3 Things Self-Compassionate People Always Do (and 3 Things They Don’t)

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Being mean to others isn’t going to win you any leadership points, guaranteed. But self-compassion is a key factor for success too. Without it, as you hit the inevitable failuresthat come with experimenting and learning, both the confidence and energy you need to interact, generate ideas, and overcome difficulties fade fast. So it’s worth hitting pause for a second and assessing if your kindness to yourself needs a level up.

In The New York Times, Tara Parker-Pope offers a quick, no-fuss version of a self-compassion test adapted from the Self-Compassion Scale. The 12 statements used for that test that you’re supposed to consider are as follows:

  1.  I try to be understanding and patient toward those aspects of my personality I don’t like.
  2. When something painful happens, I try to take a balanced view of the situation.
  3. I try to see my failings as part of the human condition.
  4. When I’m going through a very hard time, I give myself the caring and tenderness I need.
  5. When something upsets me, I try to keep my emotions in balance.
  6. When I feel inadequate in some way, I try to remind myself that feelings of inadequacy are shared by most people.
  7. When I fail at something important to me, I become consumed by feelings of inadequacy.
  8. When I’m feeling down, I tend to feel like most other people are probably happier than I am.
  9. When I fail at something that’s important to me, I tend to feel alone in my failure.
  10. When I’m feeling down, I tend to obsess and fixate on everything that’s wrong.
  11. I’m disapproving and judgmental about my own flaws and inadequacies.
  12. I’m intolerant and impatient toward those aspects of my personality I don’t like.

I recommend that you take the NYT quiz to get your custom self-compassion score and have a better sense of how much personal work you might have to do. But simply looking at the questions themselves, you can see that, while they’re related, self-compassion isn’t the same as self-care. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re self-compassionate just because you took the time yesterday to indulge in a bubble bath or bought yourself that reward you wanted last week.

Self-compassion, as defined by Dr. Kristin Neff of the University of Texas at Austin, has three key elements. These are

  • Self-kindness vs. self-judgment
  • Common humanity vs. isolation
  • Mindfulness vs. over-identification

These elements mean that, if you practice self-compassion, you recognize that perfection isn’t possible. Subsequently, you don’t criticize yourself if you fall short. You do try to understand what it is that held you back and what you need. And if something goes wrong, you don’t egotistically think that there’s something magical about you that’s pinned you for more imperfection, suffering, or vulnerability than anybody else. You realize that you’re not an exception to the rule and that it’s the human condition to sometimes screw up and not get what we want. And, finally, you stay aware of how you feel in a balanced way. You acknowledge your emotions for what they are without getting lost in or judging them, and as both a participant and a more objective observer to those feelings, you have the clarity and larger perspective necessary to figure out the best way to move forward.

 

If you find that it’s difficult for you to do any of these three things, think hard about what negative implicit biases you’ve learned about yourself and where they might come from. When thoughts based on those biases crop up, every single time, flood yourself with positive messages to teach yourself of a new bias, one that’s true. Then surround yourself with encouraging people. As they see the best in you and offer compassion, it will be easier for you to see the best in you and be kind to yourself too.

How Journaling Can Teach You to Love Your Body

Author ArticleJournaling can transform not only my physical health, but also emotional and spiritual health.

I didn’t always love my body. In fact, for years, I hardly thought about it at all.

My body was a machine that I worked relentlessly and neglected constantly. It was simply a tool that my brain used to get where it needed to go. I paid no mind to aching muscles, searing headaches and other signs of stress and exhaustion. I ignored my body’s needs until a major health challenge forced me to stop and recognize the obvious: my body isn’t a machine at all. It’s an integral part of me that requires love, care and respect.

I began journaling every day as a way to get back in touch with my body. This practice has transformed not only my physical health but also my emotional and spiritual health. I started listening to what my body was telling me and making decisions to embrace a full, healthy and balanced life.

Why Journaling?

Researchers have been tracking the positive effects of journaling for decades.

Over the years, studies have found that expressive writing can lead to significant benefits, including short- and long-term health outcomesbetter immune system performancestress and anxiety reduction and relief from chronic illnesses, such as asthma and rheumatoid arthritis.

