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4 New Ways to Find Meaning and Purpose

How to boost purpose with achievement, creativity, expertise, and pro-sociality.

image courtesy pixabay

What exactly is “purpose”? And what are the ways we can seek purpose? Here are just some of the tricks you can use to more easily find your purpose.

1. Get clear on your goals. One way people seek purpose is through achievement. To seek purpose through achievement, you could start a project or take on a leadership role at church or work. This strategy can provide a quick boost in feelings of purpose. However, you might feel amazing when you achieve something you’ve been striving for, but don’t expect those feelings to last. So be sure to try the other strategies below to get longer-term boosts in well-being.

2. Get creative. Another way to cultivate life purpose is by being creative. When we are creative (perhaps through art, music, writing, making videos, or starting our own business), we feel good about having made something, perhaps something that future generations may even get to experience. Being creative can also help us open our minds and potentially feel more connected to others who are different than us.

3. Do your best. A third way to find life purpose is by building expertise and doing your best. We can often feel a sense of purpose when we excel at something (at work or in a hobby) and be able to offer insights that didn’t previously exist. For example, you could strive to be an expert in your field, help the world or planet in some unique way, or strive to win an award for your work. This approach can help us feel like we are knowledgeable, which feels good. But again, this approach often leads to a short-term boost in purpose, so be sure to also try out being creative or prosocial.

4. Be prosocial. One of the best ways to cultivate life purpose is to be prosocial. Being more prosocial means that you are kind, compassionate, and generous–by doing so you may feel like you are in greater alignment with your values and ethics. To be more prosocial, you could try community service, helping others who are struggling, or joining a program to clean up the environment. When you are prosocial, you might just start to get the feeling that you are providing something that helps others and are living a life of integrity. Indeed, purpose is most easily found by having positive interactions with others.

References

Hill, P. L., Burrow, A. L., Brandenberger, J. W., Lapsley, D. K., & Quaranto, J. C. (2010). Collegiate purpose orientations and well-being in early and middle adulthood. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 31(2), 173-179.

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3 Natural Ways To Test Your Gut Health

Try these 3 natural strategies to learn more about what might be causing your gut problems.

Do you have digestive issues? Perhaps you think it could be from parasites, bacteria, or candida? If you’re not yet ready to take the GI-MAP stool test to see what’s in your gut, you can try these 3 home tests to learn more.
The Sauerkraut Protocol
If you have a bad bacteria problem in your gut, eating good bacteria will kill them and force them out. This produces die-off symptoms like nausea, headaches, and chills. So eating naturally fermented cabbage, vegetables, or sauerkraut will help you learn more about your gut bacteria.


What to do:

  1. Buy a jar of sauerkraut. Be sure that the jar is refrigerated, has live cultures, and doesn’t include any preservatives whatsoever. Here is a handy guide to help you find the right stuff.
  2. Consume 1 tablespoon of sauerkraut with a meal. Pay attention to how you feel. If you feel die-off symptoms then keep eating this small amount once per day until it doesn’t feel bad anymore. If you feel fine with the amount of kraut, go to the next step.
  3. Increase the amount of sauerkraut you eat by 1 tablespoon per meal. Keep paying attention to how you feel to keep die-off symptoms to a minimum. And keep increasing your dosage until you get to 1/2 cup sauerkraut per meal. Make sure you don’t go too fast or you’ll kill too many bad bugs and feel like absolute garbage.
  4. Continue this slow-build process with other probiotic foods. Once you tolerate sauerkraut, try kimchi, coconut yogurt, kefir (if you tolerate dairy), coconut kefir, kvass, kombucha, fermented fruit, and so forth until you can eat as many fermented foods as you desire without any symptoms.
  5. Make your own fermented foods. Once you tolerate store-bought fermented foods, ideally, you should make your own fermented foods. These are far higher in probiotics and have a bigger positive impact on your gut.
    The papaya parasite test
    One great, and cheap, way to find out if you have parasites is with anti-parasitic foods, specifically, papaya seeds. You can even test yourself for parasites at home with the papaya seed test.
  6. Make a papaya smoothie. Toss 1/2 of a papaya in a blender (or less if you prefer). Toss in all the papaya seeds from that half of the papaya. Feel free to add a little juice or water if you like a thinner smoothie.
  7. Drink the smoothie on an empty stomach. Don’t eat anything else for 3 hours (water is fine). This should be enough time for the papaya seeds to get through your small intestine. Pay attention to how you feel. If you get any die-off symptoms, then you might have parasites, and the papaya seeds have just made them angry.
  8. If you get any die-off symptoms, get a parasite test to find out for sure (the papaya parasite test isn’t a sure thing). This is also necessary to see which parasites you have if you do have them.
    The coconut oil test
    Just as papaya seeds kill parasites, anti-fungal foods kill gut fungi like candida. A great, and cheap, way to find out if you have problems with gut fungi is with the coconut oil test.
  9. Eat 1 tablespoon virgin coconut oil on an empty stomach. Don’t eat anything else for 1-2 hours (water is fine). Pay attention to how you feel.
  10. If you feel die-off symptoms then keep eating this amount of coconut oil (or less) until it doesn’t feel bad anymore. If you feel fine, go to the next step.
  11. Increase the amount of coconut oil you eat by just a tiny bit per day. Keep paying attention to how you feel. Keep increasing your dosage until you get to 2-3 tablespoons of coconut oil per day (you can include this oil in food if that’s easier, but it might not be as effective).
    If you are able to determine what your gut issues are, it’ll be easier to resolve them.
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10 Ways to Generate Happiness

How to boost happiness in 2022, according to science.

There are tons of things you can do to boost your happiness in the digital age.
The research shows that the strategies that work best depend on you—on
your interests, strengths, and abilities. So here are a bunch of strategies to try.
You can choose your favorites.

  1. Find out what to do first.
    How are you supposed to build the right happiness skills if you don’t know
    which ones you are struggling with in the first place? This is why it’s helpful to
    take this quiz to explore your happiness strengths and weaknesses. That way,
    you can make an educated decision about what to focus on first.
  2. Give yourself a confidence boost.
    Why would you bother increasing your happiness if you didn’t think you could
    be successful at it? You wouldn’t. That’s why it’s so important to build your
    confidence — to prove to yourself that you can increase your happiness. The
    best way to do this is by starting with easier skills — skills like gratitude or
    prioritizing spending time doing fun things. Get a quick win, and you’ll be more
    confident that you really can change your life.
  3. Fuel your progress by learning how to feel better about yourself.
    You wouldn’t practice math to get better at cooking. And you wouldn’t learn
    another language to lose weight. To be happier, you’ll likely make more
    progress by focusing on the skills that are most closely linked to happiness. In
    my research, the skill that usually turns out to be most closely linked to
    happiness is: self-worth. Luckily, you can learn how to feel better about
    ourselves—for example, by imagining your best possible self, noting your
    positive qualities, or identifying your strengths.
  4. Create balance and overcome burnout.
    How are you supposed to have the energy to boost happiness if you’re
    stressed, exhausted ,and miserable from work? It will be really hard. Building
    new skills—skills that will help you happier—will take time and energy. So it’s
    helpful first to create better work-life balance.
  5. Build a growth mindset for happiness.
    Growth mindset refers to the belief that we can change ourselves. When we
    build a growth mindset for happiness, we believe we can change our
    happiness. This is super important, because if we don’t believe we can
    increase our happiness, we won’t even bother to try.
  6. Make positive memories.
    Every region in our brains can be strengthened through practice. If our brains
    are really good at remembering negative things that happen, it can be useful
    to strengthen the regions of the brain responsible for remembering positive
    things.
  7. Find those silver linings.
    Everything we experience can be a bummer if we choose to see it that way.
    But when you search for the benefits or silver linings in your life, you may be
    surprised to discover a lot more good than you thought. Keep thinking positive
    to decrease negative emotions to cultivate happiness.
  8. Take breaks from social media.
    Facebook tends to have a negative effect on our happiness. By choosing to
    take breaks from technology—or changing the way we use technology—we
    can boost our happiness.
  9. Spend smarter for more happiness.
    How we spend our money impacts our happiness. When we choose not to
    buy a fancy house or car—things that don’t bring us much happiness—we
    have more money to spend on adventures or on gifts for friends: things that
    actually do make us happier.
  10. End your negative patterns of thinking.
    Let’s face it: Sometimes we are what’s making us miserable. We just can’t
    stop thinking about how so-and-so wronged us, or how our life didn’t turn out
    as we hoped. Negative thought processes — like worrying, ruminating, and
    self-judgment— just keep us miserable and unable to move forward. When
    you find yourself thinking negatively, pause and refocus your thoughts. The
    more you do this, the more your brain will be able to do this on its own.

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Four Simple Ways to Develop a More Positive Attitude

How to think, feel, and act a bit more positive.

Photo by Alesia Kozik on Pexels.com

Sometimes it feels easier to be a Grumpy Gus—Who has the energy to get jazzed up about everything all the time? But ask yourself, how exhausting is it when you’re around someone else who is constantly negative and complaining? It sucks, right? Nobody wants to be around Negative Nellies that zap everyone’s energy. So the question becomes: Do you want to be the kind of person who drains energy or who supplies it? If you want to be an energy producer, you can start by developing a more positive attitude.

Of course, turning off the negative stream of consciousness and developing a positive attitude takes effort. But when we do so, people are more likely to want to be around us, which can make us happier, which makes us even easier to be around, and even happier—an upward spiral of positive emotions that fuel health and well-being. So let’s talk about the simple ways to develop a more positive attitude.

1. Strengthen the Positive Neural Pathways in Your Brain to Develop a More Positive Attitude

It can feel impossible to just flip some magic “positivity switch” and change everything about how you feel, think, and act. That’s because—let’s face it—the positive pathways in your brain haven’t been used all that often and are a bit out of shape. But I’m convinced that there are plenty of ways to boost positivity—there are even ways to do it on your phone!

One way to get started strengthening the positive pathways in your brain is to spend more time thinking about positive things, for example by memorizing and recalling lists of positive words. When you force your brain to work with positive information, you activate these regions of your brain and make this information accessible in your daily life. So later, when you’re trying to have a positive attitude, you may be able to generate positive thoughts, memories, and emotions more easily.

2. Look for the Silver Linings to Develop a More Positive Attitude

People who struggle to have a positive attitude are really good at one thing—finding the downside of any situation, person, or thing. People with a positive attitude do the opposite—they can always find the upside. Really, these two perspectives are just two sides of the same coin. It’s all about what you pay attention to. So if you want to change your perspective, you can apply your canny ability to find the bad to develop your ability to find the good.

To start, anytime you are down about anything find at least one benefit. Ask yourself: What could you learn? What opportunities might arise? What can you appreciate about this? Could the situation have been worse? Then use these questions to get yourself to start finding the good things instead of always focusing on the bad things.

3. Practice Random Acts of Kindness to Develop a More Positive Attitude

We don’t have to be giving, generous, and caring every moment—I mean c’mon, we’re not aiming for perfection here. But if we want to develop a positive attitude, we do have to make an effort to be kinder to others. Sometimes it’s easy to be kind—for example, when we feel like others deserve it—and sometimes it’s harder. So start with easy kindness and go from there.

Being kinder can be easy if you engage in random acts of kindness. A random act of kindness could be anything from telling a coworker you like her necklace, to congratulating a friend on an important achievement, to bringing a cup of soup to a family member who has the flu. These acts are small and unsolicited, but they show that you care—a significant part of what it means to be a positive person.

4. Smile and Laugh and Generally Enjoy Life to Develop a More Positive Attitude

A positive attitude is made up of more than thinking and acting in positive ways. It’s a feeling that others can detect in you when you don’t take life too seriously. Maybe you smile big when someone tells you there’s food stuck in your teeth. Or you laugh when things don’t go your way. You have made the decision to enjoy your life, regardless of what life throws at you.

Deciding to enjoy life more is a key step in developing a positive attitude. You could get upset when your friend repeatedly shows up late—or you could just decide not to. You could get anxious about your romantic partner leaving you—or just choose to spend your energy enjoying their company for as long as you have it. You could get angry about all the horrible things happening all over the world—or you could instead focus on righting the wrongs you see.

It’s surprising what a difference it makes in your life when you simply decide to be more positive, and you realize that you had the choice all along.

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Why Is It So Hard to Be Yourself?

Struggling to let your freak flag fly? This might help you see why.

Photo by Siva Adithya on Pexels.com

What is Authenticity?

Being authentic means that you act in ways that show your true self and how you feel. Rather than showing people only a particular side of yourself, you express your whole self genuinely. That means to succeed in being authentic, you first have to know who your true self actually is. And this requires self-awareness, mindfulness, and self-acceptance.

Why Authenticity Matters

We are constantly bombarded with media that tells us who to be, what to want, and how we “should” express ourselves. All of these influences slowly chip away at our ability to be our authentic selves.

But by being someone you are not, you are telling yourself that who you really are isn’t okay. So hiding or suppressing who you really are can end up leaving you feeling lonely, disconnected from others, or even worthless.

How We Lost Our Authenticity

We are constantly balancing inner and outer aspects of ourselves in order to better fit in, to become more successful, or to find love. We are driven to find “our place” in society, and we want to be respected for who we truly are and what we have to contribute. Many of us are propelled even further, desiring to know and live our purpose, to find deeper meaning in our lives, and to feel the fulfillment that comes with becoming a more authentic person.

But at the same time, we live in a society that values superficiality, that strives for perfection, and defines success by the dollars in our bank account and not by how well we live our values every day. So how are we to be authentic in spite of the messages that try to convince us to be someone else?

Why Overcoming Inauthenticity Is So Hard

We were molded as children by our parents, teachers, religions, peers, and society to “fit in.” As a result, we developed beliefs, thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that keep us acting in the ways we were taught to act—not in the ways that make us feel like our authentic selves.

This version of ourselves can be thought of as the “Adaptive Self”—the self that prioritizes fitting in, getting along, and generally doing what we’re told. This self is not without value and purpose—it helps us be functioning members of society. But if you’re feeling inauthentic, the Adaptive Self is running your life.

To reclaim your authenticity, you need to discover your “Authentic Self”—the self that prioritizes living according to your values, pursuing your purpose, and fighting for the causes you care about.

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How To Live Your Values

Identify your core values and learn how to live by them to build greater happiness.

We sometimes go through life without paying much attention. We just move from one thing to the next, playing on our phones, without considering whether our actions reflect our core values. But when we go through life without following our values, we can lose ourselves and our ability to generate real happiness. Want to identify your core values and learn how to live them? Read on.

Identify Your Values

By identifying our values, we can begin to design a life that is in better alignment with our true self. Keep in mind that values are different for everyone—you are the only one who can identify your values.

To get started, think about the list of values below. Write down any of the values that you hold. Feel free to add additional values if they are not included on the list.

Values List:

Authenticity             Adventure                      Balance

Bravery                     Compassion               Challenge

Citizenship              Community                 Creativity

Curiosity                  Determination            Fairness

Freedom                   Friendships                 Fun

Generosity                Growth                        Honesty

Integrity                    Justice                        Kindness

Knowledge                Leadership                 Learning

Love                           Loyalty                        Openness

Optimism                Recognition               Respect

Responsibility           Security                     Self-Respect

Social Connection    Spirituality                Stability

Status                     Wealth                        Wisdom

Next, note your most important 3 or 5 values. For each of these, write down three or more actions that define what it would mean for you to live these values. For example, if you value Loyalty, actions might include forgiving a friend for a betrayal, negotiating fair treatment at work to ensure your commitment to your employer, or choosing not to engage in extramarital affairs.

Now, write down one thing you have done that does not reflect each of your top 3 to 5 values. For example, if you value Optimism, it’s a more value-driven choice to think positively than to worry about the future.

Next, write down what you could do differently next time. Maybe instead of bracing for the worst, you could think about what might go right, what you might learn, or what cool things you have to look forward to in the future. As you are doing this activity, you may discover that there are ways that you could live in closer alignment with your personal values.

It may be hard to follow through on some of the actions you identified. Maybe you would need to stop drinking. Maybe you would need to change jobs. Maybe you would need to have some difficult conversations. It’s quite easy to go with the flow and lose sight of our values. It’s a lot harder to live by our values and do what’s right for ourselves in the long run.

What if you haven’t been living your values?

For one woman I know—a kind, smart, caring person—the rift between her values and her actions became apparent when she started leaving her boyfriend at home so she could gain attention and physical satisfaction from other men. It was clear from the outside that these actions went against her values. So even though her actions made her feel good in the moment, each night she would go home feeling terrible.

For another woman I know—a strong, giving, selfless person—the growing gap between her values and actions was revealed when she started asking loved ones for things that she could sell to buy drugs. Never had she been the kind of person that couldn’t handle a challenge. Never had she been willing to take from others. But in the throes of her addiction, she lost her track of her values. Thankfully, she recovered. But even after, it was only when she again started living her values that she was able to rebuild her life and happiness.

The tricky thing about values, though, is that we all hold different ones. For each of us who loses track of our values, the outcome will look different. And many of us have never asked ourselves what our values are or what it would look like if we weren’t living them. So we easily get lost.

By identifying what we need to do to live our values, we can start becoming the person that we want to be. And as it gets easier to love ourselves, we begin to feel happier.

Live Your Values

When I first did this activity, I discovered that kindness is one of my top values. I was living this value in some ways, with some people, and in some situations, but I had some major gaps. For one, I could be really mean to my partner, criticizing the smallest things. I could tell you I acted this way because I was angry or hurt, but these are just rationalizations–excuses I told myself to justify my behavior. The truth is that living your values is hard, and I wasn’t yet ready to put in the work.

At first, I could still tell myself I was kind when I was being mean, that I was in fact living my values. But one day I realized I was just making excuses, and I didn’t recognize myself anymore. I was not who I wanted to be. It seemed scary and overwhelming to start living my values, but I decided that day that I had to do it. And you can do it too.

To start, take a look at the values list you created in the last activity. For each of your most important values, ask yourself 3 sets of questions and record your answers:

  1. Are there any people with whom you have a difficult time living this value? Maybe your romantic partner, parent, sibling, coworker, or friend?
  2. Are there any situations that make it difficult for you to practice this value? Where are you, or what are you doing when you fail to practice these values? For example, maybe you’re at work, at home, out at a bar, on social media, in the car, or at the daycare center.
  3. Is there anything else that makes it difficult for you to live your personal values? For example, maybe you live your values in the morning but not at night, when in your hometown but not on vacation, or on Monday but not Friday.

Once you’ve identified the external events that trigger you to veer away from your core values, it’s key that you identify why these experiences affect you this way.

Look through all of the people and situations that lead you to stray from your values and ask yourself what thoughts, feelings, or bodily sensations lead you to act differently than you would like to. The emotions that trigger you may be the same across all situations, or they may be different. So just write down anything you think of that leads you away from your values. These emotions, thoughts, and associated bodily sensations are at the root of what causes us to abandon our values. When we act in a way that’s inconsistent with our values, we are just attempting to regulate or reduce our negative emotions, even if only temporarily. By acknowledging this and changing our habits, we can start to live in accordance with our values and improve our lives. Changing your life is never easy, but it’s always w

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8 Surprising Ways To Feel Less Lonely

These creative strategies can fend off loneliness.

adolescent adorable alone close up
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

We are currently living through a loneliness epidemic. And it was going on long before Covid required us to isolate and socially distance even further. That’s bad news because loneliness contributes to poor mental and physical health. That’s why it’s more important than ever to implement some creative tools in our lives to fend off loneliness and protect our mental and physical health. Get started with these tips:

1. Generate a sense of awe

Awe (like when we witness the birth of a new baby, or a majestic mountain) makes time seem like it’s standing still and helps us be more open to connecting. Something about feeling small in the context of a big world appears to help us see ourselves as part of a whole, which may help us feel less alone. So expose yourself to something that creates awe—like landscapes, new experiences, or new foods.

