Friday, January 31, 2014

The Habits Of Supremely Happy People

The Habits Of Supremely Happy People

In his 2004 Ted Talk, Seligman describes three different kinds of happy lives: The pleasant life, in which you fill your life with as many pleasures as you can, the life of engagement, where you find a life in your work, parenting, love and leisure and the meaningful life, which "consists of knowing what your highest strengths are, and using them to belong to and in the service of something larger than you are."

After exploring what accounts for ultimate satisfaction, Seligman says he was surprised. The pursuit of pleasure, research determined, has hardly any contribution to a lasting fulfillment. Instead, pleasure is "the whipped cream and the cherry" that adds a certain sweetness to satisfactory lives founded by the simultaneous pursuit of meaning and engagement.

And while it might sound like a big feat to to tackle great concepts likemeaning and engagement (pleasure sounded much more doable), happy people have habits you can introduce into your everyday life that may add to the bigger picture of bliss. Joyful folk have certain inclinations that add to their pursuit of meaning -- and motivate them along the way.

They surround themselves with other happy people. cosby showJoy is contagious. Researchers of the Framingham Heart Study who investigated the spread of happiness over 20 years found that those who are surrounded by happy people “are more likely to become happy in the future.” This is reason enough to dump the Debbie Downers and spend more time with uplifting people.

They smile when they mean it. Even if you’re not feeling so chipper, cultivating a happy thought -- and then smiling about it -- could up your happiness levels and make you more productive, according to a study published in the Academy of Management Journal. It’s important to be genuine with your grin: The study revealed that faking a smile while experiencing negative emotions could actually worsen your mood.

They cultivate resilience. penny heads upAccording to psychologist Peter Kramer, resilience, not happiness, is the opposite of depression: Happy people know how to bounce back from failure. Resilience is like a padding for the inevitable hardship human beings are bound to face. As the Japanese proverb goes, “Fall seven times and stand up eight.”

They try to be happy. Yep -- it’s as simple as it sounds: just tryingto be happy can boost your emotional well-being, according to two studies recently published in The Journal of Positive Psychology. Those who actively tried to feel happier in the studies reported the highest level of positive moods, making a case for thinking yourself happy.

They are mindful of the good. It’s important to celebrate great, hard-earned accomplishments, but happy people give attention to their smaller victories, too. “When we take time to notice the things that go right -- it means we’re getting a lot of little rewards throughout the day,” Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D. told The Huffington Post in May. “That can help with our moods.” And, as Frank Ghinassi, Ph.D. explains, being mindful of the things that do go your way (even something as simple as the barista getting your coffee order right) can make you feel a greater sense of accomplishment throughout the day.

They appreciate simple pleasures. A meticulously swirled ice cream cone. An boundlessly waggy dog. Happy people take the time to appreciate these easy-to-come-by pleasures. Finding meaning in the little things, and practicing gratitude for all that you do have is associated with a sense of overall gladness.

They devote some of their time to giving. Even though there are only 24 hours in a day, positive people fill some of that time doing good for others, which in return, does some good for the do-gooders themselves. A long-term research project called Americans’ Changing Lives found a bevy of benefits associated with altruism: “Volunteer work was good for both mental and physical health. People of all ages who volunteered were happier and experienced better physical health and less depression,”reported Peggy Thoits, the leader of one of the studies.

Givers also experience what researchers call “the helper’s high,” a euphoric state experienced by those engaged in charitable acts. “This is probably a literal “high,” similar to a drug-induced high,”writes Christine L. Carter, Ph.D. “The act of making a financial donation triggers the reward center in our brains that is responsible for dopamine-mediated euphoria.”

