The Happiness Connection  

A new take on self-care

Looking after yourself

I recently ordered a beverage at my favourite coffee shop. When the barista asked me how my week was going, I paused and said it was a strange one. I’m not a proponent of saying “fabulous” unless that’s the truth.

She laughed and said her’s was “off.” That was the perfect word for my week, too.

What does a happiness maven do when she’s feeling low or off her game? She sinks into some self-care by writing in a beloved environment. There’s something about the energy of a coffee shop that soothes my soul.

What one person considers nourishing for their body and soul varies widely. It might be a day at the spa, a challenging hike or time with a book. It’s important to not only know what helps when you need an energy reset, but to commit to doing it. Creating a plan, or plans, for self-care in advance of needing them is important, but like me, you may limit yourself to activities you enjoy. It turns out that there are some vital, yet often ignored, aspects of self-care that don’t get as much airtime as things like exercise, eating healthily and a good night’s sleep.

If you don’t know how to care for yourself in times of need, create a plan. If you’re already a self-care guru, consider adding some or all of the following into your regime.

Get help when you need it—Asking for help is often interpreted as a sign of weakness. It isn’t. It also doesn’t have to mean therapy. It could mean hiring someone to clean your house, finding someone to look after your kids for a few hours, or using a delivery service for your groceries.If you’re asking a friend or family member for help, make sure you know exactly what you need and then be specific about your request. Remember, although you have the right to ask for help, the other person has just as much right to refuse. If that happens, try not to take it personally. Their reasons for declining quite likely have nothing to do with you. Don’t let rejection stop you from asking someone else.

Set boundaries—There’s nothing wrong with saying no. That is the flip side of asking for help. If the request doesn’t fit into what’s happening in your world, or it doesn’t feel right, it’s OK to refuse. If a friend asks you for a favour that’s going to cause you stress, be OK saying no. And don’t feel you have to justify your decision or explain your refusal. If it seems appropriate, you can offer an alternative way of helping your friend. Look for a win-win, not a win-lose solution. Helping someone is about believing it’s the right thing to do, not obligation. The more you create healthy boundaries, the easier it gets.

Avoid avoidance—If you have something hanging over your head, demanding your attention, you’ll find it difficult to feel truly free. The closer you get to a deadline, the heavier the task is likely to feel. If you love to put things off, do one thing to get started on the task at hand. You don’t have to get the whole thing done in one fell swoop. Break the project into small steps and give yourself a pat on the back every time you complete even a tiny bit of the task.

Release perfection—Sometimes a good enough attitude serves you more than a perfectionist one. Stop overthinking stuff that really doesn’t matter. Ask yourself if you’ll care about how well it was done in a week, month, or year. It’s taken me more time than I care to admit to accept that people come to visit me, not to see how clean and tidy my house is.

Mind your money—While money can’t buy happiness, it can provide you with peace of mind. Creating a budget and sticking to it may be one of the greatest gifts you give yourself. If necessary, ask for help to educate yourself about your finances.

Declutter—Getting rid of “stuff” has been proven to reduce stress, increase productivity, aid decision-making and increase brainpower. It minimizes distractions and allows you to focus on what’s really important. You don’t have to do your entire home at once. Start with your workspace or bedroom and when that’s done, choose the next area you want to tackle. If a whole room seems too daunting, begin with a single drawer or cupboard. If this is an area you feel particularly challenged with, reach out to a decluttering specialist. Remember, asking for help is just another type of self-care.

Put free time or “me time” on your calendar—It’s important to schedule “you time.” Don’t wait for it to magically appear because that rarely happens. Set boundaries around it and refuse to sacrifice it for anything less than an emergency. Your energy requires regular maintenance even when your life seems to be going well. Don’t wait for things to be “off” before you take steps to rejuvenate yourself. Research shows ignoring your personal needs contributes to exhaustion, career setbacks, burnout, lower self-esteem, less money and shaky mental health. If you aren’t sure where to begin, look at your daily routine and ask yourself, “What’s one small thing I can do every day that will make me feel happier, healthier,or more at peace?” Schedule it into your life and make it a priority.

As well as having a regular self-care practice, it’s good to have a list of possible actions you can lean into when challenges present themselves. Know how to help yourself when the need arises.

