Posted tagged ‘Happiness’

Happiness and healthy boundaries

September 15, 2020

“The Giving Tree” has been on my mind the past few days.

Last weekend, I attended AHEC’s virtual 2020 Hawaii Health Workforce Summit, and psychologist Dr. Nicole Eull gave a wonderful plenary talk about “Telling Tales: Stories That Can Improve Your Work Life.” One of the books she read was “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein, a book about a selfless tree and a… needy… boy.

I remember reading it when I was young, and feeling very uncomfortable at the end. I put it away and never read it again, not even to my son when he was young.

Dr. Eull touched upon what made me so uneasy about the book: the lack of boundaries, and how a healthy tree became just a stump. She asked, “How do we create a life where we don’t feel like the used-up, tired old giving tree at the end of the day every day?”

Many of us are working harder than ever, especially health care workers and first responders. But the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders also touch people who are working from home, where the boundaries between work and home are blurring.

Through stories, Dr. Eull shares three pillars to help you create a happier and healthier life:

  1. Autonomy and support. You can mitigate stress and burnout when you have a sense of control or autonomy over your work and work environment, and feel supported.
  2. Meaning and purpose. You can increase your sense of well-being and happiness by making meaningful connections with something outside yourself – a social group, a cause, nature, or a spiritual community.
  3. Emotional intelligence and communication. You can decrease burnout and increase professional satisfaction showing your appreciation for others and assuming that people are acting out of good intentions, instead of assuming that they have bad intentions.

Meanwhile, one of the attendees posted a link to Topher Payne’s parody alternate ending “The Tree Who Set Healthy Boundaries.” I highly recommend it! Payne’s version starts at the point when the boy asks for a house, and the tree says, “Okay, hold up. This is already getting out of hand… First it’s the apples, then branches, then the trunk, and before you know it that mighty beautiful tree is just a sad little stump. Boy, I love you like family, but I am not going down like that.”

PS This alternate ending was created to help The Atlanta Artist Relief Fund. Payne says that it’s available to print for free, and asks you to consider a donation to support artists during COVID-19.

“The medical field will be a wonderful, magical place where people can thrive,” Dr. Eull encourages. “We can all spread positivity and good intent, and extend grace to other people… We have the power to transform our own world and own career and all the people around you.”

What boundaries have become blurred during the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders? What boundaries do you need to re-establish in your own life?

“Do It Anyway” by Kent M Keith

November 5, 2019

“Even when things are going badly in the world around us, we can still find personal meaning and deep happiness,” Kent M. Keith reminds us in “Do It Anyway: The Handbook for Finding Personal Meaning and Deep Happiness in a Crazy World” (2003).

He talks about paradoxical people who live “The Paradoxical Commandments,” sharing their stories of perseverance and resilience, and asking questions that challenge us and make us reflect on our own lives.

My grandmother Janet was one of these “paradoxical people.” She shared her time to visit elderly and ill people, she shared her month to churches and ministries, and she shared her beautiful voice in song. She was one of the most gentle, caring, and gracious people I know.

She seemed to know intuitively what most of us struggle with, and what Keith identifies as the central ideas of his book: that we choose how we respond to events and there is more meaning in service than in power.

Keith lived in Hawaii and was a vice president for YMCA of Honolulu. I loved reading his stories with Hawaii connections, such as the 442nd Regiment during World War II, who gave the best they had despite prejudice and injustice; Wally Amos, who lost everything he had and then rebuilt; and Franchot, who built plantation fields that closed down.

Choosing to live the “Paradoxical Commandments” starts by making two distinctions: 1) loving and approving are not the same thing; and 2) there are many kinds of love.

Every now and then, we all need to be reminded of the Paradoxical Commandments:

  • People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.
  • If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.
  • If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.
  • The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
  • Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.
  • The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds. Think big anyway.
  • People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
  • What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.
  • People really need help but may attack you if you do help them. Help people anyway.
  • Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.

What do you do anyway, even when you think it won’t make a difference? What do you do anyway, because it feels meaningful and right?

Kindness starts with one

February 12, 2019

I’ve been immersing myself in happiness over the past few months, learning from the Greater Good Science Center, and figuring out how to make happiness practices part of everyday life.

We can become happier in many different ways, from encouraging empathy and nurturing friendships to fostering gratitude and cultivating a sense of awe. But one of the simplest ways to become happier and spread happiness is to be kind.

Being kind makes us happy, and being happy makes us kind.

Kindness is easy, and it starts with ONE. One person. One cup of coffee, one compliment, one “I love you,” one note-to-self.

On February 17, 2019, we’re celebrating Random Acts of Kindness Day, and it starts with YOU. You can be the one to write a positive note at school or work, thank someone who isn’t usually acknowledged, or volunteer to do a five-minute favor. No one else has to know about it. But you’ll know.

Kindness starts with one, but let’s aim for five. Studies have shown that doing five acts of kindness in one day can make you happier than doing single acts of kindness spread out over time.

Being kind can have a lasting impact, too. You can get a happiness boost by remembering a time when you were kind or helpful or generous… or by remembering a time when someone was kind to you.

I tried a happiness practice called “Three Good Things,” in which you write down three good things that happen to you each day. The goal is to focus on positive thoughts and feelings. I found that it really helped to put my day in perspective, and lessen any worry or stress I felt.

I’m starting to take it a step further and pay attention to whether good things happen to me (like receiving a compliment) or because of me (like giving a compliment).

What will you do on Random Acts of Kindness Day? How will you spread kindness?

