#meaning

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Got meaning?

What are the things in our lives that give it meaning? Take a few moments to reflect and write down what is meaningful. When we can take time to reflect, it gives us an opportunity to appreciate what is already fueling meaning for us. It also reminds us that we may need to slow things down a bit so that we can enjoy the blur of meaning that is currently whizzing by us.

Over the last six weeks we’ve been practicing six of the seven happiness habits:

  1. Mindfulness – using a nonjudgmental awareness and being present as we move through our day.
  2. Gratitude – we’ve been counting our blessings and focusing our attention and thought on the positive aspects of our lives.
  3. Physical wellness – exercising and eating right to provide an instant boost to our happiness.
  4. Altruism – by practicing random acts of kindness, volunteering, and donating money to help others in need we are increasing endorphins which make us feel good.
  5. Authentic and vulnerable – we have the courage to be our true and authentic self so that we can open the door vulnerability and forgiveness – thereby deepening our relationships.
  6. Social connection – Connection is our ability to forge meaningful authentic relationships with others. It is the essences of human experience and it gives meaning to our lives; it is also the anchor to our relationships.

Through our practicing of these happiness habits, life’s meaning should already be increasing. When we find a greater sense of meaning and purpose, it allows us to experience and enjoy life more fully.

“Happiness is a set of skills that we need to learn and practice so that we can become fluent in happiness.” – Christine Carter.

We all have different interpretations of what creates, develops, and enhances meaning in our lives. Unfortunately, we sometimes loose sight of these and get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life. Was your meaning list all that you wanted it to be? If you said “yes,” you are way ahead of the curve! If you said “a little bit” or “no,” keep reading.

There is a fairly simple step to finding more meaning in our lives. Are you sitting down? Here it goes…..meaning is a function of our own perception and reaction. We can increase meaning by observing the cause and effects of our feelings and behavior and then to use that knowledge to guide our future thoughts and actions. Hum….that sounds like self-awareness. Yup, it is! Meaning is created through our own interpretations and reactions.

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The seventh happiness habit also includes a review of our natural strengths.  We covered strengths in a previous post. As a reminder click here.

The final step of habit seven relates to success.  As we discovered with meaning, success is also subjective.  Rather than read about my take on success,  take three minutes to watch the 8 components to success according to Richard St. John’s from his TED Talk. I promise, it is well worth it.

#authenticity #vulnerability

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Continuing on with the seven part series regarding Happiness; this week we’re digging deeper on habit five: Authenticity and vulnerability.  (For more on forgiveness see here.)

In our heads, we know there is no such thing as perfect. So why do so many of us spend an incredible amount of time and energy trying to be everything to everyone and not follow our authentic self?

images-3#authenticity…what is it really?

It is the alignment of our head, mouth, heart, and feet. An authentic person thinks, says, feels and does the same things consistently. It requires making conscious informed choices based on self-knowledge.

images-2We all know people who are authentic. They are graceful, wise, centered and credible. We are drawn to people who are real and down-to-earth. They know how to share difficult or painful information with others by being honest yet gentle. They are not overly concerned with what other people think of them – what they think, say, feel and do are all in alignment.

“Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.” – Bene Brown

So what does being authentic have to do with our happiness?

imagesBy being authentic we are being true to ourselves. Authentic people are comfortable in their own skin. Their energy is spent on things they can control. Because of their primary focus on positive emotions as well as a healthy management of negative emotions, they’ve developed a natural resilience. Resilience is an ability to navigate the sticky and messy parts of life. Oh yeah….our authentic self isn’t always pretty – it’s just real.

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” – Ghandi


images-5Vulnerability is difficult for many people; most of us were brought up to regard vulnerability as weakness. What if I were to tell you that authenticity, vulnerability and worthiness are the underpinnings to a successful and happy life?

Social Scientist Brene Brown spent the better part of a decade researching this area. After thousands of interviews with people here’s the simplistic view of what she found:

We must embrace who we are to be authentic.

When we are authentic we can be vulnerable.

When we are vulnerable we can have powerfully strong connections with others.

She also discovered that vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, creativity, belonging, and love. Wow! Why then do we not consistently practice vulnerability? Because it is hard and at times scary.

Sharing our deepest thoughts, feelings, and actions with another exposes our true self – our soft underbelly. If we’re not fully comfortable with who we are, we won’t speak up and share ourselves – we’ll have a tendency to quietly stay in the background.

images-3For me, you cannot have a discussion about vulnerability without a review of judgment. I feel that another reason people are not comfortable being vulnerable is because we are quick to judge others as well as ourselves.

When we can understand that judgment wreaks havoc in our lives ….we can loose the shackles of our pre-disposed judgment and more freely navigate the deep and meaningful waters of vulnerability. This isn’t easy for most of us, me included.

