Tag happiness

“How can I make my life as full as possible?” – Our Interview with Adventurer Alastair Humphreys …*

"How can I make my life as full as possible?" Our Interview with Adventurer Alastair Humphreys ...* | rethinked.org

Alastair Humphreys

I am delighted to share our second interview, this time with adventurer and authorAlastair Humphreys. Among his various adventures, Alastair has biked around the world, walked across India and rowed the Atlantic. These days, he is working hard to help us rethink our rather narrow assumptions about adventures as epic time-consuming and costly expeditions in faraway places by pioneering the concept of microadventures for which he has been named National Geographic Adventurer of the Year. Cheap, simple, yet effective, microadventures are “short, perspective-shifting bursts of travel closer to home.” Alastair also runs a fabulous blog filled with inspiring and informative content which is sure to tickle and trigger your wanderlust. He has a delightful new film on vimeo about an imaginary journey round Scotland, linking together wild bothies and landscapes. Connect with Alastair on Twitter @Al_Humphreys.

 WHAT WAS THE LAST EXPERIMENT YOU RAN?

The microadventures I have been doing in the last few years have become very popular and people are now far more interested in me than they were back when I cycled round the world and was working hard to make a go of the world of epic expeditions. I find it amusing that people are more interested in me sleeping on my local hill for a night! So that felt like quite a big risk when I switched direction.

 WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS THAT YOU FEAR AND HOW DO YOU MANAGE YOUR FEAR?

I fear getting old, wasting my opportunities and my potential. I am not sure I manage it very well. It makes me rather incapable of relaxing or having fun! I suppose I manage it by trying to do something about it: I don’t want to get old and regret things, so I try to just get on and do stuff rather than just dreaming about it.

WHAT BREAKS AND DELIGHTS YOUR HEAR? IN OTHER WORDS, WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IN AND SURRENDER TO?

People achieving extraordinary things in their field. This often manifests itself through elite sport, but I also loved the film The Theory of Everything for those reasons. I’m also really moved by wild, empty, quiet and beautiful places. I wanted to combine wilderness and doing something extraordinary through my expeditions.

WHAT IS THE MOST PROVOCATIVE IDEA YOU’VE COME ACROSS IN THE PAST DECADE?

I’m not sure this is quite what you are looking for, but the increase in our sedentary lifestyles, screen addiction, getting fat and unfit and disconnected from the world’s wild places all make me frightened, sad, angry, and determined not to end up that way myself.


 CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT A TRANSFORMATIONAL MOMENT IN YOUR LIFE?

Climbing on my bike outside my front door to cycle round the world was a key moment. A minute before I was someone who had never done anything exciting, but dreamed of it. And now, here I was, actually doing it.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO LIVE A GOOD LIFE?

To make the most of your potential and your opportunities. To be kind and to make the world a little better than you found it. To laugh a lot with friends.

COULD YOU SHARE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE ABOUT THE ART OF BEING HUMAN? 

When you look at successful people, do not make the mistake of thinking that they are better than you in anyway. And do not make the mistake of equating success with guaranteed happiness.

WHAT IS YOUR DRIVING QUESTION? 

How can I make my life as full as possible?

ANY BOOKS OR MOVIES YOU RECOMMEND? 

http://www.alastairhumphreys.com/adventure-reading-101/

…*

Thank you, Alastair!

Can Learning About the Science of Happiness Actually Make You Happier?

Can Learning About the Science of Happiness Actually Make You Happier? | rethinked.org

Six cartoon faces created by Pixar artist Matt Jones to convey fear, enthusiasm, anger, affection, sadness, and amusement – source: Greater Good Science Center

 

In an article published yesterday on Greater Good Science Center, Emiliana Simon-Thomas and Dacher Keltner, co-instructors for a MOOC on the scientific principles and everyday behaviors that predict happiness, GG101x: The Science of Happiness, shared some preliminary findings into the effects that taking their ten-week course had on participants. They wanted to find out whether taking an online course about the science of happiness actually makes one happier. Turns out, it does.

Of course, happiness is a notoriously difficult concept to define, which makes the issue of measuring it and capturing its changes in quality and intensity over time a complex endeavor to say the least. For their purpose Simon-Thomas and Keltner set out the following definition of happiness :

There is no perfect consensus definition, though most people have an intuitive sense for how it feels, and research suggests that there are systematic qualities and characteristics of those who fit the description of “very happy people.” Key insights that arise from this work, taking multiple methods and perspectives into account, is that happiness hinges upon the strength and authenticity of a person’s social connections, their aptitude for human kindness, and their constructive role in meaningful community.

