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  1. Feeling connected to others in a world that is increasingly individualistic may seem a challenge, but there are simple exercises you can use to develop stronger bonds with others and to improve the quality of your relationships. There is little doubt that humans are social beings. Feeling close to others contributes to our overall feelings of happiness and fulfilment, and there are plenty of studies that confirm this from a scientific point of view. In fact, scientists believe our brains are hard-wired to be social and that our development as a species relied on our ability to maintain strong bonds. But although we live surrounded by people, it seems that loneliness and isolation are some of the biggest social challenges of the 21st century. Researchers have noted that one can have a wide social network and interact regularly with others and still feel lonely or disconnected, which suggests that intimacy is a key factor in the development of meaningful connections with others. In this post, we will show you five easy exercises that can help deepen connection you have with others. Meditation Meditation is a fabulous tool that can help you achieve greater awareness and connection with the world that surrounds us. Several studies have found that meditation practice has a positive effect on close relationships and helps develop a stronger sense of intimacy. According to these studies, there are several reasons why meditation works: first of all, meditation makes us more accepting of our own flaws, so we can easily become more forgiving of others. Secondly, meditation improves our ability to separate thoughts from emotions and makes us less “reactive”, so we can continue working on developing closeness despite ups and downs in our relationships. Shou-yi is a lesser-known form of meditation that comes from the Taoist tradition. The name itself means “to embrace the one”, so it is easy to see why this technique can help deepen a connection with others. Shou-yi brings to the forefront of your mind the fact that in one way or another, we are all interconnected and interdependent. This technique is also known as “quiet sitting” and involves contemplative meditation based on Taoist philosophy. Sit down with your back straight Visualise the five “yin organs” or bodily parts where energy resides, which are the liver, heart, spleen, lungs, and kidneys. This could be compared to a body scan, where you focus on one body part at the time Each yin organ has a colour associated to it. Liver is azure, the heart is a vivid red, the spleen is yellow, lungs are white, and kidneys are dark blue. Focus on the relevant colour as you move through each body part According to Taoist scriptures, these colours also correspond to the five elements: wood (azure), fire (red), earth (yellow), metal (white), and water(dark blue) Visualise the flow between body parts, colours, and elements The goal of this technique is to achieve a deep insight into oneness and bring a deep sense of harmony between humans, the earth, and the cosmos. Once you are in the “oneness mindset”, it becomes easier to look at the forest instead of getting distracted by the trees (other people’s habits and traits that bother us). After all, there is a reason why Taoist philosophy has been used for peacebuilding and conflict management purposes. Loving-Kindness Meditation A second exercise is loving-kindness meditation (LKM). The ultimate goal of LKM is to strengthen compassion, love, and appreciation for other beings, so it is the ideal technique to improve intimacy. A study of people who practised loving-kindness meditation for 6 weeks showed a reduction in the negativity levels of their relationships, and participants reported having a stronger support network and increased happiness. The technique is also simple: Find a quiet space and choose a comfortable position Create a mantra, which should include good wishes towards others ( for example: "May I be happy, healthy and free from harm. May you be happy, healthy and free from harm") Repeat the mantra in 6 stages: first direct it towards yourself, next towards someone who has had a positive effect in your life, then towards a relative or friend, next towards someone you feel neutral or have an occasional conflict with, then towards someone you dislike, and last towards all beings While you repeat the mantra, picture those good wishes physically going from you to other people Here's an example of a loving kindness meditation by Jack Kornfield Gratitude The third exercise is writing gratitude letters. Letting other people know we value them and care for them can improve our relationship with others, since we become more likely to overlook people’s flaws, lessening any chance of conflict and helping us achieve a better appreciation of other people’s value. Gratitude letters can deepen connection because our feelings of gratitude are directly shown to the other person. This has a strong impact on the quality of the relationship, as well as a lasting effect that can span several weeks, as shown by studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Even if you don't send the letter, putting your gratitude in writing makes you more aware of your positive emotions and is bound to make you feel closer to others. Gratitude letters work because when we direct our attention to gratefulness, we automatically divert it from toxic or negative emotions. And as some researchers have found, the benefits multiply over time, since cultivating an ongoing gratitude practice causes changes in brain activity in areas related to decision-making, meaning that there is a link between gratitude feelings and how we act towards others. Getting To Know Your Exercise The fourth method is a 36-question exercise that you can use to understand others better and get a better picture of who they are. For this exercise, you will need to set 45 minutes aside and take turns asking the questions that you can find here. Research at US universities has shown that this exercise is effective in helping deepen connection and closeness between people. This is so because the exercise relies on mutual self-disclosure as opposed to small talk, and because it requires both sides to open up, providing a safe environment where there is no fear of feeling vulnerable or one-sided. Deep Listening Devoting time to actually listen to others (instead of simply exchanging views or acknowledging information) is one of the best ways of showing we care for them. Deep listening can also help increase empathy, because in doing so we get to understand better other people’s motives, needs, and fears, gaining a more accurate picture of who they are as human beings. Next time you have a conversation with someone, focus on what they are saying without judging or interrupting, and do your best to be present in the moment, being supportive and receptive. It is also useful to have some guidelines in mind: Suspend assumptions Suspend judgement Suspend status (communicate on an equal-to-equal basis) Honour confidentiality Honour silence Deep listening works because by not being judgmental and overlooking differences in opinion, others feel more inclined to trust us. Overall, deep listening improves the quality of our relationships and sets a solid foundation for authentic interpersonal encounters. Benefits of Deeper Intimacy We live in a society that is increasingly individualistic, so it is always good to remember the benefits of crafting a deeper connection with others and of cultivating intimacy in relationships. The benefits are both physical and emotional: being able to connect with others at a deeper level generates empathy, which has been proven to give a sense of purpose and to strengthen the immune system. Other studies show that stronger connectedness with others is a key component of our support system, can lower stress and anxiety levels, and has been linked to lower heart disease rates. Of course, lasting closeness, intimacy, and loyalty will not come automatically. There is no magic pill when it comes to deepening your connection with others, but the exercises we have discussed here are a good starting point that can help your enjoy richer and more meaningful relationships. Written by Dee Marques A social sciences graduate with a keen interest in languages, communication, and personal development strategies. Dee loves exercising, being out in Nature, and discovering warm and sunny places where she can escape the winter.
  2. In a busy, noisy and unsettling world, in can be difficult to find inner (and outer) peace. Dee Marques explores key techniques that can help – such as mindfulness and shadow work – and shares ten top tips on easy ways you can promote peace within your community and beyond. It’s true that human history has always been marked by unsavoury events, but perhaps you share the feeling that these days, conflict, hatred, and violence suddenly seem to be all around us. Feeling you don’t really know what’s happening to the world is deeply unsettling and can threaten your inner peace and happiness. Yet, there are things you can do to counteract these emotions. Here are some ideas on how you can promote peace within yourself – and with others – regardless of how uncertain the world around us may be. Promoting peace within yourself When dealing with hatred and violence, finding ways to promote peace requires mindful action. Basically, you’ll need to disarm the inner world first in order to disarm the outer world. Our first suggestion is practice mindfulness, not just because of its ability to transform your inner self, but because it can change your perception of the world. Indeed, scientific studies have shown that regular mindfulness practice appears to shrink the amygdala (the part of the brain that controls feelings of fear), while at the same time activating the pre-frontal cortex, which is associated with decision-making and awareness. “When dealing with hatred and violence, finding ways to promote peace requires mindful action. Basically, you’ll need to disarm the inner world first in order to disarm the outer world.” All this means that mindfulness can help us regulate our emotions instead of simply reacting to triggers, and can also help make more balanced judgements about what’s going on around us, as well as inside us. In a previous article, we discussed seven ways of practising mindfulness in your daily life, including mindful eating and drinking, gratitude walks and creating a start-of-the-day ritual. Promote inner peace: mindfulness, in the form of gratitude walks, can make a difference Promoting peace through shadow work You may also find it useful to engage in shadow work. This transformational practice is based on the idea that our feelings and perceptions about ourselves dominate the way we feel and act towards others. The shadow is the “negative you” or “your dark side”, and instead of pushing it to the back of your mind or repressing it (as most of us feel tempted to do), you should explore it, to learn more about your own prejudices and misconceptions. The basic outline of shadow work looks like this: Acknowledge the negative emotions triggered by some people, news or events Connect with your shadow and establish a conversation with it. What is it trying to achieve? Is its overall intention positive or negative? In most cases, your shadow holds onto negative emotions to protect you from harm. Can you find other ways of achieving the same without getting caught in a negative circle or without blaming others? Last but not least, remember that peace is not a goal that can be reached through certain mediums, but rather peace is the medium itself. In other words, use peace to bring inner peace by showing kindness and consideration towards your body and mind. For example, loving-kindness meditation has been proven to reduce self-criticism, promote peace with ourselves and others, and generate positive feelings towards strangers. Finding peace in the outside world Of course, we should all do our best not only to promote peace in our minds, but also in the outside world. To do that, you don’t need to make grand gestures. As Buddhist author and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh said: “Learn the art of making one person happy, and you will learn to express your love for the whole of humanity and all beings.” Here are 10 easy-to-put-into-action gestures of peace and kindness: Send a heart-felt handwritten card to a friend or relative Compliment a colleague and express how much you appreciate them Offer a small gift (e.g. fruit, biscuits) to the person who delivers your post Donate to a charity shop Volunteer at a shelter or soup kitchen Offer your place in the queue to the person behind you Track down your teacher or university lecturer, and send them a note of appreciation for their work and what it meant to you Bake some treats and take them to work to share with colleagues Let another driver into your lane Strike up a conversation with a homeless person Yoga can be the perfect opportunity to cultivate equanimity, another way of promoting peace Cultivating equanimity Cultivating equanimity can also help promote peace with the outside world. Equanimity is one of the Four Sublime States in the Buddhist tradition, and the word derives from Sanskrit expression that means “to see without interference”. Equanimity is also defined as even-mindedness, a balanced reaction to both positive and negative events or thoughts, and the ability to achieve a state of mind that cannot be affected by bias and prejudice, but that is driven by compassion instead. Cultivating equanimity involves re-wiring your brain through conscious practice, and yoga provides the ideal conditions to work on this. Find your equanimity mantra (something that reminds you of the need to stay unbiased), start your yoga session, and take note of any negative reactions triggered by thoughts or people you dislike. Keep referring to your equanimity mantra while acknowledging that you are responsible for your own happiness and peace of mind. When it comes to finding peace in troubled times, it’s important to resist isolation even if this seems to go against our most basic instincts. For example, you could get involved in community-building initiatives, as this can help establish meaningful conversations with those who hold different views. You can also join non-violence organisations, or learn more about how prejudice and stereotypes affect us by signing up to prejudice reduction workshops or seminars in your local area or online. Recap and suggestions for further reading Finding kindness and peace within yourself and in the world won’t happen overnight, but mindfulness practice, shadow work, cultivating equanimity, and resisting isolation are all in the path to hope and joy. To cope with the troubled times we live in, you’ll need to be persistent and willing to challenge your inner self. Here's happiness.com's recommended resources and books to help you do just that: On mindfulness meditation: Mindfulness Daily On loving-kindness meditation: On equanimity practice: This e-book On shadow work: The Little Book Of The Human Shadow, by Robert Bly and Owning Your Own Shadow, by Robert A. Johnson On fighting prejudice: Human Relations: A Game Plan for Improving Personal Adjustment, by Loren Ford and Moving Beyond Prejudice Reduction: Pathways to Positive Intergroup Relations, by Linda R. Troop and Robyn K. Mallett On nourishing your mind with inspirational stories: the award-wining short movie The Man Who Planted Trees, or Jonathan Foust’s podcast What Can Happen When You Look For The Good On finding peace: Breaking Busy: How to Find Peace and Purpose in a World of Crazy, by Alli Worthington and The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace and Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies, both by John Paul Lederach ● Main photo: Colourbox.com Written by Dee Marques A social sciences graduate with a keen interest in languages, communication, and personal development strategies. Dee loves exercising, being out in nature, and discovering warm and sunny places where she can escape the winter.
