I know from my experience and the research on humor and healing, that we need to laugh through a hard time to help us get through it – known as the Biology of Hope (when we anticipate an enjoyable event and laugh at a situation, our good stress, eustress, hormones beta endorphins and growth hormones kick in and help our immune system.)
Here are some proven ways to reduce stress with everything else going on around us:
Wake up 15-30 minutes earlier and get your day started at a more leisurely pace with enough time to have a proper breakfast. You can get much done while it is quiet such as exercising, yoga, meditating, getting your day organized. It also helps to have clothing selected and lunches prepared the night prior so you don’t have to think too much.
Write down everything (and do back-ups) – as we get older, our brains can’t hold all the info it once used to. Give your brain a break and keep all your notes in one place – either electronic, paper, or both so you won’t stress over what will happen to your info if your batteries die. We now know that stress kills our brain – as it also does our heart. Stress affects the hippocampus, the memory and retrieval system of our brains. You know you have brain cells dying from stress when you’re in a grocery store aisle and you have no idea why you are there…stress.
Do it today – stop procrastinating and make a decision. Procrastination and clutter are just postponed decisions. Figure out why you don’t want to make that decision and go about it in a different way, just do it.
The Law of Entropy states that everything without work or force applied to it will break down over time. That includes cars, gardens, our health, communication, or relationships. Focusing on prevention will help alleviate the stress caused by things breaking down. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Get rid of as many irritations, aggravations or energy drains that you can. It’s the culmination of all those little sniggly things that add up to big stress. So fix the broken towel bar, the squeaky door, the rip in your couch, or throw out the pitcher that is too heavy to lift. All those little drains add up to an empty energy tank.
Plan ahead – live for today and plan for tomorrow’s events or emergencies. Have contingency plans in place for the probable causes that may affect you. Living in Germany for 10 years, we had to have a NEO plan in place – a Non-combatants Evacuation Plan. We were supposed to always have at least a half a tank of gas in our car, our medical information and family info easily accessible and important documents within reach in case we had to evacuate in a conflict situation. Friends in California tell me they have an emergency kit in case of fire or Earthquake with all their important items in it near the door. Make sure all your documentation is in order and look towards the future.
It begins with happiness. Happiness is not the end state. Happiness is the starting point that leads to all kinds of positive things in your life including your health. Choosing to insert moments of happiness into your day (I call them holi-moments instead of holidays), is like a string of pearls of joy. Stringing together all the pearls of happiness each day creates a happy, healthier life. Here are some of the things stemming from happiness as a secret ingredient. Extensive research in the Positive Psychology movement of the past couple decades has proven that happy people:
- Have fewer strokes and heart attacks
- Get sick less often in general – fewer colds, viruses and flu incidents
- Have a stronger immune system in general
- Have less pain and inflammation
- Sleep better
- Develop resistance to stress and adversity
- Enjoy improved work performance and success
- Have more fulfilling and longer-lasting marriages
- Attract more friends and are more social
- Are more altruistic and have a greater positive impact on society
- Attract more wealth
- Are more connected and active in their communities
- Have a larger network
- Live longer
The research is very clear that these things don’t lead to happiness. The exact opposite is true – that happiness leads to these positive outcomes. Happiness is the first ingredient to living a better life all the way around. We’ve had it backward for many years – thinking that IF we have these other things, THEN we’ll be happy. Now we have scientific evidence that the polar opposite is true – happiness comes first to attract these other things. Happiness is something we can do right now to start attracting these other things to us. Albert Schweitzer summed it up well: Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success.”
The study of the science of happiness has just recently caught up with what generally happy people already intuitively knew. In the past couple decades the science of Positive Psychology has learned:
- Happiness does not come from genetics, luck or chance
- Happiness has a lot less to do with circumstances than we originally thought
- Happiness is not the result of some big, momentous occasion or event or goal attainment – it is realized by all the little small, daily things that add up moment by moment
- Happiness is created by thing simply, daily things we decide to do – how we choose to move through the world
- Unhappiness is created by NOT choosing to do those simple, daily things that we recognize as the things that create our happiness – we must identify the things that we are doing first so we know which things to keep doing and keep putting in our lives so maintain our happiness and be consciously aware of the things we add to our lives that bring us joy and happiness as well as those things that create unhappiness and delete those things.
- Happiness comes from conscious living and living purposefully – being in tune with what you allow in your life and deciding what you do and what you don’t, having the feeling of being in control of how you live your life
Some other rules of the road for creating happiness stemming from the scientific research as part of the Positive Psychology movement:
- Keep a positive mindset and speak in positive vs. negative terms
- Make a regular practice of counting your blessings and focus on gratitude and appreciation
- Do kind things for others and help make the world a better place in the service of others
Keeping a positive mindset and speaking positive words is more powerful than most people realize. There was some amazing evidence of this at the third World Congress on Positive Psychology as reported by the Center for Disease Control. They linked the incidence of atherosclerotic disease county by county of the northeastern United States with the amount of negative words used by those counties as evidenced by the Twitter posts. The study had analyzed 40,000 words in over 80 million tweets and when the results were overlaid with a county-by-county analysis of heart attacks, it was nearly an exact correlation. The words used that were predictive of illness were expressions of anger, hostility, aggression, disengagement and lack of social support.
