Kindness Leads to Happiness

Are you kind? Do you practice kindness? If not, how does one actually “do” kindness? Let’s explore…

Starting with a basic definition: Kindness is the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate. Does this describe you? If not, why not? Does kindness sound like something you would like to incorporate into your daily life? Holistically, wouldn’t kindness help make this world a better place to live? If you’re on board, then read on…

Did you know that there is a World Kindness Day celebrated every year on November 13? A simple Google search will pull up several organizations that are resourceful for day-to-day kindness information. One example is the Random Acts of Kindness organization which states on its website:

Imagine a world.

Where people look out for each other.

Where we all pay it forward.

Where success is measured in selfless acts.

Where kindness is the philosophy of life.

Kindness is an important value that not everyone has (but I certainly wish it was more widespread). You may generally notice that some people are more kind than others. Why are some people so kind, and how does this relate to happiness? Does kindness actually lead to happiness?

Yes, studies have shown that practicing kindness by giving to others (rather than receiving) can lead to more happiness. What’s even more exciting is that this can lead to a virtuous cycle which may increase our lasting happiness. According to one study completed by Harvard and University of British Columbia researchers and published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, two happiness findings were apparent according to the authors:

  1. People in general felt happier when they recalled a time they bought something for someone else. People felt even happier buying for others than when they remembered buying something for themselves.
  2. The happier people felt about their past generosity, generally the more likely they were in the present to choose to spend on others instead of themselves.

So then how do we get to a point where we are practicing more kindness, especially if we feel like we need more of it within ourselves in order to be kinder to others? Kind behavior tends to come to us more naturally when we’re moving towards compassion and connection with others.

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Intentionally practicing kindness in our everyday lives, even on days when we’re not in a particularly generous mood, can go a long way toward turning kindness into a habit. That’s largely because of the way kindness tends to breed happiness: The good feelings serve to reinforce our kind acts and make us more likely to want to perform them in the future.

To state this another way – making concerted effort to perform more kind and generous acts in the short term tends to increase the amount of kindness we perform over the long term. Wow, when broken down it sounds pretty simple hey?

Maximizing the positive effects of generosity can help with kindness as well. One strategy is to take the initiative to learn about the impact of your generosity, which can elicit contagious feelings of joy. For example, see this video of a bone marrow donor meeting the little girl whose life he saved here (p.s. get out the kleenex!)

“Doing a kindness produces the single most reliable increase in momentary well-being than any other exercise we have tested”.

–Martin Seligman

So get out there and practice kindness. Let’s all chip in individually to help make this world a better place.

As Tim McGraw’s song Humble and Kind says:

Don’t take for granted the love this life gives you

When you get where you’re goin’

Don’t forget turn back around

And help the next one in line

Always stay humble and kind.

Stay kind,

-Kevin

#Happiness (how can I get some of that) Part II

It’s here! Did you know that there is a day dedicated to happiness? It’s called the International Day of Happiness, and it’s today March 20th. As it states on their website “…this years theme is Happier Together, celebrating what we have in common rather than what divides us.”

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In Part 1 of this blog I had mentioned the key finding of a 75 year Harvard study which demonstrates the importance of our connection with others. Also included was actions to help induce a sense of happiness including: practicing pro-social qualities, mindfulness, and flow.

Before we get started on Part II, I’d like to mention a further way to incorporate mindfulness into your day-to-day routine, which as I mentioned previously has been shown to lead to happiness. Five to ten years ago I was a meditation non-believer, but after practicing it for a few years now, I absolutely see and feel the benefits meditation can provide. In fact, several studies show how meditation can have positive effects on many aspects of health, resilience, and better relationships.

Five to ten years ago I was a meditation non-believer, but after practicing it for a few years now, I absolutely see and feel the benefits meditation can provide. In fact, several studies show how meditation can have positive effects on many aspects of health, resilience, and better relationships.
So let’s get to it. Here are three more researched ways you can take action in order to increase your #happiness!

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4. Awe. You know, that experience you feel when you look up at huge beautiful trees, or perhaps looking at this beach photo here, or a beautiful painting. When was the last time you went star-gazing and saw a shooting star?
What tends to put you in a state of awe? It’s really about experiencing awe / wonder / beauty, which makes us feel like we are in the presence of something larger than ourselves.

Researchers have linked positive emotions – especially the awe we feel when touched by the beauty of nature, art, and spirituality – with lower levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines (which are proteins that signal the immune system to work harder). Elevated cytokines have shown association to autoimmune diseases and depression.

UC Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner says “that awe, wonder and beauty promote healthier levels of cytokines suggests that the things we do to experience these emotions – a walk in nature, losing oneself in music, beholding art – has a direct influence upon health and life expectancy.”

