In this TED video, Gavin Pretor-Pinney explains how appreciating the awesomeness of clouds can bring more joy to our lives.
Archive for Living Happy
We often think its the other way around: We need success (or some other external circumstance) to be happy. But in fact, the opposite is true.
In this video from TED.com, Shawn Achor tells us that not only are we more productive when we're happy, but that we have much more control over that happiness than we might think.
Last weekend was our beloved Geek3's 40th birthday. Despite the fact that all of us Rag-Tag Research Geeks are strewn all over the country (our virtual collaboration is part of what makes us a "rag-tag" group) we simply could not let such a milestone pass.
After all, what good is having a friend turn 40 if you can't give them grief about it??
We picked a city that was somewhat central to all of us and met there. Just to mess with Geek3, we convinced her one of us couldn't make it. After she got into the hotel room (which we'd totally decked out with 40th birthday decor to her complete horror) he jumped out and surprised her.
Her reaction (to the right) was priceless.
After that the 4 of us spent the weekend having as much fun as we could pack in.
Here's the thing: It was a minimum of a 3 hour drive for each of us to get there - much more for some. We all spent more money than we really needed to. We all had tons of work we could have been doing instead. And we were certainly not "living healthy" during our weekend!
But sometimes you have to really make an effort to get the most out of life. Sometimes you have to make what can even seem like a sacrifice.
One of the keys to happiness is in our relationships, and in doing things for others. Those relationships keep us healthier and help us live longer.
When you look at it that way, our Wild Geek Weekend was pretty healthy after all!
Whats the craziest thing you've ever done for a friend? Tell us about it in the comments!
Sarah hates mornings.
She rolls out of bed still tired, and her thoughts immediately turn negative about the job she’ll go in to that day. She pours a cup of coffee, turns on the morning news on the TV, and all of the bad news brings her down another few notches. She hurries through a shower, throws on her makeup, then wakes up the kids.
Sarah may as well be a lion tamer, the way she hounds the kids into getting dressed and downstairs, where she cracks the proverbial whip again to get them to eat their cereal. After grabbing a candybar, she dashes out to the car, where she fights traffic and beats the hell out of her horn.
By the time she’s actually arrived at her job, she’s exhausted, pissed off, and it isn’t even 8:30.
Sadly, Sarah’s story - or pieces of it - probably sounds familiar to you. It’s common enough, and unfortunately, we’re all wasting a giant opportunity.
The morning sets the tone for the rest of the day. What you do - or don’t do - impacts everything that follows. The good news is tomorrow brings yet another morning, and an opportunity to change your routine.
What we all need is a power routine. Try these four steps for a few days, and see how it changes the rest of your day:
Wake up 30 minutes earlier. Sounds like the worst, right? You think you need more sleep, not less. What you need is to get to bed earlier than you usually do, but more than that, you need 30 minutes of commitment-less time. Time for yourself, and no one else.
Exercise. Even if it’s just for a few minutes, do something to get your blood pumping -situps, jumping jacks, jog around the block. Focus on yourself.
Meditate, pray, or write in a journal. We’ve posted before about the benefits of meditation. Spend 15 minutes in comfortable silence or prayer (but not so comfortable that you go back to snoozing) focusing on all the good things in your life, or spend the same amount of time writing them down in a journal. This will set the right tone for your body, starting by focusing your brain on the things that make you happy.
Eat something decent. Breakfast fuels your body like no other meal, so you can get away with eating a lot in the morning. Give your body the right kind of fuel - reach for lots of fresh fruit, whole grains and protein. Here’s a really quick, tasty idea: in a coffee cup, mix a couple eggs, some veggies, even a little fresh cheese. Mix it vigorously, then microwave it for 45 seconds.Take it out, stir it up again, and nuke it for another 45 seconds. You just made yourself healthy scrambled eggs in a coffee cup.
Try out the slow lane. Think about it: the cars that go flying past, weaving in and out of lanes, trying to speed their way to work probably arrive at their jobs mere seconds before you do. Driving aggressively just won’t get you where you’re going that much earlier, and it takes a heckuva toll on your energy. Instead, try staying in one lane, put some good music or educational talk on your radio, and don’t let traffic get you.
