As day-light savings inevitably descends for the fall season, we can give consideration to understanding the benefits of sleep. Along with many other circumstances that we value, we miss it when we do not have it! In the modern 24-hour society, insufficient sleep has global public health implications. According to the latest reflections from the National Institutes of Health, about 40% of Americans experience sleep problems and 70 million have chronic sleep deprivation.
Taking Lessons from Neuroscience
Truly, the best way to grasp the value of sleep is to receive lessons from neuroscience - a growing field that has spent significant time looking at the relationship between sleep and the brain - and what happens when we do not get adequate sleep.
In view of current evidence, those who are sleep-deprived have poorer memory, impaired thinking skills, and react more slowly during conversations. The fact that so many of us - including our family members, peers, friends, and co-workers - take much pride in losing sleep to do more work and become productive gives way to some misunderstanding. When we consistently choose work over sleep, we are choosing quantity over quality. The impact at school, work, and at home are tremendous - a good night’s rest can offer us a sharper focus, positive mood, increased alertness, and a proactive mindset.
Sleep restores the body and mind and creates optimal functioning during the waking state. High blood pressure, obesity, stress, and anxiety with poorer mental health are common conditions of those that suffer from impaired qualities of sleep and unrest. Sleep has continued to hold measures of fascination for many throughout the centuries. Our brains during cycles of sleep are like the smartphone. Even though we may not be looking at the screen all night, it never remains idle.
The brain has limited energy at its disposal and must either be aware and awake or asleep and cleaning. Sleep states allow for us to wash away the brain’s waste chemicals and toxins from the day for simple maintenance. We call this “mental wastage” where the brain is actively cleaning and permanently eliminating any short and long-term toxins that distract us from fresh learning opportunities for the following day. It can be like freeing up space and ensuring a faster processing speed. Waste elimination during sleep is responsible for learning, memory, and regulating our emotions, mood, and appetite. We can say that sleeping less to work more is as logical as not stopping to refuel the gas tank to reach our final destination!
Here are some ways that sleeplessness can impact our mind, body, and work productivity:
You forget simple things.
The hippocampus, the brain area centrally responsible for learning and memory, becomes disrupted on a single night of sleep deprivation. This brain region allows us to navigate daily circumstances and remember information in both short and long-term memory. Difficulty with concentration, being prone to more mistakes, having challenges in remembering numbers and facts, and experiencing a drop in performance are all outcomes of not getting enough quality rest. You may need to focus much more on tasks that might have come much more naturally before, and it makes focusing much more painful!
You are more prone to anger and anxiety.
Sleep will release a chemical reaction in the brain that will be responsible for emotion regulation and mood alteration. Melatonin is the main brain hormone involved with this process. Your body produces more melatonin in the evening hours to cause you to become more drowsy and sleepy at night and releases less in the mornings to get you to become awake. Often, a lack of sleep can cause you to feel cranky, irritable, and fussy - and this is noticeable to those around you, since sleep deprivation affects the amygdala, the emotional radar of the brain. Anxiety, anger, and impulsive decisions are fueled by activity in the amygdala. Changes overnight in sleep patterns can impact our behavior and how we relate to others. Negative emotions such as fear and anxiety can contribute to irritability and annoyance when sleep deprivation occurs. Get more sleep if you want to be kind and caring to others!
Your relationships are put at risk.
Sleep deprivation can harm your most important relationships. Much of the research from sleep science agrees that there is a reciprocal effect between relationship quality and sleep. Those that are happy in their relationships will sleep much better, and sleeping better will increase the quality of your relationships as well. Friends and colleagues can boast about how little they sleep. Yet with all this knowledge at our fingertips, we know the opposite is true. Sleep gives the brain uninterrupted time and freedom to develop clarity, sharpen focus, cultivate happiness, and increase in the quality of health!
Never settle for anything less than the full power and potential of your brain health on any given day.
There are many lifestyle factors that impact the ability for maintaining sound sleep. If you are looking to develop healthy sleep habits, here is some counsel to consider:
Hectic routines, inexperience with effective time management, and a sleep-unfriendly schedule in the world around you can minimize sufficient sleep and put you at greater risk for sleep deprivation. Research shows that burning the midnight oil will lead to trouble the next day. Shortness on sleep develops challenges with health, safety, performance, and an ability to learn. You would be surprised on how developing healthy sleeping patterns can change your productivity, relationships, mental health and overall lifestyle. Sleep is a biological necessity, and establishing healthy habits and attitudes toward sleep can carry you for a lifetime.
