Home » Happiness » Page 3

Tag: Happiness

Happiness Tip - Trade Expectations for Gratitude - Christine Carter

Happiness Tip: Trade Expectations for Gratitude

Feeling frustrated or disappointed?

It isn’t that we shouldn’t have high expectations, or that we shouldn’t feel hurt when someone lets us down. But one of the best ways to recover from disappointment is to notice what actually is going well in our lives.

Gratitude is one of the most powerful positive emotions we have — we have reams of research indicating that gratitude is a part of the happiness holy grail. Compared with those who aren’t practicing gratitude, scientists have found that people practicing gratitude:

  • Are considerably more enthusiastic, interested, and determined;
  • Feel 25% happier;
  • Are more likely to be both kind and helpful to other.

And that’s not all. Gratitude studies report long laundry lists of the benefits of gratitude. For example, people who jotted down something they were grateful for online every day for just two weeks showed higher stress resilience and greater satisfaction with life, reported fewer headaches, and a reduction in stomach pain, coughs and sore throats!

Gratitude is a SKILL, like learning to speak German or swing a bat: can be taught, and it needs to be practiced consciously and deliberately. Yet, unlike learning German, practicing gratitude can be blissfully simple: just count the things in your life that you feel thankful for.

Here are a couple of ideas to get started:

  • Keep a gratitude journal.
    This can be a handwritten journal or kept online (there are loads of web-based versions) or even just jotted down in your calendar. I’m not a big journaler, but I’m thinking about using Facebook as a gratitude journal. Every day I’ll record something that makes me happy, something I’m grateful for — either by typing it in or by taking a picture. I can then share my gratitude with my family. (Though I do wonder if this will be annoying to people, or if I’ll get distracted by other people’s posts. Maybe Instagram? What do you think?) As an alternative, try texting your appreciation to people who’ve helped you out.
  • Start a tradition of writing “appreciations” on place cards at family dinners or on holidays.
    Depending on your comfort level for group sharing, make place cards for each person present, and then ask people to write a few adjectives that describe what they appreciate about one another on the inside of the place cards. Don’t ask people to write something about everyone present unless they want to — you don’t want to force the exercise. But do make sure that everyone has at least one thing written inside their place card, so that during the meal you can go around the table and share appreciations.

Join the Discussion: What are you grateful for? How do you express your appreciation? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Start your own meditation practice

The benefits of meditation are tremendous. In a world that is “on” 24/7, few of us get much regular rest. We go go go — perhaps getting a lot of work done, or cramming loads of activity into the day — while ignoring our body’s natural rhythms and need for post-sprint recovery. The result is that many of us are more stressed out, anxious, and depressed than previous generations.

A terrific antidote (that we all have with us all the time) is simple meditation. Scores of studies have shown the benefits of meditation to be broad and profound: meditation lowers our stress and anxiety, helps us focus, and, ironically, makes us more productive. Meditation even makes us healthier! After meditating daily for eight weeks, research subjects were 76% less likely than a non-meditating control group to miss work due to illness, and if they did get a cold or a flu, it lasted only five days on average, whereas the control group illnesses lasted an average of eight.

Here’s how: Sit in a comfortable position, spine straight and hands relaxed in your lap. Close your eyes, and turn your attention to your breath. Breathe naturally, controlling your attention, not your breath. When your mind wanders (it will) gently bring your attention back to noticing your breath. Try to meditate for 10-20 minutes before you go back to the hustle and bustle of the day, to really give yourself a break.

(If you are new to meditation, you can also start with just a minute or so and build up to 20 minutes. Or, check out some of these free guided meditations here; there are many different ways to meditate. I particularly like loving-kindness meditations if you want to get fancy.)

Photo courtesy of Anton Petukhov

Force yourself to unplug while summer is still with us. You will thank me later.

On the Mobile

 

Turn off your cell phone — really and truly, totally off — for several hours today.
Technology can be addictive, and it can change the core of who we are as people. Researchers believe that when we are over-connected to technology (including our email, the Internet, and our cell phones) we can become more impatient, impulsive, forgetful — and even more self-centered. These qualities do not make us happier people or better parents.

Disconnecting from technology can help us reconnect with who we really are, what is truly important to us, and what really makes us happy.

Take Action: This week, designate time to fully unplug. Perhaps you unplug during dinner, or from 9:00 pm to 9:00 am.

