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Peppered liberally throughout my studies of Happiness has been strong suggestions to Meditate.
I hate to admit this, but I probably have just a bad a case of “monkey mind” as most everybody else. ‘Probably because I don’t meditate (like most everybody else). However, I have a deep commitment to walk the path of Happiness and so I am giving it a try. I went to Barnes and Noble
(I like the one on 21st and 11th East) and picked up two books: Meditation for Dummies
and the 8 Minute Meditation book by Victor Davich
. I flipped through both and because through my flipping Davich kept promising “simple”, “easy” and “straight-forward” information about meditation and that I would be up and meditating in no time. So, I went with that. I DO like Davich’s style. Very little fat. Straight-forward. He states that meditation IS doing something – where I always thought it was the absence of doing something. I’m up to page 23 and have tried a couple of his mini meditations. He suggested focusing on where you feel your breath the most. This was a wonderful little exercise as, in my mind, I gave attention to the various parts of my body that allow me to breathe. I noticed a tightness in my throat, about two inches below my Adam’s apple. I found that with some attention, I could relax those muscles (whatever they’re called) a little. I also noticed tension in my shoulders and with a little attention was able to let some of that go as well. I ended today’s reading with a great slice of statistical data – Davich’s reference to a study out of the University of Wisconsin that has proven that a regular regimine of meditation can “encourage the brain to physically rewire itself to be Happier (Time
8/4/03; The New York Times Magazine
, 9/14/03). Now they’re playing my song!
~Frank Clayton, LPC and meditation newbie
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In the last couple of articles I have been talking about fun (Fun and its Role in Happiness), challenging you to write a list of things you find to be fun and to differentiate whether they are a pleasure or something you find gratifying as differentiated by Martin Selgiman (Are We Having Fun Yet?). But in my personal experiences I propose that there is a third category of what people refer to as fun – that is things that are not fun at all, but simply numbing out or killing time. The intended purpose of this short series of articles is to invite you to examine what have you labled as “fun” or an activity that you “like”. Do you actively enjoy that activity? Does it make you laugh or warm your heart? Does it bring you some sort of pleasure or a sense of pride for reaching your goal or accomplishing a task? OR is what you’ve been calling “fun” simply killing time or numbing out? There are a couple of games I like to play on the computer. Or do I? As I have done my own introspection, I have discovered that Bejeweled Blitz is not “fun” per se. It is just a way I am killing time and/or zoning out. It is “down time”. What I find frustrating is that time slips by and the next thing I know an hour of my time has gone by and I did not really enjoy it or feel gratified by it. In fact, I found that my predominant feelings while playing the game are anxious and frustrated. So, why do I play it? Not because it is “fun” but because I am seeking downtime. Downtime is very important as part of Happiness. Unfortunately, because I have numbed out, I have not do not feel refreshed as I would if I had done something that was truly taking downtime. Instead, I have only succeeded in wasting an hour of my day.
Alcohol or drugs is something else to look at. Rather than going off on a rip about it, I challenge you to decide for yourself. Is it a pleasure, a gratification or are you just numbing out or killing time?
~Frank Clayton, LPC
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In my last article “Fun and its Role in Happiness
“, I challenged you to make a list of things that you consider fun.. If you have not read it, I ask that you do so before reading this post.
Let’s take a closer look at that list and divide them into three categories: pleasure, gratification and killing time.
, the founder of positive psychology, points out in his book Authentic Happiness
, that we use short hand when we talk about things we like. For instance, we might say “I like watching TV”, “I like long, hot showers” and “I like doing genealogy”. However, if you think about it, these different activities probably elicit different emotions but we use the blanket word of “like” to describe them all. Seligman distinguishes between pleasure and gratification. A pleasure is something that you derive some sort of good feeling but requires little attention and virtually no skill. In the above example, taking a long, hot shower is a pleasure. A gratification, however, requires attention and a certain degree of skill. It might even be challenging and sometimes frustrating. Doing genealogy is something that brings good feelings (assuming you’re into that kind of thing) but it also requires skill and concentration. When historical tidbits are unearthed, there is a feeling of gratification. Pleasures are short-lived. Gratifications are short-lived as well but do last longer than pleasures. The anticipation of doing something gratifying in the future can also add to the longevity. Gratifying experiences might also be something you look back on with pride. Reminiscing is a form of Savoring Life’s Joys, which is one of the twelve Happiness Habits recommended by Sonja Lyubomirsky
in her book The How of Happiness
. Savoring is also a great way to get more mileage out of that brief pleasure. The long, hot shower may last 20 minutes, but by using the skill of Mindfulness, you can luxuriate in that shower and your perception of time will last longer and your enjoyment will be heightened.
In my next post, I will address the final category of “fun”: killing time.
