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Aug 24 16

The Best Gift is to Give

by Beth

GIving giftAs I was checking out of a hotel a few days ago, the receptionist asked me to wait a minute because she couldn’t find the charge for my parking. When she realized they had forgotten to charge me she said, “You know what? It’s my birthday, so I’m going to give you the parking for free!” Wasn’t that nice? It sure was a great start to my day!

It reminded me of the Spanish birthday tradition of giving to others. Children take bags of candy to school on their birthdays to share with their friends. Adults invite friends and family out to dinner. It struck me as a bit odd when I first moved to Madrid, because I was used to others giving me things on my birthday. But the truth is, giving to others is a great birthday gift. Studies consistently support the idea that “it is better to give than to receive.” Giving makes us happy!

In one study, researchers gave students at the University of British Columbia an envelope with either $5 or $20. Half of the students were instructed to spend the money on themselves and the other half were instructed to spend the money on someone else. The students who gifted the money were happier and the results were the same for both amounts of money. In a much larger study of people from 136 countries, researchers also discovered a relationship between spending money on others and happiness. The effect was found even in very poor countries. So it seems that people everywhere experience emotional benefits from giving to others.

A few weeks ago one of my friends spent her entire Saturday making sandwiches and distributing them to people at a shelter in Washington D.C. They were celebrating her friend’s birthday. She had asked a group of people to bring sandwich makings to her home where they assembled 200 lunches and then took them to the shelter to hand out. What a great way to celebrate her birthday. Think of how many people she made happy!

Aug 4 16

Olympics Bring Us Awe and Inspiration

by Beth

Rio 2016The 2016 Olympic Games start tomorrow in Rio. I can’t wait! The Olympics are fun to watch for many reasons. I especially like the feelings of awe and inspiration that I experience as the athletes demonstrate their impressive skills.

Awe is a feeling of being overwhelmed with greatness. It’s a collective emotion that helps bond us together. Studies have shown that people who experience more awe are more generous and helpful to others. That’s because awe shifts our attention away from ourselves and to something bigger. UC Berkley professor Dacher Keltner has a great talk on the health and well-being benefits of awe.

Nature is a great source of awe. The ocean, mountains, sunsets, and the night sky can all bring us a sense of wonder. Art, music, and religion can also inspire awe. Awe comes from experiencing something astonishing. That’s where the Olympics come in. Watching Olympic athletes compete is pretty awesome (which, by the way, means causing or inducing awe).

How often have you heard people refer to athletic performances as awe-inspiring? Most Olympic athletes have spent their entire lives preparing for this moment. We will witness stunning achievements. Records will be broken. We will be amazed by the superhuman feats we observe. The Opening Ceremony and panoramic images of Rio de Janeiro may also be sources of awe.

Seeing people do their best inspires us to want to do our best, too. We are motivated to be better, to push ourselves to achieve our goals, to make a difference in the world, to be awesome. The hard work and dedication it takes to become an Olympic athlete is truly inspiring!

I hope you find time to tune in to the Olympics to be inspired and to savor moments of awe. Wouldn’t it be great if we all watch the Olympic Games and are motivated by the performances we see to be more generous and to strive to be our very best?

Please come back here to share the moments from the 2016 Olympic Games that you find most awe-inspiring.

And if you can’t wait until tomorrow, you can watch some amazing Olympic moments right now in the video for Katy Perry’s Olympic song “Rise”. Let the chills begin!

Jul 19 16

Want to Be More Resilient? Just Breathe

by Beth

Breathe-here-lifeWhen we experience a stressful event, our sympathetic nervous system takes over. In this fight-or-flight state, our bodies release adrenaline, which gives us the energy we need to respond to the situation. When the threat is gone, our parasympathetic nervous system kicks in, allowing our bodies to rest and digest. Imagine a gazelle running away from a lion. Once it is safe, it immediately goes back to grazing.

Resilience is the rapidity with which we recover from adversity. How fast we would return to grazing were we gazelles. The problem many of us face today is that we are in a constant fight-or-flight state. Our brains perceive overflowing inboxes, client complaints, long commutes, and tight deadlines as potential threats, meaning our sympathetic nervous systems stay activated, giving our bodies few opportunities to recover.

