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Greater Happiness in 5 Minutes a Day

Might be that sitting with your legs crossed repeating stuff like “May all beings be free from suffering,” is a little too far-out for you. I’m a scientist for crying out loud, so you can imagine how I might feel meditating while surrounded by prominent neuroscientists, which I once did on a 7-day silent meditation retreat. Except that I actually didn’t feel silly.

Why?

Because research demonstrates the incredible power of loving-kindness meditation: No need to be self-conscious when this stuff might be more effective than Prozac. Also called metta, loving-kindness meditation is the simple practice of directing well-wishes towards other people.

Here’s How to Do It

The general idea is to sit comfortably with your eyes closed, and imagine what you wish for your life. Formulate your desires into three or four phrases. Traditionally they would be something like this:

May I be healthy and strong. May I be happy. May I be filled with ease. Loving-kindness meditation is a simple repetition of these phrases, but directing them at different people. I do this with my kids before bed. We visualize together who we are directing the metta towards, and at first I say something (May you be happy) and the kids repeat it after me. After a few repetitions, we start saying them in unison. The phrases we use are “May you be healthy and strong. May you be happy. May you be peaceful.

1. Start with by directing the phrases at yourself: May I be happy.

2. Next, direct the metta towards someone you feel thankful for or someone who has helped you.

3. Now visualize someone you feel neutral about—people you neither like nor dislike. This one can be harder than you’d think: Makes me realize how quick we can be to judge people as either positive or negative in our lives.

4. Ironically, the next one can be easier: visualizing the people you don’t like or who you are having a hard time with. Kids who are being teased or bullied at school often feel quite empowered when they send love to the people making them miserable.

5. Finally, direct the metta towards everyone universally: “May all beings everywhere be happy.

In this 3-minute video, Sylvia Boorstein, author of Happiness is an Inside Job, teaches how to do this. Another good resource is Sharon Salzberg—she wrote Loving-Kindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness. Doing this with kids of all ages doesn’t need to be complicated; most are good at using their imaginations to send love and well-wishes. You don’t really need to read books about this: loving-kindness meditation is as simple it seems. People write books about it because it is so powerful.

Here’s What You Get When You Send Love

Loving-kindness meditation does far more than produce momentary good feelings. Over a nine week period, research showed that this type of meditation increased people’s experiences of positive emotions. (If you are working on improving your ratio of positive to negative emotions, start with metta!) The research shows compellingly that it actually puts people on “trajectories of growth,” leaving them better able to ward off depression and “become ever more satisfied with life.” This is probably because it increases a wide range of those resources that make for a meaningful and successful life, like having an increased sense of purpose, stronger social support, and less illness. Research even shows that loving-kindness meditation “changes the way people approach life” for the better.

I’ve blogged before about social connections and how important they are for health and happiness. Doing a simple loving-kindness meditation can make us feel less isolated and more connected to those around us: one study showed that a SINGLE SEVEN MINUTE loving-kindness meditation made people feel more connected to and positive about both loved ones and total strangers, and more accepting of themselves. Imagine what a regular practice could do!

Photo courtesy of Emily Huang





Coach Your Kids to Emotional Literacy

Studies show that kids who are emotion coached experience fewer negative emotions and recover more quickly when they are upset.

Upset ChildRegister for our Raise Kids’ Emotional Intelligence online class to learn what do do when children have emotional outbursts and how to tap into kids’ self-motivation to do boring but necessary tasks.

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  • Learn why bribes, threats and rewards tend to backfire in the long-run — and why they undermine kids’ creativity and problem solving skills.
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  • Learn strategies for tapping into kids’ self-motivation, even for boring household chores. Self-motivated kids are more successful, perceive themselves to be more competent, and are less anxiety prone.

This online class (theme Four from the Raising Happiness Homestudy) includes five video classes, online discussion groups, weekly practices, and the opportunity to receive online coaching with Dr. Christine Carter. Learn more here.

Now get continuing education credits!
Raising Happiness is a licensed CEU provider by the California Board of Behavioral Sciences. Our license number is PCE 5355. Learn more here.





Happiness Tip: Build Anticipation for Something Fun

The sheer number of positive emotions we experience relative to negative ones affects how happy we are generally; for that reason, excitement about future events can be a great source of positive emotions. Studies show that positive anticipation can bring us as much or more pleasure than the actual event itself.

Take Action: Plan something fun for next week or even this spring, and then do something to build excitement. For example, if you are going to a sporting event or play with a friend, send your friend an “I’m so excited!” email, or let yourself read a review or article about the team or event.

Join the Discussion: What is your favorite way to build excitement about a future event? How do you savor the good things in your life? Share your ideas in the comments!





Friday Inspiration: Anything for Love

Ready for a good cry? This is one of the most touching demonstrations of selflessness and love I’ve seen in quite some time. How far would YOU go to support a friend?





Thursday Thought

The most certain sign of wisdom is cheerfulness.”
– Michel de Montaigne





Emotion Coaching for Children

In this video from Kids in the House, I give you some tips for managing kids’ emotional outbursts.

Check out my Boosting Emotional Intelligence and Self-Motivation online class for much more on this subject.





Raise Kids’ Social and Emotional Intelligence

Studies show that kids who are emotion coached experience fewer negative emotions and recover more quickly when they are upset.

Side view of young mother comforts crying baby girlRegister for our Raise Kids’ Emotional Intelligence online class to learn what do do when children have emotional outbursts and how to tap into kids’ self-motivation to do boring but necessary tasks.

.
  • Learn why bribes, threats and rewards tend to backfire in the long-run — and why they undermine kids’ creativity and problem solving skills.
    .
  • Learn strategies for tapping into kids’ self-motivation, even for boring household chores. Self-motivated kids are more successful, perceive themselves to be more competent, and are less anxiety prone.

This online class (theme Four from the Raising Happiness Homestudy) includes five video classes, online discussion groups, weekly practices, and the opportunity to receive online coaching with Dr. Christine Carter. Learn more here.

Now get continuing education credits!
Raising Happiness is a licensed CEU provider by the California Board of Behavioral Sciences. Our license number is PCE 5355. Learn more here.





Friday Inspiration: Want to be happier? Stay in the moment

Fascinating scientific presentation of how mind-wandering may be draining your happiness quotient. One of the more surprising findings is that even when people’s minds wander off to pleasant things, they’re less happy than when they are fully present in the moment.





Thursday Thought

Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”
– Theodore Roosevelt





Losing My Mindfulness

Portrait of scared baby against crazy mother with pan on headWhat do I do when I have a “bad mother” moment?  What can we do instead of losing our temper?

Here’s the short answer: try to be more mindful.  In the heat of the moment, I may feel like I’m losing my mind, but really I’ve lost my mindfulness.

What is Mindfulness, Really?

Like gratitude, altruism, and strong social ties, mindfulness is definitely a part of the happiness Holy Grail. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the scientist who first “translated” Buddhist practices of mindfulness into a secular program, defines mindfulness as the “awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experiences moment by moment.”

You can try being mindful right here, right now. What are you feeling in your body right now? What themes do your thoughts keep returning to—can you notice and label them? Mindfulness is not necessarily a lack of emotion or a state of total calm. We can be feeling furious and pay mindful attention to that experience. Nor is mindfulness necessarily the suppression of thought, or an altered state of consciousness. Mindfulness is often a running conversation with ourselves, describing our experiences as they are happening: I am feeling really frustrated with Fiona…. And then stepping back to label: …frustrated, frustrated. I’m not dealing with her behavior. Denial, not dealing. I just want to get done with this grocery shopping and get out of here. I want her to stop taunting her sister. Wanting, wanting. Notice the lack of judgment that is a part of Kabat-Zinn’s definition: I’m reporting what is, not chastising myself for feeling angry at my daughter or for not dealing with her bad behavior.

Parenting Mindfully

Practicing mindfulness doesn’t just lead to decreased stress and increased pleasure in parenting, but it also brings profound benefits to kids. Parents who practiced mindful parenting for a year were more satisfied with their parenting skills and their interactions with their children—though no new parenting practices beyond just being mindful had been taught to them. Amazingly, over the course of the year-long study, the behavior of these mindful parents’ kids also changed for the better: they got along better with their siblings, were less aggressive, and their social skills improved. All their parents did was practice mindfulness!

So how do we parent mindfully? It takes constant practice. I am well-trained in mindfulness practices, but I still struggle. An example of real-life unmindful parenting: the other morning everyone woke up late, and Molly was making us even later. Instead of getting dressed she was drawing. I called from the other room, “Did you feed the dog?” which prompted her to go get her pet rat out of the cage. Without actually taking note of the situation—without any mindfulness, that is—I became more and more irritated with her.

I started to bark orders. “Molly! Get dressed!” And then I let loose a doozy: “Molly! What is up with you!? It is like you are 3 years old, not 6! Do I need to come in there and dress you myself?” For the record, I’ve never found insulting my children to be particularly effective, and it didn’t work this time, either. She flew into a rage, screaming things like, “I’m not going to listen to you if you use mean words!”

If I could rewind the morning and begin more mindfully, things would have been entirely different. All I really needed to do was to take stock of the situation: notice my feelings of anxiety and exhaustion. Notice that Molly’s exhaustion was also making her distractible and emotional, and gently help her stay focused rather than boss her around.

Accepting the situation non-judgmentally—rather than futilely trying to force it to be something other than it was, or chastising myself for sleeping through the alarm—would have left me open to more productive and positive alternatives.

For me, the keys to mindful parenting are as follows: first, notice what is happening (and what you’re feeling and thinking) and second, accept what is going on without judgment.

If you want to become a more mindful parent—and reap the incredible benefits that come along with it—I highly recommend Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book on this subject, Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parentingpre-order Shauna Shapiro’s new book Mindful Discipline: A Loving Approach to Setting Limits and Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, or if you are a new mother, Cassi Vieten’s book Mindful Motherhood. For additional support, check out Mindful Parenting, my online class that teaches how mindfulness can not only make you happier but your kids less stressed.