1. A Life of Contentment: The Truth about Happiness

    July 6, 2014

    A Life of Contentment: The Truth about Happiness

     

    In horse racing there is something called a trifecta. To win a trifecta, the bettor must not only pick the horses finishing in the top three places in a race, but the exact finishing order of each horse. In this article we will lay out our own trifecta. Ours has nothing to do with horse racing though. Rather, it has to do with picking a winning strategy for a life well lived.

    To get started I’m going to ask you to suspend a commonly held belief. That belief is this; “all I need to enjoy a good life is to be happy.” Nonsense! As you will learn, happiness is an overrated temporary response to the alignment of certain events in your life. Happiness is not a permanent state or condition. If it were meant to be permanent we would have no need for the word sad.

    That said, let me assure you that I have nothing against being happy. I enjoy happiness whenever or wherever it may occur. Pursuit of happiness is an important factor in human evolution. My only concern is that in our pursuit of happiness we often overlook those events, people, and situations that may or may not be conducive to our being “happy,” but never-the-less are important. If I may, allow me to substitute here the word contentment for happiness.

    As I will explain, contentment captures the importance of balance in our lives. I like to call this place, a life lived in balance, the good life. Which brings us back to the trifecta. Our race track: the Good Life; the heat: Psychology and mental health; the entrants: in gate #1 is Spirituality, gate #2 holds Meaning of Life; gate #3 Positive Psychology. The rest of the field is made up of a rag-tag assortment of lesser important names. Let’s look at the top three.

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  2. The Search for Meaning: A Road Less Traveled.

    July 3, 2014

    The Search for Meaning: A Road Less Traveled.

    Isn’t life a bit like taking a trip to some unknown destination? Let’s call our destination Meaning. If your trip is well planned and organized you will want directions to where you are going. But, before you can get those directions you will need to know where you are starting from. This all seems simple  enough.

    It’s time for a truth test. Have you noticed how we all wear different hats. Sometimes we even wear different hats at the same time. In our haste to find our way to Meaning we often fall victim to the latest “in” terms. Adjectives that we unquestionably accept as true. Some of these adjectives include descriptors like:

    “Soccer mom”, “Easy”, “A loud mouth”, “Smart/stupid”, “Fat/skinny/Wow”, “Nerd”,  “Friend”, “Rich/poor”, “Lazy/on their way to the top”

    Is it any wonder that we get confused about who we are or what our role in life is?

    Added to this is a world of contradictions, or mixed messages. Such things as the generation you most identify with, your gender, your position in life, and your level of involvement in the world around you all influence how you filter these mixed messages. Here are just a few of these messages:

    “Stop and smell the roses”

    OR

    “I want the world and I want it now!”

    “Don’t sweat the small stuff”

    OR

    “The truth is in the details”

    “It is what it is”

    OR

    “You’re in charge.”

     

    The last factor holding many of us back from finding our own place called Meaning is our increased dependence on instant gratification. Gone for many is the patience needed to see things through to their logical outcome. It is difficult to have an attachment to things that are disposable.

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  3. The Interplay of Intention and Meaningfulness

    April 30, 2014

    The Interplay of Intention and Meaningfulness

    by Sue Chehrenegar

     

    As a rule, someone who hopes to inject more meaning into an otherwise ordinary life does not aim to become self-involved. Yet one author, Barbara Ehrenreich, had to put-aside that avoidance of seeming self-involvement, because she decided to use the contents of an old journal as the basis for a book. When speaking with David Ulin, a book critic for the Los Angeles Times, she explained that journal was proof that by the age of 17, she had formed a sense that there was some sort of intention behind what was taking-place within the world.

     

    In most of her earlier works, Ehrenreich has dealt with issues that concern the here and now, the material world. However, when she wrote about the contents of her old journal, she had to seek answers to an anomaly. As Ehrenreich re-read the entries in her journal, she recalled feeling filled with something that she could not explain. She remembered having the sense that she was confronting something that was unseen, yet alive. At that point, she wanted to view that certain something more closely, but she did not know how to accomplish that feat.

