Why and how getting happier is easier than you think

May 31, 2012

After 5 years as a professional coach and nearly 10 years of research into personal development, I have found many fascinating similarities amongst people. One observation is that people often think increasing their happiness should require lots of energy and effort. It can’t be as simple as expressing gratitude.

Every month I deliver at least 2 positive psychology seminars, tomorrow I’m giving a seminar on The Science of Gratitude. Thus far, we have about 5 people registered. I know that more people will join us and I’m not stressing the numbers, I’m actually finding it reflecting the paradox of our thoughts. When I offer workshops on decision making, stress and overwhelm, we get dozens of people. My last speaking engagement on guilt and worry packed a small room with over 100 participants.

It seems like many people want to get rid of the challenges and obstacles in their life, but may feel that they have the whole “grateful thing” down pact. Now, I’m not saying that they might not, however, I’ve found that many of my coaching clients find that they can think of lots of things to be grateful for, but they don’t necessarily feel the gratitude.

I think people gratitude for granted. Maybe it’s too simple. It’s something your grandma would have wanted you to do… surely you need Prozac, not a little thanks… or do you?

Gratitude is one of the most powerful positive emotions. Studies show that expressing gratitude increased positive emotion and decreased depression symptoms. People reported having more energy, better sleep, alertness, enthusiasm, determination, feeling of being connected, optimistic. People who expressed gratitude were more likely to take better preventative care of themselves and meet their goals.

But this is only part of the story. Experience gratitude creates physiological changes in your body and shifts your biology. In tomorrow night’s workshop we are exploring not just what gratitude is, but how it works.

You’ll learn how to instantly shift from a negative or neutral emotional state into a positive one with the power of gratitude? You’ll learn simple and highly complex gratitude practices. You’ll learn how gratitude works in your body, mind and spirit. I’ve found that when my clients learn the mechanisms behind gratitude, how it works not just that it works, they are more likely to express gratitude regularly.

Want to join us? Click here for details. Can’t make it live? No worries, click here to preorder the recording at a discounted rate (use the code: ___ for __ off)

How much gratitude do you feel right now?

Here are 2 gratitude enhancers:

1) Write about 3 good things that happened to you and how you contributed to that good thing happening.

(Note: In research studies of this very exercise participants significantly increased their happiness level and decreased their rate of depression. Those effects held true 6 months later, particularly for people who valued the exercise and continued to do it.)

Think you have that down? Try what Abraham Hicks calls “A Rampage of Appreciation”.

2) List and feel as many things as you can, big and small that you’re grateful for 5 minutes straight or until you feel so full with the emotion it spews out of your chest. It’s harder than you think, but can completely energize your mind, your perspective and even your immune system.

Let me know how these practices go for you.

I’m grateful to have come across these tools. Understanding and practicing gratitude healed me from a life of bulimia and scarcity. Helped my transform my relationship with my mother and her slow death from Ovarian Cancer. And enables me to manifest new and profound things in my life every day.

I’m grateful that I get to share some of these Positive Psychology tools with you at the New York Open Center in NYC tomorrow at 7pm (the Science of Gratitude workshop), a venue that I spent many years visualizing myself speaking at and expressing future gratitude for the opportunity.


September 19, 2011

According to Change Your Brain, Change Your Body by Dr. Amen, there are specific things that can either enhance your will-power or deplete your resolve.


Will Power Boosters

Brain health

Focusing on brain protection

Adequate sleep

Frequent small meals with at least some protein to maintain healthy blood sugar

Enriched diet

Freedom from alcohol

Clearly focused, written goals

Journaling when sad or anxious

Meditation for relaxation and to boost 2the PFC

Killing the ANTs (automatic negative thoughts)

Gratitude practice

Practicing willpower

Being careful with too much pleasure or too much technology

Finding natural sources of pleasure

Engaging in meaningful activities

Social support

Effectively treating any brain problems


Understanding emotional triggers

Decreasing cravings with B6,magnesium and NAC

Boosting dopamine (L-tyrosine, DL-phenylalanine, SAMe)

Boosting serotoning (5-HTP, L-tyrptophan, inositol, St. John’s wort)

Boosting GABA (GABA, glycine, L-theanine)

Boosting endorphins (exercise,acupuncture, hypnosis)

Will Power Robbers

Any brain problems

Brain trauma

Poor sleep

Low blood sugar

Poor diet



Some form of depression


Negative Thinking

Focusing on problems and fears

Bad habits (giving in)

Too much pleasure

Artificial forms of pleasure

Negative or meaning less behaviors

Social isolation

Being in denial about problems

Lack of exercise

Denial of feelings


Doing this 1 thing everyday is more important than brushing your teeth!