2. Practice self-kindness

In difficult moments, it’s essential to practice self-kindness. Blaming ourselves when we feel lonely is not helpful. So limit your hurtful self-talk, take care of yourself, and just generally give yourself a break. Perhaps a walk in nature or a day at the spa may be helpful for getting yourself into a self-kindness mood.

3. Stop focusing on you

It’s almost inevitable in our modern technology-crazed world that we start to believe we don’t have enough. Bob got a new car. Sherri got a new house. Sonja got a new job. We also see false or unrealistic images—models Photoshopped to have perfect waists and abs—and we feel envious. As a result, we become increasingly focused on how we are not measuring up.

Instead of focusing on what you can get, shift your focus to what you can give. You could sell T-shirts online to raise money for a good cause. You could ask friends to donate to a charity for your birthday. By giving to others, you take the focus off yourself and do good at the same time, helping you to feel more connected and less lonely.

4. Stop your negative thought cycles

We might repeatedly think about what we could have done differently to prevent ourselves from feeling so alone. We ruminate on the events or people or causes, because we mistakenly believe that thinking about our loneliness over and over again will help us solve it. Unfortunately, it does us no good to get caught up in our thoughts instead of taking the actions we need to feel better.

To put an end to these negative thought cycles, we need to take action—we need to do something different that stops these thoughts and changes our experience of the world. For example, you could go to the gym or read a book.

5. Pay attention to the things that matter

How do we expect to improve our loneliness when we don’t know what causes it? It’s hard. So it’s helpful to start paying attention to the present moment.

Ask yourself: what are the experiences that make you feel lonely? And what are the experiences that make you feel connected or like you belong? Identifying these moments can help you reduce loneliness, because you can increase your engagement in activities that make you feel connected.

6. Tend to your network

Sometimes we can end up feeling alone even though we are connected to lots of people. So it can be helpful to reach out to these people and schedule times to catch up. Aim to schedule at least one social hour per week (virtually or in real life). Who knows, maybe an old friendship can be reignited.

7. Join an online group of like-minded people

You can now find people online with just about any interest — for example, politics, cooking, or sports. Joining one of these mission-oriented groups can be a way to feel more connected to others, even when you don’t have access to in-person interactions. You might get to know some new people or make lifelong friends. You can even try out a few groups to see which ones fit you best and decrease your loneliness the most.

8. Be nice to yourself

It’s important to practice self-compassion when you fail at things. Remember, everyone fails, and there is no need to be a bully to yourself, feel guilty, or put yourself down. That kind of attitude won’t help you decrease loneliness, now or in the future. Instead, try talking to yourself in a way that is supportive, kind, and caring—and you’ll be more likely to acknowledge mistakes you may have made in trying to decrease loneliness, and hopefully do better next time.

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5 Ways To Cope With Challenges

Struggling with a difficult situation? Check out these science-based ways to be more resilient.

man facing the mirror
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

You need challenges in your life to develop resilience. You have to get knocked down in order to learn how to pick yourself back up. Over time, being knocked down can even make you stronger. Plus, it makes you less afraid to get knocked down again. 

Not sure if you approach challenges in the ways that build resilience? Here’s how to do it.

1. Use emotional distancing

When experiencing a challenge, the ability to think about your experiences as if you were “a fly on the wall,” or as if you were someone else who is witnessing your experiences from afar, keeps you from getting stuck in your negative emotions. Emotional distancing also makes it less likely that you will replay the unpleasant details of the event, and as a result, you don’t feel quite as bad when bad things happen.

To practice this technique, first recall a recent stressful conflict you had with another person. Be sure to choose something very specific. For example, recall when “You got into a fight with John about forgetting your birthday.” Try not to think about fights with John in general.

Now reimagine the stressful event from an outside observer’s point of view — for example, from the point of view of a stranger on the street or a fly on the wall.

Ask yourself these questions to practice being a fly on the wall:

  • Would the observer be able to understand why you are upset?
  • Would the observer be able to see the other person’s point of view?
  • How would the observer evaluate the situation?
  • Might this observer view the situation differently than you do?

If you prefer, you can also practice this on social media. Next time you are reading about one of your friend’s negative experiences on social media, practice switching back and forth from being in their shoes to being in your shoes. Try to notice how being an outside observer helps make the experience seem less intense.

2. Use temporal distancing

Another technique that can help you better handle stress involves thinking about the outcomes of stressful events in the relatively far future. For example, you might tell yourself that “time heals all wounds,” or “this too shall pass.”

The ability to think about a future where you will no longer be feeling so bad about whatever you’re struggling with helps you get through difficult experiences. It can reduce the intensity of negative emotions and the distress caused by the situation. So next time you are in the midst of a stressful situation, try to look back at the situation from sometime in the future.

Start by recalling a recent stressful event. Be sure to choose something very specific. For example, try to recall, “When I failed to get the promotion I was after” instead of failure, in general. Now imagine what your life will be like five years after this event. Ask yourself these questions:

  • In five years, what will you be doing?
  • How will you be spending your time?
  • How will you be feeling?
  • How will you feel about this particular event?

3. Use reappraisal

The ability to find the silver linings in stressful or difficult situations (also referred to as reappraisal ability) helps us generate positive emotions, even when there is nothing in our situation to generate positive emotions for us. This is why finding silver linings can help counteract negative emotions, decrease stress, and quicken recovery from stressful events.

How do you find silver linings? You might remind yourself that you’re lucky to have what you have. Or, you might see a challenge as an opportunity to learn and grow.

You see how it works? Now it’s your turn to try. Recall a work or school project that didn’t work out the way you hoped. Now, try finding the silver linings of this situation. How could the situation be worse? What are opportunities that could result from this situation? What are the positives? Think of as many reappraisals as you can. Try to be creative and think of anything that would make you feel better about this experience.

4. Find the benefits

Benefit finding is similar to reappraisal, but it can be used in negative, neutral, or positive situations. For example, you might say that the benefits of working a really difficult job are that you learn new skills and build character. But you might also say that the benefits of working a really easy job are that you feel relaxed and have more time to devote to other things you enjoy. With some practice, you can find the benefits to just about any situation.

To practice finding the benefits, first think about a slightly negative experience you had recently. Try not to choose an experience that is extremely negative — it’s important to choose an experience that’s not too bad when you are first learning how to use this technique. You can work up to harder experiences as you become more skilled. For example, maybe your car broke down, or you got in a small fight with a friend.

I know that at first it can be hard to find the benefits of these situations. But the more you practice, the easier it will get. Start by spending a few minutes thinking about the benefits of a negative experience. Try to really search for as many benefits as you can think of. Ask yourself these questions to brainstorm.

  • Were there, or will there be, any positive outcomes that result from this situation?
  • Are you grateful for any part of this situation?
  • In what ways are you better off than when you started?
  • What did you learn?
  • How did you grow and develop as a result of this situation?

5. Face your fears

In life, a great many things will make you feel uncomfortable. For example, if you’re worried about your finances, you may not want to look at your credit card balance. Or if you had a bad day at work, you may want to drink alcohol to forget about it all. But this kind of experiential avoidance can be dangerous, because the emotions never get resolved. Instead, they fester and build up. If you’re not addressing negative emotions, they never go away, and you carry them with you wherever you go. Now, imagine facing a big challenge when you’re already carrying a bunch of negative emotions with you. It’s going to be a lot harder to cope, be resilient, and thrive.

So if you are the type to avoid feeling uncomfortable—for example by avoiding doing things that will be hard, having difficult conversations, or being out of your comfort zone—challenge yourself to feel uncomfortable, just in small ways at first.

Think of something small that makes you uncomfortable, something other people might even find silly, and face your fear. Don’t let yourself back down. If you do, your fear will just build, preventing you from moving forward in the ways you desire.

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Got a Microbiota Problem? Kill Bad Gut Bacteria in 6 Steps

Got Anxiety? Brain fog? Fatigue? Killing bad gut bacteria could be the answer.

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Photo by Mike Jones on Pexels.com

Bad gut bacteria can influence everything from our weight, to our mood, to our cognitive ability. It can be the reason for our back pain, the root of our depression, and of course, the cause of our digestive issues. If you’ve tried all the basic gut health advice, and it isn’t resolving your gut health issues, you may have a tougher issue on your hands. First, consider taking the GI-MAP stool test to see what your microbiota issues are. Then, try some of the strategies to start beating those bad gut bacteria.

1. Take Natural Digestive Aids

If your gut is having a hard time digesting, for whatever reason, help it out by consuming natural digestive aids.

  • Betaine HCL and Apple Cider Vinegar are helpful for folks with insufficient stomach acid to break down food (common signs of this are heartburn or upset stomach).
  • Digestive enzymes are helpful for folks with a sluggish gallbladder or pancreas.
  • And ginger is helpful for those with sluggish migrating motor complex (MMC), which helps clean out the small intestine between meals.

2. Remove Toxins from Your Life

Sometimes it seems like we are doing everything right, but we still can’t seem to get a handle on our gut health issues. In this case, there is often some hidden toxin that’s bogging down our immune system.

For example, are we eating all of our food out of plastic with BPA, a known gut toxin? Or are we living in a home that’s covered in gut-harming mold? Or are we sleeping on a new bed that is sprayed in toxic flame-retardant chemicals?

Gut-harming toxins are all around us. The electromagnetic waves from our smartphones can even mess with our guts. So finding and removing these toxins is often instrumental in healing the gut.

3. Try a Ketogenic Diet

Although a Ketogenic diet doesn’t seem to work for everyone, it appears to be a good way to reduce inflammation in the body more generally, improve insulin resistance, and clear gunk from the cells. It also tends to be good for getting rid of bad bacteria and parasites. Why? Because the Ketogenic diet is a low-carb diet, and gut bugs primarily eat carbs.

Keep in mind that starting a Ketogenic diet can often result in a few days or weeks of Keto flu—headaches, leg cramps, sugar cravings, and some other annoying symptoms. To prevent Keto flu, make sure you’re getting electrolytes (especially sea salt, magnesium, and potassium). An easy way to do this is by drinking homemade “ketorade”.

And if you don’t feel good eating Keto after a few days, stop! If your body is already stressed, Keto can be too stressful for your body to handle. You might instead opt for a moderate to low carb diet just to reduce your sugar intake.

4. Eat Probiotic Foods

Consuming probiotic foods is probably the best thing you can do for gut health. Although probiotic supplements can be helpful, they are usually too small to make much of an impact. If you do want to try pills, get pills with 50 billion colony forming units (CFUs). I suggest the probiotic Saccharomyces boulardii, which has been shown to combat digestive issues.

5. Break Up the Biofilms That House Bad Gut Bugs

When bad gut bugs just won’t leave, it’s often because they have a protective home, or biofilm, to hide in. Taking biofilm disrupting supplements can start to jar them loose. The biofilm disrupters include: Allicin (from Garlic), N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), and Monolaurin (from coconut oil).

6. Detox The Liver

Our livers are responsible for detoxing us of the harmful byproducts of dying gut bugs. Eating liver supportive foods can help us reduce die-off reactions and kill bad gut bugs with more ease.

To help the liver and body detox, consider taking milk thistle supplements, calcium D- Glucarate, NAC, or liposomal glutathione. Next, eat bitter greens like dandelion leaves, raw radishes, and mustard greens to promote more bile excretion and process toxins effectively. And be sure to eat cruciferous veggies like broccoli, kale, collard greens, bok choy, and arugula. These contain diindolylmethane (DIM), a substance that helps the liver detox effectively.

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Why Does Self-Awareness Matter So Much?

6 reasons why self-awareness is important for well-being.

High self-awareness is a solid predictor of success in life, perhaps because a self-aware person knows what they want so they can more easily take the steps that get them there. Unfortunately, many of us are on “autopilot,” hardly aware of why we succeed or fail, or why we behave as we do. Our minds are so busy with daily chatter that we usually only self-reflect when something goes awfully wrong. That’s why self-awareness matters. But that’s not the only reason. Here are some more:

1. Becoming more self-aware can be enlightening

There is so much we don’t know about our inner thoughts and processes that the inward journey at times can be surprising. Sometimes certain phrases come out automatically to reveal attitudes or opinions that we don’t even realize we subscribe to, or even know where they came from.

Over the years of being submerged in a family, a school, various jobs, and a social milieu, we absorb prevailing ideas from our environment, and some of these get buried in our subconscious, where they often don’t get examined until we inadvertently blurt them out, at times to our own embarrassment. This is one good reason why it behooves us to become more self-aware . . . so we can find ourselves and feel more confident that the ideas we are expressing are really our own.

2. Self-awareness can open your mind to new perspectives

As we develop our perspectives, they get more rigid and hard to change. But new ideas are refreshing and stimulating, opening our thinking in new and possibly promising directions. Open-mindedness is definitely a plus in being successful at dealing with life’s challenges and diverse situations.

3. Self-awareness can boost self-worth

Very often the opinion we hold of ourselves is based on what others think, or more correctly, on what we think others think about us. If we were criticized often as children, we may develop a case of low self-esteem and sensitivity to rejection. On the other hand, if we were praised as a “prince or princess,” we are likely to develop false self-esteem or arrogance which can be hard our relationships. We owe it to ourselves to become more self-aware of the thoughts and beliefs within and whether they are consistent with reality.

4. Self-awareness can help you look at yourself objectively

Humans tend to be critical beings, whether self-critical or hard on others, and sometimes both. By beating ourselves up, we serve no one and harm our well-being. No one is perfect, so why should we expect ourselves to be?

So, learn to cut through the hype and become more objective, especially about yourself. Simply be willing to evaluate yourself as objectively as possible. Be sure not to gloss over what you’d rather not see, but rather mine the subconscious for its opinions and correct the mindsets that are not compatible with your values. You can do this by being completely honest with yourself, and when you find something that is out-of-sync, examine it, remove what isn’t compatible, and insert a better value or phrase to bring the idea in alignment with your personal values.

5. Self-awareness can help you evaluate your strengths and weaknesses

You might say, “I’m a good starter, but I have more difficulty finishing a project.” “It’s easy for me to meet new people, but I have reservations when it comes to commitment.” “I’m a great friend, but I’m not so good at saving money.” We all have strengths and weaknesses. Use your strengths to succeed in life, and your path will be happier, because you will find appreciation and support along the way.

6. Self-awareness can help you set intentions

If we wander through life without purpose or direction, chances are we’ll end up nowhere in particular. In order to form an intention, you really need some idea about what is important to you and what you hope to accomplish. It’s not necessary to know how you are going to get there, but you want to have some idea of your general direction. For instance: “I intend to create my own business in __________ (whatever field) and become self-sufficient by age ____”; “I intend to find the right life partner and raise a happy and healthy family together in the country”; “I intend to stand up for myself when my boss puts me down”; etc.

Say your intention out loud, communicating with your inner self, letting yourself know that you intend to create a more meaningful and satisfying life.

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4 Ways Technology Can Make You Happier

How to use the Internet and social media to support your happiness and health.

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Photo by Mikhail Nilov on Pexels.com

These days, you can’t go anywhere without hearing about how technology is ruining everything, including our happiness. There is some truth to this, but it’s not the whole story.

Technology can be bad for us—for example, when social media gives us FOMO (fear of missing out) or traps us in filter bubbles that prevent us from seeing multiple points of view on important issues. As a society, we are increasingly concerned that technologies like smartphones and social media result in more social comparison, cyberbullying, and loneliness—all stumbling blocks to happiness. Indeed, technology seems to be bad for our happiness when it interferes with the mental, social, emotional, and behavioral processes that contribute to well-being.

But we often fail to realize (and discuss) the ways that technology can also support happiness and well-being—for example, when video calls let us talk to people all over the world or when apps or online articles give us a sense of purpose, joy, or excitement.

If you’re trying to limit technology use for yourself or your kids, don’t forget about some of its potential benefits. Here are four research-based ways to spend your time on technology that can boost your health, happiness, and well-being.

1. Engage in activities that promote happiness.

Social media is a space where we can connect socially and engage in kind and helpful behavior—activities that have been shown to boost health and well-being. For example, by sending messages on social media, we can express a kind word or share our gratitude—Thanks again for listening when I was having a rough day last week!—anytime we want, with ease, even to people far away.


A recent study suggested that among young people with symptoms of depression, social media was very important for helping them express themselves creatively, get inspiration from others, and even feel less lonely. Thirty percent of young people with elevated depression symptoms say using social media when they’re feeling depressed, stressed, or anxious usually makes them feel better, while only 22 percent say it makes them feel worse.

One participant shared, “Social media makes me laugh and keeps me distracted so that I have time to breathe and collect myself.” Another shared, “It just helps me feel outside myself for a bit and find interesting topics I’d like to ponder on.”

While social media does seem to be beneficial for some, it may not be the best strategy for overcoming mental health challenges, given certain problematic habits it might encourage—like comparing ourselves to the seemingly perfect lives of friends and others we follow. But when we use it in conjunction with face-to-face social interactions, it does indeed appear to be a useful tool for self-expression and social connection.

2. Actively engage with your community.

It’s true that people who engage in more passive Facebook use (e.g., scrolling without interacting with others) tend to be more depressed, as at least one study has found. The authors suggest that passively using social media might stimulate those “upward social comparison behaviors,” which can leave people feeling inferior (I suck!), envious (it’s not fair!), or both.

But people who use Facebook more actively (e.g., liking, commenting, and posting) tend to have lower levels of depression. Over time, they report that they get more positive feedback, likes, and social support from others, which may contribute to their lower depressive symptoms.

This suggests that certain ways of engaging with others online may be good for us, perhaps because they involve social connection rather than social comparison. By reaching out to others, engaging in meaningful social interactions, and strengthening our social bonds, we can likely improve our well-being online.

3. Learn new goals and habits.

Technology has given us access to lots of health and wellness resources, making it easier than ever to build and practice skills like gratitude, mindfulness, and emotion regulation online. You can now use apps to do everything from tracking your mood to practicing therapeutic breathing to building resilience.

Although not all wellness apps are equally effective, research suggests that evidence-based smartphone apps can indeed teach us the skills we need to optimize our well-being, help us stay motivated to do so, and even benefit our mental health. For example, research is exploring the benefits of mindfulness apps, apps delivering cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques (CBT, the gold standard of therapy), and apps that predict people’s moods and intervene with support at just the right time.

And in my graduate research, we found that a computer-based training in emotion regulation improved anxiety and well-being among those who had trouble regulating their emotions, suggesting that skills that promote happiness can be learned online.

4. Find health-related information and stories.

As we all strive to take care of our minds and bodies, 80 percent of young adults have gone online for health information. Indeed, we may use the Internet to learn about health and wellness challenges, read others’ health-related stories, or seek out a wellness practitioner. Research suggests that by doing so, we may be able to feel more confident in our decisions and improve our communication with health providers.

Using the Internet in these ways may be important for those struggling with mental health issues like depression. For example, one participant says, “I have watched several people detail their fitness routines and how they used it to beat mental health disorders such as body dysmorphia and those affected by obesity and food addiction.”

In fact, 90 percent of young people with depression have gone online seeking information about mental health issues. Although we need more research to understand how they use this information, it does seem that the Internet is one more avenue where people in need seek out support. By giving us access to information about health, mental health, and well-being, technology enables us all to more easily seek out and discover the wellness strategies we need.

