How Can I Be Happy? Using Science to Increase Your Happiness

How Can I Be Happy? Scientifically-Proven Techniques to Increase Your Happiness

By John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Founder Guide to Self

If I had to live my life again, I would … read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week; for perhaps the parts of my brain now atrophied would thus have been kept alive through use. The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.’’ Charles Darwin

The questions ‘Where can I find happiness?’, ‘How can we be happy?’, and ‘How can I be happy?’ have been asked by philosophers for thousands of years. Only in the past 20 years has science taken a research approach to answering such questions. This burgeoning field is known as positive psychology and tests which exercises, mindsets and activities truly add to our happiness, our well-being.

Here are 7 of the top scientific answers to the question, ‘How can I be happy?

Positive psychology answers question...How Can I Be Happy?
Positive psychology answers question…How Can I Be Happy?

 

1.     How Can I Be Happy? Practice Self-compassion

While self-esteem has to do with how you feel about yourself generally, self-compassion involves how you treat yourself when things go badly. The goal is to treat yourself with the same type of kindness and compassion that most people extend to loved ones when they fail. When someone else makes a mistake, most people will react with some degree of kindness and understanding. Self-compassion seems to turn down the volume on anger typically associated with huge mistakes while still maintaining your sense of personal responsibility. A 2007 study at Duke University found that ‘inducing self-compassion may decouple the relationship between taking responsibility and experiencing negative affect.’ The way in which you do this is to speak to yourself as if you were a three-year-old child. This allows for mistakes (which are a major path for learning), screw ups, and errors. Self-compassion seems to be related to greater resiliency (i.e., the ability to bounce back from difficulty). Work at speaking to yourself with kindness.

 

2.     How Can I Be Happy? Pursue life goals with meaning.

What is the meaning of your life? Having life goals which are personally meaningful is a major facet of happiness, according to Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at U.C. Riverside and author of The How of Happiness. Those folks who pursue wealth or fame won’t boost their satisfaction with life because, just like new possessions (think of the new BMW!), they bring only passing joy. This is due to the idea of the hedonic treadmill – you adjust to new situations and possessions remarkably quickly. Once you adjust, the happiness fades. On the other hand, goals that increase happiness are challenging yet attainable, involve personal growth, and have some internal value. So, what is it you love to do? In what areas of life does time seem to stop? In which activities do you lose yourself? Look at these questions to discern where your meaningful goals lie.

 

3.     How Can I Be Happy? Breathe.

Most adults only use 20% of their lung capacity. This means that you are frequently oxygen deprived. As the brain runs on oxygen (and glucose), it is critical to remind yourself to take deep breaths throughout the day to increase happiness, psychological flexibility and the more positive emotions.

Take a deep breath in through your nose for 6 seconds. Hold your breath for 2 seconds. Breathe out for 8 seconds. Breathe into your abdomen or belly. As you breathe in, your belly should inflate like a balloon. As you exhale, your abdomen should collapse or be pulled in toward your spine. Focus on breathing out all the old stale air in your lungs. Repeat 5 times. Your breath is one of your most powerful tools to break the cycle of negative emotions and cultivate positive ones.

 

4.     How Can I Be Happy? Get out in nature.

Take a leisurely stroll outside. Gaze at the trees, the clouds, the plants and the birds. Studies have shown that a mere 20 minutes spent in a natural environment has a restorative effect on the mind. Remember to breathe deeply during your stroll. Recently, a study came out in the Journal of Environmental Psychology showing the vast mental health benefits of spending 20 minutes per day in nature.  Twenty minutes surrounded by trees, birds, plants and fresh air decreases anger, increases vitality, energy, mood and happiness. One of the best ways to get feeling better is to reconnect with nature. Numerous studies have linked increased energy and well-being to exposure to nature.  A simple wilderness walk leads to increased feelings of happiness, less anger, and better immune system functioning.

5.     How Can I Be Happy? Exercise.

Studies show that individuals who exercise more than 20 minutes per day, sleep at least 7 hours per night, and eat healthy foods that are naturally colorful have reduced feelings of anger and irritation, higher levels of happiness and well-being.  Have you worked out today? If not, take a brisk walk for 15-20 minutes (outside in nature of course!) to increase your level of happiness and satisfaction with life. Studies show that sweating three times per week reduces symptoms of depression roughly as well as antidepressants.   Exercise ups the production of “feel good” neurotransmitters, such as endorphins, and of proteins that improve connections between brain nerve cells.

