Category Archives: Uncategorized

Learning to Be Sad Can Increase Your Happiness

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

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

But there’s a difference between being authentically disappointed that you weren’t chosen for that promotion/team/party/friendship, and expanding that disappointment into a story that you are worthless and no one ever liked you and no one ever will, etc. etc.  (We’ve all been there; don’t deny it!).

I’ll be talking about managing negativity for the next couple months.  To kick it off, I want to share some top-level ideas.

Be Aware

Noticing when we are in a negative emotional state is the first step; if you are not aware, how can you change?  Often when we are feeling negative emotions, they bubble along in the background.  When this happens, we sometimes react on autopilot and snap at loved ones or ruminate incessantly.  This keeps us mired in that negative space.  There is nothing you can do about your negativity if you don’t notice it.  So make a practice of checking in with your own emotional state on a regular basis.

Let’s check in now.  What are you feeling at this moment?

If you often fall into negative emotional space without noticing, spend a couple weeks actively checking in.  Set your phone alarm or outlook alert to go off every hour and see what you are feeling.  Or post little sticky notes around your house, car and on computer screen.  Each time you notice one, check in.  When I did this exercise a few months ago, I realized how often I had anxious feelings and was tightening my shoulders and catching my breath.  Awareness is the first step.

Name That Tune (or Emotion)

Brain scans show that verbal information almost immediately diminishes the power of negative emotions by engaging the thinking side of the brain.  Once you notice that you are in a negative space, call it out.  Pause and figure out which negative emotion you are feeling (is it disappointment or frustration?  Anxiety or nervousness?). Verbalize it to yourself or a friend. Consciously think, or say, “I’m feeling anxious,” “I’m feeling angry,” or “I’m feeling sad.”

After you name the emotion, pause for a minute and see what it feels like.  Where do you notice it in your body?  Is it butterflies in your stomach?  Is it tightness in the chest?  Are your muscles tensing?  What happens as you bring your attention to it, does it change?  Does it become more intense or less?  Whatever you feel, give it some space to be there, even if only for a few moments.

Let It Be

Often when we notice a negative emotion, we move to squash it as soon as we can. We react, “I don’t want to feel this! Go away!”  But the research is clear: when we suppress our negative emotions, our misery multiplies and (counter-intuitively) it inhibits our ability to feel positive emotions.  But when we give those negative emotions some space to be felt and to grow and change, it opens up the path for positive emotions to flow too.

Make a Decision

Once we notice, name and allow the negative emotion to exist, then we can decide what we want to do.  We may WANT to stay in that space for a while to be angry or sad.  That’s fine.  (You might take yourself away, however, to not inflict your own emotional pain on innocent bystanders or family members).

At some point, seconds or hours or days later, you will want to get back to a neutral or positive space.  We’ll be spending the next couple months going through the tools of how to move through this negativity and provide a healthy path to getting back to positive.  We’ll kick this off next week by categorizing the kind of negativity we are feeling – whether it is gratuitous or necessary.  This initial evaluation will set us on the best path forward.

BTW, If you have thought about inviting friends to join you on this list, this is a good time to do it.  What I’ll be sharing over the next couple months is powerful and worth taking some time with.  And it will be much easier to start at the beginning!

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach


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Negative Emotions, or “Adventures in Insomnia…”

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

But effectively managing negativity is a central strategy for becoming happier.  And it’s not about ignoring the bad stuff or covering over it.  In fact, it’s the opposite; research has found that the happiest people acknowledge their negative emotions and consciously embrace some of that negativity.

I’ve been getting a lot of practice with this recently (oh, joy…).  I have struggled with sleep maintenance insomnia (meaning I wake in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep) for years.  I’d managed my insomnia using Benedryl but wanted to get off the drug, so decided to quit cold turkey (on Thanksgiving, no less!).   Like most people, when I don’t get enough sleep, my mood tanks and the world looks like a hopeless/uncaring/overwhelming place.  After my sleep fell off precipitously, I cycled deep into negativity throughout December and these first weeks of January (merry Christmas to me…).

In a spurt of panic/proactivity (did you notice that re-framing?), I hired a coaching colleague*, who was a practicing psychologist in a past career.  In our work together over the last few weeks, I realized that my insomnia was a symptom of significant underlying anxiety.

