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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Happier: Post #8--Happiness at Work

Happiness at work: Yale psychologist Amy Wrzesniewski discovered that people view their work in one of three ways: as a job, career, or as a calling.  A job is motivated by money more than personal fulfillment. A career is often motivated by power and prestige—extrinsic motivators. However, a calling is motivated by intrinsic motivators like self-fulfillment and self-concordant goals. A person in a calling sees work as a privilege, not as a chore. With the Meaning-Pleasure-Strengths Process, to find a calling you need to answer three questions: What gives me meaning? What gives me pleasure? What are my strengths? If you pull together the answers to these three questions and see where they intersect, you have a great start on finding your personal calling. And when you do, watch the “flow” start to really flow! Wrzesniewski and Jane Dutton experimented with hospital employees and found that regardless of the level of job, those who viewed their work as meaningful produced better results and enjoyed their work more. Shakespeare, in the character of Hamlet, said it well: “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Happier: Post #7--Education

Happiness in education:  Traditional education has a lot of pain-reward associated with right-wrong answers. At the end of the school year or semester, students experience great relief from the pain of the current education process. Instead, great education should create relief and joy all through the learning experience. Goleman says that 80% of success revolves around emotional intelligence and only 20% around IQ. Mihaly Csikszentmihaly discusses the idea of “flow” where the experience itself is a joy in which we lose track of time and sometimes even place. We’re in the zone facing an optimal problem with equal wit and intelligence to match the challenge.  And having a clear goal and purpose are essential to flow. Essentially, high task, matched with high skill level equals the state of flow. Too little skill with high task equals anxiety and too much skill level with too little task equals boredom. Paradoxically people have more flow experiences at work than at leisure. And children who were punished by having to go to recess and rewarded for doing well by being given more schoolwork opted for the schoolwork. Reframing school works. The author asks a simple but profound question: Where or when are you in a state of flow?

Monday, May 28, 2012

Happier: Post #6- Setting Goals

Setting Goals: “Happiness grows less from the passive experience of desirable circumstances than from involvement in valued activities and progress toward one’s goals” (David Meyers and Ed Diener). Psychologist Peter Brickman found that lottery winners were back to their natural happiness set point within a month. Conversely, paraplegics were back to their happiness set point within a year of their accidents.  Further psychologist David Watson tells us that goals are the means not just the ends to happiness, that happiness involves a journey or striving toward attaining a goal. No striving, no happiness! Ken Sheldon summarized goals this way: We’re better off pursuing goals of growth, connection and contribution than money, beauty or power. We also need to pursue goals that are important to us and not just something thrust on us by another. Sheldon calls meaningful, deeply personal pursuits “self-concordant goals” (that are intrinsic, not extrinsic). Interestingly, even the pursuit of money, if connected with personal growth, connection, or philanthropy, can well be a self-concordant goal.  Pursued for its own sake, money is extrinsic, meaningless, and ultimately unsatisfying and not happiness producing. The author suggests replacing the “have-tos” with “want-tos,” thus moving from extrinsic to intrinsic goals. Finally, professor and philosopher Joseph Campbell’s words still ring true: “…follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.”

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Happier: Post #5- The Ultimate Currency

Happiness: The Ultimate Currency.  The story about Marva Collins’ creation of the Westside Preparatory School (an inner-city school of renowned success) and her unwillingness to take a posh government job (deciding instead to stay where she was at Westside) illustrates just how smart she is. For her the Holy Grail was teaching her students to go on to bigger things, not financial success or the power of a high government position. The author proceeds to make the point that happiness—not fame, fortune or beauty—is the “ultimate currency” in life. Both David Meyers and Daniel Kahneman have demonstrated that material wealth and happiness are not correlated. Wealthy people are no happier than most others. Except in rare cases of grinding poverty, average folks are as happy as their wealthy peers. Unfortunately, according to Daniel Goleman (author of Emotional Intelligence), each successive generation of the 20th century is becoming more depressed, bereft of happiness due to a lack of emotional intelligence and development.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Happier: Post #4- Meaning

Meaning: As humans, we have the ability to reflect on our thoughts and emotions. We can set goals, reach them, reflect on them and find meaning in what we accomplish, think or feel. Meaning is derived from that reflection. Having meaning and purpose helps us organize our life’s activities around a theme that gives us direction. Victor Frankl (in Man’s Search for Meaning) distinguishes between pleasure and meaning in that we need a will for both, neither excluding the other.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Happier: Post #3- Definition

Defining Happiness: Shahar says that happiness is the overall experience of pleasure and meaning.  Moreover, happiness leads to success in both our personal and professional lives—and not the other way around (that success might bring happiness). Emotions drive us toward a desired state. Antonio Damasio describes a patient of his who had brain surgery that damaged his emotional center. The successful lawyer ended up divorced and out of work due to his lack of emotion.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Happier: Post #2- Archetypes

