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1-250-514-8459 tamara@posminds.com
Happiness Made Simple(r)

Happiness Made Simple(r)

Not only is happiness a word that the scientists who study it avoid using, but it’s also something neither they nor most of the rest of the population can agree on a definition for. What is happiness? How do you know if you have it? If you don’t have it, what can you do to get it? And if you do have it is it greedy to want more?

Happiness is sort of like the weather. There are aspects of the weather that we can agree on a measurement for, like temperature, barometric pressure, precipitation, or windchill factor. Where the confusion happens is when we try as a collective to decide on one “best weather”. I like it warm and sunny but not humid. My 16 year old likes it really hot and humid and my husband loves a cooler, more crisp temperature with occasional rain. To add to the fact that each of us has a different “best weather”, our judgment changes if we are on a boat, on a ski hill or hiking through a forest- it’s contextual.

Happiness is a lot like this. Some people describe it as peaceful. Others would say joyous or invigorating. Some equate pleasure with happiness where others associate it with a warm embodied hope.

The good news is The Happiness Reset (my book) is designed to help you to decide what your best weather is across all the contexts of your life.

Here’s the model:

The individual challenge is to decide how you want to feel and then to figure out what you need to do more or less of to maintain that feeling. These six domains contain a smorgasbord of options.

The domain of purpose includes sub-topics like:

Sense of Meaning – ask yourself “to what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile?”. People who have a high rating on this question live lives characterized by health and wellbeing.

Intentional Living –  One of the best ways to derive fulfilment in life is to work on projects you initiate intentionally.

Accomplishment – Martin Seligman, the founding father of Positive Psychology,  includes accomplishment as foundational for happiness. In his model purpose and accomplishment are two separate domains. I see them as too connected to separate and I see too many instances where hyper-focus on achievement depletes happiness. By combining purpose with accomplishment we ensure that achievements are for the greater good.

Greater Good – As mentioned above, questioning whether your actions are personal for the benefit of your community can act as a GPS to purpose.

The domain of social connection includes:

Cultivating Trust and Respect– the foundation for all relationships, be they friendships, romances, or workplace relationships relies on trust, respect and vulnerability.

 Fixing Friendship Stumbling-blocks – the skills of finding and forming friendships is often left to chance rather than taught. The skills to fix a relationship require the ability to communicate clearly and to find a balance of give and take. There is also a skill to apologizing and overcoming hurt, Knowing how to leave a toxic relationship is also important.

Belonging vs Fitting In – learning to be who you are rather than who “they” want you to be.

 

 

The domain of letting go includes:

Forgiveness – To forgive is to stop feeling angry or resentful towards someone for an offence, flaw, mistake or something they did that was wrong. Forgiving is more for the forgiver than the forgivee.

Conscious Action – Awareness and intention help you maintain present moment awareness, keeping the past and future at bay.

Detachment – In order to acquire something, you have to relinquish your attachment to having it. When you recognize that the only genuine source of security is living as your true self, then you can more easily detach.

Acceptance –  awareness of the present moment without judgment.

 

 

The domain of self-knowledge includes:

Character Strengths – the scientific classification of 24 universal traits that provide a common language of what’s right with you.

 Core Values –  fundamental beliefs that guide principles, dictate behaviour, and can help people understand the difference between right and wrong.

Habit Formation Tendency – what strategies work best for an individual to do (or stop doing) something.

Personality Type – the psychological classification of different types of individuals.

 

 

 

The domain of Positive Experience includes:

Positive Emotion – Developing the ability to initiate,  prolong, and build emotional experiences that feel good.

Flow – also known as being “in the zone”, flow is the mental state where performing an activity is immersive and energizing. It requires a meeting of challenge and skill as well as enjoyment in the process of the activity.

Prosocial behaviour – doing something that benefits others.

 

 

 

 

The domain of Mindfulness includes:

Meditation – is the practice of embracing internal stillness with intentions of ultimately reaching a different level of consciousness.

Savouring – the use of thoughts and actions to increase the intensity, duration, and appreciation of positive experiences and emotions.

Reflection –  the examination of one’s own conscious thoughts and feelings.

Presence – paying attention to the present moment without being drawn into the past or forecasting the future.

 

 

 

The domain of gratitude includes:

Feeling – the physical sensations that accompany the experience of the emotion of gratitude.

