Friday, October 29, 2010

Generosity - it’s life enhancing

"He who is greedy is always in want.”

True wealth goes beyond money and assets. As we’ve explored over the last few blog posts, wealth is an attitude and a way of living. It’s about peace of mind, flexibility and generosity of spirit.

You can have millions in the bank, but if you won’t share it or use it wisely to live a great life, then you’ll suffer a more miserable life than the poorest pauper.

There is little point being rich and miserable, or being a selfish, lonely and miserly billionaire. Being rich as a life purpose is not something to aspire to. More greed is NOT better. A richness of spirit and a life of meaningful purpose will outweigh money every time for achieving happiness.

So ask yourself what true wealth means for you? Then invest your time, thought and energy in creating it.

Helping others

Research shows that helping others, being generous and caring increases happiness and life satisfaction. You are wealthy when your life is filled with community, family and love. You are also truly wealthy when you have choice, freedom, health and peace of mind. All of which we have explored in this blog over the last year. If you are new to the blog, or if you want to reinforce these ideas and unconscious competencies, you might want to review previous posts on these subjects:

Building inner wealth through Generosity

Yes, money is useful and important, but not at the exclusion of other values. Money is a means to an end and not an end or ultimate purpose in itself.

On the other hand, generosity is a life enhancing friend of wealth and happiness. So share your good fortune and it will return in good measure. Donate to charities. Help those less fortunate than yourself. Generosity is a great antidote to the enemy of greed.

Focus on building real and meaningful life enhancing wealth in your life and you’ll truly create a life filled with contentment, happiness and joy.

"It is neither wealth nor splendor, but tranquility and occupation, which give happiness.” 
Thomas Jefferson

life enhancing thoughts and wishes,

Friday, October 22, 2010

Smiling for happiness and health

The Dalai Lama gave a teaching recently. The final question asked of him was, “What can we give to you?” He beamed at the audience. "That is easy," he said. "Just give me your smiles. It makes me feel good when I see people smile at me. And if you smile at each other that would also be very good. So please give me your smiles.”

Smiles are life enhancing :-)

Smiles are life enhancing! A huge body of research backs up that smiles make you feel good, provide long lasting health effects, positively influence those around you and can even make you live longer.

In one study (Smile to Live Longer) Professors Ernest L. Abel and Michael L. Kruger at Wayne State University found that the larger your smile, the longer you may live. Controlling for confounding effects such as education, marital status etc., the retrospective case study found that those subjects who smiled the most lived up to 7 years longer than those who didn’t smile at all. That’s a full seven years of additional happiness filled with smiles! Makes me smile just thinking about it :-) and certainly seems life enhancing to me!

Smiles engender smiles

Other Social Psychology research on social mimicry and emotional contagion has shown that smiles engender smiles back from others. This leads to self-reinforcing positive relationships. These in turn influence your mood and your outcomes with others.

Smiles are healthy

In the field of Psycho-Neuro-Immunology - the study of how thoughts and feelings influence our immune function and vice versa - the effects of smiles and positive mood on increasing immune function has been very well documented. Smiling increases immune cell activity and function. It’s been shown to reduce stress and lower blood pressure. It’s healthy to smile!

Smiles make you feel good

In one classic experiment by Strack, Martin and Stepper (1988):
“subjects were told they were taking part in a study to determine the difficulty for people without the use of their hands or arms to accomplish certain tasks, participants held a pen in their mouth in one of three ways. The Lip position would contract the orbicularis oris muscle, resulting in a frown. The Teeth position would cause the zygomaticus major or the risorius muscle, resulting in a smile. The control group would hold the pen in their nondominant hand. All had to fill a questionnaire in that position and rate the difficulty involved. The last task, which was the real objective of the test, was the subjective rating of the funniness of a cartoon. The test differed from previous methods in that there were no emotional states to emulate, dissimulate or exaggerate. As predicted, participants in the Teeth condition reported significantly higher amusement ratings than those in the Lips condition. The cover story and the procedure were found to be very successful at initiating the required contraction of the muscles without arising suspicion.”

This experiment has been repeated many times and has robustly shown that simply emulating a smile produces measurable changes in neuro-hormones, rated levels of happiness and other physiological measures of positive affect. You don’t even have to be smiling on the inside to get the positive effects, though of course imagine the amplification of these positive effects when you are really smiling and not just holding your mouth and face muscles in the position of a smile.

