5 Ways to Think Positive

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

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

1. Strengthen your memory for positive information

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Condition yourself to experience random moments of positivity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happiness is something we must BUILD.

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

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

How does happiness become “automatic”?

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

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

How is this possible?

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

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

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

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

Here’s how to do it:

1. Prioritize the right skills

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

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

2. Practice

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

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

3. Progress

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

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

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

4 Ways to Accept Yourself

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

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

1. Call out unrealistic expectations

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

2. Identify negative self-talk

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

3. Express yourself

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

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

4. Celebrate your strengths

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

The Absolute Best Way to Start Your Happiness Journey

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

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

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

Get a Quick Win with Something Easy and Fun

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

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

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

Which Habits Are Easy to Start With?

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

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

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

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

Get more bang for your buck with high-impact habits

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

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

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

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

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

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

How To Improve Your Gut Health

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

Do You Need to Heal Your Gut?

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

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

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

1. Decrease Your Stress

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

2. Support Your Immune System

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

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

3. Reduce Inflammation

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

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

4. Consume Collagen

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

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

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

5. Eat Gut-Soothing Foods

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

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

6. Focus on Macronutrients

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

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

Why Self-Reflection Matters For Wellness

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

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

Setting the Stage for Self-Reflection

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

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

Identify The “What” of Self-Reflection

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

Ask yourself:

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

Identify the “Why” of Self-Reflection

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

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

Observe Yourself with This New Insight

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

Use Self-Reflection as a Tool for Change

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

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

Self-Reflect with Self-Compassion

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

4 Ways Spending Smarter Can Make You Happier

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

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

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

The four categories of spending

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Reduce how much you spend on fixed needs

Source: Pixabay

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Try to reduce spending on fixed wants

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

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

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

3. Be strategic about spending on variable needs

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

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

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

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

4. Have more money left over for variable wants

Source: Pixabay

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

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

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

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

Three Ways You Can Use Social Media to Cultivate Resilience

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

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

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

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

1. Reframe your experience

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

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

2. Take an outsiders point of view

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

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

3. Practice mental time travel

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

In sum

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

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.