Some of the best and brightest researchers who study how to increase your well-being have loads of free, practical, helpful information just waiting for you out there in cyberspace.
To make things a little easier for you, I’ve rounded up a few of my favorites. These are people and research that have rocked my world and I know they’ll do the same for you. Look for the free stuff!
Must see: Brene Brown’s free first Ted Talk, The Power of Vulnerability (20 minutes.)
Also good: Her free second Ted Talk, Listening to Shame (20 minutes.)
Excellent free article: 4 (Totally Surprising) Life Lessons We All Need to Learn
Must read free article: Why Self-Compassion Trumps Self-Esteem
Must read book: Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself
Wonderful, free guided meditations about self-compassion: Self-compassion.org website
Science-y, but really informative free article that includes video clips: Are You Getting Enough Positivity In Your Diet?
Must read free article: 9 Things Successful People Do Differently
Must read free article: Is It Possible to Become Lastingly Happier?
Also good: Her other free articles on Psychology Today and her free videos at the Greater Good Science Center.
Must read free article: Is a Happy Life Different From a Meaningful One?
Must read free ebook: my very own How to Live a More Meaningful Life
Man with laptop image available from Shutterstock.
1. Realize that change is always going to be in your life. Expect it.
“I always thought things would calm down and get easier. I’m beginning to think that’s not going to happen.” Phoebe Howard, age 99.
2. Be nice to yourself. Treat yourself as you would your best friend. Read Kristen Neff’s Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself.
3. Practice mindfulness by noticing your thoughts and feelings, but have no judgment about them. Try this 12-minute ‘taster’ by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
4. Resistance is like a Chinese Finger Trap. The more you struggle, the tighter you’re held in the trap.
5. Be flexible and open in your way of thinking. It will allow you to problem-solve more effectively and accept your reality more easily. Read Roger von Oech’s A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative
6. Find your taproot.
7. See if there is a gift hidden within your troubles. The sand that irritates the oyster eventually becomes a pearl.
8. Develop post-traumatic growth. The basics are being optimistic and framing your struggles as meaningful (finding the gifts and opportunities in them.)
9. Gain perspective: See how many different angles you can view the same problem from.
10. More perspective: Remember that you’ve made it through tough times before. And you’re still here to talk about it.
“I like to see a cloud in the blue sky. How else can you appreciate the blue without a cloud in it?” - my 100-year-old grandmother, Mary Gustason
11. Think about kaleidoscopes. The pattern is beautiful, but when it gets shaken up, a wonderful new pattern can emerge.
12. Take a break. Really. It’s okay.
13. Find something that makes you laugh so hard your stomach hurts.
14. Remember that your thoughts aren’t always true.
15. Remember that it’s okay to have fun, smile, and laugh sometimes even when you are in the worst of situations. (It’s even good for you.)
16. Sometimes things really do suck. No one said you have to like the difficulty in front of you. Read this for more.
17. Look up. No, really. I mean look up. What do you see that you didn’t before? There. Wasn’t it nice to get out of your head for a moment?
18. Practice acts of kindness.
19. Stop ruminating.
20. Savor the good stuff. The next time you see a beautiful sunset, stop and really see it.
22. Remember that falling apart means you can put yourself back together any way you’d like.
23. Distract yourself from your troubles for a while. Healthy stuff only!
24. Remember that this is how it feels today. It won’t be like this all the time.
25. Remember that Suffering = Pain x Resistance.
26. Believe that life is meaningful.
“Those who have a ‘why’ to live for can bear with almost any ‘how.’” – Friederich Nietzsche
27. Stay away from shame. Watch Dr. Brene Brown’s Tedx talk.
28. Change what you can, accept what you can’t.
Perhaps I come by it honestly as my parents often referred to me as “Little Chief Thundercloud” when I was a small child.
Nonetheless, I enjoy a bit of happiness as much as the next person. But the aspect of happiness that has me particularly grumpy is the popular social notion that one should always be happy.