Doh!  Double whammy.   Now I had two problems to manage rather than just one.  Not only was I sleep-deprived and cranky, but I had a diagnosable problem that shook the very roots of my own sense of awesomeness.  Now, I find myself faced with a tidal wave of negative emotions and thoughts: ‘I’ll never sleep again.’  ‘I’m such an impatient and anger-prone dad.’  ‘How am I going to get all this work done with so little energy?’ and ‘I don’t want to be feeling this!’

Before my revelation, I had been planning on using the newsletter during the next few months to share the best of the research on managing negative emotions.   Now I get to share that information while simultaneously USING much of it to manage my own negativity, anxiety and insomnia.  So tune in over the next few weeks to learn about necessary vs. gratuitous negativity, healthy distractions, disputation and when to act the way you want to feel.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach


* BTW, my new coach, Sharon Esonis, Ph.D. is a leader in the positive psychology field.  She’s written a book on the subject and has a very useful and informative monthly newsletter.  You can learn about her book and sign up for her newsletter on her website here (sign up form is halfway down the left column).   ​


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Transforming Resolutions to Lasting Habits, Part 1

Does your New Year’s resolution list look like this?

“Exercise 5 days a week.  Eat only healthy food.  Lose 25 pounds.  Be more patient.  Cure cancer.  Negotiate world peace. Etc. Etc.”

Or maybe you don’t make resolutions because you’ve never kept them for more than two weeks (two days?) in the past.


Long-term, sustainable change is hard.  We are creatures of habit; in fact, studies suggest that only 5% of our actions are consciously chosen.  We build strong neuro-pathways over years of repetition that make it so much easier to keep doing things the way we always have – scanning Facebook instead of meditating, pushing the snooze button instead of going for a run, or watching 30 more minutes of TV instead of going to bed.  We have sadly limited stores of discipline to overcome that inertia of do-it-like-we-always-do.

The good news is that a lot of research has been done on ways to make change stick.   With some concerted effort and focus, we can literally rewire our brain, developing and strengthening neuro-pathways towards habits that we want in our lives.  Over time and with consistent practice, the new pathway can become the default, the path of least resistance.  Then this new desired habit can become as ingrained as brushing your teeth before you go to bed.

Here are three proven steps to making lasting change.  Next week, I’ll share the next four steps and am also offering a free teleclass to help you develop YOUR detailed implementation plan.  Details and signup information are below.

1.       Pick one thing to change at a time. Seriously.  Just ONE and commit to it.  Developing a single new habit (and the neuro-pathways to support it) is hard.   Trying to change more than one thing at a time dilutes your effort and significantly increases the likelihood of failing which can lead to losing a sense of control and potentially giving up on making any change.  So prioritize the most important habit you want to bring into your life.  If done right, these changes can last a lifetime.

2.      Give yourself two months to make one change.  The research shows that it takes 30-60 days to make a new habit stick — to fully rewire your brain.  Give yourself enough time to really lock in the new desired behavior.

3.      Start easy. Take whatever goal you have, whatever habit you want to form and find an easy way to start – put on your running shoes and just make it out the front door, meditate for 60 seconds, do 2 short minutes of uninterrupted writing.  Stick with this initial goal for a few days.  By setting, achieving and celebrating small victories, our brains get the message that we are on track, that we are making progress and that builds our confidence, our sense of control and our focus.  Then add a little distance to your running or a little time to your meditation or focused writing.  The key is to make each step easily do-able from where you are now.

“Incremental change is better than ambitious failure”
– Tony Schwartz, author of the Power of Full Engagement

Decide and get started THIS WEEK.  Take January 1st to recover from ringing in the New Year, but make it happen on the 2nd (and 3rd and 4th).  Then join us on the 5th for a:

Free ‘Transforming Resolutions to Lasting Habits’ Teleclass, Jan 5 at 6pm PT (9pm ET)

Are you serious about making your resolutions stick?  I’m offering a FREE TELECLASS on this topic next Thursday evening (January 5) at 6pm PT (9pm ET).  Bring your resolutions with you and some blank paper.  Together we will develop a specific plan to integrate this new habit into your life.  If you want to join the call, sign up at the link below and I’ll forward you the call-in information.

Free teleclass link:

I know with busy lives and the start of the new year, some of you may not be able to join us for the call.  I don’t want you to miss this great opportunity to create lasting change, so I will be recording the call.  If you sign up on the form at the link above I will forward you the recording.

