Author Archives: Eric Karpinski

Happiness Habit #1: Gratitude

Last week, I talked about how happiness leads to success (see post here ).  But what if you’re not feeling happy?  Lucky for you, over the next month, I’ll be sharing 5 simple and effective ways for you to increase your happiness.  I’ve written about three of these tactics in the past, but given my recent work with Shawn Achor and his Happiness Advantage work, I thought it would be helpful to summarize all five over the month.

Habit #1  Gratitude

This is one of the most established and well-known happiness habits.  Oprah has been talking about gratitude lists for over a decade and the science behind it is rock solid.  If you are looking for the most straight-forward and proven change to make, gratitude is a great place to start.

How to Do It

For 21 days in a row, record three things you are grateful for and why.  The three gratitudes must be different each day and they must be specific; you cannot say you are grateful for your health or family without saying why.  It’s helpful to choose the same time each day to write these down – many choose to do this right before bed, others like to kick off their work day with it (before checking their email), still others like to set a calendar reminder for a specific time each day.  Find a time that works for you.

It doesn’t matter whether you handwrite your gratitudes or do it in electronic form.  It doesn’t matter if you have a fancy journal or just grab whatever scrap piece of paper you have around.  What does matter is that you spend a few minutes scanning the past 24 hours for things that you can appreciate.  Try not to make it one more thing on your to-do list, but rather slow down and open up to those feelings of appreciation for the luck you’ve had in your life, for the generosity of friends or coworkers, for whatever you are grateful for.  Here are some good examples of the “what and why” of gratitude.

  • I am grateful
    • For the hug my daughter gave me this morning showing me that I am loved.
    • For the thank-you note my boss sent me yesterday.  It made me feel like a valued member of the team.
    • That I had 10 minutes this morning to do whatever I wanted; it’s been a long time since I’ve just flipped through a magazine.
    • That my ankle seems fully healed.  Now I can get back to my regular running schedule which helps me feel good and energized.
    • For the milk in my fridge and the Cheerios in my bowl this morning.  I appreciate that I don’t have to worry about where my next meal comes from.
    • That the sun was shining during my walk into work.  The colors reflecting off the building were gorgeous.

As you get more established at this practice, start looking for other places in your life to bring in gratitude – go around the dinner table and ask what everyone is grateful for; use some of your commute time to review the good things in your life; when you are bored waiting for something, instead of checking your phone, look around for something to appreciate.

How It Helps

Here’s a smattering of what science has shown.

  • Our brain is a single processer.  When you are focused (however briefly) on things to appreciate in your life, there is literally no brain space left for anger, sadness or worry.
  • As the practice continues you strengthen those neuro-pathways that look for what’s good in your life, making it easier and easier for your brain to find things to appreciate.  It’s like weight-lifting; you build your gratitude “muscle” by using it.  (Shawn Achor, in his book The Happiness Advantage, likens this to what happens after you play Tetris for an extended period.  Suddenly, you see those geometric shapes everywhere — in the brick wall, as the city skyline — and you start making them fit together in your mind.)
  • When researchers pick random volunteers and train them to be more grateful over a few weeks, they become happier and more optimistic, feel more socially connected, enjoy better quality sleep and even experience fewer headaches than control groups.
  • Practicing gratitude daily for 21 days can significantly raise your optimism even 6 months later.

My experience

I’ve had a formal gratitude practice off and on for years now.  I type my daily gratitudes on my laptop for a couple minutes just before bed.  Some days the gratitude just flows and I get flooded with happiness at the good things in my life.  I find it is often the little things that can drive my mood higher when I appreciate them – someone opening a door for me, a stranger giving me a smile or some unexpected appreciation from someone else.

Other days writing down my gratitudes can feel like a chore and something I ‘need’ to do before I can go to bed.  When this happens, I push through and try to open up to the positive.  Sometimes I’m successful at feeling good about it and sometimes I’m not.  But what matters is that time I spend looking for what’s good, that’s where the training happens.
Sometimes, when this negative perspective persists for a few nights in a row, I let go of the practice for a while.  When I come back to it a few weeks or months later, I find it reinvigorates my positivity and happiness.

This week’s challenge:  Kick off your gratitude practice right now.  Spend a few minutes (never more than 5) writing down your three gratitudes.  Then lock in a time in your daily routine to do this for at least the next 21 days.   See how it goes.