If you don’t believe me, visit one of the few remaining bookstores in your area and go to the Self-Help section. Your neck will get a kink in it as you keep your head cocked to one side to read the endless list of ways to be happy, stay happy, reasons why you’re not happy, why you suck because you can’t maintain happiness, etc.
Searching for the word “happy” in the book section on Amazon is frightening. (Not to worry, I did it for you.) My search returned 63,499 results.
Of course, we need to take this with a fairly good-sized grain of salt since the top book right now is, Happy, Happy, Happy: My Life and Legacy as the Duck Commander, which is an autobiography by someone from the A&E series, Duck Dynasty. Be sure to pick up your copy today.
Still, in the top 25 books are titles such as:
Actually, that last one might be worth taking a look at . . .
Overall, though, you receive my point: You can and should be happy once and for all, happy now, and instantly happy. As the duck man might say, “Happy, happy, happy. What a quack.”
Imagine my relief, then, when I spied this title: The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking
Aha! An author after my own heart. I had to have the book immediately.
Fellow grump Oliver Burkeman has written a holy text for those of us who are fed up with all this happiness business. His opening chapter frames the entire problem of just-think-positively-and-you’ll-be-happy within the context of an enormous seminar called “Get Motivated!” The speaker is Dr. Robert Schuller and he has tempted the gigantic crowd with the secret that will change the listeners’ lives forever.
‘Here it is, then,’ Dr. Schuller declares, stiffly pacing the stage, which is decorated with two enormous banners reading ‘MOTIVATE!’ and ‘SUCCEED!’, seventeen American flags, and a large number of potted plants. ‘Here’s the thing that will change your life forever.’ The he barks a single syllable – ‘Cut!’ – and leaves a dramatic pause before completing his sentence: ‘ . . . the word “impossible” out of your life! Cut it out! Cut it out forever!’
The audience combusts. I can’t help feeling underwhelmed . . .
Burkeman’s understated British humor continues throughout the book, as seen by his concluding statements about Schuller:
It is only months later, back at my home in New York, reading the headlines over morning coffee, that I learn the news that the largest church in the United States constructed entirely from glass has filed for bankruptcy, a word Dr. Schuller had apparently neglected to eliminate from his vocabulary.
Burkeman’s thesis is that the very act of pursuing happiness is precisely the thing that makes us miserable. He negates the path to happiness being merely about positive thinking and choosing happiness. However, he also takes issue with those who agree with his stance but then choose to “resign themselves to gloom, or a sort of ironic curmudgeonhood.”
The Antidote, is about a possible third way, one Burkeman calls “the negative path” that is based on the work of psychologists and philosophers who see that our constant battle to eliminate negativity only leads to us feeling that we are woefully inadequate in the happiness department.
The negative path takes a completely different approach to the things that we try so hard to avoid. It involves “learning to enjoy uncertainty, embracing insecurity, stopping trying to think positively, becoming familiar with failure, even learning to value death.”
After the introductory first chapter, Burkeman takes us along on a wide-ranging journey to investigate each of these tasks. To ancient Greece and the teachings of Zeno about approaching negativity rather than running from it, and then to a modern Stoic named Keith who lives in Watford, a town just outside of London.
Then to Manhattan to talk with an American Buddhist about the fruitlessness of positive thinking and on to Massachusetts for a week-long Buddhist meditation retreat where he eventually found that “It was suddenly apparent to me that I spent my regular life in a state of desperate clinging to thinking, to trying to avoid falling into the void that lay behind thoughts. Except now I was in the void, and it wasn’t terrifying at all.”
And on and on the journey goes including a trip to the Museum of Failures in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and visits with the incorrigible Albert Ellis and ethereal Eckhart Tolle.
