"It isn't what you have or who you are or where you are or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about it."
- Dale Carnegie
In this column, you will learn simple but powerful tips on how to increase your happiness in life from a wide range of experts.
Clicking on the expert names below will take you to their individual blurb on boosting happiness.
I heard a mother in my exercise class today say if you give your child an essential oil while they tantrum, it will calm them down and help them be happy again.
I wonder why we are a nation seeking a potion for happiness like that mother trying to make her child feel ‘happy’ again. 22% of our nation has anxiety or depression. People are amazed that aggregate happiness has not risen in the USA when incomes and educational levels have risen so much.
A million moments for a child of “you should have done that, why did you do that, don’t feel that way” chisels away at their ability to tune in to their internal world and communicate how they feel in the moment.
When we are disconnected from our internal world of emotions we grow up to stuff our feelings down and seek out external potions of happiness to turn us on temporarily. It becomes a vicious cycle of never really ‘achieving’ happiness.
Instead, what would it be like if we said to that child throwing the tantrum, ‘wow you are really sad right now’, ‘it looks like you are angry you did not get that toy’, ‘those are big emotions you are having’.
Tuning a child inward to their emotions and teaching them how to label and communicate them in the moment is the key. Fast forward to adults…
A million moments of our caregivers in our childhood trying to make us happy when we feel sad or angry, not seeing us or ignoring our needs, overly criticizing everything we do or worse being abused or severely neglected will turn that adult later in life “OFF” to their ability to identify their emotions in the moment. Now we have a bunch of adults falsely seeking happiness from external sources such as sex, food, drugs or alcohol.
Somewhere right now in the moment is the key.
“Within you there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself.” ~Hermann Hesse.
Life can be swirly chaos and emotional roller coaster riding all around us. It can feel overwhelming and our initial default reaction is to numb out, run away or fight. The goal is to learn how to ride the waves by finding a place of safety and stillness within. This is a life of constant change and motion…we can only experience one piece at a time.
Happiness does not exist in the perfect tomorrow we imagine but rather a moment-to-moment choice of how we respond to what is directly in front of us or inside of us right now.
Julie Kurtz, LMFT – www.juliekurtz.com
Just like a magnet you are drawn to them. You know the folks I am speaking of, they tend to catch your attention with their natural charisma, easy humor, resilience and air of confidence. They seem very at ease with the world and comfortable in their skin. How do they glide through situations that cause others to feel self-conscious, awkward or overwhelmed?
They have simply mastered the art of self-love or more accurately self-acceptance.
We have all experienced those joyful moments after hearing a compliment that brightened our day, unfortunately too many of us depend upon outside reinforcement to activate this sense of inner acceptance making us forever dependent upon the good graces of others to reflect a sense of value back to us. In today’s busy world you can easily see where this could lead to a great deficit in self-perception. That is why it is an important component of happiness to learn how to tap into this positive mindset on our own.
The words ‘self-love’ make many cringe because we have been socialized to not be self-centered and to be kind to others. Somewhere along the line we lost the concept that we also need to be kind to ourselves. Self-love is not about being conceited, or thinking we are better than others. It is about doing the inner work so you can recognize your strengths and special talents. It is learning about yourself, who you are, what you value and how you want to live.
Let’s explore this dynamic.
From the time we are children we are continuously sponging up perceptions and developing opinions of the world around us and how we fit into it. We sometimes buy into negative beliefs that establish limitations that can often leave us feeling unworthy or unlovable. It can be something we experience first-hand or vicariously … the seeds of our childhood and adolescence can become firmly planted creating an inner critic that influences how we approach our relationships with others.
It is important to learn how to confront the inner critic.
We are often our own worst enemy. It is difficult to recognize the scope of the damage we release upon ourselves due to these misguided perceptions. Although we tend to protect our friends from negative experiences we allow ourselves to experience and dwell in toxic emotions. This is how we create barriers to our own happiness
How do we turn it around?
It often involves stripping away negative beliefs we have accumulated throughout our lifespan and replacing them with positive reflections of our experiences that put things into a more positive perspective allowing for personal growth and validation.
Here are a few steps to get you started:
1. Engage in self-discovery. Spend some time getting to know the real you before ‘life’ happened.
2. Make a realistic self-appraisal. What are your strengths, preferences and resources?
3. Resist comparing yourself to others.
4. Avoid thinking in ‘lack’, recognize you have everything you need to be complete.
5. Engage in radical acceptance of who you are and where your life is at this moment.
6. Practice gratitude.
7. Be kind to yourself. Become your own best friend. Release the harsh self-judgment and monitor your self-talk to respond as a ‘friend’ not critic.
8. Seek assistance from a coach or counselor to help guide you on your personal journey.
Stacey Shumway Johnson, LPCC-S, LICDC-CS, BCC - www.2xlcoach.com
One of the most important ingredients to inner happiness is to let go of your expectations in life. We all have a tendency to think about the future and anticipate what’s to come. To curb this can be difficult. We need to work on staying in the moment and surrendering what we want, for what is. When we have an expectation of what will happen and it doesn’t turn out that way, we can be deeply disappointed.
Stay mindful of what your expectations of the future are. Remember that anything can change at any time in life so stay flexible. If you can name your expectations, you can tame them and live more adaptably in the moment of what is, thus, creating more happiness in your life.
The day I agreed to write this article and chose this topic, I was flying from Miami to Atlanta and then on to Denver where I live. As I reflected on what I might write, I felt an intuitive sense that I would need this wisdom for myself during my day of travel.
My expectations were that all would flow and I would get home with time to spare and prepare myself for the next day at work. In that moment, I recognized my expectations and asked myself, “If this doesn’t happen, will I still be happy?”
The answer came that it was my own choice. I had no idea how the day of travel would go, but I vowed I would do my best to identify my expectations, let them go, and move with the flow.
