Science of a Meaningful Life

“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”

- Jon Kabat-Zinn


My friend Jayne sent me a wonderful link the other day.  It is so full of wonderful info that it kept me busy reading and listening for days! Thank you Jayne!  It’s from one of my very favorite sites that I have talked about before, Greater Good out of Berkeley.

I often talk about happiness in my blog, as a matter of fact, it is one of my favorite subjects.  But it’s not as simple as saying “Be Happy and your life will be grand.”

Happiness is good for you, but not all the time; empathy ties us together, and can overwhelm you; humans are born with an innate sense of fairness and morality, that changes in response to context. This has been especially true of the study of mindfulness and attention, which is producing more and more potentially life-changing discoveries.

One of the key points in the article is that:

A meaningful life is different—and healthier—than a happy one.

So what’s the difference between a happy life and a meaningful life? A recent study in the Journal of Positive Psychology explains a few of the differences:

Feeling good and having one’s needs met seem integral to happiness but unrelated to meaning. Happy people seem to dwell in the present moment, not the past or future, whereas meaning seems to involve linking past, present, and future. People derive meaningfulness (but not necessarily happiness) from helping others—being a “giver”—whereas people derive happiness (but not necessarily meaningfulness) from being a “taker.” And while social connections are important to meaning and happiness, the type of connection matters: Spending time with friends is important to happiness but not meaning, whereas the opposite is true for spending time with loved ones.

One of the most significant findings to have emerged from the sciences of happiness and altruism is that altruism boosts happiness.  Spending on others makes us happier than spending on ourselves.  The emotional benefits of altruism suggest that it is a product of evolution, perpetuating behavior that “may have carried short-term costs but long-term benefits for survival over human evolutionary history.” And mindfulness meditation makes people more altruistic.  Greater Good hosted a conference called “Practicing Mindfulness & Compassion,” where speakers made the case that the practice of mindfulness—the moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, and surrounding—doesn’t just improve our individual health but also makes us more compassionate toward others.

The article is full of wonderful information.  In my opinion it is well worth the read.

Embedded within the article are several videos from the conference. I will include one here called Mindfulness and Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff.  I hope if you have the time and the inclination that you will watch all of the videos.  They are uplifting and inspirational.

 

 

Please let me know what you thought of the article and the videos, I’d love to hear from you.  And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.

Your Brain on Meditation Again

“To meditate with mindful breathing is to bring body and mind back to the present moment so that you do not miss your appointment with life.”

- Thích Nhất Hạnh


I love how the universe works!  After posting my last post, Your Brain on Meditation, I vowed to meditate everyday for at least 10 minutes a day through the month of March.  Less than 15 minutes later I randomly found this amazing site:

Headspace

Find out how to meditate, feel happier, sleep better and beat stress. It’s as easy as signing up, sitting down, and pressing play. Then just sit back and relax as Andy guides you through a simple process making it easy to learn how to meditate. Research has shown that brain activity begins to change within just a few days of learning to meditate decreasing stress and improving your mood.  Log in online or through  Headspace-on-the-go App  and get your Headspace how you like it – anytime, anyplace, anywhere.

So I downloaded this app onto my phone, and Voila, it not only reminds me to meditate for 10 minutes everyday, but it leads me through a slow, relaxing exercise using my breath.  And it’s Andy Puddicombe leading the meditation – he has a lovely voice.

Wow!  Just like that.  Ask and it is given.  I love it.  But I  have to remember to Pay Attention.  As I mention in the 7 Tools - I can send out the information I want to attract to me, but I have to be open and remember to pay attention to the inspiration and information that comes back to me.  And it often comes back in very random ways.  

Headspace is a great site and a great app.  Do try it – it’s free and it’s incredibly helpful if you’re looking for ways to be more mindful.

I’ll close with Andy Puddicombe explaining Headspace on another very cool site called Do Lectures.

 

 

Let me know what you think of Headspace, and thank you for taking the time to stop by, I appreciate it.

 

 

Your Brain on Meditation

“People spend 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing – and this mind-wandering typically makes them unhappy.”

- Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert – Research psychologists from Harvard University


There is a website I enjoy a lot, a website that “exercises the brain.”  Lumiosity is a great website that “challenges your brain with scientifically designed training.”  I like to think of it as wasting time playing games that are somewhat useful and not just a total of a waste of time.  Recently they published an article that explains “Meditation’s Effects on Alpha Brain Waves.