And a 2017 study from the University of Arizona showed that for people going through a divorce, narrative writing exercises – telling the story of their divorce, not just documenting their feelings about it – improved how their bodies responded to cardiovascular stress.

Journaling helps us strengthen the mind-body connection that we often neglect. Putting pen to paper supports us in large and small ways, making room for our thoughts, feelings and experiences in a tangible way.

How to Start Journaling

  • Start small.
  • Make it a daily habit.
  • Feel free.

Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. You may want to write lengthy entries every day, but start with a smaller, more manageable goal. Commit to writing for five minutes or a few lines, and congratulate yourself when you reach that goal. If you want to keep writing, go for it (and celebrate that victory too).

Build on your gradual start, and make your small journaling goal a part of your daily life. Find a time of day that works best for you – such as when you’re drinking your morning coffee or you’re about to get ready for bed. Don’t debate whether you should journal or not; just make it a daily habit.

If you can’t figure out what to journal about, try free-writing. Simply jot down anything that comes to mind without filtering or editing it. Keep your pen moving until you reach your writing goal.

5 Journaling Prompts

  1. Take several deep breaths, and do a mental scan of your body from head to toe. What feels good? What feels off? What is your body telling you?
  2. Imagine you have an entire day to pamper yourself. What do you do? How does each part of the day rejuvenate you?
  3. Write a love letter to your body. What do you appreciate about it? What are you thankful for? How can you express your gratitude?
  4. Describe a sensory experience that has stuck with you – a meal, a smell, a hike, a physical activity. What did it feel like throughout your body? Why did it make such an impression on you?
  5. Write about a time you felt wonderful in your own skin. What was happening? Why did you feel strong, beautiful, capable or empowered? How can you recreate that feeling?

Journaling is a powerful way to care for your body, as well as your mind and spirit. Make daily journaling an essential part of your journey to total aliveness.

This post courtesy of Spirituality & Health.

Are You Struggling With That Whole Self-Love Thing As Much As I Am? Here’s One Way To Tell

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By design, my Instagram is filled with messages telling me to love myself just as I am. I am trying, I really am. I follow the most inspiring people on Instagram. I am all about Bunny Michael’s conversations with her higher self. And I check out artist Mari Andrews when I want to feel like I’m getting healing oxygen to my heart (her “magical things about New York” series alone does the job).
But doesn’t the idea of self-love, self-acceptance, and even self-compassion feel a bit self-indulgent? Don’t get me wrong, when I see someone fiercely owning what they’ve got—including the particular “flaws” that actually make them more compelling, more vulnerable, more attractive, and more interesting—I feel the power and authenticity of that. And none of it seems braggy or selfish.

But when it comes to me, though, I can’t shake the feeling that I want wait until I’m a little bit better before I focus on self-compassion. Which is probably why I ended up in C-student territory when I tested my self-compassion using a quiz in The New York Times (adapted from the research of Kristin Neff, PhD).

The verdict: “You have a moderate level of self-compassion but could benefit from some self reflection on how to be kind toward yourself. Try a writing exercise in which you write about a time when you struggled or failed and how you felt about yourself. Now consider how you would treat a close friend in the same situation.”

Of course I would make a friend feel better. But letting myself off the hook for anything, if I’m being honest, just seems lazy.

According to Neff’s research, though, my approach (and I’m guessing I’m not the only one, since Brené Brown’s research on shame is consistently on the best-seller lists) is not only painful but it doesn’t get the best results either.

Here’s how Neff defines self-compassion: “Being kind and caring to yourself instead of harshly self-critical; framing imperfection in terms of the shared human experience; and seeing things clearly without ignoring or exaggerating problems,” she writes in Psychology Today.

“While the motivational power of self-criticism comes from fear, the motivational power of self-compassion comes from love. When we care about ourselves, we’ll try to change any behaviors that are causing us harm.” —Kristin Neff, PhD

She also says that if you’re like me, and not bursting with self-compassion, you’re just following the the norms of our culture (which means you can also work to un-follow them). “The number one reason people give for why they aren’t more self-compassionate is that they’re afraid if they’re too soft on themselves, they’ll let themselves get away with anything. They really believe that their internal judge plays a crucial role in keeping them in line and on track. In other words, they confuse self-compassion with self-indulgence.”

