Category Archives: Happiness

Getting Cosy: Danish Hygge

Source: The New Yorker, Dec 2016

hygge,” a Danish term defined as “a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being.” Pronounced “hoo-guh,” the word is said to have no direct translation in English, though “cozy” comes close. It derives from a sixteenth-century Norwegian term, hugga, meaning “to comfort” or “to console,” which is related to the English word “hug.”

Helen Russell, a British journalist who wrote “The Year of Living Danishly,” defines the term as “taking pleasure in the presence of gentle, soothing things,” like a freshly brewed cup of coffee and cashmere socks.

the true expression of hygge is joining with loved ones in a relaxed and intimate atmosphere.

Hygge shares lagoms reverence for measured experience: indulging in a piece of cake, but not outright gluttony; a dinner with friends at home, but nothing fancy.

Louisa Thomsen Brits, a British-Danish writer, casts hygge as a state of mindfulness: how to make essential and mundane tasks dignified, joyful, and beautiful, how to live a life connected with loved ones. Her “Book of Hygge” focusses on the concept’s philosophical and spiritual underpinnings rather than its quirky objects.

Performance Reviews for Married Couples

Source: QZ, Oct 2015

Increasingly, marriage counselors are recommending that couples conduct regular performance reviews with each other, according to the Wall Street Journal. Therapists say the reviews are a constructive way to revisit relationship goals, confront obstacles, and prevent small problems from ballooning to insurmountable ones.

… the short, practical, list she offers up (pdf). And I like the intentionality.

Dr. Cordova and his colleagues asked 216 married couples about the biggest strengths and weaknesses in their relationship. Half the couples then saw a therapist for two sessions to discuss their assessments and tackle the issues that arose. The other half did not. Here is what they found:

 

The researchers, who followed up with the couples after one and two years, found those who had performed the checkup saw significant improvements in their relationship satisfaction, intimacy and feelings of acceptance by their partner, as well as a decrease in depressive symptoms, compared with the couples in the control group who didn’t perform a checkup. In addition, the couples who had the most problems in their marriage before the checkup saw the most improvement.

There are rules to how you do a performance assessment:
  • couples must address behavior, not character (this is not a free-for-all bitch session);
  • explain yourself,
  • empathize,
  • be consistent and
  • identify what you want to change.

Designed properly, a review neutralizes the emotions of day-to-day fights (who didn’t take out the trash) in an attempt to frame goals (let’s share the housework), recognize issues (we are not sharing the chores) and implement solutions (let’s get the kids to do it!).

John Gottman, the genius marriage guru, says couples need to minimize “regrettable incidents” or the things you say about her mother that can never be taken back.

Preventing Work Burnout

Source: Creativity Post, Dec 2016

1. Detach When You’re Not Working

First, detaching from work can actually make us more productive. Sabine Sonnentag, a professor of organizational psychology at the University of Mannheim in Germany, has found that people who do not know how to detach from work during their downtime experienced increased exhaustion over the course of one year and became less resilient in the face of stressful work conditions. By contrast, gaining some emotional distance from highly demanding work tends to help people recover from stress faster and leads to increased productivity.  

Recommended activities include exercise, walks in nature, and total absorption in a hobby that’s unrelated to work …

Positively reflecting about your job after work hours can also help replenish you, according to research by Sonnentag and Wharton Professor Adam Grant. In other words, thinking about the good sides of your work at the end of your workday – in particular about the ways in which you are benefitting others – results in higher well-being and happiness.

2. Calm Down Rather than Amping Up

Our addiction to caffeine and other stimulants is another big issue. In the name of productivity, we have learned to keep our adrenaline levels high with copious amounts of coffee. Caffeine is a drug – albeit a socially accepted one. It is a stimulant. When we drink coffee, it raises cortisol (the “stress” hormone) above its natural levels.  Cortisol is naturally occurring in our body – it helps us wake up in the morning and have energy to start the day. However, raising it to unusual levels through coffee is the reason we sometimes feel so jittery after consuming caffeine.

This means we wind up depending on anxiety to fuel ourselves to get through our overscheduled days. Other people may rely on stimulants like sugar, energy drinks and even potentially addictive drugs like Adderall to help themselves stay up and focus for long hours.

Then, over-stimulated and unable to calm down when we come home, we turn to depressants like alcohol, sleeping pills or anti-anxiety medication to achieve balance. The constant back-and-forth between stimulant-induced anxiety and depressant-induced drowsiness places an enormous burden on our already exhausted nervous system.  

Cutting back on stimulants and cultivating calmness in your life – through yoga, walks in nature, and tech-fasts, for example – can help you turn down the dial on your adrenaline-filled life. By balancing these calming activities with the more high-intensity demands of your life, you will end up managing your energy better, having more emotional intelligence and making better decisions.

