7 Ridiculously Easy Ways to Increase Your Happiness

7 Ridiculously Easy Ways to Become More Happy

By John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Founder Guide to Self and WebAngerManagement.com

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?”

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Positive psychology answers the burning 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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

Two Different Types of Love Evident Through Mindfulness Meditation

February 14, 2014

We’ve known for some time that romantic love activates the same reward areas in the brain as cocaine. And it’s equally addictive for many of us.

Recently, Yale School of Medicine researchers have discovered a more selfless variety of love — a deep and genuine desire for the happiness of others without any expectation of reward — actually turns off the same areas in the brain that light up when lovers see each other. This phenomenon has now been documented in the minds of experienced meditators.

“When we truly, selflessly wish for the well-being of others, we’re not getting that same rush of excitement that comes with, say, a tweet from our romantic love interest, because it’s not about us at all,” reported Judson Brewer, adjunct professor of psychiatry at Yale now at the University of Massachusetts.

Brewer and Kathleen Garrison, postdoctoral researcher in Yale’s Department of Psychiatry, share their discoveries in a paper to be published Feb. 12 in the journal Brain and Behavior.

The neurological boundaries between these two types of love become clear in fMRI scans of experienced meditators. The reward centers of the brain that are strongly activated by a lover’s face (or a picture of cocaine) are almost completely turned off when a meditator is instructed to silently repeat sayings such as “May all beings be happy.” These sayings are most commonly encountered in a particular type of meditation known as loving-kindness meditation.

Such mindfulness meditations are a staple of Buddhism and are now commonly practiced in Western stress reduction programs, Brewer notes. The tranquility of this selfless love for others — exemplified in such religious figures such as Mother Theresa or the Dalai Llama — is diametrically opposed to the anxiety caused by a lovers’ quarrel or extended separation. And it carries its own rewards.

“The intent of this practice is to specifically foster selfless love — just putting it out there and not looking for or wanting anything in return,” Brewer said. “If you’re wondering where the reward is in being selfless, just reflect on how it feels when you see people out there helping others, or even when you hold the door for somebody the next time you are at Starbucks.”

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

Dr. John Schinnerer
Positive Psychology Coach
Anger Management Specialist
Founder, Guide to Self, Inc.
913 San Ramon Valley Blvd. #280
Danville CA 94526
Positive psychology blog: http://DrJohnBlog.GuideToSelf.com 
Anger management blog:
http://WebAngerManagement.com
Twitter: @johnschin

Music Mends Memories in the Injured Brain

Psychology of Music and Healing Effects of the Human Brain

I was recently included on an album of positive music (www.PositiveMusicImperative.com). I was speaking on the importance of positive music, lyrics in particular, as a critical means to offset the natural negativity bias of the human mind. The negative is more powerful than the positive by a factor of 3 to 1. Honestly, I’m pretty excited about this. I never dreamt I would be on an album. Of course, I’m speaking not singing. I can’t sing to save my life. And music has always been a passion of mine. I use it to connect with teenage clients. I use it as a healthy ‘drug’ to alter my moods, thoughts and to call up memories.

Today, a new study came out demonstrating, once again, the power of music. In a novel study,  Amee Baird and Séverine Samson used top 40 music to spark lost memories in individuals with acquired brain injury (ABI).

While the sample size is small, this is the very first study to look at the effectiveness of ‘music-evoked autobiographical memories’ (MEAMs) in patients with ABIs, rather than ‘normals’ or those who grapple with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Baird and Samson played pieces of Billboard’s number 1 songs to five patients in random order.  The songs were pulled from across the lifespan of each patient starting from the year they were five years old and continuing to present day.  The performance of those with ABI was compared to individuals with no brain injury. All participants reported to what extent they knew a given song, the extent to which they liked it, and what memories, if any, the song brought up.

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Music Heals the Mind and Memories

 

Results showed that the number of recorded MEAMs was nearly identical for ABI patients (38%-71%) and ‘normals’ (48%-71%). Only one of the five ABI patients recorded no music assisted memories. Surprisingly, the highest frequency of MEAMs out of all the participants was recorded by an ABI patients.

Across all participants, the majority of music assisted memories were of people or a life event and were most fequently positive in nature. There was a strong connection between songs that sparked a memory and reported familiarity and enjoyment of those same songs.

While the sample size was small, early indicators seem to show the strength of using music as a tool for helping patients reclaim recollections. Baird and Samson state that: “Music was more efficient at evoking autobiographical memories than verbal prompts of the Autobiographical Memory Interview (AMI) across each life period, with a higher percentage of MEAMs for each life period compared with AMI scores.”

 

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Music therapy – healing the mind one song at a time

“The findings suggest that music is an effective stimulus for eliciting autobiographical memories and may be beneficial in the rehabilitation of autobiographical amnesia, but only in patients without a fundamental deficit in autobiographical recall memory and intact pitch perception.”

