Want to be happier? It’s YOUR choice.

Disclaimer: I’m not a happiness guru, but have spent time researching positive psychology and try to incorporate it into my daily life. Happy reading! (See what I did there?)

Phew! It’s definitely that time of the semester. Midterm exams are wrapping up, spring break will soon be upon us, and we’re ready to take a hiatus from our daily routines. Whether you’re heading home, venturing to a tropical destination, or staying on campus, I encourage you to take some time to recharge and refuel. One way to accomplish this is by focusing on your happiness. Often times we rely on the external environment to bring us joy. This implies happiness just happens to us; it fails to take into account the vital role we play in creating our own experiences that contribute to our sense of fulfillment and purpose. One of my favorite quotes is: “Happiness is a skill. It requires effort and time” (Dr. Andrew Weil). This suggests we are the owners of our happiness. It’s OUR choice. Wondering how you can be happier? Don’t fret – research has identified various ways you can build life-changing habits. Three strategies are shared below.

Being mindful
Being mindful is “consciously bringing awareness to your here-and-now experience, with openness, interest, and receptiveness.” The act of savoring, or living in the moment and being mindful of all the wonderful things happening around you, has been shown to boost optimism and positive feelings. Have you ever been at a meal and notice everybody is on their cellphones not paying attention to one another? The answer is likely “yes.” This is the opposite of savoring. Instead, make an effort to be fully present, physically and emotionally, in your experiences. Savoring can be categorized into three stages: savoring the past (by recalling pleasant memories), savoring the future (through positive anticipation), and savoring the present (by being mindful). The bottom line is to reflect and discover activities you enjoy and to be ALL IN. Soak it up.

Being grateful
Research has shown that those who participate in daily gratitude exercises have reported higher levels of optimism, determination, and energy. Being grateful is two-fold: (1) being aware of the many blessings in your life, and (2) finding ways to show your appreciation. Reflection is key. Take time to think about all that you have to be thankful for in your life (i.e. being a member of the your various communities, your abilities, your talents, your relationships, etc.). One way to do this is to create a gratitude journal. Each night record what you are grateful for from that day. Maybe it was a thoughtful conversation with a friend, a phone call with a family member, an academic accomplishment, an athletic victory, or something as simple as a delicious dessert. End your day on a positive note and realize there is ALWAYS something to appreciate. One way to demonstrate your gratitude is to write (handwritten) ‘thank you’ notes to people who have impacted your life. This act of thanking others has been shown to increase happiness for both parties.

Being kind
It’s no surprise that when you give someone something, you make them happier. What you may not know is studies have shown the giver, not the receiver, gains more benefits. Being kind helps us feel less isolated and more connected to the world and those around us. Think about ways that you can give – not only financially, but also with your time and presence. Have you participated in a service trip or a volunteer opportunity? Take advantage of all the wonderful offerings in the community. More informally, think about ways you can give to your friends and family. What can you do to help someone else?

Nothing mentioned above is groundbreaking. It’s all fairly straightforward. My hope is it sparked your interest and invited you to reflect on ways you can incorporate these skills into your life. Go out there and choose happiness 🙂

Want more information? Check out Happify online at: http://www.happify.com

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My One Word: Positivity

Happy New Year! If you’re anything like me, the holidays are wonderful time to take a break from the stresses of work and the real world, and spend time  a with loved ones doing things you enjoy. The welcoming of the new year provides a perfect time to stop, stretch, and think about the tremendous opportunities that lie ahead. This winter break I spent a great deal of time reflecting on the past year. It’s been a year of transitions for sure. Exactly one year ago, I entered my final semester of graduate school and began the exciting yet anxiety-inducing process of applying to jobs. In May, I graduated from my master’s program alongside 18 members of my cohort who became my UConn family. Before moving to Pennsylvania for the summer to work as a camp director, I accepted a position as a Community Director at a Boston-area college, where I began my employment in mid-July. For the past five and a half months I have had the opportunity to do what I love – work with supportive and dedicated colleagues to enhance my students’ residential experiences. Conversely, I have found how easy it can be to loose sight of the importance of our work in student affairs and our role as educators.

Over the past two weeks, I have thought a lot about my work, the seemingly endless hours I dedicate to my students, and how to become a better professional. I have come to the realization that in order to best serve others, I need to take care of myself. Instead of writing a laundry list of things I wish I had done differently (which would be fairly lengthy), I am reflecting on what I have learned about myself this semester: What brought me happiness? When did I feel most successful? WHY do I do this work? Although I may not be thrilled about living in college housing for my 7th year, the connections I am able to make with my students and colleagues energize me and remind me why I entered this field.