  3. Daaji: The best you can be

    Telling your teenagers or kids 'no' will only make them rebel more. So, what's the best way to deal with curious children when problems arise? Indian spiritual leader KAMLESH D. PATEL aka Daaji says it's time to stop nagging and start guiding: letting teens make their own mistakes is an important life lesson... Q: Can we speak about the relationship between parents and teenagers? I have two children, and during their adolescence, they always felt, “We are right, mummy and papa are wrong. We are being curbed.” And this is the age when they are rebellious. For everything, the answer is, “No, I will not do it. My friend’s parents let them do this, you don’t let me do it, you are wrong.” And this is also the age when there is a little separation or distance developing between adolescent children and parents. What is your advice on this, and how do you mend this relationship? Daaji: You cannot manhandle children at that age. If you are too strong they will break. If you are too weak they will become spoilt. The most important thing is how you prepare them for the future from day one. You cannot expect to see a change in them when they have turned 12 or 13. There is no easy solution. We have to support them to a certain extent, for example, “I don’t mind you going out, but by this time you should come back.” Does that mean they will postpone or pre-pone the activities which are not so good? We don’t know. We have to trust them also. Have confidence that they will not do anything wrong. Be careful, but not too careful If you constantly nag them and warn them, it frustrates them. Over carefulness from the parents’ side destroys the relationship. Be careful, but don’t show it. Be very subtle, and share stories with them – beautiful stories, inspiring stories. The problem is that we have stopped reading stories to them at bedtime. Even when they are 13, 14, 15 or 18 – why not even when they are at 30 – share a nice story with them. Share a nice joke with them. That will make them think. This rhythm has to be placed in their hearts from a young age. When they are teenagers, an inner awakening is there in them, and they are slowly shifting mentally and emotionally from their dependence on their parents to their own self. When children are awake, we can intensify their observational capacity, starting with how a flower blooms, how the stars shine – keep them busy with inspiring things. Let them count the stars. It is a beautiful moment actually. Let them see the leaves changing colors every day. Take the child every day to the same tree or plant and say, “Look at this tree. We’ll come back tomorrow and we will see the color.” Continuously keep at these activities. Bring a coffee cup, fill it with soil, put some seeds in the soil, and see how new life sprouts. This training in observation that we give right from the beginning is very important. Use nature and plants to train your children in the powers of observation. Image: Colourbox.com Guide them in the right direction Now, all this is up to a certain age. Afterwards we can teach them regularity in life: to wake up early in the morning, how to sit, how to talk, the kind of music to listen to, etc. This rhythm has to be placed in their hearts from a young age. When they are teenagers, an inner awakening is there in them, and they are slowly shifting mentally and emotionally from their dependence on their parents to their own self. They are searching, and they are discovering things. Our job is to guide them in the right direction. Don’t be bossy. Don’t lecture them. If your child says, “I want to try this out,” you can say, “Okay, go ahead. Let’s see what happens.” Don’t always be so negative. Don’t always question, “What were you doing?” You are putting your child on the defensive. You are teaching him how to lie. You could say instead, “I wish I had known; I would have picked you up, my son or my daughter.” Conversation is important, and communication is very important. Joking is the most important thing. Jokes that you used to share with little children do not need to stop as they become teenagers. Story sharing can continue. When you read a profound philosophical message from any source, share it with them with a lot of joy: “My child, listen to this, how wonderful it is.” Mistakes happen: don't worry about them And when they do something wrong, it is not the end of the world. Children are not stupid. They know that they have made a mistake, but we make it worse by reminding them, “You see what you have done? I knew you were going to do this.” Then they rebel. They already know that they have made a mistake and feel bad about it; now you are rubbing salt into the wound. Conversation is important, and communication is very important. Joking is the most important thing. You have to be sympathetic in a very indirect way also. Behave as though you don’t know anything, because their pride is riding high at that time. They don’t want to show their mistakes to the parents whom they adore so much. Indeed, “I don’t want to let my parents down” is also there. Even though a child may be going haywire, this inner sense is always prevailing. That is why they lie. That is why they hide. Otherwise, if they were so proud of their actions they would do it right in front of you. Their conscience is still active, still alive. But there are many parents these days who rear their children according to their desire and passion. So what is your desire, what is your passion, what do you want to create in your child? How are you going to design the destiny of your child? As your children grow, at every age, your approach to them must change. Once those children become adults and marry, they have their own lives, so why interfere? When they come to you, be the best you can be. Give the best you can, but there is no point interfering. Nagging them does not work: “You must do this; you must not do that.” Don’t give them the chance to say you are stupid. Educate yourself and embrace change Also, be ahead of your children at the technological level, at the knowledge level. We stop learning things, and that is why our children are able to say, “Oh! You don’t even know this!” At least have some idea about certain advancements, and the changes happening in the world. You cannot insulate yourself from the things that are happening. Changes and trends need not be bad. They can be very ennobling. Now it has become a much freer society I would say, but we are paying a price for it: we are having a war! I mean there is so much boiling and mixing happening, like never before. I don’t think there was ever a period in the history of the human race like today. It is extremely unique. Extremely intense changes are taking place. At a good level there are intense changes, and at a bad level also there are intense changes. And we must help our children to go in the right direction. Sometimes they make mistakes, and you are watching. Don’t let them go too far. Keep on showing them sensitively and sensibly about the perils, but not by becoming negative. Then they realise, “My mom or my papa told me that, but I didn’t listen.” And when such things happen a few times they will have the confidence that, “They are more experienced than me. Now it is time to listen.” Advise your children but always be prepared to let them make mistakes too. Image: Colourbox.com This can happen only when you give them the freedom to do certain things. Let them make mistakes. Let them understand on their own that you advised them correctly. Slowly they will have more confidence that, “My parents are wise.” Of course, it is not always universal, as exceptions are always there in life situations, but by and large, respect will be greater when you don’t interfere. You have to be very indirect. You have to play your role in such a way that children don’t feel that you are influencing them in any way. Always be guided by your heart. When you meditate, you will receive the guidance: “This is what I should be doing or not doing.” Q: Some parents I know were distraught because they found out that their teenage son had started smoking and drinking a glass of beer with his friends. And there was a showdown in the house. How does one handle that situation? Daaji: Give some level of liberty to your child. Smoking is not the end of the world. Drinking is also not the end of the world. It's not that you are giving them freedom to do all these things, but at times you have to let children learn certain lessons on their own by making mistakes. When you see that he or she is smoking, find some funny stories or movies depicting the negative effects of such a bad habit and share it with them. There is a lot of information available on drugs, drinking etc. Provide it to them. Help your children face peer pressure in doing or not doing certain things with their friends. Peer pressure kills them. We have to help them remove the guilt that develops because of such peer pressure. We have to give them the confidence that, “You have the ability to say ‘no’ to certain things. Use your wisdom; guide your friends. They can be foolish but you are wiser. If you go ahead and do it, see the impact of it on your physical system and mental system.” If they still insist, go ahead and give them the freedom. Tell them, “I will buy you a carton of cigarettes, but see for yourself how it affects your studies and your physical well-being.” Show them all the negative things that can happen because of such indulgence. We have to give them the confidence that, “You have the ability to say ‘no’ to certain things. Use your wisdom; guide your friends. They can be foolish but you are wiser.” I remember in the 80s, when my boys were born one after the other, I used to get a newsletter on how to raise children. The number one suggestion was, “Never say, ‘Do this’ directly.” It is a beautiful suggestion, beautiful advice. Never force a child and say, “You must sleep now.” Instead, say something like, “Let’s make a rule: it is nine o’clock. When this hand comes to this number you must sleep because the clock says so.” Children understand all that. Afterwards, as they grow, they argue differently, and that is a different matter, but when they are young it is a matter of training. Don’t teach them the art of rebelling from an early age. Let them blame the clock! ● Interviewed by ANURADHA BHATIA This article was first published in Heartfulness magazine. The copyright is owned by Sahaj Marg Spirituality Foundation and it is reproduced here with permission. Other articles by the author and similar articles can be accessed at http://www.heartfulnessmagazine.com Written by Kamlesh Patel Kamlesh Patel is the world teacher of Heartfulness, and the fourth spiritual Guide in the Sahaj Marg system of Raja Yoga. He oversees Heartfulness centers and ashrams in over 150 countries, and guides the thousands of certified Heartfulness trainers who are permitted to impart Yogic Transmission under his care. Known to many as Daaji, he is also an innovator and researcher, equally at home in the inner world of spirituality and the outer world of science, blending the two into transcendental research on the evolution of consciousness. Building on the insights of his first Guide, Ram Chandra of Shahjahanpur, he is expanding our understanding of the purpose of human existence to a new level, so necessary at this pivotal time in human history.
  4. Traditionally, education focuses on three R’s: reading, writing, and arithmetic. But to become happy and caring individuals, those skills are not enough. Increasingly, there’s also attention to ’soft skills’, most often called social-emotional learning, or SEL.  SEL: Social-emotional Learning https://youtu.be/p_OKCDG8K-k  What is SEL? SEL is the process through which students acquire and apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to  understand and manage emotions (self-awareness) set and achieve positive goals (self-management) feel and show empathy to others (social awareness) establish and maintain positive relationships (relationship skills) make responsible decisions. What does emotional learning focus on? Self-Awareness trains the ability to focus on one's emotions, thoughts, and values, and how they influence behaviour. Also, it strengthens the capacity to assess one’s strengths and limitations, with confidence, optimism, and a ‘growth mindset’. Self-Management trains the skills to regulate emotions, thoughts, and behaviours in different situations: managing stress, controlling impulses, and motivating oneself. Social Awareness focuses on the ability to take the perspective and empathise with others. It enables the student to understand social and ethical norms. Relationships skills strengthen the students in their ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships, to communicate clearly, listen deeply, cooperate with others, negotiate conflict, and seek and offer help. And Responsible decision making trains the capacity to make constructive choices about personal behaviour and social interactions based on ethics, safety, and social norms. How can it be used to help students to become happier and more balanced individuals? The three R’s of emotional learning that are found in SEL, are focused on emotional literacy: Regulation, Reconstruction, and Resilience.  Students learn to regulate their emotions and alter them. Reconstruction of emotions enables emotionally healthy and positive responses. And when students are capable of balancing conflicting and competing emotions, they become calmer and more resilient. The reasons to adopt SEL are the positive results:  To overcome and manage emotions like fear, hatred, anger, and anxiety. To increase academic success, in test scores, grades, and attendance. To lower stress-levels, and have more positive attitudes towards themselves, others,  and tasks. To prevent harmful behaviors like drug use, violence, and bullying. And to provide students with the skills, they will need in their future careers and lives. The skills taught through SEL help students, educators, and parents to cultivate more positive emotions. Education can be used as a tool to serve the greater good: students learn to sustain their well-being and happiness and care for themselves and others. In the shift from the traditional three R’s to the three R’s of emotional learning, students, schools, and parents, develop skills and competencies that enable them to lead more balanced, empathic, connected, and happier lives.  Written by Arlo LaibowitzArlo is a filmmaker, artist, lecturer, and intermittent practitioner of metta meditation and morning yoga. When not dreaming about impossible projects and making them happen in the most impractical ways possible, he journals, listens to jazz, or cuddles with his better half.
