Happiness

I was feeling down one recent weekend.  As luck would have it, I was doing some research on what makes us happy.

Turns out, we are not very good at knowing what brings us happiness.  Research by Dan Gilbert bears this out.

One of the best kept secrets on what makes us happy is doing for others.  Material goods or achievements are no match for giving of ourselves in promoting our long term happiness.

A 2012 study by Elizabeth Dunn and her colleagues at the University of British Columbia shows that toddlers under the age of two are happier when giving treats to others rather than receiving goodies themselves.  But the good news about our capacity for feeling good about giving doesn’t stop there.  The study showed that children are happier when they give their own treats away than giving an identical treat away that doesn’t belong to them.  (http://news.ubc.ca/2012/06/19/giving-makes-young-children-happy-ubc-study-suggests/)

The results of United Healthcare/Volunteer Match Do Good Live Well 2010 on-line study shows that 96% of respondents report feeling happier as a result of volunteering (http://unlimitedloveinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/ITS-GOOD-TO-BE-GOOD-2014-Biennial-Scientific-Report-On-Health-Happiness-Longevity-And-Helping-Others.pdf)

So, when my husband came home from his volunteer efforts, taking photographs of cats to increase their likelihood of getting adopted, I asked him to show me his pictures.  Immediately, I felt better as I supported and encouraged him in his efforts and hobby.  I discovered, firsthand, how taking the focus off of me and my ruminations and putting my energies, instead, into helping someone else is a free and easy way to get my happy on.

I highly recommend you give it a try and if you like, share your experience.

If my example didn’t inspire you, this video of Lilica, the dog, and what she does for her family surely will.

 

(professional website:  http://www.bethlevinecounseling.com)

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Skills to Calm Down: Petting Time and Getting a Different Perspective

Dali is barking and barking at the top of the stairs.  Nonstop.  I can’t figure out why.  Normally, I offer her “petting time,” which as the phrase suggests, is when I pet her and rub her neck.  When I do that, she calms down over time.  I call up to her and “Dali, come down for petting time.”

But she doesn’t come to me and she doesn’t stop barking.  At another time, I might go to her, but I have a broken toe and don’t want to get up from the couch.  She keeps barking.  I think it is on the fourth or fifth time of me offering to console her that she comes downstairs, trots over to me on the couch and then sits next to me ready for “petting time,” whining the whole time, expressing her internal discomfort with something.

She reminds me of how I can get sometimes.  Internally upset and having a hard time calming myself down.  It is important to have people in our lives we trust and can turn to for support, but I also believe we need to be our own support.

It can take a lot of work to calm ourselves down when we are having a strong reaction to something.  It’s good to have a couple of skills to turn to at these times and it’s good to practice these skills at times other than when we are emotionally dysregulated, so we are pretty good at doing these skills.

Here is are some good questions to ask yourself when you are revved up (I got them from getselfhelp.co.uk).

Ask yourself:

  • What am I REALLY reacting to?
  • What is it that is really pushing my buttons here?
  • What is it that I think is going to happen?
  • What is the worst (and best) that could happen?
  • What is most likely to happen?
  • Am I getting things out of proportion?
  • How important is this really? How important will it be in 6 months time?
  • What harm has been done?
  • Am I expecting something from this person or situation that is unrealistic?
  • Am I overestimating the danger?
  • Am I underestimating my ability to cope?
  • Am I using a negative filter? Is there another way of looking at it?
  • What advice would I give to someone else in this situation?
  • Am I spending time ruminating about the past or worrying about the future?
  • What could I do right now that would help me feel better?
  • How would someone else see this situation? What is the bigger picture?
  • What would be the consequences of responding the way I usually do?
  • Is there another way of dealing with this? What would be the most helpful and effective action to take?  (for me, for the situation, for the other person)

These are a lot of questions, probably too many to remember.  I recommend writing down about 6 questions that resonate for you and have them handy for when you are feeling emotionally overwhelmed.  By taking time to think through the answer to these questions, you can get a different perspective on the situation and that can help you manage your emotions more effectively.

Please let me know if you find this approach helpful or if you have some other strategies that work for you.

 

(professional website:  http://www.bethlevinecounseling.com)

Knowing Who You Are Through Actions

 

Dali is one of the most strong-willed individuals that I know.  She pursues what she wants with every ounce of energy that she has.  When I had to take my other dog, Oskar, to the emergency clinic, Dali snuck out the front door so as not to be left behind.  On walks, she sits, unmovable, when she doesn’t want to go the way I want to go.  When she desires a neck rub, she sits by my feet and communicates with body language that says it is time.  And there is no alternative for me but to massage her neck.

Pretty good for a 20-pound dog.

Though Dali is getter older and the hot, humid summer is hard on her, she still is clear on what she wants.  She lets me know when it is time to go home.  She makes it clear when she wants to sit and soak in the sun.  And she determines when it is time for her, at least, daily neck rub.

In her honor, I am taking steps to go after what I want.  I am doing art every day, whether painting or writing poetry, even for a few minutes a day.  Taking this first step gave me more energy to do more of the things that are important to me.  I started a Google Group that I’ve thought about for at least a year and am taking a bike ride at least once a week.  I feel better about myself and more competent.

 

“Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.” Thomas Jefferson

 

(professional website:  http://www.bethlevinecounseling.com)

Positive Qualities of Relationships

 

I am sitting on the couch with Oskar, next to me and he moves to get more comfortable and drapes his leg across my leg.  It is comforting to me and I imagine comforting for Oskar since he put his leg there.

This was after Dali and Oskar and I went to a local park. exploring woods we hadn’t been to before.  We all enjoyed the adventure and I felt closer to my companion animals.

According to research, physical affection and doing new things together are qualities of a long-term love.

