The Spice That Makes You Happier

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Warm-Turmeric-MilkThese days there seems to always be a new vegetable or supplement I “should” be consuming, and frankly, it’s hard to keep up and even harder to figure out practical ways to bring them into my diet.

You might feel this way about turmeric, the spice that is having a big moment right now. Numerous peer-reviewed studies and research on the long-beloved spice are piling up every day, and its list of health and emotional benefits just keeps growing. Eastern medicine has been using it for millennia, and western medicine has been testing its healing effects on inflammation, cancer, and depression, to exciting results. But how to easily eat some turmeric every day might be giving you pause.

Last year, my boyfriend and I were introduced to the Indian home remedy “golden milk” (haldi ka doodh or turmeric milk) by an herbologist friend and I fell in love at first taste. I knew turmeric was an anti-inflammatory powerhouse, but had a limited knowledge of how to use it in cooking. Golden milk cleared the fog instantly. After about a week of drinking it every day, I felt much more stable in mood, more energized throughout my 6am-6pm day, less inflammation in my joints, and my sleep quality was noticeably better. We’re such converts we decided to come up with a powdered version.

If you’re like the majority of adult humans on this planet, drinking a warm caffeinated beverage is part of your morning routine. You likely grew up watching your parents perform this ritual, so you adopted it without too much thought. For me, the best part of discovering golden milk has been simply taking an existing habit I have and tweaking it to reap insane health benefits. Here’s my favorite, dairy-free, from-scratch recipe:

Turmeric Tea/Golden Milk

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of almond milk
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon raw honey or maple syrup or to taste
  • Pinch of black pepper (increases absorption)
  • ¼ tsp ginger powder
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)

Instructions

  1. Heat almond milk into a small sauce pan for 3–5 minutes over medium heat until hot but not boiling.
  2. Add all other ingredients, stir well.
  3. Drink immediately.

13244813_1769760643242478_8654040652348466862_nTurmeric delivers energy, mood support, stress-resilience, anti-inflammatory power, and is a sleep aid to boot. Whether you make it from scratch or buy a convenient powdered version like Golden Chai, turmeric in your morning beverage is the easiest way to work the superfood herb into your diet.

5 Reasons Why Hiking Can Truly Make You Happy

Half Moon BayJohn Muir put it perfectly when he said that “in every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” I haven’t always been a hiker and it’s only recently that I’ve discovered how relaxing and rejuvenating a walk in the wilderness can be.

You might wonder how puffing your way up a mountain, braving the elements, putting up with bugs and getting blisters could make for a happy day, but ask any hiker and they’ll rave about how amazing hiking is for the mind, body and soul. Here are 5 ways that hiking can make you truly happy. 

 

  1. Hiking Reduces Stress

It’s a well-known fact that exercise reduces stress, but in my experience nothing soothes the mind and soul more than simply being outdoors. When you’re a tiny dot standing in the middle of a meadow or are experiencing the vastness of the Grand Canyon, nature helps to put life’s problems into perspective.

 

Scientists have even suggested that we’re evolved to become more relaxed in nature. They’ve found that just looking at video of a natural setting has a significant impact on reducing stress levels.

 

A recent study compared walking for 20 minutes in an urban environment to walking for the same amount of time through a park, and discovered that stepping into a more natural landscape for even a short amount of time can decrease stress and anxiety.

 

  1. Nature Inspires

There’s nothing like being in the woods, discovering a remote beach or scaling a mountain to inspire your creativity! In fact, researchers have shown that switching off technology and immersing yourself in nature can increase your creativity and problem solving skills by as much as 50%. Being outdoors helps create more novel thoughts and walking encourages these thoughts to flow more freely. Next time you’re stuck for ideas, head outside and let nature inspire you.

 

  1. Hiking Keeps Your Body Healthy

Hiking is a great low-intensity exercise that doesn’t put too much pressure on your joints, making it ideal for almost anyone! Long-distance hiking can burn serious calories for weight loss but it’s also great for building leg and core strength, boosting your immune system, lowering blood pressure and reducing the risk of heart disease and osteoporosis. Having good health is a key factor in living a happy life so get out there and take in all that fresh air!

 

  1. Hiking Can Fight Depression

I’m sure every hiker has experienced the mood boost that being surrounded by nature’s beauty gives you, and scientists have gone so far to suggest that hiking is a great way to prevent and even supplement the treatment of depression. It’s not just about the exercise; being surrounded by nature is key and increasing urbanization has even been considered as a possible cause for the rising incidence of mental illness. So it’s true, hiking really does make life brighter.

 

  1. It’s Fun!

My favorite thing about hiking is that every morning when you head out, you never know what you’re going to find! Hidden waterfalls, incredible views, up-close encounters with wildlife, new canyons to explore… every walk has its own unexpected joys and I’ve created incredible memories with the people I’ve shared them with. The beauty of nature is pretty hard to ignore and best of all, it’s free! So what’s stopping you? Plan a hike for this weekend and enjoy your happiness!

 

While you’re out there enjoying nature, help to keep it green for others to enjoy by taking your waste with you, not feeding wildlife, using eco-friendly equipment and leaving the landscape as you found it.

No One Need Wait a Single Moment to Improve the World

“How wonderful that no one need wait a single moment to improve the world.” – Anne Frank

I once heard Dieter F. Uchtdorf speak about a group of men in Germany who wanted to move a full concert-sized grand piano from a chapel into an adjacent concert hall. There were many willing and able men, but with everyone trying to direct the piano in different ways, it kept going off balance and they were unable to lift it. Finally, one of the men said, “. . .Stand closer together, and lift where you stand.”

 

What a simple idea! How can we apply this to our lives? How can we all, as humanity, or even as small as our nuclear families or co-workers come closer together and lift where we stand?

 

Ideas of generosity and altruism have gained more and more momentum recently. From celebrities finding causes to support (Leonardo DiCaprio), movies like Pay It Forward becoming part of daily speech (“Oh, don’t say thanks, just pay it forward”), humanitarian missions for gap years, and things like random acts of kindness taking off, it’s no wonder people are looking for more and more ways to participate in something greater. Many people have contributed to what each of us is today and we all have a way to help others!

 

As if you needed any more convincing that giving back is good for your soul, there are countless studies touting the benefits of altruism and giving back. Studies are showing evidence of your increased happiness (and the more you give back, the happier you get!), benefits to the greater good of humanity, reduced stress in your life, feeling of social connection to combat loneliness, stronger family ties, feeling connected to the greater humanity, etc. Read more here and here.

 

But with so many different ideas pulling you in so many different ways, what is something YOU could actually DO today? How can you lift where you stand? Here are 8 ways you can give back, TODAY!

 

1. Donate a special event in your own life toward a cause. Your birthday, wedding, anniversary, etc.

“Giving is the highest expression of potency. In the very act of giving, I experience my strength, my wealth, my power. This experience of heightened vitality and potency fills me with joy. I experience myself as overflowing, spending, alive, hence as joyous. Giving is more joyous than receiving, not because it is a deprivation, but because in the act of giving lies the expression of my aliveness.” – Erich Fromm

 

The first time I had heard of this, was through a wedding invitation I received in college. I was at the ripe age of 18, and as I was looking through their announcement; I realized they didn’t have the long list of registries. Instead, they asked their guests to send money to a specific charity, in their name. I was overwhelmed at such a selfless act, and felt inspired to do the same.

 

Since then, I have been on the look out for a good cause to donate my birthday to nearly every year! It has brought me surprise friendships and acquaintances, made me feel supported and loved, even though strangers and anonymous donors, allowed me to be connected to the world, and has brought me more joy than I could ever begin to describe.

 

IMG_8880This year, for my 30th birthday, I decided to be ambitious and raise $15,000 to buy shoes for children in Guyana. One pair of shoes is only $15 and last the children 5 years because they grow 5 sizes! I was fortunate to find this particular cause through my work at Project Happiness when we met with teachers and social workers from across the country back in March.  

 

Read more here, and donate if you can: http://tinyurl.com/BrookTurns30.

 

 2. Spend your money on someone other than yourself.

The highest use of capital is not to make more money but to make money to do more for the betterment of life.” – Henry Ford

 

There are countless causes asking for money, and if you ask around, you will surely find something you can stand behind to support. Be it Project Happiness, your mom who desperately needs a massage, or the person behind you in the drive-through, I promise you will feel happier if you spend your money on others.

 

 

3. Find a cause that you stand behind, and contribute your time or talents (or blood).

“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” – Muhammad Ali

 

Find a local organization that works on something you support. There are MeetUps in every city revolving around philanthropy if you don’t know where to start. Do a search of a cause—interested in children, helping victims of domestic violence, want to be more involved in refugees? Reach out, and get involved!

 

Maybe you have a special skill that you can donate? Are you an exceptional photographer, or can you make a five year old child laugh until they cry? Maybe you can’t think of anything in particular? That’s okay, I guarantee you non profit organizations have a long list of things they can’t get to that they would LOVE help with!

 

 

4. Do something nice for someone who can never truly repay you.

“A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of human life when he plants shade trees under which he knows full well he will never sit” – D. Elton Trueblood

 

As Anne Frank said, you don’t even need to wait a single moment to improve your world around you! How much better would it be if it were someone who could never truly repay you?

 

 

IMG_45055. Smile to someone on the street.

“No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.” – Aesop

 

Simple, right? Pay attention to how many people actually smile back!

 

 

6. See someone lost? Give directions to a stranger.

“If you wait until you can do everything for everybody, instead of something for somebody, you’ll end up not doing nothing for nobody.” – Malcom Bane

 

Or pick up a little more trash than you created (think: Boyscout’s motto of “Leave No Trace). Or help someone with his or her groceries. Or give someone a ride. Or pay for the food of the person behind you in a drive-through. Want more ideas? Check out this Buzzfeed article.

 

 

7. Pay a sincere compliment today.

“Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.” – Lao Tzu

 

How many times a day do you think of a nice thing to say to someone, but it leaves your mind as quickly as it came? Can you think of a time someone paid you a sincere and unexpected compliment? How did it make you feel? Maybe you don’t express your admiration to your partner enough, or maybe it’s a stranger on the elevator with the perfect outfit?

 

 

8. Sign up to volunteer abroad–by yourself, with your family, or your friends.

“Young people often ask us how they can help address issues… like international poverty. Our first recommendation to them is to get out and see the world…you need to see it first hand, even live in its midst…They have paid their own way to volunteer in poor countries – and once they see the poverty close, they want to do more… it would offer young Americans a potentially life-changing encounter with the developing world.” – Half the Sky

 

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Looking for a longer-term commitment? Want to give back in another part of the world? Here are three of my favorite organizations:

 

  • HELP International: Geared around college-aged students, focused on public health, infrastructure development, education empowerment, and business entrepreneurship.
  • Eagle Condor: 1-2 week expeditions throughout the year that bigger groups, families, or individuals can go on! They even have some during the holidays and deliver Christmas presents in an orphanage in Peru.
  • Revive Service Tours: Service cruises, and shorter-term volunteering for people who are busy and looking for a vacation!

 

My hope is that you feel more inspired to be generous, and maybe in new ways today. If you know of wonderful ways to give back, please leave a note in the comments–we welcome all ideas.

 

Let’s all remember to lift where we stand. Together, we can achieve great things in the world. Individually, all we need is a single moment to improve the life of one other person.

 

 

What The Moon Can Teach Us About Appreciation

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re currently on a planet floating in space. Yes, this beautiful brilliant home we call Earth, and Friday (Earth Day) was the one day a year we rededicate ourselves to taking care of her. Earth Day is the day we plant all the trees, turn off our lights, conserve our water a little more carefully, and decide we will take care of our home with more diligence. After all, our planet takes such good care of us.

 

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to see Hubble 3D. It was a gorgeous film exploring all the things we’ve gleaned from this wonderful telescope. The galaxies we’ve discovered, nebulas and formation of new stars, the new perspectives, and the things we’ve learned about other planets in our solar system.

 

Tra moonAt the very end of the movie, Leonardo DiCaprio, who narrates the film, says,

“It has been said that in discovering the moon, we discovered our earth.”

He went on to talk about how we’re always searching for other bigger and better things as humans. We have the desire to study things we have not yet explored, discover something that we’ve never seen before. Yet, after all of this searching, discovering, and knowledge that we’ve gained through the Hubble, we have yet to discover a place that loves us and protects us as perfectly as our beautiful Earth does. The beautiful balance of the ozone layer, the elements, the way our climate finds balance despite the things we do to destroy it.

 

This lead me to think about my own life. I have the tendency to be lured in by wanderlust, exploring, adventuring, and finding the best Pho restaurant in California, among other things. Maybe I’m on the constant search for something unexplored–a better job, better house, better relationships, even a better climate to live in. But maybe in reality, it’s all right under my nose?

 

Maybe I just need to appreciate the things I have in the moment that I have them. Maybe I need to learn to savor the moment, trust the wait, and enjoy the beauty of becoming. I need to recognize my perfect path and perfect circumstances that have all collided into creating who I am becoming. As beautiful and enticing as adventuring and exploring is, sometimes I forget where I am right now is the best place for me. I have to recognize that I am enough in this present moment.

 

Maybe, much like our beautiful planet, there are things in motion that I often am unaware of–cyclical patterns of weather, the beautiful plants creating oxygen–that are working on creating of the beautiful life I live.

 

Yes, it is important to take the time to rededicate ourselves to becoming a little more aware of the beautiful things we’ve been given. And maybe we can say in discovering the earth, we’ve discovered ourselves.

What is the difference between Mindfulness, meditation and Meditation (uppercase “M”)?

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Over the past few years, the idea of living mindfully and practicing mindfulness has captured the collective imagination of people all around the world. From the streets of Bali to boardrooms in Silicon Valley, there has been widespread adoption and thousands of mindfulness gurus are teaching a myriad of flavors of it.

 

As a result, there are many diverging views about the similarities and differences between mindfulness and meditation and we find that often people are speaking past each other because a lack of consensus and clarity on what mindfulness and meditation mean. This is my personal attempt to provide some clarity and offer my own understanding. But first, let’s look at some of the existing opinions out there.

 

Some practitioners argue that the two are essentially the same — age old practices focused on making us more calm, developing a higher degree of self-awareness, and increasing our level of compassion towards others.

 

Others say that mindfulness is an intention and way of being, whereas meditation is a practice (see Headspace’s FAQ). Jon Kabbat Zinn, often credited with popularizing mindfulness in the US says that  “mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” Meditation on the other hand, is the actual practice of sitting and applying a specific technique for desired outcomes.

 

Still others assert that in addition to mindfulness, mindfulness meditation is a type of meditation, focused on creating more awareness and presence, i.e., more mindfulness. This allows for a number of other approaches to meditation with different intentions to co-exist with mindfulness meditation.

 

Finally, there is the view that builds on this understanding and goes further, saying that there is meditation with a lowercase “m” and Meditation with an uppercase “M.” In this view, Meditation is understood as an intention and practice that goes beyond mindfulness and into the realm of awakening to the ultimate nature of reality in which pure awareness transcends and includes body, emotion, thought, personal identity, space/time, individual consciousness,” leading to a fuller embodiment of conscious love, and a commitment to positive change in the world.

 

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 4.14.39 PM“Whereas a basic mindfulness practice allows us to be more present within the container of our everyday experience, Waking Up takes us beyond the mere present moment of thought, sensation, and emotion, to come to the direct experience of a non-separate awareness, totally open, spacious and free. Many of us have felt and known this experience directly in our own lives.” Beyond Mindfulness by Dustin DiPerna

 

Here is a summary of the viewpoints laid out above (which of course aren’t completely exclusive to begin with):

 

  1. meditation with a lowercase “m” refers to the broader set of practices that produce positive effects like equilibrium, concentration and altruism.
  2. mindfulness is a way of being in any moment — aware of each thought, each emotion and each action as it arises, thereby bringing a further degree of intentionality and equanimity.
  3. mindfulness meditation refers to meditation focused on helping practitioners become more mindful.
  4. Meditation with an uppercase “M” refers to practices focused on a more fundamental awakening to the true nature of how things are and a commitment to living more fully and serving a higher purpose.

 

This is quite different from how the word mindfulness is used the mainstream, which seems to be a narrow understanding of mindfulness. “Pop” mindfulness has come to be seen as a stress-busting productivity hack that miraculously makes anxiety disappear and the work day more tolerable.

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 4.14.46 PMThe good news is that with almost any meditation or mindfulness meditation practice, these results are observable with consistent practice and so we are fully in support of the widespread adoption of these techniques in all walks of life and by all people. Having said that, this narrower understanding may have lost some of what is fundamental to the individual experience as well as the collective impact that can be generated.

 

So at Sphere, our intention is to help rediscover and repurpose Meditation for contemporary practitioners. From more basic options for beginners, to more advanced courses focused on generating stability in multiple states of consciousness (more on that in a subsequent post), our hope is to include and transcend mindfulness in a deeper and more profound exploration and a wider and more extensive embrace.

Come explore with us.

7 Happiness Habits, Backed-by-Science

Although happiness is a timeless and universal human quest, only in recent years has research turned its focus on how happiness can be sustained and increased. Science has now confirmed that with certain practices, we can change the neural pathways of our brain. Happiness is a set of skills we can learn through practice.

 

pie-chartThe research proves that happiness is possible through intentional habit changes, more than circumstantial changes. In fact, only 10% of our happiness is due to our external circumstances and a full 90% is based on our inner environment, with 50% of our happiness level coming from our genes, and as much as 40% from the choices we make and our intentional daily activities. (Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, et al., 2005)

 

So, what does this all mean? Putting the 7 habits into daily practice really does affect our happiness…science says!

 

 

 

DAILY HABIT # 1: MINDFULNESS, MINDSET, FOCUS

The Science: Mindfulness, the ancient practice of focusing non-judgmental awareness on the present moment, is increasingly recognized in today’s scientific community as an effective way to reduce stress, increase self-awareness, enhance emotional intelligence, and effectively manage painful thoughts and feelings.

 

The mind is highly trainable through various mindfulness practices like meditation, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). Evidence for the efficacy of mindfulness practices in improving psychological well-being continues to grow exponentially. Just a quick scan of the National Institute of Health’s PubMed database reveals over 500 scientific studies on mindfulness/meditation and the brain!

 

Anyone can stand to benefit from cultivating the skills of mindfulness — particularly in our busy modern lifestyles that are often characterized by stress, sleep deprivation, multitasking and digital distractions.

 

The Practice: For the next 24 hours, don’t believe everything you think. Rather, be a selective sifter of your thoughts; it’s possible to observe the fluctuations of the mind without becoming them. Identify your automatic thoughts. Are they positive, negative, fearful – what do you say to yourself when you are not paying attention? PAY ATTENTION to how thoughts make you feel. You alone create your day, thought by thought, choice by choice.

 

DAILY HABIT # 2: GRATITUDE, APPRECIATION, LOVE

The Science: Research has found that gratitude can significantly increase your happiness, and protect you from stress, negativity, anxiety, and depression.

 

Developing a regular gratitude practice is one of the easiest ways to counter the brain’s negativity bias – the tendency to cling to the negative things in our environment. By intentionally focusing on the good parts of our day, the positivity grows. In fact, it only takes 21 days of writing down three things for which you are grateful every day to begin reaping the benefits. Moral of the story? Count your blessings, daily, it has a measurably positive effect on our well-being.

 

The Practice: Gratitude is an orientation that becomes a habit with regular mental rehearsal. Upon waking tomorrow, let your first thought be, “Thank you for this breath.” Notice how saying an “Awakening Appreciation” to yourself, before you even open your eyes, can shift your entire day. For the next week, start each day simply, in appreciation for the gift of life. When you wake with a grateful heart, that feeling of appreciation cascades into the rest of your day, and beyond.

 

DAILY HABIT # 3: BODY WELLNESS, MOTIVATION, SELF-CARE 

The Science:  Happiness is good for your health. And vice versa. A review of hundreds of studies has found compelling evidence that happier people have better overall health and live longer than their less happy peers. Anxiety, depression, pessimism and a lack of enjoyment of daily activities have all been found to be associated with higher rates of disease and shorter lifespans.

 

What’s more, if you have a good sense of well-being, it’s easier to maintain good habits, such as, exercising, eating a balanced diet and getting enough sleep. People who have an optimistic mindset may be more likely to engage in healthy behaviors because they perceive them as helpful in achieving their goals.

 

Taking care of your physical wellness may well be the most effective instant happiness booster of all.

 

The Practice: In a bad mood? Move. Movement is medicine. In fact, did you know that the APA now includes exercise as a proven treatment for depression? “In 2010, the APA finally caught up with Hippocrates, who recommended that all people in a bad mood should go for a walk—and if it did not improve, walk again. Sedentary behavior causes brain impairment, and we know how: by depriving your brain of the flood of neurochemistry that evolution developed in order to grow brains and keep them healthy.”   ~John Ratey

 

In the next 24 hours, get out of your head and into your body more. Think of movement and healthy eating as “happiness triggers” rather than thinking of them as exercise and dieting. What is one “happiness trigger” you will commit to today?

 

DAILY HABIT # 4: COMPASSION, GIVING BACK, ALTRUISM

The Science: Happiness and altruism are intimately linked – doing good is an essential ingredient to being happy, and happiness helps spur kindness and generosity.

 

Research suggests that how we spend our time and resources is as important, if not more important, than the amount of money we make. Giving to others releases endorphins, activating the parts of our brains that are associated with trust, pleasure, and social connection. Being altruistic and spending money on others leads to higher levels of happiness than spending it on oneself. Happiness, in turn, increases the chance that we’ll be altruistic in the future, creating a positive feedback loop of generosity and happiness. As the researchers write, “Policies that promote well-being may help to generate a virtuous circle, whereby increases in well-being promote altruism that, in turn, increases well-being. Such a cycle holds the promise of creating a ‘sustainable happiness’ with broad benefits for altruists, their beneficiaries, and society at large.”

 

The Practice: In the next 24 hours, do something for someone who can never really repay you.  This can be as simple as reminding someone of their strengths and potential. It’ll surely elevate that person. Notice how it makes you feel, too. When we do good, we feel good.

 

DAILY HABIT # 5: AUTHENTICITY, VULNERABILITY, FORGIVENESS, LETTING GO

The Science: When Dr. Brené Brown conducted thousands of interviews to discover what lies at the root of social connection, a thorough analysis of the data revealed what it was: vulnerability. To be clear, vulnerability does not mean being weak or submissive. To the contrary, it implies the courage to be your authentic self. The rewards of vulnerability are immeasurable. When you embrace an authentic and vulnerable stance toward life, people will meet you there in that openness, allowing you to experience true connection.

 

Forgiveness is a byproduct of living authentically and vulnerably. Forgiveness doesn’t mean tolerance of error or malintent, but rather a patient encouragement of growth. Practicing forgiveness doesn’t only benefit the person we forgive; recent research shows that it has tangible benefits for ourselves as well. So the next time you’re holding a grudge, try letting it go for your own happiness!

 

The Practice: You feel real freedom in direct proportion to how connected you are to living your truth. Every morning, before the demands of your day steal you away, dedicate a few moments to breathe-in who you truly are. Then, trust this truth to guide you through your day. The moment you stop caring about what other people think and start living by what’s in your heart, is the moment you will finally feel FREE. Remember, “Be you. The world will adjust.”

 

DAILY HABIT # 6: SOCIAL CONNECTION, NATURE CONNECTION, EMPATHY

 The Science: Our busy lives often leave us stretched for time to connect with others, but science suggests that social connection should be tops on our to-do lists. Dr. Emma Seppala from Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) says that when connection with others is present, it can boost mental and physical health, and even increase immunity and longevity.

 

Relatedly, happiness is collective. Our happiness depends on the happiness of those to whom we are connected. Studies show that through practicing happiness, we make those we come into contact with happier. In other words, happiness is contagious! This extends to the 3rd degree of contact (a friend of a friend of a friend).

 

The Practice: In each of us there is a little of all of us. For the next 24 hours, humanize strangers you encounter on the street. Notice, how does your perception of random people change when you treat each as though you are meeting your long lost friend? ”A person experiences life as something separated from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. Our task must be to free ourselves from this self-imposed prison, and through compassion to find the reality of Oneness.” ~ Albert Einstein

 

DAILY HABIT # 7: PURPOSE AND MEANING, STRENGTHS, SOUL

The Science: Many people tell themselves, “If I work hard, I’ll be successful. If I’m successful, I’ll be happy.” But recent discoveries in psychology and neuroscience show that this formula is backward: Happiness fuels success, not the other way around. In fact, science has shown that, “The brain at positive is 31% more productive than at negative, neutral or stressed.” ~ Shawn Achor

 

What’s more, researchers have found that the type of work you do is key: engaging in meaningful activity is a big indicator of happiness. As Harvard happiness expert Tal Ben Shahar says, “Happiness lies at the intersection of pleasure and meaning.” In addition to seeking work imbued with a sense of purpose, scientists have discovered that people thrive in environments where their strengths are emphasized. If we are actively involved in trying to reach a goal, or an activity that is challenging but well suited to our skills, we experience a joyful state, or what psychologist Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow.” The experience of flow in both professional and leisure activities leads to increased positive effect, performance, and commitment to long-term meaningful goals.

 

The Practice: Place your hand over your heart. Feel that? That’s called purpose. You’re alive for a reason. Find time for the things that make you feel happy to be alive today…what if, “The meaning of life is to give life meaning. “

 

 

The science of happiness speaks for itself. But you don’t need science to prove that happiness is found in simple day-to-day habits practiced intentionally over time. Test it for yourself. Sign up today for Project Happiness’ FREE daily habit tips, bridging the science of happiness into strategies for your everyday life: http://projecthappiness.com/happiness-habits-2/

 

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5 Simple Lessons About Happiness I Learned From My Children

Children are wiser than most of us acknowledge and have a great deal to teach us. They interact with the world in an unassuming way, not yet programmed by the routine thinking of the adult world.

 

My training as a psychologist taught me to observe and look for trends in human behavior. I’m a mother of two boisterous boys and when I stepped back recently to observe their behavior I noticed some powerful yet simple patterns.

 

We all have the ability to learn from children and those around us. Here are 5 of the lessons my children have taught me about how to be happier: 

 

1. A lack of sleep makes us grumpy

We are quick to put a child’s whiny mood down to being tired, yet as adults we frequently underestimate how important adequate sleep is. As we grow-up we get better at hiding the pure frustration and moodiness that comes with being exhausted. Tragically, many of us begin to think it’s normal to feel this way and constantly live in a state of sleep deprivation. But just as it is for children, adults tend to get grumpy when they’re tired. Being grouchy impacts on the quality of our interactions with the world around us, and ultimately undermines our happiness. Sleep is an essential prerequisite for a positive mood for both children and adults.

 

2. You can run-out excess mental energy

Just like the kid’s song states, watching my children has taught me that we really can “shake our sillies out”. When my boys are getting titchy, there is nothing like some physical outside playtime to turn their moods around. It’s appears to feed their brains fresh air and push out all the mental cobwebs. An excess of mental energy in adults often feels liked a stressed, anxious or overactive mind and my boys have taught me that exercise can act as a physical release for that mental tension.

 

3. Joy is found in the moment

Our lives are happening in the now, right in front of us. Children naturally commit themselves fully to what they are doing and immerse themselves in the present moment. When they are actively involved with a task they are not lost in their heads contemplating tomorrow, but focus intensely on the activity at hand. Adults too often run through life completing tasks on auto-pilot while absorbed in their minds or while on their phones. Children know that true joy is found in interacting fully with the present moment.

 

4. Remember the good things and don’t dwell on the bad

My children naturally have a willingness to let go of the drama and concentrate on the happy times in life. Each night when I lay down to tuck my 4 year old into bed, even if parts of the day have been tough, he always remembers the positive moments. As adults we too can encourage positive feelings by making a conscious decision to concentrate and recall the good-stuff that is happening in our lives.

 

5. Friendships are essential for our well-being

My boys are never happier than when they are playing with their friends. We are naturally social beings. Even if some of us have a lower need for contact with others, we all still need genuine human connection. As we move further into adulthood, finding time to spend with our friends and maintaining our friendships can feel like a luxury that time doesn’t afford. Yet it shouldn’t. My children have taught me that friendships are an essential key to our lasting happiness. We were born to crave connection and if happiness is important to us then our friendships deserve to be at the top of our to-do lists.