  5. We chat with Corey Harnish, co-founder of The Good Cards project, which is hoping to change the world one little act of kindness at a time. This fun and interactive initiative is spreading happiness and touching lives all around the world, and you can take part, too... In the grander scheme of things, we might – at times – feel insignificant, and yet if we look closely, little things are so important. That grumpy person on the Metro or the friendly smile in the line at the bakery can significantly influence our mood and therefore the rest of our day. Indeed, our reaction to the next person we meet and whether we're annoyed or react with kindness and a smile might then influence their subsequent interaction, and so on. Making use of this so-called 'butterfly effect' and spreading kindness playfully is a mission The Good Cards has set out to achieve. Corey Harnish, CEO of Better World International, and one of the co-founders of The Good Cards project has made the time to answer some of our questions. Learn more about The Good Cards and how to change the world one card and one act of kindness at a time! Hi Corey! So, tell us, what is The Good Cards project exactly? “The Good Cards has been described as the Pokemon Go for doing good! The Good Cards is a digital platform and mobile app that motivates and empowers people to perform real-life acts of kindness and good deeds in a fun and meaningful way.” And how does The Good Cards work? “The Good Cards uses a physical card and a mobile app to engage people in performing acts of kindness - in a way that is easy and fun! Here's how: You start with a physical Good Card. Scan it in The Good Cards app. You receive a mission to do something good for someone else and share the story about your mission. Pass your Good Card on to the next person. Get notified of your ripple effect of kindness! As your Good Card travels from person to person around the globe, you can track it in your Good Card app and get notified of the ripple effect of the kindness and good deeds you’ve inspired around the world. “Right now, The Good Cards is in its early stage, and missions are focused on acts of kindness to ourselves, our social circle, as well as anonymous good deeds. As it continues to grow and develop, it will expand beyond just acts of kindness. There will be missions focused on Sustainable Development Goals and social impact at large. Over time, we will incorporate a model for corporations to easily engage employees and consumers in their Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives.” Sounds great! And what are Dreamers? “Dreamers are those people who want to make a difference in this world and most likely are taking action to make it happen. Our tribe is a community of Dreamers who are active in doing good deeds. We've learned that a lot of Dreamers want to do good but either don't know what to do, or they lose motivation for doing good because they don't believe their small actions have an impact.” So, how do you cater to their needs? “We've created a fun and meaningful experience to solve these concerns! With The Good Cards, Dreamers can get guidance in doing good deeds while seeing the ripple effect of kindness their actions make on others.” The Good Card successfully spreads happiness through fun interactions Do you think you can transform any person to become a Dreamer? “We believe anyone can become a Dreamer if they personally experience the positive impact of doing good to others. Positive psychologists have proven that altruism and giving have as strong of an impact on the giver as they do on the recipient of kindness. C.H. - Dreamers are those people who want to make a difference in this world and most likely are taking action to make it happen. “Our goal is to empower people to feel the power of kindness individually because then they will experience transformation on their own, and thus make the world a kinder, happier place.” Why are kindness, love and happiness important, and why gamify it? “In today's world, with the political climate, the amount of negativity, and divide across cultures, people have lost faith in humanity. Something needs to be done to change this. In my opinion, the way to do so is to "kill them with kindness." Rather than fighting back or criticizing others for their wrongdoing, we believe the answer is to give people what they need - kindness, love, and happiness. These are so important because when we experience kindness, love, or happiness, we want to share it with others. When we look at the research, we see a tremendous social benefit to people and communities when these emotions are common.” But does kindness need to be cool and trendy? “For us, there was no other way than to make doing good fun and meaningful. The intention behind 'gamifying' kindness is to create a space and framework that motivates and empowers people to do good. “By doing this, kindness becomes a fun experience to share with others, and something people might be inspired to join and be a part of. Now, when you do a good deed, you literally watch as your Good Card travels the world creating a ripple effect of kindness.” Can you share with us any success stories? “The success stories range from self-care days were people finally are taking time to treat themselves, to fundraising €1,000 to give holiday gifts to a Polish family, to thoughtful anonymous care packages to friends and family.” And what is the global impact up till now? “For us, it's important to recognise each act of kindness rather than get caught up in the global impact, as the global impact will happen from the chain reaction of smaller individual actions. When you focus your attention on the individual lives you touch you begin to truly see and feel the real impact. In less than a year, Good Cards have touched lives in 33 countries, and it's only the beginning; as the project grows and develops, it will continue to expand.” Acts of kindness: with a mobile app and a real Good Card, you can spread the love! What is your envisioned role of companies and brands in the project? “We envision a time when corporations join in the activity. Using our project as a Happiness-as-a-ServiceTM (HaaSTM) platform where they can easily engage their customers and employees in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives. “Research significantly shows that millennials, Y & Z Generations buy specifically from brands that are socially responsible and actually participate in giving back to the community. We are developing a new and innovative platform where corporations can increase their social impact, and communicate their social responsibility efforts to consumers in a fun way.” Can your game actually “build and restore faith in humanity and society?” “Since The Good Cards is still in its first version, it doesn't have the ability to 'restore faith in humanity,' just yet. However, as we continuously develop the platform, it will have the capacity to make a large scale impact. Just think about some of these big brands like Coca-Cola, Nike, or Pokemon Go, and the millions and millions of people all over the world who have interacted with them. “We envision a day when our platform grows this large and millions of people join us in doing good; restoring faith in humanity. Once something like this happens, yes, we totally believe it will 'play' a big role in restoring faith in humanity and society.” ● Main photo: Evan Kirby Written by Arlo Laibowitz Arlo is a filmmaker, artist, lecturer, and intermittent practitioner of metta meditation and morning yoga. When not dreaming about impossible projects and making them happen in the most impractical ways possible, he journals, listens to jazz, or cuddles with his better half.
  6. What makes a happy life? According to the famed Harvard study on happiness, the answer is relationships and love. But what happens when we, or our partners, seem to express our love in different ways, with sadness or conflict as a consequence? Author Gary Chapman wrote about this matter and presented the Five Love Languages.  What are the five love languages? The premise behind the Love Languages is that people express love, and feel loved, in different ways. Most people have one clear primary and one clear secondary love language. Chapman argues that people feel loved when their partner express love in the language that is natural to the recipient. One could argue that their partner’s love language doesn’t come naturally to them, so they are unable to give their partner what they need. Chapman’s view is clear: find a way. If you don't speak your partner's language, your message of love will not be heard.  The five love languages Words of Affirmation Quality Time Receiving Gifts Acts of Service Physical Touch How do we apply them in our relationships? Words of affirmation are:  Verbal compliments and appreciation. Words of comfort and encouragement. And words that inspire kindness, humility, and generosity. Quality time is a time that consists of:  Focused attention. Quality conversation. And Quality Activities. Receiving/ giving gifts implies that the gifts are:  meaningful useful relevant and appropriate for different occasions. An act of Service deals with:  the smaller and bigger chores that we can do to make our partner’s lives easier or more comfortable. Physical touch deals with a physical intimacy that isn’t sexual:  embrace hugs and kisses. How to identify the love languages? Chapman proposes that we can identify our partner’s love language, and also our own, by:  Looking at how your partner most often expresses love to you and others. Being mindful of what your partner complains about most often; what do they lack in your relationship? Being attentive to what your partner asks for most often. We can transform our relationships by being aware of our partner’s, and our love language. Instead of losing acts and words of love in translation between different languages, we can express our love in a mutually satisfactory way. And that, as the Harvard study shows, makes us happy.    Written by Arlo LaibowitzArlo is a filmmaker, artist, lecturer, and intermittent practitioner of metta meditation and morning yoga. When not dreaming about impossible projects and making them happen in the most impractical ways possible, he journals, listens to jazz, or cuddles with his better half.
