Have you ever met someone so overwhelmingly positive and cheerful that you couldn’t help but wonder, “How is she always so happy?” You might think to yourself, “Maybe she knows something I don’t…maybe she was born that way and it’s ingrained in her personality…maybe she’s just naive.”
I pondered this question when I met my friend Jen Trainor, a clinical mental health counselor, raw vegan chef and yoga instructor. Jen and I met at a yoga teacher training program, and I was immediately struck by her sunny disposition. With bright eyes and a big smile, she greeted me with an enthusiastic, “Hello, friend!”
I was intrigued. I couldn’t help but wonder what her secret was. Seriously – how could someone be so positive all the time?
That’s exactly what I set out to discover when I interviewed Jen for Live to Live, and the answer was not at all what I expected. (Spoiler alert: She wasn’t born that way, and she’s definitely not naive.)
Jen is a woman of many places. “I’ve lived in Maryland, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Washington, Virginia, California, Massachusetts, Florida, and Washington, D.C. Living in Hawaii at such a young age (3-6 years old) was incredible in that I developed a deep love for the ocean, the sun, the rain, rainbows, flowers of every color and smell, the perfumed air…bird calls waking me up in the mornings. I could go on and on!
“My favorite place growing up was Newport, R.I. because our house had beautiful views of the ocean and I could be in the water all the time, as I had been in Hawaii. There’s always an element of fun and extravagance in Newport, with its mansions, oceanfront festivals, and the tall ships coming through. You’re never far from the ocean, which is why I loved it so much.”
Overflowing with plants both inside and out, Jen’s current home in Virginia reflects her love of nature. She keeps an abundance of edible flowers, herbs and sun-loving plants, and enjoys cozy evenings by her wood burning fireplace.
These happy images are a perfect reflection of the joyful woman I met at the yoga studio, but it wasn’t always rainbows and sunshine (literally or figuratively). “I grew up thinking and believing a lot of things about myself and the world that were debilitating to my general state of affairs. I was depressed for a long time, and I tended to focus on how awful everything was.
“It took me a long time to figure out that my thoughts were dominated by all sorts of cognitive distortions. Once I realized that these dis-eased and distorted thoughts weren’t true, I realized I could choose other thoughts that allowed me to feel free, joyful and at ease.” This was one of the many lessons Jen learned when she moved to California…
When it came time to choose a career path, Jen decided against her original ideas of becoming a professional ballerina or high-powered attorney, and instead became a mental health counselor. After acquiring the requisite awards and degrees, she moved to California to launch her career.
While working in California Jen discovered The Optimum Health Institute, a raw vegan detox healing retreat in San Diego. “I began working there and had the honor and joy of meeting (and sometimes even teaching) many amazing healers and gifted people. I learned about the powers of raw and living foods, and healing modalities like meditation, chakra balancing and vocal toning. I learned about creating community, celebrating each individual’s many gifts and talents, and enjoying the present moment.
“We exercised every day, ate beautiful raw foods, laughed a lot together, had release ceremonies for what no longer served us, cried and forgave, and so much more. I realized that the key to helping my clients lived within these pages just as much as it did in the pages of my many textbooks.
“Community, nourishment, laughter, meditation, exercise, looking for things to appreciate, and becoming diligent and intentional about what you think and focus on is crucial for holistic health. I started implementing different things in my traditional treatment plans for clients, and the results were impressive.
“Encouraged with these findings and results, I came back to the East Coast and went back to school to get academic credentials that would reflect my newfound ‘alternative treatment modalities.’ I graduated with an Education Specialist degree in Counseling Education and Administration in Human Development (which involved Sports Psychology, Indian Philosophy, Meditation Theories and Practice courses, Feminist Theory, and Existentialism – to name a few).
“Now that I understand the science of psychology and nutrition [and] the experiential aspects of mind/body/spirit integration…I feel more well-rounded.”
Finding Your Happy Place
So is the secret to Jen’s positivity her extensive mental health education? Is it daily yoga and meditation? Is it from the sunshine, salty air and raw vegan food she enjoyed in California?
“My spontaneity and what appears to be positivity is misinterpreted. People think ‘Oh, there’s happy, positive Jen.’ What they don’t realize is how focused and intentional I am about feeling good.
“I live by the mantra, ‘All is well, and I am safe,’ because it reminds me that regardless of outside influences and fluctuating circumstances, I have domain over my thoughts, which influence my feelings, and therefore my decisions and behaviors. When I hear or see something I don’t like, I think to myself, ‘All is well.’ This gives me the opportunity to take a breath, acknowledge my emotions, and remind myself that nobody can bring me down expect myself.
“I’m not ignoring the way I feel or pretending that something bad isn’t happening. I’m not just being positive. I am choosing to think thoughts that are closer to ease and contentment.”
Interesting….so what I perceived as innate optimism is actually something else. According to Jen, I can be more positive too, as long as I’m willing to work on it. I am the boss of my emotions, and I can control them by being diligent and intentional – and you can, too.
Jen also recommends keeping a mood journal. “Write in it 2-3 times per day, and just recognize what you’re thinking and how you’re feeling. Reference Abraham Hicks’ Emotional Guidance Scale (from the book “Ask and It is Given”) and figure out where you currently fall. Once you find the closest feeling, identify the feeling right above your current state. For example, if you are feeling pessimistic, one ‘level up’ is feeling bored.”
According to Jen, your goal should be to move up the scale one level at a time. Don’t be too aggressive with your progression or expect to leap from feeling depressed to joyful immediately – it’s too big of a leap. “Aim for the relief of experiencing one ‘level up’ at a time.”
Another key to finding your happy place? “Remember to find appreciation and joy throughout your day, and laugh often. If you can’t find anything to laugh about, watch funny movies or TV shows that amuse you.”
Looking to the Future
For someone who has traveled so far, learned so much and impacted so many lives through her counseling practice, Jen still has big ambitions for the future. “I’m constantly evolving and improving minute by minute! Even days that are less smooth for me (or full of self-created chaos!) are my best days, because there is no such thing to me as a static me.”
In the short term, Jen wants to start facilitating raw vegan mental, physical and spiritual detoxification retreats, integrating her mental health education with experiential practices and demonstrations.
“I want to interlace my offerings in the mental, physical, and spiritual worlds by creating retreats for people to detoxify, heal, balance and restore their own innate harmony. I want to teach people techniques that they can implement themselves and share with others.”
“All Is Well.”
So as you go on with your day, remember that all is well and you are in control. “If you’re looking to de-stress, gain health, and find inspiration, turn to your breath, cultivate a meditation practice, move your body in a joyful manner every day, get out in nature, do no harm, and craft harmony in your relationship with yourself and with others.”
Thank you, Jen, for these beautiful words of advice! Now, let’s go find something to laugh about!