As we learn more and more about the power of music, one thing seems clear…there exists a powerful relationship between attention, mood, memory, and music. We are beginning to understand the direct relationship between attention and emotion.

 

What we attend to affects what we feel.

How we feel influences that to which we pay attention.

How we feel impacts our memories.

What we recall affects the degree to which we judge life as satisfying.

 

Music powerfully influences our attention, our memory, as well as emotion. It may even impact our self-worth and our judgments of how satisfying life is. These all seem to be inextricably intertwined.  So pay attention to what music you use to fill your head. It may have a larger impact than you ever dreamed!

 

To life, love and good music!

Dr. John Schinnerer

Positive Psychology Coach

Anger Management Specialist

Award-winning author of Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide to Managing Emotion & Thought

Founder, Guide to Self, Inc.

913 San Ramon Valley Blvd. #280

Danville CA 94526

Positive psychology blog: http://DrJohnBlog.GuideToSelf.com 

Anger management blog:

http://WebAngerManagement.com

Twitter: @johnschin

 

Journal Reference:

  1. A. Baird, S. Samson. Music evoked autobiographical memory after severe acquired brain injury: Preliminary findings from a case series. Neuropsychological Rehabilitation, 2013; : 1 DOI: 10.1080/09602011.2013.858642

 

Taylor & Francis (2013, December 10). Music brings memories back to the injured brain. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 11, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2013/12/131210072030.htm

Materialism Makes Bad Situations Worse, Reduces Resiliency

Materialism Makes Bad Events Even Worse, Lowers Resiliency

Dr. John Schinnerer

The holiday season is upon us with all it’s gift-giving glory…an interesting backdrop to new research that shows new damaging effects of materialism on our well-being.

 

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Materialism seems to undermine resiliency

Some of us are more prone to deal with negative emotions and stressors with shop therapy – buying more stuff.  A new study out of the University of Illinois sheds a new light on the negative effect of materialism on how well we deal with a negative event. Having a materialistic approach to life when things go badly, appears to make bad situations worse.

 

Materialistic people tend to cope with trauma, difficulty and tragedy with impulsive buying and compulsive spending. For many, spending is a salve that soothes our inner wounds.

 

However, researcher Aric Rindfleisch states that a high degree of materialism is not only detrimental to our individual well-being, it also appears to amplify the inner emotional distress associated with stressful events. Stressful situations, such as robbery, car accidents, cancer and job loss, are more difficult to bounce back from when you are more materialistic.

 

Why does materialism matter?

 

“If you’re a materialistic individual and life suddenly takes a wrong turn, you’re going to have a tougher time recovering from that setback than someone who is less materialistic,” said Rindfleisch, the John M. Jones Professor of Marketing in the College of Business. “The research is novel in that an event that’s unrelated to materialism will have a stronger impact on someone because of their materialistic values. In other words, materialism has a multiplier effect. It’s a finding that I think is especially interesting given our consumer-driven economy.”

 

The research looked at the connection between traumatic stress and compulsive consumption using an Israeli field study and a U.S. national survey.

 

When confronted with a life-threatening terrorist attack, the study showed that highly materialistic individuals in Israel reported higher degrees of post-traumatic stress (PTSD), compulsive and impulsive purchases than less-materialistic individuals.

 

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Materialism Makes Bad Situations Worse

“Materialistic people cope with bad events through materialistic mechanisms,” stated Rindfleisch. “When there’s a terrorist attack in Israel, people who are materialistic suffer higher levels of distress and are more likely to compensate for that through higher levels of compulsive and impulsive purchasing.”

 

One of the theories is that these effects are due to lower self-esteem in materialistic individuals which reduces their resiliency in dealing with traumatic events.

 

“You can think of terrorist attacks as a mortal threat to your life,” Rindfleisch said. “To replicate the study in the U.S., as a corollary, we asked people to tell us about their level of death anxiety. Those who had more anxiety toward death were very similar to the groups who were under terrorist attacks in Israel.”

 

“Both components of the study provide converging evidence that in times of extreme stress, highly materialistic individuals seek comfort in compulsive and impulsive consumption,” Rindfleisch reported.

 

“At its core, materialism is a value-based response to insecurity in one’s life,” he said. “Our research more broadly suggests that it’s also about existential insecurity. This idea that we’re all aware of our mortality and focusing on that can be almost debilitating.”

 

And traumatic experiences may be broadly defined as any event that one perceives as traumatic, not solely terrorism-related events.

 

Traumatic events “…could be about a broad range of stressful life events, including serious illness, an automobile accident or a natural disaster,” he said. “So the scope is broader than a terrorist attack. It’s more like a traumatic event that leads to this insecure sense of self. Thus, our research uncovers a hidden yet potentially quite expansive domain of consequences that have largely gone unnoticed in prior research.”