Getting out and moving can be easier said than done. There are often various obstacles fighting against our pursuit of movement. We might have the best of intentions to move and then find ourselves sprawled on the couch instead. Perhaps you have never experienced the value of movement and therefore do not consider it a priority. Whatever the rationale, here are several reasons why movement can be incredibly valuable, not only for our physical health but also for our mental well being.
Most of us have grown up learning that movement is beneficial for our physical health. It is a topic every year of school in P.E., Health class, and even with various sports teams. Regular exercise can result in a healthy body weight, reduced risk of diabetes and heart disease, stronger bones and muscles, and longer overall life span that contests against cancer, obesity, and stroke. Exercise can also help boost your immune system which is particularly important during the current pandemic.
Did you know that regular exercise can also benefit your mental health and brain functioning?
The Big Benefits of Exercise on Mental Health
There are several benefits of movement with regards to improving and maintaining mental wellness. According to researchers Robinson, Segal, and Smith, some of these benefits include: better sleep, more energy, sharper memory and thinking, higher self-esteem, and better resilience. In short, exercise helps us feel more confident in ourselves, improves the functioning of our brain, supports our body to work better, and makes us mentally stronger.
However, there is another incredible benefit of exercise that cannot be underscored enough. Exercise releases chemicals in our brain that help us feel HAPPY! Have you ever felt down and for some reason felt better after getting out and moving? There are very good reasons for that including the release of dopamine and endorphins in your brain when you exercise. Some runners even report feeling a “runner’s high” due to the chemical responses of the brain while running or participating in more rigorous exercise.
Here is a reflection that explains the chemical processes in the brain when we exercise and how these chemical reactions can benefit us:
Let’s Get Serious
Exercise may help you feel happier, but can it also help manage more significant emotional challenges? ABSOLUTELY!
Robinson, Segal, and Smith also highlight that exercise is a natural anxiety treatment and can help manage mild or moderate depression as effectively as with medication. Additionally, the chemical reactions that occur in the brain while exercising can promote better concentration and focus which reduces concern for hyperactivity and impulsivity. Exercise also helps release tension in your muscles and body which in turn reduces feelings of stress. Additionally, being mindful while exercising can help with the effects of a number of different problematic health conditions linked to raw emotions.
Mindfulness and Exercise
People are becoming more and more aware of the benefits of mindfulness activities; you may even participate in mindfulness exercises in your classes. When you think of a mindfulness activity you may think of a breathing exercise involving sitting up straight and still with your eyes closed while you focus on each part of your body or the very breath you are taking while listening to calm music.
This is not the only means by which we can practice mindfulness and reap its benefits. You can also engage in mindfulness when you are exercising to the benefit of your mental health.
According to the author Mead, “Directed meditation combined with running or walking helped to reduce symptoms of depression for depressed participants by almost 40 percent.”
So what does meditating while moving look like?
Meditation during exercise involves calming your mind before beginning the activity, focusing on your breathing while exercising, paying attention to what you’re feeling in your body, noticing when you foot hits the pavement, removing your headphones so you can focus on your body and surroundings, paying attention to your thoughts, and reflecting on the experience when you are finished.
Now What? How Do We Pursue Movement?
As stated earlier, it can be an uphill battle to get ourselves to move, but there are some simple steps you can take to make it easier. First, do something you like. If you do not like running, do not run. If you like playing basketball, then play basketball! Whatever it is you choose to do, make sure it is something you ultimately enjoy. This will result in a higher likelihood of consistent participation in the activity.
Secondly, start small. Stop aiming for goals that you will unlikely achieve because doing so will result in discouragement and disengagement. This may mean: starting with just 5-10 minutes of movement a day, not pushing yourself as hard as you want to or think you should, and perhaps exercising 2-3 days a week as opposed to 5-7 days. It is important to create goals for yourself but make sure they are reasonable and achievable goals!
Welcome back to a new school year! Anxiety and fear remain giants in the center of a global season of our healthcare crisis. Whether navigating the uncertainty of jobs still available and the economic decline or how widespread and deadly the novel coronavirus can be, people are spending their waking hours thinking about something other than what they are currently doing. The research states that most people spend 47% of their day thinking about anything else other than their tasks at hand.
Mind-wandering behavior can look like this: You wake up with a clear plan of attack for the day, and what feels like a moment, you find yourself back in your living room at home. Perhaps 9 to 10 hours of the day passed during the interim, but you only accomplished a few of your priorities on the list. Most likely, you are unable to remember what exactly happened in the day. Many are operating on autopilot rather than experiencing their day.
To add to the scene of being on autopilot, we have entered into the “attention economy” in which our ability to maintain focus and concentration has become just as important as executive functioning skills as time management and planning ahead along with technical competency at a job. Many are finding that focus and concentration can be particularly difficult due to this emerging trend of the current information and digital age.
