Happy Wednesdays! So what EXACTLY does science say? – part 2

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On Wednesdays I always post something about happiness and science. Last week I described aspects which, according to science, are not related to happiness. This week let’s focus on what actually makes us happier.

According to various research findings done in positive psychology happiness IS AFFECTED by your:

  • Subjective health – which means basically how healthy you feel and what you think about your health rather than what doctors tell you;
  • Social class  – this is due to lifestyle differences and better coping BUT remember your circumstances DON’T define you
  • Optimism (naturally!) 🙂
  • Social relationships – meaningful relationships are vital for your well-being. You don’t need to socialise a lot but spending some quality time with people who you trust and who support you is very important for your mental health.
  • Extraversion. “Lucas and E. Diener (2001) have recently argued that extraverts may be more sensitive to rewarding social situations than introverts, and that this may manifest itself as greater feelings of happiness by extraverts.”
  • Being married (but as you know from part 1 of this blog post – having children may make you less happy! Anyway that’s what scientific findings say… )
  • Having engaging work 

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  • Leisure
  • Religion or spirituality

Apparently watching soap operas can increase your well-being too but… I feel I probably won’t be very unhappy if I don’t try it…

You can read about this more in Positive Psychology in a Nutshell. The science of happiness by Ilona Boniwell, which is available here . Fantastic read I must say! 😉

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What do you think about these studies’ findings?

What makes YOU happy? 

Happy Wednesdays! So what EXACTLY does science says? – part 1

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Sometimes, when reading academic textbooks and articles on happiness – which is called subjective well-being SWB in research literature – I was REALLY surprised by new findings. We think, for example, that having children would make us happier and then… what do we find out? 😉

Research found that happiness IS NOT related to:

  • Physical attractiveness! Striving to look as perfect as possible and spending a lot of money on clothes, make up, and cosmetic surgery does not equal happiness – this can be quite surprising for some people.
  • Age! Some of us worry about getting old to the extent that we may think that older means unhappy! There are various findings, sometimes contradictory, about this aspect but most studies emphasise that your happiness level doesn’t depend on your age much or at all!
  • Money! When you meet your BASIC needs there is not much difference between someone who is earning a low or average wage and a filthy rich person in terms of happiness! I know it may sound unbelievable for many people. Kasser in The high price of materialism (2002, available here) proved that actually desiring and focusing on the pursuit of wealth would make you LESS HAPPY! And quite often the more we have, the more we want!
  • Gender. What’s interesting is that women have a greater tendency towards being depressed… but also towards being more joyful!

I found a picture which I think may be able to explain these findings… 😉

TYPICAL DAY IN A MAN’S LIFE:

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TYPICAL DAY IN A WOMAN’S LIFE:

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  • Educational level
  • Having children! Although some clarification is more than needed here 😉 It was found that having children who are up to 5 years old or teenagers makes us actually LESS HAPPY! However, children can make our life more meaningful and what’s interesting (in spite of all the stress and worries), parents live on average longer!
  • Moving to a sunnier climate
  • Crime prevention
  • Housing
  • Objective health (what your doctor tells you about your health – how good your blood test results are, what you are diagnosed with, etc.)
  • Environment & genetics! Even if in your genes there is some coded predisposition towards becoming unhappy or depressed, if you grow up and live in a positive, engaging and encouraging environment you can actually become HAPPIER than someone who has genetic predispositions to be content!

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Happiness & science. Live 9.4 years longer!

In 2000 a huge amount of data was analysed and, after talking about happiness to 1.1m people in 45 different countries, it was concluded that on average people feel quite happy. On a scale from 0 to 10 the average score for all these people was 6.75, which is quite surprising when we think of how much time and effort and money many people put into the pursuit of happiness, how many of us complain and worry unnecessarily every day, and how many life coaches or self-help and self-development books are published every year on selling tips and techniques for boosting well-being!

A score of 6.75 I think is pretty good! What do you think?

Surely the surveys were not too straightforward and consisted of a series of questions to cover various aspects of well-being rather than asking only one question directly – how happy are you?

And we know there are LOTS OF benefits of being HAPPIER – it can even protect us against colds! Also, according to research done by Danner (results published in 2001) happiness can increase our life by 9.4 years!

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What do you think your score would be?