Expressing – the verbal or physical action that shows someone you are grateful.

Receiving – having gratitude for something you are, did, or said expressed to you.

 

Each of these areas offers unique was to enhance your happiness. Learn more by reading my book The Happiness Reset- What to do When Nothing Makes You Happy. Available November 15th on Amazon.com.

 

Why Kindness Matters

Why Kindness Matters

 

According to positive psychology pioneers Martin Seligman and David Petersen in their book Character Strengths and Virtueskindness refers to “doing favors and good deeds for others; helping them; taking care of them.” Kindness can be broken into two main categories:

  1. Being kind
  2. Receiving kindness from others

Often we prioritize the being and focus less on the receiving. Let’s break both apart. What constitutes a true act of kindness? “Acts of kindness focus on promoting positive outcomes for others rather than for oneself.”according to researchers Trew and Alden.

Biologically humans needed social instincts like kindness to:

  • Enhance group cohesion and bonding
  • Help us act as caregivers
  • Keep us safe from other tribes
  • Increase our experience of Positive Emotions
  • Relax our facial expressions (we smile more, our faces soften)
  • Neural firing pathways (begin thinking down the same lines)
  • Heart rhythm (heart rates slow and begin to match each other)

 

According to Dacher Keltner in his book Born to Be Good. Kindness enables us to work together as a tribe. It’s innate. Yet just because something is innate doesn’t mean we always do it. ​Kindness can be both caught and taught. It involves nature AND nurture.  ​

So while we may initially experience intrinsic motivation to do something, it still requires environmental supports.  Most children begin to hear about kindness as one of their first lessons in a school setting. Kindness includes manners, fairness, generosity, turn-taking and words of praise or gratitude.

 

Neuroscientist Jamil Jaki from Stanford has developed a ten-week experiment “Becoming Kinder” exploring generosity, goodwill, and empathy. Designed as an empathy gym with ‘kindness challenges like

  • Reverse the golden rule
  • Spend Kindly
  • Disagree better
  • Kind Tech
  • Be a Culture Builder

that are specifically designed to encourage individuals to step out of their comfort zones in the name of being kind.

Another common kindess practice is a random act of kindness.  According to the Greater Good Science Center there is actually an optimal dosage for random acts of kindess-  5 acts of kindness in one day.

One of the benefits of kindness according to psychologist John Gottman who has been researching couples in his “Love Lab” at the University of Washington for over 4 decades is better relationships. His obsession involves understanding what factors predict a successful relationship. Over decades he has interviewed hundreds of newlyweds with one goal, to see them argue. When Gottman observes a couple argue he can predict with up to 94 percent certainty whether couples will stay together and be happy, stay together unhappily or split up.  What it comes down to is kindness and generosity. “Kindness doesn’t mean that we don’t express our anger, but the kindness informs how we choose to express the anger.”

Being kind to yourself, self-compassion, is also incredibly important to wellbeing, People who treat themselves kindly feel more empathic concern, they are more altruistic, they feel more connected to the world around them and they feeling more socially connected (especially in the teen years).

The Giving

Kindness can be as simple as a smile and using someone’s name in conversation. When you make eye contact and use people’s names you elicit oxytocin production. This small act of kindness increases wellbeing.

Kindness can also be a grand gesture like the ones told on the podcast Kind World such as carrying a baby for a sibling or crossing the border multiple times a week to deliver water, food, and lessons to children seeking asylum.

Try these simple ways to activate kindness:

  • Listen
  • Smile
  • Use someone’s name
  • Hold a door for someone
  • Pick up litter
  • Let someone into your lane while driving
  • Pay for the order behind you in the drive-thru
  • Take a neighbor’s garbage bins to and from the curb
  • Compliment someone
  • Clean up after yourself
  • Send a “thinking of you” text
  • Remind someone of a positive shared past experience
  • Include someone new on a social outing
  • Let someone who wants to help you, help
  • Don’t offer advice unless asked
  • Share silence with someone
  • Engage in random acts of kindness
  • Engage in kind acts that are not random at all

 

 

The Receiving

If you are like most people, you probably find it easier to be kind than to be on the receiving act of a kind act. Indications that this is true include deflecting compliments or not accepting gratitude. Sometimes receiving kindness and compassion can feel threatening, as though the one being kind is somehow superior. If you notice you have trouble receiving gifts, compliments, or acts of generosity and love, spend some time reflecting on why. Who taught you to behave this way or modeled this behavior? Many people have adopted this learned behavior as a way of being humble. If someone gives you a compliment, not receiving it stops its power for both the giver and the receiver.