Join the Discussion: When will you disconnect?

Photo courtesy of Garry Knight

How to remain sane — and even productive — over the summer

Morning Routine

Researchers believe that the brains in both humans and animals evolved to feel calmed by repetitive behavior, and that our daily rituals and habits are a primary way to manage stress. Ever notice that you always drive to work the same way, even though there are dozens of other routes? Or that you always put deodorant on right after you brush your hair? Each of us has hundreds of little habits that carry us through the day. The fast-paced world we live in can feel quite unpredictable, but our daily rituals can help us feel more in control, often without us ever realizing it.

But then here we are…in the middle of the summer. I don’t know about you, but my routines are falling apart. I found this old conversation between me and my daughter from the archives:

Me: Uh, let’s see. This week is Girl Scout Camp. So you need to pack a lunch. And a swim suit. And a towel. Oh wait, you have a BBQ today, so no lunch but you do need to bring—oh, darn. We’re supposed to bring dessert. How fast can we make Rice Krispie treats?

Fiona: Can’t we just buy something on the way? What time does camp start?

Me: I think 9:30. But I have a meeting at 9:00. I might drop you off early.

Fiona: I think that’s against the rules. They gave us a big rule book, you know. Who’s driving me home?

Me: Uh. Hmmm. I’ll check the schedule and call Debbie so she can text her daughter, who’ll tell you.

Fiona: Cell phones aren’t allowed at Girl Scout Camp.

Me: Oh yeah. That’s why we love it.

There is so much to love about summer, but let’s be real: The lack of routine can be a little hellish. Which makes the importance of habit for keeping us sane even more salient over the summer.

Over the years, as I’ve sought to make my summers less chaotic and more productive, I’ve learned that summer is the perfect time to practice getting into good habits and routines. Creating habits is a skill, just like learning a new sport, and when we practice, we get better.

Here are eight research-based steps for creating new routines this summer:

1. Contemplate a change you’d like to make in your life. What do you need to be healthier and happier? For example, one of my clients wants more energy to accomplish her goals; to feel better she’ll need to get more sleep, which affects our intellectual ability, our physical health, and our emotions. Habits like sleep, exercise, or meditation—anything that creates a platform for more good habits—are what Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, calls a “keystone habit.” Which of your routines has the power to change your mood or outlook on life?

2. Do your homework. We know that people go through stages when they are making changes, and before we spring into action, we need to prepare. So if more sleep is your goal, maybe you need to read up on what it takes to get a better night’s rest or buy a new pillow.

Caution: Research shows that you will probably feel tempted to stop here, after you’ve bought the book and the pillow. Feel good about getting started, but please don’t stop before you’ve actually begun.

3. Make your goal public or find a friend to hold you accountable. This is where that post-July 4th FAQ (“What are you doing this summer?”) comes in handy. Telling lots of folks what we are shooting for can dramatically increase the odds we’ll actually do it. For starters, comment here to let us know what habit you’d like to get in this summer.

4. Make a list. Write down all of the small changes you’ll need to make in order to reach your goal. For example, if you are trying to get more sleep, you might want to stop drinking coffee after 11:00 am, turn off the computer at 9:00 pm, get the kids to do their own laundry so you don’t have to do it after-hours, get in bed by 10:00 pm, read a book instead of watching TV in bed, etc.

5. Pick a super-easy first step. Look at your list: What is the easiest thing on it? Now, what one tiny step can you take toward that already-small thing? Maybe it would be easy for you to go to bed 10 minutes early tonight, or to replace your afternoon coffee with decaf. Do the thing that is easiest and most appealing to you.

6. Anchor that first step within an existing routine. In other words, add it to something you already do habitually. The trick is to work with the same cue that triggers the existing habit. You already are in the habit of putting toothpaste on your toothbrush at night; if you want to start flossing, your super-easy-first-step could be to get the floss out with your toothpaste.

7. Visualize success. Spend a few minutes every morning thinking about your goal. What will prevent you from succeeding? What exactly will you do when you face the obstacle you imagine? Now, revel in how you will feel when you do succeed. Soak up those warm feelings.

8. Celebrate each time you do this ridiculously easy thing every day for a week. Got into bed 10 minutes early tonight? WHOO-HOO! Have a little party in your mind. (I learned this, and a lot more, from Stanford’s BJ Fogg. I cannot recommend his free 3 Tiny Habits program highly enough.)

