I recently listened to a fabulous podcast where Brene Brown was being interviewed. (For those of you that don’t know, Brene Brown is a very well known therapist, researcher, and author. She has written several, brilliant books about embracing vulnerability and recognizing the difference between guilt and shame. Her books have had a big impact on my personal and professional life. I highly recommend all of them.) In the podcast Brene focused on being comfortable in experiencing vulnerable emotions. In particular she spoke about joy.
In Brene’s research she stated that joy was often associated with fear. Her example was simple, but profound. She spoke of a parent lovingly watching their child sleep at night. In that moment of joyful contemplation the parents often reported a high degree of fear right after having the feeling of joy/contentment. What if my child dies at an early age? What if I contract cancer? Everything is so good right now, something has to go wrong soon. When I heard this example I knew exactly what she was talking about! I have had those same thoughts and feelings as I tucked my children into bed. As I thought about it, a lot of times I feel joy I realized it was very often followed up with fearful thoughts that my happiness could only last so long before something went wrong.
The answer to challenging this commonplace problem showed up in Brene’s same research project. She stated there were a number of people that reported after they had joyful feelings they purposely stated thoughts of gratitude to themselves. Instead of leaving the situation feeling fearful and worried, like so many did and do, this second group of people reported feeling joyful, happy, and grateful. These people made mention of giving gratitude to a higher being, a thoughtful spouse, their jobs, health, and many other things that allowed them to feel happiness in that moment.
I took this to heart. Over the last week or two when I have noticed feeling happy with my family, marriage, house, holiday season, or really anything, instead of following up with a negative or fearful thought I immediately stated how grateful I was in the moment for that joyful feeling. What a difference! It seemed like the joy I was feeling multiplied and lingered much longer than when I had chaotically thought about what may go “wrong” next to ruin my happiness. It has made me a better wife, mother, friend, and daughter to practice this easy technique.
This holiday season I challenge you to experience true joy. In those loud or often quiet moments when you find yourself feeling happy, follow those thoughts/feelings up with thoughts of gratitude. Why are you happy? Who helped you achieve that happiness? Why are you grateful for having the joyful feeling? Extend your Thanksgiving list of gratitude into the Christmas season, and notice the difference it will make.
On any given day, kids and teens may feel joy, wonder, disappointment, rage, jealousy, and endless other emotions. Yet, many kids will inevitably learn from parents or peers that “happy” is the only emotion acceptable to express or even experience. “Happiness” in our culture tends to reign supreme as the highest aspiration – the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It is what we are taught to aim for – what we all deserve.
I commonly hear parents say to their kids:
I just want you to be happy.
“How can you be so down? Just look at all you have to be happy about.”
“Just focus on the positive. You’re dragging everyone down.”
Though these parents have good intentions, their statements might imply that if kids are not contented, they are somehow failing, or that happiness is the only feeling others are comfortable with. Children may respond to these messages by feigning a cheerful disposition and generally suppressing negative feelings to please parents. Unfortunately, suppressing feelings can compromise a child’s psychological well-being and fuel unhealthy behaviors.
Pain is a critical part of the human experience and in most cases, it is healthiest to confront it head on. Encourage children to acknowledge and accept emotions, such as anger or hurt, by using mindfulness meditation strategies. If your child seems overwhelmed by her emotions, encourage her to find a way to express them: talk to someone she trusts, write in a journal, create a work of art, or see a mental health therapist. Let us teach children that no one’s life is solely full of sunshine and that to live fully, we must stand in the occasional rainstorm.
It’s been twenty years now since a caring neighbor and friend challenged me to change my ATTITUDE. It was a difficult time for me as suddenly my life became filled with darkness, doubt and pain. My Spouse of almost 20 years had recently been diagnosed as having a brain tumor and given only a few months to live. While he was fighting a battle to survive for as long as possible by receiving daily treatments of both Chemo and Radiation, I was trying to continue to raise five children and eventually became a caregiver of a man who couldn’t even remember how to brush his teeth.