Archetypes: The author describes four typical outlooks on life:
a.    The Hedonist, who lives for the present and cares little for the future.
b.    The Rat Racer, who forgoes current pleasure for future gain.
c.    The Nihilist, who has given up on either present or future happiness.
d.    The Happiness archetype, who sees current and future happiness as real and attainable.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Happier: Post#1- Overview

Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D. (McGraw-Hill, 2007), reviewed by Steve Gladis, Ph.D. May 2012. Overview: Tal Ben-Shahar is one of the pioneers of the happiness revolution. In this book, he asks us to reflect and meditate on important things like: What gives me meaning? What gives me pleasure? What are my strengths? Woven into a rich personal narrative, his research includes the work of such leading psychologists as Marty Seligman,  Ed Diener, Dan Kahneman , Barbara Frederickson, and Sonja Lyubomirsky. This book is easy to read and packed with great research and pure wisdom. It’s like sitting down with your grandfather and asking him what really matters in life. In fact, you might want to give that a try if that’s still possible. And if not, Tal has a great reflective exercise to try about giving advice to yourself. Read this book and give it to your kids or anyone you care about.

Friday, May 18, 2012

How of Happiness: FINAL Post--Sustaining Happiness

How to Sustain Happiness: It’s one thing to intellectually understand that which affects our happiness, but quite another to know how to do what we must to be happy.
a.    Practice gratitude, optimism and spirituality. And study all of the happiness boosting activities in this book. Such pursuit will broaden your horizons and allow you to build upon that broader platform.
b.    Variety works: Don’t necessarily do everything on a strict schedule. Vary the time and place to keep the spice alive. Otherwise the exercises may become quite like background wallpaper—unnoticed and unstimulating.
c.    Get social support: Just about every major program of change contains a social component because people working with other people tend to accomplish goals. Look at Weight Watchers, Alcoholics Anonymous, psychotherapy groups and church circles for quick examples. Others include coffee groups (McDonalds, Starbucks and Panera are loaded with them), informal sports teams (soccer, cycling, etc.) and numerous other examples that illustrate the power of getting social.
d.    Make it a (good) habit: No one ever accomplished anything major without making it part of their lives. Habits form with practice and repetition, so tying habits to daily patterns—like being grateful at meals or praying several times a day at specific times, taking a walk every morning before or after work—moves us toward establishing a habit. The data on smoking cessation and weight loss, however, is daunting. Fully 86% who tried to stop smoking failed, and 80-98% of dieters fail. Further research shows that it often takes multiple attempts for people to overcome bad habits.
19.    Final Words: Getting happy is not for the lazy or undisciplined. Oddly, happiness takes will, attention, and intention. But the payoff is a life worth living—one full of social connections and meaning.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

How of Happiness: Post#12--Religion & Spirituality

Practice Religion and Spirituality: Religious people are happier, healthier and have more meaning in their lives. Maybe it’s the ritual of meeting together in congregations (social influence), perhaps the serenity that comes from prayer, or even the comfort of having a well-defined set of rules—but it works. Spirituality or believing in a bigger purpose in life—being transcendent—has positive effects that are similar to those of religious people. Therefore try the following:
a.    Seek meaning and purpose: have harmonious goals, write down your plan for the future, practice creativity, and know that suffering can also bring about growth.
b.    Pray—Studies show that prayer and/or meditation on a regular basis create well-being. Some people tie it to times of the day, others to their feelings. Getting regular, even systematic, will ensure habits that result in positive changes.

Monday, May 14, 2012

How of Happiness--Post#11--Goals

Commit to Goals: Pursuing goals is important because it gives you a feeling of control over your life, boosts self-esteem, adds structure to life, improves time management, and may socially connect us with others.
a.    Intrinsic goals (ones that are inherently satisfying or meaningful to us personally) are far more powerful than extrinsic goals (what others want or what we think we “ought” to do).
b.    Authentic goals, rooted in a person’s core values and interests, result in happiness and more likelihood of accomplishment.
c.    People who use approach goals (moving toward something) are much happier and healthier (physically and mentally) than people who choose avoidant goals (trying to escape or move away from something).
d.    Activity goals (training for a race or joining a club) are far more effective goals than buying a new car or new clothes, in which hedonic adaptation takes over, making us want to buy even more.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

How of Happiness: Post#10--Savoring

Savor Life’s Joys: Savoring is about getting joy and happiness from thoughts or behaviors of the past, present or future.
a.    Get happiness from savoring the joys of the present…a hot cup of coffee, a sunset, watching a great basketball game, or just sitting still. People who develop this present state of savoring are less prone to depression, guilt, shame, or stress.
b.    Reminiscing about favorite memories of the past can produce intense pleasure. People good at this experience gratitude and self-confidence and are less likely to be hopeless or neurotic.
c.    People who savor a potential future, like an upcoming vacation, tend to be more optimistic.
d.    Savoring Strategies—becoming intentional about savoring can change your level of happiness. What’s more, there’s research to back up these claims.
i.    Relish ordinary experiences: both normal and depressed groups were asked to relish (savor) everyday experiences like a hot shower, a walk to work or exercising. The result was that each group increased happiness and reduced depression.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