I think if someone simply asked us only one question about happiness the answer would depend a lot on the time of day (we feel more tired and unmotivated in the afternoon rather than in the morning). The season of the year and the weather would also affect our answer, as would our feeling disappointed, stressed, in pain, or relaxed and contented at a particular time for some reason (maybe we just finished reading or writing a book or we are terrified because we are going to the dentist?!). We may focus more on the emotion we feel at particular time than on our general well-being. We probably wouldn’t score anywhere near the maximum number. However, we actually probably should give us a very high score when we think about it for longer and remind ourselves that actually maybe we have a great family, and food every day, and a roof over our head, and fairly good health; and maybe we can work full-time while some people due to ill health may not be able to… Or maybe we have a fantastic, trustworthy and reliable friend and there are some people out there in a toxic environment that leads them to depression and even suicide.

If we try to not take things for granted and be more grateful for what we have, our happiness level increases a lot. Actually, one of the most common exercises in positive psychology which can boost our well-being is to keep a diary where we write each day a few (3-5) things that we are grateful about that day. It is proven that this works and boosts our happiness level a lot.

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Christmas in Europe and at the end of the world …

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Studies in positive psychology show that close relationships, socialising with people who we can trust and rely on, is one of the most important contributors to your happiness! Additionally, giving presents (even more than receiving them) also makes us more satisfied.

Today I’d like to tell you about my diverse family and about Christmas time in a few different parts of the world.

POLAND

In Poland, which is mostly Catholic, on Christmas Eve in the afternoon children look through foggy windows into the sky and wait for the first star to appear. The first one is usually visible around 5pm and this is a sign that people can start their Christmas dinner.

The tradition says that we should keep one empty plate on our table for an extra meal in case someone who is homeless or poor, or perhaps a hungry traveller, knocks on our door. We then should invite him or her inside for a warm meal. Before we start to eat we share a special wafer exchanging Christmas wishes.

We have 12 dishes which include mainly varieties of fish but no red meat (the church made some changes with regard to that a few years ago and now we are allowed to have red meat on Christmas Eve too but my family likes to adhere to the tradition that we’ve had for years). The dishes include:

  • a soup (usually mushroom or borsch)
  • ravioli with cabbage and mushrooms
  • many different fish dishes (carp is the main food associated with Christmas in Poland)
  • some salads (e.g. cold cooked potato salad which is made of potatoes, carrots, eggs, pickled cucumbers, peas, onion, mustard and mayo; some variations are allowed in different families, e.g. some people would add some apple too)
  • cooked eggs cut in half and covered with mayo, and/or sprinkled with chives and red pepper powder
  • fried pancake rolls with cabbage and mushrooms

If you are not used to a Polish kitchen these ideas may sound weird but believe me, they are DELICIOUS!

Some families sing carols. Everyone ‘arranges’ Santa’s visit in a slightly different way. In my family my parents used to tell me and my sister that after the Christmas dinner we need to go and wash our hands. While we were doing this Santa usually popped in quickly to leave some pressies for us. For the rest of the evening we would enjoy the pressies, sweets and desserts, talk and watch some TV. Some families go to church for a mass at midnight. Over the next two days people visit family and friends, have guests or just get a bit lazy and relax 😉

BRAZIL 

Brazil has the largest number of Catholics in the world. My husband is Brazilian so we spent Christmas there once. One of the biggest differences is that Christmas dinner starts at midnight.

On 24th December no-one seemed to be bothered that we had no presents for everyone yet. We went to the beach to enjoy the sunshine. It was probably around 28+ degrees C. When we have winter in Europe there is the best of the summer in Brazil, and vice versa.

In the evening we went to the shops for a while to find some small presents for all the family members (and they like to have bigger family gatherings there). Then we were cooking and preparing meals until midnight. I remember that we had a turkey, salads (i.e. similar to Polish cold potato salad but with olives and raisins), rice (fried with garlic), farofa (fried cassava with some mixed pieces of bacon) and fruits, After the dinner there was time to open presents, chat with the other guests and then go to bed.

ENGLAND

I’ve been living in England for over a decade and although no-one in my family is British I’ve learnt that the English don’t have any Christmas dinner on 24th December at all, but they meet up and enjoy time spent with family and friends during a special Christmas lunch on 25th December. Then they eat turkey, roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, cranberry sauce, Brussel sprouts, and gravy. And of course for dessert, among other options, Christmas pudding! The English wait to open their presents on 25th December while Polish and Brazilians already have this part behind them.

What’s interesting, according to a recent BBC article, is that the UK is the country most obsessed with Christmas! The most Christmas-related searches in Google are done in November by UK Internet users! And the country has been the highest ranking for the last four years. Surveys say that over 50% of people living in the UK do most of their Christmas shopping in November. To tell the truth, when I go to a shop a few days before Christmas many shelves are already empty and it’s difficult to find things such as nice decorations, etc.

