Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Fighting parents might be more harmful to child development than divorce, study suggests

The damage caused to a child's development during a family breakdown is done before the parents separate, a study suggests.

Researchers at the University of York say children of divorcees are around 30 per cent more likely to have behaviour or emotional issues because of the arguing at home they have witnessed.

The research was based on data from 19,000 children born in the UK in 2000 and looked at 'non-cognitive' skills such as behaviour, emotional issues and interaction with peers.

The findings were presented at the Royal Economic Society's annual conference in Bristol.
The study also found that children of divorce perform about 20 per cent lower for cognitive skills. This gap is largely down to parents' education and finances, the study suggested.

Divorced parents

Gloria Moroni, from the Department of Economics and Related Studies, said: "The main result of my research is that the fact that children of divorced parents have on average lower cognitive and non-cognitive skills compared with children of intact families is not necessarily due to divorce itself.

"Most of the damage is given by pre-divorce circumstances and characteristics of the family.
"For example, parents who decide to divorce may also be lower-educated, may also be poorer, or they may have more conflictual relationships.

Cognitive gaps

She added: "The most interesting thing is that when comparing cognitive and non-cognitive skills, what we find is that cognitive gaps are mainly driven by the fact that parents who decide to divorce are also for example, less educated and have lower financial resources.

"But on the other hand, the non-cognitive gaps are mostly driven by the fact that parents who divorce have more conflictual relationships."

Dr Moroni said that the results suggest that interventions that encourage parents to co-operate, or that make them aware of the negative impact of conflicts on children, could help to close these non-cognitive gaps.


Tuesday, 25 July 2017

The Importance of Persistence and Keeping Going

"It's not that I'm smart, it's that I stay with problems for longer"
- Albert Einstein

Persistence is one trait that can make all the difference to what you achieve and how you work through divorce and yet it can be really hard to harness. When times get tough, keep pushing, keep taking action and believe in the power of your efforts to get the results you deserve.

"Keep the faith. The most amazing things in life tend to happen right at the moment you're about to give up"

4 Proven Ways to Overcome Adversity

Does it seem like every challenge that you experience becomes a big headache in your life?

No matter what adverse events you are currently experiencing, there is a purpose behind each one. For most of us, it’s difficult to imagine that losing a child or finding out that you have cancer is a blessing. I know from personal experience.

I was sexually molested and exploited at the age of 18. It took me a while to view it as a learning experience. The way in which you view adversity will either allow you to be set free from the heartache, confusion, guilt, and fear or allow you to be negatively affected in every aspect of your life.

After experiencing an adverse event, you will be at a crossroads. You can either view it as a blessing or allow your past to control the rest of your life.

Here are four proven ways to overcome adversity:

1. Surround yourself with positive people. Be selective with the people you surround yourself with. Indirectly they will affect your mood and your outlook. When you are in an emotional state of mind, it’s important to surround yourself with people who are supportive and encouraging.Human beings conform to those around them. Conformity is the change of behavior caused by another person or group of people. When experiencing adversity, it’s crucial in your development to surround yourself with people who are accepting of your flaws, mistakes, and imperfections. Overcoming adversity can be a challenge; when you have a supportive team helping you move forward, it’s much easier to accept yourself.

2. Write. There is something so peaceful in writing down your thoughts. However short or long your journal entries are, the process of writing down your emotions allows you to reflect.There are many benefits to writing:
  • Allows for self-expression
  • Helps give feedback about your life
  • Allows you to better understand your current situation
  • Allows you to think outside the box
  • Makes you a better philosopher
Writing in a journal once a day can help in you overcome adversity. Whatever emotions, feelings or thoughts come to mind, jot it down. Years from now you’ll be able to reflect and see just how much you have developed.

3. Be in nature. Nature is very therapeutic. Living in a society where we are constantly moving around, we are disconnected from the beauty of nature. Whether it be walking in the park or gardening at home, taking the time to connect yourself with nature is a very healing process.There have been more than 100 research studies that have shown that outdoor activities reduce the level of stress. With adversity comes stress and frustration. Taking the time to be outside is a way for you to nurture your being and allow yourself to take a deep breath and relax. The sun and the air give you a sense of calmness during the face of adversity. Take about 10-20 minutes outside each day and find your stress level decreasing.

4. Start investing in yourself. There is no greater investment than the investment within your own personal development.Experiencing adversity is a great excuse for people not to take charge of their lives. We all face adversity in some way. What makes one individual succeed and another not is how they handle their adversity. Many of us allow challenges to defeat us. What we need to focus on is developing into a stronger and wiser individual because of the challenges. There is no better way to do so than developing your internal world.

Get yourself a library card and start reading self-help books. Take a look at the audio section and find yourself a few audio programs that you would like to listen to in the car. It’s about starting that momentum moving forward rather than backward.

Your adversity is a blessing in disguise. You may not think so at the moment, but it will eventually make you stronger and wiser.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

21 Ways to Create and Maintain a Positive Attitude

Your attitude determines how you live your life.

Even if –at any given time–your choices of action are limited, your choices regarding your attitude are not. Always choose a positive attitude.

A positive attitude makes you happier and more resilient, it improves your relationships, and it even increases your chances of success in any endeavor. In addition, having a positive attitude makes you more creative and it can help you to make better decisions. To top it all off, there are studies that show that people with a positive attitude live longer than their sourpuss counterparts. Below you’ll discover 21 ways to create and maintain a positive attitude.

1. Have a Morning Routine. How you start your morning sets the tone for the rest of the day. Make sure that you have an attitude-boosting morning routine that puts you in a good mood so that you can start the day off right.

2. Carry An Attitude of Happiness With You. Instead of waiting for external things to make you happy, be happy and then watch how that influences the things that go on around you. That is, instead of telling yourself that first something good has to happen, and then you’ll be happy, be happy first. Happiness is an attitude, not a situation.

3. Relish Small Pleasures. Big pleasures—graduation, getting married, being promoted, having your book published—come too infrequently. Life is made up of tiny victories and simple pleasures. With the right mental attitude, watching the sunset, eating an ice cream cone, and walking barefoot on the grass are all you need to be filled with joy.

4. Smile. Smiling will give you an instantaneous attitude boost. Try smiling for a minute while you think of a happy memory or the last thing that made you smile. Smiling releases endorphins and serotonin, also known as the feel good hormones. It’s a lot easier to adopt a positive attitude when the chemicals being released by your body are conducive to well-being.

5. Upload Positivity to Your Brain. Read books with a positive message, listen to music with uplifting lyrics, and watch movies in which the protagonist’s optimism helps him/her to overcome obstacles and win, despite the odds. Change your attitude for the better by uploading as much positivity into your brain as you possibly can.