However, for the Internet to be a useful tool to find health information, it’s important also to increase our health literacy—namely, by ensuring people know which websites to trust, how to identify their health challenges accurately, and how to apply the information they discover.

Technology—whether the Internet, smartphones, and social media—can hurt our happiness, particularly if we let it interfere with or pull us away from face-to-face interactions. But if we’re thoughtful about how we use technology, it also has the potential to make us happier. So we don’t necessarily need to get rid of our phones and computers or go on a full digital detox. Developers just need to be thoughtful about building technology, and we need to be thoughtful about using it, in ways that promote happiness.

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How to Cope With Uncertainty

Worried about the future? Try out these strategies to be more resilient in the face of uncertainty.

When uncertainty stresses us out, making us wonder which path to take, what decision to make, or whether to respond at all, it can be crippling for some of us if we have not developed emotional resilience. So, how can you become more emotionally resilient in the face of uncertainty?

1. Try to be flexible.

Often we have difficulty learning to “go with the flow.” Obstinacy, ego, fixed beliefs, expectations, and habits are some of things that lead us to resist change. But when the house you thought you’d live in forever is destroyed in a fire or hurricane, or the job you had trained for has been automated, or perhaps the “love of your life” has married someone else, what do you do?

It can be heartbreaking and crushing all at once. But it is also true that your life is demanding a “course change.” In these situations, it’s wiser to practice acceptance and acknowledge that the situation has changed. You do not control the world; you only control yourself. The only way forward now is to adjust your attitude, shift your thoughts, and create new dreams by being flexible.

2. Practice being OK with discomfort.

When we are navigating a situation in flux, most of us will feel somewhat unsure of ourselves. This is normal. Accepting yourself and your situation is a good place to begin. Calm the inner voices of fear, blame, or resentment, and resist the urge to create drama around the uncertainty. Appraise the situation from a balanced place, realizing that it is OK to feel genuinely uncomfortable at times. You’ll build emotional resilience if you use this time to practice accepting yourself despite the discomfort you feel.

3. Learn from your mistakes and successes.

By allowing discomfort amid uncertain circumstances to reveal something about yourself, you can grow and become more emotionally resilient. Trial and error is how we learn. Once you adapt to being somewhat uncomfortable, you can apply yourself to the challenge at hand, which often triggers a flood of new ideas. Explore the positive thoughts, emotions, and ideas. Perhaps you will learn to speak up for yourself, or you may be forced to apply new approaches to the situation in flux.

This can open up whole new avenues of experience for you that may enhance your coping skills, build resilience, and even expand the range of your resume with newly discovered abilities. Test out some new approaches to see what works in this situation. And don’t be afraid to make mistakes, because they will make you more emotionally resilient if you are willing to learn from them. By recognizing uncertainty as an opportunity for growth, you can more easily move through it to attain your desired goals. Ultimately, resilience is just getting back up when you fall down.

4. Step back to gain a broader perspective.

Widen your field of vision by reviewing the past and imagining the future. From this perspective, envision various plans, and estimate how they might unfold into the future, until you discover a path that shows promise. Then give it a shot. If that one doesn’t meet your goals, don’t hesitate to try another approach. A shift in perspective can help you see the situation from a new point of view and try out new solutions that make you more emotionally resilient in the future.

5. Coordinate with others.

Review your options and then enlist helpers. Before moving forward with a plan of action, share your uncertainty, and brainstorm ideas for how to move forward with colleagues and friends. Remain open to suggestions, but defend ideas that you really believe in with fervor. Then move forward, knowing you’ve considered multiple options.

6. When at a loss, imitate someone you respect.

Sometimes the hurdles seem too high, or we are at a loss about how to proceed. In these moments, we don’t feel very emotionally resilient. One trick is to think of someone you respect and imagine what they might do in this situation. For example, you might think about how your friend Jane, the most gracious and balanced person you know, maintains her poise in the face of crisis. If her method is to listen attentively, speak slowly, and establish good eye contact while responding, try that. A shift in the way you act can give you ideas for how to be more emotionally resilient.

7. Practice self-compassion.

In difficult moments, it’s essential to practice self-compassion. Be kind to yourself to maintain your self-confidence. It’s OK to take some time to release your disappointment or take a break from your routine. A walk or run in nature may be helpful for processing your thoughts and releasing pent-up emotions. Or eating healthfully can help remind you of the importance of being kind to yourself. Once calm, research several options, and open your mind to all possibilities, so that a new avenue of experience can blossom for you.

8. Celebrate your successes.

After all the work you have done to wend your way through uncertain times and situations, once you have initiated a plan that is working or picked yourself back up after a tough experience, celebrate your success with those who helped you achieve positive results. Give yourself credit for a “win” that feels affirming, and let joy sweep into your heart. Congratulate yourself and commit to continuing your success. Practice being grateful for who you have been, as well as who you are becoming. Emotional resilience is about more than recovering from challenges — it’s about thriving in the face of those challenges.

9. Learn to love change.

Heraclitus once said: “The only thing that is constant is change.” Besides, doing the same thing over and over can wear us down with its accumulative boredom. Change breeds something different and potentially exciting. New efforts stimulate growth potential through new experiences. It is “our ability to respond to life” that is being put to the test here, and the more we exercise this muscle, the more we will feel invigorated by the variety of life, and therefore the more emotionally resilient we will become.

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Five Ways to Practice Gratitude

Need a gratitude boost? Try these practices. 

It’s that time of year again when we’re supposed to be thankful for everything and everyone we have in our lives. But sometimes, that’s easier said than done. We know that practicing gratitude can help us have more enjoyable experiences and connect more easily with those around us. We just need a little help to kickstart the process.

This year, you can create a more fulfilling holiday season by learning how to practice gratitude. Here are five ways to get started.

1. Make a gratitude list

An easy way to practice gratitude is to write a list of all the things you are grateful for. Try to think of as many things, people, places, etc., as you can. (e.g., Family, ice cream, trees, creativity, happiness, etc.)

Source: Pixabay

2. Write gratitude notes

Write out a few sticky notes to people who you are grateful for. Include one to two things you appreciate about them and stick the note on their desk, car, or bag.

3. Write a gratitude letter to someone

Bring to mind someone who did something really wonderful for you. Write a letter to him/her describing just how thankful you are. Include details about how it made you feel and how it made you feel about them.

4. Track three good things

Each day for a week, write down three good things about your day. At the end of the week, review your list to remind yourself that you have a lot to be grateful for.

5. Make a gratitude drawing

Take a moment to think of some of the people/things you are most grateful for. Then create a drawing that includes these things. Put your drawing up on the fridge to remind you of what you’re grateful for and to keep practicing gratitude.

In sum…

By using these five gratitude practices, you can set yourself up for a more rewarding and enjoyable holiday season.

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How Romantic Comedies Affect Your Love Life

Find out if romantic comedies are hurting your relationships.

Once upon a time, my romantic expectations were sky-high. Why wasn’t my partner getting me flowers, writing me songs, or buying me gifts? I wondered.

Expectations absorbed from the media form so slowly and at such a young age that they can be completely invisible to us. Since we’ve had these expectations so long, we may have forgotten (or never known) what it felt like not to have them.

So how can we manage these expectations without giving up completely on the idea of romance? Believe it or not, research has unearthed some insights that can help us feel happier and less wronged in love.

How romantic comedies create unrealistic expectations

Romantic comedy is a genre that frequently depicts exaggerated plotlines and unrealistic outcomes, like when he chases you down at the airport to express his undying love, when he fills your room with more roses than you can count, or when she falls for him instantly—it’s love at first sight! In romantic comedies, relationships are full of romance, intimacy, and passion—often merging the best aspects of both new relationships and longer-term bonds.

We see lots of compliments, gift-giving, and affection, predominantly initiated by men. But this isn’t an accurate portrayal of what real, healthy relationships are actually like. Real relationships involve compromise, acceptance, and honesty.

Although viewing these idealized versions of romantic relationships may seem innocuous, we often use information from the media to teach us what is normal and how to behave. Older viewers can better discern reality from fiction, but younger viewers, who don’t have other experiences to inform their beliefs, may more easily incorporate these idealizations into their idea of what a relationship is supposed to be like. And with exposure to the same types of storylines again and again — thanks to the constant bombardment of media that now starts in childhood—we might start to think our own reality is pretty mediocre.

And that’s exactly what seems to happen: Frequent viewers of romantic media content are less likely to believe that they can change themselves or their relationship, more likely to believe that their partner should intuitively understand their needs, and more likely to believe that sex should be perfect. They also report lower relationship satisfaction.

For me, it wasn’t until I really reflected on my expectations and where they came from that I started to turn it all around. Do you think you, too, might have developed some unrealistic expectations? Here are a few tips for recalibrating them.

1. Separate what’s realistic from what’s unrealistic.

First, make a long list of all your expectations for relationships—seriously, everything you can think of. Next, take a red pen to all the ones that are unrealistic. How do you know which ones those are? Well, one way is to try to imagine doing or being everything on your list. Is it possible?

For example, can you always tell what other people want? Do you always say the perfect thing? Do you never make mistakes? Having high expectations is fine—but having impossible expectations is problematic. See if you can find where the line is.

2. Separate what you’ve been told “should” matter from what actually does matter to you.

Take another look at your list of expectations. For every item, ask yourself: Is this actually something that matters to me? For example, does it really matter if your partner wears certain clothes, says certain things, or eats certain foods?

Maybe you really love trying new restaurants, so it really matters to you that you regularly go out to eat. No need to judge yourself—everybody is different. Just identify your truth and cross out the rest.

3. Separate your wants from your needs.

Now, look at whatever items are still left on your list. Circle the items that are needs (versus wants). A need is something that fulfills you at a deep level. A need, if unmet, fundamentally affects the quality of your life.

For example, maybe you don’t need your partner to buy you flowers, but you do need to feel surprised every now and then. Or maybe you don’t need your partner to guess what you want, but you need to feel heard when you say what you want. It can be hard to figure out the underlying need behind many of our expectations, so take some time here. Once you’re done, use this shortlist of core needs to guide what you pursue and expect from life.

In Sum

Once I started disentangling my needs from the expectations that the media had created for me, I slowly but surely started pulling myself out of the romantic comedy trap. By figuring out what generates happiness for me and letting the rest go, I was able to focus on and get a lot more of what actually makes me happy in my relationship—things like seeing love in his eyes when he looks at me, getting extra hugs when I’m sad, and creating experiences that I can remember for a lifetime.

No relationship is perfect, but resisting the influence of romantic comedies enabled me to create happier moments and appreciate my relationship a lot more. It worked, because happiness comes from pursuing what makes you happy, not pursuing what the media or anyone else says should make you happy.

References

Haferkamp, C. J. (1999). Beliefs about relationships in relation to television viewing, soap opera viewing, and self-monitoring. Current Psychology, 18(2), 193-204.

Shapiro, J., & Kroeger, L. (1991). Is life just a romantic novel? The relationship between attitudes about intimate relationships and the popular media. American Journal of Family Therapy, 19(3), 226-236.

Holmes, B. M. (2007). In search of my “one and only”: Romance-oriented media and beliefs in romantic relationship destiny. Electronic Journal of Communication, 17(3), 1-23.

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How To Use Positive Reappraisal

How to see silver linings, improve your mood, and boost your well-being. 

A few years ago, my car’s transmission blew completely. If I had wanted to, I could have focused on the negative things about this experience–it cost about $2,000 to fix, it happened as part of a string of repairs on that car, I desperately needed that car to get to work, and money was really tight. But because I had trained my brain to use reappraisal to focus on the positive, instead of focusing on these negatives, I actually felt grateful.

My commute to work was an hour each way and I was relieved that this didn’t happen on the highway. I also felt relieved that my partner was in the car with me and helped me get it to an auto shop that day. I even felt happy that third gear was still working, so the car would still drive well enough for me to get it to the auto shop without having to pay to get it towed. By being able to see the silver linings, we can handle challenges more easily and get on with our lives. This is why reappraisal counteracts negative emotions, decreases stress, and boosts resilience.

So how do you find silver linings?

To give one example, you might consider that the benefits of working a really difficult job are that you learn new skills and build character. You might find that the benefits of working a really easy job are that you feel relaxed and have more time to devote to other things you enjoy. With some practice, you can find the benefits of just about any situation. As a result, most situations no longer appear to be simply good or bad—they are what you make of them.

When you are just starting to learn how to reappraise, first think about a slightly negative situation you experienced recently. Try to choose an experience that isn’t extremely negative—it’s important to choose an experience that’s not too bad when you are first learning how to use this technique. You can work up to harder experiences as you become more skilled. For example, maybe you forgot your lunch or you got in a disagreement with a friend.

Once you’ve chosen which situation you will focus on, write it down. Next, spend a few minutes trying to find silver linings. You could try to think of the benefits, think about how the situation could be worse, or brainstorm opportunities that could result from this situation in the long term. Try to search for as many silver linings as you can think of.

Practice Reappraisal

Ask yourself these questions as your brainstorm:

  • Were there, or will there be, any positive outcomes that result from this situation?
  • Are you grateful for any part of this situation?
  • In what ways are you better off than when you started?
  • What did you learn?
  • How did you (or might you) grow and develop as a result of this situation?

Once you have your list, consider sharing your challenging situation and at least one benefit on social media. Try to make it a habit that if you share something negative, you also note one silver lining. The more you practice this skill, the easier it becomes. Every “bad” situation will seem more like a mixed bag, with something to be gained.

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6 Ways to “Grow” a Growth Mindset

Want to increase your chances of success? Then switch a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.

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Photo by Singkham on Pexels.com

“The hand you are dealt is just the starting point for development.” —Carol Dweck

What Is a Growth Mindset?

A growth mindset is simply the belief that our basic abilities can be developed and improved through dedication and hard work. It’s not so much that this belief is some kind of magic. It’s just that without a growth mindset, we don’t exert the required effort and so we remain perpetually stuck.

But with a growth mindset, we can break through the stuck-ness and achieve the results we desire, whether that be at work, in our relationships, or in other aspects of our lives.

Do You Have A Growth Mindset?

Do you believe that you were born and raised with a fixed set of skills and abilities—such as your IQ—that you had from birth and will stay with you your entire life? Or do you believe that your ideas and beliefs are ever-evolving, that you can learn new skills if you work at it, and that your wisdom and intelligence grows with each new experience? If you said “yes” to the first question, you have what is referred to as a “fixed mindset.” If you said “yes” to the second question, you probably have what Stanford professor Carol Dweck calls a “growth mindset.” Don’t worry if you currently have more of a fixed mindset—you can develop a growth mindset!

Why Does Growth Mindset Matter?

If we have a “fixed mindset,” we may shy away from challenges because we do not want to feel embarrassed or humiliated in front of others—who does, right?! But this can be problematic because our fear of making mistakes can lead us to avoid challenges and new experiences—experiences which would help us grow, improve ourselves in important ways, and create the life we desire.

If we have a “growth mindset,” we enjoy challenges, despite the risk, usually because we value learning and growth more than others thinking we know what we’re doing. And because we’re always trying new things, we often don’t know what we’re doing. Still, those of us with a growth mindset often build new skills more easily because we believe we can and so we really work at it.

Developing a growth mindset could contribute to a fuller, more meaningful life because the range of experiences that such a life encompasses will be considerably broader.

6 Ways to Develop a Growth Mindset

Changing one’s mindset from a “fixed” perspective to a “growth mindset” may seem daunting, but by taking baby steps, anyone who wants to can build a “growth mindset.”  Here’s how:

1. Face your challenges bravely.

If you find yourself terrified in the face of a serious challenge, stop and reframe the situation in your mind. Consider reframing your challenge as an “opportunity,” thus slightly shifting your perspective. Each challenge or opportunity invites us into a new experience that is a sort of adventure.

Try different tactics to coach yourself about how to explore a new path, or how to develop a new skill, or how to interact with a new group of people, or to navigate through new circumstances. As an adventure, fear is an acceptable feeling. You press forward anyway because it’s exciting and new. If you take this same attitude with a crisis at work or whatever the challenge, you can discover abilities you didn’t know you even possessed.

2. Pay attention to your words and thoughts.

Start to pay attention to the words you speak, even the words in your mind. If your words are low or dark, the results may be also. So watch yourself. Listen to what you are saying and thinking. Censor yourself and become your own guide.

Replace negative thoughts with more positive ones to build a growth mindset. Replace judgment with acceptance, hate with compassion. If you are disrespecting yourself or lowering your ethical standards, the outcome of your decisions and their consequences will reflect that. Intend to think higher thoughts and hold yourself to it.

3. Find your purpose.

Does your life feel like it is purpose-driven? If yes, define for yourself what that purpose encompasses. If you are drawing a blank, ask that your life’s purpose become clear to you. Meditate or contemplate on “purpose” and see what tidbits come through until you feel like you know the essence of your purpose, or perhaps part of it. Then pursue it—that’s what’ll help you build a growth mindset.

4. Turn criticism around.

The purpose of criticism is to make things better.  Someone else can see what you are doing from a slightly different perspective than you, and may have some valuable suggestions for you. If you open up to hearing suggestions, you can more easily develop your growth mindset.

5. Learn from the mistakes of others.

If you can learn from the mistakes of others, then you may be able to make fewer mistakes. This can sometimes calm the fear of trying new things, a key aspect of building a growth mindset.

6. Be realistic. It takes time, sometimes lots of time, to learn a new skill, like learning a new language or learning to play an instrument or learning how to become a good lawyer.

Speed is not important. When you have a growth mindset, the end results are less of a focus. Instead, you fully engage and put effort into the process, no matter how long it takes. Incidentally, focusing on the process often also improves results, because you did put a lot of effort in along the way.

In sum

Growth mindset means one embraces challenges, persists in the face of setbacks, takes responsibility for their words and actions, and acknowledges that effort is the path toward mastery. It is basically the reason why “practice makes perfect.”

By choosing to make the extra effort to build a growth mindset, you can make your mental processes work for you, resulting in a greater likelihood that you get the results you’re looking for.

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14 Ways to Eat More Mindfully

These mindful eating tips can help you create a better relationship with food.

Mindful eating involves paying attention to the complete experience of eating—that includes what’s happening inside your body, inside your mind, and in the world all around you. 

By learning how to eat mindfully, you’ll begin to become aware of how different foods impact your body, mind, and well-being. To get started with mindful eating, check out these 14 mindful eating strategies.

1. Mindfully Imagine Your Future Self

It turns out that when we imagine things, the brain attempts to simulate the responses that would occur if these situations actually happened. Playing out future scenarios in our minds can help us feel more like this future is real or possible. We can apply this strategy to our food life by imagining how our future self will feel once we’re eating mindfully and have a healthier relationship with food.

2. Reflect on Your Reasons for Mindful Eating

If you decide to pursue a mindful eating practice, first reflect on why you’re doing it. Are you doing it because you want to truly understand what your body needs, explore what nourishes you, and make changes that fundamentally change your relationship with food?

If so, then your goals are aligned with the powerful benefits of mindful eating, and you’re likely to be more successful using this strategy.

3. Remove Addictive Foods to Better Hear the Body’s Voice

Sometimes our food addictions—especially to sugar, caffeine, and alcohol, but sometimes also to dairy, carbs, and chocolate—scream louder than our hunger, nutrient deficiencies, and food intolerances. So when we try to eat mindfully, we simply hear—candy, candy, candy, candy!

When our addictions are constantly screaming, it’s all we can hear. That’s why to get the full benefit of mindful eating—and possibly any benefit at all—we first need to remove addictive foods, for example with programs like Whole30.

