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)

Hi, here is the new topic that I’ll be covering in depth: What can make you happiest? What is happiness for you in practice? How can you be happiest, most productive, most successful?

In this series,

  • I’ll tell you about research that works.
  • I’ll tell you about books you can read for more info.
  • I’ll tell you a general order that generally works, and then you can fit it best to yourself.


Here’s the syllabus:

At the end, we can discuss whatever else we decide by the time we get here.
You can read all the Happiness 101 posts by going to this hidden Happiness 101 category.

There’s a great 1995 article by David Myers and Ed Diener: “Who Is Happy?

“In study after study, four inner traits mark happy people: self-esteem, a sense of personal control, optimism, and extraversion.”

How are you doing on:

  • personal control (do you generally feel in control of your life?)
  • optimism (do you generally believe the future will be even better than today?)
  • self-esteem (do you generally respect your actions? [or this question])
  • extraversion (do you generally make a point to meet with friends?)

Each of these traits is actually acquirable and increasable, which is the most interesting part to me.

What is the question you can ask yourself to know whether you have self-esteem? After discussion with a positive psychology colleague of mine, here is his suggestion, which is fascinating to me. (I don’t usually write about bad-feeling situations or scenarios on my site, but this post is on that map of a sphere below the equator of happy and pleasant thought.) You can ask yourself:

  • Why aren’t you loveable?

What’s your answer? Pause a second … What do you think? What’s your answer?

Exactly. In a way, it’s such a manipulative question because the high self-esteem answer to it is, “No, forget it, I’m extremely loveable.” And the low self-esteem person will go looking for answers where there don’t need to be any.

Here is another question:

  • How often do you doubt your actions and thoughts?

The high self-esteem person will sometimes doubt, and will just as often or more often be secure and comfortable with his own thoughts. Both questions lean the answer towards choosing the negative thoughts in your head – both questions are manipulative in that sense, which is why they seem to get to the question about self-esteem.

Now that we know how to get out of a bad mood, here is the shortcut below.
Bad moods most often start in the head. With a thought. About something bad. A person can decide to either allow that thought to grow or to nip it in the bud. Here is what nipping a bad-mood-creating thought in the bud looks like:

This is something a friend of mine asked me about recently. Suppose the thought is “she hates me” about a person that you know who may be acting less friendly towards you recently. This is what might be running through your head at the time:
“Why is she acting less friendly? What did I do? Why doesn’t she like me? I haven’t changed. But maybe something I said offended her. Maybe she thinks I’m rude. Or mean. What did I do?”

Using the A.P.E. method, here are the three phrases that will be he most effective to quickly nip the bad mood in the bud. First of all, address the Alternatives:

Alternatives: “A more accurate way of seeing this is…”

A more accurate way of seeing this is … that maybe she is having some personal issues and is more tense, and maybe that’s coming across as not friendly.”

Then the Perspective:

Perspective: “The most likely thing to happen is … and I can …”

The most likely thing to happen is … that she won’t talk to me for a few days and then her mood will blow over and she’ll be friendly-friendly like before, and I can … just give her space in the meantime and wait for her to get there.”

And finally, Evidence:

Evidence: “That’s not true because …”

That’s not true that she hates me because … she passes me an extra pen today during class, and she held the door for me after class, and she didn’t NOT speak to me – she was just curt in her words.”

So, there you have it – the three A.P.E. sentences to turn to when in a bad mood … or when a bad run-on, negative dialogue gets stuck in your head like an Alvin-and-the-Chipmunks tune.

ENJOY trying these sentences out!

Our first question was, should you get out of a bad mood? Suppose that our answer is already, YES. Now, what do we do? (Update: After you read this, you may want to keep handy the three sentences for the A.P.E. Method.)

Karen Reivich, co-author of The Resilience Factor, suggests some concrete steps. In a talk she gave at our Positive Psychology classes, Karen gave the best three suggestions I’ve heard for getting out of a bad mood. These are practical and immediately usable.