Near the end of the book and our journey with Burkeman, he makes an observation that sums up some of the lessons we have learned:
The real revelation of the ‘negative path’ was not so much the path as the destination. Embracing negativity as a technique, in the end really makes sense only if the happiness you’re aiming for is one that can accommodate negative as well as positive emotions.
. . . The ‘negative path’ to happiness, then, is a different kind of path. But it is also a path to a different kind of destination. Or maybe it makes more sense to say that the path is the destination? These things are excruciatingly hard to put into words, and the spirit of negative capability surely dictates that we do not struggle too hard to do so. ‘A good traveller has no fixed plans,’ says the Chinese sage Lao Tzu, ‘and is not intent upon arriving.’ There could be no better way to make the journey.
The Antidote is an easy read and not for happiness grumps only. We can all learn some valuable skills and lessons to make out lives a little easier and inevitable negativity a little more tolerable.
In fact, why not pick up The Antidote yourself? I promise it won’t make you grumpy.
Interested in The Antidote? Click on the book for more information:
Break those resolutions.
They’re not doing you any good.
Resolutions inevitably set you up for failure.
Think about it: Resolutions are usually created around something you have difficulty with, anyway, like exercising more or eating less. When you create a resolution, you take something that is already hard for you to do and pile on more expectations and more weight (so to speak) on the outcome.
Now what happens if you’re not able to keep your resolution?
You really suck.
In actuality, you don’t suck at all, but resolutions can make you think you do.
Guess what percentage of people who make resolutions actually achieve them?
Go ahead and guess. I’ll wait.
Ready for the answer?
8%. That’s eight percent, not a typo that’s supposed to be 80%. That means 92% fail at completely accomplishing our resolutions.
If you absolutely, positively have to create a resolution, at least do it in the best way possible.
Did you know that the origin of the word resolution is this?
Early 15c., “a breaking into parts,” from L. resolutionem (nom. resolutio) “process of reducing things into simpler forms”.
So, resolution actually means to break things down to make them simpler. The definition of resolution meaning “to hold firmly” didn’t appear until more than a hundred years later.
Rather than saying, “My resolution is to go to the gym more,” create something more specific, measurable, and smaller. Say, “I would like to go to the gym two times per week for the first 3 months and then bump it up to three times per week for the next 3 months.”
Instead of saying, “I’m going to cut out all carbs from my diet,” say, “I’m going to eat only 45 grams of carbs three days per week for one month.”
Reduce your breaking into parts to its simplest form.
Instead of a New Year’s resolution, why not set an intention for the new year?
An intention is about having an aim, a direction, a purpose – it’s not about a fixed goal. It can serve the same function as a goal, that is it can get you moving in a new direction.
But holding an intention is not as do-or-die as a resolution. The resolution says “do this or else” while the intention says “let’s follow this path to something that is good for us.”
For example, your resolution to get more exercise may be turned into an intention by saying, “I intend to focus on my health this year.”
Your resolution to lose weight may also fit within the intention of being healthier.
Of course, health is not the only intention available to us.
Perhaps you intend to create more social connections or be more financially stable or pursue more peace and joy.
Once you have set an intention and keep it firmly in your mind, then it’s time to develop steps and goals that fit within the framework of your intention.
Take some time now to set an intention for the coming year. I intend to create useful, helpful, inspirational information for you that will assist you in bouncing back in life.
What do you intend?
Helpful articles and sources for this post:
For many people, the end of the year festivities are a time of joy and warmth, a time for nostalgia, and a time to celebrate with the loved ones in our lives.
But what time is it for others?
Those troubled by ugly memories of holidays past rather than ones filled with light and love.
Those who with the dreaded family get-togethers that you really can’t get out of but desperately want to.
And those who are alone for the holidays and don’t want to be.
How do we make this time not suck?
Here are some ideas:
1. Remember that this, too, shall pass.
Yes, I’ve used this phrase before. And I shall use it again and again and again.
Because no truer words have ever been spoken.