6.     How Can I Be Happy? Focus on Gratitude

Practicing gratitude, the simple act of counting your blessings, has been demonstrated to increase levels of happiness, according to Lyubomirsky. One critical component to cultivating happiness seems to lie in spending time with others who are less fortunate than you. This is largely because the mind naturally makes comparisons. When you compare yourself to someone more fortunate than you in some way (e.g., wealthier, prettier, smarter, more successful), you feel worse about yourself. Yet when you compare yourself to someone less fortunate than you, you feel better about your situation.  So volunteer, visit an old relative, and be grateful for all that you have…the clothes on your back, a bed to sleep in, a roof over your head, the ability to walk on your own, and so on. Get specific. Get back to basics. Appreciate all that you normally take for granted. It will make you happier!

Positive psychology coach john schinnerer phd emotion expert
How can i be happy? Practice gratitude

 

7.     How Can I Be Happy?  Learn Realistic Optimism

The simple explanation of realistic optimism is that it is the practice of looking for the best in each person and situation. Studies show that practicing being more optimistic can improve your outlook on life. Martin Seligman found that participants who learned realistic optimism had a significant increase in happiness and a reduction in depressive symptoms.  Lyubomirsky had volunteers write for 10 minutes per week about their dreams for the future and ways they could achieve them. Six months later, she checked in with them again, and found that they were happier, even if they had stopped their journaling.  What’s more, you can start with little steps.  Whenever something bad occurs, think of the positive that might come out of it.  It takes practice. It feels uncomfortable at first. But it gets easier. Keep at it!

 

 

About the Author

John Schinnerer, Ph.D., an expert in positive psychology, is revolutionizing the way in which people make sense of the mind, behavior and emotion. In December of 2011, he was one of three emotion experts (along with Paul Ekman and Dacher Keltner) to consult with Pixar on a feature-length movie in which the main characters are emotions. Much of his time is spent in private practice teaching clients the latest ways to turn down the volume on negative emotions such as anger, anxiety and stress. He has developed a unique coaching methodology which combines the best aspects of entertainment, humor, positive psychology and emotional management techniques. His offices are in Danville, California. He graduated from U.C. Berkeley Summa Cum Laude with a Ph.D. in educational psychology.  He has been an executive, speaker and coach for over 14 years.  He hosted over 200 episodes of Guide To Self Radio, a daily prime time radio show, in the SF Bay Area.    He wrote the award-winning book, ‘Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion and Thought,’ which is available at Amazon.com (you can get a free PDF copy of the book by visiting Guide To Self and entering your name and email address!).  His blog, Shrunken Mind, was recently recognized as one of the top 3 in positive psychology on the web (drjohnblog.guidetoself.com). His new video blog teaches people the latest ways to manage anger using positive psychology. (WebAngerManagement.com). He is currently working on a destination site to teach individuals paths to sustainable happiness via positive psychology and ongoing practice at HowICanBeHappy.com.

 

John_Schinnerer_200px_Suit_Square_Anger_Management

 

Positive Psychology Coach John Schinnerer Ph.D. on Handling Adolescent Anger w/ Dr. James Sutton

Positive Psychology Coach John Schinnerer Ph.D. on Handling Adolescent Anger (What to Do With Angry Teens) w/ Dr. James Sutton from The Changing Behavior Network

Radio/Podcast Interview

Check out the interview I did with Dr. Sutton last Thursday….

www.thechangingbehaviornetwork.com/?p=1499

Anger Management

Let me know your thoughts down below!

Thanks for listening!
John

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Positive Psychology Coach

Expert consultant to Pixar

Anger management expert

Author of the award-winning Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion & Thought (click the link above to sign up for a free PDF copy of the book AND 3 free online anger management courses!)

Guide To Self, Inc.

913 San Ramon Valley Blvd. #280

Danville CA 94526, San Francisco Bay Area

(925) 575-0258

GuideToSelf.com – Web site

WebAngerManagement.com – 10-week online anger management course

DrJohnBlog.GuideToSelf.com –  Awarded #1 Blog in Positive Psychology by PostRank, Top 100 Blog by Daily Reviewer

@johnschin – Twitter

 

 

How Can I Be Happy? What Science Tells Us About Happiness

The Expert… Richie Davidson: What Science Teaches Us About Well-Being

One of my research heroes is the prolific Richie Davidson. He has an article in today’s Huffington Post… “What Does Science Teach Us About Well-Being?”

Here are a few key excerpts:

As we finalize our preparations to receive His Holiness the Dalai Lama for a dialogue on Global Health and Well-being, an event co-sponsored by the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds and the Global Health Institute, both at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, it is appropriate to reflect on what science is teaching us about well-being.

