Want To Be Happier? Check Out These 3 Things To Try.

happiness was always  my birthday wish

happiness was always my birthday wish

Dr. Jonathan Fader, team psychologist to the New York Mets, wrote the following and I wanted to pass it along.

We all want to be happier: a simple sentence, only six words long. And yet every time it crosses my mind, it’s a powerful reminder of why my job—psychologist—even exists; every patient I work with wants my help in order to enjoy their life more. These individuals come from all walks of life, and each has his or her own story, but this desire is perhaps the only thing that they have in common with each other—and, for that matter with you or me. They all want to “be happier”.

So: what’s the number one thing you can do to make that happen?

During my first meetings with them, people often suggest large, sweeping changes to their lives. I could quit my job. I could leave New York. I could get back with my ex. I could shave off my beard.

All valid ideas. But here’s my suggestion: I could try to find more enjoyment in my life as it exists right now.

It is so clear that enjoyment of life is linked to so many other positive outcomes. Some point to the possibility that enjoying exercise will lead to better performance in physical activity. But are there things that you can do practice enjoyment? What concrete behavioral changes can you make to begin your quest to enjoy your life with more vigor?

Here are 3 ideas for you to practice:

1. Have a daily ritual around enjoyment

Upon waking, ask yourself, “What do I look forward to most today?” At the end of your day, ask yourself, “What was the most enjoyable part of my day and why?”

You could actually take it one step further and document your enjoyment ritual. Each night, you could write down one thing you enjoyed about your day on a slip of paper, and drop it in a jar. A year from now, empty the jar and re-read the slips. I love this method because of its double-pronged benefit: not only do you get to dwell on your enjoyment every day, but you can relive it all at once, long after the fact.

2. Whenever you eat try to focus on the taste of your food for just one minute.

What does it taste like? Try to identify the different sensations. Salty? Sweet? Bitter? Sour? If you are eating with someone, comment to them about each observation.

This tip comes out of the research which suggests that eating smaller portions of food with more mindfulness can increase your actual enjoyment of what you are eating. (Of course, the trick is the smaller portions–read my post on changing a behavior for that one!)

3. Put a reminder on your phone, computer or calendar that reminds you to enjoy whatever is most important in your life.

I have a small cartoon sticker of a shining sun that my daughter gave me that’s on my phone case. In the midst of any stressful day, it reminds me to focus on what I can enjoy and divert my attention from the rest.

Jonathan Fader, PhD also writes a blog for Psychology Today entitled The New You.

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Is Your Torch Lit?

in memory of black-eyed susan, who knew the importance of the torch

in memory of black-eyed susan, who knew the importance of the torch

We start off walking and then we progress to running but are we carrying the torch at the same time? In ancient Greece, the races were only complete and a winner declared if he crossed the finish line with the flame still lit. So even if you blew out the competition and crossed the line with easy long strides, if that flame wasn’t lit in the torch you were carrying, you did not win.

Basically, things haven’t changed. We walk through life, we take it one day at a time and we keep our eye on the prize. A few things ramp up our life – challenges in school, opportunities in business, great commitments to a loved one – and we begin to run. We are determined to make this, determined, and we’re sprinting, rounding the corners at high speeds, a conference call in each hand, checking off the to-do list in our head…but is your torch lit?

The torch today represents our passion, our juice, our mo-jo. So do you have it or not? Are you sprinting and thinking you’re making it? Is your torch still lit?

I recently watched the movie Chef on a flight back from Portugal and it was totally about a lit torch. Chef – a 2014 American comedy-drama film written and directed by Jon Favreau – is about Carl Casper, an up and coming chef in LA being closely watched by the food critics. His controlling restaurant boss no longer allows him to experiment and create so he gives it all up and buys a food truck. Not to give a film review, but I was so rooting for this food truck, this dilapidated, old food truck, with a burning torch (theoretically speaking) being held high out of the driver’s side window. I would have loved to have been on that truck crossing the country.

So…you’re race walking, you’re going for it, you’re sprinting, you’ve got the world by the tail. But is your torch lit? That’s the guideline that’s most important, that lit torch, because if it isn’t, we’re running the wrong race. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BXwUVRkRYj4

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Grief Is A Lazy Susan

it feels good to hide

it feels good to hide

I am always moved when I read Anne Lamont because she gets the pain and has the courage to write about it. Below, from Anne’s book, Traveling Mercies.

Grief, as I read somewhere once, is a lazy Susan. One day it is heavy and underwater, and the next it spins and stops at loud and rageful, and the next day at wounded keening, and the next day numbness, silence. I was hoarse for the first 6 weeks after Pammy died and my romance ended, from shouting in the car and crying, and I had blisters on the palm of one hand from hitting the bed with my tennis racket, bellowing in pain and anger. But on the first morning in Mexico, the lazy Susan stopped at feelings of homesickness, like when my parents sold the house where I grew up.

Cool Mona Note: Writing is a great release. Pull out a notebook and get started.

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A Cool Mona Recipe: A Dirty Bird (With Tequila, Of Course!)

a dirty birdA Dirty Bird is essentially a White Russian with a quick shake added at the end. I use Tequila instead of the usual vodka. Here’s to us. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3H6amDbAwlY

Ingredients:

Preparation:

  1. Pour the vodka and coffee liqueur in an old-fashioned glass filled with ice.
  2. Fill with milk or cream.
  3. Shake by placing a mixing tin over the glass and giving it one or two good shakes.

Prep time: 3 minutes

Yield: 1 cocktail

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A Cool Mona Book Review: The Transcriptionist

Marg_5 iconThe Transcriptionist by Amy Rowland. A debut novel, published 2014. New York Times Editors’ Choice, August, 2014. An engrossing read about language, how powerful it is and the importance of those who have the responsibility to use it.

It’s the unfinished 11th floor of The Record’s office, The Record being the most highly-regarded newspaper in the world. Very few have the courage or need to visit her office. Lena transcribes reporters’ views of war, mudslides, suicides, political unrest and she absorbs it all. She talks to a pigeon that never moves from the ledge outside her one window. She is alone at home, renting a room at a Salvation Army rooming house for women. She can sign for the key to Gramercy Park for an hour. Where she sits alone.

Language is Lena’s life, it sustains her. It’s her job and she thinks it’s the answer. Until she realizes that language can be omitted, it can disappear and with it, something (or someone) which was once important can also disappear.

And then one day she sits beside a blind woman on the bus. A few days later, Lena recognizes her photo in the article about her being mauled to death by the zoo’s lions. She becomes obsessed about why the woman would walk into the lion’s den, swim the moat and suicide. Lena begins a campaign for the truth that will ultimately destroy The Record’s complacency and shake the venerable institution to its very foundation.

This is a read that is still with me. The author is razor sharp and wise and humane. The book is beautifully written, beautifully written and I think it could be the debut novel of the year. Rowland has spent more than 10 years at The New York Times where she worked as a transcriptionist herself before moving to the Book Review. In the Cool Mona rating system, I easily give it 5 margaritas.

 

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A Cool Mona Meditation: When It’s Time To Let Go

nuns smokingI suspect it is the right thing to do but I walk the field to support my instinct. I never do it at the end of the day, always early in the morning: I’m more grounded, there’s less noise and I haven’t had time to dwell on the day’s confusion. I have walked the field many times, often times with the same person. Sometimes I can let go, sometimes I cannot and if I can’t let go I simply accept that the timing is not what I’d thought it to be.

I gently reach for her hand and experience the love that we we’ve had in our lives together. We face eastward and begin to shuffle forward, still holding hands. Things are slow and soft and filtered like the gauzy drape of morning. I feel the firmness of her hand and am reminded just how tiny it is. I’m not afraid to experience this exercise because I know only good can come of it.

I know that to experience continuous pain and doubt with a friend, a lover, a partner is not where I should be. I wonder if I should continue trying, buck up and just love. Sometimes after having lunch together, I can’t figure out why I’m so down. I can’t put my finger on it but something’s off. Sometimes I cry and can’t really tell you why. And then I know that it’s time to walk the field.