And, that voice that tells me that I should just improve before switching into self-love gear actually reveals an underlying belief that an inner hardass drill sergeant has to do the “real work” before I can indulge in positive feelings.

Even from a purely productivity-based perspective, that kind of thinking is actually dead wrong, Neff argues. “While the motivational power of self-criticism comes from fear, the motivational power of self-compassion comes from love. When we care about ourselves, we’ll try to change any behaviors that are causing us harm. We’ll also be much more likely to admit those areas of needed change because it’s emotionally safer to see ourselves clearly,” she says. “If we are harshly self-critical, we’re likely to hide the truth from ourselves—or even better yet—blame our problems on someone else, in order to avoid self-flagellation. If it’s safe to admit our own flaws, however, we can more clearly see the areas that need work.”

So, it looks like I have a few Post-Its to add to my bathroom mirror, to get this message through to my trying-to-be-mindful brain. As with everything, maybe a little Mary Oliver to start off:

“When will you have a little pity for
every soft thing
that walks through the world,
yourself included?”

Another way to cure body shame and boost self-acceptance: photograph yourself nude, as one Well+Good editor discovered. Or, you can just channel self-love queen Ariane Grande

 

Showing Yourself Compassion Can Have Mental and Physical Benefits

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Expressing love for your nearest and dearest is a hallmark of Valentine’s Day, but research suggests that you may want to save some of that love and compassion for yourself.

A study published in Clinical Psychological Science shows that university students who engaged in exercises focused on self-compassion had lower physiological arousal relative to peers who engaged in other exercises.

“These findings suggest that being kind to oneself switches off the threat response and puts the body in a state of safety and relaxation that is important for regeneration and healing,” says Hans Kirschner of the University of Exeter, first author on the research.

“Previous research has found that self-compassion was related to higher levels of well-being and better mental health, but we didn’t know why,” explains lead researcher Anke Karl, also of the University of Exeter.

“Our study is helping us understand the mechanism of how being kind to yourself when things go wrong could be beneficial in psychological treatments,” Karl says. “By switching off our threat response, we boost our immune systems and give ourselves the best chance of healing. We hope future research can use our method to investigate this in people with mental health problems such as recurrent depression.”

For the study, the researchers recruited 135 university students and assigned them to one of five experimental groups. Each group completed an exercise in which they listened to an 11-minute audio recording and engaged with a specific scenario.

The researchers monitored participants’ physiological arousal during the exercise, measuring their heart rate and sweat response. Participants also answered questions about how safe they felt, how likely they were to be kind to themselves, and how connected they felt to others.

As expected, the two groups that engaged in self-compassion exercises — either a body scan meditation or a loving-kindness meditation — reported feeling more self-compassion and connection with others as a result of the exercises. And they also showed reduced physiological arousal, with a drop in heart rate and diminished sweat response. They also showed an increase in heart rate variability, a sign of being able to flexibly adapt to different situations.

Importantly, participants who engaged in positive thinking by focusing on an event or situation that was going well also reported increased self-compassion and decreased self-criticism, but they did not show the same physiological response.

In contrast, the group that engaged in self-critical thinking, contemplating something they hadn’t managed or achieved as they had hoped, showed an increase in heart rate and sweat response — physiological signs consistent with feelings of stress.

“These findings help us to further understand some of our clinical trials research findings, where we show that individuals with recurrent depression benefit particularly from mindfulness-based cognitive therapy when they learn to become more self-compassionate,” says coauthor Willem Kuyken of the University of Oxford.

Future research will need to explore whether the one-time self-compassion exercises used in this study have similar effects for people with depression.

Overall, the findings suggest that showing yourself a little love and compassion may help you feel more connected and less stressed.

Reference

Kirschner, H., Kuyken, W., Wright, K., Roberts, H., Brejcha, & Karl, A. (2019). Soothing your heart and feeling connected: A new experimental paradigm to study the benefits of self-compassion. Psychological Science. doi:10.1177/2167702618812438

Do you Criticize Yourself Too Much?

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It’s important to be honest with ourselves. After all, too many people just say what we want to hear instead of sharing a candid perspective. But, where do we draw the line between honesty and stubborn negativity? Is it practical to be our own biggest cheerleader? Or, are we just fooling ourselves into thinking that we are capable when we truly are not?

Constant self-doubt is never a good thing. Sometimes, self-doubt might lead us away from a potential opportunity. Self-doubt could even cause us to step back before ever trying to see if we can make it. While honesty is vital, it’s important to learn how to quiet our inner critic, too. You can be frank while still being hopeful. Read on to learn how.

Positive Self-Talk

Overcome the critical voice in your head by using positive self-talk. Instead of just assuming that you aren’t good enough or that you won’t be successful, say words out loud like, “I can do this” or “My hard work will pay off.”

Look in the Mirror

Practice using positive self-talk while looking directly in the mirror, so that you are literally talking to yourself. Consider this exercise: Find one new thing that you love about yourself every day. In the morning, before you start your day, look at yourself in the mirror and say, “I love my [blank].” You might fill in that blank with words like smile, kind eyes, or friendly nature. See how many days you can go without repeating a quality or attribute that you love about yourself.

Our Attitude Drives our Behavior

The more that we use positive self-talk, the more we believe it. Those words become our mantra, and we say positive things about ourselves more and more regularly. Our attitude drives our behavior. So, a positive attitude will lead us to persist even when placed in a tough situation.

It’s normal to doubt ourselves. Be honest when evaluating your own strengths and areas of opportunity. Surround yourself with people who support you and your dreams. Participate in online communities or support groups to give you the tools and the understanding audience that you need to be successful. And, know that it’s okay to fail! When we bounce back from failure, we are that much closer to success. Remember that we either learn to fail or fail to learn. Which path do you choose?

Copyright© 2019 Amy Cooper Hakim

– by Wes Colton, Introvert Unbound Those of us interested in doing “inner work” have two conflicting schools of thought to choose from. The Self Help school teaches us to tackle our weaknesses while the Self Love school wants us to accept ourselves for who we are, flaws and all. Pretty much all of us […]

via The Paradox of Self Love and Self Help — Introvert Unbound

6 Ways to Show Yourself the Love You Deserve

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When people think about being kind to themselves and practicing self-love, it’s often considered in a noncommittal, “Yes, I really should be doing that more,”sort of way. Then they go about their merry way, continuing the same old behaviors and being anything but kind to themselves.

Fortunately, a number of people do decide they are finally ready to start loving themselves. But what made them ready, and why have they waited so long to start?

What about you — are you ready to start treating yourself with kindness and learn how to love yourself fully, the way you deserve?

Where do you find yourself on the “self-love/being kind to yourself” scale currently? Are you at the bottom, clueless as to what loving yourself even means, or slowly crawling up the scale, wondering why it took you so long to treat yourself with love and kindness?

10 Things You’re Doing Because You’re Finally Starting to Love Yourself

I asked myself that same question many years ago when I finally considered the option to stop being so hard on myself and instead learn how to become my own best friend.

The best answer I have is that I had totally colluded with the pain of the belief that there was definitely something wrong with me and that I was not lovable. That was it. If someone had even suggested self-love, I think it would have gone totally over my head.

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I mean, how could I even consider self-love inside that painful paradigm? I couldn’t.

And I imagine you can’t either, if you still live under that spell of unworthiness and unlovability. It’s painful, isn’t it?

Have you suffered enough that you finally feel ready to try self-love?

Does learning how to love yourself sound like a foreign language to you? Maybe you have an inkling of what it means to others, but for you…?

Oh, how you’ve been swallowed up by this great misunderstanding of who you truly are and what you are worthy of! How you’ve been conditioned to shut yourself off from your inner wisdom, believing others know more than you do!

I often run up against a wall when I talk to people about the importance of learning how to love yourself — unless this person has suffered so much that it’s willing to try a new way. I wish suffering were not the only reason why you would stop this insanity of treating yourself as a second-class citizen.

However, if you happen to be standing against that wall blocking you from self-love now, no matter how you got there, and are weary from denying yourself the goodness of life, let me share a few things I’ve learned since I broke through that wall myself.

Here’s how to love yourself for who you really are and treat yourself with the kindness you deserve.

1. Make a Vow.

The step to learning how to love yourself is to make yourself a promise.

In my self-love journey, I took a clear stand and vowed to never treat myself the way I had been, ever again. I embraced a power that I had lost touch with during all the painful years of self-doubt, self-hate and self-denial.

The pain of this ongoing torture had worn me down to finally realize that I didn’t want to do that to myself anymore

Finally, I’d had enough and wanted something else. It was a strong decision and, without it, you may still have found me in the trenches.

2. Say “No” When You Fall Into Old Patterns.

So now that I made this vow, how was I going to do it? All I had to go by at this point was that I didn’t want to do this to myself anymore, but I didn’t know what to do instead.

My determination gave me the option to say “no” whenever I would glide into the muddy trenches, simply by default. That was the “how” for now: Refuse to continue, the very moment when I found myself slipping back in.

Or, if I was so lucky to catch the first glimmer of the familiar invitation knocking at my door, simply refuse to open.

3. Stick With It.

I really started getting a feel for using the power of saying “no,” to the familiar suggestions to put myself down. It felt good. Yet, to be honest, I probably fell into the trenches more times than I would like to admit. It was a deeply ingrained pattern that didn’t just take the first “no,” for an answer.

However, my determination was strong and my “no” was getting stronger. This started my journey out of the trenches, without any idea of what my next step would be. I didn’t care. I gave myself permission to exercise my “no” — maybe more often than needed. I had to. I just had to use this new powerful weapon against the demons who were used to me saying “yes” all the time.

4. Accept the Journey.

All this didn’t happen overnight. Without knowing where all this was going, I learned what steps to take and when. I started seeing steps, obstacles, dead ends, tricksters, successes, and failures. I saw doors open and close, and also saw doors open and open even wider.

I paid attention and finally (after many years) could authentically show others how to love themselves. My own pain and suffering slowly turned into my life’s calling, something I would never have imagined when I took my first stand many years ago.

Here Are 20 Ways to Be Good to Yourself Today

5. Let Go of Resistance.

There are certain behaviors that keep a closed door shut, no matter how hard you push against it. The biggest one is resistance — resisting the parts of yourself that you hate, dislike, and are ashamed of. Resisting yourself keeps you imprisoned forever, and if you want to move past the wall, you’ll need a new strategy.

Have you ever pulled one of those Chinese finger traps, where one finger goes into each end, and the harder you pull, the tighter it gets? The more you try to get away from it, the more you feel stuck? Well, that’s no different from the painful emotions you’re trying to get rid of. The more you resist them, the more stuck you feel.

6. Acknowledge Your Emotions.

When painful emotions come up, I practice “allowing.” Allowing is the opposite of resisting and, coincidentally, seems to be what works to get out of your self-imposed trap. It feels counter-intuitive, but it works. You’ll have to shift your familiar tendency to get away from discomfort and, instead, be open to leaning into it and experiencing it.

Just try it as an experiment first. Test out this theory. Find out what happens when you are willing to move toward a painful feeling that you normally try to get rid of. Allow space for it. Breathe into it and find out what happens. This is your experiment and is for you to find out if the grip loosens or not.

When you let go of resistance and make space for whatever you have resisted, you release a lot of energy. This energy was stuck in the trap when you moved away from it. Now, when you move toward it with curiosity, you’ll notice that the feeling you wanted to get rid of, gets exposed. It’s vulnerable and needs your care.

Would you be able and willing to meet it with the same kindness as you would a scared little child or animal? Try it and see how this feeling responds. It may be confused first because it’s not used to your kindness yet. Imagine you offer it a loving hand or caring touch to let it know you are here to help.

When that part feels safe enough, it will slowly let you know about how it’s feeling and what it’s upset about. This is the released energy from the trap of resistance. It’s been waiting for you to listen and take it seriously, and here’s your chance.

Use this opportunity to take another gentle breath down into the area where this feeling has been stuck.

Just take some kind, gentle breaths, as though you want to say hello to it. Do it with a caring attitude to make sure this newly liberated feeling stays open. Just notice what changes when you gently approach it that way with a curious, caring attitude.

The connection has been made. You are now in a new relationship with your previously resisted feeling. Can you feel the difference?