As an extra gift for signing up for the teleclass I will put you on the Happiness Infusion email list (if you are not already on it!).  These short weekly emails are full of tips and tools from the science of happiness that will go directly to your inbox each week.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

How to Truly Savor the Holidays

The holidays are fully here.  Christmas is just a few days away, there are two candles lit on the Hanukkah menorah and the Times Square ball drops in just 9 days.

This time of year has SO much potential for joy and happiness.  But so often we rush through these wonderful events, distracted by our mind chatter about what’s not right or what we’re supposed to do next.

But you can maximize the positive feelings you get from these good events by savoring them.  Savoring can generate more positive emotions and intensify and prolong those that we already feel.   And savoring is really easy to do — here are some key steps:


Slow down and focus on the now.  You’ve been planning, preparing, making and buying for weeks to get ready for the holidays.  Don’t let that do-do-do mentality prevent you from actually enjoying the experiences you’ve created.  During your celebrations, create space to let go of what you should be doing next and open up to what is happening NOW.

Find a way to remind yourself to slow down. Turn your watch or phone to beep every hour.  Tie a string to your wrist or finger.  Wear your watch on your other hand for the week.  Every time you notice the reminder, deliberately slow down, take a couple deep breaths and be with whatever experience is happening to you at that moment.

Open up to your senses.  The holidays are filled with sensual delights and positive feelings.  Let them fill up your awareness: 

  • Close your eyes and really smell the cake baking or the food roasting.
  • Watch how the tree lights twinkle off the shiny wrapping paper.
  • Feel the gratitude for that surprise present that was just what you needed
  • See the engagement and excitement as your niece plays with her new toy
  • Melt into the hug with the sister you haven’t seen in months
  • Taste the creamy sweetness of that cup of hot chocolate
  • Luxuriate in loved ones’ enjoyment of the experiences you’ve created for them

Once you notice, try to keep your attention on these experiences for 5, 10 or even 20 seconds.  Breathe into it.  Notice how it changes over time.  Enjoy it fully.

Build it up.  Use your active mind to expand the story and build up those positive emotions.  Some ideas:

  • Remember that this only comes once/year.
  • Celebrate that you worked hard to create this experience, and now is the time to enjoy it.
  • Remind yourself how lucky you are to have this amazing food, these incredible friends, a loving family, a warm home, a safe place to sleep.
  • Increase your appreciation by comparing your situation with others who are going through a harder time or with times in your life when you weren’t so blessed.
  • Recognize how awesome it is that you’ve got time off of work and other duties so you can be here to experience these things.

Share the experience.  When you notice something wonderful, share it with others.  This can multiply the amount of positive emotion you can glean from any experience.  According to the research, sharing is the strongest predictor of the level of enjoyment someone feels.  By talking about the good stuff, you keep your attention there.  Your positive emotions become infectious and you’ll help break others out of their busy minds and into the moment.  As their emotions ramp up, they’ll likely share positive things that they are experiencing further stoking your positivity.  Sharing creates an upward spiral of joy, excitement and appreciation.

So bring your attention to all the wonderful experiences of the holidays and really enjoy them.  It’s easy to get caught up in all the doing and forget to BE.

While I’m going end the main post here, I want to share a recent experience I had with holiday savoring and using it to break out of a funk.  If you are interested read on below.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach
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The transforming power of savoring

Earlier this week, I took Becca and the kids to a gingerbread house making party with my friend Karin Eastham.  Karin, a former biotech colleague of mine, has been pursuing her passions by publishing a cookbook around team cooking, called Cook the Part.  The book is awesome and her blog shares a ton of great recipes and ideas about how to throw a fun cooking party or team building activity in the kitchen.

As we settled into assembling the houses, I noticed I was feeling off.  I’d had a run-run-run day getting ready for Christmas festivities which had left me feeling a little anxious and cranky.  I brought that energy with me to Karin’s.  Are the kids being polite enough?  Did Becca really want to bring the family all the way up here instead of having a quiet afternoon at home?  What do these biotech colleagues think about my leaving the industry to be a coach?  I could feel the negative energy of these questions — the judging and worrying — start to take hold and make me more anxious.