The good news is that you can activate your parasympathetic nervous system to return to a state of calm any time you want. It’s really simple! All you have to do is breathe. In her book, The Happiness Track, Emma Seppälä explains how you can use breathing practices to restore your resilience. Slow breathing activates the vagus nerve, which slows down your heart, lungs, and digestive system. Long exhales are particularly useful for calming you down.

You can think of the sympathetic nervous system as the gas and the parasympathetic nervous system as the brakes. We need both. Some stress is good, helping us to perform better. But chronic stress is harmful to our bodies.

You can tap into your natural resilience by taking long, deep breaths in order to calm down. The next time you are feeling stressed, take a moment to close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath. Breathe deep. This will activate your parasympathetic system, giving your body a chance for rest and restoration.

Is resilience really that easy? It can be! Emma explains how breathing has helped veterans overcome post-traumatic stress disorder and how we can impact our emotions through our breathing patterns in her TED Talk below.

Jul 8 16

Summertime Smiles

by Beth

SummerSummertime makes me happy, and I bet many of you feel the same way. I prefer warm weather to cold weather, so that’s one reason why I like summer so much. But there are a number of other reasons why we tend to be happier in the summer:

Time abundance – Time scarcity, or the sense that you never have enough time, is one of the biggest sources of stress in our lives. For many of us, summertime feels less rushed, less busy. Offices often have shorter hours during summer months. Taking time off for a vacation gives us a chance to enjoy some free time. And for working parents, getting a break from the hectic schedule of school and after school activities can be a welcome slowdown.

Time to connect – Social connections are our number one source of happiness. Summer vacations give many of us the opportunity to spend time with family members who live far away. Longer days and less hectic schedules also provide more time for get-togethers with friends.

Time outside – When our bodies absorb UV rays from sunshine, serotonin, a feel-good hormone, is produced. Sunlight exposure also reduces melatonin production, which is a hormone that makes us feel sleepy. So long, sunny days make us feel happier and more energized. Being in nature also boosts our mood and reduces stress. Exposure to trees, plants, and water has a wonderful calming effect. Spending time outside will make you feel both energized and relaxed.

Time to play – Summer weather seems to bring out the kid in us all, from playing paddleball at the beach or tug-of-war at a picnic to splashing in the pool, dancing at an outdoor concert, or sliding down a waterslide. The exercise we get when we play also boosts our mood. It’s easy to find ways to move more when it’s warm outside. Whether it’s riding bikes, long walks on the beach, a backyard game of badminton, canoeing, or tennis, those endorphins we generate are keeping us happy.

Make the most of summer’s happiness boost! Enjoy the extra time by spending it outdoors, connecting with friends and family, and having a good ‘ole time.

Jun 18 16

Michelle Obama on the State of Women

by Beth

Michelle ObamaA few days ago the White House hosted The United State of Women Summit. The day was full of fantastic speakers covering issues including violence against women, health and wellness, education, economic empowerment, entrepreneurship, and leadership. The day ended with Oprah Winfrey interviewing First Lady Michelle Obama. Here are some takeaways:

Know yourself – When asked how she deals with the pressure of living up to other people’s expectations, Michelle said the key is to know yourself. Girls so often try to please others by looking to the world to see who they are expected to be. She thinks one of our most important jobs is to figure out who we really are.

Like yourself – Michelle said she has liked herself for a long time and that has helped her deal with negativity. Believing in your own worth also makes it easier to ask for what you want. Michelle said supportive parents make a big difference, but if you weren’t as lucky as she was there is still hope. Somebody out there is waiting to love you; you just have to find them. To do this you need to get the haters out of your life. If you are surrounded by lowlife folk who don’t support you, there is no room for the people who do love you.

Be yourself – Michelle didn’t read any biographies of past First Ladies because she wanted to define the role for herself. She wanted people to know who she really is. Because she values being authentic, she chose to support issues that she cares deeply about. When you do things that excite you it gives you energy, so it’s not a heavy lift.

Do good work – Another way to handle the haters is to prove them wrong. Michelle said people won’t remember what other people say about you, but they will remember what you do. Her strategy is to wake up everyday and work hard to do something of value and do it well. Good work speaks for itself. She also mentioned how fulfilling she finds public service. There is nothing better than knowing you helped to change someone’s life.

