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.

 

 

 

 

 

Cultivating Gratitude

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously.”

- Ralph Waldo Emerson


Thankgiving weekend has passed, but the thankfulness continues.  Daily I have so much to be grateful for, even in things that at first would not seem a blessing.  For example, over the weekend our car broke down about an hour outside of Thames while my son Lukas was driving it.  And at first I freaked out: How would I get the car back to Thames? What was wrong and could it be fixed before we leave in 3 days for Borneo? How much would it cost to fix?  But as the mishap unfolded, I saw so much to be thankful for.  First and foremost, Lukas was safe, no one was hurt, he was with a friend who had family in the town.  Lukas was leaving Waihi and only 2 minutes outside The Karangahake Gorge.  If he had been on the Gorge Road, there would have been nowhere to pull over and it would have been very dangerous. But he wasn’t, he was in a quiet town on a quiet street when the car died.  His friend was able to get his uncle to tow the car to his house where it sat safely overnight. My friend, Rick knew a good mechanic in Waihi and I was able to get in to see them first thing in the morning.  The mechanic was great, diagnosed the problem quickly and fixed it in an hour. And what could have been a major engine repair ended up being a corroded fuse which cost $2.00 to replace. (There was labor and a couple of extras of course, but relatively very inexpensive.) And we leave in 3 days, and have to drive to the airport at 3 AM to catch an early morning flight, and it could have happened then! But it didn’t. Lukas is safe, the car is home, it’s running fine and all is well.  So much to be grateful for.

Gratitude is a great feeling! And it’s good for you too. So much new research explaining just how good it is for you on so many levels. There is a great website about the science of gratitude and the science of a meaningful life. It’s my new favorite website!   Greater Good, The Science of a Meaningful Life. Take the time to visit the site and look around, it is magnificent! It’s a project through UC Berkeley (Yay, my old Alma Mater) and it has so much great information and wonderful videos.  It is worth taking some time to look around.

You can also become involved in their Gratitude Journal Research Project – Thnx4:

Thnx4 is a sharable gratitude journal. Take the 14-day gratitude challenge, learn more about yourself, and add to the growing body of research on the benefits of saying thanks!

Keeping a Gratitude Journal is one of the “Ten Ways to Become More Grateful.” Read this article by Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D. - the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude. He is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and the founding editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology.

To close, I want to share one of the videos by Robert Emmons from The Greater Good Site, The Benefits of Gratitude.

The Benefits of Gratitude

Please share some of your recent Gratitude Stories, I always love to hear them.  And as always, thank you for stopping by, I appreciate it.

 

 

Happy Aging?

“When grace is joined with wrinkles it is adorable.
There is an unspeakable dawn in happy old age.”

- Victor Hugo


Happy aging?  Isn’t that an oxymoron?!

I was at a birthday party this weekend, a nice group of people, good food and music. But often I’ve found that at birthday parties for people around 50, conversations start to gravitate toward aging.  Sigh.  People see people at the party that they haven’t seen in awhile, there are hugs and then often those embarrassing moments when one of the folks has to ask for a reminder of name and/or affiliation; after dances, people come off the dance floor complaining about aches and pains in knees and joints, and the consumption of too much alcohol is no longer quite as cute or funny.

When I got home from the party, I wanted to do a bit of homework about happiness and aging.  I’ve read quite a bit about older people being happy – but wanted some empiracle evidence.  The first thing we have to acknowledge is that we are all living longer, across the board.  And this is a good thing, right?  Well I want to think so, but I can’t help wondering what I’ll be like at 80 . . . hopefully wearing purple with a red hat that doesn’t match!

One of the things from the research that made a lot of sense to me was that as we grow older and we realize that we won’t live forever, we change our perspectives on life in positive ways; our goals change and we realize we don’t have all the time in the world, we see our priorities clearer, and we don’t worry as much about what constitutes trivial matters – essentially we don’t sweat the small stuff.

Basically it seems that older people are happier in themselves and with others because they choose to be.

Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, Laura Carstensen has researched this topic extensively.  In the following TED talk, she discusses happy aging, and pretty much empiracally proves that, on the whole, older people are happier!  Yay!  This is good news for those of us that are attending more and more birthday parties for people over 50!

 

I hope you take the time to watch Professor Carstensen, especially for those of you over 50! I found it uplifting and hopeful.

And as always thank you for taking the time to visit, I appreciate it.

