Gratitude, happiness, a road trip and a wedding

 

I’m with three of my eight siblings and my oldest son for my niece’s wedding this weekend. I can’t begin to tell you how grateful and happy I am to be with them, which I think is the perfect segue to share with you author and positive psychology researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky’s eight ways gratitude boosts happiness from her book The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want.

Lyubomirsky notes:
 
1. Gratitude promotes savoring positive life experiences. 

2. Gratitude may increase a sense of confidence and self-worth, by encouraging you to consider what you value about your current life.

3. Gratitude helps you cope with difficulties.

4. Gratitude encourages kindness and other moral behavior.

5. Gratitude helps strengthen relationships.

6. Gratitude inhibits envy.

7. Gratitude helps undermine negative emotions.

8. Gratitude keeps us from taking the good things for granted.

I do believe Sonja’s right, so when I set off at 4 a.m. yesterday morning, I began savoring the moments. One of the things I love about road trips is coffee and peppered beef jerky in the car. Strange but true, I love the combo, but only in the early a.m. in a speeding automobile. I guess it signals my brain that life is good and fun is on the way!

By 5 a.m. I had opened the bag of jerky, gnawed a strip or two and downed a cup of still piping hot homemade coffee, which sharpened my senses and allowed me to take special note of the fog tipped marshes and slow-moving rivers of north Florida and Georgia as the sun rose slowly, backlighting these natural wonders.

As South Carolina came into view, I spent time thinking  about my life and how happy I was for all the wonderful folks in it. I took the time to reflect and remember the good times I’d shared with my sisters, and how we’ve supported each other when times were tougher than we wanted them to be.

By the North Carolina border, I was convinced I was the luckiest woman in the world, and was brimming with gratitude and tears just thinking about it. These warm and cozy feelings helped me push aside my mental laundry list of things to do or left undone, and let me fully enjoy the moment and anticipate the fun that was waiting for me up the road.  I couldn’t wait to see my sisters, nieces and nephews, hang-out with my son, and to meet the bride and groom’s friends and extending family – I love the way marriage interlaces and connects us to one another. 

Well, I am knee-deep in family and new friends, and loving it. I’m not taking one minute of this gathering or the beauty of the North Carolina hills and mountains for granted. I really do believe that each moment we are grateful makes our lives and our experiences richer and more rewarding.

Now, if I could only find a way to use gratitude to help me get my mind out of my sister’s hotel room long enough to stop coveting her fantastic shoes and clothes collection, I think this will be a perfect weekend!

I hope that wherever you are this weekend – friends, family and a closet full of really great shoes are nearby.

PS I think I found a way – I am very grateful my kid sister is willing to share her heart, her clothes and her shoes with me! Thank you in advance, Deb.

Happy is as happy does

Did you know there is a Happy Planet Index, (HPI)? It multiplies the subjective life satisfaction and the life expectancy of a country, and then divides it by the country’s ecological footprint. The first HPI was published, the second one in 2009.

In 2009 Costa Rica was #1 of the 143 countries reviewed. (It still is!) Their medium level of environmental impact, very high well-being and high life expectancy levels keep them at the top of the Happy Planet Index. (Their life expectancy is better than ours!)

Back in 2009, the US was #114. (Today it is 105 – that’s progress!); in 2009, Macedonia was 111. Unfortunately, their rank is dropping, it is now 127. (I lived in Macedonia for three years, have been back each year since 2009, and consider it one of my three homes.) I also lived in the Republic of Georgia for almost four months, and fell in love with folks there, and I’m thrilled to say their latest rank is rank is #55, and reflects “a relatively high life expectancy, low levels of experienced well-being, and a low ecological footprint.” Way to go Georgia! Happy is as happy does.

The HPI folks have set a target for nations to aspire to a score of 89 of 100 by 2050; “the highest HPI score is only 76.1, scored by Costa Rica.” (And, that was in 2009, it is lower now, but still higher than everyone else’s.)

Yup, we have a way to go, but I have no doubt we will get there both as a country and a planet because the topics of happiness and well-being are becoming mainstream and other positive indicators are getting attention throughout the world.

