The Most Important Article You’ll Ever Read: The Ultimate Quick Guide to Increased Happiness. Part 2 of 3

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This is part two of a three part series, divided to not overwhelm, and to allow anyone a chance at trying each and every strategy. In part one of the Ultimate Quick Guide to Increased Happiness, I discuss the benefits of keeping a Happy Journal. If you haven’t read it go do that now. I recommend a standardized list of things you look for and track each day. If you consistently look for things that make you happy, your brain will start to see them where you might not have before. Tracking what makes you happy also helps highlight just how much you enjoy them, and helps you make decisions. After doing this a while, I quickly realized that one of my favorite things is playing basketball with my kids. It may sound obvious but believe me, these things get lost in the busyness of life. Now, I’ll almost drop anything to play some ball.

The suggestions laid out in this Ultimate Quick Guide to Increased Happiness do take a conscious effort, but they get easier with practice.

In your Happy Journal, I suggest the following two headings:
Things that made me happy (3), or that I feel grateful about, and my successes:

People I helped, Acts of Kindness, &/or Gifts given:

If you maintain a digital Happy Journal, you can copy and paste it over and over. If not, just write it at the top of the page and refer to it. This has to be as simple as possible so we don’t avoid doing it daily.

We should all strive to be as consistently happy as possible. When we are happy we are more productive, have a better quality of life, are healthier, and we make life better for those around us. I know the strategies in this three part series will help. Each one might not fit with you but try them all. Find what works best for you. Review this list over and over as a reminder and pass it on. Here are my recommendations in part 2.

Make someone laugh
Laughing is one of the best ways to bump up your happiness and the happiness of someone you meet. If you can make someone laugh, you may be turning their day around, as well as yours.

Give something away
This can be in time, material items, or money. Studies have shown that when we give something away, we feel better, not only at the time but anytime we look back and remember doing it. This can be volunteering our time, or giving what we can to a charity or someone in need. Of course, there are many other reasons to give of yourself other than to make yourself feel good, but it is a bonus. Make a note in your journal, of what you gave away that day.

Get some sunshine
This may go against popular convention for the past decade or two, but we know exposure to sunlight, effects our levels of three very important chemicals in the body: Serotonin, Melatonin, and Vitamin D. There is a biological mechanism by which we feel better when we get some sun. Don’t take this as my support for tanning beds or sun bathing…that’s not what I’m saying. Some safe sun exposure has been shown to be healthy and make us happy. M. Nathaniel Mead wrote a good article in Environmental Health Perspectives, outlining the health benefits. You can read it here. As a word of caution, there are many variables and much disagreement on how much sun is safe, so I’ll leave that up to you to research and decide upon.

Nurture your relationships
We are happier when we have a significant other in our lives. Be sure to protect your relationships. Show some love. Some gratitude. Do something special for them. I love the saying, “The grass is always greener…where you water and take care of it.” This also goes for other relationships we have, whether it be our family or friends, keep in touch. A short email, or phone call can go along way.

Focus energy & spending on experiences – Conscious Spending
Studies have shown that when we do something, we tend to be happier than when we purchase material items. This can be a dinner out, a show or concert, or a trip. It doesn’t need to cost a lot. I doesn’t need to cost anything. It really doesn’t matter as long as it’s something you enjoy and will look forward to. To get even more benefit from it, plan ahead. If we book it in the future, we enjoy the thought of it coming up, we enjoy doing it, and we enjoy looking back at it, with fond memories…all of which increase our sense of well-being and happiness. I’m not suggesting you go on a big trip instead of covering your basic needs, saving, or working toward something you really want. This is more about conscious spending.

Exercise and Eat well
In many cases, we feel better when we are active. Fifteen minutes of mindful exercise…walking, biking, running, yoga, gardening…can be very helpful in making us feel better. This evening I was becoming more and more agitated with the constant interruptions of being in a house with three kids, four cats and a dog. During one of my interruptions, I came back to find a cat had eaten the chicken off my dinner plate. While I tried to salvage the un-munched portion, my twelve year old son asked if I’d play some basketball. Thirty minutes of laughing and joking with each other totally changed the direction of my evening. My ego took a beating, as he cleaned my clock, but my mood was much better for it.

Equally important is the food we eat. Cooking and eating healthy meals together with family (even with the cat), whenever you can, is a great way to bond while getting the benefits of quality healthy food. Healthy eating is a very complicated subject that I’ll leave you to explore further.

