Friday, July 27, 2018

Why I Created 5 Minutes to Less Stress

Why I Created 5 Minutes to Less Stress
By Alice Vo Edwards


As a volunteer for the Happiness Alliance and advocate for happiness and wellbeing, managing stress is something I know to be important. It's been repeated over and over again in studies as beneficial for everything from health to job satisfaction. Stress is a mind game - of course I want to get control of my mind and manage my stress! Why not? Yet with my own hectic life, I have found it nearly impossible to find time for regular stress-reduction classes outside the home, such as yoga, or meditation. 

*short video of why I created the class for those who don't like reading*

When I was a girl, a nearby neighbor would host yoga glasses in her home for $5 and we could just stop by. These days, most of us don't even know our neighbors, and prices for classes have gone up considerably.


Whether it be budget or time constraints or concerns that meditation or yoga takes too long (many people seem to think that these types of practices require a half our or more of focused time), I realized I was not alone in finding it difficult to balance work, family and self-care. I also realized that I was not the only person who wanted usable practices that did not require half an hour to an hour of my time, plus the drive time to go back and forth. Over time, I found a number of techniques and even developed one of my own that I call Responsive Tension Release(tm) that can all be done in 5 minutes or less. I've tested them with my kids, with friends and colleagues, and with a few groups of in-person classes, and have now made them all available online in an online course. 

To me, learning stress management techniques including meditation is the first step towards being able to be more of the "me" I want to be. With meditation, I am better able to keep from saying things I'll regret, or raising my voice, when I'm tired, frustrated, or angry. It also helps me handle the stress of public speaking and other stressful times in my life.

My hope is that the class will inspire others to be able to see that meditation and stress management is not impossible, hugely time consuming, or overly formal, ritualistic, or religious. Being able to practice the type of self-reflective behavior that meditation helps build in one is a valuable skillset that I wish everybody had - we'd all be happier and the world would be a better place for it. Hopefully, with this class, a few more people will gain it.

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5 Minutes to Less Stress is an online course that includes 7 basic and easy stress management techniques that are great for people with busy lives and little formal training in stress management methods. I also share all the resources I've found to help me practice meditation regularly, while being able to mix it up and keep myself from getting into a boring routine. 

You can check it out at https://www.udemy.com/5-minutes-to-less-stress/ where using the coupon code LAUNCH2018 will get you a discounted price of $9.99 for the full course.

Monday, May 21, 2018

How Cats Make Us Healthier And Happier People

Guest Post by Emily Parker


Whether it's a vacation or getting off the couch to exercise more often, there are a lot of simple things you can do in your everyday life to start bringing you more happiness. I’m all for huge personal transformations, but I love it when the little things just increase your quality of life and happiness in a way that you feel each and every day.

But there’s one thing we can do to hugely increase our chances of a happier (and healthier) life that I don’t hear talked about nearly enough. There are studies backing it, millions of people enjoying the benefits right now, and it’s not all that difficult or costly.

That one thing, of course, is bringing a cat into your life.

For example, if you're in the market for great entertainment that will boost your mood, spend a few minutes watching your cat play. According to research studies, doing so can boost your mood just as much as if you were with a spouse or best friend, and it's also been shown to help people suffering from mild to moderate depression.

And if you find yourself going nonstop each day and getting more and more stressed out, take a moment to observe your kitty. Chances are if they're not playing or eating, they're curled up taking a nap. By following your kitty's example and taking a quick power nap, you'll feel refreshed and ready to take on the world yet again.

Owning a friendly feline can help you make new friends, too, and friends have a massive influence on our mood! Whether you strike up a conversation with someone who's also standing in the pet food aisle trying to decide what Fluffy wants for supper or start talking with a fellow cat lover in the waiting room of a vet's office, you'll be around others who share your love of cats. As a result, the foundation for a beautiful friendship has been laid.

If you’d like to learn more about the health and happiness benefits of adopting a cat, check out the infographic below, or see the original article here on Catological.com.


Sunday, April 22, 2018

Nature and Happiness

Did you know the Happiness Alliance, and our happiness index, is born from the sustainability movement?  We got our start in 2010, as a project of Sustainable Seattle (Sustainable Seattle is the first community based non-profit to create regional sustainability indicators).

Some say the happiness movement represents a jump from sustainability, but we say that our happiness is founded on sustainability, and intrinsically tied to our natural environment. And our happiness data backs us up. 

This month's Happiness Data report is about the connection between our access to nature and happiness in terms of our sense of purpose and meaning in life.

We wondered if people with a greater access to nature have a greater sense meaning in life. Data from over 11,000 people who took our happiness index tells us that people who are satisfied or very satisfied with their access to nature have a greater sense of purpose and meaning in their lives. 

earth day banner 2

Why Getting Out into Nature or Bringing Nature to Your Life will bring you Happiness

So why should you care that  people who are more satisfied with their access to nature are happier?

Because overall, our happiness scores for feeling that things in our life are worthwhile are not so great.  This means one way to increase our sense of feeling worthwhile is to reconnect with mother nature. And because we know that sense of meaning in life and satisfaction with life are tied, in all probability, we an increase our sense of satisfaction with life by increasing our access to nature. 

earth

About the data

Earth Day Stat Report 2Data gathered via the Happiness Alliance's Happiness Index online with a convenience sampling of 11,398 respondents taking the survey in 2017 reveals a positive correlation between satisfaction with access to nature and sense of purpose and meaning with a d=.461 and p< .0005.  
Caveat: Further research is needed to understand what underlying factors may be influencing our findings. 

What You Can Do For Mother Earth and Your Happiness

We hope our data report inspires you to talk action to increase or maintain your happiness by connecting to nature. Here are a few ideas for taking action today. 

connect with nature 2

When we put our happiness first in a holistic and balanced manner, we come to know that our health, well-being and quality of life is a reflection of the sustainability of our natural environmentHere are a few ideas for Community Organizers and Policy Makers to contribute to people's happiness through environmental action. 

restore nature

Teaching and talking about our connection to nature is a great way to remind yourself about how important mother earth is to our happinessHere are three ways to engage the child in your life - or the child in you - with nature. 

children and nature

Earth Day 2018 Happiness Data Report by Alice Vo Edwards and Laura Musikanski.

Happy Earth Day. With Love. Happiness Alliance. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Wisdom of Taxi Cab Drivers

Recently, I was at conference held at UN speaking on a panel about Ethical Design for Artificial Intelligence. One of the hot topics in artificial intelligence is automated driving. In all the weighting of the costs and benefits of automated driving, I have yet to see the wisdom of taxi cab drivers figured in.

The moderator for the panel and I were on our way to dinner with the other panelists. We were taking a stroll to stretch our legs after the long flight to Geneva. Google maps app has lead, or rather mislead, us about a mile out of the way. Dinner was starting in 10 minutes. We hailed a cab. My French is passable, and I love talking to cabbies. The cabbie driver spoke French with an accent almost as pronounced as I, but not the same. Turns out he was from Spain, and he had been driving taxis in Geneva for 35 years. His wife was Swiss, and they had two children. I asked what he liked best about his job and he responded that what he enjoyed the most was meeting different people and hearing a little bit about their lives. He added the caveat that this was the case for visitors to the country or other immigrants, like him, but usually not for Swiss nationals. They, he said, generally would not speak to him except to give directions. His gestures and tone spoke of a certain sadness and resignation. We talked a little about the importance of connecting as humans, and how not making that connection can feel devaluing.

The cab ride was short, and I was unable to tell him that the most recent World Happiness Report revealed the very truth that he spoke of. Immigrants, whether living in a country for most of their lives and married to a national, or just arriving, are happier when they are treated as part of the fabric of a country and culture, instead of separated or ostracized. This does not mean that cultural differences should be eradicated, but rather that differences can be a point of connection through curiosity and respect.

The World Happiness Report for 2018 points to a sense of belonging as key to happiness for migrants. In countries where social exclusion is the norm, migrants suffer from discrimination and unhappy because of it. According to the World Happiness Report for 2018, ninety percent of people who migrate do so voluntarily. Only ten percent of migrants are refugees. Most people migrate for economic reasons, for career or educational reasons, or to enjoy greater freedoms, such as religious or political expression. A study done using the Happiness Alliance data found that reversing discrimination had a big impact on people’s happiness, and that everybody is happier; the people who suffered discrimination and those whose minds go from being prejudiced and biased to open.
At our panel dinner, we were joined by an ambassador, who invited us to his home the next night. The next day, around 6:30 pm, we hopped into a cab, and thus began my second sip from the cup of the wisdom of cab drivers.

This time, the cab ride was longer, and so the conversation richer. This cab driver came from Portugal, his wife also was Portuguese. They had two adult children and two grandchildren, all born in Geneva. His father had taken him to Brazil when he was a teen-ager to escape being drafted into war. He had migrated to Switzerland when he was in his twenties, seeing an opportunity to make a higher income than he could have in Brazil or Portugal. Now, 40 years later, he feels torn between one sense of home and another sense of home. His sisters and extended family live in Portugal, and he longs to be with them. He feels most at home in Portugal next to his sisters, nieces, nephews and other family members, but his children, born in Geneva, have no plans to migrate. He misses the warmth of his homeland, and feels shut out by a sense of cultural coldness. If he had his life to do again, he would not have chosen a higher income over family.

He could have been a spokesperson for the World Happiness Report. In South America, people generally experience the feeling of happiness, called “positive affect” by researchers, more than in other countries. Part of the reason for this is that family ties are strong and people’s concept of happiness are often founded on family. For example, if you ask someone from one of these countries what makes them happy, they are most likely to respond “family.” Migrating away from your family to make more money, or even to send money home, may seem like a good idea economically, but will probably lead to long term heartache. A short-term migration to save money and return home would probably have been a better option, but even that kind of migration can be hard in terms of feelings on both the person who migrates and the family left behind.

My next cab ride was from a Tunisian. I was happy to talk to him, as I was born in Tunisia. We had about 20 minutes to chat, and quickly he revealed his wisdom to me. He railed about the rich getting richer at the expense of the poor, and how the richer a person gets, the more they want. I egged him on, citing the Easterlin Paradox, by which after a certain level of income, returns on happiness are marginal. Before I was done with my explanation, he finished my thoughts saying that after a man makes a million dollars, he needs two million to make him as happy, then after that 10 million and so on so that at no point does he ever experience a sense of enough. We agreed so vehemently, we were both kind of yelling with enthusiasm about our mutual point by the end of the cab ride.

This point is one of the key lessons from the happiness movement: the Easterlin Paradox. In simple terms, money only buys happiness up to the point where you are able to meet your needs — from basic needs of sustenance and shelter, to needs of entertainment, creative outlet and learning. After that, there are only marginal increases to happiness, meaning it takes a lot of money to get a little bit of happiness.

The Tunisian cabbie seemed like a relatively happy person, and when I asked him if he was happy, he said some days, yes, somedays no, but our conversation had made him very happy. A lesson in the 2018 World Happiness Report regarding income levels, migrants and happiness has to do with social comparisons. People who migrate from poverty to a place of plenty experience a change in referenced point. After a relatively short point, while their income in the new country may seem extravagant compared to back home, it may feel like a pittance compared to the people around them. This is called social comparisons. Just because all of a sudden you can afford new Nike tennis shoes, you won’t necessarily be happier if most of the people around you are wearing the latest Stephano Ricci sneakers.

I took my last cabbie ride to the airport, early in morning. I am a homebody, and had been feeling homesick the entire trip, so was really looking forward to being home. 
The cabbie was from Haiti. We talked about what made for happiness in a country. His wisdom was that every type of government is more similar than different. For example, he said, in a dictatorship or in a democracy, the law is the law and when you break the law, you are punished. Food, jobs, housing is what makes people happy, he told me. A government that ensures people have food in their belly, jobs to work, and a place to live is the most important thing, according to him. He said that when his country was run by Papa Doc, people had food, jobs and housing. Life then, from his experience, was no different than in the democracy he lived in today. Food, jobs, housing he recited. The cab ride ended before I could ask him about the darker side of Papa Doc’s reign.

A discussion of the failures of democracy as a form of government in African nations is part of the 2017 World Happiness Report. It sites unmet expectations as one reason for the dissatisfaction with democratic forms of government and general unhappiness. Meeting needs — from the basic ones of food, jobs and shelter — to the higher needs of a sense of belonging, purpose and meaning, are all foundational to our happiness, so in a way, the Haitian cabbie had it right.

A long flight later, my little voyage was over and I was so glad to be home. For me, like for so many, family and home is where the heart is, and what makes me happy.
Read the World Happiness Report here. 

Friday, March 9, 2018

Are we failing our children?

The nation has been shocked and saddened by the recent shooting in Florida, and our hearts go out to all those involved. As we ask ourselves what could have been done to prevent such horrific action from a troubled youth, we ask ourselves, is he an outlier, or a symptom of a larger problem?

To delve deeper into this question, we reviewed the data survey respondents across the nation provided during 2017. Many schools and other groups encourage youth to participate, so we have responses from people as young as age 79. If you're familiar with the term midlife crisis, then you might understand that as researchers, we expect to see a u-shaped curve when we are looking at happiness, with that "midlife" group in the lowest bracket compared to the younger (12-17 & 18-26) and older (70-79) age groups. 



Here's what we found:

Purpose and Meaning:
Youth are not experiencing greater sense of purpose and meaning compared to their parents, and don't have a comparable sense of meaning compared to the elderly. This may be somewhat anticipated as they are often still seeking to determine where they fit into the greater scheme of life. Parents can help their children increase their sense of having a meaningful life by encouraging them to think about how their life impacts others around them in the now, rather than focusing on the distant future. 

Feelings of Anxiousness:
A worrisome pattern emerged when we looked at the question, "Overall, how anxious did you feel yesterday?" 18 to 26-year-olds were more anxious by far than 46 to 49-year-olds, and 12 to 17-year-olds were more anxious then 46-48-year-olds as well. This suggests that our youth are bearing a disproportionate emotional burden worries that may be difficult for them to process. Parents can help by talking to their children to assess what might be causing them concern, and seeking to help them alleviate any burden of anxiousness and the situations and conditions they are dealing with that give rise to anxiety.



Happiness and Life Satisfaction:
The questions regarding overall happiness and life satisfaction both demonstrated a more u-like shape, suggesting that overall levels of happiness and satisfaction with life are fairly good for our youth

A Worthwhile Life:
Youth-rated only slightly better than mid-life adults when it came to whether they felt that the things they do in life were worthwhile; this rating was far below the senior group. The importance of a sense of worth in your daily actions cannot be undervalued. Studies of self-worth in youth have shown that increased levels of self-worth serve a preventative function in reducing behavioral problems, problems with academic performance, and problems with emotional behaviors--exactly the type of problems we see occurring in this unfortunate incident. As parents, it is important that your child's sense of self-worth be supported to reasonable levels, and reasonable expectations of worthiness established and supported that are external from how other people treat them.  

What Can We Do?
It is a complex question and one that will take many parties and much effort, but one thing you can do is to set a good example and helping children and youth to find their happiness. Every child, youth and adult has the capacity, need and right to feel worthy, have a sense of purpose and meaning, and and to not be visited by anxiety on a regular basis.  You can help children find greater levels of self-worth, purpose, and inner happiness, by developing your own self worth, finding and following your life's purpose, and cultivating your own happiness. 



Monday, February 19, 2018

Planning for Happiness: Indonesia's Recipe for Happiness


This past week, at the Dialogue for Global Happiness in Dubai, Bambang Brojonegoro, the Minister of National Development Planning of Indonesia, presented  his nation's recipe for happiness. It is an approach  that will likely be quickly followed by other countries.

Indonesia is about one fifth the size of the USA. About 87% of the population are Muslim.  With approximately 253 million people, the population is about 78% of that in the USA. Imagine the population of the USA increasing four fold, from 323 million to 1.6 billion and you have an idea of the population density in Indonesia. On the Indonesia archipelago, over 300 language are spoken.  The average income is 90% less than that in the USA. This means many of the people in Indonesia live in poverty.





Indonesia's happiness ranking is pretty low. Out of 155 countries, its happiness ranking is 81, with one being the highest (Norway).  According to this happiness ranking, happiness is determined by six factors: Gross Domestic Product per capita (average income), social support (having someone to count on in times of need, generosity (donating but not volunteering), healthy life expectancy, perceptions of corruption in the government, and freedom to make life choices. In Indonesia, income, social support and generosity are the largest contributors to happiness, while perception of corruption does not figure for Indonesia's the rankings in 2017.




In light of this low score, at the Dialogue for Global Happiness, Bambang Brojonegoro posed the question: What to do? In the Indonesian government, the planning department is taking on the integration of happiness into sustainability and the operations of government. Their entry way is the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals (SGD), arranged in a pyramid.   The pathway for their integration is the three core values of Muslim religion: 1) Hablum minalla: people to God vertical relationship, Hablum minannas: people to people horizontal relationship and 3) Hablum minal'alam: people to nature relationship. These values are translated into Indonesian culture as 1) harmony of people with people, 2) harmony of people with nature and, 3) harmony of people with the spiritual.

But what does this mean in terms of practical application at the governmental level. In the words of Bambang Brojonegoro, what to do?

The pathway seems obvious for remedying a nation of people in poverty: economic development. But developing an economy aligned with the SDG goals that brings about the happiness and well-being of its people is not that obvious, as the economic development of many of the richest countries in the world well demonstrates (except maybe Norway...).   Bambang Brojonegoror spoke of goals within the framework of economic development: employment, household income and self development through education and skill training. He also talked about realizing these goals through programs and policies aimed at increasing the happiness and well-being levels of his nation's people. "Happiness will bring economic growth ultimately" he said. He seems to have things backwards from the accepted point of view. Genius.  It's a formula the rest of the world would do well to consider.

The measurement his government is using instead of GDP is a happiness index. Now, there are many happiness indices, from our own, the Happiness Alliance's Happiness Index, to Gallup's World Poll, the OECD Better Life Index, and many others.  But the Indonesian Planning Department decided to create their own. Maybe because they score so low on other indices, or maybe because the data would be more useful for their purposes, or maybe a combination of these and other factors, they have created what they call the Indonesia Happiness Index.

The Indonesia Happiness Index is composed of three parts: Life Satisfaction, Affect (feelings), and Eudaimonia (Meaning in life). This composition is aligned with the OECD Guidelines for Measuring Subjective Well-being. In the life satisfaction dimension "personal relationship satisfaction and social relationship satisfaction" are measured.  In the feeling dimension, "unworried feeling, happy feeling and un-depressed feeling" are measured. In the meaning of life dimension, "interdependency, self-acceptance, development and positive relation with other people" are measured.

The data will be used "so people's well-being...is the center of development" said Bambang Brojonegoro.  Plans at the Department of Planning are to first focus on what people value the most in Indonesia: ways of strengthening families. This approach of focusing on strengths to address areas of weakness is considered to be the pathway for economic growth in the long run. Again, genius. 

Bambang Brojonegoro ended his talk at the Dialogue for Global Happiness with a quote to explain the effect this approach has had on civil servants in the department of National Development Planning of Indonesia:

"Nothing makes us happier more than making others happy around us."

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Unhappy? You are not alone


The Gross National Happiness Scores for 2017 are here and the news is not good. At first we were suspicious of the low scores: maybe most of the people who took the survey were unhappy because of the current political situation  We decided to test our data. It turns out that we are not the only ones finding that people's happiness in 2017 took a dip. Gallup, a consultancy group that randomly polls, corroborates our findings, but also affirmed our suspicions: people who do not feel aligned with the current regime in the U.S. White House are suffering. 



Who is taking the Happiness Index Survey?

About 900 people a month take the Happiness Index survey. A little over half are women. The majority are between 25-65 years of age. Over 95% are from the U.S.A. although groups of people in Beirut, Kuwait, Japan, and Canada used our survey in 2017.  Many educators also use it.  (Anyone can, by signing up. It is all free). 

That said, most of the people who took the survey learned about it from a google ad, as we are the recipient of a grant from google. Our plan for 2018 is to expand our reach to include people we had not reached before. 

We will have more information about who took the survey and how happy (or unhappy) they are throughout the year.  

The bad news: where it hurts the most.

The bad news about our happiness scores is that we are unhappy where it hurts the most: our psychological well-being and our satisfaction with life.  Psychological well-being is measured with a flourishing index that includes questions about purpose, optimism, and positivity. Satisfaction with life gets at the question: are you are living a life that is right for you.  Historically, Americans score high in these areas even when they score low in the other domains of happiness.

This is concerning, because when we are hurting psychologically, there are impacts on our health, families, engagement in community,  job performance, and other aspects of our happiness and well-being.  

There is a strong message right now coming from the field of positive psychology that your psychological health is in large part under your control. The message goes something like this:  "If you practice mindfulness, gratitude and generosity on a regular basis, you will be happier. If you don't, it's your own fault you are not happy." 

We at the Happiness Alliance say that while you do have a choice about how you feel, it is only to a certain extent. The conditions of your life, also called the domains of happiness, have a big impact - particularly big when they are depleting instead of supporting your psychological well-being and satisfaction with life. So while it is good to develop your happiness skills, it is also crucial to do what you can to bring about the exterior circumstances that support your well-being. Having conversations about life's circumstances and the implications on your happiness and the well-being of others is the first step towards changing those conditions that are causing you to hurt. Then comes activism.  You can use our happiness index to spur these conversations and inspire action.  You can use our policy tools for taking action in your community for system change. 

The good news 

One area that our scores have increased is in lifelong learning. This is great news because it means we are engaging in ways that are increasing our capacity for taking action.

Learning is something we do throughout our lives. We learn on many different platforms.  Ken Wilber called them "modes of development."  They are kinesthetic, strategic, emotional, interpersonal, intrapersonal, social and cultural, intellectual, artistics, moral, and spiritual.  

Learning empowers us to make change happen.  

More about our happiness scores in our next newsletter

We will send you more information about our happiness scores in our next newsletters.  And...we welcome collaboration. If you are interested in joining our team or using our data for your research, email us at info@happycounts.org.

And you can always use our index for free - because we believe strongly that to see the change you have to be the change, and so our index for a paradigm shift in our economy, society and government will always be free.

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