Why Happiness Matters Now More Than Ever

Shoreline StormEven if your exposure to the news is limited to a five-minute radio broadcast a couple times a week, it’s no surprise to you that life on planet Earth seems to be more threatened, stressful and intense with every passing day.

In light of the global challenges we’re facing, to focus on your personal happiness can seem frivolous or callously self-centered.

But the fact is you need to take time to attend to your happiness more than ever when times are tough.  Here’s why:

1.  Happiness Lets You See the Bigger Picture

As Dr. Barbara Fredrickson’s studies have proved, a positive orientation toward life lets you look at things with a broadened viewpoint.   When you’re happy, you’re more open to noticing the things in life that are beautiful, and satisfying, and good.  You see the roses, not just the thorns.

But not only that, but you’re more likely to spot new possibilities and opportunities.  You can ask more positive “What if” questions, and find more creative, playful, daring, and ingenious answers to your situation.

Positivity lets you see solutions, not just problems.  And even in those cases where there are no solutions, positivity helps you see how to manage the problems in the best possible way.

2.  Happiness Keeps You Healthier

When you take time to enjoy life, your physical health improves.  You’re less vulnerable to stress.  Your immune system is stronger.  You’re more likely to eat healthier, to exercise more, and to sleep better.   That matters a lot when times are tough.  Good health helps you be more resilient, capable and strong.

3. Happiness Helps Those Around You

Happiness is contagious. By turning on your own happiness, you’re performing a genuine service to others.  Research shows that happiness spreads three people deep.  When you’re happy, the friend of a friend of your friend is likely to feel happier, too.  Your happiness reaches out to others to lighten their loads, brighten their days, lift their spirits, and give them hope.  That, in itself, is reason to be happy, isn’t it?

4.  Happiness Lets You Be the Real You

Genuine happiness springs from your own unique makeup.  The combination of things that brings out your senses of delight and pleasure, meaning and satisfaction is unlike anyone else’s.  When you’re happiest, you’re centered in authenticity, connected to your heart.  In a real sense, feeling genuine happiness is a spiritual experience, not unlike love.

5.  You Only Live Once

old neighborMy 75-year old neighbor stopped by for coffee.  A few of his childhood buddies have recently passed away, and the subject of his own death crept into our conversation.

“When you’re at my funeral,” he said, “and looking down into my coffin, you tell everybody that every day I did what I wanted to, okay?  Tell them that every day I had some fun.”

That’s a beautiful request.  I wish every one of us could ask the same.

We only get to walk on this planet in this time frame inside these wondrous, vulnerable, one-of-a-kind bodies of ours once.  Being happy is a way to say thanks for the experience.

No matter how foreboding the world may seem at the moment, no matter how deep the pile of problems you see around you, the world is brimming with things that can stir your senses of awe and wonder, that can give you pleasure, and peace, and delight.

Let life’s colors and sounds, its fragrances, tastes and textures be gifts you give yourself. Revel in the relationships that bring out the joy in you.  Savor the memories of those times when life was especially sweet or fun.  Carve out little niches of time to spend doing the things that please and enrich and satisfy you. Seek out whatever brings you joy.

You deserve it.  Just because, for right this now,  you’re here.  This is your one life:  Today.  Make the most of it.  Make time for happiness.

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Photos by: “theswedish,” stock.xchng

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How to Be Resilient When a Crisis Strikes

Positivity matters – especially during trying times. How to bounce back when a crisis, disaster or adversity strikes.

Helping Hand

Just before the September 2001 attack on the Twin Towers in New York, positive psychology researcher Dr. Barbara Fredrickson concluded a study of resilient personalities.  After the attacks, she sought out the participants of her study to see what she could learn about how they coped with the disaster.

Coping with adversity, after all, is what resilience is all about.  It’s the bounce-back factor that lets us find our bearings again after misfortune strikes our lives.

In the light of the crisis unfolding right now in Japan, the world’s deteriorating financial systems, and the wars raging around the globe, we need all the resilience we can get.

The Positivity Connection

What Dr. Fredrickson discovered about resiliency is that, “Positivity matters.  And it especially matters during trying times.” Positivity—the whole complex of positive emotions, meanings and attitudes—is, she found, inseparably linked with resilience.  In fact, she concluded, “Without positivity, there is no rebound.”  It’s the active ingredient, she said, that lets people bounce back.

