13. THE POSITIVITY PROJECT – TAKE THE 21-DAY GRATITUDE CHALLENGE (DAY 5)

Record one thing you’re grateful for (flatmates with the same shoe size, a FaceTime chat with your mum, that free coffee in Pret – it’s all relative) each day for three weeks. Research says it can improve your mood, sleep and energy.

DAY 5 – The Existence of Starbucks

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I am grateful for the existence of Starbucks, because it is what got me drinking coffee in the first place, my first taste, in my mid-teens. It all began with the Iced Coffee Latte. Without Starbucks coffee, I wouldn’t know how I would cope in the mornings. I would not be myself. It has become an addiction streaming in my blood. No other coffee would be like my Starbucks, the way I must have it 🙂

Starbucks, I am grateful for your existence.

12. THE POSITIVITY PROJECT – ONE EMAIL TO READ BEFORE WORK (DAY 5)

Get your AM brain into gear by signing up to gohighbrow.com’s fun email-learning platform. It sends a five-minute lesson (on a huge range of subjects – money, art, tech, health) straight to your inbox each morning for ten days.

Day 5 – The Impact of Positive Emotions

From Highbrow:

Positive emotions have a very interesting impact on the human brain. This impact is explained by the so-called ‘broaden and build theory’. To understand this theory, it’s helpful to first understand how ‘negative’ emotions work. Emotions like fear and anger close down your mind and heart and narrow down the number of possible reactions for the brain to only very few choices.

Think about our ancestors in pre-historic times. When a wild animal was about to attack them they felt either fear or anger. In response to this life-threatening situation, their brain triggered what we call the ‘fight or flight or freeze’ response. This instinctive reaction was responsible for their survival at times of danger. In these situations, the brain had only three options to choose from:

  1. They could fight the animal
  2. They could try to run away as fast as possible or
  3. They could pretend to be dead.

The very same mechanisms still work in our brains today. In the face of danger, we respond to threats either by mobilizing our energy for combat or for flight, or by freezing in helplessness, collapsing in the face of an overwhelming situation. Speaking scientifically, those (negative) emotions limit our thought-action repertoire.

Positive emotions, however, have a different function. Instead of narrowing down the possibilities available to us, they open our minds up to new ways of thinking and acting. In the moment, they help us be more creative and think outside the box. When we feel positive emotions we become more open to new experiences. We feel more comfortable making connections with other people, consider alternative solutions to old problems and are able to zoom out of a situation. Positive emotions flood our brains with dopamine and serotonin, chemicals that not only make us feel good but also make our brains function at higher levels. All in all, these emotions broaden our thought-action repertoire: the results are short-term increases in creativity, problem-solving ability, and attention.

What all this does for us in the longer-run is transform us for the better. Over time, positive emotions allow us to form new friendships, develop new skills and gain new knowledge. These ‘resources’ last much longer than the emotion itself and are the reason why positive emotions can gradually transform our lives. This transformation does not happen overnight. It needs continuous reinforcement and dedication. The brain can only be changed gradually.

10. THE POSITIVITY PROJECT – ONE EMAIL TO READ BEFORE WORK (DAY 4)

Get your AM brain into gear by signing up to gohighbrow.com’s fun email-learning platform. It sends a five-minute lesson (on a huge range of subjects – money, art, tech, health) straight to your inbox each morning for ten days.

Day 4 – Benefits of Happiness – The Nun Study

From Highbrow:

Probably the most influential and mind-blowing study done that demonstrates the power of positive emotions is the so-called ‘nun study’. It started in the 1930 when a group of almost two hundred nuns were about to enter a convent. Back then, they were asked to write autobiographical sketches of themselves, reflecting on their lives and thinking about what will lie ahead.

About 70 years later, psychologists decided to go back to these diary entries and analyzed them. The researchers wanted to find out if what these 20-year old nuns wrote in their diaries could predict how the rest of their lives turned out. In particular, they were interested in predictors of longevity. They looked at how complex their sentences were – an indicator for their intelligence. They also looked at where the nuns lived. They also looked at how much they expressed their beliefs in good, measuring their devoutness.

None of these factors had an impact on how long the nuns went on to live. But there was one factor which did have an impact – a very significant one! The nuns whose journal entries had more positive content lived nearly ten years longer than the nuns whose entries were more negative or neutral. At the age of 85, more than 90% (!) of the happiest nuns were still alive, whereas only about a third of the unhappiest nuns.

The research community was amazed by these findings. Clearly, the nuns who were happier when they were young lived longer because of their happiness; not the other way around. Their conclusion is very relevant for everyone going through this course. Putting effort into becoming happier will not only make you feel better. It has the potential to literally prolong your life.

8. The Positivity Project – One Email to Read Before Work (Day 3)

Get your AM brain into gear by signing up to gohighbrow.com’s fun email-learning platform. It sends a five-minute lesson (on a huge range of subjects – money, art, tech, health) straight to your inbox each morning for ten days.

Day 3 – Myths of Happiness

From Highbrow:

Nearly all of us buy into what Sonya Lyubomirsky – one of the leading happiness researchers – calls the myths of happiness. Those myths are beliefs that certain achievements in our lives will make us forever happy and that certain failures will make us forever unhappy. People believe they will be happy once they’re married or have a certain job or income. At the same time, many people tend to believe that having health problems or having only little money will leave them forever unhappy.

The beliefs are called myths because research has convincingly shown that they are wrong. There is no ultimate life event that changes people’s feelings forever. The myth is not that achieving those dreams won’t make us happy. They almost certainly will. The myth in this belief is that we tend to think the happiness we get will last forever. The problem, though, is that the happiness we get is not as intense and by far not as long-lasting as we believe it will be.

