Nature’s Power To Make Us Happy

Most of us know the relaxing feeling of being in nature. Being in a natural setting can be empowering, calming and can make us more focused and energized. Even a simple stroll in the neighborhood park can have this affect. These affects are well documented:

‘ Urban public greenspaces form the arena of many people’s daily contact with nature and such contact has measurable physical and psychological benefits.’

This study reveals a pathway by which nature experience may improve mental well-being and suggests that accessible natural areas within urban contexts may be a critical resource for mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world.

The reasons for this effect are unclear; but scientists believe that we evolved to be more relaxed in natural spaces. A few studies have, however, looked into the root cause and all of them have suggested that nature triggers the parts of your brain responsible for relaxation and calm. In one study for example scientists used fMRI technology to measure the affects of nature of rumination (repetitive thought focused on negative aspects of the self), a known risk factor for mental illness. They measured participants before and after a 90 minute walk in a natural or urban setting

“Even so, participants who walked in a natural setting versus an urban setting reported decreased rumination after the walk, and they showed increased activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain whose deactivation is affiliated with depression and anxiety—a finding that suggests nature may have important impacts on mood.”

A 2013 study using an EEG  ‘showed evidence of lower frustration, engagement and arousal, and higher meditation when moving into the green space zone; and higher engagement when moving out of it. (Source)

We don’t even necessarily need to be in nature. Videos, pictures and audio can also have this affect. The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that

“Viewing green scenes may thus be particularly effective in supporting relaxation and recovery after experiencing a stressful period, and thereby could serve as an opportunity for micro-restorative experiences and a promising tool in preventing chronic stress and stress-related diseases.”

So even when we are busy taking a few minutes to enjoy some pictures, audio and/or video can help us stay relaxed and focused. Thanks to the internet these things are widely available. Here are five ways to easily keep nature in your life:

  • Get outside:  Even in big cities there are nearly always parks and trails nearby most homes and all you need is a few minutes. Take a few deep breaths and you you will feel much better.
  • Decorate your home: You don’t need to be extravagant but a couple of plants or nice pictures on your wall can help you stay in touch with nature.
  • Set your device background: Most of us has access to a cell phone, tablet or computer. Set your background to something nice.
  • Watch: YouTube and other video sources have plenty of great, relaxing nature videos.
  • Listen: Nature sounds are  available in all forms of audio from dvds to mp3s. Some are set to calming music to help you relax.

Best of all this kind of relaxation is free. The planet has given of us plenty of free nature to enjoy and relax in. No matter what you do keep nature part of your life and you will always be, at least a little bit, healthier and happier.

Here are some good free sources online:

YouTube Channels

Johnnie Lawson

Somerset Entertainment Home of Nature Sounds pioneer Dan Gibson’s Solitudes

Soothing Relaxation

Audio:

https://www.calmsound.com/

http://meditationroom.org/free-nature-sounds/

 

 

Advertisements

Journal April 16, 2018

Looks like a new theme might be in order for the website because the homepage is not loading for me. It doesn’t work in any browser or on mobile. I contacted support and they said (with proof) that it’s working fine for them but I asked a couple of friends and it’s not loading for them either. So posts are going to be a bit infrequent until I decide on an appropriate theme.

The name ‘Never Thought To Question’ is the last remnant of a blog that was once so much more negative and aggressive in it’s approach. The title comes from a song (Judith by a Perfect Circle). It was the perfect match for two main reasons:

1. The song is very anti-religion: So was the blog. At one point the blog was specifically anti-theist. I told myself it was about the religion and not the people following it. I soon realised this wasn’t always true and began to give serious thought to how unproductive that kind of talk is. It helps no one to constantly criticize, make fun  of and belittle anything or anyone. So I changed my approach and it honestly feels a lot better. As such if I change the theme I will be changing the name to Happiness is Free. I will also add a new tagline that I haven’t decided on yet.

2. People not questioning their beliefs is the root of religion and superstition: Not entirely but true but a fairly common reason. I felt that if I could just get people to question their beliefs even for a moment then maybe I can rid the world of religion and superstition. This aggressive and negative attitude hung around for far too long. It made sense to me at the time though.

