Category Archives: Uncategorized

Is Mindfulness Meditation on YOUR Happiness Path?

I’m just back from a 5-day meditation retreat, feeling refreshed, focused and excited about the work I’ve got on my plate for this month.  The experience reminded me how powerful the practice of mindfulness is and I wanted to share some of my renewed enthusiasm with you.

Mindfulness meditation simply means taking the time to focus on what’s happening in the present moment. A lot of top research shows that it is a powerful tool for increasing happiness, reducing stress and improving your focus.  And you DON’T have to spend a lot of time in meditation to start feeling some of the benefits.  Just two minutes a day of meditation done over 21 consecutive days can start you on the path.   The key is to set up a regular time and just do it.

If you want a refresher on how to meditate, read this post which also contains links to other of my meditation posts that can further expand your knowledge and that dig deeper into the science and the benefits.

Mindfulness meditation is also one of six happiness habits that I feature in my book, “The 6 Happiness Habits; Increase Your Joy and Drive Your Success” (which you can download for free if you join my email list in the upper right corner of the page).

If you already have a regular practice or if you want to kickstart your practice, you might consider a multi-day meditation retreat.  It allows you to have a concentrated meditation experience over a short period of time and really lock in a regular practice.  To give you a sense of what you would be getting into, here’s a flavor of my retreat experiences.

Spirit Rock vs. Deer Park

spirit rockI’ve attended two retreats through Spirit Rock, one of the first meditation centers in California.   They were 10 day affairs, conducted almost completely in silence.  The days consisted of an hour of sitting meditation followed by an hour of walking meditation repeated throughout the day with 3 silent meals and two periods of meditation instruction/Buddhist teaching.  It is an intense experience of being with yourself, of looking inside and seeing what you find.  Both retreats were incredibly powerful for me — helping me see it was time for a major career change, (now big deal, right?)

If you are interested in learning more, I lay out much of the detail in these posts:

Ten days of Silence Starting… Now

What You Get from 10 Days of Silence

Deer Park

The Deer Park Monastery 5-day retreat that I just attended was interesting in a very different way.  Deer Park is a retreat center led by Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Zen Master who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King Jr. It is located 40 minutes outside of San Diego and had many similarities to Spirit Rock — periods of silence, periods of sitting and walking meditation, silent meals and many meditation and Buddhist teachings.

deer park 2However at Deer Park, conversation was encouraged for many hours of each day.  We all joined sharing groups of 20 people where each participant talked about their experiences and feelings at the retreat.  After each meal there was a social hour with casual conversation and there was a simultaneous program for children and teens, so whole families came to the retreat together.  The biggest difference that stood out to me was all the laughter and singing I could hear throughout the retreat.  The focus was much more social, helping to build a community of practitioners who can support one another.   It was A lot more fun than Spirit Rock, and also less powerful from a self-growth perspective.

My advice:  The Deer Park retreat is a great place for someone new to meditation who wants to find a community of support and learning.  Spirit Rock is a great place to go deep into understanding yourself and who you are in the world.   So if a retreat is something you are thinking about, know that there are very different options each with a different focus.  Think carefully about what your goal for a retreat is, and do your homework before booking!

 

Free Broadcasting Happiness Webinar on Nov. 17 at noon PT

I am super excited to be leading a webinar with Michelle Gielan, author of Broadcasting Happiness, on TUesday, November 17 at noon PT.  And I’d love to have you join us (click here to sign up).

Broadcasting Happiness is my favorite positive psychology book of the year (see my review HERE).  It is about simple things that you can do to not only increase your own happiness but to spread that happiness to  all of those people around you — your family, friends and coworkers.   It’s going to be great fun to talk with Michelle and our co-host Sue Stevenson about how to make the tools practical.  Michelle and Sue are two of the most positive people I know and are incredibly well versed in the research of positive psychology and neuroscience.

While the webinar is targeted to coaches and HR professionals, it will be full of practical ideas that everyone can put to work immediately.

You can learn more and sign up here:  http://goodthinkinc.com/broadcasting-happiness-coaches-webinar/.

I hope to see you there!

Eric

 

My Favorite Positive Psychology Book This Year!

I’m back from my 6 month sabbatical in Colombia.  It was a great trip, full of self-learning, recharging and family time.  Lots more to share on that in another post…

Today I want to talk about one of my favorite positive psychology books I’ve read in a long time.  It’s called ‘Broadcasting Happiness’  and it is everything a positive psychology book should be. The author, Michelle Gielan, summarizes sixteen years of top positive psychology research (including research published THIS year) into a fun book that is practical and incredibly useful. She weaves powerful stories throughout that make the learnings come alive.
broadcasting happiness cover Michelle brings a fresh new perspective that sets it apart from other positive psychology books. Rather than focusing solely on what you can do to make yourself happier, she also shows you how your actions can help the people around you feel happier — your coworkers, your significant other, your family and your friends.

This former CBS national anchor integrates powerful tools from the world of broadcast journalism with the most recent research. This book will make you into your own broadcaster — showing you how to spread positive perspectives and positive emotions with your everyday words and deeds.

In Part I, you learn how to utilize the proven tools of positive psychology to bring up the mood of people on your teams, to help them think more clearly, be more engaged and find creative solutions to problems.

