Posted tagged ‘Happiness’

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)?

“Raising Happiness” by Christine Carter

June 6, 2015

Raising Happiness

I want my son to be smart and curious, do the right thing, have good manners, try new things – and be happy. I truly believe that we can choose to be happy. We can make a decision to look at the positive things in life and try not to dwell on the negative things. It’s something that I’d like to teach my son.

So I really appreciated the focus of Christine Carter’s book, “Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for Joyful Kids and Happier Parents” (2010). Carter is a sociologist, commentator, and executive director of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. Upbeat and encouraging, “Raising Happiness” shows us how to “foster the skills, habits, and mindsets that will set the stage for a wide range of positive emotions in childhood and beyond” (page x).

“Raising Happiness” offers two insights for parents: First, instead of feeling guilt or angst over parenting mistakes or things out of our control, we need to focus on what we can do right. And second, happiness is a skill that we can teach our children.

Carter backs her recommendations and insights with scientific research (though I have to admit that I glossed over the studies). The sample conversations were helpful and practical, and so was the feeling that I am already doing things that build happiness.

Here are 10 simple steps to teaching happiness:

  1. Put on your oxygen mask first: Take care of yourself and your marriage first. Children’s happiness depends in part on the happiness of the people around them. So go out with friends, do things you love, and exercise.
  2. Build a village: Happiness is linked to strong relationships. Teach children how to make and keep friends (build rapport with eye contact and positive emotion), how to resolve conflicts (teach them to state what they want, express their feelings, and come up with solutions), and be kind. Encourage “other mothers” and “other fathers” (aunts, uncles, grandparents, close friends) to build lasting relationships with children.
  3. Expect effort and enjoyment, not perfection. Praise hard work, passion, and dedication instead of focusing on “natural” talent and achievement. Criticize behavior or performance (such as “Are you happy with how you did?” or “What can you do differently next time?”). Let children make mistakes; let them know it’s okay to fail.
  4. Choose gratitude, forgiveness, and optimism: Practice gratitude (keep a gratitude box or journal, write gratitude letters), forgiveness (ask kids to identify and talk about their feelings), and optimism (try to avoid pessimistic comments).
  5. Raise their emotional intelligence: Teach children how to express and cope with negative emotions. As a parent, be present, pay attention, be responsive, and be consistent. Induce happiness with smiles, laughter, music, and exercise; end the day on a positive note.
  6. Form happiness habits: Instead of threats and rewards, encourage good behavior with empathy, positive reasons (“Please brush your teeth so they will feel clean and healthy”), and choices (“It would be helpful if you…”). Change bad habits one at a time, taking small steps.
  7. Teach self-discipline: Be authoritative (strict yet warm). Teach children to self-regulate their behavior – give them a task so they won’t misbehave, distract them from something tempting, and have realistic expectations.
  8. Enjoy the present moment: Practice mindfulness (living in the present moment) through meditation, mindful parenting (notice what is happening and accept what is going on without judgment), play, and savoring experiences.
  9. Rig their environment for happiness: Limit daycare and preschool. “High-quality care makes your child more likely to have higher standardized math, reading, and memory scores, but only through the third grade” (page 155). “Center-based child care increases the chances that kids will be more disobedient and more aggressive and have more conflict with their teachers” (page 156). Curb kids’ materialism, limit TV time.
  10. Eat dinner together: Model healthy eating, social skills, and manners. Eating together can also expand their language and vocabulary, and create a family “ritual.”

If you’re ready to make happiness a priority in your life, visit Christine Carter’s website for free printable worksheets. I especially recommend the “Habit Tracker” worksheet that helps us take “turtle steps” to changing our habits.

“It’s not having what you want. It’s wanting what you’ve got,” sings Sheryl Crow in “Soak Up the Sun.” What does happiness mean to you? What are your happiness habits?

“Better Than Chocolate” by Siimon Reynolds

May 4, 2013

Better Than Chocolate

Sometimes, when I’m stressed or tired or a little sad, chocolate can create a little bit of happiness. That’s why the title of the book really hooked me, and I had to read it, especially when I saw the colorful, cheerful graphics inside.

“Better Than Chocolate: 50 Proven Ways to Feel Happier” (2005) by advertising executive Siimon Reynolds is a guide to 50 ways to feel happier. The techniques are short, simple, and proven to work. Each happiness “bite” is punctuated with vibrant, creative illustrations by Jenny Kostecki. The book has fun colors, easy to read text, and short happiness “bites.”

Here are 7 simple ways that we can all feel a little happier:

1. Make a happiness list. Write a list of everything you love doing, and then do at least one of those things every day.

2. Act happy. Just by pretending that you are happy (such as standing straight, keeping your head up, and smiling), you can improve your mood.

3. Care for others. Instead of focusing on your own life, focus on how others are doing. Whether it’s a gift, a helping hand, or a kind word, it helps you forget your own problems and makes you feel good.

4. Simplify your life. Throw out a third of the clothes and possessions that you do not absolutely need. Reduce your work week by 10%. Schedule three nights a week when you do nothing social. See less of the friends or family who exhaust you.

5. Find satisfying work. Choose a job that you like. If you can’t change your job, change your attitude toward your job by focusing on the good parts or finding ways to make it more enjoyable.

6. Meet new people. Our moods improve when we meet new people. Join a club, take up a hobby, or attend a new social event each week.

7. Dress sexy. When we look good, we feel good – and it gives us a huge confidence boost.

“Happiness is not an accident” (page viii), Reynolds declares. What makes you happy? How do you encourage happiness in others?

Communities that thrive

December 4, 2012

Hawaii might be the happiest state in America. Hawaii residents have the highest well-being in the nation, according to the 2011 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. Hawaii residents also reported the lowest level of mental distress, according to a 2009 “American Journal of Preventative Medicine” study. 

What makes us so happy that we live in Hawaii?

More than any other factor, including income, education level, and religion, the place where you live determines your level of happiness, claims researcher Dan Buettner in his book, “Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way” (2010). 

The National Geographic Society sent Buettner around the globe to some of the world’s happiest places, based on people who declare that they are happy – and expect to be even happier in the future.

Though Hawaii wasn’t one of the places he visited, Buettner came across common threads among people who thrive, based on the choices and decisions that we make every day:

* Find security. Live in a secure city, with strict criminal laws and restrictions.

* Build trust. Live in trustworthy places, surround yourself with trustworthy friends, and be trustworthy yourself.

* Be tolerant. Accept other cultures religions, and lifestyles.

* Forget status. Live modestly. Build friendships with those who accept you and don’t make you feel inferior.

* Socialize more. Interact with others by joining associations and volunteering in your community.

Of course, there are also things that our cities and government can do to help us thrive – and things we can do to support our communities:

* Commit to a high standard of government. Government must have fair legal institutions, a lack of corruption, trustworthy legal systems, and a strong democratic process.

* Promote economic freedom. People should have the freedom to start and run a business, free of excessive regulation. Government should not favor one business or industry over another.

* Keep people employed. Having a job gives people a sense of purpose, confidence, and self-worth. Government can help with programs that give people meaningful jobs.

* Support art and community spaces. People are generally happier the more they socialize. Communities can develop parks, art gardens, vibrant city centers, outdoor restaurants, public gardens, theatres, museums, and pedestrian malls to promote social interaction and well-being.

* Encourage walkability. Encourage people to live closer to their workplaces by building wider sidewalks, more bike lanes, and adding pedestrian walkways.

Does living in Hawaii help you be happy? Does Hawaii help you thrive? Take the True Happiness Test at and let us know whether you agree with your happiness score.