More reasons to smile

And if all this isn’t enough to make you smile, then check out ‘Little Known Reasons and Benefits of Smiling’ for 33 more reasons to smile :-) or take a read of ‘Smile! The Remarkable Personal Benefits of Smiling’ for more information about research on the benefits of smiling.

The Inner Smile Exercise

Here’s a great exercise that I came across and have been using that combines NLP with deep insights from the ancient philosophy of Taoism. The Inner Smile exercise works amazingly well to positively align and influence your head brain with your heart and enteric (gut) brains through a process of inner smiling.

  1. Sit comfortably, hands joined. Focus on your breath until you are breathing gently, smoothly, deeply, evenly, calmly and softly. Relax your forehead, let your eyes, ears and tongue soften. Allow your face to become expressionless.
  2. Imagine yourself in one of your favorite, most beautiful places in the world surrounded by the vitality of nature. Begin to smile, as you experience the joy and happiness of this favorite place. Amplify your smile, feel it in your face, your mouth, your eyes.
  3. Let your smiling awareness flow down over the cheeks, down through the jaw muscles and tongue, and down through the neck and throat, soothing and calming as it goes.
  4. Smile down to the thymus gland in your chest and into your heart. Sense them open like a flower in the morning with love, joy and happiness bubbling out of them.
  5. Smile down to the rest of your organs: lungs, liver, pancreas, spleen, kidney, sexual organs and reproductive system. Thank each of them for their work in protecting you and keeping you vibrant, alive and healthy.
  6. Return awareness to your eyes and recharge the energy of your smile, drawing in more of the limitless golden light of the energy around you in whichever way you sense it. Amplify this as before.
  7. Roll your tongue around your mouth until you have gathered some saliva. Smile to the saliva and draw the smiling energy and golden light into the saliva transforming it into healing nectar. Really feel this. Really taste the golden sweet smile into your saliva.
  8. Swallow the saliva in two or three easy positive gulps. Follow it with awareness down your esophagus, smiling as it goes, feeling the healing nectar soothing and refreshing your esophagus.
  9. Continue smiling through the rest of your digestive tract: your stomach, small intestine, gall bladder, large intestine, rectum, anus, bladder and urethra. Thank these organs for their work in giving you energy through ingestion, digestion, absorption and elimination.
  10. Return your awareness once more to your smile and your eyes and recharge your smiling energy, directing it all around you in this, one of your favorite, most beautiful places in the world.
  11. Return to the here and now, filled in heart, mind, body and soul with your inner smile - filled with the joy of life deep within you now.
[Adapted from: The Inner Smile Exercise - Inner smile meditation]

Give this exercise a go right now. It's wonderful how it works and how powerfully it influences your heart brain and gut brains to calm them, balance them and fill them with joy. [You know you have more than just a brain in your head, you have complex, adaptive and functional neural networks in your heart and gut, and you can learn to tap into and align their innate and intuitive wisdom as explained in my book with Marvin, mBraining]

And remember as you smile, that Mahatma Gandhi said,

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

many life enhancing smiles,

Saturday, October 16, 2010

I wonder wonder wonder...

Wonder versus Hope

“Don’t wish for it to happen.
Don’t wish for it not to happen.
Just watch it happen.
Let the wonder of life unfold.”
– Susan Jeffers

I came across this very cool neuro-linguistic distinction on the difference between hope and wonder and have been playing with it, and it’s so life enhancing I wanted to share it with you!

The idea came from a blog by Stephen Mills: The Rat Race Trap - Tools to improve your mind and escape the trap:
“I got the idea for this article from Susan Jeffers in her book Embracing Uncertainty.  It really struck a chord with me.  The whole idea is that hoping, wishing, wanting, etc. opens you up to disappointment because you cannot control the future.  When what you hope for doesn’t happen, your hopes are dashed.  You then judge the situation as “bad” because it didn’t turn out the way you wanted it to turn out.  You are hurt, disappointed, frustrated, etc.

The idea is to replace your hopes with wonder.  Instead of hoping you’ll get a particular job you wonder if you’ll get that job.  Instead of hoping your partner will act in a certain way you wonder if they will act that way.  Instead of hoping your child will do well in school you wonder if they will do well in school.  Instead of hoping a certain thing happens, you simply wonder what will happen.  Do the same thing with wishing and wanting.

This immediately takes the pressure off of the future by removing the need for it to turn out a certain way.  You are free to let your life unfold in the way it is going to unfold regardless of your hopes and desires.  Wonder frees you from the anxiety of a specific outcome.