  7. “The power of goals, dreams, wishes, and aspirations, and the power of writing them down, is that it helps you visualise where you want to go.” “We come together as one, and we unite, and we talk about each other’s problems, and help each other out.” Why would a participatory art project that was first made at Burning Man be interesting and transformative to a city's community? What role does goal setting, experiencing flow, and being playful have in that? And, how does a project like this help nurture and increase the participants’ happiness, by connecting and creating community? I tried to answer all of these questions, and more, in the documentary film Rainbow of Chaos, that I made about The Life Cube in Las Vegas.  From Burning Man to Las Vegas I met Scott Cohen at Burning Man some years ago. Burning Man is an annual arts and music festival, that takes place in the Black Rock desert of Nevada, United States. Burning Man is a temporary city of 70,000 which exists for only a week a year. Burning Man is an experiment in community and art, guided by principles that include self-reliance and self-expression, gifting, leaving no trace, and decommodification . There is no money exchanged at the event, and participants bring everything that they need to survive in the desert and want to gift to others. Burning Man is considered simultaneously as one of the world’s biggest parties, and one of the world’s largest interactive, participatory art gatherings. The ‘playa’ is filled with interactive sculptures and structures , some of which are burned during the week of the event.  Scott’s positive experience with creating life goal lists had made him convinced that he needed to gift his art project, The Life Cube, to the Burning Man community. A “mailbox” that invited participants to write down their goals, dreams, wishes, and aspirations, and place it in the installation. During the burn of the art installation, these messages would be sent up to the universe, to manifest them. In later versions, Scott had expanded this idea, by adding the opportunity for participants to paint, draw, and write on the installation. And, he invited hosts and musicians to use the space as a place to come and do yoga sessions, workshops, and performances. The Life Cube has become a community project, carried by so-called ‘Cube-ists’. People that have seen the power of the installation changing their life, and the life of others.  After three Life Cubes at Burning Man, Scott now had a new goal, and that goal was taking this experience from Burning Man to cities around the world. The first non-Burning Man version of the Life Cube happened in Las Vegas in 2014, an event that lasted weeks and culminated in a city burn of the installation. I wasn't there then but came to document the second version, in 2016, that lasted for a month. What I encountered was an installation that aimed, and succeeded, in doing a couple of distinct things: the power of goal-setting, the joy of creativity, flow, and playfulness and connecting and creating community. All things that are considered instrumental in creating and maintaining individual happiness levels.  Goal setting The genesis of the art installation is Scott’s conviction that writing down your goals, dreams, wishes, and aspirations increases the chance of them happening. He has experienced this first hand throughout his life and had seen this power working for others as well. Goal setting has been identified in studies as a major component in our sense of happiness. Scott is described by others as a force of nature, someone who moves mountains. That attitude is infectious. He invites people to write down their goals, dreams, wishes, and aspirations on so-called ‘wish sticks': postcards that can be dropped into slots in the installation.  Scott's philosophy behind this is simple but effective. By writing down your goals and dreams, you start a process of envisioning them, how to pursue them, breaking them down into the steps that are necessary, and you start actively pursuing them. According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, in The How of Happiness, setting goals is a very effective strategy of raising our happiness, and works best with goals that are intrinsic, authentic, harmonious, flexible, and active.  In an interview segment that only partially made the final cut of the documentary, I extensively asked Scott about how this goal setting could be misunderstood for the Law of Attraction and other pseudoscientific ideas. Scott emphasised that setting goals and writing them down starts a process that one works through, much along the lines of scientifically backed goal setting: setting goals and intentions in writing them down helps envision their outcome and process, creates ownership and identifies blockers, and creates accountability for these goals.  When hearing stories at the Cube how the installation had changed the lives of people involved, from small things like someone finally deciding to propose and marry their partner or having a short-term goal to be more friendly and compassionate to others, to bigger things like artists being able to further pursue their career professionally, or people making radical life changes for the positive, it was clear that the Cube succeeded in installing more happiness in people, by this goal setting.  Becoming child: creativity, flow and playfulness Next, to goal setting, another big part of the happiness-inducing qualities of the Life Cube lie in what I have dubbed in the documentary “becoming child”. The Cube invites participants to be creative themselves, by painting on the installation, by participating in interactive workshops, and by either enjoying music performances or participating in them yourself.  The effect of creativity on our happiness and well-being is a subject that has been extensively studied. Creativity helps us be happier because it enables us to express and process emotions, it activates the reward regions of our brain, and it helps us focus on the moment, also known as creating flow.  Apart from this, something I heard a lot at the Cube, as you can see in the documentary, is that creativity helps us reconnect with our inner child and be more playful. Playfulness as a way to nurture our happiness is an idea that has been proposed by Bernard de Koven , and is backed by research that shows a clear correlation between playfulness and our sense of happiness . The Cube creates an environment for people to be creative, to experience flow, and do all of that in a playful way, that instils happiness.  A happy Rainbow of Chaos Possibly the biggest mission of the Life Cube is to connect the community through art. The effect of community on our level of happiness has been documented in different studies, that show that there are long-term positive effects of community, in strengthening our relationships, that lead to longer and happier lives.  Scott has expanded and grown the community of Cube-ists, which take ownership of different parts of the project and make Scott’s vision of a “rainbow of chaos” come true. This community is made of different layers or smaller communities. First of all, there is the inner core of Cube-ists, which together with Scott build and create the installation. Secondly, there are local event organisers, artists, musicians, yoga teachers and workshop hosts, that join in having a level of ownership of the space, and create part of the ‘permanent' artwork on the Cube, and its the peripheral events. Thirdly, there is the local community of Burners [active participants that regularly go to Burning Man and satellite events], that was involved in the overall event, and especially the burn of the installation. Fourthly, there are the local residents and incidental passers-by, that got enthusiastic after visiting the installation once, and got actively involved in maintaining it, keeping it safe, and helping out with chores. And finally, there is the community of schools, which Scott involved by going to talk to thousands of school children and gifting these schools ‘satellite cubes’ that children could paint and put their wish sticks in.  Studies show that community strengthens relationships and has a positive emotional result, especially in shared novel experiences and sharing positive events. The Life Cube exemplifies this, in its creation of community around this ‘novel’ experience and positive event. Most American inner cities are not the most friendly and positive environments. There are, also in Las Vegas, problems with crime, with drug use, with homelessness, and the overall rundown state that these downtown areas are in. The site of the Life Cube was like an oasis of community amidst all these issues. A homeless man would volunteer in keeping the installation clean, while a local artist was painting a mural, and the inner core of Cube-ists would do maintenance and prepare structural elements and lighting. Meanwhile, a group of school children would visit the Cube for a quick session of painting and an inspirational talk by Scott. Afterwards, some local volunteers would start prepping a musical performance, while another local volunteer was hosting a yoga session. Simultaneously Burners would gather for a fire safety meeting in preparation of the burn. And then throughout the day also local residents would come and visit, experience the installation, paint, and write their wish sticks. People of these different communities would interact, where normally they would not, and just this interacting in itself created an overall connectedness and happiness at the Cube.  Changing the world? In the documentary, Scott is not modest about his goals: he wants to change the world, by bringing Life Cubes to different cities and countries, spreading the effects of goal setting, of creativity, and of community around the world. It’s an ambitious goal and statement, but when looking at the magic that was created in Las Vegas, it is achievable. As Flash Hopkins, one of the founders of Burning Man and ally of Scott in the project says in the documentary: “If he can change one person, then he has already done it.” I would argue that Scott has changed many lives, both at Burning Man and in Las Vegas. I invite you to watch the full documentary, Rainbow of Chaos, and find out for yourself. Art and community can make us happier.  Photos by Arlo Laibowitz  Written by Arlo LaibowitzArlo is a filmmaker, artist, lecturer, and intermittent practitioner of metta meditation and morning yoga. When not dreaming about impossible projects and making them happen in the most impractical ways possible, he journals, listens to jazz, or cuddles with his better half.
  8. Regardless of who you are, where you’re from, or what your favourite colour is, one thing stays constant: apologising is hard. To say you’re sorry means to stare your mistakes dead in the eye and call them by their name, which is already hard enough - let alone for the apology to be sincere. Even then, in a tense atmosphere, it’s easy to have a hard time getting your point across: you could be completely earnest and make the situation even worse. Yet, apologies are often the first step towards resolving any dispute: if altercations were to be followed with a sincere apology, it would open the door for forgiveness, and allow for a happier relationship.  So…what’s the best way to say “I'm sorry”? A new study in the business and human resources sector has found six steps to make it more efficient. Published in Negotiation and Conflict Management Research, Vol. 9, No. 2 in 2016, the study was led by Roy Lewicki, lead author of the study and professor emeritus of management and human resources at the Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business. His co-authors were Robert Lount, associate professor of management and human resources at Ohio State and Beth Polin of Eastern Kentucky University. For their results, Lewicki and his colleagues conducted two separate and differently constructed tests, using different demographics. In these studies, the researchers examined how 755 participants reacted to apologies. Each apology was created to contain anywhere from one to all six of the relevant elements to make an apology as effective as possible.  THE SIX KEY ELEMENTS OF AN EFFECTIVE APOLOGY Perhaps the most significant takeaway is that the more of the following elements you include, the more effective the apology will be. The six key elements to an effective apology are: 1. Expression of regret 2. Explanation of what went wrong 3. Acknowledgment of Responsibility 4. Declaration of repentance 5. Offer of repair 6. Request for forgiveness FINE TUNING YOUR APOLOGY While in the best possible scenario, you would use all six elements, some elements are more necessary than others.  Lewicki’s study showed that, first and foremost, for a effective apology one should focus on number 3, “Acknowledgement of Responsibility.”  “Our findings revealed that the most critical component is an acknowledgement of responsibility. Say it is your fault, that you made a mistake,” Lewicki explained. Imagine someone immediately making excuses or, worse, deflecting responsibility; this does not make an effective apology.  The second element to include was “Offer of Repair.” Often, just apologising isn't enough. By at least proposing to rectify the situation, you are helping your cause. “One concern about apologies is that talk is cheap. But by saying, ‘I’ll fix what is wrong,’ you’re committing to taking action to undo the damage,” he stated.  The next most effective thing to do was a tie of three elements. In fact, just to be safe, it might not be a bad idea to include all three. In no particular order, the elements to include are the expression of regret, explanation of what went wrong and declaration of repentance.  The least effective element of a real apology? Asking for forgiveness. This is understandable, considering that, in most cases, this will benefit you more than the person you are apologising to, even if the desire to be forgiven comes from a place of remorse and contrition.  [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EtXi4mCmD5E?rel=0] THE TESTS TEST #1: adults The first test involved 333 adults recruited online through Amazon’s MTURK program, a workforce platform. In it, each participant read a scenario in which they were the manager of an accounting department that was in the process of hiring a new employee. The scenario further stated that at a previous job, the employee had filed an incorrect tax return, one that understated the client’s capital gains income. In this scenario, when confronted about the altercation, the job candidate apologised.  Rather than construct an apology using these entities, the researchers just told the participants how many of the elements mentioned above the apology contained. Half of the participants were told that this incorrectly filed tax return was related to the applicant’s competence, meaning that he was not knowledgeable in all relevant tax codes. In other words, an honest mistake. The other half of the participants involved were told that the mishap was related to the individual’s integrity: for whatever reason, he knowingly filed the tax return incorrectly. Then, using a scale of 1 (not at all) to 5 (very), the subjects were asked to rate how effective, credible, and adequate the apology would be.  TEST #2: undergraduate students The second test was done using 422 undergraduate students. The students read the same scenario, in which as the manager of an accounting department they were considering a job applicant who had made a mistake in their previous job. As with the previous Amazon MTURK study, half of the involved participants were also informed that the incorrectly filed tax return was due to the applicant’s competence, while the other half were told that in this scenario, the document wasn't correctly filed due to the job applicant’s integrity.  The difference, though, was that this time, the participants weren't told what elements the apology contained; instead, they were shown. They read an actual apology that included anywhere from 1 to 6 statements based on the six key elements mentioned above. For instance, as regards “Acknowledgement of Responsibility,” the apology statement included “I was wrong in what I did, and I accepted responsibility for my actions.” Again, they then rated how effective, credible, and adequate the apology would be.  THE RESULTS While the results were not identical, they were at least very similar, Lewicki explained. The results showed that, in both studies, the more of these six elements that the effective apology contained, the more effective it was perceived as, by both the MTURK participants and the undergraduate students. Then, Lewicki and his team evaluated each element one at a time. The team saw that there was a general consistency in how important each element was, in both studies, with some slight variations. Still, in both studies, including a “Request for Forgiveness” was rated as the least important. DOES MOTIVE MATTER? As a matter of fact, it seems like it does.  As per the study, it appears that the value of the six components to include in an apology was the same, regardless of whether the apology was related to failures of competence or those of integrity. This means that regardless of whether you meant to forget your spouse’s birthday or to give your friend that terrible haircut, the most important thing is still to acknowledge that you are responsible for the issue. The least important aspect of doing remains to ask them for forgiveness.  Overall, though, the two studies showed that participants were, in fact, less likely to accept an apology, even in their imaginary scenario, when the job applicant was shown as having a lack of integrity versus lack of competence. It’s also important to remember that, while both of these tests polled a broad sample of different demographics in two different ways, there are still elements that have been left out. Lewicki notes that, in this work, the subjects of the test simply read the apology statements. Professor Lewicki further states that emotion and voice inflexion, during a spoken apology, may have substantial and notable effects as well. “ Things like eye contact and appropriate expression of sincerity are important when you give a face-to-face apology,” he said.  HOW DOES THIS HELP US? As the adage goes, everybody makes mistakes. While this should, of course, not serve as an excuse for acting in one’s own best interests only or for thoughtless behaviour, the chances are that - if you’re reading this - you’re going to come across many more situations which will warrant you apologising. If you’re still not convinced, there are a plethora of songs about the subject to help. Knowing and acknowledging this opens up a little more room for learning how to handle the situation well. After all, if it’s so common, why shouldn't apologising - as long as it’s heartfelt, and doesn't border into manipulation - be treated like a skill?  There are elements that Lewicki and his colleague’s two studies don’t necessarily acknowledge. As previously mentioned, the participants of the studies read written apologies, which, as the researchers noted, is indeed different than a spoken apology. In a face-to-face apology, interpersonal communication elements (like voice inflexion, appropriate expression of sincerity, and eye contact) may also play a significant role, Prof. Lewicki explains.  What’s more, study participants were presented with a relatively impersonal scenario. An apology from a potential employee (and a fictitious one, no less) may be different than an apology from your partner, from a friend, or from a family member.  Said effective apology is also related to a unique situation. Saying you’re sorry for an inappropriately-filed report (especially if the participants had no significant invested interest in accounting and properly-crunched numbers) is not an emotionally charged situation. This is an effective way to conduct a study but may not serve as the best litmus test for many other real-life situations.  SO...WHAT CAN I DO? The study illustrated that participants were more likely to accept an apology from someone who made an honest mistake and displayed a lack of competence, than from someone who acted out of malice. In other words, without oversimplifying the matter - follow the golden rule.  Make sure to integrate as many of these 5 elements in your effective apology as possible. (a request for forgiveness is a bonus) Expression of regret Acknowledgement of Responsibility Offer of repair Explanation of what went wrong Declaration of repentance Still, lack of integrity could be a simple mistake. Nobody’s perfect, after all. So, if you do end up needing to apologise. Remember first to acknowledge responsibility. For example: “It’s my fault.” Second, offer repair, for instance: “I'll help you by ______” or “I'll fix it by helping you to ______.”  As the third most important elements to include seem to all be of equal efficacy, the three next ones you should include are the expression of regret, explanation of what went wrong and declaration of repentance. One example of this could be “I'm so sorry, I regret what I did. It happened because I misunderstood what was said.” As discussed, the least important element and the one that doesn't have to be included for an effective apology is asking for forgiveness.  Lastly, if you’re on the receiving end of the apology try to be gracious and understanding. And, if you ever recognise these six elements, used in the appropriate order, remember that the person who’s apologising to you is at least well-informed.  CAN APOLOGISING MAKE YOU HAPPIER? The correlation may not be the most direct, but it's there. Relationships, be they with friends, family, partners or coworkers, are always messy, and to work towards never even needing to apologise is unrealistic: a much more achievable goal is, while of course trying to avoid hurtful situations, to learn to mend them effectively when they arise. Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, a life filled with healthy and happy relationships is not only the key to happiness: it's also the key to physical and emotional well-being.  Research has proven time and time again that not only are connections with others one of the most basic prerequisites for life satisfaction, but that those relationships must be balanced and uplifting: not a power struggle, but a series of connections. And often, what may be perceived as a weakness (as per the famous John Wayne quote) is actually one of the hardest virtues to uphold. Apologising is hard, and those who face their faults are more courageous than many. After all, as Leon Uris once wrote:  "The ability of a person to atone has always been the most remarkable of human features."    Model Photo: colourbox.com  Written by Rae BathgateRae Bathgate is an American journalist based in Barcelona, where she enjoys sunlight, yoga, and bookbinding.