In Part II, my favorite section, Michelle’s tools and fresh perspectives are at their best. She tackles the tough subjects of how to deal with negative people and how to deliver bad news. These two chapters are worth going into a bit more detail here.

Chapter 6: Strategic Retreats: Deal with Negative People. While you can choose happiness for yourself, you are also greatly affected by the emotions of others. In this chapter, you’ll learn how to work through the negative people at work without getting pulled into their emotional spirals.

  1. Strategic Retreat. If you are in a conversation that is necessary but is dragging you down, it can be a brilliant time step out to recharge and plan a better way to have that conversation. This is especially useful if you are feeling depleted, the other person is caught up in strong negative emotions or you are outnumbered by negative voices.
  2. Regroup. Once you are free of the negative space, you’ll want to move yourself to a more positive mindset before heading back into that discussion. Michelle gives a lot of great ideas on how to do this in the book, many of which are familiar to you as I talk about them a lot on my blog:  http://thehappinesscoach.biz/5-habits/
  3. Re-Enter. Plan a time and place that you’ll be ready for the conversation and the negative person may be in a better mood. Plan out how you are going to get what you need from the conversation while keeping the discussion on a positive path. Practice the conversation a few times before it happens so you are ready to counter the negative without falling into it. When you get what you need, move on.

Chapter 7 The Four C’s: Deliver Bad News Better. In this chapter Michelle lays out four steps for delivering bad news in constructive and compassionate ways.
 

  1. Create Social Capital. Build relationships with your team along the way. If you’ve supported your teammates, connected with them and recognized them for their accomplishments in the good times it makes delivering the bad news easier.
  2. Context. Let them know why the decisions were made and the meaning behind the decision.
  3. Compassion. Express that you understand that the news is stressful or creates more work or challenge for them. Compassion is a path to connection even in unfavorable circumstances.
  4. Committed. Help them develop a plan to manage the bad news and commit to do what you can to help them achieve it.

In Part 3 she again brings that broadcasting experience to the fore and teaches you how to make the most of the good things that happen. This helps generate contagious optimism to your work teams and your social network that will continue to spread well beyond your own circle.

All in all a very helpful book that is worth the read. Go to it!

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

Giving at Work: How to Avoid Being a Doormat Giver

It’s been a while since my last post, so let me do one of those summary montages they like so much on network television.  Here’s what you missed on The Happiness Infusion Blog: Being a giver at work can be an excellent way to drive your success.  Giving, when done right, can propel you to the top of the success ladder (whether your definition of success is qualifying for cooler giving-back2projects, making your mark on the company or earning more money).  However, giving in the wrong ways can easily lead to burnout and failure.    The vast majority of us hold giving as one of our most important values in life.  And we see that expressed well in our personal lives, but we don’t generally express that value as much in the office.  In this week’s post I’ll explore how to be a powerful giver at work without becoming a doormat.

By the way, I draw a lot of this information from Adam Grant, the world’s expert on giving at work.  Grant lays this compelling research out in his book, Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success.

Most people can see that giving at work is risky. We’ve all had “taker” co-workers who take advantage of others.  And once you start being generous with your time and talents,  it’s easy to get pulled into giving so much that you can’t get your own work done or to burnout from the long hours needed to be both a giver and complete your own tasks on time.  But there are some easy ways to give that will lead you to become a champ rather than a chump. (I just couldn’t resist the cheesy play on words…)

Become an Other-ish GiverOtherish_takers

Takers are those people who are constantly looking to take more than they give.  Matchers, in Grant’s parlance, are people who are perfectly happy to give as long as they see an equal value in what they expect to get back from those they help.  And givers are those who are willing to give more than they receive.

Within givers there are two major types — the failed givers are selfless; they give and give without worrying about themselves.  The other more successful type of giver, are called ‘otherish’ givers.  These givers love helping others and they do it naturally, AND they also have ambitious goals for advancing their own interests.  Grant says, “Otherish givers help with no strings attached; they’re just careful not to overextend themselves along the way.”  Giving and self-interest are not on opposite sides of a linear spectrum but are independent of each other.  As we see in the graphic, successful givers are able to do both at the same time.  So how do you become an otherish giver?  Read on…

If you are a matcher now 

Using these categories, I realize that, during my career as a venture capitalist and business executive, I was largely a matcher.  I was always willing to help those who I knew could help me down the line.  I focused on building out my network towards further success: “I’ll help you with this and then you’ll likely invite me to that.”  If that’s true for you and you want to become more of a giver, first read my last post, Giving More at Work: How to Do It.  Then read on below for how to best guide your giving so that you can maintain it over the long haul.   (BTW, if there are any takers in the audience, know that taking more than you give is generally not a long-term strategy for success and if you want to make some changes, you can follow along here too)

Minimize your costs – Find ways of giving that are fun and easy for you.  Are you an outgoing extravert that has lots of friends and contacts?  Share those generously with others.  Do you enjoy strategic big picture thinking? Then offer strategic reviews to colleagues.   Love helping to solve seemingly intractable problems?  Let people know they can come to you.  Enjoy planning parties?  Set up some team-building social events.  Super organized?  Jump in to rearrange the workflow.  Find ways to help that don’t take a lot of time, play to your strengths and be generous with them.  Master the 5-minute favor I discussed last post.