When you’ve accomplished one small thing, choose an equally-unambitious next step. You are more likely reach your goal by taking a series of teensy steps than if you try to do it all at once.

The key to successfully changing your life in a summer? Practice. Practice creating new habits by mastering one ridiculously easy behavior at a time, slowly making them automatic.

Here is the really good news: Your good habits are contagious, highly likely to spread to your friends, your family, and especially your children. So consider that good night’s sleep a contribution to the greater good.

Photo by Brendan Scherer

Happiness tip - Just Eat - Christine Carter

Happiness Tip: Just Eat

I know, I know — you’re thinking this happiness tip is pretty bogus. I mean, who doesn’t feel happier when they eat? Am I really advocating food-as-joy?

Maybe: It’s all in how food is consumed. How often do you eat breakfast standing up or in the car? Do you eat lunch in front of your computer, at your desk, or buried behind a book? How often do you just eat, without also doing something else?

In the wild (or, say, kindergarten), we mammals naturally take breaks to refuel with a snack or a meal. Don’t squander this natural rest period by wolfing down your lunch while you read your email, or by sipping a latte while driving to work and calling that breakfast. Practice eating mindfully, paying attention to your food and the people you are with. Notice what you are eating and how quickly or slowly. Breathe. Relax. You will feel more calm and content.

Take Action: If you rarely just eat without also doing something else, start small. Perhaps commit to savoring your food for the first 5 bites, or maybe 5 minutes of every meal. Or to eating one lunch a week by yourself, not at your desk, with no distractions.

Join the Discussion: When is it most difficult for you to stop multi-tasking during meals? What techniques work for you? For example, I have a hard time sitting down during breakfast with my kids — I’m always tempted to rush around helping them make their lunches while I drink a smoothie standing up. I’ve solved this by allowing 15 minutes longer than I really need, so that there is nothing for me to do but sit down and have breakfast with my family.

Photo courtesy of Gexydaf.

My Best Happiness Advice - Christine Carter

My Best Happiness Advice (Video)

I’ve made a lot of happiness mistakes. I know you will make some of those same mistakes. But there are certain things I’ve finally learned that I hope you learn earlier than I did.

For starters, the best way to be happy is to make kindness the central theme in your life. Usually we think that happiness comes from getting what we want. But what I know now is that happiness comes not so much from getting, but from GIVING. It turns out that happiness usually doesn’t come when we’re thinking about ourselves, or about what we want.

I’ve made a lot of happiness mistakes. I know you will make some of those same mistakes. But there are certain things I’ve finally learned that I hope you learn earlier than I did.

For starters, the best way to be happy is to make kindness the central theme in your life. Usually we think that happiness comes from getting what we want. But what I know now is that happiness comes not so much from getting, but from GIVING. It turns out that happiness usually doesn’t come when we’re thinking about ourselves, or about what we want.

So when you are feeling down, or disappointed, the best way to get your happiness mojo back is by helping someone else.

The second thing is that to be happy, we need to let ourselves feel what we feel. We live in an age of anxiety, and when we feel stressed out (or sad, or disappointed) our world offers us a host of ways to numb those negative feelings, to not really feel them. We can spend hours on Facebook avoiding our feelings. Or we can have a cocktail to “take edge off” our fears. Or we can eat that whole pan of brownies. The problem is that when we numb unpleasant feelings, we numb everything that we are feeling.

So to honestly feel the positive things in life — to truly feel love, or joy, or profound gratitude — we must also let ourselves feel fear, and grief, and frustration. Your emotions are how your heart talks to you, how it tells you what choices to make. If you want to be happy, you need to practice feeling, to practice listening to your heart. This is the way to know who you are and what you want.

Finally, to be happy we need to forget about achieving, and instead focus on the journey. Many of your peers will spend their time striving for more: more money, more stuff, a bigger house, a faster car, more popular or important friends, more prestigious jobs. But when they arrive wherever they have been working so hard to get to, odds are, they’ll feel let down. (And, to be honest, it’s usually worse than just feeling let down. They may find, after working 12 hour days year after year, that despite their awards and achievements, they wake up one morning to see in the mirror an exhausted and unhappy person fast-tracking it to old age and loneliness.)

I know from experience how easy it is to think thoughts like , “If I could just earn more money…” Or, “If I could just live in that city…” or “if I could just get into that school… THEN I could be happy.” But when we think things like that, we’re almost always wrong about what will make us happier. Instead of wishing you were somewhere else, enjoy where you are. Right now. You are always already right where you need to be.

