Happiness for Dummies - W. Doyle Gentry, PhD
Today's post is thread #6 -- 5/3/2012 -- read through or scroll down to today's post.
I figured this book would be kind of fun and light -- it's not. The author summed up the book's intention in the introduction: "Happiness for Dummies tells you how to fight for, create, and live a long and happy life. It makes you the master of your own happy destiny!" The book appears to be educational and thought provoking. The author (based on what I have read so far) has provided examples of happy people and ways to identify, learn, experience, and change. By the way -- he's noted Type B personalities are happier than Type A. I'm a type A. I expect a lot from myself. Hmmmmm. Something to consider as we go through this book.
LEARN -- here's that concept again. I've decided the key to enjoying life is to learn. Don't just sit there. Identify what you need and then learn. Find out all the information you need to change, and then implement it. In the introduction the author also included this sentence re: happiness and its pursuit: "You wait for it to find you instead of exercising your right to pursue it". Let's not wait. Let's learn and implement.
OK -- so, let's start the Happiness for Dummies discussion.
This is CHAPTER 1: Anyone Can Be Happy -- and it's going to be long.
Beginning on page 12, Dr. Gentry reviewed findings on 4 people who professed to be happy. Their common attributes were a strong family and parents who loved them and taught them to be positive. They volunteer and give back to others. They SMILE an encourage others around them to smile back. They are POSITIVE thinkers (that was worth repeating). One interviewee said he looks for opportunities to be happy and that he has a motto "only you can make it happen!" (p. 13). He also goes to bed each night reflecting on the positive things he did that day and wakes up each morning thinking positive thoughts. We've heard about being grateful and feeling grateful and making lists like these before. . . maybe something to implement? These people all participated in religious services. One said his wife taught him to loosen up and enjoy life and see the glass half full instead of half empty. The author summarized that they all believe happiness is something you have to work at -- it doesn't just happen. So, that's definitely important to consider -- all hope's not lost, right? Another points re: the commonalities of these people that Dr. Gentry interviewed -- people believe happiness comes with age. He went on to review statistics on p. 15, where 28% of people 18 - 27 felt happy whereas 38% of people 68-77 felt happy. He noted that people who are older realize that life's not perfect, they realize you have to accept it for what it is. I guess that means they don't put as much pressure on themselves as people who are younger do. They've accepted things for what they are. . .
Dr. Gentry briefly introduced that married people are happier, something that will be embellished in chapter 16 and chapter 20 -- so we'll get to that shortly.
Dr. Gentry discussed Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Something I remember studying in college. Now I wish I paid more attention! I'm going to interpret the hierarchy of needs to being a journey -- 5 levels that Dr. Maslow identified -- 1) meeting your basic survival needs; 2) safety -- including financial (see? timetoplay.com philosophy is on the ball! if you don't have money, at least to eat, you can't enjoy life); 3) feeling loved and needed by others; 4) having self-esteem - liking yourself and feeling respected; and 5) feeling like you got "there", that you've reached your full potential. Maybe people get stuck and #5. I know, since starting timetoplay.com, I've realized I had been stuck at #5, not feeling like I had made "it", evaluating my situation and feeling like I still have to strive or prove something to myself. I know this feeling was based in my childhood. That's a story for another time. Like Mr. Tolle, Dr. Gentry notes that you cannot look for happiness in power, status, wealth and success. That if this is how you're trying to get to happiness you will end up being unhappy. I realize that now and have, through the learning journey of developing timetoplay, have been learning to enjoy life and live in the moment. It's not been easy. It's a process, right?
Dr. Gentry goes on to discuss how negative emotions narrow your thinking and cause frustration, how positive produces a "high", feelings of excitement, and an increase of productivity. He discusses the importance to release positive endorphins through creative activity, exercise, fellowship with others, prayer, laughter (noted to be very effective for pain management and healing, too!), being surrounded by things of beauty and healthy sexual encounters (I know people are thinking about that last one).
This was a great tip -- replacing negative emotions with positive emotions. It was noted that you cannot feel angry, upset or sad if you replace it with a positive feeling, that you can't be angry and happy at the same time. DEFINITELY a good tip that all of us can easily try.