If you’ve been following this blog over the last year, you’ll note that gratitude is a topic I talk about a LOT.  If you want to dig more into the science of gratitude or want more explicit directions on how to do this practice, check out these other posts:

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

P.S.  To receive these posts directly into your inbox each week, simply sign up in the form on the right hand side of this page.  You’ll also receive access to my most recent free webinar on the science of happiness (positive psychology).

P.P.S.  I love it when people share these posts on their favorite social media sites.  If you want to share this post, click on any of the links below:

 

Happiness Leads to Success. Period.

Happiness leads to success.  Period.

“No, no!” you say, “That isn’t right!”
“Success leads to happiness, all day and all night.”
(my sincere apologies to Sandra Boynton for corrupting her quote about singing pigs….)

The Happiness Myth

Many of us believe down to our core, that if we work hard, we will become “successful” (we each have our own definition of this but it often involves some degree of money, glory or world change).  And once we become successful, we think, then we’ll be happy.  As Shawn Achor explains in his book, The Happiness Advantage, this formula has been indoctrinated in us by our schools, our jobs, and our entire American culture.  If I get that raise or make that sales target, then I’ll be happy.  If I can live in that neighborhood or lose 10 pounds, then I’ll be happy.  Success first, happiness follows.

But more than 15 years of research in positive psychology and neuroscience has proven in no uncertain terms that this formula is not only wrong but the opposite is true.  Happiness leads to success.

The Data is Clear

In 2005, a trio of top positive psychology researchers did a meta-analysis of all the research to date on happiness and positive emotions.  This analysis included more than 200 studies covering over 275,000 subjects and showed without a doubt, that happiness is the pre-cursor to success, not simply the result.  All the research published since confirms and strengthens this conclusion.

Here’s a sample of what studies have shown:  Preschoolers told to think about something that makes them happy were able to put together blocks faster and more accurately.  High-school students primed to think about the happiest day of their lives outperformed peers on standardized math tests.  Experienced doctors who were given a small gift of candy to boost their happiness showed faster and more accurate diagnosis than a control group of doctors with the same amount of experience and training.

Employees reporting themselves as happier at the start of a study received higher evaluations and bigger raises at the end of 18 months than their peers with comparable experience but an unhappy outlook.  Subjects’ happiness level in college predicted their level of income 19 years later, regardless of their initial level of wealth.  People who expressed more positive emotions while negotiating business deals got better outcomes than those who expressed more neutral or negative emotions.  Positive sales people outsell their negative counterparts by 37%.  Positive employees are 31% more productive than negative employees.  And the studies go on and on showing that happiness leads to success in areas as diverse as relationships, income, work performance, health and longevity.

But How Does Happiness Help?

Let’s first take a look at the opposite: what happens when you are nervous or worried or experiencing other negative emotions?  How creative are you?  Is your brain acting at its highest level, or are you stuck obsessing about the only two things you can focus on?  Negative emotions often activate the fight or flight response system which turns off the thinking part of your brain and turns on the prehistoric lizard part of your brain.  This limits your ability to think clearly and find alternative solutions.

But when you are happy, your brain releases dopamine and serotonin, which make you feel good and dial up the learning centers of your brain which help you organize new information, keep information in the brain longer and retrieve it faster later on.  These neurochemicals enable you to make and sustain more neural connections, which allow you to think more quickly and creatively, become more skilled at complex analysis and problem solving and see and invent new ways of doing things.

In today’s knowledge-driven economy, success in practically every job or profession hinges on finding creative and novel solutions to problems.  When you are primed with happiness, you are simply more likely to see out-of-the-box solutions, spot opportunities and better see how to build upon the ideas of others.

What if I’m Not Naturally a Happy Person?

All this research is great for someone who is already happy.  But what about those who weren’t born with happy genes?  Does this research mean that they are doomed to be both unhappy and unsuccessful?  Fortunately, no.  The research is clear that even the most pessimistic of us can learn to be sustainably happier.  Over the next several weeks, I’ll be sharing some simple daily exercises that can help you change your mindset to a more optimistic and happy perspective in both the short and long-term.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

P.S.  To receive these posts directly into your inbox each week, simply sign up in the form on the right hand side of this page.  You’ll also receive access to my most recent free webinar on the science of happiness (positive psychology).