When I finished my column and my coffee, I felt more grounded, at peace and ready to tackle the rest of my week. But before I did, I had another cup of coffee.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


A game for a happy brain

Stop negative thinking

I have a very busy brain. That’s not a bad thing, but occasionally it can be a problem, especially when I get stuck in a loop of negative thinking.

Does that ever happen to you? Do you find yourself going over and over a past or current situation that makes you feel bad, sad, or uncomfortable? No matter how often you tell your brain to “just let it go,” you can’t seem to release those emotions and thought patterns. This is known as rumination and everybody does it to some extent.

There are two types of ruminating—reflective and brooding. The former means you’re trying to analyze or gain useful insight from a negative experience in order to find a solution or gain greater understanding.

The second type is less beneficial. When you brood about something that’s attached to negative emotions, you go over and over it, focusing on perceived mistakes or criticizing yourself. This can interfere with normal mental functioning like your ability to engage in daily tasks, connect with others, feel positive emotions, or concentrate.

Conditions like anxiety, depression, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder all share an element of brooding rumination. That doesn’t mean if you find yourself caught in a negative brain loop, you’re experiencing one of the above. I’m simply pointing out that it isn’t a healthy place to spend a lot of time.

Research shows that if you ruminate in a brooding way, you’re more likely to:

• Focus on the negative aspects of your life and blame yourself for them.

• View your future with a sense of hopelessness.

• Have a more negative perspective of your current life.

Because I spend a lot of time in my head, you can imagine my interest when I came across a study that suggests a new way to find an off switch for your brain if it’s brooding. The results indicate you can actually reduce depression and anxiety by forcing yourself to think more broadly. This isn’t a new idea, but the activity involved in this particular study is.

Participants who were asked to read lists of progressive words showed significant mood improvement when compared to those who read lists of stagnant words.

A stagnant list comprises of words that all share the same theme. For example, it could be a series of vegetables or types of food. (apple, pear, grape, lettuce, carrot, turnip, pumpkin, cucumber, etc.) By comparison, words in a progressive list are related to the previous one but then expand to another topic. (apple, worm, book, school, teacher, learning, skill, job, etc.)

Try creating a progressive list the next time you want your brain to release a negative loop.

1. Begin with any word. I find a noun the easiest place to start. Apple is one of my favourites.

2. What does your starting word make you think of? If you choose an apple and then another fruit springs to mind, let that one go and find something related but not a fruit. You might go pie, but don’t let all your words be types of food.

3. Write down your progressive list and read it aloud. You don’t have to create a new list to experience the benefits. You can use these same words next time you notice yourself brooding. Consider keeping a list on your phone. You can always use the one I created as an example.

Progressive lists aren’t the only way to broaden your mind. Here are some alternative ways to help you see the forest rather than a single tree.

• Play strategy games that involve thinking several steps in advance. Chess is a good example.

• Look for multiple perspectives. Try to think of all the possible angles a situation could be viewed from. You don’t have to agree with them, you just want to be aware of their existence.

• Travel. Like the saying goes, this is a great way to broaden the mind. Experiencing other cultures and ways of doing things is a powerful way to expand your view of the world.

• Keep learning new skills, especially if they push you out of your comfort zone.

You don’t need to avoid ruminating, but if you find yourself brooding rather than reflecting, pull out that list of progressive words, or create a new one.

Brain games aren’t just for entertainment. They can also boost your sense of wellbeing making you a happier person.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

The power of talking to yourself in the third person

Third-person positive

Distancing: make (someone or something) far off or remote in position or nature. — Oxford Languages

Do you remember the first time you heard the term social distancing?

As with many new things, it might have initially sounded strange and jarring. But today, it’s an expression few people bat an eye at.

I was recently reminded of my initial reaction when I happened upon the term psychological distancing. It turns out this type of space can also benefit your health and is probably a term we should all get used to.

Psychological distancing refers to the process of stepping away from people or situations to gain perspective. This is an especially helpful tool if the person you need some space from is yourself.

The part of you that you might need a break from is that inner voice that loves to share. Its monologue comes from a combination of conscious thought and personal beliefs and biases.