Feel music
One of the fastest ways to instantly feel better is to feel some music. Put on something with a beat and really feel it. Don’t just listen to it, but feel it. Move your body to the beat. A hand, a foot, nod your head, shake, move…it doesn’t matter what or how you move but move something…feel it. This works. Go try it now.

Part three will be coming next week.

How have you found any of the suggestions so far? Leave your results or any recommendations in the comments. Do you think any of this really matters?

Wishing you well,

Silas Payton
You can find more articles on writing, happiness, and other areas of thought stimulation on the Silas Payton Blog.
If you’re interested in spreading the love by purchasing my thrillers, they are available on Amazon.

Image by Gatto Mimmo on Flickr. Not one of my cats, but I envision mine looking this happy after eating my chicken.

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The Most Important Article You’ll Ever Read: The Ultimate Quick Guide to Increased Happiness. Part 1 of 3

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I’ve been reading and following the research about happiness for over twenty years. Over this time, I have seen the effects we can have by making simple changes in what we allow to influence our thoughts. We all have ups and downs, which is natural, but it is generally agreed, that most of us want to be happy. I’ve put together a list of strategies that can change our outlook…to increase the positive influences in our lives while limiting things that bring us down. Many of these have been proven through research to help, and some, which are based on our current understanding of how the brain works, I’ve just found to be helpful on my own. All are designed to increase or highlight our happiness and sense of well-being.

Background
It looks like some of our ability to be happy is genetically coded. In fact, genetics is thought to account for 50% of how happy we normally feel. We can’t control this portion, but it does means we have 50% which we can play with, and influence. Our brains are massive consumers of energy, but at the same time, they try to be as efficient as possible. Without our awareness, our brains are looking for patterns…categories to slot new information into for easy recall. I’m sure most have experienced this. When you are reading a particular style of magazine, home and garden for example, you start to see all the things you’d like to improve around your house and yard. If we immerse ourselves in anything, we start to see more of it. Ever buy a new-to-you car and suddenly start to notice all the other people who drive the same car?

Because of the patterning of memory and thought processing, our brains have uncontrollable biases based on the kind of information it has recently been analyzing and storing. At the beginning of most abnormal psychology text books, there is a disclaimer which states, do not be alarmed if when reading this, you feel you have many of these disorders. As we read, watch, or listen to something it creates fresh patterns of thinking. Our brain then wants to use these fresh patterns to view and categorize new information. Commercials use this principle as well. Marketing companies plant images and emotions into our brain so when we are hungry, we envision their burgers, or when our car needs replacing, we want their product. We see things based on how the brain has recently being patterned. Fortunately, with this knowledge, we can actually re-train our brains to see, notice, and feel more reasons to be happy.

Knowing how the brain works gives us tremendous power to influence how we think, feel, and react to situations…how we perceive what goes on around us. A number of the suggestions I pose here work on this powerful principle. Try some. Try them all. Every one might not be a match for you, but I have no doubt that by implementing some of these strategies, you can increase your happiness, and the happiness of those around you.

The strategies:

Train your brain to find events that make you happy.
Get yourself a journal, or set up a document on a tablet. Dedicate a few minutes a day, to increase your happiness. Every night, write down three things that made you happy that day. Write three sentences about each one. This can be something you did, an accomplishment, something that happened to you by chance…it doesn’t matter. Don’t cut corners here…our brains need to focus and think about what it was that made us happy, and why. Doing this regularly will subconsciously train our brains to look closer for events and encounters in our day that make us happy.

Be grateful.
Sometimes we have crappy days…days when we’d be hard-pressed to think of anything that made us happy. At the end of each day, give some thought to what you can be grateful about. A friend, a relationship, something that happened in your past. It doesn’t matter what it is or was. If you can’t think of anything that made you happy on a given day, think of something you feel grateful about and make a note of it in your journal.

Remember and celebrate your successes.
Success is very personal thing. We all define it differently, but if you feel good about something you’ve achieved it is a success. Maybe you received a complement, achieved something you were working towards, got a good mark on a quiz. If you feel good about an accomplishment, write it down in your journal. It is important to celebrate and remember our successes. It doesn’t need to be a big celebration, but there should be a mental recognition or a personal pat on the back.

Help people with acts of kindness.
This is absolutely my favourite. Help as many people as you can, making sure you help at least one person each and every day. And, of those people, try and make one of them someone you don’t know. It can be anything you think will make a difference for someone. Hold a door open, wish someone a nice day, or lend a hand. You can even re-post a blog article, buy an author’s book…anything counts. Studies have shown that when we are kind to someone else, not only do they feel good, but we also feel good. As an added benefit, acts of kindness increase the likelihood that both parties will go on and do further acts of kindness for someone else. It creates a spreading positive feedback loop. Record any acts of kindness in your journal at the end of the day.