So here are the two kinds of happiness myths: The first myth of happiness is our mistaken belief that we need certain events or situations in our lives to finally become happy. It is the notion that I’ll be happy when ____ (fill in the blank). I’ll be happy when I get that promotion, when I have a baby, when I’m rich, and so on.

Similarly wrong is the other kind of happiness myth. This myth is the belief that I can’t be happy when ____ (again, fill in the blank). For example, I can’t be happy as long as I don’t have a partner. I can’t be happy when I’m broke. Or I can’t be happy as long as I’m so much overweight.

When something negative happens in people’s lives, they often overreact. They feel that they can never be happy again, and that their life as they know it is now over. That’s the second type of happiness myths and it’s equally wrong. People adapt to almost all circumstances over time. Lottery winners for example are just as happy as people who never won the lottery. Even many people with paraplegia return – after some time – to the level of happiness they had before they became disabled.

7. The Positivity Project – One Email to Read Before Work (Day 2)

Get your AM brain into gear by signing up to gohighbrow.com’s fun email-learning platform. It sends a five-minute lesson (on a huge range of subjects – money, art, tech, health) straight to your inbox each morning for ten days.

Day 2 – What is happiness?

From Highbrow:

A course to increase one’s happiness cannot help but start with a definition of happiness. That’s important because if the goal is to increase happiness, we have to first understand it.

Psychologists look at happiness from various different angles. The definition of happiness we use here is based on the work of Paul Dolan (author of the book ‘Happiness by Design’) and includes two components. Happiness from this perspective is best understood as experiences of pleasure and purpose.

Pleasure is about feeling good versus feeling bad. Pleasure as part of our definition of happiness refers to the range of positive emotions we can experience. From joy and excitement to fun and contentment. Feeling bad, on the other hand, means to suffer. This suffering encompasses all the negative emotions we can feel – from anxiety and stress to sadness and anger. Happiness – from the pleasure perspective – is having more of the positive feelings and less of the negative ones.

However, there is another component to happiness: Feelings of purpose versus feelings of meaninglessness. Feelings of purpose always come up when we do something worthwhile, something that’s meaningful and fulfills us. These feelings are different to feelings of pleasure, even though they often come together. An example would be working on a project that you really feel makes a positive difference in other people’s lives. Or teaching your child how to ride a bicycle.

The opposite of purpose is meaninglessness and many of us won’t have to think hard to come up with an experience that falls into this category. It can be anything from washing the dishes to preparing a report at work that you know will end up in the drawer.

To sum up, happiness consists of pleasure plus purpose. To be truly happy you need to feel both. Different people want different combinations of pleasure and purpose. But real happiness requires both to some degree – feelings of pleasure and purpose.

5. The Positivity Project – One Email to Read Before Work (Day 1)

Get your AM brain into gear by signing up to gohighbrow.com’s fun email-learning platform. It sends a five-minute lesson (on a huge range of subjects – money, art, tech, health) straight to your inbox each morning for ten days.

So I signed up to gohighbrow.com (Highbrow) to the subject on The Science of Happiness. 

From Highbrow:

For many of us, psychologists are those people who can tell you what’s wrong with you, who can look at you and find all those hidden fears and issues that we all have. But what if psychologists were those people that can tell you all your hidden talents and the wonderful sides of your personality that go so unnoticed most of the time?!

Positive psychology is a science that looks at what works, what’s right, and what’s improving with people. It is an approach within psychology that is meant to complement the majority of traditional psychology research done before, that’s focused on clinical settings and people with mental illnesses.

Underlying this new approach is the insight that happiness is NOT the negation of unhappiness. For example – overcoming a depression does NOT mean that you are happy and thriving. This course is based on a scientific approach that tries to find out what we need in order to flourish.

In addition to overcoming weaknesses, we will look at building strengths. Instead of running away from unhappiness, we will try to find ways to be happier. And in addition to overcoming tough times, we want to understand how to live a fulfilled life. 

The main question that we want to tackle: How can this research be applied to help us make long-lasting, positive change? This also made positive psychology the most popular course at Harvard – back when it was taught there a few years ago. Nowadays, organizations, consulting companies, governments, schools are taking on positive psychology.

2. The Positivity Project – Netflix and (actually) chill, together

It turns out boxsets are good for your love life. Researches at the University of Aberdeen said the couples who frequently watched series or films together felt more committed. 

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My husband and I are huge movie fans, especially those from the Marvel and DC Comics. When we do have time together (alone), rather than go on romantic dates, we would go and watch the latest movie at the cinema. And at home, we love our boxsets, especially The Walking Dead. We don’t have Netflix. Instead, we have SKY cable. My husband likes to watch the up-to-date boxsets rather than the old ones unless I am watching them, and that includes girly series like Desperate Housewives, Devious Maids and Gossip Girl. He says he likes the storyline and doesn’t care about the femininity of it. We both also share the love of 90’s classics Charmed and Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

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My husband and I might be in our thirties, but we still have our 90’s teenage spirit in us. I guess that is what’s kept our marriage happy and strong. Sure, there were bumpy roads along the way, but at least we can be ourselves with each other, and that means bringing out the teenager in us every now and again. Just last month for my birthday, we ended the night with three bottles of red wine between the two of us (yes, only the two of us). A bottle and a half later, we switched on the 90’s music TV channel and started dancing like we were teenagers. My husband (he will not be reading this post) even shook his booty like Beyonce (yes, he can booty dance for real). I don’t care what anyone else thinks. It was the best birthday present…and not the last for sure. It definitely made me forget about everything else.