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One of the Best Books I’ve Read

January 26, 2013


Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior

Shambhala:  The Sacred Path of the Warrior is not about how to become a ninja, how to do manly drum circles, or face-paint yourself for a hunt.  It’s about how to be genuine to yourself, how to feel peace and give that to others.  It’s prescriptive and spiritual at the same time.  It won’t give you a top 10 list of happy suggestions.  What it will do is coach you on some basic life practices that will give you clarity and insight, developing your mindfulness and basic goodness.  You’re a warrior because as Trungpa says “In ancient times the warrior learned to master the challenges of life, both on and off the battlefield. He acquired a sense of personal freedom and power–not through violence or aggression, but through gentleness, courage, and self-knowledge.”   This book  takes the reader onto the warrior path in search of self-mastery and a feeling of greater fulfillment.

 

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Quiet the Mind

January 23, 2013


By Jim Rettew

My priest would always start the service by saying a prayer to quiet our minds.  It’s no wonder.  Some experts say we think up to 1500 words a minute, and with all that chatter, its hard to relax.

We often hear dual voices in our brain.  One of the voices is the strong silent type.  Our bodies carry out quiet instructions from the brain – run, breathe, smile, relax – all without us really knowing about it because it works under the surface.  When this happens, we life in the zone.  Things feel effortless, calm, expected, and controllable.   The other is a chatty, negative voice, and it fills our head.  It’s parental, like a strict father.  It’s never happy, and it lets us know it.  It degrades us, globalizes negative events, and is loud and obnoxious.

You don’t have to buy into your thoughts.  You’re still the same good person, who knows what to do if the mind would just be quiet and get out of the way.  What went through your head are just thoughts, and thoughts are not real.  Just because you think something doesn’t mean it’s important.  Thoughts are like wispy little clouds, and you are a mountain.  You are the principle witness to decide whether they’re real or not, and the more you look at your thoughts, the more you’ll realize that your brain sometimes acts like a spoiled 5 year old having a temper tantrum.

The best way to stop the chatter, to quiet the mind, and to increase focus is through meditation.  As a meditative practice, simply observe the breathing process for five minutes or more. Do not force your breathing; observe it without interfering. Whenever any thoughts arise that distract you from your focus (and they will constantly), gently acknowledge them by labeling what you’re doing (“thinking”) let them go, and return your attention to your breath.   You don’t have to attack or relent to any thought.  Just look at it, observe it, and return to your breath as many times as you are distracted.   With practice, this will become a means of entry into a quiet mind and a life of flow.

Note to Self…Relax!

December 14, 2012


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Happiness Defined: When Was I Happy?

October 21, 2012


What makes us happy? What puts a sparkle in our eyes? What makes our step lively and our heart quicken? Do we know? Where do we find happiness?

Some look for it in a special someone; others in the fulfillment of a life ambition. Unfortunately, for too many, it has everything to do with the bottom line of their bank statement.

Obsessed

We live in a world obsessed with wanting to be happy. We go to extremes and do things that are sometimes ridiculous and often harmful and we invest all our time and treasure in its passionate pursuit.

Someone e-mailed me a story and I will share it, just to make a point.  Please, don’t charge me with plagiarism. It isn’t mine and I don’t know who wrote it.

“One day, a young lion asks his mom: “Mom, where is happiness?”

Mom replies: “It’s on your tail.” So the young lion keeps chasing his tail. But after a whole day of trying, he fails to find happiness.

When he tells his mom about this, she smiles and says: “Son, you don’t really need to chase after happiness. As long as you keep going and moving forward, happiness will always follow.”

Are you chasing your tail?

Best time

If you ask a person my age to describe our best time, it will probably be whatever we remember made us very happy. And because we have lived long and experienced life from different vantage points, we also know that our happy moments, like the sad ones, were not meant to last forever.

These were snippets of time, that had they lasted longer, would today not be half as precious as they are.

Instead, they are now suspended somewhere in space and time, just as they happened then, and we can bring them back by simply remembering.