 

 

Beauty as a Force For Change

 

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The Global Climate Summit in Paris was followed by a breath-taking light of show of Louie Schwartzberg’s work projected upon the greater-than-life exterior of the Vatican in Rome.

 

Project Happiness Founder and CEO, Randy Taran, recently had the opportunity to chat with award winning cinematographer, Louie Schwartzberg, about happiness, purpose and opening up to the beauty of life.

 

Here is the transcript of that interview about Beauty as A Force for Change:

 

Randy Taran (RT): Louie, such a pleasure to be talking with you. Your Gratitude Revealed series is so compelling. One of the first things that struck me –in your mindfulness episode, you described that state as “being present always, ready for the light to strike, without preconceived notion or judgment.” Sounds kind of like a metaphor for your work.

 

Louie Schwartzberg (LS): Yeah, well, that’s what I’ve learned…that the art of filmmaking has become practice for me as meditation might be for some people, or yoga, because basically what I’m doing is I’m allowing my mind to be like film – and what a beautiful metaphor. Here is film sitting in the camera like total darkness, always in this state of readiness for light to strike, without any preconceived notions or ideas about subject matter, wide open to whatever comes in, and always in a state of conscious awareness, but with a blank slate. So, no preconceived ideas, no prejudgments, no attitude about being a know-it-all, but more in a sense of wonder and curiosity.

 

RT: Yes, that’s beautiful, and that allows you to do the profound work that you do…

 

LS: I think it enables me or anyone to basically connect with the deepest part of your soul because you are recognizing and identifying yourself with universal rhythms and patterns, which is what nature shares with you… like looking at the veins going through a leaf, or the veins going through your body. Those patterns and rhythms are synonymous throughout the universe, and they’re also happening inside of every cellular body, so you get that connection. You’re looking at something and recognize it as being real, truthful, authentic, and, guess what, it happens to be a part of you.

 

RT: Yes, just like we are a part of nature and something greater.

 

LS: Right, which is why I’ve been using my imagery as a bridge, not as an end-all necessarily, to get people to appreciate and experience nature. I’m using – I call it – visual healing, whether it can be used either in hospitals or in schools or on your i-Phone, to have a two-minute experience, like the short videos we did for Gratitude Revealed. I think that it’s one way to share that wisdom and sacred knowledge that we have become disconnected from, and so, that’s the gift I’m trying to share with people, because we don’t always have access – we’ve become disconnected and have forgotten that prior to the industrial revolution, everybody was living in nature.

 

…I think we need to reconnect, not totally, but at least a little bit, and now we have scientific evidence, that proves that, you know, a walk in the woods reduces your stress, lowers your heart rate, promotes creativity, better thinking, lower blood pressure. I mean, we kind of knew all this stuff before, but now we can actually measure it.

 

RT: How does nature change people?

 

LS: I’ve worked with the Nature Bridge program which brought over a million kids to national parks, children who grow up in inner city who are marginalized, and have never been to nature, kids in South Central LA have never been to the ocean. And so, they have a lot of fear, anxiety, and after a three-day trip in a national park with their friends, they are completely changed forever, and their attitude to, not only nature, but to life is totally changed. All it takes, I believe, is an immersive experience in nature, and I think it can happen overnight.

 

RT: And awe plays a really big role in your work – can you speak about awe as well?

 

LS: Well, I think – I mean, for me – awe is a glimpse, or portal, into the divine, and we all have a desire to be connected to that, and, whatever religion or practice one does, we all want to feel connected to a universal energy that’s about love, right?

 

RT: Right, right!

 

LS: So, it doesn’t matter what pathway it takes, or what your belief system is, or what the story is. We just want to feel it. And that sense of awe, for me, happens when I recognize something of extraordinary beauty in filming nature, whether it’s a flower, a hummingbird, a landscape. It could be, for many people, listening to a beautiful piece of music, or eating a delicious fresh-baked muffin, or practicing your religion. But, here’s, I think, the interesting part: in the videos I have online, most people say “Oh my God, it’s beautiful.” What is important is feeling the divine, is to be moved. It doesn’t matter how you get there. If it’s walking into a cathedral, wonderful. Walking into Yosemite, awesome. We all want to feel that in the moment, in the present moment. And we don’t have to argue about how we got there.

 

RT: What has been one of your most memorable experiences in filmmaking or even in creating the Gratitude Revealed Series? What stands out for you in your mind?

 

LS: Well, the most recent, amazing, emotional experience I have, I guess, – you know, your recent history is what you remember first – we recently had the honor to project some of my nature imagery on the Vatican during the Climate Summit in Paris to support the popes and cyclical saying we need to protect the earth. Wow, to see my images of flowers and birds and bees and mushrooms on the Vatican, oh my God, because then you see I’m crossing over into that more traditional form of belief, which is fine, and we certainly are grateful that we have a pope who is more enlightened and to be able to share the love and shine light on ane43f2d71115624ecdc0a16becf24380c institution that has not always been very imagesopen-minded. For me personally, this meant a lot because, as my parents are Holocaust survivors. Who would have thought that in one generation, the son of a Holocaust survivor would be shining light on the Vatican…

vaticanc4cfiRT: Well, I can feel one thing, is that your parents must be very proud of you, Louie, for what you’ve done…

 

LS: Well, I think so. They’re up somewhere. I mean, I’ve got survivor DNA, and what’s fascinating is that though my parents went through an amazingly horrific experience, they still had love in their life, and they still had joy and love that they shared with their children. And then, I know many psychologists now are trying to understand and study why is it that some people have the ability to bounce back better than others, which is called resilience. We all have bad things happen in our lives. I rolled through a stop sign this morning, and it’s okay, but for some people that could ruin their whole day. And it’s just being able to look at things differently and just bounce back. We’re all going to have bad things happen. Unexpected things, and people who are more centered, whether they meditate or whether they have that connection with nature, I think we bounce back a lot faster.

 

RT: Speaking of bouncing back, how do you define happiness?

 

LS: Wow, for me I think happiness means fulfilling my purpose in life. It’s not about being smiley or jumping up and down and certainly not buying anything that’s material. I was certainly overjoyed yesterday when I did my presentation at Big Sur – I felt the reaction from the audience with the applause and with tears. Because I feel like I’m sharing nature’s energy with them, so, it’s also interesting too, in the Gratitude Series, one of the ones we did was on “Purpose” and one of the scientific research findings has discovered that people who have purpose live longer. So, yeah, for me, doing my film and being able to share it with people, being able to share this interview with you, that makes me happy.

 

 

RT: If you were not the brilliant cinematographer that you are, is there a natural talent that you wish you were born with?

 

LS: Oh wow, I think being able to create music. I’m just blown away that people can sit down with a musical instrument and just play, not play by looking at a score sheet, but just play. That just blows my mind.

 

RT: Well, in a sense, the ideal is for everyone to play their own instrument, whatever that may be, right?

 

LS: Yeah, right. I’m just in awe that people can do that…like where did that come from? And that’s what I guess we’re all trying to do too. When you have found your instrument, how do you get into the flow? It’s like you’re the creator. It’s you allowing that creative energy to pass through you. And that’s true, you can hear it with great musicians, you can here it with even sports guys talk about it, about being in the zone, being in the flow. That’s what makes a Kobe Bryant a Kobe Bryant, you know what I mean? That he has just completely let go and is able to channel something that enables him to achieve perfection.

 

RT: Yeah, it’s an ideal state, it’s, personally, when I feel that, it’s where I want to live, you know?

 

LS: Exactly. That’s another maybe definition of happiness.

 

RT: Yeah! Yeah, it is, I think that’s definitely part of mine. You mentioned, I think in one of your recent films that we’re on the threshold of extraordinary advances born of our drive to unveil the mysteries of life. Can you say more?

 

LS: Yeah, I think we’re in an incredible time and place where we’re seeing both breakdown and breakthrough. Breakdown of government, economic systems, economy that isn’t working clearly, you know? But at the same time we have amazing solutions being offered by creativity and technology. Now we have scientific tools and evidence that can actually measure things like happiness and longevity, the healing power of nature, how wonder enables creativity, which enables better business practices. We have data that we can measure it and prove what poets and artists have known for thousands of years, like love makes the world go round.

 

RT: Right along with the simple things our grandmothers told us! Count your blessings…

 

LS: Exactly, right, so it’s in literature, it’s in poetry, it’s in art that goes back for thousands of years but it’s kind of interesting now because we can measure it. When you’re in the zone, when you’re in nature, when you’re in love, guess what, we have endorphins that are being released and oxytocin and all these hormones that are traveling through your body, which is great that we understand it from a western scientific point of view; but we always felt it in our hearts. We need to use our hearts to take advantage of the technological solutions that are present, use things in the positive way, not to control your life, but use it in ways to enhance your life. That’s what I’m doing with Moving Art: creating these little video shorts that people can watch or…meditate with. There are ways we can use this technology in a positive way.

 

RT: Take your time-lapse photography – doesn’t it change people watching it? Would you say that people somehow slow down when they’re watching a flower bloom?

 

LS: Well, what certainly is happening is that I’m breaking the constraints of how people are viewing life, I’m opening up your worldview. We have a very narrow world view, when we look at things from the human perspective, our life being at a certain metabolic rate, at a certain age range… When you look at a flower, it may only be opening up for a week, and then it’s going to die. Same thing is true with looking at a redwood tree looking at us. It lives 500 to 1,000 years and we’re just like here for a flash, so when you’re opening up this dimension of time, it’s almost like a dream state. It broadens your horizons, it opens up your worldview. It makes you realize that our concept of time is an illusion, that this wristwatch is only a click-click linear thing, a mechanical device that is not really the definition of time.

 

There are so many experiential portals of time that we need to be aware of. It’s kind of like when you’re playing the piano, a human being is only playing one octave. Well, guess what? There’s eight octaves above it and below it. You only see one narrow spectrum of light – the colored light spectrum – but there are wavelengths of energy above and below it – x-ray, gamma ray, ultraviolet, infrared – just because we don’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there, and just because we don’t see a flower open and close doesn’t mean it’s not moving.

 

So, I’m able to show people – not talk about it, but literally show people – what it’s like to be a hummingbird and what it’s like to be a flower from their point of view. And what that does is it opens up your heart. It does. I love the fact that the most common phrase I get is “Oh my God”, which is great because what does “oh my god” mean? The “oh” means it makes you present, the “my” means it touches the deepest part of your soul, and “god” is that universal connection we all want to be a part of.

 

RT: And it connects us to the mystery of life.

 

LS: And that’s really important to – I’m glad you said that word, the mystery – because that’s what I’m trying to do, is unveil the mystery of life and I don’t think there’s an answer. There’ll never be an answer. That’s the point. We’re on the journey. When they asked Einstein the mission of God, he said it’s a sense of wonder, so embrace the mystery. That to me is what I’m trying to do and that’s what I’m trying to share with people.

 

RT: That’s beautiful and much needed. If you wanted to share some words of wisdom with others, what are three things you would want to say?

 

LS: I’d say, especially with young people too, find your passion and follow your passion. That way you have meaning in your life and you’re serving a purpose for the greater good, and that will make you happy and very fulfilled. I think that’s the most important and I would say. In addition to that, live in harmony with nature, which, when you do that that also means the choices you make, what you eat, the energy that you use, the way you relate to people, it’s all about harmony, nature’s all about harmony. It’s all about symbiotic relationships and so, if you do that, and actually the same thing is said in the bible “do unto others as you would do unto yourself” right?

 

RT: Right.

 

LS: That is the essence of nature. Every ecosystem wants to flourish, and it flourishes by not being greedy, by not taking advantage of each other. Because, when one aspect dies, it affects everybody. So, for an ecosystem to work well, everybody has to work well, everybody has to flourish, everybody lives in harmony. So: find your passion, live in harmony, and then the golden rule: “do unto others as you do unto yourself.” Thank you so much for this really profound and sacred interview.

 

RT: Thank you, Louie. I’m so happy to share your amazing work.

 

Make sure to check out this video documenting the breath-taking light of show of Louie Schwartzberg’s work projected upon the greater-than-life exterior of the Vatican in Rome: https://vimeo.com/149340815

 

 

How to Expand Your International Day of Happiness All Year Long

IMG_0518 (2)This year, you have a choice. Though International Day of Happiness is a great excuse to celebrate happiness one day a year, why not use the day to kick-start your happiest year ever?

Sounds good so far, but the question is how? Well, the truth is that happiness looks different for everyone, both locally and globally. The Project Happiness team was recently invited by ReThink, Trinidad, to visit Guyana to hold a training on happiness and emotional resiliency. With Her Excellence, Sandra Grainger (the first lady of Guyana)’s support and attendance, the training was held in the Ministry of Education with 70+ teachers, public health personnel, social workers, and national administration. Having recently been identified as the country with the highest suicide rate per capita in the world, the Guyanese we met welcomed tools to create a positive impact and seed hope in their community. At the end of our time together, the participants reported feeling uplifted, energized and excited to implement what they had discovered.

Here are some inspirations from that trip to help you get your happiness in gear:

1. Start with Respect:

Emotions are like a boomerang; what you send out comes back to you. If you treat others with respect, chances are they will respond in kind. When we first got to the country, it was unclear if we were going to be regarded as just another organization trying to impose our “solutions.” When they understood that we were there to share ideas and actually learn from one another, it changed the tone to one of sincere communication. Self-respect was another aspect. In these all-too-busy times, we shared that it’s important to respect yourself too! This includes your time, your energy, and even your inner voice. It all matters.

2. Walk in Someone Else’s Shoes:

In order to have a real conversation with anyone, it helps to know what they are dealing with now and what challenges they have faced. In Georgetown, Guyana’s capital, there had just been a riot in the local prison, and it was burnt to the ground. Many people were enraged. Yet, the First Lady, Mrs. Sandra Grainger, who attended part of the training, spoke of empathy. “These men were someone’s son, or brother or friend. You never know what had happened to put them in that place, or what hardships they had to deal with.” Everyone was touched. The takeaway: even though we may come from different experiences, it is important to consider what lies beneath the surface. Empathy can go a long way.

3. Adults Like to Play Too:

Who said fun was limited to children? Research has shown that play is one of the best ways to recharge, restore and jumpstart creativity. Especially when times are tough, find ways to lift one another up and laugh. Music and dance are universal elixirs. When we asked the group to get up and break out into a happy dance, the enthusiasm was palpable. One of the fastest ways to shift out of a bad mood is to shake it! Music crosses all boundaries – let it be your fuel.

4. The Power of a Circle:

A highly effective strategy to bounce back from stress is to show and receive gratitude or appreciation. In Guyana, we had participants form appreciation circles of about 10 people each. They had to tell the person on their right, one thing that they appreciated about them: something that involved their character rather than their clothes. It was one of the most popular activities, so much so that we did another one at the end. People were laughing, crying, hugging… and opening up to their strengths. If you are interested in knowing more about the power of circles or starting one yourself, learn more here.

5. To Feel Good, Do Good:

There have been many studies that show that people who give to others end up being happier. Not only do we feel a greater sense of meaning, but this actually promotes long term happiness. Connecting to others is also something we are wired to do – we all seek to be part of something greater. When we offered the participants the chance to become a Happiness Ambassador, to help bridge the latest in the science of happiness for people in all walks of life, you could have heard a pin drop. The idea of working with them, to tailor our programs to be sensitive to the specific needs within the community, was much appreciated – it’s back to that respect thing… If this strikes an “AHA” chord in you, you can also learn more about bringing this movement for global well-being to your corner of the globe.

At the end of the day, well-being is not rocket science. It’s the simple day-to-day habits that we intentionally do that shape our brains to receive greater happiness. International Day of Happiness is just a reminder of all the resources you already have inside of you. Choose to use them, and better yet, share your gifts with others all year round.

5 Reasons Why it’s Important to Commemorate Special Occasions

 

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“Twinkle lights are the perfect metaphor for joy. Joy is not a constant. It comes to us in moments – often ordinary moments. I believe a joyful life is made up of joyful moments gracefully strung together by trust, gratitude, inspiration, and faith.” – Brene Brown

Since the dawn of civilization, man has given high priority towards the commemoration of special occasions. We can see this in the pagan rituals conducted by our tribal ancestors during initiations, the ancient Egyptians’ celebrations during the annual harvests, the elaborate coronation ceremonies during the Middle Ages, and the gruesome acts of human sacrificial offerings that were made by the Mayans.

 

The list of the number of rites, rituals and celebrations that the people on our planet partake in is almost endless and incredibly diverse. Commemoration rituals can be as simple as treating ourselves to a spa day after accomplishing something challenging at work to a full blown 3 day wedding extravaganza to share the happiness of our blessed union with our loved ones.

 

All around the world, special events and celebrations like weddings are even led up to with great gusto. The market for invitations, save the dates, and other types of celebration reminders are prolific and extremely popular. In fact there is a ubiquitous industry for the celebration of practically all mainstream holidays such as Christmas, Valentine’s Day and New Years Eve.

 

Every culture, nation and tradition has developed its own unique ways of honoring special occasions. Their customs and traditions are a direct product of their cultural background, history, religious beliefs and even the geography of the region they live in. We see this in religious and cultural festivals around the world like the Carnival in Brazil, Chinese New Year, Oktoberfest in Germany and Diwali in India.

 

As eclectic as these practices are, if we take a closer look, we’ll see that there is a common thread of themes that connects each and every one of them. We will see that all of these occasions center on universal human experiences such as love, sadness, joy, reverence, success and sacrifice.

 

No matter which country you visit, you will notice that we all rejoice in the same things, such as a happy relationships, the birth of a child, professional or personal victories and other milestones. Similarly, we all mourn the same things, such as losing a loved one or facing a major setback or disaster.

 

It seems that as a species we are instinctually driven to honour the significant moments in our lives. There are deep underlying needs that drive us to engage in celebrations. As a result, we have found so many wonderful ways to meet these needs and create more meaning in our lives.

 

There are, however, skeptics out there who perceive these celebrations as being fluffy, ostentatious and prodigal. These practical traditionalists view these occasions with an eye of cynicism, preferring to maintain a stance of reticence and living their life in a moderate and simplistic manner.

 

Of course everyone is free to live their life in a manner of their choosing, but they would be missing out on a lot of life’s “goodies” by excluding themselves from participating in gatherings that pay homage to the important milestones in life. Here are some significant benefits that they would miss out on:

 

  1. Cultivating a sense of community:

    One of the most opportune times to bond with our families and friends is during special occasions. Whether we come together to celebrate happy occasions such as a bridal shower or a more sombre occasions such as a funeral, we get a chance to connect with those we love and care about on a deeper and more profound level.

  2. Instilling a sense of meaning and significance to our lives:

    The unique rituals and practices that highlight important milestones such as weddings, graduations or birthdays all serve an important purpose. Participating in the customary rites (cutting cakes and drinking champagne) connects us to the significance of the role that an occasion plays within the grand scheme of our lives. It instills a sense of reverence and appreciation for the gift of life and connects us to a more omnipotent force.

  3. We will create lasting fond memories:

    The human mind tends to recall memories that carry a high emotional charge to them. When we commemorate a special occasion, we are essentially placing a mental bookmark on an experience, thereby making it easier to remember it in the future. The photos, videos and other forms of memorabilia from those occasions serve as triggers that we can use to re-live those pleasant experiences in the future.

  4. It adds fun and excitement to our lives:

    Celebrations can be incredibly fun and provides us with the perfect opportunity to engage in the joys of life such dance, song, food, play and laughter. Who doesn’t look forward to the fun-filled occasions where we can let our hair down and take a break from our mundane existence? The little kid within us still relishes in the excitement of an upcoming celebration and this is an emotion that we deserve to indulge in as adults as well.

  5. We take our place in the circle of life:

    When we commemorate special occasions, we are essentially connecting with our humanity and the commonality that we share with all those who have been long gone before us. We tap into the timelessness of the human spirit when we take the time to pay respect to the important rites of passages that were celebrated by our ancestors in the yesteryears.

 

 

10 Things I Wish Someone Told Me as a Teenage Boy

One punch came at me, I ducked. Another punch came at me, I could not quite duck. The punch landed square on the side of my helmet. I turned starry eyed and fell back into the lockers. My teammates were standing around, cheering loudly — pushing me back into a boxing match with my senior teammate. The punches kept pummeling me. I tried as best I could to hit him, but I was a scrappy 140-pound freshman. There was nothing I could do but endure the punishment from my senior teammate — he was a good 8 inches taller and 60 pounds heavier then me.

 

I suffered through it, and then waited for the next week when I would be forced to box another one of the seniors on the team. This was how you “manned up” — all the freshman on Varsity lacrosse had to box all of the seniors on the team. It was our right of passage. It was brutal, scary, and certainly did not make me a better lacrosse player. In fact, it just made me scared shitless on my walk back from field to the locker room — “Would I have to box Josh or Andre today” — I never knew until we came back in the locker room and the seniors announced it was “boxing time.”

 

Is this Normal?

As a young man, I thought this was normal: men were just brutal to each other and going through punishing physical rites of passage was the way to man up and prove oneself. Many young men at my school created their own rites of passage — from racing cars to violent physical battles. I was lucky to make it through my adolescence without a serious injury but others as my school were not so lucky. Some died in gang violence; others died drunk driving.

 

Across our country, young men from all backgrounds are initiating themselves and the results are terrifying: There are over 1,000,000 adolescents in gangs around the country; over 90 percent of them are young men. Numerous young men  at fraternity hazing over the years. What young men need is for older men to put them through a curated, trying, but ultimately caring and safe rites of passage. They need older male mentors who have “been through the fire” to help guide them on their journey to manhood and teach them that being tough and loving are not mutually exclusive as our dominant cultural message of masculinity suggests.

 

To help young men on their journey through adolescence, I now work as a mentor, educator, and wilderness + mindfulness trip leader. Years of observing and engaging with adolescent men in their schools, their communities, and the backcountry have allowed me to see what was missing for me at that age. These accrued observations guide my work to ensure young men are equipped with the tools they need to step into manhood with compassion, self-awareness, and true power.

 

Below are ten things I wish one of the seniors on my team had told me when I was a freshman. They are lessons I now pass along to the young men I mentor and lead on wilderness trips:

 

1: How My Brain Worked

For young men in particular, it is important to teach them about hyperrationality — the balancing in your brain between perceived risk and consequences. According to neuroscientists, the adolescent male brain is the most susceptible to dangerous risk-taking. I used to take physical risks frequently — jumping off bridges, driving cars too fast, diving off moving boats. It wasn’t that I was unaware of the consequences (like crashing the car, hitting the river bottom, or getting in a boating accident), I just didn’t think any of it would happen to me. But bad outcomes do happen, especially to young men: They represent nearly 4 out of 6 teenagers that die every day in car crashes in this country. Because most young men are never taught how their brain development affects decision-making, they are more likely to make rash decisions. I teach my young men how their brains work. That way they can make smart, informed decisions — especially when those decisions could yield irreversible consequences.

 

2: Be Myself, Don’t Perform Myself

Young men want to be liked, accepted, and seen. To have all three, they feel they have to perform the person they think others want them to be. Young men are terrified they’ll be rejected if they reveal their authentic selves. I performed a lot in high school, but deep down, I yearned to be able to express myself fully — my love for dance and appreciation of the natural world. But I didn’t. I too was scared I would be judged as “uncool,” or not exciting enough to hang out with. Many of the young guys I work with feel the need to perform as well: they have to pretend to not care at school (even though they do) or disregard their emotional worlds (even though they yearn to express themselves). Interestingly, most of these young men have an awareness of the difference between performing versus being themselves, but they don’t stop performing for fear of losing friendship or face. I tell my young guys that if someone only likes them when they’re performing, that person isn’t a true friend. Your true friends are the ones you can be real with. And you won’t find out who that is until you stop performing.

 

3: How to Manage My Anger

As a young man, I often burst into violent fits of anger. Sports provided me with a culturally appropriate outlet for my anger: playing defense in a game of lacrosse allowed me to whack my opponents with a 6-foot titanium stick, for example. This is one of the most common things I find working with young guys: They have a lot of anger and don’t know how to deal with it. Young men express anger in different ways, but few young men have healthy ways of confronting this anger, which can lead to violence, even death. In 2013, males ages 15 to 19 were three times more likely to die by suicide, 7 times more likely to be victims of homicide, and 8 times more likely to be involved in a firearm-related death than were females of the same age.

 

But once I quit sports I had no outlet. The big shift came when I was 19; I learned to meditate. During my first ten-day meditation sit, I truly faced my anger for the first time. Introducing young men to mindfulness practices is a powerful and effective tool I use to help them address their anger in a healthy, direct way — not to squelch their anger, but to acknowledge it, sit with it, and most importantly make sure that you do not react from a place of anger to make a stupid decision that will harm yourself or someone else.

 

4: Accept My Range of Emotions

1When I was a young man, I tried to suppress everything. In the midst of playing sports and training my feelings into submission, I remember telling myself, you don’t have emotions. I thought that having emotions would get in the way of succeeding in sports, academics, and later, in my professional life. The older men around me didn’t seem to express emotions other than my anger or boredom, and it was rare that I allowed myself to fully experience emotions other than those I saw modeled. If I did, I would judge myself for it. I wish someone had taught me, just as I do to my young men, that it’s natural and beautiful to feel the full range of emotions; this what it means to be fully human. And there’s nothing “unmasculine” about it. In fact, the opposite is true. Really knowing what’s going on internally enables you to be a more powerful, self-aware man.

 

5: Stay Present

With all the pressure that I felt to go to a good college, I agonized all the time over the future. When I wasn’t living in the future, I would ruminate on the things that I had done wrong in the past. The dumb thing I’d said to a girl, the pass I dropped, or the easy test question I’d missed. I remember staying up late one night in my bed concluding that life was about collecting experiences, like trophies, rather than enjoying what is. The notion of living in the present wasn’t even a remote possibility because I was scared of what would bubble up from my interior. I have seen over and over in mindfulness retreats that young men are scared to sit still because they do not have the tools to deal with the feelings that naturally arise. They would rather play with their phones, move around, or do almost anything other than sit with uncomfortable inner states. In an extreme example, a recent study showed that men choose to give themselves electrical shocks rather than sit with their thoughts and emotions . Luckily, mindfulness meditation again offered help; the practice allowed me to understand dwelling in the present moment as a real possibility. This is why I incorporate mindfulness into the work I do with young men in the classroom, mentoring, and in the backcountry.

 

6: Live in Gratitude

There were so many things in life that I took for granted as a young man. My family did their best — we would take a minute of silence before dinners. But I did not have a relationship with the feeling of gratitude. Because I was so focused on getting somewhere or thinking of what I didn’t yet have, I never fully appreciated what I did have. As a young man, I was never taught how to practice gratitude — meaning how to actively develop and grow a sense of gratitude. Research shows gratitude is a practice that you can actually grow and cultivate. When one of my mentees came back from being in the wilderness for a long time he felt a sense of gratitude that he never had before. He appreciated his home, the clean water, his parents, and the food at the table. When he got home, we established a practice for him to access gratitude to ensure he didn’t slip back into taking all of the things in his life for granted, as it is so easy to do. One of the main reasons I take young men into the woods is to develop and cultivate a deep sense of gratitude for the natural world — and for everything in their lives back home.

 

7: Develop Real Relationships With Women

At my high school, it was all about the hook up. For me and my friends, the measures of success were how many girls you could hook up with and how “hot” they were. (It was not even a possibility for an athletic guy to come out as gay at my school — he would be hazed and isolated.) This hook up culture prevented me from having emotionally intimate relationships with young women. Without men who modeled this kind of emotional intimacy, it took me years before I learned how on my own. I talk a lot with my young guys who are exploring sexually with woman about noticing what different interactions with women feel like. Does it feel good to have an emotion-less hook up? What about emotional intimacy feels intimidating? What does a healthy relationship with a woman look like? By developing this awareness, they can start to learn how to develop healthy, loving relationships.