Embrace each phase of life – Michelle thinks having it all is a ridiculous aspiration. There are many phases in life. You may have to make compromises during one phase, but it’s one of many on your journey. Maintain your health so that in the next phase you can do more of what you want to do. I can’t wait to see what Michelle does in her next phase!

Jun 8 16

Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

by Beth

Social comparison 3One of the best things you can do to increase your happiness is to stop making social comparisons. I realize this is easier said than done. We are social creatures who naturally compare ourselves to others. We evaluate our own worth by looking at how it stacks up against others. Are we as smart, attractive, wealthy, successful, happy as they are?

When we compare ourselves with others, the happier they are, the less happy we feel. If they are successful, we, in comparison, feel less successful. Social media has taken this to a whole new level. We are constantly bombarded with images of how wonderfully perfect everyone else’s life is.

You do know people only put the good stuff on Facebook, right? I admit I’m guilty of doing the same. But even though I “know” that the images I see on Facebook don’t represent the whole picture, I can’t help but form this impression that everyone else out there is having more fun than I am. My daughter is still in school right now, but I’m scrolling through pictures of friends who are at the beach, visiting the Tower of London, and taking a gondola ride through Venice. Social media makes it really easy for us to fall into the social comparison trap. That’s why using Facebook increases depression for some people.

Happy people focus on their own internal standards to judge themselves, setting their own goals and celebrating the progress they make. They aren’t constantly comparing themselves to others. They can take pleasure in someone else’s joy, because they don’t see another’s success as their failure.

It’s impossible to completely avoid social comparison. And, personally, I like to keep up with friends and family on Facebook. But you can make an effort to not evaluate your own worth based on what other people have or do. And if looking at all of those smiling faces on social media makes you sad, try to limit the amount of time you spend online.

Pay more attention to your life and less attention to the lives of others. Be grateful for all that you have. There are so many good things in your life. You may miss them if you are focused on others.

May 31 16

Design Offices for Connection and Focus

by Beth

20160528_132943The debate is alive and well. What is the best office design? Open offices are applauded because they provide opportunities for people to interact, encouraging idea exchange and collaboration. The current trend is for companies to adopt open-office spaces in order to enhance innovation and team work. As many as 70% of U.S. offices have no or low partitions.

But what about the need to focus? People working in open offices find it hard to concentrate. There is a growing open-office backlash, with workers complaining that the distractions and noise of open workspaces hurt their performance. So what should companies do?

We just got back from visiting our son in New York City. He has a summer internship with Google and gave us a tour of their offices. Google, a leader in the open-office movement, has large open offices and numerous cafeterias where Googlers interact all day long. They have game rooms, a room full of Legos, and many comfortable lounges where people spend time together, increasing the chances for creative collaboration.

But there are also many private spaces where people can go when they need to minimize distractions in order to focus on their work. The interior halls are full of single person phone rooms equipped with a small desk and computer. They also have breakout spaces with beanbags and comfy chairs (and fun names!) where small groups can work together.

Google understands that magic happens when people share ideas. Their open offices, cafeterias, and lounges encourage employees to connect throughout the day. Google also recognizes the value of having quiet spaces where people can work without distractions. The multi-space design of their offices promotes collaboration, while also providing the space for deep thinking.

Connection and focus contribute to optimal performance. The ideal office design provides a variety of different kinds of spaces that allows for both.

May 11 16

Building Resilience

by Beth

Resilience - after stormResilience is the rapidity with which we recover from adversity. Something we’d all like more of, right? So how can you build your resilience? There are many factors that influence resilience, including social support, positive emotions, coping skills, and physical well-being.

Two additional factors are meaning and hope. When you are pursuing meaningful goals that you believe you can achieve, you are more likely to persist despite setbacks or adversity. You keep going because what you are doing matters and you know it can be done if you try hard enough.

So how do you find meaning and hope? Three sources of meaning in life are contributing to something in order to make a positive impact, connecting with others, and growing as a person. Hopeful people share two key characteristics: they believe they are capable of achieving their goals and they understand that there are multiple pathways to any goal.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • When have I made a positive contribution?
  • When have I helped someone?
  • When have I seen myself progressing towards the person I want to be?
  • When have I experienced myself as a capable person?
  • When have I found another way to make progress in the face of a setback?

