What’s Your Personal Happiness Style?

Personal Happiness StyleOne man’s happiness is another’s  ho-hum.  I learned that lesson forcefully when I was helping my friend Jan redefine her personal happiness style.

Jan was recovering from major surgery.  She was depressed because she didn’t have the energy to enjoy her previous active lifestyle.

Jan loves to be on the go.  She’s always meeting friends for golf, for lunch and shopping, for an hour at the gym, an afternoon at the movies.  She takes classes and attends workshops and loves to entertain.   And now it was all she could do to get dressed in the morning and stroll around the block.  She was frustrated and bored.

As we played with finding a way to reframe her situation so she could more easily embrace it, I asked her how she felt about the trying to adopt a mindset of contentment.

“I hate it!” she spat out such vehemence that I laughed in stunned surprise.  Personally, I love contentment.  It’s one of my favorite feelings.  It had never dawned on me that anyone could find it as distasteful as Jan apparently did.

Eventually we came up with the phrase “joyful ease” to represent a mindset she could enjoy cultivating.  She could learn to go slowly buoyantly, she decided, floating with ease on her way to greater stamina and strength.

The Flavors of Happiness

That experience with Jan showed me that, just as we all have our own set of personal strengths, we have our personal preferences for particular flavors of happiness, too.

Dr. Barbara Fredrickson In her landmark book, Positivity: Top-Notch Research Reveals the 3 to 1 Ratio That Will Change Your Life identifies ten primary positive emotions.  Each of them has the power to make us feel upbeat or uplifted.  In other words, they’re the different flavors that we group together in the big category, “Happiness.”

Read through the following list of the primary positive emotions slowly, and as you do, try to sense how each one feels in your body.  Notice which ones seem to hold a special attraction for you, which ones shine more brightly or resonate more clearly with you.  Which ones make your happiness taste buds tingle?

  • Gratitude
  • Serenity
  • Interest
  • Hope
  • Pride
  • Amusement
  • Inspiration
  • Awe
  • Love
  • Joy

Finding Your Own Brand of Happiness

Your happiness preferences aren’t inborn, fixed traits, and you’re capable of enjoying every one of the positive emotions.   But you’re likely to experience some of them more frequently or more deeply than others.

I have a cousin, for example, who meets life with enormous humor.  He has a real talent for finding fun in almost any situation.  And he creates fun in unexpected ways, too.   At a family wedding, he once gave a loud wolf-whistle right in church as the mother of the bride walked down the aisle.

No doubt, he would find himself strongly identifying with the emotions of amusement and joy.

Identifying which flavors of happiness feel most natural or familiar to you will help you notice them more often.

All of the positive emotions have in common that they don’t linger long.  They’re like brief passages of music that play on our inner radios and then float away.   They may impact our mood and color the feel of our day, but they’re fleeting in themselves, all too often gone and forgotten before we consciously registered their presence.

However, when we notice them as they’re happening, we can choose to savor them, to give them our full attention and to immerse ourselves in them.  That makes them more vivid and allows their particular harmony to reverberate inside us with greater richness.

When you know what kinds of happiness you most enjoy, you’re also in a better position to create experiences that will produce them.  You can intentionally make time to spend doing the kinds of things you’ll genuinely enjoy.

How to Build More Happiness

The key to experiencing more happiness is to simply pay more attention to those times when it dances into your life.

Start by deciding which of the ten primary flavors are your “signature” happiness feelings.   Focus on those for a while, using as many of the activities below as you like. Then, over time, experiment with  adding more flavors, one or two at a time, until you’re fully aware of them all.