How of Happiness: Post#9--Forgiveness

Learn to Forgive: “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one getting burned.” ~Buddha.
a.    People who forgive are happier, less depressed, hostile or angry; they are happier, healthier and more agreeable.
b.    Practice forgiveness: Appreciate being forgiven yourself…how it felt when someone forgave you. Imagine forgiving another who has hurt you—just thinking about it changes how you think. Write (but you don’t need to send it) a letter of forgiveness to someone who has hurt or abused you—this exercise is cathartic. Practice empathy—forgiveness and sympathizing with another are learned and need to be practiced in our daily lives. Ruminate less—rehashing past trauma over and over isn’t healthy; it’s toxic and can unravel people. Rather, think of a large STOP sign and call it up as you begin to spiral into rumination.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

How of Happiness: Post#8--Nuture Relationships

Nurture Relationships: Building bonds between friends and family.
a.    Happier people have stronger bonds with their friends and family. Their social lives are rich and deep. Bonded pairs/mates have a distinct advantage in nature. They’re more likely to survive the elements of life. Social support, especially during stress periods, helps people live longer and happier.
b.    Strategy for Strong Relationships at Home:
i.    Invest time (strong partners talk 5 hours more per week according to marriage researcher Gottman). Express thanks even for mundane things like paying the bills. Have departure conversations in the morning (talk about at least one thing you’ll be doing that day). Have reunion conversations (both partners talk and listen at the end of each day).
ii.    Express admiration, appreciation and affection. Research shows that to have a successful mate relationship we need a 5:1 positive to negative ratio of comments. Tell people why you admire them, that you appreciate things they do, and that you love them. Be specific and sincere and watch the relationship grow.
iii.    Manage conflict. Harsh start-ups to disagreements (accusation and sarcasm); personalizing criticism (“what’s wrong with you?”); contempt (disgust, eye rolling, name calling); defensiveness (“it’s YOU, not me”); and stonewalling  (disengaging)—all can lead to unhappy marriages/relationships. Note: experiments on people who like to hug show that they ultimately are happier.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

How of Happiness: Post#7--Avoid Overthinking

Avoid Overthinking and Social Comparison
a.    Rumination is rethinking negative thoughts over and over again. This pernicious cycle recirculates negatively biased thinking, interferes with concentration, makes problem solving difficult if not impossible, and leads to pessimism and ultimately depression. So, stopping rumination is one way to protect yourself.
b.    Social Comparisons: Upward social comparisons can lead to feelings of inferiority, distress and lower self-esteem, but downward comparisons may lead to guilt or even fear of something similar happening to you. In either case, social comparison is not a great thing. You can’t be happy if you’re envious or pity someone else.
c.    Rumination and social comparisons are compelling. Here are three techniques for overcoming them from Susan Nolen-Hoeksema’s research:
i.    Cut your losses: Envision a large STOP sign when you start to ruminate and recycle negative thoughts…or just say STOP. Or, talk to someone you trust. Or, write it down to get it off your brain.
ii.    Act to solve the problem: Depending on the nature of the problem, find a therapist, contact a financial planner, hire a personal trainer.
iii.    Avoid Overthinking Triggers: Examine your overthinking triggers (what, who, when or where) and artfully avoid them.

Friday, May 4, 2012

How of Happiness: Post#6--Kindness

Practice Kindness: Doing good for others
a.    Why kindness matters: It impacts significantly on self-image and meaningfulness in life. Studies on women with MS who acted as peer coaches to other MS women were happier, more self-confident, and had a sense of mastery. In fact, the positive income they got was even greater than those they mentored.
b.    How to practice kindness: Say “yes” to people. Start from “Yes” and not from “No.” In his writings, famed marriage psychologist John Gottman stresses this technique. Timing—the author suggests that you need to not over- or under-do kindness. Often picking one day a week where you do one big thing or 3-5 small acts of kindness has an impact without being either over or underwhelming to you. Kindness has a ripple effect. Let someone into line in tough traffic and watch him or her do the same.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

How of Happiness: Post #5--Optimism

Cultivate Optimism: Viewing life through the best possible lens—“a global expectation about a positive future” [that your goals can be accomplished].
a.    Your Best Possible Self Exercise:
i.    Take 20 minutes a day for just 4 days writing about “your best possible future” in a journal and see what happens. What will your life look like in 5 or 10 years if all goes as well as you hope? You get an immediate jolt in happiness.
ii.    Identify “Barrier Thoughts”—identify negative thoughts and then dispute them or ask how they can make you better. For example, if you have a setback, what does it teach you for the future or what good can come from it?
iii.    Why? Writing is a structured process with rules that force us to make things concrete and organized and which allows meaning to emerge from the data. It also allows you to talk to yourself in ways that you can examine and analyze.
iv.    Optimists see that they’re in control, not forces outside them. So, they’re less likely to give up, more prone to have faith, are better able to cope with ups and downs, have less depression or anxiety, and are more resilient.

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