     

    That feeling did not persist, and eventually that young journal-writer tried to resume her former life, as though nothing had happened. Still, she could not shake the perception that she had experienced earlier. She found herself questioning the meaningfulness of day-to-day chores. She had become more aware of their lack of meaning, if such jobs are not done by someone with the best intentions.

     

    Indeed, even the smallest job can be used to perfect a virtue. That observation has not been stated in one of Ehrenreich’s books; rather it was noted by the leader of a religion, a man who once visited the United States. One day, when he was sweeping the entrance to a shrine, someone asked him what he was doing. This was his answer: I am practicing patience.

     

    The man who made that statement had grown-up surrounded by adults who held a strong and undying belief in a Creator. That same environment did not exist in Barbara Ehrenreich’s home, when she was a teenager. Both of her parents were atheists. Hence, when she got to the stage in life where she felt compelled to ask questions, she had trouble finding anyone who could help her to find some answers.

     

    Fortunately, she chose to become a reporter, someone who has been trained to ask questions. In that way, she managed to uncover the sort of guidance that she had been seeking. In fact, her choice of career may now help others who are trying to lead a more meaningful life.

     

    The thoughts presented in Ehrenreich’s journal could not have been analyzed and summarized in the format of a book, if that young journal-writer had not elected to become a reporter. As a reporter, she saw each of the journal’s pages as being something that must be shared with others. Her commitment to reporting on the journal’s contents freed her from any guilt that she might feel, because she had become so self-involved. She viewed her personal musings as a source of questions, rather than as the disclosure of a mystical experience.

     

    That approach allowed her to overcome a major hurdle, one that slowed her initial progress on her planned book/memoir. At first, she struggled to put-into-words an experience that looked very much like one that would be of interest to mystics, the experience that she had been forced to deal with , while just a teenager. Eventually, though, she managed to formulate questions from the notes that she herself had written years earlier.

     

    By using those questions, she could put-together a book, one that other young people might use as a guide, while trying to inject more meaning into their lives. She encouraged them to have a very practical approach to discovery of something that seemed to have come from a mystical realm. She encouraged them to seek-out the identity of the thing/spirit that had come into their lives, and then to report back to others on those findings.

    Image Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/elainegreycats/48057915/


  4. The Power of Positive Emotions

    March 23, 2014

    The Power of Positive Emotions

    by Daniela Aneis

    We all know the experience of positive emotions make us feel good with ourselves and others. But could they have another function other than just that? Evolutionary speaking, what are positive emotions for?

    Up until recently, research has been extensive on the so-called negative emotions and their role in evolution. It is posited that negative emotions were key in survival, where the “fight or flight” mechanism was crucial to our species endurance. The stress induced when facing a large animal where a decision had to be made if it dangerous or “potential food”, made our ancestors react, propelling them to action.

     

     But what about positive emotions? What good are they for?

     

    In 1998, researcher Barbara Fredrickson proposed the Broaden-and-built model of positive emotions. Feeling that research wasn’t paying enough attention to the role of positive emotions in human life, she set out to find out why we need positive emotions as much as the negative ones. She suggested that positive emotions broaden our scope of action-thinking and have a major role in physical, cognitive and social resources.

    Mainly, positive emotions are essential resources in resilience, serving as reserves to help us cope with adversity and promote health and well-being. Her research suggests that the more positive emotions people experience throughout their day and their lives, the faster they can react when faced with negative emotions.

    One of her most fascinating discoveries has to do with the fact that positive emotions can counteract the effects of negative ones. Meaning that the prolonged effects of negative emotions on cardiovascular diseases and cancer, for instance, can be counteracted with the experience of positive emotions. So if you lead an extremely stressful life, you might want to consider balancing the odds in your everyday life by introducing space for positive emotions.

     

    Are people who experience positive emotions at a greater level different from the rest of us?

     

    Not quite. People who experience positive emotions at a great level tend to pay a great deal of attention to positive emotions, and their reserves of positive emotions function as an upward spiral of positivity (Fredrickson, 2001). Consciously or unconsciously, positive emotions seekers tend to find positive emotions even in neutral situations and view the negative ones as part of a necessary personal growth (Diener & Biwas-Diener, 2008).