6. Take Responsibility. At any moment your attitude can be that of a victim or of a creator. The first step you need to take to shift from victim-mode to creator-mode is to take responsibility. Here’s the attitude of a creator:

I create my life.
I am responsible for me.
I’m in charge of my destiny.

7. Have a Zen Attitude. Think of life not as something that’s happening to you, but as something that’s happening for you. Look at any challenging situation, person, or event as a teacher that’s been brought into your life to teach you something.

The next time you find yourself thinking, “Why is this happening to me?” choose to have a Zen attitude, instead. Ask yourself, “What am I supposed to learn or gain from this”? or “How will this help me grow and become a better, more enlightened being?”

8. Be Proactive. A reactive person allows others and external events to determine how they will feel. A proactive person decides how they will feel regardless of what may be going on around them. Be proactive by choosing your attitude and maintaining it throughout the day, regardless of what the day may bring.

9. Change Your Thoughts. Positive thoughts lead to a positive attitude, while negative thoughts lead to a negative attitude. Changing your attitude is as easy as hitting the “pause” button on what you’re thinking and choosing to think different thoughts.

10. Have a Purpose. Having a purpose in life gives you a fixed point in the horizon to focus on, so that you can remain steady amid life’s vicissitudes and challenges. Bringing meaning and purpose into your life—knowing why you are here—will do wonders for your attitude.

11. Focus On the Good. In order to have a positive attitude, focus on the good. Focus on the good in yourself, the good in your life, and the good in others.

12. Stop Expecting Life to Be Easy. The truth is, life gets tough at times. For all of us. It can even be painful. But you’re brave and resourceful, and you can take it. Know that sometimes things won’t be easy, and adopt the attitude that you have what it takes to deal with anything that life throws at you.

13. Keep Up Your Enthusiasm. Enthusiastic people have a great attitude toward life. Have a list of ways to lift your enthusiasm ready for those times when you feel your zest for life draining away. Being enthusiastic will help you maintain the attitude that life is good and that you’re lucky to be alive.

14. Give Up On Having An Attitude of Entitlement. Think of the parable “Who Moved My Cheese?” by Spencer Johnson. Two little mice and two miniature people are put in a maze. Here’s what happens:

When the mice discover that the cheese isn’t where it’s supposed to be, they immediately get to work on finding another piece of cheese.

The two miniature people, instead, get angry that the cheese has been moved. They waste time expressing outrage and blaming each other.

Stop demanding that things be handed to you. Your attitude at all times should be the following:

  • It’s up to me to get what I want.
  • Good things come to those who work hard.
  • I adapt to change easily and quickly.
  • I keep going even when things get tough.

15. Visualize. When things aren’t going your way, keep a positive attitude by visualizing yourself succeeding and achieving your goals. When Nelson Mandela was incarcerated—in a tiny cell that was just 6 feet wide–he kept his hopes up by visualizing himself being set free.

Mandela once said, “I thought of the day when I would walk free. Over and over again, I fantasized about what I would like to do.” By visualizing his release he was able to maintain a positive attitude, even when he found himself under extraordinarily difficult circumstances.

16. Limit Your Complaints. Whining about anything and everything is not conducive to a positive attitude. When you complain you’re saying negative things about a person, place, or event, without offering a solution to fix the situation. Instead of complaining, do the following:

  • Remove yourself from the situation.
  • Shift your perspective about the situation.
  • Offer a possible solution.
Accept that there’s nothing you can do to change the situation and that complaining about it just fosters negativity.

Constantly complaining leads to a bad attitude. So stop complaining. Instead, start looking for solutions or accept what cannot be changed.

17. Watch Your Words. Use positive words when you talk to yourself.Studies have found that positive self-talk can boost your willpower and help you psych yourself up when you need to get through a difficult task. In addition, it can calm you down when you’re worried or anxious.

If you want to change your attitude from “I can’t do this” or “I’m going to fail”, to “I’ve got this” or “I’m going to do great”, change your self -talk.

18. Use The Power of Humor. People who know how to laugh at themselves and at life’s absurdities have a great attitude. Your sense of humor is a power tool, and you can use it to lift your mood and enhance your emotional state at any time.

When something goes wrong, ask yourself, “What’s funny about this?” A humorous perspective will have a positive effect on your attitude.

19. Use Gratitude to Improve Your Attitude. When you find yourself focusing on what’s wrong in your life, what you don’t have, or what you’re missing out on, adjust your attitude by feeling gratitude.

Studies show that having an attitude of gratitude is beneficial for every aspect of your life: being grateful improves your health, your mood, your relationships, your career satisfaction, and on, and on. If you need an attitude lift simply think of all the things that you have to be grateful for.

20. Develop an Attitude of Curiosity. The best way to approach any situation is to be open to what you can learn from it. That is, be curious.

Curiosity gives you a present-moment orientation which is similar to mindfulness. Being curious about a situation allows you to experience it more fully. In addition, curiosity will help you to approach uncertainty in your daily life with a positive attitude.

21. Seek Out Others With a Positive Attitude. A positive attitude is contagious. When you feel that you need an attitude boost, find someone with a great attitude and look for an excuse to hang out with them. Their attitude can’t help but rub itself off on you and you’ll be able to face the world with renewed optimism.


John Mitchell once said the following: “Our attitude toward life determines life’s attitude toward us.” The 21 tips above will help you to keep a positive attitude at all times. Live your best life by having a great attitude.


Saturday, 22 July 2017

How I picked myself up after divorce

Andrea Gillies had no idea her husband wasn't happy. Till one day, out of the blue, he told her in no uncertain terms

If anyone asks "What's the closest you've come to death?" I answer with the medical emergency I had long ago: the blue light, the ambulance … but the real answer is the night my husband told me he didn't love me any more. That felt like a death, at least. I had assumed that we were happy. It was a physical shock – I was reduced to gibbering and panic – and the striking, persuasive thing was that he didn't care; he had stopped caring what I felt about anything: that was the point. He went off overseas the next morning on business, as planned, and I made arrangements to move out.
There would be crying for a long time, on and off, but for the first week there was weeping more or less without stopping. I did it while crossing the park with the dog and walking along the beach. I wailed my way about town and sobbed in checkout queues. I lost all social embarrassment.

Three and a half years later, I live in a rented flat 200 miles away and we are divorced. The last time we met was almost two years ago, at a family event. We asked each other how we were, like acquaintances with no conversation. He was wearing a jacket I'd bought him once, from the Boden sale, and looked smaller than I remembered. For some reason, I told him this, and he said: "Yes, I appear to be shrinking."

He didn't look too unhappy about it. I realised that I wasn't going to say any of the one-liners that had queued up in my head ready for this moment, and which dealt saltily with the pain and chaos his decision had caused. Something about the day was too banal, and there was too much. I knew I wasn't going to say anything personal to him ever again.

