Is Happiness a Game?

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The word happiness is derived from the thirteenth-century Old Norse word hap, which means “a chance or luck occurrence.” Thus, our question—or perhaps, our QUEST—can be framed as “If happiness is a game of chance, then how might I increase my odds of winning?” -Dr Craig Rodgers

According to a Harris Poll in 2013 of 2, 345 U.S. adults, just ONE in THREE say they’re very happy.  According to another source, 70 percent of Americans hate their jobs.

According to Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology,  says 60 percent of happiness is determined by our genetics and environment, the remaining 40 percent is up to us. In his 2004 Ted Talk, Seligman describes three different kinds of happy lives: The pleasant life, in which you fill your life with as many pleasures as you can, the life of engagement, where you find a life in your work, parenting, love and leisure and the meaningful life, which “consists of knowing what your highest strengths are, and using them to belong to and in the service of something larger than you are.” [huffington post]

The pursuit of happiness is not uniquely American either—in a study of more than 10,000 participants from 48 countries, psychologists Ed Diener of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Shigehiro Oishi of the University of Virginia discovered that people from every corner of the globe rated happiness as being more important than other highly desirable personal outcomes, such as having meaning in life, becoming rich, and getting into heaven.[Psychology Today]

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Here are some tips to TIP HAPPINESS in YOUR direction:

I took & combined ideas from huffingtonpost, Inc, Psychology Today

HAPPY PEOPLE…

Express thankfulness.  Whether it is your personal relationships, those at work or on a personal level, actively expressing gratitude increases good feelings. One study showed people who wrote down five things they were thankful for once a week were 25 percent happier after 10 weeks; in effect they dramatically increased their happiness set-point.

They enjoy being outdoors. Want to feel alive? Just a 20-minute dose of fresh air promotes a sense of vitality, according to several studies published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology. “Nature is fuel for the soul, ” says Richard Ryan, Ph.D, the lead author of the studies.      I know for me personally, getting outdoors is definitely fuel for my soul. I feel like something is missing from my day if I don’t get outside.

They exercise. Exercise lowers symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress. I can personally tell you from experience–my husband has had some depression and exercise has been a huge key in being able to bring him out of such a dark space. Exercise give you a natural ability to feel happy through the endorphins that are created through exercise. It is like a natural, happy pill.

Surround themselves with other happy people. Joy is contagious. Researchers of the Framingham Heart Study who investigated the spread of happiness over 20 years found that those who are surrounded by happy people “are more likely to become happy in the future.”

They have to allow a certain bit of curiosity and adventure into their lives.  Truly happy people seem to have an intuitive grasp of the fact that sustained happiness is not just about doing things that you like. It also requires growth and adventuring beyond the boundaries of your comfort zone. Happy people, are, simply put, curious. In a 2007 study, Todd Kashdan and Colorado State psychologist Michael Steger found that when participants monitored their own daily activities, as well as how they felt, over the course of 21 days, those who frequently felt curious on a given day also experienced the most satisfaction with their life—and engaged in the highest number of happiness-inducing activities, such as expressing gratitude to a colleague or volunteering to help others. Curiosity, it seems, is largely about exploration—often at the price of momentary happiness. Curious people generally accept the notion that while being uncomfortable and vulnerable is not an easy path, it is the most direct route to becoming stronger and wiser. In fact, a closer look at the study by Kashdan and Steger suggests that curious people invest in activities that cause them discomfort as a springboard to higher psychological peaks.

They actively pursue goals.  Pursuing goals, though, does make you happy. According to David Niven, author of100 Simple Secrets of the Best Half of Life, “People who could identify a goal they were pursuing [my italics] were 19 percent more likely to feel satisfied with their lives and 26 percent more likely to feel positive about themselves.”     If you want to envision a happy person’s stance, imagine one foot rooted in the present with mindful appreciation of what one has—and the other foot reaching toward the future for yet-to-be-uncovered sources of meaning. Indeed, research by neuroscientist Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin at Madison has revealed that making advances toward achievement of our goals not only causes us to feel more engaged, it actually helps us tolerate any negative feelings that arise during the journey.