I believe being happy is not a state of life, but merely a moment, or string of moments when all our “happiness gauges” hit an all-time high. Like the poet Robert Frost says: “Happiness makes up in height for what it lacks in length.”

Sad but true, we don’t know what we have until it is gone.  Happiness flees like an elusive butterfly, leaving behind just a glimpse of the flutter of its gossamer wings, and a subtle taste of honey.

One must, therefore, learn to live in that precise moment, to grasp it with both hands and with all our hearts etch it upon our souls.

I remember practically jumping out of my skin with excitement every time my older children came to visit.  I lived in Hawaii and they came in the summer and during the holidays. This was my happy time. I couldn’t wait to see them and hold them in my arms; but as soon as I did, I could taste the bitter tears of having to say goodbye.

Summers are not forever and holidays are over too soon.

I asked my cousin what makes her happy. “It is when I give to someone in need.”  There is no return expected. Not even gratitude. “Giving is its own reward.” Because I know her well, I also know she must be very happy indeed.

My daughter believes happiness is a place she can go to when the sad times come.  She draws from it as she would from a bank. A little bit like Peter Pan, she feels that all one needs is a little fairy dust.

Is life a state of happiness interrupted by moments of sadness or is it the other way around? Can anyoneanswer that?

Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish who is happy and who is not.  Like the proverb says, “that same girl who laughs and talks a lot and seems very happy is also the girl who may cry herself to sleep.”

Studies

Studies claim that people are happier in a small town, as opposed to a big metropolis where it is crowded and congested. So pray tell, how is it that I was so happy those many months in Manhattan?

My heart was in ribbons when I packed my bags and flew to New York, there to assist and lend moral support to a friend in legal trouble. It was a high-profile case and we were at once celebrity and pariah.

But in that nerve-wracking atmosphere I learned to set my woes aside. The tension over someone else’s troubles helped me keep my sanity.  It was not exactly the happiest place on earth to be.  But we had our moments: cheering when my friend was acquitted; sharing memories with an old writing buddy; gushing over the Christmas sights on 5th Avenue; weeping proudly watching Lea Salonga do “Miss Saigon.”

Polls show that 70 percent of people gainfully employed are happy. In studies of different age groups, the happiest are between 16 and 19. In the 65-79 bracket there is satisfaction.  Lowest in the polls are those between 55 and 59.

The measure of being happy is too often based on appearance, wealth or success. But one finds out soon enough that none of these give long-term happiness. It is not surprising to learn that the same study reveals being successful offers no guarantee.

My happiness

What makes me happy? Being with family tops my list; knowing that I am loved. What gives me the greatest satisfaction?  When I recognize my parents’ values in my children and grandchildren and realize that I may have been the bridge that caused those values to cross over to the newer generations. At least I would like to think I had something to do with it.

When was I happiest? I cannot give you a specific place, date or time. But today a whiff of cologne, a song, the sound of waves crashing on the beach, or the sight of a rainbow across a blue sky can bring it all back.  In a few seconds, I am transported to that time and place and, yes, I am happy.

But this is by no means the end of the line. I believe that no matter how happy I may have been at any moment in my life, I can expect to be much happier still in the future. Am I dreaming?

Does Wisdom Bring Happiness (or Vice Versa)?

August 24, 2012


By Robert Wright of the Atlantic

“The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts,” said Marcus Aurelius. If he’s right, the path to well-being is straightforward: Avoid low-quality thoughts!

Sadly, it’s far from clear that he’s right. Decades of research into the relationship between reasoning ability and well-being have failed to find a clear link. But now comes a ray of hope for high-quality thinkers–a study suggesting that Marcus Aurelius is right so long as you define “quality of thought” carefully. And the study comes with a good pedigree–it will be published in the prestigious Journal of Experimental Psychology and features the eminent psychologist Richard Nisbett among its co-authors.

Wisdom.JPGWhat’s correlated with well-being, say Nisbett, Igor Grossman, and three other authors, isn’t reasoning ability in the abstract but rather “wise reasoning”–reasoning that is “pragmatic,” helping us “navigate important challenges in social life.”