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5. Laughter. When is the last time you laughed? When is the laugh time you had a really good belly laugh? If it’s been a while, get on it! There are lots of funny movies, funny people, and other things that can induce laughter – like remembering funny times in the past, or surrounding yourself with people who like to laugh and find the humour in everyday life.

So, try not to be so serious all the time, seriously. A vast amount of research has shown that laughter can contribute to overall health and wellness including increasing your resilience and improving your overall mood.

6. Self-compassion. Kristin Neff, author of Self-Compassion, says that self-compassion is a state where you understand your own suffering and use mindfulness, kindness, and openness to hold it non-judgementally and consider it part of the human condition. In other words, self-compassion is where you would consider grace for the self even despite unfortunate circumstances.

Neff says that self-compassion entails three core components:

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She goes on to say that we must achieve and combine these three essential elements in order to be truly self-compassionate.

Research has shown that people with self-compassion tend have an inner strength of self that is worthy of respect, and their sense of self-worth tends to be less rattled. They also tend to worry less about social comparison, and feel less need to retaliate for perceived personal slights.

This research suggests that self-compassion provides a sense of calmness. Think of it as a safe place from a perceived hurricane of positive and negative self-judgment. It can shelter you from questions like “Am I as good as they are? Am I good enough?”

By practicing kindness, and realizing that all of us have an imperfect human condition; you can be confidently on your way to feel more safe and secure, feeling like you belong, and embracing life every day.

Of course, it’s not as easy as it sounds and it does take some work to realize and practice self-compassion. It may take baby steps to break old habits. A pause for self-awareness can help to self-identify when we need more compassion for ourselves. Consider how allowing, with an open heart, life to be as it is could help you change your life for the better.

You may be asking “isn’t it selfish to consider the self”? In response to this I would say that allowing self-compassion into your life may, over time, allow you to respond to challenges from others and life in general in a way that is more open-hearted and loving.

Overall, keep in mind that happiness is different things to different people. There simply isn’t one happiness strategy that works for everyone. Just do your best with what you have, be a better person than yesterday.

“Happiness does not simply happen to us. It’s something that we make happen and it comes from doing our best”.

–Mihali Csikszentmihaly

And please try to not let your happiness depend on what others say or do. Remember that happiness is truly up to you and it’s yours only. It’s an inside job.


Practice the above and I think that you will see a subtle difference over time. I am always making strides to practice these things too. Please let me know how this goes for you, or if you have any questions on these Actions. And don’t forget to go to the International Day of Happiness site to join in with other people celebrating this day of happiness!

OK now what are you waiting for? After you reflect on these a bit, start practicing these actions to increase your #happiness. Let’s GO! Now it’s time to get my introverted butt out the door and connect with the human race, even if it’s just a smile or a simple “hi”!

Looking forward to continuing on this happiness journey with you. Remember, we are all in this together!

Kevin

#happiness (How can I get some of that?!)

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#happiness is one of the most popular hashtags around. Makes sense right? Whoever doesn’t want happiness in their life say “I” (room goes silent now). But the question is…how do we get this thing called happiness? How do we summon this “greater power” throughout our days, weeks, months…lifetime? Let’s examine.

First of all, what is happiness? That’s a loaded question and there seems to be some variation in answers. So let’s start by looking at one happiness researcher’s definition. In her book The How of Happiness, positive psychology researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky describes happiness as “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.”

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OK, so where does happiness really come from, and how does it mysteriously appear? Some have said that it arrives as a reaction to outside events, the events that bring us joy. While others discuss it as being an inside job (it is conjured up from within ourselves).

I believe that it is something that is summoned from within ourselves. Sure, it may seemingly feel like an outside event is the trigger, however the exact same outside event can mean different things to different people. It’s intentional activity that’s really important here; it’s how we choose to create or do an activity, and ultimately our response to it. Think about it – a simple thing could cause one person to be unhappy while another person could be joyous. The event is exactly the same. It’s our reaction to the event that can be so different.

In fact according to research, approximately 50% of our happiness is accounted for by genetics, 10% by life circumstances, and 40% by intentional activity. The 40% intentional activity is what we should focus on changing, and I will discuss some ways to do this shortly.

Now what about “joy”, how does this relate to happiness? We are all well aware of the moment-to-moment times of joy that seem to arrive like when we see a baby smile or a tail-wagging happy puppy. But have you seen the popular movie Inside Out where we learn from the character named Joy – that real happiness involves a suite of emotions including sadness, not just joy.

Yes, you read that correctly, sustained happiness will include times of sadness, believe it or not. Happiness is not simply a constant euphoric state of joy without negative emotions included along the way. Unhappy emotions like anger, fear, and sadness are quite normal, and at times, appropriate. If we continually set a high bar for happiness, we can become disappointed when we don’t meet that bar. An acceptance of some “negative” emotions is ok.