They let themselves lose track of time. (And sometimes they can’t help it.) doodlingWhen you’re immersed in an activity that is simultaneously challenging, invigorating and meaningful, you experience a joyful state called “flow.” Happy people seek this sensation of getting “caught up” or “carried away,” which diminishes self-consciousness and promotes the feelings associated with success. As explained by Pursuit-of-happiness.org, “In order for a Flow state to occur, you must see the activity as voluntary, enjoyable (intrinsically motivating), and it must require skill and be challenging (but not too challenging) with clear goals towards success.”

They nix the small talk for deeper conversation. Nothing wrong with shootin' the you-know-what every now and then, but sitting down to talk about what makes you tick is a prime practice for feeling good about life. A study published in Psychological Sciencefound that those who take part in more substantive conversation and less trivial chit chat experienced more feelings of satisfaction.

"I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings," is one of thetop five regrets of the dying -- a sentiment that hints at the fact that people wish they'd spent less time talking about the weather and more time delving into what it is that makes their heart swell.

They spend money on other people.monty hallMaybe money does buy happiness.A study published in Science found that spending money on other people has a more direct impact on happiness than spending money on oneself.

They make a point to listen."When you listen you open up your ability to take in more knowledge versus blocking the world with your words or your distracting thoughts,"writes David Mezzapelle, author ofContagious Optimism. "You are also demonstrating confidence and respect for others. Knowledge and confidence is proof that you are secure and positive with yourself thus radiating positive energy."Good listening is a skill that strengthens relationships and leads to more satisfying experiences. A good listener may walk away from a conversation feeling as if their presence served a purpose, an experience that is closely connected with increased well-being.

They uphold in-person connections. It’s quick and convenient to text, FaceTime and tweet at your buddies. But spending the money on a flight to see your favorite person across the country has weight when it comes to your well-being. "There's a deep need to have a sense of belonging that comes with having personal interactions with friends," says John Cacioppo, Ph.D., the director of the Center of Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago. Social media, while it keeps us in touch, doesn't allow us to physically touch, which harveststhe warm-and-fuzzies and even decreases feelings of anxiety.

They look on the bright side. Optimism touts plenty of health benefits, including less stressa better tolerance for pain and, as HuffPost Healthy Living recently reported, longevity among those with heart disease. When you choose to see the silver lining, you're also choosing health and happiness.

Seligman summed up perhaps the greatest characteristic of the optimist in one of his most acclaimed books, Learned Optimism:

The defining characteristic of pessimists is that they tend to believe bad events will last a long time, will undermine everything they do, and are their own fault. The optimists, who are confronted with the same hard knocks of this world, think about misfortune in the opposite way. They tend to believe defeat is just a temporary setback, that its causes are confined to this one case. The optimists believe defeat is not their fault: Circumstances, bad luck, or other people brought it about. Such people are unfazed by defeat. Confronted by a bad situation, they perceive it as a challenge and try harder.

They value a good mixtape. 118350080Music is powerful. So powerful, in fact, that it could match up to the anxiety-reducing effects of massage therapy. Over a three month period,researchers from the Group Health Research Institute found that patients who simply listened to music had the same decreased anxiety symptoms as those who got 10 hour-long massages. Choosing the right tunes could be an important factor, however, as a happy or sad song can also affect the way we perceive the world. In one experiment where researchers asked subjects to identify happy or sad faces while listening to music, the participants were more likely to see the faces that matched the "mood" of the music. Click here for a few of our favorite mood-boosting jams.

They unplug. Whether bymeditating, taking a few deep breaths away from the screen ordeliberately disconnecting from electronics, unplugging from our hyper-connected world has proven advantages when it comes to happiness. Talking on your cellcould increase your blood pressureand raise your stress levels, while uninterrupted screen time has beenlinked to depression and fatigue. Technology isn't going away, but partaking in some kind of a digital detox gives your brain theopportunity to recharge and recover, which -- bonus -- could increase your resilience.

They get spiritual. sun salutationStudies point to a link between religious and spiritual practice and mirth. For one, happiness habits like expressing gratitude, compassion and charity are generally promoted in most spiritual conventions. And, asking the big questions helps to give our lives context and meaning.A 2009 study found that children who felt their lives had a purpose (which was promoted by a spiritual connection) were happier.