This is NOT about pessimism.  Pessimism sucks.  Hope is better than pessimism.  Wonder moves beyond hope and doesn’t open the door for pessimism.  If you had ask me a few years ago what I thought about all of this, I probably would have said it was total crap.  What a difference a few years make!”

Words are powerful!

Now as you know from many of my blog posts (e.g. Life Enhancing Language, De-nominalising your world, Positive Words are life enhancing, O-priming your life, Positive Emotion Words) words are powerful tools that we use to filter, construct and create meaning in our lives.

It is through words that we limit ourselves or alternately inspire and direct ourselves. So a distinction like the one above is a gem. It’s a fantastic insight and really does produce a very different response in your neurology. And I wonder just how often and how life enhancingly you will use this insight now!

Wonder is a creative emotion

According to Dr Gordon Coates, in his fascinating exploration of the origin of human emotions and how to relieve emotional distress, the act of wanting or desiring leads to a cascade of emotional and cognitive responses. Two key parallel cascades occur - hope that the outcome will occur and fear that it will not. This in turn leads to both happiness and sadness, which lead on to more fear and hope. These then loop back onto themselves, creating ongoing stress and suffering. This can be summarised as:

Wanting/Desiring -> Hope + Fear -> Happiness + Sadness -> Fear + Hope
and is displayed in Dr Coates’ diagram:

Note how this links to the distinction above about the potential negative neuro-linguistic effects of hope. And contrast this with ‘Wonder’, which is a creative emotion that does not lead to the parallel cascades of happiness and sadness, and so is more generative. Wonder opens the mind to possibilities and contains no fears of loss. Wonder connects to freedom and choice and flexibility. It creates fascination. It's creative. It’s life enhancing.

So I truly wonder how much you’ve enjoyed today’s blog post and I look forward to hearing comments and feedback on how you use this cool neuro-linguistic tool.

with life enhancing wonder,

Read more of Susan Jeffers' book:

Embracing Uncertainty: Breakthrough Methods for Achieving Peace of Mind When Facing the Unknown

Friday, October 8, 2010

Appreciating your Life

"Joy has nothing to do with material things, or with man's outward circumstance... A man living in the lap of luxury can be wretched, and a man in the depths of poverty can overflow with joy.”
William Barclay

In this week’s post, we continue to explore ideas and distinctions for overcoming patterns of greeding and for ‘wealthing your life’ with true inner and outer wealth.

Accepting and appreciating your self

According to the father of Cognitive Psychology, Dr Albert Ellis, psychologically healthy people are usually glad to be alive and accept themselves simply because they are alive and have some capacity to enjoy themselves and appreciate their lives. “They refuse to measure their intrinsic worth by their extrinsic accomplishments, materialistic possessions and by what others think of them.”

This ability to appreciate your life circumstances and situations is a life enhancing adaptive coping strategy. It helps you overcome obstacles and buffers you against greed, stress and difficult life circumstances.

Sometimes patterns of greeding are a futile attempt to cope with stress or problems in life – “when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping” syndrome. But as we’ve seen in previous blog posts (e.g. Overcoming the hedonic treadmill), the satiation of desire never feels as good as the desire itself, leading to a vicious cycle of wanting more and more. Alternatively, by accepting and appreciating your self and your life and focusing on gratitude and appreciation you can overcome the life denying enemy to happiness of greed and selfishness.

The Blessings of Gratitude

Dr. Robert Emmons, a psychology professor at the University of California-Davis has spent the last decade studying gratitude. His research has shown that people who regularly practice grateful thinking are more than 25 percent happier, suffer lower levels of stress, are healthier and even sleep better. And I think you'd agree that these are all incredibly life enhancing things.

The practice of gratitude has also been found to be incompatible with negative emotions, and can inhibit feelings of envy, bitterness, anger, and greed. You simply can’t do greeding and other negative emoting while focusing on gratitude and appreciation. The expression of gratitude also stimulates moral behavior, such as kindness and helping, and increases social bonding.

What can you do?

So to increase gratitude in your life, use the easy and very beneficial Positive Psychology exercises covered in earlier and upcoming blog posts. For instance, make a practice of counting your blessings via a daily Gratitude Journal. In this process you write 3 or more things each day that you feel blessed with in life and really savour and appreciate them. Keep it beside your bed and fill it in each evening before sleep. Review it each morning.