 

8: Build Intimate Emotional Relationships with Men

I had a lot of good buddies in high school, but it was not until late college that I started to develop truly intimate emotional relationships with men. This was in large part because of the stigma against emotionally intimate male relationships. Express vulnerability to another guy and you’re “gay” — meaning weak — the cardinal sin of masculinity in our culture. In a radical perversion of our culture, being emotionally open and real has been attached to gender identity. There is so much fear amongst young men of being called gay that they protect themselves by never showing vulnerability around other men. The result is young men who keep their inner lives hidden from one another. The consequences are deep and long lasting: Many young American men leave high school without knowing how to develop authentic male relationships and go through their lives never experiencing deep male friendship. I teach my young men that being open and real with their male friends is the best way to develop an understanding, compassion, and true brotherhood with one another.

 

9: Prepare for Life After Sports

Sports were my singular passion growing up. I played football, track, basketball, soccer, baseball, tennis, and excelled in lacrosse. I swam every summer, and starting at age 12, I was determined to play Division 1 sports. I achieved my goal when I was recruited to play lacrosse at Brown University. But when I got there I realized my dream wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. I thought that somehow if I played a Division 1 sport, I would’ve made it; I’d be happy. During my freshman year, I started hanging out with men outside of sports who valued sweetness, intellectual curiosity, and a deep focus on social justice. I realized that I no longer loved lacrosse and wanted to move on. During this transition, I had little guidance from coaches, friends, or family about how difficult this transition would be. It proved to be brutal: I derived my sense of self-worth entirely from being a good athlete. In the absence of mentorship, I went on a soul searching solo trip around the world. I now work with many young men now aspiring to play Division 1 sports. I remind them that there is much more to life to being an athlete; in the long run being a thoughtful, compassionate, intelligent man will be more important than anything they accomplish on the field.

 

10: Decide What’s Important to Me

I felt enormous pressure to go to a “good” college. But my parents and teachers didn’t put this pressure on me; I put this on myself. As a result, I did the things high schoolers are told to do to gain acceptance to elite institutions. I got good grades, became a member of National Honor Society, and took a ton of AP classes. I did do some things that I naturally cared about. I did actually love sports, some of my history classes, and spending time out in the mountains of Colorado and the waters of the Chesapeake Bay. But since I was so “on track” I didn’t have time to really step back to ask myself what was truly meaningful to me. What did I really care about? Many students who are on “track” and go to good schools (and others who do not) bump up against these questions of purpose as they navigate life post-high school. I wish mentors had been asking me questions about what was important to me. Why was it that I went through high school without ever having to confront the most important questions in life: What kind of human did I want to be and want did I want to give to the world?

 

At the end of the day, how are you going to start crafting your own life after adolescence if you can’t answer the big questions about purpose and values for yourself? I tell the young men I work with that, ultimately, they’re going to have to decide what is meaningful to them — not their parents, not “society,” or what is expected of men in our culture. They must follow what makes them come alive, what’s good for the world, and what their heart truly cares for. If young men were taught to follow their hearts more, we would live in a very different world. Instead, most young male hearts are wounded and armored. Laying down the armor and opening up the heart is the first step to experiencing the true fullness of a deeply meaningful human life. True, it can be scary and ambiguous, but it is what I needed to hear most from an older guy on my journey though adolescence.

 

 

The 3 Ingredients for a Supportive Self Care Ritual

self-care-ingredients

When you were in school, did you take a class about taking good care of yourself? Probably not. Like doing laundry and effective housecleaning techniques, taking good care of ourselves – e.g. self care – is one of those vital life skills we never really get taught. If you were lucky, you had a parent or mentor that demonstrated good self care practices, but even then, we now live in a society and culture that runs at such a breakneck speed, self care seems like an afterthought or a selfish indulgence.

 

Self care isn’t selfish  – in the opinion of myself and others, it’s required.

 

But what is self care? How does one practice self care? I like to think of it like a recipe – it requires a few ingredients to make it “successful” (a term which is relative, personal, and totally not objective) and everybody has their own ideal version. Here are my top 3 ingredients to ensure your self care routine is nourishing and supportive:

1. It’s Personal

Whenever I talk about self care, many people envision things like bubble baths and eating chocolate. While that might be nourishing to some, it isn’t for everyone – my definition of self care is anything activity that fills your cup, anything that helps you get in touch with the best version of yourself.

 

I give you permission to choose self care rituals that are just as personal and individual as you are. I have a friend whose self care routine is listening to his favorite music while walking his dogs. My self care routine includes journaling in the morning with a cup of tea, or reading books late at night (again, with hot tea). Your self care could be going for a jog in your favorite park, writing a letter to a friend, spending time in the kitchen baking, or even binge watching documentaries on Netflix – nobody has the right to judge! Good self care is personal.

 

2. It’s Intentional

It is easy to confuse things that make you feel good with self care – there is some overlap, but they aren’t exactly the same thing. For example, I love to clean the house – it makes me feel so much better afterwards. But, that isn’t self care; I’m often tired afterwards, and annoyed because it’s one more thing on my to do list. Another good example is binging on chocolate; it might feel good, but if you berate yourself constantly afterwards for your splurge, it might be doing more harm than good.

 

When deciding the role self care plays in your life, bring strong intentions into it – those intentions, such as knowing how you want to feel after self care, can help you ensure your focus is in the right place. Then hold yourself accountable and make adjustments to ensure your self care rituals get you in touch with filling your cup. Self care is intentional.

 

3. It’s Sacred

Lastly, when it comes to self care, it needs to be a regular, repeat activity that you make sacred. You shouldn’t ever feel ashamed that you are missing out on something else because you’re enjoying your self care activity; nor should you feel like self care is a chore. Indeed, if you have satisfied the first ingredient, your self care routine should be something that you truly look forward to. You should be proud of taking good care of yourself! It should be an activity that you just don’t feel as good without it – it should be a ritual that brings you closer to the best version of yourself. Good self care is sacred.

 

3 Choices to Bust You Out of Stress

There is not a day that passes without stressful situations, people or thoughts.  The fast pace of work, uncompromising drive to perform, competitive nature of people and lack of down time all contribute to what has become an epidemic of stress-related issues.  It isn’t just emotions that are affected either.

 

“Just talking about stress management… stresses me out.  I don’t want to manage stress. I want to  tame it, rise above it, get stronger and then move on.”  ~ Lane Michel

 

Our whole being is being depleted daily through dealing with stress the way we Bust out of stresslearned as we grew up in a world that doesn’t exist now.  Our emotions are stretched to the point of desensitization.  Our mind is exercised to the point of exhaustion, consuming negativity and narrowing focus.  Our body is a battery emptied before the end of the day when we are supposed to recharge… which doesn’t happen because sleepless nights from stress interrupt our natural process for regeneration.  Our spirit is disconnected and too far away too often leaving us confused, bewildered or hopeless.  It can easily feel like we are in a little life raft in the middle of the ocean experiencing one perfect storm after another while we bail out the raft and try to survive until rescue arrives.

 

In truth, the rescue comes from within us. We can be supported by tools, practices and others to learn new ways to rise above daily stress and extreme life events. A great deal of research has contributed to chart a course to thriving, not just surviving, through life’s stressors.

 

3 stress busting choices will change your relationship with stress, forever:

  1. Build resilience… to keep your energy up before and during stress
  2. Pause briefly… to rise above any stressor
  3. Hold appreciation in your heart… to positively shift your power

 

1. BUILD RESILIENCE

Our first choice is to build the capacity to be resilient during times of stress. New research over the last 10 years has established that emotions play a much greater role in our health than previously accepted. In fact, emotional intelligence is key to improving physiology, health, mental clarity and performance in every aspect of our life. Emotions and our heart as a regulator of emotions turn out to be key to building resilience.

 

The Institute of HeartMath, leading researcher for bridging the connection between our heart and mind, defines resilience as the capacity to prepare for, recover from and adapt in the face of stress, challenge and adversity. Resilience is the most effective personal skill needed because without intelligently managing our personal energy, we cannot succeed in the world we have created today.

 

If the level of stress, challenge or adversity remains high without adequate tools for maintaining resilience, then:

  • Personal energy becomes drained
  • Perception narrows
  • Depleting emotions dominate thoughts words and actions
  • Performance declines
  • Burn out, poor decision-making and declining health result

 

The keys to energy self-regulation and improved performance are:

  • Self-awareness… what stressor is draining your energy?
  • Breathe… deeper, slower breathing establishes an inner calm
  • Learn personal practices to stop depleting and start renewing energy

 

Developing resilience skills enables greater capacity to store and efficiently utilize our human energy system. Building increasing levels of the physiological state called coherence leads to an optimal state in which heart, mind and emotions are aligned and in sync leading to sustained health and performance. Heart Rhythms, specifically Heart Rate Variability, provide a measurable window to monitor and manage resilience. Proven technology has enabled simple feedback apps and devices (such as those from HeartMath) that coach, train and support development of resilience skills.

 

The most important step in instantly building our resilience, while experiencing a stressful situation, is to remember to breathe.  No one even needs to know that we are taking a little slower, deeper breath.  Just choosing to breathe opens up the potential to rise above stress.

 

We can choose to quickly build skills and habits that harness the intersection of science and consciousness practices for significantly improved personal and professional effectiveness.

 

2. PAUSE FOR CHOICE

Just a simple pause will change our world.  We don’t have to react to everything so quickly.  We don’t have to fight every moment.  We don’t have to see everything as a battle or war or competition.  We don’t have to make sure that we come out ahead of everyone else.  We don’t have to be embarrassed, guilty, shameful or regretful because of our reactions.

 

We call this BreathPause for Choice” because this simple act of pausing for as little as a few seconds enables your higher intelligence to engage. You can override a reaction that is might be inappropriate, inflammatory, shameful or any other negative of a long list of the source of many regrets or guilty feelings that merely add to our stress. The time it takes to reverse the damage done — to correct the reaction and the resulting negative consequences — is so much greater than this short pause.

 

When we are in conflict, challenged or having trouble focusing but feel pressured to do something our stress levels rise further. If we aren’t being physically attacked, then we all have the ability to pause. When the pause is inserted after taking a breath and before opening our mouth, we all realize just how much wiser we can be.  We have so many ways to handle things better.

 

Some techniques for learning to insert a pause include:

  • Count to 3 before opening your mouth to reply or respond to others
  • Ask trusted friends to help catch reactions
  • While speaking pay attention to heartbeat; increased heart rate is a sign of reacting
  • When surrounded by anger, remove yourself to gain perspective
  • A rubber band on our wrist can be snapped when we should have paused but didn’t to remind us next time to take a pause
  • Practice role playing the pause with co-workers and friends

 

After learning to insert the pause, then listen and connect with what is around. What really is going on? Asking that question to our self in the pause enables us to listen for our own intelligence and intuition. It is far easier to choose the words to speak or the action to take when it comes from within us. If there is no insight gained yet, pause a little more to understand who is speaking and what they are really saying.  Often others or our reactions come from external and unrelated to situation we found ourselves.  A pause allows for clearer heads to prevail.  Diffusing any situation takes mental and emotional clarity that can be delivered quickly with a pause.

 

With practice and building confidence in the pause, it becomes so easy that people find them self unconsciously inserting pauses in conversations all day long. It just becomes a new normal. Can you imagine how much more kind and thoughtful our world can be if more people engaged their intellect more often by slowing down only a few seconds to pause?

 

 

3. HOLD APPRECIATION IN YOUR HEART

One of the largest sources of stress is conflict.  A common thread to conflict is a lack of caring, understanding or compassion.  It is true that nearly all conflict can be traced back to unresolved emotions.  The depleting, heavy and negative feelings that hang out in our energy are felt by others near and far.  Most often, we are oblivious to the true emotions generating conflict.  Being unaware of these emotions builds stress within us and can easily trigger stress in others. It is helpful to remember Wendy Mass’ words, “be kind, for everyone is fighting a battle we know nothing about.”

 

Daily living induces stress as well. In any given day we can experience stress creators such as being cut-off while driving to work, children testing their parent’s patience past the limits, financial worries, negative media streaming bad news constantly or simply the “final straw“ of an accumulation of stress over time.  We are drawn in to what seems so very important in the moment.  Our perspective and attention narrows to the point where we may even forget that others are experiencing stress at the same time.  The daily adventure we call life pulls us away from our heart if we are not skilled in remaining centered, grounded and aware of our surroundings. What seems natural to focus internally actually works against us. The result can only be a collision of circumstances that will inevitably produce more stress.

 

In the very second when we feel like pulling away, the third choice to make is to hold appreciation for something, anything, in our heart. The appreciation can be for a person, place, experience or thing.  What matters the most is that we feel deep appreciation.  Most often the object of our appreciation comes to us without effort, but if there is a struggle to find something, here are a few ideas to illustrate how simple we can begin with appreciation and still have a positive impact:

  • The sun rising reminds us that “every day is a new discovery”
  • How a favorite food tasted
  • The scent of a flower, fresh rain, incense or another loved fragrance.
  • A moment in time you hold as dear
  • A childhood victory that delighted you
  • The smile on a child playing without a care
  • The unconditional love of an animal

 

You want to have a few of these objects of appreciation practiced before you make the first choice to Build Resilience and the second choice to Pause. This allows you to instantly shift your reality once you take the third step with Appreciation.

 

Simply by putting attention on the feeling of appreciation we are keeping our heart intelligence engaged in the situation we are facing.  Many studies have shown that by holding the feeling of appreciation in our heart a shift can be felt within and around us. Our heart’s electromagnetic field carries messages through feelings, thoughts and intentions that influence our environment. We can choose to either continue to transmit more stress, more heavy emotions, more confused energy or we can access and activate caring, understanding or compassion through this simple action to return to one of our most powerful emotions, appreciation.

 

 

IT’S 3 CHOICES IN LESS THAN A MINUTE

Alleviating stress seems out of the question. Avoiding stress is impossible while we are still breathing. The best solution for stress then is to shift our self completely into a place where a new foundation for quickly busting through stress is possible. The great news is that with three quick choices, you can.

 

  1. Building resilience starts with a slow, deep breath allowing us to
  2. Pause in order to listen and connect with
  3. Appreciation held in our heart.

 

The most effective tools and practices in life are truly simple. The beauty of these three choices you can make is that they can be done in less than a minute having a positive impact on stress all day long… and for life.

 

 

 

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT BUSTING OUT OF STRESS?

VeraHeartYou are invited to join Lane Michel and Lynda Nguyen, certified HeartMath Trainers, for the Resilience Advantage™ Workshop.

 

In this skill-based program, you will learn practical tools and strategies to strengthen resiliency and improve decision-making. Based upon the Institute of HeartMath’s research into the physiology of optimal performance with expertise from VeraHeart, you will walk away with concrete practices that increase well-being, mental clarity and emotional stability.

 

 

The backbone of happiness: How posture makes us better people

If you are anything like me, the idea of sitting or standing with erect posture has a place in your heart like cold showers or marathons. It is probably good for you but a little intense.

 

When I was a kid, my two sisters were ballerinas. During their recitals, I developed a particular skill where I could lie on my own lap and sleep soundly – like a laptop. I carried this skill with me into college, where as a sophomore at Brown I found myself falling asleep in 6-person seminars, despite sincere interest in our discussions. I went to a sleep doctor who told me that I was normal and not narcoleptic. It wasn’t until my friend Charlie taught me to meditate, that I learned what I consider to be one of my life’s most important lessons and something I believe everyone should know. It solved not only my sleep problems, but I believe has made me a better person.

 

The way we hold our bodies affects how our minds work. Most of us, via incorrect posture, cripple our mind’s capacity for cognitive functioning, confidence, and wellbeing. Mindfulness taught me how to listen to my body, and meditation taught me how to sit. This is what I have learned:

 

Image 1

Image 1

1. Queen Victoria was wrong. Conventional chair design inevitably makes us slouch. The image of sitting erectly on a flat surface, introduced in the Victorian Era, was disproven via a series of X-rays taken by the German orthopedic surgeon Hanns Schubert in the 1960s. Our skeletons are not meant to bend at a 90-degree angle from our hips, it is not biologically correct and constrains the lumbar region of our spines (see image 1).

 

Posture

Image 2 by Wilfred Gachau

2. Get your knees below your hips: What researchers found was that by bending our legs at a downward angle from our hips our spines could follow their natural curve. This alleviates tension in the lumbar region and allow our spines to properly carry our body weight. If you visit a preschool classroom you will notice children tilting their chairs forward to achieve this angle. They are doing what their bodies are asking of them, and would continue to do so if their teachers did not tell them to stop rocking on their chairs. The trick is to get your knees below your hips, at around a 20-degree angle. If you are familiar with meditation, you have probably heard this before. This can be achieved by sitting on the edge of your chair, with strategic placement of cushions, or with “forward tilting seats” (see an example in image 2).

 

3. Give your happiness a solid footing. Posture is a foundation for wellbeing. Wherever you are reading this, try getting your knees below your hips – standing also works. Lift your shoulders, move them back bringing your shoulder blades together, and relax them by your sides. Lift your head up as if it is a balloon pulling your body upward. Angle your gaze, rather than your head, to read these words. How do you feel? According to social scientist Amy Cudding, a researcher at Harvard Business School, this posture changes the cortisone and testosterone levels in our brains, giving us more confidence, improving our cognitive functioning, and increasing our chances of success.

 

If you search for it, you’ll find a community of “forward tilted seat” advocates trying to change the way we sit. According to Danish orthopedic surgeon A.C. Mandal, “in no other field of human activity is a similar gap between theory and reality found.” Given that the average American adult spends 50-60 percent of their day sitting and approximately two-thirds experience lower back pain, there should be more awareness of how to sit right.

 

For me, there is a sense of freedom and possibility in recognizing how powerfully our posture can influence our optimism, confidence, and joy. It means that before intellectualizing my worries, I can change my body position. Then, even without chocolate or coffee, I can already start to feel my worries lose their footing and the fire of trust and optimism kindling. Our problems may not evaporate, but our ability to face them with confidence – and what this added strength could mean for the world – is exciting.

 

 

 

Don’t Smile for the Camera, Smile for Yourself

SmileLaughter may actually be the best medicine! People define happiness in many different ways, but at its core, leading researchers have proven that happiness involves feeling positive emotions that express life is good and meaningful. Understanding, accepting and living this idea of happiness reduces your risk of heart disease, strengthens your immune system, and might ultimately add years to your life. Happiness is also deeply intertwined into the idea of “Pay-It-Forward” and when you are happy, you tend to prioritize positivity in your day-to-day activity. When you laugh or smile or even think a good thought, your body responds to that just as much as your mind does.

 

It doesn’t take much to realize how beautiful the world around you really is. The more beauty you see, the more you smile—and the healthier you feel. Have you noticed differences in your health when you smile more?

 

To bring out your beautiful smile as often as possible, here are three simple activities we can all do to introduce a little more happiness in our lives:

 

1. Three Good Things

In our day-to-day lives, it’s easy to get caught up in the things that go wrong and feel like we’re living under our own private rain cloud; at the same time, we tend to adapt to the good things and people in our lives, taking them for granted. As a result, we often overlook everyday beauty and goodness–a kind gesture from a stranger, say, or the warmth of our heater on a chilly morning. In the process, we frequently miss opportunities for happiness and connection.

This practice guards against those tendencies. By remembering and listing three positive things that have happened in your day – and considering what caused them – you tune into the sources of goodness in your life. It’s a habit that can change the emotional tone of your life, replacing feelings of disappointment or entitlement with those of gratitude – which may be why this practice is associated with significant increases in happiness.

 

2. Best Possible Self

Sometimes our goals in life can be elusive. But research suggests that building optimism about the future can motivate people to work toward that desired future and thus make it more likely to become a reality. This exercise asks you to imagine your life going as well as it possibly could, then write about this best possible future. By doing so, research suggests that you’ll not only increase your happiness in the present but pave the way for sustained happiness down the line.

 

3. Positive Events

One of the most direct ways to increase happiness is to do more of the things that make us happy. But when life gets busy, we don’t always remember to make time for enjoyable activities. Intentionally scheduling a variety of enjoyable activities into the day can help overcome this barrier to happiness.

This exercise prompts you to engage in a variety of activities associated with happiness and reflect on how they make you feel. Different kinds of activities bring different kinds of satisfaction, all of which contribute uniquely to happiness. Research suggests that variety and novelty in daily activities is an important component of happiness, so trying a number of different activities can prevent you from getting so used to any one activity that it ceases to bring you pleasure.

 

People always brighten up the room when they smile. What made you smile today?

 

 

Gratitude: Good Medicine for Stress and Striving

Photo Oct 25, 5 06 29 PMThe Stanford student approached me after the second session of our Exploring Happiness course. “I’m sorry but I have to drop your class. The course conflicts with my family values.” Perplexed, I inquired further. She explained, “You teach the science of well-being and self-care. When I was a child, I understood that my job was to be very successful. I asked my Mom, ‘How do I become very successful?’ She replied, ‘You have to work very hard.'” The student pursued further. ‘But Mom, how do I know when I am working hard enough?’ Well, my daughter, I’m sorry to say but you are working hard enough when you are suffering.’ 

 

I flinched. We talked. I gently invited her to imagine an integrated, vital strategy, in which she could experience a deep sense of well-being, accomplishment AND success.  We talked more. She cried. Sadly, she dropped the course.

 

Do you wonder what goes through her mind when she awakens at 3am in the morning? The research indicates that her perfectionistic striving for success will eventually lead to mental and psychological burn-out. Eventually, anxiety and distress will impair her creativity and accomplishments. She is a student who concerns me.

 

In this case, our student swallowed her mother’s well-intended but likely, bad medicine for success. Yet, some parents are astonished to learn that their kid has adopted this strategy all on their own.  Recently, a parent consulted with me: “I’ve always advised my kid that their happiness comes first. I don’t understand why he is driving himself so ruthlessly.”

 

No, it is not always you, dear parents. Then why? In a word- their peers. Some high-achieving peers observe these intensely self-sacrificing students who relentlessly pursue an idealized, and often unattainable, success. The irony is that when character strengths, like grit, fortitude, persistence, and determination, are taken to an unhealthy extreme, they back-fire. The perfectionism, relentless striving and constant comparison with other students result in a downward spiral into emptiness, deep isolation, frustration and emotional distress. What is the way out? How can we help?

 

You probably already know that you can talk yourself blue in the face. So instead, consider modeling the healing power of gratitude. Gratitude isn’t just a soft filmy blur of appreciation. It takes gumption and courage to live with gratitude in a culture that rewards relentless striving. It takes grit to choose to live with thankfulness for what we have, rather than focusing on endless lists of what is missing. Gratefulness is not only an antidote to distress; it is a gold standard of deep fulfillment, meaning, and good health.

 

Dr. Robert Emmons, UC Davis, researcher and author of “Thanks”, reminds us, “Gratitude can be as easy as a beautiful sunset, an exquisite bite of chocolate, a child, or the brilliance of autumn leaves. No matter what shape or form gratitude takes, it fills us with a warmth and a reminder that life is good; this moment is special. Gratitude provides lessons to make us stronger. It is more than appreciation – it is a gift.”

 

Research suggests why the experience of gratitude is transformative and offers tremendous health benefits. Thankfulness awakens our brain’s pleasure centers, and our bodies produce bio-chemicals that activate a strong and powerful sense of our potential, well-being and connection. Our bodies respond with vitality and a stronger immune system. We may be inspired to serve others, to contribute to the greater good.

 

Power up your gratitude muscle by a few simple actions, and model the change you wish to see in your kids. Do these practices alone. Do these with your family and friends. Research shows that if you practice just three times a week, you’ll begin noticing a stronger sense of ease, calm, and lightness. Best of all, these practices can spark new connections in fun heart-warming ways. Choose some:

  • Gratitext: Take out your cell phone/tablet. Imagine a particular person to whom you are grateful, maybe someone who helped you get where you are today. Send them a “gratitext” or a note, expressing your thoughts and feelings of gratitude to them for adding value, sparkle, inspiration to your life. Notice the good feelings that arise when you send this note – and how you feel when they respond.

 

  • Reach Out: Notice the many people who earn lower wages but perform a service that adds value to your day. Reach out, and sincerely thank them. Experience the gentle exchange of appreciation.

 

  • 3 Good Things: Begin a “gratitude” journal. Several times weekly, jot down 3 good things that happened. Stumped? No problem. Take a deep breath, and give thanks for the simple things. The people who contribute to your comfort, whether or not you personally know them. Hot and cold running water. A daily hot meal. Gratitude is a powerful antidote to entitlement, indifference, the “blahs”, and discontentment.

 

  • Just Like MeFind a good place to “people watch”. Relax and just be aware of others, take a deep breath and bring to mind the following thought: “Just like me this person has faced struggles, suffering and disappointment. Just like me, this person wants to be content and happy.” Observe what gets stirred up in you or how this guided attention changes your emotional state. Do you feel more empathy or perhaps appreciation for our shared humanity? Share your experience with each other.

 

  • Soak in this awesome 5 minute video with your family and friends: Just watch this video and notice your thoughts and feelings!

 

 

Gratitude. Simple. Transformative. Express your thankfulness with courage. Do things that open your heart. Share how your friends and family contribute to your life. As a great philosopher noted, life is short. Enjoy it day after day. Moment after moment. Savor the goodness in your life, little things and million dollar moments. Share the practice of gratitude, a very good medicine indeed to offer to your loved ones.

 

 

 

Why Being Vulnerable is the Only Way to Real Connection

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“Vulnerability is not about fear and grief and disappointment. It is the birthplace of everything we’re hungry for. “ –Brene Brown

 

If you’ve lived long enough, you have been hurt several times in your life. Some of these incidents were seminal because it taught you tough lessons on issues of trust and matters of the heart. Pangs of disappointment might still linger on in your memories and sting you sporadically.

 

Whenever we were let down by others, it’s natural to react by shutting ourselves off from intimacy by building walls around our hearts to protect ourselves from ever getting hurt again. The more pain we endured, the thicker our walls.

 

We find solace within our solitary confinement where we are freed from the burden of forming any emotional attachment that could tug at our heart strings. We might also attempt to numb our wounds from the past with substances such as alcohol, drugs, or any other compulsive forms of behavior.

 

As a person who has loved and lost, this is familiar terrain of which I have traversed before. I coped with my pain by escaping into a world of idealism and choosing to approach life with an almost child-like naiveté.  I was in denial about my feelings and deemed any relationship that required a heavy emotional investment as risky and potentially disruptive to my inner peace.

 

“When we think we have been hurt by someone in the past, we build up defenses to protect ourselves from being hurt in the future. So the fearful past causes a fearful future and the past and future becomes one.”  ~Alfred Hitchcock

 

My stance on this issue took a dramatic turn after I stumbled upon the work of celebrated author and speaker, Brené Brown. Her revolutionary work on vulnerability, shame and self-acceptance sheds light on these potentially awkward yet pivotal topics. It created a seismic shift in my perspective on what it really takes to love myself and receive love from others from a place of wholeheartedness.

 

There are so many gems of wisdom that I picked up from her teachings, but one that really struck a chord with me was a key finding from her book, The Gift of Imperfection, which I quote here: “We cannot selectively numb emotions; when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.

 

In other words, if we block out negative emotions, we will also block out the possibility of experiencing enriching and fulfilling emotions such as love, joy and belonging. Our fear of intimacy will keep us away from all the sublime treasures that meaningful connections can offer. Taking refuge in a cold cave might protect us temporarily but without the warm fires of love and caring, we will eventually freeze.

 

This is because we are all wired to have a meaningful connection with others. Within us is a deep, intrinsic need to be seen, loved and accepted for who we are. In fact, research has shown that newly born babies need to be embraced in order to promote healthy psychological development. The lack of the loving assurance that comes from physical touch can inhibit normal development and can even result in death.

 

Yet even with this intellectual understanding of the need for enduing and authentic connections, it can still be daunting to put yourself out there if you’ve been burnt in the past. So this brings me to the prevailing dilemma, which is this: how can we stay open and vulnerable in our relationships without the risk of having our hearts broken and having our worlds crumble? 