Follow these steps, and you’ll walk into your office with new, positive energy that’ll sustain you through the day. You’ll find everything easier, such as that co-worker whose breath makes you want to crawl under your desk.
All it takes is 30 extra minutes of “you” time. Now get some sleep, and have a great morning!
"Meditation is for Buddhists and hippies."
That’s what Rodney thought. He’s a busy guy, with a banking job and three kids. His life is loud, chaotic, fast paced and full of stress. He felt it, too. From his tired feet to his ever-quicker temper, the usual outlets (exercise, nights out with his wife or friends, etc.) weren’t working.
Then, he stumbled upon an article just like the one you’re reading now. Like this one, it said that meditation is something you (and Rodney) ought to consider, and no, you don’t have to subscribe to any religion, or burn any bras, to enjoy the benefits of it.
What Meditation Does
Specifically, recent research has shown that meditation has a measurable effect on your brain, even when you’re not actively meditating. Researchers at Harvard discovered that a sustained meditation program activates areas of the brain that help fight off disease, improve blood pressure, and other great health benefits. Yes, it’s all in your head, but no, it’s not hocus pocus at all.
What Meditation Helps
Basically, if stress causes it or hurts it, meditation can help heal it. Anxiety, immunity levels, hypertension, depression, even chronic pain. It can also help with metabolism, attention span and memory, among others.
How You Can Meditate (If You Haven't Before)
1. Carve out the time. As little as five minutes will work, but try to go for at least 15.
2. Find a quiet spot. For Rodney, and those at work, it might be a local park, even a parked car. And mute your phone!
3. Sit in a comfortable (but not too comfortable, or saggy) position. The typical position (also known as the Lotus) is popular because it’s comfortable yet not the type of position one will fall asleep in.
4. Focus on breathing, taking deep breaths in and long exhales out. Meditation works best with a clear mind, but that’s a hard thing to accomplish. As you practice meditating (yes, it takes some practice), you’ll get better at it. There are a lot of great books and videos you can get at your local library that will help.
5. Chanting helps. Yeah, it may feel a bit odd to chant “ommm” but it helps you focus on your body and relaxing.
6. As you breathe in and out, be aware of the relaxing effect on your body. Specifically, think about how the tension is being released in your neck with each exhale, then move to your shoulders, your legs, your feet, and so on.
7. Keep at it! Meditation regimens work best when done on a daily basis. Find 15 minutes to an hour each day to meditate - maybe early in the morning, maybe later in the evening when the house is quiet and the kids are asleep - and you’ll be amazed at the results.
It worked for Rodney, who may not tell his friends about his “hippie” secret, but everyone around him notices the new pep in his step.
One final tip: Meditation can be as simple as sitting quietly and focusing your mind on positive things, things that make you happy. Research shows that just 15 minutes of quiet reflection on the positive things in your life, once a day for even just a week, can have a positive chemical effect on your brain.
What tips do you have for someone thinking of trying out meditation? Let us know in the comments!
Dennis walks into his office one typical morning and finds his boss waiting for him. The boss is clearly irritated, judging by his red face, scowling brow and tightly folded arms. Never a good sign.
Turns out, one of the company’s major accounts was about to go away, and even though it wasn’t any particular person’s fault, someone had to take the blame. On this day, Dennis was singled out as the fall guy, due to no particular fault of his own. He was berated to the point of personal insult for nearly five straight minutes. Then his boss got quiet, glared at him, and said, “Well Dennis, what do you have to for yourself?”
We’ve all been in highly-charged, emotional situations before, whether at work or even dealing with family. Maybe you walk in and the kids have broken a lamp, or even something as simple as a friend trying to drive home after drinking too much. They’re stressful and sometimes bring out sides of ourselves we are later embarrassed by.
Back to Dennis and his raging boss.
There are a few options at this juncture:
- Dennis can lash out in anger or even violence. Always a bad idea.
- Dennis can walk away, and deal with his anger later. Not a bad idea, but not the healthiest.