  9. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us… The novel A two of two cities by Charles Dickens opens with this famous quote. In this story, one of the characters, Doctor Manette, ends up in prison during the French revolution. Debilitated by his unfair imprisonment, Doctor Manette tries to stay sane against the odds. A subject loosely taken from Dickens' biography, as during his youth he unsuccessfully tried to keep his father John out of jail, when he was sentenced for falling to repay a debt.  What does this have to with happiness? There is a growing body of scientific studies that examine the relationship between economic prosperity and happiness or well-being. On the one hand, these studies focus on the positive effects of [increased] income. On the other hand, studies focus on the ways in which we deal with economic hardship to maintain our sense of happiness and well-being. Studies like Economic Hardship and Well-Being: Examining the Relative Role of Individual Resources and Welfare State Effort in Resilience Against Economic Hardship by Reeskens and Vandecasteele. In their study, Reeskens and Vandecasteele examine three factors that can soften, or as they call it, “cushion”, people facing economic hardship:  Informal social contacts Religiosity Confidence in politics Economics and happiness: some basic notions In their article, Reeskens and Vandecasteele discuss firstly some of the common sense notions of happiness and well-being. The most basic one is that more money makes us happier. In a famous study by Princeton University, a magic number was put on the relation between happiness and income: $75,000. According to this Princeton study, people that earn less than this sum, report lower happiness and emotional well-being than people that make $75,000 or more. As their income increased to this amount, respondents reported an increase in their sense of happiness. But the study found that an income increase above this figure of $75,000 does not lead to an increase in self-reported feelings of happiness and well-being.  So does that mean that we should all aim to make $75,000, and then we will be happy? No. A recent study by the London School of Economics, Origins of Happiness, has shown that most human misery can be attributed to failed relationships and mental and physical illness, not to money problems and poverty. Social and psychological factors are more important to the well-being of individuals than income levels. As that study’s lead researcher, Lord Richard Layard has stated:  Having a partner is as good for you as being made unemployed is bad for you. Reeskens and Vandecasteele focus their research on some of these social and psychological factors, in studying what happens because of the negative effect on subjective well-being caused by poverty and [economic] deprivation. Here again, we find some common sense notions. The most basic one is that a negative effect on subjective well-being is caused by poverty and [economic] deprivation. But there are studies like Social comparisons of income in one’s community, that show that some people are more severely affected by economic hardship than others. How come?  Money does matter. Doesn't it? Jumping forward to some of Reeskens and Vandecasteele’s conclusions: income does matter. According to their findings, up to 45% of our sense of happiness, or lack thereof, can be explained by our economical situation. Economic hardship does decrease our sense of well-being. But economic situation is more than just our annual income. Factors that are important as well include:  Employment status. If we have to draw on our savings or get into debt to cover ordinary living expenses If we have to cut back on things like holidays or new household equipment. In a glass-half-full-half-empty analogy, we can also conclude that if 45% of our sense of happiness is material, economic, then 55% is not. It is in this 55% that immaterial factors like those examined, social contacts, religious practice, and confidence in politics, come into play.  Social contacts What makes informal social contacts so important? According to a study by Halliwell and Putnam, The social context of well-being, social interactions, amongst others:  Reduce stress. Enable material and immaterial resources. Improve access to health care. Enable social control to discourage behaviour that might be harmful for your well-being. As Putnam famously put it:  Your chances of dying over the course of the next year are cut in half by joining one group, and cut to a quarter by joining two groups. Reeskens and Vandecasteele show, by examining survey responses taken in more than 25 European countries, that having frequent contact with family, friends and colleagues strongly cushions the effect of [economic] deprivation on happiness. The difference in happiness levels between people with higher incomes and those with economic deprivation dramatically drops when we look at people with frequent informal contacts. In other words: lonely affluent people are comparatively more happier than lonely deprived people. Whereas socializing affluent people are still happier, but comparatively less happier than socializing deprived people.  [su_highlight]When facing economic hardship, we should try to maintain our social network, meet our friends, and go and see our family.[/su_highlight]  Although research shows that this might be harder to do than when we have no financial concerns.  Religiosity The second factor researched by Reeskens and Vandecasteele, religiosity, can also cushion the negative impact of deprivation on our sense of happiness and well-being. There are two effects happening here. The first one is the social aspect of religion. Interaction with like-minded churchgoers through the support, companionship and sense of belonging that we can find in informal social contacts as well. But with religion, this effect is “supercharged”, as Lim and Putnam describe in Religion, Social Networks, and Life Satisfaction. Supercharged, because the effect is bigger than with regular [non-religious] friends or family. In that study by Lim and Putnam, it was also found that the other effect is a “private tie to God”, since religiosity offers “a comprehensive framework for the interpretation of world events”. Since religious people have a stronger sense that something outside of them controls things, they are also more likely to believe that their [economic] deprivation will be alleviated by something external.  When looking at the results in Reeskens’ and Vandecasteele’s research, taken from the same survey responses of 25 European countries, the effect of religiosity is relatively the smallest of the three factors, in “cushioning” the effect of economic hardship. There is still a measurable, statistically significant increase in feelings of happiness and well-being between frequent church-going deprived people, and those that do not go to church, when comparing both of these groups with affluent people. It must be noted, as Reeskens and Vandecasteele do, that this might be partially explained by cultural differences [the role of religiosity in Europe compared to e.g. the United States].  [su_highlight]When facing economic hardship, being religious or maintaining our religious practices do help in alleviating the effect of that hardship on our well-being.[/su_highlight]  Confidence in politics Similar to the external effect that religiosity has on the deprived, believing that politicians can alter and influence their situation is also beneficial to a sense of well-being during economic hardship. A study by Catterberg and Moreno, The Individual Bass of Political Trust, has shown that in general, the [economic] deprived have a lower level of faith and confidence in politics. But Reeskens and Vandecasteele argue that among these economic deprived, the ones that do keep faith and confidence in politics, are happier than those that don’t.  Their results back up this claim. In the European survey responses the deprived respondents that had confidence in their governments, were happier than those deprived respondents who did not have that confidence. The differences are sharp. Pro-politics deprived people are only slightly less happy than their affluent counterparts. But negative-towards-politics deprived people are strongly less happy than their affluent counterparts.  [su_highlight]When faced with economic hardship, people that have confidence in politics and government show more resilience against the negative psychological effects on happiness and well-being, than people that turn away from politics.[/su_highlight]  What does this all mean? What to do in times of economic hardship? So, where does this study, and studies like it, leave us? First of all: money does make us happy. But only up to a certain point. And in times of economic hardship, there are certain factors that can help us cushion its effect. The most prominent ones are having informal social contacts, and keeping faith in politics. Being religious does help as well, but not as much.  For a totally different perspective on all of this, we can also start with the premise of psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky’s The How of Happiness. In that book, she states, backed by other research, that 50% of our happiness level is genetically determined [based on twin studies], 10% is affected by life circumstances and situation, and 40% is subject to self control and manipulation. When looked at it from that perspective, our economic circumstances are part of the 10% that also include physical health, love relationships, feelings of safety, etc. It might be wise to focus more on the 40% that we can change and manipulate. As some of the strategies that Lyubomirsky proposes are to cultivate optimism, to avoid ruminating/ over-thinking, and to develop coping strategies. And, gratitude/ counting your blessings, as hard as it may be when faced with the next bill or credit card statement…     Modelphotos: Colourbox.com  Written by Arlo LaibowitzArlo is a filmmaker, artist, lecturer, and intermittent practitioner of metta meditation and morning yoga. When not dreaming about impossible projects and making them happen in the most impractical ways possible, he journals, listens to jazz, or cuddles with his better half.
