Tag Archives: happiness

Be kind to yourself

Does your brain produce a lot of negative internal chatter? If so, it may be because the part of our brain that is the center for emotions, the amygdala, ulemons-2039830__340ses about two-thirds of its neurons to detect negative experiences or threats. This can result in our focusing more on the negative, even if we are experiencing as many – or more – positive things. This tendency is part of the human condition. While it still has usefulness in modern life, for many of us this system is over-active.

Our inner critic is looking for problems. However, we don’t need to listen to it. Being nicer to oucherries 2014 2nd pickingrselves is a good strategy to improve our well-being and reduce stress. We can learn how to do this even if it is not our natural tendency.

Dr. Kristin Neff, a researcher who specializes in self-compassion, says it has three parts:

  • Self-kindness: “Self-compassionate people recognize that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable, so they tend to be gentle with themselves when confronted with painful experiences rather than getting angry when life falls short of set ideals.”
  • Recognizing our experiences are part of the shared human experience
  • Being mindful or non-judgemental

Learn more tips, watch videos and find additional resources at Dr. Neff’s Self Compassion website.

Negativity also has an impact on the people around us. For tips on how to counter this in the workplace, see this blog post from Psychology Today: Are We Hardwired to be Positive or Negative?


Change your mind

I was sifting through a stack of articles when I rediscovered one from Yoga Journal, called  Begin Again by Mirka Scalco Kraftsow. It covers several strategies to help guide one to new beginnings.

One section of the article brings a yoga perspective to cognitive reframing. This is a tool that can help us change unhealthy behaviors or thoughts to a different, more positive path. The exercise is based on a practice mentioned in the Yoga Sutras called Pratipaksha Bhavana.

Sutra 2.33 is a translated here by Nischala Joy Devi:”When presented with disquieting thoughts or feelings, cultivate an opposite, elevated attitude. This is Pratipaksha Bhavana.”

Here is a summary of the four steps from the article:

“1. Take a deep breath. Name the problem … Only when you are aware of your unconscious patterns can you choose a different thought or course of action.

2. Remind yourself that it’s OK to make mistakes. … [Adopt] an attitude of loving-kindness toward yourself.

3. Express gratitude toward yourself for noticing the behavior and for being aware of its unpleasant effect … Be grateful that you want to make a positive change and that you are choosing to be more caring toward yourself and others.

4. Finally, let your desire to create better habits direct your vital force toward thoughts and actions that truly serve you—and choose your next steps consciously.”

“You are also a wonder” – Leo Babauta

I had lunch with friends today, some whom have plans this year for major life overhauls related to their diet and health. January 1st is a popular time to start new, healthy habits. I’ve done it, myself.

20120825_143053At home afterwards, I was browsing the archives of Zen Habits. As you may know, Leo Babauta has made many significant changes in his life over the course of time. However, he wrote a post last February called “You’re Not Doing Life Wrong.” I thought it was a nice reminder to be gentle with ourselves. Maybe all those resolutions are not strictly necessary. He says:

There’s an everpresent underlying feeling that most of us have that we could be doing things better. That we’re not sure how to live life. That we’re doing things wrong. … Now see how you are enough. Just as you are. Without any need for improvement. You are also a wonder, exactly enough.

I hope 2016 will be a year in which you will see the wonder in yourself and truly flourish!

Quotations on happiness and joy from Dr. Amit Sood

Here are two quotations from a book I’ve mentioned previously. It’s by Mayo Clinic doctor Amit Sood and is called Train Your Brain, Engage Your Heart, Transform Your Life. He calls it a course in Attention and Interpretation Therapy or cultivating heartfulness. More commonly, it’s mindfulness.

Most people who are happy do not look at happiness as a primary goal. They are happy because they enjoy what they do (pre- or post-retirement), are closely bonded with their loved ones, and have a general sense of who they are and what is the purpose of their lives. Happiness is a byproduct of the choices you make.


Do not postpone joy waiting for a day when life will be perfect and all your stressors will be gone. Your opportunity to live the best life you can is in this very moment.

This book seems to have now been republished in two parts, The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living and The Mayo Clinic Handbook for Happiness.

Resilient Living website – Dr Sood’s online program and blog


At some point in our lives, almost all of us will experience a challenging event. One friend had a tree fall on his house. I see clients who have been in car accidents or undergone major surgeries. In the face of hardship, some people cope well and some just can’t manage to pull it together afterwards. What can make the difference? Resilience.

The Mayo Clinic’s page on resilience defines it this way:

When you have resilience, you harness inner strength that helps you rebound from a setback or challenge, such as a job loss, an illness, a disaster or the death of a loved one. If you lack resilience, you might dwell on problems, feel victimized, become overwhelmed or turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as substance abuse.

Resilience won’t make your problems go away — but resilience can give you the ability to see past them, find enjoyment in life and better handle stress.

What makes a person more resilient? A recent NIH study reveals two key characteristics:

  • They have good social support.
  • They feel like they have mastery over their lives.

What is mastery? It’s a sense the hard work counts and that you’re in control of your situation despite adverse events. A Psychology Today blog article from earlier this year, Why Some People are More Resilient than Others, defines mastery like this:

Mastery refers to the degree to which individuals perceive themselves as having control and influence over life circumstances.

Resilience is a skill that can be learned. To build more resilience, here are a few  tips to use as starting points. For more ideas, see articles from the Mayo Clinic and WebMD.

ACL surgery - resilience can help with recovery and rehabilitation.

ACL surgery – resilience can help with recovery and rehabilitation.

  • Stay Flexible
  • Stay Connected
  • Learn lessons
  • Take Action
  • Take care of yourself

Additional resources:

A conversation about resilience on The Friday Roundtable, from Minnesota Public Radio

Psychology Today’s resilience page

Happiness and health

If you follow the news, there have been disasters, sad and scary events lately. Not to mention the day-to-day stresses many of us encounter. It can be a challenge to remain upbeat. However, being more positive and happy can provide significant health benefits. While about half of our disposition is innate, that leaves a lot of room for us to take steps to improve our outlook. If you need motivation to work on being happier, here are reasons to make the effort.

Harvard researcher Laura Kubzansky found:

… that optimism cuts the risk of coronary heart disease by half… (full article from HPH Magazine)

More recently, researchers at UCLA discovered a link between types of happiness and immune function (UCLA newsletter).

People who have high levels of what is known as eudaimonic well-being — the kind of happiness that comes from having a deep sense of purpose and meaning in life (think Mother Teresa) — showed very favorable gene-expression profiles in their immune cells. They had low levels of inflammatory gene expression and strong expression of antiviral and antibody genes.

What are things you can do to be happier?

  • Try something new
  • Practice gratitude; what are 3 good things that happened today?
  • Do an activity you enjoy
  • See your friends
  • Smile and laugh more (even if you don’t really feel like it)

This TED talk by Guy Winch is on a related topic, “Why we all need to practice emotional first aid” when we experience problems. He says:

By taking action when you’re lonely, by changing your responses to failure, by protecting your self-esteem, by battling negative thinking, you won’t just heal your psychological wounds, you will build emotional resilience, you will thrive.

More resources:

Stress management – the glass of water analogy

This story made its way around the Web a few years ago. I saw it just recently. Some reviewers quibble about the physics or other merits of the story. I think, however, that it makes a good point. While overcoming struggles can make us stronger, rumination and dwelling on problems is bad for our mental health (see this BBC article that summarizes the results of a large study published in the journal PLOS One in 2013).

…brooding too much on negative events is the biggest predictor of depression and anxiety and determines the level of stress people experience.
–  reporter Denise Winterman,

Now, here’s the story. I hope you will find the image to be helpful.

A psychologist walked around a room while teaching stress management to an audience. As she raised a glass of water, everyone expected they’d be asked the “half empty or half full” question. Instead, with a smile on her face, she inquired: ”How heavy is this glass of water?”

Answers called out ranged from 8 oz. to 20 oz.

She replied, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, it’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a day, my arm will feel numb and paralyzed. In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.”

She continued, “The stresses and worries in life are like that glass of water. Think about them for a while and nothing happens. Think about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt. And if you think about them all day long, you will feel paralyzed – incapable of doing anything.”

It’s important to remember to let go of your stresses. As early in the evening as you can, put all your burdens down. Don’t carry them through the evening and into the night. Remember to put the glass down!

By Anonymous; I was not able to find the name of the person wrote it originally.