Checking screens, clearing inboxes, exchanging text messages, and sending emails all while someone is presenting or sharing can be very commonplace. Many wear this prowess of multitasking like a personal badge of honor.
Multitasking might help in attacking the various tasks on a to-do list, but it also can promote more mistakes in hastiness, miss out on important information and signal cues for the task/assignment, and also diminishes the ability to retain information in our working memory - which in turn negatively affects creativity and problem-solving. In an always-on world, the human brain’s capacity to focus will require the self-control to weave through distractions and ultimately learn to become more focused, productive, and creative.
Here are some important steps in your path toward concentration and 11 strategies to stay focused this new school year:
Soothe your frenzy.
In many ways, frenzy is viewed as an emotional state of being moderately (a bit) to wildly (a lot) out of control. Usually, it is underscored with associated emotions as anger, sadness, anxiety, and other related shades of emotions. According to the latest in the medical community, emotions are processed within the amygdala - the small almond-shaped structure of our brain that responds powerfully to negative emotions usually signaled as threats. When the amygdala becomes activated by negative emotions, it hinders the brain’s ability to creatively solve problems and sustain enough attention to work through them. According to the functional brain imaging, positive emotions for individuals do the exact opposite and allow for them to experience an open door to more strategic and creative thoughts.
What can you do?
In the course of any given day, noted psychology researcher from the University of North Carolina, Barbara Fredrickson, highlighted that it takes a 3:1 “positivity ratio” of balance between positive and negative emotions to have an inner focus. Check out the positivity ratio calculator and determine your own score and where you may need to improve. Notably, people are seen to soothe their emotional frenzy through the activities of sleep, meditation, and exercise. With self-awareness and noting your own emotional patterns can help with this process to a 3:1 positivity ratio as well. Whatever can trigger a negative forecast of emotions can be overcome with these life activities.
Stop the train.
Like with many of the steam-engine locomotives of the 19th century, our brains are constantly scanning both our internal and external environments even while we remain focused on a particular task. It becomes extremely challenging to apply the brakes to a complete stop and minimize distracting thoughts. They seem to always exist in a train of wayward emotions, thoughts, interruptions and even sounds. Thankfully, the human brain has been designed to attack a random thought, hold from acting on an unnecessary action, and cease from being derailed by an instinctual emotion.
What can you do?
Use this as a model, adapted from American philosopher and researcher Eugene T. Gendlin, to augment your self-awareness:
This increases your body awareness. Any practice to engage you to look inward to develop focus will become beneficial in order to increase our efficiency in making better decisions and demonstrate creative problem-solving.
Change the scene.
It helps to shift our attention to a new problem or focus on an alternative task. This means not spending any mental energy on the previous task for a time. Giving yourself a brain break can replenish the depleted energy needed to return to the former task where attention was once lost.
What can you do?
Shift your focus from your stream of thoughts to your body. Go for a bike ride, walk outdoors, climb your stairwell, practice some breathing exercises, implement some calisthenic stretches. Physical movement allows for the brain to keep thinking about the most recent and past tasks, and a physical break will allow for a new idea to emerge. For every hour of work, it is recommended to schedule at least a 5-minute physical break.
The message is clear: If you desire to experience the benefits of a focused lifestyle in our digital shift, you have to put in the time to practice minimizing your distractions. It is necessary to turn off the phone, put away the screens, and simply practice being for at least ten minutes in your day. Do this to prevent yourself from resorting to autopilot and relapsing into behaviors of procrastination.
Developing a value for high-quality inner focus and concentration within your work environment will yield great outcomes for the new school year ahead!
During this pandemic summer, it becomes important to reorient ourselves to reinvigorating activities that launch us with expectation into the next season. For those that will stay at home, books have taken on a new meaning within a summer of tentative re-openings and continued social distancing. In one sense, fully immersive experiences that are altogether new and nostalgic with sentiments of escapist imagination are needed within our current landscape.
According to the latest research from the American Psychological Association, trends with high school students indicate that less than 20% of America’s teens are reading a book, newspaper, or magazine each day for pleasure whereas a contrasting 80% are using their social media daily. “Compared with previous generations, teens in the 2010s spent more time online and less time with traditional media, such as books, magazines and television,” said Dr. Jean M. Twenge, author of the book iGen and professor of psychology at San Diego State University. “Time on digital media has displaced time once spent enjoying a book or watching TV.” As usage rates of digital media went up in the last three decades, so too did the enjoyment of print media decrease during leisure time.
