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Archive for happiness

What if you awoke tomorrow with only the things you are grateful for today?

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I have shouted the benefits of gratitude from the rooftops previously, and when I saw a version of this line about gratitude embedded in a recent post by Marc and Angel Hack Life (www.marcandangel.com), it really struck me afresh.

Problems can reverberate and echo through our lives like music carrying on long after the orchestra has packed away its instruments.  What if we intentionally struck new notes by turning our attention to what really matters?

Positive psychology teaches us that exerting gratitude is one of only a handful of ways we know of to raise our happiness quotient.  According to the research, it works better than winning the lotto, so some would say it’s definitely worth a shot.

Problems pesky ways of grabbing attention, much like a schoolyard bully.   So once we have a strategy for our difficulties, it can be helpful to turn our attention again and again to our life luxuries, no matter how hard the negative people and events try to hoover up our day, our energy, our lives.

What are the top five things you want to wake up with tomorrow?

The Fast Freeway to Happiness: Gratitude

gratitude pic 2Such a beautifully simple method for happiness!  Such compelling robust research evidence to show that it actually works.  Resisting would indeed be bloody-minded.

 And yet…trouble is, everywhere you look there are gratitude pushers.  Engraving the word on rocks, putting it on billboards, there are even several versions in clip art for goodness sake!

Then somehow gratitude starts to become devoid of meaning, even irritating.  Kind of like the way ‘don’t forget to breathe’ bumper stickers make me grit my teeth and white knuckle the steering wheel.

Let’s rescue gratitude from this horrid fate.

Because if it’s drive-thru, conveniently packaged, quick to digest happiness that you are after (and aren’t we all?), put gratitude on the menu.  Slide into your convertible Chevy Impala, tie a red kerchief over your head, and style your way right on down the highway of happiness.

Here’s how:

  1. Before bed list five things that you were grateful for today (rain for the garden, horrid coworker had the day off, yummy lunch…you know).
  2. Super-charge the benefits of the above by putting each down on a slip of paper, popping it into a jar, and reading out the excerpts at the end of each month. There are some really funky gratitude jars around.  They also make excellent gifts, especially for grumpy people.
  3. Before mindlessly placing a meal into your body, pause and share a moment of gratitude. Say it out loud.  From my 5 year old ‘thanks lambs for letting us eat you’.  Cringe!
  4. Write a letter: yes really, with a pen, stamp, envelope and everything beautifully olden-days like that. Let someone know how grateful you feel that they are in your life.  Be really specific about why.  This is happiness multiplied by two.
  5. Take a micro pause between waking and leaping out of bed. Then really appreciate the rest you just had, the sheets you are laying on, the brekkie you may eat, the people who love you.  Invigorate this process by considering the day ahead of those less fortunate than you.

Instead of enjoying our ‘who had the worst day today’ post-work gripes with each other and amplifying misery, let’s equally make room for the good stuff.  This is not ‘positive thinking’ (one of my pet hates), where we pretend that bad things are just fine or we ignore them.  No no no.  This is making sure that the beauty in our lives gets recognised too and does not get crash-tackled and completely sidelined by the heavy stuff.

I am thankful, appreciative, over the moon, stoked, having a celebratory party on the inside that I have this tool in my life!  I guess that I am grateful.

I am so getting the bumper sticker!  What are you grateful for?  Jot
5 things in the comments section, go on!

Creatures of Connection

immer zum mittag .... hells gateA new injury kept me put of the ocean and away from my private practice clients not to mention causing a cessation of yoga, walks in the national park, and the occasional dance.  My mood was unaccountably flat.  I put it down to lack of endorphins and worry about what might happen.

Finally sick of myself, I hauled myself down for a wallow in the waves, nice and alone apart from the handful of other crazy souls braving the bracing conditions.  There were no amazing aquatic acts, but something fantastic happened in my brain.  Suddenly, I felt the heaviness shift and I felt, well, expansive, somehow alive again.  As though someone had kicked over my internal starter motor.

Being literally immersed in nature, with a view that involved mountains and waves.  Being circled by a fin certainly lets you know that you are alive, and the rush of relief that comes when that fin turns out to be attached to a baby dolphin, watchful mother close by.  That helps.  The da-da, da-da, da-da music courtesy of jaws fading into a joyous tune from long ago.

We can put some of this shift down to biology I am sure, getting moving, triggering endorphins and so on.  But my strongest feeling was that I had plugged back in, to the world, to myself.  Many people view connection as something that happens when you have 256 Facebook friends and your mobile phone constantly chimes.

I believe that connection starts, and to some degree ends, with getting back into your own body, being with your own present experience, connecting with oneself.  And without that, connections with others have the potential to be draining encounters fraught with frission rather than sustenance for the soul.

I have heard many therapists discuss depression as ‘a disorder of disconnection’, and have noted in my practice that people who are depressed often are disconnected: from loved ones, valued activities, and other things that give life meaning.  However, my recent experience of being ‘unplugged’ has reinforced for me that all the electronic friends in the world are no substitute for connecting to the beauty around us, as well as our own internal experiences.

For me it seems to be nature that does the trick.  What jolts you back into your body, into a sense of vitality?

Horns to Halo: Just the New Year’s conversation rattling round our heads

Calling all extremists!  Are you even now having a last great big hurrah with your bad habits?  Lazing on the couch, puffing away, merrily sipping champers.  All the while doing it guilt-free, due to the feverish promises you are making about the magnificent changes that will overtake you tomorrow?

These pledges for good behaviour do little more than appease the Inner Critic.  You know, that nasty voice in your head that mercilessly sledges you for every single misdemeanor you ever committed.

