Tag Archives: happiness

13 Simple Steps to Sanity (& Maybe Even Happiness).

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Photography by Ingrid Schroder.

I’m all up for seeking inspiration and soaking up all of the amazing offerings that are out there, but today I’m going in; I’m keeping it simple, and I’m taking my own advice.

Thirteen simple steps to sanity (and maybe even happiness) is what I’m going for here.

Instead of looking for some inspiration in angel cards, or in someone else’s yoga class, instead of pulling it from the tucks and folds of the never-ending flux and flow of the ocean or some other gem of the universe, today, I’m taking a leap of faith, and hoping that I’ll know just what to do.

When I woke up to find the thick sense of overwhelm just hovering there around me, I wasn’t sure I could ward off giving in. I felt baaaaaaad. ExhaustedOver it— “it” being, well, everything. My week of 5:30 a.m. toddler wake ups was killing me. I felt saturated; I felt like I was drowning, like everything I needed to achieve was completely out of my control.

Ugh, I hate that feeling—so familiar, and oh so ferociously friendly, but there was no way I was falling into that trap—no way I was going to be convinced or seduced or persuaded into the arms of that anxiety-laced and fear-ridden feeling of being overwhelmed.

Not today.

I had some notes I’d made to myself after moving through a big period of overwhelm a while back, so I decided it was time to have a little looksy and take my own advice.

And it went a lil’ somethin’ like this:

1. Before you even crawl out of bed, decide to make today good.

Undeterred by the amount of sleep you soaked up, the fact that your back may be killing, your neck cramping, your head pounding, your heart just dreading the day ahead of you, consciously decide that today is going to be a good day. Because you said so, and because ultimately, it’s you who gets to decide how to label your experiences.

You can’t choose what happens to you, but you can choose how to react to it.

It’s easy to slide in to powerless mode, so take a moment to remind yourself that attitude and intention pave the path for the rest of your day. So, why not choose to begin yours consciously? It may just be time to wake up.

2. Now that you’ve pried yourself from the hands of heaven, the next step to feeling on top of your shit is to make that bed. 

Yes, now. Before you have coffee, before you walk the dog, before you shower.

Regardless of the mood flavoring your wake up, regardless of a bad sleep, an accidental sleep in, or hardly any sleep at all, make your bed—doing so will never make you feel worse. Just get the sheets anddooner on there. It doesn’t have to be perfect; it just needs to be done. That one minute you spend making your bed will not only give you oodles of mental space, but it will actively create a crisp, clean start to your day.

Whether you’re a stay at home mum, a lawyer, a DJ, an artist, or serving up fries at Micky Dee’s, you’re day deserves a fresh start!

3. Time for a treat. 

Nothing like something from your favorites list to soothe the blow of waking up to whip your ass into feel-good mode! So go ahead, devour your favorite “breaky,” sip a naughty coffee, and put on your most cozy of cozy pants to start your day. Make yourself excited to be awake. Take your time. Have a long shower. Wash your hair. Scrub your face, use a fresh towel, your “special” face cream, your most beautiful body oil or perfume.

Stop skimping out on yourself!

Stop waiting for a “better day,” “more time,” or a “more important moment” to enjoy all the little pleasures you already have surrounding you—start enjoying your life now!

4. Grab your favorite pen and notebook, and make yourself a to do list.

Our brains can get pretty cramped up and crowded, making it a tiny bit tricky to find all the little mental notes we’ve scattered about, so instead, get those thoughts out onto the page and map out your week. Organize your time so that it works for you, making sure that you can get everything you need to get done, done.

Even if you feel resistant to making lists, do it anyways. The act of emptying out your to do’s is guaranteed to clear you out, inspire you up, and space up any business rattling around in your mind. There’s just something about seeing your week laid out and knowing that you’ve allocated specific time to get the things that need to get done, done, that makes you feel in control. After all, it is you, and no one else, who designs your time.

