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!