Archives for Happiness

Altruism

Calvin and Hobbes on Mindfulness and Happiness

The comic strip Calvin and Hobbes has been one of my all time favorites since I was a teen. The author and illustrator, Bill Watterson, really had a way with images and words. One of the strips I've enjoyed looking at, and reminds me of this work in mindfulness, is with Calvin and Hobbes walking together in the snow saying, "We're so busy watching out for what's just ahead of us that we don't take time to enjoy where we are." This is so simple, and the mere recognition of this as a practice in daily life could help us drastically reduce our stress levels (and help us be happier). I've had a lot going on recently in my life. As I was sitting next to a pool watching my kids play, my head was swimming with all the future endeavors coming up. In that moment, likely because of my mindfulness practice, I naturally took a deep breath and as I exhaled realized that in this moment I was safe. My kids were playing, and this was a beautiful moment. In the six-month program, A Course in Mindful Living, I introduce three statements that help deepen our "good moments," getting those neurons firing in a resilient direction. The next time you notice a good experience say:
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Anxiety

Mindfulness Can Help Us Break Our Bad Habits

There has been a growing amount of evidence that mindfulness can help us kick our bad habits. In a recent study, 63 participants who were addicted to stimulants received behavioral treatment for 12 weeks. Four weeks into the program they were randomly assigned to either one group received mindfulness training targeted at cravings and urges or another that received health education. At the end of 12 weeks, researchers measured changes in participants use of stimulants and symptoms of anxiety and depression. Eighty seven percent of the participants who had major depression were not using stimulants at the end of the 12 weeks versus 67% of the health education group. One month later 100% of the depressed patients were off of stimulants compared to 50% in the health education group. How could this be? Change happens through experience and community support, not as much through cognitive education. Mindfulness helps slow us down and creates space from the cravings (desires) and urges (feelings) that can control our attention and decision making. The reality is the greatest "bad habit" we have is our thinking. The snap judgment of whether something is good or bad, right or wrong, fair or unfair all happens faster than the blink of an eye and then leads to the behavioral bad habit. Mindfulness trains awareness of this and over time the actual craving or urge becomes a "wake-up call" in the moment to choose a different response. A healthier response. After we practice and repeat noticing the urges and cravings that span from cutting people off while they're talking, to stress eating, to more intense and destructive addictive behaviors, our awareness starts to be more automatic. Our awareness of our choices also grows and so we actually expand our "cognitive flexibility" which is correlated with well-being. On top of that, when we feel better, we also tend to be more resilient and so the spiral goes up!

A Breaking Bad Habit Exercise - 5 Steps

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Anxiety

Relax Your Brain – You’ll Learn More and Be Happier!

I haven't met many people who say they wouldn't enjoy feeling more relaxed or even being able to relax-on-demand. The good news is that according to a study published in the journal Nature, learning how to get better at relaxing, not only feels good, but increases our brain's ability to remember new information (including strengths of mindfulness, compassion and joy). The researchers in this study recruited eight epileptic volunteers who were shown 100 photos and then 30 minutes later were shown 50 of the same and 50 different photos. They then had to tell the researcher which photos they had seen before and which they had not. While the participants were using their memory, the researchers used electroencephalogram (EEG) electrodes to record electrical activity in the area of the brain where memories are formed. The findings showed that recognition was highest when participants were in a relaxed state (referencing "theta waves"). Okay, it's not necessarily news that we learn better when we're more relaxed, so why does this matter? It matters because at this point in time, we happen to live in a petri dish of overstimulation and fractured partial attention on a daily basis. The way we're living right now stresses out our nervous systems making it really difficult for any new learning (mental or behavioral) to really stick. Some people think mindfulness meditation is the answer - a tool that is meant to actively relax us. But no, it's meant to help us cultivate awareness so we can make wise choices, which may be to
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compassion

Finding a Balanced Mind and Heart in the Midst of a Tumultuous World

There seems to be a whole lot of mind troubling and heart wrenching news in the world today. The world's current atmosphere can give our minds endless fuel to race, worry, and catastrophize. When you turn on the news these days, it's all disaster. These disasters are real, but the stories in our minds that the world is going to hell in a hand basket may not be. Our brains are designed to project into the future and attempt to predict the worst case scenarios so we can be prepared. It doesn't do us any good to continue in a state of auto-pilot with a hyperaroused nervous system, spreading worry, negativity and catastrophe throughout our social circle. Not only are our storylines a source of suffering, but spreading these catastrophic stories through our social networks creates an emotional contagious of emotional suffering. We already get enough of that through the news. The news knows that our eyeballs get fused to the screen at signs of danger and plays on it so it can sell more soap. It's a business and the bottom line is truly to make more money and it knows how to play on our concerns. This is the same for MSNBC, CNN, and Fox news - money has no party loyalty. The news isn't going to make a big fuss about the millions and millions of dollars going into mindfulness and compassion research globally, or about these police officers who paid the check of a
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compassion

The Truth About Time That We All Need to Remember

This will be a short piece because I know you're likely busy, but I promise it to be an important one. Recently, I was eating with my family at a hotel restaurant in Liberia, Costa Rica and next to us I catch this older man who was sitting by himself, coming over to a young couple and placing a hand on both of their shoulders. I overheard him saying, "I hope you don't mind an old man sharing some kind thoughts with you. It breaks my heart to see a couple together on vacation in a special place like this on their phones together. Please put your phones away and be with each other." They both smiled, put their phones away, and the young man reached out toward the woman across the table and they connected. I thought that was a pretty bold move on the older man's part (and I was cheering for him in my mind). The next morning I caught him at breakfast and thanked him for helping not only that couple, but also reminding me how precious the moments in life are.
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Anger