Here are 5 practices you can employ to reach this sweet spot:

1. Clear away any past intimacy issues: When we allow pain from past hurts to fester in our thoughts and hearts, we drastically reduce our chances of forming a genuine connection with others. Just as how a runner needs to rehabilitate an injured foot to run again, we need to heal our emotional wounds before we can love again. You can process and assuage your pain in healthy ways by writing about your feelings in a journalreading information that gives you perspective, or speaking to a friend, therapist or coach.

2. Set clear boundaries in your relationships: The reality is that we can’t be equally vulnerable with everyone – this necessitates the need for building healthy boundaries. We can be vulnerable with those we trust but we still need to protect ourselves from any unanticipated changes in others’ behavior. I’m not saying we should be constantly paranoid but that we should maintain a healthy form of skepticism and remove those rose-colored glasses for reality checks if needed. Letting people know what you will and will not tolerate is one of the ultimate acts of self-care.

3. Become a good judge of character: In order to set good boundaries, we need to become discerning about who we offer our love, support and trust to. We must learn to be vigilant for relationship ‘red flags’ that many people often don’t pick up on in the early stages of getting to know a person. On the other hand, we must also actively learn to identify ‘green light’ signals that indicate the abundance of wonderful human beings with whom we can share warm and harmonious bonds with.

4. Don’t invest more than you can afford to lose: Every relationship, both personal and business, is inherently risky. There is always a chance of being let down or an unanticipated change in circumstances. It’s only upon accepting the impermanence of all life circumstance, that can we decide how much of our personal energy to invest in a relationship without the risk of getting emotionally bankrupt in case things don’t pan out the way we expected.

5. Create your own emotional “first aid kit”: No matter how careful we are, there may still be times when we choose to ignore the signs and throw caution to the wind. The good news is that now that you are armed with this knowledge, even if Mr. or Ms. Wonderful does blow it, you will have a soft fall instead of a violent crash. I suggest having your own set of go-to coping tools that you can utilize if you find yourself in this position. This is your “emotional first aid kit”, which includes several activities that can get you out of any form of funk you find yourself in. Here are some ideas in a past post I’ve written.

 

Committing to a life of vulnerability and open-heartedness may seem like a scary proposition but I believe that it is one of the most courageous ways for us to live authentically. Like a valiant knight armed with the sword of reason and a shield of hope, we possess the personal power and integrity to charge ahead into the flames of passion and slay any demons that may come our way.

 

All my best on your journey,

Seline Signature

 

 

#GratiTuesday Circles Challenge

GRATITUESDAY

“Gratitude Helps us see WHAT IS THERE, instead of WHAT ISN’T.” 
 
Gratitude is more than just a feeling, it is a perspective that chooses to see life through a lens of abundance rather than scarcity. Practicing gratitude strengthens our ability to focus on the positive by bringing awareness to our gifts in life (and we all have have gifts – the only thing missing is our attention to them!) 
 
REFLECTION
 
What if you woke up tomorrow with only the things you were grateful for today?  What would your tomorrow look like? Consider how asking yourself this question regularly might inspire you to live more gratefully.

Gratitude practices such as this give us a  taste of absence- without actually having to lose anything – allowing us to have a deeper appreciation for all that is present in our life.  These exercises, called  “Mental Subtraction of Positive Events,” challenge us to consider all the ways in which events in your life could have never taken place, and then reflect on what your life would be like without them. Mental Subtraction counters our tendency to take positive events for granted; instead, it trains your brain to recognize your fortunes in life. In fact, studies show that completing a 15-minute Mental Subtraction writing exercise leads to increased happiness. 
 
 
COMMIT TO ACT
 
In the next week, commit to doing a Mental Subtraction exercise at least once. Easy exercise instructions can be found from our content partners at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center:
Gratitude is an orientation that becomes a habit with regular mental rehearsal – start rehearsing today!

 

3 Simple Ways to Start Living a Life in Gratitude

Picture for blogThe science is in! And it undoubtedly proves that gratitude is more than just a simple sentiment. Studies link gratitude to a stronger immune system, lower blood pressure, better sleep quality, reduced risk of heart disease, and better kidney function. But the benefits of living a life in gratitude extend much further than purely physical. A study out of the University of California, Riverside, reported that grateful people experience more optimism, joy, enthusiasm, and other positive emotions, and they have a deeper appreciation for life’s simple pleasures. These researchers also found that by expressing gratitude for people in your life, like a friend or romantic partner, you can report higher levels of satisfaction in relationships. The most intriguing fact to come out of this study though was that gratitude is a skill that can be learned and nurtured, much like perfecting your Grandmother’s secret recipe.

 

Gratitude, however, doesn’t always come naturally. In our day-to-day lives, it’s easy to get caught up in the things that go wrong and feel like we’re living under our own private rain cloud; at the same time, we tend to adapt to the good things and people in our lives, taking them for granted. As a result, we often overlook everyday beauty and goodness—a kind gesture from a stranger, say, or the warmth of our heater on a chilly morning. That is why it is so important that we make it a priority to live our life in gratitude. Intentionally developing a grateful outlook helps us all recognize the good in our life and acknowledge that these things are truly “gifts” that we are fortunate to receive. Here are simple actions we can take to start making gratitude a habit:

 

1. Three Good Things

This practice guards against those tendencies to miss opportunities for happiness and connection. By remembering and listing three positive things that have happened in your day, and considering what caused them, you tune into the sources of goodness in your life. It’s a habit that can change the emotional tone of your life, replacing feelings of disappointment or entitlement with those of gratitude—which may be why this practice is associated with significant increases in happiness.

 

2. Start a Gratitude Journal

This exercise helps you develop a greater appreciation for the good in your life. In fact, people who routinely express gratitude enjoy better health and greater happiness. The best part—there is no right or wrong way to keep a gratitude journal. We recommend starting out with writing 15 minutes per day, at least once per week for at least two weeks. Soon you’ll figure out what works best for you and discover the impact on your happiness level.

 

3. Write a Gratitude Letter

This exercise encourages you to express gratitude in a thoughtful, deliberate way by writing—and, ideally, delivering—a letter of gratitude to a person you have never properly thanked. Call to mind someone who did something for you for which you are extremely grateful but to whom you never expressed your deep gratitude. This could be a relative, friend, teacher, or colleague. Try to pick someone who you could set an in-person meeting with in the next week to make the most out of this experience. When writing the letter, don’t worry about spelling or grammar and just focus on how this person’s behavior affected you. Not only will it brighten your spirit, but it will remind the recipient of your letter that our actions really do make an impact.

 

So much goodness happens when you’re grateful. What are you grateful for today?

 

 

 

Mental Wealth: Are Your Investments All in Your Head?

wealth-abundance

That’s not a typo…I DO mean ‘Mental Wealth’, not ‘Mental Health’. ‘Wealth’ evokes images of abundance. It’s a ‘happy’ word no matter how you look at it. ‘Health’, on the other hand, can go either way. You’ll see why that’s important by the end of this article.

 

 

Look around. Do you know people who seem to be upbeat, and ‘bad days’ are only minor speed bumps on their life road? But others have a bad day and it puts them into a ditch? Have you ever wondered what the difference is? I sure have. It turns out some people have to work harder than others to experience ‘happiness’.  

 

Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, a professor at the University of California, has studied the ‘Science of Happiness’ since 2001. Results of her multiple studies indicate that 50% of happiness is genetic, 10% is life circumstances, and 40% is within our power to change. This explains why improving life circumstances, like increasing income or changing appearance, does not make people sustainably happier. That’s only 10% of the picture. And as of right now, we can’t change our genetics. That leaves us 40% to work with to impact our happiness. No problem.

 

Except there IS a problem. We are hardwired to focus on the negative. It is an adaptive, self-protective characteristic. As hunter-gatherers we needed to constantly scan our environment to pick out threats. We are rewarded for focusing on the negative. Noticing that giant predatory kangaroo meant we stayed alive. This easily turns into a negative feedback loop. The good news is that by understanding how the brain fashions connections we can break out of the negativity loop and fashion durable positive thinking patterns. We can harness the power of the Tetris Effect.

 

The Tetris Effect, named after the computer game where players manipulate falling cubes, illuminates what happens when we learn. MRI imaging of subjects who played the game for 1.5 hours a week over a period of three months showed increased thickness in their gray matter, and improved function in visual-spatial skills. Amazingly, the amount of energy used in their brains while playing the game DECREASED from the beginning to the end of the study.  In other words, as their brains mastered the task, they became more efficient. In other words, the more you do something, the less ‘brain power’ it takes to accomplish the task.

 

The ability of the brain to rewire itself is called, ‘plasticity’, and we can use this ability to break the negative thinking cycle and develop new positive pathways. The pathways are created by practicing positive thinking, then by using that pathway over and over it becomes automatic, something called, ‘Acquired Optimism’.

 

And that’s why the term ‘Mental Wealth’ is important. The words we choose are one way we wire our brain for positivity, and ultimately, happiness.

 

 

 

#MindfulMonday Circles Challenge

MindfulMonday“Stress is caused by being HERE but wanting to be THERE.” ~Eckhart Tolle

Too often we find ourselves racing toward an elusive THERE, an end-all-be-all finish line that we feel we must reach in order to be happy…But life is not a linear race to be won. There is always going to be another THERE so why not choose to be HERE, now?

 

If you’re always racing to the next moment what happens to the one you’re in? Instead of letting an elusive THERE drive your day, Dr. Rick Hanson suggests, ‘Remind yourself to return to the reliable rewards of feeling already full – the undoing of the craving, broadly defined, that creates suffering and harm. Try a little practice on first waking or at other times in which you take a few seconds or longer to feel already peaceful, already contented, and already loved. This is the home base of body, brain, and mind.’

 

REFLECTION Q’s:

What happiness contingencies do you have active in your personal narrative? EX: “When I get ______ , then I will be happy.” What would it take for you to let go of these ‘if-then’ beliefs? Agree or Disagree: Keeping these contingencies active in your thoughts is holding you separate from feeling the happiness right here, right NOW.

 

COMMIT TO ACT:

In the next 24 hours take a moment to feel already peaceful, contented, and loved. Let this feeling sink in and wash over you. You are home.

 

 

#SundaySoul Circles Challenge

sundaysoul“If you get the inside right, the outside will fall into place.” ~Eckhart Tolle

When was the last time you touched base with your inner world?
Today’s culture is so externally focused, that often we neglect the health and well being of our inner state of being. This inward journey is about finding your own fullness, something that no one else can take away.

 

GROUP REFLECTION Q’s:

A happy healthy outside, starts from the inside. Happiness is, firstly, an inside job. Do you agree? Invite the group to share experiences growing their inner happiness. How might we distinguish between inner vs outer happiness?

 

 

COMMIT TO ACT:

For the next 24 hours, embark on the oldest human adventure and dive deep into your inner world today. Return to center by following your soul’s joy – whatever makes your soul happy, do that. “When you do things from your soul you feel a river moving in you, a joy.”

 

 

#SaturdaySocial Circles Challenge

sat Dare to dwell in these “What ifs”.

When we distill the human traditions, rules, religions, codes of conduct, technologies, etc., we find that at their essence, most were created to try to help us tap into a sense of greater connectedness. Human beings naturally seek connectedness and it is one of the beautiful rewards of life that this connection is already ours, readily available to every individual when we engage with the simplicities of life, right in front of us.

There are 1,000 simple ways to reconnect with your inherent aliveness,

“Place your hands in the soil to feel grounded. Wade in water to feel emotionally healed. Fill your lungs with fresh air to feel mentally clear. Raise your face to the heat of the sun and connect to that power to feel your own immense power.” ~Victoria Erickson

GROUP REFLECTION Q’s:
How do you tap into the feeling of connectedness? What’s keeping you from the rewards of the simple life? What is one thing you could do to make these “What Ifs” a reality, both for you and for your community around you?
COMMIT TO ACT: For the next 24 hours, put at least one of these “What Ifs” into practice in your daily routine. How does living from this place of connectedness affect your happiness?

 

 

 

#ThoughtfulThursday Circles Challenge

ThoughtfulthursdayHappy people don’t try to save other people or wait for them to change. 
 
Should you help someone who is reaching out and deeply-hurting? Absolutely.  But be ever mindful of the way you try to help. The best way you can be there for someone in need is to give them the purity of your loving attention and focus on, “Letting your own light shine so bright that others can see their way out of the dark.”
 
REFLECTION: 
” Be the lighthouse. In your light, others will become illuminated.”~Gabby Bernstein  
Reflect on this quote. We all have unique ways in which we illuminate the paths of others – what are yours? How do you love purely while managing the instinct to  “save”? Consider this: lighthouses light the way of ships in the night from a long ways off…if you ever find your flame being snuffed by your efforts to light someone else’s way, you are not saving them or yourself. Trust this truth enough to distance yourself from anything that dulls your light. When helping others, always be mindful of your our own energy output.
 
COMMIT TO ACT:  
Aspire to be a giver of love and good vibes today. Imagine your inner spark glowing bright enough to ignite the light within those you pass on the street.  Notice how you feel and how the world responds when you love on it unconditionally.

 

Why Creativity Makes Us Feel More Alive

 

aliveIn my 20’s there were days, I felt unhappy. Days, I didn’t want to get out of bed.

 

There was always something calling to me, though, whispering to pull me out of the dull drums. Something saying, “You know I bet if you did this, you would feel some love and happiness.”

 

Now after many years, I’ve come to know that voice and her name is Creativity.

 

I like painting, writing and reading. I like to knit too. And cook. And I like walking in gardens having a real conversation with a friend.

 

But in the past, even if that interested me, I didn’t always wake up in the morning excited and enthusiastic to do that thing I LOVED.

 

And that was because in the desire to have a BIG happy full life, these smaller things didn’t seem like they held enough significance. They seemed not important enough to make a REAL difference in feeling like a success.

 

These acts of creativity weren’t the man showing up so that I could be happily married thereafter. Or my book making the New York Times Bestseller List. Or winning a million dollars.

 

They were just these small things that gave me simple joy.

 

ANYTHING we do because we enjoy it is a creative uplifting experience. We don’t have to be artistic to be the creator of our aliveness.

 

When I did something creative that I loved, even if seemingly ordinary, it ALWAYS had a much larger impact to my happiness than I could ever realize. Here’s why:

 

1) When we do something creative it’s like active meditation.

 

When we create (building a toy car in our garage, taking an improv class, planting an herb garden…) we put our focused attention on it. It asks us to be present.

 

But even more so, because we enjoy doing it, we don’t have to think that much about being present. We just ARE. We’re IN IT. Enjoying it because it gives us PLEASURE. And that WAKES US UP. It gets the energy in our body flowing again.

 

2) Creativity shifts our perspective.

 

Whenever we create something (learning a new language, taking a road trip to a neighboring town, getting a puppy…) it shakes us out of the same-old, same-old. It brings brighter light. We’re stretching and growing.

 

These moments accumulated, begin to form new bones. Our blood gets regenerated. And we embark in a wild world of curiosity and discovery that breathes new life.

 

3) Once we ignite creativity it always leads us somewhere else.

 

Like a river finding it’s sea, the current of creativity guides us to unknown explored territory. And even though we never know where it might lead, it’s always to a bigger body of water.

 

First, it takes us closer to ourselves and THAT makes a huge difference in our life, career and relationships. I took a cooking class for fun — only to discover later how much pleasure I got from having dinner parties, where I deepened relationships with new friends.

 

I learned the Tarot, thinking I was crazy, but it ended up giving me the idea to create a book and card deck set, which is now published.

 

I attended a painting workshop and found that I continued painting on my own for over 20 years. Through that process, I continue to develop an incredible intimate relationship with myself.

 

You get what I mean?

 

Creativity has this wonderful way of connecting us to more and more happy, pleasurable things to appreciate and pulls at our heart strings.

 

Perhaps, the result is something we never thought of. And that’s the cool thing about creativity. It thinks FOR us and has a bigger plan in store than we could possibly know until we engage with it.

 

4) Creativity produces self-esteem.

 

When we show up to do something creative, we’re taking a positive action step in our lives. We’re making a statement that we’re willing to create change and do something different, just by the act of showing up.

 

The more we meet our creative nature the more we’re saying, I’m doing something I enjoy because doing something that brings me joy matters.

 

It doesn’t have to be a big deal. Or become anything.We’re just doing it because we love it and the more we do stuff because we love it, the more self-love we embrace.

 

And the more self-love we embrace, the more happiness and appreciation is cultivated.

 

5) It’s something we do just for ourselves.

 

We do little acts of creativity not for someone else. Not because we want or need someone to love it. Or buy it. Or approve of it. We do these things because we’re called towards it.

 

It doesn’t have to save anyone. Or better the world—although it does, it always does, because as we create, we increase our happiness and then those we come into contact with feel that and are energized.

 

So what do you feel like creating this week?

 

A scrap book? Building a solar panel? Hanging some new pictures on your wall? Turning on some favorite music and dancing in your living room? Taking a walk with your camera and finding new angles and light?

 

Each moment shared with Creativity is divine. It’s how we got here in the first place. So why not connect and be inspired? Love is waiting for you right around the corner.

 

 

 

What Stops Us From Being Happy?

IMG_4919 (1)

It’s the one thing everyone wants and we spend our lives pursuing it, but in this day and age it seems to be becoming more elusive. The word ‘happiness’ is bandied about a lot these days, it appears in advertising campaigns around the world in a bid to sell us more of what we so desperately seek. In an age when we have all the conditions to be happy why does it feel like we are actually becoming more unhappy?

 

There are many barriers that prevent us from being happy but the good news is they are all within our control. Here’s a look at what could be holding us back from happiness and what to do about it:

1. Fear

So often we can remain stuck where we are due to the fear of change. This can be fear of the unknown, of failure, of what people may think, of risking our security and what is comfortable and ‘safe’.

 

Over the last year I have made massive changes in my life including a career change,leaving a long term relationship and moving to the other side of the world. This was made tougher due to my fear.

 

I was scared I wouldn’t have enough money, fearful I wouldn’t be good enough to do something so different and scared I might fail. I was worried what others would think of me, about being on my own but most of all I was scared of the unknown and getting outside my comfort zone.

 

It takes courage to step outside our comfort zone and do things that are different and unfamiliar. But unless we take the first step we’ll never grow to become the people we’re capable of being.

 

2. “I’ll be happy when….”

We postpone our happiness until a time in the future when everything is perfect. We think that we have to struggle now to enjoy happiness later. Maybe when we retire or win lotto, marry our fearsoul mate or have done all our jobs!

 

Our annual holiday is a fine example; we look forward to it all year and almost postpone our happiness until such a time we have idyllic conditions; no work, a nice hotel, warm weather, the beach. But imagine if there was joy in every day we’d no longer need a holiday to ‘get away from it all’. If we’re not careful we end up waiting all week for Friday, all year for summer and all life for happiness.

 

We put off our happiness until conditions are perfect but what we don’t realize is that conditions never will be perfect, there will always be something happening, but along the way there will be lots of perfection sprinkled into our lives and that’s what we should learn to appreciate.

 

Dr Alfred D’Souze said, “For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin – real life. But there was always an obstacle in the way. Something to be got through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life”.

 

3. Comparison

Do you ever look at ‘successful’ people and think; “They have it all figured out. They are better than me, why can’t I be more like that?”

 

We live in a world where we are surrounded by ideals, the media presents us with better versions of just about everything and a mind-set that we should be striving for more, so there’s no wonder so many of us feel like we’re not enough.

 

I have become a published writer and achieved many goals this year but I still catch myself looking at best-selling authors with their thousands of followers and feel inadequate. I fail to appreciate my successes because I’m wanting more when I compare it to those who are more successful.

 

Unfortunately there will always be someone more beautiful, clever, talented or stronger than you. But the reverse is also true: there will always be people less than you in all of these areas. So instead of comparing yourself to others, look to see if you’re fulfilling your own potential to the best of your ability.

 

4. Accountability; believing happiness can be found outside of ourselves

In our consumer-driven world we have been seduced into an external search for happiness when really it’s an inside job. Happiness cannot be bought and often our pursuit actually takes us further away from the goal.

 

It is too easy to fall into the trap of putting our happiness in the hands of others, believing they will make us happy. The same applies to material things; our jobs, house, car. None of these things will bring us the happiness we seek because the best things in life are not really things at all.

 

Sometimes we lack accountability for our own happiness and can blame our unhappiness on external circumstances when tough times arise. You may not always be able to control what happens to you, but you can control how you react to it.

 

5. Expectations

Sometimes we can be too hard on ourselves. We forget that we are all human and no-one is perfect.

 

For a long time I felt like I should have it all figured out and know what I wanted. I expected to have all the answers and was frustrated with myself during those moments when I felt lost.

 

These unrealistic expectations put unnecessary pressure on us. Don’t expect perfection; from yourself or from life and know that we don’t always have to have it all figured out.

 

6. Negative thoughts

Our mind is our world and what we think becomes how we feel and then how we act. If we are filling our mind with negative thoughts, this is what will manifest in our lives. Henry Ford said “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re probably right”. Think positive and believe in yourself.

 

The happiness in your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.

 

7. Not living in the present

Today is a gift, that’s why it’s called the present yet if we spend today going over the past or worrying about the future we rob ourselves of the present and we do not experience the now.

 

Be in the moment, enjoy doing what you love rather than always chasing future dreams and the next big thing. If you are connected with the present moment you’ll experience more joy, contentment and happiness. Through mindfulness you can cultivate the circumstances to see the joy in every moment. This is how we learn to love life.

 

8. Busyness

In todays world we are driven by the need to succeed to prove our self worth. We like to be needed, to feel valued and if we’re not busy then we’re not successful. We feel useful when we’re busy and as such we’ve moved to get rid of all the downtime and pauses from our life. By doing this we’ve lost the opportunity to rest and recharge and have no space left in our lives to live. It seems like we live on fast forward and as a result we’re living a fast life not a good life, where we can do more things in less hours of the day but spend less time doing the things that really matter.

 

In my previous job in the corporate world I was so busy striving for success that I never really noticed if I was happy or not, I didn’t really have the time. Nor did I have the space left in my life to do the things that I really enjoyed.

 

“Don’t be so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.”

 

9. Not being grateful for what we have

We take so much for granted we sometimes forget how lucky we are. We tend to focus on what we haven’t got instead of all the things we’re lucky to have (and others do not). By constantly pursuing the bits that are not quite there yet we run the risk of forgetting about the majority of the things in our life that are good.

 

gratefulThere’s this feeling that the grass might just be greener on the other side, but it always is. Even when we get there. This leads to a never ending quest that is never fulfilled. Try thinking of three things each day that you’re grateful for or keep a gratitude diary. I have found this is a very small thing that can make a big difference.

 

“Happiness is not about getting what you want, it’s about loving what you have.”

 

10. It’s the journey not the destination

Most importantly we need to realize that happiness is not some far off destination we arrive at. It’s more about the journey that happens along the way and this is the everyday moments that are in fact our lives. We need to let go of our limiting beliefs and what is holding us back and embrace our own power within. This is how we create a life we love and cultivate our own happiness.

 

 

 

#GratiTuesday Circles Challenge

6“I am thankful for my struggle because without it, I wouldn’t have stumbled upon my strength.”

 

If you never tasted a bad apple, you would not appreciate a good apple. The happiest people are those who have learned to look back with genuine gratitude for the profound teachings contained within their most challenging times.

 

 
REFLECTION QUESTIONS: 
  • Reflect on this passage: “Things didn’t work out because, well, greater things were in the works…You may not see it today or tomorrow, but you will look back in a few years and be absolutely perplexed and awed by how every little thing added up and brought you somewhere wonderful– or where you always wanted to be. You will be grateful that things didn’t work out the way you once wanted them to.” Do you agree with the presupposition that sometimes you fall down because there is something down there that you are supposed to find?  
  • How might practicing gratitude for EVERYTHING, even difficult experiences, because of their potential to wake you up, enhance your current and future happiness?
COMMIT TO ACT: 
It is said that the “stance of happiness” is a deep appreciation for what is and eager anticipation of what’s next. Give this stance a try today! For the next 24 hours, regularly repeat this motto to yourself: “For all that has been, THANKS. For all that will be, YES.”

 

How to Create More Magic in Your Life

10366132_10103104566635383_9038330468988894513_nDo remember the last time that you said “Wow!”? 

Did it happen while you were…

… witnessing a beautiful sunset?

… watching a movie or musical performance that took your breath away?

… playing with a child who was bursting with giggles?

 

Whatever caused you to say it, you can never forget that exquisite feeling that you experienced during those delectable moments.

 

As we grow into adults, a lot of people find it difficult to feel these emotions. We accumulate numerous layers of conditioning, while attempting to fit into society’s moulds. In this way, our curiosity and sense of wonder gradually gets diminished and is replaced with a scepticism and seriousness.

 

The hectic and busy pace of life adds to this numbing process by desensitizing people to subtler energies around them. Like hamsters inside a running wheel, they get so caught up in their day-to-day routine that they cannot perceive the world beyond their five senses.

 

Now some may argue that this transition is a necessary part of the maturation and growth process. While it is true that we should avoid getting our heads stuck in the clouds when dealing with real world problems, I don’t believe it is necessary for us to completely disconnect from this child-like sensibility.

 

Allowing ourselves to have experiences that create a sense of awe within us is one of the most effective ways to feed our spirit. And no matter how vigilant you are about your health, relationships or bank account, if you are not feeding your spirit, your life will lack texture, depth and vibrancy.
Experiencing magic is like having a surge of electrical current run through our body. In an instant, our life can go from black and white to technicolor. Our intuition, creativity and ability to sense the underlying wisdom that exists below the surface of everyday living gets heightened.

 

I know this because I have witnessed this phenomenon many times in my life – you see, magic has been a constant theme throughout my journey. I watched spellbinding shows and concerts; I allowed myself to get lost in the magical worlds of video games, movies, music and theme parks.

 

Yet the experience of magic is very personal. Everyone feels it in different ways and contexts. For example, my mother experiences it whenever she sees her flowers bloom in the springtime. I’ve seen my brother in this elated state while celebrating the victory of his favorite sports team.

 

You too have specific triggers that elevate you to a heightened state of wonder. If you are finding it challenging to recall the times when you have felt this way, I’ve outlined some guidelines that will facilitate your inner processing and help you connect with these emotions on a regular basis:

  • Step 1: Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Remember a time in the past when you felt light, joyful, and experienced a wonderful feeling of enchantment. Visualize the experience vividly in your mind’s eye and notice your surroundings – the environment, people, and any other details. Spend a few minutes soaking in this experience and enjoying all the delightful sentiments that you felt at that time.
  • Step 2: When you are ready, open your eyes and begin making notes about what you saw and how it made you feel. Focus on your emotional experience and what made this particular memory so special. Be as specific as possible. You can repeat this process if would like to visualize other similar experiences.
  • Step 3: Now bring yourself back to the present moment and ask yourself what kind of activities can elicit the same kind of emotions within you. Make a list of at least 2-5 activities. Would you like to be accompanied by other people (your partner, friends, family) or would you rather experience it yourself?
  • Step 4: Do any necessary research and sign up for these engagements if necessary. Then take a look at your schedule and make some time to engage in these activities on a regular basis.
  • Step 5: Pass on the magic by bringing a sense of joy into another person’s life. Whether it’s someone in your immediate circle or an elderly person in a retirement home, choose someone whose life you think you can brighten with your presence and positive energy.

 

The whole purpose of conjuring more magic into our lives is so that we can understand instinctively our role as powerful co-creators of our reality. When we realize that we are by-products of the incredible forces that orchestrate the Universe, we can begin channeling this power to manifest our heart’s desires.

 

All my best on your journey,

Seline

 

Happiness for High Achievers

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High achievers are used to getting what they want. They set their mind to something and achieve it, which makes them feel great. So they’re happy, right? Unfortunately, the happiness halo of the latest achievement only lasts so long. They earned the A; they made the sale; they got the promotion. The buzz of achievement is like a drinking a double espresso. Great while you’re in it, but beware of the crash.