Based on this definition, Simon-Thomas and Keltner monitored various self-reported metrics related to happiness of the 5000 participants who completed the course, before, during and four months after they had completed the course. What they found makes a pretty compelling argument for learning about the science of happiness–the participants’ happiness levels went up over the ten weeks in which they were taking the course and was still up from their starting level four months after completing the course.

Every week, we checked in with our students to see how they were feeling. We showed them a sequence of six cartoon faces created by Pixar artist Matt Jones to convey fear, enthusiasm, anger, affection, sadness, and amusement. Under each, we asked them to rate, on a scale of 1 to 10, how much each face matched how they’d been feeling lately.  Then we transformed their collective weekly ratings into a single score.

The result? For students who responded at least 8 out of 10 times—suggesting that they were fully participating in the course—positive feelings went up, and up, and up. They felt progressively less sadness, anger, and fear, while at the same time experiencing more and more amusement, enthusiasm, and affection.

We also invited students to fill out a brief battery of research-validated questionnaires that are regularly used to assess feelings like happiness, stress, flourishing, or satisfaction with life. They did this three times, just before, right after, and three to four months after completing the course. Again, we found evidence that participating in our Science of Happiness course improved people’s lives.

More specifically, the course’s participants found that:

1. Well-being went up and stayed up

During the course, subjective happiness, life satisfaction, and flourishing increased by about five percent—and this boost remained even four months after the course was completed, suggesting that the impact of GG101x is sustained.

2. Stress and loneliness went down, and stayed down

Students reported feeling significantly less stress and loneliness in their lives, both issues that present substantial barriers to health and happiness. This also continued to be true four months after the course ended.

3. A sense of common humanity went up, and stayed up

It turns out that GG101x helped people to think of themselves as having a stronger connection to the rest of humanity, no matter how similar or different. This more open-minded perspective may be a key to boosting happiness on wider, more collective levels.

Source: Can an Online Course Boost Happiness?

Find happiness in the humdrum, rediscover the mundane, && { embrace the ordinary…* }

Most commentary on the explosion of social media and tedious micro-blogging has been negative: we’ve become a generation of over-sharers, we’re over documenting our lives rather than experiencing them.

But recent research suggests that you should NOT delete your tumblr or deactivate your Twitter. A recent article in Psychology Today reminds us all to both document and embrace the ordinary. As the author, Dr. Amie Gordon says,

Even when it seems silly, or not worth it, take the time to record the seemingly unmemorable moments in your life. The future you will be grateful. 

(my ordinary)

(my ordinary)

In a series of studies by Zhang et al. (2014), the authors find that we derive joy from reliving records of the past, in the form of rediscovery, and that people systematically underestimate the value of rediscovering the past. They find that individuals underestimate the extent to which rediscovering past experiences will be thought-provoking and interesting in the future. Additionally, the authors found that people find pleasure in rediscovering ordinary, mundane experiences, not just extraordinary ones. Furthermore, a final study demonstrated that ordinary events are perceived as much extraordinary over time.

(my humdrum)

(my humdrum)

Some tips on how to document your ordinary life include taking a photo a day, write “a day in the life” posts, or keep a journal. One website called the 365 project helps facilitate the photo-a-day challenge. Dr. Gordon states that “a day in the life” blog posts are her favorites to read, and I wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment. For inspiration, A Cup of Jo did a feature called Motherhood around the World, where mothers documented their seemingly mundane lives to contrast with those of other cultures.

Who knew that those Instagram posts about what you ate for breakfast might bring you happiness after all. 🙂

(my mundane)

(my mundane)

…There is magic in the ordinary. It is the ordinary among us after all who make the world go round, who live quietly graceful lives, and who, when heroes are needed, step forward to make a difference…
[Roberta Gately, Huffington Post]

[all Instagram photos are my own]

Learn To Grow Your Happiness Muscles With Positive Psychology On This International Day of Happiness …*

Learn To Grow Your Happiness Muscles With Positive Psychology On This International Day of Happiness ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

Wishing you all a very happy International Day of Happiness. Through my exploration of Positive Psychology last year, I have come to reframe happiness not as an emotional ‘destination’ but more as a capacity. The good news is that a) emotional and cognitive capacities can be cultivated and strengthened in much the same way that our physical muscles can be–through work and proper training; and b) the field of Positive Psychology has a lot of easily implementable hacks and interventions to guide us in training our capacity for happiness.