P.P.S.  I love it when people share these posts on their favorite social media sites.  If you want to share this post, click on any of the links below:

Success Doesn’t Make You Happy (and other countercultural notions)

Shawn Achor, author of the best-selling book, The Happiness Advantage, is an impressive guy.  He spent 12 years at Harvard as a student, researcher and faculty member of the most popular Harvard class of all time.  And now he’s an internationally known keynote speaker, trainer and consultant with an enviable blue-chip client list that includes Microsoft, Adobe, American Express, Pfizer, Google and among many other household names.

I am recently back from a weekend retreat with Shawn where we partnered to train our first cohort of coaches in his research. I realized that though I use a lot of Shawn’s work in my talks, I haven’t directly shared much of his material here.  That oversight will be rectified over the next several weeks!

The Core of The Happiness Advantage

Many of us assume that we’ll be happy once we are successful – once we get that perfect job, that next promotion or make the money we want to make.    But the core message from Shawn’s book (backed up by 15 years of top research) is that the opposite is true – that happiness leads to success.  Here is a short video (less than 3 minutes) with

 Shawn explaining in his words what he means:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TBRy3QrRGFI[/youtube]

And if you have a little more time (12 minutes or so), here’s Shawn’s fast-moving and engaging TED talk which has almost 2.5 million views to date:

http://www.ted.com/talks/shawn_achor_the_happy_secret_to_better_work.html

Over the next month or two I’ll share highlights from his book, his trainings and our coaching program.  I also highly recommend his book, The Happiness Advantage, available at Amazon You may decide, after reading it, to share it with your boss, your human resources department, and everyone you work with.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

P.S.  To receive these posts directly into your inbox each week, simply sign up in the form on the right hand side of this page.  You’ll also receive access to my most recent free webinar on the science of happiness (positive psychology).

P.P.S.  I love it when people share these posts on their favorite social media sites.  If you want to share this post, click on any of the links below:

Sleep: Bringing it all together

Over your lifetime, you will spend more of your time sleeping than doing any other activity.  While sleep and happiness are inextricably tied together, a lot of people create stress and anxiety about sleep that can be avoided all together.

Over the past month, I’ve shared some of the best science behind sleep and how to improve the amount and quality of your sleep.

Sleep and Happiness

The research is clear.  Getting enough sleep is a significant contributor to our happiness.  In this post:

Sleep: A Simple Tool to Increase Your Happiness 

I summarize the top research that links emotions to sleep, provide a few questions to evaluate whether you may be sleep-deprived and provide the single most important thing you can do to get more sleep. (Remember what it is?  Hint:  Do you have a set bedtime?)

Getting Quality Sleep

It’s not just the amount of time you are asleep that matters to happiness.  The quality of that sleep is a major contributor to your outlook.  In this post:

Your happiness depends on the QUALITY of your sleep

 I mention many proven tips for sleeping well during the time you are in bed.  You’ll learn many simple things you can do to help you sleep better!

Managing Insomnia

Somewhere between 10% and 20% of the population has some form of insomnia.  In this post:

Good Night, Insomnia!

 I share one of the most surprising and effective methods for managing your insomnia: Spend less time in bed.  You can read how best to implement this plan and why it works.

Managing Your Thoughts about Sleep

One of the most pernicious causes of insomnia is simply our fear of not sleeping enough.  Our well-meaning minds take a night or two of less-than-ideal sleep and create a chronic problem.  In this post:

Good Night, Insomnia! Part 2. Negative sleep thoughts.

I discuss how to turn those thoughts around and use that fabulous mind of yours to help you get back to sleep.  This post is chock full of little morsels of data to counter those negative sleep thoughts and replace them with more restful ones.

Sleep is an important part of happiness and there is a lot you can do to get more quality sleep.  So have a good night.  And sleep well.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

P.S.  To receive these posts directly into your inbox each week, simply sign up in the form on the right hand side of this page.  You’ll also receive access to my most recent free webinar on the science of happiness (positive psychology).

P.P.S.  I love it when people share these posts on their favorite social media sites.  If you want to share this post, click on any of the links below:

Good Night, Insomnia! Part 2. Negative sleep thoughts.