Chunk your giving – When someone comes asking for help and you are in the middle of something, it’s absolutely ok to tell them a time to come back to you.  Some people and teams even schedule time when they are specifically available to help, so their workflow is not interrupted with constant requests.  Not only will this help your focus in the moment, chunking your giving has a whole host of other benefits.  Researchers showed that people who concentrate their giving in one or two periods per week got more happiness from their giving and had higher self-esteem and life satisfaction than those who sprinkle their giving.  Researches have figured out that the ideal amount of giving is about 2 hours/week.  This is the amount of giving that optimizes the benefits and minimizes the sense of overextending and burnout.

Generous tit for tat – When you meet new people always start out with a giving stance – as discussed last time, be willing to do a 5-minute favor for anyone to establish a mode of giving.  Over time, if this person starts taking more than they give, stop giving for a while, but then try again.  Grant says, “Never forget a good turn, but forgive the occasional bad one. “  This idea comes from game theory research which shows this generous tit for tat style is the most successful long-term strategy.

 If you are selfless giver…

Ask for help – Selfless givers have a hard time asking for help.  They don’t want to bother their colleagues or friends with their needs and they certainly don’t want to seem like takers.  Here’s the thing: people can’t help you if they don’t know what you want.  And if you are a giver, the vast majority of people (all but the takers) will know that you are a giver and will jump at the opportunity to help you.

Advocate for others – If asking for help for yourself is hard for you, some selfless givers work to integrate other’s needs with theirs.  For instance, selfless givers often have trouble asking for a raise or promotion for themselves.  So instead they think about how the extra money would be beneficial to their partner or to their kids which gives them the power to ask.  Or they think about how they would be a more generous and supportive manager to their teammates if they got that promotion.  For the selfless giver, advocating for others whose interests align with yours can be a great path to become more otherish.

Look under the surface before you categorize someone – There are a lot of really lovely, fun, agreeable people out there who are takers; you may not notice at first because they seem so nice.  And there are lots of people who can be a pain in the butt to deal with but are very generous with their time and gifts.  As you work to sort the takers out of your life, look at their actions, not just whether or not they are pleasant to be around.

Your challenge

No matter where you are on the Giver/Taker spectrum, you can give more and be more successful while you do it.  Look at the list above and pick one thing to work on this week.  Either go out of your way to do some 5-minute favors for colleagues or people you just met.  And if you need to practice advocating for yourself, find something that you need help on and ASK.

Giving at work can help you achieve your long-term goals.  Find a way to tap into your inherent desire to help others and make giving a bigger part of your life.

Eric Karpinski, The Happiness Coach

 

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Giving More at Work: How to Do It

Being a giver at work can drive career success.   As I described in my last post, many of the most successful people are givers who are always looking for ways to help others.  This week we’ll be exploring ways for each of us to become more giving at work.  Most of these ideas come from an amazing book by Wharton professor Adam Grant, called Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success.work giving

Givers at home, but not at work

Studies show that giving and generosity are key values for the vast majority of us.  In fact, in the developed world, the majority of the population rates giving as their single most important guiding principle.  And we see this easily for people in their non-work lives.  We are very generous with those close to us and most of us don’t keep score on every favor we do for our spouse, our kids or close friends.  We see generosity flow freely in the form of charitable giving and in volunteering to help those in need.

But a funny transformation happens during our commute to work: our perspective on giving changes dramatically.  While a large majority of us hold giving as a core value, by the time we get into the office, only 8% of us do.  At work, there is a fear of being judged as weak or naïve if we are “too giving.”  We fear being taken advantage of by others who are more aggressive.  Cornell economist Robert Frank says that “by encouraging us to expect the worst in others, it brings out the worst in us:  dreading the role of the chump, we are often loath to heed our nobler instincts.”

Becoming a giver at work

So should we change?  If giving can drive our success, can we tap into this path to a more successful career?  First, let me give a warning:  if your primary motivation to become more giving is just to get more for yourself — more money, more success, faster promotions, etc. — then this is NOT a good path for you.  Humans are all pretty good bullsh*t detectors and nothing raises our suspicions more than the perception of inauthenticity.

But if your goal is actually to live your broader life values, to tap into your natural altruistic desires and the resulting good feelings, to be the same authentic person at work that you already are at home, then let yourself open up to giving more at work.  If you do it right success will follow.

How to do itadamgrantgiveandtake

Here are three tactics to be a (smart) giver at work.

Master the “5 Minute Favor”

Be willing to do favors that take 5 minutes or less for anybody.   You have knowledge, expertise and contacts that can be incredibly helpful to the right people at the right time.  Sharing information freely, giving initial feedback or connecting two people are all gifts that don’t take a lot of time or effort.  Be generous with this even if you don’t see any way that this person could help you.   This will set a tone of giving with everyone in your network.  As I talked about last week, giving is contagious and grows the pie for everyone.  As you start giving without expectation of immediate return, it will lead others to do the same.  Try to let go of selecting recipients based on their ability to help you with something.  This ‘matcher’ way of giving can severely limit your ability to expand your network.  Instead this works best when you do this for anybody you come in contact with.  The core belief of this kind of program is a pay-it-forward philosophy of “I’ll do this for you with the expectation that someone else will do something for me at a later date.”

