behavior · emotion · happiness

Get in the Habit of Being Happy

Brain chemistry is a powerful thing, and as much as environments can shape our happiness, more research is finding we can consciously influence happiness.

Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, theorizes that while 60 percent of happiness is determined by our genetics and environment, the remaining 40 percent is up to us.

In his 2004 Ted Talk, Seligman describes three different kinds of happy lives: The pleasant life, in which you fill your life with as many pleasures as you can, the life of engagement, where you find a life in your work, parenting, love and leisure and the meaningful life, which “consists of knowing what your highest strengths are, and using them to belong to and in the service of something larger than you are.”

After exploring what accounts for ultimate satisfaction, Seligman says he was surprised. The pursuit of pleasure, research determined, has hardly any contribution to a lasting fulfillment. Instead, pleasure is “the whipped cream and the cherry” that adds a certain sweetness to satisfactory lives founded by the simultaneous pursuit of meaning and engagement.

And while it might sound like a big feat to to tackle great concepts like meaning and engagement (pleasure sounded much more doable), happy people have habits you can introduce into your everyday life that may add to the bigger picture of bliss. Joyful folk have certain inclinations that add to their pursuit of meaning — and motivate them along the way.

Some of my favorites:

  • They unplug
  • They make exercise a priority.
  • They go outside.

Continue reading at  Huffington Post for the full list.

This is certainly something I strive for rather than achieve as much as I’d like, but the idea of cultivating your own happiness is an important one. Even giving the agency back to ourselves to be happy, rather than waiting for the right environment, job, or person to come along to make us happy, has been found to make us happier.

So go get happy. 🙂

behavior · community · creativity · Mental · psychology

How Knitting Behind Bars Transformed Maryland Convicts – News – GOOD

Prisoners show off their knitting progress. Photo courtesy of the program.

Creating something with your hands, learning a craft, and being successful with something even as simple as crochet can have huge positive effects on people. That effect that be even more significant if you’ve been a screw-up your whole life, as many people behind bars feel they have been. This story about bringing knitting workshops to prisons is a great example, similar to the Puppies Behind Bars program or helping to raise endangered frogs, of how doing something as simple as a pearl and stitch can have huge psychologically positive impacts.

In late 2009, Lynn Zwerling stood in front of 600 male prisoners at the Pre-Release Unit in Jessup, Maryland. “Who wants to knit?” she asked the burly crowd. They looked at her like she was crazy.

Yet almost two years later, Zwerling and her associates have taught more than 100 prisoners to knit, while dozens more are on a waiting list to take her weekly class. “I have guys that have never missed one time in two years,” Zwerling says. “Some reported to us that they miss dinner to come to class.”

Zwerling, 67, retired in 2005 after 18 years of selling cars in Columbia, Maryland. She didn’t know what to do with her time, so she followed her passion and started a knitting group in her town. No one came to the first meeting, but the group quickly grew to 500 members. “I looked around the room one day and I saw a zen quality about it,” Zwerling says. “Here were people who didn’t know each other, had nothing in common, sitting together peacefully like little lambs knitting. I thought, ‘It makes me and these people feel so good. What would happen if I took knitting to a population that never experienced this before?’”

Her first thought was to bring knitting to a men’s prison, but she was turned down repeatedly. Wardens assumed the men wouldn’t be interested in a traditionally feminine hobby and worried about freely handing out knitting needles to prisoners who had been convicted of violent crimes. Five years passed before the Pre-Release Unit in Jessup accepted her, and Knitting Behind Bars was born. “I [wanted to teach] them something that I love that I really believe will make them focus and happy,” Zwerling says. “I really believe that it’s more than a craft. This has the ability to transform you.”

via How Knitting Behind Bars Transformed Maryland Convicts – News – GOOD.

behavior · happiness · mental health

How Optimism Affects the Economy | LearnVest

find your happy place
Image by emilychang via Flickr

Seattle is known for its gray skies, and perhaps stand-offish attitude to new comers, but I’d argue we are a surprisingly optimistic metropolis. In fact, we’re number four on a Gallup poll’s list of happy major cities. It turns out this is also a good thing for our local economy.

According to new research… the happier you are, the quicker the area you call home is likely to recover. In other words, it’s not just the economy that affects ours moods—it might actually work the other way around, too.

A recent study by the University of Miami School of Business Administration has shown that in in states where people are more optimistic, an economic recession is weaker, expansion is stronger and recovery faster.

Alok Kumar, one of the study’s researchers and a finance professor at the University of Miami School of Business, measured optimism levels across different U.S. states by looking at three key factors: weather, sports optimism and political optimism. In other words,  warm, sunny weather encourages the release of serotonin in the brain, which makes people alert and cheerful. Additionally, we’re happier when the political party we like is in power and our sports teams are performing well.

After creating an index to measure economic well-being in those same places, the researchers crunched the numbers to reveal the correlation between mood and economic activity. Overall, they found that happier places had higher retail sales, which improves the economic climate and helps lessen the effects of a recession. The results of the study showed that other non-economic factors—like warm weather and good sports teams, which improve happiness and optimism—also helped improve local economy, meaning that your mood (and the mood of your town’s fellow residents) can directly impact your area’s economic outlook.

read more about the study via Find Your Happy Place: How Optimism Affects the Economy | Living Frugally | Psychology Of Money | LearnVest – Where life gets richer, and check out their recommendations for happiest large, medium, and small cities.

behavior · brain · happiness · health · neuroscience · play · psychology

Want To Live To 100? Try To Bounce Back From Stress : NPR

Hint from featured profile Helen Reichert, who's 109? A sense of humor helps.