So, for starters, how did the researchers measure wise reasoning? Subjects in this study read a series of accounts of social conflicts and Dear-Abby-like dilemmas and then, in oral interviews, were invited to discuss how the stories might unfold in the future. Their responses were rated along such dimensions as “considering the perspectives of people involved in the conflict,” “recognizing uncertainty and the limits of knowledge,” and “recognizing the importance of … compromise between opposing viewpoints.” These ratings were the basis for a “wise reasoning” score.

For each of the subjects a second score was calculated that was intended to measure well-being. Its components included reported satisfaction with their lives and with their social relationships and a tendency toward positive expression.

It turned out that the two scores were correlated: the wiser people were, the higher their well-being.

Three interesting wrinkles:

[1] The older you get, the stronger the correlation. Wise young adults didn’t exhibit much higher well-being than unwise young adults, but wise senior citizens had considerably higher well-being than their unwise peers. (Compare the slopes of the lines in the graph above.) So if you’re young, cultivating wisdom is mainly a long-term investment. (That’s probably a weak sales pitch for wisdom, since young people aren’t known for thinking long term. I’m tempted to say they lack the wisdom to seek wisdom, but that would mean departing from this study’s definition of wisdom, so never mind.)

[2] A second age-related issue: Well-being increases with age, and so does wise reasoning. Is it possible that getting older increases well-being and wisdom independently–that the wisdom itself has no effect on well-being? After all, gray hair increases with age and so does joint stiffness, but gray hair doesn’t cause joint stiffness.

Wisdom2.JPGThrough a statistical technique that I don’t claim to grasp, the authors conclude that the answer is mixed. Part of the increase in well-being associated with age is caused by growing wisdom, but part of the increase happens for some other reason. That is, wisdom, is a “partially mediating” variable between age and well-being.

[3] Another causality question: Leaving aside the age issue, how should we interpret the general correlation between wise reasoning and well-being? Assuming a causal link between these two variables, does the wisdom lead to the well-being or does the well-being lead to the wisdom?

The latter is certainly plausible. When I’m in a good mood, it’s easier to consider the perspectives of other people, and easier to focus on compromise–two components of wisdom as defined here. And presumably if I were in a good mood more often–if I had an enduringly high sense of well-being–my ability to thus exercise wisdom would remain pretty high.

The authors consider this question and offer grounds for doubting that it’s the well-being that causes the wisdom, but they concede that the issue isn’t completely settled.

I’m guessing the answer is a little of both: Wisdom leads to well-being, and well-being paves the way for wisdom–and, in particular, for wise action, not just a capacity for wise reasoning.

If that’s true, then you can imagine getting swept up in a virtuous circle: Acting wisely reduces conflict in your life and strengthens your social relationships, and this fosters a sense of well-being that makes it easier to act wisely, and so on. But there’s also the vicious circle scenario–a downward spiral featuring growing unhappiness, commensurately unwise action, deeper unhappiness, and so on.

The virtuous circle scenario is certainly more appealing. And it sounds like it wouldn’t be that hard. But I’m old enough to know better.

Does Happiness Live In A Quiet Room?

August 8, 2012


By 

The sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room. — Pascal

This is a curious quote, and certainly counter to common wisdom, which tells us that connections and community are the road to bliss while solitude and silence lead to serial killing.

Of course, I’m being facetious. As an introvert, I’m all for staying quietly in one’s room, and I find solitude not only pleasant, but necessary. Staying quietly in my room is easy. But has that inoculated me from unhappiness? Of course not.

Granted, Pascal is not saying that solitude prevents unhappiness, only that the inability to be alone is the cause of unhappiness. And not just a cause, the sole cause.

That’s big talk.  I don’t buy it.

Avoiding solitude may perpetuate unhappiness. With lots of running around, we can distract ourselves from important matters, staying too busy to hear our little inner voice begging for whatever it is we need most. Unless of course what we need most is lots of people.

