4 Ways Technology Can Make You Happier

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

a man guiding a woman while playing virtual reality
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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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“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.

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.

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.

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.

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.