So with a change of heart, a more positive and helpful approach and a much clearer conscience a name change seems appropriate and with technical problems a new theme too. I look forward to many more positive changes.

 

Forgiveness Is…

When one considers the stress of carrying all the resentment, anger and hate that goes with not forgiving “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” (Louis B. Smedes). Forgiveness is important for many reasons and Positive psychology says forgiveness is:

“a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.”

It’s also important to recognize what forgiveness is not. Forgiveness doesn’t mean idly accepting wrongdoings or forgetting that a person has a tendency to act badly in some way. ‘You do not gloss over or deny the seriousness of an offense against you. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean condoning or excusing offenses. Though forgiveness can help repair a damaged relationship, it doesn’t obligate you to reconcile with the person who harmed you, or release them from legal accountability.’ (Greater Good Berkeley)

Psychology Tools has an excellent PDF defining what forgiveness is and what it is not:

Once we understand forgiveness the next step is practicing it and lucky for us experts like Robert Enright have defined a process for doing this. Enright’s  Eight Keys to Forgiveness:

  1. Know what forgiveness is and why it matters: We understand what forgiveness is and what it is not (see above). So why does it matter? Psychologically it relieves us of the burden of resentment, anger and hate. Depending on the situation forgiveness also allows for a rebuilding of damaged relationships,  closure in unfortunate situations (moving on), and the learning that goes with positive reflection on a wrongdoing.
  2. Become “forgivingly fit: Forgiveness, like most things, improves with practice. “It’s important to cultivate this mindset of valuing our common humanity, so that it becomes harder to discount someone who has harmed you as unworthy.”
  3. Address your inner pain: Know who has hurt and why. Acknowledge the bad feeling or harm that person has caused you and address it in a healthy way (i.e. talk to someone or seek professional help) “There are many forms of emotional pain; but the common forms are anxiety, depression, unhealthy anger, lack of trust, self-loathing or low self-esteem, an overall negative worldview, and a lack of confidence in one’s ability to change. All of these harms can be addressed by forgiveness; so it’s important to identify the kind of pain you are suffering from and to acknowledge it. “
  4. Develop a forgiving mind through empathy: Research shows that forgiving someone activates the parts of your brain responsible for empathy. When we forgive we begin to see why the person responsible did what they did and what issues they might be dealing with that caused them to do you harm. It works both ways: when we understand we can forgive and when we forgive can begin to understand. “Recognizing that we all carry wounds in our hearts can help open the door to forgiveness.”
  5. Find meaning in your suffering: This can be hard to do when feeling angry, resentful or hurt by someone but an important part of the process. We can learn from what went wrong and ‘try to see how our suffering has changed us in a positive way.’ Some people see it as learning experience (i.e. that’s a person I can’t trust or that person doesn’t like it when I so such and such or I need to be better prepared next time….etc.). Some people view suffering as a building of their ability to cope (resilience) “To find meaning is not to diminish your pain or to say, I’ll just make the best of it or all things happen for a reason. You must always take care to address the woundedness in yourself and to recognize the injustice of the experience, or forgiveness will be shallow.”
  6. When forgiveness is hard, call upon other strengths: Forgiveness can be hard, even seemingly impossible and in these times we can call upon other supports to help us.  We can do this by first accepting that we aren’t perfect either and forgiveness will not always be easy. We can then call upon other supports in our lives to find the courage to forgive.
  7. Forgive yourself: We can be hard on ourselves when we are the ones who have done wrong in some way. However when we forgive ourselves we “offer to yourself what you offer to others who have hurt you: a sense of inherent worth, despite your actions.”
  8. Develop a forgiving heart: I’m not one to simply copy and paste content but I could not find better words:When we overcome suffering, we gain a more mature understanding of what it means to be humble, courageous, and loving in the world. We may be moved to create an atmosphere of forgiveness in our homes and workplaces, to help others who’ve been harmed overcome their suffering, or to protect our communities from a cycle of hatred and violence. All of these choices can lighten the heart and bring joy to one’s life. Some people may believe that love for another who’s harmed you is not possible. But, I’ve found that many people who forgive eventually find a way to open their hearts. If you shed bitterness and put love in its place, and then repeat this with many, many other people, you become freed to love more widely and deeply. This kind of transformation can create a legacy of love that will live on long after you’re gone.” (Enright, 2015)

As a humanist the sentence “a legacy of love that will live on long after you’re gone” as a lot of meaning.  Humanists like myself don’t believe in the afterlife as described by religion.  Our only eternal life is the one that resides in people’s memories of us and so we strive to make that afterlife a good one and it must include forgiveness.