How to Be More Resilient Now

When things go terribly wrong in life, the stress of the event and its aftermath drives us downward.  Without the lifeline of positivity, we’re easily dragged toward hopelessness, helplessness, depression and despair.

Positivity puts the brakes on that spiral.  It broadens our perspective so we can see that the problem we’re facing, however devastating it may be, isn’t the whole of reality.  It allows us to see a bigger picture and to lessen our resistance to change.  It helps us tell ourselves a more optimistic story that sees adversity as a springboard for personal growth.

The resilient people in Dr. Fredrickson’s study didn’t cope by denying the horror they were seeing in the world around them or pretending that it wasn’t a tragedy.  Like everyone else, they felt anger, and fear, and sadness.  But even more than those emotions, they experienced compassion.  They saw opportunities to connect with others and possibilities for creating renewed community with their neighbors.  They felt more optimism and fulfillment and hope as they dealt with the tragedy’s aftermath.

How to Develop Resiliency

The best way to become a more resilient person is to develop your positivity in general—and that is what this blog is all about.  But here are some actions from “A Resilience Model” based on the work of researcher Timothy T. C. So at Cambridge University’s Well-being Institute and featured in the book Resilience: How to Navigate Life’s Curves (Positive Psychology News):

1.  Take Care of Yourself Physically.

When you’re undergoing the stress of trying times, do you best to get enough sleep, to exercise, to eat as wholesomely as your situation allows.  Exercise is particularly important.  It’s more effective in overcoming depression than many of the psychiatric drugs currently being prescribed.

2.  Practice Meditation.

Spend at least 15-20 minutes every day in meditation or prayer.  Even quietly, steadily breathing for 15 minutes while repeating a phrase such as “Breathe in peace; breathe out love,” or simply repeating the number “one” will do you wonders.

3.  Visualize Positive Outcomes.

Take five minutes at the beginning and end of the day to vividly imagine how things can work out for the better.

4.  Find Ways to Help Others.

Extending kindness is a powerful positivity practice any time.  During adversity, its value is immeasurable.  Do what you can to help others, even if it’s no more than keeping them company, reassuring them, offering them your smiles or your shoulder, or holding their hands.  Find ways to distract people from their difficulties.  Share tasks and chores.

5.  Accept the Support that Others Offer.

Allow yourself to take hold of an extended hand and to feel the warmth of encouragement that others offer.  It will make both of you feel better.

6.  Practice Self-Compassion.

Accept that you are going through a stressful time and be kind to yourself in your self-talk.  Give yourself mental hugs and words of encouragement.  Recognize that you’re doing the very best you can.

We live in a complex and stressful world, and it doesn’t hold much promise for turning into a paradise soon.  But you can make your experience of it more meaningful, satisfying and joyful by continuing to include positivity practices like those you’ll find on this blog in your life.

Then, when adversity strikes, you’ll be equipped not only to cope with it, but to use it as an opportunity for finding even greater depth and beauty in your life.

photo credit: istockphoto.com

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Discover Your Hidden Happiness Factors

Discovering what creates happiness in your life makes you more likely to choose joyful, enriching directions.

Happiness Sign
photo by lockstockb @ stock.xchng

“When the dog bites, when the bee stings, when I’m feeling sad, I simply remember my favorite things, and then I don’t feel so bad.”  These lyrics from The Sound of Music’s “My Favorite Things” hold a lot of wisdom.

In their workshops, happiness researchers Rick Foster and Greg Hicks found that simply listing the things that give them a sense of happiness improved people’s moods.

They call it the process of identification and say that making the effort to become aware of the things that bring you feelings of pleasure, joy and satisfaction is an act of supreme kindness toward yourself.

Often when we set out on a journey of self-exploration, we focus on our weaknesses, on the shadow sides of ourselves, on the places that need improvement.  But research in positive psychology is showing that we actually make more progress in developing a genuine sense of well-being when we look at the other side of the coin—the bright and shiny side.