The problem with bad moods is that they stop you in your tracks, they hinder you from doing other things that can lead to continued small successes and that can move you forward in life. Additionally, as Dave Seah points out, you can’t always be waiting for the muse. Most often in life, you need to do things whether you’re in a bad mood or a good mood. For example, compare a person who takes actions to move his life forward only when he’s in a good mood (or when the muse strikes him) to a person who takes actions to move his life forward no matter what mood may have set on him temporarily. Who will likely be more productive?

Here are the three principles Karen Reivich teaches to get out of a bad mood. I remember these as A.P.E.

A – Alternatives
P – Perspective
E – Evidence

Karen Reivich suggests that these are best used “When you need to disarm negative thoughts so that you can stay focused on the task at hand.” At the same time, these are not necessarily the best techniques to use “When you need a thorough, thoughtful and comprehensive understanding of a problem.”

So you want to stay focused on the task at hand, on moving your life forward. What do you do?

A – Alternatives
You can generate alternative beliefs. For example, if the bad mood started with thinking, “I haven’t done anything productive at work in the past year. I haven’t contributed anything. I’ll never contribute anything. And not only do I stink at work recently, but everything else is going down the drain too.”… then what are some alternative beliefs that you could seek?

Karen Reivich characterizes the possible alternative beliefs into three categories (that are introduced with great thoroughness by Marty Seligman here):
Me / Always / Everything.

If your beliefs tend to focus on “me” – “I did this, I got myself into a decade worth of trouble,” then try to look outwards a little bit … not too much – do not rationalize away your own potential contribution to the situation. But do look outward if you tend to blame yourself. Do look at the environment, the surroundings, and provide other possible explanations. (Create an alternative).

If your beliefs tend to focus on “always” – “I’m never good at my work, I always mess up at the office, this never goes right for me,” then train your brain to find the one thing that you consistently excel at during work. Feel that pride – no matter how small – in that one thing that you own, that is yours, and that you can reliably think about to know that you are good at that part of work. (The point is to create one alternative, so it is not always).

If your beliefs tend to focus on “everything” – “And not only am I not good at my work, I can’t meet a great girl/guy, I’m terrible at keeping in touch with friends,” then train your brain to find the one part of life in which you have control. Feel that control in that part of your life – no matter how small that part may be – maybe brushing your teeth, maybe emailing a certain friend regularly. (Create an alternative thought-pattern: not everything.)

P – Perspective
A friend of mine Emma who is also a practitioner of Positive Psychology says that she once heard something say something so visual that she will not forget it.

“Imagine the biggest issue you have – the biggest, most terrible problem or set of problems that you can come up with. Now blow them up – imagine them even bigger and more terrible. Imagine close to the worse that can happen. Imagine all those problems spinning around like the tornado in Dorothy’s Kansas at the beginning of the movie. …

Now take that entire storm and all those issues and shrink it down and put the entire storm into a teacup.”

And that’s exactly how I see it – a white porcelain tea cup on a white porcelain delicate plate, and a small steam above the teacup where the remains of the storm can be seen. It is the super-literal description of the phrase “storm in a teacup,” and talk about perspective!

Do that – put some perspective on the issues. What are the probabilities that everything will go wrong? Usually not 100%. Put the perspective of time on it (probably not as intense if you were to look back on this from 50 years in the future). Put the perspective of seriousness on it (these are bad moods, but nobody should be dying from this). Put the perspective of “me” on this (how impenetrable does my problem look compared to starving children). The perspective of comparison is called downward social comparison… but in psychological studies it has proven to be effective in precluding depression.

The goal in finding perspective is to create flexibility in thinking. It is not to create an excuse for things that may actually have gone wrong, but it is to minimize the impact on your life of certain thoughts.

E – Evidence
Find concrete evidence to the contrary. If you are in a bad mood because you are berating yourself, then create evidence to the contrary. If the argument is that you’ve never done anything good in your work for the past decade, get a piece of paper and list two things that you have done well. That’s it – two things. Two concrete examples.

