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Happiness is an Inside Job – by Rebecca Crichton

Rebecca Crichton, Executive Director, Northwest Center for Creative Aging



Rebecca Crichton, Executive Director of Northwest Center for Creative Aging (NWCCA) has facilitated groups and workshops related to Positive Psychology and Creative Aging for many venues in the Seattle area. She has Master’s degrees in Child Development and Organizational Development and is a Certified Coach. She retired after 21 years at Boeing as a writer, facilitator and curriculum designer. Heading up NWCCA is her ‘Encore’ Career.

Rebecca Crichton recently gave a talk entitled “Happiness is an Inside Job”. We learned that findings from research in Positive Psychology and Neuroscience demonstrate that positivity, gratitude, and kindness are good for our health and well-being. This article summarizes some of the points Crichton shared about positive psychology research and includes some of the practical tips and tools researchers have shown can make us feel hopeful, happy, and satisfied.

Positive Psychology

Historically, the field of Psychology started out looking at pathology (what is wrong). Starting over 30 years ago, a new, branch of research, Positive Psychology, has evolved that looks at Wellness instead. Martin Seligman is often referred to as the Father of Positive Psychology. You can watch a TED-talk by Seligman, here.

At its heart, Positive Psychology confirms what many of us already know: Our minds, our brains, and our feelings are all linked!! This is obvious to many of us, but science is now proving it via research studies.

Wired for Negativity

What we will find is that the more we focus on positivity, the better we will feel. Unfortunately, the way we have evolved means that we are “wired” for negativity. Work by neuroscientists like Rick Hanson indicate that, “negative experiences stick to us like Velcro, and positive experiences slide off like Teflon”. So we have to do a little extra work to make sure our minds and bodies remember the good stuff.

The good news is that because we are wired for negativity, we are able to react to stressful situations, or the proverbial “sabre toothed tiger”. What are your tigers? Is it the daily commute, the bed time routine, the meeting with your client? But the bad news is if these stress hormones are triggered all the time, then we lose the ability to relax.

What do we pay attention to?

Via Neuroscience we are leaning that our brain takes its shape from what it rests upon. It is sculpted by what we pay attention to – what we think, feel, want, and how we work with our reactions. Thinking the same thoughts over and over again will make us more prone to thinking those negative thoughts.

The things we do daily, even hourly, are the things that form our lives. Literally. So a good question to ask oneself is: “What do I pay attention to?” For many of us, we focus on what’s wrong, what’s missing. We see the world through a lens of “what’s wrong” instead of “what’s great”.

Also for many of us, this focus on what’s wrong is unconscious or sub-conscious. If we can bring into our awareness what it is we are thinking, then we have the opportunity to shift this. And if we do, the difference we can make in our lives is dramatic.

Change your Thoughts, Change your Life

The old story was that our brains don’t change, they just get worse as we age. However, thanks to the field of Neuroplasticity, we are discovering that our brains DO change. We can re-program them with our intention to do so.

Dr. Wayne Dyer is remembered for saying, among other things: Change your Thoughts, Change your Life. Check out a video with Dr. Dyer here.

There’s how we feel, and then there’s how we choose to think about how we feel. Worrying about feeling sad or upset generates even more stress hormones. Many philosophers have noted that “pain is unavoidable, but suffering is optional”. Suffering is the “second arrow” we throw at ourselves after something painful has happened to us. The *opportunity*, then, is to change how we think about how we feel, and begin a cycle of well-being rather than stress.

Developing research suggests that there are three things our brains need to keep changing: novelty, complexity, and a sense of purpose.  Here are the things that a wise person summarized for what we need in order to feel good: something to do, something to look forward to, something to believe in, someone to love, someone who loves you, and something to laugh about.

And finally, Barbara Frederickson, a well known Positive Psychology researcher described the ten elements of Positivity in her book, Positivity. They are generic ideas that each person needs to make personal and deepen their presence in their lives: joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe, love.

A Default vs Generated Way of Being

Are you always busy? Do you often compare yourself to others? Do you have feelings of “not good enough”? You are not alone. This is the “default” way of being in many cultures, and certainly in the west. These ideas might take a little extra effort before they becomes a way of being.

Ask yourself, what do I do daily that is specifically focuses on my sense of well-being and wholeness?

Below are some ideas to get you started:
Generate More Laughter
Try to cultivate the habit of laughing a lot. Do you ever listen to what others laugh about and say, “what do they think is funny about that?” Believe it or not, we can pretend to think it’s funny, and with regard to generating positive hormones and feeling good, our brain does NOT know the difference! There is such a thing as “learned optimism”. Smiles change our internal chemistry. Consider smiling when as you go about your day and see what happens!

Did you know there is laughter Yoga, laughter yoga clubs, and even plain ole’ laughter clubs? Check out these links to get the giggles going.

What are the most-watched videos on the internet, and why? Cat and dog videos that make us laugh, because when we laugh we feel better.

Cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude
Gratitude has been proven time and time again to increase our sense of well-being. Ask yourself, what gets in the way of my feeling gratitude?

Try having a gratitude practice. If we cultivate an ever-growing awareness of our attitude, we can keep it in check. When my kids were growing up I found I had a mantra when they would have a complaint: “think about what you *have* instead of what you don’t have.” How many of us take for granted that we have water, warmth, and good health? Electricity? If we feel we don’t have anything to be thankful for, try being thankful that the sun came up this morning.

In the popular song “Yellow Taxi”, the chorus repeats: “don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone”. This does not have to be true, but in order for this not to be true, we must cultivate appreciation and awareness.

Here’s a practice you might try that will help build and strengthen an attitude of gratitude: every day, as a discipline, identify three “hopefuls” in the morning, and three “thankfuls”, things we are grateful for in the evening. Doing this practice daily can change your life.

Let in a compliment
When is the last time you really let a compliment soak in? Next time you receive a compliment, try this: look the person in the eye, smile, and say thank you. Your body will be happy you did.

Generate and Encourage Inspiring Conversation
Instead of asking people, how are you today, try asking them “What has inspired you today?” In addition, or if that seems too out of place, try attending a Wisdom Cafe’ offered by the King County Library System.

A Daily Act of Kindness
Here’s the golden wand: The single most reliable momentary increase in your own well-being is doing a daily act of kindness!!

And the beat goes on . . .
Here are some other daily practices that can lead to peace, health, calm, and happiness: journalling, affirmations, meditation, prayer, yoga/tai chi, walking, gardening, time with pets, time with loved ones, reading, aesthetics, exercise.

30-Day Wellness Challenge
Finally, while we each have a unique path to achieving well-being, we can learn from each other and share what works. Consider challenging your friends or co-workers to a 30-day wellness challenge, and factor in some time to share what each of you are doing.

Bibliograpy:
Books by Martin Seligman:
♣ Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life
♣ Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment
♣ Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being

Books by Barbara Frederickson:
♦Positivity: Top-Notch Research Reveals the 3 to 1 Ratio That Will Change Your Life
♦Love 2.0: Finding Happiness and Health in Moments of Connection

Books by Rick Hanson:
♠Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom
♠Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time
♠Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence

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