 

“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

 

 

https://psychologytools.com/positive-psychology.html

https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/forgiveness/definition#what-is

https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/forgiveness/

Meaning From Multiple Sources

In the PERMA model the M is for meaning and purpose, a crucial part of living a happy life.  All of us have either found meaning or are looking for it, whether we realise it or not.  To find our meaning we first list our values and priorities. At the top of that list will be what matters most, your meaning in life. Attaching yourself to this higher value or priority does for the nonreligious and unbelievers what religion can: attach meaning to something bigger than you are. Even better is that meaning can come from multiple sources, thereby boosting our ability to get through life happy and fulfilled.

One of the founding father’s of modern humanistic psychology is Victor Frankl. He founded Logotherapy which is literally ‘meaning therapy’. Fankl was a holocaust survivor and finding meaning in the face of something that terrible was the only way he found to cope:

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”  Victor Fankl

Frankl spoke of three main sources of meaning:

  1. Work: Not necessarily just a job but any purposeful work.
  2. Love:  Love in any form it comes in (spouse, family, friends..etc). Frankl felt love to be the person that brings out the best in you. “Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized. Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true.” Victor Frankl
  3. Suffering: Courage in the face of difficulties. “If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.’ -Victor Frankl

The most recent and comprehensive study found four main areas of meaning:

  1. Purpose: Present events draw meaning from their connection to future outcomes — objective goals and subjective fulfillment.
  2. Values: Which can justify certain courses of action.
  3. Efficacy: The belief that one can make a difference.
  4. Self-worth: Reasons for believing that one is a good and worthy person apparently are what results from immersion in our natural talents or what we excel at.  (Roy Baumeister and Kathleen Vohs (2005, p. 610))

Studies vary about where people get their meaning from. One study found ‘Family was by far the most commonly cited source of meaning in life, with an overwhelming majority of mentions (36.14%). Interpersonal relations was the next most mentioned source of meaning (14.40%), followed by personal life (9.65%) and work (8.83%).” (Melissa E. Grouden, Paul E. Jose) But another one found 10 sources of meaning (Reker and Wong (1988)). Yet another study by Westerhof, Bohlmeijer, and Valenkamp (2004) found 5 sources of meaning. They all have 2 things in common:

  1. Internal sources of meaning: Personal growth, values and ideals, religious/spiritual enlightenment, emotional intelligence…etc.
  2. External sources of meaning: Work, leisure, relationships, cultural and religious activities…etc.

What all of this tells us is two things: First, that you don’t need to take meaning from just one thing and second that meaning can also change. Taking meaning from multiple sources ensures us that if we ever lose one source of meaning another is always there to keep us going through life, a safety net and the bigger the net the better. Also, our lives can change at any given moment and so it is prudent to regularly re-examine what gives our life meaning.  Knowing this we will always have a source of strength and a fundamental tool in our ability to cope with life.

 

Sources:

Frankl, Viktor E. Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984. Print.

Making Meaning in Life. Michael F. Steger. Psychological Inquiry , 23: 381–385, 2012 Copyright C ©Taylor & Francis Group, LLC. http://www.michaelfsteger.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/Steger-PI-2012.pdf

Emmons, R. (2003). Personal goals, life meaning, and virtue: Wellsprings of a positive life. In C. Keyes & J. Haidt (Eds.)

Baumeister (1991). Meanings of life. New York:

Guilford.Baumeister, R. & Vohs, K. (2005). Meaningfulness in life. In C. R. Snyder & S. Lopez, Handbook of positive psychology, pp. 608-618). Oxford UK: Oxford University Press.

