One of the most profound and powerful ways to cultivate gratitude is through written words. Carve out a few minutes per day to journal about three things or experiences that you are grateful for. Go into the specific details including how it made you feel. Every day is an opportunity to focus on something new, so try to avoid repeats.
As we all know, times are tough right now. In addition to the acute medical crisis caused by the Pandemic, in our post COVID world, we are also experiencing what some have called a “mental health pandemic”.
What can each of us do to get out of this “Pandemic Induced Mental and Emotional Funk”?
One tool that each of us has access to is the simple power of daily gratitude. As a part of our series about the “How Each Of Us Can Leverage The Power Of Gratitude To Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness” I had the pleasure of interviewing Lulu Agan.
Chief Officer of Bliss and Owner of SwellWomen & Swellness Coaching, Lulu Agan strives to inspire others to prioritize their health & well-being, live a more balanced existence, and find their bliss. Lulu’s dedication to finding her own #SwellLife has led her to help countless women to reimagine their own possibilities and to rediscover their infinite potential.
A graduate of the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, Lulu is a Certified Wellness & Lifestyle Coach powered by the know-how and the experience to empower her clients towards making healthy, sustainable changes over the long haul. Her work as a Private Chef for the past decade-plus has been invaluable in helping to promote the benefits of healthy eating and top-quality cuisine. Lulu embodies the passion and drive to bring other women together to discover a new sense of vitality and limitless growth, and has worked tirelessly in her commitment to living authentically and in harmony with her surroundings.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about you and about what brought you to your specific career path?
Surfing, yoga, cooking, and wellness: these 4 passions are what brought me, an ex-corporate girl to globe-trotting surfer and yogini, to SwellWomen. I deeply respect how the ancient art of yoga can temper the explosive energy used during surfing, as well as yoga’s potential to bring together people of any country, age, or gender. The ocean has the power to erase egos, unleash the bare human spirit, and teach one to color outside of the lines, while yoga brings balance and a deep, supportive connection to oneself — all lessons that can be easily carried from the surfboard and yoga mat back to daily life, allowing that raw passion to color our every moment. From these philosophies, SwellWomen was born! Through the pursuit of my joy, I can deliver SwellWomen’s signature bliss to women (and men!) all over the world with our intentionally designed, deeply expansive, culturally immersive retreats as well as our more recently launched virtual offerings.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Oh boy, looking back there have been several rock bottom stories that forced me to pivot in a new direction. Some of them have been quite dramatic, but this one subtle and powerful at the same time. From the very beginning, I knew I was on point coupling my passions with the career move to becoming the Chief Officer of Bliss & Owner of SwellWomen. In 2016 I hung my apron as a Private Chef and took the plunge to devote all my time and energy to SwellWomen and expanding it globally. At the end of November 2018, I took time to reflect and celebrate how wildly successful the last 2 years had been, but when I glanced at the future retreat bookings I was faced with a huge wake-up call. The bookings slowed down almost to a halt which was so incredibly bizarre. Historically, January and February have been some of our best months, but there was nothing booked until mid-March. After having a slight panic attack, I knew I had to quiet my mind, let go, and follow the calling to take this time to deepen my meditation, yoga, and gratitude practice. After several weeks of diving in, I started to receive the answers to my questions. I know this sounds wuwu, but I was presented with two strong messages. The first being that I was hiding behind the talent of others and the second was to find my voice. I took these messages seriously even though “finding my voice” triggered a lot of fear. In one meditation, I saw myself on stage as a motivational speaker in front of a large audience. That alone sent me running to the bathroom because I have terrible stage fright. Regardless, I leaned into my fears and followed the bread crumbs that continued to present themselves including becoming a certified Health Coach, stepping up my yoga offerings, launching a YouTube Channel which then lead to creating online virtual experiences to further my reach. In reflection, I see that these nudges were preparing me for sur-thriving a pandemic for which I’m incredibly grateful.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why do you think that resonates with you? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
Oh, I have so many life lesson quotes that have turned into mantras, but the one that resonates with me is this…
“The way to your own truth, the way to a phenomenal life that only you can manifest in the greatness that you were created to do, is to just Be Yourself.” ~Oprah Winfrey
This is relevant in me becoming who I am today because I had to own being me. I had to lean into the fears that showed up as imposter syndrome, stage fright, the desire to be perfect, and the list goes on. I had to own my unique life experiences that equipped me with everything that’s needed to live on purpose and inspire women to live the life of their dreams. I aim to inspire and empower my clients and followers as a shining example of an impassioned, well-balanced life; filled to the brim with daily gratitude and delight.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story about why that resonated with you?
