Category Archives: Positive Psychology

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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Turning the Love Inward: Loving-Kindness Meditation, Part 2

Last week, I introduced loving-kindness meditation as a powerful way to increase your feelings of love and compassion for others. Recent studies from positive psychology have also shown how this meditation increases the total amount of happiness you feel. Review last week’s post here.

This week, I want to talk about how to turn this love inward.

Be honest: you can be pretty hard on yourself, can’t you? Sometimes those voices in your head are not just self-critical but down-right mean. (See post here.)

Yet when I talk about ‘loving yourself,’ many of you immediately have visions of over-the-top, self-help-gone-wrong scenarios such as Stuart Smalley from Saturday Night Live: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and doggone it, people like me!”

You can admit it; I have those visions too. 😉

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

 

In modern American culture, giving yourself love seems self-indulgent and egotistical. Most of us are taught from a young age not to brag and not to act like we’re “all that.” We’re taught to focus on what we need to strengthen or change. While we can’t easily change our culture, we can change our focus. Here’s this week’s challenge: get radically counter-cultural and focus on self-love.

Adapting the loving-kindness practice

Here’s how: use the meditation instructions from last week to start. Open up the positive phrases and send that positive energy to loved ones as instructed. Then when you’ve got a good head of steam going and are feeling the love for others flow, change the object of the meditation to you by simply changing ‘you’ to ‘I’:

May I be loved and feel love for others.
May I be healthy and strong.
May I be safe and protected from danger.
May I be happy, truly happy and free.

Try to love yourself as much during this meditation as you love the other people in your life. Send yourself these loving wishes. You are a good person and as deserving of your love as those other people on your list.

My experience

I’ve been doing loving-kindness mediation for years and I love the practice. Giving love to others comes easily for me and is a central value in how I live my life. I even tattooed “Live to Love” on my upper arm last summer.

But I resisted spending loving-kindness
meditation time on myself. My inner
dialogue sounded something like, “Yeah,
yeah, yeah. I love myself already; let’s move on to the good stuff.” I viewed sending myself love as wasted time.

I’ve recently discovered that many of my struggles with anxiety and perfectionism are due to withholding love to me. For years, I’ve loved myself conditionally, only being happy with myself when I meet very aggressive goals and expectations. When I don’t, I give myself all kinds of crap for being lazy or not focused enough.

Over the last month, I’ve focused on sending a lot more love my way. It’s hard sometimes. My mind pushes me to do something ‘more important.’ But as I persevere and stick with it, there has been a distinct softening in my own self-talk. I am much kinder to myself. I am more accepting and forgiving of my own imperfections.

Just do it
Loving-kindness meditation is a proven path to happiness. Use it as discussed last week, and also send that love inward. It can be hard at first; notice when it is and when you judge yourself or feel silly, and then decide to stick with it anyway. No one needs to know you are spending your time this way; do it for yourself, not for anyone else. You may be surprised at how being kind to yourself can make a big difference!

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

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

I’ve been focusing a lot of time on mindfulness over the last few weeks (overview here and here). Today, I’m going to talk about another type of meditation that has an equally storied history (it’s been practiced for over 2000 years) and has been shown to significantly increase happiness and positive emotions.

Loving-kindness meditation focuses specifically on increasing your capacity to love and be loved. It’s a simple meditation where you repeat well-wishing phrases quietly in your mind. It can be your primary meditation practice, or it can be interspersed or integrated into a regular mindfulness practice.

 

Scientific Results
Barbara Fredrickson, one of the top positive psychology researchers, recently completed a controlled 7-week study testing loving-kindness meditation in over 200 people. One group was assigned to regular 20 minute meditations where they followed instructions similar to the ones I relay below and filled in daily surveys on their emotions. The control group filled in the same surveys but didn’t do the meditations.

After 3 weeks of this regular practice, the meditation group started to show significant increases in feelings of love and social connection as expected. But they also showed significant increases in other positive emotions including joy, serenity, gratitude and hope among others. And the positive emotions continued to rise steadily throughout the study. This is the biggest controlled study showing how valuable a loving-kindness meditation practice can be.

My experience
This is one of my favorite meditation practices. When I focus on it, it opens me to a greater sense of connection and community. I find it wonderful to informally practice when I’m out in the world — sending positive wishes out to others while I’m waiting in a line or walking somewhere or even sitting in traffic. When I’m in this space, I find that more people smile at me and things come more easily; that sense of connection brightens my day even more than the meditation itself does.