But solitude has drawbacks too. Some people are a little too good at sitting quietly in their rooms and ruminating, which is a risk factor for depression. And often when rumination starts taking you to bad places, getting out and connecting with people is a good way to abort that downward spiral.

I suppose this quote is sort of a corollary to “An unexamined life is not worth living” (sez Socrates). I believe this to be true. Examining my life is one of my favorite pastimes, in solitude or not. But an examined life neither guarantees nor precludes happiness. It can only help point the way to happiness and meaning. Then we have to make it happen, which may or may not require leaving our room. I would venture to say it almost certainly will require stepping out at some point, although you may feel free to convince me otherwise.

Introverts and extroverts can get pretty testy with each other—I see it happen all the time on my blog about introversion. Introverts can be, frankly, kind of defensive. They’ve been told their way is wrong for so long, some of them lash out a bit, dissing extroverts as shallow and unevolved. So this quote will probably appeal to them. I get it.

I guess my main beef with the quote is the word “sole.” (And “in his room.” Solitude is perfectly nice in other locales, too.) That seems to be overstating the matter a bit. Sure, the ability to spend time alone is good for our mental and emotional well-being, But happiness and unhappiness are far too complex to be attributable to one cause. Everything in moderation. Some solitude, some company, some time in your room, some time out of it. Balance is best.

Spending time alone is great and I believe everyone should develop the ability. But it can’t work miracles.

My book, The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World, is available for pre-order on Amazon. It will be released December 4, just in time for party/festive/family-togetherness season. You know you need it.

Stop Negative Thought Patterns by Mapping Them Out

May 31, 2012


Thought Mapping Worksheet (Try it by clicking here!)

For stubborn fears and thoughts, I fill out a worksheet that helps me analyze my thoughts (based off of the book Mind over Mood by Dennis Greenberger.) On the left hand column, I write the who, what, when, where, how of the bothering situation (e.g. I am feeling stressed and overloaded with work and family duties). Next, I write my mood and rating, such as stress 95%. Next column, I write any thoughts and images that come to mind and circle the one thats the hottest or most intense (I’m sinking.  I’m underwater.  I’m on a treadmill!) Then, I provide evidence that supports these thoughts (I missed my son’s last soccer game and I’ve come home late three nights this week.)

Now we start to get out of the mire. In the next column, I write down evidence that does not support the negative thought (Though I missed the last one, I’ve made plenty of other games this season.) In the next column, I write down a more balanced, alternative thought (I’m stressed, but I’ve handled this situation before. These are things I get to do, not have to do.) Finally, I rate their same moods again as in column two (stress 60%).

A worksheet like this may seem cumbersome, but to effectively uninstall thought processes that are ingrained over a lifetime, we need to slow and analyze the thought process to this level of detail. The worksheet helps us not be a victim of our thoughts, but analyze them to see if they’re credible. Do this over a number of months, and you will see results.

Try it with the worksheet attached.

Quiet the Mind by Tuning into Your Senses

May 28, 2012


Dish washing meditationWhen I wake up to songs playing in my head, it usually means one of three things: 1) its a really good tune, 2) its trying to tell me something, or 3) I have a restless mind and its time to meditate.  Number three often prevails.

However, in our busy lives, its hard to find time every morning to sit on the cushion.  Certainly, the urgency of preparing for work and getting the kids out the door to school often trumps the necessity of meditative practice time.

What I’ve found is that meditation doesn’t have to be confined to the cushion.  You can practice throughout the day by tuning into your five senses.

At this very moment, what are you hearing?  What are you feeling?  Even if its just the keys on your keyboard, the feel of those keys goes unnoticed.  Even if its just the hum of your air conditioner, that sound goes unnoticed.  By honing into these senses, your brain will start to flatline and get more peaceful.  Try it.

How about taste?  We eat so fast that we don’t taste our food any more.  Try eating smaller bites and really try to analyze what you’re tasting.  Spend 30 seconds on each bite of Ben & Jerrys and you’ll not only enjoy it more, you’ll probably eat less!

