Want to be Happier?

What to be Happier? Here's How.

Happiness. Do you chase it? Do you wait for it? And do you know when to fall into its warm, woolly arms and enjoy.

There are a couple of reasons for the elusiveness of happiness:

  1. Although people think they know what will make them happy, their predictions are often inaccurate.
  2. People tend to follow the same path towards happiness over and over, despite not getting the result they want. Mistakes are repeated and when things get hairy, they go back to familiar behavior, regardless of how well that behavior has worked in the past.

New research by Stanford University has found that there is something you can do if you want to be happier – and it’s powerful. It’s all in the way the goals are set – make them concrete rather than abstract. For an extra boost setting and achieving prosocial, benevolent goals will increase happiness even more. 

Setting concrete goals reduces the discrepancy between what you expect around the goal being reached (when, if, how) and the reality. The smaller the gap between expectation and reality, the greater the satisfaction, happiness and well-being.

People tend to have inaccurate expectations about future outcomes, which means that the gap between expectation and reality are often quite wide. The secret to happiness lies in minimising the gap.

When goals are concrete, you’re more likely to know exactly what needs to be done to reach them and when they have been met. Success is measurable.

On the other hand broad, abstract goals will set unrealistic expectations and a confusing, perhaps overwhelming, path towards fulfillment.

When considering how to reach a goal, an abstractly framed goal (‘I want to be healthy’) encourages a focus on the why of the action whereas a concretely framed goal (‘I want to exercise four times a week’) turns the focus more on the details and logistics – the how. 

An abstract goal can be more difficult to assess than a concrete goal. It’s easier to measure how many times you’ve exercised than it is to measure whether you’ve lived a healthy life.

So How Does it Effect Happiness?

The ‘happiness effects’ are due to smaller gaps between the expectations and reality – the expectation of achieving that goal and the real result. A clearly defined goal is easier to achieve than a vague, generalized goal.

It’s more difficult to know when and if a goal has been met if the goal is couched in abstract terms.

Try this:

  • Rather than, ‘I want to improve my marriage’, try ‘I’ll organise a date night once a week.’
  • Rather than, ‘I want to look after the environment’, try ‘I will recycle.’
  • Rather than, ‘I’m going to eat healthier,’ try ‘I’m cutting out sugar from 2pm,’ (because you’ve still gotta live, right?)
  • Rather than, ‘I’m going to be happy,’ try ‘I’m going to have dinner/coffee with at least one friend once a week,’ (because connecting with your tribe amps up happiness)
  • Rather than, I’m going to get to know more people,’ try ‘I’m going to do a cooking class/learn Italian/join cycling group’ (or whatever works for you).

Reframing prosocial goals in more concrete terms allows for more realistic expectations and a greater likelihood of those expectations being met.

In the eternal quest for happiness, the way goals are framed is a critical one and one which, with thought and a small amount of tweaking, can turn the happiness quest from a ‘Lord of the Rings’ style journey to one less daunting and more rewarding.

What will be your goal(s) for the new year? Anything goes. We’d love to hear so feel free to leave a comment down below. You never know who you’ll be inspiring …

[irp posts=”923″ name=”Hardwiring for Happiness. How We Can Change Our Brain, Mind & Personality.”]

One Comment

lynne

Another excellent article, up lifting and very informative, clear, well written and well received.

Sometimes you just have to read something and you go “oh yeah, thats so simple”…l will be making my gaps smaller…..Thank you.

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Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
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#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
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#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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