Smile
Like I mentioned above, our brains group certain reactions, feelings, and behaviours together. We generally smile when we are happy, or laughing. Our brains have these linked together in a pattern and we can use this to our advantage. Even if we don’t feel happy, if we smile, it tricks our brain into thinking we are happy. If our brain thinks we’re happy, we start to see things that make us happier. Also, when we smile, it makes people around us smile and feel happier.

Tune in next week for part 2 of the Ultimate Quick Guide to Increased Happiness. Until then, try these consistently and let me know how they work for you.

You can now link to Part 2 here.

Wishing you well,

Silas Payton
You can find more articles on writing, happiness, and other areas of thought stimulation on the Silas Payton Blog.
If you’re interested in spreading the love by purchasing my thrillers, they are available on Amazon.

Image by Kevin Stanchfield on Flickr

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Tips for Happiness in Daily Life

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Some days are harder than others. Some days it feels like from the moment you wake up, things are difficult. You stub your toe on the way to the shower. You find out there’s no more soap. You drop your razor and it breaks. Every have one of those? Ya, who hasn’t.

The question is…should this dictate the rest of the day? Should 15 minutes control your emotions and the way you see things throughout the remainder of the challenges, encounters, and exchanges you have for the entire day? This could easily be the case. Once we get looking for and expecting everything to be going wrong, sure enough we’ll find it.

It doesn’t have to be that way. It’s damn hard to do sometimes, but there are ways we can change the direction of our day. We can be aware of our thoughts, be kind to people, breath deeply, relax, do something we enjoy…but it starts with being aware that we have some control over our emotions and outlook.

Here’s a great article with tips on how we can change the direction of our day…to take control and bring more happiness to our lives and the lives we touch.

Silas Payton

Tips for Happiness in Daily Life

You can make your life happier. It is a matter of choice.

It is your attitude that makes you feel happy or unhappy.

We meet various situations every day, and some of them may not contribute to happiness. However, we can choose to keep thinking about the unhappy events, and we can choose to refuse to think about them, and instead, think about and relish the happy moments.

All of us go through various situations and circumstances, but we do not have to let them influence our reactions and feelings.

If we let outer events influence our moods, we become their slaves. We lose our freedom. We let our happiness be determined by outer forces. On the other hand, we can free ourselves from outer influences. We can choose to be happy, and we can do a lot to add happiness to our lives.

What is happiness?

It is a feeling of inner peace and satisfaction. It is usually experienced, when there are no worries, fears or obsessing thoughts. This usually happens, when we do something we love to do, or when we get, win, gain, or achieve something that we value. It seems to be the outcome of positive events, but it actually comes from the inside, triggered by external events.

For most people, happiness seems fleeting and temporary, because they allow external circumstances to affect it. One of the best ways to keep it, is by gaining inner peace through daily meditation. As the mind becomes more peaceful, it becomes easier to choose the happiness habit.

Tips for Happiness in Daily Life:

1) Endeavor to change the way you look at things. Always look at the bright side. The mind might drag you to think about negativity and difficulties. Don’t let it. Look at the good and positive side of every situation.

2) Think about solutions, not about problems.

3) Listen to relaxing, uplifting music.

4) Watch funny comedies that make you laugh.

5) Each day, devote some time to reading a few pages of an inspiring book or article.

6) Watch your thoughts. Whenever you catch yourself thinking negative thoughts, start thinking of pleasant things.

7) Always look at what you have done and not at what you haven’t.

Sometimes, you begin the day with the desire to accomplish several objectives. At the end of the day, you might feel frustrated and unhappy, because you haven’t been able to do all of those things.

Look at what you have done, not at what you have not been able to do. Often, even if you have accomplished a lot during the day, you let yourself feel frustrated, because of some minor tasks you didn’t accomplish.

Sometimes, you spend all day successfully carrying out many plans, but instead of feeling happy and satisfied, you look at what was not accomplished and feel unhappy. It is unfair toward yourself.

8) Each day do something good for yourself. It can be something small, such buying a book, eating something you love, watching your favorite program on TV, going to a movie, or just having a stroll on the beach.

9) Each day do at least one act to make others happy.

This can be a kind word, helping your colleagues, stopping your car at the crossroad to let people cross, giving your seat in a bus to someone else, or giving a small present to someone you love. The possibilities are infinite.

When you make someone happy, you become happy, and then people try to make you happy.

10) Always expect happiness.

11) Do not envy people who are happy. On the contrary, be happy for their happiness.

12) Associate with happy people, and try to learn from them to be happy. Remember, happiness is contagious.

13) Do your best to stay detached, when things do not proceed as intended and desired. Detachment will help you stay calm and control your moods and reactions. Detachment is not indifference. It is the acceptance of the good and the bad and staying balanced. Detachment has much to do with inner peace, and inner peace is conductive to happiness.

14) Smile more often.

Written by By Remez Sasson. Originally posted on www.successconsciousness.com
Image by BK on Flickr

5 Beneficial Side Effects of Kindness

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“If you haven’t any charity in your heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble.”
–Bob Hope

When we think of side effects, the first thing that springs to mind are the side effects of drugs. But who’d have thought that kindness could have side effects, too?

Well, it does! And positive ones at that.

Of course, we should never do an act of kindness to gain from it. We should always be kind because it’s the right thing to do. But when we are kind, the following are some side effects that come with it:

1) Kindness makes us happier.

When we do something kind for someone else, we feel good. On a spiritual level, many people feel that this is because it is the right thing to do and so we’re tapping into something deep and profound inside us that says, “This is who I am.”

On a biochemical level, it is believed that the good feeling we get is due to elevated levels of the brain’s natural versions of morphine and heroin, which we know as endogenous opioids. They cause elevated levels of dopamine in the brain, so we get a natural high, often referred to as “Helper’s High.”

2) Kindness gives us healthier hearts.

Acts of kindness are often accompanied by emotional warmth. Emotional warmth produces the hormone oxytocin in the brain and throughout the body. Of much recent interest is its significant role in the cardiovascular system.

Oxytocin causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide in blood vessels, which dilates (expands) the blood vessels. This reduces blood pressure, and therefore oxytocin is known as a “cardio-protective” hormone because it protects the heart (by lowering blood pressure). The key is that acts kindness can produce oxytocin, and therefore kindness can be said to be cardio-protective.

3) Kindness slows aging.

Aging on a biochemical level is a combination of many things, but two culprits that speed the process are free radicals and inflammation, both of which result from making unhealthy lifestyle choices.

But remarkable research now shows that oxytocin (which we produce through emotional warmth) reduces levels of free radicals and inflammation in the cardiovascular system and thus slows aging at its source. Incidentally these two culprits also play a major role in heart disease, so this is also another reason why kindness is good for the heart.

There have also been suggestions in the scientific journals of the strong link between compassion and the activity of the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve, in addition to regulating heart rate, also controls inflammation levels in the body in what is known as the inflammatory reflex. One study that used the Tibetan Buddhist lovingkindness meditation found that kindness and compassion did, in fact, reduce inflammation in the body, mostly likely due to its effects on the vagus nerve.

4) Kindness makes for better relationships.

This is one of the most obvious points. We all know that we like people who show us kindness. This is because kindness reduces the emotional distance between two people, so we feel more “bonded.” It’s something that is so strong in us that it’s actually a genetic thing. We are wired for kindness.

Our evolutionary ancestors had to learn to cooperate with one another. The stronger the emotional bonds within groups, the greater the chances of survival, so “kindness genes” were etched into the human genome.

Today, when we are kind to each other, we feel a connection, and new relationships are forged, or existing ones strengthened.

5) Kindness is contagious.

When we’re kind, we inspire others to be kind, and it actually creates a ripple effect that spreads outwards to our friends’ friends’ friends — to three degrees of separation. Just as a pebble creates waves when it is dropped in a pond, so acts of kindness ripple outwards, touching others’ lives and inspiring kindness everywhere the wave goes.

A recent scientific study reported than an anonymous 28-year-old person walked into a clinic and donated a kidney. It set off a “pay it forward” type ripple effect where the spouses or other family members of recipients of a kidney donated one of theirs to someone else in need. The “domino effect,” as it was called in the New England Journal of Medicine report, spanned the length and breadth of the United States of America, where 10 people received a new kidney as a consequence of that anonymous donor.

Written by David R. Hamilton, originally posted on Huffington Post
Image by BK on Flickr

Why Happiness Matters

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Some people are more miserable than others. Although, part of this may be genetic, we know that to some extent, we can influence how happy we feel. There are some who would say, why bother? Besides the obvious…that it feels good to be happy, we are more kind to others when we are happy. I could argue that as a society, we do better when happiness increases.

Here is an article outlining some other benefits of happiness. Leave a comment of your thoughts.

Silas Payton

Does happiness matter? People react to this question in surprisingly different ways. Some suggest that there are far more significant things to worry about; others see happiness as vitally important and something that every human being ultimately wants in life. To explore this conundrum, we need to start by looking at what happiness actually means.

Happiness relates to how we feel, but it is more than just a passing mood. We are emotional beings and experience a wide range of feelings on a daily basis. Negative emotions – such as fear and anger – help us to get away from danger or defend ourselves. And positive emotions – such as enjoyment and hope – help us to connect with others and build our capacity to cope when things go wrong.

Trying to live a happy life is not about denying negative emotions or pretending to feel joyful all the time. We all encounter adversity and it’s completely natural for us to feel anger, sadness, frustration and other negative emotions as a result. To suggest otherwise would be to deny part of the human condition.

Happiness is about being able to make the most of the good times – but also to cope effectively with the inevitable bad times, in order to experience the best possible life overall. Or, in the words of the biochemist turned Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard: “Happiness is a deep sense of flourishing, not a mere pleasurable feeling or fleeting emotion but an optimal state of being.”

One popular misconception about happiness is that happy people are somehow more likely to be lazy or ineffective. In fact research shows the opposite is true: happiness doesn’t just feel good, it actually leads to a wide range of benefits for our performance, health, relationships and more.

For example, economists at Warwick University showed different groups of people either a positive film clip or a neutral film clip and then asked them to carry out standard workplace tasks under paid conditions. The people who were primed to feel happy were 11% more productive than their peers, even after controlling for age, IQ and other factors. Similarly, researchers at Wharton Business School found that companies with happy employees outperform the stock market year on year and a team at UCL has discovered that people who are happy as young adults go on to earn more than their peers later in life.

Schools that focus on social and emotional wellbeing have better academic results. Facebook Twitter Pinterest
Schools that focus on social and emotional wellbeing have better academic results.

In healthcare, doctors who are happy have been found to make faster and more accurate diagnoses, even when this happiness was induced simply by giving them the small gift of a sugary sweet. In education, schools that focus on children’s social and emotional wellbeing experience significant gains in academic attainment as well as improvements in pupil behaviour. Happiness has also been linked to better decision-making and improved creativity.

So, rather than success being the key to happiness, research shows that happiness could in fact be the key to success.

But it doesn’t just help us function better: happiness also brings substantial benefits for society as a whole. For example, a review of more than 160 studies found “clear and compelling evidence” that happier people have better overall health and live longer than their less happy peers. They are around half as likely to catch the cold virus and have a 50% lower risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack or stroke.

Happier people are also less likely to engage in risky behaviour – for example, they are more likely to wear seat belts and less likely to be involved in road accidents. Happier people are even more financially responsible, tending to save more and have more control over their expenditures.

But perhaps most importantly of all, people who are happier are more likely to make a positive contribution to society. In particular, they are more likely to vote, do voluntary work and participate in public activities. They also have a greater respect for law and order and offer more help to others.

There is even evidence that happiness is contagious, so that happier people help others around them to become happier too. An extensive study in the British Medical Journal followed people over 20 years and found that their happiness affected others in their networks across “three degrees of separation”. In other words, how happy we are has a measurable impact on the mood of our friend’s friend’s friend.

When it comes to the happiness of society as a whole, however, the sad truth is that in recent decades we have become substantially richer but no happier. The positive benefits of higher incomes have been undermined by rising inequality and falling levels of trust and social cohesion. We’ve also reached the point where mental ill health is one of our greatest social challenges – causing more of the suffering in our society than either unemployment or poverty.

This is why increasing numbers of policymakers and leaders are now calling for measures of progress to be based on human wellbeing and happiness, not just economic factors such as growth in GDP. Here in the UK, the government has introduced a programme to measure national wellbeing, and influential figures – including former cabinet secretary Gus O’Donnell – are calling for wellbeing to become the overall measure of prosperity and the main guide to public policy.

This shift towards prioritising happiness is important because this also reflects what the majority of people want. In a YouGov poll commissioned by Action for Happiness, a majority (87%) of UK adults said they would prefer a society with the “greatest overall happiness and wellbeing”, rather than the “greatest overall wealth” (8%). The findings were consistent across all regions, age groups and social classes.