4. Try Food-Focused Mindful Meditation

To start to open the lines of communication with your body, it can be helpful to do a short, food-focused mindful meditation periodically. To start, sit for a few minutes in silence with your eyes closed. In your mind, visualize a variety of different foods. Then pause to reflect on how that food feels in your body.

Because our imagination is so powerful, this practice can give you clues about the foods your body desires and provide guidance about what foods you eat when beginning your mindful eating practice.

5. When Choosing Food, Ask Your Body What It Needs

Before you’re eating or even cooking, ask your body what it needs. You can do this by using your senses when you are selecting food to eat.

For example, when you’re at the grocery store, take a little extra time to really look at and smell each food you buy. Your body might react strongly, either positively or negatively, to the smell, sight, touch, or taste of particular foods (although I recommend you taste food only after you’ve purchased it).

6. Prepare for Each Meal by Calming the Body

Stress makes all of our digestive processes go haywire, preventing us from being able to identify the specific foods our body wants and doesn’t want. That’s why calming the body before eating is so important.

To calm the body before each meal and mellow your nervous system, play some relaxing music. The earlier you start to calm your body before eating, the better. So if you’re cooking dinner, make a habit of playing calm music while you cook. Or if you’re picking up fast food on the way home, listen to some calming music during your commute.

7. Pause for a Mindful Moment When Beginning Each Meal

When you sit down with your food, take a few long, deep breaths and reflect on which types of hunger you’re currently feeling:

  • Eye Hunger: Did you see food and then want to eat?
  • Nose Hunger: Did you smell food and then want to eat?
  • Ear Hunger: Did you hear food cooking or being eaten and then want to eat?
  • Mouth Hunger: Did you taste food and then want to eat more?
  • Stomach Hunger: Did your stomach feel empty or growl and then want to eat?
  • Mind Hunger: Did you realize it was a certain time of day or that you “should” eat more of a particular kind of food and then want to eat?
  • Emotional Hunger: Did you feel sad, lonely, or anxious and then want to eat?
  • Cellular Hunger: Did you get an intuitive craving for a specific food and then want to eat?

8. Eat Mindfully and Kind-Fully

If you’re eating with others, aim to keep the conversation upbeat, and avoid talking about the stresses of the day, disagreements, or other social problems, at least until you’ve finished eating (preferably while you’re digesting too). And avoid watching anything stressful, exciting, or invigorating on TV (no TV at all is best). By taking these steps, you ensure your parasympathetic nervous system can focus fully on digestion.

9. Take a Mindful Pause After a Few Bites

Stop, and take a mindful pause after you’ve eaten a few bites of your food—enough that the food has reached your stomach, and the digestive process has begun.

During this mindful pause, listen to your body to see if you can experience how it’s receiving the food. Pay attention to things like tummy rumbling, sweating, tiredness, nasal congestion, tingling, goosebumps, or any other bodily sensation.

10. Be Mindful About Each Bite

To stay mindful as you eat, ask yourself questions to more fully experience the meal. For example, ask yourself: Is it warm or cold? Is it savory or salty? Is it crunchy or soft?

Explore even further by seeing if you can identify the exact flavors. Ask yourself: What herbs or spices are in this food? Can you tell if the food has any added sugar or salt? Are there other ingredients you can identify?

Next, explore the food emotionally. Does eating this food evoke any emotions? If so, dig a little deeper and see if you can figure out why.

11. Take a Mindful Pause Sometime Mid-Meal

About halfway through your meal, pause and reflect. Ask yourself the following questions: How is your body feeling now? Are you feeling nourished? Are you feeling full? Keep in mind, there are no right or wrong answers.

12. Reflect Mindfully at the End of Your Meal

Once you stop eating, whether this be mid-meal, when your plate is empty, or after you’ve eaten several helpings and dessert (no judgment!), take a moment to reflect on the entire eating experience. Start by asking yourself out loud or in your head if each of the eight types of hunger (Eye, nose, ear, mouth, stomach, mind, emotional, and cellular) have been satisfied.

13. Be Present With Mindless Eating Habits

Emotional hunger, in particular, can be difficult to satisfy with any food. As a result, emotional hunger often leads us to continue eating mindlessly, hoping to stop our sadness, anxiety, or shame.

But once we identify a mindless eating pattern like this, we can work through it with mindfulness. Pause and stay present with your experience, even if it’s uncomfortable. Don’t push the feelings away. Just be with them for as long it takes for them to dissipate on their own.

14. Mindfully Explore Cellular Hunger and Micronutrients

Our cells may be crying out for important nutrients (such as Iron, Iodine, Vitamin D, B-12, Calcium, Vitamin A, and Magnesium), but when we continue to eat the same foods we would normally eat, nothing really changes in our body, so we might not get the message.

To mindfully explore cellular hunger, try eating many new or different foods. If your cells and body are nourished by that food, you may actually feel your body scream, “Yes! More of that! Thank you!”

Other times, you may notice delayed changes in your body—for example, maybe you no longer experience an afternoon slump or evening headaches. Try to notice the effects, even if they are subtle.

In Sum:

To eat mindfully requires some effort—namely a willingness to be aware, open, and accepting. But with this new skill, you can better identify what nourishes your mind, body, and soul.

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How to Find Meaning in Life

This 3-step strategy could help you start finding more meaning.

So often we walk through life like zombies — our bodies are present, but our minds are elsewhere. We’re not mindful, so we’re not really paying attention. When we’re not present, we can miss the things in life that really matter — the things that give us a sense of meaning or purpose. To find true meaning in life, we have to look for it a little harder. Here’s one strategy that might help you get started.

Step 1: Look for Meaning in Life

Spend one week taking photographs of all the things that make you feel even a little bit of meaning. Don’t be too picky. Really try to snap a shot of anything you can think of that feels meaningful. For example, people, places, important objects, experiences — really anything. Some of the photos I might take would be of my cat, my husband, the garden down the street from me, the fall leaves crunching under my toes, and my stack of postcards that help me stay connected to people out of state.

You could spend a few minutes each day taking these pictures or take them throughout your day, trying to notice all the little things that give you a bit of meaning. It’s up to you.

Step 2: Reflect on All the Things That Give You Meaning in Life

At the end of the week, take some time to look at all your photos. Scroll through them on your smartphone or computer, reflecting on each one. For each one, ask yourself the following questions: “What is in this photograph, and why is it meaningful to me? What does it make me think of? How does it make me feel?”

Step 3: Reframe How You Think of True Meaning in Life

After completing this activity, take a moment to think about what creates true meaning in life. We can never really know what is the meaning of life. But we can discover what creates a sense of meaning in life, although the answer may be different for each of us. For you, is it things, people, experiences, or all of the above? When you are able to answer this question, you can act on the answer, spending more of your life pursuing the things that give you meaning and doing things that promote your well-being.

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How to Feel Good at Work

Learn how to use your imagination to increase happiness at work.

The workplace is ripe for worrying. Faced with a combination of deadlines, meetings, and performance evaluations, many of us find ourselves distracted by unpleasant visions of the future.

Maybe we imagine that we’ll be criticized for not completing a project to our boss’s standards. Or maybe we worry that we’ll be laid off. In the process, we end up generating negative emotions from experiences that haven’t even happened yet. We create stress out of thin air.

Understanding how imagination works in the brain, and how it can influence our feelings, can point to a different way forward. With a little help, we can leverage our active imagination to experience good feelings about work.

How imagination affects emotions

Did you know that your brain has a difficult time differentiating between things that happen in your imagination and things that happen in real life?

It turns out that when we imagine things, the brain attempts to simulate the responses that would occur if these situations actually happened. This is the same neural process that enables us to be empathic, put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, and understand their mental states. But we also use this process to better understand ourselves.

In our minds, we can play out future scenarios to predict how we would personally think, feel, and respond to them. And by doing so, we experience thoughts and emotions similar to those that would occur if the situations were actually happening to us right now.

Luckily, you can turn this process around to undo stress—by imagining all the positive things that may happen in your future. In one study, participants used this technique for 14 days in a row, imagining four positive things that could actually happen to them the day after, such as eating a tasty meal or getting hired for a job. At the end of the study, this group showed an increase in happiness, while groups who imagined negative or routine future events did not.

When you imagine your boss finally praising you for something you did well or you visualize getting that promotion that you’ve been hoping for, you are essentially telling your brain to respond as if those things were happening. Suddenly, you create positive emotions out of thin air.

Use imagination to feel good at work

Now that you know how it works, you can practice using imagination to boost your mood and improve your workday. Here are three specific ways to apply this technique that could help you generate positive emotions at work.

1. Start your day by imagining the best possible day.

In the morning while you’re brushing your teeth or taking a shower, spend a few minutes imagining the best possible day you could have. What would happen? Who would you interact with? How would you feel?

For example, I might imagine that my morning is really productive and I complete this article in record time—I’d feel a sense of accomplishment. Then, I imagine my meeting with a potential new client and we hit it off immediately—I feel joyous and delighted. The day ends with me tying up some loose ends so that I can fully disconnect from work—I then enjoy my evening. As you are imagining, really try to generate the emotions that would occur inside you if your day went exactly as you desire.

2. Pause for an imagination break before new situations.

Before a meeting with your boss or a presentation to your coworkers, take a moment to visualize what would happen if everything went awesomely. Would you have an inspiring conversation? Would everyone love your ideas? Clarify for yourself exactly how it would go and imagine how it would feel.

Again, conjure those emotions and let yourself feel them. At the very least, you’ll enter the situation in a good mood.

3. End your day by thinking of a better tomorrow.

Before you go to bed, imagine what tomorrow could be like—not what you think it will be like, but what it could be at its best. Don’t limit yourself to thinking of things that could actually happen. Get creative by imagining that tomorrow you can fly or your workplace is suddenly overrun with adorable puppies.

Don’t worry about feeling silly. Just go with it. Besides putting a smile on your face, this exercise could also help you practice your imagination skills, so it gets easier to dream about the future in general.

Of course, imagining something won’t necessarily make it true. If your boss is never happy with your work, for example, that’s obviously a real problem in need of a real solution. Also, you may not always be in the mood for positive imagination. In those moments, practicing mindfulness or identifying personal strengths that you could leverage at work are good alternatives.

Imagination is one of the human mind’s exceptional capacities. With some practice, it can become a simple way to bring more positivity to your work life—another tool to add to your happiness toolkit.

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7 Steps to Breathing for Relaxation

 

A simple breathing exercise to relax and de-stress.

Under normal circumstances, breathing is automatic, mostly unnoticed, and largely silent. We hardly notice it… that is until something goes wrong. And last year I suddenly became aware of my breath. I started having gut health issues, and one of the symptoms was that I just couldn’t get a deep breath! I knew that the way we breathe affects our body, our stress levels, and our well-being. So I started spending more time breathing deeply in an attempt to help my lungs do it on their own. Here is one deep breathing technique that can be done anywhere to help you relax, reduce stress, and boost well-being.

Conscious Breathing Technique:

The purpose of this exercise is to quiet the mind, not forcibly, but with gentle persuasion.  In this breathing exercise, you’ll attempt to quiet the mind by counting your breaths, which keeps your brain occupied with a simple task so that you can focus on releasing stress from your body.

1. Find a quiet place and sit down with your back straight in a comfortable pose.

Sitting cross-legged is good if you can hold that pose, but it is by no means required. Sit on the ground in nature, or on a cushion, or in a chair where you are not likely to be disturbed. Take several normal breaths, making no attempt to control or count them. Just settle down and get comfortable.

2. Once you are done moving, scratching your nose, or readjusting your legs, note the state of your mind.

Is your mind racing from one subject to another, like a TV remote scanning channels? Is it obsessed with repeating one thought over and over again? That mental-chatter is the background noise of your brain as it functions automatically. Aim to calm the busy-ness of the mind simply by staying present in your body.

If you have a problem to solve that you just can’t stop thinking about, note it down on a piece of paper to address after you finish this breathing exercise. That way you can more easily empty your mind. After you finish the breathing exercise, you can re-engage your mind consciously, while you are still sitting in a quieted mental state.

3. To begin, breathe through your nose in long, slow and deep inhalations followed by extended, controlled and even exhalations.

You may feel inclined to hold your breath after an especially deep in-breath, which is fine as a variation. If you do hold your breath, exhale that breath through your mouth, emptying your lungs as completely as possible, perhaps bending forward to squeeze as much air out as you can. Holding your breath once or twice during a 50-count of breaths may help release toxic stress with each rushing out-breath. Do not be disturbed if you cough, because that is another way your body removes toxic particles and pollutants from the lungs.

4. Once your breathing has settled into a regular rhythm and your mind is focused on each breath, start counting with each out-breath.

Allow the first 10 or so breaths to really settle you, slow your breathing, and begin quieting your mind gradually as you continue to count your breaths. Aim for fifty long breath counts, but don’t feel discouraged if you only do half that. Even just a few breaths can help relax and de-stress the body and mind.

While you are consciously breathing, notice the movements of your diaphragm and how your belly rises with each in-breath and flattens with each out-breath. You may want to emphasize those belly movements and stretch your diaphragm as you proceed. Give special attention to those places where you are holding stress. Imagine stress being released from your shoulders, neck, back, etc., as you continue to focus on your breath. Hopefully, as you relax more deeply with each breath, you’ll feel the stress wash away from your shoulders as tension is released.

5. Encourage stress to release by surrendering to it and allowing it to pass out of your body through your breath.

Consciously relax your neck, shoulders, or back a little more with each out-breath. You may want to rotate your neck slowly to the right, back, and around again to the front with one breath, doing the same to the left during another breath. You may want to rotate your shoulders to loosen them up. Don’t worry if you lose track of the count. Just return to the last number you remember and continue this mindful breathing technique.

During this process, aim to surrender your body, releasing your mental control over it.  Sometimes your shoulders will relax and suddenly lower a notch automatically as tension releases. Just attempt to notice any changes in your body.

6. Take about 20-30 minutes to count breaths to 50.

After counting 50 sustained breaths, you may want to continue counting your breaths, increasing their length and evenness. Or you could deepen your meditation without counting breaths by adding a creative visualization (for example, imagining being in a calm place).

7. If you don’t have 20 minutes, just take 5.

If you do not have 30 or more minutes to spend on a breathing exercise, take 5 minutes whenever you have them to breathe deeply and consciously. Find a quiet place and simply take as many long slow conscious breaths as you have time for, shake your shoulders, legs and hands and send stress on its way. This can help you deal with stressful situations more effectively.

In Sum.

This breathing exercise can help you ease into deeper meditations, strengthen your lungs, and help you relax. And when done daily, this little exercise can prevent your body from accumulating excess stress, and it can give you a way to release past stress. So take good care of yourself and remember to breathe consciously as often as possible for health and longevity.

 

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5 Ways to Think Positive

Use these 5 strategies to build a positive thinking habit and increase happiness

When you harness the power of positivity, it’s amazing the impact it has on your life. It can decrease stress and make every moment worth experiencing. By thinking positive, you just can’t help but be optimistic, even when everyone around you is miserable. As a result, you are happier, less depressed, and more satisfied. The benefits of positive thinking are vast. So how do you train your brain to think positive?

1. Strengthen your memory for positive information

Did you know that you may be able to increase your positivity just by memorizing lists of positive words? It’s because when you force your brain to use positive words frequently, you make these words (and their basic meaning) more accessible, more connected, and more easily activated in your brain. So when you go to retrieve a word or idea from your memory, positive ones can come to the top more easily.

Not sure which words are positive? Psychologists have painstakingly measured thousands of words to determine how positive and negative they are. If you’re struggling to think positive, try this strategy first. It can help develop your brain in ways that may make the other positive thinking strategies easier to implement.

2. Strengthen your brain’s ability to work with positive information.

Once your brain has built strong neural networks for positive words, try to extend these networks by asking your brain to use positive information in new ways. For example, you could memorize positive words and set an alarm that reminds you to recall these words, in reverse order, an hour later. Or, you could print out positive words on cards, cut them into two pieces, shuffle them all together and then find each card’s match. For example, the word “laughter” would be cut into “laug” and “hter.” To match the word pieces, your brain has to search through lots of positive information to find what it’s looking for. This positive memory recall task may make it easier when you try to think positive.

3. Strengthen your brain’s ability to pay attention to the positive.

Are you one of those people who notices the bad stuff—like when someone cuts you off in traffic or your food doesn’t taste quite as good as you wanted it too? Then you likely have trained your brain to focus on the negative, and your brain has gotten really good at it. It can be really challenging to undo this training. So instead, train your brain to be even better at focusing on the positive.

Just routinely focus on positive information and direct your attention away from the negative. Need help paying attention to the positive?

4. Condition yourself to experience random moments of positivity.

Did you know that you can condition yourself for positivity? If you’ve ever taken an intro to psychology course, you’ve probably heard about the study of Pavlov’s dog. Here is a quick refresher:

Pavlov had a dog. Pavlov would ring a bell to tell his dog that it was almost feeding time. Like most dogs, Pavlov’s dog would get really excited when he was about to get fed. So he’d drool all over the place. What happened? Well, suddenly Pavlov’s dog started getting excited just by the sound of that bell, even when food wasn’t present. Eating food and the sound of the bell became linked in the dog’s brain. Something as meaningless as a bell was now making the dog excited.

This effect is called classical conditioning. It’s the idea that when two stimuli are repeatedly paired, the response that was first elicited by the second stimulus (food) is now elicited by the first stimulus alone (the bell). This happens all the time without us even realizing it. For example, the favorite food for many of us is something that we ate as a child with our families. What likely happened was the positive feelings of being with family and the particular food got paired in our brains. As a result, we now get the warm-fuzzy feelings that we got from spending time with family just from eating the food alone, even if our family is not currently present when we eat it.

Although your environment is conditioning you to react in particular ways all the time, if you know what you’re doing, you can use classical conditioning to boost your positivity. You do exactly what Pavlov did. You just repeatedly link boring things (like a bell ringing) with positive thoughts and feelings over and over again. Pretty soon, these boring things will generate positivity automatically. That’s classical conditioning at work. This can help you think positive because when you are going about your life, maybe even feeling bummed about stresses or challenges, you’ll have these little positive moments that keep you energized and in a good mood.

5. Think positive, but not too much, and think negative when you need to.

Of course, thinking positive has its benefits. But thinking positive isn’t always the best response. Negative thoughts sometimes have benefits, too.

When we are sad or grieving, thinking negative thoughts and showing the emotions that these thoughts create helps us communicate to others that we need their support and kindness. When we are treated unfairly and get angry, our thoughts can help motivate us to take action, make changes in our lives, and change the world. Casually pushing these negative emotions aside without seriously considering their origins can have negative consequences. So when you focus on the negative, ask yourself, is this negative emotion resulting in action that improves your life? If so, then keep it. If not, then work on changing it.

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3 Steps to Building Happiness! How to help your brain create shortcuts for happiness

“Have you found happiness?” Whenever I hear this question, I wonder why happiness is being treated like a lost set of car keys.

When we talk about “finding” happiness, it implies that we think happiness is something we should look for. But it’s not…

Happiness is something we must BUILD.

It turns out that happiness emerges when you build a certain set of skills—happiness skills. These skills can be cognitive, emotional, or behavioral and they include things like positive reappraisal, gratitude, self-compassion, and many others.

If you practice these skills enough, happiness will start to become automatic.

How does happiness become “automatic”?

Think back to when you learned to ride a bike. It was really hard at first, right? But you practiced again and again, and now you don’t even have to think about what you’re doing. Now, when you ride a bike, it feels easy—almost automatic.

