Author Archives: Eric Karpinski

Transforming Resolutions to Lasting Habits, Part 1

Does your New Year’s resolution list look like this?

“Exercise 5 days a week.  Eat only healthy food.  Lose 25 pounds.  Be more patient.  Cure cancer.  Negotiate world peace. Etc. Etc.”

Or maybe you don’t make resolutions because you’ve never kept them for more than two weeks (two days?) in the past.


Long-term, sustainable change is hard.  We are creatures of habit; in fact, studies suggest that only 5% of our actions are consciously chosen.  We build strong neuro-pathways over years of repetition that make it so much easier to keep doing things the way we always have – scanning Facebook instead of meditating, pushing the snooze button instead of going for a run, or watching 30 more minutes of TV instead of going to bed.  We have sadly limited stores of discipline to overcome that inertia of do-it-like-we-always-do.

The good news is that a lot of research has been done on ways to make change stick.   With some concerted effort and focus, we can literally rewire our brain, developing and strengthening neuro-pathways towards habits that we want in our lives.  Over time and with consistent practice, the new pathway can become the default, the path of least resistance.  Then this new desired habit can become as ingrained as brushing your teeth before you go to bed.

Here are three proven steps to making lasting change.  Next week, I’ll share the next four steps and am also offering a free teleclass to help you develop YOUR detailed implementation plan.  Details and signup information are below.

1.       Pick one thing to change at a time. Seriously.  Just ONE and commit to it.  Developing a single new habit (and the neuro-pathways to support it) is hard.   Trying to change more than one thing at a time dilutes your effort and significantly increases the likelihood of failing which can lead to losing a sense of control and potentially giving up on making any change.  So prioritize the most important habit you want to bring into your life.  If done right, these changes can last a lifetime.

2.      Give yourself two months to make one change.  The research shows that it takes 30-60 days to make a new habit stick — to fully rewire your brain.  Give yourself enough time to really lock in the new desired behavior.

3.      Start easy. Take whatever goal you have, whatever habit you want to form and find an easy way to start – put on your running shoes and just make it out the front door, meditate for 60 seconds, do 2 short minutes of uninterrupted writing.  Stick with this initial goal for a few days.  By setting, achieving and celebrating small victories, our brains get the message that we are on track, that we are making progress and that builds our confidence, our sense of control and our focus.  Then add a little distance to your running or a little time to your meditation or focused writing.  The key is to make each step easily do-able from where you are now.

“Incremental change is better than ambitious failure”
– Tony Schwartz, author of the Power of Full Engagement

Decide and get started THIS WEEK.  Take January 1st to recover from ringing in the New Year, but make it happen on the 2nd (and 3rd and 4th).  Then join us on the 5th for a:

Free ‘Transforming Resolutions to Lasting Habits’ Teleclass, Jan 5 at 6pm PT (9pm ET)

Are you serious about making your resolutions stick?  I’m offering a FREE TELECLASS on this topic next Thursday evening (January 5) at 6pm PT (9pm ET).  Bring your resolutions with you and some blank paper.  Together we will develop a specific plan to integrate this new habit into your life.  If you want to join the call, sign up at the link below and I’ll forward you the call-in information.

Free teleclass link:

I know with busy lives and the start of the new year, some of you may not be able to join us for the call.  I don’t want you to miss this great opportunity to create lasting change, so I will be recording the call.  If you sign up on the form at the link above I will forward you the recording.

As an extra gift for signing up for the teleclass I will put you on the Happiness Infusion email list (if you are not already on it!).  These short weekly emails are full of tips and tools from the science of happiness that will go directly to your inbox each week.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

How to Truly Savor the Holidays

The holidays are fully here.  Christmas is just a few days away, there are two candles lit on the Hanukkah menorah and the Times Square ball drops in just 9 days.

This time of year has SO much potential for joy and happiness.  But so often we rush through these wonderful events, distracted by our mind chatter about what’s not right or what we’re supposed to do next.