 

*originally written for the Institute of Positive Education

 

 

California Mental Health and Wellbeing for Students

California Mental Health and Wellbeing for Students

One of my colleagues, David Bott, and I recently spent a week together training a whole school faculty in Positive Education. The headmaster notably remarked:

“We may be primed, we may be inclined but we still need voices of experience to show us how to use this science.”

I love the mindset demonstrated here. It takes role modelling from leaders and teachers to help students develop the skills to manage their wellbeing. 

On September 20th, 23rd and 24th, my team will be in California delivering our Introduction to Positive Education workshop.

If you think your school isn’t part of the problem, you’re wrong. If you have 20 students in a class, 5 are suffering from some type of mental health issue. Positive Education is a proactive way to equip students and staff with the skills not only to cope and manage, but to flourish

 

Top Five Aha Moments from the World Positive Psychology Conference (WPPC2019)

Top Five Aha Moments from the World Positive Psychology Conference (WPPC2019)

I recently spent 4 days with Positive Psychology practitioners from around the world sharing new research and applications from our field. Almost 1600 from around the globe flocked to Melbourne to converse and connect. Each day was informative in new ways and there were many opportunities to cement and integrate current applications to our Positive Education model. My top 5 takeways include:

1. There is a happiness microbiome

Professor John Cryan taught us all a new word, psychobiotic. Cryan’s research looks at targeting gut health through individualized microbiomes. Cryan reminded us that the brain/gut connection is not new research, in fact  Hippocrates’ believed that ‘all disease begins in the gut’. His talk touched on  prebiotics and fecal transplants and I am excited to see what will come next from his labs. His reminder to us all “Mind your microbes”.

 

2. There are multiple happiness genes

Meike Bartels delivered a jam packed talk that showed the progression of the search for the genetic components of happiness. The good news, although there is definately a genetic component to happiness, you control your genes. They do not determine your happiness. A large-scale international study of over 298,000 people,  isolated the parts of the human genome that could explain the differences in how humans experience happiness. First there were 3 specific genomes identified, then 300 and Meike shared her belief that we will eventually discover thousands. The big idea- heritability does not limit chance of happiness. There is most likely a genetic predisposition to be more or less happier. The environment impacts this. Ultimately our genes will influence what types of interventions and practices are most effective- a one-size-fits-all approach just won’t work.

3. Positive technology shows that not all tech is bad.

 

Lyle Unger from UPenn gave a fabulous talk about technology that supports happiness. In this age of stress and anxiety there is a lot of commentary about the impact of technology on mental health. I have always been a believer that technology is just a magnifier of an individual- it can boost or deplete wellbeing depending on what app and how you use it. Unger’s work supported my belief. The session also reminded us to be cautious in our interpretation of data. Perhaps the individual drawn to apps that deplete wellbeing are already languishing when they start using the app. We cannot blame technology. Personally, I use Insight Timer and listen to Podcasts daily. I loved this talk because it was based on what is right with technology (similar to our strengths-based way of working in  Positive Education)

4. The research won’t help without business support.

Gabriella Rosen-Kellerman chaired a session on industry partnerships in the behavioral sciences. I wasn’t sure what it would be about but when I saw the panel that included Martin Seligman, Roy Baumeister and Sonja Lyubomirsky, I knew I was in for a treat. Gabriella represents BetterUp, a fabulous tech group out of San Fran who combining the latest advances in scientific research with  digital technologies transforming people and workplaces. Gabriella reminded us that research means nothing without application. BetterUp is set to invest $15-20 million in its lab over the next five years because they know people are a company’s biggest investment. And if the lab can provide the evidence-based practices that can help people flourish, the return might be mind-boggling. I am hopeful to see an app for educators in the near future!

5. The second wave is cresting.

Michael Steger, Tim Lomas, Ryan Niemiec, and, Itai Ivtzan shared their thoughts on the second wave of Positive Psychology.– whose focus is more holistic – encompassing both hedonic and eudaimonic wellbeing. We were reminded that a fish is only as healthy as the water it swims in. The context and system both matter in wellbeing.  The panel hilighted the importance of increasing the level of nuance and perspective to further our understanding of human flourishing.

