Category Archives: Happiness

14 months of Happiness Infusion Emails – Your Guide

I’ve been putting out this newsletter/blog for over a year covering a ton of awesome information about positive psychology and the science of happiness.  And there’s no real way to access the good stuff without clicking through week by week.  And who has time for that?

Some writers about happiness (Gretchen Rubin is one) posit that structure and order contribute to positive emotions.  There is not a lot of science to back that up, but I’m willing to test the theory;  this week, I’ll take a break from sharing new content and instead try to bring some order to this chaos.

Fundamentals of Positive Psychology

With almost 15 years of focused research on the science of happiness, there are a lot of basic things we’ve learned.  To get a good grounding on the fundamentals of this exciting science, check out these early posts:

Happiness Habits

You have the power to be happier.  You can significantly increase the amount of happiness you feel every day by integrating some simple new habits into your life.  These habits will help you feel good more of the time and usher in a huge host of benefits including better health, better relationships and more success.  To learn this powerful way to change your life, start here:

Making Time for Your Happiness

While the happiness habits are powerful, they’re not the only path to a happier life.  We all have activities that bring us joy.  In these links, you can uncover more of what makes you happy and learn how to create the time you need to do more of them.

Managing Negative Emotions

It’s difficult to be truly happy if you don’t know how to manage your negative emotions.  If you are like most of us, you bring a LOT of gratuitous negativity into your life that you can eliminate using the proven tools I share in this post.   And there are also times that you need to turn towards your negative emotions and fully experience them.  Learn how to differentiate the two at this link:

Sleep and Happiness

Sleep and happiness are closely tied.  In these posts you’ll learn how to get the most out of your sleep time.  And if having consistent quality sleep is difficult, you can learn some surprising tools for combatting insomnia here:

Mindfulness and Meditation

Taking the time to focus on what’s happening in the present moment is a powerful tool for reducing stress and increasing happiness, focus and personal insight.  This post explains a simple two-minute meditation that can get you started down a more mindful path.  And if you already have some experience with meditation and want to expand your practice, I also include links to 7 detailed posts covering different aspects of meditation:

Fourteen months of Happiness posts in one place.  Happy reading!

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:

 

Making Happiness (or any) Habits Stick

You’ve decided to take on one of the happiness habits I’ve been talking about .  Whether it’s starting to meditate, writing a gratitude list or adding more mood-boosting exercise to your routine, all you have to do is decide to do it, start and then BOOM!  You are fit, balanced and grateful.  It’s that easy, right?  No?

We’ve all had experiences of making a New Year’s resolution and letting it go before two weeks (two days?) have elapsed.  Long-term, sustainable change is hard.  As I mentioned last week, 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 – flipping on the tv instead of meditating or pushing the snooze bar instead of going for a run.  We have very limited stores of will and discipline to overcome that inertia of do-it-like-we-always-do.

Fortunately, there is a lot of great research on how to turn the tide and make these new habits stick.

Choose just one habit at a time.  Lots more about this in last week’s post .

Make it EASY to start.  Most of the 5 habits take just a few minutes a day.  But if it’s exercise or some other habit you are trying to develop, start easy and build it up over time.

Do the activity at the same time every day.  Decide exactly what you are going to do and commit to a specific time to do it.  Put it on your calendar and protect that time.  Multiple studies have shown that committing to a specific time doubles the likelihood of follow-through.  Over time, by performing the action at the same time each day, our bodies and minds adapt and prepare for the action.  This helps lock in the new neuro-pathways more quickly, allowing the new habit to become more automatic and unconscious.  Whether it’s going on a jog as soon as you wake up, meditating immediately after dinner or writing in a gratitude journal right before bed, commit to exactly what you want to do and when you are going to do it.

Reduce the activation energy for habits you want and increase it for habits you don’t want.  This means work to remove barriers from the activities you want to do and increase the barriers to habits you want to break.   For example:

  • Decide your morning workout plan before you go to bed.  Sleep in your (clean!) workout clothes.  Put your shoes right next to your bed.  Have your gym bag fully packed and by the door with your car keys and wallet.  With no decisions to make in your groggy morning state, you’ll be much more likely to get up and do it.
  • Store the TV remote control in the closet.  Ask yourself during those 20 seconds it takes to fetch it, whether TV is really what you want to do with your time.  Even better — put that book you want to read in the same place you usually put the remote.  See how it changes your behavior.

