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Secrets to Authentic Happiness

November 30, 2018 by  
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I think I came across the best reason for keeping a journal of your life or, as my good friend Rich Harvey used to call it, a reason for people to “Journal Their Journey”.

Just the other day I picked up one of my journals dated 10-26-2003 to 6-12-2004. My comments about what was going on in my life at that time quoted a great book that I had totally forgotten about entitled Authentic Happiness, by Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D.

In his book, Dr. Seligman talks about what real authentic happiness is and how we can capture it and keep it. Finding and enjoying real happiness is not done through seeking and finding pleasure and the same goes for seeking happiness through just staying busy – it just doesn’t work. Great and authentic happiness is experienced from gratification. So how do we become gratified?

Much of gratification comes from “production”.  When we produce something of great value to others and/or ourselves, we end up with a great feeling of satisfaction. Here are Dr. Seligman’s 8 common ingredients and psychological components of gratification:

  1. The task is challenging and requires skill.
  2. We have to concentrate.
  3. There are clear goals.
  4. We get immediate feedback.
  5. We have deep effortless involvement.
  6. There is a sense of control.
  7. Sense of self vanishes.
  8. Time seem to stop.

Dr. Seligman goes on to talk about depression in today’s world and how widespread it is. It has increased by a huge amount in the last 40 years and the average age of depressed people is much younger today. That certainly gives more credence to the importance of setting big, tough goals. If your mind is firmly set on your goals, it’s more likely that your mind will not be spending time reflecting how you feel in the moment. Plus, there is the big extra benefit that setting big goals does energize us both physically and mentally because of the chemicals released by our brains, as I talked about in last week’s blog.

But why is depression so high in wealthy and healthy countries? The author’ s theory is “that an ethos that builds unwarranted self-esteem, espouses victimology, and encourages rampant individualism has contributed to that epidemic.” Another reason is our huge reliance on shortcuts to happiness. Every nation builds more and more shortcuts to pleasure … TV, drugs, shopping, spectator sports and high sugar food and drink. Gaining these and many other things take very little effort on our part these days.

A major symptom of depression is self-absorption. The depressed person thinks about how he feels a great deal of the time – excessively so. When a depressed person detects sadness, he ruminates about it, projecting it into the future, this in turn increases his sadness in his life and across all his activities. In contrast, gratification is the absence of feeling sorry for yourself.

What we all need to do more of is realize that there are no shortcuts to the kind of fulfilling gratification we all crave, and realize we need to focus more and more on our goals, big tasks, and our production as well as giving up the constant self-worry and self-absorption. You may have noticed that really happy people, for the most part, spend the least amount of time home alone – they tend to have a rich and fulfilling social life, which really is the opposite of being self-absorbed.

Next week I’m going to talk more about this great thing called “Authentic Happiness” that Martin’s book gives us such super insight into as well as talking about how understanding where it comes from can bump up our happiness factor and enhance our lives.

 

Boosting the Brain with Thanks

November 23, 2018 by  
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Here’s a good question for you: Did you find yourself giving a lot of thanks yesterday? Or were you distracted by all the turkey, dressing and pumpkin pie? I hope you were taking time to give a ton of thanks! Isn’t that what we all should do on that day? After all it is called “Thanksgiving”! But that isn’t the only reason to give thanks this holiday season and throughout the year.

I recently heard on a broadcast that there is one big benefit we all can receive from saying “thanks” or “thank you”. Research into the human brain has shown that saying thank you, or otherwise giving verbal appreciation or gratitude, signals the brain to release the feel good, feel happy brain chemical dopamine.

Sometime ago, I wrote about how when a person smiles, even if it is a forced smile, the brain releases three of the four feel good brain chemicals – dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins (the forth brain chemical is oxytocin). These four chemicals, produced by the brain, not only make you feel more relaxed, they also could lower your blood pressure and your heart rate. Some studies even suggest that if they are released often enough, they can even help you live longer.

Another big benefit from giving thanks to others is that, if accompanied by a big sincere smile, your gesture will cause the other person to smile right back at you and then they are more likely to smile at the next person they encounter. So, you see, you are spreading some good stuff and helping others just by being thankful and letting other people know it.

And here’s another thing that has been shown to lift people’s spirits and that is simply to keep a journal in which you make note of the things you are thankful for. By writing down what, and who, you are grateful for, you are giving your brain more determination. This helps improve and lift your attention, enthusiasm and even lifts your energy.

So, during this holiday season, and beyond, we all need to focus on giving thanks, showing and expressing our gratitude, and, yes, even thinking about our positive qualities and of happy memories in order to boost our serotonin levels.

One last thought… don’t forget that laughing and social interaction both cause the brain to release those great feel good chemicals as well! So, this holiday season, be sure you have plenty of opportunities to boost those feel good chemicals and show your thanks and appreciation.

 

It Starts with a Dream

November 16, 2018 by  
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Almost every super successful person I’ve ever heard of or have met began as a dreamer. Without dreams, very little will happen in any of our lives. But with a dream, great and wonderful things can, and most likely will, happen but only if you add two more things – specifics to make it a goal and action to turn the goal into reality. But the dream has to come first! So, let’s talk about that.

I once heard that 75 percent of our life is lived in our minds. That may not be entirely accurate, but I think you would agree that a fair amount of our lives is lived inside our heads and since our minds do indeed have great power, there must be great potential there.

Think of yourself in Chicago or New York in the middle of a cold winter.  You’re watching TV or reading a magazine and you see an advertisement for a trip to Hawaii. You’re attracted to the idea, and suddenly you start to dream about going to Hawaii for the entire month of February. What happens? You start to live the trip in your mind. You may even start to work it out in detail, planning exactly when you will leave, where you’ll stay, what you’ll do while you are there, and so on.

You think about it so much that you eventually decide that you are absolutely going to go and, if you don’t have the money to make it happen, you begin to plan how you are going to save enough to make the trip. And, of course, all of this is part of you living the trip in your mind long before you go.

When you finally make the trip, you have the great time that you had pre-lived in your mind and on the way home, you relive what’s just happened to you. That reliving of your trip in your mind can go on for weeks, months and even years, renewing your enjoyment of it each time.

Pictures can be a huge influence in helping our brains relive the good stuff in our lives.  Years ago, I bought a bunch of digital frames (they cost all $10-$20) and placed them all around the house. This way I can just insert a memory card from my camera (I use a new card for each trip or special event) and the digital frame will rotate through all the photos, allowing me to easily relive those great moments in my life. You should try it too. It’s a small thing but it can really enhance your life.

Just don’t forget, dreaming is not enough. You must also follow through with goals and action if you want to make it more than just a dream. Next week we’ll talk more just how to do that!

 

Challenge Yourself, Challenge Your Mind

November 9, 2018 by  
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Erik Weihenmayer on Everest

Imagine a blind man who made it all the way to the summit of Mt. Everest. Let me introduce you to Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind man to climb Everest. How do you think his satisfaction levels are? Wow, I’ll bet his intense satisfaction lasted a long time, maybe even a lifetime. But Erik did not only just climb Everest, as amazing as that accomplishment is just by itself, but he is one of just a handful of human beings, and the only blind man, to scale the world’s seven highest peaks on each of the seven continents. Talk about taking on a tough challenge! His so-called disability has completely taken a back seat to his passion to live his life well!

Erik’s award winning film, Farther Than the Eye Can See, was ranked in the top 20 adventure films of all time by Men’s Journal, and brought home first prize at 19 film festivals. It was also nominated for two Emmy’s. The film beautifully captures the emotion, humor, and drama of Erik’s historic ascent on Everest, as well as his three other remarkable “firsts” – he was one half of the first American father/son team to summit Everest, the oldest man to summit, and the most people from one team (19) to reach the top of Everest in a single day!

For Erik and his team, having met the challenge of Everest head on and having pushed past their fear, obstacles, adversity, age, and even disability, to succeed, they know that for the rest of their lives they can tackle the “hard” stuff of life really do it well because they have already proven to themselves that they can.

Did Erik Weihenmayer put his feet up after the triumphs and bask in the glow of his accomplishment? Perhaps he did for a while, but this former middle school teacher and coach never stops challenging himself.

“There are summits everywhere,” Erik often tells his audiences when he lectures. “Just because you lose your sight, doesn’t mean you have to lose your vision.”

Three years after he did it the first time, Eric went back to the Himalayas and tackled Everest again, but this time with an even greater vision. On that second trip, he took six Tibetan teenagers with him – a dangerous and challenging accomplishment made all the more remarkable by the fact that these six teenagers were blind as well. Wow!

You can challenge yourself in meaningful and lasting ways as well. The key is to continually challenge your thinking. If you work on changing that gray matter enough, I believe you can avoid the slowdown and letdown trap that snares so many people today, especially as they get older. Challenge yourself big time and you’ll be more than ready to go for your big dreams and accomplish them.

Let’s take a trip inside our minds right now.

First of all, do you believe you can change the way you think about life? Or are there new ways to think about your capacities and your potentials and what you can and can’t do?

So, I am now sending you a big challenge to really push yourself big time and, yes, I am going to challenge myself big time too!

Big Challenges on the Brain

November 3, 2018 by  
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Have you ever met someone who has made it to the 29,020-foot summit of Mt. Everest? Yes, I know, most of us think they’re crazy, but maybe they’re not as crazy as we think because their high satisfaction level seems to last for a lifetime! Years ago, I wrote the following.

Again, the tough challenges and hard work over a period of time, equals long-lasting satisfaction and contentment.  One of the big and growing problems in today’s world is that too few people believe or know this simple principle

Or maybe they used to know it and they’ve forgotten it.

We all should never forget the great zen saying, “To know and not to do is not yet to know.” Many people, for example, think they want a ton of money—and fast—so they can sit back and relax and really live. They think they want to sit around the pool and drinking a Mai Tai or watch movies all day. They think that will bring them satisfaction and contentment.

Our very retirement system even promotes that idea. That’s one reason we have so many mid-lifers and beyond who are downright miserable, and it doesn’t seem to matter whether they have a huge net worth or not. With too much of a slowdown, there’s an inevitable letdown, and as you’ve probably noticed, good old Fred or Mary retire at age 65 and pass away at age 67 or 70.

The bottom line is, if you stop challenging yourself, you’ll start dying. It’s almost a one-to-one correlation and all of that usually starts inside your mind. But if you “take a trip inside your mind,” you’ll find there are plenty of ways to program your brain so you’ll avoid the trap that snares so many people.

Next week I want to tell you the great story of Erik Weihenmayer who push himself to climb Mt. Everest. He did it even though he was totally blind – he was the first blind man ever to accomplish that super human feat!  Talk about giving oneself a huge challenge! Wow.  How long did his satisfaction and contentment last?

So, are you and I pushing ourselves and putting big enough challenges in our minds and then going after them to enhance and make our life more exciting and fulfilling? I can’t speak for you but I know now, at age 74, I need to challenge myself much more than I’ve been doing lately. But I really do have to ask you—-do you need to challenge yourself a bit more or maybe even a lot more?  Only you can answer that question.