Lesson & Take-Away: If you’re in a bad mood, and want to switch to being productive and focused, use these three techniques to get out of your bad mood:

  • A – Create Alternatives for why something may be happening to dispute negative, bad mood thoughts,
  • P – Put the issue in Perspective to get out of a bad mood, and
  • E – Use concrete Evidence to discount the bad-mood self-talk in your head.

It’s a bit contradictory but in the holiday season at the same time that people get into great moods being around friends and family, sometimes people also get into bad moods. And it might have to do with the more somber winter weather. It might have to do with exercising less and eating more. Or it might have nothing to do with anything, and might just be a temporary, brief bad mood – which could happen to any person in any season for any reason.

What do you do? The first question is, should you try to get out of your bad mood, or should you stay in it, and sulk in it, and breathe it in, and bathe in it?

It depends whether the bad mood is from a temporary occurrence or from something significant. If somebody died, or a person breaks up with a girlfriend or boyfriend, or if a close friend moves far away, or if a work project goes terribly, awfully wrong, then that is likely much more than just a bad mood. That is the significant end of something. You may need to be alone. You may need to grieve. Grieving is extremely important in order to go “through” an experience as opposed to denying that something exists. As a wise friend of mine says,

Remember to feel what you feel.

Feelings are there to be felt. Especially in times of grief. A science-expert friend of mine told me that she heard that it is clinically considered that the average period of grief for a person’s death is two months, and that after two months, grief is considered psychiatrically abnormal, and psychiatrists often start to prescribe medications. I think that is absolute baloney. Grief takes as long as it takes. And it takes a different length of time for different people and for different situations.

On the other hand, if the bad mood comes because one person said something mean to you or because of no reason at all, then that may very well be a bad mood you want to ditch. If it’s temporary, if it’s a bad mood for a small reason, then there’s no reason to dwell on it. In the long run, just about everything seems small, so if it’s a small thing, then why not drop it? Why not live forward?

And if the bad mood is for no reason at all? A gardener friend of mine used to say,

Sometimes sadness is just the last drop that overflows the barrel.

And to me that was always very visual because I could see the barrel below the front porch, and I could imagine a light rain overflowing it slowly. Sometimes a bad mood comes on just like that.

This is primarily the case I want to talk about – the bad mood for no reason. Yes, a person could stay in that mood for a long, long time. A person could decide not to go anywhere, do anything, no exercise, no going out to see friends, and just dwell and sulk in the bad mood.

But that bad mood would stay. That’s the problem. If you do nothing to get rid of it, it is very easy for a bad mood to stay around. Why do bad moods , if not countered, stick around?

  • Because people are inertia-prone. People prefer not to change things. So many products offer money-back guarantees… because people don’t return things once they receive them.
  • Because the more, the more. The more you go out and enjoy life and, for example, go bowling with other people, the more you’ll enjoy it and want to do this more. And the more you stay in bed and don’t do anything, the more you’ll want to do this.
  • Because something needs to occupy your mind space, and only actively driving out the bad mood can make it leave your mind space. Unless you push bad moods out of the way, bad moods do not leave on their own. A reason to go away does not “just appear”. One of two things has to happen: you find something that occupies your time more than the bad mood or the bad mood has to be so bad that you start to rebel against it (the bad mood may have influenced you to act in ways that do worse things to yourself). In both cases, you need to actively drop the bad mood (by focusing on something else or by rebelling against the bad mood) in order to move on.

So given that bad moods need to be actively shaken off, how generally do you do it?

A friend of mine is a doctor, and when she was first in medical school, she decided that she’d do an experiment on herself. One week, she got terribly sick with a flu-like cold, and all the symptoms of headache, runny everything, no voice, drowsy… and her roommate got sick the same way. So they decided to see who would get better faster – one person was the control who would do nothing – just stay sick, sulk in it, stay in bed, grumble. And one person would take hot showers three times a day to clear up the breathing, wash off the old sickness, would put on clean clothes, clean sheets. Who do you think got better first? Voila, unsurprisingly, the girl who kept removing signs of the sickness.