Your answer to any of these questions can help you see that you are resilient. Your life is meaningful. What you are doing matters. You have hope. You are capable and adaptable in the face of challenges.

Resilience is a skill you can learn and practice. Make sure that your life continues to have meaning by finding opportunities to contribute, connect, and grow. Keep hope alive by reminding yourself of your successes, looking to role models who have achieved similar goals, and always having a Plan B and C.

Apr 25 16

Prince: A Life Well Lived

by Beth

PrincePeople around the world are still mourning the untimely death of Prince last week. The Eiffel Tower, the Chicago skyline, Niagara Falls, the High Roller in Las Vegas, city halls, bridges, and stadiums were illuminated with purple lights as fellow musicians including Bruce Springsteen, Adam Levine, Elton John, and the cast of ‘Hamilton’ played tributes to a lost legend.

Prince was an incredibly talented, widely influential musician who lived a good life. I say that because of what I have learned about him over the past week. There are two keys to living a good life or thriving: happiness and meaning. Prince seems to have had a good amount of both.

His music clearly made him happy. Prince was one of those lucky people who got to do what he loved for a career. He was passionate about music. He wrote his first song at the age of 7 and never stopped, recording over 40 albums, 8 of which made it to #1 on the Billboard charts. If you watch Prince performing in a downpour at the Super Bowl XLI Halftime Show, the joy he experienced on stage is evident.

Yet the most interesting stories that have come out after his death have not been about his music, but his life as a humanitarian. Prince helped create “Yes We Code” to teach children from poor neighborhoods computer skills so that they could get good jobs. He also gave money to “Green for All” to provide solar panels to people living in Oakland, California.

When Prince gave concerts he often looked for ways he could make a difference in the cities he was visiting. Last May he held a “Rally 4 Peace” benefit concert in Baltimore to raise money for local youth charities. In Washington DC back in the 80’s he gave a surprise, free concert to over 2,500 handicapped students at Gallaudet College. The blind students screamed beside the deaf students who swayed to the vibrations they felt. A few days prior he had attended a reception to raise funds for Big Brothers of America.

Prince left us too soon, but he lived a good life while he was here. He spent his days doing what he loved and serving others. His talent and his generosity will be missed.

Super Bowl XLI Halftime Video

Prince Super Bowl

Apr 11 16

How to Help Your Kids Thrive

by Beth

Happy handsParenting isn’t easy, is it? How can you help your children live their best lives? One thing you can do is to positively influence their self-narratives.

According to Timothy Wilson, a psychologist at the University of Virginia, the way in which we interpret the world influences our behavior. These interpretations are the result of personal narratives we create about ourselves. Healthy narratives can lead to greater happiness and success in life.

In his book, Redirect, Wilson discusses how story editing can be used to redirect people’s narratives about themselves and the world. As parents, we can use this technique to shape our children’s narratives. Here are two different approaches:

Labeling

Labeling can help kids internalize desired values by providing them with the right label for their behavior. When your child does something wrong, the best way to respond is to say you understand how guilty he or she must feel. This causes children to internalize the motivation to be good. They conclude they must feel guilty because they are good kids who don’t want to do the wrong thing.

Adam Grant explains how we can use labeling to encourage generosity in our children. When we notice them do something nice, instead of saying, “That was really helpful”, we should say, “You were really helpful.” In this way they will come to see themselves as givers. Research found that students whose teacher consistently labeled them as people who don’t litter were less likely to litter than other students.

Story Prompting

With story prompting we give information to people that changes their interpretation of themselves or the word. When your children get good grades you should praise them for their effort. This prompts them to have a growth mindset or the belief that abilities can be developed through hard work. Praising them for being smart can lead to a fixed mindset where they believe abilities are fixed traits that can’t be changed.

What about when your child does poorly on a test? She may conclude she isn’t smart enough for advanced math and quit trying. If instead you talk to her teacher who explains that most students struggle with the first unit, but get better over time, your daughter is more likely to keep studying.

Story editing can trigger a positive cycle of self-reinforcing thinking and behaving. Help your children create constructive self-narratives by labeling their behavior and providing them with story prompts that lead to more empowering interpretations of events.