Dwelling on the Positive

“To dwell on the things that depress or anger us does not help in overcoming them. One must knock them down alone..”

- Albert Einstein


A woman whose blog I’ve been following, ForcingMyselfHappy, has a plan.  Her plan is:

“A commitment is to do one thing per day that is supposed to make me happier for 6 months and blog about it.”

I think it’s awesome that she has that commitment, so I made a commitment to help where I can.

I have a great list that reflects the core of Positive Psychology, from a book by Miriam Akhtar:

Savour the moment: Relish, cherish, marvel, bask in and feast on life’s good stuff to maximise your enjoyment of a positive experience and generate positive emotions.

Practise gratitude: The attitude of gratitude helps you to grow your awareness of the good things in life and overcome the brain’s negativity bias, which spots what’s wrong before it notices what’s right.

Cultivate positivity: Make a ‘playlist’ of fun, enjoyable activities to act as a memory jogger when you’re low. Positive emotions build your resilience and undo the effects of negativity.

Learn optimism: Pessimism puts you on the fast track to depression while optimism’s cognitive tools act as psychological self-defence.

Nurture your relationships: Depression can lead to you withdrawing from social contact but relationships are vital for your happiness, so prioritise time in the company of your loved ones.

Meditate: Mindfulness meditation develops the brain’s capacity for positive emotions and helps you to detach from negativity.

Discover your strengths: Depression saps energy, undermines your functioning and may highlight a lack of meaning in life. Your strengths act as energisers to support your recovery and provide a clue to a positive direction to take. (*Added note from me, you can take the Character  Strengths Test here.)

I truly believe that this is a life changing list!

And to close, here’s a little video clip from my home, New Zealand.  Short, Sweet and Happy!

 

Good Luck with The Plan.  I hope this list helps.

And as always thank you for taking the time to visit, I appreciate it.

 

Understanding Happiness

“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”

- Aristotle


In my post Lifelong Learning, I introduced a wonderful course offered on iTunes U called Understanding Happiness.  This course is actually a compilation of 7 different TED talks.  The first talk was the one I discussed in my previous post, Paying Attention to Happiness, in which Nancy Etcoff explores the Surprising Science of Happiness.

The second talk in this course is by the “father” of Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman.  His talk, On Positive Psychology, is informative and engaging and very well worth the 20 minutes of time for anyone even slightly interested in this field.  He gives the history, the science and the reasoning behind the field.   He points out three key points.  Positive Psychology is:

  • As concerned with strengths as it is with weaknesses
  • As interested in building the best as in repairing the worst
  • As concerned with making the lives of normal people fulfilling and nurtuiring talent as with healing
Note, it does not say “just be happy.”  It does not say that it is not concerned with healing, just that it is just as concerned with nurturing the positive as it is with healing; it does not say ignore one’s weaknesses, it is just also concerned with finding strengths.  As I suggested in Moving Toward Authentic Self
In order to make changes in the present and not stay stuck, we have to look at the past and understand what led us to our current situation. We need to work through and move through our feelings of pain and loss in order to move on. Please understand I am absolutely and positively a believer in Positive Psychology and finding happiness.  But it must be Authentic Happiness.  And in my opinion Authentic Happiness can only be obtained when we have done our work and touched our Authentic Self.
For those of you interested in learning more and even taking a free test to assess your own level of Authentic Happiness, you can go to Authentic Happiness.
So for those of you that believe that Positive Psychology is the science of  just be happy and get on with it, I hope you will take the time to listen to Dr. Seligman’s informative and interesting talk linked below.  It goes a long way in helping us in Understanding Happiness.

Please let me know your thoughts Martin Seligman’s TED talk at iTunes U, and I’d love to hear about what you think about Positive Psychology.

And as always thank you for taking the time to visit, I appreciate it.

Paying Attention to Happiness

“It’s so hard to forget pain, but it’s even harder to remember sweetness. We have no scar to show for happiness. We learn so little from peace.”

-  Chuck Palahniuk


Hard to remember happiness . . . and hard to pay attention to happiness even when it is happening.  As I learned on iTunes U,  we are hard wired for happiness, we search for it everywhere as Cognitive researcher Nancy Etcoff discusses. So why is it so hard to remember happiness and to be present for happiness as it occurs?

Etcoff tells us that research shows that we are happiest when we are “in flow” (absorbed in what we are doing) and when we are with other people, actively engaged (with loved ones; having sex with a partner; participating in a team activity.)