Rather than focus on how to be a better practitioner, I am making a commitment to better myself physically, mentally, and emotionally. By continuing to improve myself, I will inevitably become a more effective employee, coworker, supervisor, educator, (insert additional roles here).  Instead of writing a list of changes I’d like to make this year, I am focusing my energy and attention on one word for 2014. My one word is: positivity. I will concentrate on this throughout the year. Choosing one word helps to provide clarity and creates a vision for the future. My hope is to incorporate more positive thinking and genuine happiness into my life. This blog will document my journey. I hope you join me on what promises to be a great year.

So, what one word will you choose to focus on in 2014?

Here’s to a year (and many more) filled with love, joy, curiosity, wonder, and positivity!

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Motivational Quote Board

I’m a huge fan of motivational and inspiration quotes. In addition to surrounding myself with positive and supportive people, I enjoy posting quotes around my apartment and office as a reminder to stay positive, work hard, and live life to the fullest. Below is a quote board I recently made for my office. It’s a simple way that I remind myself every day to stay positive and be grateful for all I have. I hope you’re having a wonderful Tuesday!

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Do more of what makes you happy.

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I highly recommend picking up a copy of “The Happiness Project” (http://www.happiness-project.com/). Gretchen Rubin does a wonderful job detailing her yearlong journey towards living a happier, more fulfilling life. One piece of advice that really resonated with me was the idea of honing in on activities that make you happy. So often we try to force ourselves to find activities interesting and enjoyable when in reality they are not, or at least not to us.

I was recently asked by a colleague: “what do you like to do for fun?” Great question! It is not often, unfortunately, that I sit back and think about what makes me tick. I reflected for a few minutes on what makes me happy: I like sitting at Starbucks on a Sunday afternoon reading a good book (especially now that I have free time since grad school). I enjoy exercising and trying out new, healthy, vegetarian recipes. I love my job and the dedicated professionals and students I work with each day.

I encourage you to take a few minutes today to think about what truly makes you happy. The keyword here is you. Only you know what you enjoy doing. Maybe it’s spending time with family and friends. Maybe you like painting or hiking or visiting museums. Do more of what makes YOU happy.

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“Have to” vs “Get to”

The language we use not only impacts those around us, but also shapes who we are as individuals.

I was at a training recently where the presenter focused on helping the attendees develop an attitude of gratitude. He shared it is often the words we use that can have the greatest impact on our lives. Ironically, we often do not give much thought to what we say or how we say it. We were encouraged to think about the phrase “have to.” This phrase typically makes an appearance in our conversations when we are faced with a less than pleasant task. For example: “I have to go grocery shopping…I have to go to work tomorrow…I have to go to the gym.” “Have to” implies a requirement or obligation and often has a negative connotation attached to it. The presenter suggested we shift our perspective from “have to” to “get to.

Think about this for a minute. Instead of having to do something, you get to do it. This slight change in your language will slowly alter your perspective. No longer do you feel as though you are required to do something, but rather now you have the opportunity to do it. “Get to” implies a sense of appreciation and gratitude. You get to go grocery shopping (many people do not have this privilege). You get to go to work tomorrow (many unemployed individuals wish they had a job to go to). You get to go to the gym (many people are physically unable to exercise or cannot afford a gym membership).

I have been trying to implement this new perspective into my life and encourage you to do the same. Instead of feeling an obligation to do something, be grateful you have the opportunity to do it. I hope you go out there and have a wonderful Friday!gratitude7

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What are you truly grateful for today?

Over the past year or so I have taken a strong interest in learning more about happiness. How do you become a happier person? What do happy people do? What does true happiness feel like? After doing some research, I’ve learned that one of the best ways to be happy is to be grateful for what you have. That may sound simple, but to truly be grateful for all you have takes practice. It means being mindful and conscious of the little things in life, like the fact that you woke up this morning, that you have a job, that you have a supportive and loving family…and the list goes on. At the summer camp I used to work at, we would stress to our counselor staff and campers the importance of demonstrating gratitude. I think this concept extends far beyond summer camp, and if implemented correctly, can change your life for the better.

I have presented workshops on positive psychology and on finding ways to live a more fulfilling, meaningful life, and the common denominator of all of these presentations is gratitude. The more thankful we are for all we have, and the more frequently we show our gratitude to those around us, the better we feel. Are you just beginning your journey towards becoming a more grateful person? Check out the video below and learn the gratitude dance! Thank you for stopping by and reading my post! (Do you see what I did there? A little gratitude goes a LONG way.)

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A little motivation for your Thursday morning…

As you start you day remember that you can do anything you put your mind to. There will be difficult days (or even weeks), but know that you can do it. You may need to rearrange your life and your daily routine, but just think how happy you’ll be when you meet (and exceed!) your goals. Write down your goals and milestones, revisit them often, and celebrate your accomplishments. Happy Thursday!

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