But you can maximize the positive feelings you get from these good events by savoring them.  Savoring can generate more positive emotions and intensify and prolong those that we already feel.   And savoring is really easy to do — here are some key steps:


Slow down and focus on the now.  You’ve been planning, preparing, making and buying for weeks to get ready for the holidays.  Don’t let that do-do-do mentality prevent you from actually enjoying the experiences you’ve created.  During your celebrations, create space to let go of what you should be doing next and open up to what is happening NOW.

Find a way to remind yourself to slow down. Turn your watch or phone to beep every hour.  Tie a string to your wrist or finger.  Wear your watch on your other hand for the week.  Every time you notice the reminder, deliberately slow down, take a couple deep breaths and be with whatever experience is happening to you at that moment.

Open up to your senses.  The holidays are filled with sensual delights and positive feelings.  Let them fill up your awareness: 

  • Close your eyes and really smell the cake baking or the food roasting.
  • Watch how the tree lights twinkle off the shiny wrapping paper.
  • Feel the gratitude for that surprise present that was just what you needed
  • See the engagement and excitement as your niece plays with her new toy
  • Melt into the hug with the sister you haven’t seen in months
  • Taste the creamy sweetness of that cup of hot chocolate
  • Luxuriate in loved ones’ enjoyment of the experiences you’ve created for them

Once you notice, try to keep your attention on these experiences for 5, 10 or even 20 seconds.  Breathe into it.  Notice how it changes over time.  Enjoy it fully.

Build it up.  Use your active mind to expand the story and build up those positive emotions.  Some ideas:

  • Remember that this only comes once/year.
  • Celebrate that you worked hard to create this experience, and now is the time to enjoy it.
  • Remind yourself how lucky you are to have this amazing food, these incredible friends, a loving family, a warm home, a safe place to sleep.
  • Increase your appreciation by comparing your situation with others who are going through a harder time or with times in your life when you weren’t so blessed.
  • Recognize how awesome it is that you’ve got time off of work and other duties so you can be here to experience these things.

Share the experience.  When you notice something wonderful, share it with others.  This can multiply the amount of positive emotion you can glean from any experience.  According to the research, sharing is the strongest predictor of the level of enjoyment someone feels.  By talking about the good stuff, you keep your attention there.  Your positive emotions become infectious and you’ll help break others out of their busy minds and into the moment.  As their emotions ramp up, they’ll likely share positive things that they are experiencing further stoking your positivity.  Sharing creates an upward spiral of joy, excitement and appreciation.

So bring your attention to all the wonderful experiences of the holidays and really enjoy them.  It’s easy to get caught up in all the doing and forget to BE.

While I’m going end the main post here, I want to share a recent experience I had with holiday savoring and using it to break out of a funk.  If you are interested read on below.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach
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The transforming power of savoring

Earlier this week, I took Becca and the kids to a gingerbread house making party with my friend Karin Eastham.  Karin, a former biotech colleague of mine, has been pursuing her passions by publishing a cookbook around team cooking, called Cook the Part.  The book is awesome and her blog shares a ton of great recipes and ideas about how to throw a fun cooking party or team building activity in the kitchen.

As we settled into assembling the houses, I noticed I was feeling off.  I’d had a run-run-run day getting ready for Christmas festivities which had left me feeling a little anxious and cranky.  I brought that energy with me to Karin’s.  Are the kids being polite enough?  Did Becca really want to bring the family all the way up here instead of having a quiet afternoon at home?  What do these biotech colleagues think about my leaving the industry to be a coach?  I could feel the negative energy of these questions — the judging and worrying — start to take hold and make me more anxious.

Then I noticed what I was doing.  That I was taking what could be an amazing experience and tainting it with gratuitous negativity.  Yuck!  So I decided it was a great time to turn on my savoring tools.  I consciously slowed down with a couple deep breaths and became aware of my senses.  This helped me notice all the subtle positive things that were happening.  How my 9 year-old’s tongue stuck out a little when she was concentrating on her masterpiece.  How my 7 year-old was designing his house to maximize how much candy he could fit on it.   How proud I felt as my wife talked about her leadership roles at work.  How yummy the peppermint bark was.  How much fun it was to meet some new and interesting people.  Savoring brought me out of my worrying loops and into the wonderful experience we were having as a family.