Through participation in an academic study, I have personally experienced Etcoff’s findings to be true.  I’m participating in a study at University of Canterbury, NZ in which the researcher checks in several times a day to find out what people are doing at that moment, with whom they are doing it and measuring how “pleasurable, meaningful, engaging the activity is and how happy the person is at that moment.  I got involved because I’m a member of NZ Association of Positive Psychology and I saw the researcher Carsten Grimm was looking for participants for his well-being study.  I’m doing it not only because I like to help out in the research of Positive Psych, but also because I relished the idea of someone checking in on me and my happiness.  What a wonderful reminder to be present and to pay attention!  Several times a day I am asked if I am truly engaged in whatever activity I am doing and if I am aware of my level of happiness.  What a gift!

 

 

Please let me know your thoughts Nancy Etcoff’s TED talk at iTunes U, and I’d love to hear about how you pay attention to happiness.

And as always thank you for taking the time to visit, I appreciate it.

 

 

 

 

 

How much is enough?

“Materialism can negatively influence well-being.”

- Ed Diener and Martin Seligman


We often get lost in the Myth of More – believing that “more” will make us happier – more clothes, more wine, more food, more money, more stuff!

In my post Finding Joy,  Michael Norton describes that people believe that the prospect of possessing things will make them happy.

http://patticlark.wordpress.com/2012/04/27/finding-joy/

But Diener and Seligman, leaders in Positive Psychology argue that from an economic point of view, materialism can actually negatively influence well-being.

http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2007/10/14/why-money-doesn-t-buy-happiness.html

And even when a business magazine  The Business Insider explored what will make you happy, more stuff was not on the list:

http://www.businessinsider.com/things-that-make-you-happier-2011-1#

So how much is enough?  In many articles, including this one on Zen Habits, it is argued that we already have enough now.

http://zenhabits.net/key-question-how-much-is-enough/

So instead of more stuff, most psychologists and even some economists are suggesting a change in attitude.

This wonderful video illustrates our rediculous attraction to more stuff and the damage it is doing to us and to our planet.

It is appropriately called The Story of Stuff.

 

Please let me know what you thought of The Story of Stuff.

And as always thank you for taking the time to visit, I appreciate it.

Life’s too short not to be happy!

“Life’s too short not to be happy!”

- Dr. Timothy Sharp


On The Happiness Institute, one of my favorite websites:

http://thehappinessinstitute.com/

Dr. Timothy Sharp (AKA Dr. Happy) told a story about a friend of his who died suddenly:

Happiness is…telling someone you love them, before it’s too late!

Just over one year ago a very good friend of mine died. He was only 42 years old, stepped out on to a road without looking, and then he wasn’t with us any more.

Just a month or so ago, on the anniversary of his death, quite a few friends were reminded of our loss and quite a few emails and messages and conversations were sent and had about how much we missed our good old friend and about what a fine chap he was.

It was nice in many ways, to remember our dear lost friend, and nice, also, to hear so many positive words spoken about Sam.

And I don’t want, in any way, to detract from what was done and said in those days by many of my good friends and, by me, but I do want to pick up on one element of the occassion that made me feel just a touch uncomfortable…

…I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like if we’d said these things to our dear friend while he was alive!

Rather than delivering a eulogy at his funeral, rather than saying so many wonderful things to each other a year after his death, rather than…what if we’d all expressed our love and admiration and respect and liking for Sam while he was still alive?

Surely this would have been good for all of us?

So I did just that; unfortunately, it was too late to tell Sam but thankfully, it was not too late to tell a few other friends, and my wife and children. And thankfully it’s not too late to tell others in my family and social network which is exactly what I intend to do more of and…

…what I invite you all to do!

Tell someone you love them…go on, do it now! 

 

Reading this is especially poignant to me today as I just found out that an old friend died yesterday.  I hadn’t spoken to her in a few years, but I liked her a lot.  She was funny and caring and generous.  She made me laugh when I was with her and really listened to me when I spoke.  But I never told her how much I appreciated her; how much I appreciated the fact that I really felt heard by her when I spoke, how much I appreciated the laughter we shared.

Today I plan to tell several people that I love them.  Now before it’s too late.

I want to post a music video today – a song to remind me to say it now, before it’s too late.  A song by

Mike & The Mechanics  –   The Living Years

 

 

As always, thank you for visiting my blog.  I appreciate it.