  10. The motivation required in our jobs is useful in improving our relationships, as we all yearn for appreciation according to Tony Schwartz, the president and CEO of The Energy Project and author of Be Excellent at Anything. Whether this is a simple ‘well done’ through to high praise and encouragement, Mr Schwartz quotes researcher Marcial Losada. He discovered that, amongst high-performing work teams, encouragement such as positive feedback outweighed negative by a ratio of 5.6 to 1. This is a lesson that can be taken forward into our intimate relationships as love is a skill that helps us to learn how to interact, just as we do at work. The ratio of positive to negative interactions needs to stay above 5 to 1 according to John Gottman's research.  The ratio of positive to negative interactions needs to stay above 5 to 1 to ensure satisfying relationships - at work and at home According to the same video, we all have very similar thoughts and expectations about romantic love; we learn it from a very young age, not just from our parents, but also from songs and films and it is something that we continually strive for. Work, in comparison, is often a chore - boring yet necessary to pay the bills - however, because of the routine, it is often considered to be less taxing than maintaining personal relationships.  Why Romantic Love Is More Difficult Than Work Our jobs are set out for us in so far as we arrive, carry out our work and then return home. If we need training, it is provided, if we do something wrong, we are corrected, and when we do something well, we are praised, which increases our feeling of happiness. The video goes on to say that, while at work, we can’t be ourselves, just as our colleagues may put on a persona, and this is a lot simpler than having to be honest, as we need to be with our partners.  When we begin a new job we are shown the ropes, such as how to use machinery, we are sent on training programmes and given manuals to read. Romantic love is a skill which does not have these advantages. Even though some expect that intimate bond of magically knowing what the other is thinking. This turns romantic relationships into a disaster as it leads to a lack of conversation and therefore more misunderstandings.  Weekends often present a problem because, when Friday evening arrives and the working week is over, we must return to our home life. Perhaps it has been a stressful week, especially, as our job might be one of great responsibility. However, often that seems much easier than spending a whole weekend together with our loving partner. The sexual side can be trying, especially in a long-term relationship, and having to fit into a non-structured environment is often more complicated: our expectations are high, yet without the feedback sessions, insights and training manuals that come with our job, they are harder to achieve. The video finds that Monday morning can come as a relief, as it means returning to our simple, structured work life.  How Work Ethics Can Help To Improve Relationships Employers understand that people are unable to grow and absorb new ideas if they are feeling humiliated or threatened. The best way for them to incorporate information is when work reviews are done with tact; for example, one criticism should be encased in a minimum of seven compliments. At home, we try to improve relationships with our partners, to create more happiness, but seem to lack the ability to teach and learn what the other wants, mainly because it has never been adequately explained. Slamming doors and calling each other names achieves nothing - love is a skill which must be learned.  Furthermore we are much more willing to accept advice or criticism from our boss than from our partner because trying to teach our lover contravenes our image of romantic love. We feel that we should be loved for who we are, through good and bad times and, we feel that happiness and romantic love has nothing to do with education and so any form of criticism is taken as nastiness, rather than only as healthy behaviour to improve relationships. We rely less on our work than we do on the stability of our home life, especially when children and a mortgage are involved, however, the more we depend on our lover, the more alarming any disappointments become and the further we stray from happiness.  What Is Romanticism and How Does It Affect Our Idea Of Love? According to the talk by philosopher Alain de Botton, romanticism has ruined romance and our conception of romantic love. He challenges the survival of long-term relationships in this world where the culture holds unrealistic ideas of love. The Romantics were late 18th century poets who believed in the concept of soul mates, and that romantic love was our birthright, leading to a partner with whom we would happily spend the rest of our lives not having to discuss or argue, because we would understand each other without words. However, this wasn't the case in the 18th century and it isn't now. Unfortunately those ideas are now deeply engrained in our culture. All other skills we must learn, but love and relationships will magically work if we find the right person.  Centuries later, we are still searching for this romanticised form of love to alleviate our anxieties, have someone to share secrets with and to consistently have earth-shattering sex for ever more. We still believe that we can only fulfil our real potential, achieve ultimate happiness and become whole by being one of two. The Ancient Greeks, Alain de Botton concludes, were nearer the mark when they described a loving relationship as being that of teacher and student, much as we find in the workplace. As love is a skill that is all about learning, over time, how to be compatible and to help each other to develop and grow. He argues that love is about patience and having the ability to ask questions, such as, “What are the underlying issues of the day that are making this person feel and behave the way they do?"  Improving Our Relationships Through Hard Work Compare this with the simplicity of tools and Apps at work that can deliver lots of things we want, on demand, making our lives much easier. Dr Gary Chapman writes that to improve relationships; we need praise and encouragement to maximise our motivation; the same is true both in the workplace and the home. The concept of romantic love, leading to improved relationships is enshrined in understanding how others think and relate to each other. There is no manual to follow, only our desire to learn how to improve relationships, loving or otherwise.  There is no magic button only hard work, yet the reward of deep human connection is real and it is the key to happiness.    Model Photo: Colourbox.com   Written by Guest AuthorWe are happy to publish articles by guest authors that will broaden the perspective and bring new insights. If you are interested in publishing an article here on happiness.org please contact us.
  11. What does happiness mean to you? Every person is their own world, so every answer is different: you may conjure up a memory, I may think of one person - some even relate it to a smile or a laugh. But how often does happiness make you think of others? The study asked 521 female participants the following question:  “What three words come to mind when you think of happiness?” While not the most original question, a new study titled "What does happiness prompt in your mind? - Culture, word choice, and experienced happiness", conducted between Korea and the United States, shows that it may be worth to sit down and ask ourselves this question more often. The method used in this study was free-association, shown to be an accurate indicator of one’s own self, and in it, evidence surfaced that one type of answer mattered more than others, when it comes to happiness. Unsurprisingly, it’s not money, success, fame, glamour, nor is it, sadly, raindrops on roses or warm woollen mittens. Rather, the most revealing words are social words, interpersonal words - in short, those related to other people. While knowing how often you associate these words with happiness seems to be a telling indicator of how happy you might be, the good news is that you can choose who these other people are (meaning that you can build your own social circle). This phenomenon seems to exist in a positive feedback loop, where fuelling social behaviour - especially helping others - may be the key to a higher life satisfaction. Words Associated With Happiness The study, conducted by the Yonsei University in Korea and the University of California, Santa Barbara (by researchers Ji-Eun Shin and Eunkook M. Suh, and Kimin Oem and Heejung S. Kim respectively) asked 521 female participants from both countries the following question: “What three words come to mind when you think of happiness?”  The test was conducted as a free association task, meaning that subjects were to produce some words (in this case, three) that came to mind related to a prompted cue (in this case, the word “happiness”). Researchers focused on answers they categorised as “social:” These social words, as viewed by the researchers, were ones that simply referred to things like interpersonal relationships. Some examples of the words used were:  for abstract values (e.g., “love") specific person (e.g., “friend" or “family") relationships (e.g., “dating”) The Ties That Bind Out of 1,563 words in total, Koreans wrote down social words more often (42% of the time) as opposed to Americans, who associated social words with happiness only 32% of the time. The most common word among Korean participants was also a social word (“family”) compared to the American words “smile” and “laugh.” Even when looking specifically at Americans’ preferred social words, they tended to be more on chosen social ties, with the words “friends” and “friendship.” This difference between our ideas of happiness is not new and had even been predicted by the researchers. What’s more, the study further mirrored findings that connected loneliness to a lack of family ties in collectivist societies, like in Korea, whereas in America loneliness was more often associated with a lack of friends and confidants.  Rather, the central question to be tested was whether participants who used more social words associated with happiness were in fact happier. It turns out; the answer is yes.  “In both cultures, those who mentioned more social words enjoyed significantly higher life satisfaction,” reported the researchers. This suggests that “defining happiness in social terms is beneficial to happiness in both cultures,” conclude researchers, adding that: The current finding affirms in a novel way that social experience is indeed a core block of happiness. So, how can we move towards greater social connection (whatever that may mean to you) and consequently, towards a happier life? The answer may be simple. Participants who had a higher incidence of social words and a higher reported level of happiness also reported engaging in activities to help others more often, and previous studies have shown that altruistic activities seem to make us happy. While researchers acknowledge that the results of this study are mostly correlative, not causative, they suggest that participating in such activities will start a positive feedback loop. Thereby making you happier, teaching you to associate happiness with social connectivity, leading you to seek out and provide social support, causing you to be happier, and so on. Have We Studied This Before? Happiness, its causes, and its components have long been a source of research interest. In academia, there has been extensive documentation and widespread agreement "that positive social experience is one of the most significant predictors of happiness,” write Shin, Suh, Oem and Kim. Some researchers even go as far as to suggest that social experience was the only condition for happiness, other than the absence of psychopathology (Diener and Seligman, 2002).  Previously used methods have been yes/no questionnaires, or longer, free-form essays; while both accurate to an extent, these methods often proved either too restrictive or not enough so. While seemingly simple, free-association, on the other hand, has yielded powerful results in the world of psychology, proving itself an accurate predictor of personality aspects and demographic characteristics. This is because according to researchers:  Words that are called up when we think about happiness are a sort of cognitive “package,” created based on our upbringing, culture, and personal experiences.  Shin, Suh, Oem and Kim’s work also asked participants to report on their level of happiness and social involvement. Global happiness was measured using the most widely used method, the Cantril’s Self-Anchoring Scale, while the rest of the study focused on establishing "the person’s level of interest, desire, and competence for developing a relationship with others,” with concepts like:  emotional support belonging loneliness optimism efficacy interpersonal closeness How Others Make You Happier Researchers Shin, Suh, Oem and Kim specify that their study is to be taken as a complement to previous work, noting that the primary objective is to draw a parallel between "beliefs about happiness and how they relate to actual experiences of happiness,” by delving into two countries’ deeply-held beliefs about the subject.  So, does linking happiness to social relationships give you a more positive outlook on life? Not necessarily. The study showed that in both ascribed (e.g. “family”) and self-chosen (e.g. “friends”) relationships, there was no difference in optimism by those who used more social words. However, these subjects reported feeling significantly less lonely, as researchers Shin, Suh, Oem and Kim note: "They believed that their selves overlapped more with others, desired more social belongingness, and presumably as a consequence, were less lonely.” Indeed, this stronger social connection (or, as the researchers put it, the content of happiness) seems to indicate a higher level of happiness: in other words,  If your definition of happiness is to spend quality time with others, the chances are that you will be happier. This held true for both American and Korean participants, indicating that “holding a socially rich theory of happiness is beneficial to the mental health of both Americans and Koreans,” explain the researchers, who conclude that  Fulfilment of social need seems to be a universally necessary condition of happiness. What Does It Mean? Social interaction is a tricky thing: for each person, some days and nights lend themselves to picnics, bonfires, dancing and socialising, and days that are fabricated more for some alone time with a book. With their study, Shin, Suh, Oem and Kim aren’t suggesting that the real key to happiness is only through social interaction. Rather, their research supports the idea that those who associate happiness with the notion of strong, reliable social relationships seem to be the happiest. So, how does one change one’s beliefs about what happiness means? Well, apart from continuing to read up on the subject of the key to a good life, you can jump-start a positive feedback loop by engaging in activities that foster strong relationships, preferably ones where you (yes, you!) can help someone else. Cultivating social ties, especially those where you can give back as well are proven to make you happier - or at least, less lonely - which in turn may change your whole perspective on what happiness means.     Modelphotos: colourbox.com and Jeremy Bishop  Written by Rae BathgateRae Bathgate is an American journalist based in Barcelona, where she enjoys sunlight, yoga, and bookbinding.