The study also revealed the correlation of positive attitude and lower risk of heart attacks in a county-by-county study with these maps also being nearly identical – similar to the negative words and more heart attacks. The positive words that correlated with health included fabulous, helpful share, great, interesting, gratitude.
Being in the personal development field for over 30 years; this “new” scientific evidence only certifies what many of the thought leaders, motivational speakers and experts in the field of human performance have been saying for decades. I’m very grateful there is now science behind what we’ve been touting for a long time. It gives more intellectual weigh and credibility to what we’ve been sharing with our audiences on the positive side effects of positive thinking. It has opened doors and opened the minds of many in the corporate world, in government and in the general public about how their mindset and the mindset of an organization has a great deal to do with the morale of the people and their performance.
Combining Fun and Effectiveness is good business. Often, those of us in the personal development field have found roughly 10 % of those in our audience are really attuned to the positive thinking movement; but when you link that movement to the happiness movement, then the percentage of those who are willing to embrace it skyrockets to well over 50%. I haven’t yet met anybody who doesn’t want to be happy, though I’ve met many who want to be happier or even those who are happy, but didn’t know it because of their mindset and their choice of focus. How is your mindset? How are you choosing to be happy? Have you noticed what words you choose on a daily basis? Have you paid any attention to your tweets and Facebook posts and the type of words you are using? Try transforming your words and I bet you will begin to transform your life. I dare you…
You may have noticed a theme here this year. I’ve decided to offer an alternating series on Happiness and Personal Energy. I’ve been researching, studying, living and making a living from educating others about how to improve both for their personal and professional lives as well as showing organizations how to improve both to beef up their bottom line. The two are intricately intertwined because a large majority of our energy is emotional energy. If our mindset is set on negativity, sadness, dark drama, emotional baggage and such; no matter how many energy inserts we add to our lives, we will still feel drained of energy.
The Positive Psychology movement gained a foothold about 20 years ago and it’s been a very interesting thing to watch this shift in the science of psychology. Martin Seligman, a Philadelphia psychologist is the father of the field of positive psychology and happiness. He began by asking “what if happiness was more than the absence of sadness and what if we could have a kind of psychology that focused on the positive instead of on the negative and what has gone wrong?”
Since that time, in January 2005 TIME Magazine ran a cover story on The Science of Happiness, then Fortune 500 corporations, the military, Harvard, the Federal Government and a growing mass of the public began to run with this theory. In 2010, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh published his business memoir Delivering Happiness and it debuted on the New York Times Bestseller list at number 1. There is something to this happiness thing.
Contrary to what the Declaration of Independence says; happiness is not something we PURSUE, it’s something we DO…or rather an accumulation of the many little things we do every day. It’s HOW we decide to live our lives. One of the very best exercises I can share in pinpointing how to realize happiness in our lives is the Ideal Day writing assignment. I believe I’ve mentioned it before and it bears repeating because it is so powerful in its simplicity.
Find quiet time and get comfy to spend as long as you need to dream and visualize your Ideal Day and write it down in exquisite detail. Capture all the little things that bring you happiness such as fuzzy puppies, lush towels, down comforters, soothing smooth jazz music, fresh-squeezed pink grapefruit juice, 80% dark chocolate, cashmere…but I digress. Begin with when you wake up and move throughout your day and describe what your senses experience, what you do, how you do it and what your surroundings look like, sound like and feel like. Afterwards, do a gap analysis of your Ideal Day and your current life. What is missing? What can you easily insert into your current life from your Ideal Day? If you can’t focus on just one day. Do what I did and write down your Ideal Day for the Fall/Winter and one for the Spring/Summer because mine included skiing to sailing and I needed more than one day to capture it.
Next, look at your gap analysis and see what you already have in your current life from your Ideal Day? What can you celebrate? What do you have or what are you doing that already brings joy and happiness that you may be taking for granted? Often, we neglect to honor and enjoy certain things until we don’t have them. We think it’s just a normal thing. I’ve recently experienced this by having knee replacement surgery. Down for the count for several weeks with a walker and crutches and I knew immediately that mobility and absence of pain/vitality were things I didn’t savor nearly enough. Yep, being able to move through the world confidently that I won’t fall down is now on my list in my Ideal Day.
Once you find things from your Ideal Day that you don’t yet have; make a plan to be, do, have those things that would bring you joy and happiness and energy. When we are happier, we have more energy. Sadness brings lower energy. The research says that it’s not the big things that come around few and far between, it’s the smaller daily things that create the happiness. How you realize happiness and increased personal energy is by doing simple things and doing them often. Your assignment is to write down your Ideal Day. Your homework is then to make a list of what you already have or do from the Ideal Day and then make a list of what you can insert into your life from the exercise.
Meet me back here in a few weeks and get your next installment of the Happy Factor.