More and more research is finding that the ability to cope with stress and bounce back better correlates with long life. Just a reminder to take it easy…

Gerontologist and commentator Mark Lachs says one of the keys to a long, healthy old age is the ability to keep moving forward after life’s inevitable setbacks.

listen via Want To Live To 100? Try To Bounce Back From Stress : NPR.

One study found that 50 year olds with a negative outlook on life lived seven years shorter than those with a positive outlook.

What’s interesting is that more than avoiding stress it seems more important to have the ability to bounce back from it. So healthy coping mechanisms for handling stress, as well as a good attitude about life, seems to be more important than nutrition and exercise.

behavior · environment · happiness · health · Me · mental health

Special Project: Me

"Running with the seagulls", Galvest...
This is an example of a personally enriching environment. The question is how do I get there (figuratively), without running away and becoming beach bum (literally)?

This blog explores the integration of environment and wellness, both emotional and physical. So far I’ve looked at positive psychology, museums, education, urban farming, neurology, environmental sciences, architecture, play, exercise, and almost everything in between. The whole point of starting this blog was to explore the science behind what it takes to make us happy, healthy, wholly-functioning humans. What does it take to be happy? How does one’s home, job, family, dog, car, bicycle, clothing, toys, i.e. their environment, their world, fit into that? I was, and AM, curious about what it takes to be holistically happy?

But with all the quick posts, longer posts, and cool news snippets, one subject on this blog that has only hinted at: me. What does it take in my environment to make me happy?  What do I need surrounding for mental wellness?

To be perfectly honest, I haven’t been doing a good job of exploring that. In the past nine months I’ve changed residences twice, changed jobs numerous times, lost sleep, gained an injury, lost mobility, changed exercise plans so many times I’ve lost count, gained weight, lost friends, gained a gray hair or two (I’m 28!),  lost family, gained furniture, lost some dreams, had my dreams change, lost hope, changed my commute mode, and gained even more patience. But I haven’t really looked at what it would take to make me happy. What I need to do to put myself in a healthy, fulfilling, sustainable environment.

At first I thought discussing myself and my quest for happiness, wellness, and all around goodness would take away from this blog, and my focus on research, ideas, and theoretical rather than the actual doing. But the truth is I am in this blog already, whether actively or not. So why not be in all the way? It’s supposed to make you happier if you can fully commit to something, anyway.

So, just as a heads up to my few readers; you will be seeing a bit more of me, the actual me, around this place. As of today, March 3rd, 2011, I am making it my overarching goal to become happier, healthier, and a better version of me. I am going to make my environment an enriching place; that includes what I put in, on, and around my body, and what I use to feed my mind. And I plan to hold myself accountable by writing about it here. My accomplishments, slip-ups, and epiphanies.

All the studies and research and cool enriching stuff I find will not go away, not by any stretch. It’s just that now you get ME as an added bonus. Lucky y’all!

This is a very dangerous place for me, BTW, out in the open (The irony is I was called M.E. as a child (those are my initials), but I chose another name when I was six because I didn’t like being called “me.” Maybe I should have stuck with it). I’m definitely not in my most comfortable surroundings exposing myself in this way to the entire blogosphere. But it’s a much-needed shake out of my comfort zone in order to be ready to take on new challenges.

Are you also exploring your wellness, what you find enriching? I’d be interested in hearing your story or you sharing your blog with me; strength in numbers and all that.

Signed,

M.E.

behavior · brain · happiness · health · Uncategorized

Note to self: the universe says go easier on yourself

After going, going, going, I need a break, and research agrees; from the New York Times’ Well Blog:

Do you treat yourself as well as you treat your friends and family?

That simple question is the basis for a burgeoning new area of psychological research called self-compassion — how kindly people view themselves. People who find it easy to be supportive and understanding to others, it turns out, often score surprisingly low on self-compassion tests, berating themselves for perceived failures like being overweight or not exercising.

The research suggests that giving ourselves a break and accepting our imperfections may be the first step toward better health. People who score high on tests of self-compassion have less depression and anxiety, and tend to be happier and more optimistic. Preliminary data suggest that self-compassion can even influence how much we eat and may help some people lose weight.

This idea does seem at odds with the advice dispensed by many doctors and self-help books, which suggest that willpower and self-discipline are the keys to better health…

More at NYT’s Well Blog.

Now I’m off to go breath, eat a banana, and get a good night’s sleep.

behavior · mental health · psychology

The New Science of Happiness — PsyBlog

Many 18th c. treatments for psychological dist...
Image via Wikipedia

This is a field I’ve skirted around in my blog, but now I’m interested in diving in and taking a deeper look at: Positive Psychology.

A new and blossoming field of psychology – positive psychology – has begun to uncover fascinating, evidence-based answers to many questions about happiness. I’ve been sizing up the most recent findings to reveal the emerging science of happiness.

What are the everyday sources of happiness?

Because happiness is something most of us aim for, how we define it has important implications for how we conduct our lives. To see why, compare these two competing definitions of happiness.

Excerpt from the article The New Science of Happiness — PsyBlog.

Many have argued that traditional psychology only explores what makes people sad, but Positive Psychology specifically focuses on what makes us happy. Do you agree/disagree? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.