From the looks of it, these two issues have been recycled over and over (with some other stereotypically gender-relevant articles thrown in) on every Men’s Health, Maxim, Cosmopolitan and Glamour cover since the dawn of time. In fact, I’d bet that if we could get a better translation of cave drawings, they would read something like “Grok get flat belly. Make girl Grok moan with joy.”
And we keep buying them. We keep buying this lie that these things will make us happy. I’ve had washboard abs (past tense) and I’ve had some pretty phenomenal sex. Neither one made me a better person. Neither one completed me or made my life more fulfilling.
We chase this idea of “I will be happy when… “
I will be happy when I have a new car. I will be happy when I get married. I will be happy when I get a better job. I will be happy when I lose five pounds. What if instead we choose to be happy — right now?
If you can read this, your life is pretty awesome.
Setting aside our first-world problems and pettiness, if you are online reading this, you have both electricity and WiFi or access to them. Odds are you are in a shelter of some sort, or on a smart phone (and then kudos to you for reading this on the go). Life might bump and bruise us, it may not always go the way we plan and I know I get frustrated with mine, but here’s the thing: You are alive.
Because you are alive, everything is possible. So about those eight tips…
1. Stop believing your bullshit.
All that stuff you tell yourself about how you are a commitment phobe or a coward or lazy or not creative or unlucky? Stop it. It’s bullshit, and deep down you know it. We are all insecure 14 year olds at heart. We’re all scared. We all have dreams inside of us that we’ve tucked away because somewhere along the line we tacked on those ideas about who we are that buried that essential brilliant, childlike sense of wonder. The more we stick to these scripts about who we are, the longer we live a fraction of the life we could be living. Let it go. Be who you are beneath the bullshit.
2. Be happy now.
Not because The Secret says so. Not because of some shiny happy Oprah crap. But because we can choose to appreciate what is in our lives instead of being angry or regretful about what we lack. It’s a small, significant shift in perspective. It’s easier to look at what’s wrong or missing in our lives and believe that is the big picture — but it isn’t. We can choose to let the beautiful parts set the tone.
3. Look at the stars.
It won’t fix the economy. It won’t stop wars. It won’t give you flat abs, or better sex or even help you figure out your relationship and what you want to do with your life. But it’s important. It helps you remember that you and your problems are both infinitesimally small and conversely, that you are a piece of an amazing and vast universe. I do it daily — it helps.
4. Let people in.
Truly. Tell people that you trust when you need help, or you’re depressed — or you’re happy and you want to share it with them. Acknowledge that you care about them and let yourself feel it. Instead of doing that other thing we sometimes do, which is to play it cool and pretend we only care as much as the other person has admitted to caring, and only open up half way. Go all in — it’s worth it.
5. Stop with the crazy making.
I got to a friend’s doorstep the other day, slightly breathless and nearly in tears after getting a little lost, physically and existentially. She asked what was wrong and I started to explain and then stopped myself and admitted, “I’m being stupid and have decided to invent lots of problems in my head.” Life is full of obstacles; we don’t need to create extra ones. A great corollary to this one is from The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz: Don’t take things personally. Most of the time, other people’s choices and attitudes have absolutely nothing to do with you. Unless you’ve been behaving like a jerk, in which case…
6. Learn to apologize.
Not the ridiculous, self-deprecating apologizing for who you are and for existing that some people seem to do (what’s up with that, anyway?). The ability to sincerely apologize — without ever interjecting the word “but” — is an essential skill for living around other human beings. If you are going to be around other people, eventually you will need to apologize. It’s an important practice.
7. Practice gratitude.
Practice it out loud to the people around you. Practice it silently when you bless your food. Practice it often. Gratitude is not a first world only virtue. I saw a photo recently, of a girl in abject poverty, surrounded by filth and destruction. Her face was completely lit up with joy and gratitude as she played with a hula hoop she’d been given. Gratitude is what makes what we have enough. Gratitude is the most basic way to connect with that sense of being an integral part of the vastness of the universe; as I mentioned with looking up at the stars, it’s that sense of wonder and humility, contrasted with celebrating our connection to all of life.