Then I focused on building up the experience in my mind and sharing what I was feeling.  I expressed my appreciation of Karin for hosting and doing the baking ahead of time.  I shared my own memories of making gingerbread houses as a kid at my aunt’s house.   How little Piper, the two year old with us, looked just like Cindy Lou Who, with her big blue eyes and brilliant smile.  All of this helped increased the joy I was feeling and encouraged the others to share similar stories.

While I’d arrived grumpy and tired, I left Karin’s house energized and happy.  Savoring had helped me not only salvage a bad day, but imprint some great memories that I will hold onto for a long time.

Handling Holiday Drama: Managing difficult people

We’ve all got people that push our buttons.  Whether it’s about religion, politics or the way we ”should” live our life (or drive our car or wear our hair or raise our children), they seem to know exactly the thing to say to set us on a path of reactive anger or defensiveness.  Holiday gatherings can be especially trying, since quite often these button-pushers are family members who we don’t see often, or bosses/co-workers from whom we usually have the distance of work topics.

With a little planning and forethought, though, you can minimize the negativity caused by these button-pushers.  Here are some tips for managing that difficult person.

Ask lots of questions.  Do a little homework ahead of time and come prepared with a host of questions ready about something important in this person’s life – a recent trip, their kids’ activities, their interests.  Keep the conversation away from sensitive topics by leading with your inquiries.  People LOVE to talk about themselves; make it easy for them.

Focus conversation on the good things.  Lead the conversation to more neutral or positive topics – the weather, the food, decorations at the party or appreciation for the host.  Set a positive tone to start.

Invite a new friend.  Difficult people are less likely to go into all-out conflict mode if there is someone new around.  This strategy works particularly well with family gatherings where the dynamics of a stranger/guest keep everyone on good behavior.  BONUS; You may bring some holiday cheer to a friend who will be charmed (or hoodwinked) by your lovely family.

True Happiness Tactics:  If you can manage them, these tactics go beyond just minimizing negativity and create happiness for you.

Let go of changing or convincing your button-pusher.  Look at your own role in stoking the negativity with this person.  Do you subconsciously bait them into the conflict by preempting their arguments?  Do you start out defensively?  As easy as it is to blame them, we often have a role in amping up the conflict and taking the conversation into challenging territory.  Accepting them as they are can be powerful.   Check into your assumptions.

Find the good things about this person.  Sure, there are things you dislike about this person, but what are their positive qualities?  What do others love about them?  Are they a great parent or partner?  Do they do good community work?  Have they helped others that you love?  Hold these good qualities in your mind when you engage with them.

Find the humor.  If no matter what you do, Uncle Bob replays the same conversation EVERY Christmas –  “So when are you going to get a real job?” or “Wow, the Republicans/Democrats are sure screwing up the country.”   Try to find humor in their bizarre infatuation with the topic? Think of it as a charming quirk and part of the fun.

If all else fails…

Minimize your exposure.  Arrive a little late.  Leave a little early.  Avoid getting into a direct conversation with them or just walk away if the conversation gets heated.

Skip the event completely.  If there is going to be a similar level of drama whether you go or not, save those precious holiday hours.  Use the time for another favorite holiday activity instead.  Schedule a way to connect with those you will miss at another time where the challenging person isn’t present.  Life (and the holiday period) is too short for extraneous drama.

The holidays can be a time of wonderful connection.  Use these tips to help minimize the negativity of challenging people so you can savor the time with those you love!

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach
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Multiply the Joy of Giving AND Receiving

You were on a business trip and found the perfect present for your nephew.  You buy it for him, wrap it and bring it over.  It’s not Christmas or his birthday.  When you arrive, he sees the box in your hand and you see his smile.  You let the anticipation build for a few minutes while you greet your sister.  Your nephew is bouncing, excited to see what’s in the box.  When you finally give it to him, he rips open the paper and as he sees the cool dump truck, his smile widens into a full-on grin.  He jumps up and throws his arms around you, thanking you over and over.  Then the two of you move piles of stuffed animals from one side of his room to another with his cool new truck.  The animated play and his focused excitement fill both of you with joy.

This is the magic of gift-giving.  Surprise.  Excitement.  Gratitude. A shared experience.  A true gift.  This kind of gift exchange locks in wonderful memories that can last a lifetime.

