Proof That Life Experiences — Not Things — Make You Happier

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GPS for the Soul – The Huffington Post
Proof That Life Experiences — Not Things — Make You Happier
If you’re wondering whether to use your tax refund to buy that new expensive bag or go on vacation, a new study suggests your best bet may be the latter.

Researchers from San Francisco State University found that people generally know life experiences will make them happier, but they still choose to spend their money on material items because they think they’re of greater value.

“We naturally associate economic value with stuff. I bought this car, it’s worth $8,000,” study researcher Ryan Howell, associate professor of psychology at the university, said in a statement. “We have a hard time estimating the economic value we would place on our memories.”

For one of the experiments in the study, published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, researchers surveyed study participants before and after they bought something. Before making the purchase, the participants said that they were aware that a life experience would bring them more happiness, but that it would make more sense financially to buy the material item.

But their opinions changed after making the purchase, researchers found. The participants said post-purchase that not only would happiness be greater with a life experience, but that the life experience was also a better value than the material item.

In another experiment, participants were asked to prioritize either value or happiness in purchasing something. Those asked to prioritize happiness were more likely to pick using their money for a life experience, while those asked to prioritize value were more likely to choose a material item.

“These results suggest that when people are considering material or experiential purchases they are balancing happiness and monetary concerns,” the researchers wrote in the study.

For more reasons why things won’t make you happier, click here.

What You Want in a Mindfulness Teacher
The mind is priceless, and our most precious asset. The body absent a mind is human shell. But a body joined with a healthy mind, is much, much more than the sum of its parts. Why then, do some of us entrust our minds to mindless teachers?

Mindfulness is all the rage now. This is wonderful, because the practices hold promise for anyone who wishes to try them. But, it’s also a very delicate and vulnerable moment, because the demand for mindfulness training outreaches the availability of authentic teachers.

If you want to learn and practice mindfulness, search for a teacher who will handle you mind, your most precious mind, carefully, compassionately and skillfully. The following tips can help you find your way.

Authentic teachers:

Have a personal meditation practice that qualifies them to teach. Studying with a qualified teacher is critically important for all of us, but there is a fine line between saying you “studied or trained with so-and-so” and implying that having studied with him/her makes you special or qualified to teach. Establishing credibility among teachers of mindfulness requires more than engaging in a sophisticated version of “I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours.” If she/he relies on his teacher’s credentials, she didn’t understand the teachings.

Understand that mindfulness is not a panacea. They know that that developing mindfulness brings many benefits, but mindfulness alone is not sufficient. They also understand that they cannot promise you anything other than to support you in your own practice. If you find a teacher who says he/she can “take you” to enlightenment, find another teacher who offers only to “show you the way.”

Model the practice of mindfulness. You must observe teachers’ actions and listen to how they speak before you believe what they say. If there is discordance between the “talk” and the “walk,” look elsewhere.

Teach from a place of compassion. They understand that mindfulness is a mental skill that creates the conditions for cultivating compassion, and they never lose sight of the ultimate goal: to reduce suffering among all. They don’t prioritize teaching mindfulness simply to sharpen attention or increase relaxation, although these byproducts are very real. They teach about the mind to touch the heart.

Are humble. They don’t talk about their own realization, and they don’t brag about “how long” they have practiced. Good teachers don’t need or want to elevate their own experience.

Understand the limitations of Westernized mindfulness qualifications. Taking a “course” on practicing and teaching mindfulness might be the start of a potential teacher’s training, but it’s not the end. The learning curve is steep and continuous. The fields of education, psychology and medicine often spawn mindfulness teachers, but holding a license to practice in these professions doesn’t confer credibility with mindfulness teaching. For example, don’t automatically assume that you will get authentic mindfulness teaching from a nurse or a therapist who took a mindfulness training course and has years of experience in stress management. Be careful to whom you give your trust.

In all likelihood, the majority of well intentioned “certified” mindfulness teachers introduce the practice adequately. But very few have the depth in their own practice, skill, wisdom and compassion to teach those who hunger for more rigorous instruction. Also, some “certified” teachers are mindfulness, and they exploit their own charisma and teach to feed their egos. At the very least, this is dangerous because charlatans reduce the likelihood that their students will have a positive experience with mindfulness. At worst, the potential for damaging abuse is very, very real.

In sum, search hard before you start. Never abandon your critical thinking, and trust your instinct if something feels wrong. Consider a given teacher’s capacity, and benefit from what the/she can genuinely offer but seek elsewhere if you want more. Use media to learn from recognized and established teachers, so you become familiar with the teachings. This will enrich your experience and enable you to measure other authenticity. Let your teachers earn your respect slowly: it’s the only way to truly trust what they teach.

How To Be The Most Stressed Out Person You Know
Let’s face it: at this point in our wired, always-working culture, finding someone who isn’t regularly stressed out is a rarity.

