Does Honesty Help You Stay in a Better Mood?

>> Sunday

The answer is definitely yes, in the long run. Why? Because honesty allows better intimacy in relationships, better problem solving in any kind of relationship, and, according to the research, honest people have higher quality friends.

Honesty is also good for your health, which has a significant affect on your mood.

Click here to read more about honesty.

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Living an Awakened Life

>> Friday

I USED TO study and practice Zen. And at the time I didn't understand what relaxation had to do with enlightenment. I meditated for hours and became really relaxed. But so what? I was relaxed. What did this have to do with enlightenment?

But I've thought a lot about it since then, and here's what I've concluded: Developing a progressively deeper calm — through meditation or yoga or massage or long walks in the woods or changing the way you think or whatever — is the way to live the "awakened" life. Calmness is a "cure" for the normal feeling of stress we live with (read more about that here).

Whether or not you have a big epiphany (experience "satori" in Zen parlance) is not really up to you. But developing calmness is totally up to you. And you can live in an enlightened way even without the earthshaking realizations. Calmness makes the difference. But why?

When you feel deeply calm, all these are gone: greed, selfishness, anger, judgmentalness, fear, deficiency motivations, feelings of revenge, agitation, anxiety, frustration — feelings that provoke unenlightened action.

And when you feel deeply calm, all these come naturally and easily: forgiveness, compassion, peace, happiness, contentment, thoughtful decisions and actions, balanced thinking, cosmic or eternal perspective, patience, kindness to others, kindness to yourself — feelings and actions we might consider awakened or enlightened.

If you'd like to be the kind of person you really want to be, if you want to treat people better and take better care of yourself and respond to stressful situations with more compassion and wisdom, focus your efforts on one thing: Create more calmness in your life. Everything else will follow.

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The Shortest Path to Feeling Better

TAKE A DEEP BREATH. Right now. Go on, I'll wait here.

How does that feel?

You can do this anywhere, anytime, and it will almost always make you feel better, especially if you're feeling stressed.

One of the effects of stress is to constrict your breathing, making it faster, shallower, and higher in the chest. This stressed breathing style makes you feel psychologically more stressed, and so it can begin a negative feedback loop that might lead to health problems. In a study of a 153 heart attack patients, researchers found that almost all of them were primarily shallow breathers or "chest breathers."

The authors of New Directions in Progressive Relaxation Training say that shallow, rapid breathing stimulates the sympathetic nervous system — the part of your nervous system responsible for stress reactions. "People can predispose themselves to anxious and tense inner experience," write the authors, "by breathing in this way."

There is some evidence that people who suffer from panic attacks keep their carbon dioxide too low by shallow breathing, which keeps them in a state of semi-hyperventilation. Apparently panic-attack sufferers notice the symptoms of hyperventilation such as feeling dizzy or a pounding heart or feelings of suffocation, they think something terrible is happening, and it scares them, which of course makes their heart pound even more, making them breathe faster, etc. Taking a deep breath can often stop this cycle. And a deep breath can make anyone feel more relaxed.

Although we breathe automatically, without any conscious effort on our part, we can also voluntarily control the way we breathe, and when we do, we gain more voluntary control of our moods and our feelings of well-being.

The method is to take a deep breath, somewhat slowly, and let it out slowly. If you've got the time and inclination, do it a few times. This is one of the simplest things you can do to reduce your stress and feel better quickly.

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Communication Fast

I OCCASIONALLY FAST for a day. I have my last meal in the evening, eat nothing at all the next day, and resume eating the morning after that. I do it because the scientific evidence indicates it is healthy. The body is not really supposed to have three square meals a day every single day. It is unnatural.

It is also healthy for a relationship to go on a "communication fast" once in awhile. Choose a day you both have off from work and say your last words to each other the night before. Say nothing to anybody the next day and resume talking the morning after that.

To make it even better, fast from every kind of communication. Don't watch television, do email, or even read a book.

This is a powerful practice that will deepen your relationship. Why?

Because any time you can suspend the expression of well-ingrained habits, they become less ingrained.

You've had a negative example of this, I'm sure. Have you ever had a regular exercise routine or some other regular practice and after a vacation, neglect to resume it? Maybe weeks later, you'll realize you haven't been exercising and you'll think you've failed or perhaps you're weak-willed.

But it's not weakness. You've merely suspended a well-ingrained habit and made it less ingrained. You can use this phenomenon for your benefit instead of your detriment. When you want to be less automatic — when you want to enhance the freshness of your habits of communication — suspend communicating for a period of time. You'll come back to communicating with more awareness.

And anytime you stop doing something you have fully taken for granted, you'll find you appreciate it more. Appreciation improves your mood.

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