Unfortunately, during the holidays, we’ve turned this idea on its head.  Instead of giving from the heart out of love or appreciation, we give because we’re expected to – out of obligation and some warped sense of barter and reciprocity.  We make our holiday gift list by those we ‘have’ to get a present for.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Here are some ideas for recapturing the happiness in gift-giving (and receiving)!

The Joy of Giving

Focus on the people who you want to give a gift to.  Start with a blank piece of paper and think about who you want to show your love to.  Who is going through a hard time and could use a little pick me up?  Who are the people that are always there for you?  Who did something meaningful for you this year and you want to show your appreciation?  These are the people to put on your holiday gift list.

Find meaning within obligation.  If you feel you must give someone a gift this year, find some meaning in that relationship.   What does this person mean to you?  What gratitude can you bring up for them?   Let go of “I need to give them a present [sigh]” and replace it with, “I want to show them my appreciation for being in my life,” or “This will really make a difference to them.”  This simple change of perspective can bring so much more happiness to both of you.

Remember the meaning as you shop/make the present.  Reminding yourself of the appreciation and love you feel for the recipient of the gift can multiply the positive emotions you feel.  Tap into those emotions as you shop for or make their present.  These positive emotions may give you that extra dose of patience you need to find a parking spot at the mall or give you that motivation to mix that final batch of cookies.  Putting together presents in this way can take the chore out of the effort and make it fun.

Give in-person.  When you go through the trouble of buying or making a gift for someone, be there to give it to them.  Imbue the gift with all the love it has by telling them what they mean to you or by sharing stories of how they have been helpful or what you see in them.  Even if you are uncomfortable, soak in the joy and appreciation that your words and the gift provide.  Your thoughtfulness created those positive emotions.  Let yourself feel them!

The Joy of Receiving

Find the meaning.  See the gift, whatever it is, as a little packet of love.  Even if they don’t use the words, find the meaning that the gift represents. This person went through the trouble of acquiring this gift and bringing it specifically to you because of who you are and of what you mean to them.  Let yourself open up to that meaning when you receive the gift.

Let go of reciprocity.  Gifts are meant to make us feel good.  If we get a gift and respond with apology (“Oh, I didn’t get you anything”) or obligation (Now I need to buy them a gift) we drain all the good feelings out of the interaction.  Instead of being energized by your appreciation, they feel bad that their gift made you feel guilty.  Yuck!  What a wasted opportunity.  Let go of obligation and be gracious in your thanks.  They got you something because they wanted to not to get something in return.

Receive generously.  Receiving a gift well – with gratitude and excitement and appreciation – is one of the greatest gifts you can give someone.

Let me say that again…  receiving a gift well is an incredible gift to the giver.  Be that nephew in the story above.  It’s not the object that you are appreciating, but the effort and thought that went into putting you on their list and spending their precious time and/or money finding or making a gift for YOU.  When you light up and share honest appreciation for that effort you multiply the positive feelings for that single generous act.

If you liked the Crap or Cone talk from John Styn I shared a few weeks ago, watch the part of his TED talk on gifting.  (Watch for about a minute from this link.)

The holidays are filled with opportunities for thoughtful giving and gracious receiving.  Take advantage of these endless sources of happiness!

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach


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Put More Happy in Your Holidays

Remember when holidays were the happiest time of the year?  When all you had to do was write (and re-write!) your Christmas list or wonder what treat the fourth night of Hanukkah would bring?  Maybe you lay under the Christmas tree and looked up at the lights or got to stay up late to ring in the New Year.

For many of us, all that original holiday joy has been buried under a giant list of “shoulds” and “have tos”:  I have to cook amazing holiday meals, I need to have the perfect Martha Stewart Christmas Tree, I have to send a witty and individualized holiday letter, I should deliver holiday cookies to everyone I know and I need to find a perfect gift for 20+ people.  (All while continuing to take care of the work and family obligations we have every other month of the year, by the way). 

We get SO busy doing all these “shoulds” that we miss the opportunity to really soak in the good stuff and savor this joyful time with loved ones.