UK customers are the most active online shoppers among all European countries and spend 142% more on gifts and 207% more on food and drink online than the average European person! The first interest from the British in Christmas is shown as early as 1st July! That’s why many shops prepare their seasonal decorations earlier and earlier each year.

This year my Christmas will be extra special. My parents live abroad and I don’t manage to spend every Christmas with my sister even though we live quite near each other. I think the last time I was with my sister and parents sharing a special wafer and eating Christmas dinner together was around …18 years ago?! This time we’ll have my sister’s family with us and my husband and daughter too (+ my little one who will be born in March!). I’m really excited and can’t wait! Still so much cleaning, organising to do but soon I’m putting my feet up and enjoying these magical days … J

How are your preparations coming along?

 

How to plan your 2018 GOALS smartly?

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Quite a few statistics I’ve come across indicate that approximately 92% of people who plan New Year resolutions give up on them within around a month! This is a shocking number. If you asked me about the stats before I found this information, I’d have thought it was more like a 50/50 or 40/60 ratio.

Isn’t that one of the most discouraging and demotivating statistics you’ve ever heard of?

What do you do to ensure that you are among the remaining 8% of people who get what they want in life?

Firstly we need to understand that our dreams are not goals, and vice versa.

Dreams become goals only if you are willing to work on them, if you specify them, write them down, prepare an action plan, and in any other way show commitment and effort; and naturally when you take action towards achieving them.

  • Specify:Think what your biggest dreams are and which ones you can and want to pursue. Think what you could do to fulfil them.

 

  • Be Realistic: When someone says, “Make sure your goals are realistic and achievable”, I think, “Well, if Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur, (two American inventors, engineers and aviators) had thought what was realistic, what had been done before, what people of their time were able to do, they would NEVER have built and flown the world’s first airplane in 1903! If Einstein, Edison or Darwin had listened to others and had tried to set SMART goals (*goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time specific), then they surely wouldn’t have got as far as they did because many things that they invented or discovered weren’t thought to be realistic or achievable in their lifetimes!

On the other hand, it is commonly stressed in psychology-related books and articles that people OFTEN overestimate what can be done in a year and underestimate what can be done in 5 or 10 years. And certainly there is some truth in it as well. Surely we can do a lot in just one year BUT some goals such as writing books or becoming an expert in a chosen discipline may take more than a year.

It also depends on your circumstances, although they are not as vital as you think because even if you haven’t the resources you believe you need, you may find other ways around it to achieve your goals. To tell the truth people rarely have an ideal situation (enough money, contacts, time and so on).

  • Action plans:According to many different studies, people who write their goals down are more likely to achieve them. I didn’t know how important an action plan was before someone advised me to do it. I used to think I work hard on my goals but with the right action plan I’ve realised I didn’t put enough effort into my goals before.

A good action plan, and most of all FOLLOWING IT, is a real eye-opener!

I’ve realised that many people get frustrated and/or fail because they don’t plan any tasks with regard to their goals at all (and think, e.g. “I’ll learn Spanish when I find some time for it.” ) or make their action plans too strict. I used to be one of those people. For instance, I planned that I’d do something EVERY SINGLE DAY for the next X months or years! There is a quote I really like which says:

You can do anything but not everything.

Yes, so dream big, make sure you prepare and plan your goals well but DON’T forget that you need to have a flexible approach to it. For example, I have a four-year-old daughter and I’m going to give birth again in March 2018, and I’m sure that there will be days when I am not able to write anything.

Additionally to all these things that we can predict there are ALWAYS some things that we CAN’T predict. You may have to change your job and you won’t be able to exercise, write articles, design clothes or work on your business idea in the early mornings as you planned; or you may need to move and many of us know how time-consuming it is. Rather than getting irritated that we can’t have it all and do everything we want to, we should design our action plans quite flexibly – a good idea may be to write down what you will focus mostly on in each month of the next year and plan the month ahead only a few days before it starts. 

  • Reviews: Planning November or even April next year when life gets so unpredictable sometimes seems like a huge challenge. During the next year you may find out ways and techniques of working better on your goals (for example, you may do an online marketing course and find out how you can find more clients for your business) because we are constantly learning. You may get some good advice from others who achieve their goals or you may decide that your real passion and true goals are a bit different from what you thought they were. Therefore, it would be best if you review your goals and action plan regularly, for example at the end of every month(some people would prefer to do it every quarter).

