Note from the Editor: Our good friend, mindset expert, and frequent contributor, Dr. Steve Taubman has generously agreed to share the following excerpt from his newest book, Bulletproof. It’s one of the most comprehensive lists of strategies for achieving a positive mental attitude that I’ve ever seen… and it’s only one small part of his wonderful new book!
Read on, use some of his ideas, and by all means, grab a copy of Bulletproof! You can get it from Amazon, or you can get a longer excerpt as a gift by subscribing to Dr. Taubman’s wonderful Daily Wake-Up Call, at www.bestofsteve.com.
The Art of Happiness
What does positive psychology have to tell us about the art of happiness? What are some specific, practical, and reliable tools to create a happier perspective?
What can you do right now, what habits can you change immediately, that will begin to make you a happier person, free of stress and immune to pressure?
Here is a list of the most effective catalysts known for creating unconditional happiness.
1. Reject conditional happiness.
Stop thinking that achieving a goal will provide anything other than momentary satisfaction. Choose to stop using accomplishment as your happiness strategy.
Practice letting go of demands and expectations that you’ve tied to your happiness. Learn to make it OK that the world isn’t currently conforming to your view of how it should be. If you want, borrow the parental mantra, “I get what I get and I don’t get upset!” The more you can challenge the idea that things need to be a certain way for you to be happy, the more personal power you’ll feel and the more balanced you’ll become in high-pressure situations. After all, if you’re busy fighting reality, how can you apply wisdom and judgment to your current situation? Try looking at every unwanted situation as an opportunity to practice rising above your demands and expectations. It’s OK to have preferences; just don’t insist they’re always met.
2. Express gratitude.
Studies show that one of the most powerful tools for shifting your mindset to one of happiness is gratitude.
According to a research review published in the Harvard Medical School newsletter, two psychological studies found a powerful link between gratitude, optimism, and happiness. In one study, students who were asked to make “gratitude lists” had significant improvements in optimism after ten weeks. In another study, students who were asked to write a letter of gratitude to someone in their lives who had not been properly thanked “immediately had a huge increase in happiness scores.” In fact, no other intervention came close to creating these dramatic changes in happiness. Other studies found a link between gratitude and improved relationships, both business and personal. Simple ways to cultivate gratitude, according to the Harvard newsletter, include making daily gratitude lists, sending “at least one gratitude letter per month, once in a while to yourself,” thanking someone mentally, and keeping a gratitude journal.
3. Take care of yourself.
The body-mind connection is undeniable. If you’re depleted physically, that will show up in your stamina, your attitudes, your patience, and your mental resilience.
Simple practices like eating well, drinking plenty of water, exercising, maintaining good spinal alignment, getting adequate sleep, standing up straight, and breathing deeply all contribute to your sense of well-being. If you’re not feeling energetic, alive, and happy, investigate whether you’re ignoring one or more of these powerful catalysts, and take action. Another interesting physical health-related consideration is the balance of your neurohormones, which influence your sense of well-being. In the book The Mood Cure, Julia Ross suggests several dietary changes and supplements that might influence the production and release of mood-enhancing neurohormones.
4. Change the narrative.
How we interpret situations in our lives has a much greater impact on our well-being than the situations themselves. Many of the things that happen to us daily are capable of being viewed in various ways. Most of the circumstances which we give a negative spin or story can be spun in an entirely different way. An optimist will look at a challenge as an opportunity. A pessimist might see the same exact situation as proof that life is just too hard. If you find yourself judging your experiences in a negative way, consider changing the story you’re telling yourself. Remember the story of the twins who, on their birthday, are shown into a room full of horse manure. The pessimistic kid runs out crying. The optimistic one grabs a shovel and starts digging, saying, “There must be a pony in here somewhere!”
Practice finding the pony under every pile of manure in your life, and it won’t be long before you actually dig one out.
5. Nurture your relationships.
Harvard University researchers conducted a 75-year study following individuals throughout their lifetimes to determine what made them happy. At the end of one of the longest and most exhaustive research projects ever,
it was clear that money, power, and influence were not great predictors of happiness. Relationships were.