How Happiness Hides

While you may think you are quite aware of the things that give you a sense of well-being, listing them often takes a little more effort that you might have guessed.  Our worlds are so stressed and rushed, that our own good feelings often take a back seat to our do-lists and the demands of work, family life and daily living.  We lose sight of the things that produce joy for us.

Sometimes we hold hidden beliefs that create resistance to exploring the sources of our joy.  We might think it’s superficial or self-indulgent to be focused order viagra online india on life’s pleasures when so much outside ourselves calls so urgently for our attention.  We might be holding on to a belief that our circumstances are so dire that being happy is the least of our concerns right now, or that they’re so limiting that happiness is beyond our reach.

If you suspect that any of these things might be the case for you, remember that cultivation of positive emotions broadens your perceptions and builds your resilience.  You’re much better able to handle stress, for instance, when you’re happy, to see more options for solving problems and to succeed at whatever task is before you.

And if self-growth is one of your goals, you really need to ask yourself how aware you can be if you only know your dark or sides.  The well-examined life, after all, is one that looks at all aspects of our experience.

Another obstacle to our awareness of the happiness factors in our lives is the tendency for us to give preference to the things that please the significant others in our lives.  We let partners or children determine what we’ll eat, or what music we’ll play, what shows we’ll watch on TV.  We can suppress our own preferences for so long that we forget what they are.

Discovering Your Happiness Factors: The Practice

The goal of this happiness practice is to build your awareness of the activities, situations, directions and things that create feelings of pleasure, ease, engagement, delight, satisfaction, fun, or joy.

Ultimately, you will want to be so attuned to your preferences that at any give moment throughout the day you can ask yourself which, of all the options before you, would please you the most.

Step One:

  • To begin, set aside fifteen minutes or so when you can be undisturbed.  Have a pen and paper handy or open a blank screen in your word processor.
  • Take a few minutes to relax physically.  Close your eyes, relax your muscles, and just breathe.  Be aware that these few minutes are just for you, for fun, to find out more about the things that you enjoy.
  • Then, set a timer of some kind, and for 4-5 minutes, write down everything you can think of that generates feelings of happiness and well-being for you.  What kind of environments do you like to be in?  Are you happiest when you’re with someone?  Anyone in particular?  What kinds of people?  Or do you prefer solitude?  What activities do you enjoy?  What kinds of adventures or leisure activities turn you on?  What do you like to read? Hear? Watch?  What do you like to eat?  What kinds of clothes do you like to wear?  Do you have a hobby or a neglected hobby?  Some interest you enjoy learning about?  What kind of work do you enjoy?  Think about the things you did as a kid that were fun and how those might translate into your present life.
  • Write as quickly as you can, and when you get stuck, relax again and finish the sentence, “I really enjoy . . .”  or “Something I haven’t done in a really long time is . . .”
  • Stay at it for the entire 4-5 minutes.  If you run out of time, just continue to be relaxed and let your mind drift.

Step Two:

  • Take note of how you feel now that you have made your initial inventory.  Are you pleased? Frustrated?  Interested in finding out more?
  • Review what you wrote and see what stands out.  Are there any patterns?  Are these things truly reflective of you?  Are they really your preferences?

That’s all there is to it.  The important part of the practice isn’t the list you made, but the exercise of identifying the things that produce happiness for you.  Making a written list is an ice-breaker exercise of sorts, intended to get you thinking about the kinds of things that creative positivity in your experience.

Practice thinking about your likes and preferences in random moments throughout your day—during your commute, while you’re waiting in line, as you exercise, just before you fall asleep.

Make it a goal to become exquisitely familiar with the things that bring you satisfaction and joy.  The more awareness of them you build, the more likely you are to choose them when opportunity permits and to make time for them in your life.  And your life will become more joyful and richer every time you do.

Your Turn

Just for fun, share some of your discoveries here.  What items on your list took you by surprise?  Which ones made you laugh?   What did making the list feel like for you?

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When Things Go Wrong: 7 Steps to Regaining Balance

Guidelines for overcoming problems and extracting the lessons they bring.

Make LemonadeWhen life brings you problems, the self-help gurus say, the smart course is to learn the lessons that the situation holds.  Make lemonade.  They’re right, of course.  But how, exactly, do you go about doing that?