  • Try beginning each day with a conscious intention to notice when you’re experiencing one of your signature flavors of happiness.   Notice what triggered it.  And in the evening, take a moment to replay your happiness moments, savoring the memory of them.
  • After you’ve identified your preferred flavors of happiness, pick one or two to focus on for the next week or so.   Focusing on one of them at a time, think of a time when you were feeling that feeling.  Let yourself recall as many details of the situation as possible—the physical surroundings, who was with you, what the weather was like or what the room was like, the colors and sounds around you.   Make your focus feeling as intense as you can.  Then notice how it feels in your body, and say to yourself, “This is [name the feeling].”   Pay special attention to how your face feels.   Then, as you go through the week, let your body signal you when it is feeling the same way and you’ll be able to enjoy the current happiness more fully.
  • To broaden your awareness of your signature happiness feelings, you may want to look each of them up in a thesaurus (thesaurus.com) and scout out other feelings that fall in the same family.  My favorite, “contentment,” for instance, is a member of the “serenity” family.
  • If you want some variety in your happiness practice, write each of the ten primary emotions on a slip of paper, fold it, and put it in small basket or bowl.   Draw one out at random each morning and let it be your focus of the day.  Watch for it, and enjoy it when it appears.
  • Play with keeping a happiness log or journal where you jot down what positive emotions you experienced during the day and what triggered them.
  • Create a family ritual where each member shares his or her happiness stories with each other over a meal.  Or enlist a friend to be your happiness buddy and exchange happiness stories on a regular basis.  (Research shows that simply sharing happy stories increases happiness, by the way.  This one is truly a win-win.)
  • Share a happiness experience on your favorite social media site every day

Expanding Happiness

What we focus on expands in our experience.   Let yourself play with your signature happiness feelings daily and they’ll grow by leaps and bounds.

Research shows that happiness is contagious by at least three degrees.  When you’re happier, so are your friends, and your friends’ friends, and their friends.  So by expanding your own experience of happiness, you’re literally making the world a happier place.  You can rightly consider being happy a public service.

Most of all, expand your happiness because it adds richness and health and well-being to your life –in all the flavors that are most delicious for you.   As Houston auto dealer Tommie Vaughn says, “You only get one go at it… might as well Rock it.”

*      *       *

Remember, sharing happy stories boosts your level!  If you enjoyed this article, pass it along to your network.

You might also enjoy:

Scavenger Hunting for Positivity Souvenirs
and
Why Happiness is Job #1

photo by hortongrou

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Increase Your Happiness: Add Some Zest to Your Life

Zestful HappinessNo matter how badly the day was going, the energy in the room picked up whenever Jack walked through the door.

Jack was a big and boisterous man, whose face easily broke into a smile.  “How’s it going, Jack?” someone would ask him.  And, without fail, Jack would boom out, “Beautiful!”

 
Jack’s zest for life made us all smile.  Zest is like that; it’s highly contagious.

 
Positive psychologists say that zest is one of the five character strengths that contribute most to a sense of life-satisfaction.  (The other four are curiosity, gratitude, optimism, and the ability to love and be loved.)  If you’re looking for a way to increase your happiness, add some zest to your life.

 
Zest is defined as “a sense of expectation, intuition, hope, energy and excitement.”     The dictionary says that it’s gusto, liveliness or energy, the animating spirit.  Whooo-Hooooo!  Who couldn’t go for more of that!

 
In the strengths classification system developed by positive psychology founders Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson, zest is equated with enthusiasm and falls under the virtue of transcendence.  People who possess zest/enthusiasm in a high degree, they say, “approach everything with excitement and see life as an adventure.”

The Benefits of Zest

In a wonderful post on enthusiasm, blogger and real-estate investor Matt Theriault (“The Do-Over Guy”) lists the benefits of zest :

  • It makes life more fun.  “It’s like an inner light,” Theriaul says, “an inner energy, and it really makes life easier.”
  • It’s attractive to people.  “Enthusiasm is probably one of the most attractive qualities any person can have.”
  • It makes you want to do things, and then you get better results and fulfill more of the potential of any situation or experience.
  • It makes for powerful communication.  It makes your message stronger.
  • It gets things done.  “Enthusiasm is the switch.”

Getting Your Zest On by “Acting As If”

Motivational speaker and author Mike Robbins gets to heart of the “transcendence” aspect of zest in a piece he wrote about “acting as if” for the Huffington Post a year ago a couple of years ago:

“Acting as if” is about believing in things that don’t currently exist and that there may not be much evidence for. This is about living a “faith-based” life, not an “evidence-based life.” The term “faith-based” often gets used in a political, social, or moral context when talking about initiatives or organizations that are connected with the church or some specific organized religion. However, being a faith-based person, while it can and often does encompass our religious beliefs and our spiritual practices, is even broader than this.