Ask more questions

People love to talk about themselves.  One of the easiest gifts you can give to others is to really listen to them and ask interested questions.   This will connect you with them and you’ll learn what they need.  Ask them how you can be helpful.  This is a great way to find those opportunities for 5 Minute Favors.  Of course, this takes a lot of self-management because we like to talk about ourselves too.  See how much you can let go of that need.  A general rule of thumb in groups is to try to only speak 20% of the time; spend the rest of the time asking questions and letting people share their perspectives.  They will feel good about you and you will learn so much more than if you. Keep. On. Talking.

Look at others’ contributions FIRST

One of the easiest ways to be a giver is to provide appreciation and give credit for others’ contributions to work projects.  But to do this we have to overcome something researchers call responsibility bias.  Basically, we are really good at seeing how much we’ve contributed to a project because we were there for every hour of work we put in and we are intimately familiar with every hurdle we had to overcome.  But when it comes to giving credit for others contribution, we have significantly less information about others work and usually underestimate the effort it took.

But there is an easy way to overcome responsibility bias and that is to simply ask ourselves what others have contributed before counting up our own contributions.  When we make this simple switch, it DOUBLES the amount of effort we see that others have put in (science proves this).   This goes a long way toward having a more realist view of team contributions.   Once you do that, make sure to give full credit for their effort and be outspoken with your gratitude to them.

Your Challenge

Commit to doing one of the following over the next two weeks.

  • Find four ways you can do 5 Minute Favors for people you know or people you just meet.  Keep an ongoing list of those favors in your day-timer or on your phone.  Try to open up to the good feelings of seeing yourself as helpful to others.
  • Go into your next 3 conversations or meetings with the goal of only speaking 20% of the time.  Instead of sharing that next great story, ask them a more detailed question about whatever they just shared with you.  Ask how you can help them and see what happens.
  • Think of a two projects you are working on right now or recently completed.  How have others made significant contributions?  What are some of the important things they’ve done to make the project better and more successful?  Then send them a note of appreciation or even better, send the team a quick summary that gives this person credit for the great work they’ve contributed.

The key is to start giving in professional settings without expectation of return.  If we can let go of those fears of being taken advantage of and give first it will set the tone of giving in your network.  This will ultimately help you positively influence your teams, customers and colleagues and set you on a more successful path.

Next post I’ll talk more about the risks of giving and how to avoid becoming a selfless doormat giver.  But for the next couple weeks, choose something from this post that sounds good to you and try it out!

Eric Karpinski, The Happiness Coach
 
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What You Get From Giving

The world is made up of takers (who try to get as much as possible from others), matchers (who are quite generous when they expect equivalent value returned to them) and givers (who freely contribute to others without expecting anything in return).

If I asked you which group is likely at the bottom of the professional success ladder, what would you guess?

Image converted using ifftoany If you guessed that the givers were at the bottom, you’d be right.   Self-sacrificing givers can become doormats who give to the point of not getting their own work done and/or burning out.

Now if I asked you which group was at the top of the success ladder, what would you guess?

Takers, since they are always looking out for themselves?

Matchers, since they are careful in who they give to and don’t get the negative blowback and animosity that takers often do?

Nope.  Across industries as diverse as engineering, sales and medicine, the research shows that neither the takers nor the matchers are at the top of the ladder.  Who is then?  The givers.  It turns out that giving at work can lead you down two very different paths:  great success, or burnout and failure.

adamgrantgiveandtakeAdam Grant, a world-renowned researcher and Wharton professor, in his book Give and Take, lays out all the compelling research about giving at work. He teaches how to give in ways that build your career and optimize success and describes how to avoid the pitfalls that can waylay good-hearted people on their way to the top.  It is one of the most powerful business books I’ve read since the Happiness Advantage and if you like what you read here, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of the book.

The cool findings of his work dovetail beautifully with the happiness and relationship research I’ve been posting on for the last several months.   It syncs cleanly with how happiness and relationships are tied together.  This week I’ll be sharing how giving drives success in life.  Over the over the next couple posts we’ll look specifically at work: how giving at work can help you be more successful if it’s done right.  And you’ll learn the best ways to give more at work while avoiding the pitfalls (e.g how NOT to be a doormat).

Giving is contagious and grows the pie for everyone

Research results from Christakis and Fowler*, top social network experts, show that giving spreads rapidly through our social connections.   When one person contributes to a group at a personal cost, it positively influences others in that social network to contribute.  And it’s not only those who are direct friends with the giver; the increased altruistic effect is seen three degrees of separation away (i.e. that person’s friends, their friend’s friends and even their friend’s, friend’s,  friends, are more likely to give).   And the benefits of the initial contribution to the group were tripled by the end of the experiment, creating a lot more value for the group than the original altruist’s act alone.

These findings were reinforced in a series of game theory experiments.  Let’s say you are playing a multi-round game in which you are given $3 each round for six rounds.  You can decide to keep the three dollars or give it to your group of four people.  If you give it away every member of the team will receive $2 (for a total group value of $8).  What would you do?  The safest bet would be to keep the $3 each time and be guaranteed $18.  If you gave the $3 each round then you are guaranteed only $12.

In the study, about 15 percent of participants were consistent givers and contributed their $3 in all 6 rounds.  Surprisingly, these givers ended up with 26% more money than participants from groups without a single consistent giver.  It turns out the presence of a single giver was enough to establish a norm of giving; they inspired others to give and ended up creating a much bigger pie for all the participants to share.

Giving strengthens relationships

You know what it’s like to be in the presence of a giver.  It’s that person that is always looking to make sure you are comfortable, who is available when you need help, who wants to know what’s going on in your life.  And what do you feel toward that person?  Trust?  Love?  A desire to be around them more?

For most of us, seeing the giving side of a person endears us to them.  It encourages us to be around them more, to do things for them and to share experiences.  This builds our trust and keeps us open to connecting more which leads to stronger relationships.  And the research is clear that stronger relationships are a central driver of our happiness (read more on this post) and that happiness drives our success (more here).

Giving directly drives our happiness

There is a ton of research that shows that giving makes us happier.   A Harvard study shows that we get more happiness spending money on others than we do spending it on ourselves.  Sonja Lyubomirksy at UC Riverside showed huge increases in happiness by doing five acts of kindness each week.   Giving, whether in our personal lives or our professional lives, can generate real happiness for us.  And as I mentioned above,  being happier helps to drive our success (see this post for more).

How to give 

This seems like it’s obvious, but not everyone knows what I mean by being a giver.  Adam Grant, author of Give and Take, describes it like this:   “Being a giver doesn’t require extraordinary acts of sacrifice.  It just involves a focus on acting in the interests of others, such as by giving help, providing mentoring, sharing credit or making connections for others.”   Don’t get caught up in grand — or public — gestures.  Just do something nice for someone, something in their interest that isn’t necessarily directly in yours as well.

Your Challenge

Find three ways to be a giver over the next week.   Have a colleague who is really stressed about a deadline? See if there is something you can take care of for them.   Are there two people you think would be able to help each other on something? Invite them both to coffee and introduce them to each other.  Or bring in donuts or a fruit salad to the lunch room or a gathering where it’s not expected.  It doesn’t matter what you do; the key is to get started. Then see what happens.

Eric Karpinski,  The Happiness Coach

* My full disclosure is that the son of James Fowler, the co-author of the book Connected, and my daughter have been friends since kindergarten, but that in no way influences my awe of his research.

 

 

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Loving Kindness Meditation, Part 2

loving-kindness_meditationThe simple act of sending good wishes to other people opens you up to better and stronger relationships while boosting your own happiness.  I described this Loving Kindness Meditation practice in detail in this post last week.   And I encouraged all of you to try out a simple five minute version of this meditation this past week and see how it works for you.   If you didn’t get a chance last week, give it a try right now.

Loving Kindness Meditation

This week we’re going to explore a little more about this practice: how it works and how to expand it to get more benefit.

How Loving Kindness Meditation works

In the short term, this practice can often fill you with positive emotion.  When this happens, you tap into all the incredible benefits of a happier brain — a more open and flexible mind, higher levels of success, more energy, more motivation and better health.  And you are much more likely to think beyond yourself and your cocoon of self-interest, noticing what other people need and doing things both large and small to help them.   It also creates opportunities for positivity resonance (see this post for a review) which directly helps bond you with others.

Even more importantly, this practice can reshape your brain over time.  Neuroscientists say ‘neurons that fire together, wire together.’  The more you practice certain patterns of thought — in this case sending loving wishes to others — the more these patterns become the default way you look at the world.  So each time you do this meditation practice, the more likely your default thoughts will be loving rather than annoyed/suspicious/jealous/your-negative-emotion-of choice.  This, in turn, builds more happiness, trust and warm feelings which strengthens your connection with  ALL the people in your life.

Expanding the practice

To Friends, coworkers and people everywhere.  At the beginning of LKM, you start with people that you love a lot.  As you get more practiced at generating those positive feelings, you can expand the pool of people who are the subject of your good wishes.   You can bring these feelings of loving-kindness to friends, and then to other people at work or neighbors or community members, and ultimately to people everywhere.  It is in opening to love towards friends, acquaintances and those you don’t yet know that can help ease your path to connecting more with anyone you encounter.

NOTE:  This is NOT about becoming some super being of love that never gets annoyed or angry or says a negative word about another.  Instead, it’s about tapping into love that is already in your life, savoring it and expanding it to others.  If practicing these meditations helps you tap into a little more love during a couple interactions each day or week, that is enough over time to make a big difference in your life.

To yourself.  In traditional LKM practice, you start with yourself.  But western teachers quickly recognized that our culture brings a level of self-criticism that complicates the loving kindness practice.  Many of us, me included, tend to withhold love to ourselves.  This caused many western teachers to change the traditional order of the meditation.  We start instead with loved ones and then move on to bringing that love inward.   Over time, with loving kindness meditation we learn to find ourselves worthy of our love (BTW, if bringing love to yourself is a big challenge you face, explore this post on Self-Compassion Meditation.)

To difficult people.  And when you are ready for the graduate level course on loving kindness meditation, add the difficult people in your life to the practice.  We get amazing power when we can send love to those people who regularly annoy us or who’ve done us wrong.  As Jack Kornfield, a famous meditation teacher says, “Like water on a stone sometimes, the drops of loving kindness even in the places of greatest difficulty begin to wear away the closedness, the hardness of the heart.  They begin to bring water back and nourish that sweet current of love that is there in each one of us.”

My experience

Loving Kindness meditation is one of my favorite happiness-generating practices.  While none of the happiness habits work EVERY time, this practice is one that more consistently brings up my mood.  While it often works best when I’m sitting quietly and following along with a guided meditation, I play with it at different times too.   I will often listen to a guided loving kindness meditation when I’m on a run and I practice sending those good wishes to others who are out walking their dog or people who are in their houses that I pass by.  When the good feelings combine with the endorphins from the run, I’ve experienced some incredible and loving runners-highs (not sure what people think when they see that giant smile on my face as I job by…).   It’s also fun to go through the loving kindness phrases when I’m stuck in traffic or waiting in line somewhere.  It gives me something positive to do rather than cycling into complaining or boredom.  And it sometimes induces me to make connections I would have otherwise skipped.

Your challenge

Try out this practice for the next 3 weeks.  Keep using the 5-minute recording, if that’s all you have time for.  If you really enjoy the practice, build more time in as you can.  And if it seems like hard work for more than a couple days, take a break and come back to it another time. This practice is supposed to be enjoyable and add to your happiness, NOT add to your stressful list of to do’s. Give yourself this gift of love and kindness and see how it changes your perspectives on the world.

I’ve included several different guided meditations below.

Guided Loving Kindness Meditations

Different people connect better with different voices when doing guided meditation, so I give you several options below.   I also wanted to offer different lengths of meditation so that you can fit it into the time you have in your life.  Feel free to come to this page to listen or right click on each one you want to download by using the “save link as” option:

Also know that with any of these guided meditations, you can change the phrases to words that work best for you.  Use phrases that most open your heart to kind and loving feelings.

Eric’s recordings

Recordings from Others

Give this practice a try.  It’s worth it!

Eric Karpinski,  The Happiness Coach

 

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Improve your relationships without saying a word? Here’s how…

kindness matters

Positive relationships drive our happiness.  One powerful way to improve our relationships is something called Loving-Kindness Meditation (LKM).  In this simple meditation, you bring specific people to mind and send them positive wishes about their life and happiness.  Simple heart-felt statements such as “May you be happy.  May you be healthy” repeated over time is all it takes.  When practiced regularly this simple activity has been shown to open you to more connection, to strengthen your relationships and to increase your happiness all at the same time.  This is one of my favorite activities and almost always brings my mood up a notch or three.

The research

Loving-Kindness meditation has been practiced and honed for millennia and in the last decade top researchers have been exploring the benefits of this practice in controlled scientific studies.

Here’s what we’ve learned about Loving Kindness Meditation so far:

  • In a six week study Fredrickson et al (UNC) showed that LKM not only increases feelings of love during the meditation, but participants also experienced significant increases in all the positive emotions (joy, serenity, hope, pride, etc) throughout the weeks they practiced.   And this was “dose-dependent,” meaning the more people practiced LKM, the more positive emotions they felt.
  • In brain imaging studies, LKM activated the parts of the brain (insula and temporal parietal junction) that are associated with empathy and emotional self-awareness, both of which are essential to our ability to connect with others.
  • Stanford researchers showed that short LKM meditations increased feelings of social connection and positivity with other people, even total strangers.
  • Head-to-head studies of LKM and mindfulness meditation showed that LKM more directly and consistently increases positive emotions while mindfulness meditation more directly decreases stress and helps you process negative emotions.  The study also found that that LKM was easier and less depleting for new meditators than mindfulness, allowing them to stay with the practice longer.
  • Other studies tie LKM with decreased inflammation, increased vagal tone (which is associated with better physical health, more positive emotions and social closeness) and reduced chronic back pain.

How to do it

The best way to start a loving kindness meditation practice is to use some guided meditations.  As you listen to the audio, you bring a specific person to mind and silently repeat the loving phrases toward that person.    The goal is to open up to the warm feelings you have for them.

Of course the best way to learn is to try it out.  So let’s do it right now.  … click on this link and it will play for you.

Loving Kindness Meditation

Seriously.    Try it right now.  It’ll take less than 5 minutes, I promise.

Now check in with yourself.  Did this practice fill you with warmth and good feelings?  If so, awesome!    Spend a little time right now savoring that positive warmth.  Enjoy it.   And then skip to the next section.

What if it doesn’t work at first

Sincerity is important in this practice.  So don’t try to force good feelings.  We can’t control our emotions; we can only create the environment to open to these feelings of love.   For some people LKM can feel mechanical or awkward at first and it can even bring up its opposite, feelings of irritation or anger.  If this happens to you, it’s especially important to be patient and kind towards yourself.  Notice whatever feelings are there and be present for whatever happens.

Then try again later today or maybe tomorrow.   If you want, you can try to prime those good feelings the first few times you practice by looking at pictures of this loved one before starting the meditation.   Or switch to someone else, perhaps you will find that thinking of a beloved grandmother or former teacher will more easily generate feelings of love because your relationship is less complicated than those who are in your life every day.  You can also try doing this at different times of day – first thing in the morning or just before bed at night.   Play with it.  It’s a powerful practice that’s worth investing some time in.

Your challenge

Commit to this simple practice for this week.  Just 5 minutes a day for 7 days.  Find a time to simply listen to this short meditation each day and follow along with the instructions.   Put it in your calendar now and when it’s time, come back here and run it from the web page.  Or you can download the meditation (right click and hit “save link as” ) and put the mp3 on your phone so you can listen whenever you want.

Here is is again:  Loving Kindness Meditation

Next week, I’ll have more on how Loving Kindness Meditation works and will provide additional ways that you can expand and add diversity to this amazing practice.

Eric Karpinski,  The Happiness Coach

 

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Celebrate Positive News

couple-high-fivingThe way we respond to positive news is more important to our relationships than the way we respond to the negative stuff.  Whether it’s with our intimate partners, friends, co-workers or family members, being proactive, positive and curious about good news is essential to having strong relationships.

So if your partner comes home, a good friend stops by or a colleague comes to your office to share a positive event with you, engage with them, celebrate and ask interested questions.  This is the good stuff of life!!!  Notice it, slow down for it, and celebrate it.  Not only will you help build that relationship, but you’ll get a nice kick of those infectious positive emotions.

The impact of celebrating positive news is true when we share big events like a promotion, winning a prize or finally losing that last 10 pounds. It’s also true when we share the little positive things like having a good day, receiving a gift or completing a project or task.  Whatever it is, find a way to engage in that positive conversation.

Active Constructive Responding

active-constructive-responding-300x259Shelly Gable, a researcher at UC Santa Barbara, is the world expert on this stuff.  Her research shows that when we engage with good news in a positive way, we build trust, intimacy, commitment and satisfaction within that relationship.  She calls it ‘active constructive’ responding, which is characterized by active listening, asking interested questions and sharing in the positive emotions that come up.  It’s about celebrating that good news together.  And it’s an amazing way to create positivity resonance (see my last post here.)

Other ways of responding

It’s no surprise that two other ways of responding produce the opposite effects.   ‘Active destructive’ responding is characterized by bringing up potential problems, like “This promotion will probably lead to more stress and longer work hours”.  Or ‘passive destructive’ responding is characterized by ignoring the speaker or having the listener immediately starting in on a story about themselves.   No surprise that these ways of responding reduce intimacy and trust.

What I found most interesting from the research is that a ‘passive constructive’ response — giving a simple acknowledgement of the positive event, “good job” or “that’s cool” with a slow response or without much energy hurts relationships strength just like the destructive modes.  This is true even when the sharer, “knew that their partner loved them.”

So to maintain and build up our relationships, look for more ways to engage and celebrate good news.

How to do it

This isn’t rocket science.   We inherently understand that being supportive about positive news is important.  Yet for me, many opportunities to connect over these small things get lost when I’m thinking about my own projects or troubles.  And I’ve been known to co-opt someone else’s celebration by immediately sharing something good that happened to me.   All of these things take away from the benefits you can tap into by engaging in their positive shares.    Here are a few things to think about in our busy, busy, busy lives…

Do it your way.   It’s important to be authentic.  If you are not typically an effusive person, don’t suddenly jump up and down and whoop and holler.  Find your own ways of showing interest and celebrating — simply spending a minute or two in supportive conversation about the topic with a smile is all it really takes.

Slow down – Often times the reason we don’t respond in an active constructive way is because we are so caught up in our own thoughts or are trying to get just one more thing done.  So the news that is brought just doesn’t register as important or relevant to us.   When you are approached, work on getting into the habit of putting those things on a short pause, if just for a minute, and give your whole attention to this friend, child or partner.  It’s worth it.

Put down those electronics – We’ve all felt the pangs of sadness when see videos like this, yet we are all guilty of doing this exact thing sometimes.   Stop trying to do two things at once.  That text/Facebook post will wait.  The ephemeral happiness when a friend or partner is excited to share something with you won’t.  We all know what it’s like to be standing there — live and in the flesh — playing second fiddle to a virtual connection.  It sucks.  And when we are excited to share something, it really sucks.  Doing one thing at a time is SO much better for our relationships.

Schedule it.  If you are truly in the middle of something and can’t take the time to listen, it’s ok to put off the conversation.  A quick, “I really want to hear this story, but need to finish this thought/email/project right now.  I’ll come find you in 5/10/30 minutes.”  Then make sure you do.

I’m guilty of putting off celebrations too often with my kids.  I get caught up in my to-do list and my stresses that I meet any interruption with a “Can’t you see I’m in the middle of something…?”  (i.e. a passive destructive response.)  It’s hard for me to switch gears sometimes, especially as my son is at the stage where he monologues ALL THE TIME, so it’s easy to ignore his constant buzz.  Yet in those times that I do take a break and look at him and engage in his stories, I feel how much that means to him, I feel the connection strengthening.  Of course I want to be that kind of dad.

Your Task:  Find two times each day this week and practice stopping and listening to good news.  Engage with eye contact, be enthusiastic (whatever that means to you), ask questions and see how much stronger those connections become.  The research is very clear all you need to do is slow down and listen.

Eric Karpinski, The Happiness Coach

 

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The Essence of Love: Shared Positive Emotions

Would you like your relationships to be stronger and feel more connecting?   The research shows that one of the most powerful ways to find deeper connection is through sharing positive emotions. We know that strong relationships are a primary driver of happiness and well-being. The process I share today is how we can tap into this endless source of positivity and bonding.

connectionYou know that experience of being totally in sync with someone – you’re in an engaging conversation and you feel connected.  You unconsciously mirror the actions and facial expressions of the other person.  You anticipate what they are going to say before they say it.  The two of you are feeling the same things, thinking the same things and sometimes your sense of self expands and you almost feel like the same person.  This is what Barbara Fredrickson, top positive psychology researcher, calls positivity resonance.

In her book, Love 2.0, she shares the research how these short bursts of shared positive emotion and connection are the essential building components of good relationships.  It’s in these moments that your brain, biochemistry and behaviors mirror each other, create a motivation to care about the other, and push you to invest in the other’s well-being.   These experiences are the core of what builds connection and a sense of closeness between two people.  And we can actively create more of these opportunities in our lives and in our relationships.

Positivity Resonance in Action

In my Science of Happiness keynotes and trainings, I have my audience do a simple gratitude exercise, where they write down 3 specific things they are grateful for (details here).  This is a well-known path to increasing happiness and it always creates a sense of contentment in the room and lots of smiles.  Then, as a follow up exercise, I have them pair off — one shares something from their list while the other one is instructed to listen intently.  As people share, the energy in the room absolutely erupts as many participants start to experience this positivity resonance.  They sync up as the listener starts to feel the positive emotions of the one sharing.  After the exercise, people consistently share that, not only do they feel great from the exercise but they feel close to the person they shared with, even when they’d never spoken more than a couple words together before.

As I watch these pairs of people connect, I notice they are often mirroring each other’s facial expressions and hand movements.  They lean in and are animated in their stories.  The research shows that if we could look into their bodies, we’d see the activity in their brains also mirroring one another, their physiology and heart rate doing the same dance, and certain connecting hormones (such as oxytocin)being released at the same time.  These shared emotions and this shared connection cause an entire symphony of biological synchrony, which leads to a sense of knowing the other person, of seeing them as they are rather than as we categorize them from afar.  And this leads to a mutual understanding and a desire to help the other.  This is connection at its best.  And it is this process repeated over time that makes friends of strangers, good friends of acquaintances and intimates of friends.  It’s the continued shared positive experiences that bind together long-term partners, family and close friends.

How to Create Positivity Resonance

These times of connection clearly happen on their own at times, but think of how much stronger your relationships can be (and how much more fun connecting with others could be) if you can open this kind of resonance more often.

Some general  tips:

  • Invest in your happiness.  When you are happy you are more likely to think beyond your self-interest to help and connect with others.  Your happiness also puts others at ease and helps to open others in a similar way.  This blog is full of ways to increase your happiness and the happiness habits, posted here, share simple proven and powerful practices you can do each day to tap into more positive emotions in your life.
  • Slow down and be present.  We all live at such a breakneck pace, constantly doing, doing, doing.  This doesn’t give time for the kind of bonding and connection that build into positivity resonance.  If you are constantly thinking about the next thing you need to do, you’ll never be open to these connecting experiences.   Let yourself fully be with the person that you are with right now.
  • Set a positive social script. Make a point to start conversations with a positive story or something you are grateful for.  Ask positive questions about what’s going well in their life or something good that happened to them today.  It sometimes takes people by surprise to start a conversation this way, but most of us are happy to dive in with a good story, setting the stage for resonance.  Take that risk to ask.
  • Listen deeply.  When you notice someone sharing a positive story or experience, bring your attention to them.  Let go of what you might say and let their words flow.  Lean in toward them, nod your head, use affirmative sounds, meet their eyes, ask encouraging questions.   Try to open up to the positive feelings they are experiencing.

Specific tips for developing positivity resonance with those already in your life

  • Relive shared experiences (memories). Carve out time to remember fun times together – trips, parties, adventures you’ve had.  Relive the details, share the stories, and put yourselves there as much as you can.  Your emotional centers don’t know the difference between imagining those experiences vs. actually doing them.  Let the energy build.
  • Anticipate an upcoming fun event together.  Planning a vacation?  Excited about a concert or upcoming escapade?  Talk about the details that you are looking forward to.  Put yourself there.  Build the excitement together.
  • Share gratitude – Like I do in my Science of Happiness keynotes I described above, do a gratitude exercise together.  Share what’s good in your life with each other.   Bonus points if you share the things you appreciate about the other one (see this post).

Specific tips for developing positivity resonance with new people you come across

  • Be ready anywhere.  Make a game of finding little bits of resonance throughout your day.   Try bringing a smile and a willingness to chat to the checkout lady or the person at the bus stop or anywhere around your office.
  • With people you want to get to know, look to find common ground – shared passions, hobbies, interests, groups.  Or shared experiences as parents/grandparents, or places you’ve visited. Share the things that make you happy and when you find a shared passion or interest, bring up some stories, or ask good questions to get them to share.

It’s not that we should try to turn every conversation toward the positive or that we should spend every minute looking for these types of connections.  It’s simply about creating more space to listen and to seed some of our daily interactions with positive intent.  And when we find some positivity, stay with it, and build it with the other person.  If we are proactive at this a few times a day, we will naturally create more positivity resonance.  This in turn will bond us more closely with the people in our lives and with our communities, leading us to experience more happiness, more connection and more love.  This is the wonderful stuff of life.  Tap into it more.

Eric Karpinski, The Happiness Coach

 

 

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