Happiness works the same way. So when you practice the right skills, and you practice them enough, they become automatic.

How is this possible?

Well, the thing about the brain is that it’s got a lot to do, and it works really hard. When the brain has a task that it has to do frequently (think walking, talking, writing), it makes its own job easier by creating “tricks” or “shortcuts” to save time and energy. This is why things that felt impossible when we were young now feel easy— so easy, in fact, that we don’t even think about them as being skills.

The same thing can happen with happiness. When you practice things like gratitude or mindfulness, your brain creates shortcuts for these skills, making it easier and easier each time you do it (like riding a bike!)

It is these skills that enable you to respond to life’s ups and downs with excitement, joy, and positivity. And it is these responses that lead to happiness, resilience, and even career success.

So, your only objective is to figure out how to make your happiness skills automatic.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Prioritize the right skills

To start building happiness, you’ll first want to know which skills you need to build. Why? Well, let’s use math as an example. Pretend you are a new student at a new school. Because I don’t know what you learned at your previous school, I would give you a placement test to find out which skills you have mastered and which skills you still need to learn. Let’s say I discover that you are ready for algebra so I put you in an algebra class. Great! You’re all set.

But what if I didn’t test your skill level? Instead, I just put you in a calculus class. You’d struggle, right? Or maybe it turned out that you were ready for calculus and I put you in an algebra class. You’d be bored, right? Or maybe you skipped some foundational steps and didn’t even yet know multiplication and division. Then you’d have a heck of a time keeping up with either algebra or calculus, don’t you think? This is why prioritizing the right skills, right from the beginning, is extremely important when it comes to building happiness.

2. Practice

Take a moment to think about the last time you learned a new skill—maybe speaking a new language, playing an instrument, or perfecting a craft. How long did it take you? How many total hours did you spend until you got good at it? The bad news is that if you are an average human being, learning any new skill takes some time.

But I do have some good news. You can make the happiness process go faster by practicing the right skills in the right way. More specifically, you can practice the skills that have the biggest impact on happiness, and practice them in the ways that are the most enjoyable for you. This way you’ll make more progress in less time and you’ll be less likely to quit along the way.

3. Progress

Among the happiness programs that I have worked on, I am always delighted to see just how quickly people make significant progress building their happiness. But I am often discouraged to see that just when people start to get the hang of this whole happiness thing, they hit a brick wall.

Why? Because after you prioritize skills and practice them for a while, you’ll plateau and may even start to backslide towards where you started. This phenomenon is known as the “hedonic treadmill”. It’s like you are forever running and not getting anywhere. So you have to be sure to get off the treadmill and switch things up regularly.

Imagine this. In the first grade, you learn addition. Then in second grade, you learn addition again. And in the third grade, guess what you learn? Addition. Do you see where I’m going with this? To progress and improve, you have to switch things up. So, when you are feeling confident with a happiness skill, or feel yourself backsliding, it’s time to pause, see what else you need to learn, and challenge yourself to do so.

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4 Ways to Accept Yourself

Find the good in you and learn to appreciate the not-so-good in you.

Our daily lives consist of trying to live up to unrealistic expectations, from the media, social media, and even our loved ones. We’re just trying to fit in, be liked, and be accepted by other human beings. No one would possibly like us for who we really are, right? Well no. So how do we get past self-deprecation and learn how to just be ourselves?

1. Call out unrealistic expectations

Media (and social media) can make us feel unattractive. Models, actors, and now even our friends on social media are photoshopped to perfection, which can often make us feel unattractive in comparison. Indeed, the more media we consume with attractive people in it, the worse we feel about ourselves. But the media sets the bar impossibly high, so no matter how hard we try to improve ourselves, we always feel like we’re falling short. When we start to see media for what it really is—a show—then we can stop comparing ourselves to it and accept ourselves for who we are.

2. Identify negative self-talk

One of the ways we can better accept ourselves is to challenge our negative self-talk. We always have these inner monologues chirping away at us. If this self-talk is mostly negative, we’ll have a hard time accepting ourselves. For example, we might say to ourselves, “I’m ugly”or”My life sucks.” We could stop some of this painful ruminating by simply limiting our media and social media time, but we also need to practice noticing and saying “no” to the negative self-talk.

3. Express yourself

What else stops us from being ourselves? Mostly, it’s our fear of what other people might think about us if we showed our true selves. For example, maybe our friends all have the same opinion about a political topic, so we decide not to share our different point of view. Maybe our friends like a particular genre of music, and so we decide not to talk about the kinds of music we like. Or maybe our friends enjoy dining at fancy restaurants, so we decide not to invite them to our house for the cozy dinner we’d really prefer. We hold back because we are afraid of them thinking we’re weird or ditching us.

It’s human nature for us to want to show the best sides of ourselves. And holding back our opinions occasionally is a necessary part of life — in fact, it can help make our relationships a bit easier and more enjoyable. Where we get into trouble is when our self-expression becomes a performance designed to evoke some kind of response in others. The result? Few of the people in our lives know who we really are deep down, and others are not given the opportunity to accept you as you are. And you don’t give yourself the opportunity to accept yourself as you are.

4. Celebrate your strengths

It’s sometimes easier to focus on our weaknesses instead of celebrating our strengths. We all suck at things and that’s OK. What’s problematic is focusing on these things instead of focusing on what we’re good at. If we get down on ourselves regularly for the things we’re not good at, it’s going to be hard to like ourselves as much as we could. So celebrate your strengths and discover that accepting yourself is all about perspective.

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The Absolute Best Way to Start Your Happiness Journey

Are you just starting your happiness journey? Get started on the right foot.

It was my last year in college, and I needed to take physics to graduate. The only problem? I had skipped physics in high school, so I had no foundational physics skills. After only one week in the class, I was completely lost. I read every word in the textbook, went to office hours, and attended a study group, but I just barely passed the class.

My experience probably doesn’t surprise you. You know that to learn something new, you have to start with the basics—and this is also true for learning happiness. We can make it easier for ourselves to build happiness when we choose the right habits to work on first. Here’s how to get started.

Get a Quick Win with Something Easy and Fun

Researchers believe that some happiness habits are easier to build than others. So rather than starting with whatever happiness habit is currently the most popular—meditation! self-care!—you’ll likely be better off starting with habits that are easier or more fun.

The broaden-and-build theory suggests that experiencing positive emotions broadens our mindset and builds our psychological, intellectual, and social resources, allowing us to benefit more from our experiences. By starting with easy or fun practices, you may be able to get a jumpstart in happiness, subsequently boosting your sense of self-efficacy and propelling you forward in the happiness-building process. And luckily, now there are lots of these easier-starter activities online.

Illustrating this theory, one study showed that people who felt more positive emotion in the beginning of a happiness program reported greater improvements at the end. By going after the low-hanging fruit of happiness, you can build up reserves of confidence and good feelings that may help you tackle the trickier skills later.

Which Habits Are Easy to Start With?

Well, one habit that researchers believe is relatively easy to build is savoring good things in your life (like a special trip or awe-inspiring concert) by continuing to reflect on them and share them with others. On the flip side, surveys suggest that learning mindfulness can be relatively difficult, as beginners may struggle and become cognitively depleted.

Another good way to get started is with something fun. The Greater Good Science Center’s free Science of Happiness online course invited students to try out 10 different happiness practices, and (at the end of the course) reflect on their experience. The surveys showed that among those 10, students most enjoyed mindful breathing, awe exercises, gratitude journaling, and listing three good things. They found these practices to be a better fit—aligned more with their internal values and natural inclinations—than practices like forgiveness or self-compassion.

In a 2012 study, people chose which activities to practice. They selected exercises related to setting goals, savoring the present moment, and recording gratitude more frequently than thinking optimistically, savoring the past, expressing gratitude to others, and recording acts of kindness. This evidence gives us some idea about which habits are the most enjoyable (or, at least, which ones we think will be most enjoyable).

So when getting started with happiness habits, try to begin with easy, fun ones—but don’t stop there. More difficult habits are valuable, too.

Get more bang for your buck with high-impact habits

It stands to reason that some habits have a bigger impact on happiness than others.

In a recent survey, for example, I aimed to find out which happiness habits likely contribute the most to happiness. What I discovered is that some, like developing positive feelings about the self, appear to be more closely linked to happiness than the rest.

Other research supports this idea. For example, researchers found that one group of habits that highly impact happiness in the long run are those that shape what you pay attention to. This includes practices like anticipating good things in the future, paying attention to the positives rather than the negatives of a situation, and reflecting on good things that happened in the past.

Perhaps more compelling is the research suggesting that healthy behaviors—like exercise—improve well-being, even among people who have a difficult time building other types of happiness habits. In fact, one study showed that a health enhancement program alleviated depression and increased life satisfaction faster than a mindfulness program among those diagnosed with depression. Although both programs were effective in the long term, the authors argue that positive health habits may more quickly increase well-being, while mindfulness may lead to more gradual but sustained improvements.

Using a greater variety of practices, regardless of what the practices are, may also be beneficial. For example, one study found that compared to a program including fewer types of happiness practices, a happiness program including more practices led to greater increases in well-being. Other research suggests that the people in happiness programs who choose to engage in more different practices show greater increases in happiness than those who choose to engage in fewer practices. And people who engage in a diverse range of practices and engage in them in more situations seem to show the most benefit of all.

In sum, trying to create any new habit can be tough, so it’s worth thinking about which happiness habits to cultivate first. Once you’ve built a few of these habits, you’ll get the hang of it, and building other habits will feel easier. Use these tips to start off on the right foot—and avoid the mistake I made in physics.

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How To Improve Your Gut Health

Got Anxiety? Brain fog? Fatigue? Improving your gut health could be the answer. 

Do You Need to Heal Your Gut?

Our gut influences everything from our weight, to our mood, to our cognitive ability. It can be the reason for our back pain, the root of our depression, and of course, the cause of our digestive issues. If these are an issue for you, then consider testing the health of your gut and taking action now to heal your gut before your gut issues start to snowball.

If you’d like to know exactly what your gut problems are, you can take a stool test to find out. The GI-MAP stool test even has a report to help you interpret your results.

Regardless of whether or not you find gut issues, these tips can help you improve your gut health.

1. Decrease Your Stress

It turns out that stress can actually help bad bugs to thrive. This is how a short period of stress can snowball into major gut health issues. And it’s why creating an anti-stress lifestyle is key to both gut health and mental health.

2. Support Your Immune System

If your gut is unhealthy, your immune system is already churning away trying to heal it. Without proper support, your immune system can get overworked and worn down. So a nice gentle way to heal the gut is to support your immune system in doing its job.

To support your immune system, you can eat immunity supporting foods, like citrus fruits, garlic, and spinach. If your immune system is already weak, it can also be helpful to supplement with key vitamins and minerals that may have become depleted like, Vitamin B, Vitamin D, and Zinc. I also found that taking vitamins to support adrenal function was incredibly helpful as adrenals can get taxed when we are overstressed by gut health issues.

3. Reduce Inflammation

Another way to heal the gut is by removing inflammatory foods. This helps your immune system decrease it’s workload so it can spend more energy on healing the gut.

Although each of us have different problem foods, wheat and dairy tend to be problematic for many people with gut health issues. Sugar feeds many bad bacteria (all carbs are digested as sugar). And partially-hydrogenated oils are toxic, so they busy the immune system leaving other problems in your body unaddressed. That’s why it can be really helpful to remove these inflammatory foods if we want a healthy gut.

4. Consume Collagen

Collagen makes up the gut’s connective tissue—or the barrier between what’s in your gut and the rest of your body. If this barrier gets “leaky”, particles from the gut can seep into the bloodstream, causing everything from the herxheimer reaction (flu-like symptoms), to mental health issues, to autoimmune disease.

Consuming collagen is likely helpful for everyone, but especially those with an unhealthy microbiota. In general, those with gut issues tend to have low levels of collagen. In addition, your microbiota affect which symptoms (or diseases) you might get from a leaky gut. So if you have an unhealthy gut, leaky gut may be more problematic.

For example, research shows that one type of autoimmune arthritis called Ankylosing Spondylitis is caused by the bacteria, Klebsiella. Many of us have Klebsiella in our microbiome, so researchers hypothesize that it’s only when these bacteria “leak” into our bloodstream that they cause arthritis. So eating collagen (or high-collagen foods like bone broth) can potentially prevent these negative outcomes.

5. Eat Gut-Soothing Foods

We often eat with little consideration for what our gut must then do with our food. In fact, our guts must break down all the chunks, absorb the nutrients, and then push along the indigestible fiber to feed the gut bugs in the lower intestine—that’s a lot of work for an unhealthy gut.

To help ease the burden on the gut, we can eat gut-soothing foods such as soft foods, cooked foods, and juiced fruits and vegetables. These foods are already broken down, which helps ease the burden on the gut.

6. Focus on Macronutrients

When it comes to the role of macronutrients (i.e., Carbs, Protein, and Fat) in gut health, the experts are split. Some say that feeding our gut bugs with carbs like fiber, vegetables, and fruits is the best approach. Others say that starving our gut bugs by eating primarily fat is the best approach. Indeed, both approaches seem to have benefits… depending on your unique gut and microbiota. So it’s important to pay attention to how specific foods make you feel.

For some folks, consuming fiber can exacerbate gut issues. For others, certain types of carbs exacerbate gut issues. For others, consuming high-fat meals exacerbate gut health issues (e.g., those without the enzymes to break down fats). When it comes to your gut health, the key is to eat mindfully and explore how different foods make you feel. Only then can you know that you’re eating to heal your gut.

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Why Self-Reflection Matters For Wellness

Learn how to self-reflect to improve your well-being.

So many of our habits, patterns of behavior, and pre-set programming are buried in our subconscious. They operate in a sort of “control room”, directing how we think, feel, and act, oftentimes hurting our well-being. If we want to be in control, we need to see into the “control room”, beyond the conscious mind, and change some of the programming we no longer benefit from. One way to access the unconscious is through self-reflection—i.e., putting a mirror up to ourselves and analyzing what we see or feel as objectively as possible so that we can better understand ourselves and how we think, feel, and behave. But how do we engage in this type of deep self-reflection?

Setting the Stage for Self-Reflection

Some self-reflectors begin with a short meditation, maybe several deep breaths, or some rhythmic breathing to quiet their thoughts. Perhaps you prefer to imagine yourself pulling on imaginary reins to quiet your prancing mind, or some other creative imagination activity appropriate to you that mellows your mind.

Of course, penetrating the unconscious can be illusive. Sometimes deep self-reflection may feel like you are trying to tame a raging sea, so talk yourself down, if that helps, and ask yourself questions to get at the heart of your matter. If answers are not forthcoming, then give it some time, and return to any thoughts or questions later when you are feeling open to learning more about yourself. Let busy thoughts fly away and focus on your goal—to know yourself better.

Identify The “What” of Self-Reflection

Once you feel calm and quiet, direct your focus inward. Choose a particular issue you want to change. Pull up a memory of an important incident.

Ask yourself:

  • What impressions arise as you focus on this issue?
  • What does it make you feel?
  • What does it make you think?

Identify the “Why” of Self-Reflection

With your mind quieted, try to look deeper. Intend to go back to the most pivotal point related to this memory. What did you feel, think, or do? Now, go a layer deeper, and ask yourself: Why did you think, feel, or do these things?

These kinds of inner search-and-discovery missions through self-reflection can get gnarly, so take your time. Once you have opened the cork on this Genie’s bottle, the work has begun and it will most likely continue until some major issues are better understood, if not completely resolved.

Observe Yourself with This New Insight

Next, observe yourself living your life, in the present. Try to “catch yourself” when your unconscious is in control, leading you to feel, think, and act in ways that bother you. Through self-reflection your self-awareness will grow. Once you are aware of your inner programming, you are on the path to authenticity and greater control over your life.

Use Self-Reflection as a Tool for Change

The next step is to cultivate the desire to change behaviors that bother you. After identifying any problematic aspects of yourself, take the wheel and slowly shift your behavior in ways that better represent how you want to be.

If you thought “that issue” was “fixed” but it comes back, self-reflect once again to see if you missed something important. It’s not easy to change ourselves/our behavior, and it may take several attempts to get it “right”, so keep at it each time a behavior you don’t like surfaces.

Self-Reflect with Self-Compassion

Be gentle with yourself as you self-reflect. The goal is not to judge your past choices, but to reflect on them, learn from them, and make whatever changes you feel are appropriate for you in the here and now. As you build new habits through self-awareness, you can become more balanced, healthy, and happy.

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4 Ways Spending Smarter Can Make You Happier

Financial expert explains how to optimize your budget for more happiness.

“Budgeting” may conjure up images of tightened belts and coupon clipping. For many people, the mere thought of budgeting is cringe-worthy.

Organizing when and how to spend money doesn’t sound fun to me. But good budgeting can actually mean spending more money (and time) on the things that make us happiest. Yes, you read that right: Budgeting doesn’t always mean spending less, just spending smarter. Implementing a few financial tips and tricks not only benefits our wallet; it can increase our happiness on a daily basis.

The four categories of spending

How can budgeting boost happiness? According to the University of Georgia’s Dr. Matt J. Goren, co-host of Nothing Funny about Money, it allows you to focus your financial resources on expenses that actually improve your quality of life while spending less on things that don’t provide so much “bang for their buck.”

Dr. Goren divides expenses into four categories. First, he thinks of them as either fixed (i.e., repeating on a monthly or annual basis) or variable (i.e., coming up unexpectedly). Expenses can also be either wants (i.e., the fun stuff) or needs (i.e., the required stuff), which mean different things to different people. Combining these traits gives us fixed wants, fixed needs, variable wants, and variable needs.

Meeting minimum needs is essential for happiness. This goes for fixed needs—such as rent and food—as well as variable needs, such as emergency expenses. When the car breaks down or you have to get a tooth pulled, suddenly there is an unexpected—and often very costly—expense. If you have adequately saved, you can avoid this stressful event, and the negative emotions associated with it. The goal for needs should be to make sure they are covered, but try to reduce expenses as much as possible, says Goren.

In fact, this principle applies to fixed wants as well. Many people pay a high mortgage to live in a nice house or pay a hefty car payment to drive a nice car. We think these things are essential for a high quality of life, but we quickly get accustomed to an expensive lifestyle. Once the allure of the big house or nice car wears off, these things do not actually make us happier day to day than we would have been without them. In fact, if buying the big house results in a longer commute to work, we will likely end up less happy despite the increased spending.

The same can be said for other fixed expenses, such as TV and pizza delivery. Once we become accustomed to certain perks, they stop making us happier—yet the expense remains. We are truly paying for nothing, as far as our happiness is concerned. (And, with the increased strain on our budget, we may actually be worse off.) This effect is called the “hedonic treadmill”: At first, positive changes, like winning the lottery, make us happier. But over time, we tend to gravitate toward our happiness baseline.

In contrast, each purchase of a unique variable offers a fresh happiness boost. By prioritizing spending money on a greater number of new positive experiences, we can counter the hedonic treadmill effect.

The goal is for good budgeting in the first three categories to free up more funds to spend on these quality-of-life-boosting variable wants. The ability to spend money on vacations, gifts, and some material goods can help increase our happiness day-to-day.

Below, we discuss the four expense categories, and how to budget in each to boost happiness.

1. Reduce how much you spend on fixed needs

Source: Pixabay

Maybe you realized that, yes, you need a big house because you have a big family. Or you need a cell phone because you would be lost without it. How much money you spend on these needs, though, is more flexible than you might realize.