 

I know this because I’ve had my own addiction to the self-esteem buzz of achieving goals. I did well in school, and I was successful at work. But there was one goal that really kicked my butt: losing weight. As a young woman, I had a burning desire to be thin like the waify models I saw in my monthly Vogue magazine. I dieted; I restricted; I worked out furiously, and I made it. I got thin and rode the wave of elation in my size 2 jeans. “I’ll never go back!” I proudly proclaimed. Those moments of weakness that sent me to the pantry in midnight frenzies were over. I had conquered my hungry demons and was on top of the world! Now all of my problems were solved, and I could finally be happy.

 

Just kidding. When the wave of elation crashed to shore, I was the same me with the same self-doubt. And the self-doubt drove me right back into the food. Now I was doubly depressed. Happiness evaded me fat, and it evaded me thin. In fact, when I finally figured out how to stay slim, I ended up taking anti-depressants to escape my personal dark cloud.

 

It took me years, but I finally discovered the little secret to happiness that was hidden in plain sight. Don’t get me wrong; I love being slim. It’s just not what makes me happy on a day-to-day basis.

 

For happiness of the day-to-day variety, the “set goal-work hard-achieve goal” conveyer belt never worked for me. What worked was shifting my perspective to notice the scenery along the way: The raucous blue-jays that chirp outside my window in the morning, the golden quality to the light at sunset, a hug from my husband, a heart-felt connection with a friend or client.

 

My fear used to be that being happy today would sap my motivation to achieve the next goal. And in a sense, that’s true. I don’t need the next achievement for a brief jolt of happiness, because I have happiness available here and now. This realization has given me the freedom to set a different type of goal: achieving things that make my heart sing rather than what I think will impress others. And unlike the double expresso, that buzz lasts.

 

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You can download Renée’s “Top 10 Weight Loss Tips for High Achievers” at docrenee.com. A former food addict, Renée Stephens, PhD is on a mission to help people lose weight with ease by releasing cravings and letting go of self-criticism and guilt. She is a coach, the author of “Full-Filled”, published by Simon and Schuster, and the host of iTunes top weight loss podcast, “Inside Out Weight Loss” with over 4 million downloads to date. You can find her at docrenee.com

 

#MindfulMonday Circles Challenge

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Today, stop supporting the thoughts and feelings that are not supporting you.

 

Identify your automatic thoughts. Are they positive, negative, fearful – what do you say to yourself when you are not paying attention? PAY ATTENTION to how thoughts make you feel. You alone create your day, thought by thought, choice by choice.


REFLECTION QUESTIONS: 

  • What is the difference between a thought and a belief?
  • How do you define”Belief”? Possible definitions to consider:  1) A thought that you accept as true regardless of evidence. 2) A unconscious contract we make with ourselves. 3) A thought that you keep thinking.
  • Are your beliefs empowering or limiting your life?Think of a trigger situation in your life, one which is emotionally charged and consistently results in suffering. (Note: Sometimes it is difficult to identify the beliefs we hold, but exploring our “triggers” is one of the best ways to start. Triggers are situations that set off a memory charged with emotional intensity, and often there’s an underlying limiting belief is at play.) Once a trigger is identified, we can ask ourselves what belief was connected to this trigger? Identify the beliefs, or inner stories, that you’re telling yourself in these situations. Then ask yourself this series of questions to “flip your script” into an empowering belief:
    1. What does this belief do or get for you? In other words, what are you trying to get for yourself by repeating this thought? Go deeper by repeating this question a few times until you detect the positive intention that the belief is trying to “get” for you (such as protection, safety…).
    2. What do you want instead? In other words, what empowering story do you want to tell yourself instead?
    3. How will you know in your body when you’ve got this new story (i.e., what I will feel, hear, see, taste?) and in what situation (i.e., when, where, with who?) do you want it? Imagining this physical evidence is the beginning of integrating this new belief into your cells.
    4. What is one step you can take to start living this empowering belief today? Example: Today I will take time to notice my successes, even small ones by writing them in my gratitude journal each night.

 

COMMIT TO ACT: 

Upon waking, before you even open your eyes, let your first conscious act be to reach toward your best feeling thought.  A good feeling thought makes us feel expansive, or big, alive, strong, peaceful, etc.  For the next 24 hours, don’t let your mind run away on a train of thought without it being a deliberate choice. Let the good feeling thoughts become a dominant story line in your life! Remember, “The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts.”

 

 

5 Vital Keys to Health and Wellbeing

IMG_7225I was a sickly child and I hated being sick. In my early 20s (which was 54 years ago!) I decided that I was done being sick and done not having energy to do all the things I wanted to do. I started doing research on what creates health, and I was fortunate to read a few books that changed my life. At that time, I threw everything out of my kitchen and started to do my grocery shopping at the one tiny health food store in Santa Monica, California.

 

As I got off all processed foods, stopped eating sugar and ate only organic foods, my health improved rapidly. My excitement about how good I felt led to a life-long passion for learning about what creates excellent health and wellbeing. I discovered that we each need to address five major life areas to create excellent health.

 

1. FOOD – Eat for a balanced gut

There are many ways of eating and there is no one way that works for everyone. Each of us needs to tune into our body to see what feels best, perhaps it’s eating a Paleo or modified Paleo diet, a vegetarian diet or a vegan diet. However, whichever suits you, there are some general guidelines that apply to everyone.

 

Recent research indicates that 80% of our immune system is in our gut, and that the balance or imbalance of our gut flora affects our organs and our brain. An imbalanced gut is caused by antibiotics and other drugs, by processed, sugared and pesticide-laden foods, by bad air, fluoridated water, too much alcohol, over-exercising and stress.

 

Eating fresh, local and organic foods goes a long way toward creating health, as does including fermented foods with each meal (unless you are suffering from SIBO – Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth. If this is the case, it’s best to work with a functional medicine doctor to heal the SIBO before including fermented foods in your diet). An imbalanced gut can cause both physical and emotional problems.

 

2. EXERCISE – The best exercise is what you do naturally

It is very important to find exercise that you love to do so that you look forward to doing it and want to do it your whole life. Research indicates that the best exercise is what you do naturally – gardening, walking, fun sports and so on. Intense or extreme exercise, such as running marathons, tends to create an imbalance in the gut flora (called gut dysbiosis), and can even create gut permeability (leaky gut).

 

3. HYDRATION – (Sorry, coffee doesn’t count, it’s a dehydrator!)

Our bodies need good, clean filtered water – about ½ ounce per pound of weight – so a 150-pound person would need 75 ounces of water daily. Coffee doesn’t count as it is dehydrating. Not enough water can cause insomnia, anxiety and muscle cramps. However, overdoing it and drinking too much water isn’t healthy either.

 

4. SLEEP – Skimping on zzz’s weakens your immunity

A lack of sleep greatly lowers the immune system’s ability to fight off illness. Most people need at least seven good hours of sleep a night to keep their immune system healthy.

 

5. STATE OF MIND – I put this last on the list, yet it’s the most important. 

Research indicates that stress is a major cause of 90% of all illness. Most people have no idea how to lovingly manage life’s stressors. They might run or meditate, and this might help, but what creates the most inner peace is learning how to take loving responsibility for your feelings. This means that you learn to move toward your painful feelings rather than push them away with various addictions. It means embracing all your feelings with a desire to learn about what they are telling you.

 

All our feelings have information for us. There are two basic kinds of painful feelings:

            1) Wounded Feelings we create by our own self-abandonment, such as anxiety, depression (these can also be caused or exacerbated by a gut imbalance), guilt, shame, anger, emptiness, aloneness, jealousy and so on.

These feelings tell us that we are being unloving to ourselves by ignoring our feelings, judging ourselves, turning to addictions to numb our feelings, or           making others responsible for our feelings.

            2) Core Painful Feelings of life, such as loneliness, heartbreak, grief and helplessness over others and events. These feelings are telling us a lot about what is happening with others and with situations and events.

When our desire is to love ourselves rather than to try to control our feelings or control others, we open to learning with our feelings, which can lead to understanding, acceptance, peace and joy. Learn to love yourself now by taking our free Inner Bonding course at http://www.innerbonding.com/welcome!

 

The Top 3 Surprising Ways You May Be Sabotaging Your Own Happiness

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If you ever ask people what they want most out of their life, one of the most common responses you will get is this: “I just want to be happy.”

 

The search for true happiness has been an ongoing quest for many and continues to elude most of us. The reason why it seems so out of reach is because most people don’t realize that happiness is not dictated by their external circumstances, but their perception of those circumstances.

 

Mother Nature has given us the gift of self-awareness. Unlike other creatures on the planet, we are not solely being driven by our instincts. Yet so many of us don’t know how to handle our consciousness in a healthy way. Most of us are not taught how to do this and we usually gain this wisdom after going through many years in the “school of hard knocks”.

 

 

But why should we go through pain and hardship when we can easily bypass most of it? I truly believe that all of us have the capacity to self-manage and learn by example if we are open to it. That’s how it worked out for me.

 

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Of course in my case it did take a few challenges to wake me up to the fact that I was creating my own misery by the mismanagement of my thoughts and emotions. Sometimes it does take a difficult experience to shake our world and motivate us to change; but most of the time these “life crises’s” could have easily been avoided if we had the right perspective.

 

So based on my personal experience and what I have observed in the world, here are what I think are the top 3 most common and surprising ways people sabotage their own happiness:

  1. They base their happiness on external events and people: We live in a world driven by consumerism. Corporate giants skillfully deceive us with the false notion that if we buy their product or service, we will be smarter, richer, hotter, etc. Some people who derive their happiness and identity from relationships want others to approve them and develop an unhealthy dependency on this external validation. What I have realized that is that this is all ultimately an attempt to fill an internal void- a void that can only be filled when we genuinely love and accept ourselves no matter what.
  2. They don’t take care of their bodies: I truly believe in the mind-body-spirit connection. We have to accept the fact that our body is our vehicle for our life. When we abuse or neglect it, we are ruining our vehicle thereby ruining our ride for our journey. Our body is essentially a bunch of chemicals that is directly impacted by the kind of lifestyle that we choose. Most of the health-related issues and mood fluctuations are a result of the poor management of health. Respect your body and it will return the favor with good health and great sense of wellness, balance and vitality.
  3. They are disconnected from their internal world: We are living in an age where we have become more distracted and busier than ever. This has resulted in a world filled with people who are constantly on the go and living in what I call “auto-pilot” mode. With all this focus on the outside world, very few take the time to pause and tune in within themselves. We miss the opportunity to check in with our thoughts, emotions and body which are constantly in flux based on what is going on around us. The practice of mindfulness can significantly reduce our anxiety and dissatisfaction and help us tap into the gifts that we have. True and lasting happiness can only happen when we are willing to enter a deeper realm of existence and develop a strong connection with ourselves.

 

By consciously handling these potential roadblocks, you will be well on your way to creating fulfillment, joy and meaning in your life!

 

All my best on your journey,

Seline

Seline Signature

 

 

10 Things That Real Friends Do

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Some believe that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.

This goes for friendships, too. Here are some of the qualities that I am grateful for in my friends. While different people have different qualities, just thinking about them makes me smile. Take a look and see which ones you can match to the people in your lives.

 

1. Focus on the good: You don’t have to impress real friends. That’s a lot of hard work. Real friends see past the surface, and appreciate the good qualities in you.

 

2. Being real: With your real friends, you can laugh or cry, be either silly or serious, and still feel the warmth of true connection.

 

3. Kindness counts: Fair-weather friends are fun when times are good. You recognize real friends who show an underlying kindness, especially when times are tough.

 

4. Mistakes are part of life: Real friends don’t condemn you for making mistakes; we’re all human, and mistakes, too, are part of life. We learn as we grow.

 

5. Balance of power: Real friendships are not about one person being the star and the other being the servant. It’s about being able to take turns: understanding and being understood, giving and getting support, and caring enough to listen for words unspoken.

 

6. F is for forgiveness: When conflicts come up, real friends have the courage to reach out directly rather than gossiping and letting irritations grow. Real friends understand, and because they understand they are capable of forgiving.

 

7. Loyalty, care and connection: In a real friendship, loyalty is key and connection is the currency. You know they have your back. Real friends look beyond the sparkle of personality to the essence of what makes each other tick.

 

8. Let each other grow: Life is dynamic and people change. Real friends give each other the space to grow, the time to recalibrate, and the open door to sharing insights that only come from experience.

 

9. Water the plant2014-08-03-sFRIENDSDNAsmall.jpg: Like plants, friendships need to be watered, too. Real friends check in with one another. Whether that is every day or on birthdays every year, it is always special.

 

10. Celebrate the good stuff: Real friends celebrate your victories. They want the best for you and have the caring and confidence to be genuinely happy for your successes. Your joy is their joy, too.

 

What other qualities are on your list? What is most important for real friendship to blossom?

 

 

 

 

 

6 Reasons Kindness Matters in Work and in Life

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I’m sitting in my study on a glorious almost-summer morning. The coastal fog is still swirling in its morning dance with the sun. “Who will win today?”, they seem to say as they challenge each other daily (I’m rooting for the sun!). My heart is full from the beauty I see from this hillside home perched high above the San Francisco Bay. I am so grateful for my life, and now I want to be kind today. I want to be compassionate. With myself. With friends. With the woman three thousand miles away who has become so important in my life and my heart. And with total strangers.

 

I reflect a lot on the importance of love in our lives, and all the offshoots of love like compassion, empathy, gratitude, hope, inspiration, faith, joy, and indeed kindness. My father was a very kind man. A friend to so many. It was only a tough, hardened stranger who was not melted by my Dad’s warmth and kind heart.

 

I want to be kind today, kinder than yesterday. I want to help people who are struggling in their lives — with a moment or two of lightness, of care, of sensitivity. I want to be kind today. Because kindness matters. Here are 6 reasons to be kind today: 

1. Kindness is a powerful emotion to uplift our mood.  A simple act of care can switch our perspective from dark to light, from hopeless to hopeful, from reactive to creative.

2. Sincere kindness from the heart triggers a cascade of vitality and health-inducing biochemicals in our body, at least 1400, which re-energizes both giver and receiver. Now research has shown that at least 600 genes that are designed to protect our health and longevity are actually triggered to express when we are feeling kind and compassionate. Kindness makes us healthier.

3. Kindness can interrupt a stress cycle so both giver and receiver can reset and move forward. Sometimes we get locked in patterns of reactivity, fear or upset. A kind act can not only defuse the negative emotions, but in that process a window opens for more positive solutions.

4. Kindness slows aging, especially on your face :) Let’s get down to the bottom line here: worry, fear, anxiety, and self-centeredness are all accelerators of aging. Those worry lines that can become deep grooves on someones’ forehead or around the eyes don’t have to be there! It’s in our power to change it. The stressful emotions we all experience separate us from the kindness and love of others. They create walls of a prison we are now the inhabitant of. No one wins. A simple act of kindness can dissolve the worry so instead of aging needlessly we can feel the forward momentum of hope come alive.

5. Kindness creates loyalty. Whether you’re dealing with a negative customer, an irate client, a colleague having a very bad day, or a boss who is overwhelmed, kindness can be that special gift the other person is not expecting, so they never forget. Companies that teach genuine kindness to their frontline staff have happier customers, who want to talk about what a great company you are. Who come back for more of what you have. I love going in any Apple store anywhere in the world as I know without any doubt that my problems and my ignorance of techy stuff will be treated with kindness and helpfulness, bringing me relief, satisfaction, and the desire to go back and tell others. Kindness matters, to the bottom line.

6. Kindness just feels better. Ever faced with a choice to ignore a person in need, like a homeless person with their cardboard sign and a hand out, or someone struggling to solve a problem at work, or a fellow passenger struggling to lift their heavy carry-on into the overhead compartment on the plane. So you stretch out of your comfort zone to lend a helping hand, and the joy and relief on the face of the recipient of your kind gesture just made your day!

 

I want to be kind today. How about you?

 

Mindfulness To The Rescue: 4 Ways Mindfulness Can Help Parents

When we become parents

 

Nothing is more important to us than being a good parent, even though we are certain we are messing it up most days.  While we dearly love being parents, our stress exponentially increases once that child is born.  When we become parents, doing is no longer what’s important; fully being is.  Making this shift can be difficult – mindfulness will help.

 

While I practiced mindfulness about two years before becoming a parent, it was only after my daughter was born almost three years ago that I have deepened my mindfulness to an extent I didn’t know was possible before she came into my life.  Here are four ways I’ve found that mindfulness can improve your parenting and enjoyment of it.  (If you are a parent of a newborn, save this and read it in the future.  You may need to only focus on sleeping when you can.  Be compassionate to yourself and know you’re doing your best.)

 

1.  “Floor time.”  This is a concept in play therapy that can turn around behavior issues instantly.  Floor time is setting aside 30 minutes with no TV, no phones, or other distractions.  You sit and play with your child, allowing him to lead the play.  You give her yourfull attention, awareness and presence.  This is an amazing meditation.  You do not correct your child or even name things unless you are repeating what he says, (i.e., You can’t color her face green!  Her face needs to be brown!).  I often find myself trying to use it as a reward for myself if I get some chore done, but then I miss it or my daughter really needs the attention right then and not later.  So, I suggest doing this as soon as you can in the day or when you get home from work.  I sometimes need to break it up in 15 minute increments.

Here’s an article from Psychology Today describing this in more detail:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fixing-families/201202/kids-and-floor-time

 

2.  Notice emotions in your child and in yourself.  Teach your child emotion words as soon as possible.  I made a book with pictures of all of my daughter’s big emotions and describing what they are.  We have happy, frustrated, mad, tired, sick, surprised, etc.  When she was just a little over two, she could correctly name most of these when she felt them.  She replaced many tantrums with saying that she was “frustrated” instead.  While her feelings don’t always make sense, it helps me to know what she’s feeling and it helps me empathize with her instead of reacting angrily.  Notice your own emotions-when you are hurt that your child favors grandma over you, when you are frustrated with your child putting up a fight every night during the bedtime routine, etc.  By noticing my anger, I can usually stop myself from reacting and instead be calmly present with my daughter to help her manage her own emotions.

 

3.  Get up a little bit earlier to have time to yourself.  Or stay up late, whatever works for you.  This may be working out (I am a muchbetter mom after I work out), reading, planning your day, etc.  Spend at least 5 minutes in meditation.  Be kind to yourself and open your heart.

 

“The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you

Don’t go back to sleep!”

– Rumi

4.  Try this Momma Meditation.  I started this during one of the hundreds of hours I’d spend holding my daughter while she was asleep because the second I’d lay her down, she’d wake up screaming.  The time to try this is while nursing your child, when you are rocking him to sleep or when she is asleep and you’re letting her get into a deep sleep before laying her down.  Start by watching your breath and not trying to change it.  Are you holding your breath?  Are you breathing shallowly?  As you hold your attention on your breath, you’ll notice it getting deeper and more constant.  Relax your muscles, starting from the top of your head, your face, your neck and shoulders, your arms, your stomach and back, and your legs.  It is often hard to relax these, but muscles can be relaxed and yet flexed to support your child.  Tension isn’t strength.  Now turn your attention to your beautiful child.  Notice her breathing and how it compares to yours.  Notice his features and how perfect they are.  Feel the weight of your child on you-from her head on your arm, to her fullest weight on your lap, to toe.  Sensing this weight on me is usually when I feel a swell of happiness and deep love.  Still allowing any other thoughts to drop, continue breathing and feeling your child’s weight.  Then, send love and energy from the universe to both you and your child.  I often picture a large, loving ribbon curling around us.  Visualize what you are grateful for in this day with your child.  Savor the perfection of this quiet moment.

 

 

HAPPINESS WITHIN REACH: The Open Secret

I want to be happier

 

“I want to be happier. I just don’t know how.” In my work as Stanford faculty, presenter and leadership coach, I hear this confession from adults, 18-80. We live complex, stressful and often disconnected lives, often bombarded by media that convinces us that buying all kinds of stuff will make us happy, beautiful, successful, prestigious, and even more loveable individuals. Sometimes it does, in the short run. The real problem, however, is that this media-created trance can blunt our quieter universal quest for deeper joy and kindness. But there is very good news. Deep happiness is within reach.

 

By peering into the lives of the happiest people, we can discover the research-based secrets about the quality of “happiness.” What makes the happiest people more joyful and kinder?

 

Let’s begin with your unique life. Take a “time-in” and think about this: What makes you happy? Stop reading, make your complete list, and when ready, place your experiences within these 3 categories:

 

1. SHORT TERM PLEASURES: Feeling the rush of sensory pleasures, such as great food and wine, great sex, sports, entertainment, is terrific. The happiest people intentionally organize their lives so they have time to kick back and enjoy life. But here’s the catch- these experiences are fleeting. We want more, we crave more, and we’re bombarded by media that encourage us to get out there and grab “more” pleasure. But the problem is that our brains have faulty wiring. The harder and stronger that we pursue that great rush of pleasure, the more we want. The more we want, the more unhappy we become. And as unhappiness soaks into our day, the more gratification we seek to avoid the discomfort and find another pleasure jolt. Whether the rush comes from food or drugs; money or prestige; gambling or overwork, this downward cycle inevitably leads to discontent, social comparison, restlessness, depression and even addiction. Enjoy those healthy fun pleasures, but understand that they alone will not result in sustainable happiness and contentment. Sorry!

 

2. FLOW:   Does your “this makes me happy” list include experiences that lead to that zesty feeling of a “YES” fist pump?   Maybe you love untangling complex coding problems, mastering a new level of communication skill or fixing a gnarly machine? This great feeling of accomplishment, called “flow”, sparks curiosity, adds vitality and helps us thrive.   The happiest people deliberately seek out engaging challenging experiences and they love achieving new levels of mastery. But here’s the secret: Those happy folks also know how to fail! Why? Inevitably, the “flow” urge prompts us to take new risks and step out of our comfort zone. And what do we find there? When we outgrow our current competency level, we hit the “don’t know how” zone, which feels like incompetence or a setback. If we stick with it – keep trying, and keep failing, the time will arrive when we mastered the new skill set and we experience the great feeling of flow. The happiest people understand that gaining mastery requires resilience- to bounce back after a setback or failure, and eventually enjoy that great experience of flow.   Nelson Mandela reminds us that “the greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” Flow, being fully engaged, mastery. These are powerful ingredients for deep life satisfaction.

 

3. MEANING: Did your list include connecting with others, offering compassion, being kind to yourself? Meaning is the real sweet spot for the happiest people. Happy people know how to notice and savor the good that surrounds us so often in our day. Think about this – if you hang out in the zone of negativity or threat or stress, you’ll find something to criticize in almost every second. The happiest people chose to be happy – they deliberately focus on and seek the positive benefits of each moment. We call this a positive mindset. But here’s the trick- life is never trouble free. Even the happiest people also struggle and face disappointment and adversity.   They understand that pain is part of life too, and deep meaning and purpose arise when we deliberately reframe life’s difficulties into opportunities for meaning and compassionate action. Viktor Frankl, Holocaust survivor, reminds us: “Everything can be taken from us but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Meaning isn’t an abstract or general life principle. It’s a vibrant, deliberate frame of mind that recasts life’s inevitable difficulties into purposeful thought and action.  Almost nothing imbues our lives with meaning and purpose as intensely as when we contribute to the happiness of others and when we treat others and ourselves with kindness and patience. The Dalai Lama teaches,” If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

 

Happiness IS within reach. Enjoy life’s healthy pleasures. Challenge yourself to grow, engage with life and master new accomplishments and skills. Above all, discover your unique capacity to bring greater joy and meaning to your personal life, as well as to the greater good of our communities. When you seek opportunities to help others and heal the world, you’ll find that you will truly flourish as your days will be imbued with wonderful sensual pleasures, inner peace, meaning and purpose. And that’s the open secret to deep, sustainable happiness.

 

Happiness Challenge: Day 16

21 Day challenge - Day 16

“Love and intimacy are at the root of what makes us sick and what makes us well…I am not aware of any other factor in medicine—not diet, not smoking, not exercise—that has a greater impact.” ~Dean Ornish 

#SocialSaturday Challenge: “Life is about finding people who are your kind of crazy.” One of the clearest research findings is that we are social creatures – how we relate to others is one of the strongest indicators of wellbeing! In fact, studies show that that not having close personal ties poses the same level of health risk as smoking or obesity. We are wired to love, to be loved, and to belong…so, in the next 24 hours, reflect on who are “your kind of crazy” and spend time “traveling with them” today :) Extend this challenge beyond this weekend by gathering your tribe and become a founding member of a Circle of Happiness: http://www.projecthappiness.org/happiness-circles/
“As I get older, I recognize just how important it is to be surrounded by people who deeply believe in our value and goodness even when we lose our footing. It took me years to rid myself of the lite-dimmers and it has been much clearer sailing since. Not that there isn’t value in having difficult people to overcome, but eventually it becomes essential to be surrounded by those who lift and wish us higher. If they don’t see you in your highest light, wish them well and cut the cord.” ~Jeff Brown

 

 

Happiness Challenge: Day 13

21 Day challenge - Day 13

“I have a choice: Do I want to align with the GREATEST VISION OF MYSELF or Do I want to align with my EXCUSES?”  ~Debbie Ford

#WellnessWednesday Challenge: When you mentally rehearse new healthy habits, you strengthen your ability to create them in your life. Identify images that align with accomplishing your goals and spend time visualizing them daily! Are you living by design or by default? Design the highest grandest vision possible for your life today. For the next 24 hours, live  “AS IF” this grand vision has already come true. Extra Challenge: Practice this “AS IF” mentality for the rest of the week, living “out of your imagination, not your history.” You become what you believe…

Happiness Challenge: Day 11

21 Day challenge - Day 113“Your mind is your instrument. Learn to be its master and not its slave.” ~ Remez Sasson

Mindfulness is not meant to remove us from the reality or responsibilities of everyday life, but rather places our feet firmly in the practical ground of experience. When we are under stress, the brain processes information through pathways that lead us to impulsive and reactive behavior. Mindfulness strengthens the brains resourceful pathways; it’s a way of traveling through our lives in peace.

#MindfulMonday Challenge: For the next 24 hours, PRACTICE PEACE. Try this exercise to strengthen your brains ‘peaceful pathways’ — Take a moment to step fully into this lion’s ‘shoes’ and connect with one word that describes your experience being the lion in the picture (i.e., strong, serene, peace, brave, still, etc.). For the rest of the day, if you begin to feel scattered or stressed or disconnected from the present, breathe deeply as you come back to this one empowering word. Let this mindful lion state expand within you, and invite it to grow forward into your week ahead, accompanying you through the inevitable stress that arises.

When you schedule a peace practice into your regular morning routine, the rest of your day’s to-do list (and overall well-being) will benefit as you approach each task mindfully!

Breathing Practice

Breathing Practice

Do this breathing practice before bed tonight, connecting to your heart center as you drift off to sleep. Research shows that repeating a simple gratitude exercise such as this one every day for 21 days hardwires you for happiness. TRY IT!

#GratiTuesday

Healthy Lifestyle

Healthy Lifestyle

“You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” ~John C Maxwell

Health is the groundwork for happiness. Integrate health practices into your daily routine as access points to greater happiness. Starting today, let healthy be your way of life!

#WednesdayWellness

Happy Alone

Happy Alone

The best way to be happy with someone is to learn how to be happy alone. That way the company will be a matter of choice and not necessity.

#GratiTuesday

Live What You Love

Live What you Love
“Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart” ~Confucius
#Heart #HappinessHabits

Be Grateful to Everyone

Be Greateful to Everyone
Pema Chodron
Be grateful to everyone. Others will show you exactly where you are stuck…the next time something provokes you, thank it and then use it, let it be a teacher.
#GratiTuesday

THE ALPHABET OF HAPPINESS: THE LETTER ‘I’

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photos-alphabet-letter-i-girl-image6052228Originally published in the Huffington Post – July 11, 2013

No matter what obstacles appear, happiness, in one form or another, can always be accessed, from the inside. The good news is that the more we train our brains to recognize happiness triggers, the more we become attuned to the good feelings they evoke. Today, let’s look through the alphabet to the letter “I”, to focus on intuition, intention and one of my personal favorites, inspiration.