July 13, 2011

In the yogic tradition meditation is a form of mental hygiene.  The same way you brush your teeth to keep them clean and healthy, meditation is a way of keeping the mind clean and healthy.  The constant stream of thoughts (i.e. worries about the future and ruminations of the past) clutter the mind and create mental plaque.

We’re obsessed with dental hygiene, right?  It would be unheard of to go days, weeks or months without brushing your teeth.  Imagine what you might look like if you never brushed your teeth.  Perhaps that’s what’s happening inside your mind…?

Today we’ll look at the role of meditation as hygiene and where you can get your mental toothpaste and brush.  I’ll dispute the top 4 excuses people’s mind creates for not taking the time to meditate and I’ll teach you 2 easy ways to start meditating today!

When was the last time you felt clear headed?  Is your mind calm or is it constantly racing in directions you don’t want it to go?  What’s more important for your existence, your teeth or your mind?

Admittedly, I have a hard time creating and maintaining a daily meditation practice. I’m getting better but it took me a while to get there.  Ironicaly I have spent years researching meditation.   I’ve taken courses, read books, worked with meditation coaches and I’ve even led meditations.  I’ve listened to yogis, intuitive and spiritual healers describe their meditation experiences.  I’ve read peer-reviewed journal articles on fMRI studies of what goes on in people’s brains when they meditate.  I’ve personally had awe inspiring experiences in meditation… Moments of stillness, beauty and connection… Yet, with all that, I could not always get myself to meditate consistently.

However, when one of my teachers, Yogi Charu, described meditation as daily hygiene a light bulb went off in my mind.  That concept helped me get committed to a daily practice.  Even if for just 5-10 minutes a day.

What stops people from meditating every day even when they know it’s good for them?  Here are 4 of the most common, conscious and unconscious, reason and excuses, I’ve used and I’ve seen come up for clients:

1.  “I don’t have time to meditate.”

I think people hear about people meditating for hours and think that they NEED 30-60 minutes in order to experience the benefits.  Simply 5-20 minutes of meditation is enough to get the benefits.   Five minutes is about the amount of time you spend waiting at 5 red traffic lights.  The longer you domeditate the stronger the benefits get, but even 1 minute is better than nothing.  Consistency is key.

2.  “I don’t know much about meditation or its benefits.”

Research shows that meditation increases the factors that promote well-being and decrease the factors that diminish it.  Meditation increases feel good chemicals in the brain such as serotonin and stimulates the left prefrontal cortex of the brain associated with positive emotions.  Meditation reduces stress, anxiety and risk for heart disease.  It improves digestion and helps with weight loss. It promotes better sleep, attention and cognitive function.

3. “Okay, I’m sold on the benefits, but I don’t know how to meditate.  I can’t get mental floss or mindwash at Duane Reade!”

This is true.  However, you don’t have to go anywhere for mental hygiene equipment, the tool is literally under the tip of your nose… Your breath.  In a moment I’ll teach you 2 meditation exercises.

4.  “I tried it but… I don’t know if I’m doing this right…!”

Yes, when meditating you don’t get to pick physical things out of your mind the way you do when you floss, however, you will feel lighter.  Research shows that meditation benefits rise slowly in the beginning, but over time every minute spent in meditation is exponentially stronger than early on in practice.  In one study, the biggest benefits kicked in after 2 months of meditation.  As far as doing it right, the mind will naturally wander.  If you catch it and bring it back to your meditation, you’re on the right path.  It’s deceptively simple, just stick to it.

The mental toothbrush and paste that cleans your mind up the quickest is your breath!  Here are 2 practices that I invite you to play with:

1. Simple 5:5:5 Breathing

This basic breathe involves inhaling for 5 counts and exhaling for 5 counts and repeating for at least 5 minutes.  Research shows that this simple exercise can increase heart rate variability (HRV); the higher your HRV the healthier you are.