Emmons, R. (1997). Motives and goals. In R. Hogan & J. A. Johnson (Eds.), Handbook of personality psychology, (p 485-512). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Top Insights for 2017 from Greater Good Magazine at University of Berkeley

We are a big fans of Greater Good Magazine and in December they released their top ten insights from 2017. All ten are fantastic:

      1. Emotional experience is much richer than we thought: The research suggests that not only do we have a lot more emotions but they exist on a spectrum from one emotion to another “This research dovetails with the emerging notion that a happy and meaningful life is not just about feeling good. In fact, experiencing a greater variety of emotions—even mixed emotions—may be key to our health and well-being.”
      2. Young people aren’t the only ones who need a sense of purpose: Hope and meaning helps older adults deal with the effects of aging. Cognitive function is higher in adults with a sense of purpose.”In combination with earlier findings that link purpose to better health and lower disease risk, these studies lend more credence to the claim that a sense of purpose is an important component of a healthy lifestyle for older adults”
      3. We know less than we thought about the impact of mindfulness and meditation: Small sample sizes and other poor research designs plague studies on the effects mindfulness.  Scientists often don’t even agree on the definition on ‘mindfulness’ or ‘meditation’. This in no way devalues its usefulness but it does push the need for truth about the practice and that more thorough research is needed before we can say we understand it.
      4. You can probably change your relationship style—and even your personality: Up until this year majority of studies suggest our attachment style is set in childhood but this year two studies suggest that this may not be true. “After the intimacy-building exercises, participants with more avoidant attachment styles rated their relationships as higher-quality than they had beforehand. And according to a survey of participants one month later, the more avoidant participants had become less so (less distanced from their partners and more willing to be close).”
      5. Music can make you a more creative, mindful person: “Our shared love of music helps connect us socially, in part by enhancing kind, helpful, generous behaviors. But recent research suggests that music has other potential benefits that we are only beginning to understand—namely, it seems to increase our mindfulness and our ability to think creatively.”
      6. Taking care of others might be good for your own resilience: A small but eye opening study suggests that helping people when they have problems acts like a stress resilience building exercise. “Helping [others] regulate their emotional reactions to stressful situations may be a particularly powerful way to practice and hone our own regulation skills, which can then be applied to improve our own emotional well-being,” the researchers write.
      7. “Phubbing” could hurt your relationships: No surprise here but because the act of snubbing someone for your phone is a recent phenomena so not many studies have been released on its effects. However last year two surveys found exactly what could be expected: Snubbing someone for your phone hurts our relationship with that person.  Interestingly the studies also suggest that being snubbed for someone’s phone feeds technology addiction “The phubbing group reported feeling more excluded in interactions with others, which (in turn) led to a greater need for attention, more intense social media use, and poorer well-being. “
      8. Kindness at work seems to be contagious: It was already widely known that kindness begets kindness but recent studies show that this can happen at the workplace as well. Even a cold, competitive environment like a corporate office can benefit from random acts of kindness that people have tendency to pay forward.
      9. Students of all ethnicities could benefit from diverse classrooms: Another study that furthered an already known fact: Diversity creates creates less racial prejudice and higher education and income levels later in life. A recent study found this to be a universal truth across all ethnicities. “As classrooms became more racially balanced, students of all ethnicities felt safer, less bullied, and less lonely.”
      10. The individual and social impact of SEL might last a long time: SEL (social-emotional learning) has been shown to improve moods, social skills, school performance…etc. Up until currently however it was not known that it could last as long as four years. “The review looked at studies of 82 SEL programs for K-12 students. Comparing students who participated in SEL programs to those who didn’t, the results showed significant benefits that persisted from one to nearly four years afterward”

I really like all of these, all show the benefits of the sciences on our ability to cope. Even this one article shows that emotion is a rich and diverse experience, everyone benefits from a sense of purpose,  caring for others is good for you too and we can always change for the better.  The entire article is worth a closer look.