     

    Are people who experience more positive emotions happier?

     

    In his 2002 book Authentic Happiness, the “father” of Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman states that happiness (or well-being is now the correct term to use) can be achieved through:

    • The seeking of pleasure;
    • The seeking of engagement activities;
    • The search for meaning in life.

    In a research done in 2005, researchers Peterson, Park and Seligman set out to answer what makes a full life so different from the empty life? Mainly they were interested in knowing whether the experience of positive emotions through pleasure, engagement or meaning contributed to a sense of greater well-being and life satisfaction and if those 3 experiences were any different between themselves. They found evidence that all 3 types of positive experiences where key in building up a sense of general well-being and higher levels of life satisfaction. However the 3 types of experiences seemed to have no difference between themselves.

    Nonetheless, the authors still state that a life of eudemonia – the search for personal improvement and fulfillment – versus a life of hedonism – a constant seek for pleasure may result in a more enduring happiness. The idea that a life based on the search for meaning entails a happier life finds resonance in Viktor Frankl’s Logotherapy theory, where the key to leading a full life is a meaningful one.

     

    Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/70194213@N00/7161763179


  5. Are You Living Your Life on “Autopilot”?

    January 27, 2014

    Are You Living Your Life on Autopilot?

    Have you ever had the feeling you were living your life on automatic pilot? A similar metaphor could be when you get into your car and drive home without being aware of how you got there.  Living on autopilot is about having the same routines and doing the same activities every week or everyday without considering why you’re doing them in the first place.  And did it ever occur to you that not thinking about or even paying attention to what’s around you creates a big void in you? Suddenly days, weeks, years go by without fully being lived or experienced. Does time pass you by?  If you feel this way carry on reading the rest of this article.

    As human beings, we often don’t realize what a wonderful piece of nature’s engineering our brain is and the amount of potential it has. But our brain is also lazy and prone to go on “automatic mode”. Most of the time, this is a quite useful survival mechanism. Can you imagine yourself having to remember to breathe ever few seconds? It would be impossible to get anything done because it wouldn’t allow room for anything else! My point here is: although a very handy mechanism, going on “auto mode” all the time alienates you from your life and empties it of meaning. And isn’t true happiness in leading a life of meaning?

     

    How to return at being the master and commander of your life?

     

    Ever heard of mindfulness? Based on Buddhist thought, it was brought to the West in the 70’s and it has proven to be successful at helping people suffering from anxiety, depression and stress. In essence it helps people re-connect with themselves, others and what’s around you, preventing you from living an automated life.  It’s not a religion, it’s basically a therapeutic tool. Is it hard to be mindful? Read on and let us know what you think.

    5 Ways to become Mindful

     

    1. Stop. Yes, take 20 minutes off your busy life and meditate a while! Are you at the office? Good, sit back, close your eyes, and just listen to what’s around you. Block work from your mind, any worries and stop thinking about what to do next. Just focus on the here-and-now and your breathing. Feeling better? These 20 minutes of meditation will allow you to re-energize and concentrate on the job at hands.
    2. Overflow your senses. Too often we’re dependent on your vision to process and interpret the world. Would you be surprised if we told you our vision is not our most effective sense? So again, close your eyes, listen, smell, taste and touch! How often do you really enjoy a wonderful meal? Savoring each single taste of food and combination of flavors? Next time, take more than 10 minutes to really enjoy one of life’s greatest pleasures.
    3. Tune in your inner feelings. How are you feeling today right now? Did you know that most of psychological illnesses arise from poor processing of emotions? Everything seems piling up inside you unless you let go of some of that baggage. Talk to a friend, go to a therapist (!), but most important of all, listen to what you’re feeling. Those are the important signs that will help you take the right action.
    4. Enjoy.  Yes, feel the joy! What’s life without a little joy and fun? Life isn’t some punishment we’re meant to endure. Life is to be enjoyed and flavored. Go out and do something you really love, spend time with friends and family, re-connect to yourself!
    5. Be thankful.  This is a particular useful exercise. I do it all the time. Before you going to bed, think about all the people, things and experiences in your life you’re grateful for happening to you. Think about at least five. Might be hard at first, but if you do this often, you’ll soon realize your “Thank You” list is huge! Taking the time to think about all the wonderful people and events your life will surely help you re-connect with your life and lead a full on life!

