"You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step" MLK jr.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
To support COMT methylation, others suggest people with COMT Met/Met take SAMe.
Because COMT has a hard time removing catechols, it can also be helpful to avoid foods that increase catechols.
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.
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.
It’s also key to eat foods that remove excess catachol estrogens from the body and avoid foods and bath products that mimic estrogen.
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.)
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.
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.
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.)
The following flavonoids don’t have the catechol structure, and therefore eating extra helpings of these may be more beneficial
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.
A few other things to keep an eye on are exercise and calorie intake.
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.
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.
Feel better about who you are with these quick tips.
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.
Build your skills and talents with these high-impact strategies.
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.
Want to let your true self shine? Then try these 10 authenticity strategies.
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!
Simple ways to be a kinder, more compassionate, more generous person.
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.
Find out if Facebook is helping or hurting your happiness and well-being.
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.
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.
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.
Is she mad at you? Is he in love with you? Here are some ways to find out.
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.
Feeling really amped up or upset? Try these strategies to take back power over your emotions.
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.
Are you digitally connected but still feeling lonely? These strategies can help.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We prefer pleasure over pain, happiness over sadness, and positive experiences over negative ones. But might negative experiences actually make us happier in the long run? Some evidence suggests that, yes, we can use those tough experiences to build ourselves up instead of letting them tear us down. In fact, any experience—from small things like a fight with a romantic partner to big things like losing a loved one—has the potential for helping us gain a greater sense of meaning in our lives. Why does this happen? Challenging experiences often threaten to take away something that gives us meaning. We can let ourselves become overwhelmed by loss, or we can strive to gain a greater understanding of ourselves, others, and our place in the world to recover the sense of meaning that was lost.
Here are 7 ways to turn negative experiences into meaning-making moments.
Explore the impacts. One way to make meaning from a negative experience is to explore its impacts. Ask yourself: How has this experience changed you? What have you learned? Who are you now that this thing has happened? By exploring how the events affected you and integrating them into who you are, you help generate a greater sense of meaning.
Know your narrative. Each of us has an ever-evolving story about ourselves—a through-line about what happened when, why it happened, and how it led to whatever came next. We use these stories to understand how the hodgepodge experiences in our lives fit together. When we are able to integrate our negative experiences into our personal narrative, it feels like the events, and our lives, are part of a bigger picture. And as a result, we get a greater sense of meaning from them. To suck more meaning from your negative experiences, try writing down your story or timeline and reflecting on how each experience affected the others.
Imagine “what ifs”. Perhaps counter-intuitively, thinking about what “could have happened” can help cultivate meaning. By imagining that we didn’t take the road where we got in that car accident or didn’t marry that person we are now divorcing, we play out scenarios that help us better understand what actually happened. This mental processing helps us gain insight into broader patterns that underlie all of our experiences. So if you find yourself thinking “What if?” don’t fight it. Feel free to explore hypothetical realities, but be sure to use these thoughts to better understand this reality and why it is the way it is.
Generate awe. Experiencing awe may also help foster meaning in life. Awe can generate positive feelings (like when we witness the birth of a new baby) and negative feelings (like when we witness a tornado, fire, or flood destroy a whole neighborhood). Awe makes time seem like it’s standing still and helps us be more open to learning. So by focusing on how your negative experiences generate feelings of awe, you may be able to more easily open your mind to meaning-making moments.
Strengthen your social bonds. Let’s face it: When we feel lousy, sometimes we just want to retreat into a corner and hide. But if we use negative experiences to motivate us to reach out to people who care about us, then we can strengthen our relationships instead of harming them. By opting to cope with our rough times by seeking out social support, we seize more opportunities to create meaning-making moments with the people in our lives that matter to us.
Connect to your past. When our sense of meaning is threatened, we can help make sense of the situation by connecting to our past. For example, by noticing vintage items, looking at old photographs, or remembering positive stories behind our mementos, we may remind ourselves of the interconnectedness and meaning behind all things. So during rough moments, take some time to reflect on objects that bring back memories. Use these objects to help you create a thread that takes you from the beginning of your life up until this moment.
Reflect on your future path. When something bad happens to us, sometimes we’ll start to question the decisions we’ve made in the past—decisions that led up to this point. To make more meaning from this moment, though, take the opportunity to think about how you will make decisions differently in the future. Perhaps your near-death experience can lead you to choose to spend more of your life engaging in things that matter to you. Or maybe the end of your friendship can lead you to choose friends that accept you for who you really are. There is great potential for difficult experiences to prompt us to make better decisions regarding the lives we create for ourselves. If we accept this challenge, we can live more satisfying and meaningful lives.