Self-acceptance – the secret to a happier life and the least practiced happiness habit

 

March 7, 2014

The secret habit for a happy life - self-acceptance, self-compassion Dr. John Schinnerer
Self-compassion the secret and least used happiness habit

Happiness is related to greater success at work, more resiliency, less burnout and stress, more satisfying relationships, increased creativity, intelligence and flexibility of thought, improved immune system functioning and greater productivity. Happiness is more than a mere emotion; it is a habit we can improve with specific daily practices.  Science is showing that some habits cultivate more happiness than others. One of the most powerful habits for happiness and life satisfaction is self-compassion, or self-acceptance. Yet this is also one of the most secret habits, one that is least likely to be practiced.

The non-profit organization, Action for Happiness, in collaboration with Do Something Different, asked 5,000 people to rate themselves between 1 and 10 on ten habits. These ten habits have been shown in the latest scientific research as being instrumental to happiness and well-being.

The top ten habits, according to science, are…

Being kind to others (giving)

Being around others (relationships)

Physical exercise

Appreciation of the world around you

Learning new things (approaching the world with curiosity)

Goals (having significant direction in life)

Resilience (finding ways to bounce back from challenge)

Positive emotions (awe, joy, love, contentment, relaxation, etc.)

Meaning (having a purpose in life)

Acceptance and self-compassion

 

Kindness is the Most Practiced Habit

Of these valid approaches to happiness and satisfaction, most of the participants report being kind to others most frequently. And this is the most reliable way that science knows of to boost your mood to a positive place…do something kind for someone else. And fortunately, many people report doing kind acts quite frequently (7.41 out of a possible 10).

Being around others, or relationships, was a close second. Participants were asked, How often do you put effort into the relationships that matter most to you? The average score was 7.36 out of 10. And 15% of people scored the maximum 10 out of 10.

Most excitingly, the survey also looked at which habits are most closely linked to people’s life satisfaction. All 10 habits have been shown in studies to be strongly linked to life satisfaction.

 

Self-compassion Trumps Them All

What you may NOT know is that self-compassion, or self-acceptance, is the habit that predicts happiness most strongly. Unfortunately, self-compassion is also the least frequently practiced habit. Self-compassion was the lowest average score from the 5,000 participants (average rating of 5.56 out of 10). Only 5% of people put themselves at a 10 on the self-compassion habit. Around one in five people (19%) scored an 8 or 9; Less than a third (30%) scored a 6 or 7; and almost half (46%) of people rated themselves at 5 or less. We are not taught to be self-compassionate. We are not taught to be self-accepting. I would argue most of us are socialized in the opposite way…win at all costs, strive to be the best, you are not enough, you are not worthy, never be satisfied. This must change. And there are proven practices to do just that.

But I digress. Let me return to the study findings.

Physical exercise is another highly rated happiness habit. Yet this one came up relatively low as well. The average answer to How often do you spend at least half an hour a day being active? was just 5.88 out of 10, with 45% of people rating themselves 5 or less.

Professor Karen Pine, a University of Hertfordshire psychologist and co-founder of Do Something Different, stated: “Practicing these habits really can boost our happiness. It’s great to see so many people regularly doing things to help others — and when we make others happy we tend to feel good ourselves too. This survey shows that practicing self-acceptance is one thing that could make the biggest difference to many people’s happiness. Exercise is also known to lift mood so if people want a simple, daily way to fee happier they should get into the habit of being more physically active too.”

Dr Mark Williamson, Director of Action for Happiness, reported: “Our society puts huge pressure on us to be successful and to constantly compare ourselves with others. This causes a great deal of unhappiness and anxiety. These findings remind us that if we can learn to be more accepting of ourselves as we really are, we’re likely to be much happier. The results also confirm us that our day-to-day habits have a much bigger impact on our happiness than we might imagine.”

 

So how can we practice the self-compassion habit?

Here are three positive actions shown in research by Kristin Neff from University of Texas, Austin, that people can take to increase their levels of self-compassion:

  • Be as kind to yourself as you are to others. Speak to yourself as if you are 4 years old when you fall short or make a mistake. See your mistakes as opportunities to learn. Notice things you do well, however small.
  • Ask a trusted friend or colleague to tell you what your strengths are or what they value about you (and let them know of their strengths too!)
  • Spend some quiet time by yourself. Tune in to how you’re feeling inside and try to be at peace with who you are. Remind yourself “I am worthy. I am worthy of love. I am worthy of success. I am worthy of happiness.”

