everyday success

Balance

What have today’s happiness scientists learned?

That’s right, there are actually happiness scientists.  They spend their days and their lives working to find the formula – what do we need to do to be happy.  Are you curious what they’ve learned?

One important happiness scientist is Sonja Lyubomirsky.  This mother of four is a psychology professor and author of the best-seller, The How of Happiness, A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want. 

In her decades of research, Dr. Lyubomirsky uncovered the source of happiness.  Her results are so instructive that it’s easy to apply her findings to our own lives.

10% of our happiness comes from circumstance.  This includes all the things that happen in our lives – the good, the bad and the indifferent.  On the upside, it’s meeting the love of our dreams, finding our perfect job, buying a home – all the good things of life.  On the downside, it’s the loss of a job, illness, the death of someone we love and other painful life experience. 

50% of our happiness comes from our genetics.  We’re born to it, our ancestors handed down what amounts to about half of our personal level of happiness.  Yes, if you wish, you can point to your Great Aunt Monica or Grandpa Ben – not just for the color of your eyes but also for a large part of your happiness.

40% of our happiness is our own to decide – it’s our own mind, our own habits and our own actions that determine that much of our happiness.

Are you surprised?  It’s natural to want to poke holes, to say, yeah, but she didn’t know about the car crash that changed my life or that huge amount of money coming my way – those are circumstances that will change everything. 

Well, not so fast.  There will always be circumstances that make us either super happy or super unhappy.  It’s the way the world works.  What we don’t think about when we’re on a high or a low is that, in time, we’ll return to our original happiness point, the point before the happy or sad event.  We go back to our normal.  We adapt to the facts of our lives.  Changes become our new normal.

The forty percent solution

We’re in charge.  It’s what we do with what we’ve got that makes the difference.  If we’re super tall, it’s unlikely we’ll be successful as a jockey but we might consider basketball.  On the other hand, super tallness doesn’t have to dictate what we will or won’t do.  Could be we’re a math whiz who is a great dancer and a fabulous cook. 

How we work with what we’ve got – the circumstances and the genetic disposition – is what will lead us to happiness and well-being.  It’s what we could call the forty percent solution.  Perhaps the most tantalizing outcome of Lyubomirsky’s research is the discovery that we are in charge of forty percent of our happiness. 

It all adds up.  The things we do, the things we say, the things we think along with all the things we don’t do add up – the sum of all these things makes a difference in our happiness, in our feeling of well-being.

Resource:  Lyubomirsky, Sonja.  The How of Happiness, A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want. New York, New York: Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2007.


Are You Having Fun?

Have you run, skipped or jumped today?  What about a joke, have you told a joke?  At the least, have you smiled broadly, one of those big smiles that you can feel throughout your body? 

A moment of fun lightens the spirit.  It releases the tension.  It dispenses with the angst.  It gives you a moment of relief and relaxation.  It even reminds us that life is to be enjoyed.

It’s so easy to get into our minds, to list the day’s actions, to follow the routine in our head.  We can even start our exercise – which should be pleasing if not fun – counting out our plan for the work-out rather than enjoying the great sensations of movement.

Speaking of movement, have you danced today?  Even just a little wiggle to a great piece of music can lighten our heart.  Go for it, have a bit of fun today! 


Besting Holiday Blues

It’s one of the cheeriest times of the year - but not for everyone.  Some among us have to work at lifting their spirits especially when in the presence of manic happiness.

In Holiday Delights, we looked at many of the ways the season can lift spirits.  Incredibly, that long list is not even a complete list.  Good cheer is the name of the game and that’s when less cheery sensations can also crop up.

It’s everywhere.  The world appears to have be decorated.  People are busily running to and fro.  They look merry, don’t they?  Parties and dinners and concerts and caroling.  It’s all meant to heighten the experience.  But it can also have the opposite effect. 

Instead of cheer, other seasonal emotions can be overwhelmed, stressed, sad and even depressed and depleted.  When others appear to be tripping the light fantastic, some of us are magnifying our personal flaws and worries. 

This is a time when some among us look at our lives and don’t see the life they’d once imagined.  This is a time when instead of counting the good, some are counting the negative.  Try as we might, it can be a time when joy is elusive.  Everyone else seems to have found it but we can’t.

First of all, remember, you are not alone.  I’ll repeat that, you are not alone when you experience holiday blues.  It is so prevalent that it’s the subject of this blog.  Those who are down-hearted can barely stand the fact of the holidays.  They’re just not in a jolly place and they don’t want to go there. 

A few thoughts:

Confide in a friend, in a professional counselor, in your pastor or spiritual guide.  Talking can help.  It’s important to express your feelings.  Plus, your friend, counselor or pastor offer helpful insight.  They might even help to change your perspective.  If nothing else, interaction with another who is caring helps.

Watch the sugar and alcohol.  An excess of sugar and alcohol can put our body chemistry into a tailspin that heightens sadness and depression.  It’s not the calories that matter here, it’s what sugar and alcohol can do to start or heighten an emotional downturn.

Get rest.  A good night’s sleep can calm even the most anxious.  Unfortunately, a down-hearted period can be accompanied with sleeplessness.  Follow all the healthy sleep rules.

Exercise.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, you say.  It’s 19 degrees and who wants to be out of doors?  Wherever you do it, work up a sweat and get your heart pumping.  You’ll sleep better.  Plus, regular exercise can actually help to dissipate an emotional low.

Count!  That’s right, be sure you count.  Find one or two things each morning that are good.  At bed time, ignore the failures of the day and instead look at whatever could be construed as good.  Don’t forget to count.

Choose.  Select one or two holiday traditions and enjoy those.  It could be listening to music.  Perhaps it will be singing.  You may choose decorating a tree or baking cookies.  Whatever it is, do it and savor the moment.

You may not achieve holiday glee but that’s not the purpose here.  Taking it small and easy as you protect your emotions will help you fashion your unique path for your holidays.


Holiday Delights

Joyful hurrahs!  That pretty much describes the holiday season.  Suddenly, at the end of November, there’s a quickening of pace and a lifting of spirits as we anticipate.  Over the next four or five weeks, we’ll be in high holiday gear.  Our holiday busyness, our ways of celebration are as various as the imagination allows.

There are so many possibilities, so many holiday delights that it’s easy to hit the overload button.  Instead of overload, choose yours and your family’s favorite ways to celebrate and stick to those. 

Holiday spirit takes hold through much of the world.  That means there are as many cultural ways of celebrating as there are religious ways.  Below you’ll find but a few of the countless ways people celebrate the holidays.  What are your favorites?

Let’s start with music. 
Do you carol through the neighborhood?
Do you sing in a choir, play in an orchestra?  Does your anticipation grow as you  rehearse?
Do you go to hear a choir or an orchestra?
Do you play carols on an instrument for your family? 
Do you play holiday music on your iPod or Nano or CD player?  Do you have some faves?

Then there is the food.
Are you a holiday baker?  Are you one who bakes and cooks and shares with others?
Do you throw a party and cook your heart out for it?
Rather than making and baking, perhaps you enjoy the tasty treats of the season.   Which?

There are gatherings.
Is it friends gathering?  It is travelling a distance to be together?

There is story telling – from the theatrical to at-home retellings.
There’s the Nutcracker and Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. 
Perhaps you prefer Amahl and the Night Visitors.
Are you a storyteller?  There are stories to be told, stories to pass down. 

There is gift-giving.
Do you love giving gifts to others?
Do you enjoy finding that perfect gift?
Is it the wrapping of your gifts?
Do you make your gifts?  Do you enjoy giving of yourself to others?
It could be you just plain like receiving gifts.
What about charities?  Whether it’s time, talent or money, it is a season to help others.

There are always elevated spirits.
Does your pace quicken?  Do you feel that holiday season joy?

Do you have a holiday season persona? 
Are you the one who “ho, ho, ho’s”?
Do you have favorite holiday clothes?  Maybe you like to wear red shoes or you’ve a  favorite pair of socks.  Even a jingle bell bracelet?

There are decorations everywhere.
Is it decorating your home?  What about your yard?
Do you decorate a tree?  What makes your decorating time most special?

Is it the countdown, the anticipation you most enjoy?
Do you enjoy an advent calendar?

Is it spiritual?  Or, is it the traditions handed down over the years?  What are they?

It’s a season to reach out to others wherever they may live.
Do you send cards, letters and photos?  Do you visit family and friends

Here’s the thing.  The holidays are no longer just Christmas for Christians, Hanukkah for Jews and Kwanzaa for those of African heritage.  It’s true; non-believers enjoy the holidays as well.  Plus, for some, the traditions have blended.  The important point is that you do what is right for you and yours.  Remember, though, to avoid the overload so you can savor your holiday season.

Happy holidays!  The season has begun.


A Little Holiday Wisdom

The holidays are upon us.  If you’re like me, Thanksgiving is the signal for a breakneck pace, the rush to prepare.  The retailers have been reminding us for weeks that it’s time to start but for most of us, it takes Thanksgiving to get us into gear.

Yes, there are many among us who prepare all year long.  Their gifts are chosen, wrapped and awaiting a position beneath someone's tree.  Not me.  I have done nothing.

For those of us who haven’t begun, there’s still time to be sure our holidays will be memorable.  It does, however, take a little forethought and planning – over the next couple of days.  Before entering the shopping madness, take a moment to consider these.