2. Jedi Mental Hygiene

This exercise takes a lot more focus but it’s really powerful.  It stimulates both the left and right hemispheres of the brain, while bringing more calm and focus into your body.  You increase the count of your inhale each time by 1 while keeping the exhale constant, then after you get to inhaling for 10 counts you add another count on to the exhale.  It goes like this (I = inhale, E= exhale):

  • Inhale for 1: Exhale for 1
  • Inhale for 2: Exhale for 1
  • Inhale for 3: Exhale for 1
  • Inhale for 4: Exhale for 1
  • Inhale for 5: Exhale for 1
  • Inhale for 6: Exhale for 1
  • Inhale for 7: Exhale for 1
  • Inhale for 8: Exhale for 1
  • Inhale for 9: Exhale for 1
  • Inhale for 10: Exhale for 1
  • Inhale for 1: Exhale for 2
  • Inhale for 2: Exhale for 2
  • Inhale for 3: Exhale for 2
  • Inhale for 4: Exhale for 2

Continue like this… increasing the inhale for 1 until you get to 10, then increase the exhale by 1, until you get to inhale for 10: exhale for 10.

  • Inhale for 8: Exhale for 10
  • Inhale for 9: Exhale for 10
  • Inhale for 10: Exhale for 10

The whole exercise will take about 20 minutes.  Give one or both of these exercises a try and let me know how they go for you!

With love,
Your mental hygienist

P.S. Want to know why breathe is powerful  more about the amazing power of your breathe?!  Join me for my next FR-EE teleseminar title “Science of Breathe:  The Secret to Health Under the Tip of Your Nose,” Monday, July 21th at 12pm EST.  Click here to get access to the call.  Limited spots available!

Warning! Doing these things can depress you, so avoid them!

March 9, 2011

The first positive psychology study dates 20 years before positive psychology was established as a field.  In 1977, Michael Fordyce conducted a study where he showed that he could increase people’s happiness and life satisfaction by having participants do things that happy people do.  I’ll share with you the details of what these happy people did in next week’s newsletter.

This week, I draw on that same hypothesis to say, if you do as depressed people do you’ll make yourself depressed.

Here are 4 things to avoid doing:

  1. Avoidance:  People experiencing depression are more likely to avoid healthy risk taking behavior.  Their mind chatter convinces them out of it.  “Why bother going to that charity event tonight.  No one is going to talk to you.  You’re going to have a miserable time,” says the brain, and the depressed person buys into the excuse.  Encourage yourself to step out of your comfort zone with the desire to learn and grow.
  2. Social isolation:  Nurture the relationships you currently have.   We are social creatures.  Our primitive brain gets confused and often depressed when we don’t spend enough time with people or feel we don’t have close bonds to others that we can turn to for support.  Make authentic connections with people a priority.  Meet new people.  All people, on a fundamental, biological level, want to be cared for, seen and connected with.  Holding this information in your mind can make you more active in putting yourself out there.
  3. Lacking creative expression:  Humans have an innate drive to use their creativity.  It often gets stifled in the world of to-do lists, families, internet and other distractions.  One way of describing depression is that it is a form of learned helplessness, learning that nothing you do matters.  When you are using your creativity, making or doing things in the world, it is harder to feel that like nothing you do matters.  Whether it be a simple painting, writing piece, dinner you cook up, travel itinerary, photograph or dance sequence, using your creativity is empowering.
  4. Lack of exercise:  Your body is made to move.  You’re an animal, really you are!  Research shows that the anti-depressant effects of exercise are so strong that not exercising is like TAKING A DEPPRESSANT.  Research also shows that being sedentary for more than 30 minutes begins to make the brain less efficient and increases the release of cortisol (hormone for stress) in your body.   Not exercising puts you into a vicious spiral.  Since your body isn’t moving it has less energy, since it has less energy it’s harder to get yourself to move, which gives you even less energy.

Give these practices a go!  Your happiness is your birthright and your unhappiness can be prevented.

Love and light,

The Science of Why It’s Hard to Evolve

March 1, 2011

In nature, the only time that evolution takes place is out of necessity.

Giraffe’s grew longer necks because they had to, not out of vanity.  The critical thing that seperates humans from other mammals is our large frontal lobe, which enables us to consciously choose to evolve.  Nevertheless, evolution that does not happen out necessity will be harder.  It’s easier to recreate your life’s work when you get fired.  It’s easier to leave a toxic relationship when it’s tumultuous then when you hear the whisper, “I’m not really happy here.”

Understanding this evolutionary-biological principle can free you to step out of your comfort zone and stretch for what you really want in life.