So to celebrate International Day of Happiness, why not learn more about what Positive Psychology has to offer in terms of growing our happiness muscles (plural, because there are various kinds of happiness).

Want to learn even more? Check out this upcoming MOOC, fittingly titled A Life of Happiness and Fulfillment, which will start June 15,2015.

Positive Psychology Activities & Cultivating A Growth Mindset Are An Important Part of Living A Meaningful Life …*

At the end of each year, the folks of the Greater Good Science Center round up their favorite insights from the year’s scientific research on happiness, altruism, mindfulness and gratitude, what they group together as the “science of a meaningful life.” Having spent a good portion of 2014 exploring the science and activities of Positive Psychology through my rethinked*annex side project and fangirling over Carol Dweck and her work on the benefits of a growth mindset, I was particularly excited to see the two insights that positive psychology activities do have an impact on enhancing happiness and that a growth mindset is a key in growing our empathy muscle.

{ Activities from positive psychology don’t just make happy people happier—they can also help alleviate suffering } 

Research on positive psychology activities—like keeping a gratitude journal or regular meditation—has offered compelling evidence that it’s possible to cultivate happiness over time. What’s more, during the past year, we saw many different papers suggest that positive activities aren’t just for positive people, and that negative conditions aren’t just alleviated by targeting negative influences. Instead, nurturing positive skills can help pull people out of depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts. – Source: The Top 10 Insights From 2015

{ People with a “growth mindset” are more likely to overcome barriers to empathy }

According to a recent paper published in the Journal of Social Psychology, our beliefs about empathy are critical to fostering it. People primed to see empathy as a skill—in other words, people given a “growth mindset” about empathy, seeing it as something one can build through practice—were more likely to “stretch themselves to overcome their limitations.” Across all of their studies, they found that people who believe empathy can be developed expended greater effort in challenging contexts than did people who believe empathy cannot be developed, suggesting that our beliefs about ourselves are key to expanding empathy on both individual and societal levels. – Source: The Top 10 Insights From 2015 

You can read the rest of the curated scientific insights from 2014 on living the meaningful life here.

{ Travel Lightly } Being Aware & Selective with What We Let In to Our Lives, Both Physically & Mentally …*

{ Travel Lightly } Being Aware & Selective with What We Let In to Our Lives, Both Physically & Mentally | rethinked.org

“All our worries are left here” – Rock found on the side of the road …*

A few weeks ago, I shared a list of the top five things that walking 500 miles helped me understand in a deeper or different way. Here is a bit more context around the first lesson- travel lightly.

It was not until the night before I was to set out for Santiago that I realized my sleeping bag would not fit in my pack. After spending a good hour trying various alternate packing arrangements and a panicked last minute phone call to my father, I decided to tie the sleeping bag on the exterior of my pack, which was already covered in extra stuff, “just in case.” I struggled a bit to get my pack on, stepped on the scale and discovered it was 14 kilos, well over the recommended five percent of one’s body weight. But caught up in a glowing feeling of victory after having managed to tie my sleeping bag (however precariously) to the outside of my pack, I felt quite sure the five percent recommendation did not apply to me.

Over the next two weeks, I hauled my absurdly heavy pack up and down mountains (some significantly larger and steeper than others). My collarbone bruised, my feet became swollen, and my back ached. I persevered until the fateful morning when I woke up to find that my feet had become so swollen that no amount of pushing and pulling would get them in my boots. Listening to the advice of new friends, I decided it was time to part with some of my stuff. I shipped ahead to my destination my sleeping bag (!) and some other things I hadn’t used. The moment I left the post office after having surrendered my gear, I immediately began to imagine worst case scenarios of myself shivering with cold while being devoured by the bed bugs which were rumored to be found all along the Camino. What happened for the rest of my trip truly surprised me—I was not cold and I did not get bitten by a single bed bug. Everywhere I stayed, the people running the Albergues (pilgrim hostels) lent me blankets. One night, the person sleeping on the bunk below mine caught bed bugs, but somehow, even without my permethrin treated sleeping bag, I emerged bug free.

{ CAN I AFFORD TO CARRY THIS EXTRA WEIGHT AROUND WITH ME? }

A few weeks after shipping my sleeping bag, I had dinner with a lovely man who was also walking to Santiago, an Australian sculptor in his seventies. We talked about various aspects of the experience we were sharing and he asked me how I dealt with the never ending snoring in the Albergues. He admitted that he sometimes would get aggravated by the snoring and shared with me a mental trick he used to deal with negative feelings as they crept up. He imagined each negative feeling as a weight, some weighed 400g, some 200g, some a kilo. Each time he felt annoyed about something, he asked himself if he could afford to carry this additional weight around with him. More often than not the answer was no.