Robert Waldinger, the current study director, put it simply. “The clearest message we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.” If that’s the case, we need to dedicate more time, more presence, and more reverence to our relationships. Qualities such as honesty, authenticity, vulnerability, and generosity must be prioritized, cultivated, and cherished. Avoid the mistake that so many in high-pressure situations make: don’t take your friends and family for granted. They’re a big part of what keeps you functioning well in the world.
6. Find the funny.
It’s long been known that laughter has a profound impact on our attitudes, worldview, health, and happiness. Most people know the story of Dr. Norman Cousins, author of Anatomy of an Illness, who used funny movies to combat the pain and dysfunction of his disease, ankylosing spondylitis. As early as 1996, a body of research already existed on the impact of laughter. Psychology Today reported that neuroscientists found laughter to be a “full cortical experience,” meaning it affects the entire brain in a positive way. MRI and PET imagery show substantial changes during laughter. Interestingly, it turns out that you don’t actually need something funny to happen to get the benefits of laughter. You can just start laughing and still experience the same positive effects. In fact, “forced laughter” will eventually have you laughing for real, releasing all sorts of performance-enhancing drugs into your brain.
Bottom line: Laughter is serious business. Don’t ignore it.
7. Monitor your thinking.
Our greatest gift and our greatest opportunity is self-awareness. Socrates said, “Know thyself.” The field of cognitive therapy is based on the notion that our unhappiness is caused largely by our unresourceful thinking. The problem is that we seldom stop to look at what we’re thinking. Our most powerful thoughts go unexamined and therefore unchallenged. Get in the habit of watching yourself think. Notice that if you’re in a bad mood, chances are there’s a series of thoughts playing in the background, like the background music in a movie, that are sustaining that mood. Instead of doing their bidding and keeping your attention focused on the problem on which your thoughts are riveted, try to fix the mood before you fix the mess. In other words, take the time to notice the background thoughts, correct them, and arrive in a more centered, calm place before you try to fix that problem.
Often, once you fix the mood, you’ll find the mess has magically vanished, because how we see things is often the problem, not the things themselves.
One specific area of unconscious thinking that requires deliberate attention is forgiveness. If you’re carrying around resentment or anger toward another person, it’s taking up unwanted space in your brain and producing chemical reactions that are making you less effective. Monitor your resentful thinking and try to let it go. It’s in your best interest.
8. Practice mindfulness.
We’ll be looking much more deeply at this in Chapter Five, but it’s important to recognize the importance of mindfulness as it applies to happiness.
Research shows that even brief periods of mindfulness meditation will trigger profound neurological and hormonal changes in your brain. The practice of nonjudgmental awareness—the basis of mindfulness—has more physical and mental benefits than virtually any other practice known to man.
In regard to happiness, meditating just five minutes twice per day will increase your sense of well-being, calm, and compassion, while awakening the experience of joy in you. Set aside between five and twenty minutes in the morning and evening for mindfulness practice. Sit quietly in a private place where you will not be disturbed, and just observe your breath. Allow thoughts to arise and pass. If you find your mind wandering, don’t make the mistake of thinking, this isn’t working. Just commit the time and let your thoughts settle of their own accord. Again, we’ll go into greater depth on this later, but know now that mindfulness is a powerful key to happiness, especially if you’re encountering high-pressure situations that demand focus
9. Surround yourself with positive people.
Jim Rohn used to say, “You’re the average of the five people you spend most of your time with.” If those people are negative, pessimistic people, you’re likely to become one yourself.
If you deliberately put yourself in the company of optimists, it will become very difficult to maintain your pessimistic attitude.
Understand that neither attitude is inherently right or wrong, true or false. You can make a case for either one. The question is: Which is more resourceful? Which attitude is more conducive to functioning well in the world? Which will make you happier?
Often, pessimists view optimists as naive or stupid. They suppose that if optimists saw things as clearly as they, they’d have no choice but to become pessimists. But that’s not the case.
Optimists have all the same information and choose to come to a different conclusion, not out of intellectual dishonesty but out of a wise understanding of the value of a positive mindset.