Blood pressure: Being angry or upset can increase blood pressure. We have heard that this can cause heart attack and stroke, too. Our minds can do terrible things to our body, causing depression and sickness -- Dr. Gentry referenced a study by Dr. Barbara Fredrickson who wrote a thesis on how positive emotions can undo the effects of stress, how the simple use of touch or petting a pet can decrease blood pressure. Something to look into. . .
Dr. Gentry discussed being mindful and staying in the present moment. We did learn a lot from reading The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle -- if you haven't read the forum/discussion on that, it is available in the book club/review section. Over 2600 people have gone into that thread, and I hope it's helped them. I realize it's very hard to implement this all the time. The intention is to be aware of your feelings at each moment and to change things to stay positive, to focus on how you feel, to not worry, not wait for things to happen (to make them happen), to not dwell in the past or the future because all you really have is the present moment. There is no past and the future isn't guaranteed. Pretty pensive, right? Again, I realize I forget to stay in the present. I have to be more mindful of this. And, regarding lingering in the present moment, Dr. Gentry discusses on p. 22/23 about Type A personalities always moving forward because we have too much to accomplish. Since starting TimetoPlay.com I've realized this has always been me. Not taking a few minutes to see the beauty around me, to appreciate what I have, what is happening, just being present. This is not something I know I can snap my fingers and make happen. It's a constant realization that I have to be present to absorb, enjoy, reflect. I have been trying to be more aware. I was driving the other day and realized the beauty of the blue sky, I have been noticing the buds on the trees and the way the trees and plants are becoming ready to "pop" with splendor for the spring. I noticed how pretty my daughter's hair looked the other day. The little things. The things we miss when we're rushing around. Dr. Gentry suggested allowing time in your busy day for a few moments of happiness. This, as well, is the timetoplay.com philosophy. Even if you can only take 5 minutes for another cup of coffee to enjoy. . . something. . . and, although I forget EVERY day to do this, I'm definitely doing it more.
Last thing for chapter 1 -- something to really consider -- Dr. Gentry gave an example of a man who had an abusive childhood home with alcoholic parents. He had an underlying protective mechanism that he wasn't able to be happy because if he started to be happy, his happiness could be taken away. This was because of his explosive childhood situation. In summary, sometimes past experiences might prevent you from letting yourself enjoy life. It's something that, after a bit of self-reflection and realization, you might need to speak with a mental-health professional to work through. I realize I had been angry for 30 years -- not on the surface, but, apparently it was there. Hence the reason I had to "make it". I never did go to a psychologist, but it is something to consider. While based on Mr. Tolle's book, we're not supposed to dwell in the past, I do feel that it's important to realize that, sometimes, it's not easy to let things go, that we're terribly hurt deep down. However, it's not something that should hold us back. One of the goals for timetoplay is that, in the end, we should have no regrets. That we need to enjoy life. It stands to reason that, if you live in the past and dwell on that situation, regrets will be forefront in your life. So, this goes back to learning what we need and getting the resources to change.
So much for "Happiness for Dummies" being a light, fun book. This one's definitely going to be work, too. You would never guess it from the title as it certainly minimizes things, but I think it will be time well spent.
Chapter 2: The recipe for happiness
Dr. Gentry has made this chapter pretty easy to understand (and quite fast reading!). He used the analogy of happiness and the things you need to be happy and compared them to the ingredients in a recipe. He said there were 4 main things you need to be happy and "other ingredients" that were optional.
1) Feeling safe -- without fear of harm, physical or emotional, based on your living condition or a relationship where you may be hurt. He also included financial safety. See? I was pretty on the ball when I came up with the timetoplay philosophy. If you don't know how you're going to feed your family (I think a concern many of us share now a days) you can't have quality of life. Feeling safe makes sense to be part of the need for happiness, as if you feel uptight you can't be happy, right?
