Increase your Happiness

Over the past several weeks I’ve been “missing in action” on my new blog here.  The reason being is my reflections have been a bit exhausting with the current events of Coronavirus changes.  I needed to take a step back and adjust to the new landscape of life.

Early in the stay home order for the economy, a colleague suggested a free course she was taking with her spouse.  I loved the idea and thought it may give me some good information to share with readers as well as help to offset the changing life style of staying home.

So, I signed up for the course “The Science of Well Being” by Yale University, offered on Coursera.  (I don’t have any affiliation with Coursera or this Yale course) It is still offered to all for free.

Well-being – the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy. 

What do we know about being happy, healthy and comfortable? What are the actions we can take to increase our well-being in general. The following are the most well known and I was somewhat familiar with these going into the class.

Connecting

Being active

Keep learning

Helping others

Taking notice, being in the moment.

Lots of insight from this course…

But quickly into the course, I started learning many more details of the science and statistics behind happiness and well-being. I realized I was aware, but could actually take more action and a pro-active approach to enhancing my well-being. I’m going into a little detail on a a few items from the class I think everyone would benefit from. The following observations only scratch the surface of this experience, and I highly recommend everyone try this class.

What’s important these days

How we are taught what is important these days are not the things that actually make us happy or healthy.  Things like money (at least not directly), jobs, grades, stuff we buy.  This was a very interesting look into details about how people thought they would be happy about these things, but when surveyed after they got them, they actually were not that happy about them. 

How strong are our influences and intuition

I found it very interesting to learn the science of how our minds’ strongest intuitions are often wrong and what can influence us.  Things that impact us without even realizing, such as reference points and comparisons.  Social media drives these all the time in influencing our spending and attachment to affluence.  Social comparisons skewing our perceptions of physical appearance and lowing even our partners attractiveness at times.

Happiness wanes with repetition (without work)

Something I got out of this class were the concepts from the book “Stumbling on Happiness” by Gilbert, which states “wonderful things are especially wonderful the first time they happen, but their wonderfulness wanes with repetition”.  The class actually digs into the concept of Hedonic Adaptation.  I found this to be very valuable information to adjust the way I perceive things and gratitude time I devote to things I want to enjoy for longer periods of time. 

Using science to back up the information

This class really dove into the studies that have been conducted on measuring happiness and well-being.  There are exercises and surveys they ask students to take to measure the level of happiness. This is done at different stages before and after putting some of the recommendations, to increase happiness, into practice.

This course goes into to detail about ways to apply small to large routines or actions that have been proven to increase well-being overall.  I highly recommend this course, and I will likely use the information I learned into my daily routines as well as into my writings.

I wish you well.

How Cookies Help a Family Cope.

I’m betting, Ruth Graves Wakefield , the inventor of the the Nestles Toll House Cookies, never expected it to be an $18 billion industry. I’m also betting she never expected a blog to be written about why chocolate chip cookies can help families cope in times of turmoil, such as with a virus pandemic in our times of 2020.

Schedules were bumped, schools closed, no longer can go to friends houses. Then add on news agencies counting the dead on a counter for each area of the world. Seriously, I wonder if that is really necessary. Luckily this will be temporary, but still traumatic for everyone.

The very first day of quarantine, I didn’t see the kids for most of the day.

I wasn’t too concerned because they are teens and and doing their own stuff like art, reading, texting, gaming, mostly on the internet. And it was a Friday, but as Saturday rolled in…I noticed some seclusion and withdrawal from the kids…oh, who’s kidding the whole family was getting a bit distant. I had to think of some easy ways to get us to the ‘table’ per se. Especially, when mom and dad start working all day from home and the kids haven’t started back to school.

Everyone needs something to look forward to in the afternoon.

Even if it’s that afternoon coffee. I thought of my mother, with alzheimer’s, being in one place all the time and how she used to love having the 2 o’clock fresh baked cookie hour. I miss my mom right now with all the quarantines, and I thought this could serve as a reminder of my mom (aka grandma) as well as a nice family meet up during the day.

Sunday night I created the full 5 dozen cookie toll house batch and divided into 6 zip locks and put one in the fridge and the rest in the freezer.

Monday (Day 1) I started the quarantine 2 o’clock cookie hour in our house.

We all take a break when the cookies are done and see each other and have a couple laughs, talk about what we’ve done, and what’s for tomorrow. Having something to look forward can really create some consistency in a time uncertainty.

Why You need Mindful Coloring

Watching the pandemic news, working from home, kids home from school, schedules a mess….who can relate? As a mom, like me, you probably feel the burden of keeping the peace in the house, meal preparation, etc. Keeping the kids balanced as well as your spouse. I’m not sure why we take this on, but it seems instinctual.

