Aziza- Holistic Wellness retreats, classes, adventures logo

 About Aziza's Holistic Retreats and Art & Therapy Workshops Holistic, Wellness and Yoga Retreats for Women, Individuals and Couples Aziza's Art and Therapy Workshops and Classes Art and Therapy Home Classes Shop for Art, Holistic Gifts and Stylish Home Decor ItemsRegister for Aziza's Holistic Retreats, Women's Workshops, Kayak Tours, Yoga Retreats and Art & Therapy Classes


Written by Laila Ghattas 01/13

An unusual urge to visit New York City seized my spirit earlier this year.
I was missing The Big Apple, hadn’t been since the early nineties when I’d had business to conduct there during my other life in Lithography.

NYC had been an important influence in my teenage years with exciting school trips and University excursions. I love New York!

That wish came true recently when I spent New Years Eve and 1st week of January in Manhattan, staying with new friends I’d met at MindCamp Creativity and Innovation Conference which I attend and present at each summer. Happiness seems to be the theme that flavours this new relationship with my friends.

At the conference last August, during a Happiness workshop we all auspiciously chose to attend, I told the couple in a fit of spontaneous delight that it would make me so happy to crash their wedding (3 weeks later). I had no expectation at all, just saying something out loud I was feeling in that moment. To my surprise they confessed they’d already decided to invite me and a few other conference participants I knew, and urged me to come to Long Island for their Indian summer wedding in the Hamptons on the Atlantic Ocean.

Before the wedding ceremony they had us randomly pick tangerines with different words written on them, to encourage impromptu seating at the dinner tables assigned to the words. Naturally, the tangerine I picked up had HAPPY written on it and proceeded to have a fabulous time with interesting strangers at the Happy table.

As the wedding weekend progressed I experience awe and wonder at what unfolded into the happiest most perfectly joyous four days I’d spent in many years, full and brimming with celebration, good will, Love, wine, champagne, glorious food, new friends, meaningful conversations, white sandy beach strolls, sunsets, sunrise and dancing!

3 ½ short months later, on the plane taking me to visit my newly wed friends for New Years week, I did something I normally don’t do, and read through the in flight enRoute magazine. I normally slip on my headphones and zone out. Found in this January Self Help Issue was an article by Charles Montgomery, The Smile High Club.

These are some points that made a lasting positive impact: "No matter what method of research used, the conclusion is that nothing, not money, status, latest gadgets or games, nothing contributes to well being as much as positive relationships with other people. When it comes to happiness, EVERY interaction counts.

"One researcher, Paul J. Zak, examines how human decisions and interactions can shape- and are shaped by- biochemical processes in the brain, citing crowded airports full of hurried weary travelers as opportunities for mind altering interactions with strangers.

"Oxytocin, the feel-good hormone, is released in our brain into our nervous system creating calm, anxiety-reducing feelings that slows down heart rate and makes you more likely to trust people around you. It can be induced in all of us, and spread like ripples, when we engage in cooperative, trust building encounters brought on by:

  • a handshake
  • a small act of civility
  • or even a brief conversation with a stranger.

"You can’t make your brain release oxytocin, you have to start the cycle by reaching out to others, and not only do you help another feel better, you also feel good. In conclusion the research shows that not only are we soft-wired to be nice to other people, our brain rewards us for it."

I saw this phenomenon first hand on a New York City bus. They’ve recently invented this great ride that only stops every 10 city blocks to get you across town faster, but you have to get your ticket from a machine outside- this to increase boarding efficiency. New Yorkers and tourists alike are still on a learning curve for the new protocols.

At one stop, a woman sitting in front of me yelled to the driver that she was going to help the older man outside who was struggling with the ticket machine. I hadn’t even noticed him and watched her jump out of the middle exit doors and successfully get him his ticket.

He was befuddled as he entered the bus, complaining out loud about stupid technology and why can’t they make things easy and all sorts of other grumblings. He seemed acutely embarrassed and I imagined he was processing out his discomfort. Finally he said out loud, “Sorry for delaying all you folks.” Nobody looked at him.

I was impressed with the woman who volunteered to help him, moved by that random act of kindness, remembering the article on the plane. I wanted to reassure him he caused no trouble at all, and wish him a happy new year. Eventually he looked from his front row seat down the bus to the woman who helped him and said his thanks.

To get his attention I gave him the thumbs up and when his eyes moved to me, I smiled and said across the bus, Happy New Year! His face lit up with surprise, and he shook his head saying, “You’re something else!” as if I was the nutty New Yorker. Later as he walked to the exit doors to disembark, he looked in my direction and said to the midsection passengers in a sincere benediction, “I wish a Happy New Year to one and all.”

It was a beautiful experience and I fell more deeply in love with this complex city.

