Archive for June, 2015

7 Science-Based Ways To Find Happiness

Sunday, June 28th, 2015

My family were cattle ranchers in Wyoming. Every bit of extra money went into cattle, veterinary supplies, and spools of barbed wire. Whenever I’d feel unhappy about not being able to buy something for myself, my grandmother would remind me that it didn’t matter how much we owned as long as we enjoyed what we did have.

7 Science-Based Ways

Happiness is about a lot more than laughing and being silly. It is a profound feeling of satisfaction of a life well-lived. It is not pretending to others, and ourselves, that we are content and fulfilled in life.

If we are mentally tough, we are able to identify where, and how, we can change our emotions, thoughts, and behavior so we choose to live happier lives.

My grandmother was right—happiness is a choice. And here are 7 science-based ways to find happiness:

1. Help Others

To make yourself feel happier and enrich your life, help others.

According to Adam Grant, “When I looked at one end of the success spectrum and said, ‘If Givers are at the bottom, who’s at the top?’  I was really surprised to discover, it’s the Givers again. The people who consistently are looking for ways to help others are over-represented not only at the bottom, but also at the top of most success metrics.”

A recent study indicates that good deed-doers, or altruists, are more likely to be committed to their work and less likely to quit their jobs. Those who help others are also happier at work than those who don’t make helping others a priority.

Helping others may have a ripple effect that makes not only those who are performing the good acts happier, but may also boost happiness among other members of the community.

Dr. Barbara Fredrickson told PBS, “By creating chains of events that carry positive meaning for others, positive emotions can trigger upward spirals that transform communities into more cohesive, moral and harmonious social organizations.”

2. Plan Experiences And Savor The Anticipation

With busy work schedules it is sometimes difficult to plan ahead for vacations or breaks. But research shows that the highest spike in happiness comes during the planning stage of a vacation as people savor the sense of anticipation.

Even if you can’t take the time for a vacation right now, put something on the calendar. It can be a month or year from now. So whenever you need a boost of happiness, you can remind yourself of it.

There’s also a logical assumption that most people make when spending their money: that because a physical object will last longer, it will make us happier for a longer time than a one-off experience like a concert or vacation. According to recent research, it turns out that assumption is completely wrong.

Studies have shown that when making purchases, the anticipation of purchasing items resulted in significantly more happiness and excitement than waiting for the purchases to arrive. We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed.

Why?

Immediate rewards cause soaring levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps us feel good. Those levels start to level off, however, while receiving the reward. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them.

Whether it’s a vacation, time spent with friends, or a new purchase, you will be happier if you can savor the anticipation of the actual event.

3. Be True To Yourself

According to Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse who spent several years caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives, the most common regret of the dying is that they wished they’d had the courage to live a life true to themselves, not the life others expected of them.

When people understand that their life is almost over and look back, they see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. The regret comes from dying while knowing that they had not honored their dreams by the choices they made, or not made.

To be happy, we need the courage to express our true feelings. Too many times we suppress them to keep peace with those around us. But when this happens, we end up living a mediocre existence and never become the person we were capable of becoming.

As a result, bitterness and resent grows—both toward ourselves and others.

When we are true to ourselves, we are being authentic. Our identity comes from within, from our core. It is not dependent on what we achieve or possess or the opinion of others.

4. Nurture Relationships

One of the conclusions of the Grant Study (a 72 year study of the lives of 268 men) was this: “The only thing that really matters in life is our relationships with other people.

This response does not surprise behavior psychologists who want to understand why simply existing—why being merely housed, fed, safe, and alive—is empty and meaningless to us. What more do we need in order to feel that life is worthwhile?

The answer that comes up again and again is that we all seek a cause beyond ourselves. Human beings need relationships which do not always produce happiness, and sometimes produce pain, but we all require devotion to something bigger than ourselves for our lives to have value and meaning.

Nurturing relationships improves our happiness, even for introverts. Those deep relationships can be with either family or friends. Daniel Gilbert explains it:

“We are happy when we have family, we are happy when we have friends and almost all the other things we think make us happy are actually just ways of getting more family and friends.”

Modern psychological research shows that being kind and nurturing relationships has benefits for everyone involved—they tend to have better psychological well-being, fewer depressive symptoms and higher life-satisfaction.

5. Practice Gratitude

Gratitude increases happiness and satisfaction with life.

The reason?

Gratitude changes your outlook. It is closely linked to positive thinking and optimism.

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty—Winston Churchill

A conscious focus on blessings produces emotional benefits. Optimism has been proven to improve the immune system, prevent chronic disease, and help people cope with adversity. Grateful people are happier, receive more social support, are less stressed, and are less depressed.

Recent research by Martin Seligman indicates that optimists and pessimists approach problems differently, and their ability to cope successfully with adversity differs as a result. Pessimistic people tend to view problems as internal, unchangeable, and pervasive, whereas optimistic people are the opposite.

6. Pursue Work That Has Meaning

Do you ever find yourself so completely immersed in what you’re doing that you lose track of time? Think a minute about this. When does this loss of time and total engagement typically occur for you?

The loss of self-consciousness that happens when you are completely absorbed in an activity— intellectual, professional, or physical—is described as “flow” by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

In order for a flow state to occur, the activity must:

  • Be seen as voluntary
  • Be enjoyable
  • Require skill and be challenging (but not too challenging)
  • Have clear goals towards success.
  • Let you feel as though you have control
  • Provide immediate feedback with room for growth

The new field of Positive Psychology shows that the happiest people are those that have discovered their unique strengths and virtues—and then use those strengths and virtues for a purpose that is greater than their own personal goals.