I am a big reader, so picking one is difficult. I think the one that jumps out is THE FOUR AGREEMENTS by Don Miguel Ruiz. I read this in my late 20’s and it played a pivotal role in changing my mindset. I still today live by these four agreements which have lead me to freedom from limiting beliefs, reduced suffering, and living with an open heart. I highly recommend it to anyone that hasn’t read it yet.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
2020 was the year that we expanded our offerings to include online virtual experiences. I launched our signature 6-week empowerment journey called Where’s The Bliss? ~ how to become unstuck and reconnect to your truth, power, and purpose in 30 minutes per day, a 30-Day Challenge to Get Good at Living, and Swell360 our exclusive wellness membership to help women reclaim their health and well-being. All of these were created to inspire women to prioritize their health and well-being and coincidently thrive during a pandemic. Now I’m working on spreading the word to help as many women as possible.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
When one of the nudges was to launch virtual experiences, I was petrified. I didn’t have a clue how to do this because all of our offerings were in-person retreats. Thankfully, I had a few months under my belt in creating YouTube videos so I was feeling a bit more comfortable in front of the camera. I also felt confident that my life experiences equipped me with the knowledge and know-how to teach the methodologies I have been using for years which made content creation fairly easy. But hands down I could not have done this without the help of Rosie Young. She was my right-hand girl from 2016 until the beginning of 2020 and decided to retire and pursue full-time mommyhood. With stellar writing skills combined with her marketing skills, she was my biggest cheerleader and handled most of the design and tech work while I created the content for Where’s The Bliss?. I’m beyond grateful for her showing up in my life when I needed a strong wing-woman to help me grow the business.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now that we are on the topic of gratitude, let’s move to the main focus of our interview. As you know, the collective mental health of our country is facing extreme pressure. We would like to explore together how every one of us can use gratitude to improve our mental wellness. Let’s start with a basic definition of terms. How do you define the concept of Gratitude? Can you explain what you mean?
Absolutely! Gratitude in its simplest form is a strong and deeply-rooted emotion of appreciation. It’s a practice that brings me to the present moment, expressing thanks for both the tangible and intangible. It allows me to connect to something larger than myself–whether it is to other people, experiences, nature, or what I refer to as source energy. My mantra is Gratitude is Attitude.
Why do you think so many people do not feel gratitude? How would you articulate why a simple emotion can be so elusive?
This is a great question! Between jam-packed schedules, caring for others, and the never-ending daily list of to-do’s, we tend to forget to take a breather and consciously take a few minutes to express gratitude for the blessings that were presented in a given day.
This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be constructive to help spell it out. Can you share with us a few ways that increased gratitude can benefit and enhance our life?
It would be my pleasure! People who practice gratitude experience less physical and emotional pain. It’s not just a theory — it has been scientifically proven. Consciously choosing to be grateful reduces depression, can improve sleep, reduces aggression, it makes you feel more confident, it increases your mental stamina, and can help you have better friendships, marriages, and work relationships. Hopefully, these reasons will spark the desire to start practicing right away.
Let’s talk about mental wellness in particular. Can you share with us a few examples of how gratitude can help improve mental wellness?
Our current reality is that we have experienced heightened stress and anxiety due to the pandemic which has had a negative impact on our mental well-being. One of the greatest thieves of thankfulness is dwelling on the past, the things we can’t control, and what we do not have. And it’s hard to move past these negative thoughts when faced with so much uncertainty. However, gratitude has a broadening effect on how we think and how we look at the world even during a pandemic. This simple practice activates the neural networks creating a more relaxed body state which also reduces stress. Some evidence suggests that gratitude may induce structural changes in the very same parts of the brain that are impacted by depression. Expressing gratitude has the power to reprogram our frame of mind because we are calling attention to what’s working and/or what’s making us happy. Even when faced with a negative experience, there’s always something to gain.
When it comes to the benefits of gratitude, there is no short-supply of evidence. Psychologists have found that over time, feelings of gratitude boost happiness while fostering both physical and psychological health. Those facing mental health issues also benefit from the increase in positive self-talk that can result from a gratitude practice.
Ok wonderful. Now here is the main question of our discussion. From your experience or research, what are “Five Ways That Each Of Us Can Leverage The Power Of Gratitude To Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness”. Can you please share a story or example for each?