“A new study out of Brown University has found that a form of mindfulness meditation known as MBSR may act as a “volume knob” for attention, changing brain wave patterns.  Originally developed by a professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) is based on mindfulness meditation techniques that have been practiced in some form or another for over two millennia.”

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction was developed by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn.  And is a central tenet of the work being done at The University of Wisconsin by Dr. Richard Davidson that I have talked about a lot on my blog.

In the recent study discussed in the article on Luminosity, researchers examined how meditation affects Alpha Brain Waves, and how Alpha Waves affect cognition.

Alpha rhythms help filter irrelevant sensory inputs in the brain. Without proper filtering, the ability to carry out many basic cognitive operations can be crippled. This Brown University study is in line with other research on meditation, confirming previous findings that link enhanced attentional performance and fewer errors in tests of visual attention with meditation.

Yet another reason to meditate.  If I know it’s so good for me, then why is it so damned hard to sit down and sit quietly for only 10 minutes a day?!  I mean really!  Why is it so hard to commit to a such a simple discipline? A discipline that is simply asking me to sit down and not do anything for such a short time each day when I know for a fact it is so good for me?

For Christmas, I gave my sister Karin and I identical date books for 2014:  Live With Intention.  And Karin and I decided that we would set an individual intention together at the beginning of each month for the year.  So I have decided that my intention for March, 2014 is to meditate for at least 10 minutes everyday.  There, it’s in writing. (*My brain immediately said “Damn – March has 31 days too, why couldn’t you have made that your intention for February!)

I want to close with a great 10 minute TED Talk by Andy Puddicombe about meditation.  It comes from a fantastic TED Talk series:  4 scientific studies on how meditation can affect your heart, brain and creativity

Enjoy!

 

I promise to let you know how I’m doing meditating everyday – And I’d love to hear about how any of you have the discipline to keep meditating.

 

The Secrets of Happiness

Habits of happy people:

Be grateful.
Look on the bright side.
Savor the moment.
Exercise.
Meditate.
Cultivate relationships.”

― Sonja Lyubomirsky


Abraham Lincoln said: Most folk are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.

Is it really that simple? I’m not sure.  I know I feel blessed that my default system, that place I seem to always fall back to is one of optimism. I seem to naturally look on the bright side of things, and for that I am grateful.

But getting reminders about The Secret to Happiness is always welcome. That’s why I savored this article in The Huffington Post.

Please take the time to read the article, it is uplifting and a wonderful reminder.  I especially like the idea of the cloak, an image I have used before in a different context, but lovely to have it in this context as well.

I want to close with a TED talk that I have actually used before, but it is one of my favorites. The Habits of Happiness by Matthieu Ricard.  It is one of nine videos in a series on TED entitled What Makes Us Happy?

Enjoy!

 

Please let me know what you think the article and this TED talk.  And as always thank you for taking the time to visit, I appreciate it.

 

Science Backed Happiness

“Contrary to what most of us believe, happiness does not simply happen to us. It’s something that we make happen, and it results from doing our best. Feeling fulfilled when we live up to our potentialities is what motivates differentiation and leads to evolution.”

- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi 


Anyone who knows me well –  knows that I am passionate about happiness and it’s benefits. I talk so much about the benefits of happiness, that I’m sure I begin to sound like a broken record.  But as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow and co-founder of the Positive Psychology movement points out “happiness doesn’t just happen.”

Positive Psychology points out the many benefits to happiness.

    • Happiness brings large social rewards and interactions, superior work outcomes including higher income, more energy and activity, greater self-control and coping abilities, a bolstered immune system, and longevity.
    • Happy people demonstrate a self-serving bias, believing they are healthier, able to get along better with others, are more fun, have good ideas, are more intelligent, and are more ethical than others.
    • People who are positive about aging live 7.5 years longer than those with less positive perceptions. Interestingly, this benefit surpasses the results for smoking cessation, exercise, and obesity control.
    • People with increased SWB (subjective well-being) demonstrate high personal confidence, self-esteem, personal mastery, and control.
    • Happy people feel like they are in control and are empowered.
    • Characteristics related to positive affect include confidence, optimism, self-efficacy, likability, prosocial behavior, activity, energy, physical well-being, flexibility, creativity, and the ability to cope with stress.
    • People who experience positive emotions, namely joy and contentment, right after experiencing negative emotions recover faster cardiovascularly than ones who have no positive emotional experience.  This suggests that positive emotions may fuel psychological resilience.
    • In a longitudinal study of older Mexican Americans, individuals with higher reported positive affect versus lower positive affect were half as likely to have become disabled or dead during a two-year follow-up.

