5 Ways to Enjoy a Mindful Summer Vacation!

5 Ways to Enjoy a Mindful Summer Vacation!

With the hustle and bustle of our day-to-day, many await summer with angst. The children will finally be off from school. Summer hours will kick in and our workloads might even lighten a bit. We bask in the excitement of the warm weather to come and count the days to that big trip we’ve been planning. Sound familiar? I’m sure. It’s a common experience, shared by many Americans.

In fact, an estimated 45% of us take our vacations during the summer months. The bulk of them are in July and last about a week. Where do we visit? Well, its reported that most of our summer vacations carry us into the seas and sights of other states within our great nation. The beaches of Florida and California; the monuments of DC and New York; the inspiring landscapes of our Midwest and interesting food, music and culture of each region, all make for an exciting summer getaway. But perhaps even more important than the “whens” and “wheres” of these trips are the “whys” and “hows.”

We vacation because we want to be happy and we believe that trading our stressors for a change of scenery might actually help us get there. We think of summer vacations as an opportunity to escape the norm — a chance to run away from the struggles and stresses of the everyday. We expect it will rejuvenate and reenergize us for the months to come; or at least, we hope.

But does it? In actuality, research shows that most people are happier while planning and awaiting their vacations than they are during or after them. That’s right. As it turns out, for most of us, the anticipation is actually better than the execution. Specifically, most people who vacation are happiest in the eight weeks preceding their vacations, but show no increase in joy (from their usual level) during or after their trips… With one exception. Research participants who reported that their vacation was “very relaxing” (not just “relaxing,” but very) showed an increase in happiness before, during and after their vacation!

So that seems to be the key. Only by enjoying a “very relaxing” vacation, can you use a trip to help maximize your happiness year-round. Now the question is, how do you make your vacation very relaxing? The answer: Practice mindfulness.

Mindfulness is defined as “a moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment.” Scientific studies show that mindfulness can boost your working memory, increase your ability to focus and lessen emotional reactivity. It also helps your mind be more open to change, increases relationship satisfaction and enhances self-insight, morality and intuition. It helps you to modulate fear, strengthens your immune system’s functioning, reduces psychological distress and increases the speed at which you process information. Need more reasons to try it? While on vacation, mindfulness can make a true difference between feeling stressed and being happy, by keeping you aware of your environment moment-to-moment.

So, on your next trip, make a commitment to stay in the moment you’ve created for yourself. I know how challenging this can prove, particularly since more than half of Americans spend a great deal of their vacation time working. But you have to give yourself permission to truly be on vacation. This means allowing yourself the time, the space and the mental clarity to take in the richness of a new and different environment. This means that your mind is not in the business meeting that’s happening at the office or busy fixing the life of a family member who won’t stop texting. This means that your mind is in the same place as your body, enjoying every sensation and focused on each new experience. You’re not caught up in the timeline posts of every “friend” on social media or in the “what ifs,” “what nows,” or what fors,” of life’s most recent events. You’re not living in the anxiety of what you might be going back to or in the regret of things you didn’t get to do before you left. Instead, you just are where you are. You are when you are. You are engulfed in the beauty of that place and in the splendor of that moment.

Being mindful on vacation means holding to your awareness of all that is grand around you and within you. Some easy ways to stay mindful on vacation, include:

  1. Sensory Stimulation — Smell the crispness of every tree. Hear the different harmony of each song sung by every bird. Taste the earthiness in your food’s spices. Enjoy every view different from what you’re used to and run your fingers through the sand of those beaches or the water of that hotel shower, thinking only about how it feels to your skin. Let your senses be overwhelmed by all that this environment has to offer you.
  2. Meditation — Guided mindfulness meditations are available via apps on your smartphone. These can be great ways to pull your awareness back to the here and now. Take 5-10 minutes each day to be present in your body, in your space without the ambush of the thoughts in your mind.
  3. Sketching — You don’t have to consider yourself an artist to take advantage of art’s benefits. The simple task of sitting to sketch will force your attention to the present. Sketching your environment on vacation will pull you into the details of what surrounds you and allow you to see things in ways that you may not have otherwise.
  4. Beauty Listing — Make lists of 25 beautiful things around you, at least two times per day. It’s better on paper, but certainly still helpful should you instead choose to do it in your mind. This will help you stay fixated on the grandness and wellness available to you through your current environment.
  5. New Experiences — Trying new things pushes us out of our comfort zones. We feel compelled to pay close attention to what we’re doing in order to learn and master the task. This makes it more difficult to become distracted by all the mental noise we tend to carry around. So, try some new activities while on vacation (water sports, dance classes) to take your thinking and your living outside of the box. Then congratulate yourself for being so brave and relax into the joy you feel.