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So how can we use this information to have happiness continue with us along our journey called LIFE? How do we get and sustain happiness, which includes contentment, positive well-being, combined with a sense of meaningfulness?

This is a question many of us talk about and, I have have often wondered about this sometimes illusive state of happiness too. So let’s get to it…here are three important ways of conjuring up more happiness in our lives:

1.Practicing “pro-social” qualities like human connection, gratitude, and compassion, etc. Regularly practicing pro-social qualities can help us feel more connected to others and connecting to something higher outside of the self. Check out this fantastic 12 minute TEDtalk on an exciting 75 year Harvard study on living the good life. The #1 thing learned in this study is that good relationships keep you happier and healthier….period! The quality of your relationships really matter, not necessarily the quantity. Good relationships with family, friends, and community are what really matter. And besides general happiness in life, there are many other benefits as mentioned in the video.

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2. Mindfulness (and resulting awareness). Be present. In an article on Mindfulness , well-known mindfulness guru Jon Kabat-Zinn discusses how to cultivate mindfulness as follows: “although mindfulness can be cultivated through formal meditation, that’s not the only way. It’s not really about sitting in the full lotus, like pretending you’re a statue in a British museum,” he says…“It’s about living your life as if it really mattered, moment by moment by moment by moment.”

Here are a three key components of practicing mindfulness that Kabat-Zinn and others identify:
• Turn your mind to your breathing, really noticing it, especially when you’re feeling intense emotions.
• Notice what you’re sensing in a given moment, the sights, sounds, and smells that ordinarily slip by without reaching your conscious awareness.
• Recognize that your thoughts and emotions are fleeting and do not define you, an insight that can free you from negative thought patterns.

Mindfulness is important in that it includes awareness. Consider self-awareness: we can’t be authentic without being ourselves. And we can’t be ourselves without really knowing ourselves. Therefore, being authentic all starts with self-awareness.

Consider being more aware of your reaction to words and actions, be it positive or negative. Try pausing for a second before reacting to anything, and generally pausing from time-to-time in your everyday life. This gives your prefrontal cortex time to access a more positive pathway (a higher road) to take in your reaction to anything, be it positive or negative. Consider Gandhi’s famous quote:

‘Happiness is when what you think, say and do are in harmony’

Personally, I have found meditation helps with taking pauses at opportune times, and for thinking things through with greater clarity and purpose. This doesn’t happen overnight, so give it a few weeks of honest effort before judging.

3. Flow. Famed psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly coined the term flow to describe a particular state of heightened consciousness. Flow can appear when we do certain activities throughout the day or week, ones that can increase our joyous moments.

These activities should be ones that you really enjoy, a favorite activity. Think about this for a moment. What are some things that have brought you joy over the years? Was it a sport or an activity? Visiting family or friends or animals perhaps? Achieving a goal? Reading? There are so many possibilities!

Other ways of referring to this state of Flow are “being in the zone” or times where you are involved in something so deeply that nothing else seems to matter and you may lose track of time. Researchers have shown that states of flow have a strong association to happiness.

So there you have it in a nutshell. Practice the above and I think that you will see a subtle difference over time. I am making positive strides in practicing these things – and really hope that you will try also. I would love to hear how it goes!

Stay tuned for Part II of this Happiness blog where I will discuss further happiness actions to include in your daily routine.

In joy and happiness,

Kevin

Embracing Your Best Life Every Day

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As I sit here having breakfast in Victoria BC, I look out of a window and can see a snippet of the ocean and lots of beautiful trees including the beautiful Arbutus tree. As wonderful as this is, you know what I found even more exciting? You guessed it – one of my fave songs from the 80’s (I have many) appeared on the radio station – Heaven by Warrant. Isn’t it interesting and wonderful how happy moments can appear out of the blue anywhere you are? Why is this?

As human beings we have the ability to make a conscious choice to embrace life and live our best life. It’s almost magical how fear, anxiety, anger, etc seem to diminish when you are “in the moment” focused on something more positive.

Now, living our best life can mean different things to different people. I don’t suspect hearing Warrant on the radio is an absolute joy for many of you as it is for me and I’m ok with that. I’m me and you’re you, and this is a wonderful thing. What would life be like if we were all exactly the same? Yawn….boring perhaps?

Living your best life is really about showing up in the moment, wherever and whenever that may be. Remember that wherever you go, there you are.

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Life is also lived best when we accept life as it is (suspending judgment, but you never judge right….RIGHT?!?). Also every day remember to try and learn from your mistakes (yes we all make them), and then making better choices every day because you learned from your mistakes…right!?!