In the wake of this corona virus craziness we all need a very simple way to relax and reduce stress. A daily practice of coloring can calm the mind and stay positive. Keep you mentally healthy to prioritize what matters.

Coloring has the ability to relax the fear center of your brain, the amygdala. It induces the same state as meditating by reducing the thoughts of a restless mind.

beaumont.org – health benefits of coloring for adults

You don’t have to look far to realize mindful coloring has several benefits. The following are just to name a few benefits according to Alfred James – author of Pocket Mindfulness

  • relieving stress
  • replacing patterns of negative thinking
  • encouraging yourself to be present
  • escaping the rat race
  • building mental strength
  • relaxing and having some fun

And a study noted by Psychology Today’s blog indicates after a week of daily practice it displayed significantly lower levels of anxiety and depressive symptoms.

What you need is 5 to 15 minutes (or more if you can) to just relax the mind, to concentrate on the positive. Coloring is so simple. You will find it really does help bring you into the present and give your mind that break and calm it needs.

An added benefit is the end result can be shared to spread some happiness and positive feelings in others.

If you interested in getting a mindful coloring book, here is a link to get one on Amazon.

Coronavirus – Mindfulness Derailed

3 simple things we can do to move forward in times when mindfulness is difficult.

If you’re anything like me: full time employee, mom of children in school, daughter of mother with alzheimer’s, spouse to now anxious husband…your mindful journey may be disrupted too. How do we get back on track. How do we keep our friends and family on track around us?

For some, their kids are out of school, others may have been home teleworking, and some have been sick. I’m praying, that anyone that gets this virus we recover quickly. And praying the financial stability of our world will return quickly.

Praying, (if you do this) is a way of releasing control…giving it to someone or something else. This is a great way to allow yourself to let go of things that may be too big to conquer alone. Ask yourself what it would feel like to give it to someone else to worry about while you plan for what’s to come.

Letting go, to me, is simply accepting what is…to be prepared for what’s next.

I’m not suggesting we stick our head in the sand. We can definitely take a moment to think of what we do have control over. For me, I have control over how I react to the craziness around me. I have control over not spreading panic or negativity. I even have some control over my health and wellbeing. I have some limited influence over reminding family and friends to be mindful in times like these. In turn, it is also a reminder to my own journey.

Bring it on.

So, what are some simple things we can do to proceed in times of mindfulness is difficult. It entails some planning for the days ahead to prevent heightened anxieties…I’m going to do the following for my family.

  1. Plan for items that promotes good sleep. Such as journaling, reading, or relaxing music before bed. Journaling can consist of just writing down things/feelings on your mind or even a simple todo list. Remind family and friends of these techniques.
  2. Plan for 15 minutes a day for something mindful with someone. Such as coloring, walking meditation, or observing nature (like photography). I’ve been finding these to be helpful and alternating between them..even before the stress of a virus.
  3. Let go of what is not in my control. This is where praying comes in to play for me. It could be other things for you. Such as, having gratitude for the universe and people we hold dear.

There are several more things we can do to promote mindfulness. But these are the ones I have in my toolbox at this time. They seem reasonable to me and I am a woman of moderation at heart.

We will persevere through these times.

A Moment in Nature

Nature keeps us in the moment and allows us to stop thinking about all our other thoughts. Today was no different.

I was thinking of more ways to be in the moment and had memories of taking photos of nature with my husband on our honey moon back in the day. My brother had given us a really nice camera for our wedding present (a camera he wanted to get more use). We gladly accepted it. This was prior to the digital picture age.

I remember how it slid us down a slide of learning everything about the camera options and lighting. We took a lot of photographs together and saw amazing sights. Taking in all the nuances of the scenes outside. We loved getting them developed and going over them and trying to remember which one of us took each photo and why. My husband was way more talented that I at this endeavor, but I loved being in the experience.

So, today I enlisted my daughter to use her digital phone and take pictures for my blog posts. She captured such incredible videos for a previous post, I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed. She went on a walk for some fresh air and captured the most incredible pictures today. It was raining earlier and she went out in the break of the rain.

What I didn’t realize is how many great shots she would get and how satisfied and relaxed she was when she returned. I thought to myself this would be a good reflection for today. I asked her what her top three things that were calming and mindful to her.

Top three reasons photography is mindful.

  1. Being tune with Nature and finding little nooks of peacefulness.

2. Ignoring any anxieties while focusing on the intricate details of the photo.

3. Focusing on this very moment and beauty of the shot without distraction.

When she returned and we were going over the photographs, and she was explaining her experiences, it really brought me back to how photography can be so calming and stimulate a mindful connection to nature and the people you share the photos with. I’m going to have to go with her next time.

This one is particularly fun, because there is a fly photo bombing in the flower. Can you find it?

Try Binaural Beats

I am recommending you try binaural beats and here is why.

