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How to Be Happier Class in Philly

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Image result for happiness

Would you like to continue to explore increasing your happiness?  We’ve been learning skills for the last couple of months here.  Starting in January, I’ll be teaching a 6-week series on this topic, How to Be Happier.  The classes will be on Saturdays from 10am – 11am on these dates:  Jan 21 and 28, and Feb 4, 11, 18, and 25.  We will meet at St Martin’s in the Field in Philadelphia.  The fee for the series is $60.

Click here to register.

Hope to see you!

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Charity Nature Notecards

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My daughter and I sell nature photography notecards on Etsy, with 50% of the profits going to an environmental charity and 50% to her college tuition. Our shop is 50 Percent Cards. This year’s charity is EQAT, a small Quaker environmental charity. As the holiday season approaches, I hope you’ll consider supporting our project.  The cards are beautiful and make lovely gifts.  It’s a win for you (beautiful notecards!) and a win for charity (50% to charity!).

The cards include a white peacock (below), a hidden owl, and an iris garden. And in honor of my readers at How to Cope with Pain, I’m offering 33% off. Thanks!

50 Percent Cards

Photo: Louise Witonsky

Photo of white peacock: Louise Witonsky

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Increase Your Happiness: Use Your Strengths

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This article is in our series about increasing happiness and life satisfaction.  Many people with chronic pain can’t decrease their pain.  So another way to live a more enjoyable and fulfilling life – perhaps even more important – is to increase the positive.  That’s what we’ll look at in this series.

So far, we’ve looked at many ways to increase optimism, pleasure, enjoyment and gratitude. This week we’ll switch gears to look at the other big component of happiness:  life satisfaction and meaning.

Image result for meaning of life

“The meaning of life is _______.”

Positive psychology believes that we’ll find our life’s purpose and be happier if we use our core strengths as much as possible.  And this is even more important than trying to improve ourselves and fix our weaknesses. The core strengths are in these areas:

  • wisdom and knowledge  (curiosity, learning, open mindedness)
  • courage (bravery, integrity)
  • love and humanity (kindness, love, equality)
  • justice (teamwork, leadership)
  • temperance (self control, humility)
  • spirituality (gratitude, faith, hope)

We can identify our core strengths by learning what gives us the most sense of purpose, what matches best with our values, what comes naturally to us, what others say are our true strengths.  Then our life’s meaning can come from using these strengths and values every day in our work, relationships and leisure.  Let’s look at some examples:

For some professions, it’s easy to see what kind of strengths could be used.  A doctor could use knowledge and humanity.  A teacher could use learning and kindness.  A yoga teacher could use temperance and spirituality.  However, if someone went into medicine but wasn’t much of a people person, trying to do clinical care might not match very well.  This person might make a better researcher.  A second point is that you don’t have to have a profession to be able to match your values to your work. There’s a front desk worker at my gym who is the friendliest, most personable person I know.  So that kind of job could be a wonderful way to express values such as open mindedness, kindness,  and hope.

So to be happiest and get the most satisfaction out of life, be sure your work, relationships and leisure match your strengths and values.  And, always be on the lookout for additional ways to use your strengths and values in these areas.

Your assignments:

  1. Take the Brief Strengths Test or the more comprehensive Survey of Character Strengths
  2. Take some time to identify what strengths you’re already using, as well as which ones you want to include more often and how specifically you could do this

Please share your pleasures in the comments so we all can all learn!

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How to Get Even More Enjoyment!

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This article is in our series about increasing happiness and life satisfaction.  Many people with chronic pain can’t decrease their pain.  So another way to live a more enjoyable and fulfilling life – perhaps even more important – is to increase the positive.  That’s what we’ll look at in this series.

Last week, we looked at adding in pleasures.  Today we are looking at ways to increase our enjoyment of these pleasures:

  • vary your pleasure
  • use surprise

Image result for pleasure list

As we said last week, pleasures are positive, enjoyable experiences.  One of my pleasures is chocolate ice cream.  However, if I were to eat that every day for every meal, it wouldn’t seem special and I would actually begin to like it less.  One way to get the most out of pleasures is to vary them.  Here are some ways to vary pleasures:

  • different times of day (a great cup of coffee in the morning or a special piece of chocolate for dessert after dinner)
  • different types of pleasure (use your senses – sight, hearing, touch, smell)
  • different intensity of pleasures (thrill to fun to relaxation)

Another way to increase your pleasure is to plan surprises.  You can do this for others (they will get pleasure and you will enjoy surprising someone else) and make a plan with a friend or family member to surprise each other with enjoyable things.

Your assignments:

  1. Add a different type of pleasure each day.
  2. Add a surprise pleasure once this week.

Please share your pleasures in the comments so we all can all learn!

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Pain Management Class: Breathing Exercises Part 1

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This article is in our series featuring pain management techniques to help you decrease and cope with pain.  It’s your at-home pain management class!

The first skills that I teach patients are relaxed breathing exercises. These help you reduce pain by helping you relax. Here are 2 for you to try:

You can use these exercises in several ways:

    • read through the exercise and then do it from memory (it doesn’t have to be done exactly as I’ve written it)
    • tape record the exercise yourself, then play it back for yourself (you can even do this on your cellphone)
    • have someone else read or record the exercise for you

Your assignment: Do at least 1 breathing exercise a day

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Increase Your Happiness: Pleasure

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This article is in our series about increasing happiness and life satisfaction.  Many people with chronic pain can’t decrease their pain.  So another way to live a more enjoyable and fulfilling life – perhaps even more important – is to increase the positive.  That’s what we’ll look at in this series.

Today we are looking at pleasures.

Image result for chocolate ice cream

Pleasures are positive, enjoyable experiences.  Pleasures create immediate happiness and enjoyment.  Many pleasurable experiences are associated with basic biological drives, such as eating, exercise and sex.  Activities such as art, music, dancing and reading are also often pleasurable.

Authentic Happiness looks at 3 levels of pleasures:

  1. Hi pleasure:  causes emotions such as thrill and elation
  2. Moderate pleasure:  causes emotions such as sparkle, glee, fun
  3. Low pleasures  causes emotions such as comfort, harmony and relaxation

We are usually aware of what brings us pleasure.  I love walking in the wood, a bowl of chocolate ice cream and a funny TV show.

Your assignment:  Add in a pleasure each day.

Schedule something specific to be sure you have at least 1 thing every day.  And share your pleasure in the comments so we all can all learn!  Over the next several weeks, we’ll look at ways to increase pleasure.

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Increase Your Happiness: Hope

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This article is in our series about increasing happiness and life satisfaction.  Many people with chronic pain can’t decrease their pain.  So another way to live a more enjoyable and fulfilling life – perhaps even more important – is to increase the positive.  That’s what we’ll look at in this series.

For the last few weeks, we’ve looked at optimism.  Today we’ll look at hope.

To be more hopeful, we can learn to recognize our pessimistic thoughts and then change them to be more hopeful.  You can use “ABCD” (I’ve slightly changed the acronym from Authentic Happiness).

A – What is the adverse event?

B – What are the beliefs that you’re having because of this event?  (Beliefs are just thoughts; they are not necessarily true.)

C – What are the consequences of these beliefs?

D – How can you dispute these beliefs?

So let’s look at some examples:

A – Susan wasn’t invited to the wedding of a coworker Ann.

B – Susan starts to think, “I was left out.  Maybe everyone else was invited and Ann doesn’t like me.  Maybe no one really likes me at work.”  (See how our thoughts can spiral?)

C – Susan feels upset and sad because of these thoughts.

D – To dispute these thoughts, Susan can do several things:

  • look for evidence to see if her thoughts are true or not. (“It’s true I wasn’t invited, but Ann is generally friendly to me.  A few weeks ago, we had lunch.  So it’s probably not true that she doesn’t like me.)  And Susan can look for evidence for the opposite, (“For many other things, I’ve been included, so it’s probably not true that no one likes me at work.  Actually, I usually feel friendly with my coworkers.”)
  • look for less serious implications.  (“It’s true I wasn’t invited, but she did mention she’s having a small wedding.  I was probably not invited because of the size of her wedding, not because she doesn’t like me.”)

Here’s another example:

A – Colin’s new pain medication didn’t work.

B – Colin starts to think, “This one didn’t work, just like that last one.  I bet there’s no medication that will help me.  I’ll be left with this pain for my whole life.”

C – Colin starts to feel discouraged and hopeless.

D – To dispute these thoughts, Colin can do several things:

  • evaluate if the thought is helpful or not.  (“Being that pessimistic isn’t useful to me.  It’s just getting me down.)  Just because you have a thought, doesn’t mean you have to believe it.
  • come up with alternative thoughts.  (“Pain is hard to treat.  Just because 2 medications haven’t worked doesn’t mean none will.  I’ll talk with my doctor at my next visit about what medication I can try next.  And I’ll also ask her about non-medication ways I can use to cope with my pain.”)

Your assignment:  Practice ABCD for one negative event each day.  Look for pessimistic thoughts and dispute them.

And share in the comments so we all can learn!

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Increase Your Happiness – Optimism Examples

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This article is in our series about increasing happiness and life satisfaction.  Many people with chronic pain can’t decrease their pain.  So another way to live a more enjoyable and fulfilling life – perhaps even more important – is to increase the positive.  That’s what we’ll look at in this series.

Image result for optimism

Last week, we looked at optimism as a way to increase happiness.  Here are some examples I came across this week:

Optimists believe there are permanent and universal causes for positive events.  Optimists generalize positive causes and expect them to continue.

Positive Event Example:  We had a little time left over in a meeting at work this week.  I suggested we might share how we each deal with a common problem one person was having trouble with – getting back to sleep while being on call.  Several people thanked me and the person who was having difficulty said, “That was really kind.”

I initially said to myself, “Yes, that was helpful and kind.”  To be even more optimistic, I could say, “I’m a kind person.  I often look for ways to help people.”

Optimists believe there are temporary and specific causes for negative events.  These causes can be changed and they only apply to this one specific negative event.

Negative Event Example:  I signed up to sell some of my charity notecards at a craft fair, but there were few buyers.  I didn’t question the value of my cards.  I recognized that the fair wasn’t a great place for selling – most people came just to walk outside and have lunch.  And I learned what type of fair I’ll look for in the future.

How about you?  Have you been tracking your reactions to positive and negative events and trying to be more optimistic?

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Increase Your Happiness – Optimism

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This article is in our series about increasing happiness and life satisfaction.  Many people with chronic pain can’t decrease their pain.  So another way to live a more enjoyable and fulfilling life – perhaps even more important – is to increase the positive.  That’s what we’ll look at in this series.

Last week, we practiced forgiveness.  This week we’ll look at optimism.

Image result for optimism

Optimism about the future hinges on what’s called our “explanatory style” – what we believe the causes are of good and bad events.

Optimists believe there are permanent and universal causes for positive events.  Optimists generalize positive causes and expect them to continue.

  • The teacher liked my answer.  It’s because I always work hard on my homework (permanent), and I always work hard in general (universal).

Optimists believe there are temporary and specific causes for negative events.  These causes can be changed and they only apply to this one specific negative event.

  • I failed the exam.  It’s because I didn’t prepare well this time (temporary), or I had a hard time with just this section (specific).

Pessimists are the reverse – they believe there are temporary and specific causes for positive events, (The teacher liked my answer because he was having a good day today).  And there are permanent and universal causes for negative events, (I failed the exam because I’m not very smart).

So first I’d like you to investigate your own explanatory style.  Each day, take 2 events, 1 positive and 1 negative – and see what you’re thinking about the cause of the event.  Look at both permanence (is the cause permanent or temporary?) and pervasiveness (is the cause universal or specific?).  Next week we’ll look at how to change our style is we’re more pessimistic.

Your assignment:  Evaluate your explanatory style for 1 positive and 1 negative event each day.

And share in the comments so we all can learn!  I’ll pick some of the comments for next week’s article to show how you can change to a more optimistic style.

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Increase Your Happiness – Learn to Forgive

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This article is in our series about increasing happiness and life satisfaction.  Many people with chronic pain can’t decrease their pain.  So another way to live a more enjoyable and fulfilling life – perhaps even more important – is to increase the positive.  That’s what we’ll be looking at in this series.

Last week, we practiced looking for the positive in any situation.  This week we’ll look at forgiving and forgetting your past.  

Image result for say goodbye to the past

We’re often mulling over past problems and bad memories.  By doing that, we’re keeping them with us and continuing to suffer.  A quote I liked from Authentic Happiness:

You can’t hurt the perpetrator by not forgiving,
But you can set yourself free by forgiving.

It may be something we ourselves did that we can’t forgive ourselves for, or something that was done to us that we can’t forget.  The goal is to forgive, when you’re ready.  If you’re not ready, work on getting ready.

Forgiveness is not forgetting what was done, or ignoring something bad, or just being nice.  It’s moving on and letting go of the situation’s hold on us.

Authentic Happiness recommends these steps, “REACH”:

  1. R – recall the hurt objectively
  2. E – empathize with the perpetrator
  3. A – give the altruistic gift of forgiveness (rise above your hurt and thoughts of revenge)
  4. C – commit to forgive; write it down or say it
  5. H – hold on to forgiveness; continue to practice it

Let’s start with something small – someone doesn’t wait their turn at a 4 way stop sign, and cuts you off.

  1. R – recall.  Remember the situation.  Notice your feelings.  Now create a story without all the blame and anger towards the other driver.
  2. E – empathize.  Perhaps they weren’t paying attention.  Perhaps they were in a rush.  Have you ever done something similar?  Have compassion.  Put the mistake in perspective.
  3. A – altruistic forgiveness.  Forgive the other person.  It’s ok.
  4. C – commit to forgive.  Say it out loud.   Imagine your irritation floating away.
  5. H – hold on.  If your irritation returns, practice compassion and wish for peace for the other person.

So each day write down a mistake you made or a grievance you have towards someone else.  Practice “REACH”.  For small things, you might find it easy to forgive.  Practicing with small things exercises our “forgiveness muscle”, and we’ll be better able to let go of bigger things.

Your assignment:  Do this exercise once a day.  And share your experiences in the comments so we all can learn!

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