So one answer is to know that you will need to take some action to shake the bad mood off (the metaphorical equivalent of lots of hot showers and change of clothings). If you’re trying to get out of your bad mood, what specifically should you do? To be addressed in detail tomorrow.

Hello and welcome to a great new site. This is a classmate of mine from last year’s Master of Positive Psychology program, and he is a wonderful person. He has a super blog about positive psychology and applications to law and to education.

Here is Dave Shearon’s blog! I’m a big fan of Dave’s blog. It’s very descriptive and very detailed and very alive! Check it out yourself!

One of Dave’s last posts was a summary of Positive Psychology Books that he recommends. Great, great summary. I especially like Dave’s summaries of these two books, which are absolutely among my favorites:

The Happiness Hypothesis, Haidt (2005) It’s not just intelligences that are multiple! Try multiple brains! Or, at least, multiple relatively independent systems in the brain. Haidt’s metaphor of the rider and the elephant is worth reading the book. Great writer. Sound insights.

The Paradox of Choice, Schwartz. Are you generally a “maximizer” or “satisficer”? Should you care? Good book not only for consumers, but for achievers. Since nothing’s ever “finished”, what does “do your best” mean?

And here is an absolutely delightful little entry called “Poof!” that I find myself recalling with a smile!

Here is a positive psychology study that Dave created for high school students along with two other classmates of ours: high school study.

And here is the positive psychology section of Dave’s blog that I really, really enjoy.

Just because I read him for the positive psychology, don’t think that you shouldn’t tune in for the education, how to run schools, and law discussions! Nice, nice insights. ENJOY!

p.s. I specifically meant to post this on August 30!

If you decide that you’re going to
* get more organized in order to have more peace of mind
* spend more time with your family and friends in order to be more relaxed
* stress less
* increase your happiness…
how will you know once you’re succeeding in these resolves?

There’s a simple idea in Positive Psychology that you should be able to measure how you are progressing in terms of increasing your happiness, well-being, life satisfaction. One large way that these items are measured is through self-reporting.

This means that if you were to start working with a Positive Psychology coach to improve your enjoyment of life, work-life balance, or productivity at work, that pretty early on the coach would ask you, “Would you like to get some baseline measurements at the start?” And it makes sense to. I recommend it. This way, you have a sense of how you acted and reacted before you started actively increasing your life happiness or life satisfaction. In a way, it’s like measuring your weight before going on an exercise-and-moderated-eating plan. (BTW, you’ll notice that these assessments are not usually called quizzes or tests because that would imply that there is a ‘best way’ to be or a ‘best score’ to get.)

My favorite thing about these particular assessments is that they describe you. After taking them, I’ve often been able to crystalize into words some things that I may never have thought of before about myself, and I hear this comment frequently from other people that have taken assessments too.

And, finally, if you still need a boost as to why you should go to this page and take them … THEY’RE FUN! :)

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing up more about what they mean and what info from the assessments you can really use productively. Here is the great site where you can find assessments for yourself and your friends: the Authentic Happiness site.

Here are the assessments I most recommend (you’ll need to create a login at that site):
* VIA Signature Strengths Survey – this shows you your main character strengths – VERY INTERESTING; assessment by Peterson and Seligman (takes 20 minutes to complete).
* Optimism Scale – This shows you how you interpret good and bad events, reference: Learned Optimism; assessment by Seligman (32 questions, takes a few minutes).
* Satisfaction with Life Scale – Simple assessment of subjective well-being. Here is an article that highlights Ed Diener, the lead author of this assessment scale (5 questions).
* General Happiness Questionnaire – This is actually my favorite one of all of them, Lyubomirsky’s and Lepper’s assessment (4 questions). I’d love to know what you guys get on this little survey!

Enjoy! And I’ll write more about these later.