So sit yourself down. Make your list. Break every big task that’s freaking you out and throwing you into shock-stuck-static zone down into its smaller components. Make it easier on yourself. Make things manageable and achievable, because it’s pretty hard to motivate yourself when you feel defeated before you’ve even begun.

5. Do something off your list.

Start with a few small chores (little chores feel good too), and then move on to the big ones, the daunting ones, the one’s you’ve been dreading and dancing and darting around. And when you come up against those feelings of overwhelm, the ones that normally consume you and convince you that whatever you’ve been avaoiding doing can wait another day, remind yourself that what you resist most reaps the biggest rewards when done.

6: Make a conscious choice to enjoy whatever it is you have to do today. 

Whether it’s work, groceries, the dishes, cleaning the toilet, waiting in line, mowing the lawn, raising a child, serving up coffee…shake up your perspective and decide to relish in the good of today’s to do’s.

Whatever is happening right now is your life, so you may as well love it, or at least like it.

Cleaning isn’t as bad when you think about it as cleansing and creating space and spreading your heart out into your home. Tidying up and doing the gardening and filling the fridge and making the bed aren’t as mundane when you remind yourself of the fact that you do it because you are creating a homey, cozy space that you can relax and feel good in. When you start to notice the little beauties embedded and engraved into your every day tasks, you begin to find the extraordinary within the ordinary. It isn’t complicated; all you have to do is simply open your eyes.

7. Slow down! Ask yourself, do you really need to rush? 

What are you hurrying towards anyway?

What is it that could be worth rushing through your life for?

We miss the good, we miss the beauty, we miss the sweet smells and the sweet smiles and the overall sweetness of life when we rush through it. All the jewels go unnoticed when they’re whirling by in your peripheral vision, nothing getting the gift of your full attention. We’re always rushing to what’s next, looking for the next good quote, the next amazing photo, the next Facebook post, the next blog, the next pose we’ll master, our next home, next car—we rush towards, and usually into, our next relationship.

We’re constantly searching for more without ever fully acknowledging what is.

8. Smile, and mean it. 

Smiling takes the edge off, and let’s face it, it takes a lot of extra effort to be pissed off when you’re smiling.

Choose lightness and rock that beautiful smile. Your own day may not be the only one you make.

9. Do something nice for someone else without expecting anything in return.

Open a door, carry someone’s groceries, share your fresh bread, give a friend a lift, leave a little love note, a little snack, a homemade card.

You can make a difference, so why not show some love?! 

(The act doesn’t have to be monumental or cost $100 to make someone’s day; it’s the little things…)

10. Breathe.

Seems ridiculous that we have to remind ourselves to do the one thing that keeps us alive doesn’t it? But realistically, how often to you think you really deeply, fully breathe? And, in contrast, how often do you find yourself holding your breath? How often is your breath speedy, sharp or short?

Exactly my point.

Breathing deeply is an instant de-stresser, a chiller-outer, a calmer-downer. It’s an emotion-shifter, a focus and energy-maker, an endorphin-releaser, and a toxin-taker.

So take a deep breath and milk that shit.

Photo: Somebody-Out There

11: Get outside.

Take a walk. Rake some leaves. Wash your car. Plant some flowers. Pick a bouquet.

Wake up and shake up and light up your day.

Walk to work. Take your lunch break outside. Sip your coffee in the sun, draft your blog by the ocean, go for a bike ride or a joyride, or a moonlit walk—just get outside. Arch and stretch and unwind and melt your body on your mat in the crisp morning sun. Hang your laundry out on the line. Take late afternoon strolls. Window shop. Go for a run.

Air yourself out, air your day out, your mind out, your heart out—just get out!

12: Move your body. 

Doesn’t matter how, just move it.

Have a living room dance party, jump some rope, practice your handstands, or your forward folds, or the splits. Mow the lawn.

Be open to spontaneity.