Because vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, creativity, belonging and love,  (who doesn’t want more of this!?!) I’m making the commitment today to work on removing my own judgment of others and myself so that I can practice vulnerability more consistently and freely.

“What makes you vulnerable makes you beautiful.” – Brene Brown

#mindfulness

images-5After I wrote the #happinessNOW! post last week, I wanted to dig deeper on how each of the seven happiness habits can support our happiness quotient. Yup, I’m making up a new term: Happiness Quotient or HQ. I kind of like the sound of that! Don’t you? 😉

We can improve our emotional intelligence quotient through understanding, focus, and work; it has been proven that we can also improve our overall happiness. Remember what Christine Carter said: Happiness is a set of skills that we need to learn and practice so that we can become fluent in happiness.

habit1-300x300Mindfulness is a daily practice of moment-to-moment, nonjudgmental awareness of our surrounding environment, our thoughts, feelings, and the messages our body sends. There is no correct or incorrect way to think or feel in the moment, we are just sensing the messages without reflecting on the past or imagining the future.

images-7A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about finding what we are passionate about. One of the ways to discover our passion was to disengage from cruise mode and turn off our autopilot. Mindfulness is exactly that process. In fact, how about we permanently disengage our inner autopilot….It sucks our time, energy, and the fun out of life!

Many studies have shown that practicing mindfulness will provide us physical, mental, and sociological benefits. We can improve upon our well-being with our minds rather than with medication. Sign me up for that please!

imagesBy utilizing mindfulness practices on a regular basis, our viewpoint of the world will become more positive, our memory, emotional regulation, attention, and relationships will improve.

How? When we are mindful we look for the positives. Mindfulness is learning. Learning increases our cognitive ability which supports the improvement to our memory, our ability to be empathic, and our understanding of how our emotions are in the driver seat of our thoughts and actions.

“Mindfulness practices enhance the connection between our body, our mind, and everything else that is around us. Mindful living is the key to understanding what our struggles are which will in turn empower us to control them.” – Nhat Hanh

Here are some additional mindfulness processes to consider in our practice of becoming more mindful:

images-2Meditation: I know that some people are squeamish about this, well get over it! Meditation is just focusing on the present moment. It doesn’t have to take hours of your day, you don’t need to sit with your eyes closed, legs crossed, have incense burning, and repeat the word ohm over and over. Yes, this is one way but there are so many others!

One of my favorite ways to meditate, especially when I’m stressed, is to sit in a chair, eyes closed, both feet on the floor, and your hands resting on your thighs. Relax your body and breathe slowly and deeply several times. Feel your lungs filling with oxygen. Wherever you carry your stress (mine is in my shoulders) feel the oxygen in your blood stream reach that stress carrying part. Picture the oxygen carrying the tension away. When exhaling, imagine that stress leave your body through your breath. I can spend less than five minutes doing this and I feel more relaxed and refreshed.

Physical Reminders: Putting a coin in your shoe, wearing your watch on the other arm,images-7 putting a band aide on a your dominate hand’s finger, even putting a purposeful smudge on your glasses can all serve as reminders to help us stop and bring focus to the present moment.

Our Senses: Have you ever played the game where you are blind folded and another person leads you around and describes what you cannot see? You relied on your other senses – smell, touch, and sound to help you to understand the world you couldn’t see. This may not be practical but images-3another option is to sit on a park bench, close your eyes, feel the sun on your skin, breathe slowly and deeply, listen to the birds, and smell the fragrances in the air.

Another way to slow down and experience our senses images-8is when we eat. Next time you sit for a meal, appreciate the smell, look, and taste of the food. Take small bites and let the food be tasted by all areas of your mouth – feel the texture of the food as you chew and swallow it. Let the sensations linger before you take your next bite.

Unexpected breaks: When you find yourself waiting, in traffic, in the check out line, even for a web page to load – get present! Instead of getting impatient, be grateful for the short break. Take the opportunity to notice the sights and sounds around you. Breathe deeply and relax while you wait. Look forimages-12 things to appreciate. Notice the sun, clouds, rain, the leaves on the trees move, the baby giggling, etc…..the world around you is stirring as you sit/stand still. Watch, take it in and enjoy the present moment.

There are dozens and dozen’s of ways to practice mindfulness. Find what works for you and discover the physical, mental, and social benefits of mindfulness.

A quote on habits:

A habit is the intersection of knowledge, skill, and desire. Knowledge is the what to do and why. Skill is the how to do. Desire is the motivation, the want to do. In order to make something a habit in our lives, we have to have all three.” – Stephen Covey

Enjoy this next week increasing your happiness quotient by practicing the habit of mindfulness!

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#happinessNOW!

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Are you happy?

It’s the million-dollar question…yet, what really is happiness?

Is it something earned or something captured?

Is it something we strive for? Is it something tangible?

Is it obtainable or is it always elusive?

Is it personality based and hard wired into our DNA? Or can it be learned?

There’s been a lot of discussion surrounding happiness in the last several years and some people are making extraordinary money off of writing and speaking on the subject. One of those people is Christine Carter – she has generated a lot of buzz through her blog and her Greater Good Science Center website.

Christine is a Sociologist who has a passion for all things related to happiness. She discusses both the scientific research and the practical application of what leads to an individual’s happiness.

To help the naysayers keeping reading….. 🙂 I bringing up the scientific side because there is a subset of our culture that believes that happiness is self-indulgent. My point is that facts and data are proving that without happiness we cannot flourish and be successful, period, end of story.

Our happiness has a direct impact on our successes in life. This is because the emotions surrounding happiness help increase the blood flow in our brains and to release the natural chemicals that generate happiness – it is a ying & yang cyclical cycle.

imagesTo flourish we need to consistently have a ratio of three or more positive emotions to one negative. When we can do this, we reach a tipping point that helps us to become resilient through the hard times – when life gets messy and difficult. This three to one ratio isn’t only about we feel in the present, it’s also about how we perceive our past and our potential future.

Our most powerful positive emotions are about other people. When we have love and compassion we have the ability to ride the wave of the messy bits of life. We can deal with the negative situations and the emotions that come with them in an efficient and effective way.

What researchers have discovered is that one of the simplest ways to be happy is through a wide and deep breadth of human connections. It is human connection that provides meaning to our life. Without meaning why go through the motions?

Check point – I’m not talking about our American society’s way of getting “drive through hits of pleasure” such as buying a new outfit, shoes, car, etc…these things don’t provide lasting and deep meaning to our lives. They are a temporary high that at times actually back fire when the bill arrives in our inbox a month later.

images-1Recently I heard Christine being interviewed by Darren Hardy, and she made some good points about happiness. One of them resonated with me and got me thinking about how I could incorporate her point into my daily practice of Personal Mastery.

Christine says that happiness is a set of skills that we need to learn and practice so that we can become fluent in happiness. Man, I really liked this! Fluent in happiness!!! We can achieve happiness. Yes, we’ll need to work at it…no lasting change happens without focus, attention, determination and hard work.

Some of the research that Christine and others have done have shown that only 10% of our happiness is due to our external circumstances leaving 90% to our internal wiring, our intentional daily habits, and the choices we make. Whooo Hooooo!! Happiness is obtainable!

But how?

Here are seven habits that can help us to be happier (and the bonus is we’ll also be healthier!):

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  1. Mindfulness – a daily practice of nonjudgmental awareness and being present as we move through our day. Staying focused on the present allows us to make deeper connections with others and it allows us to be grateful for what is good in our lives.
  2. Gratitude – developing a regular gratitude practice is one of the easiest ways to override our brains negativity bias – the tendency to focus on negative things. As my Grandmother used to say: Count your blessings! Focusing on what you are grateful for focuses your attention and thoughts on the positives pieces of life.
  3. Physical Wellness – taking care of our physical wellness has the most effective instant happiness booster of all. Happiness is good for our health and good health increases our happiness. Physical well-being decreases anxiety, depression, pessimism and an overall lack of enjoyment of daily life.
  4. Altruism – doing good things is an essential ingredient to happiness. How we spend our time and our resources is more important then the amount of money we make. Giving to others also releases endorphins and activates the part of our brain that is associated with trust, pleasure, and social connection.
  5. Authenticity, Vulnerability, and Forgiveness – having the courage to be your true and authentic self opens the door to the powerful process of being vulnerable. Vulnerability deepens the connection you have with others and it makes it easier to practice forgiveness. We are all human and we all make mistakes.
  6. Social Connection (Empathy & Compassion) – social connection should be the top of our to do list – it is the foundation of happiness. Connection with others boosts our mental and physical health and even increases our immunity system and longevity. Science shows that through practicing happiness, we make those we come in contact with happier. Yup, happiness is contagious!
  7. Meaning, Strengths, & Success – many of us were taught to work hard and be successful. When we are successful we’ll be happy. But this formula is backwards! Happiness actually fuels success, not the other way around. When are brains are positively focused it is over 30% more productive then when it is focused negatively or neutrally. The type of work we do which engages us, puts us into flow, and is using our strengths/values while aligned with our life’s why – is again one of the signs of true happiness. Finding a greater sense of meaning and purpose in life not only allows us to experience and enjoy life more fully, it helps us to live longer!

The good news is that happiness is a set of skills that we can learn and practice so that we can become fluent in happiness. As with any new habit, it takes 20 – 60 days to make the changes associated with a habit part of our regular processes without thinking.

I’m up for the challenge…how about you?

“Happiness is dependent on self-discipline. We are the biggest obstacles to our own happiness. It is much easier to do battle with society and with others than to fight our own nature.” – Dennis Prager