2 simple exercises to boost your happiness

balance

Guest article by Dineke Kroesbergen

When I talk to a new coaching client, I always begin by explaining what positive psychology is. People tend to think that it’s only about looking at the upside of life while trying to avoid negative things, but it goes way beyond this superficial notion. When you implement positive practices from this field, you don’t disregard the bad stuff – you learn how to deal with it more resiliently while keeping the focus on the positive. You gently tip the balance toward a greater sense of well-being.

You can’t outrun the bad things in life, but you can counterbalance them by adding good stuff into the mix. Because of the negativity bias, we tend to give more weight to bad things and see positive things as neutral or normal – not special. However, when we learn to refocus our attention by becoming aware of all the good in our lives, we can rewire our brain over time.

To do this, I recommend combining two exercises: 3 Good Things and the Balance Exercise.

3 Good Things

The positive psychology exercise 3 Good Things asks you to focus on three good things that happened to you on a given day. In the beginning, you might find it difficult to come up with something that you consider “good enough” to be on your list – that’s perfectly normal and no reason for self-criticism. You will find that it gets easier over time and that once you think of one good thing, more good things tend to follow. It’s best to do the exercise daily for 10 minutes until it becomes a habit.

For each good thing, give it a title (a sentence that summarizes what happened), then write down as much detail as possible. Try to recall how you felt during the event and consider how it makes you feel now. The final step is to write about how this event came about – what caused it?

For example, a 3 Good Things entry might look like this: 

  1. My boyfriend cooked me my favorite dinner.
  2. When I came home tonight, I was surprised to find my boyfriend cooking my favorite dish. He knows how much I love it. He had set the table and uncorked a bottle of wine when I entered the dining room. Soft tones of Katie Melua music and the delicious smell of this lovely food filled the room with warmth.
  3. The event made me feel very loved and appreciated. When I think back, I still feel warm and happy inside.
  4. It happened because my boyfriend took the time to show me his appreciation of our relationship, like I also do on occasion.

The Balance Exercise

To get even more benefit from 3 Good Things, you can combine it with the Balance Exercise.

Take out a sheet of paper and divide it into four columns. Columns 1 and 2 are titled Energy Givers and columns 3 and 4 Energy Takers. Columns 1 and 3 get the subtitle Things I Can Do Without and 2 and 4 are called Things That Have to Be Done. Look back on a representative week and fill in the columns with as many items as possible. For example: Column 1: reading, Column 2: spending time with friends, Column 3: grocery shopping, Column 4: commitments concerning my job.

This exercise alerts you to “energy leaks” that are tipping your well-being balance toward the negative. See if things in column 4 are really necessary or if you can handle them differently (or let them be handled for you). Maybe, after a closer look, they aren’t as nonnegotiable as you thought.

Furthermore, try to come up with new things you can add to the Energy Givers column. To do this, you can now consult your 3 Good Things exercise: pick out the things that routinely make you feel good and try to schedule them for the future. Planning things by writing them down is proven to work better than just planning them in your head.

In combining the Balance Exercise with 3 Good Things, we come to a better understanding of happiness: it’s about taking responsibility and consciously adding things to your life that make you feel good, while leaving out things that are unnecessarily dragging you down.

Photo by Flickr user Digitalnative

Dineke KroesbergenDineke Kroesbergen is a psychologist from the Netherlands. She studied Social Psychology and is currently working on becoming an expert in Positive Psychology. She has recently started her own company Happiness First, which focuses on coaching people to obtain more happiness in life, in order to reach their full potential. The three cornerstones for this are: finding a sense of serenity within yourself, obtaining good relationships with people around you, and from that focusing on becoming the best you can be. She also offers coaching internationally through Skype. For more information, see www.happinessfirst.nl

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3 ways to be mindful without meditating

coffee meditation

Guest article by Kristen Truempy

When people hear mindfulness, they usually think about meditation. But meditation is not the only way to become mindful. Actually, almost anything you enjoy is perfectly suited to improve your mindfulness.

Before we start, let’s look at what we mean by mindfulness: the ability to direct our attention and to experience what is going on in the present moment. Being present in the moment increases the quality of the experience we are having, so it’s not just about future benefits. It’s about letting the present truly touch you.

1. Writing

When I started writing short stories, I suddenly became much more aware of my surroundings. I left the house each day and experienced something new: a glittering piece of plastic or a whiff of earthy river that I had passed by for years and years. My writing friends forced me to take notice and use these details in my stories.

When you write, the character you’re describing does not just drive a car but actually drives a frog-green Mini because it’s an ice-breaker with the ladies. Details matter – without the lost glove on the street or the smeared coffee cup, readers are less willing to enter your fictional dream because it just doesn’t seem real enough. So if you’re interested in writing, that can be a great way to hone your powers of observation and mindful recording of what’s going on. 

2. Photography

Photography deepened my mindfulness by teaching me to pay attention to the quality of light, where it’s coming from, and how lines are everywhere, from actual lines at pedestrian crossings to the ones our eyes perceive when we see a few lampposts in a row.

My point is that the ability to work on our attention can be practiced when we’re doing things we enjoy and are motivated to learn anyway. If you don’t like meditation for some reason, it doesn’t mean that the benefits of mindfulness have to elude you forever. You can enter mindfulness through any activity you enjoy.

3. Sports

Games like soccer are another wonderful way of practicing mindfulness. You pay attention to people’s strengths and weaknesses because you want to beat them. “That guy is a fast runner, but can’t stop a ball well enough to hold on to it.” This very ability to notice small things about our fellow human beings is a great way to train your attention. If you can do it on the soccer field, you can do it in daily life.

Writing, photography, and sports are only three possibilities to train mindfulness without meditation. Can you think of any others?

Why would you care about such things? Because even one tiny moment, devoid of anything loud and exciting, can be filled with so much happiness that you remember it forever. Even years later, you can experience profound peace in recalling the simple act of watching a waiter pick up used coffee cups with a clink or staring at a spider web full of twinkling raindrops illuminated by the sun. Meditation surely helps, but it’s not the only way to mindful living.

Photo by Flickr user { lillith } 

Kristin TruempyKristen Truempy accidentally discovered the strengths approach when she was 11 years old and captain of a girl’s soccer team. She used her skills of keen observation to discover each player’s talent, structured the practices accordingly, and a year later the team won the cup. In 2012, she had to admit to herself that this experience would not suffice to convince companies to pay her to set the strengths of their employees free, so she embarked on the adventure that is obtaining a Master of Science in Applied Positive Psychology (and recently passed). She can be found at http://strengthsphoenix.com/listen.