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Happy Habits: 50 Suggestions--page 7

by Monica A. Frank, Ph.D.
"Happiness is not something you achieve. In fact, the more you try to find happiness, the less likely you will be happy. Happiness occurs by how you live your life."
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SUGGESTION 21: PET AN ANIMAL

Contact comfort is a basic human need which contributes to positive mood. Contact comfort is the need for physical contact with another living being. In some ways, it is as important as the need for food and water.

For instance, many years ago it was discovered that infants living in orphanages where they were fed but were not held often developed a syndrome called "failure to thrive" which could even result in death. This was attributed to a lack of physical nurturing and it still can occur in situations of neglect.

Animals can often provide the contact comfort that people need. And for many people, it is almost impossible to be negative with an animal. Have you ever noticed how people's voices will even change when they are talking to an animal? If you don't have a pet yourself, you may be able to find opportunities such as a friend's pet or helping out at a shelter or going to a petting zoo.

SUGGESTION 22: TAKE A DRIVE

Our brains thrive on change. Give your brain a vacation by doing something different. Whenever we do something different or change our routine, different parts of the brain are stimulated. When we stimulate different parts of the brain different chemicals are released which can help to improve mood.

Again, developing the conditions for happiness may be just doing simple things. For example, taking a drive (this doesn't mean the drive to work or running errands) or getting a change of scenery is another simple thing a person can do. In fact, a change of scenery can be looking at what you see everyday with a different perspective.

For example, choose to look for the different variation of colors in your environment or notice the microcosmic world. Any activity that is out of your normal routine will do. The idea is to engage in some activity that stimulates the brain in a different way.

SUGGESTION 23: FOLLOW A SLEEP ROUTINE

Happiness is closely associated with physical health. Another area of health that can contribute to positive mood and overall happiness is obtaining proper sleep. Too many people are sleep deprived which tends to create stress, an obstacle to developing happiness.

Several factors can interfere with proper sleep. First, for those who are sleeping excessively, it is important to establish your sleep hours and to stay awake during the rest of the time. Excessive sleep can change your chemical balance so as to make you more fatigued and unable to focus or think clearly. Even if you don't sleep well at night, it is necessary to remain awake during your established wake time to help train your body for the proper pattern and to re-balance the neurotransmitters (chemicals in the brain) that aid with sleep.

For those with insomnia, the most common problem is worrying about the stressors or mistakes made or certain negative beliefs/ideas. This type of thinking is stressful and causes increased physical and mental tension. The more tension a person experiences, the more difficult it is to fall asleep (and stay asleep). Relaxation is necessary for sleep. Therefore, the most effective methods for sleep is to engage in relaxing activities for about an hour prior to sleep and to use a relaxation audio or do some sort of mindfulness or meditation practice when going to bed.

As much as people want to believe that TV is relaxing and will use it to fall asleep, IT IS NOT! It may help you fall asleep because you turn off the intrusive thoughts when focused on something else, but it causes other sleep disturbance such as restless sleep or early-morning awakening because it is stimulating the brain, not relaxing the brain.

One particular type of worry that people with sleep disturbance may have is the fear "What if I can't get enough sleep? I won't feel good tomorrow and won't be able to function." This thought actually increases tension and reduces the chances of being able to sleep well which creates a negative cycle and reinforces the fear. It needs to be addressed with the cognitive therapy techniques in which you identify the irrational thought and challenge it. In this case, the irrational thought is catastrophic thinking which needs to be changed from a catastrophic worry to an inconvenience: "I would prefer to sleep well tonight, but if I don't it is not terrible. It is just unpleasant, but eventually I will sleep if I stick to my plan."