They Bounce back up after they fall. Happy, flourishing people don’t hide from negative emotions. They acknowledge that life is full of disappointments and confront them head on, often using feelings of anger effectively to stick up for themselves or those of guilt as motivation to change their own behavior. This nimble mental shifting between pleasure and pain, the ability to modify behavior to match a situation’s demands, is known as psychological flexibility.

Do what you excel at as often as you can. the more you enjoy what you do and the more fulfilled you feel by what you do, the happier you will be.  In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Anchor says that when volunteers picked “one of their signature strengths and used it in a new way each day for a week, they became significantly happier and less depressed.”

They get plenty of sleep. Anyone knows if you don’t get enough sleep you are more irritable, cranky and not enjoyable to be around. When you get the right amount of sleep–all is well.     Dr. Raymonde Jean, director of sleep medicine and associate director of critical care at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center told Health.com. “You get more emotional stability with good sleep.”

They laugh. Laughter releases the same ‘happy’ chemicals as exercise, so laughter truly is one of the better medicines.  I can personally attest for laughing to fight of sadness and depression. When my husband was out of work, we would put in comedies to take away our worry and pain. It definitely helped.

They TRY to be happy. You have often heard the phrase–“fake it to make it” Well, I LOVE the word TRY. You truly can’t “TRY” anything. It is like “trying” to push a pencil. You either have to or not. there is no middle, so if we are “trying” to be happy—we are doing it.

They enjoy the simple things. When you begin to notice the small things that make your life beautiful happiness will fill up the empty spaces. It’s just being grateful for the small pleasures…the evening walk & the way the light plays on the forest floor, the yummy taste of a waffle cone, the warm shower

They understand that money does NOT buy happiness.  Money is important. Money does a lot of things. (One of the most important is to create choices.)  But after a certain point, money doesn’t make people happier. After about $75,000 a year, money doesn’t buy more (or less) happiness. “Beyond $75,000… higher income is neither the road to experience happiness nor the road to relief of unhappiness or stress,” say the authors of that study.   “Perhaps $75,000 is the threshold beyond which further increases in income no longer improve individuals’ ability to do what matters most to their emotional well-being, such as spending time with people they like, avoiding pain and disease, and enjoying leisure.”  

I have also head another statistic—there was a study done on 22 people major lottery winners & 22 people who had become crippled. A year later—the lottery winners were not any happier than the paraplegics.  Doesn’t that make you think!

They “give” They enjoy spending money on other people, they enjoy the “high” of doing something that makes a difference for another. They take the time to write a thank you note, to make cookies for others on the weekends, to help build conscious awareness about a cause, they volunteer for a local organization, they do little things that make a difference—big or little, it is about the giving feeling.

They look on the brighter side. Optimism creates less stress & better health. When you look at the world with rose colored glasses you are choosing a better life.

They power walk. Ever notice your joyful friends have a certain spring in the step? It’s all about the stride, according to research conducted by Sara Snodgrass, a psychologist from Florida Atlantic University.     In the experiment, Snodgrass asked participants to take a three-minute walk. Half of the walkers were told to take long strides while swinging their arms and holding their heads high. These walkers reported feeling happier after the stroll than the other group, who took short, shuffled steps as they watched their feet.     Try it! See if you feel happier. I think even holding your posture straighter makes you feel better too.  I always tell my daughter to sit tall & when you walk to pretend there are strings pulling you up from the tip of your head that run all the way down your back. It helps to visualize. I know I definitely feel better when I have better posture and walk the walk!

The sound of music. Music is powerful. So powerful, in fact, that it could match up to the anxiety-reducing effects of massage therapy. Over a three month period, researchers from the Group Health Research Institute found that patients who simply listened to music had the same decreased anxiety symptoms as those who got 10 hour-long massages.

