Category Archives: Managing Negativity

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.
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Maintaining the Happiness Boost Over the Long Haul

The data is clear.  Adopting one of the five life habits  (gratitude, meditation, exercise, conscious acts of kindness and finding meaning in your life) for 21 days will significantly increase your happiness and help you tap into all the proven benefits of a more positive brain .   And in many studies, these benefits are maintained for as long as six months after the initial 21-day period.

So could doing something for 21 days be enough for a year of increased happiness?  Five years?  Could these simple 21 days of activity provide a permanent boost to your emotional states?

Maybe.  The science is quiet on this question so far; the studies just haven’t been taken out long enough to prove ultra-long-term change.  But we do know that these habits can change the patterns through which you see the world .  You build stronger neuro-pathways around seeing what’s good in life and how you can positively affect the world which can lock in these benefits for a long time.

But the genetic and societal influences that guide us into more negative mindsets are still there.  So it’s likely that over longer periods of time, the benefits of any of these 21-day bursts will fade if they are not maintained in some way.  So what should you do?   Mix and match some of the following techniques:

OPTION 1: Keep doing the habit as prescribed

Do you love your gratitude practice?  Does sending out your kindness email make you feel more connected and generous?  Does meditation calm you down and bring more focus to your workday?  Then make it a regular part of your life.

 Many of these habits are self-reinforcing.  They feel good so people keep doing them.  We call them habits because we’re hoping it becomes a regular part of your routine and as constant as brushing your teeth.  If you enjoy these things, keep doing them.  There is no reason to stop at 21 days just because that’s the experimental period.

 OPTION 2: Adapt the habit to better fit your life

Some of you may find you enjoy these activities, but that doing them every day is a little much.  No problem.  Experiment with what works best for you.  Maybe you meditate every other day, only do your gratitude on weekday evenings, exercise three days a week, or schedule a couple times a week to reflect on the core of meaning in your life.  While it’s good to stick with 21 consecutive days to kick off the habit, after that, it’s up to you.  Empower yourself to do what works.

OPTION 3: Integrate the ideas into other life activities

A great way to extend the benefits is to generalize these activities into other areas of your life.  This can multiply the number of times these desirable neuro-pathways fire and strengthens them.

Here are some ideas about how to further integrate these concepts into your life (use these as a starting point for your own brainstorming):

  • Gratitude. Go around the dinner table and ask each person what they are grateful for.  Or get a gratitude email buddy or email group and share what’s good in your life with them on a regular basis.
  • Meditation.   Practice focusing on your breath when you are doing some mundane activity like folding laundry or going for a walk.  Or get really mindful while washing the dishes – feel the slipperiness of the soap, the hot water on your hands, etc.
  • Exercise.  If a regular run or trip to the gym doesn’t work for you, create more opportunities to walk in your life.  Start a lunchtime walking club at work.  Take the stairs instead of the elevator.  Park further from your building.
  • Conscious Acts of Kindness. Look for other opportunities to help others.  Hold the door.  Smile more.  Organize a trip to a soup kitchen or a park cleanup.  Pitch in on a project at work that you don’t ‘need’ to do.  Get together with friends to send love or appreciation or well-wishing to anyone that might need a pick-me-up.
  • Journal on meaning. If writing isn’t your thing, spend a couple minutes at the end of a focused hour of work to appreciate what you’ve accomplished.  Reflect on what it might mean for your life or for work colleagues or for anyone that may be helped by what you’re doing.

OPTION 4: Repeat a 21-day habit every few months

Commit to taking on one of these habits every few months.  If you really love one of the habits, renew it at some regular interval.  Or try out a different one of the five on a quarterly basis.  The benefits last at least that long and coming back to one of the habits after a break can give it more freshness and give you a good happiness boost.

OPTION 5: Stop at 21 days

If you find that you struggled through the 21 days of this habit and you can’t find any enjoyable way to generalize the concept into your life, then it’s okay to let it go.  Forced struggle is not a path to increases in happiness!  Not every habit works for every person.  If you gave it the proverbial old college try of 21 days, switch to one of the other habits.  With five to choose from, you’re likely to find something that works for you.

Give yourself as much flexibility as you need to integrate these habits into your life.  There is not a right way that works for everyone.   Play with these ideas and have some fun!

 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 #3 – Mindfulness Meditation

In the crazy, overstimulated world we live in, we are constantly bombarded with things that want our attention.  The beep of incoming emails, phone calls and text messages compete with conversation and attempts at focused effort.

Our brains are single processors and, as we split our attention into two or more simultaneous activities, our performance on each task drops precipitously.  One of the keys to productive work is focused attention.  The best way to practice this focus is with meditation.