2) Satiation - If you continue to be one step away you can't achieve happiness. When we read the Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, this was a big component of what he spoke about, as well. If you are waiting, "If I had this then I'll be happy, if I had that, then I'll be happy", you'll never actually get there. Totally makes sense, as you're not living in the present, but waiting till. . . and till may never come. Dr. Gentry suggests to reach a point where you feel you have enough. I understand this. I've told the story before -- I've always been striving, trying to get the proverbial "gold ring", where I can say I've made "it". To prove something, I think, that I'm good enough. But, what really is "it"? Did you ever really take a good look around and look at how lucky you are? There are so many circumstances where people just strive to survive -- look at people not born in America, and the different living conditions many have to deal with just to make it through one day. I truly feel lucky, appreciative and blessed. And, through my evolution with timetoplay, it has given me the opportunity to realize I have enough. At some point, it occurred to me that "things" don't really mean much and "things" can't make me happy (this is just my opinion -- although really cute shoes do go a long way and do make me smile!).
3) Perspective: Determine if what you're doing NOW is making you happy. If the impact is positive, happiness follows, if it's negative, unhappiness follows (p. 30)
4) Quietude: Dr. Gentry suggested to find peace and quiet to reflect, to hear yourself think. Meditation was also a theme in Mr. Tolle's book. Honestly, I still haven't found time to actually do a real guided meditation. It's on my "to do" list. Ron Villano has a CD for this, which I have, but never unwrapped it. Here's a link if you want to explore a purchase of one for yourself, or you can google and see if there's any guided meditation posted on youtube by anyone. http://www.ronvillano.com/products/
Dr. Gentry also included these "ingredients" as optional:
SATISFACTION, which is a sense of fulfillment or comfort. If you're not fulfilled or comfortable -- CHANGE IT if you can -- we are the only ones who are going to help ourselves. Help yourself.
PLEASURE: Things that come from everyday life that cause feel-good emotions, example doing a good deal or being healthy or a good friend (p. 32-33).
GRATITUDE: This is something we've heard over and over now. Gratitude is to show appreciation for "those things that bring pleasure into your life" (p. 33) vs. things you think you deserve or that are owed to you (entitlement). The gratitude list or thinking of things you are grateful for first thing when you wake up or each night when you go to sleep keep getting suggested. Something I definitely need to try.
SERENITY: Eliminate your mind from being cluttered "by worry, anxieties, anger, stress" (p. 34) Per Dr. Gentry and Mr. Tolle - live in the now. Again, meditation was suggested.
WELL-BEING: Dr. Gentry gave examples of people with chronic pain that he has treated that feel better when they re-implement activities that give them pleasure. The best I can explain is that people kind of have the downward spiral when things aren't going right or they don't feel well. BUT it's, again, us to change and recapture well-being.
On pages 35-37 there was a self-assessment that might be helpful for you to complete to determine your happiness level and a way to identify areas that you might score low and can work on. If you think it helpful to take the quiz and didn't get the book yet, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your contact info or call me (office # 631-331-2675 M-F 9-5) and I can go through it with you in the mean time. At least it's a start!
Chapter 3: Knowing what happiness isn't
This chapter reviews another theme we read about in Mr. Tolle's book The Power of Now -- it's just really streamlined and made for us to understand a little easier with examples of people who have fallen into the ruts believing happiness comes from what Dr. Gentry calls culturally valued outcomes -- wealth, power and success. Through timetoplay.com, my "quest for quality of life" journey, I have realized that "things" aren't as important to making me happy as they were when I was younger, so this chapter was interesting to me.
Dr. Gentry discussed what money DOES buy, which is comfort for living (there are some things that are definitely necessary, like food and shelter), people to help you and support you (he gave examples of people who you hire), and economic freedom.
Then he went into the power, success and excitement which -- the general theme is -- DON'T make people happy. I guess it depends on who you ask, though, right? Or, if you really went deep into the people, are they really happy, or just appear happy on the surface. Each life situation brings something else with it that you have to deal with, right? So, lets's discuss the points Dr. Gentry made:
POWER - economic, physical, social (status): These people have control over the world around them but, he went on to discuss why these people who regular working people would think "made it" aren't happy. He gave an example of people high in the corporate world who become very aggressive in life, I guess trying to control everything, which became their only goal and focus, and they just weren't happy. I guess if anything becomes an obsession, there's no room for anything else in your life.