8. Be kind.
Kurt Vonnegut said it best (though admittedly, and somewhat ashamedly — I am not a Vonnegut fan): “There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.'”
Kindness costs us nothing and pays exponential dividends. I can’t save the whole world. I can’t bring peace to Syria. I can’t fix the environment or the health care system, and from the looks of it, I may end up burning my dinner.
But I can be kind.
If the biggest thing we do in life is to extend love and kindness to even one other human being, we have changed the world for the better.
That’s a hell of a lot more important than flat abs in my book.
For more by Kate Bartolotta, click here.
For more on happiness, click here.
Can you really stretch your mind so that you can achieve more out of life? Yes, absolutely, Yes! Mind stretching is the next revolution in personal development. I call the concept the Rubberband Revolution. It is the process of teaching the brain a new way of thinking by connecting the right/left brain more efficiency, increasing the ability to problem solve. It my general observation that stretching the mind enhances innovation and productivity, optimizes the way the mind functions, and alleviates mental blocks.
In the 1890s, psychologists William James and Boris Sidis postulated that people only meet a fraction of their full mental potential. According to Dr. Robert Cooper, a neuroscientist and author of The Other 90%, less than 10 percent of our brains is tapped. In fact, we continually underuse our brain and confine ourselves to limited, mostly past experiences. Without realizing it, we have programmed ourselves not to stretch. It’s possible to reframe your thought patterns and mindsets and ultimately think yourself to optimal health and happiness. Expanding your mental processes can initiate the flow of limitless thought and possibilities. As a result, your personal and work life, relationships and happiness quotient will flourish.
Here’s a smart way to begin to stretch the mind: set aside some of those old mindsets, rigid ideas and limited perceptions that can dominate your thinking and lead to dead ends. A closed mind is dangerous because it allows us to compartmentalize uncomfortable thoughts and feeling and that’s a prescription for mindless repetition and repetition can be a real brain killer.
Here are seven tips to stretch your mind at any age:
1) Reduce resistance.
Instead of being resistant to the world around you, get conscious about what you are thinking and doing in life. Stay in the present. Ask: What do I need? When do I need it? How do I get it? Wake up every morning, every day, and make an intention to do the most important thing — something that brings you joy, gives positive energy, and fulfills a need. Every day be aware and be clear about naming your needs so you can pursue your passions and your dreams.
2) Have an attitude of gratitude.
Every day wake up with an attitude of gratitude. Gratitude will start your day with abundance. Name your gifts; name the gift you cannot live without. It’s important to be grateful for negative experiences because they have the potential to become positive ones. According to UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center, having an attitude of gratitude changes the molecular structure of the brain and makes us healthier and happier.
3) Eliminate negative self-talk.
Negative self-talk is a completely mindless mental activity, mostly defensive and toxic. It causes stress, anxiety and perpetuates past and future thinking. The power is in the now. Catch yourself in the moment of the negative thought and turn it into a positive! That takes practice! Sometimes I’m so tired from teaching yoga that my body aches and my mind goes numb. I hobble into my apartment thinking, “Will my body ever work again?” Yet I think this condition is only temporary and I am fortunate to be able to still teach yoga at 69.
4) Be vulnerable.
To be vulnerable is to have real strength. Getting in touch with your own emotional palette allows you to realize a more creative and fulfilling life. To be vulnerable is to be emotionally openly honest. Sometimes that’s a scary place to be because you might be subject to criticism, ridicule or indifference. When you are hurt, you put up defensive barriers. Yet, paradoxically, it is at that moment that creativity takes hold, your imaginations soar and you are open to new ideas. But if you fear failure or embarrassment, you’ll lose the opportunity for choice.
5) Learn to adapt.
My mother loved to make changes. She taught me the way to learn to adapt to life’s changing circumstances is to understand that the only opinion worth anything comes from the truth inside of you. She also taught me that it’s more fun to be surprised by life. Change comes from a strong conviction for action, coupled with confidence in your abilities, and a willingness to cultivate curiosity. As you learn to adapt to change, you will energizes your imagination and, at the same time, reduce stress and anxiety.
6) Commit to living your passion.
Passion is an outpouring of positive energy for the ideas and interests that make a difference in your life. Ask yourself: What makes you come alive? What is your bliss? When you find your happiness, you know your destiny. That’s what happened to me when I started to practice yoga as a simple interest and then it elevated into a passion with more personal investment and education. I tried photography and it stayed a simple interest. I took up dancing Argentine tango and it became a committed passion.
7) Practice forgiveness.
If we are honest, we’ve all harbored resentments, collected injustices and become angry over insults that aren’t that important. It’s challenging and frustrating to forgive someone; it’s even harder to forgive yourself. Forgiveness seems to be on the mind of almost everyone I meet. It’s ubiquitous. But the “how to” forgive is a conundrum. I want to forgive but I can’t. One suggestion is to find some positive statements about the person who injured you. Everyone has some redeeming value. Every time you attribute a positive feeling, it mitigates the negative. Let the injury go, remove the negativity and move forward.
Stretching the mind includes taking some risks, a few leaps of faith and a willingness to make glorious mistakes. But the good news is there’s no such thing as failure. There is only personal truth and that’s always there for the taking.
Joan Moran is a keynote speaker, commanding the stage with her delightful humor, raw energy, and wealth of life experiences. She is an expert on wellness and is passionate about addressing the problems of mental inertia. A yoga instructor, Moran is the author is “Sixty, Sex, & Tango, Confessions of a Beatnik Boomer.” Visit her at www.joanfrancesmoran.com.
Researchers Yuna L. Ferguson of Knox College and Kennon M. Sheldon of the University of Missouri found in two experiments that you can actually think your way to bliss.
In the first experiment, 167 college students listened to Copland’s “Rodeo,” which is considered “happy” music. They were divided up into two groups: One was instructed to make a conscious effort to feel happier, while the other group was “asked to avoid exerting a conscious effort to increase their mood and to relax and passively observe their natural reactions instead,” researchers wrote in the study.
Researchers found that the study participants who were instructed to try to feel happy, in addition to listening to the happy music, experienced the most elevated moods after listening to the music.
‘This demonstrates that the combination of intentions and proper method is important in raising positive mood,” they wrote in the study.
The second experiment took place over a longer period of time, and involved having 68 college students listen to various types of “positive” music over the course of two weeks. Similar to the first experiment, researchers split the participants into two groups: one was told to focus on being happier while the other wasn’t told to make a decided effort to try to be happier. Again, the group of people told to focus on making themselves happier reported greater boosts in well-being than those who weren’t given such instructions.
Trying to be happy, the research suggests, could be an effective way to achieve the numerous health benefits that come with greater well-being and a more positive life outlook. Happiness has been associated with improved physical and mental health, greater relationship satisfaction, lower rates of disease and increased longevity.
Conversely, sustained anger and other negative emotions can take a significant toll on physical and mental health. A 2012 University of Granada study found that a pessimistic or fatalistic attitude toward the past, present or future is associated with lower quality of life and a more negative perception of a person’s own health.
But the researchers also found that good intentions alone are not enough to boost happiness — they must be supported by other activities that support positive well-being. Couple your desire for happiness with research-backed positivity-boosters like exercise, sleep and social interaction to elevate your mood and improve your outlook on life.
“While we may not be able to change our genetic makeup or specific life circumstances,” the study’s authors conclude, “we may be able to direct our intentional behavior in such ways that are beneficial to our well-being.”