When we choose to live with a strong faith in things not seen, not proven, and not guaranteed – we tap into the power of the possible and we supersede the literal and predicable.

Wayne Dyer wrote a great book a number of years ago called You’ll See it When You Believe it. So many of us, myself included, live important aspects of our lives with the silent mantra of “I’ll believe it when I see it” and in doing so we hold ourselves back, limit what’s possible, and negate the power of our mind, imagination, and intention to allow and create things, situations, experiences, and outcomes that are new, unpredictable, and even miraculous.

If you can adopt that kind of faith-based attitude toward life, your zest is sure to increase.

But “acting as if” is more than attitude.  The key word in the phrase is “acting,” and it’s your physical behaviors—actions—that signal your zest both to others and to yourself.

Like any of the character strengths, you can build zest by practicing it.  In fact, it’s one of the easiest strengths to build using the “act as if” method.

Watch this trailer for a short documentary about Kathy Delaney-Smith, who embodies the “act is if” method and used it to coach her Harvard women’s basketball team  to championship status with it.  She used it, too, to overcome cancer.  That’s the kind of power it has.

 

Fake It Until you Become It

“Fake it ‘til you make it,” Delaney-Smith said.   “Fake it until you become it,” says social psychologist Amy Cuddy .

In her TED talk, “How Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are,” she shares research that shows how our body positions alter the chemistry that  produces our mental attitudes.  Then our attitudes shape the behaviors that produce our lives’ outcomes.

By adopting what Cuddy calls a “power pose” for as little as two minutes you generate an aura of “presence.”  And presence, she says, is “passionate, enthusiastic, captivating, comfortable, authentic, and confident.”   In other words, presence is zest embodied.

“Acting as if” by practicing the power poses that Cuddy demonstrates not only impacts how others see us, but changes how we see ourselves.

I challenge you to give it a try for a week.  Increase your happiness; add some zest to your life.  Think about the way that zestfulness looks, and moves, and thinks and speaks. Watch kids on a playground if you need a clue.  Then act as if you’re brimming with enthusiasm, too, with the faith that life is an adventure.   Because it is.

If you liked this article, pass it on.  Let’s spread some zest around!

 

Photo by marcos bh at stock.xchng

 

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Starting Anew: Three Easy Steps to a Happy New Year

WhooHoooo!  Here comes another one!  A brand new, never-before-seen year is inching toward the horizon.

What are you going to do with it?  More of the same?  Something new?

If “more of the same means” life has been grand and your intention is only to make it even better, super!  And if you want to change a few things, that’s great, too.  “Better and better and better” is what gives life its zing.

Of course we don’t need a whole brand new year in order to make new beginnings.  Every morning, every moment, holds the potential for making new choices and reaffirming old ones.  The key to personal power is owning the choices that are ours to make.

The problem is that it’s not always easy to recognize those choices, let alone embrace them.  We get so mired in programmed behaviors and old stories that we lose sight of our alternatives.  But here’s a way to spot them, and it’s as easy as 1-2-3.

Finding Your Path to Happiness

If you’re looking for ways to define the choices that can give you fresh direction for the New Year, think about what brought you the greatest joy, satisfaction or personal pride in the year that’s so quickly coming to a close.  Then decide to do more of it.

That’s a formula that’s sure to bring you good fortune.   And unlike formulating  resolutions based on heavy “shoulds,” you won’t give up on it three weeks down the road.

It’s easy and fun to do.  Here’s a simple 3-step process:

Step 1

Look back over the past year—longer, if you like, and jot down ten experiences that brought you happiness, satisfaction, or meaning.   You can use the following question to trigger positive memories.

  • When did you feel most alive?
  • Whose company did you most enjoy?
  • What achievements left you with a soaring sense of accomplishment?
  • What activities gave you the most pleasure?
  • When did you feel most relaxed and complete?
  • When did you feel most authentic?  The most free?
  • What did you learn that was most valuable for you? What helped you grow?
  • What gave your life a sense of meaning in the past year?

Step 2

Let yourself remember and savor the experiences that  you wrote down in Step 1.  Which five stand out as the best?  Try to re-create the memories that triggered them so they’re vivid and alive for you.  Where were you?  Who was with you? What did it look like?  What did you hear?  What did you feel?