In his book, Evolve Your Brain, Dr. Joe Dispenza points out that it’s human’s unique ability, thanks to our hefty brain, to consciously decide to make a change.  You don’t have to be a product of your circumstances or environment.

Nevertheless, your biology will lean towards difficulty changing when it’s not out of necessity.  You may ruminate, get a knot in your stomach or an anxious feeling in your chest.  It might take a lot of chutzpah (yiddish for audacity) or consoling from your friends.  All that is normal.  It’s easier to do things when there is a fire lit under you.  Thus, the key to evolving when it’s not out of necessity is to light your own fire.

It’s an interesting paradox you face being human.  On the one hand, you pop out of the womb fully equipped to grow, explore and expand.  On the other, you are wired to form patterns and habituate to life.  We have the drive for evolution and the fear of evolution.  (This ties in beautifully to the eastern traditions theory of duality, but that’s a whole other article.)

Challenging yourself towards growth and expansion requires fueling your own fire and managing your mind.  One of two things needs to happen.

  1. Make yourself sick of your current state. The adage, “you have to hit rock bottom to change is referencing the concept, evolution is difficult when not out of necessity.  I personally try to avoid needing to hit rock bottom (but trust me, I’ve been there).  To do so, make a list of all the reasons you are fed up with your current level.  Write what your life would be like 1, 3 and 5 years from now if you didn’t make this change. The more feeling words you get in there, the better.
  2. Be pulled by the future. Change takes effort.  Research shows that one of the benefits of visualization is it’s stimulating effect.  You can get physiologically aroused when you fantasizing about the future.  (I know what you’re thinking… “Emiliya, did you really need research to figure that one out?”)  The kind of arousal I’m referring to here is the rush of adrenaline or excitement you get when you think of yourself accomplishing your future goals.  Visualization can help you overcome the hump of feeling stuck on your current level.  Write your vision of what your evolved life would be like. The more feeling words, the more stimulating.
  3. Talk back to your mind. When you’re mind makes excuses, procrastinates or ruminates on making a change, remind yourself that it’s just your brain acting out of habit.  Write down your mind chatter and evaluate whether you can know any of the statements to be absolutely true.

Need help evolving or breaking through in your life?  Feel like your stuck?  You’re not quite at rock bottom, but the need for change is boiling inside you?  Contact me or call me for a free coaching consultation at +1-212-356-8747 (212-F-L-O-U-R-I-S-H).

The Permission to Be Human

July 31, 2009

When was the last time you gave yourself the permission to be human?

This is a powerful concept that was first introduced to me by Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar. His course on positive psychology is the most popular class at Harvard University, drawing over 800 students a semester and over 20 teacher’s assistants.

You never thought you’d see happiness taught at Harvard right?

I first heard Tal speak at a positive psychology summit in Washington D.C. He showed a video clip of a baby who was playing and giggling, then all of a sudden crying, then back to giggling and crying again.

It was quite a funny feat. Everyone in the crowd was laughing.

Tal points out that children express a wide range of emotion in a short period of time… She’s running around laughing, then her sister takes her toy and she starts crying, until something distracts her and suddenly she’s back to being happy again.

You don’t see a child going, “I’m upset because someone took my toy and I want to cry, but no, I should not cry. I’m not going to cry.” For the most part, kids just express their emotions as they experience them.

Many adults, on the other hand, do not. Now, of course there is a difference between adults and kids. We like to think of adults as being more emotionally stable. Not crying one moment and laughing the next.

But experiencing and expressing emotions is vital to living a healthy life.

So if you’re feeling sad, allow yourself to experience that sadness. If you’re feeling angry, experience that anger. Problems occur when people hold on to emotions or try to hide them.

A few months ago, my boyfriend and I broke up. We had a really beautiful relationship and it was a mutual decision. I was upset. I cried and expressed my sadness.

My friends and family who all care about me were trying to cheer me up. Stop me from crying. Now, I love them dearly and know they were trying to do what they felt was best for me but I wanted the permission to be human.

I wasn’t a hurricane wreck after this breakup. Even though it was mutual, I knew that I would miss the relationship. Feeling sadness was an appropriate reaction. I allowed myself to experience and express my sorrow and shortly after that I was fine.

That’s because I know about the permission to be human.

If I were to have tried to swallow the pain, or hide it, or pretend it wasn’t there, I would pay for it later on. I would have never actually dealt with it.