The field seems endless and so it’s up to me where the end of the field is. In my meditation, we walk together for quite some time, in quietness and at our own pace. When I feel comfortable, I slowly and lovingly drop her hand and turn around. I begin to walk in the direction from which we’ve come. I’m on my own this time and I continue walking. If I can continue walking and leave her at the end of the field, I’ve moved her out of my life. If I must stop and look back at her, I know that now is not the time to say good-bye.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_LhwlsaA-Vc

Cool Mona Note: Here’s a previous post that may be helpful. How Do You Know When It’s Time To Let Go?  http://www.coolmona.com/?p=7121

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8 Invisible Signs You’re Totally Fried (Part 2)

i'm trying to think softer thoughts

i’m trying to think softer thoughts

Corrie Pikul introduces some not-so-obvious signs, a couple of really odd ones included. So even though you’re not obviously melting down, know what to look for when your burnt-out body and brain are waving the white flag. Check out Part 1 before you jump in below:  http://www.coolmona.com/?p=8067

Your jog to “burn off steam” totally deflates you.

You’re really frazzled when you start to exercise, your body reacts differently than if you aren’t in such a state, explains Sarah L. Berga, MD, professor of obstetrics/gynecology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, NC. Berga and her colleagues have observed that moderately intense exercise can cause cortisol levels to spike even higher in women who are already so stressed that they’ve been missing their periods. At the same time, the “hyperstressed” women’s glucose levels dropped, which meant there was less available energy to fuel their exertion. Berga suggests taking a break from hard workouts and signing up for a package of Pilates classes instead.

You can drink coffee just before bed and still pass right out.

Some of us are more sensitive to caffeine than others, but no one is completely immune to the stimulant’s effects, says Michael Breus, PhD, a clinical psychologist and the author of The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan: Lose Weight through Better Sleep. The EEG machines that show increased brain activity post-coffee don’t lie—but some people swear that caffeine doesn’t affect them. What’s probably happening with these caffeine denialists, says Breus, is that they’re so exhausted that their levels of calm-inducing neurotransmitters are very high. These neurotransmitters help override caffeine’s effects, or they set to work on a different area of the brain to kick-start the sleep process—so the caffeine is working, but the coffee drinkers aren’t reacting to it. In other words, they’re not superhuman; they’re just super tired.

You feel like your acid reflux has gotten much worse.

Stress hasn’t been shown to cause acid reflux; however, it can make it feel more intense, found a study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research. When patients diagnosed with acid regurgitation had to perform an anxiety-inducing task, their perception of pain was much higher than fellow acid reflux sufferers who hadn’t been stressed. Tests showed no increase in the amount of esophageal acid but did reveal elevated levels of cortisol.

Your scalp feels weirdly sensitive when you shampoo your hair.

Stress often leads to the release of neuropeptides and other natural chemicals in the skin, and that causes inflammation, explains Richard Fried, MD, PhD, clinical psychologist/dermatologist in Yardley, PA. In some people, that inflammation erupts in angry pimples or a flare-up of rosacea. In others, the neuropeptides, which are part of our innate immune response, can cause blood vessels to constrict, making skin all over the face and head feel tight, tingly and overly sensitive. You’ve also probably been tensing your facial muscles for weeks (unconsciously bracing for a confrontation), so they’re tired and slightly sore. Fried says the sensations should subside when you start to feel more relaxed.

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8 Invisible Signs You’re Totally Fried (Or You Can Just Call And I’ll Tell You)

Good HappensI know myself pretty well by now and can quickly spot the warning signs. But writer Corrie Pikul introduces some not-so-obvious ones, a couple of odd ones included. So even though you’re not obviously melting down, know what to look for when your burnt-out body and brain are waving the white flag.
You’ve got a minor but noticeable cut that just won’t go away.
People keep asking you how you hurt yourself and you have to jog your memory to remember (Were you chopping carrots? Washing the vegetable peeler?). Studies have shown that psychological stress can affect the body’s ability to heal itself. People who showed higher than normal levels of stress took longer to heal from skin wounds, minor surgical procedures and even blisters. There’s ample evidence that stress causes a release of chemicals (like cortisol and glucocorticoids) that get in the way of the healing process at numerous key steps and can also leave the wound more vulnerable to infection.
You’re constantly muttering, “Excuse me,” under your breath.