If you suffer from low self-esteem, this voice is likely to be critical and delight in reminding you of your short-comings and perceived weaknesses.

“You’re too fat to ever find someone to love and desire you.”

“Don’t bother applying for that job. They’ll never give it to someone like you.”

“Why spend all that time getting ready when nobody’s going to want to talk to you anyway? You might as well just stay home.”

These may sound familiar, or it may be something else that your inner voice loves to whisper in your ear when you least desire it.

Having a low opinion about yourself can impact you both physically and mentally. Poor self-esteem can ruin your ability to connect with others, rob you of happiness, or sabotage your career.

It’s important to know that just because your inner voice is telling you negative things about yourself, that doesn’t mean any of it’s true.

When your self-talk becomes critical, take a step back. Give yourself psychological distance.

Psychologist Ethan Kross, the author of Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It (2022) discovered that gaining perspective by giving yourself space is a powerful way to silence negative self-talk.

An easy way to do this is to simply change your inner responses from first person pronouns to third person. When your inner chatter suggests you aren’t good enough to get a promotion, instead of responding, “Yes I am,” try “Yes she is.” This approach creates space. It’s like responding to a friend or family member.

Talking about yourself in the third person allows you to step back from any emotions that come with negative self-talk. Gaining perspective makes it easier to see the truth about the things your inner voice is telling you.

Try this technique with a limiting belief you hold about yourself.

“Carrying around a few extra pounds doesn’t mean you aren’t loveable.”

“Just because you didn’t go to university, doesn’t mean you aren’t intelligent.”

“You’re good enough to do whatever you decide to do.”

Research shows that using a high percentage of “I-talk,” or first-person singular pronouns, is a reliable marker of negative emotions. It keeps you too closely attached to the feelings you’re experiencing. Talking in the third person lets you take a valuable step back.

Another simple yet effective technique you can use to combat negative self-talk is to refer to yourself by name.

When my inner voice makes negative comments, I’ve started asking myself, “Is that really true, Reen?” Using my name puts me into a position of separation as if I’m talking to one of my children. It helps reframe my inner thoughts in more abstract and less emotional terms.

This isn’t a new technique. The following quotes are from Meditations, by the stoic Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius.

“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”

It may sound like he’s addressing his readers, but the Meditations are his private notes to himself.

These extracts also demonstrate another effective tool for combating negative self-talk. Consciously add third person positive affirmations to your inner conversations.

“Your beauty shines from the inside out.”

“You are strong enough to do anything you put your mind to.”

“Anyone would be lucky to have you for a friend.”

Psychological distancing can give you the healing space you need to view your negative self-talk more realistically. Stepping back gives perspective and allows you the opportunity to make better decisions and to respond in a more appropriate manner.

So, the next time the voice in your head needs to be silenced, start by giving yourself some space.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Smile: What to do when happiness eludes you

Being happy in hard times

Castanet is happy welcome back columnist Reen Rose, our self-styled happiness maven, after her summer hiatus. Going forward her column will appear every second Sunday in this space.

What do you do when happiness seems to elude you? How do you cope when “fine” or “OK” are the best feel-good emotions you can summon?

It would be great to think being happy is simply a choice. Well, it is a choice, but sometimes it isn’t a simple one.

Life rarely stands still for long. Circumstances change, causing your life to shift and feel unbalanced. When that happens, you may find your level of happiness slumping.

I consider myself a happiness maven, but I spent time this summer struggling to find joy. One day when I was feeling particularly low, the wonderful man I share my life with suggested I spend the day doing whatever made me happy.

It was great advice. The problem, however, was that I wasn’t sure what would make me happy. When a woman who’s spent decades studying positive psychology and weaving the seven precepts for happiness into her life feels like she’s lost her way, there’s a problem.

A couple of health issues resulted in me taking a few months away from writing this column. One has been resolved, the other is ongoing. Please don’t jump to any conclusions. I’m not at death’s door. I’m just trying to navigate an unfamiliar situation.

I’m not sharing that information in a bid for sympathy. I’m writing about it because I know experiencing a life-altering change in circumstances is not unique to me.

The recent wildfires left people homeless. Recent world events resulted in a loss of feeling safe or being able to view the future optimistically. Financial woes continue with the global economy. Health and relationship breakdowns are commonplace.

