Illustration of businessman yoga meditation, calm and meditating

How Dan Harris Became 10% Happier

On our podcast, Live Happy Now, we bring you ideas and research on how to live a happier and more meaningful life. You’ll find dozens of interviews with positive psychology and well-being thought leaders as well as media personalities like veteran newsman and bestselling author Dan Harris, whose talk we’ve excerpted below. How do you ­find the time to meditate? I prioritize a few things. I make sure I get enough sleep, enough exercise, that I get to spend time with my family, and I make sure to meditate. I try to not get overly worked up over any one thing at any one moment. I do my best to get it all done, and sometimes things fall by the wayside and I try to pick it up tomorrow. This is where meditation is very helpful. I think in some ways, counterintuitively, making a little bit of time to do mental hygiene actually makes you more effective because you spend less time engaged in useless rumination and worry. We spend a lot of time working on our home décor, our stock portfolios, our hair, our bodies, but most of us spend no time working on the one ­filter we experience everything through and that’s our mind. And it’s just common sense to tune the thing up. What advice do you have for people who are hesitant to get inside their own heads? First of all, you’re not alone. It’s not a strange concern to have. A lot of people are worried that if they look into their own mind they might not like what they see. It’s there anyway and it is having an impact on you whether you choose to see it or not. So your options are whether to be yanked around by it unconsciously or to deal with it forthrightly. What is a good starting practice to jump into meditation? I’m a Type A person and when I do things I expect a certain result. I expect a win, but you don’t really win at meditation. It’s not that kind of endeavor. You have to go in expecting that you’re going to be distracted. In most forms of meditation you’re focusing on your breath and you’re going to get lost a million times. People think that if you’re getting lost you’re doing it wrong, but in fact the act of meditation is simply to notice when you’ve become distracted and to start over again. And that act of failure is success. It’s like a bicep curl for your brain. Every time you notice you’re worrying and you start again that is a bicep curl. It changes your brain. It may feel like failure, but it isn’t.
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4 Books to Help You Take Charge of Your Happiness

52 Small Changes for the Mind: Improve Memory. Minimize Stress. Increase Productivity. Boost Happiness. by Brett Blumenthal    By making one small change a week all year long, we can feel much less stressed and more fulfilled, writes author Brett Blumenthal. Read 20 minutes a day. Choose books and articles you actually want to (rather than should) read. When you read what you love, your interest in reading grows. Reading keeps your brain healthy and protects against memory loss. Go on a screen diet. How much of your day is spent in front of a screen? Brett reports that some Americans spend up to 10 hours a day online, on mobile devices and in front of the TV. Try to reduce digital time by an hour a day. Attend a lecture in person instead of online or go to a concert instead of watching YouTube videos. Too much screen time can result in stress and sleeping problems, research shows. Deal with demons. Holding on to regret for past mistakes can hurt your potential and your future. Ask yourself: What past mistakes still upset you? Acknowledge your regrets and ask yourself what lessons you have learned. Start viewing your mistakes as “invaluable blessings,” Brett says. The Happiness Track: How to Apply the Science of Happiness to Accelerate Your Success by Emma Seppala, Ph.D. In her book, The Happiness Track, Emma Seppala, Ph.D., writes that working in a stressed-out overdrive mode isn’t the best or only pathway to success. With the latest findings in cognitive psychology and neuroscience, she shows us how happiness has a profound effect on our professional lives by increasing our productivity as well as our emotional and social intelligence. Tap into your natural resilience. Do something restorative to shore up your resilience like taking a hike in nature or getting a massage. Emma says that the best way to immediately gain resilience in a difficult situation is to focus on your breath, a “rapid and reliable pathway to your nervous system dedicated to helping you regain your optimal state.” Succeed through compassion. A compassionate culture at work results in improved employee productivity and well-being. Inspire each other at work, look out for one another, emphasize the meaningfulness of the work and treat each other with respect and gratitude. Manage your energy well. Letting your emotions rule you can be exhausting. Instead, cultivate calm.  “When you are calm, you are better able to manage your thoughts and feelings,” writes Emma. Being calm allows you to be more observant, listen better, communicate more skillfully and make better decisions. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead by Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW Vulnerability is our most accurate measure of courage, writes author Brené Brown. When we try to prevent ourselves from feeling vulnerable, we also are shutting out experiences that can bring purpose and meaning to our lives. Let go of perfectionism. Perfectionism is the belief that if we do things perfectly we can avoid the pain of blame, judgment and shame. Perfectionism is other-focused: What will they think? Instead, she advises to move toward healthy striving, which is self-focused: How can I improve? Practice being seen. Share a product, article or piece of art you have created. To become more courageous, we have to risk being vulnerable. You can want people to like what you share without attaching your self-worth to how it is received. Without your self-worth on the line, you are more likely to risk sharing your raw talent and gifts. Connect. True belonging can only happen when we are self-accepting and present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world. Want to live a connected life? Spend less time and energy winning over people who don’t matter, and see the value of cultivating your true relationships. With vulnerability, you can welcome more love, belonging, joy, empathy, innovation and creativity into your life. The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work by Christine Carter, Ph.D. Do you ever feel like you are in a rut of busyness? With her expertise on happiness, productivity and elite performance, author Christine Carter shows you how to step off the merry-go-round of busy and find your sweet spot. Start a new happy habit. The brain starts to wire itself for greater automaticity the first time we repeat a behavior, so you can make huge strides in forming a new habit in just a day or so. Select a new habit that would make you happy if you did it every day—one that has the greatest built-in reward for you. It could be taking a walk at dusk or starting a gratitude journal. Show compassion for strangers. It’s easy to do nice things for people you love, but you can become an Olympic-level giver by giving your time, money or love to strangers. Acts of compassion can help you shift from self-preoccupation to true connection and community. Gain mastery. Mastery is the purest example of finding your sweet spot, where strength and ease intersect. When you master an activity, you have great power with little strain. Gaining mastery often means facing difficulty, persisting and practicing. Christine writes that we should stop trying so hard to do everything right and gain the freedom that comes from doing the right things instead.
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Using Common Cents