“Oh my God, I’ve been in bed most of the night and haven’t even slept 3 hours.  I’m going to be a ZOMBIE!”

“Oh no, I’m awake again.  I’m going bomb that presentation tomorrow.”

 “Here we go again.  Awake at 3am.  I’m going to feel exhausted and cranky ALL DAY.”

These are just a few examples of what can go on in my head when I have trouble sleeping.  Calming thoughts that help ease me back to sleep, right?  HA!

While everyone has trouble sleeping sometimes, insomniacs make it SO much worse by stressing about not sleeping enough.  This can turn a natural middle-of-the-night wake-up into a stress-filled night of minimal sleep.

These over-the-top pessimistic thoughts hold a lot of sway in our tired middle-of-the-night brains.  But they are often wrong.  Here’s some of the science behind insomnia to help you dispute these negative thoughts and replace them with facts that can help you get back to sleep.

You CAN maintain performance on just 5.5 hours
We hear “People need 8 hours of sleep!” all the time in the media.  But the research tells a very different story.  Studies from many top sleep researchers show that performance on alertness, memory and problem-solving tasks can be maintained for extended period of time with about 70% of normal sleep (or about 5.5 hours).  In two of these studies, college students were restricted to 5.5 hours of sleep for multiple months and there were “no detrimental effects on cognitive, behavioral or physiological functioning.”

Did I FEEL at my best when I was at the height of my insomnia earlier this year?  Heck, no.  I was crankier and less patient and I got distracted more easily.  But looking back objectively at those sleep-deficient months, I realized I had one of the most productive periods of my life.  I built a new collaboration, rocked presentations in front of large groups, threw a big fundraiser, and maintained a full coaching schedule.

If you’ve been struggling with insomnia and concerns about your productivity, take some time to look objectively at what you have accomplished.  You may be surprised.  Make note of your progress on projects and bring those top of mind when you panic that a lack of sleep will ruin your performance tomorrow.

You are getting more sleep than you think
A large study in the Stanford sleep lab showed that insomniacs consistently overestimate the time it took them to fall asleep by 30 minutes and underestimate their total sleep time by a full hour.   Here’s the deal, light phases of sleep are hard to differentiate from being awake and your perceptions of time get skewed in a sleepy state.

So give yourself the benefit of the doubt when evaluating how much sleep you are really getting.

And if you are a data junkie like me and really want to know more about your sleep, you can buy a fun little tool called the ZEO which will monitor what sleep stage you are in.  Though be prepared to get the occasional chuckle from your bedmate when you are wearing the ultra-cool headstrap.

“I know why you are here, ZEO”

The data easily transfers to your computer so you can analyze how your sleep patterns compare to the average for your age group.  This gives you a much better read-out on your total sleep and tells you how many minutes you were in deep and REM sleep.

By using the ZEO for a couple months, I was able to see that even when I was only sleeping 5 hours, I was getting more than the average amount of deep sleep and nearly as much REM sleep as my age cohort.   These are the two most important and restorative stages of sleep.  Seeing this data did wonders for me in terms of lessening my worries about sleep.

Replace those negative thoughts with more positive ones
I opened this post with some of the thoughts that swirl around in my head when I can’t sleep.  It’s important to do your own self-study.  What are you saying to yourself when you can’t sleep? (see post about this here)

If you are in the midst of a bout of sleep troubles, here is your assignment for this week:  Record those thoughts in a journal and then in the light of day, use the research above to argue against them.  Or find less anxiety-producing interpretations of the same facts.  Here are some examples:

“I always fall back to sleep sooner or later.”
“I need less sleep than I thought.”
“My sleep is getting better and better.”
“My sleep will be improving as I implement more of these techniques.”
“If I get my core sleep, I’ll be able to function fine during the day.”

Yes.  Getting less than 8 hours of sleep will likely leave you sleepier and less happy at times during the day.  But you are probably getting more sleep than you think and those worries about your productivity are likely overblown.  Take the time to listen in to your negative thoughts and provide some less-stressful alternatives!

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

P.S.  To receive these posts directly into your inbox each week, simply sign up in the form on the right hand side of this page.  You’ll also receive access to my most recent free webinar on the science of happiness (positive psychology).

P.P.S.  I love it when people share these posts on their favorite social media sites.  If you want to share this post, click on any of the links below:

Good Night, Insomnia!