Besides, technically, I had already moved on by then, following the directive that, at some point, you have to get back out there. I wasn't much interested in other men, but I made myself be interested; the one thing that seemed obvious, from my vantage point in the slough of despond was that only the distraction of another relationship was going to help me get out of it. The memory of being tracked at night across the sheet by someone intent on spooning in his sleep wasn't fading: quite the opposite. It had become powerful and undermining. It wasn't the prospect of being alone that was the problem. If I had been able to eradicate the sense of loss, if I had been able to reboot my brain and start afresh, I might have been happy to be alone. But I was constantly haunted.

If you work at home and don't talk to strangers in pubs or do sport or belong to associations, and don't have school-age children, it is very hard to meet new people. After a while it seemed obvious that online dating was the only way forward, though I wasn't prepared for how much effort that would take. The process of being "on offer" was not only humiliating, but time-intensive. Soon, a significant chunk of every evening was taken up patrolling half-a-dozen dating websites, pruning my advertising copy and getting into conversation with people. Often they proved to be the wrong people, though the realisation could take a lot of effort and a lot of Skyping, trying to establish a friendship so as to minimise the sense of risk.

People on dating sites fall into two camps: the instant meeters, who say hello and want to have a drink on Friday and those who have been badly burned and need a long run-up (I fell into the second category). There are different rules there, inside the digital flirtation pool, and people behave in ways they never would otherwise. The discarding of people becomes commonplace because it can be seen as a throwaway culture of endlessly refreshing offers.
One high-achieving, emotionally literate, sane-seeming man sent two emails a day for a month, growing ever more sure I was the woman for him, before deciding he didn't want to meet after all. Not meeting became the norm. Sometimes just before the date the confession emerged: his unusual fetish, his being a decade older than the profile suggested or the existence of a wife watching television in the next room, entirely oblivious. At other times it was simpler: he got off on the attention and was lonely, but not actually interested.
Somewhat dented, I gave up for a while but all attempts to meet someone in other ways failed. Partly this was to do with being middle-aged and out of shape. If I dropped a glove in winter in the street, there was never a man rushing to retrieve it, smitten and intent on taking me ice-skating.

Back in the online swamp, I began to give myself pep talks about the good-enough match. I began to operate in a kind of optimistic denial. It is easy to get into a situation in which he is keen and you are not very, or vice versa: a pragmatic clinging together of incompatibles, for just a little while, until too sad or bored to cling on any more. There are times in life when the sea is more attractive than the lifeboat.

Unrequitedness was a big issue. Men who reminded me of my husband, the interesting, handsome ones to whom I wrote long, witty letters, naively expectant of my worth being obvious, were out of my reach, talking to younger women with smaller bottoms. Rows and rows of contestants, even of age 50-plus, specified that they would meet only females under 30 who were a maximum size 12. A man of 56 told me: "Plain fact is, you're the wrong side of 40 and Rubenesque, which means you've got very little prestige." He told me to go to the gym and give up carbs. A frequenter of the manosphere, an online subworld of male bloggers and commenters, used the manosphere acronym SMV (sexual market value) so as to inform me that I didn't have much of it. It was all very disheartening and the end result was that I became grateful for crumbs of hope. In that situation, if someone nice crosses your path, genuinely single, not alarming-looking, someone you like on first sight, and the date goes well, and he's keen to have a second: the day this happens is a magnificently lucky day.

It seemed less and less likely that it would happen. But then, a year ago, reading new listings on a website from which I was about to delete myself, I met a man called Eric, a very tall man (good), who lived alone (good) and who worked in IT (maybe not so good). I wasn't sure, after the first date – nervously, he talked a lot about fibre optics – and that's when lots of people give up, thinking that if there is no instant "spark", there's no point.

There's a lot of crap talked about the spark. I can tell you from my own experience that sometimes it doesn't emerge for quite a while. Sometimes, people are just slow to get to know.

Some of the most endearing things about Eric have only emerged over time. Besides knowing a lot about the stars and about science, he has a secret passion for romcoms, is a buyer of surprise flowers and tickets, is up for budget flights on winter weekends, and is the uncrowned prince of DIY.

It also turns out that he is the kindest man I have ever met. If I were to lock myself in the bathroom and howl like a wounded fox, as I did the night my ex made his announcement, Eric would be distraught. He would sit on the floor and talk to me through the door, and beg to be let in to comfort me. Kindness is too often under-rated.

What is also noticeable is the constant physical proximity when we are together: the snuggling, the wanting to have a point of contact when sitting – a shoulder, a knee – and the frequent glancing touches when we are cooking together; the fact that even when it's cold, he'll take one glove off in the street so that we can hold hands skin to skin.

Not that things are simple. He has his baggage and I have mine, the actual and metaphorical, though I'm learning to live with the shadow, the one cast by grief. At the start I spent a lot of time fighting it, convinced I couldn't see anyone else until the shadow was gone. The truth is that it probably won't disappear altogether. It wears slowly away, like other griefs, and the trick is to accept that and be happy. Sometimes, even now, the ex pops up in dreams. Sometimes we have a frank exchange and he finally sees things from my point of view: a search for closure, I suppose. Once, when he visited me in my sleep, he told me he had broken up with the other woman, and I was horrified to find myself begging him to come home. It isn't something I'd do when awake, not now, but sometimes the subconscious hangs on to things the conscious mind has put to rest.

Now when I hear that people are to divorce I feel an acute pity. Separating is hard. When I was young and everything was black and white, I would see those articles about great life stressors and wonder about divorce being in the list next to bereavements and tumours. Even when you are happily married, the idea of separation is sometimes quite tempting. Your own flat and your own things; shopping and eating and travelling at will; a single's social life again and blessed independence.

At ordinary low points in a relationship you might think: "Well, it will be sad and there will be tricky negotiations over property and books, but it will be OK." The reality is somewhat different. What I hadn't expected was how much divorce would undermine the past. The doubts can begin to breed and multiply. Did he really mean it when he said "I do"? When did his heart begin to sink in response to my affection? Were they really happy, those holidays marked by smiling photographs? I can drive myself mad trying to identify the turning point.

But most of the time I don't obsess over these things. Most of the time I live my life forwards and can stop myself from looking back. Admittedly there are still bad, self-destructive days when everywhere I go, all I see is everything I've lost. Sometimes they are quite concrete things: I lost my house, for instance, and may never be able to afford one again. Other less tangible kinds of loss strike deeper, and quantifying them is a seductively bad habit. There are times, even now, when I beat myself up because suddenly it's obvious that it must have been my fault. Superficially, we were happy: it wasn't a bickering, obviously bad sort of a marriage and the end of it shocked everyone we knew, but the fact has to be faced that he was so miserable that he was driven into a corner, and turned his own life upside down in his desperation to be free. That's the shadow that's difficult to shift. But you have to live your life as forward-facing as you can. And you learn as you go; you learn so much.