Even though The Holidays now start as soon as the last candy is nabbed from a neighbor on Halloween and last for about two full months, they’re going to pass.
Just like they do every year.
You’ll get through this year, too.
2. Don’t blow your dread out of proportion.
“I can’t stand the holidays!”
“Not another horrible dinner with my dad and his wife and her four bratty kids – I’ll never make it!”
“I’m the only one I know who doesn’t have somewhere to go and people to be with during the holidays.”
Your holidays aren’t fun, it’s true.
But do you make them suck even more by dwelling on your negative thoughts about them?
Try this instead: When you find yourself thinking your old thoughts that create dread in the very core of your being, just notice them and let them float away as though they are on a cloud in a breeze.
What usually happens is we go on and on and on in our minds about a thought, like this:
“Not another horrible dinner with my dad and his wife and her four bratty kids – I’ll never make it! All of that noise and shouting with those kids running at full tilt in the living room. And I never get any time with my dad since he has to do whatever Sheila says. I hate the way she orders him around . . . ”
Notice how the person having this thought is adding on to it and whipping it up into a full-scale catastrophe.
Just noticing a thought and letting it float away would look something more like this:
“Not another horrible dinner with my dad and his wife and her four bratty kids – I’ll never make it! Oh, there’s that same thought I have all the time – let me just put that on a cloud in my mind and let it float away.”
That’s it. No additional drama. No fuss. Just, “Oh, there’s that thought again.”
This technique helps you gain a little distance from your thinking so that it doesn’t become you. It’s just a thought you’re having.
3. Don’t try not to think about it.
Did I ever tell you about the white bear?
Social psychologist Daniel Wegner conducted a unique study back in the 1980s where he asked one group of participants to say aloud whatever came to their minds. “But whatever you do,” he said, “do not think of a white bear. If you do think of a white bear, ring this bell.”
What do you think happened?
Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding!
The subjects had a hard time not thinking of a white bear.
Another group of subjects were told to verbalize their thoughts and that it was okay if they thought about a white bear. They were also asked to ring the bell if they thought of a white bear.
Ding. Ding. Ding.
The second group thought of white bears, but not nearly as much as the first group who were desperately trying not to think of white bears.
The moral of this story?
The more you try not to think of something, the more you will.
So let those thoughts of how much you hate the holidays come.
And then let them go.
4. Do something different.
If you can’t stand the holidays, try something different this year.
Instead of looking at the Christmas lights with loathing, look at them as just pretty lights. Notice the colors and the creativity in the displays.
Go to the mall or shopping center and just sit and people-watch. Do you notice yourself in any of those stressed faces? Do something different!
Obviously, if you can get out of the dreaded family gathering this year, do it. There’s no sense in making yourself (and possibly everyone else) miserable if you don’t really want to be there.
If you can’t get out of it, do something different when you’re at the gathering.
Sit with different people. Ask your dad directly if he can sit with you for awhile. Engage the noisy kids in a game that you and they all enjoy. Tell the drunk uncle you really don’t want to talk with him when he’s drunk and walk away.
If you’re alone for the holidays and don’t want to be, have a “Dinner for Strays” at your house. Gather other people you know who don’t have a place to go and create your own holiday tradition.
If you don’t know anyone, now is the time to join a church, group, or class so you can start to meet people.
The point is to take some action in a different direction.
You might be stuck in a holiday rut that’s actually a little easier to get out of than you think!
Maybe you’re facing a big stressor or perhaps it’s something so small that it usually wouldn’t bother you, but in either case, somehow you just aren’t as resilient as you have been in the past.
The tendency is to think, “I must be a real wimp; I usually am fine with this type of stress.”
You might be a wimp (although I seriously doubt it) or there might be something else going on.
We humans have a penchant for glossing over the most obvious things, so here’s a reminder to ask yourself about these three commonly overlooked factors that make it difficult to bounce back:
1. Am I tired?
Being tired saps us of any reserves we might have in the resiliency arena so it makes sense that bouncing back wouldn’t come as easily.
If being tired is due to lack of sleep, our ability to problem-solve and manage even the smallest issues may be severely challenged. We need our REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep – the deepest stage of sleep – in order to be able to process memories and emotions most efficiently.
If lack of sleep is a problem for you, check out this helpful article from the American Psychological Association.
Tired from physical exertion? Make sure to get enough rest to get your wits about you again before making any decisions or trying to accurately gauge your ability to bounce back.
2. Am I sick?
Obviously, being seriously ill is going to make it difficult for you to have any energy at all to manage your emotions.
But did you know that even something as simple as the common cold can affect your bounce-back-ability?
Think about it: not only are you tired (see #1 above) from being sick, every bit of extra energy in your body – and most of the regular-strength energy – is going toward fighting off the invasive critters that are making you sick.
That doesn’t leave a lot left over for emotional resilience.
Take care of your body to help restore your energy and bounciness.
3. Am I under more stress than I realize?
This is a common factor I see in my clients. They rattle off a number of very stressful things going on in their lives and I make the observation, “Wow, that’s a lot. Do you see how much you have on your plate right now?”
More often than not, they’ll respond, “Really?”
Our under-assessment of our level of stress goes back to this idea that we’re not supposed to be wimps. We “should be able” to handle any amount of everyday stress.
The reality is that when we’re under stress – even the normal, everyday stuff like kids, jobs, and traffic – our minds and bodies go into survival mode. Our mental and emotional resources are directed toward solving problems and keeping our anxieties at bay so we’re not left with much else to work with.
And that’s just managing everyday stress! Add a few more unexpected stressors to the mix and we’re really besieged.
No wonder we’re not bouncing back!
If you answer ‘yes’ to any of these three questions, it’s a good idea to allow yourself some space and realize that it’s just plain hard to be very resilient when any or all of these factors are in play. It’s possible, but it’s harder than when you’re not tired, sick, or stressed.
While it’s frustrating to not bounce back as fast as you’d like, it’s important to acknowledge that there are times in your life when you need to have just a little more energy available to you in order to get back to your normal level of resiliency.
It will come, I promise. Take care of yourself!
We see gigantic, multi-faceted eyes, leathery skin, and hairy, feeler-y things sticking out in the front.
Who knows what those feeler-y things might be hiding? Probably some hideous mouth with powerful, trap-like jaws.
It makes me shudder just looking at it.
Do you know what this scary monster is?
It’s a gnat.
One of those tiny little insects that we swat at impatiently as they flit around our faces.
But it looks pretty scary when it’s magnified hundreds of times, doesn’t it?
This is the exact same thing that can happen when we’re faced with a problem or setback, too.
It can look really scary. So scary, in fact, that we shudder and run away from it.
What we may not know is that we’ve inadvertently magnified the problem so that it seems much, much larger than it really is.
As a matter of fact, it’s taken up our entire field of vision and not only appears frightening, but is preventing us from seeing around it to any kind of solution.
I’m not suggesting that all problems are in reality the size of gnats, but you understand the point: we often magnify and catastrophize situations that may not be as big as we perceive them to be.
So how do we keep problems in perspective?
Here are some ideas:
1. Remember that you’ve had problems in the past and are still here to talk about it.
Just like the magnified gnat taking up all of our visual space, we can allow problems to appear monstrous, too.
We get very focused on the stressful situation at hand and then have a hard time seeing anything else but the problem.
Next time this happens to you, take a deep breath, move a few steps back and get a bigger, longer-term picture.
You’ve had problems before. And you’ve figured them out and been able to move on.
Granted, the one you’re facing now might actually be more complicated or difficult than others.
Still, experience tells you that you’re going to get through this one, too.
2. Look at the problem from a different angle.
That magnified gnat is creepy.