In many ways, fictional literature is a form of expression, artwork, perception, and understanding that calls us to accept it with affection. Reading fiction allows us to improve in our own capacity to step into someone else’s perspective, understand social situations more effectively, and learn to cultivate a sense of societal awareness as we digest others’ thoughts and emotions. Even in a pretend realm of fictional accounts, we can still track with the characters’ concerns and struggles, joys and hopes, and all of the related nuances in the fine print of their social dynamics that give us valuable insight into our common humanity within the world.
Here are several relevant reasons why fictional literature can become an important past-time:
Dr. Daniel Willingham, psychologist at the University of Virginia, states that a key component to reading well is “motivation - you have to have a positive attitude toward reading and a positive self-image as a reader.” Many parents typically experience overwhelm with all of the current research that highlights how a child’s reading is linked to greater academic achievement, executive functioning skills, testing success, and overall emotional well-being, and it creates an obligation for them to present reading to their kids as chocolate cake rather than spinach. Those that benefit from the discipline of reading will have positive later-in-life outcomes as well.
With family obligations, work schedules, chores, and errands - will giving ourselves to the works of fiction actually be fruitful or insignificant? In many ways, reading literature is about absorption - about being lost in a story, delighting in the author’s carefully crafted prose, and enjoying the nature of the writing. American novelist Flannery O’Connor commented, “The fact is, people don’t know what they are expected to do with a novel, believing, as so many do, that art must be utilitarian, that I must do something, rather than be something.”
Editor for the Los Angeles Times, David Ulin writes about the lack of concentration in The Lost Art of Reading:
Reading is an act of contemplation, perhaps the only act in which we allow ourselves to to merge with the consciousness of another human being… In order for this to work, however, we need a certain type of silence, an ability to filter out the noise. Such a state is increasingly elusive in our over-networked culture, in which every rumor and mundanity is blogged and tweeted. Today, it seems it is not contemplation we seek but an odd sort of distraction masquerading as being in the know. Why? Because of the illusion that illumination is based on speed, that it is more important to react than to think, that we live in a culture in which something is attached to every bit of time.
The main point is to find time and read. Often, literature can carry just enough instruction to cause reflection and planning about family, job, and life priorities with renewed energy and clear focus on the primary goals. This requires thought for us to:
Literature is life, and the rewards of reading fictional literature are tremendous. It helps to humanize us. It energizes our understanding and creates awareness of ourselves and others while it expands our own range of experiences. It enlarges compassion for people and awakens our imaginations as it draws us into a sense of beauty and brings us a form of constructive entertainment. Just as much as facts, literature invites us into an experiential knowledge of life and gives us important perspective in this season. Have a wonderful summer filled with the joy of reading!!!
In these challenging and altogether disruptive times from the current pandemic of SARS-CoV-2, we must endure an outbreak that many of us have not seen before. Unable to visit friends, interact with relatives, work out at the gym, or simply shop for food without wearing a mask, life has changed. We have observed the sudden flare of a virus that abruptly broke into private and public life, tested world-class healthcare facilities, and given routine to the new practice of social distancing.
Influential voices of culture as Bill Gates even stated several years ago in his widely acclaimed TedTalk that, “There’s no need to panic… but we need to get going” and announced that we were not prepared for another outbreak as much “scenario planning, vaccine research, and healthcare training” were needed. Yet, many concluded that another pandemic would arise for a future day. Following suit with the current health crisis in this pandemic, most states including our own have chosen school closure to weaken the effects of the virus.
For the Class of 2020, approximately 3.7 million high school seniors continue to experience a variety of emotions that include: sadness, anxiety, and anger. A school year which began with enthusiasm and hope for the future now becomes confronted with worry and disbelief. We can look to others to motivate us onward when we lose our own sense of flair. Personal stories of resilience have encouraged multitudes. These life narratives cause listeners to consider the strength and value of decisive actions to press forward in their journey. Recent events with a pandemic and its global footprint, alongside a gradual economic recession, are context for urgency in developing vision for resilience.
During critical seasons that demand greater personal resilience, emotional agility is needed to navigate the emotional experiences of a rapidly evolving and complex global community. Dr. Susan David, a psychologist originally from South Africa, demonstrates principles for this novel concept of emotional agility in her TedTalk and additional reflections on her show Checking In.
Research from the University of London has been able to demonstrate that emotional agility will provoke individuals to meaningfully respond to stress, make strides in job performance, reduce work-related errors, and become examples in their field. Dr. David describes this call to emotional agility as that “which enables people to approach their inner experiences in a mindful, values-driven, and productive way rather than buying into or trying to suppress them. The process isn’t about ignoring difficult emotions and thoughts. It’s about holding those emotions and thoughts loosely, facing them courageously and compassionately, and then moving past them to make big things happen in your life.”