Life threw a whole bowl of lemons at me recently.   It was a situation that would have felt devastating for me a few years ago.  Now I was surprised at how quickly I was able to recapture my sense of well-being, extract the lessons from the situation and get back on track revitalized and better than before.

Looking back on the principles I used, I thought you might find them helpful, too.  So here are my guidelines for sucking the juice from a situation when life seem to be going really wrong.

Remember your Prime Directive

The number one trait that the happiest people share is their commitment to a central intention to be happy.  They make that intention their Prime Directive, the guiding principle of their lives.  If your goal is to live a life of satisfaction, meaning and joy, the intention to live happily needs to be your Prime Directive, too.  Adopt it.  Commit to it.  And problems spring up, let it be the first thought that enters your mind.  It’s like throwing yourself a life-saver when your ship is going down.

Reassure Yourself

The next step to take, in alignment with your Prime Directive, is to reassure yourself that you are okay.  Remind yourself that even though you are temporarily upset, on the whole you are a worthwhile, capable human being.

However daunting your situation may seem and regardless of the impact you believe that it may have on your life, it is only one aspect of your life, and you do have the resources to cope with it.

Watch your self-talk.  If you find yourself making blanket negative statements like, “I’m totally worthless,” or “Everything always go wrong for me,” imagine the loud buzzer of a truth detector going off in your head followed by the announcement, “Falsehood.  Falsehood.  Please disregard.”  And then tell yourself, “Oh, yes; that’s not really true.  I know I have value even when I have lost sight of it.  And I can find good options for turning this problem around.”

Be Careful About How You Frame Your Feelings

Accept the sting of the wound, but don’t identify with it.

When you say “I am so hurt,” or “I am so angry,” you are defining yourself by the pain you’re experiencing.  Instead, try describing how your body is experiencing the sensation.

“When I think about what happened, my chest contracts and gets tight, I clench my teeth; my eyes well up with tears; my breathing gets short and shallow.”  Then breathe into the feeling by keeping your attention on its location in your body while you take several long, slow breaths until the physical sensation lightens.

Once it does, affirm to yourself that you are capable of dealing with your feelings and focus your attention on something other than the situation that triggered the hurt.  Find a task you can complete.  Go for a walk.  Pull yourself into the present by describing the sights and sounds around you, by adjusting your posture or by paying attention to your breathing for awhile.

Watch The Kinds Of Stories You Build

It’s natural to replay an upsetting incident in our minds.  It’s one way we have of trying to make sense of it.  But danger lurks in writing stories around that trigger incident that have a poor-me plot, or that focus on casting blame.

What happens is, without our noticing it, we get drawn into connecting the pain we’re feeling right now – that constricted sensation – with all the times we have felt that feeling in the past.  If we’re start telling ourselves a “he-did-me-wrong” story, for instance, about what just happened, we unconsciously link it to all the “he-did-me-wrong” stories we have ever told ourselves, adding all the past pain to what we’re feeling now.

Give Yourself Options

Instead, once you have identified the physical sensation that the current situation is triggering, give yourself permission to see that you can choose how to interpret it.  Tell yourself, “Up until now, I associated this feeling with being a victim of somebody else’s actions.  And it would be really easy to do that.  But now I know that I have options.  I can look at what happened in a different light.”

You don’t even have to know what other ways you can look at it.  You can just be curious about what some other ways might be and let your curiosity guide you.  Ask your mind to produce some different options and watch for the interesting answers that it will lead you toward or create.

Make the Daring Choice

One of the most daring options that’s available, always, is to accept responsibility for your part in the situation.  What?  Me?  Guilty of having done something wrong?

Not necessarily.  Maybe you didn’t do anything wrong at all.  But maybe you could have been more proactive in preventing the situation.   Maybe you could have noticed that a misunderstanding was brewing and addressed it in time to keep it from developing into a problem.  Maybe you could have given better directions, or asked for clarification about something you didn’t understand.

The important thing—and it does take a big dose of self-honesty—is to ask what your part was in the situation, to be willing to own that you did play some part.  Be daring enough to ask yourself what you could have done differently, and what you can do in similar situations in the future.

That doesn’t mean you launch into an “if only” game of self-blame, making yourself your own victim.  It means you’re confident enough to look at what you could make better.

