Happiness

Why is it So Hard to be Happy?

You want to be happy. You want to be less stressed. You want the good times to outweight the bad. So why is it so hard to be happy, even when you want it?

 

For many of us, we’re going about happiness the wrong way. Thanks to our culture, the media, and just plain misunderstanding, we’re looking for happiness in all the wrong places. (And I want to be clear, here: if you struggle with mental health challenges like depression and anxiety, it’s not your fault. You aren’t depressed because you’re looking for happiness incorrectly. For you, it’s hard to be happy because of the chemicals in your brain, not because of your behavior. Keep reading if you want to, or bookmark this for later, but know I’m not talking to you).

 

But for most of us, a better path to happiness is possible. It just requires a few behavior shifts.

 

The Bad Stuff Really Does Outweigh the Good

 

Your brain isn’t your best friend when it comes to happiness. Your brain is wired to be much more sensitive to bad news and threats than it is to good things That makes sense when you think about your caveman ancestors, who needed to be ready to run if they caught even the smallest glimpse of a predator. It’s called negativity bias, and it’s a system that evolved to keep you safe from threats. But in today’s world, you don’t need to run from predators quite so often, yet your brain still pays more attention to negative experiences versus positive ones.

 

Scientists say it takes 5 positive experiences to outweigh 1 negative experience. But the real key isn’t to just have 5 positive experiences, you have to notice that you’re having them! So as you go about your day, take note of the good things that happen. Did someone let you merge on the highway instead of being a jerk? Did your colleague praise your work? Did your kid say “I love you” without being prompted? If you force yourself to pay attention to the good stuff, too, you’ll find it easier to outbalance the bad stuff 5 to 1.

 

The Happy Social Media Effect

 

Social media has its good points. It can help us feel more connected to our networks, which is a strategy that can build happiness. But many people feel more dis-connected when they spend time on social media. The online world allows us to glimpse all the fun, happy times other people are having, and we naturally compare our own lives to what we see on the screen.

 

I love the Anne Lamott quote “Never compare your insides to somebody else’s outsides.” But that’s exactly what we do on social media! We see the bright shiny image that the person on the other side wants us to see, and that’s all. And then we compare that to our own internal worries, doubts, and struggles, and we come up short in comparison. But the person posting on social media has worries, doubts, and struggles, too! They just aren’t posting those moments. If you need to take a social media break, do it. Or at least hide the people who make you feel less-than. Make social media work for you, not the other way around.

 

You Can’t Chase Happiness

 

If you want to be happy, it makes sense that pursuing happiness should be a priority. But that’s the exact wrong way to go about it. In fact, research suggests that pursuing happiness can lead to decreased happiness. Especially in the US, our cultural expectations for pursuing happiness can lead us down the wrong paths, like expecting a big work promotion to make us satisfied.

 

Instead of chasing happiness, it’s more important to chase “meaning.” Meaning is the idea that we know our purpose and are fulfilling our purpose. Meaning isn’t as in-the-moment joyful as happiness might be, but meaning provides the long-term satisfaction and contentment that lasts. To start chasing meaning instead of happiness, think about the moments when you feel like you come alive. Think about serving the greater good. Think about what drives you to keep going. When you tie all those concepts together, you’ll be on the road to finding your meaning. And meaning makes your heart glow for a lifetime, while happiness can be fleeting.

 

It’s not easy to be happy. But it IS possible, if you pay attention to the things that truly matter.

Why “The Bachelor” Winners Are Pretty Resilient

It’s not hard to figure out who’s going to win and who’s going home on The Bachelor! 🌹(…and yes, I’m a reluctant fan!) 😉 🥀

Watch how the women handle stressful situations. Do they make The Bachelor comfort them? Do they show no fear? Do they handle it themselves? There’s a pattern on the show of who gets sent home and who gets the rose, and it applies to life, too!

As you watch the show, see if you can guess the final four based on their patterns of resilience. I swear by it!

How to Avoid End-of-the-Year Work Burnout (Part 1)

The final few weeks before the winter holidays can be full of stress. That makes it peak time for burnout. If burnout is creeping in for you or your team, practicing a few resilience techniques can mean the difference between losing your cool and feeling peace on Earth.

Step 1 – Breathe and Break

The end of the year brings with it stressors that no other time of year seems to. At work there is often budgeting, fitting in last-minute meetings, and strategic planning for the next year.  At home there is frantic shopping, too much baking, and a whirlwind of parties you are expected to make room for in the busy calendar.

When we’re stressed, our brains produce the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. When we add these stress hormones into the mix, our brains become worse at higher-order processing, the very skill we need to perform most jobs. So when we’re frantically crossing things off our to-do list, we probably aren’t completing those tasks at a very high level. To be at our best, we have to stop and breathe. We have to take a moment to let the adrenaline and cortisol clear out of our systems.

School teachers have known for years that the weeks leading up to the holidays are the exact wrong time to try to cram in last-minute work.  So take a cue from their playbook and schedule your day with fewer tasks and more breaks, getting done the very most important things and letting the others slide.  Find time to stop and take deep breaths in the middle of the chaos. The pile in your inbox will still be there the first week in January.

