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Archive for the ‘Happiness’ Category

How to Practice Optimism

Sonja Lyubomirsky’s The How of Happiness provides some excellent advice on improving positive moods. A social psychologist, Lyubomirsky writes with authenticity and with logical prose more fitting of a scientific journal than a New Age spiritualist. Still, her exercise are backed by scientific study to help improve individual happiness. Here are three of them:

Create an ideal lifestyle diary

Every day, take 20-30 minutes (even less if you’re time-strapped) to think of your ideal future. What does your life look like 5 – 10 years down the road? Research indicates that people who regularly conduct this simple exercise become more optimistic, which then lead to happier lives. Is it hokey? Yes, a little. Do you want to improve your positive thinking? If yes, then do it. If you’re too self-conscious, then keep it a secret.

Keep goals and subgoals

An outgrowth of the ideal lifestyle diary is to periodically list your goals and subgoals. Where do you want to be in 5 years? 10? Okay, that’s pretty far off but what can you do today to strengthen those goals? What action can you take now? In a sense, combining your thoughts of the future with your capabilities in the present is a similar message advocated by Eckhart Tolle.

Identify negative thoughts

Negative thoughts can kill your optimism and your goals. Learn to recognize when you’re thinking them. Lyubomirsky recommends dumping coinage in a jar every time you think a negative thought but I recommend the rubber band method. Keep a rubber band tight around your wrist. Every time a negative thought pops in your head, pull back on the band as hard as you can and let go. Hurts, right? Hopefully the pain will motivate you to keep the negative thoughts out of your mind.

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I’m currently reading The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky. Unlike previous personal development books that I’ve read, this one is penned not by a spiritual leader but by a social psychologist. Blending New Age principles with scientific study, Lyubomirsky shows that up to 40% of our happiness can be controlled by our own thoughts and perceptions.

I’ll post a more-detailed book review in the near future, but one of the most intriguing studies Lyubomirsky and her colleagues discovered is that the more someone wrote about his or her future in a positive light, the happier that person will become. By spending only 20 minutes each day over the course of several weeks you can improve your happiness simply by jotting down your fantasies or dreams.

Having said that, I recommend that all who read this should, as part of one’s daily routine, jot down your ideal future. Your notes could be in a journal, a notepad, or even in a blog (hey look at me!). If we aim at positive well-being and an enlightened mindset, we might just hit it.

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The source of suffering, according to Eckhart Tolle, is the ego. It contextualizes everything in terms of past and future. People tend to determine themselves based on their previous experiences and interactions, and define their future with those in mind. Tolle states that the key to escaping from this madness and entering enlightenment is to embrace the power of Now, by surrendering to what is in the moment. By fully engaging in the Now, you separate yourself from your ego and feel the absolute present. After all, time, Tolle says, is an illusion (there is no future or past, only Now) and timelessness is the true existence.

In 193 pages, Tolle provides wisdom reminiscent of eastern philosophies and shows us how to reach inner peace. Though brief, I couldn’t help but feel this book was too long for its message. I felt the author kept beating me over the head with his message of embracing the present, shutting off the egotistical mind, and adopting inner peace and salvation through stillness and inner peace. Even with its repetitive prose, I am still not one-hundred-percent certain exactly how I should embrace the Now.

Nonetheless, Tolle’s The Power of Now is a worthy read for those of you who feel frustrated with the gaps between what “should be” and “what is not.” Maybe it will help you reach one step closer to enlightenment. Then again, maybe not.

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Testing My Passions

Since I work in publishing, I have access to a lot of books. One that came across my path was The Passion Test by Janet Bray Attwood and Chris Attwood. This one struck a chord because, although there are many self-help and inspirational books out there, Janet and Chris’s book has specific activities you can use to define your passions and measure them. The book helps you to list your passions and rank them accordingly. Then it teaches you to focus your energy into your top passions.