  12. We might not like to admit it, but death is a reality and very much a part of life. How should we handle it for the greatest chance of happiness? From an early age, we all learn that we are going to die some day. Nevertheless, for the vast majority of us, the sense of mortality we ought to feel simply does not come about in any meaningful way. Some of us never really seem to be preparing for death and what it means for us. This is particularly true of youngsters and adults in their twenties. They may have never faced dealing with trauma or the loss of a loved one. Why is this?  Some people put it down to the fact that a younger life sees many years stretching out before them. Therefore, being close to death is something of an alien concept. Some scientists offer a more mechanistic point of view, stating that the frontal lobes of youngsters are not yet fully developed. According to Gary Wenk, PhD, “the reason the frontal lobes are not fully engaged [with the rest of the brain]... is because they have not yet completed the process of neuronal myelination.” Myelination can be thought of as the electrical wiring that is inside all of our brains.  Women tend to finish the process of neuronal myelination in their mid-twenties. For men, on average, it happens at the age of about thirty. Further research is required into how this process impacts on views about death – and many other aspects of life. It does offer an indication as to why our thoughts can turn to the subject in later adult life compared to when we were younger.  Is Death a Taboo Subject? One of the reasons we are not preparing for death and that it is not discussed in modern society is that it remains a taboo subject. Certainly, sociologists have looked closely into the theory that death is not mentioned in contemporary literature very much, such as Tony Walter's 1991 study into British popular culture. Walter poses several questions which challenge the idea that death truly is a taboo subject or constrained by society in some way. He points out the many examples of death that are available in culture, from TV shows to newspaper articles.  Although he stresses that many taboo theories exist (up to six in all). He says that people can switch between them depending on the argument they are creating. For example, someone might say that it is individuals, not modern society, that denies the reality of death. Whilst – almost in the same breath – individuals discuss it, but it is not a mainstream topic for the media of healthcare professions. Ultimately, we are left with the idea of whether preparing for death is a taboo subject or not is a confused picture. In some circles, it may be, but palliative care physicians, like BJ Miller, are increasingly arguing that it should not be.     Death and Dying – A Palliative Care Giver's Perspective Although religion has been happy to talk about preparing for death and, by extension, the afterlife, few outlets for expression about dying exist. Miller's view is that people in his line of work are able to talk about death and its implications for family members. Few healthcare professionals really discuss dying itself though. This is a subtle distinction but an important one. Death might be the subject of many discussions and plans, even philosophical theorising but dying isn't. After all, aren't many of us more comfortable with the idea of being dead than we are of dying? In Miller's view, the reason for this is that:  Dying can involve pain and suffering. In other words, we fear it more than death itself. Miller, who lost his lower limbs and hand in an accident in his youth, says that his relationship with dying began that day. It has informed his views of palliative care ever since. He says that we need to open a 'big conversation' about the experience of dying. This will help us to improve the way in which care is given to those nearing their final moments affording them greater happiness. “The American health care system has more than its fair share of dysfunction to match its brilliance,” he says. “[Working in]... a hospice and as a palliative medicine doc, I've seen care from both sides... but we are unwitting agents for a system that too often does not serve.”  Preparing for Death - Rethink and Redesign how it is we Die Miller's concept is, “to rethink and redesign how it is we die”. In hospitals, he calls for patients not to be whisked away immediately after they have died. For cleaning crews not to be immediately called in, for instance, but for a moment or two of reflection to be allowed. Indeed, he says that hospitals are not really designed for handling dying patients but for saving lives.  He calls for people to be able to die in greater comfort than they are often able to in medical facilities. There they are often hooked up to monitoring equipment and various tubes. Working in a hospice, Miller has a clear view on what makes for a more dignified departure from life. It is to spend the last few months, weeks or hours doing what it was we enjoyed in life. He cites the example of one person for whom having her dog by her side was her priority. In another case, he says he knew of an individual who wanted to enjoy her smoking habit to the end since she was past any health benefit she might derive from giving up. It is hard to imagine either scenario in a standard hospital today.  De-medicalising the Process of Dying Put another way, Miller's ideas are about de-medicalising the process of dying. He is calling for an approach which is person-centred. Not focussed on medical procedures or dealing with individual instances of pain or bodily deterioration as they might crop up. It is easy to understand why healthcare professionals take the approach they do. They have been trained to heal and to help handle pain all of their working lives. However, by so doing we can be missing one of the fundamentals of dying. It is a natural phenomenon and very much a part of life.  Shouldn't we all, therefore, consider the merits of preparing for death? And doing that in a way that has a meaning and connection with the way we have lived? Surely, if we do, then the chances of a greater dignity in death are vastly improved. This will be of benefit not just to ourselves, as individuals, but to those around us – both professionals and loved ones – in our final moments.  The Role of Psychology in Dying Miller's ideas are from throwing the responsibility of preparing for death onto individuals - thereby letting healthcare givers off the hook. The new cultural approach to dying sought by Miller, and others, requires a societal approach. Thankfully, psychologists have already started work in this area. For example, Phillip M. Kleespies, PhD, wrote in his book, Life and Death Decisions: Psychological and Ethical Considerations in End-Of-Life Care of 2004, that psychological interventions can make a huge impact on dying people who are preparing for death. He says they can help with the ability to cope with and adapt to loss and advanced illness as they develop.  The psychologist William E. Haley, PhD who works at the University of South Florida states that, psychologists are already training. This happens in the mental health treatment of major chronic illnesses in increasing numbers. These include conditions such as heart disease, cancer, AIDS, dementia and, in some cases, conditions which lead to chronic pain.  The Concept of a Good Death According to Emmanuelle Bélanger MSc, PhD Candidate of the Division of Social and Transcultural Psychiatry and Department of Family Medicine at McGill University, the concept of a good death is one that has changed in the last fifty to sixty years. In the 1980s, it became associated with dying well or dying with dignity. This was very different from the Middle Ages. Conception of a good death would have involved both a family and a priest being present. In the eighteenth century, as more was known about medicine, so the role of the doctor became more important in the concept of a good death.  This old-fashioned conception is now being overturned by some in the medical profession, notably Atul Gawande, a practising surgeon. His book Being Mortal argues that the concept of a good death should be turned on its head. That the focus ought to be on a good life, instead.  In Being Mortal, he makes a compelling case for where medical interventions should stop and where a dignified process of death should begin for greater happiness. Echoing BJ Miller's ideas, he points out that many medical procedures make life more uncomfortable, not less. It even reduces the amount of (concious) time we have left in some cases.     Modelphotos by colourbox.com  Written by Ed GouldEd Gould is a UK-based journalist and freelance writer. He is a practitioner of Reiki.
  13. Have you ever wondered why more intimacy could improve well-being? The reality is that if you feel good about yourself, then the rest will follow, as it is just as much about what we say and how we act towards our partners as it is about sex. The sexual act brings excitement and gratification. What is equally as important is the closeness afterwards, mindfulness and cuddling, that improves well-being. A tiring day can take its toll. Having your partner to talk to at the end of it is both rewarding and stress-reducing. There are many other factors which can help with feeling good and increase intimacy. A spontaneous kiss or hug, for example. Being sympathetic towards your partner’s feelings by responding to their mood will improve mutual well-being and harmony.  Reliable ways to improve well-being by increasing intimacy: 1. Relationships and How They can Affect Our Well-Being According to The National Centre for Biotechnology Information, relationships, whether they are short or long term, will affect us in many ways. Factors to consider are the depth and quality of the partnership. Their research shows that both physical and mental health can be affected. Indeed, children from unhappy or broken homes will find it harder to give themselves totally to a loving relationship by increasing intimacy. This lack results in friction between partners. It is considered to be a difficult problem to overcome, but honesty is always best. Talk openly together. A sympathetic lover will understand and take their time to resolve issues.  2. Is Passion The Only Way To Increase Intimacy? There are many ways of increasing intimacy. Psychologist Robert J. Sternberg, quoted in an article by Susan K Perry Ph.D., discovered that, after carrying out a survey, physical intimacy was the most typical method. One of the reasons given was the lover's facial expressions. The closeness of giving oneself completely during lovemaking also helps to better well-being. Of course, sometimes it is enough just to be together, caressing and kissing. Just because this doesn't ultimately lead to intercourse, it is no less erotic or satisfying.  3. Understand You and Your Partner's Emotional Experiences According to UWire, it is important to understand your emotions, so that you can talk together about your more complex feelings. It is especially important for couples that have emotional intimacy as well as sexual, to find a greater bond, without stress, which improves well-being. It is not always that both partners feel like making love, so compromise is the key to increasing intimacy. Showing consideration and kindness will go a long way to improving and maintaining the relationship. If your partner is too tired, then a gentle massage with scented oils will arouse the senses and reduce stress. Perhaps they have had a bad day. Talk about it and understand their emotions.  4. Have Special Times Together - Do Something Different Happiness is an essential feature in both increasing intimacy and to make you feel happy. A research paper from the Harvard Medical School, showed that by being grateful for life and everything it throws at us, is the best way to see the goodness in ourselves. This gratitude, in turn, helps us to connect with others. To show them kindness and to understand their feelings better. Also, it improves health, the ability to deal with problems and help to develop strong relationships. And not just with our partners, but with everyone. Many couples find that simply by doing things together, such as playing golf, tennis or walking the dog can improve well-being which, in turn, can lead to increasing intimacy.  5. Tell Each Other Your Secrets Having secrets will create distrust, resulting in arguments, stress and, potentially, health problems. It is important to remember to listen and not judge. When your partner tells you their secrets, they are doing it to unburden themselves as well as find understanding. Be mindful of just how difficult it is to talk about sensitive subjects. Listen carefully and be constructive with your questions and responses. This way many problems that have occurred can be resolved.  Have fun by asking each other these ‘36 Questions That Lead to Love’ and get closer to each other while doing so. Remember - sharing your innermost thoughts and being able to compromise is crucial for mutual well-being.  6. Does Routine Improve Well-Being? Some of us think that predictability is boring while others relish it. However, Robert J. Sternberg a Professor of Human Development at Cornell University found that it can help in increasing intimacy. His quote in Susan K Perry PhD's article, states that 'the partners are so connected with each other that the one doesn't recognise the other is there, just as the air we breathe can be taken for granted, despite its necessity to life'. Over time, we can become complacent about our partners good and bad points. Often we know each other so well, we can live our lives together in complete harmony. However, getting into a rut should be avoided.  7. Openness Will Help To Increase Mindfulness It is important not to try to change your partner after all this is the person that you fell in love with. You might find that you wouldn’t like them any other way! Be non-judgemental, kind and sensitive to their feelings at all times. This will bring you closer together, thus increasing intimacy. By being open with each other, you will learn to sense when something is troubling them. Avoid confrontational moments by simply asking how they are feeling. This sort of relationship will improve well-being and harmonious coexistence. Each person will feel that they can be themselves. The same should hold true in the bedroom. Exchange ideas about what you both enjoy. This type of mindfulness will go a long way towards increasing intimacy and openness.  8. A Good Match In a Partnership - Is It Important? Sometimes opposites attract. How we interact together in a partnership which depends very much on each individual and their need for personal space. This understanding also explains why some people transfer their affections to, for example, dogs. From a 1997 study, 'Why Do People Love Their Pets?’ by J Archer, resulted showed that people can sometimes give their pets far more affection than they do family members. However, if this is mutual, then there usually is no problem.  Some of the reasons why pets are so much a part of the family include their unconditional love, constant companionship and appreciation of everything that we do for them. Pets are also beneficial to our health. For example, the act of stroking can lower blood pressure, reduce loneliness and give you a sense of being. Going for a walk with your dog is another example. Good exercise aside; it allows us to interact with otherwise complete strangers, brought together by a love of animals.  9. Happiness and Kindness Are Of Major Importance By giving to others, we are far more likely to receive the same back. For example, a child brought up in a loving family environment where hugging and kissing are the norm, will grow into an adult that is willing and happy to show affection. Mary Jo Kreitzer, Ph.D., RN states that all relationships, casual or intimate, are essential to our feeling of happiness. This, in turn, helps children to grow into open-minded, confident individuals. Bean Robinson, PhD, in the same article, states that ‘We are very social creatures. In terms of sex, there seems to be a real need for touch and connection’. Being aware of this can lead the way to increasing intimacy.  The Course of Well-Being in Romantic Relationships: Predicting Positive Affect in Dating Participants. Psychology, 3, 1091-1099. doi: 10.4236/psych.2012.312A161 is an intriguing paper. It covers the different ways in which we try to make ourselves happier. The experiment ran for over eight weeks. During which participants, both in and out of romantic relationships were studied. Results revealed that being romantically involved did not necessarily improve well-being. Many participants exhibited more positive emotions and an increase in intimacy which proved beneficial. In order to improve well-being by increasing intimacy, it is important to have positive feelings about yourself. To be open and thoughtful towards your partner and others, while at the same time appreciating the wonderful times together and putting any unhappy ones firmly in the past.  Model photo: Colourbox.com Images licensed by Ingram Image  Written by Guest AuthorWe are happy to publish articles by guest authors that will broaden the perspective and bring new insights. If you are interested in publishing an article here on happiness.org please contact us.
