Category Archives: Positive Psychology

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.
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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.
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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.  
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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.  
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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.  
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Happiness Leads to Success. Period.

Happiness leads to success.  Period.

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

The Happiness Myth

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

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

The Data is Clear

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

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

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

But How Does Happiness Help?

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

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

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

What if I’m Not Naturally a Happy Person?

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

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

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

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

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

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

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

The Core of The Happiness Advantage

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

 Shawn explaining in his words what he means:

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

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

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

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

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

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

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

Sleep: Bringing it all together

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

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

Sleep and Happiness

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

Sleep: A Simple Tool to Increase Your Happiness 

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

Getting Quality Sleep

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

Your happiness depends on the QUALITY of your sleep

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

Managing Insomnia

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

Good Night, Insomnia!

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

Managing Your Thoughts about Sleep

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

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

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

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

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I know why you are here, ZEO”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

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

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

Your happiness depends on the QUALITY of your sleep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach