Increase your happiness

I attended an amazing seminar on how to integrate positive thought and increase happiness. The first few hours were about the brain and it’s chemicals that “create” happiness, or lack thereof. Apparently, I need to learn more about the limbic system.

The presenter then cited several studies which demonstrated how particular behaviors can help one achieve happiness. For example, just proximity to happy people can impact your own happiness by about 5%. That would go up by how many people and how close a relationship you have with them.flower_smiley_face

Cool! Hang out with happy people! 

Toward the end he got to some good stuff about what kind of behaviors, thoughts and practices you can incorporate in your life to increase happiness. I thought I might share some with you.

 

 

Gratitude journal (Try This):

This includes a daily recount of good things that have happened to you that day. It might be easy to list things you are grateful for in general. Much like thoughtful and intentional prayer, you might recite those things you are glad for in your life, but have to think about particulars that day that are meaningful and brought you some joy. If you do pray, you can just write those things down in your gratitude journal after. If not, spend some serious time considering some events that brought you some joy that day, everyday. You can think of at least THREE. These should be things that are positive and specific to you. Not, “I did not die today” unless you were in a horrible accident and might have actually died, then you might say “I lived!” (see, positive).

Optimism:

Hey, I just covered this! He was talking about not only being positive about your personal possible future, seeing a good long term outcome, but other people too.  This optimism is about looking at your life in stages, seeing what good will come ahead, that things will always improve. You can also see that for others. Forgive them of their minor transgressions, like rudeness, forgetfulness or disregard. It will not hurt you, but only them, in the long run. Hold onto those things that will increase your happiness over time, like good friends, family, happy moments, health. Let go of those things that cause you pain, like anger, resentment and grief.  

Happiness is about finding those things in life that already make you happy, content and peaceful, holding onto them and searching them out. Let the good things rule over the bad. It is a matter of mind.

What is optimism?

Optimism: Tendency to look on the more favorable side of events or conditions and to expect the more favorable outcome. (dictionary.com)

Pessimism: the tendency to see, anticipate or emphasize only the bad or undesirable outcomes, results, condition, problems, etc. (dictionary.com)

You can probably identify if you are an optimist or a pessimist. What is the first thought that comes to mind when something bad, or even not so great, happens? Is it “Oh great! This will ruin my whole day. I am depressed.” or “Oh dear. That’s too bad. I’m glad it was not any worse.”

See the difference. One thought can lead to a sour mood and negative attitude and the other leans toward the silver lining with a positive outlook. Both attitudes will change your day. Like I say How you do Anything is How you do Everything.  If you tend to see things in a pessimist light, you will be anxious, worrisome and sometimes depressed. Things just never look good. Optimists usually see the brighter side, the upswing, the possible great things to come! They are generally more upbeat, excited, goal oriented and outgoing. 

Some people believe they are a “realist” which basically means “Hope for the best, expect the worst.”  Realists are pessimists with some hope. Hope that things will not always be terrible, but they still believe they will be terrible. A true realist can see things for what they are without prejudice or personal opinion. It’s harder to do that you think. Your personal world view is all about the perception of the event/situation which come from your self talk and your ongoing tapes derived from childhood and past events.

What makes an optimist?

In “Authentic Happiness” by Martin Seligman, he refers to pessimist thought as an automatic perception of a setback as “permanent, pervasive and personal: It’s going to last forever, it’s going to undermine everything and it’s all my fault.” Whereas an optimist may see the same setback as surmountable, particular to that problem, temporary and relative to others.  An optimist can see a situation for what it is, who it is relative to and how it can be improved.

The NUMBER ONE act of an optimist is to take the situation as one instance in time. It does not explode to global proportions. They dispute the negative, pervasive devastation a pessimist might assume.  “Wait, does this red light really mean I will be late to work, yelled at by my boss, have to stay late, possibly written up, loose an account….” Probably not. So, what does it mean? You can take a similar situation that has happened in the past to compare the current situation to. Disregard your emotional response, since it might have been exaggerated. What actually happened? When overwhelmed or anxious events, try disputing your own thoughts to replace with more realistic and positive ideas.

You can take an optimism test on Dr. Seligman’s website. There is more information on optimism and happiness. 

Stuck

I am a forward thinker. I am always looking for the next adventure, be it a sports event, family outing, vacation, or how to improve my practice, home or relationships. I need to be moving forward. I have been stuck before. It is the feeling of nothingness, blah, lethargy, ho-hum-itude that is slightly uncomfortable, like sitting in the same place for too long. Yeah, stuck. There are lots of ways to get stuck, in your job, relationship, financial situation, etc. I will be talking about your life. Well, I guess that actually includes everything else.

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A lot of people are what I call “survivors.” Survivors are people who merely tolerate life. They have whatever job they can get (if they have a job), put minimal effort into their surroundings, relationships or self. They are just wasting time until it’s over. There is little meaning in life. If you are reading this, you are not one of those people or would like to not be one of those people. You are looking to make a difference! How does that happen? How have I not been on vacation for 5 years, eaten at the same restaurants, same meals, same activities, same, same… You might be bored.

Getting unstuck

Getting unstuck can be tricky. You are in a rut in life, one you created. So, examine the situation. How is my life? Do I like my job, my relationships, my home, my friends, my hobbies? Literally list it all out. What is good and bad and just okay. What might make things better? Is there something I can do today, or plan, to make some changes? Do I need to shake up the routine, reorganize, plan some different activities, make new friends?

One of the most important questions you might ask would be “Am I in control of my life?” Many people take whatever life throws at them, letting it control them instead of them controlling it. Are you making choices that are yours or do you just roll with the punches? I  have an excellent example. A man who never finished high school. He took several construction and manual labor jobs and finally ended up with a home repair gig. He married the first girl he got pregnant, because she was pregnant. He went to work, came home, watched the kid, went to bed. He was miserable. Though, he pretty much has never been much else. He changes and makes decisions when it is forced upon him, like a pregnancy, job loss, etc. He never made a proactive decision. He is not in control.  He has no idea what might make him happy, because it just hasn’t happened yet. This is as stuck as you can get.

You might need some help figuring out how to get unstuck. I see a lot of people in my office complaining of feeling nothing. They think they might be depressed because they don’t sleep well, have little energy, are uninterested in doing things, have no motivation and generally unhappy. It might not be depression, you might just be stuck. Find someone to help you out. I have noticed a lot of self help books on the subject too.

Resolutions or not

A long time ago I decided that resolutions were ridiculous. They are a way to help you look ahead and feel good about yourself and your future, for a minute. Today, the first Monday after New Years, has been deemed “Blue Monday,” the most depressing day of the year. Is it the blustery, cold and dark weather, the loss of the holiday excitement, return to work after vacation, or disappointment in your resolution failure?

Resolution means “to resolve, a strict determination toward action!”  That sounds pretty great.  I WILL _____.  You have every intention and purpose to do what ever it is you resolve to do.

Why is this ridiculous? It usually doesn’t work. Once a year people sit down to make a list of things they would like to change about themselves without addressing how to make that change.

  1. A special day is not necessary to make a change
  2. Focus on the negative repels change
  3. There is no way to measure the outcome
  4. There is no method for change

Resolutions should be the beginning of your goal setting. Goals can be made at any time, for any reason, they are measurable with steps, actually achievable and relevant to you.  You can stick to, alter, and adjust goals. Goals should work for you, not against you.

Once you set a goal, you outline your steps to attain that goals (what does it look like). For example, you want to be in better shape (resolution). Your goal might be to start with walking twice a week. Move up to 3 times a week plus 2 days of weight lifting. Perhaps you want a goal to run a 10K. You find a program for training (or a trainer). You set your goals for each step of that training. You figure out how that is going to fit in your schedule.

Sometimes goals require research, time and outside help. Like I mentioned above, you may need a trainer to get in shape, a dietician to help you with a diet. Professionals are out there for a lot of different areas. Look at your community education classes too. You will always need support from family and friends.

Look at your resolutions again. Are they relevant to you? Do you really want to do these things? How will you accomplish them? Create steps to attain the goals and celebrate your accomplishments.

How you see yourself matters

We are our worst critic. We scrutinize ourselves relentlessly. We spend more time thinking about how we look and portray ourselves than anyone else. Yep, how much do you think about other people’s appearance, behavior, etc. (That does not include comparing yourself to them) That is about how much they think about you. Usually, fleeting.

How you see your self matters. It is directly related to your self esteem and confidence. It correlates to how much time, effort, and love you think you deserve, from yourself and others. One of the most common symptoms of low self esteem is the fear that if others Truly knew you, all of you, they would leave you, hate you, despise or pity you. So, you keep parts of yourself hidden. You act in a way you think they want from you, not how you might really want to. You withhold things from your self that you deserve: love, attention, nurturing, time. You criticize your decisions, behavior, words and reactions. You give up to others what you should have.