Class of 2020, and all students affected by this pandemic, here are several important considerations in choosing resilience and establishing the building blocks of emotional agility:
Resilient individuals find and experience meaning, pursue core values, and maintain a strong capacity for perseverance in their life circumstances. Truly anyone can bounce back from hardship and problematic circumstances with just one or two of these character qualities, but resilience requires all three according to the current landscape. During times of deep recessions, resilience becomes a necessary ingredient more so than before to rebuild oneself from sinking further into despair or a greater loss of confidence. This becomes possible through vision for emotional agility.
A heartfelt congratulations to the Class of 2020!!!
Podcasts accompany people during long commutes, workouts at the gym, and downtime in the bathtub, among other places. If you’re wondering if that’s a good thing, it may help you to know that podcasts interact with your brain in the same way stories do.
A 2016 study found that listening to podcasts stimulates multiple areas of both the left and right hemispheres of the brain. Accessing information via the human voice can generate activity in parts of the brain responsible for memory, sensory activity, and emotion.
If that’s not enough to get you listening to podcasts, we’ve compiled a list of some great ones. These mental health podcasts were chosen for accuracy of information, honesty, and content that promotes reflective dialogue.
Podcasts are a modern, efficient way to increase your knowledge base about virtually any topic, including those that affect the health and well-being of your body, brain, and spirit. These are ten previews direct from their publishers. If you’ve got 15 minutes or more to spare, check them out:
The Overwhelmed Brain
Anxiety, depression, fears, obsession, panic, or any relationship, marriage or family issues, this show will help you achieve less stress and more happiness. Become empowered and honor yourself so that you can make decisions that are right for you. Mindfulness, compassion and being in the present moment are only components of a bigger picture. Live authentically and strengthen your emotional intelligence to avoid emotional abuse. Get to the root of emotional issues with solid relationship advice and personal help. If affirmations don't work and you're tired of being told to "think positively!", start listening to this show for a better life.
Happier with Gretchin Rubin
Gretchen Rubin is HAPPIER, and she wants you to be happier too. The #1 bestselling author of Better Than Before gets more personal than ever as she brings her practical, manageable advice about happiness and good habits to this lively, thought-provoking podcast. Gretchen’s co-host and guinea pig is her younger sister, Elizabeth Craft, a TV writer and producer living in Los Angeles, who (lovingly) refers to Gretchen as her happiness bully. Part of the Cadence13 Network.
10 Percent Happier
Dan Harris is a fidgety, skeptical ABC newsman who had a panic attack live on Good Morning America, which led him to something he always thought was ridiculous: meditation. He wrote the bestselling book, "10% Happier," started an app -- "10% Happier: Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics" -- and now, in this podcast, Dan talks with smart people about whether there's anything beyond 10%. Basically, here's what this podcast is obsessed with: Can you be an ambitious person and still strive for enlightenment? New episodes every Wednesday morning.
By the Book
Half reality show, half self-help podcast, and one wild social experiment. Join comedian Jolenta Greenberg and culture critic Kristen Meinzer as they live by the rules of a different self-help book each episode to figure out which ones might actually be life changing.
The Struggle Bus
The Struggle Bus is an advice show about mental health, self-care, and just getting through the day. Co-hosts Katharine Heller (@spkheller) and Sally Tamarkin (@sallyt) answer listener questions about family, friends, work, mental health, love, and literally everything else — no topic is off-limits and no problem is too big, too small, or too weird. Climb aboard and get advice from two friends who have lots of feelings and lots of opinions.
The Hilarious World of Depression
A show about clinical depression...with laughs? Well, yeah. Depression is an incredibly common and isolating illness experienced by millions, yet often stigmatized by society. The Hilarious World of Depression is a series of frank, moving, and, yes, funny conversations with top comedians who have dealt with this disease, hosted by veteran humorist and public radio host John Moe. Join guests such as Maria Bamford, Paul F. Tompkins, Andy Richter, and Jen Kirkman to learn how they’ve dealt with depression and managed to laugh along the way. If you have not met the disease personally, it’s almost certain that someone you know has, whether it’s a friend, family member, colleague, or neighbor. Depression is a vicious cycle of solitude and stigma that leaves people miserable and sometimes dead. Frankly, we’re not going to put up with that anymore. The Hilarious World of Depression is not medical treatment and should not be seen as a substitute for therapy or medication. But it is a chance to gain some insight, have a few laughs, and realize that people with depression are not alone and that together, we can all feel a bit better. American Public Media and HealthPartners’ Make It Okay campaign are committed to breaking the stigma around mental health.