So happiness does matter – the scientific evidence is compelling. The pursuit of happiness is not some fluffy nice-to-have or middle-class luxury; it’s about helping people to live better lives and creating a society that is more productive, healthy and cohesive. As Aristotle said: “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”

Of course, being happy is not some magical cure-all. Happy people still get sick and lose loved ones – and not all happy people are efficient, creative or generous. But, other things being equal, happiness brings substantial advantages.

Perhaps the most powerful insight of all comes, not from the research, but from the responses I’ve heard from many hundreds of parents when asking them what they want above all for their children. Nearly all say something like: “I really just want them to be happy.”

Happiness is the thing we want most for the people we love the most. That’s why it matters so much.

Written by Mark Williamson, originally posted on theguardian.com.
Image by Patrick on Flickr

Ignorance is Bliss — Sort of: How Not Watching the News Makes us Happier

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Over five years ago, I stopped watching the news. It was one of the best moves I’ve made to improve my happiness. Sound crazy? In fact I stopped watching mainstream television altogether. I’m sure half of you are ready to stop reading this now, but don’t.

The mainstream news as we know it, is designed to promote fear and anxiety. That’s how they entice viewers to tune in and keep coming back for more. The media does this under the guise of keeping us informed of what we need to know. I would argue that most of it we don’t need to know. In most cases, it doesn’t directly effect us and there’s nothing we can do about it anyway.

I’m definately not saying we shouldn’t have the news, or reporters risking their lives to share what could otherwise remain hidden. I’m not saying we should become ignorant and uninvolved. I am saying we have the ability to tune in to small doses…to filter what, and how much we are thinking about. I am fortunate enough that in my work setting, I hear about anything important going on in my community or the world. If I’m interested, I can find all I need to about it very quickly. I just choose to not immerse myself in something geared to manipulate me and produce fear, frustration and anxiety.

About mainstream television…we still watch shows as a couple or a family by way of the Internet. But, we watch what we want, when we want, with no commercials. How often do you end up watching something, because it’s the only thing on. Well stop. Add up all those hours. Think of what you could do with that time, especially if it was something positive, enjoyable, and not stress producing. If I look back, I’ve never been more productive, creative, excited, and happy. Give it some thought. Try it for a while.

Here’s an excellent article by someone who shares my conclusions on the idea of getting ride of mainstream news and television. One of the ways to stay up is to cut out what brings you down. Leave a comment of your thoughts.

Silas Payton

“The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.” – Thomas Jefferson

Around 2 years ago I stopped reading and watching mainstream news. I don’t read a single newspaper, offline or online, and I don’t watch any TV at all. I recently mentioned this on Twitter and Facebook and it created a lot of discussion, so I wanted to expand on my thoughts and experiences.

When I first started ignoring news, I felt that I was simply making an excuse, that if I had more time I should read the news. Today, however, it is a very deliberate choice and I feel consistently happier every single day due to ignoring the mainstream news. It just so happens that the last 2 years have also been the most enjoyable and productive of my entire life, and have contained some of my greatest achievements. Here are a few reasons I think we should stop consuming mainstream news:

News is negative

“The news media are, for the most part, the bringers of bad news and it’s not entirely the media’s fault, bad news gets higher ratings and sells more papers than good news.” – Peter McWilliams

The most interesting fact I learned in the last few years about mainstream media is that is that almost all news reported is negative. Studies have shown that the ratio of bad news to good news is around 17:1. That means that 95% is negative. This is a massive number, and I’m sure if you stop to think for a moment about the most recent news you watched, it has also been overwhelmingly negative. In my experience, 95% is absolutely the correct ratio in the news. However, 95% is a very bad reflection of the real ratio of good to bad in the world. Many great things happen, they just don’t sell newspapers.

Mainstream news report about wars, natural disasters, murders and other kinds of suffering. It seems the only natural conclusion of watching or reading mainstream news is that the world is a terrible place, and that it is getting worse every day. However, the reality of course is the complete opposite: we live in an amazing time and the human race is improving at a faster pace than ever before.

The effect of negative news

“When you turn on the television, for instance, you run the risk ingesting harmful things, such as violence, despair, or fear.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

Another very interesting thing I’ve learned in the last few years is the incredible impact that being around the right people can have on your trajectory to achieving what you want. This comes down essentially to your environment, and whilst it can mean some hard decisions to change our environment, we actually have a lot of control over it.

These two aspects – that we are subconsciously affected by our environment, no matter how much willpower we believe ourselves to have, and that we have much more control over our environment than we realise have been a key factor of some of the success I’ve had in the last few years.