I’ve posted about Gross National Happiness (GNH) in the past. The King of Bhutan started that score rolling in 1972, when he decided that GNP, Gross National Product, a very commercial way of  looking at a country’s success, wasn’t the only way he wanted to assess his country’s viability. I like that. Here’s a new video that explains how Bhutan developed it’s GNH, and what happened after it did, including a 19 year increase in longevity and a 50% increase in literacy.

Did you know Australia, Britain, and China along with other major countries are developing new ways to assess their countries well-being? They, too, agree that GDP alone, is not the best indicator of how well their nations are doing. They’re putting time and money into well-being research, conferences and programs, which is good because even though household income for Americans has risen dramatically since the 1950’s, our happiness levels have remained relatively the same. Study after study shows that money is not the best indicator of happiness.

Would you like a free, quick and guaranteed way to raise your happiness level this week? Starting today, think about one thing you could do each day to make someone else happy, and then do it! Happy is as happy does.

Focusing your attention on finding ways to put a smile on the faces of your spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend, children, neighbors, coworkers, friends and strangers will make you happier, too. We are social creatures and innately enjoy being connected to one another; by focusing your attention on others you can reinforce those bonds and bring depth and stability to your life and the lives of those around you. In fact, simply thinking about what you would like to do for someone or making yourself more aware of others and their feelings, can raise your happiness levels and mood because it takes your attention off yourself and your worries.

As you begin your happiness-raising week, remember it is the little things that count; no grand gestures necessary. And, don’t worry about being thanked in return; do it with an open heart and see what happens.

Let me know how it goes, and please share this post with your friends and family. If enough of us get involved, we just might raise the USA’s Happy Planet Index standing!  I’d like that.

Have a great week – be happy!

 

 

Camp, coffee bags, creativity and confidence

I’ve been having an absolutely fantastic week. Today is the last day of  Wishful Thinking Works’ “Camp Summer Girls”, which I presented for 11 girls aged 9-12 at our local Yacht Club as part of our city’s Parks & Rec. Summer Program. We did all kinds of creative, confidence-building fun stuff for two hours a day. I’m going to miss the girls big time; they are so much FUN!

We had a great field stone-walled room all to ourselves where the girls built a “campfire” each day. In the true summer-camp tradition we selected new names for ourselves, which combined our current likes with our future aspirations; samples include:  “She who loves to read and heal people.”  “She who loves sing.” “She who loves to run fast and heal animals.”

We also created an internal “beauty pageant”, which spotlighted how amazing and awesome each girl is; posters that showed how we are connected to family, friends and our communities; and today we will be making vision boards to showcase our dreams. We did Reader’s Theater – the girls loved putting their costumes together and the drama of being on “stage”. And, each girl took time studying her beautiful face in a mirror and within fifteen minutes was able to do a wonderful drawing of what she saw!

We had a “Project Runway Day”, which was a huge hit. The girls created outfits from burlap bags that had been used to import coffee from around the world – the bags were bigger than the girls, but they found creative ways to use them to make skirts, vests, purses, and head bands! We had lots of recycled scarfs, belts, jewelry, and clothes on hand for the girls to use to transform their coffee bag creations. 

On the first day, most of the girls arrived hesitant and shyly smiling but by week’s end they were talking, laughing and greeting new friends as they walked through the door. It was great to see them having so much fun and trying new things. The girls’ energy and enthusiasm are contagious, I feel like a “Camp Summer Girl” myself.  

Thanks to my teen helper for the week, Brooke, who was amazingly awesome, and to my friend Linda, who was so sweet to be on hand to help with the girls’ Project Runway creations. Special thanks to Brooke’s mom, Julie, for sharing her wonderful daughter and for donating lots of clothes to the cause. Additional thanks go to my dear friend Nellie for the closet cleaning she did to provide goodies for the girls costumes and creations, and for sharing her music and machine. And, to Amy from our Coffee Meetup, who gathered clothes for the girls, as well. You are all are wonderful, and the girls loved having so many choices to work with.