“The Little Book of Hygge” by Meik Wiking

November 4, 2017

Denmark is one of the happiest countries in the world, according to studies and polls. Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark, believes that this is because the Danish people are obsessed with Hygge (pronounced HOO-GA), a sense of comfort, togetherness, and well-being. They create an atmosphere of Hygge in their homes and workplaces, seek out Hygge experiences, celebrate Hygge moments.

In the simple and forthright book, “The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living” (2017), Wiking shares the principles of Hygge and how we can bring Hygge into our lives. Each chapter focuses on ways to bring Hygge into our lives, such as the use of light (candles, soothing pools of light) and small gatherings to comfort food and casual clothes, illustrated with cozy, colorful drawings.

“The factor that has the biggest effect on our happiness is social support,” Wiking declares. Or put another way, “The best predictor of whether we are happy or not is our social relationships.” He highlights Denmark’s healthy work-life balance, a slower pace of life, free healthcare, free university education, and five weeks of paid holidays per year.

Wiking also includes polls and studies to backup the science of Hygge, as well as recipes, a Hygge emergency kit, and even directions to make woven heart decorations.

This is the Hygge Manifesto:

  1. Atmosphere. Turn down the lights.
  2. Presence. Be here now. Turn off the phone.
  3. Pleasure. Coffee, chocolate, cookies, cakes, candy.
  4. Equality. “We” over “me.” Share the tasks and the airtime.
  5. Gratitude. Take it in. This might be as good as it gets.
  6. Harmony. It’s not a competition. We already like you.
  7. Comfort. Get comfy. Take a break. It’s all about relaxation.
  8. Truce. No drama. Let’s discuss politics another day.
  9. Togetherness. Build relationships and narratives.
  10. Shelter. This is your tribe. This is a place of peace and serenity.

For me, the best Hygge tip is to link what you buy with good experiences. For example, save money to buy something you really want, but wait until you have something to celebrate, so that you will be reminded of it every time you use it or remember it.

Wiking begins and ends with a socialist-leaning political agenda. He states that “the welfare model turns our collective wealth into well-being. We are not paying taxes, we are investing in our society. We are purchasing quality of life.” He concludes that “One of the main reasons why Denmark does so well in international happiness surveys is the welfare state, as it reduces uncertainty, worries, and stress in the population.”

Denmark has cold winters, rainy days, and an abundance of darkness. Candles, lamps, fireplaces, warm sweaters, woolen socks, and hot soup can warm you inside and out. Hawaii, with its tropical weather, refreshing breezes, and abundance of sunshine is almost the complete opposite of Denmark.

What does Hygge mean to us in Hawaii? Could our ceiling fans, open lanais, tank tops, board shorts, slippers (flip-flops), scent of plumeria, and shaved ice, as stereotypical as they may be, reflect a Hawaii concept of Hygge?

More joyful, less stress homework

September 26, 2017

My son started sixth grade this year. Though I don’t think he has more assignments than in fifth grade, he is convinced that he has more homework – and he feels more stress about it.

I’ve heard about the education achievements in Finland. Their high school students scored the highest on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests. So I was curious to read “Teach Like Finland: 33 Simple Strategies for Joyful Classrooms” (2017) by Timothy D. Walker, written by an American teacher living in Finland.

I liked the fact that Walker taught at both American and Finnish schools, and could compare his teaching experiences firsthand. But I wasn’t looking to improve my son’s classroom; I was looking for ways I could make his homework less stressful.

Walker, an Arlington, Massachusetts teacher, admits that he was burning out on lesson plans, teaching guides, and classroom prep. In 2013, he and his wife Johanna moved to Helsinki, Finland. Walker was shocked that Finnish students have fewer hours of classroom instruction and more frequent breaks, and that teachers spend fewer hours on lesson prep and more time creating a peaceful environment. Based on his experiences, school visits, and research, Walker proposes that American schools need prioritize happiness in the classrooms.

Walker offers 33 strategies to prioritize happiness in the classrooms, focusing on things that teachers can do today to make a positive difference, without changing school policy. The strategies are organized around 5 ingredients of happiness: well-being, belonging, autonomy, mastery, and mind-set.

While the book is written for teachers, I read the book with an eye towards what parents can do to make learning more joyful.

Here are three ways to reduce some of the stress of homework.

* Schedule brain breaks. Take a 15-minute break for every 45 minutes of instruction. Attention begins to lag after 45 minutes, and taking a break means that students return refreshed and more focused. The brain breaks could be free play, reading, writing, drawing, game time, or a mindfulness exercise; but it should be enjoyable, independent, and new. At home, we can offer children a 15 minute break for every 45 minutes of homework. I tried this with my son – so far, he seems to procrastinate less, because he wants that brain break!

* Mindfulness. Take 5 minute mindfulness breaks to create a sense of calm. Students might pay attention to their breathing, listen to the sound of a bell until it stops ringing, or pay attention to how they walk. At home, we can encourage students to do mindful exercises to reduce stress about homework.

* Pursue a family dream. The teacher and students jointly decide on a dream together, discuss roles, and learn to compromise. The dream should be shared and realistic, and promote a sense of belonging, teach work, and responsibility. At home, we could decide on a family dream that takes place during a school break, such as a community service, neighborhood awareness campaign, or project. It’s a way to make learning fun, especially if we tie it in with something they learned in school. I’m really excited about this idea, and want to start a “family dream” this summer.

Do you know a student who feels stressed by homework? How can we make homework more joyful? Do you take work home (homework for grown-ups)?