Category Archives: Personal

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

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Transforming Resolutions into Lasting Habits, Part 2, the Science of Sustainable Change

Last week, I shared three proven ways to successfully transform a resolution into a sustainable habit:

1.      Pick one thing at a time

2.      Give yourself two months

3.      Start easy.

Click here to read more about the first three in detail.

I am offering a free teleclass on forming lasting habits THIS EVENING (Jan 5, 2012) at 6pm PT/9pm ET.  Sign up here and I’ll send call-in details. 

Here are five more scientifically supported methods for making lasting change in your life:

4.      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 activity at a specific time doubles the likelihood of the committed action being performed.  We’re simply more likely to follow through when we decide ahead of time how and when it’s going to happen.  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 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.

5.      Reduce the activation energy for habits you want and increase it for habits you don’t want.  This simply means take away any 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 place you usually put the remote.  See how it changes your behavior.

6.      Visibly track your progress.  You can control what you measure.  I used a sticker chart to get my kids to do their morning routines and it worked so well for them that I adapted it for my own use.  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 computer screen, etc.) and that you have some way to track whether you made it or not each day.  It will remind and motivate you to stick with that new routine as it develops into a habit.

7.     Get social support.  When you are committed to developing a new habit, tell some good friends, your partner or roommate.  Ask for their support and encouragement.  This is a role I play for my clients; when they tell me specifically what they are going to do, they are 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.  This is particularly powerful in helping you through those days where motivation is not coming naturally.  Social support is an amazing thing.

8. Commit to it.  Once you’ve decided to develop a new habit, the most important thing is that you commit to it.  Really commit.  Visualize what success would look like and what benefits you’d receive by incorporating this new habit into your life.  Then take the time to make a detailed plan of what you are going to do and when.  Start easy and build up to your goal in small steps over time.  Then lock it into your schedule for at least two months.  Create a way to track your success and pull together a team of people who want you to be successful.  Throw your backpack over the wall so there’s no going back, and then start climbing!  Good luck!!!

If you want to read more detail about these ideas and the science that backs them, check out:

  • The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor (specifically principal #5 and #6)
  • The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz (specifically Chapter 10)
Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

 

You can sign up to receive my weekly “Happiness Infusion” email directly to your inbox, just sign up on the form on the right side of my website:  http://thehappinesscoach.biz/

 

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My Cinderella Story

After the last few posts of tips and tools, it’s time for a story…

 

 

 

 

nce upon a time…

there was boy who didn’t have the pressure from parents that some people have – to Be a Doctor or Join the Business or anything.  He just knew he wanted to be happy.

This boy was a big fan of television so he grew up with endless images of happy people.   He saw that happy people drove cool cars and owned beautiful houses and went to fabulous parties and dated gorgeous women and had minty fresh breath and clear skin.  And it became glaringly obvious to our young hero that the way to become happy was to become successful.

So he went for success with everything he had — he studied hard and worked extra jobs to help pay for his education.  This effort paid off with a Biochemistry degree from Brown University and a prestigious consulting job.  He leveraged that experience into an MBA from the Wharton School and a sought-after job in venture capital and biotech.  He married a beautiful woman, bought a lovely house and had two great kids.  At 35, after 20 years of hard work and toil, he found himself successful beyond his wildest dreams.

 

He’d arrived.

 

But he wasn’t happy.

 

And he didn’t know why.

 

He’d done all the things he was supposed to do. He was externally as successful as he possibly could be.  So where was that happiness he’d been promised? Where was his ‘happily ever after?’

He started hunting for answers.  If success wasn’t the path to happiness, then he was determined to figure out what was.  He took happiness quizzes in his wife’s Glamour magazine; he tried out Oprah’s Happiness Plan and explored Buddhist meditation.  While he had some success feeling happier, his efforts felt sporadic and incomplete.

Then one day, he stumbled upon the book, Authentic Happiness, by Martin Seligman and discovered that there was an entire field of science focusing on happiness.  This new science of happiness was systematically evaluating what made people happy,  what each of us can do to be happier and the amazing benefits of living our lives in a more positive emotional state.

From this new science, he learned that happiness isn’t a destination and isn’t a result of achieving our dreams.  That happiness is found in the little things we do every day and in the way we CHOOSE to look at the things that happen to us.

He’s a lot happier now.  He still gets his share of disappointments, frustrations and sadness.  But they don’t take him down for nearly as long as they did in his old life.  He has many more good days now than he did when he was trying to succeed his way to happiness.  And while there is no “happily ever after” he now finds himself living very happily for hours, days and sometimes even weeks at a time, which is a pretty good way to keep on writing his story.

 

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

 

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Exercise: It’s not just about health and beauty!

Losing weight and getting sexy, it turns out, isn’t the only reason to tie on your running shoes. Regular exercise is another powerful tool for living a happier life. And it doesn’t take much to see a real difference. In recent studies, moderate exercise of 30 minutes three times per week can be as effective as our best anti-depressant medications (yes, Prozac, we’re talking about you!).

Moderate exercise releases dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine – the brain’s happiness chemicals — and has been shown to lift mood for up to 12 hours. Exercise is also a healthy way to distract yourself from your problems when you are stuck in a negative rumination cycle.

Exercise can easily be combined with other happiness boosting activities. If the weather is nice, go outside and walk or run through a park or at least near some trees in the neighborhood; good weather and exposure to nature both increase mood in addition to the benefit you get from exercise. If you can exercise with others or even just smile as you pass people on the street (both forms of social interaction, another key happiness booster), you’ll get a double shot of happiness. I often make a game of smiling and saying hi to everyone on my runs – their mirror neurons make it hard for them not to respond in kind. And it always gives me a boost to see others smiling – especially when I helped cause it.

Exercise doesn’t have to be a grind at the gym either. Any activity that gets your heart rate up gives you the benefit. Is there a sport you loved to play when you were younger? Find a team and make the time to do it. Do you like gardening or taking a walk? Make the time in your busy schedule. Consider walking during your lunch hour – you can even bring a coworker along if you need some time brainstorming or checking in on a project. Get in the habit of taking the stairs instead of the elevator or park your car at the back of the lot and walk a little more.

In our exercise-obsessed culture, it’s hard not to see exercise as one more “should.” We already spend so much time beating ourselves up over going to the gym so we can lose weight or “be healthier.” Instead see if you can put exercise in the same category as other things that make you happy – listening to good music, savoring a glass of wine, catching up with a friend. Take on the perspective that exercise is simply another tool to help improve your mood and generate more happiness.

Struggling with how you can regularly fit exercise into your life? In a couple weeks, I’ll talk about how happiness habits are formed. For now, play with this theory. How do you feel on days you get some exercise compared to the days you don’t?

 

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

 

If you’d like to receive my weekly “Happiness Infusion” emails directly to your inbox, just fill in your name and email address at the top right of this page.  Then look every Thursday morning for you weekly dose!

 

Also, I’m also looking for more ways to give the gift of happiness.  I LOVE to give a 30-60 minute talk that summarizes the BEST of the science of happiness.  If you have a group/club/company or association of 10 or more people in San Diego County that would appreciate a dynamic and passionate speaker, send me a note at karpo3(at)Gmail(dot)com and I will make it happen!