If you tend to see things from a negative standpoint, try to release your sense of righteousness and surround yourself with positive people. It won’t be long before you realize they know what they are doing!
10. Become a hugger.
Thirty years ago, in my previous life as a chiropractor, I attended a practice management symposium where I met Dr. Joe Charbonneau, one of the most respected motivational speakers in history. Joe used to say, “You need three hugs a day just to be healthy, and ten to grow!” Virginia Satir also said something very similar.
“We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.”
Granted, there was no science behind those statements at the time, but it made me and others happy, so I took them at their word. Now, the research is there. For example, hugging causes the release of the neurohormone oxytocin, which not only makes us feel loved but reverses the effects of stress, such as elevated blood pressure. Children who are touch-deprived and don’t receive hugs regularly experience delays in talking, walking, and reading. According to Happiness Weekly, a full-body hug stimulates your nervous system while decreasing feelings of loneliness, combating fear, increasing self-esteem, defusing tension, and showing appreciation. If you want to grow, to thrive, and to give a powerful gift to others, consider finding appropriate ways to offer hugs.
11. Dedicate yourself to a higher purpose.
Psychology Today published an excellent article a few years ago titled “The Power of Purpose.” The author argues that people who have a sense of purpose are healthier, happier, and more resistant to the effects of stress. He says, “aligning ourselves to a purpose often makes us less self-centered. We feel a part of something bigger, something outside ourselves, and this makes us less focused on our own worries and anxieties. Our own problems seem less significant, and we spend less time thinking about them, and so our sense of well-being increases.” Victor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, survived in the concentration camps by having a purpose greater than himself. And Wild Bill, the holocaust thriver mentioned earlier in this book, made himself vital to those around him by choosing to actively embrace love over hate, even after he witnessed his wife and children killed in front of him. He simply refused to give in to hatred or fear, but instead chose to use his experience as an opportunity to live out the purpose of loving others.
What can you dedicate yourself to?
Consider that, and keep the awareness of the purpose you’ve chosen in the forefront of your mind. You’ll be happier and more effective.
12. Ask the right questions.
It used to be the rage to say “affirmations,” positive statements about yourself: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!” But it’s become clear that statements we make with our conscious minds are often refuted by our subconscious minds. So, you say, “I’m great!” And your subconscious says, “No, you’re not!” But … questions are powerful.
Ask yourself: What’s great about me? And your subconscious will go to work trying to find answers to that question.
Chances are, if you’re feeling depressed, anxious, overwhelmed, or insecure, you’re probably asking yourself the wrong questions. Take note whether you’re asking yourself things like, What’s wrong with me? or What else can go wrong? If you are, your subconscious mind is only too happy to answer you! The right questions are those that invite positive answers. So, a daily practice of deliberately asking good questions will change the way you feel. Try starting your day with a question like: What are ten good reasons that what I’m doing is of value in the world? Or: In what ways am I demonstrating my most positive values?
If you do this daily and write down your answers, you’ll begin to feel immediately better, more optimistic, and eager to meet your challenges.
13. Practice wonder and awe.
The latest arrival on the field of happiness research is wonder. Seeing the world through the eyes of a child—practicing what Zen monks call “beginner’s mind”—has a profound effect on happiness and productivity. Among other things, the literature now proves that a sense of wonder induces a feeling of loving kindness, increases our perceived sense of time (so we don’t feel rushed), and makes us more generous.
Even brief moments exposed to awe-inspiring scenery cause us to become more focused, less distracted, and more productive over the course of our day.
1. Improve our relationship with time
2. Inspire our creativity
3. Give us hope and help us to appreciate life
4. Connect us to nature
5. Promote personal transformation
People who experience high degrees of wonder are healthier and have better relationships. Social psychologists Dacher Keltner and Jonathan Haidt, who have studied the intersection of awe with compassion, morality, love, and meaning, feel there are five ways in which wonder can affect our daily life.
Regardless of which strategies you choose, whether from above or by making up your own, make happiness your first priority—your yardstick for success. By doing so, you’ll develop a more functional definition of success, reduce your stress, and function more effectively in demanding times. Calm, happy, satisfied people alone can be the calm in the eye of the storm.
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