 

According to Rindfleisch, it’s a good reminder prior to the holiday shopping season heading into full tilt.

 

“In times of stress, people often seek solace through shopping,” he said. “The idea here is that we need some form of a cultural-based coping mechanism, because the research suggests that there is actually a short-term fix with retail therapy. Soon after purchasing something, there is a reduction of anxiety. But it doesn’t last very long. It’s fleeting. Materialists seek that as one of their coping mechanisms. And Black Friday and the holiday shopping season play into that.”

 

Resiliency, the ability to bounce back quickly following adversity, is a learnable skill.  My suggestion is to learn more adaptive ways to deal with and manage the negative emotions associated with trauma….tools such as mindfulness, forgiveness, gratitude, conscious cultivation of positive emotions, physical exercise, self-compassion and more.

 

All the best,

 

Dr. John Schinnerer

Positive Psychology Coach

Anger Management Specialist

Award-winning author of Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide to Managing Emotion & Thought

Founder, Guide to Self, Inc.

913 San Ramon Valley Blvd. #280

Danville CA 94526

Positive psychology blog: http://DrJohnBlog.GuideToSelf.com 

Anger management blog:

http://WebAngerManagement.com

Twitter: @johnschin

 

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Materialistic values reduce resiliency

Journal Reference:

  1. Ayalla Ruvio, Eli Somer, Aric Rindfleisch. When bad gets worse: the amplifying effect of materialism on traumatic stress and maladaptive consumption. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 2013; DOI: 10.1007/s11747-013-0345-6

People, Not Possessions, Lead to More Happiness

How Can I Be Happy? Refocus your attention on iPeople not your iPhone

Oct. 28, 2013 — The extent of our happiness has more to do with people and less to do with products according to a recent study at Lund University in Sweden.

Spend less time talking to your phone and more time talking to people. In an overly digital world, new studies continue to show the worth of individual, authentic relationships for boosting our collective happiness.

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Focus on people not products for more happiness

 

The world which used to be filled with cliques is now overflowing with clicks. We now have 3000 Facebook friends and 2000 Twitter followers but only 2 friends with whom we can go to the movies. More and more people are keeping up with others online – the ubiquitous Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. And it may be negatively impacting our collective happiness.

In particular, Instagram has been linked to greater depression due to the upward social comparisons it fosters. You have seen it before… your friend uploads a photo of their great vacation in Bali. By comparison, your vacation to Tahoe pales to put it politely. So you retaliate by uploading the best Photoshopped pic of you in your sexy pirate costume with Johnny Depp at a crazy San Francisco Halloween party at the Fairmont. In turn, your friends are jealous and feel worth less as their Halloween experiences were mundane at best. And the online cycle of envy-fueling competition continues unabated.

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Attend to friends not Facebook

‘It’s relationships that are most important, not material things,’ says Danilo Garcia, researcher in psychology at the Sahlgrenska Academy’s Centre for Ethics, Law and Mental Health. The analysis, which analyzed more than 1.5 million words, demonstrates that words like ‘father,’ grandmother’ and personal pronouns (e.g., you, me, us, her, him) more frequently appear with the Swedish word for happiness. On the other hand, words like ‘iPhone,’ ‘Twitter’ and ‘Google’ rarely appear with ‘happiness.’ ‘This doesn’t mean that material things make you unhappy, just that they don’t seem to come up in the same context as the word for happiness,’ says Danilo Garcia.

The study is a part of a larger research project on how people communicate the positive and negative experiences. It is believed that the word analysis reflects a large-scale perception among people as to what makes us happy. It is one more methodology for science to track down what makes us happier.

‘Just as the Beatles sang, most people understand that money can’t buy you happiness or love,’ says Danilo Garcia. ‘But even if we as individuals can understand the importance of close and warm relationships on a social level, it isn’t certain that everyone is aware that such relationships are actually necessary for our own personal happiness.’

The take home message: spend less time with Facebook and more time with friends.

Dr. John Schinnerer
Positive Psychology Coach
Anger Management Specialist
Founder, Guide to Self, Inc.
913 San Ramon Valley Blvd. #280
Danville CA 94526
Positive psychology blog: http://drjohnblog.guidetoself.com
Anger management blog:
http://WebAngerManagement.com
Twitter: @johnschin

The study: ‘A Collective Theory of Happiness: Words Related to the Word ‘Happiness’ in Swedish Online Newspapers’ was published in the scientific periodical Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. Journal Reference: Danilo Garcia, Sverker Sikström. A Collective Theory of Happiness: Words Related to the Word ‘Happiness’ in Swedish Online Newspapers. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 2013; 16 (6): 469 DOI: 10.1089/cyber.2012.0535