There is nothing wrong with negative emotions. Negative emotions become a problem when you get stuck in them. If I continued to cry my eyes out for weeks and fell into a heavy depression, then it would have been a problem.

Most of us want as much positive emotions in our lives as possible. But it’s important not get stuck in positive emotions either. You can’t be happy ALL the time. If you are then you are most likely bi-polar and in a maniac state (possibly facing an equally extreme depressive state soon).

A fear that keeps us positive psychology practitioners up at night is that positive psychology will turn into “happiology”, where people feel they have to be happy all the time. Or that negative emotions are bad and should not be experienced.

The other day I read an article in Yoga Journal that compared our emotions to spices. A healthy diet should include a variety of different flavors salty, sweet, spicy, bitter and sour. Similarly, our lives are filled with lots of different emotions and you want to experience that variety as they come up.

I love this analogy because it reminds us just how rich our emotional spectrum can be. You can feel happy, sad, angry, content, joyful, playful, embarrassed, surprised, mad, bashful, excited, romantic, calm, tired, and so on. We get so caught up in “I feel good” or “I feel bad,” that it is sometimes difficult to even find the words to describe what emotion you feel.

The permission to be human involves honoring that emotions (both positive and negative) serve a purpose. Allow them to pass through you, as opposed to fighting back or holding on to them.

Once you start giving yourself the permission to be human. To make mistakes and fix them. To not always be perfect and to be a work in progress. You’ll find you can give other people in your life the permission to be human as well.

It’s a powerful yet challenging process to integrate into your life. But try it on. We spend so much time and mental energy being hard on ourselves.

We tell ourselves things like, “You should do this!” “Why didn’t you say that?” Most of the time that voice inside your head is not serving you. It’s not helping you get what you want out of life. And it most certainly is not giving you the permission to be human.

This week, make this your mantra, “I give myself the permission to be human”. Try it out.

E-mail me (emiliya@emiliya.com) and let me know how it worked for you.

Humanly yours,

P.S. If you’d like to learn more about how positive psychology differs from “happiology,” check out my article, “What is Positive Psychology?” at www.emiliya.com/articles

P.P.S. Sign up for my weekly newsletter and receive a FREE copy of “5 Ways to Increase Your Happiness in Under 5 Minutes.” Go to www.emiliya.com.

Discovering and using your strengths

May 23, 2008

Welcome to my blog!

For the next few weeks I will be blogging about strengths: What are they? How do we discover them? How do we use them?

Strengths are a big focus in positive psychology; we focus on building what is right with people rather than just trying to fix people’s weaknesses.

Those of you familiar with psychology may know of a book called the Diagnostics and Statistical Manual IV- affectionately known as the DSM-IV. This manual is used to diagnose or at the very least label all the things that can possibly be wrong with people.

Drs. Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman pointed out that psychologists now understand a great deal about what is wrong with people and very little to nothing about categorizing what is write with people. They took on what I consider the largest project in positive psychology’s history. They scientifically studied and identified character strengths and virtues that have been identified throughout history and multiple cultures. The published a voluptuous book called Character Strengths and Virtues and a handy-dandy (albeit lengthy) questionnaire for figuring your strengths out.

Before I spill the beans about where you can take the questionnaire to discover your strengths (for FREE!). Think about your strengths?

What are you naturally good at?

Now strengths are different from talents. You can be a talented singer or basketball player. Hitting high notes and dribbling balls are talents.

Being a leader, curious about the world, empathetic and supportive, those aren’t talents they are strengths.

A good way to figure out your strengths is to think about what you did in the past few days that made happy? Then begin to dig deeper and look for the strengths that you displayed there.

For example, I had a great coaching session with a client today that made me feel great. One of the reasons it felt so great was because I was using my strengths

Make a list of 5 things that you consider to be your strengths.

Then log onto www.authentichappiness.com, sign up real quick, and take the VIA Character Strengths questionnaire. Taking the complete version might take you 30 or so minutes. If you’d like, take the abridged version- The Brief Strengths Test, which is 24 questions and should take less then 5 minutes. There is also a children’s version.

Find out what some of your strengths are. Do these strengths match the list you created?

To delve deeper into the world of strengths check out this web site www.viacharacter.org.

In the next few blog posts I’ll look at each of Peterson and Seligman’s 24 Strengths. Then we’ll explore Gallup’s Strength Finder which is all about the use of strengths in careers and business.

Looking forward to hearing from you!