Meditation directly stimulates the part of the brain that is devoted to happiness and over time even increases the size of this area of your brain.

How to Do It

For 21 days in a row, take a break sometime in your day to simply watch your breath go in and out for 2 minutes.  The goal is to quiet your mind by simply focusing it on the feelings of your breath going in and out.  You might feel it in your nose as the air passes through or in your chest or belly raising and falling.  Your mind will wander off the breath, when it does gently bring it back to the sensations the breath.

At first people often find it easier to start with a guided meditation.  You can try it right now by clicking on the link below.

Guided Mindfulness Meditation 4 min

Know that the practice is NOT about being perfectly focused for the duration; instead, the practice IS the noticing and the bringing it back.  “Oh, there my mind went again; where do I feel the breath now?”  It is in this returning to the breath that the learning and training happens.

It’s also important to not to try to implement too many of these happiness habits at once.  If you are already implementing a Gratitude practice or expanding your exercise, don’t try to simultaneously start meditating too.  Give these other habits some time to get more established, then look to add this short meditation.    For more tips on how to make this new habit stick, look at this post.

How It Helps

  • Meditation trains your brain to do one thing at a time.  With practice, this concentration will make you more able to focus on any task you do.
  • Regular meditation makes people happier, more engaged, more resilient and promotes feelings of ‘having enough.’
  • Meditation is also a great way to counter stress.  By putting energy into focused breathing, the mind can’t ruminate on all its normal stresses, challenges and problems.
  • Deeper belly breathing in meditation also activates the parasympathetic nervous system, calming the mind and body.
  • Finally, meditation gives you more awareness of your own physical and emotional reactions to stimuli.  Over time, this awareness can give you more freedom to decide how you want to respond.

My experience

I’ve been practicing regular meditation for over 3 years.  It’s my calm, safe place to go when I feel myself spinning out of control.  It provides a break from my go-go-go way of being and can help provide some perspective.  And I often  (though definitely not always!) feel happier while I’m sitting and for a time afterwards.  The insights I’ve gained about my own actions have really contributed to a sense of wisdom.  I don’t sweat the small stuff as often nor get as angry or impatient as much as I did before.

Meditation is another topic I’ve written about extensively in this blog.  If you want to learn more about the science behind this helpful practice or how to expand your meditation beyond the simple two minute exercise described above, look here for more information:

·         Mindfulness:  A Proven Tool for Increasing Happiness and DecreasingStress
·         Mindfulness and Meditation II:  Expanding the practice 
·         Silent for 10 Days ?!?!
·         What You Get from 10 Days of Silence
·         Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program
·         Loving-Kindness Meditation
·         Loving-Kindess to yourself

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

P.S.  Please send some loving energy or prayers to the people of the Phillipines who are suffering from such awful floods.  Paola Sisa, my virtual assistant who usually sends out my weekly email has been evacuated from her home in Manila because of over 15 feet of flooding.  She’s ok, but the entire capital city is under water.

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: 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:

Mindfulness: It slices! It dices! And that’s not all!

Mindfulness is like the swiss army knife of happiness practices. In past blogs, I
talked about how mindfulness can increase happiness, induce calm and create powerful insights into how your mind works . As they said in ‘80s
infomercials, “But that’s not all!” In fact, studies have shown that mindfulness practices are useful in the actual treatment of a broader set of issues, such as chronic pain, stress, anxiety, insomnia, eating disorders, addiction and in preventing depression relapse.

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
Jon Kabat-Zinn was the first to bring mindfulness to therapeutic use in the US. He was a scientist who wanted to evaluate the health benefits of mindfulness. So he took something people thought of as squishy and un-scientific and made it something that could be taught consistently and used in controlled scientific studies in the same way that pills and other therapies are tested. He called it the

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. Over the last couple decades the majority of the studies that show the medical benefits of mindfulness are based on MBSR.

The 8-week program consists of:
• Daily mindfulness meditations that are 45 minutes in duration
• Weekly two-hour group meetings with a trained facilitator to provide teaching,
support and accountability and
• A full day mindfulness retreat near the end of the program.

The MBSR program was started at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, but with its clinical success has been expanded to medical centers and hospitals in most major cities all over the world.