Witness the exchange:

Inner Critic:  You really are a fat pig!  You should be starving yourself, or at the very least living on green smoothies for the rest of your life, look at those jiggling rolls of fat around your middle.  You should hide under a tent until you are fit for human consumption!

Quavering, Pleading, Regretful Self:  But it’s not my fault, I get so busy that it’s hard to cook right, and then a bit of chocolate is the only solace I have after all of the hard work I do.  My life isn’t fair, I deserve wine and chocolate!  You wouldn’t understand!

IC: I understand that you have no willpower at all.  You are a complete soak!  Your liver is probably ruined.  You should have more willpower-everyone else does.  Look how ripped and healthy that guy is on the magazine cover.  What kind of person are you?  You should just give up; you really are a hopeless case.

QPRS: But Susan next door drinks two bottles of wine every night, and look how fat that person is over there-I’m not that bad.

IC:  Oh please, is that how you want to live?  No wonder you repulse other people.  There is something seriously wrong with you!

QPRS: Yes, buuuut in the New Year, I will turn it all around!  I am finally going on that juice-only fast for a month and will lose 10kg and then I will run 10km every day and will look like Gisele Bundchen before February even starts.  As for alcohol-pah!  I will throw out any leftovers on the morning of January 1, and the durries are history too.  Really…

IC:  Well, if you say so, ok then go and have your fun (much eye rolling).  Just remember…I’m watching (multiple finger wags)!

QPRS:  I will have a last blast because I deserve it.  And because I am going to be soooo good next year!

We all wear our little devil’s horns more comfortably when we feel that a halo is just within reach.  How about doing something different from those tediously boring New Year’s Resolutions this year?

Kowtowing to the Inner Critic is like pleading with any bully: about as effective as squirming in quicksand.  Instead, try asking yourself what you WANT to do.  This will often look quite different from what your monstrous Inner Critic says you SHOULD do.

You will not eat, drink and merry yourself to death (as the IC predicts) if you ask yourself what you want with full awareness of the consequences of your behaviour.  What do you really want your life to stand for?  How do you want your body, your life, your mind, your relationships, your health to be…realistically?

My advice is quite simple (if you are interested).  The Inner Critic is an extremist.  Has following its advice worked for you in the long-term?  Has it given you what you want?  A happier life?  If not consider this: what kind of changes would you suggest your daughter, son, best friend make if they were in your situation?

Now, DO THAT!  You don’t need to be Gisele, just a great version of YOU.

Be kind to yourself in mind, body, and spirit.  There’s a resolution for you that has been proven to work.  Happy New Year and dream big for your unique self in 2013!

Does pleasure make us happier…or is it evil?

Mindful moment

Mindful moment

Sex, drugs and rock n roll.  New shoes and fast cars.  A cocktail by the pool, anyone?  Some of life’s acclaimed pleasures.  And, hey why not?  A bit of pleasure never hurt anyone.  Did it?

Life’s little pleasures are just that, small moments in time that feel great.  We slide into some sort of excitable oblivion.  Then the sprinkle of gold dust stops and the high also stops.  Bummer.  Logical solution: get more pleasure!  Bigger parties, longer holidays, champagne rivers, a veritable harem of gorgeous girls!  If a bit was good, then lots must be so much more way excellently better!

Of course, pausing and reflecting for one second, it becomes obvious that this is the road to adddiction, with all of the misery that can bring.  It is cruelly ironic that the pursuit of pleasure can cause family breakdown, terrible health, or at the very least a feeling of lonely empitness when standing in the midst of a toy-filled mansion.  Having manically advertised these pleasures, our society then sells us the antidotes: rehab, diets, plastic surgery, credit-reduction programs.

My favourite Buddhist nun explained the pleasure principle to me very simply.  Do I like chocolate cake?  Yes please!  Then how would I like to eat the whole cake?  Would I then feel pleasure or something else entirely?  How about a lovely long hot shower.  For five hours?  I think you know what I mean.  Australians have more money and possessions than ever before in history.  And yet the depression rates have grown astronomically.

Evidently, more is not what we need.  The author of Authentic Happiness, Dr Martin Seligman, notes that wealth, income and even physical attractiveness have been shown to have almost no correlation with lasting happiness.  Strange isn’t it when we are constantly bombarded by ads that imply that they do.  For this reason we think that have-it-all celebrities must be deleriously happy at all times, and yet the addiction and suicide rates alone among this population tell us otherwise.

Compared to pleasure-induced highs, the basics of lasting happiness are much more mundane.  For that reason they are commonly overlooked.  Here are a couple to consider:

1.  Gratitude.  Yep, in fact you do not need anymore stuff!  Simply list 5 things each day that you are grateful for.  High spectacularness factor not required.  A lovely starry night or a phone call from a treasured friend will do just fine.

2.  Savour any pleasures that you do stumble across.  Again this does not involve getting anything new.  Just drinking in the moments worth something to you in the lovely slices of your life.

3.  Expect the good, the bad, and the ugly in life.  Ain’t no 9/10 happiness possible all day everyday.  Even if you are a gorgeous wildly rich celebrity you will be rejected by people for roles and love, miss out on the last ‘it’ handbag, and gain the odd kilo.  Life is a rollercoaster.  Accept it and move on.

4.  Help others, even in the smallest way, without telling anyone about it.  Yep, it’s been shown to work!

5.  Even if they are difficult to do, engage in activities that are meaningful to you and absorbing.  Get the stoke afterwards!  Surfing, working, writing, running, cooking, or even tiling could all fit the agenda.

So a little pleasure might enhance our lives a little, and has the potential to do us a lot of evil.  Try out some of the principles for lasting happiness and see how they work for you.  I would love to hear the results!