Play hopscotch or tag or hide and go seek. Chase your kids. Chase your dog, chase your man or lady. Go for a long walk, push that pram up some hills, climb some stairs, play beach volleyball, get in the ocean, or on your bike or your board, or put on your dancing shoes, but get moving!

Exercise will always makes you feel better, and moving your body will always make you feel more alive.

13. Get some rest!

Go to bed early. Have a nap. Rest when you need it, and don’t feel bad about it.

You need to rest—yes, you! 

We all do. Funny then that sleep tends to be the first gem to slip through our fingers, the first thing to take a hit when life gets tough and rough and spiky. But you know that everything is more difficult when you’re tired. So schedule it in. Make time for your sleep.

Accept that no one is able to schedule time in for you to relax and rest and re-charge but you.

Put it on your to do list. Slot it in instead of just waiting for it to spontaneously happen.

Life is never going to slow down or become less busy, so if you want to stay healthy and avoid burning out, you need to start carving out time for resting and refueling and recharing.

Being tired more than sucks. So choose to get enough sleep.

Remind yourself that being well rested paints everything in a brighter shade of light. Remind yourself that you can’t possibly continue to live your life well, and offer, and love and be calm and grounded and centered if you’re running your tank on empty!

So, it’s simple: take care of yourself, because you can.

It doesn’t have to be difficult, time-consuming or complicated.

Transformation doesn’t always require huge, mind-blowing shifts, and the changes we make don’t have to be extravagant or extra hard to initiate change.

Just keep it simple, remembering it’s the little things that make life big.

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The Power of Negative Thinking

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By OLIVER BURKEMAN

LAST month, in San Jose, Calif., 21 people were treated for burns after walking barefoot over hot coals as part of an event called Unleash the Power Within, starring the motivational speaker Tony Robbins. If you’re anything like me, a cynical retort might suggest itself: What, exactly, did they expect would happen? In fact, there’s a simple secret to “firewalking”: coal is a poor conductor of heat to surrounding surfaces, including human flesh, so with quick, light steps, you’ll usually be fine.

Yuko Shimizu

But Mr. Robbins and his acolytes have little time for physics. To them, it’s all a matter of mind-set: cultivate the belief that success is guaranteed, and anything is possible. One singed but undeterred participant told The San Jose Mercury News: “I wasn’t at my peak state.” What if all this positivity is part of the problem? What if we’re trying too hard to think positive and might do better to reconsider our relationship to “negative” emotions and situations?

Consider the technique of positive visualization, a staple not only of Robbins-style seminars but also of corporate team-building retreats and business best sellers. According to research by the psychologist Gabriele Oettingen and her colleagues, visualizing a successful outcome, under certain conditions, can make people less likely to achieve it. She rendered her experimental participants dehydrated, then asked some of them to picture a refreshing glass of water. The water-visualizers experienced a marked decline in energy levels, compared with those participants who engaged in negative or neutral fantasies. Imagining their goal seemed to deprive the water-visualizers of their get-up-and-go, as if they’d already achieved their objective.

Or take affirmations, those cheery slogans intended to lift the user’s mood by repeating them: “I am a lovable person!” “My life is filled with joy!” Psychologists at the University of Waterloo concluded that such statements make people with low self-esteem feel worse — not least because telling yourself you’re lovable is liable to provoke the grouchy internal counterargument that, really, you’re not.

Even goal setting, the ubiquitous motivational technique of managers everywhere, isn’t an undisputed boon. Fixating too vigorously on goals can distort an organization’s overall mission in a desperate effort to meet some overly narrow target, and research by several business-school professors suggests that employees consumed with goals are likelier to cut ethical corners.

Though much of this research is new, the essential insight isn’t. Ancient philosophers and spiritual teachers understood the need to balance the positive with the negative, optimism with pessimism, a striving for success and security with an openness to failure and uncertainty. The Stoics recommended “the premeditation of evils,” or deliberately visualizing the worst-case scenario. This tends to reduce anxiety about the future: when you soberly picture how badly things could go in reality, you usually conclude that you could cope. Besides, they noted, imagining that you might lose the relationships and possessions you currently enjoy increases your gratitude for having them now. Positive thinking, by contrast, always leans into the future, ignoring present pleasures.