If you’ve ever been wound up and totally on the edge, chances are you’ve tried a few tricks in order to banish those anxious emotions. Meditation and even therapy are ways to release yourself from the chains of anxiety — but no matter how many go-to tricks you employ, they won’t make a difference if you continue to practice common stress-inducing habits. Below, find 10 things not to do if you want to reduce those uneasy feelings; your well-being will be much better for it.

Stay plugged in 24/7.

smartphone

Want to be on the fast-track to stressful emotions? Spend the majority of your day with your devices — they have been scientifically proven to stress you out. According to a report released by the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business, by 2015 the average person will spend nearly 16 hours per day plugged into digital media. Social media sites like Facebook have been linked to digital distress — such as inducing feelings of loneliness among users. And staying plugged in to our devices can lead to work burnout, technology addiction and more. If you’re looking to ditch the stress, disconnect from your device every once in a while.

Keep everything bottled up.
Nothing makes those uneasy feelings stick around like avoiding what’s worrying you. By not letting yourself react — like holding back those tears — you’re easily helping yourself internalize stress. If you suppress your urge to cry or don’t address what’s stressing you out head-on, you could be hurting your physical and mental health. “Avoidance is not a good strategy,” David Spiegel, Stanford University’s associate chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, previously told HuffPost Healthy Living. “Avoiding makes it like it isn’t happening — and the more you avoid it the worse it gets … The more you deal with things that stress you out, the more mastery you have over them.”

Be a couch potato.

couch lazy

If you’re looking to keep those stressful emotions locked in, stay stationary. Studies have shown that lack of exercise can have physical and psychological setbacks. Exercise allows us to keep anxious emotions in check. Moving our feet can release feel-good chemicals in the brain and low-intensity exercise can even reduce levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in the body. Physical activity can also boost your mood and improve overall cognitive function.

Sacrifice your passions for your paycheck.
More money, more problems? Not necessarily — but there has been plenty of psychological research linking the stressful effects of money and its toll on happiness.

According to behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman, a connection between stress and wealth may not be hiding in what we’re doing to earn it, but what we’re giving up instead. “[B]eing wealthy is often a powerful predictor that people spend less time doing pleasurable things and more time doing compulsory things and feeling stressed,” he told The Wall Street Journal in 2008. Regardless of the dollar amount, pursuing a paycheck and power over a sustainable life may have you flirting with stress and workplace burnout pretty quickly.

Aim for perfection.

perfectionist

Perfectionists strive to have everything just right and this drive can lead to a stressful lifestyle. Whether they’re procrastinating a task because they want it to be just the way they want it or they act on specific habits that foster anxiety, perfectionism can be extremely draining on the mind. “[The perfectionist] acknowledges that his relentless standards are stressful and somewhat unreasonable, but he believes they drive him to levels of excellence and productivity he could never attain otherwise,” psychologist David Burns once wrote in an essay on the personality trait. Instead of striving for perfect, focus on the good. Experts suggest practicing gratitude can help perfectionists manage their expectations (and, as a result, their stress levels).

Overanalyze everything.
When has any stressful situation ever been solved by obsessing over it? Ruminating on anxious thoughts only tends to create more anxiety — especially in women. Research has shown that women are 42 percent more likely than men to overanalyze something when they’re feeling down. In a 2013 blog on the Huffington Post, author Bob Miglani explained exactly how this tendency to overthink can sabotage our psychological well-being — and ultimately hold us back from living fulfilling lives. “[I]t’s the overthinking mind full of chaos that holds us back from moving forward in life,” he wrote. “It’s the overthinking mind that makes us feel anxious and worried about the future. It’s the overthinking mind that we need to better control in order to stop worrying and start living.”

Shop, shop, shop.

shopping bags

Indulging in a little retail therapy may sound like an ideal way to burn off stress, but you may be doing the opposite. According to a small study conducted at Michigan State University, participants who scored as materialistic in the experiment had an increased likelihood of experiencing post-traumatic stress symptoms and had a higher chance of compulsively or impulsively shopping. Study researchers also found that materialism seemed to intensify stress’s effects.

Feed off other people’s stress.
Is your friend stressed out? The best way to increase your stress levels may be to allow yourself to get swept away in his or her problems. If you’re trying to be a good friend by inserting yourself into what’s worrying them, you may be setting yourself up for secondhand stress, a feeling that’s triggered by someone else’s behavior.

According to Heidi Hanna, a fellow at the American Institute of Stress and the author of Stressaholic: 5 Steps to Transform Your Relationship with Stress, when we’re tapped into the stress of others, it sends a signal that we should feel anxious too. “It’s important to understand that we do pick up stress from other people because the brain is so sensitive to our environment,” she previously told HuffPost Healthy Living. “We notice someone’s breath rates or that they’re talking really quickly and we pick that up and mirror that.” Hanna advised that order to find freedom from a stressful burden that is not your own, remove yourself from the situation right away and take a moment to assess what’s really going on.