     

    Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/aseraphin/6853190725

     


  6. How to Break the Mental Barriers Caused by Hopelessness and Anxiety

    September 18, 2013

    break mental barriers

    by Sue Chehrenegar

     

    Unlike a brick wall, a mental barrier is not something that is easy to see. Sometimes, friends and family members fail to note the telltale signs of hopelessness and helplessness. They fail to recognize the mental barrier that has resulted in a lack of positive thinking. The person who lacks such thinking often seems to expect that any experience will have a negative outcome.

    Some people fail to note the positive aspect to any situation. Some men and women even refuse to seek out the “silver lining” around any cloud. If such feelings of hopelessness and helplessness are carried to the extreme, the affected individual may find it impossible to see a reason for living. In other words, such a person has failed to recognize the meaning of life.

    Obviously, such feelings could cause someone to consider committing suicide. That is especially true if someone has refused to search for meaning. The people who answer calls to a suicide hot line must be ready to banish a caller’s anxious feelings and to instill renewed hope into the caller’s mind. The caller must show a caring attitude, so that there can be no question that the caller’s perception of failed hope must be re-examined.

    Mankind has been seeking help with problems for centuries. It could not have advanced to the point where it is today, if every potential inventor/innovator chose to give-up, when the going got tough. He or she gained the motivation to continue by recognizing the care and understanding in a friend or relative.  Even if you are not ready to recognize the love of your creator, you can learn to seek out and to find love in the world in which you live.

    That world is full of amazing gifts. As you come across more and more of the gifts that have been bestowed on the people of this world, you should understand better why you ought to be happy and hopeful. Ideally, you will feel less agitated. You will start to feel at ease in your heart and soul.

    Sometimes a person focuses on trying to have a normal life. In that case, he or she may get depressed, after suffering an illness. The person who must live with a medical condition may not have what others view as a normal life. However, once that condition has been treated properly, he or she can enjoy a full and useful life.

    Another behavior that can invite feels of despair is backstabbing. You are not going to have many friends, if you make a habit of backbiting about them constantly. No friend is perfect; still that fact should not be used as an excuse for being disloyal. Friends should help each other to strengthen their talents and skills and to eliminate any big weakness in their character.

    Recently, I learned about the death of a friend’s husband. Soon after I had been informed about that sad news, I discovered that a gentleman who was one of my Facebook friends had been the college roommate of the recently-deceased husband. He even posted on FB the picture of he and his roommate on the day of their graduation.

    At that time, both appeared full of hope. Both appeared to have a very positive attitude, although I do not think that either of them had a job at that time. Eventually both went to graduate school and became college professors. Each discovered how to confront challenges by finding a way to empower the spirit and strengthen exhausted nerves.

    A willingness to open the eyes can be used as a way to empower the spirit and strengthen the nerves. It can aid with recognition of the beauty and love that is in the world; it can facilitate a search for meaning. Those men and women who are ready to acknowledge the presence of that love and beauty are not apt to have disturbing thoughts. Each of them can look forward to a life that is full of meaning and hope.

     

     

    Author Bio: Sue Chehrenegar holds an MS in biomedical research. At one time, she was on the administrative body of a local faith-based group. While serving in that capacity, she had to study literature about violence in the home and listen to differences of opinion, as expressed by one or both members of an unhappy couple.

    Image Credit: Mark Sebastian at http://www.flickr.com/photos/markjsebastian/2820214199


  7. Can Books Help You Find The Meaning Of Life?

    September 11, 2013

    What is the meaning of life?

    by Jessica Galbraith

     

    Philosophers and forward thinking individuals have been searching for the ominous meaning of life since the beginning of human existence. Thousands upon thousands of books have been written on the subject, each author offering up their own explanation of life’s ultimate meaning and the mantras one should live by.