So I often say, Choose Happiness! As I pointed out in an earlier post, 40% of happiness  is up to you.

But what can you do to be happier?  In a recent article in Business Insider, writer Dina Spector listed 25 things that will make you happier.

Some of them made sense:

In a survey of 350 people, researchers found that those who felt more powerful were more satisfied with their lives, especially in their jobs.

But some of them were surprising:

Studies have shown that eating high-calorie comfort foods can make your happier. The downside is this will also make you fat.  As an alternative, a study published in the Journal of Behavioral and Brain Science in May 2013 found that simply drawing pictures of foods high in fat, like cupcakes or pizza, and foods that taste sweet, like strawberries, can also boost your mood.

The study showed that these 25 things will make you happier:

  • Draw pictures of healthy foods

  • Be both an optimist and a realist.

  • Get your hands dirty.

  • Become a florist or a gardener.

  • Have sex — with one partner.

  • Spend money on many small pleasures rather than a few big ones.

  • Eat lunch on the beach.

  • Make your bed.

  • Focus on what you’re doing right now.

  • Move to Australia . . . (not sure about that one! *a New Zealand joke!)

  • Eat seven servings of fruit and vegetables each day.

  • Maintain a position of power.

  • Master a skill.

  • Seal your worries in an envelope, literally

  • Surround yourself with happy people

  • Volunteer.

  • Play with puppies

  • Smile more (even if it’s fake)

  • Live in relatively cool temperatures.

  • List three good things that happened today.

  • Spend money to free up more time.

  • Stop comparing yourself to others

  • Shorten your commute to work

  • Exercise

  • Listen to upbeat music

It’s well worth looking at the article to understand the reasoning behind each of these suggestions.

I want to close with a great short video that describes positive psychology in less than five minutes.  A fun and succinct explanation.

 

 

Let me know if you read the article in Business Insider,  I’d love to hear what you think of it. And as always, thank you for stopping by.  I appreciate it.

 

 

Happiness – At least 40% is up to YOU!

“Each morning when I open my eyes I say to myself: I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today.  I can choose which it shall be.  Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet.  I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.”

― Groucho Marx


HAPPY – The Movie tells us in no uncertain terms that Happiness is within our grasp.

While 50% of our level of happiness is genetic, only 10% is attributed to circumstances (like income, health or the number of shoes in our closet).  The other 40% is up to us:  what we do, how we think and our intentions to be happy.

HAPPY is uplifting and insightful.  It asserts that we can actually re-wire our brains, altering its structure and function, by engaging in some simple activities.  And that happiness is a choice that everyone can make, everyday.  The movie outlines several ways to be happier:

  • Simple Meditation Practices (*see info below about the Compassion Meditation)
  • Physical activity, especially that which gets us “in the flow” and unaware of our surroundings, can contribute to chronic happiness
  • Other activities which get us “in the flow” – like playing music, doing something we love
  • Being of service
  • Community, being with friends, and of course, Love

This information is consistent with Martin Seligman’s findings:

Seligman’s Five Elements of Well-Being (PERMA):

  • Positive Emotions (P) – Feeling positive emotions such as joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe and love.
  • Engagement (E) – Being fully absorbed in activities that use your skills and challenge you. (Flow)
  • Relationships (R) – Having positive relationships is a universal requirement to well-being. (Community)
  • Meaning (M) – Belonging to and serving something you believe is bigger than yourself. (Service and Helping others)
  • Accomplishment (A) – Pursuing success, winning, achievement and mastery for their own sake. (Gratitude)

The Center for Investigating Healthy Minds (CIHM) is doing ground-breaking work on the subject of Meditation and Happiness.  One of the people interviewed in the movie is Dr. Richard Davidson:

Richard J. Davidson, PhD, is a renowned neuroscientist and one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of contemplative practices, such as meditation, on the brain. He is the founder and chair of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

He is perhaps best known for his groundbreaking work in studying emotion and the brain. A friend and confidante of the Dalai Lama, he is a highly sought after expert and speaker internationally. Time magazine named him one of the most influential people in the world.