Intuition
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. — Steve Jobs

We all have it. Intuition comes

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Top 10 Tips for Surviving Family Vacations

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photography-girl-showing-car-keys-sitting-family-car-high-angle-portrait-cheerful-image32430047Now that school’s out, everyone wants to play and go on vacation. Having a flashlight and flares for a car trip is a great idea. So is a travel bag of games, songs and activities.

But what about a repair kit for family feelings? Or a road map to harmony? Even a dream vacation in an idyllic setting can become a nightmare if the kids are at each other’s throats. Here are some practical parenting tools to help bring out the best in everybody:

1. Remember the big picture. A family vacation can be a perfect opportunity to create fun and lasting memories. Consider making learning, loving and living in the moment your highest priority, rather than getting to a particular destination.

2. Share appreciations and praise. Families do best when everybody (including adults) feels appreciated. Notice the good things and praise your kids, aiming for at least a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative statements.

3. Don’t relax the rules and routines too much. Younger children can’t “sleep in,” so later or irregular bedtimes can create sleep deprivation and irritability. Kids thrive when parents provide lots of love and warmth, but also firmness and structure.

4. Give lots of time to blow off steam. Being away can be exciting but also stressful. Join in and help your children express themselves physically and emotionally through exercise and activities.

5. Provide practice at making decisions. If done in moderation, handing over some decisions to the kids is a terrific way for them to learn planning and thinking skills. Going somewhere new puts everybody on an exciting, equal footing.

6. Have family meetings. This is an ideal way to air feelings, make group decisions and help everyone feel respected for their preferences. Don’t forget that you’re all in the same boat. When tensions flare, it’s time to attend. If siblings aren’t getting along, a good “repair kit” is to have them work things out by sitting face to face, listening to and acknowledging each other’s feelings.

7. Honor individual differences. Travel often highlights some differences between family members: preferences around food, activities, how much time to be active vs. relaxing, etc. It’s a fabulous time to learn to compromise and take turns leading and following. Some kids get homesick and may act younger and need more loving attention.

8.Be prepared for idle times. In addition to the travel bag of positive family games, coloring and activity pages, have some games to use when you’re waiting or standing on lines (e.g., guessing which hand a coin is in). It’s also fun to let the kids safely scout out new places and come back to give you a report.

9. Allow some down time. Families are often not accustomed to being together all the time. Allow some ebbs and flows of being together and apart, and of quiet and more active times.

10. Listen to your own needs. Create time to be apart from the children and nurture yourself and your adult relationships. It’s a win-win situation. One of the greatest gifts you can offer your children is your own sense of happiness and well being.
——————————————–
mac1Dr. Mac is a child psychologist, school consultant, lecturer, award-winning songwriter, and writer and director of music for the PBS hit, Jay Jay the Jet Plane.

See more at: http://kidseps.com/

Human Cells Respond in Healthy Ways With Certain Kinds of Happiness

FelicidadHuman bodies recognize at the molecular level that not all happiness is created equal, responding in ways that can help or hinder physical health, according to new research led by Barbara L. Fredrickson, Kenan Distinguished Professor of psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The sense of well-being derived from “a noble purpose” may provide cellular health benefits, whereas “simple self-gratification” may have negative effects, despite an overall perceived sense of happiness, researchers found. “A functional genomic perspective on human well-being” was published July 29 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

“Philosophers have long distinguished two basic forms of well-being: a ‘hedonic’ form representing an individual’s pleasurable experiences, and a deeper ‘eudaimonic’ form that results from striving toward meaning and a noble purpose beyond simple self-gratification,” wrote Fredrickson and her colleagues.

It’s the difference, for example, between

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Mindful Living: 5 Ways to Savor Summer

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-summer-fun-water-image7575780Originally published in the Huffington Post – June 19, 2013

Summer is here — the season we have waited for all year! How to make the most of it? Here are a few tips that cost nothing, and can really add to making this summer season even more memorable. Dive in; the water is fine…

1. Walk a little slower; look a little closer
What if you gave yourself an extra five minutes instead of rushing to get on with your day? The goal is to notice something new on your route, or even to look at something familiar in a deeper way. Maybe it is saying hi to the vendor as you pick up your morning coffee. It could be catching the subtle variations in the green of the leaves on a favorite tree, the tones of the bark, or how it looks after a rain. The sound of birdsong taps into another sense – listen for the calls that are most audible. You may hear them for the very first time when you move a little slower. There is life all around you. How does it feel to

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The Alphabet of Happiness: The Letter ‘H’

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photography-alphabet-letter-h-girl-image897012Originally published in the Huffington Post – July 1, 2013

Even throughout the busy pace of everyday life, happiness is always close at hand. Rather than pursuing it, consider focusing in one place… inside. The good news is that by placing our attention on inner happiness, we train our brain to experience more of it. This week, let’s explore the letter “H” – Hope, Honesty and Health.

Hope:
I find hope in the darkest of days, and focus in the brightest. I do not judge the universe. – The Dalai Lama

Hope is like a time machine that moves you from one place to another, from one state to something better, from the way it is to the way it can be. Hope is

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Building Social and Emotional Skills in Elementary Students: Empathy

taran-empathyThis year, in partnership with Edutopia.org (The George Lucas Educational Foundation), we released a nine part blog series on Social and Emotional Learning for Elementary Education Students. Starting this week and then every week for the next nine weeks, we are rereleasing this series for everyone to view!

To receive the lesson plans that accompany the blog series, please fill out the Curriculum Request Form for Educators and the lessons will be delivered to you in a PDF format.

In this post, we will explore Empathy.

Why is it important to “walk in someone else’s shoes?” According to a study by the Brookings Institution, “Higher curriculum standards don’t correlate to higher student achievement; empathy does.” Empathy is also gaining attention as

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Building Social and Emotional Skills in Elementary Students: Ninja Mastery or Emotional Management

taran-emotional-ninjaThis year, in partnership with Edutopia.org (The George Lucas Educational Foundation), we released a nine part blog series on Social and Emotional Learning for Elementary Education Students. Starting this week and then every week for the next nine weeks, we are rereleasing this series for everyone to view!

To receive the lesson plans that accompany the blog series, please fill out the Curriculum Request Form for Educators and the lessons will be delivered to you in a PDF format.

In this post, we will explore Ninja Mastery, a.k.a. learning emotional management.

What if your kids could learn that managing their emotions gives them a real advantage in school, in relationships and in life in general? Like ninja masters, they can train themselves to harness their inner resources and redirect their energy to successfully deal with the challenges that come their way. In this article we’ll explore some approaches that can help.

When Emotions Take Over
Most people would agree that emotions are a tricky thing. On one hand, they are guideposts to let us know how we are feeling. They direct our attention, and we rely on them to help us make good decisions. When emotions are in gear,

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5 Reasons to Increase Your Play – Some Serious Reasons to Have More Fun!

Just PlaySubmerged in the responsibilities of life, the seriousness of world affairs, and an ever-growing to-do list, we often forget to PLAY. Animals, on the other hand, continue to play throughout their adult lives! We may believe that play is somehow no longer appropriate or cast it aside as a frivolous waste of time. Research suggests, however, that play is essential to our well-being, creativity, and health.

1. It Boosts Our Creativity Mark Beeman, Ph.D., at Northwestern University found that people have an easier time solving a puzzle after watching a short comedy clip. Having fun, perhaps by easing tension, may be

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Building Social and Emotional Skills in Elementary Students: Inner Meanie and Inner Friend

taran-inner-meanieThis year, in partnership with Edutopia.org (The George Lucas Educational Foundation), we released a nine part blog series on Social and Emotional Learning for Elementary Education Students. Starting this week and then every week for the next nine weeks, we are rereleasing this series for everyone to view!

To receive the lesson plans that accompany the blog series, please fill out the Curriculum Request Form for Educators and the lessons will be delivered to you in a PDF format.

In this post, we’ll explore the Inner Negative Meanie, the Inner Positive Friend and the choices that every student has.

Inner Negative Meanie
The Inner Negative Meanie is also known as the

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Building Social and Emotional Skills in Elementary Students: The Power of Perspective

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-image-looking-down-smiling-boy-image25368141This year, in partnership with Edutopia.org (The George Lucas Educational Foundation), we released a nine part blog series on Social and Emotional Learning for Elementary Education Students. Starting this week and then every week for the next nine weeks, we are rereleasing this series for everyone to view!

To receive the lesson plans that accompany the blog series, please fill out the Curriculum Request Form for Educators and the lessons will be delivered to you in a PDF format.

In this post, we’ll explore perspective. Perspective is defined as our individual way of looking at things, events and people. Do your students see a rainy day as gloomy or as a chance to play in the puddles? When they see a glass, is it half empty or half full? How we frame the circumstances in our life has a great deal to do with the happiness we derive from them. According to Shawn Anchor, “90% of your long-term happiness is predicted not by the external world, but by

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The Alphabet of Happiness – The Letter “G”

Originally published in the Huffington Post – June 6, 2013

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photos-alphabet-letter-g-boy-image900763There are so many ways to experience happiness. Some are obvious and others can be more elusive, but no less important. Happiness has its own vocabulary, and the more approaches you know, the more options you have to experience it. Here are 3 more ways to tap into greater joy in your life, focusing on the letter “G.” Today let’s look at Giving, Grace, and sharing your unique Gift.

Giving
Happiness comes from giving, not getting. If we try to bring happiness to others, we cannot stop it from coming to us also. To get joy, we must give it, and to keep joy, we must scatter it. ~ John Tempelton

To feel good, do good. It does not have to be complicated – random acts of kindness work really well. Say hello to a new friend, help someone across the street, give up your seat on the subway to someone who would appreciate it, pay the toll for the person behind you… The smile on your face and the warmth you’ll feel in your heart last long after the good deed is done. If you want to do something rewarding for yourself, try

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Building Social and Emotional Skills in Elementary Students: Passion and Strengths

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-image-happy-boy-playing-acoustic-guitar-image28485351This year, in partnership with Edutopia.org (The George Lucas Educational Foundation), we released a nine part blog series on Social and Emotional Learning for Elementary Education Students. Starting this week and then every week for the next nine weeks, we are rereleasing this series for everyone to view!

To receive the lesson plans that accompany the blog series, please fill out the Curriculum Request Form for Educators and the lessons will be delivered to you in a PDF format.

In this blog, we’ll explore passions and strengths.

Inherent Strength
While the role of education is to give students a broad and foundational knowledge over a wide range of subjects, it is equally important for young people to be aware of and develop their unique strengths. This came to my attention in a personal way when my own daughter was being bullied. As each day became more and more challenging, I went to speak with the school. Even with all best intentions, very little changed. How could my daughter weather the storm when she was being demeaned daily? One thing that worked was helping her become aware of her own strengths and then building on them. It made an enormous difference for her and is a powerful tool that every student should have.

One definition of strength from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is “a strong attribute or inherent asset.” Students who know

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Building Social and Emotional Skills in Elementary Students: The Power of Appreciation

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photography-happy-children-thankyou-kids-letter-blocks-image19878697This year, in partnership with Edutopia.org (The George Lucas Educational Foundation), we released a nine part blog series on Social and Emotional Learning for Elementary Education Students. Starting this week and then every week for the next nine weeks, we are rereleasing this series for everyone to view!

To receive the lesson plans that accompany the blog series, please fill out the Curriculum Request Form for Educators and the lessons will be delivered to you in a PDF format.

In this article, we’ll explore appreciation, which is a pillar of happiness and one of the fastest ways to shift a student’s mood and perspective. The definition of appreciation is “gratitude; thankful recognition.” Developing gratitude helps students to focus on what is working in their lives, and also to train their minds to notice the good things that are all around. Learning to appreciate even the little things in life, such as a sunny day, a smile or a good meal, improves one’s outlook substantially, and helps to develop a more optimistic and resilient attitude. What we focus on is what grows — and gratitude promotes positivity.

Accentuate the Positive
Cultivating gratitude, which leads to positivity, is important in that it has a direct relationship to learning. According to Shawn Achor in his book The Happiness Advantage, “The brain at positive is

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How To Cope When Faced With Overwhelming Tragedy

Abby Madi (L) and Peterson Zatterlee comforts Zaterlee's dog Rippy, after a tornado struck Moore, Oklahoma, May 20, 2013. Credit:Reuters

Abby Madi (L) and Peterson Zatterlee comforts Zaterlee’s dog Rippy, after a tornado struck Moore, Oklahoma, May 20, 2013. Credit:Reuters

All of us at Project Happiness have been devastated by the recent tragedies in Oklahoma. In the wake of this disaster, one is struck by the sheer power of nature and the impermanence of everything we hold sacred. How can one possibly stay happy during times of extreme crisis or tragedy? Even if we are just watching events on the news, it is natural to get overwhelmed by things out of our control, especially in situations of this magnitude.

One powerful antidote is

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Activities to Build Social and Emotional Skills in Elementary Students

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photography-basic-lessons-happiness-image12635837This year, in partnership with Edutopia.org (The George Lucas Educational Foundation), we released a nine part blog series on Social and Emotional Learning for Elementary Education Students. Starting this week and then every week for the next nine weeks, we are rereleasing this series for everyone to view!

To receive the lesson plans that accompany the blog series, please fill out the Curriculum Request Form for Educators and the lessons will be delivered to you in a PDF format.

Happiness is something we all want, and new research shows that happiness and well-being can be taught! But who has time to teach happiness when there is so much else to cram into a school day? At the university level, we see courses at Harvard and University of Southern California on the Science of Happiness. There are good reasons why those courses are among these schools’ most popular classes. Happier people tend to be healthier, more productive, more generous and kinder to others. They also learn more easily and enjoy life. Who doesn’t want some of that?

On the flipside, bullying is an issue that many deal with, and both anxiety and depression are rapidly on the rise. The World Health Organization predicts that by 2020, depression will be the second greatest cause of human suffering cross all ages.

The good news: happiness skills are not hard to learn. It just takes time and practice. Neuroscientist Richard Davidson compares learning happiness to

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Congressman Tim Ryan Introduces the Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning Act

tim-ryanCongressman Tim Ryan has been a force for the support of mindfulness in our military and schools and now he is expanding that support with the Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning Act. The act, co-sponsored by Congressman Dave Loebsack, Congressman Tom Petri and Congressman Matt Cartwright, amends the Elementary Education and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to allow funding for teacher and principal training and professional development to be used for social and emotional learning programming.

“I have already seen what teaching social and emotional learning skills can do for a student and their classroom,” said Congressman Ryan. “Teaching social and emotional learning skills is based on

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The Alphabet of Happiness – The Letter ‘F’

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photography-letter-image12412197Originally published in the Huffington Post – May 14, 2013

Happiness has many entry points. Some are simple, like appreciation, and others, like forgiveness are more complex. By exploring different facets of happiness, you blast open your capacity for greater joy. Even when facing challenging times, you will discover your portals to inner happiness. Today, let’s look at the letter “F” covering fun, focus and forgiveness.

Fun
Just play. Have fun. Enjoy the game. — Michael Jordan

In this fast-paced world, with all its responsibilities and challenges, we can forget one important thing

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A Painful Misunderstanding—Sonia and Denise

book-coverThis is an excerpt from the new book Lost and Found: Healing Troubled Teens in Troubled Times by Jan Elise Sells. It has been edited by the author for space.

The 11 a.m. bell rang–time for period 4 to begin. I was on the phone in my office; a single mother was requesting help for her depressed sixth grader. As we were scheduling an appointment, I saw a note come sliding under my door.

Ms. Sells, I need a conflict resolution with Denise ASAP. Please come get me out of Blackmon’s class period 4. — Sonia

Conflict resolution was nothing new for Sonia; she had been referred to me for mediation after her first fight in sixth grade—a school requirement following suspension.

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Mother’s Day: Lessons From a Very Difficult Year

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photos-mother-s-day-girl-image4967073Originally published in the Huffington Post – May 9, 2013

As Mother’s Day comes around again, I am struck with what has changed for my mother from this year to last. Last year, my father was still alive, albeit struggling with escalating health issues. It got to the point that my mom, in her caregiver role, was rushing him to the hospital every two weeks. Being a caregiver is not easy: She slept with one eye open, listening for any changes in the sound of my dad’s breathing, trying to get him to eat when he no longer had the will, and being the face of calm when his body was no longer his own. Tough stuff. Watching a loved one suffer is

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Teacher Appreciation Day!

942688_10151413297208931_519745608_n“If there’s one thing we cannot say enough to our nation’s educators, it is THANK YOU.” – President Barack Obama

Today, May 7, 2013, is Teacher Appreciation Day. At Project Happiness, we are so grateful to all of the teachers that work with Project Happiness! They are the backbone of all of our programs and they teach us so much about how we can improve the work that we do. Without our teachers, it would not be possible to have the global impact we have. Day in and day out, from Nigeria to California, the work done by our partners in teaching shines and the enthusiasm shown by all of you motivates and inspires the students you work with.

We are proud to work with so many teachers and hope they know how grateful we are for their including us in the work that they do. Thanks to all of you and Happy Teacher Appreciation Day!

MCA Day 2013: Celebrating our friend Adam Yauch

adam-yauch-beastie-boysOne year ago, our friend Adam Yauch, aka MCA of the Beastie Boys, lost his battle with throat cancer. This came as a shock to all of us here at Project Happiness. For me personally, I had grown up with the Beastie Boys and I knew somewhat of Adam’s work with the Tibetan Freedom Concerts, but it wasn’t until his interview with Project Happiness that I discovered the depth of his soul. I had actually published this interview just a month before his passing and all of us at Project Happiness are so grateful that his special time with us became such an active part in the remembrances of Adam.

Adam was an evolved human being and

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Good Night’s Sleep Linked to Happiness

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-images-puppy-dog-sleeping-image13312044The researchers analyzed data from 100 middle-aged participants in a longitudinal study of midlife in the United States that included telephone interviews about participants’ daily experience as well as subjective and objective measures of sleeping habits. The study looked at the overall levels of positive emotion that the participants experienced in their lives – those associated with more stable personality traits, as well as daily fluctuations in positive emotions in reaction to daily events.

The team found that, as expected, having a more positive general outlook on life was associated with improved sleep quality. However, they found that the more reactive or fragile a participant’s positive emotions were in relation to external events, the more their sleep was impaired, especially for individuals high in positivity to begin with.

“Previous research suggests that the experience of joy and happiness may slow down the effects of aging by fortifying health-enhancing behaviors such as restorative sleep,” said first author Anthony Ong, associate professor of human development in the College of Human Ecology. “Our study extends this research by showing that whereas possessing relatively stable high levels of positive emotion may be conducive to improved sleep, unstable highly positive feelings may be associated with poor sleep because such emotions are subject to the vicissitudes of daily influences.” Ong added, “These findings are novel because they point to the complex dynamics associated with fragile happiness and sleep that until now have been largely attributed to unhappy people.”

Ong co-authored the study, “Linking stable and dynamic features of positive affect to sleep,” with Deinera Exner-Cortens and Catherine Riffin, Cornell graduate students; Andrew Steptoe, University of London; Alex Zautra, Arizona State University; and David Almeida, Penn State University.

More information: link.springer.com/… -013-9484-8#
Journal reference: Annals of Behavioral Medicine
Provided by Cornell University
Article appeared originally in MedicalExpress.com

The Alphabet of Happiness — the Letter ‘E’

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photography-little-kid-block-letter-image21705887Originally published in the Huffington Post – April 23, 2013

Happiness can be found everywhere, if you know how to look. By spending some time focusing on the ways happiness can show up in your life, you train your brain to see more of it. By increasing your “happiness vocabulary” your capacity for happiness expands. Here are a few ways to tap into your happiness now, using the letter “E.”

Enthusiasm
Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Have you ever been so excited about something or someone that you could barely contain your enthusiasm? Do you remember being greeted by a dog’s yelps of sheer glee when you walked through the front door? How about a baby’s smile when they open their eyes to see you there, or the sudden blossoming of a tree bursting forth after winter’s sleep? Enthusiasm is part of

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The Best Kept Secret to Happiness: Compassion

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-image-chacma-baboon-image2038391Marketing executives want us to believe that happiness lies in a product that will taste delicious, magically fill our bank accounts, or transform us into a supermodel that looks not a day past 20. Our social norms promise that happiness will lie in status, accomplishments, relationships, and possessions. We are always on the lookout for the next thing: once we have the perfect mate, we look for the perfect home; once we’ve found the perfect home, we look for a bigger one, or a new car or a bigger bank account; once the perfect job is attained, we look for the next promotion or look forward to retirement or a new job. We seem to be on a constant and futile chase after the promised land of lasting happiness. Dan Gilbert of Harvard University has shown that we are, in fact, terrible at predicting what will lead to happiness. Our norms, for example, would suggest that a winning lottery ticket would make our happiness scores skyrocket while paralysis would make them plummet. Research shows, however, that winning the lottery ticket, though it creates an initial rise in well-being, does not lead to lasting happiness over time nor does becoming paraplegic lead to lasting unhappiness.

A closer look at our own experiences as well as research data suggests that

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The Good News About Stress and 5 Ways to Cope

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photo-stress-image1035525Originally published in the Huffington Post – April 16, 2013

“If you’re not stressed, you’re not working hard enough.” More and more this mantra seems to be woven into our cultural dialogue. Stress may be considered the new “normal,” but it doesn’t have to be that way. Simple shifts in attitude and practices can yield big benefits. April is National Stress Awareness Month, which gives us the opportunity to look at both negative trends and some signs of hope. Here’s the bad news, the good news and how

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The Alphabet of Happiness – D

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-images-letter-image12412219Originally published in the Huffington Post – March 14, 2013

Happiness comes in many forms. The more we reflect on happiness, the more we will notice it in day-to-day life. The more focusing on happiness becomes a daily habit, the faster we train our neural pathways to make happiness our default setting. Sound good? Here are three ways to increase your happiness now, all starting with the letter D.

Delight
Dedicate yourself to the good you deserve and desire for yourself. Give yourself peace of mind. You deserve to be happy. You deserve delight. — Hannan Arendt

The potential for delight is everywhere. Just as a beautiful landscape delights the eye, and songs universally delight the ear, you are wired to be

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Seeing Happiness in Ambiguous Facial Expressions Reduces Aggressive Behaviour

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-images-young-criminal-subway-image8350879Encouraging young people at high-risk of criminal offending and delinquency to see happiness rather than anger in facial expressions results in a decrease in their levels of anger and aggression, according to new research from the University of Bristol.

The study, led by Professor Marcus Munafò and Professor Ian Penton-Voak, explored the relationship between

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The Alphabet of Happiness: ‘C’

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image28641259Originally published in the Huffington Post – February 20, 2013

The Alphabet of Happiness is a reminder of the many ways to access happiness in your life now. Though at times it may appear to be elusive, happiness is all around you — especially if you know where to look! The good news is that the more you focus on happiness, the faster you can activate the neural pathways that bring you more. Here are three ways to explore your own happiness that start with the letter “C.”

Choice

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” — Victor Frankel

While we cannot choose the challenges that life presents, we can choose

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Authentic Happiness: 3 Simple Steps to Find the Courage to Be Yourself

Originally Posted on the Huffington Post

We all have flashes of inspiration. Sometimes they appear as quiet whispers in the night, as fleeting thoughts in the morning shower or as huge “a-ha!” moments. The question is: Are you giving enough attention to the clues that your inner voice is sending? How can you get more attuned to the inner directives? Here are three ways to get started.

1) Knowledge Is Power

Socrates said it best: “Know Thyself.” This includes understanding what makes you feel alive, what captures your imagination, and also what comes naturally to you. Knowing your strengths is a huge advantage. If you have a great sense of humor, creativity or an ability to communicate easily with people, then you can build on those qualities to create your best life. By focusing on enhancing your strengths rather than trying to make up for your weaknesses, you can move more quickly in your desired direction and have fun in the process. Ask a few friends what they see as your strengths, and do the same for them. You may be surprised! For more clues, check out (read more)

The Alphabet of Happiness – “B”

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image27297295Originally published on The Huffington Post – February 5, 2013

Inner happiness can be accessed no matter what your external circumstances. Because happiness is different for everyone, from cultivating contentment to pursuing peak experiences, it’s fun to explore the various facets available to you now. Here are a few that may remind you of the happiness already at hand.

Today, let’s look at the letter “B.” The good news is that by reflecting on happiness, you are actually strengthening the neural pathways that bring you more. Starting right now…

“B”

Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony. — Thomas Merton

Balance. The idea of balance makes me laugh — is there really such a thing or is it

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Project Happiness and Native Cry Team Up To Tackle Depression and Suicide On Reservations

SONY DSCBy Lynn Armitage

Sadly, people all over the world suffer from depression. According to the World Health Organization, depression will be the second most debilitating disease after heart disease by the year 2020; and unless something is done about it, by 2030, it will be the No. 1 health issue throughout the world.

It’s especially troubling when our own children battle the blues. More than 10 years ago, after Randy Taran’s then-14-year-old daughter said to her one day, “I want to be happy, but I don’t know how,” Taran soon learned that depression, stress and bullying run rampant among teens everywhere. Determined to help her daughter and others like her find happiness, Taran launched a global movement that went in search of it called Project Happiness.

“My background was in film, so that’s where I started,” explains Taran, who assembled a group of 25 teenagers from three different parts of the world—Santa Cruz, California, Nigeria and India—to make a documentary that tackled the seemingly impossible question, “What is lasting happiness?”

The students’ quest for answers led them to iconic thought leaders, such as director George Lucas, actor and humanitarian Richard Gere, and neuroscientist Richard Davidson. Their journey culminated with a group visit to the XIV Dalai Lama in India, a spiritual leader who is supposed to have all the answers.

With that concept in mind, Project Happiness has grown from an award-winning documentary that has been translated into seven languages into a handbook and educational curriculum that combines positive psychology, mindfulness and neuropsychology, and is available, free of charge, to schools and other educational institutions all over the world. Currently, the Project Happiness curriculum is being taught in schools in more than 55 countries.

Naturally, it was only a matter of time before Rayna Madero and Taran crossed paths. Madero, a Quechan native who lives in Las Vegas, founded Native Cry Outreach Alliance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to suicide prevention within the Native American community.

Suicide rates in Indian Country are jaw-dropping. Read more at Indian Country Media Network.

The Alphabet of Happiness – “A”

Originally published on The Huffington Post – January 26, 2013

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image12094545Happiness has many aspects: From quiet appreciation to living with zest and passion, it’s great to explore all the various facets available to you now. Inner happiness has many entry points. Try these out and notice how good you feel.

Today, let’s look at the letter “A.” This is a letter of new beginnings — perfect as you take a look at new ways to bring happiness into your life. It’s interesting that the more you focus on happiness, the

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Education for Liberation

Education is the foundation of any society. It is the process by which society deliberately transmits its accumulated knowledge, skills and values from one generation to another. The history of education reflects human history itself – the history of the knowledge, beliefs, skills and cultures of humanity. In the early stages of human history, education was transferred orally and through observation and imitation. Learning was done informally with parents, grandparents and extended family members. At later stages, learners received instruction of a more structured and formal nature, imparted by people not necessarily related, in the context of religion, initiation or ritual.

Education directs the development and maintenance of social and economic order. It is the basic instrument for change and alleviation of suffering. Hence, the aim of education should be to develop the capacities and talents latent inhuman beings, and to coordinate their expression for the enrichment and progress of society. Genuine education must not only instill information and skills and prepare individuals for jobs; it must also empower us to use our minds creatively, to find and follow our passions and create a deeper understanding of how and why our long-term wellbeing depends on the wellbeing of others.

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When Gratitude Fills Your Heart

Gratitude is a big buzzword these days, and for good reason. Studies are showing that a” conscious focus on blessings may have emotional and interpersonal benefits” (Emmons and McCullough).

Today I am grateful that I get to work from home on Fridays. Being home today allowed me time with my two godchildren (I live with their family) this morning . While their mother took the toddler to preschool, I danced in the kitchen with the 11-month-old. As we bounced and swayed to the music, he put his head on my shoulder. In a matter of minutes he was sound asleep. I continued dancing with him, feeling gratitude fill my heart for this moment in the kitchen, on a morning when I could work from home.