~Frank Clayton, LPC
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In her book, The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky writes this about people struggling with depression, “Their problem, it turns out, is not so much that they anticipate bad things will come to pass as that they cannot believe that GOOD things will.” Hopelessness is one of the key components to depression. Concentration camp survivor, Viktor Frankl described in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning that when one of his peers knuckled under Nazi abuse and gave up hope, they were dead within two weeks. Hope and optimism are important ingredients in the recipe of Happiness. They are future oriented. It lifts our spirits when we have something to look forward to – something enjoyable – something FUN! As the old saying goes, “Know thyself”. It is very important that you understand what is FUN for you. Please think of things now that are fun for you. Write them down. I suggest that when you write them down because during turbulent times, we can have great difficulty thinking of anything fun at all. Writing this down will begin, what I call, “The Arsenal”. It is anything that will help to pull you out of a down mood (jokes, movies, songs and FUN activities). You might start by remembering fun times. You should start to see a pattern emerge as you write your list. Also, please ask yourself, “Is this REALLY fun?” For instance, you might have “crossword puzzles” filed in your head as fun, but is it really? It might be for you, but I ask you to think carefully about each item on your list. Martin Seligman, the founder of Positive Psychology has much to say on this subject. In the next article I will discuss important points of fun and how you can get more mileage out of it and ultimately be Happier.
To really get your fun factory into high gear, check out this article by psychologist James Messina. It will definately help you with your list and get you thinking about what fun really is.
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The How of Happiness
As a therapist, you might imagine, I have had many, many self-help books suggested to me. I have become more and more picky about what books I choose. The criteria I have come to use is that the author have something to back up what they are saying. The advice might sound great, but is there anything to back it up. When I find myself with a self-help book in my hand, I immediately flip to “About the author”. Is the author a professional in some capacity? As a person, what sort of credentials do they have to back up their claims? The second thing I look for is where did they come by their information? This can mean quite a bit more flipping, especially if you are looking for something that is not there. Usually if a book is backed by studies or empirical research, it will be easier to find. They will want you to know, “Hey! I didn’t just make this up!” The writing of professionals hailing from academia seemed to be much more steeped in scientific study, so I lean heavily in that direction. Former Harvard profession, Tal Ben-Shahar pointed out in his recently released DVD “Happiness 101” (which you can find at www.PBS.org) pointed out that the academics have the knowledge but have had little voice. He shared that the average academic journal is read by seven people. So, use these quick tips to cut through the clutter. Here are a few gems on the subject of Happiness I highly recommend. Click on the book to find out about buying the book or click on the author’s name to find out more about that particular author:
Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman
The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky
Positivity by Barbara Fredrickson
Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar
Stumbling on Happiness by Dan Gilbert
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Why aren’t we happier? There are a few reasons why people are not nearly as happy as they think they should be. One of these reasons is comparison. Here is a personal example. Everyone I knew had a cool new phone, so I wanted a cool new phone. So, I went to the phone store and found one that had lots and bells and whistles and gadgets and doohickeys! My techie geek glands kicked into gear and I started salivating and my eyes glazed over and I said “I want THAT one!” I was SO excited! I couldn’t wait to get it home and start playing with my new toy. Which had a very thick instruction booklet. In fact, here were online tutorials where I could learn how to use my brand new doohickey! There were so many thingybobs on my doohickey that before long I was frustrated. “I just want to make a call!” I shouted at the phone (though no one was listening). So, the phone was so complicated that it took me months before I had read enough of the instruction booklet, watched enough tutorials and called technical support enough that I felt comfortable even using the phone, let alone take pictures, E-mail with it and listen to my favorite music on it. The BEST feeling I had about that phone was in the store! So, what I thought was going to make me happy, didn’t! Before I go on, think about YOU. Think about your own life. How many times did you get what you wanted and it turned out that wanting was a better experience than having? Maybe it wasn’t with something as material as a phone. Maybe it was the job, or your spouse or having a child. Please take a moment to reflect before reading on.
So, back to the question, why aren’t we happier? Dan Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness explains it like this, “The comparisons we make when we  estimate how much we will like things are not the same comparisons we will use when we consume them. This problem of shifting comparisons can bedevil our attempts to make rational decisions.” Using my phone as an example, I thought I would REALLY like it because it had all kinds of bells and whistles. But when I actually used the phone, I didn’t want bells and whistles, I wanted a phone that I could use easily. People do this a lot and this is one of the reasons I so enjoy teaching Happiness 101. I enjoy educating people about what will actually make them happy instead of what they THINK will make them happy. This Saturday, is Happiness 201. Yes, TWO-oh-one! After this four-hour workshop, you will walk out with a PERSONALIZED PLAN FOR YOUR HAPPINESS! I only teach this class every six months or so and it is only $50!! Well, it is $50 if you pay in advance. It’s $65 at the door and Saturday is sneaking up fast. So, “the door” is the one on my office – at 220 East 3900 South #7, Salt Lake City or if you are interested in paying in advance send me an E-mail at email@example.com or you can send me a message on Facebook. You can’t miss me, I’m the one with the big smile on his face!
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Is this person genuinely happy?