Thanks to the Moms and Dads who created and shared the amazingly awesome girls, I was lucky enough to work with this week! And, to the Camp Summer Girls – thanks for being who you are, because you are  creative, talented, smart and amazingly awesome. Have a wonderful summer and a fantastic school year. 

 

Here is an article I wrote when I started thinking about presenting the Camp. Please feel free to share it with your friends and family.

Patrice Koerper’s Six Summertime Self-Esteem Building Steps for Your Child

Summer is a great time to build your child’s self-esteem. A child’s self-confidence impacts many aspects of his or her development, including school performance. Building or reinforcing your child’s self-esteem now, when the daily pressure of school and interacting with friends and teachers is reduced, will give him or her a great start when school begins.

These six steps can help you, help your child:

Step 1 – Compliment

Think positive! Write down ten things about each of your children that you absolutely love. Include aspects of their personality, emotions, physical being, character, or talents. Then select seven of these attributes, including at least one from each category, and thoughtfully compliment each child, daily for seven days on a different trait.

Pause after you compliment your children, let what you’ve shared sink in and give them a chance to respond. Then hug them, squeeze their hand, tousle their hair and move on. No need to suggest they say “thank you”, your compliment is the important thing.

Step 2 – Develop an Appreciative Attitude

At dinnertime or when tucking your children into bed at night, ask them to share one thing from the day that made them happy, feel good, or they are thankful for. Start the process by talking about something that made you happy. Keep it light; let them respond without interruption; and see “Step 6” for tips on reinforcing what they share.

If they don’t want to participate, don’t worry. Keep sharing your gratitudes each night, working-up to three a day, and eventually they will chime in. Positive psychology studies show that writing or sharing three gratitudes a day can improve happiness and well-being. It’s free and easy, and the benefits are both immediate and long-lasting. In her book, “The Joy of Appreciative Living” Jacqueline Kelm shows how 28 days of gratitudes can help create a new attitude. And, hundreds of studies show thinking positively increases creativity and productivity, which can make the school year more enjoyable for everyone.

Step 3 – Create Special Assignments

Give your child the chance to play an important role in your household this summer. Ask your child what they would like to do as a special assignment. Helping your child select a specific chore can develop a sense of achievement and responsibility, which will reinforce their self-esteem. Solid self-esteem is built upon action, giving your children a way to contribute to your family can have a huge-payoff down the road.

The key is finding a good match between the child and the chore. Be creative. If your son keeps his room organized, maybe he’d be good at cleaning out the linen closet, rearranging kitchen cupboards or garage shelves, or perhaps, creating an online family budget. Another child might prefer reading to a younger sibling or planning and cooking dinner with you. Even the littlest child can help empty drawers, fold clothes or arrange shoes in a closet.

Next, create a fun and easy tracking and reward system for each child. Remember, praise, recognition or a treat may be as important to your child as a monetary award. Finding the right reward for each child will increase the likelihood of success. Let them pick their reward, if you can.

Step 4 – Schedule One-on-One Time

Schedule one-on-one time with your child at least every other week. If you haven’t done this before or very often, scheduling even once a month can be effective. Let your daughter or son select what you will do together. If necessary, set dollar, time and activity limits, but try not to be too restrictive about the details. Make sure you follow through, and stick closely to their plan.

This step can create a sense of security, and reduce competition for your attention. It will also let your children know you value spending time with them and that you trust them to plan an activity or outing, a skill that can help them in school and later in life.

Step 5 – Follow Their Lead

Another great leadership and team building tool is to let your son or daughter plan a family vacation activity. If you’re not taking a vacation, simply substitute weekly family nights and let each child select a weekly activity. Remember to praise and thank them for their efforts, which will reinforce the value of working and playing together, and their self-confidence.