Visibly track your progress.  We used sticker charts to get our kids to do their morning routines without 258 reminders from us (“Brush your teeth!  Put on your shoes!  Get your backpack!”).  It worked so well that I adapted it for myself.     Each day that I perform the habit I’m trying to develop, I get a sticker on the blank calendar page taped to my bathroom mirror. It’s empowering to see my success (“Hooray!  I meditated for 3 whole minutes!  Sticker for me!”).    Sometimes I offer myself prizes – a night out dancing or a visit to Dave & Busters — if I can get a certain number of stickers in a month (notice I didn’t set my expectation as “every day”; cut yourself some slack and realize that missing a day – or three – isn’t a deal-killer.).  If shiny little stickers are a bit too silly for you, find some way of visibly tracking your progress.  The key here is that you put it in a place you’ll see it multiple times per day (on the fridge, in the hallway, in your written calendar, next to the computer screen, etc.) and that you have some way to track whether you made it or not each day.

Get social support.  When you are committed to developing a new habit, tell some good friends, your partner or a roommate.  Ask for their support and encouragement.  This is a role I often play for my clients; when they tell me specifically what they are going to do, they are so much more successful at doing it.  It’s simply in our nature to follow through on commitments when made to others.  Even better is to have a buddy who is trying to integrate the same new habit.  You can do the activity together, if feasible, but a regular check-in can make a huge difference as you forge ahead.

Find positive motivation.  Envision what life could be like if you consistently do this habit.   Tap into this vision of you being happier, more fit, more compassionate, more focused or more self-aware whenever you need a boost or a goose to get you doing your new habit.

That’s lots of ideas of how to lock in a new habit.  Pick those that sound good to you as you start on this path.  And while developing a new habit can be challenging, once these new behaviors and patterns are locked in, it is equally hard to dislodge them.  And that makes the focused effort worthwhile.

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:

Back-to-“School”: Happiness Habits Recap

Your summer adventures are over.  The kids are back at school.  That partial slow-down at work due to vacation schedules is done.  You’ve got goals you want to achieve before the end of the year and there aren’t any excuses left to not get started.

If you’ve been keeping up with this newsletter over the summer, you’ve been introduced to 5 scientifically-proven life habits to increase the amount of happiness you feel.  Not only will these habits help you feel good more of the time, they will usher in a whole host of amazing benefits including higher productivity, more success, stronger relationships, better health and even higher levels of income.

To recap the 5 habits:

Here’s the best part: four of these habits take less than 5 minutes per day to implement, so you can manage them even in the throes of returning to an intense fall schedule.  In fact, a new habit is more likely to stick within your regular schedule.  (While the fifth habit — regular exercise — does take more than the 5 minutes, you already know the benefits of this habit in so many other areas of your life that it’s worth taking the time to focus on it.)  If you are interested in being happier (and experiencing these benefits), THIS MONTH is a great time to try integrating one of these habits into your life.

You’ll notice that I keep using the word “habit.”  Not “one-time magic bullet” or “every once in a while, when-you-feel-like-it activity.” The key to these tactics working is to make them a habit — something you do every day (or on a regular schedule).  Something that is difficult to skip, that makes your world feel weird if you forget, like brushing your teeth or putting on your seatbelt (I hope those are both habits!).

Forming habits is a discipline and (no surprise!) there’s a bunch of good research on how to form a strong habit.  Over the next two weeks, I’ll be sharing specific strategies for how to form a new, healthy habit — stay tuned

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 Habit #5: “Dear Diary…”: Journaling for Meaning

What is the meaning of life?  It’s one of the eternal questions, along with “Is there a God?” and “What is the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow?”

Obviously you won’t find a universal answer to this question in this blog post today (alas…).  Only you can determine what holds meaning for you.  But I can tell you one thing: research shows that finding your answer to “What is the meaning of MY life?” can significantly increase your happiness.

Martin Seligman, the founder of the positive psychology field, in his book, Flourish, elevates meaning as one of the five central pillars of well-being, as one of the essential paths to a flourishing, thriving life.  He defines meaning as ‘belonging to and serving something that you believe is bigger than the self’.

Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, has adapted the benefits of all the research on meaning into a simple daily habit that you can use to tap into this happiness source.  He calls it Lifestreaming.

How to Do It

For 21 days in a row, write about one meaningful moment you experienced over the past 24 hours and include every detail you can remember.  The goal is for your brain to visualize and re-experience the meaningful moment.  Try to recall as many details as you can (i.e. what someone said to you, where you were, what you were thinking, etc.)

These can be work-related, “I felt great about being organized for the meeting.  By putting out an agenda ahead of time, we were able to stay focused on outlining the action plan.” Or from your personal life: “By reaching out to that new parent at the school, I could see she felt more welcome.”   They can be big things, “If I hadn’t spoken up, the team would have gone down a terrible path and wasted more than a month!”  or small things, “I know that giving my kids a hug when they get home from school helps them feel loved.”

Of course, meaning is completely your own.  It’s about what you perceive as bigger than yourself.  What matters in this exercise is that you see yourself making a positive difference towards creating the world you want to live in.

“To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”  – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Periodically during the 21 days, go back and read your entries.  Then record how you see your “meaning moments” link together.  If there are gaps in meaning in your life, reflect on how you can connect some of those moments of meaning to the parts that seem less meaningful (like meetings or emails).  Ultimately your trajectory of meaning should branch out into other domains of your life.

The Benefits

  • Seeing yourself as part of something bigger (however YOU define ”bigger”) has huge benefits in terms of your happiness.
  • It only requires one meaningful experience for your brain to judge a day as a meaningful one.
  • Your brain measures time by the nodes of meaning it feels.  Without meaning, time can seem to pass by very quickly.
  • Having a purely task-based mindset lowers the meaning we find in our lives and raises stress.
  • By doing this as a daily practice, your brain starts to connect the dots between meaningful moments each day and puts them into a broader context.  You start to see more of your life as contributing to something bigger.

My Experience

I have not done this habit as a formal writing practice.  I chose instead to regularly pause during my day to reflect on the meaning of what I’m doing.  After a good run with work – an hour drafting a blog post, preparing for one of my talks, or after meeting with a coaching client — I purposefully spend several minutes appreciating that I’m doing something to make the world a better place.  By spending that time, I’m helping increase someone’s happiness and helping them live a better life.

When I became a happiness coach, I thought this meaning would come of its own accord.  That by doing something that I thought was meaningful, I’d automatically feel the goodness of it.   But that wasn’t the case.  When I’m not consciously looking for that meaning, I simply get caught up in my never-ending to-do list.  It’s an “Okay, that’s done.  What’s next?” mentality.  This exercise gave me a few minutes to slow down each day and connect my actions with why I’m doing the things I do.

Your Challenge

Try it.  For the next 21 days, take a moment each day to write down a meaningful moment.  Then connect the dots between them.  See if some of the smaller, more mundane tasks you do each day either gain more importance, or recede in your consciousness, overshadowed by the moments that mean something

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 Habit #4: Conscious Acts of Kindness

Do nice things for others.  It’s something we all learned about in kindergarten and something suggested by all the world’s religions.  Most of us assume that it’s for the benefit of others (those we are doing the nice thing for), but here’s the hidden bonus: research shows that acts of kindness are a powerful way to increase our own happiness.

There have been many studies documenting the happiness benefits of doing conscious acts of kindness for others.  Shawn Achor has adapted the benefits of all this research into a simple daily habit that you can use to tap into this happiness source.

How to Do It

For 21 days in a row, before you open your in-box or start on a project, send an email to someone thanking or praising them for something they did.  The email should be a MAXIMUM of two sentences and should take less than two minutes to write.  You can send it to a friend, a family member, a work colleague, an old teacher, anyone you know.   While we often think of giving as something we primarily do in our personal lives, Shawn has tested this habit in professional environments at Fortune 500 companies.  Broaden your view of giving to include every part of your life.

These can be notes about big things like a gift, staying late to finish a project with you or appreciation for a teacher who propelled you in the right direction.  Or they can be about small things — like thanking someone for a smile, holding the door for you, providing a good idea or stepping up when they didn’t have to — which work just as well for this exercise. Try to be as specific as you can.  These emails can be especially powerful when you appreciate something someone does every day, which you might usually over-look.  The key is to scan each day for something positive that someone else has done, and to let them know.

How Conscious Acts of Kindness Help

  • It deepens the amount of social support that the giver feels, and social support is the number one predictor of an individual’s happiness.
  • It trains your brain to scan the world for the good things in your life, the things to appreciate.
  • It changes the social script with those in your network to allow for more positive praise and collaboration.  By using those tools, you encourage others to reciprocate or pass it on, building more positivity into all those around you.  (Think about the “systems” you operate in — your family, your work group — and how much more lovely life within it would be with more appreciation and compliments flowing!)
  • It helps train your brain to see how you can effect change rather than how change affects you.  An increased sense of control in your life is another key to happiness.
  • The notes back from people who are thus appreciated give another big boost to your own happiness hours or even days after the email is sent.

My Experience

While I’ve loved the idea of this habit, I resisted it until a few months ago.  I love to give praise and appreciation in person, but it’s hard for me to do in an email.  If I was going to send an email, I wanted it to be hugely meaningful and I’d labor over every word.  But the two sentence, two minute limit freed me up to just send those good thoughts as they are rather than trying to perfect them.

And what a difference it made!  Just the act of sending something that would be well-received and encouraging was fun.  Thinking of them having a little joy in their inbox, often gave me an immediate boost.   I sent emails to people I interact with all the time and to some to people I hadn’t seen in months or even years.  Many of them sent a note back expressing how much they appreciated the note and it even kicked off some other discussion in several cases.  It was clear how my social network tightened from this simple 2 minute exercise.

It was sometimes hard for me to come up with these on demand each day.  So I created a short list to go from in the back of my day planner (a tip I recommend).  That way, if I couldn’t find one in my short-term memory banks, I had a list to go to.  It also gave me an ongoing repository of the things people did for me as I went through each day.

The Challenge

This week, I challenge you to take on this conscious-acts-of-kindness habit for 21 days.  Make it the first thing you do when you sit down at your computer each day (at work OR at home).  Just two sentences; keep it simple and then see what happens!

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 Habit #2 – Regular exercise

Exercise. We know it’s good for us. It helps prevent all kinds of chronic health problems and helps us keep weight off. It boosts our energy, helps us sleep and improves our sex lives. But did you know that it also directly affects our happiness? One study showed that doing regular exercise had the equivalent emotional benefit of taking antidepressant medication but without any of the drug’s side effects.

How to Do It

If you are not exercising regularly, make getting that body moving a priority.

Start simply. You don’t have to grind out an hour at the gym to get the benefits. If you are brand new to exercise, make it a goal to walk for 10 minutes each day for a week or two. Then over a couple months build up the amount of time or the amount of effort by walking faster or jogging. The key to developing a strong habit is to do it every day (for other tips on how to make this new fitness habit stick, click here

 Since your goal isn’t “the most efficient way to lose weight” or “get ready for a race” but just to get moving, choose something fun, something that you enjoy.

Use your walks to explore a new area of your neighborhood. Join a soccer team or take a dance class. Find some hiking trails nearby. Garden. Give yourself credit for working the exercise you do in your normal life; taking the stairs, vacuuming, even a fun wrestling session with your kids all count. See if you can find someone to do these activities with you — this gives the added happiness benefit of having your exercise be social. And it can provide an accountability partner for those days when you might otherwise skip it.

The key is to get started. Now.

How It Helps

· Exercise releases dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine, the brain’s happiness chemicals. This release has been shown to lift mood for up to 12 hours.
· Exercise trains the brain to believe that your behavior matters, raising your optimism in other areas of your life.
· By exercising regularly, you train your brain to see that you are successful, strengthening your self-regulation muscle. This results in a positive cascade that can lead to eating healthier, staying on your budget and keeping your house clean.

My experience

I’ve had a regular exercise program for more than a decade. Whenever I miss a couple days, I start to get moody and restless. Because I get bored doing the same thing every day, I mix up my exercise — integrating spin class, yoga, running and elliptical workouts. Just as important, I try to walk to appointments when I can and spend weekends getting the kids moving too with soccer in the park, a walk to our favorite breakfast place or some fun time on the trampoline. It really doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you get your body moving!

I go into more detail in the happiness benefits of exercise on this post: Exercise: It’s not just about health and beauty

Just do it!

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).

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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).

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: