Archives for Happiness


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

One of the essential commonalities we have as human beings as 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 difficulty 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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What is Optimal Media Exposure for Children (and Adults)?

As a Dad of 3 young boys I'm always interested in what the latest research says on how we should be introducing screens to our kids. Screens are a part of daily life now for almost everyone, they're not going away, nor should they. Most adults don't have a good handle on their screen use, so it's easy to wonder how can we even be a model to our kids? Even so, knowledge is power and so I want to share some interesting research with you that gives some answers to the question:

Is it possible to overstimulate the developing brain?

Dmitri Christakis is a pediatrician, parent and researcher who had looked into this quite a bit. He reminds us that watching screens not too long ago wasn't something we introduced to kids until later in life. At the moment, the average 5 year old is engaged with screens about 4 hours per day.

Additionally, the content they are exposed to is far more fast paced then ever which keeps them engaged, but can have major negative impacts on their ability to pay attention. Compare past programs like Mr. Rogers with current cartoon programs like Pokemon or Powder Puff Girls.

In a Tedx talk Christakis says, "Prolonged exposure to rapid change can pre-condition the mind to expect high levels of input which leads to inattention later on in life. "

Here's the Tedx talk to watch (Warning: Images will not be rapidly changing, so if your brain has had prolonged exposure to screens you may not have the attention span to watch this - just kidding - sort of).

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5 Science-Based Practices for Daily Happiness

Most people I've met, if not all, would try like to be happy. There are all kinds of books on happiness, courses on happiness, and documentaries on happiness. So why aren't we all just happier? If we're approaching happiness as some goal to achieve, we're almost always going to reinforce that something is wrong with us and fall short. If we see it as an unfolding process of learning, we will most likely be able to be more grateful for the good times and more graceful during the more difficult times.

Be Mindful

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The Secrets to Wiring a Happier Brain

One of the secrets to wiring our brain toward happiness is in the simple understanding that what we practice and repeat starts to become more automatic.

Call it a happiness or resiliency habit and it’s something that anyone can create. The fact is, we all have thoughts and behaviors in our lives that influence states of unhappiness or happiness. While the brain defaults toward paying attention to negative stimuli to keep us safe, we are active participants in our health and well-being and can nurture a happier and more resilient brain.

To help us really get to the root of all the elements necessary to make happiness a practice, I did my research. I interviewed over 20 highly respected and accomplished people in the field of happiness and well-being like Sharon Salzberg, Byron Katie, Dan Siegel, Rick Hanson, Jack Kornfield, Tara Brach, Dan Harris, Kelly McGonigal and so many more. I wanted to hear what their definition of happiness was and discover the practical ways we can make it come alive.

This is the online Uncovering Happiness Symposium and it's live daily right now through July 3rd.

For now, here’s a suggestion to start with that comes from the Daily Now Moments that many people receive in their inbox:
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10 Seconds to Less Stress

Most people I meet would like to be calmer and more focused on what matters in the moments of their lives. But the more stressed we are, the less open we are to creative ideas and the more prone we are to procrastination.

Here is a 10-second practice that I challenge you to practice a few times a day and realize its power to help you focus on what matters moment-to-moment. Inevitably, as you practice and repeat this, you'll become more of a PRO at life.

The Be a PRO Practice

P - Pause - This is the initial step that helps break the auto-pilot stress cycle.
R - Relax your body - When we're stressed, our muscles get tight which sends signals back to the brain to fight, flee or freeze, making thoughts more distracted and chaotic. Relaxing the body, does the opposite, it begins to open the mind again, making it easier to focus.
O - Open to what matters in the moment - As the body is relaxed we have a greater chance to be more aware of creative ideas or simply the ability to focus on the task at hand.

Here are 10 really good places where practicing being a PRO at life can come in handy:

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Give a Power Boost to Your Gratitude Practice

In Uncovering Happiness I talk about how the #1 bad habit that most people have can be surprising - our thinking. Before we fall into procrastination, stress eating, isolating, habitually engaging our Smartphones or any other addictive behavior there's a thought. The thought is something like, I need to get away from something uncomfortable that's here or at times, I want to elate the good feeling that's here.

One of the most powerful ways I have found to change the atmosphere of the mind is a very simple gratitude practice (but with a power boost).

Now, before your eyes roll you need to know this, thoughts may be arising in your mind right now such as, "not this gratitude stuff again, I've read this in a thousand places." If you notice this thought ask yourself, what is the net effect of this thought here. Does it incline you to move toward this practice that you've heard about a thousand times or away from it?

The answer is most likely that it inclines you away from it.

If we all know it's a supportive practice, why does the mind do this? Because the brain is wired to habituate to things. This is the classic top-down processing in effect. You
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Learn to Forgive Yourself No Matter What

One of the greatest, most unproductive and destructive mind traps many of us face is self-blame. It's as if the brain doesn't know what to do with the uncomfortable feeling that's there and it projects it inward. I've never seen a single example where self-blame is constructive. We all make mistakes in life, some greater than others. But there is a simple truth in life that is worth understanding, we all do the best we can with what we know in any given time.

It could never be any other way.

There's a simple thing to practice that can bring us back to our senses with a bit more self-compassion. This inevitably will lead to greater ease, understanding and refocus us on a more constructive path of health and well-being sooner. Forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn't know before you learned it.

No matter what you've done, it doesn't serve you or anyone else to stew in self-blame. What would serve yourself and others more is     moving into a place of understanding and making peace with yourself. From this space you are better able to more constructively serve yourself and others.

In Uncovering Happiness I share a very personal story where in my twenties I was incredibly destructive to my mind and body. I would be constantly caught in a web of blaming myself for the things I would do - only to do them again.

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The Powerful (Happiness) Side Effects of Self-Compassion

Sometimes the most profound statements come out of children’s books. One of my favorite Dr Seuss books is Oh, The Places You'll Go! It seems to tell the story of what it is like to be human. It brings you through all the experiences in life: the triumphs, the doubts, the confusions, the depressions, the fearful moments and the moments you stare your difficulties in the face and overcome them.

Another fantastic book that goes straight to the truth of it all is We're Going on a Bear Hunt. 

If you haven't read it, it's a picture book where a family goes on a bear hunt and they keep coming across these obstacles from tall grass, to swamp, to spooky forest, etc.. and each time they say, "You can’t go over it, you can’t go under it, you’ve got to go through it."

This is life.

As it's said, life is full of 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows. Try as we might to avoid those sorrows, we often have to allow them to pass through. Optimally we do this as a training ground to build the muscle of self-compassion.

Here are some powerful anti-depressant and anti-anxiety (and happiness) side effects of Self-Compassion:
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How to Fall in Love and Uncover Happiness in Four Minutes or Less

One of the primary pathways to an enduring happiness is facilitating a sense of connection. When we feel connected we feel balanced, when we feel balanced, we often feel happy. The problem is
as we grow up in this world, we have to learn how to shield ourselves from vulnerability and so we build up walls or put on armor that make connection more difficult.

One of the most powerful (and challenging) practices to do is look into another person's eyes for a prolonged period of time as it immediately makes us feel vulnerable. It may not matter whether it's a stranger or someone you've been in a partnership with for over 50 years (sometimes this makes it more difficult). But when we do it, it's fascinating what arises.

Check out this short video from Soul Pancake to see some of the surprising results of people making connection:

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