Over the course of the visit I witnessed numerous acts of kindness to and by strangers and felt enriched by each of these moments.

A cyclist was yelling to get the attention of a woman walking quickly, who finally stopped and turned, and gave her a hat she’d dropped 3 blocks away.

As twilight fell on the Village I stood undecided at a crowded Broadway corner. A big tall man with homemade CD’s in his jacket to sell asked me, what are you looking for, lady? I answered walking shoes. He pointed to the store across the street and mentioned another sports equipment shop down the block, suggesting I start there, then instantly went back to trying to sell a passerby his CD.

After a few frustrating failed shoe shopping attempts before arriving at this lucky corner, sure enough I found exactly what I was looking for at his recommended shop. The cherry on top of this experience was when the sport equipment staff helping me told me if I signed up with my email address at check out I’d recieve15% off.

Earlier during a yummy Italian lunch a jolly trio of men sat down close by, clearly ready to enjoy everything on the menu. They were from Brazil and as they sunk into one particularly tasty dish I offered to take a photo of their enjoyment. Other neighbours had ordered a slice of ice cream cake the diner is famous for. I told my Brazilian culinary comrades about it and they enthusiastically seized the chance to expand their pleasure.

I’d ordered little donut balls filled with chocolate and hazelnuts. They insisted I try their ice cream cake, and I happily shared my own dessert. The two dishes blended perfectly together. It was an extraordinary meeting of cultures and good will and celebration of delicious NYC.

The day before, I followed my hosts’ suggestion to take the tram to Roosevelt Island. On the bus that toured the small island a woman went out of her way to tell me about the history of the island and give me helpful tips to enjoy my time in NYC. Upon her good advice I rode the Staten Island ferry over chilly sparkling waters while taking in all the stunning skyline views.

Having captured great images of the Statue of Liberty on the way over, I found myself on the return trip standing at the window beside an Aussie family, free to enjoy friendly conversation about our mutual world travels. Their young daughter expressed disappointed that we didn’t get any closer to Liberty for detailed pictures. On impulse I showed her my 20x zoom images, and suggested she take pictures of my camera screen with her phone. Surprisingly it worked, and she beamed with satisfaction and gratitude for a record of the details of the famous landmark.

A sustained oxytocin high was my welcome companion for most of my time in NYC.

The evening after my return to Toronto, I came across a TV movie I wouldn’t normally seek out- Evan Almighty, with Steve Carell and Morgan Freeman. It’s about leaps of faith and kindness and the unlikely building of an Ark. I laughed out loud throughout the movie at Wanda Sykes’ comic genius.

Fittingly enough, Morgan Freeman, playing God, says to Steve Carell, “How do we change the world? One act of random kindness at a time.”

The full circle completed when I discovered Tom Shadyac directed this thoroughly satisfying feel good movie. He recently created the documentary I AM, which explores how our most natural and basic impulse as human beings is to cooperate (not compete) with one another. The link to this full length documentary (below) was posted in Aziza Healing Adventures summer 2012 newsletter issue, and is a must see for anyone who has enjoyed reading this article.

2013 is predicted to be a year about abundance, love, stability and support for manifesting thoughts and ideas into physical reality, (if you believe in numerology). From recent experience, seems we’re off to a fine start.

Wishing you a feel good, abundantly kind and delightfully surprising New Year.


Please cut and paste these interesting links into your browser.

Charles Montgomery. The Smile High Club. Full Article

Evan Almighty- How to change the world scene

I AM documentary by Tom Shadyac

Tania Gabrielle Numerology for the year 2013


Interested in a private retreat or workshop experience? Please click here.


If you'd like to comment on this article, please email.




Laila Ghattas is an artist, Gestalt therapist and Reiki practitioner.

She is an author, public speaker, group facilitator and the founder of Aziza Healing Adventures.

Laila expertly and uniquely combines creative self-expression with psychotherapy in programs designed to:

  • heighten self awareness,
  • inspire personal insight
  • and improve the life of those who participate.

Laila draws on her worldwide outdoor adventure experience to facilitate international healing retreats for women, couples, mixed groups and corporations.

She is available on retreats for individual therapy and Reiki sessions

Laila has a private practice in Toronto where she offers hourly personal growth sessions and private personal growth workshops for individuals and couples.

 About Aziza's Holistic Retreats and Art & Therapy Workshops Holistic, Wellness and Yoga Retreats for Women, Individuals and Couples Aziza's Art and Therapy Workshops and Classes Art and Therapy Home Classes Shop for Art, Holistic Gifts and Stylish Home Decor ItemsRegister for Aziza's Holistic Retreats, Women's Workshops, Kayak Tours, Yoga Retreats and Art & Therapy Classes