My friend encouraged me to read and study a book that contained wise advice, “Simple Abundance A Daybook of Comfort and Joy,” She provided me with a beautiful Journal and instructed me to take a few minutes each day to write down 5 things that I was grateful for. Although at the time I doubted that such a simple task could improve my mood and change my ATTITIUDE I took on the challenge. As I began to focus on what I HAD rather than what I lacked my burdens became lighter and my soul was filled with joy and hope. Now 20 years later this small and simple task has become not only a habit but a ritual I look forward to performing.
Remember there is no right or wrong way to keep a gratitude journal. While doing so you will discover what works best for you, but here are some tips:
1- Keep a physical record. Write things down. Just don’t think about these things in your head.
2- Look for the small things that may seem trivial,small or unimportant.
3- Include a narrative as to WHY you are grateful.
4- Focus on people as well as things you are grateful for.
5- Record unexpected events or surprises.
6- Write regularly. Commit to a certain day and or time and be consistent. New evidence has shown that writing 1-3 times a week can be more effective than writing daily,
7- Set a goal to write for at least 15 minutes each time.
8- Try it! You’ll like it!
It’s easy to take the people who we love and the good things in our lives for granted. Keeping a gratitude journal will improve your relationships with others, improve your sense of well being, and enable you to enjoy greater happiness and better health.
So… Catch but DON’T release that “GRATITUDE ATTITUDE!” Doing so has made an incredible difference in my life and it can in yours too.
I love TED talks. I recommend them to my clients to watch between sessions to help them stay in a therapeutic mindset, and I also watch them frequently myself to stay up on what the great scientists and researchers of our time are doing. Here is an oldie but a goodie that I would recommend to help you understand the subjectivity behind happiness. Hopefully you walk away from this understanding a little more about how you have and are perceiving happiness in your life.
In my opinion, there are several of our societal norms that are alarming. Many of the values that our nation used to rate high on the list are slipping. Worst of all, this value shift has led to increasing health, social, and economic crises. It is my belief that if a person is not deliberate about how they want to become and how, they will get swept up in the societal messages and goals that lead to so much unrest and discontentment. Here are 3 books to date, which have shaped my person and helped me to be deliberate about what I am becoming:
Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
This book teaches lessons that are applicable to almost all areas in life. This work is based in research. Most meaningfully however, I believe is the instruction on how to allow vulnerability in our lives to foster connection, creativity, and self-worth. If applied, the principles in this book can change the way you see yourself, and therefore the way you interact with and experience the world around you. Living this stuff makes you actually feel like you are living. Society doesn’t condone this kind of living, but people are responding to this research, which means we are hungry for something different than society is feeding us.
Eat to Live by Dr. Joel Fuhrman
This book completely changed the way I treated my body and the way I saw my body. It, like Daring Greatly, is all research based. I had no idea the degree to which I had been mistreating my body with food. Since reading, and applying these principles, I feel happier, well rested, energetic, strong, and clean. It takes a lot of effort to do this, because society (even some in the medical field) goes completely against these nutrition ideals, but it is worth it!
The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey
Another area of peoples’ lives that usually needs a tune-up is personal finance. We live in a society that idealizes money to the point that many people go deep into debt in order to achieve an empty ideal. This book will make you rethink the way you earn and spend money. Most people aren’t thoughtful enough about how they earn or spend. This book teaches you how to make your money do what you want it to, no matter what your person goals may be. Security is the name of this game.
I hope these books are as useful to you as they have been to me. Happy reading!
Relationship maintenance is one of the most important things couples can do to create and “maintain” emotional intimacy. This maintenance comes in many forms. Some couples have regular date nights. Others have daily talk time. Often times one or both people read self help books about strengthening the relationship. Many of the couples I work with, and come across in my personal life, ask me about books they can read that will give them skills to strengthen their relationship. Here are two books I think every couple, happy or in distress, should read.