If you need more time, keep breathing kindly into the area in your body and do your best to be caring and curious. The aim here is to find out more about this pain that was stuck in the trap. That part has a story to tell and needs you to listen.

Maybe nobody has ever listened to that part of you, least of all you. Here’s your chance to deeply listen and learn about yourself in a whole new way.

This guest article originally appeared on YourTango.com: The Subtle-Yet-Obvious Reason You Don’t Love Yourself — Yet.

Are You Sabotaging Your Self-Love?

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This month, we’ve been talking about self-love a lot over in my Instagrampage. We’ve been having meaningful conversations about what it is, why it’s so hard to achieve, and the main challenges about it.

Mariana Plata
Source: Mariana Plata

Self-love is the foundation for all the other relationships in your life. In simple words, one cannot pour from an empty cup. One can’t give if one doesn’t have:

  • You can’t have a healthy relationship with other people if YOU don’t have a healthy relationship with yourself.
  • You can’t be compassionate with others if YOU don’t practice self-compassion in your own life.
  • You can’t take care of others if YOU don’t take care of yourself, first.

Self-love, though it has a pretty ring to it, can often be one of the most difficult practices to accomplish. Why? Because we live in a society that promotes and celebrates your exhaustion and how tired you are. It benefits from your insecurities.

This is why loving yourself is a revolutionary act. Society has “normalized” the ways in which we sabotage prioritizing and taking care of ourselves.

The first step is realizing when these self-sabotages show up. Here are three red flags that you might be self-sabotaging your self-love practices.

You keep comparing yourself 

Social media is full of comparison traps. And, once we fall down this rabbit hole and don’t actively make an effort to get out, our self-love gets compromised.

I won’t tell you not to compare yourself, because we are only human. It’s only natural to fall in these traps. What I will ask you is that when you compare yourself, make sure you challenge that comparison. How? With gratitudeWhat is wonderful about YOU? What makes YOU magical, unique and special? And actively fight against that comparison trap with a gratitude perspective about yourself.

Black or white thinking 

“Good vs. bad.” “Skinny vs. fat”.””Pretty vs. ugly.” These are all black or white thoughts which are counterproductive to our mental health. Especially, to our self-love. Things aren’t good or bad, they are. Your body isn’t pretty or ugly, it is. It works. It helps you achieve your daily goals and tells you what needs adjusting.

These black or white thoughts only welcome shame, which is a powerful emotion that fosters a negative self-image, low self-esteem and promotes self-loathing. Shame is self-love’s arch-nemesis, and it’s only cured by practicing self-compassion, a key component of self-love.

You don’t prioritize your self-care strategies

Similar to self-compassion, self-care is a crucial part of self-love. The way we take care of our body (exercise, eating healthily, sleeping enough, drinking plenty of water); our mind (seeking help from our support system, talking about difficult emotions); and our soul (meditatingjournaling).

If you’re not carving out a space in your day to include at least one of the areas mentioned above, you’re not prioritizing yourself. And, if you don’t prioritize yourself, who will?

What Does It Really Mean to Be Happy? 5 Experts Explain

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By Stephanie Booth 

When you go to your “happy place,” you might picture yourself relaxing on a beach in Bali, fitting back into a pair of favorite old jeans, or landing that promotion you’ve been gunning for. But here’s the thing: Elation, achievement, and success aren’t the same as the warm and fuzzy feelings of happiness—and mixing them up may actually bum you out. That’s why we endeavored to learn what happiness really means, by interviewing a handful of people who have devoted years of their lives to studying it. Read about what their research and real-life experience has taught them; then use their wisdom and advice to boost your own joy. (Spoiler alert: Those old jeans will do more good in the giveaway bin.)

RELATED: 7 Self-Care Tips That Will Make You Happier

“Happiness isn’t something you feel. It’s something you do.”

I used to think I had a clear idea of what happiness looks like. I came to the U.S. at 13. My family emigrated from Russia, and we lived outside of Detroit. It was a really rough time, especially because I didn’t speak English. I was overwhelmed with anxiety and self-doubt. The only time I felt OK was when I achieved anything—the day I was moved from remedial English, the day I moved out of the projects.

