Tag Archives: happiness tools

Multiply the Joy of Giving AND Receiving

You were on a business trip and found the perfect present for your nephew.  You buy it for him, wrap it and bring it over.  It’s not Christmas or his birthday.  When you arrive, he sees the box in your hand and you see his smile.  You let the anticipation build for a few minutes while you greet your sister.  Your nephew is bouncing, excited to see what’s in the box.  When you finally give it to him, he rips open the paper and as he sees the cool dump truck, his smile widens into a full-on grin.  He jumps up and throws his arms around you, thanking you over and over.  Then the two of you move piles of stuffed animals from one side of his room to another with his cool new truck.  The animated play and his focused excitement fill both of you with joy.

This is the magic of gift-giving.  Surprise.  Excitement.  Gratitude. A shared experience.  A true gift.  This kind of gift exchange locks in wonderful memories that can last a lifetime.

Unfortunately, during the holidays, we’ve turned this idea on its head.  Instead of giving from the heart out of love or appreciation, we give because we’re expected to – out of obligation and some warped sense of barter and reciprocity.  We make our holiday gift list by those we ‘have’ to get a present for.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Here are some ideas for recapturing the happiness in gift-giving (and receiving)!

The Joy of Giving

Focus on the people who you want to give a gift to.  Start with a blank piece of paper and think about who you want to show your love to.  Who is going through a hard time and could use a little pick me up?  Who are the people that are always there for you?  Who did something meaningful for you this year and you want to show your appreciation?  These are the people to put on your holiday gift list.

Find meaning within obligation.  If you feel you must give someone a gift this year, find some meaning in that relationship.   What does this person mean to you?  What gratitude can you bring up for them?   Let go of “I need to give them a present [sigh]” and replace it with, “I want to show them my appreciation for being in my life,” or “This will really make a difference to them.”  This simple change of perspective can bring so much more happiness to both of you.

Remember the meaning as you shop/make the present.  Reminding yourself of the appreciation and love you feel for the recipient of the gift can multiply the positive emotions you feel.  Tap into those emotions as you shop for or make their present.  These positive emotions may give you that extra dose of patience you need to find a parking spot at the mall or give you that motivation to mix that final batch of cookies.  Putting together presents in this way can take the chore out of the effort and make it fun.

Give in-person.  When you go through the trouble of buying or making a gift for someone, be there to give it to them.  Imbue the gift with all the love it has by telling them what they mean to you or by sharing stories of how they have been helpful or what you see in them.  Even if you are uncomfortable, soak in the joy and appreciation that your words and the gift provide.  Your thoughtfulness created those positive emotions.  Let yourself feel them!

The Joy of Receiving

Find the meaning.  See the gift, whatever it is, as a little packet of love.  Even if they don’t use the words, find the meaning that the gift represents. This person went through the trouble of acquiring this gift and bringing it specifically to you because of who you are and of what you mean to them.  Let yourself open up to that meaning when you receive the gift.

Let go of reciprocity.  Gifts are meant to make us feel good.  If we get a gift and respond with apology (“Oh, I didn’t get you anything”) or obligation (Now I need to buy them a gift) we drain all the good feelings out of the interaction.  Instead of being energized by your appreciation, they feel bad that their gift made you feel guilty.  Yuck!  What a wasted opportunity.  Let go of obligation and be gracious in your thanks.  They got you something because they wanted to not to get something in return.

Receive generously.  Receiving a gift well – with gratitude and excitement and appreciation – is one of the greatest gifts you can give someone.

Let me say that again…  receiving a gift well is an incredible gift to the giver.  Be that nephew in the story above.  It’s not the object that you are appreciating, but the effort and thought that went into putting you on their list and spending their precious time and/or money finding or making a gift for YOU.  When you light up and share honest appreciation for that effort you multiply the positive feelings for that single generous act.

If you liked the Crap or Cone talk from John Styn I shared a few weeks ago, watch the part of his TED talk on gifting.  (Watch for about a minute from this link.)

The holidays are filled with opportunities for thoughtful giving and gracious receiving.  Take advantage of these endless sources of happiness!

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

 

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Include More “Thanks” in your Thanksgiving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach
 
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Form Lasting Habits, Part I

So, you’ve decided it’s time to make a change — to start meditating or writing in a gratitude journal or to add more mood-boosting exercise to your week.  So you decide, start doing it and then boom, you are fit, balanced and grateful.  It’s that easy, right?  No?

We’ve all had experiences of making a New Year’s resolution and letting it go before two weeks (two days?) have elapsed.  Long-term, sustainable change is hard.  We are creatures of habit; in fact studies suggest that only 5% of our actions are consciously chosen.  We build strong neuro-pathways over years of repetition that make it so much easier to keep doing things the way we always have – flipping on the tv instead of meditating or pushing the snooze bar instead of going for a run.  We have very limited stores of will and discipline to overcome that inertia of do-it-like-we-always-do.

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 four more ideas for forming lasting, constructive habits.