The OCD Stories
The OCD Stories is a show that offers hope and inspiration. Stuart Ralph interviews some of the best minds in OCD treatment and recovery to share their advice, to both entertain and educate listeners towards a healthier life. Hope it helps. Disclaimer - this podcast is not a replacement for therapy. Please seek treatment from a licensed mental health professional.
Award-winning psychotherapist Dr. Sheri Jacobson has sat on both sides of the therapist’s chair. In the TherapyLab podcast, she explores people’s personal insights into therapy, mental health and wellbeing. Through candid conversations with inspirational people including musicians, photographers and authors, the series is great listening for anyone who has ever wondered “What is therapy like and how does it help?”
Tiny Leaps, Big Changes
Tiny Leaps, Big Changes is a personal development podcast focused on exploring the day-to-day behaviors we all engage in that determine the results we gain in our lives. Hosted by Gregg Clunis, the show shares simple strategies you can implement into your life to start moving the needle towards your biggest goals.
Anxiety Slayer is an award-winning podcast for anyone suffering from PTSD, panic attacks, stress, and anxiety. Listen in for a rich collection of supportive conversations, meditations, relaxations, and breathing techniques to help you feel calm, centered and relaxed. Join us for weekly podcasts for your peace of mind and personal growth. Celebrating 10 years!
Some one in five U.S. adults is taking at least one drug for a psychiatric problem; nearly one in four middle-aged women in the United States is taking antidepressants at any given time. You can't escape it: When scientists test the water supply of Western countries, they always find it is laced with antidepressants, because so many of us are taking them and excreting them that they simply can't be filtered out of the water we drink every day.
Mustang Nation, if you had always wanted to attend a college campus and be part of one of their classes - now is an opportune moment!! Yale University of Haverford, Connecticut has been inspiring hearts and minds for over 300 years by bringing together ideas and people for positive change around the globe. Emphasizing learning as an essential way of life, Yale is now bringing the widely popular "happiness" course online through Coursera. Check out this free 4-week online course and take the Mustang Happiness Challenge at MVHS by committing to:
1) Taking the "happiness" course with Yale Psychology Professor Dr. Laurie Santos
2) Reading through this current reflection on "The Pursuit of Happiness with Flow" and listening to Dr. Santos' podcasts here
3) Leaving your feedback on this post and sharing with classmates and loved ones how you have been growing in awareness of your pursuit of happiness with flow
The Pursuit of Happiness with Flow
American essayist Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Throughout the centuries, philosophers have queried the search for happiness for its own sake, and every other factor related to happiness as good health, beauty, power with influence, status, money, impact, and a lasting legacy are also valued and seen as products of the pursuit of happiness. In addition to geopolitical and civilian circumstances, our nation continues to experience heightened levels of depression. Not only impacting adults, current studies reflect that teens are also becoming impacted by these alarming rates of depression. Each year, the World Happiness Report reflects on global conditions of social stability and services; gross domestic product per capita; trust in government and institutions; levels of crime and corruption, etc. all contribute to the objective measure of happiness within the nations of the earth. Investigative journalist, Johann Hari, reflects that:
Some one in five U.S. adults is taking at least one drug for a psychiatric problem; nearly one in four middle-aged women in the United States is taking antidepressants at any given time. You can't escape it: When scientists test the water supply of Western countries, they always find it is laced with antidepressants, because so many of us are taking them and excreting them that they simply can't be filtered out of the water we drink every day.
Social psychologists of our era have started to engage with the great questions of life as we have entered the digital age: What is happiness? Who has it? Who does not? And why not? The research studies and their findings are sobering yet fascinating. People are unable to acquire happiness simply by desiring it, and waiting for it does not guarantee it. Hoping for happiness does not produce it, and we must know what exactly happiness is in order to pursue it overall. Many might retain the desire for happiness but end up going to the grave without having simple, realistic, and soulful approaches to obtaining it within a lifetime. More cars, more boats, more houses, and more possessions do not equate to a life lived in satisfaction and pleasure, causing our souls to become stretched into new depths of understanding, deepened insight, and heartfelt wisdom. Happiness emerges beyond the mere cosmetics of the mundane and meaningless, and it seeps through our personal histories to cause us to experience the fullness of life. Three main categories of happiness and satisfaction are identified based on recent research studies. The Pleasant Life: People in pursuit of the Pleasant Life seek happiness by looking for pleasure. They are good at savoring the moment and making their pleasures last. These people are often described as “thrill-seekers.” The Engaged Life: People in pursuit of the Engaged Life seek happiness by working hard at their passions. They immerse themselves so deeply in these that they sometimes come across as cold and uncaring; but for them, time seems to melt away as they experience a state of total engagement. The Meaningful Life: People in pursuit of the Meaningful Life use their strengths to work toward something they believe contributes to a greater good. This greater good motivates them deeply. Happy people are highly intentional and passionate to employ their strengths; the people that saw themselves with meaning and engagement were noted as the happiest.