It is a lot of effort for minimal impact. You work very hard to avoid a perceived threat. Believe it or not, people care and love you for who are. No matter what your perceived draw backs are. By giving up the effort for others and giving some back to yourself, which includes giving yourself some slack, you will gain some confidence. One of the hardest parts is figuring out what are doing for yourself and what do you give up. Where is the line? Well, how does it make you feel? Are you resentful and empty after or feel a sense of pride?

Give yourself some slack on the criticism. Give yourself some props on what you accomplish. Give yourself some time and attention. You deserve it.

Trauma and your afterlife

I read a beautiful, troubling excerpt from a fiction book about what trauma does to a person. I thought “Only someone who has been traumatized would understand this.”

We call them survivors, but once the [bad guys] get you, the person you were dies, like any traumatized part of you never leaves that room, that car, that moment, and you walk forward a ghost of your former self. You rebuild yourself over the years, but the person you were isn’t the person you become. The great bad thing happens, and you become a ghost in your own life, and then you become flesh and blood and remake your life, but the ghosts of what happened don’t go away completely. They wait for you in low moments and then they wail at you, shaking their chains in your face and trying to strangle you with them.   
~Laurell K.Hamilton, Affliction

 

The trauma after effects, of any degree, can impact you at any time, with any reminder 635960697083632130-1100041933_fearof the moment, people, places, smells, times of day. Those “shaking of chains” are those sneaky fears, troubles, anxiety, depression, panic. Those inexplicable moments of irrational thought. Trauma can impact your sleep, your appetite, your belief about yourself, relationships and your life. It can hit you big or small. Do not under estimate the impact of trauma. Like the excerpt stated, you can rebuild your life and yourself, but those ghosts hang about.

Overwhelmed!

I have been feeling this way lately, work, school starting, home projects, weeds. There is a lot. The to do list is never ending. What do you do when you feel overwhelmed? This could be the to do list, dealing with another person, managing your own emotions. There are many ways to feel overwhelmed.  overwhelmed

What are your symptoms? Do you start to forget things, become more irritable, sleep less, more headaches, body aches, feel sick, yell, throw things, cry? Anytime you notice your behavior changing due to external circumstances, it would be a good time to reign it in and examine it. What is going on?

Write it out. What is going on that is causing the feeling of being overwhelmed? Do you have too many things to do? Have you taken on too many responsibilities? Is money or time too tight? Are you taking on the responsibility for too many people? Perhaps you are allowing someone to take advantage of you, hurt you, use you or someone you love.

My first suggestion would be to take some time to list out your responsibilities and essentials. Often people feel overwhelmed when they are not managing their time well.  Using a calendar, schedule and making appointments (even for exercise, meals, and cleaning). If you make time for your duties and things you want to do, it can be easier to figure out where to put it all.

checklist.jpgThe important and urgent items would need to be first. Those with specific dead lines (work, kids to school, bills, meals). Many things are important with no specific dead line (exercise, grocery shopping, cleaning, family time). Start with those important things. You need to focus on your self first. If you find that there are several items still on the list, not under important, what should you do with them? Get rid of them, move them to a later day/date when you have more time, delegate to someone else?

If you are feeling overwhelmed and frustrated you will not be effective. You might need to give yourself 5 minutes to do some deep breathing, take a short walk on your break at work, get more rest.  Take care of yourself first so that you can think clearly and calmly about what needs to be accomplished. Some things might not be necessary, but feel important to you. What is really important?

Treat yourself as you would others

I know, the Golden Rule. “Treat others as you would like to be treated.”  When I hear this I think, be kind, courteous, patient and understanding. Generally, other people will also treat you that way. If you are a jerk and rude, people will be rude to you.

What I am talking about is self care. I am a mother. I tend to put my family first. I put the things I want to do at the end of the list. Sometimes. Sometimes, it’s important that I do certain things. I also try to take care of myself as if I were my own child (or husband). That means, if I am hurt or in pain, I go to the doctor. I get regular check ups at the dentist. I get enough sleep and eat healthy. There are all the things I make my children do to be healthy and happy. Plus, love, affection and fun.  How many of you don’t do these things for your self?o-kindness-facebook

I have encountered numerous clients who treat themselves as non-entities. What they need does not matter. If they are hurting they do not seek assistance. They suffer. If they are stressed, they don’t take the time to manage it or deal with it. Rest, food, clean living space, kind friends, etc are not priorities. They just don’t deem themselves worthy of proper self care.

