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.
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.
‘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:
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
According to Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, we encounter roughly 20,000 individual moments per day. Each ‘moment’ lasts 1-3 seconds. When you recall any evocative memory — positive or negative – it is almost always linked to a recollection of a specific moment in time. While the mind has a penchant for event tagging (i.e., marking events as positive, negative or neutral), rarely does a neutral encounter carry any emotional weight and is quickly forgotten. Your memories are nearly always positive or negative. What’s more, the mind has evolved to overfocus on the negative – negative self-definitions, emotions, words, thoughts, memories, etc. So tools to promote the positive are needed to counterbalance this negativity bias. In some instances, positive words or a sharing a cherished memory can forever improve one’s life.
When Were You Last Happy?
Here is a brief demonstration for you…
Think about the last time you felt happy; I mean really, truly happy, even if only for a moment. I want you to imagine that scene in your mind’s eye right now. Was your chin up? Shoulders pulled slightly back? Was there a smile on your face? Who was with you? What were the surroundings? What were you wearing? Are there any smells you recall? Think about the situation in as much detail as you can.
Now, how does your body feel?
Thinking back upon happy times cultivates positive physiological responses and positive emotions. Your heart rate slows, you breathing deepens, your chin elevates slightly, shoulders are drawn back, a warmth develops in your chest, and you smile.
How Can I Be Happy? Create a Mental Scrapbook for Your Self
One proven exercise from positive psychology is the mental scrapbook exercise. How can I be happier? Create a mental scrapbook in your head of times when you were happy, proud, excited, and/or confident – recollections that involve a variety of positive emotional experiences. That way, when you want to access a particular positive feeling to enhance the emotional quality of the present moment, you simply have to pull up that photo in your mental scrapbook to bring about the emotion you want.
Let me give you an example. Several years ago, I went in for an MRI scan on my hip for sciatica. When I booked the appointment, the receptionist asked if I was claustrophobic. Without thinking, I replied, “No.” Then I went in to get the MRI. I lay down on the table which began slowly sliding into the closed, narrow MRI tube. The tube was as wide as my shoulders. I could not move my arms except to fold my hands on my hips. The ceiling of the tube was two inches from my face. As I needed an MRI of my hip, I was slid all the way inside – head first.
To my surprise, my emotional mind went back to when I was 7 years old trapped in a mummy sleeping bag. And I began to panic. My heart began to race. My throat constricted. My chest tightened. While my emotional mind screamed at me to go Hulk and tear apart the machine which imprisoned me, my rational mind knew I had 20 minutes to spend in this tube. I I closed my eyes and reminded myself to breathe deeply. That helped a little. Then I forced myself to smile – a real Duchenne smile using the muscles around my eyes. That helped a little more. Next, I used the mental scrapbook exercise. I thought about the time I came face to face with an ancient sea turtle while snorkeling in Hawaii. I thought about playing with my boys on the beach. After calling those images to mind, I felt my body relax. I got through the 20 minute MRI without an incident.
How Can I Be Happy? Share Positive Memories with Others
A good friend of mine, Ebon Glenn, founder of the positive clothing line, AimHighESG, discovered a brilliant extension of the mental scrapbook exercise. Ebon discovered he could positively impact the moods of loved ones by sharing photos of family memories prior to a car ride, or a business meeting or a family dinner. The simple act of sharing memories of good times via photos served to lift his mood as well as the moods of others, thereby creating a positive emotional upward spiral.
The Big Impact of Small Words
The extension of this is to share small, powerful words with those around you. For example…
‘I’m proud of you.’
‘I believe in you.’
‘You are a genuinely good person.’
For years, I wondered whether such small phrases could positively impact people. I frequently have clients come in who are depressed, anxious, overwhelmed or angry. When we get to the topic of implementing positive changes in their lives, I make a point of to slow things down, look them square in the eye and I tell them, ‘Listen, I believe in you. I believe you can do this.’ After all, what comes first, you believing in yourself or someone else believing in you? Perhaps it doesn’t matter as long as someone believes.
Do your thoughts affect you? Absolutely. Do your memories impact the emotional quality of your life? Definitely. And you can learn to manage which thoughts and which memories take up the most space in your mind…with practice.
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 15 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 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.
“We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us something is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.”
— e. e. cummings
it is a fascinating question to me…
If I have a client who is in an emotional ditch, in a funk, who believes in him first – himself or me?
I think it is highly difficult to believe in oneself first when down in the dumps. So I took a coaching lesson from Kermit the Frog (a highly acclaimed expert in psychology circles!). I was watching The Muppet Movie with my daughter recently when Kermit looked at his friend and said, “I believe in you!” At that moment, I felt something inside me. There was a recognition of “Ohmigod, I need to be saying this to clients!”
Ever since then, I remind my clients that I believe in them. And this is exactly the point of e.e. cummings statement above. So who believes in you? And in whom do you believe?
To a meaningful, autonomous life,
John Schinnerer Ph.D.
Guide to Self
Consultant to Pixar for upcoming feature length film
Get a free PDF of John’s award-winning self-help book, Guide to Self, at www.GuideToSelf.com. Just enter your name and email address on the right side of the screen for instant access!