 

In your relationships, human and nonhuman, make time for contact comfort and exploring the world together.

 

(professional website:  http://www.bethlevinecounseling.com)

Helping Others

 

The other day I was returning to home after walking with my dogs and I heard someone crying.  I looked around and saw the postwoman sitting in the postal truck crying.  I went over to her to see what was wrong and if I could offer her help. She explained, through tears, by removing  tissues from her mouth, to show me two big gashes on her lips from a dog bite.  She was waiting for her supervisor to come get her.  I told her that I would wait for her and let her know that it must have been very scary, but that she was going to be alright.

We waited for about 10 minutes and no one came.  She tried to call the supervisor again but couldn’t get through and was distraught and in pain.  I suggested that I take my dogs home which was about a three-minute walk from her and come back with the car and if her supervisor hadn’t arrived by then, I would take her to the emergency room.  She agreed.  And that’s what happened.  I took her to a local urgent care and afterwards, delivered her keys for the locked postal truck to the post office.

Afterward, I had such a good feeling.  Helping someone out really made my day. Here’s a video on how helping others help ourselves:

This surge of well-being is a similar feeling when I’m a source of comfort to either Dali or Oskar.

Recently, Oskar woke me up to go eat grass outside.  It seemed as if he had a stomach ache.  When we came back in, he wanted to sit on the couch and cuddle.  He lifted his paw for me to hold – he likes that – and then, over time, tucked his paw and my hand under him and put his head on my lap.  I felt so happy being a source of comfort to him..

And this good feeling is true when I take a spider outside.

Or feed the squirrels and birds and raccoons.

I believe the feeling of positive well-being of caring for others has no boundaries.

Helping others makes you feel good.   What are some of your examples of feeling good when you help others?

 

(professional website:  http://www.bethlevinecounseling.com)

Speaking your truth

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I joke around that Oskar is my boyfriend (who could resist that face?). If I go upstairs, Oskar goes upstairs. If I go downstairs, Oskar goes downstairs. When he comes in from a walk that I haven’t taken him on, the first thing he does is run to find me. He’s very attached to me and that’s why I was so surprised that he went to bite me when I was wiping his paws after he was out in the snow, ice and salt that they put down to prevent people from falling, but if it is not dog friendly, can really hurt their paws.

Oskar didn’t actually bite me. He just went to bite me, but I scolded him more from being so startled that he would actually try to hurt me. He looked so sheepish afterward. Maybe it was from being misunderstood, I don’t know, but the way he looked got me thinking. I knew he didn’t want to hurt me and I realized that he must have been hurting and wanted me to stop and it was the only way he had to tell me.

Something similar happened on one of our walks. A small rock got in between his paw pads and he couldn’t walk without hurting. So I went to take it out but was only using one hand because it was so cold out I didn’t want to take off my other glove. I didn’t realize at the time that in only using one hand, I was rubbing the rock against his pads while trying to remove it. In a flash, he turned his head around and put his teeth on my hands.

This time, I didn’t scold him. This time, I apologized and said to him he must be hurting and I realized I needed two hands to make sure I didn’t cause him any more pain. He gave me a kiss.

I later thought to myself if I can be so understanding toward Oskar and why he might lash out at me, maybe I could be understanding with myself when I get angry with friends or family when I’m hurting. That happened to me the other idea. I felt rejected and instead of telling my friend I was feeling hurt, I got angry with him. And then I felt terrible for getting angry and putting him on the defensive and feeling rejected.

After the now infamous Oskar incident, I was able to be compassionate with myself and know that I was not a bad person for getting angry, my anger came from a genuine place of feeling hurt. That helped to let go of the shame I was feeling. What a relief! Afterward, I also felt more capable of being vulnerable and telling my friend straight-up the next time I was feeling hurt. It’s a lot easier that way.

Sara Bareilles song, Brave, captures the theme of this post beautifully and with a lot of flare.  I hope you enjoy dancing to this as much as I do.

Don’t Take “No” for an Answer and the Joys of Making the Best out of a Situation

If Dali were to write a book on living life, I think her first principle would be:  Don’t Take “No” for an Answer.

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Don’t let this picture fool you.  She looks pretty cute and innocent, but she can be incredibly determined and stubborn.  I once asked my husband, Irwin, what kind of work Dali would do if she were human.  We came up with some kind of artist because she has a gift for expressing her emotions.  But, Oskar does, too.  It’s just that he is much more easy-going.  If he doesn’t get his way, he makes the best out of the situation.  Not Dali.  Dali sulks.  If we don’t go the direction she wants, she can stop and smell the grass every two seconds.  We make no progress.  She has made her displeasure known.  Sometimes she’ll loop back towards home and we end up walking a very short walk because we didn’t go the way Dali wanted to go.

Even though these qualities seem kind of opposite to each other, I see value in them both and learn from my two companions.  Knowing what you want and going for it is certainly a helpful quality to have.  I have different projects I’d like to accomplish, and sometimes I get stuck in figuring out which project to work on and what step should I take next.  Dali is an inspiration.  She plows straight ahead and figures things out as she goes along.  Dali makes her own path.

And I learn from Oskar, too.

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It is a real strength to be flexible and be able to change courses when the situation warrants.  He is more of a team-player and that comes in handy in our social world.  I’ve gotten better at that throughout the years.  I’ve learned that although whatever situation I might be in, even if it is not my favorite, like finding myself at lunch or dinner with people I don’t know or don’t like, I can make the best out of the situation.  I can make that my goal and when I do that, I feel good about myself and often find I have a better time than I expected.

I hope Dali and Oskar have picked up some of my better qualities.  🙂

 

 

(professional website:  http://www.bethlevinecounseling.com)