The first is The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. This book takes you through five ways that people show and feel love. The five love languages are quality time, physical touch, words of affirmation, service, and gift giving. This book takes you through the these five love languages and helps you identify which love language speaks to you. Read this with your partner. Once both of you are done and have properly identified your love language, share it with the other person. I use this idea in every couples session. The hope is that once you know your partners love language you can start speaking directly to what they need in the relationship. Someone who has the love language of quality time, but is given gifts will not feel properly loved and connected to their partner. This book gives invaluable insight into yourself and your partner that can strengthen every relationship.
The second is Hold Me Tight by Dr. Sue Johnson. This is a fantastic book that teaches you about attachment and reconnection with your partner. It has seven fabulous “conversations” for you and your partner to work through. If you are looking for emotional intimacy with your partner this is the book you are looking for. It is educational and highly effective at healing past wounds within relationships. Even if you and your partner have a healthy and loving relationship this book can still be a tool in creating a stronger bond.
Many couples feel that going to therapy, or even reading books like these shows a weakness in the relationship. My frame is that attending therapy and reading books to better your relationship is a strength; it means you and your partner are willing to put hard time and effort into being better individually and together. These couples are the ones that have relationships that will last. Hopefully you have the time to pick up these two books and give them a try. Read them with openness along side your spouse and they can make a world of difference.
Does success lead to happiness or does happiness lead to success? According to author and Psychologist Shawn Achor, the latter is true. If you increase your level of positivity in the present, the brain will experience something termed “The Happiness Advantage”. Achor states most business models, education models and even parenting styles teach hard work leads to success which in turn leads to happiness. This formula is broken and backwards according to a 12 year of study at Harvard University. How does one achieve the Happiness Advantage?
We’ve all faked a smile to get past a rough patch, but there are ways to actually increase our happiness naturally. It’s true that some people may be more prone to having a positive outlook- whether because of their genetics, environment, or upbringing. However, there are still strategies that all people can use in order to train themselves to “look up” a little more. Here are some ways to cultivate optimism in your life:
Allow Yourself To Experience Disappointment
Sometimes optimism can be misunderstood as simply looking on the bright side, but a bigger, perhaps more important side of optimism is going through those painful trials and having hope that things will improve. We need to mentally time travel to the future to see that we’re going to come out okay, and that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
Along with a large segment of the American population, I have recently been intrigued by the Netflix phenomenon, Making a Murderer, a documentary series that details Steven Avery’s involvement with the criminal justice system after he serves 18 years in prison for a crime that he did not commit. While in the midst of a $36 million civil suit against the county that imprisoned him for damages related to his wrongful conviction, he is accused and later convicted of the brutal murder of a young woman with whom he had brief professional interaction.
Now, I’m a psychotherapist, not an expert in criminal justice and I am certainly not here to argue in either direction in this case. In my work as a psychotherapist I’ve gained a deep understanding of how memory works. As such, while I watched the docudrama, I questioned the accuracy of the testimonies provided by witnesses months, and even years, after the fact.
I speak with my students about vital signs and vital living when we talk about happiness. When we go to the doctor, they take our vital signs – heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, and respiration – to see if we are living beings. This is what checks our vitality on the surface. Our vital signs say nothing about how full, rich, or meaningful we feel about how life and how our life can or how we believe it “should” be.
We talk about how there is “feeling happy” and there is “living happily” and many of us often struggle with living happily if we aren’t feeling happy. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy has been one of the best ways I’ve seen my clients – and myself! – shift from feeling to living. One of the most powerful quotes that I came across about the idea of being happy is that it is a feeling like any other feeling – joy, anger, disgust, fear, sadness, etc. It doesn’t last forever. And you can almost feel the collective gasp of humanity if someone has the audacity to believe that you can’t be happy forever! We all know that *one* person who seems to always be happy no matter what, but is it that they are happy regardless of the circumstance or are they living their life happily because they include the ups and the downs and the lefts and the rights?