No sooner had I put him down in the crib when his mother came home with a look of horror on her face. She had just heard on the radio about the shooting at the elementary school in Connecticut. In a moment, the sweet feeling in my heart shifted to one of pain and sadness. As I read the news accounts online, I sobbed for the loss of innocent lives, and the extreme loss of the parents whose children were killed.

Unable to focus on anything else, I went on Facebook and saw post after post responding to the shooting. There was comfort in reading my friends’ pain. I was grateful for this social network and the chance to connect with others in real time. It felt as if we were all in the same room crying together, even though miles apart.

Throughout the day, I kept coming back to this article I had started in my mind as I danced with my godson. Gratitude puts our minds focus on the positive. I began the practice of thinking of what I am grateful for, and felt my heart begin to soften and fill with peace again.

Yes, I am angry about what happened. I am angry that this man had access to guns to kill these innocent children. Yes, I want stricter gun control. And yet I know deep in my heart that the way to change the world is not through more laws. It is through acts of human kindness, generosity, empathy, love, and compassion. It is up to us to change the world.

The Blend at Paris Junior College Promotes Project Happiness

At the recent PJC Homecoming Parade, The Blend promoted their
The Paris Junior College student club, The Blend, has worked all semester on Project Happiness. The campaign is designed to “activate happiness in your community” according to club sponsor and PJC Spanish Instructor Kelli Ebel.

As part of the campaign, club members placed signs around campus, hoping to inspire fellow students. The notes are mostly placed on benches where students will notice them between classes.

Another part of the project was The Blend’s PJC Homecoming Parade entry.

“The idea of the float was that we are all unique puzzle pieces and when you put the pieces together, they spelled ‘Humankind’,” said Ebel. “When one club member pointed out that Humankind does not have a history of being very kind, we created the pieces of the puzzle to give the message ‘Human (be) Kind’.”

Students created their own t-shirts by tie-dyeing them on a pretty day prior to the parade, and wore them on the float. They threw out multi-colored candy attached to small strips of paper with different words such as compassion, joy, hope, kindness and generosity. On the back of each strip was the message “Open Your Mind and Mix It Up!”

Source: eParisExtra.com

‘Project Happiness’ Sign

Thanksgiving: Gratitude for Even the Hard Stuff

Originally published on The Huffington Post – November 18, 2012

As Thanksgiving rolls around, it always puts me in a reset mode — time to remember what I’m grateful for. Usually, it’s the good stuff: moments of joy, new adventures, fun-filled moments. This year, however, is different: My father just passed away, my dog may have to be put to sleep any day and my dear friend who is a LOT younger finds herself in the last stages of cancer… and I generally write about happiness.

There is a shroud of disbelief and grief around me, but I know that there’s something powerfully transformative in this space. Rather than destroying my gratitude, this period is rekindling it in an even deeper way.

Some people are born optimists. My father was one. Up until the week before he passed, he believed he would live to 100. Denial kept my dad going for years. When the nurses came around, he would always say, “I’m GREAT!” which made everyone chuckle. Was this some kind of brilliant strategy? For some people, their will to live can and does produce the miracle. The biochemistry of hope can be powerful.

Yet when all those cycles have passed, when destiny catches up with desire (like being back in the hospital every two weeks), rather than dance with denial, I prefer to know

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The Next Normal: Millennials Across the World Prioritize Happiness

Despite Significant Economic Concerns, Vast Majority of Millennials are Very Happy, According to Landmark Study of Young People Across 24 Countries

LONDON and NEW YORK, November 15, 2012 /PRNewswire/ —

Viacom (NASDAQ: VIAB, VIA) and its Viacom International Media Networks (VIMN) division, today unveiled in-depth findings from its groundbreaking new study, “The Next Normal: An Unprecedented Look at Millennials Worldwide,” which provides the first truly global portrait of this highly influential demographic. The findings were presented at the Monaco Media Forum by Colleen Fahey Rush, Executive Vice President and Chief Research Officer, Viacom Media Networks.

The study spans every continent and delivers insights into the attitudes, values, aspirations and perspectives of young people (ages 9-30) from 24 countries: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, United Kingdom and United States. In total, this project included 15,000 interviews, in-depth explorations and expert contributions/commentaries.

“‘The Next Normal’ is the broadest single study of the Millennial generation to date,” said Rush. “It is a

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Finding Happiness with a “Big H” – The Project Happiness Interview with Richard Gere

Richard Gere is known as much for his award-winning work as an actor as well has his global impact as a humanitarian. He is a founding member of “Tibet House,” a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of Tibetan culture and has been an active supporter of “Survival International”,a worldwide organization supporting tribal peoples, affirming their right to decide their own future and helping them protect their lives, lands and human rights. Richard Gere stars in the recently released thriller, Arbitrage with Susan Sarandon.

Richard Gere sat down with students participating in Project Happiness for the award-winning documentary, Project Happiness. The following is the full interview containing his thoughts on lasting happiness and making contributions to the world. This interview has been been edited for space and flow.

Richard Gere

RICHARD GERE: You know, there was this thing that I had thought about doing at the Millennium which was connect the wisdom cultures of the world, most of which we know because they’re part of who we are. Buddhism is known now a lot more. But there are wisdom cultures that are deep in Africa, deep in the Andes of South America, and elsewhere that we don’t know about that are ancient and powerful and have their own idea of what a successful human being is, what a successful culture is, what a successful society is. These are all relevant. We all learn from each other.

All of our ideas about happiness, we all have very, very subjective ideas about what these things are. So I suppose you’re probably trying to find some common denominators every place you go. What have you found so far?

PROJECT HAPPINESS: Well we’ve been e-mailing back and forth with the kids in Nigeria and in the Tibetan Children’s Village in India. We’ve been asking each other questions. What has interested me the most is the cultural difference and what we find to be meaningful in our views of happiness and what makes us happy. And just how diverse all of our views are. It’s just really powerful to

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Ridgewood High School Encourages Students to Find Their Happiness

Brian and Emily from Project Happiness lead an assembly of 900 students at Norridge High School

Ridgewood High School wants to see students happy.

Not a day without homework happy. Not ‘we’ve got a sub today’ happy. Not free pizza in the cafeteria happy. But really happy, exuding real and lasting happiness regardless of exterior factors.

Ridgewood officials are so committed to the effort that they spent several hours Oct. 25 working with students to identify true happiness. The effort included students viewing the award-winning film “Project Happiness,” which follows a senior high class from California on a journey to discover the true nature of human happiness.

Ridgewood also brought leaders of the national Project Happiness group to the school for the Oct. 25 program, hoping to reach students and get a Project Happiness Club started.

“It’s so simple and it can be so powerful,” Emily Crubaugh, Project Happiness educational director, said of youth using positive psychology, conflict resolution and mindfulness. “In just 28 days, four weeks, you can be up to 25 percent happier.”

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The World of “We” vs. The World of “Me”

While not true for every society, but in most Western cultures—including the United States—many people live in the World of “Me.” Evidence of this way of living manifests in small ways like cutting off people in traffic, and in large ways like the Wall Street mortgage crisis that made a few people extremely rich and ruined the financial lives of millions across the world.

When living in the World of “Me” there is very little kindness, affection, trusting of others, and certainly not much happiness. In the World of Me, I am separate from others, and therefore how others feel does not matter to Me. How I treat others does not matter to Me. In the World of Me, I come first: what I want, where I need to be, and what I have is most important

The Social Brain
Living in the World of Me creates an insatiable appetite of the soul that manifests as greed, dishonesty, malice, and selfishness. As humans, we are hard-wired for human connection. According to neuroscientists, the human brain is a social organ that requires genuine human connection to thrive. If we live our lives as if we are separate from others, and that other people do not matter, then we rob our brains of what is essential for integration—a key factor of emotional health.

Bringing this back to the World of Me:

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Big Bird and the Halloween Challenge

Photo copyright Sesame Workshop

Originally published on The Huffington Post

Halloween is coming. It’s a time for costumes, masks and trying out new personas. Here’s a challenge. In our everyday lives, we all wear masks to some extent or another — we all play some type of role to ease the way. What if you considered taking off the mask, and having the courage to live as your authentic self?

Sometimes, it’s hard to even keep track of the masks we wear — they can be expressed in so many ways

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Randy Taran Featured on Microsoft’s Daily Edventures with Anthony Salcito

This week, Project Happiness founder Randy Taran sat down with Anthony Salcito, Vice President of Microsoft Worldwide Public Sector Education to discuss her work with Project Happiness. The video is part of Anthony’s Daily Edventures, a 365-day look at heroes in education. To learn more about Microsoft’s Daily Edventures, visit www.DailyEdventures.com

Native Cry Outreach

Earlier this year, I learned that my grandmother had been keeping a family secret. Her mother, my great-grandmother, was full Cherokee but she and my great-grandfather had hidden this fact to better fit into the world that they lived in at the time. This information fascinated me, not so much because I felt a burning connection to the Cherokee Nation, but because I was curious how being identified as non-white could have such a stigma attached to it.

I have spent the last few months looking more into the modern history of Native Americans and specifically, the situations that are facing the tribes today. On a daily basis I review statistics on depression and suicide in the U.S. and abroad and they are, in a word, heartbreaking. This is why I almost couldn’t believe it when I saw these stats as they apply to Native youth are exponentially worse. Native American and Alaska Native commit suicide at a higher rate than any other ethnic group in the United States. The suicide rate for Native youth aged 15-24 is 3.3 times higher than the national average and young people make up 40% of all suicides on tribal lands.

After giving it some thought, I realized that because of Project Happiness

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Common Ground Magazine Sings Praises of Project Happiness

When Randy Taran’s eldest daughter was a teenager, she approached her mother with a very serious concern: she was stressed out, and while she wanted to be happy, she didn’t know how. Taran, heartbroken and unsure of how to respond to or guide her daughter, first sought the guidance of experts and soon ended up as a visionary leader in the happiness movement.

Her pain as a bewildered parent ultimately led her to found the Palo-Alto-based nonprofit Project Happiness which, through educational programming, guides students and adults alike on the path toward happiness.

Taran has since dedicated her life to this Herculean task – the pursuit of world happiness – and her journey led her to find a way to communicate how to thrive and be happy not only with her daughter but also with young people throughout the world. Extensive research led to the creation of Project Happiness, one of a growing number of educational programs focused on giving young people the tools they need to first find happiness in their lives ad then to share that happiness with the world around them. Project Happiness programs are now in place in thousands of schools in 48 states and 52 countries.

At the heart of Project Happiness is a simple message:

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Sustainable Happiness — Lessons From Bhutan

From the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/randy-taran/gross-national-happiness_b_1720955.html

I recently had the pleasure to sit down with the honorable Prime Minister of Bhutan, Jigme Y. Thinley. He had profound things to say about the importance of Gross National Happiness for individuals, as well as for societies looking at the well-being of their citizens. Even in the U.S., where the pursuit of happiness is written into the constitution, there are important lessons to learn. Here are some ideas that can increase your long-term happiness.

More money does not equal more happiness. As U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated, “[Gross National Product] fails to take into account the social and environmental costs of so-called progress. We need a new

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What Do We Do in the Face of Senseless Tragedy?

Last week, in Aurora, Colorado, we witnessed one of the largest tragedies of its kind in U.S. History. 12 people died and 57 were injured, and it leaves us wondering, WHY? What propels an individual to be so tortured to resort to mass murder of innocent people in a public place? And how do we cope with the aftermath – the sorrow, the trauma and the sense that you never know…

In an odd replay of fiction come to life, so many of the characters in the Batman movie are flat out insane – disconnected from their community, their own inner compass and their very hearts. It’s one thing to watch that on the screen and another to see it acted out in real life with real life consequences. But where do we draw the line?

There is no denying that we are all influenced by the people and the emotional atmosphere we are surrounded with, whether positive and uplifting or harmful and toxic. In Aurora, 70 people have suffered because one person was at the point of no return. Let’s be clear that there is NO excuse for harming anyone. The challenge is what can we do as individuals and communities to try to plant new seeds so this tragedy has less of a chance of erupting again. We can point fingers to one young man who was so sick that he became a mass murderer. But that will not solve the core of the problem. The call to action is for each of us to look at our own lives, attitudes, choices and actions. The question is: can we make any internal changes that can help, both for us and the next generation? From this tragedy of lost lives, hopes and dreams, here are 5 ideas worth considering:

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Happiness is Spreading in Bulgaria

I love Bulgaria!

Life happens in curious ways. I never dreamed that I would be visiting Bulgaria, but this weekend, I had the great pleasure of presenting a happiness speech and workshop in the capital city of Sofia. “Days of Happiness” is the first project of its kind in Eastern Europe. Organized by the Credo Bonum Foundation, it brought in speakers from around the world to address the issue of happiness. Why? In April, 2012 a UN Report declared Bulgaria one of the unhappiest countries on the world. Scientists, psychologists, authors, educators and economists all presented different perspectives on what can make a society happier. I have the deepest respect for the visionaries, led by Tzvetelina Borislavova, who are shining a light and actively working towards a positive future for all.

The country offers many attributes that generally are not regularly appreciated by its inhabitants. That can change. Historically, it is quite normal for

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Happiness and Sustainability

The Prime Minister of Bhutan, Lyonchoen Jigmi Yoezer Thinley. UN Photo/Mark Garten

Project Happiness founder Randy Taran is joining leaders from around the world for the RIO +20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. The objective of this conference is – securing renewed political commitment for sustainable development, assessing progress and implementation gaps in summit outcomes on sustainable development and addressing new and emerging challenges.

In the last year, world leaders have begun to discuss the place of happiness as it relates to the economies of the world. In April, the United Nations held a High Level Meeting on Wellbeing and Happiness convened by Bhutan’s Prime Minister, Jigmi Y. Thinley. At this event, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated “Gross National Product (GNP) has long been the yardstick by which economies and politicians have been measured. Yet it fails to take into account the social and environmental costs of so-called progress. We need a new economic paradigm that recognizes the parity between the three pillars of sustainable development. Social, economic and environmental wellbeing are indivisible. Together they define gross global happiness.”

This week, the discussion continues. World leaders recognize that happiness, along with well-being and sustainability, are the hallmarks necessary for a new economic paradigm. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has said that sustainable development is intricately linked to happiness and well-being and stressed that the outcome of this week’s conference in Brazil should reflect this.

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Is This the Last Father’s Day?

From the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/randy-taran/fathers-day_b_1600857.html

My father is requesting that all family members come by… no, not for a typical family reunion, but for Father’s Day. They say that people sometimes get a sense about things, and I have a feeling that my dad knows the end is near.

I am not complaining. I have had the amazing good fortune of having him around for longer than most. He is 95.5 and pretty darn present.

It has me thinking about the various roles we play in life: child, parent, parent to our inner child, parent becomes child, and child becomes parent’s parent… it’s endless in all the possible permutations.

I recently asked my dad for his five top life lessons, and this seems like a perfect time to share them:

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Can You Teach Happiness?

A TEDx event and book inspire middle school teachers and students to test out in practice the author’s ideas for building a curriculum on happiness. By Victoria Obenchain, The Saklan School Science Specialist and Middle School Science Teacher. For more information on the program at Saklan, visit http://saklan.org.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2012 newsletter of the California Association of Independent Schools. You can read the article in it’s original format on page 20 and 21 of the newsletter – www.caisca.org/uploads/file/FacNewsSpr2012.pdf

Last Spring, teachers at the Saklan School attended the TEDx conference on compassion in Richmond, California. Our goal was to gain an understanding of how we could help teach compassion to our middle school students. We spent the day listening to many inspirational speakers, songwriters, and curriculum designers. It was there that we spotted a book that resonated with both our school’s mission and the unique challenges of teaching middle school.

In a time when stress, anxiety, pressure, and fear of failure haunt so many middle school and high school students, Randy Taran’s Project Happiness Handbook offers tools for managing difficult situations and building life-long happiness. The book itself is fun, colorful, and interactive. It encourages readers to brainstorm, write, draw, and self-reflect while examining the differences between joy (short-term pleasure) and happiness (true contentment). It also explores how negative self-talk can become a habit that leads to self-deprecation and depression, while helping readers develop the self-awareness and skills necessary to lead positive, productive lives.

When we found the book, we couldn’t believe how lucky we were. Our dean contacted the author and explained how we were going to use it in our advisories. Randy was overjoyed to hear this as she was working on creating a curriculum for the exact same purpose. We decided to partner up, and test out her lesson plans in our eighth grade leadership class.

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Is School Harming Our Kids?

From the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/randy-taran/standardized-testing_b_1466236.html

I just got off the phone with my sister. It is almost the end of the school year, and the students at her daughter’s elementary school have a week of testing ahead during which they’ll take the Standardized Testing and Reporting, or STAR, tests. My niece, aged 10. is staying up till 10 pm most every night to study, and she is stressed out. What is wrong with this picture?

br>Our kids are under increasing pressure to do well on these standardized tests and teachers are also under pressure to have their kids perform at high levels. My niece was told that in preparation for the STAR testing, the school was taking away vocabulary and spelling homework and replacing it with a substantial packet of tests to take home and study. This is on top of her already rigorous homework schedule. What is the reason for this? My sister believes that it is not for the students’ education necessarily — it is to make the school look good. The question is — at what price?

There are plenty of parents who are not happy with what is going on. Children and teens are increasingly sleep deprived, overscheduled and ceaselessly connected on social media. This, apart from the regular stresses, creates

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How to Find Happiness

We need to suitably define this thing we call happiness. Too many people are chasing this elusive concept that, in my opinion, they don’t understand. They think happiness is a tangible thing you achieve once you clear away a certain roadblock: “If I just had a boyfriend, if I just made more money, if I just had a bigger house….”

So let’s clear up this myth. Happiness is not a concrete thing. It’s not about what we attain materialistically, what job we have, and or based on genetics. Happiness is a choice we can all make during every moment of every day. Yes, it’s true that some people tend to be more positive than others. However, this is a learned behavior, so anyone can work their way towards living a happier life.

What are some words I use to describe happiness? Joy and contentment are the first ones that come to mind. And I do believe the ability to experience these emotions is related to how people feel about themselves. Too many people are walking around with an internal emptiness that was created in childhood. And you can recognize this emptiness from the way they behave: those who constantly (and subconsciously) fill a void with material things, those who compare themselves to others (and what others have) and feel less than because of it, those who live too much through their children’s lives without paying attention to their own….

Here are some tips on how to

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A Happy World Begins With a Happy YOU

From the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/randy-taran/world-happiness-report_b_1449440.html

My son just reminded me that it was Earth Day. This sparked a discussion of what can one person do to make a change? We talked about Al Gore, how recycling has grown and new ideas that could really shift our perspective. For me, the most exciting idea to affect the planet this year has come from a tiny country in the Himalayas, called Bhutan. Their Prime Minister has been waging a campaign to measure human progress not only by how wealthy a country is, but also by the way it impacts the environment and the happiness of its people… a fascinating notion that has made it all the way to the U.N.

Earlier this month, Bhutan’s Prime Minister Jigme Thinley proposed the meeting to explore the idea of Gross National Happiness (GNH), rather than just the conventional economic measure of Gross National Product (GNP). What does that mean? The U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, summarized it this way: “Social, economic and environmental well-being are indivisible. Together they define gross global happiness.” The environment, social well-being and economics together in one soup – now that’s an idea that could be a game changer!

I decided to look deeper. Apparently the U.N. General Assembly mandated

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Happiness According to Yauch – The Project Happiness Interview with Adam Yauch

Adam Yauch, aka MCA, is one of the founding members of the hip hop trio, the Beastie Boys. Inspired by his own extensive travels as well as the his interactions with the Dalai Lama, Adam became publicly passionate about the situation in Tibet and created “The Milarepa Fund” to help promote awareness and generate support around the world. He organized the first “Tibetan Freedom Concert” in San Francisco in 1996, which he followed with years of a similar series in the United States and worldwide. Yauch has influenced an entire generation of human souls to look deep within themselves in search of a greater truth and a peaceful, compassionate understanding of all that surrounds us.

Adam spoke with some of the students participating in Project Happiness to offer his thoughts on lasting happiness. This interview was edited for space and flow.

PROJECT HAPPINESS: I was wondering what your definition of happiness is, and whether it is in the long-term or short-term spectrum?

ADAM YAUCH: It is good that you’re making the distinction between short-term and long-term. I think there is

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Happiness Lost: When Kids Take Their Lives

From the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/randy-taran/teen-suicide_b_1381062.html

I visit a lot of schools and communities with a documentary I produced called Project Happiness. The idea is to remind people of the happiness that we were born with and how to re-access it, no matter what the external circumstances. I am grateful for the profound appreciation coming from audiences; yet the reason troubles me to the core. Why in so many cities, across the country, am I hearing again and again of kids taking their lives?

What is the feeling of utter hopelessness and isolation that prompts such an action? If you would ask most parents across the globe what they want most for their children, it is to be happy. And most people want to live a meaningful life. How did we get from there to here?

The statistics are down right shocking.

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Forgiveness: Making Space for More Happiness

From the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/randy-taran/learning-to-forgive_b_1322686.html

Have you ever tried to be happy, yet something just irked you under the surface — a feeling that you had not been seen, appreciated, loved? Or even worse, a feeling of betrayal, total loss of trust or even violation? What can be done? The way out is forgiveness. Let’s make something clear from the get go. It’s not about saying that what happened to hurt you was OK — it was not. It’s about adjusting your outlook and the way you deal with a situation so that it does not entrap you, keeping you stuck in anger, sadness or frustration for years to come. Your forgiveness opens the door to your own freedom. A quote I love is, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” — Louis B. Smedes.

Dr. Fred Luskin of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project defines forgiveness as “the feeling of peace that emerges as you take your hurt less personally, take responsibility for how you feel and become a hero instead of a victim in the story that you tell. Forgiveness is the experience of peacefulness in the present moment.”

My parents are getting older, and I find that long-buried feelings like “Why couldn’t they be the perfect parents I had wished for?” coming to the forefront of my mind. I thought that I had dealt with this sticky stuff long ago — what’s up? Hey, I know I should feel happy to even have parents who possess several amazing qualities and who are still here! I also know the drill: Everyone is human and does the best they can with the knowledge they have. Yet these feelings of irritation and sadness still arise. So I am trying to write this to learn to forgive, to let go and create more mental space in my life. More room for happiness! Here’s what I’ve found:

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Valentine’s Day — Really?

From the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/randy-taran/valentines-day_b_1247584.html

Valentine’s Day: What does it represent to you? Is it a reminder of the passions of new romance or the love that you are longing for in your life? Is it a commercial orchestration fabricated by the greeting card, flower and chocolate industries to make us buy more? Here’s the real question: Can Valentine’s Day remind us of the enormous capacity for love that we already carry within?

From the day we are born, not only do we need love and affection to thrive, we constantly give and generate love. Benjamin Disraeli says, “We are all born for love. It is the principle of existence, and its only end.” Yet the word love in itself is confusing. It means so many different things to different people. Here are some of its faces:

• the protective affection felt by parents for their children
• the resonance felt by sharing interests and true friendship
• the sexual expression of love that also can hold the potential of transcendence
• the sense of caring for others’ welfare — what we call unconditional love.

There are times when each of these types of love takes the lead, but

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How can you find happiness in times like these?

I have spent a ton of time lately thinking about how to find happiness in times like these.

I think about all the different situations that surround so many people in my life. So how can you find happiness when: you’ve lost your job, you’ve lost your house, your child is dying, your child has an incurable condition, you have cancer, your parent just died of cancer, or you are getting divorced? Those are just some examples.

How can you be happy amidst all the insanity that envelopes your life when you are dealing with just one of those things, let alone multiple things?

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Holiday Happiness — Be Here Now

From the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/randy-taran/gratitude_b_1165364.html

So many people grumble and gripe about the holidays — too much family, too much food, too many obligations. But what if you approached it all with another perspective — as though this might be your last time to be together. Would you overlook some of the annoyances? Would you focus on what amused you about specific people instead of what drove you crazy? Would you choose to make the moments special and have a deeper connection?

This time of year reminds me of my father-in-law. He was with us one year, and by the next holiday season, he was gone, so quickly and unexpectedly to pancreatic cancer. I don’t harbor regrets as we all got to be with him at the end, but it gets me thinking of how impermanent life can be. It can also be something as simple as

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Thanksgiving Holds Key to Happiness

From the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/randy-taran/thanksgiving-happiness_b_1103501.html

The idea of Thanksgiving, that is giving thanks, makes it one of my all-time favorite holidays. It has built into it one of the timeless keys to happiness: gratitude. Thanksgiving actually directs us to tune into what we are thankful for. The tradition of sitting around the table hearing each person saying what they are grateful for is a sure way to lift everyone’s spirits. From simple gratitude for pumpkin pie with whipped cream to profound appreciation for being alive to share this day, the myriad of expressions are funny, inspiring and very often open our hearts.

The idea of bringing to light what we are grateful for in life is powerful. Automatically we shift from “what is missing in my life” to

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Project Happiness Launches Yearlong Program in India

Project Happiness has just launched a yearlong program for teens from the urban slums of Delhi. We are delighted to welcome Vibha, PH Director of India, and founder of Muskaan. Vibha is working with 38 boys and girls, 11th and 12th graders, who are learning the social and emotional skills to cultivate a happiness that comes from the inside, regardless of external circumstances.

In their very first lesson they covered:
1)Overview of PH & filling the PH pre-assessment forms
2)Introduction of participants in pairs, using leaf, as an object to focus of self
3)Hopes and fears from the yearlong workshop
4)What is Happiness – individual reflection followed by sharing in

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3 Keys to Lasting Happiness

From the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/randy-taran/the-key-to-happiness_b_1004566.html

If you had to choose three keys to lasting happiness, what would they be? For me, those keys are gratitude, connecting with others and giving. It is not rocket science, although science has proven how these habits can make you live longer, enjoy better health and get more joy out of life.

Gratitude: A simple practice of writing down or otherwise reflecting on a few things you are grateful for has huge benefits. Psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough have researched that gratitude is the “forgotten factor” in happiness research. The benefits of expressing gratitude range from

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Cultivating Happiness by Expressing Your Authentic Self

From the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/randy-taran/master-public-speaking_b_921681.html

So many of us hold back who we really are. It can be downright scary to reveal our true selves, whether to new people we meet or even in existing relationships. Aligning our inner life with our outer expression is one of the true paths to happiness. Here are some ways that can help get us there.

First some back-story: I personally find it challenging to reveal my inner self, especially in a public arena. This weekend I had to face those fears head on — public speaking … not just once, but twice! The first time was answering questions from the audience after showing a film I created and produced, Project Happiness. It’s about a topic I care deeply about: Young people exploring the nature of lasting happiness. Answering questions from people who share the same concerns as I do was well within my comfort zone. I was not thinking about how I sounded, or about any mistakes I might make — it was about sharing information with people who might benefit from it. My “inner critic” had left the room and it felt great. (more)

Three Keys to Getting Unstuck

Conor Jackson stuck in a run down

Ever gotten stuck? I’m talking about really stuck.

Maybe you were grooving along at a pretty nice pace pursuing some project or exciting new idea. Then kaboom! Without knowing exactly how it happened or what set it up, you came to a grinding and unceremonious halt. It’s perplexing when this happens and it doesn’t feel good. You can pretty quickly find yourself in a funk—puzzled, feeling powerless and a bit inadequate. It doesn’t matter whether you call it writer’s block, a flat spot or a creative lull. It’s easy to feel maybe even guilty, like being stuck is due to some personal flaw or inadequacy.

But here’s the deal. Getting stuck usually has its genesis in fear.

The fear could be one of the usual Big Three suspects:

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Five Ways to Better Manage Your Time

From The Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/randy-taran/time-management-tips_b_893232.html#s306542&title=5_Think_of

We all know once basic needs are met, money does not guarantee happiness. But what about how we choose to spend our time?

“People often make career choices based on how much money they envision they can make now or in the future. Surprisingly little thought goes into how they will be using their time — whether they can control their time, who they will spend their time with and what activities they will spend their time on,” says Jennifer Aaker, marketing professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Is your happiness connected to how you spend money or time? What experiences have given you the greatest happiness? What would you change about how you invest your time?