After building a list with over 20 different passions, I iterated through my list and ranked my top five. The Attwoods then encourage you to write your passions down on note cards and post them wherever you frequent most. Here is what I came up with:

My Passion Test
09-25-2007

When my life is ideal I am:
1. Having a sense of contentment and inner peace.
2. Being a caring partner for my fiancé, my future wife.
3. Traveling to places that are new and interesting to me, where I will embrace a host of fascinating experiences.
4. Thinking about great philosophies and ideas.
5. Writing about the topics, philosophies, and issues I care about.
This or something better!

During the exercise, I discovered plenty more passions, including caring for others and pursuing photography. However The Passion Test stresses that the reader should only concentrate on the top five passions (at least for six months) so as not to spread oneself too thin. So for now these are my highest passions.

One of the most unique activities in The Passion Test is writing your speech on your 100th birthday. Here you are to mention all of the wonderful and exciting moments of a century’s worth of living. The point is not to build a “wish” list—in fact, the authors almost always avoid the words “wish” and “want.” The goal of the 100th birthday exercise and the others in the book are to convince you to believe your passions are already within your capabilities.

I’m still working out the kinks of my birthday speech, but as soon as I work them out, I’ll post it online. I’ll also give a more comprehensive review once I finish the book, including on how (or if) The Passion Test gave me a new perspective on life.

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Since I work in publishing, I have access to a lot of books. One that came across my path was The Passion Test by Janet Bray Attwood and Chris Attwood. This one struck a chord because, although there are many self-help and inspirational books out there, Janet and Chris’s book has specific activities you can use to define your passions and measure them. The book helps you to list your passions and rank them accordingly. Then it teaches you to focus your energy into your top passions.

After building a list with over 20 different passions, I iterated through my list and ranked my top five. The Attwoods then encourage you to write your passions down on note cards and post them wherever you frequent most. Here is what I came up with:

My Passion Test
09-25-2007

When my life is ideal I am:
1. Having a sense of contentment and inner peace.
2. Being a caring partner for my fiancé, my future wife.
3. Traveling to places that are new and interesting to me, where I will embrace a host of fascinating experiences.
4. Thinking about great philosophies and ideas.
5. Writing about the topics, philosophies, and issues I care about.
This or something better!

During the exercise, I discovered plenty more passions, including caring for others and pursuing photography. However The Passion Test stresses that the reader should only concentrate on the top five passions (at least for six months) so as not to spread oneself too thin. So for now these are my highest passions.

One of the most unique activities in The Passion Test is writing your speech on your 100th birthday. Here you are to mention all of the wonderful and exciting moments of a century’s worth of living. The point is not to build a “wish” list—in fact, the authors almost always avoid the words “wish” and “want.” The goal of the 100th birthday exercise and the others in the book are to convince you to believe your passions are already within your capabilities.

I’m still working out the kinks of my birthday speech, but as soon as I work them out, I’ll post it online. I’ll also give a more comprehensive review once I finish the book, including on how (or if) The Passion Test gave me a new perspective on life.
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Today’s high schools mostly focus on academic achievement and extracurriculars such as athletics and various social clubs. Course content is conventional and subject-specific: language arts, history, science, mathematics, and of course P.E. A school in Germany, however, is adding another class requirement: happiness.

“‘We want to teach contentment, self-confidence and personal responsibility,’ the school’s director Ernst Fritz-Schubert, told reporters….”

With the popularity of positive psychology and self-help books such as The Secret, I hope this turns out to be a trend in American public education. Too many adolescents are depressed, lonely, and seek fulfillment through reckless behavior in alcohol and drugs. After all, high school is where adolescents spend most of their time–shouldn’t high school teach them out to live a happy life?

Most coursework fulfills deep subject-specific content. Students learn Newtonian mechanics and optics in physics, quadratic equations in algebra, and the causes and effects of the Civil War in US history. The vast majority of the information taught in secondary education will be forgotten, but the arguments for continuing the subject-heavy curriculum are that it will help build character, virtue, and essentially give them the tools to make sound decisions. These same arguments can be made for building happiness—or positive psychology—into the mainstream curriculum.

Although we bombard the students with plenty of subject-specific information to help them create choices, we don’t teach students how to effective make decisions from those choices. A happiness-based curriculum will help students make choices by figuring out their own fulfillment. This, of course, is a lifelong progression but the foundation needed on how to make those choices should start in public education.
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