When I missed my connection in Atlanta and was then re-routed to LaGuardia airport in New York, I admit that I lost it for a time. I was in resistance, frustration, and confusion. I could not wrap my brain around flying the opposite direction to get home. I worked to stay in the moment and breathe.
At one point, I remembered how futile it was to resist reality. Instead of resisting, I made a choice to shift out of that energy, stay present, and do my best to enjoy the flight home. I arrived much later than I anticipated, but I made it home safe, and even had moments of enjoying myself.
A primary element to happiness is giving yourself permission to be wherever you are, even if it’s on your way to New York in order to get to Denver. Whatever is happening is okay, be it joy, calm, pain, stress, frustration, overwhelm, and so on. All things will ultimately come to an end whether it be positive or negative.
The more we resist and deny the acceptance of what is, the harder the experience will be for us. At a certain point, I chose to let go of my expectations and live in the acceptance of the moment as it was. Stay in that awareness and know that you can make this choice at any time for yourself and remain happy, even without everything going your way.
Accept what is and let go of your expectations of the future. In life, there are too many variables that can affect our expectations. Be prepared for circumstances going in a different direction than you planned. Without our expectations, we are much freer and more flexible to cope with life’s twists and turns, which allows us to feel lighter and happier.
Dr. Lisa M. Templeton, Phd - www.interpersonalhealing.com
Striving for excellence is a good thing. Perfectionism, however, is an unhealthy and unrelenting expectation that you’ll excel at everything, you’ll never fail or make a mistake, that you’re flawless. When you expect the impossible from yourself and others, you’re bound to be unhappy.
When you expect yourself to be perfect, you make your self-worth contingent upon your accomplishments.
This means you’re never satisfied and always chasing the next achievement. Perfectionism tends to contribute to criticism (of self and others), rigid all or nothing thinking (you’re either a success or a failure), overworking and difficulty relaxing and enjoying life, reluctance to try new things, fear of failure, ruminating, anxiety, and depression.
You can break out of perfectionism and be more self-accepting when you:
1. Adopt a growth attitude.
A growth attitude focuses on learning from your mistakes. The only way to improve at something is to try, fail, and try some more. Failure is a normal and essential part of success. Instead of seeing it as something to avoid, embrace it as part of your journey.
2. Forgive yourself.
Perfectionists are notoriously hard on themselves. One way to show yourself compassion and self-acceptance is to forgive yourself for your imperfections and mistakes. I find it helpful to think about forgiveness as a process rather than an event. It takes time and practice to change your thinking from criticism to acceptance.
Remind yourself that everyone is imperfect and screws up sometimes. Show yourself the same grace that you would someone else. Try saying something kind to yourself. Kindness motivates us to do better; criticizing and shaming yourself tends to be demotivating.
3. Focus on the process, not just the outcome.
Perfectionists measure success and self-worth by their achievements. Instead, try doing things for the experience, for fun, or because you’ve always wanted to try them. Focusing on the process takes the pressure away from the results. It’s not just about whether you win, or get a promotion, or are praised. Some things are worth doing, even if you don’t get any accolades.
4. Done is better than perfect.
You can get so caught up in needing things to be perfect that you don’t do them at all. Most things in life don’t actually need to be perfect. You can use your time more efficiently and focus on what matters most when you allow some things to be imperfect.
For example, I choose to get my blog posts finished rather than fixate on needing them to be perfect. Allowing for imperfections doesn’t mean my work isn’t good quality, but it allows me to do others things that align with my values (such as time with my family) rather than spending inordinate amounts of time on work and letting that define me.
Allowing yourself to be imperfect helps you to enjoy life more fully! I hope you’ll try to notice when you’re expecting yourself to be perfect try to dial back those expectations just a bit and let yourself be human.
Sharon Martin, LCSW – www.sharonmartincounseling.com
Often it seems like happiness is something that happens to us, the result of the great relationship, successful career or busy social life. And when we’re unhappy we likewise look outside of ourselves, searching for the culprit – something out there that needs to change.
But happiness, like all emotions, is simply an energy whose source is inside of us, and that’s where we need to focus if we want to feel happier.
Abraham Lincoln said, “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
But how do you make up your mind to be happy? It sounds like one of those annoyingly chipper admonitions people hand out when they don’t know what else to say but, in reality, the process is really quite straightforward. It’s all about doing and thinking things that increase your positive energy, while simultaneously working on releasing and clearing negative energy.
The first step is simply becoming more conscious of your own energy. Most of us are experts at picking up on others’ energy (you can tell instantly if someone is angry with you, before they even say a word), but we’re clueless when it comes to our own. Close your eyes now and see if you can get a sense of the energy that is running through and around your body (our auras, or energetic bodies, extend about a foot or two from our physical bodies). Now call up a memory of a very happy time, or an imaginary scene that makes you feel calm and peaceful. Note how your energy changes. Do the same with an unhappy or stressful memory. How does that feel in your body?
This is the awareness that will help you learn to monitor and consciously change your own energy for the better. Energy caused by “negative” emotions usually feels heavy and deadening, while the “positive” emotions feel light and freeing. I put those words in quotation marks because, in reality, energy is just energy, neither good nor bad. It exists on a continuum, from lower, heavier frequencies that don’t feel great to higher, lighter ones that feel delicious to us.
What we perceive as emotions are just signals that our bodies send, letting us know whether the thoughts we’re thinking and the things we’re doing are good for us or not. So the challenge is to find and deliberately choose thoughts and activities that give us the light and freeing sensation of more highly vibrating, “positive” energy.
Everyone will be different, but certain things are nearly universal: Spending time in nature. Exercising. Getting caught up in something that fascinates you. Being with animals. Meditating. Gentle touch. Music. Choosing to focus your thoughts on gratitude, love and kindness. Even sleep!
These activities, and many more, “raise your vibration.” They also focus your attention on the present moment, which is the only place where happiness can be experienced. Releasing negative energy, on the other hand, usually involves recognizing when you’re enmeshed in repetitive thought loops that keep you stuck in the past (anger, sadness, regret) or future (worry, dread, anxiety).