I live my life differently now. I don't know if I could live with someone again. I don't assume that love will last, or look forward beyond the summer. Fundamentally, no matter what promises we make, the truth is that today is all we have.


Thursday, 20 July 2017

The Gift of Adversity

How often have you heard people say, after sustaining a major trauma, “It was terrible at the time, but it turned out for the best?” Can this really be true, or are they kidding themselves? Was it really a change for the better or just a rationalization to make them feel better?

What got me thinking along these lines was a decision to write a collection of stories about lessons I had learned from events in my life and in the lives of others I have known. On reflection, I realized that my most valuable lessons arose from difficulties and setbacks I had to confront, and imperfections I had to accept. Paradoxically, these adversities yielded unexpected gifts.

Before going any farther, I should emphasize the obvious: Adversity is in many ways undesirable — like when dog bites man. At its worst, adversity can be paralyzing, disabling or even fatal. On the other hand, it is interesting to consider what Shakespeare called the sweet uses of adversity, comparing them to the precious jewel in the head of an ugly and venomous toad. Nietzsche agreed, famously declaring that, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Such observations led me to my latest book, The Gift of Adversity.

But anecdotes aside, was Nietzsche right? What does science have to say about the matter? In 2004, Richard G. Tedeschi and Lawrence G. Calhoun of the University of North Carolina Charlotte defined a concept they called posttraumatic growth (PTG). They write that, “the frightening and confusing aftermath of trauma, where fundamental assumptions are severely challenged, can be fertile ground for unexpected outcomes that can be observed in survivors.”

I can personally attest to the accuracy of their statement. Here is a description of how I felt, after I was stabbed, nearly to death.

As I recovered physically, a new urgency stirred inside me, or rather, it felt as though something entered me from the outside — a force, a power, a drive — that directed me to create, produce and reproduce. I was like someone swept along in the thrall of a post hypnotic suggestion. My senses were heightened for everything, including a powerful sense of time passing. I had enormous appreciation for being alive. I felt I had to do things with my life — and quickly. I could relate to people who feel as though they have been born again.

Apparently this type of change is common, and Tedeschi and Calhoun emphasize that PTG is “a consequence of attempts to re-establish some useful basic cognitive guides for living.” The field of PTG is part of the exciting new discipline of positive psychology in which researchers and clinicians strive to understand how to boost psychological health and happiness, not simply to reverse sorrow and distress.

Psychologist Mark Seery and colleagues analyzed data from a national survey and concluded that, “a history of some lifetime adversity predicted better mental health and psychological well-being than did a history of no adversity or high adversity.” Seery’s group followed up with a prospective study in which they assessed past history of adversity in 147 participants and then gave them two challenge tests: one negative — having them plunge hands into ice cold water — and one positive — giving them an intelligence test. As with their earlier survey findings, the researchers observed that those people with intermediate histories of adversity showed more resilience on both tests than those at either extreme of the spectrum (no adversity or a high degree of adversity).

Such findings may lead us to conclude that Nietzsche was only partially correct, though it hardly improves the epigram to say, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger — unless it almost kills you.”

Studies like those of Seery and colleagues are undoubtedly important, but because they are confined to the laboratory and span just a short period, they probably underestimate the transformative powers of adversity — how hardship toughens us, deepens our understanding of life and of ourselves and, in the end, leaves us with hard-earned wisdom — the bittersweet fruit of adversity. It is that type of transformation that I have sought to capture and communicate in my new book The Gift of Adversity.

Norman E. Rosenthal, M.D. is clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical School. Besides The Gift of Adversity, he has written the New York Times best-seller Transcendence, and Winter Blues. He maintains a website at


Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Exercises for Stress & Anger Management

Stress and anger often go hand in hand. As your stress levels rise, so do your levels of frustration and tension. Likewise, repressed or uncontrolled anger can cause aggravation and stress. If you think you have a problem handling anger and stress in your life, you may want to consider seeing a counselor. Effectively handling your anger requires a combination of stress and anger management exercises. You can learn these techniques on your own or discuss them with your therapist for maximum benefit.

Physical Exercise

Physical exercise is one of the most effective methods for reducing anger and stress, according to author Vicki L. Schutt in her book, "How to Effectively Control Your Anger." Physical exercise provides you with an opportunity to release your emotions, especially if you feel as if you're about to explode. Additionally, exercise can help to reduce stress levels by increasing your body's production of endorphins, which are natural "feel-good" neurotransmitters that promote feelings of well-being. The next time you feel stressed or angry, try going for a run or a walk.

Reframing Exercise

Reframing is a mental technique used to diffuse hostile feelings and anger, according to author Richard West and Lynn H. Turner in their book, "Understanding Interpersonal Communication: Making Choices in Changing Times." It helps by changing your attitude about a given situation and changing the "frame" around it so you can see it in a more positive, productive light. Write down your negative, angry feelings for two days. Any time you experience a negative or angry thought, write it down. At the end of these two days, see if you can notice a theme in your thought patterns. Perhaps there is a general feeling or need that is not being met. Take one of the negative, angry thoughts you've written down and try to figure out a positive or productive counter-argument. For example, if you've written "I hate everyone," or "Everyone is out to get me," you could think, "Everyone has bad days, other people have problems, too." This exercise is most helpful if you are able to discuss your reactions with a therapist or trusted friend.

Deep Breathing

Deep breathing exercises can help you to relax, take time out and help you to gain control over yourself and the situation you're in. Deep breathing can reduce stress and anger by re-focusing your mind on bodily sensations instead of negative, volatile thoughts. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, deep breathing exercises can help your body to relax itself. Sit in a comfortable chair or lie down. Place one hand on your stomach and close your eyes. Inhale and focus on filling your abdominal area, then your chest, with breath. Pause, and slowly exhale. Continue breathing in this manner until you feel calmer and more relaxed.

Progressive Relaxation

Progressive relaxation is a technique that can relieve stress, anger and tension. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, this exercise is best performed lying down. You consciously tense and relax the major muscle groups in your body. Close your eyes, and tense your toes and feet for a few seconds, then release. Next, tense your calves and lower leg, then release. Continue tensing and relaxing your muscles until you get to your head. As you tense and relax each muscle, breathe deeply and allow your mind to focus solely on the physical sensations you are experiencing.