Focus is definitely a skill, and I am looking into several ways to optimize. I ran across a type of music/sounds that can help with all kinds of focus and attention optimizations. It’s utilized in sound therapy, it’s used to help relaxation at spas, and in a variety of health promoting ways. It’s called binaural beats.

Binaural Beats is a type of brainwave entertainment. These type of audio sounds are known to induce enhanced focus, entranced state, relaxation, and sleep. I’m not going too deep into the science of it, but the sounds come in different frequencies from each ear and the brain meshes them into one frequency creating an optimal state in the brain for different benefits.

I have jumped on the bandwagon, even though it took me a while to get here. These audio sounds really helped me focus on a task I had been avoiding and easily distracted from.

I learned about this information from binauralbeatsmeditation.com. They provide pre mixed sound downloads to use for many benefits from sleep to focus, pain and healing, anxiety and stress, and relaxation and meditation. I liked them so much, I’ve partnered to promote them on my blog.

The guide to choosing the right frequencies is a bit subjective and has been noted that the brains interpretations can be different by gender and/or by hormonal states. I was primarily curious about Focus and Attention. So before exploring the Beta and Gamma offerings on Binaural Beats Meditation site, I also tried a few on youtube. I liked the option of choosing by frequency type and the ability to listen to a sample and download on their site rather than searching on youtube, although they do charge for this convenience.

I experimented and listened to several in different frequencies from Alpha to Gamma. I spent about 2 hours solid at a task I was not entirely excited about listening to the Beta frequencies. I felt they really did give me more focus and distracted any senses to take me off task. I only had one or two from my youtube trials give me a bit of anxiety, so be picky on your choices.

To get the most out of these binaural beats, you will need to use headphones. You will still enjoy the music, but your brain will not be stimulated the same way to mesh the frequencies together.

Create Optimal Experience.

This is a follow up to an older post Free Your Mind, with the idea that focus and intention may free your mind to true happiness. In my quest to train my mind to be more focused and in the moment, I came across articles mentioning this concept of “Flow”. I decided to listen to the book “Finding Flow: The Psychology of engagement with everyday life.” by Csikszentmihalyi.

link to buy your own copy.

I figured it was worth digging a little deeper to get a better idea of the concept of Flow. I listened to the audio book on Audible during my commutes back and forth to work. I was surprised what a quick listen it was, it maybe took about 4 one way trips varying from 20-30 minutes. I listen to my books at 1.25x speed. I will provide an overview, but it may not do it justice in one post.

So, what is Flow?

In positive psychology, a flow state, also known colloquially as being in the zone, is the mental state in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by the complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting transformation in one’s sense of time.

wikipedia

So this state closely aligns with the ideas of intentional, mindful mental state that can create a more calm and collected feeling, thus giving us more enjoyment, more connection, and happiness. This state of mind is also a place that reduced distraction and chaotic thoughts.

I enjoyed the listen, but I will sum up the book here. There is a zone in which we can obtain Flow when we are intrinsically motivated and skill and challenge are balanced.

Skiing is a good example of Flow, if you’re not a skier I’m sure you could imagine another activity that this may relate. Let’s say you enjoy skiing, so this an intrinsically motivated activity. You’re on your way down the slope, going quickly with full attention to your skis, your movement, complete concentration on the task at hand. You’re thinking of nothing else and your body is using muscle memory skill to navigate down the mountain. To a competent skier, they are “in the zone”.

Csikszentmihalyi walks us through many research results (using Experience Sampling Method, or ESM) on groups of people logging their activities and the level of happiness. Although, the author seemed to feel, the happiness results were suspect because the participant was not doing something meaningful (which I felt was a bit subjective). I think the author wanted the results to align with the model of optimal experience, not only for the individual, but the community as well. TV watching was low skill and low challenge, but a participant would mark it as a happy experience.

The author divides our time into three main categories:

  1. Maintenance – scheduling,bills, house cleaning, tending to family
  2. Leisure – hobbies, media, social
  3. Work – employment, volunteering

I believe Csikszentmihalyi might be a little behind the times on gender stereotyping in this book. But, I will give him a break, due to his age and the timing of the research. He does go into detail about the differences of male and female experiences with Flow and when each experience better flow. Although, he does integrate the idea of a working mother and indicates that women tend to have the majority of the maintenance tasks that may not have a high intrinsic motivation.

The book points out several ways to change your mindset to experience Flow more often, even with the maintenance activities. It goes on with an example of thinking through a maintenance activity, such as doing the dishes. Instead of thinking “I have to” do the dishes, to think “I get to” do the dishes (Yay, <insert sarcasm here>). But, in all seriousness, I think the idea works in the mindset of what our ‘why’ is. Instead of thinking of it as a drudgery, to think of it as achieving the goal of keeping a tidy house free of bugs. In this way the goal provides the path for the intrinsic motivation to do the task.