Often these habitual thought loops – your “stories” – are so ingrained that it takes some time to detach from them. The most effective method is not to berate yourself or try to force a change, but simply to note when you’re getting sucked in and then distract yourself with one of your positive strategies. Treat your brain like a beloved baby: When you see it playing with something nasty, just gently take it away and give it something nice to play with instead.
As you become more adept at reading your own energy, you might also start to notice that certain people or situations lower your vibration. This is great to note! Although you might not be able to cut them out of your life completely, you can consciously choose to limit their influence by sandwiching time spent with them between hefty doses of the things that bring your vibrational level up.
Often, however, the real source of our negative emotions is not actually the people and situations themselves, but the thoughts we think about them. Check your stories and, again, try to derail those lines of thinking before the train really picks up speed. This is not Pollyanna-ish, willful disregard of reality. (What is reality anyway? We’re all well aware that different people can experience the same situations in vastly different ways.) Focusing your attention within – on your own thoughts, feelings and energy – is incredibly empowering. Contrary to popular opinion, your happiness doesn’t have to depend on what others say and do, or what happens to you.
And that doesn’t mean you will passively allow others to walk all over you, either! After you’ve spent some time with this process of focusing on your own energy, cleaning up your negative thought loops and consciously injecting doses of positive energy into your life, you might find yourself making some changes, both big and small.
The more aware of your energy you are, and the more you learn to value your own body’s signals of what feels good and what feels off, the less you will tolerate people and activities that lower your vibration. It just doesn’t feel good, and once you understand that you’re in charge, you’ll automatically start reaching for the thoughts and activities that make you feel happy. Why in the world would you not?
Amaya Pryce, Life coach & author – www.amayapryce.com
Often times unhappiness in life is due to preoccupation with the past or future. Often times our thoughts are consumed with worries about the future: thinking about all the things we have to do or anxiety about something coming up in the future. People can also spend a lot of time ruminating over past event; feeling upset about how something played out or ashamed of how they acted. Giving in to these thoughts can keep people from enjoying life and inhibit one's ability to be productive and effective. That is where mindfulness comes in. Mindfulness is about living in the present and being more aware. By doing so, one can increase their happiness and satisfaction in life.
Ultimately, being mindful is about taking control over our thoughts and, thereby, our functioning. It takes practice and effort, but the rewards are priceless. The goal is to make mindfulness a more regular, routine part of your life. You can do this by taking a little time each day (even just 15-20 minutes) to consciously be mindful.
How to practice mindfulness:
1. Observe what you are experiencing through your 5 senses. Consciously focus your attention onto the sensations that are coming in through your eyes, ears, nose, skin, and tongue.
2. Describe what you have observed: the who, what, when, and where. Put words to your experience and label your feelings. Stick to facts, without adding interpretations. Remember if you can't observe it through your senses, you can't describe it!
3. Stop multi-tasking. This means do one thing at a time and let go of distractions. In today's culture, we are prone to doing a hundred things at once, but that is generally a less effective and more stressful way to operate.
4. Take out judgments; do not evaluate something as good or bad. It is almost reflex for most people to see something and describe it with a judgment, skipping over facts. For example, if you see someone walking down the street, rather than notice the details of their clothes (i.e. color, patterns, etc.), you may notice their shirt and think "What a pretty shirt," or "What an ugly shirt."
Start noticing when you are using a judgment and rephrase it to be sticking to facts. This is important because judgments have a huge impact on our mood. For example, when it's raining, often we think something like "it's disgusting outside" and our mood is automatically lowered. However, if the judgment is taken out and we just observe "it's raining out, I should take an umbrella," it lessens the negative impact the weather has on how we feel.
Here are some examples of mindfulness exercises:
1. Deep breathing: there are many ways to practice deep breathing. One option is to sit in a comfortable position with your eyes closed. Inhale for a count of 5 then exhale for a count of 7. Continue as many times as you would like.
2. Eat one meal mindfully: observe and describe what the food looks and smells like, how it feels and tastes. Notice textures and colors. Continue to do this for every bite.
3. Observe surroundings: when you are traveling on the subway/bus or walking down the street, notice what is going on around you, as you observe it through your senses. Describe what you see; remember to stick to facts and take out judgments.
Alyssa Mairanz, LMHC - www.alyssamairanztherapy.com
As a clinical health psychologist, wellness writer and yoga teacher, happiness has been a topic of interest for almost every one of my clients and I have been asked to write on this subject multiple times (and with good reason). Happiness is something we all strive for and thanks to research studies on wellness and neuroscience, we are now more able to understand what techniques truly help increase our happiness levels, boost mood and improve our life satisfaction.
One of the most important and effective happiness boosting tools is exercise.
The mental health benefits of exercise are undeniable and have been supported by literature time and time again. Studies have shown that exercise can be as powerful for treating depression as medication is. Before symptoms become significant, it can help restore emotional balance. It has even been found that people who exercise throughout their lives are less likely to ever be diagnosed with depression, making it an undeniable preventive tool for mental health.
Exercise is one of the most powerful stress management tools. Through its direct impact on our brain and physiology, it increases the body and mind’s ability to manage stress, making you more resilient in the face of stressors and negative life events. In this way, even when faced with adversity, you are more able to bounce back and restore your mood.
Not only does exercise assist in the management of stress, but it also has a direct impact on important neurotransmitters (chemicals in the brain in charge of mood). One particular neurotransmitter associated with happiness is serotonin and exercise has been shown to drastically increase levels of serotonin in our brain. This has been found in both aerobic (running, cycling, etc.) and anaerobic (weight lifting and sprinting) exercises.
In addition to increasing the amount of serotonin in the brain, exercise also increases your endorphin levels, a hormone that leaves you feeling relaxed and happy (while also being involved in decreasing pain perception).
Effective exercise modalities to increase happiness levels include running, cycling, dancing, high intensity interval training, sprints, weight training, barre, and anything that will break a sweat and increase you heart rate.