I thought, “This is how I’m going to be happy: I’m going to achieve things.” I lived my life with this attitude. I’ll be happy when I get into a good college. When I graduate. When I move to New York. When I get married. When I’m able to take care of my family…

I was always proud of my achievements, yet the happiness bubble would eventually pop. I thought I wasn’t doing enough to gain the privilege of feeling good, but I hit a wall, burned out, and couldn’t push anymore.

When I stumbled onto research about gratitude nine years ago, I thought it was a bunch of BS. Saying three things I was grateful for would make me happy? Ridiculous. If I was grateful for everything, I wouldn’t work for anything. Still, I decided to do a 30-day experiment. I told my husband and daughter that each day, I’d write down something I was grateful for and say “thank you” to someone at least once.

RELATED: Here’s How Feeling Grateful Can Improve Your Life

The punch line is obvious. I noticed a difference right away. It’s not like I became a happy-go-lucky person, but I started to find joy in small, everyday moments. Tiny things, like my daughter running up to give me a hug. Coming into my living room and noticing the light hitting a vase of tulips. Even driving to work in minimal traffic and suddenly enjoying the commute.

Before I began practicing gratitude, I wasn’t present for those moments. I only stepped on them before running away. Happiness, I now realize, is not something you feel, but something you do. We don’t have to earn it, or be “good enough.” We just have to practice.

— Nataly Kogan, CEO of the learning platform Happier and author of Happier Now: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Embrace Everyday Moments (Even the Difficult Ones)

“Winning the lottery won’t make you happy indefinitely.”

Even though money matters, it’s not the only thing that contributes to our happiness. If money means covering all of our basic needs, it can positively contribute to happiness. However, after basic needs are met, increasing your disposable income follows the law of diminishing returns.The impact on happiness from 100 more dollars when you’re already rich? Close to zero. In happiness research, there’s something called “set-point theory.” It states that the increase in someone’s happiness in response to life events, such as winning the lottery or moving into a bigger house, will return to its baseline after time. This theory teaches us that we should enjoy the journey, not the destination, of life events. It’s important to remove the illusion that there is any one thing in this world that will make us permanently happy.

— Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute and author of The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living

RELATED: Trying to Be Happy Is Making You Miserable. Here’s Why

“Being happy is more than satisfying your impulses.”

Many neuroscientists would tell you that all happiness is a chemical and electrical process in the brain: motivation, followed by reward. As much as I love neuroscience, I like to stay curious about the possibilities beyond what science is ready to prove. The more I learn about timeless happiness, the more I see that it correlates with three experiences—relationships, contribution, and mastery. By “relationships,” I mean a feeling of connection and belonging—being seen for who we really are. (Tribes in South Africa traditionally greet each other with “Sawabona,” which translates to “I see you.” The response? “Sikhona,” or “I’m here.”) By “contribution,” I mean a sense that we’re offering something to the world that’s uniquely our own and makes a difference to others. And by “mastery,” I mean growing and working to be better versions of ourselves.

The fourth thing that ties into happiness and often gets overlooked is reflection. Not vegging out, but actually making time to quiet the mind and take stock of where you are currently in life.

The stuff we think gives us “happiness” right now—such as scrolling through social media—activates the brain’s ancient motivation-and-reward system, and only gives us momentary pleasure. The average American swipes her phone thousands of times a day. We don’t even know we’re doing it anymore. When we first “liked” that post on Instagram, it felt great. Now, it’s just a habit. To have happiness, we need to say yes to things that strengthen our relationships, help us contribute to the world, or allow us to master new skills—and learn to resist things that just satisfy our impulses. In other words, spend less time looking at screens and more time looking at nature, the people you care about, and yourself. Do that, and you’ll feel a sense of satisfaction: You’re doing more than just what your brain is telling you to.

— Ellen Petry Leanse, leadership coach and author of The Happiness Hack: How to Take Charge of Your Brain and Program More Happiness into Your Life

“We can find happiness at work.”

The quality of your relationships is the number one factor for your happiness. Some people think that means only at home. It’s like, “Why would I try to be friends with people at work? Spare me the fluffy stuff.” I used to think that too, and I now realize how shortsighted that mentality is. If we’re working full-time, we spend more time with our colleagues than with anyone else. Why wouldn’t we try to invest in those relationships?

Get face-to-face and make eye contact. We have “mirror neurons” in our brains, which make happiness and unhappiness contagious. So it’s important to pay attention to how you’re showing up at work, because that’s what you’ll get back from your coworkers later on in the day. You are the culture. We’re all affecting each other, and research shows it extends out, not just to your colleague but your colleague’s colleague. Invest whatever and however you can in relationships. Practice forgiveness, though it’s easier said than done. Practice kindness. And don’t just band together when things are going wrong; celebrate your successes when things are going great. That’s when you can really solidify your bond.

—Scott Crabtree, founder of the coaching and consulting organization Happy Brain Science

“Don’t chase happiness—look for meaning instead.”

Happiness is typically defined as a positive emotional state—this smiley-face ideal. People quote Aristotle as saying, “A good life is a happy life.” But really, the Greek word that Aristotle uses in his teachings, eudaimonia, better translates to “flourishing” than “happy.” And when you read him, he specifically makes a distinction between “flourishing” and “happy.”

Flourishing is living a virtuous life where you pursue excellence in your work, relationships, and community. Doing those things might not make you feel happy all the time. They’re hard. They can be stressful. Being a parent or leader takes effort, right? But it leaves you with a deeper sense of meaning.

I advocate for the pursuit of a meaningful life, rather than chasing happiness. Research backs me up on this. When people pursue eudaimonia, they end up with greater well-being. They’re actually healthier, and they live longer, too. People who believe their lives are meaningful have less of the brain plaque associated with Alzheimer’s disease, and they’re less likely to develop cardiovascular disease.

So what does it take to create meaning? That’s the million-dollar question. One of the key aspects of a meaningful life is transcendence—those rare moments when you step outside yourself and feel connected to a higher reality. It might happen on a trip to the Grand Canyon, or while you’re meditating, or sitting in church. Transcendent experiences exist on a wide range, and they can change you.

—Emily Esfahani Smith, journalist and author of The Power of Meaning: Finding Fulfillment in a World Obsessed with Happiness

“To be happy, be brave.”

My former job—hosting Live Wire!, a nationally syndicated radio variety show—was a dream. I got paid to write comedy. I met fascinating people. I had actual fans who loved the show and told me so. I mean, who gets to have fans?

But it was so anxiety-producing that for two weeks out of every month I was filled with dread about the next live show. Even so, I did it for almost a decade, until the night before our ninth-anniversary show, when I had a massive anxiety attack that would not go away. It lasted for two days.

The show brought so many extraordinary things and people into my life that I thought I should be happy. Everyone thought I was lucky, and when everyone thinks you’re lucky, it takes you a lot longer to realize how miserable you are.

The anxiety attack was the world’s most unpleasant wake-up call. Still, it took me a couple of weeks to let the hosting job go.

My whole body changed the moment I did. My shoulders dropped, and I could breathe again. But I wasn’t immediately  happy. In fact, I was immediately out of sorts and wondering what the hell to do with my life. That’s what sparked my Okay Fine Whatever Project—I wanted to see if I could teach my brain that everything was going to be OK by doing things that scared me and then writing about them to process the experiences.

Instead of thinking, “That sounds terrifying” when confronted with a new and weird experience, I thought, “Well, that sounds interesting.” And that was enough to make a difference.

Do I feel there’s a link between bravery and happiness? A hundred percent. Regret and complacency are bitches. No one wants to hang out with them, and fear invites them in, over and over again.

Bravery is a daunting word—I wish there was a word for tiny braveries: Trying to make a new friend as an adult. Going to Thailand when flying gives you panic attacks. Letting the person you’re dating know that you care about them before you know how they feel about you.

These are things you’re not going to win medals for, but when you add them all up at the end of your life, they are going to define whether it was a life worth living.

I think people’s striving for some ideal “happiness” is one of the great causes of unhappiness in the world. If we strive for anything, it should be a healthy mind and body, a sense of purpose, and the ability to give and receive love without reservation or expectation. That seems as close to true contentment as I could get.

Also, cheese makes me happy. A good, strong vintage cheddar.

—Courtenay Hameister, author of Okay Fine Whatever: The Year I Went from Being Afraid of Everything to Only Being Afraid of Most Things

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