that are of interest to them.
    • Shopping with children gives them the opportunity to read a shopping list and find the corresponding items on the shelves.
    • Cooking or baking is not only a good chance for children and caregivers to spend time together, but it provides the added benefit of reading a recipe.
    • Road trips give youth exposure to different billboards, which they can read aloud.

By making reading more accessible and more fun for youth, caregivers and other adults can play an important role in improving children’s level of reading proficiency. These acts, while seemingly small and simple, have the power to offer life-changing and life-long benefits.


Image credit: iStock photo/colematt 

Social media is changing the way teenagers communicate, structure their days

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 By Tara M. Heath 


Social Media has become part of daily routines, especially for teens. Almost all teenagers have social media accounts and 78 percent of teens have smartphones. Our world seems to revolve around social media, and most people are constantly on a phone, iPad or computer throughout the day.


Teens have created a daily routine, and most don’t even realize it. They wake up and frantically look for their phones to check their text messages or see who posted what on Instagram and Facebook. Even during school hours they find a way to get on and use their social media apps. Teens would rather text or chat via social media than talking to communicate with one another.


Take a look at this infographic provided by Teen Safe that shows a typical day in the life of an app-addicted teen.   



Life’s Journey series: The pursuit of happiness

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girl with balloonsBy Denise Morganthall 


“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” – a well-known phrase in the U.S. Declaration of Independence meaning to pursue happiness as long as it does not infringe on the rights of others. It is the freedom to live as one chooses, and simply to be happy. Isn’t that what we all want?


Being happy really comes down to being content with yourself and your life. You need to decide what brings you happiness then make it happen. What makes one person happy may not bring the same joy to another. But why are some people happy and others are not? It may seem like a complex puzzle, but the answer is actually quite simplistic in that we have the power to make our lives positive. Most truly happy people are optimistic and live by the Law of Attraction, which means whatever you dwell on shapes your life. So if you fill your mind with happy thoughts, you will attract happiness.


Of course it’s not practical that everyone is happy go lucky all the time. Every one of us will encounter some sort of tragedy or difficult times, even if it is only the stress of trying to accomplish all that needs to be done when there never seems to be enough time. And it is OK to feel sad or stressed because if we were happy all the time, that feeling would eventually lose its impact. As Dolly Parton said, “If you want the rainbow, you have to put up with the rain.”


Researchers have found that living a balanced life that incorporates family, friends, work, personal growth, spirituality, community and health can help you achieve happiness. Happier people have actually been known to live longer, healthier lives. Sometimes it is as simple as looking for humor in trying situations or purposefully doing something that will bring you joy. We all know the importance of exercise in that it can help prevent diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease, but it is also known to release endorphins that give you a feeling of euphoria.


Some people think money will buy happiness. But while it can afford you material items that might make you outwardly more comfortable, it does not impact true happiness. When lottery winners were interviewed about how their windfall affected their lives, most were no happier and many actually found themselves broke a few years later. It’s the same effect we sometimes see with celebrities who have every material possession yet still struggle to be happy. It is easy to take for granted all that we have – our families, a roof over our heads or a reliable car to drive. We forget to stop and appreciate the little things. The secret to true happiness is to listen to your heart and let your head tell you how to follow your heart’s path.


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