But really, it’s kind of, well, interesting, too.
How often do we get to see the details of such a tiny creature?
So, it’s creepy and interesting.
That’s a different way to look at it, isn’t it?
You can do the same thing with your problem, too. Take a look from a different angle.
Is it creepy and interesting? Even though you don’t like it, is there something the problem is teaching you? Is it ugly but challenging, too?
How many different ways can you look at it?
3. In the scope of things, your problem may actually be a gnat.
The gold standard of gaining perspective remains the same: look at the big picture.
Not the big picture of the gnat, the big picture of life.
When you consider the breadth and scope of your life, how impactful is the situation in front of you? Is it something that will affect you a month from now? A year?
The other day I felt my stress level rising. Unexpected, annoying problems had been popping up all day and I was starting to get very frustrated and annoyed.
But then I caught myself and asked, “You’ve been through days like this before – when was the last one?”
I couldn’t remember.
In the scope of my life, my frustrating day was just not going to end up being a big deal.
I decided to drop the annoyance and frustration. Since this exasperating little episode wasn’t going to make an impact on the breadth of my life, I figured there wasn’t any use in wasting time on feeling annoyed.
The next time you find yourself running in terror from your big, hairy monster-problem, slow down and look again.
It might just be a little gnat.
Crises. Stressful events. Problems.
Sometimes they’re small like running out the door late for work only to find that the cat threw up on your shoe and you have to go back inside to change.
Sometimes they’re big like financial problems, illness, or loss of a loved one.
Whatever the situation, there are four words that can help you make it through better than any self-help book.
Before I tell you these four words, I want you to promise me that you’ll keep reading this entire post. Because I can pretty much guarantee that when you read the words you’ll roll your eyes and think, “Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard that before.”
These four words have magic when strung together and there is much, much more that we need to think about when we hear or remember them rather than just letting them go by.
Here are the four words:
This, too, shall pass.
Wait! Don’t go anywhere. Keep reading.
Most people when they hear this familiar phrase immediately dismiss it, thinking, “I know that, but what do I do now to manage my stress?”
What you do now is gain perspective.
Example 1: The cat threw up on your shoe and you are going to be later than you thought to work.
So what? You’ve been late before and the sky didn’t fall in. Allow yourself to learn from past experience that you’re making a mountain out of a molehill.
The moment passes.
Example 2: You’re deep in debt and bill collectors are calling to harass you.
This is not a “so what?” experience. This is a stomach-churning-teeth-grinding-waking-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night experience. How does ‘This, too, shall pass’ fit here?
In a couple of different ways.
One is that this moment will pass. Or perhaps I should say, you can allow the moment to pass. And I mean the moment.
Those stomach-churning-teeth-grinding-waking-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night moments eventually pass. Especially if you realize that grinding your teeth and worrying in the middle of the night doesn’t really solve any problems. It just makes you tired the next day.
You know these moments pass because you’ve had them before even prior to this current crisis in your life. You’ve had crises before and worried before and here you are today to talk about it.
Which brings me to the second way ‘This, too, shall pass’ can help.
Even though your situation may be long-term such as the current example of trying to get out of debt or other instances like grief and loss, remember two things: 1.) You’ve been through tough times before and you will again, and 2.) Your crisis changes minute by minute and day by day.
So although it may seem that you’re mired in debt or drowning in grief, look carefully at what’s really happening.
Hopefully, you are taking action to get out of debt – even if it’s just paying it down a few dollars per day. That is change and that means the day before – which was more stressful for you because you were those few dollars more in debt – has passed and you’ve made it through.
Similarly, your grief ebbs and flows and changes each day. Grief is very much like a long-term chart of the stock market: it goes up and plummets down but, over time, it slowly progresses upward.
So try not to get bogged down in thinking that the place you are in has you stuck forever.
Remember that, whether it’s the moment or the crisis itself,
This, too, shall pass.