Tuesday, 18 July 2017

The Essential Art of Showing Up

In an age where the only constant is change and political and societal turmoil seem to be the norm we are bombarded with new and catchy, sometimes blindingly obvious ways to simplify our lives, to reduce the noise and to make life in 2017 more palatable. Whether through the simple act of tidying our surroundings and minimalist living, adopting the principles of Hygge (the Danish process of living simply, apparently) or mastering the subtle art of not giving a f**k, we’re presented with tools, techniques and mind-sets that will help us to ease the mental and emotional indigestion and make life a little easier.

I’m a practical kind of guy. I appreciate the importance of adopting the right mind-set to achieve my goals, but I’m definitely more about the action than the intention. As such, I want to share my own recipe for success in life (or at least one of the most essential ingredients) which seems to be getting lost increasingly. The importance of showing up.

Outside of a fairly average day-job in IT, my main calling in life is in working with those undergoing divorce or separation and helping them to build a life after divorce that brings greater fulfilment and happiness than they might have enjoyed in married-life or ever conceived as a possibility after divorce. In one of my coaching calls I was challenged by the client to name three things that make me a good father to the kids from my first marriage.

‘Good’ is a very subjective term. In context I suspect he meant it in reference to his own situation and was asking as a means of trying to figure out some guiding principles he could apply in the relationship he was working on with his kids.

I certainly don’t feel like a good father at times; sometimes I feel like I am killing-it but sometimes I feel like killing them (not literally of course, for disclaimers sake).

When put on the spot I didn’t have an immediate answer, but quite quickly after the call I figured out number one on the list. Put simply, I show up.

I show up for them, I appear where I say I will, I do what I say I will, I act with consistency as much as I can. Is this such a good thing? Is it a differentiator? Would my kids agree? I think so.

Showing up isn’t so-much a lost-art or a new idea, I just think it’s something that you either do, or do not (there is no try, as Jedi-master Yoda tells us). It stuns me regularly how many don’t really get this and don’t show-up in their lives.

It’s not just a logistical thing, a case of being where you say you will be (although that’s part of it). I pride myself in having raised the two daughters from my first marriage in a co-parenting arrangement with their Mum for over 10 years now. Although my custody of the girls has always been one-week on, one-week off, I’ve shown-up at as many school parents-evenings, sports practices and tournaments, karate-gradings and orchestra performances as I could. I hold a 100% record for seeing my eldest daughter sing (or more accurately, mime) in her primary school choir at performances across the North West of England even though these were spread between my weeks and her Mums. My stance has always been that unless there was a good reason I couldn’t be there, then by default I would be. I don’t say it for applause, but just because I think of it as common-sense.

It’s about more than showing-up in a place though, indeed just being there physically is seldom enough. It’s about committing to doing what you say you will, promising and then delivering; in fact, the essence of showing up is in under-promising and over-delivering and most definitely not the other way around. To show-up is to repeatedly take the rough with the smooth, to accept and expect the knocks but to carry on regardless.
For your kids it’s about setting the example of someone who acts with consistency, integrity, dedication and devotion. These words and principles don’t mean much to kids but they learn these traits through observing their parents and others as we show up in their lives and as they experience those who don’t. They test us, challenge us and give us hell. At times it’s rewarding, heart-warming and uplifting. Sometimes it results in laughter and happiness, other times it leads to tears.

Regardless of how each day ends, I show up the next day for more of the same because that’s what showing up means.

The principle of showing up applies so much more widely though. As I help my community work through divorce and navigate the many tests and challenges this entails I emphasize the need to show up repeatedly. Showing up is a mind-set that encompasses the intention not to be ground down, broken or beaten by circumstance. It’s about knowing that something won’t be easy but instead of hiding from it we will take it on and come out the other side. Crucially it’s about not shying-away and cowering in a corner or even just letting circumstances and events unfold around us as we cocoon ourselves in denial and fear. 
Instead we feel the fear and do it anyway.

When we face times of challenge and difficulty, showing up is essential. Relationship difficulties, money-worries, troubles in work and business are only dealt with by persistently showing up until they are dealt with.

Showing up is required to maintain good things too. How many fitness and dietary regimes have calamitously failed when the person started to feel complacent about their programme and ultimately their gains were lost. You’ve got to keep showing up at the gym, making the right dietary and lifestyle choices to maintain health and fitness. A healthy and happy relationship requires you to continually show-up too; telling your spouse that you love them daily, not just when you want something. Showing up is part of the ongoing process, not just a remedial step to resolve problems and issues.

Finally it’s something you have to do consistently and persistently for the benefit of others and for yourself. Living your life in service of others is an admirable intent but one that will ultimately fail if you aren’t showing up for yourself and meeting your own needs first and foremost. There’s a reason why the safety instructions on a flight tell us to get our own oxygen mask on before we help others; if we can’t breathe then we’re no use to anyone else.

Like most instructions offered to us these days, to tell you to show-up may seem obvious or futile, impotent as a means of helping you through challenges or to make life a little simpler. Like good cookery lessons though, there is beauty in mastering the art of doing the simple things well. How will you bake a cake if you can’t even mash a potato?

Show-up for yourself, then you can show-up for others. Sometimes you’ll be glad you did and other times you won’t. The reward is in knowing that either way, you showed up regardless. In each instance it demonstrates the consistency and resilience as someone who faces things rather than avoids them.

It won’t change what goes on around you and it won’t change what others do, but you WILL feel better as a result of it.



How Do I Help a Stressed Friend Or Loved One?

It’s difficult when we feel the heavy weight of anxiety bearing down on us, but watching a loved one deal with it can be just as hard. In fact, one of the most common questions we hear from our meQuilibrum community is, “How do I help my partner/child/sibling/parent/friend who’s really stressed?” So we decided to dedicate this week’s Cup of Calm to providing concrete ways you can help a loved one in distress return to a place of calm and capability.

April is Stress Awareness Month, which is all about increasing public awareness of both the causes and cures for our modern stress epidemic. In that spirit, we’ve put together a list of meQuilibrium’s top tips for soothing anxiety in others, from our Chief Science Officer Dr. Andrew Shatté.

It’s common to feel frustrated or powerless. The key? Counterbalancing the physical symptoms of anxiety and helping to put the issue in perspective. Here are five actionable ways to do just that:

1. Help them reconnect with the present. When someone you love is in the throes of anxiety, your first instinct might be to urge them to “calm down” or to “just relax.” But this may not be possible, because anxiety has a physical component that you can’t always “think” your way out of. “Anxiety is triggered when we perceive a threat, and that perception, accurate or not, causes a release of adrenaline,” says Shatté. “It activates the sympathetic nervous system, an age-old way to get us to flee from danger. We sweat, and we even get dry mouth as a way to preserve moisture. Any activity that requires blood or energy shuts down, so we get cold feet and tingling fingers.” These sensations are real, so don’t invalidate them. Instead, help your loved one reconnect with the present moment. You can do this by asking them to close their eyes and notice their body or what’s going on around them: the feeling of their feet touching the ground, the weight of their hands in their lap, the quiet hum of an air conditioner or heater.