Step 2 – Set Realistic Expectations

We have a rosy picture of how the holiday season is supposed to go.  When it doesn’t meet our expectations, we’re filled with frustration.  But that frustration is of our own making, so being realistic on the front end can curb that freak-out feeling on the back end.

A large chunk of holiday stress comes from the mistaken belief that this time of year is going to be magically perfect and everyone should be happy. But people can’t be happy when they’re held to unrealistic standards – including you!

No, your toddler twins might not sit still for a greeting card picture, so don’t expect them to.  Your grandmother’s holiday roast recipe might not turn out as juicy as you remember it.  And your extended family might squabble from the stress of sharing one bathroom. If you prepare for reality to be… well… real in advance, and leave room for humans to be humans, and traffic to be traffic, and work to be work, and life to be life, you may find that some of the holiday screwups lead to the best stories that you’ll laugh at for years to come.

Check back after Thanksgiving for 2 more strategies to sidestep end-of-the-year work burnout!

Getting Your Priorities Straight

Maybe you constantly struggle with what to prioritize. You wonder how to get your priorities straight.

I do, too. ESPECIALLY this year.

See, my health hasn’t been great this year. But instead of one major health problem, like it usually is, it’s been a ton of medium health problems. Juggling running a business and having a life, plus multiple doctor’s appointments each week… I’ve had moments where I feel like I’m underwater.

So I threw out the old wisdom about keeping my priorities straight, and I’m trying a new technique. I’m not setting my priorities in STONE, I’m just setting my priorities for 48 hours.

Check out what I’ve been doing and see if it’ll keep you sane during the last few crazy weeks of the year.

Burned Out By Your Job? It’s Never Too Late to Change Careers

Are you burned out at work?

Thinking it’s time for a career change?

But worried you’re too old to change careers?

In fact, if you’re feeling burned out, a lack of motivation, and disconnected in your current career path, it’s NEVER too late to change careers!

Here are 3 steps to follow to make a career change at any age…

3 Signs You Have High Emotional Intelligence

Since the mid-1990s, emotional intelligence, or “EQ,” has been a hotly discussed topic. People with high EQ are believed to be more successful than people who only have a high IQ, the measure of intellectual intelligence.

 

When I first learned about EQ, I heard about it as being “people smart,” not just “book smart.” And being able to read and understand people IS a part of emotional intelligence, but that’s just half of it. The other half is being able to understand YOURSELF. For that reason, emotional intelligence makes perfect sense as a major predictor of success. (This is one of my favorite sites describing emotional intelligence, here).

 

So how do you know if you have high EQ? These 3 indicators can give you a good idea:

 

You have close friendships

 

It’s not about the number of friends, but the type of friendships you have that counts, in this case. If you have friendships that include not just kindness and having a good time, but compassionate honesty, that’s a good sign that you and your friends may have high emotional intelligence.

 

One of my friends and I once disagreed about something in her personal life. She felt that something her boyfriend had done was “bad” and a dealbreaker. I pointed out that it wouldn’t be a dealbreaker in MY relationship, but that she had every right to draw whatever line she wanted. Having a boundary didn’t make the other person “bad,” or even wrong. She could set whatever boundary she wanted, and if it worked for both of them, then great. If it didn’t, then they should break up.

 

It was hard for her to hear, because her other girlfriends were all offering agreement and empathy about his “bad” behavior. But being able to voice a differing opinion actually brought us closer, and then several years later she was able to honestly tell me “Hey, I think you might be coming down on your son too hard for X and Y”! Having close friendships based in honesty shows EQ, because it combines both social skills and empathy.

 

You can describe your emotions

 

When you’re mad, what kind of mad are you? Are you just plain mad? Or can you recognize different shades of mad, like “disappointed,” “frustrated,” or “embarrassed.”

 

The more varied and descriptive language you use for your emotions, the higher EQ you might have. The reason is because you’re tapped into what you’re actually feeling, and you’re recognizing the nuances of your experience. There are so many different ways to be sad, for example. I’m sad when my favorite restaurant stops being open for lunch, and I’m sad when my dog is sick, but I would never say those two emotions are the same!

 

When you use descriptive, specific language to talk about your emotions, that shows self-awareness, one of the key components of emotional intelligence. So the next time you’re feeling something, reach into your mental dictionary and see if you can pull out a fancy word. It’s a good emotional workout!

 

You set hard-to-reach goals

 

How hard are your goals? Are all of them things you can accomplish in 1-2 years? Goals should be attainable (hello, SMART goals that we’ve all heard of!), but if every single one of your goals is something pretty easy for you to accomplish, then you may be playing it way too safe just to be able to say you’ve reached all your goals.

 

People with high EQ aren’t afraid to defer rewards and success for a looooong time, because having high motivation is another key indicator of emotional intelligence. So with high EQ, you can stay motivated even if reaching your goals is a long, slow process. If you can feel accomplished even before you’ve reached an end goal, that’s a pretty good sign that you’ve got emotional intelligence.