3 Foolproof Ways to Prevent Work Burnout, Backed by Science

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Synopsis

Over-working leads to burnout, here’s a better way to get things done.

Our culture is obsessed with productivity. But research shows that stressing ourselves out over an ever-expanding to-do list actually works against us—no matter how “productive” we may feel. After all, we’re seeing 50% burnout rates across industries.

Not only does workaholism double the risk of depression and anxiety, it actually lowers productivity and decreases work performance, according to research by Steven Sussman at the University of Southern California. It also leads to sleep problems and shortened attention spans, both of conspire to get in the way of our ability to do good work. Workaholism is bad for employers as well: it leads to stress-related accidents, absenteeism, higher employee turnover, lower productivity and higher medical costs.  

So why have we gotten caught up in a frantic approach to productivity? As a Stanford University research psychologist who has spent years looking into this literature, I believe the problem lies in our constant focus on the future – we believe we always have to look ahead in order to succeed and be happy. This belief leads us to forego personal happiness in the present and spend our days hunched over our computers, grinding our teeth and reassuring ourselves that the eventual payoff will be worth it.

But the truth is that nonstop focus on our work leads to the opposite of what we want: we are stressed, tired and never satisfied because there’s always something more to be done. Two simple changes could make us much better off.

1. Detach When You’re Not Working

First, detaching from work can actually make us more productive. Sabine Sonnentag, a professor of organizational psychology at the University of Mannheim in Germany, has found that people who do not know how to detach from work during their downtime experienced increased exhaustion over the course of one year and became less resilient in the face of stressful work conditions. By contrast, gaining some emotional distance from highly demanding work tends to help people recover from stress faster and leads to increased productivity.  

“From our research, one can conclude that it is good to schedule time for recovery and to use this time in an optimal way,” Sonnentag shared with me. Recommended activities include exercise, walks in nature, and total absorption in a hobby that’s unrelated to work—whether that’s shooting hoops with friends, doing some woodcarving in the garage or learning to make dim sum. Positively reflecting about your job after work hours can also help replenish you, according to research by Sonnentag and Wharton Professor Adam Grant. In other words, thinking about the good sides of your work at the end of your workday – in particular about the ways in which you are benefitting others – results in higher well-being and happiness. If your work directly benefits others (e.g. you are a firefighter or a nurse), this exercise will be straightforward. If, however, you don’t feel that your work product benefits others substantially, you can still think about how your work is impacting others in a positive way. For example, it is benefitting your family. Or your attitude at work is benefitting your colleagues. Research shows that, when we are engaged in any kind of prosocial or kind action, we become happier.

Blake Richard Verdoorn/Unsplash

Blake Richard Verdoorn/Unsplash

Source: Blake Richard Verdoorn/Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

2. Calm Down Rather than Amping Up

Our addiction to caffeine and other stimulants is another big issue. In the name of productivity, we have learned to keep our adrenaline levels high with copious amounts of coffee. Caffeine is a drug – albeit a socially accepted one. It is a stimulant. When we drink coffee, it raises cortisol (the “stress” hormone) above its natural levels.  Cortisol is naturally occurring in our body – it helps us wake up in the morning and have energy to start the day. However, raising it to unusual levels through coffee is the reason we sometimes feel so jittery after consuming caffeine.

This means we wind up depending on anxiety to fuel ourselves to get through our overscheduled days. Other people may rely on stimulants like sugar, energy drinks and even potentially addictive drugs like Adderall to help themselves stay up and focus for long hours.

Then, over-stimulated and unable to calm down when we come home, we turn to depressants like alcohol, sleeping pills or anti-anxiety medication to achieve balance. The constant back-and-forth between stimulant-induced anxiety and depressant-induced drowsiness places an enormous burden on our already exhausted nervous system.  

Cutting back on stimulants and cultivating calmness in your life – through yoga, walks in nature, and tech-fasts, for example – can help you turn down the dial on your adrenaline-filled life. By balancing these calming activities with the more high-intensity demands of your life, you will end up managing your energy better, having more emotional intelligence and making better decisions.

3. Breathe

Research that I led with veterans (arguably some of the most stressed individuals in our society when they return from war) shows that learning conscious breathing (sudarshan kriya yoga) can help significantly reduce our stress and anxiety levels—sometimes in minutes. Breathing is among the most neglected solutions to stress, since it mostly happens on its own while we’re not paying attention to it.

But research suggests that you can change how you feel using your breath. By taking deep breaths into your abdomen and lengthening your exhales so they are longer than your inhales helps your nervous system relax – your heart rate and blood pressure may even decrease. Having a more relaxed nervous system will actually help provide you with more energy. Instead of wearing yourself out quickly with adrenaline, by remaining calm and engaging your parasympathetic nervous system, you will be able to restore yourself and manage your energy throughout the day without crashing. 