For an ultimate mood boost, I recommend complementing these exercises with mindful movement such as yoga. Yoga (e.g., vinyasa yoga, hatha yoga, power yoga, etc.) combines both the effects of moderate exercise and mindfulness, two techniques equally powerful for increasing happiness levels. By incorporating yoga into your weekly exercise routine, you will increase endorphins and serotonin while also decreasing your cortisol levels (hormone related to stress and inflammation). In effect, you will feel more content and calmer. Yoga will also help tame your agitated mind and gain more control over your thoughts, inevitably increasing optimism and happiness in your life.
These two physiological mechanisms make aerobic/anaerobic exercise and yoga an ideal match for increasing your happiness levels and resiliency against inevitable setbacks in life. By moving your body and sweating it out, you become both happier and stronger (mind & body) each day.
Dr. Francesca Vazquez - www.francescavazquez.com
When it comes to living a happy life, forgiveness is one of the most valuable skills you can master.
Whether the wrongs you have suffered are slight or a cause of great pain, releasing feelings of blame and putting the negative episodes behind you can be both empowering and uplifting, and this is especially true when it comes to forgiving yourself.
If you've been hurt, especially if you've done something that has caused you or others pain, there’s no doubt that forgiveness can be a challenge.
It’s natural to avoid things that have hurt you and all too easy to bear grudges. But when you forgive (even if you don’t forget), you open up space in your heart and mind for love. And the more love and kindness you have in your life, the easier it is to find happy moments.
Forgiveness, like all good things, takes practice.
To practice forgiveness today, take a moment to reflect on a time where you made a mistake. Consider how you felt in that moment and how you felt after. It might be hard, but sit with that feeling for a minute. Then write down the situation on a piece of paper. Then tear it up while thinking, I choose to forgive myself. This act alone might not be enough to completely forgive yourself, but it's a very positive start. You will instantly feel a little bit lighter.
Forgiving yourself is one of the best ways to practice forgiving others.
Forgiveness does not mean you're okay with what you did or what's been done to you; it is, instead, a choice not to be weighed down by what has happened.
Remember: whether you're forgiving yourself or someone else, you cannot change what's been done. What you can do is use what's happened in the past to influence how you act in the future. And making positive future choices from a place of forgiveness is guaranteed to lead you to more happiness.
Dani DiPirro, Author and Blogger - www.positivelypresent.com
It is impossible to live in this world and not compare ourselves to others.
Likely, some comparison is hard-wired into us. Actually, the problem with seeing ourselves in relation to others isn’t about merely comparing, but about judging, especially making negative judgments when we believe that others are smarter, more attractive, more successful, or even happier than we are. Because comparison is probably impossible to completely avoid, we can only decide to do it in a more conscious, self-enhancing way that will help us build happiness and not tear it down.
Toward this end, here are five steps to practice regarding comparing yourself with others:
Step #1: Observe your thoughts
This first step will give you information about the frequency with which you check to see how you stack up against others. It involves observation only, no judgment. You are seeking to determine if you spend most of your day unconsciously noting how you’re doing in relation to others and what results that brings.
Does this kind of checking make you feel better or worse? Do you do it under only some circumstances or pretty much all the time? The goal here is to make comparison a conscious choice, if you must do it at all.
Step #2: Determine why you compare
Once you’re aware of how often and why you make comparisons, try to understand why you do this. Are you looking to feel better about yourself? Are you trying to be perfect? Does what you determine from comparison make you happier? Do you do it from fear and insecurity or from curiosity and to motivate yourself?
If you are using comparison as a motivating strategy to remind yourself that you can do better and it makes you try a little harder, well, that’s not the worst approach in the world. However, if you constantly need to compare yourself to stay motivated, you will want to examine why you don’t have more effective internal motivation.
Step #3: Examine where you learned the need to compare
It is important to understand that you may have a habit of comparing that developed in childhood. Were your parents competitive people? Did you feel that you were frequently competing with siblings? Worse, was that behavior encouraged by your parents? Did you receive more love, praise or attention when you did better than others rather than receive it because you put forth your best effort or had made significant progress?
If you grew up in a competitive family, it’s likely that checking on how you’re doing in relation to others is an ingrained habit. Now is the time to determine if it serves you well or not, especially if it brings you happiness.
Step #4: Decide to compare less
If you believe that comparing yourself to others isn’t adding to your happiness—and, in fact, may even be detracting from it—make a conscious decision to do less of it. Once again, observe how often you do it and under what circumstances.
Practice mindfulness by noticing that you are assessing yourself, then move on from the thought. Don’t engage with it. Develop a phrase to say to yourself when you notice yourself comparing yourself to others: I am fine as I am, I’m enough for myself and others, I can only be me, I’m doing the best I can, This is good enough for me, etc. Make sure that you put the phrase in the positive, not the negative.
Step #5: Motivate yourself in new ways
Although sometimes comparing ourselves to others gives us encouragement, inspiration, and leads us to work harder to reach our goals, as often, it makes us feel less than. If the latter is the case, you will need to find better ways—internal ways—to inspire and encourage yourself.
For example, when I was overcoming my emotional eating problems, I would read about people who had done it and become “normal” eaters, which made me feel that if they could do it, I could do it. But, I stopped the comparison there. Because we do not all start off on an equal playing field, I couldn’t realistically evaluate my progress against their progress. I had to find other ways to motivate myself, mostly through self-love and positive self-talk.
Remember that comparing yourself to others may be merely a bad habit. It is certainly one that can be lessened over time. If comparison is detracting from your happiness, now is the time to scotch this behavior. Doing so opens up the opportunity to find better ways to motivate and assess yourself. In the long run, these more positive strategies will contribute to greater happiness.
Karen R. Koenig, LCSW, M.Ed. – www.karenrkoenig.com
Step 1: Tune into your body - Happiness isn’t about trying to be like other people who seem to be happy, but it’s getting to know yourself and how to treat yourself well. The best way to do this to achieve the greatest amount of happiness is to tune into YOUR body. It’s a pretty involved task that honestly doesn’t end, but if you keep tuning in, you’ll get better at it.