Money doesn’t buy happiness. But what you do with your money can make you happier. Researchers have long been aware of the different levels of happiness brought on by spending money on experiences versus material objects. In a 2010 Cornell study, people who spent money on experiences were more pleased initially and became even happier over time. In contrast, those who spent money on “stuff,” or material goods, often had more negative feelings toward their purchase—they worried they hadn’t gotten a good deal, were unsure if they’d gotten the right item and fell into the trap of comparing what they’d bought to the Joneses. According to Thomas Gilovich, Ph.D., a Cornell professor of psychology, experiences “tend to be experienced, remembered and evaluated more on their own terms, and less in terms of how they compare to alternative experiences.” They become a piece of us, something entirely personal, unlike the objects surrounding us. Going to a baseball game is better for happiness than even getting a signed ball. An event doesn’t decrease in value over time or wear out. Instead, the happiness we get from it grows in our memory. Happiness That Lasts In their September 2014 study, Waiting for Merlot, published in Psychological Science, Thomas and Amit Kumar, a Ph.D. candidate at the university, went a step further. They wanted to see how we can derive even more happiness from our experiences. What they found was that “experiences are kind of rewarding in anticipation as well,” even when you are standing in line. For example, if you’re waiting for symphony tickets, you and the others in line are in a fairly positive state of mind. On the other hand, waiting to buy tangible goods has a whole different vibe—think crowds on Black Friday, full of competition rather thancamaraderie. The period of anticipation is exciting when you are involved with buying an experience, no matter if the purchase is big or small. We actually want to delay consumption of experiential purchases. “Waiting is part of the fun for experiences,” Amit says. Even making dinner reservations can help you anticipate the meal to come, stretching out the exhilaration of the experience. Sharing the trip or dinner with a loved one gives you opportunities to talk about it in the future, strengthening your bond. Choosing Wisely Of course, we can’t spend all of our money doing things; we still have to buy groceries. But, what we can do is “tilt spending a bit more in the direction of experiences,” Amit says. When that tax refund check comes, instead of heading to the mall, consider planning a trip. Because even once your cash is gone, every time you talk about your trip, you’ll get another jolt of happiness. Talk about money well spent!
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4 Ways to Build Your Social Intelligence