Over the course of the last year, Insomnia and I have been hanging out together a lot.  This relationship has caused me no small amount of struggle and pain       (I posted about it here.)

My coach, (thanks, Sharon!), recommended a sleep program from Gregg Jacobs, a Harvard sleep researcher, from his book called “Say Goodnight to Insomnia.”  Extensive studies show that this program and others like it work better than sleeping pills with fewer side effects and longer-lasting results.  In my desperation to get Insomnia to move out, I’ve been giving it a try, even though one of the core suggestions of the book — limit your time in bed — sounded downright crazy at first.

The surprising suggestion

Ok, I know this spend-less-time-in-bed suggestion probably shocks you as much as it did me.  How can I catch up on my sleep if I’m not even in bed when I might be sleeping?   But it works – and here’s how to do it most effectively.

Wake up at same time every day – Pick a time and stick with it.  Weekdays, weekends, holidays, snow days, even mornings after a really bad night’s sleep.  Get yourself out of bed at the same time every day.  Period.  For me, I set my wake up time at 5am (I can see your shocked expression, but I’m a serious morning person!)

If you are not sleeping, get out of bed.  If you are awake in bed longer than 20 minutes at any point in the night, get up and do something relaxing.  It’s best to avoid TV or anything that might be stimulating.   I like to read a book with low light, meditate or have a small snack (some complex carbs and milk have been shown to be sleep-inducing — avoid sugars, fats and high protein foods).

Go to bed LATER.  This is the most important part.  It’s essential that you are asleep for most of the time you spend in bed.  To calculate an appropriate bedtime, take the average amount of sleep from the past week and add one hour to it.  This is you maximum time in bed.  Then subtract those hours from your wake up time and – voila! – you have your new bedtime.   For example, I was averaging 4.5 hours of sleep when I started the program, so my maximum time in bed was initially set at 5.5 hours.  With my 5am wakeup, that meant I went to bed at 11:30pm.

SLOWLY move your bed time earlier.  Once you are sleeping 85% or more of the time you are in bed for a full week, then you can move your bedtime back 15 minutes earlier (that would be 11:15pm for me).  When you get another week of 85%, you can move it back another 15 minutes.  If you are having trouble getting to the 85% threshold, then you need to move your bedtime even later for a while.

In order to calculate the percent of time you are asleep, you need to track both the amount of time you are in bed and the approximate amount of time you are asleep.  Get a sleep journal (a blank notebook is fine) that lives by your bed so you can record this information.  Then simply divide your total time asleep by the total hours you’ve been in bed (with the lights off).  This percentage is called your sleep efficiency.

The science behind the idea

Our sleep system follows a basic principle:  the greater the amount of time we are awake and active, the more sleep-pressure the brain puts on the body.  For every hour we are awake, that pressure builds to help us fall asleep more quickly, sleep more soundly and have fewer and shorter wakeups.

Limiting your time in bed also helps associate your bed with sleep.  People with sleep troubles spend a lot of time in bed frustrated and anxious which makes the bed itself a cue for insomnia and stress.  When you are asleep for a higher percentage of your time in bed, your mind starts to associate the bed with sleep rather than frustrated wakefulness.

It works!

For me, the program has worked wonders.  I went from sleeping 4.5 hours a night to consistently getting 6-7 hours.  I fall asleep quickly (sometimes in the middle of a sentence, according to my bedmate) and only rarely wake up in the middle of the night now.  When I do, most of the time I’m able to fall right back to sleep.  It’s awesome!!!  I’m starting to feel like a sane person again.

Your challenge

Whether you have insomnia or just want to see if your sleep could be improved using some of these tools, your challenge this week is to track your sleep efficiency.  Get a sleep journal and record the total amount of time you are in bed and the amount of time you are asleep.  If you are spending less than 85% of your time in bed sleeping, calculate your maximum time in bed and move your bedtime later.  See how it affects your sleep efficiency.

Stay tuned for more good stuff about managing insomnia next week.

 

Eric Karpinski

The Happiness Coach

P.S.  To receive these posts directly into your inbox each week, simply sign up in the form on the right hand side of this page.  You’ll also receive access to my most recent free webinar on the science of happiness (positive psychology).

P.P.S.  I love it when people share these posts on their favorite social media sites.  If you want to share this post, click on any of the links below:

Your happiness depends on the QUALITY of your sleep.