How can you re-capture the simpler joy of the holidays?  First of all, figure out the things that authentically make you happy in December. Make a list of all the things that you truly look forward to (or would look forward to if you had the time to focus on it!).  Then schedule enough time for these big rocks that you can slow down and really enjoy them.

So what about all that other stuff that fills up your holiday season?  How can you clear out time to really savor the parts you love?  Here are some ideas:

Ditch the “shoulds.”    Got a holiday tradition that brings you nothing but stress?  Don’t do it.  Are your neighbors really going to run you out of town if you don’t put up lights?  Do each of your officemates really need a rum cake? Let it go. Don’t get pulled into something you don’t enjoy just because you have always done it that way or other people expect you to.  These are YOUR holidays.  Own them.  (Sound scary?  Start small with 1-2 things to cut this year, and commit to what you’ll eliminate next year.)

Enlarge the part that makes you happy and minimize the rest.  Is gathering with friends and loved ones really important to you, but the meal planning and cooking stresses you out?  Change it up.  Co-host with someone who likes to cook but needs a house like yours to pull it off.  Make it a potluck.  Order take-out.  Meet at a restaurant or roller rink or somewhere else unexpected and fun.  Get creative with ways to get more of what you want and less of what you don’t.

Change the timeline.  Who says the things you love (or even feel obliged to do) around the holidays have to happen in December? My wife loves to send out a creative and snarky holiday card.  But she rarely gets it done by Christmas.  We routinely send out New Years or MLK Day, or even spring solstice cards.    Love to bake cookies?  Do it for Valentine’s Day instead.  Is finding that right gift fun when you have time for it?  Focus on birthdays and skip December.

Just Say No.  If an event doesn’t sound *more* fun than something on your favorites list, just say no.  An invitation is not an obligation. Our friends don’t want us to go to something we won’t enjoy. We throw a kooky New Year’s Eve party and, every year, some of our best friends say no.  Welcoming the new year with just their family makes them happy.  Or if your friends always invite people that push your buttons, give it a pass this year and enjoy a night savoring something that gives you joy.

Limiting your activities to those things that you really love can make all the difference in enjoying your holidays.  And it will give you time to slow down and really savor the best parts.  And don’t forget that happiness is infectious – as you reduce your holiday stress and increase your happiness, your friends and loved ones will become happier too.  And what better gift can you give during the holidays?

Tune in next week for tips on making gift-giving a joyful experience, not a dreaded, stress-filled chore.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

Include More “Thanks” in your Thanksgiving

Tomorrow is the big day.  Thanksgiving.  It’s often a holiday of family time, over-indulgence and maybe some football.  It’s also a day traditionally set aside to celebrate gratitude.  Today I want to offer some ideas to help keep the “thanks” in Thanksgiving and bring more meaning to a wonderful day.

Share gratitude.  The simplest tradition is to go around the table during the meal and have everyone share a couple things that they are grateful for.  Encourage people to give some details either directly or by asking questions (e.g. “Why are you grateful for your mom?”)  .

Pull out gratitude cards.  Sometime before the meal, have everyone fill out three cards sharing something they are grateful for.  Make a game of pulling out a card throughout the meal and reading it.  After the meal, you can pick a selection of them to go into a scrapbook that can be added to each year, so you create a historical gratitude tracker.

Pull out gratitude cards, option 2.  Ahead of the meal, write down several different categories on small cards or sheets of paper: include things like day, place, experience, food, person, item, health, etc.  Then go around the table and have each person draw out a card and share something they are grateful for in that category and why.

Say grace.  Many families thank God or the Universe for the bounty on the table and the blessings in their lives.  You can add to or modify that tradition by thinking about and thanking everything and everyone involved in the meal:  the rain, the sun and the soil that allowed the food to grow;  the people who tended the fields or cared for the animals; those who picked the ripe produce or processed it; everyone who transported the food from the farm to the stores;  those who unloaded the trucks and stocked the grocery store and ran the checkout.  You can get even more personal by appreciating the person who went to the store, bought the food and prepared it with love for the celebration, and all the people around the table who came together to enjoy the meal in love. (This is a particularly fun one to do with kids, or if your family has a little competitive spirit: “Who or what else do we need to thank?”