In a TED talk titled “Information is food”, JP Rangaswami compared eating McDonald’s for 31 days, as in Supersize Me, to watching Fox News for 31 days. In essence, mainstream news is the fast food of information. There are much healthier types of information we can and should consume.

The opportunity cost of watching news

The other key thing that I think it can be easy to overlook, is what you could be doing in the time you are spending watching the news.

I remember as a kid, my parents always used to watch the 6 o’clock news. It became so ingrained, it was what would always happen at exactly 6pm, and if we didn’t watch it, we would surely miss out on something vital that could affect our lives.

As a teenager, over time I managed to gradually escape that more and more often. At first, I simply turned to something I enjoyed. I played games online in the evenings instead of sitting with my family and watching the news. The most interesting thing, however, is that my passion for gaming turned into a powerful hobby of learning to code, and I accredit this for a lot of my startup success.

Not only is watching news going to put an out of proportion amount of negative thoughts in your mind, which will affect what you can achieve, it is also valuable time where there are many amazing and meaningful things you could be doing:

you could go to the gym and feel better every day
you could help someone and at the same time feel happier
you could build an MVP which could turn into a startup
you could write an article and start building a useful resource for others
Try a month off mainstream news

Abstaining from mainstream news has been one of the single best decisions I’ve made in the last two years for both my productivity and my happiness. If you’re still in a habit of watching or reading news, I strongly recommend you take Thomas Jefferson’s advice and try a month off news:

“I do not take a single newspaper, nor read one a month, and I feel myself infinitely the happier for it.”

Do you read or watch mainstream news? Have you thought about stopping consuming it? Have you also given it up and felt better? I’d love to hear from you.

Written by Joel Gascoigne at Joel.is
Image by flash.pro on Flickr

Kindness — The Missing Ingredient in The Fountain of Youth

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Imagine a world where we could turn up the dial on happiness, kindness and compassion. Could it be that simple? A place where we all slow down, just a bit, to think about what we are doing, and feeling…and how others are feeling. A place where we put the effort in to try and make others feel better.

If it wasn’t enough to know that we can increase the compassion we feel for others, which will increase our tendency to be kind. And, if it wasn’t enough to know that doing acts of kindness, increases our happiness and the happiness of others. What if doing acts of kindness, actually increased your state of health…if we heal better when we are kind. I always thought the true fountain of youth was keeping active. Although, I still believe this is part of it, I think I’ve been missing something.

Here’s a great article outlining how being kind is healthy for us — The Missing Ingredient in the Fountain of Youth.

Silas Payton

We’ve all heard the old adage that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but what about a smile?

An extensive scientific literature review sponsored by Dignity Health and conducted by the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) at Stanford University reveals a growing body of scientific evidence that indicates kindness holds the power to heal. We now know that this often overlooked, virtually cost-free remedy has a statistically significant impact on our physical health. For example, the positive effect of kindness is even greater than that of taking aspirin to reduce the risk of a heart attack or the influence of smoking on male mortality. And it doesn’t even require a trip to the pharmacy.

Those of us who work in the health care profession and study medicine have long believed in the value of a kind, compassionate bedside manner. But now, this belief isn’t just a nice notion – it’s sound science. The Dignity Health/CCARE scientific literature review shows that when patients are treated with kindness — when there is an effort made to get to know them, empathize with them, communicate with them, listen to them and respond to their needs — it can lead to the following outcomes:

• faster healing of wounds,
• reduced pain,
• reduced anxiety,
• reduced blood pressure,
• and shorter hospital stays.

The research also shows that when doctors and nurses act compassionately, patients are more likely to be forthcoming in divulging medical information, which in turn leads to more accurate diagnoses. They are more likely to adhere to their prescribed treatments, which leads to fewer readmissions.

The review also found that patients aren’t the only ones who see better results from kind treatment — the doctors, nurses, and caregivers who provide the kind treatment benefit as well. A kinder work environment helps employees feel more engaged and less exhausted, which is incredibly important to caregivers who often work long and unpredictable hours in high-pressure jobs.

In the weeks and months ahead, we plan to build on this research, and translate the findings into practices and guidelines health care providers, doctors, nurses, and other caregivers can follow during their interactions with patients.

So often, the debate about health care in America has focused on how to cut costs without restricting people’s access or reducing the quality of their care. Well, institutionalizing kinder practices in hospitals, doctor’s offices, and care facilities across the nation is a virtually free way of improving quality and generating better outcomes that can lead to even lower costs. It’s a no-brainer.

At the very least, this research review proves that in the context of health care and medicine, kindness shouldn’t be viewed as a warm and fuzzy afterthought, something nice to show after the “real” medicine is administered.

Instead, kindness should be viewed as an indispensable part of the healing process. After all, it’s been in the Hippocratic Oath for over a century: “I will remember that… warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.” So it’s the responsibility of those who work and study in the field of medicine to remember the spirit of this pledge, and make acts of kindness not-so-random for the people we serve and heal every day.

By Lloyd Dean & James Doty, M.D. originally posted on <a href=http://www.huffingtonpost.com/project-compassion-stanford/the-healing-power-of-kindness_b_6136272.html&#8221;>huffingtonpost.com</a>
Image by Matthew H. on Flickr

Kindness Makes You Happy… and Happiness Makes You Kind

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What if the payback for acts of kindness was an increase in your happiness? What if it also increased happiness for the person you were kind to? And what if you were both more likely to be kind to someone else, because of it? Amazing but true, it seems. It could be said that acts of kindness are contagious. All we need to do is start.

Slow down. Notice what’s going on around you. Consciously look for opportunities to be kind. Maybe it’s a smile, holding the door, buying a writer’s book, wishing someone a nice day, or helping someone in need. It doesn’t matter what you do…but do as much as you can, as often as you can.

Here’s a great article explaining the positive feedback loop between kindness and happiness. Leave a comment on any cool examples you discover. Also, check out my Ultimate Quick Guide to Increasing Happiness Part 1, and Part 2

Silas Payton

Wouldn’t it be great if you could walk into a store and buy lifelong happiness? The idea’s not as fanciful as it sounds—as long as whatever you buy is meant for someone else.
Two recent studies suggest that giving to others makes us happy, even happier than spending on ourselves. What’s more, our kindness might create a virtuous cycle that promotes lasting happiness and altruism.

In one of the studies, published last year in the Journal of Social Psychology, researchers in Great Britain had participants take a survey measuring life satisfaction, then they assigned all 86 participants to one of three groups. One group was instructed to perform a daily act of kindness for the next 10 days. Another group was also told to do something new each day over those 10 days. A third group received no instructions.

After the 10 days were up, the researchers asked the participants to complete the life satisfaction survey again.
The groups that practiced kindness and engaged in novel acts both experienced a significant—and roughly equal—boost in happiness; the third group didn’t get any happier. The findings suggest that good deeds do in fact make people feel good—even when performed over as little as 10 days—and there may be particular benefits to varying our acts of kindness, as novelty seems linked to happiness as well.

But kindness may have a longer, even more profound effect on our happiness, according to the second study, published online in the Journal of Happiness Studies in April and conducted by researchers at Harvard Business School and the University of British Columbia.

In this study, the researchers instructed roughly half of the 51 participants to recall, as vividly as they could, the last time they spent $20 or $100 on themselves. The other participants had to recall the last time they spent the same amounts on someone else. All the participants also completed a scale that measured how happy they were.

Researchers then gave the participants small sums of money and two basic choices: They could spend it on themselves (by covering a bill, another expense, or a gift for themselves) or on someone else (through a donation to charity or a gift). Choose whatever will make you happiest, the researchers told them, adding that their choice would remain anonymous, just in case they felt pressure to appear more altruistic.

The researchers made two big findings. First, consistent with the British study, people in general felt happier when they were asked to remember a time they bought something for someone else—even happier than when they remembered buying something for themselves. This happiness boost was the same regardless of whether the gift cost $20 or $100.

But the second finding is even more provocative: The happier participants felt about their past generosity, the more likely they were in the present to choose to spend on someone else instead of themselves. Not all participants who remembered their past kindness felt happy. But the ones who did feel happy were overwhelmingly more likely to double down on altruism.
The results suggest a kind of “positive feedback loop” between kindness and happiness, according to the authors, so that one encourages the other.

“The practical implications of this positive feedback loop could be that engaging in one kind deed (e.g., taking your mom to lunch) would make you happier, and the happier you feel, the more likely you are to do another kind act,” says Lara Aknin, a graduate student in psychology at the University of British Columbia and the study’s lead author. “This might also be harnessed by charitable organizations: Reminding donors of earlier donations could make them happy, and experiencing happiness might lead to making a generous gift.”

Written by Alex Dixon at Greater Good
Image by Jesslee Cuizon on Flickr