By tuning into your body you will know what kinds of activities you enjoy doing - what feels good, what food to put into your body and you will take care of your body (because it wants to be taken care of). When we are healthy we are setting a foundation for happiness.
Step 2: Understand why you are the way you are and what you need - Our identities and preferences start forming in utero and continue to do so as we grow up.
Looking back on our early life experiences and understanding how they shaped us, and what we perceive that aligned with our needs and what we wanted and didn’t receive help us to understand ourselves better and take blame off yourself and honestly, blame off other as well and come to a neutral understanding rather than a judgment.
When we learn these things about ourselves they just become facts, not covered in excessive emotion and judgment which leads to emotional suffering.
Step 3: Practice gratitude - This is a no brainer. Take moments everyday to reflect on what we have and what is going well in our lives. This will take us away from the wanting that is shoved down our throats in every direct that leaves us feeling unfulfilled. When we practice gratitude we feel full and when we are full we are happy.
Step 4: Enjoy the process - When we learn to be present and focus on enjoying the process rather than just striving for the end result we are increasing the amount of time spent in a happy place rather than just being happy at the moments of completion. This requires tuning into yourself and doing activities and tasks that you enjoy, as those things that are enjoyable to you it is easier to enjoy the process!
Strive to learn and grow, rather than racing to an end of success. Focusing on the end can leave a fleeting feeling of happiness at the end of an accomplishment. Enjoy the ups and downs that are part of the journey there.
Stacey Steinmiller, LCSW – www.ascounseling.com
Life can be hard and overwhelming at times. It is easy to get overwhelmed, lose hope, and become depressed.
One thing that I have found to be extremely helpful with many clients in my practice is to set a goal, and break it down into tiny steps in order to achieve it.
Many people feel lost as far as what direction they should take in life. Should I change careers? Should I go back to school? Should I move? Many times these decisions feel overwhelming and the thought of actually finding a new job, new home or going back to school feels unattainable.
One thing to remember that is often helpful; is that no decision has to be forever.
If you change careers and you are not fulfilled, you can change it again. If you move and you are not happy and/ or you liked your previous place better; then go back. Nothing has to be final.
Set a goal and then break it down into smaller steps so that each step is achievable. Often when we look at the big picture, it feels way to overwhelming to move forward.
Let's say the goal is to go back to school. Perhaps, research schools that have the program you want. If you do not know what you want to do, make an appointment with an academic advisor. One you know what school or schools you might want to attend; find out what the application deadline is.
Make a list of what you need for the application, ( transcripts, recommendations, admission essay.) As you complete each of these check it off your list. Every task you complete will give you the motivation to go to the next task. You will see that you can achieve your goal and you are well on your way.
You might be thinking you can't make a big change in your life because it will take too long. Time is going to pass anyway so why don't you work towards doing something that will fulfill you. You will see that you can be happy and you can achieve any goal that you put your mind too, and that you break into smaller goals.
Trisha Swinton, LPC, LMFT – www.trishaswintoncounseling.com
“The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.” ~ Chinese Proverb
Goal setting and visioning are some of the most exciting parts of starting something big. I love this stage of a project. I’ve become quite skilled at it – whether it was creating the vision for a new business or for writing a book. In fact, I’ve had so much practice setting goals and visioning, I should write a book on that.
Only, for years, I couldn’t seem to get beyond that stage of a project. And I didn’t know why until I started to see a pattern that every time I was ready to start actually taking the steps that would make my dreams and goals a reality, I became paralyzed with overwhelm. Where to begin? How does one take a vision such as start a new business, change careers, or write a book, and actually make it happen?
The Overwhelm is Overwhelming
The most common complaint I hear from my clients (and from myself) is that “it is so overwhelming, I don’t know where to start! I have a million and one things to do to get this going, how can I do it all?” And this is where everything comes to a halt. The momentum that began as you worked on your vision, created your dream board, drew up the flowchart and bubble diagram, and worked on your business plan or resume, has all of a sudden disappeared. And you aren’t even sure how it happened.
It’s one thing to have a large company, with hundreds of employees, take on big projects (and even they have trouble keeping it all together), it’s another thing entirely to have one or two people take on a dream project, invention, or new career. When you have to do everything, especially the things that you don’t like to do, aren’t good at or better yet, have absolutely no training in, it can be daunting and even defeating.
The Solution is Simple
The solution is simple and yet so often ignored because of its simplicity. Mark Twain said it best:
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”
The trick is to break it all down into small manageable tasks, prioritize those tasks and start with the ones with the highest priority.
I remember when I was in school and I would have a huge paper or homework project due the next day. Finally, at 10pm, I would break down to my mom confessing that I had put it off…Instead of getting angry with me and leaving me to my own devices or failure, my mom would calmly say, “just sit down for an hour, start with writing the first paragraph and see what happens.” And her calm demeanor and matter-of-fact advice always worked. In an hour, I would either be done with it or I could at least see the end in sight. She took me out of my overwhelm and broke it down for me in small, manageable tasks.
Just Pick One
While breaking it down into smaller tasks is the first step to achieving your dream goal, if you don’t pick one of the tasks and start working on it, you’ll be no better off than you were before. You have to be willing to start implementing the tasks. I have seen many clients choose to stay in the overwhelm even when they have the tasks laid out very clearly before them. They haven’t committed to make the changes that they need to make and manage to find every excuse why they can’t take that first step.
No matter how scary it might seem at the time, no matter how much your ego is telling you that you can’t do this because…blah, blah, blah..., no matter what obstacles seem to keep popping up at the most inopportune time, you need to take that first step! If the step seems too big, break it down into even smaller steps, spend one hour on it and see where that gets you. Make it a baby step. Baby steps are very small, very doable and don’t take a lot of time and effort.