Last week, I challenged you to set a bedtime to get an additional hour of sleep per night (check out details here).  Did it work?  Do you feel different?  Happier, perhaps?

It turns out that just spending more time in bed isn’t always enough — it’s the amount of quality sleep that matters most when trying to sleep our way happy.

Today I’ll be providing some tips for increasing the quality of your sleep.  First, those tips that you’ve probably heard before (but I’m going to mention them because they work):

  • Eliminate caffeine after 2pm.  Right?  Seems obvious.  And if you’re getting enough high-quality sleep, you won’t need a Diet Coke at 5pm to make it through your evening.
  • Reduce fluids after 8pm.  Waking up to pee is a bummer on sleep quality.
  • Keep your bedroom dark and quiet.  So obvious I can’t even comment…
  • Don’t have stressful conversations or do anxiety-producing work right before bed.  Those emotions head into sleep with you.

One you’ve tackled these entry-level fixes, you’re ready to move on to the many additional ideas that research has uncovered.  Most aren’t quite so obvious; some of them are even counter-intuitive.

Reduce alcohol intake.  Yes, alcohol makes you sleepy, so why not have a night cap to help send you into LaLa land?  It turns out that while alcohol can help you fall asleep; it also makes your sleep much lighter and more fragmented.  This significantly reduces the time spent in the two most important stages of sleep: deep sleep, the most restorative stage, and REM sleep, where you consolidate memories and learning from the day.  While there is no problem having a glass of wine at dinner or a beer after work, more than that can greatly interrupt the quality of your sleep.

Turn off the screens.  While tv or web surfing (or even playing Plant vs. Zombies on your iPad…) may feel like it helps you wind down, these activities are very stimulating and fill your eyes with light, both of which can keep you awake and engaged well after your body may want to sleep.  Ideally, try to turn off the screen for a full hour before bedtime.  If that feels too draconian, give yourself at least 30 minutes.  Reading can be a good use of that time while still allowing your body to get ready for sleep.

Maintain bedtime and wake-up times.  Evolution has pushed us to be creatures of habit when it comes to sleep.  By keeping a specific bedtime and get-up time, you greatly strengthen your circadian cycle and increase the quality of your sleep.  This is pretty easy for most of us to do during the highly scheduled weekdays, but it’s important to keep close to that schedule on weekends as well.  An hour one way or another can be absorbed, but really late nights and late sleep-ins on the weekends can greatly confuse your body, interrupting your sleep for several days.  (Do you really need to stay at the club til 2am?  Or watch ‘Inception’ again, right now?  No one is going to see that hilarious facebook post until tomorrow anyway…)

Keep your bedroom cool.  Lower body temperature helps us sleep and higher body temperatures wake us up.  If your room is too warm or you have too many blankets, the increased body temperature will interrupt the quality of your sleep.  Of course, spending a night shivering isn’t going to let you sleep either, so play with what works for you.  The experts recommend something between 55 and 75 oF.

Exercise.  It really is the wonder drug.  Exercise not only keeps you healthy and directly makes you happier (see post here), it also helps you sleep better.  And this doesn’t have to be hard-core sweat-filled workouts at the gym either; just 30 minutes of moderate exercise over the course of the day is enough.  And if your schedule allows it, you get the most sleep benefit with exercise 3 to 6 hours before bed.

Whether or not you took on last week’s challenge to add another hour of sleep:  try implementing a few of these tips for increasing the quality of your sleep.   The goal is to find yourself waking up refreshed around the time your alarm is to go off.  As you have more quality sleep you’ll start to feel happier!  Give it a shot!!!

Next week I’ll be sharing some very surprising research about how to get back into a good sleep routine, for those of us who suffer insomnia.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

Sleep: A Simple Tool To Increase Your Happiness

One of the simplest ways to increase the amount of happiness you feel is to get more high-quality sleep.  Today, I’ll be sharing the science showing why you should give up some of that precious evening time and hit the pillow a little earlier each night.

