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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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)

Compassion

Well, I ended up taking Dali to the vet because I felt like she was walking slower than she should even with aging.  Maybe she had arthritis that could be relieved with pain medicine.  I noticed her being careful about walking up and down curbs.  I watched as she chose to walk down where there was a gentle slope to the street for wheel chairs.  The vet said Dali is experiencing some lumbar pain and we’re waiting to get blood test results to see if the discomfort is associated with some other problem.

I decided to make an appointment with the vets after a particularly slow walk. Oskar was pulling me to go faster and Dali was clearly doing the best she could.  Oskar turned around a couple of times to see what was going on with Dali.   Interestingly, after a bit, Oskar retreated from the lead and chose to walk side-by-side with Dali.  I imagine he recognized that Dali was not just being obstinate, as she can be, but picked up on her discomfort.  How astute and kind of Oskar.  And I sensed Dali took in his support.

I don’t know how much of an active choice Oskar made to give up his desire to go at his pace and instead be compassionate, but we have a choice.  Research shows our first instinct, as adults or children, is to help others, not compete with them.  Unfortunately, cultural factors get in the way of our innate desire to be compassionate.  Research also shows that when we are kind to others, we are mentally and physical healthier.

I know for myself, whenever I choose the Golden Rule, whether it is with nonhuman animals (animals) or people, I always feel better about myself.  Just this morning, my husband, Irwin, and I started to get into an argument.  I thought he was being ridiculous.  And I thought of this quote by a child that I read recently.  I can’t remember it exactly, but it is something like:  When I’m acting badly I need your compassion the most.  So I put my arm around Irwin and said I knew he was tired and had been working so hard and done so much for the family.  He hugged me back.  Compassion turned a moment of disconnect into a moment of connection.  I’d say we both felt better.

What is a time when you acting compassionately and you noticed feeling happier or good about yourself?

 

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

 

Life As Haiku

Years ago, The Washington Post ran a series called Life is Short:  Autobiography as Haiku.  I don’t remember reading that section religiously, but I sure am glad I read Lynda Van Kuren’s piece.  I cut it out and have had it on my refrigerator ever since it was published on August 19, 2007.  I’m sharing it here because I think it has some good life lessons for us all and it brings a smile to my face every time I read it.  Here is the picture that is featured beside the haiku:

st/shortlife

 

And here is the poem:

I loved her with all my heart.  Little did I know that this little dog was my teacher, showing me how to negotiate life’s journey.  Shana’s lessons:

Hang out with the people you love, and get as close to them as you can.

Always be ready to play.

If someone doesn’t like you, don’t worry about it.  Lots of others do.  Spend your time with them.

Don’t spend a lot of time being sad.  Find something to do that makes you happy.

If someone upsets the one you love most, pee on their side of the bed.

Be joyous.

 

When we realize we are inter-connected, we can learn life lessons from all animals.  Maybe that is one of the most important lessons.  To keep our hearts open to other living beings. 

 

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

Everything is OK

Life is easier and more joyful when we know that there is someone who has our back.

Dali, Oskar and I were taking our early Saturday morning walk.  Sometimes we are out before 7 am.  It is one of my favorite times of the day because it is quiet and peaceful.  We had made it to the grounds of a church about a mile from our house.  Dali and Oskar were busy exploring when a woman walked by, headed toward a bus stop on the other side of the property.  She shouted out to someone who had passed by just a bit ago.  (I guess Dali, Oskar and I aren’t the only ones who like to be out early.)  It was quite a jarring sound in the soft, silent air.  Alerted to danger, Dali ran to see what was going on.  She stood next to me, ready to take action if need be, and she turned around to check-in with me.  “It’s okay,” I said.  Reassured, Dali went back to scout out the smells around the bushes.

It is very fulfilling to know that I am a safe haven to Dali and Oskar, meaning they will turn to me when they are feeling threatened.  I also feel deeply appreciative that I am a secure base to them.  In other words, my relationship with them provides them with a foundation to explore the world and solve problems. 

They also are my safe haven and secure base.  I was running a supervision group out of my home and the participants were flexible enough to allow Dali and Oskar to join in on the learning.  During one of the sessions, I was feeling anxious, unsure of myself as a teacher.  Luckily, Dali was by my side and I started petting her.  Here was someone who was happy to be with me even when I was feeling insecure.  My anxiety subsided.  And sometimes, when I’m very afraid like when I’m flying and there is a lot of turbulence, I think of Oskar licking my face and it helps me get through these stressful moments. 

I am lucky to find this security in some of my relationships with people, as well.  When I am feeling at my worse, my husband almost always lets me know that he has had similar feelings about himself.  When I don’t feel so alone with painful feelings, my sadness eases.  I have learned from my husband the power of letting another know how I can relate to their difficult experiences.  I even do that with Dali and Oskar.  When Dali is wants to go one way on a walk and I want to go another, and in the rare times that I don’t acquiesce, I will say to her “I see you Dali.  I see that you’re unhappy.  You didn’t get to go the way you wanted to go.  I understand that disappointment.  It is unfair.”  Just being seen and understood helps her mood.

Life is easier and more joyful when we know that there is someone who has our back.  Couples therapy can help partners find that safety in their relationship.  Individual therapy can help people begin to feel safe about sharing their distress with another and be able to take these experiences to other relationships.   When we feel safe and know that another is happy to see us, even when we’re at our worst, we can go out into the world and explore, the way Dali went back to seeking out adventure when I let her know everything was OK.