In his book, Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman (or as I have started calling him, “Uncle Marty”) describes a study in which trained psychologists attempted to predict whether people would lead happy lives just by looking at their yearbook photo. Dacher Keltner and LeeAnne Harker studied the photographs of 141 women graduating from Mills College in 1960, specifically looking at their smile. A man named Guillaume Duchenne discovered specific markers of a genuine smile – namely the corners of the mouth turn up and the corners of the eyes crinkle – like crow’s feet. It turns out that the muscles that control these movements are difficult to control voluntarily and therefore are a good indicator of genuineness. They referred to the women with the less genuine smile as the “Pan American smile” – after stewards of the now-defunct airline. Do you suppose if they were truly happy and sporting the Duchenne smile that the airline would still be around? But, I digress. 30 years after the yearbook pictures were snapped, Keltner and Harker found that, indeed, the graduates sporting the Duchenne smile were statistically happier, reporting more personal well-being than the Pan-American smilers. Now, this of course does not mean if you were not genuinely smiling for your yearbook photo that you are doomed to a life of despair. On the contrary! It’s never too late! Studies have shown that your body has a biological reaction when you smile – Duchenne or even the “why do I have to pose for this picture” fake smile. Your body does not know the difference and so it releases chemicals into the pleasure center of your brain. So, smile more! It feels good to you and you will often find that people are friendlier and may even smile back. Or if nothing else, we can take our cues from Ziggy, “Smile! People will wonder what you’re up to.” ~Frank
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I have been teaching Happiness 101 as part of my private practice since April ’09 and only a month ago did I learn that former Harvard professor Tal Ben-Shahar released a DVD called “Happiness 101”! I just got it in the mail the other day after ordering it from PBS. It’s a great little video. In it, Tal gives a wonderful analogy of the downside of multitasking. First, think of two of your favorite songs. Go ahead, this is part of the exercise.
Please don’t proceed until you have your two songs in mind.
These two songs that you have now thought of your two songs, please rate them on a scale from 1-10 about how much you like them. Likely your top song is a 10 and your second fav is pretty close to that (a 9 or a 10). Take a few more seconds to think of how your songs sound. ‘Maybe even hum or sing a few bars from each one. Listening to each song will give you a Happiness Boost (Lyubomirsky, The How of Happiness). Think of how much you would enjoy that.
Now, imagine playing both songs at the same time. Playing a 10 song and a 9 song together does not yield a Happy experience of 19. Your two favorite songs played at the same time sounds more like NOISE, plummeting its listening pleasure to a 2 or 3 (at best).
Take this simple analogy and apply it to your own life. What are the things you enjoy doing most? For instance, it might be spending time with your children and reading. Trying to do both at the same time significantly lowers the experience of each activity. A lot of people are texting while doing other things. How much are they really enjoying these combined activities? Our current world is built around multi-tasking, especially at work. However, I am sure with a little effort you could find ways to do less multi-tasking and use mindfulness to fully enjoy the present moment.
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Pick the dog!
Since I have been teaching Happiness 101 for so long, I am getting a reputation for being “the happy guy” or “the happy therapist”. As a result, when clients, students, friends or family members run across an article about Happiness, they immediately think of me. I love this and have been the recipient of many articles, websites and books about Happiness. This is wonderful not only because it makes me more proficient in the topic of Happiness, but raises my level of Happiness as well. In the January 17th edition of Parade Magazine
(you know, the little insert inside your Sunday paper) there was a little article about ways to happily get fit, comparing those who get a dog with people who get a gym membership. Physical exercise is the number one Happiness Booster (Lyubomirsky, The How of Happiness
). According to researchers in Great Britain, people who own a dog spend approximately eight hours per week walking their pooch. Comparatively, those that spent their New Year’s resolution getting a gym membership average two hours in the gym per week. Not only are they getting more exercise but 86% of dog owners reported they like playing with their dog, while only 16% of gym goers said they like going to the gym. We all know the follow-through on New Year’s resolutions can be tough too. 46% of gym goers admitted to making excuses not to going to the gym but only one third of dog owners opt out of taking Fido for his walk. So, if you got a New Year’s gym membership and your resolve is beginning to flag three weeks, consider stopping by the Humane Society
and picking out a hound. Statistics are betting, you’ll be Happy you did.
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What IS love exactly? How does it work? Are there reasons we love whom we love? Or is our love “unconditional”. If your love is unconditional, what exactly does that mean? Does it mean you will tolerate any behavior? Obviously much has been written on the subject of love. The founder of Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman, purports in his book Authentic Happiness that we love others for a particular combination of strengths that we hold dear. For instance, if we value honesty and our friend or partner exhibits honest behavior, then more tumblers in the key of love fall into place. Seligman lists 24 strengths that play a part in our feelings of friendship and love. You can test go onto Seligman’s site, www.authentichappiness.com and measure your strengths. Invite your significant other to take it too. It’s a great way to get to know each other better.