Time for A Little Nudge
If you still find that you can’t seem to get started and you’ve been trying for a few days, weeks, even months, then find someone to help you. While you may be too old to get mom to help (or maybe mom isn’t interested in helping you do your “homework” anymore), look for a coach or mentor or advisor who is unbiased, who can look at your project with no attachments and will call you on your stuff. Generally, your friends and family are too close and will have a more emotional attachment to helping you so it’s best to step outside of that realm when looking for help.
Set it up so that you are held accountable to yourself and your progress through your coach/ mentor. They can keep you focused, keep you from going off track, and motivate you to keep moving toward your goals. The coaching/ mentoring business is a multi-billion dollar business and there’s a reason that people are willing to pay for it. Ask Oprah, ask any Olympic athlete, ask a successful person, and they will tell you how invaluable their coaches and mentors have been and still are.
Mom Really Does Know Best
The most important thing to remember is that mom really does know best – just sit down, start with the first task and see what happens in an hour. Pretty soon you will have your novel written, your new career started, your new business launched and your dreams achieved – one baby step, and one hour, at a time.
Martha Moore, CPA, MBA - www.thefreespiritproject.org
Since we are currently living in a distinctly digital age, it can be difficult to separate ourselves from the technology that we use on a daily basis and the time during which we need to unplug and connect with the world around us. The devices we own can help us complete our work in order to make deadlines and are also a main source of communication and connection to people in our lives, so their importance is undeniable.
Have you ever felt like it’s almost impossible to fully disconnect from technology because of how important your smartphone or laptop is at connecting you with others, informing you of breaking news, or helping you to navigate life?
If so, you’re not alone!
Many people have become so dependent on technology that it may seem like a crisis to forget your smartphone at home. The feeling of having to be connected to technology at every waking moment can also cause unnecessary stress, anxiety, and even panic, in some individuals.
Constant worry about missing a social invitation, or waiting for an important text message or email can cause overstimulation, which keeps a person on high alert and can cause difficult emotions such as frustration and anger, among others. It may seem like downtime to binge watch your favorite TV show, but this can also cause eye strain or even boredom. Despite the entertainment that technology can provide, overusing digital tools can cause unhappiness and stress.
Ask yourself - when was the last time you felt truly connected within yourself? In order to reconnect within yourself, plan to intentionally take moments away from technology during your day. It may seem difficult to digitally detox at first, but as with most tasks, it can become easier with practice.
Before doing so, notice how you are feeling in your mind and body. Are you feeling any tension, pain, or discomfort in your body? What level of stress are you experiencing in this moment (1-10, 1=lowest level of stress possible, 10=highest level of stress possible)?
Here are some steps to consider so that you can accomplish a digital detox :
1. Set aside a specific amount of time (the longer the better but even five minutes will help you to reduce eyestrain and clear your mind) and set a timer.
2. Set all volume on your phone and other devices to silent; turn off vibration option.
3. Turn screens to 'sleep mode' or turn device completely off.
4. Find a quiet place to do an 'offline' activity. This could be reading a chapter out of the book you have been meaning to finish, cooking a new recipe, or writing in a journal. It's surprising how many things you can find to occupy your time with, even without the vastness of the internet at your fingertips!
5. Once your timer rings decide whether you would like to resume your 'offline' activities, or if it's time to re-connect to the online world.
6. Before turning on your devices, take a moment to notice how you feel in the present moment. What's happening in your mind and body? Has anything changed for you? How would you rate your level of stress now ((1-10, 1=lowest level of stress possible, 10=highest level of stress possible).
7. Repeat digital detox whenever possible.
Pay attention to your stress and happiness throughout the day and if you feel you are spending most of your day connected to technology, consider ways you can increase your happiness by spending time offline. You deserve to feel happy online and offline!
Heather LeGuilloux, MA, RCC - www.heatherleguilloux.ca
In The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath wrote, ”I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, 'This is what it is to be happy.’”
I’ve had similar experiences - whether at the beach, feeling at peace as I marveled at the vastness of ocean, breathing in the fresh, brisk air during a snowy Canadian winter, or just enjoying the view of the trees from my back deck. And, research supports this.
Spending time in nature has been linked to everything from increased feelings of vitality, to more resilience to stress, to improved mood.
A study of Japanese senior citizens even found that living close to green space can increase your longevity.
I’m sure we’ve all had experiences of feeling refreshed and renewed after spending time in nature, but why does this happen?
One possible avenue is through awe - a sense of wonder and reverence that we often feel in certain situations.
For example, many people might experience awe during spiritual worship, or when in the midst of a personally meaningful experience like the birth of a child, or (you guessed it) when in nature. Research has shown that awe has a number of positive benefits, including lower levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines in the blood, reduced stress, and even greater generosity. And in turn, these all contribute to greater happiness.
The bottom line? If you want to be happier, make sure to set aside time to be out in nature.
Research has suggested that 20 minutes in moderate weather can do the trick (i.e. if you’re burning up or freezing cold, you might be so focused on your unpleasant sensations that you’ll be less inclined to be enjoying your time outside). While you’re outside, be mindful. Engage your senses by noticing the sights, listening to the sounds, inhaling the smells, and feeling the wind on your skin.
Or, if you’d prefer, get some exercise in while you’re outside by taking a walk, going for a run, doing some yoga in the park, or going for a swim. One study showed that a mere 5 minutes of outdoor exercise was linked to a boost in mood and self-esteem. That means that taking a break by going for a short walk in a nearby park can be a great way to get a sense of renewal during the day.
Author Jane Austen wrote, "To sit in the shade on a fine day and look upon verdure is the most perfect refreshment.” Heed her advice, and see your overall level of happiness increase.
Here are some relevant article links for your reference.
Dr. Patricia Thompson - www.silverliningpsychology.com
Did you know that by the age of 30 our brains stop producing new neurons and the total number of neurons begin to steadily decline? And considering that most of us remain in the workforce until we're well into our 60s, that's quite alarming. But don't worry, we're not going to be shuffling around in our bathrobes and mumbling incoherently just yet — especially if we meditate.