SUCCESS: Dr. Gentry notes that, many times, success is accompanied by misfortune and tragedy. I guess we see this time and time again in the news regarding successful people, or people we believe to be successful, in a tragic situation. He noted that success does not guarantee a happy life free of misfortune and misery. He actually told of people like Ben Franklin and Abraham Lincoln who were depressed much of their lives. Maybe when you feel you "made it" there's nothing more to strive for? Or you feel a huge sense of responsibility which causes depression? Anyone have comments?
EXCITEMENT: This is interesting. . . people substitute activities and think they're happy while they're doing it but sometimes (which is really a feeling of excitement) and wind up regretting it in the morning, like going to clubs, gambling, or other passion or energy-seeking activities. He notes excitement can cause an illusion of happiness. He included this activity that anyone can do to evaluate if you're confusing excitement with happiness: "Make a list of 10 things that excite you. Then rate how happy you feel after doing each of these things -- how grateful you feel, how satisfied you are, how much contentment and serenity you feel." (p. 44)
Dr. Gentry then went into how researchers have identified income has little effect on how positive a person is - that 1) each time you reach a level you adjust your "level of neutrality" and it takes more to make you happy; 2) people constantly compare themselves with others, the "keep up with the Jones's" philosophy, and feel deprived. Although she might be made if she ever reads this, I grew up in a home where my mom was like this. You know kids learn what they see. My mom spoke about how this one got this, or that one got that. I realize now that you shouldn't get into debt to have something just because someone else does, and I am lucky to have had my husband along with me to protect me from doing this. The more stuff you have the harder you have to work to have the stuff, so you have to ask yourself how bad you want it, right? Dr. Gentry suggested not just comparing yourself to people who have lots, but to those with less than you so you can become more content and grateful with what you have. 3) Escalating needs - kind of goes with the treadmill effect. The more you get the more you want, which keeps you from being happy because you're always "waiting -- Mr. Tolle said that, too -- to get "it" so you can be happy.
Dr. Gentry reminded that emotions like envy, jealousy, greed and resentment keep you from being happy with what you've got and makes you feel bad when you compare yourself. "Their success makes you feel less successful, their power makes you feel powerless and their freedom makes you feel less free. It's all about them!" (p. 45)
Wow. This has become kind of long. Sorry. But, there's more! Interestingly, Dr. Gentry said that happiness comes in waves. excited and joyful one minute and not the next, but that the purpose of this book is to make us have more happy moments. That sounds good to me! He suggested another exercise where you put down 10 of the most happiest moments of your life and another list where you list 10 events that you thought would make you happy but didn't, which will show what you value / your priorities.
Last thought of the chapter - enjoy the moment. So, we've heard / learned over and over the importance to stay in the moment. Again, hard to do, right? Things pull us away, but I guess we need to constantly remind ourselves and pull ourselves back in.
Chapter 4: Seeing Happiness as a Sign, Not a Symptom
So, this chapter is interesting and surrounded the need to identify with your health and feelings and listen to your body. The concept is that your nervous system is out of whack when you are not happy, and that stress, sadness, etc., can take over and cause actions that don't make you feel better about yourself or your situation -- that you try to change something but it doesn't help. Hello, root cause! I have to say, finding root cause is, pretty much, the way to fix anything!
So, Dr. Gentry speaks about a lot of things, living longer and having a better quality of life when your emotions are in check because you are feeling happiness instead of irritated. Dr. Gentry spoke of your body's need for survival. A survival instinct kicks in to get you through situations, but the situations are causing issues within.
Emotion -- the definition: Energy in motion. "Together, emotions - positive or negative - are a source of emotional energy that constantly move you toward and away from various aspects of your environment". Again, very interesting. Energy in motion, and energy can be either good energy or negative energy. We definitely feel better when the energy is positive, right?
The author spoke of so many different issues than could affect your feelings. Your surroundings can affect your happiness. He described people living in the city and suburbs, and the happiness, sadness, or bored(ness?) the people felt due to their environment. He noted it was important to be happy with your surroundings. My son lived in New York City and had a roommate who came to America from another country. Only DAYS after he moved in he was gone. The environment was just not making him happy. It is not always easy to make a change so fast, like Greg's roommate, but if you are in an environment that is not making you happy, it is your responsibility to get to the root of your unhappiness and explore your options.