Or use a Gratitude Rock or Item as a trigger to remind yourself to remember things you feel grateful for. I use a small beautiful rock I found on my favourite beach. I’ve placed my Gratitude Rock on my kitchen bench and every time I see it, I make a habit of using it as a reminder and trigger to think of something I truly appreciate about my life. It’s such a life enhancing thing to do, it feels great and I highly recommend it.

You can also send Gratitude Letters, emails or messages to those who have helped you and you appreciate. Just imagine how life enhancing receiving an unsolicited message of gratitude or appreciation will have been for one of your friends, family, mentors, colleagues or loved ones. And the wonderful thing is, giving gratitude has as much benefit and positivity for those who send it as for those who receive it.

Inner Wealthing - A spirit of generosity

In a sense it’s about creating and evoking a spirit of joy and generosity in your life and your interactions with others. There’s always something or someone you can feel grateful for or towards.

Generously celebrate your blessings, savor them and focus on the positives in your life. Even in the midst of the worst of life’s challenges, you can always choose to place your focus on past blessings and future possibilities. And truly, isn’t that incredibly life enhancing!

Awareness Questions – Savouring Gratitude

Ask Yourself:
  • What are the blessings in my life? Who and what can I show appreciation for?
  • What positive aspects of my life and my self can I fully savour and appreciate?
  • How can I focus more on the delights and abundance of the simple joys in my life?

with appreciation and joy,

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Beware of Supernormal Stimulus!

If a bird is given the choice between nesting on a large plastic egg or on its own egg that it recently laid, it will choose the larger egg, even though it is cold, smells of plastic and has the wrong texture.

This tendency in nature for any stimulus that is an exaggerated version to elicit a stronger response than normal is called the ‘Supernormal Stimuluseffect.

It was first observed by the ethologist Konrad Lorenz in brooding birds. Since then it has been observed in a wide variety of creatures. For example, there is an Australian beetle species whose males are sexually attracted to large and orange females – the larger and more orange the better. This creates a problem as the males attempt to mate with beer bottles that are just the right color – the males are more attracted to the bottles than to actual females.

The effect in humans...

In humans, it is argued that phenomena such as sexual fetishes and our delight for junk food can be largely explained as examples of supernormal stimulus effects. Candy bars are a great example of supernormal stimulus, they contain more concentrated sugar, salt, and fat than anything that exists in our ancestral environment and we love them. Some people are so strongly attracted to candy and chocolate that they’ll continue to eat them to the point of damaging their own health.

Other examples of human responses to supernormal stimuli are evidenced in how we like the colors of flowers so we breed bigger and brighter ones; we like sweet scents, so we manufacture strong perfumes; we like sexual stimuli, so create clothes and cosmetics to exaggerate them. We also prefer tall people, large breasts in women and super-models who have exaggerated levels of human beauty such as large eyes and facial symmetry.

The key and important thing to note about the effect of supernormal stimuli is the instinctual preference we have for those things that are larger, shinier and more exaggerated than normal.

The effects of supernormal stimulus can link to and drive life denying patterns of greeding. They can lead to behaviors of over-indulgence due to the strong unconscious responses we have to super-stimuli. So it’s vitally important to track for these effects in your life and then use conscious decision making to moderate your behavior. Make life enhancing choices through intelligence rather than through evolved instinctual patterns and desires. More greed is not better!

"There are limits to self-indulgence, none to restraint.”
Mahatma Gandhi

And if you are interested, you can read more about Supernormal Stimuli and how to overcome them in this fascinating book:

Supernormal Stimuli: How Primal Urges Overran Their Evolutionary Purpose

A Harvard psychologist explains how our once-helpful instincts get hijacked in our garish modern world. Our instincts—for food, sex, or territorial protection— evolved for life on the savannahs 10,000 years ago, not in today’s world of densely populated cities, technological innovations, and pollution. We now have access to a glut of larger-than-life objects, from candy to pornography to atomic weapons—that gratify these gut instincts with often-dangerous results. Animal biologists coined the term “supernormal stimuli” to describe imitations that appeal to primitive instincts and exert a stronger pull than real things, such as soccer balls that geese prefer over eggs. Evolutionary psychologist Deirdre Barrett applies this concept to the alarming disconnect between human instinct and our created environment, demonstrating how supernormal stimuli are a major cause of today’s most pressing problems, including obesity and war. However, Barrett does more than show how unfettered instincts fuel dangerous excesses. She also reminds us that by exercising self-control we can rein them in, potentially saving ourselves and civilization.