Sleep is an important issue but often a difficult one to address. As you can see from the above, it involves behavioral and cognitive components. Therefore, when addressing this issue start with manageable steps and focus on gradual improvement. For instance, if you want to do relaxation and can't focus because you are too overwhelmed, just tell yourself to turn an audio on even if you don't listen to it fully. Any steps in the right direction will help you to eventually achieve what you want. READ MORE: page 8



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The Secret of Happiness: Let It Find You (But Make the Effort)--page 1

by Monica A. Frank, Ph.D.
"...happiness doesn't come with fireworks and a parade. Instead, it sneaks in quietly as the night so that you don't realize it has been there for awhile."
The first and most important key to finding happiness may be the most difficult for many people (especially those reading this article): To find happiness you must not seek it! In other words, the more you try to find happiness, the more it will elude you. I think Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) said it best, “Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”

However, don't be discouraged. You can do many things to create a life where happiness is more likely to find you. Yet, the same caveat applies: If you do everything for the purpose of finding happiness, you may achieve much, but you are not likely to find happiness. Researcher Mauss and colleagues (2012) who found that the higher the value a person places on being happy, the more likely they are to be unhappy, stated, “encouraging a mindset to maximize happiness (as some “self-help” books do) may be counterproductive.”

The reason happiness becomes elusive the more you strive for it is due to creating a fixed desire of achieving happiness. If you have read some of my previous articles, you know that a fixed desire is a demand that something has to occur, or be true, or be achieved in order to be happy. Demands, or “shoulds,” are irrational thinking styles that create conditions for stress and unhappiness. Most of the time these demands take the form of “To be happy, I must be thin and wealthy” or “I must find the love of my dreams” or “I must have a fulfilling job.” In fact, a fixed desire can be almost anything. It could be "I should feel good today" or "My son should get an A on his exam."

However, typically the demands are not completely under the control of the individual and/or they are externally focused which means that the individual may not be able to make these things occur even with a great deal of effort. Therefore, this demand attitude allows happiness to be at the whim of the external world.

In the case of happiness itself, many people make the attainment of happiness a fixed desire: “I must be happy.” However, it is only when we realize that we don't need to be happy that we can find happiness. As William Saroyan (1908-1981) said in My Heart's in the Highlands “The greatest happiness you can have is knowing that you do not necessarily require happiness.”

The difference between a fixed desire and a desire or a goal is that the latter doesn't connect personal happiness with the outcome. For instance, a person may desire to find a fulfilling job but doesn't demand that it has to occur.

Interestingly, people who have desires rather than demands may be more likely to achieve their goals (Berg, Janoff-Bulman, & Cotter, 2001) possibly because they are more motivated and less discouraged. When the very essence of happiness is dependent upon the achievement of a goal, striving towards that goal can be quite overwhelming and even frightening: “What if I fail?”

The one time I experienced test anxiety was just as I started to take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) that would affect my entrance into graduate school to become a psychologist. Just before I picked up my pencil, I said to myself, “This is the most important test you will ever take. If you don't do well, your life will be ruined.” My anxiety shot up as I opened the booklet to read the first question which might as well have been written in Russian because I couldn't comprehend a single word. Fortunately, I knew enough about self-talk and recognized what I had done to myself, so I put my pencil down, did five minutes of deep breathing and told myself, “This test doesn't matter. If you fail, all it means is that your life will take a different path.” That is the difference between a fixed desire and a desire.

The Tau te Ching (also known as “The Book of the Way” which I think of as early cognitive therapy) states, “If you want to be given everything, give everything up.” If you reflect on this statement you may realize that to give everything up, you must also give up the desire to be given everything. Very paradoxical and mind-boggling, isn't it? But that is the first step: To find happiness you must not seek it.

Similarly, Charles Dickens stated in his novel The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, “Happiness is a gift and the trick is not to expect it, but to delight in it when it comes.”

However, that being said, let's discuss how to achieve happiness. Actually, how to create the conditions so that happiness can find you. The work to finding happiness is to remove the obstacles to happiness. READ MORE: page 2

Intro  to Secret of Happiness--page 1

What Is Happiness?--page 2

Is Happiness Possible for Everyone?--page 3

What Intentional Behaviors Can Influence Happiness?--page 4

How Do You Choose Which Intentional Behaviors to Pursue?--page 5

A Final Word About How to Know Happiness When it Finds You--page 6



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