You want a good meditative activity?  Try dishes, something there is no shortage of.  What does the water feel like?  The soap?  Play attention to the sound of dishes placed into the dishwasher.  Pay attention to the feel of which muscles are firing to place them there.  Suddenly, a mundane task like dishes is a chance to calm your nerves.

Even if you practice this ‘senses’ meditation, your mind will stray back to your restless thoughts.  No worries.  No drama.  Even if you’re able to get five seconds of peace, that’s a victory!  Next time it might be ten seconds.  Any break in obsessive thoughts patterns is a positive step.

You don’t have to wait for cushion time to quiet the mind.  Pay attention to your senses and enjoy a meditative practice throughout the day.

Happiness is a Click Away

May 24, 2012 1 Comment


By Nicole Pollard, ksl.com Contributor

Negative thoughts are a lot like Gremlins, the pesky little creatures from the popular ’80s movie. The more you feed them, the more they multiply.

It’s been said that you become what you think about most of the time. In the U.S., where one in 10 adults suffers from depression, it’s apparent that most Americans have a difficult time controlling the proverbial snowball of negative thoughts we can have.

Hilary Weeks, the popular faith-based singer and speaker, has felt firsthand the power that negative thoughts can have when you feed into them.

Weeks was told that most people have around 300 negative thoughts every day. Fascinated with the statistic, she started an experiment to find out if it was true. She purchased a small counter, or clicker, and counted her negative thoughts for one whole week. After a week of pausing to recognize each downer and disappointment with a click, she felt drained and low. She wondered if giving the same attention to positive thoughts could have the opposite effect. If we pause to recognize blessings, hope and everything good in our lives with a simple “click,” it could lead to that shared goal we all strive for: happiness.

Weeks has created a website inspired by this experience, billionclicks.org . It’s a movement that encourages people everywhere to “click” as a reward for their positive thoughts and actions. “Clickers” even log in to report their tallies in the hope that one day the site will reach one billion clicks — an idea that Weeks believes can change the world. So far, nearly half a million clicks have been reported from participants who believe in the motto, “Think. Click. Be.”

“By ‘Be’ we mean be successful, be determined, be dedicated, be better, be motivated and be your best self,” Weeks said. “Clicking is a tool for becoming who we are truly meant to be. Ideally clickers will learn to seek the positive and believe in who they are and what they can achieve.”

There may be skeptics who think something as simple as a hand-held counter couldn’t possibly make any significant difference, but research on depression has shown that consciously filtering out negative thoughts and recording gratitude can truly bring about change.

“Flossing our teeth is simple. Putting a fabric softener sheet in the dryer is simple. Flipping on a light switch is simple. There is nothing complicated or complex about any of those things, and yet they have a huge impact for good in our lives,” Weeks said. “We don’t refuse floss or dryer sheets just because they lack complexity. Clicking is simple, and that’s the beauty of it.”

The “click movement” is growing in popularity with frustrated mothers, teachers dealing with behavioral problems in the classroom, people struggling with their weight, and those who want an immediate reward that promises to start a chain reaction of positivity.

“A teenage young woman recently shared that she used clicking while she was getting ready for school in the morning to boost her self-esteem. One man was introduced to clicking just six days before he passed away from cancer. He clicked each ‘I love you.’ When he passed away, there were 32 clicks on his clicker,” Weeks said.

Hilary is the only Latter-Day Saint artist to debut in the top 10 of Billboard’s Christian Album list with her eighth album, “Every Step.” She’s also a popular speaker at “Time Out For Women,” a motivational conference for women sponsored by Deseret Book. With so much on her plate, Weeks acknowledges that her positive approach aides in her success.

“Being positive and grateful certainly doesn’t hurt,” Weeks explained. “And on the days when I am tempted to doubt myself and my goals, I know what will help. I pull out my clicker and start filling my mind with thoughts that will get me to where I want to be.”

“Every click is a little more good added to the world — and clearly, the world needs it. Every effort, action and movement that inspires goodness is reason to celebrate.”