Ask yourself what made each of these five experiences so good for you.  What part of it was especially pleasurable, or meaningful or satisfying for you?

Step 3

For each answer, brainstorm a list of ways you could bring more of these kinds of experiences into your life in the year ahead.

Why Bother?

When I read lists like the one above, I usually just read them and stop there.   The idea of doing the exercise is interesting, but actually doing it sounds too much like work.  Besides, if you’re like me, you probably tell yourself that you don’t have time right now.

But let me ask you, is that really true?  What would it be worth to you to have a genuinely clear, vibrant, appealing sense of direction as you step into the weeks ahead?

Well, according to happiness researchers Foster and Hicks, one of the things that the happiest people among us have in common is that they know what brings them joy. (See Who’s Driving Your Happiness Bus?  ) Not only that, but they make the conscious choice to ensure that they give those things have a place in their lives as often as possible.

Planning for increased happiness is wise because happiness brings all kinds of benefits in addition to experiencing the pleasure, satisfaction and meaning it provides.  According to the work of positive psychology researchers like Dr. Barbara Fredrickson and Sonja Lyubomirsky, it promotes better health. It enables you to be more resilient and resourceful when life’s challenges come your way.  It makes you more attractive to other people because they enjoy its contagious effects.  It gives you greater calm and a greater sense of authenticity.  Looking forward to positive events increases your sense of purpose.

It makes you strong.  It makes you whole.

And all this can begin by simply writing down a little list of the things that brought you joy and choosing to do more of them in the New Year.

That’s why you should bother.

It makes you strong, and vital, and whole.

Give it a try!  You have everything to gain, including a fresh, new direction for your brand new year.

 

 

Photo: stock.xchng

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Want Happiness? Be Truthful!

Introspective Man
Photo: istock.com

Of all the traits the happiest people share in common, one outshines them all.  In fact, without it, genuine happiness can’t exist.  That trait is truthfulness.

Without exception, truly happy people are committed to telling the truth about themselves to themselves—even when it’s scary and difficult.  And they extend their truthfulness to others.

It sounds easy enough, doesn’t it?  We all tend to think of ourselves as honest people for the most part.  And in fact, for the most part we are.  But when it comes down to looking our fear or sadness or anger in the face, it’s easy to back down.

We hide our darker feelings from others, too, fearing their rejection, criticism or judgment.      Author, consultant and workshop leader Christopher R. Edgar says in his blog post, Self-Honesty and Self-Love, that it can feel risky to admit to ourselves, or to someone else, what is actually going on inside us.

“But,” he goes on, describing a time when he confessed a personal truth to a friend, “I’ve found that when I’m willing to fully accept how I feel in the moment, no matter what it might be, that’s when I get access to the joy and lightness I want in my life.  Any energy I was using to avoid what I’m feeling gets freed up and becomes vitality.”

That’s the discovery that all happy people make about truthfulness.  It’s liberating, joyful and empowering.

 

What Truthfulness Brings

Truthfulness grounds you in yourself. It helps to defend you against the outside forces of:
•    Emotional storms
•    Attacks from others
•    Peer/ cultural persuasion to do what’s not good for you
•    Reliance on self-approval, not approval from others.

Truthfulness makes you trustworthy—both to yourself and to others. Other people see your transparency and feel that they can easily know you.

Truthfulness deepens relationships.   It opens the door for genuine intimacy.  Your honesty promotes honesty in others.  It empowers them and gives them permission to be honest themselves.    When people share honestly with each other about their feelings and their needs, everyone is more likely to have their needs met.

We feel less  tension and stress when we’re honest, too.  Lies, even “white lies” are stressful.   When you tell them to others, you have to remember what you said and to whom you said it.  When you tell them to yourself, a part of you knows it’s not true.   Lies are never kindnesses.  You can learn to tell the truth tactfully and with respect.  Truth comes from love, from a willingness to honor the importance of each relationship – especially the one you have with yourself.

Uncovering Hidden Truths: An Exercise

Here’s a little exercise that happiness researchers Foster and Hicks suggest to discover truths you may be hiding.  Get out a notebook and write out as many statements as you can that let you fill in the blanks in this phrase:

“I pretend that_____, but the truth is ______”

It’s a great way to discover what you really believe and honestly want.