He elaborates on this with an example of setting performance goals associated with these maintenance activities such as doing the dishes faster than the last time, or more efficient than the previous time. Make a game of it, to increase skill and complexity…therefore increasing Flow opportunity. Here is a post that might help…

9 Unique Ways to Use Less Water when doing the dishes

Keep the goals closely aligned with skill as to create a challenge that is not too overwhelming. Small increments to challenge to build the skills.

As I got to the end of this book, I thought the exploration of social and religious comparisons of creating positive Flow activities were interesting, but I think they drifted a little further than my intention for the topic and what I was looking for.

I couldn’t help thinking, while listening, how do we reduce the chaotic consciousness from interfering with flow. Things like text messages, kids emergencies, parent illnesses, scheduling conflicts, etc. The the narrator got right to it. You have to prioritize and proactive with your time and be intentional about doing or not doing activities as to reduce the chaotic thoughts.

My next thought, was what if my list outways my time. The very next section indicated to draw a line under the planned tasks for the day and not let anymore be added to that day. < insert small chuckle and shrug >

So, I’m going to refresh my daily task organizer and prioritize. I will start up my 7 habits program again. Which seems to be very much in alignment with the philosophy. I would say this book was motivating and revisited a lot of things I’ve already learned, but I may have lost that intrinsic motivation on.

Free Your Mind

I love the idea that focus and intention can free your mind to true happiness.

“The path is to free your mind, become more focused, bring yourself into a proactive, calm and positive state of mind.”

https://humanperformancepsychology.com/2020/02/21/from-outside-your-comfort-zone-and-into-the-zone/

Validation for me that having more focus is crucial to the journey of development and growth in life. Why do we lose focus and what does it take to regain it. From what I’m learning, it’s our fears that creep in that allow us to get in a comfort zone. We may not even realize we have fears or what they are. This comfort zone creates the willingness to allow attentions to be divided. Being proactive and deciding to face the fears, or even just figure them out along the way can create the path for greater quality of life.

The article makes reference to Flow. The book “Flow” by Csikszentmihalyi.

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience teaches how, by ordering the information that enters our consciousness, we can discover true happiness and greatly improve the quality of our lives.

Csikszentmihalyi now has a newer book called “Finding Flow: The Psychology of engagement with everyday life.” I have just ordered it on audible credits.

Who doesn’t want to free your mind to true happiness?

When I’ve completed the book I will post a follow up. For now, have a great day.

Improve Focus

What to get out of this post: 3 mindful activities that can help increase the ability to focus. They have equal benefit for men, women, and children.

  1. Coloring
  2. Walking
  3. Connecting with Nature

Coloring

I find the coloring is pretty easy and good way to practice a laser focus on the ‘here and now’. You want to be intentional about the activity. Meaning, set a time and a find a place you are undisturbed…keep your attention to the coloring and when your mind drifts off (which it will) redirect it back to the physical act of coloring, choosing colors, the texture of the paper, the pens or pencils, the sounds, etc.

Walking

I used to walk and just let my thoughts wander and go from thought to thought, I would work out problems to solve or plan things I needed to do that day. Which is valuable, but the practice of mindfulness walking that trains the mind for focus is a bit different. It is an activity of intention and discipline to stay focused. Each step having intention and observance of the action, and feeling every motion and interaction with the feet to the ground.

The following information is a good to start: A guided ten minute walking meditation by MrsMindfulness. She also posted a soundcloud guided meditation.

I really like the following quote from the guided walking meditation.

“…Aiming to put aside any mental commentary, labeling or judging about what you see, and instead just being present with what is here to be seen…”

https://mrsmindfulness.com/guided-walking-meditation/

Connecting with Nature

Connecting with nature can be done in multiple ways and I’m only scratching the surface here. One way is to observe nature and really focus on the details of what you see. When other thoughts interrupt, use the study to refocus on the nature you are observing. Think about the texture, the smells, the movement, colors, etc.

I started adding pictures and videos of nature on the lifeinspiredreflections instagram account. It’s been really fun to work with my daughter to capture these and post them. We will continue to post more. Here is one of a flower.

Another way to use nature for practicing mindfulness is picturing in your mind of something in nature you’ve seen before. Sit without distraction and close your eyes and visualize every detail…try to rebuild the image in you mind. Even better describe it to someone else with you. It’s harder than you think and does take some practice.

There are several more out there related to nature. The main thing I’m getting out of these is the practice of keeping the mind focused. I find distraction in almost every corner these days and I used to be very intentional with my focus. I am working to get that back and attempt to make it a subconscious skill again.

Thank you for reading…stay tuned for more ways to practice in simplistic ways. Please comment or email easy ways you’ve practiced mindfulness.