Assess Your Thoughts Better

April 9, 2012


By Jim Rettew

Note:  This is the third part in a three-part series.  The first two parts can be found at https://breatheoutandsmile.wordpress.com/2012/03/28/moving-beyond-happiness-is-a-choice/ and also at “Quiet the Mind” at https://breatheoutandsmile.wordpress.com/2012/03/29/quiet-the-mind-2/.

So hopefully by now you’ve:

  • Realized that in many cases, thoughts provoke feelings, and that by getting control over your thoughts, you can better control your happiness
  • Noticed that not every thought is important or real.
  • Started a meditation practice to quiet the mind and better identify your thoughts as they come up.

Now that you’ve slowed down your monkey mind and can better recognize your thoughts, its time to better assess them.

How often do we think in worst possible scenario?  We catastrophize, and if we’re unhappy, we might do it a lot and ruminate about it over and over again.  If we had a cut on our finger, it’s the mental equivalent of touching the open wound over and over again and then thinking that we’re going to lose the entire hand.

How then do we get a more accurate interpretation of our thought?  The ‘thought-emotion’ process happens so fast that its hard to stop and access it.  If only we could get out of our monkey minds and into our rational minds?

Creating a thought record helps us do exactly that.  A thought record is a process to take negative thoughts, analyze them objectively, and come up with a better, more realistic thought. This process should be done over and over again until it become habitual.  It is only through repetition and practice that this new thought pattern will become ingrained.  For each troubling thought, here’s what I want you to do.

1. Turn a piece of paper horizontal, and make a table with seven columns. In the first column, write a description of the situation that led to your negative thought. (Example: gave a speech at work in front of the board, lost my place, wasn’t very articulate, couldn’t answer their questions well. Basically, I flopped.)

2. List your mood in one word descriptions and rate the intensity of each 0-100% (eg. nervous 90%, scared 80%, embarrassed 100%)

3. List your current negative thoughts (hot thoughts). (Example: “I choke under pressure.” “I can’t do this.” “I’m going to get fired.”  “I just made an ass of myself.”)

4. Circle the worst one (“I’m going to get fired.”), and list all your supporting evidence for this thought.  (“My boss wasn’t pleased.  People were whispering and looking at me afterwards.  No one would look me in the eye.”)

5. List all the evidence that doesn’t support your hot thought. (“I had a great performance review last time. I’ve given many great speeches and presentations before.  The questions were hard, unforeseeable, and anyone would have had difficulty with them, including my boss.”)

6. Write a new more objective thought. (“Yes, I screwed up publicly, but that happens sometimes when you put yourself out there.  Let’s use this as a teaching moment, apologize to my boss, and learn from it.”)

7. List all the ways this new objective thought makes you feel and rate them 0-100% (optimistic, light-hearted, energized, etc.) In addition, take all the moods you listed in column 2, write them again, and rate the new intensity of each one (nervous 40%, scared 20%, embarrassed, 50%.)

Do this over and over, and you’ll hard wire your brain to think differently, even without writing it all down.

Whether its a big event like a breakup, or a smaller event like a bad presentation, the thoughts are usually big, catastrophic, and global (I’ll always be alone.” “I’m going to get fired.” “I’ll never amount to anything.”)  These negative thoughts lead to global beliefs that can be extremely limiting, and they lead to emotions such as fear, anger, embarrassment, resentment, and inadequacy.

This is where ‘happiness is a choice’ comes into play – whether you want to accept this negative thought pattern or develop a more realistic, healthy one.  It’s not about, “oh, I want to be happy, so I’ll just choose to be so.”  It’s about doing the work to set up a new neuron trail in your brain that is frankly more representative of the truth.

You won’t be perfect at this.  Like all bad habits, in stressful and anxious situations, you’ll revert to old habits.  However, when you think “I’m a failure at this”, just recognize that its a thought, its not necessarily true just because you thought it, and go through your new pattern to better assess the situation.  Or better yet, just let that negative thought just pass right on by, like a wispy cloud traveling by a granite mountain.

Hope this helped.  Let me know.  Write a comment, post your own suggestions, or forward this to someone you think it might help.

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