Viktor Frankl, who survived a Nazi concentration camp, once said “What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him.”

7. Keep Moving

The importance of exercise in pursuing happiness is based in hard-nosed neuroscience. Most of  are aware of what happens to our body when we workout, but our brain is also affected.

Once we start exercising, our brain recognizes this first as stress. Our blood pressure increases and the brain thinks we are either fighting the enemy or fleeing from it. To protect ourselves, our brain releases a protein called BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor).

BDNF is a reparative element to our memory neurons and acts as a reset switch. That’s why we often feel so at ease and things are clear after exercising—which leads to happiness.

At the same time, endorphins, another chemical to fight stress, is released in our brain. Endorphins tend to minimize the discomfort of exercise, block the feeling of pain and are even associated with a feeling of euphoria.

According to Gretchen Reynolds, author of “The First 20 Minutes,” the first 20 minutes of moving around provide most of the health benefits.

How do you find happiness?

© 2015 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.” 

52 Tips cover smallS

7 Steps to Create A Resilient Mind

Sunday, June 21st, 2015

When I first joined the FBI, I was informed about the FBI’s transfer policy which stipulated that I could be sent anywhere in the U.S.—the needs of the Bureau always coming first. I soon realized that I would need a resilient mind to adjust to those constantly shifting needs.

7 Steps To

After I had congratulated myself myself for learning how to survive transfer-hell limbo, I learned that every few years the FBI’s transfer policy changed!

Although I thought I had conquered my fear of change, and being transferred to a dead-end outpost in the middle of nowhere, I found myself worrying (again) about where I could end up.

Change frightens us because they are voyages into the unknown. But the unknown is ultimately an invitation to grow our talent so our potential can continue to unfold. To refuse to begin our journey of change can be an act of great self-neglect.

Because to change is one of the great dreams of every heart—to move beyond self-limiting beliefs, boredom, and lack of confidence.

If you have mental toughness, you will do anything to break the cycle of behavior that disempowers you. You will find the strength to push your limits and that takes a resilient mind —moving into your discomfort zone crosses a threshold that awakens a variety of emotions: confusion, fear, excitement, sadness, and dreams.

There should always be a healthy tension between the life we have settled for and the potential that still calls us.

We opt to continue the old pattern rather than risk the danger of difference.

Research by social psychologists indicate that we are comfortable when our thoughts, feelings, and behavior are consistent, and uncomfortable when they are not—which produces cognitive dissonance. Change, and moving into our discomfort zone, means admitting that our past behavior was either wrong or that somehow we are now making a break from the past.

And this triggers anxiety.

Our brain is uber alert for change of any kind in our environment. When our limbic brain detects an abnormality, our animal instinct takes over. As a result, our first reaction is to either fight or run away.

A person with a resilient mind not only bounces back from obstacles, they also bounce through them as they continue to move into the unknown that change often brings with it.

We may need to rewire our brain to create a resilient mind. Psychologist Marilee Adams suggests that questions can virtually rewire our emotions, thoughts, and behavior. According to her research, questions that we ask ourselves can open our mind up to learning, connection, satisfaction, and success.

Questions are piercing little darts that expose hidden anxiety, and once they elicit an honest answer from us, we are able to name the beast in the room—that is, the fear we are experiencing.

It is, however, essential to honestly name what is going on before you can trigger change in emotion, thought, or behavior.

Mental toughness is the ability to look into your mind and call it the way it really is—with no sugar coating or apologies.

Resilience is the ability to take it all in, without losing heart, without judging yourself, and keep marching forward.

Just as our soul responds to truth, so does our brain.

Here are 7 steps to create a resilient mind:

STEP ONE: Create A Sense Of Urgency

If you cannot accept an urgent need to change, you never will.

STEP TWO: Put Together A Personal Board of Directors

Think about how you might connect with people who are wiser and more experienced than yourself. Identify two or three (or more) people you admire and respect with whom you can sit down with on a quarterly basis to review your progress. Turn these mentors into your own personal Board of Directors. These are the same people you can turn to when times get tough as well.

STEP THREE: Make A Plan

If you are going to change by moving into your discomfort zone, you need to have a strategy in mind of how you’re going to do it. Keep it simple, and review it often to make sure you’re still on course.

STEP FOUR: Talk It Up

Self-talk is incredibly powerful because our brain wants those inner dialogues to be consistent with our feelings and behavior. When we ask ourselves questions about why we are experiencing anxiety about the change in front of us, we open the option of finding positive responses to them.

STEP FIVE: Hunt The Good Stuff

Positivity is essential if you want to be resilient in the face of tough times. This does not mean ignoring the negative, but it does mean you will have to hunt the good stuff if you want to remain positive.

STEP SIX: Take Small Steps

Small wins are critical because they make the change real. Most importantly, small steps produce confidence as we smash outdated self-limiting beliefs.

They also create the opportunity to build momentum. Again, this is critical because each small step creates more confidence.

STEP SEVEN: Be Diligent

Habits are hard to break because they are found in deeper structures of the brain. This leaves much of our working memory available to deal with everyday surprises and situations. Habits don’t need as much of the brain’s energy, so changing them takes a lot of attention. Stay aware of a change until it becomes a new habit.

Resilience is the key to producing the confidence, joy, and fulfillment that lies on the other side of the discomfort zone.

© 2015 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.” 

52 Tips cover smallS