Want this year to be the best one yet? It’s not too late to start. Keep in mind that making better choices throughout the day often involves, but definitely not limited to the following 9 important elements:

  • Openness – opening your heart to love and new experiences. Even in you shut down at times, it’s not too late to reverse these instances. Ask yourself why you shut down. Try to detach from negativity in your past, it’s not who you are now. Take the high road.
  • Mindfulness – practice, practice, practice. Try taking some deep slow breaths every day. When you catch yourself lost in thought, bring it back to the present moment. Wherever you show up, be there 100%.
  • Resilience – getting back up and dusting off whenever life challenges you or knocks you down. Everyone takes knock downs in life. Get back up. If you stumble, try again and again. If you need to take a different direction then adjust your sail. Don’t ever quit!
  • Kindness – choosing kindness and compassion over the need to always be right (one aspect of the essence vs the ego). It takes a big person to admit when they’re wrong. Be a bigger person.
  • Values – living true to your values. Do you know what being in-congruence with your values means? It’s when what you do aligns with what you value. Living this way leads to peace of mind.
  • Giving – give or give back in some meaningful way. This can be through giving your time or money. Consider the phrase…life is not about me, it’s about WE.
  • Courage – turning your fears into courage. I know from experience…easier said than done hey. This one is not easy but it’s doable. Life isn’t about living in our comfort zone and wishing everything is perfect. Life is never this way and that’s in part what makes life so interesting. It’s about feeling the fear or scariness of something but pushing yourself to do it anyways. You might trip, or even flat out do a face plant. And that’s ok. Dust yourself off and try it again. And again. Courage takes practice. There are countless successful people in the world who failed so many times but they didn’t let that stop them.
  • Acceptance – this one is so important. It’s about accepting who you are, scars and all! You are perfectly imperfect. You are beautiful…YES YOU!
  • Growth – do one thing today that you didn’t do yesterday. It doesn’t have to be earth shattering. Be a better person today than you were yesterday. Growth gives us meaning and something to look forward to in life.

A joyful best life has many different facets. This blog has mentioned several different areas of life that we will fully explore in the near future. I plan on taking you along on a wonderful journey as we explore and discuss how to embrace life and live in the version of your best self.

If you have anything to add to this or any general questions on living your best life I would love to hear from you.

We are all in this together.

Living a joyful best life,

Kevin

You aren’t lost, look within

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Your greatness is revealed by the light that shines within you.

Life isn’t about finding yourself. You’re not lost, you are already “here”. Let me explain.

Have you been searching for something your whole life? Not sure exactly what it is or where to find it? Guess what, it’s already here. Dig deep. Inside of yourself, there it is, the light. See the light that’s already shining within you. It’s been there all along but perhaps it’s gotten a little (or alot) cloudier over the years.

Let’s go waaaay back (for some of us) into your lifetime. I hope you have some fond memories as a joyful child. That child is still you! You’re just a more grown-up version now. Likely you’ve added a few scars over the years, but that doesn’t mean that this happy-go-lucky child is lost forever.

Sometimes it may not seem like the sense of joy you experienced is still there, because you’ve added layer upon layer of baggage, guilt, worrying, ruminating, etc etc. But think about it…you are still you no matter how you slice it or dice it. You are still that joyful child underneath (albeit with a few added layers of stuff).

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I don’t know about you, but I always feel better knowing that I’m still that joyful person deep inside. The you you’re searching for isn’t somewhere “out there”. Now that’s not to say you shouldn’t get out there and learn, grow, connect, etc. But you can stop the search party looking for who you are, it’s not a mystery and you aren’t lost! Dig deep. It really is there. The light still shines within you, even if it’s flickering a bit lately.

So…dust off that light. Start to look within in order to reach your goals and realize your dreams! You are you and please don’t forget that. Don’t listen to the naysayers or negative nelly’s telling you to be someone or something that you are not. Tune them out and be who you are. You have everything you need to create the life you dream of. Take baby steps if you need to, and actually I recommend these small steps. Or if you prefer, take massive action (this works better for some people).

Now if you don’t like who you are, that’s another story. Take the steps necessary to change this if desired. It’s a choice. Choose wisely. To help with some aspects of this, stay tuned for future posts on joy, happiness, mindfulness, motivation, and resilience.

Now go live your best life. Take the first step. Just do it!

Kevin

Enjoy the journey to your best life!

Thanks for joining me!

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton


This site is dedicated to exploring aspects of mindfulness, joy and happiness, positive psychology, resilience, and motivation. Thank you for sharing this journey and I hope that even if you pick up on one little thing, realize that it can make all the difference in the world. If I’ve helped just one person smile a little or overcome an obstacle then this means everything to me.

As human beings, we should all feel that we share simple and similar dreams and aspirations. We are all in this together, regardless of culture, skin colour or any other external thing. I’m hoping for a more inclusive world, where people’s intrinsic values do not intentionally exclude others based on anything external. 

Believe in yourself. Believe in others. Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.

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Remember, we are all in this together.

Living my best life,

Kevin