    Not everyone is a natural born explorer of the mind and author extraordinaire, so for those of us who are left to sift through the piles of material written by others, what can we expect to gain? Is it possible to learn about life and discover the meaning of our existence through reading a book? While looking at some of the most popular literary works that examine this issue, we can analyze the possible positive effects that they can have on our own lives as well as whether or not they can effectively answer humankind’s greatest question in their pages.

    You have to decide what’s the meaning of life

    Victor Frankl, the Nazi concentration camp survivor turned inspirational author, is best known for his philosophies that promote finding meaning in everything. From a man who experienced true suffering, he challenges all of us to discover beauty in tragedy and good in the bad. Frankl was the creator of Logotherapy, which is based on the concept that the meaning of life is all about finding what is important and meaningful in one’s own life. Readers all over the world have claimed that Frankl’s words have changed their lives, and his works such as “Man’s Search for Meaning” have sold over 10 million copies worldwide.

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  8. How To Find Meaning In Your Day To Day Life

    August 31, 2013

    In search for meaning

    by Amanda O’Donnell

     

    Maybe when it comes to meaningful life you’re already set and have your goals defined. Maybe you have several things you’re working towards long term that you know will eventually bring you great life satisfaction. Maybe you’re raising kids and providing for a family. Maybe you have two years until that big promotion, or five until retirement. Maybe… Regardless if you’re lucky enough to have definite direction, playing out your daily life can be disheartening. Reminding yourself of your eventual accomplishments or the future enjoyment you’ll take from your life can get less and less easy. Your mind wanders, fills with doubt. What if this isn’t worth it? What if you never make it to the part of your life you’ve worked for? What if you’re wasting the right now?

    Finding solace in the everyday life can offer you relief from what can sometimes feel like the mundane passing of days and tasks. Here are some simple steps in the direction of your personal fulfillment.

     

    Remind Yourself Of Your Good Fortune

     

    Create a schedule or some system of expressing appreciation and thankfulness that best works for you. For instance set aside five minutes three times a day to sit and ruminate about the good things in your life. If your mind wanders and a good thing leads you to a less good thing and then a bad, refocus. Allow one good thing to lead to another good thing. Fifteen minutes a day might not seem long at all, but you’d be surprised about how many things you can give thanks for within a five minute of meditation. If you’re more comfortable writing the things down then do so. If you feel that actually saying the things aloud would mean a little more to you, then give yourself time in the morning to hear yourself say them. What might feel silly at first can really develop into a regular pattern of thought. Focusing your thought flow into a purely positive, appreciative stream (even if only for a few minutes) can make you more likely to naturally return to those thoughts later. You’ll find yourself thinking more positively about your life and situation, even when your five minutes are up!

     

    Make An Effort To Go Out Of Your Way

     

    Time and time again it’s been proven that people experience another level of fulfillment when helping others. It’s repeated back at us so often it’s become easy to write off this advice as cliched or empty. If you can’t see yourself taking all that much from an afternoon at the soup kitchen, then don’t spend an afternoon there. Sit down and really ask yourself what causes, groups of people or situations you have a vested interest in, and then think about what you could do to help. If you’re truly interested in the cause you’re helping, you’re more likely to know better how to help! And if you find yourself drawing up blank, then take it upon yourself to find something you have a passion for and make yourself of use. However, don’t think that helping people need always mean signing a volunteer list or setting aside three hours to hand out fliers on Saturdays. There are all sorts of ways you can lend a hand in your day to day life; take advantage of them! Bring a coworker coffee, hold the door open, ask someone who looks down how they’re feeling and offer an ear. When you start training yourself to consider others in various situations you’ll find yourself less focused on your own issues or dissatisfaction.

     

    Challenge Yourself

     

    Often feeling dissatisfied with your life or situation can just be a response to boredom. It makes complete sense. As your brain adjusts to the routine of your life and comes to expect certain daily things, the less stimulation you experience and the less chance for experiencing positive feelings! Some of the best feelings come from true accomplishment: setting out to do things we’re not entirely capable we can do and then doing them. You can challenge yourself and offer yourself these experiences in or outside of your daily routine. For instance, set personal goals for yourself in your daily work or at home. Assign yourself to create something. You haven’t read about something before? Do so! Set physical feats. Take weekend trips to places you haven’t been and do things you haven’t done and (better yet) are maybe afraid to do. Give yourself every opportunity to take something from your life and from each day.