The same meditation practice used in these studies is offered by CIHM online, free of charge. So it’s even easier to choose happiness!

If you haven’t seen the movie, please take the time to watch it. In my opinion, it is nothing less than life-altering!

 


 

Please let me know if you’ve seen HAPPY, and if so, what you thought of it.  And as always thank you for taking the time to visit, I appreciate it.

 

 

 

 

 

Parenthood – Truly Understanding Love


“What it’s like to be a parent: It’s one of the hardest things you’ll ever do but in exchange it teaches you the meaning of unconditional love.”

― Nicholas Sparks


What better lesson of real love than parenting?

I have just had an incredible two weeks with my husband Jeff.  Reconnecting and being together has been wonderful.  I have loved every minute of it!  But honestly, the most gratifying part for me was being able to parent together again.  Watching my partner, my children’s father, be together with our children again was truly the best part of our time together. Two weeks was not long enough.  However the time that Jeff spent walking on the beach with our boys, playing guitar with our boys and having conversations and connecting as a family again was priceless. The time flew by much too quickly, but it was rich and so heart-warming.

What can anyone say about parenting that hasn’t already been said?  It is the most rewarding thing anyone can do.  It is hard and painful at times, and the most joyous thing that one can experience.  It is Love in action.

In this moving TED Talk, Andrew Solomon explores parenting on a different level:

“What is it like to raise a child who’s different from you in some fundamental way (like a prodigy, or a differently abled kid, or a criminal)? In this quietly moving talk, writer Andrew Solomon shares what he learned from talking to dozens of parents — asking them: What’s the line between unconditional love and unconditional acceptance?”

 

 

Please take the time to watch this wonderful TED talk. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. And as always, thank you for stopping by.  I appreciate it.

Compassion, Connection and Unity

“The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis…it is the lack of love and charity; the terrible indifference towards one’s neighbor.”

- Mother Teresa


Bishop Desmond Tutu once said,  “The best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.”  We have to start somewhere to start healing our world. In I AM the Documentary, Tom Shadyac asks the important questions:  What’s wrong with our world? And what can we do about it?

Through wonderful, insightful interviews with Bishop Desmond Tutu, Noam Chomsky, Lynne McTaggart, Thom Hartmann, Howard Zinn and David Suzuki to name just a few, Shadyac explores what we can do to heal our world. Everyone interviewed agrees:

“This is the most profound discovery in all of physics.”

“The science shows us that we are all connected.”

“What we do at the individual level, really does affect the global environment.”

We really are deeply connected, and with compassion, we will experience unity.  And when we experience that deep sense of unity, I believe we wil begin to heal our world.

Bishop Desmond Tutu asks us to “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”  We can all start today.

The Shift is About to Hit the Fan!  All Aboard!

Have you seen I AM the documentary – if so, I’d love to hear what you thought of it.  And as always, thank you for stopping by.  I appreciate it.

The Glass Ceiling and other things that need to be broken

“It’s difficult to see the glass ceiling because it’s made of glass.  Virtually invisible.  What we need is for more birds to fly above it, and shit all over it, so we can see it properly.”

- Caitlin Moran


At the moment, I am reading one of the best books I have ever read.  How To Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran is described by The Independent as: ‘Engaging, brave and consistently, cleverly, naughtily funny.’ Some reviewers have said that this is a book that EVERY woman should read; I’ll go one step further, I believe every woman AND man should read this book.

The book isn’t just about Moran’s opinion on what it means to be a woman, it is a searing social commentary. It addresses women’s weight and body image; modern feminism; love, marriage, children and family; abortion; fashion; role models and so much more.  Moran’s syle of writing is funny and achingly honest.  It’s painful to read, but you can’t help yourself from laughing.

The entire book deserves attention and praise, but for this post, I want to focus on her chapter on Sexism and The Glass Ceiling. Moran describes sexism and The Glass Ceiling in a way that is not very PC; funny but uncomfortable:

Most sexism is down to men being accustomed to us being the losers.  That’s what the problem is.  We just have bad status. For men born pre-feminism, this is what they were raised on: second-class citizen mothers; sisters who need to be married off; female schoolmates going to secretarial school, then becoming housewives. Women who disengaged. Disappeared.