“Humans are my favorite animal.” This quote came from a graduate student during one of my recent workshops at the University of Pennsylvania. It captures the priorities of a person high in social intelligence. These individuals want to be around other people, interacting and connecting. They may not always agree with each person but they can appear to be just as comfortable with a CEO, a teacher, a young child or a homeless person. They’re quick to see the common humanity that is part of all of us. How about you? Do you have a sense of what makes other people tick? Do you feel you can easily fit into most social situations? Are you closely attuned to your own feelings as well as to the emotions of others? One of the quickest ways to begin expressing your social intelligence is to practice seeing and naming the strengths in people around you. You can use the “learning to SEA” method of strengths-spotting: Spot a character strength: “I see kindness in you…” Explain what you saw: “…because you were giving extra time helping that student after the meeting.” Appreciate and validate the person for the strength: “I appreciated seeing your kindness in action. It was inspiring for how I will try to interact with my employees.” This SEA method is your social intelligence-in-action because you’re observing others, understanding a core part of them and using your social savvy to communicate this with the person. Consider the impact of bringing your social intelligence and strengths-spotting to people in your life. Use it with those you love the most and with those whom you have differences in opinions and beliefs. Social intelligence means to look deeper. Taking time to understand and empathize can have a significant impact. Here are three additional ways you can build your social intelligence in different situations: In one of your relationships, when you find yourself in a relational argument you have been in before, attempt to find at least one positive element in the other person’s comments and opinions. Find a way to bring this into the conversation. At work, make a point to empathize with one of your co-workers who seems to be upset, stressed, or having difficulty with something in their life. Gently ask some questions and check in to see whether they are comfortable sharing with you. Be sure to spend more time listening than speaking and, if appropriate, offer emotional support. At a community outing or just walking around a local park, take notice of someone who seems alone, unhappy, excluded, or cast aside. Use your social intelligence to approach them and start a conversation.
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How to Go From Recovering to Really Thriving

When I recovered from depression, I decided to live small and defensively. I didn’t want to rock the boat because I was relieved and grateful to just feel “OK.” But slowly, I let down my guard and reached outside of my comfort zone. I wanted to go from being OK, to actually thriving. I made new efforts which regular folk might have called “cute,” but that felt to me like I was bench pressing a hundred pounds. The hardest part was actually getting started, so I took my grandmother’s advice and counted to three anytime I needed to start something. “1-2-3” Get off the sofa. “1-2-3” Make a phone call I’ve been procrastinating from. One by one I made the following changes: 1. Jogging (albeit a slow jaunt to the park and back in jeggings and floppy sunhat while the dog pulls as far away from me on the leash as she can) made me feel strong. Within a few months, I had broken the one-mile mark and was now jogging for longer than five minutes before giving up and ducking into the nearest dollar store for a candy bar and tabloid magazine. 2. I abandoned the ‘depression diet’ which is all about the instant gratification of ‘sorta’ food because you just want a fast fix versus actual food. Making a beautiful vegetable soup feels like I’m showing lots of love to myself. 3. I reminded myself of the behaviors that used to bring me joy (a technique from Cognitive Behavior Therapy). I asked myself: When’s the last time that I remember feeling energized and optimistic? Carefree? Mentally engaged? Whatever the answers were, I tried those same activities again. While I’m not successful at channeling feelings of happiness out of thin air, I can do the things that make me optimistic, carefree and engaged, such as taking a class, dancing and reading biographies. 4. I avoid the triggers that make me feel anxious; for instance, comparing myself to others. I treat social media like a hot tub: get in and get out before you catch something! Instead of seeing who is doing better than me, I ask myself “where would I like to see myself a year from now?” and I run towards my own finish line instead of trying to keep up with the Jones’. 5. I give back. I switched my volatile career from being solely about comedy to making it about mental health with a comedic spin. When I think “I’m getting on stage to make people laugh AND let people know they’re not alone in their struggles,” it makes the challenges of my industry less troubling. 6. I connect more with my community. At 42, I joined a women’s soccer league with my neighbor and also got more involved with my spiritual community. Knowing I’m part of these “teams” makes me feel anchored and supported. Just like pulling the cord on a motor boat sometimes takes 20 sputtering tries before it finally starts and the motor hums loudly to signal you’re ready to go, I had to try these new approaches over and over. After a few months, these changes led to a sense of calmness and stability for me. I felt more like I was living, and less like I was trying to tread water indefinitely. When I hit a setback I forgive myself, and wake up the next day anchored again to my simple goals that give me such a sense of belonging!
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4 Tips to Drive Yourself Happy