This summer, be sure to practice mindfulness while on vacation. You’ll intensify your relaxation, maximize your joy, revitalize your spirit and enjoy all that the change of environment has to offer.

Emotional Intelligence: how the rational and the emotional shape our destiny

Emotional Intelligence: how the rational and the emotional shape our destiny

Emotional intelligence (EI) or emotional quotient (EQ) is the capacity of individuals to recognize their own, and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different feelings and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior. Although the term first appeared in a 1964 paper by Michael Beldoch, it gained popularity in the 1995 book by that title, written by the author, psychologist, and science journalist Daniel Goleman.

Everyone knows that high IQ is no guarantee of success, happiness, or virtue, but until Emotional Intelligence, we could only guess why. Daniel Goleman’s brilliant report from the frontiers of psychology and neuroscience offers startling new insight into our “two minds”—the rational and the emotional—and how they together shape our destiny.

Through vivid examples, Goleman delineates the five crucial skills of emotional intelligence, and shows how they determine our success in relationships, work, and even our physical well-being. What emerges is an entirely new way to talk about being smart.

The best news is that “emotional literacy” is not fixed early in life. Every parent, every teacher, every business leader, and everyone interested in a more civil society, has a stake in this compelling vision of human possibility.

Daniel Goleman is an author, psychologist, and science journalist. For twelve years, he wrote for The New York Times, reporting on the brain and behavioral sciences. Apart from his books on emotional intelligence, Goleman has written books on topics including self-deception, creativity, transparency, meditation, social and emotional learning, ecoliteracy and the ecological crisis, and the Dalai Lama’s vision for the future.

emotional-intelligence

How To Be Happy And Save The World

How To Be Happy And Save The World

First of all let there be no doubt that the world needs saving as a habitat for human beings – and much sooner than many of us realize. There are a number of inter-related threats to civilized life on this planet all coming to the fore at the same time, the most serious of which is climate change. But please read on as we believe there can still be a happy ending…

A world sleepwalking towards disaster

Extreme weather events are now being experienced all around the world with an unusual level of intensity and frequency.

But these unusually severe weather events could be just harbingers of much worse to come if urgent steps are not taken to curb the carbon dioxide emissions which are driving climate change. The existing measures proposed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (which represents the overwhelming consensus of scientific opinion on this matter) are designed to keep emissions within a limit producing no more than a two degrees Centigrade rise in global temperatures.

Unfortunately, a report produced by the International Energy Agency indicates that we are already generating a level of carbon emissions that is taking us close to the two degree safety limit. It goes on to warn that if we continue to build fossil fuelled power stations and other infrastructure as we have been doing up till now the level of carbon emissions for creating the two degree increase will be reached as early as 2017 and continuing CO2 production will inevitably take us beyond the safety limit, leading to catastrophic climate scenarios in the decades to come.

Can happiness help to save the world?

So what has all this to do with happiness you may well ask? The simple answer is that if enough people switch to being truly happy in the way described elsewhere on this site the gloom and doom scenarios outlined above can potentially be avoided. This is because being truly happy does not require the sort of hyper consumption that is the driving force behind the escalation in CO2 levels and the depletion of the world’s resources at an unsustainable rate.

The new science of happiness has also revealed that above a certain level of material comfort you do not need more to be happier. Indeed the pursuit of wealth beyond this point can be at the expense of things that really matter in your life, like good relationships, caring for loved ones, indulging in creative activities and enjoying the simpler things in life, not to mention one’s responsibilities to the rest of the community.

In the richer countries, like the United States of America and the United Kingdom, measures of happiness show that levels of life satisfaction have not increased despite very significant growth in income per capita. There is therefore ample scope for redistributing some of this additional wealth to help lift people out of poverty, for enhancing the quality of living (as opposed to the standard of living) and for reducing the pressures on the planet’s finite resources and life-support system. The major change that is required is for the goal of modern society to be switched from just maximizing material prosperity to instead maximizing people’s overall well-being, as is now being advocated by the United Nations and the OECD, among others.

Action for Happiness is playing its part in making the change by showing that happiness does not lie in the race for riches and pressing for a cultural shift to a less materialistic way of life. However we need many more supporters if we are to have the desired impact in the relatively short period of time in which the shift needs to be made. In my view raising our numbers to the required levels can only be done by introducing a sense of urgency into joining the movement. And this urgency can be best achieved by presenting what we are doing not only as a way of finding true happiness and creating a happier society but also as a means of helping to solve the enormous environmental problems that confront us.

If this wider dimension were to be explicitly included in our message then our rallying cry would surely become… Be Happy AND Save the World!