1. Well-being is a skill.

By conceptualizing well-being as a skill, we appeal to modern insights from neuroscience where the study of neuroplasticity has informed us that the mind and brain are highly changeable and that the brain is constantly being shaped by experience and training.

Positive psychology coaching w john schinnerer phd
Happiness & well-being are skills that can be learned

Viewed from this perspective, well-being is the product of skills that can be enhanced through training and is also subject to environmental influences that impact our brain, especially over the course of development.

2. Well-being is associated with specific patterns of brain activity that influence and are influenced by the body.

Recent findings establish that specific patterns of brain activity involving the prefrontal cortex and limbic (below the cortex) regions are associated with reports of well-being.

Brain patterns associated w happiness
Positive psychology can lead you to a happier brain and mind.

Through this bidirectional communication between the brain and body, pathways have been identified that provide the beginnings of an understanding of why our emotional and physical health are intimately intertwined.

3. Equanimity and generosity both contribute to well-being and are associated with distinct patterns of brain and bodily activity.

The Dalai Lama has frequently urged us to be kind toward others and has suggested that kindness is a direct route to happiness.

Modern research has borne this out and indicates that kindness and compassion toward others is associated with peripheral biological (i.e., biology below the neck) changes that are salubrious.

Equanimity can be cultivated through simple contemplative practices and is associated with being attentive to the present moment and not getting lost in worrying about the future and ruminating about the past.

Modern research indicates that the average adult American spends nearly 50% of his waking life mind wandering–not paying attention to what he is actually doing.

average adult spends 50% of time with mind wandering
The average U.S. adult spends 50% of time with mind wandering

By learning to remain aware of the present moment, we can free ourselves from being slaves to the past and future.

Experiments have been conducted in which participants are randomly assigned to one of two groups–in the first group, they are provided with money and told to go out and spend the money on themselves and to purchase things for themselves only; in the second group, they are provided the same amount of money as the first group but they are told to spend the money only on others.

Since I’m writing about this, I’m sure you can guess which group showed much greater increases in happiness over the course of the day–of course, it was the group instructed to spend the money only on others.

Another amazing thing about generosity and kindness is that a growing body of evidence suggests that such behavior is good for our biology.

It helps to reduce inflammation and the molecules responsible for increasing inflammation.

4. There is an innate disposition toward well-being and prosocial behavior.

Organisms orient toward stimuli and situations that promote well-being.

how can i be happy? learn positive psychology with john schinnerer phd

Moreover, recent research indicates that human infants in the first six months of life show a preference for prosocial and cooperative situations compared with aggressive and antagonistic ones.

If this indeed continues to be replicated across a wide range of cultures, it would invite the view that we come into the world with an innate preference for good and we obscure that innate propensity over the course of development as we become socialized within our modern culture.

When we engage in practices to nurture compassion, we are not really learning a new skill so much as unlearning the noise which is interfering with our ability to connect with a fundamental innate core of goodness.

As these ideas become more widely known and appreciated, it is my fervent aspiration that our culture will pay more attention to well-being, will include strategies to promote well-being with our educational curricula and within the healthcare arena, and will include well-being within our definitions of health.

To life, love and laughter,

 

 

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Positive Psychology Coach

Author of the award-winning Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion & Thought

Guide To Self, Inc.

913 San Ramon Valley Blvd. #280

Danville CA 94526

(925) 575-0258

Get a free copy of John’s award-winning self help book at GuideToSelf.com

WebAngerManagement.com – 10-week online anger management course

DrJohnBlog.GuideToSelf.com –  Awarded #1 Blog in Positive Psychology by PostRank, Top 100 Blog by Daily Reviewer

@johnschin – Twitter

Positive Psychology Expert Interview from Askimo – John Schinnerer Ph.D.

Here is an interview on positive psychology and positive emotions I recently did for Askimo, an expert site based out of Tel Aviv. Note there is a lag time between questions and responses due to the international video call.

I’ve been studying the question, “How Can I Be Happy?” for over 20 years. I love having some ways to answer this question now.

Feel free to leave your comments below. Let me know your thoughts!