“I haven’t paid rent since March 2015,” Dr. Goren admitted to me. “I figure I’ve saved about $21,000 in the past 18 months on rent alone. I’ve sought out rent-controlled or vacant apartments, I’ve lived with roommates and romantic partners, and—in Athens—I’ve taken advantage of football game days to Airbnb my house.

My income from roommates and Airbnb has totally offset my housing expenses.” He is the first to admit that his situation is fairly unique (he doesn’t have children or, seemingly, any worldly possessions), but he’s adamant that anyone can follow the underlying principles.

For example, he shows how impactful adding a roommate can be on our finances. Filling that spare room with someone paying $700 a month will generate $8,400 in savings in one year—enough to buy a good used car or pay off a third of the typical college graduate’s student loans.

To reduce spending on fixed needs, start keeping your eyes open for savings opportunities. Here are some other tips to get you started.

  • Sign up for a credit card that gives you 3 percent back on groceries or gas and suddenly these fixed expenses are reduced by 3 percent.
  • Team up with some friends and join a family plan for your phone, and suddenly your phone payments plummet upwards of 50 percent.
  • Switch to an online savings account like Ally and suddenly you get 1 percent interest that can be put towards other things.

2. Try to reduce spending on fixed wants

Knock off cable, the daily latte, and other fixed expenses, and you’ll free up thousands of dollars every year. True, cutting Netflix out of your life is going to sting at first. But over time, you’ll adjust: The hedonic treadmill works the other way around, too. And your wallet may thank you, to the tune of about $180 a year.

I asked Dr. Goren to elaborate on how one could go about eliminating fixed wants. “A few years ago, I got caught up in this habit of buying a few gallons of juice every time I went grocery shopping,” he recounts. “One day, I noticed the same flavors in concentrate form—just add water and you get the same thing. Switching to concentrate saved me an incredible $400 a year.” By discovering that the fancy juice was really a want and not a need, Dr. Goren was able to implement a small change that saved him a substantial amount of money in the long term.

Once you change your habits, you’ll get even more enjoyment out of the occasional treat—effectively turning a fixed want into a variable want. But more on that in a moment.

3. Be strategic about spending on variable needs

To manage variable needs—those unavoidable expenses that come up on an irregular basis—it is best to maintain some emergency savings and to purchase various forms of insurance. Health insurance is now a legal mandate for all Americans; if you drive, make sure you have auto insurance; if you own a home, have a good homeowners policy; and if you have dependents, make sure you have life insurance—a term policy may only cost a couple hundred dollars a year for hundreds of thousands of dollars in coverage.

Having insurance might actually improve mental health among certain people—and if you don’t have insurance when an emergency arises, it could create significant, ongoing financial stress that may limit your happiness for a long time.

To be strategic about spending on variable needs, you could:

  • Understand what insurance coverage you have through work, and fill gaps with your own policies.
  • Open a savings account and set up automatic monthly contributions until you have about four to six months’ worth of living expenses saved for emergencies.
  • When you have an unexpected and unpleasant expense, try to pay for it up front. Every time you have a payment on something that you’d rather not be paying for, you get bummed out.

4. Have more money left over for variable wants

Source: Pixabay

Variable wants are the most efficient at increasing quality of life and happiness. Variable wants, considered as an annual expense, are usually much, much cheaper than fixed wants. Dr. Goren, ever-so-frugal when it comes to housing, admits that he splurges on other expenses: “This year, I went to Mexico for ten days. And the year before, I went to Canada for ten days. Both those trips cost about the same amount as a year of cable TV.”

You can also try these tricks to get the most out of your spending:

  • Pay for something up front that you will receive over time. For example, you could buy a season pass to an amusement park or ski resort. Every time you go, you get to enjoy it but you don’t have to pay again—almost as if it’s free.
  • Spend money on experiences, such as vacations or the occasional fancy date.
  • Spend money on others by planning a fun birthday party or surprise gift.
  • Spend money on meaningful things, like a donation to your favorite charity or school. Gifts to friends, family, and charity are particularly good at making us feel happier.

In sum, try to focus your expenses on things that make you happy (new experiences, loved ones, and gifts) and avoid spending on things that don’t make you happy (housing costs, car payments, and other fixed expenses). In the long run, you’ll find you’re spending less and enjoying life more.

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Three Ways You Can Use Social Media to Cultivate Resilience

Want to boost your well-being with social media? Try these tricks.

We are spending more and more time on social media. One problem that’s emerging now is that social media’s algorithms often show us things that get us anxious, angry, or upset because this content is what keeps us engaged and clicking. This means that the news articles we see may be the most outrageous, the posts we see may be the most stressful, and the ads we see may be the ones that get us the most riled up. So spending more time online just might mean we feel more negative than ever.

But, negative experiences do not necessarily result in negative outcomes, like depression or anxiety. Some people exhibit resilience—in other words, they maintain or improve well-being in the face of stress. This may (at least in part) explain why social media doesn’t make everyone feel more negative. So what are these “resilient” people doing differently? And how can the rest of us use social media to cultivate resilience?

To get you started, here are 3 science-based ways to cultivate resilience on social media.

1. Reframe your experience

The ability to regulate and manage our emotions crucially affects how we experience negative emotions, and therefore, how resilient we are. One strategy, in particular, has been shown to boost resilience, even in the face of stress. This strategy is cognitive reappraisal—or reframing a stressful event in order to change one’s emotional response to it.

Cognitive reappraisal is not only a useful strategy IRL, but it can also be used in response to stressful events that we experience online. For example, if you find yourself getting upset, you could ask yourself: What might be some positive outcomes of this situation? In what ways might someone benefit from this? Or, what could I learn from this? By reframing the experience, you can shift your negative emotions to be a bit more positive.

2. Take an outsiders point of view

These days, we are so immersed in our experiences—what we feel, what we think, what happened to us. As a result, we may get mentally stuck in our own negativity. But it turns out that emotionally distancing yourself from your own experience (i.e., looking at it from an outsider’s perspective) can help you feel better and be more resilient.

So next time you find yourself getting riled up about something you read online, take a step back and look at yourself from an outsiders’ perspective, or like you are a “fly on the wall”. This approach can help you get unstuck from your own emotions a bit and see your experience in a less intense way.

3. Practice mental time travel

There is so much happening every day, every second, every time you scroll on social media that the present moment can feel overwhelming. That’s why another strategy that can be helpful is to look at your situation from another point in time. This technique helps dampen your emotions and boost resilience because you can start to see that your current negative emotions are not permanent—they will end, and this can make them feel less intimidating.

In sum

These three strategies can help you manage negative emotions associated with social media while also helping you build resilience. If you regularly practice these strategies, social media may even help you boost your well-being—a sort of training tool for helping us build skills that improve our lives.

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How To Get Started With Affirmations

6 things to keep in mind when doing affirmations.

First, we must pay attention to notice which current patterns of behavior are working against our best interests. We might also want to know what aspects of our well-being we most struggle with so we can create affirmations that are likely to have the biggest impact for us.

Second, we must feel motivated enough to do something. Once we have accepted that the subconscious is not always on track with what we want for ourselves, we can work on “fixing” the problem through the repeated use of affirmations.

But wait! Randomly repeating just any ol’ affirmation is not enough to result in significant change. If we want our affirmations to be successful, we need to learn how to construct these statements in the right ways. This way, our affirmations are more likely to lead to more positive actions, emotions, and experiences. So keep these tips in mind when constructing positive affirmations.

1. Fill your affirmations with passion

Affirmations that are full of emotion have a greater impact. Feeling the change you want to experience helps your positive affirmations work. Say the following: “I am happy.” Now stop and think about a time when you were really happy and get in touch with that feeling. Draw it into yourself and let it fill your heart with joy. Now say “I am happy” and really exude what happiness feels like as you make your statement. Do you see how much stronger the impact is when you imbue your words with feeling? If you fill your affirmations with positive emotions, they can be much more effective in bringing about what you desire. Positive emotions are a key to successful affirmations!

2. Add visualizations to your affirmations

Use your conscious mind to design a scene that supports your positive affirmations. Since a picture speaks a thousand words, visualization is a great way to get your message across to your subconscious mind about what you want. If you’re house-hunting, visualize the house of your dreams, whether a cozy cabin in the woods or a mansion on the hill, and make it real in your mind adding lots of details. The clearer you can see what you are dreaming of manifesting, the better your subconscious will see it too.

3. Ground your affirmations in your body

Use facial expressions, gung-ho gestures, thumbs-up, affirmative sounds like “Ho!” or “Yes I can!”, clap your hands, or jump forward. Another way to ground your message into your body is to take a brisk walk while saying your affirmations over and over again. The mental-somatic connections in the brain are thus reinforced and provide greater support to your affirmation.

4. Start your affirmation practice

Set aside 10-15 minutes a day to repeat your affirmations. Add sounds and smells, for example by lighting a candle or ringing a bell or infusing the space with incense. Speak with heartfelt emotions and create visualizations to activate different regions of your brain.

5. Take action on your affirmations

Ground your affirmations in reality by taking some action. If it’s a job you are looking for, send out some resumes. If you want to be exposed to less plastic toxins, buy some glass dishes to replace your plastic ones. If you want to be more fit, say your affirmations as you walk or drive to the gym for a work-out. Actions speak even louder than words.

6. Stick to your affirmations

It takes time to reprogram your brain. Remind yourself to do your affirmations by putting up sticky note reminders around your home, or paint a rock, a twig, or a pinecone as a trigger-reminder, and every time you see it or just think of your object, state out loud your positive affirmation. Alternatively, you could send yourself a letter, or place a reminder in your digital calendar to do your affirmation. Most importantly, be persistent. If you want to carve a new groove in your subconscious, keep at it.

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What Are Your Happiness Strengths and Weaknesses?

Find out which skills you should focus on to build happiness.

Many happiness seekers have read dozens of articles on happiness yet they don’t feel closer to creating the happiness they desire in their lives. Reading about the practices that increase happiness is a great first step. But one thing that you may not have heard is this:

You can increase your happiness by turning your “happiness weaknesses” into “happiness strengths.”

To turn your weaknesses into strengths, you need a plan. Think about it: Would you bake a cake without a recipe? Would you fix your transmission without the car manual? Would you go on a journey into the wilderness without a map? You know intuitively, that a plan or guide or map—some kind of tool—makes it much easier to effectively navigate new territory.

If long-term happiness is new territory for you, then you need some kind of plan that maps out a strategy for increasing your happiness.

How to make an effective happiness plan

It turns out that happiness is not something we find, or reach, or become. We learn happiness skills just as we would learn any other skill. Most likely you are already really good at some happiness skills and not so good at others. For example, you might already be great at resilience but not as good at empathy. By practicing resilience, you are not likely to become more empathic. So your happiness skills, as a whole, will improve more if you spend your time practicing empathy, one of your weaknesses.

So how do you figure out your happiness strengths and weaknesses? Consider how well you demonstrate the following skills in your daily life:

Positive thoughts about the self

Acceptance: The ability to accept yourself and your emotions non-judgmentally.

Self-worth: The ability to see yourself as a good, worthwhile human being.

Clarity: The ability to understand what you value, how you feel, and who you are.

Positive reappraisal: The ability to change your thoughts in ways that help you experience longer-lasting, more intense, or more frequent positive emotion.

Positive thoughts about others

Rejection tolerance: The ability to perceive the actions of others as inclusive rather than rejecting.

Empathy: The ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes and see the world from their perspective.

Gratitude: The ability to be thankful for the experiences and people you have in your life.

Letting go: The ability to stop fretting and ruminating about negative interpersonal situations.

Positive behaviors involving the self

Planning: The ability to develop effective strategies and take actions that progress you towards your goals.

Growth mindset: The belief that your strengths can be developed through hard work and dedication.

Self-care: The ability to resist engaging in unhealthy behaviors (drugs, alcohol, shopping, or overeating) as a means to increase happiness.

Prioritizing positivity: The ability to make time for, and consistently schedule, activities that you enjoy.

Positive behaviors involving others

Kindness: The ability to be friendly, generous, and considerate of others.

Autonomy: The ability to resist the influence of others, make your own independent decisions, and take action based on your unique values.

Expressivity: The ability to easily communicate and share intimate aspects of yourself with others.

Assertiveness: The ability to stand up for yourself, speak up, and communicate your needs.

Once you know your happiness strengths and weaknesses, choose just one skill that is a weakness for you. It’s important not to try to develop too many skills at once. If you focus on too many things, you’ll have a difficult time making progress on any of them.

Once you have decided which skills to work on, think about how and when you will practice. Plan to practice building these skills at least a little bit every week for a few months and see if you get a happiness boost.

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4 Ways To Boost Resilience

Having a hard time coping with stress? Try these science-based ways to build resilience.

Resilience is that amazing skill that helps you recover quickly from difficulties. If you are resilient, then when life knocks you down, you bounce back and you keep going. Sometimes life’s challenges can even make you stronger. So how do you become a more resilient person?

1. Reframe the catastrophe

Catastrophizing is when we expect the worst possible outcome in a situation. For example, you may have lost your job and now believe that you will never be successful, and everyone will think you’re a failure forever. This may sound extreme. Most of us don’t catastrophize quite this much, but many of us do sometimes believe that the worst possible outcomes will come true. Although being aware of possible negative outcomes can be helpful for planning ahead, when we believe the worst will come true, we set ourselves up for unnecessary stress and poor resilience.

One way to break this thought pattern is to wear a pendant or carry a stone or other small object with you. Every time you find yourself imagining the worst — about a person, situation, or outcome — analyze the object. Name it’s color, shape, and details. This is just the right amount of distraction to help you calm down.

2. Stop your negative thought cycles

Often when bad things happen, we get stuck thinking about negative outcomes. We repeatedly think about what we could have done differently in the past, or how we are going to mess up again in the future. We ruminate on these events, because we mistakenly believe that thinking about our hardships over and over again will help us solve them. Unfortunately, negative thought cycles just get us caught up in our thoughts, instead of taking the actions we need to move forward.

To put an end to these negative thought cycles, which have become well-worn pathways in our brains, we need to short-circuit our thoughts mid-cycle. To do this, we can create a behavioral break or an action plan for what we’ll do when our negative thought cycles get going.

Exercise seems to be a really effective behavioral break. But if exercise isn’t possible (maybe you’re at work or with other people), try to do something else that uses both your mind and your body. For example, you could excuse yourself for five minutes to practice deep, slow breathing. Deep breathing helps activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which can both calm you and switch off your stress.

3. Beat your fear of failure

Unfortunately, many of us avoid failure at all costs. We do so, because we are afraid of failure; we worry that people will think poorly of us if we fail, and we feel ashamed when we fail. But by treating failure like a disease to be avoided, we never give ourselves a chance to overcome challenges and practice resilience. As a result, we prevent ourselves from becoming more resilient. So how do you conquer your fear of failure so that you can start building resilience?

If you think failure is a threat, like many of us do, your body will prepare for a fight — and you’ll feel like you’re in a battle. On the other hand, if you choose to view doing something hard, something you could fail at, as a challenge, then you’re more likely to think you are capable of handling it. As a bonus, when you view things that you could possibly fail at as challenges, you actually will be more capable and less likely to fail at them.

To build this “challenge mindset,” reflect on past challenges that you’ve overcome. Let’s say you’re worried about starting a new job. Take a moment to think back to other goals you’ve achieved. Remind yourself that you have been successful at things in the past, even small things. When you remind yourself that you have succeeded before, you can help shift towards a challenge mindset.

Next, visualize success. By imagining yourself doing well, you shift your mindset to do well. On the other hand, if you ruminate about what could go wrong, your fear builds, and the failure you fear becomes more likely. Keep in mind that even if you are able to shift your brain to stop seeing something as a threat, you may feel nervousness or anxiety, but you’ll also experience positive physiological changes that can help you make better use of these negative emotions.

4. Find the benefits

Part of what makes challenges challenging is that we become myopic and only focus on the bad without seeing the good. So how do you find the benefits of failure?

Plenty of smart folks will tell you that you should reflect on your failures right after you experience them. But negative emotions can cloud your thinking. If you are still feeling upset about a failure, it may be harder to see the benefits or come up with effective solutions. If this practice is new to you, an easier way to start finding the benefits of challenges may be to look at past challenges — challenges that you’re no longer upset about. By practicing finding the benefits of past challenges, you can strengthen this ability so that it is easier to find the benefits next time.

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5 Ways To Do Positive Affirmations

How to use positive statements (positive affirmations) to improve your life.

According to cognitive neuroscientists, 95 percent of brain activity is beyond our conscious awareness. That means our daily experiences are largely affected by unconscious beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. So, if we wish to improve our lives, we need to shift these unconscious experiences. One way to do that is by using positive statements about ourselves or our lives—otherwise known as positive affirmations.

Here’s how to make positive affirmations work for you.

1. Positive affirmations should be spoken out loud and repeated

Speaking reinforces our learning processes and increases the likelihood of our subconscious actually hearing our request. Adding other sense perceptions helps even further. For instance, lighting a candle or a stick of incense each time you repeat your affirmations is a way of signaling your subconscious to pay attention. Ringing a bell before speaking your positive affirmation aloud is another way to further awaken more senses. By creating a ritual-type of situation that is repeated consistently and linked with the affirmations, you are signaling to the subconscious that you want its attention.

2. Always use the present tense when saying positive affirmations

The subconscious thinks simplistically; it lives in the now. Concepts like “soon” or “later” are hard for your subconscious to understand. So are abstract adjectives such as “better.” Keep your positive affirmations simple, and construct your sentences in the present tense. For example, “I am healthy, wealthy and wise,” and not “I am becoming healthier as I age” or “I will be wealthy by the time I’m 50” or “I am learning to be wise through my mistakes.” Lofty ideas may wow the conscious mind, but the subconscious is more easily influenced by statements about the present.

3. Avoid negatives in positive affirmations

The subconscious can get mixed up with negatives and what you really mean by them. For example, if your positive affirmation states, “I am not sick anymore,” your subconscious may focus on the idea of being sick because that is the subject of your affirmation. The same goes for “I am not poor,” where the subconscious thinks the message is “being poor” so it continues to provide what it thinks you want, which is more poverty. So choose your message carefully to ensure your communication with your subconscious leads to positive change and discontinuation of the negative thinking patterns.

4. Create positive affirmations that focus on the solution and not the problem

A statement such as “I am done with toxic relationships” might backfire because it focuses on bad relationships, not good ones. Instead, your affirmation should state the most positive outcome, such as “I am building healthy and balanced relationships that are a win-win for both of us,” or “My relationships are happy because we share the pleasures and responsibilities of our life together.”  The goal of your positive affirmations is to state your desires as valid and real, without focusing on your dissatisfactions about how things are going at present. State the improvements you want to see in your life, not the bad things you want to improve.

5. Craft positive affirmations that are specific, simple, and direct

Your subconscious knows how to achieve what you want, but it needs direction. It does not need to be told explicitly how to achieve those ends, but it does need guidance. “I am healthy and happy” is a simple positive affirmation. If you are looking for a new, well-paying job, be as specific as you can be. For example, you could say “I make $100,000 a year working for a company I love in Austin, TX. I am having fun being creative while making others happy. I am respected for what I have to offer and have plenty of time to spend with friends and loved ones when my job is done.” Once you have a positive affirmation that you feel good about, try it out and see how it makes you feel. If it doesn’t make you feel better, rework your affirmation until it does.

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How to Break up with Your Phone

Catherine Price’s new book shares tips for a better relationship with your phone

Did you know that Americans check their phones about 47 times per day? Half of us check our phones in the middle of the night. And 1 in 10 adults check their phone during sex.

Wow! We must really like our phones.