-Dennis can take a “count to ten” approach, push the hasty emotions aside, and confront the issue in a rational manner. This is the hardest approach, but it’s the best. That’s not just our opinion, but science backs it up as well.
A 2013 study at UC Irvine found that it isn’t necessarily the situation that has an adverse effect on our health, but rather how we react to it. The research found that negative responses to even small inconveniences can lead to psychological problems long term.
That means it’s important to shrug off negative emotions as soon as they hit. Easier said than done, right? Granted, it’s impossible to react calmly to certain situations, such as a death or divorce. For everything else? Check out these three tips on how to shrug off bad reactions, and save your sanity for years to come:
- Count to ten - as we mentioned earlier, it’s a simple but effective tactic. Instead of saying something harsh and ill thought-out, count to ten, catch your breath, then speak.
-Tell yourself, in your head, how you’re feeling - sometimes simply identifying an emotion can help you control it. Recognize your anger for what it is, even visualize it, then replace it with sensibility and calm.
-Prepare in advance - Use daily techniques such as meditation and visualization to get more in-tune with yourself and focus on the positives in life. When something stressful comes up, you’ll be prepared to go to your “happy place,” and you’ll quickly recall the many reasons you have to be happy.
What other tips do you have for dealing with stressful situations? Please share your experiences, and your tips, in the comments!
An amazing thing happened this past year at a Baltimore-area Starbucks. A person ordered their coffee, and paid for it. Then they gave the barista a few extra dollars to cover the purchase of the next person in line. Then that person decided to cover the next person, who repeated the act. Over and over, people paid for the coffee of total strangers, until over 150 were served. It was an act of spontaneous kindness that brightened an otherwise dreary northeast morning for dozens of random strangers.
In America and beyond, people are losing touch with each other and the world around them. The age of electronic communications, cubicle offices, and possession-worship is causing a large slice of the population to suffer from a lack of self-worth stemming from a disconnect with the world. Specifically, we've lost sight of our personal value and ability to impact those around us.
Some (such as that generous Starbucks crowd) have discovered a path to happiness, however. They've improved their lives by helping others improve theirs. As it turns out, it isn't just a good feeling – there's evidence that doing good boosts your bodily health. The aptly-named Institute for Research on Unlimited Love (IRUL) recently funded 21 projects to measure the impact of altruism and selflessness on physical well-being. Their findings consistently showed that the more love a person feels and gives, the better their overall health is.
So what can you do today that'll help you shed the blues? Try these three ideas:
Volunteering – By giving your time to serving at soup kitchens, or mentoring underprivileged children, you'll not only feel the satisfaction of giving yourself to a greater cause, but you'll actually see the results firsthand. IRUL says that people who volunteer quite a bit have a 44% reduction in early death, and 68% of volunteers claim it made them feel healthier physically.
Random Acts of Kindness – In the Starbucks example, one person's spontaneous decision to pay for a stranger's coffee hada ripple effect that impacted over 150. It's a simple gesture that probably cost $4, but to the recipients it meant so much more – namely, the feeling that someone out there cares for them. As with any random act of kindness, there is as much benefit for the giver as the recipient. Several studies show a metaphysical change in the brains of those who do good deeds. One even refers to it as a “giver's high.” So the next time you get an urge to do something good, go for it.
Letters – There are people who care about you deeply, and chances are you care about them as well. Take a few minutes to write your feelings out, not in an email or text, but old school pen-to-paper. You'll be amazed at how touched the recipient will be, and how much weight your words truly carry. You'll experience closer relationships and an improved sense of personal power, two things that have great long-term benefits. Start with one person a week, and see how it changes your life.
One thing that isn't required to do good deeds: money. Your time, attention and affection can make an impact on someone's life in ways that money never could. Consider your good deeds to be like free treatments from a psychologist. All the good you do for someone else will be reflected in your own health. That's priceless!
What other tricks can you recommend to someone trying to break out of a blue period? Leave us your stories and suggestions in the comments.
This fascinating video from Ted.com discusses how much our body language can actually shape our destiny. It's a bit long - 21 minutes - but it could really make a difference if put into practice!