Renown psychologist and researcher on studies for happiness and pleasure, Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, highlights his findings here. He applies the term “flow” as a way of becoming completely immersed, with a heightened level of attention and focus, in various life activities - “flow” describes our love for what we are doing and being excellent in it. Gardening, cooking a full meal, bowling in a community league, writing a novel, or blogging a post all exemplify activities in which the focal point is not necessarily on the individual or the task, but the energized focus and full enjoyment of the process within the activity. Full concentration and effort on the task, absorption in the activity at hand, constant engagement, and maintaining a belief that the task and/or job matters to us are essential facets to being in a “flow” state. According to the latest research studies, only 20% of the general American public achieve a flow state each day at work whereas 15% typically never enter their flow state on the job. In my perspective, entering into the “flow” state daily is imperative if we are going to see the tides of depression change in the nature of our nation’s mental health crisis.
Here are simple ways to buffer yourself and family members from the snares of depression and experience flow:
It becomes important to assess our own ideas of happiness, and if we are not attaining it in our search - to truly wonder why and what this means for us within the global community and digital age. We must become more expectant to look at the hidden parts and allow light to shine upon the inner horizons of ourselves. If we give ourselves the time and wisdom needed to desire, recognize, and possess happiness, then the pursuit of happiness will become a priority in which we pursue greatness for the soul. We learn what we are called to in this moment. That will carry us into the next moment as we discover how to live even more enriched in a flow state, becoming full of life.
The Blue Zones of Happiness: Lessons From the World's Happiest People by Dan Buettner
Happiness by Joan Chittister
Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Focus by Daniel Goleman
Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions by Johann Hari
The Happiness Curve by Jonathan Rauch
Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment by Martin Seligman
Mustangs, the world is currently rough out there! As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be widespread, one of the most frightening and frustrating aspects of the disaster is the fact that no one knows how long it will be before the crisis is resolved. Being humans, we are used to stories that have a beginning, a middle, and an end; it can be hard to make sense of an experience without knowing where you are in the story line.
When life seems to lose its narrative structure, books can be a source of personal comfort. Jane Austen’s novels, for instance, are reassuring not only because of their happy endings but also because of the way they uphold social conventions, even while acknowledging their fallibility. Isaac Asimov’s works, from what has been known as the golden age of science fiction, presents optimistic visions of the future in which machines and the universe itself are governed by laws people can identify and understand. Commonly noted as a psychologist in the history of literature, Fyodor Dostoevosky's accounts are renown for his activity as a journalist that had prophetic vision of how Russian revolutionaries would behave if they came into power. Any direct quotes are from key literary enthusiasts from around the world. Here are some suggestions for your next book nook experience:
“No other author goes with such casual intimacy as [Austen] … into the vulnerable spot where society touches the root of self. And few authors are at the same time so quietly fearsome and so intensely consoling.” Check out Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, and Mansfield Park!
Fyodor Dostoyevsky achieved great celebrity in his own time. Indeed, he frequently capitalized on his legend by drawing on the highly dramatic incidents of his life in creating his greatest characters. Even so, some events in his life have remained clouded in mystery, and careless speculations have unfortunately gained the status of fact. Check out Notes from the Underground, Crime and Punishment, and The Brothers Karamazov!
Many Americans are tasked with navigating multiple long-term goals within any 168-hour week. Time becomes the great equalizer for all that work blue-collar and white-collar jobs as well as the stay-at-home parent and campus student. As one task awaits accomplishment, another task arouses attention and catches our thoughts. For many, procrastination can be likened to a strange and opposing force similar to bringing like poles of a magnet together. It can cause its victims to fail out of school, perform poorly in the workplace, put off saving for retirement, and prevent the pursuit of medical treatment among many other life scenarios. A campus study from over two decades ago found that college-age procrastinators are more likely to experience more illness, higher stress levels, and more likely to drop out by the end of their fall semester. Blogger of Wait but Why Tim Urban engages this theme of extreme procrastination, and you can view his Ted Talk. Some perceive procrastination as a mode of failing to self-regulate behavior - bad behaviors that are an outcome of the lack of self-control. Others have stated that procrastination is not a matter of poor time management or being lazy, but a deeper reflection of how the brain works and perceptions of the self. Psychologists tend to see procrastination as an avoidance behavior, and it becomes a feel-good mechanism that attempts to alleviate the procrastinator’s negative feelings related to fear, dread, and/or anxiety of the task at hand with simple avoidance. Yet, the deadline might be more convicting and attacking for the procrastinator’s conscience, and it turns into a self-defeating cycle of shame and guilt. Rather than remaining focused on the long-term goal, this instant gratification gives the procrastinator “hedonic pleasure” and releases a form of immediate relief. In contrast, the long-term goals that are more challenging to realize but once achieved produce long-lasting satisfaction and emotional well-being, now termed as “eudaimonic pleasure.”