     

    Author Bio: Amanda O’Donnell is a freelance writer for Zimmet Vein and Dermatology.

    Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/76029035@N02/6829334723

     


  9. The #1 Necessity For A Satisfied Life

    April 19, 2013

    Field of Life

    Image Credit: Paul Esson

    by Don Sturgill

     

    Sigmund Freud’s pioneering work in psychoanalysis was based on the idea that human beings are primarily motivated by the desire for pleasure.

    Freud’s contemporary, Alfred Adler, argued that pleasure isn’t the root of motivation at all—power is what we really seek.

    Then came the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps and a perspective born from the depths of adversity: Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, said Viktor Frankl, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.

    The one thing necessary

     

    Our most important need, argued Frankl, is not to please ourselves or to rule over others, but to uncover the true meaning of life—to know why we live and what we should do. And the path to discovering that meaning is to listen to what life is asking of us.

    Both pleasure and power lose their grip when one discovers a “reason why.”

    To his Nazi captors, Viktor Frankl was known only as Prisoner #119104. To those who suffered with him in the concentration camps, though, he was a steady source of encouragement and a reassuring voice of wisdom.

    Many of Frankl’s fellow prisoners harbored bitterness and hatred against those who had imprisoned them for the “crime” of being Jews. But Viktor Frankl decided early on to keep his mind off the daily struggles of his untenable situation. Rather, Frankl endeavored to treat his plight as an “interesting psycho-scientific experiment.”

    He determined to view himself, not as an unfortunate victim of circumstance, but as a doctor with a front-row seat to events most people would only hear about after the fact. He was a participant in something incredible and significant.

    How to tell when someone will soon be dead

     

    “Why is it,” Frankl asked himself, “that one person perseveres and makes it through—despite the indignation and brutality—when a stronger and younger person may not?”

    By observing his fellow prisoners closely, he discovered how to predict who would be the next to die. None of the men were the picture of physical wellness; they all lived hungry and tired—yet there was one thing that distinguished those who would die from those who would live. Frankl saw a common factor emerge in the mindset of the doomed: They abandoned hope and gave in to despair.

    The will to meaning

     

    In Man’s Search for Meaning, the book he later wrote to chronicle his experiences in the concentration camps, Frankl made a poignant pronouncement:

    In the final analysis, everything can be taken from us—everything—but for one thing … we always retain the right to choose what we think about what is happening. We can never be forced to relinquish the most precious possession of all—our own mental attitude.

    The person who is able to find meaning in life—the person who sees obstacles as an inevitable part of life rather than as an end to life—is able to transcend even the most difficult circumstance to find a reason to go on living.

    Agreeing with an earlier maxim of Fredrich Nietzsche, Frankl wrote, “Those who have a why to live, can bear with almost any how.”

    An attitude of survival

     

    The original (German) title of Man’s Search For Meaning was Trotzdem ja zum Leben sagen, or “Still say Yes to Life.” When we say “Yes” to life, in spite of what life brings, we affirm that life is worth living, and we affirm that—in the end—the meaning of life trumps the tragedy of life.

    To lose hope is to deny meaning. It is to say the opposite—that life is not worth living—and, according to Frankl’s observations, those who maintain that line of thought are treading a sure path to an early death.

    What about you and me? Are we strong enough to reach down and hold on to the best of life, even during those black times when the worst of life is our portion?

    Trouble comes to all. Struggles come to all. It is our response, rather than the situation, that determines both our present and our future.

    By holding on to meaning, Frankl found a way to benefit from the unthinkable, to make sweet wine from sour grapes and to grow stronger through adversity.

    What is your “Reason why”? What is your “Yes” to life?

    If we don’t know and remember our answers to those questions, we may be hard-pressed to keep going when life seems cruel and unfair.

    And it will. For all of us.

     

    Author Bio: Don Sturgill lives and works in the Great Northwest, where life is good and hope endures.