So-called Soft Skills are the New Priority in Education

So-called Soft Skills are the New Priority in Education

As you may know, the OECD does a lot of work studying education – especially in the area of predicting challenges to of the future of education. As Bob Snowden, founder of the Futures Project said in a recent conversation “OECD’s recent research indicates that the top priority in schools over the next 10-15 years won’t be one of the academic priorities as you might expect, but wellbeing.” Those of us working in the Positive Education space don’t find this surprising. We see first-hand the benefits of placing wellbeing at the heart of education, of flipping conventional wisdom placing the so called “soft-skills” to becoming the priority (feels like eating dessert first doesn’t it?) The level of stress, depression and anxiety that continues to climb in Canada, U.S., Australia and other countries of similar economic stability is a source of much confusion. When we don’t have a real problem like safety, getting enough food, or avoiding disease why is it that we don’t thrive? Why then is it so hard to take students from surviving to thriving?

Motivation

One idea is that the goals students are setting, either on their own or with help of caring guidance teams parents and teachers are a root. PISA (the Programme for International Student Assessment) has done international research that showed students who are more motivated also have greater anxiety. “Motivation seems to be more closely linked to anxiety when it is imposed by others. Students who feel undue pressure to meet the expectations of their parents or teachers, or who constantly compare themselves with others, may feel tenser and more anxious. Conversely, PISA data show that when motivation is intrinsic – when it comes from a student’s own desire to be the best that he or she can be – students may feel slightly less anxious.” We need to figure out ways of ensuring that students motivation is led by their own curiosity and meaning rather than taking on the motivation of their peers (“I applied to Stanford and Harvard”) their parents (“wouldn’t medicine be a great option for you?”) or their past performance (you should keep taking History, it’s your top subject”).

Comparison

Another challenge is comparison. Recently Instagram has experimented with removing an anxiety provoking feature from its platform in Canada. The social media leader has often been accused of creating a platform where teens compare the messy unedited version of their own lives to other teens’ highly edited and curated highlight reels.

Technology

Parents are quick to point our that the rise in technology use coincides with the rise in teen depression and anxiety. I believe that technology, like money, is an amplifier of who you really are. If a student is disengaged, disconnected, and distracted the removal of technology doesn’t change these traits, Of course there are appropriate developmental guidelines from a neuroscience standpoint, but we cannot blame technology for a lack of appropriate psychological attachment. As attachment theory expert Dr, Gordon Neufeld writes “Technology is a wonderful thing: it can be used in amazing ways to enhance life, but it can also create huge problems if structures are not defined around how it is going to fit into healthy development and family life, particularly with our young. “

Wisdom

According to Dr. Shani Robins of Stanford, wisdom skills like emotional intelligence, mindfulness, empathy & compassion, humility, gratitude and realism must be taught. These are skills that students need to avoid the pitfalls of perfectionism, comparison, overgeneralization and catastrophizing that lead to mental illbeing. Check out this fabulous video about the wellbeing continuum.

 

Think Differently and Your Anxiety Changes

Dr. Ellen Hendrickson has fabulous tips for people who experience debilitating levels of anxiety. She reminds us that the positive features that often accompany social anxiety like extreme empathy, inclusiveness, deep connection in relationships are all still there when anxiety is avoided. Alternately, the opposite of social anxiety is psychopathy (not confidence) so those who experience zero anxiety are not very emotionally healthy! One technique she uses that I love is to personify your inner critic. In fact, I love having kids think about what their mean inner voice might look like. Some see a monster, a dark-fanged nightmare ghoul. Mine looks more like this:

Hendrickson also recommends anxiety Madlibs, a really cool technique to get to the heart of your anxiety. By making it seem like a game it can feel less personal. Use this statement:

When I ______, it will become obvious that I _______

When I put my hand up in class, it will become obvious that I am not smart

When I walk alone in the hall, it will become obvious that I am a loser without friends

When I go to a dinner party, it will become obvious that I am a boring person.

Once you have the obvious blank filled in you can

  • realize it’s not true,
  •  realize it might be true and have a strategy
  • ask what’s the worst thing that can happen and think about how to cope if it comes true

To listen to her interview, click here .