Then I noticed what I was doing.  That I was taking what could be an amazing experience and tainting it with gratuitous negativity.  Yuck!  So I decided it was a great time to turn on my savoring tools.  I consciously slowed down with a couple deep breaths and became aware of my senses.  This helped me notice all the subtle positive things that were happening.  How my 9 year-old’s tongue stuck out a little when she was concentrating on her masterpiece.  How my 7 year-old was designing his house to maximize how much candy he could fit on it.   How proud I felt as my wife talked about her leadership roles at work.  How yummy the peppermint bark was.  How much fun it was to meet some new and interesting people.  Savoring brought me out of my worrying loops and into the wonderful experience we were having as a family.

Then I focused on building up the experience in my mind and sharing what I was feeling.  I expressed my appreciation of Karin for hosting and doing the baking ahead of time.  I shared my own memories of making gingerbread houses as a kid at my aunt’s house.   How little Piper, the two year old with us, looked just like Cindy Lou Who, with her big blue eyes and brilliant smile.  All of this helped increased the joy I was feeling and encouraged the others to share similar stories.

While I’d arrived grumpy and tired, I left Karin’s house energized and happy.  Savoring had helped me not only salvage a bad day, but imprint some great memories that I will hold onto for a long time.

Handling Holiday Drama: Managing difficult people

We’ve all got people that push our buttons.  Whether it’s about religion, politics or the way we ”should” live our life (or drive our car or wear our hair or raise our children), they seem to know exactly the thing to say to set us on a path of reactive anger or defensiveness.  Holiday gatherings can be especially trying, since quite often these button-pushers are family members who we don’t see often, or bosses/co-workers from whom we usually have the distance of work topics.

With a little planning and forethought, though, you can minimize the negativity caused by these button-pushers.  Here are some tips for managing that difficult person.

Ask lots of questions.  Do a little homework ahead of time and come prepared with a host of questions ready about something important in this person’s life – a recent trip, their kids’ activities, their interests.  Keep the conversation away from sensitive topics by leading with your inquiries.  People LOVE to talk about themselves; make it easy for them.

Focus conversation on the good things.  Lead the conversation to more neutral or positive topics – the weather, the food, decorations at the party or appreciation for the host.  Set a positive tone to start.

Invite a new friend.  Difficult people are less likely to go into all-out conflict mode if there is someone new around.  This strategy works particularly well with family gatherings where the dynamics of a stranger/guest keep everyone on good behavior.  BONUS; You may bring some holiday cheer to a friend who will be charmed (or hoodwinked) by your lovely family.

True Happiness Tactics:  If you can manage them, these tactics go beyond just minimizing negativity and create happiness for you.

Let go of changing or convincing your button-pusher.  Look at your own role in stoking the negativity with this person.  Do you subconsciously bait them into the conflict by preempting their arguments?  Do you start out defensively?  As easy as it is to blame them, we often have a role in amping up the conflict and taking the conversation into challenging territory.  Accepting them as they are can be powerful.   Check into your assumptions.

Find the good things about this person.  Sure, there are things you dislike about this person, but what are their positive qualities?  What do others love about them?  Are they a great parent or partner?  Do they do good community work?  Have they helped others that you love?  Hold these good qualities in your mind when you engage with them.

Find the humor.  If no matter what you do, Uncle Bob replays the same conversation EVERY Christmas –  “So when are you going to get a real job?” or “Wow, the Republicans/Democrats are sure screwing up the country.”   Try to find humor in their bizarre infatuation with the topic? Think of it as a charming quirk and part of the fun.

If all else fails…

Minimize your exposure.  Arrive a little late.  Leave a little early.  Avoid getting into a direct conversation with them or just walk away if the conversation gets heated.

Skip the event completely.  If there is going to be a similar level of drama whether you go or not, save those precious holiday hours.  Use the time for another favorite holiday activity instead.  Schedule a way to connect with those you will miss at another time where the challenging person isn’t present.  Life (and the holiday period) is too short for extraneous drama.

The holidays can be a time of wonderful connection.  Use these tips to help minimize the negativity of challenging people so you can savor the time with those you love!

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach
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Thanksgiving: It’s More than Turkey and Crazy Relatives

       Or “The Science of Gratitude”

In a previous post, I shared ideas for developing a daily ritual for gratitude.  (Quick reminder for those of you too busy to click the link: sit down for a few minutes each day and write about three things in your life that are going well.)  In honor of Thanksgiving, we’re going to spend the next few weeks looking a little deeper into the powerful practice of gratitude and its link to happiness.

Initial research into gratitude found that grateful people are happier, more energetic, more forgiving and more hopeful than their less grateful counterparts.  While this correlation is useful, it was only in the last decade that experiments were designed to provide proof that focusing on gratitude could make you happier.

Several top research teams randomly assigned people in their studies to one of two groups.  The first group, the “gratitude group,” was assigned to regularly do an exercise similar to the three good things exercise as described at the link above.  The “control group” was told to do some other writing assignment at the same frequency.  Each group’s happiness was evaluated over time.

The findings were as conclusive as science gets.  The gratitude groups all had statistically significant increases in their happiness scores and decreases in their negative emotion scores at the end of the experiment.  In the longest running of the studies they found that these increases were sustained (and even increased) 6 months after the study completed.  When the investigators (Seligman and Peterson) talked to the subjects they found that most of the “gratitude group” subjects had continued the gratitude writing long after the experiment required because of how well it was working for them.

There is no one right way to “practice gratitude.”  Some of the experiments had people do the gratitude practice daily, others weekly.  While I recommend everyone start with a daily practice for the first month or two to help lock it into a habit and more quickly strengthen those neuro-pathways, do what works with your schedule and temperament.

After you’ve established a regular habit, experiment with other parts of the practice to keep it fresh.  You can try spending a week going deep into one part of your life (gratitude for family one week, then friends, work, or your health, the next week, etc.)  Some days you can list several things and other days go more deeply into the feelings and possible causes of one thing.   Customize it.  See what elicits more positive emotions for you and go with it.  The key is to consistently reserve time to look for what’s good in your life.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach
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Find TIME by putting “First Things First”

Most of us live busy, noisy lives.  It is incredibly easy to run from one urgent item to another, filling up our days, weeks and years, without spending enough time on the important stuff — like items that make us happy.  (BTW, if you haven’t done the happiness list exercise from two weeks ago, stop reading now and go do it HERE.)

Our life as a jar

In Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he describes Habit #3 Put First Things First.   He uses the metaphor of fitting rocks in a jar.  It goes something like this: Imagine a large jar.  Your goal is to fit some large rocks and some pebbles and sand into this jar.  Obviously, if we first put in sand and pebbles, it will be harder to fit in any large rocks.



However, if we put the big rocks in FIRST, then the pebbles and the sand will be able to fill in around the big rocks.

Here’s the metaphor part: This jar is the time we have.  The big rocks are the important things in our lives.  The sand and pebbles are the rest of the stuff.  If we simply let our lives flow, we’ll get stuck doing the most urgent yet often unimportant “sand”-like things that come to us.

Many of these grains of sand are not the most important thing for us but are based on the priorities and expectations of others.  And since they are immediately in front of us, we do them, filling our jar with small rocks and sand.  Then when the fire drills are over, when we are drained and exhausted, we try to do those important but not urgent “big rocks.”  And guess what?   Not many of them get done.

Put first things first

The key is to proactively identify the most important things, those things that if done regularly will make a tremendous positive difference in your life.  Identify those big rocks and proactively schedule them in your week FIRST.  Protect that time as you would a meeting with an important client or a job interview.  Then leave time in your week for following up on the urgent matters that will still come up.

For many, just thinking about this metaphor is enough to start putting first things first.  But some of you might be saying, “But EVERYTHING I do is important!”  If it feels that way to you then try this exercise:

Urgent vs. Important

For a week, track how you spend your time.  Put all of your activities on a grid showing each activity’s importance and urgency as follows:

Be honest about what is in Quadrant 4 – the non-urgent, non-important section.  This is the easiest place to find room for your Quadrant 2 “big rocks.”  Replace as much mindless channel or web surfing and endless Facebook updates with activities from your happiness list.  We often fall into non-urgent, non-important activities because we haven’t figured out what really makes us happy or haven’t made it easy to do.   Now that you are armed with your own happiness list, you can take advantage of this found time.

Now also look at what you listed in Quadrant 1.  What are truly your priorities — those that align with your values, your principles, your chosen roles — and which are other people’s priorities?  Again, be honest, look at each item and weigh its value to you and who you want to be.  What if you kept it on the list but did it less often?  Are there responsibilities that you can let go of?  When you take care of yourself first, you’ll have more capacity and energy to help others.

By defining those things that make you happy (your big rocks) and prioritizing them in your schedule, you are taking a huge step towards increasing your positivity ratio and moving your life into flourishing.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach


P.S.  Hey Los Angelenos – I’m bringing the Science of Happiness Workshop to two locations near you.  I’ll be at:

Come join us, or if you have friends in LA who might be interested in coming, forward them this information.


P.P.S .  If you want to receive these happiness infusion posts directly to your inbox, sign up in the upper right of this page.

Finding time to do what makes YOU happy

Last week we created a Happiness List and did at least one thing on the list.  Go and grab your list now.  (If you skipped the exercise, go here, do the exercise and then come back.)   This week, we’ll make our Happiness List come to life.

Step 1: Expand Your List

First, take a few minutes to expand your list.  Is there anything you missed?  Think about things you loved when you were younger. Can you make the list more specific?  For example, if you listed your child, dog or partner, think about what you enjoy when you are together – conversation, snuggle time?  If you listed nature, how do you like to experience it – a hike, camping, sitting quietly?

Step 2: Celebrate What You Already Do

Now, go through your list and check off those things that you do regularly.  These are already central to your life.  Nice work!  Celebrate that you’ve made time for these activities which recharge you. (Don’t blow this part off; honoring your successes gives you the energy and motivation boost you need to set new goals.)

Step 3: Schedule Your Happiness

Go through and pick a few of these activities that you would like to do more in your life.   Get your calendar.  Yep, right now; go and grab it.  I’ll wait…

Now find the time to make these things happen.  Decide how regularly you want them and put it into a repeating calendar event.  Date night every other Thursday?  Tennis every Saturday morning? Fresh cut flowers each week?  Schedule a vacation to a place you love or you’ve always wanted to visit?

Commit to these activities, put them in your calendar and protect them.  Make the lists now of what you need to make these activities happen; schedule time to get the preparation done too.

Step 4:  Find more time in your schedule

Some of you are probably rolling your eyes now, thinking, “There’s no way I can add more to my life!”  If so, then it’s time to look critically at your calendar.  If you’re feeling over-scheduled here are some time-sucking traps to watch out for:

  • You spend time on things that your friends love that don’t make your Happiness List.  I have friends who love to see concerts.  For years, I’d go along.  One day I realized I’d rather just listen to the CD and talk – so I stopped going (and saved a bundle of money at the same time!).
  • You do everything with your partner.  Time together with a cherished loved one is important, but can be overdone and limit your time to pursue your passions.  See where your lists overlap and do those things together.  But venture out on your own sometimes, too.  I LOVE a night out dancing and connecting with new people where Becca loves a quiet night at home reading.  We’ll go our separate ways a couple times per month and the energy we both get from doing what we love comes back to our life together.
  • You do things you “should” like.  After I moved to San Diego, I thought I HAD to be a surfer, that’s what you DID here.  But after a year of learning (and occasional bouts of seasickness in big waves) I realized I didn’t love it.  So I let go of that vision of who I was supposed to be.  What do you do just because you “should” like it?
  • You do things that suck time automatically, almost without thinking.  Does the TV go on when you get home from work?  Do you log onto Facebook or play video games on your lunch break?  If these aren’t things on your Happiness List, stop doing them. Use tips from my Making Habits post.  Put the remote in a high shelf in the closet and replace it with something that reminds you of a Happiness List item.  Or schedule something from your Happiness List at your vulnerable time, so you don’t get pulled into the vortex of habits you want to break.
  • Combine things from your Happiness List with things you have to do.  Sometimes when I’m watching the kids, we will head off to Chuck E. Cheese for video games or have a dance party in the living room.  Both are things on my Happiness List (and fortunately on my kids’ lists) so while mom’s away we get to play!  If jazz makes you happy, make a ritual of playing it while you do dishes.  If exercise is your mood-booster, walk or ride your bike to run errands.

If these tips have not helped you find time or if this post, instead of bringing happiness has sent you into a tailspin of hopelessness – “My life is already so overscheduled! I just can’t fit anything else in!” – recognize and honor those emotions.  Then tune in next week where we’ll be talking about tips for putting First Things First.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach
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What makes YOU happy?

You are the best one to answer the question, “what makes YOU happy?”   But in our busy lives, we often don’t take the time to ask ourselves this question or go deep enough.  Now is the time!