2. Get them moving. Next, help them begin to calm down their body. Encourage them to take a deep breath, which reduces anxiety—breathing deeply activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which balances out the sympathetic nervous system and works to calm us down. Ask them to take 5 to 10 deep breaths, or try walking them through a breathing exercise. Offer them a drink of water, which eases an upset stomach and dry mouth. Then, get active. When Shatté’s kids feel nervous, he takes them on a walk, “because anxiety has that motivational piece of wanting to run away,” he says. “Behaviorally, walking forward is the exact opposite. Moving toward something shows you have nothing to fear.”

3. Help them get perspective. Imagine you’re standing in a dark, unfamiliar room. Fearful of what could be lurking in the shadows, you stumble around, blindly searching for the exit. Not very pleasant, right? Now imagine you’re in the same room, but someone switches on the light. There may be obstacles in your way, but you can see the exit—and your path becomes clear. This is a good analogy for anxious thinking. When anxious thoughts are rattling around in our mind, it’s easy to get lost or overwhelmed. Simply naming our worries can bring some much-needed clarity. Turn on the light for your loved one by asking them to clearly verbalize what they fear. The trick is to get those thoughts out of their head and into the light, so they become less scary—and less believable.

4. Ask “then what?” Once you understand their fears, walk them through worst-case scenarios. Maybe your spouse is worried about a stressful meeting with a boss. Ask, “And then what?” They might be afraid of being criticized. “And then what?” They may be afraid of getting fired, losing their income, and ending up on the street. Walking them through these steps illustrates how remote our worst fears often are. For example, the chances of one high pressure meeting ending in your home being repossessed is unlikely, to say the least. “When people are anxious, they often go well beyond the evidence in front of them—they go from layoffs to a dumpster,” Shatté says. Verbalizing worst-case scenario fears helps to neutralize them.

5. Bring positivity into the balance. It’s human nature to spend more time and energy on the negative events in our life than we do the positive—but this keeps us stuck in survival mode. In order to truly thrive, we have to mindfully bring more positivity into our lives. So, once your loved one has found a place of calm, help them shift their thinking to the positive. Have them list three things they are grateful for—there is no wrong answer, and nothing is too small to qualify. Bonus points for writing it down. To help prevent future anxiety, encourage your loved one to make it a habit—beyond reducing stress, the scientifically-proven benefits of this practice range from better sleep to improved self-esteem.

By helping a loved one cope with anxiety, you’re helping them to guard against it. Coping isn’t easy, but by offering your support, you can ensure that your loved one doesn’t have to tackle it alone.


Monday, 17 July 2017

Dealing with Toxic Relationships and Finding Emotional Freedom

“We would do ourselves a tremendous favor by letting go of the people who poison our spirit.” ~Unknown

My husband and I both have living grandparents. My daughter has met the grandparents on my husband’s side, but she hasn’t met mine. Some think I’m cruel for not taking her to meet my grandmother because I had an excellent relationship with my great grandparents.

Some ask why I haven’t contacted her in the two years since my only child was born. I could give a long drawn-out response and try to explain why I gave up on a relationship with my maternal grandmother. But most don’t understand, and I choose to spend my time in more productive ways.

Instead, I keep the answer short and simple: She’s toxic.

That’s it. She is a toxic person, and I’m done letting her eat away at my soul bit by bit just because she shares a fraction of my DNA.

There is a lot of advice out there about how to distance yourself from toxic people and relationships, but it’s never as easy as it sounds. I had a lot of mixed feelings about ending my relationship with my grandmother. She had always been a part of my life, albeit a mostly negative part.

The truth is, removing toxicity from any area of your life is a process. There is a certain amount of mourning that goes into cutting ties with someone. It’s almost as if the person has died, except you have to resist the urge to resurrect her because that option is still there.
When I first began the process, I felt conflicted. Suddenly, all the bad didn’t seem so bad anymore. I started remembering the good times.

I remembered exploring with my cousins on the acres of my grandmother’s land. I remembered taking my pick from her complete library of animated Disney movies. I remembered playing hide and seek in her huge garden amongst the fully grown stalks of corn.

But then I realized something. None of those memories directly involved my grandmother. And the memories that did involve her still leave a sour taste in my mouth.

I remember the time she forced me to sit at the dinner table for hours after everyone else had finished because I didn’t like her spaghetti. I also remember the time I drew a picture for her, and she told me it was ugly. And I can’t forget when she let our family cat die while my family was on vacation because she didn’t feel like feeding her.

If you are grappling with the prospect of removing a toxic person from your life, ask yourself these questions:

What positives does this person bring to my life?

How does this person make me feel?

Is the relationship mutually beneficial?

Do I dread interactions with this person?

If your answers to these questions are mostly negative or you realize you are trying to convince yourself that “it’s not that bad,” it is time to take a step back from the relationship.

In many cases, removing toxicity does not require ending the relationship. You may simply need to take time away and set the appropriate boundaries before allowing this person back into your life.

However, as was the case with my grandmother, the person may be so toxic and the resentment may run so deep that it is necessary to completely end contact with the person. You can choose to do this all at once or make it a gradual fading-out. Either way, you must cut off the relationship for the sake of your emotional (and sometimes physical) health.
I made the decision to cut my grandmother out of my life when I pictured my daughter having experiences similar to mine. I couldn’t bear to see my precious child treated the same way my grandmother had treated me and the rest of her grandchildren. I realized that I have the power to keep that from happening.

I decided that the cycle of emotional abuse and toxic behavior would end with me. My grandmother wouldn’t be given the opportunity to hurt my child like she had hurt me, my mother, and so many others in her life.

It’s true that we will be hurt. Our children will be hurt. But this hurt shouldn’t come from the people we are supposed to trust and claim to care for us.

When I realized this, suddenly the process wasn’t so painful anymore. The possible negative consequences for keeping my grandmother in my life were worse than any positives she might bring to the table.

Instead of keeping someone around based on biological ties or perceived obligation, choose to put your well-being first and free yourself from the toxicity.

Choose to surround yourself with love, support, and safety and embrace your emotional freedom


Sunday, 16 July 2017

Divorce in China

Divorce has been around since ancient times. But, until recently divorce rates were stronger in the Unitied States and the developed world than elsewhere.

With China in the news, we thought we'd look at divorce in this rapidly developing country.
Here are the two questions that come to mind.

Have Chinese divorce rates increased in the last decade or two?

And, if so, why are divorce rates increasing?

Divorce in China:

Divorce is on the rise in China. So much so, that it’s a topic of increasing government concern, prompting China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs to go to great lengths in order to prevent the growing number of dysfunctional marriages.