Luckily, I’m not the only one who thinks that our relationships with our phones have gotten a bit out of hand. In fact, Catherine Price has written a new book on exactly this topic. The book, How to Break up with Your Phone, teaches us, step-by-step, how to build better relationships with our phones, so that we can live happier and healthier lives.

So, what kind of relationship do you have with your phone?

Perhaps you check your phone for some important purpose only to get sucked into news, social media, or videos. Suddenly, hours go by, leaving you feeling unsatisfied and vaguely depressed, but you’re not sure why. Or maybe, you look to your phone to provide your life with meaning, happiness, or some kind of positive feeling. If this sounds like you, then it’s time to take a break from your phone.

Easier said than done though, right? We’ve become reliant on our phone’s tools (like maps), the easy communication (like texts), and, well, just about everything else on our phones. To overcome these challenges, here are some of the tips from the new book, How to Break up with Your Phone:

1. Reflect on how you use your phone

For a day or two, just pay attention to your relationship with your phone to gain clarity on how your phone makes you feel. What emotions do you have before using your phone? How about after using your phone? Who are you with? What are you doing? Where are you? When you pick up your phone, what do you do? Are there particular apps you use most often? How long do you get sucked in? Is it hard to return your attention back to other things?

What might your answers tell you about why you are using your phone? Ask yourself, is this really the way you want to use this time? Is it really making you happy? Or are you like most people, miserably addicted to a rectangular object that is making you miserable?

2. Try riding out your cravings

When we’re addicted to something (like our phones), quitting cold turkey can result in some pretty massive cravings. One way to overcome these cravings is to better understand them. Ask yourself, why are you wanting to reach for your phone right now? What emotions are you hoping to experience? Or, are you trying to avoid an emotional experience? Instead of picking up your phone, just sit with your emotions and see if you can identify what, exactly, is causing you to reach for your phone.

3. Set your lock screen as a reminder to stop mindlessly checking your phone

You’ve discovered that using your phone to make you happy is not working – in fact, it’s making you miserable. So, now you’ve decided you want to take a break from your phone (or maybe just use your phone less).

Is ignoring your uncomfortable cravings harder than you thought? Then set your lock screen with a reminder image not to “Click Here for Happiness” (Download this lock screen image here). If happiness is what you seek, you won’t find it in your phone. Go look for it IRL (in real life).

4. Create a trigger

Ok, so you find that you skip through your lock screen, ignoring your reminder. It sounds like you need an extra layer of defense. If this sounds like you, then put something on the outside of your phone to slow you down when you reach for your phone – something like a sticker or rubber band.

5. Consider deleting social media apps from your phone

Social media – and other browsing apps – can be the biggest time sucks on your phone. When they aren’t there, we can be less tempted to reach for our phones. So consider deleting social media apps from your phone.

I did this years ago. I just tell people that I don’t have Facebook or Snapchat on my phone and so they know to contact me with a text. It really isn’t a big deal and it keeps me from getting sucked into spending too much time on social media.If this seems too extreme, try moving your apps somewhere other than your front page or changing your phone’s display to grayscale. At least this way, those bright app buttons wont draw you in as easily.

6. Change where you charge your phone

If you charge your phone where you sleep, you’ll be drawn to pick it up, whether you’re resting, sleeping, or maybe even having sex. This is why one of the easiest tips to decrease phone time is to charge your phone outside the bedroom. Do you use your phone as an alarm? Then get a regular alarm clock! It’s worth it.

7. Make no-phone zones and no-phone times

Some people don’t allow phones in their houses. Others don’t allow phones in the bathroom. Do you have a space that you would like to be phone free? Then make it so. Personally, in my tiny bay-area apartment, this is not really an option. So instead, I have no-phone times. This may sounds weird, but I don’t take my phone on errands, like grocery shopping, going to the post office, or picking up takeout. It’s a small chunk of phone-free time, but quite freeing, I think.

8. Find more things you like to do

Remember, the time you spend playing on your phone is time you aren’t spending doing other things that make your life more interesting and meaningful. Unfortunately, we often default to our phone when we can’t immediately think of other activities that we enjoy. To get out of this bind, start brainstorming fun activities you could do so that when you take a break from your phone, you won’t feel bored. Instead, you’ll feel pleased to have time to do all this cool stuff.

9. Check in with yourself often

Schedule a reminder to check in with yourself each month. Ask yourself, how is your relationship with your phone going? Are you staying present while using your phone? Are you only using apps that make you feel good? Are you only spending a small amount of time on your phone or are you getting sucked in and feeling miserable afterwards? Do you need to make any more changes? If so, then make them.

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6 New Ways You Can Make a Difference OnlineEasy, simple, fun tips for making a positive impact using the internet.

We already know that there are lots of ways that technology can be bad for you. But what about the ways that technology can be good for you? And good for the world? There are plenty. Here are six ways you can use technology to make a positive difference in the world:

  1. Join a mission-oriented online group.
    There are now tons of online groups. Many of these groups focus on common interests—for example, cats, cooking, or sports. But other groups focus on common goals—for example, electing a particular political candidate, addressing an important social problem, or raising money for an important cause. Joining one of these mission-oriented groups can be a great way to get started making a difference with very little time investment or risk. You can even try out a few groups to see which ones fit you best and boost your happiness the most.
  2. Raise money for a good cause.
    Increasingly, social media can be used to raise money for good causes. My friend Kyra sold T-shirts on Facebook to raise money for an organization she wanted to support. And Patrick asked friends to donate to a charity for his birthday present. You can do things like this too. By making your online interactions less about yourself and more about making a positive difference for others, you’ll likely feel better about yourself and boost your happiness.
  3. Leave kind words for others who contribute something positive.
    Instead of just clicking away after enjoying a video, picture, or article, take a moment to leave a kind note for the person who created it or shared it. Devote a bit more time than it would take to simply click a like button, and instead say something genuine and from your heart. Believe me, the other person will really appreciate it and you’ll leave feeling more satisfied than you would have had you skipped leaving a kind comment.
  4. Start your own website.
    Got some skills or knowledge that could benefit others? Consider starting your own website. It can take a long time to build up a website, but people will appreciate it if you offer them something of value.
    What might you share with the world? Your knowledge, art, ideas, or something else? It’s really easy now with free website builders like Weebly.
  5. Volunteer remotely.
    Another way you can make a difference online is by offering to volunteer for a non-profit organization. Oftentimes there are tasks that can be done virtually and remotely. As a volunteer, you’ll have less responsibility but still have an opportunity to make a real impact on the social problem of your choice.
  6. Donate to a good cause.
    Even though all of the suggestions above take minimal time, maybe your time is just completely booked up. Instead of donating time, you can donate to your favorite cause. For example, I recently donated to one of my favorite bloggers to support her writing.
    There are all sorts of ways to make a difference now that we have easy access to the internet. Go ahead and give it a try.
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How The COMT Gene Can Hurt Your Health

If you have a specific variation of the COMT gene, you’re more prone to stress. Learn more about the “stress gene”.

It turns out there are a bunch of genes that can make it difficult for some people to eliminate toxins from the body—toxins from air pollution, pesticides, fragrances, mold, estrogen, parasites, and even stress hormones! One of them is the COMT gene.

The COMT gene

What is it?

The COMT gene provides instructions for making an enzyme called catechol-O-methyltransferase. An estimated 20-30% of Caucasians of European ancestry have a COMT gene variation which limits the body’s ability to remove catechols (a specific type of molecule that includes dopamine, norepinephrine, estrogen, etc.) by 3-4 times (This variation is called Met/Met, AA, or +/+). COMT is also associated with greater levels of cortisol and HPA axis dysfunction (which is largely responsible for the body’s ability to calm itself and de-stress).

Because of the effects that COMT has on hormones, it directly affects stress reactivity, health, and well-being. Interestingly, those with this gene appear to experience both negative and positive emotions more strongly. For example, those with the COMT gene variation Met/Met tend to be more neurotic and have lower stress resiliency. However, in one study, people with the Met/Met variation generated almost similar amounts of positive emotion in response to a “bit pleasant event” as people with the no variation (Val/Val) did from a “very pleasant event.” So it’s a good idea to find out if you’re Val/Val or Met/Met or Val/Met.

What to do about it:

  1. Because COMT is a methylation gene it’s essential to get adequate B vitamins to support COMT, especially B2, B6, B9, and B12 as well as magnesium.
    1. To support COMT methylation, others suggest people with COMT Met/Met take SAMe.
  2. Because COMT has a hard time removing catechols, it can also be helpful to avoid foods that increase catechols.
    1. For example, don’t over-consume foods that contain the amino acids tyrosine, tryptophan, and phenylalanine (i.e., high-protein foods), as it is converted into dopamine endogenously as well as triggering catechol release. One study showed that reducing these amino acids can even reduce bipolar symptoms.
    1. Limiting caffeine can also be helpful, as caffeine can trigger release of catechols. Limiting alcohol is beneficial since alcohol consumption triggers dopamine release. And limit smoking, which may have a negative effect of COMT.
  3. It’s also key to eat foods that remove excess catachol estrogens from the body and avoid foods and bath products that mimic estrogen.
    1. Excess estrogen slows COMT and COMT is largely responsible for ridding the body of harmful estrogen metabolites—this means a slow COMT can have a cascading effect where more estrogen leads to less COMT activity which leads to more estrogen and so on. That’s why it can be helpful to avoid estrogen boosters (e.g., dairy, parabens, and possibly soy.)
    1. Most often it is recommended to eat DIM, cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, or cauliflower, flaxseed, and other foods or supplements that support Phase 2 liver detox (See GST section above) and to remove these toxic estrogen metabolites.
  4. In addition, COMT is responsible for processing certain phytonutrients (catechol-containing flavonoids). It’s key to avoid overconsumption of these phytonutrients so as not to overwhelm a slow COMT, while at the same time keeping antioxidant levels high to limit oxidative damage.
    1. For example, limit catechol-containing flavonoids including quercetin, rutin, luteolin, EGCG, catechins, Epicatechins, Fisetin, Ferulic acid, Hydroxytyrosol. This includes foods like green tea, capers, cilantro, berries, and apples (see even more foods here.)
    1. The following flavonoids don’t have the catechol structure, and therefore eating extra helpings of these may be more beneficial
    1.  to those with low COMT activity: apigenin, genistein, chrysin, myricetin, and flavones (includes apigenin, tangeritin, chrysin, baicalein, scutellarein, wogonin). So focus on eating more of these foods (e.g., grapefruit, chamomile, onions, parsley, and celery.
  5. A few other things to keep an eye on are exercise and calorie intake.
    1. Exercise requires methylation and increases catechols. So if you have a difficult time methylating because of COMT (or other genes like MTHFR, which are discussed in depth elsewhere), then you might be better off limiting strenuous exercise.
    1. And fasting can increase catechols, which can bog down COMT. So eating regularly and maintaining blood sugar is essential.
  6. Lastly, avoid stress whenever possible.
    1. This COMT gene variation limits the body’s ability to remove some stress hormones by 3-4 times. So stress feels stronger, lasts longer, and does more damage. So be sure to practice stress reduction and self-care.

Note. There are not many known ways to increase COMT activity, so avoiding anything that inhibits COMT activity is key to recovering from COMT-related issues.

Other things to do

Regardless of our genes, we can all benefit from improving liver detox. We can do this through any of the aforementioned techniques but also by supporting other genes that aid Phase 2 detox. For example, cruciferous vegetables, citrus foods, and bioactive compounds induce UGT enzymes, which aid Phase 2 detox. Animal studies also suggest benefits of other foods and nutrients, including dandelion, rooibos tea, honeybush tea, rosemary, ellagic acid, ferulic acid, curcumin, and astaxanthin.

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Four Ways to Boost Your Self-Worth

Feel better about who you are with these quick tips.

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

Self-worth is essential to well-being. Why? Because your views of yourself not only affect how you feel; they also affect your thoughts and behaviors. When we feel bad about ourselves, we unconsciously act in ways that end up confirming our beliefs. For example, if we feel like we are not worthy of a good relationship, a good job, or financial stability, we stop pursuing these goals with the intensity required to reach them, or we sabotage ourselves along the way.

So how do you break out of this negative cycle? Here’s 4 tips:

1. Figure out what you need

We tend to feel bad about ourselves when we feel powerless to get our needs met — so you can start this process by clarifying for yourself what you need. What people, places, or experiences are must-haves to live a fulfilling life? What aspects of your life — if removed — would leave you feeling empty or incomplete? Generally, our needs revolve around relatedness, autonomy, and competence. Everything else is just a want.

2. Figure out how will you meet your needs

What if your needs aren’t being met? Then you have to start thinking about how you will communicate your needs and what you will do if the people in your life can’t meet those needs. It’s funny how standing up for yourself can boost self-worth.

3. Forgive yourself for past mistakes

Almost everyone has said something hurtful, forgotten an important event, or betrayed someone they love. We have to remember that our mistakes do not define us. They do not make us good people or bad people. If we learn and grow from our mistakes then they make us better people. To develop self-worth, we must keep in mind that everyone makes mistakes. Forgive yourself, be compassionate toward yourself, and give yourself credit for trying not to make the same mistakes again.

4. Celebrate what makes you special

When we cherish what makes us unique, we begin to develop a deep love for ourselves just as we are. Celebrate yourself by enjoying your silly dancing style or giggling at your crooked smile.

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6 Ways To Develop Yourself

Build your skills and talents with these high-impact strategies.

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Personal development can include any skill that you build to improve yourself—your emotions, thoughts, or behaviors. It doesn’t really matter which skills you want to improve; the key to personal development is taking the right steps—steps that help ensure that you reach whatever goal you are pursuing.

What are the most important personal development skills? It really depends on what you’re trying to achieve. But here are some you might want to try.

1. Explore your strengths and weaknesses

The first step in any personal development strategy is to figure out how to best use your time. It makes little sense to learn how to code if you don’t plan to be a coder. It makes little sense to bench press 400 pounds if you don’t plan to be a weightlifter. These can be hobbies, but personal development is more about building skills to reach your goals. So it’s good to take some time to self-reflect.

2. Develop entrepreneurial thinking

Everyone can benefit from learning how to think like an entrepreneur, regardless of whether or not you are one. Why? Because entrepreneurs are innovative, good at planning for all possible outcomes, and skilled at getting others to buy into their vision or dream. And perhaps more importantly for personal development, they tend to be adaptable to all sorts of situations.

By developing entrepreneurial thinking, you better adapt to whatever your circumstances are so you can more easily achieve your goals, whether those goals are to start a business that makes a positive impact in the world, to set yourself up for an early retirement, or climb Mount Everest.

3. Develop a growth mindset

Fear of making mistakes can lead us to avoid challenges and new experiences—experiences which would help us grow, improve ourselves in important ways, and create the life we desire.

If we have a “growth mindset” we seek out challenges because we value learning and growth more than we value feeling smart or knowing what we’re doing. That’s why those with a growth mindset often build new skills more easily: They believe they can and so they really work at it.

4. Learn to calm yourself

High levels of stress are not only bad for our health and well-being, they can prevent us from effectively pursuing and achieving our self-development goals. By learning effective, long-lasting stress-reducing strategies, your body and mind will be more equipped to handle the inevitable challenges that arise when you’re trying to develop yourself.

5. Develop resilience

Resilience is that super-important skill that helps you bounce back quickly after being knocked down. This is one of the most important skills for success because none of us will achieve anything if we don’t keep trying when we fail. We can build resilience by improving skills like emotion-regulation, mindfulness, and positivity.

6. Create a personal development plan

A good personal development plan takes all these factors into consideration—the WHAT, the HOW, the WHY, and the WHEN. So ask yourself:

  • What skills will you build?
  • How will you build them?
  • Why will you build them?
  • And when will you build them?

And record your progress to make sure you’re on the right track.

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10 Ways to Be More Authentic

Want to let your true self shine? Then try these 10 authenticity strategies.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com

 

Being your authentic self can feel risky now in our screen-obsessed world. We’re just trying to fit in, be liked, and be accepted by other human beings. And as a result, the image we present (on our social media profiles and IRL) have become mere presentations of who we think we should be and not reflections of who we really are. So how do we take off the mask we’ve been wearing and start to live a life of authenticity?

1. Observe yourself objectively

Learn to observe yourself like a fly on the wall. Watch yourself, observing how the version of yourself that you show the world behaves, what it believes, how it reacts under pressure, and how it responds to challenges. Practice noticing which of these responses feel authentic, and which ones feel inauthentic. By identifying which responses are just “for show” vs authentic, you can begin to notice the falseness and begin to better see the truth underneath.

2. Examine family belief systems

Think back to episodes in your childhood, episodes that led you to stop being your authentic self and instead adopt some other way of existing in this world. By examining where our behaviors come from, we can learn a lot about our authentic selves.

3. Identify discrepancies

Try to become aware of discrepancies between your actions and your beliefs. If you catch yourself making a remark that makes you cringe, ask yourself whether you really believe the words you speak. Are you just saying these things because someone else taught you to?

If you acknowledge what is true for you now, then you can better live your life according to the needs of your Authentic Self. But that kind of authenticity requires self-awareness and self-honesty.

4. Examine your doubts

When exploring your Authentic Self, you may feel unsure of how to go about it. You may question whether it’s even possible to change what feels so deeply ingrained within you or is invisible to you. So keep an eye out for feelings of doubt.

Doubts can be like breadcrumbs that lead you to your Authentic Self. If you doubt something—a thought, behavior, emotion, experience—reflect for a face your fear

face your fears

moment to find whatever is underneath. Is your Authentic Self trying to tell it to “stop it?”

5. Face your fears

Humans tend to be most comfortable with what is familiar. The unfamiliar is often challenging, at least at first. Examining your inner core beliefs can be like exploring a foreign landscape you are unfamiliar with.

Our Authentic Self often has a lot of fear, sadness, and anger—our true selves were hurt and that’s why they hide. However, the difficult secrets we hide from ourselves are what make us who we really are. So as much as possible, and as slowly as you need to, courageously explore the truth of what makes you who you are. Identifying, experiencing, accepting, and letting go of these buried emotions is exactly what fuels your Authentic Self.

6. Explore your values

Integrity, ethics, and living our values is an effective way to live more authentically. The trouble comes when we are so far from our Authentic Selves that we do not even know what our values are. So explore your values and figure out some ways to start living them.

7. Love yourself

Because it takes self-love for our Authentic Selves to emerge, embedding more love and compassion within yourself is helpful. One way to increase your self-love is to set aside some time aside to take numerous deep breaths each day. You can add this into an existing meditation practice if you like.

Slowly deepen your breathing and when you are feeling fully relaxed and receptive, call love to yourself from your environment. Imagine each breath infused with loving energy. ​Whether as balls of energy, or bursts, or rays of light and love, invite love to enter your body via your breath. Draw love into your lungs and disperse it throughout your body, or send it directly to your Authentic Self. Keep breathing consciously until you feel the lightening and lifting energy of these “love breaths.”

Once filled with love, share some of it with friends or loved ones. Sending love to others tends to expand the love within!

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How to Be More Generous

Simple ways to be a kinder, more compassionate, more generous person.

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Generosity is the act of being kind, selfless, and giving to others. Despite being an act that is done to benefit others’ well-being, generosity also paradoxically increases our well-being. So being generous is a fantastic way to improve your mental health and well-being. Not sure how to do it? Read on to discover how to be a more generous person.

Why generosity is good for you

Generosity is a good thing for our mental health and well-being because when we give to someone we care about, we make it more likely for them to give to us, making us more likely to give to them, and so on. As a result, regions of our brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust light up, making us feel all warm and gooey inside.