I loved this little mental trick to let go of negative emotions, and I have practiced it often since learning about it. It has had two main effects; the first is that I simply let go of petty annoyances. The second benefit of this new method, is that if I find myself carrying the extra weight of anger or resentment and I cannot seem to just shed it on my own, I now feel much more inclined to speak up and resolve the issue rather than steam quietly. Either I drop it or I address it, but I’ve understood that I can’t afford (neither do I want to) carry superfluous weight on this journey.

{ TRAVELING LIGHTLY = LIVING DELIBERATELY } 

There’s a quote from Jonathan Harris that I love and which I’ve previously shared here on rethinked:

“We have these brief lives, and our only real choice is how we will fill them. Your attention is precious. Don’t squander it. Don’t throw it away. Don’t let companies and products steal it from you. Don’t let advertisers trick you into lusting after things you don’t need. Don’t let the media convince you to covet the lives of celebrities. Own your attention — it’s all you really have.” 

Walking 500 miles helped me understand these words in a new–or perhaps simply more immediate–sort of way. Our attention and our physical capacities are limited. It may sound a bit trite, cliché to the point of banality even, but it’s an unavoidable characteristic of our human condition. We can only carry so much, both on our backs and in our heads. The wonderful thing about being human however, is that once our basic needs are met, we have the freedom to choose what we will carry. Some of us may not realize that we have the agency to choose what we carry, and too often, even if we are aware of our power in owning our attention, we forget about it and get swept up in squandering it on things and emotions that do not help us thrive and flourish.

Travelling lightly then, to me at least, means living deliberately; it means being aware of and selective with what we let in to our lives, both physically and mentally.

{ Mindfulness Meditation }

I first was introduced to mindfulness meditation while interning in an in-patient psychiatric facility with schizophrenic and bipolar patients. One of my jobs there was to help my boss do a literature review on mindfulness for a pilot intervention study she was conducting to see how mindfulness meditation could improve the well-being of her patients.

While I did not stay at the internship long enough to see through her study, I’d expect that she’d find positive results. Mindfulness – or the “nonjudgmental awareness of experiences in the present moment” has been demonstrated to increase feelings of well being and help with psychiatric issues. Research has suggested it does this through attention regulation, body awareness, emotion regulation, and changes in perspective of self (Holzel et. al, 2011). Further studies have shown that this type of meditation can decrease stress, improve working memory and test scores, and help veterans deal with symptoms of PTSD, among many other positive health outcomes.

How does it work? Coming from the Buddhist tradition, mindfulness meditation involves cultivating a relaxed focused mind. It can be extremely difficult at first, but those who practice mindfulness meditation tell me that it gets easier over time. Personally, whenever I try to sit and meditate, my experience tends to be a lot like this:

My mind is either wandering or I am falling asleep.

…*

However, in an inspirational TED talk, Andy Puddicombe urges us all to take 10 minutes out of each day to practice mindfulness meditation. When is the last time you took 10 minutes to do absolutely nothing? Andy explains that in the “go-go-go” world we live in, we do not take the time to care for our minds. A Harvard study suggests that we spend on average 47% of each day mind wandering, which is actually linked to unhappiness. We are not living in the present moment. Mindfulness meditation helps us to get back into the here and now.

He says that at first meditation can feel a lot like having a wobbly tooth – you know it’s wobbly and it hurts but you can’t resist poking it with your tongue. Eventually, you learn to have focused relaxation, where you allow thoughts to come and go without getting agitated or stuck on them. You begin to see patterns in your own cognitions and are able to untangle them.

Ultimately, meditation offers the opportunity and potential to step back and get a different perspective on your thought processes. As Andy reminds us, “we can’t change everything that happens but we can change our experience of it.”

After listening to his talk, I am inspired to try mindfulness meditation again. I also imagine that teaching students mindfulness in the classroom could have major beneficial effects on their stress levels and attentional skills. Could you take 10 minutes out of your day to meditate? Could you take 10 minutes out of your school day to meditate with your students?

I’ll let you know how my little mindfulness meditation experiment goes this week. Let me know if any of you try it yourself.

Namaste.

{ rethinked*annex } Gratitude Night …* – Adopt or Rethink?