How to do it
Like with mindfulness meditation, find a comfortable place to sit with your back straight. Focus for a minute or two on the sensations of your breath — you can even imagine your breath coming in and out of your heart.

Then picture someone you love – a loving grandparent, a favorite niece or nephew, a mentor, special teacher or even a pet can work. The key is to start with the simplest love possible, a love that is not complicated with day-to-day stress.

Picture the recipient of your good wishes in your mind and repeat these simple phrases:

May you be loved and feel love for others
May you be healthy and strong
May you be safe and protected from danger
May you be happy, truly happy and free

It’s important to try to open up to those feelings of love, let the words be felt rather than just repeated. After a round or two of going through the phrases, you can move on to other people you love in your life, even those with some complications (i.e. your partner, your kids, parents or good friends.)

You can stay with these people for the whole session if you want or you can expand the practice further by moving on to more neutral people you’ve met — neighbors, workmates, the guy who works the register at the grocery store. And finally you can expand to all people or all beings everywhere.

Give it a try
Give loving-kindness meditation a try and see how it feels. It can be good to start with a guided version of a loving-kindness meditation, click here to access a 9-minute version that was recorded at UCLA. Try it a couple times this week. Next week I’ll be providing a few additional ideas that can help use this practice to be less self-critical and more forgiving.

Some people take to loving-kindness immediately; for others it takes some time to get the hang of it. The key is simply to create opportunities to expand the amount of love you feel.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

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Mindfulness and Meditation II: Expanding the Practice

Last week I introduced the idea of mindfulness and its formal practice of meditation.  The data show that meditation done for as little as two minutes per day can increase happiness and lead to better  levels of concentration, a greater sense of calmness and more empathy. 

If you are brand new to meditation, try the 2 minute meditation I introduced last week   and stay with it for 21 days. This is a great way to introduce yourself to meditation and many of its benefits without a significant time commitment.  If that is enjoyable and valuable for you, consider slowly increasing your meditation time by adding a minute or two each day. 

Aim for 15 to 20 minutes a day which, besides providing stronger effects on calming, concentration and empathy, have shown in clinical studies to strengthen a broad assortment of personal and interpersonal abilities.  These include:  higher levels of personal insight, better attunement to others, more response flexibility (i.e. providing a pause between impulse and action, allowing you to be more thoughtful on how to respond to stimulus), better fear modulation and more compassion. 

 

Is meditation religious?

Some have concerns that meditation is a Buddhist religious practice and worry that it conflicts with their existing faith tradition or (you know who you are!) triggers an allergic reaction to anything remotely “religious.”  But don’t worry; while these practices originate from eastern spiritual practices, there is nothing inherently religious in meditation as generally practiced in this country.  Western teachers have largely separated out the psychological benefits of meditation from the religious rituals and meaning of the east.  The Washington Post has an interesting article on the subject, here.

If you are ready to step into a larger daily commitment to mediation, here are a few things to consider:

Make it a habit

Follow the advice for developing any new habit — start small with just a few minutes per day and add some time each week.  Schedule a set time each day.   Put it in your calendar and commit to it.   Get social support of friends or family members.  Find a friend interested in learning at the same time.  Check out my post on the best ways to develop new habits, here

Don’t worry about form.

You don’t need to be sitting cross-legged on a beach or in a park to meditate.  What matters is that you are comfortable with your back erect (but not rigid) and the rest of you relaxed.  Chairs are fine.  You can even meditate standing or lying down if that is what your body needs (though keep in mind that sleeping doesn't count as meditatingJ).  My wife has trouble sitting still; she meditates best walking around the block.  It’s not about how you look, but about your ability to focus that matters.  There is no right and wrong. 

Befriend the discursive mind

Our minds wander.  We’ve trained them for our whole lives with cell phones, endless internet links and relentless multitasking.  Don’t make your wandering mind into an enemy.  Arguing with your mind or beating yourself up for not staying focused pulls you further away from the purpose of mediation, the “being” not doing. 

Even with a daily practice over three years, my mind still wanders every time I sit. It loves to try to convert my meditation time into problem-solving time or worrying time or planning time.  When I notice I’m thinking rather than meditating, I say a quick thank you to my powerful mind:  “Thank you for all you do.  You are awesome and have helped me get so many things in my life.  I promise we’ll do some more planning/worrying/problem-solving AFTER this meditation. But for the next few minutes, I’m focusing on my breath.” 