I went through a local MBSR program earlier this year as a tool to help manage my insomnia and anxiety. It was intense and challenging to make that level of commitment, but it gave me some powerful insights into my own struggles. Most importantly, it gave me some perspectives on accepting more of that anxiety, of being with it instead of suppressing it or trying to eliminate it. And (“It dices!”) I’ve been sleeping a lot better since completing the program.
If you want to find out more about MBSR as a tool to get a handle on your stress or a medical issue you’re facing, you can find programs in your area through a Google search (MBSR and your city). They usually run about $500. While it is a big time commitment, it is a powerful and proven way to help manage stress and other life challenges.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

P.S.  To join the Happiness Infusion email  list, sign up in the form on the right hand side of this page.

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:

The BEST Tools for Managing Your Negative Emotions

Learning to appropriately manage your anger, frustration, sadness and fear is a huge part of being happy.  Over the last couple months I’ve been sharing some of the best tools from the science of happiness (and from traditional psychology) for managing negative emotions.

This week, I’m going to do a top-level review.  Click on any of the titles to be taken to full post.

Negative Emotions, A Key To Happiness

Some people find it interesting that I spend significant time in my workshops and talks discussing negative emotions:  “You’re supposed to be the Happiness Coach, right?”

But effectively managing negativity is a central strategy for becoming happier.  And it’s not about ignoring the bad stuff or covering over it….  Click here for more.

Learning to Be Sad Can Increase Your Happiness

A key component of being happy is learning how to manage our negative emotions: sadness, fear, anger, worry, guilt, grief, frustration, and all those other emotions that make us feel icky.  And let’s be clear; when I say “manage” negative emotions, I don’t mean “squash down into oblivion so that you can pretend like everything is rosy and be a fake, plastic kind of happy.”

We all know that if you are going to live and love in this world, you are going to feel negative emotions.  You have to give yourself permission to be human and not push away all these experiences, many of which will teach you valuable things and allow you to grow and learn…  Click here for more.

“Good Sad” vs. “Bad Sad”

There are two major types of negative emotions: necessary negativity (e.g. “good sad/mad/hurt/grief”) and gratuitous negativity (e.g. “bad sad/mad/hurt/grief”).  Necessary negativity starts with the facts and helps us face the truth, and once fully experienced allows us move forward with our lives.  For example, 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.

Gratuitous negativity on the other hand takes the facts and distorts them through unfair self-judgments and blame, endless ‘what ifs’ and over-the-top worrying.  This hyperactive negativity is simply not necessary.  Reducing gratuitous negativity is a great place to start on any path to more happiness.

Understanding which type of negativity we feel determines which tools and processes to use to help us get back to a neutral or positive emotional state.  To learn more about how to differentiate the good from the bad, go here.

Act the Way You Want to Feel

One of the simplest ways to reduce gratuitous negative emotions is simply to act the way you want to feel.

Did you know that an artificially induced smile (biting a pencil lengthwise without touching it with your lips) can make you happier?  Or that botox treatment, which paralyzes frowning muscles, makes it harder to feel angry or sad?

Most of us believe that our actions follow from how we feel, but in fact we often feel because of the way we act.   And this provides one of the simplest and most powerful tools for changing how we feel… To read more, click here.

Distract Yourself from Endless Rumination

We’ve all experienced times when we beat ourselves up with unfair criticism and endless cycles of doom-and-gloom thinking.  This is rumination.  It’s your brain on a hamster wheel – cycling round and round and getting nowhere.  Studies show that when we are sad or angry or anxious, our brain selectively calls to mind negative thoughts which further intensify the negative emotion.

Because of this negativity bias, it is nearly impossible to think yourself out of these cycles.  What is needed is a healthy distraction.  Go HERE to read more about healthy and engaging ways to get yourself out of this rut and move on to greener pastures.

Taking on the Voices in Your Head

Let’s be real here.  We ALL hear voices in our head. They tell us all kinds of things – that we should try harder, how we can be “safe” and sometimes, if we’re lucky, they tell us we did a great job.  But often these voices trigger a negative spiral, taking one minor thing and fabricating an entire story that makes us feel bad about ourselves.

To learn some of the scientifically proven tactics for quieting these voices (or at least minimizing their impact!), check out the full blog post here.

Choosing your Board of Directors

As you practice listening to those voices in your head, you’ll start to notice some consistent messages or themes.  One powerful way to manage those repeated messages from your mind is to externalize and personify those voices.  Think about them as your Board of Directors – helping you guide your life.

Once you’ve got them defined, then you’ve got real power to decide what advice to take and what to ignore.  AND you can actively recruit other characters onto your Board to balance those more troublesome voices.

(Interestingly, I received more positive comments on this post than on any other in the six months I’ve been putting together this weekly missive.  To find out what has everyone so engaged, read the full post here.)

Finding the Right Counter-Fact

Whenever something happens, you create an alternative scenario, or counter-fact,  that your brain makes up to make sense of what happened.

Imagine you have to stay late at work.  You can compare yourself to being at home with your family or out with your friends and you’ll rail against the unfortunate situation you are in.

But if you compare yourself to other people who have to work late every day or to people who don’t have a job in this crappy economy, you can see yourself as the lucky one and it will help you feel better in the short term.

What’s important here is that these counter-facts are completely made up.   They are pure fiction and you can CHOOSE what situation you want to compare to.  This gives YOU the power to guide your feelings.  To read more about this, check out the full blog post, here.

Learn to fail or fail to learn

“Failure is an inescapable part of life and a critically important part of any successful life.  We learn to walk by falling, to talk by babbling, to shoot a basket by missing, and to color the inside of a square by scribbling outside the box.  Those who intensely fear failing end up falling short of their potential.  We either learn to fail or we fail to learn.”  – Tal Ben Shahar, The Pursuit of Perfect

Learning to accept failures can be difficult.  Tap into several tools for learning this important skill here.

Defusing Negativity Landmines

Do you arrive at work every day angry from your commute?  Do you end up yelling in frustration every morning, getting your kids out the door?  Does a toxic coworker consistently bring down your mood?

Many of us have these kinds of negativity landmines in our life:  events, situations or people that consistently and predictably affect us in a negative way.  The good news is that once you recognize the pattern and take a conscious approach to it, you can often make changes that significantly reduce their chance of destroying your hour, day or week.  Click HERE to learn some great tools for defusing these landmines.

Embracing Necessary Negativity

Much of the above is concerned with reducing gratuitous negativity.  But fully embracing necessary negativity is also an important part of being truly happy.  After two months of posts on negativity, it’s time to take a break and talk about some pro-happiness tools for a while.  We’ll circle back to this topic in a few weeks.

Eric Karpinski

The Happiness Coach

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Defusing Negativity Landmines

Do you arrive at work every day angry from your commute?  Do you end up yelling in frustration every morning, getting your kids out the door?  Does a toxic coworker consistently bring down your mood? 

Many of us have these kinds of negativity landmines in our life:  events, situations or people that consistently and predictably affect us in a negative way.  The good news is that once you recognize the pattern and take a conscious approach to it, you can often make changes that significantly reduce their chance of destroying your hour, day or week.  Here are some tips:

Identify your landmines

The most important thing you can do is identify those situations that repeatedly take a toll on your emotional state.  Take a few minutes to reflect on your daily routines – is there a part of your day you dread?  Something you wish you could avoid all together? 

Review the past couple weeks for data, and keep a mindful eye on your emotions for the next few days.  Are there times in your day when you consistently get sad, angry, embarrassed, scared or stressed?   Pay attention and see what’s causing it.  Just identifying those landmines is the first and, for many of us, most important step.

Get in a neutral space

Scientific studies show that we do our most accurate self-assessments and come up with the best solutions, in a neutral or positive state.  So before you start developing a plan to defuse these landmines, check in with where you are emotionally.  If you are still in the midst of frustration, take a breather, or find a healthy distraction otherwise, your “solution” may cause more damage than the original landmine!  Come back to the issue and start brainstorming ideas when you don’t have those skewed negativity lenses on. 

Change something

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

          – Anonymous (sometimes attributed to Albert Einstein and Ben Franklin).

We often lock ourselves into our misery unnecessarily.  While you can spend endless hours dreaming of telecommuting or getting your boss fired or not having to do those TPS reports, there are things you can do right now to lessen the impact.  Barbara Fredrickson, in her book Positivity, shares a lot of ideas on how to reduce the negative effects of these landmines.  Here are some ideas to get those creative juices flowing.

Avoid it: Do you notice you get angry, frustrated or depressed when watching the news, certain movies or playing video games?  Is the education or entertainment benefit worth the cost of feeling so crappy?  Read more about the science around violent media here.

Do you end up running into the same negative coworker at the same time each day?  Perhaps there is a different way to walk to your office?  Maybe you can park somewhere different?  Go to lunch at a different time?  Figure out if there’s a way to just walk around the emotional landmine.

Do more preparationMy wife and I used to regularly leave the house frustrated and angry because the kids took so long to get ready for school.  After the 50th repetition of ‘Put on your shoes’ at ever increasing volumes, everyone in the house was tense and crabby.  This concept is masterfully expressed in this youtube video So we implemented a checklist before bed which had the kids lay out their clothes and make their lunches the night before.   While this hasn’t eliminated all morning frustration, it’s amazing what a difference these extra preparation steps made for us. 

Change the Meaning: My commute to work used to be a stress-fest.  I’d think through all the things I had to do that day, over and over.  When I realized how useless this incessant chatter was, I decided to change the purpose of my commute.  Rather than planning, it became a time to learn. I started listening to audiobooks on things I found interesting – lots of positive psychology stuff at the time.  (BTW, check out booksfree.com which is essentially Netflix for audiobooks for a less expensive way to upload get access to audiobooks).  Suddenly I was looking forward to my commute instead of dreading it. 

Some friends of mine use their commute as a time to practice mindfulness or gratitude. Still others find a friend to drive with or schedule calls with distant friends and turn their commute into social and connection time. 

Think about how you can change the meaning of your landmine situation:   Is that torturous, political staff meeting a chance to practice loving-kindness or empathetic listening? Can folding endless piles of laundry be a chance to explore new music?  Get creative and have fun with it.

And if your landmine surrounds specific people, head back into the archives from the holidays here.

Potential emotional landmines litter your daily landscape, but you can minimize their effect by trying these techniques.  So identify and defuse those landmines before they destroy the positive mind-space you’re working hard to create!

 

 

Eric Karpinski

The Happiness Coach

P.S.  To join the Happiness Infusion email  list, sign up in the form on the right hand side of this page.

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:

Learn to fail or fail to learn

Failing.  Making mistakes.  Falling down.  Messing up. These words fill many of us with fear and dread, with embarrassment and shame.  We think we’re supposed to set goals and achieve them one after the other.   But that’s not the way life works. 

“Failure is an inescapable part of life and a critically important part of any successful life.  We learn to walk by falling, to talk by babbling, to shoot a basket by missing, and to color the inside of a square by scribbling outside the box.  Those who intensely fear failing end up falling short of their potential.  We either learn to fail or we fail to learn.”  – Tal Ben Shahar, The Pursuit of Perfect

Most of us have heard by now about famous “successes” that had high profile failures.  Michael Jordan was cut from his high school’s basketball team.  The Beatles were rejected for a recording contract because “guitar bands are on their way out.” Walt Disney got fired from a newspaper job for not being creative enough.  But somehow, knowing we’re in great company doesn’t make the process of failing any easier.    

Like everyone, I have struggled with failing to meet my own expectations. 

When I left the comfort of a successful biotech career to become a happiness coach, I worked my tail off with workshops and marketing.  Some of them were mildly successful but many were total failures.  The voices in my head  panicked and began screaming to stop this crazy experiment, to go back to the safety of a biotech job.  I began to talk myself out of workshops, and then my entire new career path.

This is the danger point with failure: that a few setbacks make you question the entire enterprise and can stop all forward progress.  But there are ways to change this perspective, to keep a failure from being debilitating.  Here are several tools:

View failure as feedback.

When something doesn’t go according to plan, take the time to digest what happened, to figure out what derailed your efforts.  See it as a challenge and an opportunity to learn more and grow.  Get curious about how and why the failure happened and what you can do better.  This can energize you to try again in a smarter way.   

Circle back to your original goals: are they still appropriate?  Have you learned something that might create a better opportunity?   Sometimes you can find possibility halfway through a project – at “failure” even – that wasn’t visible when you started. 

If we can get ourselves to accept that failure is not an unfortunate occurrence, but is actually required to learn, we can be better able to deal with it when it happens.

Set appropriate expectations

Set ambitious but attainable goals and expect to achieve many of them in your life.  But also expect detours and challenges that will take time to get through and failures that may require you to rework your plans and assumptions.  Imagine your path to success not as a direct line from here to your goal, but as a winding path, always moving towards your goal, but with deviations and explorations that increase your learning.

Fail early and fail often

While it seems counterproductive, psychologists recommend that you fail early and often. 

“We can only learn to deal with failure by actually experiencing failure, by living through it.  The earlier we face difficulties and drawbacks, the better prepared we are to deal with the inevitable obstacles along our path.”  – Tal Ben Shahar, the Pursuit of Perfect

So much better to start a project, take the first steps and see what happens.  Then adapt.  Trying to foresee every eventuality to always get it right the first time is a recipe for stagnation and inaction. 

Take on those voices in your head

If your self-talk is full of fear of failing or jumps on you for any small mistake, use some of the other tools we’ve talked about in previous posts:  Dispute the voices in your head and actively choose your board of directors .  Use the facts you’ve learned in this post to argue against their fear-based rationale.  And get moving towards your goals!

“If I find 10,000 ways something won't work, I haven't failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.” – Thomas Edison

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” – John F. Kennedy

 

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

 

P.S.  To join the Happiness Infusion email  list, sign up in the form on the right hand side of this page.

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: