Happier Science: Walk This Way

happier-science-112214There’s no shortage of research to support walking as the so-called perfect exercise; human beings are, after all, designed to walk! (We’ve discussed walking here before.) Walking is beneficial for our muscles, bones, circulation… even our mood and sleep patterns are improved by walking. (If only we could put a brisk 20-minute walk into a spray bottle to apply to all any life problem, much as the dad in My Big Fat Greek Wedding uses his Windex….)

So: walking = better health and greater happiness. This isn’t new news. What is new, though, is a new research on how purposefully walking in a “happy” or “depressed” manner may influence mood. Researchers designed a study utilizing already-proven biases about the connection between mood and memory. People in a happier state are more likely to remember positive information, while those in a more negative state are more likely to remember negative information. Lifehacker India describes the findings:

It was found that the respondents who had adopted the happy, confident gait and stance remembered more of the positive words from the list while those whose walking style had reflected depression and dejection, recalled more negative emotions from the selection of words that were read out.

Their findings, therefore, imply that one’s walking style has the potential to impact one’s mind – where one is more likely to process and retain information that matches how one is feeling.

“It is not surprising that our mood, the way we feel, affects how we walk, but we wanted to see whether the way we move also affects how we feel,” elaborates Nikolaus Troje, professor, Queen’s University, Canada as well as the co-author of the research paper.

Talk about a mind-body connection—the implications here for affecting mood via the body are huge. If just walking in a depressed way can make you feel worse, and walking “like a happy person” can pick you up… with the accompanying memory changes the difference in mood can bring… well, then, maybe that whole fake-it-’til-you-make-it idea applies to more than we thought. Sure, even faking a smile is good for you, but what about thinking about how you sit, stand, and—yes—walk?

Food for thought. Or maybe something to consider on your next walk.

Mindful Break: Why He’s The Hottest Artist In The World

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Last year, legendary street artist Banksy set up a stand in Central Park selling his stencil art for $60 a piece.

(See pic of the man that Banksy posted at the stand to handle the transactions)

Only three people bought Bansky’s art, with one bargaining for a 2-for-1 deal.

Note: these were original Banksy pieces that you could have picked up for sixty bucks! A mere print of Banksy’s “Love in the Air” recently sold for $249,000.  

The same type of experiment was performed in 2007 when the Washington Post placed legendary, world famous violinist Joshua Bell in a DC subway stop during rush hour.

Of the 1,000 people who raced by Joshua Bell on their way to work, only 1 person stopped to listen.

I don’t think I would have stopped to buy a Banksy or listen to Joshua Bell. Would you?

What does this say about our culture?

Good art makes us feel and good artists have bleeding souls, they are gushing with passion.

But if you aren’t living with passion, you probably won’t recognize passion in art, people, or life.

So here’s a challenge for you today: More feeling, less thinking.

The world will respond to what you are selling, teaching, living, buying… if they feel your passion. That is Universal Law.

What gets you going these days? What song, what painting, what food makes you stand up and pump your fists and say “I’M FREAKIN’ ALIVE!”

I don’t know about you, but I am a passionate being living an increasingly dispassionate life.

What we stand up for, what we shout about, what makes us cry… those are the footprints we leave behind.

When our souls bleed with feeling, we become the Banksys and Joshua Bells…

… we become the souls knocking at the doorways of our minds, saying, “LET ME LEAD US. LET ME HEAL US. LET ME SAVE US. NOW!”

Happier Jump-Starts: Magic Holiday Phrases

happier-jumpstarts-111614‘Tis the season for otherwise reasonable people to become short-tempered, snappish, or downright frantic. The pressure we put on ourselves and others to create a “perfect” meal/day/season is, quite simply, ridiculous. It will suck all the joy out of what should be a wonderful time of year, if you let it. While the admonitions to “just breathe” or “slow down” are all good and well, those are a little slippery for some of us in our more stressed-out moments. Instead, consider a small arsenal of phrases to pull out as needed; they’re guaranteed to cut tension, build connections, and make life more pleasant.

“What can I do to help?” There is no more magical phrase in the English language, I am certain, particularly if it’s offered in sincerity. This one works for any situation, from a hectic dinner preparation to a last-minute meeting. Sometimes the offer itself is enough to calm someone else who really needs it. (Bonus: If the answer is “Nothing,” find something to do, anyway, even if it’s just being present. But make sure to check that your presence is okay—”I’m just going to sit here with you for a minute, then, if that’s okay.”)

“We’re not saving lives, here.” My family likes this one as a reminder when a non-life-or-death situation has somehow escalated into overblown importance. If you are saving lives, my hat is off to you, and obviously don’t use this in the middle of CPR. But for most of us, whether or not the green beans are done when the turkey is a preference, not a crisis. Light-hearted reminders of such can not only break the immediate tension, they can remind everyone involved that there’s important and there’s everything else.

“Take your time, I’m not in a rush.” I went to the grocery store yesterday and three different people apologized to me for things that weren’t a problem at all. (In fact, even if I had been in a hurry, the grocery cart in my way, the man who didn’t realize I was standing behind him, and the woman whose chicken didn’t want to scan at the checkout weren’t delaying me by much.) We are so accustomed to rushed/angry people at this time of year, we assume our mere presence may be inconvenient to those around us. And that’s sad. There’s a tremendous amount of power in letting someone know they needn’t worry that you’re going to get annoyed with them. Bonus points if you assure someone that you, too, are capable of picking the only chicken in the case that won’t scan properly.

“I like you. I’m glad I have you in my life.” My kids think it’s funny when I tell them that I like them, but the truth of the matter is that I love them no matter what. Liking them, on the other hand, is optional. And when you tell someone you love that you like them, it’s a reminder that—choices and family ties and circumstances aside—you value them just for who they are. That’s powerful, for both of you. “I like you” is high praise in our family, and hey, it turns out that coworkers and friends dig hearing it, too. Who doesn’t want to hear that they’re valued?

“Yes.” Perhaps the most powerful word we have, saying yes—to a request, to a feeling, to a declaration—is how we make an instant connection to others. Make this your season of saying yes and see how your days unfold; the changes will be small, but I guarantee you’ll be amazed.

What would you consider your magic holiday phrase?

Science Says The Best Meals Serve… Happiness!

happier-science-111514Once upon a time, a long time ago, my husband and I got married and packed up my kids and moved 1,000 miles away to begin our new life together. The necessary adjustments in blending a family presented challenges, of course, and by the time we’d returned to visit family for the holidays, it felt like we were just starting to gel as a little unit. So when we somehow managed to screw up our Christmas Eve plans—we drove a couple of hours from where we were staying to attend a service at my old church, then realized the kids couldn’t wait until we got home for dinner, but everything from regular restaurants to fast food was closed—I was sure we’d ruined Christmas. But… we stopped at a gas station, and bought a bunch of nondescript sandwiches in triangular plastic containers to eat in the car on the long ride back.

This was when the kids were young enough to be picky eaters as well as flummoxed whenever their routine was disrupted. But we presented those sandwiches to them as if we were having the most exciting treat in the world. And it was snowing! Look at all the pretty snow, guys! Everyone ate their sandwiches, and we talked and laughed as we drove back to our relatives’ house. I remember those sandwiches being surprisingly good for gas station food, and now I know why:

A new research survey has revealed that meals are remembered more positively when they included good company, regardless of what the actual food was like.

The analysis revealed a memorable meal typically involved cooked food, wine, family and friends, and a “positive emotional state”.

Common highlights included meals eaten while on holiday, in romantic or in fine dining settings, or made at home with a special ingredient.

Other settings were “hearty, home-cooked” meals, those prepared either traditionally or spontaneously, or those remembered for cooking disasters.

What does this mean for our everyday happiness? Stop worrying so much about having just the right food on the table, and instead, make sure you have the right people around the table—the meal will be a memorable and happy one, even if the food isn’t fancy or perfect.

Thanksgiving is coming, and the winter holidays, after. If you want to eat, drink and be merry, focus on the “be merry” part. The rest will fall into place.

5 Inspiring Quotations To Get You Through A Rough Day

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These few weeks are kicking my butt, if you’ll excuse my French. All the shoes seem to be falling at once, it’s raining cats, dogs, and elephants, and I seem to be running marathons to stand in place. I’m tired, cranky a lot, and yes, pretty stressed out. (Yes, if you’re wondering, even as the CEO of a company that helps people celebrate small daily joys I don’t always have the easiest time finding my own.)

So I wanted to share five of my favorite quotes for getting through a rough day. Of course just reading a quote won’t change anything, but I find that if I really let the meaning of the words sink in, I do shift my perspective just a bit — and that’s worthwhile.

This is probably my favorite one and it’s by one of my absolute favorite authors of all time:

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Image source: oprah.com

All great changes are preceded by chaos. - Deepak Chopra

It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, what matters is what you choose to do from here. – Anonymous

The best way to cheer yourself up is to cheer somebody else up. – Mark Twain

Accept, then act. Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. – Anonymous

If you have a favorite quote to get through a rough day, please share!

Mindful Break: Last Second Survival Story (That Nobody Heard About)

hi_852_luca_parmitano_1st_spacewalk_esaI recently taught a workshop in Houston. Many of those in attendance worked at NASA as flight directors and operation specialists for the International Space Station.

After the workshop, I asked them,  “What did you think of the movie Gravity?”

Surely you saw Gravity, but in case you didn’t… it’s the story of 3 astronauts on a spacewalk that goes terribly wrong.

One NASA specialist told me, “I couldn’t watch. So stressful. My worst nightmare. Why would I want to see that on my free time?”

Another told me, “Meh, too much of it was unbelievable. But they did a good job recreating the interior of the space station. That was cool!”

The reviews were mixed, but the conversation led to them telling me about a true and horrifying event that took place this past summer. Oddly enough, almost nobody in America heard about it.

In August of 2013, Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano was on a spacewalk outside the Space Station.

He suddenly felt a liquid leaking into his space suit.

A few moments later, the liquid began to engulf his helmet. Then, it got into his ears making it impossible to hear.

And just as the sun dropped beyond the earth’s horizon, the liquid covered his eyes effectively blinding Parmitano.

Parmitano didn’t know if his next breath would be his last. With just seconds remaining, he remembered that his safety cable had a recoil mechanism.

He yanked hard on the safety cable, and it dragged him back to the Space Station’s airlock.

Another astronaut frantically helped Parmitano into the space station where he removed his helmet and gasped for oxygen.

George Clooney could not have done it any better than Luca Parmitano.

Maybe you can relate to this sense of crisis.

So many of us live each day feeling health, money, and stress closing in on us.

This is just the moment when we need to remember our recoil mechanism. We all have one.

But most of us, myself included, forget.

And we keep going, grinding, wondering… what can I do to get out of this mess?

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There is a word floating out there, and for certain Type A personalities, just saying this word can cause shakes and convulsions.

This word evokes feelings of mental anguish.

This word has been known to cause children to hide and grown men to run when asked by the lady of the house:

“Will you MEDITATE with me?”

Yes, that’s the word: MEDITATION.

Many are interested, curious about it. But it’s something for the future. Not today.

If you could make love today, would you? If you could have indulge in gnocchi pomodoro today, would you? If you could eat a buttermilk banana pudding chocolate truffle today, would you?

Meditation is making love, eating gnocchi, and savoring chocolate on a black sand beach while watching the sunset and getting a foot massage.

YES, ONCE YOU BREAK THROUGH, MEDITATION IS THAT AMAZING!