In Beijing, professionals called “marriage doctors” are being recruited to save troubled marriages; their job requires them to intervene in a relationship as soon as warning signals start to show. Plus, there are a growing number of marriage classes available for couples to learn how to keep their marriage together and work through their problems.

In Shanghai, the Ministry of Civil Affairs launched a project called the Family Harmony Project in March 2013, a nonprofit devoted to training marriage doctors and counselors to help failing marriages and maintain stable ones.

Additional means of counseling are also available, including websites and a 24-hour hotline that provide advice for people with marital issues, as well as services “aimed at protecting the legal rights of divorcing couples.”

Let’s look at the facts.

China’s divorce rate has been steadily on the rise for over twenty years. For instance, a chart released by the government shows the divorce rate, as well as number of marriages and divorces in China from 1985 to 1997.

According to official goverment data, there's been a doubling of the divorce rate from 1985 to 1987. That is a tremedous uptick in a very short period of time.

For more up to date information, The International Business Times (2-27-13) recently reported that China’s divorce rate has risen each year for the past seven years. According to (3-7-13), nearly 2 million couples divorced in 2009. While in 2011, 2.87 million couples divorced - a significant increase.

5 Reasons for China's Skyrocketing Divorce Rate

Accessibility: The process for getting a divorce has progressively become easier.
In 1950, China passed its first marriage law and banned arranged marriages, concubines and child betrothal. It also started to allow divorce but on the grounds that the couple could only get divorced if “meditation and counseling” failed.

In 1981, China initiated another law, which stated that a couple could get divorced if one party was found guilty of having an affair, if there was evidence of domestic violence, if one party had a drug or gambling addiction, or if there was “complete alienation of mutual affection” by one party. As a result, the scope for Chinese getting divorces widened. The most recent development in 2001 got rid of the requirement that couples wanting to get a divorce had to get employer approval in order to do so.

Money: There are many ways that money factors into an increased divorce rate.
Everyone wants to save money, and couples in China are no exception. Many fake marriages occur because of the appealing property incentives offered to married couples. These fake marriages often end in divorce. In addition, because of the rising price of housing, many couples see the economic benefits of getting married and moving in together in order to save money. However, since the benefits of living together are probably the factor that is driving the marriage as opposed to mutual love and feeling towards each other, these marriages are also likely to end in divorce.

A New Mindset: Younger people feel less committed to traditional marriage than their parents.

The generation of couples getting married is mostly people born in the 1980s. This cohort has been called the “me” generation, so called because they're considered spoiled, only children born under the one-child policy, enacted in 1979.

In an NPR article, titled “‘Lightning Divorces’ Strike China’s ‘Me Generation,’” a woman named Cheng comments:

“Marriage requires forgiveness, understanding, tolerance and compromise. Yet we post-'80s generation neglect this entirely. No one will compromise. We just argue.”

This younger generation, though seen as spoiled, is also more independent, with a stronger sense of self, which tends to put strains on marriages. But there’s also an upside to this independence: young Chinese are taking charge of their own lives and making independent decisions.

They are embracing their autonomy by daring to fall in love, as well as prioritizing their needs in a relationship and daring to get divorced if they are not happy in a relationship.
The Advance of Women: The empowerment of women, both socially and economically provides more choices in an unhappy marriage. This is true in the developed world and is increasingly true in emerging powerhouses like China.

For men, it has always been easier to get a divorce. But, historically, divorced women were considered disgraceful; they were called “po xie,” which literally means “worn shoe,” which refers to the fact that, as they were no longer virgins, they were old and used.

To paraphrase a social commentator named Bob Dylan: times, they are a' changing.
Nowadays, the stigma against divorce has decreased exponentially, and women who get divorces are even seen as independent and able to take control of their own lives, unlike the traditionally stereotypical image of Chinese women as submissive and passive.

In a CNN article, Victor Lee, a film producer, in reference to the fact that in Chinese media, there are more female characters who get divorces and are involved in love triangles, praised the “economically empowered women dumping their immoral husbands.”
Infidelity: Loyalty remains an important reason to remain together.
Despite these many factors, however, the leading cause for most divorces in China is said to be extramarital affairs, leaving us to question: is independence among Chinese individuals starting to overpower fidelity in the traditional institution of marriage?


China is an emerging power. And, marriage appears to be changing as well.
While the Western world has been open to divorce for some time, China appears to be "catching up.” There are many possible reasons, like the tendency to marry for housing benefits and the like. But, we wonder whether the Western values of individualism and women’s empowerment don’t have a role as well.

The question we are left to wonder is whether or not this increase in divorce rate is a positive or a negative change for China. On one hand, it shows the growing sense of empowerment and independence among women in China and among the youth in general, but on the other hand, it is also prompting unhealthy and materialistic relationships, as shown by the lightning marriages as well as the couples that have gotten married for property incentives.

In becoming more like the rest of the world, is China changing for the better or for the worse?


Saturday, 15 July 2017

The Science of Positive Thinking: How Positive Thoughts Build Your Skills, Boost Your Health, and Improve Your Work

Positive thinking sounds useful on the surface. (Most of us would prefer to be positive rather than negative.) But “positive thinking” is also a soft and fluffy term that is easy to dismiss. In the real world, it rarely carries the same weight as words like “work ethic” or “persistence.”
But those views may be changing.

Research is beginning to reveal that positive thinking is about much more than just being happy or displaying an upbeat attitude. Positive thoughts can actually create real value in your life and help you build skills that last much longer than a smile.

The impact of positive thinking on your work, your health, and your life is being studied by people who are much smarter than me. One of these people is Barbara Fredrickson.
Fredrickson is a positive psychology researcher at the University of North Carolina, and she published a landmark paper that provides surprising insights about positive thinking and its impact on your skills. Her work is among the most referenced and cited in her field, and it is surprisingly useful in everyday life.

Let’s talk about Fredrickson’s discovery and what it means for you...

What Negative Thoughts Do to Your Brain

Play along with me for a moment.

Let’s say that you’re walking through the forest and suddenly a tiger steps onto the path ahead of you. When this happens, your brain registers a negative emotion — in this case, fear.

Researchers have long known that negative emotions program your brain to do a specific action. When that tiger crosses your path, for example, you run. The rest of the world doesn’t matter. You are focused entirely on the tiger, the fear it creates, and how you can get away from it.

In other words, negative emotions narrow your mind and focus your thoughts. At that same moment, you might have the option to climb a tree, pick up a leaf, or grab a stick — but your brain ignores all of those options because they seem irrelevant when a tiger is standing in front of you.

