Equipped With Happiness


1 Comment

Be Happier By Making Decisions Creatively

creative decisions cartoonSometimes we over-complicate our decisions by keeping them too simple. We view choices in terms of two polarized options, and often find ourselves dissatisfied with both. Then we spend hours, or longer, trying to determine which list of evils we might somehow be able to tolerate.

But decisions don’t necessarily have to be that way. More often than not, we really do have more than two options. If we expand our decisions by adding choices “c” and “d” to our original “a” and “b,” we may find an option that’s far better than tolerable.

The tricky part is identifying those alternate choices. Most of the time, the best options will not be the most obvious. Finding them requires creativity, and an understanding of where to look.

Don’t Look for “c” where you found “a” and “b.”

Usually, when we are faced with a seemingly black-and-white decision, our two choices aren’t options we have invented independently.  We often only see two options because someone else has presented the decision to us in those terms. For instance, if we are discussing budgeting with our partner, they might say, “We can afford either a new dishwasher or a new couch.” If this happens, we are likely to focus entirely on picking between those two options. In the process, we completely miss other ideas, such as cutting down on entertainment costs, getting a loan, or selling our old possessions so we could purchase both items.

The appearance of limited options may not always result from an explicit choice someone presents to us, however. Sometimes we also find ourselves trapped by our assumptions about “normal” or “common” ways to go about life. For example, we may feel we have to pick between starting a family and building a career because we frequently hear stories about people sacrificing one for the other. In reality, the “lonely, career-driven woman,” and the “family man whose kids cost him a job” are just stereotypes. There are many middle grounds between those two extremes.

Finding the route that will make us happiest requires deviating from our preconceived ideas about the options open to us. It also requires facing the challenge of developing new alternatives.

New options can be created from the best elements of our original choices.

Sometimes the simplest way to find an ideal option is to combine the things we like about our other choices. For example, consider the decision of whether to go out for dinner or cook a meal at home. We might want the freedom to stay in our current un-showered, pajama-wearing state (a point in favor of cooking at home), but also want the convenience of not having to prepare our own food. If we combine those options, we might come up with the additional ideas of ordering delivery, begging a friend to bring us food, or scrounging in our freezer for something quick and microwaveable.

New options can also be found by completely abandoning our original ideas.

When we find ourselves stuck with two options that seem to have no redeeming features, sometimes it is best to look for new options in a totally different direction. Take the decision of whether to spend date night at the movies or a sporting event, for example. If none of the movies appeal to us, but we know our significant other gets bored watching sports (and we dragged them to a game last weekend), it may seem like we are destined for an unsatisfying date. But wait, maybe we could change “date night” to “date day” and visit the beach, or Disneyland, or the zoo, or the park.

Once we learn not to limit ourselves to the obvious options sitting right in front of us, we open ourselves up to a whole world of possibilities. And out of all those possibilities, we stand a pretty good chance of finding at least one to get excited about.

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Inspiring Kids Who Have Made a Difference

kid changing the worldGiven the prevalence of news stories about disasters, violence, and crime, it is easy to start thinking the world is a scary, cruel place. But there’s also plenty of kindness out there, if we take the time to look. Not only that, we all have the ability to create positive change to combat the problems we see in the world.

Here are four amazing stories about compassionate kids that prove anyone, no matter how small, can make a big difference:

Nothing a Little Chocolate Bar Can’t Fix

It’s not every day that a 6-year-old publishes a book, sells 16,000 copies, and raises $750,000 dollars for medical research in the process. But that is exactly what Dylan Siegel did to help find a cure for his best friend, who has Glycogen Storage Disease Type 1b (a rare but potentially life-threatening liver condition).

To Dylan, “chocolate bar” means awesome, so that is what he decided to call his book. He started by selling 200 copies at a school event, and then held a book signing at a local Barnes and Noble. This led to appearances on several television shows, stories in magazines and newspapers, and massive success for Dylan’s efforts.

All of the money he has raised with Chocolate Bar has gone to a research fund at the University of Florida, and he hopes to eventually raise at least $1 million.[1]

Changing the World With Teddy Bears

The 2010 earthquake in Haiti inspired many remarkable acts of charity and support. One especially touching effort was made by Blare Gooch, who was 12-years-old at the time. Blare was watching a newscast of the quake’s destruction and saw a little boy in the wreckage crying. This gave him the idea to collect teddy bears to send to Haiti.