Buddhist meditation, too, is arguably all about learning to resist the urge to think positively — to let emotions and sensations arise and pass, regardless of their content. It might even have helped those agonized firewalkers. Very brief training in meditation, according to a 2009 article in The Journal of Pain, brought significant reductions in pain — not by ignoring unpleasant sensations, or refusing to feel them, but by turning nonjudgmentally toward them.

From this perspective, the relentless cheer of positive thinking begins to seem less like an expression of joy and more like a stressful effort to stamp out any trace of negativity. Mr. Robbins’s trademark smile starts to resemble a rictus. A positive thinker can never relax, lest an awareness of sadness or failure creep in. And telling yourself that everything must work out is poor preparation for those times when they don’t. You can try, if you insist, to follow the famous self-help advice to eliminate the word “failure” from your vocabulary — but then you’ll just have an inadequate vocabulary when failure strikes.

The social critic Barbara Ehrenreich has persuasively argued that the all-positive approach, with its rejection of the possibility of failure, helped bring on our present financial crises. The psychological evidence, backed by ancient wisdom, certainly suggests that it is not the recipe for success that it purports to be.

Mr. Robbins reportedly encourages firewalkers to think of the hot coals as “cool moss.” Here’s a better idea: think of them as hot coals. And as a San Jose fire captain, himself a wise philosopher, told The Mercury News: “We discourage people from walking over hot coals.”

Oliver Burkeman is the author of the forthcoming book “The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking.”

10 Steps to Savoring the Good Things in Life

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By Stacey Kennelly | July 23, 2012

We get plenty of advice for coping with life’s negative events. But can we deliberately enhance the impact of good things on our lives?

Browse the self-help shelf of your local bookstore and you’ll find plenty of advice for coping with life’s negative events, from divorce to illness to death.

But what about dealing with the good ones? Reaching the top of a magnificent waterfall. Hearing your child’s laugh. Seeing your favorite band perform your favorite song.

“It’s been presumed that when good things happen, people naturally feel joy for it,” says Fred Bryant, a social psychologist at Loyola University Chicago. His research, however, suggests that we don’t always respond to these “good things” in ways that maximize their positive effects on our lives.

Bryant is the father of research on “savoring,” or the concept that being mindfully engaged and aware of your feelings during positive events can increase happiness in the short and long run.

“It is like swishing the experience around … in your mind,” says Bryant, author of the 2006 book, Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience.

His research and the research of others—like Erica Chadwick, who recently completed a dissertation on savoring at Victoria University in New Zealand, and Jordi Quoidbach, a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University—has identified myriad benefits to savoring, including stronger relationships, improved mental and physical health, and finding more creative solutions to problems.

Bryant is in the process of analyzing a wide range of studies on savoring to determine what works and what doesn’t. Already, he has distilled his research into 10 succinct ways for us to develop savoring as a skill.

1. Share your good feelings with others.

“What’s the first thing you do when you get good news?” Bryant says. “You go and tell someone that’s important to you, like a spouse or a friend.”

He suggests that we treat positive events just like positive news. Tell another person when you are feeling particularly appreciative of a certain moment, whether it be a laugh with friends or a scene in nature. Studies about the ways people react to positive events have shown that those who share positive feelings with others are happier overall than those who do not.

In fact, research shows that one only has to think about telling others good news in order to feel happier, says Chadwick.

“You fake it ‘til you make it,” she says. “If people are unhappy and put a smile on their face, within an hour or so they’ll be happier because they’re getting smiled at by other people. That interaction works.”

“Savoring is the glue that bonds people together, and it is essential to prolonging relationships,” Bryant says. “People who savor together stay together.”

2. Take a mental photograph.

Pause for a moment and consciously be aware of things you want to remember later, such as the sound of a loved one’s chuckle, or a touching moment between two family members.