But more importantly, meditation is the ultimate recoil mechanism, and no matter how bad your day, how achey your body, how stressful your job…

… when you learn how to yank on that “safety cable” and drop into the lush landscape of your inner world, everything changes.

You become the wisdom beyond thought…

… you seek freedom for life (not from it)…

you flow with the changes, make peace with the weather, awaken to the miracles.

***I invite you to enjoy my latest meditation series on Happier: 7 Meditations: The Next Step. 

Happier Jump-Starts: Tips For Holiday Season Sanity

happier-jumpstarts-110914Here in the United States, we’re about to barrel full-tilt into either the happiest or most stressful time of year, depending on your point of view. (Me, I’m all about equal opportunity—I find it both happy and stressful.) As we head toward Thanksgiving, slide into Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Festivus, and wrap it all up with New Year’s, this time period has the potential be relaxing, reaffirming, celebratory… or depressing and difficult. Some of that is based on circumstances, sure, but plenty of it can be up to you.

Here’s a few simple ideas for keeping calm, cool, and maybe even peaceful when the holiday going gets rough:

Don’t over-schedule. Sure, the temptation—particularly if you’re taking a trip to see far-flung loved ones—is to book every single second of that precious time so as not to waste any of it. Taking down time isn’t wasteful, it’s necessary for your mental health! People have different levels of tolerance for hustle and bustle; know yours, and honor it. For example: our family usually hosts a large Thanksgiving meal, and I always work the Friday after. Know what we do on that Saturday? Nothing. That’s what I need to make it work.

Be reasonable about gifts. While this time of year shouldn’t be about the stuff involved, sometimes it feels like it is. Stop stress before it happens by being realistic about what this time will look like, and making decisions together as a family. If money is tight (or your family is huge, and gift-giving has become overwhelming), come up with guidelines/plans before stress hits. Even the smallest children can understand that you don’t always get everything you ever wanted (and if you did, you’d be robbed of the joy of wishing!), and adults can see the wisdom of a large group playing Secret Santa for single gifts rather than everyone drowning in presents.

Prioritize. Something about the holiday season seems to send even the most level-headed folks’ priorities a little out of whack. You intend to keep things small and calm but suddenly you’re hosting dinner for 70, or you meant to take time just for you and your sweetie, but there were too many other pressing engagements. This is less about “too much” and more about “what matters.” You can have a relatively clear schedule because you heeded the first point and still end up spending time and money on things you later wish you hadn’t. So figure it out ahead of time, and you’ll be less likely to find yourself wondering how you arrived somewhere you didn’t really want to be.

Be nice to yourself. Don’t get so caught up in what everyone else wants that you forget to take care of you. Is this a time of year to forgive an extra dessert or a glass of wine? Sure, if that works for you. But if that’s a slippery slope towards feeling sluggish and unhappy with yourself, be realistic: How can you enjoy this time and still feel good? Maybe it’s a loosening of the dietary reins but an extra-long walk each morning. Maybe it’s doing something you don’t necessarily love because it makes your partner happy (within reason, obviously), but then making sure you have time for your favorite hobby, later. This is highly personal, but your enjoyment of the season will depend on your ability to be realistic about your needs and meet them in small ways even during this hectic time.

Despite it all, focus on the joys of kindness! Sure, ’tis the season of being cut off in traffic, having your parking spot usurped at the last moment by some jerk in a fancy car, rude people cutting in line at the supermarket because they’re in a hurry, etc… yes, that stuff isn’t fun. You could focus on that, or your family could donate goods, time, and/or money to causes that are dear to your heart. You could let that harried, grumpy person go ahead of you in line. You could bake cookies for people who’ve been good to your kids this year. (That one’s a favorite of mine, both because I like it when people are good to my kids and because there’s no bad time for cookies.) You could focus on being the kindness and change you wish to see in the world, and that will often shift your focus in wonderful ways. And after all… isn’t that what this time should be all about?