For the majority of the population, the grey matter in our brain steadily shrinks as we approach old age. It slows our response times, dulls our memories and overall makes us appear less sharp. However, a recent study on meditation found that 55-year-old meditators had as much grey matter as 25-year-olds. That's a big win in the way of brain health and longevity. We also know that an ongoing meditation practice supports stress reduction and reduces the production of cortisol (the stress hormone often responsible for weight gain).
Meditation is clearly great, but how do we get started?
Do your research
There are many ways to meditate. From Transcendental to Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction; Vedic Meditation to guided meditations. Efficacy is proven across the board. Each practice represents a unique approach to meditation and one is not necessarily "better" than the other. It's important to do your research to find which type of meditation resonates most with you. It's a personal practice and should feel good for you, personally.
Try it on for size
Before you fully commit to a practice, be flexible. You want to make sure that whatever route you choose feels like something you could commit to. If you can't stick to it, it won't help you.
Check out local meditation centers
Big cities are having a mindful moment. With centers like Kadampa, Inscape and MNDFL popping up across the country, they're fostering a great conversation around meditation while facilitating relationships with fellow light seekers. Plus, dropping in for a one-off session is a great, loW- barrier way to see if meditation is right for you.
Download an app
These days there are so many great apps out there that support meditation; they usually come at a pretty low cost, too. Headspace, Gaiam and Sattva are just a few wonderful options that supply a lot of options. So whether you're a newbie who's looking for some simple stress reduction and sleep assistance, or a seasoned pro looking to deepen their practice, there's truly something for everyone.
Use tools to support your practice
Having the right meditation cushion can mean the difference between a truly transcendent sit and a mediocre meditative experience. Trust us on this. A perfectly supported spine means you can focus less on lower back pain and more on attaining enlightenment. Additionally, journaling can provide a great post-sit exploratory, allowing you to approach all areas of your life more mindfully. Even a great set of mala beads can go a long way in terms of bringing you into the present moment. Think about the most challenging areas of meditation for you and carefully select the right tools to support your growth.
Work it into your routine
It's called a "practice" for a reason. It takes time—regularity is key. Schedule meditation into your days and honor it the same way you would a business meeting. But don't beat yourself up if you can't sit for twenty minutes twice a day from the very beginning. Start with ten minutes and slowly work your way up. Ten is way better than nothing... just ask your brain.
Amina AlTai, Nutrition & Corporate Wellness Consultant - www.busyhappyhealthy.com
Lights out! After a long day you meet your pillow for the usual sleep date. Unless you participate in a sleep study, you won’t have a specific idea of what you look like when you are sleeping. However you definitely have preferences, tendencies and sleeping habits! This means sleeping positions become repetitive, and you tend to adopt certain postures and bedtime habits.
Here are my top 3 tips to a restful night of sleep.
1. Start winding down at the same time every night.
This good habit is a healthy way to give your body what it needs, consistency. Set a reminder and get into the habit of starting your bedtime rituals. This regular unwind will clear your mind and get you ready for sleep mode.
2. Choose the right pillow!
Make sure you neck is supported and sleep on your back or neck for optimal body comfort. You will wake up feeling less stiff in the morning.
3. No electronics 30 min before bed.
We all know this and think we do it, but I challenge you to give it a try. Turn your phone completely off. Notice how much more aware of your surroundings you are. The only thing you should focus on is how your body feels and how you can achieve the first stage of sleep, relaxation.
Dr. Rubina Tahir - www.rubinatahir.com
To find a new sense of joy and purpose, engage in more meaningful activities. These will look different to each of us and there is no right or wrong way to go about it, it’s about what feels important to you. Participating in activities that you cherish can greatly affect your overall happiness. One way to figure out what’s meaningful to you is by taking time to check-in with yourself about what you care for and value most.
There are many things that we value, but it’s how we live them that truly brings them to life. Family, kindness, career, health, money, mindfulness, etc. Although many of these examples seem equally important, can you identify which of those carry more weight and meaning for you?
Once you understand what’s valuable and meaningful to you, work towards reaching those and integrate them into your routine. It takes intention and action to make these changes, but once you do, it can reduce burnout, bring joy and feelings of contentment, and dare I say happiness into your life.
Limit Obligations and Prioritize
To begin implementing these activities and values into your life you must first notice which values, activities, people and environments feel more like a burden or obligation rather than something that brings happiness and comfort. Learn how to set boundaries by saying no to obligations.
Saying yes to ourselves at times means saying no to others. Although this may seem difficult, once you begin making boundaries with others, you can start tuning in to different ways to work on taking care of your happiness.
It’s easy to get in a routine which can quickly turn into a rut leading us away from what’s crucial to staying balanced. Often times we begin to unintentionally place our values aside and stop prioritizing ourselves and our needs, leading to a decrease in a joyful and fulfilling life. Continue to make time to plan and engage in as many meaningful activities as your schedule and life allows. With busy schedules it’s easy to say “I’m too busy”, before over time realizing you’re letting yourself down.
When you find it difficult to plan a meaningful activity, look for meaningful moments. This allows you to stay grateful and mindful of those special moments and find happiness in the little things.
Incorporating these activities into your life will lead you to more opportunities to take care of yourself and experience a mental and emotional shift. Taking small steps to add values and experiences to your daily routine will foster a sense of relief and freedom knowing you have worthwhile activities to look forward to, that you’ve created. Enjoy!
Shannon Behar, MFT – www.shannonbehar.com
If you’re happy it would seem it would be easy to laugh. So if you can’t laugh, how can you be happy?
This is something many people say before they give up on the attempt to become happy.
But are you happy so you smile or are you smiling because you’re happy?
This is not as easy to answer as you may think. Both statements are true. Yes Both!