His school allowed him to announce the idea over the PA system, and pretty soon other kids began donating bears. Thanks to a little media attention, and the kindness of many other donors, Blare was able to send 25,000 bears to Haiti. He also gave another 22,000 to other nonprofits.

In the following year, he expanded his efforts and began collecting school supplies for children in Haiti, as well.[2]

Clean-Up Kid

When 7-year-old Mateo Maldonado saw bags of trash lining the streets of his community, he decided something needed to be done. So, he and his family set out to clean up the mess, collecting a total of 47 bags of litter.

But Mateo didn’t stop there. Instead, he formed a group called Mateo’s Litter Critters to continue the clean up efforts. The group meets once a month in bright green shirts, drives around to find a place in need of their services, and goes to work ridding the community of trash. [3]

In less than one year, Mateo and his Critters collected more than 200 bags of trash from parks and streets in their city of York, Pennsylvania.[4]

Blankets for a Brighter World

Charlie Coons was 11 years old when her brother returned from a trip to Egypt with stories about needy children he had seen in orphanages. Charlie wanted to do something to help, so she got some friends together to make blankets to send to the orphans.

She continued her efforts by starting an organization called HELP (Hope Encouragement Love Peace), dedicated to sending blankets to children in need. Since then, several other states have started their own chapters.

Charlie started her blanket project in 2008, and by 2011 her group had sent more than 700 blankets to children in several different countries.[5]

These kids are just a few of many people, young and old, whose acts of kindness remind us that the world really is full of happy stories and caring gestures.

 

References:

[1] “Chocolate Bar.” Accessed April 15, 2014. http://chocolatebarbook.com.

[2] Cooper, Andrea.“8 Amazing Kids Who Make a Difference.” Parenting. Accessed April 15, 2014. http://www.parenting.com/gallery/kids-who-make-difference?page=2.

[3] “Meet the Finalists for Kindest Kid.” Today. Last modified November 27, 2013. http://www.today.com/video/today/53677597/#53677597.

[4] Sawyer, Hannah. “Litter Critter Mateo a Finalist in National Kindest Kid Contest.” York City Limits. Last modified December 6, 2013. http://www.yorkblog.com/yorkcitylimits/2013/12/06/litter-critter-mateo-a-finalist-in-national-kindest-kid-contest.

[5] Flans, Robyn. “Simi Valley Eighth-Grader’s Nonprofit Takes Off.” Ventura County Star. Last modified February 15, 2011. http://www.vcstar.com/news/2011/feb/15/simi-valley-eighth-graders-nonprofit-takes-off/?partner=yahoo_feeds.


Leave a comment

Be Happier By Finding Outlets For Bad Moods

breaking plates cartoonBad moods happen sometimes. Maybe we’re down because we had a conflict with a loved one, got sick, made a mistake, had to face disappointment, etc. Or maybe we just had a day full of little, less-than-ideal moments. When these moods happen, it is important to process them (see Be Happier By Accepting Sadness), but it is also important to figure out ways to pick ourselves up and feel happy again. One way to do this is to find an effective outlet that allows us to release the bad feelings and welcome in good ones.

Everyone is different, so the best outlets may vary from person to person. The trick is figuring out exactly what will be most effective for us as individuals. It is also useful to find more than one method that works, so we have an arsenal of happy-making activities. This may require a bit of trial-and-error, but considering some basic qualities of good outlets is a place to start.

Good outlets tend to be related to things we already like.

Some people love exercise, some love art, some love cooking, some love video games, and the list goes on. Engaging in an enjoyable activity can help remind us of the parts of life we enjoy, and the good feelings we get from having fun may be able to crowd out some of the bad ones. If we can identify some things that consistently put a smile on our face, we can turn to them when times get tough.

Good outlets allow us to release the bad stuff.