 

Gratitude Journal #2: Applying Optimism

In November I wrote about keeping a gratitude journal, a journal in which you literally write a list of things in which you are grateful for. Over time the journal builds a more grateful attitude, a useful tool for being happier. Professionals recommend an additional strategy when writing a gratitude journal; apply optimism in your journal writing. The most comprehensive look at what optimism is that is available online was written by Max More in 1998 (Dynamic Optimism) and has 2 parts:

Part 1: Interpreting experience positively

  1.  Selective Focus: Emphasizing the enjoyable, constructive, open aspects of life.
  2. Refraining from Complaining: Avoiding pointless complaining and whining about one’s difficulties. Taking the world as it is and not complaining that life isn’t fair.
  3. Questioning Limits: A constructive skepticism that challenges the limiting beliefs held by ourselves, our associates, and our society. A fundamental creative openness to possibilities.
  4. Sense of Abundance: Feeling free to do what you want, rather than feeling compelled by circumstances or people. Recognizing the world to be full of opportunities. Being for things, not against things.
  5. Humor: Seeing one’s own shortcomings with a sense of humor. Allowing healthy, good-natured humor to reveal new perspectives and combat dogmatic thinking. (More, 1998)

Part2: Influencing Outcomes Positively

  1. Rational: Using reason rather than being lead by fears and desires. Objectively assessing situations and taking action based on understanding reality apart from our wishes.
  2. Self-Improving: Optimists see the self as a process and seek continual improvement. Their drive to improve is not pushed by fear but pulled by a inspiring self-image.
  3. Experimental: Frequently trying fresh approaches, staying out of ruts, actively seeking more effective ways of achieving goals, and being willing to take calculated risks.
  4. Self-Confident: Believing that we can bring about good things. A fundamental conviction of competence in living.
  5. Self-Worth: Believing one is worthy of success and happiness. Without this, attempts to improve one’s life will lack motivation.
  6. Personal Responsibility: Taking charge and creating the conditions for success. Being aware of how we determine our chances of success. This crucially involves integrity: living according to one’s values.
  7. Selecting Environment: Being attracted to positive people and situations. Seeking out those who will support and inspire, not discourage, distract, and undermine.

DYNAMIC OPTIMISM is an active, empowering, constructive attitude that creates conditions for success by focusing and acting on possibilities and opportunities.

Merely believing that everything will work out fine without taking action makes one a foolish optimist, not a dynamic optimist. For optimism to give us the power to overcome the limits in our lives it needs to fully recognize reality, not hide from it. For optimism to maximize our abilities and happiness, we have to take responsibility for our thoughts, our attitudes, and our actions. This world is full of possibility. We can achieve almost anything we can conceive. Yet we will move forward only by turning dreams into practical, rational, responsible thinking. This kind of thinking will naturally generate productive activity. (More, 1998)

To also practice optimism when writing your gratitude journal you simply add a negative event and ask the following questions about it?

  • What will be the first sign this is no longer affecting me?
  • How will I know I have bounced back?
  • What evidence do I have that this event is something that affects most people, and isn’t necessarily my fault?
  • Since it happens to others, does it make sense to continue to blame myself?
  • What can I do today to bounce back from this?
  • If this event didn’t happen, how would I have spent my emotional energy? What would I have done in its place? (source)
  • Also consider what about optimism applies here. Maybe humour, should I laugh at this? Maybe I wasn’t being rational, maybe I need to select a better environment? Am I taking responsibility where circumstances warrant it? etc.

There exists a substantial amount of evidence that by changing our thinking we can change our moods (with a few exceptions). In fact, Cognitive-Behaviroual Therapy is based on this principle. We can use our journal to train our thinking to be more optimistic and grateful at the same time. Getting to the source of what made an event negative helps us to understand and deal with it better.  In a future article we will  look at the cognitive distortions that make an event seems negative to further understand why a negative event is not as bad as we think.

 

More Reading:

Ten Positive Psychology Practices for Boosting Happiness

The Psychology of Optimism and Pessimism: Theories and Research Findings

Optimism: Clinical Psychology Review

Optimism and Its Impact on Mental and Physical Well-Being

The Neural Basis of Optimism and Pessimism

 

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: