daisiesWhat’s the best part of today, June 1?

* June 1 is International Children’s Day.
* June 1 was Marilyn Monroe’s birthday.
* And, in news especially close to my heart since it refers to my favorite instrument, June 1 starts National Accordion Awareness Month in the U.S.!

What’s the best thing that happened to you today? OR
What’s the best thing that you expect to happen today!?

My answer is in the comments. Welcome to question Fridays! Would love to know what the best part of today, June 1st, was for you!

I’ll be teaching a class on Wednesday in Greenwich, CT.
WHEN: 7-9pm
WHERE: Greenwich High School
REGISTER: Here (preferred) or at-the-door.

The Science of Happiness

In 1998, Positive Psychology was launched by then American Psychological Association president Martin Seligman. Positive Psychology is a branch of psychology that studies what makes people happier, more productive, and more successful . What is this new “science of happiness”? In this two-hour workshop, we will go through the basics of the science of happiness and its applications to your life. We will cover physical happiness, mental happiness, emotional happiness, and self happiness. Some particular topics that we will address:

* How does optimism increase focus and affect physical health?
* You are what you say: how can you respond to people most effectively, how can you praise people and children well?
* How can you open up your creativity and decision-making skills?

* How can you create new successful habits?

Senia Maymin, MBA, MAPP, is an Executive Coach and Editor-in-Chief of Positive Psychology News Daily (www.pos-psych.com). In addition to coaching, she has a background in high-tech and finance. She completed her AB in Mathematics and Economics at Harvard University, her MBA at Stanford University, and her Master in Applied Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania (Martin Seligman’s program, the only such master’s degree in the world). Website: www.Senia.com.

I’ve been on a health kick recently. And part of my health kick is eating bread on the weekends only – so no bread on weekdays. I really love fresh bread, so I tend to have a bit of it on the weekends. And I have bread with a thick swab of butter on it.

And then … the funny thing that happens is that the weekend is over, but on Monday I still crave butter.

Why do I crave butter on Mondays, and what can I do about it?

I’m asking more generally, how can you create a new habit for yourself such as:

  • Exercising on Monday when you’ve lounged the weekend away, or – better yet – spent it in a daze in front of the TV.
  • Prioritizing better at work after overloading yourself with to-do’s and promises to people.
  • Skipping the additional candy when you just want to reach for it in the bowl at the office.

You’d better create some new mental pathways!

We spoke here about Ann Graybiel’s research that new habits come about when a new neural pathway is strong enough. And we spoke here about the benefit of daily practice toward achieving anything in life.

That’s what happens on Mondays. Your old neural pathways want to kick in. Especially if you used to eat butter on any old day of the week, and now you’re limiting yourself to the weekends.

So what can you do to counteract that strong urge, that mental temptation?

1) As Ann Graybiel says, do not allow yourself trigger situations. Don’t go into a bar if you’re getting sober. Don’t have M&M’s in the house if you have a no-chocolate resolution. Don’t have butter in your home – always go out to have butter.

2) And her second suggestion, make the new habit stronger than the first habit. Create stronger, more firm new neural pathways. Make the old habits into a piece of thread, and the old habits as reinforced as a thick sailor’s rope.

And the funniest thing – daily practice. Each time you say “no” to something you don’t want and say “yes” to something you want, you are increasing the chances of being able to say “yes” to the good habit again later, you are increasing self-regulation.

Happy daily practicing of your best habits!

Go act! (Don’t doubt yourself.)

Laugh at yourself, but don’t ever aim your doubt at yourself.
Be bold. … Have the nerve to go into unexplored territory.

~ Alan Alda

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.

~ Marianne Williamson

Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.

~ Dale Carnegie

Do what you’re great at. (Don’t underestimate yourself.)

Insist on yourself; never imitate.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson quotes

Don’t be humble; you’re not that great.

~ Golda Meir

Too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are.

~ Malcolm S. Forbes

Whether you are a villain or a good person is for you and you alone to decide: you are worth precisely what you want.
~ André Comte-Sponville

We talked earlier about how being good can be hard. And yet…. And yet…. At the same time as potentially being hard, being good can feel so right. As Will Smith says, “Think of yourself as two people, and one of them is inside of you, and he’s a scorekeeper. And he keeps score of your idea of the world. … And when you have a conflict with your scorekeeper, that’s unhappiness. Happiness is being completely in sync with your own perception of goodness.”

White lies are bad for the soul.

White lies can harm your soul. Every time we take an action, we strengthen the neural pathways for that action. Why would you want to strengthen the neural pathways of deceit?

Alvin talks here about how showing yourself personal commitment can strengthen your emotional core. While lies can be like worms. One won’t phase you, and you can just brush it off your pant leg. But a whole bunch of them can … well, you get the picture.

Imagine a seesaw. “One should see the world, and see himself as a scale with an equal balance of good and evil. When he does one good deed the scale is tipped to the good – he and the world is saved. When he does one evil deed the scale is tipped to the bad – he and the world is destroyed.” ~ Maimonides (from here. Related: this and this.)

Every time a person makes a white lie, a person’s inner scorekeeper says, “Huh?” We are people and we use some types of defense mechanisms, so our brains would need to give that “huh?” an answer. And the answer can be, “It’s ok that I white-lied – I need to / I was in rush / It doesn’t hurt anyone anyway.” Or the answer can be, “No, that’s wrong. I feel wrong about it, and I don’t want to feel wrong. I won’t white-lie next time.”

People are always doing things to be in sync with their beliefs about the goodness of themselves. Whether it’s rationalizing something away or belittling the importance of being good or just adopting an attitude of not-caring. And the simplest thing to do to be in sync with your own perception of goodness? The easiest thing to do is to be good.

How can you decide whether to white-lie or not?

You could decide very logically, “Is the worth of the white lie worth more than the harm of it?” Almost an economic approach. When has it been worth it to say to yourself, “No, I’m not a bad person?” Why would it ever be worth it to put yourself into a situation in which at the end of the situation, you have to reassure yourself that you actually weren’t being bad? …. If you have to reassure yourself (even it it takes a nanosecond and even if the thought is semi-automatic), then your mind already knew that you had done the wrong thing. Why would you ever take an action that embeds into your brain that you are ok with sometimes doing something that feels a little bit wrong?

Another way that you could decide whether to white-lie or not is that you could decide from a very principled stance, “Is that something I do?” Here’s where our earlier discussion of self-regulation and creating new habits resurfaces. Perhaps your self-regulation for yourself is that generally you do not white lie. It’s just not worth the thinking about it. It’s just not worth the questioning of your core principles. (I’d recommend putting the “generally” in there because on the extreme side if it’s a question of life-or-death vs. a white lie, of course you’d white-lie. An extreme position just makes it easier to fall later. I just had a talk with a friend about rarely using the words “always” and “never.”)

“Everyone tries to define this thing called Character. It’s not hard. Character is doing what’s right when nobody’s looking.
~ Anonymous (from this set of quotes)

“Happiness and moral duty are inseparably connected.”
~ George Washington

“Achievement of your happiness is the only moral purpose of your life, and that happiness, not pain or mindless self-indulgence, is the proof of your moral integrity, since it is the proof and the result of your loyalty to the achievement of your values.”
~ Ayn Rand

“The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live.”
~ Ayn Rand

“About morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after.”
~ Ernest Hemingway

“As a child I was taught that to tell the truth was often painful. As an adult I have learned that not to tell the truth is more painful, and that the fear of telling the truth—whatever the truth may be—that fear is the most painful sensation of a moral life.”
~ June Jordan

“Goodness is the only investment that never fails.” …and… “Nature is goodness crystallized.”
~ Henry David Thoreau

“If you would convince a man that he does wrong, do right. But do not care to convince him. Men will believe what they see. Let them see.”
~ Henry David Thoreau

“Ethics begins when we are free: it is freedom itself, when that freedom is considered and controlled.”
~ André Comte-Sponville

How can you be happy unless you have some self-respect? And how can you respect yourself unless you control yourself, master yourself, overcome your failings? … Ethically speaking, it’s pointless wishing you were someone else. You can dream of being rich, healthy, good-looking, happy … But it is absurd to dream of being virtuous. Whether you are a villain or a good person is for you and you alone to decide: you are worth precisely what you want.
~ André Comte-Sponville

The essence of morality is a questioning about morality; and the decisive move of human life is to use ceaselessly all light to look for the origin of the opposition between good and evil.”
~ Georges Bataille

“The only immorality … is not to do what one has to do when one has to do it.”
~ Jean Anouilh

“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts: therefore, guard accordingly, and take care that you entertain no notions unsuitable to virtue and reasonable nature.”
~ Marcus Aurelius

“Happiness is inward and not outward; and so it does not depend on what we have, but on what we are.”
~ Henry Van Dyke

“Think of yourself as two people, and one of them is inside of you, and he’s a scorekeeper. And he keeps score of your idea of the world. … And when you have a conflict with your scorekeeper, that’s unhappiness. Happiness is being completely in sync with your own perception of goodness.
~ Will Smith

“. . . happiness is the highest good, being a realization and perfect practice of virtue, which some can attain, while others have little or none of it. . . .”
~ Aristotle

Note: Posted on 1-26 for 1-25.

I’m getting married in the mornin’!
Ding dong! The bells are gonna chime.
Pull out the stopper!
Let’s have a whopper!
But get me to the church on time!

~ My Fair Lady, Get Me to the Church on Time

How can you get to sleep on time? On your time. At the time you want to fall asleep? WebMD has 12 tips for better sleep. I completely agree with one of the tips:

Allow yourself one hour to unwind before bed. Brush your teeth one hour before getting into bed and wash your face slowly with warm water. Set the mood for relaxation before bed. This is not a time to be rushing about or planning the following days events. Do this earlier in the evening.

What can you do to relax as completely and as simply as you can before bed?
Can you
* Light a candle,
* Have some camomile tea,
* Brush your hair,
* Meditate,
* Breathe,
* Read some poetry?

What can you do to prep your body that it is about to go to bed? What cues can you give to your body (smell – light-fragrance candle, sight – darken the lights, touch – put on pajamas and night clothes, taste – brush your teeth, hear – put on classical music)? Or other cues? How can you give your body a clue that sleep is about to happen?

That is the single-best thing you can do for your body to get ready for sleep – to put it in the mood for sleep. I suggest getting ready for bed between 10 and 11pm. You need to be in bed by 10 or 11pm for optimal functioning, in my humble unscientific in this case, opinion.

And, yes, this will take longer than your usual routine, and yes, you’ll need to factor that time into your day, but it will pay off in healthy, full sleep.

One more tip: get ready for bed, get everything ready (including all these above cues), and then just get in bed and read. Read books for fun, not necessarily books for work or for homework. Marsha Norman says that if you’re a writer, you should read for four hours every day, and if anyone asks you what you’re doing, tell them that you’re busy and you’re reading. And for those of us who are not writers, reading is so opening, so exhilirating, so freeing, so full – it is the ideal pre-bedtime activity. Reading takes us into different worlds. And by doing so absolutely prepares us for bed.


  • Create a relaxing bedtime ritual. Create cues for sleep.
  • Go to bed 10-11pm.
  • Read in bed until you’re tired enough to fall asleep.

Note: I know these above won’t work for everybody. That’s why they’re my opinoons and my suggestions only.

Why does a day sometimes start the night before? For example, in religions, if tomorrow were a fasting day, then the fast would start at nightfall today. Also, in sports, your coach will often tell you what you eat the night before and how you sleep the night before are very important. Folks often arrive to far away meetings the night before to “be fresh” the next morning. Another example: Christmas EVE. Evenings are the precursor to days.

Recently, a group of researchers led by Nobel-prize winner Daniel Kahnemann has been studying people’s happiness in a very simple-to-grasp way: people were asked to write down at the end of each day which activities they enjoyed and which they didn’t (as you can imagine, “intimate relations” was highest and commuting was lowest on the list). Most interestingly, “Events such as a poor night’s sleep had a large impact on how people felt about what they did the following day,” says this study summary.

This reseach appeared in the Dec 3 issue of Science Magazine (abstract here). The method of asking to sum up the enjoyments of the day is called the Day Reconstruction Method, and the researchers asked about 900 women in Texas to complete these forms. Because the data was for women only, the researchers do not claim that it’s generalizable to the entire population.

The fascinating book Sleep Thieves talks in detail about the physical harm to the body that happens when deprived of sleep. The author Stanley Coren talks about people being more accident-prone and increasingly exhausted. One of the more interesting parts of the book is when Coren describes the fact that sleeping less one night and trying to “catch up” the next night or few nights does not get your body back into its balance: there is something lost when sleep is lost.

Today we’ve talked about why sleep is so important. And tomorrow, we’ll talk about how to get more full, healthy sleep.

Some fun thoughts on sleep:

  • CNN reports that stock strategist James Montier recommend in ’04 that people focus less on stocks and focus more on things that really make them happy – love, sex, exercise and sleep.
  • “Sleep in the City” study (summary here) that finds that people get the best sleep in cities including Minneapolis , Detroit, Anaheim, San Diego, raleigh, DC, Chicago, Boston, and Austin, and the worst sleep in cities including Detroit, Cleveland, Hashville, Cincinnatti, New Orleans, NY, Las Vegas, Miami, San Francisco.
  • There is a recent study in the UK that looked for what gives people “a sense of well-being”. One of the results is that “a good night’s sleep [is]… linked to contentment” (article here)