Few people are fortunate enough to escape major challenges in their lives. When an unforeseen pit opens in front of you and threatens to swallow you up, what do you do? How can you lift yourself out of a funk that seems to have you fully in its grasp?

I can’t give you a definitive solution. But I can help you understand what your brain is doing when your life feels like it’s been turned upside down. I can also give you some tips on how to invite a little more joy into your life.

The major drive for all humans is to survive. When you feel uncertain about the world around you, your brain puts you into survival mode. In that state, you’ll feel hypersensitive to anything that could possibly be perceived as a threat. You’re on the lookout for things that might go wrong, even if the likelihood is slim.

Rather than giving others the benefit of the doubt, you may find yourself reading negativity into their words and actions. Your fight/flight/freeze response is ready to kick in at a moment’s notice.

You may feel a sense of safety. But feeling safe isn’t the same as being happy. In fact, the sense of having survived the day without any major mishap can reinforce prioritizing surviving over thriving.

I spent much of the summer doing just that. Even though both my kids came for a visit from England with their partners, something was missing. My brain was focusing on keeping me safe, not encouraging me to wring every drop of happiness out of each day.

I enjoyed my summer, but not to its fullest.

So, what do you do when you find yourself in a situation like that? To be truly happy, you need to find a way to rise above survival mode. You want to feel like you’re thriving, not just surviving.

The first step is to remind yourself of the wisdom of the Dalai Lama. The purpose of living is to be happy. Happiness is the key to good health. Positive emotions release key neurotransmitters like endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin. These are your natural painkillers, mood boosters, and antidepressants. Being in a state of survival long-term doesn’t serve your physical or mental health.

Here are four steps to help you rise above survival so you can be happier and hopefully healthier:

Set an intention at the start of every day

• “Today’s going to be full of joy.”

• “I’m going to have an amazing day.”

• “No matter what happens, I’m going to find lots of reasons to laugh.”

Your brain’s designed to find examples that support whatever objective you choose. That’s why deciding you’re going to get through the day unscathed isn’t the right attitude to embrace if you want to rise out of survival mode.

Smile, smile, smile

Every time you smile, even if it’s forced, your brain releases “feel good” chemicals. These encourage you to smile even more, boosting your happiness further. I’ve got a grin pasted on my face as I type these words. It’s not because I’m particularly happy or unhappy. I’m just trying to smile every chance I get.

Any time you can, form your lips into the biggest smile possible.

Find reasons to laugh

Laughter really is the best medicine when it comes to happiness and to health.

Norman Cousins, an American political journalist, author, professor, and world peace advocate, believed he cured himself of an illness that doctors were unable to help with by watching movies that made him laugh. His research showed the physical movement that occurs when you laugh, moves lymph fluid around your body and helps clear toxins. It also increases the amount of oxygen in your cells and decreases the stress hormone cortisol.

Create a library of resources

You don’t want to search frantically for something to make you laugh when you realize you haven’t chuckled for hours. Create a collection of books, social media posts, television shows, movies, family photos, etc. that make you laugh. Surround yourself with them and schedule time to focus on them. Make sure you have at least one deep belly laugh every day.

This isn’t an exhaustive list of ways to lift yourself out of survival mode, nor by following this advice will you be guaranteed of escaping life’s challenges. But if the Dalai Lama is right and the purpose of life is to be happy, it’s a good place to start.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Reen Rose is an experienced, informative, and engaging speaker, author, and educator. She has worked for over three decades in the world of education, teaching children and adults in Canada and England.

Research shows that happy people are better leaders, more successful, and healthier than their unhappy counterparts, and yet so many people still believe that happiness is a result of their circumstances.

Happiness is a choice. Reen’s presentations and workshops are designed to help you become robustly happy. This is her term for happiness that can withstand challenge and change.

Reen blends research-based expertise, storytelling, humour, and practical strategies to both inform and inspire. She is a Myers Briggs certified practitioner, a Microsoft Office certified trainer and a qualified and experienced teacher.

Email Reen at [email protected]

Check out her websites at www.ReenRose.com, or www.ModellingHappiness.com

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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