To life, love and laughter,

John

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.
Positive Psychology Coach
Expert Consultant to Pixar
Author of the award-winning Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion & Thought
Guide To Self, Inc.
913 San Ramon Valley Blvd. #280
Danville CA 94526
GuideToSelf.com – Web site
WebAngerManagement.com – 10-week online anger management course
DrJohnBlog.GuideToSelf.com – Awarded #1 Blog in Positive Psychology by PostRank, Top 100 Blog by Daily Reviewer
@johnschin – Twitter

Positive Emotions Unlock Anger, Boost Creativity and Improve Your Physical Health

Positive Psychology and Positive Emotions

By John Schinnerer, Ph.D. Founder of Guide To Self, Inc.

The evidence is mounting, evidence that positive emotions exist for a reason, evidence that evolution has selected positive emotions for specific reasons that help our species survive – reasons that help you in every area of your life.

Positive emotions include feelings such as awe, curiosity, gratitude, compassion, calm, love, joy, interest, passion and happiness.

Evidence is mounting to support the necessity of cultivating positive emotions for your success at work, in relationships and personally.

At the beginning of every session with a new client, I make a point of sharing a short, gut-bustingly funny video clip. One of my personal favorites is the popular Mother’s Day video by Barats and Bereta (www.BaratsAndBereta.com).

The reason for sharing a humorous video with new clients is three-fold.

First, the funny video unlocks any negative emotions the client may be holding onto such as anger, irritability, anxiety or sadness (Fredrickson, 2004, The Royal Society).

Second, those few, fleeting moments of laughter, mirth and smiling  reduce depressive symptoms and improve your well-being and  satisfaction with life (Sin & Lyubomirsky, Journal of Clinical Psychology: In Session, 2009).

Third, science has known for over a decade that chronic anger, anxiety and depression put you at an elevated risk for cardiovascular disease (Suls & Bunde, Psychological Bulletin, 2005). Most people go through life with the sympathetic branch of the ANS stuck in the ‘on’ position. The sympathetic branch is similar to the gas pedal in a car. Negative emotions (along with stress, exhaustion, and lack of exercise) activate the sympathetic nervous system which leads to increased heart rate, pulse and higher levels of cortisol into the blood stream. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response.

On the flip side, positive emotions activate the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) which acts like the brakes on a car.  The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is in charge of calming the body, reducing heart rate and pulse, and bringing the body back to a resting state. The extent to which you can activate your PNS predicts your emotional and physical health. It is intimately related to how well you can self-regulate your own emotions.

Lower levels of PNS activity are related to higher levels of depression, anxiety, aggression, and hostility.

On the other side, higher levels of PNS activity are associated with better psychological flexibility, health and resiliency. Individuals with higher levels of PNS activity are related to more resiliency to stress as well as greater mental health in children in the face of chronic conflict between parents at home.

Importantly, the frequency with which you experience positive emotions is related to a more active PNS. Individuals who were shown humorous video clips demonstrated faster heart rate recover after experiencing intense negative emotions (Fredrickson & Levenson, 1998).

In addition, simply asking people to think about a time when they felt grateful activated the PNS.

Other ways to ‘turn on’ the PNS include exercise, laughter, mindfulness, massage, yoga, walking your dog and taking fish oil.

The success I’ve experienced with clients in my private practice is directly related to how well I can make them laugh. With laughter comes opportunity…

opportunity to unlock stale old anger,

opportunity to teach critical new skills,

opportunity to think outside the box, and

opportunity to transform life for the better.

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How do you proceed from here?

Begin to become more aware of the percentage of time you spend in a positive emotional state as compared to a negative state. This simple realization, this basic level of awareness will begin to produce massive tectonic shifts in your life. And you will reap enormous benefits on a number of levels…physical, relational, professional and emotional.

To happier times,

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

 

About the Author

 

John Schinnerer, Ph.D. is revolutionizing the way in which people make sense of the mind, behavior and emotion. In December of 2011, he was one of three experts to consult with Pixar on a feature-length movie in which the main characters are emotions. Much of his time is spent in private practice teaching clients the latest ways to turn down the volume on negative emotions such as anger, anxiety and stress as well as ways to cultivate a more positive mind. He has developed a unique coaching methodology which combines the best aspects of entertainment, humor, positive psychology and emotional management techniques. His offices are in Danville, California. He graduated from U.C. Berkeley with a Ph.D. in educational psychology.  He has been an executive, speaker and coach for over 14 years.  He hosted over 200 episodes of Guide To Self Radio, a daily prime time radio show, in the SF Bay Area.    He wrote the award-winning book, Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion and Thought, which is available at Amazon.com.  His blog, Shrunken Mind, was recognized as one of the top 3 in positive psychology on the web (drjohnblog.guidetoself.com ). His new video blog teaches people the latest ways to manage anger using positive psychology. (WebAngerManagement.com).