Most of us log almost 30 miles and nearly one hour behind the wheel every day, according to a study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and the Urban Institute. But no need to worry, here are a few stress busters to turn the interior of your car into a Zen-filled oasis certain to help you steer clear of a bad mood. Stop Sticking Your Neck Out Micah Mortali, director of the Kripalu Schools of Yoga and Ayurveda in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts, says that people often hold tension in their neck and shoulders, particularly those who sit at a desk or are seated in a car. “They tend to lean forward and stick their chin out or clench their jaw, which causes tension in the neck,” he says. You can let a lot of that go when you’re stopped at a red light, parked or once you’ve switched the engine off by first taking a deep breath, Micah says. As you exhale, let your chin drop toward the chest, gently stretching your neck muscles. On your next inhale, roll your right ear toward your right shoulder and exhale by rolling the chin back to center. Repeat on the left side. Make Your Nose Happy Your nose is connected to your mood, says Rose Heart, a certified master aromatherapist and founder of Los Angeles-based Organic Infusions, the harmony-inspired aromatherapy oils company. “When we breathe in the aroma of essential oils through the nose, they are absorbed into the limbic system which is in charge of regulating our emotions.” A combination of lavender, frankincense and rosemary essential oils alleviates stress by calming the mind while providing the right amount of energy, focus and clarity needed while driving. “This combination will bring balance to the emotions without being overly sedating.” Rose suggests filling a spritz bottle with 10 drops of essential oils and about 1 cup of distilled water and misting the interior of the car before putting it in gear. Just Breathe When a fellow driver cuts you off or rides your back bumper, instead of blowing your top, Micah suggests taking a deep breath. “Taking slow, deep breaths triggers the rest and relaxation response of the sympathetic nervous system, and acts as a kill switch for the fight-or-flight response, which people often experience when they’re stressed,” he says. Your best mood-boosting breathing technique is performed by inhaling slowly for four counts, holding the breath for two counts and exhaling for four counts. “This will help calm the mind and makes the heart pump more slowly and rhythmically,” Micah says. Repeat as needed. Get Twisted Your physical and mental state before you get into your car can have a lot to do with your mood on longer rides. Before heading off, yoga poses that open the spine and hips can help reduce discomfort and stress during the trip, says Mandy Unanski Enright, a registered dietitian nutritionist and yoga teacher based in New Jersey. She recommends reaching your arms high overhead while gently pushing the pelvic region forward to create a slight bend in the back. Follow this by swan diving forward to uttanasana (forward fold) with hands on either side of the feet and knees bent as needed. Grab opposite elbows and let your head hang heavy (ragdoll pose). Shake the head yes and no while letting the hips sway side to side to release tension in these areas. While bending the knees, gently roll up one vertebra at a time. You can also try a seated spinal twist. Sitting in the car before buckling up, bring the left hand across to the right knee or seat edge while looking over the left shoulder. Hold for five breaths, then switch.
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4 Gratitude Rituals to Increase Kindness and Joy

The holidays are a reminder to take inventory of all the blessings we have in our lives. Making gratitude a habit can have positive benefits to your own happiness as well as those around you by creating stronger bonds in your relationships, finding kindness in others and carving new “good mood” grooves into your brain. What’s more, these gratitude rituals are relatively simple to do and can be performed anywhere at any time. Here are a few tips for you to practice on your own or as a family. Ritual 1: Amazing Grace The dinner table is a great place to reflect and reinforce our feelings of gratitude. Before you break bread, start at one end of the table and encourage every person to share something they are thankful for in their lives. In Anne K. Fishel’s book Home for Dinner, she writes, “Rituals help create a shared family identity and sense of belonging.” By creating this time together, Anne says you can add meaning and stability to the family unit and set a positive tone for the rest of the meal. Ritual 2: Focus on the Haves Write down three positive things you are grateful for every night before you go to bed. Keeping a journal and a pen on the nightstand will serve as a reminder and help you establish this ritual. For the tech savvy, gratitude apps on your phone, such as Feed Your Happy and Gratitude Journal, are also a practical way to practice. Research shows that gratitude journaling can put you in a dramatically better mood and even prolong that feeling for weeks and months the more you practice. To beat the negativity bias, gratitude opens up your brain to attract positivity like bees to honey. Read more: Start a Journal, Change Your Life Ritual 3: The Write Stuff Think of someone in your life who has made a significant positive impact and write a letter expressing how much that person means to you. If possible, meet this person face-to-face and read the letter aloud. Notice the person’s reaction and savor those moments to recall in the future. Martin Seligman, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and founding member of positive psychology, introduced this gratitude exercise to his students. The assignment has proven to be a powerful display of humanity and is now the most popular portion of his positive psychology course. Ritual 4: Thankful Awareness Try a new experience with the family and look for teachable moments, such as volunteering at a food bank or handing out gifts at a children’s hospital. Sometimes, the best way to appreciate all of the good in our own world is to take a moment to bear witness to the situations of those who are suffering. Gratitude in the face of adversity can help us weather the storms, provide a greater perspective to the plight of others and strengthen social bonds. Rick Hanson, Ph.D., author of Buddha’s Brain, says “sustained present moment awareness” can open our eyes to a world outside of our brains and help us “rest attention on the beneficial experiences of everyday life which are the building blocks of the inner strengths that we all want, like resilience, gratitude and love.” Read more: 8 Easy Practices to Enhance Gratitude Chris Libby is the Section Editor for Live Happy magazine.
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