{ rethinked*annex } Gratitude Night ...* - Adopt or Rethink? | rethinked.org

{ THE EXERCISE }

Select one important person from your past who has made a major positive difference in your life and to whom you have never fully expressed your thanks. (Do not confound this selection with newfound romantic love, or with the possibility of future gain.) Write a testimonial just long enough to cover one laminated page. Take your time composing this; my students and I found ourselves taking several weeks, composing on buses and as we fell asleep at night. Invite that person to your home, or travel to that person’s home. It is important that you do this face to face, not just in writing or on the phone. Do not tell the person the purpose of the visit in advance; a simple “I just want to see you” will suffice. Wine and cheese do not matter, but bring a laminated version of your testimonial with you as a gift. When all settles down, read your testimonial aloud slowly, with expression and with eye contact. Then let the other person react unhurriedly. Reminisce together about the concrete events that make this person so important to you. (If you are so moved, please do send me a copy at Seligman@psych.upenn.edu) (74)

Learn to Cultivate Gratitude & Forgiveness to Enhance Satisfaction About the Past …*

{ WHAT I LIKED }

I thoroughly enjoyed Gratitude Night. It reminded me a bit of the Have A Beautiful Day exercise in that it provided multiple opportunities to bask in positive emotions. First there was the preparation, figuring out whom I would pick gave me an opportunity to think about all the wonderful people I am lucky to have in my life. Once I had selected the recipient of my first Gratitude Night, I loved the experience of recalling moments with that person and reliving them in my head before writing them down on paper. Then there was the experience of reading out loud to the recipient of my gratitude night what I had written for her, which was immensely fulfilling. Finally, there was witnessing her gratitude for the event and an opportunity for us to reminisce together about all the wonderful moments we have shared.

 { FRICTION POINTS }

None.

 

{ NEXT STEPS }

I believe the important people in my life know that I love them–I’m not stingy with my I love yous. I’m also prompt in writing thank you notes and I like to think that I do not take for granted the kindness and generosity people show me. But when I think about it, I don’t generally express my gratitude on a grander magnitude to the important people in my life. Other than Mother & Father’s Day, I rarely tell those I love just how grateful I am for their presence in my life, how grateful I am for their lives, for them being who they are. I think we collectively lack a socially acceptable forum and language around which to share our gratitude for one another. A funny but telling anecdote reveals this lack: a couple of years ago, I had read about gratitude letters and had sent about seven of them to some of the people I love and am grateful for. My cousin, who was in her teens at the time, was very worried when she received hers and called her mom to ask if she thought I was suicidal. We all had a good laugh about her worry, but in a way it is rather sad when you think about it: someone sends you a letter to express how much you mean to them and how grateful they are for your presence in their life and the act is such an anomaly in your experience that you immediately deduce something must be wrong. I don’t think this is particular to my cousin, I can completely understand where she was coming from.

I will keep up gratitude night going forward. Perhaps my ‘recipients’ will be inspired to declare their gratitude for people in their own lives and slowly, together, we might make expressing gratitude the norm rather than an anomaly.

{ Creativity & Happiness } An Overview of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience …*

{ Creativity & Happiness } An Overview of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience ...* | rethinked.org

Screen Shot from Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi’s 2004 TED talk – Flow: The Secret to Happiness

 

As I’m nearing the end of the Positive Psychology cycle of the rethinked*annex project, I have decided to include two additional ideas–flow and growth mindset–before moving on to the next and final cycle. Because the meaningful happy life is so deeply dependent on the successful and recurring deployment of one’s signature strengths in as many of life’s arenas as possible, I have decided to turn to Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi‘s concept of flow for some additional guidance on how to nurture and cultivate my pursuit of what Seligman terms, “the gratifications.” And because the nurturing and deployment of strengths and skills can be so radically improved by the cultivation of a growth mindset, I have decided to reread Carol Dweck‘s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. I’ll share a couple more interventions to experiment with based on these two ideas in the coming weeks.

For now, I invite you to watch Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi’s TED Talk – Flow, the secret to happiness, in which he gives some context to his research around the core question of “what makes life worth living?” and gives an overview of the flow experience.

How Do You Cultivate Happiness & Well-Being In Your Life?

How Do You Cultivate Happiness & Well-Being In Your Life?  | rethinked.org

I haven’t yet had a chance to do the gratitude night exercise suggested by Martin Seligman in Authentic Happiness, so I have no Positive Psychology interventions to report on today. I thought I’d ask YOU about how you go about cultivating happiness and well-being in your daily life. What habits, actions, tools or mindsets have you tried and adopted to nurture and increase your well-being? How do you make yourself happy?

Let me know * 

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