In one study, participants who took a 20-minute walk every day for one week and consciously looked for good things reported feeling happier than those who were instructed to look for bad things.

“It’s about saying to yourself, ‘This is great. I’m loving it,’” says Bryant.

3. Congratulate yourself.

Don’t hesitate to pat yourself on the back and take credit for your hard work, Bryant says. Research shows that people who revel in their successes are more likely to enjoy the outcome.

Bryant notes that self-congratulation is not encouraged in all cultures, especially Eastern ones, where many individuals downplay their achievements or believe a good experience is likely to be followed by a bad one.

“They tend to tell themselves not to get carried away,” he says, “but in our culture, we say, ‘This is great and going to continue.’”

4. Sharpen your sensory perceptions.

Valeria Palmuli

Getting in touch with your senses—or taking the time to use them more consciously—also flexes savoring muscles.

With all the distractions we face today, this is particularly difficult, Bryant says. In one study, college students who focused on the chocolate they were eating reported feeling more pleasure than students who were distracted while eating.

Chadwick suggests slowing down during meals.

“Take the time to shut out your other senses and hone in on one,” she says. “Take the time to sniff the food, smell the food. Or close your eyes while you’re taking a sip of a really nice wine.”

5. Shout it from the rooftops.

Laugh out loud, jump up and down, and shout for joy when something good happens to you, Bryant says.

People who outwardly express their good feelings tend to feel extra good, because it provides the mind with evidence that something positive has occurred. Several experiments have found that people who expressed their feelings while watching a funny video enjoyed themselves more than those who suppressed their feelings.

Bryant notes that some forms of positive expression are based on cultural context. For example, jumping with joy is acceptable in American culture, whereas it is considered inappropriate in many Eastern cultures and therefore would be less likely to have a positive impact.

6. Compare the outcome to something worse.

Boost positive feelings by reminding yourself of how bad things could be, Bryant suggests. For example, if you are late to work, remind yourself of those who may not have a job at all.

Comparing good experiences with unpleasant ones gives us a reference point and makes our current situation seem better, he says.

7. Get absorbed in the moment.

Try to turn off your conscious thoughts and absorb positive feelings during a special moment, such as taking in a work of art. Studies of positive experiences indicate that people most enjoy themselves when they are totally absorbed in a task or moment, losing their sense of time and place—a state that psychologists call “flow.”

Children are particularly good at this, Bryant says, but it’s tougher for adults, who are easily distracted by technology and the temptation to multitask.

Chadwick recommends pausing and reflecting on positive experiences on the spot.

8.Count your blessings and give thanks.

Tell your loved ones how lucky you feel to have them, Bryant suggests, or take extra time to appreciate your food before a meal.

Research suggests that saying “thank you” out loud can make us happier by affirming our positive feelings. Bryant also suggests thinking of a new blessing for which you’ve never given thanks each night in bed. Recalling the experience through thanks will help you to savor it.

9. Avoid killjoy thinking.

Avoiding negative thinking is just as important as thinking positively, Bryant says.

After a rough day, try not to focus on the negative things that occurred. Studies show that the more negative thoughts people have after a personal achievement, the less likely they are to enjoy it.

“People who savor the positive sides to every situation are happier at the end of the day,” he says.

10. Remind yourself of how quickly time flies.

Remember that good moments pass quickly, and tell yourself to consciously relish the moment, Bryant says. Realizing how short-lived certain moments are and wishing they could last longer encourages you to enjoy them while they’re happening.

In fact, savoring can be used to connect you to the past or future, argues Bryant. This can be done by remembering a good time and recreating it, or imagining a time in the future when you will look back with good memories.

“If you’re working hard on a project, take the time to look at your accomplishment,” she says. “Look at your experience and tell yourself how you’re going to look into the future with this—tell yourself, ‘This is such a good day, and I know I’ll look back with good memories.’”