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

 

Music, Emotion & Hormones: Why You Act the Way You Do!

June 13, 2012 in Psychology & Psychiatry

The velvety voice of Elvis Presley still makes hearts flutter—and in a new study with people who have the rare genetic disorder Williams syndrome, one of the King’s classics is among a group of songs that helped to cast light on part of the essence of being human: the mystery of emotion and human interaction.

In a study led by Julie R. Korenberg, Ph.D., M.D., University of Utah/USTAR professor, Circuits of the Brain and pediatrics, people with and without Williams syndrome (WS) listened to music in a trial to gauge emotional response through the release of oxytocin and arginine vasopressin (AVP), two hormones associated with emotion. The study, published June 12, 2012, in PLoS ONE, signals a paradigm shift both for understanding human emotional and behavioral systems and expediting the treatments of devastating illnesses such as WS, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and possibly even autism, according to Korenberg, senior author on the study and one of the world’s leading experts in genetics, brain, and behavior of WS.

“Our results could be very important for guiding the treatment of these disorders,” Korenberg says. “It could have enormous implications for personal the use of drugs to help people.”

The study also is the first to reveal new genes that control emotional responses and to show that AVP is involved in the response to music.

Williams syndrome is a neurodevelopmental disorder caused by the deletion of 25 to 28 genes on one copy of chromosome 7. Those with the disorder look at the world through a unique lens. They may view everyone as their friend, to the point of running up to total strangers and striking up conversations as though they are old acquaintances. They have an affinity for music. But they also experience heightened anxiety, have an average IQ of 60, experience severe spatial-visual problems, and suffer from cardiovascular and other health issues. Despite their desire to befriend people, they have difficulty creating and maintaining social relationships, something that is not at all understood but can afflict many people without WS.

Korenberg and colleagues from the U of U, University of Illinois, Chicago, and the Salk Institute, La Jolla, Calif., conducted a trial with 21 participants, 13 who have WS and a control group of eight people without the disorder. The participants were evaluated at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Because music is a known strong emotional stimulus, the researchers asked participants to listen to music.

Before the music was played, the participants’ blood was drawn to determine a baseline level for oxytocin, and those with WS had three times as much of the hormone as those without the syndrome. Blood also was drawn at regular intervals while the music played and was analyzed afterward to check for real-time, rapid changes in the levels of oxytocin and AVP. Other studies have examined how oxytocin affects emotion when artificially introduced into people, such as through nasal sprays, but this is the one of the first significant studies to measure naturally occurring changes in oxytocin levels in rapid, real time as people undergo an emotional response.

Researchers asked the first participant to listen to the 1950s Elvis classic, “Love Me Tender.” The woman showed no outward response to the song, which can be typical not only of people with WS but particularly of people without the disorder whose faces may be impassive but jump up at the end of an exciting piece, Korenberg points out. But, to elicit a greater response from the remaining test participants, the researchers invited them to bring their favorite music to listen to—and many of them chose heavy metal. Again, there was little outward response to the music.

But when the blood samples were analyzed, the researchers were happily surprised. The analyses showed that the oxytocin levels, and to a lesser degree AVP, had not only increased but begun to bounce among WS participants while among those without WS, both the oxytocin and AVP levels remained largely unchanged as they listened to music. Interestingly, the oxytocin level in the woman who’d listened to “Love Me Tender” skyrocketed compared to the levels of participants who listened to different music.

Korenberg believes the blood analyses strongly indicate that oxytocin and AVP are not regulated correctly in people with WS, and that the behavioral characteristics unique to people with WS are related to this problem.

“This shows that oxytocin quite likely is very involved in emotional response,” Korenberg says.

To ensure accuracy of results, those taking the test also were asked to place their hands in 60-degree Fahrenheit water to test for negative stress, and the same results were produced as when they listened to music. Those with WS experienced an increase in oxytocin and AVP, while those without the syndrome did not.

Listening to Elvis was part of a larger study, published in the June 12, 2012 issue of PLoS One, that shows for the first time that oxytocin and another hormone associated with emotion, arginine vasopressin (AVP), are poorly regulated in people with WS and that atypical levels of oxytocin are linked to both the desire to seek social interaction and decreased ability to process social clues.

WS is ideal for studying how genes influence social behavior and emotion, according to Korenberg. Unlike other social disorders, the cause of Williams syndrome is known, which is critical for pinpointing areas of the brain and genes related to the disorder. It also could be extremely important in finding drug targets for WS.