These men are the CEOs of our big companies, the big guys on the stock markets, the advisors to governments.  They dictate working hours and maternity leave, economic priorities and societal mores. And, of course, they don’t feel equality in their bones – sexism runs deep in their generation. Their automatic reaction is to regard women as ‘other.’

Even those men born post-feminism, raised on textbooks and marches and their own mothers leaving each morning for the office, however much they might believe in the theoretical equality of women, and respect those around them . . . have a quiet voice inside them that says ‘If women are the true equals of men, where’s the proof?’ And it is not just a voice inside men.  It’s inside women too . . . Creativity, we silently fretted should really have begun the moment legislation changed.  All manner of female incredibleness – pent up for centuries – should have been unleashed; flattening trees for thousands of miles around, like a pyroclastic blast.  But it wasn’t.  Because simply being able to vote isn’t the same as true equality.

Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook gives her opinion of why we have too few women leaders. She explains that as a general rule the data shows that women systematically underestimate their own abilities, while men generally overestimate their own. Men tend to attribute their success to themselves and women attribute it to external factors. Men tend to think they did a good job because they themselves are good at their job, whereas women will often say they had to work extra hard or that someone helped them. Sanderberg stresses that women need to start believing they deserve their own success.

An important factor that Sandberg describes as vitally important is that success and likability are positively correlated for men, but negatively correlated for women. In the following TED Talk, Sandberg talks about a study that strikingly illustrates this.

Both Caitlin Moran’s book and Sheryl Sandberg’s talk caused discomfort in a way, yet were incredibly eye-opening for me. It’s easy to blame men for “keeping us down” – but the reality is that we, as women, have a responsibility to make the changes ourselves.  We have to not only believe that we are equal and deserve to be treated as such, but to get out there and do what needs to be done.  That doesn’t mean that we have to act like men, and if our brains are wired differently, maybe that’s not even possible.  And considering the state of politics and the environment, I for one am not convinced that the present mode of leadership is the best way anyway.  But if women want a chance to make a difference and to take the lead, then we have to do it for ourselves.  We have to step up. And a good way to start is to read How To Be a Woman and watch Why we have too few women leaders.

Please take the time to comment, I’d love to hear your opinion on this topic. And as always thanks for stopping by, I appreciate it.

The Feminization of Leadership

“Great necessities call forth great leaders.”

- Abigail Adams


Recent studies highlight a long-held suspicion about the brains of males and females. They’re not the same. I’m fascinated by the fact that men and women’s brains operate differently.

When I first started researching this, I wanted to learn more about how this impacted me personally, in relationship to the different communication styles between my husband and I. But the more I read about this, the more interesting it became on a much wider level.

A recent study showed Six Things Women Do Better Than Men. 

  1. Women handle stress better
  2. Women are better at sustaining relationships
  3. Women are better at communicating
  4. Women are better at grooming themselves
  5. Women have sharper memory
  6. Women are better with finances

Now of course this is a tendency, not a rule, and there are lots of things that men tend to do better than women. But this list interested me when put in combination with a discussion of a change in leadership style that is happening globally as the Baby Boomers retire and Gen X and Gen Y take the helm. A recent studey reported on CNN shows:

The rise of women into positions of power will create a “feminization” of leadership which will be reflected in the increasing importance of emotional intelligence, people skills and flexibility. The demands of the X and Y generations are aligned to the skill-set of female leadership styles.

Hanna Rosin, author and journalist, gives a fascinating TED Talk about the Rise of Women. She talks about Women’s skill sets and the new economy.

What the economy requires now is a whole different set of skills. You basically need intelligence, you need inability to sit still in focus, to communicate openly, to be able to listen to people and operate in a workplace that is much more fluid than it used to be. And those are things that women do extremely well as we’re seeing. If you read management books now, a leader is somebody who can foster creativity, who can get the employees to talk to each other, who can basically build teams and get them to be created. Those are things that women do very well.

I don’t know if this is really The End of Men, as Rosin’s book proclaims, but it is a fascinating theme.

 

 

Have you experienced The Feminization of Leadership?   Please take the time to share your stories.  And as always, thanks for stopping by, I appreciate it.