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Tal's tips for happiness

A recent news article, published in the Guardian at the end of December, features Tal Ben Shahar: Harvard University?s most popular lecturer. Based on scientific evidence Tal says that money, wealth and status do not provide happiness: we have got richer but not happier. With the rise in GDP there has also been a rise in depression and anxiety levels. Positive Psychology is providing some insights into how people can counteract the negative effects of modern life. Tal gives the reader four useful tips. These are things which may help reduce things like depression and anxiety and increase things like happiness.

Research is coming out of Positive Psychology which suggests that there are things we can do to decrease negative emotions and increase the positive ones:

1. Give yourself permission to be human

In today?s society there is a great deal of negativity and disapproval toward painful emotions.  Negative feelings, such as fear or sadness, are normal, and when we deny or try to not experience these emotions we become even more fearful or sad.  Tal says that there are two types of people who don?t experience these painful emotions: psychopaths and dead people. A full range of emotions is as much part of nature as gravity.  For example, if you deny gravity then people would be injuring themselves all the time!

2. Simplify life

These days? people have too much going on in our lives: working, shopping, socialising, playing tennis, running, swimming and so on.  What the research is showing is that if people take on too much at one time they end up not enjoying the activities which usually give them happiness and pleasure: such as playing with their children.  The time pressure means that people try to squeeze more into their day and consequently fail to savour potential sources of happiness that may be all around.

3. Exercise

There are a large number of scientific papers which show the enormous benefits of physical exercise.  Some of this research shows that doing exercise is like taking a little bit of Prozac or Ritalin.  Actually, Tal says that not exercising is like taking a depressant.  This is based on the research from Duke medical school which showed that exercising three times a week for 30 minutes each time was as helpful for patients diagnosed with major depressive disorder as taking an antidepressant.  People who took antidepressants were 4 times more likely to relapse than those exercising.  Though Tal says that this simple intervention is a? psychiatrists dream? he does stress that exercise is not a panacea and in some cases people really do need, and benefit, from medication.

4. focus on the positive

One of the barriers to happiness is that people tend to take things that are good in their lives for granted.  Studies show that people who regularly express gratitude in a journal, 5 things they were grateful for that day, felt better about life, were more optimistic and had fewer physical symptoms, they were more likely to help others and achieve their goals, than those who did other writing journals.  We can train our mind to notice the good things in our lives, this takes about a month.  Doing this exercise for four weeks should encourage more gratitude.

To read the article click here

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