 

Key Survey Question Average score (Frequency of engaging in habit)

  • Giving How often do you make an effort to help or be kind to others? 7.41
  • Relating How often do you put effort into the relationships that matter most to you? 7.36
  • Exercising How often do you spend at least half an hour a day being active? 5.88
  • Appreciating How often do you take time to notice the good things in your life? 6.57
  • Trying out How often do you learn or try new things? 6.26
  • Direction How often do you do things that contribute to your most important life goals? 6.08
  • Resilience How often do you find ways to bounce back quickly from problems? 6.33
  • Emotion How often do you do things that make you feel good? 6.74
  • Acceptance How often are you kind to yourself and think you’re fine as you are? 5.56
  • Meaning How often do you do things that give you a sense of meaning or purpose? 6.38

 

A final question posed was: Overall, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays?

The average score was 6.49, compared to a national average of 6.34 reported in the UK National Values survey 2013.

For more info on happiness, well-being and positive psychology, check out my newest site at HowICanBeHappy.com.

To life, love and laughter,

Dr. John

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

 

Source: University of Hertfordshire. “Self-acceptance could be the key to a happier life, yet it’s the happy habit many people practice the least.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 March 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140307111016.htm>.

 

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.

How Can I Be Happy? Learn positive psychology with Dr. John
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.

How Can I Be Happy? Positive psychology Dr. John Schinnerer Guide to Self
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

Mental Health Issues Reduced in Teens 21-36% With 3 Hours Training In Schools

Three Hours Is Enough to Help Prevent Mental Health Issues in Teens

Dr. John Schinnerer

Oct. 4, 2013

One in four 8 to 15 year olds have struggled with a mental health problem in the past year. Disorders, such as anxiety, depression and ADHD, are linked to a variety of negative behaviors such as drug and alcohol abuse, sexual promiscuity, suicidal behaviors, cutting and violence towards others.

 

Positive psychology in teens Dr. John Schinnerer guide to self How Can I Be Happy
Mental Health in Teens Must Be a Priority for the World

Now for the good news…researchers in Britain have found that 2 brief 90 minute group therapy sessions reduced the incidence of …

  • depression by 21%
  • anxiety by 33%
  • conduct problems in ADHD youth by 36%

 

The study was led by Dr. Patricia Conrod of the University of Montreal and found that teacher led groups discussing mental health were quite effective. Teachers were trained to deliver interventions to high risk students  and the outcomes were compared with students in other schools which did not receive the same training (the control group). The two 90-minute sessions taught students cognitive-behavioral tools for managing their thoughts, emotions and personality type. The sessions included real life “scenarios” shared by high risk youths within their small groups. The groups talked about thoughts, emotions and actions within the context of their particular type of personality. For example, situational triggers for anger, sadness or anxiety were shared with the guidance of the teacher. Then productive ways to manage such triggers were taught and discussed.

 

According to Dr. Conrod, “Our study shows that teacher delivered interventions that target specific risk factors for mental health problems can be immensely effective at reducing the incidence of depression, anxiety and conduct disorders in the long term.”

 

Nineteen schools in Greater London were involved in the study, which included a control group of schools in which students did not receive any interventions. Students were evaluated for their risk of developing mental health or substance abuse problems using a well-known personality scale. The scale measures different personality factors that are known to be correlated strongly with behavioral issues. For instance, a person with high degree of impulsivity is five times more likely to demonstrate extreme conduct problems within the next 18 months. Key traits focused on included impulsivity, hopelessness, anxiety sensitivity and sensation seeking.

 

In the two years that followed the interventions, students completed questionnaires every six months that enabled the researchers to establish the development of depression, anxiety, panic attacks, conduct problems and suicidal thoughts. The effects were clinically significant. “The interventions were run by trained educational professionals, suggesting that this brief intervention can be both effective and sustainable when run within the school system,” Conrod said. “We are now leading similar studys in 32 high schools in Montreal to further test the efficacy of this kind of program.”

Educators interested in the program can visit the project’s website at http://www.co-venture.ca

To a better, happier world,
John Schinnerer, Ph.D.
Positive Psychology Coach
Anger Management Specialist
Expert Consultant to Pixar Inside Out (due out June 2015)
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

For a free PDF copy of my award-winning self-help book Guide to Self, visit Guide to Self, Inc. and click on the book icon on the top left of the screen.

Source: Université de Montréal (2013, October 3). Three hours is enough to help prevent mental health issues in teens.

How Can I Be Happy? Learn Positive Psychology w/ John Schinnerer PhD

Video #1 of How Can I Be Happy? Learn Positive Psychology w/ John Schinnerer Ph.D.

 

About Dr. John Schinnerer

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.  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.

For Greater Happiness, Visit Your Mental Scrapbook

How Can I Be Happy? Use Your Memories With Intention

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Guide to Self

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.

Learn positive psychology with John Schinnerer PhD
Mindfully call up positive memories to brighten your day

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.

Positive psychology coach John Schinnerer PhD
Face to face with a sea turtle!

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.

Aim high tee shirts from Ebon Glenn
Aim High tee shirts

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.

Learn positive psychology with executive coach John Schinnerer PhD
Give me some fin, dude!