You can read more about this here.

The Surprising Science Of Happiness

The Surprising Science Of Happiness

Dan Gilbert, author of “Stumbling on Happiness,” challenges the idea that we’ll be miserable if we don’t get what we want. Our “psychological immune system” lets us feel truly happy even when things don’t go as planned.

Gilbert explains how our brain evolved to make front situations and simulates experiences. He teaches us by real examples about people that have synthetize happiness despite the problems. He thinks the toughest the situation, the better we will adapt to it.

Daniel Todd Gilbert (born November 5, 1957) is an American social psychologist and writer. He is the Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, and is known for his research on affective forecasting.

 

How Yoga Changes Your Body

How Yoga Changes Your Body

More than 20 million Americans practice yoga, according to the Yoga in America study, with practitioners spending more than $10 billion a year on yoga-related products and classes.

The mind-body practice is frequently touted for its ability to reduce stress and boost well-being, but it also offers wide-ranging physical health benefits that rival other forms of exercise. While the scientific research on yoga’s health benefits is still young, here’s what we know so far about its potential effects on the body. View the infographic below and scroll down for more detailed information.

infoyoga

Infographic by Jan Diehm for The Huffington Post

After Class.

Improved Brain Function.

Just 20 minutes of Hatha yoga — an ancient form of the practice that emphasizes physical postures rather than flow or sequences — can improve cognitive function, boosting focus and working memory. In a University of Illinois study, participants performed significantly better on tests of brain functioning after yoga, as compared to their performance after 20 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise.

Lower Stress Levels.

Yoga’s stress-busting powers may come from its ability to lessen the activity of proteins that are known to play a role in inflammation, according to a study published last year from University of California, Los Angeles researchers.

Alter Gene Expression.

A small Norwegian study suggested that yoga’s many health benefits might come from its ability to alter gene expression in immune cells.

Increased Flexibility.

A recent Colorado State University study found that Bikram yoga — a form of yoga in which a series of 26 postures are performed for 90 minutes in a heated room — is linked with increased shoulder, lower back and hamstring flexibility, as well as greater deadlift strength and decreased body fat, compared with a control group.

After A Few Months.

Lower Blood Pressure.

People with mild to moderate hypertension might benefit from a yoga practice, as a study from University of Pennsylvania researchers found that it could help to lower their blood pressure levels. Researchers found that people who practiced yoga had greater drops in blood pressure compared with those who participated in a walking/nutrition/weight counseling program.

Improved Lung Capacity.

A small Ball State University study found that practicing Hatha yoga for 15 weeks could significantly increase vital lung capacity, which is the maximum amount of air exhaled after taking a deep breath. Vital lung capacity is one of the components of lung capacity.

Reduced Chronic Neck Pain.

A German study published in The Journal of Pain showed that four weeks of practicing Iyengar yoga (a type of Hatha yoga that stresses proper alignment and the use of props) is effective in reducing pain intensity in adults suffering from chronic neck pain.

Anxiety Relief.

A Boston University study showed that 12 weeks of yoga could help to reduce anxiety and increase gamma-aminobutyric (GABA) levels in the brain (low levels of GABA have been linked with depression and anxiety disorders).

Relief from Chronic Back Pain.

Researchers at West Virginia University found Iyengar Yoga to be more effective in reducing pain and improving mood than standard medical treatment among those with chronic lower back problems.

Steady Blood Sugar Levels in People with Diabetes.

Adding yoga to a typical diabetes care regimen could result in steady blood sugar levels, according to a Diabetes Care study. Reuters reported that just three months of yoga in addition to diabetes care resulted in a decrease in body mass index, as well as no increases in blood sugar levels.

Improved Sense of Balance.

Practicing an Iyengar yoga program designed for older adults was found to improve balance and help prevent falls in women over 65, according to a Temple University study.

After Years.

Stronger Bones.

A pilot study by Dr. Loren Fishman showed that practicing yoga could improve bone density among older adults.

“We did a bone mineral density (DEXA) scan, and then we taught half of them the yoga, waited two years, and did another scan,” Fishman previously told The Huffington Post. “And not only did these people not lose bone, they gained bone. The ones who didn’t do the yoga lost a little bone, as you would expect.”

Healthy Weight.

Researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle found an association between a regular yoga practice and decreased weight — or at least a maintained weight — among more than 15,000 healthy, middle-aged adults.

“Those practicing yoga who were overweight to start with lost about five pounds during the same time period those not practicing yoga gained 14 pounds,” study researcher Alan Kristal, DPH, MPH, told WebMD.

Lower Risk Of Heart Disease.

As part of a healthy lifestyle, yoga may lower cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar, according to Harvard Health Publications.