Here are five different ways to look at time that can boost your happiness bottom line. Let’s take a look at those aspects and a few more as they relate to day-to-day life. (more)

Graduation: 10 Tips To Achieving The Life You Want

I’m just returning from my son’s graduation — a milestone filled with laughter, elation, and tears of joy. But what is the next step? So many graduates haven’t a clue. Herein lies the opportunity.

My son is graduating as a double major in Economics and Asian Studies — he’s lived in India and China, but does he want to do something related to that? Not right now. He wants to get his Screen Actors Guild card and act. As parents, we have the option to be upset and concerned that he is not taking the traditional route. After consideration, we have decided to support his decision wholeheartedly. Today, the average person goes through at least five career changes in the course of a lifetime. It’s not unusual to get a degree in something and discover that working in that field is not only boring – it may suck the very life out of you. It doesn’t have to be that way. Here are 10 things to consider when planning your happy life.

So dare listen to your inner calling and take the first steps. By keeping your focus and staying nimble, even if you don’t know exactly the destination, your pathway will open up. Happiness resides in the most unexpected places. Be on the lookout and enjoy the journey.

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Mother’s Day Gifts from the Heart

From The Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/randy-taran/mothers-day-gifts-from-th_b_858350.html

Have you ever received gifts that were fun in the moment but lost their allure almost as fast as you unwrapped the package? Material gifts may satisfy short-term desires, but it is the human connection that leaves a lasting impression. Instead of going to the store to buy Mom another bottle of perfume, think about creating a memory instead. Here are three easy ways:

1) The gift of experience

A sure-fire happiness amplifier is to create a time when you do/experience something together with your mom. Make this something she enjoys doing, even if it’s not really your thing. You can ask your mom what she enjoys or surprise her. Some ideas are: a walk in nature, making something creative together, joining her to see the film she’s been longing to check out, or even listening together to her favorite music and dancing up a storm — bonus points for laughing out loud. I still smile when I think of the dance lesson my kids gave me. They worked hard that day! (more)

The New Project Happiness Film Trailer!

We are thrilled to debut the first of our film trailers for the Project Happiness film screening nationwide!  If you would like to schedule a screening in your area, contact Brian – brian@projecthappiness.com

 

Springing Into Your Strengths

Spring – what does it mean to you? Spring can be a coiled energy – just ready to spring forth. It also suggests a spring of fresh water, or a spring of creativity flowing into expression. Spring also signifies the season of new growth with first sprouts breaking ground.

Even if Spring seems far away with the weather too cold and rainy to even contemplate the sunny days ahead, there is SO much stirring under the earth. It’s similar for people. Though there may be turbulence on the surface, deep inside the stirrings of dormant passions, soul essence and creativity are all gaining momentum. Listen in the silence for what lies within. Your strength and goodness are there waiting to be claimed, waiting to spring forth.

What makes you unique and what comes easily to you? Identify your strengths and build on them. Make a choice to express them more in your daily life. Whether your gift is a sense of humor, a caring personality or an appreciation of nature, expressing your strengths will raise your happiness and bring joy to those around you. This is your season – what kind of happiness will you grow?

Reflecting on Struggle: Reaching out to those with depression, Part 1

Reach out for help to get your brain moving againIn this second series of podcasts, I interview Nina Poe, the author of the blog “Reflection on Depression”

(at reflectionondepression.typepad.com). As readers of the Project Happiness Handbook know, there is no magic bullet for happiness and this is doubly true for those suffering from clinical depression. But as compassionate people — whether we are friends, parents, teachers or mentors — we can reach out to those struggling with depression and help connect them with the professional resources to heal. And if you are struggling with depression, reach out to those around you and start down the road to happiness and wellness that Nina talks about here.

Click HERE for Reflecting on Struggle: Podcast 1

And here’s a list of Nina’s favorite resources for depression:

  • http://moodgym.anu.edu.au/welcome — Mood Gym is a cognitive behavioral therapy site. It’s free, consists of several different modules, and walks the participant through CBT techniques. It’s not a replacement for live therapy, but it’s a good start.
  • http://www.narsad.org/ – NARSAD is my favorite mental health charity, and always gets me excited about the scientific and medical progress we are making in understanding mental health disorders. Also, 100% of donations go to research.
Books on Depression
  • Unholy Ghost:  Writers on depression, Edited by Neil Casey

Australia’s Social and Emotional Learning Advocate

An update on happychild.com.au’s Yvette Vignando: she managed to secure herself a visit with the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, during which she made her case for more Project-Happiness-type social and emotional learning in Australia’s schools. Go to http://ow.ly/1A292 to hear an interview about her visit with the prime minister on ABC Newcastle. We at Project Happiness are so grateful for her tireless work on behalf of Australia’s students — go, Yvette!

Happier Kids in Australia - Coming Soon!

Happier Kids in Australia - Coming Soon!

How Teachers Can Tame the Elephant in the Room: Dr. Brooks on Resilience, Part 5

In this installment, Dr. Brooks helps teachers tame the elephant in the classroom: fear of making mistakes and being humiliated. This fear is so strong that it can severely interfere with learning. Dr. Brooks offers a proactive resilient approach in which teachers address these fears directly and lead students in problem-solving to make the classroom a safe space. He also gives some tips on true discipline as discipleship/teaching: using his latest book (‘Raising a Self-Disciplined Child‘) as a touch point, he talks about how discipline can engender resilience, not resentment:

Click here for Robert Brooks, Part 5

After listening, think about what a safe and nurturing classroom space feels like to you. Take a look at this website for some welcoming and open classroom designs. And then share some ideas for your dream classroom on Twitter — how would you makes space for that elephant with unlimited time and budget?

Why are Resilient People Usually Happy?: Dr. Brooks on Resilience, Part 4

Here Dr. Brooks and I finally make the connection between resilience and happiness. Some of the key components of resilience — identifying and displaying your strengths, helping others, and solving problems — are also things that bring satisfaction and long-term happiness.

Project Podcast: Take-Aways for Parents and Teachers

After listening to the podcast, fill out our ‘Mentoring Resilience & Happiness’ questionnaire. And keep working on appreciating your gifts and appreciating children’s gifts. Compassion for yourself and the kids in your life can only make you and those around you happier and more resilient.

We All Have “Islands of Competence”: Dr. Brooks on Resilience, Part 3

Swimming for Our Islands of Competence

Swimming for Our Islands of Competence

*******

In the third installment of our resilience podcast series, Dr. Brooks explains his powerful metaphor, islands of competence (see this article on his site for a powerful story about a parent applying islands of competence in her life). As a strength-based model of psychology was starting to emerge, Dr. Brooks began to think about helping parents and children in terms of leading them out of the “sea of self-perceived inadequacy” onto an “island of competence.”

Dr. Brooks’ Podcast on “Islands of Competence”

Project Podcast: Take-Aways for Teachers and Parents

After listening, ask yourself:

  • What are my islands of competence? How can I change what I’m doing at home/in the classroom to highlight these strengths?
  • What are my kids’/students’ islands of competence? How can I change what I’m doing at home/in the classroom to highlight these strengths?
  • Share your ideas and plans for finding your and your kids’/students’ islands of competence through the “comments” function below and we can all learn from each other

In Search of the Charismatic Adult: Dr. Brooks on Resilience, Part 2

In this second installment of our podcast series on resilience, Dr. Brooks and I discuss the importance of the “charismatic adult” in a child’s life (a term coined by Dr. Julius Segal — see this article or check out his Amazon bibliography for more info): that adult who believes in and stands by a child through adversity. Dr. Brooks traces his career path as he began to ask, “Why do some children who grow up under poverty and racism, undergo trauma, or face some other kind of adversity do well while others don’t?” In other words, he was shaping the science of resilience.

Click HERE for podcast: brookssecondinstallment

Project Podcast: Take-Aways for Teachers and Parents

After listening to the podcast, take a moment to ask yourself these questions:

  • Who was the charismatic adult in your life? A parent? A teacher? A family friend? Several adults?
  • Are you a charismatic adult for the children in your life? Do you say and do things that make children feel stronger or depleted?
  • Have you observed — like Dr. Brooks — kids who have undergone adversity yet remain happy and well? How can you help other children in your life develop those traits of resilience?

For more in-depth discussion of how to raise resilient children, check out this article on Dr. Brooks’ website!

Why Linoleum is a Good Role Model for Kids Today: NOTE CHANGE IN WORKSHOP TIME TO FRIDAY A.M.

parentworkshopflyer4 To accomodate interested parents’ schedules, we have switched the workshop to FRIDAY MORNING. E-mail abby@projecthappiness.com and get signed up for a fun and innovative program!

Baby Feet on Linoleum

WHAT’S AHEAD: How are a resilient child and resilient flooring similar and how can Project Happiness help parents increase kids’ happiness and health? Here’s a blog about our upcoming parent workshop (See above) and advocating the ‘linoleum-ization’ of our children!

When I was a kid, linoleum must have experienced some giant technical breakthrough because I remember my mom and her friends talking about how good it looked and how resilient it was as they all remodeled their kitchens. Until coming to work for Project Happiness, that was my experience of resilience: really sturdy flooring.

But how quickly we all get used to the language of our surroundings! Because as we were designing our upcoming parent workshop I didn’t even question the use of ‘resilience’ to describe healthy, happy, kids who have the tools to overcome life’s obstacles. It took a few confused looks as we distributed the flyer to remind me that many parents might think we were advocating preparing kids for heavy foot traffic and frequent spills.

In some odd sense though, we are advocating the linoleum-ization of our children. Compare these 2 definitions of resilience from Dr. Brooks’ and Dr. Goldstein’s Raising Resilient Children site (check out their resilient parents quiz!) and the wiseGEEK flooring site respectively:

  • Resilience: “A quality…that facilitates the ability to overcome adversity.”
  • Resilience: “…designed to be durable, resistant to stains and water, and comfortable to stand and work on.”

Perhaps it’s the blizzard raging outside here in Maryland, but the 2 definitions of resilience here complement each other nicely:

  1. Resilience is a quality, something inherent in a person, but it’s a quality that the person has to design, to engineer, to create in herself. And we all want to help our children design that quality for themselves.
  2. Resilience facilitates getting through tough experiences, making one durable and resistant to the potential harm these experiences can bring (like big spots left over from spilled milk). But it doesn’t make someone bulletproof. And we don’t want that for our kids – we want experiences to get through to the inner core. Because that means the good experiences get in there, too.
  3. Resilience means the ability to overcome adversity while remaining comfortable to stand and work [on]. Okay, so this last one needs a tweak, removing the ‘on.’ Overcoming adversity is getting back to a comfortable standing and working state. To be resilient is to eventually get out of bed and go back to being comfortable in your day-to-day life after a devastating experience.

Resilience is a key component of both long-lasting happiness and long-lasting flooring and parents are in a unique position to be able to help their kids develop this quality.

If you’re interested in parent workshops on happiness, resilience, mindfulness, plasticity, either look into attending the upcoming workshop or download a brochure outlining how to bring Project Happiness into your school.

Radical Possibilities

“Anything is Possible!” – this is one of the explicit messages U.S. culture feeds to its youth. From Kevin Garnett to self-help gurus to Debbie Gibson (not that I owned a Debbie Gibson album in the 80’s, I swear…), cultural icons, parents and teachers tell our children that anything is possible, that the world is their oyster. This message is even more prevalent now that we have elected our first black president, and the first president in quite a while whose campaign was about collective possibility: “Yes we can.”

But in reality mainstream media’s implicit messages present a very narrow range of possibilities to young people. This is not new information for any of the readers at Shaping Youth or Project Happiness. We all know that sex, money, fame and power are the commodities that big business is selling to our youth (and through those commodities, they sell their physical wares: video games, food, clothing, etc.). But I’m guessing that most of you haven’t examined this information from the point-of-view of an undercover linguist. That’s what I’d like to introduce here – because I think it gives us a different perspective on the specific limitations being placed on possibility. So shut down your computer if grammar makes you queasy because here comes a mini-grammar analysis of possibility and pop culture:

Since Debbie Gibson is one of the original cultural icons to make the claim for limitless possibility (and also the claim that she’s “lost in your eyes” – also worth exploration, but perhaps at another time…), let’s look at the possible roles provided by pop music language. Below are the title lines of this week’s top 10 hits from Billboard (highlighted pieces are the actual titles, with links to lyrics):

1. Are you down?
2. It’s a party in the U.S.A.
3. Who’s gonna run this town?
4. Whatcha say?
5. I gotta feeling that tonight’s gonna be a good night.
6. I’m your biggest fan; I’ll follow you until you love me, papa, paparazzi.
7. Been here all along so why can’t you see you belong with me?
8. Why you so obsessed with me?
9. You know that I could use somebody, someone like you.
10. Empire State of Mind (Title not in song. First line of chorus: New York. Concrete jungle where dreams are made of, there’s nothing you can’t do, now you’re in New York.)

Since pop music, like most of mainstream media, focuses quite a bit on sexuality, let’s break down the language of each top 10 song by gender:

Roles Women Get to Play Roles Men Get to Play
1. Being down Inquiring about state of down-ness
2. Partying (no explicit mention)
3. Being desired Running the town
4. Inquiring about an affair Apologizing for an affair
5. Anticipating partying Anticipating partying
6. Desiring and following a man Being desired and followed
7. Desiring a man/being unseen Being desired/not seeing a woman
8. Being desired by a man Desiring a woman
9. Accepting/declining relationship offer Declaring readiness for a relationship
10. Presenting possibilities to a man Narrating New York accomplishments (essentially ‘running the town’ as in #3)

One thing you might notice on first glance is that women are indeed becoming more equal: they are not simply desired by men, but desire men as well. And both men and women enjoy a good party (co-ed, of course). But men are still the ones with the only roles outside the dating and partying game: they get to ‘run the town’ (which includes, but is not limited to, partying). And heterosexuality is not just the preferred paradigm, but the only paradigm. And (this one I was honestly surprised about) both a homosexual slur and a generic foreigner insult are present in the songs on the top 10 list (and the lyrics websites, which leave out well-recognized swear words, do not edit these offensive phrases).

So where does that leave young people? ‘Possibility’ comes from the same Latin root as ‘potent’ (play with an online etymological dictionary one day – so much fun!), from the Latin to have the power to/be able to. The powerful corporations are not giving young women and men real power; instead they are handing out heterosexual attraction and masculine competition.

But we do not have to choose these possibilities; we can choose the radical possibilities presented by sites like Shaping Youth and by the “Project Happiness” documentary, being shown this weekend at the Mill Valley Film Festival. This film follows high-school seniors from California, India and Nigeria as they investigate the nature of happiness and begin to see the possibilities for true power: compassion, forgiveness and community.

Richard Davidson, a prominent neuroscientist interviewed in the film, talks about the possibilities inherent in the brain, particularly the young brain. Scientists used to believe that, after childhood, the brain was pretty much stuck: it couldn’t behave in new ways. But scientists like Davidson are discovering that the mature brain can change. In fact, the brain grows 5,000 new brain cells a day. This growth – or plasticity as it is called in the literature – means that:

“All of us, and youth in particular, are in a constant state of flux and change and that gives you radical possibilities for growth and development.”
-Richard Davidson in “Project Happiness: The Film”

It is these radical possibilities that the young people in the film discover and that all young people can discover. We do not have to accept the roles handed to us by mainstream media. Instead, we can create new roles and new possibilities. This means that anything is possible – we have the power to make it happen.

A Challenge Worthy of One’s Gifts

mister_rogers

While I still have to remind myself to take a deep breath and calm down, I think I do pretty well when faced with challenges these days. The other day I managed a work phone call while assisting my 3-year-old on the potty and making sure my 1-year-old didn’t unroll the entire toilet paper roll (half, maybe…). So I think I’m doing pretty well.

But as an adolescent I did not respond well to challenge – I saw it as a test and, thus, as something I could fail. My parents were sensitive to this anxiety and realized early on that indirect requests worked much better than direct challenges. But then school started and, well, you can’t avoid challenge there.

My first catastrophic response to a challenge came in elementary school when we were challenged to use our bodies. My body was not then, nor is it now, up to any kind of challenge involving coordination. I once crashed my bike into our neighbors’ yard because I couldn’t figure out how to pedal backwards (luckily, the neighbor was a doctor, and I got some free medical help). The big game they loved to have us play in elementary school was kickball. I was always among the last 2 or 3 children picked for a team, which didn’t do much for my self-confidence going in.

One day, after I caused our team a few outs, the teachers couldn’t find me when it was time to go back in to class. My response to the challenge had been simply to walk home. I remember my thinking: “Hey, my mom is just a few blocks from here. This game stinks. Why don’t I just go home?” My mother had been putting my sister down for her nap and she heard the front door shut. When she came downstairs she found me relaxing on the couch watching Mr. Rogers. Of course Mom brought me right back to school. And the next week a fence appeared around our playground – no more escape from kickball!

Although I was a pretty smart kid, I didn’t respond well when challenged to use my mind either. Once, after what I perceived to be an embarrassing performance in math class, I tried again to leave the school. Unfortunately, this was after the advent of fences around school yards and I was inside the school and this was my middle school, located about 10 miles from home – all factors working against me getting home for a nice, relaxing afternoon with Mr. Rogers, his comfy sweater and his friend, Henrietta Pussycat. But I did try to escape, resulting in the principal having to physically restrain me and an (I still claim inadvertent) kick in the principal’s shin (a few days’ suspension for that one).

Thanks to my parents, my teachers and patient administrators (like the one with the bruised shin), I made it through secondary school and into college. I learned how to manage my emotions and deal with academic and (minor) physical challenges. But it wasn’t until college that my school institution challenged me to use my gifts for personal connection. The Tucker Foundation (the college’s volunteer organization) challenged me to direct and further develop the Adopt-A-Grandparent program, pairing college students with elderly men and women who needed help and community. Phi Tau, my co-ed fraternity, challenged me to work with my peers to create a fair and comfortable community. And my supervisor at the Beth Israel Hospital in Boston challenged me not only to interpret for the hospital’s Russian patients, but to make them feel part of our community.

What I responded to as a young person, and continue to respond to now, is a challenge to create community. And this is what we are challenging you and your classes to do: to use your individual gifts and talents to create community, however you define it: you classroom, your school, your neighborhood, your city, your country, or your world. We have created a 7-step project (to go with the 7 chapters of the Handbook) that culminates in the germination of a plan, a plan for your students to bring more happiness to their community using their gifts. This challenge to community can be found in chapter 8 of the Facilitators’ Guide (let me know if you still haven’t received one – I’ll send you one via e-mail ASAP), but I’ve reprinted (sadly devoid of the lovely orange background — too technologically complex for me!) below:

A CHALLENGE

I. Ask students to interview a community member using the “Exploring in My Community” activity on p. 14. Share your results as a class and try to find commonalities. What have you learned about your community that you didn’t know before?

II. After reflecting on “My Defining Moments…” on p. 35, find people in your community who have suffered and struggled and ask them to share their defining moments with the class.

III. Have students reflect on “Ideas about My Gift” on p. 67. Then have everyone share their greatest gifts with the class (it can be anonymous) and compile a list. Ask students to show the list to 3 community members and interview them about how they feel these gifts might relieve suffering in the community.

IV. After learning about active listening (pp. 102-3), explore resources for those suffering in the community (counseling, state resources, etc.). Do those resources provide true listening? How do they work to relieve suffering? Is there anything missing?

V. After writing or talking about “Reflecting on Compassion” on p. 113 and summarizing what you have found out about the community, begin to brainstorm about how compassion in action could be applied in your community.

VI. After reading about “Interdependence…With Others!” on p. 145, guide your students in tracking the ways people suffering in your community are interdependent, looking at family, business, government, schools, media, crime, etc.

VII. After reading about the young social entrepreneurs on pp. 167-168, use all the information you have gathered to create your own social entrepreneurship, either as a class or individually.

And there will be an incentive (beyond the rewards of community building). The class that comes up with the most amazing social entrepreneurship (as judged by our expert staff at Project Happiness headquarters) will receive a prize to be announced in next week’s blog. So, stay tuned

And I still think Mr. Rogers’ words are some of the best advice to someone panicked by challenge: “I like you just the way you are.” We all have gifts and struggles and we are all truly good, just the way we are.

An Invitation to Teachers: The Project Happiness connection

Catching up on some very important reading!

The new Director of Education catching up on some very important reading!

September 13, 2009

Hello to Current, Past, Prospective and Eternal Project Happiness Teachers:

I’m writing to introduce myself: my name is Abby Konopasky and I am Project Happiness’ new Director of Education. For those of you who have worked with Maria Lineger, she’s still on board, but we couldn’t keep her away from the hands-on, experiential work that is so critical to our program. I am fortunate to have her foundational work to build on and her guidance to do it.

Let me start by telling you a bit about my path to happiness, and Project Happiness in particular. I come from an academic family and I carried on the tradition by getting a Ph.D. in an obscure field: Slavic Linguistics. I taught Russian, then writing, then English, linguistics, pedagogy and ESL in my final academic position at the University of New Orleans. Then Hurricane Katrina not only wiped out my home, but my job and community as well. I was 8 months pregnant with my first child at the time and saw the obstacles to my happiness as insurmountable. My husband used the opportunity to change careers, starting law school at Stanford University the next academic year. I went with him as my daughter’s primary caretaker, unsure of precisely where I belonged: Mother? Educator? Researcher?

Without knowing it, I was completing a Project Happiness curriculum of a sort. I worked on self-awareness, identifying the things about my job and my parenting that brought me lasting happiness and developing self-confidence. I learned self-management and how to combat my Monkey Mind, particularly my feelings of depression. Through trial and error I developed a cadre of positive thoughts about myself and my future. I worked on social awareness and social management, finding joy in showing empathy and compassion to other mothers of young children at Stanford. We developed a loving and interdependent community, working together and negotiating our differences.

Nearly 4 years after the heartbreak of Katrina, I decided that I wanted to use my gifts to improve the lives of adolescents. That brought me to Project Happiness as a volunteer and, as they say, the rest is history!

It is not, then, the SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) research studies or the pilot program testimony that make me such a strong advocate for The Project Happiness Handbook. It is, rather, my own personal journey: the gifts of self-discovery are too precious and the risks of self-ignorance too great for us not to share these tools with our children.

And you will find that I am a strong advocate for the curriculum (perhaps too strong for some of you!). Adolescents need help finding the eye of the storm*, particularly in the face of obstacles like:

•Bullying:
http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/09/03/high.school.put.downs.study/index.html,

•Depression:
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/saffo/detail??blogid=79&entry_id=46284,

• And even national anxiety over things like the swine flu: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/08/health/08well.html?hpw.

While Project Happiness is not a cure-all, it is a way to start the conversation, a way to give adolescents, parents, teachers and even the community a common vocabulary to open the lines of communication.

This year The Project Happiness Handbook is being used in many locations (across the U.S. and Canada and in Rome, India, Nigeria, Guatemala, Australia and Nepal) and in many contexts (performing arts, leadership, yoga and meditation, living skills, adult enrichment and teacher preparation, to name a few). But we would love to spread it even farther and broader. And we want to help existing programs explore the curriculum’s rich resources and build new ones.

To that end, I’m putting out a call for connection. How can our team help? I can help you navigate our large curriculum, make lesson plans, facilitate project-based learning, make your classroom a more mindful and nurturing place, and create opportunities for your students to reach out digitally and in person. E-mail or call me any time.

Also part of this call for connection is an invitation to reach out to other like-minded facilitators. What are you doing with The Project Happiness Handbook? What is working for you? What are you struggling with? Would you like to connect or collaborate with another class? I invite you to either respond to this blog post (go to migration, click on Blog, and then on What do you think?) or join our Google group for facilitators by e-mailing me at project-happiness-facilitators@googlegroups.com.

I look forward to meeting, speaking with, or e-mailing with all of you over the course of this exciting and challenging school year. I wish you luck guiding your students on their journeys and continuing your own journey. I am still in shock that I get to work with such extraordinary teachers on such a remarkable project. So bear with me as I get used to ‘directing’ the program – I will be looking to you and your students for the true direction.

Abby Konopasky
(650) 391-7012
abby@projecthappiness.com

*See page 26 in The Project Happiness Handbook. “The Eye of the Storm” is an activity that teaches students to find the calm center in the midst of struggle.

The Alchemist: Susan Boyle

The Alchemist: Susan Boyle

Even the name, Susan Boyle, when I read it on someone’s Facebook profile, caused an automatic disinterest, when I learned she was somehow associated with Britain’s Got Talent show, I downright crumpled the notion of following the link and wasting my precious time. The constant mentions in various media outlets, reinforced my interest. By mid-afternoon, as my second cup of coffee wore my mind into a modicum of unproductive window screen shuffling, I logged onto YouTube. The video viewer counter was at nearly 5 million views.

As the show’s quick editing flashed her eschewed smile, broken bird’s nest hair style, and British 1980’s mannerisms, I expected another cruel lynching. Here, once more, a video to lampoon the sweet well-intentioned that reality TV talent shows depend on. I braced myself for another William Hung moment I thought.

But the rest is history. WATCH THE VIDEO ON YOUTUBE

As she delivered her notes, my emotions cascaded and invigorated the recess of my childhood memories. The moment was inspiring and humbling. It was the rupture of my cynical expectations and a recommitment to my species and to the possibilities within me.

It was a thrilling experience and one that I can only compare to the sensation of watching an impossible maneuver that changes the dynamics of a soccer game. But in my psyche, I am only able to compare Susan Boyle’s feat to the anonymous man who blocks the path of tanks during the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. That iconic video, defines the end of the end of the Cold War, with its militarized suppression of individual rights.

The malaise that Susan Boyle ends is the personal/individual and collective cynicism, so vivid and vast in our imaginations, that we’ve started to tend to it as if it we were a prime flower in our gardens. At this time, with a global crisis rooted in apathy and cynicism, Susan Boyle has done more to revive optimism than a trillion dollars has done and this is true alchemy.

Happiness is everywhere!

img_46683Project Happiness is everywhere BECAUSE happiness itself is everywhere.
I went to the grocery store the other day to buy food and supplies- you know, the weekly stock up. Nothing exciting. Tissues were on my list. Buying tissues isn’t normally a noteworthy experience; it’s just part of the routine that goes along with perpetually bad allergies.
This time was different.
I went to the tissue aisle to grab whichever box had the most pink on it (my usual strategy), but this time one particular box jumped out at me! It was this beautiful, bright-colored box with flowers on it. Bold. Bright. Colors. I loved it because it instantly reminded me of our 7 Doors’ colors! And in that moment I thought, “Wow, Project Happiness is everywhere. Not because we have gotten our message out everywhere (yet), but because happiness itself is everywhere!… or at least you can find it anywhere!”
Each side of the tissue box is a different fun color with a different color flower, so now as I sit at my desk I am staring at the turquoise side. But every day, I rotate the box, getting to see a different color scheme each day. I like to look at it as seeing a different side to happiness each day.
Anyway, who knew buying tissues could be such a happy experience!
Look for it… happiness is everywhere!

Life, liberty and the pursuit of Happiness

These days my mind, more than ever, or more than usual, has been munching on the idea of what it means to be an American. Obama’s win and its implications are obvious things to consider. Frankly, I’m just glad the elections are over (with him as the winner of course). What really got my noddle going was a video we received from the Creative Minds Academy, in Jos, Nigeria, and to be more specific, the interview of the president of the Project Happiness Club, Isaac. Happy Kids

His brief comments reaffirmed something I’ve been exploring on my own, which is that America is a state of being. In other words, one does not have to be born, or live in America to be American. I know that when someone is compelled to take on enormous challenges with Isaac’s poise, an essentially American spirit is present. And the ‘pursuit of happiness’ is as large of a challenge as they come…

…It’s in the American Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are create d equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

When Isaac explains that happiness is a fundamental unit of life on this earth, just as violent riots are beginning to brew, which will eventually take the lives of hundreds of Nigerians, something truly amazing and American is happening. It’s also happening in India, Nepal, Canada, and across the US. I wish I could tell Isaac yes I agree with you, my brother!

But…wait a minute I can! His school is closed right now as order is restored but it will reopen next week and Isaac will read this blog post and perhaps a few more from you. This is the pursuit of happiness and this is Project Happiness.

Rolando