Is Greatness Worth It?

Source: University of Texas (Austin) website, date indeterminate

Finally, I must at least address the question of whether greatness is worth the large effort it requires. Those who have done really great things generally report, privately, that it is better than wine, the opposite sex, and song put together. The realization that you have done it is overwhelming.

Of course I have consulted only those who did do great things, and have no dared to ask those who did not. Perhaps they would reply differently. But, as is often said, it is in the struggle and not the success that the real gain appears. In striving to do great things, you change yourself into a better person, so they claim. The actual success is of less importance, so they say. And I tend to believe this theory.

No one ever told me the kinds of things I have just related to you; I had to find them out for myself. Since I have now told you how to succeed, you have no excuse for not trying and doing great work in your chosen field.

Free Will and Personal Responsibility

Source: The Verge, Nov 2016

a deeper, grander theme about free will and personal responsibility. Story of Your Life spotlights those ideas more than any others. The theme rests on a line Louise utters in one of Arrival’s closing scenes. “If you could see your whole life laid out in front of you, would you change things?

Chiang’s more direct message about learning how to appreciate life’s moments, to live outside the bounds of time. 

If we could see our lives laid out before us, would we change anything? Story of Your Life— and by extension Arrival — is telling us to live as if the answer is, and always will be, a resolute no.

Talking with Strangers (can) Spark Happiness

Source:  American Psychological Association, Oct 2014

Connecting with others increases happiness, but strangers in close proximity routinely ignore each other.

Why? Two reasons seem likely: Either solitude is a more positive experience than interacting with strangers, or people misunderstand the consequences of distant social connections.

To examine the experience of connecting to strangers, we instructed commuters on trains and buses to connect with a stranger near them, to remain disconnected, or to commute as normal (Experiments 1a and 2a).

In both contexts, participants reported a more positive (and no less productive) experience when they connected than when they did not. Separate participants in each context, however, expected precisely the opposite outcome, predicting a more positive experience in solitude (Experiments 1b and 2b).

This mistaken preference for solitude stems partly from underestimating others’ interest in connecting (Experiments 3a and 3b), which in turn keeps people from learning the actual consequences of social interaction (Experiments 4a and 4b).

The pleasure of connection seems contagious: In a laboratory waiting room, participants who were talked to had equally positive experiences as those instructed to talk (Experiment 5). Human beings are social animals. Those who misunderstand the consequences of social interactions may not, in at least some contexts, be social enough for their own well-being.

Formula for a Richer World – Classical Liberalism of liberty, equality & justice

Source: NYTimes, Sep 2016

The Great Enrichment began in 17th-century Holland. By the 18th century, it had moved to England, Scotland and the American colonies, and now it has spread to much of the rest of the world.

Economists and historians agree on its startling magnitude: By 2010, the average daily income in a wide range of countries, including Japan, the United States, Botswana and Brazil, had soared 1,000 to 3,000 percent over the levels of 1800. People moved from tents and mud huts to split-levels and city condominiums, from waterborne diseases to 80-year life spans, from ignorance to literacy.

Inequality of financial wealth goes up and down, but over the long term it has been reduced. Financial inequality was greater in 1800 and 1900 than it is now, as even the French economist Thomas Piketty has acknowledged. By the more important standard of basic comfort in consumption, inequality within and between countries has fallen nearly continuously.

In any case, the problem is poverty, not inequality as such — not how many yachts the L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt has, but whether the average Frenchwoman has enough to eat.

We can improve the conditions of the working class.Raising low productivity by enabling human creativity is what has mainly worked.

By contrast, taking from the rich and giving to the poor helps only a little — and anyway expropriation is a one-time trick. Enrichment from market-tested betterment will go on and on and, over the next century or so, will bring comfort in essentials to virtually everyone on the planet, and more to an expanding middle class.

What, then, caused this Great Enrichment?

Not exploitation of the poor, not investment, not existing institutions, but a mere idea, which the philosopher and economist Adam Smith called “the liberal plan of equality, liberty and justice.” In a word, it was liberalism, in the free-market European sense. Give masses of ordinary people equality before the law and equality of social dignity, and leave them alone, and it turns out that they become extraordinarily creative and energetic.

… sweet practical ideas for profitable technologies and institutions, and the liberal idea that allowed ordinary people for the first time to have a go, caused the Great Enrichment. We need to inspirit masses of people, not the elite, who are plenty inspirited already. Equality before the law and equality of social dignity are still the root of economic, as well as spiritual, flourishing — whatever tyrants may think to the contrary.