7 Happiness Habits, Backed-by-Science

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Share

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/

 

12744238_10153244091156637_2894274041122409374_n

 

 

 

5 Reasons Why it’s Important to Commemorate Special Occasions

 

southboundbride-fairy-twinkle-lights-wedding-005

“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.

 

 

6 Reasons Kindness Matters in Work and in Life

AAEAAQAAAAAAAALHAAAAJDk1YzQxNmUwLWM2MDEtNDdjOC1hNWI2LTA1Yzk1ZmI4ODU0Yw

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?

 

Beauty of the Moment

beauty of the moment
“If you are not living with a whole heart now, the end of the world poses no threat; your life is already gone. Life is only as valuable as our presence to enjoy it. To miss the beauty of the moment because you are preparing to protect yourself from the next one, is to trade a precious gem for a cheap trinket.”
~Alan Cohen

Gratitude and presence grow hand in hand. Curate both, starting today!
#GratiTuesday

Dancing Shoes

Dancing Shoes
Wear your dancing shoes, everyday. Life happens to those already on the dance floor.
#SaturdaySoul

Living in your Heart

Living in Your Heart
“Get out of your head and get into your heart more.”~Osho
Gratitude is one of the quickest ways to establish a connection to your heart – the greater your capacity for sincere appreciation, the deeper the connection to your heart. Practice living in your heart more, it will not lead you astray…

#GratiTuesday

Feel the Rain

Feel the Rain
Some people feel the rain…others just get wet.

We’re feeling the truth of Maya Angelou’s wisdom on this rainy day here at Project Happiness HQ in Palo Alto, CA. Stay dry this season folks! If not physically, then mentally and emotionally.
#ThoughtfulThursday #StayDry