In addition to listening to music, study participants already had taken three standard social behavior tests that evaluate willingness to approach and speak to strangers, emotional states, and various areas of adaptive and problem behavior. Those test results suggest that increased levels of oxytocin are linked to both increased desire to seek social interaction and decreased ability to process social cues, a double-edged message that may be very useful at times, for example, during courtship, but damaging at others, as in Williams syndrome.

“The association between abnormal levels of oxytocin and AVP and altered social behaviors found in people with Williams Syndrome points to surprising, entirely unsuspected deleted genes involved in regulation of these hormones and human sociability,” Korenberg said. “It also suggests that the simple characterization of oxytocin as ‘the love hormone’ may be an overreach. The data paint a far more complicated picture.”

However, the picture is very hopeful, and the study provides a key breakthrough that lights the way to making rapid progress in treating WS, and perhaps Autism and anxiety through regulation of these key players in human brain and emotion, oxytocin and vasopressin. It is important that work in the very near future may allow us to know how to adjust the dial on the OT and AVP system and its effects in different brain regions in ways that relieve suffering and improve the lives of those with the disorder, according to Korenberg.

http://www.eminemlab.com/images/wallpapers/Eminem-01-1024x768b.jpg

In particular, the study results indicate that the missing genes affect the release of oxytocin and AVP through the hypothalmus and the pituitary gland. About the size of a pearl, the hypothalamus is located just above the brain stem and produces hormones that control body temperature, hunger, mood, sex drive, sleep, hunger and thirst, and the release of hormones from many glands, including the pituitary. The pituitary gland, about the size of a pea, controls many other glands responsible for hormone secretion. The results of this study points to new clues as to what makes us and may prevent us from being just a bit more human.

Journal reference: PLoS ONE search and more info website

Provided by University of Utah Health Sciences search and more info website

Keep the faith!
John

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.

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Happiness Is Acting According to Your Values – Live With Meaning & Purpose

A happy, successful and satisfying life involves behaving according to a your own set of ethics, standards, or values.  Values are the core beliefs upon which you operate your life. You may be aware of your core beliefs. You may not. In my experience, I’ve noticed that the vast majority of people do not have any idea what their top values are.

Remember – You Are a Worthy Individual

To get the most from your life, you must believe at your core that you are a worthy individual – worthy of love, worthy of respect, worthy of making mistakes to learn from, worthy of friendship, worthy of quality friends, worthy of appropriate boundaries, worthy of taking time to refill and renew yourself, worthy of a flourishing and fulfilling life.

Our values are the stars by which we navigate through life. Henry David Thoreau wrote, ‘The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.’

It Is Easy to Lose Track of Values In A Busy World

Ours is much too busy and noisy a world. Our lives take on a frenetic pace and people lose track of the values that give life meaning and purpose.

Everyone says they are for values – individuals, schools and corporations. All are quick to claim lofty ideals. The problem is their actions are not in keeping with their words, particularly at times of high emotion. Thus, we have schools that talk about treating children with compassion while verbally flagellating them in the classrooms.  We have parents that profess to love their children yet rage at them behind closed doors. We have businesses that say they value their customers yet treat them as if they were unintelligent nuisances. 

Ignore Values at Your Peril

People unaware of their values are more likely to be uncaring, conforming, inconsistent, and self-conflicted.

The less we know of our values, the less success and happiness we enjoy.

Clarify Your Values, Enjoy Success

The more we understand our values, the better able we are to make right choices which lead to right action even in the heat of strong emotions. This leads to integrity, happiness and prosperity.

Clarity of values leads to decisive acts of courage which are becoming exceedingly rare in this world. Don’t be driven by the whims of your emotions. Be character driven.   Be value driven.

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Founder Guide to Self, Inc.

For a free copy of John’s award-winning book, Guide to Self: The Beginner’s Guide to Managing Emotion and Thought, visit GuideToSelf.com, enter your email and name and be rewarded with instant access to your own PDF version of the book!

List of Experiences That Lead to Positive Emotions

positive psychology happiness

John Schinnerer Ph.D.

Guide to Self, Inc.

What are some things that make you happy?

I started a list to share with my clients. This is a list that may be used to distract oneself from negative thoughts and feelings if one so desires. This is only a partial list. It is still in the infancy stage. I would love your input. Please add what makes you happy (or proud, or awestruck, or loved, etc.) below in the comments section.

Positive emotions might include happiness, pride, curiosity, awe, gratitude, hope, compassion, anticipation, interest, curiosity, love, pleasure, satisfaction, contentment or relaxation. Feel free to add any others!