Use guided meditations

Guided meditations can help you focus, especially when you are new to meditation or significantly increasing the amount of your meditation time.  Having the vocal check-in of the recordings helps remind me that I’m meditating;  not problem-solving, not planning, not reminiscing, meditating.  And many guided meditations remind you to bring your focus back in a kind way.  I have purchased and used guided meditations from Jon Kabat-Zinn, Jack Kornfield, Thich Nhat Hanh and others.  Any guided meditations that refer to mindfulness meditation and/or insight meditation should work. 

As you get stronger and more focused, you can do some meditation without the guide.  For me, even after 3 years of regular practice, I still use guided meditations over half the time.  Experiment with what works for you and do it. 

 

Eric Karpinski

The Happiness Coach

P.S.  Don't miss my FREE Webinar on finding more happiness and more productivity at work — this Tuesday April 10 at 7pm PST.  To find out more and sign up, go to http://erickarpinski.com/

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

 

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Put More Happy in Your Holidays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

Include More “Thanks” in your Thanksgiving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

 

Only Sociopaths and the Dead Don’t Feel Bad at Times

Or “Happier, NOT happy all the time”

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m not good enough.”

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

“Why do I never get anything I want?”

“He stole that promotion from me.”

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

And on and on and on.

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

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

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

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach
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Negative Media: Is it worth the cost?

Earthquakes!  Murder!  Genocide!  Environmental destruction!  Lions!  Tigers! Bears!  Oh, my!  The media – from news to television series to popular novels – often feeds us a continuous diet of violence, destruction and suffering.  What’s the effect of this?

Research has shown that the more television a person watches, the more violent they judge the world to be and the less happy they become.  News broadcasters are masters at pulling our emotional strings with stories of tragedy and violence that feed off our fears.  Novelists and movie-makers come up with some pretty outrageous ways people can treat one another (yes, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I’m talking about you!).  While this keeps us tuned in and buying tickets – it comes at a significant cost to our emotional well-being – that fear, sadness and anger really register in us and make it difficult to reach that 3:1 postivity ratio that can lead us to living a flourishing life.

Several years ago, I made the conscious decision to stop listening to NPR during my commute.  Instead of getting riled up about the most recent political decisions, I decided to listen to books about how to be happier in my life.  I kept up-to-date on the outside world from a 10-minute look at CNN.com each day where I could consciously decide which stories got my full attention.  My worry that I wouldn’t be as educated about the world was put aside when I saw the results of another set of studies: it turns out that people who watch less TV are more accurate judges of the degree of risk we all might encounter each day.   TV gives us a sensationalized and one-sided version of news that makes the world feel significantly less safe than it is.

And it’s not just about news.  Other forms of media – video games, movies and even fictional books – can have the same effect.  Personally, I saw my own negativity skyrocket this past spring when I got sucked into an epic fantasy series with grand battles of good vs. evil.  I was so engaged in the story that it started taking over my mindspace even when I wasn’t reading it.  I started blowing off my daily gratitude journaling and meditation to spend more time reading; I even rushed through story time with my kids to get to ‘my time’ with the books.  This constant feeding of conflict, narrow escapes and evil deeds kept me in an adrenaline-infused negative space.  And that leached into other areas of my life.  I started being more suspicious of everyone – empathy and kindness fading to distrust — and kept seeing what was likely to go wrong in every area of my life.  After about a month, my world view became bleak and I felt the fear of failure get a strong hold on me.   When I finished up the series, it took me a couple months to dig myself out of this negativity trap I’d fallen into.  That a series of fictional books was able to have such an effect on my real life was a shock.

This has been a difficult post for me to write.  I don’t like how preachy this topic sounds –”Halo is bad for you!” or “Watch less TV” – but our elders who tried to get us outside and doing anything more active were on to something.  We do take on the emotions of what media we consume – both real and fictional.  So if video games or tv is a good way for you to decompress, you don’t have to completely remove them from your life.  But notice how you really feel during and after these experiences and ask if it is how you want to spend your time.  If you are serious about upping your ratio, reducing violent media exposure is a relatively easy way to lower needless negativity.

Stay tuned over the next couple weeks as we talk about how to make long-term changes in your life – whether it’s starting an exercise routine, bringing on a gratitude practice or watching less tv.  I’ll be sharing scientifically proven ways to implement new habits into your life.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

 

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