Happiness List Exercise

Today, we are going to do a fun little exercise to create your own happiness list.  (This is adapted from a great book called ‘How We Choose To Be Happy’ by Foster & Hicks.)

You need to have 10 minutes of focused time.  If you have that time right now, go ahead and keep on reading.  But if you are at work and likely to be interrupted or dinner is about to be put on the table, block 10 minutes this evening or in the next day or two to where you can work uninterrupted.  If you work off an electronic calendar, put in the following link: which will get you back to this post.

Ok, now stop reading until you have your 10 minutes.  (Seriously, this will be a much more productive exercise if you don’t read this until you have that uninterrupted time.)



Ready to start? 

Get out a blank sheet of paper, a good writing instrument and a timer.  Set the timer for 4 minutes.

  1. Then begin making a list of everything that makes you happy.  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.  The idea here is to allow internal stuff to surface.  (i.e. don’t be distracted by the seeming randomness of some of your ideas.  Just write and move on.)
  2. When the timer goes off, drop your pen and notice how you feel.  For many people, just the act of writing the list makes them feel happier.  Know you can do this anytime for a quick happiness hit.
  3. Now look through your list and find one thing that would be easy to do this evening or over the weekend.  This is your HOMEWORK (Ok really it’s more of home-play) for this week.  Take out your calendar and schedule it.  Right now.  (Really.  I’ll wait…)
  4. And if you need to coordinate with someone else (for that tennis match, date to make dinner together or go to that museum exhibit) send those emails right now (your 10 minutes isn’t up yet, right?)

Next, email yourself this list, so you’ve always got it.  Put something really obvious in the subject line like happiness list, so you can find it when you want it.  Feel free to add on to this list as other things come to you.

Keep the list handy as next week we’ll spend some more time with it.

Finally, share with us what you are going to do.  Commit to it by making a public declaration in the comments below.

Then enjoy the treat you’ve scheduled for yourself!


Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach
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Gratitude: The Simplest Tool for Increasing Your Happiness

One of the most powerful scientifically-proven tools for increasing your happiness is to spend a few minutes each day focusing on what’s good in your life or what you can be grateful for.

The basic instructions are to spend 3-5 minutes each day writing down several good things in your life by asking yourself:

  • What went well today?
  • What are you grateful for?
  • What did you do right?
  • What’s good about your current circumstances?
  • What enabled you to have this wonderful experience/circumstance/etc.?

The power of this practice is that it actually reshapes the physical structure of your brain.  Neuroscientists have shown that how we focus our thoughts can directly alter the brain’s activity and structure — neurons that fire together, wire together.  So the more you consciously choose to focus on what is going well, the more your brain is trained to default to the positive.  A regular gratitude practice can change you in the short term – focusing on what is going right brings happiness — but it is even more powerful in the long term as the changes in your brain induce you to unconsciously look for the good.

For some more detail on this practice I turn to Robert Emmons a top gratitude researcher from UC Davis.  It comes from his book, ‘Thanks!’:

“You begin by cataloging, each day, gratitude-inspiring events.  It does not matter whether you begin each day journaling or make your list the last thing you do at the end of the day.  There is no one right way to do it.  You don’t need to buy a fancy personal journal to record your entries in, or worry about spelling or grammar.  The important thing is to establish the daily habit of paying attention to gratitude-inspiring events; a daily regimen is what is required.”

“It may be discouraging at first; sometimes your list will seem impoverished.  Corroborating ancient wisdom, though, through research I have found that becoming aware of one’s blessings actually leads to having more to be grateful about.  As our perceptual focus becomes sharpened, we are more likely to notice blessings where before we saw curses.  We start to no longer take things for granted.  We begin to be grateful for the ability to feel gratitude.  The spiral grows. The important thing is to get started wherever you are, even if the only item on your list is “nothing bad happened today.”

As you develop this as a practice, you can get more benefit by giving yourself the time to open up to these positive feelings as you jot them down.  Review what it felt like when this good thing happened.  Try to make those positive facts into positive experiences.  Savor those successes, the lucky breaks and the kindnesses of others.  You can also shake up the practice over time to help keep it fresh.  Focus on different questions or apply the questions to different parts of your life for a week.  Give yourself this small gift every day and it can make a huge difference in the amount of positive emotions you feel in your life.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach