Training Your Brain for Happiness

brainIt always seems easier to remember the bad things that happen in a day than the good things. You remember the downpour that ruined your hair on your commute to work more easily than the lovely lunch you had with a co-worker. Neuropsychologists confirm that this is normal, the brain’s “negativity bias” that helped our ancestors survive by programing them to constantly be on the lookout for bad things that might put them in danger. However, that trait brought into the less risky 21st century can make it difficult for people to stay in, and embrace their positive experiences since we experience them more fleetingly. The brain can become hardwired to look at things in a certain light, and is more likely to look on the bright side (or the dark side) based on how long the neurons are firing, or how long you are experiencing either positive or negative feelings.

Since we have a natural tendency to relive the bad more than the good, neuropsychologist Rick Hanson suggests that in order to program your brain for happiness, you need to actively take a few steps. First, you need to actively look for good experiences, the little nice things that happen each day. Then when you find one, focus in on it. Try to approach the good things in life with enthusiasm, and try new things that will make you happy.  Finally, be mindful and try to really focus on living in the moment. All of these will create more lasting happy memories in the brain, and make you more likely to notice, and experience everyday happiness in the future.

BlingSting Makes Staying Safe Chic

bling stingWhen I went off to college in the big city from my small town, my mom was sure to equip me (and any of my friends who would take it) with pepper spray for our key chains. Usually it was this huge ugly bright orange thing that would not only be sure to tip your assailant off that he was about to get sprayed if you reached for it, but was also really obvious and prone to being confiscated at events or amusement parks. Now a girl can feel safe and look cute with Bling Sting – pepper spray packaged as an accessory. It looks like a pretty lip gloss or purse ornament, but packs a punch. It comes in pink, silver, red, and black jeweled cases OR you can buy the gift set of all four so you have some to share with friends. Just be sure to check the State Regs tab, to make sure that shipping pepper spray  isn’t banned in your state. Go buy yours here!

Revlon and Marchesa Bringing High Fashion to Your Nails

revlonNail art is so hot right now, and unlike the acrylic tips that were popular when I was in high school, this trend doesn’t ruin your nails. People apply pretty designs by hand painting them onto nails using different polish colors, or use the pre-made nail stickers that last anywhere from 7-10 days. Now Revlon is teaming up with Marchesa to bring a little bit of the runway to your local drug store. Each design is inspired by one of Marchesa’s runway looks, and can be purchases for $9.99. Check out the features on them on Self and Elle!

On Vacation

austin

As you read this, I am on vacation enjoying the beautiful music of Austin City Limits music festival with two of my best friends. It’s a festival I have wanted to go to for years. Everyone I ask about the city has nothing but good things to say.

In all of the recommendations I have gotten, it seems there is quite the food scene in Austin. I am working through a list that includes favorites like Stubbs, Frank, Chuys, and Ironworks. And to add to all that, there is soo much good food at the festival itself, and in websites like this and this.

If you were going to Austin, Texas, what would you do?

Advice to a Younger Self

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I love reading the things older people wish they knew when they were younger, or the things more experienced people in X field wish they knew when they had started. It’s so interesting to me to learn about the little items that stood out as majorly important in hindsight. Its an exercise we have the new hires complete after they have been working with my company for a while. I’ve ready What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self, and Letter to My Daughter by Maya Angelou. TED talks are full of themes like this. With everything out there in this genre, I am clearly not the only one who is interested.

And now The Atlantic is getting in on the game. They have launched a new video series called Advice to a Younger Me. It will feature interviews with the CEO of GILT, the CEO of DreamWorks, and more. I can’t wait to tune in!

Daydreaming Can Lead to Happiness

day dreamingDaydreaming is often equated with goofing off, and seen negatively as a waste of time that could be constructively used for paying attention in school or at work. However, a recent study (that I read about on The Intelligent Optimist) found that daydreaming actually has a useful outcome: improving mental well being.

Researchers at UC Santa Barbara tracked student moods over time to determine how the distraction of daydreaming impacted their feelings. A digital assistant asked them questions randomly throughout a week about how they felt, if they let their minds wander during the day, and if so, what they thought about.  They found that when people daydreamed, people instinctively felt a little bad about it. However, when they had interesting or creative thoughts while dreaming, the subjects had strong positive feelings. Previous studies have demonstrated that people become unhappy when they are unfocused on the current task, or having “off-task” thoughts. This is likely due to the negative reinforcement many receive for day dreaming. This study indicates that the feelings are dependent on the type of thoughts had, while day dreaming, and that creative, problem-solving musings can actually increase well being.

Tuesday Reading

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Hi everyone! I have been keeping busy this week, as usual visiting relatives, having the dickens scared out of me at this haunted house/hayride, and preparing for a jaunt to Austin Texas. Here’s what I’ve been reading in between.
People always guess that I am from California instead of upstate New York. While I like to attribute it to my sunny outlook on life, it could be the dialects I use. Find out what area of the country your dialect comes from with this quiz.
It makes me a little sad that less than half of all adults read for pleasure these days.
What your go-to coffee order says about you. I DO like straws, and the blueberry beer in my fridge in October will tell you that I don’t let the seasons dictate my life.
Usher sings the ABCs on Sesame Street (probably because his boys are big fans). Too cute.
I have always loved having yogurt for breakfast. It was only in the past few years that I realized I should avoid the kind full of added sugar. Here’s how to find the right yogurt for you.
When you go see the new Hunger Games movie, now you can wear makeup to match Katniss!
The freedoms that being a financially solvent woman can grant, including ignoring those annoying pickup artists.
For all my Scandal fans, ways to be more like Olivia Pope.
What have you read this week?

Reading Can Improve Social Perceptions

booksThe term bookworm is usually associated with shy, introverted types who prefer the company of novels to actual people. While books can be a great tool for avoiding others –they give you something to stare at when that weirdo on the subway is looking your way –a new study published in Science journal found that reading literary fiction can actually improve social skills. People to read authors like Chekhov and then took tests that measured social perception, empathy, and emotional intelligence scored higher than people who read non-fiction or popular fiction, and higher than those who read nothing at all. The scientists involved believe the effect is due to novels that demand the reader suss out emotional subtleties to learn and make inferences about the characters in the plot. So go ahead and take the excuse to join your friend’s – coworker’s –cousin’s book club, and chalk up the wine you drink when you meet to the noble pursuit of enhancing your social skills. And if you’re curious about where you fall on the emotional empathy spectrum, take this fun quiz by The New York Times here (I got a 31/36!).

Knock on Wood, It Will Make You Feel Better

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Now I don’t feel so silly for all those times that I said something I knew would jinx me (Things are going so smoothly! Traffic is so light!), and then immediately knocked on wood to reverse the effect. A recent study by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business (that I read about on The Huffington Post) found that little superstitious tics like this may help alleviate fears. It might not actually stop the bad thing from happening (hello traffic!), but it can make you a little less terrified of the impending doom.

However, not all superstitious acts are equal. The most effective are ones that use movement down and away from your body, giving people a physical cue that they have negated the bad luck. The studies had their participants tempt their fate, and then take an action to remedy the situation (like knocking on wood), then evaluated their fear levels. People who had knocked on wood felt better. And it turns out that good luck charms can actually help you achieve better outcomes too. Who knew?

Never Wait for the Check

appWhen I go out to eat, I try to be an understanding patron. I have done my time waitressing, so I know sometimes things just go wrong and there’s nothing the waitress can do about it. The kitchen gets backed up. Another server takes the food that was supposed to go to your table. 10 tables come in at once, and things get hectic. Sometimes these things just can’t be helped. But one thing that can? Waiting endlessly for the check when you’ve finished your dinner, and just want to get the heck out of there.

Cover is a new app that lets you pay your bill using your phone with participating restaurants so that when you finish you can just get up and leave, no waiting involved. You just let your server know that’s how you’ll be paying, and the app displays your charges, allows you to enter tips and leave when you please. You can even split the check with other Cover users. Can’t wait to try it out!