Step 6 – Communicate Actively and Constructively

In his new book, “Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being”, Dr. Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, discusses new research that reveals how people respond to a loved one’s good news, is an indicator of how happy and strong their relationship is. Active, positive communication creates better relationships, and can improve your child’s self-esteem. Here’s how to make it work in your home:

  1. Pay attention. Let your child “see” that you are listening when they share important or good news with you. Look them in the eye, turn your body toward them. Smile, laugh, and touch them. Make the conversation all about them. It only takes a few focused minutes to show them how much you care.
  2. Say something positive/constructive: “Oh, Danielle, you made the team, that’s terrific.” Let your choice of words and the way you say them show your excitement. Be sincere and specific.
  3. Engage them by asking questions: “How did you find out?” Then listen, and remain active by following-up with “You must have been so excited, tell me all about it.” Then listen again, so they can share and savor their good news with you.  Suggest ways you can all celebrate their success with a special family treat or dinner.

Stay confident!

To keep yourself on target over the summer, talk to your significant other, friend or family member every night, or as often as you can, about how great it feels to be using the six steps to help your child build his or her self-confidence. If no one is on-hand to listen, jot down your feelings in a journal or share them with your friends on Facebook as a way to savor what you are doing and how good it feels. The better you feel about yourself, the process, and life in general, the easier it will be for your child to feel self-confident.

 Use the “Six Summertime Self-Esteem Building Steps” to increase your child’s self-confidence and to create warm and wonderful family memories, all of which can last a lifetime.

The eyes have it

 

 

 

 

I’ve adapted this exercise from the book “Slow Down: The Fastest Way to Get Everything You Want” by David Essel.

I truly believe our eyes are the windows to our real selves, the selves so many of us try to hide or avoid, or simply fail to celebrate. In order to be able to create the lives we really want, we need to be comfortable and honest with ourselves about who we are and what we like and don’t like. This exercise is a good first step.

If you are new to self-reflection, you might find this exercise a bit difficult and it can be quite emotional. That’s okay, it means the exercise is working and that you are very brave.

Looking inside yourself

Head to the bathroom! The light is usually a bit stronger, making it easier to truly see yourself, and since you’ve spent time looking at your face in the mirror there, you might feel more comfortable.

  • Please bring a timer, clock or phone that you can set.
  • Get comfortable standing in front of the mirror.
  • When you are ready to begin, set the timer, the clock or your phone for 1 minute.
  • Pause. Take a deep breath – in through your nose, out through your nose.
  • Pause again. Make sure you are standing or leaning in comfortably.
  • Take another deep breath.

Then look straight into those beautiful, expressive eyes of yours. Please spend at least a full minute looking into your eyes. Do not break your gaze, but no need to stare, just look.

The goal is to work up to five minutes. Yes, five full minutes of doing nothing but looking into your own eyes. Five minutes will give you time to go through a range of reactions and emotions, which usually begins with the thought “This is stupid. What am I going to get out of looking into my own eyes? Why am I doing this?” And, progresses to something like, “Hmm, this isn’t so bad. I guess it won’t kill me.”

Your mind will wander, please without chastising yourself, bring it back to your gaze – to you, your eyes and nothing more.

Really look at your eyes. Notice their color, shape, lids, and lashes. Try not to critique them, simply note their details, the variations in color, the specks, the size.

Maintain your focus on your eyes, not your eyebrows, nose or any other surrounding facial features – just your eyes.

Then, begin to look beyond their physical aspects, begin looking inside your eyes.

  • New emotions will emerge from behind those soft, pools of vision.
  • You may feel a rush of happiness, or appreciation – “Gosh I like my eyes, they’re really pretty.”
  • Empathy – “They seem so lonely, scared, tired, and sad.”
  • More frustration – “This really is stupid.” (That’s okay, take a deep breath and relax while maintaining your gaze.)
  • Denial and Fear – “There is nothing in there, and if there is, I don’t want to see it or be reminded of it.” (Just keep gazing, try not to talk yourself into stopping.)

Honestly, whatever comes up is great; don’t turn away. Gaze, silently into yourself. Let the tears fall where they may.  The smiles, and even, the love grow.

At first you will be very aware of the time, the seconds will slowly tick by, but after a few minutes you may lose track of time and become engrossed in the task at hand – you. You may become so engrossed that the ring of the timer or  phone may startle you.

No matter what happens, you – brave, strong you – took the time to look into your eyes to discover a new way of looking inside yourself.

I suggest repeating the exercise once a week for a month, and then once a month. Just you and those baby blues, brown, black, hazel, grey eyes of yours. (You might want to put a note, or some other reminder, inside a bathroom drawer or cupboard or on the mirror to remind you to do the exercise.)

Let me know how it goes!  

 

And, as always, “. . . you’re much braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” 

Christopher Robin to Winnie the Pooh, A.A. Milne and now me to you.

 

 

 

Channel surfing and soul searching

 

I’ve been channel surfing this week, and it got me thinking . . .

So You Think You Can Dance

If you had to “Dance for Your Life”, so to speak, what would you be doing?  If you had 30 seconds to WOW the world, what would you do?  How would you share your best?

What has been your shining moment so far? What’s made your heart race, your spine tingle and goosebumps grow? How would you choose to share the best of you with the rest of the world?

 

Expedition Impossible

Where do you want to go, and what do you want to do? Would you like to: Climb Everest? Sing on Broadway? Graduate Oxford or Le Cordon Bleu? Sip cappuccino in Italy, wine in France? Surf in Costa Rico? Swim the Channel?

What would be your perfect journey?  What would you be doing? What challenges and excites you? What would you like to accomplish that you haven’t as yet?

 

The Bachelorette

What’s romantic to you? Candle-lit dinners or walks in the park? Late-night movies or all-night dancing? Riding in a limo or jumping on your bikes? Concerts at Carnegie Hall or country music festivals?

Whose your perfect match? If you’ve found him or her, what first attracted you, what makes you smile today?

If you are looking, do looks and money matter more than holding hands and still having lots to talk about at 80? When you picture your picture-perfect mate, what is he doing?

 

There are no “right” answers and tons of questions we can ask ourselves as we create the lives we really want.

I know it’s easier to spend time surfing channels and watching make-believe or someone else’s reality than it is to pay attention to what we want, have and love. [I have to admit to being totally hooked on “The Bachelorette”, which I know is tacky, but it’s true – I love that show, and yes, I know it is make-believe and it really doesn’t work, but I still love it  –  try not to hold that against me. :-)] – so I’m not suggesting turning off the tube, or ignoring Netflix, but perhaps it might be just as interesting and not such a bad idea to use the stuff we watch as a springboard for some soul-searching.

My guess is, discovering and planning our dreams will be more fun and fulfilling in the long run. And, who knows, your life might turn out to be the best reality show EVER, and, if it is the life you really want, I guarantee it will make you feel like a star!

Now, that sounds like a show worth watching.

Quick apology, spells and wisdom

 
 
First of all, I owe you an apology. I was supposed to be here yesterday, but instead I let myself be held hostage by these two little guys. I know blaming them isn’t fair, but look at those faces, they are magical, no? I’m still under their spell today, but since they are sleeping it is a bit easier to resist.
 
 
 
 
 
Since I am sure they will be stirring any minute, here’s the quick bit of wisdom I wanted to share with you today:
“If you can’t forgive and forget, pick one.” Robert Brault.
I love it. Simple, concise and good advice no matter how you look at it.

Hope your week is off to a great start. If not, just look at that photo one more time, it’s bound to make you smile, bring back warm memories, or get you started planning your next vacation  – all of which can make your week a bit brighter.

The anatomy of happy

 

Happy thoughts from leading positive psychology researchers.

Robert Biswas-Diener, who is known as the Indiana Jones of Positive Psychology because of his research with diverse and often physically or economically isolated folks on the topic of happiness, describes it as follows. (I’m paraphrasing for the most part.)

Happy people:

    • Often feel good
    • Occasionally feel bad
    • “Are generally satisfied with most, but not necessarily all of the domains” in their lives. (Domains = work, family, income, hobbies, romantic relationships, friends, self, and spirituality)

 

Sonja Lyubomirsky Ph.D., positive psychology researcher, professor and author lists the following benefits of happiness. (I’m quoting.)

Happy people:

    • “Have higher incomes,
    • Superior work outcomes (e.g., greater productivity and higher quality of work),
    • larger social rewards (e.g., more satisfying and longer marriages, more friends, stronger social support, and richer social interactions),
    • more activity, energy, and flow, and better physical health (e.g., a bolstered immune system, lowered stress levels, and less pain)
    • and even longer life. 
    •  . . . are more creative,  helpful, charitable, and self-confident, have better self-control, and show greater self-regulatory and coping abilities.”

 

Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D., a professor and researcher at the University of North Carolina, developed the “broaden and build theory of positive emotions”.

Happy people:

    • are more creative,
    • friendly,
    • helpful,
    • and curious.

And, here is the really good news, studies show most of us are pretty darn happy.  To see how you fare on a happiness scale there are lots of free online surveys you can take. To start, you can visit, www.authentichappiness.com (Center column, scroll down.) or you can take the following “Satisfaction with Life Scale” below, which was created by Ed Diener Ph.D. Please note the scale is available in multiple languages here.

 

The Satisfaction with Life Scale

By Ed Diener, Ph.D.

DIRECTIONS: Below are five statements with which you may agree or disagree. Using

the 1-7 scale below, indicate your agreement with each item by placing the appropriate

number in the line preceding that item. Please be open and honest in your responding.

1 = Strongly Disagree

2 = Disagree

3 = Slightly Disagree

4 = Neither Agree or Disagree

5 = Slightly Agree

6 = Agree

7 = Strongly Agree

______1. In most ways my life is close to my ideal.

______2. The conditions of my life are excellent.

______3. I am satisfied with life.

______4. So far I have gotten the important things I want in life.

______5. If I could live my life over, I would change almost nothing

 

Click here, to see how you score. Keep in mind the info below from Ed Diener when reviewing your score. Many factors impact your score, and raising your score can be fun and fulfilling, which is what Wishful Thinking Works is all about.

“To understand life satisfaction scores, it is helpful to understand some of the components that go into most people’s experience of satisfaction. One of the most important influences on happiness is social relationships. People who score high on life satisfaction tend to have close and supportive family and friends, whereas those who do not have close friends and family are more likely to be dissatisfied. Of course the loss of a close friend or family member can cause dissatisfaction with life, and it may take quite a time for the person to bounce back from the loss.

Another factor that influences the life satisfaction of most people is work or school, or performance in an important role such as homemaker or grandparent. When the person enjoys his or her work, whether it is paid or unpaid work, and feels that it is meaningful and important, this contributes to life satisfaction. When work is going poorly because of bad circumstances or a poor fit with the person’s strengths, this can lower life satisfaction. When a person has important goals, and is failing to make adequate progress toward them, this too can lead to life dissatisfaction.

A third factor that influences the life satisfaction of most people is personal – satisfaction with the self, religious or spiritual life, learning and growth, and leisure. For many people these are sources of satisfaction. However, when these sources of personal worth are frustrated, they can be powerful sources of dissatisfaction. Of course there are additional sources of satisfaction and dissatisfaction – some that are common to most people such as health, and others that are unique to each individual. Most people know the factors that lead to their satisfaction or dissatisfaction, although a person’s temperament – a general tendency to be happy or unhappy – can color their responses.

There is no one key to life satisfaction, but rather a recipe that includes a number of ingredients. With time and persistent work, people’s life satisfaction usually goes up when they are dissatisfied. People who have had a loss recover over time. People who have a dissatisfying relationship or work often make changes over time that will increase their dissatisfaction. One key ingredient to happiness, as mentioned above, is social relationships, and another key ingredient is to have important goals that derive from one’s values, and to make progress toward those goals. For many people it is important to feel a connection to something larger than oneself. When a person tends to be chronically dissatisfied, they should look within themselves and ask whether they need to develop more positive attitudes to life and the world.”

Copyright by Ed Diener, February 13, 2006

Use is free of charge and granted by permission.

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