Would you allow a child to go without any of those things? Someone you LOVE? If your (or any) child was hungry, would you not do what it takes to get him/her fed? Make sure they were safe and cared for? People outrage over neglected and abused children. We are all children. We all need the same kinds of basic care. We should do more than shove our needs to the side as if they do not matter.

They matter. YOU MATTER. Take as much time for your self as you would to care for someone you love.

You attract what you feel you’re worth

Do you ever wonder why a certain kind of person always finds you? Why is it the same kind of guy/girl that you always end up dating? You don’t have good friends, they are flaky, non-commital, never pay, etc.  Do you feel like you have a sign on your head that says “I love losers!”?  Well, it really is your fault that all these people show up in your life. They literally seek you out. I will try to explain this from both sides.

You attract to you what you feel worthy of 

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That means that whatever you feel you deserve in a relationship, job, money, life, youwill attract that to you. Wait! That is not the same thing as wanting something really, really bad. Just because you want it doesn’t mean you think you actually deserve to have it. Listen to yourself very closely after you say out loud that you deserve something your really want. What happened? Did you sigh, snort, “yeah, right” “like that will happen”? Perhaps you don’t really think you deserve it.

Like attracts like

I have worked with all kinds of people. I spent several years working with sex offenders. Sex offenders, manipulators, abusers, violators of all sorts have some kind of internal radar. They can walk into a room of 20 people and find the ONE person who will “take the bait.” Some can not explain how this works, they just know. Some can spot the body language. They can just tell. Abusers tend to stay away from confident people because they stand up for themselves. They don’t allow other people to hurt them. It’s not okay. So, they gravitate to the people who thinks it IS okay to be hurt and manipulated.

EVERYONE deserves love, affection, kindness, empathy and understanding. NO ONE deserves pain, violence, betrayal, loneliness and heartache. You reap what you sow. If you hand out kindness, you should receive it. Unless you hand out kindness to sociopaths and manipulators. Then you get nuthin’. If you want to be treated the way you treat others, you must believe that you deserve it.

This kind of belief system fits with the self talk, affirmation, and visualizing your goal. You create the life that you feel you deserve. Make it better by believing in yourself and your worth. You can start globally with the belief that everyone deserves happiness and love. Include yourself in that “everyone.” List what you want in life, being realistic about what it really is that would make you feel content. Tell yourself, constantly, that you deserve those things. Put it out in the universe (as The Secret might tell you). It will come.

Self Talk. It’s what you make it

Self talk is a common phrase in psychotherapy.

self-talkIt is about attitude, affirmations, self confidence and esteem. How you talk to yourself,about yourself, situations, life and future, directly corresponds to how your life feels, shapes, and becomes. If you are a negative talker, with a negative outlook, either about yourself, your situation or other people. That is how your life will be. It turns out exactly how you think it will.

This idea is related to several posts I have already done, Affirmations and Thinking Patterns. It is a pattern with how one conducts their life. I can spend a lot of time with a client working on self talk. It will be what continues on when therapy is over.

One of my favorite parables is about an old man sitting on his porch. A couple pulls up in a car.  “We are thinking about purchasing a house in this town. How are the people here?” The man says “Well, how were they where you lived before?”   He suggests that how they believe people to be, in general, they will be. Your own attitude toward people is how you create relationships.

How do you talk to yourself? Pay attention to what you say, out loud and in your head throughout the day. I find this easy since I have a small children. They pretty much repeat what I say and parroters of my own attitude. My kids have a great sense of humor about things, can laugh at themselves and will try until they get it right. They focus on things they do well and support others. They do not get discouraged easy.

Many people are hard on themselves. “I can’t do that.” “It’s too hard.”  “I will never get it” (job, relationship, home, money). One I heard recently was “BUT, it has never happened before, so why should it happen now.” This followed all the positives of “I deserve it. I am worth it. I worked hard for this.” BUT negates all those strong positives. It just crosses it out.

Keep the self talk positive. If you hear the negative creep up on you, especially in the form of a but, turn it around. That big but can be followed up with “That doesn’t mean it won’t in the future!”  Your future is what you make it.