First, what do you expect from your holidays?  Have you ever asked yourself that - what you expect from your holiday season?  It’s important to nail down expectations so there isn’t a sense of regret or unfulfilled promise at the end.  The holidays are so full of energy and hope but if we don’t know what we’re anticipating, it’s likely we’ll be let down.

Next, recall yours and your family’s favorite traditions.  Your favorites will lead the list of choices for this season.  Remember to consider whether there have been any changes in other, life changes may mean holiday choices will be different this year.

Don’t forget to cross off those traditions that no longer satisfy.  We evolve.  We change.  It’s not heresy to change your favorites.  This might be the year for a new tradition.  What will it be?

Look at the calendar.  Figure out your timing.  The school choir’s performance.  The tickets to The Nutcracker.  What are the things that are already commitments?  What about parties you want to give or you expect to attend? 

Tomorrow is the last day of November.  That leaves little time for a lot of celebrating.  Consider this, New Years’ Eve is a mere 31 days off!  Now’s the time to let your calendar help guide you.

Making choices.  We can’t do it all; there are just too many possibilities in the holiday season.  It’s time to decide what you will do in Holiday Season 2013 and what you will leave for seasons beyond.

What will make this holiday season memorable?  What can you do to be sure it’s a year you’ll happily remember?  Starting a new tradition can make it memorable.

Avoid end-of-season regrets.  Making plans – a traditions plan and a money plan – will help you prevent disappointment or regret.

Savor.  That’s right; don’t forget to enjoy the fruits of your planning.  Enjoy the moment.  Breathe in the scents.  Delight in the sounds, the flavors and your uplifted spirits,.  Appreciate all that you have, all that is a part of your 2013 holiday season.


Giving a Daily Nod to the Good in Our Lives

The sunrise was amazing.  The berries at breakfast were delicious.  There was a text from my granddaughter.  I’ve already written an article.  So goes the day.  It’s starting well and for that I am grateful. 

Grateful.  Some of us are more inclined to notice the good things that happen in our lives, the things around us that are good.  Others of us are less aware, less inclined to notice the good, positive or pleasing things in their daily life.  Some, in fact, count the unpleasant things in their day.   

In the past decade, researchers have confirmed that our sense of well-being grows with our degree of gratitude.  When we are grateful, our sense of well-being is increased.  When gratefulness is not a part of our daily thought process, our overall sense of well-being will likely be lower.  

Gratitude is very simple; it’s a matter of giving a nod to the good, the positive, even the beautiful in our lives.  What we are grateful for is personal.  We can be grateful for just about anything and it’s likely the objects of our gratitude will differ greatly.  If you wonder what others are grateful for, visit Encyclopedia of Gratitude. With gratitude as its purpose, this website offers a “witty and wide-ranging compendium of things to be grateful for.”

How you tally the things for which you are grateful can be of your own design.  Many have taken up the popular gratitude journal.  Others make a mental review of their day as they prepare for their night’s rest.  For those whose sleep is not easy, count the good things instead of lambs!  Research shows that a gratitude mental review just before falling asleep improves the night’s rest. 

Whatever the method, whatever the time, daily recognition of all that is good can grow happiness and satisfaction.  Are you counting the good?


Beginnings and Staying Power

Everything we do has a starting point.  If we’re runners, there was a time when we began running.  If we’re a great cook, there was a beginning to our cooking experience.  If we’re great at math, there was a time when it clicked and we began our life with math.  There was a beginning for each of our friendships.  Our married life began on our wedding day; our parenting began when our first child was born.  The same is true in our working lives, a first day, a first month and a first year at our job. 

There are so many beginnings in our lives.  Even our days have a beginning, a time when we can decide what we will or won’t include in our day. 

Sometimes, we begin a new commitment and it’s a toughie.  We know it will take time to grow our skills, to nurture our new commitment into a full-fledged accomplishment.  Knowing we can begin again tomorrow is of some comfort but that has its own risk; frequent unsuccessful starts can prevent accomplishment. 

Practice is just as important as the start.  Acquiring knowledge and mastery means repeating the process day in and day out.  Through repetition and practice, we shape our early starts into enduring abilities.  In our first job, we’re only beginning to translate our acquired knowledge into meaningful abilities.  In the first weeks of a marriage or committed relationship, we’re just beginning to gain the skills of a sustained and intimate relationship. 

Over time, our daily effort can move us from novice to expert.  In work, our personal drive plus the experience gained over time, moves us towards mastery.  We become a valuable asset.  So, too, with friendships or marriage or parenting.  We may not have the skills at the start, but daily effort sustained over time, can be the catalyst for good, strong relationships.  Our work becomes accomplished, our marriage and friendships blossom.  Our one-time starts become enduring successes.

This blog is a beginning, the first for me.  My staying power won’t be known til my fiftieth blog or maybe my hundredth.   Over time, it may become a sustainable process for me and a source of insight for you, the reader.  It’s a beginning.