As Katherine Center once said: “You are writing the story of your only life, every single minute of every day.”

My greatest hope for you is that you are writing a story in which you can experience great gratitude, and profound compassion. I hope you are writing a story in which you are happy.

Special thanks to Marielle and Macie, who put together this video; to Blake Farrington who got it started; and to Gonzalo Brito, who played the guitar piece in the background.

3 Easy Ways to Find Your Sweet Spot

What is the sweet spot, you ask?

(It has been called to my attention by several readers of this blog that I have not really explained what I mean by the “sweet spot” in the course of launching The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work.)

The sweet spot is that place where your greatest strengths and your greatest personal power overlap with those arenas where you find ease, where there is little resistance or stress.

I’ve long struggled with the ease piece of the sweet spot. I’ve found and developed my strengths, but I lose my groove when I’m too tense or tired. Like a baseball player, I know that I can “get hits” outside of my sweet spot, but my metaphorical bat (my body and brain) tends to bend or even break. Check out this slow motion video of a bat bending — pretty amazing!

VibratingBat

Here are three easy ways we can get back into our sweet spots:

  1. Decrease busyness and overwhelm. Busyness causes “cognitive overload,” which exhausts us and makes even easy tasks harder. Any time we feel overwhelmed, we aren’t working or living from our sweet spot.
  2. Talk to strangers. The single best predictor of our well-being is the breadth and the depth of our relationships with others; our sense of connection to others brings us both ease and strength. We feel safer — less isolated, less lonely, and less stressed — when we strengthen our social ties. Even more, we gain great strength from our relationships with others. Start small today by establishing “micro-connections” with the people you encounter throughout the day.
  3. Upgrade the software your brain uses for autopilot. The way to stay in your sweet spot over the long haul is to develop daily micro-habits that channel your brain’s natural ability to run on autopilot, so your habits bear the burdens you’ve been leaning on willpower to shoulder. Habits are about as easy as it gets; and when we pick a good habit to get into, we develop our strengths.

Take Action: Pick one of the above ways to get back to your sweet spot, and decide WHEN you will do it. (Really. Put it on your calendar. Before your good intentions evaporate.)

Join the Discussion: What small practice helps you find your sweet spot most easily? Share with others in the comments.

 

The Opposite of Busy is…Productive

I’ve written a lot about how busyness is less a sign of significance or success than it is a sign of what researchers call “cognitive overload,” which (ironically) holds us back, keeping us from fulfilling our potential in any given realm.

But if we aren’t busy, are we lazy? Actually, plenty of research shows that people who are able to sustain high performance don’t let themselves get busy. Moreover, their not-busyness makes them much more productive than average.

But how, exactly, do highly productive people keep from feeling busy? They rest a lot, and they take a lot of breaks.

No matter how much we have going on, it is important for us to refuel the part of our brain that enables us to focus. Although it might feel scary to let yourself take a break, when you do so you’ll not only feel better — less overwhelmed, less harried, less paralyzed by your massive to-do list — but you’ll also become more creative and more productive.

Take Action: Today, take a good old-fashioned recess in the middle of the day. Go ahead and do your hardest or most dreaded work — or whatever you need to do — but after about an hour, take a break. Rest. Or go play.

Join the Discussion: What do you find relaxing or rejuvenating? Is there an article you’ve been wanting to read for fun? Does your most vivid fantasy involve a nap? Do you want to spend a few minutes looking at pictures of pretty living rooms on Pinterest? Perhaps you long to go outside into the great outdoors (or the plaza across from your office) and let the sun shine on your face. Just do it — and then tell us what you did here.

Photo by Colorvale Actions.

christine-carter-christinecarter.com

Think Busyness is a Sign You’re Succeeding? Think Again.

Until a couple of years ago, every time someone would ask me how I was doing, I would always give the same answer: I am so busy. Extremely busy. Crazy busy.

I wore my exhaustion like a trophy, as a sign of my strength and a mark of my character. (At one point I ran a Mother’s Day half-marathon with a fever, not wanting to disappoint my family who’d driven 5 hours to watch me.) The busier I was, the more important I felt. I was committed to pressing on, despite clear signs that I was headed for a fall.

I had been done in by our culture’s big lie, which is:  Busyness is a marker of importance, of character, of economic security.