  14. Fulfilling relationships are about Communication Ask someone what they think of when you say “kink” or “BDSM” and, even if they’re not into kink at all, it’ll be something about pain or rope or leather. You’ll also talk about sex and fetishes. A lot of people focus on what makes kink stand out from non-kink. That’s the fun part for a lot of us, but there’s another level to many kinky and fulfilling relationships that anyone can benefit from doing in their own relationship.  Kink and BDSM don’t work unless both parties are willing to communicate with each other. You don’t have to be kinky for that to be good for your relationship. It’s both as simple as and as hard as doing very specific things:  Say what you feel - good or bad Communicate your desires, even the ones that are new to you or you’re ashamed of Share your fears - about sex, relationships, and everything else Listen to each other - without thinking of what you’re going to say next It’s important not to be judgemental about what the other person is telling you. They may admit to a curious desire to something you find repulsive. Instead of judging them based on how you feel about it, let them know it’s safe to talk you. We have a saying in BDSM: Your kink isn’t my kink, but your kink is okay. The same is true outside of kink. You don’t have to want something for yourself for it to be okay for your partner.  Communication isn’t only about sex, though. Sharing fears, concerns, and worries that you have at work, at school, in your relationship, and in life bring you closer to each other. You’ll develop a trust and a bond that comes with knowing each other intimately.  Be Open to New Things In a BDSM relationship, we discuss both hard and soft limits, as well as our desires. A hard limit is something you have no desire to try, it may even disgust you to imagine it. A soft limit is something that you’re unsure of, maybe even nervous about, but you would try it - at least once. This works when you’re not kinky, too. Fulfilling relationships aren't always about sex. You may have a no-pet policy in your relationship, but you’d be willing to consider a goldfish. You may say you hate to travel, but if your partner was with you, you’d consider a road trip. The growth of a relationship is proportional to the growth of the people in that relationship. When you try new things - whether it’s a new sexual position or you ride a roller coaster for the first time - you learn something about yourself, and you grow.  Successful relationships, kinky or not, thrive on trying new things. It fosters communication, experimentation, new ideas, and new opinions. Every relationship can benefit from that.  Understanding Consent The quickest way to break someone’s trust is to violate their consent. Most of the time, we’re talking about sex when we discuss consent. In a kinky relationship, not everything we do is sexual. Sometimes it’s about the kinky play - being tied up, being blindfolded, or anything not directly related to sexual intercourse. When you say no, whether it’s a clear, “No!” or a safeword like, “Purple banana!” or you don’t enthusiastically say yes to any activity, that lack of consent must be respected.  It’s important to understand consent on a deeper level - for both parties. If you’re going to try something new, you’ll want to be able to give informed consent. This means that you have some idea of what to expect, what will happen, and what it will feel like. Your “new thing” could be a new restaurant, meeting someone new, or a new vibrator. We feel more at ease about our decisions when we have an idea of what to expect.  Saying yes to something blindly can lead to bad surprises. And having someone ignore you when you say no will too. It will also create a crack in your relationship that can be hard to repair, and may break your relationship. Consent should be informed, understood, clear, and, above all, respected.  Take Care of Each Other In BDSM, there is always a top and a bottom or a Dominant and a submissive. One controls, the other gives up control. One has the power, the other consents to that power.  What most people don’t realize, however, is that in the best BDSM relationships, each person takes care of the other. We fulfill each other’s needs as much as we can. We help each other. We build each other up, care for each other, and nurture our passions and goals. Every relationship can benefit from a bit of care.  Even if your relationship isn’t one you expect to last forever, while you’re together, genuinely try to make that person’s life a little better. It may only be better while you’re in each other’s presence, and it should never violate your own ethics and morals, but asking how their day went, giving them a hug, encouraging them in their goals - these are all ways to easily take care of someone.  Celebrate Your Differences Yes, compatibility is important in any relationship. If you didn’t have a single thing in common, things could get awkward and boring quickly. That being said, where you’re different are opportunities to learn and grow as individuals.  Don’t shame or allow yourself to be shamed for wanting or liking something different than your partner. Instead, use it as a place to begin a new journey for yourself, with your partner, or, if you’re interested in a more open relationship, with someone new.  An open relationship won’t work without openness, honesty, integrity, trust, and constant communication in your relationship. When people think about BDSM or kink, sex and fetish are usually the first things that come to mind. It’s what excites some people and turns others off. But there’s much more to kinky relationships than that. Look beneath the surface, and you’ll find bonds that run deep. Everyone can benefit and find satisfaction from the things that really make fulfilling relationships work.     Model Photo: Colourbox.com  Written by Kayla LordsKayla Lords is a freelance writer, sex blogger, and a masochistic babygirl living the 24/7 D/s life. She hosts a weekly podcast, Loving BDSM, where she and her Dominant talk about loving BDSM in a loving D/s relationship and share what they've learned and experienced as a kinky couple.
  15. Bisexual acceptance wasn't an easy thing to figure out. Since sexuality plays a big role in our search for happiness, we at Happiness want to share personal stories. Stories about people who have taken a brave step forward into embracing their sexuality. This one explores the first steps of acceptance and how it eventually lead to a more fulfilling life of happiness. How Bisexual Acceptance Gave Me Deeper Connection and Trust I thought my fantasies about women were normal. It wasn't until I was talking with a group of cis females that I learned what I thought and dreamt about wasn't what everyone else was dreaming about... I didn’t know I was bisexual until I was 25. This doesn’t mean that my sexuality changed. This means that it took me that a long time to figure it out. My assumption was that I was straight. (An assumption I think many people make.) I fell in love with guys and I thought my ‘girl crushes’ were just a normal thing that straight women had. Not once did I ever think it was unusual.  I did my fair share of fantasising about having sex with women, but I honestly thought that it was just something that straight women did. My ‘girl crushes’ seemed to be a little bit more intense. Instead of ‘wanting to be like her’, it was very much ‘wanting to be with her’. I never really talked about it because I genuinely thought everyone felt the same.  So you can image the shock I felt when I learned that not everyone was like this. I'd gone my whole life with this idea of everything I did, thought and fantasised about was normal. Then suddenly one conversation stole that stability out from under me.  I can remember the moment I realised that I wasn’t straight. Apparently, I have a unique feeling about my sexuality as I thought it was totally normal. This could come from the fact I had pretty high self-acceptance. I was comfortable with who I was and what I was. There were no doubts in my mind that everyone else felt this way. Many other people I've read about and talked to have had quite the reverse experience.  Instead of feeling like an outsider, I just didn’t act on my desires because I thought I was straight. Yes, it is confusing. You can only imagine how confused I was when I realised that this whole time, my identity had been bisexual but I had just been confusing it for heterosexual.  I can remember the moment I realised that I wasn’t straight. I was talking to a group of cis-female friends about homosexuality and none of them could picture ever going down on a woman. A few of them mentioned that their minds “went blank” if they tried to think about it. As if they couldn’t process the idea because it was never something they had imagined doing or ever wanting to do. Totally shocked, I asked:  But wouldn’t you want to try it? At least once? At this point, you can probably guess their answers, and my mind slowly started realising that I was the odd one out. I spent a few months thinking about my sexuality. Read countless ‘coming out’ stories, focusing on bisexual or lesbian women who only realised later in life. I poured over articles about how you can be bisexual without having ever acted on it.  It isn’t your actions that matter; it is your heart and brain. Just like if a bisexual woman marries a man, it doesn’t invalidate her bisexuality. Which is true about any sexuality. It's not necessarily something you can do much about, it's just who and what you are. Sort of like having green eyes, they're just green.  Even after all this research and self-reflection, it still took me a year to tell my boyfriend. I kept it hidden inside. Embarrassed by my delayed realisation, and terrified that he would be offended. The idea he might be worried that I would leave him because of it was unsettling.  I didn’t know how to handle this realisation for myself and I had no idea how someone romantically involved with me would handle that information either. It was a completely unknown field for me. Full of uncertainty and questions spinning around. When I finally did tell him his response was something I will never forget.  He told me, 'I want you to explore that part of you'. Lucky for me, none of my fears were validated when I did tell him. It hit the point in my mind where I couldn’t hide it anymore. Even if I never acted on it, it didn’t invalidate my sexuality. I couldn't continue hiding who I was. He held me close and thanked me for sharing. He asked me a bunch of questions and was a bit saddened that I had waited so long to tell him. Then he looked at me and said: “I want you to explore that part of you. I never want you to feel like you’ve missed out on part of who you are”.  I’m not going to go into the details about exploring my bisexuality together with my partner, but I do want to detail how close this made us. This new chapter of honesty with myself and with my partner took our relationship to another level. One that I've learned a lot from and can say has infinitely helped me in becoming a happier, healthier person.  Opening up about my sexuality was the icebreaker for so many parts of our life together. It made me feel lighter. I felt like myself. I had accepted my sexuality to the point of expressing it to the person I loved, and it made all the difference. As we continued to dig deeper into to each other, he opened up to me about his life in deeper ways, too.  We trust each other because we are able to communicate about everything. Together, we continue to speak openly and honestly about other aspects of our lives. We continue to explore different parts of our sexualities and kinks. We go on adventures together. Most importantly, we trust each other because we are able to communicate about everything. These things would never be possible without that first step of acceptance and honesty.  This openness and trust is not something that came about because of my bisexuality. True this was the initiation for it. The starting point, so to speak. Somewhere we could jump off into a deeper pool of trust in our relationship. That, in the end, made me look at myself and what I truly craved and needed to create a satisfying life. I was very fortunate to have such an open and accepting partner.  Realising and then accepting my sexuality made me love myself more for who I am. As well as deepen the connection to my partner. If I could change anything, I would have hoped to realise it sooner!     Model Photo: Colorbox.com  Written by Abi BrownAbi Brown is a freelance writer and general pen-for-hire devoted to sexual deviancy, far-left politics and wearing too much jewellery.