For the past few weeks, you’ve been burping like crazy—odorless, benign-seeming little burps that come so often, you’ve almost stopped noticing them. You’re probably just swallowing small amounts of air and immediately burping them back up again, says Robynne Chutkan, MD, a Maryland-based gastroenterologist and the author of Gutbliss. (Put your hand on the upper part of your stomach, just under your chest: It’s probably stretched tight like a drum, says Chutkan). This is something people tend to do when they’re stressed or anxious. It may be due to shallow breathing, an obsessive reliance on gum or mints, or excessive nervous chattering. Sometimes, the burping and apologizing can turn into an unconscious tic or coping mechanism, experts say. In those cases, the best way to make it go away is to address the underlying stress. (Time for a vacation!)

Even a quick catnap is enough time to have wacky, vivid dreams.

But wait (you’re thinking): A short doze means I’m taking care of myself—and don’t doctors recommend taking a nap as a way to get a second wind? The problem here isn’t with the siesta; it’s with what happens during that time period. It usually takes about 90 minutes to enter REM sleep and start dreaming, says Christopher Winter, MD, the medical director of the Martha Jefferson Hospital Sleep Medicine Center in Charlottesville, Virginia. The maximum length of your nap should be around 30 minutes, because once you’ve hit REM, the nap becomes counterproductive (you’ll wake up groggy instead of refreshed, Winter says). So if you start dreaming as soon as you close your eyes, it means your brain is so sleep-deprived that it’s rushing to get into the REM phase. A scheduled nap can help make up for one late night, says Winter, not a month’s worth.

You’re convinced that you’ve got early-onset dementia—at 33.

(Cool Mona Note: This one has my name all over it.)

“We often see patients who are healthy yet extremely fatigued telling us that they’re starting to forget things they should remember,” says Anne Marie Albano, PhD, the director of the Columbia University Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders. “I tell them about the shelf theory of memory: You can only put so much on the shelf at one time, and when you’re exhausted, the shelf isn’t supporting memories the way it should.” You are focusing so intensely on the mental challenges at hand that everything else is subconsciously deemed irrelevant. This is due to the stress hormone cortisol’s complicated effect on memories, explains John Ratey, MD, in his book Spark: The Evolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. Excess cortisol can cause us to lose the ability to form and store new memories not related to the present situation and can also make it difficult to retrieve the memories we already have.

Cool Mona Note: I have several more for you and will post them tomorrow. Thanks for hanging out!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxpPL_aY190

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How To Outsmart Your Ego (It’ll Do You Good To Read It!) (Part 2)

celebrate self

celebrate self

A childhood friend, Ego (aka Pride, Vanity or that Stubborn Shell that separates you from your authentic self), keeps me stuck. Writer Jena Pincott looks on the inside and shares  actual research-driven ways to free your mind and life. You’ll want to read Part 1 first: http://www.coolmona.com/?p=8011

And now, on to Part 2.

The (Secretly) Superior Trap

The ego issue: Yes, it’s narcissistic, but many of us think that our own lifestyle choices represent the universal ideal. For instance, couples often think that single people would be better off in a relationship, and singles think that couples secretly feel trapped, according to researchers at Stanford University and the University of Waterloo. What’s even worse is when smugness turns into bias: In the study, people gave same-status job candidates more positive ratings in a mock job interview than those with a different relationship status (everything else being equal).
The fix: The next time you catch yourself evangelizing your own lifestyle, imagine it changing (after all, everything changes…eventually). The research found that the more people perceived their relationship status as fixed and unchangeable, the more they defended and idealized it, and the more biased they were against those who were different. However, when they were prompted to effectively channel their inner Buddhas—that is, to think of impermanence as a fact of life—they became more understanding of the other side’s position.

The Cool-and-Collected Trap

The ego issue: To quote Thomas Jefferson, “nothing gives one person so much advantage over another as to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstances.” But there’s a price to such power and invulnerability: You end up suppressing yourself or denying things that actually do matter to you.
The fix: Watch this clip from Oprah’s Lifeclass, in which psychologist Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW, describes how she reminds herself to let down her guard. She says that she keeps “permission slips” in the pockets of her jean jackets to remind herself that’s it OK to be excited, passionate, goofy, heartfelt and joyful…in short, to free herself from the restraints of coolness, which she compares to armor.

The Power Trap

The ego issue: We’ve all been inspired by the research that finds that an Olympic-medalist body posture—arms out, legs spread—boosts testosterone levels and self-confidence in just two minutes. However, in some settings, the “power pose” can tip over into dishonesty, concluded a study led by Andy Yap, PhD, a lecturer at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. Dr. Yap and his colleagues found that when people had to—out of necessity—stretch out their limbs in a generous SUV-style driver’s seat or at a large (24-by-38-inch) desk, they were likelier to steal money (not report overpayment), cheat on a test and commit traffic violations than in places where their bodies were more constricted.
The fix:  Keep your throne or oversize workstation, Dr. Yap says; after all, the feeling of heightened power can also decrease stress and make you feel more positive. But in those settings, he recommends finding ways to stay alert to larger goals. When powerful people focus on noble principles—duty, obligation, accountability—he explains, they’re much less likely to behave unethically. (Which brings to mind a slogan I once saw splashed on a wall of an oversize studio, perhaps by the artist to keep herself in check: “Art and Ego Are Antithetical.”)

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How To Outsmart Your Ego (You Know You Need To Read This!)

i don't always find it but i keep looking

i don’t always find it but i keep looking

That old friend of mine, Ego (who’s also known as pride, vanity or that stubborn shell that separates you from your authentic self), keeps me stuck. Writer Jena Pincott shares some actual research-driven ways to free your mind and life.

The Feedback Trap

The ego issue: How do most of us react when someone criticizes us, even constructively? “By denying, rejecting or transforming the threat to preserve self-worth,” explains Michael Inzlicht, PhD, University of Toronto, in a study on performance threat. The price: A distorted sense of reality and a failure to learn from mistakes.
The fix: If you can spare five minutes before your next performance review, marital spat or the like, use it to identify something you value immensely (creativity, travel, family, comedy, for instance), and then jot down a few thoughts about why it matters. This exercise—clinicians call it “value affirmation”—makes us less prickly and more open-minded when hearing about our mistakes and flaws, concluded multiple studies. It works because it protects our broader sense of self-worth, while disabling the “ego protective” alarms that drain mental energy. Bonus: Value affirmers also have better self-control and make fewer errors on subsequent tasks, found Dr. Inzlicht.

The Confusion Trap

The ego issue: Imagine there’s something that you’re fairly clueless about, like spreadsheets. Long ago, you tried to crack the code, but felt out of your depth. Now you’re too proud to go back to square (or cell) one—and, so, you’d rather just not know what you don’t know.
The fix: Don’t avoid confusion, embrace it. Missteps become assets when you practice “productive failure,” a learning technique described in a study at the Learning Sciences Lab at the National Institute of Education in Singapore. There, math students were faced with seemingly impossible problems, then asked to come up with solutions on their own. The students were encouraged to get lost and confused and to make up wild theories. They failed, of course. But later, after they were taught the solutions, they performed better on subsequent tests than those who received straight-out instruction. Failing—thoughtfully and without shame—helped them to learn more deeply.

The Destiny Trap

The ego issue: You feel flattered when a stereotype seems to work in your favor. Of course you’re good at giving; you’re a woman! Of course you’re good at science; you’re a man! But watch out, found psychologist Angelica Moè, PhD, after testing men and women in spatial relations, an exercise in which males were presumed to have the upper hand. While we might expect men’s scores to soar after a perceived ego boost, they actually performed worse than usual. Pride gained from an unearned advantage turned to anxiety about living up to it.
The fix: If you’re ever told that you’re naturally gifted or look the part—or that you have any other advantage having to do with genes or destiny—break the evil spell it’ll have over you by saying, “Oh, please. That’s just a stereotype.” When Moè told test-takers that a cultural stereotype was the underlying reason why men outperform women in math—not superior “math genes”—everyone scored better because the “biology-as-destiny” expectations were lifted.

Cool Mona Note: It’s interesting, right? Part 2 later.

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