Spirituality offers what the 20th-century sociologist Emile Durkheim referred to as "sacred time," which is a built-in, unplugging ritual that elicits moments of reflection and calm. As Ellen L. Idler, Ph.D., writes in "The Psychological and Physical Benefits of Spiritual/Religious Practices,":

The experience of sacred time provides a time apart from the “profane time” that we live most of our lives in. A daily period of meditation, a weekly practice of lighting Sabbath candles, or attending worship services, or an annual retreat in an isolated, quiet place of solitude all of these are examples of setting time apart from the rush of our everyday lives. Periods of rest and respite from work and the demands of daily life serve to reduce stress, a fundamental cause of chronic diseases that is still the primary causes of death in Western society. Transcendent spiritual and religious experiences have a positive, healing, restorative effect, especially if they are “built in,” so to speak, to one’s daily, weekly, seasonal, and annual cycles of living

They make exercise a priority. A wise, albeit fictional Harvard Law School student once said, "Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy." Exercise has been shown to ease symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress, thanks to the the various brain chemicals that are released that amplify feelings of happiness and relaxation. Plus, working out makes us appreciate our bodies more. One study published in the Journal of Health Psychology found that exercise improved how people felt about their bodies -- even if they didn’t lose weight or achieve noticeable improvements.

They go outside. Want to feel alive? Just a 20-minute dose of fresh air promotes a sense of vitality, according to several studies published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology. "Nature is fuel for the soul, " says Richard Ryan, Ph.D, the lead author of the studies. "Often when we feel depleted we reach for a cup of coffee, but research suggests a better way to get energized is to connect with nature." And while most of us like our coffee hot, we may prefer our serving of the great outdoors at a more lukewarm temperature: A study on weather and individual happiness unveiled 57 degrees to be the optimal temperature for optimal happiness.

They spend some time on the pillow. 177590254Waking up on the wrong side of the bed isn't just a myth. When you're running low on zzs, you're prone to experience lack of clarity, bad moods and poor judgment. "A good night's sleep can really help a moody person decrease their anxiety," Dr. Raymonde Jean, director of sleep medicine and associate director of critical care at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Centertold Health.com. "You get more emotional stability with good sleep."

They LOL. You've heard it before: Laughter is the best medicine. In the case of The Blues, this may hold some truth. A good, old-fashioned chuckle releases happy brain chemicals that, other than providing the exuberant buzz we seek, make humans better equipped to tolerate both pain and stress.

And you might be able to get away with counting a joke-swapping session as a workout (maybe). "The body's response to repetitive laughter is similar to the effect of repetitive exercise," explained Dr. Lee Berk, the lead researcher of a 2010 study focused on laughter's effects on the body. The same study found that some of the benefits associated with working out, like a healthy immune system, controlled appetite and improved cholesterol can also be achieved through laughter.

They walk the walk.  Ever notice your joyful friends have a certain spring in the step? It's all about the stride, according toresearch conducted by Sara Snodgrass, a psychologist from Florida Atlantic University.

In the experiment, Snodgrass asked participants to take a three-minute walk. Half of the walkers were told to take long strides while swinging their arms and holding their heads high. These walkers reported feeling happier after the stroll than the other group, who took short, shuffled steps as they watched their feet.

Also on HuffPost:

This story appears in Issue 74 of our weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, available Friday, Nov. 8 in the iTunes App store.