To develop greater intimacy with a partner, take turns completing the above phrase out loud to each other for ten minutes.  Then spend time discussing what you discovered.

If the Truth is so Good, Why Do We Lie to Ourselves?

Dr. Gerald Goodman, author of The Talk Book: The Intimate Science of Communicating in Close Relationships, explains how we fall into the trap of self-deception.  Truth can be painful, he says.  “It gets in the way of ‘our universal urge to be better than we are.’”

We go on pretending that our behaviors, our relationships, our careers and family lives are just fine.  We bend reality to make us more comfortable with the status quo.

The problem is that this kind of self-deception can become addictive.  Rather than facing the unpleasant parts of ourselves that self-honesty reveals, we ignore the little pieces of reality that paint a less than perfect picture of ourselves.

We tuck our unwelcome feelings, our uncomfortable thoughts and our unsettling beliefs away in a mental trunk in the basement of our minds and pretend that we have risen above them.

And while that may seem to make us more comfortable, it means we’re living in delusion about who we are and about our true feelings.   Our authentic self shrinks as our pretend self grows.  We wind up having  no clue who we really are.  And that is a sure recipe for misery and suffering.

Writer Dragos Nicolae says living with self-deception “can lead to poor self-image, a lack of self-confidence, and a constant depressive, negative mood at the back of your mind.  You start to feel that life treats you unfairly, when the truth is that life wants to help you out.  You’re just not paying attention to it.”

Truly happy people, people committed to positive living, strive to have honest knowledge of their strengths and weaknesses and to know what they really want.  “They are searching,” say Foster and Hicks “for what is real in their responses to life.  In short, they strive for authenticity and accurate personal evaluation – to live in a state of integrity with themselves.”

 

“Where Will this Lead?”

As therapist Erika Krull, MS, LMHP points out, one of the prime benefits of self-honesty is that it lets you see where you need to make changes.  In addition to the discomfort it can stir up, the call to change is another reason that it feels risky. We tend to resist change.  It can be scary.  And it’s work.  Nevertheless, you only have the power to make your situation better if you admit the reality of a problem.

Nicolae suggests that one powerful way to motivate yourself to make needed changes is to ask, “Where will this lead?”  If you don’t change your undesirable behavior, what are the consequences likely to be?

To add a more positive twist to his question, also ask yourself what possibilities might open up for you if you do release your unwanted behavior in favor of one that’s more in harmony with your true self.

Living Truthfully:  A Life-Long Process

Discovering who you are is a life-long process.  We don’t get the whole truth about ourselves in one blinding revelation.   We sort things out a little at a time in what Dr. Goodman calls “ordinary moments of clarity.”

These moments of clarity are the little insights we get on a daily or weekly basis that, if we’re honest with ourselves, we need to face.

They come with nagging little feelings of uneasiness to show us that “we can:

  • Be thoughtless
  • Be impatient
  • Be selfishly unfair
  • Be not quite honest with someone close
  • Monopolize the dinner conversation
  • Brush off a friend’s concerns
  • Give cheap advice
  • Fear to reveal warmth
  • Drink more than we thought.”

These ordinary day-to-day realizations, Dr. Goodman says, are the major shapers of our self-awareness.  They are where we come face to face with ourselves and make the choice whether to confront them honestly or not.
These ordinary moments of clarity represent the moments that Foster and Hicks are talking about when they say this about the authentically happy people in their studies: “The choice to be truthful is a rich and deeply personal statement that happy people make about themselves, to themselves.  It is a kind of truth that speaks to the ability to confront our personal mythologies, to look at our behavior honestly, and to do what is right for ourselves, regardless of the social pressure to do otherwise.”
Over time, we get better and better at hearing our Inner Truth Detector when, with feelings of unease, it signals us that we’re painting a false picture of reality to others or to ourselves.  As we experience the liberation and empowerment of living truthfully, we learn to welcome its voice and to make our corrections immediately and with increasing grace and ease.   And so we become happier and whole.

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Happy Regardless: What My Broken Arm Revealed About Positivity

HermesNot that there’s a good time for such a thing to happen, but it was a really inconvenient time for me to break my arm.

