Can poetry increase our happiness index?

Carmen Micsa

April is poetry month

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Spring blossomsPhoto by Carmen Micsa
“The distinction between historian and poet is not in the one writing prose and the other verse… the one describes the thing that has been, and the other a kind of thing that might be. Hence poetry is something more philosophic and of graver importance than history, since its statements are of the nature rather of universals, whereas those of history are singulars.” — Aristotle, On Poetics

Spring blossoms sprinkle our souls with their evanescent beauty and universal nature, as Aristotle stated. They also have the ability to increase our happiness index and transcend a singular moment until it becomes universally appreciated and revered.

Agent of change

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” ― Lao Tzu
With every verse, stanza, alliteration, and metaphor, poetry brings joy into our lives as the agent of change that helps us redefine who we are and most importantly, who we want to become. 

While poetry has the power to transform the world around us, even more importantly, it has a big impact on us, as Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and national luminary, Mary Oliver asked: “What must transform in me in order for me to transform the world?”

What an incredible question to ask ourselves! The beauty of it is that poetry can transform our inner feelings, thoughts, and ideas that will lead to transforming the world. Through poetry, we can address social inequities, racism, discrimination, climate change, and so on. 

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Bursting blossomsPhoto by Carmen Micsa

Living in the now and being mindful

“Life is available only in the present moment. If you abandon the present moment, you cannot live the moments of your daily life deeply.” — Thich Nhat Hanh

As a poet who has published two poetry books during the pandemic, I know first-hand that writing and reading poetry have greatly increased my joy and gratitude because of many indelible moments that I have experienced. You can sense my joy, as I read one of my poems. 

Poetry reading from my new book Morsels of Love, which you can buy www.carmenmicsabooks.com#poetry — YouTube

Before becoming serious about poetry, I used to allow my mind to take me to the future way too often. Living in the now was not happening very often, as I rushed to cross over into the future as if it were a curtain that I parted open whenever I got bored of whatever I was doing. 

I simply wasn’t mindful and did not savor the present moment till I became a runner first in 2015 and then a poet. With each stride and breath, I discovered The PR — The Poetics of Running, which is the title of my first poetry book. 

With each mile, I discovered a state of flow and complete surrender to the present moment, which could be a deer dashing through the meadow, a squirrel doing a kamikaze move right in front of me, blooming lupines raise their tall heads as if fully aware of their inexorable beauty, and so on. 

Jay Dixit quotes Kabat-Zinn in her article The Art of Now: Six Step to Living in the Moment published in Psychology Today: “mindfulness is the only intentional, systematic activity that is not about trying to improve yourself or get anywhere else. It is simply a matter of realizing where you already are.” Dixit adds that a cartoon from The New Yorker sums it up: Two monks are sitting side by side, meditating. The younger one is giving the older one a quizzical look, to which the older one responds, “Nothing happens next. This is it.”

Not only is this the perfect definition of mindfulness, but it is my perfect definition of poetry for two reasons: 

  1. Poetry suspends judgment by allowing us to revel in the world of words without much happening. 
  2. Poetry is a bridge between the now and then, the sacred and the profane, as I wrote in one of my poems entitled Connections.
“A bridge connects runners 
to the inner and outer worlds
of their bodies, minds, & souls.
A bridge is their next stride
into new adventures, worlds, & horizons.
A bridge is also the connection between the old & the new
the sacred & the profane,
the ordinary & extraordinary,
the body & the mind,
the sanity & insanity,
the NOW & the THEN.”

Steeping ourselves in nature

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”  — Albert Einstein.

When we read and write poetry, we also learn to steep ourselves in nature where we can nurture our souls and minds. 

I remember one winter when my husband and I took the kids to Hollywood Studios in Southern California and spent a couple of days in the park living the excitement through our kids who were enchanted by the rides, the movies, and the buzzing energy all around us. On the third day, I told my husband that we needed to go to the beach, or out in nature, as I couldn’t bear the noise and craziness anymore. 

“But it’s winter, honey. What will we do at the beach?” my hubby asked me.

“Play in the sand,” I replied right away.

And we did while chasing seagulls and watching surfers become one with the waves — black moving dots morphing with the ocean. 

Just as poetry teaches us to steep ourselves in words and images while being in nature, or wherever we are, so does Shinrin-Yoku (森林浴), a Japanese term that translates to “forest bathing” in English and involves immersing oneself in nature by following five steps explained below, according to www.nihonscope.com. This therapeutic method was developed in the 1980s in Japan, and it was designed to enhance wellbeing, health, and joy. 

Shinrin-Yoku’s steps to bathing therapy correlate perfectly to the art of reading and writing poetry:

  1. Find the Right Location — find a quiet location away from busy streets with plenty of trees or even a park. 
  2. Choose a Perfect Time and Duration — it may take hours when using a guide, but a simple nature walk per day can still work. Walk longer and soak yourself in the natural environment filled with trees when you get time. Even short sessions of 15–20 minutes can have significant health impacts.
  3. Go Slow and Take Note of Minor Details — Shinrin-Yoku teaches us to slow down and let our senses feel the tiniest details of nature. 
  4. Listen to Nature — find a comfortable spot and just sit listening to birds, insects, and other natural sounds. 
  5. Use Your Nose — find locations with rich smells and aromas from the plants, flowers, and soil. Remember, some plants, such as Cedars, produce beneficial phytoncides that increase the production of white blood cells responsible for boosting the immune system.

Just like practicing Shinrin-Yoku, I write my best poems when I find the right location and time, while using all my senses and listening to nature, so go ahead and experience the healing therapeutic qualities of poetry through forest bathing and deliberately slowing things down. 

Honing our observation skills

“Windows are a powerful existential tool …The only thing you can do is look. You have no influence over what you will see. Your brain is forced to make drama out of whatever happens to appear. Boring things become strange.” — Sam Anderson

One of my wise friends once told me that I don’t really pay attention to things, even though I see them. 

“That’s not true,” I replied defensively. “I notice what’s important to me.”

Once I became a poet, I understood that my friend was so right about my observations skills that were not as sharp as I thought they were. 

Poetry helped me lift up the foggy veil that covered my eyes. Poetry honed my observation skills better than any knife sharpener. Poetry gave me new eyes to really see. 

In case you’re wondering if you have to write poetry to increase your happiness index, my answer is only if you want to. You can also just read poetry and choose happiness, forest bathing, living in the now, as well as being an agent of change. 

Happy April and poetry month, which should be a daily mindful way of living and being in the world. 

For more poetic musings and short-form philosophy, please check out my new book Morsels of Love, A Book of Poetry and Short-Form that got published last year, and my other poetry book on my author’s website www.carmenmicsabooks.com.

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CEO/Broker of Dynamic Real Estate, Inc., business owner featured in the Forbes magazine for my outstanding service to my clients. Mom, wife, a published author, Medium writer, poet, marathon runner, rapper, and tennis player.

Carmichael, CA
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