  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 enough.   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 go out the front door, meditate for 60 seconds or do 5 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 we are now.
        “Incremental change is better than ambitious failure”
                   – Tony Schwartz, author of the Power of Full Engagement

Tune in next week for more proven ideas for making happiness –or any other – habits stick.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

 

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A Positivity Ratio to Tip You to Flourishing?

Or “The Happiness Tipping Point”

NOTE:  The idea of Positivity Ratio of 3:1 as a magic gateway to flourishing was challenged in a 2013 American Psychologist article by Brown, Sokal and Friedman.  Losada, who managed the non-linear mathematical equations, was not able to mount a mathematical rebuttal to this critical review.   A response by Fredrickson in the same American Psychologist issue stepped away from the 3:1 ratio as a defining turning point.  However when looking at the raw data (and not the complex mathematics), Losada’s qualitative conclusions still show that higher numbers of positive interactions are associated with higher performing business teams.  And Fredrickson’s data (and many others) show that more experiences of positive emotions are associated with personal flourishing.  – Eric Karpinski, December, 2013

One thing that science has shown — and all of us have experienced — is that when we feel a positive emotion, it often leads to other positive emotions.  When we’re happy, we naturally focus on the good things in our lives and feel grateful for what we have, which further increases our happiness.  When happy, we approach other people with a smile and a sense of trust which makes them want to help us, and again our happiness increases.  This upward spiral of positive emotions can help us live the life we want.

Negative emotions follow a similar pattern.  We’ve all had experiences where a frustration at work causes self-doubt which leads to not doing our best.  Sometimes, we can bring this frustration home and overreact angrily to a family member or friend.  This can lead to guilt which further compounds our negative feelings.  Because negative emotions have a strong physiological component, these negativity spirals can knock us down for hours or even days.

Researchers have studied this interplay of positive and negative emotions and have recently discovered a tipping point in our emotional life.  A tipping point is a place where a small change can have a disproportionately large effect.  A good example of a tipping point is ice and water.  At -1ºC H20 is solid ice but raise the temperature just two degrees and it turns into flowing water.  In psychology this magic number is expressed as a positivity ratio — the number of positive emotions you feel over a given time divided by the number of negative emotions you feel in that same time period. This graph illustrates this idea:

Below 3:1 the effect of increases in positivity on our overall sense of well-being are relatively small.  Our positive emotions here are more fleeting and susceptible to being squashed by negative emotion.  But above 3:1, we’re in a world of many upward spirals that feed on each other and keep our overall happiness high.  Above this ratio, setbacks are easily dealt with or seen as longer-term challenges rather than insurmountable blocks to what we want.  In short, above 3:1, we enter what scientists call flourishing; a state of optimal human functioning that is marked by creativity, growth, productivity and resilience.

This 3:1 ratio was first discovered by Marcial Losada through an in-depth study of 60 business teams.  He and his assistants carefully observed and recorded each team in an hour-long business meeting and coded every single statement as positive or negative (among other dimensions).    Later he evaluated each team on profitability, customer satisfaction and evaluations by superiors/peers/subordinates.   Those teams that were independently shown to be high performing – highly profitable and well regarded by those with whom they did business — had positivity ratios around 6:1 (the number of positive to negative interactions in this case).  By contrast, low performing teams had positivity ratios well below 1:1 and mixed performance teams had ratios around 2:1.  Losada developed equations that modeled this nonlinear dynamic system and found that the tipping point that transformed a business team from middling to flourishing was 2.9013 : 1, which for simplicity we round to 3:1.

Losada joined with Barbara Fredrickson, one of the leading researchers in positive psychology, to evaluate this positivity ratio in individuals.  They conducted a series of analyses and found that this same 3:1 ratio is a tipping point that pushes individuals into flourishing.  They showed that people with ratios higher than 3:1 feel more alive, creative and resilient.  They have a palpable sense of personal growth and of making a positive difference.  Below 3:1, the people in these experiments are in a state of languishing where their life is rather ordinary. They get by, but are hardly growing and not moving toward what they want most in life.

The great news here is that most people have positivity ratios around 2:1, not far from the magical 3:1 number.  Using tested positive psychology tools and habits for increasing our share of positive emotions and decreasing gratuitous negativity, getting to a 3:1 ratio is feasible.  If you can increase your ratio, it will open you up to a flourishing, more engaged and happier existence. Stay tuned next week as I share one of the simplest and most powerful tool for increasing your happiness.

So, are you curious about your own positivity ratio?  You can test it on Fredrickson’s website, click on “Take the Test”.  Try it out for a few days and see where you are.   I tracked my own positivity ratio for several months earlier this year.  I found it to be a powerful way to bring more awareness to my day-to-day emotional state.

I also highly recommend Fredrickson’s book, Positivity.  It is full of the most recent and powerful science in positive psychology and it is presented in a warm and accessible way that non-scientists can understand.

Eric Karpinski

The Happiness Coach
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