They unplug. Whether you do big, belly breaths, meditate, go on a walk, or just deliberately unplug from our world of technology, you will have happiness advantages. Talking on your cell could increase your blood pressure and raise your stress levels, while uninterrupted screen time has been linked to depression and fatigue.

They get spiritual. When you create sacred space, a place that allows for stillness, gratitude, compassion, you are opening a door that will allow calm moments, time for reflection, a deeper space.

Be HAPPY.

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How to be HAPPY. HAPPY. HAPPY.

I just watched a great documentary on HAPPINESS, called HAPPY. Here is the trailer. Go out and watch it!! You will definitely be better for it. You will learn so much. I am going to give you a few thoughts and ideas that I took away from this great show, but I am not going to tell you everything because you need to see the show. FYI-On Amazon in has over 430 4.5 star ratings.  Enjoy!

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“The constitution only guarantees the American People the right to pursue Happiness. You have to catch it yourself.”                   -Benjamin Franklin

What do you want?? Most people say…to be HAPPY. Happy has undergone a revolution. It seems everyone is in search of HAPPINESS. Look at Coke’s marketing “Open Happiness” the numerous books on the subject (Happiness Project, The Happiness Advantage, Stumbling on Happiness to name a few) and Harvard’s biggest class that has thousands of students each week attend, a class on Happiness (Positive Psychology).  Here is the link for professor Tal Ben-Shahar who is teaching this course (the largest course at Harvard). Make sure you check out his quick  Five Steps for Being Happier Today. There are some great links and videos on this site. http://bigthink.com/users/talbenshahar

Happiness helps you achieve your other goals in life. What is interesting is you are born with a 50% genetic set point OR range of happiness, BUT what is astounding is that your CIRCUMSTANCES account for only 10% of our happiness. WOW!! that is so small. That leaves us with 40% of things that we can do on a regular basis that are intentional activities that will bring us happiness. That is HUGE!! This 40% leaves us with options to add variety, add changes, seek out experiences that increase happiness triggers like dopamine (our bodies natural happiness chemical in the brain). A big activity that increases dopamine—EXERCISE. Also, activities that get you into a natural FLOW, like playing music, something you enjoy doing that has a specific rhythm that makes you happy. It gives you a sense of control over what you are doing.

The WRONG Assumptions of outcome. People believe if something good happens (they get married, win a championship…) they will feel SO HAPPY & they do for a short time. The same is when something bad happens (car wreck, divorce…) some sort of devastation & for a short time they are devastated. THe fact is…People actually do really well even when things go bad.  Scientific research does not support adversity as a bad thing. You have to have pain to have pleasure.

Can MONEY buy Happiness? They literally looked at 50 years of income vs happiness and even though the income level went up. People were no more happier living in their bigger houses, more cars, etc. then they were 50 years ago. The happiness levels were stagnet despite the increase in income.  The ONLY time money brings happiness is when you are homeless or are not having your basic needs (water, food, shelter) met, after that it doesn’t make you any happier. Between the income of $5,000 and $50,000 there is a difference in happiness levels, but between $50,000 and $500,000 there is no difference.

Extrinsic vs Intrinsic motivations: Let’s look at Extrinsic (external) motivations–getting stuff, getting money, concerned about your image, your status VS Intrinisic (internal) motivations—personal growth, friends and family, helping your community, something bigger. People who were more extrinsically motivated were less satisfied with their life, had less energy, were depressed and more anxious. The people who were intrinsically motivated were happier, had less depression, had a sense of meaning in their life.

This movie then took a look at different countries who were the happiest (Denmark) and least happiest (Japan) and looked at the circumstances and stories of why. It was a great show that has so much more and I would highly recommend. Go out and buy it, rent it and enjoy it. It is definitely worth the time.