You, after all, are the only person who is really in charge of you.  So commit to your Prime Directive, and then own your feelings, handling them with the respect, attention and care they deserve.  Be self-supportive.  Make the choice to look for options, and choose the ones that feel affirming and positive, proactive, creative and good.

It’s called adopting the Responsibility Mindset, and it’s the fastest way to suck the juice from a hurtful situation and set things back on the right track.

Your Turn

How do you handle upsets?  Do you have a favorite technique that works well for you?  What gets you turned around and back on track?

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Who’s Driving Your Happiness Bus?

Happy Bus Driver

“Everybody talks about the weather,” an old saying goes, “But nobody does anything about it.”  You know what?  You could apply that saying to happiness, too.  Everybody says they want to be happier, but when it comes right down to making it a reality in our lives, few of us actually take the matter into our own hands and get busy about it.

The difference between weather and happiness is that there’s nothing you can do about weather except prepare to meet it as it comes.  You can, however, learn to be happier, because, to a great extent, happiness is a skill.

Learning to Drive

That’s right.  It’s a skill, just like learning to drive.  I know you’ve heard that it’s a choice.  But I have to confess that I’m annoyed when people glibly say so, as if you could flick a magic switch somewhere inside you and suddenly beam with 100 watts of joy.

The fact is that learning to be happier involves a whole series of choices that we make, learned behaviors that we do over and over and over.  That’s what researchers Rick Foster and Greg Hicks discovered in three-years of interviewing extremely happy people.

Happiness takes dedication, a commitment, and every day practice.  I won’t kid you: learning to be happier is work.  No worthwhile skill is mastered over night.  But if you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and do it, the rewards are worth every ounce of effort you invest.

Is Happiness What You Want?

So let me ask you: Do you want to be happier?  What would it be like to feel more enthusiasm in your life?  How do you think it would impact your relationships, your work, your day to day experience of life is you were able to feel more peace, more gratitude, more hope, more awe, more engagement, more satisfaction, more joy and delight?

All of those feelings are varieties of happiness.  And you really can have more of them.  You can learn to access them more frequently and on increasingly deeper levels, in ways that are meaningful to you.  And that, my friend, is a scientific fact.

Making Happiness Your Prime Directive

The first step is to answer the question I just posed:  Do you really want to be happier?  If your answer is yes, the way to begin is to make living happily your Prime Directive, your core, motivating intention.

That’s central. According to Foster and Hicks, the intention to be happy is the foundation on which all happy people build.  They make the conscious decision to commit themselves to living a rich, positive life.

Taking the Wheel

The next step is where the work begins.  You have to recognize that you alone are driving the bus, and you alone are responsible for keeping it on the road.

But this is where you start to get the rewards, too.  That’s the cool thing about working to live a more positive life: the paybacks are immediate.

It feels empowering to take responsibility for the quality of your own life, to acknowledge that no one is in control of your sense of well-being except you.  Just as intention sets the direction for your journey, responsibility fuels it.  And the more practice you get at steering your life toward greater joy and satisfaction, the more self-trust and self-respect you develop.  It’s both freeing and calming to know that you alone are in control.

Dealing with Detours and Rough Roads

That doesn’t mean it’s easy to be in charge.  Life is full of challenges; it can be a truly difficult place sometimes.  We have accidents, we get damaged, we have to drive through fog and night and storms, to deal with bad or careless drivers, with unexpected detours and rough roads.

The positivity bus doesn’t come equipped with autopilot.  Happiness isn’t a matter of flicking a switch.  It requires awareness, and sometimes great strength and grit.

That’s why it’s important to be 100% clear on your Prime Directive.

The good news is that the rough spots grow fewer and fewer as you go along and your skills lexapro order online uk for handling them increase with every mile you travel.  With every mile, the scenery grows more beautiful, and your fellow travelers increasingly become the most helpful and agreeable companions.

You have everything you need to get where you’re going.  The key is to stay awake and aware.  If you’re lost, a thousand maps are out there to help you find your way.  Study the ones that make the most sense to you.  Ask directions if you need them; call a road crew if you’re really stuck.

Meanwhile, just remember where you’re headed, keep your windshield clean, your hands on the wheel, and have a great trip.

 

 

Photo: istockphoto.com
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