“When making long-term decisions, people tend to fundamentally feel a lack of emotional connection to their future selves,” says Hal Hershfield, a psychologist at UCLA Anderson School of Management who studies both the present and future self. “So even though I know on some fundamental level in a year’s time, I’ll still be me, in some ways I treat that future self as if he’s a fundamentally different person, and as if he’s not going to benefit or suffer from the consequences of my actions today.” Those who are emotionally connected and in touch with their future selves report fewer procrastination behaviors. Getting in touch with the future self can produce more long-term positive emotions about the present self. In one of Hershfield’s studies, those that were better emotionally connected with their future selves through virtual reality and digitally-aged photographs of themselves were twice as more likely to invest in retirement accounts than those who did not. Assisting the procrastinator to get in touch with the future self can support long-term vision and promote overall long-lasting happiness and satisfaction.
DePaul University psychology professor, Joseph Ferrari, states that there are typically two distinct types of people that have problems completing chores on time: chronic procrastinators and task delayers. Underlying scientific conclusions pertain to the conditional problem of pervasiveness. Household chores can be overwhelming and might create a need for aversion to other activities that are more preferred, but they are not indicative of a chronic problem. Universally, all people have the capacity to procrastinate at times, but chronic procrastinators experience a negative impact on their personal health and relationships.
Ferrari states in his research that this is a “lifestyle of avoidance” and this description applies to about 20% of the general public. Task delayers have the capability to acquire better lifestyle habits in contrast to their chronic counterparts. Social psychologist Roy Baumeister and his former colleagues from Case Western Reserve University established in their findings that the human body has a basic energy supply of glucose within the bloodstream, and eventual decision-making opportunities deplete the necessary energy required to be decisive and exercise self-restraint, especially while at work described through a phenomenon called “decision fatigue.” A component of why task delayers are lulled into their bad habits in the first place might be the time of the day or week when chores often occur. “Doing those tasks takes some self-control, and if you’ve made a lot of choices already that day, it’s harder to exert self-control,” states Baumeister.
Negative emotions as guilt and shame contribute to chronic procrastination especially in light of how the procrastinator internalizes task avoidance as an outcome of a larger moral failure. The chronic procrastinators tell stories of that which could be if they simply buckled down and did that task at hand. Yet, accomplishing tasks into small, manageable steps and related efforts can still become thwarted if chronic procrastinators do not perceive their progress as dynamically changing or progressing quickly enough. These individuals attack themselves in an endless cycle of shame that calcifies negative behaviors into bad habits, instead of evaluating their procrastination more rationally. Task delaying and chronic procrastination researchers are continuing to plow into new frontiers in the last two decades as they have stated that decision fatigue already negatively impacts individuals that have a low willpower. People who expect themselves to fail often do, and this indicates more reason for people to be more conscious of their habits. Linda Houser-Marko, research psychologist of the Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation, highlights in her recent findings that it can be better to measure progress toward larger projects in terms of smaller, incremental sub-goals - whether these are part of writing a small portion of a bigger research paper or a chapter within a book - rather than the larger objective itself. She counsels people who struggle with procrastination that, “The higher-level goal might give you more meaning, but the lower-level goal is better when you have setbacks or when you’re not making as much progress.” Getting the task started along with the small victories associated with task initiation are part of what it takes to experience some measures of success. It might take more trial and error to achieve a good stance on the productivity high wire, and many productivity experts agree that it can be easier to turn something into something better with an editing process and revisions rather than turning nothing into something.
Here are several strategies for navigating the pitfalls of procrastination:
Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity & Getting Things Done for Teens: Take Control of Your Life in a Distracting World by David Allen
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
Get Out of Your Own Way: Overcoming Self-Defeating Behavior by Mark Goulston & Philip Goldberg
Better than Perfect: 7 Strategies to Crush Your Inner Critic and Create a Life You Love by Elizabeth Lombardo
Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself from Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life by Judith Orloff