 

Here’s the best news:

 

All of these indicators are traits that can be developed and improved. So even if you only see yourself in one or two of these characteristics, you can work on it and increase your EQ. Having a high emotional intelligence DOES help you be successful. So get some practice and flex those emotional muscles!

 

 

The #1 Question I Get Asked

I get asked this question ALL. THE. TIME:

“How do I help X person in my life get a better perspective? How do I help them be more resilient?”

It’s a tough question, because there’s not a perfect answer. You can’t GIVE somebody else perspective.

But because everyone seems to want to know the answer, I’ve done some research and some thinking, and there are 3 things you CAN do to help.

#1 is probably the toughest, because it requires vulnerability that we may not want to show.

If there’s someone in your life (your child, your employee, your sibling…) who could stand to be a bit tougher, check out this 4 minute video on what you can do to help them find resilience.

Confession: I’ve Already Broken My Resolution

I ate macaroni and cheese last night.

 

Now, I didn’t specifically make a New Year’s Resolution to only eat green things that grow in the ground (after 39 years on this planet, I know myself better than that!) But I’ve been wanting to make up for scarfing all of my Mother-in-Law’s Christmas cookies, so I’ve been trying to “be good” for the past two weeks.

 

Whoops.

 

Like me, you probably know what it feels like to let a resolution slip by the wayside. Or fail at a goal. A huge majority of resolutions fail.

 

But this isn’t going to be one of those articles about how to be in the 8-or-whatever-% of people who keep their resolutions and stay strong. Just google that stuff if that’s what you’re into – there’s plenty out there about that. This is about how to keep moving forward if you’re one of the mere humans, like most of us, who have already gotten off track and wonder what to do next.

 

Like It Never Happened

You’ve probably heard, like I have, that when you slip up on a goal or make a mistake, you should forgive yourself and just get back at it the next day. That’s kiiiiiiiinda right. You shouldn’t beat yourself up, but you also shouldn’t make some big deal out of needing to forgive yourself. By putting too much focus on forgiving yourself, you could actually slip into “ruminating” and negative self talk, which is a self-defeating behavior. Instead, Charles Duhigg, the author of The Power of Habit, suggests that you just let it go and pretend it never happened. Just erase that day or that slipup, and proceed forward!

 

Just Stop

Sometimes when a resolution is hard to keep, or a goal seems impossible to hit, that means it isn’t the right resolution. Maybe you set an unrealistic goal, or maybe you just don’t have the structure in place to do what you said you wanted to do. I really like this article about “key dependencies” and how they can sometimes get in the way of our goals. And I don’t think dependencies have to be other people, either! For example, do you have a resolution to work out every day, but you are ALSO a person who wants to spend time with his kids? And volunteer in the community? And cook a home cooked meal every night? AND read a book a week? You might have resolutions that naturally conflict with other goals and resolutions. We assume that if we slip on a resolution, it’s a failure in our willpower. But that’s not always true! Sometimes our goals just bump up against the wall of reality. So just stop, and reevaluate if there’s an external obstacle to your goal that you didn’t realize.

 

Resolution 2.0

Repeat after me: you are NOT a loser if you give up on a goal that isn’t working, revise it, and try again later. That’s literally called LIFE! Whether it happens in January or July, we’re all always setting out to accomplish something, gathering information, and adjusting course accordingly. So if you’ve already discovered that you and your resolution can’t be long-term BFFs, then let it go. In fact, the sooner you let it go, the sooner you can brush it off and move on to evaluating and selecting a better goal. Cut your losses now, because the more you beat yourself up, the longer you keep up the “I’m lazy, I have no willpower, I can’t do it…” self-talk, the more you’re doing damage to the part of your thinking called “self-efficacy.” Stop wasting time, and start getting prepared for the 2nd(or 3rd, or 4th… no judgement here!) version of your resolution.

 

I wish I could give up on the idea of resolutions all together, but even when I don’t CALL them that, there’s something about a fresh year that makes me want to set fresh goals. I’ll always have a plan for my new year, but if I don’t cross everything off the list, oh well. It’s still gonna be a great year.

Caught on Video: My Favorite Moment of 2018

Here’s a personal look at my favorite moment of this past year!

The reason I loved this moment SO MUCH is because I had planned this surprised for months, which triggers a psychological mechanism called “savoring.” When we anticipate an exciting time, it helps us feel enjoyment even before the event happens, giving us double the good feelings!

As you head into the new year, look for ways you can savor and enjoy the things you have planned for 2019. The more you savor, the happier you’ll be.

 

How to Feel Motivated By Doing ANYTHING

What do you do when you don’t feel motivated to do something?

 

It’s election day, and some people feel like their vote doesn’t matter. That reminds me of the story of the psychologists who did an experiment with three sets of dogs, and learned a lot about “learned helplessness.”

 

If you’re having trouble with your mindset and not feeling motivated, here’s why doing something, ANYTHING, is good for your mental health.