Before You Speak, Consider These Words…

We’ve all experienced it. It’s the moment we say something and as the last syllables leave our lips our brain has figured out we put our foot in our mouths and reaches to take them back, but it’s too late. The fact is we often time don’t think before we speak. Our words become actions and actions become consequences. Unfortunately the consequences land us in relationship problems, a blown business deal, or just the general reinforcement of unhealthy mind traps. But what if I told you there’s a way to fix this. Just consider, what would the days, weeks and months ahead look like if before we all spoke we considered three questions: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind? These a questions that one might say are inspired by the world’s wisdom traditions and have great relevance to our relationships in our families, friendships, business, and education today. In this emerging world where we’re quick to fire off texts, tweets, Snapchats and Facebook messages, it might be more important than ever to
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Addiction

Difficult People are Messengers for Our Unhealed Parts

We all have difficult people in our lives, it's part of the human experience. Typically, we tend to see them as a nuisance, individuals we have to put up with, or even avoid. This also comes with it's share of suffering. I'm not familiar with the author of the quote above, but the message is worth being curious about. What if we could change our perception to seeing difficult people as messengers or teachers who arouse something inside of us that needs to be cared for or loved? If we do this, might we become less reactive toward ourselves and other people? Inevitably, won't this provide a chance for more relationships to improve? Might it be easier to let go of bitter grudges and move toward strengthening mindfulness, self-compassion, and forgiveness? This isn't Pollyanna, it's a practical approach that can help us focus more on what matters in life. Moreover, consider this: If relationships improve, might that support communities, regions and countries to improve? Is it possible to set off a spark in this way that leads to not only the healing of our individual being, but the healing of humanity? Whoa, that's a bit too large to imagine perhaps, so let's just begin with today and ourselves. Today, try this...
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General

Happiness: It’s Like This…and This Too

Ajahn Chah was the spiritual teacher to many leading mindfulness teachers. He had a wonderful saying when it comes to being present in life, "It's like this." This saying always stuck with me as a great truth and a way to bring me back to the moment when my mind was spinning due to something stressful or difficult. In 2011, I realized that not only is "it like this," but my mind would quickly begin swimming again and I would then say, "ah, and this too." When I said, "and this too," it brought me back once again to being here. However, recently I found a new, practical and powerful use for the phrase, "It's like this...and this too" that has everything to do with cultivating perspective and happiness. It's like this... There's nothing like the uncomfortable emotion of negative stress, anxiety, sadness, anger, shame, guilt or disgust to get the head spinning. It's natural, the brain is trying to figure out how to balance us. So it jumps to the future thinking of worst case scenarios so we can be prepared, or it ruminates on all the negative facts of the past so we can use our history to mine for optimal decisions. At best, this auto-pilot mental looping keeps us stuck and at worst exacerbates the difficulty. In that moment, when we say, "It's like this," this moment is exactly like this, we're pausing to see the mental looping, the emotion, the physical sensation, the urge to engage in this destructive behavior. Neuroscience shows that when we note things it down-regulates the amygala or alarm center of the brain and brings activity back to the prefrontal cortex (PFC), the emotional regulator. So at that point the body starts calming down a bit, we're no longer in the throws of the mental and emotional looping and have widened the
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Anger

Four Questions to Happiness (And Video Interview with Byron Katie)

A while back I decided to try an experiment. I interviewed over 20 top leading experts in the field of happiness to ask them what that word actually meant and in their professional experience, what are some practical ways to begin making it a reality. This was called the Uncovering Happiness Symposium and some of the people interviewed included Sharon Salzberg, Dan Siegel, Rick Hanson, Jack Kornfield, Dan Harris, Kelly McGonigal, Tara Brach, Byron Katie and more. Byron Katie struggled throughout her life with deep deep depression and ultimately found a path that led her to a simple way to break free from the internal negativity and into greater states of freedom. She defined this as happiness. Here are the four questions to ask ourselves to help challenge compelling negative thoughts:
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Anxiety

How to Live Well with Chronic Pain and Illness: An Interview with Toni Bernhard

One of the essential commonalities we have as human beings is that at some point or another we all experience some form of suffering. This isn't meant to be a downer, it's simply a fact of being human. Today, you're going to hear from an incredible woman, Toni Bernhard. She is the author of the award-winning book How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers and How to Wake Up: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide to Navigating Joy and Sorrow. Her newest book is called How to Live Well with Chronic Pain and Illness: A Mindful Guide. She also writes a great blog called, “Turning Straw Into Gold." Today Toni talks to us about why the path to peace begins with facing difficult realities, how mindfulness can help with chronic pain and illness, and some of the key lessons she's learned. Elisha: How is this book different from your other book on chronic pain and illness, How to Be Sick? Toni: The new book is broader in scope than How to Be Sick, and it’s organized differently. How to Be Sick is organized around concepts and practices to help people learn to live with grace and purpose despite the limitations imposed by their health. By contrast, the new book is organized around specific difficulties and challenges that people face, such as dealing with others who don’t (or refuse to) understand; making the best use of your short time with the doctor; coping with isolation and loneliness; handling mood swings and painful emotions; the difficult challenge of being young and chronically ill. The new book goes beyond my personal experience because I draw on the thousands of people who’ve written to me about their health struggles. What the books have in common is a liberal use of personal anecdotes, easy-to-learn practices (such as mindfulness and self-compassion), and my conversational style of writing. People tell me they feel as if we’re sitting in the kitchen together chatting over coffee or tea. Elisha: In the introduction, you say the path to peace begins with facing life’s stark realities. What do you mean by that? Toni: I’m referring to some of the inescapable realities of the human condition. First of all, we’re in bodies and they get sick and injured and old. Coming to terms with this opens the door to
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