Dr. Gentry spoke about other things that could impact happiness including the people who surround you, the things you accomplish in a week including activities, your job, and community service that you might do.
He suggested asking yourself if you're doing things for the right reason or asking yourself who you're doing the things for and who they are making happy.
The best thing in the chapter was this sentence: "Life provides you with lots of opportunities for constructive change - the chance to correct things and get it right," (p. 57).
How cool is that.
So, we’ve heard about the power of positive thinking or the “glass half full/half empty” mentality. But, I didn’t really know all of the ramifications of having the half empty mentality. It’s almost self-sabotaging.
Dr. Gentry provided a list and examples about the benefits of being optimistic, including the fact they are less likely to be compulsive gamblers (which I found quite interesting). He also noted optimists set more goals to achieve, they reach for the stars, they are more confident. I have to comment on this one. Only recently have I started to have confidence. Somewhere along the line I felt I wasn’t good enough. How about you? Does lack of confidence bring you down? Dr. Gentry noted optimists solve problems better. I always lived by a mantra that there’s a solution to every problem, but that’s not always what I followed. You? As you can see, it’s easy to go down the drain quickly. And there’s 2 pages of the bullet points of pessimists vs. optimists! A few more… Optimists are not quitters and welcome second chances. Each day we wake up with a clean slate. A chance to start over. A land of new opportunity! One more I’ll throw out there. They’re not as lonely as pessimists are, and are more socially outgoing. Interesting. . . this goes for relationships and meeting members of the opposite sex. I’ve been blessed by having my husband for 24 years (and counting!), but so many people state “there’s no good ones out there”. That definitely portrays negativity and pessimism, which eliminates opportunity. Definitely something to consider, right?
Dr. Gentry included a quiz entitled “how optimistic are you”. It’s interesting to read the questions and get the score. If you are interested in this, I’d suggest purchasing the book and doing the quiz.
On p. 67 Dr. Gentry noted our futures are a self-fulfilling prophecy. ”The attitudes you have today largely determine how things turn out tomorrow”. This one was good, too: Can’t never could. He noted if you believe you can’t do something you will find a way to make sure you can’t! ”The more you think failure, the more you fail – in school, at jobs, in relationships”. (p. 67).
Did you ever hear the statement, “having a heavy heart”? Dr. Gentry described a study of 1300 healthy men that found pessimists had 2x the risk of developing heart disease over a 10 year period compared to optimists.
Dr. Gentry noted any pessimist can unlearn – we may have become what we are due to circumstances, and sometimes our beliefs are a defense mechanism. I know that was me. We can all change — hence this timetoplay project.
Learn. Get the tools you need. Change. The world is beautiful. It’s time we all see it that way.
Hardiness: Chapter 6
I do marvel that this book is not a “dummies” book, that it does have valid content that makes you think!
Dr. Gentry described hardy personality in Chapter 6 — people who are resilient, who are survivors. He noted that hardy people grow stronger, happier and more competent over their lifetime (p. 73). Dr. Gentry described the 3 “C’s” – control, commitment and challenge which are traits of hardy people.
People with control are masters of their own destiny and take ownership. They have commitment which helps them have a sense of purpose. Interestingly, on page 77 Dr. Gentry described how cultural changes have caused people to become disenfranchised. Some months ago I started to realize that so many people have become isolated — maybe due to the internet, texting, etc. He speaks of the need for people to reconnect, which is a goal I have for the timetoplay site. Last is challenge — Dr. Gentry described this as how people look at stress. He noted that conflict creates missed opportunity, and instead of people considering situations a challenge, stress promotes negativity which creates the downward spiral we’ve read about in past threads. Instead we should all see stress as opportunity.
I did love this statement: Anything worth doing is worth doing well (p. 78). I recently went to a training seminar where they used “The way you do anything is the way you do everything”. It’s a really visual, though provoking statement. It should make you strive to achieve. I know I’ve implemented this into my thought process and have noticed a marked difference in my day.
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