 

  • Modifications: And the most important point – changing or adjusting your goals does not mean that you give up on them or that you failed. As long as you have grit and put passion and real effort into whatever you’d like to do it still counts! There definitely will be days when you will have doubts and lose your confidence but remember these are JUST YOUR THOUGHTSgenerated by your own mind. If you need a break, take a few days’ break, don’t think about your goals at all and then with a fresh eye and energy consider what you can improve to become more productive and effective, and to accelerate your progress.

 

I’m very interested in what you think about this and what your plans for 2018 are!

 

SELF-GROWTH. What is it: a bit of a luxury or an essential need?

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I’ve recently been thinking about personal growth. Is it more of a luxury or an essential need; perhaps even something necessary for our survival?

I found a blog where an author argues that personal growth is a necessity. Do you agree? I’m always curious about what other people think. At first, I was convinced that personal development is DEFINITELY a luxury. Why? Because first we need to meet our basic needs — indicated in Maslow’s hierarchy, for example—and then we can really focus on our self-growth, right?

We need some:

  • TIME
  • RELATIVELY STABLE CIRCUMSTANCES
  • SPACE

to reflect on ourselves, our goals, ideas, ambitions, wishes, and desires and to think how we want to, and can, achieve them. However, if we are not feeling safe (e.g. due to domestic violence) or we are very poor (I mean, you have no food for your lunch: that poor!), really, who then is able to think about some dreams? We would rather think about how to get out of our difficult situation. We worry about everyday basic stuff that people who can afford their bills and life don’t even think about. Once we have a roof over our head and enough food, and some other basic needs are met, surely we can then start to consider:

  • What are our real passions and aims?
  • What do we enjoy?
  • What are we good at?
  • What brings us happiness?

I recently was impressed by this straightforward but, at the same time, deep and intriguing quote: “The meaning of life is to give life a meaning.” Human beings naturally seek a purpose in life and think of its meaning but I’m convinced that to purposefully better oneself we need to think about it, devote some time to it, be ready for some sacrifices and, ideally, plan for all these factors.

Growth occurs when we live under some difficult circumstances—that’s true—but what grows are our strengths, such as patience and our understanding of the world. We become smarter and begin to see solutions that we haven’t seen before.

Personal growth is pursuing our goals, living our dreams, spending time on our passions. It feels a bit like a luxury because we need time for it… and time is precious, limited and extremely valuable nowadays. Surely you agree with that? Time in some situations is definitely more important than money. Now, who has time to think more about personal development and plan it effectively? It is a bit of a luxury then, isn’t it?

On the other hand, no Me Time and no Personal Growth often lead to frustration or depression, even if we have “more important” things to deal with and to worry about on an everyday basis. This suggests that personal development is … a necessary aspect as well, a need that should be fulfilled in our lives.

Is personal growth a luxury or necessity then?

What do you think?

 

A few words about positive psychology

I’ve been interested in personal growth for as long as I can remember. Before I learnt the word ‘self-growth’ I thought that my interest was mainly in the learning process:

  • How can some people learn so quickly?
  • Why do some of us seem to have sharper brains?
  • Why are some people more productive and achieve more things effectively than others?
  • Why did my encounter with foreign languages used to be such a disaster but a few years abroad prove that I can learn a foreign language, or languages, if I really want to? (And it’s important to add here that some people who live abroad actually choose not to learn almost any of the foreign language at all).

Then I realised that it always been personal development in general that has been so interesting for me. There are so many different aspects and I enjoy reading and learning about all of them: motivation, time usage (time management, as some people say, but I don’t like the phrase), productivity, achieving one’s goals, the impact of different habits (sleep, nutrition, technology usage) on one’s happiness, stress levels and work-life balance.

Although the topic of self-growth had already been considered by ancient philosophers, the first study about achieving goals was done in the 1930s. Then there was a long period with not much significant research in the field, mainly due to world wars, when psychologists and other scholars focused more on dealing with and helping people who had suffered post-traumatic stress disorders, depression, anxiety, etc. There wasn’t much government interest or money for studies which would focus on positive psychology and peoples’ strengths and personal growth. It was more about survival than personal development. During this time five times more articles about negative symptoms and states such as depression were published compared with the ones which spoke about self-growth and strengths. So psychology became a science of mental diseases and disorders. Then positive psychology and coaching emerged and became as popular as ever in the last couple of decades.

Now it’s difficult to focus on one topic linked to personal development. There are so many of them! Let’s take the term ‘emotional intelligence’—that’s a huge area with lots of different studies and scientists involved!

I feel sometimes that different aspects related to self-growth are so intriguing that it’s hard to be selective enough and focus on particular narrow topics. What about you? What are you most interested in?

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