This could mean pounding on a punching bag, venting to a friend, writing a poem, or drawing pictures of our problems and setting them on fire. Sometimes finding a way to symbolically let go of negative experiences and feelings can help us feel better. And if that alone doesn’t cure the bad mood, it still makes us more prepared to feel happy when we engage in other fun activities.

Good outlets do not damage us.

Frustration, anger, and sadness can sometimes lead us to destructive behaviors masked as outlets. For example, we may turn to working out (not inherently a bad outlet), but push ourselves way too hard. Or we may find comfort in food (also not inherently a bad outlet), but overindulge to the point that we damage our health.

In order to determine whether we are partaking in an effective outlet or damaging ourselves, we need to consider our motivations and the results of our behavior. If we realize that we are motivated by a desire to punish ourselves or by an urge to give up (e.g. overeating because we have decided to give up on weight loss goals), it is likely that our actions will cause us harm. But even if we are motivated by a genuine desire to improve our mood, we should still monitor the effects of our actions to ensure we aren’t carrying a previously healthy outlet too far.

Good outlets do not damage others.

It really might improve our mood to chop off our little sister’s ponytail or knock all of someone else’s belongings off their shelves. But, ultimately these kinds of outlets are unethical and lead to greater sadness in the long term. Taking our bad moods out on other people can create a chain of bad moods if they start feeling unhappy, too. Not only that, it can damage relationships that might otherwise be a source of joy.

Identifying ways to improve a bad mood allows us to take our happiness into our own hands. While we will always have to face unhappiness from time to time, it is helpful to have some options for lessening our sadness and moving forward with life.


Leave a comment

A New Kind of Happy Meal

happy sandwichMoms, personal trainers, and food advertisers all like to remind us, “we are what we eat.” If they’re right, then it seems mankind has finally stumbled upon a key to lifelong joy. The secret to being happy must simply be eating happy-looking foods! And really, I think we all have a scientific obligation to test out this hypothesis. After all, even if it turns out to be a faulty theory, it still gives us an excuse to play with our food.

To ensure accurate results, it would be insufficient to simply eat some happy face pancakes and call it a day. Doing this experiment justice requires eating smiley foods at multiple meals. Here are just a few suggestions for how to proceed:

Breakfast:

Smiley-side-up eggs and bacon: Fry two eggs and put them next to each other on a plate to make eyes. Use a berry or a dab of ketchup for a nose. Then make a smile out of pieces of bacon (or sausage). If you’re really feeling adventurous, cut some toast into triangles and use them to make spikey hair or a goatee.

Fun fruit-n-nut oatmeal: Make a bowl of oatmeal thick enough to keep toppings on the surface. Arrange fruit (dried or regular) and nuts into a smiley face on top.

Happy face pancakes: It really wouldn’t be fair not to include the original smiling breakfast food. Not only that, there are so many awesome variations on this theme. You can use whipped cream, chocolate chips, fruit, syrup, and more, to customize this super-happy breakfast. And if you don’t mind entering a food coma, pancakes can even make a nice backdrop for smiley-side-up eggs and bacon.

Snack:

Goldfish crackers: These are advertised as “the snack that smiles back,” so they definitely fall into the category of happy foods. Not to mention they are deliciously cheesy. And for extra fun, you can always try to toss and catch them in your mouth or bite them in half perfectly (if you’ve never tried this, beware, it can get extremely frustrating).

Teddy Grahams: Basically like Goldfish, but sweeter. And possibly even cuter.

Orange smiles: Technically, these are just the smile, not an entire happy face. But if you eat them properly (i.e. by sticking them in your mouth rind-side-out and smiling a very orange smile) then your own face becomes the rest of the happy face. Problem solved! All you need to do is slice an orange into mouth-sized sections and enjoy.

Lunch and Dinner:

Smilin’ Sandwiches: You can make these open-faced (so your smiling creation is on display for all to see) or you can keep the happy face hidden between the bread. Either way, there are about a million ways to make happy faces on a sandwich. You can make a lunchmeat or cheese background and then use vegetables to make a face. Or you can keep it simple, and simply squirt your mustard in a smiley-face pattern. If you are looking for something sweeter you could start with a classic PB&J, and then make a face with banana slices. For an even sweeter experience, incorporate some Nutella or honey.

Peppy Pizza: Turning a pizza into a happy face can be as simple as some strategic pepperoni placement. Or you could go wild and create a perfect self-portrait out of every topping under the sun. Or perhaps a perfect portrait of your boss (any unhappiness that occurs if you decide to show them their pizza portrait should not be included in the results of this experiment).

Smile Salad: Start with a nice bed of lettuce. Then arrange any other toppings you like into the face. Some cucumber eyes with olives for pupils, a cherry tomato nose, crouton hair, and a black bean smile might do nicely.

Dessert:

Cheerful chip cookies: Take your favorite chocolate chip (or any other kind of chip) cookie recipe and give it happy twist. Instead of mixing the chips into the batter, bake the cookies without chips first. As soon as you take them out of the oven, while they are still warm, press the chips into them in the form of a happy face.

Friendly fruit and yogurt: Begin with a bowl of fruit. Use yogurt to create the happy face of your choosing. Just kidding. You could do it that way, but I recommend trying it the other way around. Also, maybe add some granola hair for a little extra pizazz.

Countenance cupcakes: The only way to improve a cupcake is to give it a face. Frost ‘em and then add some tasty decorations to make the face. If you can’t pick between all the amazing decorating options, don’t worry, because that’s an entirely reasonable justification for eating several cupcakes.

Okay, so maybe eating foods with happy faces doesn’t directly make us happy. But all the fun we have in the process definitely counts for something!


36 Comments

Be Happier By Making The Right Comparisons

comparisoncartoonThe temptation to compare ourselves to others seems to affect pretty much everyone. We might find ourselves wondering if we make as much money as our coworkers. Or we might sneak a quick peek to find out if the person on the treadmill beside us is running faster than we are. Comparisons can be beneficial to us, if we approach them in the right way. But, if we aren’t careful, they can also damage our self-esteem.

Recognizing how self-image is impacted can help us learn to make more productive comparisons.

People often let the way they measure up to others determine how they feel about themselves. If we evaluate our own assets as superior to the assets of the person next to us, our self-esteem goes up. But, if that person is more successful, attractive, or talented than we are, we may start feeling rather discouraged. Neither of these scenarios is ideal.

It is important to remember that when comparisons increase our self-esteem, the effects are only temporary. If our feelings of self-worth are dependent on being better than someone else, we run the risk of our self-esteem being shattered when someone below us eventually surpasses us. Lasting confidence comes from pride in our own strengths, not pride in having more strengths than others.

Not only that, we may damage our self-esteem by cutting ourselves down when we feel inferior to others. This is unproductive, especially because the comparisons we make often aren’t entirely fair. People seem to have a tendency to compare themselves to celebrities, models, billionaires, and other uncommonly successful figures. When we do this, we set ourselves up to feel subpar. Even when we do compare ourselves to people “in our league,” we may not take the full story into account. For instance, the acquaintance whose quick climb up the corporate ladder made us question our own career choices may in fact be the CEO’s nephew (a significant advantage).

Instead of using comparisons to evaluate our worth, we should use them to help us become the people we want to be.

Comparisons can help us see ourselves more accurately: While it is certainly good base our sense of accomplishment on our individual progress, it is also valuable to understand where our abilities fit in the grand scheme of things. For example, if we begin taking piano lessons, we have every right to take pride in mastering “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” But perhaps we would be wise to see how we compare to other pianists before we start calling ourselves Beethoven.

Comparisons can help us identify goals: If we do happen to find ourselves feeling insecure in response to someone else’s accomplishments, we can turn it into an opportunity to improve. Instead of convincing ourselves we are weak because we can’t lift as much weight as our friends, we could focus on creating a new workout plan that allows us to build more muscle. Not only that, if we notice the majority of our self-esteem seems to come from feeling superior to others, it is possible that we have some underlying insecurities. Awareness of our insecurities gives us a chance to examine their cause. This allows us to set, and accomplish, goals that will make us feel more confident.

If we are careful about how we use comparisons, they can help us maximize our happiness. Comparisons made in the spirit of self-improvement give us valuable opportunities to develop ourselves, and our lives, in directions that bring us greater satisfaction. We just have to make sure our self-esteem doesn’t get involved in the process.