The research on sleep and mood

If you’re human, you’ve experienced first-hand the crappy days that can result after a poor night’s sleep; you’re grumpy, spacy, forgetful, annoyed or some combination. Science strongly confirms your experience and shows how sleep deprivation affects mood.  For example:

  • A study from the University of Pennsylvania showed a marked increase in anger, stress, sadness and mental exhaustion in a group that got less than 4.5 hours of sleep a night for a week.  There was a dramatic improvement in mood when they resumed a normal sleep schedule.
  • A large study by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman showed that:
    • Increases in sleep quality is associated with very large increases in reported enjoyment in daily activities
    • A poor night sleep was one of two factors that most upset daily mood at work.  (the other, by the way, was tight deadlines)
  • Functional brain studies showed that those who are even moderately sleep deprived are 60% more reactive to negative emotional stimuli. “It’s as if the brain is reverting to more primitive behaviors in terms of [the amount of] control they normally have over their emotions” says Richard Walker, the UC Berkeley researcher who headed up the study.
  • A study out of the University of Michigan showed that an additional hour of sleep had more effect on happiness than a $60,000 raise!

Are you sleep-deprived?

Our go-go-go culture is one where we tend to stay busy and stimulated for hour after hour.  It is really easy to adapt to having too little sleep; we just get accustomed to those feelings of tiredness and it becomes our new normal.

But there are some clear indicators when you need more sleep.  Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you sleep less than 6 hours per night?
  • Do you need an alarm clock to consistently wake up on time?
  • Do you often find yourself ‘nodding off’ during boring meetings, while watching TV or anytime you are in a quiet space?
  • Do you fall asleep within 5 minutes of going to bed?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are not getting enough quality sleep.

If that’s true, what can you do?

Set yourself a bedtime

Kids need lots of sleep, so they get a bedtime.  But do you do the same for yourself?  Waiting until you feel tired makes it easy to get carried away by those shiny distractions — reading one more chapter, watching one more show, sending one last email or finishing one last quest/mission (you know who you are…).

We manage what we measure.  Locking in a bedtime will help you keep that commitment.  And if you stay up later, those feelings of being up ‘past your bedtime’ can often encourage you to get horizontal sooner than otherwise.

For those of you who regularly sleep less than 7 hours per night here is this week’s happiness challenge:  For the next 2 weeks, set a bedtime that gives you a full extra hour of sleep and stick to it.   Then see what happens.  For many people, this extra sleep feels so good they just keep doing it.  See what happens for you.

Eric Karpinski

The Happiness Coach

P.S.  To receive these posts directly into your inbox each week, simply sign up in the form on the right hand side of this page.  You’ll also receive access to my most recent free webinar on the science of happiness (positive psychology).

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Turning the Love Inward: Loving-Kindness Meditation, Part 2

Last week, I introduced loving-kindness meditation as a powerful way to increase your feelings of love and compassion for others. Recent studies from positive psychology have also shown how this meditation increases the total amount of happiness you feel. Review last week’s post here.

This week, I want to talk about how to turn this love inward.

Be honest: you can be pretty hard on yourself, can’t you? Sometimes those voices in your head are not just self-critical but down-right mean. (See post here.)

Yet when I talk about ‘loving yourself,’ many of you immediately have visions of over-the-top, self-help-gone-wrong scenarios such as Stuart Smalley from Saturday Night Live: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and doggone it, people like me!”

You can admit it; I have those visions too. 😉

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-DIETlxquzY[/youtube]

 

In modern American culture, giving yourself love seems self-indulgent and egotistical. Most of us are taught from a young age not to brag and not to act like we’re “all that.” We’re taught to focus on what we need to strengthen or change. While we can’t easily change our culture, we can change our focus. Here’s this week’s challenge: get radically counter-cultural and focus on self-love.

Adapting the loving-kindness practice

Here’s how: use the meditation instructions from last week to start. Open up the positive phrases and send that positive energy to loved ones as instructed. Then when you’ve got a good head of steam going and are feeling the love for others flow, change the object of the meditation to you by simply changing ‘you’ to ‘I’:

May I be loved and feel love for others.
May I be healthy and strong.
May I be safe and protected from danger.
May I be happy, truly happy and free.

Try to love yourself as much during this meditation as you love the other people in your life. Send yourself these loving wishes. You are a good person and as deserving of your love as those other people on your list.

My experience

I’ve been doing loving-kindness mediation for years and I love the practice. Giving love to others comes easily for me and is a central value in how I live my life. I even tattooed “Live to Love” on my upper arm last summer.