This is a useful instinct if you’re trying to save life and limb, but in our modern society we don’t have to worry about stumbling across tigers in the wilderness. The problem is that your brain is still programmed to respond to negative emotions in the same way — by shutting off the outside world and limiting the options you see around you.

For example, when you’re in a fight with someone, your anger and emotion might consume you to the point where you can’t think about anything else. Or, when you are stressed out about everything you have to get done today, you may find it hard to actual start anything because you’re paralyzed by how long your to-do list has become. Or, if you feel bad about not exercising or not eating healthy, all you think about is how little willpower you have, how you’re lazy, and how you don’t have any motivation.

In each case, your brain closes off from the outside world and focuses on the negative emotions of fear, anger, and stress — just like it did with the tiger. Negative emotions prevent your brain from seeing the other options and choices that surround you. It’s your survival instinct.

Now, let’s compare this to what positive emotions do to your brain. This is where Barbara Fredrickson returns to the story.

What Positive Thoughts Do to Your Brain

Fredrickson tested the impact of positive emotions on the brain by setting up a little experiment. During this experiment, she divided her research subjects into five groups and showed each group different film clips.

The first two groups were shown clips that created positive emotions. Group 1 saw images that created feelings of joy. Group 2 saw images that created feelings of contentment.
Group 3 was the control group. They saw images that were neutral and produced no significant emotion.

The last two groups were shown clips that created negative emotions. Group 4 saw images that created feelings of fear. Group 5 saw images that created feelings of anger.
Afterward, each participant was asked to imagine themselves in a situation where similar feelings would arise and to write down what they would do. Each participant was handed a piece of paper with 20 blank lines that started with the phrase, “I would like to...”
Participants who saw images of fear and anger wrote down the fewest responses. Meanwhile, the participants who saw images of joy and contentment, wrote down a significantly higher number of actions that they would take, even when compared to the neutral group.

In other words, when you are experiencing positive emotions like joy, contentment, and love, you will see more possibilities in your life. These findings were among the first that suggested positive emotions broaden your sense of possibility and open your mind up to more options.

But that was just the beginning. The really interesting impact of positive thinking happens later...

How Positive Thinking Builds Your Skill Set

The benefits of positive emotions don’t stop after a few minutes of good feelings subside. In fact, the biggest benefit that positive emotions provide is an enhanced ability to build skills and develop resources for use later in life.

Let’s consider a real-world example.

A child who runs around outside, swinging on branches and playing with friends, develops the ability to move athletically (physical skills), the ability to play with others and communicate with a team (social skills), and the ability to explore and examine the world around them (creative skills). In this way, the positive emotions of play and joy prompt the child to build skills that are useful and valuable in everyday life.

These skills last much longer than the emotions that initiated them. Years later, that foundation of athletic movement might develop into a scholarship as a college athlete or the communication skills may blossom into a job offer as a business manager. The happiness that promoted the exploration and creation of new skills has long since ended, but the skills themselves live on.

Fredrickson refers to this as the “broaden and build” theory because positive emotions broaden your sense of possibilities and open your mind, which in turn allows you to build new skills and resources that can provide value in other areas of your life.
As we discussed earlier, negative emotions do the opposite. Why? Because building skills for future use is irrelevant when there is immediate threat or danger (like the tiger on the path).

All of this research begs the most important question of all: If positive thinking is so useful for developing valuable skills and appreciating the big picture of life, how do you actually get yourself to be positive?

How to Increase Positive Thinking in Your Life

What you can do to increase positive emotions and take advantage of the “broaden and build” theory in your life?

Well, anything that sparks feelings of joy, contentment, and love will do the trick. You probably know what things work well for you. Maybe it’s playing the guitar. Maybe it’s spending time with a certain person. Maybe it’s carving tiny wooden lawn gnomes.
That said, here are three ideas for you to consider...

1. Meditation — Recent research by Fredrickson and her colleagues has revealed that people who meditate daily display more positive emotions that those who do not. As expected, people who meditated also built valuable long-term skills. For example, three months after the experiment was over, the people who meditated daily continued to display increased mindfulness, purpose in life, social support, and decreased illness symptoms.

Note: If you’re looking for an easy way to start meditation, here is a 10-minute guided meditation that was recently sent to me. Just close your eyes, breathe, and follow along.

2. Writing — This study, published in the Journal of Research in Personality, examined a group of 90 undergraduate students who were split into two groups. The first group wrote about an intensely positive experience each day for three consecutive days. The second group wrote about a control topic.

Three months later, the students who wrote about positive experiences had better mood levels, fewer visits to the health center, and experienced fewer illnesses. (This blew me away. Better health after just three days of writing about positive things!)

Note: I used to be very erratic in my writing, but now I publish a new blog every Monday and Thursday. I’ve written more about my writing process and how you can stick to your goals in this blog and this blog.

3. Play — Schedule time to play into your life. We schedule meetings, conference calls, weekly events, and other responsibilities into our daily calendars... why not schedule time to play?

When was the last time you blocked out an hour on your calendar just to explore and experiment? When was the last time you intentionally carved out time to have fun? You can’t tell me that being happy is less important than your Wednesday meeting, and yet, we act like it is because we never give it a time and space to live on our calendars.

Give yourself permission to smile and enjoy the benefits of positive emotion. Schedule time for play and adventure so that you can experience contentment and joy, and explore and build new skills.

Happiness vs. Success (Which Comes First?)

There’s no doubt that happiness is the result of achievement. Winning a championship, landing a better job, finding someone you love — these things will bring joy and contentment to your life. But so often, we wrongly assume that this means happiness always follows success.

How often have you thought, “If I just get ___, then I’ll be set.”

Or, “Once I achieve ___, I’ll be satisfied.”

I know I’m guilty of putting off happiness until I achieve some arbitrary goal. But as Fredrickson’s “broaden and build” theory proves, happiness is essential to building the skills that allow for success.

In other words, happiness is both the precursor to success and the result of it.
In fact, researchers have often noticed a compounding effect or an “upward spiral” that occurs with happy people. They are happy, so they develop new skills, those skills lead to new success, which results in more happiness, and the process repeats itself.

Where to Go From Here

Positive thinking isn’t just a soft and fluffy feel-good term. Yes, it’s great to simply “be happy,” but those moments of happiness are also critical for opening your mind to explore and build the skills that become so valuable in other areas of your life.

Finding ways to build happiness and positive emotions into your life — whether it is through meditation, writing, playing a pickup basketball game, or anything else — provides more than just a momentary decrease in stress and a few smiles.

Periods of positive emotion and unhindered exploration are when you see the possibilities for how your past experiences fit into your future life, when you begin to develop skills that blossom into useful talents later on, and when you spark the urge for further exploration and adventure.

To put it simply: Seek joy, play often, and pursue adventure. Your brain will do the rest.