11 steps to being happy

  1. 1
    Be optimistic. In the 1970s, researchers followed people who'd won the lottery and found that a year afterward, they were no happier than people who didn't. Thishedonic adaptation[1] suggests that we each have a baseline level of happiness. No matter what happens, good or bad, the effect on our happiness is temporary, and we tend to revert to our baseline level. Some people have a higher baseline happiness level than others, and that is due in part to genetics, but it's also largely influenced by how you think.[2]

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    • Add up all the little joyful things that happen to you during the day. For example, there was no traffic on the road, you had a very decent and scrumptious breakfast, your friend said something uproariously humorous that made you laugh, you took your dog out for a walk in the park and played with it. All of these matters added together account to one big chunk of happiness.
    • Feel deeply grateful for the things you have. This is a very effective way to be happy. If you feel grateful for the things you have, you not only become more happy but it also helps you to bring more into your life.
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    • View the glass as half-full instead of half-empty. Your girlfriend/ boyfriend broke up with you? Now you have the chance to meet someone else! You lost your job? Now you can seize the opportunity to find a better one! Adjust your mentality so that, in everything that happens to you, there's some kernel of good.
    • Put yourself in situations where fabulous, fortunate things are likely to happen to you. It's easier to remain optimistic if you set yourself up for success. Cheating on a partner, or stealing someone's bicycle — while temporarily thrilling — rarely end well for any party involved. Ask yourself before you act: Am I setting myself up for success or for failure?
    • Think of your current situation (however hard it may be) and then think of how much harder some other people have it. Just be happy that you are not in that worse situation. Learn to enjoy your life!
  2. 2
    Follow your gut. In one study, two groups of people were asked to pick a poster to take home. One group was asked to analyze their decision, weighing pros and cons, and the other group was told to listen to their gut. Two weeks later, the group that followed their gut was happier with their posters than the group that analyzed their decisions.[3]Now, some of our decisions are more crucial than picking out posters, but by the time you're poring over your choice, the options you're weighing are probably very similar, and the difference will only temporarilyaffect your happiness.
    • Next time you have a decision to make, and you're down to two or three options, just pick the one that feels right, and go with it. Never regret the decisions you make, though. Just live by the 3 C's of life: choices, chances, and changes. You need to make a choice to take a chance, or your life will never change.
  3. 3
    Own yourself. This means accept and embrace your habits, your personality, mistakes, the way you talk, looks, your voice, and most importantly 'You'. Try to be comfortable in your own skin and subconsciously communicate others that 'This is me take it or leave it'. It means don't apologies to anyone for something which is a part of you, like your personality, your voice, habits (good or bad), basically anything; remember there is always someone who likes you for the way you are. For example if you want to wear something which is weird but you find it cool, wear it, no one is stopping you. Its a deeper step towards building a good relationship with yourself.
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  4. 4
    Make enough money to meet basic needs — food, shelter, and clothing. In the US, that magic number is $60,000 a year. Any money beyond that will not necessarily make you happier. Remember the lottery winners mentioned earlier? Oodles of money didn't make them happier. Once you make enough to support basic needs, your happiness is not significantly affected by how much money you make, but by your level of optimism.[4]

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    • Your comfort may increase with your salary, but comfort isn't what makes people happy. It makes people bored. That's why it's important to push beyond your comfort zone to fuel personal growth.
  5. 5
    Treat your body like it deserves to be happy. It may sound cheesy to say, but your brain isn't the only organ in your body that deserves to be happy. Researchers have found that exercise, healthy diets, and regular sleep are key factors in growing more happy and staying that way.

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    • People who are physically active have higher incidences of enthusiasm and excitement.[5][6]Scientists hypothesize that exercise causes the brain to release chemicals called endorphins that elevate our mood.
    • Eat right. Eating healthy foods — fruits and vegetables, lean meats and proteins, whole grains, nuts, and seeds — gives your body and brain the energy it needs to be healthy. Some scientists speculate that unhealthy diets, especially those rich in processed carbohydrates, sugars, and industrial vegetable fats, is responsible for brain shrinkage and certain brain diseases like depression and dementia.[7]
    • Get enough sleep. Study after study confirms it: the more sleep you get, the happier you tend to be.[8][9]Getting just a single extra hour of sleep per night makes the average person happier than making $60,000 more in annual income, astoundingly enough.[10] So if you're middle-aged, shoot to get at least eight hours of sleep per night; the young and elderly should shoot for 9 to 11 hours of sleep per night.[11]
  6. 6
    Stay close to friends and family: Or move to where they are, so you can see them more. We live in a mobile society, where people follow jobs around the country and sometimes around the world. We do this because we think salary increases make us happier, but in fact our relationships with friends and family have a far greater impact on happiness. So next time you think about relocating, consider that you'd need a salary increase of over $100,000 USD to compensate for the loss of happiness you'd have from moving away from friends and family.[12]