Why generosity is exponential

When it comes to improving our happiness and well-being, generosity is a good choice because it has a ripple effect. If someone else sees us do something kind or generous, it actually makes them more likely to be generous too. Even saying a simple, “Thank you,” can inspire both of you, and those watching, to be more generous. This is how generosity creates a ripple effect, helping us feel happier and less lonely.

So what stops us? Why aren’t we all just generous all the time?

What are the precursors to becoming a more generous person?

It turns out that building positive thinking skills is an important precursor to getting the most we can out of generosity. Why? Because positive emotions—like gratitude, joy, or awe—make us more likely to give. The happier we feel when we give, the more likely we are to give to others again in the future. And the more grateful we are, in general, the more we enjoy the experience of witnessing other people benefiting from our gifts. So if we’re having a hard time being more generous, we can benefit from developing our positive thinking skills.

What stops us from being generous people?

Lucky for us, it’s our default to be generous. But, we can accidentally override our natural inclinations to give it by over-relying on the “thinking” parts of our brains. Instead of following our natural impulse to be kind, we may come up with reasons for why we shouldn’t give—maybe we want to buy something for ourselves or we are afraid of not having enough. But if our goal is happiness (either for ourselves or others), that’s a big mistake. We feel happier giving to others than spending money on ourselves. So try to overcome fear of not having enough, which can stop you from being a more generous person.

How do we become a more generous person?

Once we are open to trying to become more generous (either to increase our own happiness or the happiness of others) how might we do it? We could give gifts on holidays, to acknowledge accomplishments, or just because we felt like it (that’s my favorite time to give a gift). We can also practice random acts of kindness—for example, by leaving a kind note for a coworker, emailing a family member to tell them you’re grateful for something they did, or buying lunch for a friend.

How to make generosity more impactful

To make giving even more rewarding, focus on giving in ways that make a positive impact in someone else’s life (not just your life). The more we believe that what we give will be valuable or useful to others, the better it feels. And the more we know about how the receiver will use the gift, the more we enjoy giving. We really do want to know not only that we are making a difference, but how we are making a difference. So give thoughtfully and intentionally. It just feels better—both to us and to the gift recipient.

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Is Facebook Bad for You?

Find out if Facebook is helping or hurting your happiness and well-being.

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Did you know that the average Facebook user uses a combination of Facebook and Instagram an average of 50 minutes per day? That’s more time than the average person spends socializing with other people, watching sports, and almost as much time as we spend eating. So if you’re a Facebook user, it’s now important to ask yourself, “Is spending your time on Facebook actually making you happier?”

Using Facebook passively can make you like yourself less.

If you’re the type to just view what your friends are up to, read articles, and scroll down your wall, it’s likely hurting your happiness.

A few studies have shown that using Facebook passively like this can lead to upward social comparisons. When you compare yourself to the best qualities of others on Facebook, suddenly you like yourself less. You know, like when you see the accomplishments of your high-school friends and you start questioning whether you’ve done enough with your life. Or when you see the fancy, adventurous meals your co-workers are eating and then you wonder if you are boring because, let’s face it, you never do anything cool.

It’s human nature to compare yourself to others, but on Facebook, everyone is presenting the best versions of themselves. So you always compare upward and end up feeling like you’re not good enough.

Using Facebook passively can lead to envy.

Have you had that feeling? Like when you see the beautiful beach vacation that your friend went on with the love of their life. Or when your former classmate suddenly gets their dream job and you’re still struggling to make ends meet.

The little green envy monster can make you feel inferior, hostile, and resentful. These emotions can actually harm your social relationships instead of supporting them while making you feel miserable in the process.

But wait! Facebook can actually help some people be happier. So, when and why doesn’t Facebook make you miserable?

Using Facebook actively can help you feel more socially connected

If you’re the type of Facebook user to post regularly, use messenger to chat, and disclose personal details about yourself, you may feel happier with Facebook in your life.

It turns out that both targeted one-on-one exchanges and broadcasting (posting) can increase happiness. This type of Facebook use helps you build weak social ties into stronger ones, maintain social ties that would have otherwise ended, and enhance the bonds you already have with your inner circle. You may even feel connected to a larger community. As a result, you are likely to feel less loneliness and greater well-being.

To use Facebook or not to use Facebook

If you’re not sure how you use Facebook – or you’re just not the type of person who wants to post and disclose intimate details about yourself on your Facebook wall – you’re likely better off limiting Facebook use, or, dare I say it, quitting Facebook altogether.

Research has shown that on average, people feel worse from using Facebook for 20 minutes than they do from browsing the internet elsewhere. Another study suggests that taking a week off from Facebook boosts well-being. I once took a year-long break from Facebook and, if you ask me, it vastly improved my quality of life.

So if you’re looking for the easiest possible way to find out if Facebook is making you miserable, take a week off. Then ask yourself if you felt better. If it did, consider taking more time off.

References

Verduyn, P., et al. (2017). “Do Social Network Sites Enhance or Undermine Subjective Well‐Being? A Critical Review.” Social Issues and Policy Review 11(1): 274-302.

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How to Be Happy in 7 Steps

Strategies that can help you boost happiness fast

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Even though there are tons of things you can do to live a happier life, here are 7 of the most important steps to growing your happiness. Give them a try to start living a happier life.

1. Find clarity.

How are you supposed to move your life forward when you don’t even know what you feel or why you feel it? To be happier, try to gain clarity on your emotions and then what caused those feelings.

3. Live your values.

When you start to explore yourself and your values, you may discover that you’ve known all along what would make you happy, but you’re just not doing it. To be happier, get clear on your values, so that you can live your life your way, according to your own principles and values.

4. Pay attention to the good.

Sure, sometimes life is hard. But by paying attention to the good, you can rise above your challenges and be more resilient. When you find the good, savor the moment, and bring it with you to maintain happiness even during hard times.

5. Use your imagination to create the life you seek.

Did you know that your brain has a difficult time differentiating between things that happen in your imagination and things that happen in real life? So when you imagine something — even happiness — your brain acts as if it’s real. We can use imagination to help create happiness out of thin air and enjoy our experiences more.

6. Stay mindful.

Sometimes we want to escape. The world seems dark and scary, but by practicing mindfulness we experience more fully both the positive and the negative — we are more fully engaged in our lives.

7. Explore what happiness means to you.

We all define happiness in different ways. When you know what happiness means to you, you’ll have an easier time finding it. So explore what happiness means, what it looks like, and what it feels like to you.

6 Tips for Decoding Emotions in Text Messages

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6 Tips for Decoding Emotions in Text Messages

Is she mad at you? Is he in love with you? Here are some ways to find out.

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How do you decode emotions in text messages? It’s easy when people say they are angry or sad or excited, or if they tack an emoji to the end of a text. But when they don’t? Given that even face-to-face communication can be confusing, it should not surprise us that these truncated, dashed-off messages can result in disastrous misunderstandings.

In the age of technology, we not only need to decode in-person interactions, but textual transmissions as well. How do we know what a person is feeling when we can’t see their faces or body language?

Here are six tips to get you started and help you better decode emotions in text messages, or at least prevent yourself from jumping to conclusions:

1. Assume good intentions.

Texts are a difficult medium for communicating emotion. We have no facial expressions or tone of voice or conversation to give us more information. And in general, text messages are short, offering us very little information to work with. A smiley face or series of exclamation points can help assure us that the text is meant to express positive emotion, but texts do not always include these indicators. Our friends’ busy schedules may lead to abrupt messages; similarly, our partner’s playful sarcasm isn’t always read as playful.

If a text doesn’t say, “I’m angry,” don’t assume that the texter is angry. We are better off reading a text with the assumption that the texter has good intentions. Otherwise, we may end up in a lot of unnecessary arguments.

2. Cultivate awareness of unconscious biases.

In my research, I have had to train numerous teams of emotion coders. But even trained coders who meet weekly to discuss discrepancies don’t agree on which emotion (or how much emotion) is being expressed. People just do not see emotions in the same way. We have unconscious biases that lead us to draw different conclusions based on the same information.

For example, every time I lead a coding team, I am reminded that males and females often differ in how they interpret others’ emotions. If Bob writes, “My wife missed our 10-year anniversary,” men may think Bob is angry, while women may think Bob is sad.

Our emotion-detection skills are affected by our personal characteristics. When it comes to detecting emotion in texts, try to remember that our unconscious biases affect our interpretations, and so the emotions we detect may be reflective of things about us as much as they are reflective of the information in the text.

3. Explore the emotional undertones of the words themselves.

The words people use often have emotional undertones. Think about some common words like love, hate, wonderful, hard, work, explore, or kitten.

If a text reads, “I love this wonderful kitten,” we can easily conclude that it is expressing positive emotions. If a text reads, “I hate this hard work,” that seems pretty negative. But if a text reads, “This wonderful kitten is hard work,” what emotion do we think is being expressed?

One approach to detecting emotions when they appear to be mixed is to use the “bag-of-words” method. This just means that we look at each word separately. How positive are the words “kitten” and “wonderful”? And how negative are the words “hard” and “work”? By looking at how positive and negative each word is, we may be able to figure out the predominant emotion the texter is trying to express.

4. Don’t assume you know how a person feels.

Text messages aren’t just short. They’re also incomplete.

With text messages, we are pretty much guaranteed to be missing information. We can’t help but try to fill in the gaps with the information we do have, and so we start thinking about how we would feel in the situation the texter is describing.

Unfortunately, there are huge individual differences in how people feel in any given situation. For example, if I grew up in poverty, earning $30 per hour might make me feel pretty darn good; but if I used to be a CEO at a Fortune 500 company, $30 per hour might make me feel dissatisfied or even depressed. The emotions that emerge in a given context, then, are highly dependent on our unique perspectives and experiences; this makes it very difficult for us to guess how someone else is feeling. Always ask yourself: Are you drawing conclusions based on emotional information provided by the other person, or making assumptions based solely on how you would feel in the same situation?

5. Explore your theory of emotion.

Academics are not the only ones with a theory of emotion; everyone has one, even you. We all have an idea about where emotions come from and what they mean. It might help to consciously explore your own (possibly unconscious) assumptions about how emotions work: Do you think feelings like anger and sadness are discrete and separable from each other, or do you think they can mix together?

Research suggests that we do tend to experience a greater amount of discrete emotions, like fear, in response to specific environmental triggers, like encountering a bear in the forest. That being said, the research also shows that when we are feeling one negative emotion, we are much more likely to be feeling other negative emotions as well. This evidence has important implications for interpreting emotions in texts. If you’ve successfully detected that a person feels sad, you can be almost certain that they are also feeling anxious or angry.

6. Seek out more information.

If you’re still unclear about what emotion is in a text, seek out more information. In an example above, Bob’s wife missed their 10-year anniversary. What if you asked Bob to tell you more? Bob might tell you that his wife died, and that is why she missed their anniversary. Suddenly, we may believe that Bob is feeling more sadness than anger. The bottom line is that you should try to avoid guessing. You need to ask questions, be empathetic, and try to see the world through the other person’s point of view.

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How to Control Your Emotions

Feeling really amped up or upset? Try these strategies to take back power over your emotions.

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We’ve all been there: We’re freaking out about something that just happened to us — what someone did to us, said to us, or didn’t do for us. And we’re pissed or terrified, or defeated — our emotions have become overpowering. What do we do now to get our emotions under control when they’ve already gotten completely out of control?

Well, there are tons of ways to better manage our emotions in the long run — for example, we can develop positive thinking skills, reappraisal skills, and resiliency, but these skills require effortful practice over long periods of time.

Sure, learning these skills is a great idea, but what do we do right now to control our already out-of-control emotions? Here are some science-based tips:

1. Cut off the negative thought spirals.

When bad things happen, sometimes we get stuck ruminating about these events, thinking about what happened — or could have happened — over and over. Often it’s these ruminative thought cycles that drive our emotions up, and not the actual event itself. So to control these emotions, we usually just need to stop having the thoughts that are creating them. Of course, that’s easier said than done.

One strategy is to play “I Spy.” It might seem silly, but naming different objects you see around the room can help you redirect your thoughts to other more mundane things, so that your emotions can get a rest and start to calm down. Another strategy to redirect your thoughts is to get up, do something, or change your surroundings — for example, you could excuse yourself to go to the restroom, or if the situation allows, go for a short walk. This approach helps give you a moment to reset and take your thoughts in a new direction.

2. Take deep breaths.

“Take a deep breath” might seem like a simple platitude, but it actually activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps calm high-arousal negative emotions, like anxiety or anger. So breathing deeply is key when it comes to managing our more challenging emotions.

Because the brain has a harder time making good, rational decisions when emotions are in the driver’s seat, we are also likely to make better decisions if we take a few deep breaths first. So when emotions start to feel overwhelming, pause. Take a couple of deep breaths, and bring those intense emotions down a bit so you can carefully choose what to do next.

3. Generate some positive emotions.

Once you’ve calmed down somewhat, and you’re thinking clearly again, it’s helpful to try to infuse some positive emotions into the situation to help beat back those negative feelings. One way to do this is to look for the silver linings in whatever it is that’s bothering you. For example, did your boss tell you that you must redo the work you just did? A silver lining might be that this experience will help you become better at your job in the future. Or, are you upset about something your romantic partner did? This might be an opportunity to improve your communication skills and advocate for your needs in your relationship. It’s not always easy to find a silver lining, but if you can, it’s a good way to generate positive emotions.

Another way to infuse some positive emotions into the moment is with a funny video or inspiring photo. These little, positive things can help deflate even the most intense negative emotions. So if you’re feeling really down, do something that generates a little happiness, so you can start getting back to your normal self.

4. Practice acceptance.

It can seem counterintuitive to accept the things that are bothering us, but indeed, it is good advice to “accept the things you cannot change” when you want to control your emotions. No matter how upset we get, our emotions can’t change things that are unchangeable. So ask yourself: What part of this situation is unchangeable? Remind yourself to accept those things and focus your effort on the things you can change for the better.

5. Quit the caffeine.

Caffeine gives us energy. Of course, energy is good, but caffeine can end up producing nervous energy — energy that feels very similar to feelings of anxiety or panic. So if you’re feeling extra anxious, and you can’t figure out what’s causing it, it might just be the caffeine.

If you’re already feeling stressed about something, caffeine can exacerbate these emotions, in part because caffeine can negatively affect your sleep. When we don’t sleep well, we don’t manage our emotions as well, so our feelings can get out of control more easily. So limiting caffeine is another good way to keep those emotions in check.

6. Get some exercise.

If you’re still feeling all riled up and can’t seem to get a handle on your negative emotions, try exercise, because it turns out that exercise is an effective way to boost your mood. Do a few sprints, lift some heavy weights, or do some other activity that gets your heart rate up, because the higher the intensity of the workout, the greater the impact on your mood. The physiological changes that happen in your body make exercise a great solution for intense emotions that you’re having a hard time handling with other strategies.

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5 Ways to Beat Loneliness

Are you digitally connected but still feeling lonely? These strategies can help.

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The great irony is that even though we are increasingly “connected”—on social media, video calling, and messaging—we feel lonelier than ever. And even though we may use technology to feel more connected, it may be exactly what’s leading us to feel lonely. That’s why it’s more important than ever to use these anti-loneliness strategies.

  1. Connect face-to-face
    Connecting in real life may not be as easy as it once was. We often default to using our smartphones—it’s easier and culturally accepted. But we can decrease our loneliness if we build stronger face-to-face connections. We do this by looking people in the eyes, listening, being mindful, and choosing not to be distracted by our phones or other technologies. Even if we must connect face-to-face over video rather than in person, we can benefit from being able to witness social cues and keeping other technologies muted.
  2. Be active online
    Instead of passively surfing the net or your social media, opt instead to do something that involves the active participation of other people. For example, you could play games with others, chat about something you care about, give advice on a forum, or have a video call with a friend. The more you interact with others while online, the more connected you are likely to feel.
  3. Share for real online
    Somewhere along the way, the word “sharing” got co-opted on social media to describe what is really just “humble bragging.” We post about cool things we did, nice meals we ate, or a fun vacation we went on—all things that we didn’t actually share with the people who are viewing our posts.
    Instead of posting about things you did, reclaim the word “share” for what it really means—to give a small or large portion of what is yours to someone else. You could give advice, words of support, or even empathy, all from your smartphone. Your connections are likely to be more kind and supportive, and as a result, you’re likely to feel less lonely.
  4. Capitalize on opportunities to connect with others
    When you feel good about something, share it with others right away by calling or texting a friend. Or share with the people you work with. Keep in mind that the positive things that you can share don’t have to be big. You could simply have woken up on the right side of the bed and think, “Hey, I’m feeling great today.” By sharing these moments, you create small moments of savoring and connection that can help you beat loneliness.
  5. Rethink how you spend your spare time
    When we feel lonely, sometimes we just want to retreat into a corner and hide. Other times, our endless to-do list may leave us too exhausted to be social. But opting to be alone every night watching Netflix or playing on Facebook can really get us stuck in loneliness.
    If we instead use our loneliness to motivate us to reach out to people, then we can strengthen our relationships. By opting to cope with our loneliness by seeking out social support, we create more social moments with the people in our lives who matter to us, which usually reduces our loneliness.
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How To Cultivate Self-Awareness?

5 ways to become more self-aware.

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Self-awareness involves monitoring our stress, thoughts, emotions, and beliefs. It is important, because it’s a major mechanism influencing personal development. Our lives can get out-of-control pretty fast if we are unaware of how and under what circumstances our emotional nature is triggered.

How do we increase self-awareness?

Self-awareness requires self-examination. But that honest, non-judgmental self-analysis isn’t always easy. We tend to berate ourselves for our failings or fantasize about how great we are, when neither is actually the case. We all have a unique mix of “good” and “bad” traits, but we are largely unaware of them. In order to self-reflect objectively, we need to quiet our minds and open our hearts, forgiving ourselves for our imperfections and offering ourselves kudos when we deserve them.

So how do we build self-awareness?

1. Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is similar to self-awareness in that they both relate to consciously directing our thoughts inward in order to become more aware of our inner state of being, to observe our thoughts and beliefs, and to notice what triggers our emotions as they rise and fall. Mindfulness includes focused attention in the moment to whatever one is doing, and involves practices such as meditation or a quieting of the mind.

2. Write in a journal

Writing our thoughts or stream-of-consciousness ideas can help us open up to those vulnerable places within. Writing sometimes reveals what contemplation does not, so this method of self-exploration may assist you in expanding your self-awareness. Telling your story, releasing your woes on paper, dreaming up your fantasy situation — these are ways your subconscious can speak to you, revealing what’s really “the matter.”

3. Be a better listener

“Getting out of ourselves” by focusing on another person is a good antidote to stop downward spirals of negative thinking. By listening objectively, even lovingly, to what that person wants to or needs to share, we learn how to better listen to our own inner dialogues and opinions objectively and lovingly.

4. Ask for feedback

Since we are with ourselves all the time, we may miss something when we look at ourselves. That’s where the objectivity of others can be most helpful in self-assessment. If you have the courage, ask a friend or acquaintance their opinion of you, or ask about how you managed some project you worked on together or how you handled yourself in some quirky situation.

Try to be resilient and willing to hear what they have to say. When some aspect of self is revealed that could use some additional refinement, be willing to look behind the obvious to its underlying secret or wound. When you find something that needs some re-tweaking, make a mental or written note to yourself to look at it later when you have some time alone for your self-care.

5. Walk in nature

The mind tends to wander along with our feet, so with a little conscious nudging (and walking), we can examine our part in something that is happening in our lives now — at work, in social situations, in our relationships, or within the family.