Business’s play music to improve moods, or use paint that is appealing to emotions to promote positive reactions toward buying the items. The sunshine commonly promotes improved moods just as warmth (not overly hot, that promote anger). Although if you see rain as washing problems away, then rain is soothing.
We dress to promote self confidence in a job interview.
The point is what we do can improve our mood. You can do a “superman” stance for 30 seconds and feel more confident before a presentation. You can blow bubbles and smile. You can eat on a smaller plate to feel full.
If you are sad, you can watch comedies to help cheer you up. If you smile while on the phone then you sound happy. If you sound happy then you generally feel better about what you are doing. This can improve job satisfaction as well.
If you pretend to cry long enough, you actually feel sad. If you say negative things regularly you change your general view from positive to pessimistic. So if you find the flower on the side of the road and appreciate its beauty, you can smile for no reason. If you simply smile for no reason, you can improve your mood and at least pretend to laugh. That pretend will improve your mood, allowing you to laugh for real. And before you know it life is a wonderful place to be.
So blow bubbles, be silly and laugh, laugh, laugh! You deserve it.
Katherine Woodworth, LPC, CRC – www.fairwaycounseling.com
We know that living on this earth plane is but a fraction of eternity. Most of us would want to make the very best of it. Yet, so many people find themselves unhappy and they don't know what to do about it.
The purpose of life is the expansion of happiness.
Most people are under the impression that happiness comes from becoming successful, acquiring wealth, being healthy and having good relationships. There is much pressure to believe that these accomplishments are the same as achieving happiness.
However, this is a mistake. These are bi-products of happiness.
Many of us have observed people who are unhappy even after attainment of wealth and success. When you are happy, you are more likely to make choices that lead to these things. Inner happiness is what we all want to attain yet remains elusive.
Much research has been done on happiness. Are human beings meant to be happy? Perhaps some people are genetically pre-disposed to be happy and they will be the fortunate few who escape what many others feel and experience, which is a low level contentment.
Leaders in the field of psychology found the happiness formula.
It shows three specific factors: The happiness formula. H= S+C+V.
Happiness is equal to set point plus conditions of living, plus volunteer activity. It helps point to the right direction, however, It doesn’t contain all keys to happiness.
Happy people have a brain mechanism, the glass being half full. The half empty theory is rooted in the brain as well. A person’s set point is responsible for 40% of persons happiness either through genetics or learned childhood experiences.
Research has shown the brains set point can be changed by the following:
Medication that acts as a mood elevator. It can be effective in the short term, however, medication has various side effects and is not the answer for long-term effectiveness.
Cognitive therapy. This is a short-term, goal-oriented psychotherapy treatment that takes a hands-on, practical approach to problem-solving. It's goal is to change patterns of thinking or behavior that are behind difficulties with people. Cognitive therapy can change the way they feel. Changing fundamental beliefs can change brain chemistry as much as taking medications.
Meditation. This is proven to be an effective way to live and be happier in life on a long-term basis. Meditation alters the brain in many positive ways. Sitting quietly and going inward are extensive. It activates the pre-frontal cortex the seat of higher thinking and stimulates the release of neurotransmitters. It trains the brains set point for happiness. They are linked to different aspects of happiness.
Mindfulness meditation is bringing awareness to what you’re directly experiencing right here and now. It’s cultivating present moment awareness. There is much research now that shows when you train your brain to be mindful, you are remodeling the neuropathways in the physical structure of your brain, ultimately leading to happiness.
While our brains set point can be changed by the above, there are many other ways we can achieve happiness.
It feels good to give. Take time to volunteer. Give to others and reap the benefits of giving. Take time to be with friends and family and connect. Healthy relationships with those you love add to happiness and fulfillment. Keep learning. Find things you have an interest in and participate in what you enjoy. Be grateful for what you do have on a daily basis.
Emotional resilience is a remarkable ability to adapt. Creative expression can create positive results that can last a lifetime. Find exercise that works for you. Have a pet in your life. They are not only loyal but evidence shows they are healers as well.
Be comfortable in your own skin. Look in the mirror and tell yourself “I love you.” Accept who you are and the many gifts you have. Look for the positive in all of your experiences. Make your glass half full as opposed to half empty and realize there is a lot more right with you to maintain living mindfully each day and find a place where your true self resides.
Connie Clancy Fisher, ED.D. - www.connieclancyfisher.com
Just as “me time” is important for mental health and overall happiness; so is “we time” or “us time.”
It’s important to have a network of loved ones that you can access, are reliable and whom you can connect with emotionally. Spending time with people you care about can boost happiness, as well as reduce stress. Close relationships are extra valuable in times of distress because we have someone trustworthy we can turn to who can offer comfort and calmness.
There are numerous studies that show that loneliness and a lack of close relationships is actually bad for your health. Maintaining relationships takes work, but the benefits pay off!
Some ideas for how you can prioritize your relationships with loved ones:
1. Check in with your loved ones at least once a week.
In this day and age, we have so many ways to check in with our loved ones- a phone call, text, Facebook message, Skype, Tweet, etc. Let them know you’re thinking of them, ask them how they’re doing, and share about how your day/week is going. It’ll help you feel more connected, less alone, and can boost your mood.
2. Set aside time that is just for hanging out with loved ones.
It’s easy to become overwhelmed in our schedules by work, responsibilities, extracurricular activities, etc. At the start of each week/month, intentionally set aside time that is just for you and your loved one(s). It’ll give you something to look forward to, but it also protects much needed time to connect.
3. Unplug when with loved ones.
Closeness and connection are more likely to occur when you aren’t staring at a screen. Put your phone on silent, put your laptop away and give yourself permission to enjoy the company of your loved one(s).
4. Make time where there isn’t time.
If your week is hectic and you’re struggling to find the time to connect with loved ones, try to incorporate them into your daily schedule. Sign up for workout classes together (if you’re already going to the gym), have a lunch date, or talk to them on the phone when you’re walking to the bus stop. Anything is better than nothing at all.
Kasey Lafferty, MSc, RP, RMFT - www.kltherapy.com
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