Here are a few personal tips to take away: Exercise, write down 5 things you are grateful for each night or at the very least once a week, invest in relationships, learn to meditate on compassion, get out into nature, smile, share love, do things you enjoy, be grateful for where you are at…and happiness will follow.

Peace and Happiness to you. -Heather

Your Happily Ever After

Image”We need a witness to our lives.  There’s a billion people on the planet, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything.  The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things, all of it, all of the time, every day.  You’re saying ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it.  Your life will not go unwitnessed because I will be your witness’.”                                          -movie, Shall We Dance

I have always loved this quote because it has such truth, such depth about why our relationships are so important in our lives.  I just had a moment of reflection and thought I would expand on it. A couple days ago I asked my husband of almost 19 years (in a month) what he would say were keys to a happy marriage. It was strange, my mind seemed to jump from the conversation to images that began to whirl in my mind of an article I wrote ten years ago. It was an article on “Keys to a Happy Marriage.” It was my first article to be published and I was truly excited about the happening. I couldn’t believe it, it was surreal and my heart was so high at the thought that my words may touch someone—anyone!!

The very next day after the exciting news, my husband had news of his own, he had been emotionally cheating on me. His words began to run through my mind and I couldn’t believe what was happening. Not my husband!! I would never have imagined in a million years that this was my husband, the father of our year old daughter, the man I had spent every day with for the last ten years. Then it dawned on me, “How could this be happening. I am having an article on marriage published. How could I not know. How could I be so deceived…” My heart broke!  It was broken, hurt, and didn’t trust…for a very long time.

My point in telling this story is how funny life can be, how a very phrase can whirl images of events that bring back a time of heartache, but also a time of growth. Relationships are never perfect, they take time to learn as individuals, to grow as a couple, to build again after something shakes it to the core. I would never have traded that time in my life for anything. I learned so much about my spiritual self, what I needed, and how to begin again.

My husband is an incredible man that I would do anything for, he is truly my best friend and the one I lean on for anything. It took time to re-build trust, to find loving communication, to let go of blame and heartache, but in everything you do there is a give and take, a flow of what life needs you to learn, whether it is about yourself or the one you love, as individuals and as a couple. True love will work to endure, it will find a hope for forgiveness, and a light of understanding. We both have learned a lot through our journey together and would never trade the ups and the downs to where our life is today. You have to take everything that comes with love.

So here are my thoughts on what helps a marriage become your happily ever after…

Don’t take the gift of LOVE for granted: be grateful for the relationship you are in, for the opportunity to grow together, to learn from your other half, to have a best friend, to have someone who builds and believes in you, someone who cares about your needs, someone who is a ‘witness to your life.”

Respect one another: Relationships include two INDIVIDUALS working together…I love this analogy…What is the definition of a True Relationship? If you break down the word Re-la-tion-ship: “Taking a journey on a ship with your partner and learning how to relate to one another.  It is a journey to relate or learn from each other and from everything around you. You are taking this life journey together, creating magic moments and working through the hard or tough times, and most importantly growing stronger together. It is like you are consciously merging to become one—not just getting along–which is what I see a lot of my private clients and couples doing today.    Unfortunately they learn about relationships from their parents. And with the divorce rate at close to 50% for first time marriages and 80% for 2nd marriages, it is not a good thing. They also learn from what they see on TV or in the movies, but unfortunately that is not real. This type of learning is make believe and they go  their whole life looking for something that does not exist. That is why there is so much infidelity. They are trying to find this everlasting so-called love or soul-mate, but have mistaken lust for love–which are two different things. So a relationship is the path where 2 consciousnesses merge. It is the journey on a ship to relate to each other. If you have not built a strong relation-ship, then all you have is a Relation-Canoe, and it will sink like the other 50% already do.  -Dr. Dan

Remember: you are two individuals coming together. You need to learn to love yourself before you can offer your love to another.

Invest in one another: Push one another to stretch, to grow, to try new things, to go beyond comfort. There is nothing like being surrounded by someone who is striving to become better at some area of their life. Whether you want to begin reading a book a month, you want to go on a family walk three times a week, or learn something new at a local community class. You will admire and learn from one another. People striving to become better individuals=better relationship.

Be gentle with one another: Keep in mind people come with baggage, a hard childhood, a broken past, etc. Be gentle and lovingly nurture.  “When the Japanese mend broken objects, they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold. They believe that when something’s suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful.”  -Barbara Bloom

Spirit: Pray, meditate, get grateful, go to church, etc. Find a place where you can both be spiritual. Every relationship is different. You may have different feelings about what religion to be part of or not feel comfortable attending a community church. I have found through our differences that as long as you are both seeking some kind of spirituality, love will shine in. Take the time to pray together and give thanks in all you do. Be an example to your children of hope, faith and gratitude.

Healthy Communication: Just talk. No one can read minds, so it is obvious that we need to share feelings–good and bad. It is all in the approach of the conversation, the ability to truly listen and to try to understand where the other person is coming from. Try to see their point of view and if you can’t grasp it or you get angry with the conversation—take a break, breathe and then come back to the conversation. Nothing good comes from anger or frustration. Do a personal ‘feelings’ check—There are only two TRUE emotions–FEAR (frustration, anger, greed, envy, all the negative emotions stem from fear) and the other emotion is LOVE (all the good emotions stem from a loving place). If you are feeling any emotion that is negative or bad–step back, take a break and come back when you can be clear and willing to lovingly listen.  My husband suggests: Give the other person the benefit of the doubt. People can find anything to fight about if they are looking for a fight or they need to be right. Sometimes it is better to let the other person have their way and be right. Is it worth coming to blows over something trivial?  One last thing…never ASSUME…you will make a ASS out of U and ME!

LAUGH often: When things get really tough, laughter seems to be a great medicine at our house. Have a good stash of comedies or funny movies that will bring you out of a negative state.

Connect: On a physical and emotional level. Emotionally be there for one another, truly listen, have meaningful conversations (and lots of plain fun ones), truly care and want the best for one another, encourage, praise, build, be present, be patient and always think of the other first. On a Physical level have fun together, flirt, text, leave love notes, send a fun pic, let go of all your personal insecurities and explore one another, plan a fun lunch date, do things “just because,” think of the other person in all you do, share spontaneous gifts, and make sure you take the time for special getaways together. This is a MUST!! Time alone is a necessity in any relationship and should be planned at every opportunity. Talk about one another’s needs. This is good communication!

“Love is that condition in which the happiness of the other is essential to your own.” -R. Heinlein

 You both need to work at building a happy relationship. It takes two to make things work. If one is working and the other doesn’t=one sided relationship. There will NOT be a healthy relationship balance.

Date Nights: try to incorporate at least one date night in a week. This is time to touch base, to eat something yummy, to connect as a couple.

Be Present: All you are guaranteed is this moment. Live it it!! Don’t get caught in the past or past experiences or mistakes. Think of it this way–you wouldn’t think of driving down the road only looking in you rear-view mirror. It is one thing to glance back and remember where you have been and what you have learned, but constantly looking back will cause an accident for many involved. The past is over. It is a day that is done. It is a chapter that you do not need to re-read over and over. It is done. Do your best to go forward daily.

FYI–My husbands keys: Great communication in all you do, Do fun things together, and make sure to fit in getaways.

“Mature love comes when each person has grown with the other’s help, and when both know how to give and receive–it’s the lifetime achievement award.”  -Harville Hendrix & Helen Hunt, Receiving Love

Well, that is all that I have right now. This is an endless topic that needs lots of attention, so I will continually write about relationships and how we can continually strive for our Happily Ever Afters. I would love any of your thoughts on this topic. Thanks for reading.

Have a Happy Day! Heather