The List of Experiences That Make You Happy

Birth of child

Birth of animal (e.g. puppies, kittens)

Competing in a game (e.g. soccer, tennis, water polo, football, baseball)

Winning a game

Playing the game with honor

Promotion at work

Promotion at school (e.g. higher grade)

Reaching a short-term goal (e.g. saving up $10 for a toy)

Reaching a medium-term goal (e.g. losing 10 pounds)

Reaching a long-term goal (e.g. earning $1 million)

Achieving a milestone (e.g. finishing high school or college)

Taking pride in watching your child attain a significant milestone (e.g. first step, first job, driver’s license, marriage, birth of grandchild)

Watching your child perform a big accomplishment (e.g. great grades, athletic accomplishment, academic degree, important job)

Being thanked by your child for being their parent (any show of gratitude by your child really!)

Observing the degree to which you have grown over the years (e.g. emotionally, mentally, physically, work-related)

Completing a book or manuscript or play

Finishing a work of art (e.g. poem, painting, sculpture, picture, movie)

Being in nature

Being fully in the present moment

Enjoying pleasant memories

Relishing future feats

Coming face-to-face with a non-threatening wild animal (e.g. sea turtle, deer, moose, but NOT a bear!)

Receiving an award or honor
Being in the zone/fully engaged

Being appreciated for your hard work

Being appreciated for your unconditional love

Sexual pleasure

Savoring a delicious meal or drink

Savoring sunsets

Taking in a full moon

Anticipating an upcoming pleasurable event

Exercise

Reuniting with a person you haven’t seen in years

Hugs

Looking forward to your thoughts!

Best,
John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Founder Guide to Self

Anger management classes now being offered online at http://drjohnsblog.wordpress.com.

Get a free copy of John’s award-winning self-help book (Guide to Self) at www.GuidetoSelf.com!!!

Failure better teacher than success. Knowledge from failure lasts longer – U of Colorado Bus. School

University of Colorado Denver Business School study shows failure better teacher than success

Knowledge gained from failure lasts longer

DENVER (August 23, 2010) – While success is surely sweeter than failure, it seems failure is a far better teacher, and organizations that fail spectacularly often flourish more in the long run, according to a new study by Vinit Desai, assistant professor of management at the University of Colorado Denver Business School.

Desai’s research, published in the Academy of Management Journal, focused on companies and organizations that launch satellites, rockets and shuttles into space – an arena where failures are high profile and hard to conceal.

Working with Peter Madsen, assistant professor at BYU School of Management, Desai found that organizations not only learned more from failure than success, they retained that knowledge longer.

“We found that the knowledge gained from success was often fleeting while knowledge from failure stuck around for years,” he said. “But there is a tendency in organizations to ignore failure or try not to focus on it. Managers may fire people or turn over the entire workforce while they should be treating the failure as a learning opportunity.”

The researchers said they discovered little “significant organizational learning from success” but added “we do not discount the possibility that it may occur in other settings.”

Desai compared the flights of the space shuttle Atlantis and the Challenger. During the 2002 Atlantis flight, a piece of insulation broke off and damaged the left solid rocket booster but did not impede the mission or the program. There was little follow-up or investigation.

The Challenger was launched next and another piece of insulation broke off. This time the shuttle and its seven-person crew were destroyed.

The disaster prompted the suspension of shuttle flights and led to a major investigation resulting in 29 recommended changes to prevent future calamities.

The difference in response in the two cases, Desai said, came down to this: The Atlantis was considered a success and the Challenger a failure.

“Whenever you have a failure it causes a company to search for solutions and when you search for solutions it puts you as an executive in a different mindset, a more open mindset,” said Desai.

He said the airline industry is one sector of the economy that has learned from failures, at least when it comes to safety.

“Despite crowded skies, airlines are incredibly reliable. The number of failures is miniscule,” he said. “And past research has shown that older airlines, those with more experience in failure, have a lower number of accidents.”

Desai doesn’t recommend seeking out failure in order to learn. Instead, he advised organizations to analyze small failures and near misses to glean useful information rather than wait for major failures.

“The most significant implication of this study…is that organizational leaders should neither ignore failures nor stigmatize those involved with them,” he concluded in the June edition of the Academy of Management Journal, “rather leaders should treat failures as invaluable learning opportunities, encouraging the open sharing of information about them.”

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Located on the University of Colorado Denver’s downtown campus, the Business School is the largest accredited graduate school of business in Colorado with more than 18,000 alumni. It serves more than 1,200 graduate students and 1,400 undergraduate students each year. Students and faculty are involved in solving real-world business problems as they collaborate on more than 100 projects with area businesses every semester through classroom work, guest lectures and research projects.

From EurekAlert!

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Founder Guide to Self

Award-winning author, blogger and speaker

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