Show and tell gratitude.  Have everyone bring items to the dinner table that represent good things in their lives.  This method can be particularly effective with kids who might otherwise not be able to come up with something on the spot.

Write thank you notes.  Have notes or stationary and colorful pens and markers available throughout the day and encourage everyone to write a thank-you letter or note to someone they are grateful for – a friend, family member or teacher.

Gratitude speed writing.  Sometime before the meal, get some paper and pens and a timer and have everyone come to the table.  Set the timer for four minutes and then read the following instructions “Make a list of everything that you are grateful for.  List anything that comes to mind by speedwriting.  This means you write as fast as you can without stopping.  Include things both large and small.  Don’t judge your answers.  Just let things flow in a stream-of-consciousness way.”  You can have people share things from their list then or prime the table with questions about the list over the course of the meal.  It can be fun to ask for some of the sillier or smaller things that came up in the exercise.

If some of your guests tend to shyness, you can send an email today to let them know if you are going to do one of the exercises above.  Having them spend a day thinking about what they are grateful for can be a great way to increase their happiness!

No matter how you celebrate Thanksgiving, may you have a wonderful meal full of connection, good stories and delicious food!

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach
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Gratitude Part 2: Expanding gratitude into more of your day

Once you’ve started your daily gratitude ritual, then the REAL fun can begin – expanding gratitude into other parts of your day.  As your daily habit of documenting your blessings starts to strengthen those benefit-finding neuro-pathways, you’ll start noticing more to appreciate.  Let it expand further by trying some of the following:

Family mealtime gratitude.  Dinner time is gratitude time at our house.  We go around the table and share one or two ‘thankfuls’ or high points from the day.  It’s good for us to share something from our days and it helps reshape the kids neuro-pathways towards benefit-finding.

Of course, being kids, they sometimes resist; we try not to ‘force’ them to find something to be grateful for since that’s probably NOT the best way to increase family happiness ;).  But we keep modeling the practice even when they don’t participate.

Some families practice this with their kids before bedtime stories instead.  This mealtime strategy can work with partners, roommates, even cats.

Get a gratitude buddy.  One of my clients shares gratitude lists with her sister in a distant city via email a couple times a week.  Not only does it enhance their connection, it’s also a great way to consolidate her “Best of” from the week and she gets a double dose of positivity – one from writing hers and one from reading her sister’s celebrations.  It also motivates them to connect on the phone or plan trips to see one another.  It’s a win-win-win!

Transform complaining.  Most of us are really good at finding something wrong with any particular moment.  I work at  monitoring that complaining side of me, and  whenever I catch myself falling into those old ”Ugh, of course this is going wrong,” habits, I specifically look around for something I can appreciate at that moment.

When stuck in traffic, how lucky I am not to be part of the accident slowing us down, and I get to finish another chapter of the audiobook!  When it seems like I have to wash every pan in the cupboard, aren’t I lucky that my wife loves to cook?  When the computer craps out, what a good excuse to meditate, take a walk or play Legos?

Bring heartfelt gratitude into our everyday ‘thank yous’.  In our culture, we say thank you all the time.  But it is often a rote comment with little meaning.  Try imbuing those little thank-yous with some real energy and meaning.

When someone holds open a door for you, REALLY notice it.  Slow down a bit to feel the appreciation well up in you, then look them in the eye and smile and offer a heartfelt thank you.  Let those little moments be time to appreciate and connect with those helping you.  When you start to look, you’ll notice these things happen all the time.

Allow yourself to receive thanks.  One of the best gifts we can give someone is to accept their heartfelt thank yous.  Often in this culture, we deflect those thank yous, minimize our contribution or — worse — look uncomfortable, which inadvertently increases negativity.  Now the thanker worries that they said something wrong or offended you in some way.  Next time someone thanks you for something you did, accept their gratitude.  Let it fill you up.  Appreciating their gratitude is an incredible gift.

Write your thanks.  My wife makes a habit of sending out a few short handwritten notes or emails each week to colleagues at work, appreciating their contribution.