It happened a month ago today on a gorgeous mid-April Friday, the first day of sunshine after a long spell of rain.  On the spur of the moment, my friend Kim and I decided to meet at the dog park when I finished work to let her exuberant young puppy, Bella, do some doggie socializing and go for a run.

Just as we neared the park’s entrance, Bella and I somehow collided and I went flying.  I grabbed the fence to try to break my fall.  But I landed hard, hearing a sharp crack and a stabbing pain in my right shoulder as I tumbled to the ground.

Before I knew it, I was in the hospital’s emergency room getting x-rays and intravenous pain blockers.  Two days later, a specialist was showing me the pictures of the mess I’d made of my upper arm and scheduling me for surgery.

Bad Timing

As I mentioned, it was not a good time for me to be taken out of action.  Kim, whose dog I tripped over, was scheduled for surgery herself in ten days and I had planned to be with her and to help her through her recovery.

In less than two weeks, the director of the clinic where I worked was retiring and I was helping plan the send-off party for her.  I had worked at her side for over eleven years and now I would miss her last days.

Meanwhile, a  therapist and two interns were leaving the clinic and a new doctor was coming aboard.  Plus the Easter holiday would complicate the payroll processing, and all of those things were part of my job.

And lastly, I would miss an out-of-state family memorial service and reunion I had so wanted to attend.

Positivity Means It’s OK to Feel Sorry

If you or anyone close to you has ever had shoulder surgery, you know the recovery is a long and very painful one.  The therapy sessions and daily exercise regime are torture.

All in all, I had every reason to be upset.  And yet, I’ve found myself flowing through it all with a preponderance of acceptance, interest, patience, and curiosity.  To tell you the truth, I surprised myself a little with the naturalness of my own positivity.  It’s one thing, after all, to accept a theory.  It’s something else to experience its truths in the actual day-to-day living out of your life.

I’m not saying that I didn’t feel any regret or disappointment over my circumstances.  Of course I did.  And there have been moments, too, when the relentless discomfort and the weariness of enduring it had me feeling my share of self-pity and anger over my enforced limitations.

Positivity doesn’t mean you don’t ever feel the negative stuff.  On the contrary.  It means you feel fully whatever emotion is there, accepting the reality of its presence, honoring it as a valid part of your experience.

What I am saying is that, on the whole, I felt positive a whole lot more than I felt negative.  I noticed my optimism and my inclination to problem solve and my willingness to congratulate myself when I managed a challenging task with my non-dominant hand.  I noticed my genuine gratitude and appreciation for the helpfulness of friends and for their caring, and for the skill of the medical personnel who patched me back together and worked with me to make me whole again.

Opening to the Gifts

I noticed how I opened myself to the gifts my solitude brought me and to the exquisite beauty of springtime unfolding outside my windows.

One of the gifts it brought was a realization that I had actually internalized the truth that  genuine happiness isn’t dependent on external circumstances.  It’s more like an endlessly streaming fount of well-being, a breathing of the very essence of the life-force, rising from our center, and present within us all.

All that keeps us from recognizing it is the layers of beliefs that cloak it.  Peel them away, and it runs fresh and clear, like a stream hidden by tall, wild grasses.  It’s the state that positive psychologists call “authentic happiness,” a state of being where we’re grounded in and constantly fed by our true, central selves.

To find that state, to part all the grasses of misplaced beliefs that hide it from us is, really, the goal of all self-development and self-actualization work.  To seek it is one of our inalienable rights as human beings.

In the end, I believe that it’s a spiritual quest, a drive to discover and live within the embrace of the divine at the core of our being.

On a more mundane level, the positivity of authentic happiness is supportive and nurturing of all that makes life worthwhile.  It provides us with strength, with optimism and hope, with the richness of appreciation and gratitude, with the glow of pleasure and the sparkle of joy.  It fills us with the drive to discover and express our unique sets of talents, strengths, values and skills.  It opens our perception to possibilities and infuses us with the curiosity, vitality and confidence to pursue them.

This little break in my normal, busy routine let me see how much positivity means to me, and how much it means to me to share with you the tools I find for making it the driving force in our lives.  Watch for some changes here.  I expect to be turning up the fire under this blog.  I have joy to share, after all, and we need all of that we can get.

 

Photo: Courtesy stock.xchng
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