Make “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” your motto.

sleeping dog

If you don’t take issue with persistent stress, then you may also have no problem getting less than your recommended amount of shuteye. Sleep deprivation can significantly affect stress levels — and without it, we can get irritable and have a harder time dealing with what’s worrying us. In a 2013 national survey conducted by The Huffington Post, participants even cited their biggest stress trigger as a lack of sleep. If you’re looking to manage those toxic, uneasy emotions, let your head hit the pillow a little longer — you’ll be amazed at the difference.

Disregard your finances.
According to the American Psychological Association, approximately 76 percent of Americans cite money as a major source of stress in their lives. And struggling to make ends meet doesn’t just cause a little anxiety, it could actually affect your cognitive abilities. Research conducted by behavioral economists Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir found that financial stress can cause a significant decrease in IQ. But you don’t need to be wealthy to feel in control: Even if your budget is tight, there are ways to manage your money so it doesn’t contribute to your stress levels. The APA suggests being mindful of your financial worries, addressing them head on and even seeking a professional for support in order to manage your economic stress in a healthy way.

Yoga in Schools: Phys Ed for the 21st Century
By Jennifer Mattson

From Encinitas, California, to Baltimore, Maryland, educators, legislators, and activists are doing their part to bring yoga into the schools. We’ve seen this movement growing, and Kripalu is working with school educators and wellness experts to help share the calming effects of yoga to children and adolescents.

Through learning breathing practices, yoga postures, deep relaxation, and meditation, this younger generation is experiencing the connection between mind and body at an early age.

Research shows that yoga and other contemplative practices can help kids better regulate their emotions and behaviors in healthy ways. Findings from the Kripalu Yoga in the Schools (KYIS) initiative show that students who have been exposed to these techniques are less reactive, more optimistic, and better able to focus, concentrate, and interact with their peers.

“Yoga is showing up in many school settings nationwide,” says Edi Pasalis, Managing Director of the Kripalu Institute for Extraordinary Living (IEL), which administers the KYIS project. “It helps teachers create a more potent learning environment [and] helps students learn.”

As someone who didn’t start practicing yoga and meditation until I was almost 30, I often wonder how my childhood would have been different if I had these tools while dealing with the pitfalls of junior high, taking the SATs, and applying to college.

“We live in stressful society where kids are under a lot of pressure,” says Kripalu-affiliated researcher Sat Bir Khalsa, Ph.D., of Harvard Medical School. He says that, for many adolescents, stress contributes to anxiety, depression, and drug abuse.

“One concept that is underrated is the degree to which adolescents [in particular] are suffering mental-health issues,” says Sat Bir. “Kids are not coping well — you have bullying and attention deficit disorders. Our education system needs to teach skills to develop the whole human being, not just math and English.”

Sat Bir notes that many adult behaviors and patterns begin in adolescence, including mental-health issues, so it’s important to teach these mindfulness tools early on. His research shows that long-term yoga and meditation practice changes the part of the brain that regulates resilience to stress and emotional reactivity.

Ali Smith, executive director of the Holistic Life Foundation, has helped bring yoga to Baltimore’s inner-city schools for more than 12 years.

“It has definitely paid off,” Ali says. “We’ve seen better self-regulation skills. Before, kids would have just acted impulsively and flown off the handle. Now, they are much more in touch with their thoughts, emotions, and energy level, and there is a lot more love for themselves and others.”

Ali teaches students how to center themselves and meditate, but 99 percent of what he teaches, he says, is how to breathe. “Most people don’t know how to take a deep breath,” he says.

“One of the cool things [to see] is kids helping other kids,” Ali says. “For example, they’ll lead their class in pranayama before standardized tests. At the root of what we’re teaching is [the idea that] you’re learning it to help yourself, but you’re really learning it to help others.”

Not surprisingly, students are taking the practice home. “We’ve had parents come home stressed, and their children tell them how to sit down, breathe, and meditate,” Ali says. One woman reported that, after she complained of stomach pains, her 9-year-old granddaughter, Anajay, taught her a breathing technique that includes curling the tongue — sitali kriya, or “cooling breath.”

Timothy B. Baird, superintendent of the Encinitas (California) Union School District, implemented a district-wide yoga-in-the-schools program that received national attention. He says, “I’ve been calling this ‘P.E. for the 21st century.’ It teaches them the tools to relax and de-stress, and you know dodgeball doesn’t do that.”

About Jennifer Mattson
Jennifer Mattson is a journalist, writer, yogini, and kirtan junkie. A former volunteer resident at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, she’s a former broadcast news producer for CNN and National Public Radio. Her reporting and writing have appeared in Atlantic, the Boston Globe, USA Today and the Women’s Review of Books.

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