Not only does it make her reflect on the varied and often unnoticed contributions of those around her – “I really appreciate that you took the time to explain the new policy,” or “Thank you for arranging all the materials for that training” – but she gets pleasure from knowing how meaningful such appreciation is, judging by the number of her notes she sees posted or displayed on people’s desks. (Do you keep a file or box with the thank you notes you’ve received?  Or post them where you see them every day? You should!)

As you expand your gratitude into more parts of your day, you will build and strengthen those neuro-pathways that see what’s good in your life.  You will feel gratitude in places where before you felt only complaints.  As you become more grateful, you will become more optimistic and hopeful.  You will start seeing more opportunities for personal and professional growth.  And it all starts with a little thanksgiving…

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach


Thanksgiving: It’s More than Turkey and Crazy Relatives

       Or “The Science of Gratitude”

In a previous post, I shared ideas for developing a daily ritual for gratitude.  (Quick reminder for those of you too busy to click the link: sit down for a few minutes each day and write about three things in your life that are going well.)  In honor of Thanksgiving, we’re going to spend the next few weeks looking a little deeper into the powerful practice of gratitude and its link to happiness.

Initial research into gratitude found that grateful people are happier, more energetic, more forgiving and more hopeful than their less grateful counterparts.  While this correlation is useful, it was only in the last decade that experiments were designed to provide proof that focusing on gratitude could make you happier.

Several top research teams randomly assigned people in their studies to one of two groups.  The first group, the “gratitude group,” was assigned to regularly do an exercise similar to the three good things exercise as described at the link above.  The “control group” was told to do some other writing assignment at the same frequency.  Each group’s happiness was evaluated over time.

The findings were as conclusive as science gets.  The gratitude groups all had statistically significant increases in their happiness scores and decreases in their negative emotion scores at the end of the experiment.  In the longest running of the studies they found that these increases were sustained (and even increased) 6 months after the study completed.  When the investigators (Seligman and Peterson) talked to the subjects they found that most of the “gratitude group” subjects had continued the gratitude writing long after the experiment required because of how well it was working for them.

There is no one right way to “practice gratitude.”  Some of the experiments had people do the gratitude practice daily, others weekly.  While I recommend everyone start with a daily practice for the first month or two to help lock it into a habit and more quickly strengthen those neuro-pathways, do what works with your schedule and temperament.

After you’ve established a regular habit, experiment with other parts of the practice to keep it fresh.  You can try spending a week going deep into one part of your life (gratitude for family one week, then friends, work, or your health, the next week, etc.)  Some days you can list several things and other days go more deeply into the feelings and possible causes of one thing.   Customize it.  See what elicits more positive emotions for you and go with it.  The key is to consistently reserve time to look for what’s good in your life.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach
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Only Sociopaths and the Dead Don’t Feel Bad at Times

Or “Happier, NOT happy all the time”

I created this newsletter because there is a LOT we can do to sustainably increase our happiness and decrease our negative emotions.  Choosing happiness in this way can help us achieve the incredible benefits of living our lives in a more positive emotional space.  But as you embark on your own path towards more happiness, I want to make clear that this work is about becoming happier, NOT about being happy all the time.

If we are going to live and love in this world, we are going to feel negative emotions.  They are simply a part of being human.  One of the most powerful things we can do in our quest to become happier is paradoxically to give ourselves permission to be human and let those negative emotions be experienced and felt.

Bad things happen.  The happiest people embrace the negative emotions that come with these real challenges and problems.  Science has shown conclusively that if we suppress those negative feelings, they inevitably grow stronger and surface in other parts of our lives.

Some negativity is necessary to live a happy life.   It grounds us in reality. It is natural to mourn the loss of someone dear to you, to feel guilt when you do something you know is wrong, to be angry when you see an injustice done or disappointed when something doesn’t go your way.   These inescapable physical or mental discomforts can be seen as the ‘first darts’ of human existence and are examples of necessary negativity.  They should be acknowledged and given space to be fully experienced.

These first darts can be unpleasant, to be sure, but we often add layer upon layer of gratuitous negativity that multiplies the amount of negative emotions we feel.  These ‘second darts’ are the ones we throw ourselves and is where we can significantly reduce our own negativity.  For example, on top of a disappointment that we didn’t get a promotion at work, we can add a cascade of second darts…

“I’m not good enough.”

“I knew I should have done x instead of y.”

“Why do I never get anything I want?”

“He stole that promotion from me.”

“Oh God, this is the first step to me getting fired and then we’ll have to sell the house and move in with the in-laws.  Everyone will know what a failure I am.”

And on and on and on.

Next time you notice feeling bad, try to distinguish the necessary negativity (first darts from the outside world) from the gratuitous negativity of our reactions (second darts).  Many people find that just adding this awareness of necessary vs. gratuitous can significantly reduce the amount of negativity they experience.

There is a lot of great science on how to reduce  gratuitous negativity.  I will be sharing this in the newsletter early in the new year.  But if you are eager to jump in right now, check out chapter 9 of Positivity by Barbara Fredrickson.

The key take home point for today:  Our goal is to become happier, not to completely eliminate negative emotions.  Give yourself permission to be human. Allowing ourselves to feel necessary negative emotions gives us the ability to fully experience our positive emotions.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach
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Find TIME by putting “First Things First”

Most of us live busy, noisy lives.  It is incredibly easy to run from one urgent item to another, filling up our days, weeks and years, without spending enough time on the important stuff — like items that make us happy.  (BTW, if you haven’t done the happiness list exercise from two weeks ago, stop reading now and go do it HERE.)

Our life as a jar

In Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he describes Habit #3 Put First Things First.   He uses the metaphor of fitting rocks in a jar.  It goes something like this: Imagine a large jar.  Your goal is to fit some large rocks and some pebbles and sand into this jar.  Obviously, if we first put in sand and pebbles, it will be harder to fit in any large rocks.



However, if we put the big rocks in FIRST, then the pebbles and the sand will be able to fill in around the big rocks.

Here’s the metaphor part: This jar is the time we have.  The big rocks are the important things in our lives.  The sand and pebbles are the rest of the stuff.  If we simply let our lives flow, we’ll get stuck doing the most urgent yet often unimportant “sand”-like things that come to us.

Many of these grains of sand are not the most important thing for us but are based on the priorities and expectations of others.  And since they are immediately in front of us, we do them, filling our jar with small rocks and sand.  Then when the fire drills are over, when we are drained and exhausted, we try to do those important but not urgent “big rocks.”  And guess what?   Not many of them get done.

Put first things first

The key is to proactively identify the most important things, those things that if done regularly will make a tremendous positive difference in your life.  Identify those big rocks and proactively schedule them in your week FIRST.  Protect that time as you would a meeting with an important client or a job interview.  Then leave time in your week for following up on the urgent matters that will still come up.

For many, just thinking about this metaphor is enough to start putting first things first.  But some of you might be saying, “But EVERYTHING I do is important!”  If it feels that way to you then try this exercise:

Urgent vs. Important

For a week, track how you spend your time.  Put all of your activities on a grid showing each activity’s importance and urgency as follows:

Be honest about what is in Quadrant 4 – the non-urgent, non-important section.  This is the easiest place to find room for your Quadrant 2 “big rocks.”  Replace as much mindless channel or web surfing and endless Facebook updates with activities from your happiness list.  We often fall into non-urgent, non-important activities because we haven’t figured out what really makes us happy or haven’t made it easy to do.   Now that you are armed with your own happiness list, you can take advantage of this found time.

Now also look at what you listed in Quadrant 1.  What are truly your priorities — those that align with your values, your principles, your chosen roles — and which are other people’s priorities?  Again, be honest, look at each item and weigh its value to you and who you want to be.  What if you kept it on the list but did it less often?  Are there responsibilities that you can let go of?  When you take care of yourself first, you’ll have more capacity and energy to help others.

By defining those things that make you happy (your big rocks) and prioritizing them in your schedule, you are taking a huge step towards increasing your positivity ratio and moving your life into flourishing.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach


P.S.  Hey Los Angelenos – I’m bringing the Science of Happiness Workshop to two locations near you.  I’ll be at:

Come join us, or if you have friends in LA who might be interested in coming, forward them this information.


P.P.S .  If you want to receive these happiness infusion posts directly to your inbox, sign up in the upper right of this page.