If there is one thing we can all agree on, it’s that we want to be happy. What can science tell us about what boosts happiness? This TED radio hour explores these issues, including how we may be happier if we own less stuff or when we stay in the moment rather than being distracted.
The preeminent marital therapist of our time, John Gottman, reports that couples who convey positive messages as compared to negative, critical messages at a ratio of 5/1 are more likely to have healthy relationships. This refers to balancing every negative message to their partners with five positive ones. Think of the positive messages as a “deposit” and the negative messages as a “withdrawal.”
Most of us make life choices hoping to increase our happiness. It seems like a simple goal, one that shouldn’t be too difficult to achieve, assuming that our basic needs are being met. Ironically, however, the pursuit of happiness has been found to negatively impact our well-being. For example, a study reviewing daily diary entries found that those who highly valued happiness reported feeling more lonely on a daily basis. Instead, the clearest path to happiness seems to be not just solely pursuing happiness , but also meaningfulness as well.
In an honest and poignant presentation, Brene Brown, Ph.D., shares her profound wisdom about the power of vulnerability to overcome feelings of shame. She explains how many of us internalize societal messages of unworthiness, and spend much of our efforts trying to achieve perfection by pleasing others and proving our worth. Dr. Brown instead advocates for Wholehearted living: a way of engaging in the world from a place of inherent worthiness. This choice makes all the difference. If Dr. Brown’s presentation speaks to you, check out her published books that explore these issues in greater detail: The Gifts of Imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are and Daring Greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent and lead.
While most of us have positive responses to the idea of having compassion for others, we often balk at self-compassion, believing that it is narcissistic, harmful or indulgent. Researcher Kristen Neff has devoted her professional life to proving that in addition to improving one’s well-being, self-compassion actually leads to more caring and supportive actions towards others. In a recent article, she summarizes current studies that validate her claim.
Optimism can be an important tool in combating depression. Studies have shown that happy people are more optimistic, and optimistic people are less vulnerable to depression. When bad things happen, they bounce back, and continue to expect that good things will continue to happen to them. Surprisingly, good things don’t happen more often to happy people than to unhappy people. Everyone experiences sadness and difficulty. It is merely a part of life. The difference is how one explains what happens. Happy, optimistic people tend to maintain three beliefs or explanatory styles; that good events last a long time, and bad events pass quickly; that good events are caused by their own efforts and bad things just happen without a reason; and good things have global implications and bad things are very specific (i.e., I am very smart, vs. I am good at math; Jose doesn’t like me vs. no one likes me.) The good news is that optimism can be learned, and it is especially helpful to learn it at an early age.
No one said being a parent is easy! Having children makes life exciting, fun and challenging, but can cause significant stress as well. Being a parent can make it difficult to maintain regular self-help routines, particularly if your child has special needs like ADHD or autism. Whether you work outside the home or not, are single or married, have one child or five, the pressures of managing parental stress can be daunting. Of course, a stressed out parent is a less effective one, so any efforts to manage difficulties in a healthy way are always beneficial.
Mindfulness is the practice of cultivating nonjudgmental awareness in day-to-day life. Have you ever noticed when driving your car on a very familiar route that once you arrive, you don’t remember anything about your trip? That is referred to as being on “automatic pilot.” Mindfulness is the opposite experience. It is about experiencing your life fully, befriending and inhabiting the present moment , and participating intimately in life as it is unfolding. Mindfulness involves being grounded in the body, and bringing a kind, gentle and nonjudgmental curiosity to your current experience, whether positive, negative, or neutral.
Overthinking is thinking too much, endlessly, repetitively, and unnecessarily considering words we have said, pondering implications for our actions, and analyzing the causes of our feelings. Some folks believe that when we are down, they should try to focus inwardly to figure out the causes and solutions to their problems. However, researchers in the field of depression have consistently found that ruminating worsens sadness, interferes with one’s ability to problem solve, saps motivation, and impedes concentration and initiative. Although people strongly believe that by overthinking they may be gaining insight into themselves and their life situation, that is rarely the case.
So what can one do to stop this alluring, yet harmful habit?
Rufus Griscom and Alisa Volkman, husband and wife, share their experiences of parenting young children in an effort to de-stigmatize common negative experiences of new parents. Presented with a light touch and a great sense of humor, this is a positive message for parents of all ages.
Treatment of depression is as diverse as those who suffer from it. While medications have been shown to help reduce symptoms in moderate to severe depression, they do not address the underlying causes and may not be a good long-term solution. Life-style changes are powerful tools for improving mood. But they may not be as simple as taking a pill. However, today consumers are increasingly interested in finding life-style solutions that don’t rely on psychotropic medication.
Anxiety is a common experience for children and adults alike, and it often serves a useful purpose. Most parents want their young children to be apprehensive around strangers or to think twice before engaging in daring or risky activities. A little caution can help keep children safe. It is also common for children to be somewhat anxious in the dark, on their first day of school, or when speaking in front of their classroom. However, when a child’s initial anxiety in attending school doesn’t reduce over time, makes it difficult for the them to attend school, or becomes worse as they mature rather than better, then it has become a problem. Problematic anxiety interferes with children’s daily lives and keeps them from meeting developmental milestones. It is the combination of excessive levels of anxiety and interference in daily activities that suggest further assessment and intervention.
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