And this means that the reverse must also be true: If we aren’t busy, we lack importance. We’re insignificant. We’re under-achieving. We’re weak. Un-busy people are lazy, not to be liked or trusted.

Let’s think for a minute about what it really means when we say that we are busy.

If I tell you I’m busy, it isn’t because I’ve just spent an hour hiking, or playing with my dog. It isn’t because I’ve spent the whole afternoon working on an engaging project, and lost all sense of time. I won’t lead with “I’m so busy” if I’m feeling passionate about something I’m writing, or if I feel super creative and productive and efficient and at ease.

I will only tell you I’m busy if I’m harried. A little on edge. Doing a bunch of stuff that doesn’t really capture my interest or imagination. If you tell me that you are busy, your unconscious is hinting to me that you are a little unhappy or overtired, that you are willing to sacrifice your well-being for your career or your boss or your team at work, or for the long-term success of your children, or doing what you (or other people) think you “should” be doing.

Busy-ness does not make us happy. It also does not make us successful.

The truth is that busyness is a mark of what neuroscientists call “cognitive overload.” This state of feeling overwhelmed impairs our ability to think creatively, to plan, organize, innovate, solve problems, make decisions, resist temptations, learn new things easily, speak fluently, remember important social information (like the name of our boss’s daughter, or our daughter’s boss), and control our emotions. In other words, it impairs basically everything we need to do in a given day.

Cognitive overload–busyness–is a not a sign that we are important or productive. It is a sign that we aren’t fulfilling our potential.

It’s also a sign that we aren’t as physically healthy as we could be. Scott Dannemiller, in his post “Busy is a Sickness,” quotes Dr. Suzanne Koven, an internist at the Massachusetts General Hospital:

In the past few years, I’ve observed an epidemic of sorts: patient after patient suffering from the same condition. The symptoms of this condition include fatigue, irritability, insomnia, anxiety, headaches, heartburn, bowel disturbances, back pain, and weight gain. There are no blood tests or X-rays diagnostic of this condition, and yet it’s easy to recognize. The condition is excessive busyness.”

Busyness causes health problems. And yet the type of busyness we are talking about is entirely within our control (as opposed to the busyness of someone living in poverty, working multiple minimum-wage jobs just to keep the lights on and the children fed). The busyness of the affluent and middle-class is an illness we are choosing, “like voluntarily licking the door handle of a preschool bathroom,” writes Dannemiller.

Let’s stop choosing busyness.

Take Action: Here are 5 tactics to help dial back the overwhelm:

  1. Stare into Space
  2. Find the “Minimum Effective Dose”
  3. Change Your Mantra
  4. Single Task
  5. Clear Mental Clutter by Making a Plan

Pick the one that feels easiest for you, and then make it a routine! (For support getting into a new habit, enroll in this free online class.)

Join the Discussion: Which of these tactics works best for you? What else helps you feel less busy? Do you agree that busyness is an illness we are choosing?

how-to-find-more-than-24-hours-in-a-day-christine-carter

How to Find More Than 24 Hours in a Day

 

Find the minimum effective dose — of everything.

The “minimum effective dose” (MED) is considered to be the lowest dose of a pharmaceutical product that spurs a clinically significant change in health or well-being. In order to live and work from my sweet spot, I had to find the MED in everything in my life: sleep, meditation, blogging frequency, checking my email, school volunteering, homework help, date nights.

We have a deep-seated conviction that more work, more enrichment activities for the kids, more likes on Facebook or Instagram, more stuff would be better. Unless we like feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, we need to accept that more is not necessarily better and that our go-go-go culture, left unchecked, will push us not only beyond our MED — but Gain an Extra Day Each Week eBook Cover - ChristineCarter.combeyond the “maximum tolerated dose,” the level at which an activity (or drug) becomes toxic and starts causing an adverse reaction.

Take Action: The first step in dialing back the busyness of everyday life is to figure out your minimum effective dose of everything. Ignore what other people think and assume and demand of your time. Figure out how much time you actually need to spend on your email, going to meetings, driving your kids to their activities, etc. in order to be effective at home and at work. If you think you’ll need help with this, download one of my most popular eBooks to date, “How to Gain an Extra Day Each Week.

Join the Discussion: What activity have YOU found the MED for that surprised you? Your story will help others have the courage to dial back their own busyness.