But I resisted spending loving-kindness
meditation time on myself. My inner
dialogue sounded something like, “Yeah,
yeah, yeah. I love myself already; let’s move on to the good stuff.” I viewed sending myself love as wasted time.

I’ve recently discovered that many of my struggles with anxiety and perfectionism are due to withholding love to me. For years, I’ve loved myself conditionally, only being happy with myself when I meet very aggressive goals and expectations. When I don’t, I give myself all kinds of crap for being lazy or not focused enough.

Over the last month, I’ve focused on sending a lot more love my way. It’s hard sometimes. My mind pushes me to do something ‘more important.’ But as I persevere and stick with it, there has been a distinct softening in my own self-talk. I am much kinder to myself. I am more accepting and forgiving of my own imperfections.

Just do it
Loving-kindness meditation is a proven path to happiness. Use it as discussed last week, and also send that love inward. It can be hard at first; notice when it is and when you judge yourself or feel silly, and then decide to stick with it anyway. No one needs to know you are spending your time this way; do it for yourself, not for anyone else. You may be surprised at how being kind to yourself can make a big difference!

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

P.S.  To receive these posts directly into your inbox each week, simply sign up in the form on the right hand side of this page.  You’ll also receive access to my most recent free webinar on the science of happiness (positive psychology).
 
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Building Love and Compassion through Meditation

I’ve been focusing a lot of time on mindfulness over the last few weeks (overview here and here). Today, I’m going to talk about another type of meditation that has an equally storied history (it’s been practiced for over 2000 years) and has been shown to significantly increase happiness and positive emotions.

Loving-kindness meditation focuses specifically on increasing your capacity to love and be loved. It’s a simple meditation where you repeat well-wishing phrases quietly in your mind. It can be your primary meditation practice, or it can be interspersed or integrated into a regular mindfulness practice.

 

Scientific Results
Barbara Fredrickson, one of the top positive psychology researchers, recently completed a controlled 7-week study testing loving-kindness meditation in over 200 people. One group was assigned to regular 20 minute meditations where they followed instructions similar to the ones I relay below and filled in daily surveys on their emotions. The control group filled in the same surveys but didn’t do the meditations.

After 3 weeks of this regular practice, the meditation group started to show significant increases in feelings of love and social connection as expected. But they also showed significant increases in other positive emotions including joy, serenity, gratitude and hope among others. And the positive emotions continued to rise steadily throughout the study. This is the biggest controlled study showing how valuable a loving-kindness meditation practice can be.

My experience
This is one of my favorite meditation practices. When I focus on it, it opens me to a greater sense of connection and community. I find it wonderful to informally practice when I’m out in the world — sending positive wishes out to others while I’m waiting in a line or walking somewhere or even sitting in traffic. When I’m in this space, I find that more people smile at me and things come more easily; that sense of connection brightens my day even more than the meditation itself does.

How to do it
Like with mindfulness meditation, find a comfortable place to sit with your back straight. Focus for a minute or two on the sensations of your breath — you can even imagine your breath coming in and out of your heart.

Then picture someone you love – a loving grandparent, a favorite niece or nephew, a mentor, special teacher or even a pet can work. The key is to start with the simplest love possible, a love that is not complicated with day-to-day stress.

Picture the recipient of your good wishes in your mind and repeat these simple phrases:

May you be loved and feel love for others
May you be healthy and strong
May you be safe and protected from danger
May you be happy, truly happy and free

It’s important to try to open up to those feelings of love, let the words be felt rather than just repeated. After a round or two of going through the phrases, you can move on to other people you love in your life, even those with some complications (i.e. your partner, your kids, parents or good friends.)

You can stay with these people for the whole session if you want or you can expand the practice further by moving on to more neutral people you’ve met — neighbors, workmates, the guy who works the register at the grocery store. And finally you can expand to all people or all beings everywhere.

Give it a try
Give loving-kindness meditation a try and see how it feels. It can be good to start with a guided version of a loving-kindness meditation, click here to access a 9-minute version that was recorded at UCLA. Try it a couple times this week. Next week I’ll be providing a few additional ideas that can help use this practice to be less self-critical and more forgiving.

Some people take to loving-kindness immediately; for others it takes some time to get the hang of it. The key is simply to create opportunities to expand the amount of love you feel.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

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