Health and Happiness
I’m about to amaze (at least some of) you with my mind-reading powers. Ready? Here we go.
Quickly name two things you wish you had more of.
Now, if you could magically have more of only one of them, which one would it be?
Okay, before we started I wrote down your responses, and here they are.
This post is an excerpt from A Short Course in Happiness: Practical Steps to a Happier Life, by Lynda Wallace.
Our Natural Problem Focus
Having maxed out her credit cards when she was unemployed last year, Michelle sometimes wakes up in the middle of the night worrying about how she’s going to pay her bills.
And now that she’s found a new job, she often finds herself distracted at work, justifiably angry and upset that someone who works so hard could find herself in debt over her head.
Michelle spends a lot of time thinking about her problem. But all that thinking doesn’t seem to help – she hasn’t been able to come up with an effective plan to solve it. And she’s not the only one.
When we have a particularly upsetting problem, most of us find ourselves coming back to it over and over again, fretting over what caused it, or how unfair it is, or how much worse it might get – trying to get to the bottom of it, but remaining stuck with the problem no matter how much attention we give to it.
Why does this happen? Isn’t thinking about a problem the best way to come up with a solution? Don’t we have to analyze its causes before we can solve it?
In other words, don’t we need to get to the bottom of things?
The human brain’s default orientation is to focus on our experience in the here and now. Without that natural focus on our immediate experience, we’d never get to work on time, or appreciate the feel of the breeze against our skin on a beautiful spring day.
But there can be tremendous benefit to sometimes taking ourselves out of the here and now by imagining ourselves in a different place or time, or by taking on an outsider’s perspective. When we do this, we engage different areas our brains — areas that can help us to make better decisions, resist temptation, make progress toward goals, and resolve disputes with others.
Psychologists refer to this technique as gaining psychological distance, and it’s as simple as using our imaginations to activate the parts of our brains that aren’t so caught up with our immediate experience, perceptions, and feelings.
THIS QUESTION CAN HELP YOU BREAK THROUGH AND GET IT DONE
by Lynda Wallace
We know when we’re doing it because we start to tell ourselves our favorite procrastination stories — stories we’ve probably heard many times before.
Do any of these sound at all familiar?
Tomorrow I’ll be able to really concentrate on this report without being interrupted.
It will be kinder not to bring up this issue with my spouse just yet.
I’ll be more creative if I do this project when I really feel like doing it. (This is a personal favorite story of mine.)
I work best under pressure.
As handy as these stories can be, they don’t usually turn out to be true.
People are always telling me not to be such a downer, but I naturally see the negative side of things and tend to expect the worst. Is that really so bad, and isn’t my reaction my own business?
Sure, your reaction is your own business as long as you keep it your own business. But if people are always telling you not to be such a downer, it sounds as if you have a tendency to inflict your negative feelings and expectations on others, which not a lot of people are going to appreciate.
So for the sake of your relationships with your friends and family, try to be conscious of their feelings as well as your own. If you’re troubled by or anxious about something, by all means go ahead and talk it through, but resist the tendency to rain on every parade just because you can.
And aside from whether it’s fair to your friends and family, it’s also worth considering whether your pessimistic orientation is serving you well.
Most of what I write about is based on research studies of large groups of people, but of course wise individuals have a lot to teach us as well. In his wonderful book, 30 Lessons in Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans, Cornell gerontologist Karl Pillemer gives some of our elders a chance to share their life lessons. Here are five of my favorites.
1. If you have some extra money, spend it on travel, not on stuff.
The folks in Dr. Pillemer’s book are clear on this point. Travel makes life bigger, stretches our minds and hearts, and enriches our lives with memories that will last. Stuff, on the other hand, just tends to sit there.
2. Choose a spouse or life partner with values similar to your own.
Opposites may attract, but when it comes to creating a life together, these older adults say we’re best off choosing someone with an outlook similar to our own, particularly on those values that matter to us the most.
YOUR ONE-POINT PLAN FOR GREATER HAPPINESS AND HEALTH
by Lynda Wallace
It made for a hard day, didn’t it? You could see it in their glassy eyes and hear it in their frustrated sobs that they just didn’t have the resources they needed to get through the day in one piece. And if it went on for a couple of days in a row, it was bad news for everyone in the house.
Now here’s a question for you. How much sleep do you get?
If your answer is less than seven and a half hours a night, you might have a little more in common with that screaming toddler than you think.
FOUR QUALITIES THAT CAN HELP OUR KIDS LEAD HAPPY, HEALTHY LIVES
by Lynda Wallace
Kids are different in more ways than we can count – it’s one of the things we love best about them. But no matter who our kids are, we all want to help them cultivate the qualities that will start them off on a happy life.
So here are four great attributes that have been shown to help kids to be happier, healthier, more successful in school, and better prepared to genuinely thrive throughout their lives. I call them the four CORE strengths.
Kids with CORE strengths are:
OF COURSE EXERCISE HAS GREAT LONG-TERM BENEFITS -
BUT I WANT TO FEEL GOOD NOW!
by Lynda Wallace
Sometimes I need a much quicker payoff.
So the research on exercise and mood is right up my alley. The fact is that we don’t have to wait for greater heart health or longer lives to benefit from exercise. Working up a sweat is almost certain to make us feel happier right away, and to have a lasting positive effect on our moods.
In fact, exercise is one of the most reliable ways to feel good fast. Here’s why.
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite days of the year, but this year I’m dreading it because I’ve gained weight since I saw most of my family last Christmas.
I love my family, but I’m so embarrassed about my weight that I’m tempted to come up with an excuse for not showing up. I need advice.