I’m excited to dive in, but before I do it’s important to take small sustainable steps. I’m going to throw out five ways to leverage the power of gratitude, but that doesn’t mean you should implement all of them right away. I suggest picking one that resonates with you and commit to the practice for at least 21 days. The key is to keep it simple and consistent in order to reap the full benefits.
1.) One of the most profound and powerful ways to cultivate gratitude is through written words. Carve out a few minutes per day to journal about three things or experiences that you are grateful for. Go into the specific details including how it made you feel. Every day is an opportunity to focus on something new, so try to avoid repeats.
Some areas to focus on can be career, relationships, your physical body, experiences, growth opportunities, something that made you happy, a pleasurable meal, a new connection, and the list goes on.
2.) If writing is not your thing, you can practice gratitude in the form of meditation. Carve out 5 minutes, come to a comfortable seat, and connect to your breath. Once you are settled in, start making a mental note of anything that you are thankful for. Similar to the writing exercise, but instead you are mentally giving thanks. I always end this meditation practice with, “Thank you, more please.”
3.) Cultivate gratitude through your senses. By using our senses — sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell — we become more mindful. As you go about your day, notice things from a sensory place. How do things smell? Or taste? Or feel? By utilizing our senses to live in the moment, we leave behind negative thoughts. There is much to be grateful for when we really consider the many blessings we are offered through our senses.
4.) Gratitude involves a humble recognition that we are interdependent, that we need one another. In fact, the strength of this recognition has led to a movement — pay it forward — whereby strangers perform acts of kindness with the hope that others will do the same.
Give it a try! Find one person who you can do something for without any expectation of them doing something in return. Here are some examples:
- Buy the person in line behind you a cup of coffee.
- Send someone you love a hand-written letter or a card.
- Let someone go in front of you in line, who has fewer items.
- Give back in some way to your community or donate to a charity.
- Drop off a meal to an elderly neighbor.
The sky is the limit to what you can do! These random acts of kindness will most definitely shift your mental well-being to feeling more positive.
5.) Express gratitude, either verbally or in writing, to one person per day. It could be for something they did in the present moment, for simply being a part of your life, for something they did in the past, or for being part of a memory that gives you bliss.
Ok, there you have it…5 ways to leverage gratitude that will improve your mental well-being.
Is there a particular practice that can be used during a time when one is feeling really down, really vulnerable, or really sensitive?
Any of the practices above can be used in the moment. Whenever I’m feeling down, vulnerable, or even aggravated, I stop, take a deep breath, and focus on what’s going well in the current moment. I remind myself of simple things like the food on the table, clean air, ability to move in my physical body.
Another example that has really spun me out is missing our in-person retreats where I have the opportunity to connect with like-minded women and witness their transformation through surfing and yoga. Instead of lingering for long periods of time feeling down, I turn to gratitude. I’m incredibly grateful for technology, like Zoom, that allows me not only to virtually connect to my SwellTribe, but also to my friends around the world and family. Sometimes it takes a little digging, but there’s always a way to flip the switch from a negative to a positive.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that you would recommend to our readers to help them to live with gratitude?
I sure do, but everyone is bio-individual, so what works for me, may not work for you. With this in mind, I encourage you to surround yourself with at least 5 inspiring people. They can be friends, colleagues, podcasters, authors, musicians, pastors, etc. The most important thing is that their messaging resonates with you, as well as, leaving you feeling motivated, inspired, and uplifted. I 100% encourage you to find your tribe!
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I’m flattered, thank you. It’s my absolute passion and purpose to empower women to reclaim their health and well-being to unlock their fullest potential and live their bliss. I believe that when one steps into their truth, power, and purpose, they will inspire others to do the same. This in turn will create a ripple effect that transforms the world.
The movement started with my own journey and I’m just one of many mentors out there that are encouraging transformation. Each with our own voice, methodologies, and teaching styles. It’s my hope that each of you finds that one person that ignites the spark that already resides within you and inspires you to make small attainable shifts that will lead to a whole and healthier way of living yielding the abundance of bliss that is your birthright.
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
Feel free to check out our offerings at www.swellwomen.com and www.swellnesscoaching.com and we are most active on Instagram @swellwomen @lulu.agan. I also have a private facebook group called Swellness ~ Learn.Live.Love Bliss: https://www.facebook.com/groups/learnlivelovebliss
Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!
Thank you for the opportunity to share my gratitude practice and connect with your readers.