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    • If relationships with family and friends are unhealthy or nonexistent, and you are bent on moving, choose a location where you'll make about the same amount of money as everyone else; according to research, people feel more financially secure (and happier) when on similar financial footing as the people around them, regardless of what that footing is.[13]
  7. 7
    Be compassionate. Compassion is all about doing something kind for someone in need, or someone less privileged than yourself. A brain-imaging study (where scientists peek into people's brains while they act or think) revealed that people gain as much happiness from watching others give to charity as they do receiving money themselves![14]
    • Think of easy, quick, and effective ways that you can make your community a better place by being compassionate:
      • Tutor, volunteer, or get involved in a church group. Countless children are looking for someone to teach them and act as a role model.
      • Make a microloan. A microloan is when you give someone (usually in the developing world) a very small sum of money for an economic project of their own. Many microloans have 95%+ repayment rates.[15]
      • Give a person in need food, clothing or shelter. It's so basic we often forget to think about it, yet so easy to do.
  8. 8
    Have deep, meaningful conversations. A study by a psychologist at the University of Arizona has shown that spending less time participating in small talk and more time in deep, meaningful conversations can increase happiness. [16] So next time you're beating around the bush with a friend, instead cut right to the chase. You'll be happier for it.

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  9. 9
    Find happiness in the job you have now: Many people expect the right job or career to dramatically change their level of happiness. But research makes it clear that your levels of optimism and quality of relationships eclipse the satisfaction gained from your job.[17]
    • If you have a positive outlook, you will make the best of any job; and if you have good relationships, you won't depend on your job for a sense of meaning. You'll find meaning in interactions with the people you care about. You'll use your job as a crutch instead of relying on it for meaning.
    • This is not to say you shouldn't aspire to get a job that will make you happier; many people find that being on the right career path is a key determination in their overall happiness. It just means you should understand that the capacity of your job to make you happy is quite small when compared to your outlook and your relationships.
  10. 10
    Smile: Science suggests that when you smile, whether you're happy or not, your mood is elevated. [18][19] So smile all the time if you can! Smiling is like a feedback loop: smiling reinforces happiness, just as happiness causes smiling. People who smile during painful procedures reported less pain than those who kept their facial features neutral.[19]

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  11. 11
    Forgive: In a study of college students, an attitude of forgiveness contributed to better cardiovascular health. You could say forgiveness literally heals the heart. While it is unknown how forgiveness directly affects your heart, the study suggests that it may lower the perception of stress.[20]

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  12. 12
    Make friends. In a 2010 study published by Harvard researchers in American Sociological Review, people who went to church regularly reported greater life satisfaction than those who didn't. The critical factor was the quality of friendships made in church. Church-goers who lacked close friends there were no happier than people who never went to church. When researchers compared people who had the same number of close friends, those who had close friends from church were more satisfied with their lives.[21]
    • The difference is the forming of friendships based on mutual interests and beliefs. So if church is not your thing, consider finding something else you're deeply passionate about, making friends with those who share similar interests.
    • When you interact with people who share your interests, you feel happier due to sensations of reward and well-being. This is because during such interactions, seratonin and dopamine — neurotransmitters responsible for feelings of happiness and relaxation — are released into the body. In other words, your body is designed to feel happier when engaged in social interactions.[22]
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